Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Swept Out the Door

That's what I'm doing with the last hours of 2013...sweeping it right out the door, like the non-stop dust that accumulates on every surface of my apartment.  I get it that Los Angeles is essentially a desert, but enough with the dust.  No amount of Swiffering rids me of it.

The proverbial 'last straw' that made me want this year to end happened this morning while I was cleaning out the cats' litter box.  I clipped the edge of the box with the container of cat litter, causing a wave of litter to fly up into the air and into my eye.  Special.  Precious.  One benefit of wearing contacts is that most of the litter stuck to my contacts.  One downside is that I had to throw them away...and they were a fresh pair that I just put in a couple of days ago.

It's been a year of just scraping by, constant worry and anxiety, and a lot of rough nights with too much tossing and turning and too little sleep.  I know I don't bring that crap into this blog and that's because this isn't the environment for it.  This is my space to not think about everything else for a few minutes.  This is the space to enjoy good food, recipes, and maybe bad jokes.  Or my version of them.

So...back to food.  Do me a favour and don't go back a year to see what I wrote about because this is pretty similar.  Well...there is ricotta involved.  Last night, I found myself turning on the oven at 10:30pm with a craving for something crunchy and thinking about the pita I had cut up for pita chips.  That's when the craving had to be filled.  Pita chips are very popular these days, from Stacey's to Waleeds.  But if you are so inclined, make your own.  They're ridiculously easy, you can make whatever variety you want, and they are inexpensive.  I can buy two bags of pita at my local grocers for 80 cents.  Yes, less than a dollar for a dozen pita.

You can go the healthy route, making them with cooking spray or tip them a little over the indulgent side and drizzle them with olive oil.  If you want to go really, REALLY indulgent, you can deep fry them.  That's what I love about Waleeds pita chips.  But since we're on the cusp of the new year, with good intentions, resolutions to be healthier, eat better, et al...let's stick with an option on the healthier end of the scale.

Whatever your evening brings...popping open the bubbly, dressing to the nines and dancing the night away, or spending the night in and watching the ball drop in Times Square...here's to a healthy, prosperous, and joy-filled 2014!

Pita Chips
Makes a lot

6 pita rounds
Non-stick cooking spray
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, sugar (You get the idea...whatever strikes your fancy)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet (or two) with parchment.  Set aside.  Cut up pita rounds into wedges, as large or small as you like.  Split pieces, laying them in a single layer on the cookie sheets.  Spray pita lightly with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with whatever strikes your tastebuds.  I love black pepper, garlic powder, Jane's Crazy Mix-Up salt, onion powder, and sumac.  Not all at the same time, but I'll typically use two or three at once.  

Bakes for 15-20 minutes or until chips start to turn golden brown.  Depending upon your oven, it could take a little less or a little longer.  Remove from oven and let cool.  

Note:  Sometimes I drizzle pita with olive oil before baking.  A little goes a long way.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Cookie Crack

There is joy and happiness in having wonderful friends.  Friends who come to your aid when you need the help.  A friend who loans you her old laptop so you don't have to be a Luddite anymore.  Or at least a Luddite that has only been armed with her smartphone for the past two weeks.  I know...not a Luddite at all...but it charmingly felt that way for a few minutes.

So...a proper post.  A Christmas gift from me to you.  But let me preface it and tell you that the recipe is not mine.  It is an absolute find from the Food 52 website and if you make these cookies, I have no doubt you will be beyond pleased.  You will hopefully also be as addicted to these cookies as I am, because seriously...the reaction to this cookie this must be the same reaction an addict has to crack.  The first bite into one of these hooks you, makes you want more, and you find yourself reaching into the cookie tin again and again...hiding the tin in the back of the pantry.  When someone asks where the cream cheese cookies are you feign ignorance, having no idea where they could have gone.  You will quietly creep into the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, enjoying one in the complete darkness...just so you don't have to share.  These cookies rock. 

Cream cheese cookies are so simple.  So pure...no fancy add-ins, no fancy technique.  Flour, sugar, salt, butter, and cream cheese.  Almost as simple as shortbread.  Chewy and tangy.  If you read the comments for the recipe, you'll see lots of suggestions for tweaks.  While they all sound good, I have never wavered from the original.  Maybe someday I'll add a little lemon zest or almond extract, but for now, I'll keep my crack pure and unadulterated.

Merry Christmas, kiddies...if you've been good, I hope you get everything you've wished for and if you've been naughty, you had better hide before Krampus seeks you out.

Cream Cheese Cookies from Food52


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Stockings Are Hung

Another Christmas is almost here.  Four days to get cards in the mail, plan the big Christmas dinner, wrap the presents, and bake up a batch or ten of cookies.

I haven't been hiding behind that mound of flour in the kitchen (too much), though I have been doing quite a bit of baking and think the last batch of cookies has just come out of the oven.

Truth is...my laptop died a couple of weeks ago.  I've been doing most everything that takes use of a computer on my phone.  What did we do before smartphones? What did I do before smartphones?

A proper post will be coming before you know it.  Maybe even before Christmas.  Stay tuned.  Enjoy the Christmas lights.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Little Boozy

Honestly...isn't it exactly this time of year where 'a little boozy' is acceptable?Necessary?  Encouraged, even?  'Tis the season for family gatherings filled with people you truly want to spend time with and maybe a few you don't.  Being 'a little boozy,' not all-out "I can't believe you said that to me in high school!" drunk will make the evenings fly by.  Work parties where 'a little boozy' will make your time there a little more bearable and less awkward.  Or maybe you'll find yourself at a holiday party with a friend where you don't really know that many people.  'A little boozy' might be enough for you to stand a couple of feet away from the wall instead of hugging it if your friend disappears on you.

While all these scenarios could use a tipple or two, I'm sorry to tell you 'a little boozy' refers to none of these things.  What it does refer to is cranberry sauce.  A grown-up cranberry sauce that looks nothing like that jellied mass that softly plops onto a plate as you push it out from one end of the can to the other.  While there is a nostalgic part of me that still appreciates that jiggling mass, I will wholeheartedly embrace a relish the colour of garnets, tart and tangy with an abundance of orange zest, and just the right amount of amaretto to add sweetness and lushness.

This is the kind of cranberry sauce that goes from a perfect accompaniment at Thanksgiving dinner, to slathered on a turkey sandwich the next day, to atop a cracker with a really good aged cheddar, to spooned over vanilla ice cream with candied walnuts.  Buy bags of cranberries now, freeze them, and make this all through the year.  

...and let me say...Happy Thanksgiving.  Boozy or not.

Boozy Cranberry Sauce
Makes about 2 cups

1 12-oz bag of fresh cranberries
2 Tbsp orange zest
1/3 cup orange juice, preferably fresh-squeezed
1/2 cup amaretto
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients into a large saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a low boil, then lower heat and allow to simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.  This will thicken further after you've taken it off the heat.  Allow to cool and refrigerate.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Morning Glow

In the early hours of Sunday morning, we turned our clocks back from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time.  I've never thought much about how it affected me.  I lamented about losing that precious hour back in March and while I initially kind of missed the early darkness, having the long days grew on me.

For the last couple of months, I was having the worst time waking up in the mornings.  I always have my alarm clocks (a clock on my dresser and my old Blackberry) set for 6:00 a.m, even on the weekends.  The intention:  waking up to enjoy the quiet of the morning, maybe going out to a farmers market on the weekend, or the gym.  Even if I never made it out the front door, I could leisurely enjoy a cup of coffee, the morning news, and spend time with happily fed cats.  But day after day, I would hit that 'snooze' button...and hit it...and hit it.  Six a.m. turned into 7, turned into 7:45, turned into 8:30.  I'm always a little peeved with myself after sleeping in, feeling like I've already wasted too much of the day.

Well...four days in and I am up and out of bed by 7:00.  My internal clock is in tune with the start of The Today Show every morning.  Yes...I still hit the snooze button, but for two, not two dozen times.  I have even found myself waking up before the alarm goes off and before any cat comes to tell me it's time for breakfast.

My bedroom has north-facing windows, but I get a flicker of rising sun (from a bounce of light off the neighbour's window) in the morning.  Maybe it's the time of year, but there is a warm golden glow that slips through the curtains in the morning.  It's the kind of light that makes me want something warm and comfort food-ish for breakfast instead of a bowl of cereal or toast.  Since we're only a couple of weeks away from Thanksgiving, I almost feel obliged to make something with pumpkin.  I'm going to run with it.  Pumpkin is finally growing on me, though I find it a little bland.  Is this normal?  Is it really everything else in a pumpkin pie that makes people mad-crazy for it?  There's still half a can left, so rest assured, I'll be making more pumpkin-centric foods over the next couple of days.

I went with a dish that I've been coming across pretty frequently on blogs and Pinterest.  Baked oatmeal.  No fancy ingredients.  Spices that you probably already have in your pantry.  Not a lot of time needed to bake.  The kind of dish that tastes indulgent and feels like you spent more time on it than you actually did.  This isn't the kind of dish you need to wait until the weekend to make.  It is for all these reasons and because baked oatmeal is just so good, that you need to make this.

 Baked Oatmeal with Pumpkin and Maple Creme Fraiche
Adapted from a recipe on Egginon
Serves 2 

1 cup quick oats
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup pumpkin 

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, combine the oats, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and five spice.  In a small bowl, combine the milk, egg, vanilla, and pumpkin and whisk until fully mixed.  Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well.  

Pour batter into a oven-proof baking dish (I used a 5x7 shallow baking dish) and bake for 25 minutes.  Serve while still quite warm.

Maple Creme Fraiche
Makes 1/4 cup

1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 Tbsp maple syrup

Gently whisk the syrup with the creme fraiche and spoon over baked oatmeal right before serving.  If you don't have creme fraiche, you can easily swap out plain or vanilla yogurt mixed with the maple syrup or drizzle maple syrup directly over the oatmeal.  The creme fraiche just tips the scales into indulgent.  

Lucky in the morning light.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


And here she comes...strolling back in after being AWOL for a little over a month...just like that.  ::Snap::  Just like that.  There isn't even a good excuse behind my absence.  I wasn't walking the streets of Rome or hiking through Denali National Park.  No, no, it was nothing like that.  It was just another one of those 'in a rut', 'no focus', 'all I want is a sandwich for dinner' and throw in a dollop of anxiety couple of weeks.

But here we are.  Halloween is four days away, which means that November is right around the corner.  Half-way down the next block is Thanksgiving, with the 'baking like crazy, drag out the box of decorations, and "holy crap, did you know there are only 26 shopping days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas?!?!"' holiday season.  And it's barreling down the roadway like an 18-wheeler that's lost its brakes.

So before the insanity begins, let's linger on Fall.  Let's take the time to watch the change of colours in the trees, enjoy the days with a nip in the air (I have worn long sleeves, a jacket, and a scarf already--all on the same day!) and even enjoy the Indian Summer weather (like today's 90 degrees).  I went to the farmers market in Burbank last Saturday morning.  It was lovely.  I hadn't gone in awhile.  It felt good getting up early and heading out in the morning chill, even before my first cup of coffee.  By late morning, that chill was replaced by an absolutely gorgeous Saturday of bright sun and blue skies.  I ended up at Granville Cafe, having brunch with the woman that knows me best (pegging my menu choice before I uttered a word), where we enjoyed a patio table, eavesdropping on conversations from the next table, and totally digging on the Dutch pancake with prosciutto and Gruyere in front of me.  A thin, dinner-plate sized pancake with slivers of ham and cheese speckled in the batter.  Some of the prosciutto pieces were a little crunchy from settling to the bottom while on the griddle, some bits of cheese were just perfectly melted.  I left exactly two bites on my plate after coming to the realization that I was just shy of eating the whole thing.  You cannot say I don't have a hearty appetite.

I spent the next couple of days fixated on those tastes.  While I considered making my own Dutch pancake, I opted to use the baguettes that had veered down the stale path and made a bread pudding, though I swapped out the Gruyere with smoked Jarlsberg and a bit of cheddar.  It felt practically decadent buying prosciutto, since it's not something I buy all that frequently.  A savory bread pudding is one of those foods that screams Fall to me.  It's a perfect dish when the weather begins to turn cold.  It's also easy as pie to whip together.  You'll probably have left-overs.  This is just as delicious for the next day's breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Prosciutto and Smoked Jarlsberg Bread Pudding
Serves 4-6

5 cups bread, cubed (i.e. baguette or sourdough)
½ cup onion, sliced thin
1 cup white mushrooms, sliced thin
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups half and half
3 eggs
¾ cup shredded smoked Jarlsberg
½ cup shredded smoked Cheddar, plus ¼ cup additional Cheddar
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp garlic powder
2 oz prosciutto, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a skillet, over medium heat, sauté mushrooms and onions in butter and oil until onions turn translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.  In a bowl, whisk half and half, eggs, 1 cup cheese, salt, pepper, parsley, and garlic powder.  Add cubed bread and toss to coat evenly.  When thoroughly combined,  add prosciutto, mushrooms, and onions.  Turn into a 2-quart baking dish (I used a round casserole), sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over top and bake for 50-60 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before serving.    

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Little Pockets of Joy

Sometimes I get an idea in my head and let it fester for a few days.  Sometimes I get a thought in my head and let it fester for a few days.  The thoughts can bring on a whole lot of anxiety and tension.  The ideas usually lead me into the kitchen and baking.   I don't have to tell you that I'd much rather have ideas running through my head than the latter.

It was those ideas (and honestly, an overripe banana or two) that led me to this cake.  Cake wasn't the first thing I thought of baking.  I considered a pie, but I'm not really a pie girl.  Maybe it's because I haven't made a whole lot of them, but pie just doesn't excite me.  I don't wake up in the middle of the night and think, 'all will be right in the world if only I had pie.'  I don't really wake up in the middle of the night craving cake either, but I do have a hard time resisting cake when I know it's around.  And if there's buttercream frosting involved...well...all hell could conceivably break loose.

Somehow I also got to thinking about a banana cake my mom used to make when I was growing up.  I know it was from a box.  Betty Crocker.  Duncan Hines.  I don't remember which one.  I don't even know if they still make it.  But I used to love it.  I loved how light the texture was.  That texture is why I went for a cake instead of the usual banana bread.  I have nothing against banana bread...but it's not cake.

I also couldn't leave well enough alone and make just a plain banana cake.  While, no doubt, it would be great on its own, I had to add something.  The obvious answer would be chocolate chips.  The not so obvious answer was cinnamon chips.  YES.  Cinnamon chips.  These little beauties are fantastic.  You can find them at King Arthur Flour.  I'm sure there are other companies that make them.  Look for them.

The most amazing part about these chips is what happens when you bake them into a cake.  I like to imagine them exploding like little fireworks in the oven.  They burst (or melt) and create these little pockets of air in the cake, completely coated in cinnamon.  I like to call them 'little pockets of joy.'  You end up biting into this airy, light cake riddled with cinnamon and laced with banana.

Now keep in mind that I am a huge fan of both bananas and cinnamon.  I consider this to be pretty close to heaven on a plate.  I am the girl who eats a banana every day and loads her French toast with cinnamon in both the batter and sprinkled on top.  That said...there is cinnamon in triplicate in this cake.  Cinnamon chips, an additional 1/2 teaspoon in the mix, and a dusting of cinnamon and confectioners' sugar.  There are different cinnamons out in the world.  Currently, I'm loving Saigon cinnamon.

Banana Cinnamon Chip Cake
Makes 1 9-inch layer

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup cinnamon chips
2 bananas, mashed
2 tbsp milk
Cinnamon and confectioners' sugar, for sprinkling

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment or grease and flour the pan.  In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla, beating to combine.   

Alternate adding the flour mixture and the mashed bananas to the creamed butter.  Fold in cinnamon chips.  Add milk and stir well to combine.  Pour batter into lined cake pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or  until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  

Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before plating, or leave in cake pan.  Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or a combination of confectioners' sugar and cinnamon.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

Blue on Blue

It should come as no surprise that I read a lot of food blogs...a lot.  I love seeing what other bloggers are cooking, where they find inspiration, read their stories, and see how they style their photos.  It inspires me...whether it's to try an ingredient I've never used or try my hand at their recipe.

One of the blogs that I read is Thibeault's Table.  I also follow them on Facebook.  Ann posts drool-worthy photos on both outlets and I love that on her blog header is the quote, 'Recipes are meant to be shared...'  It's true.  Think of all the recipes passed down generation to generation, from family to family, amongst friends, and now, over the expanse of the internet through blogs like yours truly, like Ann's, and like so many others.

Today's recipe comes from a post where Ann shared her favourite blueberry recipes.  I made the Blueberry Upside Down Cake and it was delicious!  Once again, the cake went into work with me and I came home with an empty pan.

For the record...I didn't change a damn thing on this recipe.  I used fresh blueberries and added the optional cinnamon, because I love cinnamon.

Blueberry Upside Down Cake
From Thibeault's Table, recipe from Canadian Living Magazine August 1983

1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
3/4 cup milk

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9 inch square cake pan with parchment, allowing paper to hang over edges.  Combine melted butter and brown sugar, then spread evenly over bottom of pan.  Spread blueberries over brown sugar mixture, then sprinkle lemon juice over berries.

Cream butter, gradually adding sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Alternately add dry ingredients and milk to creamed butter and sugar.  Spread batter evenly over blueberries.  Bake 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes in pan before turning cake onto plate.

Where this post title led me today...

...which will naturally lead me to this...

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Taste of Summer

If there are two foods that have Summer emblazoned across their tiny little foreheads, they are corn and tomatoes.  There is nothing like biting into a home-grown tomato.  This year I actually ate tomatoes that I grew right outside my front door.  There weren't many (two), but I did it!  I've also been lucky to be given tomatoes from a friend's garden.  And I've picked up a few heirlooms at the farmers' market here and there.

Corn makes me think of family cookouts, messy fingers, and butter sliding off the cob faster than you can bite into it.  I've grown to like corn more and more over the years.  I'm pretty much a purist eating it off the cob with nothing more than butter and a sprinkle of salt.  That's nostalgia more than anything else.  Though what I really dig these days is corn salsa, bringing together both corn and tomatoes in one dish.  Fresh flavours at the height of their season.  

Here in Los Angeles, every Saturday morning from 10am to noon, you can tune into KNX on the AM dial (yes, radio!) and listen to Melinda Lee do her show, 'Food News.'  She's been on the air for years and has years and years of experience in food.  I love listening to her.  She's engaging, educational, amusing, and full of information.  Each week her show has a theme and listeners are invited to call in to ask questions...any question dealing with food and not necessarily on that week's topic.  Last week's topic was, you guessed it, corn!   I went to her website and checked out the show topic's collection of recipes and made a riff on the corn salsa recipe she posted.  It's a recipe that comes together very quickly.  Just be sure to let it sit for at least an hour after you make it, so all the flavours can mingle.

Grill some chicken, tear it into pieces...top a tostada with the chicken and the salsa and you have something really magical and full of Summer in each bite.

Corn Salsa
(Adapted from Melinda Lee's Roasted White Corn Salsa
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup cooked corn
1 small jalapeno, minced
1/4 cup onion, minced
1/4 cup tomato, chopped
juice from one lime
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp parsley, minced

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and stir well.  Set aside for at least an hour, letting flavours mingle and develop.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Velvet + Rosemary

My hope is that when you read the title of this post,  the first thought you had wasn't a portrait of Rosemary Clooney on black velvet.   Because that would be a little odd.   But I don't think your first thought would have been coffee cake either.  

Nature's marketing worked its magic on me once again when I was grocery shopping.  I came home with Black Velvet apricots, which are as pretty as they sound.   A hybrid of an apricot and a plum,  they are similar to pluots, but with the fuzzy skin of an apricot and the deep burgundy skin of a plum.  

Another cookbook found its way into my hands a day or so after that shopping trip (shocking!).  The book is called 'Fruit Desserts!' by Dorothy Parker (not that Dorothy Parker) and is filled with pretty straightforward, unfussy, recipes.  The recipe for the Blueberry Coffeecake looked like a winner and an easy pick since I've been wanting to make coffeecake for a while.  

I know rosemary may seem like an odd choice to pair with fruit.  Rosemary is a very polarizing herb, I find.  There are definitely the 'love it' or 'hate it' camps.  I'm in the 'love it' camp.  Remember that scene in 'Gladiator' with Russell Crowe walking through a field of high grass, his hand moving through the grass, fingertips grazing the tips?  That's how I am, albeit on a much smaller scale, when I walk past the pot of rosemary I grow on my patio.  A soft brush against those long, narrow leaves and a deep inhalation of that heavenly scent and my day instantly perks up.

While rosemary is usually found in savoury dishes, I think it lends a subtle, bracing note with fruit, especially stone fruit.  Fresh rosemary also lends a green note that you don't see in the dried variety.  Restraint, though, is necessary.  A hint of rosemary is what I wanted.  As much as I love the scent and taste, I didn't want to be smacked in the face with it, especially with the delicate taste of the apricot.  As an added bonus, I also let the fruit soak in a couple tablespoons of rosemary honey.  But any honey you have will work.

Can I say the cake was a hit if I took it into work (minus a piece...maybe two) and came home with an empty cake pan?

Black Velvet Apricot and Rosemary Coffeecake
Makes one 8x8 inch cake

6-8 Black Velvet (or regular) apricots, chopped
2 tbsp rosemary honey (or whatever  honey you have)

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
2 cups plus 1 tbsp flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 oz milk
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, very finely minced

Crumb Topping
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp five spice powder
1/4 cup butter, softened

Mix the chopped apricots with honey and set aside for at least an hour.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8x8 inch cake pan with parchment and butter lightly.  

In a small bowl, sift the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.  Cream the sugar and butter.  Add the egg.  Gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the juice from the apricots and the milk.  Add the rosemary and mix well.  Toss the additional tablespoon of flour with the apricots and add to the batter, folding the fruit in gently.  

Spread batter evenly into pan, getting into the corners.   For the crumb topping, mix all the ingredients to form coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle on top of batter.  Bake for 45 minutes or until tester inserted into center comes out clean.

You can leave the cake in the pan.  Otherwise, let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before removing from pan.

For all you Google Reader users out there...I'm sure you know by now that Google did away with Reader.  I've added the blog to Bloglovin' and switched my reading list there too.  I'm pleased with it and if you use them too, please consider adding me to your reading list!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

And if you're still thinking about Rosemary Clooney...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Old Tools of the Trade

Ever since high school, I've been a collector of vintage.  What I collect has changed over the years.  It started with clothing and handbags, scarves, and jewelry. I went through a very long phase of wrought iron candle holders and candelabra.  Then came the kitchen- and dinnerware.  This phase has lasted the longest.  I've started and stopped collections.  Salt and pepper shakers were my first, because they're small.  But seriously, how many sets does one person need?  I've sold most of them, except for the milk glass range set and a 'fancy' silver pair.  Of course, I should apply that thinking to my current 'accidental' collection of pitchers and creamers.  I can't resist the pureness of a white ironstone creamer, or the charm of a bright red cap on a clear glass pitcher.  I love enamelware and glassware.  Anything in aqua makes me weak in the knees.  I have a set of Sasha Brastoff's 'Surf Ballet' in aqua and platinum that I cherish.  That's my 'good' china, the set I would have registered for...if I had been getting married in 1954.  I can see that dinnerware displayed in a blonde Heywood Wakefield hutch, situated in a dining room flooded with light.  Someday.  When I have the house and the hutch.

I love mid-century pieces.  Stainless steel and rosewood serving trays and platters from Denmark.  Pyrex and Fire King casseroles for roasting chicken or baking lasagna.  Silver-trimmed Dorothy Thorpe old fashioned glasses to channel a 'Mad Men' vibe.   And the cookbooks.  Oh, my god...the cookbooks.  This blog has been a thrift shopping bonanza for me.  Know why?  Props!  An interesting plate, an embroidered tablecloth, a glass juicer.  Sometimes I'll be setting up a photo wishing I had a certain colour plate or working in the other direction, I'll be at the thrift store, pick up an item, and imagine it in a future shot.

I try to be practical (justification!).  I look for pieces that I will actually use on a regular basis.  I don't like anything too fine or delicate (hence the pieces of restaurant ware--they take a beating).  So imagine how happy I was when I came across one of my newest finds, an old enameled dutch oven.  Yes, I already had a dutch oven.  All 5-quarts of it are great when I'm making no-knead bread or a large amount of stock.  I wasn't really on the look-out for another one, but when the opportunity arises, well, who am I to say no?  This one...well, she's a looker.  She's a vintage Cousances (bought out by Le Creuset).  Cobalt blue, 18 cm, a little discoloured on the inside from use, but the enamel is still shiny and only a nick or two in the enamel on the rim and one of the handles.  A perfect bargain at $8.00.  A perfect size for me.  A perfect size for making soup.

Maybe I'll share photos of the blog props after I do some rearranging.  Maybe I need to rotate what I have and freshen up the kitchen.  Maybe I need to purge some of the collection.  Or maybe I just need to keep finding things to make in my new old tool.

Pesto Broth with Butternut Squash Ravioli
Serves 2

For the pesto:

4 oz basil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2/3 cup Parmesan, grated
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2/3 cup pine nuts
Olive oil

For the soup:

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
4 tablespoons pesto
2 cups spinach
4 oz ravioli or other cooked pasta
Parmesan, grated, for topping

To make the pesto, remove any thick stems from basil and throw half the amounts of basil, pine nuts, and cheese in a food processor with the garlic and black pepper.  Pulse a few times to mince the ingredients and pour in some olive oil.  Stop every few pulses to scrape down the sides and mix everything together.  Add the remaining ingredients, pulse repeatedly, slowly adding more oil until it reaches a consistency you're happy with.  

Heat the stock over medium heat.  Add the pesto and whisk to mix in.  Add the spinach and let wilt before adding the pasta. Simmer for 5-8 minutes.  Ladle into soup bowls and top with grated cheese.

Note:  I used a butternut squash ravioli from Trader Joe's.  You'll find it in the refrigerated section.  You could easily use tortellini.  If you want to use a plain pasta, I would use a cut like ditalini.  

Isn't she pretty?

It all started last Summer when Dad sent me that green pitcher. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

So Easy...it's Criminal

...okay...maybe not criminal.  But easy...so easy.  I made my first jar of pickles.  Bread and butter pickles...my favourite!  I can thank The Today Show, Carson Daly, and most specifically, his wife, Siri Pinter, for my first foray into mixing vinegar, sugar, and cucumbers.

It's true...The Today Show is my morning guilty pleasure mix of news, food, and anchor banter.  Carson Daly was a guest anchor last week and while I used to watch his show pretty frequently a couple of years ago, I rarely find myself up past midnight these days.  I like him...he's funny and a little self-deprecating.  And who knew his wife wrote a food blog?  It's called Siriously Delicious and you almost have to feel a little bad for her because her name is...Siri.  Yes, Siri.  I cannot imagine the number of jokes she must have been the brunt of when Apple came out with their own Siri.  On the other hand, she is married to Carson Daly, so I'm sure she's doing just fine.

How did all this lead to pickles?  Well, she was also on The Today Show last Friday doing a food segment.  She was cute and funny too, so I decided to check out her blog.  The pickle recipe was under one of those 'You Might Also Like' links.  I clicked, I liked, I decided to make them.  You know what this means, right?  I'll be making more pickles.  And no mention of pickles can go by without a viewing of this gem:

Bread and Butter Pickles
Adapted from a recipe on Siriously Delicious
Makes about 2 cups

4 Persian cucumbers, sliced thin
1/2 small onion, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 tbsp coarse kosher salt
1 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup pure cane sugar
1/2 tbsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp tumeric

Slice the cucumbers, onion, and garlic thin, preferably on a mandoline.  Put the vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle with the kosher salt to brine.  Let sit for at least an hour.

After you've brined the cucumbers, rinse thoroughly.  In a medium sauce pan, add the cider vinegar and sugar.  Over medium heat, stir frequently and let sugar dissolve.  When sugar has dissolved, add the mustard seed, celery salt, cloves, and tumeric.  Stir.  Add the cucumbers, mixing well.  Allow to come to a low boil.  Let mixture boil for 2-3 minutes, turn off heat.

Allow to cool for a few minutes.  Pour into clean glass jars and refrigerate.

For today's dose of marital banter, here is Siri's Today Show segment.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sharing Secrets

I've worked in retail for more years than I care to admit to.   One of the skills you need to work in retail is the ability to talk to people, all kinds of people; to be able to talk about what you're selling, to make your goods or your products appealing to the customers that walk in your store.  Like a carnival hawker.  Bring them over the threshold, hook them in, and make them spend money.   I like to think I can start a conversation with anyone.  In that environment, I'm not too bad.   But on a day to day basis, more times than not, (the self-perceived) socially awkward me makes her appearance.  

When I go out, I put my blinders on.  I do a lot of things on my own, whether it's grocery shopping, running errands, or going to events in and around Los Angeles.  It's me and the thoughts in my head.  I'm surprised (and a little freaked out) when someone talks to me (other than say, a clerk).  I was at Sprouts the other night to pick up a few things, including some apricots.  I had visions of apricot jam in my head after finishing up a jar a couple of weeks ago.  I headed over to the large bin in the center of the produce department, bag in hand, when I see an older woman, maybe in her late 60's, slowly approaching the same bin.  I thought about holding back until she was finished, but I was in one of those moods where I just wanted to get what I needed and head back home.  It was a big enough space to share, so I grabbed a bag, staked a spot to the right of her, and went apricot hunting.  She turned to me and in a kind, heavily accented voice said, 'Look for this colour, they're better,' as she's holding a fruit with that beautiful deep blush on one side.  I smiled and nodded.  (The uncomfortable feeling beginning, my mind screaming, 'She's talking to you!')  She told me that she was going to make jam because her daughter-in-law liked it so much, she all the jam the woman had made.  I told her I was going to make jam too.  She said, 'What do you use?  I put in lemon juice.'  I said, 'I use orange juice.'  And there it was:  we had bonded, even if only for a few seconds, over kitchen secrets.  

Having picked the fruit I needed, I smiled and went off to finish my shopping.  No more than 3-4 minutes had passed;  I headed to the check-out, swinging back through the produce section, and she was still there picking apricots.  The bag she had was close to bursting with the amount of fruit she had in it.  I could have kept on walking since she hadn't seen me, but I rolled my cart close to hers and said, 'That's going to make a lot of jam.'  She said she needed enough apricots to make 3 batches.  And she smiled at me.  I smiled back and it didn't feel that awkward anymore.

Apricot-Blood Orange Jam
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen's 'Quick Apricot Jam'
(Makes about 2 cups)

8-10 apricots, quartered and pitted
1/2 cup blood orange juice
3/4 cup turbinado sugar

Combine ingredients into a medium sized saucepan over medium high heat.  Stir frequently to mix everything together.  Cook over medium high heat for about 10 minutes.  The fruit will begin to break down.  I like to mash the fruit further while it's cooking with the back of a fork.  Take the heat down to a simmer and let cook further, about 15-20 minutes.  

Take off heat, mix well and allow to cool.  Transfer to jar or bowl, cover and refrigerate.  Should last at least a week, if not a little longer.  

Note:  Turbinado sugar is my latest fascination.  Feel free to use regular sugar or pure cane sugar, and adjust to your taste.  This probably turned out more like the consistency of a very chunky, more on the syrupy side jam, but I have no complaints.  I can (and do) eat it with a spoon, it's also temporarily replaced my daily morning avocado toast. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Cake by Any Other Name

Mix flour, eggs, sugar, and vanilla with a few other things, pour the batter into a pan, bake it, and you'll have a cake.   There are so many options:   chocolate, vanilla, lemon, coconut...I can change the taste with different flours, I can change the texture by adding nuts or bits of fruit.  All these mixes will come out of the oven and they will still be cake.  But sometimes the final result seems so special, so different, that I feel a need to call it by the French word: un gâteau. It helps when the recipe comes from the book, 'On Rue Tatin:  Living and Cooking in a French Town' by Susan Loomis.

It also helps you use an ingredient that might turn people off by the mere mention of its name, but call it by the new incarnation (thank you, marketing and PR), soak it in a little brandy and amaretto and the cake becomes worldly and continental.  Prunes...or as they're called now, dried plums.  I know, I know...prunes remind you of your grandparents, say, about 20 years ago.  It was old people food...like having a bowl of bran every morning.  But these same prunes, sorry, dried plums, make a spectacular cake.  This is the kind of cake that makes me want to bring out the nice china and have tea and cake, sitting at a table in a gazebo, surrounded by blossoming magnolia and jacaranda trees.

At the same time, I don't see it as a fussy cake.   The fussiest thing you have to do is melt butter and let it cool before adding it to your batter.  There's no buttercream to whip up, no layers to build...just bake in a loaf pan and dust it with confectioners' sugar.  Less time fussing with a cake and more time to sip tea under the trees.

Brandy Soaked Prunes and Almond Yogurt Cake
(Adapted from the Gateau Au Yaourt recipe by Susan Herrmann Loomis 'On Rue Tatin')

1 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1/2 cup roasted almonds, chopped
2 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp amaretto liqueur
1 ½  cups all purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup plain yogurt 
1 tsp almond extract
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, optional

In a small bowl, add the prunes, almonds, brandy, and amaretto.  Mix well and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavours mingle.

Line a loaf pan with parchment, allowing a couple of inches to hang over the edges and butter lightly.  Pre-heat over to 375 degrees.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl or on a piece of parchment.  

In a small pan, melt the butter and let cool.  Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light and pale yellow.  Gradually add the flour, whisking thoroughly to incorporate into the eggs and sugar.  Fold in the yogurt, almond extract, and the cooled butter.  

Add the prunes and almonds (with the liquor) and mix until well-combined.  Pour batter into loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes on cooling rack in pan before removing from pan.  Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. 

Notes:  I used non-fat Greek yogurt and think you'll be fine using whatever yogurt you have on hand.  The loaf pan I used measures 9.5 x 3 inches.  Watch your baking time with a smaller loaf pan, as you'll probably need less time.  You can also bake this cake in a round 9-inch cake pan, in which case your baking time will be around 35-40 minutes.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Right Place, at the Right Time

Earlier this month, my friend, Tim, flew out to Los Angeles from Philadelphia for a couple of days to visit.  We had a great visit.  Lots of fun, lots of driving around, and lots of food.  Strangely enough...I didn't cook for us once.  If his trip had been a day or so longer, I probably would have.  But for now, it will have to wait until his next trip here.  And there will be one!

As I said, there was a lot of food involved.  Nothing fancy, nothing expensive...but fun and good.  In fact, I think there will be a blog post about our adventures in Los Angeles coming up, so I'm not going to say too much here.  For a tease though...I will say that we had an impromptu visit to a little of the San Gabriel Valley...which is how I ended up making Ricotta and Fava Bean Manicotti.

 Finding yourself in the right place at the right time leads to good things...and sometimes good food.  We were driving down Valley Blvd in San Gabriel when I realized that I missed the turn I wanted to take, so I was going to drive a little further and turn around.   It was only a few blocks up when I see to my left Claro's Italian Market.   This required an immediate stop.   I should have a bumper sticker that reads, 'Will brake for Italian markets.'  Because I will...and we did.  Even though I've got an Italian market right down the street from me...another over in Glendale, and unlimited online sources for Italian goodies, I will always stop at a new market.  Always.

I didn't buy too much.  A nice hunk of ricotta salata, taralli (the kind I haven't had in years!), and pasta.  But not any pasta...but penne.  GIANT penne.  Penne disguising itself as manicotti-size shells.  I had to have them.  And so inexpensive.  Just over a pound for a less than $2.00.  And you know how much I love finding a bargain.

I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with my Giant Penne at first.  It took a day or so before I thought about the Fava Bean Smash I had made the week earlier, my thoughts also going to the ricotta  that was sitting in the fridge...and there you have it.  I figured the smashed beans and ricotta could easily be piped with a pastry bag into those shells.  I had to try.

A note on the sauce:  I made a no-fuss, quick tomato sauce for this.  Essentially sauteing a couple large handfuls of grape tomatoes with some onion and garlic, until the tomatoes pop.  Do what feels right for you.  Whether you use fresh tomatoes or have a can of San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry, keep it fresh and easy.

Fava and Ricotta Manicotti
Makes 6

1/2 cup Fava beans, shelled and blanched
1 cup ricotta cheese
6 Manicotti shells
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 med onion, sliced thin
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon fresh basil, slivered
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup Mozzarella, shredded
salt, to taste

Set a large saucepan of water to boil for the pasta.  Cook the shells a couple of minutes shy of al dente as they'll finish cooking in the oven.  Drain immediately and cover.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, and saute until the onions begin to turn clear.  Add the tomatoes and saute, letting the tomatoes soften and pop.  I am not opposed to you adding a little wine here.  It won't hurt.  Turn the heat to low and let the tomatoes reduce, stirring occasionally.  Cook until it's to your liking, adding the basil near the end.  

After you've blanched the Fava beans, smash with the back of a fork until they form a paste, adding a few drops of olive oil as needed to hasten the process.   In a separate bowl, add the ricotta, black pepper, a pinch of salt, and lemon zest.  Mix to combine, then add the Fava bean smash and stir to incorporate all the ingredients.

Put the ricotta and Fava mix into a pastry bag outfitted with a large plain tip.  You could also use a large Ziploc bag with the corner cut off.  I found the easiest way to fill the shells is to fill each shell half-way, then flip the shell and fill from the other end.  That way, you're not trying to squeeze the filling all the way to the other end.  In a small casserole dish (about 1 1/2 quart size), spoon a layer of your sauce on the bottom, then layer the filled pasta shells.  Sprinkle a little of the Parmesan and Mozzarella, then more sauce, and the next layer of Manicotti shells, sauce, and cheese.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil, then bake for an additional 5 minutes.  Let the dish rest for 5 minutes before serving.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Summer Kitchen

My two favourite weather terms I've learned living in Southern California are 'May Gray' and 'June Gloom.'  These are conditions where the marine layer (similar to fog) is so thick, you awaken in the morning to grey skies and a cool nip in the air.  Some days the marine layer breaks up in the late morning and the sun will finally poke its rays out, and sometimes you won't see the sun until mid-to-late afternoon.  It's been so thick that we've had days where the gray and gloom last all day long.  So far in this month of May, there has been little gray.  In fact, we're about to have a few days of 90 degree plus weather.  My phone told me today that it was 99 degrees at 4pm. Too early, too much, too soon.

I'm pretty sure I've written about it before...when the temps start creeping towards triple digits, I hate to cook.   Yes, I will admit that I have moments of insanity when I turn on the oven to a blazing 450 degrees in crazy hot Summer weather because the craving for pizza won't abate or I can't be without cake for dessert.
But if the weather is consistently hot, this is where I turn to the Summer Kitchen.  

In the Summer Kitchen, I happily subsist on antipasti platters--sometimes for lunch, sometimes for dinner, sometimes both in the same day.  The fridge will be stocked with olives, cheese, salami, and roasted red pepper strips (made when the weather was friendlier).  Of course, there are always salads made with no hard and fast rules about what to add.  Fruits, vegetables, cold pasta, rice, and no frou frou dressings.  A drizzle of good olive oil and a splash of vinegar or lemon juice will do.

Then there are the minimal cooking options:  no sauteing, no sweating onions.  No more energy used than what it takes to boil a pot of water, okay...maybe two.  One pot to blanch some Fava beans and the other to cook a handful of cous cous.  You can eat this as a side dish, or if you top a salad with it, you'll have a light, summer meal.

Cous Cous with Fava Bean Smash
Serves 2

1 cup shelled Fava beans
1 large tomato, chopped
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup olives
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 cup cous cous, prepared
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare the cous cous and set aside.  If you have already prepared fava beans (I've heard that Trader Joe's carries them cooked and vacuum packed), you don't have to  worry about shelling them.  Some people are turned off by having to do the work, but it's really not too bad and not terribly time-consuming.  If you have fresh beans still in the pod, remove the beans from the pods.  Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add the beans.  Blanche beans for about 4-5 minutes.  Prepare a bowl of ice water and after blanching the beans, spoon them into the ice water.  To shell the blanched beans, you can either cut a small slit along the edge or pinch an edge to break open the shell and squeeze out the bean.  

Place the shelled beans in a small bowl and with the back of a fork, smash the beans to a paste.  Add the olive oil a little at a time to make the paste a little smoother.  Add salt and pepper, as necessary.  

Divide the cous cous between two plates or bowls, adding the tomato and olives.  Use whatever olives you like, I had dry oil-cured black and cracked Greek green olives on hand.  Spoon the Fava smash atop the cous cous.  Sprinkle with feta and lemon zest (or add the lemon zest to the Fava bean smash).  Salt and pepper to taste.  

As I mentioned before, if you make a big salad, this is amazing mixed in.  I love the slight warmth of the cous cous with the cold, crisp salad leaves.

Friday, April 26, 2013

An Unnatural Obsession

Brussels sprouts.  Why do some people hate them so?  They've been around for centuries, as far back as the 13th century!  Miniature cabbages that grow on a stalk.  They're small.  They're cute!  How can someone not like Brussels sprouts? Well, the first time I tried them (and it wasn't that long ago), I didn't like them either.   I thought they were bitter and mushy and just weren't that high up in my list of foods I couldn't live without.  Thinking back on it, I suppose boiling the crap out of them wasn't the best way to cook them.

Come to find out, good preparation is key.  'Duh', you're thinking.  So I gave them another try.  On the second go-round, I roasted them in the oven with onions and carrots.  That was a definite improvement.  They still had a little bite, sweetened by the carrots and onions.  They were moving further up on the list.  You know that phrase, 'The third time's a charm?'  It certainly was for me.  Brussels sprouts braised with a little chicken stock and red wine made those little heads of cabbage shoot damn close to the top of the 'Foods I Can't Live Without' list.  

Then it happened.  Really happened.  I now find myself craving Brussels Sprouts, daydreaming about them, I may even go so far as to say I'm obsessed with them.   I've found a dish where I think about making it on consecutive days and happily eating it over and over.  It's not complicated, but this dish does need a little something that you can prepare ahead of time.  There is the simplest red pepper oil from Heidi Swanson's [101 Cookbooks] 'Super Natural Every Day' that will make you wonder how you ever lived without it.  In this Brussels Sprouts and pasta dish, you'll be happy you didn't skip it.  And if you've never read her blog or her books, I highly recommend both.

You've got the comfort factor of a bowl of pasta, grated heaps of sauteed Brussels Sprouts, a little kick from lemon, and a little heat from the oil.  This is also one of the easiest meals you can throw together, which is kind of what I did to begin with.  It's those 'happy accidents' that turn out to be the best, don't you think?

Penne and Brussels Sprouts
Serves 2

2 cups cooked penne pasta
6 Brussels sprouts, washed, any less than prime outer leaves removed
2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, preferably Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp red pepper oil (recipe follows)
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated or shaved
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook your pasta and set aside.  Reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  Grate the Brussels sprouts using the large holes of a box grater.  You will have what looks like a lot of Brussels sprouts.  That's okay because they'll cook down a bit.  If you still have larger pieces because you're trying to save your fingertips from the box grater, that's okay too.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the Brussels sprouts and stir frequently while the vegetables cook down.  You still want them fairly bright in colour, so only saute about 2 minutes.  Add the bread crumbs and mix well.  Add the lemon zest and one tablespoon of the red pepper oil.  

Add the pasta and combine well.  You can add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to make a little sauce with the oil and butter.  Drizzle the second tablespoon over everything and add the Parmesan.  Salt and pepper to taste.  

     Heidi Swanson's Red Pepper Oil
     Makes 1/2 cup

     1/2 cup olive oil
     1 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

     In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil until quite warm.  Add the red pepper  
     flakes and stir in.  Remove from heat and allow the oil to cool.  Store in a 
    small  bottle or jar.  

If you were on the fence about Brussels Sprouts before this, I'm hoping your eyes will widen in wonder and delight after the first mouthful.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Lovely Shade of Spring

Can you believe that it's almost April?  We're just over a week into Spring, Passover began three nights ago, and now Easter is this coming Sunday.  Baskets full of fake grass overflowing with chocolate bunnies, jellybeans, and marshmallow Peeps in bright pink and purple will be in homes soon.

Then there are the eggs.  Despite the fact that I was not a fan of hard-boiled eggs (I would only eat the whites, and that's only if they were heavily coated in salt), dyeing and decorating Easter eggs was something I looked forward to every year when I was young.  There was the obligatory box of Paas tablets, along with the wax crayon, little hexagonal wire egg holder, and the rub-on transfers of rabbits, lambs, flowers, and other signs of Spring.  We used the same melamine coffee mugs year after year.  They were large enough to dunk and swirl an egg in.  (I'd bet money those mugs are still in my parents' basement.)

I loved building up the shades, dipping an egg into two different colours, carefully balancing it on the wire.  I would write my name on an egg, drawing a flower, or a band, or dots, dipping it back into the dye and watching the colour bloom, leaving smudgy, waxy designs in the dye's wake. 

Thirty-some years later, I decided to bypass the Paas tablets in lieu of colours little more natural, and found in the kitchen or pantry.  This is nothing new.  Martha  Stewart did this a few years ago, as I'm sure thousands of families have done before her.  You can watch Martha here.  I love hearing her East Coast inflection in 'water,' something you might catch me saying if I don't think about what I say before I open my mouth!

My measurements weren't quite as precise as Martha's, except for using 2 tablespoons of vinegar in each colour.  Whatever bowl or pot or measuring cup I was using is the amount of water I filled it with.  Not everything worked out well.  I originally started with a blood orange in a pot of water, and when I wasn't getting   the pale orange I envisioned in my head, I added a carrot...when that didn't work, I added paprika.  But even that didn't work out, so down the drain went that pot of water and it became a pot of coffee.  I also brewed a very dark and strong measuring cup of Earl Grey tea, which made two very pretty tea-stained eggs.  Tumeric does indeed become a beautiful warm gold and the liquid from a jar of pickled blueberries made a pale, pale violet that I darkened by actually mashing a tablespoon of the pickled blueberries into the bowl and rubbed onto the eggshell.

I only got fancy-schancy on two eggs...wrapping one in twine before dipping it into the tumeric water and putting smiley face stickers on another egg looking to get a polka dot effect.  I've got a couple more days of egg salad on the menu, but it was worth it.  

Happy Easter!

The non-cooperative orange dye

Tumeric and tea results with blueberries and coffee in the background

Sunday, March 24, 2013

With Subtle Notes of Blackberries

If you read about wine, go to tastings, collect wines, or hell, even buy wine, chances are you've seen phrases like this--'with the subtle note of blackberries', 'starting off with tropical notes ending with vanilla tones', 'hits the palate with a citrus wave ending with a buttery mouthfeel'.  Now, I love wine...but try as I might, more times than not, wine will invariably taste like...well, wine.  I can tell the difference between a good and bad wine (no Mad Dog here!) and absolutely appreciate a Justin cab or a Stony Hill chardonnay, but I could probably count on one hand the times where I have actually been able to discern individual notes in a glass of wine, but that won't stop me...I'll keep drinking away.

It was those wine liner notes that came to mind after baking the other day.  Although it was those 'subtle notes of blackberries' that I was after, this post has nothing to do with wine.  What this post does have is chocolate.  And blackberries.  And brownies.  All rolled into one gloriously dense, gooey, fudgy pan of cake with a slightly caramelized, thick swirl of jam throughout.

My sweet tooth, really my chocolate tooth, has been out of control lately.  I'm going to blame it on the Cacao Noel pastilles I bought at the Epicure Imports warehouse sale last month.  A small handful of their 64% dark couverture chocolate and a cup of tea has been dessert on a number of nights since I brought them into the house.  After a sample tasting at the sale, it was a no-brainer to buy a pound of them.  (It was also another no-brainer to pick up a second bag at the sale yesterday.)  I immediately wanted to make brownies with them.  Smooth, dark, and a touch bitter.

Why did I add blackberries?  Sure, I could  have just saved them for a breakfast smoothie, or added them to a bowl of yogurt and granola, but, why not brownies?  If you can pair dark chocolate with orange and raspberries...my thought was that it certainly couldn't hurt to try pairing chocolate with blackberries.

I had a clamshell of blackberries in the fridge and made a quick jam out of it.  You can do the same or use any good brand of jam that you may have on hand.  What you'll end up with is a dense brownie where every once in a while you'll get a hint of berry or a jammy taste depending upon how your swirls are mixed in.  I'm sure there are some of you out there saying 'Blasphemy!' for mixing anything into brownies (except maybe nuts and a glaze on top), but open your mind and your tastebuds for a few minutes.  You might be delightfully surprised.

Chocolate Blackberry Brownies
(Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Classic Brownies)
Makes 16 squares

5 tbsp butter, cubed
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup sugar
1/2-3/4 cup blackberry jam
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup flour

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter the bottom of an 8x8 inch pan and line with parchment.  Butter the top of the paper too.  

In a saucepan, bring about an inch or so of water to a simmer.  Nestle the bowl with the butter, chocolate, and chocolate chips on top of the pan.  Making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water, continually stir the butter and chocolate until melted.  Remove from heat.

Whisk in sugar.  It will be grainy.  Add eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly.  Add vanilla and stir.  Gradually add flour and salt.  Pour into pan, using a spatula to spread batter to edges.  Spread blackberry jam on top of batter and swirl into batter.  

Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out relatively clean, about 40-50 minutes.  It's okay if it comes out with a little chocolate, but you don't want it wet with batter.  If you use more jam, you'll require a little more time.

Let cool on rack and cut into squares.

Note:  If you make your own quick jam, use one package of blackberries (4-6 oz) with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar.  Bring to boil, lower heat and let simmer until it thickens a bit.  I used a potato masher to mash the berries.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bringing It All Together

I am not a very positive person.  I may have mentioned this once or twice in past posts.  It's a fight I have with myself everyday...to not see the negative in things, to not see the glass as half empty, to not think of the worst that can happen.  There are days when I manage to push it all away (or at least to the side), but it rarely lasts.  Sometimes I think I'm doing serious damage to my ch'i with this way of thinking.

But when I'm in my kitchen, fiddling around with ingredients, thinking about how certain flavours will play against others...all those negative thoughts go flying right out the window.  Here in my kitchen, I focus on measuring ingredients, sprinkling salt in a pot of water, peeling the skin off an onion, or kneading the dough for a crust.  Nothing else matters, except watching the outcome of what I'm making.

This is why I made a quiche a couple of Sundays ago.  Reading the Sunday paper could only divert my attention for so long, even watching hockey didn't fully encompass my interest.  Off to the kitchen I went, in search of something to eat.  I wasn't necessarily looking for something quick, but I wanted something to satisfy me...and satisfy more than hunger.  The more involved the recipe, the longer my mind would focus on what was in front of me and not what was in my head.

I don't usually make quiche with a crust, but sometimes it's worth having the whole package, so to speak.  The best part?  This quiche is delicious hot, warm, and room temperature.  It served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the span of a few days.

Cauliflower, Leek, and Rainbow Chard Quiche
Serves 6-8 or 1-2 for a few days

1 cup cauliflower florets, broken into small pieces
1 cup rainbow chard, stems and leaves, chopped
1 leek, sliced thin (white and light green parts)
2 tbsp clarified butter
2 tsp green za'tar
1 tsp minced garlic
3 tbsp crumbled bacon (optional)
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch of salt
6 eggs
1/2 heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Grana Padano

For the crust:

8 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
5-6 tbsp ice water

In a large bowl, add the butter, flour, and salt.  With a pastry blender, combine the ingredients until it resembles pea-size bits.  Add the ice water tablespoon by tablespoon, until a dough comes together and can be formed into a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to make the crust, pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.  Roll dough out into a circle to about 1/4 inch thick.  Lay in 9-inch pie plate and prick dough with a fork. Lay foil in the center and fill with beans.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove beans and bake for an additional 5 minutes.  

For the filling:

Steam the cauliflower for a minute or so and set aside.  In a skillet, melt the clarified butter and saute the leeks until translucent.  Add the garlic and chard and saute for 3-4 minutes.  Add the steamed cauliflower and sprinkle the bacon, salt, pepper, and za'tar in and mix thoroughly, allowing the flavours to mingle for a few minutes.  Remove from heat.  

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, and milk together.  Add the cheeses and vegetables and mix thoroughly.  Pour mixture into pie pan with crust, making sure everything is evenly distributed.  Bake in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes or  until center is set.  Remove from oven and let set for 5-10 minutes before serving.

You can leave the bacon out and have a perfectly lovely vegetable quiche, but the bacon adds a note of smokiness that, well, rocked my little world.