Monday, July 30, 2018

Spaghetti al Limone

The backyard lemons continue to be in full bloom. As in the last post, I am always looking for ways to use up the backyard bounty of lemons.

I got this recipe via email from my Milk Street subscription. What appealed to me were the simple ingredients, quick preparation time (hello weeknight meal!), bright flavors, and the use of a lemon.

With this recipe, I also appreciated the use of starchy pasta water along with a generous bit of butter to thicken the sauce instead of some recipes which call for cream. This leads to a cleaner, lighter, and brighter finish.

This Italian-based recipe comes from the Campania region of Italy where there is an abundance of lemon trees along the Amalfi Coast.

Spaghetti al Limone (serves 4)


  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, divided
  • 8 cloves of garlic, minced
  • red pepper flakes, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon to start then adjust accordingly)
  • 10-12 ounces spaghetti or linguini
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine (plus extra for the chef!)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup of chopped parsley (or basil leaves)
  • finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

  • Prep lemon zest, herbs, and mince garlic. Preheat 2 quarts of salted water for pasta.
  • In a large skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter (I also added some olive oil to the mixture). Add the minced garlic and cook stirring for about 30 seconds.
  • Add the red pepper flakes and cook for one more minute
  • Add the white wine and simmer until reduced, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Bring pasta water to a boil. Cook the pasta until 2-3 minutes short of the directions (pasta will continue to cook later in the skillet).
  • As pasta nears time, ladle of 1 1/2 cup of pasta water then drain pasta
  • Return the skillet to medium high heat, stir in the reserved pasta water, and bring to a simmer. Add the drained pasta and stir to mix. 
  • Lower the heat until gently simmering.
  • Add 2 remaining tablespoons of butter,  a very generous grind of black pepper, the lemon juice and zest, and the parsley.
  • Continue to simmer until the sauce has thickened and the extra water has evaporated. This is a key step. You don't want a watery sauce so simmer until the pasta glistens with starch and fat and the sauce has thickened.
  • Transfer to serving dishes and serve with some grated Parmesan cheese
  • Garnish with a lemon slice or a sprig of fresh parsley or basil

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Bee's Knees

With the weather warming up and no more rain in the foreseeable future, it's time to start exploring some warm weather cocktails. Add to that a lemon tree in the backyard bursting with lemons.

I was recently introduced to this drink through a friend who saw the recipe in a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine. Like me, he has a lemon tree and is always looking for ways to use them up.

The drink is a nice balance of tart and sweetness with neither dominating the drink. You can use any type of gin. I opted to use a St. George Terroir Gin that was given to me by a friend.

The first step is to chill a glass in the fridge ahead of time so it's ready when it's cocktail time. The recipe calls for a coupe glass but I didn't have any of those and used a traditional martini glass instead.

Also, honey can be difficult to work with due to its viscosity. So make a honey syrup (not unlike simple syrup) with equal parts honey and water. Either use a stove top or microwave to mix the ingredients together. It will keep in the fridge for a while.

Bee's Knees (makes 1 cocktail)

  • 2 oz. (1/4 cup) gin
  • 1 Tbsp. honey mixed with 1 Tbsp. warm water
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake well. Strain the drink into a chilled glass. Make a garnish of lemon peel and add it to the drink and serve. 

Here's a video on how to make it:


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Just About Done!

The best Christmas gift we got was that our downstairs room remodel is basically done. The final inspection is scheduled for tomorrow. There are a few items on the punch list, but we have begun to move the furniture in. We even watched a football game on the TV with the fireplace below warming the room.

The shelves are mostly empty and there are additional details we want to add but it is finally a usable room. This whole project got started one year ago. Rain delayed the foundation work for months on end which then delayed the interior remodel. But we are finally happy with the finished product.

My New Year's resolution is to return this blog to the topic of food and cooking. I have new cookbooks and new ideas to share in 2018.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Beyond Burger

I recently caught the end of an interview on the radio. It was an interview with Ethan Brown talking about his company, Beyond Meat, and his efforts to create a plant-based protein that can be a meat substitute (though he would shudder at that description). The company makes a burger that is starting to show up in supermarkets. But the company actually started with frozen bags of plant-based chicken.

Brown's philosophy and approach are different from others in this market. Rather than focus on creating a pretty good meat substitute (as I described it earlier), he is setting out to make meat out of plant products. To him, it's an important change of perception. He is not looking to make a meat substitute. He wants to make meat out of plant-based products. Plant based version of the same
ingredients that you find in meat. Wanting to have a legacy of doing good in the world is Brown's main motivation. He also believes that marketing matters. You won't find the Beyond Burger over with the other meat substitute products. Instead you find them in the meat section right next to ground beef. Because, to him, it's meat and it should be in the meat section of the supermarket.

The protein comes from peas. Pea protein isolate, to be exact. The animal fat is replaced with canola and coconut oils.

So after hearing the interview, I kept my eye out at the supermarket. I've had the Beyond burger twice now. Both of the times I've made them I just used a stove-top, non-stick skillet. I haven't yet tried to barbecue them. Like ground beef burgers, everyone has different preferences on how they like their burgers. I can see that this product can be similar. The directions say to cook for 3 minutes per side. This
seemed too short for me. I cooked it a few minutes longer in order to get some browning on the outside. Even though I cooked it longer there was still some pink in the center (courtesy of the added beet juice).

I also appreciated that almost all of the packaging could be composted or recycled.

The latest version, pictured here, was made with melted cheddar, pickles, lettuce, mayo, and mustard all in between a fresh ciabatta bun. Do yourself a favor and skip those mass-produced burger buns and get some high quality bread instead. No matter what's inside.

The Beyond Burger taste is very good and satisfying but not 100% like eating a beef burger (which I haven't had in many years). The appearance and the texture are very close to beef burgers. But after having years of Morningstar, Garden Burgers, and other substitutes, I would say that Beyond Burger is a giant step forward.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Vetrazzo Countertop Installed

The Vetrazzo counter top was recently installed on the wet bar counter top downstairs on our remodel project.

We have been looking at Vetrazzo for a number of years and have hoped for a chance to find a use for it. Once this part of the redesign began to form in our designer's plans, we immediately jumped on the opportunity to use Vetrazzo.

You may or may not have heard of Vetrazzo, but what attracted us was the use of recycled glass and the sustainability of the product. I will let Wikipedia take it from here:
"Vetrazzo recycled glass countertops were invented in Berkeley in 1996. A materials scientist, Don McPherson, pursuing his PhD combined recycled glass and a cement binder to create a sustainable, polished countertop. The company at that time was known as Counter Productions. The production batches were small and handmade, demanding a more streamlined and repeatable process. 
In 2006, a former customer and designer named Olivia Teter was looking for a new project and found the company in financial straits. She, together with James Sheppard and Jeff Gustafson, partnered to raise capital, buy the product formula and assets behind the Vetrazzo countertops, and co-found what is now Vetrazzo LLC. 
The Vetrazzo manufacturing facility was located in Richmond, California in a recycled Ford assembly plant. The plant is on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts the Rosie the Riveter Museum. It utilizes daylight, controls air pollution with a special negative-pressure dust booth, recycles water and hosts a 1 megawatt solar system manufactured by building tenant Sunpower Corporation. 
In June 2010 Polycor acquired Vetrazzo and move the plant back Georgia where it now shares a manufacturing space with the Georgia Marble company."
We were made aware of Vetrazzo soon after it was invented through an article in Sunset Magazine. We were updating a kitchen in our first condo at the time and seriously considered using Vetrazzo on the kitchen counter top. We ended up going with something else but we have always been looking for the opportunity to use it. We ended up going with the Floating Blue color scheme. It's made of recycled glass, concrete, and composite. We are quite happy with the final product.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Creamy Arugula Salad with Pistachios and Olives

During the recent Blue Apron/Hello Fresh epic week, we made a Blue Apron dish that had a very unique and satisfying side salad that caught our attention. It was only a side salad on this particular menu but we thought the salad really upstaged the main dish. The salad was interesting, unique, and a great mix of diverse ingredients. We saved the basic recipe and have made it a few times (both as a side and a dinner salad) since the first time. Personally, I'm still tweaking the recipe to get the right proportions but the basics are there.

One of the ingredients is roasted pistachios. I enjoy roasting my own pistachios. You can buy raw pistachios at higher end supermarkets. Roasting at home means you can control the amount of salt and you know they are freshly roasted. They keep in an airtight container for a good long time. Here are directions for roasting at home.

This salad is served already dressed. Which is a bit of a different approach to a typical weeknight side salad where each person grabs a bottle or carafe and dresses their own. But when serving a dressed salad, I've been learning the importance of getting your hands into the mix. Don't rely on salad tongs. When you use your hands, you are able to coat each leaf with dressing and the result is a more evenly distributed salad that has a consistent taste throughout.

Creamy Arugula Salad with Pistachios and Olives

Serves 2
  • Arugula - 2 handfuls
  • Creme Fraiche - 2 tablespoons
  • Castelvetrano olives - 10-12 olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • Roasted pistachios - 1/4 cup, roughly chopped
  • White wine vinegar - 1-2 tbsp.
  • Olive oil - to taste and texture
  • Salt and pepper
  • Make the dressing in a bowl by combining the creme fraiche and the vinegar with a fork until mixed. 
  • Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir to mix and set aside.
  • With the flat side of a knife, smash the olives and remove the pit. Roughly chop. 
  • Roughly chop the pistachios
  • In a large bowl, combine the arugula, pistachios, and olives and season with salt and pepper.
  • Add enough dressing to coat the salad mixing by hand
  • Let sit for a few minutes before plating the side dish
The pistachios and the olives tend to fall to the bottom, so when mixing by hand be sure to scrape the bottom and pick up the heavier ingredients and get them into the mix.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Cabinets and Wine Fridge

Cabinetry was delivered last week and my contractor got to work right on the northern wall so that all of the cabinetry around the wine fridge would be completed just prior to delivery. For our cabinets, we went with bamboo just like we did for the kitchen. This time, our designer went with a different company from the one we used for the kitchen. Nonetheless, the end result is a very similar look and feel.

The house had a floor to ceiling closet against the eastern wall which was removed during demolition. The plans called for a Murphy wall to be built. A soffit was built out beyond where the old closet doors were. The design called for a portion of the wall to be on a hinge and behind the cabinetry would be a walk-in storage area. The middle portion of the cabinetry will be where we place our TV on top and an electric fireplace below. The idea being that if you just walked into the room you couldn't tell that there something behind the wall. But then the middle portion can swing out. A motion detector turns on the lights as you enter the storage area. The plan is to put shelving on the real wall so that storage boxes can be placed on them.

Another element that we wanted in the redesigned downstairs room was a proper wine fridge. Before, we had an inexpensive wood wine rack held 44 bottles. We quickly outgrew that and it became surrounded with wine boxes. We are club members at three different wineries so we receive regular shipments to our house. Couple that with trips to Sonoma County and the close-by Livermore (and Santa Cruz) wine region, and the boxes of wine were getting higher and higher.

When it came time to clear out the room, I emptied the wine rack into boxes and then temporarily stored the wine in one of the bedrooms. The total was ten cases of wine.

So this week our new wine storage fridge was delivered and set up. It was actually one of the first purchases we made last summer. It was almost literally one year to the day from when we put our down payment to when we paid it off and arranged for delivery. On the recommendation of some friends, we purchased a fridge by the French company Transtherm. Give the amount of wine we wanted to store--and to allow some room for growth--we selected the Prestige Ermitage. Depending on the shelving configuration one can put 182 to 234 bottles of wine in it. At this point, we will go with the 14 individual, pull-out shelves (182 bottles) rather than the maximum configuration of 234 bottles.