Wednesday, September 30, 2009

falling for sweet potatoes

Potatoes are my downfall. And I really love sweet potatoes.  They are so versatile, and their sweetness begs to be paired with spicy, savory bits.
Football season means fall.  
Even if it is unbearably hot outside, it is still fall and calls for fall food.  So the other day, I set out to make a sweet potato gnocchi with walnut sauce.
Walnut sauce? Yes.
About 20 years ago in Florence, I found myself alone on a Saturday night and hankering for a big plate of pasta. I stumbled upon this small dark trattoria on the outskirts of the city.  When I saw tortollini con noce on the menu, It was a must try.
I have this thing about trying things I have never eaten before.

After a long day hiking in Cinqueterre, I was very excited to taste what Vernazza was calling its local specialty. I neglected to ask what exactly it was.
Big mistake.
 It was a heaping plate of steaming sardines. 
The minute it was delivered, all the feral cats of the neighborhood, stalked my table.
That same year, I made the same sort of mistake when ordering what I thought was a pastry in a caffe haus in Vienna.  What I thought would be a large snowball pastry, ended up being a stiff drink.  
My German is tres bad.  
As a matter of fact, the only German I had a good handle on was some drunk guy at Oktoberfest.

The walnut sauce was sublime. I wrote about it in my travel journal and was anxious to try it again. The next time I went to the restaurant, it wasn't on the menu. Apparently it was a daily special. I didn't find myself in Florence until many years later, and sadly, the restaurant was no longer there.
I have spent hours on the internet trying to find a comparable recipe. Nothing really hit the mark. So I set out to make my own version of the sauce. Since I was already in the mood for sweet potato gnocchi, I decided to pair the two.
It wasn't exactly as I remember, but it was good. So I pass it on to you.

To make the gnocchi, I modified the recipe in this month's Gourmet Magazine

Click here for Gourmet Magazine's Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe

Gourmet's recipe calls for a sage and chestnut sauce, which I didn't make.  I also omitted the nutmeg and the parmesan cheese from the dough.  You may need a wee bit more flour.  
Please note the extra gnocchi can be frozen--which is great for a fast mid-week dinner.

Walnut Sauce
1 cup toasted walnuts
nice size knob (lets say 2"x1") of aged gouda
cloves from 1 head of roasted garlic
freshly ground pepper
walnut oil
Place toasted walnuts, garlic and gouda in a food processor.  Whirl until all components are mingled well together.  Slowly pour in walnut oil until you get a nice emulsified sauce.  Add pepper.  Use as a sauce for the gnocchi.  You can also use as a nice condiment for chicken, or add a bit of vinegar and make a dressing.  It tastes really wonderful on roasted asparagus, or on an apple salad.  The uses are endless.

Slice 1 medium to large onion in half and then again in half moon slices.  Place in a skillet with a nice glug (to cover the bottom) of olive oil.  Add the onions and slowly cook to caramelize.  This can take 30 minutes or so.  You want to cook them slowly, do not raise the heat to speed the process.  Also, I advise against using a sweet will become like candy and not be complimentary to the dish.  
Remove the onion and reserve.  Take 3 andouille sausages ( i like trader joes chicken version), and slice on the bias.  Cook on medium high heat until nicely browned. Remove from heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, boil the water for the gnocchi.  Once the gnocchi is done, drop into the skillet (on medium heat).  Add a generous amount of walnut sauce.  The sauce will likely be a bit thick.  Add some of the gnocchi water to thin. 

gnocchi in the walnut sauce
 Add back the sausage and the onions and warm through.  Serve with a bit of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

sweet potato gnocchi with caramelized onions, andouille and walnut sauce

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Secret Life of Bee Keepers

I never thought much of bees, outside of not wanting to be stung by one. Once at a girl scout outing, a fellow camper was stung on her tongue by a really pissed off bee. It had been enjoying a bit of black cherry soda when Tracy did the same. The bee defended itself and Tracy ended up with a swollen tongue for two days. The visual may be funny, but bee stings are serious stuff.
Then, at friend's wedding, the bride and groom thought it would be lovely to have a photo of all the wedding guests together.   As we were dutifully posing, outside a beautiful venue on a beautiful day, the photographer suddenly went down, screaming. She had stepped upon an underground beehive and was being stung by the swarm of bees. Very scary and very dangerous. The poor woman had to be rushed to the hospital. It's no wonder we flail and flee when bees come around.
I am not allergic, but still being stung isn't comfortable. I try not to freak out when a bee is hovering. I remain still, so as not to agitate it. Not really sure that is a valid approach, but its the only one I've got.  I have to admit; as far as insects go, honey bees are my favorite. Their purpose produces such a wonderful nectar--bee stings be damned!
When I was young, I was a competitive swimmer. We used to "dose up" on honey before a race. At the end of a meet, the side of the pool would be strewn with plastic bears, left behind, like a junkie's fix. We were real renegades. 
Honey gave us the extra energy, but not the complete crash that sugar does.
And it somehow feels healthy.

I had never really thought much about beekeeping. It always seemed like a big production. I figured one would need a space suit, a smoker, acres and acres of lavender. It never occurred to me that beekeeping in the city was a reality. Then I went to Paris.
I was wandering through Luxembourg Gardens and happened upon beehives and a beekeeping school. I stood on the periphery and watched some budding beekeepers practice their craft. And it didn't look that difficult. As far as I could see, it is pretty straight forward.

I have been wanted to have bees for almost 10 years now. And until Mike and I bought our cabin, I haven't had anyplace to keep them. While there are stories of New Yorkers keeping bees on their balcony and people with rooftop hives, I just didn't feel I could swing it in our condo complex. People here tend to complain if there is a wilting plant in the window, I think a beehive might raise some concern.

Because we finally have a place that could sustain a bee colony, Mike and I have been talking about it quite a bit. Imagine our surprise that while cruising around the LA County Fair we stumbled upon a honey bee exhibit.
 Just for clarification...the LA County Fair is one of the worst fairs I have ever been to. Let's just say the best thing about the fair is the commercials.
 Coincidentally,  the most interesting part of the fair (the bees) was sequestered in the farthest corner, behind a small garden. There we met a representative of the Los Angeles Beekeepers Association and geeze was she knowledgeable. I really want to be her friend.
bee colony at the fair
My new best friend (from the fair), whose name I didn't catch, explained that we shouldn't start our hive until next spring.  Which gives us a good 6 or so months to get our act together. In the meanwhile, we are going to join the beekeepers association and gather our supplies.  In our planning, we anticipate our first honey harvest in Spring 2011.  Put your orders in now people!

Talking about honey, made me want to eat honey.  So I have been playing in the kitchen and made a couple of honey kissed yummies.

Tropical Fruit Crumble with Vanilla-Honey Yogurt

3/4  cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup rolled oats or granola
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter--cold and cut into pieces
1/3 cup sweetened coconut flakes
handful of toasted macadamia nuts
pinch of ground ginger

Mix the dry ingredients together.  Toss in coconut flakes.  Cut in butter, then add nuts.

8 cups tropical fruit--bananas, pineapple, mango, papaya, orange segments (all chopped into equal size pieces)
juice of 1/2 lime
3 Tbs honey
3 knobs candied ginger, finely chopped
Heat oven to 375.  In a large bowl mix together the fruit.  Heat the honey with the lime juice to make a syrup, then pour over fruit.  Add more honey if you desire more sweetness.  
Remember your crumble will be sweet, so don't over-do it.  Scoop the fruit mixture into individual ramekins, leaving about a 1/4" to the rim.  Top with loads of crumble mixture.  Place in oven and cook until it bubbles and juice oozes.  Meanwhile, make the vanilla honey yogurt.  Remove the crumble from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes.  They should be warm but not steaming.  Top with a large dollop of Vanilla Honey Yogurt.

Vanilla Honey Yogurt
1 large tub good greek yogurt (i like fage total 2%)
"caviar" from 1 vanilla bean or 11/2 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 generous Tbs (or to your taste) honey
Mix all together and return to the refrigerator to meld the flavors.

Tropical Fruit Parfait
great for breakfast, a snack, or even a light dessert
Use the fruit mix from the Crumble recipe.  Layer with Vanilla Honey Yogurt. Top with a bit of granola or toasted nuts and a drizzle of honey. 

Watch this space for more honey buzz (get it?!).  I would sure bee grateful if you have any honey favorites of you own you want to share.


Monday, September 21, 2009

A Place to Please the Senses

I love to travel. Which is interesting because I am also a homebody.  I love to be home and I love to be away from home.  
I don't love packing and unpacking. However, if I had to choose only one, I would choose to pack.  
My unpacking strategy usually goes like this.  Dirty stuff in the hamper, shoes on the floor, clean stuff remains in the suitcase until it needs to be worn.  Forget clothes are in the suitcase. Think there is a ghost in the house because can't find my favorite trousers. Elation when said trousers are discovered while packing for my next trip.

To be honest, when I travel out of the country, I usually pack older clothes or I stock up on various inexpensive items, and leave them behind.  My goal is to have less clothing and more goodies when I cross through customs.
Always within the legal limits--of course....

Today I was digging through my travel files because a friend's mom is heading to India for an extensive holiday.  Even though I am leaving shortly on a fabulous adventure of my own, I am a bit envious of her, as India is one of my most favorite places. 
When planning a big trip several years ago, I was looking for a place that would have beautiful sights, good food, great shopping and amazing spas.
There are only a few places that made the short list..and India won hands down.
 While in India, I was fortunate enough to be able to take cooking lessons from a top chef at a very special resort that sat in a remote village near a wild animal refuge.  He kept a garden for his herbs and vegetables.  He grew apples so he could make his own pectin for preserving. He had a cardamom bush. I want a cardamom tree! The kitchen staff cans and pickles all spring, so they would have condiments during the rainy season and the barren summer months.  If it didn't grow or wasn't raised locally, it rarely made it on the menu.  
It was incredible that even with limited ingredients, the food was spectacular.  I ate mostly vegetarian as the bird flu was a concern; the kitchen had been stripped of all eggs and chicken.  They do not serve or eat beef, and I am not a fan of lamb--fish is a luxury.  
Not to worry, the food was balanced and beautiful.  I have had a lot of culinary training, but I feel my education at Ranthambore was perhaps my most meaningful.  It is a talent to prepare good food simply. It is a gift to prepare simple food so that it is fit to serve an Emperor.  I credit my time there for making me a better and more resourceful cook.

In going through my notes, I was flooded with wonderful memories and a renewed desire to pull out my spice jars, dust off my thali plates and prepare a rajasthani feast.

Mint Chutney
1 Tbs roasted and ground cumin
1 small onion-quartered
2 serrano chiles
juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
2 cups mint leaves
pinch sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Put all in a blender and whirl until all pieces are finely chopped.  If it is too thick, add a bit of water a little at a time until it reaches desired consistency

My Favorite Yogurt Banana Relish
2 cups plain yogurt (drained to remove much of the liquid)
1 tsp roasted cumin--ground
1/2 tsp roasted cumin--whole
1 serrano chili--sliced into thin paper thin rounds
1 Tbs fresh cilantro leaves--chopped
2 Tbs brown sugar
to taste salt
1/4 tsp or more cayenne pepper
2 ripe bananas cut into thick rounds and then quartered
Mix all together and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to let the flavors meld

These can be served with papadams, naan, on rice, chicken, or roasted meat.

Masala is a spice combination and a curry is the equivalent of what we would call a stew. It refers to a number of different dishes, not a particular spice.

Chicken Jalfrezi
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 medium onions--finely sliced--paper thin
3 cloves garlic--chopped
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken, cut into generous size "fingers"
1 Tbs + 1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
2 large red "bell" peppers--julienned
1 large can + 1 small can diced tomatoes
1 thai chili pepper--finely diced
1-4" piece cinnamon stick
3 Tbs ghee
1 Tbs + 1 tsp toasted and ground coriander
3 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2/3 cup cilantro--chopped
Heat oil in skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the chicken and season with turmeric, chili powder and salt.  Fry gently, scraping the bottom and turning the chicken.  Add red peppers and fry for 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes with their juice and cover the pan.  Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Uncover and simmer for another 10 minutes to let the excess liquid evaporate.  Add ghee, cumin, ginger and cilantro and simmer for another 5-7 minutes.  Serve chicken with sauce spooned over top.

Vindaloo Sauce
4Tbs vegetable oil
2 cups onion--thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp ginger--minced
1 1/2 tsp garlic--minced
2 Tbs raisins--minced
2 1/2 Tbs--white vinegar
1 1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp  whole cumin--toasted and ground
1/2 tsp coriander seed--toasted and ground
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mustard seed--toasted and ground
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 lb lamb, chicken or protein of choice
In frying pan--heat oil.  Add onion and fry until edges are nicely brown.  Stir in garlic and ginger and fry 1 more minute. Add raisins, vinegar, masala and 1/4 cup water.  Fry and stir until spices are cooked.  Put protein in and another 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and cover and cook for 35 minutes.  Increase heat and continue to simmer 10 minutes.  Sauce should be fairly thick.  Serve warm.
note: If you are having a dinner party and wish to have something really special, you can cook this up without the protein, substituting 1/4 cup chicken broth for one of the water additions. Make the sauce, and set aside.  Pan fry your protein to achieve a beautiful caramelized presentation.  Serve a bit of the sauce spooned on top or pooled on the plate with the protein on top. Serve the remaining on the side.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Channeling Andy Rooney

I love cookbooks and I read them like they are novels.  Novels I won't pass on to my friends.  I always like to share a great book I have read, and have a pact with friends; i"ll let you borrow the book, but pass it on to someone else when you are done. Typically, I don't want it back. Only twice have I regretted to that rule. I passed on 1st editions of both Wicked and A Confederacy of Dunces.  Had I known when I read them, that they would be possible collector's items, I might have purchased separate "pass on copies" .  But, I console myself by knowing that if  kept they would have eventually been misplaced or lost. It's much better to have loved and lost, than have them yellowing in a box in the back of a closet somewhere.
My cookbooks don't get passed on.  I write in the margins, cross out entire sections and create from those published works of art.  I have never counted the number, but if I have 1, I have 150.  I have a custom bookcase in the office, filled not with literature, but with cookbooks and travel guides.  I am not "a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma."  Five minutes in our house and you know me.  You know everything about me--including what shoes I have worn this last week.
i wear shoes only because society expects it, and public bathrooms are dirty.  If I could, I would go barefoot 24/7.  I hate shoes...or should I say, I hate wearing shoes. I love matching a shoe to an outfit...or having my shoes be the one element of my outfit that reflects my personality--which is saying something as I usually wear all black, all navy or all brown.  I'm a real jackie o, except I'm short, stout, blonde and own a condo instead of a yacht. Anyway, to make a short story shoes come off the minute I hit the threshold. Except for when I am in the kitchen. I have kitchen shoes... because I need to reach the top shelf of the fridge.

I haven't baked in a while. With all my canning, I still have a few pears left. The weather is downright fall-like, and I want to play with flour.  My bedside reading last night was Dorie Greenspan's Baking.  Dorie is an amazing baker whom has written countless recipes and is the author of  Baking with Julia.  She's also quite thin, which naturally makes me suspicious...but that is for another day.
I'm sure she is a wonderful person.

I have earmarked a dozen or so recipes that I wish to try, but have never actually done so.
I am the worst recipe follower. I can't make a recipe as it is written. It's like a mental block.  With baking it is more sketchy than with cooking, as there is actually chemistry involved, but, I'm not cooking for The King.  So what if I make a's hardly ever awful.

Today I wanted to incorporate some of those pears into a coffee cake.  I love cardamom and Dorie's recipe for cardamom coffee cake looked just the trick. Except I changed it up a bit.  The idea is definitely hers...the execution, mine.
This cake is not is a real coffee cake.  If you take a whole bite, meaning top to bottom, it will be sweet enough, moist enough and spiced enough.  If you remove the crumb and then eat the cake...well, you get what you get.
Please refer to the recipe for the method.
Here are the ingredients and amounts I used
Cardamom Coffee Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp  baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cardamom
pinch nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp cocoa powder
grated zest of 1/2 grapefruit
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup freshly made espresso--cooled
1 stick butter--melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 stick unsalted butter
generous pinch of salt
1 /2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup or more toasted slivered almonds
grated peel of 1/2 grapefruit
Peel, core and generously slice 4 cups of pears.  In a skillet, melt 1/2 stick unsalted butter.  Add about 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cardamom and a pinch or two of salt.  Throw the pears in and cook until all caramelly and the pears soften.  Adjust flavors to your liking. They should be sweet, but not overly so.
Pour 1/2 the cake batter in the pan.  Place a layer of pears, then proceed with the remaining batter.  Place another layer of pears on top.  Finally, evenly top with crumb.
Bake, cool, eat.
I made enough pears so that I could put a few on the plate with the cake.  They are also delicious on ice cream, on top of waffles or pancakes, or just eaten by themselves.

post script:  This entry was originally entitled "a good read..." but according to my husband, when I read it to him, I sounded just like mr. rooney.  So I read it again, in andy's voice, and it did sound like something he would say. Mike was right, and I had a good giggle.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AuPear--or my journey as the kitchen chaperone for 300+ pieces of fruit

"a partridge in a pear tree" makes me makes me sing the 12 days of christmas makes me sing it in september

i never quite understood what a partridge in a pear tree meant..but now i get it.   It means a great meal. Roast partridge with sauteed pears, a nice pinot and some kind of gooey dessert...figgy pudding perhaps?  Who knew, on the first day of christmas my true love gave to me...
I have been singing the 12 days of christmas for 3 days now--partridge, turtle doves, french hens...boy this guy was hungry.  Good for him, pears are a good accompaniament for all of them.
I have been singing about pears because I have a ton of them, and have been cooking them 6 ways from Sunday since Tuesday.

Our not so little cabin in the, sort of- but not really woods, has a pear tree. A very prolific pear tree.  And hopefully, this time next year, it will have 2 producing pear trees, a cherry tree, 2 apple trees, peach, plum and nectarine.  If they survive this winter.

I don't like to waste.  Someone must have admonished, waste not-want not, during my formative yearsm because I am insane about it.  Leftover rice..make a stir-fry, make a rice pudding, make arancini.  Too much basil--fill your freezer with pesto. Over run with mashed potatoes? shepherds pie, gnocchi, samosas. I'm not joking--some find it annoying, but I value a new leftover ideas as some kind of culinary lottery.  

When  I saw how many pears our tree had, all i could think about was the great things I would make.  All those romantic notions of gathering around a farm table, music playing quietly in the background, me with my hair tied in a vintage scarf, our dogs playfully batting a pear back and forth as if it were a ball,  memories and smells of my childhood wafting through the air.
..queue record being scratched by needle here...
yeah, well you see...
I grew up in the city, my mom grew up in the Bronx.  We're Italian.  We're not canners. We don't eat from the can, we don't put in the can.  Literally, my only "canning" food memory was the one summer we went to Oregon.  My mom and I came across a farm stand selling flats of blackberries and blueberries.  Somehow, and I still quite don't know how, my mom convinced my dad, that we should take some home. So here we were, 5 of us lugging boxes of berries onto the planeand securely placing them in the overhead bins. Can you imagine? That kind of nonsense would never fly these days.
We then spent the next 5 days making jam-the first jam I ever made and it was delicious. But we didn't can it.  We put it in jars, with a one-inch wax seal. We made enough to last a lifetime.
And I don't recall making it again.
Until I met my husband.
In his house, his cabinets were lined with canned goods. Goods he canned himself. salmon, pot roast, bear.  When he learned that I cook, he described his great aunt's freezer jam and asked if I could figure out how to make it.

..and that is when i learned the value in filling the pantry with the summer's bounty. 
...canning speaks to me
waste not-want not
I spent this last Monday picking pears from our tree.  Interestingly, pears don't ripen well on the tree.  They are pretty hard when first picked,  but within a couple of days the sugars explode and the once hard nugget is soft and very juicy.  I am still waiting for some of them to come around. Those will get a light syrup and be canned peeled and cored but not cooked.

What I have been cooking however has made me quite pleased.
I made my very first pear chutney on Tuesday...and I served it with roast pork that evening.
Overnight, in the crock pot, I made pear sauce (like applesauce)...and then cooked 10 hours more to make pear butter--luscious, unctious, pear butter.
I poached pears in wine with spices making a delicious dessert for company.
I am prepared for my Christmas giving and my pantry is full.  Three days in the kitchen, minding my pears, has proven to be very productive.

Pear Chutney
 Take 5 lbs of peeled, cored and chopped unripe pears, 3 sticks of cinnamon, 1 tsp cardamom pods (crushed), peel of two lemons, juice of 1 lemon, 1 Tbs of mustard seed and place in a pot. Add enough water to just cover and simmer on the stove top until pears begin to just soften.  Meanwhile,in a bowl combine 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 6 oz candied ginger, 1/2 tsp cayenne (or more to taste), 1 tsp (or more) ground cinnamon, 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup dried cherries, 1 cup golden raisins, and 2 cups chopped onions. Drain the pears--but reserve the water.  In the pot place 2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar and the reserved liquid.  Boil together until it begins to reduce and thickens should reduce by 1/3.  Add back the pears and all the remaining ingredients.  Simmer on the stovetop until thick and sticky. This will take several hours and should be kept on low.  You can also place in an oven but take care to check it to make sure it does not burn. Before canning, check for spice balance and sugar/vinegar your liking. If you add more vinegar, be sure to cook it down.  Use proper canning procedures to ensure a safe and sanitary product.

Pear Butter
So simple...Fill your crock pot with whole pears.  Add about 1/2 inch of water. Cover and set the pot on low overnight.  The next day, remove the pears and run them through a food mill or potato ricer.  Throw any liquid from the crock pot away and put the puree back into the crock pot.  You now have pear sauce. Add as much sugar as you want, and spices to your liking. I add a bit of salt, ground cinnamon and ground ginger..and a bit of dark brown sugar.  You can can this or carry on and make pear butter.  If making the butter, do not over sweeten or over season. You are reducing, so your flavors will get more powerful.  You can add orange zest, ground cloves, cardamom, just about anything you like.  Turn the crock pot on again, and let it go another 8-10 hours.  Do not place the lid firmly back on the pot, you want evaporation, so leave it askew, or off completely if you are the confident sort.  Taste and adjust sweetness and seasoning periodically.  When it gets thick, like a pudding, or a curd, it is ready.  I like to take a hand blender and make it smooth, but it's not necessary.  Place in sterilized jar and use proper canning procedure

full disclosure--i was using the crock pot to make another batch of pear sauce, so I cooked this butter down on the stovetop
before the water bath

Poached Pears
Peel, halve and core the pears.  Place in a stockpot and cover with wine of your choice. I like to use savignon blanc and muscat combination...but you can use any wine you want.  If you are using a really dry wine, use a bit of sugar to "tame" it.  The pears look beautiful when cooked in a red wine.  Add spices.  I like to use cinnamon sticks, anise, lemon peel (pith removed), orange peel (pith removed), black peppercorns and a few whole cloves. You can add bay leaf, cardamom, ginger, white peppercorns.  Be creative.  Simmer on the stovetop until the pears are soft. You can store in the refrigerator in the poaching liquid, or you can remove the pears and cook the liquid down to a syrup and drizzle over the pears, or over the pears that are sitting over ice cream. You can also add some more sugar and then spin into a sorbet or freeze into a granita.  Use the liquid as it is and add fruit and make a cocktail out of it...add grand marnier and call it a sangria.  So many options...use it all
 and remember
waste not...

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Renovation and What I Ate

Last February, Mike and I purchased a cabin in the mountains.  We had been looking for a getaway for about 5 months or so, and had put offers in on two others before we stumbled upon this place.  It had been on the market for a while, and was almost sold.  Through a chance of fate it fell out of escrow and became available on the day we first looked at it.
While it had all the things we were looking for...seems remote, but can get essentials within a few miles, lots of trees, enough room for us to have guests and a lot large so we can't see what our neighbors are eating for dinner.. also had things we weren't so excited about....the home had been empty for 3 1/2 years. The owner had passed away and the home sat in probate.  With time comes decay and there was quite a bit of it here.  Animals and vermin had found a great shelter for the winter and the place was crawling with, well...creepy crawlees.  Because we had written two offers before, on two other homes, we were sort of jaded.  Both places we had offered on previously had decided not to sell in the middle of the process. So, we thought, let's low-ball and see what happens.  Our real estate agent was really great and didn't give us the, oh we don't want to offend story. She said, lets make an offer you are comfortable with and see what happens.  And so we did.
Apparently so did someone else...and the offers were close....
...and we were dealing with a bank, rather than individuals with emotional attachment... it became a very civilized process...make another offer and we will make a decision.
We were at Disneyland eating corndogs when we got the call.  So we made another offer...came up a bit on the dollars, removed a few throw-away items....
...and we got the house.  oh happy day!

cabin in winter

It is now September, and I am happy to report there isn't snow on the ground. And this is what the cabin looks like today

cabin in summer
There is a lot of work that needs to be done on our very own "possum lodge"--mike has named it this, in deference to Red Green.  I go along with it because thats what someone who can't think of a better name does.  All I could come up with was pit, big mess, too many mice, water damage, smelly-smelly.
see what i mean? Makes possum lodge sound genius.
The first thing we did after buying the place was make a list of all the projects and prioritized them.  We haven't really stuck to that...but we are making good progress.  Did I mention that I am more of a pointer than a pick up the hammer kind of gal?  Or should I say, I used to be more of a pointer.  That wasn't gonna fly in this particular instance.  And, I must say, working on something like this--together as a couple--is really fun.  Really, really fun.  We are building a home together; literally and figuratively.

Our first priority was the kitchen.  It turned out to be a real mess.  The walls had been water-logged at some point, so much of the drywall had to be replaced.  That which was not drywall, had this really ugly and impossible fake brick glued to it.  I had to chisel it off, brick by brick, which took an entire day.
The countertop practically disintigrated in our hands...and my favorite part---there was a mountain of acorns stored in the walls.
Thankfully our friend Jed had offered his assistance in helping us renovate.  Between him and mike, they could figure out just about anything.

I obviously couldn't cook in this we ate out quite a bit.
We (the three of us) probably tried everything on the menu of our local eatery.  We spent a lot of time at the Original Cottage in Rim Forest.  It's nothing to look at, but the food is just what you would expect--homey and big portions.  It's a funny place...breakfast is just what you want, great big pancakes, gooey maple dripped waffles, 6 egg omelets with crispy cottage fries. The lunch menu is a bit ecclectic..a mixture of diner type food with a large array of mexican items.  Dinner is italian and only italian.  Their pizza is good--the rest is a bit buca di beppo-ish.  They make a really great dinner roll and wonderful garlic knots. The food is genuinely good, and I would know..I owe my last 5 lbs to it.
Until we got the kitchen up and running...this was our kitchen..for 3 square.
Our kitchen is basically done.  We have a few bits and bobs to do...a bit of trim, a tile backsplash, hardware on the drawers...but it's functional and it is really cute.  I love it!



and after

The walls are creampuff and the cabinets are cherry bomb
...and I can't believe I don't have a picture of the floors because they are amazing...but I have a video and as soon as I figure out how to edit it and get it on here I will.
u-tube video of the kitchen with a bonus feature (my snide remarks)
We have lots of work still to do, and I will keep posting on our progress.  

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The End of a Season

I had such a great time at the Hollywood Bowl last night. We were treated to an evening of the ever charming composer John Williams and the LA Philarmonic. We were lucky enough to be sitting in amazing seats...seats that actually let you see emotion on a musician's face. Let me just say this...The Holllywood Bowl is the single best venue in all of Southern California. My opinion, certainly...but trust me, I am right.
One of the best things about "the bowl" is the picnicking. Picnicking rocks! While there is restaurant service, decent restaurant service at the bowl, I always pack a picnic. It usually gives me an opportunity to plan a really fun meal, and it always challenges me to come up with recipes that can be served cold or room temperature.

I must confess. I love fried chicken. I don't know what all the components of my last meal would be, but I know that fried chicken would be in there. I could eat it day after day and never get sick of it. Get sick, pretty much a guarantee, but not get sick of it.
I make fried chicken. I make pretty good fried chicken. But I gotta say...I prefer to buy it.
it's true
Especially if we are talkin' broasted chicken. Is it right for me to matter what your dietary restrictions, goals, obsessions, peculiarities are...that if you have the chance to have broasted chicken, take it. TAKE IT!
My husband is from Wisconsin, and they have great broasted chicken...but sadly, it is really difficult to find in Los Angeles. So, I settle for fried. Still a good alternative, but it is not the same, lest you be fooled.
...I brought you on this culinary round-about because last night I served fried chicken. Popeyes fried chicken as our main course. Yes, I did..and I am not embarrased about it at all. As a matter of fact, I also served the biscuits. Although, I think I might like KFC's biscuits a little better than Popeyes...but I served them none-the-less and they were popular.
if you think I am lazy and taking the easy way out...let me stop you right there. I also put together a nice selection of appetizers, sides and dessert all by myself. I cooked em, packed em, served em and ate em. And they were pretty good. Should I put them on the scoring system I utilized for Sona? What is good for the goose, is good for the I shall.

Summer is ending and so is the season at the bowl...but picnic season is forever....
0-5 stars
blt devilled eggs 2 stars
to be fair, to myself, i don't really like devilled eggs and didn't eat them. I give the whole concept 2 stars

andouille-red beet-green apple-chevre compote w/apple cider reduction
4 stars
You can use andouille or chorizo for this. Cut 4 sausage links into rounds. Cook in large skillet with a bit of olive oil, just a bit. Cook until nicely browned. Add about 3 Tbs cider vinegar, reduce heat and cook until absorbed. While it is cooking add 1 garlic clove--finely chopped and 1 shallot--finely chopped. When the vinegar is just about absorbed, remove sausage and set aside. Toss about 3/4 cup of apple cider or unfiltered apple juice into the pan and let simmer until it reduces to a nice syrup. Throw the sausage back in and toss to glaze. Remove the sausage again, and set the reduction aside to use as a dressing. Meanwhile, chop 1 granny smith apple and 2 medium (cooked) beets to dice. They should be a bit smaller than the sausage slices, but not too small. Toss with about 2 ounces of crumbled chevre. Once the sausage is cooled, add to the compote and gently toss. You can also layer in a small glass. Drizzle a bit of the reduction on top and enjoy.

prosciutto-marscapone-walnut figs w/balsamic-medjool date glaze
3 1/2 stars
they tasted a lot better than they looked. Might have been a bit too big--if presented as 1/2 a fig, would give a higher rating

Main Course
popeye's fried chicken
absolutely 5 stars
if only for convenience sake

watermelon, feta and mint salad
3 stars
uninspired, but always refreshing
I like to use a small watermelon for this salad. I also like to cut it into brunoise, but that isn't necessary. Just make sure that your watermelon pieces match the size of your feta pieces. This is really a taste and add type of recipe. I used 1/2 watermelon to 4 oz of feta and about 6 mint leaves-chiffonade. I let that sit together, then take drain off some of the watermelon juice. I then make a dressing of rice wine vinegar and olive oil...taste to see what you like, but I like to use 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. I also use a lightly flavored olive oil on this. You can substitute any unflavored oil you like. Mix in the dressing, use a light hand and be careful not to break up the cheese. Chill and serve.

puy lentil salad 3 1/2 stars
i love it, it's my favorite--simple and clean flavors
Take about 3 cups cooked puy lentils...trader joe's sells them already cooked. Plop into a bowl and add 1 carrot-finely chopped, 1/4 red onion-finely chopped, 1 red pepper--finely chopped, microplaned zest of 1 orange, juice of 1/2 orange, salt pepper, oil, vinegar and 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of ground cumin. Stir, chill and eat. It is also good warmed as a bed for roasted halibut or any fish for that matter. Or bulk with some butter lettuce and serve with a bit of chicken as a nice salad.
KFC Mashed Potatoes 0 stars husband loves em. So i picked them up specially for him, but only him
fallen chocolate souffle cake w/fresh whipped cream and spice poached pears 4 1/2 stars
4 ingredients never tasted this good. it's ugly but oh so silky and delicious.

homemade caramels
favorite shortbread cookies w/honey almond glaze
okay i am bored with the scoring system...i'm done

Thursday, September 3, 2009

eighteen dishes, nine courses, three hours, one happy me

Last night my husband and I stepped up our culinary prowess. I love a well cooked, beautifully presented meal. I love learning about new ingredients and finding new ways to use old standards. I love a fancy meal in a fancy restaurant. And I love, love, love a digustation menu. If the chef thinks its his/her best work, then I want to taste it.
Bring it on
We had a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable dinner at Sona. The Chef, David Meyers, is very accomplished with numerous awards and accolades, and an impressive resume. His plates are a real work of art....and I felt that most of them were sheer brillance.
Along with the food, our beverage of choice was wine. We opted for the wine pairing menu, to match our food selection. I am not a great oenophile.I know what I like, and I know what I don't like. I can't tell a good pairing, but I can suss out a great pairing and and poor pairing. I like the professionals to do the legwork for me.

Our first sommelier (they appear to have several on staff) was adorable. He was charming in a sort of awkward way. I asked for light pours, waste not want not, and he was very conscious to ensure i had enough for my course, but no more. Our second sommelier was dead to conversation, humor or personality. No back story, no charm, no nothin'...just here's your wine...
...a bit of a bummer, but his wine choices were good...and one of them was absolutely great. He paired a tokaji with a sublime offering of olive oil parfait with jammy kumquat. When I tell you it was perfection, know that I am a tough was perfection. I intend on creating my own version of this wonderful dessert and will keep you posted on the results.
Although we were each treated to 9 courses, we were eating different menus. This gave Mike and I an opportunity to try everything on the menu. We swapped dishes--most of the time...
Like my new favorite show Top Chef Masters, I am going to run down the menu and give each a star rating...
0 to 5 stars
9 Course Spontanee
poached shrimp vietnamese roll with tempura quail egg 3 1/2 stars
course no. 1
marinated big eye tuna w/smoked eggplant puree, and pickled beets 3 1/2 stars
heirloom tomato salad with cilantro puree 1 1/2 stars
course no. 2
braised pork belly w/chino farm corn soup 4 stars
diver scallop w/red plum, muzuku seaweed and potato chip 3 1/2 stars
The scallop was cooked perfectly, but the seaweed was a bit strange in the mouth
course no.3
alaskan halibut w/pickled lima beans & braised shitake mushroom 2 1/2 stars
fish was a bit dry and a little boring...lima beans were amazing
sake-harissa marinated black cod w/roasted cipollini & sunchoke puree 5 stars
perhaps the best thing I ate--unexpected and delicious
course no. 4
seared foie gras w/siberian roll, strawberry vinaigrette and burnt milk ice cream 4 1/2 stars
i have to be honest was delicious, but a if I can look a gift horse in the mouth, it was a bit too big of a portion--i felt bad leaving some on my plate, but i didn't want to have a gallbladder attack before the meal was completed
course no. 5
kasuzuke duck w/braised shitake mushrooms and artichoke puree 4 1/2 stars
one of mike's favorites--he could have eaten an entree portion of this
poussin w/celery root puree, and crispy artichokes 3 1/2 stars
My piece was undercooked--kinda freaked me out and felt a bit over seasoned. Mike loved his
course no. 6
marinated venison w/fennel apple pudding, apple caramel and roasted fennel 4 stars
sonoma summer lamb w/madrus curried carrot risotto 4 stars
palate cleanser
red plum sorbet with watermelon, licorice toffee and lime gelee 3 1/2 stars
when the 'food caller' told us what this was we thought he said red clam sorbet, so we were pleasantly surprised to find it not fishy
course no. 7
miso custard w/hearts of palm, coconut sponge, vanilla curry ice cream 3 stars
overworked and a disappointment. the custard was good and so was the ice cream
black sesame sponge with black sesame praline, lemongrass and passion fruit sorbet 2 stars
see above--again frozen aspects are good
course no. 8
olive oil parfait with kumquat and coriander flower 5 stars
course no. 9
ivorie ganache w caramelized white chocolate, potato chip praline ice cream 1 star
the ice cream was disgusting ruined the entire dish for me
caramelized white chocolate with apricot, chocolate and tobacco ice cream 4 stars
this was adorable such a beautiful presentation. my favorite was the marzipan diguised as a cherry. adorable and tasty

Would I go back to Sona? In a word, yes. I am anxious to try entree portions of some of the tastes we enjoyed. I also appreciated the atmosphere and subtle decoration. This restaurant is not inexpensive and with the wine pairing, it will hurt the purse a bit. But it is a treat, and if you have a special occasion or a budget to allow, i suggest giving it a try.


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