Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stuff And Nonsense

My Beloved recently went to Las Vegas for a trade show, bringing home a friend's recipe for bratwurst wrapped in hamburger and sealed with strips of bacon, chilled, then barbecued.  I haven't made that one yet but the idea of stuffing meats settled in my brain as I was making our dinner that evening and I decided to try it.

I was roasting pork tenderloin that evening - it seemed like a natural. I wanted some fruitiness and some herbal and earthy qualities, so I used a white nectarine, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, prosciutto, plus fresh rosemary and thyme from the garden. I sautéed all of those together briefly, adding the nectarine last, then set the mixture aside to cool while I prepped the tenderloins.

Construction was somewhat inventive, since I have never done this before. I had two tenderloins, so I laid the thin end of one against the thick end of the other to even out the cooking times. With a sharp knife, I drew a line down the center of each tenderloin to make a groove for the stuffing, not cutting through the last 3/4".

I lined the groove with overlapping slices of prosciutto, tucking them down into the grooves, and mounded the stuffing down the center of the bottom tenderloin before topping it with the second tenderloin and tying the whole thing up tightly with string to keep the two halves together.

I browned the roast briefly in the sauté pan and tucked it into a roasting pan, then slid it into a 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes. When it came out, it rested under foil for another 10 minutes before I sliced and served. The meat was meltingly tender, the stuffing was complex and elegant.

My Beloved took a bite, approved, and asked if I had bought it at the Woodlands Market, since that market makes really elegant things like this.  When I said, "Nonsense, I made it myself," he was most impressed. It was easier than this somewhat complicated writing would indicate - only the tying with string was dodgy and, next time, I'd know to lay out strings under the bottom tenderloin before stuffing to simplify that process. 

Here's a list of my stuffing ingredients but, honestly, I've already thought of several more ideas for doing this using other fruits and flavors. Let your imagination be your guide.

Stuffed Pork Loins

2 pork tenderloins
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, small dice
1 large mushroom, small dice
1 white nectarine, pitted and chopped
4 thin slices prosciutto

kitchen string

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Secret Summer Santa

When we arrived home from an outing last week we discovered, hanging from our front doorknob, a bright yellow bag of tiny plums, some no bigger than a good-sized cherry tomato, and all of them yellow blushing to rose pink. No note, no indication of who they were from, so I'm assuming it was a summer version of Secret Santa. Which of my neighbors is my Santa?

The plums sat on my counter for a day perfuming the whole kitchen with their summer scent while I wondered what to do with them. We don't eat much jam, so plum jam was out. Some of them could go with a pork roast I was contemplating but that left probably 2.5 pounds of the blushing beauties to be used. Even clafoutis only uses a few plums at a time. Then, the idea of a crisp came to mind and it seemed the perfect use for them.

I found a delicious-sounding recipe on epicurious.com - and I even had most of the ingredients in the house!  Huzzah! The filling required some pre-cooking and that's a drag, but I was in a cooking sort of mood, so what the heck. The recipe called for Italian prune plums, which are different than the ones I had, but I figured it was "close enough for government work."

This is a crisp with a little more authority than some I have made; it had rolled oats and sliced, toasted almonds in the topping. I actually used steel-cut oats since that's what we had on hand and they gave heft to the mixture. The topping was crunchy the first day (soggier as each successive day past, even when reheated) and complemented with its bumpy texture the smooth softness of the fruit. A dollop of very lightly sweetened whipped cream with vanilla didn't hurt, either. The recipe called for vanilla ice cream to partner the crisp but all I had was whipping cream, et voilà.

It was a little disappointing that the colors of the fruit all melded into a pretty uniform melon color rather than retaining their original yellows and reds, but I guess you can't have everything. Still, a pretty nice Secret Santa gift at a time of year when it is completely unexpected.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Elegant Decadence

My mother, everyone will tell you, was an elegant woman. She did things with style. We ate dinner with good silver and fine china every night. She and Dad served dinner at the table, he carving and she spooning the veggies. Everyone waited until all were served to begin eating and good table manners were emphasized. As kids, we chafed at the idea of dressing for dinner and all that folderol, but looking back I think it was a good idea. Life has gotten a lot more casual these days, and we have lost some grace.

Her dinner parties were legendary - she made a complicated meal look easy and always served things she could make ahead so she could spend time with her guests. Whenever her name comes up among people who knew her, her elegance is what they mention first.

What they mention second is how delicious the food always was at her parties. She was a good cook but she rarely shared her recipes. When you live in a small community like the Navy, if you give away your recipes, you eat the same things at everyone's parties, and not everyone gives credit where it's due. I don't know how she refused gracefully but no one seemed to harbor a grudge when she said no. She would share them with us kids, but always extracted a promise not to give away the recipes. 

Well, Mom, I'm going to share this one anyway - it's too good to keep it under wraps. (Plus, she's in heaven now, so she won't mind). 

I served this the other night when I had a delicious rotisserie chicken dinner, lovingly tended by the master of the house, with Sari and Jeff at their new digs in Alameda. They kindly invited me over for dinner when My Beloved was out of town on business so I offered to bring dessert.  

It was Bastille Day, so I wanted to make something French.  When I looked in my recipe box, there it was in my mother's beautifully rounded handwriting - Mousse au Chocolat. What could be more Gallic than that? I had never made this recipe before so I was a little uncertain but it sounded easy and I figured I could always stop at a bakery later if it didn't work out.

Not only did it work out wonderfully well, they asked for the recipe after the very first bite. It was as easy as it looked - laughably simple, in fact - and it was very elegant served (as Mom's recipe suggests) in her demitasse cups. She got these cups as a wedding present back in 1938 - even then, Tiffany was using its distinctive blue.

Next time you are looking for a taste of decadence to end a delicious meal, consider making this recipe for Mousse au Chocolat. It is so rich that this diminutive portion is exactly right. Still, we reduced the elegance quotient considerably by using our fingers to capture the very last smears of mousse from the bottoms of the cups. Mom would have been horrified and gratified at the same time.

Mousse au Chocolat, from Dot Wright via Floss Hyland

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Guittard)
1/2 cup milk (I used half-and-half as I had no milk in the house)
1/4 cup strong coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
2 Tablespoons sugar.

Whipped cream 
Chocolate shavings

Heat milk and coffee to a boil, adding sugar and stirring until it dissolves. In a blender or food processor, put chocolate chips, add hot liquid mixture and blend. With blender or processor running, add egg and, at the end, vanilla.

Pour into demitasse cups or very small ramekins and refrigerate until the mousse sets up, at least three hours. Top with whipped cream (I used very lightly sweetened whipped cream with a driz of vanilla as it whipped) and chocolate shavings.

I made chocolate shavings by using a vegetable peeler to shave the edge of a chocolate bar onto a piece of waxed paper, then sprinkled them over the cream.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Muffin Perfection

I have been making this Sunset magazine recipe for Lemon Blueberry Muffins so long that my recipe card is spattered and smeared and ever so precious to me.  Almost every year, when the fresh blueberries hit the market, I make a batch of these.

The muffins you purchase in stores these days are enormous; my muffins are almost dainty by comparison. They fit easily inside the pleated paper liners in a normal muffin tin.  One makes a nice snack - two makes a nice lunch. 

The lemon adds a little tang to what otherwise would be pretty sweet muffins and it pairs perfectly with blueberries. You can slather them with butter but it's really gilding the lily - they don't need it.

These little beauties freeze well for another day, or just wrap them airtight and keep them on the counter for a couple of days without diminishing their taste. They reheat well in a moderate oven for five minutes.

In other words, they are perfect.

Lemon Blueberry Muffins, from Sunset Magazine, back when God was a child.

1 cup blueberries
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup salad oil (I subbed in melted butter this time and it worked fine and the taste was even better)
1/2 cup milk
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon peel (peel from 1 large lemon, yellow part only)

In a food processor, combine sugar and lemon peel with metal blade in place. Process for 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and process 10 seconds. Mix egg to blend with oil, add milk and, with processor running, quickly add the liquids. Process only until ingredients are evenly mixed. Remove the blade and gently stir in the blueberries.

Fill greased muffin cups (or with paper liners) about 3/4 full. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes (my oven took 30-35 minutes), until the tops are browned.

To store overnight, wrap airtight. To store longer, freeze, then thaw unwrapped. To reheat, set muffins in a pan and bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Marion And Me

I never met Marion Cunningham and, so far, I haven't read any of her books, not even the Fannie Farmer Cookbook or the Breakfast Book, both of which I understand are classics. The closest I ever got to her was to visit her city of Walnut Creek. The only connection I can come up with is that my mother nearly named me Marion in honor of her mother.

Now, I will never have the chance to meet her or see her speak, because she has gone to culinary heaven to meet up with her old buddy James Beard. 

Still, I feel sisterhood with Marion Cunningham because she didn't turn her nose up at iceberg lettuce, and neither do I. When I was a child, iceberg lettuce was what you thought of when you heard the word "salad." This is the lettuce that, along with grapes, launched the United Farm Workers. Every restaurant worth its salt had a wedge of iceberg lettuce with Roquefort dressing on the menu. My Dad and I loved it; my mother rolled her eyes whenever we ordered it.

I still love it. There is something so perfect about crisp iceberg lettuce in a bologna sandwich that it's a once-a-year treat for me - gotta have it!  And I still love a big wedge of pale green crunch with a creamy dressing, like this one that I had last week in honor of Marion. 

I used the Green Goddess dressing that I wrote about before but I did make some changes this time. Rather than Greek yogurt, I just used plain, low fat yogurt for a little more sourness and doubled the amount of lemon juice. The result had just the right balance of creamy and tangy flavors, with the garlic pronounced but not shouting. 

So, Marion, I hardly knew ye, but I wish ye well. Thanks for a lifetime of advocating that people cook together and sit down together to eat. That simple idea is one we are losing, to our detriment. And thanks for endorsing iceberg lettuce.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Last week, while my aging automobile was being repaired at the dealership, my cousin Jan rescued me from the inane and insistent television they have installed in their waiting room and drove me out to Point Reyes Station for a late breakfast and a poke through the shops. 

(If I may be permitted a little rant here, what's with the TVs-in-every-bar-restaurant-and-waiting-room craze? Have we become a society where we must be entertained with visual images every single moment of the day? I was, quite literally, the only one who had a book to read - everyone else was either in thrall to the most obnoxious morning show it has ever been my displeasure to be subjected to, or on their cell phones talking loudly, or deeply engrossed in their smart phones, fingers flying over the keys. It pretty much defined "hell" for me.)

Okay, enough of that. 

The weather promised to be hot as blazes away from the coast, so PRS seemed like a good choice, situated as it is at the head of Tomales Bay. As you know, we are seriously tight for cash right now and the $900 repair estimate didn't make me feel good about buying anything in those shops. But Jan treated us to a nice breakfast at the Pinecone, complete with an indulgent mocha milkshake that we shared so as not to be utterly abandoned into gluttony, and checked out most of the little shops along the main street. 

As we went in to Toby's I noticed some gorgeously colorful bouquets for sale. Another time, I'd have bought one to bring home. As it was, I stopped to admire, drinking in all that color and those various shapes. Instead of buying them, I took their picture to share with you today.

Isn't summer a grand time of year to be rescued?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cool Presentation

After our lunch at the Blackhawk Grille, My Beloved had room for dessert, so he ordered cherry cheesecake from the menu selections. It came deconstructed and latched into a glass canning jar. The sides of the jar were misted with condensation by the time it arrived, advertising how cool the contents were.

The cheesecake was the fluffy kind, so what looks like a honking great portion was really just enough, especially since he had to share a bite or two with me. The crunchy "crust" and sweet cherries complemented the tangy cheese filling very nicely. No gloppy syrup poured over, just the sweetness from cherries and crust.

The presentation was 'way cool, too. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lucky Thirteen

This year has not been the best for us. I think I've mentioned that, between family and friends, we have experienced six deaths (one was canine, Cora's buddy Mia - she will be greatly missed) and four serious illnesses in the past six months. When we are asked how we are these days, we say,"We are fine, but..."  Add to this that My Beloved lost his biggest line (I think I kvetched about that here, too) so we are seriously short of money, and you'd think we were having the worst year ever.

But, on a sunny afternoon celebrating our thirteenth wedding anniversary with lunch at the Blackhawk Grille, with a split of champagne each and a table right next to the little creek and waterfall that runs through the complex, we are still feeling lucky. 

Yes, we chose lunch over dinner because it's a little cheaper but, on a day when fog blankets our coast side home, driving east to the warmth of Danville is not exactly penance.  Thank heavens for microclimates. My Beloved dons shorts for trips like this (he has gorgeous gladiator legs) and I put on a pretty summer dress, one that I usually only wear in Hawaii where it's reliably warm, and we had a splendid, balmy, sunny celebration similar to the day we were married all those years ago.

This is also a sentimental journey for us - we had our first "date" (in the modern era) at the Behring Museum at Blackhawk where I took My Beloved to drool over the jewel-like cars posed on the shiny black marble floors. I knew he'd love that. That day, we also took in the street art fair in San Rafael, because he insisted on doing something he thought I would enjoy as much as he liked dreaming about the cars. 

At our anniversary lunch, we sat in the sunshine, admiring the ducks and remarking about how lazy the koi are, and agreeing that our life together has been like that ever since - each trying to outdo the other in providing fun. This may not be our best year, but thirteen is still a lucky number for us.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


A couple of weeks ago, Greg showed us his French Onion burger, and I've been drooling over that post ever since. I even went so far as to make his roasted tomatoes with garlic in anticipation of making that burger. As Etta James sang so memorably, "At last..."

We had burger, nice grass-raised burger. We had onions, sweetly sautéed onions. We had tomatoes, oven roasted with olive oil and garlic. We even had buns, fresh "sandwich rolls" from Semifreddi. We had cheese, cave-aged Gruyere. We were ready for takeoff on a flight to Swoon City.

For once, I neglected to put anything green at all on the plate. We did have salad for lunch, so perhaps that was good enough?  In any case, the huge, gloriously decorated hamburger is all we had for dinner that night. I couldn't finish mine, so My Beloved got a few extra bites.

The only change we made is that, not being cheeseburger lovers, we nibbled slices of the salty, tangy Gruyere on the side. You have to be a garlic hound like me to enjoy this burger but, if you are, you're in for a major treat. The redolent onions, the beefy, hearty meat, the tomatoes roasted to bring out their sweet side - let your imagination do the work here. It was amazing. As the French would say, "Oooh-La-La!"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Easily Amused

When I buy a package of tortillas, I always wonder if I'll have to end up freezing half of them - we never seem to finish them off. It's possible to freeze them, of course, but they aren't as good afterwards - soggy in some spots and dry in others. Still, waste not, want not, right?

This time, after making soft tacos one night, I had the idea to make fajitas on a subsequent evening - no need to freeze in between! My Beloved often orders fajitas when we go out  but I had never tried making them at home. One of the reasons is that I like sweet peppers but they don't like me - they come back to haunt me for hours after I eat them.  The other reason is that fajitas require split-second timing if you want to end up with rare steak, as we like it.

So, to get the combo of rare steak and comfortably softened veggies, I first seared the steak strips quickly in a very hot pan to caramelize the outsides, removing them to a plate to hold. I sautéed the onions and peppers (I used red and yellow ones for color) in the same pan over a slightly lower heat to give them some of the beefy flavor, adding the beef back in to heat quickly before serving. I heated the tortillas gently to warm pliability in another (lidded) pan.

We had placed hot pads, so the pan with the tortillas and the one with the filling went right on the table. We each chose a tortilla, filled it with a selection from the pan (mine was light on the peppers), wrapped them up and took a bite. Quite good for a first try, the meat nicely pink inside and the peppers and onions sweetly singing, but maybe a tad bland. So, we got out the Cholula (the gateway drug for hot pepper lovers) and added a little spice to the filling. Big improvement.

Still, I think there's some tweaking needed to this dish, but I'm not sure what?  We had green beans on the side but I'm wondering what green veggies might be fun to cook along with the peppers and onions.  I might also try them with leftover roasted chicken next time, rather than the beef. 

In any case, we got a little kick out of eating finger food at the table, dribbling steak juices onto our plates and down our hands. We're pretty easy to amuse.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


There seems to be no middle ground about this dinner - you either love it or hate it. Calves liver, lightly sautéed, sweet onions and, of course, bacon. We don't have this often but, every now and then, we are in the mood.

What's your take on liver and onions?  Love it?  Hate it?  

If you hate it, how long has it been since you tried it? I have found that many foods that turned me off as a child are favorites now. There actually is something to be said for aging - it opens the mind to try things - what the heck, it's just another meal. If you still hate it, you don't ever have to try it again.

We loved it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lunching In Style

Each summer since my friend Betsy taught me to make this sandwich back when we were both in our 20s, I have made a point of collecting the correct, ripe, perfect ingredients at least once during that season. It only comes about when there are perfectly ripe tomatoes and avocados in the world at the same time.

But this year, as you may recall, I rushed the season and made roasted, garlicky, thyme-y tomatoes from Greg's recipe. After carefully saving them for the promised burger, I opened the fridge to find a beautifully ripe avocado that My Beloved had neglected to put on his salad. With growing excitement, I noted that I also had my favorite wheatberry bread and even the required lemon! OMG!

I hastily toasted the bread and topped it with some of those tomatoes steeped in garlic and thyme, avocado slices, a driz of fresh lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper.

When the tomatoes are fresh and ripe, there is a little tang from them that was all sweetness from these roasted ones. The sweetness changed the character of the sandwich from rugged to mellow. I suppose my absolute preference would be for the original, fresh version but when tomato season is still a month away, a girl can't be too choosy.

I was so excited, I actually got out a cloth placemat and matching napkin to do justice to this marvelous sandwich. Now, that's what I call lunching in style!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Still Not Bored

Today is the fifth anniversary of Zoomie Station. 1557 posts so far, and I'm still finding new and goofy things to write about. I never imagined it would last this long. I really started writing  so I'd have my favorite recipes online and accessible from anywhere, but it has become far more important to me than that. I have cut down from daily to every other day, but I'm still getting a kick out of writing and reading your responses.

I thought this picture of my cutting boards might make you smile today. The reason we have so many cutting boards is that we have tiled counters (really ugly - you can see them in the photo) and the grout catches gunk that I don't care to include in my recipes. No matter how carefully I clean the counters, I never have confidence that it does any good.  So, we use cutting boards for everything from making sandwiches to carving roasts and we keep them all out on the counter for quick access.

We have all shapes and sizes, and each one has a special place in my heart. The biggest one has a groove around the edge for catching meat juices from our roasts. The smallest one was turned for me by my first father-in-law, who was a master woodworker and cabinet maker. The parquet one was made for me by my younger brother, another sentimental favorite. The long, skinny one sticking out from behind Groovy and in front of the pizza peel, was a gift at Katie's wedding - she served cheeses to her guests on boards and everyone got to keep theirs as a souvenir of the wedding. The slender bamboo one works best for slicing breads and the round one with the hole is the best all-around size for chopping veggies.

Board. Bored. No, I'm still not bored with the idea of writing to tell you about food we have enjoyed, or happenings in our lives, or books I have read and recommend, or whatever comes to mind on the days when I sit down at my computer to compose. Thanks for coming here and for your many comments. It's really the interaction with readers that makes this whole thing fun.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Rushing The Season

Every year, I wait with bated breath for local, organic, ripe tomatoes - and every year, I cave in sometime in June and buy tomatoes from afar. A girl can wait only so long for really good tomatoes! And this year was no different.

I had read Greg's blog when he posted about a prize-winning burger he had concocted with roasted, garlicky tomatoes on top. I've been dreaming about those tomatoes ever since, so my resistance was down when I strolled past the display of tomatoes from Mexico. I couldn't resist.  I didn't resist.

When I asked, Greg kindly told me how to roast his kind of tomatoes. He used cherry tomatoes and mine were slightly larger, but still not a big variety. I sliced mine about as thick as half a cherry tomato (perhaps 1/2") and laid them in a shallow baking dish. Sliced three cloves of garlic (I'm sure you can vary this depending on your love, or not, of garlic). Dribbled nice olive oil all over them. I was about to slide them into a 275 degree oven as Greg recommended when I remembered that my thyme was about to flower and it would be good to use some of those leaves. So I stepped outside, cut a bunch of little branches and stripped the leaves right into the dish. That may have been gilding the lily, but I do love thyme.

It went into the oven for about 45 minutes. The mingled scents of rich tomato, sweetly roasted garlic and thyme rushed out of the oven when I opened it. The garlic that was in the olive oil on the bottom was golden brown. The tomatoes were all relaxed and comfy in their oil bath and the thyme had released its essence.

After letting it cool, I put it all in a lidded jar in the fridge to await that burger - or perhaps a sandwich. I have all kinds of ideas now that I have rushed the season yet again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

I found this on Facebook a few days ago:

"Proud of Jimmy Carter for speaking truth to power today. As he reminds us again and again: "America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America... Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood." Keep talking until we get it, Mr. President."

Amen to that.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Braggin' On My Students

As you may recall, I tutor children in reading one morning per week. I have three students, all second graders. Sometimes they read to me; other times, they want me to read to them. In between, they tell me about their lives, their joys and their sorrows. 

This year, Maria's mother was deported - a practice of separating families that I know one day we will look back on with deep shame. 

Yadira's dog had puppies - she loved that, but was sad when they were given away. 

Jay was briefly suspended for acting out in class - he returned and has been much better ever since. 

It's all good, even the not-so-good parts. When I can't help them with their problems, I can at least listen and sympathize.

I love it and they seem to like it, and their test scores show that even half an hour per week makes a big difference in their reading abilities. But, this isn't a plea for you to get involved in tutoring students, it's a chance to brag about mine.

Last Friday was the last day of their school year, when the school has a ceremony with singing and dancing and a barbecue to mark the start of summer vacation. I went to the ceremony despite overcast skies and spitting rain - what's a little rain compared to hearing an awesomely composed kindergartner sing "Hallelujah" like a diminutive rock star?

As I sat in the audience awaiting the start of festivities, I kept seeing the door to my classroom pop open and a small head appear to scan the crowd, then slip back inside. On the fourth or fifth time, one of my students stuck her head out and spotted me sitting in the crowd, waved briefly and ducked back in. Then, the door crashed open and all three of my students came flying out, down the ramp and along my row of chairs, each to give me a hug and a brown paper bag tied with ribbon.

Inside were thank you notes, obviously guided by their excellent teacher, but each carefully personalized with the child's style. And jewelry, wonderfully colorful and musical jewelry that I donned immediately and wore proudly for the rest of the week.

Days later, I'm still marveling at the wonderful year we had together. It was worth all the hours of sitting on chairs too small for my butt, correcting their phonics and their pronunciations, witnessing their struggles to master this crazy English language, worrying about their behavior and my response to it. I knew I had an expertise to share with them - what I didn't realize was how much warmth and energy and downright love they had to share with me.

All my students (in fact, all the students in the school) will be promoted to the next grade. And  Maria won an award for "Most Improved" student. I will have new second graders to tutor next year, although Yadira asked me if I would please go with her to third grade, and I have to admit I'm tempted.