Panzanella

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Panzanella

“You say tomato, and I like tomahto…”
                                    George and Ira Gershwin

Have you gotten your share of ‘tomahtoes’ yet? I haven’t. It is my favorite late summer treat and I can’t seem to get enough of them. Since they are generally lousy the rest of the year, I am making every effort to eat as many as I can now. It is almost as if those off season red orbs in the market are not even the same vegetable (or fruit to be precise). Now that they are in the peak of the season there are a few dishes that show them off better than any others. A BLT is one; so is a Caprese Salad. Panzanella is another. This unassuming salad originated in Tuscany…no doubt invented because some Italian wasn’t about to waste some day old bread because it was a little dry. I thank him or her for for that! Panzanella combines three of my favorite ingredients… tomatoes, basil and bread. For the basic version, day old bread is combined with chopped tomatoes, basil, oil and vinegar to make a hearty rustic salad. There are endless variations and other ingredients that turn up in Panzanella as well. I prefer to keep it simple adding only onions, capers, cucumbers and sometimes cheese. Shaved Parmesan is good and so is fresh mozzarella. Olives, celery, tuna, anchovies and many other possibilities could also round out this versatile dish. The key to this salad (as it is with any simple salad) is to use nothing but the best ingredients you can find. It is only going to be as good as the tomatoes, bread, olive oil and vinegar you use. So far I have been getting plenty of good tomatoes from my neighbors (God bless them) as well as loading up on good heirlooms from my local farmer. For the bread, I have become a little obsessed with Acme ‘Pain au Levain’, my bread of choice lately. For vinegar, I like a good red wine or Champagne vinegar. Balsamic is good as well, but things tend to get a little too dark for me. Fantastic olive oil just goes without saying as does good kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. If you are fresh out of stale bread, you will have to “stale-idify’ some which is easier than it sounds. Hardly anyone follows a recipe when making a salad and I strongly urge you to just start tossing one up and tasting it all along as you go. If you need to see it in black and white, I’ll have a recipe at the bottom of my post. Let’s get started!

We are starting with a fresh loaf of Acme ‘Pain au Levain’. I am using a fresh loaf so it is going to need to be ‘stale-idified’. Cube it and toss it in a little olive oil and bake in a 250°until it is dry, but not toasted. Remember that the cubed bread will expand when it soaks up the dressing so don’t make them too big. Remove and cool.

I am using heirlooms from the local market and a few from my neighbors yard. Cut them into uneven bite size chunks. I am even adding a few cherry tomatoes.

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Place the tomatoes and cucumbers in a bowl and toss with capers, sliced onions, basil, vinegar, salt and pepper. I like to do this about 15-20 minutes before tossing the salad. The salt will bring out a lot of juice from the tomatoes, and all the flavors will have a chance to get to know one another.

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Just before you are ready to serve, toss the salad with the bread. It is ready to serve once the bread has soaked up some of the dressing.

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Panzanella

Panzanella

Ingredients

  • 3-4 thick slices of day old rustic bread, cubed
  • 2 pounds tomatoes cut into 1-inch chunks
  • ¼ cup cucumber, sliced
  • ¼ medium size sweet red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 5-6 basil leaves, sliced thin (chiffonade)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Olive oil (another two teaspoons if you are using fresh bread)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

Cut bread into uneven ¾ inch cubes. If you are using fresh bread, toss it with a couple teaspoons of olive oil, place it on a sheet pan and put it in a 250° oven for about 10-15 minutes. Remove and set aside. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and let rest for 15-20 minutes. When you are ready to serve, toss in the bread, mix well and serve immediately.

A note from Tim: I could not keep this blog going without the support from my partner Paul. Paul was particularly helpful with his contribution to this post which includes some of the photography.  Thank you Paul for all the things you do!

Roasted German Potato Salad

german potato salad dressing

Roasted German Potato Salad

I am good at some things and real lousy at others. One of the things I am lousy at is making potato salad. I am talking about the classic American Potato Salad with gobs of mayonnaise and hard-boiled eggs. When it comes to what goes in the salad I’m fine; where I fail is in the cooking of the potatoes. I screw it up every time so somewhere along the line I just gave up. Apparently the potato-boiling gene must have skipped a generation. I always ended up with either crunchy potatoes (yuk) or mashed potato salad (even worse). This is the real reason why I became the master of macaroni salad. Then one day a little oven light went on in my head…why not roast them? Just like that ‘Roasted German Potato Salad’ was born. For me roasting potatoes is much more forgiving than boiling. Not only are the results consistent every time, but I prefer the flavor, texture and color of roasted potatoes over their boiled counterparts. As an added bonus, it is also easier to prepare and I just love the crisp browned edges. Preparing them in this manner also means you can leave the skin on which is always my favorite part of the potato anyway. Roasting also results in a drier potato allowing them to really soak up the dressing making for a very tasty salad. As it turns out, this is a perfect technique for preparing German Potato Salad.

I didn’t grow up eating German Potato Salad, but I have really grown to love it. In addition to just enjoying it, it also has about half the calories of classic American Potato Salad. You can take the calorie count down even further by using Canadian bacon or ham instead of regular bacon. I prefer using applewood-smoked bacon myself. This salad is best when it is just made and still hot. It’s also wonderful after sitting for a while or even cold. I even like it leftover, heated up in the morning with eggs. Enjoy!

Roasted German Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds Yukon potatoes, cubed (do not peel)
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound bacon
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2-4 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped

Instructions

Toss the cubed potatoes lightly with olive oil and roast in a 375 degree oven for 35-40 min or until lightly browned and cooked all the way through. For more even browning, roast them on a lightly oiled baking sheet and toss slightly about halfway through the cooking time (make sure not to overcrowd them). While the potatoes are roasting, fry the bacon in a medium-sized skillet until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Drain all but about a tablespoon of drippings from the pan and sauté the onion in the same pan until it is browned. Lower the heat and add the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper and stir to dissolve the sugar and heat throughout. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped parsley. When the potatoes are done, transfer them to a large mixing bowl along with the cooked and crumbled bacon. Pour the warm dressing over the potatoes and toss well. Taste and adjust the seasoning adding more salt, pepper or vinegar as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

german potato salad dressing

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

brownies

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

I love the power of the Internet. Last month I came a cross a recipe by way of an American in Paris who was vacationing in Sicily. There he met a woman from Estonia, who baked a cheesecake she had learned to make on a previous trip to Tuscany. The cake in question was an Italian Ricotta Cheesecake or ‘Torta Della Noona’. It sounded delicious and it was as you can see by the final results here. The original recipe was on a blog called Nami-Nami. I thought about writing a post about it but there was really no need to. It was perfect just the way it was written. The recipe called for sheep’s milk ricotta, which isn’t exactly on every grocery store shelf. Bellwether Farms in Sonoma however makes a delightful sheep milk ricotta that you can find at Cowgirl Creamery or Whole Foods. It was this leftover cheese from the Torta Della Noona that inspired me to make some brownies. There was no way I was going to waste the 6 ounces of sheep’s milk ricotta I had left over from the torta.

Brownies are about my favorite sweet treat. I like them moist and chewy. I have made them before with a cream cheese filling, but never ricotta. I am not really sure what inspired me to add the raspberry filling but I really liked it in there. As you can see by the picture below, it starts out looking like a mess but ends up very appealing in the end. I have made them again since with cows milk ricotta and they are just as good. I really enjoyed this recipe. I am sure it is going to be in my regular rotation from now on.

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

Ready for the oven

 

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Filling
  • 6 oz. fresh ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

Instructions

Combine butter and sugar together in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and blend well. Mix all the dry ingredients together and add to wet mixture a little at a time while mixing at a low speed. Blend together thoroughly and set aside.

Prepare the filling by placing the cheese in a small mixing bowl. Melt the butter and white chocolate chip together is a bowl inside the microwave for about 40 seconds. Stir to blend thoroughly. Add this mixture to the cheese, along with the sugar, eggs, flour, and vanilla and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. Microwave the raspberry jelly for about 30 seconds.

Pour half of the brownie mixture into a lightly oiled 8 x 8 pan and spread evenly. Pour the filling mixture over the brownie mixture. It should not be even, you want it to be in ‘globs’. Pour the heated jam over the filling in a random pattern. Spoon the rest of the brownie mixture over the top. At this point it is going to look like quite a mess, but that is ok. Drag a knife though to incorporate the filling slightly and smooth the top a bit. Do not over do it, you don't want to mix all the ingredients together. Bake in a 350 oven for 35-40 minutes. When it is done a wooden pic will come out clean when inserted into the middle. Cool on a rack before cutting and removing from the pan.

Enjoy!

CUESA Summer Celebration 2014

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CUESA Summer Celebration 2014

Last weekend CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) held their annual ‘Summer Celebration’ at the San Francisco Ferry Building. As usual it was a party like no other. If you love food and drink and dining out this was the party to attend. Star chefs and bartenders from some of the best restaurants in town were on hand to support a great cause (and spoil everyone present in the process). If you are not familiar with CUESA and all the great work they do you can find out more about them here. I strongly recommend following this great organization and subscribing to their newsletters. I could go on about all the great food and drinks but I am just going to share some of the pictures from the celebration instead. Enjoy!

Honeydew Melon with Thai Beef & Pumpkin Seed from Paula Leduc Fine Catering

Honeydew Melon with Thai Beef & Pumpkin Seed from Paula Leduc Fine Catering

starbelly

Smoked Stone Fruit with Buratta and Ham Crumbs from Starbelly

 

 

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Isaac Miller from Maven preparing Summer Squash with Cocoa Mole & Spiced Pepitas

 

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With over 45 restaurants contributing to the evening, you can bet that I was only able to scratch the surface here. I hope I have convinced you to check out next years CUESA’s ‘Summer Celebration’. See you at the Farmers Market. Have a great summer!

Check out some more pictures on my photography site:  http://www.shyimage.com/galleries-2/cuesa-summer-celebration/ IMG_0142a

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Cocktails from Suzanne Long and Erik Mariscal of Longitude Oakland

Cocktails from Suzanne Long and Erik Mariscal of Longitude Oakland

Tom Ka Gai

tom ka gai

Tom Ka Gai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)

Back in September of 2012 I hosted a dinner party and thought it would be a good idea to post some of the recipes from the party on my blog. They are some of my favorite recipes. If you missed that party you can find that post here. Unfortunately, because they are buried somewhere in the middle of that post no one ever sees them. I am going to repost each one in a separate post because every good recipe deserves a post of its own. Here is my version of Tom Ka Gai, AKA Thai Chicken Coconut Soup. I really love this soup. I love this soup so much it makes my eyes roll back in my head. This fun effect is just one of the reasons I choose to make it for dinner parties. The other reason is that it is easy to prepare and you can make it ahead of time. The hardest part of this recipe is gathering all the ingredients. I often find them in the high-end supermarkets, but you can’t always count on it.  A trip to the Asian market is usually in order. Before I get to the soup, I am going to go over each one of the main ingredients. If you are already familiar with them feel free to skip this part. I don’t want you to get bored. tom ka gai galangal lemon grass kaffir lime Galangal Root Galangal root is the ‘ka’ in Tom Ka Gai. It is also sometimes called ‘Laos root’. I sometimes find this at Whole Foods, but usually end up getting it at the Asian Market. It is a rhizome not unlike ginger in appearance, but it is much larger and very woody. So woody in fact that it can be a little difficult to slice. You can also find it frozen (not bad) or dried either whole or in powdered form (forget about it). You only need a little and it usually comes in a big piece. If you have any leftover I advise you to cut it up into a few chunks and freeze it for later.

imageKaffir Lime Leaves Here is another item that you can sometimes find in the large upscale markets. They are also known as ‘bai magrood’ or ‘kieffer’. Like galangal, it is ok frozen, but terrible dried. Sometimes these are even hard to find in the Asian markets. I solved this problem a few years ago when I found a kaffir lime tree at Orchard Supply Hardware of all places. It’s doing very well in a pot on my balcony and supplies me with more leaves than I could ever use. Another source for these trees is Four Winds Growers (they sell trees online and deliver). The fragrance of these leaves is incredible. They bear very small fruit that have little or no juice but have great rind for zest. If you like limes you will find other uses for this wonderful tree. Infused kaffir lime vodka anyone?

Lemon Grass Lemon grass has gone very mainstream, so it is pretty easy to find. It is also relatively easy to grow if you are so inclined. If you want to try growing your own, get a couple of stalks with some nice woody ends and put it in water until it sprouts roots; then plant it in some soil.

Thai Chilies These are pretty easy to find and/or grow. They also freeze very well. I always have a bag in my freezer. They are very hot so you need to be careful when you are cutting and chopping them. Like all chilies, seeding them will tame the heat a bit.

One of the other things to note about this recipe is that the ingredients that flavor it are not really edible. The galangal, lemon grass, and kaffir leaves are too intense, tough or woody to eat. You have two options. One is to just make an announcement at dinner instructing your guests (that don’t know better) to avoid eating the lemon grass and galangal. Option two is to simmer the soup with the flavoring ingredients, then strain them out before adding the chicken and mushrooms. It is not quite as authentic that way, but there are no 911 calls to worry about. Either way you decide to prepare it, I hope you enjoy it. tom ka gai 

Tom Ka Gai

Tom Ka Gai

Ingredients

  • 2 13.5 oz. cans coconut milk
  • 6 thin slices of galangal root, lightly crushed
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, lower 1/2 only, trimmed into 1 inch pieces, slightly crushed
  • 5 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
  • 1 whole chicken breast, boned, skinned and sliced into bite size pieces
  • 4-5 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon, red curry paste
  • 2 green Thai chilies, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Instructions

Combine one can of coconut milk with the galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. * Add chicken, fish sauce and sugar and cook (stirring occasionally) until chicken is cooked throughout. Stir in the other can of coconut milk and curry paste and heat until boiling. Remove from heat, and add lime juice and chilies a little at a time, tasting it as you go. You don’t want it too spicy or too sour. Adjust seasoning, adding more sugar or fish sauce, to get that perfect balance of salt, sweet, hot and sour. You can heat this before serving and plate it individually or in a tureen or soup pot. Garnish with the cilantro leaves just before serving.

*If you are going to strain the soup add both cans of the coconut milk and simmer gently for about 20 minutes before straining and adding the remaining ingredients.

kaffir lime

Kaffir lime tree