Monday, May 31, 2010

The Intimidator

You'd have liked my first mother-in-law, although you might have been awed at first as I was by her homemaking skills. She could have given Dale Earnhardt lessons in intimidation. She kept an immaculate house, cooked like an angel, sewed most of her own and her children's clothes, made beautiful handcrafts, cooked up killer jam and played a mean game of bridge.

It took me a while as a young bride to stop feeling defensive whenever she was around - she was that good!

Once I relaxed a bit, we had a lot of fun together, cooking up a storm in the kitchen, picking berries out on the coast, visiting garage sales and sending each other craft ideas. She also taught me how to make her version of strawberry shortcake.

Elna's shortcake is dense, almost like a scone - no resemblance to sponge cake here! She always crushed the berries and served the shortcake crumbled in a bowl sprinkled with a little sugar and splashed with heavy cream. It was a gloriously sloppy mess of soft shortcake with crunchy top bits, sweet juicy berries and rich cream.

I did take liberties with her recipe after I gained confidence. She used vegetable shortening, a flavor I have always found to be flat, so I subbed in butter and, to my taste, it made all the difference. I macerate my strawberries lightly with sugar but don't crush them with a potato masher as she did. But I still do serve them in a bowl with a splash of cream on top and I still think of her fondly every time I dip my spoon into that delicious g'mish.

Elna's Strawberry Shortcake (with slight changes and apologies to her)

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
2.2 oz (about 1/3 cup) cold butter, cut into pea-sized pieces
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
2-3 baskets of strawberries, macerated with sugar to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl. Work in the butter with fingertips or a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal. Beat the egg in a measuring cup and add milk to fill to 3/4 cup full. Mix in to dry ingredients with a spoon, gathering the shaggy mass together with your hands if there is extra flour in the bottom. Don't knead too much, just enough to gather it all together, and pat it into a roughly round cottage loaf shape. Place on a pie plate or baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.

If you can resist picking the crunchy bits off the top while it cools, you are a stronger person than I. Once cooled (or still warm, for that matter), top with macerated strawberries and a splash of heavy cream or half and half.

Serves 6-8 depending on appetite.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Inviting Controversy

If you don't like chicken livers, avert your eyes from the photo and come back tomorrow.

If you don't care for rosemary, see you domani!

That is, unless you want to surprise yourself with one of the most amazing combinations ever to cross your lips - chicken livers and rosemary.

I found the basic idea
for this recipe - chicken livers skewered with rosemary and gently sauteéd in butter - at, where it's about the second item that pops up when one types in "chicken livers." Most of the rest are either mousse, paté or chopped liver recipes. This one seemed intriguing to me, so I decided to try it with the chicken livers I found at Baron's Meats in Alameda, but with some changes of my own to make it even better.

First, I went next door to beg some 6" sprigs of rosemary from my neighbors' thriving plant - rosemary grows practically wild around here and everyone is glad if you'll prune their bushes a bit. Following the recipe, I cleaned and divided the chicken livers into lobes, then soaked them in milk in the fridge for an hour. While they were soaking, I got busy stripping the leaves from the rosemary stems so I had about 5" of bare stem with a tuft of leaves left at the top. Set those aside.

Next - and this is the part I added - I sauteéd in a wide frying pan two garlic cloves gently in generous butter, then added four good-sized mushrooms, sliced in thick slices, and sauteéd them in the same pan. I set aside the mushrooms to cool, reserving the pan for later.

When the soaking time was up, I rinsed the livers, threaded them alternately with the mushrooms onto the skewers, about two mushroom slices and two livers per skewer depending on the length of the skewer. Be sure to leave an inch or so of the stem uncovered; if you pick them up to turn them by the tuft end, everything slides off - you need that extra inch to grab hold with tongs or fingers when flipping.

Reheating the same buttery, garlicky, mushroomy pan, l laid in the skewers carefully to sauté on medium high heat until the rosemary softened and the livers were just barely done, still pink in the center. Sadly, the rosemary didn't keep its bright green color but, heavens! what a taste sensation it made! From the first bite, My Beloved was nodding while chewing and meeting my eyes with that "Baby, I love the way you cook" look that melts my heart.

This was easily the best thing I have cooked in a month of Sundays. If you like chicken livers and rosemary, run don't walk to your nearest purveyor and get 'em while the getting is good. I'm already thinking I'll make these again next week. If you don't like chicken livers or rosemary, what are you doing still reading?

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Saturday, May 29, 2010


As I was assembling my cherry clafouti, it occurred to me to wonder if anyone had ever tried making a savory version*. The idea stayed in the back of my mind like a little itch. I thought about ingredients and flavorings, mentally playing with the combinations for several days before deciding to try it.

When finally I was ready, I bought some fresh asparagus, green garlic, Parmesano Reggiano and dill as the main flavorings and set to work.

I softened the sliced green garlic in a little butter while I washed the asparagus and snapped the ends, crumbled bacon slices and snipped the dill into small pieces. When the preparation was finished, I got out my blender and whirled the eggs, flour, cheese and dill together, then poured them over the veggies and bacon bits in the buttered pie plate. I slid it in the oven, wondering if this experiment would be a success.

It emerged from the oven looking rather like a Dutch baby, puffed and standing up on the edges, browned with bright green veggies showing through. The pockets of green garlic and bacon were sweet and salty respectively. The crust had that wonderful flavor of a popover with toasted Parmesan. The asparagus was perfectly cooked. All in all, it was a really happy experiment. We ate it as a side dish with some simple grilled halibut, but it could easily be served as the main course.

Another time, I might increase the amount of cheese and possibly sprinkle the top with extra cheese to be sure of the toastiness but for this version I wouldn't make other changes - it was really pretty neat. On the other hand, my head is already full of riffs on this savory clafouti theme: artichokes, tomatoes and dill; sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus; broccoli, Parmesan and thyme; sauteéd mushroom and thyme; the list goes on!

Here's the recipe I invented for this first version; feel free to try your own - and let me know how it turns out!

Savory Clafouti

1 cup freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
2/3 cup flour
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tablespoon butter
6-8 fresh asparagus spears, washed and ends snapped off
2 green garlic bulbs, including tender stems, sliced
2 slices bacon, crisped and crumbled (optional)
4-5 sprigs fresh dill, snipped into small pieces

Arrange asparagus spears in a buttered pie plate. Soften the green garlic in the butter in a small skillet; add evenly to the asparagus. Crumble the bacon and spread in the pie plate. In a blender, combine the eggs, cheese, milk, dill, lemon juice, eggs and flour and whirl for about 15 seconds, scraping the sides once if needed. Pour the batter over the ingredients in the pie plate. Bake at 400 degrees for 45-50 minutes, until puffed and browned and set in the center. Cut wedges to serve 6 for lunch, 4 for dinner.

*After I made mine, I went online and was flooded with ideas for savory clafoutis. Turns out I'm not the first to think of this, after all. Shoulda known...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Classical Gas

Made another clafouti, this time with cherries and, as Cookiecrumb suggested in a comment on my last one, less vanilla.

Y'know, she was right. Too much vanilla can be too much of a good thing.

I also prefer the cherries to the strawberries - clafouti is classic with stone fruits for a reason - they just sing together.

I might try the strawberries again with a different twist of flavors but with cherries you can't go wrong. They're a gas!

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Strategic Planning

One of the reasons I most love roast chicken is that it makes more than one meal. We enjoy the hot bird fresh from the oven but then my strategy is to make it stretch to several meals.

As case in point, our lumpy chicken from a few nights ago.

The next day for lunch, we had a version of fried rice with chicken bits, leftover rice and a bunch of colorful veggies, simply chopped and fried quick and hot in a combination of butter and canola oil - first the carrots, celery and onion, then the fresh peas, followed by adding the rice to heat, then the meat bits
to warm (I also had a single slice of pastrami that I minced and threw in) and finally some green onion before turning it all out onto our plates. I could have added an egg, but it was protein-rich enough as it was. Very tasty and quick.

That night, My Beloved ate a plateful of cold, garlicky chicken with peas while I was out with pal Sari watching Iron Man, a movie he declined in favor of watching a Formula One race on TV.

The rest of the chicken will go into curry to give us yet another delicious dinner and a lunch the next day.

I could even have made the bones into stock but I have a freezer full right now, so I decided that this particular chicken had done her duty. She was buried with honors.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Razzleberry Scones

There are scones and then there are SCONES. I have had ones so delicious that they literally melt in the mouth and others that resembled doorstops more than foodstuffs.

The best scone I ever tasted, all light and buttery, was at Tal-y-Tara, a quirky little tea shop-cum-horse tack shop in San Francisco; I haven't yet plucked up the courage to ask them for their recipe.

But I was in the mood for scones the other day and didn't relish the sinkers they sell at Starbucks, so I decided to make my own using some raspberries I had purchased at the farmer's market last week and, once again, Molly Wizenberg's recipe, substituting fresh raspberries and lemon zest for the ingredients in hers.

I quickly froze the berries so they wouldn't get squashed while kneading the dough; they kind of did anyway, but it doesn't seem to have hurt them at all. I also sprinkled the tops with just a smidge of turbinado sugar before they went into the oven. The resulting scones were very satisfying, bumpy and fruity and substantial. These are SCONES!

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Garlicky, Shroomy Rice

Still on that green garlic kick that we began when we found a nice big bunch of the lovely stuff at the farmer's market this week, I decided to cook some rice to accompany our lumpy chicken. I had a little mixed rice package and decided to doctor that up.

The rice package was a mix of red, wild, black and brown rices, so it already had variety and nuttiness going for it. I sautéed three bulbs of coarsely chopped green garlic and two or three sliced crimini mushrooms in about a tablespoon of butter before adding 1-1/4 cups of the rice to sizzle and pop for a few minutes. Then, in went two cups of organic chicken broth. I brought it all to a boil, then turned it to the lowest burner setting, put on the lid and let it simmer quietly for about 50 minutes.

The criminis all but dissolved, leaving behind just their rich earthiness. The green garlic gave us that allium savoriness. The rice medley was nutty and bumpy. All in all, one of the best easy rice dishes I've ever concocted and there's plenty for another meal or two.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Lumpy Chicken

Don't be alarmed - this chicken started out as a very nice, fresh, young, free-range chicken. The fact that it ended up reminding us of an aging and lumpy slattern who had seen better days didn't detract at all from the wonderful taste.

It's all the fault of the green garlic I found at this week's farmer's market. Trying to think of something different to do with our weekly roast chicken, I hatched the idea of sliding quarters of green garlic under the skin of the breast and thighs to flavor the meat as it roasted; it made the chicken look comically lumpy. I also olive oiled the skin, sprinkled it with lemon juice and tucked the rest of the lemon into the cavity along with a handful of fresh dill. Sprinkled some of the dill over the skin, too, and slid the whole thing into a 375 degree oven for about an hour.

As the bird roasted, the green garlic softened and spread divinely over the whole breast in little pockets of crisp skin over meltingly soft garlic underneath. The flavor was milder than "adult" garlic but still wonderfully savory and lingering. The lemon wafted up to keep the meat moist and lent its own little tang.

My Beloved and I have been trying to control our portion sizes recently - after all, we have a family wedding coming up out in the future and we want to look our best - but we failed miserably with this chicken. We went back without compunction for seconds and were still picking little pieces off the platter as we washed the dishes. Pretty is as pretty does - it can be as lumpy as it wants when it tastes this good.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010


They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, then Peter from Cookblog must be feeling pretty darn flattered right now. I stole -oops, I mean imitated! - his idea.

I already had a dab of beans in the fridge from a previous meal and, when I saw that he put a sizzled artichoke on top of his beans, I realized that I could do the very same thing with mine, although my beans were very different - his bacony to my lamby.

I had never fixed an artichoke this way before, snapping off each leaf while leaving the meaty part at the base of each attached, trimming the smaller inside leaves, scooping out the choke with a spoon once I got down to the bottom and simmering the artichoke in a mixture of water and olive oil until it sizzles and caramelizes. A whole new artichoke experience for one who thought she'd pretty much been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt.

I was uncertain about whether or not I had enough to make a meal, so I served the beans-and-choke alongside half a pork chop that My Beloved and I shared. I needn't have worried, the veggies alone would have been plenty filling. In fact, Cora got the last of my pork chop.

You oughta try "borrowing" your next meal from Peter, too. He has all kinds of cool ideas and techniques with a sophisticated palate and an artist's eye for beauty. Every now and then he has one that's simple enough for a copycat like me to try.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

O, Happy Day!

Happy days here in Point Richmond - our little farmer's market has reopened for the season and will be with us every Wednesday evening from 4-8pm until late October! It has started small, with fewer tents than last year, but we have some interesting new vendors and several of the downtown restaurants are opening for farmer's market specials, too.

Little Louie's, for example, is opening their excellent new wine bar, 4 to 9, for tastings on market day. The venerable Hotel Mac is also having market day specials on Wednesdays. Even the Hidden City, which is normally open only for breakfast and lunch, is opening for dinner on Wednesday evenings. We noted that the new Mexican restaurant, El Sol (a branch of the one in Rodeo) in town opened on the first day of the market with samples and promises to be a great new place. There is even a vegan restaurant, Symphonie, in Point Richmond. The popular new pub-style restaurant, Up and Under, is a lively place for a drink or a meal. In fact, our little town has more eateries than you can shake a stick at; why not come try some of these? And, if all you want is a cup of coffee while you stroll the market, Little Louie's and Starbucks will happily fill your cup.

There are also pickup foods at the market - My Beloved and I enjoyed the barbecued pork dinner with potato salad and baked beans, and were torn between that and the turkey leg offering. There is also a Shave Ice stand and a Kettle Corn tent, not to mention the Churros and Funnel Cakes available at another tent. Sadly, I haven't seen the Baked Potato guy this year, yet, but I'm hopeful he will return.

Fresh veggies, fresh flowers, fresh breads, jewelry, art, fresh pastas, even fresh sausages - we have it all just on our doorstep for the next five months and we'll be looking for you to enjoy it with us!

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Springing Surprises

When My Beloved's daughter Katie came over the other day for her birthday celebration, she sprang a surprise on us - a diamond engagement ring! We were both floored and delighted. We have always approved of her taste in boyfriends but this last one has been the best of all. He did a good job with the proposal, too - romantic setting, fine champagne and a ring he designed himself. We like this guy. Happy news, indeed.

During the celebratory evening, Katie dropped another little idea bomb for me - as we were enjoying the rack of lamb I prepared for her birthday party, she mentioned that she had made risotto with lamb broth. Lamb broth! My imagination was already tasting that risotto.

I collected all the bones from that rack and from the one we couldn't finish that night to make lamb broth, which I did a few days later in preparation for making the risotto. I simply covered the bones with water and simmered them for a couple of hours, removed the bones, and refrigerated the resulting broth to skim the fat the next day.

On Risotto Day, I assembled about eight beautiful fresh green asparagus spears, cut into 1" pieces; a handful of crimini mushrooms; 1/2 onion, chopped; 1/2 cup of white wine; fresh chives and oregano; 3/4 of a cup of arborio rice; 1/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese; and about 2-1/4 cups of the lamb broth. Arborio, vino, herbo cipolina, cipolla, oregano, crimini, Parmesano Reggiano, agnello - isn't Italian a wonderful language? I love all those vowel sounds.

Anyway, I started by setting the broth to warm on a separate burner, then sautéing the onions in about 2 tablespoons of butter until they were clear, then adding the sliced criminis (stems removed - their stems are tough) to sauté for a few more minutes before adding the rice to cook in the butter with the flavorings until it showed a white center. I poured in the wine and stirred over a medium heat; once the wine was absorbed, I began adding the warm lamb broth a ladle at a time, stirring after each addition.*

As the rice neared the finished state, I added the asparagus, the chopped oregano and continued cooking and stirring until the asparagus were brightly green and just tender, then added the cheese and chives to stir in before serving in shallow bowls. I didn't add any salt as the cheese can be salty but we each sprinkled a little salt and pepper once we had tasted; it needed a little more. Spoons work better than forks for risotto.

This meal seems like the essence of spring - the bright asparagus, the herbs just heading to flowering, the rich, silky rice. It was a lovely surprise, too, to have the lamby undertones to what is usually a chickeny sort of dish. We like all the surprises Katie brings to our lives, especially this fun guy.

*Some recipes say that you must stir constantly but I find that stirring after each addition of broth is plenty - just keep an eye on the pot as you don't want to burn it.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

How To Perk Up A Rainy Day

I have it on good authority, from a neighbor who is a Californian by birth and has lived here her entire life, that this crappy weather is not normal. The weather forecasters claim that we were just spoiled by the sunny, dry drought years but my friend Kate denies that heatedly.

Oh, thank heavens!

I moved to California about 13 years ago to escape the gloom of western New York. When I got divorced, I knew that wherever I lived, it would be sunnier than I had experienced for the past 20+ years. For the most part, California has fulfilled that wish. The frequent morning fogs don't bother me as long as the sun shines from about 10am on. When I awoke to another rainy day, long after the rains normally end, I was in a blue funk.

After rolling out of bed, letting Cora out and picking up the newspaper in a spitting drizzle, I headed for the kitchen and saw a basket of fresh strawberries, a sure day brightener. Then I remembered I had a new recipe to try - one for strawberry clafouti - and the day took on an even happier aspect. Once the clafouti came out of the oven and I was sharing it with the hot tub repairman who even braved the rain on our behalf, bless his heart, the sun might as well have been shining.

The recipe comes straight out of Sunset magazine - I made no changes. I'd suggest you do, however, if you make it. A little spice would have been nice - some cinnamon? a little allspice? perhaps a little lemon zest? It was fine, and particularly fine warm just out of the oven, but it would have been even better with some flavor layers in addition to the vanilla.

Still, it proved to be the day brightener I needed and the hot tub guy was pleased, too.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Devil Made Me Do It

It's not my fault - the devil made me buy this ripe tomato from afar. My Beloved had purchased a nice big round of fresh mozzarella, no doubt dreaming of warm weather - which seems fickle here this year - so when the devil leaned over my left shoulder and whispered, "Caprese salad, honey," I caved.

We don't have basil this year - it doesn't like our combination of scouring sea winds and neglectful watering, so instead I planted a hardier bunch of herbs - dependable chives, fuzzy sage in its own fur coat, down-and-dirty thyme and determined oregano. I used a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette and a sprinkle of the fresh oregano from the garden to dress the salad.

It was devilishly good.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sticky Fingers

Not a reprise of the Rolling Stones' album; rather, a comment on how delicious those cupcakes were at last weekend's wedding! Here are the bride and groom just after gently feeding each other bites of their specially-made wedding cupcake (which, by the way, I heartily approve of - I hate it when either bride or groom makes a mess of the other just to showboat).

They are pretty cute, aren't they? No, not the cupcakes, silly!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kid-Friendly Wedding Fun

Remember those goopy white wedding cakes, the ones with flavorless, overly sweet Crisco icing and bland, pale cake? Thank heavens today's brides are thinking outside of the cake box!

Here's the wedding cake we guests enjoyed at the wedding of a young cousin of mine last weekend. The big cupcake on the top is the one the blissful couple cut and fed daintily to each other. It was obviously quite tasty, as they were licking their fingers afterward. The rest were fallen upon by the guests and consumed with gusto.

Top to bottom, there were lemon, snickerdoodle, carrot cake and chocolate cupcakes, some mini and some larger size to suit the various tastes and appetites. Each was prettily decorated to add to the festive air.

The numerous little kids at the wedding enjoyed the wide lawns to play in, the inflatable jumpy castle, the swing, the clown who painted tattoos on their arms and the goody bags filled with amusements for them that the thoughtful bride and groom provided. It turns out that it is possible to enjoy having young children at a wedding - you just have to give them plenty to do and a great venue to do it in!
They also loved the kid-sized cupcakes; they slipped in between the grownups to seize and carry away their prizes.

Thanks to cousin Jan who shared some of the mini cupcakes with me, I got to taste them all. I can recommend this approach to wedding cakes - it's playful and joyous as well as providing variety for guests to choose from.

I'm hoping the goopy white wedding cakes are a thing of the past. Bring on the carrot cake, the snickerdoodle, the lemon, the chocolate, and let's get this party started!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Last week, I found the neatest little cut of beef chuck - a little roundish bone surrounded by about three inches of meat. It made a nifty diminutive stew-for-two, plus leftovers and enviable goozle.

I made this stew with the usual cast of characters - onion, garlic, potatoes, carrots - and had some nice button mushrooms so I threw them in to the mix, too, and they added a fillip that previous stews had not enjoyed.

I had read in Bill Buford's book, "Heat," that restaurants sear their meat harder than home cooks do and that's where they get all the flavor - on the razor edge between burning and caramelization - so I seared the bejeebers out of this meat before removing it, adding the onion, garlic and mushrooms for a quick browning, then added the liquid for a long, slow braise. I also simmered the stewette in beef broth rather than water - makes a fine difference when you add flavors to flavors, doesn't it? Some fresh thyme snipped from the garden, flowers and all, was the main herb.

My Beloved relished the marrow in the bone; my favorite part was the goozle, which I sipped and sopped up with some herbed bread. This little stewette was as much soup as it was stew, and delicious either way.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hawaiian Soul Food

Hawaii is my heart's home. I have lived there twice, once as a little girl and again in my twenties, and because I have had the good fortune to have family living there for the past 30 years or so, I visit frequently.

When I return, I love that first moment when the plane lands and they funnel fresh Hawaiian air into the plane - the scent is distinctive and indescribably haunting. It brings tears to my eyes, the way homecomings always do. I leave the plane and walk to the terminal, avoiding the stinking diesel wiki-wiki bus in favor of drinking in that richly green, sweet, lush Hawaiian air.

Because I'm Hawaiian at heart, I love Spam. I know it's plebian and salty and fatty and bad for you. Never mind, I love it anyway. So, when pal Irene decided to celebrate her birthday by watching some hula, what else could I bring to the picnic?

Nothing could be simpler than these Spam and fresh pineapple skewers. I grilled them to add some color but these two ingredients really don't need any additional preparation - the sweet of the fresh pineapple and the salt of the Spam were made for each other. Cut each into bite-size chunks, thread them on water-soaked skewers and grill, baby, grill. Hawaiian soul food.

I think I need a return trip to the Islands - time to breathe in some of that amazing air and find an Hawaiian plate lunch with Spam in it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Salad Spinners

At this time of year, my garden is full of nasturtiums. I didn't plant them; they are volunteers. They don't survive the dry summers for very long but they are a welcome addition while they last. Not only do they light up the garden, they perk up our salads, too.

They have a peppery, spicy sort of taste that goes well in all kinds of mixed salads and they provide a splash of bright color until the tomatoes are ready to take over that job.

Next time you are looking to put a fresh spin on a salad, look around in the garden - you may find some tasty surprises.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fighting Deficiencies

Put on your Big Girl panties and suck it up. This is my attitude (after some initial sniveling) regarding the discovery that my blood pressure med was leaching potassium from my body. My doc gave me a list of foods high in potassium that would help replace that element.

Oh, poor me, avocados and oranges are on the list!

Hence this simple salad of romaine leaves, tangerine segments (do tangerine's count?), red onion and avocado, drizzled with a little balsamic vinaigrette.

My potassium numbers are up into the low normal range and my energy has returned.
Life is tough sometimes, but when you have true grit, as I do, you can handle the challenge.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Simple Green

While we were in Connecticut about a month ago, I had the most wonderful quiche of my life, a simple broccoli quiche with the tenderest, most flavorful custard ever. If you can call a quiche memorable, this one surely was.

I was determined to figure out how to make one as delicious at home. I consulted the Peanut Gallery as well as some websites but each had a different "take" on the ratio of eggs to milk or cream and both of those to the cheese. I finally did some rough calculations and decided to try my own ratio.

It worked like a champ.

The veggies were perfectly cooked, the custard was light and tender, the cheese was rich but not overwhelming. In short, I nailed it. Best of all, it was easy. I plan to repeat this quiche with all different kinds of veggies when we are having our meat-free meals.

Here's what I did:

Zoomie's Nailed Quiche

1-cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup shredded Old World Portuguese cheese (most recipes call for Swiss or Gruyère but this is what I had in the fridge and I'd actively look for this cheese again in future)
4 eggs
one purchased crust (made without trans fats)
1/2 cup broccoli florets, gently butter-steamed
1/4 chopped red onion, gently sautéed
1 big pinch Herbs de Provence
brief grinding of garlic salt
brief grinding of pepper

Thaw crust briefly, then prick all over and bake in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Let cool. While the crust is cooling, chop the onion and cut the broccoli florets into bite-size pieces.

In a small skillet, melt butter and sauté the onion gently, just to soften. Add the broccoli and about a teaspoon of water, cover and let it steam for 2-3 minutes; when cut this small, the broccoli will cook very fast - don't over do it. It should still be bright green and just barely tender when it goes into the pie shell. Set aside to cool slightly.

While the veggies wait, whisk the cream, milk and eggs together until well combined. Add the herbs, salt and pepper and whisk again.

Sprinkle cheese into the crust, top with cooled veggies. Set crust on a rimmed baking sheet to catch drips. Pour custard mixture carefully over, leaving about 1/4" unfilled, as the eggs will puff and expand.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. It is done when the very center still jiggles slightly when the quiche is gently shaken. Remove and let stand for 20 minutes - it will continue to cook a little and will retain the tender custard. It is also 'way too hot to eat at this point and the custard needs to set, so let it rest.

Slice in wedges and serve. Serves 4-6 (4 for dinner, 6 for lunch).

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Friendly Face

I met our dear friend Sari (rhymes with Mary) shortly after arriving in California. She and three other people did my screening interview for a job as a career counselor at University of California Hastings College of the Law. Hers was the only friendly face in the room; the others were studiously impartial and gave no hint by their expressions or body English of how I was faring. Sari was different - her smile was encouraging and urged me to do my best.

I landed the job.

Because I was hired, I was welcomed into a work group that formed the nucleus for many of my friendships in the bay area. Despite the fact that I'm 20 years their senior, these bright, amazing people welcomed me as a friend rather than just a colleague and have remained friends ever since, even though our lives took us in different directions. They tease me gently about how swoony My Beloved and I are about each other but defend me hotly whenever anyone is rude to me. I have frequently thought that if I had a daughter, I'd want her to be just like Sari. And Irene. Or both.

They know about my love of cooking, so this year's birthday presents were almost entirely cooking-related, three books that I'm enjoying (more about those later) and this goofy melamine spoon.
It makes me smile each time I reach for a spoon or just catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye. It works a treat and, best of all, it has a friendly face.

They say you should tell your loved ones that they are loved, so here goes: Sari, I love you and I thank you for all the nearly 15 years of fun and shared times we've had together. Oh, and thanks for that friendly face!


Monday, May 10, 2010

Impromtu Italian

Why am I craving wintry dishes now that spring has finally arrived? Or maybe it's the really ripe tomatoes of the future that I'm wishing for? Whatever the reason, I made a quick sauce the other day that featured pasta for winter and tomatoes for summer. I'm all mixed up.

So was this dish.

I used Jamie Oliver's trick of squeezing Italian sausages out of their casings to make the meatballs, which I browned quickly in very hot olive oil before setting them aside. I like them to be brown and caramelized but still soft and luscious inside.

In the same pan (both to save flavor and dishes), I sautéed a chopped onion and four sliced garlic cloves over a slightly lowered heat, added sliced mushrooms along the way, a big pinch of herbs de Provence and an even bigger pinch of fennel seed to toast for a few minutes before dumping in a can of chopped tomatoes and all the juice. And a splash of white wine, which diluted the color but added flavor, a nice bonus.

When all those ingredients had gotten to know each other over a low flame, I added back the sausage meatballs and their accumulated juices, stirred it all around and added the cooked vermicelli directly to the pan to toss and absorb all the goodness.

The whole thing took about 30 minutes. It might have improved a bit by some longer, slower simmering but I was in a hurry for this impromptu Italian dinner.
I'm all mixed up, as the seasons around here have been for months.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sweet Toasties

Molly Wizenberg and My Beloved's daughters are cousins. Their grandmother on their mother's side passed away about three weeks ago. It was very sad - and I can only imagine how much they will miss her at all subsequent family events - but Nanny, as they called her, was ready and the rest of the family hated to see her decline. I had met her at several shared family graduations and holidays and once enjoyed making lunch for her here at our house.

We were in Connecticut helping to sort out My Beloved's mother's house when we learned that Nanny had gone to heaven; we couldn't break off to attend the memorial service in Oklahoma, something I know My Beloved would have wished to do. So, when I read on Orangette that Molly had made these cinnamon toasts from a recipe found in Nanny's recipe box, I decided to make them as a little tribute, and to toast Nanny with a cup of tea.

She was a lovely little pigeon of a lady with short gray curls and dimpled knees, rather like Aunt Bee, who to my eye always epitomized "grandmother." She doted on her grandchildren and her love was returned in full measure. She had one of those tinkling laughs that always bring a smile and just a wisp of a Southern accent from having lived in Baltimore all of her married life. She clapped her hands delightedly like a child when she saw things that tickled her, leaning back and lifting her chin to let
out the music of her giggles.

My Beloved and I sat down with these little cinnamon toasts and talked about Nanny, sifting through our memories with the toasts sweet on our tongues.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Alley Oop's Dinner

I found some lamb shanks in the freezer the other day and, needing to make room for more recent acquisitions, decided to braise them in my Staub dutch oven despite the weather which was more like summer than winter for a change.

I browned them thoroughly in hot olive oil, then set them aside while I also quickly browned the two onions and the four split cloves of garlic I was putting in with them. I rubbed the meat with a thin coating of allspice and added some lavender buds before returning the shanks to the pot and almost covering them with chicken stock. I should perhaps have used beef stock but I thought to lighten them a little given the weather, so decided on chicken. They braised on top of the stove on a very slow burner for about five or six hours; needless to say, they were very tender.

Plated with some of the relaxed onions, fresh peas and some herbed toasts, I had to laugh - they truly look like Alley Oop's dinner. What other meal gives you a big old bone that stretches from one side to the other of a standard-size dinner plate? One is tempted to play caveman - to pick it up and simply gnaw, then throw the bone over one's shoulder to the hovering dog. That we didn't do any such thing was a big disappointment to Cora. She did get to lick the plates afterwards, a small consolation.

Once again, the goozle was spectacular. I drizzled a bit over the shanks and put the rest into the fridge for defatting the next day. It jelled and I had to reheat it a bit after taking off the very thin fat layer in order to strain out the solids and freeze it. That goozle is going to make the best future soup ever tasted by man - or caveman.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Mexican Melange

I'm not sure what you'd call this but it was delicious. I had some pinto beans already cooked and waiting in the freezer so I busted them out as the foundation for a Mexican soft taco/burrito/sort of thing to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo may not be a huge deal in Mexico (contrary to popular belief, it is not Mexican Independence Day) but up here in Alta California, we relish a chance to celebrate just about anything.

Here's what else went into our quickly heated whole wheat tortillas, clockwise from the top:

-shredded leftover garlic roasted chicken
-minced red onion
-sliced red and yellow sweet peppers
-chopped green onion
-guacamole (I made it with ripe avocado, diced tomato, minced red onion and two dashes of hot pepper sauce, all smooshed together)
-shredded Romaine lettuce
-pinto beans, previously long-simmered and thawed
-Old World Portuguese cheese

I just put it all out on a board and My Beloved and I built our tacos according to our preferences. The guacamole was a little too fiery (that hot sauce is potent!) by itself but tucked into the tortillas with the rest of the fairly bland ingredients and alternated with sips of beer, it was perfect. It left me with softly burning lips, just the way I like it.

We owe a lot to our neighbors to the south, whether from Mexico or even further south. Not only do they offer a delicious and inventive cuisine, in California they are often the people who grew, weeded and picked the food for us as well, doing backbreaking jobs for very low wages. It's the immigrants' story in this country, whether we came from Ireland or Italy or China or wherever. We start small and work our way up. Our labor, our foods, our customs and our languages enrich this nation with each new wave. Hear me, Arizona?

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Scent Lingers

When spring was reluctant to come but we were still aching for grilled food, I decided to use the Jennair grill for the fresh asparagus spears. Then, hungry for the taste of sizzled salmon rather than the quieter poached, I threw that on the grill, too.

I rolled the asparagus around in a little olive oil to hasten the grill marks while not overcooking the spears. The salmon went on just as it was, skin side down first, as it's then easier to flip when the time comes.

When they both came off the grill, I squeezed half a lime over them, which brightened all the flavors.

After dinner, I cleaned the grill and the spittered counter tops, ran the spent lime rind down the GDU, bundled up the garbage and took it outside, but the scent of grilled salmon still lingers in the house. Not such a bad thing, really.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Loving Lavender

When I was a little girl, my maternal grandmother sent me a lavender dress. Beautifully hand smocked with a big bow to tie in the back, it was my favorite gift of all time. I wore it to church and to parties. In one of the few pictures we have of me as a child (I was the third child - we have tons of pictures of the eldest, not so many of the subsequent progeny), I'm wearing that dress with white socks and black patent leather MaryJanes.

I loved it so much that one Sunday after church, I didn't take it off. Instead, I went blackberry picking in the woods behind our quarters and, having nothing to carry the berries home in, used the skirt of my lavender dress. You can imagine my mother's dismay - the stains never did come out. I still remember fondly that lavender dress and I still love the color of lavender.

Last year, I bought a small bottle of lavender buds to make a cold, refreshing tea; the bottle is still here but I hadn't found any good use for the lavender when it's not iced tea season. On impulse, I sniffed it to remind myself of the flavor and for some reason carrots came to mind.

I had some fresh, young carrots in the fridge so it was the work of a moment to add them, scraped and sliced, into the menu.

Melted a little butter in a wide pan with perhaps a tablespoon of water. When it was bubbling, added a sprinkle of the lavender buds, then the carrots and gently butter-steamed them, tossing frequently, for about three minutes.

I'm always amazed at how much a tiny difference like this can make to an otherwise mundane meal. The lavender added an herbal note and a tiny bite to the sweet carrots and a fillip to our taste buds. Don't be surprised if you find me madly sprinkling it onto all kinds of meats and veggies this summer. I'm loving lavender these days.

Oh, and, by the way, ¡H*A*P*P*Y C*I*N*C*O D*E M*A*Y*O!

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bonus Bones

My mother had sterling silver marrow spoons that she inherited from her grandmother who clearly had more money than she knew what to do with. It was this kind of snooty thing that Mom cherished and we kids always greeted with snickers of embarrassment, hoping our friends would never find out that we actually dressed for dinner each evening and sat down to her shining mahogany table set with real silver and fine china. It seemed elitist to us and downright un-American. Aw, Mo-o-o-o-m!

Mom said that marrow bones were delicious but, lioness though she was, she never mustered the courage to try feeding them to her brood. Her marrow spoons saw the light of day only for polishing; she knew her audience and didn't relish the grimaces she knew we were capable of.

After being roasted then simmered in broth for hours, you wouldn't think there would be much left of the bones I used to make that delicious onion soup, but there was a little marrow still clinging to the insides, so we decided to try it. I reheated the bones while the herb toasts browned and we scooped out the marrow to spread on the toasts. We may have been slightly hesitant to take that first bite but the rich, beefy scent convinced us.

As usual, Mom was right. Not only was it delicious and knives sufficed, but sterling silver marrow spoons would have made the extraction an elegant exercise.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Soup From Scratch

I set out to make onion soup from scratch the other day. Two days later, we actually sat down to eat it.

I had read about roasting bones to make beef stock and wanted to see how much better it might be than the usual canned broth I use. So, I collected some soup bones from my butcher, roasted them along with some aromatic veggies, then made broth by covering them with water and adding more veggies (carrots, onions, celery, bay leaf) and simmering them until they yelled "uncle!"

The resulting broth was nicely colored but not really very flavorful by itself and it only made one quart. I decided to forge ahead, hoping that the broth would add vitamins to the soup, if nothing else.

The onion soup recipe I used was Julia Child's classic from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume one. Julia seemed to feel that canned broth was not a terrible sin; made me wonder why I had been so gung-ho to create my own broth. Never mind, onward!

The long, slow cooking that Julia suggests for the onions did take a considerable time, as she warned before I began. Nearly an hour later, they were limp and golden brown, really quite lovely. I covered them with the boiling broth and simmered them for another 40-50 minutes, adjusting seasoning and adding wine and cognac as the recipe suggested. Ladled into bowls, it was topped with crunchy garlic croutons and a few batons of Gruyère strewn across the top to droop down into the soup, and served steaming hot. The first two pictures I tried to take fogged my lens.

My Beloved, who is the onion soup aficionado in our family, loved it. He remarked on how rich it tasted, and how layered. He usually peppers everything that goes into his mouth but he left the soup alone, just ducking his head and slurping his way through his bowl. I served some buttered herb toasts alongside and he used his last toast to chase the rest of the broth and the last few onions around his bowl.

I'd call this soup a big success, except that it took about 20X longer to make it than it took to eat it, not my favorite ratio. Next time, I'd go for canned stock to see if we could truly taste the difference. What's good enough for Julia is usually fine by me.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Off-Brand Barbecue Sauce

We are not huge fans of bottled barbecue sauces. Too sweet. Too tomatoey. Too fake-smoky. I usually concoct something, with mixed results. This time, however, I made a wonderful sauce to paint onto a chicken before barbecuing, so I thought I'd share it with you. It's actually pretty funny to see all the name brands that went into this no-brand sauce.

The proportions are entirely up to you - this is one of those add-and-taste-and-add-more recipes. I'll give you the approximate amounts but, really, you should just taste as you go and stop when it reaches your own definition of nirvana.

2 Tablespoons Deborah's Hot Cranberry (this is like cranberry sauce with a kick of peppers)
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash original flavor
1 heaping Tablespoon Edmond Fallot Dijon mustard
1 scant quarter cup of Heinz apple cider vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon Simply Organic garlic powder
4-5 dashes of Triple T Ranch Hopn' Jalapeno sauce
2 Tablespoons Heinz tomato ketchup
1/4 cup The Persimmon Branch Apple Butter (from a trip to North Carolina - substitute your own)

I wish I had thought to add a little coffee leftover from breakfast, just for fun, but I didn't. Maybe next time.

Whisk all the ingredients together and paint your chicken liberally. Indirect cooking would likely be better than the direct heat I used, but the blackened skin really did taste wonderful with this sauce over it.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Blackened And Beautiful

I'm not a huge fan of blackened food - usually, it just tastes too spicy and too charred. On the first pretty Sunday of this spring, however, I blackened the heck out of a spatchcocked chicken and we both loved it. The chicken was a nice young one from Marin Sun Farms - they really do raise the nicest chickens!

I used a great big knife, a gift from my Hawaii brother - more like a machete than a kitchen implement - to whack the chicken almost in half, opening it out to the mesquite charcoal. Painted with a little crazy homemade sauce, it was ready for the fire.

I probably should have placed it indirectly over the coals but I didn't, hence the blackness. Surprise! Surprise! it didn't taste charred; it tasted smoky and tender and delicious, right down to the crispy little pointy part that in my family we have always called the "pope's nose." Forgive our levity - we were raised Catholic so we made fun of our own.

I'll talk tomorrow about the sauce - it merits its own post and tomorrow looks like perfect barbecue weather at last.