November 27, 2007


Begging a little more indulgence, sports fans... I'm hoping to give you all the potato bread details this evening.

Went out with a group of colleagues for dinner after yesterday's class, and when I ordered a glass of wine the waitress asked for my ID!?! Let's just say it's been some time since my 21st birthday...

This time last year, I was keeping a photographic food diary.

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November 26, 2007

Move aside Orowheat...

The full story is coming soon... but as I head into an intensive week of Lean Six Sigma training, the pictures of a potato's metamorphasis to bread will have to suffice for now....

Resources Used:
organic Yukon Gold potatoes and whole wheat flour from the newly opened Danville Draegers.
King Arthur unbleached all purpose flour.

Last year I reflected on an early autumn tour of my CSA.

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November 25, 2007

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle....

Take two pounds of turkey carcai...

Toss in six or seven leftover sweet potatoes...

Oh, and for the heck of it some ravioli remnants...

That's how we spent our Saturday with our friends the D's... resourcefully redeploying leftovers.

John learned how to make stock at a weekend class at the California Culinary Academy... a program they apparently discontinued last spring, so there's no link to provide. The class was a great investment... he's kept us "in stock" of many varieties ever since. And when Thursday's adventure produced several pounds of turkey bones, he knew exactly how to deploy them.

While the stock simmered, we moved to the sweet potatoes. We fell in love with them on our virgin visit to The Counter. So we fired up the deep fryer, pulled out the mandolin and turned to the Internets looking for possible spice combinations. We settled on a slight variation of Kalyn's suggestion, omitting the fennel because I'm not a fan, and substituting a blend of chipotle and paprika for the aleppo since I didn't have any of the latter on hand. The result: mighty close to the target, quite tasty, and definitely worth repeating when we're looking for something that combines comfort food, indulgence and a bit of a twist.

While we roasted turkey parts and fried potatoes, we put the kids to work with the leftover ravioli fixings. With a minimum of instruction, they rolled the pasta, formed and stuffed the ravioli and once again loaded the sink with discarded dishes.

All in all, a productive afternoon.

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November 24, 2007

Parts is parts

Take the skin of two fourteen pound turkeys and slice it into thin strips.

Slice one onion vertically into thin strips.

Toss the above into a saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute until onions caramelize and skin crisps, stirring occasionally.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The end result: something Daniel calls "grimnace". Great over mashed potatoes. Or scrambled eggs.

Last year Google helped me with ganache.

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November 23, 2007

Lending a hand...

We found last year's Thanksgiving experience so rewarding that we decided to do it again.

We spent the afternoon with Daniel and crew in the restaurant kitchen preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless.

Seventeen people answered the dinner call and enjoyed a meal of Diestel organic turkey with all of the trimmings: mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash, sauteed vegetables, rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Last year looks awfully familiar.

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November 22, 2007

Thirteen Reasons to be Thankful...

Thirteen things for which I give thanks today...

1. He can dance. He's at home in the kitchen. Twelve years later, I find new reasons to love him with each passing day. I'm thankful for the man in my life.
2. Easily accessible year-round farmers' markets... I know who is growing my food. And how.
3. A home I can share with my friends.
4. Our restaurant family.
5. Those who've come before me.
6. Nephews and nieces with whom to share the legacy.
7. The truly international flavor of the bay area.
8. The ability to travel, experiencing new flavors and cultures.
9. Strawberries in sprintime, sun sweetened summer peaches, autumn apples, Christmastime clementines.
10. Rainy Sunday afternoons, fresh baked bread, a wool blanket, a fireplace and a good book.
11. Sunsets.
12. Chocolate. Cheese. and wine. Not necessarily in that order.
13. Turkey with all the trimmings... and loved ones with whom to share it.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens:
1. (leave your link in comments and I'll add you here)

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here.

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted.

A year ago we explored Larkspur's Melting Pot.

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November 21, 2007

And for dessert...

What am I going to do with five half-bottles of leftover wine? Make cookies!

Grab a glass of milk or a cup of coffee, pull up a chair and stick around until they come out of the oven to see how they taste...

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November 20, 2007


Brie Kisses.

They've been on our menu from the beginning. They're simple to prepare, they have a strong impact on the buffet display and they're always popular with our guests.

Over the years, we've made them with a variety of different jams, jellys and preserves. Pepper jelly. Fig preserves. Apricot jam.

Last summer I found a new (to me) product at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market that I thought would make great kisses at this year's open house: Strawberry-Chipotle Jam. Like Dancing with the Stars survivor Marie Osmond this one's a little bit sweet, a little bit sassy...far more than a sum of its parts. A definite keeper.

Resources used: Tierra Vegetables' Strawberry-Chipotle Jam

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November 19, 2007

Martha Martha Martha!

Every time I attempt "a Martha" I feel like her awkward freckled and bespectacled middle sister.

Don't get me wrong; her recipes usually taste phenomenal. But coming out of my kitchen they just always fall an inch or two short of my expectations physically. They never quite look like they're pictured in the magazine or the cookbook.

And then it hits me. She's paying a food stylist and a photographer living wages to ensure it looks that good in the picture. And for the fifteen minutes or so that my untrained self fiddles with it before impatience and/or hunger settle in, my creation looks pretty good. Just not as good as Martha's.

For today's installment of Magazine Monday I reach into my CSA box and pull out a pound of fresh cranberries and I turn to Martha for inspiration. And while again it's not as pretty as the cover art, the cake itself turned out quite tasty; a delightful balance of tart and sweet.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food - Issue #8 - December 2003

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
(heaping) 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
(heaping) 1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 3/4 cup cranberries
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350. Coat the bottom and sides of an 8 inch round cake pan liberally with butter. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar with cinnamon and allspice. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan, arranging cranberries in a single layer on top.

Cream remaining 6 tablespoons of butter with sugar. Add egg and vanilla, beating until well-combined.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl. Whisk to thoroughly combine.

With mixer at lowest speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. When flour is incorporated, add 1/4 cup milk. Repeat this process - flour > milk > flour until well combined.

Spoon cake batter over prepared cranberries, smoothing the top. Bake on a baking sheet at 350 for 30-35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (my cake took nearly 40 minutes).

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the cake. Invert cake onto a rimmed platter to serve.

Resources used:
Farm Fresh to You cranberries
Organic eggs, butter and milk from Draegers and Whole Foods.

This just in: Tami loved this cake too.

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November 18, 2007

Several hits and a near miss

Those of you following the story of this year's open house are probably curious how it turned out.

We figure somewhere between 65 and 75 people showed up over the course of the afternoon and evening; the first guests arriving a bit before 2 and the last leaving shortly after 10.

In that time we served 6 pounds of pork tenderloin, 10 dozen tartletts, 16 bottles of wine, 2 cases of soda and water, 4 dozen ravioli, two cheesecakes. 4 pounds of cheese, a pound and a half of mortadella, three loaves of bread and two dozen Bostinis.

The final menu looked like this:

Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin (recipe doubled)
Crab & Wild Mushroom Cheesecake
Double Salmon Dip (recipe tripled)
Baba Ghannousj (recipe doubled)
Wild Mushroom Tartletts (recipe tripled)
Cranberry studded cheddar smothered in Cranberry Fool
Brie Kisses
Touvlach (recipe tripled)
Breadchick Mary's Fig and Blue Cheese Stuffed Phyllo Cups (recipe doubled)
Dom's Mom's Meatballs (recipe doubled)
Mixed Cheese and Charcuterie
Three-bite Coconut Bostinis in chocolate cups
Peabody's Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

I only got a chance to take a few pictures so we'll have to leave some of it for your imaginations... but visually it looked something like this:

Good food. Good friends. Good times. Looking forward to next year!

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November 17, 2007

With four hours to go...

The good news: The floors are vacuumed. John's returned from Boccalone with a nice box of tasty salted pig parts. The meatballs are defrosting in the roaster oven. The serving table is set, the candles are lit, the ovens are hot, the wine is chilling, the cheesecakes are depanned and the tartletts are staged.

The not-so-good news: I haven't showered, there's still last-minute shopping for ice and charcoal, and if the invitation says the party starts at 2, John's parents will be here by 1:30. It's 11:00 now. And we're stuffing ravioli. A process that can take up to 4 hours.

At twenty after one I bailed on pasta production and made my way to Safeway. Sourdough bread, check. charcoal, check. Pita chips, check. Ice, check. Through the quick check and home for a shower by 20 to two. "Hello Mr. & Mrs. F... let me grab a quick shower... I'll be down in 15 minutes."

In the end we'd assembled about a third of the ravioli, packaging the remainder of the dough and the stuffing in the 'fridge for another day. The verdict? I didn't taste them, but they were a hit with our guests. So with a bit of planning, we'll put them back on the menu next year.

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November 16, 2007

She did it!

I'm sorry I don't have pictures to prove it, but M aced Baking 101 for today's birthday celebration (a challenge she stepped up to on Monday).

In parallel, A brought a yummy pumpkin bread to yesterday's holiday soirée -- where the ubiquitous "turkey loaf" thankfully failed to make an appearance.

I'm so proud!

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November 15, 2007

Thursday Thirteen in love

John and I celebrate twelve years together today. Twelve years of good and bad, happy and sad. We've made some amazing 'food memories' along the way. In celebration of us, I offer you today's Thursday 13...

Twelve Memorable Menus in the last Twelve Years (and the recipe that started it all)

1. I find the memories I've retained from our first interactions amazing. We're at a restaurant (I don't remember the venue or even the part of the bay we were in). I'm sitting with the people I came with, and he's across the table with the people he came with. I have no idea what I ordered. He had a ceasar salad, onto which he was shaking copious amounts of pepper. My first words: "Dude... I can taste that pepper from here!"

2. I introduced John to eggplant and mangoes. He introduced me to sushi. First Koji and the 'hotdog' roll. Then Komatsu and crunchy-sweet tempura. And Yuki. And scores of others along the way. Sensational saba. Buttery hamachi. Warm and comforting unagi. In exchange for a fruit and a vegetable. I got the better end of the deal. Forget pork fat Emeril...we've decided FISH fat rocks.

3. He thought I'd lost my mind. A hundred-some people from all over both of our lives. Many of whom had never met. What would they have in common? How could this possibly work?!? I couldn't tell him. But history told me it did. Hovering over the buffet table for another ravioli, another slice of ham, another bite of spinach dip, people would find their own connections, beyond their connections to us. Seven years later, our open house has become a bit of a legend.

4. I'm told that the saurbraten recipe is an adaptation of a Betty Crocker recipe with a little bit of Frugal Gourmet thrown in for good measure. No one's quite sure where the cabbage recipe came from (or they're not telling me if they are). The mashed potato pancakes are 100% Grandma F. And while I'm not normally fond of stews and slow-cooked meats, this menu is the exception that proves the rule... it's become a critical part of the ritual of summer sliding through fall into winter.

5. The first Thanksgiving we hosted, we turned to Alton Brown for advice. AB offered this. We procured a turkey-brining bucket and a separate ice chest just for this purpose. Some fourteen hours, one 15 pound turkey, a quarter box of kosher salt and a dozen or so other ingredients later, two families gathered for one tasty tender bird. The rest of the world can do the deep fry thing... we'll stick to brining.

6. Flash back to 2004. N & K have announced they're goin' to the chapel and they're gonna get maaaaried. But first they'd like to break bread together with both halves of the family and some close friends. Would we be willing to 'cater' their engagement party? Well... sure. We did what we do best: finger food. Most of the experience has been washed from memory by a steady flow of imported Belgian beer. But memory indicates that a good time was had by all most.

7. No matter how I write #7, I think it's going to suffer a bit from 'you really had to be there'. We'd decided to check out Berkeley's legendary Fondue Fred's (for the first time as an adult for me). The challenge: to get the most out of the experience you really need to go in a large group. So someone in our party got the bright idea to invite a bunch of socially-stunted math geeks. Whose first language appeared to be Klingon. And discovered that melted cheese and chocolate made interesting body art. We weren't sure if we'd crashed a freshman fraternity party or a kindergarten arts project... we just knew we didn't belong -- and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

8. If the potato pancakes featured in #4 are John's paternal grandmother's contribution to our culinary arsenal, his mother's Belgian Frites round out his history with solanum tuberosum. Add my grandmother F's gnocchi and my great grandmother C's potato bread, and we'll have Dr. Atkins doing post-mortem cartwheels, but I digress...

9. AB had already taught us turkey...we were eager students of Roast Beast. While we nixed the flower pot in favor of a roasting pan, we followed his instructions for choosing and aging the beef before roasting it low and slow. The result: a carnivorous Christmas Eve dinner our guests are still raving about nearly a decade later.

10. Menu browsing is one of our favorite activities. It's the food version of window shopping. We pick a neighborhood with a high concentration of restaurants. Stroll up and down the streets constructing the perfect dinner the way other people would put together the perfect outfit or design a beautiful bedroom. In this case, I'd recently moved out to the suburbs. It was time to see what our dinner options were going to be in nearby Walnut Creek. And after a half mile of Italian establishments peppered with the occasional burger joint or brew pub, we found Ono Maze. We found great food in the miso-mirin marinated black cod, the tempura "spider" roll and the molten chocolate cakes. We found good friends in Kelly & Kai, Randy, Mandy, Ryan and Lisa. We rediscovered our love for each other as we fell in love with the restaurant and its people.

11. It all started with a flu bug that left us couch-bound and four or five episodes of David Rosengarten's Taste. Followed by Two Hot Tamales kvetching over how to construct the perfect guacamole. And Robin Young Sissy Biggers Ainsley Harriott pairing two audience members with two professional chefs, a bag of groceries and a thirty minute time clock: Ready, Set, Cook. Sure, the furry little troll is still there and we still tune in to watch some of our favorites... but the Food Network's balance between education and entertainment has shifted significantly through the years...

12. Seven courses of seafood. And a chicken breast, because one of our six guests isn't a fish fan. Can you see where this is going? We were hosting Christmas Eve again this year. And decided to pay homage to my Italian heritage with the feast of the seven fishes. Most normal people accomplish this with a big bowl of cioppino... tossing in seven varieties of shellfish. Amateurs! We planned shrimp cocktail (Alton Brown again). Crab cakes. Bacalau salad. Cioppino. Fish sticks for the kids. And three other seafood courses I've forgotten now. Then the guest list erupted. My brother had to work, so his family wasn't joining us. Scrap the fish sticks. "Um... didn't we tell you K doesn't eat seafood?" Well, no you didn't. But we'll work around it. In the end we had a great meal... and John and I rang in 2004 with three courses of seafood.

and 13... the recipe that started it all:

Garlic Pasta

Cook 1 pound pasta as directed on package.

While pasta cooks, pulse 1/4 cup pignoli, 5 large cloves of garlic, and 1/2 cup fresh basil in a small food processor until finely ground. Add garlic mixture to 1 softened cube of butter. Blend well with a fork. Add 1/2 to 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, blending well.

Drain pasta and toss with garlic butter sauce.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens:
1. (leave your link in comments, I’ll add you here!)

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

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November 14, 2007

Reflections on the office holiday party

I imagine that just about every American company holds some kind of employee gathering to commemorate the Thanksgiving holiday. In the dot-com days, they were often swanky, catered affairs. More recently, they're pot luck events. And they are almost always paired with a charitable canned food drive.

If history is any indication, my company's Thanksgiving celebration will feature a company provided turkey-like loaf of meat, the store brand variation of Stove Top stuffing and mashed potatoes that taste remarkably like the box from which they were poured before boiling water was added. This savory lineup juxtaposed against an employee-stocked dessert buffet -- a trans-cultural collection of celebratory sweets from around the globe.

In other words, bring lunch. Stop by for dessert.

I'd planned to contribute Peabody's Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake, which got rave reviews from open house guests last year. But I am running out of refrigerator space while my fruit bowl is overflowing with pears. So decided to add the cheesecake to Saturday's menu and went searching for a worthy application for the pears. And found it here.

I tweaked the recipe slightly replacing a cup of all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour and adding a splash of pear juice to the brown sugar topping.

I also bagged up a dozen meatballs to share with selected colleagues... figuring I might be able to entice some RSVPs out of people if I gave them a sneak preview of Saturday's menu. Both the meatballs and the cake were a hit, and a couple of people with other plans this weekend are now conflicted. A dozen people asked me for details on next year's party (it's traditionally the Saturday before Thanksgiving) and I now have nine positive RSVP's for our open house in 2008!

Technorati Tags: A year ago today found me in a different kind of reflection.

November 13, 2007

T-Minus Four: Prepping for the Future; Surrounded by the Past

First on this evening's agenda: meatballs. Followed by coconut and chai-scented bostini chiffon cakes. And pumpkin puree to be incorporated into cheesecake later this week.

The emotions evoked by my recent Apples & Thyme reflections are still with me...

I can sense Henri's approval with my onion dice... I'd have had no problem out pacing her at that quickfire challenge.

I can feel Mo hovering to ensure that my meatballs were uniform.

And Maria is almost certainly with me as I whip up the egg whites for the chiffon.

Come Saturday, I'll have an extra dry martini, a screwdriver and a glass of sherry set aside in the bar area to acknowledge their presence and in gratitude for their guidance. Several of our guests may think I'm a little off. But if Grandma Sylvia should make it (at 97 she's slowed down a bit), she will smile and nod in understanding.

Last year at this time, the kitchen looked about like it does today

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November 12, 2007

I'm creating a monster

My manager's birthday is Saturday. The group I work with has decided to throw him an impromptu party on Friday at lunch. For 20-some of his closest coworkers.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, John are hosting what's become the event of our year on Saturday. We're knee-deep in meatballs and ravioli filling, with a bit of Bostini on the side. Plus I rather stupidly agreed to contribute a Peabody to this Thursday's corporate Thanksgiving potluck. A birthday cake on top of all that is a little more than my ovens can manage this week...

So one of my teammates offered to pitch in and do the cake. Could I point her to a recipe she could use?

Well... um... sure.

I offered this one. And since her baking experience is mostly of the purchased Vienna Bakery variety, I suggested that if she used a cake mix, people probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. (Sorry Shawnda... but the key here is that she succeeds.)

Her response?

I made a cake from scratch once, it came out okay, so I think I'll give it another shot.

Lis? Ivonne? I get how you must feel with each new crop of Daring Bakers.

I'm so proud!

A year ago I asked the internets to assess my cooking skill and got this result.

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November 11, 2007

Presto! Pasta with Pesto!

This could easily have qualified for Leftover Tuesday had I not already devised a plan for that event.

Cleaning the refrigerator in preparation for massive food prep last week, I found a jar of homemade basil pesto languishing between jars of mayonnaise and lemon curd.

I had exactly six scallops left from an experiment with a restaurant recipe that you'll likely read about soon.

And what warm blooded Italian doesn't have at LEAST one package of pasta in the pantry?!?

Toss in a handful of chopped olives and oven dried tomatoes, and presto! Pasta with Pesto! Twenty minutes, refrigerator to table. And every bit as good as the aforementioned 'restaurant inspired' meal that took four times as long and generated double the dirty dishes.

Thus Basil-Seared Scallops over Pasta with Pesto becomes my quick contribution to Ruth's Presto Pasta Night.

Resources used:
Cipriani's Tagliarelle
basil and garlic from my CSA
Fresh scallops from Whole Foods

A year ago we were buried in laundry and downloading photographs.

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November 10, 2007

Apples & Thyme, with a Twist of Lime...

I've been struggling with this post for a few days now. My thoughts on this subject are all over the map, so I'm not quite sure where the end result is going to take us.

Inge of Vanielje Kitchen and Jeni of A Passionate Palate are hosting a very special event in honor of our mothers and grandmothers and the culinary traditions they've passed along to us. They're calling their event Apples & Thyme.

I'm adding a twist of lime to the mix. Because the person at whose side I learned my family's recipes wasn't a woman. And the women who provided the most significant guidance to me in the kitchen weren't blood relatives.

Allow me to explain...

We've established that while my mother had many talents, cooking wasn't among them. I'm not complaining. Though it's out of the scope of this blog, my mother passed to me her passion for needle arts -- and a sampler created over four generations is one of my most treasured possessions. But for heirloom recipes, I turn primarily to my father and his ancestors.

It is from my father that I learned to make his grandmother's gnocchi. His mother's walnut 'refrigerator cookies'. A tomato sauce derived from the recipes of four generations of northern Italian women from three families united by marriage and based largely on ingredients available in the moment. And his Aunt Lena's recipe for "toothlach" (touvlach? I've googled a million different variations, and I've never found a match) - a chard and ricotta stuffed ravioli that graced every holiday table growing up.

The 'other women' in my culinary education? My parents' closest friends came from all walks of life and on the surface probably didn't have a lot in common. But they all treasured the camaraderie of gathering around the stove and then the kitchen table sharing meals together. Meals made by hand and with love. My father's kitchen was an open kitchen, and each of these women contributed something over the years. They were my 'adopted' mothers and grandmothers, and while most of them have never set foot in my 'adult kitchen', they've all made an indelible impact there.

First there was "Henri". Henriette Corrie entered our lives half way through my fourth grade year, when my brother came down with the chicken pox and needed a daytime companion. Henri had spent the 40's and 50's as a short-order cook in a diner in central California. She taught me a lot about food prep and mise en place (though she never used fancy French words). At her side I learned to peel potatoes and carrots with minimum waste, how to make a perfect gravy from pan drippings, and when you should (and when you shouldn't) substitute milk for cream. That I can slice vegetables without bleeding, I owe to Henri. Her "female spoon" occupies a place of honor among my most used utensils.

And Julie. Julie deserves a post all her own. And she'll likely get one, as I understand that Apples & Thyme is going to be a recurring event. In the context of this discussion, Juliet Rosemont Trissell was a woman with a vision. She was my very first exposure to local, organic, sustainable ingredients. Julie raised chickens (and lots of other animals as well). The eggs from Julie's chickens has a brilliant orange yellow yolk (and sometimes two)... not the pasty-pale color that came from the grocery store. These yolks stood at attention, at least a half an inch above the pool of white in which they sat. And they had F-L-A-V-O-R. Breakfast with Julie was a feast of scrambled eggs, fresh bacon, toast from homemade sourdough bread, fresh squeezed orange juice, and piping hot coffee. It left you warm and full, and ready to take on whatever the day threw your way.

Like the others, Grandma Sylvia isn't really my grandmother... but she is the woman who taught me the most about the cuisine of the Italian half of my heritage. Sylvia Zanaria Gates was born and raised in the bay area to immigrant parents. She taught me how to make pesto and torta di riso, how to shop efficiently and economically at the bakery and the deli, how to pick the freshest rosemary and basil and how to maximize the flavor they contribute. When I moved into my new kitchen seven years ago, Sylvia opened hers... contributing linens, glassware, pasta bowls I reach for every day. And when my pasta dough isn't coming together right, I know I can call her and she'll tell me exactly what I need to do to fix it. And while all of my culinary mentors contributed something to my kitchen's design, Grandma Sylvia is the one who saw it come together (providing advice on the height and surface of my "pasta island") and has watched it in action.

My parents met Maria and Lou early in their married lives, when they occupied neighboring apartments and celebrated weekends together. They resurfaced in my parents lives and entered mine at my first communion celebration -- and remained regulars at dinner on Saturday nights for the next three decades. In terms of technical skill, Maria Chavez Pacheco taught me to make tamales, chiles rellenos and refried beans. She taught me the difference between "stiff peaks" and "soft peaks", and the consequences from choosing the wrong one. She showed me that simple ingredients treated with respect turn out soul-satisfying meals.

As part of the contribution to Apples and Thyme, Jeni and Inge have requested a recipe. I've spent a long time thinking about this one, and I've decided it's time to share the 'touthlach/touvlach' recipe. It's been seven years since my father died. We've made the touvlach several times since then. But never for the open house. This year we're changing that.

I don't know as much as I should of the back story behind this recipe. My great aunt Lena was an Italian immigrant in a small coal mining town in Illinois. I don't know if this is her recipe one from her husband's Belgian ancestors. I do know that she prepared it by hand in celebration of the harvest in the fall, and then again at Easter. I know that she taught my father to form the little pasta pillows. And that from the time we were old enough to understand them, he taught us. That I've made the pasta since I was ten years old, but he kept the filling his secret and Lena's until the Christmas before he died, when our roles reversed and he watched and directed as I prepared the chard mixture and he returned to forming pasta pillows. I know that two of my cousins, Lena's grandchildren, have contacted me looking for the recipe their parents had lost track of. And today I share it with you.

Aunt Lena's Touvlach/Toothlach (Swiss Chard Ravioli)

For the pasta dough:
4 cups all purpose flour
5 eggs
a pinch of salt

Sift flour and salt into a large bowl or onto a pastry board. (I just use a clean counter... this is what we built the island for). Make a well in the center and break in an egg. Use fingers to incorporate egg and flour, maintaining well until 5 eggs are incorporated and you have dough. Knead thoroughly, adding a bit of water or olive oil if necessary to create a smooth, pliable dough. Roll dough into 2-3 balls, wrap in a towel or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove dough from refrigerator 10 minutes before you intend to use it.

For the stuffing:

1 pound chard
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound ricotta cheese
3-4 eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
pinch saffron

Clean and wash chard, leaving it slightly damp. Saute with salt over medium heat until tender. Cool the chard, squeeze it dry and chop it finely. Melt the butter in a saute pan. Add chard and cook gently for 3-5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, spinach, saffron and a pinch of nutmeg. Mix thoroughly until well-blended.

To prepare ravioli:

Roll dough into thin sheets. (We use a pasta roller, working gradually to a setting of 5).

Line ravioli form with one sheet of pasta. Fill wells with stuffing, taking care not to over-fill. Top with a second sheet of pasta. use a rolling pin to create ravioli shapes. Remove from form and separate ravioli with a paring knife.

To cook ravioli immediately, bring a pot of moderately salted water to a boil. Drop in ravioli 12-18 at a time. When they float, remove, drain and serve.

To freeze for later, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place ravioli in a single layer on cornmeal. Freeze. Frozen ravioli can be re-packaged into single-serving freezer bags.

John and I are going to tackle these on Thursday night, so look for a photographic play-by-play late next week.

The photograph at the top is a celebration of your heroine's sixth birthday. To my knowledge, it's the first time I was encouraged to actively participate in the creation of the meal. I shelled spring peas and formed 'pasta pillows' for dinner, and cracked the eggs and measured the sugar for the cake.

A year ago we were headed home from the Caribbean.

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November 09, 2007

Part of the process

Most of us don't spend a lot of time dwelling on this part of the process.

But with somewhere between 75 and 100 guests due to arrive a week from tomorrow for our 7th annual open house -- a celebration of good friends and good food -- we're focused just as much on the cleanup as we are on the food prep.

If history is any indication, over the next seven days we'll go through 3-5 bottles of wine and a half a bottle of dish detergent. We'll marinate 6 pounds of pork, assemble 4 pounds of meatballs, and run the dishwasher 8 times. We'll use 4-6 pounds of flour and 3 rolls of paper towels. We'll go to bed late and tired this week, but with a strong sense of accomplishment... of dozens of to-dos crossed off the week's list.

It's a lot of work, but this is one of our favorite times of the year... as this year's invitation reads: we look forward to each party from the moment the last dishes are done the previous year.

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November 08, 2007

Pay it Forward...

I got the idea from Laura at Cult of Domesticity. She got it from Amy at The Knit Girl. Who got it from Catherine. Who got it from Sarah. Who got it from Amy. Who is not sure where it started, but we all agree it's a neat idea.

What is it?

It's a blog game called Pay it Forward and it works like this:

"I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this PIF exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, which is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog."

So go ahead; leave a comment. Move this forward again. If I don't know you, please leave your email address or some way to contact you. And I'll get something out in the mail to you soon.

A year ago today we were dining at the Pinacle.

November 07, 2007

Seeking menu advice...

We're planning a party.

Our seventh annual pre-holiday open house is quickly approaching.

In two weeks, around a hundred of our closest friends will stop by for a glass of wine, a bite to eat, and a few minutes or a few hours to chat.

So I'm thinking about finger foods.

We'll certainly feature some of our proven hits. Dom's Mom's Meatballs. The Crab and Wild Mushroom Cheesecake. Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin. Tyler Florence's Wild Mushroom Tartlettes. Brie Kisses. And bite-sized coconut Bostinis.

But we're also searching for something new to entice our guests. And I'm turning to you my food-loving friends. Give me your go-to recipes. Our focus is on finger food, but anything that will work well on a buffet is fair game. Extra credit for anything that can be made ahead.

Gimme what you got. Post a link in the comments. Or send it in email (dolores dot ferrero at gmail dot com). I'll post a follow-up after the event with the recipes we used and our guests comments.

A year ago, we were climbing waterfalls in the Caribbean.

November 06, 2007

Where's the Beef?

If beef is even an occasional part of your diet and budget is of any concern at all, my virtual friend Jaden has found the technique for you!

First a little back-story...

I've been on a bit of a genealogy kick since last summer's visit to Salt Lake City. I've wound my way back 7 generations on my father's side and 14 on my mother's. But there are still mysteries. And with both of my parents gone, no one to pass on the stories that breathe life into a pedigree chart.

So when my aunt and uncle volunteered to spend a week going through old pictures, newspaper articles and other assorted documentation and share the stories they remember behind them, I jumped at the chance.

What does this have to do with food? With beef? I'm getting there...

My primary concern around their pending visit was the menu: what to feed them? Between an allergy to most forms of seafood and a disinclination to trying anything too adventurous, I figured chicken, pasta and beef were probably my best bets -- I could stretch them a bit by pushing ingredients they were familiar with in new directions.

From there I turned to one of my most treasured resources for tried-and-true recipes: my blogroll. And for my farewell dinner -- steak and potatoes -- Jaden delivered. I'll let you explore her post for the details, but it's the simplest most straightforward preparation I've ever seen, and it truly makes a silk purse of a sow's ear.

The Cliff's Notes version:
1. remove steak from packaging.
2. rub all sides liberally with salt. LOTS of salt.
3. let steak sit in salt for 15-60 minutes.
4. rinse steak and pat it dry.
5. toss it on grill (or in prepared grill pan) and cook to desired degree of doneness.

For the extended explanation, check out Jaden's post. Go on. I'll wait.

I served the steak with a simple green salad and roasted red potatoes.

The salad was romaine and butter lettuce tossed with diced apples, avocadoes and a honey-mustard vinaigrette. I tossed the potatoes in 3 or four tablespoons of olive oil and a couple of pinches of salt before roasting. When they came out of the oven, I sprinkled on some Penzey's Italian seasoning. That's it.

I'm honored to say that my relatives went home with all three 'recipes'.

Resources used:
choice chuck blade steak on sale at Lunardi's.
red potatoes from Farm Fresh to You CSA.

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November 05, 2007

Berry Fruity Breakfast

In my second installment of Magazine Monday I find myself looking for a quick healthy breakfast on the go. Because as much as I'd like to delude myself to the contrary when Starbucks beckons, the skim milk in a grande nonfat vanilla latte does not make it healthy.

I've got a bowl full of pears, pomegranates and persimmons from my CSA delivery waiting patiently for deployment, so it makes sense to turn to something centered on fruit.

Cooking Light comes to my rescue with a simple parfait of fruit, yogurt and granola, which I tweak just a bit to fit the contents of my kitchen. It's not much of a recipe; it's assembly, not cooking. But it's quick, it's tasty, and it carried me through a meeting-filled morning.

Persimmon Raspberry Yogurt Parfait
adapted from Cooking Light, November 1994
Serves 1

1 small fuyu persimmon
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
8-10 fresh raspberries
1/4 cup bran cereal

Cut persimmon into 4 wedges; peel wedges, using fingers or a small paring knife. Cut each wedge into 4 wedges; set aside.

Combine honey and yogurt in a small bowl, stirring until well-blended. Spoon half of the yogurt mixture into an 8 ounce glass; top with half of the persimmon wedges, 4-5 raspberries, and 2 tablespoons cereal. Repeat the layers, ending with granola. Serve immediately.

Resources used:
Persimmons from Farm Fresh to You CSA
Strauss Organic Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt
Marshall's Farm California Wildflower Honey

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November 04, 2007

Tasty Salted Pig Parts

As of this writing, he is still a contender in the battle to be the Next Iron Chef.

A 1992 graduate of Johnson and Wales University, he's a strong proponent of "sustainable dining" and has a passion for all things offal. At 35, he's the Executive Chef at San Francisco's acclaimed Incanto, the first restaurant in California recognized as "Certified Humane".

And he recently teamed up with Incanto owner Mark Pastore to create Boccalone, the ultimate celebration of artisan salumi created by hand from sustainable ingredients.

He's Chris Cosentino.

John and I first discovered Chris and Mark's tasty salted pig parts at the East Bay Vintner's Alliance Urban Wine Experience in August at Alameda's Rosenblum Cellars and were immediately hooked. When we asked where we could buy the mortadella retail, the news that a CSA-style distribution program was "coming soon" prompted us to get on their mailing list.

In September we jumped at the chance to head over to Incanto, meet the men and women behind the salume and taste a wider variety of offerings: breakfast sausage, spicy Italian sausage, copa di testa and pancetta, to name just a few.

And we signed up as charter members of the Salumi Society. We chose the "piglet" sacchetto, two pounds of artisan meats, with pick-up scheduled twice a month at their Oakland factory location. Our first delivery scheduled for yesterday, Saturday November 3.

In our box: Spicy Italian Sausage, Mortadella, Soppressata di Calabria, Capocollo, and Ciccioli.

Oh. My. Gawd. Yum!

For those of you outside the bay area, hang tight... they're planning to begin shipping products early in 2008.

Now please excuse me while I go slice off a wedge of mortadella, grab a hunk of sour dough bread and cue up the Food Network for the Next Iron Chef...

Incanto | 1550 Church St., San Francisco | 415-641-4500
Boccalone | 1924 International Blvd, Oakland

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November 03, 2007

Happy Birthday, G!

Baby G celebrates his first birthday today.

Rather than a bunch of toys and clothing he will outgrow in a couple of months, his parents have asked each of the party guests to contribute some article to a time capsule, which he'll open on his 18th birthday. Ideas included a photograph, a piece of advice, a piece of "today" that will some day be history.

My contribution?

After much thought, I'm contributing a piece of my past hoping it might be a small piece of his future. My father's mother's recipe for gnocchi. Served alongside the turkey at every Thanksgiving feast, the roast beast at Christmas, the ham at Easter. Simple but soul satisfying potato pasta, made by hand, with love.

Gnocchi (8 servings)

6 medium potatoes cooked and riced
1/2 cup grated Parmegiano-Regiano
4 egg yolks
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
1 cup flour (give or take)

Peel and rice potatoes while still hot. Mix all ingredients except the flour. then add in as much flour as needed to make a dough that will roll. Mix well, then roll on a floured board into a rope about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Then take each piece of dough and roll it over the tines of a fork, mashing a slight indentation with your thumb as you start to roll the pieces. Each piece should have a shell-like impression from the fork tines.

Drop formed gnocchi into rapidly boiling salted water (1 teaspoon salt per quart) and cook for about 5-6 minutes. Gnocchi will float to the surface when cooked. Remove from water with strainer and place on serving dish. Top with browned butter and cheese, or rich meat sauce.

The recipe for rich meat sauce?

He'll get that on his second birthday...

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November 02, 2007

The Candy Man Can!

Sammy, Laura Rebecca and I asked you to take a piece of culinary history, sprinkle it in sugar and create a wild sugar-soaked retro celebration. And over the course of October, you delivered in spades.

Take Pie Lady Brittany from Seattle WA for example. First out of the gate, Brittany covered it with chocolate and a miracle or two, offering us us the Whoopie Pie: a 1920's-era New England chocolate sandwich cookie she found in Betty Groff's Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook. The whoopie pie holds a special place in my heart as one of my mother's favorite confections from *her* childhood. Thanks for joining us Brittany!

Next up is Deb from Wisconsin, who devotes her entire blog Vintage Recipe to recipes of the retro variety. In Sammy's honor she stretches her baking muscles and offers us Lemon Cherry Treats, an adaptation of a recipe she found in the 1962 edition of The Art of Making Good Cookies, Plain and Fancy. They look like a perfect lunch box addition or after school snack on a blustery rainy winter day.

Naomi of Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried in the United Kingdom gives us gluten-free retro sweet treats with her raspberry and pomegranate studded Ballymaloe Tarts. She found these 'real food' pastries topped with fresh seasonal fruit in Jane Grigson's English Food, published in 1974. Your hostess is looking forward to recreating these in her kitchen soon, employing pomegranates as pictured and perhaps a persimmon or two.

Checking in from her One-Walled Kitchen in Phoenix, AZ, Julie offers two tasty alternatives to refined sugar desserts. She reaches back to the disco days of 1978, opens Rodale's Naturally Delicious Desserts and Snacks, and dishes up two desserts that replace sugar with honey: Peanut Butter Pudding and Biscuit Tortoni. Having mastered the luxurious pastry cream of the Bostini Cream Pie, I'm eager to try out these much more calorically reasonable creamy confections.

KJ from Canberra, Australia, the brilliant mind behind A Cracking Good Egg struggles a bit with a sticky sweet treat: Turkish Delight No. 1. She sources her recipe from the CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints and has a bit of trouble with the candy's custom to cling to every surface with which it comes in contact. I can't possibly summarize her story in three sentences nearly as well as she relays it. Go. Read her saga for yourself. We'll wait here...

Her hometown of Quebec, Canada provides just the inspiration Liz of Bits and Bites is looking for. She turns to Canada's answer to Julia Child and the "dean of Canadian Cuisine" Jehane Benoit's, consulting her 1955 publication celebrating the cuisine of Quebec. The result: Liz has found a new go-to pastry recipe in a book she's carted around for years but failed to cook from until now -- and an absolutely yummy looking Sugar Pie.

Gigi, the hostess with the mostest at Gigi Cakes, makes her home in Pasadena, CA and takes us back to the first half of the twentieth century with her contribution: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. Her recipe is the 1925 winner of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company's annual recipe contest. Today we know the Hawaiian Pineapple company as the mono-syllabic Dole. And like several of the contributions to RR9, she's found a recipe that stands the test of time.

Peeking out from behind curtain number 8 is Melynda of The Things that Make Us Happy Make us Wise, whose Marguerites don't leave her with a lot of faith in the tastebuds of our culinary predecessors. With the observation that they "look like camel poop and taste like a sandstorm" Melynda wins my admiration for her way with words and the unofficial first place award for the most creative description in this round.

Theresa takes a break from blogging about vintage fashion at Vintage Style Files to share her experience with a retro recipe for Raisin Bon Bons. In response to our call for sugar-soaked sweet treats, she turns to Family Circle's 1972 Illustrated Library of Cooking's Dessert Edition section on candy making. Theresa thinks she'll make these again, next time selecting a chocolate that can stand up a little better to Florida's heat and humidity.

In Pittsburgh, PA Laurie of Quirky Cupcake celebrates the success of her hometown heroes the Pens with a Fresh Apple Cake from her grandmother's favorite cookbook: The "Green" Huntsville Heritage Cookbook published in 1967... and discovered yet another recipe worthy of repeating. This "perfect fall cake" packs powerful fruit flavor, is "moist, sweet and comforting" and "keeps for days."

Melody of Fruit Tart ponders the life of the fantasy stay-at-home-mom watching soaps and popping bon bons (none of which accurately reflects HER reality), checking in with some brightly colored sensational looking Bon Bon Cookies. She takes her inspiration from Betty Crocker's 1963 Cooky Book, experimenting with flavors and fillings to create cookies that double as eye-candy.

Moon represents one-third of the creative genius behind Peanut Butter Etouffee and offers her grandmother's groovy Sugar Pie in homage to Sammy Davis Jr. Her uncle calls it a "Vaseline Pie" ... I think it looks delicious, and delightfully, deliciously, sinfully 1970-something.

"ShannieCakes" Shannon from Corvallis, OR shares a childhood favorite of hers AND mine: the Chocolate Mayonnaise (Cup)cake. She says it's a southern thing and how the recipe made its way to my mid-western grandmother remains a mystery to me, but it's neat to see that someone else out there enjoys the moist cakes it creates as much as I do. I can't wait to try it topped with Shannon's salted caramel butter cream. Because there's not much that doesn't taste better smothered in caramel...

Gretchen Noelle of Canela y Comino in Lima, Peru channels her inner eight-year-old with her contribution to our sugar celebration: Snickerdoodles. She provides a careful history of the Snickerdoodle's emergence on the American cookie scene -- including several period recipes, one from the turn of the 20th century, closing with the recipe as she submitted it to the Peck Family Cookbook back in 1980.

Breadchick Mary treats us to the classic of all classics, Mamie Eisenhower's No Fail Fudge. Who in the United States hasn't enjoyed this marshmallow fluff inspired treat? Mary's a self-proclaimed expert on fudge, claiming Mackinac Island, Michigan as perhaps the fudge capital of the United States. Her childhood nickname for tourists, "Fudgies" had me giggling to myself as I read her post.

Speaking of fluff, check out Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness' neon pink cake -- her contribution to both our Retro Recipe Challenge and Marye's much acclaimed Boobie Bake-Off. She consults the Favorite Recipes from Irvington Kitchens, a 1938 publication of the Irvington (IN) Union of Ladies' Clubs for inspiration, chosing the Delicious White Cake and Buttercream Icing -- then tinting them pink with icing paste.

And lastly but not leastly, my tribute to the American bicentennial celebration, autumn, and all things soaked in alcohol: Drunken Apple Pound Cake. Which the Tribune claims -- since it's made with corn oil rather than solid butter or margerine -- is a-okay for people on a "newfangled" low-cholesterol diet. My, how very far we've come...

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Seventeen celebrations of sugar (and sugar substitutes). Thanks to all of you who took the time to participate in RRC 9.

Hungry for more? Burn off some of the calories you've consumed here... run, don't walk back over to Naomi, from Straight into Bed, Cakefree and Dried. She's hosting Retro Recipe Challenge #10: Story Book Food.

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November 01, 2007

NaBloPoMo 2007

Last November was so much fun, I'm doing it again.

Nope, not the cruise (although I'll be in Denver at the end of the month, it's business not pleasure).

NaBloPoMo. A personal commitment to post something to my little corner of the internet every day in November.

Just to prove that in the throws of the holiday season, as I prepare professionally for an Oracle upgrade, a tighter integration into our parent company and a leadership role in a Six Sigma project, I haven't lost my creative genius or my grasp on my personal life. This space is, after all, my recreation.

Wish me luck...

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