Monday, August 31, 2009

Lobster mushroom, sweet corn and watercress risotto

This is the best time of year. The weather is up to its typical late summer bipolar antics, and while I still have sweet Silver Queen corn down here in the Valley (thanks to sunny days), the mountains are cooling off enough in the evenings that lobster mushrooms have made their way into my neighborhood fancy grocery store.

Scott had a bee in his bonnet for some lemony chicken and risotto, and even though those are a springtime jones, such is his wantlessness that I tend to cater to his every (infrequent) craving. And despite the fact that our garden is a cornucopian money-shot of nightshades (six tomato varieties for a dozen plants total, four chile varieties and an eggplant), this third trimester heartburn started kicking in today, and I just didn't feel like one more helping of spaghetti Margherita (with a masochistic craving for extra chile flake).

I melted some butter in the pan while I thawed some homemade chicken stock (frozen in June), and sweated a quarter of a tiny red onion with two minced garlic cloves. I added a drib of olive oil to prevent the butter from browning and added one fist-sized lobster mushroom, sliced and broken into bite-sized pieces. I tossed in a couple handfuls of arborio rice and stirred it around, doing the "making risotto" thing until time to add a glass of chardonnay (now that I'm getting late in the pregnancy, I'm not afraid to taste the wine that goes into my cooking). I added splashes of the rich chicken stock, stirring lovingly, and then added an ear's worth of corn cut fresh from the cob.

A few fat pinches of lemon zest went in at the end, along with some fresh thyme and a few handfuls of chopped watercress. The peppery, nasturtium verdure of the watercress slapped the sleepy, smalltown white carbs right in the kisser, the mineral parsley gave it some backbone, and a sprinkling of crumbly fat and salt Parmigiano Reggiano gave it cheeks.

Enjoy with a crispy pear cider, or I suppose a nice Gewürztraminer, if you had one laying around.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Millions of Peaches

The little white peach sapling that I planted last fall shot up about 6 feet this spring, splashing out a crown of wavy, crescent-shaped leaves and slutty, hot pink blossoms like too much rouge on a little girl that got into her mother's makeup. When, in June, the spindly branches began to bow and creak under the weight of all that fruit, I naturally assumed I would be inundated with mealy, hard, sour peaches (I couldn't possibly luck into so much of a good thing). Over the past two weeks or so, though, this little tree proved her spot in my crowded garden was warranted.

These are small peaches, slightly smaller than a tennis ball, with ample red blush and pearly white flesh that is as sweet as the last days of summer. I am hogging them all to myself, freezing and canning, or just slopping them directly into my mouth over the sink. The ants and greedy neighbor ladies have taken notice, and I have been relegated to just picking all of them before they can steal my Precious (judiciously trimming away nibbles from birds and insects as needed). This morning I'll have succulent slices over thick, whole-milk yogurt with a sprinkle of granola and daydream about the myriad other ways to enjoy them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Three parts love and seven parts forgiveness

Who says a wedding cake has to cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars? For under $25, some friends of ours got a beautiful, whimsical and delicious wedding cake that they'll never forget. Leonard and Caireen recently got married, and being an intimate affair (only six guests, plus the bride and groom) I was happy to provide the photography as well as the cake. The night before the wedding I told Caireen about our having a croquembouche at our wedding after she joked that having doughnuts would be a laugh. I demanded that she let me build her a tower of pink doughnuts for her wedding cake. She was tickled.

The morning of the wedding I called Acme Doughnuts, located a few blocks from my house (their website has obviously just been thrown up from a template and is not useful yet), and was delighted that they needed no more than a couple hours to hook up two dozen doughnuts. They even made pink icing from scratch, when it's not normally one of their toppings (the nice gal whipped some up by mixing berry juice with white icing). Due to my no-notice call, they could only do a dozen of the raised doughnuts, so the order was supplemented with a dozen cake doughnuts. A few hours later Scott was able to pick them up and paid only $18. I also sent him to our neighborhood fancy grocery store for pink roses ("the tiny kind, if they have them"). The flower lady looked at him funny when he asked for baby pink roses, but that's her problem. For $5, a regular plate of doughnuts was transformed into something rather special.

Never be afraid to think outside the box. Or inside it, if it's a box of doughnuts.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pork tenderloin and warm succotash with heirloom tomatoes and bacon

Damn, I'm rusty. I've almost completely forgotten how to use my camera. I should probably just restore it to its factory settings and start over. Stupid blurry corn. Sigh.

Hey, I cooked! The week of 105 degree temperatures followed by the week of 90+ degree temperatures has been chased by the pleasant partly-cloudy and low 80s that I can really get with. My garden is exploding with corn the size of my forearm and state fair tomatoes, my scarlet runner beans are hanging heavy on their vines and the peppers are nearly ready. I feel reinvigorated (being thoroughly sick of Vietnamese takeout gave me a much-needed kick in the ass, too).

A perfectly-cooked pork tenderloin surprised me after not having cooked meat in what feels like forever. I brined it quickly in Kumquat Dry Soda with a tablespoon of salt and a pinch sugar. I seared it on all sides and finished it in the oven, pulled it at medium (to the touch test), rested for five minutes and was delighted to find it rosy and juicy when sliced into thick medallions.

"Mmm...Heather cooking," Scott approved as he dove into the succulent pork bedded down on a bowl of summer warmth: corn cut from the cob and sauteed with red cipolline onions, bacon and sliced scarlet runners (pods and all). When the beans were al dente*, I added some lemon zest and a fat knob of butter, some chopped thyme and summer savory, and a couple of handfuls of chopped black brandywines (the garden's first!) and sliced cherry tomatoes. They brought a nice twang of acid to the fatty, creamy succotash.

Enjoy with a crunchy Reed's ginger beer. Here's to hoping that a new-found nesting instinct includes getting my sealegs in the kitchen again.

*These scarlet runners were probably a week older than what would be ideal for eating with the pods - the waxy cuticle needed to be removed from the pod and the skins on the beans could've benefited from a longer cooking time. I'll look forward to letting the rest of them completely ripen and shell them for cassoulet or feijoada. Never eat scarlet runners raw - they are high in phytohemagglutinins and can cause stomach problems like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.