Monday, March 27, 2006

Two Kinds of Scones, Two Kinds of Curd

Once in a while I have to break out of the low-carb eating thing and make something with white flour, white sugar, and lots of butter. So, wanting to bring my scone recipe up to date and try a few new ingredients, I ended up making two kinds: a blueberry-ginger and an orange-cranberry.

Not stopping there, using the Meyer lemons that my friend Bill gave me, I had to make some curd for the scones because how can you have scones without lemon curd? Following my own rather industrious lead, I then decided that an orange curd, if it worked, would be a very beautiful way to use up the blood oranges in my fridge. Bingo! on all counts. Put on a pot of tea and enjoy!

Ginger-Blueberry Scones
(or “scaahns”, as my Scottish Aunt Margaret used to say)

2 ½ cups unbleached flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger

8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Combine the dry ingredients, stirring with a whisk until blended, then place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.
Sprinkle the pieces of butter over the flour mixture. Pulse 2 or 3 times, at about 10 seconds per pulse, or until the butter is in pieces about the size of peas and incorporated into the flour. Alternatively, you can cut the butter in with two knives or use your fingers to press the dough into the flour, but this may make for a tougher scone.
You want the butter to stay as cold as possible, so minimal handling is best.

Pour the flour/butter mixture into a mixing bowl and gently stir in:
½ cup organic dried blueberries
¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger
Zest of 1 lemon

Using a fork and your fingers, quickly stir in:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, more or less (depending on the flour you’re using, the time of day you’re doing this, the temperature both inside and outside the house, your emotional state of mind, your significant other’s emotional state of mind, and the current planetary alignment), until the dough is still a bit crumbly-sticky but holds together when pinched.

Dump the dough on a floured pastry cloth and gently knead a few times to bring it together.
Flour the top and with a rolling pin or your hands, roll or pat to a 12” diameter about ½-inch thick.
Cut into wedges or use a cutter or glass to make rounds.
Place on an un-greased baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Remove from oven and place scones on racks to cool.
Serve with Meyer lemon curd and your favorite tea.

Orange-Cranberry Scones
Using the same method as above, here is the list of ingredients:

2 ½ cups unbleached flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
½ cup dried organic cranberries
Zest of 1 blood orange

8 tablespoons cold butter cut into small pieces

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Make these scones using the method above and serve with Blood Orange Curd.

Meyer Lemon Curd
5 large eggs
¾ cup superfine sugar
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
Zest from 2 Meyer lemons
6 tablespoons cold butter cut into slices

Beat the eggs then stir in the sugar. Whisk until fully blended. Pour in the lemon juice and zest and whisk until blended.
In the top of a double boiler, over simmering water, stir mixture constantly until it thickens. Drop in the butter, a few slices at a time, and whisk until melted and fully blended. The curd will start to glisten as you do this and thicken even more. When all the butter is fully incorporated, remove the top pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Pour into glass jars and top with a lid. You can serve this right away. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Blood Orange Curd
4 extra large eggs
Juice of 3 blood oranges (I got about 2/3 cup)
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons (about 1/3 cup)
¾ cup superfine sugar
6 tablespoons cold butter

I wanted to make this curd using only blood oranges, but they were not tart enough so I added Meyer lemon juice. For this recipe, I would combine the two juices first and taste for tartness. Adjust the sugar content accordingly.
Follow the steps above for lemon curd.

Friday, March 24, 2006

NOW it's Spring!

For me it's not spring in our neck of the woods until the swallows return to nest in the eaves of our house and the rafters of our barn. Every year on March 19th I start watching the sky. Allowing for weather, they will appear between the 19th and 23rd. When the 23rd went by and I still hadn't seen them, I began to worry. About how the weather might have affected them, about it not truly being spring until these beautiful little birds come "home", and if they didn't, would spring just not happen this year?

Then this morning, which dawned clear and sunny for a change, while crossing the short distance from the house to my office, I looked up and there they were. Swooping and diving, their long forked tails and swept-back wings cutting a graceful image against the blue sky; happily catching bugs on the fly, singing their lilting song - finally, Spring has truly sprung!

And since it's very, very hard to capture flying swallows on camera, Clay snapped this photo of the native red currant that blooms at the edge of our yard. Happy Spring!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spicey Mint Lamb Chops & Leeks

Ah, Spring on the North Coast: gray, cloudy - much like it's been here all winter. Bah! The sun showed its lovely, if watery, face this afternoon for just a bit before hiding behind more clouds. Grrr! I'm ready for sun. I'm ready for heat. I'm ready for dry ground on which to walk.

Given my general state of grumpiness over the weather, my lamb offering today looks much like I feel - a bit gray, brown and wet! Sorry for the photo. We tried to perk it up but no amount of dithering with camera settings made much of a difference.

You'll just have to take my word for it that these little chops are very tasty. They can be oven broiled, pan seared or outdoor grilled, depending on your fancy and, of course, the weather.

8 lamb loin chops, trimmed of fat
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup chopped, fresh mint
4-6 cloved garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground corriander
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more or less, depending your taste

Place the garlic and salt in a mortar and grind to a smooth paste. Add the mint and spices and grind until fully incorporated. Slowly pour in the olive oil, grinding with the pestle, until the oil is incorporated and a smooth, spreadable paste is formed.
Spread the mixture over both sides of each lamb chop and let stand at room tempurature for 20 minutes to 1/2 hour.
Broil until each side is browned and crusty and the inside is medium-rare, about 4 minutes per side. Or, in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, sear until well browned on each side, no more than 4 minutes per side.
Let chops sit off heat for a few minutes before serving, but don't allow to get cold.

For the leeks, trim the tip of the stem ends and cut the tops off just where the light green part begins to turn dark green. Slice each leek lengthwise about 1/3 of the way through and, under cool running water, clean all the dirt from the layers close to the stem end and as far up as needed.
Slice the leeks all the way through lengthwise and then chop crosswise on an extreme angle into 1/4-inch slices. Place in a large roasting pan that has been drizzled with about a teaspoon of olive oil and spread out on bottom of pan. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Cover with foil and roast in a 375 oven for 10-12 minutes. Remove foil, shake the pan to loosen the leeks and roast for 8-10 minutes more or until soft and slightly browned but not burned.

I had some cremini mushrooms that needed cooking so I sauteed them in olive oil, sprinkled with just a bit of Kosher salt and about 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme. (My fresh thyme is almost non-existent this time of year.) Saute until the mushrooms have given off their liquid. Add a tablespoon of whatever Port you happen to have around and leave on heat, stirring, until the liquid has mostly been absorbed. This was very nice with the chops and leeks.

So there you have my first-day-of-Spring offering. I hope your day was sunny and full of warmth. Just don't tell me about it - I get very grouchy!

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Oven Roasted Prawns & Asparagus

When it's too cold to grill outside, pan roasting comes awfully close.

These babies were soaked in a citrusy - soy marinade for two hours and then roasted in a hot oven

2-4 lbs. medium-sized prawns, 31-50 per pound (depending on how many you're feeding. For this occasion, there were 12), shells and tails intact. With a very sharp knife, slit the rounded back of each prawn and remove the sand track. Combine the following (adjust to your personal taste):
1/2 cup Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar or a mix of your own citrus juices such as orange, blood orange, lemon, & lime plus some Champagne vinegar to taste.
1/3 cup lite soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup orange pineapple juice concentrate
2 tablespoons water
Place prepared prawns in a glass bowl or dish and pour the marinade over, turning the prawns until they are fully coated. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Reserving marinade, with a slotted spoon remove the prawns to a large roasting pan and roast in a 450 degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until all the prawns are bright orange, shaking pan often. Remove the prawns from the pan and tent with foil to keep warm.
Strain both the marinade and the juice from the roasting pan into a sauce pan. Stir 1/4 cup orange pineapple juice concentrate and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes until reduced and slightly thickened. Taste for seasonings and pass as a dipping sauce with the prawns.

First California asparagus of the season!
For the asparagus, trim tough ends and, using a vegetable peeler, peel the skins if tough. Place the asparagus in single layers on parchment paper in a large jelly roll pan. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Roast in a 450 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

Monday, March 6, 2006

I Blog Therefore I Am(?)

Egged-on by my kids several years ago to write a family cookbook and after many false starts, one day while researching the Web I discovered the world of blogging, signed up for my own blog then and there and, as the saying goes, never looked back. With my blog I can put onto virtual paper what has evidently been locked inside of me for most of my life: the desire to express to others what I love best.

So when I read Pete Wells' article, In the Belly of the Blog, in the March issue of Food & Wine Magazine, I took some exception to his claims of what makes a food blog good. Among his points are: 1- "a good blog needs to communicate passion"; 2- "...there ought to be consequences... something should be at stake"; 3- "...the blog should be timely..."; and 4- "... a blog needs a sense of purpose." Wells goes on to say that a blogger "needs to make sure no one else already has it [the purpose] covered". And while Mr. Wells' article is not a negative statement per se about food bloggers, and while he certainly has some valid points about writing in general, and while his writing this article certainly has brought the world of food blogging more into the limelight, it did reap several responses from the food blog community.

Dave at The Fumbling Foodie says on his blog, "Wells scoffs at bloggers talking about 'cheese sandwiches', but the blogosphere is a microcosm of the rest of the world. If bloggers are talking about cheese sandwiches then clearly people are interested in cheese sandwiches. If Wells thinks that cheese sandwiches are not worthy of discussion in his exalted publication, then it's his loss."
Kit Pollard at
Mango & Ginger wrote, “Wells is obviously not a blogger himself… he doesn’t understand the nature of the food blogosphere. She goes on to say, " ...I feel as though I’m a part of something larger than myself. Critics might say that the food blogging world is insular and self-congratulatory. I say it’s like a big welcoming club.”

As for me, writing about what I cook and publishing it on my blog is not self-absorption; it's not self-admiration nor is it self-agrandisement. I don't think I'm such a great cook that people everywhere need to read about it. No, what I love best about writing and blogging is that I get to share my love of cooking, my recipes and, most importantly, my love of feeding people not only with my family and friends, but with an ever-growing global community of cooks and foodies who share this passion to get their words, and their love of food, out into the world. Indeed, in this world of political madness, uncertainty, curtailment of human rights, death from war, hatred, hunger, disease and catastrophic natural disasters, to be able to feed people, gather them 'round my table, both literally and however metaphorically blogging about it may be, is my way to give sustenance, comfort and love. And that feeds me.

There are now thousands of food bloggers on the Internet from almost every country on the planet, from all walks of life. Their commonality, in my view, is the desire to speak and share their passion. In doing so they have created a cross-cultural virtual community that has no peer. Sharing thoughts, social commentary, the occasional rant and, yes, food and recipes through blogging generates greater understanding and links our global community in a way that is thrilling to comtemplate. A case in point is Pim's (of
Chez Pim) Menu for Hope, inciting food bloggers all over the world to contribute to UNICEF for the Tsunami Relief Effort. Over $20,000 was raised in less than one month, all from food bloggers.

I've always loved feeding people and I love creating recipes and playing with the recipes of others. That I write about what I do is a personal choice that doesn't need to follow rules to be valid. That some folks like what I write is icing on the cake - wonderful surely, but not what floats my boat.

Seared Ahi in a Wasabi Garlic Marinade

I like my ahi cooked. I know there are some individuals out there who think this a travesty. But honestly, I have trouble eating raw meat or fish. At a restaurant recently I ordered a seared duck breast and got just that - seared on the outer nano-inch and raw in the middle. Yuk! Sorry, I can do medium rare and sometimes rare, but not raw.
So as you can hopefully see in the photo to the left, the ahi is a bit more than lightly seared - the mainstream method. Rather, it's cooked quite a bit with just some red, raw flesh in the middle. You all can do what you want but this is how I like it. The wasabi-garlic marinade is adapted from a recipe on the Epicurious web site and comes from Bon Appetit Magazine. Enjoy!

1/4 cup lite soy sauce
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 ahi tuna steaks, thick
1 tablespoon sesame oil
toasted sesame seeds

1 pound slim green beans (may be frozen)

Combine the soy, wasabi and garlic powder. Pour into a glass dish large enough to hold tuna steaks. Turn steaks over several times to coat. Let stand for 15-20 minutes, but no longer than 1/2 hour.
(Barring the use of garlic powder, you could take a peeled garlic clove, smash it, then using the side of a chef's knife blade, mash it with a pinch of Kosher salt until it becomes a paste - a very gourmet thing to do.)

Cook beans by steaming, boiling or microwaving, just until tender-crisp. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over med-high heat, heat oil to shimmering. Sprinkle tuna with toasted sesame seeds and place in pan, reserving the marinade. Sear tuna 3 minutes per side for medium rare - the steaks will be rare just in the middle. Place steaks on plates and tent with foil to keep warm. Add the marinade and green beans to the skillet and toss with tongs, coating the beans until they are heated through and sauce is reduced and slightly thickened.

Place beans beside tuna on plates and pour remaining sauce over both.

The white stuff on the plate above the Ahi is steamed cauliflower mashed with fat-free half & half. It's a healthful alternative to mashed potatoes.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Ragout of Duck, Sausage & Portobellos with Salad

Serve this simple, warming stew with a salad of spring greens, tomato, avocado, diced red bell peppers and a chipotle viniagrette.
Don't forget the wine!

4 large portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed (use a grapefruit spoon to gently scrape away the gills), cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter
2 large leeks, cleaned, cut lengthwise and finely sliced crosswise

4 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and coarsely chopped
2 cans no-salt ready-cut tomatoes, one can drained of juice and one can with juice
2 cans small white beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 teaspoon herb/sea salt seasoning (I used
Tulocay's Pork and Lamb rub)
3 pork garlic sausages, or any sausage of your choice, casings removed, pinched into 1 inch pieces and cooked through
1 California smoked duck breast, or several seared chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces

In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, saute mushrooms in olive oil/butter mixture until soft, add leeks and saute until leeks are soft and gently browned. Add garlic and saute one minute more, until garlic aroma is released. Add tomatoes, beans and seasoning and stir gently until mixed. Lower heat to medium and add duck breast and cooked sausage. Cook gently until heated throughout. Serve in bowls with your favorite crusty artisan bread.

For the salad dressing:
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, such as Jerez
1 tablespoon red onion, chopped fine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon each, canned chipotle chile in adobo, thinly sliced, and sauce from can
1/4 teaspoon salt
Place all ingredients in a jar and whisk well. This will keep in the fridge for several days, but will become spicier the longer you keep it.