Thursday, January 21, 2010

All Modern Give-Away

As I mentioned the other day, I'd like a new citrus zester. It's not that I can't get by without one. I can and I have. I just feel more competent with good tools.

How would you like to win some new kitchen stuff for free?! Here's your chance.

All Modern is a colossal and cool online resource, part of the vast CSN network of stores. The website is arranged by room spaces. In their Kitchen section you'll find an emphasis on form and function; the Alessi product line features modern designers from Phillipe Starck to Michael Graves. Check out their Dining Room section for linens by DwellStudio and dinnerware from iittala and Working Class Studio.

All Modern wants to give one lucky High Desert Home Companion reader a $65 shopping spree! Be sure to enter by midnight on Sunday, Jan. 31. The winner will be announced Monday, February 1st, 2010. Here's how to enter (Each option gains you another entry):

*Visit the All Modern site and window shop a little then post a comment below, telling me about an item or two that you like.
* And/Or, become a fan of Cocina Designs on Facebook here.
*And/Or, Twitter about this contest, including a link to the site.

Have fun, but don't forget to come back and leave a comment here!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Giada and The Case of The Contraband Oranges

Glowing Giada
I confess that sometimes while cooking I imagine myself a winsome celebrity chef like Giada De Laurentiis. Skillfully I prepare Capellini Piedmontese while impressed onlookers take notes and smile appreciatively. My charismatic alter-ego vanishes, however, as I rummage ungracefully through drawers for the right whisk, peeler or pastry brush to put to task. So it seems that until I invest in a few stylish kitchen gadgets or some new Rachel Ray Cookware, the celebrity chef gig is kind of on hold.

Last month I was preparing Savory & Sweet Spiced Walnuts to give as Christmas gifts. The recipe called for orange zest and my blessed husband made a special trip to the store for the two navel oranges I required. I don’t own one of those slick zesting tools, but I managed well enough with my all-purpose grater. When I was through assaulting them, the oranges looked, well, sort of forlorn (I will hereafter refer to them as for-lor-anges) but I slipped them each into a plastic baggy for later snacking.

While packing a cooler the next day for a family trip to California, I grabbed those disfigured forloranges thinking one of us might enjoy them on the road. Just past the Oregon-California border on Highway 97 is a sometimes-mandatory Agricultural Checkpoint that is notorious to my children. It was here that a full, two-pound, clamshell box of juicy Costco cherries was surrendered last summer. The kids have not yet extended grace to the officers who took those cherries and in fact, they are convinced that the officers confiscate fruit randomly, according to their own personal cravings.

CA state line
So this time, as our car approached the official in the khaki uniform, three voices from the backseat pleaded “No! Don’t tell them we have fruit! They’ll take it!” My husband politely greeted the female officer who, of course, asked if we were carrying any fruit with us. Hubby turned to me for the answer. “Bananas, apples and, um, oranges,” said I, seizing the opportunity to model honesty isn’t always convenient for the children.

“May I see the oranges?” asked the officer. From the cooler I hesitantly produced one of those pitiful forloranges in its plastic sandwich bag. She looked as surprised as if I’d handed her a dirty diaper but she inspected it dutifully.

Awkward silence. I said, “I zested it.”

“Hmm. Well, there’s still a little bit of skin on it,” she said as she pointed to the orange splotches left by my not-nearly-as-professional-as-Giada zesting technique. “We’re concerned about oranges; but without the skin, well, I don’t know...” For what seemed like a long minute she appeared dumbfounded but never dropped her professional demeanor. “Does the other one look like this?” she finally asked.

Upon learning that it did, the befuddled produce officer, with the apparently unprecedented case before her, decided we could keep them but with the following mandate: “Be sure to eat them soon”. As if that settled the matter. I persuaded my son to eat one right away, but the other forlorange flew under the radar all the way to Central California and I still feel some guilt about that.

I’m not sure there's a moral to this story, but I know this: I'd like a new zester. And if you too could use some newer kitchen gadgetry, be sure to stop back on Thursday when I will announce a FABULOUS GIVE-AWAY! You won’t want to miss it! Oh, one more thing: always eat your cherries before you get to the Ag stop! They take their work very seriously there.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Primo! Polenta (With Lotsa Options)

Gourmet Gayle has always emphasized that when it comes to food presentation, color is paramount. If you plate something green with something red and something yellow, you have achieved that delightfully dynamic culinary combination that typifies mediterranean cuisine.

Polenta provides a sunny yellow foundation for a variety of sauces. Here are two ways to prepare this creamy dish. Gayle and I prefer traditional cornmeal over "polenta" style cornmeal (simply means it has been ground finer). Gayle recently experimented with doing it in the crockpot and reports that it comes out perfectly, requires less of that naughty butter and cream and is more hands-off! Woo hoo!

Gayle is sharing her go-to fresh sauces with us also or you can use your favorite ready-made sauce. If you've got 'em, fresh basil leaves add a lovely touch of "green" for your platescape!

Basic Polenta
(Serves 3-4)
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil with ½ tsp. salt. SLOWLY whisk in 1 cup of corn meal. Turn heat down low enough that the polenta doesn’t pop.

Keep stirring and cook for about 10-15 minutes. You can do other things, just keep passing by and stirring. Polenta will become thick like Cream of Wheat.

Add 2 T butter, ¼ c Parmesan and 2 T cream (you can substitute sour cream or plain yogurt for the cream).

Serve warm with fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce or Porcini Mushroom Sauce.

Crockpot Method
4 cups boiling water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp butter
1 cup corn meal

Put everything in the crockpot and stir. Place lid on top and cook on high for 5 hours. Turn to low and cook as long as you want. Stir it occasionally as you walk by and think how yummy it will be. Add 1/4 parmesan before serving, if you like.

Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce
2 or 3 T olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut up
¼ cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
Optional: 2 T capers and/or 2 T pine nuts (add after tomatoes and wine have been cooked)
Lots of fresh black pepper
Salt to taste
2/3 cup torn basil leaves
grated parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil. Sauté the tomatoes and garlic in the oil for no more than 2 minutes. Add the wine, chicken broth, capers (optional), pine nuts (optional) and pepper and cook for another minute. Season with S & P to taste. Add the basil leaves just before serving and serve with cheese on top and a few decorative basil leaves.

Porcini Mushroom Sauce
½ cup dry porcini mushrooms
3T olive oil
1/8 of an onion, chopped (it’s about ½ cup)
6 cups sliced white mushrooms (or crimini or whatever you want)
1 clove garlic, minced
2T flour

 Soak ½ cup of porcinis in ½ C boiling water. Let them soak at least 30 minutes or longer (shorter if you are desperate).

Meanwhile sauté the onion just until it starts to get brown. Add the regular mushrooms and sauté a few minutes (keep turning them). Then add the garlic. The liquid should start coming out of the mushrooms by then.

Add ¼ tsp. salt and 2-tsp. flour. Add porcinis and their liquid and let cook 3 or 4 minutes. Add 3 or 4 T cream.

Cook on low for no more than 3 minutes. Serve over pasta or polenta.

As an Appetizer or a hot day meal:
Add sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, chopped green onions, red peppers, grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil and/or oregano.
Line a spring form pan with plastic wrap and spoon polenta into pan. Refrigerate.

To serve: Flip onto a plate. Pull plastic wrap off and slice into wedges. Warm it, grill it or serve it at room temperature.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Your Great Great Grandma’s Kitchen

For the past week I’ve been ingesting a novel so sweetly dripping with hearty and sincere prose that I have to share it with someone. I’m going to let you into my happy little world where I’ve been reverently eavesdropping on the fictional letters of a dying, 76-year-old Mid-western preacher to his young son.
Here is an excerpt from the Pulitzer-awarded Gilead (2004):

We came to this house when I was still a small boy. We had no electricity for years, just kerosene lamps. No radio. I was remembering how my mother used to love her kitchen. Of course it was very different then, with an icebox and a pump sink and a pie safe and a woodstove. That old table is about all that is the same, and the pantry. She had her rocker so close to the stove that she could open the oven door without getting up. She said it was to keep things from burning. She said we couldn’t afford the waste, which was true. She burned things often enough anyway, more often as the years passed, and we ate them anyway, so at least there wasn’t any waste. She loved the warmth of that stove, but it put her to sleep, especially if she’d been doing the wash or putting up preserves. Well, bless her heart, she had lumbago, and she had rheumatism, too, and she did take a a little whiskey for it. She never slept well during the nights. I suppose I got that from her. She’d wake up if the cat sneezed, she said, but then she’d sleep through the immolation of an entire Sunday dinner two feet away from her. That would be on a Saturday, because our family was pretty strict on Sabbath-keeping. So we’d know for an entire day beforehand what we had to look forward to, burned peas and scorched applesauce I remember particularly.

g moses the tramp at christmas
The Tramp At Christmas by Grandma Moses

If I were a time-traveling publisher, I would go back fifty years or so and implore Grandma Moses (1860-1961)to create illustrations for this work. A good deal of my childhood, and beyond, was spent hypothetically living inside her portraits of turn-of-the-century Americana. In my fanciful yet simple imaginary life, there were maple trees to sugar, cows to milk, barn dances to attend. In the wintertime I tucked my hands inside a fur muff, sledded, and rode in horse-drawn carriages with the other children. It was a far cry from my real world, growing up in coastal California where we didn’t know seasons and had to travel hundreds of miles just to have a snowball fight.

g moses january
January by Grandma Moses

One of my first pieces of business when I arrive in the next world is to thank my favorite aunt for giving me an oversized Grandma Moses Storybook when I was about eight. It had stories and poems such as Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, paired with Moses’ unrefined landscapes and rudimentary figures of farmers and townspeople.

Moses didn't begin painting until she was 76, after her husband died, and she created many pieces well into her nineties. Before she died at 101 she said "If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens. I could still do it now. I would never sit back in a rocking chair, waiting for someone to help me."

Gilead is a story of fathers and sons and the strength of family bonds which transcend passionate disagreements over war and religion. It’s about the power and limitations of relationships and the wonder and incomprehensibility of beauty. It is practical and joyful, like a Grandma Moses painting.

g moses all is still
All Is Still by Grandma Moses
This morning I have been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don’t know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn’t spent almost eight decades walking around in it.  -Gilead

G Moses a country wedding A Country Wedding by Grandma Moses
She began to come to the house when some of the other women did, to take the curtains away to wash, to defrost the icebox. And then she started coming by herself to tend the gardens. She made them very fine and prosperous. And one evening when I saw her there, out by the wonderful roses, I said, 'How can I repay you for all this?' And she said, 'You ought to marry me.' And I did. -Gilead
g moses hoosick falls in winter 
Hoosick Falls In Winter by Grandma Moses
To play catch of an evening, to smell the river, to hear the train pass… -Gilead
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