Nov 21, 2008

off to japan

we are off to japan for 9 days. lots and lots of pictures to share with you upon my return. i bought the white ceramic plate in the fig photo above the last time i went to tokyo. i bought it at mitsukoshi in ebisu. can't wait to see what crazy great stuff i see this time. happy thanksgiving everyone.

Nov 19, 2008

let's talk about pie

i love pie. i love custard. i love squash. i love history.* we are headed to japan over thanksgiving break this year. we have been meaning to get back to japan for 4 years and now that the dollar is at an all-time low against the yen. we are going. i planned the trip back in july, before the economic news became so grim. on thanksgiving day we will be far away in a 400 year-old inn with volvanic hotsprings on the izu penninsula looking at mount fuji. but anyway, we aren't going to care about any of that now. back to pie.

not wanting to miss out on our favorite part of american thanksgiving, i made pumpkin pies last weekend. i prefer pie with a homemade crust, usually a pate brisee, with butter (never margarine or crisco or lard, never any of those, not ever). but even if i don't have time to make my own crust, (like this year when i am running around trying to pack, cancel the papers, hold the mail, lower the thermostats, notify the teachers, remember the essential toiletries, wash 100 loads of laundry, straighten the house), i buy a frozen crust made with the same ingredients i use. namely flour, butter, salt, a touch of sugar. nothing else. these are available frozen at whole foods. so, when i am too hurried to make my own crust, i am not too hurried to remove the crust from those awful-tasting aluminum foil pans and place them into a nice ceramic dish at home. i just love how it cooks in ceramic, and no sticking. a quality metal pan works great too. i just thaw the frozen pastry shells briefly until they become soft, hopefully lift them out of their foil and place them into my own pans. really a pretty smooth operation.

and i am no master of pie dough let me tell you. when i make a crust, i get covered head to foot with flour. a fine dusting of fresh flour covers all the surfaces of my kitchen, even under the burners on the stove, how is that even POSSIBLE? i wear a canvas apron, but it still gets all over my clothes. you get the picture. it is not a talent i possess, dexterity with doughs. they are misshapen and they tear and they are too thick and yet still they wind up delicious. but usually quite homemade and rustic in appearance. i persevere. just like the original colonists. does this post seem like it is going on and on, like forever? like as long as a new england winter?

i will try to get to the most important part. the custard. i like the pie to taste more like custard. for this you add some extra eggs. you also remove the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. WHAT you say? no cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves? yes, i say. you may think, that is not even pumpkin pie without all that pumpkin pie spice. but you would be mistaken i believe. if you think about it, those are very heavy spices, very strong tasting. and this is not called spice pie, is it? and this pie, it is delicious on its own, why do you EVEN NEED them? hmmm. tradition, perhaps.* well, i do add some flavor interest... i add a heaping spoonful of minced crystallized ginger and a tiny smidge of allspice. it has the hint of spice, but only a hint. this lets the wiggly jiggly custard pumpkin flavor sparkle and shine. and i am so thankful.

patee brisee for 2 open pies (joy of cooking has a nice recipe, so do julia childs and alice waters)
rolled out and placed in pans with edges attractively crimped or smooshed or just in there!
or 2 frozen all pie crusts (try to move them into your own pans, it is not too too hard)

2 15oz cans pumpkin**
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 TBSP minced crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, whisked
whisk the pumpkin, cream, milk, sugars, salt and spices together thoroughly. correct flavor if necessary (sweeter, ginger, etc) add in whisked eggs. pour into prepared pie crusts in pans. bake in a preheated oven set at 375 for 30 to 45 minutes until done, should jiggle just a bit in the center. when you make it in a tart pan as pictured above, it is done in 30 to 35. in a deep dish ceramic pie dish it takes closer to 40-45 minutes. allow pie to cool for 30 minutes before devouring.

r and the kids love whipped cream on their pie and make it themselves. 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 2 teaspoons sugar, whipped until soft peaks form. they love the whisking and gleefully take turns, imagining their reward.

* pumpkin pie history: i understand that pumpkin pie was originally invented as a LUNCH. not a dessert at all. i think it makes a fine breakfast as well.... supper even. also, in the new world pumpkin was plentiful, almost too plentiful, (pumpkin for breakfast lunch and dinner) and pies or puddings were frequently made without cinnamon or cloves, a ginger/allspice version was common. also a nutmeg, ginger and mace version. hows that for tradition? yes, that's right, often NO cinnamon NO cloves. sometimes apples below the pumpkin filling. i think i am going to start calling my pie, "historically more accurate pumpkin pie" no wait, i dont cook it in hot ashes do i? oh and there is that canned pumpkin issue... canning wasn't invented until the late 18th century. i understand we have napoleon to thank, he wanted to keep his armies well fed on the road and offered a prize to the person who could figure out long term food preservation. first they bottled food, but i imagine that would have been too breakable for wartime travel. short time later tins were developed.
** i use organic canned pumpkin, i have tried making the squash myself, it is laborious and the one time i did it the pumpkin tasted all watery and flavorless, not dense and rich. yes, i did use the smaller pie pumpkins they sell around here. altogether disappointing experience. i don't think i will try it again. unless someone out there can talk me into it.

Nov 18, 2008

around the studio

this week i am working on a few new pieces and continuing to work on the tiburon landscape. i am an abstractionist at heart, but i like to keep things interesting and work on portraits and landscapes now and again.

Nov 17, 2008

pasta dinner

last night it was simple. pasta with tomato sauce, freshly grated parmesano reggianno and asparagus with the aforementioned lemoney mayonnnaise. we haven't been eating pasta much lately, so it was welcome. husband was at a work dinner. topped it off with some pie. any meal that ends in homemade pie works well for me.

Nov 14, 2008

cutest baby vegetables

okay, i admit it. i am easily won over by adorable baby vegetables. but i am too frugal to buy them in MOST cases. but these were so perfect. so fresh. so colorful. i couldn't resist them. you may think, what fancy people they are eating those exotic baby vegetables. but no. we ate these with a simple and rather uninspired dinner, frozen chicken tenders and japanese short grain rice and roasted seaweed. now, the chicken tenders were all natural and even air-chilled, which i hear is a very good thing in a chicken tender. but the dinner arrived to the table in only 20 minutes and fit the bill for a busy thursday night. it was memorable. look they even look cute bobbing around in the boiling salty water.

Nov 13, 2008

the great chard massacre

someone brought home an extra large bundle of chard the other day. so seductively appealing: so dark, so leafy, so green, and rainbow (RAINBOW!) stems. but my goodness. once you get going. separating the giant (GIANT!) leaves from the stems. slitting (SLITTING!) down each side of the core with a large kitchen knife. then slicing them into reasonably sized strips. it starts to seem quite brutal (BRUTAL!). it also takes ages (AGES!) to get through such a large stack. even working as quickly as you can. i like to blanch it first, then saute. and of course the little chopped up stems are the most delicious of all, cut into 1-2 inch lengths and boiled until tender. saute with some chopped, cooked, russet potatoes perhaps. a few smashed cloves of garlic, plenty (PLENTY!) of olive oil. so healthy. so troublesome (TROUBLESOME!). but really quite good with some roasted or grilled meat. like a boneless pork chop or a roast chicken, or a white sausage, or any excuse at all really.

Nov 12, 2008

soothing soba noodles

when the weather turns cool and wet, I am always looking for some hot slippery noodles to warm our insides. frequently, perhaps too frequently, i turn to soba. buried under all those braised vegetables is some nice hot soba, or japanese buckwheat noodles, in a soothing dashi broth. the cucumber salad on the side adds just the right coolness and crunch to the soft, warm noodles for our purposes. munch munch. slurp slurp slurp. crunch.

Nov 3, 2008

fall color

surrounded by trees we are. i snapped this photo from an upstairs window last week, when there were still green leaves. no more. all orange and gold and yellow and brown now. so long leaves.

Nov 2, 2008

cambodian rice porridge with crispy shallots and cilantro

in any season, but particularly when the weather chills, i start to crave this dish, my all-time favorite food in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD. it all comes together in an hour and has bright flavor and comforting texture. yum. i can't even think about it without wanting to make it.

serves 4
1 cup brown long grain rice
8 cups natural chicken stock
(i use 2 health valley boxes)
2 TBSP minced cilantro stems
olive oil
4 TBSP thai fish sauce
1 TBSP brown sugar
for crispy shallots
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
3 scallions, chopped
olive oil
for fish and garnish
1 lb fresh mild white fish poached or steamed
(i generally use grey sole or tilapia here , but many others would work great: scallops or shrimp, even chicken...but it is not my favorite)
garnish with
lots fresh cilantro leaves, stems removed
3 limes, sliced

First, saute the sliced shallots and chopped scallions in a few TBSP olive oil on high to medium high heat until light to medium brown They will become crispy as they cool. Remove from pan and drain oil, place in small serving bowl.

Next, in a large stock pot, heat the pan. add 1 TBSP olive oil, add rice. saute for a minute or two on high heat to coat the grains of rice. When coated, add the 8 cups of chicken stock and minced cilantro stems, bring to boil. Turn to simmer and cook for 40 minutes until the rice is soft. Add fish sauce and brown sugar.

In a separate pan, poach the fish with salted water or stock, cilantro stems until just tender. Break into large pieces.

For each serving, ladle rice/stock mixture into a serving bowl, add several pices of fish on top. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and a spoonful of crispy shallots. Squeeze fresh limes into soup, add some thai chilli sauce if you like. Also, you can use white long grain rice, just reduce the cooking time to about 20 minutes.

Nov 1, 2008

artichokes and lemony mayonnaise

I just love artichokes, don't you? I love them best steamed/boiled, trimmed and served whole with a tangy lemon mayonnaise sauce. couldn't really be much simpler.

my kids love vegetables as long as there is a dipping sauce. when they were really little I would let them dip their broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans in a small dish of soy sauce. now they dip asparagus and artichoke leaves into the lemony mayonnaise. i suppose i could call this lemon aoili, but lemoney mayonnaise seems more accurate, since i don't make the whole lightly seasoned oil/egg mixture from scratch like my mom used to.

lemony mayonnaise
3-4 heaping TBSP store-bought organic mayonnaise
(I use Spectrum brand usually)
Juice from 2 lemons

mix sauce with a small wire whisk. serve in small dishes. dip with abandon.