Archives for posts with tag: watercolor paintings
painting shows dish of shrimp and grits and a shrimp boat.

Shrimp and Grits. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil, gouache and ink. Sharyn Dimmick.

All of my friends like to write and eat. Well, some of them like to sing and eat and some of them like to talk and eat, but all of them like to eat. Lisa Knighton, whom I met at a retreat with Natalie Goldberg, is a fitness trainer who likes to eat healthy, fresh, local food, to bake cakes and to tell stories. Just see how many stories she starts to tell you in this post. Lisa hales from Athens, Georgia, and has come to “The Kale Chronicles” to teach you how use wild-caught shrimp and that Southern staple grits in the entree shrimp and grits. By the time you read this, you’ll be wanting to make them for supper (Let me just apologize in advance for the funky spacing in Lisa’s post — even re-typing it won’t fix it — I tried).

Who knows the first time I was fed grits. Probably would have to count all the times my mother ate corn grits when she was pregnant with me.
Daddy makes his grits with water, on the stove top in a small, metal pan. The corn grits bubble for 20 minutes, at least. He tells me: “Take a quarter cup of grits. Sometimes I measure the water and other times I don’t.”
Grits ain’t groceries.
Mama says that when she was a little girl her father was responsible for making her breakfast. “Each morning, before school,” she says, “My daddy would serve grits and sunny-side-up eggs. And as he put the grits on my plate, he said ‘Grits ain’t groceries.'”
Grits may not be groceries — meaning grits were staples — always in the southern house and made fresh at the nearest grist mill, often ground from the family’s very own corn. Grits are always eaten, at least in my family, with salt and black pepper and a spoonful of softened butter.
Another food I grew up eating was shrimp. Big Daddy, my daddy’s father, used to own an oyster bar, just off the main square in downtown Blakely, Georgia. At Christmas time, instead of turkey and such, Daddy, Uncle Charles, and boy cousins old enough to operate oyster knives shucked croaker sacks full of fresh oysters pulled from Apalachicola Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. Also, we ate tender Gulf shrimp, most often boiled and served hot with a small side bowl of cocktail sauce. I don’t ever remember sitting down for a Christmas meal: my cousins and I stood about eating the seafood as quick as it was prepared.
April begins shrimp season in Georgia. These days we bring shrimp home to Athens from the salty Atlantic waters near Darien, Georgia in McIntosh County. When we travel back from visiting this lowland county, situated along the Altamaha River, a place made infamous by Melissa Fay Greene’s 1991 work of nonfiction, Praying for Sheetrock, we always have the blue cooler iced down and full of these sweet, wild-caught Georgia shrimp.
When I set out to make grits, gourmet grits, I turn to Nathalie Dupree, author of cookbooks of the American South. When Natalie lived in Georgia I once had the good fortune to attend an afternoon party at her home in the pretty town of Social Circle. Her large dining room table was decorated with food she’d prepared, but all I remember was the big helping of warm cheese grits I ate, scooped from a large, hollowed-out round of Parmesan cheese. I’ve adapted the shrimp and grits recipe I offer from Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp & Grits Cookbook. I’ve also provided links to two places located here in the South where you can order yellow grits, or white grits. I encourage you to select  wild caught shrimp for this recipe.
Shrimp and Grits (serves four)
First, bring all of your ingredients to room temperature before cooking.
2 cups water
1 cup milk (1%, 2%, or whole — just know that the fattier the milk, the creamier the final taste)
1 cup half and half (have another 1/2 cup water or half and half on hand to use when the mixture begins to thicken).
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup grits (white or yellow will do  — just know that white grits are more refined and smooth, and yellow grits are rustic, coarser.)
1 pound of shrimp, peeled, heads removed.
1/4 to 1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh shredded mild to medium cheddar cheese
1/2 to one cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
salt and fresh-ground black pepper
Get out your biggest, sturdiest cooking pot. I use a 4-quart with a heavy bottom. Once the grits begin to bubble, you are going to want to have plenty of room in the pot for the mixture to gurgle and bubble without it going over the sides. To the pot, add the water, milk and half and half, then bring all to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the grits and garlic, and stir well and often since you do not want this mix to clump or stick.
Bring the grits mixture to a slight boil, then reduce the heat.  Add salt and pepper.  Again, stir often, cooking about 15 minutes. Then add in extra water or half and half here (the mix should not be runny though) and the desired amount of butter and cheeses, letting this mixture cook for another 5 to 10 minutes: keep it creamy and loose and stir well so that the cheeses do not stick. Taste the grits then. You will want a soft texture, nothing gritty or hard.
When you have the grits like you want, add the shrimp and stir, coating the shrimp well. The hot grits and cheese will cook the shrimp and they’ll be ready in about two to three minutes, as soon as the shrimp turn a pretty pink.
Serve in large bowls alongside glasses of sweet tea.
painting shows four cups of atole with chocolate and other ingredients

Atole with Chocolate. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Because it is April 15 and I am still working on a giant art inventory for my tax returns I’m giving you a quick and easy recipe for atole with chocolate, good for those chilly mornings or chilly evenings of spring. I made it for the first time on a cold April morning of 2010 when we had had a bag of masa harina sitting around for a year or two and Jacqueline Higuera McMahan had published a recipe for atole in the San Francisco Chronicle. McMahan’s recipe called for added cornstarch, but I think the masa thickens it adequately by itself.

The first time I made this I used a Oaxaca chocolate bar containing chilies. Later I made it with Sharffen Berger bittersweet and added some pasilla chile powder. You can make it without chile if you don’t like the kick.

Atole makes a good, warming breakfast drink, a heavier form of hot chocolate. It would be good to serve at a holiday party. I’ve thought of adding more masa and thickening it into a pudding, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Atole with Chocolate (4 Servings)

Film a large saucepan with water

Heat over medium heat 1 quart of milk

Add:

5 oz. chopped chocolate

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup masa harina

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, split open.

a pinch of salt, if desired

powdered chiles to taste

Whisk this until the chocolate melts, until everything blends and until it thickens to your liking. You will need to cook it for at least five minutes to cook the masa, which will expand as it cooks. Fish the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick out before serving, or just push them to the side with your serving ladle so that they continue to flavor whatever you don’t drink immediately.

Food Notes: Masa harina is the flour Mexicans use to make corn tortillas. Look for it in your Mexican grocer or online. If you find this too sweet, add cocoa powder to a small portion and add it back into the pan, or add some bitter chocolate or some brewed coffee. Next time use a darker chocolate or scant the sugar to achieve less sweet results. I’ve been thinking about using a tablet of Mexican chocolate to make it next time with some bitter chocolate added. For the ultimate in decadence, serve it with a float of barely sweetened whipped cream. Drink this for breakfast and you may even have the strength to complete your tax returns on time. Good luck! We have two extra days this year.

Five years ago I cast my lot with Riverdog Farm in Guinda, CA, subscribing to receive their weekly vegetable box. I had been shopping at Farmers’ Markets since I lived in San Francisco, going to Saturday and Sunday markets to buy the bulk of what I cooked. When I moved back to the East Bay I took to frequenting the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. Although I love going to the market I had been interested in vegetables by subscription for a long time and when a friend recommended Riverdog’s program I signed up, initially splitting a box with my friend Elaine who lives in Berkeley.

My reading influenced me. I had read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about how she and her family had endeavored to raise most of their food on their Virginia farm and to buy locally what they couldn’t grow themselves. This afternoon I refreshed my memory of Kingsolver’s first locavore spring as I contemplated what to write about today.

Spring has sprung by the calendar. The days are longer. Plane trees have leafed out. A few native freesias push themselves up in the yard. A full moon lit the mild, clear night on Friday as I walked the last two miles home from a Passover seder at Elaine’s, where we ate broccoli, roasted potatoes, duck, carrots in the matzo ball soup, charoset made of dried apricots and dates. Sun shone on the Berkeley market on Holy Saturday where people stood in line for green strawberries (I tasted one), berries with white shoulders, asparagus and globe artichokes. One patron snapped up the only box of snow peas. Spring produce is late this year in northern California, not as late as last year where unexpected ongoing rain slowed all of the crops, but this was a slim market on the day before Easter. I brought home a bottle of plum vinegar, two pounds of walnuts in the shell, a grapefruit for another round of Shrimp Diablo. I considered buying a large basil plant and plucking every leaf to make pesto.

This is the time of year when I wish I had preserved more during the summer and fall, roasted more red peppers and frozen them, dried more tomatoes and raisins, canned more dilly beans, made more pesto. I break out stores of canned tomatoes, jars of roasted peppers and chutney, condiments to lend flavor to our spring diet. We use frozen mozzarella, fresh spinach, cottage cheese, diced tomatoes and Prego marinara to make lasagna. I pile peach chutney, roasted peppers and fresh arugula on a broiled Portobello burger marinated in salad dressing. We make pies out of frozen peaches and canned cherries.

Painting shows leek-feta quiche and ingredients.

Leek-Feta Quiche. 8″ x 8″ gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

What I can rely on in March and April is an abundant supply of alliums: spring onions and leeks. Every week Riverdog sends us a pound or two. I use leeks instead of onions in carrot soup and find I do not care for the substitution: note to self — only white parts of leeks, which will not give the green tinge and the strong flavor. I slice one leek into rings in a bowl of water, separating each ring to let the sandy grit sink to the bottom. I heat a few teaspoonfuls of olive oil mixed with butter in a skillet, lift the leeks from the water, pat them dry and saute them. I preheat the oven to 325. I roll out pie crust, sprinkle the bottom with crumbled feta cheese, add the sauteed leeks. I cut a jarred roasted red pepper into squares and scatter them on top of the leeks and cheese. I add a few cubes of marinated feta, just enough to create a pleasant design on the red and green. I grate a few tablespoons of Pecorino over that.

Then I beat three eggs in a metal bowl and add a splash of milk, eyeball it and add a little more, whisking the custard together. I pour the custard over the vegetables and cheese and pop the quiche in the oven.

This is a rough recipe: I have made it many times and feel no need to make more than the roughest of measures. I’m going to guess slightly on the amounts I recommend (Sometimes I measure backwards, pouring out what I think I will need and then checking the amount for you by pouring liquid back into a measuring cup, for example). If you need to know exact amounts you might want to look up another recipe for that. I will refer you to my Mom’s recipe for pie crust because I can recommend it wholeheartedly as the pastry we use most often.

Make 1 recipe pie crust. Chill crust while you prepare the leeks.

Clean 1 leek by slicing it into thin rings and teasing each ring apart in a large bowl of water. Lift rings out with a slotted spoon or small sieve and pat them dry.

Heat 2 tsp olive oil and 2 tsp butter in a skillet. When combined, add leeks and saute.

While the leeks saute, you should have time to roll out your crust. Take 1/4 of your pie crust, flatten slightly and roll out on a floured board into a 10 inch circle. Fold and place in a 9-inch pie tin or tart pan.

Scatter feta cheese to taste on crust — I use enough to almost cover the bottom. Add sauteed leeks.

Slice 1 roasted red pepper into small squares. Scatter on top of leeks.

Sprinkle vegetables with additional feta, plus 2 Tbsp grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese.

Beat 3 eggs. Add a splash of milk. Whisk. Pour custard over vegetables. if necessary, add milk to fill crust.

Bake quiche until top puffs and browns, at least half an hour.

Food Notes: You may, of course, substitute cheeses if you prefer something else to feta, substitute scallions or sauteed onions for leeks, substitute sun-dried tomatoes for the roasted red peppers. Quiche is, by nature, a flexible recipe. Because I was using feta, a salty cheese, I didn’t add any salt — if you choose a mild, sweet cheese, you might want to add some. If you want to eat this during Passover week, you could make it without crust.

Painting shows pear tart tatin and ingredients.

Pear Tart Tatin. 12″ x 12″ gouache. Sharyn Dimmick.

I had a music potluck to go to yesterday. I started thinking Friday night about what I would make: it came down to orange pound cake made with orange juice and zest, a repeat of the St. Patrick’s Day knishes sans Canadian bacon in deference to vegetarian singers, or a pear tart tatin. Those of you who read about our grocery finds a few posts ago will recall that I bought three pounds of Bosc pears. I have roasted pears to eat as dessert and I have included roasted pears in a few winter soups, but I had never before made a tart tatin. I was somewhat swayed by the thought that I had one pie crust waiting in the fridge. I was also swayed by the fact that I greatly prefer pie to cake and I love fruit desserts.

As it turned out, the pie crust in the fridge was a little too crumbly and a little too small and I ended up making a whole new batch: now we have old leftover crust and new leftover crust. Oh well: making and eating things with pie crust does not trouble us in this household.

While I used my Mom’s never-fail pie crust recipe for the tart tatin, I used the method and ingredients for the most part described in Chez Panisse Desserts, with one change, two additions and one error, which may have proved beneficial.

Alice Waters and Lindsey Sher give the ingredients as one 10-inch circle of pie dough or puff pastry, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, about 5 medium Bosc or Winter Neli pears and an optional tablespoon of rum, Cognac, brandy or Armagnac. I used salted butter, eight small Bosc pears, and rum. I added 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla extract and a sprinkling of ginger. Waters and Sher say to bake the tart at 400 degrees, which I would have done, except, despite reading the recipe, I had set my oven at 350.

If you don’t have pie crust on hand, you’ll have to make that first. You will find my Mom’s recipe here. If you make it, you will have three more crusts, or at least two and a half because Mom’s recipe makes four crusts (It is hard to make less with her recipe because it calls for a whole egg).

Once you have gotten your pie crust made, set it to chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients. It’s up to you whether you want to peel and core pears first or make caramel first. At any rate, you will be peeling and coring pears. You can use halves or quarters in the tart. I used halves, which looked quite nice. I put the tablespoon of rum and the half-tablespoon of vanilla in the bowl with the peeled, halved pears.

I then got out a cast iron skillet and set it on medium heat. I added the butter and sugar to the skillet and stirred with a wooden spoon until the caramel turned light brown, at which time I removed the pan from the heat and continued to stir. The caramel continues to darken: you keep stirring it so that it turns evenly instead of darkening in any hot spots. Mine came out a lovely, reddish brown.

Place the pears in the caramel in a circle with the narrow ends pointing to the center. I had a small, pear-less circle in the center, which I filled by cutting the last pear into smaller pieces. I put my pears cut-side down, although Alice and Lindsey say to put the rounded side down. You are going to flip this dessert over after it is baked, so, whichever way you do it, it is going to come out the opposite. My brain does not like to think in reversals (it gets confused). Do what you like. When you have got your pears looking all pretty and symmetrical, you are going to put the pastry over the top. Before I did this, I poured the leftover vanilla-rum mixture over the pears and sprinkled them with perhaps 1 tsp powdered ginger. I folded the crust in quarters, then unfolded it over the fruit, tucking the edges down into the sides of the pan since this crust will end up being the tart base. I also, as instructed, pushed the dough gently into the pears — it forms a slight wave pattern, molding around the curves of the pears. Cut a few slits in the crust and transfer the tart to your hot (or not so hot) oven.

I checked my tart after 30 minutes — that’s when I discovered my temperature error: plenty of browned juices bubbled up, but the crust was not brown. I cranked the oven up to 400 and let the tart bake for another 20 minutes until the crust was properly browned. My error with the oven temperature may have caused deeper caramelization of the fruit, which I happen to like, and had no ill effects on the caramel or the crust, save needing extra time for browning.

When the crust has browned to your satisfaction, remove the tart from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes — the pan will be really hot. When you are ready for the next step, take a plate larger than your skillet, place the plate on top of the pan and carefully invert the skillet onto the plate. With any luck, your tart will come out whole. If a pear or two get left behind, just use a spoon to transfer them back to their place on the tart. If you have lost a bit of crust, you will have the pleasure of sampling the caramel-infused crust: the caramel layer transforms basic pie crust into a new delight.

Mom dug out the top of a popsicle mold, which we plopped in the center of the tart to hold the wrappings away from the fruit. I wrapped the tart in two layers of aluminum foil and carted it off on the bus in the rain to my friend Elaine’s house. The singers consumed every scrap of the tart. Toni had three pieces. Elaine, who does not like Bosc pears, had two. Elaine said she would like the tart made with stone fruit. I said I thought it might be delicious with fresh figs. We have to wait for those fruits, but some pears are in season now. I was pleased with how easy it was to make a dessert that had intimidated me (the caramel, the flipping, the careful arrangement of the fruit, would the crust withstand the weight of the tart and all of that caramel? Would it leak?). Trust me, friends — if I can do it, you can do it.

Food Notes: If you are afraid of pie crust, you can also make this with frozen puff pastry. I recommend, however, that you visit your nearest crust expert to overcome this fear. Most pie bakers would be glad to help you learn to make pie crust.

painting shows bowl of chicken-coconut soup with Asian condiments

Chicken-Coconut Soup. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

The weather swings from mackerel skies to overcast, from sun to rain. The farm box remains remarkably constant in content: spring onions, leeks, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, tangerines. Today we got cilantro and asparagus as well. My mother has been under the weather for days, following a diet of toast, toast and toast. What can I possibly make for dinner?

I settle on an old favorite, a spin on Thai chicken-coconut soup with plenty of winter vegetables: carrots, cabbage, spinach and leeks.

I begin by making coconut milk. I measure two cups of unsweetened coconut into the blender while I heat 2 and 1/2 cups of skim milk on the stove. (The richness of the milk does not matter: we are using it to extract the coconut flavor from the coconut — I’ve used everything from whole milk to skim and water in a pinch). Blend the warmed milk and the dry coconut for a minute or two and then strain out the coconut. Throw that same coconut back in the blender with two cups of warm water and make a second batch, straining the coconut out. Now you may throw the coconut meat out, or compost it: all of the flavor has gone into the bowl of thick and thin coconut milk.

I heat two pints of homemade chicken stock on the stove and add the coconut milk and most of a boned and skinned chicken that we roasted earlier in the week. I add 1 Tbsp. fish sauce and the juice of one lime and about 1/2 tsp of chili paste with garlic. I let the meat simmer in the broth while I cut up two root ends of lemongrass and slice about 1 Tbsp of frozen fresh ginger into thick coins. Leaving the lemongrass and ginger large means we will be able to spot them in the soup. I add a bowl of leek rings that I cleaned and cut a couple of days ago.

Mom slices carrots into irregular pieces — like making carrot sticks — and washes spinach leaves. I wash and chop the roots of today’s cilantro and add them to the simmering pot. I slice cabbage thinly.

Then we go upstairs and watch an episode of “The Rockford Files.”

When we return to the kitchen, Mom turns up the pot to high and adds the carrots. In three minutes the carrots are almost cooked and I turn the burner down to medium and add the cabbage. Oops. I have underestimated the volume of the soup, so instead of cooking spinach in the soup we put spinach leaves in our bowls and ladle the hot soup on top of them, turning off the soup pot. I garnish my bowl with fresh cilantro. There is plenty of soup for future meals: we will reheat it and add fresh spinach and cilantro to our bowls again.

Food Notes: As you can see, this is not a precise recipe. The basics include a blend of chicken broth and coconut milk and the classic Thai seasonings of ginger or galangal, lemongrass, fish sauce, and chilies. You can vary the amounts of fish sauce, lime juice, chili paste, lemongrass and ginger to taste. If you like your soup sweet, you can add brown sugar. You can make it with canned coconut milk, either regular or light, which is what I do when I am not out of canned coconut milk. Tonight’s version was mild, rather than spicy, to accommodate Mom’s indisposition, but you can amp it up with loads of chili paste or fresh chilies. You can make it traditional Thai style with no vegetables at all. You can add rice noodles or rice. You can use leeks, spring onions, or scallions. You can include sweet potatoes or broccoli, as long as you do not cook them too long in the soup. If you like crunchy broccoli, you might want to put it in your bowl and pour the soup over it like we did with the spinach: by the time you get to the bottom of your bowl the broccoli will be nicely cooked. This is a nice soup to eat when you have a cold or when you are trying to tempt someone with a low appetite: packing it full of vegetables adds vitamins and minerals to the broth.

Painting Notes: The quickest of paintings to meet a deadline.

Painting shows knishes and ingredients.

The Irish Knish. 12″ x 12″ gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

Although my family is half-Irish, we are not big on St. Patrick’s Day food here. I should say I am not big on St. Patrick’s Day food, having suffered through a few childhood years of corned beef and cabbage. I lived in Ireland for a year when I was in college and remember the big food groups being potatoes, Swedes (rutabaga) as big as your head, bacon, butter and cheese with sides of oatmeal, biscuits and “puddings” covered with custard which came out of a tin. I also ate prawn sandwiches from a sandwich shop near Trinity College and gyros from carts off the street. In Dublin, I bought groceries daily and set my milk in a bowl of water on a window ledge: when the rare sun came out, the milk spoiled and it was time to make soda bread.

Yesterday, however, I came across a potato knish recipe on Smitten Kitchen (two, actually). Her knishes were so beautiful that I decided to make some, substituting the classic Irish vegetable, cabbage, where she had used kale. As I peeled and cleaned potatoes, I thought of my Irish grandmother, Grandmother Carroll, and was vigilant about removing every spot and blemish from each spud. Then, as I was sweating leeks and boiling the red potatoes, I realized that I could make the knish into a complete meal by adding some finely diced Canadian bacon to my leek mixture, giving the nod to my mother’s birthplace in Manitoba and the bacon of Ireland at the same time. Ye who eat kosher may recoil in horror here, but I imagine that many an Irish housewife in New York tried a knish or learned to make one from a neighbor and sweetened the recipe with bacon or ham in her own kitchen. I will not be offended if you leave out the Canadian bacon or if you only make knishes from your grandmother’s recipe.

I had never made a knish at all before this and I’m not even sure that I have eaten one. Certainly, no one has ever made them for me. I was up against a new dough. The filling of leeks, potatoes, cabbage and Canadian bacon was not unlike soups I have made this winter, although knishes require no broth and Deb added cream cheese to the potatoes. I followed suit with that: when I tasted the potato filling before making the knishes, the potatoes had a lovely sweet taste, coming from the cheese and the barely sauteed shredded cabbage. The tablespoon of butter in the saute pan came through, too.

I followed the unfamiliar directions: divide the dough. Roll half of it into a 12″ x 12″ rectangle (Hey! I know what those look like from painting). Put half the filling across the bottom of the dough, making it about two inches wide and roll it up like a cigar, twice around with the dough. Mark off dough at around 3 and 1/2 inches (basically cut it into three equal parts). I did not fully understand the instructions for twisting the dough, but I managed to close one end of each piece, converting that to a knish base. Nor did I trim the excess dough as suggested: I just let it wrap part-way around and “glued” it with a finger dipped in water. There never was a Dimmick that did not like extra crust or extra dough.

I even made egg wash because I had seen the beautiful browning on Deb’s knishes and coveted it: in fact it was the browning and the cunning round shape with a little filling showing that made me want to make these knishes in the first place. Brushing things with egg wash is the kind of step I am often tempted to skip because then you have that lonely egg white sitting in the fridge and have to start thinking of what to do with it (it may go into the next batch of waffles or pancakes to make them extra light). I dutifully applied egg wash with a pastry brush.

I am pleased to say that the knishes came out beautifully. They looked something like Deb’s with their browned exterior and a little window of creamy potato peeking out of the tops. The crust was thin and crisp, the filling soft and warm and savory. I served them with some warmed applesauce and a pot of Irish breakfast tea, a warming lunch on a soft gray day.

Food notes: For detailed instructions, please read Deb’s second knish recipe on Smitten Kitchen. I used olive oil for the vegetable oil she calls for and it worked fine. I substituted 1 cup of finely shredded cabbage for the kale. I folded 1/4 cup diced Canadian bacon into the leeks when they were almost done cooking, stirred, and put the lid back on. When the leeks were done, I put the cabbage in with them and cooked the mixture for two minutes more. I saved the potato water from boiling the potatoes because my grandmother taught me to use that in yeast bread. If I had been thinking, I might have cooked extra potatoes and used them to make potato bread. Next time: if you are Irish, you cannot eat too many potatoes, or too much bread either. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Painting depicts food items procured in weekly grocery shopping

The Groceries. 12″ x 12″ gouache. Sharyn Dimmick.

Last week I checked Riverdog Farm’s weekly online newsletter to see what vegetables we were going to get: tangerines, navel oranges, spring onions, cauliflower, carrots, dandelions. Dandelions! Oh, they didn’t! I read on to see that what they were really giving us was young leaves of chicory. The only thing I know about chicory is that you can make coffee substitute from it or add it to coffee for that New Orleans flavor. I Googled it. The coffee substitute is made from chicory roots. Shucks.

My mind goes back to salads we ate in Italy where they dug every bitter shoot out of the ground and dressed it in olive oil. But before I start whining in earnest I realize that a limited palette of ingredients is a test of cooking skill and creativity and that with a cabinet full of spices and a refrigerator containing milk, butter and cheeses I have more to work with than many people have had. What needs adjusting beyond the seasonings is my attitude.

This week I sufficiently adjusted my attitude to cook the chicory. I tasted it raw the day I got it: bitter. Before I cooked it I checked to see what will be in Wednesday’s box. The contents are not much different. For twenty dollars a week I am getting three pounds of fruit (oranges and tangerines) and six pounds of vegetables, including leeks, arugula, spinach, cauliflower, carrots and potatoes. That is the basic early spring produce palette here in Northern California.

This morning I went with my mother on her weekly shopping foray. This week we went to Food Maxx for canned cat food for our three cats and coffee beans for Mom. While we were there, we picked up two boxes of rolled oats, a bag of raisin bran, four boxes of whole wheat rotini, a jar of molasses, a box of Mexican chocolate, a small jar of Prego and a number ten can of hominy for posole. The food for humans in that came to $26.28 and we got a dime back for bringing our own canvas bags. Total: $26.18

We went on to Canned Foods Grocery Outlet, variously known to our friends as “Half Foods” and “Groc. Out” (before you turn up your nose, let me remind you that it was there I first found a bottle of Mosaic blood orange olive oil). There we picked up our dairy products for the week: half and half, buttermilk, sour cream and cheeses: jalapeno cheddar, a two-pound block of mozzarella for pizza-making, and a jar of marinated feta. We added in meat protein with a package of turkey sausage and one of Canadian bacon. Mom scored a 2 lb. bag of organic frozen green beans for $3.00 and a big bag of  fresh red potatoes for $2.00. I treated myself to a three-pound bag of Bosc pears from Washington State for $1.50 because the annual citrus glut is getting to me again — I will use the pears in desserts and soups and eat them as snacks. We bought a couple of cans of diced tomatoes for our winter-spring pantry, some flaked coconut and maple syrup for baking, a large package of English muffins and two different brands of commercial ginger snaps. Total for Canned Foods food: 44.83.

Adding up the food we purchased this week from all sources, I get $91.01. We will not shop again until next week and with all of this in the house we may not buy much next week beyond bread, milk and more cat food.

Now, we never start from a house empty of food. We keep a running pantry of baking supplies from butter and eggs to flour and cornmeal. We usually have walnuts and almonds and some dried fruit: right now we have dried peaches and apricots, sour cherries, raisins and home-dried apples and pears. When I get around to it, we will have home-candied citrus peels as well. We also stock rice, both brown and white, polenta and pasta. We make our own chicken stock, which we store in the freezer, and keep condiments such as mustard and red wine vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil. We try to replace all of these items during sales to keep our costs down.

The chicory? I cooked it for dinner, after trimming all of the stems. I pulled out all of the stops. First I boiled it for fifteen minutes. Then I poured off the water, hoping to have leached out some of the bitterness. I tasted it again: still bitter and not quite dull in color. I put in a little more water and cooked it for ten more minutes. Then I pulled out a skillet, heated some olive oil and sliced up half a sausage into half-coins. I browned those while I microwaved about a quarter cup of raisins in some water (This green is seriously bitter and needed the help from the dried grapes). I added the drained chicory and some pressed garlic, then the raisins and soaking water. Even with the raisins, oil, garlic, sausage and blanching the chicory remained bitter — not slightly bitter, but majorly bitter. It is the kind of thing that gives vegetables a bad name. We ate it alongside some bland Kabocha squash gnocchi in (not bland) gorgonzola sauce. My first attempt at winter squash gnocchi lacked lightness as I had to work in extra flour to handle the dough: if I revisit gnocchi more successfully I will post the recipe later. We were grateful to have the Mexican chocolate as an after dinner treat: I prepared that with a square of bittersweet chocolate, an extra tablespoon of cocoa powder and a dash of vanilla extract in each cup, perfect for the rainy March night.

P.S. Mom, trooper that she is, reheated and ate the remaining chicory for breakfast. She said it was better after sitting overnight. I said I would never complain about kale again, knowing we could get chicory instead. We both shuddered.

Original photo of brown and blue eggs in gold star dish. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

The eggs that starred in Sunday night supper.

It is late on Sunday night on the day of the time change. It is, in fact, later than I would like it to be. I arrived home from a visit with my friend Suzanne in Santa Rosa bearing a gift of five eggs laid by her backyard chickens. Mom had been alone all weekend, except for an episode involving my cat Fiona, several neighbors, the police, my brother Bryan and my sister-in-law Barbara. Bryan got scratched and Fiona got liberated from the house she was trapped in — she is fine, if unusually skittish. Mom was tired and in no mood to cook and I knew the fresh eggs should be the star of our spring supper.

Original photo by Sharyn DImmick of eggs in a star dish, plus daffodil bouquet.

Photo: eggs and daffodils. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes simple is best. I cracked the eggs into a metal bowl and whisked them with a little salt. Then I washed a bunch of spinach leaf by leaf, transferring each leaf to a dish towel. I sliced an onion into thin rings and put it to saute over medium heat in a little olive oil and a half tablespoon of butter. While the onions softened and browned I chopped the spinach leaves. As I added each batch to the pan, I seasoned them with freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper. When I added the last batch I grated about two tablespoons of pecorino into the greens with my microplane and put two plates in a warm oven.

Original watercolor painting of eggs and daffodils.

Sunday Night Supper. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

While I cooked the eggs by adding them to the pan with just a smidge more butter, Mom toasted some whole-grain tortillas. We each had our eggs and greens with an orange on the side. The food was beautiful, the deep yellow of eggs from free-range chickens, the vibrant green of spinach and spring onions. Alas, by the time we had cleaned our plates, the light was fading and I had yet to paint a picture. I gamely grabbed a gold star-shaped dish and a small bouquet of daffodils cut from our garden and set to work, sketching the star shape, working in yellow, brown, a bit of orange, greens. Above the star dish of brown and blue-green eggs I sketched in the yellow daffodils, one pale and one richer, sunnier yellow. I blended three different greens into a bunch of spinach, three more, plus cerise into quick onions. I added a purple tablecloth and then, as an afterthought, the dining room windows, framed in a deeper blue-green, almost peacock. The light was gone entirely and I “finished” the painting under the compact fluorescent light mounted over my bed.

Usually, I am satisfied with my paintings as I complete them and have at least a brief experience of falling in love with them. This one still looks like a sketch to me. “Oh well.” I say, like my northern friends. Perhaps some of you will enjoy seeing a beginning painting, a painting that is more of a sketch than a finished piece, an attempt or a gesture rather than a “real painting.” But if I paused to correct shading and continued to mess with it, I might never get this blog post finished. I include, for your pleasure, a few photos of the eggs: they might as well be film stars as well as the stars of a Sunday night supper.

Painting shows ingredients for rice cakes

Rice Cakes. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Most mornings I eat oatmeal cooked in milk to jump start my calcium intake for the day. Our house is cold and warm breakfasts are usually welcome. But because we shop just once a week, there are occasionally mornings when the milk is gone and hot cereal is not an option. Heaven forbid that I would cook my oats in water, converting them to standard gruel.

These are some of our options for mornings we are out of milk.

1) Rice cakes: take some leftover rice. Crack an egg or two into it. Add some sugar, vanilla, nutmeg. Beat for a few minutes with a fork. Scoop out by 1/4 cup measures and fry in butter.

2) French toast: take the last few slices of bread. Toast them lightly if they are not already stale. Cut them in half. Beat a couple of eggs in a shallow bowl. Add juice and zest of one orange if you like, or just add sugar, vanilla and nutmeg as for rice cakes above. Soak the bread briefly in the egg batter. Fry in butter. Serve with powdered sugar, maple syrup, fresh fruit or fruit puree

If we have sour milk, buttermilk or yogurt on hand we can just make waffles, cornbread or biscuits.

Painting shows bread for French toast, eggs, orange.

French Toast. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

If we have no milk products, sour or otherwise, we can get out our sourdough starter and make  sourdough biscuits with that, using a cup of starter, 1/4 cup of vegetable shortening, 1/2 tsp each of sugar, salt and baking soda, 1 cup of plain flour and 1 Tbsp baking powder. Mix them. Roll them. Cut them. Brush the tops with melted butter and let them sit for fifteen minutes while you preheat the oven to 425. Bake for 10-12 minutes

If I am feeling more ambitious than making biscuits and I have gotten up very early, I might return to my breakfast oatmeal and make it into some delicious oatmeal yeast bread, flavored with maple syrup. I have adapted this recipe slightly from an old cookbook called Coffee by Charles and Violet Schafer published in 1976 and now living in tatters on my bookshelf. This bread uses the sponge method, which will save you some time on the first rise (but you will have to knead it before the second rise after you add the remaining flour and salt).

Oatmeal Bread

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 1 cup of rolled oats in a mixing bowl.

Measure 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil into a Pyrex measuring cup. Swirl oil to coat glass to the 1/2 cup mark.

Add oil to cooling oat mixture.

Into oiled cup, measure 1/2 cup maple syrup.

Add syrup to oat-water-oil mixture

Take that same old  Pyrex cup and add 1/4 cup lukewarm water.

Dissolve 1 Tbsp active dry yeast in the lukewarm water and stir with a fork.

While the yeast proofs, add 2 cups unbleached flour to your mixing bowl and stir. When mixture is lukewarm, add yeast and stir again. Cover with damp cloth and place in warm place to rise. Check in 30 minutes.

After your sponge has risen and fallen slightly, add 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 2 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour and 1 tsp kosher salt to it.

This is when you knead it. I like to knead on a lightly floured bread board for at least ten minutes. If your dough is too sticky, add flour by the tablespoon until it is workable: dough will vary by the amount of moisture in the air, the temperature of your kitchen, the particular grind of the flour. Please add a little flour to the board, to your hands, or to the dough itself if you are having a lot of trouble with it: doughs containing honey, syrup or molasses are stickier than those that don’t, but you are going to love the flavor of this bread, so persevere.

After at least ten full minutes of kneading, you may want to add a little butter or oil to your mixing bowl. Rub it all over so that the dough won’t stick. Then plunk the dough back into the bowl, dampen your tea towel with warm water, wring it out and set it on the bowl again, placing the dough in a warm place for its second rise. Check it again in 30 minutes (or forty if you are reading a great novel). When it has doubled, take the time to grease two loaf pans or one loaf pan and a pie or tart pan if you want to make a round loaf. Using butter to grease the pans will add to the flavor of the finished bread.

Take the bread dough out of the bowl and set it again on your lightly floured bread board. Cut it with your dough cutter or bench scraper into two equal portions. Roll the first one up like a jelly roll and tuck in the ends: with any luck it will fit your loaf pan. Take the second piece of dough and roll it into a ball, continually tucking any edges under and smoothing the top. Place this ball in your pie or tart pan. Return shaped loaves to the oven to rise for fifteen minutes, then move them somewhere else while you preheat your oven to 375, making sure a rack is in the middle position with no rack above it (You should have already moved it when you were using it for the rising dough, but if you didn’t, do it now).

Painting shows loaves of oatmeal bread.

Oatmeal Bread. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

When your oven is hot, set the loaves inside and putter around for ten minutes, doing dishes or having a cup of tea. After ten minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and go back to reading your novel. Resurface in 30 minutes to check your bread: when you thump it, it should make a good solid thumping sound and the crust should have some brown color. When it thumps satisfactorily, remove it to a cooling rack. Mom taught be to remove the bread from the pans so that the crust does not steam in the hot pans: if you do this, you will get a crustier, chewier crust.

Now go away again: if you cut the bread hot you will ruin the texture. It’s best just to forget about it for awhile. When it is cool or almost cool, you can slice it and savor the beautiful bouquet of maple syrup. Whatever you do not eat immediately makes lovely toast tomorrow and the next day.

Food notes: On rice cakes: these rice cakes are not Asian rice cakes. They are the kind of rice cakes some people make in Louisiana: a fried cake made of sweetened rice bound with eggs. On oatmeal bread: for its most wonderful qualities, this bread requires maple syrup. None of the other ingredients are expensive, so splurge every now and then and make it. Can you make it with honey or golden syrup or malt syrup or brown rice syrup? Yes, you can, but it will not be the same and not yield the same deliciousness. Can you make it with more whole wheat flour? Of course you can, but, once again, you will not get the same bread: whole wheat flour will make it browner and heavier and wheatier. I keep the whole wheat flour to a half cup for the nod to health, replacing a little nutrition in that unbleached flour, but oats are good for you, too. Happy breakfast.

Equipment notes: Few things make me happier than having a dough cutter. I baked for many years without one, but it is the easiest thing to use when you need to divide yeast dough.

Okay, so you know that Riverdog Farm keeps me well-supplied with winter and spring citrus: if you read The Kale Chronicles frequently, you will notice that lemons, tangerines and oranges show up in a lot of my recipes from November on. I’ve given you Swedish rye bread with orange and anise, orange-sesame vinaigrette, tahini-citrus salad dressing, orange-fennel salad, orange-cumin bread, tangerine curd, orange muffins, lemon sponge pie and Shaker lemon pie, lemon bars with a coconut brown sugar crust, a recipe for home-candied citrus peel. And then there is all of the stuff I don’t blog about: the orange zest and juice stirred into French toast, the lemon squeezed onto roast vegetables and greens and stuffed into chicken cavities. And still the tangerines roll on.

original watercolor painting of clementine bundt cake

Clementine Cake. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

A pound of Murcott tangerines rolled in last week and coincidentally I ran across a recipe for a clementine cake on Smitten Kitchen. Now, Deb can cook, and she got the recipe from Nigella Lawson, who makes her living as a cook. Separately, they insisted that I could boil my pound of tangerines for a couple of hours and then incorporate them into a gluten-free cake. Deb voiced the doubts anyone would surely have about this recipe. Would it be bitter? Would it rise? Would anybody eat it?

I needed to try this because it would use a whole pound of tangerines at one fell swoop and because I was going to a singing party at the home of a gluten-free friend yesterday and because it was such an odd method of making a cake, particularly the part about boiling a pound of whole tangerines. Deb had suggested that this cake got better as it sat and Mom suggested that I make it on Friday afternoon for the Saturday afternoon party.

I put my pound of tangerines into a saucepan, covered them with water and brought them to a boil and then let them cook for two hours. No, I did not peel them or seed them. I didn’t even wash them since they were organically grown and I would be using the nicely acidulated cooking water for some lucky outdoor plants.

While the tangerines cooked, I had plenty of time to prepare the other ingredients. I started with whole, skin-on almonds because I needed 2 and 1/3 cups of ground almonds. I tried running them through the meat grinder, but they only gummed up the works and ground unevenly as well. Then I realized I had a large Vietnamese mortar and pestle and started pounding away — after all I had two hours to wait for the tangerines (You modern types could use your food processors or buy ground almonds at the store: I enjoy knowing I can get ground almonds and some exercise at the same time). I scooped the first batch up with a 1/3 cup measure and put them in a small mixing bowl and started another batch. When I got tired of pounding, I took a break to take six large eggs out to sit at room temperature. While the eggs warmed, I went back to my mortar and pestle. When I had measured out enough pounded almonds, I set them aside in the small mixing bowl and turned my attention to the eggs.

I made a genoise once: it took me two tries to get it right. What I learned from making genoise is that you can get eggs or egg yolks to incorporate a lot of air and triple in volume like egg whites — you just have to beat them for a long time. I turned on my electric mixer at cake-mixing speed and eventually cranked it up higher and watched the volume of the eggs increase and the color get paler. When the eggs were three-quarters of the way up the bowl I started adding sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, until I had incorporated 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of sugar. I did not even think about scanting the sugar because this cake was going to contain tangerine skin and pith — all of it.

About now, the tangerines in the pot hit the two-hour mark so I used a cooking fork to remove them from the water and set them on my cutting board. While they cooled, I added my ground almonds slowly to the egg sugar mixture with the 1 heaping teaspoon of baking powder. I then preheated the oven to 375 with a rack in the central position and took out my precious bottle of Mosaic blood orange oil to grease a bundt pan. Hedging my bets, I sprinkled a generous tablespoon full of sugar over the oiled pan.

Then, as instructed, I sliced my tangerines in half and extracted all of the seeds. You must do this because citrus seeds are excessively bitter. I then used a chef’s knife to chop all of the tangerines as finely as I could, catching the juice in a bowl (the one the almonds had been in earlier), When they were chopped pretty evenly with just a few larger pieces of peel here and there I put them into the mixer with the other ingredients and let it run for two or three minutes.

The resulting batter was a beautiful thing — foamy, pale orange, flecked with bits of bright orange and brown. I tasted it cautiously. It had a slight bitter edge, but would be edible. The recipe made enough for me to make a small test cake in a rice bowl in addition to the big bundt so I was able to sample the finished cake without disturbing the party edition.

I baked my small cake for thirty minutes, at which point a toothpick came out dry. I left the big one in for ten more minutes and it, too, passed the toothpick test. We ate the rice bowl cake warm, only noting that it had a tendency to fall apart.

Saturday I took the other cake to the party. I ran a knife around the edges (which had pulled away from the pan) and upended it on a plate: it came out cleanly. The hostess, who eats gluten-free, liked it. One man asked for the recipe. The woman who has a baking contract with me asked if I would make her one next time she was in town. They sent me home with perhaps one small serving.

What did I think? I thought it was good. Perhaps not great. You have to excuse me for not being a big cake fan in any case. Other people like cake. People who liked cake liked this. One man asked for the recipe. One woman mentioned liking the bitter marmalade-like tang, although she wondered if she would like it with a tangerine juice and powdered sugar glaze. I did find it a bit hard to slice — it was rather soft and moist. I offer it to my gluten-free friends as a possible cake, not too hard to make, not too many ingredients and another use for the rolling river of tangerines.

Food notes: if this cake interests you, be sure to check out the comments on Nigella Lawson’s site: people have done some creative things with spices, made it into a Christmas cake, etc.