Friday, May 29, 2009

Pluot/Apricot Salad

Stacy and I look forward to stone fruit season with great anticipation. Stacy's favorite fruits are apricots and Santa Rosa Plums. We both like the varied flavors and colors of pluots. In our upcoming June class we will be using stone fruits in several dishes both savory and sweet. I have been refining a recipe for the past two weeks for a grilled pluot salad using apricots since pluots have not yet made their appearance this year at the Farmer's Market.

The recipe is so good I decided to share it with you:
Grilled Apricot Pluot Salad

1 1/2 lb. ripe but firm pluots and/or apricots pitted and sliced
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon mirin
2/3 cup extra vrigin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 jalapeno or serrano chile, cut lengthwise
3/4 cup basil chiffonade
8 cups mixed salad greens
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard

Place vinegar, mirin, lime juice and mustard in a bowl and whisk together.
Add oil in a stream while whisking to make dressing
Mark pluots and apricots on grill (this is optional. It adds a bit of tar flavor to the fruit)
Place pluots, apricots, onion, ginger and chile in large bowl with dressing; toss. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove chile from mixture and discard
Remove pluot and apricot slices and onion and reserve
Stir basil into dressing mixture.
Salt to taste
Toss salad greens with dressing and plate or place on platter.
Top with fruit and onions

Stacy and I have had two versions of the dish this week as part of our dinners. The first night I added some left-over roasted chicken and sliced baguette. The second night I served a bit of leftover Yellow Indian Woman beans over rice. I soaked and boiled the beans with some onion and a bit of tomato paste and a dash of hot sauce. The rice was steamed in home made chicken stock. Both meals were complete, balanced and delicious.


Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wine is food

Wine and food are one of the magical marriages in our world. In my cooking, I am careful to select both the recipe and the wine to keep harmony in the union at the table. I also like to have formal meals progress from lighter white wines to heavier reds as the menu progresses from lighter selections to the heavier entrée and into the cheese course. Take care, though, because it isn’t the color of the wine that’s important, it’s the weight and power it delivers to the palate. There are some white wines, like heavily oaked California Chardonnay that are more powerful than a perfumed red Burgundy, including some pinot noirs now coming from the New World, which makes it crucial that you are familiar with what will come from the bottle to your guests’ palates. So how does one keep track? You have to taste and remember. Be sure to taste all of the wines you will be serving at an important meal long before starting the menu design, then design the menu to pair with the wines based on the freshest ingredients available. Stacy I regularly taste wines by visiting the Wine Country, attending tasting events, and asking our wine steward or sommelier to introduce us to something new when dining at a restaurant (this is also very instructional to learn how to pair wine and food). We keep a private cellar in our home that has a current stock of over 1,000 bottles of more than 500 unique wines. Stacy and I can tell you what to expect in taste and structure from all but the most rare of those wines as we tasted them before we made the purchase. This broad palate of wines and our familiarity with the cellar gives me the opportunity to design meals that are balanced and memorable.

Stacy and I have created a space to store our wines based on our desire to keep a five to seven year inventory of red wine along with some special whites on hand for aging. We also keep a secondary wine inventory which is mostly white wine that we typically turn in a few months to two years at most. By making this investment, we have created our own wine library at a fraction of the cost of purchasing aged wines. I also keep an automated inventory of our wines so that we know what we have, when to drink it, and how much we consume in a given span of time (it seems too much). The best service I have found and now use is the free This amazing web site now hosts over 80,000 users who manage over 12 million bottles of wine inventory, and who have written over 850,000 tasting notes, which are all available from the site, for free.

The love affair of wine and food is part of every meal we create. In a recent class we served two bottles of 1999 Howell Mountain Cab from Pine Ridge that were exquisite. Quoting Maya from the movie Sideways, “I know that when I taste this wine today it will taste different than on any other day.” We found the right day to open that wine for sure as it was magnificent accompanied by the braised beef and cheesy polenta.

Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Heavenly Aioli

Just as birds change locale as the weather warms our diets migrate from comfort foods to lighter fare including many different kinds of salads and sandwiches. One of our favorite condiments is mayonnaise and especially aioli. I do keep a jar of "Real Mayonnaise" in the refrigerator as a staple in our kitchen. However, the flavor and texture of home made mayonnaise or aioli makes the stuff from the store taste like school glue. I also preserve Meyer lemon rind in salt and lemon juice to flavor dishes with a much deeper and more complex flavor that fresh lemon juice and salt are capable of. My favorite olive oils come from Olivier in Saint Helena. If you are ever in the Napa Valley, be sure to visit the store to taste the various oils and bottle them yourself. They also recycle their own bottles with a corresponding discount on new oil for every bottle you return. The most versatile extra-virgin olive oil they sell is the Mission Variety, which is also available on-line. The preserved lemon rind and this supreme olive oil come together in my home made aioli.

Meyer Lemon Aioli

Yield: Makes about 1 cup

1 large egg yolk (Pasteurized*)
1 Tablespoon preserved Meyer Lemon rind finely minced and juice
(or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional, does making whisking easier)
salt to taste
1/4 cup canola oil, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 minced garlic clove

Combine egg yolk, lemon juice and rind, vinegar, mustard, and minced garlic clove in medium bowl. Whisk until blended and bright yellow, about 30 seconds.

While whisking constantly, add 1/4 cup canola oil to yolk mixture, a few drops at a time, about 4 minutes. Gradually add 1/2 cup olive oil in very slow thin stream, whisking constantly, until Aioli is thick, about 8 minutes. Cover and chill.

Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

* To pasteurize an egg, fill a medium saucepan 3/4 with water and bring to 150 degrees using a candy or frothing thermometer to ensure accurate temperature control. Add egg and maintain 150 degrees for 5 minutes. Gently stir water to ensure uniform temperature. When done, cool the egg in cold water. The egg is now safe to eat raw.

Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.

Bueberry-Maple Sauce

We bought our first blueberries of the season on our outing to the San Francisco Farmer's Market on Saturday. They came from Svenson’s Farm which is a family owned farm that offers their delicious fruits at several Farmer’s Markets around the Bay Area. I buy from them every time I see their stall as the berries are always perfectly ripe. I will use most of the blueberries on Sunday in my favorite blueberry recipe which is simply wonderful for a breakfast or brunch:

Steel Cut Oats Porridge with Blueberry-Maple Sauce

For oats:
1 cup steel cut oats (available in the bulk section of most organic grocery stores)
4 cups water
Dash salt

For sauce:
6 oz package fresh blueberries
¼ cup real maple syrup (the darker the better)

Start the oats the night before by bringing water and dash of salt to boil in a sauce pan. Remove pan from heat and stir in oats. Cover and leave on counter over night at least 4 hours.

For breakfast, cook oats at a slow simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine berries and maple syrup in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. The berries will pop and form a sauce in 3 or 4 minutes.

To serve:
Scoop a generous portion of the oats into a bowl and top with sauce.
Note: Stacy likes a dab of butter on her oats and I like a bit of cream or milk, or just eat the combination of oats and sauce with no dairy. No matter what, this hearty nutty flavored, early summer treat is sure to bring smiles around the table.

Blueberries have a very short season with individual varieties each only available a few short weeks. Enjoy them while you can get them as they are powerful little disease fighting miracle fruits as well as tasty.

Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Can I Bring?

Whenever we are invited to someone’s home to share a meal or we invite someone to a meal at ours, the question “What can I bring” is always asked. When guests arrive and inevitably gather in our kitchen, the next question is “what can I do to help?” This is not just etiquette. Moreover, it is about sharing in the preparation of a meal which every culture on Earth has practiced since man learned how to apply fire to food.

Stacy and I hosted a party for six of our friends that was planned to be our first barbeque of the season. As the weekend drew nearer, it became clear that we would receive much needed rain on the day we planned our party. Undaunted, we continued with our plan to share a meal with our friends by moving the cooking and eating indoors. I designed the menu to answer the question, “What can I bring”, by breaking the meal into four courses where each course includes items that may be prepared ahead and then finished just before service. As our friends predictably asked I made assignments based both on what was volunteered, or recommended by me. I also included recipes for items that I suggested.

Menu and Assignments

Shrimp and cheesy grits with bacon (Tony and Leslie)
Oysters on the half shell with Hog Wash and cocktail sauce (John)

Green salad with vinaigrette (Jim and Kristin)

Roasted Moroccan Style Boneless Chicken Breast (Me; would barbeque in better weather)
The Canal House Macaroni and Cheese (Mark and Kyla)

Pound Cake (Jim and Kristin)
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream (John)
Dirty Girl Strawberries (Stacy)

By taking our friends up on the offer to bring something we all prepared the meal together, without making it a potluck. Also, since each couple owned at least one dish they become integrated into the production of the meal with a keen sense of ownership of having a successful outcome. It also gave us the opportunity to work together on a common goal which is fun and satisfying at the same time. I believe it strengthens our bonds of friendship each time we do this. We also facilitate friendships between our friends so that we build a community of friends. It’s all good.

Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

De-boning chicken pays off

One of the most useful skills for a cook is the ability to de-bone whole chickens. First, whole chicken costs one-third as much per pound as a boneless chicken breast does because the cook does the labor of breaking the chickens down instead of the store’s butcher. Second, when I do the work I create a classic French style chicken breast that has the lovely drumette bone attached to the boneless breast that makes an elegant presentation as an entrée. This is the money cut and we treat it as such by featuring it at one of our more important meals together during the week. Third, I also get a meal for two from the legs and thighs. Finally, I get another meal from the stock and bits of meat stripped from the wings and other bones as a chicken soup. For about $5 and a bit of knife skill put to good use for five minutes, I yield six meals! And these are rich and nutritious meals at that.

To de-bone a chicken, I start by removing the wish bone. This is accomplished by inserting the tip of my boning knife at the top of the wish bone and cutting downward towards the neck. Once exposed, I carefully excise the wishbone by running the knife edge along the curve of the bone and then separating the stem from the backbone. Once the wishbone is removed, I then remove the wings by holding the side of the bird up off my board by the wing tip, and slicing the drumette just below the first joint. I then hyper-extend the wing so that the joint separates taking the wing and wintip sections away leaving the end of the drumette bone exposed. After repeating the same procedure on the other breast, I then remove the wing tips from the wings and toss them into the roasting pan. Next, I cut away the skin between the thighs and breasts. Once that is done, the breasts are de-boned by running the boning knife downward from the back and through the drumette joint. The legs and thighs are removed as a unit by first dislocating the thigh joint and then turning the bird over and making a sweeping cut into the back along the bones making sure to capture the “oyster” meat just above the thigh joint. If I want to separate the drumsticks, I cut the joint just inside the line of fat to complete the breakdown. Now I have the stock pieces that include the carcass, neck, giblets (without the liver), and the wingtips; I have the breasts for an elegant entrée, the wings for a spicy appetizer, and the legs and thighs for a rustic week-night dinner; All of this for about $5. The whole job takes less than five minutes. If I want a mild stock I will make that right away with the raw bones. If I don’t have the time, or want a richer stock, I will roast the bones and put them into the freezer along with the pan drippings until I have the time to make the stock.

At our Spring Color class in April, I served boneless chicken breasts from pasture raised birds as the entrée that many of the members commented was the best chicken they had ever tasted. Those six birds served twelve of us as entrée from the breasts, dinner for three from three of the legs and thighs, two lunches of cold chicken, dinner in a chicken soup for two and four lunches more from the meat and stock. The only parts of the chicken that went to compost were the bones after stock making and the livers (I will make dog food from the livers next time).

Stacy and I hope you will cook with us at a class soon!

Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Laid-back Cooking

Days and especially evenings that are warm enough to enjoy a meal on our deck in Burlingame are rare, even in summer. Saturday was one of those hot days followed by a balmy evening on a weekend that let us enjoy a lazy crazy summer tapas and wine party with twelve aspiring chefs (including me). The whole thing was so much fun. We cooked seven appetizers, and a paella entrée followed by a pound cake dripping with cherries flambé for dessert. Yum! Everyone enthusiastically jumped in to do the cooking hands-on. We also got to play with lots of gadgets like a mandolin for slicing squash to be grilled, a heavy-duty mixer to whip up a pound cake, a powerful juicer and electric ice-cream maker for a strawberry sorbet, toaster oven for parmesan puffs, and electric skillet to fry grits. We also hand whipped a delicious aioli that was used in the puffs and as a sauce with the asparagus. It overwhelms me a bit to reflect on all that we cooked yesterday. Like every meal I help make, there were some glitches and small mistakes that served as lessons for me and some of the other cooks. It seemed to turn out well as every dish was devoured! Apparently there were twelve hungry cooks in the kitchen after cooking for a couple of hours. There was a fair bit of vino consumed at the party as well. Seems the cooks were also thirsty! All of the wines showed well and paired nicely with the food, too. Thankfully everyone pitched in to clean the endless stream of pots pans and kitchen tools as we mowed through our nine-course meal. I wish we could all do it again next weekend!

Stacy and I started the day with our usual trip to the Farmer’s Market in San Francisco, albeit a bit later than a normal cooking-class day. Since the party started at 2 PM, we slept in a bit which was luxurious. We landed at the Market about 8:45 AM to find throngs of shoppers taking advantage of the warm weather. There was a mix of tourists, chefs, and home cooks with all manner of carts, baskets, and even rolling coolers jostling one another at the outdoor stalls, which were overflowing with beautiful produce.

Strawberries are peaking now. So much so that Dirty Girl Produce dedicated three tables to the succulent gems along side several stalls offering oceans of red in their stalls as well. Yellow, green, and pale green summer squash were coming on stronger. We bought four varieties to brush with garlic oil and grill as one of the appetizers. They tasted so sweet with a hint of garlic flavor. And healthy too! Asparagus is still doing well, although it is showing signs of wane as we get closer to June. Another month and it will be gone for the season. The two bunches of purple we blanched and served with sesame aioli reminded me that we should take advantage now before the season ends.

Stone fruits are now appearing. The cherries have developed sweeter and deeper flavors. We bought two pounds for the cherries flambé that we poured over the pound cake for a scrumptious dessert. I also love just nibbling cherries from a bowl on the kitchen counter during the season. Cherry season is very short typically lasting less than two months which I savor every year. Apricots also made their debut at the Market which made Stacy happy since Apricot is one of Stacy’s favorite fruits. We noted that the Market was almost completely denuded of citrus this week. Some stalls had under ripe lemons that signaled that the second crop should be arriving soon. We did manage to find a grapefruit and enough lemons to use in the dishes at the cooking-class. I am glad I preserved two jars of Meyer lemon rinds to carry us through another year.

Mountain Ranch was open this week, although they had sold out of whole birds which they won’t have again until June 6. Bummer. The word is out that these are the best tasting chickens on the planet. We bought a whole chicken from Marin Sun Farms that are better than anything we find at the grocery store, so we will continue to buy them for our everyday meals. Mountain Ranch does have boneless breasts that they sell for $14.40/lb (I didn’t make a mistake, that’s fourteen forty a pound). While it’s good, it isn’t that good. Two breasts from them cost as much as a whole chicken from Marin Sun Farms. Yesterday I demonstrated how to de-bone a chicken, which we then cooked into the paella. It was the Clucky Plucky bird we bought at the Downtown Napa Farmer’s Market last week. That was a tasty bird, also. I wish they would set up shop in San Francisco!

We all enjoyed cooking and eating in a more laid-back format at the class Saturday. We plan to adopt this format for up-coming classes this summer although we will start earlier that 2 PM. We’re thinking 11 AM may work best which we will try for the next class that is tentatively scheduled for June 13. More details to follow

Stacy and I hope you will cook with us at a class soon!

Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.