September 30, 2006

All eight circulate - September's recipe roundup

I've found a long list of recipes bookmarked to try in September:

Noshes & Nibbles:
Brendan's simply seasoned figs.
Onion & Anchovy Tartlets from Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once.
A scientific approach to Tzatziki from Cooking for Engineers
Classic Pork Wontons from Vanilla Garlic.

Main Courses:
Elise's Rustic Onion Tart.
Two perfect answers to chilly fall evenings: Manicotti alla Romana and Baked Tortellini Casserole courtesy of La Mia Cucina.
Stephen's answer to the farmers' market bounty: Eggplant & Tomato Pizza.
Sarah's delightfully simple solution for calamari: Stir Fried Squid with Basil & Garlic.
Kevin's latest take on Crab Cakes.
Another harvest time must-try: Avenue Food's Pumpkin with Ground Pork.
Matt shares a Michael Chiarello favorite: Foccacia with Blue Cheese & Honey (and Figs!)
I'm on an Indian food kick lately, and the Accidental Hedonist's take on Butter Chicken fits my kicked-up comfort food needs perfectly.

Salads & Veggies & Sides...oh my:
Lemon-Quinoa Salad from 101 Cookbooks.
Autumn starts soup season, and Julie answers the call with Suzanne Goin's Squash and Fennel Soup. Luisa follows up with Carrot & Pomegranate Soup.
When the baking urge hits, there's Kevin's take on Cheddar Bread.
Joe's Roasted Cauliflower in Lemon-Tahini Sauce.

On the Sweet Side:
Mary's tempting me with several sweets: Key Lime Pecan Bars, Espresso Praline Muffins, Nutella Cookies, Cherry Almond Oatmeal Cake, and Orange Ginger Cookies.
A yummy looking Coconut Bread from Luisa of The Wednesday Chef.
Sarah from SlashFood's positively food-pornographic Strawberry Muffins.
Carrots are a staple in my fall and winter CSA boxes -- Brendan provides a sweet treat with Truly Excellent Carrot Cake while Joe offers a health-conscious Carrot-Ginger Snack Cake.
A gorgeous Lemon Cake highlighted by Barbara of Winos & Foodies.
Luisa's solution to a bad day: a couple of Chocolate Toffee Cookies with a large glass of milk.
A couple of outrageous deserts inspired by Ina Garten: Brownies and Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake, as shared by Smitten Kitchen.

From the various September event roundups:
20-some tarts to serve for breakfast lunch and dinner, inspired by Donna Hay.
Several surprise-containing desserts, courtesy of the September installment of Sugar High Friday.
and virtually everything in Peabody's, Bron's and Ivonne's archives.

Image Credits:
Baked Tortellini Casserole courtesy of Lis at La Mia Cucina.
Ina Garten's Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake courtesy of Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

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September 27, 2006

Making my way back to the (modified) beach...

After six months here, I guess it's not secret that John and I enjoy food. Good food. Dining Out. Eating in. Fresh food. Junk food. Savory, sweet, and downright strange. With our fair share of foodie obsessions.

I haven't spent a lot of time here on diet-related topics like moderation, calorie counting and portion control. Probably largely because I haven't focused on them much in real life. And because food porn's a lot more fun!

I've battled what could loosely be termed as "weight issues" on and off for most of my adult life. I've followed Weight Watchers evolution from the food selections plan through the fat-and-fiber revolution to the "Points" program with various degrees of success. More recently, I've experimented with Fit for Life and Dr. Agatston's South Beach Diet, again with success commensurate with the effort I put forth.

And that pretty much brings us to the present tense.

Why am I turning my attention back to weight loss now? Lots of reasons. It's late September, and summer is fading to fall. Autumn's always been a period of introspection and rebirth for me. Beyond that, my jeans are a little tight and I don't want to invest in a new wardrobe one size up. I've got a couple of events coming soon -- a reunion in a couple of days and my first cruise in a little over a month -- for which I want to look *and* feel good.

So what's the plan? The best of all three programs. I like the flexibility of the Weight Watchers program, but after the initial excitement wears off, counting points and writing *everything* down drives me nuts. I don't think I'd be happy living a hard-core low-carb lifestyle -- but starchy snacks and sweets are one of my weaknesses so a program focused on healthy, whole grain "good carbs" is a natural fit. And while I don't like it's focus on convenience foods, the fit for life program *will* encourage me to get out of the kitchen, off the couch, away from the laptop and moving.

So that's the plan. I don't intend to turn this into a diet blog, although I'll probably post periodic progress reports. You'll still see some healthy recipes and some not-so-healthy, though the balance may shift a bit. We'll still eat out -- sometimes more indulgently than others.

I actually started this adventure at the beginning of the month, though I'm just getting around to posting about it now. I've made small changes, but important choices. I'm less dependent on bread and other starches as a staple side for every meal. I'm eating breakfast. And skipping dessert. Or making it healthier (with whole grains or fruits). Lots of leafy greens. Grilled chicken. Lean beef. a fair amount of fish. And I'm moving more (and consequently posting a bit less). Without any grand fan-fare -- or long-term sacrifice -- I've dropped a little over ten pounds. As the picture to the left attests, I don't even have to give up on my version of food porn. I'm on my way...

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September 25, 2006

Surprise! It's Sugar High... Monday?!?!?!?



Yes, Monday.

But I can explain...

My oven woes are over. And in retrospect, it wasn't really that bad. Unlike my friend Creampuff, I didn't find myself having to replace the *entire* oven - just the control panel. It only took two weeks. I've got the stovetop, the grill, and in a pinch the microwave -- I can get by without the oven for two weeks.

But a repair appointment on Friday afternoon followed by an every-minute-scheduled weekend meant my sugar high contribution had to wait until Monday. Alanna graciously obliged and allowed me to join in the fun a little late. So like my father before me and my grandmother before him, I came home frustrated with work and pulled out the Kitchenaid and fired up the oven to unwind.

I creamed butter and sugar.

I sifted a mix of pastry flours with seasonings.

I got into a groove and forgot the stresses of the day.

Even if the dessert fails, as my kitchen and living room are overwhelmed with the scents of fall, I can claim without reservation that the evening's been a success.

What? You're wondering what I'm baking?

I started with this recipe for Ginger Spice Cake. Modified the ingredient list a bit to suit my baking style. A cup of whole grain pastry flour to replace the pure-white flour and give my cakes a bit of a nutty taste. Baking powder and milk adjusted up a bit accordingly. Baked in my newest kitchen indulgence -- those adorable mini pumpkin bundt forms from Williams Sonoma.

The surprise?

The pumpkin pastry cream featured here is chilling as I type. I intend to pipe the chilled cream into the bottom of my ginger-pumpkins, for a creative take on a childhood indulgence -- *without* the stabilizers, preservatives, trans-fats.

Stay tuned for photos of the finished product -- and reviews from my coworkers coming tomorrow.

Update - My pumpkin cakes were a hit at the office. My pastry box was empty in a record 8 minutes, I had 9 requests for the recipe, 14 requests for an encore, and 1 request to cater Thanksgiving dinner. The pastry cream delighted my tasting panel -- it turned a slightly dry, nutty spice cake into "a cream-filled taste of autumn".

Curious about other contributions? Check out Alanna's roundup -- there are a whole lot of surprises in the food blog world this week.

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September 20, 2006

Far more satisfying than therapy, a relaxing girl's night... in!

A quick no-hassle, no-cook, nosh-as-we go dinner of cheese, fruit, cold cuts and a nice bottle of wine -- just the Wednesday girl's night respite that Tracy and I were looking for to unwind from a couple of L-O-N-G H-A-R-D weeks.

Tracy brought the D'Affinois and a decadent fig spread to serve with it, a rich yummy red from the quirky folks at Bonny Doon, and a bit of bubbly. I contributed my favorite St. Augur Blue, Wensleydale studded with carmelized onions and a wedge of Red Hawk to the cheese plate, some farm-fresh-this-morning grapes and cherry tomatoes, sliced smoked sockeye salmon and imported mortadella, and a couple of wedges of chocolate for dessert.

We unwrapped the cheeses, poured the wine, and spent the next several hours sitting around my coffee table -- talking, laughing, sharing and noshing. We talked about everything and about nothing. Her family and mine. Love, men, commitment, memories & regrets. Business plans, remodeling, antique furniture and the frustrations, aches & pains of the Dilbert cubicle life. Food, wine, local-sustainable-organic, and the spinach 'crisis.'

In the end, we didn't save the world. We don't have the cure for cancer or the recipe for world peace. I'm not even sure we resolved our *own* individual frustrations. But we spent an evening together enjoying good, simple food -- feeding our friendship in the process. Since both of us traditionally relate far better with men than to other women, this alone is pretty significant. We're both equally amazed and fascinated as our bond grows.

As we packed everything back up for the refrigerator, it occurred to me that sometimes the simplest of menus are the most satisfying. 'Specially when you combine them with good conversation with good company.

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September 14, 2006

SST (Sassy savory tart) seeks FO (functional oven) in time for HHDD

I was ready to go.

I'd found a recipe that intrigued me *and* included mostly ingredients I had on hand.

I'd made the side trip to Williams Sonoma in search of mini tart shells and emerged without having to take out a second mortgage.

And a second stop at the grocery to pick up the two ingredients I didn't have in-house.

I'd sliced the endive, peeled and cubed the pears, crumbled the stilton, melted the butter.

And then I tried preheating the oven. Beep. Beep. Beep. Error message F7. And then the touchpad stopped responding altogether.

A little internet research and a couple of phone calls later, I've got an appointment scheduled with GE's service department for Friday afternoon. In the scheme of things, that's a pretty quick turnaround. But unless I can come up with a Plan B, I'm going to miss the deadline for Hay Hay Donna Day #5: The Savory Tart, hosted by Tami of Running with Tweezers.

Fortunately for our heroine, John's parents love me (or took pity on me, or both) -- and their oven functions fine. So I pack up my puff pastry, my brand-spanking-new tart shells and my now-plenty-cool tart filling and head south on 680.

Two hours later, I'm quite pleased with my trans-bay area effort. The tarts are a delightful combination of savory-sweet and perched atop some honey-cumin vinaigrette coated greens, they make a satisfying early fall lunch. The curry turned the pastry an eye-catching and autumn-appropriate yellow.

And now, without further adieu, the recipe (based loosely on this one I found on

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 heads Belgian endive, cut crosswise into 1-inch slices
1 cup roasted spring onions, chopped
3 cloves roasted garlic, diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
8-10 pears, peeled, cored, coarsely chopped The recipe as published called for three large pears. The pears in my CSA box were itty-bitty -- but quite tasty. I peeled, cored and chopped a full cup.
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar I used 1/2 tablespoon each balsamic vinegar and red wine.
1 17 1/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed )
1 cup crumbled Stilton cheese (give or take) I used a hunk of leftover blueberry studded stilton.

I followed the published instructions for the filling: Melt butter & olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add endive, onions, garlic and curry; saute until endive is golden, about 8 minutes. Add pears, vinegar & wine and cook until pears are tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cool.

After transporting the components 50 miles down the freeway, I abandoned the recipe and let creativity take over. I rolled the pastry out on the counter and used my new tart shells like cookie cutters to make perfect shell-shaped puff pastry forms. I pressed the pastry gently into the shell and pricked each a few times with a fork so my pastry didn't puff the filling right out and onto my prepared cookie sheet.

The stuffing to pastry ratio worked out perfectly -- I had exactly enough of the filling to create 6 generous but not super-sized individual tarts.

I had leftover pastry and artfully draped it across the top of my pastry, smacking myself upside the head silently (and virtually) for not grabbing my very Martha-esque leaf shaped cookie cutter as I ran out the door. Golden leaves atop the tarts would have been gorgeous.

Tasted just as good with random pastry shapes though.

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September 01, 2006

My Kitchenaid Mixer, or A tribute to Mo...

In the scheme of things, it's rather plain and unassuming.

It's minimalist white, not fruity "mango" or "tangerine" or trendy chrome or copper.

It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles that come standard with its artisan and professional cousins -- just a flat beater, a wire whip, and the dough hook.

Its four-quart bowl is sometimes overwhelmed by double recipes of cookie dough.

But it's an icon from my childhood and will have a home in my kitchen as long as it's trusty motor runs.

It's my contribution to Favourite Kitchen Gadgets -- the Kitchenaid Classic Stand Mixer I inherited from my father's kitchen...

This mixer is a workhorse -- it's seen a lot of activity in Mo's kitchen and mine. After school cookies, Christmas cookies, birthday cakes, fruit-based fall cakes, no-reason-except-we-feel-like-baking cakes. Pasta dough (later rolled by hand, no pasta attachment for Mo or for me). Pastry dough. Artisan bread dough. And the recipe I found in the binder and intend to share today: my grandmother's Parker House Rolls -- a staple at the dinner table in the fall and winter.

Kate's Parker House Rolls

6 cups flour
3 tablespoons shortening
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup water to dissolve 1 cake yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
2 eggs, beaten
melted butter

Cream shortening, sugar and salt together. Add water and dissolved yeast. Mix in flour, two cups at a time. Mix in the beaten egg last. Cover dough and let rise to top of bowl. Shape rolls in floured hands or cut out with floured cutter or knife. Cover with a towel and let rise again. Drizzle melted butter over tops of rolls and bake 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Not particularly healthy, but damn they are good.

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