July 31, 2008

Koji's Back!

If you've been reading a while, you've heard me mention Koji a couple of times. That with an apartment practically on top of his sushi bar, John was one of Koji's first and most regular customers while he was living in San Mateo. That prior to Koji my sushi experience was limited to wedding buffets lined with limp tempura and soggy California rolls, and that I credit him for teaching me how very transcendent *good* sushi can be. That since he closed up shop in San Mateo, we've followed him faithfully around the bay. That whenever we venture in to a new sushi bar, Koji is THE standard by which we measure the freshness of the ingredients, the skill of the chef and the success of the experience.

A little over a year ago Koji left his stint at Hiro's in Brentwood bound for Japan for a bit. We exchanged email addresses and made him promise he'd let us know when he was back slicing sashimi in the bay area. A couple of months ago he let us know he was back and looking for a location to open a sushi bar in the east bay. Huh-zah!

My smart-assed comment that my kitchen counter was available turned out somewhat prophetic. After four years of restless anticipation, last weekend we perched like Norm and Cliff at Koji's sushi bar in eager anticipation of the feast before us. No longer an interpretation of someone else's vision, we once again experienced *Koji's* tamago. His gomae. His miso soup. His saba nigiri. His spicy tuna. And his signature hot dog roll. It was a transporting experience for both of us. For John it was coming home. Oh... the prophetic piece? Koji's new digs are one easy exit up the freeway.

Welcome back Koji; We've missed you.

Koji's | 480 San Ramon Valley Blvd, #E, Danville, CA 94526

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July 29, 2008

Maybe Mo was right...

"Strawberries..." he used to sigh, "what a waste of perfectly good rhubarb."

I'd scrunch up my face in disgust and assert that my father was out of his mind... rhubarb was nothing more than candy colored celery, and bitter celery at that.

He'd roll his eyes and maintain that was just my "immature taste buds" talking, that when I grew up I'd change my mind.

Well I've managed to avoid rhubarb for most of my adult life, focusing instead on the spring and summer fruits I *know* I love. But when I told my tasters from last week's assignment that it was supposed to include rhubarb but I couldn't find any, our hostess went out to her garden and picked me several stalks. So this week's Summer Fruit Galette (chosen for this Tuesday with Dorie by Michelle in Colorado Springs) became a rhubarb galette.

And I learned that somewhere between 15 and 40, "my taste buds have matured." Because combined with Dorie's no-fail pie crust and a sweet succulent custard, this rhubarb R-O-C-K-E-D.

Somewhere, my father is lounging on a cloud, a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and he's laughing that knowing "I told you so" laugh...

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July 27, 2008

In memory of Sher

I know there are people who don't *get* the community we form as food bloggers. That sure, it's disappointing when someone decides to stop blogging, that we feel for people when they're clearly suffering in their personal lives, and that it's certainly sad when someone dies suddenly. But it's not like we *know* these people.

So I ask, when do you really "know" somebody?

While I occasionally commented on something on her blog (and she on mine), I don't believe Sher of What Did You Eat and I ever exchanged an email. I know we never spoke and we never met. But I faithfully followed along on her adventures with the Daring Baker, Bread Baking Babe and Weekend Herb Blogging communities. I admired the love she shared with all creatures great and small, wild and domestic. And over the months, I felt like I was getting to know her. So when last week's news of her sudden death rocked the Internets, like many of my fellow food bloggers I felt like I'd lost a dear friend.

And when Sher's closest friends in the food blogging community announced a virtual potluck in her honor, I knew just the recipe I wanted to contribute. In celebration of Sher's life, I've chosen to make her Eggplant and Goat Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato-Tarragon Sauce. We picked up two flats of cherry tomatoes at Slow Food Yolo County's recent celebration of heirloom tomatoes, so I have a warm summery sauce of sungolds and sweet 100's I know Sher would have loved. I pulled a couple of eggplant out of my CSA box and used up the last of the Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor we picked up a couple of weeks ago in Napa. The result: warm nourishing, soul soothing summer goodness. When I'm looking for comfort food that won't leave me sluggish, I've found my go-to recipe.

Thank you Sherry. We may never have met, but you've filled many afternoons with laughter and many plates with amazing recipes over the months of our internet acquaintance. I will miss your voice.

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July 25, 2008

Coming soon...

The next week promises to be another busy one personally and professionally. Those of you looking for my contributions to Recipes to Rival, Tuesdays with Dorie and the Daring Bakers please hold tight. We're eating *really* well around here lately, but it's going to take me a few days to get the pictures and the stories up...

July 23, 2008

One Local Breakfast on the go

Let me start by saying that I wouldn't trade my experience with the Doristas or the Daring Bakers for the world. I've learned that fruit studded desserts are every bit as satisfying as chocolate. Conquered my fear of pie crust. Together we've made cinnamon rolls and scones, cakes, custard and caramel. And I even won an award along the way. My non-blogging friends laugh and call my baking groups a poor man's pastry school. I'm pretty sure I can't put a price tag on the experience I've had and the lessons I've learned along the way.

But with the increased investment in butter, flour, sugar, eggs and cream, your heroine's in a bit of a bind. Since she's a little... um... mature to be outgrowing her clothes every six months, she opted for a membership at the gym -- and two sessions a week with a personal trainer to keep her honest.

I meet with Lizette at seven on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and I learned very quickly that breakfast beforehand is NOT optional. But anyone who knows me is aware I shouldn't be left alone with sharp objects or fire before the crack of noon, so breakfast's got to be quick, simple and fairly mindless to put together.

My most recent solution: a breakfast burrito constructed largely of leftovers. Tomato and cucumber studded guacamole (veggies chopped and assembled the night before). A generous handful of broccoli sprouts. A soft scrambled egg (ssshhh... I only had the flame going for a couple of minutes). Wrapped in a hearty tortilla. Wrapped in a paper towel and eaten on the drive to the gym. Perfect to fuel twenty minutes on a treadmill and a half hour on the circuit with Lizette.

And since all of the ingredients are products of the farmer's market, my CSA and a generous friend's garden, this grub on the go qualifies as my contribution to One Local Summer this week.

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July 22, 2008

TWD: Life IS a bowl of cherries...

Subtitled Effective Meeting Management 101: Navigating (Square Dance) Politics.

If you've been around a while and paying attention, you know that John and I square dance, and that we have spent the last several years as officers of our regional dancers association. And if you've ever taken a leadership role in a recreational activity, you know that the "politics" involved rival anything going on in the state, local or international arena.

One of the obligations of serving on our executive board is hosting the occasional meeting. And I learned during our April meeting that this hosting obligation comes with some benefits. My living space is fairly open, so I can hang out in the comfort of my kitchen and still keep tabs on what's happening in the living room/dining room area. I learned when hosting the April meeting that I could multi-task, that assembling the Daring Baker Cheesecake Pops gave me a delightful diversion from the discussion at hand. AND the promise of tasty treats after the meeting kept most people on their best behavior.

So when we hosted the July meeting this Sunday, I was grateful that Amanda from Like Sprinkles on a Cupcake added Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler to this week's Tuesdays with Dorie dessert menu. A chance to take out my stress with a cherry pitter! And the baking smells emanating from the oven might have limited debate as people anticipated the lunch and dessert to come. Score!

I stuck pretty close to the recipe this week (which you can find on Amanda's blog) with the exception of the rhubarb. When I couldn't find any in four market stops I decided to substitute the plums that are overrunning my fruit bowl at the moment. They provided a similar tart texture and their juices were perfect for sopping up with the cobbler topping.

Speaking of the topping, the recipe made a LOT more than I needed to cover my 8x8 pan. So I sugared up several pints of blackberries and made some mini cobblers too.

In the end the executive board didn't even get to taste the fruits of my labor. Not to worry; they didn't go dessertless. In addition to the several (store-bought) desserts that people contributed to the pot luck lunch, they polished off the last of my chocolate pudding cups in no time flat.

The cobbler got consumed at last night's dance group (where the hostess gave me two pounds of rhubarb fresh from her garden that I'll be employing this week). The only suggested improvement: *more* than a pound of cherries next time.

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July 16, 2008

Taste & Create 12 - Plated Summer

Once again this month I find myself paired with Katie of One Little Corner of the World for Taste & Create XII. (Those of you paying attention will recall Katie's yummy Donut Muffins were my contribution to the April event).

This time I was torn; there were a couple of recipes that caught my eye. In the end I selected her delightful Dill Chicken Salad, to which I added a couple of twists of my own.

I started with two boneless skinless chicken breasts, coating them in the Italian seasoning infused olive oil and baking them off as Katie suggests. Yum... I could have stopped right there. But I didn't, though I took a look around my refrigerator and my pantry and I ad libbed a bit. Chicken's packed with protein, so I left the egg out to save a couple of calories. Not a fan of celery, I substituted half a jicama. I made the salad dressing as directed and substituted scallions for the chives, again because that's what I had on hand.

My thoughts? First of all, Katie's chicken would be excellent all on its own, served with steamed vegetables of sliced over green salad. And you could easily make the chicken salad with leftover bits of roasted chicken. The chicken salad would be sensational sandwiched between two slices of whole wheat bread and grilled panini style. But since I've blogged a bit about panini in the recent past and I've got some luscious tomatoes and avocados from my CSA delivery, I decided to plate it Napoleon-style - a slice of tomato, a slice of avocado, a mound of chicken salad, topped with another slice of tomato. The taste? The crunch of the jicama, the dill-studded salad dressing, a couple of sun-sweetened tomatoes and buttery bits of avocado... this *is* summer on a plate my friends.

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July 15, 2008

TWD - The Proof is in the Pudding

I burn about 400 calories in thirty minutes on an elliptical trainer.

Even with a fraction of the butter in a typical recipe, Dorie's Chocolate Pudding contains 312 calories.

Do we see the problem here?

My solution? Half the serving size. Because this stuff's not your grandmother's pudding out of a box. This is luxurious chocolate love.

Chosen by Melissa of the eponymous It's Melissa's Kitchen, Dorie's pudding recipe employs a handful of raw ingredients - staples in any baker's kitchen. And an industrial 11-cup food processor. Since mine holds a scant 8 cups maximum and I didn't want to make my pudding in batches, I let it sit on the sidelines and put the Kitchen Aid to action. It seemed to work fine; the end result was a rich, creamy lump-less pudding.

I chilled the pudding briefly before piping it into 13 dark chocolate dessert cups and refrigerating for the requisite four hours (time I spent cleaning the kitchen, hitting the elliptical machine, and standing in line at the grocery store). And served the pudding cups sprinkled with toffee bits.

Interested in ditching the little brown box and making pudding from scratch? Melissa's got the recipe posted on her blog; go check it out.

Just remember to renew your gym membership...

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July 14, 2008

One local salad

THIS is what I love about summers in Northern California. Fresh local ingredients at my fingertips, easily assembled into delicious feasts celebrating the season.

In this case, I took arugula and peaches from my CSA box. Added a delightful hunk of Cypress Grove's "Truffle Tremor" goat cheese that we picked up at a recent visit to Oxbow Public Market in Napa. And took inspiration from this recipe at Adventures in the Kitchen.

Rather than firing up the Weber to serve one, I "grilled" the peaches on the stove while I assembled the spicy peach sauce, which I also heated and drizzled it over the salad like a dressing. The result: simple yet soulfully satisfying.

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July 09, 2008

When it's too HOT to cook...

What's for dinner when it's 90 degrees in the kitchen and turning on the oven's not an option? Mortadella Panini!

God love George Foreman and his magic little grill on nights like this.

Thankfully John and I swung by Oxbow Market on our winding way back from the weekend in Fort Bragg, so I have a half a pound of Fatted Calf mortadella and some luscious local arugula to play with.

Starting there, I foraged around the fridge. Provalone... yeah, that needs using up. And here's a half an avocado. A couple of slices of red onion and a generous teaspoon of champagne shallot mustard will finish it off. A couple minutes on the grill, a handful of Kettle chips and another handful of sungold tomatoes and I'm in business.

Think I can get a job with Tom at one of the 'wichcrafts?

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July 08, 2008

And now, the rest of the story...

For some Americans, the Fourth of July is about fireworks. For others it's an excuse to pop open a beer or twelve. And it probably comes as no surprise to the two of you reading this that for us the Fourth of July is about food. (Well food and a couple of days away from the office). Summer food. Red meat (or white meat or fish), cooked over fire. A buffet lined with an overwhelming assortment of salads, sides and desserts.

This year, John and I joined dance friends on a trip to Mendocino county's Fort Bragg for the holiday weekend. We spent Friday evening at a pot luck barbecue where the hosts provided the charred protein and the guests supplied the aforementioned buffet assortment.

What would I make that would withstand a three hour car trip with the air conditioning set to eleven? Tuesdays with Dorie to the rescue: Amy from South in your Mouth selected a great contribution to anyone's barbecue dessert buffet: Double-Crusted Blueberry Pie.

There's only one small problem...

My name is Dolores, and I'm afraid of pie crust. One of my deepest, darkest culinary secrets: I don't bake it, I *buy* it. T'heck with diamonds... Pillsbury is this girl's best friend.

I blame my phobia on my mother. She made the most amazing pie crusts I've ever encountered. She didn't use a recipe... she made it by feel. And I never took the time to learn her technique. Because what the heck, there's always *next* Thanksgiving, right? Yeah, well... All I know is that she used a combination of lard and butter.

Since picking up a Pillsbury wasn't an option for a TWD assignment, I took a deep breath, read the recipe four or five times, shoved a cube of chopped butter and a quarter cup of shortening in the freezer and poured myself a nice glass of wine. And then I pulled the moulinex out of hibernation and dove right in.

The result? It's certainly not pastry perfection, but I think this is a recipe I can work with. I wasn't embarrassed by the end result, and if the picture I posted at the beginning of the day is any indication, it certainly didn't suck.

Thanks Dorie. Thanks Amy. I think my clandestine relationship with Pillsbury's over!

And now you know...

the rest of the story!

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Another TWD Success

I've got a huge deadline at work in a few hours, so the extended story will have to wait until the end of the day. But for now please excuse the crapulous cell phone photograph and just consider the story it tells. My full sized Double-Crusted Blueberry Pie disappeared from the barbecue dessert buffet in under ten minutes. Now go check out the 200 or so other blueberry pies debuting on the internets today...

July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

Wishing you and yours a safe and happy Independence Day.

July 03, 2008

Introducing Frugal Fridays

The brainchild of Jerry over at Cooking by the Seat of My Pants, Frugal Fridays implores the budget conscious blogger to construct a tasty and (hopefully) nutritious meal for a family of four for $10.00. A timely challenge, given the rising costs of food and fuel.

In week four I'm jumping in with both feet, curious to see if I can be satisfied with a $2.50 lunch. I'm cautiously optimistic, although I typically spend between $4 and $6 on the ultimate cheap meal: fast food and I rarely walk away satisfied with the experience.

Ironically I did no grocery shopping for this week's contribution. We're headed out of town this weekend so I'm all about using up leftovers. My creation: A Chicken Sausage Saute built on a half package of Aidell's I'd picked up on sale last week. I also had about 3/4 pound of red potatoes left from last week's contribution to One Local Summer, a cup of chopped frozen mango, and some zucchini and onion scraps from my recent Rat-Patootie.

I tossed the potatoes in a bit of olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt and a couple of shakes of dried basil and roasted them at 450 for about 30 minutes. Another teaspoon or so of olive oil in my saute pan, on top of which I tossed one clove of garlic (minced with a knife) and the onion shrapnel. I never time anything when I work like this, but I'm guessing they cooked about 10 minutes while I sliced the sausage into bite sized chunks, drained the mango (reserving the juice), etc. I added the sausage next, cooking it until it browned slightly around the edges. Next the zucchini, mango and cooked potato. And what the hell, the mango juice too.

So... was I satisfied? Surprisingly so. Protein, carbohydrate, healthy fat, fruit and vegetables in a single bowl. Leftovers frozen for portable lunches at work next week. Score!

But did I blow the budget. I reviewed a handful of grocery receipts to survey the damage:

2 Aidell's Chicken Mango Sausages - $2.00
Organic Red Potatoes - $2.50
Trader Joe's Frozen Mango - $1.66
Zucchini = $0.40
Onion = $0.40

My 'freebies' from the pantry: olive oil, garlic, kosher salt, dried basil.

Total for 4 lunch-sized servings: $6.96

Damn. I can eat a satisfying lunch for a buck seventy four. With no desire to add fries with that. Who knew?

Thanks Jerry! This has been an eye-opening experience over here, one I look forward to repeating in the weeks to come.

From the archives...
In 2007 we discovered Greek hospitality (and some amazing oven roasted potatoes) in Salt Lake City.

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July 02, 2008

Rat-patootie, which does not sound delicious...

...but oh my G-A-W-D it IS!

Which is a good thing, since I ended up prepping the damn thing twice.

Yeah, you read that right, twice. That's what I get for multitasking in the kitchen. I was prepping a recipe for next week over at Blake Bakes while I was working on this. And while I sliced and macerated some bananas, I tossed the baking tray with the vegetable medley into the oven to clear some counter space. Then while I put the piperade together here, I preheated the oven for the other recipe. WITHOUT removing my veggie tray. Duh.

'So what's the big deal?' you're thinking, '...it's just sliced vegetables.' Yep. Vegetables sliced a very precise 1/16 of an inch thick. Even with my mandoline, the prep took well over an hour. And while there were a lot of ingredients requiring a ton of preparation, the dish was surprisingly inexpensive. The entire ingredient list cost me a little over $15.00 (partly because the cashier rang my organic zucchinis up as $0.79 pickling cucumbers?!?). Had I not wasted half of the ingredients, that would have come out to about two bucks a serving (assuming you can limit yourself to one serving. Yeah, good luck with that...I couldn't).

So why am I spending two hours slicing vegetables? I've joined Recipes to Rival, the savory answer to the Daring Bakers... a growing group of men and women interested in expanding our skills on the savory side of the kitchen, learning and laughing together along the way. And ratatouille was the inaugural challenge recipe chosen by our founderesses Lori over at Lipsmacking Goodness and Temperance of High on the Hog.

So with my first challenge behind me, what did I learn?

1. Multitasking's not such a good idea, and the oven is not a storage vessel.
2. I'm capable of using my mandoline without losing an appendage.
3. Cooking (and baking) is an exercise in time management.
4. French "vegetable stew" is quite tasty and eminently affordable.

But enough about me... on with the photo-studded recipe:

Remy's Ratatouille or Confit Byaldi
(as published in the New York Times)

For the Piperade:
1/2 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded, and finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1/2 a bay leaf
Kosher salt to taste

For the Vegetables:
1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 Japanese eggplant, (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8teaspoon thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oi
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.

2. Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-inch skillet.

3. Heat oven to 275 degrees. Down the center of the piperade coated skillet, arrange a strip of 8 alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Around the center strip, overlap vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly toward center. Repeat until pan is filled; all vegetables may not be needed.

4. Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.)

5. For the vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

6. To serve, heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and very carefully lift onto plate with offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding byaldi into fan shape. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot.

Bon appetit!

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July 01, 2008

TWD: This week's melodrama: Savory or Sweet?

Yes, I used the base recipe. One of the many things I've learned in my tenure with the ladies and gentlemen of Tuesdays with Dorie is that I LOVE Dorie's basic biscuit recipe. And if recent history's any indication, I'm pretty good at it. Which I would never have known *without* TWD, as biscuits and their various offspring just weren't projects I attempted in my kitchen.

But this week I didn't have dried apple on hand, so I grabbed a package of apricots. They're a yellowish fruit with a similar dried consistency. And since cheddar really doesn't pair with apricot for me, I grated a hunk of Swiss to take the role of "cheese" in this week's drama. And I tossed in a handful of fresh lavender because it called to me from its countertop vase. I considered rosemary but dismissed it. Next time I think I'll use it... it definitely would have added to the tension I've been building between savory and sweet.

So there you have it, my riff on Dorie's Apple & Cheddar Scones, chosen by Karina of The Floured Apron as this week's assignment. That's where you'll find the recipe this week, should you want to try it for yourself.

From the archives:
In 2007, the Leftover Tuesday Roundup revealed...

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I'm a Blake Baker...

I've been invited to blog for Blake over at Blake Bakes.

Blake Bakes?

Well you surely know Blake Makes... Blake Bakes is another of *that* Blake's ventures, where he's invited some baking blogging friends to come join him. I'm honored to be keeping some pretty fabulous company over there.

For my debut this morning, I pay tribute to that workhorse in my kitchen: the Kitchen Aid, and share with you my grandmother's tried-and-true recipe for "Icebox Cookies." Go check it out.

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