Friday, May 26, 2006

Death of a Refrigerator

Well, we knew this day was coming. We tried to ignore it. We stuck our heads in the sand. But there's no avoiding it anymore. Our fridge-freezer is dying! As a result there will be no food brought into this house until the new one is delivered, hopefully tomorrow sometime.

Not bad timing, though; it's Memorial Day weekend and we are fully booked, so there's really no need to cook.

When we get to clearing out the freezer, I'm sure we'll come across many items, the likes of which I'm sure we've long since forgotten about. "Oh, yeah, I was wondering what happened to that. I could have used that last month when I made that batch of stock." "Hey, there's that bag of overly ripe bananas I put away for smoothies." "What is that??!!" And so on. So we'll start over with a beautiful new machine, swear we'll only put things in there that will be used within a certain period of time, and then sometime down the road end up with a fully packed freezer again. I know how we are.

If only I were more like my mother, the freezer queen. She'd keep taped to the side of the machine an inventory, no kidding, that she actually would use. As something was pulled out, a line was drawn through it. Honestly, she'd be able to have company over and not even go the store for groceries. Complete meals ready to serve at a moment's notice. Granted, sometimes the combinations sound a bit bizarre, but it always worked and tasted great. As she got older, things started to age a bit past their prime; e.g., bags of sunflower seeds, ziplock bags of walnuts, a bag with a handful of frozen peas and carrots, etc. She just couldn't throw anything out. Who could blame her?

Anyway, the Electolux should be here tomorrow and then we can just stand back and stare at its stainless steel beauty.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Perfect Dish for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner

Want a dish that's perfect for any meal, it's easy to prepare with on-hand ingredients and everyone will like? Try savory calfoutis. This one is made with cherry tomatoes and basil, recipe courtesy of Nosheteria. This is nothing more than a dessert clafouti minus the sugar. Dairy, eggs, seasonings, a bit of flour for structure, herbs and tomatoes. Easy, huh? By rights, this recipe should have been enough for four, but Eddie and I scarfed it up. Very light and appropriate for a light dinner or outside brunch. Salad on the side and good wine or champagne would complete the meal. Going with the simple theme, fresh fruit as is or macerated in liquer-spiked sugar is a nice complement. Having reformatted the memory card on our camera, I accidentally deleted the photo of the finished product, but take my word for it: It was good! Here's the recipe.

Cherry Tomato and Basil Clafoutis

butter for greasing
1 pound cherry tomatoes
4 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup creme fraiche, sour cream, or plain yogurt
4 tablespoons milk
handful of roughly torn, fresh basil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 inch pie plate with butter. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then beat in the flour. Add the yogurt and milk, beating until smooth. Stir in the basil and all but 2 tablespoons of the parmesan cheese.

Spread the tomatoes, evenly over the bottom of the pie plate. Pour the batter over the tomatoes and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until top is golden brown, and tomato juices are bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Pasta Carbonara and Salty Oats Cookies

Thanks once again to Amy for her permission to use and reprint her recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara. This was perfect; it was written for two servings. Forgive me, Amy, but I added about a quarter cup of heavy cream to the egg-Parmesan mixture. Also, I added back in the crumbled bacon and garnished with chopped Italian parsley. Yummy!! Here's the recipe, with my revisions.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
4 slices diced bacon
2 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 pound of spaghetti or bucatini or linguini
1/3 cup grated Pecorino or Parmigiano (or combination)
salt fresh ground black pepper
chopped parsley

Bring salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water to use in the sauce if needed to thin it out a bit. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon, and saute until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss a smashed clove of garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to flavor the oil, then remove it. Remove half of the bacon grease and save the rest for another purpose. Beat the eggs, cream and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps, set aside. Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the skillet and toss to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, toss the spaghetti quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (that is why you do this off the heat) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. The sauce should be creamy, not "scrambled egg" crumbly. Season with lots of freshly ground black pepper, a sprinkle more of grated cheese and taste for salt. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Serves 2 people.

For dessert I made this cookie recipe from Bakingsheet called Salty Oats. The sprinkling of kosher salt on top and the exclusion of salt in the dough intrigued me. These were a snap to throw together and if using 1/4 cup dough for each, it made 15 large cookies. Eddie and I had to "test" one after they cooled and then two more each for dessert. Needless to say, after a plate of pasta and two cookies, we're both plenty full.

Salty Oats

1 1/4 cups ap flour
1/2 cup rice flour (white or brown)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup large raisins
Salt, for sprinkling (kosher)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together rice flour and all purpose flour. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter for 30-60 seconds to soften. Add brown and white sugars, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Cream until mixture is very well blended. Add in eggs, one at a time, followed by vanilla extract.
With the mixer on low speed, beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and raisins.

Drop dough, measuring with 1/4 cup dry measure, on to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle cookies with salt, giving each cookie a light, but even, coating.
Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before storing.

Yield: 15 large cookies

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Blueberry Pancakes... for Lunch!!??

There was half a pint of blueberries in the fridge, for over a week I'm ashamed to say, and they miraculously did not mold. Amy gave me permission to reprint her recipe for Double Blue Pancakes, which I just finished.

These were great -- not too sweet, a bit of crunchiness from the blue cornmeal -- and on a hot day like today, I only could eat two, Eddie had one, and the rest will be frozen for toaster breakfast tomorrow. Considering I got the blueberries at the 99 Cent store, this made for a rather economical meal. Actually, almost two meals.

Although they did not need it, I smeared mine with some soft butter and gave them a drizzle of real maple syrup. These would be great for dinner too with eggs and oven-baked bacon.

Again, Amy, thank you for the great recipe.

Amy's Double Blue Pancakes
Serves 2--double the recipe for 4 people

1/2 c flour
1/2 c blue cornmeal
2 t baking powder
1 T sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 c blueberries
1/2 c milk
1 egg
1 T oil
1 t grated lemon peel

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the blueberries to the dry ingredients, this will prevent clumping. Mix all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the dry ingredients. Mix well. Pour by the spoonful on a greased, preheated non-stick skillet or griddle. Cook until bubbles form and pancakes turn brown on the bottom, then flip and continue to cook. Serve with maple syrup, preferably warmed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Candy and Dinner

Today in the mail, Eddie received a parcel from his Scottish friend Joyce, currently on vacation in Boston (nothing but rain for the whole trip). Inside we found these . They are incredible mint chip maltball candies from Marich Confectionery in Hollister, CA. Thank you, Joyce!

We treated to dinner our neighbors and friends Ray and Steve at Boscoso Restaurant in Palm Springs. This is one of the restaurants owned by the guys that run Wang's in the Desert and Woody's at the Beach in Laguna Beach. I have to add this place to our list of not-so-great places to eat. What can I say? Medicore food, high prices, hip decor. What's new about that?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Split-Pea Soup on a Hot Evening

Last week I made a nice ham stock using a ham bone which a neighbor brought over. In the pressure cooker, I covered the bone with water, an onion, quartered, and a couple of garlic cloves. After 30 minutes on high pressure, I let it cool down naturally and then strained the stock and chilled it until I used it yesterday. I skimmed off the layer of fat which had congealed on top and strained it again through a very fine-mesh strainer to remove any remaining impurities.

We had this today, the day after, and it was absolutely fantastic. Even on a very hot evening, this hit the spot with a nice glass of chardonnay.

Split-Pea Soup

1 pound green split peas, picked over, rinsed, and drained
2 large smoked ham hocks, about 1-1/2 pounds total
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalk celery, chopped
2 large carrot, chopped
10 sprigs parsley (optional: made w/o first time)
4 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ t. dry, or to taste)
1 bay leaf
8 cups cold water (okay to use 3 ham stock, 5 water)
1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
Freshly ground black pepper

Blanch ham hocks for five minutes; drain and rinse w/ cold water.

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven combine the peas, hocks, onion, celery and carrot. Tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf together with kitchen string. Add the herb bundle, water, and salt, bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1-1/2 hours or until the peas are tender. Remove the pot from the heat and remove the hocks. Cool. Remove the meat from the hocks, discarding the bones, fat and skin. Cut the meat into cubes. Remove the herb bundle and discard.

Puree the soup with a hand held blender or in batches in a blender. (If you want a more rustic and unblended texture, do not blend.) Reduce if tastes too thin. Heat the soup to a simmer with the meat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in heated bowls with the croutons, if desired.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Few Pix Before Summer Hits

Dinner Tonight: Eddie's Potato Pasties

With the leftover smashed potatoes from the other night, Eddie made up a batch of real British pasties, one batch with potato, another batch with some leftover corned beef. Yummy!

He uses Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, industrial size, bought from Smart & Final. The sheets are bigger than those from the grocery store and he seems to prefer how they roll out better, too. I think these are as good as anything from a professional baker's. They freeze really well and whenever we want one he just pops them into the oven on a sheet pan and when they're good and hot, we eat.

Eddie doesn't really have a set recipe, but to learn more about the history of the pasty, and for a sample recipe, go here.

Chilled Avocado Soup with Lime and Jalapeno

This is a recipe I've made lots of times, especially in the summer. It can be made ahead and tastes better with a good long set in the fridge. It's nice as an afternoon snack or as a starter in the summer instead of a salad. I'm putting the recipe up in response to Joe and Jeff's first experience with avocados. The soup may need a bit of thinning after it sits a while, but that's up to your personal tastes.

Look for Haas avocados as opposed to the Florida variety. The Haas simply taste better and have a nicer texture, although they may be a bit more expensive.

Chilled Avocado Soup With Lime and Jalapeno
(Preparation 15 minutes)

3 limes
3 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1 garlic clove, chopped
Handful of parsley
1/2 – 1 small jalapeno pepper, with seeds, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, plus additional to taste
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large (8 inches) flour tortilla, cut into 2-by-1/4-inch strips
Sour cream, for garnish
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Squeeze the juice from 21/2 of the limes. Cut the remaining half lime into 4 wedges for the garnish.

In a blender combine 3 cups of ice water (a mixture of ice and water) with the lime juice, avocados, garlic, jalapeno and salt. Blend until smooth. Chill the soup until ready to serve.
Heat the oil in a large skillet or saute pan over a medium flame. Add the tortilla strips and fry until they are crunchy and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Drain the strips on paper towels and sprinkle them with salt.
Spoon the soup into bowls. Place a dollop of sour cream in the center of each bowl, then top with tortilla strips. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Makes 4 servings.(Recipe from Peter Berley’s "Fresh Food Fast," Regan Books, 2004

Friday, May 12, 2006

Supernatural Brownies

Today is Eddie's birthday, so for dinner I'm taking him to Shame on the Moon restaurant in Rancho Mirage. Not wanting to eat too late -- we try to finish eating and having dessert by 8:00 p.m. -- I made a six o'clock reservation; so I guess we'll be eating with the seniors tonight. After about 8:00 the clientele becomes decidedly more "diverse." We'll probably have a dessert with dinner, so instead of making a cake, I found this recipe by Nick Malgieri which has been sitting on my computer for a few years. 'Bout time I tried it out. Here's a blurb that came along with the recipe:

"This past spring, the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) handed out their prestigious IACP/Julia Child Cookbook Awards. The book, Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers by master baker Nick Malgieri, won in the best baking book category. This beautiful book is full of great chocolate recipes, including this one, which Nick tells me is one of his favorites."

This was supereasy to throw together. Our digital scale has finally found a new home in the garbage can, so I guess we'll be forced to buy a new one. We both are leaning to the old-style scale with a dial that seems to be more reliable.

Here's the recipe.

Supernatural Brownies
Makes about twenty-four 2-inch brownies

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

One 13x9x2-inch pan, buttered and lined with buttered parchment or foil

1. Set the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and turn off heat. Combine butter and chocolate in a heat proof bowl and set over pan of water. Stir occasionally until melted.

3. Whisk eggs together in a large bowl, then whisk in the salt, sugars, and vanilla. Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture, then fold in the flour.

4. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, until top has formed a shiny crust and batter is moderately firm. Cool in pan on a rack. Wrap pan in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature or refrigerated until the next day.

5. To cut brownies, unmold onto a cutting board, remove paper, and replace with another cutting board. Turn cake right side up and trim away edges. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares.

From: Chocolate:From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers
by Nick Malgieri

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lentil Soup with Mideastern Spices and Spinach

No big entry today. Here's the recipe for the soup I made for dinner. There was a ham bone in the freezer, so I made stock with that first, stripped the meat and will use it and the stock for split pea soup in a few days. The recipe called for three and a half cups of water, but at the end of the pressure cooking, there wasn't enough liquid, so I added a couple cups of chicken broth from the fridge. Before dinner, I'll reheat and add baby spinach right before serving.

This recipe should be enough for four nice-size servings.

Lentil Soup with Mideastern Spices and Spinach
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and small diced
1 Tbsp. finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 Tbsp. whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 cups dried lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 1/2cups water (needed to add more liquid after cooking)
3 medium carrots, peeled and small diced
1 bay leaf
2/3 cup raisins
1 tomato, seeded, grated on box grater, skin discarded
1tsp. sea salt, or to taste
juice from half a lemon
5 ounces baby spinach
feta cheese

Heat the oil in the cooker over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ginger and cumin and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the lentils, allspice, cinnamon, carrots, bay leaf, raisins, tomato and salt; stir to blend.

Lock the lid in place and over high heat bring to high pressure (I used low pressure). Adjust the heat to maintain high (low) pressure and cook for 10 (I did it for 25 minutes) minutes. Reduce pressure with a quick-release method. Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to allow any excess steam to escape.

Taste to determine the lentils are fully cooked. If not, cook over medium-high heat, until done, a few minutes more. (Here I needed to add more liquid.) Remove the bay leaf. Reseason with salt and add juice of half a lemon to brighten up the flavor. Stir in the spinach and simmer until the spinach is wilted, stirring frequently, about 1 to 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately topped with crumbled feta.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Paht Tahi Noodles

Received this recipe for paht thai noodles from our weekly newsletter from The Splendid Table.

The recipe comes from Quick & Easy Thai by Nancy McDermott. The grocery list was short and the ingredients were easy to find. Instead of buying a full package of rice noodles as called for in the recipe, I just used up a quarter pound of spaghetti from the pantry. Like most stir fry type dishes, it's best to do all your mise en place ahead of time and have everything ready to go. Even the pasta can be cooked ahead, drained, rinsed and held until you're ready to cook the dish. As suggested, I used on-hand cashews instead of buying a jar of dry-roasted peanuts. Hey, who doesn't like cashews? For Eddie's sake, I cut the crushed pepper flakes in half, from one-half to one-quarter teaspoon, and at that it was still nice and spicy. There was enough for four, actually, but we both had seconds and finished off the whole thing. Eddie thinks I should have used the rice noodles, so next time I'll take his suggestion.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Rosemary-Raisin Loaves

While scanning the listing in Food Porn Watch this morning, I came across Jamie Oliver's blog and gave it a click to see what he had to say. I'm not a big fan of his cooking, but I did see an interesting basic bread recipe with rosemary-raisin variation.

Well, I was inspired by the ease of method and, having all the ingredients on hand, including the fresh rosemary from the yard, I dragged out the new KitchenAid and started to put the dough together. Nothing fancy or complicated here, except I was totally surprised when, about two-thirds of the way through the mixing, the machine stalled! It must have overheated because the dough was quite dense and heavy. I finished kneading on the counter and gave the mixer a chance to cool down. It started up again after a cool-down of about ten minutes, but I thought for this size motor that stalling would not be an issue.

Here's the mixer bowl containing the dough after the first rising.

As written this recipe should make two good size loaves. When I saw how much dough there was I just split it in half, froze one in a freezer bag and proceeded with the other half. As you can see below, it left me with a huge loaf. Perhaps each half could be split again to make four smaller loaves next time.

Oliver's directions called for a 350 oven, but I increased that to 400 for half the baking time and then dropped it down to 350 for the last half until it was nicely browned and had that typical hollow thump sound when tapped on the bottom.

This isn't what I'd call an artisinal European-type bread, but it is a nice slicing loaf with just a hint of rosemary, which can be overwhelming if overused, and sweetness from the raisins. I plan to use this with some nice goat cheese from the fridge and a fig jam we got the other day from, of all places, T-J Maxx! They have a great selection of gourmet food items to have with drinks or to give as a gift at a reasonable price.

Overall I'm not sure this recipe is a keeper. I prefer a bread with more texture and long-developed flavors. Sorry, Jamie!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Clever Me: Dinner from the Freezer

Last night our friend Greg stayed for dinner. It was the last night we'd see him before he drives back to Palo Alto tomorrow. I've given a link to his website if his art is of interest.

"Lady Knight"


"Blue Flame"

Being sort of a spur-of-the-moment kind of dinner, I pulled out of the freezer a batch of beef and cheese manicotti, adapted from Giada De Laurentiis's recipe. I've made this several times, mostly for company, and the last time I doubled it and froze one entire recipe for a time just like last night. Served as a starter was a delicious spinach and strawberry salad which I tweaked from a recipe by Dana Carpenter of low-carb cookbook fame. For dessert, simple dessert bowls of quartered and sweetened strawberries were drizzled with heavy cream. Greg treated us to a Simi Vineyards chardonnay, 2004 vintage, which was refreshing, crisp and complemented the meal nicely.

Beef and Cheese Manicotti
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis

Yield: 6 servings

4 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 pound ground beef
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
14 (8-ounce package) manicotti
1 (15-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups marinara sauce
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, onion and ground beef. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until the meat browns and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and cool.

Brush 1 teaspoon of oil over a large baking sheet. Cook the manicotti in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly softened, but still very firm to the bite, about 4 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the manicotti from the pot to the oiled baking sheet and cool.

Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, 1 1/2 to 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and parsley. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper to taste, and mix. Stir the cooled meat mixture into the cheese mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil over a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish. Fill the manicotti with the cheese-meat mixture. Arrange the stuffed pasta in a single layer in the prepared dish and spoon the remaining sauce over.

Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese, then the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan over the stuffed pasta. Dot entire dish with the butter pieces. Bake the manicotti uncovered until heated through and the sauce bubbles on the sides of the dish, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let the manicotti stand 5 minutes and serve.


In small food processor combine:

1/2 cup Splenda

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons minced red onion

1 teaspoon paprika

dash cayenne or to taste

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Add to the above:

1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seed

Use above to dress:

1 pound pre-washed baby spinach

Top with :

1 cup sliced strawberries

Toasted walnuts

Crumbled goat cheese


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Yet Another Banana Bread Recipe

While surfing through this site on Recipezaar, I found this collection of recipes by categories and by celebrity chef recipes. One collection was 400-plus recipes either from or adapted from Cooking Light, one of which was Banana Bread which also used oatmeal and buttermilk. I had three tired-looking and blackened bananas on the counter and about a cup left in the carton of buttermilk so I thought I'd give this recipe a try. This was so simple that it didn't even involve pulling the mixer out of the pantry. Simply mix the dry in a large bowl, combine the wet in another and then gently mix the two just until all the dry ingredients are moist. This doesn't make a huge loaf, which is okay with me, just an 8 x 5 1/2 pan, but it rose up over the sides nicely and popped right out of the pan after 15 minutes or so of initial cooling. After completely cooled it was wrapped in foil and I'll give it a try tomorrow, maybe for breakfast or afternoon snack. As with most quick breads, they usually taste better after 24 hours or so of curing. I followed the recipe as written this time, but next time I may throw in a handful of chopped pecans and maybe a few mini chocolate chips. I know that will bump up the calories, but what the heck!

Our schnauzer Demi evidently has a problem with his liver and is back on antibiotics to bring down the white blood cell count. Keep your fingers crossed. He seems a bit more animated and "with it" since last week.

We seem to be in a leftovers mode for the next few days, so no new recipes are planned right now, but I've always got something in mind for down the road.