• Tomato, Cheddar And Bacon Salad

    Tomato, Cheddar and Bacon Salad.

    Here in California, Indian summer is (finally) in full swing. This means we get a few weeks of end-of-season tomatoes, and we do try and make the most of them. As noted in the blog, we generally make Caprese salads with our tomatoes, or even match them with blue cheese for a tangy dish. But as we move toward fall, we like to match up the tomatoes with bigger, meatier flavors. Around here, that usually means adding bacon.

    And since we make our own bacon and need to use our ripe tomatoes, this dish pops-up regularly on our table. And if matching tomatoes and bacon, then cheddar cheese won’t be far behind (no, we don’t make our own cheese…yet). In fact, this salad is really a deconstructed version of one of our favorite versions of grilled cheese and/or filling for omelets. The sweet acidity of the tomato matches with the salty, crunchy bacon and the sharp, creamy cheddar cheese- a good range of flavors and textures. We also add some Italian parsley, oil, vinegar, seasoning and (optionally) a little hot sauce to round out the dish. This salad has a lot of flavor and will please a crowd.

    Making the salad is as easy as browning some bacon or pancetta, slicing tomatoes and grating cheese. But we do suggest a few things to make the most of the dish. Firstly, using a few varieties of tomatoes (we used purple Cherokee, Valencia and Sungolds) adds depth of flavor and texture. Secondly, be sure to use the best bacon you can get and cook until very crispy, the crunch adds a lot to the dish. Sharp cheddar cheese, white or orange, works best. Sherry vinegar plays very well with tomatoes, but cider vinegar will also work. A little heat will add a lot to the dish, if there is a hot sauce you like, a few dashes on the tomatoes will take this dish over the top. Finally, make the dish a few minutes ahead, allowing time for the cheese to reach room temperature and the flavors to meld is worth the wait.

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  • A Visit To Brookside Orchids

    Just a few miles away from our “farm” there is a little secret. Tucked behind a farm stand and an equestrian center, lies a small, balmy haven of color, Brookside Orchids. We will do a full post on this amazing business, but in the meantime we visited to pick up a gift and couldn’t resist taking a few photos (and we do mean a “few”- there is so much more to share). Walking around in a warm, humid greenhouse filled with thousands of orchids and hanging plants is simply delightful. It feels like a dream. Here are some photos for the weekend…

    An orchid that evolved to look like a fly…cool.

    Bat Lily, not an orchid, but amazing to look at.

    We leave you with an orchid that smells like vanilla and licorice, It only flowers a few days a year, but it certainly draws attention when in bloom.

  • Mojo Pork Shoulder Roast: Our Go-To Fall Roast

    Mojo Pork Shoulder Roast.

    A few years ago we hosted an “Orphans Thanksgiving” at our house. The guests were friends who, for whatever reason, didn’t connect with family for the holiday. It was a fun night, and keeping with the somewhat irreverent theme, we cooked BBQ Pulled Pork for Thanksgiving. Everyone loved it (sorry, but we like pork way better than turkey), but we all felt that, while tasty, the pork roast should be a bit more formal, like a true “roast”. With that in mind, we worked on a few recipes until we can up with this version of pork that uses a mojo-based marinade and cooks low-and-slow in the oven. Now it’s our “go-to” recipe when we host informal dinners, and holiday dinner parties. This dish is easy to make, but does take time and requires a few extra steps, but it is very much worth it- and the leftovers rock (more on this later).

    So what is mojo? And why pork shoulder, and not a loin or rib roast? Well, first, mojo is a Cuban-inspired marinade of garlic, herbs, salt, oil and vinegar. It goes incredibly well with pork and you can tweak the herbs to fit your tastes and even match the sides you plan to make. Many mojo recipes include sour orange juice for a more Caribbean flavor, but we omit it in this recipe so we can use apples and apple cider as a flavor base for a more “fall-themed” sauce. As for the pork shoulder, we use it because when cooked low-and-slow it is the tastiest and most tender cut of pork available. It’s also very affordable. And since we use a bone-out pork shoulder, we can rub the mojo into the outside and inside of the pork for extra flavor. This does mean you need to tie the roast, but it is worth the extra effort.

    Making the dish is easy, but is a 2-day project. It also has a few extra steps, but they make the difference between a “good” and “great” roast. On day one you make the mojo by chopping fresh herbs (thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary all work) and garlic and then mixing with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Then you take your pork shoulder (untie it, if already tied), poke a bunch of holes in it and rub the mojo all over the pork. Be sure to cover all the pork, inside and out and push the mojo into all the holes. Then wrap the pork or place it in a large container in the fridge overnight, or up to two days, the mojo will flavor all the meat. The whole thing should take about 15 minutes.

    As for day two, remove the pork from the fridge and scrape off most of the mojo from the outside of the roast (the garlic will burn, yuk) and retie the roast (see Notes). Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Next, place a large, lidded dutch oven or heavy pot over medium high heat. Add some olive oil and brown the roast, about 5 minutes on each side until you get a nice crust. Then remove the roast from the pot to a plate or cutting board. Meanwhile, rough chop a few large apples and an onion. Add the apples and onion to the pot with a cup of apple juice or cider. Then place the roast on top of the apples and onions, put the lid on the pot and place the pot in the oven. Cook for 4-6 hours, or until the roast reaches and internal temperature of 190 degrees. And yes, you want a high internal temperature, it breaks down the collagen into the gelatin and makes pork shoulder so tender and “finger-licking-good”. Once the roast reaches 190, remove it from the oven and leave it alone for 1 hour. Then remove the roast from the pot and let it rest for at least 15 minutes on a large cutting board. Then the roast is ready to serve.

    As far as a sauce is concerned, the pork goes incredibly well with just applesauce. But you can also use the cooking liquid as a quick jus, or you can make a quick gravy. Usually we strain the apples and onion from the sauce, reduce it while the pork rests and make a quick roux to thicken the gravy. We put a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in the gravy to add some brightness and acidity. Good stuff and not much extra work.

    So, in the end, you get a tasty and tender pork roast that will easily feed 10-12 people. And while the process takes a few days, the active time is less than 40 minutes. A good return on the effort. And you do get a final bonus, the leftovers. We take any left over pork, cut it into small pieces and place it into a hot skillet with a dash of oil and a bit of chili powder and cumin. After a few minutes the pork crisps-up into something very much like carnitas. The next-day tacos are even more popular than the roast…. Continue reading

  • Cocktail DIY (And Bonus Cocktails): Pineapple And Raspberry Syrups

    Pineapple and raspberry syrups.

    One of the main things we enjoy about cocktails is how many ways we get inspiration to try new drinks. This week, Mixology Monday came back to life with an “Equal Parts” theme and we submitted a fun (and a little goofy) cocktail that we enjoyed, the Long Island Planters Punch. But what makes Mixology Monday really fun is trying other people’s creations. And now we have over 25 drinks to try (click here to see the lineup, very cool). One of our favorites, so far, is Shake, Strain and Sip’s Undiscovered Country a Corpse Reviver variant using pisco and Swedish Punch (it was a good excuse to finally buy some pisco). Another favorite is Chemistry of the Cocktail’s Shrunken Skull, a tiki drink with grenadine, but also works with raspberry syrup. Hmm….so now we have some pisco and a desire to make raspberry syrup. Anything else we can do?  Well, yes- since we had pisco, we had to make pineapple syrup to mix up some Pisco Punch, a true classic. (Like we said, “inspiration”, not necessarily “organized thinking”).

    Pisco Punch.

    Mountain Clover Cocktail.

    Unfamiliar with pisco and Pisco Punch? Pisco is brandy from Chile and Peru using local grapes from their wine industry. It is strong, a bit spicy and musky with hints or grappa (at least to our tastes). It is unique stuff and perhaps tough on its own, but very good in cocktails. And the most famous is the Pisco Punch, a simple combo of pisco, lemon juice and pineapple syrup. Cocktail historians have beaten the history of this drink to death (and beyond), but suffice it to say that in later 19th-Century San Francisco if you were blotto worse-for-wear, Pisco Punch had something to do with it. (Paul Clarke has a good, brief history piece here.) And there is a good reason the Pisco Punch was so popular, it’s really good. The musky notes of the pisco match with the sugar and funk of the pineapple and the lemon adds brightness and acidity. Pisco Punch is true cocktail alchemy, and it’s way-too-easy to throw these back…and a good reason to make pineapple syrup. And once you have pineapple syrup it works in other brandy drinks like the Brandy Fix or as a good substitute for simple syrup in Tiki drinks.

    As for the Raspberry syrup, it used to be a very popular cocktail sweetener, particularly before Prohibition. Used in dozens of drinks like the Clover Club, the Pink Lady and the Davis Cocktail, raspberry syrup adds great color and bright sweetness that’s lighter in flavor than grenadine. But, for whatever reason, grenadine took the place of raspberry syrup in many recipes during the later half of the 20th century. Happily, the cocktail renaissance brought raspberry syrup back from obscurity and there are plenty of DIY recipes, or you can buy it in stores. We decided to make our own, it’s easy and we still have raspberries. And after playing around with some classics, we made a Clover Club variant called the Mountain Clover with dry gin, lime juice, raspberry syrup and St. Germain. The light, bright sweetness of the raspberry syrup plays well with the gin and lime and makes for a very balanced sip. It looks like a grenadine-based cocktail, but is something very different. Worth a try.

    Making both these syrups is very easy. Both use fruit, sugar and water. The pineapple syrup uses a “cold” method and the raspberry a “hot” method, but the process is basically the same. Cut or mash-up the fruit, cover with a simple syrup, put it in a jar, let it sit a day or two, strain out the fruit (mash in a bit more of the juice) and bottle the syrup. (And keep the left over pineapple pieces to put on ice cream or toast, good stuff). Top with a bit of vodka or Everclear to extend the life of the syrup, if you like. Store in a tightly lidded jar in the fridge. And then prepare to make awesome cocktails.

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  • Simple Garden Recipes: Cinnamon Applesauce

    Cinnamon Applesauce.

    One of the great things about cooking from the garden and orchard is a constant reminder to stick to the basics. If you just spent “x” months growing something (or waiting “x” months to buy it fresh and local), you want to taste what you’ve been waiting for. And most of the time when we stick to the basics the quality and flavor of seasonal produce really shines through. Now, we are still big fans of “brined-balsamic-glazed-sous-vide-nut-crusted-finished-in-a special-artisan-brick-oven” dishes. But sometimes the ingredient speaks for itself. And this is very much the case for apples. We use them all kinds of ways, but in our house the two best preparations are eating out of hand and making cinnamon applesauce.

    And if you don’t think much of applesauce, we suggest you make some of your own (and be ready to change your mind). Homemade applesauce rocks. Good by itself, applesauce is great with pancakes or on toast, and is a common ingredient in many healthy desserts. And applesauce is easy to make (particularly if you have a food mill- more on that later, see Notes). also, if you buy in season, apples are tasty, plentiful and cheap. As for the varieties to use, Gala, Fuji, Jonagold, Jonathan, Golden Delicious and Melrose are all recommended, but most apples will work. We use our Gravensteins…we have a lot of them.

    Making applesauce is a simple process. Cut and core apples, add to a pot with water, sugar and spice, cook, mash, taste, adjust sugar/spice and serve. There are a few tools and tricks that do help, a food mill makes it easy to mash the apples with the skins on, otherwise you need to do it manually with peeled apples (not a big deal, but a time-saver). We also use date sugar for deeper sugar flavor, but white sugar works just fine. And, of course, we put cinnamon in our applesauce for extra spice to balance the sweet apples (and the kitchen smells great when cooking). And once the applesauce cools you have a tasty, healthy snack that will keep in the fridge for about a week.

    So how do we serve our applesauce? As we mentioned, it’s great on toast and pancakes and even better served with roast pork (yes, recipe coming). But mostly, our kids (bless them) will just grab some out of the fridge, pour it in a bowl and eat it. And then they ask, “are these our apples?” and when we say “yes”, they say “cool” and get back to eating. It may not sound like much, but for a home cook and gardener, it doesn’t get much better. Like we said, sometimes it’s best to stick to the basics.

    Cinnamon Applesauce:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Most apple varieties will work for applesauce, but ask at your grocer or farmer’s market for best available varieties.
    • We use date sugar for a slightly richer, “darker” flavor, but white sugar works just as well.
    • A food mill is a tool worth having for all sorts of uses, but really makes applesauce a snap. They are cheap and available at most kitchen stores. If you don’t have one, peel the apples and then simply mash them in the pot. The texture will be a bit more rustic, but the flavor will be just as good.

    What You Get: One of the best ways to enjoy apples. A great dessert and/or side dish.

    What You Need: A food mill is a big help, but not required. No other special gear needed.

    How Long? About 90 minutes total, with about 10 minutes of active time. Most of the time is to allow the applesauce to cool. This can be an “anytime” dish, but mostly a fun weekend or evening project.

    Ingredients:

    (Makes 3-4 cups)

    • 4 pounds apples, cored and cut into quarters (peel the apples if not using food mill)
    • 1 cup water
    • 1/4 cup date sugar (or white sugar)
    • 2, 3-inch cinnamon sticks (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the apples, water, sugar  and cinnamon sticks in a large dutch oven or lidded pot. Cover and cook, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the apples break down. About 15-20 minutes.
    2. Place the apples, in batches, into the food mill and process into a large bowl. Taste. Add sugar and/or water to adjust flavor and consistency (add ground cinnamon, if using). Serve warm, or allow to cool for one hour and store in jars. Will keep in the fridge for a week.
  • Teriyaki Chicken in Lettuce Cups

    Teriyaki Chicken.

    Teriyaki Chicken in Lettuce Cups.

    If there is one thing we know about cooking, it is the “80/20 rule”. And in the case of cookbooks, this is almost doubly true. We tend to get more than 80% of our recipes from just 10%-20% of our (ever-growing collection of) cookbooks. So when we get a new cookbook and we find a bunch of good recipes, it is cause for a small celebration, or at least some extra cooking. And it looks like we have a winner with Debra Samuels’ “My Japanese Table“, her book on simple Japanese home cooking. So far we’ve made a number of recipes like Sushi Balls (good stuff and good fun) but often it is the simple recipes that define a good cookbook, and Samuels’ recipe for Teriyaki Chicken is a great example.

    Samuels describes Teriyaki sauce as “the Swiss-Army knife” of Japanese sauces, and that description is spot-on. Sweet, salty and tangy, Teriyaki goes well with chicken, beef, fish, veggies and rice. It just works, and we use it often, particularly as a glaze for fish. But, somewhat shamefully, we never made it ourselves. Happily, Samuels has an easy recipe and we decided to make it, and we are unlikely to ever buy store-bought Teriyaki again, homemade is much better. The homemade sauce has bright flavor with just enough ginger, glossy color and smooth texture.

    Making the Teriyaki sauce is simple. Just combine, simmer and reduce mirin (Japanese cooking wine), sake, brown sugar, soy sauce and fresh ginger. It takes about 45 minutes. but you can make Teriyaki in large batches and it will keep in the fridge for at least a month. But unless you make a very big batch, we doubt it will last that long- you can use Teriyaki on pretty much anything. Basically, you can put this on a shoe and it will taste good…but why not try Teriyaki Chicken, instead?

    And while it seems so “old-school”, good homemade Chicken Teriyaki is incredibly tasty, and a reminder of why many of us fell in love with Japanese cooking in the first place. And it’s easy to make. Simply season and brown chicken breasts (skin on or off) then add some of the Teriyaki sauce and simmer the chicken, turning often, until done. Then, while you rest the chicken, reduce the remaining Teriyaki and chicken juices into a thick glaze. Coat the chicken with some of the Teriyaki glaze, slice and serve.

    And how do you serve Chicken Teriyaki? Samuels suggests with rice, shredded lettuce, some toasted sesame seeds, and a squeeze of lemon, and that will be very good. But we suggest making lettuce wraps (like ssam) with the sliced Teriyaki chicken, Japanese rice (or coconut rice), toasted sesame seeds with a variety of sliced fruits and veggies. In this case we used sliced peaches, quick pickles and avocado. Tasty, and a pretty complete meal. (And while perhaps not traditional, a few drops of Sriracha also work pretty well.) But however you serve Teriyaki, the bright big flavors and beautiful color will remind you this is a dish you should make more often… Continue reading