Monday, December 16, 2013

Unedited Baking

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume I will have company out there when I say that I let my waistline sort of bulge a bit this time of year. I started baking early. Like, November. Lots of cookies. Too many cookies. And cake. And a pie or two.

I never make New Year's resolutions along the lines of "losing five pounds," but this year I just might.

Here we have the Thanksgiving offerings, which both came out ridiculously good this year, if I do say so myself. A pear tart and a chiffon cake. The cake was so messy and the instructions have all caps telling you, "DO NOT UNDERBEAT THE EGGWHITES!" I was terrified. As you see, it all worked out great and tasty and light and airy. That kind of great. 

This is what happens when you do not properly grease your bundt. Be warned! 

My new cookie love is a browned butter buckwheat chocolate chip cookie. Which barely beats out whole wheat chocolate chip. Are you sensing a theme? This plate represents the three cookies I sent to my sister for her wedding (!): a Mexican wedding cookie (duh), a sable nantes, and the aforementioned chocolate chip buckwheat thing. Don't worry, she got more than three cookies. 

And this beauty was an upside-down cranberry ginger cake. Now, I like my gingerbread spicy and this one delivered with a ton of ginger spice plus minced fresh ginger. It was so spicy that Sam said he didn't like it. Good. More for me. Actually, there was so much for me that I sent a bunch to work with Josh. He was asked for the recipe, so I feel like I won. Something. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Snack Culture

Let me be the first, no, one of the many, to say that the American Snack Culture (hereby referred to as ASC) is out of control.
Teddy snacks and studies
And I got caught up in it. I have created two little snacking machines. I buy bunnies and goldfish in bulk. My kids ask for them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and, oh, snack time. What is this snack time? I think we have at least two per day, right? One around 10am, regardless of the timing of breakfast; and one around 3 or 4pm. My favorite snack application must be when they are used as a side dish, as in, "Mommy, may I have some crackers to wash down this bulgur?" Sam says that crackers help him to swallow anything offensive that I prepare. It's kind of comical to watch him take a teensy bite of dinner, then a big chomp on a cracker as the chaser. Meanwhile, Teddy is turning into a bunny, as in cheddar.

But, I am nothing if not a DIY-er, so guess what. I'm making snacks from scratch! I have a book out from the library called "Real Snacks." I also bought "Salty Snacks" and have scoured my cookbooks for cracker recipes. I figure that it would be nice to fill my kids with homemade carbs that have only pronounceable ingredients. I do ascribe to Pollan's caution that if you can't pronounce the ingredient, put the product down. To paraphrase: If your grandmother wouldn't recognize the food product and/or its ingredients, do not purchase or ingest it.
Goldfish, which were "too big"
How did we get here? Are we to blame Mr. Kellogg? Were his corn chips the very first Snack? They were actually meant to be a vegetable accompaniment, you know. Corn chips as a side dish! (Perhaps the Kellogg children needed to wash down their bulgur.) What does Dr. Graham have to say for his "crackers" and what they have become? Would he decry the blue box as an outrage?

What is clear is that we snack too much and suffer for it. I am currently suffering. I feel that I must develop a Snack Philosophy. A Snack Stance. A Snacking Manifesto.

Step one: Identify the dilemma. My two sons LOVE snacks and HATE the food I cook. Perhaps it is the mere idea of the food I cook. I know that I have brought this upon myself, BUT I would also like to blame the crazy, out-of-control ASC for perpetuating it. Here is but one example of how the madness spreads.

Monday, August 5: I drop Sam off at Lego camp - a 3-hour camp - and overhear other moms saying, "And here is your snack." What? My kid just had breakfast and I will pick him up at lunchtime. Why a snack? I immediately feel guilty, then silly, then irate. But my Sam is very in tune with his tummy and declares that he had a big breakfast and therefore needs no snack.

Tuesday, August 13: Teddy, Sam, and I arrive at the park. A mere two minutes into play, Sam declares that he is soooooo thirsty and would also like a snack. This cues Teddy to ask for goldfish. Whining ensues. Irate Mommy further ensues. And Sam, the smarty that he is, looks around the park to see other children snacking and uses this as evidence for why he also needs a snack and a beverage and, gosh, I am a poor planner and provider because what was I thinking, trying to make it all the way to the park with no beverages or carbohydrates. Kids gotta fuel up!
Pop tart with homemade jam filling
I am convinced that my children think that they don't have to eat dinner because they can hold out for a snack the next day. I really believe they have figured out that they can coast on their 4pm snack all the way through the night. Ugh.

So what should the manifesto contain? Step Two: Find a solution.

1. No more store-bought snacks. You want a graham cracker, well, you will wait just as Dr. Graham himself intended, for two hours while I bake them.

2. No more eating in the car.

3. No more snacking in between breakfast and lunch. Please, people, it's like three hours.

4. The 3:30/4pm snack is small and wholesome and homemade and, most importantly, does not ruin dinner.

That's good for now. What is your Snack Philosophy?
English muffin
Pop-like Tart. 
The big shocker for me on this recipe was to realize that, duh!, a pop tart is nothing more and nothing less than a hand pie! Cue angels singing, I mean really. So, if you have a pie or tart dough that you already work with, by all means, bust it out, make it into squares the size that you like, fill with jam of your choice (or fig butter from Trader Joe's!), cut some vents, and bake. I have had success with both pate brisee dough and a standard American pie dough. But I do quite like the "Real Snacks" approach, as follows.

2/3 cup each of whole wheat pastry flour, AP flour, and millet flour
1T sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
8T unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
1/4-3/4 cup iced water
1 egg
jam of choice
optional glaze at the end (powdered sugar with milk or water or even lemon juice)

In a food processor or by hand, whisk together the flours with the sugar and salt. Add the pieces of butter and cut in until you have eensy pieces of butter coated in flour all over. It is important that the butter does not melt or get very warm - cold butter creates flakes in the oven. If doing by machine, pulse 8-10 times; if by hand, use a fork or pastry blender to sort of smash and break up the butter. Now add your water, 3T at first, either with the machine running or stirring with a fork. Add more, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough just comes together. You want a hydrated dough, but not a wet, sticky one. Put the dough mass on plastic wrap and use it to press the dough into a rectangle, mushing the corners so that they are smooth and not dry and shaggy. (Leslie, maybe you should come over and bake with me one day!) Wrap your rectangle up and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes to hydrate, or leave it for a few days.

Lightly flour a rolling surface. Cut your dough into four pieces and roll them out one by one into a rectangle that is 1/8" thick. Trim the edges so that you have a neat rectangle. Then cut the size you want for your tarts. Set them up so that you have your top and bottom. Mix the egg with 1T water and brush the bottom tart piece with a light coating. Place an appropriate amount of jam for your size tart (probably 1-2tsp.) on the egg-washed side, in the middle. Place on the top, seal by making those cute fork marks all around the edges, and cut three slits. Repeat with all the dough. Use the rest of the egg wash to brush the tops of the tarts.

Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes OR move to the freezer on something flat then, when frozen, transfer to a labeled bag and then you can make tarts whenever you want. When you want to bake, preheat to 350 and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on tart size and if they were frozen or not. Watch for golden brown deliciousness.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sundays With Jacques, Sept. 22

Chanterelles were on sale, so I had to get some. I sauteed them in butter and oil, finished with shallots, parsley, and chives. I thought it was strange to put them on toast, but if JP says it's good, I'll try it. Sure enough, duh, it was delicious.
 And I did continue the lamb theme this week with a lamb steak from the leg. It was a quick sear followed by a quicker pan sauce of soy sauce, sambal oelek, ketchup, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. I am just realizing now that I forgot the mint! Ug. I did remember to add it the first night - it rounded out the flavors nicely - but leftovers night, no mint. Oh-oh, that means there is a little container in the fridge somewhere.

 Leek gratin and sauteed potatoes were the sides. It seems like a lot, but it was all pretty simple and came together quickly. The potatoes were from our garden. I think there is some sort of potato worm out there. I need to look this up because many of my potatoes had little guys hanging out inside, which means you have to really peel all of them. I tried my hand at "turning" a few - that's a French technique where you make little football shapes with your veggies. They not only look adorable, but they also cook at the same rate.
I was over at the neighbor's house and we were discussing dinner. I was talking about this and she about her tacos. I realized that I make a lot of dishes to complete one meal because she thought I was done when I mentioned the lamb and potatoes and I had to say, "Wait, I also made ..." lest she think potatoes were the only vegetable. Hardly!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stupid Gnocchi

Gnocchi is something to be ordered, not made. I have made it a couple of times - potato, potato with spinach, and now sweet potato. The little writeup even talked about how adding sweet potato is a good trick for novices because taking away some regular potato would remove some of the gluey potential. Ha.

I have heard good gnocchi described as airy and light, as little clouds. Mine were like lead. Mine were the opposite of airy and light. Mine were a travesty. Oh, but we still ate them with sage and butter and Pecorino.

Sam was even excited at the prospect of dinner because he has had the gnocchi that I buy frozen from Trader Joe's. I sautĂ© them in butter and melt a little cheese on them. He loves those gnocchi. Of these, however, he said, emphatically, "I don't like them." But I had worked so hard and was so angry that they didn't turn out well that I snarled at him to eat them or eat nothing and if he chose nothing he would most likely throw up in the morning from low blood sugar. So there.

I know that I went wrong in a couple of places. The sweet potatoes were perfectly roasted, but the yukons were not. Little, hard bits of potato in your gnocchi? No, thanks. I guess I also worked too much flour in, which would create toughness, but I just don't get how to not add so much. I have worked with many doughs in my day. With bread, I know the difference between "tacky" and too darned sticky. But these gnocchi were a mess and I kept adding and adding flour.

And don't even get me started with how difficult it is to roll the little guys off the back of a fork for the cute little tine impression. Mine were far from cute. And tough. Did I mention tough?

The one saving grace was that I further developed my browned butter sauce. If you have never done it, I highly recommend melting a few tablespoons of unsalted butter, letting it brown, throwing in sage, and then tossing your pasta in the pan too - gnocchi, cheese ravioli, even a plain pasta would be good.

But, do yourself a favor, and order gnocchi at a restaurant or purchase frozen for home.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sunday, Sept. 15, With Jacques

I thought you would want to know what I made. Lamb shanks with white beans. I might just devote the following weeks to all the lamb recipes in Essential Pepin. I just adore lamb. And beans. Which reminds me that Sam has all but declared himself a vegetarian. He says that animals are our friends and we have to protect them and not eat them. Where does he get such ideas? Are the Wild Kratts vegetarians?

I also made a salad - that I forgot to photograph. It was so simple and so good: arugula with oil-cured olives and croutons, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. I just adore oil-cured olives. And arugula, or rocket, as they say in Jolly Old England.                        

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sundays With Jacques

There is a Tuesdays With Dorie blog where the host chooses recipes to make once a week. Anyone can participate. The only stipulation, of course, is that you have Greenspan's Around My French Table cookbook. Every participant makes the chosen dishes and sends in photos. I have always wanted to participate, but I don't want to buy the book because I have lots of cookbooks that I really should work through. Plus, I worship at the altar of Jacques Pepin.

For a while I did Sunday night Jacques Pepin dinners - my own thing - working out of his most recent tome, Essential Pepin. I have made several soups and soufflĂ©s and other dishes, and they have all been fantastic, of course. I fell out of the habit for some reason, and I would like to fall back in. I took up the cause again this past Sunday and, since today is the following Sunday, I have got one of JP's recipes  on the stovetop.

Let me just say a couple of words about Jacques. He is so fantastic and incredible. His resume in the world of cuisine is astonishing and one that is now unapproachable. Chefs in the US certainly don't train the way he did; I don't know if they still do so in France, but I doubt it. He was of a generation that was apprenticed at the age of 14 and grew into being a cook as musicians grow into their trade - that is, by learning the art in the bones. Musicians know that you don't think about the individual notes in the scales you practice, you just play because your body knows them. I think the same can be said for JP's mise en place. He cooked for French presidents; he cooked in famous restaurants; he turned down cooking for the Kennedys in the White House. He teaches, he writes, he has TV shows and throws some killer fetes. I have a fantasy that I will write his biography. I mean, Julia Child has how many biographies? Lots. JP needs a few too. And, since he's on the East Coast, while I'm over there, I will try out for America's Test Kitchen, get in, move there, and then write Christopher Kimball's biography too. (Yeah, yeah, the family comes with me, duh.)

So Sunday. I try to pick a balance of dishes. Last week I made mushroom ravioli, fish soup with rouille, and a carrot salad.

I have wanted a pasta maker for-ev-er. I know that I can hand roll dough and make a ton of shapes that way, but I haven't tried. My kitchen workspace is so small that a huge task like Pasta is pretty daunting. I really have to get up the gumption. For this recipe, even JP uses wonton wrappers, so I did too. The first night, I made his suggested wine sauce to go with the ravs (and forgot to photograph it) - delicious and goes so well with mushrooms. The second night, I made a browned butter and sage sauce, which is pretty darned awesome and seems like it can go on anything.
For the fish soup, I bought fish heads and made a fume for the first time. I picked out my own heads at Uwajimaya, which didn't seem right. I must have gotten a neophyte at the fish counter, because who in the world hands a lady two plastic bags and tells her to go to town on the stack of fish heads? It was fun, though, so I didn't mind. Except when I got poked by one of the razor-sharp little cheek spikes.

I must say, I have made lots of chicken and vegetable stock in my day, but fish stock is super easy and cheap! I paid $3 for all those heads, boiled them for 15 minutes, and voila! fish stock. It was good too. Then I boiled aromatics and herbs in it and served it with rouille (a sort of mayonnaise) and toasted bread. I saw Jacques and Julia make it on their show and have wanted to make it for a while. Now I have.

The carrot salad looks simple enough, but the flavor combination was unique and delicious. It's just carrots and sunflower seeds on watercress (a must!), but the vinaigrette makes it: sherry vinegar with walnut oil! How big of a difference can that make? A huge one. I got a sort of expensive California walnut oil and it was totally worth it.
So that's it for Sunday #1 with JP. Back on track.

Walnut Oil Vinaigrette. 
1 teeny weeny shallot, finely minced
1 small clove garlic, smashed and minced
2T sherry vinegar
4T walnut oil
Whisk together. You could add a 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard if you want it more piquant. Definitely serve with watercress or arugula.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Once upon a time

There were three squash plants.
I pulled them all out the other day. They were nasty. All covered in powdery mildew which, if you haven't experienced it, is quite powdery indeed. As I cut off squash tentacles in order to make yanking the whole plant less unwieldy, a white miasma engulfed me. Knowing that it is some fungus that kills plants,  I felt I should not inhale. So I would take a big breath on the lawn, and then run over to the raised bed and pull on the plants. 

I decided that three plants is just about right for getting to do a variety of dishes; I had two zucchini and one yellow squash. I know my father just kicked himself back from the computer desk screaming, "What?! You hate zucchini!" (I may have exaggerated the scene for dramatic effect.) And this is partly true. Really, though, I hate steamed zucchini, as I believe all steamed vegetables are punishment for some dastardly deed committed in another life. 

I used to watch Molto Mario on the Food Network, back when the cooking shows were much better and every other one was not about cupcakes. Mario was great because he would pull down a map of Italy and talk about the region that his dishes came from, and then he would cook right there for his guests, usually three somewhat famous people. He once did a shallow-fried zucchini on pasta. It was quite fun to toss little squash rounds into hot olive oil, but it was also messy and a pain, so I take mine to the oven and blast them at 425 or 450 for 15 minutes or so. It can be had simply in a bowl or on top of pasta with some Pecorino and herbs of choice.
Speaking of herbs, I discovered that savory goes very well with zukes. I made a couple different patties and put savory in both to rave reviews. Well, Teddy refused the try them and Sam only grudgingly did so because I wouldn't make him a grilled cheese and he knows that low blood sugar makes him vomit. I got both patty recipes from magazines and they both go smashingly well with green goddess dressing - man, is that stuff good when homemade. Which reminds me of the time I poisoned Josh with some very old store-bought dressing. Good story: I plated our salads and put the old dressing on his and opened a new bottle for me. I do recall feeling like the smell was off, but I also recall thinking, eh! what could happen? Vomit and diarrhea, that's what.

Why is is called green goddess? I figured it was a 1960s thing created on some commune, but it actually originated in the 1920s when a chef at San Francisco's Palace Hotel made it for an actor and named it in honor of the play he was in. I don't make mine with mayonnaise because I don't like it (!). I prefer using buttermilk, yogurt, or a combination thereof.

I also pickled some zukes. I made a bread and butter zucchini pickle, which came out tasty, but mushy. There is no way around the mush if you are going to make your cans shelf-stable. The pickle on the right is a fridge pickle, i.e. crispy, and has sugar, cloves, and allspice. It's "supposed" to be a marinade for beets, but the mix reminded me a lot of the zuke pickles that Vios puts on their lamb burger. I'm irritated with Vios, though, so we shouldn't talk about them. I won't even link to their homepage. 

And I finally stuffed blossoms. You might notice that your plant has several blossoms that never fruit. These are male and usually the first flowers. We all know that males can't make babies, i.e. fruit, by themselves, so pluck those males and stuff them! I made blossom pasta sauce last year, but found they have little flavor on their own. Stuffed blossoms, naturally, are quite different and delightful. I did two versions: stuffed with Spanish cheese and pan-fried; and stuffed with ricotta, poached, and served in a chicken broth.

There were but two zuke dishes on the docket that I didn't get to: zucchini soup and zucchini puree (as pasta sauce). They both sound too bitter for my palate. I find unadulterated zucchini taste bland and, somehow, squeaky.

I am excited to move on to the winter squash. Now those are my favorite. I really want to stuff a pumpkin with soup, bread, and cheese this year! What do you do with squash?

Green Goddess Dressing
1 cup plain yogurt or creme fraiche (maybe 3/4 yogurt and 1/4 buttermilk)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives or green onions
2T chopped fresh tarragon
2T chopped fresh parsley
1T white wine vinegar
1T anchovy paste

Blend and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Goes great on lots of things.

Zucchini Fritters
1 1/2 lb. summer squash of choice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup + 3T AP flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2T grated Parmesan
2T minced shallot or green onion
1T minced summer savory
a couple grinds black pepper
1/4 beer - pretty much any kind, but probably not a stout or porter

Grate the squash and place in a large colander. Massage 1tsp. of salt into the shreds and let sit to exude liquid for 30 minutes. Place the mass in a clean dish towel and squeeze like crazy to get as much liquid out as possible. Whisk the flour, baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and pepper together in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the beer. Then fold in the shallot, herb, cheese and zucchini.

Coat the bottom of a nonstick pan in olive oil and heat over medium. Drop 1/4-cupful sized patties in and flatten. Brown for 4-5 minutes per side.

These are nice served on a salad with a generous spoonful of green goddess dressing. Smoked trout and rice are lovely alongside. And don't forget to polish off that beer you opened to make the fritters.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dinner Fever

This is what my dining room table looks like right now - covered with books and binders and recipes and sticky notes. I am organizing my recipe binders, my cookbooks. There is chaos before there is order. 

I have taken great pleasure in busting out the glue sticks, construction paper, and three-hole-punch. Sam has even helped me with my "art project" by doing some gluing and snipping with me. I come from a long line of project-doers. Okay, maybe not long, but my dad has always created projects for himself, so I guess that is where I get it, and Sam will get it from me. Or something like that. 

I also take great pleasure in organizing and preparing for trips where I will cook and in preparing and organizing for house guests. I previously mentioned that my in-laws were here last month, and, boy, did I plan the heck out of that. Well, the meals anyway. I even laid away doughs and breads in the freezer. Not too long after that, we traveled (by car!) to Lake Tahoe and met up with my family for a week in the sun. The dinner routine was that Dad grilled the protein while I made the side dishes. And I make a mean side dish. From Seattle, I brought foodstuffs, pans, bowls, and notes so that I didn't forget all the ideas I had before we left. I also labeled all my supplies with masking tape and a Sharpie! Cooking like that, with Dad, was sheer pleasure. My timing has never been so good, and I drank up praise for my food as if compliments were wine and I was at a bacchanal. 

So it may come as no surprise that I take dinnertime at my house seriously. And that, when my carefully planned and prepared food is rejected and labeled yucky or gross, I hit the ceiling. I am well aware of the probable fact that I did this to myself. The kids have their own special dinnertime for years before integrating into the grownups' table and timing; they are fed bland food for those years and then expected to munch on Thai or Middle Eastern flavors all of a sudden; they are constantly given crackers and cookies and then expected to eschew all snacking and save room for dinner. I get it. Really.

Because dinner looks like this,
Teddy begs for goldfish

I get that they have sensitive taste buds. I get that new foods are frightening. I get it that crackers are ridiculously good. But I want them to get that I am making things that are really good and not objectionable to little palates. Am I making sweetbreads with verjus? No. Escargots with a nice garlic-herb butter? No. I saute bacon and then throw couscous in it. I make a bajillion pancakes out of all sorts of things. I make tempura, for God's sake! I make good, kid-friendly stuff.

I am therefore led to conclude that they do it on purpose. As a matter of principle, they reject what Mommy makes. I believe their thinking goes something like this:

Sam: Hmmm, Mommy has been in a pretty good mood today. I'm going to see if I can get pasta with butter for dinner.
Teddy: What did Sam ask for? What is Mommy making? I want something else. But I won't eat it. I just want to look at it.
Sam: No dice with the pasta. Perhaps, if I refuse just so, I can get a bowl of Os instead.
Teddy: Os? I'll have a few.
Sam: Hm. Now she is raging and drinking her grape juice. I can totally hold out until breakfast tomorrow. I'll just ask for milk tonight and pray she doesn't make me try the zucchini pancake and black rice. I mean, really. Black rice!
Teddy: Milk, please.
Sam: Look at Mommy squirm. Wow, I did that. I feel so ... powerful! Hahahahahahahahaha.
Sam eating only what is required

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Berry Wonderful

That's the name suggested for the dessert I concocted the first night my in-laws were here. I say concocted because I threw it together with no recipe. *gasp* It was blackberries covered in streusel and roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so. A scoop of that went over vanilla ice cream. A revelation.

The next night I made my raspberry tart. But I couldn't find those darned cookies that you are supposed to use for the crust. They are always up, tippy-toe high on the shelves in the store because they are expensive and esoteric; you must have your nose in the air to see them. So I made my own chocolate crust. Naturally, I felt quite cool and competent making my own, but it didn't taste the same. It was far from the same, in fact. Not chocolaty enough, not crumbly enough. Not enough. The filling was divine, of course, but I like a tart to be the complete package.

Berry season is booming. The strawberries were fantastic in June, and the blackberries and marionberries have been great in July. That reminds me of marionberry season a couple of years ago: a travesty. The local berry stand, Spooner's, had people queueing up before they even opened at 9:30am. Customers were limited to one flat, if they even wanted that much. And we all know what happens when there is a shortage: hoarding. The rest of us, who showed up at 10:30 with a toddler in tow, got nary a 1/2-pint to enjoy. This year, thankfully, berries are plentiful.

So I went a little bit nuts with the jamming. I speak in the past tense, but I guess there are still fruits to exploit. Figs sound nice. And, naturally, I will get the jars out for apple and pear butters. Alas, alack, no plums from my neighbor this year! She said she got no fruit! Horrible. Plum butter is delicious and there is but a teaspoonful left in my fridge.

Not only did I jam, but I also found other ways to enjoy the berry wonderful bounty. I like a plain ol' bowlful of berries, myself, but Sam had a fantastic idea: (homemade) toasted brioche with creme fraiche and berries.

This is my third jamming year. I jam with purchased fruit, which feels like a cheat. You are supposed to put up the glut of your fields, right? I do pickle my glut. But the fruit preserves are sometime in the future, I'm afraid. The squirrels ate all my strawberries and the birds ate all my blueberries. There aren't enough raspberries, but I don't like to jam those anyway. Raspberries are for picking and eating, bugs and all. I could visit a U-pick, but that involves, ug, planning and dragging the kids along. And I am looking for poundage, not an activity where I can joyously snap photos of the kids picking berries while I walk away with a wee 1/2-pint.

This year, I realized that I like jam, not preserves. I like a smooth texture, rather than chunky. I won't take it so far as to remove the seeds from berries - that would be insane; that would be franken-jam. Oh, hang on; I do like cherry preserves. I made those last year and they came out delicious - fabulous on oatmeal. Oh, now that I think of it, spiced peaches too. But berries look awful. All my jams are bright and lovely this year. My (step?) mother-in-law noted that preserved strawberries look like little organs - all gray-purple, floating in a thick, sanguineous liquid. So true. So disturbingly true.

Speaking of color change, I just hate what happens to my pickles. I had beautiful, multi-colored beans that all look greenish after canning. Ah well. Chemical reactions, right? What is there to do?

I delivered jam to my neighbors. That was fun. The man next door, who is about 83, smiles like a schoolboy when I bring him goodies. Kills me. I hope he lives forever. And it is always best to take Sam along while delivering because he asks to go inside people's houses - which I won't do, but I would like to do. I have been inside several houses I don't think I would have made it into without him. I like to look at the pictures on the wall and the magazines piled on the coffee table. Who doesn't? I usually get a couple of good stories out of a visit, at least. This time I got that plus frozen rhubarb! And a promise of home-roasted coffee beans!

The moral of the story: Share with your neighbors.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

In the beginning

Well, this isn't the beginning, but rather a continuation of what went before. Which reminds me that I must figure out how to link my old blog to this one. Anyway, I got to a point - with the other one - where I was still inspired, but not to write. I got to a point where I felt I had no time. I got to That Point. And I simply stopped. For a while, I still looked at blogs I liked. Then I stopped that too.

I continued to read about food: Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Seattle (mag), as well as various books and online articles. I follow chefs on Twitter.

I continued to cook and grow my repertoire too. I even took a few cooking classes, including a really cool forage-then-cook class with Langdon Cook.

But I think I am back now. I keep thinking I should give myself a challenge or have some cool shtick to keep the blog rolling. Like, 365 days with no repeated meals. Perhaps 365 days with no takeout. Or have weekly influences: Jacques Pepin week, Julia Child week, Marcella Hazan week, vegan week. But I have a feeling just blogging around these two kids who keep interrupting everything I do every three minutes or less (I timed it this morning and it wasn't even a full minute that I was able to keep my gloves on to clean the toilet) will be challenge enough to start.

I just want to get back on board and feel like I am doing some Thing. This means getting into The Habit. I have to remember to take and post photos. I have to remember to write. I do remember that it was a pleasure and that when I got just one page view, I felt giddy.

So, let's try again, shall we?

In the beginning, there were seeds. And these seeds begat an enormous head of lettuce. With child next to it for size comparison.

The thing about growing your own food is bugs. Bugs is the thing. And lots of dirt. My counter looks a complete disaster after having garden material plopped on it. But, man oh man, vive la difference. I spent early spring buying up boxes of mixed greens at the store so I could have a salad for lunch. I am so glad to be out of that rut and to simply walk outside and cut myself a few leaves or a whole head.

This one I turned into Thai Beef Salad. Which I forgot to take a picture of, so I thought I would distract you with my tofu bibimbap. Did it work?

Now, I would like to post more recipes than I attempted to post last time 'round. BUT there is an issue of ownership and giving credit where credit is due and money and all that. I have heard various discussions about this and decided to come down on a side previously taken. That is, I will post a recipe that I have made my own through tinkering, a little or a lot. If I just copy the thing verbatim from a book every time I make it - as I do with the Thai Beef Salad - I won't post unless begged to. I will, however, tell you wherefore I get my dish.

So this particular one is from America's Test Kitchen. I do tinker slightly with the meat cut and the vegetables, but that doesn't really count. I fell in love with this salad at one particular Thai restaurant in Seattle, Jamjuree, but we never go there anymore, since moving out of the 'hood. My version is really good, especially since I take most of the chiles out in order to staunch the flow of sweat that normally appears whilst eating Thai cuisine.

Oh, hell, I'll just tell you what's in the dressing, how about that?

Beef Salad Dressing, slightly changed so that I am not totally stealing and copying, from ATK.
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
4 tsp. brown sugar
chile pepper flakes, to taste (my taste is zero)
you could also throw in a serrano chile, if you like

Mix all to dissolve sugar. Voila.