Novel Food~September 2008

21 09 2008

Well…here we are again.  Yet another 3 months have passed and it’s time for another Novel Food installment.  I’m late, again…as usual.  At least I have a really good excuse this time.  I was at a wine tasting (I know, not a whole month long…) and we have a party TODAY,   We aren’t catering, but we are attending with food in hand.

The novel, or series of novels that I’m taking my inspiration from is the Diane Mott Davidson mystery series.  The protagonist in this series is Goldy Bear-Schultz, a Colorado caterer who finds herself being folded into one mysterious death sequence after another.  I have to say, I’d be a little concerned about living in this community with it’s very high death rate!  That having been said, all of these mysterious occurrences take place in, around and about Goldy’s catering venues.  Not only do we hear about the various foods she’s preparing for the Colorado elite, the author shares the recipes with us throughout the pages of the book.

Catering equals parties, parties equal party foods, which says 1 bite…1 exquisite bite to me.  I can’t take complete credit for these.  These are The Pioneer Woman’s bacon-wrapped jalapeno-thingies.  Hey, I didn’t name them.  I just make them.  LOTS of them.  They’re so hard to leave alone! The second picture shows them fresh, hot out of oven.

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Thingies are so easy to construct, and so easy to cook that there’s no reason not to make them.  Cut jalapenos in half and remove the seeds and pithy ribs.  How many?  Enough.  Enough to make you happy, and then about 6 more than you thought that would be, and multiply that by the number of people you want to be happy.  Stuff the jalapeno halves with cream cheese, wrap with a piece of bacon (Ree cuts a pound of bacon into thirds…that works with some bacon, but not all), secure with a wooden pick, and place on a rack above a baking pan.  Here, I skipped that step because I was making a BUNCH of these little devils.  Bake at 375º for 20-25 minutes, or until the bacon is cooked.

The third shot shows the little nibbles draining.  I had a few problems with the bacon shrinking a little too much for some of the bites, and I had to redo the pick securing the bacon on several pieces.  The final shot is a platter ready to be served.  They’re so addictive.  And those that just wouldn’t get pretty enough to go on the platters?  Don’t worry.  They find their own place.  Serve hot out of the oven, or serve at room temperature.  But do serve them if you can tear yourself away from them!

Many thanks to The Pioneer Woman for sharing her recipe and to Simona and Lisa who make Novel Food possible!


Éstouffade de Boeuf Provençale

17 09 2008

Ahhh…here we are at Wednesday all over again.  This week we’re starting the braises…beef, veal then lamb.  I love braising.  I’ve been doing it for years and didn’t have the faintest idea that’s what I was doing.  Go figure.  This is a different method of cooking a pot roast, but it’s a lot the same too.  This is serious scratch cooking.  Our lowly beef chuck roast bathes in red wine, onions, carrots, garlic with a bouquet garni for at least 12 hours.  Oh…and 20 crushed peppercorns.   I confess…mine lounged around for a whole 24 hours.  I put everything together the day before I planned to cook, stuck it in the fridge and vacillated between asking Hubster to put the roast on to cook, or doing it myself and eating a little later that evening.  We opted for later dining.

The recipe called for “fatback,” but I couldn’t find anything like that.  I settled for salt pork, and eventually used a whole 12 oz. piece.  Needless to say, I didn’t find the need to add much (any?) salt to the dish.  I marinated the meat for 24 hours, drained, strained, seared, browned, and sauteéd until everything was ready to cook…where??  I admit…they have us preheating the oven to 375º and then cooking the dish on top of the stove??  And don’t let it boil.  Forget that.  I reduced the oven to 325º (thou shalt not boil, remember?), and put the roast and all the goodies in the oven.  An hour later I turned the roast.  An hour and a half after that, I turned it again.  By that time, it was getting pretty darn tender, so I started my potatoes.  That was when I realized I’d forgotten to toss the vegetables with flour before I added the wine…3 hours earlier.

What to do…?  Ok..flour needs to cook a bit to keep from tasting…well, like raw flour.  So, I sprinkled the 2 Tbsp. of flour into a non-stick little skillet, and heated it whilst whisking, whisking, whisking.  I wanted it to cook without burning or toasting too much, and yet still cook.  It was a game of set on the heat, pull off the heat, whisk, whisk, whisk, shake…whisk, until the flour dried and barely colored.  While the broth was still piping hot, fresh out of the oven (just after I removed the meat), I whisked in the hot flour.  No lumps, no bumps, just a nice smooth gravy resulted in the end.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with this dish.  It had a soul warming quality and it melted in the mouth.  It was difficult to restrain ourselves.  I made mashed potatoes to go with the roast, even though I wasn’t sure I shouldn’t try buttered noodles instead.  Had I made a stew or ragu, I probably would have opted for noodles.  I don’t see why one couldn’t use stew meat and change this to a stew…oh my…how yummy would that be??  Add fresh, hot rolls…mmmmmmmm!  But, this was a roast, and here’s mine, plated up:

Several of my co-workers have offered to help me with left-overs…aren’t they sweet?  So, I took a carton of this to one of the single guys and he had it for lunch today.  He was amazed at how tender it came out, and how rich and smooth the gravy was.  We’re calling this a keeper!

Next week…the challenge of locating veal…that ought to be fun!  The only veal I see around is scallopine, or once in awhile breast of veal.  Hmmm…  I’ll have to do some serious hunting.  I’ve always wanted to make Blanquette de Veau.  We’ll just have to see…I’ve been hunting for 2 weeks already.  Whisk me luck!

Gold at Gold Country after all…

14 09 2008

Needing a good spoiling type dinner, we gave the Gold Country Casino Steakhouse another try…and we were quite pleased.  Let’s admit it…those of us who cook for pleasure really enjoy it when we have the opportunity to be wined and dined without doing the work, when it’s at least as good as we can turn out on our own.  The better we get, the harder it is to be truly happy after a meal.

The Steakhouse at the casino has a typical western US menu, heavy in steaks, but they also have some really intriguing choices such as Elk medallions.  We opted for the special of the evening, Filet Oscar, which was a 7 or 14 oz. cut of filet, topped with lump crabmeat, asparagus spears and bearnaise.  Oh yeah.  Yum.  Serious yum.  And I ate all but one bite.   They start you with a bread basket of foccacia, a flatbread, and rolls.  We started with a dozen oysters on the half-shell.  Their Shallot Mignonette was wonderful and set of the ice cold oysters nicely.  We decadently followed that with Lobster Bisque laced with cognac.  This was beautifully presented in a slouched bowl, decorated with a lobster medallion and green onion “leaves.”   The soup arrived in a silver teapot and was poured over the garnish at the table.  Very nice, and very, very tasty.  The entreés arrived in a timely fashion after our soups had been consumed, and all was right with the world.  Dessert…well, much as we’d have liked to try something, we were pretty much to the point of not being able to eat anything more, but I wouldn’t have wanted to leave any thng out either!  Maybe next time.  I think I can give them easily 4 whisks.  While I know what went into this meal, I don’t often want to work that hard all in one night, and I have to say I doubt I could have done better this time around.  Bravo!

Fast forward to 2018…The dinner house is now gone in favor of their upscale lounge with dining…SaFire…  I’m not ready to give an opinion of Safire yet…my first experience wasn’t bad at all.  But…it is somewhat different now.

Buerre Blanc

7 09 2008

Finally!  I’m catching up on my Wednesday Whisking…on Sunday.  Mercy…I’m tardy!  But…if you read my Saturday post, you know I’ve been canning up a storm.  I did peach jam and dill pickles today before poaching my fish.  Ok…dinner was way late again this time, but it was tasty!

This week we were to poach a whole pike in a court bouillon.  The poaching was easy enough, the fish choice was not.  This is northern CA.  I think bass or striper might do well this way, and certainly sturgeon would.  However, I was stuck with whatever the given market had available.  Hubster chose mahi.  Ok. Firm, white fish. Poaching should do well for it.

I wasn’t comfortable with the way the court bouillon went together, so I consulted the internet and was directed to one of Alton Brown’s Good Eats recipes for court bouillion.   His recipe called for garlic and added water and lemon juice to the mix.  Works for me.  He also suggests the poaching liquid can be used twice.  Trust me.  We intend to.  Into the freezer with the strained mixture.

The star of the show this week is the buerre blanc.  What a find!  What a rich, silky sauce!  I had miscalculated the amount of butter I needed, so I cut it into smallish pieces to soften faster (not hard in the heat we’ve had this weekend).  When the wine had evaporated and the creme fraiche had reduced by half, I wrapped my saucepan in a towel and whisked in an entire quarter pound of butter (I halved the recipe).  Oh mercy!  Can we say RICH!!  Can we say TASTY??  We certainly said, “Mmmmmmmmmmm…”

This ends our play time with manipulated butters.  We’ve covered compound butters and herb butters, and emulsified butters.  It’s orobably a good thing.  I’ve taken a liking to a particular adult beverage that doesn’t match well with my cholesterol medicine.  I alternate which is going to win during that particular dose time. I really shouldn’t be enjoying all these lovely butters without a way to cut them with olive oil, without my meds.  Go figure.  This was a particularly nice sauce.  I can see using in on salmon, and I dislike salmon, but I’d try it.  The green beans were from the farmers’ market.  Aren’t they pretty?

Off to braising…lousy weather though it is for braising. *sigh*

Good Eats & Not-so-good Eats

7 09 2008

The first couple of weeks of school usually find us dining out quite a bit more than we usually do.  I come home after 10 hour days not quite ready for facing the kitchen.  If I can set myself up fairly well with things that work well together, I manage to get meals to the table.  Then there are those “other” nights.  I’m ever so grateful Trader Joe’s is now in Chico.  I can start with something frozen and go the “Semi-Homemade” route. One of my favorites is their “Penne Arrabito.”  This frozen pasta entreé is sauce and pasta, nothing more.  But…add 1/2 pound of fancy ready-to-eat sausage (Aidell’s or similar), sliced veggies that you’ve sauteéd (we like mushrooms and zucchini) and you’ve got a great entreé.  Add a salad, and you’re done.

We went to the Farmers’ Market on Thursday night.  I didn’t get home until 5:30 (I’m off at 4…), Farmers’ Market started at 6, so there wasn’t a lot of down time between getting home and getting on the road (Farmers’ Market is 20 miles north of us).  As we drove, we discussed where to have dinner…Chico has so many options available!  One week we had pizza at Woodstocks…truly wonderful!  This week sushi sounded particularly good.

Chico has more sushi options than most towns of it’s size…even college towns.  There’s the original, Gen Kai, who started it all, and has changed hands 4 or 5 times since the inception.  I’m not up-to-date on the menu or quality right now.  I’ve had good, bad, and GREAT meals there.  Katsuo’s is out on Nord Ave.  It has a cafeteria style atmosphere, but the food was good last time we were there; s-l-o-w but good.  Then, the nouveau Rawbar opened… Very non-traditional Japanese in decor and mannerisms, they offer sushi, both traditional and inventive.  Other Pacific-Rim delights decorate their broad-spectrum menu.  Pricey, vibrant, and wonderful.  Our favorite nights were Mondays when the Master Itabi-sama was there.  Mike was fabulous, and I’d love to have his recipe for Slam Sauce.  There’s just nothing like it anywhere.  Viable competition opened on the north end of Esplanade…Japanese Blossom.  We had lunch there and were happily surprised to find our Itabi-san from Gen Kai there!  Ahhh…that change of ownership thing.  I see.  Other types of competition have risen up with Rice Bowl offering sushi on their buffet, and another place on Mangrove offering sushi on their buffet as well.  I can’t put a name to that place just now, but it was passably good, and reasonably priced.  If…you can tolerate buffets.  Which leads us to our Thursday night find…

We hadn’t had an opportunity to try 33 Steaks, Booze & Jazz.  We didn’t even know for sure where it was until Thursday night.  I had parked a few blocks away (you can’t park in close…there’s just NO room!), and we walked in on 3rd this week.  The previous trip, we’d come in on 2nd to visit Woodstock’s on the way out.  As we approached 3rd & Main, there was 33 Steaks, Booze & Jazz…and what was in their window??  A sign proclaiming SUSHI!  How fortuitous!  Decision made!

33 Steaks, Booze & Jazz is decorated in black and maroon…very deep colors.  It has the look of fine dining crossed with college crowd hangout.  The menu is somewhat sparse, but the choices are right up there.  They offer filet mignon in a number of applications…Oscar (has my eye), Blackened (why? why? why?), Chicken Picatta, Marsala and Cordon Bleu, to name a few items.  We were interested in sushi this night.  We were not disappointed.  The menu is tight…many rolls feature the same items over and over in different applications, but the saucing and accessory items that go into the rolls made everything a little different from the next.  No nigiri sushi.  Only rolls, but nicely sized rolls that a woman can put into her mouth without choking on the bite.  I really like that.  And the prices were so moderate! The rolls ranged from $5 to $11 – and each made at least 8 nice bites.  We had about 6 different rolls, which was plenty, and the total for food was $32.  Not at all bad.  Alcohol was a little more up there in price, but we ordered call-liquors and specialty drinks, so not that bad in comparison.  Hubster had a 3-Mile Island…a twisted Long Island concoction that was pretty powerful and tasty…I opted for a Ruby Red Martini-Cosmo style.  I’m hooked on those at the moment, and since it’s a call liquor, they’re more than my usual Sierra Nevada on tap.  LOL!  Sushi dinner usually runs us $120-150-ish.  We were out the door, food, drinks and tip, under $90.  Ok…not much under $90, but still.  And we were gloriously happy.  See???  I can be happy after a restaurant experience!

And then…there was Saturday…

Oroville boasts a new Mexican restaurant on the West end of town…Los Compadres.  This has been one of those “hopeful” things.  This is a restaurant that we watched come along from the first hand-lettered sign on the side of the road.  We watched the lot being cleared, and the brand new building went up…typical southwestern design, no question this is Mexican in the making.  A year or so later, their doors opened.  We noticed they were open last weekend, and were packed, so declined to check it out.  We thought we’d give it a week or so and see how things progressed.  And then, I got hungry for chile rellenos.

Los Compadres has a broad expansive front, with lots of parking just off Oro Dam Blvd. west of the freeway.  It’s brand new, so it’s sparkling clean, inside and out.  As you walk in, you’re greeted by a hand-lettered sign on a white board welcoming you, and a table just below full of menus and wrapped utensils.  Immediately to the left of the menu table is the door for the servers to go in/out of the kitchen. The hostess station/cashier is left of that.  It felt awkward.  There are booths along the front wall of the restaurant, and tables along the near inner wall.  There’s enough room between the booths and the near-inner wall to put a line of tables, should they need more dining area.  There appears to be additional seating on either end of the restaurant beyond the near-inner wall.  There are entry-ways, but we were seated so that I couldn’t see what was beyond them.

We were almost promptly greeted and seated by a young Latina woman who was old enough to work, but not old enough to serve a drink.  She appeared to be between 18 and 20, and was pleasant enough, but not the brightest – use your favorite cliché.  When seated, you are presented your wrapped utensils and your menu.  Chips and salsa arrived shortly thereafter.  The chips were crisp, fresh, a little greasy…but not bad at all.  They were just greasy enough for us to be sure they were cooked on site.  The salsa was tasty…pureed tomatoes and tomatoes, chiles, seasonings, onion, garlic, cilantro…all in good balance with a good residual heat.  It might be too hot for some, but it worked for us.

One thing there seemed to be plenty of at Los Compadres was time.  We had more than adequate time to peruse the menu, the entire menu, front-to-back, twice.  Then there was a lovely period of time between our decision and being able to share that information.  All the while, there’s still no water, nor an offer for beverages.  But…we do have chips and salsa.  There was more time here and there too, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves!

Our young waitress arrived, set water glasses on the table, poised her pen and offered to take our order…  Hubster didn’t bat an eye, nor miss a beat when he turned to her and explained that it’s customary to offer customers an opportunity to slake their thirsts by offering beverages first.  Oh yes, he did.  He’s just that quick witted and sharp tongued.  He has kind of a samurai sword tongue…you don’t realize your head has been separated from your neck until it falls from your shoulders.  We’ve been married 26 years.  In that time, I’ve tipped some servers abundantly for catching their heads in their hands.

With beverages attended to, we place our food order.  He chooses the lunch combo of chile relleno and enchilada, shredded beef.  I chose the same, ‘but make mine shredded chicken.”  The waitress apologetically told me there was no shredded chicken.  I selected the two chile relleno meal instead.  Then, we waited.

We had plenty of time to analyze the situation.  Too many servers on deck, not enough help in the kitchen.  We didn’t see any food except chips & salsa come out of the kitchen for a very long time.  We hoped this was a good sign…that they were working from fresh…and wondered about the chicken…  Was there no chicken, or was there no shredded chicken?  Interesting.  I took it to mean there was no chicken.  However, strictly speaking the chicken isn’t shredded (it is however, de-boned at some point), so she didn’t misspeak.  Ok.  They have chicken items and I didn’t order it right.  So be it.  More authentic?  There’s a lot of chit-chat going on.  It’s easy…they have a code language.  We’re mainly anglos, and we’re not a bi-lingual bunch, so they can say whatever they like.  Is the chicken thing a mini-language barrier thing?  Hmmm…

At long last food arrives…it looks fine.  It’s typical in appearance.  Rice and beans down the center, each item on either side, add cheese, melt and serve.  Don’t warn the patron.  They should know the plate is going to be hot.  Is this their first time in a Mexican food place?  Oh.  The plates arrived nice and hot!  The plates looked pretty much the same.  I couldn’t tell his enchilada from his relleno, except that I could see the edge of a tortilla.  Ranchero sauce appeared to be the universal top sauce.  To their credit, both plates came out of the kitchen at the same time.

Mexican food is a quirky thing…a lot depends on which region of Mexico, or southern CA, AZ, NM or TX that you live in, you’ll find Mexican food is slightly different.  That’s not to say it’s not authentic, it’s just different.  San Diego taqueria food in the 70’s was heavenly.  I loved watching them create it, and I loved eating it.  Tex-Mex came to my little town, and was different, but it had that fabulous right-on no questions taste (back then anyway).  AZ Mexican is a little different even yet, but still…it’s there, underlying everything, that little whiff of “yeah.”  And I even like Taco Bell…for it’s purpose and ease; you can’t seriously call that Mexican food…until Los Compadres.

It was difficult to understand what I was eating.  I knew what it was supposed to be, but what was this really??? Chile Relleno translates out to stuffed chile.  That’s easy enough.  I can’t speak well at all in any other language, but I can read menus in five languages.  The item on my plate was no more a stuffed chile than I was a stuffed turkey.  This was by any other definition an omelet.  It was mixed eggs, cooked and tri-folded, then sauced.  Nothing more.  Oh.  Wait.  There is a bit of cheese.  Where is the stuffed chile?  Ok…chile rellenos are a bit of a pain, but I’m not the one who put it on the menu, y’know?  I just ordered the thing.  Things.  I got two of these.  Oh yippee.

Okay, I can understand, maybe, that making chile rellenos is a bit much for a starter chef.  That’s why it’s almost impossible to get a good, fresh chile relleno.  They make them ahead and reheat them.  In that regard, I found this method a little ingenious.  However, the real work is in peeling the chiles, so doing the eggs right is no big deal after that.  Still…canned chiles are routinely used in a lot of places, so a chile relleno omelet isn’t a bad idea, but don’t pass it off as the real-deal. Aha!  There is a chile (piece) in the other relleno.  At least there’s an effort at something with all the components.  My first impression (which will last and last), wasn’t how things are supposed to be.  It’s nice to know what they really intended.

In the end, I don’t think time will change much of anything here.  This is a family owned place…what looks to be a legacy…and I don’t hold out much hope for it.  It’s Taco Bell sit-down, dine-in style.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that their ranchero sauce was Taco Bell sauce.  It had that kind of quality to it.  Not bad tasting, but…a texture that’s hard to imagine being made fresh.  The beans tasted like the usual canned brand.  Their salsa was fresh enough.  There was at least fresh cilantro in it.  The rice was interesting.  I’m not sure what the difference was, but that’s one thing that intrigued me.  Don’t get me wrong, the food wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t impressive enough to break old habits and favorite places.  It’s not going to get on my map as a place I think positively of when I think of Mexican food.  It’s on my avoid list…unless I’m at work.  It’s one of the closest places to where I work.  I can see lunch there over Taco Bell.  If they can get the food out fast enough for my hour long lunch!

So…there we are.  A GREAT find and a road-bump.

Tis the season to CAN!

6 09 2008

About this time every year, an overwhelming urge takes hold of me and drags me to the roadside produce stands where I purchase large quantities of fruits and veggies.  This year, our score was tomatoes, roma tomatoes, peaches and pluots.  We spend a few days in the kitchen, canning up a storm, and when that yen for summer fruit comes along, we’re covered!  I’ve made all of our salsa and tomato (chopped, diced and whole) for several years now, and I’m trying to get ahead of our pickle consumption too.  One of these days…maybe!

Canning isn’t difficult.  It requires a little hardware…the water-bath canner is necessary for fruits high in acid and pickles, otherwise you’ll need a pressure canner.  Jam and jelly can be sealed with a water bath, or not.  Other things you must have are jars, lids and rings.  Started jar sets are sold either by the cute package, or the dozen.  Beware of the cutie stuff…it has it’s place, such as for gift giving.  Day to day canning goes in plain ol’ jars that you spruce up with creative labels and such.  You’ll also need salt or sugar depending on what you’re canning, perhaps lemon juice and/or a fruit color stabilizer (ascorbic acid).  Some pickle recipes call for pickling spices or alum.

Canning is pretty much just following a set routine of peeling, packing, processing, put away.  Here we have a case of lovely, fresh California peaches, just in from the farm.  Those fuzzy skins are not welcome in our jars.  Sometimes fur is good, and sometimes it’s not so good!  To peel peaches you drop them into boiling water for 10 seconds to a minute (un-ripe fruit won’t peel easily), then move them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  The skins slip right off.  You do the same thing for tomatoes (which usually peel even easier than peaches).  I cut mine in quarters as I go.  I can in pint jars (there’s just the two of us), so I cut quarters rather than halves to fit the jars better.  I adjust the cooking time by 5 minutes for hot pack, and 10 minutes for raw pack.  Sprinkle each layer with Fruit Fresh to keep them from turning brown.

Below are our peaches after they were packed into hot, sterile jars with a light syrup.  I was showing my husband how all this works, so we did raw pack this time.  I forgot how much I dislike having space wasted when I can…  It’s a toss-up.  More time in prep, or more time in the canner…  Pre-cooking the fruit a little will make it a little more cooked in the jar, but you also get a full jar.  The raw pack floats more because of the displaced air in the fruit.  When the fruit cooks, the air is displaced by fruit juice.  Raw pack will have a layer of liquid at the bottom of the jar and the fruit will float to the top more.  With hot pack, the air spaces have already been displaced so the fruit stays down in the syrup better.

We picked up some lovely Roma tomatoes that we set to drying while we were working on the case of tomatoes we bought.  We don’t need salsa this year…well…maybe we do, but we aren’t ready to make any yet!  We need put up tomato quarters and chopped tomatoes first.

The Roma tomatoes took several days in the dehydrator.  We might have done better drying them in the oven at the lowest setting, but…we were working over the stove, so we opted to use the dehydrator.  They came out great.  We packed the softest of the halves in olive oil.  The rest we packed air tight and put them in the freezer.  Our tomatoes worked well.  After seeing the problem with raw pack, I went to hot pack on the tomatoes.  They came out really well.  We did great…until I laid the side of my thumb open peeling tomatoes.  I was not happy.  It took me out of commission for a few days, but I’m healing.  And so it goes…

Below are Pluots.  They’re a cross between plum and apricot.  Our favorite variety is called Dappled Dandy.  It’s dappled green and red outside with lovely deep pink flesh.  The seeds are more like plums than apricots, and the flesh is firm and sweet like an apricot, but more juicy like a plum.  They’re really good as jam and better fresh eating than either plums or apricots.  This year we did pluot halves…we’re still waiting to see how they taste, but they look gorgeous in the jars!

And that’s about it for us for today.  We still have peaches and pickles to work on tomorrow.  Then I’ll show you what the shelves are looking like!  That’s the fun part!!  Oh…and eating!  We had the best little peach tart the other night…mmm..mmmm…mmmm!  Until next time…when I’ll either be posting about my buerre blanc or my trip to Los Compadres…Have a great day!!