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July 28, 2010
EGGPLANT CROSTINI WITH CORIANDER/
SQUASH BLOSSOM AND RICOTTA RAVIOLI WITH SUMMER TOMATO SAUCE/
FARRO AND ARUGULA SALAD WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND PECORINO/
GRILLED FLANK STEAK WITH SWEET CORN, ROASTED PEPPERS, AND BASIL/
PLUM FOOL WITH NECTARINES, BLUEBERRIES, AND CARAMEL SAUCE/
The inaugural Creative Seasonal Cooking class is over! Let me tell you, it was hard to plan this final menu—there were still so many summer dishes I wanted to cover. Eggplant, peppers, corn salad, squash blossoms, tomato sauce, farro salad, fruit fool…I just had to make them all…and we did! That’s the mandate of seasonal cooking: to avail yourself to each seasonal offering before the season ends. Before long, it will be fall again; seasonal cooking urges us to make the very most of each moment, to “make hay while the sun shines.”
July 20, 2010
CUCUMBER SALAD WITH RED ONIONS AND BASIL/
GARDEN TOMATO AND LETTUCE SALAD WITH BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING/
SPICY GRILLED PORK TENDERLOIN WITH SWEET CORN POLENTA AND PICKLED SOUR CHERRIES/
PLUM COBBLER WITH CINNAMON ICE CREAM/
California is justly famous for the extraordinary array of produce grown here, and for our many distinct ethnic communities. To be a California cook is to take inspiration not only from the excellent fruits and vegetables in our markets, but also from the various ethnic culinary traditions that thrive here—Mexican, Latin American, Italian, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and many more. Each offers a wealth of inspiration to creative cooks, and any special ingredients required for authenticity are readily found in California's cities.
However, I find it endlessly satisfying to dig deep into my own Texas-Southern roots, too. Whether you view California’s various ethnic identities as a melting pot or a big tossed salad, I often love to add a little Southernness to the mix. Fresh old-fashioned garden produce, buttermilk, homemade pickled fruit, pork, cornmeal, okra, sweet homemade desserts, recipes from mothers and grandmothers—all these evoke Southern food for me, and they all appear in this delicious menu.
July 13, 2010
My friend Kevin writes a wonderful blog on home canning and preserving called, most appropriately, Saving the Season (click the link to it on the left-hand column). The other day, he posted an account of discovering and descending, with fellow food-loving friends, upon an orchard specializing in sour cherries—the jammer’s delight, and piemaker’s holy grail. Sour cherries could not be more different from sweet cherries—they are pink, not red, with clear juice, smaller pits, tenderer skins and flesh, and a pronounced acidity that raises the eyebrows of anyone sampling one for the first time. But underneath the sourness is that elusive, true cherry-pie flavor that a Bing could never hope to possess. A pie is certainly on my list (a Sunday morning project, with all that pitting and lattice-weaving of delicate pastry), but long have I longed to pickle sour cherries in the Southern manner, poaching them whole in a syrup of sugar, cider vinegar, water and whole spices, then covering them with the boiling syrup and letting them sit for a good long time, until the almond essence in the pit emerges. A winter treat, with pork and duck. So, the day after Kevin and his friends harvested their cherries, I went to my produce market and found a great, fresh bin of them! I bought two kinds, all told, that day: the standard pinkish variety, and, from Washington state, a slightly darker variety. I would pickle them all, some for me to save for the cold months, and some for my CREATIVE SEASONAL COOKING class, to serve with grilled pork tenderloin and fresh corn polenta for our Southern-themed menu next week.
July 13, 2010
WILD MUSHROOM RISOTTO WITH SWEET CORN AND FINES HERBES/
SLOW-ROASTED SALMON WITH CUCUMBERS, LEMON, AND DILL/
GREEN BEAN SALAD WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND BASIL/
GOAT CHEESE BAKED IN FIG LEAVES WITH FRESH FIGS, WALNUT LEVAIN BREAD, AND HONEY/
Ah, risotto. When I was in my mid-twenties, I remember a friend being shocked upon learning I’d never eaten or made risotto. He promptly invited us over for a risotto dinner, and the rest is history—risotto became one of my mainstays. I served it to my fellow cast-members of The Merchant of Venice at one of our many parties. I made it for New Year’s Eve many a year, usually flavored with saffron. When I worked for a large, high-end catering company, they booked me for any party that had risotto on the menu. Once, I remember supervising five cooks, each stirring a giant cauldron of wild mushroom risotto, for a fund-raiser with 500 guests. I demonstrated risotto to my Culinary Arts students at Deep Springs, an early autumn version containing butternut squash and fresh sage.
July 7, 2010
SUMMER SQUASH CARPACCIO WITH PECORINO, ALMONDS, AND MINT
ROAST CHICKEN BREASTS MARINATED WITH HERBS, ALLSPICE, AND LEMON
-SWEET RED ONION RELISH
SUCCOTASH OF SWEET CORN AND FRESH SHELL BEANS WITH PESTO
GINGERSNAPS, VANILLA ICE CREAM, BOYSENBERRIES, AND GOLDEN PLUMS
Summer is ease and light…well, poetically, at least. These are the qualities we often crave in summer food--we prefer to cook relatively quick and easy dishes, and the heat can diminish our appetite. It was a hot Fourth of July weekend; I wanted to make a menu of dishes celebrating the holiday, utilizing the early summer bounty, and reflecting those poetic summer qualities of ease and lightness. Starting with a traditional Texas Fourth of July menu—barbecued chicken, corn on the cob, baked beans with chopped fresh onion, salad, and ice cream—and rearranging the elements, adding a few California embellishments, we come up with a beautiful, festive meal that is relatively easy and light, and, in its own way, just as comforting as the traditional one.
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