Monday, December 31, 2012

mac & cheese

(If you're a Friends fan, like me, the first thing you think of when you read this title is the episode where Joey becomes the star of a TV series, "Mac & Cheese.")

I made this as my great caloric send-off to 2012 and welcome to 2013.

Yesterday was one of those lovely quiet post-Christmas days: woke-up, enjoyed a mug of coffee, had a nice long phone visit with my older sister and took the pup for a walk. We have been lucky to have cool weather (well, cool for So Cal) during the holidays this year. It has made all the difference for me. When it is cool and I need to bundle up, everything just feels more like the holidays. Yesterday, as we walked around the neighborhood, dark grey skies were moving in from the southwest and the rain was just beginning to sputter. The neighborhood was also full of after Christmas sights: a Dad teaching his young son to ride a new bike (my hunch is it was a present) and I spotted three houses with the garage doors thrown open, music blaring on some old cassette player and garage contents in various stages of organization (with more than a few things piled up at the curb.) It was a nice brisk walk and I was reminded how glad I am to live in a town where I can walk my dog down main street and everyone stops to say hello (people love dachshunds.) Harriet even met a very nice old black lab (his gray chin gave away his age).

My sister and I talked yesterday of how we use the days leading up to the New Year to piece together thoughts about our year and how we're really doing. I have spent a little time each morning writing, reading, mulling and it is helping me have peace on 2012 and put together goals for 2013. (Speaking of goals, Elise's blog has a great post on how she picks one word to theme the new year. I very much like this idea. If you're interested, read it here.)

In the midst of all this reflection and relaxation, I decided I wanted to make a big dish of macaroni and cheese to celebrate 2013. The recipe is Ina Garten's. It is pretty easily assembled and while it does require purchasing a small fortune in cheese, the recipe is the perfect balance of nutty gruyere and zingy  cheddar and the indulgence of homemade mac and cheese will keep us fed all through New Years day.

I wish you and yours a very happy New Year!

mac & cheese

kosher salt
vegetable oil
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 quart milk (my sister mentioned to me this dish can be a bit dry to reheat. Therefore, I add an extra cup of milk here for a total of 5 cups. I prefer my mac and cheese on the saucy side, but if you do not, please feel free to stick with the recipe and only use 4 cups.)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2) Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

3) Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. (At this step, do not add all the milk at once. Add a little, whisk to incorporate, add a little more, whisk to incorporate, etc. until all the milk has been added. This will help eliminate the possibility of lumps in the sauce and keep it smooth and thick.)

4) Off the heat, add the gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt (yeah, I added about half that much), pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3 quart baking dish.

5) Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. (Per my husbands request, I do not add the bread crumb/butter mixture. But the tomatoes do make the dish. From the pictures you can see I used small tomatoes. Next time I will be sure to use more tomatoes. I sprinkled a big of salt and pepper directly on each tomato slice before baking.)

6) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Ina's note: to make ahead, put the macaroni and cheese in the baking dish, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake. Put the tomatoes and bread crumbs on top and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes.

Monday, December 24, 2012

salted brown butter crispy treats

While marching out of the kitchen with what must have been his 15th rice krispie treat, my husband declared this to be our new Christmas cookie. I can't fight him on this one. They are just too stinkin' good. I have made 6 or 7 batches of these in the last 2 weeks (!) We have polished off quite a few, shared them with friends, and tucked packets of them into boxes shipped to family. It is ridiculous how much they are loved.

They are good because it takes the nostalgia factor of rice krispie treats and enhances it with brown butter, a little bit of salt and (my addition) extra marshmallow. It reminds of the whole salted caramel phenomena we have gone a little crazy for.

The recipe is from Deb Perelman's new book "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook". It is probably the best cookbook I have read in the last 5 years. The food is interesting and fun, the writing is clever and the recipes are spot on. If you are looking for a last minute gift for someone who loves to cook or a way to spend your xmas Amazon gift cards- I cannot say enough about this book.

salted brown butter crispy treats

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
One 10-ounce bag large or miniature marshmallows (here I buy the 16 ounce bag and put 3/4 of it in, so like 12 ounces of marshmallows)
6 cups puffed-rice cereal (rice krispies)

1) Butter, or coat with nonstick spray, an 8-inchsquare cake pan with 2-inch sides. (I use 9x13 glass pan).

2) Brown the butter: In a large pot, melt 1 stick butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden, and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don't take your eyes off the pot: you may be impatient for it to start browning, but the period between the time the butter begins to taken on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

3) Make the crispy treats: As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off, sprinkle salt over butter, and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on over low heat until the marshmallows are smooth. Be careful not to cook the marshmallows, which will destroy their stretchy softness; you're just looking for enough heat so they will melt and smooth out.

4) Remove the pot from the stove, and stir in the cereal, folding it gently with the marshmallow mixture until the cereal is evenly coated. Quickly spread into prepared pan. I use a piece of waxed or parchment paper that I've sprayed with oil to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners and smooth the top, though a silicon spatula works almost as well.

5) Let cool, then cut into squares and get ready to make new friends.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Last minute Christmas rush recipes

This Saturday and Sunday are my big grocery shop prep days. Are you making your big grocery trips this weekend to? If so, and if you are in search of some options for Christmas eve supper or Christmas morning brunch, etc may I suggest the recipes below?

  • Morton Family Strata (assembled the night before, it makes for a very easy Christmas morning brunch for a crowd)
  • Scalloped potatoes (would go quite nicely with a Christmas ham)
  • Scones (these will keep overnight unbaked in the fridge and in the morning, while kids tear into presents, the adults can enjoy fresh baked scones and that much needed cup of coffee)
  • Chocolate croissants (so easy and a fun breakfast luxury for kids to help make) 
More Christmas cookie options: 
When I look over the year, getting to share recipes and ideas together with you, readers and friends, is one of my greatest joys. Thanks for taking time to stop by the blog and I love your comments. 
I wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas ! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies

This cookie is a delightful combination of chocolate and spice. I made some to share with friends and one commented, "I thought it was just a gingerbread cookie but then it had chocolate in it!" That surprise is what drew me to this cookie in the first place and I am very pleased the recipe did not disappoint.

Although, what was disappointing was the incredible mess I made with an old jar of molasses. While reading through the list of ingredients and flipping open cupboard doors to see what I already had, I discovered an ancient jar of molasses. Maybe it's the kind of thing that does not go bad, but I figured if I was going to be investing time and energy into making these cookies, it was worth springing the extra $3 for a new jar of molasses. I did so and blithely trashed the ancient jar. This is where things went downhill. Apparently the old jar broke open in my trash can, cut through the trash bag, and flooded the bottom of my trash can with sticky sticky molasses. Oh and it also found a crack in the seam of my trash can frame and seeped out onto my tile floor. I was alerted to this when my sweet puppy suddenly became obsessed with licking the grout around the trash can. Such. A. Mess.

But, my tale of woe aside, this is a great cookie and if you or someone you love has a thing for gingerbread, I would encourage you to try it out.

This recipe is from the book Martha Stewart's Cookies.

chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon freshly grated peeled ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water
7 ounces best-quality semi-sweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch chunks (I substitute chocolate chips)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1) Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2) In a bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and fresh ginger on medium speed until lightened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.

3) In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn into plastic wrap. Pat out to a 1-inch thickness; seal with wrap. Refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or overnight.

(please note: this dough is very very soft. Even after refrigerating, it will be pretty sticky and soft. I would not skimp on the chilling time.)

4) Preheat oven to 325. Roll dough into 1 1/2- inch balls; place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Chill 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar. (Don't you love cookies that are given a coating of sugar just before baking? The slightly crunchy crackly exterior is lovely.)

5) Bake until surfaces just begin to crack, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let cool 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Cookies are best the day they are made, but can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Russian tea cake cookies

I love the full sensory experience that is Christmas- the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that speak to me, "It's Christmas time!" I think each person has their package of cues about the holiday's and it's fun to learn them about each other- favorite traditions, cookies, Christmas movies, etc. I look forward to the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree accompanied by the fresh pine smell. The first morning I wake up and smell my Christmas tree, then I know it's Christmas.
Not surprisingly, I also love the tastes of Christmas. Specifically, the once-a-year phenomena of the Christmas cookie.
I have been lucky this year to get to do quite a bit of baking. Not every year turns out like that. Over the next few days I hope to share a few of my favorite cookie recipes- some are classics and some are new.
I thought I would kick things off with what is by far my favorite Christmas cookie: the Russian Tea Cake. When I see this powdered sugar ball on a cookie plate, it is always the first one I reach for. I love the buttery, subtle nuttiness of this cookie and the way the powdered sugar melts into an almost glaze. I also love how the powdered sugar mess created from eating one of these cookies can bring out a kid-like quality in each of us.
The recipe below is from Betty Crocker.

Russian tea cakes

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powderd sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1/4 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2) Cream butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.

3) Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

4) Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on a wire rack.

5) Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

striped crochet blanket

I recently finished a big crochet project and am pleased as peach with how it turned out. I started it well over a year ago, when I found out one of my dear friends was pregnant and I decided to make a baby blanket as a gift. 

I learned how to crochet about 3 years ago. While I am not terribly good at it (no fancy patterns or complex stitches here), I do very much enjoy the rhythm of it. I like how crocheting allows my mind to zone out in a good way. November's issue of Martha Stewart Living had an article in it by Lisa Borgnes-Giramonti (see her beautiful blog here) on the mental health benefits of crafting. My favorite quote is, "When the midbrain is engaged by the repetitive movement involved in many crafts, the temporal lobe is unable to focus on worry or stress." (Psychologist Robert Maurer).
Don't you just feel sometimes like you need your temporal lobe to unfocus?

I continue to be amazed at how taking just one length of yarn and wrapping it a certain way around a hook can result in actually creating something. I think I also like crocheting because while days, weeks and months seem to fly by, it is nice to look at a scarf or a blanket and, while so many details of that time fade, a tangible creation remains.

My goddaughter recently had her 1st birthday and I (finally) finished her blanket. I created a random pattern of stripes with gray as the primary color with purple stripes and then flipped the combination to purple with gray stripes. In this way, each half of the blanket is a mirror image of the other, with the colors reversed.

I also chose to make the blanket larger than a standard baby blanket in the hopes that while my goddaughter is little it will be a blanket for her but as she grows up, it will continue to serve purpose as throw at the end of a bed or draped across a bedroom corner chair.

Do you have any yarn or crochet projects planned for the holiday? If so, I would love to hear about them!

Monday, November 26, 2012

ragu alla bolognese

Are you tired of turkey yet? If looking for a break in between the feasts that are Thanksgiving and Christmas, I would like to suggest this dish. It is cozy and comforting (nice for winter evenings) and a good change up from the large roast with multiple sides. Also, I think this recipe is a great example of how simple simple (inexpensive) ingredients can be transformed by technique and time.

When I initially made this dish, I doubled the recipe and froze about three-quarters of it in dinner sized portions to be defrosted when the craving struck. It has felt like such a luxury this fall to have this dish for a weeknight supper.

I am pretty sure my husband fell in love with me a little more after I made this for him. It is nice after 13 years of marriage to still be able to surprise the one I love with a wonderful new meal.

The recipe is from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss. Ms. Weiss writes the lovely blog The Wednesday Chef and lives in Germany with her husband and baby son. Her new book is part memoir, part cookbook and all loveliness. The writing is very charming. I think I read through the whole book in a weekend and on that Sunday afternoon, I made this pasta dish. If you have someone in your life who loves food and reading, I think My Berlin Kitchen would make a wonderful present!

ragu alla bolognese

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion, finely minced
2 large carrots, finely minced (you want roughly equal amounts of minced onion and carrot)
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup red wine (open a fresh bottle and drink the rest with dinner)
1 28-ounce can peeled San Marzano tomatoes, pureed
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1) Put the oil and butter in a large cast-iron pot over medium heat, to melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for about 7 minutes, until the onion is well cooked. Do not let it take on any color. Add the minced carrots and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring now and then.

2) Add the ground meat to the pot, and using a wooden spoon, stir and chop up the meat so that it cooks and breaks down into uniformly tiny pieces. Raise the heat to medium-high or even high as you do this. It takes a good amount of elbow grease and a little bit of time. Continue to stir and cook until the meat is no longer pink (at no point, however, should the meat be browning). There will be liquid at the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until that liquid has mostly evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.

3) Add the wine and stir well to combine. Simmer until the wine has mostly evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.

4) Add the pureed tomatoes and the salt and stir well to combine. The sauce will come to a simmer almost instantly. Lower the heat to the lowest possible setting, put the lid on the pot, and let the sauce simmer for as long as you possibly can, stirring it occasionally. Seven hours would be wonderful, 5 hours is pretty good, but any less than 3 and you're really missing out. The longer you cook the sauce, the richer and more flavorful it will get. At some point in the cooking process, the fat will separate from the sauce and float at the top, so just give the sauce a good stir every so often to reincorporate the fat.

5) At the end of the cooking time, taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. Then serve tossed with pasta or use in a classic lasagne (this recipe makes enough for a 9 x 13-inch pan). If you plan on freezing the sauce let it cool completely before putting into freezer bags or other plastic containers.

Friday, November 23, 2012

the day after Thanksgiving (and my new favorite pumpkin pie recipe)

I think the day after Thanksgiving is a serious contender for best post-holiday day.
Let's talk through it's merits:

  • the fridge is filled with amazing food (so even if you have a house full of guests, people can feed themselves)
  • no substantial decorations mocking you to clean them up (isn't a Christmas tree on Dec. 26th like the saddest thing?)
  • there is a lovely anticipation for the holiday season (can still day-dream all the unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished- for example, giving every one a jar of homemade jam for Christmas.) 

But deep down, the number one reason the day after Thanksgiving is the best post-holiday day is:

pie for breakfast.

Man, do I love pumpkin pie. The Thanksgiving meal itself is so amazingly oversized and good, that I secretly think the enjoyment of desserts at the end gets a little lost (anyone else feel this way?)
But pumpkin pie chilled out the fridge the next day with a mug of hot coffee? perfection.

This year I tried a new pumpkin pie recipe and both my husband and I love it so much, I thought I would share. I first read about this recipe on Elsie & Emma's blog, A Beautiful Mess. They took a Paula Deen recipe and instead of using the cream cheese, substituted an equal amount of mascarpone (genius). The result is a very custardy pumpkin pie on the brink of cheesecake.

I am a firm believer in homemade crust. It may be my favorite thing about pie. I recently acquired Deb Perelman's new book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and tried out her recipe for all-butter pie crust. I believe it will be my new go-to pie crust recipe- it is very good.

mascarpone pumpkin pie

1 8 ounce container mascarpone, room temperature
2 cups canned pumpkin, mashed
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (optional- I substituted 1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg)
1 9-inch pie crust
whipped cream, for topping

1) Place pie dough in 9-inch pie pan and press down along the bottom and all sides. Pinch and crimp the edges together to make a pretty pattern. Put the pie shell back into the freezer for an hour to firm up. (I love this recipes assumption that the pie crust came from the freezer in the first place and we're just going to be putting it back into the freezer. But I will save my pie crust rant for another day.)

2)  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove pie crust from the freezer and fit a piece of aluminum foil to cover the inside of the shell completely. Fill the shell up to the edges with pie weights or dried beans (about 2 pounds) and place it in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the foil and pie weights and bake for another 10 minutes or until the crust is dried out and beginning to color.

3) For the filling, in a large mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone with a hand mixer. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined. Add the sugar and salt, and beat until combined. Add the eggs mixed with the yolks, half-and-half, and melted butter, and beat until combined. Finally add the vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger (or nutmeg), if using, and beat until incorporated.

4) Pour the filling into the warm prepared pie crust and bake for 50 minutes or until the center is set. Place the pie on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Cut into slices and top each piece with a generous amount of whipped cream.

We have a very low-key day ahead of us. This is how Harriet plans to spend the day:

To be fair, yesterday was exhausting for her- with the running around the kitchen trying to keep up with all the food preparation to ensure no fallen crumb went uneaten. :)
(In case you're wondering, top right corner of the picture is a mess of yarn- I am currently working on crocheting Christmas garland to drape around the house to warm things up for the holidays.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

favorite holiday bread

When the weather turns cool, I look forward to making bread. In summer, I must admit I am not inspired to make zucchini bread. When I have extra bananas, I am more likely to make these cupcakes, over banana bread. But come fall, I am jazzed to make pumpkin bread, pear bread and cranberry bread.

I put together the platter above with slices from all three of my favorite fall breads and a little crock of honey butter (mix up softened butter with honey).

While I waited for the fresh baked breads to cool, I studded clementines with cloves and watched holiday movies. They filled the house with such lovely smell and to share the festivity, I tucked a few in around the edge of the platter.

Both the pear and cranberry bread keep beautifully and would be a great treat to have on hand for house guests.

I wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving Holiday filled with delicious food and dear friends and family!

cranberry bread

Food writing has always captivated me and this started at an early age. There is a wonderful children's book, "Cranberry Thanksgiving", and the writing and illustrations are straightforward and charming. It is a story about a prized cranberry bread recipe and an attempt to steal it by a Thanksgiving day dinner guest.

It is fun as an adult to re-visit children's books and discover plot subtleties that originally escaped you or  to again be mesmerized by the story. Imagine my delight when a few years ago I revisited "Cranberry Thanksgiving" and realized the recipe for the famed cranberry bread is on the last page of the book. 

This is where I feel it is important to pause and say a word about the flavor combination of cranberry and orange. In my opinion, as a result of appearing in too many over processed commercial baked goods, it has been much maligned of late. If you feel the same as me in this regard, I would just ask you to have faith and try this recipe. The use of fresh cranberries is key and their tart sour sweetness are perfect paired with the fresh orange juice/zest in the batter. 

Also, the recipe calls for 11/2 cups raisins and 1 1/2 cups cranberries. I have no faith whatsoever in raisins in my baked goods. As my husband likes to say, "raisin cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies are the main reason I have trust issues." Therefore, I double the cranberries to 3 cups. The recipe says it is okay to do that and I find it is really the only way forward. 

cranberry bread 

2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed)
1 1/2 cups raisins (bleh)
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped

1) Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl.

2) Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Add egg, orange peel, and orange juice all at once; stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in raisins or cranberries.

3) Spoon into a greased 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

If you choose, you may substitute cranberries for the raisins and have an all cranberry bread.

Monday, November 19, 2012

pear bread

I am ashamed that I am just now sharing this recipe with you all. Of all the food to ever come out of my kitchen, this bread is by far the item I love to share the most. It is simply really good. The pear is such an unexpected element. It melts beautifully into the subtle spice of the bread. It takes a common idea, like banana or zucchini bread, and elevates it. If I was to invite Nigella Lawson over for tea, I would make her this bread. I firmly believe she would adore it.

I love this recipe not only for the outcome but also for it's practicality. When pears are overripe, a mushy grittiness appears that I cannot handle. This recipe is an excellent place to stash 2 to 3 pears that have overstayed their welcome.

I wanted to share this recipe the week of Thanksgiving as I would guess a few folks may be decorating their table with assorted fall fruits or receiving fruit baskets thank you's from turkey-day guests. Should you find yourself with a couple pears past their prime, please take a moment to try this out.

This recipe is from The Joy of Cooking.

pear bread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I bump this up a bit and use fresh ground)
1 large egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups grated peeled ripe pears, with juice (generally 2-3 pears)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (I omit)

1) Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5-inch (8 cup) loaf pan.

2) Whisk together thoroughly the dry ingredients.

3) In a separate large bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients (egg, oil, vanilla, lemon zest and juice, and grated pear.)

4) Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and fold until about three-quarters of the dry ingredients are moistened. Add the pecans (if using) and fold just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5) Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Indian-style cauliflower soup with peas

This soup is such a sunny looking soup, no? Perfect for any breezy or rainy fall day. It is cheery and delicious. Somewhere I read about a creamy cauliflower soup that got my thinking but after looking at a few cream soaked recipes, I was discouraged. Don't get me wrong, I am not one to shy away from the full-fat dairy products. However, for me, the decision is always about flavor. Too often "cream of" dishes are leaden and, after the first few bites, rather dull.
I learned from making this potato leek soup, sometimes, to bring the flavor out of a creamy soup, the best place to start is by taking out the cream.

This recipe is from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook by Amelia Saltsman. The book is structured around what can be found at a Southern California Farmer's Market during the season's of the year. The recipes are unique but not pretentious or too out of reach for a home cook like myself.

If you are looking for a simple change-up to your fall soup repertoire, I would recommend giving this soup a try. It is the perfect combination of warm spice and zingy lime.

Indian-style cauliflower soup with peas

2 tablespoons canola or other mild cooking oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into small florets
1/2 cup water
4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup shelled English peas, about 1 pound in the pod (or 1 cup frozen peas)
1/2 lime
small handful each of fresh mint leaves, chives, and cilantro leaves, chopped

1) In a wide pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and stir until brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the ground spices, pepper flakes, and salt and cook until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds.

2) Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the remaining tablespoon oil and the onion, and saute until translucent and soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 1 minute.

3) Stir in the cauliflower and water, cover, raise the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes. (This is a genius step. It's like a spiced steam bath for the cauliflower.) Add 4 cups stock, re-cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until very tender, 15-20 minutes.

4) Use an immersion or stand blender to puree the soup, leaving a little texture. Add the remaining 2 cups stock as needed to achieve the consistency of heavy cream. Return the soup to medium-low heat, add the peas, cover, and simmer until the peas are tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes. (If using frozen peas, it will take even less time.)

5) Give the soup a squeeze of lime and serve with a sprinkling of the herbs.

Friday, October 26, 2012

photobombing with Harriet

I was going to put a little note together about how excited I am to have finally made the seasonal switch to fall bedding- layers of down, cozy quilts. It was to be accompanied by pictures of my favorite saffron colored Marimekko duvet cover and the quilt my sweet husband surprised me with one day.

But as soon as I picked up the camera, Harriet jumped up on the bed and insisted on being in every shot.

So, instead I'll just make this about her :)

Happy Friday friends!

(For more Harriet photobombs, please see here and here.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

memorize a poem

You are young.  So you know everything.  You leap
into the boat and begin rowing.  But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul.  Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to
me.  There is life without love.  It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe.  It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied.  When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
toward it.

- Mary Oliver

I have had Mary Oliver's poem "Wild West #2" up on my dining room wall chalkboard for a several months now. I heard it when I attended a Storyline Conference in June. Yesterday, I learned I have actually had one line of the poem incorrect all this time. When I copied it onto the chalkboard, I added an extra word to the 7th line. Instead of saying "There is life without love", mine read "There is no life without love."

Mary Oliver has it right. Sadly, there is life without love. It is possible to exist, to keep breathing in and out, and hate or despise every moment of it. It's not a way to live. To me, the poem is a call to live intentionally. To 'lift the oars from the water' and listen.

Joanna (of the genius Cup of Jo) recently started a series on fall challenges. I missed week one (which was to skip TV for the week) but am jumping on board with week two: memorize a poem.

I choose Oliver's poem to memorize this week. The words are so beautiful and memorizing them means  I get to carry them around with me wherever I go.

(The waterfall pictured is called 'million dollar falls' and is located in Yukon, Canada. I took this picture during my last visit back home.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

September in AK - longing for Fall

At the beginning of September I went home to SE Alaska for a week. It was so good to be with family, start the day with coffee together and end it over a meal together. I soak it up and treasure it. Nothing feels as good as cooking for my family.

As an added treat, my big sister and I were able to meet up in the Seattle airport and fly together to Juneau. From Juneau, we took the ferry boat to our hometown. 

Here my sister is looking adorable, hanging out on the Ferry deck, waiting to dock. (Note how chipper she looks here. This is amazing as we literally had 3 hours of sleep the night before.)

It was very fall in Alaska. It has been a while since I was home in the fall and had forgotten all the familiar images and smells. Even though I've lived in southern California for a while now, I act outraged/surprised every September when, as the rest of the country cools down and has lovely leaves turning, So Cal is just gearing up for some of our hottest weather. I know I need to get over it and consider it part of my recovery to soak up a few fall images from my trip: 

The first few leaves turning- gold surrounded by green

We drove into Yukon, Canada just to stare at these beauties for a bit

Finally, thumbnail snapshots of fall 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

late summer Saturday

"The cure for anything is salt water- sweat, tears or the sea." - Isak Dinesen

It feels like I have been running a full on sprint since returning from our Paris trip. It has been good things and tough things but when I make choices that end up with my days feeling so hectic, I know I will look back on this summer like when you flip the pages of a magazine or a book too quickly. Images spin past and you are not really able to fully catch the content.

Which is why today was so lovely. For the first time in a very long time, we went to the beach. This morning we looked up dog friendly beaches and ended up in Huntington Beach. A dog beach is just as hilariously endearing as you hope it would be - dogs of all sizes milling about, seemingly having their own conversations and cliques. Some bouncing through shallow waves, others chasing down a tennis ball.

Harriet was not quite keen on the sand- her little dachshund legs make for pretty tough going. It reminded me of my own experiences wading through hip-deep soft fresh snow. When we reached the wet, more stable sand she was happier but then had to contend with the surf rushing in and out. She did not care for the water at all but loved meeting all the new dogs and running about freely. And, for at least a few hours, everything slowed down.

Monday, July 16, 2012

lemony orzo and arugula salad

Another sunny summer evening, another summer salad. This time, it is tender orzo pasta and peppery arugula tossed in a simple lemon vinaigrette. 

Don't you always find pasta salads disappointing? So often they are bland, oily and mushy. Not to mention time consuming to prepare. I remain ever hopeful and continue to take servings of them at parties and potlucks, but I must admit it has been a while since I have undertaken making one myself. 

This salad is different. The orzo cooks up quickly and the heat of it ever so slightly wilts the arugula. It is quite nice. The recipe is from Everyday Food Magazine. 

lemony orzo and arugula salad

3/4 pound orzo
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
grated parmesan (optional)

1) In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook orzo according to package directions; drain.

2) Stir 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and arugula into orzo and season with salt and pepper. Add a bit of grated parmesan (optional).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

a discovery

If you played the board game Enchanted Forest as a kid, hopefully you'll be as thrilled as I was to find those toy tree pieces are real and growing around the entrance to the Musee de l'Armee in Paris (!)

Monday, July 9, 2012

tomato and beet salad

This lovely little composed salad was part of our Sunday evening supper. It is a revelation in it's simplicity: a bite of earthy dark beet with the sweetness of tomato, tangy salinity of feta, and lemony brightness of tender cilantro. Besides the roasting of the beets, everything else comes together quite easily, which on these hot summer days blending into hot summer nights, is about all I can muster.

The beets pictured here came from our weekly farmers box but in the refrigerated section of Trader Joes, they sell a little vacuum sealed packet of pre-roasted beets that I think are quite nice. Please do not let a little beet roasting get in the way of making this salad.

The recipe is from the July/August issue of Everyday Food Magazine (and a very good issue it is too.)

1 pound small beets
2 pounds tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 400. Seal 1 pound of scrubbed small beets in a foil packet. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet until tender, 75 minutes. When cool, rub beets with a paper towel to remove skins.

2) Slice 2 pounds tomatoes, preferably heirloom, and halve 1 pint cherry tomatoes, then arrange with beets on a platter.

3) Top with 1/4 cup each crumbled feta, fresh cilantro leaves, and extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.