Saturday, August 27, 2011

It's Too Darn Hot... be cooking this week.  I've seen the temperature inch up to 108 degrees for the past two days and it doesn't look as though it's going to get any better until the middle of next week.  So, I have discovered that I can easily live on antipasti platters....for multiple days in a row and multiple times in one day.  The most daring that I've been in the kitchen over the past few days has been making more ricotta (I am obsessed.) and pasta.  Believe me, it's not for lack of desire.  I found a recipe for a peach cake that I am dying to make.  I bought peaches the other night, but cannot bring myself to turn on the oven.  I may just say 'to hell with it' and turn the oven on tomorrow, with desire for peach cake winning out over the need to stay cool.  Perhaps a morning baking session?  I'll share the results.

But all has not been at a standstill in the household.  Some of you may know that I've been considering starting a food -based business.  I've spent quite a bit of time trying to answer the 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' question and I find myself coming back to food.  I went out with a friend last weekend and batting ideas back and forth finally narrowed my vision.  Then I went to a dinner party at another friend's house earlier this week and in talking with her brother, who told me repeatedly to 'follow my dreams,' it began to sink in.  As did the advice of not waiting for the 'right time' because there is no 'right time' and if I wait, I'll never do it.

I took a step forward on Wednesday.  I am going to learn everything I need to start this baby.  I'm going to write a business plan, find out what licenses and certifications I need, name it.  I don't expect it to be easy.  But it's high time I take a jump into this world and try something new and big and scary.  What I have now isn't too much, but it's a beginning.  I'm calling it the front door.  Over time, the door will inch open little by little as my plan rounds out.  Let me introduce you to my new venture...hell, my new ADventure:

Semplice Gourmet

....and because the weekend just screams for some old school sounds....have a little Ella with your morning coffee:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's a Science...

...baking, that is.  Exact measurements, ideal conditions...all hopefully leading to a gorgeous, crusty on the outside, light and airy on the inside loaf of bread to come out of the oven.  Have I mentioned that I was never a fan of science in school?  I was a much bigger fan of literature and art.  Maybe that's why I still haven't baked a loaf of bread that I've been totally happy with.  Sure, there's that photo of a nice looking boule I made last year in the header of this blog (right up there!).  I can do pretty darn well with scones, cookies, cupcakes, muffins and cakes.  But bread....bread is elusive to me.

I had such high hopes for today's attempt.  Armed with a brand new bag of flour, I was determined to knock it out of the park.  Greek Olive could it go wrong?  It would have one of my absolutely favourite things in it....oil-cured olives.  Wrinkly, briny, oily and oh-so-good.  Half an onion.  I imaged the crust snapping loudly when I put a blade to it, still steaming from the oven heat.  Slathered in would be beyond delicious.

My first hint that something was amiss was how hard it was to knead.  Not just because I was trying to incorporate both the olives and chopped onions; it was unyielding, fighting my hands at every turn.  I managed to get it to a point where I thought it was acceptable to let it rise.  Fast-forward an hour and a half.  I looked into the plastic wrap-covered bowl.  It wasn't pretty.  But it rose, so I thought...well, maybe it won't be too bad.  Usually after its risen, it's malleable enough to give it a good punch or two and I can knead it a bit more.  Nope.  Not this time.  Barely was I able to work my fingers through the dough again.  I managed to make two slightly larger than softball sized loaves and let them bake away for 40 minutes.  They baked to a lovely golden brown, speckled with olives.  I even tapped one and heard the hollow thump that recipes say you'll hear.  When I cut one of the loaves open, it wasn't light and airy.  It was doughy and a bit dense.  It's not's just not good.  I'm tempted to take the one I haven't sliced and bat it around.  Or, had I thought about it, I could have made them golf-ball sized.  Then I'd be able to pack them into a big ole Ziploc bag, grab my golf clubs, head over to the driving range and whack the crap out of them.  Hell, at least my swing would get some practice.

I will perfect this bread-baking skill.  I didn't buy a 10-lb bag of flour for nothing.
That's them.  Not too pretty.

Eliopsomo/Olive Bread
From Modern Greek:  170 Contemporary Recipes from the Mediterranean by Andy Harris

Happily, if you want to try it yourself, you can find the recipe in Google Books.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

South of the Border

...down Mexico way...thanks, Frank...but we're going a little further South to El Salvador.  I love discovering new foods that I've never heard of.  So many cultures, so much food to try.  While I may not like it all, I'm willing to give it a go.

I love finding new food websites out there in the world wide interwebz.  If you have a chance, do check out Food52.  Recipes, contests, shopping, and more are here.  I first discovered it when they were having their Best Gluten Free recipe contest and came across the recipe for Salvadoran quesadillas.  Posted by Sasha at Global Table Adventure, they looked amazing and delicious.  You also need to check out Sasha's website.  Her goal is to cook foods from 195 countries in 195 weeks, a daunting adventure that I am not soon to take up.  You will also easily get sucked into her site and find loads of recipes you'll want to make yourself.

These little goodies are not what you think of when 'quesadilla' comes to mind.  Instead of tortillas sandwiched with cheese and other fillings, they're little cakes full of butter.  Dense, cheesy, and a little nutty with sesame.  Sasha says they're eaten for breakfast in El Salvador.  I made them for brunch this morning and had one later in the day as a snack.  It will be difficult to not eat the whole batch at breakfast.  I'm looking at the leftovers now thinking 'just one more.'  But I'll be good....and wait for tomorrow morning.  Just me, a big steaming cup of coffee and those four little cakes.

Salvadoran Quesadillas
(Adapted from Global Table Adventure's recipe)
Makes 8

1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Sesame seeds, for sprinkling

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease muffin tin.  In a small bowl, combine the rice flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light.  Add egg and mix well.  Add yogurt, cheese and flour mixture and mix well.  Spoon batter into muffin tin about half-way in each well.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds to taste.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  The edges will be golden brown.  Let cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pan.

If you checked out the recipe on Sasha's site, you'll notice that I substituted both the cotija cheese and sour cream.  I plan to make these again with all the ingredients she used, but I don't think I missed out much by substituting.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer Staycation

Here we are.  Day 2 of my Summer Staycation.  After working 10 days without any time off in between, three of those days starting with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call, and putting in a huge effort for a big project at the day job, to say that I was looking forward to my time off would be an understatement.  I started a countdown last week.

It's been fabulous so far.  I don't require a lot.  Day One started with breakfast in downtown L.A. with a dear friend.  Day Two actually got my ass back in the gym after only making it there once early in the week.  It also included a stop at the Salvation Army, where I scored a vintage 60's swing coat.  That coat is in near perfect condition and it costs me $5.40.  I also bought two creme brulee ramekins for .72c each.  They'll be perfect for photographing goodies.  I've been playing my Frank Sinatra station on Pandora all day, the breeze is blowing through the house, the day is gorgeous.

Lest you think the Staycation does not involve cooking, you are wrong.  Thursday night I made that amazing Cherry-Amaretto jam-syrup-chutney thingy that I made a few weeks ago (though this time with a mix of Rainier and Bing cherries), and yesterday I made ricotta...yes, again.  I fear that I am forever ruined and will never go back to store bought.  (Not that I have a problem with that!)  Smitten Kitchen's ricotta recipe is beyond amazing, with a 3:1 whole milk to heavy whipping cream ratio.  I tweak mine with lemon zest, which adds a nice zing to the creaminess.  I'm going to give a go at making Gjetost with the leftover whey.  Hell, maybe this will lead to a career as a cheesemonger.  Who knows?

Plenty more will be made this week, kids.  Stay tuned.

Ricotta and a whole lotta whey

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blondes Have More Fun

Or do they?  I wouldn't know having never been a blonde...but I do know that blondies (the un-chocolate brownie twin) taste pretty damn good.  Once again having overripe bananas at hand, these blondies became banana walnut blondies.  The perfect opposite to last week's banana walnut brownies.

First things first.  Before you start baking these little guys, smash your bananas (2 in this case)  until it's a pudding consistency.  Then add a heaping tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk.  Let it sit awhile.  You may also want to use a mixture like this for pancakes, because I think it would be fabulous.

Once again, the people I work with win again.  Little bites are all packaged and ready to go.  I see it as saving myself and as I like to say, 'sharing is caring.'

Banana Walnut Blondies
(adapted from a recipe on All Recipes)

2 ripe bananas
1 heaping tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 cup sift all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Prior to baking, smash bananas and add condensed milk.  Set aside for about an hour.  Line 8x8 baking pan with parchment and butter parchment.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and walnuts in small bowl and set aside.  Melt butter, allow to cool for a bit then mix with brown sugar in large bowl.  When butter and sugar are well mixed, add egg and vanilla extract.  Add bananas and stir to combine.  Add flour and nut mixture, little by little until incorporated.  Pour batter into pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool on baking rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan.