I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

December 23, 2010

Christmas Aliens

Sometimes it is rough writing this blog.....not so much for the lack of recipes or lack of cooking that I do, but more for the inspiration and funny or interesting stories that I use to deliver the recipes. Sometimes it takes me a few days to come up with something and other nights I am hit with my creative muse right in the middle of cooking and am able to write and cook simultaneously.

This week I KNEW I wanted to share with you a cooking adventure and recipe but was on the fence about how to deliver it until I got an email from a dear friend who was unfortunately accosted by aliens this last week and narrowly escaped if only by the grace of my cooking.

I was in possession of 6 whole days off from work this last week and used the first two to make confections galore. You might remember Toffee Claus from last year....she is well and alive and despite the crummy weather, made enough toffee for about 30 gift bags.

Also included were the very well received Almond Florentine Cookies from last year, which I didn't make nearly enough of this year (lesson learned), dark chocolate bark with dried fruits, hazelnuts and sea salt and my new favorite......Peppermint Patties and Dark Sunshine bites.

So without further adieu, the email read as follows:

Hi Jen,

Thank you so much for the holiday sweets. I have a little problem....You won't believe it!

I was on my way home from work last night with my bag of treats (yes, I had sampled). I made a quick stop at the grocery store and when I opened my door an alien was trying to abduct me! When I thought of all the things of value that I had with me, I offered up my most valuable prize which was my treats. He happily took the treats and left me alone! Whew, thanks to you, I am safe....but the real problem lies in the fact that the bag was addressed to "Mike and Heidi" and since Mike is out of town with the boys, until Thursday, he will miss out on the yummy treats! Possibly if you have some extras Mike can have his own bag of yummy treats sometime and we will guard them from the aliens :)

Lots of Love,

Heidi

Seriously???? Even if I was out of treats I would have made more....not only because these are a couple of my favorite people, but also....aliens????? How awesome is that????

So I fixed up a goodie bag for Mike and the kids and handed it off today.....I hope that his daughter saw it home safely because after 20 pounds of sugar, 7 pounds of powdered sugar, 12 pounds of butter, 10 pounds of chocolate, 8 pounds of nuts, 2 pounds of dried fruit, 20 hours of cooking, 10 hours of wrapping and packaging and another 2 days of delivering, Ms. Toffee Claus is done for the season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, I hope that your season is as blessed as mine with wonderful family, fabulous friends and always good food.

Peppermint Patties
From Gourmet Magazine, December 2007
With alternate option for Orange flavored, which I called Dark Sunshine bites


2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar (less than 1 pound), divided
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
10 ounces 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate

Make filling:


Beat 2 1/4 cups confectioners sugar with corn syrup, water, peppermint extract, shortening, and a pinch of salt using an electric mixer (with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) at medium speed until just combined. Knead on a work surface dusted with remaining 1/4 cup confectioners sugar until smooth. Roll out between sheets of parchment paper on a large baking sheet into a 7- to 8-inch round (less than 1/4 inch thick). Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Remove top sheet of paper and sprinkle round with confectioners sugar. Replace top sheet, then flip round over and repeat sprinkling on other side.

Cut out as many rounds as possible with cutter, transferring to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, gather scraps, re-roll, and freeze, then cut out more rounds, freezing them.

Temper chocolate and coat filling:

Melt three fourths of chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove bowl from pan and add remaining chocolate, stirring until smooth. Cool until thermometer inserted at least 1/2 inch into chocolate registers 80°F.

Return water in pan to a boil and remove from heat. Set bowl with cooled chocolate over pan and reheat, stirring, until thermometer registers 88 to 91°F. Remove bowl from pan.

Balance 1 peppermint round on a fork and submerge in melted chocolate, letting excess drip off and scraping back of fork against rim of bowl if necessary, then return patty to sheet (to make decorative ridges on patty, immediately set bottom of fork briefly on top of patty, then lift fork straight up). Coat remaining rounds, rewarming chocolate to 88 to 91°F as necessary. Let patties stand until chocolate is set, about 1 hour.

A few notes/variations:

For the Dark Sunshine Bites I used the zest from 1 orange and substituted Orange Extract

Garnish for the Peppermint Patties for us was crushed Peppermint Sticks

Garnish for the Dark Sunshine bites was bits of Candied Orange Peel

Make sure the filling is well frozen before dipping in the chocolate!

Don't roll any thinner than 1/4 inch, otherwise they tend to droop when you are coating them with chocolate.

Feel free to use small cookie cutters for fun shapes, but avoid shapes that have skinny forms like candy canes or snowflakes as those tend to break easier. Rounds/ornaments were great, trees, bells, light bulbs and even the gingerbread men worked well.....we only lost a few angel wings in the process.

As you get towards the end of the filling, feel free to roll it in to little balls and dip those in chocolate, they are delicious no matter what shape they are in.




November 15, 2010

Bits and pieces

I love little bites....hors d' oeuvres, appetizers and canapes, tapas and mezze and even petit fours when I am craving sweets. Nothing pleases me more than a meal made up of bunches of fun little bites where I can taste all manner of things in one meal without overeating. I also love going out to dinner with people who like to share too. Ordering four different starters, salads and entrees and then passing them around to taste pleases me to no end. Stingy diners...don't bother going out with me, I am a sharer. :)

So when asked to bring something to a friends house for dinner, I went with the appetizer course and pretty much went a little crazy in the kitchen creating a mezze platter.

Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese....sweet and hot cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto & jack cheese....garlic and oven dried tomato sauteed mushrooms....homemade hummus with oven dried tomatoes and artichoke pesto dip with smoked potato chips.

So many good little bites that it's hard to know where to start. So I will start with the bacon since it is my favorite food group. :)

The first couple recipes can be made for 2 people or 200 people, just make as many as you need. The dips make about 2 cups each....and you can make as many of the potatoes as you want.



Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Gorgonzola
The bacon wrapped dates are a favorite of mine, we make them at work and everyone goes nuts over the sweet/salty/savory combination. They are heavy though and I recommend only eating one or two to save your rear end from resembling the Goodyear blimp. For every slice of bacon, you'll need 2 dates and about a teaspoon of bleu cheese. Cut the slice of bacon in half and par cook it in a pan (slowly)until it is soft. Slice the dates lengthwise and take the pit out, keeping the date intact. Stuff a slice of bleu or Gorgonzola cheese in there and smash the date shut. Wrap the bacon around it and secure with a toothpick. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until the bacon is crisp.

Cherry Peppers Stuffed with Cheese & Prosciutto
You can go a couple different routes on the cherry peppers...You can buy the Mezzeta brand from any old grocery store and they are a little more spicy/savory, this time I tried the brand from Trader Joe's and they are more of a spicy/sweet with the spicy kicking in at the very end. Either way they are delicious! Cut a small chunk of cheese and wrap it with a skinny slice of prosciutto and stuff it in the pepper. My mom likes to use Asiago or a saltier cheese, I happened to have Jack in the house so that's what got used! It is also nice to stuff a little sage leaf in there as well...adds an earthiness that is a great counterpart to the sharper flavors of the pepper & cheese.

Garlic & Oven Dried Tomato Sauteed Mushrooms
I used 1 container of mushrooms for this recipe, about 8 oz. Press 3 large cloves of garlic in to a pan with 1 T olive oil and saute over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat. Cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add about 2 T white wine (glug glug) and 2 T minced oven or sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil (if using dried, reconstitute them in hot water and pat dry before mincing). Add 1 tsp thyme and salt to taste. Cook for about 15-20 minutes until mushrooms are cooked through.

Oven Dried Tomato Hummus
Hummus is one of those things that you can tweak 7 ways from Sunday in terms of flavor...your base recipe is 1 can of drained garbanzo beans, some garlic (can be raw, smoked or roasted), a squeeze of lemon juice and enough olive oil to get it to the texture you want. Just throw your ingredients in the food processor and turn it on....add goodies like oven or sun dried tomatoes (in olive oil or reconstituted-use less olive oil in the main part of the recipe if using ones in OO), drained artichokes, basil or ready made pesto. Season it to taste with salt and serve with pita crisps, crackers or fresh veggies.

Artichoke Pesto Dip
OK....this recipe stemmed from a new book Mama got me and I tweaked it just a bit and OMG did it turn out good...Seriously a keeper!

1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
3 cloves smoked garlic
2 T Pesto (from the nice lady @ Ojai Farmers Market)
1 T Olive Oil
2 oz Goats cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

Blend everything in the food processor until smooth. Serve with smoked potato chips.

Yep...I said smoked potato chips.

I have told you before that one of the best gadgets I own is my cooktop smoker and I ain't lyin'. My Mom has done smoked potatoes before as a side dish, but they are thick cut, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside...I was looking for something that would serve as a vessel for my fabulous artichoke dip. And these little guys fit the bill perfectly.

So I sliced the little Dutch Yellow potatoes thin...like you would if you were doing scalloped potatoes. I tossed them with a little olive oil and a couple good shakes of kosher salt. Then I smoked them on low/med for 20 minutes with maple wood chips. Take them out and lay them on a sheet pan and bake them in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350.

These were so good that I did it again for dinner with my parents on Monday, I am pretty sure my Pops ate about half of them in 2.5 seconds standing over the counter so that counts as a winner in my book.

October 25, 2010

Ignoring instructions

As I might have mentioned before, my Dad is the best dad ever. For multiple reasons, but specifically this week for growing a pumpkin patch solely so he could have a pumpkin carving party.

Bear in mind, I have no kids and am an only child so all the kids must come from other areas of our lives....my friends kids, grand kids of friends and friends of the grand kids. We managed to round up a very respectable crowd of families to go hunt in the pumpkin patch for their preferred pumpkin.




Including the "oldest" 5 year old in the group, Pam, who had to have her wine while picking out her pumpkin.

The kids drew, cut and scooped out their pumpkins and made a very wide variety of scary, cute and gross pumpkins to display for us. The adults, of course, supervised as we do so well.


Some favorites are:

Vomiting pumpkin by Trevor

Carnivorous pumpkin by yours truly....The kids liked it so much that not only did I make two of them I also sent them home with the kiddos.


And then of course we had to have dinner, right? So mom vacillated between things like BBQ chicken and a few other easy and crowd friendly menus and finally settled on pulled pork sandwiches and Cole slaw with sloppy Joe's for the kids. Perfect dinner...easy to make ahead and keep in a crock pot!

When I left work on Sunday and was getting ready to head up to the house I called as I almost always do to make sure she doesn't need anything last minute. On a random impulse I asked if she had arranged for dessert.

As mentioned a week or so ago, my mom does not bake. Nor does she crave dessert like so many people do. So when I asked her if she had anything planned, she said no, she had bought some Halloween candy and put it in a bucket. "It should be enough for the kids and the big kids" she stated. Yeah right.

I ignored her. As did two of our other friends who not only have sweet tooth's, but are also great cooks. Terry made graveyard cupcakes with gummy worms coming out of them and Telva did up her chocolate chip cookies. Me? I got home and in 20 minutes I whipped up a batch of Raspberry Blondie's. And at the end of the night there was barely a crumb of all three desserts left.
Picture brown sugar and butter with a little flour wrapped around fresh raspberries and you might come close. But not quite until you get the crunchy crust and the gooey inside will you get the full scope of this dessert.

So damn simple, but at the end of the night when all that was left was one sorry little corner piece I was feeling pretty darn good about my dessert and about the fact that I had ignored my mom's instructions! Especially when people started asking for the recipe....


Raspberry Blondies

2/3 Cup Butter, softened
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup White Sugar
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
1/2 Pint Fresh Raspberries

Cream the butter & sugar together until well blended. Add eggs & vanilla and beat well. Add all dry ingredients in and mix thoroughly. Grease a 9x13 pan and spread the batter in the pan, it will be a bit thick. Dot the top with the raspberries, no need to push them in, the batter will "swallow" them during cooking.

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Cool before cutting & serving.
  

October 23, 2010

Are you ready for random?

Some things mom and I have learned in the last few days.....

Duck fat makes a very good toe moisturizer.

Frying clams inside makes for a very slippery kitchen floor. (flip flop removal recommended)

A bushel of cherry tomatoes can be converted in to only a couple pint jars with time, heat  and patience.

Peeling apples goes much faster with two people.

My Grandma Kenton has peeled well over 24,000 apples in her lifetime for apple pie.

An extra glass of wine helps dull the pain of having to clean up after a cooking extravaganza.

After two days of chopping dicing, peeling, slicing, browning, frying, mixing, blending, seasoning, baking, rendering and packaging we have made multiple meals for ourselves and others. And damn it we had fun doing it. :)

Between the two (three when Grandma helped me peel the apples) of us we made Duck Confit (to share for the future), Chicken & Dumpling Soup (for my Bapa), Fried Razor Clams from Washington (for dinner), Oven Dried Tomatoes (to can, for the future), Mustard Braised Rabbit (for dinner-don't judge, it is freaking fantastic) and two Apple Cranberry Crisps (one for us, one for our friends).

Last week my Dad was up in the Lockwood Valley area quail hunting with a buddy and came across an apple tree with the apples falling off, littering the ground. Not being one to ever waste anything he promptly asked the owner of the property if he could liberate them. He then instructed me that I was to make something tasty with them. Once again, Dad brought me home something tasty....I do love that man!

As I am not much of a pie crust girl (more of a tart...hee hee), I went back to one of my favorite standbys for almost any fruit. The very American Crisp. Super easy to make and so perfect with less than 10 ingredients. You can tweak it any which way to suit your tastes with different spices or flavorings, different fruit, cornmeal or oatmeal instead of flour. To be really honest, they are kind of hard to mess up as long as you have the general proportions correct. The following recipe has a great autumn feel to it, the appples are still a little crisp and the cranberries add just the right amount of tart.

Apple & Dried Cranberry Crisp
From Gourmet Magazine, 1993

1 cup dried cranberries
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into bits
9 McIntosh apples (about 3 pounds)

In a small saucepan simmer the cranberries, the cinnamon stick, and the water for 10 minutes. Drain the cranberries and remove the cinnamon stick. In a small bowl blend the flour, the brown sugar, the salt, and the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal and toss the mixture well. Peel, core, and slice the apples thin and in a buttered 9- by 13-inch glass dish toss them with the cranberries. Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture over the fruit and bake the crisp in a preheated 400°F. oven for 25 minutes, or until the apples are tender and the topping is golden.

October 14, 2010

She don't do dough

 My mom is a lot of things and talented in the kitchen is really close to the top of the list. She routinely makes awesome meals for my Dad, for me, for friends and for family. She tackles every ethnic background from Mexican to Italian, Thai, Moroccan and Americana and manages not to just make it edible, but most often incredible.

But everyone has an Achilles heel and my moms self admitted weakness is baking.

She has at least 3 recipes for "no fail pie dough", recipes for cookies, cakes and brownies and probably hasn't made any of them for 20+ years.  She has a kind of fear of baking mainly because of the exact-ness of the process. If she can't adjust as she goes, tweak seasonings or salt, substitute accordingly based upon what she has on hand she is equivalent to a frustrated artist. In her very own words "She don't do dough".

After a trip to Santa Fe with girlfriends wrapped around cooking and killer restaurants my Mom came home with new cookbooks and recipes and enthusiasm for southwestern cooking.

I came over tonight to find her with beautiful stuffed chiles, guajillo chile & pumpkin seed sauce, a beautiful salad and enough blue corn gnocchi to feed a family of 20.

With flour smeared on her cheek and a touch of self righteousness to her tone, she told me the tale of making blue corn gnocchi that started a few hours prior to my arrival. She read the recipe a few times to make sure she had all the ingredients and understood the steps. Followed the instructions to a tee.....And still wound up with dough too wet to make gnocchi. She then consulted other cookbooks for advice and adjusted as needed until the dough "felt" right and finally found she had the right consistency. When she found the right consistency, she also found she had enough gnocchi dough for about 20 people instead of for just the three of us.

So while getting recipes from well known restaurant chef's is a fun thing, be forewarned, the recipes may not always turn out as well as what you get in the restaurant. Perhaps the potatoes weren't dry enough. The eggs a smidge to large. The fog in Ventura made the dough too wet....it could have been any number of things that made the dough not quite right the first go-round.

In the end we enjoyed the stuffed chiles, gnocchi and sauce immensely.Tomorrow, she will freeze the 4 pounds of leftover gnocchi for future use.

And I have a beautiful picture in my head of Mom with flour on her face and defiance in her eyes because, damn it, she conquered the dough.

October 3, 2010

Love my presents!

You remember when your parents would go on vacation as a kid and the best part about them coming home was when they unpacked their suitcases and gave you your presents from wherever they had been?

My parents have always been great traveling gift givers, I have cool stuff from all over the world....and totally not your run of the mill key chains, snow globes or I *heart* "whatever" tee shirts. I get stuff like Murano glass bottle openers and cheese knives from Italy, possum fur & merino wool and peacock feather scarves from New Zealand, earrings in the shape of halibut from Alaska (lucky fishing earrings!) and so many other cool and unusual gifts I can't even begin to list. But when it comes to goodies from vacation and my Dad....I always love the edibles he brings home because he is the ultimate hunter gatherer.

We get caribou, halibut & salmon from Alaska, venison, duck & rabbit from California, elk from Colorado, crawfish from June Lake and all manner of fish from Mexico. God love the man, he knows how to hunt and fish and brings home the proverbial bacon on a regular basis. If I had the ability to take time off during hunting season, I'd be with him in a shot, but I generally have to work and therefore only get to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

So at the beginning of September when hunting/fishing/vacation season opened for my Pop's, Mom and I just asked that he bring home goodies for us.

And because my Dad kicks ass, he did.

He went to Washington and brought home salmon and rock fish, turned around and went to Colorado and brought home elk, stayed for all of 4 days and drove to Baja and brought home tuna, dorado & triggerfish and is leaving in four days to go deer hunting in the sierras. He also promised to get crawdads in June Lake if he had a chance to dive.....

Have I mentioned that I love the man?????

Tonight I joined him for fish tacos where it was the battle of Washington versus Baja....or rockfish versus dorado.

Really a simple dinner, but Dad wanted to taste the fish side by side to see which he preferred fried. Me? I just wanted it wrapped up in a tortilla with cabbage, salsa, guacamole, cotija cheese & white sauce. Perfection.



Of the two fish, we both agreed the rockfish won hands down. The dorado, while perfectly tasty and wonderful, was drier-similar to halibut when fried. The rockfish stayed juicy and flaky but still held it's shape beautifully.

Cheers, here's to gifts from the sea, thanks Dad!

September 19, 2010

Messing things up and making them right again

You already know I am not a rookie or first timer in the kitchen....That I have the experience and know how to make fabulous meals for myself or for a crowd. I can make simple food or over the top crazy food and I can bake like a Mo-fo or put up 5 gallons of tomatoes in cans for the winter.

But even I make mistakes. Examples as follows.....


  • Burning Caramel Sauce because I was signing invoices. More than once.

  • Forgetting to add water to steamed vegetables because I was making homemade puff pastry for Beef Wellington. Oops.

  • Reversing the measurements for salt & sugar in scones because I was rushing to get all my assignments completed before break. Yum!

  • Burning 5 sheet pans of bacon because it was 5am and I was quite possibly still inebriated from the night before. Crap.
And there are many many more....my point is that any time any of us effs up in the kitchen there is always an excuse. I was distracted, tired, rushed, drunk, not paying attention or any number of other fun reasons.

The crummy part about tonight is that I was REALLY looking forward to my dinner and I effed it all up.

Thanks to some help from Zack. An ex-boyfriend and old friend from a gazillion years ago who I was happily catching up with while sauteing, stirring and pan frying my dinner.

Yep, sorry buddy, I am sharing the blame with you just a little because I was too busy chatting with you on FB to double check my sand dabs before pan frying them. So they got fried with their organs still in them. Note to self....don't believe the fish guy when he tells you they are "ready to cook".

Blech. Seriously Blech. In the trash and out the door...as fast as possible so I didn't barf.

But on a positive note I still got to enjoy my fabulous sweet corn risotto cake and sauteed spinach for dinner because I did watch out for those, thank you very much! And had about a three hour chat session with someone who I really needed to talk to.

I'll share the corn risotto cakes because they were the star of my dinner tonight. I made the risotto a couple of nights ago for my lovely girlz who came over for food and wine therapy. That night they were paired with seafood and truffle oil (fabulous!) and I made an overabundance of the risotto so I set some of it aside without the seafood and oil for future use. And damn if they werent twice as good with a crispy crust.


Sweet Corn Risotto

2 Shallots, Chopped
1 T Olive Oil
12 oz Arborio Rice
1/2 Cup White Wine
2 Ears White Corn
4 Cups Corn Stock*
1 T Fresh Thyme Leaves
Salt & Pepper to taste
2/3 C Parmesan Cheese

*To make corn stock, shave off kernels of corn in to a bowl and then scrape the cobs with the back of a knife to get all the juice and pulp left in the cob. Add the corn kernels and pulp and juice to 6 cups water and boil until it is about 4 cups in volume. Add salt to taste.

Saute the shallot in olive oil until soft and add rice. Stir for about 5 minutes or until opaque. Add wine and stir until all wine is absorbed. Add the corn stock about 1 cup at a time stirring constantly. When adding the last cup of stock, add the thyme leaves. Stir until rice is tender, if you need to add more liquid, use water or chicken stock. Add cheese at the last minute.

If you want to add a protein, this is the time to do it....sauteed shrimp, scallops & calamari is what we opted for with just a drizzle of truffle oil. You could do chicken as well or add mushrooms for an earthy flavor.

For the Risotto cakes, start with cooled risotto, best if refrigerated. Melt a little butter in a nonstick skillet. Shape risotto into a cake about 3/4" thick. Pan fry on both sides over medium heat until crispy. The might fall apart a little, just nudge it back together....it'll hold. :)

Just like I found out tonight that some things, no matter how far apart they have fallen, can come back together and hold.

September 12, 2010

An unexpected treat

One of the best things about traveling is eating new things....a trip to any spot outside my hometown requires trying everything new, unique and indigenous to wherever it is I am at. When I think of a place I have been there is always a food memory linked with it. My mom shares this trait with me, or more likely I inherited it from her.

We have a dear family friend, Rosie....who is not only fabulous beyond words, but also a travel agent and puts together the most amazing "girls trips" that involve some of the best adventures on the planet and Mom has gotten to join her multiple times to experience Heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies, exploring Greece with the next best thing to a native and one of my moms best trips, a trip to Tuscany to stay in a 1000 year old Castello to stay with an Italian chef at a cooking school.

Unsurprisingly she brought home numerous stories and memories, and of course all of the cookbooks the school had to offer with recipes from their stay along with the Chef's own signature cookbook and memoir.

One of our absolute favorite treats that she brought home is a very unexpected combination of flavors, perfect for pairing with your first cocktail, glass of wine or even better yet, champagne or dry sparkling wine.

If you are not a "fish person" you might want to stop right here and call it a day. But if you like salt and you like fish...read on and give these a go because they are absolutely delicious and are inhaled within moments of coming out of the frying pan.

First you go pick an even number of sage leaves, make sure they somewhat pair up as you will be making a sandwich of them. The filling?

Anchovy Paste.

Correct, the fishy, salty, briny and full of the sea flavor fishes that find themselves relegated to a hidden shelf in the grocery store, kept off of pizza and snuck in to your Caesar salad.

I kid you not, this is a winner. The combo of the earthy sage pops and the salty fish is tempered by a light batter of egg and flour.

I do love these little buggers. And tonight as Mom and I are hanging out at her house while Dad is up north catching fish and a buzz with his buddies, she decided it was time for one of Giancarlo's treats to whet our appetites.

Sage Fritters

12 Sage Leaves, rinsed & patted dry, 1/2" of the stem left on (its a handle!)
Anchovy Paste
1 Egg
A little water
Flour
Canola oil for frying

Spread a thin layer of anchovy paste on 1/2 of the leaves and then press the remaining leaves on those to make a "sandwich".



Beat the egg and add a touch of water and a few tablespoons of flour. Whisk until smooth. It should be the consistency of pancake batter, add more flour or water as needed.

Heat the oil until shimmering. Dip the fritters in the egg batter and fry until golden on both sides.


Drain on a paper towel and let them cool a moment before letting people inhale them. 


Like this. :)

August 28, 2010

Flashback

A gazillion years ago I opted to move out of my parents comfy (free) home and move out in to the world of the grown ups....It doesn't matter that I was barely 18 and was working as a waitress at the Victoria pub making minimum wage and tips...I flipped the P's the bird and was out of there!!!!

Yay me! Parties every night featuring super fun people (I think), boxed pink wine, cheap beer and entertainment that consisted of a coffee table and a few quarters. The house was in a "super fabulous" neighborhood that featured one break in to our house and a stolen car crashing in to our front wall. We scooted out of there right quick in to a studio in midtown that is a dim memory.

You might notice that I didn't mention food, and this is a food blog, right? Because in our first house we subsisted on rice and canned tomatoes with some Top Ramen thrown in for variety. My second apartment I know there was a kitchen but I can honestly tell you I have no recollection of ever cooking there.

Then my friend and I were persuaded to move to LA to live with another friend and share a gorgeous townhouse close to UCLA and join in the party life that our friend was enjoying. The rent would be cheap because there were 8 of us living in a 2 bedroom + a loft with one couple sharing the living room couch. Crowded to say the least, but as we all had jobs and were constantly out and about at night in Westwood partying it didn't feel as squished as it might have. But after while we weaned out the couch couple and it was down to 6 chicks living in there. Me + Heidi in the loft, Mandy & Dre in one bedroom and Paula and Marnie in the last. The last two girls were the only "outsiders" in the house as the rest had all migrated from Ventura for a more active social and party life. Paula and Marnie were straight up LA/OC girls from hoity toity neighborhoods with fat bank accounts supporting their college and social lives. Attending UCLA, involved in sororities, they were everything that us beach dwelling, beer drinking, down to earth chicks were not. At 19, they were shopping at Niemans and we were shopping at Macy's when we were lucky. There were many occasions that they made me feel inferior if only because of the difference in our financial standing. I had two jobs and was hanging by a thread to stay there, where they only had to dip in to the trust fund to get whatever their hearts desired.

The scales tipped though, when it came to things like cooking. Mandy, Dre, Heidi and I had all come from a place where we could and would cook....our moms took the time to make dinner and share their knowledge with us. On the rare occasion that we could afford fresh meat I would buy a whole chicken and marinate and roast it...filling our three story condo with smells from home. Paula and Marnie would come home and ask me if I was Betty Crocker or call me Holly Hobby Homemaker.....My skin is pretty thick so I would laugh it off as they scooted out the door to go to dinner at Houston's or some other fun chi chi restaurant in LA while we were housebound eating my soy sauce & brown sugar marinated chicken with rice because we had no money to go out to eat. Green eyed monster much? A little.

Until the day that I caught Paula cooking.

I walked down the hallway to our front door smelling a rancid horrible smell that only got worse as I got nearer. I opened the door and the smell hit me like a brick wall and I saw Paula flailing in the kitchen flapping a pot holder trying to get a pot to the sink while wisps of smoke were sneaking from the lid.

After helping her calm down and turn off the smoke alarm I tried to get out of her what happened and how it could be fixed (because that is what I do). As it turns out she was trying to cook because she was trying to lose a little weight and was trying to have some steamed veggies for dinner. I opened up the pot and looked inside the double boiled to find char crusted broccoli stuck to the inside.

I asked "Did you walk away?"

She said "no...."

Puzzled I looked at her again and asked "how did you prepare the broccoli?"

She replied "I just cut it up and put it in the steamer....."

My next question was "did you put water in the steamer?"

*crickets*

*more crickets*


Paula "No, I thought I could just put it in the steamer and it would get steamed"

Me after a long awestuck pause "Paula, exactly where in the EFF do you think steam comes from????????"

After that I didn't feel as inferior to the trust fund bound, sorority mentality, under educated girls I lived with because at last I had something up on them.

That's Betty F*$#&^G Crocker to you bitch.

August 26, 2010

Forbidden fruit

There are several different fruits that are considered to be the forbidden fruit from Genesis in the bible....the apple tops the list as it's Latin roots refer to an "evil", however I prefer to think of the #2 choice which is the common fig.

In my way of thinking it makes sense, right? They ate the fruit, got caught eating it (oops!)and then covered up their privates with the ample leaves to walk out of the Garden of Eden. Apple leaves would have been just a smidge more risque for both parties, assuming of course that Adam was bigger than a Vienna sausage. But I'm not here to debate the bible, just to share with you my absolute love and adoration of this forbidden fruit.

Figs are a very seasonal fruit with a shelf life that is too short....they also don't ship well so for those who don't live in our beautiful climate there is little chance to get them fresh. When they are in season, I (and those around me with the same addiction) tend to gorge on them and serve them in any number of fun ways. Being that they are a fruit you will often see them in desserts, but they are so versatile that in just the past few weeks I have made them in 4 different preparations and combinations that all, quite frankly, kick some serious butt.

#1 Fig Crisp

One of my Dad's workers brought us figs from a neighboring ranch....these things were absolutely gargantuan! Each one fit in the palm of my hand and were so beautifully ripe, sweet and juicy that I could just see them as the bottom of a crisp with brown sugar and oatmeal topping. It was absolutely divine!




#2 Fig & Meyer Lemon Preserves


Same figs, just a little overripe and ready to turn to mush.....so I diced them up, sliced some Meyer lemons (skins and all), added about a cup of sugar and boiled them down until they turned in to a thick fragrant jam. I have put this on my toast for the last week and am soooooo addicted that I don't know what I am going to do when it is gone. The candied lemon peel in there give it an amazing depth of flavor.


#3 Took the Fig Preserves, spread it on thin crust pizza dough, added Duck Confit & Bleu Cheese.


Salty and sweet.....Best. Dessert. Pizza. Ever. If you are not crazy like me and have duck confit at your fingertips at all times, you could substitute prosciutto or even crisped bacon.

#4 Salted Pork Chops with Sage, Shallots & Figs


Again with the salty and sweet thing, this is easy and absolutely wonderful. My mom told me she adds a little port to it at the end, so I may try that next time. This recipe is intended for one, although the pork chop was big enough that I ate half one night and had the other for lunch the next day!

Pork Chops with Figs & Sage



1 Large Bone In Pork Chop (or boneless if you like)
1 T Salt (I used Smoked Sea Salt)
1 T Ground Sage
2 T Olive Oil, divided
1 Large Shallot
6 Medium Figs, stemmed & quartered
2 Cups White Wine
2 T Chopped Fresh Sage
1 T Butter
Salt & Pepper to taste


In a mortar & pestle, grind salt and sage together until finely ground. Sprinkle on both sides of the pork chop and let it sit for at least 2 hours.

Heat 1 T olive oil in a skillet and sear pork chop on both sides until browned, but not cooked all the way through. Set aside. Add remaining oil to pan and add shallots, saute until soft and add figs. Cook briefly over medium heat and then add wine and sage. Cook until the sauce is reduced a bit and add in pork chop, cook until the chop is cooked through. Season the sauce to taste, you will most likely not need any salt.



 

August 16, 2010

Drunk Pickle

One night a few weeks ago....well maybe like a month ago....I was gifted with an overabundance of cucumbers from Papas ranch. Japanese cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, pickling type cucumbers and your garden variety grocery store cukes were littered on my counter and in my fridge. I gave them to my friends who live in my complex, traded my BFF for fresh blueberries from her great aunts farm and took them to work to gift to the folks that I spend most of my days with.

And I still had leftovers.

Greek salads, sour cream cucumber salad....dipped in hummus and salted. I ate them until I was sick of them. And yet I still had one monster left and had no desire to eat it.

It sat in my fridge for a couple days until one night.....

After an ass-full of wine....

I decided to make a pickle out of it.

Yes, that would be "A" pickle...like one freaking pickle. Not a batch, but one.

Because I was drunk and thought that making a pickle sounded like a fine old idea. And hey! I had a jar! That almost fit the pickle....kind of....I only had to trim the ends a little bit to make it fit.

Then I googled "pickle". And then I googled "how to make pickles". And maybe "Dill Pickles".

And I can't tell you half of what I found because most of it was too damn confusing and complicated for my grape soaked brain. So I think I took some info from one...from another and then I made the rest of it up.

I do know that I took some water and salt and vinegar and I boiled it with some garlic. I vaguely remember tasting it and thinking it was kind of OK...threw some dried dill in the pot and simmered for a minute (I think).

I don't remember sterilizing the jar, but I might have. I shoved the pickle inside the jar and poured the boiled water/salt/vinegar stuff over it and threw the lid on top tightly.

The I turned the jar upside down and stumbled up the stairs to bed.

Woke the next morning and turned it over to find the seal was nice and tight and popped my pickle in the fridge to think about itself. Yay me!

I've been checking it out for the past few weeks thinking I should really try my drunk pickle, but never really felt like a pickle (because you have to be in the mood, right?) until tonight.

I cracked the seal....

Pulled it out of the jar and stood it up because really, how many pickles do you know that can stand up on their own?????


Sliced it up.....


And you know what?

Drunk pickles kind of kick ass.

If only I could remember what I put in it now.

July 26, 2010

Too hungry & distracted to take pictures....

I had a craving that revolved around tomatoes.....1 1/2 gorgeous tomatoes getting ready to tip over in my kitchen just begging to be used. Too much time at work = not enough time to hit up Trader Joe's for some fresh Mozz or Feta cheese....so I had to stick them in my fridge so they weren't wasted (god forbid).

After yesterdays insane food extravaganza I was craving something protein & veg filled...no bacon or cheese. Go ahead, make your surprised face, I can handle it. But seeing as the marine layer has settled in and isn't moving much, even in Ojai, I was craving something a little more comforting than ribs and grilled veggies (favorite summer meal!).

So while at work I tossed around the idea of chicken with tomatoes and olives...maybe some feta cheese over a tiny bit of pasta. Maybe add some peppers, spinach, mushrooms....it was a veritable whirlwind of produce floating over my head kind of like the cartoons when they get bopped over the head and stars float around...only mine were vegetables. Good visual?

Yeah, I know I am weird.

Things were settled when I hit up Trader Joe's for blueberries & milk for my cereal and I wandered past the eggplant. Big fat eggplant that would get all creamy on the inside after being roasted in a hot oven...that would then soak up the juices of a tomato-y broth seasoned with all kinds of fun spices.

It's a recipe that is a little daunting if only because the ingredient list is so damn long...but believe me, it is absolutely worth it to get all of those layers of flavor in one dish.

I posted on Facebook while cooking and almost had one of my girls from LA ready to drive up and eat with me...alas, she flaked and is missing out on truly kick ass leftovers. And this dish, like may, only gets better after thinking about itself overnight.

Without further adieu.....may I present....

Moroccan Chicken With Eggplant & Almonds
This makes enough for 8 + a little leftover...I cut it in to 1/3 and still have 3 meals :)

6 T Olive Oil, divided
3 C White Onions, Sliced
6 Large Garlic Cloves
1 T Sweet Paprika
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Ground Coriander
1 tsp Fennel Seeds, ground
1 ts Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
2 C Diced Tomatoes
1 C Water
3 T Lemon Juice
8 Chicken Thighs, skinned & Deboned
8 Chicken Drumsticks, skinned
1 Large Eggplant-see below for prep
1 T Chopped Fresh marjoram (or 2 T dried)
1/2 C Slivered Almonds
Chopped Cilantro for Garnish

Cut eggplant in 1" wide slices, salt both sides and let them sit until they weep...this helps to leach out any bitterness in the eggplant. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Cut in 1" chunks and toss with 4 T olive oil. Lay on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes, turning the pieces every 10 minutes until they are crispy. Set aside.

Heat 2 T olive oil in a large skillet and add onions & garlic, cover and cook until onions are soft. Add in all the spices and stir thoroughly. Add the liquid and tomatoes and bring to a boil. cook covered for about 10 minutes.

Arrange chicken in a single layer, spooning sauce over the pieces, reduce heat to Medium/Low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn the chicken over once and simmer another 10 minutes, covered.

Stir eggplant & marjoram in to the chicken and simmer for another 10 minutes, uncovered. If there is too much juice, take some out and reduce it to concentrate the flavors.

Season with salt & pepper and more lemon juice if needed.

Serve over cous cous or by itself if you are going low carb. Sprinkle with the almonds and cilantro as a garnish.

Seriously, this does get better after sitting over night, I plan to have it for lunch both tomorrow & Wednesday. ;)

July 25, 2010

A feast fit for a king, for a prince of a man

So a full month after Fathers Day I have finally made my customary dinner for Pops. Due to work plus unforeseen circumstances I was unable to make my annual homage to papa with the food that he loves on Fathers Day. Instead of spending most of my day chopping and dicing to make a fabulous dinner for the #1 man in my life, I worked and took care of an 80 + year old gentleman who was ill and reminded me too much of my own Bapa to let me leave him alone. Not something I would ever wish to again, but something I certainly don't regret.

I rolled in to the ranch at 8:00pm to a wonderful dinner made by mom...delicious, yes, but not made by me which is the whole point. Because I really do have the most kick ass Dad ever....just ask me.


Kismet came in the form of a phone call from a family friend a few weeks back letting me know that they had come across a food item that they had, they knew my dad would love. and the best part is that they were willing to keep it a secret for as many weeks as it would take me to get a night off to make the appropriate dinner to honor my father.

It was all about things that he loved....which for my dad is pretty much everything. He loves to try new things and new combinations. His often repeated question to mom and I is " Have I had this before?". Tonight he told me the only thing he ever had refused to eat was the "100 year egg" in Vietnam when he was stationed there during the war. Mainly because the stink, second because there was a baby chick in there. Ew...not even going there.

After the Mothers Day feat I made for Mom with small plates & multiple courses, Dad requested the same format for his date...so I promised to make it for him in July. Being that it is the last weekend in July (or nearly that)...I had a Sunday off and devoted myself to Dear Old Dad.

A little prep work was needed.....

Zucchini & blossoms ready for stuffing
Mis en place for Bacon Wrapped Dates


Fig & Meyer Lemon Preserves













First Course

Brined & Smoked Chicken Wings

Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta, Bacon & Smoked Garlic

Second Course

Bacon Wrapped, Bleu Cheese Stuffed Dates (aka Manna from Heaven)

Third Course

Thin Crust Pizzas.....

Duck Confit with Goats Cheese & Arugula

Duck Confit with Fig Preserves (homemade, cuz I'm cool like that) & Bleu Cheese-Seriously...dessert pizza at it's best!

Fourth Course-BEST PRESENTATION EVER!

Stuffed Tomato with Buffala Mozzarella & Basil Vinaigrette

Fifth Course

This one is the surprise for Pops....dun da da dun!!!

Frog Legs with Tomato Caper Butter

I can only imagine your face right now. It is either "Intrigued....wonder how frog legs would taste" or "OMG EW! Why would you eat that?". I don't know if you have any idea how hard these are to get....or really how delicious they can be when they are cooked right. When I was a kid my Dad would hunt for frogs, or "Frog Gig" and bring home multiple legs from trips and we would fry and eat them....as a munchkins I was his frog holder at Lake Hume and would carry his catch in a stick over my shoulder singing "Hi ho, hi ho...it's off to work we go!" back to the campsite. Sadly, there are few places you can catch them and even fewer places you can purchase them.

If you ever do come across them in a restaurant I would recommend trying them if only to say that you did....they might not be as good as these, but at least you are branching out. If you come accross them in a market or grocery store, call me!

 
The night was topped off with dessert, which I usually make, being that I have a background in pastry. However this night was capped off by a sweet from a high school friend who has recently made her dream in to a reality.

Meet the Meyer Lemon Crepe Cake by Petite Reve, Kate Slaton Dunbar

Seriously...20 layers of crepes with Meyer Lemon Curd & whipped cream in between...there is nothing bad about this cake! I cut it and the curd was dribbling out, so dad was obligated to mop it up...right???

I paired it with a strawberry thyme sorbet made this morning. And in all honesty I licked the plate. And Dad went back for schibbles after cleaning his plate, I think that is probably the highest praise I can give.

Cheers!!