Apr 20, 2008

March 2008

Hello All of you Luna/tics.
Notes and panderings of a loose cannon in the kitchen.....

Oh my gawd.....it is April. The holy month for gardeners....where we start to prune, and start to see all that is left from last years planting....and hope that we will see some of the really special stuff that we hoped might make it in our zone even though the book said no.....hope springs eternal I guess....did I tell you that my Meyer lemon tree is full of lemons, and blooms?
Our guys got the okay from the association (one man I am sure....with a chip on his shoulder....who only likes the 240 shades of brown that is required by THE LAW) and is now going full force. The walls are up, the pool is in, the gas-fireplace (not the fire-pit designed.....don't get us started on this....) is in, and the bar and barbecue area is formed. It is amazing how quickly these boys can get things done when they get their approval from THE LAW OF SERRANO. We will hopefully be completed in two to three weeks.....the plant list is being shopped out and the changes are rampant for the planted pots. I missed spring two years in a row now....but am looking forward to getting summer going. We have already had cocktails out in the dirt just to make sure this is a good fit. It is.....

News: after three years, Josh has left us for a new job in logging....yes, logging. He is excited, will get to see his bride at night and on week ends, and be able to catch up on all of the things people miss by working nights and week-ends. Good luck and we will miss him.
Which leaves guess who cooking in the kitchen full time? ME! I have to say though, I do love to cook and re-organize (a trait from my Grandmother, the one who always surprised us by rearranging her furniture almost weekly it seems...... ) my shelves, my recipes, and play around with old ones to re-introduce them to myself again...

I have several brand new recipes on this new menu. An updated Veal Milanese, using fresh arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and some of my Meyer lemons (now we are in Zone 9 and my Meyer lemon tree has not stopped blooming or producing lemons.....even in the pot! I love Zone 9! We now have a lime tree blooming also....).

We have Paella on the menu this month. A fantastic rice and seafood dish that Gary and I were fortunate enough to eat hundreds of while we were in Spain several years ago, and then the following years.. I have this rich saffron rice dish baked with crab claws, scallops, mussels, clams, prawns, linguisa, chicken and fresh cod. A national dish of Spain, and a great dish for seafood lovers. A funny note: while we were traveling there, the further inland we got, the less seafood we saw. Central Spain offered us goat, rabbit, and many different sausages in the dish, no seafood at all. It truly is a regional dish.

This dish is so stock important that I cannot begin to emphasize how much time is spent making the stock. Which brings me to a subject I love: stock making.
I know if you have seen printed recipes, you have seen stocks included in many of them. But have you ever made your own from scratch? What is stock? Well it is the hidden ingredient that restaurants pride themselves in, that serious cooks are never without, and that recipes need to complete so many detailed dishes. It is also an incredible by-product of leftovers. It is the liquid you get from long simmering of vegetables, meats, bones, herbs, etc.

How do I do it?
Let's use the Paella stock for an example of this process. It usually starts out with slow roasting of about 5# of Roma tomatoes, 5# of yellow onions, peeled, and quartered, 5# of chopped carrots, washed (no need to peel them), 1 whole celery cluster, chopped into large chunks,3 bunches of leeks, white part only, and a good handful of garlic cloves which are all drizzled with olive oil. Slow roasting in about a 325 degree oven which we leave to in for about an hour and a half. They begin to "caramelize" or rather, the sugars in the vegetables begin to brown as they are slowly released creating a soft mass of vegetables, and this wonderful juice. I then take about one pound of linguisa sausages, chicken carcasses, shrimp shells, crab shells, and any fish trimmings (the fins, the tails, etc.) I have and throw them on top the vegetable mass, and then roast at a lower temperature (300 degrees) for another hour and a half.
After this is done, I place all of this into the largest stock pot we have, cover with cold water 4" higher than the solids, and turn on the stove to a medium heat, wait for it to come to a simmer, turn it way down, and let it cook for about 4 hours, with just a faint bubbling happening on the stove. I will skim the top of any of the "dry" bubbles that accumulate, and will stir every so often to mix everything up (I am a nosy cook....).
After this process, I will strain all of this out, squeezing on the solids to get as much juices out as possible, and place it back on the stove top, add my saffron, bay leaf, fresh oregano, fresh thyme and a bit of orange zest, bring back to a boil, and simmer this until the volume is reduced by 50%. I refrigerate it over night, and then the next morning, remove the fat cap on top of the stock (it looks like butter). This is all of the fats from the meats that accumulate while cooling. (I do not throw this away necessarily. A lot of times, I can make incredible "roux's" from this fat.....but that is another letter.....).
This is then the finished product that you can use right away, or portion it out and freeze it or keep it in your reefer for a couple of weeks and use as needed. This is the holy juices that start many an incredible dish at home cooking and restaurants. Stock.

It sounds so much more complicated than it is but if you have the time, make some up. Call me or e-mail me for a detailed recipe for it.....I am including a wonderful recipe for Shrimp Butter that you will love if you like to cook on "the fly". This is one of those saving graces that you can prepare an incredible meal with just by having it available.....it has saved Gary and I many times because when people stop by they expect to be treated to a "fabulous" meal and this is one of those almost instant show-stopper pasta dishes or sauces that can make anything you use it with memorable......(why yes, this is how we eat every night when we are home....you know, classical music, candle light, the entire house immaculate, no dirty dishes from the preparing part of the meal, the children quietly sitting outside waiting to come back in the house....wait....I forgot to have children.....it's all a blur.....well at least we eat, that part is true....).

It is ASPARAGUS season!! I love asparagus. So we have an Asparagus Pasta dish available. Made with the fresh asparagus, Crimini mushrooms, caramelized leeks, and grape tomatoes. It is wonderful. Finished with a bit of wine, a dash of cream, lemon zest and a dusting of nutmeg.....we are getting raves on this.....it is available as a vegetarian dish or we can add chicken breast to it ....

I love cilantro. I know that this is one of the herbs that people either love or they hate. Doesn't seem to be any middle ground with this. But if you love it like I do, you will love the Hanger Steak preparation we are offering. Hanger Steak, if you are not familiar with it, is a piece of beef that is a thick strip from the underside of the cow. It hangs (thus the name) between the rib and the loin. It is part of the diaphragm and, like a skirt steak, is full of flavor. It can be tough if not prepared correctly, and I really recommend medium-rare on this cut. I have made a marinade of fresh cilantro, garlic, olive oil, lime juice, and a Serrano chile, puree' this up, and spread it over the prepared raw meat. Let it set for several hours and then char-broil over high heat. It is then sliced, spread out, and drizzled with a cilantro/garlic oil, and topped with a fresh tomatillo and avocado salsa. It is fresh and lively and delicious. Almost like summer on a plate (if you get the analogy of barbecue and fresh avocado's, you know what I mean.....apparently I am not good at analogies....).

Made a cheesecake dessert the other day: it may be the best I have ever made! (my arms hurt from patting myself on the back.....) White Chocolate Mango Cheesecake, topped with shaved White Chocolate, and drizzled with a coconut/white chocolate ganache. Whoa....... I am not kidding, if you like cheesecake, and you like white chocolate, and mango's .....you might just be in heaven. I am attaching this recipe for you!!!

The other new dessert for you to try is a date cake we are serving. Individual moist date cakes, drizzled with our house-made butter-scotch sauce, a scoop of ice-cream and a bit of whipped cream on the side. And a sprig of mint to remind you how good it looks and how much better it tastes.

It is distressing to see Main Street, Placerville lately. In all of our years here, (since 1972), Gary and I have never remembered seeing this amount of empty shops on Main Street. We understand that we are in _____ (please insert the "R" word - not to be uttered by human lips.....) but the distressing part is we have such a small little town, and to see our street with so many vacancies is such a sign of what is happening around the country. Money is tight, the economy is sucky, the morale of the powers-that-be are like a soap opera that we are all in. But, still, Main Street in Placerville? What has been going on with our town that would cause our little berg to be losing so many businesses? What do we need to inject some new "pizazz" to get people back to shopping, window-shopping and just perusing our street?

Several years ago, when I was a member of the Downtown Revitalization Project, a survey was made as to what was most requested and needed on Main Street. I remember on the top of the lists were a men's shoe store, a Thai restaurant, women's undergarment store, ethnic restaurants in general and a fresh produce stand. Somethings also mentioned were shops catering to the our people being able to pick things up after coming home from work. I guess the hard part is realizing that so many of us don't utilize our own Main Street for our shopping, relying on other areas instead. Why is this? Costs of goods? Availability of more choices? Where do our locals go then? This to me, is the crux of the matter.

One of the things that we have always done here at Cafe Luna is changing our menu. This concept was to keep our locals happy and to keep things lively. I remember for our first eight years in business, my poor staffers had to get used to a new dinner and lunch menu WEEKLY!! I closed our lunches down five years ago (I am too tired....) Then we tapered the menu changes to monthly. This was to keep our loyal customers always finding something new on the menu when they came in. It certainly has kept our staffers on their toes.....But has it worked? What should or can other business owners do to keep our clientele happy and fresh and looking for their needs met locally? This might be the dilemma that needs to be addressed. But then again, in a raging battle to make sure our money is being spent wisely, how does one compete? These are the questions that shop owners (the Mom and Pop shop owners .....or in our case, the Pop and
Pop shop owners....) are trying to decipher. During these times of financial uncertainty, we all have this tendency to think: what should I be doing?

So I say: DRINK MORE WINE.....

Now listen: if you are looking for something truly incredible to be doing with your week-ends, go to our local wineries. What is amazing is in Napa and Sonoma, this is one of the largest industries available to those areas. People from all over the world go there to taste these world-class wines. And they charge sometimes an arm and a leg for this privilege. Guess what people? El Dorado and Amador counties offer you the same experience with little or no charges.

We are so fortunate to live in this area if you are a wine lover. And if you have friends visiting the area, what better way to keep them occupied and to show them a truly wonderful time than to take them wine tasting?
Gary and I have been proponents of this activity for many, many, many years. And the great part is anyone we have turned on to this, or anyone that has gone with us has had the same exuberance as we have. Wines, being the organic and ever-changing ever-evolving luxury that they are, can be a fascinating experience. Pack a picnic, buy some cheeses and bread (Dedrick's Main Street Cheese, 313 Main Street, #105, Phone: 530/344-8282) and hit the road. Make a week-end out of it: try some of the bed and breakfast places we have to offer. And of course, come to dinner at Cafe Luna (plug!) afterwards.

We have maps of the wineries here at Cafe Luna, and you can get them at the Chamber of Commerce. Indulge yourself, and support what we have that others want: a rare experience to taste and sample what the earth can give, right here in our own back yard. If you are interested, stop by: I am sure that Gary will be glad to route your plan of attact out for you!!

'Nuff said.

As always, the menu is attached in a PDF format, along with the recipes.
Let me know how things turn out and remember I love hearing from you.
Thank you for your continued support.

David at Cafe Luna