March 30, 2008

My party's been postponed...

In her introduction, Dorie suggests flagging this recipe with a brightly colored post-it for future reference.

With a fairly full plate in my professional, personal and culinary life right now *and* the big 4-0 looming next week (and John's birthday following the day after) I'm going to take her advice.

So if you're interested in following my experience with Dorie's Perfect Party Cake, the recipe Morven of Food, Art and Random Thoughts chose for this month's Daring Baker challenge, you'll have to come back on April 9. But don't wait for me. There are hundreds of creative adaptations of this amazing recipe popping up all over the internets. Head on over to the Daring Baker Blog Roll to check them out.

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March 28, 2008

Kitchn Cure 2008

I blame the bulging seems of my pantry on my parents. Children of the great depression, they stocked the refrigerator, freezer and cupboards so full that we could have gone a month or two without a trip to the grocery store for anything more than perishables. We didn't have a couple of cans of fruits, vegetables and soups. We had a couple of cases. They shopped sales, and stocked up. And they taught me to manage my kitchen the same way.

It flies in the face of my new lean six sigma "5 S" self, but I haven't figured out how to employ what I learned in the classroom in my kitchen. Until I discovered Kitchn Cure.

I learned about Apartment Therapy's Kitchn Cure 2008 from Becke over at Columbus Foodie and decided I want to join in. I'm a bit late jumping on the bandwagon, but for those of you who don't remember last fall's battle bug, I think I've got a bit of a head start.

Week one was about taking an honest assessment and beginning the declutter process by tossing expired or spoiled food. Been there, done that, and washed the t-shirt very carefully with strong anti-fungal detergent.

I've also got a bit of a head start on week two; the twinkie book convinced me that high fructose corn syrup and other highly processed, minimally nutritious additives are a part of my past. There will *always* be a package or two of ramen noodles in my pantry, but I'm going to spend the next week purging my kitchen of a lot of the processed stuff, donating what I can't use and NOT replace to the local food bank. Everybody wins.

I'm also going to go through the tool cupboards and drawers. Anything I haven't used in a year is going to get donated.

I'll let you know how it goes...

From the archives...
In 2006, I became part of the cool kids club when I got tagged for a meme.

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March 23, 2008

The incredible, edible egg

For as long as I live, every time I make deviled eggs, I'm going to think of Neal.

Neal was another in my father's merry band of eccentric friends. Neal cooked for the county jail, and his class in culinary skills for the inmates was one of the things that convinced me that my parents would balk if I announced I wanted to skip college and head to the CCA. He was at least partially responsible for Mo's decade-long obsession with orchids. And he and his catering business taught me a bit about managing food costs and presenting a pretty plate. And over the course of one afternoon, he changed forever the way I approach a deviled egg.

I have no recollection of what the event was, but it was mid-way through my senior year of high school. My parents were officers of the parent board and active in many of the school's fund raisers. Whatever the event was, it involved feeding people, and they enlisted Neal. It was springtime, and one of the focal points on the appetizer buffet would be stuffed eggs.

Four hundred stuffed eggs.

I don't remember the boiling process (it must have been quite an event)... the first task to which my mother and I were assigned was peeling them. Neal was very particular about how to peel an egg (Neal was particular about a LOT of things... I learned that's how you succeed in the catering industry). It was critical that the delicate whites remain pristine, sans nicks or bruises. (Whatever method he employed to boil them, Neal's whites *were* delicate... none of the rubbery stuff of cafeteria egg salad here, no how, no way.)

But the peeling, we soon learned, was the easy part of the job. Next, we sliced 400 eggs into 800 half-eggs with one of these. Which even with Google took me almost thirty minutes to locate. Then we carefully removed four hundred yolks. And wiped all traces of yolk out of the cavity and the serrated surface with a damp paper towel. Rinsing them, we were told, would tear them or make them tough.

The fun part (in my 18-year old head) Neal kept for himself: whipping up an egg yolk cream of mystery ingredients in a robot coupe and piping them through an 8B star tip into trays and trays (and trays and TRAYS) of egg whites.

The whole process took three hours.

My process is far less complicated and labor intensive. And my end product, far less visually appealing. For this batch, I boiled a dozen eggs, peeled them warm (and succeeded in not marring the egg whites in the process), split them with a paring knife, mixed the yolk with a bit of mayonnaise, mustard, and a handful of parsley and cilantro, and stuffed them with a teaspoon. Twenty five minutes, start to finish.

And they lasted almost that long on the buffet table...

But as I prepared them, and later as my audience enjoyed them, I thought of Neal and smiled.

From the archives...
In 2006 I made peace with my kitchen after several weeks on the road.

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March 18, 2008

Raisins A'blazin'

For some of the Doristas, it was setting raisins on fire that put the fear of the pastry gods in them. For others, it was working with yeast. Or making pastry cream.

For me it was all about the temptation. Three cubes of butter. 12 egg yolks. A dozen warm gooey cinnamon-y raisin pastries whispering in my ear. The voice of my personal trainer as she outlined the regimen I'd have to undergo to work them off in another.

So I decided to share the wealth. Save them for the holiday weekend, when we'd have a house guest. Only to discover he is diabetic, so sugary breakfast treats are out. Strike two.

But this week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment came from Peabody. I *couldn't* skip it. So I've got a double recipe of Brioche Raisin Snails in my freezer, waiting for my next set of hapless victims beloved house guests. Stay tuned... I'll be back in mid-April to let you know how "home made slice and bake" works out...

From the archives...
In 2007, another update on DMBLGIT.

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March 15, 2008

Skeevy. The new Skanky.

As I hurtle headlong into a decade that begins with a 4, allow me a moment to indulge my inner teenager.

In 1986, skanky was the adjective we used to describe something... well... skanky. Undesirable. Icky. Gross. Apparently in 2008, the new word is skeevy. At least according to Annie of Forest Street Kitchen, and the dictionary of all things 21st century seems to agree. As Annie did in December, today I share my personal collection of skeevy foods... kind of the antithesis of last week's guilty pleasures.

1. High Fructose Corn Syrup - the more I read about it, the less I like it. It dupes your digestive system into eating more. It's hell on your kidneys. It tastes chemical...not a surprise when you study the chemistry involved in producing it. And it's in *everything*.

2. Tongue - I'm with Annie. Gross gross GROSS.

3. Liver - See tongue. To quote Ondrya Wolfson, barf out! Grody to the max!

4. Beets - Yeah, I know they're the in thing right now. But I can't get past the canned slices on top of cafeteria salads. Yuck-o.

5. Soy Sausage. Non-Dairy Creamer. Cool Whip - Sausage is made of pork, not plants. Cream IS a dairy product. My grandparents knew this. Why are we making fake forms of real foods that don't begin to live up to the originals?!?

I could go on, but that's my short list. What about you? What foods ick you out?

From the archives...
In 2006, I found Flat Out. Which doesn't contain HFCS.

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March 11, 2008

An Apple a Day

S and C are coming over for dinner on Friday. S is living a low-carb lifestyle. C has given up chocolate for Lent.

We've picked out an entree (that you'll read about in another couple of days) that meets everyone's dietary needs, but what to do for dessert?

Natalie of Burned Bits came to my rescue with this week's Tuesdays with Dorie project: Russian Grandmother's Apple Pie Cake. Part pie, part cake, this recipe's actually quite similar to my Swedish grandmother's Apple Bake. And it satisfied on multiple levels.

1. It contained not a drop of chocolate.
2. Packed with apples and raisins, if you don't count the 2 cubes of butter you could *almost* consider it healthy.
3. It employed ten apples, 2/3 of the bounty from this week's CSA box.
4. The scent from the oven as it was baking was intoxicating.
5. Leftovers make a convenient pre-workout breakfast.

Curious how other Doristas fared with this week's project? Check out the blog roll.

From the archives...
In 2007 I cataloged some of the most mouth watering food porn on the internets.

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March 10, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

I saw Garrett's confession over at Vanilla Garlic a while ago, and I've been meaning to play along ever since. Today's as good a day as any; I give you five guilty pleasures my kitchen would feel naked without:

1. Chicken Flavored Ramen Noodles - They're the trailer trash version of the medicinal magic chicken noodle soup, but when I'm sick with a cold or the flu, these freeze-dried noodles boiled with salt-smothered bouillon (with a poached egg stirred in for protein) are my comfort food of choice. And while my version probably makes cardiologists everywhere wince, it's nothing compared to John's. He boils the noodles, drains them, then sprinkles the flavor packet on top and tosses them with a couple of tablespoons of butter.

2. Post Cocoa Pebbles - While the marketing material still tries to convince us they're healthy (I give you: "Post Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles are wholesome, sweetened rice cereals. They are low in fat, cholesterol free, and provide 10 essential vitamins and minerals. While Fruity Pebbles has a delicious fruity taste, Cocoa Pebbles chocolaty flavor comes from real cocoa!") the nutritional information scares me. But not enough to banish the small box occupying a dark corner in the back of my pantry. They make *great* chocolate crispy treats!

3. Girl Scout Thin Mints - Sugar and spice and everything nice my (_]_). Heavily processed flours, sugars and transfats is what these babies are made of. But nothing beats a frozen thin mint with a big glass of milk after a long day. At least nothing non-alcoholic.

4. Mountain Dew - Dew was a key component to all-night study sessions in college, and while I'm decades past the all-nighter, there's always a can in the 'fridge in case I need a quick kick with caffeine.

5. Canned Cream Style Corn - The trendy garlic/wasabi/chipotle mashed potatoes have their place, but my grandmother's recipe for mashed potatoes (a couple of pounds of boiled potatoes, a glug or two of whole milk, and a can of cream style corn) is still one of my favorites.

How about the rest of you? surely you've got one or two items in your pantry that would make you cringe if your food-loving friends knew about it. 'fess up!

From the archives...
In 2007 I announced the esteemed judges of the March DMBLGIT.

March 08, 2008

Me: an introductory course

I saw this over on Nava's blog, and I liked it so much I stole it borrowed it considered myself tagged. Without further ado, a few bits and bites about me.

On Culinary Arts...
Q. What is your salad dressing of choice?
A. Balsamic + olive oil

Q. What is your favorite fast food restaurant?
A. Chipotle.

Q. What is your favorite sit-down restaurant?
A. The best are listed over there on the right.

Q. On average how much of a tip do you leave at a restaurant?
A. 20-25%; more when the service merits it.

Q. What food could you eat every day for two weeks and not get sick of?
A. Sushi.

Q. What are your pizza toppings of choice?
A. Ground beef (or GOOD Italian sausage), mushrooms, onions and olives. If I'm feeling really festive, pine nuts.

Q. What do you like to put on your toast?
A. Toast is a receptacle for sugar and fat: peanut butter & strawberry preserves, butter, or cream cheese and a thin slice of smoked salmon.

On Technology...
Q. What is your wallpaper on your computer?
A. This.

Q. How many televisions are in your house?
A. One. It's ten years old. But it works, and that's good enough for me.

Q. What kind of cell phone do you have?
A. Motorola razr.

On Biology...
Q. Are you right-handed or left-handed?
A. Left-handed. Though I can use a mouse with either hand. I keep it on the left at work to confound my colleagues.

Q. Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
A. Nothing significant.

Q. What is the last heavy item you lifted?
A. Fifty pounds of flour.

Q. Have you ever been knocked unconscious?
A. Too recently for comfort. My own stupidity before an early morning workout kicked my (_]_).

On Psychology...
Q. If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?
A. I don't think so.

Q. If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
A. I don't know. I'm not good at girl names. Gabrielle? Michelle?

Q. what color looks good on you?
A. bright blue.

Q. Have you ever swallowed a non-food item by mistake?
A. Not that I'm aware of.

Q. Have you ever saved someones life?
A. Not literally.

Q. Has someone ever saved yours?
A. My mother's obstetrician.

Truth or Dare (or a Bribe)...
Q. Would you kiss a member of the same sex for $100?
A. Probably, in my younger years. These days $100 doesn't buy much... there'd have to be more in it for me than that.

Q. Would you allow one of your little fingers to be cut off for $200,000?
A. No.

Q. Would you never blog again for $50,000?
A. Nope. My creative outlet is worth more than a fraction of a year's salary.

Q. Would you pose naked in a magazine for $250,000?
A. Nope.

Q. Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1000?
A. Depends on the sauce. I'm not ripping up my intestines (or wanting to rip them out) for any amount of money.

Q. Would you, without fear of punishment, take a human life for $1,000,000?
A. Not just no but hell no.

On stupid stuff...
Q: What is in your left pocket?
A. My car keys.

Q: Is Napoleon Dynamite actually a good movie?
A. Heck if I know.

Q: Do you have hardwood or carpet in your house?
A. Both. Hardwood in the kitchen. Carpet everywhere else.

Q: Do you sit or stand in the shower?
A. Stand.

Q: Could you live with roommates?
A. Been there. Done that. Glad it's behind me.

Q: How many pairs of flip flops do you own?
A. One.

Q: Last time you had a run-in with the cops
A. Define "run-in"?!? My last ticket was a couple of years ago. That's as close as I come.

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A. Independently wealthy.

Q: Last person who called you?
A. John.

Q: Person you hugged?
A. John.

On Favorites...
Q: Number?
A. 7. 21. 27. 40.

Q: Season?
A. Autumn.

Q: Holiday?
A. Groundhog's Day. It's highly underrated.

Q: Day of the week:
A. Friday.

Q: Month?
A. October

Current Events...
Q: Missing someone?
A. Yep

Q: Mood?
A. Content.

Q: Listening to?
A. Alton Brown, waxing poetic about milk.

Q: Watching?
A. See above.

Q: Worrying about?
A: A project at work. Taxes.

In conclusion...
Q: First place you went this morning?
A. The gym.

Q: What can you not wait to do?
A. Crawl under a blanket with a good book.

Q:What's the last movie you saw?
A. I think it might have been Ratatouille. I need to get out more.

Q: Do you smile often?
A. Not often enough.

Q: Are you a friendly person?
A. Once I get past the shyness, yes.

From the archives...
In 2006 we discovered the joy of high end cheese and Wednesday night wines.

March 05, 2008

Flavors of March: Jamie's Favorite Frittata

As the winter gloom lifts a bit here in Northern California and gives us the first glimpses of the spring flavors to come, I've chosen Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italy as my flavor focus for March. I find Jamie's collection of Italian favorites the perfect way to approach this seasonal transition: he offers stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods sure to drive the chill out of late winter evenings while showcasing fresh flavorful ingredients that abound each spring.

I prepared La Migliore Frittata di Gameretti e Prezzemolo (Shrimp & Parsley Frittata) without straying much from the recipe. I employed farm fresh eggs from my brother, parsley from a neighbor's herb garden, meyer lemons from a colleague's front yard, and a half pound of rock shrimp I picked up from my fishmonger. I served it alongside roasted red potatoes and a handful of salad greens tossed with avocado from my CSA.

The recipe is quick and easy to assemble, relying primarily on kitchen staples. It's filling and satisfying without overwhelming. The lemon gives the dish a wonderful brightness, which complements the punch of the pepper flakes brilliantly. Next time I'm going to add some fresh vegetables (artichokes, asparagus or edamame would be wonderful) and perhaps top it off with a chipotle cream or a tomato-avocado salsa...

Other bloggers who've tried Jamie's Frittata:
Ruth at Once Upon a Feast broke in her housewarming gift a bit prematurely with a frittata built on must-use-before-the-move ingredients.
For Deborah at Taste & Tell, Jamie's frittata is the perfect antithesis to carbohydrate-loaded pasta.

From the archives...
In 2006 we were surrounded by kids' tables at one of our favorite restaurants.

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March 04, 2008

Dorie & Blake: the Love Child

Ha! Now that I've got your attention... :D

Brought to us by Erin of Dinner & Dessert, this week's Tuesday with Dorie challenge is a grown-up look at a childhood favorite: Snickery Squares.

Come on, you remember...




How can one improve on that kind of perfection?

By taking a dab of Dorie and adding a bit of Blake. In the form of his now legendary Peanut Butter Dulce de Leche, which arrived in my mailbox the morning I embarked on this sugar-coated adventure. Rather than supplement my little jar of the good stuff with (gasp) commercial DDL, I spread Blake's bounty over the shortcrust pastry, then layered the commercial stuff on top and added the candied peanuts.

The result? My tasters loved my "love children," which disappeared before I could pull out the camera for a bit of photographic evidence. Lots of other bloggers have great pictures of their Snickery Squares though. Check out the blog roll at Tuesdays with Dorie. And if you want to jump on Blake's bandwagon of merry sooper heroes head on over and join Soopz.

From the archives...
In 2006 we made the extreme Lenten sacrifice at Santana Row's Blowfish Sushi.
In 2007 I returned from an extended hiatus to announce the pending DMBLGIT.

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March 02, 2008

A half life, not a shelf life


enriched bleached wheat flour [flour, reduced iron, "B" vitamins (niacin, thiamine, mononitrate (B1), riboflavin (B2), folic acid)], sugar, water, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrongenated vegetable oil and/or animal shortening (contains one or more of: soybean, cottonseed or canola oil, beef fat), whole eggs, dextrose, contains 2% or less of: modified corn starch, glucose, leavenings (sodium and pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), sweet dairy whey, soy protein isolate, calcium and sodium caseinate, soy flour, salt, mono and diglycerides, polysorbate 60, soy lecithin, cornstarch, corn flour, corn dextrin, cellulose gum, sodium stearoyl lactylate, natural and artificial flavors, sorbic acid (to retain freshness), fd&c yellow 5, red 40.

Quite a cast of characters, huh?

And now thanks to Steve Ettlinger's "pop science journey" into the Neverland of processed, packaged foods, I know a whole lot more about who they are, where they come from, how they evolve, and what roles they play in the many foods that line grocery store shelves. In Twinkie, Deconstructed Ettlinger explores the industrialization and the globalization of the processed food industry as he traces genealogy of each of the sweet snack's ingredients to some rather surprising roots. And he does it without preaching or proselytizing.

Inquiring minds should skip the glorified infomercial that is the Food Network's Unwrapped and head to the bookstore or the library for a copy of his bright orange book. I only wish I'd been able to attend his recent presentation in Mountain View...

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March 01, 2008

An Emerald among Zirconia: The Branding Iron

When I was in high school, my mother had a bit of an infatuation with several of the 'personalities' on QVC. She'd watch "In the Kitchen with Bob Bowersox", and we'd come out of the deal with a new nonstick skillet or a counter top oven. Good investments... I still use my four-quart Nesco roaster today. And she adored Kathy Levine, who spent the majority of her QVC career hawking Diamonique, a fake gem that's still apparently quite popular. I'm not sure the half dozen small pieces of Diamonique in mom's jewelry box were the best investment, but she enjoyed them, and that counts for something. And among *my* most prized possessions is a pair of emerald earrings set in white gold that Pat James-Dementri convinced her I would love for my 18th birthday. (I don't know what's more frightening. That Pat was right? That several of the hosts are still with QVC twenty years later? Or that I remember their names?)

My point? Sometimes, often when we least expect it, we find a treasure that exceeds our expectations; an emerald among zirconia.

I confess I wasn't optimistic when I spied the menu in the motel lobby. Merced's not exactly renowned as a restaurant hot spot. But it beat the heck out of the alternatives: Bakers' Square, Denny's and McDonald's... so we gave it a shot. And The Branding Iron delivered, well beyond our wildest expectations.

Sure, the steak would probably be good. But I didn't hold out a lot of hope for "The World's Greatest Gazpacho!!!", especially in February.

The first surprise: Owner Greg Parle at the host stand. When we arrived at 5:15 without reservations (who needs a reservation in Merced at 5:15?!?), he wasn't sure he'd be able to seat our party of four. He turned several parties away while we waited to see. Thankfully he was able to find a space for us.

The second surprise: A tray of artisan cheese and crackers in the lobby: an appetizer for those waiting for a table.

The third surprise: The ladies' room. I'll spare you the details and leave you with one word: Opulent.

The fourth surprise: the wine list. Extensive. Without being overly expensive. And all of them available by the glass. We settled on a lovely Cosentino "Legends" Cabernet... packed with blue and black fruit flavors that would play well with roast beast.

The fifth surprise: the gazpacho. Perhaps not the world's BEST, but pretty darn spectacular. In February.

The sixth surprise: the service. Our waiter was phenomenal. Always present without hovering. Attentive but not pretentious. And when we ordered a single dessert with three forks, he brought it to the table on three plates. Home run!

Ditch the Diamonique, folks.

The Branding Iron is a gem.

We'll be back.

With reservations.

The Branding Iron
640 West 16th Street, Merced, CA | 209.722.1822

We agree with Anne and Dave, we've found a reason to return to Merced.

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