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Happy New Year!

It seems December for me was a bust.  I did a ton of cooking and very little blogging.  I blew right through Dark Days, Weeks 3 and 4.  Because of all the holiday plans, most of the food I made was a hybrid of local and not so local.  While in a crazed baking frenzy, making a double batch of blue cheese and walnut cookies, I did manage to throw together a quick lunch.  While it was cooking, I realized everything on it was local.  While it wasn’t anything special, I snapped a picture, since I knew I wouldn’t have much of a chance to do anything else between Christmas and New Years.  The Berkeley Farmers Markets were closed that week, which just contributed to my laziness.

So, here it is, my very local grilled cheese:  Olive bread by Acme (aka best bread ever), some cheese from Point Reyes (I didn’t write down the name), a slice of raddichio from the farmers’ market, and some Clover Stornetta butter.  Very easy, and very satisfying.

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Today this blog turns 2

Two years ago today, I started this adventure with my very first post, Pickled Tomatoes.  The recipe is still one of my favorite summer dishes and I may have to whip up a batch soon.

It’s been a good year.  I participated in the Dark Days Challenge and became a member of Marin Sun Farms Meat CSA. Last year, I recounted my favorite dishes from my first year.  And this year, I shall do the same.  So here we go – the highlights from my second year.

Risotto with Tomato Confit

Mexican Chocolate Brownies

Blue Cheese and Walnut Cookies

Goat Cheese Polenta

Turkey Pot Pie With Sweet Potato Biscuit Crust

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Arugula and Hazelnuts

Winter Pizza

Potato Leek Soup

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Tacos

Red Wine Linguini with Broccoli Rabe

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes

Corn Pancakes with Scallion and Jalapeno

That’s the year!  Thanks for reading!

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 So, here’s something you probably don’t know about me.  I’m obsessed with cults.  I once toured the Scientology mansion in DC just to get a look around and when the Texas Department of Child Services invaded that polygamist ranch, I was glued to CNN.  So when this article appeared in the East Bay Express a few months ago, linking a local raw food restaurant with a cult like organization, I was totally intrigued.  I still haven’t been to the restaurant yet and I’ve heard it’s very good, but I think I’d be too intrigued by watching out for cult things to care about the raw food.

If you don’t want your salad to come with a side of brainwashing, you can make your own.  Now, this has parmesan cheese, which probably isn’t raw.  But the asparagus is, which is unusual but totally delicious.  If you are used to roasted asparagus, this tastes nothing like that.  It’s fresh and mellow.  The cheese adds richness and the lemon makes it tangy and bright.

Grating the asparagus was a little tricky.  Don’t snap the ends off the asparagus before you grate.  I made that mistake and then had nothing to grip on to when I was using the vegetable peeler to shred it.  Either way, I imagine it will take a bit of time, but since it’s really the only thing you need to do, the recipe is fairly quick to throw together.   The recipe makes a ton – I made about a half a pound of asparagus and adjusted accordingly, since it was just my husband and me.

Shaved Raw Asparagus with Parmesan Dressing
Recipe by Mario Batali and adapted from the April 2010 Food & Wine

Ingredients
2 pounds large asparagus
1 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (3 ounces)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions
Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, mix the Parmigiano-Reggiano with the lemon juice, water and olive oil. Add to the asparagus and toss to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve at once.

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I love olives.  I am one of those people who can’t leave Whole Foods without stocking up on some goodies at the olive bar.  So when I saw these cookies on Lottie and Doof, I was completely intrigued.  Like, obsessing over day and night until I had a lazy weekend afternoon to devote to them.

The recipe hails from David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table, a cookbook I’ve been lusting after but have yet to purchase.  See, I went on my honeymoon to Portugal and basically ate presunto, Serra da Estrella cheese, and pasteis de Belem for two weeks straight.  So, in addition to this recipe being awesome for having olives in it, it’s awesome because it reminds me of my lovely vacation.

The recipe is a little tricky but by no means difficult.  The dough is dry and crumbly so you’ve got to be patient.  Use good quality olives because you don’t want a really briny, tinny taste coming through.  These cookies would be lovely with some tart frozen yogurt or lemon sorbet, or with a nice glass of prosecco.  Or if you want to be super Portuguese, white port.

Sweet Lemon and Black Olive Wafers
recipe from David Leite

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup mild oil-cured black olives, rinsed quickly if particularly salty, pitted, and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for coating
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg, beaten

Directions
Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a bowl, mix together the flour, olives, sugar, baking powder, zest, cinnamon, and salt.   In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil and egg.  I’ve never made mayonnaise before but it was easy for me to see how egg and oil do turn into mayo from this.

I digress.

Pour the oil-egg mixture into the dry ingredients.  Combine it together with your hands for a minute or two, until it holds together when squeezed.  It’s going to feel a little like pie crust or short bread – dry and crumbly and a little tricky to work with.  I had some crumbs that wouldn’t stick but I managed to get it about 95% there.

Fill a small bowl with sugar and set nearby. Pull out a small ball of dough, about a tablespoon worth, and roll it into a ball, then coat it in sugar.  Repeat this a few times and set the balls down on parchment.  You now need to flatten them out.  The recipe suggests covering them with more parchment, then using a rolling pin to flatten.  I had some difficulty with this so I just left out the top piece of parchment and flattened them out.  You want them to be about 3-4 inches around and 1/16 an inch thick.  None of mine resembled anything like a circle, which if you’ve seen my pie crust attempts, shouldn’t come as a surprise.  No worries, these are rustic cookies.

Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Since I had rolled off most of the sugar that I had rolled onto the cookies, I got a pinch of sugar and just sprinkled it lightly over the cookies on the sheet.  Bake until the wafers edges start to brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and store for up to a few days in an airtight container.

They tasted amazing.  Unlike any cookie I’ve ever had.  The olives mellow out and don’t taste olive-y… almost like the taste a date gets when it’s been cooked wrapped up in bacon – just rich, fatty, slightly salty, slightly sweet.  The lemon makes it fresh and the cinnamon is just perfect.  I feel prepared for an Iron Chef olive battle.  Now, I just need a dessert with arugula.

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I’ve been neglecting my blog for the last few weeks, but I’m back.  The farmers’ market is in full swing with spring produce, so I’ve got a few good recipes lined up for the next couple weeks.  This weekend, my freezer was full of ground meat from Marin Sun Farms and I wanted to try something other than burgers.  I gathered up some good looking spring vegetables at the farmers market and set to work on a shepherd’s pie.  Or, apparently, it’s a cottage pie, since it’s made with beef and not lamb.  Whatever it is called, it was good.  I continued the spring theme with a simple spinach and strawberry salad and served it all up with a bottle of Sonoma zinfandel for a really great dinner.

I cooked the dish in a 8×10 casserole dish and it made about 4 large servings.  I think next time around, I might double the recipe and make it in a 9×13 so that it’s a little thicker and deeper.  Plus, it was good enough that we wanted more leftovers.

Shepherd’s Pie with Spring Vegetables
Loosely inspired by Elise’s version at Simply Recipes

Ingredients
1 lb of ground round beef
3 spring onions, finely minced
2-3 sprigs of green garlic, chopped
2 cups of chopped carrots and peas
About 2 pounds of potatoes – I used about 4 medium ones
A few springs of thyme and a few sage leaves, minced
1 teaspoon chives, finely minced
1/4 cup of milk or cream
Butter and olive oil
Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice

Directions
Peel and quarter potatoes, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes).

While the potatoes are cooking, heat up a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a pan over medium high heat.  Saute the onions and carrots for 5-10 minutes, until the carrots start to soften.  Add the green garlic and mix together.

Add ground beef and herbs, sauteing until just about cooked.  Turn off the heat and add the peas, salt, and pepper, and stir together.

When the potatoes are finished, drain and return to the pot.  Mash them, incorporating the minced chives, salt and pepper, a splash of cream, and a couple pats of butter. 

Spread the beef and vegetable mixture at the bottom of the pan and gently spread the potatoes over it.  Bake at 400 degrees oven until bubbling and brown (about 30 minutes), sticking under the broiler if necessary and serve. 

Strawberry Spinach Salad for Two

Ingredients
3 cups of spinach, washed and chopped up into ribbons
4-5 large strawberries, sliced
an ounce or two of crumbled goat cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil (I used blood orange infused from Stonehouse)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
a drop of honey
salt and pepper

Directions
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and the honey until its emulsified.  Add salt and pepper.  Add the spinach and strawberries, and toss to coat.  Sprinkle on the goat cheese and serve.

 

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I had an insane week, running around to meetings all over the place.  When Friday came, I just wanted some good food and a giant glass of wine.  There wasn’t much in the house, but I had a head of escarole crammed in the back of the fridge that I had forgotten I bought last weekend at the farmers market.   Still good!  My lucky day.  With a bit of pancetta and a couple of leeks on hand, I figured I could toss a quick pasta dish together.

I really think you can’t go wrong by just tossing a bunch of spring produce into a pot, and this dish proved to be no exception.  Yum.  Best of all, I could prep and cook the vegetables in the same amount of time it took to boil the water and cook the pasta.  After just 20 minutes, I was eating my yummy spring dinner and drinking my wine.  The bonus was lots of leftovers for easy weekend lunches. 

Pasta with Pancetta, Escarole, and Leeks

Ingredients
1 pound pasta (I used linguine)
1-2 heads of escarole (1 was fine, but next time I’ll do two because I like lots of greens in my pasta)
4 ounces finely diced pancetta
2 leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of dry white wine
olive oil
salt, pepper, and grated parmesan to serve

Directions
Bring a pot of salted water to boil.  Meanwhile, wash the escarole and chop into thin ribbons, and prepare the leeks and garlic.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and the pancetta.  Saute for a couple minutes and add the leeks, sauting for another 5 minutes or so until they start to get soft.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute or so.

Around this point, the water should be boiling, so add your pasta.

Add the wine to the leeks, scraping up any brown bits from the pancetta from the bottom of the pan.  Add the escarole, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Stir every three or four minutes or so. 

Just before you drain the pasta, take the lid off, add a half cup or so of the pasta water to the escarole, and continue to simmer.  Drain the pasta and add it to the escarole mixture, mixing well.  Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and serve with grated parmesan.  A glass of wine too – I went for St. Supery’s sauvignon blanc, perfect with the dish.

 

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The weather is warm and gorgeous and the dark days are definitely over in this part of the country, though the challenge continues for a few more weeks.  In solidarity with my brethren in colder climates, I made a warm, hearty wintery dinner this week.   Our meat CSA, Marin Sun Farms, delivered to us this beautiful top sirloin roast, so I went for pure comfort food.   At the farmers market, I came across spring shallots.  I’m not entirely sure what they are, though I guess they are just what shallots look like when they are still young.  The flavor is a little grassier and more oniony than a regular shallot.  I bought a bunch, along with some creminis to make a sauce for the beef to serve along with some mashed potatoes.

The beef I used here was a 1 and 1/2 pound sirloin roast.  I rubbed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and a bit of rosemary.  Then, I roasted it at 425 for 10 minutes, then at 300 for another 40 minutes or so.  I found timing the cooking a little tricky and I think I need a good meat cookbook, so if anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!

When the meat came out of the oven, I tented it under some foil.  I chopped up the shallots and reserved the juice.  To make the sauce, I heated a pat of butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan.  Added a couple cups of sliced mushrooms and sauted for a few minutes.  I then added the pan drippings and a half a cup of red wine, and the diced shallots.  I reduced it to a simmer for about 5 minutes.

For the potatoes, I used this recipe from epicurious, except I only had skim milk on hand.  Not a problem – the potatoes were still really rich, earthy, and delicious.  All and all, when paired with a glass of a Bordeaux blend from Sonoma – a delicious winter meal…at the beginning of spring.

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This week was unusually hectic and I’ve been feeling uninspired. I’m sure the Dark Days bloggers in more snowy areas are probably rolling their eyes at me right now, but the farmers’ markets right now seem to be having a bit of a seasonal identity crisis.  There’s still a lot of winter squash, apples, and chard, which are starting to bore me.  There’s asparagus and avocados, but there’s no peas or strawberries or rhubarb or other things that signify spring.   I did buy some asparagus last weekend and roasted that to eat with my leftover pork on Monday night.  Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, very little cooking happened.  There were a couple omelettes and some reheated frozen leftovers.  So, rather than write a post about an omelet, I’m going to write about my delicious restaurant visit on Friday night.

Gather is a new restaurant in Berkeley.   Their vision is very consistent with the values the Dark Days challenge.  The feature local, sustainably grown ingredients and have an entirely local wine list.  According to this piece from the San Francisco Chronicle, even a lot of other locavore-type restaurants eschew local wines for whatever reason, which strikes me as odd, particularly in Northern California, where the local wine is so good.  And they stock an entirely organic bar.

The food was amazing.   I wanted everything on the menu.  My husband and I ended up split three dishes – a “small plate” of squid with black rice, the vegan charcuterie plate, and a  pizza.  It was a ton of food and every bite was delicious.  The vegan charcuterie plate was probably one of the most interesting things I’ve ever eaten – five little creative vegetable spreads, and each was excellent.  My favorites were the celeriac-potato-olive salad and the trio of beets with horseradish.  I liked the latter so much I’d love to track down some fresh horseradish to try to recreate it.  

I was taking pictures on my iPhone and they weren’t coming out, so I gave up with attempts to capture the food.  The rest of the meal was just as great though.  The squid dish was my husband’s favorite – spicy and rich, and it was nice to see squid on a menu and not have it be deep fried.  Finally, the pizza.  It was topped with goat meat, something I had never had before.  It was really good, and I particularly enjoyed the little bit of fresh mint that was sprinkled across it, which really brightened up an otherwise earthy dish.   All and all, a pretty spectacular meal. 

And, I feel inspired to do more local cooking now and finish out the last few weeks of the challenge.

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This week, I prepared another piece of meat from my meat CSA through Marin Sun Farms – a boneless leg of pork.  Not something I’ve ever eaten before, as apparently the vast majority of this cut goes to making hams.    There wasn’t even any useful instructions in the Joy of Cooking.  The series of tubes to the rescue! I discovered that it’s about 30 minutes at 350 for every pound, until it hits around 160.  Easy peasy.

I marinated it in this marinade from the December 2008 Food and Wine, using local citrus, rosemary, and bay, and not local fennel seeds and juniper berries.  I’ve made this marinade it a few times for pork roasts and rarely have every single ingredient and it doesn’t really matter.   Zest a couple oranges and a couple lemons, juice them and whisk in some olive oil.  For herbs, crush some fennel seed and juniper berries in a mortar and pestle, add in a few springs of rosemary and some bay leaves, and you are good to go.  If you don’t have a few of these things – no worries.  It’s still going to be amazing.  Let it marinate overnight, flip it over a couple times, and wipe the meat dry just before cooking.  

The leg needed to be covered for the first half hour or so, so it didn’t dry out.  All and all, the 2.5 pound roast took about an hour and 10 minutes to hit 155, then I let it rest under some tin foil for about 5-10 minutes, which got it just perfect.
 

I picked up some cute little potatoes at the farmers market, so I tossed them in some olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper, and put them in the pan with the pork to roast.  I made a quick pan sauce with the drippings, a pat of butter, and a bit of white wine.  And along side of it, a salad of radicchio, walnuts, and blood orange infused olive oil from Stonehouse here in Berkeley.  My walnuts were not local , or maybe they were, as the bag from Trader Joe’s says “California Walnuts” on it.  Not bad.

While prepping everything, it was all starting to look pretty delicious and seemed like a good time to open up something good.  My “Hello Vino” app for my iPhone suggested viognier, gerwurztraminer, or zinfandel to go with fruity pork dishes.  No viognier or gerwurtz were on hand, but this is Northern California, so zins are plentiful chez arugulove.  Hello Vino even suggested a zin from Mazzocco, a lovely little vineyard in Healdsburg which we visited in November with friends.  So, we happened to have a bottle of their zin on hand, making the choice very easy.  What luck!

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It’s a lazy Sunday here in Berkeley, and I was getting the cooking itch.  My dinner tonight is easy – meat is marinating and there’s not much left to do.  I was having a cookie craving and decided to whip up a batch of shortbread.  This recipe could not be easier.  As proof, I offer up the fact that it’s just 2 hours since I decided to whip these up, and I’m now on the couch with a couple cookies, a glass of Lemon Verbena Elixir straight from my freezer, my laptop, and a Law & Order SVU on the DVR.

Life is good.

Citrus Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Finely grated zest from a lemon and an orange
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Directions
Preheat oven to 300°F.  Butter or grease a 9-inch-diameter springform pan.  Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl to blend.  Add the butter and using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers until it starts to come together.  

At this point, the recipe suggests rolling it out, then pressing it into a pan.  I skipped that step and just pressed it evenly right into the greased pan.  Using tip of small sharp knife, score the into 8 equal triangles, then pierce all over with fork.   It’s a little flaky, so just do it gently and carefully. 

Bake until shortbread is cooked through and pale golden, about 40-45 minutes.  At the 30 minute mark, I pulled it out of the oven, re-scored it again to make sure it wouldn’t crumble when I cut it, and gave it a light sprinkling of sugar.

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