Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Broken Records

Another year coming to a close, another year where I'm still in the same rut, the same stagnant space, the same state of discontent.  You'd think I'd learn by now.  You think I'd set goals that were more concrete, more specific...so much less nebulous.

It's the last Tuesday of December, the last Tuesday of 2014...it is a cold, blustery night in Los Angeles.  The weather widget on my phone says that at 8:15pm, it is 49 degrees, but with the winds, feels like 39 degrees.  Cold.  Can I take these winds as a sign?  A sign that I'm finally ready to blow all the crap out of my life...make definitive goals, figure out where it is I really want to go, and stop thinking that life will fall into place by a magical snap of my fingers.  I don't expect 2015 to kick off without a few bumps and rough starts, but I do expect 2015 to turn into an infinitely more productive year than 2014, 2013, and even 2012.  That's a lot of time.  I have a lot of making up to do.

But before I get to work, there needs to be a drink.  A drink to say, 'so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye' to 2014 and all the fear, anxiety, and unhappiness I have poured into too many of its 365 days.  Bring out the bubbly, let's toast to a new year where I worry less, see more sun than clouds, see more good in me than bad, and appreciate the person I am, instead of sinking so much energy berating myself for what I'm not.

Let me be the first to wish you a happy new year...a truly fulfilling 2015.

A New Leaf Cocktail
Makes 2

6 fl oz cava (though Champagne or prosecco will do)
2 fl oz sweet vermouth
2 tbsp citrus simple syrup
2 tbsp fig jam
4 fl oz orange juice, fresh squeezed (about 2 medium oranges)
orange peel for garnish

In a small lidded jar or cocktail shaker, add the orange juice and fig jam.  Shake vigorously to break down the jam.  If you think you've shaken enough, shake more.  With each coupe glass, rub a strip of orange peel along the rims to transfer some of the oils to the glasses.  Into each glass, pour 1 oz vermouth, 1 tablespoon of the citrus syrup, and 2 oz of the orange and fig juice.  Stir to mix well.  Top each glass with 3 oz of cava and garnish with orange peel.

Note:  The citrus syrup is something I had left from making candied citrus peel a couple of weeks ago.  You can substitute simple syrup or make your own syrup with the peel from one medium orange (pith removed), 1 cup water, and one cup sugar.  Bring to a simmer, stirring to make sure the sugar dissolves, then simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes.  Strain peel and store in refrigerator.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Star Bright

There has been a lot of biscotti baked this past week.  A LOT.  Not all for me.  Most of those cookies have been packaged and shipped across the country to (hopefully) delighted customers.  But I am still looking at half a dozen containers holding what's left.  As much as I love biscotti, I had it in my head that I really, really wanted to make something that hinted at Scandinavia.  Whatever I made had to have cardamom.

I flipped through a couple of my Scandinavian and Danish cookbooks, I scrolled through the holiday baking list on the Sweet Paul website, and I did a little Googling.  I wound up at the Cooking Light site, reading the recipe for Swedish Almond Cardamom Stars.  They came together pretty easily and the almond and cardamom flavors shine through.  The Cooking Light recipe calls for a glaze, but I opted for a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar instead.

So, here we are at another Christmas.  Stay safe, eat well, enjoy the time with family and friends.  I wish you all a wonderful holiday!

Swedish Almond and Cardamom Stars
From Cooking Light
Makes about 4 dozen or more

2 cups flour
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup almond paste, crumbled
1 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup orange juice, fresh
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix the orange juice and oil together, set aside.  In a large bowl, add flour, sugar, baking soda, cardamom, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Add butter and almond paste, and with a pastry cutter, blend into flour mixture, creating a pebbly texture.  Add half the orange juice and oil mix and continue blending to bring dough together.  Scrape bowl as necessary.  Add remaining liquid and mix to combine.  You should have a dough that lifts easily away from surface of bowl.  

Split dough into two equal sections.  Lay down a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten dough into circle.  Fold over plastic wrap and roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Repeat with second piece of dough.  Chill both for about an hour.

Cut out cookies with star cutter (or whatever you like) and place about an inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  [I used a small star cookie cutter, about an inch and a half across.]  Bake for 6-8 minutes until edges begin to turn golden brown.  Cool on rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Best Laid Plans

When I decided a couple of months ago that I was going to have a Christmas party this year, I felt as though I had months to straighten the place up, do a massive autumnal Spring cleaning, and plan the perfect little soiree (which I'm always planning in my head to some degree).  I haven't had a get-together in close to five years.  It was time.  I even thought it would be great to have a fondue party (to officially break in the fondue pot my parents gave me for Christmas a few years ago).

My party would be a 2014 version of this:

1952 Diane and Allan Arbus

People dressed spiffily, a table spectacularly laid out, sparkling conversation, and wine flowing freely.  Then, before I knew it, Thanksgiving happened.  There has been no autumnal Spring cleaning, no straightening, and I have barely thought of holiday logistics.  I still don't have a baking schedule, a completed Christmas card list, or a wreath on the front door.  

All this means there will be no party.  At least not a Christmas party.  Maybe a New Year's party?  Not a New Year's Eve party (too stressful)...but a get-together post-holidays, when peace and calm reign again.  It will be a few close friends, a pot of melted cheese, free-flowing wine, and no pressure to throw a 'perfect' party.  Doesn't that sound like a good idea?

But...just because I'm not throwing a holiday party doesn't mean that I can't share a couple of appetizer ideas for your holiday get-together.  They are easily cobbled together, requiring not a lot of prep, and are great to add to any selection of cheeses, salumi, dips, or whatever else you find yourself craving.  

Persimmon and Tarragon Bites
Makes 12

1 Fuyu persimmon, sliced thin
1/4 cup goat cheese or cream cheese
1-2 sprigs, fresh tarragon
black pepper, fresh ground
12 mini toasts, crackers, pita chips

Place a half moon slice of persimmon on each toast, top with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cheese, and garnish with 2 tarragon leaves.  A fresh crack of pepper is a nice addition.  

So easy it's not even a recipe!  But that's what you want...easy!  Time to actually mingle with the people you invited to your house!  To be honest, I cannot lay claim to this combination.  The credit must go to a woman that I've spoken to a couple of times at the produce exchange I go to.  She brought the tarragon at this month's exchange and when we were chatting she shared this combination with me.  I came right home and made it, since I had the goat cheese, the toasts, the persimmon, and thanks to her contribution...the tarragon.  It's divine.  She also offered the cream cheese substitution for those who don't like goat cheese (who are you people?).  Doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling this will be no problem.  

Warm Herbed Olives

1-2 cups, olives (a variety)
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
black pepper

In a large skillet, over low heat, add olives, rosemary, garlic, and pepper.  Stir frequently to combine everything and allow flavors to mingle.  

Again...this will require little to no effort.  Be sure to get a variety of olives.  You can buy a mix at any grocery stores that has a decent service deli and they will probably already be a little seasoned.  If you can, buy small amounts of single varieties that you can combine as you like.  Kalamatas, picholines, Nicoise, Alfonsos...there is a whole world of olives out there for you to conquer!  If you don't like rosemary, you can take it to a different level with oregano, or even basil.  The important part is to warm them to release a little of their oils and develop the depth of their flavors.  

Spicy Almonds
Makes 2 cups

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp shichimi togarashi or chili powder
pinch of salt
2 cups almonds, roasted, unsalted
3-4 dashes hot sauce

In a large skillet over medium flame, heat the olive oil until it barely starts to shimmer.  Add garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, togarashi, and salt.  As the spices begin to warm, stir to mix together.  Add almonds and stir quickly to coat with oil and spices.  Lower heat and add hot sauce, still stirring to distribute hot sauce evenly.  Remove from heat and let cool.  


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ruled by the Wind...

...or the sun, or the jet stream, or an off-shore flow, or some crazy ass storm travelling down from the Bering Sea.  While the weather tends to dictate what I eat and how I eat pretty frequently, a day's or night's cravings may or may not be fulfilled.  Or you can say, 'to hell with it!' and throw caution into that Santa Ana wind event that's bound to come rolling around.  

And so again it happened.  I wanted soup, it was the kick-off weekend of fall, after all...and yet...Mother Nature thought it would be amusing to give Southern California yet another few days of hot, sunny, 102 degrees in the shade before finally gracing us with days that were almost crisp, where heading out in the morning, I could wear a jacket and maybe even a scarf!

I was thinking about Italian Wedding Soup when I made this.  I still  want to make a classic wedding soup.  When I was young and dad made it, I usually ignored the escarole and ate as many mini meatballs as I could get my hands on, even before they made it into the soup.  Meatballs would have been in the same danger had I made them on this go-round.  So little meatballs...you're safe for the time being.

Curly Endive and Millet Soup
Easily serves 2-4

1 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, minced
4 cups stock, vegetable or chicken
2 cups water
5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
1 bouillon cube, optional
1 medium bunch curly endive, washed with leaves torn from stems
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup millet
1/4 cup Italian dry sausage, sliced thin into quarters, optional
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, add the olive oil, bay leaves, garlic, and onion.  Over medium heat, cook the onions until translucent.  When the onions are ready, add the stock, water, bouillon cube, basil, endive, and red pepper flakes.  Stir to combine and let simmer for 5 minutes, allowing red pepper flavor to bloom.  Remove the bay leaves, then add the millet and sausage (if using).  Let soup simmer for 20-25 minutes to let millet cook.  Serve with toasted hearty, crusty bread.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hiding in the Shrubs

Up until a couple of years ago, the only definition I knew for 'shrub' was something along the lines of 'a woody plant smaller than a tree.'  Thanks, Dictionary.com.  A shrub was something green, generally round, and bordered your property line or was planted in neat rows down the length of your driveway.  Then I discovered a whole new definition:  '...a sweetened vinegar-based syrup, a drinking vinegar...often infused with fruit juice, herbs, and spices for use in mixed drinks.'  My first reaction?  'Hell, yes, count me in!'

So it was the October 2012 issue of Sunset magazine where I first discovered this mysterious shrub.  Considering how I've rarely used vinegar for more than salad dressings or for pickling, I was very interested in trying it.  The Sunset recipe is for a cranberry shrub and since it was perfect for Fall, I jumped right into making it.  Happily, it's easy-peasy to make and it truly is a great mixer for cocktails.  I also love drinking them as a soda, where one part shrub to 2 parts sparkling water or club soda on ice is a treat.

1've used the Sunset magazine recipe as my base for the shrubs since that first time.  Over the past couple of years, there has been cranberry, raspberry, Italian prune plum, and the latest incarnation...gala apple.  A little swap of apple cider vinegar for the red wine vinegar, the addition of an overripe Bartlett pear, and this mix is so, so, so perfect for Fall.  I also took it upon myself to make a little Fall cocktail that's perfect for sharing.

Gala Apple Shrub
Adapted from the Sunset recipe
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

3-4 Gala apples, cut into small pieces 
1 pear, cut into small pieces
1 cup sugar 
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water

In a medium saucepan, add all the ingredients and bring to a low boil over medium heat.  Stir occasionally and with the back of the spoon, smash the fruit as much as you can.  Let simmer for about 10-15 minutes, making sure all the sugar has dissolved.  Place a fine mesh sieve or a medium size bowl and pour the shrub into the bowl.  Let the shrub drain and press the fruit to get as much liquid from them as you can.  Allow to cool, then store in a bottle in the fridge.  Lasts at least 2 weeks.

Note:  You don't need to peel the apples or pear.  


Apple & Rye
Serves 2 (and maybe a wee bit more)

1 fl. oz ginger simple syrup
4 fl. oz gala apple shrub
2 fl. oz rye whiskey
tonic water
apple slices, thin, for garnish

Throw all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously to mix.  In two old fashioned glasses, add ice cubes and a thin slice of apple.  Pour in cocktail three-quarters of the way and top with tonic water.  Toast.  

Note:  If you don't have the ginger simple syrup, I recommend making some.  It will last for awhile and you'll be able to use it in many drinks.  If you don't want ginger, make a plain simple syrup and muddle a thin slice of ginger in your glass and discard before adding ice and the cocktail.  To make the ginger simple syrup, in a saucepan, add one cup water and one cup sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir frequently to allow sugar to dissolve.  Add 3 or 4 3-inch pieces of ginger. Allow mixture to come to a simmer.  Remove from heat.  Let mixture steep for half an hour or so.  Discard ginger and store syrup in the fridge.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In Search Of

If you're old enough to remember the show that was hosted by Leonard Nimoy,  you're old enough to understand the importance of searching for the unknown, the unexplained, the mysterious.  But what am I in search of?  No, not extraterrestrials, not what happened to Amelia Earhart, not the truth about the Bermuda Triangle.  More pragmatic, more practical, but still mysterious.  It's pizza.  More accurately, perfect homemade pizza dough.  Okay, maybe not perfect.  Maybe pretty damn close?  Can someone lead me in that direction?  It seems like it would be so simple.  A mix of water, salt, flour, oil, yeast.

I try recipe after recipe, not tied down to one formula.  I skimmed Jim Lahey's My Pizza (having made his no-knead bread, I'm behind this man).  I think about the tools I use, the ingredients I have on hand, what I can tweak, what I should tweak, what I accidentally discovered (hello overnight cold rise!), and why I always forget I own a pizza stone.

I haven't tried Jim Lahey's yet.  That's next on the list.  The latest recipe I used was Alice Waters' recipe from The Art of Simple Food.  It's good.  Very good.  Alice's recipe got the overnight cold rise and since the recipe makes enough for two pizzas, the first was traditionally baked in the oven, the second was actually 'baked' in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop.  More like fried, with a touch of olive oil, then after adding some caramelized onion, cheese, and porchetta (Oh, porchetta!), I threw it under a broiler until the cheese melted and the crust charred.

The other recipe is from a book I bought awhile ago called,  The Cook's Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking by Carla Capalbo.  I bought it at the used bookstore around the corner and it's turned out to be a great little find.  Lots of practical, not over the top recipes and in the year or so that I've had it, I refer to it more times than I thought I would.  This version also got the cold rise treatment and was made solely by the cast iron/stovetop/broiler method.  Thanks to a pizza craving when Los Angeles had one of its ugly heatwaves last month, I couldn't wait for the temps to drop to satisy the craving, and that's when I tried the stovetop method.

I loved using my cast iron skillet so much, that I'm throwing cast iron pizza into the regular rotation.  For some reason, it just seems like it takes less effort.  Which, in looking at it objectively, doesn't.  Two steps compared to throwing it on a sheet and slipping it into the oven.  I don't know.  They're both good.

Porchetta and Caramelized Onion Pizza
Dough recipe makes enough for 2 10-inch pizza

Alice Waters' Pizza Dough Recipe

2 tsp dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup rye flour
3 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup olive oil

Stir together the yeast and 1/2 cup lukewarm water.  Add the rye flour and 1/4 cup of the ap flour.  Let this sit in a bowl until bubbly, about 1/2 hour.  In another bowl, mix the remaining ap flour with the salt.  After the yeast mixture is foamy, add the flour and salt mix, along with the olive oil and cold water.  Mix dough and turn out onto a floured board, kneading for about 5 minutes until dough is soft and elastic.  If your dough is wet, add a little more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon until the right consistency is met.

Here you can either put the dough in a bowl, covered and let it rise for 2 hours in a warm spot or put the dough in the refrigerator for an overnight rise.  Just remember to take it out a couple of hours before you want to use it.  


6 oz porchetta, sliced paper thin
1/2 cup onion, caramelized
1/2 cup Grana Padano, grated
1/2 cup Asiago, grated
2 tbsp basil, chiffonaded
red pepper oil, for drizzling (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees (if baking in the oven).  Stretch dough to roughly 10-12 inches. Sprinkle dough with cheeses and basil.  Spread caramelized onion and porchetta over dough.  On a pan, with a thin layer of coarse cornmeal, place pizza and put in oven.  Bake for 8-12 minutes.  When removed from the oven, sprinkle with the remaining basil and drizzle the oil.  

If you opt for the cast iron skillet method, make the dough big enough to fit into your pan.  Put pan over high heat and add a little oil (about 1 tsp or so).  Add dough and allow to cook, flipping over every few minutes.  Turn on your stove's broiler to its highest setting.  Top dough with porchetta et al and put pan under broiler.  Keeping an eye on the pizza, remove when you see a little char on the crust and porchetta edges look crispy.  

Basic Pizza Dough
From 'The Cook's Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking'
Makes roughly 2 10-inch pizzas

2 1/2 tbsp fresh cake yeast or 1 pkg dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
pinch of sugar
1 tsp salt
3-3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

In a bowl, mix the water and yeast.  Stir in the sugar and let stand until yeast dissolves and begins to foam, 5-10 minutes.  Mix in the salt and about a third of the flour, stirring and gradually adding the flour until dough easily pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth, about 8-10 minutes.  In a lightly oiled bowl, place the dough inside and cover with a moistened and wrung out dish towel.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 45-50 minutes.  Punch down the dough and knead for a minute or two.  Dough is ready for toppings.  Bake using either method above. 

Notes:  both recipes actually call for unbleached flour.  Obviously, all purpose will work the same.  I tend to have either or on hand, so use what you've got.  As for the rye flour, if you don't have any, swap regular flour for the 1/4 cup called.  I had it on hand and think it adds a subtle touch that you can't quite place your finger on.  Feel free to use whole wheat if you don't have rye.  The second recipe calls for cake yeast.  If you can find it, I highly recommend using it.  It's a hit or miss find for me, so I use the dry yeast.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Not a Fluke

Or The Summer of Plums.  I love stone fruit season and we are now right at the tail end of it.  Fall is officially here, but I'm holding on for a little bit longer before jumping headfirst into the season of apples, apples, apples, pomegranates, and more apples.

While I usually cannot eat enough nectarines and peaches over the Summer, this year I was a little disappointed.  There were great fruits every now and again, but only every now and again.  Plums, though?  I had days upon days filled with black plums, red plums, a pluot here and there, and even green plums.  At season's end, I'm thrilled to find Italian prune plums (also called Empress plums, though these are a little larger) in the stores and markets.  Not typically an eating plum, I personally love the slight tartness when you bite into one that's not overripe.  I love the bright citron flesh hiding underneath the silver wax bloomed dark purple skins.

This recipe won't be for everyone.  Orange blossom water lends a distinct floral (some might say, perfumey) undertone.  If you're totally against it, you could substitute a little almond flavoring, or even a touch of orange.  But...I think the orange blossom is a small enough amount that you won't feel as though you're chewing on a bouquet.  Mind you, I am the girl who loves rose-flavored candies and can happily work through a pack of Choward's violet gum in no time.

Plum and Orange Blossom Preserves
Makes about a cup

3 cups Italian/Empress plums, chopped (about 6-8)
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp orange blossom water

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Lower heat and cook until reduced by about a third, 20-25 minutes.  Preserves will thicken a bit.  Store in a glass jar.  This will keep for at least a week in the refrigerator.  The possibilities?  On toast.  On French toast, instead of maple syrup (same with waffles).  Mixed with plain  yogurt and topped with granola.  Topping vanilla ice cream.  Mmm hmm...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meatless Monday

Okay...so I just did a little research.  Thank you, Google.  Thank you, Internet.  Did you know the Meatless Monday trend started 11 years ago!?!  I had no idea.  I think I only became aware of it a couple of years ago.  I have tried many, many times to do my part for this trend? tradition? (can you still call it a trend 11 years after its inception?  Does anyone know the rules to this?), but all too often absentmindedly end up having meat at some point on a Monday and think...oh, well...let's try again next week.

Today was one of those days where my eating habits are outright odd.  Sometimes when I'm home all day, I'll either graze for hours, or I won't eat much and what I do eat doesn't even really qualify as a proper meal.  Case in point...'breakfast' was a big taste of almond-peanut butter that I had just made.   The jar I use to store my peanut butter in was too small for the amount made and I didn't want to use a second jar.  I half considered toasting bread to have with my peanut butter, but I really didn't want to bring out the toaster, so there I was, spatula in hand, scooping almond butter out of the food processor bowl.  Lunch, a couple of hours later, was an avocado, sprinkled with a little sea salt and sumac, smeared on a couple of tostadas.  I guess from afar that might look like a meal, but it really wasn't.

So when the 5 o'clock hour came around I gave some serious thought to dinner and wanting to really have something more substantial than a spatula-full of almond butter.  Thinking back over the course of the day and realizing that I hadn't eaten meat, it was a prime opportunity to give this Meatless Monday a conscious effort.  A quick once-over of the contents in the fridge led to this.  I love mushrooms sauted slowly over a low flame, it draws out the earthiness and meatiness.  You can use any mushrooms you like, I tend to stick with white mushrooms (boring, I know).

Spinach and Mushroom with Short Grain Brown Rice
Makes enough for 2

1 cup short grain brown rice
3 cups water
sea salt

1/4 cup green onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3-4 cups spinach, fresh, chopped
6 white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup grated Asiago (or Parmesan cheese)
1 tbsp red pepper oil (optional)

Rinse the rice to remove any dirt or debris and in a large saucepan, add one cup of rice to 3 cups of water, and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a low boil, then turn heat to a simmer and cook rice until done (about 20 minutes).  Keep rice covered and fluff when ready.

In a skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil and butter until melted, then add green onions and garlic, sauteeing until garlic softens.  Add the mushrooms, slightly lowering heat, and cook until softened, about 10-12 minutes.  Add the spinach, stirring quickly, until wilted.

Plate the rice, topping with the mushrooms and spinach.  Drizzle with red pepper oil (or red pepper flakes) and shredded Asiago or Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wanna Swap?

I love Instagram.  Everyone can be a photographer (with varying degrees of talent).  There are a million posts of cats (I am extremely guilty of contributing to this), and there is no end to the food posts from bloggers and foodies alike (I am also guilty of contributing to this).  But...know what else I've discovered?  (Other than the shops people run on there.  I've bought more than my fair share of vintage kitchenware, linens, and jewelry over the past two years.)  I've discovered that there are an awful lot of great people on it.

AND it is through different groups of these great people that swaps are held!  Swaps--where you are partnered up, trade various bits of info about yourself, and go out and find something awesome for your partner.  I've done a vintage Secret Santa Christmas swap, a vintage planter swap, and a coffee mug swap (with a second mug swap happening soon!).  I also recently hosted my first cookbook swap!

I am sure it comes as no surprise that the love of cooking leads to the love of cookbooks.  I especially love vintage cookbooks.  Every once in a while, I like to pick a recipe from a vintage cookbook and see if it stands up to the hands of time.  I enjoy seeing food trends over the decades (aspic, fondue) and watch the progression (or decline) of food photography (like The Brown Period, as I call the 70s).  A post went onto Instagram, looking for people to sign up, and after about a week, I had nineteen people just as excited as I was to swap books.  Everyone received a short survey to help discern tastes and set the terms:  vintage and/or modern books accepted, extras okay, and keep it all under $20, folks!

And with that...'Cookbook Swap 2014' was underway.  Partners were partnered, surveys were surveyed, and the time limit to gather and send was set.  A couple of weeks later, the posts began to pop up.  Hashtagged #cookbookswap2014, swappers were showing off the contents of their #happymail packages that were being delivered.  Between the fun of picking out the 'just right' cooksbooks and kitchenalia, then watching the mailbox for your box of surprises, there's a feeling of being a kid on Christmas morning to it all.
The kicker?  As swappers were posting their pictures, even more people were asking about getting in on the swap, so it looks as though I'll be hosting another one in a month or so.  It will be the Fall/Pre-Holiday edition of 'Cookbook Swap 2014.'  Once again, I have to thank everyone who was a part of this.  The whole thing went off without a hitch, everyone came through, and everyone had a great time.  This just might turn into a regular occurrence.

What started it all...
A collage of the photos posted on Instagram.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer Fresh

By this point, I think you know that when it's Summer, and temperatures are dancing the thermostat higher and higher, nearing the 100 degree mark, I like to make things to eat that don't require cooking.  Okay, maybe toasting bread for a sandwich, or a quick flip of a pita over an open flame to have with an antipasti platter, but no multi burners going, and certainly no oven turned on to roast a vegetable or bake a cake.

I make a version of this soup every Summer.  Based upon a recipe for Chilled Cucumber Soup from Real Simple, it is one of those repertoire items that is difficult not to turn to again and again.  It's easy, delicious, and can take a riff or two if you are so inclined.  I originally wrote about this soup a couple of years ago and shared my version.  Here I am again with the 2014 version.  Bigger.  Badder.  Faster.  Harder.  Or something like that.

Cucumber Spinach Chilled Soup
Serves 4 (as an appetizer)

3 Persian cucumbers, peeled and chopped
3 cups spinach, fresh
2 cloves  garlic, chopped
1/4 cup onions, chopped
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup water
1/2 tsp shichimi togarashi
pinch of salt

In a blender, add the cucumbers, spinach, garlic, onions, water, yogurt, and togarashi.  Puree until smooth.  Add the feta and blend for 15-20 seconds.  I like the feta incorporated just enough that you'll still have crumbles.  Season to taste.

Note:  If you don't have togarashi, you can leave it out or substitute with red pepper flakes or even chili powder.  Alternately, if you don't want a hint of spice, you can leave it out entirely.  If you're substituting frozen  chopped spinach, I would probably cut the amount down to 2 cups.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Taking A Cue

One blog that I read on a regular basis is David Lebovitz's blog.  You cannot go wrong with someone who has written numerous books on the subject of dessert and worked with Alice Waters.  It was his recent post on cherry compote that caught my attention, especially when he began the post claiming to have an affliction with buying too much Summer fruit when in season.  Mentally, my hand went up, guiltily, when I read that sentence, looking over the computer screen to the bowl of fruit on the table that was (and is) overflowing with plums (three varieties), nectarines, and peaches.  And let's not forget how I feel about cherries.  I get excited when cherry season arrives.  I always buy large amounts with big plans on making something truly special with them.  But then...I find myself standing at the kitchen counter, my hand repeatedly dipping into the bowl and eating one after another, after another...after another.  More times than not, I find myself with a pile of cherry pits, stained fingers, and nothing made from those glorious ruby orbs.

This Summer was looking like there would be no cherry-centric recipes made as I was on my third bowl of cherries and I still hadn't made it past the eating stage.  Then, I came across David's recipe.  Looking at the photos he posted, all I could imagine was spooning cherry compote over vanilla ice cream.  Let me tell you...since I caught strep throat last month, ice cream has been a consistent resident in my freezer.  You know...it soothed the pain of an awful sore throat.  Well...then it did.  Now, it just makes me happy.

Get out your cherry pitter (or chopstick), pit some cherries, and make this.  Be sure the vanilla ice cream is in the freezer and ready for it.

Cherry Compote
Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz
Makes a little over a cup

2 cups cherries, pitted
1/4 cup pure cane sugar
2 capfuls Irish whiskey (optional)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Pit the cherries and add to a large saucepan.  Make sure any juice from the cherries winds up in the pan too.  Add the sugar, extract, and whiskey.  Over medium heat, cook all the ingredients, until the cherries begin to break down.  Occasionally check the progress, since the cooking will cause the cherries and liquid to foam.  Since this isn't a large amount of cherries, it shouldn't be a problem if your pan is large enough.  Cook until the fruit breaks down a considerable amount and all the flavors have mingled (about 20-25 minutes).  Allow to cool for a few minutes before storing or topping ice cream.  

Notes:  I used a chopstick to pit the cherries.  It takes a little getting used to, but once you find a rhythm, it gets easier.  It's a little messy, but worth it.  Be sure to catch any juice from the cherries (there will be some).  I literally used 2 capfuls of whiskey, so if you're looking for an exact measurement, I'll guess it's close to two tablespoons.  Amaretto is another option to use, giving you a double punch of almond if you also use the almond extract, though you could substitute vanilla extract if amaretto is used. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Adult Beverage Time

A couple of weeks ago, a friend invited me to a play at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown.  We were there 45 minutes to an hour before showtime.  It was a lovely, early Summer evening, people were milling about the venue complex, having a drink or grabbing a quick bite to eat before the show.  We did the same.  She came back from the Mexican spot carrying a tumbler that was close to spilling over.  I knew it was for me.  I guessed sangria and asked before taking a sip.  Winey, fruity, and chilled.  It was a little too sweet, but that didn't keep me from drinking the whole thing.  Just enough to take the edge off the tension of driving cross-city to get from the Westside to downtown and not being too late.

For the past two weeks, I've been thinking about that sangria.  Thinking about how much I like sangria and why have I never made it myself.  I guess I think of it as a party drink, something that you make knowing there will be at least a couple people to share it.  The first time I had sangria was just such a scenario.  A Summer get-together, with a lot of food, a lot of drink, a lot of hospitality, and a pool involved.  That just doesn't happen here.  There are no pool parties, no cook-outs, no picnics.  I can make an old fashioned for myself and it's okay.  It seems kind of silly to make a whole pitcher.  But I decided to throw those thoughts out the window and make myself some damned sangria.  It was a holiday after all.  A day with nowhere to be and if I wanted to drink the whole thing myself, I could!

Can I tell you that one of the reasons I've been hesitant to make it is because I was afraid I'd screw it up?  Crazy, right?  I thought if I was missing some crucial element it would be disastrous and that ideal in my head would be gone forever.  Silly, silly me.  So in the name of quick research, I went to Pinterest.  Trusty Pinterest.  And found the best sangria pin EVER (even among the many sangria pins I've pinned to my board!).  The pin is not so much a recipe as a GUIDE, so I know where to improvise, see what's important, and what can be cut back or eliminated all together.  It's just what I needed.

I love how it doesn't have to cost a lot, unless you're making pitchers and pitchers full.  I fully encourage taking advantage of less expensive wines.  The 3/$10.00 Tisdale wines at Sprouts was just right, and use the seasonal fruit that you'll be able to find for good prices.  You probably have Cointreau, brandy, or rum in your liquor cabinet already.  I did not drink the whole pitcher in one day.  In fact, there is half a pitcher still chilling in the fridge.  The weekend isn't quite over yet.  Come this evening, I'll be pouring a glass.

Summer Sangria
Makes 1 pitcher

1 bottle (750ml) red wine (I used the Tisdale Sweet Red)
3 oz triple sec (or Cointreau)
1 cup club soda
1 6-oz package raspberries 
1medium nectarines, cut in chunks
2 medium plums, sliced
1 medium orange, sliced 
Juice of one large orange
1 oz agave nectar
Orange slices, for garnish

In a medium to large pitcher, pour in the wine.  Add the raspberries, nectarine, and plums.  Stir.  Add the triple sec and orange juice, stirring to mix.  Add the club soda, agave nectar, and orange slices.  Mix thoroughly, tasting, and adding more agave if you see fit.  

Chill for at least 4 hours or longer.  Garnish each glass with a orange wedge before serving.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Uncommon Flavors

When I was asked to bring dessert for a Memorial Day cookout at a friend's house, I took the task seriously.  I also used the opportunity to dig into a few of my cookbooks that tend to just sit on shelves once I've given them a cursory glance when first added to the collection.  I wanted something a little different, a little offbeat...but not so offbeat that people would look at it and go running to the s'mores that the kids would be making.

I pulled from the shelves a handful of new and relatively new cookbooks.  'My Paris Kitchen' by David Lebovitz, 'Supernatural Everyday' by Heidi Swanson,  'The New Persian Kitchen' by Louisa Shafia, 'The Sugar Cube' by Kir Jensen, and even Martha Stewart's 'Cookies.'  No dearth of choices in any of those books.  I had to make something that would travel well; nothing that could melt;  nothing that would shift on the drive over and look a mess when unveiled.  No...the choice had to be relatively simple, but still outstanding.  Or as Don Draper said, "Make it simple, but significant."

I went through those cookbooks numerous times.  I eliminated a couple of books right off the bat and flagged  possibilities in the books that made the cut.  I considered making the cake I had for my birthday, but without the buttercream, made into a single layer and dusted with confectioners sugar.  I toyed with a macaroon tart from Heidi Swanson, a Pavlova overflowing with berries, the list went on.  Then while flipping through Kir Jensen's 'The Sugar Cube,' I found a recipe I couldn't resist.  Black and White Sesame Brittle.   I'm a total sucker for sesame.  A sesame seed bagel, toasted and slathered with cream cheese, is nothing short of heaven; a drizzle of sesame oil takes any stir fry right over the edge; and the sesame and malt candy/chewy treat I sometimes find at Jon's market is totally worth the risk of losing a filling.  Even more importantly...I had everything on hand!

So...one down, one to go.  Ever since I was the lucky recipient of 'The New Persian Kitchen' thanks to a giveaway on Zester Daily, I have wanted to dig into this book.  When I came upon the recipe for Chickpea and Almond Flour Cookies, I knew they would be the really quirky choice.  Not the usual tastes to most people's palates...chickpea flour, cardamon, and rosewater.  Who has chickpea flour in their pantry?  (Mmm hmm...yours truly.)  While I knew they would be different, I hoped they wouldn't be so different that they'd be shunned.

Both desserts were a hit, especially the brittle.  Just uncommon enough to pique curiosity, stepping out of the ordinary paid off.  The recipes are available online.  I'll post links below.  I strongly recommend reading the article Louisa Shafia wrote, accompanying her recipe.  It's just sweet and beautiful.

A couple of notes.  The brittle recipe states to bring the temperature of the candy to 350 degrees before taking it off the heat.  I had a hell of a time getting it that hot.  In fact, when it reached 310 degrees, I was afraid that I was close to burning the whole thing.  The color seemed right so I took it off the heat.  I don't know if I need a new candy thermometer, but go with your gut.  As for the chickpea flour, if you have a grocer that carries a good selection of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean foods, you should be able to find it.  If not, there is always online.  The brand I've always been able to find is Sadaf.

Black and White Sesame Brittle
From 'The Sugar Cube' by Kir Jensen

From 'The New Persian Kitchen' by Louisa Shafia

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Golden Goodness

After a lazy Sunday morning of sleeping in until almost 10 a.m, I thought I should be a little productive and go to the farmers market in Encino, since I had missed Saturday's market in Burbank.  While I typically prefer to go first thing in the morning, when the temperatures are still cool and the sun hasn't reached its peak, I wanted to get some produce and thought maybe I could score some bargains since I was going to get there near the end of the day's run and figured the vendors didn't want to haul back what didn't sell earlier.

 I did get a few bargains that day.  I made a lightning quick round through the market, 25 minutes from parking to shopping to back on the road and came away with a huge bouquet of flowers for five bucks, because sometimes you just have to buy yourself flowers, golden beets, daikon radish, lettuce, carrots, leeks, a huge bundle of purple basil, and a bunch of yellow carrots.  Productive.  On the drive home, all I could smell was basil and eucalyptus.  It was blissful.

Pesto was definitely being made.  I've discussed and waxed about pesto on here before (at least four times!), and my feelings have not changed.  I love pesto today just as much as I did when I wrote about it previously.  Though I will tell you that this pesto was some of the best I've made in awhile.  No kidding.   Maybe because I was a little more precise on measurements.  Maybe because the basil was so amazingly fresh.  Maybe because pesto is really just an amazing food.

And what could be more amazing than taking that pesto and pairing it with those yellow carrots?  On that day, not much.  The carrots were perfect for roasting.  I let them roast long enough to leave them with a little, just a little, bite.  Al dente, as it were.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I was eating them out of the baking dish before dinner was even ready.  They were that good.  And bits of the pesto had actually browned and crisped in the oven.  AMAZING!

 I used walnuts instead of pine nuts.  I noticed the last time I made pesto, I had an aftertaste in my mouth.  I honestly didn't think too much about it until I was over a friend's house and she mentioned how she wasn't going to use pine nuts grown in China.  So, thanks to the power of Google, I found a slew of articles and blog posts about pine nuts leaving a metallic taste in people's mouths.  Realizing that's what happened to me, I decided to look for pine nuts grown anywhere but China.  Let me tell you how expensive Italian pine nuts are.  Very.  As much as I want to get some, I'm holding off on spending the money.  By all means, if you don't get the horrendous aftertaste, don't like walnuts, or feel that using anything BUT pine nuts is blasphemous, use them.

Roasted Yellow Carrots with Pesto
Pesto makes about a cup

3 cups basil leaves, purple or otherwise
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cups Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese, grated
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

1 bunch of carrots, yellow or otherwise, tops trimmed, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the walnut pieces  just until you can smell.  Remove from heat and let cool.  In a food processor, toss in the basil leaves and walnut pieces.  Pulse until the basil and nuts begin to pulverize and combine.  Add the cheese and garlic (you can chop the cloves).  Slowly drizzle in the oil and run the processor on high until everything mixes together.  Give it a taste, adding salt and pepper as you wish.  

For the carrots, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a shallow baking dish, lay the carrots in and pour olive oil over them.  Make sure all the carrots are evenly covered with oil.  Roast carrots for about 25 minutes, then spread 2-3 tablespoons of pesto on vegetables.  Return to oven for another 5-10 minutes or until fork tines easily pierce carrots.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

But Wait! There Was Cake!

You know I took the day off for my birthday.  Whenever I have the opportunity to do so, you can count on it.  Every employer should allow their employees to have their birthday off, without having to use a vacation or sick day.  Your very own personal national holiday.  I had to use vacation hours, but it was worth it.

I spent a good portion of the day in the kitchen baking cookies and crackers for an order that was due the following day.  I decorated my birthday cake and now looking through my photo feed, realize I only took one photo.  The birthday was also the beginning of a mini-heat wave out here and before noon it was already flirting with the 90 degree mark.  Hot weather and buttercream don't mix all that well.  My goal was to decorate the cake before the frosting had a chance to melt.

Happily, I didn't have to worry about cooking on my birthday.  I had a surprise lunch date with my favourite person and went out to dinner with two very special friends.  There was birthday chocolate ice cream and an old fashioned involved.  It was a good day.  And the baked goods were a total hit that Friday.

All this to tell you that I made a mini orange cake with vanilla buttercream.  I had these little square cake molds that I bought a couple of years ago and finally decided to use.  Originally, the cake was going to be a little tower of squares.  Larger 4 inch squares topped with 2 inch squares.  Turns out they reminded me too much of a wedding cake.  Nixed that idea.  So, the cake was a little 2-layer square.  It was a little wonky even after trimming the layers.  There were also 10 cupcakes since the recipe makes enough for 2 8-inch layers.  This was also one of the rare occasions where I didn't wander (too much) from the original recipe.  It was fabulous.  Just the right amount of orange flavour.  It was light.  It was Springy.  Covered in vanilla buttercream, it was just lovely.

Orange Birthday Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
From Bunny's Warm Oven
Makes 2 8-inch layers or 12-14 cupcakes

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar (also known as bakers' sugar)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice, preferably fresh squeezed (mine was a combination of navel, blood orange, and cara cara)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tbsp grated orange zest

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour or line cake pans, or line muffin pan with cupcake liners.  In a small bowl, combine milk, oil, orange juice, and eggs.  Mix well and set aside.

In a large bowl, add flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Mix until combined.  Make a well in the center and add liquid mixture.  Stir until thoroughly mixed.  Pour batter into pans or muffin tins (about 2/3 full) and bake for 30-35 minutes (for cakes) or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  For cupcakes, start checking around 20-25 minutes.  Let cool in pan before removing.

Vanilla Buttercream
Adapted from Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

3 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp half and half

Cream sugar and butter until smooth, add vanilla and mix.  Add half and half until desired consistency is found.

An aerial view to hide the wonkiness

Enjoying cake for decades.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Shot of Rye

You might think from this post and my post at the beginning of this month, that I eat a lot of muffins.  Or, at least, I did for the month of April.  I do love me a good muffin, don't get me wrong...but I normally don't eat them all that much.  I guess I felt that April was the month of muffin experimentation.  At least twice.  [My apologies also to those who saw the title and thought it might lead to libations.]

I was sorting and organizing my pantry and found my rye flour.  There was also an overripe banana or three.  You know as well as I do, that overripe bananas invariably lead to some sort of baked goods with bananas as the key ingredient.  One of the work study students told me her mom had made banana bread the day before I brought these into work because she had past-prime fruit sitting on the counter.  The natural progression in the life of a banana.  There is the desperate need to make something quickly, because I am not a fan of refrigerated or frozen bananas.

I really like what the rye flour did to these little guys.  They turned out a little dense, with an almost savory quality, but it's 'under the radar', 'can't quite put your finger on it', kind of flavor.  These muffins are also less sweet than you'd probably expect.  The original recipe called for a whole cup of sugar.  Way too much in my opinion.  Drop the sugar, up the cinnamon, you've got enough sweetness from the fruit.  I was also able to finally use up my Easter muffin/cupcake liners!  And yes...I made these on Easter Sunday.  Baking alignment!

On another note...once again, the month of April was my annual mid-life crisis month.  Someday I'll get tired of doing this to myself.  But, hey...consistency, right?  This also means that there will be cake.  Yes, I have decided on my birthday cake.  No, I am not spilling the beans.  You'll just have to come back in a couple of days and see for yourself.  Or find me on Instagram.  No doubt there will be a photo posted.  In the meantime, enjoy a muffin (again).

Banana Walnut Rye Muffins
Makes 10-12 muffins

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3 overripe bananas
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-muffin tin with paper liners or lightly grease and flour.  In a bowl, sift flours, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, mash the bananas, cinnamon, and vanilla together until all big lumps are gone.  In another bowl, vigorously whisk the oil, sugar, and egg until well-mixed and smooth.  Add the bananas and mix.  Add the dry ingredients and mix well.  You can use a hand mixer if you like, but I like doing it all by hand.  Spoon the batter into the cups so each is about 2/3 full.  

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in muffin comes out clean.  Let cool in pan.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No Foolin'

How can it be April already?  April!  The month even started off with showers last night (you know that saying, 'April showers bring May flowers.) with more predicted for tonight!  And to reinforce the sometimes strangeness of April Fools' Day, despite being a week into Spring, it was downright chilly...here...in Los Angeles.  Though that made it the perfect day for a little late afternoon baking.  It was also a great way to get my mind off of things I didn't want to think about...at least for an hour.

You know the Parade magazine that comes with the weekend paper?  A year or so ago, they printed a basic muffin recipe that I've been meaning to try.  Finally got around to it today.  The verdict is that the recipe is a winner.  The article also included a handful of variations you could try...or if you're the daring type, you could go out on a limb and create your own concoction.

As the sun set tonight and the air grew colder, I boiled a kettle of water and settled in for a few minutes with a cup of tea and one of these muffins.

Date Walnut Muffins
Adapted from the Basic Breakfast Muffin recipe on Parade.com
Makes 6

1 cup flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 fluid oz olive oil
1 fluid oz vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees, line muffin tin with paper liners.  In a small bowl, add flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Mix to combine.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oils, and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well either by hand or with an electric mixer (about a minute).  Add dates and walnuts, mixing well to combine.  Spoon batter into muffin cups filling each to about 2/3 full.

Bake for 16-20 minutes until tops are lightly golden brown or a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


How great would it be if there were acres of land still covered in citrus groves like in vintage photos of Southern California?  Where there is now sprawl there used to be rows and rows of orange or lemon trees.  If  you look around the neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, you'll spot citrus trees scattered about.  Either left over from decades ago or planted when new neighbourhoods were built, they're around.  Make friends with your neighbours.  When those trees are laden with fruit, ask nicely, and you may get a bushel.

Let me tell you how happy I am to know that I have a co-worker with a Meyer lemon tree in his yard.  I've had not one, but two days where I've gone into work and received bags of lemons to bring home.   Lemon curd has been made and I sit here looking at a bowl overflowing with lemons which will be juiced and zested, with some frozen for later use and most likely, another round of curd made.

In my world, there is no such thing as too much citrus, so after I made the Meyer lemon curd, I thought there was nothing better to put that curd on than citrus-laced scones.  Beyond lemon scones, I made them a triple threat scone.  Filled with a combination of Meyer lemon, Cara Cara orange, and lime, these scones are just perfumed enough to give you a whiff of orange before you bite into one, and a sweet balance of the three at the first bite.

I call them Citrus Bomb Scones. 

Citrus Bomb Scones
Makes about 12 scones

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into cubes
3 oz evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon each zest of Meyer lemon, Cara Cara orange, and lime
1 teaspoon each juice of Meyer lemon, Cara Cara orange, and lime

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  In a separate small bowl, combine eggs and milk and mix.  Add to flour mixture and bring together loosely.  Mix zests of citrus together and add to batter, along with juice.  Mix until a loose dough forms, then turn out onto a floured board.  Roll out dough to roughly 1/2 inch thick and cut into squares or use a biscuit cutter to form scones.  Brush lightly with a little milk and if you like, sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Bake on a parchment lined sheet for 16-20 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A World Away

In what seems a world away, a century ago, I remember the first tentative forays into foods that were unusual, foreign, and exotic to me.  Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there were a lot of weekends after I graduated from high school when I would take the train into New York City with a friend or two to see bands play at the Ritz or visit penpals (turned friends) who lived on Long Island.  I loved walking through Greenwich Village, down Canal Street, record shopping, vintage shopping, just hanging out and taking everything in.  

The first time I had Indian food was in New York City.  My girlfriend at the time, our friend from Long Island, and myself found ourselves hungry after a serious day of shopping and walking around.  Somehow we decided on Indian and thanks to Sue's love of roses we picked The Rose of India.  Yes...for the name and maybe an agreeable cursory glance at the menu posted near the door.  This place was truly awesome once we walked inside and let our eyes adjust to the serious change of lighting from outside to in.  It was a long and narrow space with a center aisle and tables that hugged the walls on either side.  Strands of Christmas lights (there must have been a few dozen) reached from the entryway to the kitchen, criss-crossing across the ceiling and winding their way up and down the wall.  Even more amazing was the fact that it seemed as though every square inch of exposed wall was covered in artificial flowers.  Silk, plastic, single blooms, garlands, bouquets, leaves, petals...all somehow attached or glued, making the dining room feel like a very dimly lit, strange 'garden' space.  Sue could not have chosen a better place.  We had a feast that evening, dish after dish after dish...curries, fritters, rice, fruits, vegetables, meats.  To this day, I think fondly of the banana fritters we had for dessert and the fact that our whole bill was just $22!  Even in the late 80's  that was a serious score. 

Of course, I had friends that lived in Philadelphia around this time too.  There was lot of time spent on the campus of Temple University, on South Street, and in Old City...hanging out in dorm rooms,  searching through the bins of Thrid St. Jazz, or dancing nights away at Revival.  But there was also a little spot, if my memory serves me right, on Fourth Street, just off of South, called Tuly's Middle Eastern restaurant.  Another restaurant in a small space, but bright and white.  Maybe 8 or 10 wooden tables and chairs populated the space as you walked in the entrance, past the small take-out counter.  More times than not, I wound up here with my friend, Amy, and we regularly took the table against the back wall.  It was a great vantage spot to watch the goings on or to lean up against the wall as we ate, smoked, and talked for hours.  We'd start every visit here with a plate of feta and Kalamata olives, drizzled with olive oil, and generously sprinkled with oregano.  My choices were usually lamb or falafel.  Falafel...who knew that chick peas could be that good.  Up until then, they were something that I would pick out of any salad I found them in, thinking their large, bumpy appearance was truly unappetizing.  I loved the crunch of each deep fried falafel ball, giving way to a chewy interior, mixing with the tang of the yogurt sauce.  

Over twenty plus years later, I finally took it upon myself to even try making Indian food.  But I did.  And it was really good.  Coming close to a year and a half later, I made falafel.  Now this isn't the first time I made it...but it is the first time where it didn't come from a boxed mix.  I know.  For some reason, I thought it would be one of those things that would be difficult.  Silly me.  I also don't do a lot of deep frying at home.  You know how the scent of frying oil just tends to linger in the air for a day or two?  Yeah...that.  It was worth it though.

From a recipe on Epicurious

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp flour

oil for frying

Yogurt Sauce with Celery

1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup celery, finely minced
1 tbsp olive oil

Add all the falafel ingredients, except the baking powder and flour, to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until ingredients come together, but are not pureed.  Add baking powder and flour, again pulsing to bring ingredients together.  The mix should still feel a little chunky, but not too sticky.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours to overnight.

For the yogurt sauce, mix the yogurt with the celery and olive oil until well blended.  Sprinkle generously with sumac and refrigerate to let flavours mingle.  

To fry the falafel, form into small walnut size balls or patties.  Bring oil to 375 degrees in a large saucepan.  Only fry 3 or 4 at a time to keep oil temperature from dropping.  Fry until golden brown (about 2 minutes each side), flipping to fry evenly.  Remove from oil with slotted spoon and allow to drain on paper towel lined plate.  

You can serve the falafel in a pita topped with the yogurt sauce or do what I did and top a bed of romaine with falafel and yogurt sauce.   

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Little Love

...or 'The Valentine's Day Post.'  Normally, I don't think far enough ahead to plan a post to coincide with an event.  I have yet to make Thanksgiving dinner in August, so I can have the post and photos polished and ready by November.  But for some reason, this year, I actually found myself thinking about Valentine's Day last month.  (I'm sure it had nothing to do with the barrage of red, pink, and hearts filling two aisles at Target that had been up since before Christmas.)  I bought these really cute red striped paper straws (also from Target) after Christmas and thought how great they would be for a Valentine's post.  You will notice they do not make an appearance here.  It just wasn't meant to be. 

What was meant to be are marshmallows.  Little fluffy clouds of gelatin and sugar.  Boy...are they messy.  Messy in the 'giggling while powdered sugar winds up all over my shirt and showers down to the floor' kind of way...which is good.  I've wanted to make marshmallows for a while, but they always seemed like kind of a pain in the ass to make, so I let the thought simmer on a back burner of my mind for a year...or three.  But after reading the last post for 2013 on the F for Food blog, I knew the time had come for me to make that attempt.

 F for Food is one of my absolute favourite food blogs.  If you've never read Elliott's blog, please do yourself a favor and check it out.  She has a natural, friendly, and honest voice when she writes, whether it's about food or her life.  The fact that she admits to not reading a recipe all the way through before attempting it warms my heart, as I sheepishly raise my hand to be an admitted member of that club.

Well, she made marshmallows seem easy peasy to make.  I even skimmed the recipe all the way through beforehand!  They are easy.  To make mine more holiday appropriate for Cupid's celebration, I cut them out with heart and flower cookie cutters and sprinkled them with red sugar crystals.  I will not admit to any serious sugar highs or crashes yesterday.  No, sir, I will not.

Since I barely adapted Elliott's recipe, I'm only going to provide a link to it.  This also means you have to visit her blog.  No excuses!