Saturday, April 30, 2011

Finding Comfort...

Once again, the temperatures are creeping up into the low 90's this weekend in Los Angeles...I know, I know...I live in Sunny Southern California...I get the 'Sunny' part...while weather likes this tends to make you want food of lighter fare, I found myself  earlier this week working on comfort food.

I suppose the weather doesn't really matter when you want comfort food.  Who would turn down a cheesy, gooey plate of macaroni and cheese?  Or a platter of crispy fried chicken?  Some comfort foods do bring to mind cooler temps--think chicken soup.  But if you're strictly after the emotional gratification of comfort food, it doesn't matter if it's 95 degrees, thunder-storming, or you're barricaded in your house while 2 feet of snow is falling outside.

But I had a purpose.  Saveur magazine has a Home Cook Challenge every month on their website.  I finally threw my hat into the ring last month for their sandwich challenge.  This month's theme is 'Comfort Food.'  For someone who spends a great deal of time thinking about food, having the opportunity to play around with tastes and combinations is right up my alley.  And if the experiment goes wrong, you just try again.

I considered the mac and cheese route.  Or the mashed potato route.  I looked into the great abyss known as my fridge and saw the gnarly (in a good way) hunk of celery root and knew I wanted to work with it.  I've done mashed potatoes in the past with celeriac, but wanted something a little different.  I love the subtlety of taste with celery root.  I love the challenge of it.  Cutting away the twisting roots and earth that invariably clings to it, only to reveal a creamy center.  So I decided on latkes.  Potatoes.  Hot. Starchy. Comfort.  It was my first time making them and I was thrilled with the results.  I also made a sauce to serve with them to replace the usual sour cream or applesauce.

The best part, other than being delicious?  They're easy to make.  Almost finger food if you don't mind getting a little grease or yogurt on your hands.  Hell, it's comfort's supposed to make you feel good and sometimes eating with your hands is more than a good thing!

Celeriac and Potato Latkes with Apricot-Ginger Yogurt Sauce

2 medium red potatoes, peeled and grated (about 2 cups)
1 medium celery root, peeled and grated (about 1 ½ cups)
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
2 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
Olive oil for frying

In bowl, add grated potatoes, celeriac and red onion.  Mix well.  Add pepper, flour, and eggs.  Using fork, combine so eggs are evenly distributed.  In a large skillet, add 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Heat on medium high flame.  Form latkes into roughly 2-inch mounds and add to pan.  Flatten with spatula.  Fry each side for about 4 minutes before flipping (but watch closely).  Add more oil as needed by the tablespoon.  Drain on paper towel-lined plate before serving. 

Apricot-Ginger Yogurt Sauce

½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon apricot jam
Pinch of salt.

Mix all ingredients in bowl and stir to combine.  Adjust ginger and jam to taste, if you like.  Spoon onto latkes.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Girlie Moment...

I'm not a huge fan of pink.  I don't mean the singer, I'm talking about the colour.  Maybe it's the backlash (still) of having been a Goth in full black gear for years, but I've never been one to don a whisper pink, cotton candy pink, or frothy carnation pink frock.  I have softened over time though.  I appreciate pink.  Some people look fabulous in it.  I'll even admit to fingering a pink article of clothing and thinking, 'Pretty.'  You just won't see me in it.

All that kind of went out the window when it came time to decide upon the Birthday Cupcakes for the Big Day.  I'm a little early.  The Big Day isn't until Sunday.  Yes...I'm a May Day Girl.  Since I am still obsessing over strawberries, I thought strawberry cupcakes would be fabulous.  Not run-of-the-mill, not over-the-top like last year's lavender lemon (though they rocked in my humble opinion).  Strawberry.  And buttercream...always buttercream.

So I made my cupcakes.  And I made my buttercream.  In addition to thinking, 'yummy,' 'OMG, that's just so wrong!' and 'Mmmmm....butter!'...I also thought, 'Pretty.'

Creative Spaces

I don't know how I came upon it about a week ago.  Maybe it was online or maybe I was flipping through an Art History book.  'It' being Gustave Courbet's 'The Artist's Studio.'  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here it is:

There's no mistaking the artist.  Smack-dab in the center, brush in hand, model near, and (some) curious eyes watching his creative process.  The creative process.  We all have it in some respect, whether it's through paints on a canvas, with a needle and thread, putting pen to paper, or slicing, dicing, and julienning with a sharp blade.  You usually have a space where you put those talents to use.  It's all yours, special and unique.

So it hit me on Easter Sunday, in the early evening...probably about 5 p.m...when the light streaming through the window was clear and bright.  There are a couple of times in the day when sunlight gives everything an otherworldly purity.  White. Softening the edges. I looked up from the computer, at just the right moment and saw it.  My Creative Space.  Sometimes I wonder how I work in such a small space.  I dream of the day when I'll have my own house, with a huge kitchen.  Endless miles of counter space.  A built-in marble pastry counter where I can roll dough 'til the cows come home and the cool stone will be my friend. 

But for the time being, I have a much smaller creative space.  Yes, the cabinet doors don't close all the way.  (The joys of a mid-century building and living in CA).  I keep pots at the ready on the stove top because I use them so much.  I roll dough out on a counter that measures smaller than a school desk.  And you know what?  It works just fine.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When Life Hands You Strawberries....

...or more correctly, when you buy a 4lb container of them...make jam! A couple of friends had made jam or jelly during the past month and it just seemed like a good idea considering the sheer amount of fruit I had at hand.

 I love strawberries.  I love strawberry season...especially in California.  When I used to drive from L.A. to Ventura for work a few years ago, strawberry season was unmistakable.  Once you came to Oxnard, the scent was overpowering (in a good way!).  With the windows down, you were assailed with the sweet, wafting scent of ripe fruit from both sides of the 101.  It always made me smile.  It makes me smile thinking about it.  It makes me want to take that drive up the freeway right now.  It makes me want to dig that jar out of the fridge and eat it by the spoonful.

I was under the impression that jam was difficult to make.  Sterilizing jars, pectin, gelatin, pressure cookers (I remember a commercial for Welch's years ago showing the pressure cooker).  How thrilled am I that it's so easy and requires nothing more than a pan, a stovetop, fruit, sugar, and a little lemon juice?  Today is a good day to pair that jam with some scones.  Oh, to have a day off and bake.

Strawberry Jam
(Adapted from this recipe on

1 lb strawberries
2 cups sugar
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice.

Slice strawberries and mash in a bowl.  I used my handy-dandy pastry blender, which worked beautifully.  In a large saucepan, combine strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice.  Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved, then increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil.  Allow to boil/cook until temperature reaches 220 degrees.  (Yes, I used my candy thermometer for this one.)  It will take about 25-30 minutes to reach this point.  Turn off heat and allow to cool.

I'm not planning on preserving this for long, so I just put it in a Mason jar and then in the fridge.  If you're anything like me, it won't last long.

The following scone recipe has become my absolute 'go-to' recipe for them.  It's completely adaptable to adding fruits, nuts, or whatever you want.

Cream Scones
(Adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart)

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
3 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or Silpat and set aside.  Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in large bowl.  Add butter in small pieces to flour mixture.  Using a pastry blender or by hand, bring all ingredients together until is resembles small pebbles.  You want a crumbly mix.  In a small bowl, combine milk and eggs and beat lightly.  Make a well in flour and add egg-milk mix. Stir with fork or hands to combine, but don't overwork it.  Turn dough onto floured board.  Knead for a few seconds.  You can either cut out your scones with a round 2-inch cutter or make individual ones by hand.  Or make one large round form and cut into triangular slices before putting into the oven.  However you decide to form them, brush the tops with milk and sprinkle a little sugar on them.  I love the sparkling sugar from King Arthur Flour because you don't need a lot and it looks pretty!  Bake for 16-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve warm or room temperature.  Use a big spoon for your jam.  Load it on there.  And smile.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

On a Day Off...

...when I had the usual plans in mind:  up early, off to the gym, an afternoon spent cooking and/or baking, catching up on newspaper reading, and errand running...I found myself sleeping in until 10 a.m., and not feeling all that motivated.  (But I made it to the gym!), it wasn't until 3 p.m. where I was actually geared up to start my the errands done and came home with an urge to cook.  Looking in the fridge, once again, my eye was caught by an object in the drawer.  Dark, roundish, covered in a slight sheen of earth.  Oh yeah...THAT!

'THAT!' was a beet.  Yes, just one.  My lone beet fell into the 'never attempted' category and ended up in my shopping cart on the last trip for groceries with me thinking...'okay, something new to try.'  Beets are growing on me...again.  It's a fickle relationship.  There are times when I think they're too earthy...too beet-y.   Others when I find them sweet, with a nice bite.  Time to give them another chance.

The oven went on, the beet was packed into an aluminum envelope with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a sliced shallot, and three cloves of garlic.  About an hour later, out came my little foil packet, smelling fabulous.  The oil in the aluminum served as a base for a vinaigrette.  And the beet found itself sliced, staining my fingers (and everything else it touched!), atop a bed of spinach with walnuts and feta.

This time around....I'm in love.