Sunday, October 25, 2009

Come here, pumpkin.

I am prone to using gratuitously sweet terms of endearment. Names like snuggle buns, honey dumpling and schnoogie pots come too easily for me. In fact, I called Eric “little sugary monkey” this morning. Sorry. But over the years I have realized that most people don’t like to be called those names, so for the most part I try to keep them reserved for pets and small children. I call my niece little bacon.  So far she’s fine with it.

One of my favorite terms of endearment, and a name that I’ve found goes over the most favorably with adult subjects, is pumpkin. My mom used to call me pumpkin. It’s sweet and huggable, but not over the top. Pumpkin sounds smiley like a jack-o’-lantern, and useful. “Come here, pumpkin.”

But I am reminded every fall that despite their sweet earthy flavor, pumpkins are actually quite a pain to cook with. Peeling a whole pumpkin hurts my hand, and the flesh is solid and hard to cut through. This year, I decided to get it all out of the way at once. I bought two, five pound sugar pumpkins from Alm Hill Gardens, and peeled, cubed and froze the whole lot. Now I am set for pumpkin treats for the next couple of months.

My first recipe from the bounty was pumpkin mostarda—an Italian relish that can be made out of most any kind of fruit. It’s sweet and salty, with a spicy mustard after taste. We had it for breakfast it on toasted baguette with ricotta, salt and pepper. I’ll try it with roasted pork and as a filling for ravioli.

Pumpkin Mostarda
This recipe was adapted from a recipe I found on La Cucina Italiana.

2 ½ pounds fresh pumpkin, peeled and cubed (whew!)
1 ¼ cups water
2 ½ cups sugar
1T lemon
3T dry mustard
4T white wine
1 t salt
  1. Dissolve the sugar and water in a large, heavy bottom pan by bringing it to a low boil for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the pumpkin and lemon juice, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft but still keeps its shape.
  3. Remove the pumpkin from the syrup.
  4. Add the mustard, wine and salt to the syrup and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Put the pumpkin in a heat proof storage container (I use canning jars or glass tupperware), cover with the mustard syrup, cover and refrigerate.
  6. Let the mostarda sit for a few days. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two Turntables and a Microphone

Two turntables and a microphone has been my favorite composition for a weeknight dinner for seven years now. The turntables are vegetables and the microphone is the meat. There’s no real connection besides the fact that there is one item paired with two items, but it caught on, and it stuck. I end up having it for dinner at least once a week, and while I don’t always call it two turn tables and a microphone, especially when guests are around, the label almost always crosses my mind. It’s simple, it’s healthy, and it’s tasty.

This week, my friend had me over for an amazing caribou dinner. He caught and killed that caribou on his own. The treat of wild game made me nostalgic for the days when two turntables and a microphone was conceived.

Fresh out of college, I lived with a guy from Montana. His family introduced me to the expression “happiness is a full freezer.” They generously kept our freezer stocked year-round with wild game. It was mostly elk: elk steaks, elk chorizo, ground elk, elk stew meat, elk sausages. A freezer full of elk is amazing because it’s healthy, lean meat, with no antibiotics, from the freest range, and is responsibly harvested. But it’s even more amazing when you’re young, and trying to make ends meet in the Bay Area by temping in a construction trailer in south Oakland.

The original microphone was elk sausage, and turntables were usually winter squash and chard, maybe beets. Unfortunately, I don’t have a wild game hook-up anymore—this week’s caribou dinner was my first wild game feast in years. Let this serve as a standing acceptance—think of it as the opposite of a standing invitation. If you say, “Abby, want to join me on a hunting weekend? I have all the supplies and I’ll show you how to do it.”  I will respond, “Yes, I’d love to.”

But until I become a hunter, the best substitute I can come up with is responsibly farmed local meat from the farmers’ market. Today I bought some goat chops from Toboton Creek Ranch for this week’s meal. I’ll serve it with kale from Alm Hill Gardens and Chioggia beets from Willie Greens.

Two turntables and a microphone—some ideas:

Goat chops
Fresh kale salad with ricotta salada and shallot dressing
Roasted Chioggia beets

Spicy Italian pork sausage
Sautéed spinach with parmesan
Roasted acorn squash with butter, brown sugar and cayenne

Roasted chicken breast with fennel seeds, salt and red chili flakes
Radicchio salad
Green beans

Flank steak
Broccoli rabe with oil and salt
Roasted cauliflower

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spicy Carrot Martini

My family is a two-cocktail family. That doesn’t mean we always stop at two, or that we think 2 o’clock is the right time to start, but when it’s cocktail hour, there are essentially two choices: brown or clear. We drink manhattans and martinis. On a hot summer day, when there’s guacamole around, we may make up a batch of margaritas, but for the most part we try not to mess around with too many mixers like tonic or coke or juice.

So it’s a little surprising that it took us so long to come up with the Spicy Carrot Martini.
I’ve been pickling for a few years now, and my go-to pickle of choice is definitely the spicy carrot. I like them almost as much for how they look in the jar as I do for their crisp, vinegary taste. I love the marigold shades or orange, how the tidy shapes of sliced carrot spears line up with the chilies. And they don’t shrink up in the jar, so how ever I manage to cram them in before I pour in the brine, is how they will stay all winter, waiting to be pulled out of the cupboard to join a plate of cured meats or accompany a honey crisp with cheddar. And now they will be summoned to dunk in a Spicy Carrot Martini.
It’s as simple as it sounds. Gin martini, hold the olives, add the carrot. And it’s great. It was my brother’s concept, and he has already tested it out on some friends—a crowd pleaser.

Below is my carrot recipe, but it also works well with other vegetables with a similar pH level, like green beans and asparagus. Today I made a batch with cauliflower and ghost chilies. I’m working on pumping up the spice level. We’ll see how successful I was in a few weeks.

Spicy Pickled Carrots
This recipe is adapted from a recipe for Pickled Okra that I found on Martha Stewart Living in 2007. Makes 8 pints.
5 # carrots
1 quart white vinegar
6 tablespoons pickling salt
3 cups water
Optional: fresh or dried chilies, dill, garlic, coriander seeds, mustard seeds
8 pint sized canning jars, lids and bands
  • Boil jars in a hot water bath to sterilize.
  • Wash, peel and slice carrots to a size that will fit efficiently into your jars.
  • Make the brine by bringing vinegar, salt and water to a boil.
  • Sterilize lids and bands by boiling them. Leave the lids in the hot water.
  • Remove the jars from the hot water bath, one at a time, and fill them with carrots. Stuff the carrots in as tight as you can—they’ll give a little once they cook. Repeat with all the jars until your carrots are gone.
  • Add optional flavorings.
  • Fill the jars with hot brine, leaving about a quarter inch of space at the top, and fit the jars with lids and bands
  • Return the jars to the water bath, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes.
  • Store in the refrigerator
Pickling is a science. If you’d like to keep these in the cupboard through the winter, check out some resources like Iowa State University’s Making Pickles and Pickle Products or the National Center for Home Preservation to make sure you’re being safe.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Still Life is a Party

This summer, some friends and I were sitting in the sun on the deck at Doe Bay, drinking coffee and reading magazines. We were on the kind of weekend getaway where coffee bled into lunch, and lunch bled into afternoon cocktails, and the next thing you knew, it was time to do it all over again. Flipping through a design mag, I saw a still life painting with sparkly oysters and a black velvety background. Apologies to the artist because I forget exactly who it was, but it looked something like this, or this. It was exactly what I needed for my blank wall—it was sensual and inviting, told a story and begged to be a guest at dinner parties. But, as a friend pointed out, that painting was at the Louvre, and I probably couldn’t afford it.

So we decided to have a Still Life Party.

Here’s the concept:
  • Everyone brings an object for a still life - flowers, overripe fruit, crusty bread, whole fish, a skull, a vase, a leather satchel, a revolver, etc.
  • I set up romantic little areas with nice lighting
  • We drink wine and arrange still lifes and take pictures
  • I will pick my favorite and have it painted at Storybrush
I feed everyone. They deserve it for being such good sports
Because I have the most amazing and creative friends in the world, the still lifes were incredible.

For dinner, I wanted something baroque-esque, easy enough to eat with just a fork as I can’t seat 14 people at a table, and hands-off enough that I could be making still lifes before dinner. After a brainstorming session over lunch with my mom and her friend Vickie, we came up with this.

Still Life Party Menu

To start:
  • French cheeses
  • Salami
  • Homemade pickled peas, beans, carrots and asparagus
  • Smoked black cod
  • Crackers
Main course:

  • Endive, romaine and radicchio with garlicky dressing
  • Lasagne duchi de ferrari from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s first cook book, or as we like to call it, Noah’s lasagna because it calls for 8 different kinds of meat.
  • Crusty Italian bread

  • Pluot crumble adapted from Orangette’s recent post. I was a little late in the season for the Italian plumbs that she called for, but I used Washington pluots instead, and their fiery red color was a beautiful substitute.
  • Crème fraiche whipped cream
  • Fernet-Branca