Monday, January 30, 2012

Be A Lamb

"Be a lamb, will you, and take Cora out for her walk?" I asked My Beloved on the first rainy night in months. That last walk of the evening is usually my responsibility, and it only takes a few minutes, but I was weaseling out. I had gotten spoiled by the past two months of moonlit, starry nights.

He complied. He's sweet that way. That's why it's important to me to return his generosity with meals I think he will enjoy. Like Lamb Loaf.

I had this idea, not an original one, I'm sure, when I took a package of ground lamb out of the freezer. I thought about lamb burgers but we had those fairly recently and, besides, I was in the mood for something different. "What else can one do with ground lamb?" I wondered and the idea came in a flash. Why not make a meat loaf from lamb?

I changed up my usual meatloaf recipe a bit, to highlight the lamb's flavor. Garlic. Mushrooms. Onions. Oh, yes. I also thought about and discarded the notion of serving this meatloaf with catsup - not a happy thought with lamb. Instead, I made a quick tzatziki as counterpoint to the rich meat, and that was a good idea; the mildly astringent sauce complemented very well.

Next time your honeylambsweetiepiedarling does you a favor, lamb loaf may well be the perfect reward.

Honeylambsweetiepiedarling Lamb Loaf

3/4 pound ground lamb
1 large onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
6-8 crimini mushrooms, sautéed lightly
2 slices whole wheat bread, torn into little bits
1 egg mixed with a generous splash of milk

In a wide frying pan, sauté the mushrooms over medium high heat in a little olive oil until their liquid has been released and reabsorbed, then add the onions and garlic just to soften. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a large bowl, crumble the ground lamb and the bread, mixing with your hand to distribute evenly. Add the vegetables and mix again. Add the egg mixture and mix again.

Gently pack the meat mixture into a loaf pan (I used an 8"x8" Corning ware casserole) and bake at 400 degrees F for an hour. Cut into slices and serve with tzatziki sauce on the side.

Simple Tzatziki

You can drain the plain Greek yogurt and squeeze the extra moisture out of the cucumber, or you can just do as I did and use them without the preliminaries. Still makes a tasty little sauce.

1/2 cucumber, seeds removed and finely diced
1/2 cup plain Green yogurt
1 teaspoon fresh or dried dill weed (I used dried)

Mix all three ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup. Let stand for perhaps 30 minutes to meld flavors.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Quick Fix

I made a big pot of rice as substrate for my oven barbecued spareribs, and had two meals' worth left over. I like rice, especially basmati rice, but three nights in a row of plain white rice might strain relations with My Beloved, who likes variety.

So, the second night, I gently browned some cracked almonds (I cracked raw almonds in a little baggie with a rolling pin) in a dab of butter, then added the rice to heat with the buttery almond goodness.

Big hit.

So the third night, I did the same with pecans, and he liked that even better. Next, I'm going to try this "recipe" with Massa rice, which I fully expect will be swoonworthy.

Quick fix.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sourpuss Pizza

Is anyone called a sourpuss any more? I certainly was in my youth, either by my classmates or by my older siblings. Perhaps that would be called bullying today - it certainly seemed like it 'way back then.

These days, however, sour is good and I probably wouldn't resist the moniker. I love plain yogurt and I delight in cornichons and pickled onions. And, when a pal gives me sourdough starter for the second time (I killed the first batch with neglect), I get busy and use it.

We've been enjoying pizzas made at home, and the amount of starter that I was gifted was just about the right amount for two personal size pizzas, so I followed the recipe and rolled it out thinly before topping.

This time, I went "gur-may" with my toppings. I used fresh mozzarella, fresh sautéed crimini mushrooms, and diced, crisped pancetta on one half and spicy Italian sausage on the other. I could hardly believe what an amazing difference those ingredients made. The crust was crisp-chewy with a delightful sour tang. The cheese was super oozy, the simple essence of "dairy" - just the way I like it, even if the bottom of my oven is now smoking from the cheese that ran over the edge of the pizza and self immolated on the oven floor. The mushrooms were rich with funky fungal flavor and I honestly couldn't decide which meat I preferred - they were both out of this world.

The only down side of this sourpuss pizza is that it has spoiled me for ordering delivery from the pizza place down the hill.

Sourdough Pizza Crust, thanks to Jim Sartain

1-1/2 cups mature sourdough starter
1-1/2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 450F. (Some people prefer hotter. Try 550F if your oven will take you there)

Mix ingredients, working in the flour until you have a soft dough (I used my KitchenAid mixer to mix and knead in one step). If the dough gets too dry, add some more starter. If you've used all the starter, add a bit of water.

Knead dough, cover and let rise for 1/2 hour. This lets the dough relax, so forming the pizza is easier. Once the dough has rested, roll out into a flat round shape. Jim rolls his dough on parchment paper, turning the dough 1/8 turn between rolls and only rolling the dough away from him; he says it's easier to make a circular shape that way. If you want thin crust, you'll have a bigger circle.

Once you have a nice, round shell, you can pre-bake it, or top it and bake. To pre-bake, slide the parchment and pie onto a baker's peel, then into the oven. Works better if you use quarry tiles or a baking stone. Bake about 5 minutes - it doesn't take long, so watch carefully. Once the shell is pre-baked, you can cool it and then freeze it, or top it and finish baking*.

When you're ready to top the pizza, rub a bit of olive oil on the surface to keep the crust from getting soggy. Top with your ingredients. (I used fresh mozzarella and it ran over - if you use fresh mozzarella, which I heartily endorse, leave at least an inch between the cheese and the edge of the dough).

Bake for about 10 minutes, but watch carefully to see when the crust gets just brown enough. Pull your incredible, bubbling pizza from the oven using a peel if you have one, cut it in wedges and serve.

*I skipped the pre-baking step and just topped the raw dough after brushing it with a little olive oil. It worked like a champ.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mother Love

My mother was not very demonstrative. She sided with my teachers in all disputes and didn't hesitate to let me know when I had disappointed her. She didn't hug and kiss us much and I can't recall her ever telling me in words that she loved me. I knew, however, that it was true.

There were plenty of indications of her fondness. She'd lie in the grass on a spring day and watch clouds with me tucked against her side. Or, on a summer night, she'd show me the constellations. She would brush and braid my hair. She'd read to us at night when I was too young to read for myself, with my sister and me tucked on either side of her in her big bed.

Of course, there were less welcome ways of showing her love, too - like correcting my table manners and making me clean my room - but twenty years after she went to heaven, I tend to remember the good times more than the bad.

One of the ways I knew I was loved was that she made oven barbecued spare ribs for me. The whole family ate them but no one loved them as much as I did. I'd come home from school to the heavenly smell of rich pork bubbling away in the oven, redolent of tomato sauce and allspice, and my mouth would begin to water as soon as I came through the door. It was agony waiting for dinner time. When she saw me grinning and looking hungry, she'd smile into my eyes, sharing my delight. I think she had been waiting all day to share that smile with me.

I decided one day last week to try to duplicate her way with spare ribs, although her recipe has been lost. Sadly, today, it's hard to find the kind of rich, meaty, fatty country spare ribs that used to make that recipe so delicious. Today's leaner pork tends to dry out in the oven and never attain quite that unctuous richness that I so loved as a child. However, I got pretty close with my experiment. I didn't measure, just threw in a bit of this and a splash of that until it smelled about as I remembered.

It was good over rice but it was best the next day in a pulled pork sandwich. I had tried some of those very thin buns that they sell in store now and that was less that wonderful - next time, I'll use Chilebrown's recipe - but the filling was full of sweet, soft onions, tender pork and memory-inducing sauce, laced with mother love.

How does your mother show her love? Or is she one who actually tells you?

Oven Barbecued Pork Spare Ribs

I didn't measure the ingredients, so this is very approximate; that gives you absolute freedom to tweak the recipe to your own taste. I browned the meat in a pan, added the onion and garlic to soften, deglazed, then put that and all the rest of the ingredients in the crock pot for several hours on "high," until it was so tender that it fell apart.

Apple cider vinegar, perhaps 1/4 cup
balsamic vinegar, a generous splash
lemon juice of half a lemon
soy sauce, a generous splash
tomato sauce, one small can
tomato paste, a big squeeze out of the tube, mixed in with the tomato sauce
Sartain's marinade, just had about 1/4 of a cup left, so I used that, then added some water to the bottle and shook it to get the rest and to add a little liquid to the pot.
powdered ginger, perhaps two teaspoons
allspice, one teaspoon and a dash more
garlic, four or five cloves, roughly chopped
onion, one medium, sliced lengthwise through the root to make spears

The first night, I served it over rice. The next day, I pulled the pork apart for the sandwich, adding just a little lettuce and a scrape of mayo laced with a light squeeze of lemon juice to keep the bun from getting soggy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Shleppers' Loaf

My Beloved and I started the New Year with the discovery that Some Creature had been using our downstairs storage area, the part of the house we call Deep Storage, as a hotel room and a dunny.

Deep Storage is where we keep our spare dining room chairs, the extra leaves for our table, and a plethora of other stuff that we can't bear to part with, everything from Christmas decorations and empty luggage and hot tub cleaners to back issues of car racing magazines and memorabilia and books I have read and loved.

From time to time, we have had four-legged boarders in that area, usually shy ones that left behind fecal calling cards but were never actually seen. We would know they were there when either our cats or, more recently, Cora would be peering intently down the heater vents. Apparently they could hear or smell Some Creature down there. When we noticed this, we'd go around the base of the house looking for the entry points and blocking them up. Then peace would reign again for several more years.

One time about ten years ago, there was an entire family of possums down there; these were the only boarders we ever actually confronted. They huddled together in their improvised bed of our pink fiberglass insulation, three or four triangular grey heads with black, shoe button eyes, bare ratlike tails and sharp teeth, hissing and snarling when we turned on the light. Not wanting a confrontation, we carefully built out of boxes and spare chairs a constructed canyon that led from their location, out the door and down the steps to freedom. We left the light on and tiptoed away, hoping they would see the wisdom in using the escape route we had built for them. When we went back the next day, they had departed, so we cleaned up their mess, quickly closed the door, found their entry point and blocked it up.

So, when Cora was again seen doing her imitation of "His Master's Voice" over the heater vent, we knew there was work to be done. We donned our work gloves, pulled on our scruffiest pants and went to do battle in Deep Storage. It was the work of several days to clean out the remnants -including a very dead, dried husk of a rat - of the occupying force and nasty work it was, indeed. We threw away stuff that had been soiled and, while we were at it, organized the rest and covered it to keep it reasonably clean between uses.

We found a small truckload of items for donation to our local theater company, either to sell to raise money or to use as props in their productions, and set those aside for pickup (if you have miscellany that you don't want, try offering it to theatre companies - they love all kinds of odd things for their sets).

We called the pest control guy to do a better job of blocking entrances. He was wonderfully discreet and professional, arriving in an unmarked truck so our neighbors wouldn't know that Some Creature had visited us. He did a fine job of locating the entrance that I never would have found and securing it. It turns out that likely Some Creature was our neighbors cat.

Then, we bagged the trash for transport to the dump and schlepped it all upstairs to be metered out into the waste stream little by little. All in all, it was a solid week's work. Whew!

On the final day, while My Beloved drove the electronic stuff over to Best Buy (they will recycle electronic items safely, three at a time, for free), I made lunch. Before I even began, I changed clothes and had a shower, glad to wash off the dirt and sweat. It had to be a big lunch, as we were both starving, and it had to be a celebratory lunch for two weary workers who finally finished their nasty task.

We happened to have the remnants of four kinds of good bread in the house (challah, sourdough, pain au levain and herb slab), so I used them all, slicing them thinly using my mother's Slice-a-Slice before slathering them with mayo, mustard, horseradish or cranberry sauce and adding sliced cucumber, ham and Swiss, leftover steak and turkey respectively. A frill of lettuce for each and onto the growing stack it went. No sandwich was bigger than three bites and My Beloved devoured one or two in a single, cheek-filling chomp.

We have eaten the dainty Motor Loaf at Tal-y-Tara that features a variety of sandwich fillings and loved it, but this was anything but dainty. We christened it the Schleppers' Loaf and devoured it with relish.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Grand Read

It has very little to do with cooking and eating, except for the sage advice about eating on the road that he gives on page 191, "It helps if you make it a rule never to eat in any restaurant with kings, foxes, coaches or horses in the name. Beware of the word "gourmet." If a restaurant says it serves gourmet food, you are going to get a frozen dinner that has been warmed up in the microwave."

It mainly has to do with his life as a peripatetic journalist, first with newspapers and later with CBS. I always loved Kuralt's "On the Road" segments after Walter Cronkite had intoned the news in his sonorous voice, so when I saw Charles' 1990 autobiography on a used book table, I picked it up on a whim.

It's a lovely piece of writing. It flows and dips, brings emotion (just enough!) into the pages and gives you a nice glimpse into his life and his persona. It's not all beer and skittles, either out on the road or in his personal life, but it's all interesting, well written and fun. He has met his share of celebrities but his best stories, as was always the case in the "On the Road" segments, are about the average Joes that he met out there in middle America far from the hot spots.

I guess the best part about him is he was human. Not perfect, not coiffed, not gorgeous. Just warmly human and able through words to convey his humanity to his readers and viewers. After his death, I read about his double life and his reputation should have taken a slide with me at that point, but in an odd way, it just added to his humanity.

If you see it, pick it up and decide for yourself if he was a vile sinner or just grandly human. In any case, it's a good read.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Have A Crabby New Year

Good Acme bread in a pretty basket that was a holiday gift from a friend. Organic sweet butter from a local dairy. Cracked crab that was peacefully scavenging on the bottom of the ocean just yesterday. The San Francisco Chronicle spread out to catch the juices and the shells, and advertising the delicious new season of Downton Abbey.

It's cliché to say so but, baby, it doesn't get much better than this.

Photo credit, Buzz Baylis.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hamming It Up

The other night, when My Beloved was delayed on business up in the mountains, he called to say he wouldn't be home for dinner after all. I was bummed; I had planned on grilling a tri-tip on the Weber, both as a celebration of his homecoming and as a celebration of all this unseasonably sunny weather that we've been having. No fun grilling for one and the tri-tip could wait, so I searched in the fridge for something easy and quick.

If you're a regular reader here, you know I love Brussels sprouts and My Beloved does not. So, when I saw a big bag of the little green cabbages and a container of pre-chopped pancetta, I knew I could please myself and My Beloved by eating them up. I was in business.

I trimmed and halved the sprouts while the pancetta browned in a wide frying pan, then tossed the sprouts in to mingle with all that hammy goodness. I wanted them to be tender but only just, retaining their bright greens and yellows. They were browning fast, so I added just a sip of water and a cover for a few minutes to soften them a bit more.

The ham added quite a bit of salt, which really worked with the sprouts. The texture of the sprouts was just right and the bibbits of ham added their richness. Pouring them out onto a plate, I dined in solitude, but I dined well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Needle Soup

I was reading recently in the New York Times a fun article that encouraged me to eat my Christmas tree.

Well, maybe not the whole tree, but some of the needles. It seems that the recent interest in Nordic cooking - the latest fad - has brought evergreens into focus as an ingredient. I admit, I was intrigued.

Each year, when it's time to take off all the baubles and lights and drag the poor, brittle tree out to the curb to be ignominiously cut up and stuffed into the green bin, I feel a little sad and guilty.

It took several years to grow what was a splendid tree and in less than a month it is reduced to a tired, browning husk of its former self. I love having a Christmas tree and I probably won't stop until I'm too weak to drag one home or too poor to bribe some college kid to do the dragging for me, but there always comes that sad day.

Now, here was an article that said I could at least salvage a few meals out of the tree, a sort of nose-to-tail eating for the evergreen set. So, when we cut the tree up, I saved some of the greenest tips with soup in mind.

Sausage and bean soup, with pine needles. Or, actually, fir needles because, in my view, if it's not a Douglas fir, it's not Christmas.

I chopped and browned and brothed and simmered but the bad news is that I have to admit that the evergreen tang I was hoping for was not there. Either my tree was too dry, I used too few needles, or Douglas firs are not ideal for culinary adventures. I'm still intrigued and I will keep experimenting with the fresh needles off evergreens I pass on my dog walking routes. The good news is that the soup was delicious anyway, so I'll go ahead and give you the recipe in case you're in a mood to try something similar.

Needle Soup with Sausage and Swiss Chard

3 fresh garlic sausages, about 1/2 pound in all
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-2 ribs of celery chopped, with the leaves
1-2 large carrots, chopped
1 16oz can white beans (I use Navy beans out of sentiment)
1 16 oz can chopped tomatoes
6 (approx) cups chicken broth
1 Tablespoon fir needles, finely minced
3-4 large leaves of Swiss chard, roughly chopped (or you could use spinach, or other greens, but you'd probably need to cook the other greens longer to soften them)

In a large kettle or pot, heat the olive oil to shimmering. Squeeze the sausage out of its casing in little bibbits, sautéing them until nicely browned. Add the rest of the vegetables in this order: onion, garlic, celery, carrot, cooking each successive veggie for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the beans, tomatoes, chicken broth and fir needles, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to simmer for about an hour. Add the Swiss chard and cover until the chard softens and relaxes, perhaps 5 more minutes. Ladle into bowls.

You will need pepper but you may not need salt, depending on how salty your sausage is. With the tang of pine missing, you might want to add some rosemary, too. I'm imagining that they would taste similarly.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Back To Jacques

I spent an entire day last week taking down the Christmas tree. Not only had we loaded it with lights and baubles, we had also forgotten to water it for a few days, so it was pretty crisp and shedding needles like crazy.

As I wound the lights up on their storage spindles, carefully placed all the ornaments in their sectioned box for another year, and tracked down and boxed all the other miscellania that I use to decorate the house, I got more and more weary. I had to vacuum at least three times to catch most of the needles. By dinner time, I was bushed.

Luckily, I had taken a couple of chicken breasts out of the freezer but was without a single idea about what to do with them and, frankly, by that point I really didn't care. But I was hungry and so was My Beloved, who emerged from his home office to sniff around the kitchen like a bear leaving hibernation.

Back to Jacques. I have been cooking almost exclusively out of Jacques Pépin's newest big book, "Essential Pépin," and all of the recipes I have tried have been simple, quick and delicious. He has an unfussy, straightforward way with ingredients that I really like. I bought it out of hero worship but I'm learning that my high regard for him is justified. He made our chicken breasts, even when I didn't have all the right ingredients, into something quite special.

Essentially, all I did was grill the breasts and smear on a flavored butter. In this case, a tarragon and lemon flavored butter. The overall taste was similar to Béarnaise sauce but brighter and fresher. The butter was mixed with an equal measurement of olive oil, then swirled with lemon juice and fresh tarragon in a blender. I didn't have fresh tarragon and I was reluctant to get out my blender for a tablespoon or so of sauce, so I just mixed the softened butter in a small bowl with a whisk and it worked like a champ. The butter melted upon contact with the warm chicken breasts, spreading the scents of tarragon and lemon and putting an appetizing shine on the golden chicken.

Next time you are beat to your knees, remember Jacques and you've got dinner in the bag.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I'm a firm believer in recycling. Not just at the curb, but also in the kitchen.

When we made pizza the other day using ground lamb as a topping, we ended up with some lamb left over, just enough for a good lunch for the two of us.

So, we recycled it into small patties, quickly sautéed in a pan and laid on top of a nest of the garlicky Swiss chard and tangy goat cheese we had also used on the pizza. Even the buns were recycled, two I froze when I made Chilebrown's recipe for whole wheat hamburger buns. We toasted them on the grill and put them to work.

It was as good, and maybe even a little better, than the original pizza. Lamb loves garlic and garlic loves Swiss chard and Swiss chard loves goat cheese and goat cheese loves whole wheat. It was a love fest all around and we were glad to be invited to the orgy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Years Resolution

I have made a New Years resolution not to make any more New Years resolutions. If something needs improvement in my life, I want to get on it right away, not wait until New Years to burden myself (and, frankly, others who love me) with the crabby person I become when I'm trying to self-improve. Besides, who knows if I'll be here to improve myself next year? I'm not being morbid, just practical.

The truth is that likely I won't make any major changes this late in life anyway. And, if I admit it, I'm actually pretty happy with my life and my current state of health. I could eat less and lose a few but I'm up to three times per week of swimming for an hour (most weeks) and I walk with Cora a mile or two twice a day up and down the hills of our little town. I figure that's enough character-building for now. And I love to eat.

We eat well. We eat too much, but we eat fresh, well-prepared food for the most part, and we eat a wide variety of foods. We are both pretty healthy (knock wood) and I think that's testament to something, if only to our genes.

Our social life is pretty busy, too - we seem run a welcome B&B and our friends like to eat out so we let the pros cook for us from time to time. In this area, with its plethora of good restaurants, that translates to even better food than I make at home.

A case in point, New Year's Day lunch in Point Reyes Station with our pal Bonnie, one of the inmates - uh, students - 50 years ago when I was boarding at a school in Cannes, France called Cours Maintenon. She and I are both Navy juniors and we reconnected here in California after many years apart and have been good friends ever since. She lives out in West Marin in a quirky and wonderful house in Inverness, so we sometimes meet in PRS to catch up. This time, we met at Stellina, always a good start.

I was about to dig in to my seafood stew when My Beloved, who has lived with a food blogger for about five years now, noted that it was a beautiful plate that I might like to photograph. He was right - the blue-black of the mussels with the bright pink-orange of the shrimp made a pretty contrast with the gray of the clam shells and the sprinkle of fresh parsley. I snapped a quick picture before diving in to the rich flavors wafting up to fog the lens of my camera.

Stellina never disappoints. The stew was full of ocean flavors and piqued with little bits of a mildly spicy sausage. The broth was a little salty, as befits a seafood dish, and redolent of garlic and fennel. Lovely stuff. Make it your New Year's resolution to go there and get some. It beats the heck out of a gym membership.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I'm Doing My Best

Here in NOCA, it should be raining by now.

We have two seasons rather than four, the Wet and the Dry. Most years, you can count on a dry summer from April to October and a wet winter from November to March - the temperature doesn't vary that much seasonally but the amount of rain does. The fear mongers on the nightly news are already talking drought.

I furled and put away my umbrella. I bought a brand new bag of charcoal for our outdoor grill. I had my car washed. I put out the cushions on our outdoor furniture.

In short, I'm going everything I can think of to encourage the rain gods, but nothing seems to work. For most of December and, so far, all of January we have had day after day of sunny, bright weather and glorious sunsets. My Beloved calls this, "the upside of drought."

I have to admit that I am loving it. I know there may be a price to pay with water restrictions later in the year but, for now, I am reveling in the chance to walk my dog without a raincoat, to enjoy night after night of glorious sunsets and morning after morning of pearly dawns. Since there is nothing I can do about it, I'm just going to wallow in it.

Or maybe I'll try leaving the top down on my convertible overnight. That's a sure-fire rain dance.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pizza, Take Two

When we made pizza with the new - ta-da! - Kitchen Aid, we ended up with enough crust for four servings, so I popped the extra two into a baggie in the fridge for later.

What went in had lots of elbow room; what came out was plump and filled to the corners. The baggie nearly burst overnight, as that dough kept rising even in the chilly fridge. Because it smelled yeasty and a little sour, I had high hopes for the flavor.

So, we had pizza again the second night. I punched down the dough, rolled it out thinly again, and slathered it this time with a more traditional mixture of tomato sauce and tomato paste with plenty of oregano mixed in, then topped with mozzarella, slices of dry salami and sautéed mushrooms.


Sadly, the sour smell wafted away in the oven and we were left with a similar taste to the night before, but the texture was a little better this time, more elastic and crisp-chewy than the first night. If I use this recipe again, I'll make it a day ahead. But, I'm in the mood to go searching for The Perfect Pizza Dough, so I'll be trying others, keeping this one as a really, really good fallback. There are worse fates than new pizza recipes to try.

Friday, January 6, 2012

More Holiday Gifting

Damn, but these cell phone cameras are getting good! Pretty soon, no one will bother with stand-alone cameras, they'll just point their phone at the view and shazam!

Which is what happened last week when My Beloved wanted to document the progress of our Christmas turkey to send to his daughters, who were both out of town for Christmas this year.

He got a great shot of my new silicone basting brush, a gift from my sister. Her gift last year was better - last year, she climbed into her little car and came out to visit us - but I like the baster, too.

It's pretty big, so it holds a lot of juice and the yellow head removes to go in the dishwasher, keeping the wooden handle in good shape for a long time to come. It did a fine job in helping the turkey to get nicely browned while keeping the inside moist.

There was a theme to my gifts this holiday season. I think everyone in my life reads me like a book. Jacques Pépin's autobiography, to be exact - another gift from My Beloved.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'm Keeping It Out On The Counter

Whenever you get a new appliance, it's important to keep it out on the counter, not just so you can boast about it to anyone who comes by, but also so you learn to use it.

If it's hiding in a cupboard and you're used to doing things one way, you just sigh and think, "Okay, next time I'll get it out - I'm too busy right now." But if it's out there, close to hand and guilting you with every glance, you will pick up the manual and learn how it works.

So, I'm leaving my new amazing appliance on the counter. It paid off this week when I was suddenly hungry for pizza. Usually when that happens, I call down to the village and have them bring me up a medium mushroom pie and a large salad. It's fast unless I have a yen for pizza on a Friday night, that apparently being pizza night for most of the folks in our little town, and the pizza is better than average. This time, however, I saw the Kitchen Aid and thought, "Dough hook! It has a dough hook! I can make my own!"

I delved into my stash of cookbooks and found a recipe that Jamie Oliver likes. It took a few minutes to figure out how to put the dough hook into the machine and turn it on but, sheesh, isn't this why I went to college?

I did eventually get it done.

Almost literally dumped all the ingredients into the bowl and let it become dough. Like magic!

Even though I halved the recipe, it still made enough for four pizzas, so I stashed enough for two into the fridge and rolled out the other two to rough circles about eight inches across, very thin. For toppings, I had some ground lamb in the fridge, a tub of goat cheese and some Swiss chard, which I quickly sautéed in garlic and butter. I brushed the raw crusts with olive oil, laid down a pattern of goat cheese, topped that with limp and redolent Swiss chard, and dotted it with bibbits of ground lamb.

Into a hot, hot oven onto the pizza stone, they cooked for perhaps 10-12 minutes before I fished them out with the pizza peel and My Beloved sliced them into eight small pieces. With the rising, the whole thing took only about an hour, no more than calling the local pizza parlor would have taken on a Friday night.

We are still on the trail of the perfect pizza crust but this combination of toppings was truly swoon-worthy. And the pizzas were Goldilocks size - not too much, not too little, just right.

And all because I kept the Kitchen Aid out on the counter.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Soup Fatigue

That big pot of soup is good for a few meals, but toward the end, we got tired of the same flavors. Each time it was reheated, the soup got richer and deeper, but it was essentially the same. My Beloved is a variety guy, so the fourth time I mentioned it for lunch, his expression was not exactly joyful.

Clearly he had soup fatigue. Time for a change.

We had been to a happy party the night before, cousin Jan's annual stocking party to which the guests bring a silly little gift for each of the other guests and Jan provides the stockings to put them in. Then, after a delicious dinner that Jan prepares, we all open stockings filled with great little treasures. This year, she had a great big, bone-in ham, smoky, porky and really, really good. My Beloved carved it for her and, after the party, everyone got to take some home - and Jan has the bone to make soup from. Now, does that sound like a great party, or what?

Anyway, when My Beloved gave his half-hearted smile at the idea of soup again, I pulled out our package full of ham and cubed a slice to add to the pot, changing the entire character of the soup in a flash. Magically, now it was hearty ham and bean soup - and My Beloved slurped down every last drop with a big smile.

When you have made a pot of soup that seems bottomless, think of cousin Jan and the instant remedy for soup fatigue.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Holiday Gifting

Now, this is what I call a good holiday present!

It wasn't a surprise, since the daughters wanted to assure that I or My Beloved didn't go out and buy me the same thing, but it really is a delight.

I have wanted a KitchenAid mixer since God was a child, but I never quite got up the oomph to buy one for myself. I just kneaded and whipped the old fashioned way, eschewing recipes that called for very much of either of those activities. For example, I have always wanted to try making a Bûche de Noel but the thought of all the beating necessary to make the cake batter smooth and ribbony - well, I settled for store bought bûches with their too-sweet icing.

Now, I'm liberated, able to tackle just about any kitchen task. Empowered, that's what I am. Isn't that the definition of a really great holiday gift?