Archives for the month of: August, 2011
Painting depicts ingredients for recipe polenta with peaches

Summer Breakfast. 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn Dimmick

My mother went to Reno for a few days, leaving me in the house with our three cats, so I had three days to observe how I cooked for myself while she was gone. When I lived alone I developed a fondness for one-bowl cooking, complete meals that fit in a single bowl. Friday morning I made one of my favorite summer breakfasts, polenta cooked in milk, seasoned with vanilla extract and stirred into a bowl of diced peaches. It was so good that I made it again on Saturday — in fact, it is what I eat for breakfast any time we have fresh peaches in the house, usually from late May through early October.

The secret to this recipe is a fresh, tree-ripened peach. I buy most of my peaches from Frog Hollow Farm at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. In formerly flush years I would buy them by the flat and we would eat peach waffles, peach bread pudding, peach cobbler. I would freeze peach puree to make waffles in the winter or spring. Now I buy them a few at a time: I bought four last Saturday, two Cal Reds and two O’Henry’s, enough for four breakfasts.

The other secret is cooking polenta in milk, which makes it lovely and creamy. I began cooking grains in milk when I broke my first bone five years ago, started cooking oatmeal in a cup of milk to make sure I would get daily calcium in the food I ate.

To make this dish, go out and pick a peach from your tree or buy a soft, sweet peach from your farmers’ market. Slice it and then chop the slices into smaller chunks. Put this into your cereal bowl. Then film the bottom of a saucepan with a little water, add a cup of milk, a dash of salt and a quarter-cup of polenta. Cook over medium high heat until it starts to bubble, then reduce heat to a simmer until it thickens enough to your liking. It’s a good idea to stir it frequently so that it won’t stick to the pan. When it’s done, remove it from the heat and stir in a capful of vanilla extract. Pour it over your peaches in your bowl, stir and dig in. The polenta warms the peaches. The juice from the peach sweetens the polenta. The yellows and oranges look like summer in a bowl.

 Depicts ingredients for whole wheat pasta with cilantro pesto and green beans

Cilantro Pesto with Green Beans. 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn DImmick

At lunch-time on Friday, I looked at the cilantro that I had bought a week before and stuck in a glass on the counter — I needed to use it. Cutting off the stems, I broke each leaf from its stem and tossed it into my blender. I went out and picked a Meyer lemon from the front yard, cut it, and squeezed it into the cilantro. I diced a red onion and minced half a clove of garlic. I added some chopped walnuts from our freezer (new crop has not come in yet). I moistened the mixture with some olive oil and started blending it while I got out some rinds of Parmesan, which I grated with my microplane. You can get a microplane, otherwise known as a rasp, at any hardware store — don’t bother with expensive versions from cooking stores: it is the best tool I know for grating hard cheeses and zesting citrus. I gave the blender a stir and added the cheese and a tiny pinch of salt.

Pesto done, I put on some water to boil and got down a package of whole wheat penne, taking out about a quarter pound (four ounces). While the water heated, I topped and tailed a large handful of fresh green beans and snapped them in half. I cooked the pasta for seven minutes or so, then added the green beans to the pasta water, cooking them for one minute more. I drained the pasta, scooped some cilantro pesto into a pasta bowl and stirred like mad to distribute it. It made a little more than I could eat — measurement is not my forte when I am not following a recipe — so I had a small serving leftover for Saturday’s lunch, which I ate cold — equally delicious. The lemon and onion in the pesto and the bitterness of the walnuts play off the sweetness of the green beans and whole wheat.

For dinner, I ate leftover Greek salad on Thursday and made a sandwich of leftover roasted pork loin with leftover apple coleslaw on Friday

Whole Wheat Pasta with Cilantro Pesto:

Combine in jar of blender for pesto

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed.
1 lemon or lime, zested, than juiced or squeezed
1 small red onion
1/2 clove garlic
2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil to moisten

Salt to taste

3 to 4 oz whole wheat pasta per person.

1 large handful of fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half.

Blend pesto. Cook pasta until almost done: about a minute out, add green beans to pasta water. Drain pasta and beans into a pasta bowl. Add some pesto and stir or toss to mix. If you have leftover pesto, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or you can freeze it.

When Mom got back Saturday afternoon she asked if there was any cooked food on hand. Nope. I told her I had eaten all of the leftovers. We ate bread, cheese, grapes (me) and tomatoes (her).

Painting Note: For more information on “Summer Breakfast” or “Cilantro Pesto with Green Beans” or any other original painting, please contact me here.

painting depicts Greek salad and ingredients

Greek Salad 8"x8" watercolor pencil and gouache Sharyn Dimmick

One of my friends wrote to me yesterday and asked me to address the issue of cooking and eating well when you are a household of one. I live in a household of two and I usually cook for both of us, but I used to live alone and cook for myself.

What makes you happy depends on your tastes: I do not mind eating leftovers — if I make something yummy I will want to eat it again and again. Some people want to eat different things everyday. If you are a person who craves freshness and innovation, some dishes are made for you. It is easy to prepare an individual salad, a bowl of pasta, an omelet, a plate of scrambled eggs, a sandwich, or a quesadilla. You can vary the ingredients by choosing the best of what you like that is in season: right now is a good time to put corn in quesadillas, zucchini in omelets, cucumbers in sandwiches and salads and peppers and tomatoes in everything.

In Northern California it is ideal to make Greek salad while tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are in season. You’ll need at least one tomato, cuke and red bell pepper, more if you want a larger salad. Other than that, all you need is feta cheese, a jar of kalamata olives and the ingredients to make a vinaigrette: olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, dry mustard, salt and pepper.

I make my simplest vinaigrette by drizzling some olive oil over my salad ingredients. I don’t measure it — I just drip some on and toss the greens or vegetables. Then I take a small measuring cup out. I add to it one clove of crushed garlic, a large pinch of hot mustard, ground black pepper, a dash of salt and a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar. I stir that up and dump it on my salad. Toss again. Then I taste it by picking out a leaf of lettuce or a piece of cucumber. Can I taste every ingredient? If you go easy on the salt and vinegar in the first pass, you can always add more. I like quite vinegary dressing (My friend Valentine says salad dressing gets sharper as you move from East Coast to West Coast and I was born here in the west).

When I make vinaigrette for Greek salad, I like to add the juice of a lemon, especially a home-grown Meyer lemon from the front yard. I add it just after I toss the salad with oil. I also keep the salt to a few grains because both kalamatas and feta are salty.

Food notes: You can use any kind of cucumber in Greek salad. I like Armenian cucumbers best because you don’t need to peel them, but I have made the salad with lemon cukes, English cukes, pickling cucumbers and the standard supermarket variety. You can use bell pepper of any color, or gypsy peppers. You can use full-sized tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, or grape tomatoes — I use what I have, but my favorites are little orange Sun Gold cherry tomatoes right off the vine. I like sheep’s milk feta better than goat’s milk feta, and I prefer French or Greek feta to others when I can get them (but a lot of my feta comes from the cheese selection at Grocery Outlet). Do use kalamata olives — canned black olives will not deliver the punch here. Leftover kalamatas keep well in the refrigerator. I like the clean taste of kosher salt, but you can use what you like.

Variations: In full summer, I sometimes add watermelon chunks to Greek salad. It’s not for everyone. If you are cautious, put a bowl of watermelon chunks on the side, transfer just one piece to your salad plate and see what you think.  If it doesn’t work for you, save the watermelon for dessert. Want more spice? Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to your salad and toss well.

Greek Salad for One

Slice or chop one cucumber, one red bell pepper, and one tomato or a handful of halved cherry tomatoes into your salad bowl. Crumble in feta cheese to taste. Add some pitted kalamata olives (if you halve them, they will go further). Drizzle salad with olive oil and toss. Squeeze half of one Meyer lemon over salad. Toss again.

In the bowl of a measuring cup, make a vinaigrette of one small smashed clove of garlic, a Tbsp or two of red wine vinegar, a few grains of salt, a pinch of hot mustard. Stir together. Grind in some black pepper. Toss it into your salad. Taste and adjust.

It’s wonderful to eat this with a sourdough baguette to soak up the dressing — I “clean” my salad bowl with bread when I am done. If there are any leftovers (there shouldn’t be), they’ll be good for lunch tomorrow.

Painting Note: For information on “Greek Salad” or any other original painting, please contact me here.

original watercolor of kale, tomatoes, onions, pen and ink bottle.

The Kale Chronicles. 8″x8″ watercolor pencil and gouache by Sharyn Dimmick

Few things reliably capture my interest more than messing with food and telling stories, whether in song, in images or on the page. I subscribe to a community-supported agriculture program each week, receiving a box of organically grown fruits and vegetables from Riverdog Farm in Guinda, CA. I began subscribing in 2007 and remember rhapsodizing over the taste of iceberg lettuce, green and fresh, picked that morning.

I also remember that first June when kale showed up in the box. I had never eaten kale. I had never seen kale. My friend Elaine loves it, steams it in the microwave and gets out her fork, but I did not fall in love with minimalist kale. I pored over cookbooks, learning to remove the ribs and stems before cooking it. I tamed it with acids: tomato sauce and lemon, vinegar. I added Indian spices and raisins. I chopped it into red lentil soup with plenty of garlic and fresh ginger (It gave my Mom gas and I had to eat it all myself. Ahem).

I do not hate kale. I have aversions to avocado and asparagus, tuna, mayonnaise, hard-cooked eggs and okra. Instead I consider kale to be a worthy adversary, something to be struggled with and mastered. I strike up conversations about it: “Do you eat kale?” “How do you cook it?” Kale keeps me on the lookout for new preparations, new techniques.

I have eaten red Russian kale, dino kale, curly kale in the last four years. I have combined it with spinach in lasagna. Two weeks ago I made an African peanut soup featuring onions, peanut butter, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, fresh green beans, garbanzo beans, kale, cilantro and lime. Everything but the peanut butter, lime, garbanzo beans and sweet potatoes came from the farm box — the sweet potatoes came from a farm stand in Suisun near where my sister-in-law lives. The soup was so good that I took it to a music potluck and when they ate it all I made another batch with the last of the ingredients. Here’s to Africa where they know how to cook kale!

African Peanut Soup (adapted from a recipe from yummly.com)

Saute 1 chopped onion, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, 1 minced chile pepper in 1 Tbsp peanut oil. While that cooks, chop 4 fresh tomatoes. Add 1 Tbsp curry powder to saute mixture and stir to toast it. Add tomatoes, plus 1/2 cup peanut butter, 8 cups water or stock, 1 Tbsp tamari. Stir well and bring to boil.

While the soup cooks, chop 2 carrots and 2 large sweet potatoes. Add them, plus 1 can of garbanzo beans. Cook until tender while stemming and chopping a large handful of green beans and half a bunch of kale. Add green beans. Cook for 10 minutes. Add chopped kale and juice of 1 lime. Cook 10 minutes more. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

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