Sunday, September 29, 2013

Week on the West Coast: Wine Country, SF

I didn't get a chance to post about the meal we shared with friends at the Bounty Hunter in downtown Napa, but sitting here in SF after tonight's meal gave me the necessary motivation.

BBQ and wine (and champagne) together? Hell, yes! says the Hunter. Four and a half** hungry people sat down for this meal, and little was left of the ribs, brisket, and pulled pork when we finished. A lovely charcuterie plate was a nice beginning, multiple wine flights gave us enough variety to satisfy any palate, and even the chocolate dessert confection was rich and tasty. A mostly unknown find turned out to be a favorite!

As for tonight, we went a little coastal at the Blue Mermaid in the famous Argonaut Hotel. I sampled three chowdahs: mussels & sausage (the red one), crab and corn (the white one), and California style (the pink one). The first was spicy and tomato-based, reminding me strongly of conch chowder. The second was hearty and flavorful, with a base nearly identical to classic New England style. The third was an unexpected pleasure, though a tad on the salty side.

Paired with fresh sourdough bread, there was little to detract from this palatable diversion. I would order larger servings of all three any day!

** The "half" is our dear friends' little girl, currently still a "player to be named later."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Week on the West Coast: Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite

There are many ways to measure a trip: miles, days, cities, coffee cups. I thought it would be a nice diversion for me to catalogue this vacation here on the blog in meals -- good food (or perhaps just memorable food) is an easy marker with which I can measure out how we spent our time.

Now, I don't intend to relentlessly snap-and-post every single meal and snack we consume, but the notable surely deserve their place in the sun.

Pictured here is the basil tomato soup and grilled cheese I enjoyed on our first night in Yosemite. Lodge food is notoriously unreliable, but this meal was a very pleasant surprise. The soup was thick and flavorful, and the sourdough bread gave my sandwich a nice kick. After long hours of weary travel, it was a satisfying end to the day.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tasting Spring

I am so pleased to announce that it is officially farmer's market season! My Saturday mornings definitely just got a whole lot better (and earlier).

Right now the vendors are pumping out the garden starters -- herbs, lettuce, flowers, etc. -- to plant at home, but the seasonal produce has started to make an appearance. This week I loaded up on fresh new gold potatoes to accompany our dinners, and some beautiful rhubarb to fashion into a dessert treat.

Speaking of which, I have just now finished taste-testing my strawberry-rhubarb crisp! I admit to being a little nervous about this one, especially since rhubarb is an entirely new ingredient to me, but with some helpful hints gleaned from no less than four (only four) different cookbooks, I gave it a go.

And boy does this crisp go! As quick to make as any other fruit type, the filling and topping were ready to meet the heat in a flash. I could smell this crisp baking for the entire 35 minutes, and it took a whole lot of self-restraint to wait out the cooldown time.

Tangy and sweet, crunchy and gooey, this one will absolutely make multiple appearances on my table.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Good Start

They say the best way to get your day off to a great start is to eat a good breakfast. I couldn't agree more, which is why my first contribution to the blogging world after a short hiatus is the classic buttermilk muffin, done this time in sweetly-tart raspberry.

I'm composing this post on a mobile device for the first time (alas, we're in need of a new home computer and have been too busy to buy one) so please forgive the final product if it's out of my usual style. I made this recipe with some prior experience under my belt, and I'm happy to report that it remains as consistant as, well, the sun rising.

Powdered buttermilk is a brilliant invention, one I frequently turn to thanks to my mother and her insistance that buying and keeping "real" buttermilk is a waste of good money and fridge space. The lemon zest adds depth to the crumb and dimension to the fruit, so I always make certain to use a fairly large one.

This muffin holds together well, sticks to your ribs, and never fails to bring a smile. J ate just one almost straight from the oven and is gazing longingly at the rest. Sadly for him, those are reserved for my lovely coworkers at our weekly meeting.

So, suffice it to say, I'm back in action! My job won't let me cook & bake up a storm, but with summer slowly making its way in behind the chilly spring, I'm sure the kitchen will beckon more often.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Transitions

If you're alive and not conveniently dwelling in a Salinger-esque woodland retreat, you will almost certainly be aware that today is the first day of spring. Here in the northeast, of course, we have about a foot of snow, but elsewhere (and in some local greenhouses, I'm sure) the season of growth and renewal has actually begun.

In an effort to embrace that illusive seasonal feeling (and to get inspired for all the gardening I'll do), we trekked in to the annual Flower Show. We used to go every year, but with a venue change, admission price hike, and lack of interest, our attendance has fallen off in recent past. With heavy snows and a lot of unexpected downtime of late, I figured it was time to go back. Who doesn't love the smell of mulch, moist soil, and forced-growth flowers?

New Derby hat trend, perhaps?

Hello, lovely patio setting!

Of course, you might all guess the real reason I'm so eagerly anticipating the arrival of true spring... yes, I want my farmer's market back! Oh, to have fresh and local produce at my fingertips again. I'm determined to expand our veggie palates this summer: fried eggplant? Arugula salad? Leek soup? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Honest Cooking

This was supposed to be my big apology post, where I beg my readers' forgiveness and promise to update faithfully starting right now. I was going to say how busy I've been, and that I haven't cooked anything worthwhile to post about, yadda yadda yadda and other excuses.

But that would be dishonest. And really, who wants to read another blogger fake-apology-post, when there are so very many out there as it is?

So I'm going to be honest: I haven't posted because I got lazy about maintaining this blog, and I've been too depressed to cook or bake anything super new and exciting and "blog-worthy." Yes, I was pretty busy during and after the holidays, with visiting family and celebrating my one-year wedding anniversary (yay!). I have some nifty new cookbooks, and I'm planning on creating some new dishes that I'd like to share with more than just J. But I also lost my job, and along with it my desire to be fun and creative and willing to spend money.

I don't operate well without a plan, and I enjoy a routine that is well-rounded and satisfying. Nothing against spontaneity, but those moments should be the clams in the chowder -- plentiful enough but still a delightful surprise when they appear on the spoon. When my usual life is interrupted by long stretches of boring, do-nothing days (like now), I find it more and more difficult to shake off that feeling of ennui.

In the last few weeks, I did manage to cook and bake a few things. Those cranberry bars? They're now a staple, and I made another batch for Valentine's Day. I also cooked my very first petit filet mignon (a success!) as a very special treat. Even my recent foray into the realm of bone-in chicken worked out beautifully, with the interesting side effect of getting me hooked on dark meat. So it's not a total loss, I suppose.

I don't want to make any promises about the future of this little enterprise, so I'll only ask for your patience. The kitchen still calls to me, and I hope it too will be patient, and willing to re-embrace its former occupant when I feel ready to get back in there.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Yes, It's Still Apple Cider Season

Finally, an update with pictures! I'm pretty darn proud of myself for this one: Apple Cider Sea Salt Caramels!

I've never made candy of any kind before, but in the spirit of the season and making wishes come true I decided to try my hand at caramels and hope for the best. As it turns out, candymaking isn't nearly as difficult or stressful as I imagined it would be (I actually had to take a few deep, calming breaths before I started). Besides, what else was I going to make with leftover cider?

Patience was the biggest test for me here -- all cooks know that you can't rush the good stuff. My stovetop isn't the best for evenly or quickly heating, but I did my best to follow some tips about boiling the cider and reducing it.

Stir! Stir!

My mother gave me a great pep talk before I started, reminding me to watch the pot carefully and assuring me that I wouldn't burn my finger** this time. She also advised on the type of salt I should use to give the caramels that signature sweet-tart balance -- we agreed that fleur de sel would suffice this time, but I might try flake salt for the next go-around.


With the smell of sugar and cinnamon hanging in the air (is there anything better?) I crossed my fingers and popped this in the fridge.

Ready, set... solid!

A few hours later, I uncrossed my fingers and began the sticky process of slicing and wrapping each delectable, sugary piece of caramel. I can't get over the flavor in these little guys! I'm not usually one for finger-licking, but the sweet remains that remain on the fingertips after pulling the wrapper away are too good to waste.



I said it before, but I have to say it again: I made candy!! And I'll make it again, too. Something tells me I've found a new niche obsession in the world of dessert. Now I just need a new candy thermometer and a whole lot of sugar.

** The caramel drizzle I made a few months ago left me with a lasting impression and an extremely painful blister from an accidental brush with the stuff. I felt a little candy-phobic because of it, but I'm so glad I overcame it. No burns this time!




Thursday, November 29, 2012

Being Co-Chef

This post should have contained at least a dozen beautifully composed, good-enough-to-eat-off-the-page photos of this year's Thanksgiving feast. It should have featured a dry-brined turkey breast cut into juicy slices (before) and stripped to the bone (after), a heaping bowlful of the best mashed potatoes ever made, and a cheery spoonful of cranberry sauce. There really should be a montage of sweet maple-glazed carrots alongside a savory succotash, sandwiched between our famous rolls and my aunt's sweet potato casserole.

And you should certainly be wiping drool from your chin as you scroll through shots of the cranberry-apple crisp (demolished) and pumpkin cookies with browned-butter frosting. And the nouveau Beaujolais. And coffee and tea. And smiles, laughter, and bellies so stuffed we all practically rolled ourselves home.

I didn't bring my camera this year, and despite my usual blogger's desire to catalogue all the best food in my life I'm really glad I didn't. Because this year... I was co-chef.

Allow me to explain: I've been mommy's little kitchen helper for most of my life, spending time learning at her elbow and mostly getting in the way. I have always tried to help during the holidays and attempt to keep the general level of frazzlement as low as possible. But this year, with some independent cooking skills under my belt (and a new-found relationship with cookbooks), my mother asked me not to "help," not to be a mere assistant, but to actually share Thanksgiving duties with her.

I think I've never been so proud in my life.

And so, alongside this promotion, I decided to leave the camera at home and truly focus on the experience. J was there to crush crackers and provide comic relief, Perkins' nose twitched every time we pulled the turkey from the oven to baste, and we were joined by precious family members: a well-traveled aunt and uncle, a far-flung cousin, and Nana, the last remaining grandparent in our lives. It wasn't the time for intrusive snapshots and cheesy smiles. It was the perfect time for a small family celebration of all that is good in our world.

I guess you'll just have to take my word for the absolutely wonderful meal we shared, and perhaps forgive my vanity when I emphasize just how delicious it all was. There will be other meals to make and document, but this one will survive in my mind without the aid of photographic evidence. Something tells me I'll have no trouble remembering it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sweet & Sour

I love cranberries. Both seasonal and local (for me, anyway), they're the perfect combination of sweet flavor and lingering tartness. They're great for both cooking and baking, add a jolt of flavor to almost any beverage, and even turn everything they touch a vibrant red. Really, what's not to love?

Cranberries also make a lovely metaphor-for-life ingredient, and I'd be a pretty poor food blogger if I didn't point that out. We eventually learn to balance the sour with the sweet, gaining wisdom as we realize that daily life's flavor is enhanced by contrast and growth only comes as the palate expands. In adding a dash of color to brighten our own day, perhaps we improve someone else's.

I would love to share my cranberry-apple crumble bars with you --the inspiration for this post -- but I discovered my camera had zero battery power too late. I whipped up this tangy dessert in a hurry, combining a bunch of recipes and crossed fingers. I needed the outlet, needed to know that I could just hop into the kitchen and come out with something fabulous in a snap. And I did. But the only proof I have is a yummy-scented home and tomorrow's coworkers thanks to a set of batteries that lost their juice. The sweet with the sour indeed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tastes of Fall: This Way and That


I have a theory I'd like to share with you. It's about the seemingly-universal obsession with all things autumnal , and the popularity of fall-flavored foods. I've always wondered why we all get swept up in the season, and how it is that no other time of year can illicit the same kind of exhilaration as can the change from summer to fall. My theory is this: blame the thermometer. To my mind, no season change is felt so drastically, so immediately, as that of balmy summer to chill autumn; it's that very first moment which steals away your breath when you walk outside and realize... holy moley, it's COLD out here!, sending a signal directly to the brain and triggering all five senses.

Well, here are three more entries in the annals of sensory yumminess: pumpkin spice cookies with browned-butter frosting, apple cranberry crisp, and apple cinnamon pork chops.

The first is a new recipe for me, though not a new concept. These cookies were easy to make, and produced a soft and cakey cookie that is extremely satisfying. They're tasty enough sans sugar, but the sweet frosting is really what makes this dessert shine. I baked a batch for my work friends -- gone! And another batch for J and my in-laws -- gone again! Something tells me that won't be the last batch I ever make.


J calls them the best cookies... ever. I'll take it!

Next up is a seasonal favorite in the family. Again, it's a relatively simple dessert to make, and with fresh apples and local cranberries, it probably qualifies as J's most-requested treat. I received the gorgeous pie plate last year, and was so happy to dust it off and fill it with all the tangy-sweet flavors that make this crisp so rich.