Monday, April 22, 2013

Zinfandel Shank Stew


3 or 4 cross cut beef shank slices, pasture raised if you can get it
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
4 or 5 small thin carrots
1/2 celery root, peeled and cubed
a few baby turnips, halved, or a regular sized turnip, cubed up
2 or 3 golden potatoes (or sweet potatoes if you prefer)
1 cup red Zinfandel wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
several dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1 cup shitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon Irish butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
several pats of extra butter

That's right. No onions.

Heat the olive oil in a pot that's big enough to fit your beef shank slices along the bottom. When the oil is very hot, brown the shanks on both sides. Lower the heat to low, and add a cup of your favorite red Zinfandel wine, the Worcestershire and enough warm water to cover the meat by several inches. Add the salt and all of the spices, as well as the garlic cloves, and simmer covered for a half hour.

Prepare the rest of the vegetables, and when the half hour is up, chuck them in the pot too. Cover again and let it simmer for another half hour.

While that is happening, slice your shitake mushrooms and cook them in the butter on very high heat for five minutes, without turning or stirring them, then you can stir them up a bit and cook them to your taste. The reason you don't mess with them at first is because you want them to get roasty-toasty brown on at least one side. If your butter is unsalted, add a pinch of salt at the end.

When the stewed beef and vegetables are done, serve them up  in big bowls with a pat of butter  in each, making sure you have a little bit of everything in there, and lots of juice for you to soak up with your bread. What I do is pull the little round bones out before serving, but I take the marrow out of each one with a small knife or spoon and mix it in with the stew.

Top each bowl with fresh parsley and a sprinkling of pan fried mushrooms.

Herbed Huffkins

Kentish Huffkins originate in Kent county, UK, as you might imagine, and are lovely little bread rolls, sometimes seen with little depressions in the middle. They remind me somewhat of biscuit-like dinner rolls and you can slice them in half and use them for sandwiches or hamburgers because of the shape. I first read about them in Jane Grigson's British Cookery book, and I've been a big fan of them since.

Today I've decided to change the traditional recipe a bit and add in some herbs and cheese. 

Now the traditional recipe goes something like this:
1 1/2 lbs. flour
2 teaspoons yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 oz butter
2 oz lard
1 pint warm water

Mix the dry ingredients (including the yeast), then distribute the fat into it with a large fork or pastry cutter until it is all well mixed in and looks fine and crumbly. Add the pint of warm water and mix until you have a soft sticky dough, but there's no need to knead. Let dough rise for thirty minutes, then roll the dough out on a floured board to about 1 1/2 inches thick, and use a large biscuit cutter to make the rolls. Actually, you don't even have to use the rolling pin, this dough is so soft, you can just kind of flour it and spread it out flat with your hands! IF you use a 4 inch biscuit cutter, you'll get about 10 huffkins.

Let the rolls rise another thirty minutes, then poke a dent in the center of each one and bake for about 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees. 

Now to make the herbed version, change out the lard for more butter (so four ounces, or one stick, of butter,) plus add 1 teaspoon each of the following dried herbs and spices to the dry ingredients: thyme, dill, summer savory, extra salt and black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom. If you don't care for dill or don't have it, substitute dried mint or parsley.

After you poke the depressions in your rolls, and right before you pop them in the oven, place a cube of good quality sharp cheddar into each depression. 
Before Baking

A last note about rising times: I am in an old house in California with no air conditioning (yet) so it's quite warm and things are rising very quickly. If your house is cold, you may want to put your  oven on it's lowest setting and let them rise in the oven with the door cracked, or just let them rise a bit longer than the thirty minutes.

They are good for breakfast with butter and scrambled eggs. Also, the dill makes it good with salmon, I had one with some lox, mashed avocado with garlic salt, sliced onion, olive oil and lemon juice and it was really good.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cream Baked Eggs and Fried Celery Root

detail of celery root plant on white background Stock Photo - 3361138 The cashier at the market usually has to think for a minute to remember the code for celery root (or celeriac), or she has to look it up. The bagger will frequently look puzzled, and ask me, "What do you DO with that?" 

I always say the same thing, "Oh you just peel it, and substitute it in recipes for potatoes." 

I like celery root, it has that nice herb-y sweet celery taste, but with starchier texture. True to my word to curious bag-boys at the grocery store, I suggest using it here as a potato replacement for a fried breakfast side dish.

But first, we begin with the eggs, because they will go in the oven while you make the root vegetables.
Ingredients for Two People:

4 eggs
4 slices of your favorite soft sliced bread (if you're doing Paleo, use "cloud bread")
2 teaspoons of soft butter
4 tablespoons heavy organic cream
salt and pepper
4 ramekins, or just use a muffin pan

Preheat the oven to 350, or 325 convection.
I have the standard little ramekins from Cost Plus World Market, they are fairly inexpensive, and when you're not using them for stuff like this, they are good for serving dipping sauces and condiments.

Start by rubbing the inside of each ramekin with a half teaspoon of soft butter. Then, cut circles out of the center of each bread slice. You can either use a biscuit cutter that's about the same size, or a little bigger than, the diameter of the ramekin. I actually just used the ramekin itself to cut the circles (they weren't perfect, but who cares?) Stuff each circle into the bottom of a ramekin. 

Carefully crack a large egg on top of each bread slice, and sprinkle very well with salt and pepper. Top with a tablespoon of cream, then put  in the oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on how you like your eggs. They are soooo gooooood.
You can go ahead and serve them in the ramekins, they will stay warm longer, but if you're worried about someone accidentally burning their fingers on the burning hot ceramic (that would be me), you can just run a thin knife around the edge and use a large spoon to gently half-scoop half-slide them out onto the plate.

While your eggs are in the oven, you can make the side dish.

Ingredients for the Side Dish:

1 celery root
4 skinny young carrots (small sweet ones)
olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper 
1/4 teaspoon allspice
fresh chives

Pour a generous amount of oil for frying in a cast iron (or regular) skillet and turn heat up to high. Don't worry about fat, these veggies don't soak it up like potatoes do. 

Start by peeling your celery root. Use a chef's knife and think of it like a pineapple. Cut the bottom off and then use the knife to carve off the outside from the top down, then cut the top off last, it's better to err on the side of wasting than be left with ugly brown outer fuzz.

Slice the celery root into discs, then chop into little cubes. Chop the carrots as well (don't bother peeling them) and put them in the frying pan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and ground allspice and cook on high 10-15 minutes stirring frequently.

After ten minutes, just give one of your celery root cubes a taste, to see if it's cooked to your liking, you may like it a little on the firmer side than I do (also check for salt). Use a slotted spoon or spatula to remove from the pan and serve with fresh green chives on top, along with your buttery-creamy baked eggs.
(I had them on the side in the picture, but you should chop the chives on top of the vegetables.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Farmer's Market Walnut and Chard Pie

I did very well at the Sacramento farmer's market on Sunday, everything looked beautiful, and was priced right. I found lots of good veggies and even some potted vegetables and herbs for the garden. Not all of my loot was for eating though, I also got this really pretty ornamental oregano called Kent's Beauty, I can't wait for it to get bigger (I'm an impatient gardener).

Check out the big green onions with the flowers on them, I think they look like little lit candles, I chopped them right up along with the stems!
The recipe today, a pie made with Swiss chard, is obviously a savory pie, it's very yummy served cold for lunch or cut in smaller slices for appetizer.
Right out  of the oven


1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch dill weed (chopped)
1 bunch green onions
1 cup walnuts
6 eggs
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon plus one pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (omit if you don't have it, don't use fresh)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sharp cheese for topping (amount is up to you, I used 2 oz feta)
Walnut oil and Balsamic vinegar for drizzling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put a large pot on the stove on high with a few inches of water  in the bottom. Chop the chard into small chunks and dump in the pan. Heat up just until the mass is wilted down, then drain immediately in a colander. Let it cool.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Chop walnuts until you have about a cup roughly chopped. Chop the green onions as well and then add both to the olive oil with a pinch of salt, and fry on high, stirring frequently. 

After five minutes, remove the walnuts and green onions from the heat, and for ease of clean up, instead of using a fresh bowl, just use the pot you already used to boil the chard in as a bowl (dump out the water of course!). To that, add your fresh chopped dill, your eggs, cornmeal and spices. 

Before adding the chard to all of this, take the cooled chard in your hands and squeeze the heck out of it until most of the liquid comes out. It's amazing how a whole bunch of chard now fits easily in your hands! Once everything is in there mix it all very well.

Rub oil all over the inside of a regular glass pie pan, and fill it with the mixture. Sprinkle the top with your favorite cheese and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Let it cool a bit before serving with vinegar and oil drizzled on top.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cupcakes For a Party

This recipe makes about 48 cupcakes, or 3 cake layers. They are so light and buttery, beware of having them in the house after the party. I ate 15 of them in three days. For real.


3 1/4 cups flour
3 cups granulated sugar
8 eggs, room temperature
4 sticks of butter, soft
1 cup milk, room temperature
4 level teaspoons baking powder (make sure it's pretty fresh)
1/2 teaspoon salt, IF your butter is unsalted
1 tablespoon vanilla

In your mixer, mix the butter, sugar and eggs together on medium speed for one minute. Add the milk and vanilla next and mix well at least another minute. Add the flour and baking powder next, and just kind of stir the baking powder into the top of the pile of flour to distribute it a bit. Start mixing on low  for one minute, then mix on medium/medium high speed for exactly three minutes.

Pour into the cupcake cups about 2/3 the way up. What I would do is hold the cupcake paper in your hand, fill it and then dump it in your muffin pan. Trying to make it from the bowl to the pan with a dollop of batter always make a big damn mess!

Bake at 350 or 325 (my oven runs hot, I do 325) for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how accurate your oven is. Mine take exactly 17 minutes. You want light golden brown, and really try not to overcook or they will be dry. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for two minutes, then remove them to a rack to fully cool before you frost them. 

If you want, you can do three 9 inch cake pans instead, but then you would need to cook the cakes for about 40 minutes. (Take them out when they are light golden and the centers don't dip down anymore, NO LONGER.) Please use a circle of wax paper or parchment paper in the bottom, plus butter and flour the pans so there is no chance of sticking.

For frosting, I would use Martha Stewart's Swiss Buttercream recipe, or any other egg white and butter based frosting, you can make it look fancy with some piping tips if that's your thing.

If the cupcakes are for kids, I would just whip together four cups of sifted powdered sugar with two sticks of soft unsalted butter, a pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Color the frosting with food coloring and either pipe them into fancy roses, or put contrasting sprinkles on top, because  let's face it, desserts taste a little nicer when they're pretty. Anyway, the powdered sugar frosting is denser and sweeter than meringue-type frosting and holds it's shape better.

(For chocolate frosting, heat two sticks of butter in the microwave until melted and bubbling, then blend in mixer along with 20 ounces of semi sweet chocolate chips until the chips are all melted. Add three to four cups of powdered sugar, depending on how thick you want the frosting. You can always add hot water, a tablespoon at a time, if you need to thin it out- I usually do.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Breakfast Salad

You might be thinking to yourself, "The only people who eat salad for breakfast are crazy hyper-dieting bodybuilders." 

Not true, Sir or Madam, not true. I am a normal human who likes normal food, and I say salad for breakfast is de-li-cious.
It's so simple, I'm kind of embarrassed to even call it a recipe.

Ingredients for one:

2 eggs
olive oil for frying
salt and pepper to taste for eggs
A plateful of arugula leaves
1 tomato, sliced up any which way
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (my mint is taking over the herb garden, I could send you some if you don't have any)
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon thick sweet Balsamic vinegar
a good pinch of salt
a few garlicky croutons, homemade or store bought 

It's a good idea to leave the arugula and tomato out of the fridge the night before, you don't really want ice cold lettuce with your hot eggs, I mean it's not bad, but it cools your eggs down quite a bit. 

Mix your tomato, mint and arugula with the pinch of salt, two teaspoons of olive oil and teaspoon of vinegar (I just kind of toss with my hand right on the plate.) Balsamic vinegar (white or red) is important, because regular would be too acidic for a nice breakfast. You don't want to knock your socks off with this, save that for the Huevos Rancheros.

By the way, yes, avocado would be great in this, I just didn't have any ripe ones.

You can fry your eggs any way you like of course. I heat a lot of olive oil in the frying pan on medium low and I cook mine for one minute each side for over-medium. I also salt and pepper them to death. (I really think both eggs and tomatoes can  handle a little extra salt.)

Place your eggs on top of the salad and sprinkle with a few croutons. I drink hot black coffee with everything so I can't imagine what else you would have. Maybe Earl Grey tea would be nice?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Creamy Braised Fennel

Fennel bulbs are really pretty, even if the tops of them do look like someone left their crazy green wig on the ground. I am growing some in my garden right now, but they are just babies still, so I had to buy this fennel at the store. I didn't use the green tops for anything today, I just threw them in the compost.

A lot of people like fennel sliced thinly in salads, it has a nice sweet crunch, but I also like it cooked. Usually I throw fennel bulb in some kind of stew, or roast them with root vegetables, but today for lunch fennel was the star of the show.

Ugh. Did I just say, "star of the show?" Sorry, sometimes when I'm trying to be creative I sound like a cooking show cliche. I watch too much television.
Ingredients for this fragrant deliciousness (I can't stop):

One very large fennel bulb (l would say mine was at least five inches across), or get two small ones, cut in half, then sliced thinly
1/2 sweet onion, sliced thinly 
1 grated carrot
3 tablespoons butter (vegan- don't use dark olive oil, use something lighter like sunflower)
1 teaspoon savory
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 big pinch white pepper
1/2 cup tawny port (cheap stuff is fine)
1/4 cup heavy cream (vegan use coconut cream)
fresh parsley

Get out your largest frying pan and, with the heat on high, saute the fennel, onion, carrot and spices in the butter for about five minutes, stirring only occasionally. 

Stir in the 1/2 cup of port, and then turn the heat down to a brisk simmer and cover the pan. 

Cook for ten minutes, then turn off the heat, lift the lid, stir in the cream and serve with lots of fresh parsley. The parsley isn't for decoration, I promise, it just adds a bright little freshness to it.

Serve either as a side dish (for four) with some crunchy-skinned roasted chicken, or, as a main dish (for two) with a slice of toast.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bring Us Some Figgy Farro...what?

Yes, I had heard of farro before, but I always thought, "It has to taste pretty much like barley," so I never really bothered with it. But hey, Costco, had a giant bag of it for, like, practically nothing, so, as my Dad would say in his thick Greek accent, "There you go." It's actually pretty good, and tastes better than pearled barley.

1 cup "ferro perlato"
3 cups water or stock
salt and pepper
 2 cloves of garlic
1 slice of thick bacon, diced (if you don't want meat in this, use a smoky flavored salt)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/3 cup dried mission figs, chopped
4-5 large fresh sage leaves, chopped
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 fresh lemon
2 tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar
truffle oil, if you're feeling crazy

Bring three cups of generously salted water to a boil. Add the two garlic cloves and cup of farro, turn the heat down to medium, partially cover and cook for 30-45 minues or untill the farro is soft and edible. Drain the farro and discard garlic, or chop the garlic finely and throw it in if you can't bear to throw it out.

In a large non stick pan, cook the chopped onion in the olive oil for 15-20 minutes, adding the salt and pepper to it and stirring frequently. If the edges start to brown, you can add a little water or white wine to the pan to keep the onion soft. After the 15+ minutes are up, add the chopped herbs, bacon, walnuts and figs and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until the bacon looks cooked. Add the cooked farro to the pan and stir to coat.

Before serving, taste for salt and pepper, then add the lemon juice and vinegar and stir. This is where you can drizzle some truffle oil in sparingly.
Serves two, or one piggy like me. I suggest a fruity Pinot noir with it.