Friday, December 29, 2006

And now, for something completely different...

Question: Why do I sometimes capitalize many of the title words, and not others?

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Answer: I have no idea.

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While you ponder that non-sequitur, here are some photos I took while in Arizona recently, most of them while my lovely niece Emily just looked upon me w/ a mixture of boredom and skepticism (the words "crazy" and "aunt" come to mind)...

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...but she sure was nice to drive me out into the desert and put up w/ me. She just got her license so I think she was just happy to have somewhere to drive.

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This, for no apparent reason, makes me want to launch into a tirade about being your own person regardless of how crazy people might perceive you to be... but on second thought, maybe not.

After all, it's getting late and we are all getting verrry sleeeepy...the sun is slipping away, and it's time for rest.

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Sweet dreams, and watch out for those sharp prickly points.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Mole Obsession Continues...

Today I got the best treat, courtesy of my amazingly talented co-worker Jamie. I bring food to Jamie a lot, and he in turn provides me with lots of encouragement and kindness, but man, is he modest. All along he's been hiding his culinary prowess from me! Turns out, this is a man who has spent a lot of time making mole! Who knew?!

So today, he brought me a lovely little (actually, BIG) package of blissful chicken in Oaxacan black mole, plus perfectly tender seasoned rice w/ little bits of squash, some kind of velvety white beans ever so subtly scented with some kind of fruit I've yet to determine, and a perfectly ripe avocado, and a beautiful little dark chocolate pot de creme for desert. AND, if all that weren't enough, he brought me one of his favorite Mexican cuisine cookbooks, by Diana Kennedy, who has travelled all over Mexico studying the different regional styles of cooking. Holy Mole indeed!

So then, my lovely friend and birthday-mate Janet called to invite me to lunch, but instead I invited her to come share this feast with me, and she brought a perfect salad, and there happened to be a leftover bottle or 3 of wine from our Christmas party, so we dove into it all with very little restraint. Dude, do I have like, the best job ever?

It only took one bite of the mole for us both to decide that we are now Jamie's devotees. And by the second bite, we'd decided that when our birthday rolls around in about... 3 months and 11 days, I will be making this exact meal using Jamie's recipes. And there will also be several kinds of homemade salsa, and the very necessary blood orange margaritas, and perhaps by then I will have begun to make my own tortillas. Who said getting older sucks? Actually, I'm having a blast, and can hardly wait to turn 38.

So there. Thanks for the inspiration, Jamie!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My Parents Rock...

... cause this is what they gave me for Christmas... something I've wanted for such a long, long, time! A beautiful, cherry red, Le Creuset pot! Three cheers for Mom & Dad!!!

You realize now Mom & Dad, that now you're going to have to come back to the Bay area so I can cook something fantastic for you in this pot!

Tonight though, I used Mom & Dad's kitchen to make risotto w/ asparagus & peas, and a big pot of cannelini bean soup w/ pesto. And Dad grilled the salmon that I marinated. And we ate and drank and stuffed ourselves silly. And baked biscotti. And took lots of photos. And I got to hear stories of how my grandma Esway was a bootlegger who made her own wine.... I got my brother a book on carnivorous plants, and he told me he has a special plant growing for me at home... which I can hardly wait to enjoy!

Yeah, Christmas was a good one this year :)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What I've Learned about Baking

Sorry folks, it's been a whirlwind couple weeks and the last week in particular had me feeling overwhelmed & uninspired.

I've been doing a lot of baking. In particular, I've been working on perfecting a recipe I found and adapted for chocolate-hazelnut-cranberry biscotti.

Sadly, I just spent an hour working on a batch of dough, and it simply wasn't happening. I was in a bit of a hurry as I embarked upon this baking session and after a good long time wrestling with the dough whilst getting increasingly aggravated, it finally occured to me that hmmmm... I think I forgot to add the sugar to the mix.

I practically cried, because there was just no way to salvage the dough at this point and frankly, nothing left to do but throw the big sticky (and very expensive) mess into the trash and pour myself a glass of wine and write in my damn blog.

But let's back up. I've made several batches of these lately and when I don't f*ck it up, they turn out wonderful and are receiving rave reviews. I'm pretty sure that my friend Judith has become my devotee based on these biscotti.

Last week however, when I was making a giant double batch so I'd have plenty to give out as holiday treats, I made the mistake of having a little too much fun w/ some friends who'd randomly stopped by. I mean, it's never a mistake to have too much fun w/ friends, but it is a mistake to try to bake while doing so IF YOU DON'T HAVE A F*CKING KITCHEN TIMER! I mean geez, I have practically every kitchen gadget known to man, but no kitchen timer? Something you can buy for a couple bucks at your local drugstore?


So, that batch got burnt, and a burnt biscotti is simply not a happy biscotti.

Hence, these are the lessons I've learned about baking this week:

#1. PAY ATTENTION!!! It may seem obvious, but my frantic mind needs to be reminded. That means, follow the directions and check them off as you go, and don't be plotting world domination or thinking about how dirty the floor is or anything else. Pay attention to what you're doing.

#2. USE A TIMER!!! Baking is so much less forgiving than say, making a pot of stew. There's a lot less room for improv. When it's time to come out of the oven, it's time. Sometimes it's time even sooner than you think, which brings us back to point #1 and paying attention. Ok? Ok.

Alright, I've got a potluck to go to so I'm going to drag my sad little self back into the kitchen and I'm going to do my damndest to make a beautiful delicious frittata. Wish me luck. I think I'm going to need it today.

Monday, December 11, 2006

If You don't Know how to Handle the Meat, then Stay the Hell out of the Kitchen

Well the good news is, I managed to make it 37 years without ever having experienced food poisoning. And the bad news guessed it. I spent the weekend becoming intimately acquainted with both my bathroom floor and my garbage can, thanks to that little bugger called food poisoning. Alas, I lived to tell the tale. And no, I didn't poison myself!

The ironic part is, it happened at an over-priced tacqueria where just the very night before said incident, I'd been at a party where we'd discussed whether these over-priced tacquerias (Picante, Tacubya for instance) are really worth the price. Well let's just say that in the case of Picante, I'd say...probably not.

It's also ironic that I've eaten one dollar taco after one dollar taco at all sorts of taco trucks in questionable locales, with carnitas and carne asada and al pastor (though usually not chicken), and never once gotten sick! And then, I go to the overpriced tacqueria (although granted, my pal Janet was buying, bless her!) and pay $7 for a bowl of chicken tortilla soup, and later, it comes back to haunt me again and again and again...

So remember, folks. It's all about safety. Food safety. Which equals human safety. If you don't know how to handle raw meat then you probably shouldn't be handling raw meat. Ok. Enough said?

I'll spare you the details of my projectile vomiting ;(

Friday, December 08, 2006

So I thought to myself as I was doing the dishes this morning...

... Womankind cannot subsist on coffee and wine alone ... but other than the big pot of chicken stew earlier in the week, that's about what I've been doing.

Times like these, I wish I had my own personal chef, or maybe a personal Superhero who would not only astound and amaze me in the kitchen, but give a perfect massage, do the dishes, pay the bills, regulate my brain chemistry, and strut around the house looking fine.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Asopao de Pollo - hearty chicken stew w/ olives & capers

I love to make this rich and comforting dish in the winter time - it has its origins in Puerto Rico and I'm told that every cook in Puerto Rico has his or her own recipe for it. This one was passed on to me from an old friend, and it really hits the spot!

Take one whole chicken, cut it up and rinse it all over.
Liberally coat a large heavy bottomed soup pan with olive oil and add a clove of crushed garlic. Brown the chicken over medium-high heat on both sides - you may need to do this in batches, so be patient! Drink some of that mulled wine while you're waiting...

Once the chicken pieces are all brown, turn the heat down a bit and add a big can of tomato sauce or tomato puree, about 6 - 8 cloves of crushed garlic, one thinly sliced onion, 4 - 6 coursely chopped carrots, one bunch of coarsely chopped cilantro (stems and all!), one small jar of rinsed capers (WITHOUT brine) and one small to medium jar of green olives - brine and all. Add enough water so the chicken is completely covered.

Simmer over medium-low heat for about an hour or until chicken is succulent and tender, and serve with rice. In this case I made baked rice w/ roasted jalapeno-tomato salsa, a Mexican recipe from Rick Bayless. When you can't travel all over the world, I guess the next best thing is enjoying the foods of other cultures...

Bon Appetit!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mulled Wine and Squash Biscuits

Last night I had a very impromptu dinner party, featuring this delicious mulled wine. I scoured the internet looking for recipes and then bastardized what I found and created my own. Judging from the scarlet-stained smiles of my pals Miss NoNo, Heidi, Berge and Camille, I'd say the recipe was a winner. Of course, I ordered them to drink up & smile, but I sure didn't have to order them a second time.

I bastardized yet another recipe that was for squash biscuits. The recipe didn't call for buttermilk but I figured, of course you can put buttermilk in biscuits, right? And so I did. By this point however, I'd had quite a few nips of the mulled wine so I was getting sloppy and I kept on adding flour and it was becoming quite the gooey mess. I didn't have high hopes and I didn't have much patience, but neither did I care. Instead of cutting the biscuits into little round bits, I just glopped them onto the pan with reckless abandon, and I wish I'd gotten a photo, because they looked like weird scone-blobs. But guess what? They tasted fabulous and had a lovely texture inside. I guess the secret is to drink more mulled wine and cultivate reckless abandon.

Here are the recipes...

Mulled Wine:

1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
8 - 10 cloves
8 - 10 juniper berries
8 - 10 whole allspice berries
4 - 6 whole peppercorns
1 - 2 cinnamon sticks
A light sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tea bags of herbal tea - I used Good Earth decaffeinated herb blend
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
3 - 4 slices of orange zest
3 - 4 slices of lemon zest
Thinly sliced oranges and lemons
2 bottles red wine - I used 1 bottle Merlot and 1 bottle Zinfandel

Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar; whisk till it disolves and then add the teabags, spices, citrus and zest. Turn the heat off. Let this steep for about 10 - 15 minutes and remove the teabags. Now stir in the Grand Marnier and the wine, and turn the heat back on. The key is to heat it very slowly and don't ever boil it. When it's good & piping hot, serve it up and prepare for scarlet smiles all around!

Reckless Abandon Squash Biscuits

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold butter
1 cup cooked squash (I used pumpkin)
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 - 4 tablespoons buttermilk

Pre-heat the oven to 400. Combine the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into small pieces and work into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter or fork, until the mixture is the size of small peas. Mix the maple syrup into the squash; then stir this into the flour mixture. Add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Now knead it a bit 'til you have a nice pliable dough, adding more flour as needed. Now here's where the usual recipes call for folding the dough over a few times before rolling it out and cutting it. The reckless abandon method calls for just kneading it a few times and then dropping it by big fat tablespoonsful onto your baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or so, and serve steaming hot, preferably with butter. And if you're really feeling reckless, just blow off dinner and fill up on these.