Thursday, September 11, 2008

To the point...

This one will be short and sweet - food postings to resume shortly :)

23 years ago, he was born and I got the best baby brother in the world. Of course, I always liked to say that you were sent from heaven because they wanted it quiet up there. It must have been too quiet for them.

7 years ago, they tried to bring America to its knees. Instead, America came together and showed the rest of the world what it means to be an American.

Quietly on that day, he mentioned to me that he'd never be able to celebrate his birthday properly out of respect for those who lost their lives on this day. Not a selfish comment, just more of an observation.

6 years ago and every year since, I'm remembering those words of his. Today, I think of those who suffered and their families. But for me, I'll be just a little bit selfish and mostly, I'll remember you and wish you a very Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday, little bro. <3

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Beet and cranberry bean salad

There are a handful of foods that I've always avoided not because I have bad childhood memories of them myself, but instead based on stories of friends' childhood memories. Beets, brussel sprouts, lima beans...foods that I didn't really eat (or was forced to eat) growing up, but that many people remember as being the foods that forced them to sit at the dinner table until they cleared their plate. I'm really thankful that my parents never really pushed us into eating foods that we didn't care for, other than the obilgatory "just try a little" bite.

Recently, I seem to have lost a lot of my motivation and desire to cook, so instead, I've been resorting to sad, yet delicious, acts such as eating a wedge of Humboldt Fog or Brillat Savarin with a little fruit for dinner while working on whittling down the list of "to try" restaurants in the Bay Area. But then came the swift kick in the pants when I attended a dinner by a friend's boss. Inadequate, jealous, awe-struck could all be words used to describe that night. Walking in, I first noticed the hanging pots. This wasn't a pretty, shiny set of All-Clad, but instead some serious cookware whose wear and tear spoke volumes about the number of delicious meals they had been used to cook. I turned around in the small kitchen to see the counter covered in containers holding dozens of wooden spoons and spatulas, whisks, and ladles. The stove looked to be straight out of a restaurant kitchen; I was a little intimated even looking it up and down. Then, we were ushered outside. First, I saw the smoker - one that you would use if you regularly competed in bbq cookoffs. To it's right, was an oversized large bowl (big enough that you could have used it to sled) filled with, literally, a make his own charcol, of course. As I covered my wine glass to avoid the random pieces of ash from the wood, I saw a monstrocity of a grill, although the word grill couldn't be more of an understatement. And the deep fryer - an industrial size, two basket deep fryer that stood about waist tall and looked something like this. Oh, and I didn't even mention the meat slicer, french fry maker, meat heat lamps, or wine storage. Then...there was the meal. Double fried potato wedges, broccoli soup, a beet and cranberry appetizer (that motivated the recipe later described), shrimp skewers, veal chops, filet mignon, zucchini, mushrooms and poutine, all from scratch of course. I think I had to nearly be carted out of their dining room.

Did I mention I'm competitive? Having had such an amazing meal, it made me start thinking....I want to have dinner parties that people pathetically blog about later! Or, that dish was great...but could I, and how would I, make it even better? Oddly enough, having beets and cranberry beans on hand from my Mystery Box, I set out to cook. My cooking mojo was returning.

So, beets stain. Badly. I knew this before cooking this dish, but previously, I might have learned this the hard way. Hands, clothes, cutting name it, they stain it. So, a couple of hints if you are preparing beets for the first time -

1. Use gloves
2. Wash cutting boards/counter tops/dishes immediately after using
3. Roast beets whole. Leave a few inches of the greens before you cut. Scrub them a little in the sink to remove any dirt. The skin peels right off after they are roasted (again, gloves advised).

The original dish was much more beet focused, consisting of cooked beets, raw shaved beets, a tad bit of lemon, and homemade vinegar marinated cranberry beans and onions. Keeping the dish relatively simple to avoid over-powering the beet and cranberry flavors, I started with the beets and beans, adding a few of my favorite flavors - goat cheese and nuts (in this case, pistachios).

Cranberry Bean and Beet Salad

I haven't listed measurements below because this really can be (and should be) done to your own personal taste. I had some fun making it look pretty, but I think you could easily chop the beets into bite-size salad pieces instead of slices and make this more of a tossed salad to serves many people, family style. Also, you could try some shredded raw beets on top for a play with texture like I originally ate. For a more substantial meal, put this mix of ingredients on top a bed of spinach or arugula.

Cranberry beans
Pistachios, crushed
Goat cheese, crumbled
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper
Good quality olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400. Leaving a few inches on the beet, cut the beet greens off. You can save these for sauteeing later. Scrub beets and place on a foil covered baking tray. Coat lightly in olive oil. Cover in foil and place in heated oven for approximately 45 minutes, or until easily pierced with knife.

2. Meanwhile, shell cranberry beans. Bring a pot of water to boil and cook beans for approximately 15 minutes or until tender. Drain.

3. When beets are tender, remove skins and slice thinly.

4. Lay out beets on plate. Place cranberry beans in center. Sprinkle crushed pistachios and goat cheese. Drizzle olive oil and top with salt and pepper.

Link love: Other beet dishes

Arugula salad with beets and goat cheese from Simply Recipes
Roasted beet salad from Serious Eats
Carmelized beets with garlic from Farmgirl Fare
Roasted beet and blood orange salad from 101 Cookbooks

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

6 years.

Disclaimer: My favoritest blogs are ones that I feel like I have a friend on the other side of the Internet in addition to all of their pretty food pictures, stories and recipes. These are the ones that keep me coming back time and time again as I wonder how people are doing, even though I've clearly never met or spoken to most. While I do still prefer to keep this blog semi-anonymous for practical reasons and I have occassionally written a non-food post, I was recently inspired by a recent posting from one of my favorite bloggers to share something a little more than food adventures. If you are here just for the food, please forgive my intrusion and skip today's post. I'll have a recipe for you shortly :) Otherwise, I'd like to share a very important part of my life in the words forthcoming and part of my motivation for cooking.

It's September. It's the start of fall (proof offered by the arrival of pumpkin loaf and lattes in Starbucks today) and the beginning of the gorgeous months in San Francisco. For many, it's the start of school. And for me, while I clearly not starting a new school year, it marks a very important day of the year.

Six years ago on the first day of the new school year, my brother was killed in a car accident. I remember that day like it was yesterday, but it's been a long, empty six years without my best friend. I miss him like none other.

By no means do I want to use this to recount all of the memories of my brother; there are entirely too many and I think I already have plans to share some of the best in a later post. Sure, there are the fights over who got the bigger or better < insert childhood toy or food here > and finger pointing to say "I didn't do it; he/she did!" But what childhood would be complete without those? I remember always thinking I couldn't imagine having a best friend as part of the family. I felt pretty darn lucky.

The summer between my freshman year and sophomore year of college was our last summer together. At the time, my family had relocated to a different part of the country from where I grew up, so I knew few people. That summer was devoted to knocking a couple of courses out at the local college, spending time with my brother, and my first forays into cooking.

He was a fantastic swimmer, a true delight to watch, and when he wasn't eating, sleeping, or geeking out, he was in the pool that summer. While he's no Michael Phelps and certainly didn't consume 12,000 calories a day, he WAS a growing boy and those numerous swim practices a day certainly worked up an appetite. His willingness to eat just about anything put before him and his trademark smile and appreciation when it was something new and delicious motivated me to experiment in the kitchen and really learn how to cook. It diminished the feeling of failure when something doesn't turn out that great that I still had someone willing to fork down the food; it must not have been that bad after all! I can't imagine how different things would be without that jump start into cooking.

One of the last memories I have of my brother was a meal, just the two of us, of Pho. He even paid. So today, I had pho for lunch and the smell brought a small smile to my face when I reminisce about our last dinner. Perhaps, I'll one day learn to make my own pho in his memory.