Whoo-hoo!! It's June. The civilized month of summer we all love and wish would be the barometer for the entire season....you know: not scortchingly hot days, cooler nights, and everything in the garden is still nice and green and the flowers are intact. And the beginning of the summer produce to come.....I love it. and it gets me excited for the coming months.
Who doesn't love the first really good peach of the season? That first warm "off'-the-vine" tomato that you get at the farmers market? The one that has that fuzzy/sticky residue that just smells like "fresh picked". If you have not participated in the Farmers Markets around the area, you are missing not only a great experience to see and taste wonderful fruits and vegetables, but almost a cultural experience in the wake of "greening" our life experience. We, in our part of California and the nation have such an incredible exposure to heirloom fruits and vegetables, along with some of the hybrids available that we take them for granted. The huge amounts of salad greens available to us is what I find fascinating. And how we almost take them for granted. "Spring Mix" anyone? A mixture of almost sixteen different baby lettuces that defy our name knowledge but we expect them just the same.
Serrano Tales of The Back-Yard: at this writing, they are pebble tekking our pool. The cement work is all done, and we have purchased the trees for the landscaping that will start in about 10 days. We are very excited. To have it done, but to also have the freedom to just walk outside and not be dodging six workers, equipment and boxes. What a project! But, guess what? It is looking so great, and unique (take that Serrano!!!) and - dare I say - peaceful. My plants are thriving, all healthy (why did I bring so many with me.....400 plus pots of "must-haves" which to a gardener is nothing....we have 25 varieties of hydrangea's alone.....30+ varieties of colocascia's...you get the idea....). We purchased some really specimen sized "Pygmy Date Palms, and bought some really large glazed ceramic containers that we planted them in, one on each side of the pool; we love the effect. And it is achieving the goals we set out to do: Colonial Mexican / Mediterranean style / resort. No lawn, just cement and walls, and a huge bar (why yes I do indulge in a good Margarita every so often.). But not to worry: the contractor has assured us that the 15 foot curved bar is strong enough to hold 50 of our dancing fanatic friends without breaking!! Ha! I will be putting this to the test.....all applicants, please apply on line with your exact weight please.
On the saddest thing I could ever tell you: our wonderful dog, Jitterbug, was put to sleep last month. His cancer just got worse and worse, and the little guy just couldn't take it anymore. Our vet and his staff, the wonderful and compassionate Randy Johnson of Missouri Flat Animal Clinic in Placerville, helped Gary and I though this with such grace and patience. Jitterbug was a cocker-spaniel that, when we brought him home, was the "special" one - the companion that got under my skin so much, that I still can't write this without tearing up. Each and every day we would come home from work, if he wasn't with us, would greet us at the door. He would sing to the television, play ball endlessly, and listened to all my bitching about everything under the sun. We went on daily 2.1 miles walks, he loved to keep me defended from cats, and he loved babies and their smells. He also kept me grounded: feed, wash, cuddle, and love.
At our ages, we have had wonderful pets over the years, ones that have lived very long and happy lives.
But Jitterbug was the "one".....I miss him...
And he was more than a dog: he may have been the reincarnation of everything good under this sun that we deserved in life....
Well I am patiently waiting for this summer to officially get jump-started. So on to this months menu:
On Placerville Drive, across the street and up the hill from Raley's Market, there is a wonderful Mexican "Mercado" small grocery store that more people need to check out. This man makes his own chorizo, cuts his own meats, makes sausages, sells wonderful Mexican fresh cheeses, and has all the dry chilies you can imagine. My right-arm lady Lulu turned me on to this market where we bought his chorizo. I do not know if you have ever bought fresh made chorizo, but it is 100% different from the stuff you buy in the (no names here...) grocery stores. Not greasy, the it has no mystery ingredients on the label. And the flavor is incredible. So we are doing an appetizer dish with his products: a Queso Fundido made with his fresh chorizo, three kinds of his fresh Mexican cheeses, roasted Poblano chilies and some wild mushrooms. It is melted cheese heaven served with tortilla chips. Perfect with a glass of beer, white wine or sparkling wine. I love it.
Here at the house, we have an abundance of fresh rosemary, so we are making a Gorgonzola and fresh rosemary butter to dollop on the Hanger Steaks. It brings out such an earthy flavor to this meat along with our house rub, that when you place it on the char-broiler, it just smells like a barbecue.
Which is kind of this months theme....Summer and Barbecue flavors.
I make what I like to think is a great Barbecue Sauce. And I make what I like to think is a great Steak Sauce. So how about I combine them and slather them on a Rib Eye Steak and place them on the broiler too? So that is exactly what we are going to do, and serve it with an additional side of sauce for you to dip this meat in. Barbecue smarts.
Our friend Sally makes the most incredible preserves. She wins blue ribbons at the fair with her jars of summer, and always shares them with us (Patron Saint of the Preserves we call her....). Peaches. Preserves....PORK!!! Yeah-now we are talking! So, we are going to marinate our brined Pork Tenderloins in fresh citrus juices, char them and slice them up and served them with a reduced peach preserves and a hint of thyme and fresh chiles. What could be better? (no really....what could be better?....nothing in my opinion..)
I love Chicken Picatta. So why not have a fresh pasta dish along the same lines: diced chicken meat, pan sauteed with artichokes hearts, garlic, mushrooms, capers, white wine and lemon juice, served tossed with Pappardelle pasta - you know those flat ribbons of egg pasta that is so great? Well we did just that, and you must try it. Chicken Artichoke Pasta is the name.
Peanut Chicken. I have this beautiful cousin named Dana. I remember when she and her family moved out here from Arizona, and she was being introduced to the "California" experience and she was just starting to cook and experiment. For a Christmas present one year, (gawd...it has to be 25 years ago)... I bought her three (I think...) of my favorite cook books, and went through them and high-lighted the recipes I liked and wrote in my own notes of changes, what I liked or dis-liked and what I would do to it differently, etc. (Take Note all you Pressed-For-Ideas-For-Gifts People: this is a great gift for someone who loves to cook or is just starting in their family life: two or three of your cherished cook-books that you take the time to hand-write your own notes on some of the recipes, stacked and presented on one of two great serving dishes tied in a big bow that might be held together with two or three of my favorite kitchen must-have gadgets. I would love this gift!!!!) I also remember I made her a batch of Peanut Sauce; this wonderful peanutty-cilantro-ginger-garlic concoction that was able to go on a lot of different foods. And every time I make this, I think of her. She is still my loveliest cousin. So here is what we are doing: pan-sauteing sweet onions and chunks of boneless chicken meat, with garlic and fresh minced ginger, adding a bit of this sauce we make, and simmering it til done, and tossing with fresh diced Roma tomatoes, cilantro and topping it off with crushed peanuts. Serving it with rice, and you are good to go. This is not a spicy dish, but a very well SPICED dish. Try this. (Side note: Alex loves this dish.)
Fresh Atlantic Salmon grilled simply brushed with a fresh mango puree', topped with fresh mango/lime salsa. Good summer fare. I love how mangoes taste with with a bit of acid: lime juice, lemon juice, even a bit of rice wine vinegar brings out this sweet and complex flavor of this fruit. And try grilling them: the natural sugars in the fruit caramelize them and make the flavors even more intense. So that is what we are doing: grilling mango, chopping it up with a bit of minced onions, lime zest and juice, and a hint of fresh Serrano chiles, and drizzling a bit of honey to bind it. Serving it on top of the fresh grilled salmon? Genius!
Torta Rustica: This is a wonderful vegetarian dish that I like to make in the form of a "pie" with a bottom and side and top crust of puff pastry. Layered with fresh grilled tomatoes, roasted sweet red peppers, artichoke hearts, sauteed mushrooms, and spinach and thin sliced potatoes that are bound together with a good mozzarella and jack cheese mixture. Served baked until golden and served with a dollop of a fresh roasted tomato and garlic sauce, it is a great flavor combination that will make my non-meat eaters happy and my meat eaters wonder why they don't eat more vegetable main course dishes.
Red Coconut Curry Seafood Stew: I love Thai foods. There is a complexity about the That curries that astounds me. The heat from the chiles, the cool factor from the mint. The cloying back notes of ginger and garlic. And the coconut milk to bring it all together. So when I make this, I don't go so much for a spicy-hot dish, but rather a diverse flavor dish that makes you want more. So we are going to make this with fresh halibut, prawns, scallops and Venus clams, simmered with chunks of vegetables and served with a side of rice to gather up all the sauce and make it even more flavorful. This is the thing I love about a good sauce or soup: it should be able to stand alone as an incredible flavor that you just want to experience. So our curry sauces have grown to main course meals that have become a second staple of most of our menus. Not always spicy hot, but always flavorful. (P.S. if you want to experience one great Thai restaurant in our area, go to Chantara Thai Cuisine. Gary and I eat there at least three times a month. "Nook" our server, always greets us with our favorite appetizer, and our favorite beer. We love being pampered. Here is their info:
Chantara Thai Cuisine
(916) 939-0389 4361 Town Center Blvd. Ste. #110 El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
This months recipe is going to be the Thai Peanut sauce described above. This is a very versatile sauce that holds really well in your refrigerator, and is very adapable to cooking. I have included several uses for this so make lots.
As always, the recipes and the menus are in PDF format, so make sure you have the latest version of ADOBE loaded. (the computer should prompt you if you don't).
Take care all of you. We hope to see each and every one of you sooner than later.
David at Cafe Luna