In My Kitchen – November 2021

In My Kitchen – November 2021

Last month was a quiet one in my kitchen. I am not sure where the time went, how can it be suddenly November with Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner? It’s time to start thinking about decorating, and holiday cooking and gift giving. Oh my! We’ve gone for what seems forever without those things and I’ve lost the habit of holiday momentum. That must be a worry of retailers as well as I started to see Christmas catalogs even before Halloween was over. It gets earlier each year. Don’t you just hate that? I am usually tired of the whole thing by the time the actual holiday roles around.

But, I am looking forward to gathering with family and friends with a new sense of thankfulness and appreciation for what is truly valuable in my life.

The cooler wet weather meant it was time to pull out the Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) for winter soups, stews and long braises. The flavors of this dish were amazing but I think it would have been better with a fattier cut of meat, maybe lamb shanks or a lamb shoulder instead of the leg. Next time.

I won’t post the recipe until I get it perfected.

Instant Pot Moroccan Lamb with Chickpeas

Instant Pot Moroccan Lamb with Chickpeas

In My Kitchen (at the Oakland condo) I have a new sous vide wand. I got tired of toting the one from the Fort Bragg house back and forth so have purchased a second. We will be spending Thanksgiving day with good friends in Oakland and it’s my assignment to cook the turkey since half the guests are vegetarians. I have found sous vide the very best way to cook turkey, most especially the white meat which can be (and usually is) dry and tasteless. But it’s quite delicious cooked slowly sous vide and not dry at all.

Sous Vide Wand

Sous Vide Wand

Overnight Sous Vide Turkey Breast

As a bonus the breast can be cooked ahead and gently reheated before serving.

Sous Vide Turkey Thighs

Sous Vide Turkey Thighs

I will cook a boneless turkey breast and several thighs separately from each other.

The pictures above are from pre-pandemic holidays.

A trip to the Bay Area is not complete without a visit to Trader Joe’s. We have a wonderful grocery store in Fort Bragg and a farm stand just down the street a bit, but no TJs. I haven’t been in to a department store in a couple of years now. Food stores are different, I enjoy browsing what’s new and usually find some interesting things.

I think these colorful felt trivets would make wonderful holiday gifts.

Felt Trivet

Felt Trivet

‘Cauliflower Slims’ are a good bread or tortilla substitute. They make larger ones but I have found they fall apart too easily. These toast up nicely in the toaster oven.

Cauliflower Slims

Cauliflower Slims

Although I can make my own, they also sell pre-riced cauliflower which is very convenient. I substituted it for the rice in this fried rice dish which was spiced with cumin and mixed with peas, scallions, roasted delicata squash, and baby spinach then garnished with pomegranate seeds (also from TJs).

Cauliflower Fried Rice

Cauliflower Fried Rice

Sheet pan dinners are a welcome time saver. I’ve been working my way through sheet pan chicken by Cathy Erway. This was coriander-crusted chicken with crispy chickpeas, fennel and pomegranate.

In the garden the last of the cauliflower had started to bolt, they weren’t nice firm solid heads anymore. But I actually loved that, when roasted, those looser heads resulted in more crispy bits. My favorite.

This was another sheet pan dinner with cauliflower, new potatoes and olives.

This orchid was a house warming gift last October, it has bloomed continuously for over a year. I can see it from my kitchen in the Oakland condo. Orchids are the perfect houseplant for as they thrive on neglect. The only time I’ve killed one is when I overwatered it. This one is beautiful.

We took the dogs (yes, all three) to the condo. It was Shanna’s first time in the city. Country girl turned city girl.

Shanna - first city view

Shanna – first city view

I could watch her from the kitchen. She was absolutely fascinated by the activity in the streets below and the birds flying at her eye height.

We thought she might find the trains (the AmTrack station is next door) frightening but she took everything in stride. She did want to make friends with everyone we saw on our walks, probably more people and dogs than she had seen in the total combined first 6 months of her life.

That’s it for me this month. This post is part of a monthly round up from kitchens around the world hosted by Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings. Please stop by and consider adding your own post to In My Kitchen.

 

In My Garden – November 2021

In My Garden – November 2021

Well, it’s been good weather for ducks this past month. I was surprised to see this one walking down our street when I went to pick up the mail. It could have been Jerimina Puddle-Duck from Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. Did you know that it has been 119 years since that book was first published? Those beloved children’s stories are timeless. I quickly jumped out of the car to take her picture before she could waddle away. I don’t know where she came from, but it was too perfect.

Jerimina Puddle-Duck

Jerimina Puddle-Duck

A sudden and intense rain storm created a short lived pond on the property, it was much enjoyed by the dogs in an impromptu pool party.

Quinn encouraging Casey and Shanna to come in

Quinn encouraging Casey and Shanna to come in – come on in, the water is fine!

 

Casey braved the water

Casey braved the waters. That’s my hubby laughing at their antics.

 

Shanna

Shanna finally took the plunge, quickly running to the other shore. She wasn’t sure about the entire thing.

The rain cleared for a day and I cut back many of the perennials and scattered wildflower seeds in the pollinator garden. The seeds are already sprouting with all the wonderful wet weather. We placed a bench where you can see the pollinator garden.

New Growth

New Growth in the Pollinator Garden

The second picture above is the current view from the bench. There isn’t much to see at the moment. There will be though. I am looking forward to taking my morning tea or evening glass of wine on that bench come spring.

Meanwhile the stormy weather has produced some amazing and unusual cloud formations. This was the sky earlier this week, a portent of an impending storm that was to hit later in the day.

These are Cumulus clouds, puffy white or light gray clouds that look like floating cotton balls.

And because of the rain we’ve had a bumper crop of mushrooms this season. I’m taking a mushroom ID class later this month so I hope to be able to identify them.

Above you will find a picture of just a few. Thankfully the dogs don’t seem to be interested in eating them although I notice quite a few have been nibbled by other creatures.

The tomatoes and zucchini are now finished, we had a long harvest this year. Kale is flourishing also chard, beets, arugula and lettuce.

Kale

Kale

Arugula

Arugula

The hummingbirds are happy. The resident Annas are the only species that overwinter here on the coast. The battling Allens have migrated south for the winter. Sages are blooming, also the alstroemerias.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. Our own will be filled with many expressions of thanks as we gather for the first time in two years. I am thankful to all of you who have seen me through the long dark months of this pandemic and other struggles in this country. Thank you for your kind comments, emails and texts. They have and still do mean a lot to me.

Please be safe, get vaccinated.

Stormy seas on the coast

Stormy seas on the coast

October – Beef Shanks with Crispy Crunchy Chili Oil in the Electric Pressure Cooker

October – Beef Shanks with Crispy Crunchy Chili Oil in the Electric Pressure Cooker

Well, that is a mouthful of a title. There are several takeaway items from it though. Beef shanks are a tough cut of meat, usually requiring long cooking. In the electric pressure cooker (maybe you have an InstaPot), that time is cut down to less than an hour. Also, crispy crunchy chili oil…if you haven’t discovered it yet…run out and buy or order it. It’s addictive and can transform a simple bowl of rice or pasta into something special. Here I use it to flavor the beef shanks. This idea and most of the recipe comes from a wonderful post by Petra. She hosts the blog Food Eat Love and you will find her original version here for beef short ribs. I would recommend clicking over to it, her food is really 5 star restaurant quality and the pictures will have your mouth watering.

Myself, I spent too long in the garden getting ready for an impending rain storm and needed to cut some corners. Lacking the 4 hours needed to cook the beef slowly in the oven, I turned to my pressure cooker. I don’t use it much in the summer when we rely on the outside grill, but come the cooler wet weather I use it often.

Don’t have an electric pressure cooker? Don’t worry. See the variation at the end for instructions for cooking in a standard Dutch oven.

Beef Shank with Crispy Crunchy Chili Oil

Beef Shank with Crispy Crunchy Chili Oil

In Italy veal shanks are called Osso Bucco. You will find numerous recipes on line and in Italian cookbooks. Here in the U.S. veal shanks are difficult to find and costly if you do. I used budget friendly beef shanks instead and gave them an Asian twist.

I served it with a sweet potato that had been cut in half, rubbed with sesame oil and roasted at 425 degrees F (in the toaster oven) for 50 minutes. It was a wonderful combination.

Beef Shanks with Crispy Crunchy Chili Oil (in the electric pressure cooker)

serves 4 -6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of neutral oil such as grape-seed
  • 3 to 4 thick slices of beef shank with the bone and marrow
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large onion, cut into half moons
  • 1 leek, chopped (if you have a spare one that needs eating as I did)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2 peeled slices of fresh ginger
  • 2 cups of fresh shiitake mushrooms, tough stem ends trimmed, cut in half if very large
  • 3 tablespoons of crispy crunchy chili oil
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of rice wine, I used Shaoxing
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons of cornstarch, optional if you want to thicken the sauce
  • chopped cilantro for garnish, optional

Method:

  1. Select saute mode and add the oil to the pressure cooker. Cook the carrot and onion (maybe the leek as well if you had one laying around in the crisper) until softened. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.
  2. Add the ginger, mushrooms, chili oil, soy sauce, rice wine and water. Stir to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pot and mix everything together.
  3. Nestle the beef shanks in the liquid, trying to get everything in one level if possible. The liquid should just cover the shanks.
  4. Put on the lid, close the vent, and choose high pressure cooking for 40 minutes.
  5. At the end of the 40 minutes let the pressure release naturally for another 15 minutes.
  6. Put a tea towel over the vent and release the pressure manually.
  7. Remove the shanks and mushrooms from the pot and skim off any fat from the juices. Or pour the sauce into a fat separator, let it rest for ten minutes for the fat to surface, then pour the degreased sauce into a serving boat. (Or put everything in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight. The fat will be easy to remove when it solidifies.)
  8. If you would like to thicken the sauce, pour the degreased liquid into a small saucepan and heat until just simmering. Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of water and stirring into the hot liquid until it is thickened to your liking.
Beef Shank with Crispy Crunchy Chili Oil

Beef Shank with Crispy Crunchy Chili Oil

No pressure cooker? No worries. Use a heavy bottomed dutch oven with a lid, and increase the amount of liquid to 2 cups. Follow the instructions right up until step 4 above. Then, instead of pressure cooking, bring the pot to a simmer, cover with the lid, and move it to a preheated 300 degree F oven. Bake for 3 to 4 hours, until the beef shanks are tender and falling off the bone. Continue from step 7.

Leftovers were turned into a swoon worthy beef soup by adding some chicken broth and extra vegetables. This is cold weather cooking at its best.

October – Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

October – Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

Delicata squash is my favorite of the winter squashes. Because the skin is soft and thin, you don’t need to peel it. It’s lovely sliced into half moons and roasted. For this recipe it is first tossed with the warming spices of ground cumin and red pepper flakes, then roasted until brown on the edges and soft, tossed with pasta and finished with a dusting of grated Parmesan and a few handfuls of arugula.

Here’s the beauty of this recipe…

  • Use any kind of winter squash you happen to have on hand. For butternut, peel it and cut into 1 inch chunks.
  • No arugula? Use baby spinach instead.
  • I used gluten free chickpea pasta, but any kind of of dried pasta will work.
  • Turn it into a baked dish by finishing with grated mozzarella and cooking for 15 minutes in the oven.
  • Want to some extra protein? Add some quickly sautéed chicken (or tofu) cut into 1 inch pieces at the end or roast it with the squash.
  • Looking for more options…what about adding a drained can of chickpeas to roast with the squash? A sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds or a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil would be nice as well.
Gluten Free Chickpea Pasta

Gluten Free Chickpea Pasta

I found this pasta at our local market and was intrigued. It was delicious and I recommend it if you are looking for a gluten free option. It would be fun to serve with some chickpeas in the sauce as suggested above.

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula (serves 3 -4)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 delicata squash or equivalent in other varieties, about 6 cups. Seeds removed and sliced into 1/2 inch half moons.
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
  • Dried pasta, I used the entire package of 8.8 oz. It gave a high ratio of ‘filling’ to pasta. You could easily go with a full 16 oz package if you want more servings. The 8.8 oz package gave us 2 very generous servings (with seconds and leftovers for lunch)
  • 3/4 cup of grated Parmesan
  • 3 packed cups of arugula
  • 1 cup of grated mozzarella (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (218 C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the olive oil, cumin, red pepper flakes and garlic in a large bowl. Add the squash and toss with your hands to coat. Sprinkle with the cornstarch and mix to coat the squash lightly. Make sure that the squash doesn’t have any white cornstarch. See Note below. Reserve the bowl.
  3. Place on the baking sheet, trying to separate them as much as possible and bake for 30 minutes or until browned and soft. About half way through, turn to brown the other side.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.
  5. If the pasta is done before the squash, add a tablespoon of olive oil to the colander to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
  6. Using the same large bowl from step 2, combine the pasta, squash, arugula and parmesan. Add the additional saved pasta cooking water if things seem dry. Toss and serve.
  7. Optional: Put the mix into a serving bowl, sprinkle the mozzarella on top and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes to melt the cheese. I recommend adding some of the pasta water in this case.

Note: The cornstarch will crisp the edges of the squash. I use the same technique with cubes of sweet potato. Try it.

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

Spicy Delicata Squash Pasta with Arugula

I think the folks over at Fiesta Friday will like the seasonal dish. This week is Fiesta Friday #402 hosted by Angie. Come on over to sample delicious recipes, decorating and craft ideas.

In My Garden – October 2021

In My Garden – October 2021

The garden is finally winding down for the season. The days are shorter, nights cooler and the sunlight is somehow special. I found this description from the NY Times archive:

Spring sunshine is the awakener, rousing buds, opening leaves and flowers to clothe the earth again and bring life to the winter‐dormant world. Summer sunlight is the ripener, the hot accompaniment of growth and maturity, of fertile egg and seed, the insurance life in summers to come. Winter sunlight is a token rest, of the long sleep, the short day; it is proof that blizzards blow themselves out, that ice eventually melts, that no winter lasts forever.

But autumn sunlight is simply perfection of the day, glory of the season, the year’s high achievement, somehow. It summons one to the outdoors, where even the autumn leaves partake of it. The maples shimmer, the birches glow, and when they drop their leaves their splendor is sunlight at their feet. Roadside grasses ripen with sunlit heads of seed. The sky is clean, clear and the sun itself is benevolent, the autumn sun making an autumn day a special moment in time.

We don’t have much in the way of colorful autumn leaves here but the first windy gale of the season brought the old redwood needles onto the driveway.

windy day needle drop

windy day needle drop

As in the kitchen, we are laughing at the antics of puppy Shanna. Her ‘Harry Potter Broomstick’ otherwise known as ‘old mop’ finally broke apart and was relegated to the trash heap. That did not deter her as she immediately found a substitute, a long branch that fell out of a tree during the windstorm. It’s even longer than the ‘old mop’. Here she is swinging it around and whacking everything in sight, including poor Casey.

 

Quinn

Quinn “leave me out of it”

The broccoli and cauliflower are finished, I harvested the last two heads of cauliflower this afternoon. They are starting to bolt, much to my initial disappointment. But I found, that when roasted, the more open structure results in many more crispy bits…my favorite. It’s an unexpected benefit.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower

Our grass (probably more weeds than actual grass) is greening up with the cooler weather, dewy mornings and early rain. We’ve had over an inch of very welcome rain this month.

I moved a bench closer to the pollinator garden as well as a couple of half wine barrels that I will plant. I’m looking forward to having my tea or coffee and watching the bees come spring.

Pollinator Garden – October

There is not much growing here right now as California natives go dormant in the summer. There is (supposedly if the weatherperson is correct) a big rain storm coming next week. I have some more wildflower seeds to plant before the rain.

Here is how it looked in the spring of 2019.

Wild Flower Meadow, Fort Bragg CA

Wild Flower and Pollinator Garden June 2019

This is the newly planted area, I have high hopes once we get to spring. I’ve put in a variety of colorful perennials that should have a long bloom period.

New plantings October 2021

The pineapple sage is a welcome nectar source for the hummingbirds. We have had swarms of them all spring and summer but now only the native year-round Annas remain.

Pineapple sage

There is still a little color in the garden.

The native bumblebees were late to show up, and seem to have abandoned us early this year.

Native Bumblebee on Scabiosa

I have seen and heard a dozen or more flocks of Canadian geese flying south. It makes me wonder if we are in for a cold and wet winter. Fingers crossed.

Shanna, Casey and Quinn wish you adieu.

Shanna, Casey and Quinn

Shanna, Casey and Quinn

My constant companions in the garden.