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In the Kitchen – April 2011

April 6, 2011

What’s my favorite small knife?

True confession: I love my little $4.95 serrated paring knife. I just made a big batch of candied orange peels, inspired by our Italian cooking teacher, Rosetta Costantino’s well-illustrated blog post. I used the little knife to score all the peels, and again to trim away the pith after blanching them. I experimented a bit, trying a variety of other, fancier knives to see what did the job best. None worked as well. So my knife tip to you: you don’t necessarily need the most expensive and fancy tool in the knife block. Sometimes, the simple and inexpensive solution is the best one.


Once I’d started the peels, I faced a mountain of naked fruit, as I’d started with a 10 pound bag of oranges. So I made some marmalade, adding the zest and juice from a couple of Meyer lemons from my garden. I wanted it slightly caramelized, a product you won’t find in the store, so I cooked it down for a long time and it got very very thick, and caramelized beautifully. I ended up with four pint jars of thick, gooey, sweet goodness. You just need equal volume of sugar to fruit, and a few hours of stirring every few minutes. I didn’t bother with canning it, I’ll refrigerate it and use a lot of it in sauces. A very satisfying project, yielding both delicious candied peels and the best marmalade. I don’t recommend you start with quite so much fruit, as it’s a bit tedious, but it’s easy to make.

Time to get into the garden

As I gaze out at my garden, sky blue and cloudless for the moment, fig tree and grapes leafing out beautifully, I know we’re at the turning point for weather this spring. Most likely we’ll get a bit more rain—but it’s planting time, finally. In my little garden at the kitchen, I added some good soil amendment, all organic, and planted some lacinato kale, chives, garlic chives and a new sage plant so far. More to come, over the next few weeks most likely some lettuces, tomatoes, basil when it’s a bit warmer, and whatever else catches my fancy. Peas on a trellis climbing the wall? Or maybe Romano beans. I’ve never been a great gardener, but I do know the rewards of picking something fresh, and eating it almost immediately, are great—for flavor and health. For more inspiration explore the rest of Rosetta’s blog, her garden, up on a hill in Oakland is both famous and inspiring.


Ethiopian Cuisine

She’s Back! We welcome Selome Haileleloul back for a new class on April 30th, where you’ll get an in-depth education about what goes into making the flavors of Ethiopian cuisine so unique.

Duck Extravaganza

We’re cooking up a delicious, ducky and highly educational day for you. Join us at 1 PM for a Duck Symposium and Cooking Class, in two parts (available separately or together). First, a lecture, demo and tasting with Jim Reichart, owner of Liberty Ducks, the top provider of the fowl to restaurants all over California. We’ll follow the talk with a selection of wonderful duck hors d’oeuvres, and have wine available by the glass from Eden Canyon Vineyards. The cost will be $50 for the lecture, demo and hors d’oeuvres, and this phase of the day will end at 3:15 PM.

The second part of the afternoon, beginning at 3:30, will be the hands-on Duck Cooking Class, where our chefs and the butchers from Star Meats, with a guest appearance by Jim, will work with the group to learn hands-on how to break down ducks into all their parts, and make some delicious dishes from the results. We’ll pair the duck dishes with appropriate sides, and of course, make duck egg flan for dessert, then sit down to a great meal. You’ll get to take home a quart of duck stock, or your own duck’s bones to start your stock at home, if you prefer. And, with a duck-per-person to work with, no doubt some very tasty leftovers (or you can opt to save some parts to cook later at home). The cost for this class will be $130, but if you purchase both the class and the lecture (hands-on class size is limited), you can get both for $150.


Rosetta’s classes are sold out until June, so sign up for her summer offerings soon, before they fill too!


The annual fix-it for the kitchen is a big one, I’m having the swamp cooler, already up on the roof as our clean air return for the hood, converted to add air conditioning on those hot days in the kitchen. I’ve always worried about big groups on warm days, as we have so many windows facing southwest that the kitchen can be broiling hot with the ovens on and a bunch of active people. This will allow us all to work in comfort.

We mentioned project number two in last month’s newsletter. We’re edging ever closer to making it a reality. Draping should arrive this week, so we’ll be able to screen the dishwasher and stove areas from the dining section, and then it’s only a matter of picking a style for your catered party. Cocktail tables and up-lit plants, or dining room, we can do it. Once again, we are embracing our name and creating yet another great use for our “creative kitchen.”

Finally, we’re working on the website. Hopefully next month, we’ll have a new and improved home in the clouds, and one that’s easy to find, too!

In the Market

Finally, green garlic, spring onions, tender delicate lettuce, crisp delta asparagus, local spring artichokes, and broccoli di cicco, that wonderful little variety that you eat leaves and all, and always tastes like spring to me. From here on, the varieties of fresh vegetables in the market will expand weekly. Look for peas (I’ve seen some snap peas already, but not yet and English peas), tender carrots, and fava beans to come in very soon. We already have fava leaves, and my few self-sown plants at the kitchen have had some pods, albeit only a few. I got collards at the market a week back, and they were starting to get a bit bitter, rather than their winter sweet flavor. Many of the sturdier greens will bolt soon and need to be replanted if you want them for summer—chard was great all winter, and I just picked mine at the kitchen garden as it started to sprout out to flower heads. We’re a good month or more away from the first cherries, but the strawberries coming to market from Oxnard and San Diego (yes, they truck them up to our farmers markets) are sweet and uniformly red, although some of the varieties lack the character of the seascapes and Chandlers to come soon. I can’t wait for the first apricots and peaches, but they are a ways off too—and I long for a fresh tomato with flavor, something we won’t get till July. Still, there’s plenty to cook with, and when you buy from the farmer’s markets, you know you’re getting the peak nutritive value of the food, not something that has sat in a warehouse and languished for a week or two before even getting put out to purchase.

Summer Camp

We’ve had a good rush of early sign-ups, but there are still spaces in each camp that await your cooking-friendly kids. Our favorite teacher (besides Tracy), Samantha Smith, will be back from last year. Sam lives much of the year in Hawaii, and while she’s here, she is also going to be building a wood-burning pizza oven to ship back home. I hope we get to test it out before it gets stowed on a ship! Our other teacher, Omri Aranow, has been working with us for a while, and he’s a very talented chef and great teacher. He’s been executive chef of a restaurant, Adagia in Berkeley, and worked in many others—and his daughter will be joining him in class this summer. For those of you who don’t know, Tracy will be having my first grandson in late July, and so, won’t be able to teach the camp this year, but I know she’ll be around a lot anyway, unless the boy comes early.

Recipe of the Month

There are so many great recipes for this time of year in the archives, I have to be careful not to repeat myself. As you scroll through the recipes, you’ll really start to see the pattern of each year, as many of them feature the best produce of that month at the market. This month I’m inspired by tender salad greens—something we just didn’t have all winter. With frilly green or red-and-green heads of baby lettuce, a salad doesn’t have to be an arduous task to make. Wash the greens well, spin them dry, and make a simple dressing in the bowl, then toss them in. No more needed than the greens and a light vinaigrette. But the key is good oil and good vinegar, made naturally from great ingredients. I personally love the vinegars I get at the farmer’s market from Big Paw Grub, whose olive oil also perfectly compliments the greens. They come to Grand Lake, Montclair and Claremont markets, and probably a few more. And, all their wares are out for tasting. Pick a favorite flavor, or a few, and make the simplest of salads at home.