Monday, June 4, 2012

Flor de Calabaza Sopa

So what do you do with half a pound of zucchini flowers and 15 pounds of zucchini?  Panic?  Nay.  You make two loaves of zucchini bread (2 lbs.), make Flor de Calabaza Sopa (Squash Blossom Soup) and give the rest away!

We had heard of Squash Blossom Soup but had never been in a position to make it, either through the fickle nature of the ingredient or time constraints.  Jim had had a decadent dish of fried ricotta and chive stuffed squash blossoms at a posh restaurant in St. Moritz (no kidding), but had never worked with this product before.  But the zucchini plants never seem to sleep!

Looking on the Interwebs, we found many recipes for Squash Blossom Soup.  They all incorporated the "usual suspects": fat (butter or olive oil), garlic, onion, squash blossoms, chicken stock, and a dairy product yet they lacked the balance of acid and any herbs and/or spices.

We came upon this recipe and it seemed right.  Our doctoring is in italics and because we doubled the recipe, we have re-written the recipe below...

Flor de Calabaza Sopa

Serves 4
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium white onion, finely diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 6 cups / 180 g squash blossoms, cap and stamen removed, chopped
  • 2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 cup veggie broth  (we used no veggie broth but 2 more cups of chicken broth)
  • 1/2 jalapeno, minced or sweet red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt
  • sour cream (optional) : we used the creme fraiche that we had made the day before.
  • Add-ons:
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish
  • Dollop creme fraiche for garnish
We served the soup with Brian's Bread Cracked Wheat Sourdough bread with the Zucchini bread for dessert.

With 12 pounds of zucchini left over, guess what we're having for dinner tomorrow?  Yeah , we couldn't give it all away....

Yours squashfully,
Jim and Peta

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hollandaise Redux

As the garden, work and family life keeps us super busy, we find the need to have shortcuts which are not a compromise on quality.  So we were very happy when our regular Sunday morning brunches with our great friends Monica and Chris lead to the discovery of a "cheats" Hollandaise sauce!

We don't think you will often find us quoting Better Homes and Gardens - New Cook Book - but this is a winner.  It has the right consistency, richness and tang that a good Hollandaise deserves - and it is fast.  Peta bought Jim a saucier for christmas and in this we are able to make a great sauce, without the fuss of a double boiler (just make sure you keep the heat down low and stir constantly!)

1/2 Cup butter
3 beaten egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
dash salt
cayenne pepper

Cut butter into thirds and bring to room temp.  In the saucier or top of double boiler, combine egg yolks, water, lemon and salt.  Add a piece of the butter.  Place over low heat (saucier) or boiling water (double boiler).  Cook, stirring rapidly with a whisk, till butter melts and sauce begins to thicken.  Add the remaining butter, a piece at a time, stirring constantly till melted. Continue to cook and stir till sauce thickens, then immediatley remove from heat.  Add cayenne to taste.

We must confess that we are such Hollandaise freaks - so for the 4 of us, we double the recipe, so we can have a little left over for asparagus or some other dish!

Enjoy the quickie... especially on a Sunday!

Jim & Peta

Thursday, May 3, 2012


We became enamored by the Seared Halibut with Sweet Corn Sabayon as created by Cat Cora for an episode of Master Chef, one of Gordon "You Donkey!" Ramsey's eleventy billion cooking shows.  Chef Cora is able to cook the dish in something like 18 minutes.  Yikes.  We've done it several times now, often for our occasional "special" guests, i.e. people that you can fail in front of, like family, and it always takes a lot longer than 18 minutes, but it sure is tasty.

The title of the dish is only half of the story.  Once you sauce the plate with the sabayon and plate the fish, you top the whole thing with a mixture of sauteed thinly sliced red onion, fava beans, arugula, corn and cherry tomatoes that she calls the "salad".  This is a real "composed" dish with all of the major flavors represented: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.  (Note that this sabayon (or zabaglione) is savory in nature and thus does not include the sugar and sweet wine of a "normal" sabayon.)

The first time we attempted the dish, we were not happy with the consistency of the sabayon; it was just too runny.  When Peta's brother Sean-of-London visited last year, we cooked it for the second time and the results were the same with the recipe as printed until we added another egg yolks.  With the added egg yolk, the sauce seems to set up better and coat the plate without being too thick or too watery.  You can just ladle it onto the plate and give the plate a swirl and voila, a sweet and savory, mostly circular, eggy base on which to plate your fish and salad.  Super chef-y.

This time, Jim's mom was our test pilot.  We found fresh fava beans at the farmer's market at a reasonable price, but as Jim went looking for the corn and cherry tomatoes, we realized that at nowhere on the planet would sweet corn, arugula, cherry tomatoes and fava beans be in season at the same time.  Sure, this is California, but still.  While at our new favorite store New Frontiers (bulk grains!  oil-cured olives!  marrow bones!), we picked up some frozen sweet corn and utterly flavorless, "organic" Mexican cherry tomatoes while CJ's Lolo (Jim's mom) held down the fort.

We shelled the outer husks of the fava beans while watching the Daily Show and the next day gave them a quick parboil and removed the tough outer skins.  But seriously folks, here's a link to fava beans.

It's an expensive meal with the halibut (we used Alaskan rather than the local Californian because it was thicker, yeah, we know, we're evil.) but it's a keeper.

This is out first actual food picture on the blog.  They just don't look like the ones on other blogs, so that's what's been holding us back.  Clearly, we'll be looking into the lighting/angle/lens requirements of shooting food, although we have no problem with shooting food with a Remington Model 700 BDL when the opportunity presents itself.  Down goes the venison, down goes the venison!!

Jim and Peta

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fruit + Meat = Good?

This post is about our second attempt at Tacos al Pastor which is essentially pork and pineapple on corn tortillas.  We chose to use this recipe that we found highly rated on Epicurious both times. The first time we cooked it, the flavors were great but we followed the marination schedule to the letter and wound up with very mushy meat.  Very mushy.  We knew that pineapple has an enzyme that can tenderize meat, but 4 hours is just way too long to marinate, even with 1/2 inch thick pork.  Chris and Monica were troopers for eating it at all.

So the second time, we did a bit of research and determined that the enzyme is bromelain and tenderizes meat via a process called "forking".  This enzyme is heat-labile and loses its ability to fork/tenderize meat above 65C, so fresh pineapple does it, but canned and pasteurized pineapple juice does not.  We added the marinade an hour before dinner rather then the four hours the first time we tried it and figured that we were safe.  Wrong again!  The combination of too-thinly-cut meat and the full hour produced mushy meat, albeit less mushy than the first attempt.

But the flavors keep calling us back.  The next time, we will take the advice of this blogger who recommends holding the crushed pineapple and juice back until 30 minutes until the meat hits the grill.

Additionally, the first time we made this dish, we didn't have a tortilla press so that process took forever.  Our guests for the first round bought us a press for a house warming gift for "the next time", so that was a big improvement.  We just added a little less than a cup of water to a cup of masa harina or nixtamalized corn flour and 1/8 tsp of baking soda.  I suppose that the baking powder is there to lighten the dough with CO2 produced through an acid-base reaction, but what's the acid?  I've seen many other recipes that do not call for a leavening agent and your thoughts on this issue are welcome.

Jim and Peta

Here's a picture of the nixtamalization and masa production process, 'cause food science is cool.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Weed Eaters

Last night, we all became a family of weed eaters, even CJ.  Before you get all, "I'm calling Child Protective Services on these terrible parents" we are talking about stinging nettles.  They are the things that you brush against while walking through tall grass and weeds -- wearing shorts.  "Ow, what the hell was that?" you might ask.  You re-trace your steps and you find this plant below and recognize it as the Stinging Nettle -- the Taser of the garden.

Now, in our garden it's pretty much a rule that most things are either killed and eaten or just killed.  Stinging nettles were in the latter camp until the other day.  We rediscovered the blog Hunter Angler Gardner Cook after learning that our friend Page had gone boar hunting with the blogger.  On it, we found a recipe for Pesto d'Urtica or Nettle Pesto and decided to try it for ourselves.

After blanching the nettles while wearing rubber kitchen gloves, Peta shocked them in ice water to stop the cooking process.  We then followed the "usual" recipe for regular basil pesto and added appropriate amounts of olive oil, garlic, black pepper and parmesan cheese into the Cuisinart but we used walnuts rather than pine nuts (since we didn't know if it would be any good, we didn't want to use the more expensive nuts). 

What??  Cuisinart and not the traditional mortar and pestle?  Sacrilege!  Yes, we know that the end product isn't the same, but we're busy people these days!  As we tasted the pesto along the way, Peta realized that the pesto would benefit from a bit of brightness so we added a bit of lemon juice.  That did it.

We added this pesto to angel hair pasta and a few sautéed shrimp and had a great laugh watching our 14 month old slurp up the capelli d'angelo.  The pasta was too thick for this sauce but that's all we have on hand, so we added so more oil olive for increased "slurpability".

Jim and Peta

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

La Noche de Tapas en Arroyo Grande

We held a tapas dinner party over the weekend and wanted to do a couple of the same recipes that we had done at a similar party we held in Marin.  Unfortunately, we came here to FoodFixers ourselves to find the recipes and realized that we had not blogged about them.  It's always a bit of a pain to re-find the exact recipe that was such a success the last time you cooked it.  So, if nothing else, we're going to use this post as a recipe repository.

We may do a different albóndigas the next time even though this one kicks so much ass.  With this recipe you end up blowing through a lot of saffron and almonds, both expensive items, and the result is not the same as that you'd get in a restaurant, which always seem to be more tomato-based.  Perhaps the next time we'll go for that flavor.  

This recipe comes from a book given to us by Peta's brother.  It's an interesting Middle Eastern cook book that is organized by ingredients.  This one we found under pistachios but the main ingredients are those right in the recipe title.  But trust us, even though it may sound weird, the flavors are great and Peta whips up a Meyer lemon aioli that really complements the dish.  

The last time we made the dish though, we had to put toothpicks in the tops of the tubes to keep the stuffing from bursting out.  However, in the interim of our move, we saw a show hosted by our man, Alton Brown.  He suggested that the squid tubes be turned inside out to allow for a sort of self closing since the outside skin tends to curl outward.  That trick worked a treat.  Also, I would recommend buying the cleaned squid tubes rather than having to do as much cleaning/dissection as Jim did.

While all of this cooking was going on, Peta managed to "whip up" a Walnut Cake.  Jim thought that it was going "a bridge too far", but it was excellent.  Just don't skim on the whipped cream since it can be a little dry.

Our guests brought a variety of excellent food, but I'll let them blog about it if they want to!

On to the next meal...

Jim and Peta

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sausage Fest

No, this is not a post about a party where only dudes are in attendance.  It's about our experience making Italian sausage with venison and British bangers with pork.  Jim has made a variety of types of sausage from deer and goose (no kidding), but it was Peta's first time.  Last year's three types of sausage were a bit too much work, so we cut it down to two versatile types.

We made the sausages a month ago, but our inspiration to blog about it was a viewing of River Cottage's "Pig In A Day".   It's tough to find episodes of River Cottage online and we haven't gotten around to purchasing the series from the BBC, so we were well pleased to stumble across this video.

According to these experts, we made some mistakes along the way such as not frying off a small portion of the recipe to ensure that the seasonings are correct.   But the most amazing thing was Hugh's partner in crime's ability to tie up the sausages.  Granted, he's a butcher, but we'll do the two sausage tie-up next time rather than our twist technique (fail).  On the positive side, we did pass the meat through the large-holed plate once, added the seasoning and then passed it through again.  The Kitchen-Aid grinder attachment works a treat, but it fails as a sausage stuffer.  Additionally, there was a bit of grease from the worm-gear that we saw on some of the meat.  We didn't die from it last year, so whateryagonnado?  Also, we let the sausages hang for a few days to dry off.

For both of the recipes, we used recipes from a site called  We half expected a real "sausage-fest" to pop up, but these guys are legit and we have re-posted the recipes here.  We did not add the MSG to the Italian links and they taste great, but the bangers were not salty enough (see above: frying off).  All of the sausages were made with natural casings.

This favorite pizza topping is a coarse pork sausage, generally sold in plump links. Italian sausage is usually flavored with garlic and fennel seed or anise seed. It comes in two styles: hot (flavored with hot, red peppers) and sweet (without the added heat). It must be well cooked before serving, and is suitable for frying, grilling or braising. The recipe below is a hybrid of hot and sweet.
  • 15 pounds boned pork butts
  • 2 ¾ cups very cold red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon works nicely)
  • 7 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 7 tablespoons fennel
  • 6 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 3 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons caraway seed
  • 1 teaspoon MSG
Grind all of the pork butts through a one-quarter inch or three-eighths inch plate. Refrigerate the ground pork until well chilled - ideally 32 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the meat is chilled, thoroughly mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl. In a large bowl or lug, thoroughly mix the wine and spice mixture with the ground pork. Immediately stuff into 32mm to 35mm hog casings. Hang the stuffed sausage in a cool place until the casings are dry to the touch. Refrigerate or freeze immediately after drying.
If you do not have a sausage stuffer, you can store the sausage in patties or in bulk. Refrigerate or freeze as desired.

Banger Seasoning
  • 5 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon salt [note: this should be more]
  • 2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 lb. boneless lean pork shoulder or loin cut in cubes
  • 1 lb. fresh pork fat in cubes
  • 1 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3 1/2 teaspoon Banger seasoning
Grind pork and fat together using plate of meat grinder.
Add Banger Seasoning and mix well.
Grind again.
Stuff mixture into casings and tie in 4-5 inch lengths.
This mixture will be too fine to form into patties.

Bake or sauté as you prefer.

The first time we sautéed the bangers, the casings stuck to the pan, we didn't prick them and they exploded.  Then the second time, we poached them first, but didn't prick them, so half of them exploded.  The third time was the charm though!  Success.  We prick the bangers with a fork, poach them in simmering water for 10 minutes, remove the water, dry the pan and sauté until a nice brown color is achieved.

To complete the dish, Peta removes the bangers, adds onions and sautées them, adds a bit of olive oil if the pan is dry and adds a tablespoon of flour.  She cooks it to remove the raw flavor and to prevent lumps then adds whatever beer we have on hand to make the gravy.  Serve it with some mashed potatoes and some green vegetable.

Yours Sausagely,
Jim and Peta