December 31, 2007

One last look back...

I'm not sure I followed last year's advice to myself very well, but here we go again.

1. Wishing all my blog friends best wishes for a happy, healthy and tasty 2007!.
2. -
3. I haven't fallen off the face of the earth -- February just got crazy.
4. Here it is, the moment you have all been waiting for... the unveiling of March's best dressed blogs.
5. I couldn't resist Sam's recent invitation to a bit of culinary exhibitionism...
6. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones...
7. First, I want to thank David for offering me the privilege of hosting episode 6 of Leftover Tuesdays, his event celebrating the underdog in all of our kitchens.
8. I don't think it's any secret that sweet and sassy Ivonne over at Cream Puffs in Venice is someone I look to for inspiration.
9. The package arrived at my doorstep during the height of "Battle Bug" (a war we're still waging against a few hearty stragglers).
10. Remember when I mentioned I portioned part of my bun dough off for another project?
11. Last November was so much fun, I'm doing it again.
12. Last week's teaser probably gave it away, but I have a confession to make...

That's it, ladies and gentlemen. The first sentences of the first posts for each month of 2007. And last year's summary holds true: it's been quite a journey through the magical, mystical world of food. I thank each and every one of you for taking it along with me. However you choose to celebrate tonight's turning of the page, please raise a virtual glass with John and me, join our toast to wonderful New Year. We hope 2008 brings you health and happiness, laughter and love, good food and great friends.

December 30, 2007

Hey Mikey, they LIKE me...

When I tossed my blog into the Holidailies hat, it was about the personal challenge of committing to post during that most busiest time of the year. And maybe enticing two or three new readers to grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, pull up a chair and join us here.

I never expected to *win* anything.

But someone in their "distinguished panel of readers" considered my recent Little House essay "exceptional" and honored me and it with a "Best of Holidailies" award. Over the month, I've read some of the other posts selected as "Best of..." There's some really good stuff there. I'm honored and privileged to be considered among them. Thank you, Holidailies! And happy New Year!

December 23, 2007

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

I have a confession to make.

John usually helps me with my Daring Baker challenges. Sometimes more than just a little bit. But with this month's buche de noel he took the lead.

The light, airy genoise? I sifted the flour and the cornstarch together. The rest of the effort was John's.

The mocha butter cream worthy of licking off someone you love? I cubed the butter, measured the coffee extract (which we used in place of espresso powder we couldn't find in any of five grocery stores) and the Kahlua, and melted the chocolate. Combining the sensitive ingredients into a velvety smooth finish with no sign of curdle was all John's doing.

And the marzipan, which should be labeled as a controlled substance and is probably illegal in seven states? I whipped the almond paste with confectioner's sugar into a crumbly meal and considered it a failure. John patiently incorporated the corn syrup into marzipan perfection and molded some mystical mushrooms while I shredded chocolate to dirty the plate.

Oh and I took a page from Peabody's book, tossing some rosemary and cranberries in sugar for that snow covered look.

In the end ladies and gentlemen, the majesty you see before you is John's creation, not mine. But I couldn't be more proud of it if it were my own.

We want to thank Lis and Ivonne for hosting this beautiful holiday challenge. And Helene for the invaluable advice on how to avoid its pitfalls. If you want to make one of your own for New Years Eve or Twelfth Night celebrations, you can find the recipe over at Ivonne's. And hundreds more variations on the theme at the Daring Baker blog-roll.

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December 22, 2007

If a tree falls in the forest...

Yes, John and I made the yule log, December's Daring Baker Challenge hosted by our fearless leaders Lis and Ivonne.

No torn genoise.

No curdled butter cream.

But as this masterpiece wraps up a rather adventurous Christmas Eve menu, you all are going to have to wait until the in-laws leave to get the extended play version of our story.

In the mean time, there are plenty of other logs out there to keep you warm and satisfied... just head on over to the Daring Baker Blog Roll to see how my partners in pastry fared with this one.

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December 20, 2007

One holiday; five days of preparation

As I return from the grocery store with the makings of this year's holiday feast and find room for stuff in the 'fridge, I find myself pondering the amount of effort that goes into the food for these special holiday celebrations. On my side there's the menu planning, shopping and a couple of days of preparation. Then there's the grocers and the farmers and the transportation industry that traverses them. Most of my meal didn't travel cross country or even across the state... but it's a large menu, and it probably touched hundreds of hands -- and lives -- on it's journey... I hope all of *them* have a joyous holiday!

Enough with the deep thoughts. What are we having this year? Well Christmas Eve's going to be one big celebration of Magazine Monday; 90% of the menu hails from Eating Well:

Roasted Pear-Butternut Soup with Crumbled Stilton

Endive and Watercress Salad with Pomegranate Dressing
Parmesan Bread
Spinaci con Pignoli e Passerini
Bulgur with Ginger and Orange
Pork Tenderloin Rosa di Parma
and the super-surprise December Daring Baker challenge for dessert!

Check back in a couple of days to learn how it all turned out.

From the archives: a year ago today, I reminisced about restaurants visited in 2006.

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December 17, 2007

Fruit of the sea

Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sautee it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it.

-Bubba in Forest Gump

This week's Magazine Monday entree is Bubba's favorite protein: Shrimp Roasted with Potatoes and Prosciutto. I guess in Bubba-speak that's shrimp and potatoes. In my world, it's a satisfying healthy dinner.

The recipe comes from the back cover of the January 2008 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine. I've found a winner here -- this one's easy enough for a weeknight, impressive enough for company, and uses mostly staples (at least they're staples in my kitchen). And it's adaptable... I didn't have prosciutto so I used pancetta piana. It is for recipes like these that I subscribe to food magazines to begin with.

Shrimp Roasted with Potatoes & Prosciutto
Fine Cooking Magazine, January 2008

1-1/2 lb. yellow or red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt; more as needed
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1-1/2 lb. large shrimp (21 to 25 per lb.), peeled and deveined
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven, and put a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet on the rack. Heat the oven to 500°F.

In a medium bowl, toss the potatoes with 3 Tbs. of the oil and the salt and cayenne. Carefully spread the potatoes in a single layer on the preheated baking sheet. Roast, loosening and turning the potatoes with a metal spatula after 15 minutes, until tender and golden, 20 to 25 minutes total.

Meanwhile, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. In a medium bowl, toss them with the remaining 1 Tbs. oil, the lemon zest, a pinch of salt, and 2 to 3 grinds of pepper.

Stir the prosciutto and garlic into the potatoes and continue to roast for another 5 minutes. Push the potatoes to one side of the pan and add the shrimp to the empty side. Spread in a single layer and roast until the shrimp curl and are just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley, stir everything together, and serve immediately.

From the archives: last year I employed my new mini bundt pans.

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December 16, 2007

Little the kitchen

No plans had been made for Christmas Eve at home, so everyone had much to do. In the kitchen Laura was popping corn in the iron kettle set into a hole of the stove top from which she had removed the stove lid. She put a handful of salt into the kettle; when it was hot she put in a handful of popcorn. With a long-handled spoon she stirred it, while with the other hand she held the kettle's cover to keep the corn from flying out as it popped. When it stopped popping she dropped in another handful of corn and kept on stirring, but now she need not hold the cover, for the popped white kernels stayed on top and kept the popping kernels from jumping out of the kettle.

from These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

When Naomi of Straight into Bed, Cakefree and Dried announced that the theme for Retro Recipe Challenge #10 was Story Book Food, I knew I was going to turn to the Ingalls clan for inspiration.

A bit of background for my non-American audience: Born in the 'big woods' of Wisconsin in 1867, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the "Little House" series, a lightly fictionalized account of her family's life on the American frontier in the late nineteenth century; chronicling their migration from Wisconsin through Kansas, Minnesota and South Dakota in search of the American dream. When NBC decided to televise the story in 1974 with Michael Landon playing Charles "Pa" Ingalls and Melissa Gilbert in the role of our heroine, Laura Ingalls became an American icon.

Much of Laura's story focuses on food: hunting, growing and harvesting it, losing it to natural disaster, cooking or preserving it, sharing it with family and friends.

When they were gone, Mrs. Boast took a full paper bag from under the dishes. "It's a surprise" she told Laura. "Popcorn! Rob doesn't know I bought it.
They smuggled the bag into the house and hid it in the pantry, whispering to tell Ma what it was. And later, when Pa and Mr. Boast were absorbed in checkers, quietly they heated fat in the iron kettle and poured in a handful of the shelled popcorn...
Ma dipped the snowy kernels from the kettle to the milkpan, and Laura carefully salted them. They popped another kettleful, and the pan would hold no more. Then Mary and Laura and Carrie had a plateful of the crispy, crackly melting-soft corn, and Pa and Ma and Mr. and Mrs. Boast sat around the pan, eating and talking and laughing, till chore-time and suppertime and the time when Pa would play the fiddle.
from By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

So I reached into my trove of childhood favorites, pulled out The Little House Cookbook (published in 1979 by Barbara Muhs Walker) and started paging through it. I wanted something quintessentially Laura, but with Christmas rapidly approaching I couldn't spend a lot of time on this project. Pancake men would have to wait. Same with Vanity Cakes and the holiday Heart Shaped Cakes. It's 60 degrees in California, so Molasses-on-Snow Candy won't work either.

Wait...what's this? Popcorn? Sure... I can make popcorn.

Or so I thought until I went shopping, and learned that in the grocery stores of 21st century America, microwave popcorn reigns supreme. It took trips to five stores to find popcorn of the 'old fashioned' variety... and the best I could do there was a jar of Orville Reddenbacher.

I used my 14 quart stockpot as a makeshift kettle and followed the "Golden Years" method:

For 6 quarts of popped corn, you will need:
3 handfuls coarse salt (kosher or pickling salt) (3/4 cup)
3 handfuls popping corn (3/4 cup)
1/4 pound butter (optional)

1 5-6 quart kettle, with lid
1 6 quart pan
1 tin cup (for melting butter, if using)

Cover the bottom of the kettle with salt (about 1/2 cup). Using two kernels as a test, cover and heat the kettle until they pop. Remove them, add a handful of popping corn, and cover. Return to heat and take off cover only after popping noise stops.

Try Laura's method (stirring then adding more kernel while popped corn serves as a cover) only if your kettle is at least 8 inches deep. Otherwise, spoon the popped corn into the pan, throw away any unpopped kernels, and replenish the coarse salt. Repeat until all corn is popped. Serve in bowls with a shaker of table salt. (Or, like Almanzo's family, melt the butter in the tin cup, pour it over the full pan of corn, sprinkle with table salt and toss lightly before serving).

The result? No waste: every single kernel popped. And cleanup was a breeze. Rinse kettle. Dry kettle. Done.

In terms of taste: if you're looking for that chemical tasting "movie theater butter", look elsewhere. But if you want a bit of the sweet corn flavor (yes, even Orville has sweet corn flavor... heaven knows how much better a less industrial popcorn would taste) with a bit of salty contrast, sit down and join me for a bowl...

From the archives, last year today I shared my picks for Menu for Hope III.

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December 15, 2007

Cibo di benessere i celebrazione

Holiday foods.

They're the flavors, scents and memories without which it wouldn't much feel like Christmas. Or Chanukah. Or Kwanzaa. Or Solstice. Or whatever it is you celebrate this time of year.

They're a delightful delectable combination of flavors that provide both a sense of comfort and an aura of celebration. They're comfortable and familiar, warm and inviting and yet they never fail to deliver that sense of "this is special". They're the culinary equivalent of coming home.

For some of you the quintessential holiday food is the main course: the turkey, the ham, the roast beast around which you gather your loved ones to celebrate. Others lean toward the sweet side: pumpkin pie, holiday cookies,or a buche de noel. Or perhaps it's the vegetables of the season, whether they appear on your table as latkes, beet salad, roasted brussels sprouts, or green bean casserole.

For me, it's lasagna.

Growing up, I took lasagna for granted; my dad made it all the time. Sometimes he'd add mushrooms, onions, and zucchini for a vegetarian. Others he used the same secret combination of ground beef, veal and pork that made his meatballs magnificent. But always there was ricotta. Always there was marinara. And always there was besciamella.

So when I spied "vegetarian lasagna" on the menu at the dorm early in my freshman year of college, I thought I was in for a real treat and I loaded up my plate.

'What?' I choked down my first bite. 'This isn't lasagna. It's an impostor -- a melange of mushy leftover vegetables, smothered in canned tomato sauce and covered with cardboard disguised as pasta.'

I chucked the rest and disgusted, headed to the salad bar. And when I talked to dad that night, I made him promise me that next to the Thanksgiving turkey there'd be a lasagna with my name on it.

And thus began a holiday tradition. For the next 15 years, if we were celebrating something -- anything -- as a family, there was a lasagna in attendance. Lasagna became food-code for home, for happy, and for love.

Over the last several years, I've reproduced many of my family's traditional dishes in my "adult kitchen."

But not the lasagna.

Until now.

In September I discovered Maryann's Ricotta e Besciamella Lasagna and I knew instantly it was going to be the perfect canvas on which to experiment. So this weekend I took a deep breath, gathered the ingredients and took the dive. I prepared it as published, adding a layer of sauteed Italian sausage tossed with toasted pine nuts and shredded Parmesan. I was surprised at how easy it was to prepare... the hardest part was the waiting.

My dinner guests loved it. And I'll enjoy the leftovers for lunch all week.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mo would have been proud. Thank you Maryann, for giving me the tools, the technique and the confidence to live up to his legend and share his love.

In the archives: A year ago today, I was sniffling & sneezing.

More praise for Maryann's luscious lasagna from Kimberly Ann of Nostalgic Homemaking.

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December 14, 2007

Conservative, yet... Purple?

Kitchen Appliances and Gadgets at The Purple Store

Like the purple family car that inspired the subject line (an inside joke among my friends a decade ago) this defies explanation.

It doesn't match anything in my kitchen.

I already have a nice fully-functional, goes-with-everything white one. And a hand mixer. And several whisks.

But I found this while I was blog surfing, and it's like a magnetic field I can't control -- I keep gravitating back to it.

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December 13, 2007

Butternuts and Bocce

When I was a child, Friday night was bocce night at my grandpa's. A dozen sons of Italian immigrants gathered in the alley behind grandpa's suburban Chicago home. They drank a lot of wine. They ate a lot of pasta and Italian sausage. They tossed a bunch of wooden balls around. As the evening wore on, they yelled at each other in Italian words I didn't yet understand. At the end of the evening, they parted with hugs and hearty handshakes.

For the uninitiated, bocce is the Italian cousin of the British lawn bowling, the French petanque. You roll a target ball, and then you roll a series of colored balls, trying to get your team's "big ball" next to the target "little ball".

Thursday is bocce night in John's world and mine.

While the courts have improved a bit over the decades, the guys are far more open to allowing women to play, and in some arenas the game's being marketed as a corporate team building activity, John's Thursday bunch is still a group of guys playing in backyard courts. Drinking wine. Eating Italian sausage. And swearing in Italian. It's good to know some things are sacred.

During the winter months the group gathers on covered courts at a local park. This keeps them dry in the rain, but while bocce's a sport, it's not aerobic and the guys are looking for more than wine to keep them warm. At John's special request I sent down a crock pot of Heidi's Thai-Spiced Pumpkin Soup tonight. I modified the recipe only slightly, using leftover turkey stock in place of water to control the soup's consistency. The turkey flavors married beautifully with the squash and coconut -- warm and soul-soothing with a hint of heat. And it appears to be a hit... John says to expect a couple of requests for the recipe.

For more information about bocce in the United States, check out the USBF website.

Others who have enjoyed Heidi's sensational soup recipe:
Alexandra of the eponymous Alexandra's Kitchen... I'm now looking forward to trying her Sweet & Salty Pumpkin Seeds.
December 17 Update - Soup's generally not her first choice, but Skrockodile of Cookbook Catchall has all kinds of applications for this one.

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December 12, 2007

We have a winner

Some good guesses out there.

In the end, Barbara had it right: It's an ice cream scoop. The little key at the top twists, and runs a scraper along the inside of the cavity to loosen the ice cream.

Barbara, if you'll drop me a note in email (dolores dot ferrero at gmail dot com) with your address, I'll get this out to you in the mail.

A year ago today, I discovered Laura Rebecca's Retro Recipe Challenge #5. Stay tuned as later this week I'll participate in the tenth edition of this event.

December 10, 2007

Disappointment: Duartes

Guy Fieri recommended it.

Diners/Drive-ins/Dives Episode DV0204 focused on local flavors, and one of Guy's stops was Duarte's, a century old tavern turned restaurant on the Northern California coast with a focus on fresh, local flavors. The segment highlighted the restaurant's artichoke soup, calamari, abalone, and crab cioppino. We were intrigued.

Thanksgiving weekend found us with a bit of free time, so we decided to make the drive over to the coast. Along with hundreds of other Northern Californians in search of the area's best Christmas trees. We stopped at La Nebbia Winery in Half Moon Bay to stretch our legs and regain some sanity -- and discovered a lovely orange muscat in the process.

We pulled into Pescadaro a bit after 2 and learned we'd have an hour to kill before we could get a table. We wandered through a half dozen antique shops and a really fun old-world grocery store building up an appetite.

After all that, Duarte's was more than a bit of a disappointment. The early November oil spill in the bay meant that the crab in the cioppino was coming from Washington, so we weren't as willing to endure another 45 minute wait for that specialty. The artichoke soup was good enough, but we were actually far more impressed with the cream of green chile variety. And if this was Guy's idea of top-notch diner calamari, we've got to get the man educated. Eight wedges of greasy, over-breaded rubbery squid with a side of ketchup wasn't worth the $10 we paid. Since the cioppino was out, we opted to split the special sandwich of the day, an abalone club. A thin strip of abalone breaded and fried (far more carefully than the calamari) slapped between two slices of lightly toasted bread and a pile of Sysco fries. For $20.00. In retrospect I wish I'd chosen the crab, even if it did hail from out of state. In the end, the best thing to grace our table was the fresh-baked sourdough bread.

We closed the afternoon with a visit to Santa Cruz's eclectic Bonny Doon Winery where again we were drawn to the dessert wines.

We'll be enjoying the wines long after the Christmas tree's gone...

Duarte's Tavern | 202 Stage Road, Pescadero, CA | 650.879.0464
7:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. Daily (Closed New Years Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas)

A year ago today, I had some fun with word association.

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December 09, 2007

Congratulations readers!

You're apparently an educated group of people:

cash advance

A year ago today, I reflected on my introduction to sushi.

December 08, 2007


I got this from Liz over at Bits & Bites. She got it from Julius. I enjoyed reading their answers, and getting to know them better in the process. I know I've got some new readers here (thanks to NaBloPoMo and Holidailies), some of whom are probably wondering who I am. This won't tell you that, but it'll give you some insight into where I come from in terms of food.

What were you cooking/baking ten years ago?

Ten years ago I was just beginning to discover that pretty much anything you can order out, you can make at home. Often better and cheaper. But not always without significant effort. I was probably most obsessed with fresh seafood and Asian flavors. Some things haven't changed much.

Ten years ago I'd never kneaded bread by hand. Made caramel. Or mousse. Other things have changed quite a bit.

What were you cooking/baking one year ago?

Lots of fun and interesting things. My foray into the food blogging world has exposed me to many new recipes from all over the world. The Daring Baker experience has expanded my boundaries with flour, sugar, eggs and butter. And I've learned a bit about the politics of food -- how the choices I make affect not only my cardiac health, but my spiritual well-being as well. It feels GOOD to know the farmer that grows my greens, the fisherman, the rancher, the baker, the sausage maker who bring their bounty to my table.

The snack you enjoy the most:

Sungold and sweet 100 tomatoes in the summer. Grapes when the leaves begin to fall. More Halloween, Valentines and Easter candy than I should. Christmas cookies. And popcorn and edamame, all year long.

A culinary luxury you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:

A world tour, using Anthony Bourdain's books as a guide.

A couple of million and I'd quit my day job and go volunteer to intern with Thomas Keller. Or Michael Symon. Or Kelly Degala. Or all of them. Learn from them. Soak their lessons up like a sponge. Then open my own restaurant.

What do you bake the most?

Bread, and cookies.

Five recipes you know by heart:

Coffee. Spinaci con Pignoli e Passerine. Grandma Cramer's Egg Salad. Guacamole. Aunt Bev's Cole Slaw.

One thing you cannot/will not eat:

I'm still learning to appreciate offal. Some of the stuff on the fringe is still substantially outside of my comfort zone.

I've been told I have ueber-sensitive taste buds. That if something is full-flavored to you, it's over the top for me. as a consequence, I struggle with even mild liver, and anything remotely gamey.

Favorite culinary toy:

No contest. This.

A must on your “last meal” menu:

Sushi. Lots and lots of sushi.

Happy food memories:

Way too many to count. Thank you for indulging me, and allowing me to share them.

A year ago today, I shared my Christmas wish list.

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December 07, 2007

What is it?

On a recent road trip to the coast, we found ourselves wandering through antique shops with time to kill before our late lunch/early dinner reservation. I was fascinated by this well worn household tool I found among the relics.

Who is willing to guess what purpose it served in the 19th century kitchen?

A small prize for the first person who gets it right...

Last year today, I reflected on learning to let go of a recipe and to cook by instinct in Maria's kitchen.

December 06, 2007

Peabody's having a PARTY!

Peabody and her husband have bought a house! With a ginormous kitchen! She's having a housewarming party this weekend. And she's invited me (and a few hundred of her other blog buddies). I've spent the last several weeks trying to figure out what to bring...

Perhaps a new collection of baking spices? A new collection of recipes? A gadget or two to occupy her expansive counter top?

Huh? What?!? She wants me to bring *food*?

Ruh roh.

Have you looked at her blog?

And I'm thinking it would be rather poor form to show up toting a Peabody...

After some serious deliberation, I settle on one of our favorite desserts for potluck contributions this time of year... with a bit of a twist; a sweet-sensation we discovered several years ago in a back issue of Gourmet magazine. A Maple Syrup Pie, made famous at Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens in Quebec. Made this evening in Peabody's honour as tartlets.

Maple Syrup Tartlets
recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, Issue #41 and Gourmet Magazine, November 1999

10-1/8 ounces (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Maple Syrup Pie filling

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse 3 to 4 times to blend. Distribute the butter in the bowl and pulse 7 to 8 times. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. In a small bowl, beat the egg, egg yolk, water, and vanilla with a fork. Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture and pulse 5 to 6 times. Process until the mixture just begins to form a mass, 8 to 10 seconds. Empty the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 6 to 8 times until the dough is just smooth and malleable. Shape it into an evenly thick 6-inch square. Using a pastry scraper or the dull side of a long knife, score the dough at 1-inch intervals so you get thirty-six 1-inch squares. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Lightly spray three muffin tins with vegetable oil. Using the score lines as a guide, cut the dough into 36 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece into a ball in your palms (lightly flour your hands, if necessary). Put one ball in the center of each muffin cup.

Use a narrow, flat-bottomed glass or your fingers, lightly floured, to press the dough into the cups.

Tilt the muffin tin to see if the dough reaches the same level in all the cups; also check for any holes in the dough, which could cause the tartlet to stick to the pan. Rub your thumb around the rim of the dough in each cup for a clean, smooth edge. Slightly less than 1/2 inch of each cup should be exposed. Chill for at least 10 minutes to firm the dough before filling and baking.

Fill tartlet shells 3/4 full with maple syrup mixture from pie recipe. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until pastry is golden and filling is puffed and looks dry but still trembles.

Cool and serve with creme fraiche or unsweetened whipped cream.

Last year tonight, this story was honored as among the "Best of Holidailies 2006".

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December 05, 2007

Shooting for a BLUE ribbon!

Those of you who've been around since the summer may remember that one of my company's summer socials was a day at the fair. Complete with a baking contest. A contest in which my "Peabody" and I took third place.

Well the event itself was so popular, they've decided to do it again with a holiday theme. Next Thursday at this year's holiday party, they've announced another baking contest. This time with categories. Cakes and Pies. Cookies. Or candy.

There's no question I'll enter something. The question is what?

There's an impressive Daring Baker challenge coming up later this month. If I choose that, you're going to wait a while for the results...

I could try another Peabody...

Or you all could give me some ideas on what to make...

Let me know what YOU think in the comments.

After forty-some consecutive posts, a year ago today I found a solution to writer's block.

December 04, 2007

When life hands you mandarin oranges...

...make booze out of the peels! Oh, and the juice makes some sensational citrus curd too.

This weekend found us peeling and de-pithing 35 mandarin oranges. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to remove the pith from a mandarin orange peel? How thin the result is? I do now. John experimented with various tools and techniques until he could denude the fruit in under thirty seconds.

In a week dedicated to creating Christmas gifts in the kitchen, we took inspiration for our orange liqueur from Giada's recipe for Limoncello, substituting orange for lemon peel. And for the curd, we turned to a variation of this recipe, published in Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food.

And I have pictures of the process, which I'll post when my camera's battery cooperates...

A year ago today, I burnt a bunch of sugar.

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December 03, 2007

Magazine Monday makes tempting holiday treats

Edible gifts were a hit in the office last year, so I'm going that route again. And recipes like this turn my indulgence in miniature bundt pans into an investment.

I've got cranberries from my CSA delivery, and I've picked up several packages of almond paste for a project I'll tackle later this month. So this looked like a logical contribution to this week's Magazine Monday:

Cranberry & Almond Bundt Cakes
adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine Issue #61 (Holiday Baking 2003)

1 cup all-purpose flour (more for dusting the pan)
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature (more for lubricating the pan)
7 ounces (2/3 cup) almond paste (not marzipan)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries, picked through, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 10- or 12-cup bundt pan (or twelve 1-cup mini bundt pans). Tap out any excess flour.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With a stand mixer using the paddle attachment beat the butter and almond paste in a large bowl on medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer to scrape the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stop the mixer at least one last time to scrape the bowl and then beat at medium speed until the batter is smooth, about 20 seconds. Fold in the almonds and cranberries with a rubber spatula.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan (or pans), spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Run a knife through the batter to eliminate any air pockets. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes (about 20 minutes for mini cakes). Set the pan on a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack, remove the pan, and let the cake cool completely. If you’re making the cake ahead, wrap it while still barely warm. Serve at room temperature dusting the top with confectioner's sugar, if you like.

A year ago today I turned to the internets for recipe inspiration.

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December 02, 2007

Great Greens

If strawberries signal springtime, sun gold tomatoes are my late summer candy and grapes herald the early autumn harvest, then spinach is one of the best winter vegetables to grace my CSA box.

And the recipe here is one of my favorite simple ways to prepare it.

Be forewarned that I never measure with this one; I make it as my grandmother did and a bunch of this and a handful of that is the best I can do for you. Try it. Experiment. And enjoy.

Spinaci con Pinoli e Passerine

Rinse one or two bunches of spinach with cold water. Remove stem ends. Shake spinach gently over sink to remove excess water. Place damp spinach in a large saute pan and cook over medium heat until greens begin to wilt. Drain well and set aside.

Coat saute pan with 1-2 glugs of olive oil, swirling pan to ensure even coverage. Place over medium heat and add 2-3 finely chopped shallots or one onion. Saute until tender and golden but not brown, 8-10 minutes.

Add spinach, one healthy handful of raisins and one scant handful of pine nuts to onions; continue to saute until they're warmed through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This can be served warm or cold as a side dish, and is excellent mixed into scrambled eggs ala Joe's Special.

Resources used:
organic spinach from the CSA box.

Welcome Holidailies readers. Last year at this time I explained what Culinary Curiosity's all about.

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December 01, 2007

Banishing Orowheat - Potato Bread Revisited

Last week's teaser probably gave it away, but I have a confession to make...

It's no secret I enjoy good bread. But for the most part, I try to choose healthy whole grain options that have some nutritional value and don't turn to instant sugar in my bloodstream.


I LOVE their Country Potato Bread. With its thirty-some multi-syllabic ingredients. And not much to recommend it nutritionally. So when Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups selected Tender Potato Bread -- a recipe with seven total ingredients, one of them *whole wheat flour* -- as November's challenge I was one happy camper indeed.

I wasted no time heading to the grocery store for a couple of pounds of potatoes, and soon I was elbow-deep in the sticky goodness that signals the start of this recipe. My satisfaction grew as the dough came together with the addition of more flour. Yes it was soft and sticky, but I could tell it was going to be something when it grew up.

In my excitement, I made dinner rolls. I made a loaf swirled with pesto and pine nuts. A loaf studded with olives, onions and rosemary. And photographed none of them -- they disappeared too quickly. In four weeks, I made this recipe four times. And I have plans to make it again next weekend with dates and cardamom, now that the savory restriction has been lifted.

Thank you Tanna. This is a recipe I'm going to continue to grow with, pushing a little farther with each iteration, as you suggested when you issued the challenge.

Curious how over 300 other bakers around the world experienced the November challenge? Check out the blog roll. Want to try it yourself? Head over to Tanna's kitchen for the recipe.

A year ago today, you would have found me wandering through the cooking section of my local library.

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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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