Friday, December 23, 2011

Heavenly High Class Pot Pie

Paul was salivating over the recent Williams Sonoma catalog, mainly over the incredibly expensive cuts of meat, like the $175 five pound prime rib. Kind of reminded of mooning over the Sears and J.C. Penney Christmas catalogs, filled with toys that I coveted as a child. I decided to give it a look-see, strictly for fun and got reeled in by the Short Rib Wellington Potpie recipe. Of course they featured the Le Creuset Dutch oven that was the perfect match. When Paul offered to get it for me for Christmas I went for it. You see, I couldn’t care less about diamonds, but start talking high quality cookware and I’m there. I’m such a cheap date! Just want to add, enamelled cast iron cookware is the best for braising and stewing, particularly in the oven. It can be Staub or Lodge as well; the heaviness promotes even heating. I highly recommended having at least a D utch oven.

The decision had been made by me to make a non-traditional (for us) Christmas dinner. All my life we have always had turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas. While I love the sight and smell of an oven roasted turkey, I really only like the skin, part of the wing, and the tail. The rest can go hang. So when I was working on a completely different menu, I decided to make this recipe as a SIDE DISH for Christmas dinner. Paul insisted I beta-test it before hand, which I did. It was rich and delicious. You don’t have to make it for Christmas dinner but it’s a great winter dish. Go do it!


Beef Wellington Pot Pie

2 ¼ lb. tri-tip roast, cut into 1” chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbs olive oil
¼ pound pancetta or prosciutto, ¼” thick and cut into ¼” dice
¾ lb. cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup red wine
1 ½ tbs Better Than Bouillon, or equivalent product
3 cups beef broth
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 ½ cups frozen pearl onions
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 sheet puff pastry, rolled out 10”-11” square
1 egg plus 1 tsp. water, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Season beef with salt and pepper. In 3 ½ qt wide Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm oil. Brown beef on all sides, in batches, 8-10 minutes per batch. Transfer to bowl. Reduce heat to medium. Add pancetta, cook until crisp, 6-8 minutes. Add to bowl with beef. Increase heat to medium-high; cook mushrooms until tender, about 8 minutes. Add to bowl with beef.

Pour off excess fat in pot. Return pot to medium heat; melt butter. Stir in flour, cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes. Whisk in wine and Better Than Bouillon, cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in stock; bring to a simmer. Add thyme, bay leaf, pearl onions, beef, pancetta and mushrooms. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Cover pot, bake until beef is fork-tender, 2-2 ½ hours. Discard bay leaf, spoon off excess fat. Stir in parsley.

Increase oven temp to 400. Place puff pastry sheet on lightly floured surface. Using sharp knife, score pastry with diagonal lines 2” apart, forming a diamond pattern. Brush edge of pot with water, and place pastry over pot. Press edges to seal. Trim overhanging pastry to 1”, brush with egg wash. Transfer to oven; bake until puffed and golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes. Serves 6-8.

The original recipe called for prosciutto but being partial to pancetta, I used that. This morning while doing my final Christmas dinner shopping I was going to get prosciutto, but there was a tub of already diced pancetta on the shelf, in just the right amount! You know what I did. Re the photo, I snagged it from the catalog, as I forgot to photograph my beta-version. I trust you will let me slide.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Don’t Hog All The Oysters

I’ve never been an oyster lover. I’ve had oyster shooters (raw, in a shot glass, with vodka and condiments) in the far distant past. Once I tried grilling oysters; they were supposed to pop open like clams. They never did; they were so overcooked they were inedible.

Now Paul, my beloved husband, had grilled oysters at Hog Island Oyster in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. (Also in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.) They are shucked, grilled on the half shell, and bathed in bagna cauda (a hot butter and garlic concoction.) He swooned so completely that he texted me a picture of what he was having. Frankly, I had a hard time telling what the picture was, but I took him at his word.

We recently decided to spend a weekend in Geyserville, a village, really, in Sonoma County. Paul was anxious to have those oysters again, so I agreed to detour through Napa and make an oyster stop. I must agree that they were wonderful, flavorful, tender, just barely cooked. The menu detailed the ingredients; the grill man told me how to cook them. I was set. I made them a few days ago and they turned out really good. Paul said some little something was missing, perhaps a squeeze of lemon. At any rate, if you decide to try it, the shucking is the awful part. They wouldn’t open, couldn’t slip that shucking knife in for nothing. He finally had me fetch his rubber mallet and whacked them on the hinge. Mission accomplished.

Grilled OystersGrilled Oysters

1 dozen oysters shucked and on the half shell
½ cube butter
1 minced shallot
1 minced clove garlic
¼ teaspoon anchovy paste
1 teaspoon Italian parsley

Melt last 5 ingredients over medium low heat. Place oysters on a really hot grill; try not to spill natural oyster juices. Spoon bagna cauda mixture in each oyster. Grill 2 to 3 minutes until oysters are barely done and bagna cauda is bubbly. Oysters should be hot and very tender. Serve with lemon wedges. Mangia!

As a side note, Sonoma County is loaded with wine makers. At our B&B they have a different wine maker come every Friday night to talk about and taste wine. Our guy, Brad, from Mercury wine, regaled us with wine making lore and plied us with four different wines. That was loads of fun. Then we walked 2 blocks to El Diavolo for thin crust pizza (divine). El Diavolo is an Italian place, and was jumping. Marvelous, considering Geyserville has one street just a few blocks long. If you decide to go you can’t miss it. Really.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

All Puffed Up and Cheesy

I have never been crazy about cream puffs or éclairs. The fluffy fillings just don’t do anything for me. But I do kind of like cheese puffs, which are made out of the same dough, pate au choux. It’s really a simple pastry dough that is cooked on top of the stove. It really doesn’t have a lot of flavor; it depends on either a sweet filling, drizzling with chocolate, or mixing in grated cheese for oomph. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had exciting cheese puffs either, usually made with a Swiss type cheese. I was dreaming about making puffs with Gorgonzola, an Italian blue cheese which gets my taste buds going. So when a good friend gave me an extremely generous portion of Stilton - an English blue cheese - this week, it was time to go forth and make puffs with big flavor.

I made them two ways, with and without chopped Kalamata olives. After taste testing the puffs, my tasters’ concensus was that the puffs with olives were more flavorful, so I suggest using olives. You can use a small spoon to scoop dough onto the baking sheet, but I prefer using a pastry bag and a large round piping tip. I’ve recently converted to using disposable bags; they’re not as eco-friendly as reusables but they don’t smell after repeated use either. Use half sheet pans if you have them, silpat liners are wonderful but parchment paper works very well too. Make sure all the cheese melts when stirring it into the warm dough; unmelted chunks will melt while baking and make holes in your puffs. Trust me on that.Cheese Puffs

1 cup water
6 tablespoons butter, cut up
1 teaspoon salt
dash cayenne pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1 cup finely crumbled stinky blue cheese of your choice
½ cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives

Heat oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Bring water, butter, salt and cayenne pepper to a boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat; boil until butter is melted. Off heat, stir in flour until completely blended. (Mixture should be consistency of play dough.) Return to heat, cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture comes together and begins to pull away from side of pan and leaves a film on bottom of pan while being stirred. Remove from heat, cool 5 minutes.

Stir in eggs one at a time. The first one is difficult to stir in, but it becomes easier as the dough loosens up. Stir in cheese until melted. Stir in olives. Pipe dough about the size of a teaspoon onto baking sheets. Flatten the pointy tips with a wet finger. Bake one sheet at a time, 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Prick each puff with the tip of a knife to allow trapped steam to escape; bake 2 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a glass of wine or your favorite martini!

Best served the day of baking, or freeze and serve later. To reheat bake frozen at 350° for 10 minutes or until warmed and crisp.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jammed Up – In a Good Way

When I was a child my grandmother not only made great pies but she canned fruit and made jam. I vaguely remember her sealing the jam jars with paraffin wax; I strongly remember her sweating like crazy over the canner. It didn’t look like fun, and I think that sort of image has scared off a fair amount of people from the pleasure of creating their own jam.

If you have the tools you need the whole process is fairly quick. If you really want to cheat on time you can make freezer jam like my mother used to, and it’s good. But I love hearing those lids go pop pop pop after lifting the lid from my steam canner! Very satisfying!

Cooking up blackberry jam The canning funnel at work Getting ready to be processed

You don’t have to buy a canner – you can use a big pot as I used to do. I have a steam canner, which I really like. Highly recommended: a canning funnel, jar lifter, magnetic thingie for pulling lids out of hot water. You can get these items at kitchen stores pretty easily.

Making jam isn’t necessarily cheaper, for instance, I use organic sugar. However, if you have fruit trees you are in clover. Or check out the farmer’s market, or see if your supermarket has a good price on fruit this week. My husband Paul loves to pick wild blackberries by the river – he’s a pickin’ machine.

To prep my fruit, which is the most time consuming part, I try to keep it easy. Mash berries in a container with a potato masher. Strawberries have to be topped and cut up a bit before mashing. With stone fruit like plums I don’t peel them, just very coarsely cut up, tossing out the pit, then pulse in the food processor. I like my jam a little chunky, so I don’t puree anything. I’m not a big fan of jelly, but last fall I was given several big pomegranates. I was peer pressured by a fellow jam maker into squeezing the juice out to make jelly. What an absolutely miserable job. Pomegranates don’t yield up their deliciousness easily. Plus, I didn’t have enough juice! So I bought pom juice and finished the job; in fact, I had enough juice to make two batches. No regrets or shame for taking the easy route. That jelly is delicious.

For jars, I use mainly 1 cup jars, and have used pint jars. The most expensive place to buy jars is the supermarket. Big Lots, with its closeout prices, is a good source in the summer. Paul’s favorite is garage sales; he is incapable of driving past one without stopping. We’ve gotten jars for as little as ten cents apiece. I like cute potbellied jars. Our biggest extravagance was when we bought two Quattro Staggioni jars (from Italy) at a hardware store in St. Helena, totally an impulse buy. We’d read about a wine bar in San Francisco were the owner serves wine in Quattro Staggioni’s and we were going to drink wine out of them. Well, we forgot to do it, so this week I filled them with blackberry jam. They look beautiful.

Quattro Staggioni

My favorite jam growing up was apricot pineapple jam. My grandmother made it – not nearly enough – and I never forgot it. I looked up a recipe for it online, bought a box of apricots at Costco, let them ripen and went to town. Here’s a link to the recipe here. Please note I don’t make up my own jam recipes as I don’t want to risk runny jam anymore than I have to. I think you can still get apricots so hopefully you will try it! It is truly delicious!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Great Mexican Rice

In the past I have declared my undying love for Rick Bayless; well, his Master Chef cooking skills anyway. After all, he won the first Top Chef Master competition, cooking Mexican food. I’ve prepared a few dishes out of his Mexican Kitchen cookbook, and let me say, it’s more than worth having. Quite a few of the recipes are of entertaining quality; the Chipotle Peanut Mole is doable and I have wowed hungry people with it. But I’m here to write about Mexican rice. I’ve had good rice and I’ve had been sitting in a steam table too long mushy rice. Rick’s recipe for rice is really good but the red rice calls for making your own salsa. I was looking for a way to make amazing red Mexican rice with a little less work. I believe I have it.

I love the technique for cooking the rice; it’s a little like risotto. You toast the rice (must be medium grain) on top of the stove with oil and chopped onion. It’s finished in the oven and baked until it’s almost done. The rice has a slightly firm bite, though cooked through, and the grains are separate. Wonderful! You might have to really look at the shelves for medium grain rice; long grain really dominates the scene. I use Hinode brand Calrose rice, because, frankly that is what’s available here. And instead of making salsa I use Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chiles, which comes in a 10 ounce can. It’s available in mild and original; I use mild as I don’t want to eat blast furnace rice (yes, an exaggeration)!

Rice and Roasted Green Beans

Great Mexican Rice
Serves 6 to 8

2 cups medium grain rice
4 teaspoons oil (I prefer olive)
1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped fine (white is authentic)
2 cans Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chiles, mild or original – your choice, pureed in a blender or food processor
1 ½ cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
½ cup chopped cilantro (but not if you hate cilantro)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large heavy sauté pan or dutch oven (no non-stick pans please) heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and rice and stir around to coat with oil and get onion to sweating. Cook to toast rice, a little color is more than fine. Stir in tomato and chile puree well, then add salt and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, stir well, then cover and bake in oven for 25 minutes. Taste a grain; if it feels almost done put the cover back on and let it sit out for 5 minutes or more to finish cooking. It should be perfectly done. If when you test it it’s a little chalky, put it back in the oven and give it another 5 minutes. Repeat. After letting it sit, add cilantro and fluff with a fork. Then enjoy.

I have also made this rice without the salsa. It’s very wonderful also. The only real problem with this dish is that it’s hard to stop eating it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Little Clarification

Recently I was inspired by a friend to pick up my copy of the French Laundry Cookbook and actually use it. There’s a pretty doable recipe for brioche (a delicious, rich bread with loads of eggs and butter) as well as for homemade potato chips. I wanted to bake the brioche and use it for a neighborhood grilled cheese party and I decided what the hell, let’s make the potato chips too! In Thomas Keller’s recipe the potatoes are sliced thin and fried in canola oil and an equal amount of clarified butter.

Butter isn’t just fat; it contains milk solids as well. The milk solids are what make butter burn at high temperatures; remove them and you raise the smoke point. To do this, you gently heat the butter to melt it, skim off the foam that rises to the top, and then ladle off the clear butter on top. The milk solids are on the bottom of your pan and need to stay there. Take your time; tip the saucepan when needed to facilitate the job and voilá! You have clarified butter. Note: one pound of butter will yield 1 ½ cups of clarified butter.

Clarified Butter

To slice the potatoes paper thin I used my mandoline; a good v-slicer would work fine as long as it’s adjustable. I used small, different colored potatoes and left the skins on. When using a mandoline I have found that it is much easier to slice potatoes if I don’t press down too hard. A gentle hand will allow the potatoes to glide over the blade with no trouble. But pay attention! I once advised a friend that drinking wine while slicing might cause her to lose a finger and she opted out of buying a mandoline. Just as well, I guess!

So let’s make chips: heat 1 ½ cups each canola oil and clarified butter to 300 degrees (I use a candy thermometer) in a saucepan. Meanwhile, slice your potatoes. When the oil reaches temperature, quickly drop potato slices in the oil one at a time so they stay separate. When the chips reach the desired color, fish them out (I use a spider) and lay them on paper towels. Quickly add more potato slices and repeat the process until all your chips are cooked. Season with salt and pepper and eat! They are delicious.

Potato Chips

Since the brioche recipe is so easy and works so well and the potato chips were a snap to make, I will probably delve further into the cookbook that used to scare me so much. I’ll let you know.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Feeling Croquettish

I am a big fan of Top Chef and watch, ok dvr and watch later, without fail. During the recent season of Top Chef All Stars there was an episode set at Rao’s, a home style Italian restaurant in Manhattan where you can’t get a table. Ever. Unless you know someone who will let you use their standing reservation. So I was reminded that I’ve owned Rao’s cookbook for years (their roasted red peppers are brilliant) and hadn’t used it in quite some time. My turn to host our foodie group was coming up so I decided we would have a home style Italian dinner a la Rao’s. I love to take my time planning a menu; it’s really a sensual activity perusing recipes and ideas, daydreaming about how they will all come together.

I forgot to take pictures, so I cheated and filched this.

Rather than pasta with marinara or a risotto as a side dish I decided the potato croquettes looked intriguing and delicious and decided to go with them. I must admit I have little experience with potato croquettes; I can’t really remember if I have previously eaten them, but I probably have. Cooking them was an entirely new experience so I was a little nervous about it but decided to forge ahead. They have to be deep fried, a style I seldom use for various reasons, so I don’t own a fryer. However, a heavy duty saucepan and a spider took over the fryer duties. I like grapeseed oil for frying because of its high smoke point and neutral taste. It’s also easier for me to find and cheaper to buy than peanut oil. I really like to use panko (Japanese bread crumbs) for coating instead of the usual bread crumbs. The texture is much more interesting, with a crispy coating and tender, cheesy inside, so this is really a hybrid dish. Italian food is incredibly popular in Japan so I feel way cool about it!


Potato Croquettes

1 tb plus 4 cups grapeseed or canola oil
1/2  cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped prosciutto
1 pound all-purpose potatoes, cooked and mashed with a ricer
3 large egg yolks
½ pound fresh mozzarella, finely chopped
¼ pound freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tb finely minced Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups panko crumbs
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 whole eggs

Heat 1 tb oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Saute onion for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Placed mashed potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Add onions and prosciutto and mix together well with a wood spoon.

Beat in egg yolks, cheeses and parsley. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Use your hands to shape potato mixture into 12 logs. It helps to refrigerate the mixture for half an hour or so first before trying to shape the croquettes. I also like to weigh the mixture so they’re all the same size.

You will need 3 wide shallow bowls for breading your croquettes: one with the panko (seasoned with salt and pepper), one with the flour and the third with the eggs, whisked well.

Gently dredge each log in the flour. Then dip into the eggs and then roll in the panko, coating the croquettes well.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a fryer if you have one, or in a saucepan, to 365 degrees. I lowered 3 logs into the oil at a time; while they were cooking I quickly coated the next three. Pull them out of the oil after they turn medium golden brown and drain on paper towels. Serve while still hot.

For more, I recommend that you buy the Rao’s Cookbook by Frank Pellegrino - if you like home style Italian. And the stories aren’t so bad either.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Say Tomato – With Garlic and Onions

The best tomatoes come from our summer gardens and from the farmer’s market. They deserve to be eaten fresh, preferably still warm from the sun, with perhaps a drizzle of olive oil and a little salt and pepper. However, summer doesn’t last and I don’t buy tomatoes from the grocery store; except when I want to make roasted tomatoes. Then I buy pints of pear or cherry tomatoes and doll them up with garlic and other savories. And recently I have added panko for an additional textural dimension.

The original recipe is from Chef Gordon Hamersley’s Bistro Cooking at Home, which I highly recommend that you add to your library (if you like French bistro style food). The steps outlined are how I execute this dish, which is a little different than from the original. The recipe below has been doubled because the dish tends to disappear and really didn’t serve 4. Try using balsamic vinegar instead of wine vinegar and the dish will come out sweeter. It’s great both ways. A few steps and you’re in heaven. Let me know how you love it.


Heavenly Garlicky Tomatoes
Serves 4 to 6

½ cup panko crumbs
1 tb unsalted butter
2 tb olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pints cherry, pear or other mini tomatoes
2 tbs red wine vinegar or balsamic
1 tsp kosher salt
2+ pinches red pepper flakes
2+ pinches sugar
¼ cup toasted pine nuts, sprinkled with a little salt
4 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (roll up and cut into strips)

Melt butter in a medium fry pan and gently toast panko crumbs until light golden brown, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 350̊. Heat the olive oil in an oven-safe saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the vinegar, salt, red pepper flakes and sugar. Put saucepan in the oven and roast tomatoes until very tender but not necessarily mushy, about 12 minutes.

Raise the oven temperature to 425̊. Add the pine nuts and continue to bake until juices from tomatoes have been released and reduced, 8 to 10 minutes, or to your preference. Spoon into a serving dish and sprinkle with salt, panko and basil. Serve hot or warm.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Olive Fest A Go Go

I have always loved olives. My earliest olive memories involve eating rubbery canned black olives off the tips of my fingers at Thanksgiving dinner. So when my husband Paul brought home the Food and Wine section of the Santa Rosa newspaper, which announced the Olive Festival in Sonoma County, well, I just had to go. Now, the Olive Festival is a group of events scattered through February, much like the Mustard Festival in Napa Valley is set up. This past weekend there was an olive curing workshop on Sunday and we were there, as well as olive oil tasting at a couple of tasting rooms.

Poseidon at the back of Jacuzzi Winery

First up, on Saturday we went to The Olive Press, south of Sonoma, in the Jacuzzi Winery Tasting gizmo. Jacuzzi has a beautiful tasting room and The Olive Press has a nice, clean, pretty setup for tasting olive oil. And of course there are lots of goodies for sale. I saw boxes of parmesan crisps for sale and I went ha! I can (and do) make that! Actually they were herbed, so how about adding a little fresh thyme or rosemary to the mix? No problemo. I bought a Vosges chocolate bar while I was there, one with black sea salt and caramel snugged inside 70% chocolate. Pretty danged good.

Oil Tasting Bar

After leaving The Olive Press and heading back toward Sonoma, be sure to stop at Cornerstone, just up the road. There are art galleries with some wildly expensive goods, gardens which look awful in January and a café. It was fun to nose around and I got a kick out of the blue tree. Some artist saw a dead tree on the property and decided to cover it with blue Christmas ornaments. I shot it just for you.

Blue Tree Detail

Heading north of Sonoma on Sonoma Highway (12) we stopped at Figone’s for more olive oil tasting. I liked the general store look of Figone’s, a little bit of old California instead of bright, shiny not a hair out of place nouveau California. I tasted the habanero infused olive oil which almost put me on the floor and enjoyed the good old fashioned evoo, but what got my motor running was the 20 year old Balsamic vinegar. Sweet, syrupy and heavenly. Our hostess said at $28 it was equivalent to $100 Italian Balsamico of the same quality. I can’t verify that, but it was amazing over vanilla ice cream. I don’t want to run out!

Figone's Store Front

Regarding the restaurants in Sonoma and thereabouts, there just aren’t that many that impress, unlike the Napa valley where you can’t swing a dead cat... You get the idea. When we drove through Glen Ellen we spotted a place called Saffron. Upon looking up their site on Paul’s Blackberry, the menu looked good, but at 4 pm nobody seemed to be around and they were supposed to open at 5. The Glen Ellen Inn looked interesting and the next day a local told us it was very good but they hadn’t heard any buzz about Saffron at all. Maybe it’s a big secret! At any rate, we weren’t hungry at the time and decided to head back to Sonoma after checking out a chocolate store, and on to our motel. I asked our check in hostess at El Pueblo about restaurants and she suggested the Swiss Hotel, the building having literally stood 100 years, and Meritage, a fish place. Since I was curious about the Swiss Hotel we went there.

This is a casual, old place with antique photographs on all the walls. The staff is friendly and the restaurant filled up while we were there. Paul ordered pasta as always and he was happy with it. I was drawn in by the lamb shanks and ordered them. I made a fatal error, as always. I am the queen of braising and have definite ideas on how tender the meat should be, as in fork tender. I should have told the server that’s what I require (in the nicest possible way of course) so that I might actually get that. In short, part of the shank was tough; however, after poking around I discovered that enough of it was tender so I didn’t send it back. In fairness, the polenta it was nestled in was creamy and delicious, the sundried tomato sauce on the shank was bright and flavorful and the green beans were perfectly cooked. However, I couldn’t resist lecturing the server (in the nicest possible way, of course) on how meat should be braised: with enough time to get really tender!! I know, I’m picky.

On Sunday we went to the Olive Curing Workshop at the B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen. There are 140 year old Picholine olive trees growing on the property and the winery is selling the oil. The property is beautiful and I’m totally jealous. As an aside, Bruce Cohn has been the Doobie Brothers’ manager since the 1970’s. All I can say is he was there and he seemed nice as well as rich and respectable. Nice antique hot rod collection too.

Those old Picholines

Our olive curing master is Don Landis and he is a fount of knowledge. Olives aren’t a business for him; he loves the subject and loves to share his knowledge. Olives contain nonpoisonous (to humans), water soluble oleuropein, which makes olives so incredibly bitter they are impossible to eat in their natural state and so must be debittered, or, cured.

We found out the best olives for home curing are Mission, Manzanillo and Sevillano. The three methods of home curing are brining (which takes months), water cured and salt cured. Olives are ready to pick in the fall, which means Paul and I have a few months to find sources of olives for curing. At the end of the workshop Don and his sidekick, Olive Oyl, handed out their home cured olives for tasting. Oh man, they were good! Much better than most commercially cured olives, which are processed with lye, which leaches out pretty much all nutritional goodies, as well as flavor. Don is leading another curing workshop in February, and coming up Feb. 19 and 20 there will be An Olive Odyssey at The Olive Press, which will feature tastings of home cured olives from various people who love to participate in giving away their goods. Paul and I are going to do our best to make it. See you there?

Don Landis' invitation to you

Coming soon, cheese making?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Just Call Them Frico

Paul and I love these chips and I recently brought these to a party. They were well received so I thought I’d share the recipe with you. If you are a cheese lover, and in particular a parmesan cheese lover, these easy chips are for you. They’re also called frico, which is more exotic sounding, yes?

I originally got the recipe in a magazine several years ago but changed the recipe just a bit, for a bit more flavor. They are great little appetizers; you can scoop a little something on them or just eat them plain. Just remember, they’re brittle, so be careful with the scooping. You don’t have to buy super expensive cheese either, but be sure to use one you enjoy. Mixing the cheese with flour keeps oil from separating out, which would be awful. Really.

1 three oz. piece Parmigiano Reggiano or other hard aged cheese like asiago
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
few shakes cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grate the cheese with either a box grater on the side with the biggest holes, or use your food processor with the disc with the biggest cheese shredding holes. Mix in the flour and cayenne pepper.

If you have a half sheet pan with a Silpat, I recommend using that for baking your frico. You can also use a cookie sheet with parchment paper. You don’t want those little crisps to have anything to stick to!

Use a tablespoon to scoop up a level serving and place it on the pan. Flatten out and even up the little stray shreds to bring them back into the circle. Repeat, leaving room for them to spread a bit. Keep stirring the cheese etc. to keep flour mixed in. You should get about a dozen. You can double the recipe, no problem.

Bake for 10 minutes. Cool a little then place on a wire rack to cool completely. (You can also form them over a dowel or rolling pin if you want to attain a scoopy shape.) Then serve and impress your friends.