Menu today

Vegetable soup with meatballs
 Sautéed halibut, salsa verde
  Spaghetti squash
 Duck legs roasted with pears and sweet onions
  Potatoes gratin
 Pork roast with herb mustard crust
  Braised cabbage

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Colors of winter

Short days, cold rains, the flu season… This is when we need more vitamins in our diet, to fight off this cold, and more colors on our plates, to add cheer to the long nights in front of the fire. Luckily, here in California, the winter farmers market supplies both.

Winter vegetables come in a palette of soft whites, muted purples, deep greens, and warm yellows; they go well with the gold of roasted chicken and duck, deep browns of braised meats, and the neutral tones of earthy grains. They prefer slow, thoughtful cooking techniques; they are complimented with sturdy winter herbs – thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, parsley. Winter vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients that help us survive the cold and boost our energy when we need it most.

Beets come in a rainbow of colors: red, pink, golden, white. Slice very young, tender raw beets for salads, both roots and tops. Roast larger beets for salads, soups, or to serve as a side dish: trim the greens, leaving 1 inch attached (save the greens to add to soups or braised greens), wash the beets, place them in an oven-proof dish, add 2-3 Tbsp water, cover with aluminum foil, roast at 400 degrees until tender (pierce with a wooden pick through the foil to check), 30-60 minutes, depending on the size; let cool, peel. The beets are complimented with balsamic vinegar, roasted garlic, truffle oil, thyme.

Broccoli adds emerald green color and a wealth of minerals to the plate. Separate the florets, peel and slice the stems, steam in a steamer or in a microwave until tender, refresh in ice water to stop cooking and to preserve the color. My favorite way to serve the broccoli is as a cold salad with dried cranberries and sliced almonds, with a dressing of almond butter, Tamari soy sauce, and olive oil.

Brussels sprouts like to steam, sauté, or roast. They are complimented by garlic, lemon (grate the rind over them, squeeze the juice), and mild olive oil.

Cabbage comes in green and red, and in plain and crinkled Savoy varieties. The large outer leaves, blanched, make wrappers for cabbage rolls, with rice, vegetables, meats, or anything. The tender center leaves go into soups and sautés. Green cabbages have an affinity with apples, pears, caraway seed, white wine, and onions. All cabbages go beautifully with bacon and smoked meats.

Carrot adds sunny color, sweetness and vitamins to everything it touches. There are white, gold, and purple varieties too. Love it raw!

Cauliflower is not just a white flower. It’s also gold, green, and purple flower! All colors do well steamed until almost tender, then sautéed, or prepared ou gratin. Cream of cauliflower soup is a life-saver for people who can’t tolerate milk products: the pureed cauliflower supplies the creamy texture, no cream needed.

Celery: the crunchy stalks are a perfect snack, great for dipping; the classic combination of chopped onions, celery, and carrot, sautéed in a mixture of olive oil and butter, can enhance any soup or transform a grain dish. Celery also makes a great soup on it’s own. Did I mention Bloody Mary?

Chard is a close relative of beets, and the leaves come in the same palette of jewel colors, and can be used the same ways as the beet tops. Steam, sauté, braise.

Fennel, thinly sliced, adds subtle anise flavor to salads, soups and stews. It’s also great prepared au gratin.

Garlic is love, and an indispensable ingredient in almost every savory, and some sweet dishes. Every time I heat up an oven to roast anything, I also toss in a head of garlic, wrapped in aluminum foil. Serve roasted garlic with a cheese and fruit plate, add it to mashed potatoes, spread it on top of steaks, mix it into sauces for roasted meats and vegetables. Large garlic cloves, sliced thin and fried in olive oil, make garlic chips, a nice garnish to meat dishes.

Grapefruit – juice it! This time of the year, we need tons of vitamin C, and the grapefruit delivers it, together with the tangy and pleasantly bitter flavor, and a wonderful aroma. Like most citrus fruits, it’s a natural antidepressant.

Kale is a leafy cabbage, and it works well in the same types of preparations. I love to use kale leaves to wrap rice, vegetables, and meats, to make kale rolls. I also like it braised with onion, bacon, and white wine. Black Tuscan kale, aka Dino kale, aka “the favorite”, is the darkest of them all, and has the deepest flavor and the highest vitamin content. It is friends with white beans, tomatoes, onions and garlic.

Leek, a mild, subtle green onion, works well in delicate soups. Also, try browning it in butter, than braising it with white wine and shallots, low and slow, until it’s melting tender. Addictive. The white part is to eat; I use the green part to flavor stocks.

Lemon, my second main staple after garlic, is indispensable with fish and shellfish; it takes any green vegetable dish to the next level (think garlic and lemon green beans, or Meyer lemon roasted Brussels sprouts), and it’s one of the best flavorings for a roasted chicken.

Mandarin: eat it out of hand, or add it to a green salad.

Onion, you already know… I like to marinate thin slices of red onion in 1 part sherry vinegar, 3 parts boiling water, with salt, sugar, and spices (whatever I’m in a mood for; say, allspice, cloves and cinnamon), to top burgers

Parsley root adds deeper, earthier flavor than parsley leaves to soups and stocks. My grandma always used the whole parsley plant, tops and roots, to make a soup. I like it her way. The root also roasts well, and is a nice, flavorful addition to roasted root vegetables.

Parsnip used to be a European staple food, before the potatoes arrived. It still mashes well, and a combination of mashed parsnips and potatoes is even better.

Potato. They say that the classic chefs toque has 101 pleats that represent 101 potato dishes that the chef knows how to make. I’m not there yet: I routinely make about 40 potato dishes. But my toque only has 17 pleats! I need a new toque. My latest favorite potato dish is smashed potatoes with garlic and herbs: boil gold, red, and purple potatoes until tender; let cool; mince garlic, thyme, rosemary, and parsley with some sea salt; spread the herb mixture on the cutting board; with the palm of your hand, smash the potatoes into the herb mixture; heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a large pan over medium heat; transfer smashed potatoes to the pan, cook until fragrant and golden, turning once.

Radish: winter radishes have thick skins and strong flavors. I like to peel them and cook them. Black Spanish and Watermelon radishes are great roasted.

Rutabaga: the big gentle “Swede” is sweet, and is at it’s best roasted, or as a puree.

Turnip is sweet and crunchy. Peel it and roast it, boil it, or sauté it, then glaze it with honey and apple juice, balsamic vinegar, or soy sauce.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Carlos, CA

A menu and pictures from the last week

Last week was very busy. I was trying to squeeze in a dinner party in the late afternoon after a full-size family meal service, driving to serve clients from San Rafael to Cupertino, and everywhere in between. I did take a few pictures with my iPhone in the process, and here is one of my menus from the last week, illustrated:

Corned beef and cabbage soup
Zucchini and daikon, lemon vinaigrette
Poached sturgeon
Ham, mushrooms, and Manchego frittata
Duck legs with figs and port
Beef and cabbage rolls

Wild rice
Sautéed potatoes and mushrooms
Beans and peas ragout

Cauliflower gratin

Cauliflower gratin. I steamed cauliflower florets until almost tender, seasoned with salt and white pepper, added cream, topped with parmesan, baked at 400 degrees until golden.

Duck legs with figs and port. I made a lot of them recently. This is a delicious dark meat, a revelation for those tired of the omnipresent chicken. To melt out some of the fat, I first sauté the legs over medium-low heat, then pour off the fat, add sweet onion, figs, port, and herbs, and open-braise the bird in a 375 degree oven until melting-tender, about 1 hour. Open-braising preserves the crisp skin.

Ham, mushrooms and Manchego frittata. This dish is equally good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I’ve added pea greens in this version, for color and texture.

Beef cabbage rolls. Russian classic, from my childhood.

Another Russian classic – sautéed potatoes with mushrooms. The simple secrets of sautéing potatoes are to cut them into uniform pieces, turn often, and salt only when they are almost done. Sauté the mushrooms separately. Salt at once, give them enough time to release and evaporate all the water, add minced garlic and thyme leaves. A drop (just one!) of truffle oil won’t hurt.

Young fava beans just hit the market. Now they are so tender that they don’t need to be double-shelled. Other participants in this emerald green spring ragout are pea greens, snow peas, blue lake beans, English peas, red onion and purple garlic.

I poached sturgeon and turbot steaks in court bouillon, strained the bouillon, poured it over the cooked fish, topped with steamed julienned carrots, celery, and leek.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Francisco Bay Area

Today’s menu

Since I got my own VitaMix blender, I’ve been playing with it every spare minute, learning new techniques.

Today’s clients have a VitaMix blender too, so a big part of their menu was made in the blender:
Cream of asparagus
Cabbage and carrot slaw
Salmon with gremolata
Chicken roasted with olives, sweet onions, and lemon
Beef pot roast
Meatballs, sage and onion gravy

Roasted asparagus
Smashed potatoes with garlic and herbs
Buckwheat pancakes

Cabbage with bacon and caraway

Zucchini puree for the baby

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Burlingame, CA

Stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage leaves, ready to bake

These cabbage leaves stuffed with beef and rice and slowly baked in the oven are Russian winter comfort food that I learned from my grandma. They take a while to put together, but you can make a lot, and they keep and reheat well.

I depart from the traditional recipe when making the sauce. The original sauce uses equal parts of sour cream and tomato paste. I omit the cream altogether, and use stock, wine, and diced tomatoes instead to make a more modern, lighter version.

I find that ground beef sold in even the best grocery stores wants in quality. After all, the store has to have it’s profit margin, and ground beef is very good for this: the commercial grinders would grind fat, connective tissue, bone, hide, horn and hoof without complaining, and you won’t know what went into your stuffing until you cook and taste it. I usually trim and grind my own beef. I use trimmed chuck for myself, and trimmed round for my low-fat clients. Or, I buy packaged ground buffalo that I found to be of very good quality. Where is their profit margin? Well, it’s expensive…

This recipe, after you remove the large outer cabbage leaves, will leave you with 2 small heads of white cabbage. You can chop them and braise with pieces of browned bacon, a cup or so of chicken stock, a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, caraway seed, salt and pepper, for about 20 minutes, to get a tasty side dish that keeps well and is a wonderful accompaniment to roasted sausages or sautéed pork chops. Or add them to a hearty winter soup, cut into a bite-size squares. Or, make a cabbage piroshki stuffing. Or, use the same preparation technique to remove smaller leaves from the cabbage, adjust cooking time, and make tiny stuffed cabbage leaves for appetizers.

Stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage leaves
Makes 12

Equipment: large stock pot, mixing bowl, 12 inch skillet, deep baking dish

2 large heads white cabbage ( you’ll only need large outer leaves; use the rest for braised cabbage or soup)

For stuffing:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, minced
1-1/2 lb. lean ground beef
2 cups cooked long grain brown rice
1 cup grated carrot
1 tsp dried thyme
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt, pepper to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 large can diced tomatoes in tomato juice
Salt, pepper

Prepare cabbage leaves: Boil water in a large stock pot. Place whole cabbage heads in boiling water, bring back to boil, reduce heat, simmer 2 minutes. Plunge cabbage into ice water to stop cooking. Let cool. Carefully remove 6 largest unbroken leaves from outside of each cabbage. Reserve remaining cabbage for another use. Pat dry leaves with paper towels. With a sharp paring knife trim the outside of the thick center vein.

Make stuffing: Heat oil in the skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions until light golden, about 10 minutes. Remove to mixing bowl, let cool. Add ground beef, rice, carrot, thyme, season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Mix well. At this point, if the beef that you use is very fresh and you have ground it yourself, it’s OK to taste it for seasoning. If you don’t trust the quality of the beef enough to taste it raw, form a little stuffing into a ball, flatten, and fry in oil until cooked through. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Stuff the leaves: Place cabbage leave on cutting board with the inside facing up and the root end toward you. Put a small handful of stuffing on the leave about 1 inch from the root end. Fold the root end up over the stuffing, fold the sides in, roll the leave with the stuffing up to form a tight parcel. Repeat with remaining leaves.

Heat oil in the large skillet over medium heat. Place the stuffed leaves in the skillet with the seam facing down. Work in batches, do not overcrowd the skillet. brown the leaves, carefully turn over and brown the other side.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange browned leaves, seam side down, in the baking dish. Pour wine, chicken stock, and tomatoes with their juice over the leaves. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake in the oven 1-1/2 hours. If the tomatoes start to burn, reduce temperature to 325 degrees.

Serve in soup bowls, with the liquid and the tomato topping.

Stuffed cabbage leaves in containers