Monday, June 28, 2010

Last Minute Birthday Cake

At 2:00 on Sunday I received a phone call.  It was kind of a kitchen-style 911. 

Caller:  "Help!  I'm on my way to the outdoor store with my husband, it's his birthday, and I don't have time to make a cake!"
Me:  "Never fear!  I can make it happen in time for dinner if you'll let me raid your chocolate cupboard!"

(disclaimer: the caller is a very close friend of mine, who happens to live next door and keeps a ridiculous stash of Guittard chocolate)

The birthday boy loves him some chocolate- the last birthday cake I made for him was a plain sponge layered with a variety of chocolate mousses and I needed to do something different...  I didn't want to do chocolate on chocolate with a chocolate frosting, and I know that they enjoy coffee with dessert.  I decided on dark chocolate layers with a coffee-caramel mousse and a bittersweet chocolate glaze. 
Not bad for such short notice.
Oh, and check out the manly floral arrangement...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kale and Escarole

One of my favorite things to make with kale is the Portuguese soup caldo verde.  It's very popular in both Portugal and Brazil, and it should be popular here too!  I adapted this recipe for ingredients available in our area and to my taste from Leite's Culinaria:
Caldo Verde
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 ounces linguica or Spanish chorizo
6 waxy potatoes, scrubbed
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 pound kale, washed well, center ribs removed, sliced very thinly
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil.  Once shimmering, add the garlic and onions, stirring frequently.  Add in the meat and once it is browned, add the potatoes, and then the stock.  Simmer gently until the potatoes are just tender.  At this point, you can remove some of the potatoes, puree, and then return to the pot for a thicker soup.  Stir in the kale, cook just to wilt, then season to taste with salt and pepper. 
This will produce about six hearty first course servings.
A couple of other things to try with kale (start all of these by washing, removing the rib, and finely slicing)-
saute and add to a fritatta with diced red peppers and cooked diced potatoes
finely shred and add to your favorite stir fry
saute with garlic and red pepper flakes, then add a splash of balsamic vinegar right at the end

Now, on to escarole...  This slightly bitter green can be used cooked or raw depending on the maturity of the leaves.  If the leaves are tender and pale, the best thing to do is gently wash the leaves, the tear them into bite sized pieces and use them as a base for salads.  Escarole goes beautifully with fennel, citrus fruits, and many cheeses (fresh goat or a nicely aged parmesan for example).  It will be important to dress the salad simply- perhaps just lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and chunky salt.  The flavor of young escarole can be easily lost in the fray.

If the escarole is more mature, sauteing in olive oil with garlic and finishing with some lemon juice and salt is my favorite way.  This preparation goes well with mild main courses such as roast chicken or pork tenderloin.  The larger leaves can also hold their own in soups- chicken, lentil, and white bean soups all compliment the subtlety of the greens.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

6th Avenue : Round Two - English Pea Risotto

So here I am, in the middle of June, dodging rain drops to teach Tacoma Farmers Market-goers how to make yummy risotto.  Fortunately the sun came out for my demonstration this week so we had about fifty people watch at least part of the demonstration!  A few people stayed for the entire show - that always makes ya feel good!

I chose to make a traditional risotto garnished with english (shelling) peas; partially because peas are one of the first things to hit the market and partially because english peas rock my world.  We had gorgeous peas and spring Walla Walla onions donated by Bautista Farms out of Mabton, WA.  The guys at the booth were super sweet and besides, their produce kicked some serious behind when it came to quality and flavor.  Please support people like them- using their produce makes all the difference in the world.

English Pea Risotto

1 small leek
½ small onion, finely diced
3 T butter
1 c arborio rice
½ c white wine (optional)
4-5 c chicken or vegetable stock, held at a low simmer
1 c shelled English peas
1 c freshly grated parmesan
salt to taste

In a pot of boiling lightly salted water, blanch the peas until tender. Drain and shock in an ice bath.
Halve the leek, finely slice into ½ moons, then immerse completely in cool water, agitating to separate the pieces and allowing the grit to fall away. Gently lift the leeks out of the water and onto a towel to dry. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and melt the butter. Add the onion and leek, then sweat until very tender but not browning. Add the rice and stir for about one minute to coat each grain with the fat (this is called “parching”). Add the white wine at this point (optional), and stirring frequently, allow the wine to be absorbed. Then, add just enough stock to cover the rice grains, and stir frequently until most of the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock in this manner until the rice is tender to the bite (think like al dente pasta) but certainly not mushy! Fold in the the peas and parmesan, and adjust the consistency with the remaining stock if necessary- the mixture should be very loose and should not hold it's shape when spooned out. Season as desired.
yield: four servings

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bits From the Garden

My husband has always expressed an interest in gardening.  The progression/obsession started shortly after we met with a few tomato plants and some peas.  Now, almost ten years later he's gone completely nuts with it and has somewhere around fourteen 4'x10' raised beds covering our yard.  And that doesn't count the greenhouse full of tomatoes and peppers.  Oh, or the mounds out past the deck full of zucchini plants.

Since our summer has gotten off to a rather slow start, we are still stuck in the salad-and-greens phase of things.  I'm not complaining, mind you!  We've got four different kinds of head lettuce (it hasn't been warm enough to make it bolt and go bitter...), a very pungent variety of wild arugula, two varieties of kale, and "bright lights" swiss chard in colors that ought not appear in nature.  And don't forget the radishes.  We're on our fourth harvest of french breakfast radishes.  Give me a few more days and I'll never want to see a radish again...

A few nights ago I set out to make a salad for dinner but didn't have much to gussy up the plain lettuces, so I decided to take bits and pieces from most of the plants...  We had red and green leaf lettuce, wild arugula, and baby kale and chard leaves as the base.  To bring some excitement, I added marjoram, thyme, fronds from carrot tops, pea tendrils, blossoms from rapini that was far too young to be flowering, and radish roots and leaves.  I topped it off with some Bulgarian sheep's milk feta, sherry vinegar, Spanish olive oil, and brined olives.  Somehow, it's more satisfying when you grow it yourself.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June 1st - Opening Night at the 6th Ave Market

Last Tuesday was the first night of the 6th Avenue Farmers Market in Tacoma...

We selected a dish highlighting the produce that this season has to offer: greens.  I prepared a salad of local baby greens from Terry's Berries; a wonderful mixture of colors, textures and flavors including everything from lettuces to baby kale and chard.  To that, I added the first of the season strawberries (also from Terry's),  Willapa Hills Big Boy Blue (a cow's milk cheese, aged at least 90 days with the influence of Roquefort cultures), and then dressed the whole lot with a honey-balsamic vinaigrette.  The honey, by the way, came from Sweet As Can Bee Honey Farm.

Next week, I will be demonstrating risotto but in the meantime, make yourself some salad.

Salad of Baby Greens, Strawberries, Blue Cheese, Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

6 oz baby greens (arugula, mixed greens, baby lettuces)
1 pint strawberries
½ c blue cheese, crumbled
2 T balsamic vinegar
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
1 T honey
salt and pepper to taste

Wash and gently dry your greens and berries. Remove the stems, then slice or quarter your berries. Divide the greens, then the berries and blue cheese onto six salad plates. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and balsamic vinegar with a pinch of salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly to form an emulsion. Dress each salad lightly and serve immediately.
Great additions to this salad would be toasted pine nuts or candied citron.