Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Zucchini's Are Here! The Zucchini's Are Here!

I look forward to zucchini every year.  For some people it's asparagus, for others, tomatoes.  Like tomatoes, you see zucchini in the grocery stores year round so maybe it's odd to think of them having a season.  But, just like a tomato, zucchini taste a certain way when they are eaten in season.  I saw these at the Thursday market at the Tomatero stand and literally clapped my hands.  They had the blossoms still attached too!  Double fast clapping.

As the season progresses I'll have more involved recipes but for last night I just roasted everything right up with a little olive oil and coconut oil for the squash blossoms and a new special salt I picked up at Paradise Foods.

Roasted Zucchini and Squash Blossoms

Zucchini with Squash Blossoms still attached
Olive oil
Sea Salt
Coconut Oil Spray

Preheat oven to 425.  Wash zucchini and blossoms.  Cut blossoms off ends keeping them whole and set aside.  Cut zucchini into uniform size chunks (1-2").  The ones I had were little globe shapes, so I just halved them.  Coat zucchini in olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and roast for 10 min.  Flip zucchini over and roast for another 10 min.  Take the pan out of the oven, make some room for the squash blossoms and put them on the same sheet spraying them with the coconut oil.  Put everything back in the oven for another 10 min.

The cooking times are approximate.  Just watch the veg while it's roasting.  I like mine pretty well browned with char marks on it, you may not.  I noticed the coconut oil started to smoke a bit towards the end, so in my oven (which runs a little on the cold side) it took about 10 min for the blossoms.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

True Texas Chili

I've seen this recipe on a few other food blogs and I've made it several times now.  I believe I have finally hit the right combination of timing and ingredient modifications to post this.  This chili is from Lobel's Meat Bible. It's the kind of spicy that you can't stop eating--heat but not burn.  The kids sucked it down too. I paired it with cauliflower rice to help soak up some of the sauce and a nice cool traditional green salad with romaine lettuce from Tomatero Farm, tomatoes from Bruins Vegetables out of Winters, CA, organic California English cucumbers from Whole Foods, and carrots from Full Belly Farm.

Don't be scared off by the chili prep, it really does make the chili truly special.  I bought my dried chilis at Mi Pueblo Foods in San Rafael. Start to finish give yourself 4 hours. It'll take an hour to get to the part where everything sits on the stove and simmers.  I started mine at 2pm left it on the stove at 3 to get the kids and do all our stuff, came home at 5.45, made the cauliflower rice, and we were eating by 6.15.  This may have to be a weekend meal for you but it is really worth it, better yet, bring it to your next potluck/chili cook-off and you will be the "WINNER"

Double this if making it for more than 2 adults/2 kids and add 30 minutes to your prep time.  We had zero leftovers.
True Texas Chili
original recipe click here 

my version:

2 ounces dried, whole New Mexico (California), guajillo, or pasilla chiles, or a combination (6 to 8 chiles)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons lard, coconut oil*, or rendered beef suet
1  pound boneless beef chuck, well trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1  pound ground beef
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3-4 cups beef or chicken stock, or canned low-sodium beef broth, plus more as needed*
2 tablespoons almond flour (if you have nut allergy use arrowroot powder)
1 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, plus more as needed

*An excellent new source of stock is now at the Prather Ranch farm stand, Marin Sun Farms farm stand and Belcampo Meat Co.  Their pricing is far less than what you would spend trying to make it home on your own, especially the beef stock.

Place the chiles in a straight-sided large skillet over medium-low heat and gently toast the chiles until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Don't let them burn or they'll turn bitter. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with very hot water and soak until soft, 15 to 45 minutes, turning once or twice. 

While chilis are soaking, return skillet to medium-high heat and melt 2 tablespoons of the lard/coconut oil. When it gets hot, swirl skillet to coat and add half of the stew cut beef. Lightly brown on at least two sides, about 3 minutes per side, reducing the heat if the meat threatens to burn. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with 2 more tablespoons of lard and the remaining beef.  Brown the ground beef and reserve all the meat in one bowl together. 

Drain the chiles; split them and remove stems and seeds (a brief rinse helps remove seeds, but don't wash away the flesh). Place the chiles in the bowl of a blender and add the cumin, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 cup water. Purée the mixture, adding more water as needed (and occasionally scraping down the sides of the blender jar), until a smooth, slightly fluid paste forms (you want to eliminate all but the tiniest bits of skin.) Set the chile paste aside.

In a dutch oven, or you can use the same skillet you browned the meat in, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of lard/coconut oil; add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, and gradually whisk in the almond flour to avoid lumps. Stir in the reserved chile paste, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a spatula to loosen any browned bits. Add the reserved beef (and any juices in the bowl) and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain the barest possible simmer (just a few bubbles breaking the surface) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender but still somewhat firm and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of thickened but still liquid sauce surrounds the cubes of meat, about 2 hours.

Before starting the Cauliflower Rice, stir in the vinegar thoroughly and add more salt to taste; gently simmer 10 minutes more. At this point, it may look like there is excess sauce. Turn off the heat and let the chili stand for at least 30 minutes, during which time the meat will absorb about half of the remaining sauce in the skillet, leaving the meat bathed in a thick, somewhat fluid sauce. Stir in additional broth or water if the mixture seems too dry. If the mixture seems a bit loose and wet, allow it to simmer a bit more. 

Reheat gently

*I used coconut oil this time out and it turned out really nice.  I've used suet in the past that I rendered myself from Marin Sun Farms and that was great too.  If you want a good resource for lard, Prather Ranch has been selling it at the Farmer's Market, but I would call ahead to make sure they bring it if you want to pick it up from them.

Here is a handy reference guide for fats and oils.  In the past I have used/advocated sunflower or grapeseed oils for high heat cooking.  I'm starting to try to work around those now too.  Tropical oils are starting to become easier to find now and I know we've all been trained to think of them as not great for us but there is mounting evidence that a lot of things we believed to be true about what is good and bad for us is being turned on its ear.  Just keep your mind open...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cabbage Rolls

I made these a little while back when we were getting cabbage in our veggie box.  I used two heads and thought, "whoa, I'm going to have too much of this"--pictured is a quarter of the whole batch.  We blew through it all in 2 days, they made excellent leftovers, especially at breakfast (!).   It's also a good one to bring to a potluck as they retain their heat well and taste great room temperature or even cold.   I used green cabbage--you could use savoy as well but don't use Napa or red cabbage, it won't translate well. I was a little leery with this one for the kids, I remember my mom making this for me when I was a kid and I didn't love it--in our home it was called Sarma.  When I asked the kids if they thought it was good, Leo said, "this isn't good, Mom, it's GREAT."  So, there you have it.

Another note:  from start to eating-at-the-table this took about an hour and half--not too bad for an entire meal.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Cabbage Sarma)

2 lbs. ground meat (I used beef and pork from Prather Ranch this time out)
3/4 c. cauliflower rice
3 large tomatoes diced small
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. cinnamon (or you could go in the other direction and use dried mint)
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
2 heads cabbage from Tomatero Farms
3 T. lemon juice

Combine meat, cauliflower rice, tomatoes, cinnamon, garlic, tomato paste, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Mix well, cover and refrigerate while preparing cabbage leaves.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  While water is heating, prepare the cabbage.  Leaving heads of cabbage whole, remove hard core centers to make it easier to separate leaves after they are softened. Place cabbage, stem end down, in water to cover.  Return to boil again.  As cabbage cooks, begin to peel off outer whole leaves as they soften.  Continue until all leaves are softened. 

Line bottom of large pan or dutch oven with largest outside leaves.

Place spoonful of filling along bottom of each leaf and roll up. Roll up bottom over filling, tuck in both sides, then roll to the top creating a nice snug rollup.  Don't let any filling seep out.  Don't use the leaves with the biggest vein in them.

Arrange seam side down and nestle them closely together.  I had about 3 layers, make sure the top layer is even across.

Combine lemon juice and water to almost cover cabbage and pour over top.  Place an inverted plate on top to keep the rolls in place while cooking.  Cover with pan lid and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes.  Drain off cooking liquid and serve on the side or use to reheat leftovers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Braised Artichokes with Basil Coconut Cream Sauce

I grew up in Southern California where artichokes were on our dinner table at least twice a month from Spring through early Summer.  It was easily my favorite thing to eat as a child. My mother prepared them simply.  She would steam the big ones for about 45 minutes in a big pot of water, melt about half a pound of butter, divided into two dipping bowls, set a big empty plate in the center of the table and we would systematically pull the leaves, dip them, and then rake the tender bases through our teeth creating a mountain of stripped leaves as a centerpiece.  The real treat came when you got to the delicate yet extremely pointy interior leaves.  My father would carefully scrape out the fibrous center (it was such a beautiful purple color) and we would treasure eating the hearts dipped in yet more butter.  I really could go on and on about this vegetable but I want to get to another way of preparation I've been favoring lately.

Swanton Berry Farm  has had some really nice artichokes the last few weeks.  They have them in various sizes and I've been picking the smallest ones to use for this method as they don't have a choke and prepping them is fairly straightforward.  The first time I did this I only picked up 8 artichokes.  They weren't enough.  This time out I had at least 15 and I think we all got what we wanted.  The basil cream sauce goes with anything (I made it with pork chops the other night using the pan juices and bits from the chops).  You can make it vegetarian by just using vegetable stock...

Braised Artichokes with Basil Coconut Cream Sauce
serves 4--you can easily halve this or double it

15 small or "baby" artichokes
3 TBSP. olive oil
3 TBSP. butter or ghee
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 lemon halved

for the sauce:
1/4 cup coconut milk from a can
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Prep the artichokes by getting a large bowl of cold water and squeezing the lemon halves into it.  Leave the squeezed lemon itself in the bowl.  Prep each artichoke individually.  Cut the stem right up to the bottom of the base and top 1/2 inch off each artichoke.  Snap off and discard outer leaves until you get to pale center leaves.  Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and put it right into the bowl of lemon water.    The lemon will help keep the artichoke from turning an unsightly brown color.

In a large saute pan heat the olive oil and butter until foamy.  Drain the artichokes and saute for about 10 minutes over medium high heat, letting the artichokes gain some color but don't let them burn.  Add the stock, set the heat down to low, cover the pan and let simmer for 20 minutes.

Transfer artichokes to a separate bowl, leaving stock in the pan, and keep warm.  Add chopped basil, coconut milk, salt and pepper and whisk together until blended.  Turn heat up to medium and let the sauce reduce to your desired consistency.

I served this with a simple grilled flank steak tonight and we just drowned everything in the sauce.  It was VERY tasty!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chicken Tikka Masala with Cauliflower Rice

There is so much goodness going on with this dish, it's hard to decide where to start.  First, I have to give thanks to both my friends Alexis and Liz for posting elements of this dish in separate posts.  Cauliflower is going big over at Tomatero Farm right now and we have had the "rice" dish twice now already this week and I bought another head today to have with the leftover tikka masala sauce.  Make sure you save that sauce--it's gold!  The cucumber salad is excellent--I managed to find a US grown English cucumber (not organic) at Whole Foods as it is a little early in the season for local ones.  This dish is very simple to pull together but it is a slow cooker meal so be ready to go in the morning, it will take 8 hours to be done.  The cauliflower rice comes together in a snap, and I'm doubling the cucumber relish as the original recipe was not enough for our family...

Chicken Tikka Masala
original recipe post here 

my version: 

15-ounce can organic crushed tomatoes 
medium onion, chopped 
cloves garlic, chopped 
2 tablespoons organic tomato paste

2 teaspoons garam masala (here's some info on spices--it's long but eye opening)
kosher salt and black pepper 
1 1/2 to 2 pounds organic boneless skinless chicken thighs (8-10 pieces)
1 English cucumber, halved and thinly sliced (I used a mandolin)
1/2 cup organic chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon organic  fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup organic coconut milk from can
In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours (this will shorten total recipe time).
In a small bowl, toss the cucumber and cilantro with the lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
Twenty minutes before serving, start the cauliflower rice.
Just before serving, stir the coconut milk into the chicken tikka masala. Serve over the rice with the cucumber relish.

Cauliflower Rice

my version:
1 head cauliflower
1-2 cloves garlic
1 inch piece fresh peeled ginger
2 Tbs coconut or olive oil or ghee
coconut aminos, curry, garlic or freshly ground black pepper(optional seasonings)
Place the cauliflower, garlic cloves, and ginger into a food processor and pulse until it has a grainy rice-like consistency.  Do this in batches to keep the cauliflower uniform.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Saute the cauliflower in a pan with oil and any additional seasonings desired (sea salt,  coconut aminos, curry, or just freshly ground black pepper).