Friday, February 29, 2008

Best French Toast

Still finding riffs on the orange theme, we tried Emeril's Favorite French Toast on Presidents Day morning. I was recovering from a nasty cold and laryngitis so cooking was the most fun I had all day - if you don't count coughing, blowing my nose for the 600th time, and squeaking when I speak as "fun."

Luckily, I could get this recipe without being subjected to Emeril himself - his style is a little over-the-top for me - by Googling "orange French toast" and visiting his website.

My Beloved declared it to be the best French toast he has ever eaten - he likes the way the orange juice lightens the eggs and the orange zest really brings home the citrus message. So, even when you aren't feeling crappy and in need of vitamin C, we can recommend this delicious change-of-pace breakfast.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Fixer's Offering

When I lived in Hilton, New York each year we had a spring and a fall Bulky Pickup Day. Because you never knew exactly which day the truck would come around, everyone would put out at the curb for weeks ahead any items they no longer wanted, anything from old appliances to broken furniture to just plain junk.

Those of us with a fascination for other people's stuff would cruise slowly past these piles and sometimes stop to snatch off the pile an item we simply couldn't believe they would throw away. I have a dainty little chair, for example, that I rescued one year and reupholstered. One person's junk is clearly another one's treasure.

Anyway, back then there was also a handyman who cruised the Bulky Pickup piles and reclaimed broken appliances, refurbishing them and selling them in his little store, The Fixer's Offerings. This lovely little shop was the epitome of the recycling ethic. Both my favorite waffle iron and this juicer came from The Fixer's Offerings, relics of an age where anything that could be electrified was.

I don't haul the juicer out for every juicing job - it's easy enough to squeeze the occasional lemon by hand - but when I have all these oranges and I'm having so much fun trying new ways to use them, the juicer has pride of place on my counter. It's noisy and quirky but it has a certain homely charm and I love that it continues to work uncomplainingly despite its venerable age. Whoever threw this one out jettisoned a treasure. Thank you, Mr. Fixer, wherever you are!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's Even Better With Orange

Because I made so much roasted squash soup, I have to admit I was getting a little tired of it. However, having been raised by a woman who grew up in the Great Depression, I try not to waste much.

Harboring a nice big bucket still full of oranges from Cranky and Cookiecrumb, I decided to try adding the zest and the juice of an orange to my pot of soup. Big improvement! The zest made it more tart while the juice made it more sweet - an interesting give-and-take for the tongue!

I'm finding that many foods are better with a touch of orange!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup

"Beautiful soup so rich and green
Waiting in a hot tureen!

Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Beau--ootiful Soo--oop! Beau--ootiful Soo--oop! Soo--oop of the e--e--evening, Beautiful, beautiful Soup"

Well, this soup isn't green but it's certainly beautiful. Lewis Carroll would be proud. This is the soup I made with some of the roasted red kabocha squash I purchased at the farmer's market. For this batch, I sauteed onion and shallot in some butter, added chicken broth and some tarragon, simmered and pureed.

Wondering now if we'll ever see the end of the squash. Reminds me of another quote, this one from Dorothy Parker who defined eternity as "A ham and two people." Same goes for a 10-pound squash.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Roast Chicken with Oranges & Rosemary

Our usual preparation for our Sunday night roast chicken is to olive oil it, sprinkle on some herbes de Provence, squeeze a lemon over it and pop the squeezed rind inside the cavity before roasting at about 375 degrees for about an hour. Sometimes we roast small potatoes and/or large shallots alongside. Simple. Satisfying. Feeds us for two nights, at least.

As we say in my family, "Acceptable plus!"

But, this week, we have all these lovely navel oranges, tree-ripened and gifted to us - seemed like there must be a way to use them with chicken, too. So, we did roughly the same thing, only swapping an orange for the lemon and rosemary for the herbes de Provence and it was simply lovely. The sweeter taste of the orange inside came through clearly and the juice carmelized beautifully in the roasting pan with the chicken juices so we just spooned some of it up and drizzled it over the chicken.

The combination of orange and rosemary is truly perfect - each compliments the other without losing the flavors of either. And together they make a great accompaniment for good old Sunday roast chicken.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wrestling Match

After cocktails with four of our favorite people in the world at the wonderful Top of the Mark (terrific cocktail lounge with a long San Francisco history and a 360 degree view of the city), my birthday celebration continued at Rue Lepic, a French-inspired restaurant that the concierge recommended, just downhill from the Mark Hopkins.

I ordered rack of lamb, which came fanned on this intriguingly shaped triangular plate with perfectly cooked carrots, greenie beanies and rice.
I suspect the pan reduction was made with port wine, as it was almost sweet. Nice presentation, and the lamb was cooked perfectly and boned, but with the rib bones presented on the plate for those who wished to wrestle. I pinned 'em.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

How The Other Half Lives

My Beloved spoils me. Each year, he finds some fun and different thing to do to celebrate my birthday. One year, we went to the Sierras to enjoy the snow and went ice skating on top of a mountain with a view of Lake Tahoe below. Another year, he took me to Pacific Grove to see the monarch butterflies and to go whale watching on the bounding sea. This year, I was treated to the way the Other Half lives, two nights at the graceful and venerable Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill.

Our room, luxuriously appointed with marble in the bathroom, a great, cushy bed and even a terry cloth "cosy" on the bathroom scale lest our little toesies get chilly, faced Grace Cathedral across the lovely little park next to the Flood mansion that is now used as a private club, with a peekaboo view of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

The doorman addressed us by name, the daily selection of newspapers is free and the room included this elegant little breakfast buffet served in hushed peace with light classical music playing in the background.
I could get used to life on Nob Hill.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Screaming Me-mes

I figured it was only a matter of time and, sure enough, today came my first ever tag from Cookiecrumb for a meme she has called "Five Sordid Facts." The biggest problem was limiting my confessions to only a few dirty little secrets. Anyway, here goes:

Five Sordid Facts

I relish romance novels; Nora Roberts is my heroine (in between more "worthy" titles).

I have (and actually wear) clothes I have had for 20+ years - no fashion sense have I, none whatsoever.

I have been known to eat an entire pint of coffee ice cream (usually Haagen-Dasz) all by myself and at one sitting.

I work with lawyers and actually like most of them.

We use dinner parties as incentive to clean the house; if we didn't have people over on a regular basis, the Dust Kitties would triumph.

Now, hmmm, who to tag?

I always enjoy "Meathenge," so I'll tag Guy. And I'm actively curious about Moonbear's list, so I'll tap "Oaktown Farm." I get a huge kick out of "Thyme for Cooking" so I'll add Katie to my list. Molly might have a fun list, if she isn't too busy writing "Orangette" and her monthly column for Bon Appetite magazine. And, last but by no means least, let's hear from Tea of "Tea and Cookies." Now that I've listed them all, I can see that the unifying theme, aside from food, is strong writing. Can't wait to read them all!

Here are the rules, guys. Tag, you're it!

The rules are:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names, linking to them.
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What Is It?

My Beloved is a good natured guy - he even agrees to whack in half large squashes in the morning before he's even out of his bathrobe.

We call it the Huge Mystery Squash (HMS). With only two eaters in the house, it will take us quite some time to finish this much HMS. When I purchased it at the farmer's market in the Civic Center, they told me it was a "red kabocha" squash but, having consulted some online pictures, I'm skeptical. It looks nothing like a kabocha.

Do any of you out there know what kind of squash this is? It's clearly a winter variety and it tastes a bit like butternut in soup, although less smooth. When roasted, it was easy to peel; raw, it was hard to peel using either a paring knife or a vegetable peeler.

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hero's Lunch

Because My Beloved owns and runs his own small business, around this time each year he must do his taxes. Not a chore anyone relishes but he tackles it with a will so I figure he deserves a good lunch after a morning of wrestling with figures, deductions - and squashes.

I had brought home a ten-pound mystery squash from the farmer's market (they told me it was a "red kabocha" but when I compared it to some online pictures, it doesn't look anything like a kabocha) so decided to make some soup.

MB whacked it in half for me with our largest knife, a menacing foot-long near-machete that my Hawaii brother gave me years ago. I roasted half and steamed half to try out the differences, and used part of the roasted half for the soup.

I softened a large chopped onion, two diced carrots and two diced Pink Lady apples in about a tablespoon of bacon fat, then added about a quart of chicken broth and some of the roast squash, plus a generous shaking of dried rosemary and thyme, simmering it for about twenty minutes before pureeing it all in a blender.

Garnished with bacon and Swiss cheese bits, it was really delicious, very herbal and not too rich, despite the bacon. I made grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches on dark rye (pumpernickel) bread to go alongside the steaming bowl of soup, a Hero's Lunch for my hardworking honeybun.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bifteck a la Fourmis

The cursed ants found our defrosting, costly grass-fed steak, even where we had hidden it in the microwave oven.

Cheeky little stinkers - wouldn't you know they'd ignore everything in the kitchen except the high-priced beef?

Luckily, we found them in the nick of time. The formic acid lent a little piquancy to the meat - I revenged myself by grilling the steak, ants and all!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Winter Color

We've been eating a lot of pig lately - it just seems timely for some reason - but, while we like it a lot, there's not a lot of color to it, even striped from the grill. But sidle it up to some bright broccoli and nestle it into a soft pillow of butternut squash and you've got a visual treat as well as a hearty winter's feed.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sorry, Kermit, but It's Easy Being Green

The pair of scrub jays who are nesting in a big tree just off my deck were most upset when I set out my clothesline for the first time in months. Flying from tree to tree, they exclaimed to each other over the invasion. They thought they had the place to themselves.

The return of blue skies reminded me that the sun does a better job of drying our clothes than any old dryer can. I hung out two loads of wash this morning before My Beloved and I left for our lunch with Cookiecrumb and Cranky and, when we returned, magically it was ready to bring in and fold away, freshening with sun-dried scent every time we open a drawer.

Once they get used to my flapping laundry, the scrub jay family will learn that I'm no threat - I'm just enjoying being a little green..

Friday, February 15, 2008

Synergy Three

When in the same week you get a big bag of oranges from two buddies and an orange peeler from another, you are tempted to believe they are in cahoots. However, Cousin J-Yah and Cookiecrumb/Cranky haven't met yet - although I think they'll like each other once they do.

I guess it's just kismet.

This zippy little peeler with the corny name of Citrus Appeal has a blade on the bottom, opposite the finger ring, that slices right through the orange rind, right down to the sections, without cutting the membranes. The whole thing is tiny - about an inch long - so not difficult to store as are so many kitchen gadgets. And it's just the right color!

So, what with the carrots, the oranges and the peeler, true synergy is developing this week in my kitchen!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Heart Leap

I'm a fresh flower freak. Having been employed in a florist shop for several years, working my way up from floor sweeper to floral designer, I always love fresh flowers, especially on my dinner table at a nice restaurant.

A case in point, this splendid splattery rose that was gracing our table at Rooney's, in addition to the gorgeous display of rosy pink proteas, red ginger, and pink flowering plum that greeted all the diners.

Today is Valentine's Day, a great day to give flowers and love. And, don't forget that Leap Day is fast approaching,

Ladies - why not buy your favorite guy one of these special roses and ask him out on a date, or even pop the question?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chicken a l'Orange?

Having just received a bag of oranges so large that it made Cranky walk with a distinct list to starboard, I was eager to start using them with dinner. I thought of Duck a l'Orange, a classic recipe that appeared in Gourmet in about the year I was born, but I wanted to make something like it using the chicken breast in my fridge instead.

Consulting for a basic recipe, I discovered that most of these recipes call for the one ingredient I had let my pantry run out of - chicken broth. But, I knew that I wanted a nice combination of sweet, savory and herbal flavors, so I decided just to wing it.

I browned the chicken breasts in butter over medium-high heat, added a generous splash of sherry wine vinegar for piquancy, a large orange worth of juice and zest for sweetness, and about 1 teaspoon each of Herbes de Provence and dried rosemary to the pan to add the herbal notes. I sauteed the breasts a few minutes longer just to reduce the juice and sherry and to cook the breasts just through, not too much, turning the supremes over and over in the juice to coat. The meat was ever-so-slightly pink and still juicy when I sliced it.

On the plate, I added the colorful carrots I described yesterday, done with a similar preparation (in fact, next time I might just do them all together), a nice big local artichoke and some slices of the chicken, drizzled with the pan reduction.

It was an instant classic at our house, Herbal Chicken a l'Orange.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Two Gifts

One of the best things I've discovered about blogging is the interaction with other food bloggers near and far.

Last Hallowe'en, I tried some heirloom carrots just because they seemed so seasonal, going with the black and orange theme of the holiday. The flavor was okay but, well, kinda meh. However, my blog friend Peter, who writes a truly gourmet blog from New York state and comments on mine from time to time, suggested that I try them again in the spring when the carrots are new, saying that he thought the ones I tried had perhaps been stored too long.

Then, this week, My Beloved and I enjoyed a Mexican lunch with local bloggers Cookiecrumb, who writes the delightful "I'm Mad and I Eat," and Cranky, who pens the wonderful "Pluto Demoted," and after lunch they presented us with a boatload of fresh, ripe oranges from their backyard grove. a truly wonderful gift.

So, when I found the spring-harvested heirloom carrots with vigorous, bright tops that testified to their freshness on the same day as we got the orange windfall, it seemed like a synergy we couldn't ignore.

This time, I butter steamed the sliced carrots for about 5 minutes, then added a large orange worth of juice and zest to the pan along with a big pinch of Herbes de Provence and continued cooking until the juice and butter were nothing but a glaze to hold the herbs on the still-crunchy carrots. I'll post a picture of the finished carrots tomorrow when I talk about the orange-flavored chicken I put alongside them - all in all, a spectacular taste-treat of a vegetable, thanks to my blogging pals hither, thither and yon!

Monday, February 11, 2008

As The Sun Set Slowly In The West...

See? My Sun Dance worked and now we have a spectacular sunset to enjoy, as well as the blue sky and happier light.

My calla lilies are in bud, an annual miracle that they perform without tending or cosseting. While I'm sure there is more rain and cold weather left in this winter, the days are getting longer.

I feel better already.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cauliflower Clouds

Okay, so maybe I was just wishing too hard for relief from all the recent gray skies and rain, but when I pulled this cauliflower out of the crisper drawer last week, it reminded me of those puffy, towering white clouds that I associate with blue, blue skies!

So, I lined them up on some sky-blue paper, took the picture and said a prayer to the sky gods - and it worked!

I have heard that some people can do a Rain Dance. I like to think I can do a Sun Dance, without going to Utah.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Choice Toppings

When deciding to have waffles for Sunday breakfast, the subject of suitable toppings always arises. Unless you are having those divine Belgian waffles where no topping is necessary to augment the zillion butter calories in the basic waffle, you've got to add a little something to make the waffle zing.

Not being sufficiently motivated to make the Belgian kind from scratch, My Beloved and I settled on opening our can of Kona Coast Hawaiian Style Macadamia Nut Pancake and Waffle Mix, which was a gift from a friend. We had to laugh a little at the exotic name as it was packed in American Canyon, CA but we had to admit that, while the nutty macadamia taste was more a promise than a reality, the mix did make nice, light crispy waffles in the waffle iron that my pal Wenirs gave me years ago.

And so to the problem of toppings. We do have a nice big jar of real maple syrup in the fridge, compliments of MB's nephew who brought it all the way from Vermont, but we were in the mood to experiment so I tossed some fresh strawberries and blueberries in a little vanilla sugar I had made a while back, and spooned out a dab each of McEvoy Ranch Meyer lemon marmalade and Stonewall Kitchens Black Raspberry jam onto my plate.

The clear winner was the marmalade. While the fresh fruit was okay, it's not yet strawberry season and it showed. The jam was yummy, too, but just didn't add the punch of the marmalade to the already-pretty-sweet waffles. The marmalade was, as Jimmy Durante would have said with a cigar-chomping grin and a tilt of his schnozzola, "Cherce!"

Friday, February 8, 2008

Vitamin A on the Hoof

"Wow, this squash is to die for!"

Having heard about the merits of kabocha squash thanks to Tea of Tea & Cookies (a wonderfully written blog, by the way!), I headed to the store to find some, but no luck, no kabocha there to start my love affair as Tea has. However, I did find a nice alternative, already-peeled and cubed butternut squash, thanks to my local Andronico's store. I don't usually buy convenience foods but this seemed like such a time-, hassle- and cut fingers-saver that I broke my own rule.

I sauteed some minced onion in a little butter, then added that to the pan where I had been steaming some of the butternut cubes and cooked the two together with just a tablespoon or two of water until the squash was tender, then blended them with a tad more butter using just my electric hand mixer. I wanted a mash, but not completely smooth, rather like mashed potatoes, only brightly orange-yellow. A grind of fresh pepper and a little sprinkling of salt was all that was needed to make this a great way to get our Vitamin A for the day.

And, when My Beloved exclaims over the veggies, that's a definite bonus!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Katie's Confit

One of my favorite blogs is "Thyme for Cooking" written by Katie Z, who also hatched the idea of the holiday herb exchange last year. Whenever I have an extra minute or two, I click on over there to see what she's making for dinner.

This time, her Red Wine Shallot Confit really had me drooling, so I nipped out to the store to get some shallots and whipped up a batch to serve with my pork tenderloin for dinner.

The confit is a wonderful combination of sweet and savory, perfect with the pork. It's easy enough to make, I usually have all the ingredients on hand, and it made my humble pork tenderloin into something really special. I didn't have time to try her crust for the tenderloin but it was really delicious even without it - the confit made it so! I will save this recipe and bless Katie for sharing every time I use it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Best of Everything

From the sublime to the ridiculous, I enjoyed "Acquired Tastes" right after I finished "The Time Traveler's Wife." When I win the lottery, I want to live Peter Mayle's life. He's a writer who lives in the south of France, writes about the good life and good food, and seems enviably leisurely about his pursuits, as well.

This book is about the best foods and goods that life has to offer, like black truffles shaved over one's omelet and sipping bouillabaise on the Cote d'Azur, having arrived by Lear jet. It's also about the subtle pleasures of handmade shirts, shoes and whiskey.

Written in Mayle's breezy British style, it's a fun read about how the other half lives and how I aspire to live once my ship comes in. I guess I'd better start buying lottery tickets if I hope to be able to afford the best of everything, huh? In the meantime, I can recommend this light reading next time you're stuck not on a Lear jet but back in economy class with the rest of us cattle.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Funny Spooky Sad

I've read a couple of interesting books lately that I thought I'd tell you about. This one is one of the very best with a quirky time travel plot that follows the love story between Clare and Henry throughout their lives. It's well written and literate without being pedantic and really made me care about these two characters, as well as their friends and families. It is funny, intriguingly plotted and sometimes very sad, too. A rollercoaster of a book, but well worth the ride.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Welcome Home Dinner

Those lemons were still calling to me from their bowl, so I decided to experiment with one of my tried-and-true dishes, adding fresh lemon juice to my sister's recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini to brighten the flavors.

In the original recipe, all you do is saute some mushrooms in a generous blob of butter, add slices of celery and cook until they are bright green, sprinkle in a little flour and cook it in the butter for a few minutes before adding milk or half and half to the pan to make a white sauce. Then, you sprinkle in Parmesan cheese to taste, add leftover cooked turkey meat (we roasted a turkey breast earlier in the week) and serve the whole thing over your favorite shape of pasta with more Parmesan at the table. Liking green things, I contributed some broccoli florets to the pan with the celery, cooking it just until it turned bright green before moving on with the rest of the recipe.

To this basic preparation, I added about two smallish lemons worth of juice and stirred it in, then squeezed more lemon juice over the pasta as it drained. A little salt, a little fresh ground pepper and My Beloved's face was suffused with pleasure at the first bite. Welcome home, MB, you were missed.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

He-Man Fare

We've had this bad boy lurking in the freezer since an outing last fall when we stopped by the Marin Sun Farms store on the road between Point Reyes Station and Olema. Grass-fed Chateaubriand. Oh, yeah.

When My Beloved returns from a trip, I like to give him memorable meals to keep him coming back. I was raised on the adage that "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach" and in my experience, it's quite true.

It took an entire day just to thaw the monolith. When it finally reached room temperature, I threw some fingerling potatoes into the oven smeared with a little olive oil and sanded with some fleur de sel and, when the spuds were nearly ready, dropped the beef onto the hot grill just long enough to stripe it and turn the inside a dark, rosy pink the way MB likes it. (Actually, he prefers it still to have a blood pressure but marriage is all about compromise, right?). I made a little garlicky red wine reduction to pour over it by softening two garlic cloves in some butter, adding in about half a cup of red wine and reducing it by half by boiling it on top of the stove, then strained it through a fine sieve.

We ate some of this for dinner, growling and grunting, and still have enough for at least two more meals. Steak sandwiches on Super Bowl Sunday - how perfect is that? Go, Patriots!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sour As A Lemon

I can get pretty crabby when My Beloved is out of town on a business trip, especially a long one like this week. I don't mind a little time alone - after all, as a Navy wife I made it through six whole months by myself - but I've gotten spoiled and four days now seems like an ice age. I feel pretty sour, especially at dinner time when I settle in with a book and a bowl of pretty boring pasta for company.

So, there I was trying to read and twirl pasta at the same time and the paperback book kept closing in mid-twirl so I pulled my bowl of lemons over to hold the book open for me and inspiration struck!

Why not try a little fresh lemon juice on my plain, buttered pasta? So, I sliced open a small lemon and squeezed it liberally over the pasta. Wow, huge improvement! Then, I noticed the pepper mill also on the table and thought, "Hmmmm, and maybe some fresh pepper?" Even better! The "finished" dish, if you can call it that, was lively and rich at the same time, lightly sour and fresh tasting.

The phone rang just then and it was MB, just in time to share stories of his trip while I ate my Lemon Pepper pasta. Cured my sour mood entirely.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Remembering Summer's Peaches

When My Beloved is away on a business trip, I tend to eat things that require little or no preparation and can be eaten standing over the sink to save washing the dishes. It's not a pretty sight.

Toast or English muffins figure large in my solitary dinners. If I can't eat it comfortably over the sink, I find a good book, settle in to read while enjoying my simple dinner and barely taste what passes for a meal.

This time, however, I had an awakening - one might even say an epiphany - while munching my muffin. I had spread it with a little new-to-me McEvoy Ranch peach jam, and it was eye-openingly good. Not too sweet and richly peachy, it lifted the humble muffin out of the boring and into muffin stratosphere.

I have enjoyed their Meyer lemon marmalade and their olive oil is to die for so I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised by the excellence of the peach jam. They are located in Petaluma, too, so I can enjoy supporting local products. A taste of this jam brings back August memories of sweet, sunny peaches fresh from the tree now in dark February when we need them most.