Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Monday, December 5, 2011

You Betcha Want This Ciabatta !

‘Bout time we make some darned bread around these parts, isn’t it?  I mean, there’s that pesky title of the place, about “Yeast” and all, and we haven’t seen bread in months !  Literally MONTHS I tells ya !

Bad Roberta.  Bad baker.

Well….it’s not that bread *hasn’t* been being made in the little kitchen (OWWWW, grammatically massacred, much?), it’s just that they’ve all been recipes/techniques I’ve shared with all y’all before.  Like a loaf of my sourdough or two, and some cornbread (no need to share that one, who can’t make cornbread??) and some of that M. Grill knock-off rosemary-olive oil bread.

And this ciabatta.  I actually baked this a few weeks ago, but got sidetracked telling you about it with the surprise that was that cranberry jelly (still loving that, by the way) and the gnocchi.  See, I get easily distracted…..EWW, Pretty !  SHINY !!  GLITTERY !!!!!!!!

And bread, bread….bread is not pretty, shiny nor glittery.  Bread is humble, bread is plain, bread is modest and unassuming.  Well, not really, but you get the idea.  Compared to the flash and dazzle of homemade gnocchi, bread is pretty unpretentious.  But then you pull a fresh-baked loaf out of the oven, and schmeer (highly technical cooking term alert) it with good, sweet butter, and sprinkle it with coarse salt, and of course you remember how sublime good bread is, for all its simplicity.

So, now’s the time to revisit bread, and a damn fine bread this is.

And considering how wet (slack is another term you’ll hear for wet, soft doughs) this dough is, pretty easy to work with, and get an acceptable result from (good heavens, my internal Grammar Police must’ve taken the night off….).  Just take a deep breath, read the technique through, and follow the internal Zen that is working with a slack dough.

Uhhhhhh, yeah.  I’m still working on finding that Zen.  Sometimes the dogs get a little worried when Mazzie’s trying to shape an artisan loaf.

This one, though, because of the signature shape of ciabatta, is pretty much a breeze.  You “plour” (that’s a combination of plunk and pour) the dough onto a parchment, and then gently prod and coax the edges into that “slipper” shape.  Gentle, careful coaxing.  Don’t even try to “shape” the dough into a loaf, it’s so slack that ain’t gunna happen with this dough, and you’ll just get frustrated and yell and scare the little dogs.  We don’t want to scare the little dogs.  Plus, you’ll be tempted to use too much flour to get the dough to a manageable state, and then your bread will be too tough and hard, and well, you’ll get frustrated and yell and scare the dogs.  See caveat about not scaring the dogs, above.  Trust the inner Zen that the little yeastie bugs will do grand things with that blob of ploured dough.

Don’t ask me how I know that yelling scares little dogs.  Nothing that a few doggie treetz won’t cure, though.  Usually.

BTW, Lulu still has a Mohawk…..but I digress.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another One Off Of The Culinary Bucket List

Are we all done with turkey now, at least for a while?  Everyone raise their hands if you agree.  Yeah.  Thought so.

Let’s see.  So far, I’ve done turkey sandwiches with my lovely cranberry/jalapeño jelly, with a side of reheated dressing (day-um but I made good dressing this year), turkey in reheated gravy on mashed potatoes (oh yeah….), a snack of turkey on White Lilly flour biscuits (with more of that jelly) and tonight, turkey seco tacos (spread the shredded turkey on a baking sheet, toss with olive oil, garlic, chile powder and whatever other spices float your boat, throw into a 300° oven until it gets dry, about half an hour, that’s the “seco” and then make into tacos with all the usual suspects….tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cheese, cilantro, avocados, radishes, corn tortillas….).  Those rocked.  I may, may have one more turkey meal left before any dregs go into the freezer for future consideration.  Or, there may not be any dregs…we’ll see what the circling turkey-scarfing vulture dogs have in mind !

Yeah, THOSE turkey-scarfing vulture dogs.  Fresh from the doggie spa, replete with the frou-frou little ear bows.  Rosie rocked the look.  Lulu, ehhhh, not so much.  Sort of like putting a tutu on Peppermint Pattie.  Just….doesn‘t work somehow.

But Lulu most certainly DOES rock this look....

It's Mohawk Puppy !

But I digress.  Amazingly enough, this isn’t about leftover turkey, or even adorable vulture dogs.  It’s about tackling yet another food project *I Thought I’d Never Be Able To Make*.  The culinary bucket list.  We all have one, don’t we ?  Stuff we love, but think we can’t make at home for any variety of reasons.  Involved techniques, amount of time/effort required, exotic ingredients, there can be any number of excuses.  But most can be vanquished with just that little bit of the “courage of your convictions”.

This time around it was gnocchi.

Gnocchi.  Little, pillowy dumpling-ish nuggets of pasta/potato goodness.  Good gnocchi are very good.  VERY good.  Like dreamy, sublime good.  Like, go home and fantasize about gnocchi for a month or so good.   I’ve had that kind, rarely.  But often enough to know that’s what I aspire to.

Bad gnocchi are, well, really REALLY bad.  Leaden.  Heavy.  Dense, sodden little gut-bombs that sink to the pit of your stomach, not to mention your soul, and leave you not only with a bad taste in your mouth, and a sick feeling in your tum-tum, but a fear and loathing of ever trying to make them at home, let alone ever eating them again.

Because….they’re hard to make.  They have to be.  Because anything that’s THAT good (when they’re good) and THAT bad (when they’re bad) can’t be easy.  But after growing increasingly frustrated with the gnocchi I can find commercially i.e., frozen, dried/dehydrated and/or fresh/refrigerated (with nice green mold as an option, apparently, see an earlier post about a summer veg gnocchi dish…), I was toying with the idea of breaking down and trying to make them from scratch.  But it all seemed, so….daunting.

And then I was presented with another lovely, petite butternut squash from The Growing Experience.  Literally the same day, I was channel-surfing, and found a repeat of an ancient “Good Eats” (I *heart* Alton) episode on Cooking Channel.  It was about making…..butternut squash gnocchi.

I figured it was a Sign From Above.  Or sumpthin'.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Quick ! Go To The Grocery Store NOW !!

OK, I know we’re all on the wrong side of the turkey coma right now, and we’ve got such full and satisfied bellies that the last thing on our minds at the moment is more food.  Especially if it involves getting into potentially *tight* clothes, rousting ourselves up off the couch, out from under the Snuggie and foisting ourselves into the cold, menacing BIG BAD WORLD of crazed shoppers.

Trust me.  I’m as agoraphobic and hermit-like as the next person.  Never in my life have I participated in the scrum that is after-Thanksgiving shopping.

But I will be going to the grocery store tomorrow.  And you should too.

Because we need to stock up on cranberries people, during this brief window of opportunity when the little critters are available.  Come December 26th, cranberries will be gone with the wind, like the ghosts of holidays past, not to be seen again until mid-November 2012.  And we’re gunna want them before then.  Oh.  Yeah.  We’re gunna want them again.

Lay in the stock of cranberries folks.  Stash ‘em in the deep freeze and then you can make this ridiculously easy, ridiculously delicious, ridiculously amazing Cranberry-Pepper Jelly whenever you want it.  Because once you taste it, you’ll be looking for ways to eat it, in addition, that is, to simply shoveling it into your mouth with a soup spoon, while you’re standing shoulder-deep into the fridge.

It’s that good.  No.  It’s better.

Now, don’t be afraid.  We’re gunna make a jelly.  Another one of those scary *BIG* culinary projects (like pickles…..).  Well, we saw how easy pickles can be, and this jelly is in that same league.  No hot water baths, no exploding jars, no sugar syrup dripping from the cabinets and your hair.  Just a zesty, sweet, tart, hot burst of flavor in your mouth.

Time to jell, folks….

Thursday, November 24, 2011

With A Gobble Gobble Here,

And a gobble, gobble there.

The circling vulture dogs (who are already plenty excited about the smells to be smelled in the little kitchen tomorrow, LOTS of veggies !) and I wish all y'all a most happy and wonderful and fulfilling Thanksgiving.

Eat lots.  Let your belt or waistband out a notch.  And be thankful that you have the food on your table, and in your larder, to do so.

Revel in your families, all their glories and foibles.  If your mother pours gravy over the date-nut bread (don't ask me how I have this story.....), resist the urge to dive under the table and die of embarrassment.  Remember that in a few years' time, this will be a beloved family memory, which even Mom will enjoy and laugh about.  And in more years' time, when Mom isn't around to embarrass you any longer, you'll wish you had some date-nut bread and gravy around.  Not to mention Mom.

Relax and enjoy the moment.  The smells of the turkey roasting, the sound of the sizzle of the veggies sauteing for the stuffing, the color of the cranberries, the aroma of bread or dinner rolls baking or the precious yeastie bugs doing their magic in the dough on the counter before anyone else is up.  The satisfaction of looking around the table, seeing everyone happy and relaxed and stuffed, and knowing it was a good day.

Pour an extra glass of wine (or sparkling cider, or whatever) and congratulate yourself for delivering a wonderful meal, or, if you didn't cook the feast, for participating in a wonderful meal.  Then put your feeties up and let the kids (even if the "kids" are 30-somethings) clean up the kitchen.

Resist the urge to join the stampede at the mall at 6:00 p.m.  I saw one woman on the local news today, she's already camping out, and the reporter said, well what about Thanksgiving?  Her reply...."it's just dinner.  We eat dinner every day".

No.  It's not just dinner.  It's a celebration of us, Americans, in all our beauty and with all our warts.  More than any other holiday, it's about us.  And our families.  Coming together over the table to celebrate us and our relationships and each other.  And no high-def TV, no matter how ridiculously cheap it is, can replace that.  In 30 years, will you remember that TV, or will you remember your Thanksgivings, around your family table, with those you care about?

Watch the parades, watch the football games, watch the dog show (guess which one The Grrrrlz and I chose?), and savor the day.  Be thankful for what you have, and what you've been given, and figure out a way to spread that fortune.

Happy Thanksgiving folks.  We'll return to your regularly scheduled food blog over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Praise Of Iceberg Lettuce

As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to stop hating on iceberg lettuce.

OK, I’ll cop to it.  I’ll fess up, I’ll come clean.  I was one of the foodie trendoid herd that turned their finely calibrated palates up into the air, along with their oh, so sensitive noses, and shunned the humble head of pale green crunch as *ahem* (be sure to use über-snooty, très chi-chi voice here) “tasteless” and “watery”.

And, frankly, yes, it can be.  But, you know what else the lowly iceberg can be?  Crunchy.  Hearty.  Sturdy.  Able to stand up to really strong, acidic dressings, or heavy, thick ones, and hold it’s own.  It’s like a great supporting actor.  You don’t realize what a fabulous job they’ve done until the movie is long over, and you’ve fawned all over the star.  Then you realize the star looked so good because of the work that the supporting actor did.

So, it’s been years, years I say, since I’d had an iceberg lettuce salad.  Now, you have to understand.  In my “formative” years, when we talked about “salad” we meant iceberg.  Until I was 20-ish, I really didn’t know there were other lettuces than iceberg.  OK, we had the occasional spinach salad (usually when we went out to a fancy dinner), but at home, salad was iceberg.  It was just….what was around in the late 60’s and 70’s.

Then, I discovered other salad greens.  Romaine, Bibb, red and green leaf, escarole all came into my salad vocabulary.  Then came the baby greens and the micro greens and the field greens and the bitter greens and the arugulas and the oak leafs and the Cos and the limestones and so on.  And they’re all good !  They’re all spectacular, especially in the Spring when they’ve just been cut from the head, and are so sweet and tender.

And poor iceberg, well, it was discarded like a bad prom date.  Tossed aside on the pile of “things I’ve outgrown”.

Which is a shame, really, because with some care, and in the right circumstances, iceberg can be just as fulfilling and satisfying as that spinach salad with the hot bacon vinaigrette, or the perfectly dressed Caesar, tossed table-side (with anchovies, please…) or the delicate Spring greens candied pecans, bleu cheese, sliced strawberries and a light dressing (my all time favorite salad).

About two years ago, I had splurged and purchased a lovely, huge rib-eye steak I planned on grilling over a screamin’ charcoal fire.  I also wanted a baked potato, with all the “goods” (sour cream, chives, maybe a hit of shredded Cheddar).  So, in a nutshell, I wanted a steakhouse dinner.  What’s more in keeping with a steakhouse dinner than a wedge salad ?  Usually, I’d been making them with Romaine, after all, iceberg, feh !  But Romaine wasn’t speaking to me, and didn’t look all that great at the MegaMarts, so I thought, hey, what have I got to lose if I get some iceberg?

Well, actually, nothin’.   In fact, I had a lot to gain.  And learn.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Little Sweet Interlude After A Prolonged Quietude

Hey.  I sorta rhymed.  “Interlude”…”quietude”.  Yeah, I know, keep my day job.

Sorry I’ve been MIA for so long.  Haven’t been feeling the blogging muse, although I have been cooking, and making some yummy stuff.  And I’ve been documenting it, so we have some nummies stashed away waiting hopefully for an influx of the enchanting prose you’ve come to expect from me (kafff, kafff, kafff…..).

Seriously, I know I’ve promised, publicly, that I’d keep this puppy going come Hell or high water, and I feel really, not guilty, I try not to do guilt, but “loser-ish” for dropping the ball for so long.  Pinkie swear I’ll try not to do that again.  And I really promise not to bore you all with any of the ultimately inconsequential reasons for my absence.  Let’s just say I missed all y’all, and hope you felt even an iota of the same.

All rightie then.  Keep calm and carry on.

OK, so now that we’ve cleared the air, sort of, let’s talk about sweet little nibbles that are nice to have around the house.  Desserts, mid-afternoon snackies, tea-time goodies, a little sweetness with that cuppa first thing in the morning.  All of them are pretty damned nice treats.  Lord knows, I have a sweet tooth a mile wide.  Several sweet teeth actually.  I do loves me my sweets.  Candy, cookies, cakes, fruit crisps and crumbles, icey creams, sweet scones and biscuits and buns, pastries, all those little delicacies, save pies.  Not a huge pie fan am I (there I go rhyming again….).  But don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat a nicely made pie in a New York minute.

That said.  I don’t cook a lot of sweet stuff.  My sweet temptations are usually purchased.  Why?  Good damn question, and one I’m working to correct, since home-made stuff’s sooooooooo, so very much better than MegaMart purchased, and has better ingredients.

Part of the issue is that, as we know, it’s a single-Homo sapien household.  While the little fuzzbombs would dearly love to take excess cupcakes or doughnuts off of Mazziedog’s hands, I don’t want either the veterinarian bills or the 300-pound dogs sharing my bed that would come with such garbage disposal duty.  So no sweets for them.

And I also don’t want the 300-pound Mazziedog either.  Given the proper sweet inputs, I’d blow off breakfast, lunch AND dinner, and just scarf the sugar plums.  Or…..I make something that serves 12, have half of it, and then it either gets too stale to eat, or I get tired of it (me and that leftover thing….).  So, I don’t cook sweets as often as I would like.

I’m trying to change that.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

There's TONS Of Joy In Mudville....

....Lord VoldeCourt has been thrown out !!!!   FINALLY !

The long, civic nightmare for the citizens El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciúncula (yes, that's what Los Angeles' true name is.....), at least the citizens of The City of The Angels who are baseball fans, is over.  Finally.

New owners for my Beloved Boys In Blue, My Bums, are on the horizon.  The most vilified (deservedly so) and detested owners in the history of any professional sports league have finally, finally, FINALLY been run out of town on a rail, just before being tarred and feathered and probably indicted for tax evasion.

I can finally feel pride to show my True Dodger Blue again.  As can these two little ragamuffin Dodger Dogs.

They're happy too !

GO DODGERS !  Walter and Peter and Walt and Tommy and Vinnie (ahhh, Vin) are happy tonight.  Good has triumphed over evil.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Of Pot Roasts And Physics

A week or so back, the weather in Lotus Land was conducive to a pot roast.  (Remind me to expound at some point about how completely whacked the Southern California weather has been this year….or not.)  At any rate, it felt “Fall-ish” and I was in the mood for big-time comfort food, which of course, pot roast exemplifies.

Now.  When I was a snot-nosed kid, I *hated* pot roast.  Just loathed it…….dunno what the heck my problem was.

Well, actually, I think it was an overload of “good, solid, Midwestern meat and potatoes” meals when I was growing up.  God knows, my mother tried, tried, to inject some variety and some *gasp* SPICE into her cooking, but Daddy, well, Daddy didn’t like much of anything that didn’t sit on his plate and declare itself in a loud voice as being “BEEF” and “POTATOES”.  OK, pork was allowed (if it was in chop/ham/bacon form) and chicken made the cut (breasts only, please, never a whole and roasted bird).  And rice and noodles were OK.  Noodles only, please.  Pasta?  Come on, them there’s foreign.  Spaghetti and meatballs (and very, very occasionally, when we were livin’ on the edge, spaghetti and Italian sausage and peppers) were OK.  Tacos were most absolutely NOT OK.  Nor was lasagna.  Chili was acceptable, so long as it was ground beef, canned kidney beans and canned tomatoes.  Light on the onions and garlic.  NO fresh chiles.  A dusting of chile powder (mild) would pass muster.  I hated that stuff too.

My poor mother.  She was open to experimentation, and loved to cook.  Finally, when I got to be a snot-nosed young adult, she took to making two meals.  She’d cook a roast or stew or a pot of spice-less chili for Daddy, and then she and I would have tacos or manicotti or enchiladas or whatever.  Trust me, for us, in the day, THAT was exotic !  It actually worked out fine, especially once I started cooking and would take over making dinner for Mom and me.  Compromise, baby.  It’s what it’s all about.

But back to pot roast.  I actually used to tell my Mom when she cooked it, that I couldn’t understand how pot roast could smell so good when it was cooking, but taste so blah when it was done.  Maybe my snot-nosed palate couldn’t appreciate the beauty that braised meat becomes when cooked properly.  Maybe my Mom’s recipes sucked (onion soup mix anyone?).  Who knows?  But in my advancing dotage, I’ve certainly come to not only appreciate the delights of a pot of braised, succulent meat in a silky, savory sauce (braised beef short ribs are my absolute favorite, death-bed type meal), but to respect it and anticipate it.

Marry that with some (yes) potatoes, creamy and smashed, and well, it’s pretty much Nirvana (not to mention comfort and warmth) on a plate.

And…as an extra added bonus (insert wild applause here), we learn a lesson in physics !  YAY us, especially considering again, I never actually, technically *passed* a college-level math class.  Nor a college-level (ok, fine, even a HIGH-SCHOOL level) physical science class.  But I rocked in the biological sciences……does that count?  I think it does.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pickle Me This

So, this is going to be an almost picture-free post.  Why, you may ask (come on, I can hear you asking…..).  Well.  For a couple of reasons.  First, I again, really didn’t think the outcome was going to be worthy of a photographic extravaganz-o of the steps and preparation and mise en place that went with making these delightful little nummies.

More importantly (she says, looking sheepish and sort of embarrassed), I didn’t think I’d like the output enough to want to share them with all y’all.

Frankly, I was just looking for a reason to be able to throw away excess, rapidly decomposing produce without feeling guilty about it.

I figured…….I got teeeeeny-tiny green tomatoes off of my valiant plant that would a) never ripen and b) never grow large enough to bread and fry.  I *could* just toss them into the trash now, or….*FLASH OF BRILLIANCE*….I could pickle them and then throw them into the trash when I realize I hate the finished product.  Why, the latter is the obviously more attractive option !  No shame in tossing something that sucks, as opposed to tossing something that rots because you can’t figure out what the hell else to do with it.

Same deal-io with the zucchini.  I had a surfeit from The Growing Experience.  I stuffed ‘em, I roasted ‘em to toss into pasta, I grilled ‘em, I ate ‘em as crudités.  I was getting done with zucchini….(and I have another 2 giant specimens in my crisper as I type….zucchini fritters are up for later in the week….).  So for those zukes starting to get a little long gone on the Road To Slimy….let’s try a zucchini pickle and I can toss them with a clear conscience, since they will clearly suck because, well, homemade pickles are…..A Project.

Oh, and the radishes.  Bought ‘em.  Forgot about them.  In the pickle frenzy thought….ehhhhh, why not.  For the same reason.   To far gone to leave too much longer in the crisper.  Not fitting in the delightful may-new (thanks, Julia) plans for the week.  Why not…..PICKLE ‘em ?!?!?  So I can then toss them with no tsuris.

Well, why not ?  Hmmmmmm.  First up.  Pickling, as I said is a “PROJECT”.  Canning jars.  Jar lifters.  A huge, HUGE vat ‘o’ boiling water into which you which you drop those canning jars, and lids, and rings, and *gasp*…..sterilize them !  Now, I know enough about microbiology to know that I shouldn’t be messing around with this stuff.  After all, I never actually, technically, passed a college-level math class.  Add in the fact that you’re usually doing all this canning stuff in the dead of summer, when the humidity is 90-plus percent, and the temperatures are 100-plus degrees, and *I* have no air-conditioning, and well, that doesn’t sound like a good time in Cow-Town for me.

I’d much rather be sitting on the verandah sipping a tall, iced, cool, delightful adult beverage, fanning myself gently with a lace fan and charming the pants, errrrr, socks off of the Tarleton Twins……(raise your hand if you got the “Gone With The Wind” reference….).

But I digress…..

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Loaf Of Bread, A Pot Of Soup, And Thou….(and, please God, let’s not forget the wine !!)

Last week, we had a blessed (but lamentably brief) blast of actual Fall weather here in SoCal.  It was LOVELY.  It was chilly.  It rained, one day in just a short, fierce, burst, which faded into a real chill in the air, and the next in a sustained, day-long, gentle shower that made that lovely sound of rain falling from the eaves.  I loved it.  It made me feel as though I actually lived in a place that has *SEASONS* (well, other than smog, fire, flood and urban unrest…..).  I actually put on a pair of sweat pants.  I actually toyed with the idea of turning on the heater (which usually doesn’t happen until around Thanksgiving).  I actually toyed with the idea of building a fire in the fireplace.

Sadly, it didn’t last long.  Today was 102° in my little burg.  A new record for October 12 !  Yay us.  Or not.  My kitchen is still unbearable at 9:30 at night.  Luckily, I *DIDN’T* make the pot roast I’d planned for today…..

But last week, last week was lovely.  Knowing early on in the week that rain was forecast, and feeling the change in the weather, I had the bright idea to make soup and bread on that rainy Wednesday.  I had gotten that adorable little butternut squash in my CSA share the week before, (the one in the “décor photo” for the blog this month) and when I saw it, hoped it would soon be cool enough for me to make this delightful red chile and winter squash soup I’d discovered last year.  And really, what could be better with homemade soup than homemade bread.  Just the thing to warm the heart (and the soul), not to mention the kitchen, on a drizzly, coolish (OK, full disclosure….when I say there was a chill, it was like 65°, for SoCal, that’s a chill) autumnal Wednesday.

Sadly, I also attempted to make a fig tart with what I suspect was the last of this season’s figs.  I say sadly because, well, it was a mess.  You won’t be seeing pictures or a description of that.  I had high hopes for it, I’d made it last year and it was pretty spectacular.  It’s a brown-butter custard poured over halved fresh figs, which are layered in a “deep-dish” tart pan.  For what ever reason this time out, the custard never wanted to set.  Maybe because I did two layers of figs.  Maybe because I put the tart pan (actually my spring-form cake pan) on another baking sheet to contain any leaks (which I didn’t do last year).  Maybe it was the Kitchen Karma biting me in the butt.  Who knows?  But after cooking the damnable thing THREE TIMES longer than the recipe called for, when I stuck a knife in the middle, it was still liquid.

Damn.  I hate when that happens….

I did eat one slice (small), and while it was not gag-inducing (now there’s a ringing endorsement, isn’t it?), it was also not what I’d call good.  So the rest of the miserable mess sleeps at the bottom of the trash can, after languishing in the fridge for three or four days until I killed my guilt over tossing it.

As I said, we won’t be seeing that, nor discussing it any longer.  Move along people, nuthin’ more to talk about here.

Let’s move onto a beautifully successful soup and a flavorful, hearty loaf of hearth bread, shall we?  Works for me….

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Continuing Chronicles Of The Lost Recipes…

Sometimes, sometimes……you just gots to take the easy way out.  Somedays, the magic in the little kitchen is just rolling.  I mean, *ROLLING*.  I am on fie-yah, baby.  I’m like Harry Potter with the Elder Wand in his hand (sorry, just finished reading The Deathly Hallows, and watched the first half of the movie over the weekend….I guess I’ve been “Potter-ized”).  Everything I touch just…works.  Pita bread from scratch ?  But of course !  Handmade corn tortillas that would make an abuelita proud ?  No hay problema !  Pierogies that would bring a tear to the eye of my Polish babushka ?  Routinely !  Cookies, and cakes, and stews, and roasts, and braises, and breads…..OH MY !  I can DO that.  I *DO* do that !

But somedays, (yes, I realize that’s not a real word, but its how I talk, so therefore how I write), somedays the train just doesn’t ever leave the station.  The ship never sails.  The horse never leaves the barn.  Insert the no-go metaphor of your choice here.  In other words, I’m the little engine that couldn’t in the little kitchen.

Rather than resort to the evil pizza delivery Megalopolies (which really don’t sell very good pizza, do they) or the even eviler Golden Arches, or the shame of the Blue Box ‘O’ Cheeze Goo, I go back to my neophyte cook roots, and go for the easy route and the “what can I pull out of the pantry using good quality packaged stuff” meal.

I….I….(twitch, shudder, twitch)…become…..Semi-Homemade (AARRRRRGGGGHHHH, there I’ve said it).

Confession is always such a difficult thing, isn’t it ?  But so freeing once it’s out there.  Now.  I don’t do this often.  Most days I am a firm believer in fresh and local and seasonal and scratch.  Because I have come to learn that those elements make a dish taste better.  Good ingredients treated respectfully and well, lead to good meals.  Pretty simple equation.  And now that I have the luxury of time, much more achievable than when I was working 50-plus hours a week.

But some days, quick and dirty (not to mention easy) works just groovy, and in this instance, the results are more than adequate.  In fact, they’re pretty damned good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saying Goodbye To Those Tomatoes

No matter where you are in the country, as we’ve established, the weather is turning towards the inevitable chill.  Even if you are lucky enough to live in an area with mild winters, as I do, the simple shortening of the days and the diminishing sunlight is changing the way the local plants and crops behave.  There just aren't enough warm, relatively close, rays of The Great Star to ripen those summer fruits and veg and bring them to their full glory now.  Add in the cool-ish evenings, which we’re getting even here in SoCal, and it’s time to not only put away the flip-flops and shorts, but also the recipes for peaches and cherries and berries and corn and zucchini, and, *snifffffff* tomatoes.

I know that some super-duper MegaMaster gardeners have managed to have tomato plants overwinter, and even bear some fruit, but me, I’m happy to have mine survive the summer and bear fruit when they’re supposed to.  And sad though I am about it, I have to admit my glut of tomatoes has dwindled to a trickle, and I will probably pull the last of them off the vine tomorrow.  Too soon it will be back to the hothouse grape tomatoes (which are the only ones worth buying off season as far as I can tell).

It’s also time to reconcile ourselves to the fact that some of the later-set fruit will, unfortunately, never ripen.

So, it’s time to make some fried green tomatoes, I say !  If you’re lucky enough to live in the Southern States, those below the Mason-Dixon Line, and not the "Western" Southern States, I hear tell that all y’all are lucky enough to actually be able to purchase green tomatoes for this delicacy.  Even at the MegaMarts.  We here in Botox-land are not so lucky.  I think I’ve seen green tomatoes available commercially a grand total of once, at a farmer’s market.  It wasn’t until I started growing tomatoes myself that I was able to sample this Southern treat, and see what all the big whup was about.

Now, I honestly think I grow tomatoes as much for my three or four rounds of fried green tomatoes every season as I do for the final, ripe product.

OK, maybe not, but I still have become addicted to these tart, crispy little bundles of goodness.  Especially when served with a spicy shrimp rémoulade.  Yeah, baby.  That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrating The Harvest

It’s that time of year.  There’s just…something…in the air.  Lord knows, in Southern California, I wouldn’t dare call it a *nip*, but there’s something.  Of course, the days are getting noticeably shorter.  The afternoon sunlight hits the living room floor at a lower angle, the shadows are deeper.  Although our days are still plenty warm for the most part, the nights have a definite edge to them.  The froggies that live in my front flower bed and in the neighbor’s bed that runs along my driveway are not quite so boisterous in their night songs.  In fact, the froggie in the front seems to have already gone wherever he/she goes during the fall/winter/early spring.  I no longer hear him/her as I fall asleep, and I miss him/her.  The froggie by the drive, I only hear, very softly, when I let The Grrrrrlz out for their last Dooty Duty/Yard Patrol of the night.  By midnight, he’s tucked in for the evening too, chilled no doubt by the dampish Fall air.  There are smells of cinnamon in the grocery stores, from the scented pine cones and brooms that will soon become seasonal décor.  I love that smell...

But still, I have to celebrate, while not quite “The Harvest” in the true sense of the world, surely the bounty that comes at this time of year.  The past few shares I’ve received from my CSA, The Growing Experience, have been absolutely overflowing with goodies.  Figs and corn and tomatoes and greens and salad mix and herbs and apples, OH MY !

Plus the overload of tomatoes that my heroic, beleaguered, embattled, but so valiant surviving tomato plant has produced against pestilence, disease, plague, mockingbirds and all odds has been peaking in the last two weeks or so.  Sadly, soon to end, but certainly appreciated while it lasted.

So, between the heroic yield of the tomato plant and the CSA farm’s output, menu planning for the last month has been much less about “what do I feel like making/what do I crave” and much more about “what do I need to use before it rots”.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad way to cook, it’s just not a way to cook that I’m particularly familiar with, nor particularly comfortable with.

I *used* to be a list maker.  Back in the day, Friday night, as I walked in the door from work, I’d toss my cocktail glass in the freezer, get into my jammies, pull out my recipes and cookbooks and the grocery sale fliers, make a dirty Tanquery martini, not too dry, with two olives and two onions, (shaken hard, please) heat my frozen pizza or other ready-to-heat snacks (Fridays were always cook’s night off for me), and peruse my menu options for the coming week.  It was the only way that I’d pull off making something resembling home-cooked food during the week, and not fall into the trap of “I’ll just swing by the MegaMart and pick up something easy”, ensure I had sufficient leftovers for lunch that I didn’t have to hit a drive-thru everyday and also unwind from a usually over-the-top intense week at work.  I’d set my menus for the week, make my shopping lists, eat my snack foods, have another martini and then get up Saturday and hit the grocery schleps.

It’s a lot more free-form now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

To Garlic, Or "Knot" To Garlic....

When faced with that question….I’ll always choose “to garlic”.  That’s a no-brainer.  Garlic makes everything better.

Well, ok.  Maybe not *EVERYTHING*.  I’ve had garlic ice cream, and it was, well….garlic ice cream.  It’s not something I really want to taste again.

I’ve had garlic wine.  Annnnnd, it may be the only wine that I’ve had, nay, the only ALCOHOL I’ve ever had, ever, where I didn’t want a second glass.  Well, except maybe for the Rhineskeller Moselle I overindulged in when I was in college.  THAT I certainly never wanted ever again.  THAT I certainly never even wanted to smell, ever again.  Rhineskeller Moselle is a story for another day….But the garlic wine was a close second.

However, in most applications, garlic is most desirable thing.  Especially when paired with starch.  Garlic and pasta.  Good stuff.  Garlic and potatoes.  To die for.  Garlic and bread.  The best yet, especially when it’s a soft, yeasty, buttery roll, tied into a knot, then baked and glazed with more garlic butter and some savory little seedy things.  Oh yeah.  Now you’re talkin’ to me.

And that’s what we’re talkin’ about here.

Garlic knots.  A bit fussy (you do have to tie the dough in knots, after all), and it does take time (most of which is hands-off, dough resting time), but…oh, so good with a nice bowl of chili, or a stew, or roast chicken, or…just about anything.

Apparently, and I take this information on hear-say, *some* locales in the country offer garlic knots as a side for pizza, both in a delivery, take-out, or an “eat-in-the-pizza-joint” setting.

I’m not sure I know what to make of that.  But then, I’ve never understood the allure of breadsticks, or Crazy Sticks, or Crazeee Bread, or whatever, with my pizza.  Seems to me, the ‘za is a sufficient carb-bomb for one meal, so why would you want to fill up on a marginal bread product when you could be eating pizza?  Don’ get it….

But these garlic knots, they could sway my opinion.  They’re that good.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Continuing The Tomato Love

My poor, beleaguered, straggling, single, solitary remaining tomato plant is valiantly continuing to ripen its glorious red orbs.  Even with the new and evil attack by my latest nemesis….the local mockingbirds !  WHO KNEW mockingbirds like tomatoes !  I’ve tried the danglie strips of aluminum foil.  The original miscreant thought it was a disco glitter ball and invited a friend the next day.  So instead of one mockingbird peck, peck, pecking on my ‘maters, I had TWO !!!!  At this point, I’m really no longer interested in the plant setting new fruit, I just want to protect what’s on there, and let it mature and ripen.  So I’ve taken to tossing a sheet over the plant and the tomato cage support at night, and keeping my fingers crossed.  So far, so good.  I haven’t noticed any new damage.

Of course, I *have* scared the crap out of myself several times whilst wondering WTF the tall, white, seemingly floaty thing is on my patio is when I cruise past a window after dark.  I figure about the time the plant is dead, and I ditch the sheet rig, I may have it firmly implanted in the little brain that it’s my mockingbird defense mechanism.  Or not.

And, and….*AND*….in addition to the bounty from the poor bedraggled plant, I’m also still getting about two pounds of various tomatoes every two weeks from The Growing Experience.

Suffice it to say, the little kitchen in the little house on the little street is rolling in tomatoes.

Not that that’s a bad thing.  Again, come March, I’ll be longing for the days of the huge basket of juicy, tart, sweet, beefy tomatoes on my counter.  Or in my sandwiches.  Or on my dinner plate.  Or fried while green in a cornmeal/buttermilk breading.  Or in my pasta sauces…..

*snap*  Back to reality.  Even though these tomatoes are plenty spiffy eaten just as is, with coarse salt, or on the acclaimed tomato sammie, sometimes you just gotta do *SOMETHING* with ‘em.

So, I give you, the easy-peasy fresh and cheesy Three Cheese Tomato Tart.  It was dinner earlier this week.  It was good.  Real good.  Real easy.  And real good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Cake Is NOT A Lemon…

….although it *IS* a lemon cake.

I have to say, one of my favorite flavors in the “sweet” end of the spectrum (and frankly, even in the “savory” end) is lemon.  I love the pucker, the bright, sparkly tang, the hit of acid that melds so well with the sweet of sugar (or chocolate, for that matter, chocolate and lemon is a great combination).  Lemon lifts and lightens the sometimes cloying heaviness of cakes, cupcakes and cookies, and truly does refresh the palate as a closer to a heavy meal.  Lemon sorbets and ice creams are a lovely, refreshing end to a summer’s meal of pasta or grilled meat, especially if there’s been lemon used in the entrée as an acidic punch.  Sort of brings the meal full circle.

A few years back, I made a wonderful lemon ice cream with a blueberry sauce that I still dream about.  Someday, maybe next summer, I’ll make it again and share it with you.  Can’t do it right now….my freezer is waaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy too full to have room for the ice cream maker bowl, *AND* for the finished icey cream !  Need to eat down some of the stock-pile, I guess.

But as always, I digress.

What we have today is a lovely, very easy, fabulously tasty double-lemon cake, made even better by the use of Meyer lemon juice.

Surely, most, if not all, of you know about Meyer lemons.  You’ve at least heard of them.  Some of you, however, may be wondering what the big whup is about them.  Those of you thinking that, have, most likely, never tasted a Meyer lemon, for the most wonderful thing about Meyer lemons is Meyer lemon's a wonderful thing (props to Tigger for the quote !).

Meyer lemons are a cross between a normal lemon and a mandarin orange.  The skin is extremely thin, and edible.  It has only the tiniest, thinnest layer of the bitter, white pith normally found under citrus skin.  The flesh and juice of the Meyer is much sweeter, and much less tart and acidic, than the normal lemon.  “Floral” is a term frequently used to describe the taste of Meyer lemon juice and flesh.  It’s still lemony, for sure, but a kinder, gentler lemon, very fragrant and compelling.  They were grown for centuries in China as an ornamental houseplant, where it was discovered in the early 20th century by a US Department of Agriculture employee named….guess what….Frank Meyer.  He brought some plants back to the US, where they flourished in California, Florida and Texas.  After being almost wiped out by disease, they’ve made a comeback in the last 10 or so years, thanks to the endorsement of two icons of Le Chic Cookery, Alice Waters and Martha Stewart.  Both of these paragons of “good things” embraced the Meyers and from there, well, the rest, as they say, is sort of history.

OK, enough of the (boring) history.  Let’s bake a cake shall we?