Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Festive Food… Strata

Here is a good dish that is good for brunches, potlucks, or even just to deal with leftovers.  It a strata, or savory bread pudding.  Basically, eggs, milk, bread, with ham, cheese and a green vegetable.  What’s great about this is  you put it together ahead of time, and can serve either hot or room temperature.  And of course, very pretty.   For this time of year, use broccoli, along with prosciutto (get the imported kind from AJ’s).  For a springtime brunch, use asparagus. Use a good grating cheese, Parmesan or what ever you like (or have), plus (what make it really festive)  real prosciutto.  AJ’s is a good source, get the imported Parma…  it’s expensive, but you only need a bit.

Also, for a less festive occasion (but still real good food), use a leftover bread, some leftover chicken or sliced ham, a leftover (or thawed frozen) vegetable…  use about 1/3 of the recipe and cook in 5x9 loaf pan.

The Gadget:  a scale (digital or not) to figure out quantities.

Asparagus (or Broccoli) and Prosciutto Strata

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
   OR ~1 ½ pounds broccoli crowns, use just the florets (1-2 inch pieces)
¾ pound crusty, artisan-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (1 loaf or a little less)
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ½-inch strips
5 ounces parmesan, asiago, or ramono cheese (or a blend), shredded
½ cup chopped chives
6 large eggs
3 ½ cups milk (2% or whole)
Zest from 1 or 2 lemons
½ teaspoon salt (less if you cheese is particularly salty)
½ teaspoon pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add vegetable of choice and cook until bright green and barely tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water.

Oil a 9x13 pan (spray with Pam).  Spread half the bread cubes, top with half the prosciutto, vegetable, cheese, and chives.  Repeat with remaining bread, prosciutto, vegetable, cheese and chives.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until blended.  Add milk, zest, salt and pepper and whisk to blend.   Pour evenly over the layered ingredients.  Cover and chill at least one hour, overnight is OK.

Pre-heat oven to 350oF.  Bake strata uncovered until set and top is lightly browned, 40 to 50 minutes.  Serve warm or room temperature.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Napa Valley

One of our favorite places is Napa Valley. Maybe in a little attempt to recapture a bit of Italy (lots of food and wine fanatics), we decided it was time to go (again).  December is really a nice time to visit.  The crowds are not bad, even on a weekend, and its not difficult getting into restaurants.  Everything is nicely decorated for Christmas, with lots of real trees, and not overdone like most  anywhere-retail-USA.  Yes, the weather can be dicey, but the real rain usually doesn’t start in Northern Cal until January (and then it can be everyday).  We were lucky -- it was cool, but the sun came out every day.  I actually wore my cashmere sweater.  We stayed in a very nice B&B, Sunny Acres, which is located at Salvestrin Winery.  This was the first time, in many visits to Napa, that we found lodging that we will definitely stay at again.  Its an old Victorian house, nice antiques, great breakfast, and wonderful hosts.

We met up with friends from Grass Valley on Friday for lunch at Redd, one of the trendy places.  It was quite good, with interesting soup and salads.  For my main, I had quail (which I believe is the latest trendy meat).  What can I say?  It was good.  For dinner we went to Cindy’s Backstreet.  It’s more low key, with lots of comfort food on the menu.  Roy had meatloaf, I had a duck burger.  The burger was OK, but the fries that came with it were really, really good.  So good, they make you wonder why you eat the typical frozen things. For lunch on Saturday, we stopped at Greystone.  We have been there many times; it’s the restaurant at the CIA (Culinary Institute of American).  We both had excellent soups, Roy had butternut soup, they gave us the recipe (starts with 12 pounds of squash, ends with a gallon of cream).  I had a quite wonderful ciopino (fish soup).  They took my email address, and hoping they send the recipe for this too!  My only complaint was the wine list (irony alert - restaurant owned by Wine Spectator); it seemed overpriced for the valley, and the wines by the glass were not too exciting. For dinner on Saturday night, we had originally planned to go to Martini House (high-end tasting menu over top kind of place), but since we both had colds, decided to go for something simple, and had sushi at Go Fish (which is owned by the same Cindy as Cindy’s Backstreet).  It was good, and nice that it was walking distance to the B&B. And they had really cool Christmas decorations – silver snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, and pots of narcissus and paperwhites in the windows around the room.

For wineries, we of course visited Salvestrin, as well as Robert Bialli (they just do Zin’s, and buy some of their grapes from Salvestrin), and one other (ok, I can't remember how to spell it, but we will be getting some wine shipped).  Plus, we stopped at Trefethen Winery, which is the first winery we visited 15 years ago in December the first time we went to Napa… and got hooked.

Merry Christmas !

I love to get Christmas letters, to hear about what everyone is doing.  But, I usually don’t seem to actually do one for myself.  So, I thought maybe I will just do a Christmas blog instead! 
We have had some wonderful trips this year, the highlight being Italy.  I also managed to get back to visit Sharon in New Jersey, and we made a quick trip to Napa Valley.  For Christmas, we will be heading to Tucson where the Norman’s will be gathering.  (click on the links and you will have pictures and more information than you ever wanted!)

Roy continues to be the car nut, and has recently bought a 41-year old Jaguar.  Its very pretty.   

I took sabbatical (8-week vacation) this year, and had a chance to spend some time in my studio, as well as take a painting class.  I have also started doing Yoga. I am building strength and flexibility for the positions, but still really struggle with the part where you are supposed to relax and not think of anything (typically, my mind is drifting towards lunch).   After getting back from sabbatical, I had come to the conclusion that I needed to move on, fortunately Marvell downsized and gave me a nice package!  So I’m back on sabbatical, but need to decide what next.

My most surprising accomplishment (at least to me) is blogging, taking time to reflect and write about things I have done or read. This is post #72 (since February when I started).   Its nice to be able to share with friends and family food ideas, or books they might like to read (or not). I even like the writing part, striving to be concise but witty (and thankful for spell checkers). I just hope that all of you like to read it as much as I like to write!

May you have a wonderful Christmas, enjoying all the good things that come with the season.

P.S.     Please keep the comments coming, it’s good to hear your thoughts and feedback!  (its not hard, you can make up any name you want, and only I get to see your email address).  And it you want to get the entries via email, just subscribe (and I just know how many subscribers I have, not who). You can un-subscribe any time!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Comfort Food – Mac and Cheese

I’m sure that everyone has their favorite, mine is Mac and Cheese.   We ate of lot of the Kraft version while in college (seemed so much more like food than ramen noodles), but once we had real jobs, we swore off the Kraft , something about that unnatural orange power (we moved on to Stouffer's Frozen).   But now, job or not, there is no going back to the boxes!    Here is our favorite.  Once you have done it 10 or 20 times, it goes together pretty quick, but does need to bake for 45 minutes or so.

Macaroni and Cheese

 I like that you don’t need to cook the macaroni separately.  No need to clean the food processor between jobs.

1 ounce (about a 1x1 cube) Parmesan cheese
1 slice of bread

½ a medium-large onion
4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

1 carton 1% cottage cheese
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
pinch of cayenne
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

½ pound uncooked elbow macaroni

Preheat the oven to 375oF.  Prepare a 9-inch square baking pan with a light coating of Pam.

Grate cheese in food processor with blade.  Tear bread in large chunks, add to cheese and process until bread is turned into medium crumbs.  Pour into small bowl and set aside.  Using shredding disk, grate the cheddar cheese and onion.  Place in large mixing bowl.

Using blade, process the cottage cheese, buttermilk, and spices until smooth.  Place in bowl with onion and cheddar cheese.  Add macaroni to bowl and stir. Pour into prepared baking pan.  Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over top. 

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the toping is browned and the center is firm.  Let sit for a few minutes then serve.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme

I think Julia Child had 2 lives, one as a TV Chef that we all know and love and laughed at the Dan Akroyd impersonation, the other is documented in “My Life in France”.  Of course, there were the 30-some years before this, but you really get the impression that she had not “lived” until she discovered France (and she didn’t start with TV until her late 40’s… maybe I still have hope!).  This book touches on many current events of the 1950’s and 60’s, ranging from McCarthy investigations to space exploration, but mostly how Julia learns to cook (and live) as the French do, and through that, come to realize how limited and narrow thinking much of America (including her parents) had become. 

I loved the writing style used, it was very matter of fact and understated. It was mainly based on letters that Julia and Paul wrote over the years, mostly to Paul’s brother.  The co-author is Julia's nephew, who worked with Julia and finished after her death.  What  treat it must have been for him to learn the history of his family.  Much of the book is about Paul (her husband).  You don't hear much about him, but he introduced Julia to French cooking, and through the years contributed everything from drawings for her books to behind the scenes support for her TV appearances.

Somehow history seems more real when seen from different views.  One character in Life in France, Curnonsky, was a journalist who reviewed some wonderful feasts (and passed himself off as a prince), and at some point was just invited to eat at the best restaurants when ever he wanted, seemed to be one of the eccentric characters from Suite Francoise who seemed to do nothing but eat.

Another link is Julie-Julia Project, not the obvious connection of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One , but the comments on intestinal upsets, not surprising considering the volume of butter, cream and other animal fat consumed!  Of course, Julia make Julie seem like a wimp, Julia spent 10 years and undoubtedly made well over 10x the number of meals that Julie did in 1 year.  The amount of work and detail Julia put into the research and testing of the recipes was phenomenal.  I was also surprised at the difference in basic ingredients between the US and France, such as flour, that she worked to adjust for.   Maybe the more important parallel is that today, Julie Powell changed her life and because a successful writer in a couple of years, something Julia took a decade to do.  Just that’s what they mean by “internet time”.