Monthly Archives: February 2004

Oscar Party Time

We and some of our friends have a tradition to have an Oscar party with good food and watch and kid around and make snide remarks. It used to be our party and held at our house, but when we stopped having a working TV (well, we have a TV but no signal of any kind to watch networks or cable – we just use it as a screen for our VCR/DVD stuff) we had to stop being hosts, so it is now actually our friends’ party that we get invited to. Anyway, this year was no exception. We knew (and thought it reasonable) that Lord of the Rings would win a lot of Oscar’s, but 11 was ridiculous. We heaped scorn on many of the best song nominees (well, that ‘Ain True Love’ thing of Sting’s and the rather lame performance of ‘Into the West’ by Annie Lennox – the original in the movie was a lot better) and cheered mightily for ‘A kiss at the end of the rainbow’ from A Mighty Wind just because the movie deserved it.

We made a big switch on the food this year though. Finger food and cocktails. None of us are cocktail drinkers really so that wasn’t a complete success, but Jan and I provided Kir courtesy of the neverending supply of good champagne that people give us which we don’t drink because we don’t like champagne. Combined that very simply with D’Arbo blackcurrant syrup rather than a liqueur. I also made Cosmopolitans – 4 parts citron vodka, 4 parts cranberry juice, 2 parts triple sec and one part lime juice – that were decent and basic on the rocks Margaritas – I don’t really like the blended ones.

Finger food was another story. Pam made delightful pesto and cheese stuffed portobello mushrooms as well as crudites with various dips. I made the infamous cheese straws with dry mustard and baby calzones stuffed with green garlic, spring onion, golden chard, tomato, fresh mozzarella, marinated artichokes and chicken.

Pam also made a huge pot of corn and vegetable chowder (a cream one).

Desserts were too varied to even recall. My contribution was one of the first pastry dishes I have ever made up on the fly – and it worked! Completely. Basically a sweet tart with a fluffy almond and orange filling and a lemon-vanilla crust. I am going to put down the basic measurements for the filling before I forget them and I’ll reconstruct the full recipe in a later post. Two cups of finely ground almonds (almond flour), 6 ounces of mascarpone, a cup of sugar, two eggs, a teaspoon of orange oil and an orange very very thinly sliced into slices, then quarters. Lighten with two thoroughly beaten egg whites.

There – that should do to refresh my memory later.

I also taught Grace to make basic crepes this weekend – not the true buckwheat kind, but the plain kind. This will serve to remind me to put that recipe and some of my popular filling recipes up here as well.

Kudos to Tim Robbins and the maker of Chernobyl Hearts and a few others for the courage to actually bring real issues from their work a few moments in the limelight.

As promised, the update on the Wednesday food sections…

…which were basically abysmal this week. Clearly all the gay marriages in San Francisco are not only tearing apart my marriage, all the other marriages in America and the rest of the world and destroying the most important institution of civilization, but they are also doing something much more serious: they are putting the food writers of America off their stride.

Nevertheless, we press on. Here are four rather mild article of interest this week.

A very sweet and interesting article about a chef from the Ivory Coast and his mother.

A search for the best rotisserie chicken in the Bay Area. As previously mentioned. One of the top six was from Costco. Other standouts included Gira Polli, Cafe Rouge, Ill Pollaio, Lola’s and the grandly named Mistral Rotisserie Provencal. There used to be another Gira Polli in Walnut Creek near where we live and I fondly remember calling up and ordering a family meal (roast chicken, roast potatoes, bread and salad and braised chard all for twenty something dollars) and then picking it up on our way to the outdoor Shakespeare festival in Orinda.

Mushroom time in the Bay area with all the rain. Some mushroom types, advice and recipes.

Homage to the tuna fish sandwich with an emphasis on New York. Lots of nice ideas for fancying up your own, too.

Memory fades

The reason I started this was primarily to do two things. To make myself write SOMETHING – anything – more often, and also to record some of the better dishes I cooked In the hopes that I would be able to repeat them more accurately at a later date.

How little did I know how much I would need this. I am sitting here trying to remember what I cooked in the past week and I can’t.

Yesterday (Wednesday): dinner was linguine tossed with toasted walnuts, olive goat cheese, capers and smoked salmon (not as good as it sounds) and mixed sauteed greens. Lunch was toasted bagels with goat cheese and smoked salmon and tomato. (See how lazy I can be…)

Tuesday was…took me a while but now I recall. Dinner – roast chicken with roast potatoes and a salad from Trader Joe’s. No idea what lunch was.

Monday was pasta with pesto, frozen corn and veggie burgers (for Grace).

Sunday was the lamb stew mentioned in a previous post.

Saturday was dinner a sort of friend’s house. And what a shocker. They just served precooked food from Whole Foods. I actually MADE a cake to bring along for desert. A basic chocolate sponge cake with an icing made using the lemon cake icing recipe but using the zest and juice of a tangelo from our organic box. Chocolate and orange. But again, it wasn’t as good as it sounds.

Friday was a small dinner party. Roast chicken (yes, again) with roast potatoes, roast sweet potatoes and beets mixed, sauteed mixed greens, salad. Dessert was a blackberry pastry made in a few seconds at the table.

Quick Blackberry Pastries

I had some very nice blackberries from Chile and a little mascarpone and some palmier biscuitty things (to make a sublime-sounding variation, see this). Our guests had brought some home made honey (Dot is a beekeeper). So I mixed two tablespoons of honey into six ounces of mascarpone. Then I placed a palmier on each small plate, spread it with the honey-mascarpone mixture and topped with about eight big, fat, juicy blackberries. One of these each per person…

The rain it raineth everyday

Which is unusual in California. We’ve had a straight five days of downpour. Last night we had lightning, thunder and hail added on. Every day the creek out back has risen and risen and then topped out just as it hits the first of the two banks. Earlier in the year it did actually make it over the first bank briefly, but not far enough to take out the idiot neighbour across the creek’s fence that he built on the flood plain. Last time it was high enough to do that was six years ago and he only built the fence two years ago.

Anyway, it was still a sight to see. Our creek that is four inches deep and about two feet wide all during the summer was about twelve feet deep and 30 feet wide and the water was moving about 15 miles per hour!

We are soggy but unbowed.

Tomorrow I hope to post the next installment in the review of Wednesday food supplements. One thing I have discovered in my reading so far is that Costco of all places makes one of the best rotisserie chickens in Northern California. The article did say, however, that their own roasted chicken was far, far better than any bought chicken. I could have told them that…here’s my method from one of my very first posts…

A stewpot from Wales, Ireland, California, England and other places

Celtic California Stew

[California influenced Irish stew derivative with rosemary/sorrel/mint dumplings]

For eight people I used three pounds of lamb – from three different cuts – two small shanks, four shoulder chops and a pound of stew meat. Brown the lamb heavily in a pot that can also go in the oven. Use a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for browning. Then in the same pot add bouquet garni, ten cloves garlic, twenty peppercorns. Stir to cook for a minute or so, then deglaze the pan with a cup of red wine. Add six cups of meat stock (I used chicken), two teaspoons salt, enough water to just cover, cook in covered casserole for two to three hours in 350 degree oven.

Meanwhile, finely chop four large carrots, four large potatoes, two leeks, bunch spring onions, half large head of cabbage or whole small head, bunch of greens. None of the vegetable pieces should be bigger than about a fifth of an inch cubed no matter what.

After two to three hours, remove lamb from dish, put aside in bowl, skim all fat possibly can from remaining liquid. Add two tablespoons fresh rosemary chopped, one tablespoon thyme chopped, other herbs to taste (I used two tablespoons sorrel and small amount of mint). Put in pot to boil until reduced by half. Then with lamb slightly cooled, strip all good meat off discarding bones, fat and slimy tissue. Return lamb to boiling liquid while it reduces. Can also return to casserole in 350 degree oven uncovered this time and let cook while you do vegetables.

Make dumplings. Chop up handful of fresh herbs – anything you like. I used mostly sorrel and rosemary with a little thyme and a fair amount of mint. Put in bowl and add two cups of flour, teaspoon of salt, several grindings of pepper, two teaspoons baking powder. Mix together, then add a stick of butter chopped into small pieces and rub it in like making pastry. Once it is crumbly, add a two tablespoons of olive oil and stir it in well. Then add a tablespoon or so of water at a time, stirring it in until a thick dough forms.

Put half gallon of vegetable stock on to boil. Add chopped leeks from above, add chopped potatoes. Return to boil and reduce to strong simmer. Add dumplings (ping pong ball sized pieces of dumpling dough) and cook for 15 minutes. Add more hot water gently if necessary. Remove dumplings to baking dish and put in oven to keep hot. Turn oven off at this point and let lamb and dumplings keep hot. Add rest of vegetables, return to boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add a little wine, lemon juice and or salt to taste. Remove lamb from oven and stir into vegetable stew mixture.

Serve in bowls with three dumplings per bowl and pour stew on top. Serve with bread and butter. My kids got out the plain yoghurt and added a little as well.

I actually kept some of the vegetable mix aside so that the vegetarians could have vegetable stew with dumplings.

This was far and away the best stew I have ever made and very well worth the work involved.

New Feature?

I often miss the local papers on Wednesday’s and that is when the food sections all seem to be, so I am going to try to catch them online and provide links to the worthwhile articles I find – just for the heck of it…

So here goes.

Food science – new trend in high-end gastronomy (and even somewhat at the lower end – see Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen). The Fat Duck restaurant at Bray is run by a devotee and he just got his third Michelin star so not only is it trendy but people are liking it. But be prepared for some wild flavor and texture combinations. [Link]

Salt Cod – ancient food, popular in the US in tapas bars, lots of uses, keeps well, easy to cook with at home. [link requires registration]

The best of the bunch this week – really interesting article about medieval and other ancient kitchens and cooking. Ranges from swordfighting through the King James Bible to Pease Pudding. [link requires registration]

Mustard Greens – springtime in the Bay Area and the yellow flowers are blooming everywhere: ditches by the road, on the hillsides, in the fields and all through the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. But this isn’t about the yellow spicy relish. This is about the green spicy greens. [link]

America’s obsession: not the Atkins diet, not hamburgers, not ice cream. It’s corn syrup. In everything. And it may well be responsible for the surges in diabetes and obesity. So read labels…or better yet, stop eating food that has sugar added gratuitously. [link]

Boiled meat: it doesn’t have to be grey. It doesn’t have to be tasteless. It’s on the way back. [link requires registration]

Nigella Lawson, self-acclaimed domestic goddess and good cook on basic baking. Chocolate cake, banana bread and cookies – just what you need after being put off by the corn syrup article. [link requires registration]

If you like this or don’t like it, click on the comment link below and let me know…

Lemon Cake Update

OK, OK, so I haven’t given you the lemon/bergamot cake recipe. Since I didn’t really come up with it and all I did was to switch bergamot for lemon, I don’t really think I can take credit. By the way, bergamot oil from the skins is what is used to give Earl Grey tea it’s unusual taste/smell.

Here’s the link to the cookbook: The Silver Palate’s Glazed Lemon Cake.

Glazed Lemon Cake

Photo of Glazed Lemon Cake copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm

1/2 pound sweet butter at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 tightly packed tablespoons of grated lemon zest (or bergamot zest)(I’d go to three)

2 tablespoons lemon juice (or bergamot juice)

Lemon Icing

1 pound confectioner’s (icing) sugar

1/4 pound butter at room temp.

3 (I’d use 4) tightly packed tablespoons of grated lemon (bergamot) zest

1/2 cup fresh lemon (bergamot) juice

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Carefully and thoroughly grease a 10-inch tube pan (I use a bundt pan and also very lightly flour it as well as grease it)

3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, blending well each time.

4. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and then stir into egg mixture alternating with the buttermilk. I add 1/3 of the flour, stir, 1/2 the buttermilk, stir, 1/3 the flour, stir, 1/2 the buttermilk, stir, 1/3 the flour, stir. Then mix in the lemon (bergamot) zest and juice.

5. Pour the cake batter into the pan making sure to keep it mostly even. Cook far an hour and five minutes in the middle of the oven. Experience tells me to start checking after an hour and use a toothpick, waiting for it to come out clean. It can take as long as an hour and a half sometimes.

6. Cool the cake in the pan for ten minutes, then put a plate on top (upside down) and invert the pan and plate together so the cake drops neatly onto the plate. This cake even with greasing and flour often comes apart a bit at this stage.

7. While the cake is baking, or now, make the icing.

8. Cream the butter and sugar for the icing together thoroughly. Mix in the lemon zest and juice.

9. Spread the icing evenly on the cake, using some if needed as glue to hold errant bits of cake together. Put any extra in the hole in the middle.

Valentine’s Crab Tradition

Valentine’s day and crab – not what you would normally connect with one another. But our family now has a three year tradition linking crab to Valentine’s Day. For the last three years we have had the same dinner on the 14th – or basically the same dinner. So this time we went one better and invited a whole bunch of friends over. We hung out and talked and played a special Valentine’s edition of Scattergories (we made up three extra lists specially for the day. The kids loved this more than everything else.)

We also had dinner. Kids (or non-crab eaters – almost the same thing – Amelia wanted crab and Grace would have wanted crab if she hadn’t become a vegetarian) ate pizza and the noodles and salad. Everyone ate the cake. Grownups ate the crab and the noodles and salad.

But first, why crab? The answer is that we are in the middle of the Pacific Coast’s annual Dungeness Crab season. And despite East coast and Alaskan and other bigots, Dungeness Crab is the best crab you can get. Full of rich flavor, big and meaty, the perfect crab. So what do we do with it? I make Roasted Dungeness crab with ginger, garlic, and spring onions and garlic sesame sweet noodles and one of the guests brought salad. For dessert we had a variation on the sublime Silver Palate Cookbook lemon cake recipe. I made it with bergamot instead of lemon since I had just read a SF Chronicle article telling where to get Bergamot locally. It was good, probably as good as a regular lemon cake, but not as good as the special Meyer Lemon version that Jan makes (from Meyer Lemons we sneak from a neighbour’s tree – the guilt adds an extra dimension to the flavor).

Anyway, here’s what you do if you want to do the same. I’ll start with the noodles – they are easy.

Sweet Garlic-Sesame Noodles

Put on a pot of water to make pasta as normal – in this case I recommend linguine – it is the right size for the sauce and to go with the crab. While waiting for it to boil, chop up half a head of garlic very fine and get two tablespoons of sesame seeds together. Heat four tablespoons of toasted sesame oil in a frying pan and add a quarter teaspoon of chilli flakes. Then add the garlic and sesame seeds. Cook until the garlic just starts to brown and turn off. Stir in a tablespoon of sugar. Now cook the noodles, drain, return to the pot and pour all the oil, garlic and sesame mixture over the noodles and stir thoroughly to combine. You will want to salt the noodles to taste – they need quite a lot.

Roasted ‘Drunken’ Dungeness Crab

Note that this recipe is inspired by the famous Thanh Long restaurant out on 40th Avenue in San Francisco. Used to be before they opened the upmarket versions called Crustacean in SF and LA that you could go there without a reservation and spot celebs all over the place. But much more interesting was the fact that every single person in the place was eating the same thing – roasted crab. They had three versions (spicy, garlic and drunken) but they also had a full two page menu. But nobody ordered anything except crab and noodles. I just made up my own version from memory and combining the three kinds in one.

So, first, obtain one cooked, cracked and cleaned crab per person. You can buy them already done from many supermarkets, etc. I usually wait until Whole Foods has a sale or get it from Costco and clean it myself. You can also go down to any real fishing port and get them live and cook and clean and crack ’em yourself. Actually, this last time we didn’t crack them but instead went out and got ten nutcrackers and picks. You can even, if you want to go up to Mendocino County, go out on a boat and catch your daily limit for $100 (that’s ten crabs). For the sustainably minded, Dungeness Crab is one of the few forms of seafood with a sensible fishing policy that works. You can only catch male crabs above a certain size. The result is that the Dungeness Crab population has been stable for decades.

Back to the recipe.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

If you crack and clean yourself, reserve the gills and liver and unsavoury squishy bits from inside in a pot, just cover with water and put on to boil very high. As you get spring onion and garlic and ginger trimmings, add them to the pot and throw in a glass of white wine. If not, then worry not.

Next, peel and finely chop four very large chunks of ginger per four crabs. Peel and chop a full head of garlic per four crabs. Chop a half pound of scallions per four crabs. Now pour half a cup of olive oil into a frying pan, add a teaspoon of chilli flakes, get it hot and add the ginger. Just as the ginger begins to really sizzle, add the garlic. Then as that really sizzles, add the scallions and cook until the garlic is turning brown. Remove from the heat immediately.

Now put all the crab in a big roasting pan and pour half a bottle of white wine over it. Then carefully pour all the oil, ginger, garlic and spring onion mixture, including the oil, evenly over the crab. Put in the oven for ten minutes or until hot. Get a HUGE serving platter and nicely arrange the crab on it. Pour most of the sauce in the pan over the crab and reserve the rest in a jug for people to add more if they want.

Serve with the noodles and a big green salad or with dark leafy greens.

Just to post something…

I have been busy with a lot of other things so I have been woefully lazy about updating and I have missed out describing a few good things. I made the baked chicken dish again and I think it is better with buttermilk rather than yoghurt so that’ll need updating. I also made the slow roasted lamb and this time got the sauce to come out perfectly – when you reduce a full bottle of wine down to a few tablespoons it does tend to taste good!

Passing 50

I just noticed (when I updated the recipe count) that we have reached 50 recipes. It is time to go back and put together some kind of archive that makes them all a little more accessible and so a little more useful. Look for that in the coming month or so.