Friday, September 24, 2010

Glass Act

My friend, neighbor, gracious hostess and mother of three girls (she blogs at Three Pinks) told me about The Pioneer Woman. She blogged about mason jars, and I started thinking.

I have been storing everything in glass since before my mom told me Bill Maher was tested and had over 90 different plastics in his body. That may be true, it may be apocryphal, but are you going to argue with my mother? Me neither.

So I store everything in glass. Dried orange peel and dried figs, both from my garden. Bay leaves. Brown sugar, black beans, leftovers. I even freeze soup in glass jars - leave some room it will well up, and don't put the lid on until it has frozen. And don't microwave on high to defrost the jar will break. Trust me on this one.

I make vinaigrette right in the jar and stick it in the fridge. Dr Lemon says one of the worst things for your health is store bought salad dressing. It's also one of the slimiest ickiest things for your mouth. So make your own - one part vinegar to three or four parts extra virgin olive oil. Red or white vinegar, or sherry vinegar. More about that later. Or lemon juice but then use half as much olive oil.

Dissolve a little sugar and a large pinch of salt in the vinegar. Chop up a shallot or crush a clove of garlic and add that to the vinegar. Put in a dab or a glob of Dijon mustard. Then add the olive oil and shake like crazy.

A few words of wisdom born of hard experience: only extra virgin olive oil. I use Bertolli for salads, it's not terribly expensive and it does not make things bitter like Colavita can. Don't cheap out on the ingredients, this will still be cheaper (and better!) than store bought. And Maille mustard or another good Dijon - Fallot perhaps.

This keeps a long time in the fridge. Great over roast chicken, sliced avocados, as a dipping sauce with a marinade. Or on a sandwich. You get the idea. 

I love wide mouth jars - they are easier to fill - and more importantly to empty. And get a canning funnel! great for filling without spilling.

Since fall is coming here is my favorite fall salad dressing made with - you guessed it - sherry vinegar. 
 To your health - and happiness.

Fall Salad

This salad is a conglomeration of two recipes because I didn’t have all the ingredients for either recipe.  It was a success.  The sherry vinegar makes it different.

Serves 4

For the dressing:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large shallot, minced 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard 
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
7 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil

For the salad:
1 fuyu persimmon (this is the one you can eat before it’s squishy ripe)
1/2 cup hazelnuts
4 to 5 cups mixed greens, washed and dried
1 bunch watercress, stems removed, washed and dried

Preheat the oven to 350.  Roast hazelnuts for 15 to 20 minutes or until fragrant and darker, stirring and checking every 5 minutes or so.  Pour onto towel, and rub to remove as much husk as possible.  Chop coarsely and reserve.

Remove core from persimmon with a tug or a knife, and slice into thin wedges.  Do not peel.  Reserve.

Mix  sugar, shallot, salt, mustard and vinegar in a large salad bowl.  Whisk in oil.  Toss greens with oil and divide among plates.  Top with persimmon slices and hazelnuts.

Note:  I did not have ripe persimmons so I made this with dried cranberries and chopped apple and it was great.  Don’t peel the apple, and use about equal amounts of apple and cranberry.  I also like it best with olive oil and lots of dijon mustard.  

You can keep this in the fridge and I think it gets better as it ages.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dog Days

Her name is Alice, but out of respect for Mrs. White we call her Ally.
She is a rescue - Part Jack Russell, part Basenji and probably something else. She is scared, snuggly, soft as a bunny.  And she chose us.

We went to get Adam, her brother, and she came up and gave us kisses. We took them both home...
...but it was twice as much dog as we could handle. I now understand the expression "herding cats." Herding puppies - same deal. Confusion, exhaustion, exasperation. Lots of shuns. 

So Adam has a new family and we have Ally. Actually she has us, to be more precise.  After all, she picked us.

Every falling leaf gets pounced on from a great height, chewed, then abandoned for the next leaf. Fall should be a laugh riot around here. We have two huge old oak trees - I expect Ally to be very busy. And tired. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

French Laundry

It is arguably (isn't everything?) the best restaurant in the world, and the hardest reservation to get. It has changed the way we all dine. We went for our anniversary - we were married there fifteen years ago.

Thomas Keller, the creative genius who created this incarnation of the French Laundry (there was a restaurant there before but nothing like the one that's there now) says you don't really taste after a few bites, so that is what he serves, just a few bites.
But what delicious bites!

He has changes the way food is served. Have you noticed the beautiful stacks of diminishing plates turning up in the most elegant restaurants? This is where it started, and where it has been perfected.

Kampachi with White Sesame and Jacobsen's Farm Plums is served in a spoon. Check out the plate that holds the spoon.
This place has changed the way waiters move. Laura Cunningham had been trained in ballet. The wait staff has been trained now too. How to move with grace and style, how to float, how to be attentive and yet preserve the diners' privacy. It sounds impossible but it works. I know a few people who walk like they're stomping snakes. Wish I could sign them up for Camp French Laundry.

The salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with Mangosteen, Red Radish, Cashews, Young Ginger and Mizuna is served on a stick. Sort of.
All those flavors in one bite. Tiny amounts, yet the dish would not sing, would not bring that silly smile of delight without them all.
We had thirteen courses. And a whole lot of wine. Thank goodness we walked home. A night of incredible food and incredible memories. Magic. Maybe the last reason I know to dress up. Bliss.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Summer Whine

I'm whining about no peaches but I took a walk around the front garden this afternoon and I found figs...
and tomatoes. Still green but they are from Greece via Mike at Forli's Restaurant in Alamo and I have high hopes.
some are ginormous.
I have oranges for marmalade,
Immature lemons for winter (think Limoncello)
Kaffir limes for Thai food (you use the leaves)

There is milkweed for the Monarch butterflies

cherry tomatoes (picked clean) a white peach (no fruit this year it's small) Owari Satsuma mandarins (too muddy to climb in for a photo and they fruit at Christmas) - all this in a normal suburban front yard that blends in well with the neighbors.

 No one notices the fruits and vegetables, only the iris and dahlias - the flowers. We eat something from the garden every day...and this is only the front! The back is ten times bigger.  If I can, so can you. This is being green on a whole host of levels. We even have neighbors who are growing olives - and Lisa's dad picked the olives from the trees at the school next door last year and made The. Best. Olives. Renzo? I want lessons. And more olives please.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tomato, tomahto

I made oven dried tomatoes and Liz loved them - so Liz, this is for you. Before you start a warning - this can be an all-day project so start early, and don't start this when you have a hair appointment or a dinner date. Unless it's dinner at your house. Then you can invite me!

San Marzano tomatoes are the best (more about that later) but any roma tomato will do. Split them in half:

and put them cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Fill the sheet - they should be cheek-by-jowl. They can even be touching. Pour about a cup of extra-virgin olive oil over them. I use Bertolli for cooking, I think it's the best. (I use McEvoy for dipping, pouring, but not for cooking. Too precious.)

Put the tomatoes in the oven at 300 and watch them - when they begin to brown move the brown ones into the center of the pan, and put the not-so-brown ones on the outside. This usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half, but depending on the moisture content of the tomatoes it can take longer. 

Turn the oven down to 250 or even 225 and check on them every half hour or so. This is the place to confess I turned the oven down to 225 and went off to take an hour nap. 

When most of the tomatoes beginning to darken, turn them over. When most of the tomatoes are half way to looking like sun-dried tomatoes in oil, begin taking them off the baking sheet. I find they do not all get done at the same time, so I end up putting half a sheet back in the oven for another 15 minutes or so. The entire process takes hours - these took about 5 hours. If I'd left the oven at 250 or 275 and watched them, it would have been quicker, but oh did I need that nap!

To serve the tomatoes as an appetizer, stack them in a dish, pour over some of the oil, and serve with baguette for sopping up the oil.

Any left overs can be put into a jar - I use a wide mouth half-pint jar

Tamp down the tomatoes, then...

pour that yummy olive oil from the baking sheet over the tomatoes. Use enough of the oil to cover the tomatoes. These keep in the refrigerator for months. Put any left-over oil in a jar and use it over pasta -
(there are a few tomatoes in here too - they would not all fit in one wide mouth jar)

I love it over spaghetti with torn-up fresh basil and parsley. Just warm the oil and pour it over the drained spaghetti, throw in the basil and parsley, sprinkle with hot pepper flakes if you dare, toss and eat. If there are any stray oven dried tomatoes they can go in too. I prefer this dish without Parmigiano - I think the cheese overpowers the flavors. And believe it or not, I don't think everything needs cheese.

And yes I know the last three photos are sideways. I'm working on it, I'm working on it. Or maybe I'll go take another nap. (I fixed it! now I'm going to nap. I've earned it.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dividing Iris

The best advice I got about iris was to divide them between the fourth of July and Labor Day. I procrastinate (as you know if you've read the chapter I Don't Want It Perfect I Want It Tuesday in my book. So I am dividing iris. Probably won't finish by Labor Day but oh well.

They start out looking like this:
the garden's version of a bad hair day. I slide a spade next to them and lever them out of the ground - 

then I pull them apart, keeping the healthy plump roots with a fan of leaves attached. Wrinkled up roots like this:

get thrown away. Only fat plump rhizomes (the brown part) with a good fan of leaves (the green part) or a fat white bud that will turn into a clump of leaves (you'll know it when you see it) get saved.

I cut the leaves back to about a foot, and because the place where you break the roots apart is moist and susceptible to all sorts of fungal and insect invasion, I leave them to dry for an hour or so. Then I plant.
 This is what they look like when they have been divided.I space them about a foot apart with the leaf fans facing out. Not too deep please - they will rot. The rhizome should be just covered with soil.

 You can see which way they will grow - don't point them at each other. Think siblings and keep them from squabbling over space.

A generous dusting of fertilizer on top, a deep soak, then leave them alone. They are tough, they do best in full sun and not too much water. I prefer all one color massed in a bed - I hate that spotty look. But it's your garden, so if you're into spots, knock yourself out.

This one is Victoria Falls and it re-blooms. I am looking for a photo. Last year I had iris to cut for the table at Thanksgiving. This year? We'll see.