Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Something Gratin in California -- Broccoli Romanesco

Do exotic looking vegetables frighten or intrigue you?

Broccoli Romanesco -- Part of the cauliflower family

Tender, beautiful, other-worldly, what a great feast for the eyes. Do you dare pick up something at the Farmer's Market or speciality grocery just to challenge yourself? Where is your sense of adventure? Talk to the produce folk, or the farmer at the other end of the table and ask questions. Why limit yourself? Food is to be an adventure, explored as readily as we taste fine or not-so-fine wines to find something new to add to our repertoire.  For heaven's sake, it could be something we just might like! Who could resist these exotic beauties, nearly pine cone shaped, creamy colors and spiral that just wraps us around it's little florets. Don't be afraid, just a cousin of our creamy well loved cauliflower. Indulge, roast, saute, or smother with cheesy goodnesss.

Asiago Cheese,  Toasted Almonds with Broccoli Romanesco
Broccoli Romanesco Gratin
Serves 6-8
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes

3-4 cups Broccoli Romanesco (1 head), sliced or cut into chunks
2 tablespoons butter
½ medium yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups 2% Milk (or whole Milk)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
⅓  cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup Asiago cheese (I used Metropolitan Market Rosemary Asiago)

⅛ cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped blanched almonds
½ teaspoon white truffle oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, butter interior of  4 quart baking dish.
Melt butter in medium sauce pan, add chopped onion and cook over medium heat until translucent (about five minutes), sprinkle in flour and stir to blend and cook roux until golden (another 5-8 minutes). Slowly pour in milk, continue stirring until roux and milk are thoroughly mixed together. Cook over low heat until thickened, add salt, white pepper, mustard, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses. Stir until cheese has melted, remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.  Put chopped broccoli romanesco in baking dish,  pour cheese sauce over, stir to coat evenly.

Drizzle with white truffle oil and sprinkle top with remaining Parmesan cheese and chopped almonds. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly and top is toasty browned.  Remove from oven and cool for about 5-10 minutes before serving.

Cook’s Tips
You can mix up your cheeses for this gratin, maybe a creamy fontina, or cheddar to change it up. If you can’t find rosemary asiago cheese, you can add ¼ teaspoon chopped rosemary to add that flavor layer.

Featured in the Fresno Bee 2/14/2012
Broccoli romanesco: Weird appearance, unique taste by Robert Rodriguez

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Miso Happy Marinade

 "Mesa luven! Is berry berry good tongue-grabben!" ―Jar Jar Binks

Miso Happy Chicken Stirfry with Oyster Mushrooms and Spinach

Another weeknight, late coming home and the inspired dishes I was going to prepare have shifted to  "not tonight -- too ambitious," as I am left standing in front of the refrigerator, door open and pondering. A day of slogging through the technology swamp earns its just reward and we rediscover the umami of miso, oyster mushrooms, sweet carrot and spinach atop fluffy brown rice. Fresh ingredients bought for one thing, re-purposed.

For some, stir fry seems an exotic notion of complexity and imposing process that ends in a frenetic rush to the finish. Not me. This is true comfort food that I break down in steps burned into my muscle memory like a well practiced dance routine. The music on, often Latin guitar or my darling serenading me on the piano or organ we begin. Marinate the meat, turn, reach for a pot, put on the rice, step, step, step. Chop the veggies, tap, tap, scoop. Arms and hands reaching, waving to the beat, setting out the oil, soy sauce and sake at the ready. Whoosh, heat the wok, oil, sizzle, bang, stir, toss. Dinner.

Earthy,  salty and most known for comforting soup miso takes a turn as a marinade. Oftentimes I just marinate chicken with garlic, soy sauce and a bit of ginger. That is a really nice flavor profile, but I wanted something warmer, more in the same family as the oyster mushrooms and nutty brown rice. I used Aka-shiro miso, a lighter variety that has a shorter fermentation period, less soy and a milder, sweeter favor than the pungent dark red Akamiso.

If you are not one to make your daily breakfast miso soup as many Japanese families do, it can still serve your kitchen well as an ingredient in dressings, marinades and soups to add a salty richness and unexpected layer of flavor.  A small airtight tub can be stored quite a long time in refrigerator, beckoning your creative mind.  For best results find an Asian market or well stocked international section in a large grocery for the tubs in the refrigerator case. They say that miso has all sorts of health benefits and I'll let the science community sort that out. I just know mesa luven it, so good.

Tonight's Soundtrack: Lara & Reyes, World Jazz

Miso Happy Marinade 
Covers 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin.

1 tablespoon Aka-shiro miso
2 tablespoons Sake
1 teaspoon low salt soy sauce
1 teaspoon fine ground black pepper
pinch of ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Whisk together and blend well. Place meat in quart zip lock bag, pour in marinade to cover.
Marinade for at least an hour, or can be refrigerated overnight for more intense flavors. Drain meat well before cooking in the wok or  fry pan to avoid hot, flying splatters.
Note: Miso is really high in sodium, 1 tablespoon can have up to 880 mg. So don't add more salt to your dishes without tasting and proceeding with caution.

You might also like this Asparagus Mushroom Miso Soup.

More information about Miso - a superfood you'll want to add to your shopping list. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lunch Date 6 - Heart O' The Mountain Winery

A different kind of lunch date in the form of a passport. One that allows us to discover the hidden treasures in our own backyard and experience the sublime variations, culture and wine styling of the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation vintners. One passport and four weekends to indulge in little day trips, perhaps a picnic or dinner uncorking a new favorite. All at discounted prices and the thrill of discovery. A number of the wineries are only open to the public on passport days, such as Heart o' The Mountain.  January starts off the first Saturday of Passport Season, repeating on the third Saturday of April, July and November. We needn't rush to try and visit all fifty wineries, but leisurely map our course following the seasons.

A taste overlooking the vineyard
Tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains on the former Alfred Hichcock estate (yes, that Alfred Hitchcock...) is Heart O' The Mountain Winery where my darling and I had the great fortune to dine, taste and tour the facilities on a crisp blue-skyed day. Only open a few times a year this is a very private estate specializing in grapes cloned from legendary Dijon and Pommard vines in France. Currently owned by the Robert Brassfield family, the vineyard was established back in 1881 by Pierre Cornwall. Here they handcraft estate grown Pinot Noir.

We first discovered this winery at the Scotts Valley Art and Wine festival and the menu I created to celebrate the acquisition our first bottle inspired me to new culinary heights (or so my family says.) We jumped at the chance to drive up the long, windy and narrow one-lane road to the top of the mountain vineyard.

Less than 10 miles to the Monterey Bay
Greeted like dear new friends we were invited to taste the delicious offerings on the buffet and start our day with a light Fume Blanc before diving into Pinot Noirs. Smoked salmon, brie and other cheeses, lightly brined olives, salads and fruits whetted our appetites as we soaked in the cool air and dappled sun.

Bob collected us into a small group and we hiked up the steep driveway to the estate home, and it seemed like stepping back in time. White washed walls, tiled roof,  grape arbors, and the mystic of the Hitchcock era. The Brassfield family have made extensive repairs and improvements to the estate (seismic retrofitting etc.) but have kept the heart and soul intact. Roses and sculpture gardens, magnificent view to the ocean, no wonder Hitch made this his second home away from Hollywood. Enthralled, we soak in the atmosphere and the history as we weave past the kitchen, wine cellar and then upstairs to the new members facility. I am only going to give you a small taste of the look and feel of the estate, a tease I know but really you must visit to experience it yourself.

Back down to the tasting as we tried our best to decipher the differences between the numeric labels of their selections. 777? 828? 627? Was a bit confusing to me so I very much appreciated the expertise of our hosts not only describing the differences based on the clone block predominating, but also their generosity in allowing me to say, "could I please try that one again?" Educating your palate is a discipline and one you must practice, and practice.... and practice. Finally, convinced I knew what I liked we settled in for a respite on the patio, overlooking the vines and down to the sea. Today, 828 is my lucky number, bold with predominant berries, but a kick of pepper and leather. This is not a mild delicate Pinot for casual sipping.  But, it also appears is 777 and the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir have made it into my shopping bag.

828 is a good number
Winding our way home, my designated driver (of course, a tasting prerequisite) and I mused on the delightful day, good food, a bit of history, and a few bottles to inspire an new menu.

Heart O' The Mountain Winery
Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers - Passport Day

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sometimes the side is the star -- Braised Red Cabbage with Fennel and Apple

In my head, I know it is winter. Mornings have been frosty and I actually have had to defrost my windows before heading down the driveway to work. But bless my soul if the brilliant blue sky and sun doesn't try to deceive me in thinking otherwise. Days have been in the mid-to-high sixties and even broke seventy degrees this week. We are experiencing a weather phenomena call La NiƱa that has given our California central coast an extremely mild and dry winter so far, and we're all just loving it, knowing if it continues we will pay for drought conditions and risk of wild fires. But if you live in the moment, then these are the days you want to be outside in nature and breathe in the beauty. Sunsets have been spectacular and the winter sun on the ocean just sparkles like so many diamonds fracturing the light like a day-time firework.

Tiny fisherman -- big dreams

So, for me, conventional winter foods have not quite seemed just right. How connected we humans are to weather, food, comforts and hankerings. Have you noticed that yourself?  On days like this I've been thinking it is time to barbecue, but darkness setting at 5:30pm and temperatures chilling in the thirties this is not likely. But I can grill some goodness in my cast iron pan. This time I seared ahi tuna and paired it with this sweet and savory braised cabbage. Amethyst, ruby and garnet tendrils soaked up in the combined aromas of fennel and apple made this side the star of the meal. Red cabbage elegance and not just for token color in slaw or salad mix.

Red Cabbage with fennel and apple.

Braised Red Cabbage with Apple and Fennel
Serves  6
Cook Time: about 30-45 minutes

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red cabbage, thinly sliced (about 3-4 cups)
½  savory cabbage, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 granny smith apple, peeled, quartered and sliced
¼ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup red wine
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup sweet fruit wine (exp. Honeywood Logan Berry Wine from Oregon)
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon Ground black pepper

Wash and prep your cabbage, fennel, apple and onion.

Cabbage has a lot of volume so you need a very large saute pan with cover or use a enameled 7 qt dutch oven.
  1. Heat your pan to medium high and toast the fennel seeds for 15-30 seconds to release flavors. Remove and set aside. Add butter and olive oil, when butter stops foaming add onions and saute for 5 minutes until soft.
  2. Add in thinly sliced cabbage, fennel, stir and toss (tongs work well for this) and coat with butter/oil.
  3. Add apple to mixture, stir to incorporate evenly with the cabbage. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, sprinkle with allspice.
  4. Cover and cook over medium low for about 20 minutes until soft -- but not soggy.
  5. Increase heat to medium high and deglaze pan with red wine, cook uncovered until liquid is reduced by half.
  6. Add in brown sugar, cider vinegar and sweet wine, sprinkle in fennel seeds, toss to stir and coat continue cooking until liquids are reduced by a third. You don’t want this soupy.
  7. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.
  8. Remove from heat and serve warm.

January 1, 2012 Twin Lakes Beach, Santa Cruz, California

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Just a bowl of butter beans

Call them limas or butter beans, most folks hate them as much as they dislike brussels sprouts, spinach or other maligned super food. Subjected to badly prepared, overcooked, undercooked, unseasoned fare and made to eat it because it is good for you. No wonder children vehemently protest with tightly sealed lips and crossed arms. "I'm not eating that!" Those early experiences make us leery of revisiting offending food, but sometimes trying it again brings newly enlightened enjoyment, a surprised revelation.  For the rest of us, with the tiniest bit of southern in our roots, we can't help but hanker for a good ole bowl of butter beans, in fact there are songs about them.

Maybe, for those haters, it is time to give them another try.

Thick and creamy, cooked just long enough, but not too long that the beans are reduced to mush, abundant tender smokey ham chunks and a side of cornbread and a good beer. Honey, this is comfort food at it's best. As a kid, we'd know that after the ham came the beans, that was my heritage.  I have prepared limas a number of ways; cajun with spicy sausage, latin seasonings and peppers, or like tonight just simply.  I used both large and small beans with a little fresh thyme, bay leaves and a beer broth that offers a little surprise brightness. Truly, that easy.

Ham and Butter Beans (Limas) with Beer Broth

Let's side trip a minute on the nutritional wonders of this bean lest you are not convinced based on just mouthwatering goodness. Low in fat, high in protein and dietary fiber, cholesterol-free. rich in  several types of phytochemicals such as Lignans, flavonoids, and phytosterols which may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers. White beans have more iron than black beans. Dry beans are cheap and provide a good source of protein compared to animal proteins. Add a left over ham bone to boost flavor and you've got a tasty wonder food. USDA recommends including 3 cups of cooked dry beans in the diet weekly to meet the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Whew.

Why not play some music and put on a pot o' beans?


Butter Beans - Thelma Boltin and Tom Walton
Recorded: May 24, 1985 (Florida Folklife Program)
Florida Memory Project, Florida Department of State

If you like more of a old school country vibe, try this Lil Jimmy Dickens rendition.

Something a little more lively?  How about Man Man - Ballad of Butter Beans?

Ready to give them a try? Click Read More for this Recipe or check out my Recipe page for other bean delights - California Girl Blackeyed Peas, Curried Chickpeas and Cauliflower, or Jerk Inspired Black Beans and Rice to name a few.