Friday, January 23, 2009

Birthday Bonanza

Late January and February are birthday central in my family. I turned 30, Matt turned 31 and both of our mothers year older. We've celebrated at some of our favorite places, Sonoma for my birthday and Del Merei for Matt's. I even had dinner with an old friend at one of my new favorite places, Bangkok Joe's. It was seriously fantastic and had great Mai Tais.

Because of the celebrations, and then work exploding for both Matt and I, we haven't been cooking at home. I finally went to the grocery store yesterday and went home and made my first pot roast. I didn't grow up with pot roast, and have only eaten it a couple times, but there are certain people who have made it (Kev) that it began to make me feel like I should at least try. I broke out my copy of Julia Child and went to work. I'll post the final recipe after I make it again with a couple of tweaks. I will say that I took it out of the oven and Matt and I both said, "You know, I don't really like the smell of pot roast." In the end it worked out well, but needs some work.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yes We Can

Matt and I got to go to the White House today for what was originally billed as a reception, but was more like an open house. We got a tour and then were lucky enough to meet the First Lady. She was gracious, not nearly as tired as I expected. She's very pretty and much more delicate looking in person. I welcomed her to Washington, DC and she thanked me for coming. Matt told her it was an honor to meet her and she tanked him for coming. As we left the White House kitchen staff gave us White House cookies (pictured above.)
When we got to the White House, we stood in line to give them our names. The Secret Service guy said he recognized my name as he checked me in. I'm going to assume that's a good thing and not something to be concerned about.
The only disappointing thing to the visit was the behavior of a number of people who attended the reception. There was a lot of yelling with excitement and general ruckus. I don't mean to sound like an old lady, but it's the freakin' White House, use your inside voice and treat it with the respect it deserves. Matt and I were complimented by one of the worst offenders who was amazed at how calm we were. It wasn't calm, it was being polite.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Apple Carmel Crisp

I went over to a friend's house for dinner on Saturday night, and in exchange for being able to play with their kids, I brought dessert. I had been thinking about making Apple Crostata, but decided that I didn't want to deal with making the crust. I decided on making Apple Crisp instead. I was debating about putting dried cranberries in it, but was vetoed by Matt with an emphatic "What would you ruin good apple crisp with cranberries?!?" To make it a little more special I made caramel sauce and drizzled that over the crisp topping. I adapted an Apple Crisp recipe from my most used cookbook, Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties. I used a recipe from The Simple Art of Perfect Baking for the caramel. I received the baking book from the chef I used to work for. I highly recommend it for unusual dessert pairings (this summer my goal is to make her melon tart with lime curd), and great instructions for baking.

Apple Crisp
5 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
Zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
3/4 c. flour
Scant 1/2 c granulated sugar
Scant 1/2 c light brown sugar, packed (I used Sugar in the Raw because I was out of brown sugar)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c oatmeal
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced (Once it's cut, place in freezer while preparing the rest of the recipe)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 10 inch oval baking dish. Combine the apples with the zest, juice, sugar, and spices. Pour into the dish.

When the apples are mixed in with the spices they should look like this.
To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an food processor with a steel blade (can also be done in a stand mixer or by hand). Pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. It should looks like the picture below. Scatter evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on a sheet pan covered with a piece of parchment paper and bake for 1 hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Make sure to use the baking sheet with parchment paper to catch any spills before you have sugar all over the bottom of your oven.

Caramel Sauce
1/4 c water
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/3 c heavy cream

In a pot, at least 1-quart sized, with a heavy bottom, pour the water and the sugar. Swirl the pot to combine the ingredients. Place over low heat and stir occasionally until the sugar is melted. When the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring, and raise the heat to medium high. Dip a pastry brush into a glass of water to wash down any crystals of sugar that form on the side of the pot while the sugar solution cooks. Swirl occasionally to make sure the sugar cooks evenly. Boil under amber colored. Be patient, it can take almost 15 minutes, but once it starts to brown it gets dark quickly. Check for desired color by placing a small amount on a white paper towel.
Just beginning to bubble.

Finally seeing some color.
Two minutes later.
After adding the cream.
Stages of caramel colors on a paper towel.

Once it's the desired color, remove from heat. Pour in the heavy cream all in once (it will bubble violently but if you use a big enough pot you'll be fine) and stir till well combined. Set aside to cool. Once cool, but before it gets too hard (appx. 10 minutes) drizzle half over the crisp. Reserve the remainder for candies or serving over ice cream later.

I baked the crisp for an hour, and then drizzled the caramel sauce over it. We reheated it for about 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven and served with vanilla ice cream.

Make sure to clean everything after making the caramel as soon as the items are cool enough to handle, otherwise you might as well throw them away. Because this caramel has cream it will be a little softer, but still a pain in the arse to clean up.

Friday, January 16, 2009

My Bad East Coast

I apologize to everyone on the East Coast. The current record cold might be my fault. Last week I was talking to my step father and he asked how cold it was. I told him it was about 38 degrees, so cold but not too bad. He asked if we had to wear long underwear in that kind of cold (my step father has never lived more than 20 miles from the Pacific coastline, almost all of those years in Santa Cruz or Marin county.) I laughed and said no, and in fact I don't even own long underwear. Fast forward one week and I'm considering buying long underwear to make it through the weekend. I apologize that I jinxed the weather.

To keep you warm, here is my clam chowder recipe. It's originally from a San Francisco Junior League cookbook, and adapted based on what I prefer in my chowder. Our tradition has been to have this and fajitas on Christmas Eve because Matt's family always does a huge seafood feast (originally based on the seven fishes Italian tradition, but adapted for his family to include clam cakes, lobster, stuffed quahogs, and scallops wrapped in bacon) and my father's family tradition of barbecued oysters from Tomales Bay (my job to go out and pick them up from a specific beach shack) and tamales (from them Mexican tradition). In my mom's family Christmas Eve is a work night (my step father is a minister), so the meal there is generally a different adaptation of this chowder and lasagna because both can be made in advance and reheated between services.

If you like your chowder a little thicker, you can mash up one or two of the potatoes or add some instant mashed potatoes to the pot. I like the addition of dill here, and I generally hate dill, so try it once before you skip it. Part of marrying a New Englander is always being forced to always carry oyster crackers in the house, and I'm told they should always be used with chowder. I do used canned clams for this, but mainly because I'm lazy. Feel free to use fresh. The original recipe called for green bell pepper and celery. I've omitted the bell pepper because I don't like that flavor in the chowder, and I hate celery with the passion of 1,000 suns so I never use it. My mom doesn't use the dill or pepper and adds frozen corn for her California version. This freezes well, so I often make a double batch.

Clam Chowder
6 slices bacon, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
6 potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups water
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
10 drops Tabasco
2 cups raw clams with juice
2 cups half and half
¼ c. chopped dill

In a large soup pot saute bacon until crisp. Add onions, potatoes, and garlic and saute for three minutes. Add water, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. In a separate pot, heat clams and juices until warm. Add clams, half and half, and dill to potatoes and heat until piping hot. Do not boil.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Brunch this weekend?

Or maybe what I'll make to watch Obama next week.

Bacon and Egg Cups

Mashed Potato Egg Boats

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's got veggies, that makes it diet food

OH MAH GAWD! This is awesome. And while bread and cheese may not seem like diet food I'm claiming that it is.

2 thick slices of bread (I used Italian that I had leftover from the weekend)
1 onion, sliced thinly
Balsamic vinegar
A few leaves of fresh spinach, thinly sliced (I picked a couple of leaves out of a bag that's a little past it's prime. I'm totally not above that.)
1/2 c chopped tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes, but any ripe ones would work well. I find that grape are usually pretty good in the winter.)
4 olives, chopped fine
2 oz goat cheese, put on counter to warm up while cooking (Goat cheese is generally hard to spread, but warming it a little makes it easier.)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat a saute pan over medium heat. Drizzle in a little olive oil and saute onions until slightly brown (about 10-12 minutes). Sprinkle a little bit of sugar and a touch of balsamic vinegar over onions and cook until onions are soft and brown. Remove from heat.
Toast bread until slightly brown. Spread cheese evenly over each slice of bread. Sprinkle spinach, then tomatoes, then olives, and finally caramelized onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Eat immediately. Make Homer Simpson moaning noises as appropriate.

I originally saw this recipe over the summer and was very intrigued. As someone I live with isn't a fan of goat cheese I put it on the back burner. He's gone tonight, so I decided to give it a shot. I had bread leftover so I wanted to do a sandwich instead of a pasta dish. Then I decided not to add the chicken because I wanted to keep it lighter.

I look at recipes for flavor combination I haven't thought of and then find a way to make it work for me. Recipes are never set in stone and the best ones are often people making the best of what they have available. Give it a shot and see what you come up with.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year, New Diet

In an attempt to loose some of the margarita and cookie weight, we've decided to go on a diet. These mean a whole lot more veggies and less chocolate. Matt's started running again, but I'm not doing anything that drastic. Actually I start ballet next week, but that's once a week for an hour, so I don't think it counts nearly as much as running.

Last night's dinner was a perfect example of the new diet. Pasta with veggies, veggies, and more veggies. And a little bit of cheese so we'll actually eat it. These made enough for three servings.

1/2 lb pasta (We used farfalle because that's what we always have in the house)
1 c. frozen broccoli (Thawed in the microwave for 4 minutes to get it ready to use)
3/4 of an orange bell pepper cut into bite sized pieces (Clearly you can use a whole pepper of any color, but I was using up what I had)
1/4 of a red onion, diced (Again, using what I had, but I'd probably still use a red onion over yellow given a choice, but not the end of the world to use a yellow onion)
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 lb of asparagus, cut into inch long pieces
2 TB toasted pine nuts
2 TB olive oil, plus 1 TB for cooking
2 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp honey
2 TB grated Parmesan cheese
Optional: Goat cheese, mozzarella cheese, and/or chopped black olives

Prepare pasta according to directions on the box.
While pasta is cooking, heat a large saute pan with 1 TB olive oil. When oil is hot and glistening (it will move quickly in the pan, but not yet be smoking) add carrots. After 3 minutes, add the red onion. After another minute add bell pepper and asparagus. Saute until veggies are softened but not mushy, approximately another 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper after every other veggie addition to season veggies without over salting them. In a small bowl combine remainder of olive oil, sherry vinegar, and honey. If you have it 1 tsp of Dijon mustard would also be a nice addition. Whisk until well combined. Just before draining pasta take 1/2 c of cooking liquid and add to veggie mixture. Drain pasta and add to veggie mixture. Pour oil mixture over veggies and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Remove from heat and add Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. Mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. I added a few chopped black olives and a little goat cheese to mine, Matt added a little shredded mozzarella to his, approximately 1 TB of cheese for each to keep it light. Both worked out well.

If you have them, cherry tomatoes would be a nice addition when you add the cheese and pine nuts.