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....

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?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Birth-A-Versary Lulu !!

So, another slight digression from food, because, three years ago today, the little gray fuzz bomb I eventually named Lulu came into my life.  September 5, 2008.  The day I got….Goobered.

While, as we’ve established, Lulu’s older sister Rosie is a Princess (with a capital “P”, please), Lulu is not.  I think I’d had her home for a day or two, and just looked at her and said out loud, “you’re just a little Goober aren’t you”.  And she is.  A Goober, that is.

Stubborn…..willful…..obstinate.  Yeah, those’d all describe my Lulu.  Silly, goofy, playful, devoted.  Yeah, those’d all be my Lulu as well.  A Princess, she’s not.  If she were a real kid (instead of a fur kid), she’d be the one with the skinned knees, and the snotty nose, and the ripped shirt and the mud stains, and the dead frog in her pocket and the tangled hair.  But she’d also be the one bringing Mazzie the bouquet of dandelions and weeds and maybe flowers purloined from the neighbor’s gardens, just to show Mazzie how much she loved her.

A Goober.

Here she is when she was “new”.  She was skinny…really skinny.

And timid.  So shy.  Scared.  I think she was totally overwhelmed by the new environs and experiences, for the first two days I had her, I didn’t think she was capable of barking.

That soon changed, as did her shyness and the whole "skinny" thing.  She’s pretty chubby now, and certainly has no problem whatsoever making herself heard and seen and known.  She’s become pretty pushy my Lulu has.

“In your face” would be a good descriptor.  What is she ?  Well, unlike her sister, I’m not so sure.  Looking at Rosie, it’s clear she’s mostly, if not all Bichon.  Lulu, she’s got a lot of Shih Tzu in her, but she’s got somethin’ else as well.  What….who knows?  Terrier of some ilk, probably.  And something that gives her HUMONGOUS feets !  She’s got feets that could register on the Richter scale when she gets to running.  From the Shih Tzu she gets the stubborn attitude (they’re amongst the hardest breeds to train and housebreak, and *I* can certainly speak to the latter….LULU !).  She’s also got the Shih Tzu coat (long and silky, with a downy undercoat), the pushed in nose and under bite and the big, googly eyes.  And she knows how to work those eyes.  Downcast and coy one moment, looking up at me through her lashes, blinky and looking all innocent the next second, and then sort of shifty and guilty….all in the space of about a minute.

And then there’s that sweet and loving look….gets me every time….

Lulu also came from the Long Beach, California animal shelter, operated jointly by the City of Long Beach and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles (SpcaLA).  All the dogs I’ve ever had have been rescues.  It’s just something I believe in and am committed to.  I had just lost my special baby dog Snickers….and Rosie was lonely.  I thought she’d be happy being the only child, but not so much.  So off I went to the shelter, and there was Lulu.  Only at that time she was called “Twinkie”.  Mental note, first thing up, change the dog’s name.

She’d been a stray, and when I found her, they were still holding her for someone to claim her.  She had another 4 days in “jail” before I could meet her and adopt her.  First thing the morning she was available, I was at the door to the shelter (work….?  Work can wait, I’m gettin’ a dog).  The workers brought her to me, and they put her in my arms.  I was wearing a sweater with a scoop neck, and she took that pushed in little snout and jammed it right into my chest and proceeded to lick her way up my neck and into my face.  Which she still does every time I come home.

So of course, I was smitten.  Brought Rosie in to meet her, they got along OK, signed the papers, cut the check and home she came after the little puppy hysterectomy.

Yes, she gets along quite well with Rosie,

‘though Rosie sometimes (most times) looks totally exasperated with her.  Rosie’s just far, far too cool to be bothered with Goobers.

Yes.  The stuffy, squeekie toys sleep in bed with us, thanks for askin’.

I had the hardest time naming her.  All of my other dogs had literally named themselves.  With Lulu I was going on the third night at home and she still didn’t have a name.  I finally was holding her in my lap, and just looked at her and said “Tell me your name, little girl”.  And Lulu came to me.

And so Lulu she is.  Well and a Goober.

You doubt that, check out this position.  I can’t decide if she looks like a mongoose or a snake…

I finally decided she was the "Mon-Goober".

Yes, those are little slimy doggie nose smears all over the front window.  They both like to hang out on the back of that couch to monitor the comings and goings on the little street.  Yes, I should clean my window more often....thanks fer noticing !

And then there’s this…..

…Road kill Goober aka Flat Goober.  It’s how she lays on the floor, especially when it’s hot.

And her wuvs her Bwoo Mousie her duz….

When she’s bad (often), instead of getting smacked (which doesn’t work and is cruel) or yelled at (which REALLY doesn’t work….), she gets spritzed with water from a spray bottle.  Which frequently leads to... 

….Madder Than a Wet Goober.  Lulu most certainly does NOT like to be wet.

And yes, she got subjected to the Dodger Dog hat…

….and the Santa Hat.

She’s silly, she’s intense, she’s over-the-top affectionate, she’s never far from my side if I’m home, she’s a brat and a Goober, and she still takes that little pug nose and pushes it into my neck to lick me as though she’ll never be able to give me a kiss ever again.  She talks and mumbles and grumbles under her breath when I make her stop barking (because she’s *got* to have the last word).  I love her for all those things, and for how she walks around the house with the squeekie toy hanging from her chops, biting down and squeeeeeking and pushing the toy into me and Rosie while simultaneously squeeeeking it.   Drives Rosie nutz, makes me smile.

Lulu.  She’s one of a kind, as they all are.  I’m so glad she was there at the shelter when I needed her.

Back to food and/or baking tomorrow or the next day !  And you’re probably safe from doggie posts until next July !  Thanks for putting up with me.  And for understanding how deeply and profoundly I love my Rosie and my Lulu.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Quickie, Figgy Pizza

Once again, because of the plethora of wonderful Summer produce flooding the little kitchen right now, there’s not much going on in the way of “planned”, “deliberate”, “well-thought-out” , menus happening right now.  Add to that, we had our first blast of real Summer weather in SoCal for the past week or so, and I haven’t been doing *air-quotes* COOKING as much as I’ve been doing *air-quotes* GRAZING.

Not that that’s a bad way to eat, especially when the fruit and veg are so spectacular, and when the blast furnace plus humidity means turning on any heat source in the kitchen is an exercise in self-abuse (noooooo air conditioning in the little house with the little kitchen, so sad am I).  Sorry, for a moment there, I just channeled Yoda....

Unfortunately, that don’t make for great fodder for a food blog.

But, I don’t want to leave all y’all in the lurch for too long without checking in, and sharing whatever I can.

So, here’s a quickie.  I made this last week with some of the bounty of figs from The Growing Experience.  It’s a pizza, yes, a pizza with figs.  WAIT, DON’T LEAVE.  Cast those doubts aside and just listen and think.  Figs are great with prosciutto.  *This* has prosciutto.  Figs are great with balsamic vinegar.  *This* has balsamic vinegar.  Figs are great with sharp cheese.  *This* has both Parmesan (sharp, for sure) and mozzarella for a creamy, mild background.  PLUS caramelized onions……plus rosemary.  What’s NOT to like.

It’s….trendy !  It’s….savory, yet, sweet !  It’s quick to make and you could totally cook it on your outdoor grill, and not even worry about heating up the oven (and therefore the kitchen).  Give it a try; you’ll be surprised about how much you like it.

Full confession time...