Friday, May 22, 2009

if it's not one thing...oh and a recipe for potato salad?

how's that for a title? but it totally relates to this post. it is friday...the start of the memorial day holiday weekend....and i am frantically cancelling all of our plans. you see...we started a "three week, tops" landscaping remodel 4 weeks ago...stop!...those of you familiar with remodeling projects already know where this story is going...right? we have completed a lot of restoring/remodeling projects since we purchased our farmhouse 6 years ago...and we live by the mantra..."double the time/double the cost" of whatever we are quoted in a contractor's bid....but this time i really thought it was going to be different....and, since i thought i had a week to spare...planned a bunch of get-togethers for the three day weekend...when we purchased our home it came with a pool. surprisingly, because i am originally from southern california, i had never coveted a pool...i was always more of a beach girl...i mean, sure...a wonderful vacation at a posh resort lounging by the pool is one thing...but owning one? was never a goal. but, as i said..the pool was already here and after the first HOT napa summer i quickly appreciated the benefit of jumping in whenever i wanted...and swimming laps beats the gym any day! but the real pool lover in the family is mose, my golden retriever. he pretty much spends the summer sitting on the steps of the pool..and taking a few laps periodically throughout the day...the pool area design was not lovely...and it was always a goal to redo...but the priorities were the inside of the house...and the front and side yards...
mose and allie
fast forward to last summer...the white picket fencing surrounding the pool area was so old and rotted out that the fence started falling down...this is the fence that protects the pool area from the street...and is there for security and privacy. a couple of times when mose would jump on the fence sections actually fell down. we did some quick repairs but knew it would not last another year...so...this year became the "let's redo the pool fence and decking" project.

my husband peter and i collaborate really well regarding home and garden design...and our first set of ideas were presented to the contractor only to receive a bid that was higher than the net worth of some small countries!! o.k., so those plans were scrapped...not in the budget!! but my life keeps proving that problems really do lead to opportunities...because our revised plans ended up being simpler and more beautiful....eco-friendly...and better suited to our not-grand farmhouse.

so we started the project...and the first two weeks went amazingly well...so well that i continued with my plans for this weekend...pretty much a bunch of people coming over every day...swimming, drinking the limoncello, cooking, barbecuing, talking, laughing, dancing....you know, the perfect parties we always imagine hosting...but...delays, delays, delays....some unexpected like finding wood rot in some of the fencing that was staying....some, contractor's error in accurately project scoping...and some our fault because...like many projects...once you see the demo'd space you think of additional items to add. (contractors love this because it equals "materials and labor" costs above the estimate)...and then...once the pool was drained to do the decking, we realized it needed to be replastered....and on and on and on...my twitter friend the food geek (i am not being mean..that is his twitter name) sent me the following tweet when i was complaining about this yesterday "You've just run across Hofstadter's Law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hofstadter" ...pretty funny...


now...our "three week project" looks like it will take about 2 months to complete...ha! but i decided to look at all the positives...

1. when it is finished it will be amazing!
2. i am incredibly fortunate to be able to complete a remodel in the first place
3. i am grateful to all the construction workers who are doing a beautiful job..and working really hard.
4. my friend david... the furniture designer for my company...and i are collaborating on a collection of home and garden items...furniture and accessories, crafted from the old white picket fencing...reuse, recycle, repurpose, reimagine!!!
5. because i need to replant a portion of my herb garden, i have the opportunity to experiment with many new herbs...and..since our our bath and body collection is inspired from our farmhouse garden...this gives me an opportunity to expand our product offering while staying authentic to the brand...
o.k...so to ensure this post is not the longest story in history... i have told you many times that being "pithy" is not one of my strengths...i will end the remodel story for now...and provide updates during the balance of construction....but at least now you have the background...and for those of you who have emailed me asking why i haven't been writing much...now you know...even now the sound of the compressor is ringing in my ears...the non-stop buzzing noise it makes drives me batty...but, again i digress...
i decided to experiment with a new potato salad recipe last week (when i was still naive enough to think the holiday parties would occur). i was creating in my mind a recipe that would incorporate the ingredients in a salade ni├žoise...minus the tuna...and instead become a potato salad. but, in another instance of the "best laid plans" saga, when i was at the farmer's market i pointed at string beans only to find...once i got home...that they bagged up pea pods...so the theme of this post seems to be how problems lead to creative solutions...because i adapted and made an easy breezy potato and peas salad in a honey mustard vinaigrette that we fell in love with...
currently, my entire yard looks like a disaster zone...the pool, deck and back porch...torn up. all the furniture, pots, accessories, construction equipment and supplies are spread out in the side yard and on the front and side porch...the sawdust, concrete and plaster dust seems to permeate the house...no matter how often i dust and sweep...and so the parties have been postponed....keep your fingers crossed that 4th of july can be the new dates....but, until then we have to eat....so potato salad for two?napa farmhouse potato salad
4 medium red skinned potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1/2 lb fresh pea pods, washed
3 green onions, chopped
1/4 c diced red onion
18 kalamata olives, pitted
grey salt
freshly cracked black pepper

honey mustard vinaigrette
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp stone ground mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
grey salt
freshly cracked black pepper

cut potatoes into 2 inch pieces. place in a med saucepan add add water to cover by about 2 inches. add a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. reduce heat and simmer until fork tender...12-15 minutes....begin checking at 10 minutes and ensure you do not overcook. add pea pods to the potatoes after the first 10-12 minutes...fresh peas only need a minute or two in the simmering water to cook. i like them al dente...not mushy. when the potatoes are done, drain into a colander and set aside. remove the pea pods, shell and add to a large bowl. add the potatoes, green onions, red onions and olives.

make the vinaigrette by adding the vinegar, honey, mustard and olive oil to a mason jar. screw on lid and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. add salt and pepper to taste.

add a couple of tablespoons of the dressing to the potato salad mixture while the potatoes are still warm and stir gently to combine (you will have extra dressing...delicious on green salads and coleslaw). taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed. you may need to add a bit more dressing because the potatoes will soak up some of the vinaigrette. add enough to ensure the salad is moist...but not so much that it becomes soggy....but , this part is totally your call...

serve warm, room temperature or cold...

hope your holiday weekend is restful, relaxing and a respite from the daily grind...and please take some time to honor those who gave their lives for our country....the true meaning of the holiday...
"...gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime....let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude,--the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan." --General John Logan, General Order No. 11, 5 May 1868
and...if you have a moment...please share your remodeling horror stories...misery loves company...and just to keep the post theme going...your favorite potato salad recipe!
mose as a puppy


best,
diane
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"™

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

at long last...the limoncello is finished!!!

so the memorial day holiday weekend begins in 9 days. the weather is supposed to be warm...we have nothing we absolutely have to do...and many of our friends have talked about coming to visit...by now, you know how much i love summer...so i am like a kid waiting for the last day of school. and... guess what?...the limoncello is finished and in the freezer. it just doesn't get better than that.

for first time readers of my blog, here is the limoncello background. i first wrote about my love of this liqueur...and shared my recipe...back in february. my meyer lemon tree gives us tons of fruit each year...and limoncello is one of our favorite ways to use up the bounty. i explained that the recipe requires 80 days of infusing...and invited readers to make a batch with me...kind of a world-wide group lesson. read the first post want some ice cold limoncello this summer? for the complete story and the first step.


the first step involves 40 days of infusing. now, i should say that the recipe is easy...just requires patience...and i was very happy to hear that a large group of people signed up to make the limoncello...some posted in the comments section...many more emailed me to share their recipes...or tweaks to my version. we had a hot debate over using 100 proof vodka (my way) or using everclear...which actually scares me a bit :)... and then, 40 days later, i posted the second set of steps in limoncello, part 2.
limoncello, step 1



the second round of 40 days officially ended last week...and we completed the final steps of straining and bottling...and stashing in the freezer. we ended up with 2 large bottles...and 8 smaller ones...that should last a while...except many of our friends read my blog...and have been not-so-patiently waiting for the limoncello to be finished. why do i have a sneaking suspicion we will have loads of "just happened to be dropping by" visits memorial day weekend? if you know me you know that nothing could make me happier...

limoncello, step 2


so, for all my limoncello making readers...the last set of instructions are as follows...



limoncello, finished product!!



meyer lemon limoncello, part 3


pour limoncello through a cheesecloth covered large pitcher. (if you doubled the recipe like i did, this may require a couple of steps). divide among glass bottles and... because this needs to be stored in the freezer... i use rubber stoppers vs cork...


that's it...for those of you who made the limoncello with me...please let me know what you think of the final result...for first time readers...it is never too late to start...try to find meyer lemons...i think it makes a big difference in the taste...but if they are not available in your area, regular lemons work well also...the hardest part is waiting the 80 days...so start today..and you will have limoncello the first week of august!!!


yeah, summer!!

salute! (cheers! in italian)

diane



diane padoven

napa farmhouse 1885™

"live a green life of style"™


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Friday, May 8, 2009

do you love asparagus? let's do a recipe roundup

it seems as if i have been eating asparagus non-stop for the past month. i have noticed ...now that i have the opportunity cook almost every day in my "post corporate" life...that seasonal eating just comes naturally. i eat mostly local in-season food and...because once the season is over i have to wait another year...i prepare my favorites over and over again. there appears to be the perfect nature based cut-off...because just as i am starting to get the tiniest bit tired of the fruit or vegetable...the season is over...and it is time for my next favorite!

asparagus is a perfect example. i adore this vegetable and can eat it constantly during the season...then i am perfectly content to wait until the next year because canned or frozen versions are just wrong...and the "flown in from around the world" options just do not taste good...but it is early may...and here in california asparagus are in season...so favorite asparagus recipes...here we come...

asparagus was first planted in california during the 1850's. i like to imagine the original owners of my farmhouse (which was built in 1885) eating the same foods that i enjoy today. did you know that asparagus is a member of the lily family? according to the california asparagus commission, california leads the nation in asparagus production with more than 50,000 metric tons harvested annually.....so we have a lot of asparagus available...and i think i personally put a dent in the 50,000 metric tons statistic...

my favorite way to prepare asparagus is one of the simplest....roasting. roasted asparagus as a side dish is really good...but served on grilled bruschetta, with a wedge of parmigiano-reggiano cheese, a small salad and a glass of wine makes an amazing dinner on a hot day...my trick is salting the asparagus with coarse grey salt prior to roasting in olive oil. something about the crunchy salt, the excellent extra virgin olive oil and perfectly roasted asparagus just rocks...

i also love asparagus with eggs. last year i shared a recipe for poached eggs with asparagus and truffle oil which i make all the time during spring...or pasta with sauteed asparagus, pine nuts, spring onions and garlic..in extra virgin olive oil, white wine and seasonings is out of this world...
i have tried many different versions of asparagus soup throughout the years...but they always called for chicken or vegetable stock. i wanted a really "asparagusy" (totally made up word) soup so this year i developed one which calls for an asparagus stock...this recipe is fast, easy and really good. i named it asparagus, asparagus soup to emphasize the clean asparagus taste...this version is just thickened with a potato..so while it is thick and creamy...no cream...so a really healthy and low cal version...let me know what you think...


roasted asparagus
2 bunches fresh asparagus
extra virgin olive oil
coarse grey salt

preheat oven to 400 degrees. drizzle olive oil over bottom of baking sheet (with sides)...approx 3 tbsp. prepare asparagus by snapping off ends and peeling stalks. roll the asparagus in the oil to coat. sprinkle with grey salt. roast in oven 10-15 minutes (depends on how thick your stalks are) until asparagus has just begun to caramelize. serve immediately.


this soup can be served hot, warm or even cold...so a good versatile choice depending on the unpredictable spring weather...

asparagus, asparagus soup
2 lbs fresh asparagus
6 cups water
2 yellow onions, peeled and diced
2 green onions, diced, green and white parts separated
1 clove garlic peeled and minced
1 russet potato, diced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

peel the asparagus and snap off the ends. place the asparagus peel and ends, 1 tsp sea salt and 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper in a large stockpot and add the water. cook over high heat until water reaches soft boil...boil for 20 minutes. strain asparagus broth into large bowl and discard solids. set aside.
roughly chop the asparagus reserving a few tips for garnish. meanwhile, add approx 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to stockpot and heat over medium flame. add yellow onions, white part of green onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped asparagus and potatoes and saute until onions are just translucent (do not let brown).
pour asparagus broth into very large measuring cup and add water to ensure you have 6 cups. add broth/water mixture to stockpot and bring to soft boil. reduce heat to simmer and cook until potatoes and asparagus are very soft (20-30 minutes)

at this point you need to puree the soup. you can pour into a blender/food processor to accomplish but i have an aversion to pouring boiling hot liquids into a machine. years ago i bought an immersion blender...one of my favorite tools...and i use this to effortlessly, easily and...safely... puree my soup. i like my soup with a bit of texture so i just puree, but if you want a very smooth soup you can then pour it through a fine sieve into a bowl to strain out the remaining solids. pour back into stockpot and season to taste with sea salt and pepper. serve hot, warm or cold garnished with chopped green onion and asparagus tips.


what are your favorite asparagus recipes? let's do a roundup of terrific ways to prepare asparagus so we can all share...you can either list your recipe here...or link to your blog...please share in the comments section of this post....


happy may!

best,
diane


diane padoven
founder/president
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"™


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