Posts Tagged ‘My Nepenthe’

Gobble, Gobble & Gratitude

November 24, 2009

Hello peeps.  I know many of you are busy prepping for the annual American food fest, so I won’t keep you long.

First, full disclosure: I do not (heart) the holidays. And nothing announces the official start of the festive season than Thanksgiving. Well, I guess there’s also Halloween, the end of daylight savings, the beginning of cold & wet weather, but I digress.

Here’s my beef with end of year celebrations: Too much expectation and anticipation followed usually by, let’s be real here, disappointment. Throw in some cultural disconnect, a bit of family drama, a smidgen of self-diagnosed seasonal adjustment disorder, and meat-centric meals and, well, me and the holidays aren’t a good match.

But — wait — don’t go, this isn’t going to be a bummer blog post, promise.  When you have a kid in the picture you just have to get over yourself and any party pooper tendencies that set up shop in your psyche this time of year. I’ve learned ways to navigate this potentially challenging period (nothing like practice) and I’ll share some of them with you all. And recipes too! So stick around.

Think different. Who says you have to eat turkey and that weird Jell-O-canned-fruit-Cool-Whip concoction your relative brings every year?

The last TG I hosted I fed a hearty batch of Lentil Soup to six vegetarians on a cold winter’s night. An unconventional but popular choice.

Find more veggie fare for Thursday’s table at NPR’s Kitchen Window from San Francisco food blogger Nicole Spiridakis, along with gluten-free recipes for the big day by another local scribe Stephanie Stiavetti.

Pecan pie or pumpkin cheesecake not your kind of sweet note? I hear you, so try starting a new tradition for the end of the meal. This year, thanks to a prolific tree, I’m going to make the Meyer Lemon Tart  from the new My Nepenthe cookbook. (Recipe follows.)

Keep cool. If you suffer from last minuteitis, you’re likely scrambling to come up with a menu right now. Relax, you’ll find a great little guide over at Food News Journal, complete with hand-picked recipes for every course that should serve you well. I especially like the look of Brussels sprouts with buttered pecans courtesy of Gourmet (R.I.P).

Practice gratitude. Last year, my first solo TG in two decades, I received more than a dozen invites for dinner. A dozen. Now I know how the homeless feel: Everyone wants to feed you on Thanksgiving.  I attended three fun soirees — flirted with trouble at one, observed the raw anger of a recently divorced dad at a second (note to self: bitterness may be a key flavor but it does not make for good company at the dinner table), and plopped down for dessert & dish at a third. All that and dance class with my galpals, added up to a pretty stellar day in my mind. And while the food was good everywhere I went, it was the connection with friends that sustained me that day.

This year, my boy and I will visit with two families he’s known since birth.  We’ll take a hike and picnic with one, and then have a low-key meal and play highly-competitive games with the other. (Heard of the card game Spit? More fun than the name suggests and super addictive.)

The food will be good at both venues, natch; we all like to eat around here. But what’s likely to nourish me most on the day is the generosity, kindness, and friendship of the posse who have served as my surrogate family in the more than 20 years I’ve called this country home.

And that, from where I sit, makes for a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Flickr photo by Road Fun used under the Creative Commons license.

Meyer Lemon Tart

—From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele

Serves 8 to 10.

Sweet Dough:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup flour

Lemon Curd:
5 or 6 Meyer lemons (1 cup juice)
3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
7/8 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons butter

1. Beat the butter with the sugar, salt, and flour until just combined.

2. Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch round fluted tart pan.

3. Freeze the prepared tart shell for at least 30 minutes before baking.

4. Zest half the lemons (setting the zest aside), then extract the juice from all the lemons to make about 1 cup.

5. Whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined in a medium nonreactive, heatproof bowl, then whisk in the lemon juice.

6. Place the bowl over a gently simmering pot of water and whisk continuously until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

7. Whisk in the butter in pieces.

8. Cook, stirring frequently, until the curd coats the back of the spoon, another 5 minutes or so.

9. Taste and adjust the sweetness, as needed.

10. Strain the curd into a separate bowl, then whisk in the zest.

11. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface while cooling.

12. Bake the tart shell for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown in an oven preheated to 375°F.

13. Cool slightly, then spoon the lemon curd into the shell, spreading evenly with a spatula.

14. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until just set but still slightly jiggly in the middle.

15. Serve chilled with a dollop of lightly whipped cream or fresh berries.

Photo Meyer Lemon Tart: Sara Remington

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Book Giveaway: My Nepenthe

November 13, 2009

It’s always tricky to write about a pal’s book, you don’t want to come off sounding like a fawning friend, frankly.

So, in the case of My Nepenthe by Romney “Nani” Steele, I’m going to let others hand out the praise. Sunset describes Nani’s cookbook-cum-memoir as “a valentine to one of the most beautiful places to eat in the world.” Michael Pollan calls it “a very special book about a very special place.” And epicurious just named it the best American regional cookbook of 2009.

If you know Big Sur, home to the iconic Nepenthe restaurant, the area and the eatery need no introduction. If you’re not familiar with this small, rural California Central Coast enclave perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean then you should add it to your list of places to visit before you die. Really.

For 60 years Nepenthe has served comfort food with a view to locals, travelers, and tourists. And so much more: for the artists, nature lovers, spiritual seekers, writers, and wanderers who stop by, this magical spot transcends what comes out of the kitchen.

In My Nepenthe Nani, 44, a writer, chef, and food stylist, reveals the colorful back story to this family restaurant, founded by her grandparents Bill and Lolly Fassett, including the unorthodox life they lived, the eclectic boho community they cultivated, and Nani’s own foray into running Cafe Kevah as a European-style eatery with slow food sensibilities located on the same site as the “House of No Sorrow.”

romney.steele.2If you’re curious to find out more, read my Q&A with the author over at the hyper-local site Berkeleyside.

To win a copy of this visually lush book, filled with 85 restaurant recipes tweaked for the tastes of today’s home cooks, leave a comment about a special place  — and a local eatery that adds to the area’s charm. Submit your entry by 10 p.m. PST on Friday, November 20 and I’ll pick a winner from the suggestions shared below.

Update: Thanks to all who entered — you guys made me hungry for places both near and far. So many great suggestions I couldn’t decide, so I put your names into a pot (my desk is next to my kitchen) and the winner, chosen at random is: Christine, for her suggestion of the worldly Vagabond in San Diego. Congrats. an autographed copy of My Nepenthe is on its way to you. Look for another book giveaway in December.

To whet your appetite, a few recipes from the pages of My Nepenthe follow.

Pappardelle with Chanterelles

Serves 4

½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1½ tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed
²⁄³ cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 ounces dried pappardelle pasta or other wide pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing

Considered gold by the culinary world, found chanterelles were a regular part of my grandmother’s Sunday night dinners and were
often featured in the Thanksgiving meal.

Gently clean the mushrooms with a dry brush. Avoid soaking in water. Trim any dry stems. Slice the mushrooms into ½-inch pieces.

Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme and sauté until the mushrooms are browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 3 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta in a colander.

Add the pasta to the mushrooms in the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Cook over moderately high heat, tossing the pasta to coat and adding pasta water to moisten if needed, until thoroughly coated.

Stir in the parsley and lemon zest.

Divide the pasta among 4 warm plates and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Pass additional Parmesan separately.

Chopped Salad with Roquefort Dressing

Serves 4 to 6

Roquefort Dressing

2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried mustard
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 ounces Roquefort cheese
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup canola or safflower oil

Chopped Salad

2 heads romaine lettuce
1 head green leaf lettuce
4 to 6 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

Combine the garlic, basil, oregano, mustard, pepper, sugar, and salt in a clean glass jar.

Crumble the cheese and add to the jar. Add the vinegar and oils.

Cover and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

You will have more than enough dressing; refrigerate any extra.

For the salad:

Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuces, trimming the ends and discarding any bruised leaves.

Tear into bite-size pieces and place in individual chilled bowls. Top with the desired amount of dressing, making sure each salad has
plenty of blue cheese chunks. Add the cherry tomatoes and grind black pepper over the tops.

nepenthe.fabric.slice

Pumpkin Spice Cake (Bohemian Wedding Cake)

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake, serving 10 to 12

1 cup whole-wheat flour (not pastry flour)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1½ cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (about 1¾ cups)
¼ cup molasses
¾ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Sour Cream Frosting:

½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, knocking out any excess flour.

For the cake:

Combine the whole-wheat flour, white flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl: stir together the oil and brown sugar, mixing well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Mix in the pumpkin puree and then the molasses.

Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted  in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert and cool completely.

For the frosting:

Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.

Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and mix well. It should be thinner than a typical cream cheese frosting.

Place the cake on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top and all over the side. Freeze any leftover frosting, or reserve for muffins or cupcakes.

— All Recipes From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Photo of Romney Steele by Doug McKechnie

My Persimmon Problem

October 27, 2009

Photo by Flickr user mbgrigby used under the Creative Commons license.

So it’s orientation time for the sixth graders, a sweet and chatty bunch, at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, where I volunteer each week.

Last Friday, head kitchen teacher Esther Cook (yes, Ms. Cook is her real name) began by engaging the students in a food memory exercise.  As we mingled around the tables the talk turned to unusual fruits or vegetables we’ve tasted and one of the girls mentioned persimmons.

I resisted the urge to make a face. The very same day The Lemon Lady suggested a post on this seasonal fruit and I laughed to myself because, dear readers, I have a little persimmon problem.

Perhaps one of the biggest produce pushers on the planet, I don’t much care for this prolific fall fruit. In my kitchen, right near the beloved Wedgewood, hangs this gorgeous image of persimmons by my talented friend, artist Emily Payne.  I adore the print, and yet if I had to pick a fruit to munch on, persimmons would never make it on the list. Until now.

Esther joked that maybe I’d never eaten a persimmon at “just the right minute.” So, with that in mind, I decided it was time to get over my persimmon phobia.  I welcome all and any assistance in this matter. I suspect my first mistake is not eating this fruit at, well, just the right minute.

First, some research. Here’s what I learned:

Known to ancient Greeks as the fruit of the gods, two varieties of persimmons are commonly available in the U.S. Hachiya, originally from China, are bright orange globes that taste awfully astringent when not fully ripe, due to the high levels of tannin in the fruit.

They absolutely need to be soft and squishy before you even think about biting into one or you’ll pucker up and the bitterness could put you off persimmons for life. Trust me on this one.

A ripe Hachiya should feel a little like a water balloon, I’m told. Use the fruit within a few days, at most, of prime ripeness or the pulp will get too mushy. Okay, so this is a high maintenance kind of fruit; vigilance is called for. Got that?

(Conversely, if you want to speed up the ripening process, put a persimmon in a bag with an apple or banana. Or freeze for 24 hours and then use as you would a perfectly ripe persimmon.) When properly ripe, persimmon has been described as apricot-like, plum, or even pumpkin-esque in taste. The sweet pulp from ripe Hachiya persimmons is best used as a puree in cookies, cakes, and puddings.

The other kind of common persimmon Fuyu, are squatter, more tomato-like in appearance and a duller orange in color. This variety is supposed to be eaten when firm and crunchy, much like an apple, peeling and slicing recommended, but optional. First grown in Japan, Fuyu work well in salads, where they add crispness to the mix.  Both kinds are a good source of vitamins A & C and loaded with fiber.

During a quick spin around my friendly neighborhood farmers’ market I find the folks at Blossom Bluff Orchards, who seem super persimmon savvy. I especially appreciate the warning sign in front of the bins of Hachiyas. With the vendor’s help, I select a large, firm, blemish-free Hachiya that should be ready to eat in a couple of weeks.  Stay tuned.

The two giant Fuyu persimmons I pick are good to go now, although a gaggle of shoppers agree that if they’re just a tad on the soft side you’re rewarded with a little more sweetness. I sampled some and while I’d still prefer an apple or pear I can appreciate how they’d add a nice crunch to a green salad. So one variety back on the will-eat list.

Since we’re coming up to peak persimmon time, here are some recipes that showcase persimmons by folks who know what to do with this fruit:

Persimmon Pudding Cake from Romney Steele’s new book My Nepenthe

Avocado, Citrus, Jicama Salad with Persimmon Dressing courtesy of Capay Valley, California organic growers Farm Fresh to You

James Beard’s Persimmon Bread, adapted by David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris

Steamed Persimmon Pudding with Silky Persimmon Puree by Deborah Madison, from Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets

Persimmon Cookies, from Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes

Salad of Frisee, Radicchio, Pears, Pomegranate and Persimmons, courtesy of Joanne Weir for The Food Network

Anyone out there care to weigh in on other ways to enjoy this produce?