Thursday, April 30, 2009

Aw, You Shouldn't Have

My Beloved's brother has a very nice wife. She is the mother of Jim, one of the By-the-Wind Sailors who stayed with us a few weeks ago on their way east. She was grateful for the bed we gave her son and his lady so, remembering that I had admired her Emile Henry casserole dish, she sent me one as a thank you.


Last winter, when we were mourning My Beloved's mother, Kim brought a delicious pan of lasagna to feed the crowds of people who came to bid that good lady farewell. When all had gone home, we were doing dishes and I remarked on how easily her lasagna pan cleaned up. I don't know about you, but I generally need dynamite and a jack hammer to get the cheesy cement off my pan when I make lasagna. This one didn't even require soaking and all the schmutz rubbed easily off.

So, here it is, pristinely white and perfect. It's so beautiful, I'm almost afraid to use it. Any suggestions for what I should make first to inaugurate such a lovely gift? Kim, you shouldn't have - but I'm so glad you did! Thank you!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fiddling While Spring Burns

Last week, in the middle of a surprising spring heat wave, we had a fun family/friend dinner at Cousin J-Yah's house where we got a chance to taste something I haven't eaten in years - fern fiddleheads.

These are the leaves of ferns just as they emerge after winter dormancy and begin to unfurl into the spring sunshine. In western New York, they grow wild in the woods and it's not uncommon to encounter fellow "fiddlers" in early spring, searching for these.

These particular ones came from Whole Foods in Petaluma; the sign advertised them as tasting similar to asparagus. Can't say I agree with that descriptor - to me they taste just like themselves, green and woodsy and not really like anything else. Lightly steamed, they made a fresh accompaniment to the salmon and cod dinner we enjoyed thanks to Cousin J-Yah and her pal David.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sure Sign of Spring

I see robins in the yards, the sun setting later and later each day, and geese flying north but, to me, one of the surest signs of spring is the appearance of English peas in the market.

My friend and mentor, Dr. Ron Dilcher, told me stories of pranks in western New York when he and his pals in a convertible would snag with a rake pea vines off the loaded trucks rumbling toward the cannery, then speed away to relish their plunder under a nearby tree. Spring highjinks. He won't see this spring; he died last winter, but I will think of him every spring when peas come into the markets again.

I love the little *pop* the pod makes when it opens and the orderly line of bright green heads inside the even brighter green pod - always reminds me of bobsledders. As I stand at the kitchen counter shelling peas, My Beloved snags a few to eat raw and even Cora gets into the act when a stray pea vaults onto the kitchen floor - she is on it in a flash and gobbles it down, then flattens her ears into her apology look, glancing at me out of the corners of her eyes.

This time, all we did was steam them until they developed slight wrinkles on the outer skin but were still brilliant green. No embellishment is necessary when food is this fresh and spring is this new.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Clown Cora

Nothing to do with food today, I just wanted to share this funny picture of Cora. Something about her goofy eyebrows, her trusting eyes and the way the camera angle exaggerates her nose just cracks me up.

Clown dog.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dreamy Comte' Cheese Dreams

We are still being fed by the contents of our CARE package received from Wenirs and Ray well before Easter. One of the last remnants was a nice block of Comte' cheese that I squirreled away and almost forgot until this week when My Beloved was away on a business trip and I was looking for something easy for dinner.

Scrounging around in the fridge, I found bread to toast, the Comte' and some of that easy bacon to make Cheese Dreams.

I know I've told you about Cheese Dreams before but these were truly something special. Comte' is a kind of Gruyere but my block was aged, so it was harder than Gruyere, had no holes, and was imbued with tiny crystals of a crispy, salty substance that gave the cheese a wonderful, unexpected feel as well as a nutty, almost musky flavor. In short, it was really delicious and you should run right out to your local cheese emporium and treat yourself to some! Great nibbling cheese, it also melted beautifully and sang a pretty French song with the bacon bits on toast.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pottering Around In The Garden

Spring means planting things, even though I decided to give over my garden to flowers this year and put my two tomato plants into rolling pots instead. After a foray to the tomato sale, My Beloved and I went to the local hardware store last weekend and puzzled over various pots, saucers, rollers and soils, coming away with two pots of graduated size that we are hoping will be a good home for our seedlings.

Last summer, the garden wasn't sunny enough to grow tomatoes so this year I can move the pots so they get sun all day. There are already nodding yellow flowers on Paul (right) and Juliet (left).

The Master Gardeners over in Marin county started my Paul Robeson (heirloom) and Juliet (cherry) but good old Longs Drugstore seems to have started the herbs I planted around the tomatoes.

I have sweet basil, garlic chives, lemon thyme (regular thyme and rosemary already well established in the flower garden), sage, dill and oregano. I can hardly wait for the herbs to grow big enough to yield something for the kitchen. Several of these are new to me, at least in fresh form, so I'm looking forward to cooking with them all.

I admit to having also purchased a packet of greenie beanie seeds, which I will sow amongst the flowers - they did well last year and I do love beans fresh from the garden.

An avid gardener I will never be, but spring brings out what few farming genes I have. Here's to another great season!

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Foraging for Memories

Back when I was a botany student at SUNY Brockport, my heroine was a graceful little biology professor with a ballet background named Dr. Jean Bobear. Dr. Bobear could keep a class of mostly adolescent varlets entranced with just the plants found along a 20-foot stretch of campus sidewalk; she had a nearly-encyclopedic memory for local plants. Even better, the only time I ever stumped her by finding a plant whose name, habits and history she didn't know, she was thrilled and researched it in her taxonomy book as soon as we returned to the lab. How wonderful life would be if everyone was so passionate and joyous about their work, and had so little ego!

Dr. Bobear taught a fun course in the summer, "Edible and Useful Plants of Western New York," one of my favorites ever. We got to scrounge all kinds of plant materials, from bayberry from which I made candles to wild spearmint that I stuffed into a chicken and roasted for the class to eat during student presentations. We found goosefoot to be an excellent green when steamed and pigweed and oxalis to be lively additions to salads. Ever since, I have walked with my eyes down, automatically looking and remembering with gratitude Dr. Bobear's expertise.

One of the lessons she instilled was that when collecting plant materials, one must first be sure that there are plenty more before picking - how sad it would be to end the life of a rare plant! So, on one of my rambles around town with Cora, when I found this miner's lettuce (for my fellow plant geeks, Claytonia perfoliata) growing wild and wanted it for my salad, I checked carefully to make sure it was abundant before harvesting.

Another of Dr. Bobear's lessons was to be sure that anything you foraged was carefully identified and eaten only in small amounts the first time, just in case you have mistakenedly identified it or happen to have an allergy to it. She also taught me not to collect plants near sidewalks and roadways as passing dogs are likely to have "marked" it!

Henry Brooks Adams said: "A teacher affects eternity - he can never tell where his influence stops." More than 25 years later, Dr. Bobear's lessons are still with me - and now with you, too.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Butter Steamed Anything

When I was a young cook, I thought I had invented butter steaming. I had never read about it in any cookbooks, just thought the idea of adding a minimum amount of water and a nice dollop of butter in which to cook veggies sounded really good.

I like it for 'most any vegetable that cooks fairly quickly. It's a little risky if I get called away and the tablespoon or so of water cooks away; I have burned the heck out of the occasional pan of dinner that way. I'm easily distracted.

Anyway, this week when I found a nice packet of the skinniest little fresh green beans in my market, I knew that butter steaming was in my future. And, this time, I decided to use it with the wild coho salmon I bought, as well.

Butter steaming, as I do it, is simplicity itself. I add the smallest amount of water that I think will cook the food and evaporate away at the end, plus a nice knob of butter, perhaps a tablespoon of water and a teaspoon of butter. In a wide pan over medium high heat, once the butter has melted into the water and the water is sizzling, I add the veggies and clap on a well-fitting lid for a few minutes while the beans turn bright green. As soon as that happens (about two minutes for tiny beans like these), I remove the lid and turn the veggies in the pan, over and over to coat them with butter and to finish cooking them without browning. That last minute or two toasts the butter without burning it and gives the veggies a rich gleam and the butter an almost nutty taste.

For the salmon, I used the same treatment, but added a sprinkling of dill weed to the pan and only flipped the fish once.
I added a bit more water to do the salmon, since it would cook for slightly longer. I started the fish skin side down and cooked it for about two minutes, then flipped it while it was still cohesive, removed the skin (it peels off easily after this brief cooking) and the brownish layer that lies just under the skin, which is strong tasting and not as pretty in color. Then, I put the lid on and steamed the salmon a few minutes more, removing the lid for the last few minutes to allow the water to evaporate and the dilly butter to remain to flavor the fish.

Plated on top of my mixture of red and brown rice, it was simply, beautifully delicious. Even though I have since learned that I didn't invent butter steaming, I still think of it as mine, all mine!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We Fava-red This Version

Because the fava beans I painstakingly shelled and steamed reminded me of edamame, I thought perhaps a little Asian twist would perk up their mild flavor without drowning it. I was dreaming of ginger and shoyu and such.

In the fridge I found an avocado, some fresh bright orange carrots, a single tangerine and some bacon left over from my BLT at Barney's. With some green onion and rice vinegar, all that seemed like a fun combination for my second fava salad attempt.

I took the zest off the tangerine before sectioning it for the salad and kept the zest to add to the dressing. To the zest, I added sliced green onion, the shoyu, rice wine vinegar, grated fresh ginger and a dollop of Dijon mustard, mixed it all together and drizzled it very lightly over the avocado slices, tangerine sections, fava beans, carrot slices and bacon bits.

It was a beautiful salad with fresh bright colors and tangy, lively dressing. The creamy avocado was great with the tangerine, the crunch of the carrot and bacon bits. Once again, I felt that the delicate favas were a little out of their league with these big flavors but they did add a pretty note of green and, because I used only a light drizzle of dressing, there was an occasional hint of fresh fava flavor peeking through from bite to bite.

We favored this version strongly over the previous one - this one, we'd even make again!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Easy Bacon Bits

I love real bacon bits in salads or scrambled eggs but making them is a chore - all that frying and cleaning up the overspray for a few strips of bacon. Recently, however, I discovered an easy, abundant source of bacon bits for those of you who live in the Bay area.

Here's what you do. Drive to your nearest Barney's gourmet hamburger palace, sit down, and order their B.L.T. sandwich and a mocha milk shake. Don't forget the mocha shake - it's crucial to the plan.

While awaiting your sandwich, make goo-goo eyes at your Beloved across the table while you sip your mocha shake, which will have arrived well before your sandwich. Barney's mocha shakes are killer, made with real ice cream, real chocolate sauce and real coffee, served in a very tall glass with a wide-bore straw (that's still not wide enough to allow you to suck up such a thick shake) and alongside the other half of your shake in the metal blender container with a long spoon (very helpful!).

If you have followed directions carefully, by the time your sandwich arrives you will be too full of the mocha shake to eat another bite of anything. Now, ask for a box in which to transport your sandwich (which, parenthetically, is 'way too thick to bite, anyway, and too awkward to eat with a knife and fork) home. Once you get home, take apart the sandwich and pick out all the bacon, putting it into a separate baggie that you will keep in the fridge. On my sandwich, there was fully 3/4 of cup of bacon and perhaps a tad more.

Voila! a boatload of bacon to be chopped in a trice for your next omelet or salad! Nothing could be easier! And you got an unbelievably good mocha shake in the process, a bonus.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Fava-ulous Salad?

Never having tried fava beans before, when the Mad Meat Genius gave me a big bag of them over a cup of Catahoula coffee, I went searching on the interwebs for recipe. The one I found for which I had all the ingredients on hand was a salad of fresh favas dressed with creme fraiche, lemon zest, fresh mint, salt and pepper.

Although we enjoyed the fresh taste of the favas, which remind me of edamame once they are liberated from their waxy skins, we rather thought the dressing was heavy and overpowered the green freshness of the tender beans. The lemon I had on hand was a Meyer, so perhaps the zest was too sweet, even though I added the lemon's worth of juice to the dressing, too, not called for in the recipe. Even the gorgeous bright kelly green of the favas was paled by the leaden dressing.

All in all, while this salad was okay, we felt that something lighter would have showcased the favas better. Stand by for the next experiment!

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

She's Keeping It!

Notice the slightly punk rocker look that Cora is sporting these days? Sort of a sideways mohawk.

The vet shaved the poor bitten ear in order to set the myriad of stitches he had to use to put it back together after the pitbull attack. There was serious doubt about whether or not the stitches would work or they'd have to amputate the fleshy part of her ear.

The hair is growing back slowly but the good news is that the vet's magic with the ear worked - when the stitches came out last week, he pronounced that she would keep it. We are thrilled and she seems happy, too. It may sit at a slightly rakish angle but we are pleased that she will still have two ears to fondle.

Happy ending, once the mohawk grows out.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Like Reece's For Breakfast

You'd think that somewhere in my 60+ years of eating I'd have encountered Nutella before now but I never had so I bought a little packet of the stuff to try one day last week.

I toasted up some plain white bread, the Pain du Lait they sell at my local Santa Fe Market, and spread a little of the sweet, chocolatey, nutty spread on it. What can I say? It was sweet, chocolatey and nutty. Fine. Good. But not really world-class until I added a nice swipe of chunky style peanut butter to the mix.

Now you're talkin'!

Sweet, salt, chunky and smooth, all a the same time, with a haunting similarity to Reece's Peanut Butter Cups, just not quite so sweet. Killer for breakfast.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Stirred, Not Shaken

Whenever I have a fridge full of a little of this and a little of that, I think "stir fry!" Nothing except soup combines diverse elements into a cohesive whole quite so nicely as a stir fry.

This time, we had a slice or two of lamb left from Easter dinner, still pink the way we like it, and a whole bunch of veggies in the fridge. A tumble of broccoli florets plus the peeled, sliced stem, a few mushrooms, two cloves of garlic, minced, half an onion, two sticks of celery and a handful of cashew nuts.

Even the rice was a motley mixture of the ends of two packages, a tad of the red rice from our CARE package and enough of the sublime Massa brown rice to fill the cup the rest of the way. I sliced the lamb into mouthfuls and sauteed all the different ingredients in order of their density so they'd all be done at the same time, including just a brief sizzle for the lamb and a drizzle of shoyu plus lots of fresh black pepper.

The result was a deeply satisfying dinner that felt healthy while still delivering a rich flavor punch and ready in less than an hour (the Massa rice is more than worth the 50 minute cooking time). I sometimes forget how much fun stir frying is - and love rediscovering it each time!

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Elegant Leftovers

Remember the garlic crab from a few weeks ago? I do. So, when I saw this pasta with Dungeness crab and garlic (plus fresh tomatoes, Swiss chard, herbs and ParmReg) on the menu at Rooney's, I jumped at it.

Clearly, crab and garlic are made for one another. I slurped up the angel hair pasta, the big chunks of heavenly crab and most of the incredibly flavorful goozle, and still had plenty for lunch the next day. Even lightly reheated in the microwave, this was a delicious combination.

We've been to Rooney's several times now and have never been disappointed. It's small and a little noisy but the food is always good and the service is excellent.

And they have garlic crab pasta.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

By-the-Wind Sailors

Have you noticed that the younger generation, the ones in their twenties and early thirties now, are such adventurous people?

My Beloved's daughter Sarah went on an exchange program to Germany in her junior year - of high school! - and returned speaking perfect, fluent German.

His daughter Katie went without a blink to Europe with her cousin Molly at the tender age of 17, knowing not a word of any of the languages they would encounter there, and traveled around for more than a month on a shoestring.

Young friend Jodie zipped off to Peru for a year after graduation and spent time high in the Andes helping Peruvians and sampling local delicacies such as guinea pig.

Fairy Godson Mark set off lightheartedly to explore Spain as a high school student and then took on Germany in college before he had much German to smooth his path.

My Fairy Goddaughter Pamela sky dives and loves it, as does her cousin Pete, who is also a pilot. These youngsters think nothing of adventures that I wouldn't dream of taking now, much less at their ages!

Last week, however, we had a visit from a young couple who have topped them all.

First, Jim built
a 30-foot wooden sailboat with his own two hands, including melting lead to pour the keel, bending the wood planks for the hull, and doing all the beautiful finish carpentry in the cabin. Then, to prove Carina was seaworthy, he set sail with a friend for Ireland! Carina is lovely but she doesn't have an engine, electricity, or refrigeration! They navigated with a hand-held GPS unit and a satellite phone, clear across the Atlantic and back again. He taught me that if you keep your beer in the bilges, it will be cooler than the ambient air. Did I mention that he sailed back alone?

He met Sarah somewhere along his travels and they decided to set sail together, so they sailed Carina from Cape Cod to the Virgin Islands, across the Caribbean to the Panama Canal, through the canal and out into the Pacific, down to the Galapagos Islands, headed for New Zealand. At that point, they heard that they would not be granted work visas in New Zealand, so they changed course for the Marquesas and ended up, finally, in Hawaii. Again, with just the hand-held GPS and the satellite phone, sometimes in legs that lasted up to two and a half weeks! I have it on good authority that one must be very careful when landing tuna for dinner as large sharks will take a big bite of your intended dinner and give you serious rope burns while doing so. I also learned that, when one is miles and miles out into the ocean, one need not wear clothing if the weather is warm enough - there is little risk of being surprised in one's birthday suit.

After living and working in Hawaii for several months, these two by-the-wind sailors decided to return to the Virgin Islands where they hope to put down roots. They sold Carina and flew in to town to stop with us on their way to Lake Tahoe, the Grand Canyon and points east. At dinner with us and Katie, they had their brains thoroughly picked by young Andre', who is dreaming of a circumnavigation of his own!

This amazing generation, I can't wait to learn what they accomplish with their confidence and their huge sense of adventure.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wore Himself Out

Poor little Easter bunny, he worked so hard at bringing treats to everyone that after delivering all his goodies he collapsed face down on top of our carrot cake!

Makes a great story, doesn't it? The truth is that pals Wenirs and Ray played Easter bunny this year, sending the CARE package we received a week or so ago. We waited to unwrap the cake for Easter dinner and it was worth the wait! The fondant icing kept the whole cake beautifully moist and the rich carrot cake interior was the perfect ending to dinner shared this year with our friends Janie and Jack.

While we were feasting on roast lamb, mashed garlic potatoes and sugar snap peas, Wenirs was hiking down in the Grand Canyon with her sister, carrying
in her backpack everything for a two-week stay and savoring the delights of freeze-dried food. I think we got the better part of the deal but Wenirs would never agree.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

He Was Here!

On Easter morning, scattered among my pretty spring daffodils, here was proof that the Easter bunny had been to our house. Chocolate eggs in pretty spring colors to decorate our dinner table.

When I was a tadpole, my Dad used to write rhyming clues to lead us to our Easter treats. Dreadful poetry, but we had so much fun following his treasure hunt from place to place in the house and garden until we discovered our Easter baskets or, as we got older, a single huge box of chocolates to be shared by all.

In choosing from the box, the family rule was that one must take the first one s/he touched; this, to discourage us from fingering pieces and then putting them back. Ick. There was a lot of pondering and scrutinizing before we took each piece until big brother J figured out that he could run his finger down a whole row of chocolates to claim them all! Chaos ensued, with finger pointing and loud recriminations, until the parental units intervened to restore order. Sounds a little like the banks and car companies arguing for their bailouts, doesn't it?

Anyway, I continued the rhyming clue tradition with my Fairy Godchildren and they loved it well into their twenties. I hope they will see fit to continue it with future children, whether their own or beloved friends', as it is a tradition well worth keeping. I hope the Easter bunny made it to your house, too, and left you chocolate evidence of his presence.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tummy Settling Soup

Oops, My Beloved seemed to have eaten something that didn't agree with him, so he was on the binnacle list for a day or two (he's fine, now). Wanting to give him something fairly bland to quiet his upset stomach, I remembered the turkey soup I made from our smoked turkey and busted it out of the freezer for a comeback.

It was really nothing but turkey broth made with a few veggies and with the pickings from the turkey thrown in, so I added a handful of Frenched green beans, some salt and pepper, and some of the onion-and-chicken-brothed Camargue red rice to the pot. The instructions from the red rice had me cook it with extra liquid and then drain off the excess; that seemed like a waste of good goozle, so I saved the overflow and added it into this soup, just because. A slow simmer and it was ready to serve.

Tasted good, very turkey and rich, but a little flat, somehow. The idea came to add a squeeze of lemon to the pot and that woke it right up! I have another couple of containers of this soup in the freezer, so I'm going to write right on the lids - "Jazz it up with lemon!"

It may not be a miracle cure for an iffy tummy but he ate it with pleasure and, like a good doctor, it did no harm.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Crunch 'n' Munch Salad

I've been trying for the past couple of months to buy something new to me each time I go to the store, to widen my repertoire and to get out of the blogging blahs. My latest attempt is kohlrabi, a vegetable I had never tasted and rarely even heard about.

Kohlrabi is actually an enlarged stem of a plant closely related to broccoli (oh, those lovable crucifers!) so once the barrel-shaped purple stem was peeled down to its pale green innards, it tasted like very mild, crisp broccoli with celery root texture. I'd say that kohlrabi is to broccoli as celery root is to celery, a milder, sweeter cousin.

A few days ago, we ate half the kohlrabi in our Hobo Packets, but I still had a bit left, so I decided to try making a sort of chunky slaw with the remainder. I cut the kohlrabi into matchsticks and sliced a fennel bulb into into curls of about the same thickness, squeezed half a Meyer lemon over them and, just before serving, tossed both with a Dijon-style mustard vinaigrette made with Meyer lemon juice and olive oil. Garnished with lemon zest and a sprig of fennel leaf, it made a pretty salad with a manly crunch and a sweet-tart tang.

If that doesn't get me out of the blogging blahs, nothing will!

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Care Package

Is our government still sending CARE packages? Have you read 84 Charing Cross Road? I hope so, and yes, I did, respectively. I grew up with the happy knowledge that my government was helping our allies and former enemies, and I loved the diffident relationship between a British bookseller and a struggling American writer. So, when my own CARE package arrived from friends Wenirs and Ray last week, I was delighted.

Among the various goodies in the package were an herbed salami, a nicely nutty Gruyere cheese, salt caramels, a block of rich dark chocolate and a package of red rice from the Camargue region in France. As a girl, I was horse crazy and lusted after one of the white horses of the Camargue so, surprisingly, I knew where the Camargue was (southern France) and that the region is famous for its rice as well as its horses.

I cooked it up with onion and chicken stock to accompany a dinner of Cornish hens, which it did admirably, but the real home run with this rice as a breakfast food this morning. It has a nutty flavor and the outer hull is a little bit chewy with a creamy soft middle. The chicken stock enriched it and the onion sweetened it just a bit. With a dash of salt and a tad of butter, it made a sustaining breakfast and I felt well CAREd for. Thanks, Ray and Wenirs!


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Brownie Barbecuing

When I was a Brownie in second and third grade, we actually wore the whole little brown outfit, complete with beanie and sash. My mother had to sew patches on the sash for each activity I mastered; she didn't have to do much sewing. I learned to make seed jewelry and s'mores but my favorite of all activities was making Hobo Packets.

Hobo Packets are vegetables such as carrot, potato and onion chunks wrapped in foil and buried in the coals of a campfire until they are cooked. We Brownies would assemble these packets ourselves from ingredients somebody's mother had kindly prepped ahead of time and the troop leader would put them in the fire and take them out as we anxiously watched our own particular packet. The vegetables were always very plain but the thrill of having made the packets ourselves enhanced the flavors.

Don't know why I thought of Hobo Packets again fifty-some-odd years later but the idea seemed like a fun one to try again. My tastes have changed a bit since Brownie days, however, so I decided to make a fancypants version to accompany our grilled grass-raised beef tenderloin. To a handful of fingerling potatoes, I added whole garlic cloves, thickly sliced onion and thinly sliced kohlrabi, a blob of my frozen duxelles, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. I arranged the veggies all in a single layer and, because I didn't have the heavy-duty kind of foil, I made four layers of the thin foil to protect the veggies from the heat. Even so, there were charred spots - another time, I'd use the heavy-duty foil.

Using very long tongs, I tucked them right next to the coals in my Weber grill and turned them a quarter turn every 12-15 minutes for about 45 minutes; I think two turns really would have been enough as the fire was pretty hot. What emerged was all golden and gorgeous with tips of black in some places. The onions completely dissolved as did the duxelles, and the garlic went all soft and squishy, mingling their heady flavors around the potatoes and kohlrabi slices. It was the perfect accompaniment to the slightly smoky beef, which was grilled on the grate above the same fire, and some fresh asparagus.

In honor of my Brownie days, I should have made s'mores for dessert. Maybe next time.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

They're The Berries!

My Dad had a favorite expression for things he really, really liked - he'd exclaim, "That's the berries!" I don't know where the expression came from but from him it was high praise, indeed.

Fast forward to when I was in the throes of a divorce and trying to decide where I would live after things settled down. I had been in western New York (WENY) for 20+ years and, although I loved it, I had to admit that the weather there is pretty much the pits. The winters are not so much fiercely cold - those huge Great Lakes absorb heat all summer and meter it back all winter - as they are very long, early November to late April or sometimes into May (one memorable year, it snowed in all 12 months) and they are gray, gray, gray. The summers are sticky, humid and hot - and yet much too brief.

I had lots of sensible reasons for choosing the Bay area -
good year-round weather, lots of colleges to employ my career counseling skills, some already-resident and supportive friends, located halfway between my family in Hawaii and my family back East - but the real reasons I chose northern California (NOCA) were two - that My Beloved lived here and that the strawberry season is exquisitely long.

In WENY, the strawberries are amazing. In mid-June when strawberries are locally available, the whole air is perfumed as you drive by a berry patch. Everyone turns out to pick them, eat them and make jam from them. They are sweet and luscious and altogether wonderful - for those two measly weeks.

In NOCA, on the other hand, strawberry season begins in late March and continues unabated until late October when I can still get really sweet, ripe strawberries if I take a drive along the coast south of San Francisco where the cool, foggy summers retard the season for a few more precious weeks. I might have chosen NOCA for the strawberries alone; My Beloved, however, was a huge bonus.

Here's one of our favorite ways to serve strawberries, now that they are on the market and beautifully ripe again. So simple, all we do is dip the strawberries in some creme fraiche, then into a dish of coarse vanilla sugar, then pop the whole thing in our mouths, trying sometimes in vain to keep the pink juice from running down our chins.

They are the berries!


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Snacky Leftovers

Tools for some mysterious job? Martian food? A newly discovered life form?


Remember the pastry I used to make the Apple Hearts? This is what's left after you cut a dozen hearts out of a sheet of puff pastry. The package insert said I could make savory bread sticks out of the leftovers by combining and re-rolling the pastry but I thought the quirky shapes would be even more fun.

I spread them out on a piece of parchment paper over a baking sheet, tucking back any really thin ends so they'd bake evenly, and sprinkled them with freshly grated Parmesan cheese for a little savory, salty taste. Each one got an additional topping - some were topped with freshly ground pepper for My Beloved who adores pepper and the rest got a bit of Herbes de Provence, my sprinkle of choice. I patted the toppings down gently into the pastry to make sure they would stick, then slid the sheet into a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, until they were puffed and browned.

Light as air and nicely savory, I'd make these again in a heartbeat - they'd make a tasty and very easy hors d'oeuvre that wouldn't fill people up before the main event. They don't keep very well, however. I put them into a plastic bag without refrigerating them and they were a little flat tasting the next day. You'd do well to refresh them with a few minutes in the oven if you've kept them overnight, after which they are again crisp and light, but be careful not to burn the bottoms.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lemon Risotto Riff

What do you make with a half cup of salad shrimp left over from having a friend over for lunch? NamasteNancy had graced me with a lunchtime visit for which I made a simple shrimp salad, but I had just a handful of the little darlings left over and no real idea what to do with them besides pop 'em as a snack like pink Cheetos which, while it would have been delicious, seemed somehow like a waste of a luxury ingredient.

Then, as I was watching an episode of "Follow That Food," the wacky Aussie host was talking about carnaroli rice and I remembered that I had some in the cupboard - risotto!

I had only made risotto once before and I had no seafood broth on hand but decided to wing it with chicken broth. I also had no open bottles of white wine, so I subbed in (believe it or not) a little lemonade tartened up with a generous squeezing of fresh lemon juice 'til it was about as acidic as white wine would be. As odd as that sounds, it really added a lemony zest to the rice. I sizzled some onion and garlic in a knob of butter, added the rice and stirred, then the lemonade and began ladling in the chicken broth once the lemonade was absorbed.

Stir, ladle, stir, ladle, yadda until all the chicken broth was gone, then added a nice handful of freshly grated ParmReg, another little knob of butter, some strips of dark green Swiss chard leaves from my garden (still booking from last year!) and, when they were just wilted, stirred in the salad shrimps only long enough to heat through and sprinkled the top with chopped green onion tops.

Creamy, subtly lemony and rich with shrimp, it was a killer risotto and I was kicking myself for not making this for my luncheon guest.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Apple Hearts

I had two aging Pink Lady apples in my fruit bowl for what seemed like months. They weren't to the shriveled stage - Pink Ladies are stayers - but that wasn't far behind so it was time to use them to make an apple tart.

The recipe I used before, however, called for five or six apples, not just two. Hmmm. Then, I read on the DuFour frozen pastry package that any leftover pastry could be used for other things, so I decided to try making as many tartlets as I had apples.

Using some of my sweet pomegranate syrup with a little tart lemon juice added (next time, I might try bathing them in maple syrup and lemon juice if I have run out of the pomegranate), I sliced the apples thinly and poured the syrup/lemon juice over them, mixing them up and letting them stand together while I rolled out the pastry. Because My Beloved was returning that day from a business trip, I used a cookie cutter to make the heart shapes to tickle his fancy.

Once the hearts were placed on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, I laid four overlapping apple slices on each, sprinkled them with a light dusting of allspice and just a tad of coarse vanilla sugar before sliding them into a 375 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. The pastry puffed up proudly and the apples relaxed like fruity odalisques onto the pastry pillows, turning just lightly brown at the tips while the rich scents of vanilla and allspice filled the kitchen.

The result was crispy on the bottoms and softly chewy on the tops, very apple-y and not very sweet, thanks to the extra lemon juice in the syrup. I like the allspice as a change from the more familiar cinnamon and the tiny pinch of vanilla sugar was just right.

I started out with the idea of making an Apple Tart, but these Apple Hearts are even better.

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

People Stew

My intention was to use the stew beef that My Beloved bought for Cora to make her a fancypants dinner to help her forget her sore ear. Heaven knows, an invalid's appetite needs tempting with some unusual treats and she has been milking us for sympathy ever since she got home from the vet.

But, oops!, when I told the vet my idea, he frowned. Not a good idea to feed dogs, especially recuperating dogs, people food. Nixed it. Phooey. Shoulda kept my mouth shut.

So, I made People Stew instead, a version of Beef Bourguignon substituting shallots for the pearl onions, adding lots of red wine, and simmering it
in the crock pot after browning. It was okay, not great, although the goozle at the bottom of the crock pot was once again stellar. I didn't cook it long enough and I forgot the bay leaf. Onions would have been better than shallots in this case. But, it was edible and we edided it.

Cora had no complaints when I slipped her one little cube of meat - she wolfed it right down. Shhh, don't tell the vet!

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Pavlov's Beloved

Our house has two levels and My Beloved's office is downstairs and around a corner from the kitchen. It's hard to get his attention when it's dinner time without bellowing over the banisters or walking downstairs to fetch him. I'm lazy - I usually bellow.

He came up with an elegant solution last week; he came home with this bright little bell, which now lives on the banister.
It has a nice sound, not too harsh and yet nicely carrying. I just ring it when it's chow time and he comes right up. Conditioned response - works like a champ.

My questions - is this where Mr. Pavlov got the idea to try it with his dogs? And will My Beloved start to drool when he hears the bell?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Neighborhood Watch Salad

We had been invited to a potluck party for our Neighborhood Watch section; I was determined to take something a little different, so I went surfing on the interwebs to find something appealing and springlike.

I had tangerines on hand so I searched (man, I love that site!) for tangerine recipes; when I found this one, I stopped looking.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Tangerine Dressing

1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 large tangerines or small oranges
1/3 cup fresh tangerine juice or orange juice (Having tasted this, I think orange would be too bitter)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons oriental [sic] sesame oil
1-1/2 teaspoons grated fresh tangerine peel or orange peel
1 clove garlic, pressed
3/4 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons finely chopped green onion tops
2 Tablespoons finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place asparagus in medium bowl. Pour enough cold water over asparagus to cover; let stand 15 minutes. Drain. Spread asparagus in a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan; drizzle with oil. Roast asparagus until crisp-tender, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer asparagus to platter and cool.

Using a sharp knife, cut the peel and white pith from tangerines. Cut between the membranes to release segments. Arrange tangerine segments atop asparagus. Whisk tangerine juice, vinegar, sesame oil, peel, garlic and ginger in a small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle over asparagus. Sprinkle with green onion tops and peanuts.

I mostly followed directions but when I whisked up the dressing it tasted a little too blah so I splashed in more vinegar, garlic and ginger than called for. Didn't finely chop my green onion tops, just sliced and sprinkled. (Took this picture; note no peanuts yet). Coarsely chopped my peanuts, which were indeed dry roasted but not salted - another time, I think the salty ones would have been a bit better.

The salad was a big hit at the party, according to My Beloved, who went in my stead while I stayed home and made sure Cora didn't scratch her ear or worry her drain. I kept some for our dinner, too. Good move.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Apologies to Billy Joel

"You may be right; I may be crazy, but it just may be a loooonatic you're looking for..."

Maybe it's the combination of my Biology degree and my love of art but when I opened my fridge this morning and discovered this particular set of salmon pink, yellow and blue-green molds celebrating spring in a dish of leftover creme fraiche, I actually found it beautiful. Jackson Pollack fridge art.

Okay, okay, I know it's kooky.

Happy April Fool's Day! No, I'm not kidding this time.