Monthly Archives: April 2014

Ham Broth, Lentils, and Friends, Oh My!

Our recent trip to California was a time for us to revisit our one time home. The Bay Area is a wealth of beauty; ocean, mountains, vineyards, and redwood forests. We experienced it all, but the real reason we were there was to spend time with our friends. We became friends through involvement with our children’s school and sports activities. Now the kids are all grown and PTA is a distant memory, but the friendships continue.thew girls-cary Our friends Barbara and Bill graciously put us up for our visit. Besides giving us a lovely room with an on-suite and access to the deck, They shared their kitchen and recipes with us.1975125_837475866267752_138434878420943405_n Barbara made egg scrambles and smoothies for breakfast using greens and herbs  from her garden and Lemon Drop Martinis with fresh Meyer Lemons from her tree (not to worry, said martinis were enjoyed in the evening,) While we never had ham, we talked about it and how we used the ham bone. I’ve been somewhat of a traditionalist, making one bean soup or another. Barbara, the native Californian made Ham Broth. She used the broth to cook greens and other vegetables as well as to make soups. How much healthier is that? Instead of letting all the ham fat that lingers on the bone cook into the beans and other soup ingredients, the ham bone is simmered alone with a few aromatics much like a chicken carcass. The result is a rich and flavorful stock that once skimmed is an almost fat-free cooking base. 

Easter dinner left me with among other things, a lovely ham bone. I had celery in my veggie stock bag in the freezer and of course carrots, onions, and garlic. The red pepper flakes were to counterbalance the innate sweetness of the ham.DIGITAL CAMERA   DIGITAL CAMERAI sweat the veggies in a soup pot that I sprayed with non-stick spray. They started to get happy and I added the ham bone. then about 2 quarts of water (enough to cover everything.) I brought it to a boil reduced the heat to simmer and let it simmer DIGITAL CAMERAcovered for an hour and a half or so. I strained it and put it in the frig for 24 hours. When I returned the fat was a semi solid mass floating on top of the stock. It was easily dispatched with patience and a spatula. The stock that remained was a little like liquid ham; sweet, smokey, and salty (but in a good way). I had 5 cups of this golden jewel.DIGITAL CAMERAWhat to do with my new-found treasure? Lentils came to mind. I often make lentil soup with a ham bone. Why not take a lighter approach and cook the lentils in the ham stock? Needless to say, no extra seasoning was needed, the ham stock made it “just right.” Cooked lentils are quite versatile. DIGITAL CAMERAThey can be a side dish as is, but lentils make a wonderfully hearty yet healthy salad. I cooked the lentils “al dente” for the salad. The firmer texture was a nice counter-point to the crunchy vegetables. DIGITAL CAMERAA simple lemon and balsamic dressing gave just the right amount of tang. This made two perfect lunch size servings.  I froze the rest of the Ham Stock until my next inspiration arrives.

Lentil Salad
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This is a great way to use cooked lentils. It makes a light and healthy main dish salad.
Servings
2
Servings
2
Lentil Salad
Print Recipe
This is a great way to use cooked lentils. It makes a light and healthy main dish salad.
Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Put rinsed lentils and stock in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove lid and lower heat to simmer and cook stirring occasionally until stock is absorbed. The lentils should be al dente. Drain any remaining broth once they are cooked to this point. Cool.
  2. Combine the onions, peppers, tomatoes, parsley, and string cheese with the cooled lentils in a large bowl.
  3. Put the lemon juice, garlic, balsamic, pepper, and olive oil in a small jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until well blended.
  4. Pour the dressing over the lentils and vegetables and toss to combine. cover and chill for several hours. Serve
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gary & jeffThanks again Barbara, for giving me this great idea. While the “thank you wagon” has pulled up…. Jan, thanks for the warmestbill & jeff barbecue we’ve been to in your back yard. Tony, thank you for the Zinfandel Port, we think of you when we drink it. Karen and Jim, thanks for always being able to pick up where we left off. Cary and Matt, thanks for your amazing senses of humor and for navigating our plane reservations. Karen, thank you for a Brunch fit for the Easter Bunny himself. the guys - billYou are the best friends anyone could ask for.

Love Mama D

For the Love of Bruschetta

Bruschetta is a wonderful dish. Born in Italy it has taken over this country like wildfire or should I say grill-fire since the bread is traditionally toasted over a flame. The original recipe is the essence of delicious simplicity.  Hearty, maybe slightly stale bread rubbed with a garlic clove and drizzled with olive oil and lightly charred over a fire. Simply topped with tomato it is the epitome of deliciousness. As with any wonderfully straightforward dish the ideas for variations come quickly and without reservation.

b street and vine signThe charred bread base is the perfect canvas for culinary creativity. I dined at a restaurant on my visit to Northern California that has made a successful business of serving Bruschetta as their main attraction. B Street and Vine is a small restaurant in downtown San Mateo. The menu is simple, some soups, salads and paninis, but the star(s) of the show are 14 kinds of Bruschetta that also grace the menu. It’s what most people come for and it is worth the visit. That’s why we came and we ordered all 14 of them. A good time was had by all.bruschetta b streetI’ve been playing with Bruschetta recipes for quite some time. I have to say I’m a tomato based fan, but I’ve dabbled in other toppings and have served a Bruschetta Bar on many occasions. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A big basket of beautifully charred bread and an array of toppings. Homemade ricotta, olive tapinade, and roasted pepper salsa are just a few items that can shine on a slice of bread. Better yet add sweet or savory toppings of your choice and combine them to create an infinite variety.DIGITAL CAMERA

I have two favorite recipes for Bruschetta, one fairly traditional and one not so much. They both however feature tomatoes.

Mini Gourmet tomatoes are popping up everywhere. DIGITAL CAMERAYou can get them at almost any grocery store, and Trader Joe’s often has containers of mini Heirloom tomatoes. DIGITAL CAMERAThese seem to have a sweet flavor and subtle crunch year around. The colors vary from bright yellow to deep brown.

Many Bruschetta use garlic and balsamic vinegar to make their dressing. This uses Sherry Vinegar, Shallots, Rosemary and Thyme.  Agave syrup or a touch of sugar gives a rounded flavor. 

Mini Gourmet Tomato Bruschetta
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Mini Gourmet Tomato Bruschetta
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cut the tomatoes into small bite size pieces and put into a medium sized bowl.
  2. Add the shallots and herbs and toss to mix.
  3. Put vinegar, oil, and agave (sugar) in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake to blend completely. Pour over the tomatoes and herbs and toss to blend.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss again. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Serve on crostini.
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I mention Crostini as the platform for this recipe and that is what the picture shows. The difference between this and Bruschetta is a little like hair-splitting. While Bruschetta is generally grilled and remains a little tender in the center and often names the topping as well, Crostini is usually sliced thinner and is toasted to delicate crispness. I don’t think anyone would take offence if you interchanged the names. They are both  marvelous bases for whatever you choose to top them with.

The next Bruschetta recipe uses more traditional ingredients and can be served as an appetizer or salad as you wish. It uses fresh mozzarella so you could even make it a main dish with some crusty rustic bread. My mozzarella of choice for this recipe is Ciliegine (the name means cherry in Italian) a bite size ball of mozzarella.

Grape Tomato and Ciliegine Mozzarella Bruschetta
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Servings
8 As an appetizer
Servings
8 As an appetizer
Grape Tomato and Ciliegine Mozzarella Bruschetta
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Servings
8 As an appetizer
Servings
8 As an appetizer
Ingredients
Servings: As an appetizer
Instructions
  1. Put the halved tomatoes into a medium size bowl.
  2. Place the olive oil and garlic in a small pan. Heat over very low heat until the garlic just begins to sizzle. This takes less than 5 minutes and needs to be watched carefully. DO NOT LET THE GARLIC BROWN.
  3. Remove the oil and garlic mixture from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Pour over the tomatoes.
  4. Add the ciliegine to the tomato mixture and toss gently to combine.
  5. Add the balsamic using the amount that tastes right to you. Gently stir in the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least 4 hours.
  6. This is great as a bruschetta on toasted bread. It also makes a wonderful salad
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In the vast possibilities bruschetta offers there’s something for everyone. On a healthy note, servings of any bruschetta tend to be small and your topping choices can reflect your desire to be naughty or nice. I plan on serving Mini Gourmet Tomato Bruschetta with Multi-grain Bread for Easter “appies”. It should be a nice balance to the naughty Au Gratin Potatoes at dinner. Happy Spring. Love, Mama D

Memories of Farmer’s Markets and Grilled Vegetables

DIGITAL CAMERAHere in the Midwest, early Spring is a time for taking special joy in a crocus or daffodil peeking out from the slowly thawing earth. It’s a time for thinking about what flowers, herbs and vegetables will grace the garden. Farmer’s Markets haven’t started yet since the local farmers would be hard pressed to have anything to sell. Even the grocery store has limited choices. Fruit from Chile, vegetables from Mexico and the end of hard shell squash leave little to stir up inspiration. Only asparagus and artichokes hint that Spring is coming.San Francisco 2014 015

Other parts of the country experience Spring differently. Take Northern California for example. There are always flowers blooming. Iris, poppies, jasmine and roses grace front and back yards. Walking around the neighborhoods, you smell the subtle fragrance of the sweet greenness that is Bay Area Spring.

Farmer’s Markets are always going on. The moderate climate (yes, I chose to leave) allows markets to occur year around. While they have a more limited selection (for them) at this time of year, the choices were mind-boggling to my Midwestern sensibilities. 

Rainbow chard that really looked the part. DIGITAL CAMERAStrawberries that were plump and red and full of flavor. strawberriesThen there were the mushrooms… I couldn’t begin to identify half of them, but boy, were they pretty.San Francisco 2014 029

While the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market (inside and outside) was a visual banquet, the Market held at  College of San Mateo though less fancy, was still inspiring. We went to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for a Mama D prepared dinner and we had plenty of choices.

Imagine being able to choose the size of asparagus you want. This particular vendor had small, medium, and elephantine. For our purposes, we chose the medium. Big enough to grill but still turn out tender crisp. DIGITAL CAMERAThe fresh picked artichokes also had small, medium, and mammoth representatives. We opted for the small size as they would be the best on the grill. Grill worthiness determined the bundles of Baby Bok Choy as well.

DIGITAL CAMERAOnce we got our bounty home, we cleaned and prepped them. The artichokes were cut in half and par-cooked in the microwave using Mama D’s Artichoke Recipe. Artichokes require a good bit of cooking to be tender and succulent especially if there is a grill in their future. This also allowed me to remove the choke before putting them on the grill. Their garlic, lemon, and olive oil precooking bath gave them some seasoning so all they needed was a brush of olive oil before they finished cooking on the grill.

The Artichokes were joined on the grill by the Bok Choy, Asparagus and some wonderful Chicken Sausage from Trader Joe’s. The Bok Choy jumped on the fire with a brush of olive oil and some salt and pepper. You could marinate them if you are so inclined. I always marinate my asparagus before I put it on the grill. It’s a blend of olive oil, lemon and balsamic that would be delightful on the Bok Choy or any vegetable you are putting on the grill.  From asparagus to zucchini, a little marinating and a little grill love make them beautiful, tasty, and healthy. San Francisco 2014 139One caution…Bring your wine or whatever you’re drinking out to the grill with you. The oil anointed veggies can go up in flames in a heartbeat.

Marinade for Grilled Vegetables
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This makes enough marinade for 2-3 pounds of vegetables. The herbs and spices you invite are strictly up to you. It would also make a great salad dressing or dipping oil for the grilled vegetables.
Marinade for Grilled Vegetables
Print Recipe
This makes enough marinade for 2-3 pounds of vegetables. The herbs and spices you invite are strictly up to you. It would also make a great salad dressing or dipping oil for the grilled vegetables.
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until well blended.
  2. Place cleaned and trimmed vegetables in a zip top bag. Pour the marinade into the bag and seal completely. Marinate for at least 4 hour or overnight. Turn the bag several times to distribute the marinade evenly.
  3. When ready to grill, remove the veggies from the marinade shaking off the excess. Large vegetables can go directly on the grill. Asparagus and other slender items should go on a grill rack or wok. Save the marinade.
  4. Grill until tender crisp, basting occasionally with the reserved marinade. Cooking time will vary with the vegetable.
  5. Remove the grilled vegetables to a large platter. Drizzle with a little more of the marinade and/or a Balsamic reduction. Serve.
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DIGITAL CAMERAA drizzle of Balsamic Reduction was the perfect crowning touch.

I’ve got more California adventures to share. They’ll be appearing here, as well as on Pinterest and Face Book . I have to thank my wonderful friends who opened their homes and kitchens to me. Time spent with good friends in a beautiful setting with delicious food and more than a little wine is possibly the best way to spend a vacation. Thank you one and all.                            Love, Mama D

 

 

 

California Here We Come

We are heading to California tomorrow. We will be visiting our very dear friends in San Mateo. It’s been far too long since we have been together. Alaska 2004 034These are the friends we made as our children grew up in the Bay Area. As good luck would have it, we have remained close even though our children have grown and we now live several thousand miles apart.Scan_Pic0047

We are looking forward to being with them…lots to catch up on, but it will feel like only yesterday. We’ll also be taking in all that the area has to offer including Sonoma Wine Country (Dry Creek Zinfandels, here I come), Farmers Markets, The City, and the Coast. There will be lots of time for visiting as well.Scan_Pic0046

Plans are afoot to make this a trip we won’t forget. I’ll share our adventures here and on Face Book so stay tuned.