Late summer muse

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It’s been bloody hot here in the Bay Area the last week or so – the Mercury has been a little beyond the typical September in San Francisco.

The triple digit temps don’t inspire one to crank up the oven but yesterday it stayed cloudy enough to tempt me.

Good friends invited me, Sam and Eli to a casual supper in their backyard yesterday. With peaches in season I was inspired to create a summer salad that would riff off a traditional panzanella.

So the oven went on to prep the bread for this dish. Turns out, it was worth a little more heat.

The very loose recipe is below:

Peach Panzanella

2 heaping cups rustic bread (like pain au levain), cubed in large bite-sized chunks

5 peaches, cubed in large bite-sized chunks

handful fresh basil, chopped medium fine

8-10 sprigs fresh mint, chopped medium fine

zest of one lemon

juice of two lemons

4 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp white vinegar

olive oil

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

goat or feta cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle generously with kosher salt.

Toast in oven 10-15 min or until golden brown. Let cubes cool to room temp.

Toss peaches, herbs and zest in a big shallow bowl with room to add the bread crumbs. Drizzle olive oil to taste over fruit.

Whisk juice and vinegars in a separate small bowl.

Add bread to fruit and then add citrus and vinegar mixture.

Tumble salad well until nicely combined. Bread should be coated but not soaking.

Right before serving, crumble cheese on top.

If you want some extra contrast and zing, add some dry cured black olives. The color contrast looks great too.

Serves 8+

 

 

Paint by photo

I love to paint although I can’t bring myself to claim that I am a painter – both because I am highly intermittent in doing it and secondly because like many creative pursuits, I choose to wing it, rather than acquire any actual technique.

I fancy myself one day with a real studio, knowledge and time (what’s that?) to make it a more daily ritual. It’s a lovely way to get lost.

I have not landed on any signature medium, which is a fancy way of saying I don’t know what I am doing in any of the ones I have tried thus far – including watercolor, acrylic, oil or digital.

But I just remembered a great Maslow quote that applies to my situation perfectly!

The novice can often see things that the expert overlooks. All that is necessary is not to be afraid of making mistakes or of appearing naive.

That’s me: the novice, fearlessly attempting to paint in the last few years and stumbling into the genre of painting from a photograph. I like the idea that you can capture a place and develop your memory of it further. It allows for the abstract of your emotion to alter the beauty.

In true Lisa fashion, I have completed one painting, have one in progress and unfinished, and have a third which I have already decided is my next project.

And I just remembered another photo taken in NYC that is asking to be a painting.

The first: a small oil inspired by a gorgeous shot of sunset near big sur.

I like this one a lot. It kind of came together. I loved how unctuous the oils were and how the colors blended right on the canvas.

Photo:

Painting:

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Second: a pretty bridge that I saw waking up at dawn in rhode island a few years ago while on a work trip. I decided to try my luck at digital painting using procreate – an app for my iPad mini.

Photo:

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Painting:

Finally, on a recent trip home to my lovely native virginia, I stopped on the road to snap this picture of the canopy of trees – lit beautifully by sunshine. Eli was with me and agreed that it would make a pretty painting one day.

Photo:

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Painting: Maybe I will get him to help me.

Jamaican me a delicious breakfast

I just took a quick trip to New York for some inspiration and challenged myself to try some things you could only try in New York.

Well, maybe not just in New York…but the fact that in a single city block you could potentially eat Italian, Israeli, Turkish, Polish, Brazilian, you name it…is quintessentially New York.

So one morning, to test the theory I went for a Jamaican breakfast (after having a half sour pickle for an appetizer from a street vendor I passed).

I ordered an egg white omelette with a side salad and an avocado – not too unusual there. Then on a whim, I asked for the grilled jerk corn – which turned out to be the revelation!

A kabob of golden goodness, drenched in (probably) butter and coated in spices, shredded coconut – it was heavenly. Even better with their very own jerk hot sauce.

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Everything old is new again

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Recently, Ben wanted to make bread. Out came the old equipment and the
beloved James Beard cookbook.

Inspired to try a new recipe, he sought out the one for Saffron Bread.

“Lis – how do you scald milk?”

Ooo. My kitchen ego bruised a bit as I wanted to know the answer on tap.

Humbled briefly but undaunted, I reached for good ole Joy and flipped to the index. Nothing. I was about to reach for a device and hit the internet when I realized something.

I was using my ’90s version of Joy.

“Who scalds milk anymore?”

That’s what the editors probably said when they red-inked that entry right out of the “updated for the modern cook” edition.

Back to the shelf I went, this time for the vintage Joy a good friend’s mom gave me as a wonderful gift years ago.

Yep…there it was: scalding milk.

In case you are interested, scalding milk involved heating it to 180 degrees in order to kill bacteria, a process that can be eliminated in this day of modern milk processing (I guess).

For a moment, though, it was nice to go back in time.

I wonder, how many other old techniques have fallen out of the modern kitchen with our incredible evolution of food?

Not sure. But the bread was delicious.

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Savory directions

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There is an incredible store called the Spanish Table in Mill Valley, California which never ceases to inspire me. It’s a gorgeous shop with authentic provisions, beautiful cookware, paella pans of every size, and a killer wine collection. Not to mention addictive chocolate and a super friendly staff.

I also keep my mother in a constant stock of Maja soap – a favorite of her and Omah’s.

I don’t know much about Spain or Spanish cooking but I am quickly becoming a fan and will know more very soon.

I now own an authentic Spanish cazuela and gorgeous Mediterranean cookbook that my lovely family gave me as a gift.

I love having specialty kitchen equipment – maybe that is a no- brainer for any cook – but for me there is real joy in knowing about how something like a cazuela was designed and what kind of food it was designed to transform.

I also love coming into contact with a person who can be as obsessive as me about a purist technique. And when someone inspires me to procure foreign ingredients and expand my technique repertoire.

Well, I have found it in this lovely cookbook’s author, who I had not heard of before now but who is practically my neighbor, living just 30 miles away in Sonoma county.

She is evidently a preeminent Mediterranean chef and self-proclaimed expert on clay pot cooking and has lots of incredible advice on the technique and it’s benefits.

So far, I have only tried one recipe but it was incredible.

A lentil and eggplant casserole of sorts that required me to buy pomegranate syrup and some fancy pepper (Aleppo) and of course season the pot in a special way and shave tomatoes.

I had no idea how to shave a tomato (this type of kitchen mystery I love by the way) but as it turns out, it creates the most unctuous sauce and let’s just say, I was hooked by the entire experience.

This dish had a scrumptious flavor that was so incredibly layered and savory. A thick, creamy Greek yogurt, salad and freshly baked saffron bread were the perfect foil.

This was weeks ago and my mouth still waters at the memory.

I have earmarked a number of recipes to try next.

This year, the cazuela will get a ton of use as I plan to continue to explore Spanish cooking but also get closer to my Lebanese roots, and expand into Turkish and other savory cuisines.

I will master gigantes, for example.

I will try my mussels in the cazuela and see what is new about the flavors.

This is also the year to make gnocchi (a great recipe in the cookbook) and lately I have been craving roasted fennel.

Amazing what one little clay pot can do.

This will be a delicious year.

My protege

I recently changed my work schedule so I could spend time with my sons once a week, on Fridays.

My 5 year old, Eli and I get to spend most of a day together.  We have an adventure and then make it home in time for 10 year old Sam to arrive home from school.

Recently, I took Eli to San Francisco for the day.  We bounced around the city enjoying sites and of course, great food.

At breakfast, we went to a local fave, Dotties, which has relocated from a small space to a larger one in the Tenderloin.  I have to admit that the food just didn’t have the same cache as the original.

But, the pancake Eli ate was notable since it was as big as his head:

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At breakfast, I taught Eli how to give the ‘secret signal’ to his wait staff that he was done with his meal, and explained how to line up his fork and knife in parallel on his plate.  He was intrigued and we experimented and I didn’t think much more of it.

Then, later that day, I took him to another wonderful spot – Pizzeria Delfina – off Fillmore Street.  We enjoyed a delicious margherita pizza and I also had a great rose and delicious appetizer of sautéed chard.

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After the meal, I watched him closely.  Wouldn’t you know it, he remembered our breakfast dialogue and was positioning his fork and knife.

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Who was prouder?  I’m not sure….

 

Mastering ‘Moules’

One of my absolute favorite meals is Moules-Frites.  It’s commonly known as a French meal because of the name, but the dish is Belgian in origin.  It’s a classic –  briny, wonderful mussels in a number of different classic broths.  Tons of opportunity to experiment here once you know the basic foundations.

Fresh mussels are the key thing here, as is a ‘mirepoix’ base (onions and celery and usually carrots too, which I don’t personally use in moules) and then you can experiment.  Use tons of garlic or keep it mild.  Try wine or beer and vary the other ingredients to your liking.  I actually just had some curried moules the other day – never thought of that, but it was an interesting twist and delicious.

In the classic preparation of moules-frites, salty, perfectly crisp french fries are de rigeur.

A chunk of crusty bread to mop up the sauce, a big lusty glass of wine…

Ooo la la.

So I have been trying to master my own recipe for Moules for nearly a year now (minus the frites, as I am trying to get back to fighting weight) and recently, I think I hit a key technique that made a big difference.  It has to do with reducing the broth after steaming the mussels.

Moules was conceived truly as a peasant meal of sorts, as the ingredients required – mussels and potatoes – were widely and cheaply available.  In a busy weeknight kitchen it has a wonderful fit, as it just happens to be one of the easiest meals possible, and yet when you bring the steaming bowl to the table alongside of a great bottle of wine and a chunk of bread, it feels elegant.

mussels

 

Moules a la Lisa – serves 2

2 lb mussels

Olive oil

4-6 Garlic cloves, depending on taste

1/2 red onion, chopped fine

2 stalks celery, chopped fine

1 16 oz can chopped tomatoes, no seasoning

Bay leaf

1 cup white wine

2 tbsp butter (or more if you are feeling extra French)

1/4 c chopped flat leaf parsley

Salt and Pepper

Bread

Find a nice large ceramic bowl you’ll want to serve your mussels in later and warm it.  Or if you have one of those cool french cast iron pots the brasseries use, stick it in the oven to preheat.

Clean and debeard* mussels if necessary. Discard any that are already open.

In a large stockpot, heat 3 tbsp olive oil.  Add garlic and stir until fragrant – about one minute.  Add the onions and celery and cook for a few minutes until they are tender. Add tomatoes and wine and stir a few times. Season broth with salt and pepper and add in bay leaf and parsley.  Heat broth until steaming.

Toss mussels into the pot and cover until mussels open.

Remove the mussels from the pot of broth with a slotted spoon and put them in your serving bowl. Meanwhile, continue to simmer your broth, uncovered for several more minutes (could take up to 5-10, depending) in order to reduce the broth at least by 1/3 and until it becomes more velvety and rich.  Remove the bay leaf.

Pour the concentrated broth over mussels in your bowl and bring to the table with the bread.  Add a salad and you have a wonderful meal.

Voila!

*de-bearding means pulling off the rough whisker-like tufts that are on the sides of some mussels.  I usually get mine at Whole Foods and find them to have been cleaned pretty well.  If you buy wild mussels, it’s more likely you’ll have to do this, as farm raised or harvested usually don’t have beards.

“Nothing to eat…” magic

You know that moment when you are completely exhausted and starving, staring into your refrigerator or pantry and thinking there is no possible way you can make anything edible out of the dregs of your kitchen?

It takes tremendous self-control at this moment not to:

a) grab the nearest bag of chips and start munching

b) call and order take-out (again)

Instead, when pride and/or creativity, thrifty-ness [or insert-virtue-of-choice-here] can take over instead, this moment becomes an invitation to innovate.

On those nights when greater positive forces have taken over, I have been pleasantly surprised at the results, and a few have even become favorites.  Now I consider it a challenge to be faced with “nothing to eat.”  Ok, sometimes.  Other nights, it’s a great excuse for Indian food.

This will be a fun series for my posts – every once and a while I’ll post the latest surprise magic.  Please note, the documentation on these recipes isn’t as great as others of mine due to the desperation-alchemy-factor at work!  I am lucky on these *magic* nights that I get a delicious meal to the table and can’t promise the instructions are all that good…but in the spirit of whim, I invite you to give the idea or combination of ingredients a try.

This latest iteration includes one of my favorite finds of last year: Field Roast Brand Vegetarian Sausage!  I stopped eating meat nearly 3 years ago and about the only thing I crave now and again is sausage.  This satisfies me beautifully and works wonderfully with pasta.  This dish would be equally amazing with real pork sausage, however, for all you carnivores out there.

The night my desperation turned into this magic, I had two sausage links left in an otherwise really sad cheese drawer, and one bunch of kale that was miraculously still springy, in with some wilting herbs.  Combine that with a box of pasta and a few other staples I had in stock and…presto!

Maybe this will inspire you to look twice in your fridge before you call for pizza…

Orecchiette with (Veggie) Sausage, Kale & Pine Nuts

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Ingredients:

Orechiette pasta

Olive oil

Shallot (I probably used two)

Field Roast Brand Italian Sausage (I think I used two links)

Kale (I like the small leaf, tender kind; you could also substitute chard), chopped coarsely

Toasted pine nuts (1-2 tbsp, depending on how much you like them)

Lemon juice (a tbsp or two) and Lemon zest (about two tsp)

White Wine (about 1/4 cup)

Cream (I probably used about 3 tbsp and it could have been half and half or heavy cream – whatever was in the fridge)

Unsalted butter (about 1tbsp)

salt and pepper

Technique:

While the pasta cooks, toast the pine nuts and set aside. Saute the shallot in olive oil, just until starting to get fragrant.  Add the sausage. Add the kale and saute until tender – covering the pan with a lid for a short time to steam the kale to firm-tender.  Add the lemon juice, the zest, the wine and bring to a simmer, letting some of the liquid evaporate.  Add the tbsp of butter and the cream (if desired) and whisk in with the ingredients, allowing the sauce to condense a bit.  Toss in the pine nuts and season with salt and pepper.

Drain pasta and add it to the pan and toss with the sauce.  I love how sauce hangs on orechiette and even how a few of them cling together to make a tender mouthful.

Plate with a shaving of parmesan reggiano if you have it.

*magic*!

Your new favorite soup

For years, this delicious soup has been in my family’s repertoire and has become an almost weekly basic in our house.  Even the boys love it.  It’s called “Maria’s White Bean Soup”, although I have no idea who Maria is…she made a great soup.

white bean soup

Over time, I have adopted a few twists – including making homemade croutons, which are simple and delicious added on top.  And sometimes if I have a parmesan rind hanging around my fridge, I’ll throw it in for added flavor and richness, as the soup cooks.

I like making it either early in the day or the day before, to allow it to simmer into it’s full flavor.  You can make it just prior to eating (if you’ve soaked the beans the night before) but it takes a full hour to make the soup and it will be thin.

The ingredients are simple:

First, beautiful beans – I love how the olive oil in the water acts as a magnifying glass!

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Next, these simple things:

soup ingredients

And here’s the recipe:

Maria’s White Bean Soup

1 lb white beans, dried cannellini are great

8 c water

1 medium or 2 small onions, chopped coarsely

4 carrots, sliced

1 cup celery and tops, chopped coarsley

1 16 oz can diced tomatoes (unseasoned)

1/2 c olive oil

2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Soak beans overnight.  Or, bring to a boil, remove from heat and soak 1 additional hour.

Cook beans in 8 cups water one hour in covered pot.  Add all other ingredients.  Cook gently until vegetables are tender.  Season with salt and pepper.

Chef’s notes:

If you have a leftover parmesan rind, throw it in with the vegetables.  Imparts a richness that is delicious.

I love making a batch of homemade croutons out of a loaf of crusty bread.  Any loaf will do so pick your favorite.  I’ve never tried a green olive loaf, but I bet it would be wonderful!

croutons

 

Rustic Croutons

Rustic Bread chopped into 1” cubes

Olive oil

Coarse salt

Line bread cubes on a sheet pan and drizzle over with olive oil so that each cube is at least half drizzled with oil.  Sprinkle coarse salt over the cubes of bread.  Put sheet pan in oven or toaster oven.  Bake at 400 for 10 minutes or until lightly toasted.  If using toaster oven, toast until tops are golden.

Remove from oven and use as topping for salads or soup.

Pardon me…

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Nearly 20 years ago, one of my wonderful friends, Kathleen, showed me how to make a great vinaigrette out of the last of the dijon mustard in the jar.

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It’s pretty simple.

When you have only what you can scrape out, you add about 1.5″ of great balsalmic vinegar and then you shake the bottle hard, until all the mustard and vinegar is combined.

Then you fill the jar to 3/4 full with olive oil.  Shake vigorously, until the vinaigrette is combined.

Simple. Easy. Delicious.