BagelsinAugust

vegetable orzo with roasted poblano peppers

Nov
12

Sunny weather is my favorite cooking weather, it is an extra boost of encouragement to get me in the kitchen to experiment. Today I located a half empty bag of orzo in the back of the cabinet. Perplexed at first, I quickly looked around the kitchen, and found a couple of “pasilla” peppers on the counter. I place pasilla in quotes because it is technically a dried chili pepper. However, in California, a heart shaped, dark green, and shiny pepper that is about three to six inches in length is called pasilla, when it is really a poblano. The poblano, which is what I used, is a slightly spicy pepper (bonus fact: dried poblano peppers are called ancho chili). When used in cooking, the heat is significantly reduced, to just a mild flavor. The skin is thin, not even close to a bell pepper, so when roasting or cooking, I just keep it on as I like the extra boost of the smoky flavor. So I built the dish around these two ingredients.

Vegetable Orzo with Roasted Poblano Peppers

orzo with poblano peppers and other vegetables

Ingredients (for two servings):
2 Poblano (sometimes labeled pasilla) peppers
two tablespoons of butter (or olive oil)
half an onion, sliced in medium half moons
1/3 cup of corn kernels (frozen is fine, mine were frozen from earlier this summer)
pinch of salt (~1/4 teaspoon)
1/2 cup of pasta sauce (omit garlic and basil, you want tomato/butter/onion in a watery mixture)
3-4 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
2 handfuls of orzo (about 4 ounces)
black pepper, freshly ground
a couple of cilantro sprigs (or parsley)

Steps:
1) Wash and dry the peppers. I roast mine stove top, but you can also place them on a grill, or alternatively in your oven (turn on the broiler and coat with a heat resistant oil, keep turning every 2-3 minutes, until skin is thoroughly blistered all over). I like to take the hot peppers and place them in some aluminum paper for about 10-15 minutes, to sweat, and cool down.
2) Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and add the sliced onions. Let the onions sweat a little, about 2-3 minutes (they will become slightly transparent around the outside edges), and then add the corn kernels. Mix everything, add some salt, and leave it alone for 4-5 minutes. The onions will get the slightest caramel color, and the corn will lose its water content from the freezer.
3) Slice the cooled peppers in quarters, remove the step and seeds, and cut into thick (width wide) slices (you can choose to remove the outer skin, I did not). Toss in with the onion and corn, and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
4) Add the pasta sauce, a little at a time, making sure to mix the vegetables after each addition. Cook for 6-8 minutes to reduce some of the water.
5) Add the chicken or vegetable stock, and bring to a boil as if you are cooking pasta – which you are! Once the stock is at a full boil, add the orzo, and reduce heat to medium/medium high. Cook for about 8-9 minutes.
6) Once the orzo is cooked (taste it!), you can reduce the water content by keeping the heat on medium for a few more minutes. I like cooking the pasta with the vegetables because it thickens the remaining sauce, which becomes more like a risotto.
7) When finished, add some freshly ground pepper, and garnish with roughly chopped cilantro or parsley leaves.

homemade brunch

Oct
25

The sun is out, and everything seems so much warmer. A glow has fallen over the neglected garden, herbs looking more like weeds. The laundry is spread into giant piles on the bedroom floor, and I have run out of socks. None of this matters though, because I made the most delicious brunch for myself – sweet Early Girl tomatoes meet salty goat cheese. Early Girl tomatoes have a thin skin, which you can remove (or keep) when cooking, and they are pulpy, not watery. My tomatoes were so soft that the skin was easily peeled off without blanching. And the leftover sausage from last nights’ dinner was a welcome protein addition. I cooked the haufbrau sausage (from Trader Joe’s) in an apple jelly, mustard, and (slight) olive oil creamy sauce. All I was missing was a cup of orange juice.

sausage and eggs

weeknight pasta sauce

Sep
20

I know it will be an easy dinner on a weeknight when I have some tomatoes and a couple of basil leaves on hand. I make this sauce at least a couple of times a month, because all I have to do is watch it for the last few minutes. I sometimes blitz it quickly in a blender for a smoother texture, or add some heavy cream, and call it a soup!

Weeknight Pasta Sauce

dinner and dessert

Ingredients (for two servings):
3 large tomatoes (FYI mine were heirloom, but they were watery, and prolonged the reduction time – choose Early Girl or San Marzano, if possible)
4 tablespoons of butter (Earth Balance works as well, if you want this to be dairy free)
2 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped – optional
half of a small red onion, cut in half or quarters
a few basil leaves
pepper
a few parsley sprigs (flat leaf preferably)
salt
toppings of your choice: Parmesan and roasted corn featured, you can add peppers or capers

Steps: 
1) Fill a pan with water that can fit your tomatoes comfortably, and bring to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, wash your tomatoes, then cut a small “x” at the bottom, and when the water is ready, pop them in. Depending on the ripeness of your fruit, this can take 30 seconds to a minute. You can start to see the skin peeling away from the fruit. Scoop them out, and place them in an ice water bath (mostly ice, with some water). Leave them to cool.
2) Clean the pan, and if using garlic, heat about a tablespoon of butter on medium low, and slightly brown the garlic to release some of the flavor.
3) Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skin, and either chop the tomatoes, or smash them by hand (so relaxing!). You want the pieces to be small, and the liquid to escape.
4) Place the tomatoes in the pan, add the butter (if you roasted garlic, just add the tomatoes on top, and the remaining butter), and pop in the quartered or halved onion. Add a couple of good pinches of salt and give it a good stir. Keep the heat on medium to medium low, and walk away. You can clean your basil leaves, and chiffonade them at this time. You can roast some corn.
5) Check on the sauce every 5-7 minutes, and give the pot a stir every so often so the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom. Depending on your tomatoes, the reducing can take anywhere between 20 minutes to 45 minutes. Your sauce will thicken, and the bubbles will be popping almost like a volcano. Stir, stir, stir when this happens. Your sauce is almost done. Alternatively, if you don’t have time, you can always add some tomato paste, or a little bit of flour to quicken the process. 
6) Start the pasta water at this time. Add the basil leaves and pepper to the sauce, and leave it on for another minute or two. Taste for salt, and if needed, add more.
7) While the sauce cools, make your pasta, and cut the parsley. You can combine the sauce with the finished pasta in a pan, if you don’t want to pile up too many pots. If your sauce is too chunky, you can also put it in the blender for a quick whirl. Plate, and top off with some Parmesan, and toppings of your choice.

heirloom tomatoes

summer salad

Sep
09

Where did the summer go? The dreary weather almost made me forget that others enjoyed a proper summer all along. Time elapsed, and for the majority of it, I felt tired. June through August seemed like a movie dream (including fog!) which soon clears away, but not before leaving you wondering what exactly happened. I forgot to search for Damson plums earlier, to make a modified version of sloe gin, and now they are finished for the year. Small regrets, which quickly are forgotten by the bounty that fall brings.

Summer Salad with Jam & Raspberry Vinaigrette 

summer salad

Ingredients (for two salads):
two ripe peaches
two plums
one large tomato
half of an Armenian (or English) cucumber, peeled and cut into quarters
half of a small red onion, chopped
an ear of corn, roasted or grilled
about 12-14 leaves of basil (I used Greek basil)
about 2 ounces of ricotta salata (or feta)
one tablespoon of jam (peach or berry work well)
raspberry vinaigrette (or simple vinaigrette)
salt

Steps:
1) Chop the tomato into bite sized pieces. Then drain in a colander with some salt, about 5 minutes. The juice is great for drinks.
2) Wash the fruits, and if skin is too thick, peel. You want the same size as the tomato, and I find slices are too large. Stone fruits should be able to “roll” on a cutting board by simply beginning to slice as usual, and then rolling the fruit back and forth. If cling free, your pit will come off before you know it. If the pit is clingy, cut thick slices all the way down to the pit, and you will be able to pry it off cleanly.
3) Combine the jam and raspberry vinaigrette, maybe adjusting for flavor as needed. You want a balance of sweet, with a punch!
4) Place the onion and cucumber in a bowl, pick off or cut the kernels off the corn, and toss them in too. Then add the fruit, followed by the tomato. Add the jam + vinaigrette mixture, and toss gently.
5) Top off with crumbled ricotta salata cheese, and a few leaves of basil. Sprinkle with salt, but only if needed. The ricotta salata tends to be pretty salty.

peaches in summer salad

salmon, two ways

Jul
25

I have been meaning to write down the recipes of how I often make salmon for ages but, I usually just cook in the moment, which is both a gift and curse. Wonderful results ensue, and I struggle to reel off the exact measurements and temperatures. Someone wise keeps forcing me to write down the recipes, so here they are.

Salmon with a citrus marinade and side of tomatoes and red peppers

citrus salmon with veggies

Ingredients (for two servings):
6-7 oz. piece of salmon, preferably not previously frozen & with skin on
half of a medium orange
half a lemon
one small lime
one medium tomato or two to three roma tomatoes
one red pepper
one to two tablespoons olive oil
sizable pinch of salt
black or white pepper, optional

Steps:
1) Turn oven to 350F. You can use a square 8 x 8 pan, or similar size to comfortably hold the piece of salmon. Mine is a glass Pyrex 8 x 8 pan.
2) Bring salmon to room temperature from fridge, about 15-20 minutes. Then pat dry with a (paper) towel.
3) In a small bowl or ramekin, juice the citrus. Zest the citrus, in the same bowl, and roughly chop up or slice the remaining rind and flesh. Set aside.
4) Salt and pepper marinade, and pour into a bag or flat bottomed bowl. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. (I usually finish the rest of this recipe and work on the second piece of salmon during this time. )
4) Wash and roughly chop the tomato(es) and red pepper. Set as a “bed” on the bottom layer of the pan (picture below).

bottom layer of citrus salmon5) Remove salmon from fridge, and place some of the citrus on top of the mixture, finishing with the piece of salmon. Wrap pan with parchment paper, and bake for about 20 minutes. The glass pan helps me monitor the progress quite well, but feel free to check on the fish about 12-15 minutes after you put it in. Mine is garnished with some fancy lemon zest.
6) A note: since the tomatoes and red pepper are filled with wonderful citrus juices, I use these as a side serving for the fish, or incorporate them into some steamed rice (with some butter) or quinoa with mint.

Salmon with a soy marinade

soy glazed salmon

Ingredients (for two servings):
6-7 oz. piece of salmon, preferably not previously frozen & with skin on
one tablespoon soy sauce
one to two tablespoons grapeseed, avocado, or other high smoke oil
two to three tablespoons brown sugar

Steps:
1) Turn oven up to 450F, in case you have it on already from the previous recipe. You can use a square 8 x 8 pan, or similar size to comfortably hold the piece of salmon. Mine is a glass Pyrex 8 x 8 pan.
2) As in the previous recipe, take the salmon out of the fridge, let stand at room temperature as you pat it dry with a (paper) towel.
3) Mix the soy sauce, oil, and brown sugar in a ramekin or small bowl. You want to achieve a thick but flowing consistency, I often think of marmalade as a good comparison.
4) Place the piece of salmon on a piece of parchment paper to cover the entirety of the pan, then into the pan. Generously smear with the soy marinade, but reserve a little (one tablespoon) to add later. Cover loosely with the parchment paper (picture below), and put in the oven on the top rack.

sealing with parchment paper

5) Check on the status of the fish after 10 minutes, when it should be opaque looking on the sides. The marinade should have nicely set on the fish, even slightly caramelized, but not a hard shell. You can scoop the remaining marinade in the pan or use your leftover marinade, and pour on top of the salmon, if it is not an even layer. Keep in the oven for another 2-3 minutes, uncovered if you find that the sugar does not caramelize.
6) I served mine with sauteed bok choy and carrots. This also goes well cut up in a salad of romaine and sweet or red onion, lightly dressed with oil and vinegar.

santa rosa plums

Jul
01

Sometimes it is hard to believe that the area around San Francisco can produce virtually anything. The new crop of Santa Rosa plums at the farmers market this past weekend were plump, fully ripened, and almost achingly sweet. They were consumed before they could be diminished by cooking.

"peeled" santa rosa plums

dandelions

Jun
12

I have a long history with dandelions, shaped mostly by a childhood spent eating the greens against my will. There is also the embarrassment that involved picking dandelions, which my fellow youths had no idea were actually edible greens. Such activities, especially at a young age, are very traumatizing (at least in that very moment). But I do credit dandelions for being where my excitement and interest in foraging began.

Like many strong willed, and well behaved children, I would eat almost anything that my parents made for me. Dandelions, and beets, were among my least favorite foods. When we had Russian salad, I would pick the beets out, and eat them by themselves, so that they would not interfere with the good taste of beans, pickles, and other ingredients. They tasted like the earth…well, more like dirt, a taste sensation that my tongue transmitted negatively to my brain. I also found beets strange because they caused your hands to look like they were bleeding, but that story about my overactive imagination is best left for another time.

Dandelions fascinated me, even if they tasted like poison (there goes that imagination again – reading about Rasputin led to a lot of foods being labeled poisonous in my mind). I did not know who first thought to eat them, and knowing that my grandmother liked them made the greens that more appealing. I loved everything my grandmother made me growing up, and still prefer her cooking when I visit back home. Perhaps it was because I would get slightly excited when I was picking them, or because I really wanted to like what the adults around me said was delicious and good for me, and so I went into each eating session full of the best I-can-do-it enthusiasm I could muster. Every attempt to digest the dandelions, usually cooked with oil, and topped with vinegar and salt, was a pure defeat.

Picking was different though, it was fun (usually when other kids were not around), because I would really invest my energies into doing the best job possible. I would relish the moment when a full plant would come out with roots intact. Grabbing the whole dandelion plant, even digging a little of the dirt to unearth more of it for a firmer hold, and then the quick, swift pull was ever so gratifying. And the more I did this, the more I started to see the difference between young and old plants, good (ie not too bitter) and bad tasting greens. The knowledge, mixed with a sense of accomplishment overflowed when I was praised for a job well done, were slowly creating a reference guide in my mind.

And now I love dandelions. It has not been more than 15 years since those first impressions of the greens, but I cannot praise them enough when I have them sauteed with oil and vinegar, or blanched and used for tarts.  The slightly bitter taste is something I look forward to. It is slightly harder to find them growing wild in the city though, as they tend to be among the first weeds that are removed. I balk at the $3 (or more) price tag for a bunch. Now it is fashionable to grow them as normally as one would other vegetables, which reminds me of a wonderful phrase one of my coworkers says, “The term organic for my grandmother and her generation was called food.” I am glad, ultimately, that no children have to grow up with the taunting of their friends for picking weeds. And of course, for being able to find that even dandelions can overcome their original, and negative, reputation, and not just from my personal viewpoint.

arugula and yogurt

May
23

More than anything, I was known as a crazy mixer growing up. I would eating watermelon with ketchup, and not bat an eyelash when others gagged. Mustard with your cake, well, it’s not for everyone. I think this was the only way I knew how to try and make sense of what condiments were, or what to do with them.

A recent bunch of fresh arugula led me to experiment with how I could eat it raw. By itself, arugula is good to much on, but it does not take long before I feel kind of like a cow munching on grass. I just need a little spice, a little hint of something to elevate the delicious taste. About three fourths of the bunch through, I mean used for failed experiments, I found comfort in a dish of arugula and yogurt, topped with olive oil. It was simple, fast, and showcased the extraordinary taste of arugula the best. Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the most sense, and instructions seem unnecessary, but they are below regardless.

arugula for lunch

Ingredients (for one serving):
half a small bunch, about 20 large leaves of arugula
one quarter cup of yogurt
one to two tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt

Steps:
1) Thoroughly wash arugula, and either towel dry or leave out to air dry. Then chop roughly, think bite sized cuts.
2) Add yogurt to a small bowl, toss in chopped arugula, and mix thoroughly. Place on a plate, or eat in the same bowl!
3) Top with the olive oil, and add a pinch of salt.

beet and egg salad

May
17

I have a horrible habit, and I try to avoid the topic when it comes up in conversations. So this is hard too…but, here it goes – I don’t eat breakfast during the week. Hear me out though. It’s not because I have not tried, but I am not hungry first thing in the morning.I know breakfast is super important, and eating it two out of seven days is not a good compromise. But I eat a good lunch! I try to pack proteins and vegetables in large servings throughout the week. Today is no exception.

hearty lunch salad

I had some love beets from a package, and found a Pacific Rose apple in the fridge (I had never tried these before, and I love them). This is usually how things come together for lunch at home, what can I find? I thought about the two eggs that had been taking lots of space in the refrigerator, and about 10 minutes later, I had lunch.

lunch salad with eggs

Ingredients: (for one large salad – if you’re hungry like me, or two small salads)
one small bunch, or half a bunch, of red leaf lettuce
a small bunch of arugula
a generous tablespoon of dill infused olive oil (or olive oil with some chopped dill)
two to three tablespoons of yogurt (I used four tablespoons, and had a lot of leftover in the mixing bowl)
3 love beets (about 1-2 regular beets, baked or boiled)
one small apple (sweeter apples work best)
4 boiled eggs
small pinch of sweet paprika (for eggs)
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
lightly toasted sesame seeds

Steps:
1) Wash lettuce and arugula, and let them air dry (if you start ahead) or dry with towels. Chop them into bite size pieces. Toss with infused olive oil and yogurt (or olive oil with chopped dill), and leave aside.
2) Cube beets and apple, bite sized pieces. Also cut eggs in half, and sprinkle with paprika and salt. Add to lettuce and arugula mixture.
3) Grind some fresh pepper, and toss the sesame seeds on top. Place in plate, and leave any additional dressing behind, as it will make the salad soggy.

PS – How can I love brunch? Easy! I usually go out for brunch, and only on the weekends.