Saturday, June 30, 2012

It's Been Some Week...

...or Midnight Baking Session #834.  I couldn't decide which to name this post.  Pick whichever strikes your fancy at the moment.  Neither will be wrong.  So, it's been a busy week, a strange week, a sad week, a happy week.  Just think...the week isn't even over yet.

I don't talk about the Day Job too often.  I don't think this is particularly the correct platform.  I've typically kept a pretty obvious boundary between my work-life and the rest of my life.  Here's the 2-minute version of what's been going on:  On April 25th, I found out that the corporate office of the company I work for decided that our store would be closing.  Despite being the Number 1 store in the company for fiscal 2011, according to a report that measured certain metrics, we weren't profitable enough in the space we were in.  It was totally unexpected.  In fact, I spent much of the past two months being either pissed off and angry or resigned (I get that it's a numbers game, but it still sucks).  As the store slowly emptied out over the past couple of weeks, it started to sink in how sad it made me, despite the fact that I took great joy in taking down another wall or moving fixtures from one shop to another to condense down.  I found myself humming "Another One Bites the Dust" every time I walked back to the stockroom with another handful of fixturing.

Well, the end finally came.  Our last day of business was this past Sunday and we were done, final checks in hand (those of us who were left), keys turned over to the construction team (they really should be called the de-construction team) this past Tuesday.  And I finally cried.  I had been holding it in over the past week, covering it up with Queen.  I let it sink in that the people I've worked with over the past 2 years weren't just co-workers, but friends.  They were joyful guinea pigs for baking experiments and went along with potluck meeting ideas...even the ones who claimed not to cook...I will not forget Pam's stuffed mushrooms.

Let me share a few more thoughts.  It was strange waking up Wednesday morning.  There's a certain mindset when you wake up on your day off, it's another mindset when you think, "I've nowhere to go to tomorrow."  I am not happy to be out of a job...a girl's gotta pay the rent.  But I am beginning to be a believer in the 'things happen for a reason' camp.  I've had more than a few people tell me it's time to push the food business forward.  It's time to follow the passion.  And I absolutely believe that to be true.  I also decided to pursue something else I've been wanting to do for a while.  Volunteer at a museum.  I met with the events manager at the Fowler Museum on UCLA's campus this afternoon and I am thrilled to pieces to report that I have orientation and my first day as part of the visitor services group next Friday.  

:::Deep breath:::  Okay...back to business.  As a last hurrah and 'thank you' for working with a great group of women, I baked treats...not just once, but twice.  And with another Girls' Night on Wednesday, I baked a third time.  Tomorrow may bring something else, as I bought cherries and have clafoutis on the brain.  Though this time around, I won't have the usual group to share it with.  

Cherry Almond Shortbread
(Adapted from the Classic Shortbread recipe in Martha Stewart's Cookies)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup chopped cherries (I used fresh Bing cherries, you could substitute dried)
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon almond extract

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Grease and line an 8 x 8 square baking pan with parchment.  Toast the almond slices either atop the stove in a skillet or in the oven for a couple of minutes.  In a bowl, sift together the flour and salt.  In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add extract and mix.  Alternately add the flour, cherries, and almonds to the creamed butter.  Using a wooden spoon, mix all ingredients until well-combined.  Press mixture into the baking pan, spreading into the corners.  Flatten and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.  After chilling dough, transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around edges, about an hour.  Let cool in pan for 15 minutes before transferring to wire rack to finish cooling.  You may need to use a knife edge to loosen shortbread from pan.

Cherry Almond Shortbread for Girls' Night

Red Velvet for the best team I could have!

Raspberry Scones

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Panna Cotta

Just two Italian words that when spoken, will make you think of sitting at a little trattoria in Rome, sipping an espresso and watching the people around you.  Meaning 'cooked cream,' panna cotta struck me as exotic and difficult to make.  Then I read a recipe and realised that I was wrong.  It's a relatively easy process.  I did a little Googling to see if I could make it with coconut milk.  Lo and bet you can!

Panna cotta falls into the category of a 'pretty' dessert:  the contrast of white creaminess with whatever you choose to top it with.  I didn't want to compete with the coconut and simply topped it with toasted coconut flakes and slivered almonds.  I used a recipe from the Inspiring the Everyday blog, where Michael's photography makes the dessert look amazing and delectable.  Like Michael, I didn't add any additional flavour, so the panna cotta is very subtle.  Next time I make it with coconut milk, I plan on punching up the flavour a little bit.

Find the recipe on 'Inspiring the Everyday' here.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant the name of a wonderful book edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler.  Subtitled 'Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone,' the book is filled with essays from writers and foodies, including Marcella Hazan, Nora Ephron, and Amanda Hesser among others.  I think of this book quite a bit when I'm home cooking for myself.  I love how these people admit to making strange concoctions, sharing their recipes, or admitting to the world that there's nothing wrong with the occasional can of Spaghetti O's.

I find myself alone in the kitchen with eggplant--literally--on a regular basis.  One of the grocery stores that I shop usually have eggplant on sale inexpensively.  I picked up another pair this past weekend since they were two for a dollar. I'm not talking about those small Indian eggplant, these are hefty vegetables.  I'm still experimenting with uses for eggplant, but since I'm close to obsessed with baba ganoush, it's what I make more times than not.

I have no hard and fast rules for what goes into this recipe except for roasted eggplant, minced garlic, and a couple of tablespoons of tahini.  I'll see what's in the Italian Pantry and add as the mood strikes.  This version leaned towards Mediterranean with the addition of olive juice.  I had a huge jar of Seville olives and after the olives were gone, I still had a jar of juice.  The juice was an excellent addition to the dip along with an excuse for a dirty martini (as if I needed one).

Roasted Eggplant Dip
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

2 large eggplant
2 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons olive juice
Olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Slice eggplant in half lengthwise and place on baking sheet.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  I don't draw the moisture out first, as I like the juice produced from the roasting.  Roast eggplant for about 30-35 minutes.  Remove from oven and scoop eggplant out of skins.  Add eggplant, tahini, olive juice, and minced garlic to blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth, slowly drizzling in olive oil to reach desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with baked pita chips, baguette slices, or crackers.