January 22, 2011

We used to honor the family tradition of Pizza and a Movie Night.  Being me, I would make homemade pizza.  Usually Grace would "help."  But we haven't yet found a pizza dough that we can all agree on.  Jason and Grace don't like the flavor of whole grain in their crust, and I think that most homemade breads made with only all-purpose flour or bread flour lack a compelling flavor.  For a while we used a King Arthur recipe that called for a mixture of semolina and AP flour, but lately we've simply foregone the tradition.  Every once in a while we'll get a couple of frozen pizzas at Trader Joes, top them with pepperoni and mushrooms and really enjoy it, but it isn't very "green" to eat something shipped frozen all the way from Italy...

Recently though I found a recipe I wanted to try: Spinoccoli Pizza from Annie's Eats.  I know it's odd, but when spinach first becomes available in the farmers market in the winter, it's been so long since I've had it that I crave it.  I know, a spinach craving?  What am I, a vegan?  But is it less dorky if I explain that this preparation includes a creamy garlic sauce, cheese and bacon?  Annie makes what she calls a Spinoccoli Pizza (modeled after a pizzeria in her hometown):  with creamy garlic sauce, spinach leaves, broccoli florets, mozzarella and cheddar cheese.  I lightened up the sauce, using milk instead of cream, and I added bacon.  And to make it easier than pizza, I assembled it as open-faced sandwiches using sliced french bread that was in our freezer.

Spinoccoli Open-Faced Sandwiches
Adapted from Annie's Eats' Spinoccoli Pizza
Serves 4

Sliced french bread, sheepherders bread or other bread of your choice (stale bread is fine, if you like a crispy crust)
olive oil
Garlic Sauce (see below)
6 slices bacon
1/2 cup packed spinach leaves
1 small head broccoli, cut into small florets (about 1 cup florets; reserve the stalk for another use)
2 ounces each cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese, shredded
Grated Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes for serving, if desired

1.  Drizzle bread with olive oil.  If bread is soft and fresh, toast it in a warm oven before topping.

2.  Preheat oven to 400º.  While oven is preheating, cook bacon.  You can do this in the oven or in a frying pan, however you prefer.  Prepare Garlic Sauce.  Wash and dry spinach.  Cut broccoli into florets.  Crumble bacon or cut into small pieces.

3.  Spread Garlic Sauce on bread.  This is a thick sauce, and I found that the bread could stand up to a heavier application of creamy garlic sauce than a standard tomato sauce.  Top sauce with spinach, broccoli, bacon and cheese.

4. Bake at 400º for 6-8 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and bread has crisped. Let cool 3 minutes before serving.

Garlic Sauce
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup milk of half-n-half
1 clove of garlic, cut or crushed into 2 pieces
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

In your smallest saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Whisk in flour and cook for one minute.  Then whisk in milk. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce boils.  Boil and stir one minute to thicken.  Remove from heat, remove garlic and stir in cheese.

January 15, 2011

Beef Stock

Earlier in our marriage, before we had kids, when we lived in a small apartment in Sacramento, a relative gave us a set of three large stock pots.  It was one of those gifts that, when we opened it, I had to keep the what-the-heck-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-this-lousy-gift-look off of my face.  Having no where else to store them, we kept them in the closest off of the patio, digging one out once, to make Corned Beef and Cabbage to serve 12 people on St Patricks Day.

Three moves later I have no idea where those stock pots are, but I have the answer to what-the-heck-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-this?  Duh, make stock.

The largest pot I have is an 8-quart pasta pot.  It's the right size for boiling spaghetti, or making a large batch of soup or marmalade, but it turned out it be a bit small for Julia Child's Beef Stock.


This is the time of year at the farmers market that reminds us how blessed we are to live in Upstate California.  Sure, it was freezing cold earlier this week, with lows in the upper 20s and highs in the low 40s, but today it is suddenly 60º and beautiful.  The perfect weather for meeting a friend and strolling through the market (even if that friend bought only a single Granny Smith apple, because she's leaving town tomorrow).  The farmers market this morning was full of wonderful produce: apples, a great variety of citrus fruits (mandarins, lemons, navel oranges, valencia oranges and blood oranges), kiwi fruit, hachiya persimmons (the larger ones that are eaten when soft), leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, cabbage and broccoli, all kinds of beautiful winter squash, beets, carrots, turnips, leeks, celery, parsley, cilantro (!!),  almonds, walnuts and pistachios... I was even able to find some nice red onions at the booth on the northernmost corner of the market (the one that sells honey and all kinds of flavored almonds).


I make chicken stock every so often, and I've made shrimp stock a time or two, but I can't say that I remember ever making beef stock before.  This past week though, as I planned next week's menu with the cold creeping into our drafty little house, I planned a couple different soups: French Onion Soup, which relies not only on onions, but also on a good beef stock; and a flavorful Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup from Smitten Kitchen, which calls for beef stock as well.  Oh, and I'm also planning to make a Beef Chili...

Beef Stock

Adapted from Julia Child via food.com and unofficialcook
Makes 3 to 4 quarts
If your stock won't be used within three days, portion it out into reasonable amounts and freeze.

The original recipe calls for 2 carrots and 3 ribs of celery.  Since carrots and celery from the farmers market tend to be shorter than their conventional counterparts, I've increased the portions slightly.

Leeks are notoriously difficult to clean.  In this preparation, where you want the leeks in fairly large pieces, trim the root end off, and cut the leek in half approximately where it changes from white to green.  Then, on the white end, make one clean, straight cut right down the center toward the root, leaving about 2 inches at the root-end uncut.  Rinse both halves under cold water carefully separating out the layers and rubbing them with your fingers to clean out the dirt and grit.

The color of your stock will vary based on how much meat is on your bones and on how much you brown them.  For the lightest-colored stock, skip the oven-browning in Step 1, and use well-trimmed beef bones such as marrow bones (have your butcher crack them and, after boiling, dig out the marrow to top a perfectly cooked steak), or even those sold for use as dog bones (check with your butcher first to be sure they are safe for human consumption).  For a darker stock, use bones with some meat still attached (such as shank) and brown them thoroughly in the oven (but be careful not to burn them). 

4 lbs beef bones, with or without meat attached.
2 onions, peeled and quartered
3 carrots, peeled and broken in half
3-5 ribs of celery including leaves, broken into a few pieces
2 leeks, green and white parts, trimmed and cleaned well
a 6" sprig of thyme, rinsed
2 bay leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 whole cloves
8 peppercorns
Kosher salt to taste, about a tablespoon

1.  Heat oven to 400º.  Spread beef bones on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake, turning once of twice until evenly browned, about 30-40 minutes.

2.  Place bones in stock pot and cover by about 2 inches with cold, filtered water.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Be careful not to let it come to a full boil.  Depending on your stove and the size of your pot, this may take a while.  When water has come to a boil, skim off any scum that has risen to the surface.

3.  Add vegetables and seasonings, except salt.  Add more water to cover and bring to a simmer.  Partially cover and reduce heat to keep the pot at a very gentle simmer.  Simmer, checking the water level occasionally and adding more to cover the ingredients if necessary, for 4 to 5 hours.

4.  Strain the stock, add salt to taste, and let chill overnight.  Remove the fat that solidifies on top of the stock.  Reserve the fat for another use if you like.   Use or freeze stock within 3 days.

January 11, 2011

Blog Goals and Thai Chicken & Rice Soup

It appears that in the rush of the holidays--and the chill of winter--I have left the blog a bit unattended.  I've thought about it quite a bit, and in the spirit of New Years Resolutions, I have two goals for the blog:

1.  My main goal for Upstate California Kitchen Adventures is to highlight seasonal, locally-available produce.  In doing this I suppose I should talk more often and more specifically about what is available at farmers markets right NOW.  Up until now I've been updating my What's in Season page monthly, but it doesn't get much traffic, so I will try to incorporate What's in Season into each post more effectively.

2.  Also I've decided that I want to make the blog a little more personal, so I'll start referring to my children by their names and such.  There's some weird, often-undefined fear about sharing personal information online.  While some of the fear is grounded in reality, such as when someone posts on Facebook that they are going to be on vacation in Hawaii for a week, and, whoops, their unattended home is broken into; I don't see a great threat in referring to my children by their names.  Besides, since this blog doesn't rely on lots of  photography, unless you are a personal friend you would not be able to identify them anyway.


I think I've mentioned before that I am one of those people who love cilantro.  When it is available in the farmers market (in fall and spring) I buy a large bunch each week.  Last week (January 1st) it was no where to be found at the Chico market, so it's understandable that when I found some at the farmers market in Sacramento this Sunday, I got two bunches.

Another find this weekend were little red hot peppers.  I know: it's January and pepper plants die in freezing weather so it's been over a month since peppers were widely available in our area, but these little guys,  "bird chiles" I think is what they would be called (about a 1/4 inch wide and one to two inches long; the kind you see in Sizzling Beef at a Chinese Restaurant), were left on the dry branches and were being sold for a $1/bunch.  Last week, by the way, I did see that Vogel's Darn Good Produce was selling a variety of home-dried chiles.  May I recommend that you get a bag if they are still available next week?


I've been fighting congestion for a couple days now, so when I picked up those spicy little peppers and that cilantro, the first thing that came to mind was a restorative Chicken Soup.  I planned it during the drive back from Sacramento:  I would make a chicken stock using organic chicken, garlic, ginger, cilantro, chile and fish sauce.  Then I would shred the chicken meat while the vegetables cooked in the stock.  For the vegetables I would use some chard (which is widely available in farmers markets in the winter) and some bean sprouts and green onions which I would have to purchase.

Green onions are sometimes available at farmers markets in winter, but they are suddenly abundant in early spring when for a few weeks young onions, peas, and strawberries seem to constitute 90% of the market's plant-based offerings.  It surprises me that green onions are not more widely available in winter, because  onions are usually planted in late fall (October and November), so that the onions planted in my garden are just now maturing into nicely sized green onions.  I prefer to leave mine in the ground and let them mature into bulbs though.  This weekend I did see one booth at the Sacramento market selling green onions, but I neglected to purchase them.   If it hadn't been so cold I would have circled back to get some, but by the time we made our first loop through the market our hands were full and we were anxious to get back to warmth of the car.

Sprouts are an interesting thing.  Really they are the quintessential local food: they can be grown on a paper towel in your kitchen, but 'sprouting' is no longer the hot trend it was in the 80s.  There is, though, a booth at the Chico farmers market that sells a wide variety of sprouts in warmer months.  The last time I looked through their selection, however, I did not find any of the familiar mung bean sprouts that one finds in Chinese and other Oriental-style dishes, so I purchased a bag from the Natural Foods store.

The Natural Foods store did not have fish sauce, which is more authentic to Thai food than soy sauce is, so I used kosher salt and soy sauce, which was probably more pleasing to the children's American palates. 

Thai Chicken and Rice Soup
This is really my own creation.  Maybe I shouldn't call it "Thai," but because I associate cilantro, hot chiles, ginger and coconut with Thai food, that's what I'm calling it.  As with most soup recipes, don't waste your time measuring ingredients.  If you want a stronger flavored stock add more garlic and ginger.  Be careful with the chiles.  One chile in the stock plus one in the soup yields a mild flavor.  Using more yields a spicier soup, which might work wonders for congestion, but might not be very kid-friendly.  Makes approximately 6 servings.

For the Stock:
1 tablespoon cooking oil -coconut oil adds a nice flavor here
1 organic chicken- remove the leg quarters and reserve for another use.  Use breasts, back and wings for stock-making.
6 cups water
kosher salt, about a tablespoon
6-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 2 inch length of ginger, peeled and minced
1-3 bird chiles or other hot peppers, depending on how spicy you want your finally product.
one small bunch cilantro, washed.  -Keep cilantro in a bunch, but tear off a large handful of leaves to reserve for garnish.

For the Soup:
3/4 cup white rice, such as jasmine or basmati
1-4 bird chiles
one bunch chard, approximately 6 ounces -remove stems if using rainbow chard
6 green onions, root removed, sliced into 1" pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
2 carrots -wash and peel, then use a vegetable peeler to shave carrots into curls.
4-6 ounces mung bean sprouts
1 14 oz can coconut milk

For Finishing
Reserved cilantro, roughly chopped
Green onions, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lime
Soy sauce or fish sauce
Sesame seeds

In large soup pot over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Saute chicken.  Let brown on one side, about 4-5 minutes, then flip and let brown on the other side, 3-5 minutes. Add water and the rest of the stock ingredients.  Bring to a simmer and let cook, covered, until chicken is just cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove chicken to a plate and let cool.  Strain stock through a strainer or sieve, then heat to a boil.  Add rice, bring to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes.  Increase heat.  Add chiles, chard, green onions, and sugar.  Bring to a simmer.  Let cook a few minutes.  Meanwhile, separate chicken meat from the skin and bones and shred the meat.

Add carrots to soup pot and let cook a few minutes.  Taste to be sure rice has cooked through.  Adjust seasoning if necessary with kosher salt, fish sauce or soy sauce, more chiles or a bit more sugar.  Add shredded chicken, mung bean sprouts and coconut milk.  Allow soup to come to a simmer once more.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish as desired.

Storage note:  As with any soup containing noodles, rice or other starchy foods, the starchy food will absorb the broth if left overnight.  If you want to be a food snob about it, strain out the broth and store it separately.