December 30, 2016

Mr. B's New Orleans Style Dungeness Crabs

Herbaceous Buttery Goodness Awaiting a Crusty Piece of French Bread

This December, our traditional roasted Dungeness crab fest took a turn to Mr. B's southern roots as he tweaked his recipe and served up an amazing batch of deliciousness. For those not in the know, Dungeness crabs are named after Dungeness, Washington and are the most prolific and popular crabs on the West Coast. In California, Dungeness crabs season hits its peak in December and since these babies are caught off our northern coast, they're easy to find and for the amount of meat,  a relatively good bargain.

For our annual crab feast, Mr. B brought home 3 beauties. The first night, he roasted them New Orleans style in a touching tribute to his mother who not only loved picking crabs, but could rock a BBQ shrimp recipe. We stuffed ourselves senseless, literally, until the only option was to roll away from the table. The next day, we picked crabs and I made 5 huge crab cakes. We each ate one for an appetizer and then the following day, Mr. B had two topped with poached eggs. The last crab cake was ours to share over a glass of wine and a good conversation.

My advice--make this dish. Buy extra loaves of sourdough baguette to soak up the deliciously buttery and herbaceous sauce and pair with a California Chardonnay or a winter ale. Definitely roll up your sleeves and put out extra napkins.

December 23, 2016

A Christmas Quiche

Flaky Pastry, Dense Custard and Layers of Mushrooms, Spinach and Comte Cheese

I'm not even going to try to pretend that I only eat quiche at Christmas, because this delicious French classic has been a favorite of mine since I first discovered how easy it is to make over 30 years ago. The basic ingredients for making a quiche are a simple custard and a pastry, but don't despair if you haven't time to make the dough, because you can easily substitute a good quality frozen pie crust, shortening the preparation time even further.

You can add just about anything to the custard, but my favorites are thickly sliced button mushrooms sauteed in butter, sauteed spinach--squeezed dry--and an ample dose of a strong cheese, preferably Comte or Gruyere. Best of all, quiche is delicious served straight from the oven, at room temperature, or even eaten cold, straight from the refrigerator.

Quiche makes for an impressive addition to any brunch and is perfect for Christmas morning, since it can be made ahead of time and goes equally well with a good cup or coffee or a glass of champagne.

December 19, 2016

Lover Come Back

Keep Him Home with Crispy Pork and Potato Hash with Eggs

Monday mornings are hard enough on their own, but when Mr. B wakes up energized and ready to tackle the world, I need a trick or two up my sleeve to keep him home long enough for a good conversation and a few cups of coffee. Nothing slows his step more quickly than the possibility of  a hearty breakfast, especially on a cold winter morning and if it includes pork, I'm all but guaranteed a relaxed and leisurely start to my day.

There's nothing wrong with a pile of crispy bacon or a few slices of ham fried up in a pan and served with eggs and toast, but a much better option is a quick breakfast hash. It can be tossed together in under 5 minutes, cooks in one pan and best of all, uses up any weekend leftovers.

My crispy pork hash is a delicious mix of chopped leftover pork roast, diced roasted potatoes, onions, garlic, and even a handful of shredded sharp cheddar. Once the hash is sufficiently crisp, push to the side and fry a few eggs, cooking as desired, then slip everything onto a plate, pour another cup of coffee, and cozy up at the breakfast table with your lover.

December 15, 2016

Pucker Up

Myer Lemon Season: Let's Make Lemon Curd

Is it a coincidence that the grayest, foggiest weather comes along at precisely the same time that winter citrus season hits full swing? I'm not convinced the timing is mere chance. Perhaps, this serendipity is nature's way of adding an ample dose of sunshine and happiness into our lives all while providing a potent dose of vitamin C to keep us healthy during the cold winter months.

Of course, nothing beats peeling an icy cold orange and slowly eating each segment until you're left with nothing but sticky fingers. And, a generous squeeze of fresh lime or lemon on slices of avocado with a smattering of flaky sea salt is sublime. I love those fabulously dark blood oranges that pair perfectly with fennel and slivers of red onion, the Cara Cara oranges that are the palest hue of pinkish salmon color that just make me smile, and let me not overlook the ever so humble grapefruit, a true chameleon in the fruit basket, which is delicious topped with a sprinkle of raw sugar and run beneath the broiler until just beginning to blister.

But, I must admit that I have a particular fondness for the Myer lemon, a hybrid, which is a cross between a lemon and an orange--sweet, tart, and with a heavenly aroma that makes me want to squeeze its lusciousness on everything from fresh blackberries to fish.

During Myer lemon season, my refrigerator is never without a few of these perfect jewels and if I'm particularly lucky in finding a plentiful and reasonable source, I like to whip up a few batches of Myer lemon curd. This delicious treat pairs with everything from toast to holiday desserts--including, gingerbread, cheesecake, and trifle--but truth be told, it's pretty phenomenal eaten straight from the jar, while standing in front of the refrigerator. Preferably, when no one is watching.

December 13, 2016

A Toast to Winter

Dense, Delicious, and Loaded with Sharp Cheddar

I have a deep appreciation for every season, but I particularly love winter. I like that darkness comes late in the afternoon and that the sun rises early enough to flood my bedroom with that bright, clear light, that the wooden floors--nearly 100 years old--are cold beneath my feet when I slip from the blankets, and that when I finally make my way to the dining room table with coffee in hand, the floor furnace heaves and grunts as it bellows hot air into my house.

After I've warmed up, I take my coffee and sit on the arm of the sofa and gaze from my window at the landscape below, The grass is newly greened from recent rains, the last leaves of the pear tree ablaze in deep golds and crimson, the maples completely bare; the marine layer, slowly rises like the curtain in a theater, to reveal a world caught between seasons.

Of all the seasons, I think toast best suits winter. Perhaps, it's the yeasty aroma that emanates from the toaster oven as the bread begins to warm, or, the carefulness and attention to monitor each cycle to ensure that the bread is deeply toasted, the edges just beginning to darken, the crumb firm to the touch. Or, perhaps, it's just the anticipation of slathering on a thick layer of butter, topping off my coffee and wandering the rooms of my house, still quiet, while slowly eating my toast.

Winter bread, too, is more dense, heavier, and fully warranting the heft of added ingredients, from cubes of potatoes, to chunks of cheese. Of course, while both are delicious, I tend to lean toward the cheese, which pleasingly melts during the last cycle in the toaster and adds a savoriness to my morning ritual. Even better--baking a loaf of your own, so you can eat as many slices as you like, or at least until the coffee runs out and the fog lifts.

December 12, 2016

California Dreaming

The  Ultimate Vegetarian Sandwich

Eighteen years ago today, I threw caution to the wind, packed a suitcase, loaded my cat, Isabella into her travel carrier, and boarded a jet plane to California and I've never looked back.

Mr. B and I lived in a beautiful, but tiny apartment just off of Union Square in San Francisco. The apartment had a small galley kitchen with a window that opened onto a fire escape, built in shelving, and just enough room to squeeze in a pub table and two chairs, the latter quickly became our favorite spot to cozy in and enjoy a late night snack.

Overnight, I became an urban dweller and without a car, every errand--including grocery shopping--had to be done on foot. I quickly learned to buy only what I could carry the 12 blocks from the grocery back to our apartment. Thankfully, among our favorite midnight noshes were big over-stuffed sandwiches that required two hands to eat, but even with the most elaborate ingredients, everything could easily fit into one shopping bag, leaving my other hand free to carry a bag with a few bottles of wine and an assortment of potato chips.

It was in that apartment where late one night, I concocted this sandwich, a vegetarian delight, that serves as more than a delicious midnight repast, but also as my homage to California, whose beautiful rolling landscapes, rocky coastline, and blue sunny skies completely captured my soul.

December 08, 2016

My Parisian Kitchen: French Onion Soup

Chase Away  the Winter Chills--and The Vampires, Too

It's a grey, rainy and cold winter day--alright, so it's really 55 degrees outside, but this is California and it really is raining, which by my accounting makes for a cold day.

It's almost noon and I've spent the morning drinking coffee and writing and I have no intentions of changing out of my pajamas until early afternoon and then, only to put on party clothes and head out for a holiday dinner. There doesn't seem to be much of a point in eating a regular lunch and since I've already breakfasted on a few slivers of brie and wild blueberry jam, I've been channeling my inner Parisian spirit all morning, so why not roll with it?

When most people think about French food, they think of those elaborate buttery pastries or fancy dishes, but pick up any French cookbook and thumb through the recipes and you'll quickly realize that it's a fairly simple cuisine that makes use of what's in season.

One of my favorite winter meals is a big bowl of French onion soup covered with shredded Comtè or Gruyère cheese and put under the broiler until melted, then served with a hunk of bread, a glass of wine, and maybe a cold sliced pear for dessert. The best part of making French onion soup is that it's prepped and on the stove in less than 15 minutes and can simmer away, unattended, while you practice intriguing French phrases or lie about on the sofa listening to the rain fall.

December 07, 2016

And Now, A Little Dessert: Crème Brûlèe

Ah, That First Crack and Then...Pure Heaven!

Not surprisingly, I'm not much of a baker, although I do try, especially during the holiday season. Now don't get me wrong--I'm fine with whipping up a quick cake, a few hand pies, even a simple, but insanely rich cheesecake, but beyond that, I find baking a tedious chore. This, I am sure, is because it is such an exact science dependent on careful measurement and my natural inclination is to pinch, dab, and dash my way through a recipe.

What I do like in a dessert is simplicity--the fewest ingredients for the biggest bang. I don't like my desserts too sweet, though I will admit that when given a piece of cake, my sole objective is the frosting, but, that's an exception hardwired in my DNA and cultivated throughout a childhood where my mother always passed off the icing bowl to me so that I could lick it clean. My usual approach is to cut the sugar by half in most dessert recipes, a trick that allows the subtle nuance of the other ingredients to tickle the palate and besides, dessert should compliment the meal, rounding out the experience and allowing the meal to stay alive in my memory, if even only for a short while.

I want a dessert that still has me licking my lips and savoring the memory, hours after I've left the table and I've found few that have that power. One of my favorite by far is Crème Brûlèe. The rich vanilla custard is best with less sugar, especially since the top is sprinkled with coarse sugar and run under the broiler until caramelized and nearly burnt. Even better--get one of those miniature blow torches and fire it up table side and enjoy the laughter and squeals as your guests marvel at your culinary expertise.

December 06, 2016

A Big Beautiful Butt

Pork Done Right: Crispy, Flavorful, and Tender to the Bone

If I asked Mr. B what he wanted for dinner, his suspiciously too quick response is always pork. Restating the question does no good either, for even if I say, "So, besides pork, what sounds good to you?" he'll say something along the lines of "How about pig? Does pig sound good to you?" His expertise in crafting a flawless circular reasoning logical fallacy is superb and after a few minutes of what can only be described as futile discussion, I'm only too happy to cook pork.

Realistically though, there are only so many directions one pig can take a woman. You have the loin and the chops; ground pork is too greasy on its own and pork ribs are decidedly summer food, and while I don't mean to throw any shade at my Southern family and friends, there is more to life than BBQ.

This got me thinking about the possibilities of cooking one large pork butt and using it as the basis of an assortment of meals, sandwiches, and snacks--hello quesadillas! Figuring out how to cook it low and slow, to get a crispy and succulent exterior and meat so tender it could melt in your mouth took a little thinking, a short prayer, and a trial run. In the end, I found a magic recipe that can go in just about any direction and if you keep things simple at the outset, this is one versatile pig!

December 05, 2016

The Easiest, Cheesiest, Best Au Gratin Potatoes. Ever!

My Take on a Classic Winter Dish

Is there any vegetable more synonymous with winter than the humble potato? I think not! This simple tuber can go from plain to fancy with minimal fuss, from deeply satisfying to unbelievably indulgent with a handful of ingredients. Perhaps it's my peasant roots (no pun intended), but I've long had a love affair with the potato and there isn't an end in sight.

In recent years the potato has been wrongfully accused of bringing a host of unwelcome health maladies to those who partake, everything from kicking on the switch in the brain for increased sugar cravings to obesity, but I know better. In the 1970s, my grandmother worked for the United States of Agricultural at The Potato Board--the government entity that took on a public relations campaign for the tuber. Along with a handful of colorful recipe booklets, my grandmother came to the table with a wealth of nutritional information and an order to 'eat those potato skins' that nearly shocked us all.

When I set about creating my take on the classic Au Gratin, I had little to work with. It was Sunday and I was too cold and lazy to head to the store, so I had to make do with a nearly empty cheese drawer, very little milk, and only a smattering of butter. But, ingenuity is the mother of invention, so while there were obstacles, there were no impossibilities. The resulting dish was savory and satisfying, well-worth an addition to my winter rotation, and in hindsight, one of the most versatile recipes I've ever come across. Best of all, it paired perfectly with a glass of wine and an evening spent on the sofa, still clad in my pajamas.

December 01, 2016

A Walk on the Wild Side

Foraging and Making Homemade Bitters

*Originally published in Edible San Luis Obispo, Harvest 2016

Even when I’m only out for a quick stroll in the neighborhood, I can’t resist the lure of any botanical within reach. Tempted by the honeysuckle bush around the corner, the wild fennel in the vacant lot, or the seemingly endless march of spikey lavender plants as I ascend the final hill, I always return home with a pocketful of souvenirs. My instinct to pluck doesn’t stop there; I cannot roast a chicken without at least one trip through the yard, snipping rosemary and thyme, grabbing handfuls of the chamomile growing wild under the roses, the last of the green beans, a bouquet of fennel fronds and, if no one is home, a few apples or persimmons pilfered from the neighbor’s tree.

We’ve long since evolved from our foraging ancestors who wandered the woodlands and forests scouring the landscape for edibles—roots and leaves, an unattended egg, a cluster of mushrooms—but we’re still hardwired to hunt and gather. A visit to the neighborhood grocery offers quick proof as people drift along the produce aisles, instinctually ferreting through the stacks of fruits and vegetables, casting about for the perfect specimens to throw into their baskets. We have a natural predisposition to uproot, burrow, and explore our environment, while extracting its treasures.

In recent years, foraging has gained mainstream momentum and while many advocates have taken to the great outdoors in pursuit of dinner, an even greater number have hit the trail in search of herbs, roots, bark, fruit, and flowers for a more noble purpose—to elevate cocktail hour.