Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fanny's Breakfast

Alice Waters must love her daughter Fanny a lot; she created the Cafe Fanny brand of granola just for her. We are the beneficiaries of Ms. Waters' maternal instincts.

Even on a cold, rainy morning, when one is tempted by oatmeal or other hot cereals, this is still the best cereal on earth. It's a crunchy, chewy mouthful of oats and raisins, sunflower seeds and other hippy-dippy stuff, whether mixed with yogurt or served with milk or even half and half for that touch of decadence.

Motherly love is a wonderful thing; I love Fanny's mother's granola!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Love It or Hate It?

Liver. It seems people either embrace or abhor it. In my lifetime, I've done both.

As a child, my mother made liver occasionally and I was a pretty typical kid in my dislike of the dry, mealy shoe leather she delivered to our dinner plates from time to time. The bacon and onion accompaniments were fine but, eeewww, don't ask me to eat the liver!

Until I met Mrs. Jenkins.

Mrs. Jenkins was a plump, gray-haired lady who babysat for our family in Patuxent River, Maryland when I was very young. She didn't come to our house, we were dropped off at hers, rather a good notion as she was on her own turf and we had been taught to behave when in other people's houses. She'd make us dinner and put us to bed in her spare room until our parents came to collect us, bathed and drowsy and already in our PJs, ready to be tucked into our own beds. We wouldn't have dreamed of misbehaving at Mrs. Jenkins' house - she was just too nice a lady.

One evening, I asked Mrs. Jenkins what was on the menu for dinner - liver. "Ugh, we hate liver!" we wailed. "That's because you've never had my liver," she replied with serene confidence, "Just wait until you taste it." I was pretty skeptical so I watched the whole procedure with a critical six year old eye and I can recall it to this day.

After crisping and draining the bacon, she poured off most of the bacon fat, then sauteed the sliced onions in the same wide frying pan. While the onions were emitting delicious smells, she removed the membrane from around the edge of the calves' liver with a sharp knife and a gentle peel, then scored the meat with shallow cuts in a diamond pattern, dredged the meat in flour seasoned only with a little salt and pepper, added a little extra butter to the pan and lightly fried the liver just until it was pink in the middle and still moist. We couldn't wait to get home to tell our mother about how delicious Mrs. Jenkins' liver was!

With a single meal, she made converts of us all.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bumper Crop

The other day, I was looking over the deck railing down at our very precipitous lower 40 and, lo and behold!, my sickly lemon tree is producing again!

When My Beloved and I first moved to this house more than 10 years ago, I always had lemons. The little tree that the former owners planted seemed to be an A Type, compelled to produce! produce! produce! even though I told it often that there were only two eaters in the house. I did water it but never encouraged its obsessive nature with fertilizing.

Little by little, my policy of benign neglect defeated the poor little thing and for a couple of years in a row it has produced only sickly green leaves and one or two lemons more productive of rind than of juice.

Maybe it likes the rain we've been getting? Maybe it's responding to all the manual labor we put in last fall when we removed the stingy berry bushes and the volunteer saplings from around it? Perhaps it likes being the only prickly princess in the yard? Whatever the explanation,
this month it has produced a dozen lemons of various sizes and there are even more weighing down the spindly branches.

In a year when I can't seem to satisfy my body's interest in citrus fruits, this is a welcome development. I might even break down and apply a little fertilizer!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pasta Perfect

When I order anything with tomatoes at this time of year, it is always with some trepidation, since it's just not tomato season. My taste buds were clamoring for this offering on Rooney's menu, Dungeness crab, fresh tomatoes and angel hair pasta. I don't like seafood to be overwhelmed with tomato flavor as happens when one uses tomato sauce, but my faith in Rooney's chef after the citrus salad was high so I took the plunge.

Good choice.

It was simple, fresh and lightly flavored, using Roma tomatoes that do seem to be tasty year 'round and soft garlic. There was nearly a whole crab's worth of carefully shelled, delicately delicious crabmeat and the flavors were well balanced and friendly. The server even suggested the perfect wine, steering me away gently from my first choice to a glass of crisper white that perfectly complemented the dish.

We passed bites around the table and the opinion was unanimous - crab pasta perfect!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Citrus Incentive

I love citrus season! I love Rooney's in Tiburon! I love eating citrus salad at Rooney's!

We've had some fun visits from out-of-towners this year, first my DC brother and now my oldest friend (we literally shared a playpen) Wenirs from Michigan. Seeking to amaze and impress them with our neck of the woods in a vain attempt to get them to move here and make visiting easier, we exposed both to a nice Tennesee Valley walk (it's filled with water music this week from all the rain - a bonus!) and a dinner at Rooney's.

My first course at this third visit to Rooney's was a stacked citrus salad of pink and white grapefruit, blood and caracara oranges, shaved fennel, finely minced purple onion and perfectly ripe but firm avocado with an orange-cranberry relish and a citrus sesame vinaigrette. The little green accents are watercress sprouts, I think, or perhaps wasabe sprouts, if such things exist. In any case, they added just the right zing, both visually and gastronomically.

Served on a dramatic square black plate, it was a feast for the eyes as well as a Vitamin C hit! I've always liked sparkling citrus with unctuous avocado but the relish, the fennel and the red onion lifted this dish out of my ordinary and into my pantheon!

If this doesn't tempt them to move here, nothing will!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Port and Starboard Hens

What did we ever do for dinner ideas before the internet?

I do occasionally find an intriguing new recipe in a magazine but most of the new things I try now come either from, other people's blogs or, like this new dish, a recipe sent via email from a friend.

Annie and Jim are Navy pals - I met Annie when we were both 13-year old Navy juniors in Norfolk, Virginia and, in the way of Navy families, re-connected more than once in different duty stations over the years. At age 13, both being animal lovers, we bonded over pets and both being boy crazy at the time, we confabbed constantly over which guys we liked best. Annie introduced me to my first husband; our family pampered her when she was pregnant and her husband was out at sea. Annie came to my wedding and we visited her and Jim in Arizona where she lives now. We've kept in touch over the years, but sporadically until the internet came along to connect us on an almost daily basis. One of the benefits of this connection is the recipe swapping we enjoy.

Annie and Jim are wonderful cooks. They always start with great ingredients, and then improve on them. So, when Annie sent me this recipe for Cornish hens with Meyer lemon, fennel, garlic and olives from her ranch in Arizona, I knew it would be yummy. And, it's simplicity itself to prepare.

Jim's instructions for making this dish start by whacking the hens into Port and Starboard halves, hence the name I have given it. First, you slice a nice, fat fennel bulb crosswise into thin rings, peel as many garlic cloves (3-4 or more) as you like and slice them in half. Then slice one of your two Meyer lemons thinly and cut the other one in 8 wedges. Loosening the skin on the hen halves, slide two or three lemon slices per hen under the skin of breast and thighs, patting the skin back in place over the slices. Oil the skin of the hens with a little olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt (I used fleur de sel as I had it on hand) and a few grinds of pepper.

In a roasting pan, scatter the sliced fennel, garlic clove halves, the Meyer lemon wedges and half a cup each of nicoise and picholine olives on the bottom and lay the hens on top of the veggies, drizzling with just a little more olive oil. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees for about 20 minutes longer, until the juices run clear. The fennel and garlic will have started to caramelize and the hens will be golden brown. Serve the hens alongside some of the veggies. Jim suggests brown rice as an accompaniment but, not having any on hand, we roasted some fingerling potatoes instead.

Having received this dinner idea from a dear friend in Arizona via the internet, now I can share it with my blogging pals all over the world. Ain't technology grand?

Later: if you want a more detailed recipe, Cookiecrumb has a link in the comments for this post - check it out!

Friday, January 25, 2008


I may have mentioned once or twice before about our love for Swiss chard. It goes with almost anything, is mild enough that even spinach haters love it, and sings when garlic is added to the pan.

My Beloved brought home a lamb steak, by way of the El Cerrito Natural Grocery, from the Atkins Ranch in New Zealand, not exactly local fare but at least pasture-raised. I had found a nice big bunch of rainbow Swiss chard at a different market so we combined forces.

The chard leaves were coarsely chopped after removing the thickest parts of the central ribs, then sauteed in the same pan where I had softened a clove or two of crushed garlic in some butter. The briefest of cooking is necessary with chard, really just enough time to wilt the leaves and toss them around in the garlic butter before nestling them alongside the grilled lamb and a few slices of Acme baguette (we like the sour one).

Swiss chard is a great winter (and summer) green!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cocktail Franks for Breakfast

Aidell's Chicken Apple Mini's looked good in the package in the store but, once on the plate, reminded me irresistibly of those weird cocktail sausages that used to come wedged together in a can before you'd wiggle them out and add them with some strange barbecue-type sauce to your chafing dish with the Sterno can underneath.

I know, I'm weird, but it made me laugh first thing in the morning on a rainy, cold winter's day.

What more can you ask from breakfast sausages?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Mother's Grapefruit Knife

Certain kitchen implements are so perfectly suited to their purpose that using them is pure joy; such is the case with my mother's grapefruit knife.

Unlike some modern grapefruit knives, which have coarse serrations and often on only one side of the blade, this little beauty has the finest of serrations all the way around the blade, which is perfectly balanced with the light wood handle. The gentle curve of the blade cuts grapefruit free from the sections without disturbing them - it is a pleasure to use and a pleasure to eat the virtually perfect fruit.

I so cherish this knife that when My Beloved's daughters wanted to borrow it to prepare food for a party they were having, I loaned it only with the stern admonition that it must be returned promptly the next day - and then actually worried about the darn thing so much that I retrieved it at the height of the party and tucked it safely in my purse before pouring my first glass of wine!

I can remember my mother teaching me the delicate art of grapefruit sectioning when I was about six years old; grapefruit was a frequent first course at our winter dinner table. One of those ladies who had the perfect sterling silver implement for everything, she even had pointed grapefruit spoons designed to get every little morsel - but gracefully! She would not allow me, even then, to do a sloppy job, insisting on a delicacy and perfectionism that I still value today.

Now, every time I'm carefully sectioning a grapefruit, I am back in my mother's kitchen with her bowed gently over my shoulder and her breath warm on my cheek, showing me how to make perfect grapefruit a gift to the family.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


What is it about the ants here?

I have lived in the tropics where insect life is legion and successfully battled not only ants but two-inch flying cockroaches, five-inch dragon-like centipedes, swift and hairy cane spiders as big as the palm of my hand and nasty, tail-swinging scorpions (this is the part about Hawaii that the travel posters don't mention) but I have never had less success than trying to banish California ants from my home.

One expects to see ant trails in Hawaii, where the ant population is enormous and specialized. There, ants of different sizes and colors show up within minutes depending on whether you have neglected to wipe up protein, breadcrumbs or sugar. Last time we visited Hawaii, we even found a steady stream of harvesters crossing the wall, negotiating the quilt on our bed and diving into a pocket in my purse where I had a single Coldeez lozenge; by the time I discovered them, they had removed half of it without even disturbing the cellophane wrapping.

Their California cousins, however, laid back and somewhat laissez-faire as I find all Californians to be, appear to come in only one size and color, medium size and black. They don't bite, only tickle annoyingly when they fall from the ceiling onto my person - I've even seen one scurrying across My Beloved's spectacles - while he was wearing them! They always show up at the holidays, so my visiting friends and relatives can judge what a great housekeeper I am. They don't appear to come for food, carefully detouring around anything we have left lying around on the counters - paradoxically, they seem to come for water - at the wettest time of the year!

Salvador Dali may have thought ants artistic (this photo is from an exhibit of his), but I don't - ants are my enemy.

However, while I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist - I own a car, after all - I do hesitate to poison our house and/or surroundings with substances that will surely kill us from cancer long before they affect the damned ants at all. I have tried orange oil, which gives off a pleasant scent while curling up the little buggers instantly, but it doesn't seem to discourage the rest of the colony from invading my kitchen. I have tried squishing each individual ant and leaving their tiny corpses as a warning to their brethren; undeterred, they carry their fallen away but keep on coming, the gutsy Marines of the insect world.

Finally, one year when the annual ant invasion was particularly strong I was in our neighborhood store, so fed up and angry that I was willing to admit publicly to this problem and seek chemical assistance, the proprietor, a wonderful man named Bob Peckham, said "Well, welcome to our town! Everyone here has ants!"

Oh, thank God. I am not alone.

He recommended that we sprinkle the entrances to our house with two products guaranteed to dissuade even the most tenacious of ants, baby powder and cinnamon. Following his sage advice (after all, he had lived in our town most of his life), I sprinkled cinnamon on the dark-colored surfaces and baby powder on the light colored ones and, magically, the ants decamped for that year! I do have to renew the sprinklings each year or the ants return, but what an improvement over orange oil and swear words!

Thanks, Bob, wherever you are!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hors d'oeuvres

My friend the Oyster resists vegetables. She will occasionally eat green things if she feels it would be impolite to the hostess not to (she is wonderfully polite and diplomatic) but she doesn't groove naturally on chlorophyll. So, when preparing an hors d'oeuvre to contribute to her cheese tasting, I thought of this sneaky way to get some greens into her diet.

I wrapped the fresh pineapple slices and baby arugula in strips of prosciutto. Sweet, salt, mildly bitter, they went fast. How was I to know she'd serve spinach salad, too, and make my greens gesture unnecessary?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Oyster's Cheese Party

When the Oyster gives a party, you can be sure it will include cheese. I tease her that in another life she was a Russian dairy farmer. She loves cheese in any form, style, color, texture and stinkiness.

To celebrate the return of our friend Don from six months on assignment in India, O threw a delightful feast in his honor, a cheese tasting with whole platters of different blues, triple creams, stinkies and goat and sheep's milk cheeses to try, not to mention the smorgasbord of spinach salad, charcuterie, olives, breads and a big pyramid of tangerines in a turquoise bowl that made their color pop. Her parties are always delightful, with great conversations, good food, a little showing off from her more loquacious friends and lots of laughter.

The food was all delicious, varied and fun, but to my tastebuds, the highlight of the evening was the contribution made by the Evil Empress, a baked brie with walnuts and fig jam under the puff pastry crust.

EE cuts the brie wheel in half sideways, making a cheese "cake", then spreads the layer with fig spread and sprinkles in the walnuts, reassembles the cheese and covers it with puff pastry, pinching the pastry to seal in the contents. She baked it in a moderate oven until the crust was golden, added more walnuts for garnish and brought her creation to the table still hot from the oven. Others used crackers or bread to scoop up the runny, savory/sweet concoction but I found that the whole walnuts used as garnish made a great vehicle for the next bite.

I had to snap this picture in a hurry before it was all gone.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Uptown Grilled Cheese

What goes best with soup? Grilled cheese sandwiches, of course!

We had four kinds of cheese in the fridge from our New Year's Eve feast with my foodie and wino relatives and a nice big pot of butternut squash soup, so My Beloved and I decided to try making fancier versions of the lowly but lovable grilled cheese sandwich to go with the soup.

We had two from the Cowgirl Creamery, a Red Hawk and a Mt. Tam, plus a small wedge of Humboldt Fog and a little round of herbed chevre so I made four half-sandwiches on sourdough batard from Acme Bakery so we could try them all.

They were all yummy in their own way - it was hard to choose a favorite. The stinky Red Hawk turned unctuous and gentle in the heat, but with an earthy aftertone. The Humboldt Fog tasted much the way that cheese does anyway, killer-delicious. The Mt. Tam ran out of the bread and frizzled to lace on the hot pan. I'd have to say for my taste, the herbed goat was the tastiest, but the others made it a contest. I'll always still love good old cheddar and Swiss for grilled cheese but these four really were a fun experiment.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fridge 'n' Pantry Cleanin' Soup

I had a nice butternut squash languishing in my crisper drawer and it had been there for some time so I went looking on the internet for recipes the other day.

Some called for bacon. Others said, "Add potatoes." Still others wanted carrots, celery, sage or corn - you name it, it has been added at one time or another to butternut squash soup!

So, I decided to add them all. I roasted the squash for 40 minutes in the oven until it was tender and almost sloppy. I sauteed diced onion, celery, small red potatoes and carrots until tender, then added two rashers of crumbled, cooked bacon that we had left over from that morning's breakfast. That's when I realized that I forgot to replenish the chicken broth in the pantry last time I made soup.

Hmmm, what to do for liquids? I didn't want to just add water - no flavor... hmmm...

New idea! One of the recipes I read spoke of adding apples to the mix; I didn't have any apples in the house but I did have some Martinelli's sparkling apple juice that we bought for a party where no one took the non-alcoholic route, so I popped it open and glugged it in to the pot (sadly, the interestingly fizzy character of the juice didn't last) with the baked squash (scraped the squash out of the skin and discarded the skin), and simmered all that for about half an hour, just until the veggies were soft. I pureed the soup in a blender but didn't strain it as I knew I was going to stir in some frozen corn that I had in the freezer - and it was soup!

What would I do differently next time? I'd add something citrus, I think, perhaps Meyer lemon juice, as this soup was almost sweet with all that apple juice and corn. Not bad, but I'd like something a little zingier next time. And I'd keep the bacon for a garnish, as it got a little lost in all that soup.

But, it does feel good to have a pot of hot soup on the stove and space in the fridge and pantry for new provisions. Plus, it really looks pretty in the bowls I made years ago in my Pottery Period.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

White Food

My Beloved felt compelled to add the only color to this plate of repurposed (still love that word, Peter) chicken before I took the picture; too bland for publication, he thought.

It didn't taste as blah as it looked, however; I sauteed cauliflower florets, chunks of onion and slices of Pink Lady apples together in a little butter and seasoned them with nothing but good old S & P before serving. Nice winter combination.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winter Warming

The cauliflower soup with truffle oil that we enjoyed at the CIA last week inspired me to try making my own - it's not complicated and it tasted so good!

All you do is gently saute' about half of a finely chopped onion in a little butter, add roughly two cups of florets and toss to coat with the butter, pour in a can of chicken broth and simmer until the florets are tender, about 10 minutes. Puree. Pure white. Not very pretty until you pour it into a decorative cup and sprinkle with some green onion. And not very tasty until you add the S&P, which made all the difference. Simple winter magic, even without the truffle oil.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Somehow to me, these look like owl eyes.

Here are the eggs that popped out of the adorable cracked egg silicon poachers after 30 minutes. They really were perfect, unlike the free-form poached eggs that I usually achieve by just sliding the eggs straight into the simmering water.

I'm so contrary that I kind of miss the humanity of those messy eggs where one is always slightly more cooked than the other because it went in first, the water is a swirl of egg white clouds, the shape is only vaguely round and the yolks are a softer yellow. My friend Meredith has expressed an interest in the silicon cups - I think they are headed to Hawaii. They have owls there, too - "pueo" in Hawaiian.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

(San Francisco) Bay Leaves

I just learned last night on a hilarious episode of the cult classic PBS program "California's Gold," that what we call California Bay Laurel is the same tree as the one called Myrtlewood in Oregon - those contrary Oregonians just wanted to distinguish themselves from the decadent Californians.

When I was young and had no money, I used to pick and dry these California Bay Laurel leaves, stuff them into empty spice bottles, make decorative handmade labels, and give them as Christmas presents to everyone on my list.

I was reminded of these a week or so ago when we were driving my wine-loving brother and his lovely wife to a winery on the Oakville Grade between Napa and Sonoma valleys. There, alongside the road, were growing bay trees so we stopped to collect some and dry them for the DC relatives to take home with them.

If you haven't tried this local version of the classic bay leaf in cooking, get a good field guide and go hunting! You'll know you have the right tree when you crinkle the leaf in your fingers to release the tangy aroma. They are delicious and easy to dry. Just clip the twigs and leave them out on a counter in a shaded location and wait a week or so. In the meantime, they look great decorating a bowl of fruit. Once they are dry, store them in baggies or bottles out of direct sunlight for some truly local flavor.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bo Peep's Shepherd's Pie

Little Bo Peep would have appreciated this Shepherd's Pie at Greens - it lost the lamb, too. How can the chef make this pie so savory, rich and hearty without meat?

This version had mushrooms, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes under a Parmesan mashed potato crust. Sell my clothes, I died and went to heaven.

Friday, January 11, 2008

An Ex-Florist's Pleasure

Having been a floral designer for five years in another life, I really notice fresh flowers. At weddings, I'm always as interested in the bride's flower choices as I am in her dress. So, when I moved to San Francisco, one of the great joys I discovered is the tradition of a gorgeous arrangement of fresh flowers to greet the diners in nearly every restaurant. And then there's Greens, where they take flowers to a whole other level!

White enchantment lilies, dark purple, almost black, ti leaves, purple artichokes and lime green curly willow were the stars of this particular show. I love Greens for their fabulous vegetarian food, lovely Marina views and for the pleasure I get every time I open their big doors and get lost in whatever spectacular arrangement they display this time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kitchen Sink Sandwich

The last few bites of my brother's gargantuan sandwich at the Dry Creek General Store in the Alexander Valley.

We had been admiring the gardens, basking in the spectacular views and tasting the delicious wines all morning at the splendid Ferrari-Carano Winery in Healdsburg when my brother Jay and his lovely wife Ann were visiting last week. Being knowledgeable and enthusiastic wine drinkers, they managed to direct us newbies to some pretty spectacular tastings.

We were all feeling the effects of the tastings so decided we should stop for lunch. We asked at the winery and they recommended the Dry Creek General Store so we decided to give it a try.

The Dry Creek General Store is probably what the Oakville Grocery in the Napa Valley used to be before Napa became so popular. There's a pretty seamy bar, complete with lighted beer signs and bosomy posters, at one end, thankfully in a different room from the sandwich/gift shop, with rustic, family-style tables in between. There are the inevitable foodie items and some fun books for sale but the main attraction is the deli-style sandwiches they make at the opposite end from the barroom.

I ate every bite of my smoked salmon and curried egg salad sandwich, My Beloved devoured his panini sandwich, but Jay's submarine sandwich containing several meats, more than one cheese and assorted peppers and fresh lettuce was the clear standout. Load everything but the kitchen sink between the top and bottom of a baguette and you've got a sandwich fit for a connoisseur!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fred Flintstone's Dinner

Lamb shanks always make me think of something a caveman would eat - a big old drumstick of a meat with the bone sticking out of the end.

In the shock of returning from Hawaii, where their idea of cold weather is when the mercury dips below 78 degrees, I've been shivering, adding layers of clothing and thinking about hearty meals.

Braised lamb shanks certainly fall in that category! I caramelized onions and shallots in a little olive oil, then removed them from the pan while I browned the two shanks with a little more oil in the same pan. Then, I added back the onion mixture, filled the skillet halfway with beef stock and added some tomato paste to mellow the flavors, dropped in two bay leaves, some dried rosemary and a generous pinch of herbes de Provence before covering the pan and letting the whole thing simmer for about two hours on the top of the stove.

Served with some steamed broccoli and Acme sourdough baguette or mashed potatoes, it makes a perfect caveman meal for a chilly winter's evening. A warm sweater helps, too.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bangers and Mash at the Pelican

On New Year's Day, when all the museums were closed, My Beloved and I took our guests to the Tennessee Valley to walk to the sea, a light hike of about 3 miles, on a bright and windy day. We all enjoyed the natural beauty and the chance to work off a holiday meal or two, but we were hungry again at the end so we drove over to Muir Beach to enjoy a British-style pub lunch at the Pelican Inn.

The Pelican offers a wide selection of wines and especially beers as well as such pub food as Ploughman's Lunch and English beef dip sandwiches.

I chose the Bangers and Mash, two mild, huge and hearty sausages served with spicy mustard, mashed potatoes and peas, a great restorative for a hungry hiker. The peas were perfectly green and bright, the mash delectably bumpy with lumps and skins left in just the way I like them, and the bangers were savory and juicy, given zing by the sharp mustard.

The Pelican Inn is always popular and busy so be sure to make a reservation if you go.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Slow Eggs

At the CIA gift shop, they have nearly every imaginable kitchen gadget including, this time, these silicone egg poaching cups in the shape of broken shells that I found irresistible.

I could imagine them floating in boiling water, each one filled with a perfectly poaching egg that I would slide onto perfectly toasted bread for a perfectly lovely breakfast for me and My Beloved, with the bonus of quick and easy cleanup.

All of that was true, too, except that it must have taken 30 minutes to cook eggs that would have taken 3 minutes if the eggs were directly in the water. So, if you're having a slow morning, these egg cups would be perfect - otherwise...

I'm going to try them with custard next and hope that being enclosed in the hot oven will be more successful for this impatient cook.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sally's Stove

I apologize for the cockeyed and underlit nature of this photo of the Chambers stove on display at the CIA but I couldn't resist showing it to you. It is exactly like one my Aunt Sally had back when I was a freshman in college and spending vacations with her family while my Navy parents were stationed on the other side of the world.

Seeing this one caused a flood of nostalgia for me and an amusing memory. Notice the stainless steel broiler on the left (or in this case the bottom) of the picture. Using that broiler, Aunt Sally broiled amazing 2" thick beefsteaks that would feed a family of six from a single steak. If you turn the crank on the front of the stove, the whole top lifts up, presenting the delectably sizzling steak to the salivating diners. In those days, steak was still considered health food, I was still a Catholic and we Catholics were still observing the Friday fast where we would eat only fish on Fridays.

I'd arrive starving from college on a Friday night: Aunt Sally (who is not a Catholic and so was not constrained by the Friday fast) would operate the crank, up would come this incredibly fragrant and tempting steak, and she'd twinkle at me and say, "We do have fish sticks in the freezer, dear, if you want fish."

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Little Cioppino

In an effort to avoid overeating at the CIA, almost an impossibility, I ordered the appetizer size cioppino, a classic San Francisco dish that I had for some reason never tasted before.

It was served in an intriguing bowl designed to hold the shells of the sea creatures on the edge as you work your way down through the whole shrimp, delicate small clams and black bass, all bathed in a thick, savory tomato-based sauce with a tiny sting of heat at the end.

It was just enough and it was lovely - no wonder it has charmed generations of San Francisco diners!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Sneaky Temptations

For once, I paused long enough to record the temptations selection at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone restaurant in St. Helena before they all disappeared. When we go there, we frequently order this selection of bite-sized hors d'oeuvres to begin the feast.

My Washington DC brother is in town with his lovely wife and, since they are both foodies and winos of the first water, we took them up to the Napa Valley to taste wines and food while they are visiting. Getting to visit the CIA twice in a year is my idea of living right, especially when my big brother foots the bill!

Our choices included a thimblefull of cauliflower soup with truffle oil and chives (wunderbar!) and a bite each of brandade with black olive tapenade (Ann's favorite) and lavosh triangles, pulled pork with ancho chiles on a tiny crisp tortilla, crispy wonton filled with duck and topped with a sweet sauce and fois gras mousse with curried Asian pear garnish on tiny, thin toast rounds (to die for!).

These lovely temptations start a fun conversation about which is preferred by which diner as they inveigle you into the rest of the CIA experience.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Winter Fruit and Prosciutto

I'm very fond of prosciutto e melone, a wonderful Italian appetizer that pairs sweet summer fruits with salty prosciutto ham but, unless I'm willing at this time of year to buy my fruit from the Southern Hemisphere, ripe fruit is hard to come by.

Until I was trundling my shopping cart down the aisles when I had the idea of combining seasonal citrus fruits with the prosciutto. They aren't precisely local, since it's rare to see grapefruit trees this far north, but at least the fruits are grown in California. So, I chose a couple of smooth, shiny, heavy pink grapefruits and brought them home with a package of prosciutto.

The sweet-tart pink grapefruit made an interesting foil for the white-streaked pink ham - the colors tone together and the tastes are nicely complimentary. Although not as piercingly sweet/salty as when I use cantaloupe or nectarines, we enjoyed the play of flavors and the seasonality of the dish. I plan to try the very sweet winter Clementine tangerines next.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sarah's Quick and Easy Pizza

My Hawaii brother's 10 year old daughter, Sarah, is a candidate to join the Daring Bakers one of these days. She baked cookies for us frequently while we were in Hawaii and, one evening, created this pizza for us all to enjoy.

She opened a can of refrigerator biscuits, flattened the dough rounds together into a crust, added tomato sauce, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, chopped onions, sliced small sweet peppers and fresh mushrooms before popping it into the oven for about 15 minutes. It came out bubbly and cheesy. We all had a slice and everyone proclaimed it an excellent pizza from very simple ingredients. A great recipe to try with children of any age - even 60+!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Ono" Ono

My Hawaii brother is an avid fisherman. He loves everything about fishing from the preparation of the lures and the boat to the reading of the water and the behavior of the sea creatures to the pride of landing a great mahimahi, marlin or ono for the table.

When he worked for a Honolulu restaurant, he learned an easy method for cooking his catch that required from me a leap of faith to try it when I heard the recipe, but I was sold when I tasted the firm, dense, moist fish.

The fish pictured is part of my brother's catch, a Hawaiian fish called ono (or wahoo on the Mainland), a steak-style fish that is mild, with dense white flesh. He marinates it in Wishbone Italian dressing (or you could obviously make your own vinaigrette) for half an hour before cooking. Cooking is easy - they just watch the fish in the heavy skillet (Le Creuset is their favorite) until cooked 1/3 of the way through, then turn it over and cook the other side 1/3 through, then remove from pan. Residual heat will finish cooking it through, leaving it moist and not tough.

In Hawaiian, "Ono" means "the best!" and this fish qualified! The brother's pretty "ono" too!

And, by the way, Happy New Year or, as they say in the Islands, Haoli Makahiki Hou!