Summer Crowd Pleasers

The cover of Martha Stewart Living’s June issue promised “Summer Crowd Pleasers” and indeed two of the recipes really pleased us. The rich Penne Frittata with Ricotta and Basil tasted almost like a noodle pudding but with a sophisticated taste. In large part this was due to the fresh basil I plucked from the beautiful plant on my counter. Thank you Trader Joe’s for selling these for $2.99! It was like comfort food all grown up, especially when served with Asparagus with Capers and Lemon. This delightfully piquant dish offered a great counterpoint to the frittata. The last of the season sweet asparagus from the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market provided a fond farewell to Spring and a salute to Summer, just on the horizon!

Is the Fish Fresh?

The answer to my husband’s perpetual question in this case is a resounding YES, in fact the fish is Wild. A Martha Stewart Living recipe with the magic words “you make the main and side dish all in one pan” got me going! The succulent halibut from Alaska (purchased at Safeway) roasted alongside the baby zucchini while I made the luscious butter sauce, substituting shallots for the onion. Why cut into a whole onion for such a small amount? Whole wheat couscous from Trader Joe’s, studded with delicate shiitake mushrooms from the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, completed the meal. A Pacific Rim Dry Reisling helped the celebration of warm weather – finally – and beginning of the Memorial Day Weekend. Halleluyah!

Sugar Snap Peas

I don’t really like peas. Yet the overflowing table of sugar snap peas at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, and my husband’s urging, prompted me to buy these “pod fruits”. A great Epicurious recipe combining the sweet peas with a pungent garlic paste and parmesan cheese yielded an explosion of juxtaposing flavors. The luscious sauce drenched delicate garlic and parsley fettuccine.  As an embellishment, I added sauteed baby shiitake mushrooms and Aidell’s Chicken and Apple sausage. As oft stated, “give peas a chance” now made imminent sense!

Saturday Night Light

Q: What to have for dinner on a beautiful Saturday night that is equal parts elegant and light? A: Meyer Lemon Risotto and Seared Scallops! Inspired by a risotto recipe presented on the Today Show using créme fraîche,  spring greens and lemon juice, I ultimately used a recipe found on line through 101 Cookbooks. With the zest and juice from the abundant Meyer lemons from our friends’ gardens, chopped garlic, shallot, white wine, arborio rice, asparagus, zucchini, parsley, créme fraîche, and Pecorino-Romano cheese, this dish bursted with incredible richness and flavors. East Coast Bay Scallops from Bryan’s Market melted in our mouths, thanks to a Food Network recipe using butter and garlic. And what better for dessert than delicious strawberries from the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market dipped into that créme fraîche and golden brown sugar? Mouth-watering achieved new significance this evening!

Spring Salad

This salad captures the light of the new season with albacore tuna as the central ingredient, “springing forward” thanks to the petite nonpareil capers, kalamata olives and sweet Campari tomatoes. Roasted fingerling potatoes from Zuckerman’s Farms surround the bed of organic arugula and parsley. A combination of minced shallots, Meyer lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil dressed our spring salad. No special recipes used here, simply a culmination of shopping at Costco, Trader Joe’s, Richmond Produce Market and the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market – a testament to the age-old thinking that it takes a lot to make something look simple. Here is to enjoying this time of rebirth and renewal!

Summer Salads

Simple, one dish salads are the entree of choice at ChezHelvetica this summer. For this weeknight meal, we dined on whole grain Barilla penne pasta and Trader Joe’s organic garbanzo beans nested on a bed of Little Gem greens. These heavenly greens were purchased at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Crostini topped with a tapenade made of kalamata olives and sun dried tomatoes (a recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentiis “Everyday Italian” cookbook) accompanied our salad. We delighted in our Powder Keg wine selection that evening but felt like we were shot from a cannon the next morning. That will teach us!

Bastille Day

Bastille Day seemed like a fun occasion to celebrate with French-related cuisine, wine and national colors. Our Bakers of Paris baguette was topped with a walnut-parsley pesto, a great side for the farfalle pasta with summer squash and mushrooms. No specific recipe was used in the creation of this dish, but knowing my ingredients were the finest from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, as well as Barilla Multi-Grain pasta, I forged ahead. While the wine wasn’t French, the name is: Folie a’ Deux. This wonderful Zinfandel is from a Napa Valley vintner with grapes from Amador County. Dreyer’s French Vanilla ice cream, accompanied by sweet red cherries, concluded our tribute to France and the storming of the Bastille!

Cold Weather Comfort Food

Panzanella, an age-old Italian recipe for using stale bread, is still very much in the 21st century as it appears in my new “Everyday Italian” cookbook by Giada de Laurentiis. This delicious recipe was the perfect solution for some of the Mediterranean pita bread left over from the recent Rex Foundation 25th Anniversary Benefit (what a wonderful evening of great music!). Organic tomatoes ( purchased from both the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and Safeway) olives, capers, garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil are also key ingredients in this recipe. In addition, I used some sun-dried tomatoes (since I didn’t have the peppers called for) which gave the dish some extra flavor. Fragrant cream of cauliflower soup with saffron paired wonderfully with this salad. Baby cauliflower from the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market was transformed by this recipe from Epicurious. I use an immersion blender when I make soup. I love this but learned to put the pot with the soup and blender into the sink so it doesn’t splatter all over the kitchen! Our wine this evening was a gift from a visiting daughter of a college roommate –  a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the R Collection. We were truly warmed and comforted by this meal!

Jump Start on Crab Season

The intent of my 8AM dash to Safeway for some household staples yielded a lovely surprise for dinner – Dungeness Crab, from Canada! As I cruised by the fish counter, these beautiful red crabs stopped me in my tracks. Fishmonger Jim asked me if I wanted to taste some. I did – delicious! This led to the purchase of one of our favorite Chardonnays, Rodney Strong Chalk Hill. With one artichoke left from our recent visit to Pezzini’s in Castroville (wonderful market) and the best radishes I have ever tasted plucked that morning from the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, we were set for our Saturday Night Live dinner. Happily, I had some brown rice left over from a recent visit to a Chinese restaurant which worked as the perfect accompaniment to this meal. Luscious red grapes from Tory Farms (also purchased at the Farmer’s Market that morning) were served with Carr’s Whole Wheat Crackers topped with Aged Gouda and toasted walnuts drizzled with honey for a simple, sweet dessert.

Broccoli Soup

An enticing broccoli soup with cheddar crisps recipe from Food & Wine magazine was the catalyst for this dinner. After a trip to the Farmers’ Market at the Ferry Plaza, I was armed with a gloriously green head of broccoli and some glistening greens. However, not paying attention closely enough to the recipe, I missed seeing the need for celery! This sent me running to my Google dashboard and did a search for broccoli soup recipes that did not require celery. I found a wonderfully simple recipe requiring only broccoli, water and salt. This one also introduced the idea of placing walnuts and goat cheese at the center of the of the bowl and then surrounding these with the soup. Since I had already made the cheddar crisps (delicious!), I used those this time but will use goat cheese another time. To accompany the soup, I prepared baked tilapia and served it over the greens with a Meyer lemon shallot vinaigrette, garnished with pine nuts. Thanks to our neighbor Kevin who gave us a bucket of beautiful Meyer lemons from their tree!