Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chocolate Emoticon

I had lunch last week at Café de la Presse in San Francisco with my friend NamasteNancy.

Her company was fun and full of information about the art we were to enjoy at 49 and 77 Geary. The food was delicious - thin, crunchy tarte flambée with Serrano ham and some bitter little fresh greens for starters, then a little round artichoke, fresh tomato and yummystuff tartelette thingy with the lightest, butteriest crust I've ever, ever experienced (sorry, I can't recall the name - it was one of the daily specials).

The surroundings are lots of fun with pricey French-language magazines and newspapers to browse. The service was brusque but excellent and our waiter was no dummy; when he came to ask if we wanted coffee, he brought along a heaping plateful of these little chocolate macarons as incentive to stay and sip. It worked. We sipped, we chatted, we crunched our way through to the soft interiors and licked up every crumb, both of us leaving with smiley faces not unlike this chocolate emoticon.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

¡Chocolate Pudding, Olé!

A simple OMG will do.

I made Mexican Chocolate Pudding à la Mark Bittman last week when my Fairy Godson was coming for a visit. This has to be the best dessert I have ever made in less than 10 minutes. It may possibly be the best dessert I have ever made, period.

This "pudding" is actually a bit denser and richer than I think of pudding as being. Using good chocolate, tofu (yes, tofu!) and some serious blending, you'll end up with something so smooth and rich, you'll want to serve it in demitasse cups or thimbles. Believe it or not, with all my interest in food and eating, I'm not a huge chocolate lover. This dessert, however, has been my conversion.

Over the course of the weekend, I served it to four other people, too, and all of them were rolling their eyes in delight. This one is a winner!

I'm going to include the recipe as I can't seem to make the link to his video work. It is easy as pie to make and virtually foolproof. If you don't add the spritz of whipped cream as I did, it's also vegan. I was hesitant about adding the chili powder but I did and it truly lent a special depth to the dessert without adding much heat - there's a little tingle after each spoonful but, take it from a spice wimp, you'll be glad you added the chili powder.

Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding

Published: May 15, 2009

Time: 10 minutes, plus 30 minutes’ chilling (this is no exaggeration - it's fast and easy!)

3/4 cup sugar
1 pound silken tofu (I cut mine into roughly 1" squares before blending)
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted (I used Valrhona 61%)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste

Chocolate shavings (optional) (In the video, he made these by shaving the side of a chocolate bar with a vegetable peeler. He made it look easier than I found it to be.)

1. In a small pot, combine sugar with 3/4 cup water; bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

2. Put all ingredients except for chocolate shavings in a blender and purée until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down its sides if necessary. Divide among 4 to 6 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes. If you like, garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings. (I recommend the 6 or even 8 servings - this stuff is rich!)

You're welcome.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

The Admiral's Daughter's Breakfast

My Dad was a naval officer. He was also the son of a naval officer, brother of two naval officers (one male, one female), father, uncle and great-uncle of naval officers. Our family has sea water in our veins. When my Dad was chosen for the rank of admiral, however, both his daughters wailed, "But, Daddy, we don't want to be admiral's daughters!"

You see, in the Navy, admiral's children are known to be smarmy little brats, spoiled from birth and impossible to like. All our lives, as we rode the bus to school, the various admiral's kids were recognized and reviled. My mother recalls me coming home from school one day to complain
with 7 year old scorn about one admiral's son, "Felix Stump is the baddest boy on the bus!" We foresaw similar opinions about ourselves.

Too badski, he chose to accept the rank over our vociferous protests, and along with it came a new member of our family, a steward. His name is Benjamin Banks. He had joined the Navy as a very young man - when we first knew him, he couldn't have been more than 19 or 20 years old. Stewards in the Navy are cooks; my mother was in heaven! Once she taught him how to make her favorite recipes, she sat back and enjoyed every minute of not having to cook for our family of ravenous appetites.

He invented my favorite form of scrambled eggs, which he called "smashed eggs," and would make them for me almost every morning, back before eggs and bacon were considered dangerous substances. Simplicity itself, smashed eggs are softly scrambled with little bits of crispy bacon thrown in during the cooking. There is something about the salty, smoky bits enrobed in moist egg that simply can't be beat - the whole is even better than its excellent parts. If I have any leftover bacon, I'm very likely to make smashed eggs with it. Sadly, Chief Banks lives in Richmond, Virginia rather than Richmond, California, so he's not here to make it for me as he did for so many mornings, back when I was a spoiled brat of an admiral's daughter.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Porky Dipsea

I'm a fan of pulled pork sandwiches - I order one almost every time I see it on a menu. I don't know where this taste comes from - it was certainly never served in my family home - but it is an enduring favorite.

It's 'way too much trouble to make at home - I'm more of a "dinner in 30 minutes" person than a "smoke it for five hours" type. So, I'm always grateful for people who are willing to take their sweet, smoky time.

I didn't know that the Dipsea Café in Mill Valley had pulled pork - had I known, I'd have gone sooner. Their version is nicely meaty and barbecue-y but the best part was the addition of cole slaw as "greens" in the sandwich. The cole slaw added a quiet crunch and a little surprise, something I haven't tasted since my last trip to true Barbecue Land, North Carolina.

Like Arnold, I'll be back.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009


For the past 12+ years, we have enjoyed our neighbor's dog, Affi, named for an Italian city where our neighbors vacationed just before they picked her up. She arrived as a tiny puppy who cried piteously when she was left alone, needed to be taught cat manners by our Snow (but then they became the best of pals), and sneaked into our house for a clandestine treat of cheese from time to time. Before we had a dog of our own, she filled that empty spot in our hearts and even after Cora came, Affi kept her own special place.

She was a true retriever, bringing her ball to be fetched as many times as anyone would throw it, always eager for a game. Her visits became a delightful ritual for us as well as for her. She even joined most of our parties, since we leave the front door open and it was part of her self-imposed responsibilities to check out any new people in the neighborhood to make sure they were well-meaning.

When Cora arrived, Affi played the gruff older sister, teaching Cora some important social skills such as sitting patiently for treats, barking importantly at the dog in the house above to keep him in his place, and touching human hearts with her patented sad-eye expression. They became good friends, too, trotting off together to investigate the scents of their world; I think dogs get color through their noses.

Lately, Affi has been a little stiff in her joints and a little tentative on our very few stairs. Sometimes, she would let us approach her bed rather than rise to greet us as Cora and I passed by on our way to Poop Heaven, but we felt that was her due as the doyenne of the street.
She still had bounce and wag once she was up.

Last week, we got the news that she had a tumor and we knew her time was short, although no one knew how short. Last weekend, she had a sudden seizure and had to be put to sleep, leaving us all grieving her passing. Cora keeps looking for her as we pass by, as do we. Her family is inconsolable.

This picture, taken last year, is perfect. She is ensconced on our front steps, happy to be where she has a good view up and down the street, but with her face turned toward her family home, just waiting for her two young boys to come out and play, or for Mike or Janet to whistle for her. She was a good friend; we will all miss her.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Even the name is delicious. Zarzuela. Doesn't that sound wonderful? It was. The dictionary says it's an ethnic Spanish musical genre, rather than something to eat, and that seems somehow perfectly appropriate - this dish really sings.

I chose it, after much deliberation, when we took my Fairy Godson up to St. Helena to celebrate his 26th birthday at the Greystone restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. I assume that Zarzuela means "cioppino" in Spanish, but this was far and away better than any cioppino I have ever tasted.

The sauce, while clearly tomato based, was flavored with the sea and (I think) some saffron, very refined and smooth without seeds. The clams were tiny, no bigger than a quarter and as tender as can be. The mussels were small, too, and without "pearls" - perfectly cooked. The shrimp lent both flavor and color counterpoints to the dish. Even the toast, spread with flavored white bean and chive puree, was delicious.

I have found online only one recipe for Zarzuela and it reads wrong for the dish I tasted. I will have to make some modifications but it will be my distinct pleasure to try to reproduce this dish, no matter how many tries it requires. I can think of worse fates than singing my way through several trials of zarzuela.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Saucy Ravioli

I was late getting home but My Beloved had, blessedly, stopped at the farmer's market and found that Home Maid was there selling lobster ravioli. Being the thoughtful and hungry man that he is, he purchased a box of them and carried them home in triumph.

Lobster in the middle of the week and for no special reason. Is it any wonder that I'm nuts about this guy?

We shelled some fresh peas, popping pods together while Cora dashed around snapping up the wayward few. I made a quick and simple sauce of Greek yogurt thinned with a splash of light cream and gently warmed it, infusing it with fresh lemon thyme from the pot garden outside the front door. In less time than it takes to tell, we sat down to a sumptuous dinner of plump raviolis gently sparked with the tangy/creamy/lemony flavorful sauce.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Spring Rice

I go in spurts. When I find a preparation I like, I tend to make it all the time until My Beloved cries "uncle!" and we move on to the next enthusiasm.

It would seem that raclette and risotto are my current jags. This risotto is the best one I've made so far, Lemon Risotto with Green Garlic, Chicken Apple Sausage and Asparagus. Doesn't that sound like a menu from some fancypants restaurant? But, I didn't get this from a famous chef; I assembled it from the contents of my fridge.

I discovered the fun of using lemon juice in risotto in place of the usual wine when I had no white wine in the house but lotsa lemons; I like it better. The Meyer lemons from Momo and Patty's bush are flavoring many of my dishes these days and one of them really improved this risotto.

After sautéeing the sliced green garlic in a knob of butter and adding about 3/4 of a cup of carnaroli rice to coat with buttery garlicky goodness, I added the juice of one (very juicy) lemon, chopped a single chicken apple sausage and added that to the pot, too. Stir, stir. Then came the veggie broth, ladled in and stirred bit by bit until it was all added (about three cups). Just as I was adding the parmesan cheese before serving, the thin asparagus spears, cut into inch-long lengths, went in and were stirred along with the rice until they were bright green and just tender.

The result was so fresh and springlike that we were both nodding and savoring, twinkling at each other over mouths full of flavor.

So far, I've heard no grumbles about "too much risotto" from My Beloved. I guess I can keep this trend going for a few more meals before he waves his white flag and asks for a change of menu.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

In The Moment

Newspaper spread out on the watery glass table outdoors on the deck, cracked Dungeness crab and sliced sourdough baguette at the ready, and My Beloved at ease in his deck chair on a hot spring evening. Rare as hen's teeth here in the Bay area, these warm evenings are treasures to be savored in all kinds of ways as the sun sets so far to the north now that we miss it as it slips down behind the neighbors' houses.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Favorite

What I'm about to admit puts me beyond the pale of true foodie territory: I like beans and franks.

Yes, beans from a can and frankfurters mummified in plastic. I actually look forward to summer cookouts where, almost inevitably, someone will bring a big pot of beans to go with the grilled hotdogs.

My Beloved, however, is not a huge fan of the tube steak - the man can actually attend a baseball game without consuming one. Imagine!

Since I'm the cook in our house, and so have the power, we do occasionally have this summer favorite of mine. Oh, I dress it up for him by adding onions, spices and tangerine or orange slices (skin and all) to the pot of beans as they simmer. I sometimes even grill chicken apple sausages rather than true franks. But, let's not fool ourselves that we are eating anything but comfort food here.

And comfortable it is. Sweetly savory-salty, it's a flash back to childhood when, very occasionally, my mother would serve us this when she was dressed up to go out with my Dad for the evening and wanted to leave us in a good mood for the babysitter. When I take the first bite of the beans, I almost get a whiff of her perfume as she breezed out the door on my father's arm, knowing she left us as happy as she was.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

S & M Experience

I've been in an experimental mood for quite some time now, trying something new each time I hit the market; most of the experiments have been delicious revelations that made me wonder why I had avoided those particular ingredients for so long. There have been one or two oopses but, by and large, we have enjoyed these forays into (to us) uncharted gustatory terrain.

So, when in our Point Richmond farmer's market (Wednesdays, 4-6pm through the summer) I came across this exotic, curving bunch of pretty, wrinkly, maple-like leaves and pea-like tendrils, I asked the purveyors what they were. In halting English, with lots of smiles and gestures, they explained to me that this was the vine of bitter melon, best eaten lightly steamed and with chicken. Sounded interesting and I usually like bitter greens such as spinach and kale with chicken, so I popped the whole big bunch in my basket.

The next day, I prepared it by picking the leaves and tendrils off of the tougher vines and butter steaming;
the leaves turn a wonderful dark green and wilt much like spinach does. Not having any chicken in the house, I served our poached salmon on it, flanked by a wedge of Meyer lemon from friends Patty and Momo's garden and a half a store-bought tangerine.

Sadly, bitter melon is well named. This is truly the Sadist of the veggie world - the leaves were so incredibly, bitingly bitter to our wimpy taste buds that we just couldn't summon the necessary masochism to finish them - more like medicine than like food. I did try squeezing the sweet tangerine juice over them but, while it helped a little, I still couldn't bring myself to finish my portion and My Beloved, who is a dedicated trencherman and an adventurous eater, put down his fork after the first bite.

If you have some sage advice for preparing bitter melon, please leave a comment. Otherwise, I will just chalk it up to bitter experience and try something else next time - maybe veggie bondage?.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Orange Vitamins

I already told you about the caprese salad (except to remark that it's still good the next day) and, although the pork tenderloin rubbed with Chinese five spice was perfectly roasted and utterly delicious, it's really all about the kabocha squash puréed with orange juice.

I roasted the squash with the idea of making soup but the weather was suddenly summer so I just peeled the squash and shoved it in the fridge, thinking we'd be back to spring in a few days.

Those days flew by and, apparently, summery weather is here to stay. So, I put it into the blender with a splash of OJ and whirled it smooth and silky. Gently reheated and served alongside the tenderloin, it gave us a healthy dose of orange vitamins, a taste treat and a perfect pairing for the pork.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In My Mother's Hand

My mother had beautiful handwriting - even quickly scribbled notes had an air of the artist she was. As a child, I got my first intimation that Santa was a myth when I realized he wrote gift tags exactly like my mother did. I get a painful little twinge of loss every time I come across something written in her distinctive hand.

We found this recently, shoved into one of the cookbooks from her kitchen that I brought home when she went to heaven almost twenty years ago. Mr. Mondavi used to come to my parents' house for dinner when he was on marketing tours to Hawaii 'way back in the '70s, before his business really took off and changed the face of California winemaking. He brought wines for them to try and kibitzed Mom's cooking; not many men did that and lived to tell about it. He must have had great personal charm.

Apparently, he also gave her tips on wine pairings.
We slid the card into a baggie and taped it inside our wine cabinet for future reference. This may come from the dark ages of the Napa wine business - I'm sure things have evolved since then - but I can't think of a better recommendation. Especially when written in my mother's hand.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Cheating the Season

Okay, I admit it - I bought cherry tomatoes imported from Mexico to hurry along the summer season. Usually, I try to eat locally and seasonally and this year I planted my own cherry tomato bush, but this time I just had to. You see, my oregano, planted as a tiny sprig a month or so ago, is now a healthy plant threatening to outgrow its side of the pot it shares with the tomato and other herbs, so I needed to pinch it back. It reminds me of a six year-old boy - a little too eager and aggressive, but delightful just the same.

I decided to make a caprese salad using the oregano tips rather than the more traditional basil and we actually liked it even better. The vinaigrette was simple - just a tablespoon of Dijon mustard whisked with a similar amount of Meyer lemon juice, a squeezed clove of garlic and about twice the amount of olive oil, plus the minced oregano.

I may have rushed the tomato season a bit, but it was worth it.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Slammin' Sammy

So, how to perk up a *grump* plain old roast beast sandwich on *sigh* boring sourdough white bread with *yawn* just lettuce?

Add some white truffle butter.

My Beloved found a small tub of this heart-stoppingly expensive butter when we went to the Oxbow Public Market and, dummy me, I nearly talked him out of buying it.

Are you sure, honey? Isn't it too expensive? What if we don't like it? What would we use it for?

What was I thinking?

This stuff is pure gold for sparking up sammies, dabbing on spuds, or enriching sauces. I keep spreading a little bit in this dish, a smear on that plate and to everything it adds a touch of class. This stuff could even wake up a sagging sex life.

Blast on down to your local delicatessen and get your own tub - it's worth every penny.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm Really Here

Not being a native Californian, I have to admit to a certain amused detachment when I see signs like this.
I'm not entirely immune the the spiritual side of life - I have long been a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation (which made my New York friends roll their eyes to heaven) and I'm currently trying out yoga - but somehow this claim made me smile.

In the Hidden City, we have a holistic health business and, while I agree strongly that health must be arrived at holistically, I have a certain amount of skepticism to the claim that one's aura can be healed with a 10 minute treatment.
If, indeed, auras exist - I feel like the agnostic who prayed, "Oh, God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul!"

Still, the playful side of my nature responds to the feathered, glittery, pink-and-blue attention-grabbers that this particular merchant used to bring in customers and, every now and then, I enjoy being reminded that, "Yes, I really do live in California!"


Friday, May 15, 2009

Lamba-Lamba Ding-Dong

To top off daughter Katie's birthday weekend of merriment, her Mom gave a party for the family on Sunday night. The menu included all kinds of goodies but the hands-down, hooray standouts were the lamb burgers topped with goat cheese and a chiffonade of fresh mint, served on rosemary and thyme split focaccia "buns." Expertly grilled to medium rare perfection by My Beloved and served with tiny artichokes and a caprese salad, they were truly to die for.

I have a new summer grilling favorite; these are tailor made for the barbecue!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Farm to Home

Our little Hidden City just hit the big time, foodwise. This summer, the city fathers or mothers, whomever they may be, have started a farmer's market in our tiny downtown triangle. Before, I always had to load up the car and schlep over to either Berkeley, El Cerrito or Marin county to attend farmer's markets. It's not a big trip to any of those and the markets are lots of fun, but I'm still delighted to have our very own market now.

The market will be open through the summer every Wednesday evening from 4pm-8pm. The downtown triangle streets will be closed to traffic and the booths will be set up in the middle of the streets.

At this inaugural event, timed to coincide with the Point Richmond Stroll, an annual event where the merchants and services promote their businesses, there were bands playing on all three corners, children of all ages running around, dogs of all descriptions wagging at each other and people stuffing their bags and baskets with all kinds of lovely fresh produce. I bought two big purple onions, a bunch of green garlic, a basket of the most fragrant strawberries I have found this season, a graceful, curling bunch of bitter melon greens (I have no idea what to do with them; they are an experiment), English peas, an anise bulb, local asparagus and two loaves of French bread. My rolling basket, which was light as air on the way down the hill to the market, had gained some tonnage for the trudge back up.

I plan to be a regular at the Wednesday market. Come on down and join us! There are several good restaurants in town that will be open during the market hours and a couple of coffee shops if all you want is a cuppa to carry around the booths. Even if we aren't really Big Time, we'll have a fine time.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blast From My Past

Sometimes, when I'm hard up for an idea about what to fix for dinner, I fall back on old friends - my cookbooks from many years ago. I find recipes I have made and then forgotten in the pages of books such as the Joy of Cooking, the Pepperidge Farm Cookbook or the Moosewood Cookbook. One such perennial favorite is Sunset magazine's Cooking for Two - Or Just For You. Published in 1980 in the third printing, my copy is dogeared and food spattered, with pages falling out of the much-used binding. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, it is worn and dirtied and much loved. On page 65, under a smear of green, is the recipe for these Spinach Souffle´ Stuffed Mushrooms, a favorite of mine ever since I was a young cook.

They are pretty easy to make considering the visual punch they give and the lovely flavors. These days, I use fresh garlic and freshly grated cheese in the recipe, but otherwise, I don't tamper with a longtime winner.

Spinach Souffle´ Stuffed Mushrooms

6 mushrooms, each at least 2 inches in diameter (I sometimes use smaller ones and they work fine, they are just more of a challenge to fill)
2 Tablespoons butter (or 1 Tbs bacon fat and 1 Tbs butter)
1/2 pound spinach
Dash of garlic powder (or minced or pressed fresh garlic)
1 egg
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
About 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Remove stems from mushrooms; reserve for other uses. Melt 1 Tbs of the butter
(I sometimes substitute bacon fat for additional flavor) in a wide frying pan over medium heat. Turn mushroom caps over in butter and arrange in a greased baking dish, cup side up; set aside.

Remove stems from spinach (not necessary when using baby spinach - such conveniences were not available when my copy of this book was published!); wash leaves well. Add spinach, with water that clings to the leaves, to frying pan; cook over medium heat until wilted (about 3 minutes). Press out all the liquid. Whirl garlic and egg in a blender until egg is frothy; add spinach and whirl until smooth.

Melt remaining 1 Tbs butter in the frying pan, add flour and cook, stirring, until bubbly; remove from heat and stir in the spinach mixture.

Spoon equal amounts of spinach mixture into each mushroom cap. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is golden and souffle is puffy. Serve immediately.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Artichoke That Ate Chicago

Doesn't this remind you of Audrey II, the carnivorous plant from Little Shop of Horrors?

She was a gift from My Beloved's daughters, Sarah and Katie, who harvested her from a garden up near Boonville where they were spending the weekend celebrating a significant birthday. Fiercely purple and green, Audrey II was large enough (fully 8 inches across - I could fit only one in my largest pot) and looked ferocious enough to be a maneater.

Instead, Audrey was meaty herself, with huge leaves tipped with thorns but based with rich, flavorful tidbits. The heart was as wide as my hand - perhaps we should have saved it as the base for a wonderful poached egg but I didn't think of that in time. Instead, we added olive oil and red wine vinegar to the water, steamed her for nearly an hour before she sighed and softened, then dipped each leaf and each bite of the heart into mayonnaise thinned about 1-1 with Meyer lemon juice, and savored it all.

Best of all, there are three more of these monsters lurking in the fridge! Thanks, girls!


Monday, May 11, 2009

The Rest of the Pig

Chopzilla is just a delicious memory.

The rest of the meat from my chop was sauteed briefly in toasted sesame oil with garlic chips, fresh grated ginger, sliced celery and green onion, broccoli florets and stems, sliced carrots, frozen peas, scrambled egg and, last but not least, nice brown rice.

A sumptuous dinner and there's plenty left over for my lunch.

We drizzled the finished product with some soy and dug in to the rest of the pig.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

El Jefe

Perhaps you will recognize this man, who I am now calling El Jefe, from his blog, Mad Meat Genius. Please note that he has a strip of bacon emblazoned on his tshirt. There's a reason for that.

Perhaps you will recognize one or two of the plethora of grills, barbecues, chimneys and smokers operating yesterday in Dr. Biggles' back yard and will realize that the bacon sizzler in this picture is made of a repurposed plowshare.

Perhaps this will give you some idea of the extensive education in the art of grilling My Beloved and I received yesterday from three extraordinary grill men, Dr. Biggles, El Jefe and their pal Abram. We nibbled on the fruits of their labors - bacon (fried, grilled, smoked), ribs (Hawaiian style), chicken (smoked to juicy perfection), tri-tip (ditto), sausage (ditto), walnut-cranberry cornbread (a Dutch oven classic) all afternoon, augmented by Cranky's seriously delicious potato salad with chives and chive flowers, and Cookiecrumb's killer guacamole. They even put a smoky twist on the lamb sliders we contributed to the event, making them even more eye-rollingly delicious than I thought was possible. Juices flowed, chins were wiped and fingers licked

We sat at the feet of the masters. We are in meaty awe.


Saturday, May 9, 2009


When we spent a rainy afternoon browsing through the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, we spied at the Fatted Calf these enormous heritage Porterhouse pork chops and simply couldn't resist buying two. To give you a sense of perspective, that's a dinner plate!


I served them simply, as befits such fine behemoths of porkitude. I slowly sauteed some onions, turning them frequently until nearly caramelized, then set them aside while I browned the chops in the same pan and lowered the heat to continue cooking. Topped with said onions and some of my homemade applesauce, they were simply delicious. My Beloved ate his in a single sitting but the rest of mine will furnish part of tonight's dinner.

Chopzilla, Destroyer of Hunger.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

The Gimmes

Not all the treasures at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa are edible. When I saw these lovely little napkin rings on a shelf in one of the shops, I was immediately struck with a serious case of the Gimmes.

The Gimmes, according to my mother, is an illness that hits little kids when they see things in a store that they just can't live without and they pester their mothers to buy for them:

Give me=Gimme.

Most people are worried about getting H1N1 - I'm more susceptible to the Gimmes and beautiful table wares frequently give me the Gimmes.

The birds are made of pewter in marvelously detailed castings. They stand solidly on their rings and the birds and branches are wonderfully delicate and precise. I could just picture them on my table.

I may have learned to control the Gimmes but My Beloved recognizes the signs now and, although I had passed them up as being too expensive, he bought four on the sly and presented them to me over cupcakes and milk at Kara's.

This amazing man gives me the Gimmes, too.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sweet Surprises

On a recent rainy Saturday, we took Cora and our pal Sari up to Napa to visit the Oxbow Public Market, a foodie paradise next to the now-defunct Copia. It's a great location for a rainy day, as it's entirely indoors and there is a wonderful variety of shops that cater to the food-obsessed crowd, of which I am a proud member.

One of the delights we sampled that day are mini cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes, dainty little treasures found at a truly dangerous emporium in the market. I tried one of the mocha and one of the dark chocolate velvet flavors - both are dreamy but one would have been ample. Unusual in a cupcake, the cake was as tasty as the sumptuous buttercream icing. Despite their diminutive size, they pack a wallop! We were in cupcake coma for hours afterward, even though they were not terribly sweet.

Knowing that we were headed to a birthday celebration for daughter Katie the next day, we bought a dozen of the tiny terrors to take along to the party - flavors like passionfruit, coconut, peanut butter chocolate, raspberry, lemon filled with lemon curd and carrot as well as the usual chocolate, vanilla, yadda.

The cupcakes were sweet surprises for the partygoers - they were divided and subdivided so many could taste several flavors and everyone pronounced them to be delicious and sweetly sinful.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On A Raclette Kick

I'm learning more about raclette every time I make it, which is frequently in the past month or so - I seem to be on a raclette kick. Something about my Irish side loves the idea of spuds in any form whatever and if you add slightly stinky French cheese and (this time) bacon, all the rest of my genes sit up and beg for dinner.

I wish I had known about raclette while I was still working - this is the perfect dish for a busy worker bee, ready in a flash. The traditional pickles and pickled onions are already prepared and I would have boiled a bunch of small red potatoes and fried a few extra strips of bacon on the weekend so I was ready to heat them briefly in the microwave, pop on the cheese and other toppings, run it under the broiler while quickly steaming a veg or tossing a salad, et voila! Even without pre-cooking the spuds and bacon, this dish could go from ingredients in the fridge to finished dinner in about half an hour.

The block of raclette cheese I bought this time was softer and riper than the previous two I have tried, nicely stinky and a little sticky when I unwrapped it, less like Swiss and more like epoisse. Trimmed of it's orange outer rind, it made a simply killer raclette. Had I not added the bacon bits, it still would have been one of the best raclettes I have made; with the bacon bits it was Raclette Nirvana.

I promise not to post every single variation of this recipe that I try on my raclette kick, but the possibilities are endless!

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fridge Clearing Pizzas

So, we had these very large homemade English muffins lying around, really too big to enjoy with breakfast, so big they really are breakfast. What to do?

As usual, I had a lot of odds and ends in the fridge so it occurred to me in a blinding flash of brilliance that I could make English muffin pizzas and, in an even more brilliant inspiration, that I could let My Beloved construct his own dream pizzas while I assembled mine.

I fried a strip of bacon and chopped it; sizzled some minced herbed salami; and sauteed a single breakfast link worth of sausage for the meaty choices. Prepped some sliced green onions, tomato, broccoli, mushrooms, minced garlic for the veggie part. Made some tomato goop as a base for all that pizza goodness (
mix tomato sauce and tomato paste in roughly equal proportions and add oregano to taste), and we were ready to roll.

On the right is my traditional combination of muffin brushed with olive oil, tomato goop topped with mozzarella and raclette cheeses, sliced mushrooms, crumbled sauteed sausage, sliced green onion and sliced fresh tomato. Very nice, but the real winner is the one on the left. It was also made with tomato goop (To me, it's just not pizza without tomato goop) on a muffin that was lightly brushed with olive oil before topping, then layered with broccoli florets, Humboldt Fog goat cheese, crumbled bacon and some thin slices of fresh tomato.

We slid them onto the preheated pizza stone at 500 degrees for just a few minutes until all the cheese melted and lightly browned.

This is a stellar way to use up the odds and ends from the fridge - My Beloved enjoyed playing with his ingredients as much as I did, and we both ended up with a satisfying supper.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Breakfast Bomb

My Beloved has a busy week of work coming up and his breakfast time is limited. He usually makes his own breakfast but I'm pitching in this week. I decided to try making the homemade equivalent of a certain sinful breakfast sandwich,* switching a few ingredients.

I toasted an English muffin while I warmed in a small frying pan a few thin slices of the herbed salami that came in our CARE package (yes, it's still yielding delicious meals!), adding an egg once the salami was ready. My Beloved likes his eggs "over easy" but I didn't want him to goober his shirt, so I pierced the yolk and cooked it almost through before topping it with raclette cheese for a few minutes of melting.

Assembled into a quickly-edible sandwich, My Beloved pronounced it fit for breakfast but, because of the strong-tasting sausage and cheese, perhaps a little better suited to lunch. Nevertheless, he headed out the door fueled for his busy day of work by this serious breakfast bomb.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Muffins, Man

Having read on three different blogs about the ease of making homemade English muffins, I decided to try them myself. I looked at this recipe but I had no sourdough starter so I followed this one instead.

They really are pretty easy! The hardest part is the patience one needs to await the risings, and I have to admit I wasn't quite patient enough. I waited out the first rising but I hurried the second one so my muffins were heavier, denser than my usual gold standard muffins, Thomas' brand.

They were also far larger! Next time, I'd make 16 muffins from the recipe rather than 8 - one of these is a meal in itself and half of one is a good, solid breakfast!

They are tasty, however, despite the lack of rising yeast bubbles that make nooks and crannies, and I'd happily do them again another time, probably for house guests, using the overnight rising method.

There's a real thrill to making your own muffins, man!


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Good Medicine

My friend Momo is recovering from knee surgery so she is currently confined to quarters. She's a multi-talented marbling (ebru) artist, book binder and photographer, so her enforced layoff is no fun at all. Also, I hadn't seen her in a while, so I offered to bring her some lunch the other day. I made Salade Nicoise.

The salmon was some I had planked a few days earlier. The egg was deviled with curry powder. I made the vinaigrette for the potato salad with a lemon from my own tree and fresh thyme and thyme blossoms from the garden. Add a few olives and some cornichons and it may not be a very classic Salade Nicoise, but it was mighty good medicine, as was our shared laughter.


Friday, May 1, 2009

The First Swallow of Spring

Here in California, we are spoiled. Not only is our soil fertile and our ocean plentiful (with the exception of certain overfished species) but we get to barbecue early here. Memorial Day is a month away and already we did our first planking of the year while other parts of the country are still awaiting green leaves and, in some cases, even the melting of snow.

We discovered planking about five years ago at an art and wine festival we attended on a whim. While waiting in line for a hot dog, I noticed there was no line waiting for the guy who was preparing planked salmon, so I suggested to My Beloved that we give it a try. Rarely have I tasted anything so simple yet divine. I begged for the "recipe" from the chef and he very kindly obliged me.

I've written about planking before and you can read that here, if you'd like. I can recommend it highly - it keeps the fish (or scallops, poultry) deliciously moist and tender while imparting a lightly smoky flavor to the meat. The plank shields the meat from the fierce heat of the coals and yet dinner is ready in fifteen minutes or less.

I'm not sure if the swallows have returned to Capistrano yet, but we are already swallowing our favorite summer dinner.

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