Showing posts with label carrots. Show all posts
Showing posts with label carrots. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Best Egg Salad You Will Ever Make

My mother and grandmother disagreed about many things as mothers and daughters do. They especially disagreed about the proper way to make egg salad.

Real egg salad, my grandmother said, was made with hardboiled eggs and mayonnaise with a little salt and pepper. My mother used those ingredients as a starting point. To her egg salad she added finely chopped celery and, sometimes, scallions. My grandmother thoroughly disapproved.
As a kid, I often found myself caught between the two of them. Siding one time with my mother, another time with my grandmother.

About egg salad, I definitely agreed with my mother. Chopped hardboiled eggs and mayonnaise cried out for more flavor and texture. The celery and scallions were a good start but, ultimately, I decided there were so many more ingredients that would improve egg salad why not add whatever you wanted, as long as the ingredients did not over power the eggs.

I tried lots of ingredients. Mango chutney (not good), raisins (not good), pitted green olives (very good) and pepperocini (very good) to name a few.
Right now I'm happy with adding charred carrots, onions and corn kernels tossed with fresh Italian parsley. The crunch of carrots and corn contrasts with the soft, creamy eggs and mayo. Italian parsley adds a fresh element. A dusting of cayenne or Korean pepper flakes adds a pleasing heat.

For special occasions, I also like to mix in chopped up charred shrimp, crab or lobster. Using a carbon steel or cast iron pan makes charring the vegetables very easy.

I'm pretty certain my mom would approve. I am as certain, my grandmother would not.

The Best Egg Salad

Yield: 4

Time to prepare: 20 minutes

Ingredients

4 eggs, farm fresh, large or extra large
1/2 cup corn kernels, about 1 ear of corn
1 medium carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, small diced
1 small yellow onion, washed, peeled, ends removed, small diced
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems removed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Best Foods
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon blended oil (70% canola oil, 30% olive oil)
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Pinch cayenne (optional)

Directions

Put kosher salt into quart sized pot filled with water.
Place eggs into water. Put flame onto medium-high.

After water boils, leave eggs in uncovered pot 5 minutes, then turn off heat and cover for 10 minutes.

Remove cover, pour out hot salted water and fill pot with cold water. Allow eggs to cool.

Peel eggs and reserve.
Place carbon steel or cast iron pan on a high heat. When metal smokes, add blended oil and vegetables. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook until vegetables are charred. Remove from stove and cool.

Finely chop hardboiled eggs and place into large bowl.

Add cooled charred vegetables and mix well.
Season with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne (optional). Taste and adjust seasoning.
Add Italian parsley. Mix well.
Add mayonnaise. Mix well. Refrigerate.

Serve with crackers, bread or romaine leaves.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer’s Last Salad - Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

How can summer be over? Honestly, it seems only a few weeks ago that we were in the park watching 4th of July fireworks. Now every day the sun leaves the sky earlier and earlier. 

Walking through our farmers market, the tell-tale signs that fall is closing in are everywhere. The mounds of corn at our farmers market are smaller. The tomatoes aren’t as acidic-sweet as they were last month. The peaches still look beautiful but they aren't as full of flavor with firm flesh.
In these last moments before temperatures plunge and skies cloud over, now is the time to seize the day and celebrate summer before it disappears completely.
Dylan Thomas said that we should “rage against the dying of the light” (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night). Personally I prefer a good chopped salad to ragging against the inevitable.

Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

Always examine the ears of corn closely before purchasing. That is always true but at the end of summer, choosing ears carefully is even more important. Ideally the husks should be green and pliant, the tassels moist and the kernels plump. Dimpled kernels are a sign the corn is losing its sweetness. A worm or two isn't a problem. The presence of a live worm says the corn is organically grown. Just cut that part of the cob off and discard.

Use whatever fresh vegetables you enjoy.

My preference is to cut the vegetables into a small dice so they are similar in size to the corn kernels.

Charring the corn adds a smoky-sweetness.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 basket or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed, dried, cut into eighths
2 ears fresh corn or 4 cups of kernels, husks and tassels removed, washed, dried
1 large bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, stem cut off and discarded, cut into a fine dice
1 medium avocado, washed, skin and pit removed, small dice
1/3 cup green and black olives, pitted, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1 red or yellow pepper, washed, dried (optional)
1 cup croutons, homemade preferable
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced balsamic vinegar (made from 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar reduced on a low flame)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Place the ears on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Char the ears of corn either on the barbecue or in the oven. On the barbecue turn the ears frequently over medium-high eat to char but not blacken. Remove and let cool. If in the oven, preheat to 350F, place the ears on an aluminum foil or Silpat lined baking sheet and roast fifteen or twenty minutes, turning every five minutes for even cooking.

When cooled, remove the kernels from the cobs with a sharp chefs or paring knife. Place in a large mixing or salad bowl.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar over a low flame. Allow to cool.

If using a pepper, char a whole red pepper on the barbecue or over an open flame on the stove. When the skin has turned black, remove and allow to cool. Under a stream of cold water, rub off the blackened skin. Place over a bowl. Using a paring knife, remove the stem. Cut open to release and capture the oils inside the pepper. Discard the seeds. 

Finely dice the cooked pepper. Add 1/4 cup to the salad. In a sealed jar, reserve the remainder to be used in stews, soups or another salad. The cooked pepper will keep fresh in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Add the reserved pepper oil to the salad.

Add the cut up pepper (optional), cherry tomatoes, avocado, parsley, olives, carrots and croutons to the bowl with the corn kernels. Toss well. If desired, add crumbled feta cheese.

Season the salad with olive oil, reduced balsamic, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.

Variations

Use grated cheddar or crumbled blue cheese instead of feta.

Add a chopped protein like cooked chicken breast or grilled shrimp.

Add 1 tablespoon chopped red onions or scallions.

Add 1/4 cup fresh chopped bell peppers, preferably red and yellow.

Add 10 asparagus spears, woody bottom part removed, washed, charred on the barbecue or roasted in the oven, chopped.




Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on the New York Times Dining. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Big Game Snacks - Stephen Colbert Said Don't Call Them "Super Bowl Sunday" Snacks

Last night Stephen Colbert warned that anyone writing about Super Bowl Sunday should beware the wrath of the NFL. His workaround for a week-long series of specials devoted to Super Bowl Sunday was to call it "The Big Game."


I'll take Colbert's lead anytime, so here are my suggestions for snacks to enjoy during The Big Game on this coming Sunday.

The easiest snacks are store bought. No one has to stay in the kitchen to serve the pizza, dips and chips, beer and sodas. But fast food doesn't make you feel good. There are easy ways to make food for friends that only require a bit of time in the kitchen and here are some suggestions.

All these dishes can be made the day ahead, so on Sunday, you can spend the morning lounging in  front of the TV watching the pundits analyze the upcoming game.

Roasted Beet Salad

Requiring little to no effort, the beets do all the work.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 large beets, washed
3 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 scallion (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Sea salt
Black Pepper

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet.

Leaving the skins on the beets allows them to cook in their sweet juices. No need to wrap them in aluminum foil and definitely don't peel them. Place them on the lined baking sheet, Drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in the oven.

Depending on the size of the beets, the cooking time is anywhere from 30-90 minutes. For even cooking, turn the beets every half hour. Use a pairing knife to test for doneness. Don't let them overly cook. They are best cooked al dente, so there is a firmness.

In a small saucepan, reduce the balsamic vinegar over a low flame until the 1 tablespoon is reduced on 1 teaspoon. Set aside.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the beets to cool.

For the salad, the beets should be peeled, the top and root end removed. To avoid staining your hands, use plastic gloves. The skin should come off easily. Don't cut away any of the flesh.

Cut the beets into any shape you like--wedge, diced, sliced or julienned. Season with the olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Optionally, finish the beets with a finely sliced scallion. Also, optional, dust with cayenne to add a bit of heat.

Kimchi Chicken Wings

Much more effort is required to make Kimchi Chicken Wings. The result is so delicious, they are definitely worth the extra effort. The wings can be cooked the day ahead and refrigerated, then reheated before the game. The wings are delicious served hot or at room temperature.

Servies 4

Ingredients

2 1/2 pounds chicken wings, washed, pat dried
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup kimchi, finely chopped
1 tablespoon kimchi water from the bottle
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, washed, peeled, sliced thin
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Directions

Dissolve the brown sugar in the kimchi water, olive oil, and soy sauce. Add the kimchi, onion slices, and chicken wings. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking tray with tin foil for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on the tray and arrange the wings on the rack. Drizzle the wings with olive oil. Put into the oven and bake 30 minutes. Turn over with tongs. 

Bake another 30 minutes. The wings should be tender and golden brown. If not, turn the wings over and continue baking another 10 minutes. Check again and continue baking at 10 minute intervals, turning the wings each time, until they are done.

In a small saucepan on a low flame, reduce the marinade by a third. Reserve.

Pour the heated, reduced marinade over the wings. Place in a leak proof container. 

Make sure everyone has plenty of napkins and a chilled drink of choice.

Variations

Add 1 tablespoon julienned garlic and 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley to the marinade
Just before serving, top with 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallion

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

Serves 6-8 (makes 1 quart)

Ingredients

8 large carrots (preferably farmers market fresh), washed, peeled, ends trimmed off
1 scallion (optional), finely chopped
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Directions

Soak the raisins in lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight Grate the carrots in a large mixing bowl.

Roughly chop the raisins, reserving the lemon juice not absorbed into the raisins. Mix together the carrots, raisins, parsley, and scallions.

Season with the cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper and toss. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise. Mix well.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley

Add chopped capers

Top with roasted chopped almonds

Chicken Salad with Mango Chutney and Roasted Almonds


The salad can be eaten on small romaine lettuce leaves, crackers, bread or heated tortillas. The dish has a flavor pleasing mix of savory (chicken), sweet (mango), crunchy (almonds) and heat (cayenne). The dish can be made with either white or dark meat. Personally, I think the dark meat has more flavor.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, washed, pat dried
1/4 cup whole, raw almonds
2 tablespoons or 1/4 cup mango chutney (amount depends on taste), finely chop the fruit
1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise (preferably Heilman's or Best Foods)
1 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
1 scallion, washed, pat dried, root end trimmed, green and white parts finely chopped (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Sea salt and black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place whole chicken breast side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet. Season with sea salt and black pepper. After 30 minutes, remove and turn over the chicken.

Season the breast side with sea salt and black pepper. Return to the oven. After 30 minutes, check for doneness by moving one of the legs. The chicken is fully cooked once the leg moves easily. Continue cooking until done. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Because it is criminal to waste food, make stock with the skin and bones by covering them with water in a large pot. Simmer 60 minutes, strain, remove the bones and skin, reserving any bits of meat for soup. Refrigerate the stock, skim and discard the fat. The stock can be refrigerated for 2-3 days or kept frozen for several months.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the mayonnaise and mango chutney. Shred the chicken into bite sized pieces. Place the cut up chicken, parsley, scallion (optional), cayenne into the bowl with the dressing. Toss well. At this point the chicken salad can be refrigerated in an air-tight container.

Toaste the whole almonds in a toaster oven heated to 300 F for 5 minutes. Turn the almonds and continue toasting for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Roughly chop and reserve.

To keep the almonds crisp, sprinkle them on the chicken salad just before serving.

Variations

Substitute cilantro for Italian parsley.

Add 1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped.

Substitute finely chopped yellow onion for the scallion (optional).

Sauté 1/4 teaspoon cumin and turmeric in 1 teaspoon olive oil until nut brown. Add to the mayonnaise-mango chutney dressing. 


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Food Blogging - (Almost) 100 Recipes


The other day I wrote about attending a Los Angeles Food Bloggers gathering. On my blog, Men Who Like to Cook, you can see the almost 100 recipes contributed by group members.

For some reason subscribers who received an email copy of the article did not see the recipes.
For those of you who didn't have the opportunity to check out the recipes. Here is the link.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Food Blogging is More Fun with Friends

Generally speaking, I'm not a joiner.

It's not that I'm a loner--well, maybe, a little bit--but I'm not a joiner of clubs, groups or social circles. I belong to the Modern Language Association--the MLA--because a long time ago I was an English professor with a specialty in 17th Century English Literature. I belong to the Writers Guild of America, West--the WGA--because I write for television. And that's about it.

In August I met with Food Bloggers, Los Angeles---the FBLA. A dozen of the group gathered to share recipes and talk about blogging. They were nice enough to invite me to join them.
Since this was the end of summer, the topic was tomatoes and zucchini, two summer vegetables (yes, I know tomatoes are a fruit) that are available in great abundance.
I contributed a pasta with roasted tomato sauce and grilled corn and Vietnamese style pickled zucchini, cabbage, carrots and onions.
What people brought to the gathering covered a meal from soup to nuts, as my grandmother would say.
Tomatoes and zucchini found themselves turned into soups, appetizers, casseroles and desserts.

Coming to a food writers' gathering has so many benefits, not the least of which you get to enjoy what other people like to cook.
Everyone at the gathering had a dish to share and a camera. We not only ate one another's dishes, we photographed them as well.

I don't believe I had ever met another food blogger. What fun to meet in the group and talk about issues only a blogger would love.

Topics like which was better Word Press or Blogger?

What are the work arounds when Blogger won't post your photographs?

What are your reasons for blogging?

How can you expand the number of readers who see your blog?

FBLA meets once a month. The meetings have a theme or topic. Food is always shared, I'm told, along with information of interest to the group.

I'm looking forward to joining them again.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Garlic Sautéed Yellow Squash and Carrots

In summers past, I grew yellow squash with great success. The plants spread to every inch of the garden, threatening to overwhelm tomato plants, the herb garden and a small patch of arugula.
After the vines firmly established themselves, the long, fat squash seemed to appear overnight. What to do with all those squash?

A neighbor saved the day. She loved squash blossoms. She would nip the problem in the bud, so to speak, by picking blossoms before the squash could appear.

Ultimately our best solution was avoidance. We stopped planting squash. Problem solved.

But I missed squash's pleasant crunch and clean flavor. Last week we were gifted with a basket of zucchini and yellow squash from our next-door neighbor's front yard garden. Picked while they were young, before they became watery, the zucchini and squash were unblemished, firm and the picture of health.

There were a great number of ways to prepare such perfect specimens. They could be steamed, grilled or even eaten raw in thin slices or grated. Because I had a beautiful bone in ribeye steak, I decided to sauté them with garlic to use as a side dish.

Sautéing would caramelize and bring out their hidden sweetness. Combined with carrot rounds, the color and texture contrast would add to the pleasures of the dish.

Steak never had such a pleasant companion.

Garlic Sautéed Squash and Carrot Rounds


Time: 30 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients


4 medium sized yellow squash, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" thick rounds
4 medium sized carrots, washed, peeled, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" thick rounds
1 small yellow onion, skins and root end removed, washed, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, skins and root ends removed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Sea salt and black pepper

Directions


Heat a large frying or chef's plan with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.  Add onions and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned. Add yellow squash and carrots. Sauté until lightly browned. Finish with sweet butter.

Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Variations


Dust with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne for heat.

With the carrots and squash, add 1/2 cut washed, trimmed green beans, cut into 1/2" long pieces.

With the onions and garlic, add 1 tablespoon washed, trimmed shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped.

Once all the vegetables are cooked, add 2 cups cooked pasta, toss, dust with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve as a side or main dish.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vegetable Soup Beats Back the Cold

Fall's brilliantly colored leaves are nature's consolation prize. Summer's warmth becomes a fond memory as the air cools and days grow shorter. Then when we "fall back," gaining an hour--another consolation prize--we're faced with ever encroaching darkness.
Fall is accompanied by a sense of loss and regret as we move inexorably towards winter. For cooks, however, this moment of sad transition is a happy time because we open our cookbooks and pull out recipes for roasts, braised meats, baked squash, and, of course, soups.

For Zesterdaily I posted a vegetarian soup to warm you when the sun disappears at 4:30PM and you feel that chill in the air.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

For my mother, Thanksgiving was the best day of the year. She enjoyed being surrounded by friends, family, and food. One day of the year when everyone was focused on being together and remembering how blessed we all are. She's been gone now for two years but this year, as we did last year, we'll toast her and remember how much she enjoyed Thanksgiving.

We all know that while turkey is the centerpiece of the meal, the side dishes and desserts reign supreme. Cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing with sausages and dried apricots, mushroom and giblets gravy, salads, pickles, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, string beans, squash...and the desserts: pies, custards, cakes, fresh fruit, cheese... Thanksgiving celebrates an iconic moment of generosity from strangers at a moment of crisis. Given the difficulties the world is facing for the coming year, we can use Thanksgiving to share with one another our hopes for the future.

Everyone has their favorite side dishes for the holiday. They need to be flavorful and easy to make. Here are mine: Roasted Whole Tomatoes, Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, and Avocadoes, Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad, Blackened Peppers with Capers, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and, my new favorite, Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sautéed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sautéed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms

I prefer sweet potatoes that have a bright orange flesh. Find ones that are slender, appropriate as a single serving. For a dinner party, pick ones that are about the same size.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients

4 sweet potatoes, washed, skins on
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 cup shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves only, washed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap each sweet potato in tin foil, place in the oven, turn every 30 minutes. Depending on your oven and the size of the sweet potatoes, they can take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. When the sweet potatoes are soft to the touch, they are done.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, drizzle olive oil in a frying pan, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté the shallots, garlic, parsley, and mushrooms until lightly browned.

Remove and discard the tin foil. Take a sharp paring knife and slice each sweet potato open the long way. Using your fingers, push the sweet potato in from the ends so the cut section opens like a flower. Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter and a light dusting of cayenne (optional). Top with the shallot-mushroom sauté and serve.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad

For a confirmed meat-eater like myself, everything tastes better with crisp bacon, grilled sausage, or a roasted meat. Michelle's new diet has challenged me to come up with dishes that are as flavorful as she's used to but focus on vegetables.

Experimenting with recipes has sent me searching for ingredients I often over-looked. In our pantry I discovered packages of couscous, dried beans, and polenta, all gifts from the Il Fornaio Passport program.

If you haven't eaten at Il Fornaio, I'd like to recommend the restaurant. We have been regular customers of the Santa Monica Il Fornaio ever since it opened. We appreciate the friendly service, fresh ingredients, well-prepared dishes, and affordable prices. And we enjoy the Passport program and its monthly gifts. When the gifts are ingredients to make at home, Chef Maurizio Mazzon provides easy-to-follow recipes for each.

As an end of summer dish, couscous with grilled vegetables seemed like a perfect dish to make for Michelle. Traditional couscous requires a lengthy cooking process. Il Fornaio provided a quick-cooking couscous, which I recommend. This recipe is indebted to Chef Mazzon.

Grilled Vegetables Couscous

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups couscous (quick-cook style)
1 1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olives, cracked green or kalamata (pitted, finely chopped)
1 basket cherry tomatoes (washed, quartered)
1/4 cup capers (chopped)
1 cup Italian parsley (leaves only, washed, finely chopped)
1 ear of corn (husks and silks removed, washed)
1 carrot (washed, peeled, trimmed, cut into slabs 4"x1/4")
2 garlic cloves (washed, trimmed)
1 ripe avocado (optional)
1 bunch arugula (optional)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Drizzle olive oil onto a flat plate, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, roll the corn on the plate to coat with the seasoned oil. Do the same with the carrot slabs and garlic cloves. Lightly brown on a hot grill or roast in a 350 degree oven for 10-20 minutes, turning to avoid burning. Let cool , finely chop the carrots and garlic. Cut the kernels off the cob.

As Chef Mazzon instructs, boil the water with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. In a non-reactive bowl (stainless steel or glass) mix together the couscous with the salted hot water and 2 tablespoons olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

To the couscous, add the carrots, corn, garlic, parsley, capers, olives, and cherry tomatoes. Add another 7 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt or black pepper. Can be served chilled or at room temperature.

Variations

Add grilled broccoli (treated in the same way as the carrots).

Serve with arugula.

Serve with a sliced avocado.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

From Los Angeles to UC Davis with a Stop at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market

On our way to UC Davis for our son Michael's freshman orientation, we first went to San Francisco. Taking I-5 we drove straight up the Central Valley with its seemingly endless miles of rich farmland, passing truck after truck filled to overflowing with California's bounty: tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, lettuce, onions... Like most Californians we love being on a road trip but nowadays we don't have the luxury of time so we usually fly when we travel. For this trip we had set aside five days and we relished a rare opportunity to get in the car and hit the road.
In San Francisco we stayed with Michelle's cousin Marii, her husband Ron, and their daughter Claire. Their house is in the Marina so we could take walks along the Bay within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. Ron is a great cook and we decided that one night he, Michelle, and I would cook dinner for Michael, Marii, and Claire.
Saturday morning, while Michael slept in, we went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market to prep the meal.

The last time I shopped at the market I was working for San Francisco based DotComix, a web animation site that imploded when the internet bubble popped in 2000. At that time, the farmers' market was across the street from the Ferry in a small parking lot. Now the market encircles the Ferry building and fills the Plaza on the southern end, giving the shoppers a clear view of the Bay Bridge.

For an appetizer Ron was going to barbeque skewers of Wagyu beef he'd ordered on-line from ADiRECT Foods. The night before we'd eaten at a neighborhood Japanese-fusion restaurant called Umami. We talked a lot about what created that extra flavor ("umami") that is neither sweet, bitter, sour, salty but something more. We knew using mushrooms was one way to create that extra flavor. At the market he found fresh morels that he wanted to try with the beef. For our part Michelle and I wanted to keep dinner as summer-friendly as possible so we focused on buying ingredients we could grill and use for salads. Dessert would be a Banana-Chocolate Chip Walnut Cake I'd made at home.

There were stand-outs at the market: large bunches of watercress from White Crane Springs Ranch, peaches and nectarines from Frog Hollow Farm, and Ella Bella Farm's broccoli di cicco (sprouted broccoli). We also bought corn, tomatoes, arugula, and Italian parsley. The market is such a treat. Even if you didn't need to shop, walking through the crowds and enjoying the visual experience of the waterfront setting is more than enough reason to come to the market.

Ironically we would have missed one of the best parts of the market if the forest fires weren't raging in California and Nevada. We were just about finished shopping when we were surprised to see our friends Val and Florence. They live a block away from us in LA. Florence is one of the most accomplished cooks I know. There was no one better to give us tips about the market. They were two days into a week-long vacation in Reno when the forest fires came close enough that they had to leave, as Val put it, "because it was raining ash." Having traveled frequently to San Francisco, Florence knew where to buy the best peaches--Frog Hollow Farm--and which vendors had the best prepared food.

We hadn't planned to eat at the market because we were on our way to Sausalito to have lunch with friends, but Florence insisted that we couldn't leave without sampling her favorites. Luckily there were four of us to share. There was lox, cream cheese and a slice of thick-cut tomato on sourdough bread topped with red onions and lavender sea salt from Cap'n Mike's Holy Smoked Salmon, toastadas de ceviche with shrimp and avocado from Primavera, and RoliRoti's porchetta sandwich, the crispy pork sliced to order by chef-owner Thomas Odermatt. Florence told us that the porchetta sandwich was just like the ones she loved in Rome. For us the porchetta sandwich was a highlight of our trip. With napkins in hand and our stomachs full, we thanked Florence and Val for their much-appreciated advice.

Claire had patiently endured our extra time at the market. We owed it to her to finish shopping quickly. While she ate a breakfast muffin from Downtown Bakery, I picked up a chicken from the Golden Gate Meat Company and a piece of Capricious cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company.

Later that afternoon Ron, Michelle, and I cooked our dinner, which included grilled chicken, sausages, and vegetables; a summer drink of white rum, mint, and limes that combines the best of a Mojito and a Caipirinha; Ron's skewers of Wagyu beef and morels were amazing, the morels' earthiness perfectly complimented the meat's buttery sweetness; chopped liver and egg salad; grilled lavash; arugula and carrot salad; chopped salad; watercress with grated Capricious cheese; and the banana chocolate chip walnut cake.
We had a wonderfully leisurely dinner with time to catch up about family, tell jokes, and talk about favorite movies. As a reward for my helping cook dinner, Claire made me a drawing in recognition of my "hard work and generosity." Appreciation is a great gift for anyone who cooks.

Of all the dishes we made, what Marii liked best was the chopped salad with grilled vegetables and Italian parsley. There will be more about the rest of the dinner in subsequent posts, but I wanted to start with Marii's favorite dish.

Summer's Best Chopped Salad

A salad with an infinite number of variations.

Yield 4 servings
Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 bunches Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped, leaves and stems)
1 large avocado (peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped)
4 carrots (washed, peeled, cut into 1/4" thick, 2" long slabs)
2 scallions (washed, ends trimmed)
4 ears of corn (husks and silks removed, washed)
1/2 pound broccoli (washed, ends trimmed, stems peeled, florets cut into 1/4" thick, 2" long slabs; if using sprouted broccoli grill whole)
1/2 pound string beans (washed, ends trimmed)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Put the chopped parsley and avocado into a large mixing bowl. Heat a barbecue grill. Drizzle olive oil on the vegetables, season with sea salt and pepper. Grill 5-10 minutes until lightly brown. If you don't have a grill, you can accomplish a similar result in a 350 degree oven. Turn frequently in either case so the vegetables don't burn. Remove and let cool.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan on a low flame until you have a quarter of the original volume. The vinegar will become sweet.

Finely chop the grilled vegetables, add to the parsley, drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic, season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Toss well and transfer to a salad bowl.

Variations

Keep the salad vegetarian and grill any vegetable you enjoy, like squash, asparagus, onions or mushrooms, chop, and add to the salad.
Add grilled meats like Italian sausage or chicken or shellfish like shrimp, lobster and crab.

Add cheese such as crumbled feta, finely chopped comte, mozzarella, Swiss or cheddar.
Add chopped olives.
Add chopped salami.
Add chopped grilled eggplant.

Add chopped artichoke bottoms.

Add chopped hardboiled eggs.

Add homemade croutons.

Add chopped roasted beets.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Carrot Salad Makes a Great Sidekick

What comes with an entrée may be more flavorful than the entrée itself. Grilled chicken breast is a case in point: it's ok, healthy but flavor-wise, nothing special. Put a side of homemade carrot salad on the plate and everything changes. The addition of the creamy, spicy carrot salad compliments the neutral flavor of the breast. I'm in heaven.

The key to that sentiment is "homemade". Carrot salad bought from upscale Gelson's or even Nate n'Al's just won't do. I've taken the classic deli recipe and given it a couple of flavor enhancers: a pinch of cayenne and golden raisins soaked in lemon juice. With those added flavors, the salad can hold its own with an infinite variety of dishes: grilled chicken, steak, hamburger, pork chops, lamb chops, duck, even an avocado for a vegetarian meal.

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

8 large carrots (preferably farmers' market fresh), washed, peeled, ends trimmed off
1 scallion (optional), finely chopped
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Soak the raisins in lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight Grate the carrots in a large mixing bowl. Roughly chop the raisins, reserving the lemon juice not absorbed into the raisins. Mix together the carrots, raisins, parsley, and scallions. Season with the cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper and toss. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise. Mix well.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley
Add capers

Top with roasted chopped almonds

Serves 6-8 (makes 1 quart). Preparation Time: 20 minutes.makes 1 quart). Preparation Time: 20 minutes.

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