Greek Green Beans

One thing that I didn’t realize about bloging when I first started this one a couple of years ago was that there is an entire blogging community. I didn’t anticipate that by blogging I would become so compelled to read others’ blogs, admire their work, become friends with them and find inspiration in them as well.

Of course, the blogs I read on a regular basis are ones that I look up to and find pleasure in following; however, in the effort to find what I think are great blogs, I’ve also come across some interesting ones… It’s great that people are cooking, creating and putting it out there, but if I’m totally honest, sometimes I do wonder where exactly people are coming from.

A while back, I read the title of a post that was ‘Greek Green Beans’. Instantly I envisioned bright crisp green beans, loads of salty feta and tart Kalamata olives. When I clicked through what I found were sad, dull, overcooked green beans in some sort of tomato sauce! This is why I ask so many questions when I eat out because you say one thing,  and as a person who loves food I have a vision, so I ask questions to know exactly what I’m getting into. Needless to say I was disappointed with what may have been more authentic Greek green beans, but didn’t live up to my vision – do I decided to make my own.

beans 2

It was exactly what I wanted. Crisp and fresh, creamy and salty and tart. I dressed the beans in a lemon vinaigrette with fresh oregano and shallots. The textures and colors are marvelous and every bite is loaded with flavors reminiscent of the Mediterranean. I also roasted a chicken with lemon and olive/oregano butter under the skin to tie it all together. Just delightful. And let me tell you, the fact that whenever you roast a chicken, you get to make GRAVY which is kind of like a little Thanksgiving treat any time of the year.

chicken and beans

plated

Greek Green Beans:

  • 16 oz green beans
  • 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 tbsp shallot
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • olive oil, about 1/4 cup

Bring a pot of water to boil. Trim the ends of the beans and blanch until slightly tender but still crispy, no more than 5 min. Meanwhile prepare an ice bath, and then beans are done remove from boiling water and place in ice bath.

While the beans cool, mix lemon juice, vinegar and mustard in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until thick, emulsified, and as tart as you like it. Mix in shallot and oregano. Season with salt and pepper.

When beans are cool, remove from ice bath and blot dry. Toss with dressing in the bowl. Pile bean on the serving plate and top with feta and olives.

Roasted Chicken: same prep as here. Add lots of oregano and finely chopped olives to the butter.

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Potato & Artichoke Salad

I have a new man in my life, and he’s been taking up a lot of time. Here are a few things about him: He loves pate and steak. He’s a ginger. He LOVES to play. He also loves to share my bed and couch, and cuddle really close to my face in the middle of the night… Any ideas? Anyhow, I’m hosting a partying in a couple of weeks to introduce him to my friends, so I’ll have some photos for you soon, but until then, photos of this potato and artichoke salad will have to suffice.

I love all sorts of potato salads from creamy, like this one, to vinegary and tart like German Potato Salad. I had intended to make a German style potato salad a while ago, but it never happened and I was re-inspired after having one at Heyday (this new awesome lunch spot by my office) that added artichokes to the mix. I’d picked up some smaller spring artichokes at the farmers market and did a little research about how to make a true German potato salad. I loved the sound of the recipe in Luisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen (great read BTW, I highly recommend it) but it was a little more complicated than I had time for on a week night, so I simply made a salad dressing. I know. Go figure.

The result was GREAT. Nice and vinegary, with a touch of mustard and sweetness coming from every bite of artichoke. Be sure to dress the potatoes and artichokes while they are still warm so they absorb all that goodness. The salad is great both warm and cold.

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Potato & Artichoke Salad:

Those of you who have been reading for a while, probably know I’m not the best recipe developer or direction-hand-holder so I hope you’ll bear with this ‘recipe’ as it’s really just a list of recommendations.

  • Prep your artichokes, I used about 3 medium sides one and quartered them. If yours are smaller buy more and just halve them. Great prep advice from Bon Appetit here
  • Cut and boil a handful of baby red new potatoes, until tender. I love the flavor, texture and color contrast of these.
  • Saute the artichokes until tender – use a medium heat and keep and eye on them, as you don’t want them getting too dark. I would do this while the potatoes are cooking because it’ll take a little while 15 min or so.
  • Make your dressing! You know the drill: Vinegar+Dijon mustard+shallot+herbs+oil – I used champagne vinegar, but white wine, red wine, apple cider, or whatever is your go to would work well! Though I do feel that balsamic would be out of place here. I used oregano too, because it’s what I had on hand.
  • While the potatoes and artichokes are still warm, dress with the salad, salt and pepper and taste for adjustments. YUMMY!

My Return to Blogging with Herbed Lemon Dipping Sauce

You may have (I sure hope you have) noticed that I’ve been a little MIA from the blog over the past month. I promise, I have very good reason.

1) I was gone for most of May. I took a mini vacation every weekend, and had short little 4 day work weeks in between, which little time left to cook. It was delightful. I went here for fun with girl friends, Laguna Beach for a wedding and here for the first time over Memorial Day. After the first weekend away I was immensely refreshed and realized that while I am always saving for a big vacation, little ones can have just the same effect.

2) I needed/wanted/was compelled to get off Facebook! I don’t know how, but after so many years of social networking, it sort of just seeps into different aspects of your life. I wasn’t addicted, but was over using and was developing this sense that it was leading me into a false life. It leads to an altered sense of what other people are doing; fake ‘friendships’ with people whom I never really communicate with anymore; and promotes sharing your life rather than flat-out experiencing it. So that being said, I was ready to get out. Erase my visibility in this false world, and stay in touch and develop relationships with those people who I actually care about. You may be wondering, what does this have to do with your blog? Well, Facebook is one of the main traffic drivers, so I always felt bad about the thought of taking away from the blog, if I were to quit ‘the book’. BUT if I were to take a break from blogging at the same time, no harm done! There you have it – May was a month for me, no blogging, no cooking, no Facebook.

The result? Manicures that lasted for more than a week, 5 pounds lost, a regained sense of when I am truly hungry (and what I’m hungry for) and a huge Facebook sized weight lifted off my shoulders. Enjoying what I’m doing, in the moment, because it’s what I want to be doing, and not giving a hoot about what my Facebook community may be up to. The final thought it that there may be a time and place for Facebook, it does help stay in touch with friends and family who are far away, but I don’t have the intention of going back any time soon.

While I didn’t miss Facebook this past month, I did miss blogging! I missed the cooking, the flavors, the photography, the creativity. I didn’t miss washing the dishes, but what can you do… This past weekend I felt totally reinvigorated by the farmer’s market, seeing all the luscious summer produce. My timing back into my cooking life couldn’t have been better! Cherries, strawberries, peaches, corn, artichokes were all speaking to me with little ‘cook me’ voices, and my lust was renewed. I can’t wait to make the most of these harvests over the next few weeks and share them with the blog not the book.

One of the firsts things I made this weekend, in between the 5 loads of laundry and epic amounts of resting, was a potato salad that I made for this event last year. It was just as good as I remembered it and I had a bit of the creamy mixture left over. I make it with a mayo/yogurt base and lemon and fresh herbs so that it is jam packed with flavor. Not only does it make one kick-ass potato salad, but it would also be great with salmon or veggies, or as I used the leftovers: as artichoke dip. That’s right, I may have just turned into a mayo artichoke girl – yikes.

I feel like there are two different artichoke people: butter and mayonnaise. When I was growing up my mom was butter and my dad mayo. My mom always spiked her melted goodness with garlic and seasoning salt, which really packed a punch with the artichokes, so that’s what I did too. For years. Up until this weekend. The sauce I made was so fresh and so loaded with organic herbaceous flavors that it was a whole new experience for my artichokes. This way they are summery and light and zesty, rather than earthy and spicy as I was used to them. I’m sure I am not the first to invent this, but I am surprised it took me this long to figure out.

As for the rest of summer, and my life without Facebook? I think it’s going to be wonderful. I might have to paint my nails a little more often and gain a couple of pounds, but at least I’ll be back to doing what I love because it makes me (and not my Facebook persona) happy.

Herbed Lemon Dipping Sauce – to serve with artichokes, toss with potatoes or serve with a plethora of other preparations

  • 1 (or 2) part(s) mayonnaise
  • 1 part Greek yogurt
  • chopped fresh herbs to taste: flat leaf parsley, basil, dill – ratio 2:2:1
  • scallions
  • lemon zest

I could give you specifics (and if you link back to the original post you can get them), but you should really make this to your liking, adding more of what you love, putting in less of what you don’t. I know it will become one of your new favorites.

Three Peas with Leek, Mint & Cream

So I didn’t think I was going to be blogging this month. The intention was to take a May for me – not go on Facebook, not blog, not worry about anything other than my 3 long weekend trips. Ends up that I couldn’t stay away that long. Not even 9 days. I don’t imagine I’ll have time for cooking much the rest of the month with these short weeks in SF, but I did have time this week to whip up a pea salad.

I believe I’ve told you about my dad’s epic gardening efforts. He has quite the green thumb and turns out amazing blackberries every year that morph themselves into pies, jams and sauces at his magical touch. Last year he also took a stab at tomatoes and carrots, which were also amazing, and this year he has made peas come to life. Delicious, vibrant snow and snap peas. Some of them are pretty massive as the result of his local organic culturing:

massive

two peas in a pod – how cute!

I found this recipe in my Sunday SF Chronicle and because I’m slightly obsessed with leeks I knew dad and I would have to try this one. He brought me the fresh picked peas on Saturday and it was everything I’d hoped it’d be (even if I did get my leeks a little too brown). Crunchy, creamy, and slightly sweet with hints on mint. It’s so pretty to look at and even more delicious to eat.

Three Peas with Leeks, Mint & Cream

  • 8 ounces sugar snap peas
  • 4 ounces snow peas
  • 1 cup shelled fresh peas, about 1 pound in pods (I just shelled additional sugar snap peas)
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream (I think you could probably use less, if you’re trying to be healthful)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup silvered mint (less or more to taste is fine too)

Trim sugar snap and snow peas. Bring a pot of water to boil; add the sugar snaps, snow peas and shelled peas, and cook for just a minute or so until crisp-tender. Drain, and plunge into ice water to set color and stop the cooking; drain again and set aside.

Rinse the leek well, flipping layers under running water to remove grit. Thinly slice crosswise.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When foamy, add the leeks and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes.

Pour in the cream; increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, until liquid is reduced by about half, 3 to 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add all the peas and half the mint to the skillet; stir just until heated through, about 1 minute. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining mint.

*Recipe copied from the SF Chronicle, original available here

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches

There are some days where I just can’t leave good enough alone. Just home made pulled pork would have been good enough. Store bought buns probably would have been good enough. Best Foods mayo would have been good enough. And certainly, prepared BBQ sauce would have been good enough. But is ‘good enough’ the best? Is a labor of love? I don’t think so. So I present to you, my ‘everything made from scratch’ BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich (save for souring my own cream and developing my own yeast culture).

I absolutely love BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. My mom is a super picky eater and does not eat ANY condiments besides BBQ sauce, so I learned to love it at a young age. I did quite a bit of research after landing on this as my main course for hosting dinner club this month, and even though I’m a thick, sweet BBQ sauce kind of gal, I decided on a couple BBQ sauces to make. And while I was researching options I came across the Not Without Salt post where the blogger does indeed make her own buns and I thought “why not?”. Finally, with all these beautiful things coming together why, oh why, would I dress my hand cut cabbage with ‘lite’ mayonnaise taken from my parents’ house? That’s right, I didn’t.

Even though I’m a Kansas City BBQ sauce fan, I really liked both of the sauces I made. The other was a bourbon sauce with lots of acid, less tomato sauce and a nice viscosity & tang. I let both of them set over night to let the flavors mingle and really get to be BFF, then strained out the onions before serving. They both were rich, thick, a spicy and a bit sweet so it really comes down to your personal preference. I slow-cooked the bone in pork shoulder for over 9 hours, and at the end it really did fall of the bone, was succulent and left behind a commingling of juices, some of which I mixed back into the shredded pork. After shredding it, I dressed the meat in a bit of both sauces and brought the squirt bottles to the table for everyone to add more of her favorite.

I’d also been wanting to make bread for a while. I bought yeast not too long ago and since I was on a roll, this seemed like as good a reason as any to break out the dough hook. I was taken with how beautiful these buns were. They are light, fluffy, just the slightest bit sweet that really do make them buns rather than bread. I let my Kitchen-Aid do all the work and only had to touch the dough once. It couldn’t have been simpler, or more tasty.

While I am NOT a coleslaw person, I did fall in love with it a bit when I was in college. The Buckhorn Steakhouse was only in Winters, CA at the time and would come to the Davis Wednesday Night Farmer’s Market and serve their thinly sliced steak sandwiches with an apple, raisin slaw that was to die for. It turned me on to slaw as a sandwich topper and it’s an essential piece to a good BBQ pork sandwich, in my book. I stuck with a traditional cabbage coleslaw this time, but did hand whip some mayo at the last minute. I made it for the first time when Bon Appetit came out with their egg issue and it was delightfully simpler than I expected. It’s so rich and creamy and loaded with flavor that you just don’t find in store-bought mayonnaise. Not to mention, I’m not as grossed out about eating it knowing that it’s only eggs and oil.

And that’s it. The simple thoughts and hard work behind just wanting to turn something so basic into something hand crafted with love. The hard work did pay off, as everyone at dinner club was really pleased with their sandwiches and the choice of two sauces. Not to mention my friend and I who had leftovers today for lunch decided that it’s even better when you let it all sit a night – if you can wait that long.

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches

SESAME BUNS from Not Without Salt, recipe available here

PULLED PORK: rub down a 5 ish pound pork shoulder with the rub in the above Not Without Salt link. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit in fridge overnight. Place in slow cooker following day and cook on low for ~9 hours until fork tender. Remove from cooker, shred and dress with BBQ sauce and cooking liquid to taste. If you are just making one sauce, you can probably get by with one recipe of the below Kansas City one, but will maybe want two of the bourbon sauce.

  • Bourbon BBQ Sauce, recipe available here
  • Kansas City BBQ Sauce, recipe available here

COLESLAW:

1/2 small head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced. 1/4 head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced. 1 carrot grated. 2-3 spring onions very thinly sliced. Mix together with dressing. Can be done a couple hours ahead of time. But the longer it sits the softer it’ll get. Overnight will yield a tasty, yet watery slaw.

Dressing: 1/4+ a little more to taste, sour cream. 1/4 cup mayonnaise. 1-2 tsp lemon juice. 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar. 3/4 tsp sugar. 1/4 tsp salt. Pepper. – Mix ingredients adjusting quantities to taste.

Mayo/Aioli: 1 egg yolk, 2 tsp water, 1 small garlic clove grated, pinch of salt, 1/2 cup grapeseed/canola/olive oil or mixture of two (use no more than 1/4 cup olive oil,  as the olive flavor can be too powerful). Whisk the egg yolk, water, garlic and salt together. Continue whisking vigorously while drizzling in the oil.

Simple Supper: Endive & Apple Salad

There are some nights when I’m just not that hungry and don’t feel like making a big deal about dinner. It’s just me, It doesn’t always need to be fancy. A salad is perfect on these kind of nights, and the other evening I made a simple yet tasty salad that was worth a quick post. It proves you don’t need a ton of ingredients to make it good.

I received endive, lettuce and apples in my CSA box this week and whisked together a simple dressing with my home made mustard (yes, I’m still working my way through it!) and shallots (yes, I’m still working my way through those, too!). To be honest, endive doesn’t taste like a whole lot, but I love the middle ground texture of it mixed with the lettuce and apple, and the sweetness of the apple is great with the mild and slightly tart dressing. The salad would be great with some fish or chicken on top too, because let’s be honest, on most night just a salad just doesn’t do it.

The recipe below makes a lot of dressing, so be prepared for leftovers or adjust the ratios for how much you need.

Endive & Apple Salad (main dish for 1 or side salad for 2-4)

Toss the following ingredients in a bowl:

  • 2 small-ish endive heads, sliced about ½ inch thick
  • ½ apple, cored and thinly sliced
  • 6 or so leaves of red-leaf lettuce

Dressing:

  • ¼ cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon or whole grain mustard
  • 1 tsp finely chopped shallot (about 1 small)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ cup salad oil of your preference (I used a combo of olive and canola)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the first 4 ingredients and continue to whisk while slowly pouring in the oil. Toss the salad with a couple tablespoons of dressing to evenly coat and to taste.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, original recipe here

Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli with Mushroom Brown Butter

Finding a cooking companion is kind of like finding a good traveling partner. It’s best if you have a similar level of expertise, a mutual vision of your end result (and are willing to make little compromises along the way) and ideally have a comfort level with one another such that you can do a little ‘kitchen dancing’ in small spaces, if needed. The past two meals I’ve cooked with friends, I’ve been very lucky to have good cooking chemistry – sharing ideas and coming up with REALLY tasty meals, like last night’s fresh ravioli!

Kelly and I are friends through work and since we had a big meeting yesterday, we decided to celebrate by utilizing the pasta attachment left at her house last weekend. We opened a of wine and began to knead, chop, saute, roll and pinch. She had just gotten spinach in her CSA box, and I had mushrooms from mine last week, so we decided to go simple with a spinach-ricotta filling and two different sauces: mushroom brown butter and creamy tomato.

They were great! It was so fun to really see the little Italian pockets of flavor come together and I was shocked at how easy it was. We used spinach and basil in the filling, which yielded a firmer texture than just ricotta alone and the brown butter sauce was really amazing – salty and a little crisp, finished with a squirt of Meyer lemon, which was a bright end note and nice complement to the heavy butter. All in all, a huge success that was the result of a great culinary partnership.

Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli

Dough

  • 2 1/4 cups semolina flour
  • scant 1 tsp of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons oil

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl whisk egg, water and oil together. Add to flour and salt. Mix until combined and starting to clump. Turn onto lightly floured surface, pull dough together and start kneading. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and springy. Note: The dough is tough! Just keep on kneading. You should feel it change textures as you go – first very grainy and eventually much smoother. After 10 min, once dough is smooth, flatten into disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 min.

Filling

  • 15oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 bunch baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp basil, finely chopped
  • handful grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt to taste

Wilt the spinach in a saute pan. Cool and squeeze out excess water. Chop finely. Combine with all other ingredients in a bowl. Be sure to taste the filling and make sure it’s got enough salt and basil to your liking.

Assembly

After dough has rested in fridge, remove and roll to about 1/4 thick (or just thick enough to fit into the widest setting on your pasta machine). Note: you may want to cut the dough into a few piece to make them easier to work with. Run through the pasta machine, starting on the widest setting and going down one level after each run through. We went down to 4 on a setting of 1-8. Note: since the ravioli edges are double thick, I would go thinner next time – to level 5 or 6. Lay rolled pasta sheets on a lightly floured counter and place rounded teaspoon sized dollops of the filling on top. Cover with another piece of dough. Gently press the top piece of dough on top of and around the filling, being sure to squeeze out any air around the filling. Lightly press surrounding layers of dough together. Pinch out ravioli with a crimper or ravioli punch. Separate and move aside to wait for cooking.

Cooking

While assembling ravioli, bring a pot of water to boil. Place several ravioli in the boiling water. After a few seconds they will float to the top, let them hang out there for a few more seconds and remove – totally cook time is maybe a minute. Note: Be sure to test one or two ravioli first! Every dough and water will be different, cook until aldente – it will NOT take long.

Mushroom Brown Butter ‘Sauce’

I use the term ‘sauce’ lightly for this one, because it’s really just brown butter with mushrooms. The mushrooms will soak up a lot of the butter, so they are meaty and rich – you really don’t need a lot of it to make a big impact. Quantities are to adjustable to your liking and how much you need.

  • wild mushrooms, rough chop
  • ~4-7 Tablespoons butter
  • salt
  • fresh lemon

Heat a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly brown. Note: you can start and stop here while the dough is resting and finish the rest of the way when the ravioli are cooking/done. Melt rest of the butter and as it starts to bubble add back the mushrooms. Cook until butter is browned and mushrooms are crispy. Sprinkle in salt and finish with squeeze of about 1/4 of a small lemon – adjust salt and lemon to taste. Spoon over fresh ravioli.