June 30, 2008

Ratted Out!

Sadly my first attempt at Ratatouille, the first challenge recipe assigned for Recipes to Rival, wasn't fit for human consumption. Stay tuned... Take two coming soon.

June 29, 2008

Something Rotten Sensational from the State of Denmark...

At least if *my* audience reaction is any indication.

I give you the image moments before the gang dove in...

And when they cleared from around the table so that I could take another picture...

But I'm getting ahead of myself here...

It all started early in the month, when Kelly of Sass & Veracity and Ben of What's Cookin' (my most recent T&C partner, for those of you paying attention) tossed down the gauntlet to over a thousand Daring Bakers: in the heat of the summer (at least in most of the northern hemisphere) we'd be testing our skills with a yeast based laminate dough as we baked the Danish Braid.

For the pastry, they chose Sherry Yard's Danish Dough from the Secrets of Baking. For the filling we could use Ms. Yard's apple compote or branch out in any direction we wanted, as long as it was of our own creation.

As is typical for me, I spent the majority of the month contemplating what I might wrap my braid around. Prosciutto and parmesan? Apricot in a lavender and honey pastry cream? Cherries jubilee? Strawberries and vanilla cream? Bacon, eggs and potatoes? Chiorizo and egg? Mushrooms, shallots and goat cheese? An endless stream of ideas, all of which sounded promising.

On last Thursday afternoon I pulled out the ingredients for the pastry, no clearer idea of what I'd fill it with than I'd had at the first of the month. I mixed and kneaded and refrigerated and rolled and refrigerated (and caught three back episodes of Good Eats). I was generally quite pleased with the results of my efforts at the end of the fourth turn as I put my dough into its overnight hibernation. I loved the flecks of color provided by the vanilla bean, cardamom and orange zest, and although I have no previous experience working with laminate dough beyond opening the frozen Dafour package, it just *felt* right as I was working with it. Soft, silky, elastic but not rubbery.

Friday evening arrived quickly (though not as quickly as desired in some aspects). I still had no clear direction on how to fill my braid. But it was to be our contribution to a potluck picnic for which we'd need to leave by 9 AM on Saturday. My window for decision-making was narrowing quickly.

After some discussion, John and I decided on a simple smoked salmon and spiced cream cheese filling. Off to the always-open grocery we went. Sorry folks... at T minus less than 12 hours, I wasn't going to be smoking my own salmon. When we got back, John read the recipe (for the first time) while I pulled the dough out of its cryogenic hibernation. There was some discussion and some shared concern about whether the salmon would work with a sweet dough, but at this point we were committed or should have been.

The recipe said the near refrigerated dough should be left to proof for 3 hours before baking. I decided to throw caution to the wind... I covered it with plastic wrap and left it on the counter as we headed to bed shortly after midnight.

I got up at 7 Saturday morning, preheated the oven and surveyed the damage. Lo and behold, what were logs of twisted dough when we retired on Friday actually looked *sort of* like braids in the early morning light. Hallelujah!

I baked off the braids according to the instructions given in the recipe and left them on the counter to cool as we got around and prepared for the day. We tented them loosely with foil as we headed out the door. When we got to the bocce picnic, I shot a couple of pictures in natural light and quickly sliced one of the braids and set it out by the coffee as people hovered, curious. The second picture above is the remnants of the first braid as I prepared to replace the platter with the second.

Hey Mikey, they LIKE this. I'm clearly going to be making these again. As I repeated the story of my month-long quandary with the recipe and the Daring Bakers, I got at least a dozen requests for several different versions, and some tips for slicing and icing sweet Danish pastry from a sweet senior citizen who'd grown up in a bakery in Canada. Marion's not terribly internet savvy, or I suspect Ivonne & Liz would have another new non-blogging Daring Baker in July...

Thank you Kelly. Thank you Ben. This is probably my best Daring Baker experience to date. I tried something new. I learned a ton. My braid looked gorgeous. AND it tasted great. A four star experience.

To see how over a thousand other Daring Bakers fared with this recipe, check out the blog roll.

From the archives...
In 2006 I collected recipes from around the blog world.

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June 26, 2008

OLS: From the Ocean and the Earth

A fillet of butterfish caught off of Half Moon Bay. A pint of strawberries, three sun-sweetened peaches and an avocado from my CSA. Some red skinned potatoes, and half onion from a midweek trip to the farmer's market. And a little bit of imagination. There you have the ingredient list for last night's dinner, my second contribution to One Local Summer.

I boned and cut my half pound fillet into four chunks, dredged the pieces in (non-local) seasoned flour, a bit of Strauss cream, and back in the flour mixture to create a coating. While the fish sauteed, I sliced the fruits and tossed them with salt, pepper, and a bit meyer lemon juice.

Including 30 minutes to roast the potato and onion mixture, I had dinner ready in less than an hour, a meal every bit as satisfying as anything I'd seen come out of the Hell's Kitchen I had playing in the background, assembled primarily from ingredients grown less than 100 miles from the kitchen in which I prepared them. It's meals like these that leave me thankful that I live in Northern California with abundant access t to fresh local food.

From the archives...
In 2007 I announced round six of Leftover Tuesdays.

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June 25, 2008


Early in us, John discovered that it takes a minor miracle for me to pick Italian when presented with a list of "out to dinner" options.

The reason: it irks me to spend nearly $20 a plate for a dish that I could throw together at home for less than half of that, with a little of whatever I find in the refrigerator and the pantry.

The problem from his perspective: I rarely do. There's always some new recipe I want to try or technique I want to practice.

But occasionally I surprise him. Like this meal from a couple of weeks ago... made entirely of on hand (and mostly of must use soon) ingredients. I started by browning a couple of Italian sausage, then sauteeing a half an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic in some of the sausage drippings while my rigatoni water came to a boil. I'd found a package of deli-made gorgonzola sauce on a freezer mining expedition, so I warmed that with a little bit of milk. Tossed the sausage onion and garlic in my sauce, deglazed the saute pan with a couple of glugs of an open bottle of pinot grigio and tossed that in my sauce as well. Added a small handful of toasted pine nuts and a healthy handful of raisins. Stirred in the cooked rigatoni and the last of a package of sweet 100 tomatoes. I piled the pasta mixture into a casserole dish, crumbled a bit of blue cheese over the top and stuck it in a 350 oven for 30 minutes.

No recipe, no plan and certainly no measurements... just a series of "this will probably taste good" that usually ultimately does. This may not be *your* grandmother's Italian, but it certainly is very much mine.

And it's my contribution to this week's Presto Pasta Night, hosted by Hillary over at Chew on That and founded by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. To quote grandmas Katherine, Sylvia and Linda... mangia!

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June 24, 2008

A TWD Two-fer: Cream Puffs & Cobbler

In the spirit of driving Peabody *nuts* I'm a week late for last week's assignment but on time for today's. How'd I manage that? I spent the hottest Sunday of the summer season in the kitchen with the oven on. What can I say Peabody...? I live to serve!

First last week's Peppermint Cream Puff Ring selected for our enjoyment by Caroline of A Consuming Passion. Like many other Doristas, I elected to make individual cream puffs rather than a ring because they're easier to transport and serve that way. And rather than mint, I infused my whipped cream filling with a vanilla bean and a bit of chai-spiced tea. We went out to dinner with friends on Sunday, and it was easy to pass up the dessert menu when we knew these waited for us at home.

Next on the baking to-do list: a delightful biscuit topped Mixed Berry Cobbler offered by Beth of Our Sweet Life. Frozen fruit, tossed with sugar, lemon and cornstarch, topped with a flakey slightly sweetened biscuit crust. I added a half bag of frozen mangoes to my berry medley because it was time to use them in something. Baked them up in individual ramekins, and I've discovered they make an indulgent but not unhealthy breakfast topped with a generous dollop of yogurt.

These two selections prove my longstanding theory that some of the very best things in life and in food are comprised of a handful of simple ingredients thoughtfully combined.

Oh... and Peabody? Hang tight love... I'm eyeballing the Apple Cheddar Scone recipe now... who knows... I might *really* surprise you and come in *early*!

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June 20, 2008

Mushroom Madness

For June's Taste & Create event I've been paired with Ben from What's Cooking. As a result a Mexican meets an Italian in Ireland; I selected his Creamy Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms as the recipe I'd attempt to repeat in my kitchen.

I love it when a recipe inspires me to use what I have on hand... There's a leftover chicken breast and a package of cream cheese in the refrigerator, and there's *always* an open bottle of wine on the counter. This week's CSA delivery included an onion and a handful of summer squash, and a quick trip to the farmers' market produced a couple of hearty looking portabellas and two ears of Brentwood corn.

I started simply, poaching the chicken breast in some lightly seasoned leftover turkey stock. While the chicken cooked I chopped the mushroom stems, onion and the summer squash and cleaned the corn.

From there I followed Ben's lead pretty closely, adding the corn and the corn milk to the butter/cream cheese/wine mixture and tossing the summer squash in with the mushroom stems.

The result: a meal that traverses the seasons, using fresh wholesome ingredients, in not much more time than it would take to dish up a plate of takeout. Thanks Ben... I know I'll be making riffs on this one again!

From the archives...
In 2006 Hannigan's failed to deliver a satisfying salad.

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June 17, 2008

I'm late... I'm late...

It's been another crazy week in my world...those of you here in search of cream puffs are going to have to give me another day or two to catch my breath. In the mean time, check out nearly two hundred others over at Tuesdays with Dorie.

June 13, 2008

Fresh flavors

I don't know how people with kids do it. Most evenings it's just me, and after a long day and a longer commute I have a hard enough time putting together a dinner that is both healthy and inspiring. But since one can not subsist on microwave popcorn alone (and one's food blog would certainly suffer if one did), a well-stocked refrigerator, freezer and pantry has become my best friend.

Tonight's dinner started with some pineapple pork sausage I pulled out of the freezer this morning. A couple of handfuls of arugula and some sliced red onion from the CSA box. Another handful of dried cherries leftover from the great brownie experiment. And the last of a bottle of poppyseed salad dressing we picked up during one of our wine tasting adventures last fall.

Fifteen minutes, refrigerator to table with half a strawberry tart for dessert... AND I wasn't embarrassed to admit it to my personal trainer this morning. Score!

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June 10, 2008

TWD: My cheatin' tart

So this week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment comes to us from Marie of A Year from Oak Cottage: La Palette's Strawberry Tart.

I participated. But by some standards I cheated.

You see in the name of economizing and in getting a handle on what I have in "inventory" I'm working my way through the freezer. And way down at the bottom, beneath a hunk of tri tip and two bags of edamame, I found a bag of frozen pastry dough. Leftover from my April contribution to A Taste of Yellow. And thus Thomas Keller's pine nut pate sable became the base for Dorie's strawberry tartlettes.

I baked off the tartlette shells, spread the warm pastry with some strawberry chipotle jam, topped it with a generous handful of Swanton Berry Farm strawberries and a dollop of jam studded goat yogurt. In fifteen minutes from freezer to table we have a sweet light dessert that makes the perfect ending to a warm summer weekend.

I know I'm going to make this again and again this summer and well into the fall (with Dorie's tart recipe as well as Thomas'). It's a great way to showcase whatever fruit flavors are abundant throughout the seasons.

Want to try this in your kitchen? Dorie has the recipe posted here.

From the archives...
In 2007 I refused to be conquered by cupcakes.

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June 04, 2008

I've been tagged!

Another meme makes the rounds, and this time I've been tagged by Jessica over at My Baking Heart. In the spirit of sharing the love, here's a little bit about me, Q&A style...

But first the rules: Each player answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

And now the Q&A:

What was I doing ten years ago?
Adjusting to life at thirty. The first of what would be many gray hairs. People calling me "ma'am". Far more traumatic an experience than I'd expected... Thankfully forty's been *far* more fun!

What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today?
1. Finishing this post.
2. Laundry.
3. Next week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment
4. Grocery shopping.
5. A quick stop at the library.

5 Snacks I enjoy:
1. Kettle chips.
2. Frozen grapes.
3. Marcona almonds.
4. Popcorn.
5. Chocolate.

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
1. Quit my job and join Gina in culinary school.
2. Pay off the mortgage.
3. Fund my nephews' college education.
4. Buy a Prius.
5. Donate to end hunger and cure cancer.

Places I have lived:
1. Oakland, CA
2. Eugene, OR
3. San Jose, CA
4. San Ramon, CA

Jobs I have had:
1. Public Relations Intern for the circus
2. Mens & Boys Department manager at Target
3. Office Manager for a mail order business specializing in dog books
4. Inventory Planner for a software company serving the biochemical industry.
5. Finance manager for one of the many companies ultimately acquired by Oracle.

Sharing the love... (Tag, you're it)
1. Brownie at Blondie & Brownie
2. Jenny at Foray into Food
3. Dharm at Dad - Baker & Chef
4. KJ at A Cracking Good Egg
5. anyone else who feels like it

From the archives...
2006 saw us touring the summer food festivals.
In 2007 I borrowed a recipe from Bron.

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June 03, 2008

TWD - Fussy French Brownies

'k people, what I like *best* about brownies is their no-fuss nature. Even from scratch, they typically use one bowl, one spatula, one spoon. Twenty minutes in the oven, and out emerge 16 squares of tasty chocolate goodness...

Not so these fancy French "brownies." Look at the mess they made in my sink! Leave it to the French to add complication where none is necessary...

'k, they're not *really* brownies. According to Dorie's introduction to the recipe, they're a fudgy, fruit filled chocolate cake, a recipe she created for guests while she was in France, and those guests fell in love with her "brownies."

Well the dirty sink be damned, so did I.

I omitted the raisins, opting to flambe cherries for a black forest inspired brownie instead. John wasn't crazy about them... he's a purist when it comes to chocolate: Chocolate. Dark. Lots of it. With nothing to distract from it.

But my coworkers loved them... the entire tray was empty in under seven minutes.

Thanks to Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook for choosing this week's recipe. And check out the blog roll to see what the other Doristas thought.

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June 02, 2008

TerraMar: Deja Vu all over again?

It's taken us several years to re-cross this particular threshold. For good reason.

Ono Maze was a discovery we made during one of our favorite pastimes. Like many women window shop, John and I menu browse. We pick a neighborhood and stroll the streets studying the menus of its restaurants searching for inspiration.

This was a warm, late summer Friday evening. Sometime in August of 2001. Meandering North Main Street in Walnut Creek we were beginning to see a pattern. Italian... Italian... Italian... Brew Pub... Italian... French Italian... Italian... Wait... What's this? Pan Asian? Hmmm... Lots of seafood. A fair number of shareable appetizer options. With Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese influences. No sign of Italian. We looked at each other... "Let's eat here".

Neither of us could know it at the time, but that evening would ultimately be a tipping point for both of us from a culinary perspective. We walked across the patio and through the door... and Ono Maze drew us in like a magnet. Over the course of four years, we commemorated birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and frantic Fridays. We made friends. First Kelly and then Kevin encouraged us to explore and develop our palates. Their influence has an ongoing impact on how we approach food today, from the way we shop and prepare food at home to the restaurant choices we make and how we evaluate each experience. In many ways although we were well into our thirties when we discovered them, we grew up with Ono Maze. From a food perspective 1616 N. Main Street holds the same mystique as a treasured childhood home.

So when the senior management closed the doors in November 2004 to explore other opportunities we've followed our friends to their new ventures and venues, but we haven't explored the restaurants that occupied the old homestead. Until recently.

I first discovered TerraMar through American Airlines' dining rewards program.

"Terra Mar features casual upscale dining, offering small plates for sharing and a fully stocked bar. They use only the freshest locally grown and harvested California ingredients and strive to provide some uniquely delicious dishes. One of Terra Mar's features is their amazing Oyster and Raw Bar..."

Intrigued, I clicked the link to the menu and started exploring. It was only after I decided this was a must-try that I looked at the address. 1616 North Main. I checked with John and he was agreeable, so off we headed one Friday night. Heck, even if it sucks we'll get some airline miles out of the deal...

Our homecoming experience was a little odd. Three tenants occupied the building between Ono Maze and TerraMar, but very little has changed. The patio and the entrance are identical. So is the bar. The decor. Even the *furniture* is the same. And it was more than a little ironic in an almost squicky kind of way that the hostess -- with no connection whatsoever to us or our long-ago connection with the location -- sat us at *our* table. Where we celebrated the aforementioned milestones. Where we closed the place in November of 2004...

TerraMar, you've got some big shoes to fill...

We decided to make one selection from each section of the TerraMar menu: a raw starter, a garden, a sea and a farm. Because the menu follows a "three ways" theme we selected what would prove to be quite a variety. We started with a "raw trio" that included a tuna tartare John loved, a scallop cerviche I loved, and a beef capaccio we both quite enjoyed. We followed our first course with the house frittes, (served with a cumin-chipotle ketchup we both found intriguing) sliders three ways (barbecued pork, kobe beef, and meatball in marinara), and the duck three ways (confit, duck breast, and foie gras).

I certainly didn't think our experience was this bad. Nor was it without flaw.

The good: The service was friendly and attentive without hovering.

The presentation on *every* dish was stunning. Someone has spent a lot of time, effort and energy picking out the perfect accessories for showcasing the chef's talent. There are no pictures in this particular spotlight because my crappy cell phone camera wouldn't do the presentations justice. Next time I'll take a real camera, I promise!

The menu is very creative, and for the most part well-executed. On a return visit, we wouldn't hesitate to reorder many of the same dishes. The raw trio was excellent. Their ketchup's a far cry from the Heinz or Del Monte of my youth. I'm not a duck lover (well not a *cooked* duck lover... I did spend my college years in Eugene) but I ate my share of the confit and the duck breast.

The not-so-good: For as pretty as the presentations were, most of the dishes were *very* difficult to eat without making a mess. Which is awkward in a white tablecloth, fine dining establishment, even if you're us. (Probably more so if you're the newly dating couple seated next to us, still trying your damndest to impress one another). My inner Len Goodman: "If you want a ten, make the pretty plate easier to eat."

For small plates, the portion's a bit large. John and I are NOT small people. It takes more than a plate of lettuce and a couple of ounces of protein to sustain us. So we were more than a bit surprised when after splitting four "small plates" we weren't sure we'd saved room for dessert. Perhaps our focus on the trios did us a disservice in that regard, but especially with the sliders, if there are three 'burgers' on a plate, they don't need to be fast food sized.

The foie gras. I don't touch the stuff (because the texture and the taste of liver squicks me, not for political or religious reasons). But John loves it. And his assessment is it came to the table unpleasantly cold. More the texture of lard than butter.

Would we go back? Absolutely. There's a lot of the menu that intrigued us that we'd like to explore. And TerraMar's only been open for a couple of months and still finding its footing. If you ever find yourself hungry in Walnut Creek without reservations at Va di Vi, I'd highly recommend you check out TerraMar. Start small and ask for an extra napkin... you'll enjoy the experience.

TerraMar | 1616 North Main Street, Walnut Creek | 925.472.0400

Others who've enjoyed TerraMar...
Julie and Loyd of Artisan Adventures called it "Christmas morning in my mouth"

From the archives...
In 2007 I twisted my pretzels into hangman's nooses.

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June 01, 2008

Jumping on the bandwagon

No, I'm not a Barefoot Blogger. Not that the idea doesn't appeal, but a girl's got to know her limitations. I'm already chronically late for Tuesdays with Dorie and the Daring Bakers. Between the two, I'm going a long way to keeping the butter and egg industries afloat in the bay area. Ina does some amazing things, but she's no stranger to saturated fat... and if I add two or three of her recipes to my queue each month my trainer and my doctor will have my head. So I'm content to sit on the sidelines and watch. Until images of Herbed Baked Eggs start appearing all over my blog reader.

Reading through the recipe, it occurs to me that I can do this one "locally," making it my first contribution to One Local Summer. Eggs from my brother's chickens. Herbs from my CSA. Cream and butter from the friendly folks at Strauss Family Creamery. And it doesn't take two days to construct.

And so Ina's eggs became the base for a couple of lazy weekend breakfasts, served simply with a couple of Boccalone's Easton Breakfast Sausage links and a wedge of organic bread toasted to sop up the eggy goodness.

From the archives...
In 2006 I went a little local with Halibut Olympia.
In 2007 I channeled my inner Shakespeare.

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