Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nearlyweds

This weekend, we are in big-time celebration mode. My Beloved's nephew is getting married. From the moment we first met his girl, about four years ago, we have had our fingers crossed for just this outcome - she's a peach and he's a lucky guy. That's she's also a lucky girl goes without saying.

You may not hear much from us while we are toasting the bride and groom in the hinterlands of Sonoma County. I'll be back next week, however, with a return to the usual format.

Ain't love grand?

Kate and Wills? Who dat?



Friday, April 29, 2011

Serial Enthusiast

I am a serial enthusiast. When I find something fun, whether making books or knitting or beading, I go at the new pastime hammer and tongs for a while, immersing myself in the activity, then rarely do it again.

It's the same with with recipes. When I find an interesting new ingredient, I use it all the time, then tuck it into my recipe file, make it only every now and then, and go looking for something novel. The bacon butties are a good example; I'm pretty sure that's over.

I'm in a rhubarb phase just now and am enjoying the heck out of it. I made basically the same rhubarb tart for Easter dinner as I did last week, only I arranged the fruit like a sunburst or a big flower, used tangerine juice (and, so, less sugar) this time and sprinkled it with minced tangerine zest rather than finely grated.

Everyone who tried it was nodding and yumming at the first bite, so I call that a success. I'm thinking about a rhubarb and yogurt parfait next, while I'm still on a rhubarb roll.


Labels:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Again With The Butty?

Are you getting bored with closeup photos and hyperbolic verbiage about the same damn sandwich day after day? If so, too badsky, because I'm not getting tired of eating it.

I found the brown sauce. Turns out "brown sauce" in the British Isles is the same (or close) to steak sauce here in the colonies. So, off I went to my local upscale supermarket to obtain my very first ever bottle of A-1. My friend the butcher had to show me where it was kept - only two bottles on the lowest shelf in the sauce aisle, 'way down by the floor. I think they were a little embarrassed that they even carry it for peasants like me.

I took it in triumph to the checkout, along with my free-range, local, organic chicken and other assorted snobberies.

At home, I fixed my fourth bacon butty, this time with a dollop of brown sauce oozing out. Perhaps if I was raised with steak sauce, I would have appreciated it more but I'm a simple soul and I tend to like simple foods. I actually prefer my bacon sandwiches with just the butter and the toast. Still, I'm happy I tried it.

I have read that, in England, it's traditional to have a block party on the day of the royal wedding where all the neighbors sit down together and have a meal at tables that are set up in the middle of the street and draped with British flags, a celebration for all who were not invited to Westminster Abbey. I'm very tempted to invite my neighbors to set up tables in our funny little alley and, draping them in American flags (of course), sit down to a dinner of British bacon butties, complete with champagne to toast the royal couple.

It might be a way to use up that bottle of brown sauce.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Like An Eight-Day Clock

One of the best things about a big ol' pot of soup is that you cook once, then rest on your laurels. You might adjust the seasoning or tweak it a bit for variety, but the basic work is done and you can get on to whatever else you need to do.

After that first meal, I leave the covered pot on the stove and just reheat the whole thing when I'm ready for the next serving - I don't even refrigerate it.*

I figure that as long as I bring it to a boil and keep it there for 10-15 minutes, any nasties lurking in the pot will be destroyed. I haven't poisoned anyone yet and it makes the soup taste soooo good when it has had all that extra time to mingle. Like a good cocktail party, everyone has a chance to meet everyone else and they have all made connections.

This time, I added some kale leaflets to this soup that I made a while back. I had never used this curly kale before; when I tasted it raw, it was very green and a little bitter. I'm pretty sure this is the stuff our mother forced us to eat when we were kids. But, immerse those frills in a pot of soup for 10 minutes of serious simmering and it turns into a whole different character. It softens and sweetens while retaining the ticklish texture that makes it so interesting.

The best thing about a big ol' pot of soup is that you can keep it going like an eight-day clock.


*Professional fool in a closed kitchen - do not attempt this at home.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sharing Easter

Somebody mentioned hot cross buns just before Easter and I couldn't get them out of my mind. Why didn't I think of this sooner? Oh, well, never mind - I decided to make some anyway.

I used this recipe but changed it up a bit since I didn't have golden raisins in the house. I used regular dark raisins, and they were fine, but another time I'd just add additional currants and omit the raisins. They seem more traditional, anyway, and they are plenty sweet. There were so many fruits in the dough that they kept popping out like fleas as I was kneading. Keep stuffing them back in - it was the right amount in the finished buns.

The recipe calls for finely grated lemon and orange zest - since I didn't have oranges in the house, I subbed in tangerine zest for the orange. When I make these again, I will not use finely grated zests - I think they'd be improved a little by having a thread or two of zest in each bun. I might even mince the zest rather than use the zester; a tiny cube of pure zest would be fun to encounter, a tart little prize among the raisins.

I also vetoed the cross made of pastry that this recipe recommends - I like the contrast and the sweetness of the cross of icing, so I used my first M-I-L's recipe for butter icing with vanilla flavoring and it was just right, adding a touch of sweetness to the spice-flavored buns without overwhelming them.

Mine got a little too brown - if your oven runs hot like mine does, I'd knock a full 5-15 minutes off the baking time. I checked these with 10 minutes to go and they were already darker than I'd like.

Even slightly over baked, they have a wonderful, light crumb flavored with a mingle of spices and orange and lemon peel that melds nicely with the raisins. The shiny tops and drier bottoms add an interesting texture contrast. Slathered with butter, they are downright sinful; left plain, they still sing with flavor. For special occasions, I'd happily make them again.

The recipe made a batch of 24 buns, far too many for just the two of us, so My Beloved and I wrapped up the rest and delivered them on Easter eve to three of our neighbors, reserving some extras for our Easter dinner hostess to heat and serve the next morning. Given the superstition that sharing the buns brings good luck, I expect to have a very lucky year.


Labels:

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's All Her Fault

When we were growing up, my sister and I didn't always get along. No, that's not correct - we never got along. We were forever pointing fingers at each other and claiming, "It's her fault!"

Now that I'm slightly more adult, at least in years if not in behavior, I'm still pointing fingers. This time at J-in-Wales, who commented on Cookiecrumb's post of long ago, that she should put a dippy egg into her chip butty.

Dippy egg! And me with a box full of pastured eggs in the fridge!

I couldn't get to my toaster fast enough, to toast more of that wonderful bread, sizzle another slice of the killer Canadian bacon and gently fry one of those eggs in the same pan. I prepped the toast with a light scrape of mayo, assembled and took that first unbelievable bite.

OMG.

O.M.G.

OMG!

If my sister and I had had something like this to eat, peace might have reigned in our home. Even if it always was her fault.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eathter Bunny

Easter was always a fun holiday when I was a kid. My Dad would make finding our Easter baskets a treasure hunt that we discovered by following his rhyming clues all over the house and garden.

Then I grew up and moved to Rochester, NY where, happily, I was only a day's drive from my best friend, Wendy, who lives in Michigan. We often shared Easters, especially once her two children came along, and I resurrected Dad's treasure hunts for them. When they were tiny, we read the clues to them and they went to look for the next one. As Mark learned to read, he became the one who unraveled the clues for his little sister. And, finally, one Easter she could read them herself. They loved Easter and always enjoyed their baskets filled with some candy but also toys and toothbrushes - they didn't seem to mind that their Fairy Godmother was a little bit geekish.

Once I moved to California, those special Easters have become less frequent; the kids were older and we lived farther apart. Still, when Mark was in college in southern California, he and his cousin and a friend of theirs drove up to spend a delightful Easter with us. I trotted out the rhyming clues again and, to my delight, these nearly grown up youngsters went right back into kid mode and giggled their way around the house and garden looking for their baskets.

Yesterday came a box in the mail from Mark and Pamela's mother, a complete surprise. Inside was Mother Rabbit and, from inside her, all her little bunnies, carved in wood in wonderfully realistic rabbit poses. Plus a big orange carrot, a bushy green plant and two kinds of wooden flowers to decorate my Easter table.

Happy Easter, everybody. Happy Spring.

Labels:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Euroveg

I enjoy reading food blogs from all over the world - in my view, it's the best use of the interwebs yet invented. Oh, you can claim that the exchange of scientific information is more important or that whole political movements have been fostered thanks to the internet, but I maintain that sharing food tips is the highest form of art that this medium is likely to achieve.

One of my faves, as much for the writing as for the food, is The Wednesday Chef, written by a most international person. She lives in Berlin, but I first found her in New York. Luisa Weiss - even her name is international. Through her posts, I have found that she has Italian and American parents, but she grew up in Berlin and now has returned there. She writes with a wonderful flair for words and images, and usually makes me laugh when she's not making me cry. I have never met Luisa, but I love her anyway.

So, when she reminded me that vegetables baked in parchment paper are wonderful, I tried out her recipe and My Beloved and I chowed down on these for dinner last night. My gmish is made up of new potatoes, a quartered fennel bulb, garlic, spring onion, olives and small, quartered artichokes, seasoned with fresh lemon zest, salt, olive oil and fresh thyme. Splendid. Really splendid.

Why am I telling you all this, instead of simply offering a link to her post? Because I found an easier way to prep the little 'chokes; now, it takes no time at all to throw together this wonderful main or side dish. Here's the deal:

Start bending the leaves backwards toward the stem - they will snap off, leaving the good, meaty part at the base behind. Keep doing that all the way around until the bases are all pale yellowish-green. Cut off the tip of the stem end if it's brown. If the harvesters have left a stem attached, go ahead and peel away the outer (tough) covering of the stem with a paring knife, but keep the middle, which is really just elongated heart - it's delicious. Cut off the top third of the leaves and there you have it!

If you want to keep the pale color, immerse your pieces in acidulated water but, honestly, the discoloration doesn't affect the flavor, so it's okay if you don't want to.

Now, doesn't that sound far more important than uprisings and scientific "progress?"


Labels: ,

Friday, April 22, 2011

Late To The Dance

I'm one of those people who is slow off the mark. I didn't finish college until I was in my forties and I didn't start blogging until 2007. I didn't marry My Beloved until I was in my fifties. Likewise, it's already the middle of spring and I am only now showing you my rhubarb.

Like those other things in my life, it was so worth the wait. I happened across two pounds of beautiful, deep pink rhubarb stems in my local supermarket and bought them on a whim. I have never made anything from rhubarb before, although I certainly have enjoyed it previously.

I found this recipe on the interwebs - it sounded sufficiently easy and tasty for me to give it a whirl, especially since my care package from Jeanne included some Valencia oranges, perfect for juicing. Just look at how beautifully it turned out! Mother Nature's jewel, rhubarb has that same pink-and-green thing going on as watermelon tourmalines - gorgeous stuff.

The taste was gorgeous, too. The sweet of the orange glaze played like a polite kindergartner with the tart of the rhubarb and the orange zest. Plus, the whole thing is cradled in light, crisp puff pastry that crumbles apart into flakes as light as mica. It was so good that I chased the last few drops and shards around the plate with a tongue-moistened finger. I hope my proper mother wasn't looking down from heaven - she'd have been horrified by such unladylike behavior.

I may come late to the dance, but once I get there, I rock out!

Labels:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bacon Butty Revisited

Okay, I'm getting better at this. With each try, my bacon sandwich is improving, mostly because I heeded my friend Pat's advice to add more fat to the mix.

This time, I used toasted white bread, a nice, firm milk bread that I get from the little market down the hill. I buttered it, Step One in adding some fat.

I also used a different brand of Canadian bacon, Niman Ranch. Step Two. I'm pretty sure the pork isn't local - Niman gets its pork from other raisers - but it is humanely and sustainably raised. The meat is lightly marbled with fat and has a little frill of fat along one quarter of the circumference.

That marbling and frilling made all the difference. This bacon was juicy and flavorful, unlike the brand I used the first time, That Which Shall Remain Unnamed. There was a light hint of smoke but not overwhelming the taste of pig, thank heavens. I'd make this sandwich again - and, in fact, there's enough left in the package to make another. I may, if my wifely instincts aren't mugged by my greedy ones, save that for My Beloved as I'm pretty sure this would be a hit with him. We'll see.

In any case, I'm still on the trail of the perfect bacon butty but until that one comes along, this one will do nicely, thanks.


Labels:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hot Ticket

Rather than another whine about our slow-to-arrive spring (although I'd have been fully justified to do so), I decided to make the most of it by making soup. I had a whole fridge full of ingredients just begging to be turned into a heavenly soup, so I granted their wish.

When building soup, it's always a plus to start with great broth. This time, mine was a gmish of the goozle left over from this meal, plus some broth made from the bones of a smoked turkey breast that I grilled on one of those precious few warmer days combined with a soupçon of lamb stock simmered from the skeleton of a gorgeous quintet of chops that we devoured last week. (Don't be afraid to mix your bones when making stock - it leads to all kinds of interesting combinations). With all those barnyard denizens taking part in this soup, it was bound to be stellar.

To flesh out a good soup, you also need lots of veggies that lend their flavors, textures and aromas, but it hardly matters which ones you use. I was aiming for an Italian sort of combo, so I started with garlic, five cloves of it, coarsely chopped and sizzled in some olive oil before adding chopped onion, fennel, celery and spring onions (red ones).

Once they had softened, I added the broth, sliced in two pre-cooked spicy Italian sausages and picked the carcass of a little chicken we had earlier in the week to add shreds of that to the pot, as well as some fresh thyme and oregano from the pot on my front steps. Oh, and a can of diced tomatoes.

All that simmered together for the better part of an afternoon. When I was ready to serve, I put a handful of frozen peas into the pot to thaw and lightly cook just in the heat of the broth. I had thought to add some pasta to the soup for extra body but I always regret it when the pasta gets too soft in subsequent servings. Instead I grilled slices of herb slab bread and rubbed them with cut garlic cloves, balancing them on the edge of the soup bowl for dunking.

The view outside the windows was socked in with fog right down to the water and a misting rain was wetting the deck but indoors the soup was warmly brown and filled with a welcome heat, both from the stove and from the spicy sausage. It was a hot ticket for a cold, gray day.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eggselent

I cracked open three eggs this morning to make an omelet and literally exclaimed when I saw the difference.

The yolk on the right was the last from my dozen of organic, cage-free, local eggs supplied by a large company in our area. Obviously, they do their best to produce fresh eggs from hens who are given as good a life as large production allows.

The two eggs on the left are from pastured hens who live on another organic farm out to the west of us, also local but very small, Clark Summit Farm in Tomales, CA. Their hens run around all day in the pasture eating whatever yummies they find - bugs, worms and grass - and are offered organic feed and crushed oyster shells to strengthen the eggs' shells. They are sheltered at night in moveable coops for their safety. They are not kept under lights to increase their laying but are allowed to rest during the dark months.

All this produces lovely orange yolks but, color aside, it just feels better to me to know that my eggs come from chickens who live a good chicken life while laying me some lovely eggs. To me, it's worth the $4 trip across the bridge and the higher price to know the care that has gone into producing these delicious eggs.



Labels:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lambapalooza

I have invented the best lamb burger in the world.

I know that's a bold statement, but this was a bold burger. See what you think.

The ground lamb was from our local Marin Sun Farms, always a great start. The "bun" was a square cut from an herb slab loaf from Acme and split, also a plus. The cheese on top was a nice crumbly feta, tangy and a little salty.

But, I've done that before - even posted about it before - so where's the justification for my boast?

I added to the half pound of ground lamb a minced rasher of lamb bacon, about a teaspoon of fresh thyme and an equal amount of fresh oregano, plus freshly ground black pepper. Pan seared in olive oil, flipped and topped with the cheese to melt, then laid reverently on the grilled and lightly buttered bread, it was simply the very best lamb burger I have ever eaten.

It was still nicely pink inside when I took my first bite, and so juicy that it started to run down between my fingers. The heat of the pan released the rich taste of the lamb bacon to mingle with the herbs and lamb juices. The cheese had softened and worked its way into the holes in the bread, but it hadn't lost its tang. This was a lambgasm. I was glad I had made only one per person, as they were rich and I'd have been sorely tempted otherwise to beg for seconds.

So, I'm not just braggin' - I really have invented the World's Best Lamb Burger.

Labels:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

True Friendship

You may think that true friendship is shared interests, mutual support, a complementary sense of humor and deep, personal sharing over many years but...nah!

True friendship is packing a big box with Meyer lemons, limes, Valencia oranges and Fuerte avocados from your own trees and shipping it up from Southern California to me here in benighted* Northern California where the sun refuses to shine as it is supposed to and the weather refuses to warm.

That's what true friendship is. From my true friend, Jeanne.

Bless you, baby!

*Obviously, I wrote this a few days ago - today is gorgeous, at last! Did my kvetching bring on the warmer weather, or was it just kismet?

Labels:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Getting Fancy

San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic and food writer Michael Bauer has done us a bunch of favors over the years - for example, he told us about Rosso in Santa Rosa. For that alone, we owe this guy our undying gratitude. He has steered us toward wonderful meals in the past and away from possibly disappointing ones as well.

So, when he got the recipe for this cauliflower custard topped with strips and wedges of colorful veggies from a chef at Poggio, it seemed like a really fun thing to try, despite the somewhat fraught techniques.

Like making veggie strips - never done that before (turns out it's not too difficult). And the custard - what it boils down to is making a white sauce and simmering the cauliflower in that before adding eggs, puréeing and baking, but the technique in the recipe is more complicated than that.

Still, the newspaper picture was compelling and we do love cauliflower, so what the hey?

I chopped and shaved, stirred and puréed, poured and baked, plated and piled, served and sampled, hoping for a really spectacular first course dish for a special dinner. I was imagining a fragile custard that barely held together and tasted of cauliflower, like crême caramel only savory, topped with a tangy, colorful little salad of fresh veggies. Folks, I gotta tell you, the little salad atop the custard was the best part. The texture of the custard was more like a cake and the nuttiness of the cauliflower was nearly lost.

I'm going to try this again because the idea still seems marvelous to me and, knowing my kitchen techniques, it could just be that I made a large boo-boo along the way.

I'm going to tweak the recipe when I try again. I want a more custardy custard and I think small niblets of cauliflower left whole in the custard would actually be a textural improvement. I'm going to spark up that colorful salad with a bit of lemon juice, too, and... well, I guess I'll wait until I've succeeded to talk about all that.

So, my thanks go out to Mr. Bauer for the idea and, of course, for Rosso. I'll keep reading as long as he keeps writing, even if our taste in custards differs somewhat.


Labels:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sugar Surge

If sugar is as dangerous as they say, I'm in deep trouble.

My Beloved brought these home this week, an early Easter celebration of chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing. I think he was charmed by the decorations, as am I. Dyed coconut "grass" and jelly bean "eggs" - I like anything that speaks of spring.

We actually don't eat much sugar, far less than most Americans - we just eat too much of everything else. Walking the dog over the hills of our little town and swimming like a madwoman don't seem to help, either. They do make me feel better and I'm sure they help with fitness, but my dress size hasn't budged.

I gave up dieting after years of rollercoaster weight loss and gain - I have shed and regained whole persons in my lifetime. Now, I'm more or less content with my body - it doesn't give me a hard time and I don't try to make it what it isn't any more. We have become friends who accept each other's failings.

So, we'll enjoy these cupcakes and go on with our lives, courting danger every now and then.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

First Try

Like almost everyone I know, I was reading the sandwich issue of Saveur magazine when I came across a reference to a bacon sandwich. They had me from the word "bacon."

In this country, we love a good bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, but tomato season is months away and this sandwich didn't mention anything from the vegetable kingdom, unless you count the bread.

It seems to be a favorite in England, where it is served in pubs and greasy spoons, often with brown sauce or ketchup added but sometimes, it's just buttered bread and bacon. When I looked for additional references, it seemed to be less like what we call bacon and more like Canadian bacon, quite a bit leaner. I thought immediately of the Comstock bacon sold at Butler Meats in Carson City and wished I had some of that.

Anyway, I bought some Canadian bacon, buttered two halves of a split herbed focaccia slice, grilled them and the bacon briefly, and slapped together a sandwich.

The verdict: Keep Trying. It was too lean to be tasty and needed a smokier, tastier product than the one I bought, which shall remain nameless. I'd also cook the bread in the same pan as the bacon next time, to let it absorb some of that flavor. I will look for some steak sauce to juice it up a bit.

I'll keep trying until I make a really tasty bacon butty; it will be its own reward.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hope In Green Form

Ms. Dickinson may think that hope is a thing with feathers but, in my book, it's a thing with tiny green shoots.

I'm pretty sure that verdant little tuft is a potato sprout, born from the spuds I left unharvested in my pot last fall. Wouldn't that be a kick?

The other green (lower right) is oxalis, which isn't bad in salads in small doses. Tangy to the max.

There's also a handsome green trailing of purslane* in the same pot, also destined for the salad bowl, one of these days.

And miner's lettuce growing along the roadsides in the shady spots.

They all are hope to me, for warmer days and homegrown dinners, fresh from the dark dirt of my diminutive garden.



*When I went back to verify the name of one of the plants above in the post I had written years ago about my botany teacher, Dr. Jean Bobear, I found in the zingers some comments from her family, written months and months after, telling me that she had passed away and that they had found my words extremely comforting.

I can't tell you how wondrous I find that - that she touched my life through her words and, magically, I touched her family's through mine.

Labels:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cool, Very Cool

I'm referring to our weather. It's nearing the middle of April, normally a time when we get some of our hottest days of the year because the fog is out to sea and the sun is already strong, but still we are having very cool weather.

Because of the unseasonable coolth, when I saw this organic pork pot roast in my local supermarket, I thought, "Why the heck not?" This is still the right weather for pot roast.

I was in a mood to fuss with it a bit, so I browned it in my Dutch oven, dusted it liberally with Chinese five spice and ginger powders and added a whole bunch of stuff to simmer with it for hours. After browning in toasted sesame oil, I added celery tops, 6 peeled shallots, 8 lightly crushed and peeled garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of Aloha teriyaki sauce, 3/4 cup of chicken broth, a splash of banana vinegar and 3/4 cup of brewed coffee. Brought it up to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer, covered it and let it cook gently for three hours until it was tender and falling off the bone.

Brought to the table on a platter with some bright green peas and young colorful carrots, it was wonderfully flavorful with all the ingredients that infused the meat. I skimmed the fat off the goozle and served it in a little pitcher to pour over each serving. More of a jus than a gravy, that goozle was full of all those flavors, too.

Best of all, it is a large cut of meat - we will enjoy it even more in subsequent meals as the flavors ripen and improve, and any leftover goozle will end up in soup or something.

The whole dinner was cool, very cool.




Labels: ,

Monday, April 11, 2011

Motor Loaf

Whenever I go to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (gotta love that name!), I like to stop for lunch around the corner at Tal-y-Tara, a wonderfully quirky little tea and polo (yes, polo) shop that serves good tea and coffee, the best scones on the planet and a terrific little lunch for two that they call their "motor loaf."

They take a miniature loaf of wonderful brown bread, carve slices out of the middle, fill them with all sorts of goodies, then wrap and insert the little sandwiches back into the loaf. When I went there this past week with cousin Jan, we not only shared a motor loaf, I also bought another loaf to bring home.

My Beloved had to wait for his lunch the next day, as I was inspired to make lots of little sammies with all different fillings as they did, only I sliced the whole loaf and piled our finger sandwiches onto the tiered plate that Jan gave us.

Because I had a whole bunch of small planned overs in the fridge and because I cut the bread very thinly, I was able to make lots of different flavors for my variety-loving guy - egg and olive, ham and Swiss with Dijon mustard, corned beef with Dijon mustard, cheddar and chutney, cheddar and Swiss, smoked salmon with Greek yogurt, turkey with cranberry. Each had a distinctive flavor and texture - there was no choosing a favorite. Well, maybe the egg and olive?

Anyway, if you get out that way, don't miss Tal-y-Tara. If you don't need a purple polo helmet with tiny mirrors sewn around the hatband (my personal fave), you will at least love the scones with Devonshire cream or the motor loaf.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Isn't It Good, Norwegian Wood?

Or, in this case, Danish wood.

One of my "finds" at the Alameda Swap Meet was this marvelous Dansk salad bowl, beautifully pieced and perfect despite being a mid-century design. If I could have afforded one back then, I'd have bought it - as it is, I got it anyway, just 40 years later and for a ridiculously low price.

You might find something wonderful at the swap meet, too. It is held on the first Sunday of every month on the former Alameda Naval Air Station. I think they use the old runway, as the event is huge and the parking lot is even larger.

They are very well organized with a UPS man stationed out front in case you need to ship things and carts of various sizes to rent if your treasures are too big to carry. Parking is free and there's a free shuttle to take you to the gate, but it costs $5 to get in, plus whatever treasures you discover while you're there. I'd be amazed if you can look over the acres and acres of tables and not find a "must" or two.

Our family was stationed briefly at Alameda NAS back in the '50s, when it was an active Navy base. Back then, my sister and I rode the city bus from Alameda to Berkeley to school and back, all by ourselves. More or less unthinkable today, as we were only 10 and 8 years old at the time. I'm sure there was a base school but my parents must have heard that the Bentley School, at that time housed in a big old wood frame mansion in Berkeley, was better. It was my favorite year of school ever, fourth grade. My teacher was Mrs. Vohs, a wonderfully kind and loving woman who nonetheless expected her students' best and got it.

I don't recognize any of it when I go back to Alameda now - the buildings were probably all the same but I was too young to have a mental map of the place and we were there for less than a year. Now, it just seems large and utilitarian - all those disused buildings that were once a bustling naval station.

But I have lots of memories - of my Dad describing an earthquake that traveled right up the anchor chain to shiver his ship; of my sister teasing me unmercifully on the bus, as older sisters are wont to do with younger ones; of being allowed to drive one of the first automatic transmission cars available - all the kids in the neighborhood got a turn at the wheel in an empty parking lot; of being invited on my first date to go to Children's Fairyland (it's still there and still delightful); of a book called "Skippy" that started me on the road to being a lifelong reader.

I hope your visit to Alameda is as rewarding as mine was, even without the memories.

Labels:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sunny Lunch

Did I tell you I've been swimming? Well, I have. Two or three times per week, I shrug my lumpy old body into a swimsuit and go down to our local natatorium where a handsome young coach with dark curls devises workouts designed to ready me for my afternoon nap. I churn back and forth for an hour, getting stronger and faster each week but none of the other swimmers are in any danger of being passed. I'm there to make the others feel good about their fitness.

Sometimes, my cousin Jan joins me, driving down from Petaluma for swimming and lunch. We are mildly competitive about our swimming - she's faster unless we are using the kickboards, when for some unknown reason I can usually touch the wall first.

Anyway, we had just finished our swim and were headed into the house for lunch when My Beloved pulled up in his car looking like a thundercloud. Turns out he had had a lousy morning trying to help a customer, was two hours past his usual lunch time, and was in a very, very bad mood. He even threw his car keys - when he's really irked, he throws small objects. Tantrums are so rare with him that I figured lunch was needed - pronto!

Here's what I quickly prepared; open faced sandwiches of roasted turkey breast, pre-cooked Italian sausage and Swiss cheese, sort of a turkey melt but with mild Italian sausage added. The steps are so easy as to be laughable; from bottom to top - toast, butter, turkey, sausage slices, cheese. Run under the broiler until the cheese bubbles and serve.

It was so good, it cured his bad mood after the second bite. It's not pretty but, man, is it ever delicious! As I was photographing my plate, he was laughing and tossing a sunflower napkin ring into the frame to try to improve the picture. He went back to work with a spring in his step, normal optimism restored. The thundercloud had passed and the sun emerged.

Labels:

Friday, April 8, 2011

We Like A Quickie

After a busy and social weekend in which I gave a casual dinner party on Friday, attended a lovely dinner/birthday celebration on Saturday, strolled for hours around the Alameda Swap Meet (an amazing experience, by the way) on Sunday and entertained a delightful house guest on Monday by driving to Sonoma for lunch at the Girl and the Fig followed by wine tasting at the Buena Vista winery, I was wiped slick. After dropping the guest off at the airport, I went home and took a long, long nap.

When I awoke at nearly dinner time, I was still without energy for any kind of serious cooking. Thank heavens for the contents of the fridge and pantry - no shopping required!

I started boiling water for a package of Eduardo's penne pasta while I browned in olive oil the meat that I crumbled out of the casings of two Fra' Mani Italian sausages, then lowered the heat and added three minced cloves of garlic. As they sizzled together, I cut up broccoli florets and stems into bite-sized pieces, sliced three nice big radishes, and chopped some scallions. When the garlic was nicely fragrant, I added first the broccoli to cook for a minute or two, then the radishes. The penne was drained briefly and tossed into the pan with the rest of the ingredients and stirred until it was coated with all that garlicky, meaty glory before plating and serving with a hunk of ParmReg to grate over the whole.

The only thing I'd change about the entire weekend is that I'd use spicy Italian sausage next time. This was really good, especially considering it was a quickie, but it would have been even better with some spicy sausage bits, or some hot pepper flakes added. Still, we quite liked it.

Labels:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sari's Party, Part One

In my indignation about bombing and my excitement about dessert, I almost forgot to show you the main dish at my belated birthday party that dear Sari gave in my honor. Pork loin roast crusted with mustard and bathed in a green peppercorn jus.

The chops were about two inches thick, ringed with flavor on the outside, just blushing on the inside. Before slicing, it was a thing of beauty. After slicing, it was mouthwatering.

This from a woman who swears she's a lousy cook. If that's true, I need more lousy cooks in my life.

Labels:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kinder, Gentler Bombing

I'm sick and tired of reading the news, of hearing about how we have bombed Iraq, Afghanistan and, now, Libya or how we have been bombed in two of those three places. We could write a terrific best seller entitled, "How To Make Enemies Wherever You Go."

Here's how to make friends, instead.

Instead of a roadside bomb, let's all make dessert bombes like our pal Sari did to celebrate my birthday. I was in Hawaii on that day, so Sari planned a birthday party last weekend and made a magnificent dinner, topped off with this beautiful bombe.

Mango sorbet on the outside, raspberry sorbet in the middle and strawberry ice cream at the center, ringed and topped with fresh raspberries. If you've ever seen a more festive dessert, I'll be amazed.

Go here for the recipe and go forth to make some friends.

Labels:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

And They Carved Happily Ever After

It's kind of a tradition in our family to give carving sets as wedding presents. I'm not sure how it got started but we all have them, some with fancy sterling silver handles, others with beautiful wooden ones. My Beloved's is a handsome set of Gerber blades with brushed metal handles, presented in a beautiful hardwood case.

My Beloved's nephew will marry a lovely young woman of whom we heartily approve (not that our approval makes any difference but it's always nice when we feel the couple really is just right for each other) at the end of this month, so we went shopping on the internet and discovered a marvelous cutlery shop in the historic shopping district of Petaluma, Kentucky Street.

Sonoma Cutlery. I've never seen such an array of knives in my life, everything from serrated grapefruit cutters to wickedly curved hunting knives to chef's knives of every description. They also carry a nice selection of carving sets and even this honking big bamboo cutting board, complete with a juice moat around the edge. We wanted a set like MB's, but they are no longer made. The sales person couldn't have been nicer or more helpful, either - she knew her stock inside out and she helped us to make a good decision.

If you are looking for a special knife, you couldn't go wrong by visiting Sonoma Cutlery to see what they recommend. They cater to chefs, culinary students and serious cooks, so you will almost certainly find what you need there. They also do an online business, if you aren't lucky enough to be within driving distance of Petaluma.

And, don't worry, the nearlyweds don't read my blog, so I haven't let the cat out of the bag.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Feeling Like Spring

Oh, that first really warm spring day!

We had waited far longer than normal around here for that day. Then, after weeks of gray skies and rain, here comes a giddy gift of a day when the sun shone from sunrise to sundown, nonstop! The kind of day when flipflops or sandals are de rigueur.

It's the kind of day when even I, not the world's most dedicated salad lover, makes a salad just to celebrate.

So, here's my grilled lamb salad on romaine lettuce, drizzled with a tart lemony-creamy dressing and showered with an aged Andante dairy goat cheese called Etude. I love the simple tang of this easy-peasy salad dressing and the Etude added a little quiet funk to the whole thing.

The last time we had lamb London broil, I had forgotten that it's a pretty tough cut, so this time I sliced it thinly across the grain after grilling and resting - a good move! The whole salad sang with flavor. I opened every door and window in the house, inviting in the fresh air and sunshine of spring.

Spring Salad Dressing

1 Tbs mayonnaise (I use the stuff in the blue jar)
1/2 lemon, juiced
Freshly ground pepper
A generous grating of Andante Etude aged cheese (or you could use good Parmesan, if you can't find the Etude)

Whisk together the mayo and lemon juice. You can use pepper if you like but the cheese is salty, so hold off on the sodium chloride until you have tasted. Add the cheese to the dressing, or simply grate it over the dressed lettuce.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Prize(s)

I've been meaning to show you the prize I decided to offer to the Evil Empress, the winner of my Ugly Food Photo contest this year, but I had to wait as I'm giving them to her at dinner this weekend and I didn't want her to see them before they are presented.

I was really looking for one like the black one I posted about eons ago, but the cooking store I haunt no longer carries them; more's the pity, too, as it is the most useful tool in my kitchen.

They have lots of other options, however, so I went for these two. The spatula has a flexible, heat resistant blade that looks like it will be easy to slip under anything in the pan. The other one I purchased because it performs five separate functions and will take up less space in the drawer than five separate tools would. I'd have bought another of the five-function whiz if they had had two, but I snagged the last one for the EE and my honorable side stubbornly insists that I give it to her even when my less noble side is whispering, "She'll never know the difference."

So, this is why I'm writing about it now; keeps me honest.

Labels:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Colorific

What do you do with about a cup of leftover wild rice and 3/4 of 1/4 of a pound of ground pork? Planned overs from two subsequent meals. Whenever I have disparate leftovers, I think of stir fry, since a little of this and a dab of that are what makes a really good stir fry.

Rather than reserve the rice as substrate for the rest, I decided to incorporate it right into the dish, so now it seemed more like fried rice than stir fry, and that's fine with me.

So, here's my latest fried rice version, very colorful and chunky with mushroom slices, broccoli florets, purple cabbage ribbons, beaten egg shreds, carrot ovals, diagonals of green onion, sautéed ground pork with ginger and that nutty, wonderful wild rice, drizzled with just a hint of soy sauce and speckled with a little black pepper.

Quickly sautéed with a modicum of canola oil, it went together fast and retained the beautiful colors. Bumpy, chewy, crunchy and soft, the textures for me were the highlights of the plate. That's one happy pile of goodies!

Labels: ,

Friday, April 1, 2011

Is There A Doctor In The House?

Our boxed tomato soup was fine the other day since we had lovely hot dogs in baguette buns to go along with it, but facing that same soup, now left over, for lunch again, I thought a little doctoring was in order. I'm always amazed at what improvements just a little fooling around can make. This is essentially the same meal as before, but it felt entirely different.

I still had hot dogs in the fridge so I cut them into rounds and threw them in the pot while the soup heated, and added chopped celery, about a tablespoon of cream cheese and sliced green onion. Stirred all that while it heated and the cream cheese melted, but just 'til hot - I didn't want to cook the veggies, just warm them.

The hot dogs spread their smoky, salty flavor through the soup base and the veggies brightened the texture. For a little panache, I added a celery stick to each bowl as I brought it to the table. My Beloved smiled and asked, "So, is this Bloody Mary soup?" Sure, why not?

Hope you have a fun April Fool's Day!

Labels: ,