Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Teri Light

In the aftermath of the attack, My Beloved brought home sympathy presents for Cora and me. Cora got a package of stew meat that I will make into stew for her as soon as the vet okays it. He gave me a bouquet of mixed bright flowers, a small box of chocolates, a dozen tangerines and a tri-tip roast. You'd think it was I who got her ear bitten.

Mild weather always makes me think of barbecuing and we were having gloriously sunny, warm weather so I thought about a marinade for the tri-tip. I was in the mood for teriyaki but didn't want the sweet, heavy flavors, so I experimented with what I'm calling Teri Light.

Orange peel, light soy sauce, chopped green garlic, sugar, ginger, rice vinegar, orange juice, pepper, tri-tip. I can't really tell you how much of each I used, just sort of splashed them into a baggie, tasting and changing until it tasted sweet-tart-salt-lightly spicy, then popped the meat in and left it out on the counter for about an hour while I prepped the Weber, started the fire and made a lemony dipping sauce for the accompanying artichokes. Oh, and I turned the baggie a few times during that hour to marinate all sides of the roast.

I grilled it for about 7-10 minutes per side over a medium-hot fire. The result was killer, exactly what I had hoped, with all the teriyaki flavors laid very lightly over the beefy goodness. We had trouble restraining ourselves. I quickly popped the leftovers into the fridge to get them out of sight. Cora was looking hopeful and pathetic (did I mention that she graduated summa cum laude from the Sarah Bernhardt School of Acting?), so after dinner I cut up the last slice on my plate into small bits, which she took ever so gently from my fingers.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Cheese Paring

There's an old epithet, "cheese-paring," which means being cheap. I'll admit it, I'm frugal. Sparing. Thrifty. Economical. Okay, cheap.

As I was cutting the rind off the raclette cheese prior to melting, I found myself wondering what one could do with it, rather than simply discard it. There wasn't much left, just a few thin wafers, but I somehow knew that a frugal Swiss housewife would have saved it for another meal.

So, here's my question: what would you do with the rind of a fairly soft cheese like this? Anything? Or am I being too cheeseparing?

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Monkey See, Monkey Do

When I was a little kid trying to imitate my big sister and older brother, they would mock me with "Monkey see, monkey do!" It made me cry. Lots of things the older kids did made me cry. I'd like to say that my tears made them sorry, but they didn't unless Mom intervened and even then they weren't truly sorry, just sorry they got caught. Such is the tough life of the youngest kid. Heavy sigh.

So, here I am, about 55 years later, still imitating my "big sister," in this case Cookiecrumb, who has been blogging longer than I.

She made fried rice a few days ago (March 22nd) and, as is often the case, I wanted to copy her. Oh, I made a few tweaks because I had different ingredients in the fridge but it's essentially the same. I put in some green garlic, celery, onions, carrot, chopped cabbage, scrambled egg and leftover corned beef from St. Patrick's Day. I fried the veggies by density so they'd all be done perfectly at the same time, starting with the carrots and corned beef, and working my way to the cabbage and lastly the leftover rice. Then I pushed it all to one side in the wide pan I used and poured the egg into the other half, swirling it around until it was just set before cutting it into pieces and mixing it in with the rest of the ingredients. The result was a fun confetti of flavors, but anyone who saw this would chant, "Monkey see, monkey do!" in that nasty sing-song voice the big kids always used.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

She's Doing Okay

Ever since Cora arrived two days after Christmas, rain or shine every morning I put on my bathrobe, slip into my shoes and jacket, and my gentle Cora and I go out as the sky is lightening; I stand and admire the bay while she sniffs around (a friend calls it "picking up her pee mail"), wags tails with the neighbor's dog, and does her morning business. The lights are on in a few houses and sometimes we can hear stirrings but we have our tiny street pretty much to ourselves. Then, I bag her poop, we go back inside and she has breakfast while I read my email. We enjoy our ten minutes of peaceful morning ritual.

Yesterday morning, just out of sight in the twilight, I heard Cora screeching in pain and charged over to find that she had been attacked by a pitbull who doesn't live in our neighborhood but was being babysat at a house nearby and was thoughtlessly let out unleashed. I won't go into all the details but I finally managed to make the dog let go of Cora's ear by a combination of shouting, swearing, hitting and choking it with its own collar. The babysitter arrived just in time for me to hand the pitbull to her and run after Cora, who fled home as soon as she was released. We rushed to the emergency vet with Cora's ear all torn and bleeding.

She's doing okay and she's glad to be home. The vet there took a careful, meticulous hour and a half to stitch together her ear while she was under anesthesia. She came home with pain meds, a drain in her neck and antibiotics, and we are hopeful that because she's young and strong, she will retain the ear, but we will love her even if she ends up lop-sided. The kind young vet even offered that with all the "feathers" Cora has around her ears it won't show much even if she does lose it.

I talked to the pitbull's babysitters and they are most apologetic and distressed; they also offered very responsibly to pay all the vet bills. I'm sure the pitbull had no track record of attacks, or they'd have been more careful. Nevertheless, I called the animal services department in my county and reported the incident in case there are ever any more involving this dog. The vet said I was damn lucky not to be bitten, myself, but I didn't think of that at the time and I'm glad I didn't.

I know that not all pitbulls are bad and this dog showed me no aggression,
despite the beating it received at my hands, when I went to the house to tell them I was reporting the incident, but if you have a pitbull or one lives near you, please be careful and cautious. If you own one, don't let it out unleashed - you can never know if or when it will attack. They have been bred for centuries to bite and never, ever to let go. I am sad for my Cora, who is now timid about going outside and in a great deal of pain, but I am haunted by the thought that it might have happened to the aging yellow labrador who lives next door, or a child, or even a grownup.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Variety Is The Spring Of Life

The raclette we ate a couple of weeks ago was so easy and so scrumptious that I couldn't wait until a decent amount of time had passed so I could try it again.

I had found some green garlic at the farmer's market but I didn't have any more back bacon, so I decided to use some of the corned beef left over from St. Patrick's Day.

Raclette is so very simple, that it's easy to tweak with just a change or two. This time, I sauteed the chopped white and light green parts of a green garlic shaft in a little butter before adding lardons of the corned beef to the pan to heat briefly. I layered the garlic and corned beef into a small casserole dish, topping them with boiled red potato chunks and slabs of raclette cheese before running the dish under the broiler just long enough to bubble and lightly gild the cheese before serving.

The green garlic gave little pockets of intensely sweet spring flavor to the slightly salty beef and savory cheese. What might otherwise have been the perfect winter dish was brightened by the presence of spring in the form of
green garlic freshly sprouted in the warming sunshine.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Snatches Of Soup

"...and she makes hers with leeks. It's the best!"

Sometimes, I catch a snatch of conversation like that at a party; when I do, I have to search out the person who said it, and find out what they were talking about. This is the way I always found great recipes before the advent of food blogs.

This time, it was my pal Sari at a dinner with friends, describing her mother's butternut squash soup. She went on to tell me that her mother sautes the leeks in butter and roasts the squash in the oven before adding water to simmer until it's ready to puree. Sounded good and I already had leeks in the fridge, so the next time I was at the store I scored a butternut.

Having only the sketchiest idea of how Sari's Mom made her soup, I started with the part I knew - halve the butternut, place it face down on a baking sheet and bake it until soft and saute' the white and light green parts of three small washed leeks in a little butter. A few days ago, I read Cookiecrumb's March 11th piece about using cooking waters and, since I had some left over from simmering our St. Patrick's Day corned beef, I defatted and strained it, adding it in place of the water in the soup. The result was lightly salty and gently flavored with notes from all three - the corned beef, the roasted squash and the leeks. I thought it could be improved by adding yogurt so I tried that, three nice big tablespoons full of European style, and some cracked black pepper and a few crunchy garlic croutons for garnish and texture. Success!

Experiencing a brief return to chilly winter weather last Sunday, it was the perfect entree. My Beloved and I sat down to a steaming bowl of Snatched Soup and toasted Sari's Mom with our first spoonful.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lovely Wine Country Day

When My Beloved's brother was in town from Cape Cod this past weekend, the weather was perfectly lovely so we decided to introduce him and his wife to our favorite winery, the elegant Ferrari-Carano in Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg. Ted's wife, Kim, is an avid gardener, so we knew she'd love touring the beautifully tended grounds at Ferrari-Carano, complete with a waterfall and a pond with a serene bronze statue of a crane. It's a lovely setting for some of the best wines MB and I have found.

We took Cora along, since she counts any day out with us as an adventure not to be missed, and would rather wait patiently in the car than stay home alone. She was good as gold during our picnic in the square at Healdsburg. She waited under a shady tree at the first winery we visited. She's awfully good and she adds to our enjoyment.

Most of the time.

We arrived at Ferrari-Carano a few minutes before the carload of relatives so, armed with cleanup baggies, I took Cora on her retractable leash to stretch her legs until they arrived, noting a conspicuous sign that said no dogs were allowed into the grounds of the winery. No problem; I certainly understood that such carefully tended gardens deserved respect and appreciation without canine complications.

There was an amazingly beautiful, big rooster in full resplendent plumage posing on the lawn by the parking lot, looking as if he had enough testosterone and attitude to actually challenge me, so I gave him a wide berth. Cora, however, noticed him only when he moved, with which she lunged to the end of her leash, pulling it right out of my hand, and took off after the cocky cockerel! If she hadn't had the plastic housing of the retractable leash bouncing along around her legs, she'd have surely caught him - he was ahead by only the merest whisper.

She chased him around a tree, then off into the shrubbery with me shouting, "No! No! NO!" as I ran along behind, vainly trying to grab the leash again as they disappeared into the bushes where I couldn't follow. I tore around to the garden side and through the iron gate to find Cora completely immersed in the pond, thrashing back and forth under the waterfall.

The trailing leash caught on a rock in the pool and, as Cora tried another side of the pond to exit, it tangled around the elegant legs of the bronze crane and toppled it in slow, slow motion into the water as the enraged gardener glared from me to the dog and back at me.

Finally stopped by the tangled leash, Cora climbed out of the pool and submitted to being caught, but she promptly added insult to injury by shaking, spraying me and the furious gardener liberally with pond water. I returned to the car, subdued, mortified and dirty, with a panting, dripping dog to retrieve a beach towel just as the carload of relatives pulled up. They actually thought it was funny.
Heaven only knows where the rooster ended up - I'm sure his heart rate still hasn't returned to normal!

I have never needed a glass of wine quite so much as I did that day. I bellied up to the elegant Enoteca bar, pond water and all, and as the other patrons edged away from my smelly self, thanked heaven for the generous tastings they pour at Ferrari-Carano.

If you click on this link, you will see where I borrowed the image of the rooster. My thanks to them.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Irish Despite The Orange

It seems disrespectful to add anything orange to food as typically Irish as soda bread, but I confess that I, a daughter of the Auld Sod, did just that and on St. Patty's Day, no less!

I added orange peel to the traditional raisins and caraway seeds.

You see, Cookiecrumb and Cranky had gifted me with some of the wonderful navel oranges from their tree, and the peel of those oranges is as good as the insides. Preparing to start the soda bread, I stopped to peel an orange for snacking, and inspiration struck.

I used my zester to peel thin strips of the vibrant orange skin, chopped the strips into half inch pieces, and mixed them into the dough. The result was deeply fragrant bread dotted with sweet pockets of dark raisins, zingy spots of orange and just a hint of caraway under all that goodness.

I was wearing green and singing "Irish Eyes" as I committed this blasphemy - I hope that will compensate enough that my Irish ancestors will forgive me.

Irish Soda Bread with Orange Peel, adapted from Gourmet magazine, October 1991

4 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose unbleached and it was fine)
1 Tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (another time, I might add just a tad more)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins or dried currants, rinsed in hot water and patted dry
1 Tablespoon caraway seeds (a bit more of these wouldn't hurt, either, next time)
zest of one orange, orange part only, cut into thin strips of about 1/2 inch in length
2 cups buttermilk

Into a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and stir in the raisins, caraway seeds and orange peel. Add the buttermilk and stir the mixture until it forms a dough. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead briefly, about one minute.

Shape two equal round loaves out of the dough and place them on buttered parchment paper on a baking sheet. (You can omit the parchment, if you want, but it makes cleanup a lot easier). Cut an X 1/4 inch deep across the tops with a sharp knife and bake the loaves in the middle of a preheated 350 degree F oven for 45-55 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Transfer the loaves to a rack to cool.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Over The Top Oysters

The sign inside The Village Fish House restaurant in Carmel Valley gave lip service to eating locally, offering discounts Tuesday through Friday for drinking local wines or ordering locally raised food. Why then, did they offer only oysters from the Hood Canal in Washington State instead of the excellent locally grown oysters available here in Northern California?

I can only assume it was for their size. The picture doesn't do them justice but each shell was as long as my hand and nearly as wide.

This "appetizer" plate of six of the biggest, plumpest, juiciest oysters I've ever eaten would have satisfied the appetite of a stevedore and killed the appetite of anyone who labors less than that! Simply enormous, they are the only oysters I've eaten which required two large or three smaller bites to consume - I honestly don't think they could have been downed in a single swallow.

They were cooked to perfection with a very light dusting of garlic mince and buttered crumbs on top and bathed in nothing but their own briny goodness. They had been oak-grilled so they had a smokiness as well - pure, over-the-top oyster goodness, even if they did come all the way from the Hood Canal.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Simple, Green

Hurray and Hallelujah, here they are, the first local, fresh asparagus of the season!

This is the exact color of the grass on the hills of the Carmel Valley right now, so bright a chartreuse that it seems lit from within. The winter rains in northern California change the hills from the gold of summer to this luscious green, a miraculous resurgence of life that seems at odds with the rest of the country where winter colors are off the spectrum into gray, black and white. My favorite color is new green.

I dithered about how to prepare them - steam? saute'? soup? - but finally decided simply to grill them, brushed with a hint of olive oil, until they developed little brown spots and turned this bright, shiny spring green. I didn't even salt or pepper them, just washed them and snapped the stems before laying them with reverence across the bars of the grill.

We ate them with a fat pork chop, applesauce and roasted potatoes - winter giving way to spring on the plate as well as outside the window. Happy Spring!


Thursday, March 19, 2009


Mi-Careme. Halfway through Lent. When I was parked in a French boarding school 'way back when God was a child, we celebrated Mi-Careme by breaking our Lenten fasts and having a grand old dress-up costume party. This French custom is fast disappearing and that's too bad, as it was an awful lot of fun. Whatever we had given up for Lent, we got to resume for one evening and whatever we had lying around constituted a "costume."

They were actually pretty clever, considering that we had virtually nothing to work with. That's me in the upper left corner
at age 16, dressed as a black cat. (Click on the photo to enlarge). You can also see my pal Sunny in the middle of the front row of chairs, the harem girl with her veiled face, dramatic eye makeup and updo. Bonnie, my other Cours Maintenon friend who also landed here in the Bay area, had already departed, so she's not in the picture. One of Picasso's daughters was there, too - I think she's the shorter of the two skiing accidents at the top right. We had French poodles, clowns, togas, skeletons, devils, gypsies - you name it, these girls dreamed it up!

So, we are at Mi-Careme today. Break your fast, dress up in a goofy costume and have a great day! I gave up Facebook for Lent - does this mean I get to check in?


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Artichoke

I'm probably anthropomorphizing too much to say that this artichoke was happy, but that's the word that sprang to mind as I peeled back the layers of leaves to find its earthy heart.

Steamed first, I think with some olive oil in the water as it was gleaming, then grilled to near-blackness, it was one of the best thistles it has been my pleasure to consume. The grilling imparted a smoky depth to each leaf and the heart was especially rich in flavor. A squeeze of lemon was all that was needed - it was served with some kind of mayonnaise-y sauce but the oil with which it was steamed gave it plenty of richness.

We found this preparation at The Village Fish House restaurant in the Carmel Valley. I'm going to try making it at home as soon as we have a good grilling day. I could steam extra artichokes one day and grill the leftovers the next day, two happy pleasures for the work of one.


Monday, March 16, 2009

California Style Crab

Off on my birthday adventure, which had been postponed due to My Beloved's sore throat, we stopped at the Sea Breeze Market and Deli in Berkeley for a quick lunch on our way to Carmel Valley.

The Sea Breeze is a great place to enjoy on a pretty day; it's one of the first places My Beloved took me when I moved to California, and it's one of the reasons why I wanted to stay. Not only do they have good food, the extremely casual style typifies to me what is best about California, the laid-back, laissez faire vibe.

At the Sea Breeze, it's okay to bring your dog, to dress casually, to lean back in the sunshine and just chill for a few minutes. All ages are represented from grandmothers strolling their grandchildren to punk rockers with dangling chains and shiny zippers to workmen on a break - and everyone is having a good time, enjoying the sunshine and their favorite foods.

I usually order the fried oysters when I go to the Sea Breeze - they are always plump, juicy and fresh - but this time I spied on the menu board something called "Garlic Crab." Okay, so, garlic and crab being two of the highest deities in my personal hierarchy, I asked for half a crab.

I should have ordered a whole crab.

When I unwrapped the silver foil, I found steamed, cracked, fresh Dungeness crab with garlic butter poured over it, pooling in the bottom, and lemon wedges at the ready. OMG. It was simply a wonderful way to present the crab. MB and I shared like good little children but it wasn't easy. Our fingers were smeared with lemony, buttery, crabby goodness and we both had serious garlic breath by the time we finished. MB discovered that he could dip the leftover bread from his meal in the garlic butter to prolong the feast. I dipped, too.

For sheer California bliss, I can't imagine anything that could top a pretty day, garlic crab at the Sea Breeze, and an adventure with My Beloved in the offing.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Dog Day Morning

In the time Before Cora (BC), I used to go for walks at Point Isabel just to enjoy the scenery and the happy dogs running free, off-leash and loving life. I was a little envious of all the dog owners, who seemed to be having just as much fun as their dogs, but at the time, I had two cats at home and a full-time job. I'd enjoy the walk and a stop at the cleverly-named Sit and Stay Cafe, but always wished for a canine companion to enjoy fully the Point Isabel experience.

Ever since Cora arrived in our lives, I've been thinking of treating her to a morning with her brethren. She gets mightily excited when other dogs are around and her herding genes come to the fore - she always tries to get any and all dogs (and people) into a bunch, and will run and bark tirelessly until she is satisfied. I had my doubts about how she'd react to hundreds of dogs at a time.

This morning being sunny and crisp, the lure was irresistible; after a hearty breakfast of Cheese Dreams, I bundled her into the car and headed for the park. Point Isabel has 23 joyous acres of grass, water, fields and sidewalks and ever so many dogs of all descriptions, from mincing Chihuahuas with attitude to lumbering Newfoundlands without - Cora was on overwhelm from the first minute. She ran, she chased, she sniffed, she barked, she waded up to her watchit in the puddles - in short, she had a whale of a good time and would still be there running if a kind stranger hadn't stepped on her trailing leash for me to bring her to a panting halt.

Then, off to the aptly-named Mudpuppy's, a facility where one can either bathe one's own dog or have the kind staff do it for you. I opted for the latter and went to Sit and Stay for the best cup of coffee I've had in the Bay area while they rinsed all the mud of the morning from her coat. The dog I got back 15 minutes later was sweet smelling, fluffy and ready to go again! This girl has stamina!

We came home, however, as I had had enough walking for one day and as I write she is flat out in the sunshine, yipping in her sleep, reliving in her dreams a fine dog day morning.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009


Lacking the Swiss chalet covered with snow, the roaring fire and, incidentally, the fireplace, still I wanted to try making raclette, a dish made classically by melting cheese next to a fire and scraping the lovely, now-gooey stuff onto warm potatoes. Sounds heavenly, doesn't it?

When my pal Sari and I were at Market Hall in Oakland, we visited the cheese shop where I spied a handsome wedge of raclette. It smelled wonderful, nutty like Swiss cheese but a little smellier, earthier. Here was my chance to try raclette.

Once I got home, however, and the girly thrill of brunch and shopping wore off a bit, I realized that My Beloved would ask, when served raclette, "Where's the meat?" Meals are not meals to him if they don't contain some serious animal protein and no amount of explaining that cheese is exactly that will convince him.

Then I remembered that he had bought some Irish back bacon when he was last at the store (I love sending him to the store - he always brings home stuff I would never think of buying) so I thought to add that to the classic spud-and-cheese raclette recipe.

I boiled some chunked red potatoes while the back bacon sizzled in the iron frying pan, removing the bacon when it was lightly browned and cutting it into bite-sized pieces. When the potatoes were tender, I drained and tossed them in the frying pan, stirring them around to coat with the small amount of bacon fat (back bacon is very lean compared to belly bacon), then topped them with the bacon and thick slices of the raclette cheese. Under the broiler to melt and lightly brown the cheese, and less than five minutes later we sat down to an amazing meal.

The potatoes made a wonderful undercarriage for the salty bacon and earthy, unctuous cheese. It's simple food, hearty and sustaining. Makes you wish you were Swiss, or at least had spent all day schussing down the slopes.

Years ago we tore out our fireplace in favor of a sweeping view of the bay and we rarely miss it; last night might have been one of those times. We'd still have been missing the snow and the chalet, however, so we lit the candles and called that good enough.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mushroom Bacon Burgers

My Beloved likes variety. If he could have a dinner with every bite different, I think he'd define that as heaven. At restaurants, I can count on him to order the mixed seafood item. At home, he contents himself with alternating bites of whatever we are having for dinner. Knowing this about him and knowing that all I had in the fridge for dinner was hamburger (again!), I decided to try adding a variety of flavors to the meat.

We had a few strips of bacon in the fridge so I quickly sauteed those and chopped them in small pieces, then cooked some finely chopped mushrooms in the same pan before mixing those ingredients into the hamburger, forming patties and returning them to the frying pan. The result was a nicely bacony, mushroomy, moist burger, just a little change from the ordinary.

He ate it all. He said thank you. He meant it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rockridge Rocks For Brunch

My pal Sari and I often meet for brunch late on a Saturday or Sunday morning - she's a working girl (no, not that kind!) so she relishes a chance to sleep in on the weekends. I go wherever she suggests - she's an expert at brunch.

This past weekend, we tried the Rockridge Cafe on College Avenue in the trendy, youthful Rockridge section of Oakland - Sari is youthful and trendy - but it was full and had a long waiting list so we stopped next door at Citron and the menu read deliciously, so we went in.

Citron is a lovely restaurant. Quietly comfortable, white tablecloths, soothing decor with interesting photographs on the walls, it gave us a peaceful hour to catch up while we enjoyed our brunch. The wait staff was attentive and alert to two coffee-starved girlfriends, and they even brought two complimentary bite-sized beignets to enjoy with our coffee while we studied the menu.

Mexican food for breakfast is new to me but I've been in an adventurous mood lately so I ordered Chilaquiles, not because I had tied one on the night before but just to try something different. The tortillas within the eggs were still crispy, a nice contrast to the unctuous scramble. There were some fiery chilis in there, too, but not too many, just enough to give flavor and an eye-opening surprise from time to time. This version came with pulled pork instead of the more traditional chicken, an innovation to which I can only shout "Ole!" and the fresh fruit garnish made for a pretty plate with the eggs, guacamole and crema.

Citron is a little more expensive than other places might be but it suited our mood and our palates perfectly. It's worth a minor splurge every now and then to catch up in such nice surroundings with a special pal. After brunch, we strolled along College Avenue in the sunshine enjoying the shops and ending at the gorgeous Market Hall where I bought lovely dinner makings. All in all, just about as perfect a brunch adventure as we could have asked for!


Monday, March 9, 2009

The Bitter With The Sweet

When I resolved to buy new-to-me ingredients every time I went to the store, little did I know I'd end up with a crisper full of strange root-like veggies, all clamoring to be used at once.

I had picked up a rutabaga in honor of my mother who forced us to choke down steamed rutabaga about once a year - I think she thought it built character. We didn't and it didn't, as far as I can tell, but I decided to give it another try on the strength of my success with the formerly-hated kale.

I had also snagged a couple of parsnips, something Mom hated so never cooked and I had never tasted. Seemed like a good year to try them. We had purchased some pale and beautiful Belgian endive for some recipe that then I forgot to clip out of the newspaper. Plus onions; the last time My Beloved went to the store for me, he loaded up on onions for some mysterious reason.

All these veggies had languished in the crisper awaiting my inspiration, which was slow in coming. So, My Beloved being away on a business trip and me being left alone with the shouting roots and shoots, I decided to make some kind of layered casserole-type bake that I could eat and reheat easily, something like potatoless scalloped potatoes. I didn't have much milk but I did have some chicken broth, cider and bacon. I thought that perhaps the bitter rutabaga, parsnips and endive would be jazzed with the salty bacon and sweetened with the apple juice.

This is a recipe that rewards a food processor or a mandoline; there's a lot of slicing to be done. As I sizzled the bacon, I sliced all four veggies thinly, then layered them messily in eight layers (two sets of each veggie) with the bacon lardons into a cast iron frying pan that I had liberally painted with bacon fat. (Another time, I'd just cook the bacon in the same pan I used for the layering and pour out most of the fat but I had planned to use my fancypants casserole/serving dish before I ran out of room in it and switched to the frying pan).

Over the layers, I poured a mixture of about a cup of chicken broth, a cup of apple cider and a half cup of milk (all in the fridge, needing eating). I left out the salt as the bacon was salty and I wish I'd remembered to pepper the layers, too, but oh, well...

Because it seemed a little scant on liquids compared to other bakes I've made, I covered the skillet with aluminum foil to retain some moisture and slid it into a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes before uncovering it and baking for an additional 40 minutes or so.

The dish has promise but I'm not sure I have the heart to keep trying with it. First, there was plenty of moisture in the veggies so tenting just prolonged the cooking - not a good thing. It needed more bacon and some salt - too bland by half - and the forgotten pepper would have helped, too! The apple juice was a sad mistake - 'way too sweet!

Cooking is like this sometimes, disappointingly unlike what one had in mind. The dish I had hoped to make was savory rather than sweet and somehow richer, more of a one-dish meal. Ah, well, as Mom would have said, in life you must take the bitter with the sweet - it builds character.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pretty Sweet Little Stew

You may recall that we had a little lamb left from the shanks that simmered all day in our crock pot - I was planning to make curry with it so I saved the meat and the rich brown goozly broth from the bottom of the pot.

I wanted to make something similar to a Thai curry, thick with chunks of potatoes and carrots like they served at the Thai restaurant near my workplace; now that I'm retired, what I miss most aside from my students and coworkers is the variety of restaurants nearby. I had a couple of fresh carrots, half an onion and two big red potatoes but, when I opened the vegetable drawer, I noticed that I had half of a small kabocha squash as well, and to my combination of parsimony and taste memory that sounded pretty good.

I peeled and chunked the veggies and coarsely chopped the lamb and plopped them all back into the goozle, warming the meat and simmering the veggies. When I lifted the lid to add the curry part I was struck by the beauty of the stew with its fall colors, and the scent that wafted up was pure winter heaven. It smelled richly of lamb and sweetly of onion and squash. I decided not to mess with perfection.

I just scooped it all into bowls, added a few slices of sour baguette, and called it dinner. My Beloved and I had one of those moments where we taste, meet each other's eyes and grin. Pretty sweet little stew, indeed!

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Molly's Book

Oh, my dears, you really must read this one.

Molly sent us an advance copy of her book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table, our perq for being her relatives, but I'd be singing its praises even if she was a stranger.

In this wonderfully humorous and touching book, Molly talks with surprising intimacy about her family, especially her father, and about her relationship with them and with the food they share. The writing is delicious as befits a book about food, like the best of Orangette concentrated in a single volume (but these essays are not just reprints from Orangette, they are new).

Molly has a way of describing food that makes me begin immediately to review the contents of my fridge and cupboards, hoping I have all the ingredients so I can begin cooking right away.
The two recipes I've already tried from it, Cream-Braised Cabbage and her Dad's potato salad, are really mouthwatering, and there are several more I can't wait to make.

Grab a copy! You're gonna love it, and her*.

In case you missed my earlier post, Molly will be in the Bay area in next week to talk about the book and to sign copies of it. Click here to see when she will be in your area.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

The Essence of Slow Food

The Slow Food movement just got a lot slower at our house. Digging through my china closet I discovered, wedged in the back on the floor behind a box of glasses I rarely use, the crock pot I bought for $2.00 at a garage sale years ago and had never used.

I confess that I've been somewhat skeptical about crock pots despite several friends who swear by their virtues. I bought this one on the recommendation of my pal Sari who has a plethora of crock pots in her kitchen, more than anyone else I know.

Having recently scored two beautiful locally grass-raised lamb shanks at the Paradise Market in Corte Madera, it seemed like a fine idea finally to try out this bargain basement purchase.

Loading the crock pot with the shanks and some aromatics was the work of a moment - the recipe didn't even call for browning the shanks first - so I clapped on the lid, set it to "high" and, sure enough, in just a few minutes, steam began to collect inside the clear plastic lid, reassuring me that my garage sale find was indeed functional.

After an hour or two, we noticed a rich lamb smell in the house and that Cora had positioned herself within sight of the crock pot. What emerged nearly 8 hours later were really delicious lamb shanks, so tender that the meat was literally falling off the bone as I lifted it gingerly out with tongs. The carrots, onions, garlic, rosemary, mustard, wine and shallots had flavored the meat and their relaxed remnants made a nice, soft accompaniment to it. All I added to the contents of the crock pot was a spoonful of bright green peas. We sat down to dinner with candles and the rest of the bottle of wine that I used in the pot, and ate a leisurely meal in true Slow Food tradition.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Rosemary by Lora Brody in Slow Cooker Cooking

Click on the link above for the recipe I used, with a few tweaks. I chose it mainly because I had all the ingredients on hand but I'd make it again in a heartbeat (or rather in 6 hours of heartbeats). The author claimed that there would be no leftovers but, in our case, there were. Two hefty lamb shanks is too much for us. I'm planning to make curry with the rest of the meat and with the juices left in the bottom of the crock pot.

Here are my tweaks: I used less garlic and added shallots, because I had less of the former and more of the latter. I also cooked it for less time than the recipe called for and, honestly, I think it would have been mush had I held out for the full 12 hours, at least in my crock pot. In fact, next time, I will try cooking it on high for 3 hours, then on low for 3 - I'm pretty sure that would be plenty.

I was on board with the Slow Food idea long before I tried cooking lamb shanks in a crock pot but I'm even more of a believer now.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mugging For The Camera

It is billed as "The Most Dangerous Cake" because it can be made in just five minutes. When my Hawaii brother sent me this recipe, I was skeptical. How could one possibly make chocolate cake in five minutes? However, usually game for a challenge, I waded in.

Turns out, you really can, if you define "cake" fairly loosely*, as I imagine one would be more than willing to do if one was desperate for a chocolate fix. This really works.

You make this cake in a mug in the microwave. I don't know where the recipe originated but here goes; it came via email so if you're the inventor, feel free to let us know:

Five Minute Chocolate Mug Cake

4 Tablespoons flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (I used unsweetened; the recipe didn't specify)
1 egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons oil (I'd be tempted to try melted butter next time)
3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (optional; I used less and spread them as icing on top after baking)
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to mug, mixing well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well, being careful to get all the dry ingredients that lurk in the corners incorporated. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and the vanilla extract, and mix again.

Put your mug in the microwave and zap for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (high). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed. Allow it to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate, if desired. (At this point, I added a layer of chocolate chips and nuked it a few seconds longer to melt the chips, then spread them like icing).

This could easily serve two, if you're in a mood to share.

*In my ancient microwave, it came out as a very dense, heavy 'cake,' somewhere on the fudgy end of brownies. Definite chocolate taste, not too sweet, surprisingly. I'm not a huge chocoholic, however, so I'd love some opinions from those of you who are.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Yes, Pecan!

If Ben and Jerry hadn't already used this name to honor President Obama with their butter pecan ice cream, I'd have taken it to name the best cookie I've made in a month of Sundays.

I found this recipe while trying to duplicate a cookie I had at, of all unlikely places, Starbucks - it was big and flat and buttery and full of pecans and little toffee chips - heaven in cookie format! I downloaded a recipe that sounded about right - it wasn't, but in some ways it's even better.

These delectable morsels have all the best ingredients - serious animal fat in the form of unsalted butter, refined sugar (two kinds!), toffee candy, white flour, whole eggs - in short, these are very, very bad for your heart, your waistline and your pocketbook.

They are very, very good, however, on the taste buds. If you like toffee and pecans, these are a must. They are sweetly nutty but not sickly sweet, they have some texture from the chunked toffee bars and nuts, and they are ever so slightly chewy, especially if you take them out before they are truly browned. Even though I don't usually like baking cookies, I will be volunteering to make these for any and all subsequent meetings, weddings, coffee hours, birthday parties, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs, commitment ceremonies, wakes, whatever! Try 'em and see what you think.

The basic recipe comes from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle, 2002. The only adaptation I made, other than some tweaks to the technique, is to substitute cracked Heath bar pieces for the pre-made English toffee bits in the recipe; I had read in the comments that the pre-made toffee bits don't give enough of a toffee flavor so I searched until I found Heath bars and gently cracked them with a hammer before unwrapping them. It wasn't a lot of work (except finding them! Locally, you can buy them at Andronico's markets but don't bother trying Long's or Target) and the rich toffee flavor is very evident when you use the cracked candy. The texture produced by the uneven chunks of candy is more interesting as well.

Toffee Pecan Cookies (makes about 6 dozen)

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (this works out to a stick and a half of butter, or 12 Tablespoons)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups English toffee pieces such as Skor or Heath (I recommend using Heath Bars. about 7 bars makes two cups of pieces)
1-3/4 cups pecans, toasted and chopped (I didn't toast mine - I'm famous for burning nuts while toasting)

Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Line baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. (I used parchment paper and no spray - worked like a champ!)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (I don't have one so just used my hand-held mixer) using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla extract. At this point the dough will look curdled or grainy. At low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing just until blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the toffee and pecans.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoonfuls (I used my smallest sorbet scoop) onto the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, for 14 - 16 minutes, until the cookies are starting to turn golden brown around the edges (I did two at once - so sue me, I'm impatient!). Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then carefully transfer them to wire racks to cool completely. Ms. Boyle says the recipe makes 48 cookies - mine must have been smaller as I got 6 dozen.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

I found these to be much tastier cool than they were immediately out of the oven. Yes, yes, yes Pecan! (and Toffee!)

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I'm not an enthusiastic cookie baker. I always groan inwardly when asked to make cookies for any function - I find them to be a lot of work for little reward. Like all bakers, I do have my favorite cookie recipes, including what I consider to be the gold standard for chocolate chip cookies, but I rarely make them. So much waiting around for cookies to come out of the oven, so much angst when they get too dark or not dark enough, so much washing of awkwardly-sized cookie sheets, so much temptation to eat more of them than is wise, or even humanly possible...

However, recently I was asked to bring after-dinner nibbles to a Neighborhood Watch meeting so after a heavy sigh I decided to try out a new recipe to at least liven up the chore. I tried out a new technique, too, and one that I can heartily recommend.

I used parchment paper to line my cookie sheets instead of the usual cooking spray. I had read this tip in "Best Kitchen Quick Tips," a gift from my friend Wenirs. It is written by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine; some of their tips were new to me and very useful.

Using parchment paper is not only easier to clean up (you just crumple it up and throw it away after one use) but it also allows you to prep as many trays of cookies as your kitchen counters will hold. You just slip a new paper full of cookie dough dollops onto the cookie sheets as soon as you have slid the hot ones off onto the counter. Cool the cookies for a few minutes and they lift right off onto the baking racks for final cooling. Using parchment paper shortens the whole baking process enormously and saves you from having to wash the cookie sheets between each batch.

I made another serendipitous discovery this time, as well. I have always hated my tiled kitchen counters - they are ugly and the grout traps every crumb and spill. However, when I laid the parchment paper on it, it made a useful spacing grid for the cookie dough that I could see through the paper. At last, a reason to like my "cool, vintage" counter top!

Cookie baking will never be my favorite kitchen activity but I have to admit it was far less onerous this time. I'll share the lovely new cookie recipe tomorrow; it's worth stopping back!


Monday, March 2, 2009

Quark Wars, Episode Three: The Home Team Triumphs!

Spread on Boston brown bread, the lemon quark makes a great breakfast or even a light lunch. I'm eating it for snacks, too, so puffed up in my own success am I.

Here's the finished recipe so you can try making it without all the hassle. It's better that way, all triumphant glow and no retreats to bed.

Pam's Lemon Quark

½ gallon whole milk
Juice from 4-5 lemons, plus very finely grated zest from 3-4 of them (the amount is a taste preference)
1 scant tsp sugar
1 pot large enough to hold ½ gallon of milk
1 pot large enough to hold most of the ½ gallon of milk
1 clean kitchen towel or cheese cloth large enough to cover the strainer and lap over the edges
1 strainer, preferably fairly small in diameter that will sit securely on the smaller pot
1 bowl for mixing the flavorings into the cheese

In the larger pot, scald the milk until small bubbles form around the edge of the pot and the milk is hot but not boiling. Add about 5-6 tablespoons of lemon juice to the hot mixture – you will know when you have added enough as white curds will form immediately, separating from the greenish whey. If you don't see this dramatic change, add more lemon juice.

Pour the hot liquid through the towel- or cheesecloth-lined strainer, capturing the curds and allowing the whey to drain down into the pot below. Gather the ends of the towel or cheesecloth together and suspend, if you can – this will hasten the draining. When the draining stops, the quark is ready for the next step. (Some recipes advocate squeezing the towel at this point to get rid of more whey but I found that if you don’t, you have about the right amount of moisture for the next step).

When the quark has drained to desired consistency (about 15 minutes? - this depends on the thickness of your towel), transfer it into a bowl, add more lemon juice to taste (about 3 tablespoons, but I like mine tangy), the scant teaspoon of sugar, the lemon zest and enough of the whey to moisten if you need more moisture. Using a hand mixer, beat the curds until they are fairly smooth and all the ingredients are mixed in, roughly the consistency of yogurt. (If you like a smoother texture, I think you could use a blender or put it in a food processor, but I haven't tried this). Taste and adjust for lemon/sugar balance, spread on bread or fresh fruit and enjoy! It yields about a cup of tasty spread. Keeps well in the refrigerator for about five days.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Quark Wars, Episode Two: Fall Back and Regroup

After retreating briefly to bed and pulling the covers over my head, discouraged by the rain, My Beloved's lack of health, and the miserable failure of my cheese experiments, I bounced back into the kitchen determined to try again.

It seemed that, if the milk didn't curdle much, I must have added too little acid, so I doubled up on the lemon juice in the remaining milk and the result was both immediate and heartening. White islands of curd separated in the blink of an eye from the greenish whey, just as they were supposed to do. Now, to strain them off.

On the first try, I used a very fine kitchen towel, doubled over, and learned why it is that cheese cloth is not a fine weave - it's because fine weaves won't let the whey drain through - it took hours.

This time, I used a single layer of a regular kitchen towel and the whey whisked down into the pot below, leaving a fistful of curds nicely patterned by the weave of the towel. These I dumped into a bowl to begin the seasoning.

The curds are almost tasteless at this point - I suppose the curdling lemon juice goes away in the whey. The flavor I was seeking was similar to the lemon quark I enjoyed from Spring Hill Cheese Company back in the summer. It's very slightly sweet and wonderfully perfumed with lemon and spreadable like hummus.

I added not only some lemon juice for moisture but some very finely grated lemon zest as well, then a pinch of sugar and stirred it together until it was homogenous, then let it stand for an hour or so to meld the flavors. It was delicious. Light and creamish but with a lively lemon punch and a little texture that reminded me of hummus.

I'd make this again in a heartbeat - it's easy once you fall back and regroup!