Eating Every Day

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Steak and potatoes

steak and potatoes.jpg
Eastside Road, April 23, 2014—
POOR COOK HAS A BAD cold, and hasn't felt like cooking. This is very rare: since she's a cook, and not only a cook but a pastry cook, she's almost never under the weather. This can be attributed to her habits of cleanliness: her hands are cleaner than a raccoon's. Still, we were traveling last week, and even she runs into a virus from time to time.

And so I got to cook today. Not only cook, but market as well, and plan the menu. I defaulted to the dinner I so often prepared when I was alone up here on Eastside Road, twenty-five years ago, building the house on weekends or, occasionally, four or five days at a stretch.

Steak, potatoes, onions. This is a two-skillet meal, and of course I mean black cast-iron skillets. I slice three good-sized white potatoes fairly thin, tossed the slices in salt and olive oil, and put them to cook in the bigger skillet.

I'd salted the small round steak on all surfaces as soon as I got it home, loosely re-wrapping it and leaving it in the fridge until time to cook. Then I sliced it and tossed it into the smaller skillet, already hot, but dry. I seared each side of the meat, then reduced the heat.

I had three good-sized fresh onions, stalks attached. I rinsed them, trimmed their whiskers and the ends of their greens, then cut them in half lengthwise, and put them on top of the potatoes and the steak. I covered both pans and began neglecting everything.

In good time, with occasional flipping of the potatoes and control of heat, everything was done. The water left in the onions from their rinse was all the moisture the steak ever saw, but it stewed nicely. When I served things out I peppered the potatoes and steak strips a bit, and drizzled olive oil over the meat.

Green salad afterward. Delicious, if I do say so myself.

Barolo d'Asti

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lunch back in the café

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Eastside Road, April 22, 2014—
BACK TO BERKELEY yesterday, so lunch upstairs in the café, with a couple of acquaintances I'd like to get to know better — farmers, travelers, bons vivants. I began with a delicious little pizzetta with tomato sauce, brandade, green olives, and mint — an interesting and refreshing combination.

Then, because the next few weeks will be devoted to chicken research, this Riverdog Farm chicken confit, sliced breast and the drumstick, tender and nicely flavored, with good texture. On the plate, lentils and — a favorite of mine — celery root remoulade; with judicious capers and fried sage leaves. Almost makes me want to cook!

• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

For supper, all we needed was a small green salad from the garden and a couple of slices of toast with olive oil. And a glass of Barolo. We'll fast today…

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter al fresco

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Eastside Road, April 20, 2014—
WHEN WE'RE IN TOWN on Easter Sunday — if we're not traveling, I mean — we're always grateful to accept the annual invitation to an al fresco supper at the Healdsburg home of a couple of friends, she a fine baker and seamstress, he a remarkable sculptor. They have a marvelous, spacious back garden, a small park really, a huge lawn set about with small fruit trees and vegetable beds, and sculpture standing everywhere, and a majestic ancient black Labrador.

We began with wonderful spanakopita and dolmas — Easter always seems to bring out a Greek note here — cheeses and home-cured olives, breads and crackers, helping ourselves variously to beer or cider or soft drinks, white or red wine — including an unlabelled bottle of white brought by a neighbor who'd made it, a delicious, soft, fragrant wine I'd buy if I knew where to find it.

Soon it was time for the obligatory egg hunt, each of us finding a beautifully decorated egg with our name on it — I made the entire circuit of the front lawn before finding mine, finally, in plain sight, under a shrub near the starting point. (I'm afraid I cracked and flattened mine a bit, having forgotten it in my pocket — good thing it was hard-boiled!

eggs.jpgThe dining table stretched out in the shade of a walnut tree, set for twenty-eight guests, most of whom had brought some delicious thing to eat or drink. There were four generations present, babies sleeping on the grass, toddlers climbing ladders, young couples, their parents, us ancients.

Pork and lamb was grilled over wood fires, and asparagus; there were delicious red potatoes with strong aïoli; there was a fine mess of pot greens; there were good white beans and sauces and salads. And then the desserts: fruit compote, lemon tart, rice pudding, and a superb egg custard in phyllo.

Nothing is better, I think, than a gathering with friends and family, on a beautiful warm afternoon, in a garden with plenty of shade, with delicious and lovingly prepared food, and banter and conversation. And then cookies afterward. Thank you Paul and Becky!

Chardonnay, Château St. Jean, 2010; Pinot Noir, Trecini, 2012; Prosecco, Zonin, nv

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chickpeas with Potatoes and Tomatoes

Eastside Road, April 19, 2014—
COOK RETURNED TONIGHT to a favorite cookbook, Deborah Madison's: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone — a cookbook everyone should have. (You can slip a little beef stock into almost anything.) Deb calls this a Lebanese stew, good cold, garnished with lemon wedges, as well as hot — but we have no leftovers tonight.

You brown a chopped onion in olive oil, then add cubed potatoes, carrots cut into pieces, a small dried chile, and a couple of cloves of garlic mashed with some ground coriander. Cook that for a few minutes, then add a cup of peeled, diced tomatoes and two or three cups of chickpeas, salt and pepper, and some water or broth. Simmer until tender; garnish with chopped cilantro and parsley.

Green salad afterward, because we need a little raw garlic every day, as Richard Olney pointed out yesterday, for the heart.

Barolo d'Asti

Lunch at the beach

grilled cheese sandwich.jpg
Eastside Road, April 18, 2014—
THE PHOTO OF COURSE has nothing to do with the beach. The beach was San Francisco's "great beach," where we lunched, with friends visiting from out of state, at a place I think all such visitors should see; and there we sat at a window overlooking the grey Pacific, and I had a fine mushroom-and-garlic soup, then a Caesar salad.
• Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, 1000 Great Highway, San Francisco; (415) 386-8439

WHAT THE PHOTO does have to do with is Cook's way of making a grilled cheese sandwich. That's what closed out the day — a day which had begun, oddly, with another Gruyère sandwich, taken with a cappuccino at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland. (Gruyère and cappuccino is a better combination than you might think: it takes me back to breakfasts in Netherlands.) All she does is put slices of cheese between slices of bread, butter the outside of the bread lightly, and grill the sandwiches, turning them once, between two hot cast-iron skillets, the upper one slightly smaller than the lower. One of the Hundred Plates, I'd say.

Cheap Barbera d'Asti

Dinner in the café

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Berkeley, April 17, 2014—
AND CONSTANT READER will know just what café is referred to. We dined at length and too well with an old friend who grows tangerines and avocados, and with two friends of hers who sell said produce at various Bay Area farmers' markets. We began with a bottle of rosé, is how well and extravagantly we ate and drank, and a fine pizza featuring, let's see, cavalonero?

[later edit: no: nettles, and perhaps feta. Thanks, Melissa!]

I set a photo of the last little bite of it down at the bottom of the page; the crust was perfect…

But for me the main course was the, well, main course, this succulent roast pork, with a delicious, tangy marmalade of savory grapes and currants — I'm working from memory here, and things got a little hazy toward the end of the evening… Fact is, another old friend, a winemaker, was in the next booth, and sent over some splendid bits of his work…

Rosé, Domaine Tempier, 2012; Chardonnay, Neyers "Chuy's Vineyard,"2012; Pinot noir, Neyers "Roberts Road," 2012; Zinfandel, Green and Red, 2012
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525pizza.jpg

Garlic soup

garlic soup.jpg
Eastside Road, April 16, 2014—
NOW THEN, a little more on that delicious garlic soup. After writing about it yesterday I took the trouble to verify, rather than simply make assumptions. Yes indeed: it does involve egg yolk.

The recipe comes from Richard Olney's marvelous book Simple French Cooking, where it appears with the following note:
Aïgo-bouido is Provençal for "boiled water."It is believed to be a cure-all. The rustic accompaniment is always dried bread crusts. The simplest version — reserved for those who are seriously ill — is nothing but a couple of cloves of garlic boiled in a quart of water with a branch of thyme and a sage leaf, strained over some olive-oil-soaked crusts of dried bread… The following recipe is a "super"version, as aïgo-bouidos go. For those who fear raw garlic, it cannot be too highly recommended. Whether or not one likes raw garlic, there is no doubt that it is powerful and aggressive in flavor and difficult to digest (although good, they say, for the heart). Cooked garlic is delicate and subdued in flavor, an aid to digestion and a "calmative".
I quote at this length to entice you to buying and reading this marvelous book, which speaks naturally and informatively and entertainingly about important things. Olney goes on, of course, to give the recipe itself, which involves bay, sage, thyme, lots of garlic, all cooked in water; a binding pommade of egg and egg yolks; olive oil of course; bread of course of course. Cook has a cold: this will offer relief — and, I hope, a calmative.

Cheap Barbera d'Asti