Friday, May 27, 2011

If I had a Hammer....

...I'd build myself a farm...much like this....

...visit often...I live vicariously through him and his glorious, verdant gardens...and his chickens...and his ducks...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I'm a sucker for a good bargain.  Even better if it's for something I had considered buying many times in the past, but always decided I didn't really need.  When I went grocery shopping a couple of weeks ago, my favourite Ralphs had loads of stuff set up in one of the aisles on clearance.  Let me tell you how thrilled I was to get my Jane's Crazy Mix-Up salt for 79 cents....79 cents!  But that wasn't my special find for the day.  It was the bag of  Maseca instant corn flour.  I've stood in the baking aisle countless times looking at it wondering if it was something I should keep in my arsenal (errrr...pantry!) because you never know when you might need it.  Right? Right!  But I always held off, trying to keep my spending reined in (hah!).

So I picked up a bag of Maseca, saw the magical price of $1.29 for a 4-lb bag and thought, 'hmmmm...this would be cool to have.'  Then I put it back, determined to work through the pros and cons of having it.  What would I make?  Where would I store it?  (As some of you know, the Italian Pantry is always full and stocked to the brim.) The more important task for me was to hightail it over to the baking aisle and see what the regular price was and determine if I was really getting a deal.  Four aisles over I discovered that the flour regularly sells for $4.29.  Score!  Bargain!  Back to the clearance aisle and with a bag of Maseca in my hands I pored over the recipes on it and saw how damned simple tortillas were to make.  Salt, flour, water.  Yeah, that bag was mine!

Coming back to today, I was thinking about what to make for dinner.  This, after I had grated a head of cabbage (with no idea what to do with it) and wanting to make something with Mexican-inspired flavours.  First, I made a marinade for my chicken.  Lime juice, thinly sliced onions, chopped bell peppers, cilantro, salt, pepper, and (this may be blasphemous) dried cilantro that I crushed and added to the lime juice.  A zip-locked concoction left to stew on its own while I whipped up my tortillas.  So easy.  Granted, I know I'm not grinding my own corn for this, but I like knowing that I can make something that I always saw as being out of reach.  The dough is very springy, very elastic.  I made enough of a mix for 8 tortillas.  I still need practice on making them a little more circular, but I was happy with them.  Remember the cabbage?  It became a  condiment for my tacos.  I sauted the cabbage with a couple of scallions, cilantro, and roughly 2 tablespoons of a key lime/jalapeno marmalade that I had in the fridge.  It gave the cabbage this amazing smoky/sweet taste.  The lime marinade for the chicken was out of this world.  I might consider having company over next time I make this and share.  Or not.  We'll see!

Lime-Cilantro Marinade
(concocted by me)

Juice from 3 limes
@ teaspoon lime zest
@2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup very thinly sliced white onion
1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
dash of red pepper powder
2 cubes of Knorr dried cilantro

I squeezed the juice from the limes and dissolved the dried cilantro in the juice before adding it to the bag with the chicken and remaining ingredients.  Let marinade for as long as you desire.  You'll love this, I swear.
Ball o' Masa

Not bad for a first attempt
Dinner is Served

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Call Me Popeye

I never liked spinach as a kid.  I tried, really I did.  But I could never get excited by a wilted mound of greens on my plate.  It was stringy and tasted like dirt.  This was not an effective means to get kids to eat their vegetables.  Now let's come back to today.  I love spinach.  Spinach salads with strawberries and goat cheese.  Spinach sauted in a bit of bacon fat and tossed with slivered almonds and garlic.  So good.  Not wilty.  Not soggy.

I had a spinach kind of day recently, where it turned out to be a major player in both lunch and dinner.  Lunch was kitchen sink cooking:  a peek in the fridge to see what was available and gathered together to great effect.  Spinach chopped and tossed with pesto, chopped black pepper deli turkey, heaped on wheat toast with cottage cheese.

Dinner was more involved.  I found a recipe in the May 2011 issue of Sunset Magazine.  In the 'Healthy Living' section of the issue, there's an article called Crossover Cuisine.  Chef Sean Baker from Gather Restaurant in Berkeley showcases his Chickpea Cake with Fava Leaves and Arugula Salad recipe.  The accompanying photos looked amazing and I've been wondering what to do with the chickpea flour in my pantry other than in a bread recipe.  I made a few changes based upon what I didn't vs what I did have on hand.  Happily, substituting spinach for the greens I didn't have was a big reason I tried the recipe.  While it wasn't totally vegetarian (as Baker's recipe is), it was delicious.  I'm thinking of making the chickpea cakes again and adapting them to an appetizer use, perhaps cut into cubes and topped with marinated grape tomatoes or something.

Chickpea Cakes with Spinach Salad
(adapted from Sean Baker's recipe)
Serves 2

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup chickpea flour
1 tbsp shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp thyme
2 cups chopped baby spinach
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cook onion in olive oil until translucent.  Add broth and heat until simmering.  Gradually add chickpea flour and mozzarella, whisking until brought together and smooth.  In a food processor or blender, puree chickpea mixture until it reaches baby food consistency.  Add some of the chopped spinach and puree with chickpeas.  Stir in thyme, remaining spinach, and salt.  Lightly grease an 8x8 baking dish and spread chickpea mixture in it.  Cover with plastic wrap and level mixture with hand.  Chill until cold, at least an hour and a half.

Heat olive oil in frying pan.  Chickpea mixture should have solidified to point where you can easily cut it and lift out pan.  Cut into triangles and brown lightly, roughly 4 minutes for each side.

I topped mine with a salad of spinach, shredded carrots, red grapes and marcona almonds in a light lemon vinaigrette.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Tweak Here, A Tweak There...

I know baking is a science, not like cooking where adjustments to a recipe are a little more forgiving.  Exact measurements, a balance between liquids and solids, time to rise, to beat, to rest.  I like to think that tweaking a cake or cookie recipe isn't as drastic as say, a bread recipe...and for the most part, the tweaking I've done has been pretty successful (aka edible).

I made an orange cake this past weekend by adding and subtracting to a basic yellow cake recipe.  Once again, I think it turned out well.  A little rich due to the whipping cream I added, and perhaps my liquid to solid ratio was a little off.  Baking time was extended another 10 minutes, I had a few cracks atop the final outcome and a couple of holes inside the cake.  Happily, a little dusting of confectioner's sugar hides a multitude of sins.  As for taste?  Lovely...more than a hint of orange, but not in your face.  This will be made again.

Orange Cake
Adapted from the Basic Yellow Cake recipe from Wilton
--makes one 8-inch layer cake

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1//4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup milk

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line or grease 8-inch cake pan.  Sift together cake flour, salt, and baking powder.  Cream sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add eggs, vanilla and zest to butter-sugar mixture.  Combine well.  Alternately mix flour mixture and liquids to butter-sugar mix.  Beat well to make sure it all comes together.  Spread batter into cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.  Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

Notes--The Wilton recipe makes 2 8-inch cakes.  I halved the recipe.  You can easily substitute milk if you don't have whipping cream on hand.