Spring menu today

SALAD
 Mixed greens with orange, walnuts, and goat cheese
 SOUP
 Cream of asparagus
 MAIN
 Ono, mango salsa
 Langostino and spinach frittata
 Chicken with wild mushrooms
 Beef liver, sherry sauce
 SIDES
 Quinoa with asparagus and peas
 Braised greens
 Sautéed cauliflower and broccoli
 Herbed sweet potatoes
 


Ono with mango salsa (Manila mango, red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro)


Chicken breast stuffed with wild mushrooms (porcini and chanterelles from Mendocino sautéed with spring garlic and thyme; white wine sauce)


Langostino and spinach frittata


Sautéed beef liver with shallots and sherry reduction


Quinoa with asparagus, peas, and lemon


Za’atar spiced sweet potatoes


Sautéed baby broccoli and cauliflower florets, white balsamic glaze
 
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Menu today


Menu today for a family of four:

Sole with lemon-cream sauce
French green beans
Baked French lentils with chicken sausage
Honey-glazed winter squashes
Pork medallions with peaches
Farro pilaf
Braised beef short ribs
Ratatouille


The beautiful fruits and vegetables for these meals come from Marin Farmers Market.

People often ask me how to cook thin delicate fish fillets, like Dover sole, so that they don’t fall apart. One way is to season them, then roll them up and cook:


And the fish turner spatula helps a lot!
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Location:San Rafael, CA

One of this week’s menus

The summer is over, but I cannot accept the fact yet. The summer produce is still going strong. My fig tree is bearing tons of figs; the squirrels cannot deal with them all, so I actually get to eat a fig or two every day. The tomatoes are $1 a pound at the end of the day at the farmers market, and they are the best tomatoes of the year. The corn is sweet and tender. The peppers are plump and they want to become stuffed peppers.

I’ve been making lots of stuffed peppers lately. Thanks to my new meat grinder, there is no more mystery about what meat goes into the stuffing: it’s grass fed beef chuck, ground a few minutes ago. Other ingredients: cooked brown rice, carrot, onion, celery, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Homemade chicken stock, tomato paste, and cream for the sauce.

This menu:


Soup
Meatball soup with vegetables and pasta

Salad
Heirloom tomato with burrata salad

Main
Salmon cakes, herb mayonnaise
Chicken coconut curry
Pork chops with peaches
Stuffed peppers

Sides
Saffron rice
Creamed corn
Farro dinner salad with cherry tomatoes and mint
Fennel gratin


Salmon cakes are another favorite these days. They allow me to feature the wonderful flavor, the delicate texture, and beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids of the local King salmon, while it’s still in season, without the outrageous cost – you only need one pound of salmon for 6 large or 12 small cakes. Other ingredients: sautéed onion, celery, carrot; Panko breadcrumbs, egg and egg whites (save the yolks off the mayonnaise), salt and pepper. I serve them with a home-made mayonnaise made with rice vinegar, parsley, tarragon, and chives.

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Location:Mill Valley, CA

Table settings

If there is anything that I love as much as good food, it’s a good table setting. Even before you start the dinner, seeing the table can get you in the mood and excite your appetite.

In my line of work, I don’t get to set up the table very often. Normally, I cook and package food for my clients, and they serve it later, in whatever setting they like.

This weekend I was lucky to have a chance to decorate the table twice.

Saturday was an all-girls birthday party, themed “50 Shades of Grey”.


The menu:
Appetizers
Young onion, bacon, and gruyere tart
Antipasto skewers

Soup
Butternut squash soup with orange and chai spices

Salad
Roasted beets with baby arugula, goat cheese, and walnuts; sherry vinaigrette

Entree
Halibut Meyer lemon butter
Roasted Brussels sprouts with orange
Baby root vegetables bagna cauda
Wild rice pilaf

Dessert
Chocolate cake with salted caramel sauce

On Sunday I prepared a very similar menu for an early dinner in my sunny backyard with my dear friends I. and V. The table setting made it look and feel completely different.
I. follows a gluten- and dairy-free diet, so I couldn’t make my favorite savory tart. I could treat her to a cream of cauliflower soup, that doesn’t contain any cream but still has a creamy texture from the pureed cauliflower. However she brought a delicious pear tart for the dessert that she couldn’t eat herself. V. And I enjoyed it a lot!


Menu:
Italian cold meat cuts

Cream of cauliflower soup

Baby arugula salad with roasted beets and walnuts

Halibut baked in parchment with baby root vegetables
Meyer lemon asparagus
Orange Brussels sprouts

Pear tart from Trader Joe’s

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Location:San Rafael, CA

The island feast

It’s always hard to come back from a vacation, especially one so perfect and food-centered as this one. Here are a few pictures from our South Pacific island feast.

Our destination was Tonga, an island kingdom located between Fiji, Samoa, and Cooks Islands, a short three-hour flight from New Zealand. From Auckland we took an Air New Zealand flight to the Tonga capital Nuku’alofa, then a charter flight in an antique 1944 DC3 airplane to the Vava’u island group, where we chartered a sailing catamaran to sail between the islands.

Picture a perfect tropical island, with a coral reef, a sandy beach, and coconut palms swaying in the warm breeze, surrounded by deep blue waters, full of fish, dolphins, and whales. Now picture sixty of these islands, a few of them with little native villages or fishing resorts, most of them uninhibited, within one-hour sail from each other. This is Vava’u island group.

Tongans love their food, and are very proud of it. The local diet is based on tropical vegetables (taro, sweet potato) and fruits (coconut, pineapple, bananas), with a lot of fresh fish and shellfish, and some pork, with some potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, and lettuce thrown in. At the farmers market in the main town Neiafu you get a large basket of coconuts for $7 paangas ($1 paanga roughly equals 60 US cents), and a bunch of bananas or a pile of pineapples for $3 paangas.

Farmers market in Neiafu:


This is what we were using for snacks while sailing. Our regular afternoon after diving and snorkeling snack consisted of New Zealand cheese, salami, and crackers with bananas and pineapple slices, and a drink of an unripe coconut with a shot of rum poured in.


For breakfasts, I made simple omelets with bacon and cheese for those who were hungry in the morning; those who were not subsided on instant porridge, bananas, Turkish coffee and green tea.

Our divers and fishing lines proved to be useless in the South seas: the fish shied away from the divers, and it never got the lure. I had to go fishing at the farmers market. Fortunately, the local fishermen they sell them (cheap) at the farmers market: spiny lobsters, barracuda, Pacific snapper, grouper, parrot fish, jacks, etc., come in fresh every morning. We grilled the snapper and trevally on board on our gas grill, and I pan-fried parrot fish fillets with fresh coconut flakes – all delicious, accompanied with a rice and vegetable pilaf, green salad, or boiled potatoes.

Parrot fish:


Cutting up a trevally:


Spiny lobster:


The highlight of the island cuisine is ota ika – raw fish – bite-size pieces of firm white fish, marinated with lemon juice, coconut cream, and vegetables, served with potato fries. This is addictive! Their fish soup is also coconut-based and delicious.

Ota ika:


Fish coconut soup:


Back to New Zealand, it was a completely different food experience. The country’s main feature is rolling green hills, where they raise sheep, cows, and deer. New Zealand lamb feeds the world, but it tastes the best in New Zealand in spring. Beef and venison are fresh and tender. Even in the most touristy places you get a tender cut of meat, cooked to perfection and plated beautifully.

Rack of lamb:


Lamb chops:


Venison cooked on a hot stone:


Steaks:


Fish and seafood:


In Auckland, fish and seafood are great, and they do mind the presentation.

Street sushi is a Southrn Hermispere exotic, and, surprisingly, they are edible, and tasty.


Breakfasts and snacks:


Our captain’s birthday falls on December, 1st. The International Date Line is set up all crooked and twisted in the South Pacific, to make sure that all the island nations are on the same time and date. So, after celebrating our captain’s first ever summer birthday in Auckland by bar-hopping, we got on the plane to San Francisco on December, 2nd, and we flew into December, 1st and back into December 2nd, three more times. The turbulences didn’t allow for a proper celebration on the plane, but we held tight to our wine glasses, and we toasted every one of our captains birthdays in and out!

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Location:Kingdom of Tonga; New Zealand

Dinner party menu tonight

One of the guests tonight was a vegetarian, so most of the menu is vegetarian, to make sure that everyone can eat it. The main course is fish, with a vegetarian option.

I wish I could take more, and better, pictures, while cooking for dinner parties. Usually, though, I’m so busy cooking, tasting, and interacting with the hosts (and their wonderful pets) that most of the food goes uncaptured.

The menu tonight:

Tartlets with goat cheese and caramelized onion
Eggplant caponata on toast
Carrot and orange soup

Heirloom tomato Caprese salad


Pan-fried halibut, creamy mushroom sauce
Stuffed portabello mushroom (vegetarian option)
Quinoa with zucchini and lemon
Green beans


Cheese and fruit plate
Panna cotta with fresh berries and warm chocolate sauce

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Location:San Francisco, CA

It’s king salmon season!


It’s California king salmon season! Everyone here is excited about our local salmon. The market price reflects this excitement – the whole fish goes at $10.99 a pound, and fillets are $17.99 a pound. Bu the glorious fish is totally worth it, and we can afford it once a year, right?


The fishermen bring the salmon in early in the morning, it hits the Bay Area stores a couple of hours later, and then you have to catch it the second time: it’s usually gone by noon.


This morning I caught about 1.5 pounds of the freshest local king salmon fillets at Sigona’s Farmers Market in Redwood City. I cut it into 6-ounce portions, and made a healthy version of the classic salmon with dill sauce for 4.

Salmon with Dill Sauce
Serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
4 salmon fillets, skin on
Salt, pepper

6 oz plain Greek yogurt
1 small bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
2 strips of lemon rind, yellow part only, cut with vegetable peeler, very finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt

Heat olive oil and butter in a large non-stick skillet. Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place fillets flesh side down in the skillet; let them sizzle without disturbing for 2-3 minutes. Using a large spatula, carefully turn the fish over. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, or until just cooked through but still juicy.

Mix yogurt, dill, lemon rind and lemon juice. Season to taste.

Spoon the sauce over the fish, garnish with lemon slices and dill sprigs.


Other ideas for cooking your local fresh salmon:

Poach it. Prepare court bouillon with white wine, lemon, black peppercorns, carrots, celery, parsley, onion, bay leaf, and enough water to cover the fish, in a deep sauté pan. Simmer 20-25 minutes to extract the flavor from the vegetables, season to taste. Remove and discard the vegetables. Place the fish fillets in the court bouillon skin side down. Simmer until just cooked, about 10 minutes, more or less depending on the thickness of the fish. Serve in soup bowls, with strained court bouillon and julienned blanched carrots and celery.


Grill it. Season the fillets with salt and pepper, brush with olive oil. Grill on preheated medium grill until just cooked, 6-8 minutes, turning (carefully, with a large spatula) once.


Here grilled king salmon is served with grilled yellow squash and a sauce of fava beans with tarragon and lemon.

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Location:Redwood City, CA

Fish selyanka


Here is another Russian cold-weather favorite, fish selyanka. Russia’s beloved sturgeon and pickled vegetables come together in a tangy, rich, comforting soup, layered with subtle flavors.

The variations are as many as there are cooks. One version uses rinsed, chopped sauerkraut in addition to pickles, olives, and capers. In another version crayfish or shrimp shells are added to the stock, and cooked crayfish or shrimp tails are used to garnish the finished dish.

The rich fish stock for this soup can be made with any non-oily mild tasting inexpensive white fish, or with sturgeon heads and trimmings. Fatty fishes would add extra heaviness and too strong flavors to the stock, and should be avoided.

Fish that work well:
Perch
Ruffe
Striped bass
Snapper
Sturgeon heads

Fish that don’t work:
Salmon
Tuna
Sea bass
Mackerel
Sardines

If using small fish, ask the fishmonger to scale and gut it, but leave the heads and tails on – they contribute to the stock. After making the stock the fish is usually discarded. I was making mine with white perch, and the little sweet fishes from the stock actually made a very good snack; just have to be careful about the bones – they are numerous and tiny.

Fish stock is different from meat and chicken stocks because it cooks very fast. If you put the aromatic vegetables in it whole, they will just begin cooking by the time the fish is completely spent. So, to get the most out of the vegetables, we’ll chop them into large chunks.


Fish selyanka
Serves 4

For the stock:

1-1/2 lb small fish or fish heads and trimmings
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 whole parsley, with root, or 1 chopped parsnip and 1 small bunch of parsley leaves
1 cup white wine
Water to cover
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns


Place fish, onion, carrots, celery, parsley and parsnip into a pot. They should fit relatively tight. Pour in white wine and water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to achieve slow even simmer. Skim the stock, add bay leaf and black peppercorns. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, strain stock through a fine strainer into a clean pot. Discard the vegetables and fish (or, if the fish looks good, sprinkle it with sea salt and enjoy).


For the selyanka:

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 lb sturgeon, cut into four portions, skin and cartilage removed
20 olives, pitted and sliced
3 large kosher pickles, sliced
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed
1/2 cup marinated mushrooms (optional)
Salt, pepper
Lemon slices, chopped parsley (for serving)


Heat oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté onions, stirring, until soft and beginning to turn color, 5-7 minutes. Add tomato paste, sauté 5 minutes more. Add 1 cup fish stock, stir well.

Bring 3 cups of stock to a boil. Add sturgeon, return to boil, reduce heat, simmer until sturgeon is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add onion-tomato mixture, olives, pickles, capers, mushrooms (if using). Heat through. Adjust seasoning. Depending on your ingredients, you may or may not need to add salt. Serve garnished with lemon slices and chopped parsley.


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Location:San Rafael, CA