Thursday, June 28, 2007

summer rice torte; grandma's test kitchen round 2

The monkey and I were on our way to Grandma's. I wanted to work on a summer version of rice torte. I wanted to make one sourcing nearly everything from the Berkeley Farmers' Market. I'd pull the store bought butter from the freezer for my one market exception, but the trick would be using brown rice instead of white and still getting that creamy rice pudding quality the dish is known for. A challenge was at hand, but I felt confident that a day in the test kitchen would yield some tasty results.

I used some familiar ingredients and proportions to hang my summer flavors on. For the rice component, I measured out 1 cup of medium grain brown rice, pouring 1/4 cup at a time into a spice grinder and giving it a pulse for a second or two. Mildly ground and cracked, I heated 2 cups of water with 1/2 stick of butter to a boil, adding the rice and simmering for about 30 minutes. The pot on the top right is this now, rice porridge. The cheese is tangy and hard, nice for grating. The squash is a sort of zucchini and some sunburst. That would be fistfulls of garden herbs. One large yellow onion and half dozen crimini later, generously splashed with olive oil and we're ready for a sauté. Put it all together with the eggs, bake it in a pan, and a bit of magic occurs. But more on that after the frying.

This dish makes the kitchen glow with aroma. Toss the onion, mushroom and squash together, cooking over a medium low heat. Add a few piches of salt early on. After ten to fifteen minutes, while the onions are translucent but not yet brown and the squash is getting tender, add the fresh herbs and some more salt. Cook it for another 5 or 10 and adjust the herbs to your liking. While seasoning, you will probably want to eat most of this before using it in the torte. Please refrain, as it will ruin the proportions later on. Trust me.

With the rice cooked, veggies soft, eggs mildly beat and cheese grated, combine everything in a large bowl, being careful to not scramble the eggs while mixing the hot ingredients together. Pour the entire thing into a 9x9 square plus some other fun round-thingy, or put the entire thing into a 9x13. Top it with even more cheese before putting into a very hot oven.

While the torte is in the oven, I like to treat myself to a little something. A little bresaola on sourdough, with a few green leaves and slices of cheese perhaps. It goes down real easy. Maybe even with a dry red wine. With a red beer, I'm sure.

I start the oven out hot, like 425 or even 450. Then after it starts getting poofy and a touch golden, I turn it down to about 375 and finish it. It usually takes about 45 to 55 minutes, with the amount of brown determined by personal preference. With this being a summer torte, I wanted to enhance the golden hues so I kept it on the lighter side. It tasted pretty golden too.

Did I mention this makes a great breakfast? With all the veggies and rice it's downright healthy too. Just don't eat it all in one sitting and have a little patience. It keeps and travels well (don't freeze it though) and will have your friends saying "what was that one dish you made that time, the tasty one with the.......what was that?"
To which you respond "Rice torte."
And they say: "Yeah! That one! MAN I love that torte stuff. Wait, did you say rice? I thought it had cheese or something?"
"Yes, and vegetables."
"Yeah, something green, I liked that, whatever it is."
"Squash. And it has eggs too."

Start making this with any consistency, varying the ingredients as the seasons pass, and you will have a conversation along these lines. It's one of those dishes that certain ingredients do well to hide in. Perfect for getting in different foods you don't always like, but couldn't necessarily identify if pressed. So let me take a little inventory. Summer torte: it's yummy, local, ovo-lacto vegetarian, stores well, and allows parents to hide the greens.

I love summer.

(I've included where I purchased the ingredients with a link if available, if not, then the BFM Vendor Directory link has been provided)

1 cup brown rice (Massa)
2 cups water (EBMUD)
1/2 stick butter (Straus)

2 pounds summer squash (Riverdog)
1 onion (Full Belly)
6-8 medium brown mushrooms (Solano Mushrooms)
1/4 cup olive oil (Stonehouse)
1 T salt (Aged Bay Salt - my own)
1 bunch parsley (from my backyard)
1 t rosemary (frontyard)
1 t thyme (backyard)
2 t oregano (sideyard)

6 eggs (Kaki)
1/3 pound hard cheese (Spring Hill)

Measure out 1/4 cup of brown rice into a spice grinder and give it a whirl. Do this with with the rest of the rice. Heat 2 cups of water and 1/2 a stick of butter to a boil. Add the rice and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes or more, stirring every so often to check for consistency and lack of burning. While this is cooking, chop the vegetables and mince the herbs. Start sauteeing the onions, mushrooms and squash. When squash is softening and the onions are translucent but not brown (maybe a bit golden) add the fresh herbs and cook for another ten minutes. All of the vegetables should be soft. Crack the eggs and lightly beat with about 2/3rds of the cheese (finely grated). Combine the cooked veggie mix, cooked rice mix and raw eggs and cheese. Pour into a large caserole dish, cover liberally with more cheese and bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes, then 375 until finished. No more than an hour later and you have a golden summer torte!

I have made something like this dish, and other versions of it several times. I have even had it using leftover brown rice and veggies from another dish, married them with cheese and eggs and voila! Yet another torte! There are endless combinations and you'd be surprised how forgiving all that eggs and cheese can be.

Friday, June 22, 2007

100 mile solstice toast (almost)

The longest day of the year gives me fits. All that sun makes me want to get it ALL done that day. I managed an early morning walk, gardened and watered things, brought the elder monkey to go rent a cake pan (H was baking two wedding cakes, with two layers each so this alone would take most of the day) and brought her to see what my chiropractor does to my "skelekin." All before noon.
Then we came home and did some laundry, picked berries for making ice cream, had some family drop by, had a little rest, rode my bike to the farmers' market (with a 37 pound monkey, small cooler and panier, a set up I refer to as my "truck") and then came home and cooked a nice dinner. A busy day indeed, but I just had to squeeze in the time to make some bread. It seemed that if I'm going to keep a starter (or three, but who's counting?) then the longest day of the year should have ample time for a big loaf.

I started early in the morning (ok, like 9) and set the dough out to rise a few times. We poked around our garden, rubbing up against tomatoes and getting all resiny and stained optic green on our tips. With our garden looking pretty happy, our smiles and the sun beaming, spunky-monkey and myself went on down to Spun Sugar for treats: ma's cake pan and a bit of fudge, pa's new english muffin rings, monkey's fat iced cookie.

On the way home we stopped by my chiropractor. She has a terrific set of hands and much knowledge of how the skeleton should be, which is where mine is currently not at. My assistant escorted me into the room and proceeded to squash my ankles with her little hands, saying "uhhhhh, oohhhhhh, yeeaaahhhh right there daddy. Doesn't that feel good?"
When the doc walked in and saw my daughter she asked if she was here to help.
"Oh yeah, and I ALREADY put his skelekin back where it belongs!"
"Well why don't I check on that too!"
The adjustments started and doc saw a book the monkey brought from home.
"Is that Madeline I see?" she asks while my squeal machine fire up.
From under the table, as I am belly down with my face in the head slot, I manage: "In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines....."
"Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines," doc picks up "In two straight lines they broke their bread......"
"And brushed their teeth and went to bed!" (giggle, squeal, giggle-snort) the monkey is pure glee.
Feeling two inches taller, I brought us home.

Before munching lunch, the monkey and I paid visit to our neighbor S, who happens to have a black raspberry bush in her yard, just LOADED with fruit this time of year. We had already picked a small basket the week before, so when we went over this time I certainly didn't want to get too greedy. The S/Monkey team picked darn near a pint! I remarked on how I should do something special with them, like make ice cream or something. S's eyebrow shot up - "Really? well, if you want to, I'd eat that!"
Sounds like a handshake to me.

We brought the loot home, rinsing these and combining them with sugar and a splash of balsamic, a pinch of salt. I whipped up a custard base with some extra egg yolks from H's cake recipe. With thickened yolky sweet cream and tart sweet berry base, I put it in the freezer to chill while we rode to the market.

The market was filled with tons of ripe ripe ripe fruit. Including the most amazing white nectarine I've had this year. After wandering for an hour or so, running around to find someone to pinch or tell about how "our butts have bumps on them from the bumpy road!" said with a warbled emphasis on the butt and bumpies part, searching for permission from me with a cautious glance the whole while. Shadows creeping in, overtaking the middle grassy strip; fish, fettucine, fruit and monkey aboard, we rode on home. Me, rejoicing that it is primarily a long coast down hill. The monkey adding "I sure wish we were home already."
"Yeah, me too honey."
"Because I could rest and relax. It's hard work riding this bike all weighed down."
"Well, because right now it weighs about 70 pounds more than it usually does."
"I, uh.....because."
"Why, why, why daddy?"
Maybe the longest day of the year does have its downside.

When we got home and unpacked, I added some uncooked heavy cream to our custard base and berry syrup. Tossed it into the electric jobber still on loan, then set to work on dinner. Fish needed slicing and powdering. Pepper and onions to slice. Lemon to halve. Olio californio to splash and heat. Wine to pour down oneself on the way to the pan. Salt for rubbing out some flavor.

The fresh egg fettucine cooked during the last minute of the fish cooking in a wine reduction. Doused with a last splash of lemon juice, wine and fresh cilantro, finished on the plate with some dry jack shavings......damn, it was good. It was a fairly quick and easy fancy little meal. Local too. I figured it was worth writing down.

We were quite full, and the day was done. The solstice bread baked late (10 pm) and it had to wait for the next to longest day of the year to be enjoyed. Solstice toast almost, so be it. Monkey had meltdown that didn't warrant much treats for the lateness of hour. So, no ice cream either. Sometimes it's really hard being three. I mean, three and a half.

This morning we awoke to the loaf. I made a piece of toast and took a little stroll for coffee. After returning, three pieces of toast for myself later, it was coming on lunch. So I sliced some more and made grilled cheese. Now that is comfort. All I needed now was some of that ice cream to drag me down into the land of food coma. Luckily, that was only as far as the freezer.

The black raspberry bombs find their peak for me as a flavoring. Out of hand (off the bush really) they have a great flavor, but slightly mushy and seedy for me. Now, sugared, cooked and pressed through a sieve, made into syrup. Yeooooww! I like that! Add it to a custard base, quick! For the ultimate in creamy, add more heavy cream while churning. Mmmmm....can you say MOOOOO!

"Beacuse it tastes like cream sweetie."
"Oh because its from a cow?"
"Uh huh."
"Like I just said, the milk is from a cow."
"'s time to get ready for a nap honey. And its real important we all get some rest, ok?"


So, the solstice bread incorporated some local whole wheat flour, hence the 100 mile tag, although 3/4 of the flour used is not local. All but the sugar and dry spices seen above are from the farmers' market. Toast and grilled cheese don't need a recipe, do they? So although the title deals with the bread, I'll give you the recipes for the fish dish and the ice cream, if you ask nicely. Sorry, but I'm tired and have to stop typing and go to bed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

local loca

This one is crazy local. Sourced primarily (by weight, somewhere past 90%) from our yard. It made me so very happy. AND, this is one of our family favorites, so I just had to share. I'll try and keep it brief after that long-ass, last post. In fact, maybe I should work a little conservation and sustainability into my own words. Anyway, this one is simple, rooty, roasted, tossed and salted. Sounds good eh? I'll even get to a recipe in a bit.

We had beets, green onions, garlic, and carrots this year that were intentional, and a few potatoes that came up in last year's compost pile area of the garden. As we were ripping out the last few beets this year, the two potato tops started dying and I got impatient. I yanked 'em and carried these inside, seeing a small pile of carrots on the counter from earlier in the day. It hit me. Combined with my local sourced salt and our herbs around the house, we have enough components of our favorite recent veggie hash to make one nearly all from our garden. I jumped for joy - three times, remembering that this would be the one and only time this would happen this year for this dish; it wouldn't be more than two cups worth; we would have to use spanish olive oil for the toss. Still. Almost super local. Local loca that is.

Last week, we re-created this dish after visiting the farmers' market. This time, we had much fatter and abundant veggies than our home growns, from some of my favorite folks there. Between this, having it for dinner and having ample leftovers for making it into hash for breakfast, I had to write this one down to document somewhere in my crazy life with kids that you actually can feed them delicious stuff that doesn't take forever to make. Well, forever for me that is, since I enjoy making things that take all day.

I gotta say, this was my favorite version to date, especially fried again the next day in a little bacon grease, served beside our staples of english muffins and fluffy eggs. At times like this, I revel in being a short order chef for my family and serving them such yummy grub.

For those still interested, a dish that feeds alot, doesn't take too long to prep, and requires strirring three times while baking for an hour. Here goes. An attempt at putting this down in recipe form.

Early June Local Hash

10-12 small potatoes (Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold work nice)
I bunch beets (3 nice beets)
1 small bunch carrots (1/2 pound)
1 large yellow onion
1 small red onion
6 cloves garlic
1 bell pepper
10 brown mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon aged bay salt
1 small bunch parsley (1/4 cup)
A few sprigs of thyme (1 teaspoon)
2 twigs of oregano (1 teaspoon)
1 lemon

Cut potatoes into finger tip sized pieces. Peel and dice beets and carrots, especially if you have little people in the house who don't like things looking fuzzy or crinkled. Chop onions and garlic while no one is paying attention. Hunk up the bell pepper into small bite sizes depending on the aperture of the mouths in your house. Trim mushrooms to whatever size will trick your family into thinking they aren't in the dish. If you have herbs around the house, go out with your kid and encourage them to pick whatever they want for the dish. When you get inside, take out the ingredients harvested that you actually need and put the rest out of sight to dry for the future. Mince the herbs. Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl and douse with at least half of the oil. Sprinkle some salt over the top and toss together. Squeeze the lemon over this and hand the rest to your kid to taste and walk around the house with while making puckery faces. Place the whole mess into a large roasting pan and put into a pre-heated 450 degree onion. Oven. I don't have an editor and you know what I mean. Every 15 or 20 minutes open the oven and give it a stir. When the onions are getting carmelized, and the beets have stained absolutely everything, take it out of the oven and serve. The following morning, pour yourself a big cup o'joe and heat a pan with some piggy fat drippings and plop some on. Do it on a searing hot pan and it will get some blackened crispy bits that approximate burnt bacon bits. Serve it with eggs, toast, and lots of love. Enjoy seconds with more toast while dreaming of the dish washing fairie.

Friday, June 15, 2007

why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side, right? But, for what exactly?

Anybody? any theories?

Keep in mind, most chickens these days never see a road, let alone set foot on one, and then have a reason to cross it. So what are these statistically few up to anyway? Well, yesterday, after a long hot sweaty day out in the central valley, I found one answer to this age old question, while out touring a few farms that our food comes from. Namely, the source of the eggs, brown rice, and peaches that I feed my family.

Down stream from Lake Oroville, live the chickens supplying most of the yolky goodness and whitey structure to our meals. We have been eating them since hearing that these chickens roost in the trees at night and wander the farm. Now that sounds like free range. While on a field trip with members of the Berkeley Farmers' Market Advisory Committee, I was fortunate enough to check out the lives of these birds and their environs. I even witnessed one reason to cross that road.

In this case, it is to go lay an egg under the propane tank. Or any other place that individual bird might choose to. In fact, I heard if you leave a car parked for a week, you'll have eggs under it when you try to move it. Eggs end up being laid all over the place, in places deemed safe by the chickens. That is, if you are a chicken who lives at Kaki Farms.

When we arrived, the birds were roaming free under the canopy of orchard surrounding their optional "coop." There are a lot of persimmon trees around the place offering a nice thick shade, which you might have imagined, if you know what kaki means in Japanese. The birds here roam and scratch the earth where they please, tended by dogs (like tiny, itty-bitty "Cheech," pictured in the photo at top if you look hard enough, doing about thirty miles an hour), their owners Nicasio and Carmen, the surrounding neighbors I'm sure, and yes, roads.

This is a wonderfully diverse farm, that was a treat to walk around, seeing things such as the asparagus in its feathery and red berried state, young walnut trees, tons of tomatoes, corn, nopales....the list goes on. Kaki currently has wonderful blackberries and strawberries too. Hot sweet berries, plucked and popped in the mouth; the perfect treat in 90+ weather.

I'm happy to know that the chickens who lay the eggs I feed my kid (kids, when the wee one is old enough), are what looks to me like happy ones. With at least the option to go cross a road, eat grubs wherever they find them, and well, live what I believe is a somewhat normal life of a chicken.

Let's now go on the western side of the Sacramento River, near Chico, where there dwells a superman. We paid a visit to learn a few things about modern organic rice production and learned a few things.

Like this photo for example. If I tell you that it was taken in a rice field, you might assume that most of what is in the picture is rice growing. Wrong. Apparently, it's a lot of sedges and hard to kill weeds that must be dried out in order to temporarily rid the "check" of them. As Greg at Massa Organics explained, organic rice farming is a tenuous job, where one must alternate flooding your crop to act as a mulch to keep the weeds down, and then drying your crop, to keep the weeds down. Really, no matter what, you grow a lot of weeds. The magic is in playing the wet and dry cycles to minimize the unwanted greenery and let the rice up.

I saw many ducks, tons of black birds, and field after field of rice in various stage of flood. At some point, while our host was rocking two little ones in a stroller and standing over a third, he mentioned that they plant the rice in the spring, after soaking it a day to begin the germination process, and that it is done by airplane. Later in the fall, with the fields dried one last time and hard enough to support a heavy piece of equipment, and the rice is full and ready, comes the harvest.

Wait a second, did he say planted by plane?.........I'll have to come back to this one at a later date after I get my head around the logistics of that one. But I guess rice is a commodity item, and planted on large scale, even for a small scale family farm. It figures you'd have to do part of the work while flying around at speeds much faster than planting by hand, or tractors for that matter, would allow.

I tell you what, these folks do a ton of work. A ton. And I'm not just talking about the parental duties. As a father myself, with two monkeys, I have the utmost in respect for this family farm and their superdad. When I want local brown rice, I get some of their stuff, and now, picture the ten acres of rice straw that became their home, the beautiful views of Mt. Lassen, and how after four generations of farming rice, this family is definately doing their part in working toward sustainability and stewardship of their land.

But what about those peaches I mentioned earlier?

If you want the best peaches around, talk to Carl and his crew. This man is a powerhouse of exploration and discovery, as well as a pioneer of the organic movement in California. His solar powered oasis, known as Woodleaf Farms, is located at 1300 feet in the rocky foothills above Oroville. This farm started out with thin topsoil 20 plus years ago, but having been amended and built over the years with compost, minerals, and ground cover, it is now a stunning example of what vision, sweat, perseverance and time can do.

While touring, we got a first hand view of the his beautiful soil; black and rich with life. He dug down around a sprinkler, using it as a measuring post to demonstrate. After shredding through the grasses, the word fecundity came to mind. It's no wonder why his peaches are the yummiest things around, because his soil is too. Remember, you are what you eat? Well, that applies to trees to.

After hearing him talk about his philosophies and practices, seeing them in practice, then sharing lunch in his lovely home, I came away full with a warm fuzzy feeling about the place. (Yeah, yeah, peach farmer, I know....the pun is intentional) Here, everything gets a gourmet blend of love, respect and mindfulness, from caretakers who see the place as the larger organism that it is. People before me have pointed out the quality of his peaches, some say they can't be beat. I'd like to add to that: you can't beat his soil, water, or sky either.

A true explorer in the world of growing things (if astronaut means space exporer, then this man is a bionaut) he is steadily at work running experiments in bringing more power to the people by encouraging they utilize something like this raised bed to produce food at home. He is hard at work on test plots, and if the corn we saw there is any indication, we will see more of these in the near future. Anybody got any grant money? Talk to Carl Rosato. The man is FILLED with great ideas for our future.

A bright future that is. Filled with great food. That in producing it, gives back to the earth. Hungry anyone?

If you have the fortune of seeing where your food comes from, do it. You'll learn a few things. And likely, come away with enormous respect for the people who take part in bringing you life.

To the families and hard working help of Nicasio, Greg and Carl, thank you.

Monday, June 04, 2007

the sound of one hand clapping

Life with a new one involves a lot of holding. Little people need touching and love like fish need water. It's a basic requirement that ends up tasking the parents with cradling them when doing just about anything. Walking from here to there, you have to relearn where your periphery is, lest you stub a toe trying to negotiate toys while carrying a squirmy eight pound weight. You end up having one arm immobilized with the itty-bitty monkey, while the other arm does everything else. You become quite proficient in living your life one handed, while your kid lives their own life with your other.

Sometimes, when you are eating dinner, with what you think is a sleeping baby, a tiny foot juts up and obscures the view. And by now you were thinking how easy it was getting, living one handed. I mean, you can still sit down and eat a meal. You just might not be able to see it.

Then it dawns on you, in one of those moments of clarity. For some unknown reason the solution presents itself out of the ether. Maybe this happens in the shower, or while sitting on the toilet, the point being it generally occurs during a task that involves doing something that is so automatic, it gives your brain a chance to wander the dials and see what is coming in on the other stations. For me, this last frequency check I heard something say "sammich'."

There it was. I need to eat more sandwiches. So I started with breakfast.

With everyone home, and all of us adjusting to new schedules, we often wake up cranky and hungry. The monkey is adjusting in her new role of sharing the spotlight, so I've been trying to ease the rough spots by getting us off to a good start. Toasted english muffins with laid yesterday egg scramble and high-fat Jersey cow melty cheese. This one felt good to hold in one hand and chomp into while the butter ran down my chin. It was a nice start indeed.

The monkey and her momma were heading out and spotted a plate on our doorstep. I quick call to Aunty revealed it to be homemade gravlax, slices of sourdough olive loaf, and a generous portion of creamy cheesey. As the little tyke and I chilled at home, what else to do? I turned the gift into a sandwich! With the wee one konked out asleep, I had two hands, I relished in the ability and ate it open face style.

Wow! Holy salted salmonoidae sis', this was really good! Like, killer good. But next time, please cure an entire salmon as one serving was simply not enough.

Pancakes aren't a sandwich, I know. But at breakfast the monkey had so politely asked for them, that come lunch time we were willing to cave in. To keep the sandwich day theme feast, I stacked them and put a layer of butter and powdered sugar in the middle. If I had done up some bacon and jammed it between, maybe I could call it a real sandwich. But I'm still giving it marks for resembling one as having two pieces of bread with a discrete middle, and if it comes right down to it the ability of being eaten one handed.

They call black cod "butterfish" for a reason. Dredged in a hot rub and flour mix (giving it an Ethiopian berbere quality) and fried, it lent this pita a nice spicey note to compliment the two rounds of heirloom tomato, avocado slices and tomato basil hummus. Although a bit tough to grasp with one hand and keep together, this middle eastern/african inspired sandwich continued the theme for the day nicely. Now, just how to end it all on a high note after the buttery goodness of the fish. Hmmmmm, there must be a way............?

.........with more, prodigious amounts of butterfat, how else? The cookies are a chocochip and oatmeal base with coconut and walnuts, surrounding a fresh mint and choco-chip ice cream. The mint was a mixture of the four kinds around our house, with an emphasis on the spearamint end of things. It was refreshing and crunchy where needed, anchored in the sweet cream and bitter chocolate. Now that, that there is definately easy eatin' with one hand.

Afterwards, when one hand was free, I realized I had survived my day o' sammich', I gave myself an applaud. Applaud like singular; just one. Having practice now at this too, I enjoy the sound of one hand clapping.