Monday, May 31, 2010

Strawberries Sing Of Summer

I always have grand plans for making fabulous things with quantities of fresh plump juicy strawberries, but we usually just end up eating them over the sink. Well, that's what we do at first anyway. After the initial berry-binge, we want to put them in everything we make. Here are some ideas that look awfully good...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweet/Tart

This tart was almost too tart, but then again... if you love lemon, it was just right. A fantastic dessert that seems light and rich at the same time. I'll have to make another one though, as we ate it all before I had a chance to photograph it! Mine was nowhere near as smooth and gorgeous as the one in the Gourmet photo, but I'm pretty sure it tasted just as good!
My Notes: Made this tart with... Meyer lemons (of course). The recipe called for a "fruity olive oil (preferably French)". I used a Clementine Olive Oil from Sonoma County instead (pretty sure that's not what they meant by "fruity", but I think it worked out really well). The crust dough was very unusual, unlike any I've used before: really soft as you spread it in the pan, but light and almost sandy once baked. It was a perfect foil for the rich lemony curd. All in all, it was quite quick and easy. Be sure to chill it for at least 4 hours before serving.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Meyer Van Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Marmalade. Just say it slowly a few times: mar-ma-lade. Slightly exotic sounding, it's name reveals a somewhat more complex nature than its sisters, Jam and Jelly. They're both sweet girls of course, everybody likes them, but marmalade has seen a little of the world, lived life, and has come home to tell you about it.* Both the dark and the light of it; the bitter with the sweet.

Traditional orange marmalade was essentially born from someone making the most out of what they had: in this case, a boatload of inedible bitter oranges. In a country that is not exactly known for its sunshine and citrus, they were probably happy to get whatever of those exotic fruits that they could.

My favorite store-bought marmalade was from Scotland and came packaged in white glass jars. It was an occasional special treat when our budget allowed. I would keep the jar in the fridge and only use it on weekends, when I wasn't in a hurry and could appreciate it more. It has virtually nothing in common with the domestic brands available, and is a world away from the little plastic single-serving packets found in diners and chain eateries in this country. Good orange marmalade is like dark sunshine in a jar. And it is at its best when smeared thickly on top of crispy hot sourdough toast that's been slicked with butter... and accompanied by a big mug of strong hot tea.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When Life Hands You Fallen Cupcakes...


I am... not a very good cupcake baker.
I have... two cupcake cookbooks filled with photos of unattainable cupcake perfection.
I can... never seem to fill the cupcake pan neatly or evenly.
I have... had nothing but disastrous results when making cupcakes.
I will... be glad if some day perfectly baked cupcakes were ever to come out of my oven.
I do... so hate cleaning the cupcake pan afterward.
I am... supremely happy that there is, a mile or so from my house, a cupcake bakery. So if my planned dessert doesn't work out, the Hubs can always run over and pick up a few high-priced but gorgeous and tasty professionally made cupcakes.

I'm practicing making positive affirmation-type statements... how am I doing? Like the cupcakes I just made, these statements start out o.k. enough, but then something goes wrong. And don't even get me started on frosting! Ugh. Same story. As with most things, I probably just need more practice. Clearly there is some sort of mental-block to overcome.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What To Make When You're Out Of Dough


Friends and family (thinking I've gone 'round the bend): "You're making what?!"
Me (not having noticed whether I'd rounded any bends lately or not): "Um, hamburger buns."
Friends and family (certain that I've gone 'round the bend): "...from scratch?!"

Admittedly I get kind of a kick out of hearing that response, especially when I know that it's not exactly rocket science that I'm engaging in. Anyone can make these. Just why are we incredulous? Is there a great shroud of mystery around the creation of hamburger buns that only the commercial bread manufacturers know the secrets behind?

I probably used to think that. Or rather, I probably never thought to even think that they could be made at home. Not until the Hubs came home the other day with a package of ground beef, but no buns... and wanting hamburgers for dinner. He thought we could save money* and use our sourdough bread instead of buying buns. I couldn't do that though. I've just never liked hamburgers on bread. Hamburgers and hot dogs require buns for a reason. Juicy burgers and condiments soak right through regular bread and it falls apart before you're halfway done eating. It's a mess. Sliced bread is for sandwiches and toast and even toasted sandwiches. But not burgers and dogs. We were almost out of bread anyway, and frankly, it would be irritating to use up the last of my nice semi-whole-wheat sourdough that way.**

Monday, May 10, 2010

Look Ma! No Flour!


My Notes: With only 4 ingredients (5 counting the chocolate), these cookies went together fast and easy (especially with a stand mixer). The recipe said to roll the dough into balls, so I used my small cookie scoop to portion them out and finished them with my hands, not so much rolling as pressing. They looked like they were just going to crumble apart when I pressed the fork tines into the tops of them, but they turned out fine. In fact they turned out great! I melted a handful of chocolate chips and piped the melted chocolate into the fork pattern using a piece of parchment rolled into a cone. Pop the piped cookies into the fridge for 30 minutes or so to harden the chocolate back up. I didn't have time to do that part so the chocolate was still a little gooey when it came time to serve them. Not that it was a problem in any way, mind you!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Money Can't Buy You Love


My mom loves dark chocolate infused with chili pepper... I must admit to finding it pretty darn good also. The flavor kind of creeps up on you and then builds with each successive bite. It's subtle and intense at the same time. Hard to explain. It's the kind of chocolate that is best in small amounts; to eat too much of it is to ruin the pleasure of it. Besides, it's easy to restrain yourself when your mouth is on fire! Purely by chance, I recently ran into the perfect thing to satisfy our chili/chocolate needs without breaking the calorie-bank at the same time: Spicy-Hot Chocolate Biscotti. One bite and I knew I had to share these with her.

What it's really all about
Mom has always considered Mother's Day to be what she calls a "Hallmark holiday", in other words something fabricated for no other reason than to sell people stuff by playing off their guilt and good feelings. I tend to think of Mother's Day (and Father's Day, etc.) as not so much a day for the celebrated person to feel celebrated, but for the rest of us to take time during our self-centered lives to think about, in this case our mothers, and how much they mean to us. Part of me is thinking that I only believe this because I'm currently unemployed and therefore unable to lavish gifts on my mom. Maybe so, for it is precisely that limitation that opened my eyes to the retail guilt-fest all around me.

I just called to say "I love you"...
My mom doesn't want more tchotchkes or dust-catchers*. Goodness knows, she still has all the ones I've bought her before: innumerable scarves, vases and trinket boxes, clogging up her cupboards. She is unable to unload them even though she doesn't need or want them... simply because they were "a gift". They sit there unused and un-thought of. On the other hand, I still remember the day I saw her weep when I accidentally broke the little plaster hand-print that I had made for her back in elementary school. An imprint of little me, a frozen moment in time. A memory. That kind of thing makes a girl stop and think.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Eat More Greens


It was a whim, pure and simple. And green. Very green. There was some fresh basil in the fridge (leftover from the bruschetta we made), and it needed to be used up fast. It wasn't getting any younger, if you know what I mean. Not enough left to make pesto with and too early in the year to start thinking about Caprese salads... why not try making colored pasta with it? So on the most spontaneous of whims, I began mixing up and rolling out green pasta dough. Just because. Bizarre and beautiful and basil-y. Basil is one of those smells and tastes that seem like the very essence of summer to me.

In the summer version of my dream garden there would be walls of basil and rosemary, and sage and (of course) lavender. And in the center of this hedge-room would be a tomato garden, like a green room filled with clusters of ripe red jewels. Or... in the alternate summer dream garden, the herbs are planted to form a labyrinth* with the tomatoes growing at the very center. Imagine it: walking and picking herbs in deep profound contemplative thought, then plucking ripe tomatoes and journeying back out, all the while being surrounded by wafts of real herbal essences. Sigh. Of course, in the winter it would look like hell. That's why this is the "summer version" of my dream garden. Let's just say that the winter version involves a plane ticket, a hammock and Piña Colada. Oh, but I digress. And yet, that really is the point of it all. Digression: to turn aside, to stray. I made basil pasta yesterday and my mind digressed for a moment to warmer days ahead and Caprese salads on the patio...