Jun 29, 2009

thai chicken san choy bau

Sometimes I can't wait to try new elaborate recipes that have lots of ingredients and many steps to keep one busy in the kitchen for several hours. Other times I want to try something new, but I want it to be quick and easy.

Last week thumbing through Off the Shelf, a cookbook by Donna Hay, I found this recipe, which looked both easy and flavorful. If you've never checked out a Donna Hay book I would highly recommend it. Just looking at the pictures makes your mouth water, and every recipe has a picture, I love that.

Making this chicken also took me back to Thailand where Matt and I took our first trip to Southeast Asia last November. I loved walking through the markets and checking out stalls brimming with vegetables or fresh curries. One day, while in Northern Thailand, we took a cooking class to learn more about traditional cooking. After a trip to a local market with our instructor, the class took our positions at the school to make everything from spring rolls to fresh curry paste using a mortar and pestle. I was amazed at how easy it was to use a few ingredients from the market to pull together wonderfully tasty dishes easy enough for both novice and experienced cooks.

Cooking up this chicken and then adding in a little short grain brown rice a flavorful dinner came together in less than 30 minutes.

Recipe for Thai Chicken San Choy Bau
Adapted from Off the Shelf by Donna Hay

2 red or green chilies, medium dice

1 pound chicken, minced

1 tablespoon peanut oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons soy sauce*

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped

baby lettuce leaves**

Fry chilies and minced chicken in peanut oil in a hot frying pan until golden. Add lemon juice and soy sauce and cook for about a minute. Remove from the heat and stir through chopped cilantro and mint. Spoon into baby lettuce leaves and serve.

Short Grain Rice - Cooking via the absorption method: Combine 1 cup short grain rice for every 1 and 1/2 cups water and then for each additional cup of rice add just 1 additional cup of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the water.

Local Ingredients:

Lemon's from the Farmer's Market

Cilantro, mint, and lettuce leaves from our garden

Alison's Notes:

*Because we don't cook fish, Matt is allergic, I try to find substitutes for ingredients that include fish, including fish sauce. This recipe originally called for 2 tablespoons fish sauce and 1 tablespoon soy sauce. However, I substituted in 2 extra tablespoons of soy sauce and took out the fish sauce.

**I used Winter Density lettuce from the garden. I think any lettuce with a nice cup to hold a bit of the chicken mix would work well.

This should serve approximately 4 people for a main dish and with the rice it makes a nice easy meal.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Jun 24, 2009

Community: La Cocina

A quick note today to highlight one of my favorite food community organizations in San Francisco, La Cocina. This organization is an incubator kitchen founded to serve as a platform for low-income entrepreneurs launching, formalizing, or expanding their food businesses. In their words, "La Cocina was born out of the belief that a community of natural entrepreneurs, given the right resources, can create self-sufficient businesses that benefit themselves, their families, their community, and the whole city (of San Francisco)."

Recently visiting on a Thursday morning there were 6 different businesses working in the kitchen. I love that the businesses they support range from kids food and catering companies to healthy drinks and packaged treats. Today only at all the Whole Foods Markets in San Francisco, 5% of the sales for the day will go to benefit La Cocina. And, several of the La Cocina businesses that currently have products at Whole Foods (Peas of Mind, Kika's Treats, Clairesquares, and CMB Sweets) will be at each of the three locations in San Francisco sampling their products, yum!

They also offer amazing cooking and mixology classes, and rent out their commercial kitchen space to already established food businesses. In May I took a cooking class called Stocks, Soups, and Sauces. This class was put on by professional chefs who donated their time to come in and teach us the basics for building a good stock and then how to use the stock as the base for amazing soups and high-end sauces. The chefs also shared their knowledge of tricks to use in the kitchen and funny stories from their own personal experiences.

Their next class, A Tour of Tequila, is tomorrow night at their location in the mission. During this class guests will learn about tequila culture and history, taste vertically, sample different varieties, and create a classic cocktail. Learn more about the mixologists teaching the class and how to sign up at their website.

Jun 23, 2009

sweet corn succotash

If you've been reading my blog you know I am a sucker for fresh sweet corn. Last week, as I was looking for a fresh vegetable salad that would go well with a combination of other salad's and main dishes I came across this succotash in a former issue of Food & Wine Magazine. It originally caught my eye because of the sweet corn, but then it also called for okra, another favorite. Alas, it is not the season for okra in Northern California. But I quickly remembered a wonderful package that I received earlier in the week from my brother who is currently working on a farm in the central valley.

This package not only had two beautiful bouquets of dried lavender, but it also came abundant with summer squash from his farm. Summer squash is a vegetable that has a very mild flavor and doesn't require long cooking, thus it was a perfect "in-season" substitute for the okra.

Recipe for Sweet Corn Succotash
Adapted from Food & Wine, August 2008

2 cups fresh green peas*
1 thick slice of bacon, finely diced
1 small white onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound summer squash, coarsely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 ears of corn, kernels cut off
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cups slivered basil leaves

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the peas until tender, approximately 5 minutes and drain. In a deep skillet fry up the diced bacon over medium high heat until browned. Add the onion and cook until just softened. Add the squash and cook for 7-8 minutes, until soft.

Add the tomatoes, corn and peas and season with salt and pepper. Simmer and stir as the flavors begin to come together. Just before serving add the butter and basil and stir the butter into the vegetables as it melts. Serve.**

Alison's Notes:
*I could not find fresh green peas in the shells so I picked up a couple cups of peas from the salad bar at the local grocery. This also saved time when it came to putting together the succotash, no need to boil the peas.
**This dish was excellent served both warm and as left overs cold out of the fridge the following day.

Local Ingredients:
Sweet corn - Farmer's Market or finding it in many grocery markets right now.
Summer squash - all over the Farmer's Market from early through late summer.
Tomatoes - available at select Farmer's Market's, I purchased USA grown from the local grocery.
Basil - picked from our garden, however this can be found in many grocery's and at Farmer's Markets.
Onion - Farmer's Market or grocery.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Jun 19, 2009

lemon bars

The first time I attempted to make lemon bars was several years ago, and while I don't recall the recipe or how they looked, I distinctly recall tasting cooked egg. Ugh! I think I must have been trying to make lemon curd and then spread that on top of a pastry crust. Truthfully I don't think I made it past the curd. It has taken years for me to even attempt anything that hints at lemon curd again. But this recipe kept calling my name, and the neighbors lemon tree seems to have an endless supply, reminding me each time I walk out my front door how much I love the flavor of fresh sweet lemon bars.

This week I finally took the plunge. Picking my lemon's, mixing the crust, and whisking those eggs and sugar as hard as possible I was determined not to have the same experience again. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, well at least very little. This time they turned out excellent, and I think I actually gasped with delight when I took that first bite. They are like lemon wonder bars, an excellent curd atop a shortbread crust that melt in my mouth.

Recipe for Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread
Adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

1/2 cup confectioners' or powdered sugar
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)*

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 and 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 7 medium lemons)
lemon zest, grated from one small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
pinch of salt
confectioners' sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

To make the crust, sift the confectioners' sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the flour and stir to mix. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides (this was hard to do - so I did a couple sides and then left the others alone). The crust should be about 1/4 inch thick on the bottom. I used a smooth glass cup to help roll out and evenly distribute the crust. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights**(see note below). Bake the crust until in colors evenly to a deep golden brown, about 25-35 minutes. During the baking be sure to rotate the pan 180 degrees at least once to ensure even baking.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, whisk until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and the egg yolk together with the salt, until they are smooth. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until all are well mixed.

When the crust is ready, pull out the oven rack and pour the filling directly into the hot pan. If the crust has come out of the oven and cooled before you have finished making the filling, put it back in the oven for a few minutes to that it is hot when the custard is poured in. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake just until the center of the custard is no longer wobbly, 30 to 40 minutes.

Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and chill well before cutting. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares. When ready to serve dust the tops with confectioners' sugar (to get a light dusting I sprinkled a little of the sugar into my sifter and shook it lightly over the custard). These will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Alison's Notes:
*I used the pine nuts for my crust and was pleased with the results. The recipe recommends the pine nuts for their earthy flavor and as one of few nuts that won't be overwhelmed by the strong flavor of the lemon.
**I have yet to purchase a set of these, though it is on my list. I the mean time I use a trick I learned from my mom, instead of using pie weights I use dried beans or grains, this time I used lentils. The only trick is that the legumes don't have as much weight, obviously, so you must gently press down on the paper a couple times while baking to let the air out.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Jun 18, 2009

cold noodles with peanut sauce

Sometimes I go through my cookbooks and realize all the recipes I have yet to try. These noodles are the result of one those recent scavenger hunts. The recipe came from Deborah Madison's book, The Savory Way. I've had this cookbook for many years and it was starting to collect a bit of dust when I picked it up again last week. So you can imagine my delight when I starting thumbing through and almost every single recipe looked not only doable but intriguing and tasty.

In the introduction of the book Madison writes, "The word savory isn't one we use very often, but to me it suggests the place where flavor and fragrance meet, in foods with deep, full tastes that are exciting to the palate...this food has character and even elegance; but at heart it's simple home cooking..." WOW, this is exactly the kind of food I try to create. I felt an instant connection, and look forward to trying more from this novel of savory, nourishing, mealtime solutions.

Recipe for Cold Noodles with Peanut Sauce
From Deborah Madison's, The Savory Way

1 pound Chinese egg noodles or linguine
2 tablespoons roasted peanut oil or dark sesame oil*
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 half-pound package firm tofu, cut into small cubes
peanut sauce (see below)
chopped roasted peanuts or toasted black sesame seeds
fresh cilantro for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the noodles. When the water boils, add salt to taste and the noodles. Cook until the noodles are done, about 3-5 minutes. Immediately drain into a colander (waiting in the sink) and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking, shake off the excess water. (If you prefer to have the noodles warm, shake off the excess water but don't rinse them).

Toss the noodles with oil (optional), cilantro, scallions, and tofu. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use; then toss with the peanut sauce. Garnish with roasted peanuts or sesame seeds and fresh cilantro sprigs.

peanut sauce

6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large bunch of cilantro, leaves and upper stems only, finely chopped
1 piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon hot chili oil
1/2 cup peanut butter or sesame-peanut butter
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2-3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, to taste

Mix the garlic, cilantro and ginger in a bowl with the oils, peanut butter, soy sauce, and sugar until well combined (this can also be done in a food processor). Add the vinegar and season to taste with additional soy sauce if necessary. The sauce can be thinned with hot water if it comes out thicker than you like. This sauce can be kept for months if stored in an airtight jar and refrigerated. If refrigerated thin it with hot water as needed before using.

Deborah's Notes on the Peanut Sauce:
- The peanut sauce is useful to have on hand and when covered and refrigerated will keep for months. She suggests spreading it on grilled tofu, with grilled eggplant, or as a dipping sauce for tofu, or fresh cucumber.

Local Ingredients:
Cilantro - This was grown in the our garden, but can also be found at the Farmer's Market
Garlic and Scallions - Farmer's Market

Alison's Notes:
*I completely forgot to add the oil in the noodle mix and thought it turned out fine. It might help keep the noodles from sticking, but once you add the peanut sauce and mix they come apart fairly well.

Jun 16, 2009

greens, chicken, corn and pine nut tabouli

The little bit of sun we've had recently has made me hungry for salad. Crunchy greens layered with fresh veggies and loads of flavor, those are the salads that make my mouth water. So to answer that hunger last weekend we started up the grill and tended to the garden with visions of this yummy layered salad in mind. It seems like overnight 4 different kinds of greens were ready to be picked. The recipe originally called for just arugula, but I thought it would be much more interesting if I also added chard, radicchio, and two kinds of lettuce.

The taste of fresh Sweet Corn always reminds me of summer. With a flavor that is mildly sweet and almost nutty when roasted, mmmm...I think bbq and roasted chicken, potato salad and watermelon. I remember growing up we used corn holders to spear the corn on each side and then turn it slowly as we munched the kernels off the cob. Needless to say it is hard for me to resist once it starts hitting the market, and I tend to make up ways to use it on the spot when Matt (my hubby) gives me that look like do we really need it. My answer is always yes!

We grilled both the chicken and corn for this salad, and added the greens plucked straight from the garden. To add more layers, cracked wheat was on the stove warming, and parsley and mint were chopped for a hint of spice and freshness. Lemon's were picked from the neighbors tree mixed with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper for a vinaigrette. Finally all was combined and topped off with roasted pine nuts and diced tomatoes. And at the end of the night I was one happy salad maker...and eater, of course.

Recipe for Greens, Chicken, Corn and Pine Nut Tabouli
Adapted from New Food Fast by Donna Hay

3/4 cup cracked wheat
1 and 1/2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon oil
2 chicken breast fillets
2 large bunches of greens (I used several kinds of greens from the garden and loved how all the flavors came together)
3/4 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
3/4 cup mint, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, large dice
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 ears of corn, roasted and cut off the cob
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
zest of one lemon

Combine the cracked wheat and boiling water in a bowl, and allow to stand until the wheat has absorbed all the water and is soft, approximately 10 minutes.

To cook the chicken, we actually grilled it because the sun was out and it was wonderful be outside tending to the garden while the chicken and the corn cooked. However, one could also pan fry the chicken in oil for 5 minutes on each side (medium-high heat), until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Place the greens, cracked wheat, parsley, mint, tomatoes, corn, and pine nuts in a bowl. Slice the chicken and add to the salad. In a small bowl combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and whisk. Pour over the salad and toss to combine. Finish the salad with lemon zest.

Alison's Notes:
This could very easily be made into a vegetarian / vegan salad, simply don't add the chicken.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Jun 15, 2009

french fudge cakes

Molten Chocolate Cake has always seemed like one of those lofty desserts that only pastry chefs can accomplish. However, this recipe for French Fudge Cakes, adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper is a close substitute in my book.

If cooked just right these cakes come out of the oven warm and fragrant, and when cut in half just a bit of bittersweet chocolate melts onto the plate. Suddenly my dreams of fancy molten chocolate cake vanishes out the window before my fork reaches down for a second bite.

The cakes have a hint of cinnamon which reminds me slightly of Mexican Chocolate flavors. And I like how easy they are to pull together, taking only about 30 minutes total. They are very impressive as a dessert with a bit of ice cream or fresh whipped cream on the side.

Recipe for French Fudge Cakes
Adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper

1 3.5 or 4 oz bittersweet chocolate bar, broken up*
1 and 1/2 oz's unsweetened chocolate, broken up
5 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar**
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 half of another 3.5 or 4 oz bittersweet chocolate bar, cut into bite-sized pieces

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a metal 6-cup cupcake or muffin tin. Combine the broken up bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate with the butter in a medium sized bowl. Microwave for 2-3 minutes or melt it in a double broiler, approximately 5-7 minutes.

While the chocolate and butter are melting, in another medium sized bowl whisk together the cinnamon, vanilla, eggs and yolk, sugar, and salt until creamy. Stir in the flour and blend well. Now stir in the chocolate/butter mixture until smooth. Finally mix in the bite-sized pieces of chocolate. Pour the batter into the cupcake pan, filling each three-quarters full.

Bake the cupcakes for about 15 minutes. I would start checking these at 13 minutes depending on your oven. When checking insert a knife into the center of the cake, it should come out with streaks of chocolate. As a second check, press the top of the cake to make sure it is nearly firm. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a rack for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm immediately. These can also be stored in an airtight container for 4-5 days...if they last that long.

Alison's Notes:

*I've used 4 oz Valrhona 71% Cacao bars each time I made these with much success. The original recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate with over 70% cacao mass, a bar that will give you more chocolate and less sugar than one with less cacao.
**Recently I've been playing around with vanilla sugar. So in this recipe for the additional 2 tablespoons of sugar I used vanilla sugar, which I think just increases the hints of vanilla flavor. To make vanilla sugar simply take a vanilla bean and place it in a jar of sugar. After a couple days the sugar will begin to take on the notes of vanilla flavor. Vanilla sugar is excellent for baking.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Jun 12, 2009

couscous spinach salad

When recently asked to bring a salad to a birthday party, a friend and I put our heads together to come up with something similar to this version of a couscous and spinach salad. It is easy, yet hearty and full of nutritional benefits (i.e. lots of veggies, and greens). And it can be adapted easily to a number of different kinds of vegetables depending on what's in season.

I think spinach works well for this salad but unfortunately could not find it at the Farmer's Market, so I used a bag of organic spinach from the store. The remainder of the veggies (carrots, peppers, celery, and onion) are all from the Farmer's Market. As well as the tomatoes, which were left over from the pizza I made earlier in the week. Also I picked up some Kalamata Olives from The Pasta Shop, a wonderful little gourmet food store with several locations in the East Bay.

Recipe for Israeli Couscous Spinach Salad

1 bag organic spinach
1 carrot, chopped
2 medium bell peppers, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 and 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup Kalamata olives, halved and seeded
1 and 1/3 cups Israeli Couscous*
Salt and Pepper
Vinaigrette for dressing

Cook the couscous according to the directions on the packaging, or if buying in bulk use approximately 1 and 1/3 cups couscous to every 1 and 3/4 cups water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Once cooked let couscous sit until room temperature before mixing it with the salad.

Wash the spanich and drain well, placing in a large salad bowl. Add the chopped veggies, carrot through olives to the top of the salad. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Once the couscous is at room temperature mix it in with the rest of the salad. Top with the vinaigrette dressing, mixing the salad well and serve.

Alison's Notes:
Israeli Couscous is a larger pearl couscous that is about half the size of a pea. I liked using this couscous as it gave a different texture to the salad. I've found this couscous in the bulk or pasta section at many stores. When my friend and I originally made the salad we used Quinoa, a seed similar to traditional couscous with high nutritional value.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Jun 9, 2009

chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies are one of my favorite desserts of all time. They are simple, but a well done cookie is hard to beat in my book. For this I blame my mother. Growing up my mom could whip up a batch of cookies as fast as other moms would hand out fruit roll-ups. She knew the recipes by heart and with a blink of an eye another batch would be in the oven, spoons going around to "taste-test" the dough.

To this day I usually read the recipes for chocolate chip cookies first when checking out a new book on baking. Is it any different than the one I'm using now, will that ration of soda to flour work better than another one...these are the questions I ponder. Strange - I know. My husband has long gotten used to coming home from work as I stand in the kitchen trying out a slight variation on these cookies. Thankfully for me he doesn't mind eating all the experiments coming out of the oven.

This batch was modified from the new cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, which is based on their bakery in Brooklyn, NY. I first learned of these guys last fall on an interview they did with Design*Sponge and subsequently tried their amazing peanut butter cookies. Chewy, peanut butter goodness that melts in your mouth.

However, chocolate chip cookies are a different beast in my book. So, somewhat skeptical I tried the recipe at home. With a few tweaks on my part, based on my own tastes, I must say I love these cookies. If you have any of your own favorite cookie recipes please pass them along, I will always try a new one.

Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks butter, softened
1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups chopped dark chocolate*

Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and somewhat thick. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until just combined. Add the vanilla and beat again briefly.

In two or three batches add a bit a the flour mixture and then combine and repeat until all of the flour mixture is added and just combined. Be careful not to over beat the cookie dough. Add the chocolate and mix with a wooden spoon until mixed-in.

Cover the dough with plastic pushed down into the bowl and refrigerate**. When you are ready to bake the cookies pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scoop out large spoonfuls of dough onto a cookie sheet and push the chocolate chunks into the dough so they aren't sticking out. Bake the cookies for approximately 10-12 minutes, until the edges are just turning brown and the middle is a bit mushy for an excellent chewy cookie (for crunchy cookies bake longer).

Let the baked cookies rest on the cookie sheet for just a minute or two and then cool on wire racks. Enjoy warm immediately or at room temperature with a glass of milk or a warm mug of coffee.

Alison's Notes:
*I learned this trick a couple years ago and now use freshly chopped chocolate for all my chocolate chip cookies. I'm particular to dark chocolate and have heard to use chocolate with over 60% cacao to get a better and truer chocolate taste.
**Usually when you're making cookies you want to eat them right away and many recipes don't call for refrigeration. However, even 15-30 minutes seems to let the flavors meld together a bit more. But if you can last at least 24 hours then the cookies come out even chewier and don't tend to flatten out as much as those baked right away.

(photography: alison clayshulte)

Jun 8, 2009

basil pesto pizza

Homemade pizza is an easy standby meal and I love how I can make it as healthy (or not) as I please. After a very busy couple days this weekend running from gallery openings at 1AM SF, to a BBQ with friends in Marin, to the Temescal Street Fair Sunday afternoon, the hubby and I were beat. Needless to say a dinner that was quick and easy to put together sounded excellent. Trader Joe's has quality pre-made pizza dough, I love the whole wheat version. Also we had picked up this pesto from East & West Gourmet Afgan Food at the farmer's market over the weekend. These guys have amazing spreads and bolani's, flat-bread stuffed with spinach, pumpkin, potato, or lentils. I've seen them at many farmer's markets in the area and they are always good about giving out lots of yummy samples...I digress.

Tomatoes are slowly beginning to emerge at the local farmer's markets. I found some this weekend from Chico, about 140 miles East, at a market on Saturday in the Fillmore district in San Francisco. Add a few bitter arugula greens from our garden and fresh mozzarella, and dinner was served.

Recipe for Whole Wheat Basil Pesto Pizza

1 Pre-made Whole Wheat Pizza dough
1/2 - 1 cup pesto
2 large handfuls of cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/2 cup greens coarsely chopped
Mozzarella Cheese shredded or cut into pieces

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating take the dough out of the bag and let it rest a well-floured surface for 15-20 minutes. Once rested briefly knead the dough for a couple minutes, using a little flour to keep it from sticking until a smooth ball has formed.

Sprinkle more flour on the work surface and on the top of the dough and shape it into the size and depth of your crust. I find the easiest way to do this is using a rolling pin, but simply using your hands to pull and push it apart also works. Lightly cover a pizza stone (or large cookie sheet) with corn-meal and roll crust onto the stone.

Using the back of a spoon spread the pesto out over the crust, then add the tomatoes and greens. As you build the pizza add more of any ingredient or substitute other ingredients in as desired (I recommend fresh sausage, olives, zucchini, or fingerling potatoes as good additions here).

Finally sprinkle with cheese. My husband loves cheese and so we use quite a bit, thus I hesitate to say how much cheese to use. Add as much as makes you happy. I'm not sure if a pizza can have too much cheese. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cheese is slightly toasted on top and the crust is starting to turn golden. Once removed from the oven, let the pizza cool for a few minutes before slicing.

(photography: alison clayshulte)

Jun 4, 2009

melting greens with pancetta

Even though I live in California, it's June and the fog has rolled in. In fact lately we've had rain and thunderstorms, a little strange for this time of year. So, while the sun usually peeks out in the afternoon sometime I am ready for a perfectly sunny warm day. That being said I don't crave the crisp greens of salads and the taste of summer when the skies are gray. Instead I look for comfort foods and warmth.

Yesterday this recipe did the trick, and thankfully I was able to use the beet and carrot greens left over from last weeks veggies. I found the Melting Greens recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. Its easy, and comforting, and yet still feels clean - like your treating yourself right.

Recipe for Melting Greens with Pancetta
Adapted from The Splendid Table

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped pancetta
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 whole dried chile*
1 bunch of greens (beet and carrot tops, chards, kales, or sturdy greens all work)
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Film the later of a large sauce pan with the oil and heat. While heating the oil add the pancetta until slightly browned. Add the garlic and the chile and saute very briefly.

Add the broth and the greens. The greens will shrink as they cook down so be sure to add more than you think. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes or until greens are tender. Add more liquid if needed to ensure that greens are not burning.

Before serving remove the chile and season the greens generously with salt and pepper. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Alison's Notes:
* I used a dried Pasilla chile because it was in my pantry, but any red or green dried chile would work. This is mainly for flavor not spice so I don't think you have to be particular.

(photography: alison clayshulte)

Jun 3, 2009

watch it grow

Watching life grow from seed is an amazing experience. These bush beans were planted about a week and a half ago and came bolting out of the ground searching for sun. They are the second round of seedlings that my husband and I planted this spring.

The first round produced 48 baby plants, primarily heirloom tomatoes, along with sweet Italian basil, and two kinds of cucumbers. About half of those seedlings are planted in pots on our back deck, and the other half were given away to friends and neighbors. After nursing their growth for several weeks I could not muster sending any to the compost bin.

When I mentioned to my in-laws in March that I wanted to start a little garden I didn't realize the effect it would have on my life. They got us started, showing us how deep to plant the many kinds of lettuce, herbs, sweet peas, and a single cherry tomato plant we picked out at the local nursery.

However, this was not all completely new. I grew up gardening with my parents, many summers were spent hoeing weeds around the broccoli, and picking beans and raspberry's. Now having my own garden I find something familiar in tending to the plants and playing in the dirt. The garden has provided a tranquility that I didn't expect and a sense of community as we share its bounty with friends.

Our deck is now full of plants. Almost all the greens we eat come from the garden, and we've been enjoying the peas and herbs daily for at least a month. This weekend our first crop of strawberries were ready. YUM! There is something about fresh grown strawberries that makes their flavor jump in your mouth.

Already we are talking about fall and winter crops. And I'm thinking about starting some fruit trees from seed, avocado, olive, orange, cherry...the possibilities seem endless. I'll keep you posted.

(photography: alison clayshulte)

Jun 2, 2009

beet biscuits and starting again

Beet biscuits you might ask? That's right, and look at their color. These came out more beautiful than expected with a vibrant redish pink color. They had a slight hint of beet flavor and were nice and flaky, just how I like 'em.

I found this recipe in a 1998 New York Times article looking to use beets and other veggies in an inspiring way. It caught my attention because I am such a biscuit fiend, and because it worked so well with the name of my new blog, beets & biscuits.

I have been blogging since last November at a site called Local Flavors (I am in the process of moving those posts over to this site). However, in an effort to grow and expand I decided that some adjustments were necessary, including a new name and a new blog site. I will continue to focus on recipes featuring flavors and food that is currently in season, and sourced as locally as possible. I also plan to bring a community aspect to my blog and include information about local food entrepreneurs, urban farming, ways to fight hunger, and the politics of food. I welcome your comments and suggestions as I move forward and am excited for what lies ahead.

Recipe for Beet Biscuits
Adapted from the New York Times, 1998

4 small beets, washed
1/4 cup buttermilk*
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut in to small cubes

Place the washed beets in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil, lower heat and let simmer for 30-45 minutes until tender. Add water as necessary to ensure beets are covered. Drain beets and let cool until they are easy to touch, then rub off the skins and cut into quarters. In a food processor puree the beets until smooth (approx. 1 cup). Whisk the puree and buttermilk together and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, and place rack in the center of the oven. In a medium mixing bowl sift together the dry ingredients. Using a pastry knife or two knives cut in the butter until the size of small peas. Place the bowl in the refrigerator** until putter is hard, approx. 10 minutes.

Take bowl out of the refrigerator and scrape beet puree into the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together, it will be very sticky and moist, and there should be whole pieces of butter visible.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. Knead about 10-15 times, until smooth, incorporating enough flour so that the dough no longer sticks. Pat dough out to 1/2 inch think round and cut using a biscuit cutter (I use a water glass). Continue until all dough is used. Place dough on an ungreased cookie sheet or in a round cake pan (for softer sides). Bake for 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes. Serve warm, butter optional.

Alison's Notes:
* To make a quick buttermilk I use regular milk (usually non-fat, or whatever I have in the fridge) and squeeze in a couple tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Then let this sit and curdle in the fridge until needed.
** The original recipe recommended sitting the dough in the freezer to let the butter harden but when I pulled it out I had to let the dough warm up in order to work it as necessary. I think the refrigerator would work just fine to stiffen the butter.

(photography: alison clayshulte)