Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jarring Experience

The strawberries at the market last week were so sweet, so fragrant and so perfectly, gloriously red that I just had to buy 'way too many for two people to consume before they went bad. I'm always doing this with strawberries, seduced by their aroma and color to purchase more than we can possibly eat. Faced with so many perfect berries, I decided on the spur of the moment to try my hand at making jam.

All the recipes I found on the interwebs showcased the sugar much more than the fruit - some, in fact, advised a 5-1 ratio of sugar to fruit! Crazy! So, remembering June Taylor's class that I took last year, I took her advice and reduced the ratio to almost the opposite of that and added a little lemon zest for another layer of interest. I didn't use pectin, either; the resulting jam didn't jell well, it's a little loosey-goosey but, oh, the fresh, bright flavor and the rich, red color! When My Beloved's took his first bite, he exclaimed, "Oh, wow!" I'm very proud of that.

I used smallish jars because we don't eat a lot of jam and I wanted to be able to pop open a fresh one from time to time. I got seven 4-ounce jars from three baskets of ripe berries. I didn't process them in a water bath* either, just took the jars piping hot from the dishwasher, quickly filled them with searing hot jam to within 1/4" of the top, wiped the lips with a damp paper towel, and put on the sterilized lids, screwing the bands down firmly but not tightly. When all jars were filled, I blanketed the jars in towels to keep the heat in longer and to slow the cooling. All the jars sealed well - I'm confident that they will keep for a long, long time.

Here's the recipe I devised:

Zesty Strawberry Jam

8 cups (three baskets) of strawberries, hulled (= about 5 cups of mashed berries)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice (about two lemons worth)
2 lemons worth of microplaned zest (very finely grated zest - it looks almost like pollen)

Hull strawberries and mash them with a potato masher until they are lumpy and liquid. Add the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Stir to dissolve the sugar and leave the fruit to macerate while you prepare your jars, bands and lids. You can leave it overnight if you want, but I'm always too impatient.

Prepare the jars and bands ahead by washing on hottest setting of the dishwasher. Leave the dishwasher closed after the cycle. Have a pair of heatproof gloves on hand (the jars will be piping hot once you fill them), plus several damp paper towels for wiping the rims of the jars, a small ladle and a large wooden cutting board (the jars will be too hot to put directly on the counter - they could shatter if your counter is too cold or hurt your counter if it's not heatproof). Place lids in a small pan of water and boil briefly. Leave the lids in the hot water.

Bring the fruit slowly to a boil, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved, in a heavy-bottomed pot. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, raise the heat to a full boil and let 'er rip, stirring more or less constantly, until the berries are making thick, shiny bubbles that pop but leave a small "hole" before filling up again. To test that they are ready, put dab of the juice on a plate and, when cooled, push it with your finger. If it "wrinkles" ahead of your finger and doesn't run to fill in where your finger was, it is ready. If it runs to cover your finger mark, boil it some more. Mine took about 20-30 minutes, give or take. Keep stirring while it boils to keep from burning on the bottom.

Once the jam is ready, pop open the dishwasher and quickly remove a couple of jars, setting them on the wooden board. Close and lock the dishwasher again. Working quickly with the heatproof gloves on, ladle the jam into the jars, filling to within 1/4" of the top. Carefully wipe any spills from the lip of the jar with the damp paper towel, replacing the towel as it gets soiled. Fish a lid out of the hot water with tongs, shake it off and fit it to the jar, then put on the band and screw it down firmly but not tightly (you want it to make the seal but you don't want it to dislodge your lid once it is cool and the band is removed). Repeat with the rest of the jars.

Once the jars are all filled, gather them together and cover them with a thick blanket of kitchen towels, inches thick if you have that many, or regular towels. The idea is to keep the heat in as long as possible and to slow the cooling so the jars have plenty of time to seal.

*Most home canning instructions will recommend that you do this processing to insure that no bacteria are alive in the jars. It is good practice and you should do it. Do as I say, not as I do.
If you skip this step, however, just make sure your jars have sealed by removing the band and, holding the jar by the lid, give it a pretty good shake, holding your other hand under it just in case. If the jar falls off, it didn't seal. If it didn't seal, refrigerate it and eat that jar first. If I give away my jam, I always warn the recipient to throw it away if they have any doubts when they open it.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Spot On!

There was a new stand at the Point Richmond farmer's market last week, set up by a friendly, gangling young man from Alaska. He grew up in Alaska and has lots of fisherman friends - a young man we definitely wanted to get to know! He was selling spot prawns.

Wild caught, jetted down from those cold, cold waters, he was offering small size or large and suggesting that they be cooked with garlic butter.

He recommended that I sauté them lightly with garlic butter. Or steam them briefly and dip them in garlic butter. Or, alternatively, they could be grilled and slathered with garlic butter. His last suggestion was barbecuing and then - you guessed it! - garlic butter.

Who am I to buck such good advice? I bought a pound of those big beauties and took them home to sauté very briefly and served them with a nice artichoke, also from the farmer's market. The still-warm shrimp were the sweetest I have ever tasted, bar none. We stripped off the shells and followed the young man's advice about the you-know-what. Turns out, garlic butter is also good with artichokes.

We had enough left over for a nice salad the next day, when they were equally delicious cold.

Our young man will return next Wednesday with more prawns, plus salmon, rockfish and, if he can find some, halibut as well. Needless to say, we will be there in line since our first taste of his wares was spot on.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Healing Experience

So, here we are at Murray Circle, posed in front of our shared dessert, an exquisitely seasonal concoction of apricots, crunchy-crisp granola-like crumbles, vanilla ice cream and the tangiest, jazziest drizzle of apricot sauce I've ever tasted. It had all the tongue-twanging tang that I love about apricots with rough texture added by the crumbles, all smoothed out with splendid sauce and rich ice cream. A fragrant cup of coffee, and you have two very happy people snuggled on a cushy bench in front of a stunning view.

If that doesn't cure his ills, nothing will!

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crab Sammy

As if all that were not enough, here came My Beloved's Dungeness crab BLT made with applewood smoked bacon and heirloom tomatoes, which he reports was quite, quite delicious. My favorite part was the homemade potato chips, waffled on a mandoline, fried to golden sinfulness and set up like the light sails they were in an anchoring of savory, cheesy "dip."

I could feel him getting better, bite by bite.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cora's Temptation

We brag quite a bit about our wonderful rescue dog, Cora. We feel we can do that since she came to us at around 2 years of age, already sweet, loving and partially trained. Since we didn't make her this good, we feel we can brag without seeming boastful.

Even in restaurants, Cora is remarkably well-behaved. After an initial tail-wagging for the wait staff and perhaps a pat from that friendly person at the next table, she usually settles quietly down under the table and goes to sleep. No drooling on one's shoes; no begging, hopeful eyes. So, when we took her to Murray Circle to sit with us on the porch while we ate a delightful lunch, we weren't prepared for the antsy, nose-in-our-plates nuisance she turned into.

She was great during the soup course - apparently sweet pea gazpacho and Vichyssoise don't tempt her palate - but when my lamb canneloni with Parmesan sauce and green salad showed up, it was a whole different story. I kept finding that long, quivering nose poked tantalizingly close to my plate with some serious sniffing going on. She was never so rude as to actually lick the plate or try to seize the canneloni but you could tell it was taking every ounce of her self restraint not to. It was hard to scold her, too, as it really did smell wonderful. The taste was hearty and rich, from lamb that had been cooked low and slow, then wrapped in pasta and clothed in silky, cheesy sauce.

If I could have figured out how to save a bite of that marvelous meal for Cora, I would have given her a taste after we left the table. As it was, all she got was a tempting sniff and a whole lot of "Sit!"

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Singing Soup

Some people, when presented with Vichyssoise, shake their heads and wonder why anyone with any sense would enjoy cold potato soup. I'm not one of them, nor is My Beloved. He noted this soup on the menu at Murray Circle first - otherwise, I'd have ordered it, myself.

The menu describes it as "Green garlic Vichyssoise with grilled grapes, shaved radish, cucumber and spiced almonds." We described it as smooth as a baby's butt, layered with flavors and beautifully presented.

Each taste was distinct as notes on a piano but if you scooped a spoonful of it all together, it sang like a Sweet Adelines quartet, smooth and joyous and modulated, with an extra note that lingers on the tongue even after the soup is gone. We shared sips of each others' soups - that may be gauche in such a nice restaurant but it just added to our enjoyment of our day off the rollercoaster.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010


I wish I had had the forethought to take a video of the presentation of my sweet pea gazpacho, the first course I chose at Murray Circle. It was done with dramatic flourish and delightful showmanship.

First, the square bowl was placed in front of me. It contained a thin, round, frozen wafer of citrus juice underlaid by minced fresh peas and green garlic tucked underneath. Then, the waiter poured the cold fresh pea soup, lightly flavored with serrano chilis, over the wafer, partially melting it. I spooned up the soup by breaking through the tangy crust of OJ to scoop some of the peas and green garlic along with the crunchy citrus juice and velvety smooth soup. What a wonderful, lively combination they all made, as green as Ireland and as fresh as spring on the first day of summer.

Showmanship alone never floats my boat but when it accompanies a dish as sophisticated and well conceived as this one, it adds to the enjoyment of the experience. The beautiful day, the beautiful surroundings, the beautiful dish all added up to a memorable outing with My Beloved.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jumping Off The Rollercoaster

My Beloved and I have been on a two-month rollercoaster ride. He has been ill, down on power and dizzy, with an elusive diagnosis for two months now. Most days, he's too exhausted to leave the house and, often, even his bed. Occasionally, he has felt well enough to work a day - followed by several "crash" days when he is out of airspeed and energy.

We still don't know what's causing his symptoms and the docs appear to be equally baffled. He will have more tests next Monday and we honestly don't know whether to hope the MRI will reveal the problem or not - if it does, it's likely to be serious. If it doesn't, we are back to square one.

So, one day this week when he awoke feeling quite a bit better, we made the most of the day by having lunch at Murray Circle. Murray Circle is a restaurant with a dramatic view of the Golden Gate Bridge from their outside porch where they welcome folks with dogs, so we took Cora along for the fun. She was welcomed with her own bowl of water and we were offered drinks, too.

My Beloved chose this lightly fizzy cucumber-and-basil flavored soda. We sat on the porch on the soft sofas under the warming heat lamps, admiring the view across the parade ground (this used to be an Army base) to the bridge, bright red-orange in the distance, perfectly picturesque with a wisp of fog blowing through the suspension cables.

We had a marvelous meal that I will talk about in subsequent posts but, for that moment, it was enough just to be out and enjoying a relaxing and lighthearted experience with him after so many weeks on the worry rollercoaster.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thumbs and Finger(ling)s

Remember those parsley buttered potatoes we got in the school cafeteria? Easily my favorite dish served there, even though they were likely made with margarine back then and sprinkled with minced, dried parsley. They weren't heavenly by any definition but they beat the heck out of pallid gray Salisbury steak and those nightmarish limp fish sticks.

To go with our fricadellen, I decided to upgrade that elementary school favorite simply by making it with fresh ingredients and a twist.

On medium low heat, I gently sautéed fingerling potatoes in butter in a single layer in the pan with the cover on, rolling them around every few minutes, until they were tender and their skins were browned in spots, perhaps 15 minutes. Don't let the butter burn - you want a nice, slow sizzle. When they were done, I dropped them into a bowl, crushed each one briefly with my thumb to make lots of surface area, drizzled a little prepared creamy horseradish sauce (store bought) over the tops and sprinkled on some fresh coarsely chopped parsley.

Nothing this simple and easy should taste this good. The fingerlings are tiny and fresh at this time of year, and loaded with flavor. Parsley is my favorite green this year - bright, clean and tangy. And the horseradish sauce added just a little bite to the combination. Thumbs up for fingerlings and simplicity!

What was your favorite school cafeteria dish? Or perhaps you'd prefer to vent about your least favorite?

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Geography Lesson

On Facebook (before I retreated), one of the viral clips my friends liked to highlight is one in which several man-on-the-street American dolts are asked simple geography questions, such as "Can you name a country whose name begins with U."

After a lengthy pause, during which you can actually see their rusty mental gears trying vainly to mesh, t
hese hapless souls are likely to answer, "Yugoslavia" while the viewer is screaming out loud at her computer, "United States, you idiot!"

Sadly, I might have been one of those dolts - geography is not my strong suit. When I purchased these fricadellen from the man with the German accent at our Wednesday farmer's market, I asked him where in Germany he came from. Dresden. I had no idea where Dresden is.

I looked it up. It's over on the very eastern edge, next to Poland. Apparently, they have a tradition of making really delicious sausage patties there as well as very pretty china, because these fricadellen were quite, quite good. One might call them "heavy" but I prefer the adjective, "substantial." Made with pork, onions, bread crumbs and spices, they are rib-stickers. One feeds us both for dinner, sliced in half and served alongside some veggies and spuds. The man from Dresden recommended serving them with potatoes (preferably mashed) and sauerkraut.

They come vacuum-sealed, four to a package, already cooked. All we had to do was heat and serve. So far, we have enjoyed them for dinner and, the following day, for breakfast alongside some scrambled eggs. Although they are mild, they do have a peppery little zing that livens up their solidity. And, best of all, they taught me a small geography lesson.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gym For The Jaw

Limp salad just doesn't do it for me. One of my pet peeves is salad that has clearly spent too much time getting to know its dressing. Limp and soggy, they hang from the fork and simply are not worth the calories to eat them. For example, wilted salads, even when they are made limp on purpose, always make me think, "Why?"

I like salads that are crisp and crunchy, a workout for the teeth and jaw muscles.

Last night, surveying the contents of the fridge and trying to come up with something a little different to round out our dinner, I decided to put together a simple, crunch-filled salad. I had some small, fresh carrots and a sparkling head of broccoli fresh from the farmer's market, half an onion and that jar of pickled cauliflower that my friend Carla gave me last week. They seemed like the makings for a fun dish, so I pulled them out. I peeled and sliced the carrots in thick diagonals. Beheaded the broccoli and cut it into small florets, peeling and cutting up the stem as well. Minced the onion since I can't eat much raw onion before revolution happens in my stomach but I love the flavor. Chopped a generous handful of fresh Italian parsley. Diced the pickled cauliflower and tossed all those ingredients together.

The dressing was a very strange combination, I'll admit it. I whisked together a quick balsamic vinaigrette, then gentled it with just a teaspoon of mayo. Tossed with the salad stuff, it was creamy without being heavy and tasty, tasty, tasty. We munched our way through all that health food, relishing the exercise and the tangy flavors.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rosemary and Roasted Grapes

When I roast a chicken, I like to add veggies and things to roast alongside - only one pan to clean up, just adding a little green to the plate completes it, and I get to experiment with all kinds of combinations.

I almost always toss in some potatoes, either red potatoes or fingerlings - they are more or less a "given". I also love shallots roasted whole. I just drizzle the veggies with a tiny stream of olive oil and roll them around in it to coat, adding different herbs or seasonings as the mood strikes me.

This time, I had two ideas for the same chicken. I still had some of the fresh rosemary that Chilebrown brought me a week or so ago and there were some green grapes in a bowl on the counter, looking less and less likely to be eaten by the day. So, I stripped the rosemary twigs of their soft leaves and mixed those with the potatoes and shallots and sprinkled a fair amount in and over my chicken. I roasted as usual - about 375 degrees for 50 minutes, then threw in a cup of the grapes, scattering them around in the pan, for the last 10 or 15 minutes of the roasting.

What an amazing combination of sweet grapes, savory shallots and rich, tangy rosemary was with the chicken! The skin of the chicken was crisp, the meat moist and this wonderful herby-sweet grape "compote" made what might otherwise be a pretty boring chicken into a truly heavenly dish. I'm going to try this rosemary-and-roasted-grape combo again later this week with pork chops and, yes, shallots again. These flavors were meant to be together - happy marriage.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

International Picnic Day

Today is International Picnic Day. Go out and find your definition of a great picnic spot, gather some pals, bring some finger foods and enjoy the celebration.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Salad Days

There are days when even I, not a huge fan of salads, find myself dreaming of a big, crunchy, crisp green one - mostly on those incredibly hot days that strike us occasionally. I think of them as the Salad Days.

The Bay area has its own natural air conditioning, a well-behaved fog bank that hovers over the cold water offshore most days and whistles inland most evenings. Mainly, this happens like clockwork and keeps our summer temperatures down into the 70s or low 80s. Every now and then, however, when the high pressure system is inland rather than parked over the ocean, we get wind from the valley and it gets HOT. One such day happened last week - by dinner time, the thermometer in the house read 92. Luckily, that temperature coincided with a nice chunk of leftover grilled Kobe-style steak from the night before. As the temperature rose, the idea of salad was sounding better and better.

Nothing exotic here, really, but each ingredient was lovely of its kind - the crunch of raw broccoli, the softness of fresh red lettuce, the snap of peeled carrots, the squish of fresh tomato mixed with some quartered mushrooms, de-stringed celery slices and fingerling potatoes and drizzled with a little balsamic vinaigrette. A few ripe strawberries and some slices of cold steak. Even a bit of avocado to add richness to the plate. No cooking, just chopping. Less effort expended and no heat needed.

Salads like this - ones with plenty of crunch and flavor - are the perfect hot day dinner, just made for the Salad Days.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I never see this, a butter paper, without thinking of my mother. She was a child of the Great Depression - her family went from pre-stock market crash opulent to post-stock market crash comfortable. They didn't really suffer as most of the country did but suffering is individually defined and she was marked for life by the family's experience.

Even though my Dad made a good salary, especially late in his career, and she had a legacy from her mother, she never threw away a butter paper like this. Instead, she would save it to grease a pan or lay it gently over the dish of vegetables headed for the table to allow the butter to melt over the veggies. She would then use it again to wrap small leftovers, which would inevitably rot in the back of the fridge before she could bring herself to discard even the smallest dollop of food. She dressed for dinner each evening, often in a long dress complete with good jewelry, but she was frugal.

It used to bug me when I was young and I'd protest loudly that it wasn't necessary. Now I see that she was just ahead of her time, husbanding scarce resources. She was "green" before green was "in." She recycled long before curb recycling hit the country, saving pop bottles to convert to laundry sprinklers for ironing. She took back Coke bottles for refilling, even before there was a refund. She bought milk from the milkman who took back the empty glass bottles and brought clean ones. Once Dad retired and they settled in one place, she built a compost pile and added her scraps to it daily. She hung out her wash in an era when a clothes dryer was a status symbol - now the clothesline is, among a certain set.

It's a small thing, a butter paper, but I am amazed at how clearly it brings her to mind nearly 20 years after she died. So many important life lessons - even if I am learning them 20 years too late to thank her.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tickled With Pickles

I met my friend Carla when I agreed to be the block captain for our Neighborhood Watch program; Carla was the instigator of this group. We have a surprising amount of mostly petty crime here in our otherwise idyllic little town nestled against the bay, so Carla helped us to organize and try to defeat the Bad Guys. It has paid off - just this week one of our alert neighbors called the cops on four suspicious characters and nabbed them red-handed with a laptop they had stolen from a guy down the street. Those women are back in jail now - they were on parole, so their asses are grass this time.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with pickles except that Carla brought us a jar of hers to thank us for some scanning we did for the Neighborhood Watch program. Now, you may have noticed that if I write about pickled things, it's a rarity, because I honestly don't know what to do with them. I'm sort of a novice about pickles. Oh, I have made pickled beets from time to time and enjoyed them but that's the extent of my pickling knowledge.

So, hey, pickle fans! I'm tickled to receive pickles but I need help! How would you suggest I use this beautiful jar of pickled cauliflower?

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hazelnut Heaven

I stole this from Margie, who borrowed it from Ilva who posted about it 'way back in 2007- and I owe them both a big THANK YOU!

It doesn't look like much, but it's one of the nicest cakes I've ever made - I'm thinking of suggesting it to daughter Katie as her wedding cake. Katie likes to do things a little differently and I'm almost sure she would love this at her wedding celebration. It is moist with sour cream, flavored with strong coffee and studded with coarsely chopped hazelnuts.
It's not that sweet, just a hint from the light dusting of confectioner's sugar, but it's loaded with espresso-and-hazelnut flavor. Can you imagine a better combination?

OMG, you can sell my clothes, I died and went to heaven! I shared a slice with two of my neighbors (very skinny slices - I'm not that generous!) and both raved about it, echoing my thoughts exactly.

I have to admit, it's a bit of a production compared to most things I bake, but the extra effort is amply rewarded. I hesitated when I read the recipe; toasting nuts is not my forte - I often burn them. But I persevered and set not one but two timers while the nuts were in the oven, and I'm ever so glad I did. The rest of the recipe is very easy. Don't wait! Make it tomorrow and send yourself to Hazelnut Heaven!

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lunch With A Pal

Is it just a "girl thing" or do men like having lunch with their guy friends, too? Women, or at least women like me, love to have lunch with a same-sex pal. We talk and talk about things we'd never bring up if there was a guy at the table. My pals listen to my rants and joys and I relish hearing about theirs, too. We chew it all over over chow - relationships, politics, families - and feel nourished in more than one way.

A case in point: lunch this week with Sari at the Townhouse Bar and Grill, a restaurant on a back street in industrial Emeryville that began life as a speakeasy and a brothel during Prohibition. More recently, they have developed what I might characterize as an upscale comfort food menu that had several tempting dishes from which to choose.

I decided on their version of the Hawaiian plate lunch. It is an appetizer on their menu, but it was plenty for lunch. A scoop of sticky rice was surrounded by little bites of filet of beef with a sweet-salt teriyaki sauce and a chiffonade of green onions, topped with a pile of bright red ginger (pickled?) that added spice and bite as well as visual punch to the dish. The sprinkling of sesame seeds finished off a lovely taste treat. Sari snapped this photo for me with her i-Phone as I had forgotten my camera.

We shared one of the best Caesar salads I've tasted in a long time, a huge plate of truly crispy Romaine hearts with a tangy, garlicky dressing. We also shared a serving of their chocolate chip bread pudding swimming in a pool of caramel sauce - a few bites of this bliss-inducing stuff is enough to bring on a serious nap need.

And all the time we munched, we talked and caught up and generally enjoyed the communion of two good friends who share a taste for comfort food and for lunching with a pal.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Pits and Pepper

I can't seem to get enough of clafouti this cherry season. It's so darn easy to make and it tastes so good - what's not to like? Plus, it uses up tired fruit that we might not otherwise eat and I do hate to waste food!

This time, however, I wanted to try a couple of tweaks to the basic recipe that I have always used, the one in Julia Child's masterpiece. She recommends using pitted cherries but I have heard from a couple of reliable sources that cherries with pits left in are more traditional and might impart even more flavor.

The other riff I wanted to try was adding black pepper to the batter. This idea popped fully formed into my head the other day and I've been dying to try it. First, I dipped a cherry into a little freshly-ground pepper to test out this wacky idea - and loved the combination! There's something about pepper and cherries that really sings together - like a red wine that combines those notes. So, I added the pepper to the batter, reduced the vanilla and skimped on the sugar - and it was a really nice twist, subtle but a definite improvement. In fact, I liked it so much that I have modified that page of my copy of Ms. Child's book to reflect the changes.

Here's the new recipe:

Pepper and Pits Clafouti

1-1/4 cups milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/6 cup sugar
3 cups cherries, washed and stems removed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place ingredients, except the 1/6 cup of sugar and the cherries, into a blender, wet ingredients first, followed by dry ingredients. Whirl at high speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the side if needed to incorporate all ingredients smoothly.

Pour 1/4" of the batter into a lightly buttered pie plate or shallow ovenproof dish and set over a medium burner for a few minutes, just to set the bottom. Remove from heat and add the cherries. Sprinkle the remaining 1/6 cup sugar evenly over the cherries. Gently pour in the rest of the batter. If the pepper has sunk to the bottom, give some care to pouring the last bit evenly to spread the pepper around.

Set into the preheated oven and bake for about an hour. The clafouti will puff up and it is done when a sharp knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Serve hot or warm. Serves 6-8 people.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Grilly And Fast

How's this for a dinner that took less than 15 minutes to prepare?

I had been meaning to think about dinner prep all day but one delightful thing after another kept distracting me. A long walk with the dog. A visit from two friends we don't often see. A rest on the bed with My Beloved who was having a sinking spell after the morning's activities. A couple of hours of reading on the deck once the pesky gardener next door with the annoying array of motorized implements finally went home. Another walk with the dog and My Beloved. Now, we are ravenously hungry and dinner hasn't even been started.

So, turn on the grill to heat it. Pull the leftover chuck roast out of the fridge, slice it into two small steaks and paint them on both sides with Sartain's sauce. Put two cups of chicken broth and a pat of butter on the stove to heat. Cut up some broccoli into pieces that fit in a small pan with a couple of tablespoons of water. Clean and slice on the diagonal a green onion or two. Slap the steak on the grill. As the chicken broth boils, add a box of couscous and the green onion, take it off the heat and stir briefly. Leave the cover in place while it sits. Flip the steak. Turn on the heat under the broccoli; when it comes to a boil, lower the heat to low and put on the lid. Press the steaks with a finger - My Beloved's is still soft but nicely striped from the grill. Remove his to a plate. Fluff the couscous with a fork and spoon some onto MB's plate. Drain the broccoli and put half on MB's plate. Press my steak with a finger - still slightly soft but starting to firm. Remove to my plate. Spoon on a little couscous and broccoli. Pat a modicum of butter on the broccoli.

Ta-dah! Dinner, grilly and fast. For my next trick, Ladies and Gentlemen...


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sauce For The Goose

I'm continually amazed by the connective power of the internet. I posted a few months ago about a bean soup recipe I got from my cousin Jan who lives in Petaluma. That post was read by a person in England who knew the family that makes Sartain's Menu sauce in Petaluma and sent the post back to them. It was they who had given the bean soup recipe to Jan in the first place!

We all got a kick out of the travels the recipe had taken but I had never tried the sauce; it was listed in the ingredients but I didn't have any and hadn't tasted it.

When she came over last week, Jan brought a bottle of the sauce, so I'm ready for the next cold day to make the soup. In the meantime, we spread it over hamburgers to delicious effect. The sauce reminds me of teriyaki sauce except the ginger kick is replaced with a hum of chipotle heat.

We plan to try it on steaks, chicken, fish - whatever we are eating seems likely to be improved by this mild chipotle chili sauce with garlic and tequila.

Made right nearby in Petaluma, the sauce has many uses, according to the bottle - maybe even sauce for the goose and the gander. If you are looking for something to liven up a summer meal, helly on down to your local store and ask for Sartain's. I gather they have a marinade as well as this sauce - maybe I'll try that next.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer Sandwich

Cajun bacon, roasted Redbro chicken, fresh tomato, romaine lettuce, a scrape of real mayo from the jar with the blue top and thin-sliced milk bread - a summer sandwich from heaven.

Bet you wish you had one.


Monday, June 7, 2010

The Butcher In Me

Here's a new experience for me - slab bacon. I had heard about it, of course, as several other food bloggers I know have cured their own bacon and sliced their own slabs, but I'm a tamer soul than that - I usually buy bacon in neat slices thanks to some kindly butcher.

But, when Chilebrown offers me bacon, and cajun bacon at that, I don't ask if it's sliced, I just say, "Yes, please!"

I've heard lots of lines in my time but, "Baby, you bring out the butcher in me" is a new one, even for me. Not one you'd use in a fern bar, is it? (Am I dating myself by referring to fern bars?).

Anyway, I got out my second-biggest knife and went to work, carving pretty creditable rashers until the last few when the slab got wobbly and thin. Those last three slices had a thick and a thin end. Never mind, they were all very tasty and the bacon cooked up easily and crisply, which I appreciate, being a lover of crispy bacon.

As I mentioned, this is cajun bacon, the rind side being spread with a mixture of mild peppers to give it a little kick of heat. Chilebrown knows I'm a spice wimp and he didn't do me dirt - the spiciness was pretty mild and just added an additional flavor layer.

He didn't tell me where he got this bacon. If you want to know, you can visit his blog and ask him yourself. He's a nice guy, even if he does bring out the butcher in me.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Spring Chicken

Here's another of those lumpy yard birds, this one a pastured French Redbro chicken from Katz Rock Hill Ranch in Suisun with green garlic slid under the skin of breast and thigh and stuffed in both cavities with a whopping handful of fresh oregano, thanks to Chilebrown, who brought us his garden trimmings along with a generous package of Cajun bacon to try.

We met at Catahoula for the hand-off, as he was headed to the city to buy another of his favorite Guy Things, a pizza stone for the barbecue. I can pretty much guarantee that he will tell you about it in due course.

In the same bag as the bacon was a huge bouquet of oregano and rosemary so fragrant that the guy at the next table was enticed to stop and sniff it and to ask me what it was. (Note to friends seeking dates - bring fresh oregano to the coffee shop as a great conversation starter).

Not content with filling the cavities with oregano, I sprinkled some over the olive-oiled skin for good measure. The divine combined scents of chicken and herbs as it heated in the oven were nose- and appetite-tickling for almost an hour as the bird roasted. This chicken was leaner than most others we've tried but absolutely moist and delicious, due in part to the basic bird, which was wonderful but also thanks to that heavenly combination of green garlic and fresh oregano that made for a truly springy chicken.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tater Tots

This year, I didn't plant a veggie garden - I was still enjoying the Swiss chard that was booming along in the garden from the previous year and the pot of healthy herbs growing on the front steps, so I figured that was enough - and I was feeling lazy.

I had a pretty good-sized unplanted pot, however, filled with good soil and chicken poop, just begging to be asked to dance. So, when I noticed that one of my organic russet potatoes in the fridge had started to grow eyes, I made a split-second decision to farm after all. I cut the spud in four pieces, each containing an eye, and shoved them down equidistant from each other into the soil about 1" deep.

Nothing happened. I waited and watched and watered, but nothing happened. I finally shrugged and gave up, figuring I should have gotten certified "seed potatoes" as all the online advice suggested. Oh, well, no big loss.

Then, just this past weekend as I strolled by that pot, I stopped to pluck a little weed that had started and just look what I found! Three tiny potato plants poking up through the soil and spreading tight little green leaves to the sun! My sprouts seem to be doing well and I'm already dreaming of the harvest come fall when the green parts die back. I'll have to go back online and find out what else I should be doing to encourage my little tater tots.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Hail To The Chief

Yes, Nueske's bacon! We made BLTs but jealously guarded the last two rashers for the next morning when we made Smashed Eggs. Smashed eggs are gently, gently scrambled eggs, patiently stirred over a low heat until they curdle moistly around the bacon bits that were heated in the same pan before adding the eggs.

Don't ask me why, but this tastes better than plain old bacon-and-eggs, even though they are the same ingredients. It makes no earthly sense but it is sublimely true.

I learned this trick from a Chief in the Navy, Ben Banks, who taught me how to make these. He taught me by example many other more important things - to take pride in simple tasks, to accept life's hard times with grace, to turn even adversity into joy - and I will always love and remember him for those life lessons. But the one that brings his smiling face to mind every time I make it is Smashed Eggs.

Thanks, Chief Banks.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Have Always Loved Dragons

Of all the mythological creatures I read about back in grammar school - unicorns, trolls, gnomes, fairies, griffins - the dragons were always my favorites. Perhaps it was because they always lost out to that crabby old St. George or the fickle Jackie Paper or whomever - I have a soft spot in my heart for the underdog. Perhaps it was their power and beauty and flight that attracted me, or their misunderstood nature. Whatever the reasons, Puff and The Reluctant Dragon were friends; I certainly never thought I'd eat one.

Never say never.

When Chilebrown sent me to Baron's Meats in search of Nueske's bacon, little did I know I'd end up buying from them a Black Dragon tri-tip roast, a housemade specialty.

The Black Dragon is, indeed, nearly black with their secret marinade - the young butcher behind the counter listed some of the ingredients for me and it sounded so delicious, I couldn't resist. I can't recall them all but Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and coffee grounds were among them - you'll have to ask her yourself if you want a full accounting.

We grilled it over the Memorial Day weekend on a picture-perfect, blue-sky day when our pal Sari came for dinner and a movie ("Babies," which was both charming and as terrifying as a fire-breathing dragon). We sat outdoors chatting and chowing down on cheese and crackers while the fire readied itself and the meat cooked. The resulting meal was the quintessence of summer - spicy, grilled meat, a loaf of sourdough baguette and minimal green veggies on the side.

I'm glad I didn't really eat an old friend.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Simply The Best

I owe Chilebrown a favor. Perhaps a big cup of Catahoula coffee (his current favorite) or a jar of my peach jam once it is made in September. Or something significant, anyway, because he let me know that Baron's Meats in Alameda carries Nueske's Bacon.*

When I first moved to this area, there was a wonderful little market in our town that carried Nueske's bacon. Sadly, it has changed hands and the new owners carry some other, in my view vastly inferior, brand. So, when I heard Nueske's was available elsewhere, I girded my loins for a trip down the "Nasty Nimitz" highway to Alameda - in the rain, no less, which should show you just how dedicated a Nueske's fan I truly am.

The charming young butcher behind the counter (she who dressed as a giant steak for Hallowe'en last year and posted a picture of herself so adorned on the side of the cash register) hand-sliced my pound, the resulting rashers being thicker than any I had ever prepared before and a little more difficult to crisp without burning but, oh, that Nueske's flavor! Salt, smoke and sweet balanced perfectly in a chewy-but-crispy matrix of meat and fat. We had the first BLTs of the summer season, a fitting tribute to simply the best bacon I've ever tasted.

*BTW, you can order Nueske's bacon online from the website and Father's Day is just around the corner. A bacon sampler doesn't cost much and I can pretty much guarantee that your Dad will love you best if you give him bacon. Just remember that it's like online gambling - addictive.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Good For What Ails You

For the past four weeks, give or take, My Beloved has been in bed with the stubborn residue of an ear infection that has left my usually vigorous and cheerful sweetheart down on power and down in the mouth. Day after day of feeling listless and dizzy will do that.

Chilebrown told me about a butcher in Alameda that carries local, organic and sustainable meats and, when I got there, lo and behold, the market also featured baked goods from the Feel Good Bakery. I decided that this was a sign from Heaven; a sweet treat might perk up My Beloved's day and I was sure it would do wonders for mine.

I chose a lemon cupcake and an amazing-looking carrot cake "sandwich" with cream cheese icing between layers of moist carrot cake. We split them, as we often do, because we each wanted a taste.

Oh, yeah!

The icing was the best part of the cupcake, rich buttercream icing colored
gaily and loaded with real bits of lemon zest for flavor. The best treat, however, was the carrot cake sandwich. The crumb was moist and light and filled with carroty bits. The icing was distinctly sour-among-the-sweet - we could really taste the cream cheese. If they had added nuts, it would have been sublime; as it was, it was good for what ails you and made us both feel much, much better.

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