Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas (I baked you a pie)

There was no plan to take December off from blogging. It just sort of happened. With so much going on this month (and no posts stockpiled for the winter), something had to give as they say. Blogging was it.

Even during a non-major holiday time of year I don't understand how other bloggers can keep the pace they do. It's enough to make my head spin. It's something that I occasionally struggle with... keeping up. I think the trick is not to. After all, it's my blog, my life, my pace... so this month I took a break. 

In addition to all the regular cooking, cleaning, mending, and tending that goes on around here, I've been getting the house ready for Christmas and visiting family, Hubs has been re-doing the guest bath, I've done a bit of holiday baking, but mostly... lots of gift-planning and making (we do homemade gifts for Christmas). We're exhausted, but in a really really good way. It's a feeling you just can't get from shopping.
From Me To You
I have a gift for you too. My signature pie. If there's one dessert that I've made more than any other over my lifetime (thus far anyway), it's my St. John's Organic Walnut & Drunken-Raisin Pie. Well... I've probably made chocolate chip cookies a lot more often than this pie, but are cookies really dessert? I see them as more of a snack. Anyway, this pie is stuffed with walnuts and studded with raisins that were soaked in bourbon overnight (turning them into little flavor-bombs). I've made it dozens of times for dozens of pot-lucks and holidays and there's never any left over. It's my go-to pie. And now it's going to you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Love Olive Oil Cakes

I know I have written about olive oil cakes before. In fact, more than once, which is why I hesitated writing about them again. But I simply had to. How could I not, when I keep finding such great recipes for them? Like this one... 

Heidi Swanson's take on Kim Boyce's Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
Click the link for the recipe on Heidi's blog or find it in Kim's (wonderful) book: Good To The Grain

Beyond tasting good... beyond the lovely moist texture... beyond their rich flavor that is not too sweet, olive oil cakes will always be a go-to dessert for me for the following two reasons:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Quoting... John Greenleaf Whittier

"Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South, come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before.
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich pumpkin pie?"

- John Greenleaf Whittier (from the poem, The Pumpkin, 1846)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Total Concentration

We were blessed this summer/fall with an abundant crop of tomatoes. I am talking about major abbondanza. Some of the shrubs didn't do very well or produce much, but the ones that did... did so with sheer abandon. Not only did we have enough to stuff ourselves silly with, but we had enough to bless friends and neighbors with too. Such a great feeling. But all good things come to an end as they say, sunshine and tomatoes included. So I reduced, concentrated, and intensified the last 5 lbs of sun and warmth... and stuck them in a little jar for when the cold, wet, gray of the coming winter starts to get me down. Just like rainy days and Mondays. 

Eating Paste
It may seem an odd choice, to make what is essentially a small amount of tomato paste out of the last of our homegrown tomatoes, but to call this stuff "paste" is to call filet mignon "a steak", or aged balsamic "vinegar"... doesn't quite do it justice. No tomato paste I've ever had has the depth and intensity of flavor that this stuff has. So is it tomato paste? Yeah... but it's really really really good tomato paste. And won't it be wonderful to use in the middle of winter when flavorful ripe tomatoes are the stuff of summer dreams and memories.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Get the most use from an ordinary pumpkin
What can you do with a jack-o-lantern that never fulfilled its Halloween destiny? That was what I pondered earlier this week. We bought two rather large orange beauties but then got too busy to carve them in time for Halloween. In the past, I would've just called them autumnal decor and enjoyed them as-is until they started to get squishy. Now I'm thinking what a silly wasteful girl I was. There is so much goodness in these orange orbs... it's almost spooky.

Most folks use sugar pumpkins for their pie-baking etc. Truth be told, I prefer them also. They're smaller and easier to work with as well as being naturally sweeter than their carve-able cousins. They also cost more. The cheapest I found was a buck a pound. Might as well buy the canned purée. But... there is a trick to using jack-o-lantern pumpkins (which are a much better deal) which you'll see in a minute. First things first...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Birthdays Give Me Cramps

I had a birthday not too long ago. Do you ever get them? They seem to pop up more frequently than they used to. They are also much less welcome than they ever were.

Well, the most recent birthday was looming large on my horizon as I chatted with a friend about a concert I'd been to oh-so-very-long ago. And far away. Well, after our chat, I went nostalgia-tripping and looked up the band on YouTube. I was flat-out amazed to find actual blurry, grainy, footage from the very show I'd been to way-back-when in my old hometown. Really! I kid you not!

What... you're not impressed? Keep in mind that this was back in prehistoric times, when cameras of any kind were not allowed in shows and the video camera that was smuggled in on this occasion would've been a thousand times larger than today's mini-tech toys. So you can see why finding that footage was such a quantum leap back in time.*

Friday, October 21, 2011

Frugal (Yet Manly) DIY Shower Soap

As I switch over to homemade versions of store-bought versions of homemade household products (it does make sense, let it sink in a bit), I often have to practice a good deal of self-restraint. There are so many amazing ideas out there, and I want to try them all. Self-restraint. Must ask myself "Do we need it?"... or in this case, "Do we need it yet?".

And speaking of amazing ideas... have you checked out Pinterest? No? There's a red Pinterest button on the left side of your screen right now. Go click on it and wander around in there for a while. I'll wait.

Are you back? Did you see the possiblities? It is the only "social media" doohickey that holds any interest for me. And hold my interest it does. A little too much sometimes. Ahem. Cough cough.

One of my friends "pinned" a link for making liquid soap out of bar soap... it sounded so frugaliciously easy I wanted to make some immediately. Except we don't need any liquid soap right now. We've got most of a gallon jug we bought from Cost Co 12 years ago. O.k. last year. Anyway, I told myself I'd have to wait on making my own until we ran out... someday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Delish Dish: Baked Oatmeal

Baked Oatmeal with Berries
The truth... I made this fantastic baked oatmeal and photographed it a couple of months ago.  We're talking July people. It was summer and though we had an unseasonably cool one, the rest of the country was sizzling hot. So, I thought I'd put off posting about it until the seasons changed and things started to cool off.

The whole truth... right now, I don't feel like writing or cooking or photographing. At all. I could point to a dozen different factors that aligned to produce this current state of apathy but really, it just is what it is, and I've got to work my way through it. It's a good thing I had this oatmeal in my back pocket... so to speak.

Nothing but the truth... if I had the ingredients on hand, I would make this Baked Oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow. Or Sunday. Even feeling the way I do right now, I would rally just long enough to get this into the oven. It really is that good. Honest.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Herb Drying Made E-Z (Weather, Or Not)

Fresh herbs never go to waste at my house. What doesn't get used right away, usually gets hung to dry so I can use them throughout the year. Sometimes there's too much humidity in the air though (or not enough patience). Other times, I'll just have a handful of herbs to dry, not really enough to tie into a bundle. That's when hang-drying may not be the best or fastest route. And that's when I utilize this nifty trick. I happened upon it purely by accident, but it works so well I wanted to share it with you...

My Super E-Z Herb Drying Instructions:
  1. Lay the herbs in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  2. Place baking sheet in oven before you go to bed.
  3. Turn oven light on.
  4. Go to bed.
  5. In the morning, check herbs. If they're crumbly-dry... you're done! Put them in an air-tight container and store them someplace dark, dry, and cool. 
If the herbs are still a bit bendy, repeat the steps (leave them in for another eight hours or so) until they are completely dry. Any residual moisture can turn into mildew/mold... and we don't want that. Store them in an airtight container away from heat and direct light. Crush them, crumble them, or grind them as needed throughout the year.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lavender, Sage, Rosemary & Time

breathe deep the gathering bloom
Gardening was never my first love, I don't think it would even crack the top 20. In my dictionary, "garden" is a noun, not a verb. Nevertheless, I often find myself thinking about my dream-garden and what plants I would put in it.* Perhaps partly due to my aversion to actual hands-on gardening, my dream garden is what's known as a perennial garden.

Plants tend to fall into one of two camps: annuals or perennials.** Annuals are generally the ones you see making a big splash of color on racks outside the garden department of the home store. They are often bright, brash, and bedazzling. Picture petunias, pansies, marigolds and impatiens. They also need to be replaced every year. Annually. They are the pop stars of the garden. The flashes in the pan.

Long Live The Perennials!
Unlike annuals, perennials are described with words like consistency and continuity. Think of buddleia (butterfly bush), hydrangea, or peonies. They keep on keepin' on. Perennially. They are the Dave Brubeck of the plant world. They are Ella Fitzgerald in bloom. There is something so comforting about being in a mature perennial garden; a real feeling of stability and history. Perennials are survivors. Below ground are deep strong roots, holding the soil together and supporting the new growth and seasonal changes taking place up above.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Early Bird Gets The Lemon Poppy-Seed Muffin

When I think back on my years in college, I invariably start craving lemon poppy-seed muffins. They played a big part in refueling my academically exercised brain cells on an almost daily basis back then.

Across from the art department was this little place that sold hot dogs and burgers, chips and sodas, candy bars, ice cream treats... and lemon poppy-seed muffins. They had other muffins too. I think blueberry, and maybe some other kind. The blueberry ones were a little too sweet and cake-y for me, and considering the enormous size of these things, they were just too too much. The lemon & poppy-seed ones on the other hand, were perfect. And they always sold out of those first. Clearly I wasn't alone in my devotion. Scented with lemon throughout and not too sweet, the subtle crunch of the poppy-seeds, and then of course... there was the sweet cap of sugary glaze over the top. Sigh. 

Looking back, I'm sure they were massively unhealthy on many levels and probably were made from a mix, but I don't want to think about that now. My ignorance of such things was nothing short of lemon & poppy-seed bliss. Now I am on a quest. A quest to recapture the flavor and texture of those lemon & poppy-seed muffins.  To recreate in my kitchen with real eggs and real lemons (and without all the junk that I don't want anymore) the lemon poppy-seed goodness that sustained me at college. If nothing else, it should be tasty fun trying some of these recipes out to see if I can come close...

Lemon & Poppy-Seed Muffins
If you have a tried-and-true Lemon Poppy-Seed muffin recipe... I'd love to hear from you! (I'd love to hear from you even if you don't)...

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    While You Were Steeping

    Cold-Brewed Iced Tea
    Ordering iced tea in a restaurant shouldn't be a complicated matter. But somehow it is. "Do you remember if we liked the iced tea here?", Hubs and I furtively whisper to each other as soon as we sit down. We love iced tea you see, and there's nothing worse than taking that first sip and finding something stale and old (or even worse, from a mix) at the other end of the straw. 

    Rare is the restaurant that takes as much care with their iced (or hot) tea as they do with their coffee. We tea drinkers are partly to blame. We're just not as bold, robust, and vociferous a group as our coffee counterparts. The differences between us are much the same as how these two drinks act upon my brain: coffee is like jumping out of an airplane, while tea is more like jumping out of an airplane with a parachute... I'm going to hit the ground either way, it's all just a matter of how soon and how hard. This may explain why tea lovers are often mellow, easy-going types who as a group get overlooked by most restaurants and chains.

    There are exceptions of course. One of my favorite deli/cafés delivers the ultimate order of iced tea: a tall glass filled to the brim with ice and a small pot of strong hot tea on the side. As soon as the tea has steeped to satisfaction, you pour it over the ice and have the perfect glass of fresh brewed iced tea. This is precisely how I used to make it at home, and still do, when a single perfect glass of the stuff is all I want.

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    An Open Letter To My Summer Houseguests

    Dearest Friends (and family),

    Please accept my apology for not making this Spinach Strata from Super Natural Every Day  for you while you were here visiting.
    I was remiss. It would have been the perfect thing to make for you and I dropped the ball.
    My only excuse is that I didn't know how easy and delicious it was at the time. But now I do. So when you return for another visit, this is what we'll have in the morning. Unless you don't like feta cheese, in which case... more for me!

    Strata-fyingly yours,

    Notes: I used week-old homemade sourdough bread in this, substituted cream for the milk, used all of a 4 oz. package of Feta, Meyer lemon zest, and homemade Guinness Mustard instead of Dijon. I baked it in an 8" square glass dish for 1 hour and 5 minutes (rotating it half-way).

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    Soup Happens (and sometimes it doesn't)

    This has been the summer of food fails. Some of them I've written about, (the Farro Fiasco) and some I haven't... like the beautiful Plum Crisp, redolent of ripe summer days... yet tasting like bitter  betrayal. Then there were the Blueberry-Lemon-Oat Scones that never could hold it together). I can attribute all these fails (and more) to what I like to refer to as "user error". Entirely my fault, each and every time. I know what went wrong in each, and I'll make adjustments next time I try them.

    Recently I made a big pot of soup. I know it's summer and I should be writing about sno-cones and sprinklers, but what the hey, we still have chilly evenings more often than not. If it's going to feel like March, I'm going to cook like it's March. The soup I made was unusual. Unusual because we didn't like it. At all.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011

    Refreshingly Redundant: Watermelon Melon Water

    tall and cool by the pool
    For the second year in a row, we have had an unseasonably cold summer. The fog creeps in each evening with its damp chilly mists, thickly blanketing the whole valley and daring the sun to burn it off the next day before noon. Elsewhere there are chart-busting heatwaves... but not here... not in Brigadoon.

    Because warm sunny days are so few and far between, when we are gifted with one, I try to make the most of it by doing something super summer-y. Something best experienced only in the summer. Like drinking aguas frescas and dancing in the craggy heathered foothills with Gene Kelly... before the mists return.

    Watermelon agua fresca is one of my favorites. It's especially refreshing when sparked with peppermint and lime...

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    My Freezer Is Trying To Tell Me Something

    Is it... Banana bread? Maybe muffins? Or a smoothie? Decisions, decisions...
    (Uh-oh... smoothies aren't baked... will I get in trouble for not following directions if I make one?)

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    Strawberry Pots Forever

    We grew strawberries this year for the first time and I am hooked. 100% loving it. Of all the new things we tried to grow this season, the strawberries are far and away my favorites. They are sweet like only perfectly ripe strawberries can be, and red, red, red all the way through. Not like those grocery store impostors with their  superficial, only-skin-deep, thinnest-of-thin red veneers. No sir, these are the real deal.

    Garden Notes (for next summer): 
    1. Six strawberry plants are NOT enough. Not even close. 
    2. Strawberries will grow great in pots. 
    3. Copper tape around the outside of the pots will keep snails and slugs from eating the berries. Pest-free and pesticide-free. That makes me happy.
    4. They're called straw-berries because you're supposed to lay straw around the plants so the berries don't sit in the dirt and get muddy. That's important because otherwise you have to stop and wash the dirt off before you can eat them. Which means it will take longer to get them into your mouth. Get straw. Or use a special strawberry pot. Straw is probably cheaper.
    With only six plants, there are just a few ripe berries every few days. Not enough of a yield to actually make anything with... just enough to grow 'em and eat 'em. Which is actually fine by me. Though more would, of course, be more than welcome.

    Maybe I'll go pick some up instead at the farmer's market. You know, so I can make one of these sweet and scrumptious strawberry recipes... 

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Homemade Tortilla Chips with Faux Hummus

    chip & dip
    A couple weeks ago my friend told me about an appetizer she'd had at a local restaurant... she told me it would be super simple to recreate at home and that it was, in fact, incredibly delicious. Then she proceeded to make it for me. (Yea!)

    This is what she did... she mixed some local lime-infused olive oil and good balsamic vinegar into plain store-bought hummus. And that was all there was to it. Except for the eating part. We started dipping cubes of Ciabatta bread in it and I almost couldn't stop. Let me tell you... I fell for that stuff in a bad way. Who needs dinner when you've got a bowl of that in front of you?

    Not too long after, I found myself staring at all the tubs of prepared hummus at Trader Joe's. Why not just make my own? After a quick glance at the ingredients, I grabbed some tahini and headed home to research recipes. It wasn't until a day or two later that I noticed the container was labeled Tahini "Sauce". Harrumph. So much for following the recipe for real honest-to-goodness hummus.* Time to just wing it.  The tahini sauce was made from olive oil, salt, and lemon juice, in addition to you know, actual tahini. Well with all that, I was half-way to hummus already...

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    August Wish List and the Letter "S"...

    Sun... Not too much. Just enough warmth to remind me that it's summer, but not so much that it makes me long for it to be over. If not for me, then for all our gorgeous green tomatoes just waiting to turn vibrant vitamin-packed shades of red, orange, and burgundy.

    Sea... I want to go to the ocean. La Mer. I want to sit and stare at it, and listen to it, and breathe its air. Maybe I'll take a kite. Maybe I won't. I want to come home at the end of the day with that pleasant tiredness that I get just from spending the day near it.

    Stone Fruit... Fresh, ripe, deeply scented. Perfumed, even. Fruit with pits. In season. Eaten out of hand. Baked, broiled, grilled. I want to over-indulge in stone-fruits. Eat them with every meal. Before they're gone for the year.*

    These recipes are the stuff some of my summer dreams are made of...

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    All Dressed In Romano

    So, as you may know, I've been plinking around on a ukulele lately and have consequently discovered where all the olde-timey songs have gone... they're in ukulele instruction books. Gems such as Buffalo Gals, My Darlin' Clementine, and Polly Wolly Doodle... just to name but a few.

    Depressing doesn't fly on a ukulele
    Many of the old songs are of the folksy "bad-dudes on their death-bed" genre, lamenting the imminent final reward for someone who's lived a less-than-law-abiding life. Songs like Tom Dooley: depressing enough lyrics until you delve into the history (at which point you'll probably want a hot bath and some penicillin). And then there's The Streets Of Laredo, about a nameless young cowboy's last dying moments, apparently already dressed for his coffin. What's his story? Who knows. He no doubt "done wrong" though... and again, it's a real downer. 

    The Streets Of Laredo was good for practicing certain chords and chord-changes* though, so I reluctantly added it to my notebook. It wasn't long before I found this version of it tucked at the end of a YouTube video. After I stopped laughing, I added the "new" lyrics to my notebook. Now I smile each and every time I practice it.

    The Territory Ahead
    When I recently put my uke down for a few moments, I decided to make farrotto. It's a risotto... but with farro instead of ris (rice). Totally experimental for me. Completely new territory. I've never even made a traditional risotto before. What was I thinking?

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Feeding Your Face

    Face Food
    What do you feed your face with? Do you think about what you put on your face as well as in it? About a year ago, I found the Crunchy Betty blog and I've been feeding my face (and hair) with things from the fridge, pantry, and farmer's market ever since. It turns out that healthy homemade skin care is also fun, frugal... and even a little addictive (in a good way).

    Who wouldn't like to smear food on their face? Probably most adults. 
    Little kids (who don't need skin care treatments) would totally get into this without even batting one of their extra long eyelashes. Boy kids, girl kids - giggling and smearing their cute little faces, then running to look in the mirror and giggling some more. Big kids (we adults) have outgrown that sort of thing. Or have we?

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    Blueberry Blues

    or... can my cuter computer keep on keepin' on?

    Let me explain a bit. I do still dig my groovy Blueberry iMac the most, but more and more my Fellow-Babies, it's getting to be like an LP in an MP3 world: you can still put a record on a turntable and listen to music, but it's usefulness is quaint and limited at best. 

    The latest dust that I've been left behind in is when my e-mail client/program announced recently that it no longer supported the web browser I use. And now, I find that I am unable to send e-mails or reply to them. Never mind all of the other stuff that I haven't been able to do on it for years, sending e-mail is a bottom-line basic task... but now when I attempt it, my 'puter just sits there... cutely.

    Coming up with creative "work-arounds" to get things done on the computer has been practically a way of life for me. No surprise with an 11 year old computer. She's a hell of a trouper though. Solid and dependable, intuitive... and darn cute to boot.

    Must all good things come to an end? Can I keep squeezing usefulness out of the old Mac-asaurus? Will I find a way to send e-mails and thus be able post photos onto this blog again? These are the questions keeping me up at night. Well, that and watching old iMac TV ads on YouTube. And getting all weepy. 

    In honor of that sweet little computer o' are a basket-full of blueberry treats to keep me going as I try to figure out how to keep her going...

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Cocoa Kisses Melt In Your Mouth

    cocoa meringue kisses
    It's summer. I want chocolate. It's summer. I don't want to bake. It's hot out. And yet, I want cookies. And I want chocolate. The sun is beating down. And I still want chocolate. The thought of dense and creamy chocolate, however, runs contrary to light summer fare.

    Lately, my life seems to be nutty with contradictions and oozing with bad timing. Apparently my taste buds are no exception. Rich heavy desserts really are the last thing on my mind. And yet... a little bit of chocolate might be just the thing right now.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Winter Soup For A Summer Cold

    Summer colds can sure be aggravating. Just ask me and my hubby. One sneaked (snuck?) up on us recently when we were least expecting it. It's not exactly "cold and flu season" you know? This is summer for Pete's sake: pool parties, fruity drinks, and sunscreen.

    The traditional comforts that we cling to during a cold bout seem so very out of place this time of year: snuggly warm socks and blankets... hot lemon and honey drinks... big bowls of soup. It's 85 degrees outside... for cryin' out loud. Talk about feeling "under the weather".

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    The Garden Wars Of Aught-Eleven

    future tom
    I speak primarily of the big one: the Aphid War of 2011. Then there was the White-Fly Skirmish of the same year. And though it pains me to bring it up, I won't soon forget the Great Snail Ambush... we lost a lot of good basil in that one. They caught us unprepared there. It won't happen again.

    Pest Control to Maj. Tom
    The Aphids though, they were a tough bunch. As challenging an adversary as I'd ever come up against. But I persevered. I stood my ground and cried out "Remember the basil!" as I doused the tomatoes with soap spray. Over and over... day after day. In the end, I was victorious and the tomatoes were safe. I just hope the little creeps didn't send for reinforcements.

    Gardening isn't usually all that serious around here... except when it comes to tomatoes*. And after last year's utterly dismal display of tomato productivity, I am fiercely protective over what is shaping up to be a bountifully good year for my favorite summer fruit.** That's right, fiercely. It has brought out my inner-Rambo.

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    My Summer Loves

    Peach-Thyme Lemonade
    straw hats clothes drying on a line cherries crushed ice  
    children playing on the lawn fields of lavender in bloom strawberries 
    soft breezes through open windows eating breakfast on the patio blackberries  
    sunflowers ripe cherry tomatoes warm from the sun wearing flip flops every day
    blueberries flying kites at the beach bossa nova  
    farmer's markets and lemonade...  

    For me nothing quenches on a hot summer day better than homemade lemonade. Lemonade redolent with fresh herbs and ripe fruits in a tall glass of ice. Pick your favorite summer flavors and customize your next pitcher or glass of lemonade.

    I made two today: Triple Berry-Lavender and Peach-Thyme (that's the one in the photo)...  so now I'm going to go have a seat in the shade, put my feet up, take a long sip and remind myself that maybe, just maybe, summer isn't so bad after all.

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    Bake It Hot, Eat It Cold

    Homemade Granola
    It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows me, but I like making lists. There is a comfort in writing things down. Digital lists are not half so satisfying as hand-written lists... but I employ both methods. After all, one can't have too many lists. The list-making for me is an attempt to organize my thoughts and ideas, and also a way to drain off some of the excess stuff swirling around my brain-pan at any given moment. It gives me mental breathing room. Reduces the mental clutter. I always feel better after cleaning my house – less claustrophobic, less stressed. Making lists does that for my brain.

    I have an on-going list of things that I make myself – things I don't have to buy already manufactured or processed. There is also a list of things I want to try making at home. Sometimes it's a while before something on the second list makes it over to the first list. The need has to be there. I usually wait until we've run out of whatever it is before I attempt to make it.

    Feed The Need
    Granola has long been on the "want to try making" list, but cool mornings call for hot breakfasts. Well, last week that suddenly and blisteringly changed. It was 84°F... in the shade... at 8:00 in the morning. Yech. It would be the first scorcher of the summer, a real thermometer-buster, and I was unprepared.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Do Snails Love Basil More Than I Do?

    hole-y basil
    Snails couldn't possibly share the same kind of love I have in my heart for basil. Though by the looks of our plants... they're certainly not shy with their PDA.

    After lackluster growth in the past, we decided to put our three basil plants into the ground this year instead of in pots like we usually do. The snails, of course, have been delighted with our decision.

    I went to the web in search of chemical-free snail solutions and instead came across some valuable advice regarding growing, pruning, and harvesting basil. I found out two very important things regarding our basil plants... a) we've been doing everything wrong, and... b) it's not too late to fix it!

    The very next moment I was out the door with my straw hat and pruning snips in hand. I pruned/harvested all of our basil plants, and now I have a sink full of ugly snail-nibbled basil. You guessed it... it's pesto-time. In fact, it's Big Batch pesto time. I had enough for 2 batches — one for now and one for the freezer.

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    My Kitchen Elves Have Insomnia

    The kitchen elves are hard at work
    If necessity is the mother of invention, then is laziness is the father of efficiency? Can slow ever be fast?  And when does "from scratch" ever equal "E-Z"?

    I spend an inordinate amount of my time in the kitchen. What with all the DIY, MIY, MYO, and MIM-ing going on (even my computer is in the kitchen). Making all our meals from scratch may be healthier, more economical, and less wasteful, but it doesn't mean I want to start from square-one every single day. Oh, heck no. That's why I tend to gravitate toward "big batch" recipes, freezer meals, and other sensible shortcuts and time-savers.

    I'm just glad they don't whistle while they work
    So how do I manage to combine homemade with convenience (two words that don't usually show up in the same sentence)? Easy... I employ kitchen elves. Yep, elves. Or as they like to be called: Kitchen Convenience Facilitators. They work at night while we're asleep, and in the morning coffee is made, breakfast is ready, and the dishes are clean. Now if only I could get them to vacuum and mop the floors, I'd really be a happy girl.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    A Little Cautious Bravado

    "Dinner's going to be late, Honey... just pretend we're in Spain!". I add that last bit when dinner's going to be reeeaally late. Like the other night. But then, as I recall, we actually did eat like they do in Spain... I made Tortilla Española.

    In case you're unfamiliar, a Tortilla Española (or Spanish Tortilla) is a tasty traditional dish of potatoes, eggs, and onions. It can be served hot, cold or room temp (love that). It's perfect for brunch, lunch, dinner, or as an appetizer (love that). Any occasion, any time of day, any time of year. And, yeah, the other night we ate it well past the hour when most American dinners are long since over. Well, as they say... más vale tarde que nunca!*

    The only tricky bit about making a Tortilla Española is the inverting or flipping... that's where it can get dicey if you're not confident. Did I mention the sizzling skillet... centrifugal force... hot oil? Go ahead and shout "Olé!" after flipping it. Or, do like me and just exhale. You'll probably be holding your breath. The good news? It gets easier each time.

    So, with a little caution, some bravado, and a big handful of salad greens on the side... you'll be amply rewarded with a tasty and easy meal. A meal that goes equally well with red or white wine, I might add, but in this heat, I think it's especially nice with a chilled rosé.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Blood-Orange Ginger Tea Bread

    Blood-Orange Tea Bread
    Ready or not, it was time to start using the blood-oranges on our tree. These are the fruits that were on the tree when we bought it back in December. According to various sources, the fruit should have been ripe anywhere from late-February to May. It's now June and whether they were ready or not... I was.

    I had dreamed of making something that would highlight the gorgeous ruby flesh of these first fruits; something simple, elegant, and fruit-forward. But alas, they were still a tad too tart. Chalk it up to a Northern-esque climate and an especially cold and wet Spring. I do keep harping on that, don't I? Well, you can take the girl out of So. Cal. but you can't take the So. Cal. out of the girl.

    Let's just say I'm feeling a real affinity with this orange tree right now.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Eat This Only On Days Ending In "Y"

    "Unda Style" Quesadilla
    Not too long ago, I decided to buy corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas, just for a change of pace. It wasn't long before I realized that I didn't really know what to do with them. They baffled me. Other than enchiladas and soft tacos, what could I do with them that didn't involve frying in a pool of oil? (I'm serious... any suggestions?)

    Thankfully this recipe and method crossed my path when it did. Can I love a method? I'm pretty sure I've loved processes before, but now I'm loving a method. A simple, awesome, and very adaptable... method.

    Still simple, but a lot more special
    Just what is this marvelous method for? Making quesadillas (sort of). That's right, already one of the easiest things in the world to make. But these are not ordinary quesadillas... nor are they over-complicated in any way either. That's part of their beauty.

    Friday, May 27, 2011

    Black Bean And Tomato Soup

    Black Bean Soup
    Did you know that black beans stain almost as badly blueberries? Well, they do. I know... I've been scrubbing scrubbing scrubbing dark stains off the once creamy white-ish interior of my enameled cast iron Dutch oven all afternoon.*

    I made this really great black bean soup you see, and I tried to use my Dutch oven to make it in. Now, while it probably might have worked, the pot was so full that I got a little nervous. I grabbed my big stock pot and transferred the soup over — now it could have some wiggle (and slosh) room and I could have some peace of mind.

    This soup just rocks on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start. It's amazingly easy, super affordable, makes a ton, and tastes fantastic. Oh, and one of my very favorite recipe terms applies as well... "largely unattended". That means I get to go do something else for a while and when I come back dinner is ready. What's not to love about that, right? 

    It has a big meaty rich flavor, or as Hubs described it, "Mmm, it's delightful!". Ain't it amazing what a couple slices of bacon can do to a soup? Well, he loved it and so did I.... and that's good... we have a lot of it. Or did I mention that part already?

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Muffins For Mondays And Other Mornings

    Muffins are great in ways that scones can never be. While a scone is really only at its best when warm and fresh out of the oven, muffins aren't quite so picky. In fact, I like to make a big batch of muffins and then freeze them for a super-quick breakfast (or snack) on days when I don't feel like cooking... like, oh, today for instance.

    As soon as space in my freezer opens up...
    What's your favorite muffin recipe? Or do you think of muffins as just frumpy outdated cupcakes? 

    Saturday, May 21, 2011

    Scones On Sundays

    Scones don't really make a hearty enough breakfast for a hardworking man like mine. If they did, I'd certainly make them a lot more often. A couple of warm scones with butter and jam suits me just fine though, and if there's a pot of hot black tea nearby, well, all the better. 

    We don't usually have a big breakfast on Sundays, which makes it the perfect day for making scones. They're fast and easy, so I can throw them together right after church. And I do mean throw... one of the most important tips for successful scone-making is to handle the dough as little as possible.

    These are next on my list of scrumptious scones to try...
    Now, I wonder what kind of tea would go best with each of these scones? Decisions, decisions...

    Saturday, May 14, 2011

    Four Strings And Double The Ginger

    Double Ginger Cookies
    My house is a mess, my children are dirty, and my husband is feeling neglected. I'm only kidding about the second thing; but if I had any, they would be. You see, I got an inexpensive second-hand ukulele the other day and...

    I can't put it down.

    What does this have to do with food? Not much really, except that I haven't been thinking a lot about food since I got the uke. I haven't been thinking a lot about much of anything that's not uke related. So why fight it, let's cruise with it a while.

    Like little wooden anti-depressants 
    It's impossible to be sad or unhappy around a ukulele. I think that's why I've been wanting one for so long. Well that's one of the reasons anyway. I actually have several. Here then, is the real honest-to-goodness actual list I made in my journal over the last few months... (and some cookies)...

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Lemon Pepper Pasta With Chicken

    Homemade Lemon Pepper Pasta
    I've been wanting to make this dish for a while now, but I knew I wanted to tackle making the actual lemon-pepper flavored pasta itself from scratch... so that's just what I did. 

    It's nothing more than my favorite go-to pasta recipe, but I added the zest from 2 Meyer lemons and about 20 cranks of the old pepper grinder. It might have been more, I lost count. Let's call it a 1/2 tsp.

    The pasta itself turned out great, the only drawback was that the sauce pretty much stepped all over the subtle lemony-pep of the noodles. But, in a good way... it's an easy sauce with great flavor. I'm just thinking that this would be a perfectly fine dish with regular pasta. Or... I might try doubling the lemon zest and pepper when I make the pasta next time. Either way it's an easy and tasty dish that we both really enjoyed. We must've... we ate all of it in one sitting.*

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Wanted: Cheese Delivery Facilitators

    Homemade Crackers
    Homemade crackers are almost always tasty but they're not always crispy. In fact, lots of the homemade cracker recipes I have found are really just savory cookies, often with the cheese baked right in. Let's say that together: "cheese baked right in". Mmm. They are self-contained. They don't need anyone else. They bring their party with them.

    What I've been looking for though are crisp crackers I could make at home, crackers that would taste good alone but would be even better if they met up with a fabulous piece of cheese. They have a bit of snap to them, they're friendly, and they get along well with others.

    Everything's Better On Homemade Crackers
    I found two recipes for the latter variety of cracker and truly couldn't be happier. They are both easy to make, crispy, tasty, and looking for some good cheeses to pal around with.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    Whole Wheat Onion Buns For Slider-Loving Life Forms

    Something has happened to my onion-hating husband. I think he may be a replicant. The other night he brought home some ground beef... so I made burger buns since we haven't had cheeseburgers in an age.

    These weren't just any burger buns though. These were Whole Wheat Onion Buns. Now, my good ol' hubster hates onions, and won't hesitate to let that fact be known. The other night as the buns were baking though, this impostor man walks through the kitchen and says to me, "Ooh, something smells really good! What are you making?". 

    It's uncanny how much like my husband this alien interloper is. But I guess that's the whole point of replication isn't it.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Peep Cake: A Tutorial

    Peep Cake
    ...or Why Baking Is My Hobby And Not My Profession

    1.  Take one easy chocolate cupcake recipe and bake it in round cake pans. Pour the extra chocolate glaze you made over each layer and hope it sets up faster than you know it will.

    2.  Plan on piping a sentiment on top of the frosted cake. Fold parchment paper into a small cornet and fill with remaining glaze. Set aside in a small glass.

    3.  Transfer the glazed cake layers to a pretty vintage cake plate, breaking the top layer in half while maneuvering it into place. Make sure to get lots of cake and glaze stuck to your fingers in an attempt to reunite the two halves.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Tassenkuchen a.k.a. Coffecake

    Tassenkuchen. A cake that's not too sweet. A cake that goes great with a cup of coffee or a pot of hot tea. Coffeecake in other words. Tea cake, maybe. Or just do as I do and call it... Breakfast Cake.

    Using Cosby-esque logic, this cake has milk and eggs and wheat and fruit in it... why wouldn't it be good for breakfast? I dare say, it's healthier than the plates of greasy beige food at the local Lenny's. Or the box of vitamin-enriched sawdust and food coloring that passes for cereal. As a bonus, kids will think you are epically awesome. Or even awesomely epic.

    We've had this cake as breakfast for the last three days and it's actually a pretty darn pleasant way to begin the day. Besides, it makes a nice change from our usual porridge. Of course, if you are in the habit of taking tea in the afternoon, or coffee with friends, by all means have this cake later in the day. It's not very sweet or moist, but has a really nice eggy-buttery-ness to it with a subtle lemon peel scent. Come to think of it, it's probably fine at any time.

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    Quoting... DeSylva & Brown

    "You’re the cream in my coffee, 
    You’re the salt in my stew; 
    You will always be my necessity— 
    I’d be lost without you. 

    You give life savor, 
    Bring out its flavor; 
    So this is clear, dear, 
    You’re my Worcestershire, dear."

    —From the show "Hold Everything" (1929) 
    Lyrics: B.G. DeSylva & Lew Brown / Music: Ray Henderson
    PS...Happy Birthday Honey! 

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Popovers Filled with Beef and Leek Stew

    Popovers filled with Beef & Leek Stew
    I'll sometimes describe a dish as being much more than the sum of its parts. That can be said about lots of foods really, though it's most impressive when there are very few parts to the equation in the first place.

    Last night I made one of our favorite budget-friendly dinners, a three-ingredient wonder that never fails to render us both into silent, ravenous reverie. Just three ingredients, including the roast. That's right, including the roast. There's a pinch of flour, a splash of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, but really it all comes down to three ingredients... chuck, leeks, and balsamic vinegar. That's all.

    A Stew From A Few
    What else is remarkable about this stew? Besides the fact that one of the three ingredients is leeks and my onion-hating husband wanted seconds? Or besides how it's terribly cheap to make and yet tastes rich and complex? Well, yeah, other than that, I guess it is pretty unremarkable (she said with tongue planted firmly in cheek). Truly, it's nothing less than kitchen-alchemy.

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Cocoa Almond Meringues

    As we make our way through Spring wishing we could put away the cold-weather gear (and the wet-weather gear) and fling open the doors and windows to warm sunny days... sigh... we are naturally going to be drawn to bright vibrant colors and flavors. Soon enough, everything colorful and petal-bedecked will find itself center-stage. And it's about time.

    It's always the quiet ones
    But here is a cookie of humble appearance that will show up all the fancier cookies. It's the kind of cookie that won't be reached for first in an assortment, but once it's tasted, well, there won't be any left on the tray at the end of the evening. Heck, even before I baked these up I just knew they were going to be great. How could I tell? Well for one thing, I wanted to just sit undisturbed and just eat the batter by the spoonful*.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Dorie's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

    These are not Ultimate or Superior or even Great chocolate chip cookies. They are not even The Best. No, they are humbly named My Best, which says a lot about their creator. Sidestepping the chocolate chip cookie naming oneupmanship, these cookies are a little more personal and a lot more wonderful. If you've ever made any of Dorie Greenspan's recipes, you'll know that when she says "My Best", not only does she mean it, but it's going to be ultimately superior to any other merely great chocolate chip cookie you may have made before. These are thin, crispy and buttery*... everything a chocolate chip cookie should be. Make some and see if you don't agree with me...

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Everything But The Kitchen Sink

    Confession time. I've made delicious treats and not shared. Cookies... really good cookies too. But I never posted them. One was the victim of pre-holiday schedule-flurry, the other was simply toyed with during a seemingly never-ending gray winter. I made a third type of cookie the other day and realized that all three of the cookies came from the same cookbook and I'd be a cotton-headed ninnymuggins if I didn't share them asap.  First up...
    Exactly what you'd imagine them to be like. Full of anything and everything. I couldn't remember their name once and called them "kitchen sink cookies". It's apt. If you can think of it, it's in there. They don't look like much, but they taste fantastic and are a great way to use up any random dried fruits and nuts and such that you might have hanging around. They've got molasses and oats, nuts and fruits, chocolate and coconut too. If you love a cookie with lots of texture and flavor, as I do, this is it.

    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    Primal Ice Cream Therapy

    This is a "fake" I've been wanting to try for a long time (if a year or two is a long time). With the sun now making the occasional appearance, and warmer days around the corner, is it any wonder that my thoughts would turn to ice cream? Is it any wonder that those very same thoughts would be fairly depressing to a girl without an allowance for store-bought frozen treats? Now, however, I can once again scream for ice cream... and smile too, because this "ice cream" is creamy and all natural, full of vitamins, potassium, and fiber, as well as being dairy free, and well virtually... free!

    Something From (almost) Nothing
    So if you're tired of banana bread or it's too hot to turn on the oven, or maybe you just want some ice cream without the dollop of guilt on top... or maybe you forgot to freeze the ice cream maker insert and the kids are screamin'... This is about the fastest and easiest way to get from almost nothing to really something...

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    Saving The Best For... Tuesday

    How ironic that when you don't have a lot of money to spend on food... what's left in the pantry are all the things that were "too good" to eat on an ordinary day. Fancy goods and foodstuffs that were gifts or splurges. Extravagances awaiting their perfect special occasions in order to be remembered, consumed, relished and appreciated fully.

    Now, on a plain old regular Tuesday you find yourself eating your plain old regular toast with expensive gourmet preserves from a country you've longed to visit, and swirl local, small batch varietal honey into your strong Irish tea (bought for you in the Emerald Isle by a friend). For dinner, toss your 69-cent pound of pasta with expensive estate olive oil and the kalamata olives that you were saving for company. Would you like wine with that? You've got a few really nice bottles. Maybe there's a nice steak hiding in the back of the freezer. What are you waiting for? I say, go ahead and make today the special occasion.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Yellow, Like The Sun Above The Clouds

    Best Lemon Bundt Cake
    Need something to brighten up a dreary day? This is a cake to make you forget all about the soggy gray weather outside. I know, because it happened to me.

    Last Sunday we had a potluck to attend and, well, due to pantry limitations, I had decided to bring either a Meyer lemon tart or a chocolate bundt cake. Approaching the decision in a typically sideways manner, I ended up making a lemon bundt.

    Cook's Illustrated calls this lemon bundt cake "The Best" and I can't really disagree with them. While I always hesitate to apply that title myself (it doesn't leave any room for improving), it is after all, a lot easier than calling it The Pretty Dang Close To What I Imagine The Best Lemon Bundt Cake Would Taste Like.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Salty Like The Sea

    Salts From The Sea
    Sea salt is, at its most basic, just evaporated seawater. What makes the different types of sea salt stand out from each other are factors such as where it's harvested, how it's harvested, and what kinds of trace minerals and other elements it contains. All these things will influence it's color, moisture content and flavor (oh yeah, and price).

    The one thing that all sea salts will do is make your food taste better. The larger crunchier crystals tend to dissolve slower than table salt and provide little bursts of flavor that make food really sparkle. If you've never done a side-by-side taste test of salts, now is the time. Start with the sea salt, putting a few grains of it on your tongue. Let it dissolve some, then start noticing the taste of it. Have a sip or two of water and then do the same thing with a bit of table salt. The difference should be pretty obvious.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    A Big Batch Of Brownies

    I'm afraid of brownies. No, not the little ones that sell cookies, or the even smaller ones that inhabit ancient forests. No, I'm afraid of the chocolaty baked good. Specifically, I'm afraid of baking brownies.

    There's a fine line you must dance when baking brownies and my balance isn't too good. Bake them too long and you end up with square hockey pucks; not long enough and you end up with chocolaty goop. The key is to take them out of the oven at that precise moment, when they still look undercooked, but actually... aren't. Sure. No problem.

    A good brownie is worth taking the chance for though... worth facing your fears over. And if confrontation and repetition are the keys to conquering fears... well, I'm willing (especially if there's a big glass of cold milk nearby)...

    Monday, February 28, 2011

    Marshmallows & Cocoa

    Here it is the end of February and it's colder than ever... time for a big mug of hot cocoa with homemade marshmallows! I've never made marshmallows before but it looks like a lot of fun (and the homemade ones I've tasted are so much better than the store bought). I'm game if you are! Here's a list of links to some yummy hot chocolate and marshmallow delights... go snuggle up to one of them tonight and keep the bitter winter chill far far away.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    Turkey Soup with Noodles

    This soup marks the end of Tom Turkey–well, almost, I still have some of that great turkey gravy in the freezer. There are biscuits and gravy in our future for sure, but tonight, it's Turkey Soup with homemade noodles. After defrosting the turkey stock and the bag of leftover cooked turkey, I just added some herbs, carrots, celery and noodles. In virtually no time at all, it was a soup. A simple, good tasting, nourishing soup.

    Play dough for grown-ups
    Initially I was going to just make my regular pappardelle noodles and cut them into short pieces, but wouldn't some other shape be more fun? And wouldn't a different shape of pasta just taste so much better too? Without an extruder however, options are somewhat limited. Without years of experience hand-shaping pasta at an Italian grandmother's side, my options dwindled even further. So, after making up a batch of my favorite go-to pasta recipe, I sort of followed the instructions found here for hand-shaping pasta. I say "sort of followed" because I off-roaded just a bit. Okay... I played. A lot. Try it yourself and see if you don't too.

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    J'adore... Le Chocolat

    Who doesn't love chocolate?
    Let's get right to the heart of the matter, the soft (or chewy) center of things, if you will. Sure, the fancy heart-shaped box of chocolates is nice, but homemade chocolates (or other candy) have the added advantage of forethought and time investment going for them. The store-bought says, "I stood in line and used my credit card for you", while the homemade says, "I looked up recipes, bought ingredients, and spent the afternoon creating this with my own two hands just for you (not to mention the huge mess in the kitchen)".  And if it doesn't turn out so great, it's still awfully sweet...

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Quoting... Mark Bittman

    "It's a sorry sign that many people consider cooking 'from scratch' an unusual and even rare talent. In fact, it is a simple and rewarding craft, one that anyone can learn
    and even succeed at from the get-go."
    – Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything (1998)

    Saturday, February 5, 2011

    Popcorn Makes It A Party

    Let's play "association"... I say a word and you say the first thing that pops* into your head. Ready? Here we go... POPCORN!

    I don't know about anyone else but my first thoughts run something like this: Butter... Movies... Caramel... Ballpark... Butter... Circus... Kettle... Zoo... Butter... (you get the idea).

    Popped corn, though a fairly humble snack, seems to make everything a bit of a special event, even if it's just watching DVDs from the sofa in your jammies. Taking its specialness up a notch or two (or five or twenty) are these popcorn-based snacks that may just divert all your attention from whatever movie (or ballgame) you're watching...
    *Pun intended.
    Special Note: In the olden days, if you dialed POP-CORN on your phone you would get a recording of a nice lady telling you the exact time. It doesn't work anymore though.