Friday, December 21, 2007

Spread the Biscotti Love

Wow. I got to work this morning and found a note on my desk from a friend of a friend, someone whom has long been a fan of my baked goods (which is funny because I am SO not a baker!) and who, at one point, had offered to help me turn my granola-making hobby into a business.

But you know how life is.... we get busy, we get distracted, we get lazy... so I never really gave it another thought. After much consideration, I decided that production baking wasn't for me, and that I'd rather just bring people little bags of goodness when the mood strikes, and be thrilled by their happy responses, like this one, in response to my dark chocolate cranberry hazelnut biscotti ...

"Dear Val,

I am by far the most critical person I know. Especially when it comes to food, I have a very, very specific way I envision things. I analyze every minute detail, every aspect of asthetics, presentation and consumption, and when I find any disagreeable detail it is commented on with tactless disdain. So it is a wonder that I continue to fall in love with your baked goods. They are, simply put, flawless. Your biscotti met all criteria and far beyond, they are a catalyst for content. Perfect texture when dipped in tea, just the right amount of chocolate to keep the palette interested and excited, not too sweet, and certainly not a burden on the conscious after three or four. How foolish I am to have not prioritized helping you get your products on the market shelves; everyone deserves to appreciate a product made with so much love. Again, if you feel you can use me in any way, I will do my very best to help. Bravo!"

So yeah, no production baking for me. Just little bags of joy. Speaking of which, I gotta get back into the kitchen now...!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Fun with Preserved Lemons

Oh, how I love preserved lemons.

I'm not even sure how to describe their amazingly fragrant, sweet and tart and salty and super-lemony flavor. If you made lemon perfume, it might smell the way these taste. I find them to be a complete delight to the senses. Preserved lemons are frequently used in Moroccan cooking, and contrary to what your intuition might tell you, it's only the rind that is used.

It isn't that difficult to preserve lemons; just takes a little advance planning and some patience!

First, get yourself a nice sized jar with a tightly fitting lid; I like to use a jar that's about the size of a big mayonnaise jar. You'll want to boil a big pot of water and very carefully use tongs to drop both the jar and the lid into it to sterilize them for a minute or two. Using the tongs, pull them out and set them onto a clean rack to dry.

Now you'll need to prep your lemons. You'll need not only enough lemons to fit into the jar, but you'll need a whole bunch of extra lemons to juice, because you'll need enough juice to completely cover the lemons.

Start by scoring several slices into the rind of each lemon, being careful to only slice into the skin and not go all the way into the flesh. You want the whole lemon to remain intact.

Next, you'll want to take some nice coarse kosher or sea salt, and pack it into the spaces where you just made the scores. Pack in as much salt as you can, and place each lemon into the jar.

At this point, I like to add a cinnamon stick, a smattering of whole cloves, a few whole black peppercorns, and a few coriander pods. Perhaps you'll like to add these spices also, but you could just as easily leave them out, or improvise with different spices.

Next, you'll want to use a clean utensil to press the lemons down so that they release some of their juices, and then you'll need to pour fresh lemon juice over the whole lot of it, so that the juice completely covers the lemons. You can also add another generous sprinkling of salt at this point.

Now, seal the jar tightly, place it in a cool, dry place, and be patient! It should take about 3 weeks until your lemons are completely preserved. During this time, you should pick up the jar every couple days and turn it and shake it gently.

Don't be surprised it there's pressure build up when you remove the lid, and do use a clean utensil to remove each lemon before you use it. And, make sure to replace the lid tightly when you're done!

These beauties will last a long, loooooooong time in your fridge if left to do so, but duh... they won't last because you'll be using them all the time!

To use preserved lemons, remove a lemon and rinse it gently. Cut off the rind and discard the flesh. Chop the rind finely. It adds dazzling flavor to any dish, and here are a few suggestions:

Add a sprinkling of preserved lemon to a salad of steamed beets with olive oil, lemon juice and goat cheese. Add some to a stew with chic peas and chard. Make a Moroccan tagine with chicken or lamb, and add preserved lemons and green olives. Stir a little bit into some basmati rice and top with a sprinkling of fresh mint....get the picture??

How sad is it that I'm writing this posting with NO preserved lemons in my kitchen?? I guess I know what I need to do this week!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Bedtime Story about Wild Fermentation and Biscotti

The last three days have been so action-packed with music and food and deliciousness that I couldn't begin to summarize it all in one posting. Probably not even in two postings. But alas, we've gotta work with whatever little bits of inspiration & motivation we've got, and right now, sleep is calling so...

... I'll just rattle off the highlights, in no particular order: A chamber chorus concert! A totally kick-ass, hands-on workshop on wild fermentation, with a live soundtrack by a great band playing Eastern European music! A marathon biscotti making session in my own sunny kitchen, led by yours truly, with a little help from a few friends and a steaming pot of mulled wine! My cup runneth over and I find myself unable to stop using exclamation points!

I love people who aren't afraid to get their hands all covered in chocolate, and who don't mind that I am geekily stopping to take pictures every five minutes.

And I really love a man who isn't afraid to get beet juice on his hands.

I love pretty aprons and lovely women adept at the fine art of glazing.

I love the way raw vegetables get transformed into something new and altogether different, not unlike the way two simple chords can be transformed into a classic song like Merle Haggard's The Bottle Let Me Down .

I love to experience the way flour and chocolate and nuts and fruit and eggs and sugar turn into this...

... then this...

... and finally this:

I love my happy kitchen, and all that comes to life in it.

But I also love my bed, and that's where I'm headed now, with a full belly and a grateful heart.

The End.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Restaurants Galore

Although my kitchen has been a bit on the quiet side as of late, it's been a great couple of weeks for eating out. In the span of two weeks, I got to eat at three different restaurants I've wanted to try for quite some time now: Colibri Mexican Bistro, Burma Superstar and Cafe Gratitude.

Each place is worthy of its own entry; I ate something at each place that completely delighted me but I'm feeling a little lazy this morning so I'm just going to quickly summarize:

My friend Erik gives Colibri the thumbs up. Erik is from Mexico City and he knows his Mexican cuisine. He's been telling me about this place for awhile and when we finally went there with a posse of people, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Since there were a bunch of us, I got to sample many fine dishes and it was just exquisite. Three words...ok wait, six, ten words. Best carnitas EVER. Best guacamole EVER. Better than Dona Tomas. No shit!

Burma Superstar.... wow! I've been wanting to eat there since I first heard of it three and a half years ago. The Tea Leaf Salad is legendary, and it only took one bite to understand why. Coconut Rice? Oh yes, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. And I can't believe I had to wait 38 years to enjoy the refreshing combination of beer with ginger and lemon. Who knew? I didn't, but now I do.

And then there's Cafe Gratitude. I must say that the vibe of the place is far too crunchy for me, and I just can't say the names of the dishes without smirking... i.e. "I Am Extra Giving" (Asian kale-sea veggie salad), "I Am Divine" (Fiery Carrot Avocado Soup), "I Am Elated" (Special live Enchiladas)...BUT, the food really IS divine and dazzling (not unlike the company with whom it was shared!). We're talkin' fresh, mostly raw, organic, flavorful, healthy and beautifully presented.

So, my fridge is empty and I am a little on the broke side, but I am happy and well fed. No complaints here!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Welcome to December

I nearly made it to 50,000 words in November. I came so damn close that it's laughable that I didn't finish those last 300 words. But alas, it was a good experience. I think I may have purged some demons, and while it wasn't exactly fun, and it definitely was not a novel by any stretch of the imagination, it was a worthwhile experience.

But man, am I excited to get back to regular blogging, so don't give up on me, dear readers! There's so much to report - like the fact that I learned how to make beer recently... a dream come true! 'Tis the season for baking and roasting vegetables and making soup and hunkering down with the heat cranked with a big pot of mulled wine on the stove, oh yeah!

So truly, more is coming soon. In the meantime, won't you enjoy this little bit of shameless self-promotion? I promise I'll be back real soon with pics of the beer making process, and much, much more....