Friday, December 31, 2010


We have (at last approximate count, when we were unpacking from our move) more than 160 cookbooks and cooking-related works. Sometimes we use them for actual recipes, often we just like to read them, but most frequently they're inspiration. For example, I received Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook for Christmas, and I've already got some new ideas on deconstructed dishes and sauces.

A few of our cookbooks receive rotating space on a counter in the kitchen, and here are some of the most recent that we've been using for ideas.

Last night's dinner was a cauliflower, apple, onion, current, and dill casserole, with green-onion and Camembert cornbread. (Both inspired by The Herbal Kitchen cookbook, in top photo, which is based on the menu from the Herbfarm Restaurant in Woodinville, Washington.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snapper Baked in Salt Crust with Fingerling Potatoes

Like most American consumers, I’ve gravitated toward fish that have already been filleted, although in my younger fishing days I was fairly adept with cleaning and preparing whole fish. But we’ve recently been finding some nice-looking whole fish (this Snapper and some Spanish Mackerel most recently). One benefit to cooking fish whole is that the bones, head, etc. contribute additional layers of flavor to the finished dish.

We stuffed this Snapper with lemon, parsley, onion, and thyme. The salt crust held the moisture and flavors in, without giving the fish a salty taste at all. Served with lemon wedges and a drizzle of olive oil.

As accompaniment, we sautéed fingerling potatoes and onion (in a little olive oil, covered) with a little sage and finished with a light sprinkle of Truffle salt. Served the potatoes with a Wasabi mayonnaise, and had a Spanish Verdejo wine.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Just a Plain Lettuce Salad, Sil Vous Plait

[A chapter from The Cooking School of Life]

Bob just wanted a salad. A nice, crisp pile of lettuce with some tomatoes, maybe a slice of cucumber and a black olive or two.

“I’m sorry, we have the braised endive. Or maybe Monsieur would enjoy some Tomates a la Provencale?”

“No. Really. I’d just like a lettuce salad.”

“I’m sorry, again. We have no lettuce.”

Bob just stared at the waiter. We were in a French restaurant (back when they were “French” restaurants, not “continental” or “Euro-fusion”) in conservative Orange County, California. Bob was from New Jersey, out on business. He gave a sigh and slumped a bit, looking grumpy. Bob was the kind of guy who had his Range Rover in Jersey but also a 10-year-old-Oldsmobile as his New York City car. He commanded a bit of a presence, but also wasn’t the scene-making type.

“Let me ask if the kitchen can do anything for you sir.”

The kitchen did manage to find some hearts of Romaine (“No leaves?”), but insisted on French-ifying it so as not to appear too common.

I had never had French food. Never been to a French restaurant. Never had dinner with New York businessmen twice my age. I was over my head and I knew it so I tried my best to keep my head down and be as business-like as possible in my suit that I now know was much too loud and California-flamboyant for these guys in dark gray and brown.

The evening was awkward. I remember dropping the tiny salt shaker in the potatoes on my plate, but I think the conversation at the table was animated enough that no one else actually noticed as I wiped it off with the napkin on my lap. Especially as this was the type of French restaurant where everything was so perfectly spiced, seasoned, and salted that there were no salt or pepper shakers on the tables for the crude Americans who over-salted everything without even tasting it. (They must have known my Dad.) Thus, Bob had had to request salt and pepper for the table.

What I remember were the songs on the menu – Canard en Croute, Jambon Farci et Braise, Poulet Roti. Other than the Spanish of my youth and the street Japanese I picked up living in Asia, French menu items were the first words of another language that I learned. And I remember the sauces – Hollandaise, Mornay, Beranaise. And I have no clue as to what I ate that night or on other evenings at the restaurant. Other than they were rich and lovely.

Not just a plain lettuce salad.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tuna & Veggies

Sorta veggie tempura (actually beer-batter made with garbanzo flour and rice flour) with seared tuna steak with a teriyaki reduction sauce.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Deconstructed Shrimp Stir Fry

Whew. After too many weeks of packing, moving, and unpacking, I feel I'm sorta back to normal. Sorta.

Tonight, I was originally going to make a rice-greens-shrimp stir fry. But instead I decided to deconstruct it and serve the dish (sorta) separately.

Sauteed slivered onion until half browned, then added Swiss chard and cilantro, and finished with (from a jar) a Ginger Wasabi Teriyaki sauce. Plated that on top of steamed Japanese white rice.

Sauteed shrimp that had been lightly marinated in sweet Thai chili sauce and olive oil. Added on top of the rice and greens mix. Served with lime, soy sauce, and additional Thai chili sauce.

We paired this with a Chateau Ste. Michelle (Washington) Gewurztraminer, usually a good choice with Asian food.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Eggplant Panini

Our friends gave us a bag of gorgeous home-grown baby Eggplant, so we've been experimenting a lot. Here's last night's meal. We paired this with a Barnard Griffin Cabernet/Merlot (Washington State).

Building an Eggplant Panini dinner sandwich.

Sliced onions on bread.

Breading the Eggplant.

Frying the Eggplant.

Layering Eggplant and Cheese.

Top with Tomato slices.

Ready for the grill.

Served with Red Pepper and Sun-Dried Tomato mayonnaise.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pondering Syrah

We really love a good Syrah. We like the notes of black fruit, smoke, and spice. But Syrah has also been for us the most inconsistent and disappointing wine in recent years.

There have been a spate of recent articles in Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, and several other publications about the “what?,” “why?,” and (especially) “why not?” of Syrah. Some have blamed the wine’s failure to become “the next Pinot Noir” on a lack of sexiness; on a glut of wimpy Aussie imports; on bad marketing; on-and-on.

In our opinion, the reason is more simple. If most consumers have had experiences like ours, they are simply deciding to shop for something “safer.” For example: In the last two years, we’ve had three corked bottles of red wine – all $10-15 price-point Syrahs. Just a few nights ago, we had a recommended and highly rated Syrah that tasted like dirty rainwater. (It wasn’t corked or otherwise “bad,” just an unpleasant taste profile.) And we gave up on Australian Shiraz (same grape, different spelling) some years ago when all we were getting were harsh, watery “red wines.”

So as much as we love good Syrah, we’re gun-shy. Why should we take the chance? And if reasonably knowledgeable consumers such as ourselves are avoiding Syrah because of a few (a few too many, actually) bad bottles, think how the average consumer would respond.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Week in Santa Fe, in a Tiny Kitchen

Some totally random photos from a week’s cooking in a small, poorly-equipped, vacation-rental kitchen. We did bring our own knives.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Garden Veggie Alfredo Over Whole-Wheat Cheese Ravioli

Sauteed onion, garden beans, oregano, baby squash, and squash blossoms. Mixed with a very light olive oil & Alfredo sauce. Fresh grated Asiago cheese. With Barnard-Griffin Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot.

(Just looked at the 8/31/10 post on Veggie Shepard’s Pie – funny how this was mostly the same ingredients.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Potato, Asparagus, Wild Mushroom Quiche

Yesterday we found our first fall mushrooms – not really a common occurrence in this very dry part of Washington. We gathered one large puffball and a few nice-looking shaggy manes. We saw but didn’t pick several patches of pear-shaped puffballs.

The puffball proved fresh and firm, so it was sautéed and we’ll use it in the next day or so – maybe in a puffball lasagna or pasta sauce. The shaggy manes were also quickly sautéed, and we added them to a quiche creation we’d already planned for dinner – using sautéed garden potatoes as the “crust” for the quiche, brie cheese, and asparagus. (Alas, this time of year the only asparagus are grocery-store ones from Mexico.)

We had one bottle left of a Lemberger Rose from Lake Crest Winery in Oroville, Washington. It was the perfect match, as we thought the potatoes would go best with a red, while the asparagus and mushrooms would pair with a white (asparagus is notoriously hard to match with reds, and the shaggy manes were so delicate that, again, one always thinks white).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vegetarian Shepard’s Pie

Last night we made a vegetarian Shepard’s pie, with sautéed onion, yellow pepper, squash, green beans, and oregano (the last 3 all from the garden). We wanted a sauce/gravy to bind the veggies together, but not a thick stew gravy. So we mashed some potatoes, but added twice as much milk and butter to make almost like a potato white sauce.

A little thyme and sage as seasonings. Topped the veggie stew with normal-texture mashed potatoes (also from the garden) and a bit of Irish cheddar cheese. Paired with a Bogel Zinfandel wine.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Creating with Leftovers

Ah, the wonders of leftovers. Half a head of Napa cabbage; cooked salmon; wild and brown rice combo from a few nights ago. We steamed the cabbage leaves, and stuffed (rolled) them with the salmon, some ginger, and water chestnuts. A little Japanese sushi ginger on the side. We made the rice into a fried-rice mix by adding thin-sliced white onion (we had no green onions in the house), some of the uncooked cabbage (shredded), a few garden snap peas, and a couple of scrambled eggs. And since the high temperature was only 66 yesterday (the low was 39 – in August!), we paired our dinner with hot Sake.

Friday, August 27, 2010

African Salad and Chardonnay

Here’s one of those instances where I let my wife into the kitchen. She really creates excellent meals, although I like to pretend I’m the kitchen star.

Last night was a “European-inspired” salad modified from an African cookbook. We paired it with a 2008 Ridge Chardonnay Jimsomare.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Korean Vegetables and Fish with Sauvignon Blanc

Last night we made a Korean dinner. Sam Saek Namul (tricolored vegetables) with Domi Jun (egg-batter fish).

The three vegetables in the Sam Saek Namul were carrots, beansprouts, and spinach, most of which were flavored with sesame oil, soy sauce, red pepper, garlic, green onion, and/or ground sesame seeds.

The original Domi Jun recipe called for sea bream, but we used rockfish since it was the only good, firm white fish we had available.

(We don’t have Korean utensils and bowls, so used our Japanese ware.)

We paired the meal with a Vin du Lac Sauvignon Blanc from Lake Chelan, Washington.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chef’s/Cooking/Kitchen Knives

I do love knives. My current collection is a weird combination of the great, good, and cheap – and all have a specific use in my kitchen. (By the way, I’m really beginning to dislike the word “chef.” We’re all just cooks. Most of us aren’t chefs, celebrity chefs, or home chefs. We just enjoy cooking and using good tools for the job.) My kitchen knife collection, from top to bottom:

Analon santoku from China: This is the first “good” knife I bought for my wife. It’s an 8-inch chef’s knife, and the first “real” knife she’s owned in 59 years. I’m sorry to be sexist, but most women – great cooks or not – do not know and appreciate good knives. I thought it was time to advance her education.

Ran 6-1/2-inch santoku from Japan: This is my newest baby. The “Damascus” steel blade isn’t really Damascus steel (a long story, so don’t get me started) but a layered steel whose tradition goes back thousands of years to the making of Samurai swords. It has absolutely perfect balance and weight, and is a joy to use.

Dexter high-carbon chef’s knife: This knife is probably 50-60 years old – possibly even older than I am. It was a gift from my ex-father-in-law, and for 25 years it was definitely the “best” knife I owned. As worn and used as it is, I still love it.

A cheap, heavy cleaver: I think I got this at K-Mart, and its heft is great for cutting through bone or the Amazon rainforest. I use it when there’s some tough job that I don’t want to risk doing with a “good” knife.

An even cheaper off-set-handle serrated knife: This is great for bread. (Anyone who says you need a serrated knife for tomatoes hasn’t used a good, sharp, traditional blade – such as the Ran or Dexter, above.) This was probably part of some set of 12 knives for $10.

Kai ceramic “fish” knife: My first foray into inexpensive ceramic knives. Nice; I never use it for scaling fish; but it works as a quickie slicer.

Kai asymmetrical-blade paring knife: My wife calls this “the wicked little knife.” It’s small, extremely sharp, simple but beautiful, and one of my top three knives (along with the Ran and the Dexter).

A cheap Chicago Cutlery knife: I got this at a hardware store, but it’s still my favorite cheese knife. Good, thin, sharp knives don’t work too well with cheese. Something with coarser steel and a double bevel (such as this cheapo) cuts cheese much easier.

Kuhn Rikon ceramic paring knife: This inexpensive knife from Switzerland is surprisingly handy for slicing limes for Mojitos or any quick and small job.

(Along the side in photo) A big-ole carbon-steel knife: I found this huge, unknown-brand knife at a thrift store, and figured Julia Child would be proud. I don’t use it much, but is sure is fun to have.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Search Engines Say the Cutest Things

We seldom spend time looking at the statistics of our various websites and blogs. But a recent post on the Ridge Winery blog got us to thinking (always a very dangerous thing).

Since the first of the year, this blog has been reached directly; by referrals; and via 228 different search terms. Most of those searches are, naturally, related to a specific wine or a recipe. But a few stood out as a little off-beat.

In many of these cases, we have no idea what on this site it was that the search engine picked up on. Nonetheless, here is a short list of “unusual” search terms that drove visitors to our site. (These are the exact search terms as listed from Google Analytics.)

  • b&g wine cookbooks
  • free recipes from the three chimney's cookbook
  • hough purry
  • +"cellier des chartreux" +"chevalier d'anthelme"
  • a meal without wine is no meal at all
  • b and g bistro pinot noir 2005 kansas city
  • beringer white merlot vegan
  • face book errazuriz
  • garbanzo restaurant applications
  • mr. mirassou hot wine recipes
  • pahlmeyer safeway
  • quote would rather have the steak than the sizzle
  • the world's greatest wine estates - a modern perspective pahlmeyer
  • how much is a bottle of 1992 beringer white-zinfandel

A few comments:
We have no idea what a “hough purry” is, nor what “errazuriz” has to do with Facebook (or “face book”).
We are curious about the “vegan white merlot,” as we are about how a 1992 white zin would age.
We never realized there was a “mister Mirassou,” much less that he offered “hot wine recipes.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I Rather Hope Julia Child Would Be Appalled

It saddens me that so many talented writers are overlooked, while someone like Julie Powell receives so much ill-deserved glory. Her first book, Julie & Julia, was based on an interesting concept – making every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Unfortunately, Powell’s writing was so full of Me-Me-Me! as to make her book unreadable. Notwithstanding the fact that there was very little cooking and very little Julia in it.

Now Powell has come out with Cleaving, a book about her apprenticeship at a butcher and about her having an affair.

Please do all the good writers out there a favor and ignore both of Powell’s books. Many more worthy authors deserve your attention.