Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Year, New Life

Don't you just hate them? Before you start listing people, I'm talking about New Year's Resolutions. they seem to indicate that you have no resolve what-so-ever at any other time of year...except for maybe Lent...which is very limited in time and then has option-out days...Sundays, your birthday, your neighbor's birthday...
Hey, I'm all for self-reflection and introspective analysis...but really...all the talk about making myself better, fitter, stronger, richer, nicer is just a potential for failure. I don't resolve, I crawl to the finish line eyes aloft, thanking God that I made it another year without major regret and with my gallbladder.

Remember the Millennium? How the computers were supposed to crash and we all were going to ring in 2000 without electricity, money, food and water? I was in London that year. And if any country (in my opinion) was going to miss the mark, it was England. So, I rushed around, on New Year's Eve making my preparations. I was having a little fete at my home, a top floor flat in an old abbey. A wonderful place that was said to be haunted by a monk, who offed himself right in my very dining room. I'm not so sure, it was a very serene place. It was a 5 story walk-up, so I didn't get much pop-in traffic, which was just to my liking. I'm not so much into "stopping by". I actually don't get it. How hard is it to call someone and mention you will be in the area, or are thinking about being in the area before you show up at their doorstep. It's kinda rude if you ask me. I'm sure my issue is with my inability to say at the door, this isn't really a good time. Or, oh, you should have called, I have a million things I am trying to get done and don't have 5 seconds to spend with you. Combine that with my totally crazy idea that if people come over, you need to have a cheese board, antipasto platter or cake at the ready...much less a tidy room to usher them into. I suppose if I had an upstairs and a downstairs, I could use only the upstairs for living and keep the downstairs for attending to unexpected company...but I don't, so I hate the pop-in. Take note.
So New Year's Eve 1999. I had gathered all my provisions for the party, and for the devastation. I bought about 100 quid worth of water and I pulled 3000 pounds from the bank. Yes, there's more. I bought the hype, hook, line and sinker. Furthermore, it always seems that when I am totally and completely prepared, it's always for naught. I lived in a small village and waled from the bank to my home, so what happened next, really freaked me out. No sooner had I walked up the 5 flights of stairs, stashed my loot in my sock drawer and began filling the tubs and sinks with water, my bell rang. My bell never rang. No one would just be stopping by...this was England. My party wouldn't start for 5 more hours, the mail had been delivered, my downstairs neighbor usually just tapped on the ceiling when he needed something...who would be ringing? I am suspicious of everyone...I grew up in LA. So I looked in the video monitor and there was a guy standing there. And he says to me, with a very thick (non-British) accent, I have a gift for you. "who are you?" I ask..and he says, I have a gift for you. And immediately I know...he saw me withdraw money, he is here to rob and kill me. And he says once more, a New Year's gift for you. I don't know if I had ever been so rude in my life but I said..."I don't want yor (explicative) need to go away. I know what you are up to. I have weapons here." He pleaded a bit more, but I'm not some little girl from the farms of Iowa, I lived through the LA riots, I was totally on to him.
Hours later my neighbor rang me, telling me there was a case of champagne on the doorstep with my name on it. Apparently my US boss has missed the delivery to our office and had the champagne for everyone delivered to my house. Ooops, my mistake. I really should have tipped that guy.

As expected with all the preparations, that New Year, as like most others, was pretty uneventful. Too much to eat by 9, too much to drink by 10, nod off until midnight...a few yahoos and yippees and off to bed. New Year, New Life.

I don't have much in the way of food traditions for New Years. Sometimes it's Thai food, sometimes pizza and other times a pot-luck of recipes I want to try. But tonight I will be toasting in the New Year with a fantastic that will keep me lit as well as wide awake. And it's legal in most states. Happy New Year! No resolutions, solutions.

Vanilla Coffee Martini
In a shaker with lots of ice mix 2 oz of vanilla vodka, 1 oz freshly brewed espresso, 1 oz Kahlua, splash of cream de noya (almond liqueur). Shake, shake, shake. Serve in a martini glass with 3 espresso beans.

update: This summer I made a "slimmed down" version of this drink. 2 oz vanilla vodka, 1 oz freshly brewed espresso and enough splenda to make it sweet for you. Add lots of ice and a splash of milk or cream. Delicious!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Perfect Recipe

I am always in search of great recipes. When I was little, and I would say probably somewhere between 6 and 10 years old, I accompanied my mom to an open house for a little shop in what was once a sleepy village called Montrose. Once upon a time, no one knew about it, and then Dolly and the girls in 9 to 5 hitched a ride on its streets and the adorable retro bowling alley became a popular filming site for movies and one or two "very special" Blossoms. Now what was once small neighborhood shops, a movie theater, a bakery or two, is now restaurant row and and a "hang" for teenagers. But it used to be a place that my folks could trust as safe.

I remember the open house as one for Halloween. Why anyone would have a Halloween open house is beyond me, but I distinctly remember someone in a witches hat, and I don't think it was me. Now, I caution that some of the details may not be true, as I remember it all happening in a book store, while my mother says it was another store that I don't remember existing at all. After tasting a cookie (or maybe it was perhaps more like 3...I was stocky even then), I had to have the recipe. I found the baker of these cookies and said to her, in my best Laura Ingalls impersonation, "these cookies are absolutely delicious, do you think I may have the recipe?" I made those cookies year after year. They were my entry in my grammar school bi-centennial cookbook, of which I still have a copy. It had been years since I had made "chocolate delight bars"--not sure if I made that name up , or if that was the original name...those details are blurry, but a couple of years ago I was feeling nostalgic, so I pulled out my od recipe book and baked up a batch.

These cookies are not meant to be eaten warm, so I waited for them to cool. As I lifted the delight bar from the pan, the memories flooded back. How wonderful to finally eating this treasured cookie again. How come I hadn't made them in so many years? Won't everyone be excited to taste these and hear the story!...And then it happened...I took a bite..and realized that these cookies, these chocolate delight bars...sucked.

We can chalk that up to taste buds changing, or maybe I transcribed the recipe incorrectly, or maybe I was just a kid who loved chocolate and figured I could stomach the rest of the cookie as a sacrifice, just like I stomached all of "Little Miss Sunshine" because the payoff was in the ending. But lately, I am finding that there are some really bad recipes out there.

I teach cooking classes. Mostly to people who don't really love to cook, but they like to eat decent food...and they watch the food network for fun. They see, and I won't mention any names here "chefs" who seem more like hopped up college kids whipping up sambies and soupinis...yumm-o and figure anyone can cook. Before I go on, let me say this. I used to think that a TV station for cooking shows was a great idea. I was wrong. Honestly, does anyone need to know how to take a cake mix and turn it into a roast duck?'s an idea for a show...let's go on a road trip and film us eating at all these places that are already famous. No...better...let's have 4 different shows of people on road trips eating at places that are already famous...that is good TV. Bring back Justin Wilson, the Galloping Gourmet, Jeff Smith, Julia. That's my plea. I'm not bitter, I'm bored.

The most important lesson I can teach is that just because it's in a recipe book, doesn't mean it is good. Everyone's taste is different (the only way to explain the success of the Olive Garden), and if you don't know what flavors work together for you, you will waste time and energy producing bad results.

I have been working on recipes for my holiday cookies. I like to create my own recipes either by tweaking ones I already have or starting from scratch. I find that "American" cookies are very sweet and "one-note". Meaning they don't completly satisfy. So, I usually will use a better grade of chocolate, or reduce the sugar content, or eliminatge something that I think will make the pastry sticky-sweet. I recently came across a recipe in a magazine. It's one of those magazines that takes write in boyfriend and I went to France...blah, blah, blah...This story is about a woman who makes a special detour in an airport for thse cookies. I thought to myself...these must really be something. I read the recipe and I was a bit skeptical, but I rolled up my sleeves and went for it. The recipe is basically a chocolate cookie with toffee chips. On top of this cookie (which is apparently the size of a child's head), is a mixture of marshmallow and crumbs. I did it their way, and I hated them. I thought the cookies were really ugly. They couldn't be made smaller, because of the marshmallow melange on top. The appeal of the marshmallow was that it basically exploded and melted and caramelized on top of the cookie, giving it a sugary crust. So, I went back to the drawing board and made the cookie smaller, baked it off, and ten applied a layer of sugar on top. I torched the sugar. I got the affect of burnt sugar, but I also got the affect of burnt cookie. No go. I placed sugar on top before baking. I got sugar dusted cookie. I placed a marshmallow on the top of each cookie, I got a small puddle of ugly. So I scrapped the idea. The sugar wasn't the star of the cookie was a side show. So, I started over. I think I have a nice cookie that is versitile and tastes like an Oreo. I thought I would share the recipe with you, as well as some fun variations.

My Now Worth a Detour Cookie
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder--the darker the better
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter--room temp
1/4 cup crisco or other solid shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar--lightly packed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together all the dry ingredients. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. A dd the egg and vanilla and beat again until it is all incorporated and the batter looks like frosting. Mix in dry ingredients just until fully incorporated..don't over mix. Take the dough and roll it into 2 logs, about 1 1/2" in diameter. Refrigerate until cold, about 6 hours or overnight. When ready to bake, slice crosswise in 1/4" thick rounds. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 until done (check in 12 minutes). These cookies will spread, so leave some room.
These are good as is, but not pretty.
The original recipe had toffee bits mixed in. It's a nice option. Add 8 oz of toffee bits just before adding dry ingredients. For the holidays you can also add crushed peppermint candies, and then sprinkle a bit on top before baking. Other standard adds are mini chocolate chips, mini white chocolate chips, or even coconut flakes. You can add just about anything, but keep the bits small as the cookies are also small and thin. Once baked you can do lots of great things with these. make a ganache (equal parts cream and bittersweet chocolate---heat cream and melt chocolate in it) and pipe a design on the cookie, or dip half into it. Add some flavor to the ganache, grand marnier or orange flavoring...or any flavor that is complimentary to chocolate. Use the ganache to make a sandwich of the cookies. Place one side of the cookie back on the baking sheet upside down, place a peppermint patty on top, pop it in the warm oven for a few minutes, until the chocolate begins to melt, but doesn't completely melt, place another cookie on top and you have a minty sandwich cookie. Try the same with peanut butter cups or marshmallow. My current favorite option is to take the plain cookies, sandwich in some ice cream, pour myself a cup of coffee and read your comments.

Only 5 more days until Christmas...get baking.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The $327 Corn Dog

About a year ago, at my nephew's baptism, a few of us got to talking about Disneyland. From across the room, the baby's Godfather heard our conversation and came over to tell me that, and I quote, "Disneyland has THE BEST corn dogs", I've always been more of a fan of a corn ball, than of a corn dog and I like the fried chicken dinner in New Orleans square, so I ignored him. Then, unsolicited, a few weeks later, another friend mentioned the corndogs...and again said they were "THE BEST."

My first introduction to the corn dog was from Hot Dog on a Stick, while in junior high. It was the place in the mall that made the unfortunate high school girls wear tight polyester outfits, and a silly hat. Even a cheerleader would look like a circus act in this get-up. Admittedly, I would always walk by and snicker on my way to the Great Potato; immature yes, gratifying, also yes. They do have good lemonade, but the corn dogs, not so much.

We didn't have corn dogs in our house. First of all, the fry daddy was reserved for making bow-ties (see previous blog) or zeppoli, not deep fried American delights. Secondly, hot dogs weren't considered a real food in our house. They were something you at at other people's homes or a Dodger game. You want a hot dog? Here's your hot dog...Italian sausage with peppers and onions on freshly baked Italian bread. Can you believe I complained?

I spent my junior year of college in Florence, Italy. I lived in a pensione, in a room with 2 other girls. Among the many things I learned in this year abroad was an important lesson. If you want to find a good snack food, follow the stoner. Dave (his name has not been changed because I figure it's a popular enough name and I think he would actually be proud to be mentioned here) led us to The Jolly. This bar was only across the road and down a bit from the pensione, but it was where we would go to grab a beer, not a snack.
Enter Dave.
One afternoon we were enjoying our libations and watching the endless video loop of Pink Floyd's Wall, and Dave sauntered our way carrying a plate with what appeared to be a hot dog on it. What's that I asked? Well, it's a hot dog he replied, through his smirk. It was sliced in half length-wise, pressed in a pannini machine, placed on top of toasted crispy bread and served with ketchup. Oh my, it was lovely.

There was some controversy regarding the Dodger dog some time ago. Some of the restaurants serve them grilled (good) and some boiled (not so good). People rave about about Pinks, but frankly the crunch of the casing makes me gag. Carneys, no opinion. Costco makes a good dog at a good price, but I think their Polish is the choice of champions. Unbeatalbe is the brat at the County Fair in Plymouth, but you can only go in September, and you have to go to Wisconsin, so it's probably not practical. Trust me, they are delish.

Mike and I went to Disneyland yesterday. We arrived near the lunch hour, and because we had to renew our annual pass we were delayed a bit. When it was all said and done the bill, with parking was $327. Now before you go saying, wait, aren't we in a recession....I have been unemployed since 2001. I am both boom-proof and recession-proof. Besides, Mike gave it to me for Christmas, early. And, if I have to explain myself further, at the cost of admission, we only have to go 2 more times in order to make it worth it, and we will.

Disneyland is beautiful this time of year. The tree on main stree is sky high and perfect. All of the shops have Christmas windows and the streets are lined with garland. New Orleans square has a look of it's own with beads tumbling from the rooftops and spilling overhead. It looks like Mardi Gras and Christmas crashed. The turrets of Cinderella's castle are blanketed with snow and the Haunted Mansion is decorated in ghostly style. It is truly magical, just as the commercials claim. I was ooh-ing and ahh-ing as I was making my way down Main Street. And there it was...with a line as long as my wish list and as slow as my metabolism....the Corn Dog Cart.

While in line I could hear whispers of how wonderful these corn dogs are and others of how they should be for the price ($6 for a dog and chips). With the requisite but disingenuous question, shall we split one? out of the way, Mike and I each decided to get our own. I don't remember my last corn dog, so I can't compare. But I can tell you this. These dogs are worth every penny and the wait. They are at least a foot long with rich, more sweet than savory, thick cornmeal crust, fried to perfection. With each bite they get better. To my friends who urged me to try them, just as Virginia was assured there is a Santa Clause, I assure you Disneyland corn dogs are "THE BEST"

Monday, December 1, 2008

Grandma's China

As the holidays approach I've been thinking about my grandma a lot. She was very cyber-savvy and would have loved reading this blog. Actually, I think she might have had one herself. A blog-slash-dating-slash-let me tell you something site. She had lots to say and a wonderful wry way of expressing herself. She could turn a phrase like nobody's business.

My husband can trace his family back to American Presidents and Early Settlers. I can trace my family to an apartment in the Bronx. I am very proud of my Italian heritage, and can be frequently heard complaining about how "white" my name is. I would love to have a name that rolls off the tongue like a sonata, but I am third generation and my name proves it.

Before my husband I were married, we spent an evening with my grandma being schooled in the art of making bow-ties. Not the kind you wear, but the kind you eat. We happened to stop by as the dough was being rolled out and were quickly recruited to do the "part I hate" (grandma's words, not mine). It is important not to make the dough too thick or too thin. Just right is only something you learn by feel....roll it too many times and it "gets funny", don't roll it enough and it "gets funny". That's about as exact as her Sicilian cooking instructions get. Bow-ties are delicious, there's no two-ways about it. Dusted with powdered sugar they are more addictive than those little fried dealies from you local Chinese take-out.

From the same recipe you use for the bow-ties, you can also make struffoli. Struffoli are small fried balls of dough (smaller than a gumball, larger than a pea...see what I mean about the instructions) that are soaked in honey syrup, piled as high as Vesuvius and adorned with sprinkles. I think they are an Italian staple because they last so darn long. I would swear the same platter fresh at Thanksgiving is rolled out again at Christmas, no one the wiser. It's almost like a fruitcake, but you can't really use it as a doorstop. Struffoli aren't as tasty as bow-ties, but they certainly look more festive...and they are great for a crowd, because no one eats em'.

Because I don't come from a long line of prestige; instead of passing down linens, monogrammed silver, or anniversary diamonds, we pass down generations of funny stories, old fashion Italian pride and great recipes. Unlike many in her generation, my grandmother wrote things down and always shared her recipes with us. She wanted her food to be a memory for all of us.

When my grandmother died, I was given her china. It was a set her children (my dad, aunts and uncles) gave her and my grandfather. It isn't fancy and it is very used. There are pieces that have broken multiple times and have been fashioned together just so they will look good in the cabinet, they can no longer hold food or liquid. Their value, purely sentimental.

I have lots of options for my dining pleasure. I have collected dinnerware for years. But when I serve one of my grandma's recipes, I use the china she gave me. I honor her by setting a nice table, and I remember her by enjoying the love she shared through her cooking.

Grandma's 1978 Bow-ties--with my twist
6 cups flour, finely grated rind of 1 lemon or 1 orange, 8 eggs, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 1/2 Tbs butter--melted, 2 Tbs sugar
Place flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl and add citrus rind. Make a well in the center and add all other ingredients and mix well. Lest rest for 30 minutes. Using a pasta machine, or rolling pin, roll dough out into thin rectangles...about 3 or 4 sheets of paper thick. Cut each rectangle crosswise to make a smaller 1 1/2"wide x 2 1/2" long strip. Pinch each strip in the middle to form a bow-tie. Fry the bow-ties in batches in hot oil until lightly browned. Drain and cool on paper towel. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar. Keep in an airtight container, if you can keep them that long.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lemony Snippet {homemade limoncello}

I was alone this morning...Mike is out practicing archery and I have the whole house to myself.
I was going to spend the day in my pajamas catching up on lost episodes of the Barefoot Contessa, whom I love. I mean it. Not the romantic kind of love, but the kind where you say to yourself...I don't care if she makes liver and onions, I would eat them because she has such good taste that I must be wrong about how utterly disgusting it seems.

But alas, I didn't wear pajamas last night (poor planning), and walking around the house in a long t-shirt seems somehow wrong and slightly unsanitary. Especially since most of our windows are picture, and face the common courtyard of our condo complex. I want to be a good neighbor.

So instead, I decided to tool around the kitchen (fully clothed mind you). I figured it was time for the next step of my beverage project. Now before you go rounding up a sponsor for me...this beverage project does not mean, sampling every one of the 30 or so bottles I keep in the cabinet. Which, by the way, are used mostly in my cooking and baking.
Except the Kahlua.

While Mike and I were honeymooning in Zihuatanejo, we dined almost every night at the same small restaurant on the beach. It is called Elvira. As in many of the beach restaurants, there was a small patio off what looked to be the proprietor's house, where the bar was staged as well as the essentials for a restaurant of its size. Where the magic was, was in the alfresco dining. Tables were pulled out each evening onto the beach. Always close enough to the sea that water would roll in and capture our attention, but not close enough to soak our shoes. Candles and fairy lights lit the tables, and the moon lit the rest. So romantic, so beautiful and so perfect.

Our waiter, nehum, made suggestions every night as to what we should eat. We followed his suggestion and ate the most wonderful and simply prepared fish. It's amazing what a bit of olive oil and lemon can do. Ahhh...the memory of it makes my mouth water.

Nehum became our pusher.

Each evening, as Mike and I would sit, bellies full, listening to the ocean and the sounds of mariachis strolling down the beach, Nehum would bring us an after dinner drink. Always the same, always delicious, always satisfying...Kahlua and cream. There is nothing like it. So now, when Mike and I want to transport ourselves back to our evenings on the beach in Zihua, we sip, okay drink, okay, okay, down K and C's. That bottle isn't for cooking, it is purely an elixir for our souls.

But that's not my beverage project, that's just a side-bar. Actually my beverage project has been going on for quite some time now. I am making homemade Limoncello. It's an Italian aperitivo, that is most popular on the Island of Capri...but can be found all over Itlay, and now the US as well. It is a delicious lemon liqueur, and has so many uses beyond drinking. Although making this takes passive time, it's really easy...and makes wonderful Christmas gifts. You still have time, if you start now.

You need lots of lemons, but just the peels. Don't want to be wasteful? Here's some ideas for the rest of the lemon. Cut in half, pour some salt on it and tame your elbows (Barbra Streisand does it and so should we). Juice the lemons and make the sugar syrup in advance (but keep it in the freezer, so it doesn't get weird). Make lemon curd...better yet, make lemon chicken...ooh what about lemon bars? Those ae my fave.

Back to the recipe. Wash and dry about 10-15 lemons. the lemons should be unwaxed. Remove the peels. Now, this is very do not want the pith. That is the white stuff that hugs the peel like a preschooler hugs his mom on the first day of school. Remove it only want the yellow part. The pith is bitter and is not good for your end result. Place all the peels in a large glass or ceramic jar with a tight fitting lid. Pour 1 bottle of vodka over it. You do not need expensive vodka for this, you want the alcohol content, but the theory is that you will be changing the flavor of it, so don't break the bank on this one.
Put the top on the jar, date it, and put it away in a cool dark place for a minimum of 2 weeks but as long as 3 or 4 months. Mine has been steeping since September 2nd. When you see that all of the lemon peels have lost their color and/or it's been 2 weeks you can move onto the next step. In a heavy saucepan place 3 cups of water, 1/2 cup of strained lemon juice, 3 cups sugar and 3 Tbs honey. Boil over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is clear. Don't let it go too long and get thick and gooey. Let cool.

Pour the syrup into your glass jar with the lemon peels and vodka. Cover and let steep for another week (or longer if you have the time). When you are ready to bottle your limoncello, strand the liquid using cheese cloth or fine sieve. Squeeze all that you can from the peels and then throw away. Bottle the liquid in clean jars and seal tightly.

Like revenge, this is best served it in the freezer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is It Time Yet?

As the temperatures begin to dip into the very holiday level of 85 degrees, it makes me long for my snowflake t-shirts and winter sandals. It's getting to the point where I find myself feigning and Australian accent and pretending its Christmas Down-Under. Hot holidays are a rip off. I'm not asking for snow...well maybe I am, but that's just ridiculous. I'm asking for maybe a windbreaker holiday, or maybe even being able to say, bring a sweater, you may get chilly, without it seeming cheeky.

I'm not going to embrace it.
Its bad enough that I succumbed to the earth friendly fake tree. If you hear me saying how great it is, and how much I love's all part of the self-brainwash. Yes, it is good for the environment. Yes it is cost effective...but that's about where I have to end the list. The rest of the benefits just don't apply to me. I don't have cats.

So how many days are there until Christmas anyway? I see the advertisers have been market-conscious and haven't flooded us with the up to the minute T-minus data. But I did catch a "news anchor" making recommendations on how to save money on stuffing, cranberry sauce and what-not. I wonder if this current crisis will force the cancellation of "where in the world is Matt Lauer". Not that I want the market to remain poor, but it spares us the travel trevails of the the NBC morning crew---but I digress. I can appreciate the countdown...but again, it doesn't apply to me. And not because of the cat thing, but because the one thing I have always been good at, is planning for Christmas.

I shop all year for Christmas. It's the most organized area of my life. Open a closet and you run the risk of, the classic and always funny, being bombarded by its' contents. I could spend all day looking for one of 10 pairs of scissors stashed around the house. Clickers, keys, clothes all a jumble in my mind. But Christmas...perfectly assembled from the list to the budget to the wrapped gifts under the tree.

What's my secret?
There is no secret. I have a staff. Nah, just kidding.
My secret is that I pick up lots of crap at a discount, wrap it up to make it look expensive and then pass it off to my unsuspecting friends and family, as gifts picked just for them.
Again, kidding.
It gets done because it's on my radar. Just like good grooming and hygiene, a tidy abode, adequate car care, regular doctor visits or rodent traps may be on your radar.
It is a priority for me because I have wonderful memories associated with this time of year and I evoke them each time I pick up a gift, or prepare for the holidays.

It reminds me of singing "my favorite things" in the 4th grade chior...before my voice broke. When it was just a whisper in a sea of whispers, and no one could tell who the off-key crooner was.

It reminds me of staying up late nights and preparing cookies for the family party and lining the shelves of the service porch with boxes and boxed of sweet treats.

It reminds me of my dad "flocking" the house because it was his year to pick the tree and he wanted a white Christmas. Flock was a popular word in our house during the holidays. It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood that flock is a noun and not a verb.

But most of all it reminds me of candy. Candy, candy everywhere. Slap lots of it onto gingerbread slab and invite Hansel and Gretel over. Use peppermint disks to make a wonderful and fragrant wreath. Assemble gumball trees for a colorful and playful centerpiece. Have too many candy canes? Make them into stars and use them as a fun gift tag. I could go on, but how would Meredith hold our attention for the next 30 days? I have designed the ultimate candy accessory for the holidays. The Gumdrop Sconce. What will I think of next? Perhaps a tiny chocolate tree house for the parade of ants?

You can count the hours, count the days, count the minutes...but whatever it is...make them count.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chi Fan

Chi fan...I think that has something to do with eating. I need to ask my 3 year old niece. Last time I tried to speak Chinese to her, she corrected me. Apparently thinking I said, "thank you", I really said, I need to go to the bathroom. I was close. You know it's tough when a 3 year old has a better command of a language, any language than you.

You see....I used to pride myself for my ear of languages. That was when knowing how to pronounce tortilla in the heart of Spokane, Washington made me bi-lingual. Growing up in California, you learn actually get to speak some, and if you have a car, a sarape and enough pocket change, you can try your hand at bartering in the language. So, my knowledge of Spanish is passable. But my accent...well that's about as authentic as you can get. Like anything, it's all in the presentation.

My Italian...legitimately good. And I am extraordinary at fishing for compliments with it. I start out with a little, ho dimenticato tutti (I forgot everything)...which cues the lovely Italians to say...oh no, no, I wish my English was as good as your Italian....which cues me to say...oh would you like to speak English then? So you can practice? Which naturally moves me into the expert category and no one is the wiser.

Where I become the laughing stock is my French. Remember the part where I said I have an ear for languages? Well, word to the wise...don't say stuff like that. Because, friends are always at the ready to disprove the theory, and then remind you of it whenever ANY foreign word comes out of your mouth.
I was in Paris with my "friends" and we went to a perfectly wonderful cafe. Actually a place I love and have been to many times. I'd like to think we discovered it many moons ago, and now it is someplace the cogniscenti frequent. It's called Cafe Marly and it sits at the entrance to the Louvre. So...we were there, my "friends" and I. Everyone ordered a croque monsier...which they prounounced Croak Mons Sure (insert your best bad American-French accent here). So I, with my incredible ear for languages, placed my order for crudite...(insert your best gutteral phlegm inducing expulsion here). It sounded great, and I looked great with the wave of my hand and the tipping of my beret topped head. Very French, very French indeed.

All was going well, until the watier delivered my perfectly toasted sandwich...same thing everybody else got. I tried to tell him that it wasn't what I ordered, but he just waved me off, and tipped his beret topped head. Apparently my French ain't so good. Which brings me back to Chinese.

My husband and I are learning it because Michael Phelps said it would be a good idea. Okay, that's not true, but I understand he does think it's a good idea. We are learning it because we are going to China next spring and thought it would be nice if we could speak, understand or smile a little bit of it. We are using the Rosetta Stone, because Michael Phelps said it would be a good idea. Okay, I'll stop with that joke, I imagine I am the only one who thinks it's funny...or even know what it means.

Let me tell ya...Mandarin is hard...really hard. I'm not so confident in my presentation...and for some reason, I think random hand gestures might actually be offensive in China. What plays in Paris doesn't necessarily play in Peking.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Impromptu Dinner Party

Last night my husband and I hosted an impromptu dinner party. I had been planning a roasted chicken dinner as a test run for our Thanksgiving turkey. I figured it would be a good foil for the roasted potatoes and stuffing I am planning to make. Yes, I know....2 starches...but what's a girl to do? So, sue me...I didn't serve bread. I rounded it out with a sensible green salad and sauteed broccoli. Oh...and my husband's favorite--cranberry fluff. I started preparing, I realized that I was making a lot of food for just the 2 of us. So I invited our neighbor who was bachin' it for the night. Once I invited an outside guest, the tables were turned. I had to have a dessert. My husband and I don't normally have dessert with dinner. It's a special occasion thing. Maybe because we eat stuffing and potatoes at the same sitting...maybe because we don't need it...maybe because life isn't fair. But, an outsider was entering our midst, and I had to have something.

I'm a trained pastry chef so you'd think this wouldn't be an issue with me. But it was. I didn't have a lot of time, I needed to clean my latest craft project off the dining room table, tidy the dining room from my general lack of attention to tidiness, clean the silver, dust off the crystal....
Did I mention that I wanted to use our wedding china, silver and crystal? I figured it was time...oh...and I broke out the Christmas china...maybe a bit early for that...but if I was cleaning, I was pulling all the stops.

Back to dessert.
I went with what I had on hand and it turned out great. I thought I would pass it on to you.
I buttered some ramekins...the big ones, about 8 ounces each...I then peeled and sliced about 1 1/2 apples per person, into a bowl. I used a combination of granny smith and fuji. Use a majority of granny smith...if you are mixing. You need to use a good baking apple for this. I sliced the apples pretty thin, probaby 1/8 of an inch thick. I then sprinkled some granulated sugar...use your judgement, just to lightly dust. I then added a dusting of cinnamon, more or less depending on if you love cinnamon...and about a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Tossed it all together and crammed it into the ramekins. And when I say cram, I mean it. They cook and shrink and you need to pack them in. For the topping, I took about 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, a pinch of salt a small handful of toasted slivered almonds and mixed together. I then mixed in, by hand, about 1/2 stick of room temperature butter. The mixture was soft and gooey and I placed a dollop on top of each ramekin. I had a bit of granola on hand, so I sprinkled a bit on each one for a little crunch factor. When we sat down to dinner I placed them in a 400 degree oven and let them bake until they were nice and bubbly...about 30 minutes.

After pulling from the oven I let them sit until the proper dessert wine was poured (hey it was a party!). I topped them with vanilla ice cream and waited for the applause...still waiting...
Really, they were wonderful and so easy and a great last minute dessert. They maybe took 15 minutes to prepare and then they sat in the fridge until heading to the oven.

Dinner parties are fun. Sitting at a beautifully laid table is my favorite part. Cleaning up afterward is not.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fudge Ripple

Welcome to Fudge Ripple. Those of you whom are old enough to remember life before an ATM, or as we used to call it, "the money machine", may remember fudge ripple ice cream. Every major dairy had their own version. It was my mom's favorite and mine too. It was a special treat, although a carton always sat in the the freezer waiting for it's discovery. Even when freezer burned, the ripple was gooey and sweet. I miss it...and so it shall live on in my blog.

I am a victim of my senses...I will walk around a linen store and touch everything, as the feel of it is just as important as the look. I will wander into a seemingly abandoned building because I think I smell fresh yeast used to bake bread. I will order 5 side dishes in a restaurant because they are tastier than a main course. I love to cook, to bake, to sew, to create and to entertain. I hope to use this forum to share with you the fun stuff, and also the mistakes I make. I would love to hear what you have to say too...well only if it's nice...okay let's say, only if it's constructive.

So, here's to the fudge ripple path, care to join me?


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