• Super Bowl Snacks: Guacamole Revisited

    Putney Farm Guacamole and a cold beer.

    Putney Farm Guacamole and a cold beer.

    Well, the Niners did make it to the Super Bowl, so our series of snacks for the big game will have a more positive note (and perhaps some hints of red and gold). And we will have to come up with a cocktail to celebrate the event….but for now, let’s look at that big game staple, guacamole. According to some very precursory internet research, Americans eat over 8 million pounds of guacamole on Super Bowl Sunday. But what that too often means is millions of pounds of avocados get mixed with something like salsa and mashed up. Other than the color, evidence of avocado is often masked by copious garlic, citrus, tomato and pepper flavors. Good, but really “avocado salsa”.

    guac2guac3There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this type of guacamole, and if you have a recipe you like, please use it. And if the avocados aren’t at their best, adding more flavors will certainly help. But what if you have really good, ripe Hass (you really want Hass) avocados? We suggest you cut one open and taste it. Maybe add just a dash of salt. Doesn’t it taste great? Sweet, clean and creamy with some earthy notes? Beautiful color? Yes? Then maybe you can try a version of guacamole that is all about the avocados.

    guac4guac7guac8And we do have a basic recipe that really works when avocados are at their best. Three avocados, one minced shallot, the juice of half a lime, a teaspoon of salt, a pinch of black pepper and a scant teaspoon of hot sauce. Dice the avocados with a butter knife in their skins (see the photos). Add the diced avocado to the other ingredients and fold them together, so some of the avocado chunks mash, while some keep their shape. Taste, tune (just a bit) and refrigerate for at least three hours. The taste again, the flavors will have melded and mellowed. Season with more salt, lime and/or hot sauce one last time, and then serve.

    guac9guac10guac12 Continue reading

  • Flowers Amidst The Falling Leaves

    Just as we have falling leaves amidst the flowers, the flowers still thrive among a shower of fallen leaves. The flowers never quite leave us here in Norcal. It gets colder, and some die back, but the rain brings new growth. And even in winter, the sunny days confuse encourage the flowers and they spring forth. The roses keep up a good fight and herbs thrive with the rains.

    We will have a frost this winter, as we always do. The Bougainvillea will die back to almost nothing, the roses will succumb and the herbs will wither. But the Narcissus will leap up and spring will come again. The leaves will turn green….and new colors from the flowers won’t be far behind…

  • Beef Tri-Tip Roast: A Good Meal For A Small Thanksgiving

    Kobe Beef Tri-Tip Roast. A special treat.

    It may seem like sacrilege, but we don’t serve turkey at Thanksgiving. No ham either. Nope, we serve a version of our slow-roasted pork with apples and fall herbs and some kind of roast beef. If we have a big crowd, we roast a whole Tenderloin, but if we have a small crowd, we roast a Tri-Tip. And if we want to splurge, a Kobe Tri-Tip is one of our favorite roasts.

    The Tri-Tip is a triangular 2 to 2 and 1/2 pound cut of beef from the bottom sirloin primal of the cow. It has strong beefy flavor and, if cooked and sliced properly, is quite tender. Out here in California, “Santa Maria Style” Tri-tip, lightly seasoned and slowly cooked over red oak to medium-rare, is a very tasty regional specialty. And if you go into most butcher shops here in Norcal, you will find many custom Tri-Tip preparations and marinades (the black, ugly, but incredibly tasty “Fred Steak” is a local specialty). And as a special treat, most butchers feature a Kobe Tri-Tip. And this is a very special treat.

    While it’s expensive, the Kobe Tri-Tip is a great intro to Kobe beef. Kobe beef is a special type of beef with extra marbling of fat (fat is flavor) and very tender meat. Kobe is expensive, but the Tri-Tip is one of the more affordable cuts and is easy to prepare. The beefy flavor of the Tri-Tip doesn’t need much help, so we simply prepare a quick rub of olive oil, salt and pepper and let the steak marinate for at least four hours or overnight. Then you simply sear the outside of the meat for flavor and then slowly roast until the internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees for medium-rare.

    We use our sous-vide machine for the Kobe Tri-Tip, as we can exactly control the internal temperature (we target 131). We then sear in a cast iron pan, slice and serve. But you can grill Tri-Tip using a two-level fire, or roast in a hot oven. We include cooking instructions for each method. The key to any Tri-Tip recipe is to avoid overcooking, so regardless of method, be sure to pull the roast from the heat before it reaches the target temperature (it will still gain five to ten degrees) and allow the roast to rest at least ten minutes before you slice and serve. And be sure to slice across the grain for a more tender bite. And now you have a very tasty roast that is the perfect size for four to six guests.

    So if you have a small group of guests for Thanksgiving, we have a suggestion. Make all the traditional sides like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, creamed spinach, stuffing, cranberries and pie. Pop open a good bottle of wine or cider, maybe make some punch. But save yourself a lot of time and cook up a Tri-Tip. And if you are feeling flush, try out a Kobe Tri-Tip. You won’t have to struggle with a turkey and you will have very happy guests. And if you just can’t bear the thought of beef at Thanksgiving, Tri-Tips are just as good for a casual weekend roast. Tri-Tip makes a good meal any time.

    Beef Tri-Tip Roast:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Tri-Tip is sometimes called “triangle steak”. If you can’t find Kobe Tri-Tip, ask your butcher, it is a popular cut and usually can be ordered.
    • Tri-Tip does not have a lot of intra-muscular fat and is not a good roast to cook past medium rare. If you need to cook a roast past medium, other cuts will do better.

    What You Get: A quick, easy, tasty and tender beef roast.

    What You Need: No special equipment required. But a digital thermometer, or meat thermometer reduces the risk of overcooking. We cook this roast sous-vide, but the grill or oven also work well.

    How Long? If grilling or oven-roasting this dish takes about 20-30 minutes. Sous-vide cooking will take 4-8 hours and then 2-3 minutes of searing the meat. The beef benefits from an overnight marinade.

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 4 – 6)

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1, 2 and 1/2 pound Tri-Tip roast, trimmed (Kobe, if you like)
    • Vegetable oil or bacon fat, for searing (if cooking sous-vide)

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Dry off the Tri-Tip and coat with the oil mixture. Put the roast in a container or plastic bag and then place in the fridge for 4 -12 hours.
    2. If charcoal grilling: Build a two-level fire. Sear the roast for 2-3 minutes on each side, on the hot side of the grill. Then move the roast to the cooler side of the grill. Cover the grill and cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    3. If gas grilling: Set up the grill for high heat. Sear the roast for 2-3 minutes on each side. Then move the heat to low, cover the grill and cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    4. If oven roasting: Preheat the oven to 425. Place the roast in a roasting pan (with a rack, if possible) and put the pan in the oven. Cook for 5 minutes and then lower the heat to 350. Cook cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 – 30 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    5. If using sous-vide: Set the sous-vide temperature to 131 degrees (or your desired temperature). Remove excess oil from the roast and seal in a vacuum bag. Cook sous-vide for at least 4 hours, 6 – 8 is preferred. When the roast is done, heat vegetable oil or bacon fat in a skillet over very high heat. Sear the roast 1 – 2 minutes on each side, or until well browned. Slice and serve.
  • Easy, “Perfect” Mashed Potatoes

    Easy, Perfect Mashed Potatoes.

    Ah, the “Mashed Potato Martini”, the symbol of swanky 1990′s catering. A cocktail glass brimming with buttery mashed potatoes and topped with your choice of butter, sour cream, bacon, cheddar cheese, chives and parsley. A pleasant, if somewhat excessive, relic of the dot-com era. But just as the excesses of dot-com left some valuable companies and technologies in their wake, the mashed potato martini left us with a valuable legacy, we got serious about making “perfect” mashed potatoes.

    And by “perfect” we mean, tasty, easy and predictable. And a recipe that easily scales for large events. After a few years of intermittent experiments we developed this recipe / process and never looked back. The basics are simple, we use Yukon Gold potatoes and plenty of cream, butter and salt. And we have just a few techniques that make a big difference in texture. And, of course, we add a plenty of extra butter, bacon, cheese, etc. We just don’t believe in “light” or “healthy” mashers. We save that for kale dishes.

    As for the ingredients, the main difference is using Yukon Gold instead of starchy Russet potatoes. The Yukons are a mix between waxy and starchy potatoes, and they have an overt “buttery” flavor. The big advantage of the Yukons is that they don’t dry out like Russets. So while you do need cream and butter, the Yukons add their own moisture without being watery. You get a creamy texture and pronounced potato flavor to match the dairy and salt. Good stuff.

    As for the key techniques, they are also very easy, but important. Firstly, after you drain the potatoes, put them back in the hot pot and mash with the warm dairy. The hot pot dries out any extra water (you don’t want watery mashers). Secondly, only mash just enough with the masher and then move to folding with a spoon. Too much mashing makes for a gluey texture, better to have a few lumps. And finally, have extra butter and milk ready to mix into the mashers if they seem stiff or dry. And feel free to keep adding butter…hard to go wrong. Then adjust seasoning, serve with more butter on the side and you’re done. All in less than 30 minutes. Perfect.

    And if you want to be “fancy” there are a few other steps you can take. If you just hate lumps, you can run the mashers through a fine mesh strainer to get a very smooth consistency (if you do this, you may as well add as much butter as you can- like a mousseline). And lastly, if you want to pull out the martini glasses and add a bunch of garnishes you may get a few extra smiles at the table. A slightly ridiculous, but also delicious, dish for the “holidaze”.

    Easy, Perfect Mashed Potatoes

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Yukon Gold potatoes are widely available. Use the largest Yukons you can to save time on peeling.
    • This recipe is for 4 – 6 as a side, but scales easily for larger groups.

    What You Get: Like we said, perfect mashed potatoes.

    What You Need: A potato masher, or a ricer. But the masher is the best tool for this recipe.

    How Long? About 30 minutes, with 10 minutes of active time. This is an anytime dish. Continue reading

  • Braised Short Ribs

    Braised Short Ribs with horseradish sauce.

    Typical of California this time of year, in one day we went from eighty degrees and sunny to forty-five degrees and rainy, with snow in the higher hills. And while the rain does turn the golden hills back to green, we will still take the warmer weather as long as we can get it. But one of the benefits of colder weather is that we get to make some more “wintry” dishes, and that often means braises and stews. And one of our favorite braises involves beef short ribs.

    Short ribs are a cheap, flavorful and tender (if you cook them right) cut of beef from the rib/plate section of the cow. Short ribs are butchered a few different ways, but for braises the rectangular “English” cut is usually preferred. The longer, thinner “flanken” or “accordion” cuts are more commonly used in Korean-style preparations, which are fantastic, but for another post. The short rib pieces are anywhere from 1-3 inches across and 1-2 inches thick and will usually contain a section of the rib bone. As there is a lot of fat and connective tissue (along with a bone), the short rib has potential for a lot of flavor, but is likely to be tough unless cooked long enough, at moderate temperatures and in a moist environment. Sounds like a braise is in order.

    Braising is a combination cooking method where meat is first browned in dry, high heat and then slowly cooked in a covered pot along with liquid. And if you just said “isn’t that just like a pot roast”, you are correct. The high heat provides tasty, browned flavors and texture, while the moderate temperature, moist cooking breaks down tough cuts of meat and builds a sauce. The addition of aromatics and herbs and flavored liquids like wine and/or stock make for very deep, rich flavors. And while braising takes time and has a few steps, it is an easy cooking method and has the bonus that most braises keep well and are often better the second day. If you cook for a hungry family or a crowd, braises should be in your toolkit. (It is worth noting that braised short ribs are a popular dish with caterers for all the reasons we just noted, delicious, low-cost and easy to prepare ahead of time.)

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  • Simple Garden Recipes: Chard Gratin

    As a family, we love greens. And we don’t mean salad greens (although we love them, too), we mean greens, kale, spinach, collards and chard. And one of the many blessing of northern California is that we can get almost any of the hearty greens we want, any time of the year. The cool, often foggy, coastal areas provide a consistent environment for growing most greens regardless of the season. We slow cook the heartier greens (see here for a recipe), but for the sweeter, more tender greens like spinach and chard, we often chose to cook “au gratin”.

    Au gratin simply means cooking a vegetable or protein with a top crust of breadcrumbs, cheese and/or butter, but most recipes these days also include a base sauce like béchamel. Gratins are easy to make, taste great and are also a way to introduce very healthy vegetables to doubting kids (and adults). Our gratin of creamed spinach is one of our staple holiday dishes. Everyone loves it, it’s easy (we use frozen spinach), you can make a huge batch ahead of time, and the leftovers work with almost anything. But for smaller meals, we enjoy making a gratin of sweet, nutritious chard. This dish isn’t just a way to use up some veggies, it’s a real treat.

    The key to the dish is the sweetness of the chard, while some of the hearty greens need a little help, chard is very sweet on its own. And that should not be much of a surprise, as chard is a close relative of the beet, which is also known for its sweetness. But unlike the beet, chard is all about the tender, nutritious leaves (and the stalks that are less reedy than most greens). The leaves and stalks are so tender that, rather than a long cook, a quick parboiling and sauté prepares them for cooking in the oven. You get all the flavor and nutrition of a heart green like kale, but in a little less time.

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