A blog of hopeful, inspired living: cooking & baking & growing & harvesting & preserving & gleaning & eating & sharing food... while bringing positive change to my kitchen and our food system.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Something new: Drinks on me

I've decided to try something new. I've been trying to figure out how to share the great libations that I enjoy each week. Bill has exceptional taste in beer and wine and manages to sniff out the most interesting local (and not-local-but-small-scale-equally-awesome) drinks to pair with our weekly culinary adventures.

It seems distracting to highlight the tasty drinks that are in the background of my cooking and baking. It's difficult to interrupt the cooking/baking story. Besides, a brief inserted sentence and photo wouldn't do these great finds justice. Don't get me wrong: there is not always drinking happening. Why would you think that?!

So, this is the first installment of Libation Weekly.

This week we made our first trip to Healthy Spirits in San Francisco. Never been? Get yourself there! If you don't like bourbon or beer, go for the aaahhmaazinggg hummus and other made-with-love Middle Eastern fare (I also recommend the za'atar spice mix). The owner, Rami, is friendly, helpful and highly knowledgeable. The shop is packed with a huge selection of high-quality beer and bourbon, but despite the small size of the shop and huge volume of choice, it's easy to navigate.

We picked up the Tanilla from Knee Deep Beer Company here. Two Tortugas was a treat Bill snagged from BevMo.

With the cold weather, we've turned to big, dark beers. Tis the season. Thank goodness there are so many amazing beers to fit the bill. These are great beers to share, too --just another way to get into the holiday spirit! I tend to drink my beer slowly and the nice thing about a darker beer is that it develops flavor as it warms up a bit, so it's ok if it takes a little while to sip it.

How creative is this: it's Karl Strauss' Brewing Company's San Diego-style ode to the Twelve Days of Christmas: instead of two turtle doves, it's the two sea turtles. Last year was the first installment with a Parrot in a Palm Tree.  Ok, a sweet name, a beautiful label... but how's the beer? Honestly, I'm not much of Belgian beer fan. I don't like the musky-ness, the sourness. But I really like this one. It's a good, big beer for sipping, with a nice maltyness, a richness, smooth. Not a traditional dark beer, but still big and bold. It can be aged to develop more of those caramely flavors and deepen the spiciness. But it's great now.

Knee Deep's Tanilla actually didn't have quite the vanilla flavor I had hoped for. It's a solid, decent porter, but not what we expected. Tasty and local, but not something I'd go out of my way to find again. If you are in the Bay Area and see this, give it a try, though -- Knee Deep is in Belmont.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Quimet y Quimet Inspired Smoked Salmon Tapas

One of my favorite games (right after Catch Phrase and frisbee) is having someone describe in detail a meal or dish that they found absolutely phenomenal. Every little detail: taste, texture, smell, flavors, underlying flavors, spices... Then trying to reproduce it. Ok, so it's not the ultimate party game, but it can turn into a party -- trying new recipes is a great excuse to invite friends over!

When my sister wrote to me about her meals at Quimet y Quimet in Barcelona, Spain, I wanted to get on a plane and spend a week at a table there. She described this simple smoked salmon tapas dish to me, patiently going over the texture of the bread, the floral detail of the honey, the sharpness of the vinegar, the musk of the truffle oil. This article and this post both laud the restaurant, and even mention the salmon dish that my sister described to me in such detail. But my sister was adamant that neither article gets this dish quite right, and she was set on reproducing it for me. It looks simple, but it is absolutely divine. 

This dish can be the centerpiece of a meal (my sister served it to me with a nice salad, see below) or as hors d'oeuvres. A holiday party could be the perfect time to give these a try.

Quimet y Quimet Inspired Smoked Salmon Tapas
sliced baguette or nice slicing bread of your choice, lightly toasted (we also had it on un-toasted, slightly chewy bread and that was good, too)
creme fraiche, plain Greek yogurt or, if it's available, quark
thinly sliced lox
honey, a light-colored, floral kind
balsamic vinegar
truffle-infused olive oil

1. You can prepare this a couple ways: in the photos you can see I had it once with the salmon on top of the creme fraiche/yogurt and once vice versa. I prefer the creme fraiche/yogurt on top, but it's up to you. Top with a drizzle each of the balsamic, honey and truffle-infused oil. Serve immediately.

My sister served this with a delicious arugula salad, tossed with fresh figs, goat cheese, cubed cantaloupe, and a light vinaigrette. For a winter meal, you could substitute pears and walnuts for the figs and melon.

 Enjoy in good company!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pecan Pear Custard Cake

I love seeing my friend S's name come up on my phone. It usually means that she has some interesting, delicious thing to share with me: an extra box of vegetables from her CSA, persimmons, sourdough starter, kefir, apples, plums, pears. In addition to her personal interest in urban homesteading, S volunteers for a fabulous organization, Village Harvest, that harvests fruit that would otherwise go uneaten, and distributes it to organizations that provide food to those who need it.  Since they were founded in 2001, Village Harvest has harvested and distributed over a million pounds of fresh fruit!

not-so-pretty pears are perfect under their spotted skins
S brings home the 'culls' -- all the fruit that is damaged or overripe or otherwise can't be distributed -- and dehydrates it, cans it, turns it into jam and desserts, and shares it with friends. That's how I ended up with 50 pounds of not-so-pretty Barlett pears the other week. The pears have spots due to the cold, rainy, foggy weather right as the pears were starting to develop. It's cosmetic: they taste delicious. Most of the fruit went to programs at work, where it was turned into delicious pear chips and pear puree. I took home a bag full and turned it into this yummy, simple, custard-y cake. It was perfect warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and equally so heated up for breakfast with a cup of tea.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spicy Chai Tea

Clockwise from top: whole black pepper, star anise, cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, whole cinnamon, ground cinnamon, ginger, cardamom pods
Recently I visited with a friend in her sweet garden apartment for tea.  I had not seen her in a long time -- months? a year? I had just learned that she's expecting a baby in February -- a little boy. When I walked in I was enveloped by a warm, comforting smell and the loving energy of her home. I felt at ease, like we had seen each other just yesterday, like all was well in the world. It only got better as we relaxed into cushions to catch up over a cup of hot tea.

She served this chai (or something similar). It was mid-day and I enjoyed it with black tea, a nice caffeine pick-me up in addition to the energy-boosting kick from the spices. She enjoyed hers with rooibos red tea. The nice thing about this recipe is that a tea bag is added to each individual cup at the end, rather than boiled together with all the chai spices. The chai spices infuse as they boil in water to make a spicy, deeply fragrant and flavorful base that is poured over the tea bag of your choice.

Chai with a green tea bag, milk and honey
Today I gave it a try at home. It worked like a charm: our apartment filled with the comforting smell of the holidays, of baking, of celebrating and relaxing with loved ones. I highly recommend giving this a go -- the simple preparations are largely rewarding. And the chai base can be used with your tea of the moment: tonight I used green matcha tea. Black teas or roobois are also great. Add a little milk and honey, sit back and forget your woes. It's the perfect warming treat for the chilly weather, and the perfect tea to share with a friend.

Another reason to love this recipe is that it's flexible: ingredients can be eliminated, increased, decreased or substituted based on your taste and/or what's in your spice collection. How do you like it?

Chai Tea
makes 4 - 6 cups of tea
1 Tablespoon whole black pepper
2 star anise pods
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 or 2 sticks whole cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 2-inch knob of ginger, cut into 4 - 6 pieces
6 - 8 cardamom pods
8 cups water

1. Heat the water with all the spices over medium-high heat until water comes to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 30 minutes to an hour or more -- the longer the more flavorful.
2.  Place the tea bags of your choice into mugs. Strain the chai tea mixture into each mug. Steep for the appropriate amount of time (about 5 minutes for rooibos; 1- 3 minutes for green; 3 - 5 minutes for black).
3. If you want, add a splash of milk and some honey or other sweetener to taste.

Keep warm and enjoy in good company!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Asian Cabbage Salad

It's so dark. 5:30 rolls around and it's pitch black outside. This is a difficult time of year for me. I'm not the best at waking up earlier than is necessary to get to work, so I miss the light at the end of the day that is my available time for walking and exercising outside. I miss the light available to take photos. And it's cold. Enough complaining -- because besides the difficulty of transitioning, I do eventually find my way back to the joys of this time of year: curling up with books, baking bread, knitting... cabbage.

This past week I ended up with several heads of cabbage, thanks to a trial run with a local CSA. Tis the season -- brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage) LOVE this time of year and are in abundance at the farmers market. It's good to make friends with them, as they are to fall and winter as tomatoes and zucchini are to summer. Chopped up in this brightly colored, fresh salad, you can (almost) transport to a warm, sunny place.