Friday, February 29, 2008

The Daring Bakers February Challenge - "Pain Fran├žais a la Julia Child"

Ficelle with loaves in the background
I am a big fan of Julia. I love her independence, her humor and her can-do spirit and I admire her efforts to educate people about the pleasures of good food. I even own both of the Mastering French Cooking volumes - First Editions, in fact, so I was very excited to see this challenge. This was also perfect for me because I'd been meaning to try french bread at home, after doing it on my culinary school classes last year - and just hadn't gotten around to it. I even have this fancy pan, which I talked my mom into buying me for Christmas last year - and I think I've used exactly twice (for shame!) For my loaves, I did a boule, a small oblong loaf, and two ficelles. I didn't add any flavorings - but I did see some loaves at the store the other day with some sea salt sprinkled on them - might be an idea for the future!
Ficelles
Sadly though, I did not have the best luck with my bread. Everything seemed to be going along swimmingly until I got to the third rise - when I went to slash my loaves for the oven, they deflated like sad little balloons. The ficelles fared a little better, but even they had a slightly tough crust and a slightly mealy crumb. I think somewhere along the line perhaps I let it overrise? Or in the proofing (third rise) I didn't cover it well enough? It seemed like it formed a gluten shell that was a little too thick. I do think I may have overworked the dough on my smaller loaves because they had that swirly look - but when I ate one last night (after they had cooled!) and again this morning for breakfast, they were delicious.
Julia's guide to bread shapes - drawn by her husband Paul
At least what I wound up with was tasty, and I do plan to work on my bread baking skills - I am hoping to take a bread class this fall in my culinary program (if they offer it at night.) In the meantime though, I think I'll let my local bakery (Bread and Cie) take care of this particular task for me - since they do such a much better job of it!

Cheers to another completed challenge!

pink_sil

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Truffled Popcorn at Home

Truffled Popcorn - going fast
Though it's being reported that truffles are sadly going the way of the dodo, with sky high prices to match - I had only a little trouble getting my hands on the truffle salt I used to make truffled popcorn for our Oscar Supper Club party on Sunday night. My friend Lisa clued me in to the magic of this stuff at our last supper club meeting, and a few others chimed in that they were smitten too. An hour or so after the gathering I was sniffing a jar of the stuff at Sur la Table, but at the time I couldn't think what on earth I would do with it. It's not horrendously expensive at $20. a jar, but I was too afraid that I would just leave it sitting in the pantry where it would lose all of that delicious aroma that was coming right through the glass - so I didn't buy it. Of course, just after that it occurred to me that it would be the perfect thing for making truffled popcorn, which would in turn be the perfect thing for an Oscar party. I went looking in another Sur la Table in Orange County for the same product (which goes by the brand name Tartufe Langhe) but the cupboards were bare - literally. Not a truffled anything in sight.

I considered buying a fresh truffle and trying to make some myself, but that wasn't exactly going to be cost effective - considering they're running in the hundreds per ounce right now. Running short on time for shopping, I decided to take a chance and just order the salt from Amazon. I chose the one with the highest ratings, assuming it couldn't suck too badly. It's not quite as overwhelmingly fragrant as the one I found at Sur la Table - but it does the trick.

In the meantime, we also went to dinner with some friends at Cavaillon, where two of us enjoyed the truffle tasting menu, and the other two enjoyed the Monday 3 course prix fixe. The lovely Jora had some slivers of truffle left over, which I took home and minced, and then tossed with some Maldon salt. That didn't really work so well - there wasn't nearly as much truffle essence in there as in the jar of truffle salt that eventually arrived in the mail.

Still experimenting, a few days later I took some of the truffle salt and melted about two tablespoons of butter and stirred the salt into it. My thinking was that the salt was fragrant enough that it would actually infuse the butter with the truffle flavor. I let that sit in the fridge for a day or two, and when I had popped the popcorn, I melted that with a little more butter and tossed it in a large bowl with a dusting of the dry salt. It was a little salty, but definitely had good truffle flavor. You could probably get close to the same effect by just stirring the truffle salt into your melted butter before tossing it with the popcorn, but I think having the butter infused with the truffle before-hand helped at least a little bit.

For the corn, I used some organic microwave popcorn from Vons (Safeway) that said it was nothing but corn and a little bit of oil. It worked well, but I'd never made microwave popcorn in the current microwave I own - so I burned one pretty badly and took the last one out way too soon because I wasn't paying close attention. Assuming you're smarter than I am, you won't have these problems. Luckily we wound up with a good amount that was edible. It's much better when it's warm so I'd say only make what you intend to serve pretty quickly. If you want to get really fancy, you can make it on the stovetop - it's really pretty easy, and might even taste better.

Here is a recipe of sorts - the main issue is that of course you have to have the truffle salt which is a little bit expensive, but it's also great for other things - steaks, potato gratins, french fries, burgers - pretty much any cheese, meat or starch you can think of.

Other formulas suggest the use of truffle oil or the addition of finely grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese. Since truffle oil is usually synthetic I probably wouldn't go that route - but a fine dusting of parmesan might be good though - as long as it's not just gilding the lily. I'll let you be the judge of that.

Truffled Popcorn
serves 6-8 as a cocktail snack

1 teaspoon truffle salt, divided
4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, divided
Eight cups of popcorn (approximate)

1-2 days before you plan to make the popcorn, melt two tablespoons of butter and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of truffle salt. Cover and refrigerate.

Pop the popcorn and place it in a large shallow bowl. Just before serving, add the additional 2 tablespoons of butter to the truffled refrigerated butter and melt gently. Pour this over the warm popcorn and toss to coat. Add more truffle salt if needed - heap into bowls or cones and pass with champagne or cocktails.

Bon Appetit!

Good places to try truffled popcorn out and about in SD include Currant and Blanca. Both of these restaurants, incidentally, have recently tweaked their menus - with Blanca lowering prices significantly. We tried it for restaurant week and really liked it - more coming on that soon!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

So much for all that... Why I'm conceding that Obama should win

Politics Alert! This is a follow up on an older post - there will be more posts about food in the next few days - so if you're here for that, feel free to come back then!
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A few weeks ago, before Super Tuesday - I posted a little rant questioning the popularity of Barack Obama vs. Hillary Clinton. After watching tonight's debate, and following the contest over the past few weeks - I have to say, I see it. Obama really does have the presence, eloquence and appeal to gather support across a wider base than Hillary, and I think he will - and should - win the nomination.

Hillary is an excellent leader and one of the smartest people in politics, but she hasn't shown that she has what it takes to gather support for her policies among the public, or run a successful campaign. There were more than a couple of wince-worthy moments in tonight's debate - for example the Saturday Night Live comment, and the statements mocking Obama's campaign platform. She would have done well to avoid stooping to that kind of sarcasm and testiness - it doesn't convey that her policies or ability to lead are superior to his - it just looks like sour grapes.

Obama has shown that he has the ability to maintain grace under pressure, and as many commenters to my previous post pointed out - he has the capacity to unite voters behind him to defeat the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. At this stage it does look like he will handily beat McCain, whereas Clinton will drive people to the polls to vote against her - like it or not.

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter what I think, but I just thought I'd share this, in light of the earlier post - and as an explanation for the change in the sidebar widget that will be on this blog until the next election. Obamamania it is.

Now, if he would only suggest a way to address the environmental issues crippling the planet in a real and meaningful way - THAT would be change I could believe in. Maybe he'll appoint Al Gore as Secretary of the Interior. Wouldn't that be loverly?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Saturday Night Dinner Party - Pork Scallopine with Salsa Verde Browned Butter and Fresh Corn Risotto

Pork Scalloppine with Salsa Verde Browned Butter and Fresh Corn Risotto
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but this was dinner on Saturday night, and it was delicious. I started with a recipe from Sunday Supper with Lucques, but I made some changes so I've typed it up below. Mostly I subbed pork for the veal, and used a risotto recipe from Food and Wine magazine instead of Polenta.
The riffed-on recipe
For dessert, we had churros (from Suzanne Goin's recipe) and hot chocolate (not from her recipe.) The churros were a little softer than I would have liked, but pretty tasty. Her dough is basically a choux paste, so it's very light but also very rich - almost custardy inside. Suzanne Goin's Churros
I tried adding some cocoa powder to the hot chocolate per Suzanne's suggestion, but I thought it made it a little too bitter. My favorite is still a blend of the dark Michael Recchiuti (which comes in chips) with the sweeter cinnamon-spiced Guanni. Williams Sonoma's is pretty good too, but it doesn't look like they have it on their website right now - it's usually available at the holidays. I have one of these things that whips and heats the chocolate, and then dispenses it, which is awesome. I absolutely love it. For some reason though, it's almost impossible to find one with a metal carafe - most of them are plastic. If you see one and you want one, buy it - you might not get another chance.

Here's the recipe. It's a little involved, but totally worth it. I promise!
Pork Scalloppine with Salsa Verde Brown Butter
Pork Scalloppine with Salsa Verde Brown Butter and Fresh Corn Risotto
adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin, and Food and Wine Magazine
Serves 6

12 pork loin cutlets or boneless chops, pounded thin
1 cup Wondra flour
vegetable oil
salt and pepper

1) Make the salsa verde an hour or two before serving (recipe below.)

2) Get your mise en place ready for your risotto and the pork cutlets. Start cooking the risotto about 45 mins before you plan to eat. When about half of the stock has been absorbed, start heating your frying oil.

3) Season the flour with salt and pepper and dredge the cutlets in the flour mixture. Fry in a large saute pan in the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until nicely browned. Drain and remove to a warm serving pan. When the cutlets are done, drain the excess oil out of the pan, leaving the brown crusty bits behind and add the stick of butter, allowing it to melt. Turn off the heat until the risotto is almost ready to serve.

4) When the risotto is just about ready - turn the heat up and brown the butter, being careful not to let it burn. Transfer the browned butter to a small pitcher or gravy boat, and spoon in about half of the salsa verde, making sure to get lots of the green stuff. Pass at the table with the pork cutlets and risotto.
Fresh Corn Risotto
Fresh Corn Risotto

6-7 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of arborio rice
2 large shallots or one medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2-3/4 of a cup)
vegetable oil
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons white wine
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
kernels from 4 ears of fresh corn (about two heaping cups)
a knob (about 2 Tablespoons) of butter

Heat the stock to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot, and reduce to a simmer. Get out a large ladle and keep it nearby.

Coat the bottom of a heavy medium to large pot (I made a double recipe in a 6 quart dutch oven) generously with oil and heat over moderate flame for about 1 minute. Add the shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until soft. Add the rice and stir until opaque, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until absorbed, stirring constantly. When that's absorbed, ladle in about a cup of stock, and continue to stir until it's absorbed. Continue doing this - adding stock and stirring until it's absorbed, until it starts to take on a creamy appearance. At that point, add the corn. Continue cooking and stirring, adding the stock and checking the texture of the rice. Add the parmesan toward the very end - when there's just about one more addition of stock. It's done with nearly all of the stock is absorbed, and it has a creamy just slightly firm texture - the whole process should take about 30-40 minutes.

Salsa Verde
Salsa Verde
(all volume measurements are after chopping)

2 teaspoons fresh whole oregano leaves
1 cup roughly chopped parsley
1 cup roughly chopped other mildly flavored bitter greens - watercress, spinach, arugula, etc.
1/2 cup roughly chopped mint
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 anchovy
1 heaping Tablespoon capers (rinse and adjust the salt content if using salt-packed)
3/4 cup good quality olive oil
juice and zest of half a lemon
about teaspoon of sea salt (or to taste)

In a mortar and pestle, grind the oregano, parsley and other greens to a paste with a little salt and olive oil. Place in a small bowl. Mash the garlic and anchovy and add to the greens. Lightly crush the capers and add them. Stir in the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and any remaining salt (if needed) and let sit for an hour or two at room temp, stirring occasionally.

Bon Appetit!

And special thanks to Becky and James for bringing over this sweet cheese plate from Taste - you guys rock!
The cheese plate from Taste that Becky brought

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Red Velvet Cupcakes Reprise and Happy Valentine's Day!

foodblog 1584
Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!

It seems great minds think alike. Here is Dorie Greenspan's Valentine's post today, and here's mine (with a little Valentine's story) from last year. I love the idea of dipping half of them in chocolate!

I've also noticed a lot of hits recently on my post about the "Shortcut" Red Velvet Cupcakes from around this time last year (mostly with Sprinkles in the name) - so here it is again, for those who are still looking for something to make for Valentine's Day! The full post can be found here. Cheers!
foodblog 1565
"Shortcut" Red Velvet Cupcakes

for the cakes:
2 heaping tablespoons cocoa (I used Scharffenberger)
1/4 -1/2 tsp paste red food coloring, or 1 teaspoon of liquid (1 Tablespoon if you want a REALLY red cake)
1/4 cup boiling water
1 package Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Cake Mix
3/4 stick butter (6 Tbsp) very soft
1/2 cup of buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
3 eggs
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350

Prepare two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners (I used these - found 'em at Peoples)

Add the food coloring to your boiling water, and pour over the cocoa - stir to make a paste.

Cream the butter, oil, eggs, buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla and cake mix together in a standing mixture with the whisk attachment. Add the cocoa mixture and beat on medium high speed for four minutes - until fluffy and creamy.

Fill cups just over 3/4 of the way full, about 1/2 inch from the top. Bake about 20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

"Sprinkles" Recipe Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz of cream cheese, very soft
4 oz of butter, very soft
1/8 tsp salt
4 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp of vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese and butter with the salt until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, and the vanilla - beat until smooth and creamy. Dollop onto the cupcakes with a small offset spatula and spread by pushing from the center out to the edges.

Makes 24 standard size cupcakes.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

An Old Fashioned "Chowdown" at the Imperial Ave. Farmers' Market

Stalls and Tables in the Imperial Farmers' Market building
This past Saturday, a few of my fellow Chowhounds and I got together for a meet and eat, known in Chowhound parlance as a "Chowdown," at the Imperial Avenue Farmers' Market Building. I was excited not only to check out the Mexican food - but to meet some of the folks who I have been exchanging tips, complaints and chit chat with for the past year and a half or so. Josh, Alex (Kare Raisu), Jen (jturtle) and I had a great time, and I think it's something we'll be doing again in the future - I certainly hope so.
Another view of the Salsa Verde
I hadn't been to the Farmers' Market building in a number of years, and it was a little different from what I remember. In the old days there were fresh fruit and vegetable vendors in the center, and shops around the outside edges selling various wares reminiscent of Tijuana. When I walked into the front of the building, I saw a large empty area to the right - to the left however, the building was full of life - a long corridor of stalls selling various food items: guisados - or Mexican stews - in steam tables, women making torillas, huge pots of carnitas bubbling away, an honest to goodness panaderia, and long tables of people eating the best looking Mexican food I've seen just about anywhere. Most of them were eating large bowls of red Pozole, garnished with the fresh salsas, cilantro and other garnishes in bowls lined up on the tables. A strolling guitarist was serenading the room. Stumbling onto this scene unexpectedly felt like walking through the set of a movie.
Chowdown at the Imperial Farmers Market 002
I found my cohorts on the outside of the building at the side entrance - we spotted each other immediately, as people somehow always do when they are looking for each other. We waited a few minutes to make sure we had everyone, and headed inside to the Bahia Mariscos for some ceviche. Alex chose this "course" for us, and he and Josh selected a ceviche pescado and "agua chile" - a dish made with raw shrimp marinated in a habanero sauce. Both were delicious - the fish ceviche benefited from some additional lime and hot sauce, and the agua chile was sweet and intensely spicy. It's definitely a good thing we shared it.
Chowdown at the Imperial Farmers Market 007
Josh chose the next destination and led us to the Carnitas Estilo Michoacan Stand - which features just about any part of the pig you could possibly desire to eat. He had his eye on the pork rib and pork belly cuts and ordered two tacos filled with each for us to share, but something was lost in the translation, and we wound up with pork stomach instead. Alex had a pork ear taco (which he thoroughly enjoyed) and I ordered a couple of plain carnitas tacos.
Carnitas taco with salsas
The carnitas and rib tacos were good, but the meat was a bit softer than I prefer, not enough crispy edges. The tortillas they used were outstanding - they may have come from one of the stalls directly across the corridor, where two women were making tortillas side by side. There were bowls of the most vibrant green salsa I've ever seen sitting on the tables, and lots of fresh onions, cilantro and pico de gallo. I kept piling them on the carnitas, but after awhile, it just tasted like onion. As Alex pointed out, maybe the salt shaker would have helped.
Guisados - we had the chile relleno, far top left, and the barbacoa, middle front
The next course was chosen by Jen, and we all had our eye on the steam table of guisados just across from the Carnitas stall. She chose wisely - a plate of barbacoa and a chile relleno coupled with some of those fresh tortillas.
Barbacoa and Chile Relleno
These were my favorite dishes of the day - the barbacoa was well seasoned, not overly greasy, and had a good chile flavor. The chile relleno was cooked al dente, filled with a mild white cheese and coated with a thin eggy batter. The sauce was seasoned with fresh oregano and had a nice depth and balance to it, like a good complex sauce should. The tortillas were really note-worthy. It would be worth a trip there just to pick some of those up.
Pan Dulces at the Panaderia
Having finished with the savory portion of the meal, it was left to me to chose the pan dulces from the panaderia just next to the carnitas stand. The panaderia was a charming throwback, with a huge vintage oven and large cases with glass doors filled with good looking pastries. Most pan dulces I've had in the past have been too sweet and som have sort of an ersatz flavor. These were more subtle and were made with better quality ingredients. Many of them looked like Italian pastries.
Pan Dulces at the Panaderia
To choose, they give you a pizza tray, and you're asked to place what you want on the tray. I chose a flan, a couple of glazed crisp flat cookies - one like a palmier and the other like a glazed piece of pie crust; a pound cake-like muffin wrapped in crisp pastry and baked; a cakey cinnamon butter cookie; and a cake made of the same poundcake shaped like a snowball - two halves stuck together and covered with raspberry jam and coconut. All of that, including the flan, cost $6.50. The owner was very helpful - he even made me a fresh pot of coffee.
The mess we made...
Overall the food was fabulous and I think we were all full - but since we were eating a little of everything, it never felt like too much. I enjoyed the company just as much as the food - we spent nearly three hours together chatting and trading stories. I'm really looking forward to future outings, both to meet more Chowhounds, and to try new things. I'd really love to explore Vietnamese food, more of Convoy, etc. It's just so easy to get in a rut, and going somewhere new and out of the ordinary feels a little like traveling, with all the benefits and none of the hassles. Like traveling, it's also a lot more fun when you have someone to to show you around.

For the rest of the participants reports on the Chowdown, read the Chowhound thread here

Josh's photos can be viewed here, the rest of mine are here.

San Diego Farmers' Market
2100 Imperial Avenue
Just East of the 5, take the Imperial Avenue exit from S. 5 just past downtown.
We went on Saturday morning at 10 AM, which seemed to be a perfect time - I bet it's also bustling on Sundays.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"Haute Tea" at Cafe Chloe

Tea at Cafe Chloe 004

First off, I have a question.

Does anyone actually drink tea at afternoon tea? When there's lovely, sparkly, prosecco to be had?

Not me, that's for sure. Tea is ok with cookies - but when you're offered rich, delicious food - a glass of bubbly is not only the more indulgent option, it's the most appropriate accompaniment. Or at least that's my justification.
Tea at Cafe Chloe 012

I'd been been wanting to try Cafe Chloe's afternoon tea service for a long time - since I spied the silver trays heaped with treats on a visit about a year ago. Advance reservations are required, so we couldn't do it that day, but Susan and I vowed to return. Her birthday late last month provided the perfect opportunity.

The first tray we were presented was the savory spread - pictured above - with mini tureens of tomato soup, a luscious, buttery blue cheese tart, open faced prosciutto sandwiches with roasted-but-still-juicy-tomatoes and butter lettuce, open faced baby ham and melted cheese sandwiches, and last but not least - the obligatory cucumber and watercress. Everything was delicious, and the soup was an especially nice touch -I'd never seen that before. As we were finishing that up, we flagged down our server and asked for an order of their frites - Susan's favorite - and a second glass of prosecco.
Tea at Cafe Chloe 005

The frites at Cafe Chloe are super skinny, served in one of those tall, paper lined silver cones with three dipping sauces, a harissa ketchup, saffron aioli and watercress aioli. They're also tossed with some fried shallots - a nice touch that brings in a little of that "onion ring" flavor. An order of these and a glass of sparkling wine is my favorite way to begin a meal here.
Tea at Cafe Chloe 007

The savories and frites were followed by the sweets - pictured above. There were two scones with cranberries and walnuts, small pots of chocolate pot de creme topped with whipped cream and brandied cherries, mini apple galettes, shortbread cookies - and get this - two tiny dishes of ice cream. Strawberry ice cream, at tea. I don't know why, but this totally did me in.

I ordered a nice strong cup of coffee to go with all of this. The scones were crisp and buttery, the pot de creme lush and chocolatey, and the ice cream just as delicious as it was adorable. Neither of us could finish, so we packed up Susan's scone and my cookies and galette - and a couple of croissants they were nice enough to give us when we asked for an extra scone (James' favorite breakfast pastry) - and out we toddled, thoroughly sated.

It's a good thing I didn't have to eat much for dinner that night. That would have been a challenge.

Cafe Chloe
9th and G Streets
(619) 232-3242
Tea served daily, 3-5 PM
Call ahead for reservations - 619-232-3242
Tea - $25.00, including one glass of prosecco or a pot of gourmet tea.
Frites and each additional glass of bubbly, around $7.00.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Easy Peasy Dining In - a la Chez Panisse

Insalata Pizza
Ok, maybe I'm making that up - I have never actually eaten at Chez Panisse - but this is the kind of food I imagine one would eat there! (In the cafe, at least.)

I wanted to share the formulas for some simple and delicious meals I've made recently, using a blend of convenient short cuts and local ingredients. Call it Fast Slow Food. All of these can put on the table in about an hour (or less,) and they involve few ingredients - some of them repeat, which helps keep the grocery bill, and the food waste, down. All that measuring really slows things down, so these aren't exact by any means.

I used the shortcuts that made sense to me - but if you have access to locally-made prosciutto, or if you like to make your own pizza dough - then by all means knock yourself out. I'm also pretty sure that Alice Waters would never approve of frozen brownies, but we all know how out of touch she is. (The gluten free peanut butter cookie dough is pretty damn good too!)
La Milpa Greens ready for cooking
Roast Chicken with Braised Greens

Shopping List - a four pound organic chicken, some fresh sage and thyme, four or five bunches of organic greens - collards, kale, chard, beet greens, etc. (La Milpa at the Farmer's Market has a great selection right now,) Niman Ranch uncured bacon, an onion, red wine vinegar, chicken broth.

In the morning (say before work) dry-brine the chicken by towel drying it, rubbing it liberally with kosher salt inside and out and under the skin. If you have some, put a few sprigs of sage and thyme in the cavity and slide some up under the skin. Cover loosely with paper towels and leave on a plate in the fridge all day.

About an hour before eating - roast the chicken according to the Zuni directions - heat the oven to 425, put a jelly roll pan (or other shallow baking pan) in the oven and pre-heat it. Dry the bottom of the chicken with paper towels and set it on the pan - it should sizzle. Roast the chicken for about 45 mins on 425 and flip it over with tongs - roast about 15 mins upside down, and flip back over for the last 15 mins. Check it with a thermometer - it should be about 175 when done.

Meanwhile, chop two slices of the bacon into lardons, and dice half the onion (about half a cup). Wash and tear the greens, like you would for salad. If you have beets attached to your beet greens, cut them off and wash and trim them too.

Fry the bacon in a large dutch oven or saute pan over medium heat until crisp, and remove the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease behind. Fry the onion in the bacon grease, and add the greens (and beets if you have them) - pour a little broth or water over, and cover the pot so they will steam. Using tongs, stir and toss the greens a couple of times while cooking -When they're almost completely wilted - add a light drizzle of red wine vinegar and toss, and cook a few minutes more. Add the bacon back in just before serving. Mound the greens on a plate and serve with the chicken and some toasty bread.


Insalata Pizza
This idea came courtesy of my good friend Lisa - I bought everything I needed to make it at Trader Joes one day last week when I was stranded without any La Milpa greens - which I'm addicted to now, it seems.

Shopping list - ready-made pizza dough, Quattro Formaggio cheese blend, prosciutto (I like the lightly smoked German one), salad greens (I used arugula and spring mix), baby tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and olive oil - or lemon juice and olive oil.

Let the dough sit out until room temperature, and roll out on a flat pan. Spritz or brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with the shredded cheese. Bake until the cheese is nice and brown. Immediately top with slices of prosciutto, so some of the fat melts into the crust. Toss the greens with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and ground pepper and some shaved parmesan, add the tomatoes, or whatever other salad-appropriate vegetables you might have. Place the pizza dough on a platter and mound the salad on top. Using a pizza cutter, cut pieces of the dough, wrap them around the salad and eat.

Sauteed Mushrooms with Lemon and Garlic
Shopping list - fresh oyster mushrooms (La Milpa had some this week - and cheap - the basket practically disappeared while I was standing there.) You'll need at least a quarter pound per person, since they cook down. A lot. A clove or two of garlic, two or three scallions, Meyer lemon for squeezing, about a tablespoon of torn cilantro, pepper, and a little oil and stock round things out.

Wash and cut the mushrooms into strips about a half inch wide - trim off any woody parts. Mince the garlic and slice the scallions - rinse and tear up the cilantro. Heat a little oil in a skillet and cook the garlic and onion until soft. Add the mushrooms and a little (just a teaspoon or two) of broth and cook until the mushrooms are soft. Grind a little pepper, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the cilantro cook just a few seconds to meld the flavors. Serve immediately - with a green salad and crusty bread.

With this, we also had some prosciutto-wrapped stuffed dates. A good friend brought back some dates from Saudi Arabia that are so sticky and sweet they're almost like caramel. I removed the pits and stuffed them with a tiny baton of Reggiano Parmesan, and wrapped them with some of the prosciutto (the same smoked variety that I used for the pizza.) These came out much better than the ones I made a while back with bacon. The prosciutto gets nice and crisp, but isn't nearly as greasy. There's a woman at the La Mesa farmers' market who sells dates that look almost as good as the ones my friend brought me - when I run out I'll try some of hers!

For a quick dessert with any one of these - I can highly recommend the ready to bake brownies in the Trader Joes frozen aisle. When my husband tried one last week, he said to me "How is it that something frozen from Trader Joes can be better than anything you've ever made?" Of course, he backpedaled immediately, but enough said!

Enjoy the week!