Friday, April 24, 2009

Bread Saves

I've posted about this recipe before, but it's been awhile, so I felt it was worth mentioning again.

I've been feeling a little on the cruddy side this week, but this bread cheered me right up.  I mean, just look at it!  It looks like it came from a *real* bakery for goodness sake!  But the real bakery is right here in our humble little kitchen!  Nothing like a slab of totally homemade and hot from the oven, crispy crackly crusty bread, steaming on the inside and slathered with butter, to cure what ails you.   At least until you try to button your pants.  Oh well!

Here's a link to the infamous recipe, originally posted in the New York Times, adapted from Jim Lahey.   Give it a try.  And try not to eat the whole loaf in one sitting.  I be you'll have a hard time with that.  But don't let that stop you.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 20, 2009


Howdy from a 90 degree day in the Bay area.   I don't know the exact temperature, but it's darn hot.  So naturally, today would be the day that my culinary inspiration finally returned, causing me to use every burner on the stove, raising the temperature in our kitchen to something just beyond sweltering.  Thank goodness my friend Claire gave me all that delicious white wine to keep me cool!!

In addition to the compulsion I felt to make a big pot of fiery red curry today, I also thought I'd revisit my old friend polenta.  Growing up in my family,  it was called cornmeal mush and it was total peasant food.  It's still total peasant food - cheap and filling - and it was then, and still is, delicious!

Certainly everybody out there in blog land has their own recipe.  I can't say that I have one single recipe for polenta, but I thought I'd share with you what I made today.  As you can see, my dear old dog Spider thought it smelled delicious!

One of the things I love about polenta is that it's so versatile.  You can do what I did, or create your own take on the situation.  It's very forgiving and adaptable to your tastes.

First, you cook the polenta.  Many recipes say to use milk, but I prefer to cook it with water. Boil a good 6-8 cups of water with a pinch of salt, and slowly whisk in about 2 cups of polenta.

Now, cook it rather slowly over medium-low heat, whisking often, for a good long while - I cooked mine for about an hour.  It might seem like it's done after 30 minutes or so, but it really benefits from an extended period of simmering.  Just make sure to stir it often so it doesn't get all goopy and stick to the bottom.

Once it's nice & thick & porridge-like, I like to stir in some butter and grated cheese - cause what isn't better with butter & cheese?!  Today I used some jalapeno jack that was lying around. I used about 1 cup of cheese and half a stick of butter.  And then, I poured the hot polenta into a couple of buttered casserole dishes, and after letting it sit out on the counter to cool, put it into the fridge to solidify further.

While the polenta was cooling, I prepared the toppings, using what I had on hand.

I caramelized an onion ever so slowly, and thinly sliced some zucchini and mushrooms, and diced a handful of sun dried tomatoes.  I roasted the mushrooms in a skillet, and roasted the zucchini in a separate skillet along with the sun dried tomatoes, and set it all aside.

Once the polenta was cool, I spread a thin layer of caramelized onions on top, and followed it with the zucchini and mushrooms.  Then I topped it all with some feta and chives, cause that's what I had in the fridge.  Now it's sitting there just waiting to be enjoyed, along w/ that big pot of curry, and I'm torn between two lovers!  In any case, I'm happy to have leftovers after having had several days of eating too much toast and pizza.

Another thing I love about polenta is that it's a super cheap way to feed a crowd!  I made two casserole dishes of it tonight.  One pan alone is enough for us two eat for dinner tonight & lunch tomorrow, and I have another pan to take to a gathering later tonight.  And the whole lot of it cost something like five dollars!  So, three cheers for polenta.  And feel free to let me know how *you* like to make it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

40, and Counting

Um, I'm 40 now!  For some reason, I was really fearing it, but it turns out to be, so far, wildly better than I could have imagined.

I started celebrating in late March, beginning with my trip to Phoenix.  I never did write about all my delightful dining experiences while there, so I thought that the least I could do was post a few photos.

I finally made it to Pizzeria Bianco!  We waited three hours for our table, but it was oh sooooo good.  The pizza really is worth the wait.  And there was plenty of wine to help make the waiting not so terribly painful.

Then, it was back to the Barrio Cafe.  Mmmmmm yes to fine food and  tequila!

And speaking of tequila, that happened to be the theme of my 40th birthday party, and oh my, did my friends ever deliver.  They didn't only deliver an abundance of really fine tequila, but they showered me with love and warmth and kindness and a lot of really delicious food, too!

I had such an amazing birthday week - was lovingly bestowed with wine and flowers and delicious food - and gifts! I couldn't have imagined it getting any better, and then there was my party!

My honey and some other very dear and very talented friends put together a tribute band and played a set of my songs, with different folks sitting in on vocals, and I was stunned and amazed.  They say that life begins at 40, and I think I'm starting to believe that.  It's a good feeling!  

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Vegetarian Refried Beans - a rough guide

I made it back from Phoenix, and as predicted, did a lot of good eating while I was there. I need to post about that soon, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share sort of a recipe for one of my ultimate comfort foods - refried beans. Considering how much I love them, it's rather shocking that I've never attempted to cook them at home until now. Though I generally stay away from meaty things, when I go to restaurants, I don't care if the beans have lard in them; I'll eat them anyway. But I really don't want to use lard at home. And I was skeptical that I could achieve the same dreamy flavor without using lard, but I was quite pleased with the end result, especially considering that I just threw in a bit of this, a pinch of that. That's why this is more of a guide than a recipe....but you can still click here for a printable version.

Start with the beans! I used roughly 2 or 3 cups of whole pinto beans that I'd cooked from scratch. Had them simmering on the back burner over low heat. In the meantime, in a cast iron skillet, I lightly browned half an onion, diced, and added a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Stirred it for a few minutes and then added a pinch of mexican oregano, a pinch of smoked paprika, a pinch of cumin, a pinch of salt, and a ladle full of the beans, along with some of the liquid in which they'd been cooking. Mashed it all up with the back of the wooden spoon, and continued to add the beans, a ladle full at a time, mashing all along. Once all the beans were in the skillet and fairly well mashed, it was a little thick for my taste, so I added the rest of the bean broth and stirred until it was perfect. Then, because I am addicted to chipotle, I stirred in a little bit of chipotle in adobo sauce, and a sprinkling of cheese. And then it was even more perfect.  I can't believe I waited so long to make these, and I'm sure it won't be too long until I make them again and again and again...