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.

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