Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bellini in a Jar

The Bellini, a magical concoction of juiced white peaches and Prosecco, is rumored to have been created at Harry's Bar in Venice.  Harry's bar was a haunt for literary figures and for the glitterati of society, during the early 20th century.  Those who passed through the doors included Orson Welles, Noel Coward, Truman Capote, Somerset Maugham, Barbara Hutton, Peggy Guggenheim and a host of others.
The drink is made by juicing white peaches, and putting the pits of the peaches into the juice, turning the juice pink.

 The juice is poured into glasses, with Prosecco, a delicious sparkling wine from the northern regions of Italy.  The good news is, that you don't need to pay a fortune to buy a good bottle of Prosecco.
Here in San Diego at Specialty Produce, the stone fruit has been amazing.  When I stopped by on Saturday, I picked up way more peaches than we could possibly eat, and so I decided to replicate my favorite beverage in a jam using these succulent peaches.

Using a combination of yellow, and white peaches, I had about 10 cups of peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped peaches, and put them into a heavy bottomed saucepan, with 3 cups of sugar, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of Prosecco--this gives you the rest of the bottle to enjoy while you are making the jam.  Bring the mixture to a boil, and boil for 10 to 15 minutes.  I'm not a fan of pectin, but if you choose to have jam that is really thick, add the pectin according to the package of directions.  

This is a great Prosecco that you can find at Costco
The peaches will cook down. I like to take an immersion blender, or potato masher and mash the fruit when it's cooked down.  This is totally optional, the fruit will soften to the point where it falls apart when cooking.
This yielded two 4-ounce jars, and two 8-ounce jars.  You can process these in a water bath for 10 minutes, if you would like, or the jam will keep in the refrigerator for about 6 weeks.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Something from Nothing

There are some nights when I have no imagination or creativity left to make dinner.  Those are the nights I look in the fridge and pantry to find "nothing".  Fortunately, there is always bacon, cheese, and eggs, along with the odd 1/2 pound of pasta in the pantry.  Last night was one of those nights, after spending most of the day writing, I had zero left in my brain to think about dinner. 
So, Carbonara it is! Basically eggs, bacon, cheese, lots of ground black pepper and pasta, you will find this dish on menus throughout Italy.  There is a lot of bad carbonara out there, and the secrets to a good carbonara, are room temperature ingredients, and pasta water.

I didn't have any guanciale or pancetta, so bacon would have to do.  This was about 5 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces.  Fry it till it's crispy, and take out all the bacon fat from the pan.
3 egg yolks, about 1/3 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and lots of ground pepper---whisk it up and keep the whisk in there, since you'll be adding some pasta water to this, to temper the eggs, and make sure they don't turn into scrambled eggs.  There is a quandary as to whether to use Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano---Parmgiano was the first thing I saw in the fridge, hence it's in the Carbonara!
While the bacon is frying, heat the pasta water.  For Dr. C. and I used 1/2 pound of linguine.  While the pasta water is boiling (about 3 minutes short of al dente) Take about 1/2 cup of the salted pasta water and add it to the eggs and Parmigiano, whisking until the eggs and smooth.  Turn on the heat under the bacon at this point, to about medium. 
Drain the pasta, and turn into the skillet with the bacon, add the egg mixture and turn the pasta incorporating egg mixture.  Turn off the heat under the skillet, and continue to turn the egg mixture until it clings to the pasta and has created a creamy sauce.  If you find it dry, add a bit of reserved pasta water, or some good quality olive oil, and continue to turn the pasta until it is to your desired consistency. 
Serve the pasta garnished with additional cheese.  

Carbonara means "charcoal burner"; the tradition is that this pasta was a hearty dish served to men who worked the coal mines--hence the copious amounts of ground black pepper that look like coal dust. Other theories are that after World War II, many Romans were making this dish with bacon and eggs supplied by the allied troops who occupied Rome after the German surrender. All I know is that carbonara can make something out of nothing. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I love pickles!  I guess the first step is admitting it.  Unfortunately, store bought pickles can sometimes taste old, and not so great.  At this time of the year when pickling cucumbers are coming in to Farmers' Markets and to Specialty Produce here in San Diego, I get in a little over my head and buy them because there are so many ways to pickle a cucumber.  I'm not talking about canning jars, and buckets of boiling water to process them in, I'm talking about refrigerator pickles that can be eaten over a week, right out of the fridge.  Today when I was at Specialty Produce, I picked up some pickling cucumbers, and decided it was time to get some into the fridge for the fourth of July weekend. 
Scrub the outside of cucumbers with a vegetable brush, and then slice thinly. 
I like onions in my pickles, so I sliced a red onion the same thickness.  Sprinkle salt over the cucumbers and onions in a colander set into a bowl.  The salt will draw out any excess moisture in the cucumbers and onion, so as not to water down the pickling marinade.  Let the cucumber mixture stand for 1 hour.  Then drain off any excess moisture. 

I didn't prepare a typical pickling brine for these.  I have a recipe I use to make pickled onions for burgers, and decided that I'd use that instead.  It's simple and makes these great for tossing into salads,  onto burgers, or your favorite sausages or hot dogs. 

Pickled Cucumbers and Onions

Makes about 4 cups
This recipe is easily doubled, or halved depending on your needs.
4 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
sea salt
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
pinch red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano

  1. Toss the vegetables with the salt in a colander, and drain for 1 hour. 
  2.  In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, oil, pepper and oregano, and pour over the vegetables.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. 
  3.  The pickles will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Drain off the pickling juices after 3 days. 
Wishing everyone a happy Fourth of July weekend! 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Have You Met the Tayberry?

Today I was at Specialty Produce and was given a box of tayberries; they look like an elongated red blackberry.  They cannot be harvested by machine, so they are picked when ripe and need to be used immediately.  Not having enough for more than a bowl of cereal or yogurt, I mixed them with some other berries, and I've made a pie with a crumble topping.
I added blackberries and some chopped strawberries to the tayberries, and then decided they would all bleed so much juice that I'd better cook them a bit before I put them into the pie crust.
Cook them for about 5 minutes, with some sugar and orange juice

I strained the juice 
I made a crumble topping because I love the crunchiness mixed with the berries

There was quite a bit of liquid left over, I'll use it to decorate the plate, and drizzle over the pie and ice cream because yes, there will be ice cream

If you have a lot of liquid leftover, use it to flavor lemonade, mixed drinks, wine spritzers, or use as a drizzle over cake, or ice cream.
And, we have pie!

Black, Tay and Strawberry Crumble Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chilled shortening, cut into bits
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1/4 cup ice water

  1. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour and salt.  Distribute the shortening and butter over the flour, and pulse on and off until the shortening and butter begin to be absorbed by the flour.  
  2. With the machine running, add 2 tablespoons of water, and continue to add water just until the dough begins to come together.  Don't let it form a ball.  
  3. Turn it out onto some plastic wrap and form into a disc.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat the inside of a 9-inch pie plate with non-stick cooking spray.  Roll the dough out onto a floured board, until it is 11 to 12 inches in diameter. Put into the prepared pie tin, and pinch the sides into a decorative pattern or use a fork to make a pattern on the dough at the edge.  Refrigerate while making the berries.  

For the Berries
1 cup tayberries
1 1/2 cups blackberries
1 cup strawberries, hulled, and quartered
1/2 cup sugar (more if the berries are tart)
2 tablespoons orange or lemon juice

  1. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the berries render some juice.  Strain the berries through a fine mesh strainer, and reserve the juice.  
  2. Put the berries into the pie crust.  

For the Crumble
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon.  
  2. Drizzle in the butter, stirring with a fork, until the mixture begins to come together.  
  3. Sprinkle over the berries.  Bake the pie for 45 to 55 minutes, until the berries are bubbling, and the crumble is golden brown.  Allow the pie to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving with ice cream. 

After a little research I found that tayberries have a lot of pectin and will make a fine jam; I'm thinking tayberry and peach or nectarine would be awesome.  The Stone fruits coming in right now are awesome, so take advantage of the season and make some Christmas presents in June. If you come upon a fruit that you aren't familiar with at a Farmer's Market, use your Specialty Produce App, it's free and amazing.  Check the Google Play and I-Tunes Store and download it. 
My warning is that you will be splattered with juice, these berries are so juicy, so wear an apron when you make this---I didn't and probably won't be able to get the stains out of my white shirt.  Ah well, the price one pays for preparing great food. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Father's Day

I did not meet my dad until I was about 3 months old.  He was a Naval Officer stationed on board a ship during the Korean War, so my mom went home to Northern New Jersey to live with her parents and await my birth.  Yes, I AM a Jersey girl!  When Dad came home we moved to Hunter's Point, in the Southern San Francisco area to a Quonset hut.  If you don't know what these are, they are grey corrugated metal buildings in the shape of a 1/2 moon. (that's my dad and I in front of ours)  They were divided up to house 3 to 4 families.  Yes, even then the military housed us in substandard housing and called it "free".
My dad's career had us moving every 2 to 3 years, from the East Coast to the West and back again.  He was gone a good part of the time, so there really was no male presence in our lives, save for my grandfather and uncles, who were usually on the opposite coast.  When my dad would come home, none of us knew what to do with him, and frankly I'm not sure he knew what to do with us, but he did his best, providing for us, giving us a love of history, reading and writing notes.  I still have many of the notes he wrote to me, some of them still scorch the page. 

My dad (left) relieved of command, USS Preble, in Okinawa, Japan 1961
  This brings me to fathers in general....although many are not biological fathers, they stand in when the child needs them, and they take over if necessary.  I'm convinced that no one is born with the instinctive nature to be a father, we learn parenting on the job, and sometimes it is not a job well learned.  Today could be a sad and painful day for many, with the loss of a dad, or a dad whose presence causes old and ugly memories to surface, or it could be a joyful day, celebrating those who contributed to our formation and loved us through the difficult moments of life. 
1981, many hair colors ago!
Today I celebrate my husband, who has been an amazing role model for our children, teaching them values, along with modeling hard work, integrity and love.  And to all those who have stood in for him, when he wasn't able to be with us, thank you for being there for my children, you are the extended family who have cared for and nurtured them when they needed it most.  I'm grateful for all the dads today, for their love and caring for children, no matter what age.