Saturday, August 28, 2010

Apricot walnut bars, and a houseguest

Did you forget about me, friends?

There's been lots of work to do this week, plus we've had a houseguest. Our little buddy Django came to stay with us, and Frances quickly schooled him in the way things go around here.

First, if you hear the clang of a pot or pan lid, vegetables being chopped, or the refrigerator door swing shut, run as fast as you can to the kitchen and assess the situation.

Once you determine the source of the sound, get underfoot and don't move until something drops.

As soon as something hits the floor, it's every dog for him/herself.

When you've scrounged whatever you can, repeat from the beginning.

It's been a joy to see them together. Makes us think of getting Frances a full-time sidekick.

Anyway, today I had the itch to do something with some dried apricots I picked up recently. Apricot bars seemed a natural fit, but I have found mixed luck with bar cookies. Remember when I made the crazy mango bars? They weren't bad but they weren't...good.

These apricot bars I whipped up, though, they were swell. I even included the walnuts, which is unusual for me. Usually I abhor nuts in baked things.

In a way, they almost seemed like less of a bar and more like a little cake sitting on shortbread. The top is cakey and delicate, and as I bit into it, I imagined eating one for breakfast the next day. But then you get down to the crumbly cookie base, and it's hard to persuade yourself that these really belong in breakfast territory.

Although, if people can eat steak and eggs for breakfast, why can't I eat a layered cake-on-cookie?

Give me one good reason.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Farro salad with roasted tomatoes and shaved parmesan

I've been obsessed with farro ever since it started turning up in restaurants. First I had it at too-cool-for-school Beretta in the Mission. Then I had it at the only semi-hip (but extremely delicious) Gialina in Glen Park. It even trickled down to plain old Pasta Pomodoro in Noe Valley, where we sometimes end up for weekend brunch.

Then I read about Thomas Keller's buttered farro over at Connie's blog, and I pretty much haven't stopped thinking about it since.

If you haven't had farro, it's a bit like barley, only slightly chewier. Farro can take nearly any flavor, be served hot, cool, or at room temperature, and either grace the side of a roast or stand up on its own. In short, it's exceedingly versatile.

When I finally got around to buying some (which turns out isn't cheap-possibly its only downside),  I decided to make something that felt like summer, which to me means tomatoes and basil.  Grilled vegetables or peppery arugula would work well in it too, as would curls of salty prosciutto or velvety black olives. What would have really blown me to bits was if I'd had some burrata on hand. But I suppose you can't have everything.

Farro salad with roasted tomatoes and shaved parmesan
Another Hungry Dog original

1 c. farro
2 T. unsalted butter
1 T. olive oil
3 c. water
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
handful of basil, julienned
parmesan for shaving
vinaigrette made to taste (I used olive oil, balsamic vinegar, one clove of minced garlic, a little honey, salt and pepper)

Preheat the oven to 425.

Heat the oil and butter over medium high heat in a medium saucepan. Once the butter has melted, foamed, and subsided, add the farro and toast, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes. Add water, stir well, bring to a boil then reduce heat so that the water is simmering but not boiling. Let cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Farro should still be chewy when it's done cooking, not overly soft.

While the farro is cooking, toss the tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast for 8-10 minutes, until the tomatoes split. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Make vinaigrette. I made about, oh, 1/3-1/2 c. and kept it separate from the salad mixing bowl so I could add it gradually. I'm not including directions here, because I never measure when it comes to vinaigrettes, which may explain why sometimes they are good and sometimes they are not.

When the farro is done, either pour it into a large mixing bowl, or if there is still some water that hasn't been absorbed, drain the farro and place it in mixing bowl. (I just estimated how much water to use and 3 cups turned out right--the farro is boiled, not steamed, so err on adding more water rather than less). Toss with vinaigrette, and taste for seasoning. The farro will keep absorbing the vinaigrette, so add as much or as little as you like. Then add the tomatoes, with any juices that have accumulated. Mix gently, then add basil, and mix again. Season to taste and serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with shaved parmesan.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I guess I don't like catfish after all

Isn't this pretty?

Catfish panfried until golden, then topped with a tomato, basil, and olive sauce.

Too bad I didn't like it very much.

Well, I liked the sauce part. After I cooked the fish, I melted some butter and oil in the same pan, threw in cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, and garlic and cooked it until the tomatoes broke, about two minutes. Stirred in some basil for an herby finish.

The sauce would be good on pasta. Or bruschetta. Or over chicken. Or with a different kind of fish. Just not catfish. I decided, with this recipe, that I don't like catfish after all. I've eaten it many times in my life and each time, I think to myself, "Do I like this?"

Sometimes I've overcooked it. Surely that hasn't helped. Catfish already learns toward the tough side--overcook it and it's a rubbery mess. But I've also undercooked it. That's no good either. Unlike tuna or salmon, catfish needs to be done all the way through or it gives me the heeby jeebies.

There's a secret to cooking catfish, but I don't know what it is. And I think I'll devote myself to unlocking other mysteries of the kitchen. Because even if it were cooked perfectly, I'm not sure I would love it. The sauce, however--that's a keeper.

Quick tomato and olive sauce
A Hungry Dog original

1 pint cherry tomatoes
1-2 garlic cloves minced
1 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1/4 c. pitted olives, chopped
2-3 T. chopped basil

Melt butter and oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. After the butter has foamed and subsided, toss in tomatoes, olives, and garlic. Let cook for a couple of minutes over lively heat, until the skin on the tomatoes splits. Turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste, and basil.

Serve over anything but catfish.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Brown is beautiful: easy chicken marsala

Some of my favorite things to eat and cook are not photogenic at all. For example, anything that is brown--a stew, a roast--is likely to appear a little less than appetizing in a photo.

A better photographer could make these things look delicious. But pictures have always been secondary to this blog. And my method for taking pictures is admittedly poor. Often I'm working with hot food which means there's a steam issue. Sometimes I'm contending with glare. I'm always racing against a grumbling stomach and an impatient husband if it's dinner time.  By far, my best photos are of baked things that have long since cooled and I can take my time with.

This is all to say, this photo isn't great--it's too brown and shiny--but I still think it's beautiful because it tasted so delicious. It's Giada's chicken marsala with mustard and mascarpone.

Chicken and mushrooms in a brown sauce isn't exactly a knockout, but it's a winner in the taste department, which is all that really matters. Anything with marsala is luxurious. Add mascarpone and you've got a recipe that's cozy for two, but elegant enough for company.

I've made this a couple of times before, and while I recommend it, I do have a few edits. For one, I only add one tablespoon of mustard. Two, I brown the chicken pieces whole, since that's the way the recipe is printed in the cookbook. They usually take about 16-18 minutes. Three, I do not slice the chicken before returning it to the sauce.  And four, while I have made it with the full amount of mascarpone, I think it would be equally good  and perfectly creamy with less. I bet half would be just fine.

We enjoyed this lovely dish this the other night and looked forward to eating the leftovers for lunch the next day. But something distressing happened: somehow, we forgot to put the chicken in the fridge and it sat out overnight! The husband woke up and discovered it while he was putting on the coffee the next morning.

This may have been the one time I've been glad to live in a cold place. Our flat is usually around 60 degrees overnight, and while this isn't exactly the recommended food storage temperature, I decided the chicken had probably survived. I decided this mostly because I wanted to eat it again. Plus, I'm fortunate to have a nearly iron stomach. The husband was understandably dubious of my feeble assurances of, "It's probably fine," but he too had had dreams of chicken marsala lunch.

In the end, we ate the chicken, and lived to tell you about it. Literally.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Happy blueberry crumb cake

Remember this?

It's so quintessentially Peanut-y: sweet, but melancholy. Watching the Peanuts always filled me with a bit of dread; I worried about Charlie Brown getting tricked by Lucy or left behind when everyone else went to do something fun, two things which seemed to happen to him all too often.

Anyway, in spite of its happy/sad melody and trembling chorus, I love this little tune, especially the line about the two kinds of ice cream (I mean, right?).

When my sister and I were kids, we had a Peanuts book, a companion to "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," that was called, Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Although it took me until I was 22 and found Frances, I can now verify that this is unequivocally true, happiness actually is a warm puppy. It's also:  the smell of coffee brewing, waking up in Kauai, and your husband coming home after a long trip.

One more, too: happiness is blueberry crumb cake.

At this point, if you're sick of reading about my various blueberry escapades...I suggest you beat it, because I'm not done with them yet. It's August and freezing in San Francisco: the only sign that we have that it's summer is that blueberries abound. They're cheap and they're everywhere.

If you decided to stick around, let me tell you about this delightful blueberry crumb cake. While the core of the recipe is not new to me or this blog (I wrote about its original incarnation, jammy apricot crumb cake, last December), one day recently I was in the mood for breakfast cake and had some blueberries needing attention.

Instead of dolloping apricot jam over the simple batter, I substituted the blueberries (about a pint), then covered them with crumb topping. Since blueberries are apparently the way to a long and healthy life, I figure they're still beneficial even if sprinkled atop a soft and sweet cake and tucked underneath a layer of brown sugar and butter.

They are certainly the way to happiness.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Speedy snapper with succotash

Am I losing it? The title of this post is terrible. But I can't seem to think of anything else.

Also, once you see what I made, I'm sure someone will correct me (as they are welcome to do; I can delete comments, you know) and say succotash usually has lima beans as a key ingredient. Well, sure. But who eats lima beans? Not many of us. On the other hand, who likes corn, zucchini, and tomatoes? Everyone.

Here's the deal. I've been busy this week, without a lot of time to devote to dinner. I've also been thinking about this great dress I bought for a wedding in a few weeks that would look slightly more fetching on me minus about 5 lbs. So, takeout hasn't really been my solution for no muss, no fuss, healthyish food. Instead, I've tried to keep things on the lighter side. Well, sort of. Never you mind about the husband's favorite pasta that I made on Monday, or the humongous chocolate chip cookie I ate yesterday while working on site with a client (I wanted to appear "part of the team"), or my dinner last night with my friend Lizzy, over which the two of us put away a couple carafes of wine which I'm pretty sure equals a whole bottle.

Anyway, we're not here to talk about me and my weaknesses, which should be pretty evident by now. We're here to talk about what I made for dinner a couple nights ago when searching for something quick and light.

You know what's quick and light? Fish.

Although I was in love with the salmon I spied at the market, it was a bit spendy ($19/pound!) so I opted for snapper instead. As I drove home, I began to envision my dinner. I knew I had some vegetables languishing from last week's produce box, including a few ears of corn, a couple of zucchini, and a big red tomato. I imagined a quick and gorgeous one-pan dinner: a mound of sweet and savory succotash, with two snapper fillets settled neatly on top.

Everything came together in about 15 minutes. I sauteed minced onion in butter, then threw in half-moons of zucchini and the shucked corn. After awhile, I tossed in the tomato, seeded and chopped. Then, a splash of white wine and some torn basil. Once the succotash was warm and seasoned to perfection, I scraped it into two shallow bowls, where the wine and butter formed a delicious little pool. Fried the snapper in a knob of butter and dinner was served.