Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No Foolin'


How can it be April already?  April!  The month even started off with showers last night (you know that saying, 'April showers bring May flowers.) with more predicted for tonight!  And to reinforce the sometimes strangeness of April Fools' Day, despite being a week into Spring, it was downright chilly...here...in Los Angeles.  Though that made it the perfect day for a little late afternoon baking.  It was also a great way to get my mind off of things I didn't want to think about...at least for an hour.

You know the Parade magazine that comes with the weekend paper?  A year or so ago, they printed a basic muffin recipe that I've been meaning to try.  Finally got around to it today.  The verdict is that the recipe is a winner.  The article also included a handful of variations you could try...or if you're the daring type, you could go out on a limb and create your own concoction.

As the sun set tonight and the air grew colder, I boiled a kettle of water and settled in for a few minutes with a cup of tea and one of these muffins.

Date Walnut Muffins
Adapted from the Basic Breakfast Muffin recipe on Parade.com
Makes 6

1 cup flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 fluid oz olive oil
1 fluid oz vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees, line muffin tin with paper liners.  In a small bowl, add flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Mix to combine.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oils, and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well either by hand or with an electric mixer (about a minute).  Add dates and walnuts, mixing well to combine.  Spoon batter into muffin cups filling each to about 2/3 full.

Bake for 16-20 minutes until tops are lightly golden brown or a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.






Thursday, March 27, 2014

Zesty!

How great would it be if there were acres of land still covered in citrus groves like in vintage photos of Southern California?  Where there is now sprawl there used to be rows and rows of orange or lemon trees.  If  you look around the neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, you'll spot citrus trees scattered about.  Either left over from decades ago or planted when new neighbourhoods were built, they're around.  Make friends with your neighbours.  When those trees are laden with fruit, ask nicely, and you may get a bushel.

Let me tell you how happy I am to know that I have a co-worker with a Meyer lemon tree in his yard.  I've had not one, but two days where I've gone into work and received bags of lemons to bring home.   Lemon curd has been made and I sit here looking at a bowl overflowing with lemons which will be juiced and zested, with some frozen for later use and most likely, another round of curd made.

In my world, there is no such thing as too much citrus, so after I made the Meyer lemon curd, I thought there was nothing better to put that curd on than citrus-laced scones.  Beyond lemon scones, I made them a triple threat scone.  Filled with a combination of Meyer lemon, Cara Cara orange, and lime, these scones are just perfumed enough to give you a whiff of orange before you bite into one, and a sweet balance of the three at the first bite.

I call them Citrus Bomb Scones. 

Citrus Bomb Scones
Makes about 12 scones

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into cubes
3 oz evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon each zest of Meyer lemon, Cara Cara orange, and lime
1 teaspoon each juice of Meyer lemon, Cara Cara orange, and lime

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  In a separate small bowl, combine eggs and milk and mix.  Add to flour mixture and bring together loosely.  Mix zests of citrus together and add to batter, along with juice.  Mix until a loose dough forms, then turn out onto a floured board.  Roll out dough to roughly 1/2 inch thick and cut into squares or use a biscuit cutter to form scones.  Brush lightly with a little milk and if you like, sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Bake on a parchment lined sheet for 16-20 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.  



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A World Away


In what seems a world away, a century ago, I remember the first tentative forays into foods that were unusual, foreign, and exotic to me.  Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there were a lot of weekends after I graduated from high school when I would take the train into New York City with a friend or two to see bands play at the Ritz or visit penpals (turned friends) who lived on Long Island.  I loved walking through Greenwich Village, down Canal Street, record shopping, vintage shopping, just hanging out and taking everything in.  

The first time I had Indian food was in New York City.  My girlfriend at the time, our friend from Long Island, and myself found ourselves hungry after a serious day of shopping and walking around.  Somehow we decided on Indian and thanks to Sue's love of roses we picked The Rose of India.  Yes...for the name and maybe an agreeable cursory glance at the menu posted near the door.  This place was truly awesome once we walked inside and let our eyes adjust to the serious change of lighting from outside to in.  It was a long and narrow space with a center aisle and tables that hugged the walls on either side.  Strands of Christmas lights (there must have been a few dozen) reached from the entryway to the kitchen, criss-crossing across the ceiling and winding their way up and down the wall.  Even more amazing was the fact that it seemed as though every square inch of exposed wall was covered in artificial flowers.  Silk, plastic, single blooms, garlands, bouquets, leaves, petals...all somehow attached or glued, making the dining room feel like a very dimly lit, strange 'garden' space.  Sue could not have chosen a better place.  We had a feast that evening, dish after dish after dish...curries, fritters, rice, fruits, vegetables, meats.  To this day, I think fondly of the banana fritters we had for dessert and the fact that our whole bill was just $22!  Even in the late 80's  that was a serious score. 

Of course, I had friends that lived in Philadelphia around this time too.  There was lot of time spent on the campus of Temple University, on South Street, and in Old City...hanging out in dorm rooms,  searching through the bins of Thrid St. Jazz, or dancing nights away at Revival.  But there was also a little spot, if my memory serves me right, on Fourth Street, just off of South, called Tuly's Middle Eastern restaurant.  Another restaurant in a small space, but bright and white.  Maybe 8 or 10 wooden tables and chairs populated the space as you walked in the entrance, past the small take-out counter.  More times than not, I wound up here with my friend, Amy, and we regularly took the table against the back wall.  It was a great vantage spot to watch the goings on or to lean up against the wall as we ate, smoked, and talked for hours.  We'd start every visit here with a plate of feta and Kalamata olives, drizzled with olive oil, and generously sprinkled with oregano.  My choices were usually lamb or falafel.  Falafel...who knew that chick peas could be that good.  Up until then, they were something that I would pick out of any salad I found them in, thinking their large, bumpy appearance was truly unappetizing.  I loved the crunch of each deep fried falafel ball, giving way to a chewy interior, mixing with the tang of the yogurt sauce.  

Over twenty plus years later, I finally took it upon myself to even try making Indian food.  But I did.  And it was really good.  Coming close to a year and a half later, I made falafel.  Now this isn't the first time I made it...but it is the first time where it didn't come from a boxed mix.  I know.  For some reason, I thought it would be one of those things that would be difficult.  Silly me.  I also don't do a lot of deep frying at home.  You know how the scent of frying oil just tends to linger in the air for a day or two?  Yeah...that.  It was worth it though.

Falafel
From a recipe on Epicurious

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp flour

oil for frying

Yogurt Sauce with Celery

1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup celery, finely minced
1 tbsp olive oil
Sumac

Add all the falafel ingredients, except the baking powder and flour, to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until ingredients come together, but are not pureed.  Add baking powder and flour, again pulsing to bring ingredients together.  The mix should still feel a little chunky, but not too sticky.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours to overnight.

For the yogurt sauce, mix the yogurt with the celery and olive oil until well blended.  Sprinkle generously with sumac and refrigerate to let flavours mingle.  

To fry the falafel, form into small walnut size balls or patties.  Bring oil to 375 degrees in a large saucepan.  Only fry 3 or 4 at a time to keep oil temperature from dropping.  Fry until golden brown (about 2 minutes each side), flipping to fry evenly.  Remove from oil with slotted spoon and allow to drain on paper towel lined plate.  

You can serve the falafel in a pita topped with the yogurt sauce or do what I did and top a bed of romaine with falafel and yogurt sauce.   












Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Little Love

...or 'The Valentine's Day Post.'  Normally, I don't think far enough ahead to plan a post to coincide with an event.  I have yet to make Thanksgiving dinner in August, so I can have the post and photos polished and ready by November.  But for some reason, this year, I actually found myself thinking about Valentine's Day last month.  (I'm sure it had nothing to do with the barrage of red, pink, and hearts filling two aisles at Target that had been up since before Christmas.)  I bought these really cute red striped paper straws (also from Target) after Christmas and thought how great they would be for a Valentine's post.  You will notice they do not make an appearance here.  It just wasn't meant to be. 

What was meant to be are marshmallows.  Little fluffy clouds of gelatin and sugar.  Boy...are they messy.  Messy in the 'giggling while powdered sugar winds up all over my shirt and showers down to the floor' kind of way...which is good.  I've wanted to make marshmallows for a while, but they always seemed like kind of a pain in the ass to make, so I let the thought simmer on a back burner of my mind for a year...or three.  But after reading the last post for 2013 on the F for Food blog, I knew the time had come for me to make that attempt.

 F for Food is one of my absolute favourite food blogs.  If you've never read Elliott's blog, please do yourself a favor and check it out.  She has a natural, friendly, and honest voice when she writes, whether it's about food or her life.  The fact that she admits to not reading a recipe all the way through before attempting it warms my heart, as I sheepishly raise my hand to be an admitted member of that club.

Well, she made marshmallows seem easy peasy to make.  I even skimmed the recipe all the way through beforehand!  They are easy.  To make mine more holiday appropriate for Cupid's celebration, I cut them out with heart and flower cookie cutters and sprinkled them with red sugar crystals.  I will not admit to any serious sugar highs or crashes yesterday.  No, sir, I will not.

Since I barely adapted Elliott's recipe, I'm only going to provide a link to it.  This also means you have to visit her blog.  No excuses!




Monday, January 20, 2014

PB and PB

Peanut butter is just one of those near-perfect foods;  a fine balance of sweet and savoury.  Years and years went by when I could guarantee that the sandwich in my brown paper bag was peanut butter (creamy peanut butter, white bread, crusts okay).  I was rather the purist.  Ninety-five percent of the time it was strictly a plain peanut butter sandwich.  On occasion, I would mix it up and have peanut butter and mustard (don't judge) or if I was at home, peanut butter and banana (but it had to be on toast).  I was never a big fan of jelly and would only have it on toast with butter.

Tastes change over the years.  I appreciate the joys of jam these days, especially the homemade variety.  And while for the most part I still prefer my peanut butter solo, peanut butter with jam is a welcome addition.  I gave up on the peanut butter and mustard long ago.  Over the past year, I've made a fair share of jams, marmalades, and preserves.  Strawberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, and oranges have found their way to the stovetop with some sugar and water.

Three very ripe Bartlett pears in the fruit bowl inspired me to make pear butter.  A cursory look online gave me the basics and from there, my version of pear butter was born.  I like that you have a little extra leeway in the spices department here.  Fruit butters have a warmth to them, which is probably why I've associated them with Autumn.  I think that's about to change.

Of course, I paired my pear butter with peanut butter.  I can easily see myself breaking the 'peanut butter only' toast habit I have with this stuff around.  It's also fantastic swirled in plain yogurt and topped with granola.

Pear Butter
(Adapted from a recipe on Allrecipes.com)
Makes roughly 1 1/2 cups

3 large Bartlett pears, cored and cubed
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
Juice from one orange
4 cloves
1 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 cup turbinado sugar

In a medium saucepan, add pears, water, orange zest, cloves, and orange juice.  Bring to a low boil and let pears soften and cook, about 12-15 minutes.  Place a fine mesh strainer over a mixing bowl and pour  the pears into the strainer.  Stir and puree and push through the strainer.  Remove the cloves and any larger pieces of pear skin.  Return the puree and strained juice back to the saucepan.  With the pan over low heat, add the sugar and five spice powder.  Stir to mix ingredients.  Stir occasionally so fruit doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan.  Cook on a low simmer for 20 minutes or until sugar dissolves and puree starts to thicken.  

Remove from heat and store in a container in refrigerator.  



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Swept Out the Door

That's what I'm doing with the last hours of 2013...sweeping it right out the door, like the non-stop dust that accumulates on every surface of my apartment.  I get it that Los Angeles is essentially a desert, but enough with the dust.  No amount of Swiffering rids me of it.

The proverbial 'last straw' that made me want this year to end happened this morning while I was cleaning out the cats' litter box.  I clipped the edge of the box with the container of cat litter, causing a wave of litter to fly up into the air and into my eye.  Special.  Precious.  One benefit of wearing contacts is that most of the litter stuck to my contacts.  One downside is that I had to throw them away...and they were a fresh pair that I just put in a couple of days ago.

It's been a year of just scraping by, constant worry and anxiety, and a lot of rough nights with too much tossing and turning and too little sleep.  I know I don't bring that crap into this blog and that's because this isn't the environment for it.  This is my space to not think about everything else for a few minutes.  This is the space to enjoy good food, recipes, and maybe bad jokes.  Or my version of them.

So...back to food.  Do me a favour and don't go back a year to see what I wrote about because this is pretty similar.  Well...there is ricotta involved.  Last night, I found myself turning on the oven at 10:30pm with a craving for something crunchy and thinking about the pita I had cut up for pita chips.  That's when the craving had to be filled.  Pita chips are very popular these days, from Stacey's to Waleeds.  But if you are so inclined, make your own.  They're ridiculously easy, you can make whatever variety you want, and they are inexpensive.  I can buy two bags of pita at my local grocers for 80 cents.  Yes, less than a dollar for a dozen pita.

You can go the healthy route, making them with cooking spray or tip them a little over the indulgent side and drizzle them with olive oil.  If you want to go really, REALLY indulgent, you can deep fry them.  That's what I love about Waleeds pita chips.  But since we're on the cusp of the new year, with good intentions, resolutions to be healthier, eat better, et al...let's stick with an option on the healthier end of the scale.

Whatever your evening brings...popping open the bubbly, dressing to the nines and dancing the night away, or spending the night in and watching the ball drop in Times Square...here's to a healthy, prosperous, and joy-filled 2014!


Pita Chips
Makes a lot

6 pita rounds
Non-stick cooking spray
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, sugar (You get the idea...whatever strikes your fancy)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet (or two) with parchment.  Set aside.  Cut up pita rounds into wedges, as large or small as you like.  Split pieces, laying them in a single layer on the cookie sheets.  Spray pita lightly with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with whatever strikes your tastebuds.  I love black pepper, garlic powder, Jane's Crazy Mix-Up salt, onion powder, and sumac.  Not all at the same time, but I'll typically use two or three at once.  

Bakes for 15-20 minutes or until chips start to turn golden brown.  Depending upon your oven, it could take a little less or a little longer.  Remove from oven and let cool.  

Note:  Sometimes I drizzle pita with olive oil before baking.  A little goes a long way.





Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Cookie Crack

There is joy and happiness in having wonderful friends.  Friends who come to your aid when you need the help.  A friend who loans you her old laptop so you don't have to be a Luddite anymore.  Or at least a Luddite that has only been armed with her smartphone for the past two weeks.  I know...not a Luddite at all...but it charmingly felt that way for a few minutes.

So...a proper post.  A Christmas gift from me to you.  But let me preface it and tell you that the recipe is not mine.  It is an absolute find from the Food 52 website and if you make these cookies, I have no doubt you will be beyond pleased.  You will hopefully also be as addicted to these cookies as I am, because seriously...the reaction to this cookie this must be the same reaction an addict has to crack.  The first bite into one of these hooks you, makes you want more, and you find yourself reaching into the cookie tin again and again...hiding the tin in the back of the pantry.  When someone asks where the cream cheese cookies are you feign ignorance, having no idea where they could have gone.  You will quietly creep into the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, enjoying one in the complete darkness...just so you don't have to share.  These cookies rock. 

Cream cheese cookies are so simple.  So pure...no fancy add-ins, no fancy technique.  Flour, sugar, salt, butter, and cream cheese.  Almost as simple as shortbread.  Chewy and tangy.  If you read the comments for the recipe, you'll see lots of suggestions for tweaks.  While they all sound good, I have never wavered from the original.  Maybe someday I'll add a little lemon zest or almond extract, but for now, I'll keep my crack pure and unadulterated.

Merry Christmas, kiddies...if you've been good, I hope you get everything you've wished for and if you've been naughty, you had better hide before Krampus seeks you out.

Cream Cheese Cookies from Food52