Sunday, July 6, 2014

Adult Beverage Time

A couple of weeks ago, a friend invited me to a play at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown.  We were there 45 minutes to an hour before showtime.  It was a lovely, early Summer evening, people were milling about the venue complex, having a drink or grabbing a quick bite to eat before the show.  We did the same.  She came back from the Mexican spot carrying a tumbler that was close to spilling over.  I knew it was for me.  I guessed sangria and asked before taking a sip.  Winey, fruity, and chilled.  It was a little too sweet, but that didn't keep me from drinking the whole thing.  Just enough to take the edge off the tension of driving cross-city to get from the Westside to downtown and not being too late.

For the past two weeks, I've been thinking about that sangria.  Thinking about how much I like sangria and why have I never made it myself.  I guess I think of it as a party drink, something that you make knowing there will be at least a couple people to share it.  The first time I had sangria was just such a scenario.  A Summer get-together, with a lot of food, a lot of drink, a lot of hospitality, and a pool involved.  That just doesn't happen here.  There are no pool parties, no cook-outs, no picnics.  I can make an old fashioned for myself and it's okay.  It seems kind of silly to make a whole pitcher.  But I decided to throw those thoughts out the window and make myself some damned sangria.  It was a holiday after all.  A day with nowhere to be and if I wanted to drink the whole thing myself, I could!

Can I tell you that one of the reasons I've been hesitant to make it is because I was afraid I'd screw it up?  Crazy, right?  I thought if I was missing some crucial element it would be disastrous and that ideal in my head would be gone forever.  Silly, silly me.  So in the name of quick research, I went to Pinterest.  Trusty Pinterest.  And found the best sangria pin EVER (even among the many sangria pins I've pinned to my board!).  The pin is not so much a recipe as a GUIDE, so I know where to improvise, see what's important, and what can be cut back or eliminated all together.  It's just what I needed.

I love how it doesn't have to cost a lot, unless you're making pitchers and pitchers full.  I fully encourage taking advantage of less expensive wines.  The 3/$10.00 Tisdale wines at Sprouts was just right, and use the seasonal fruit that you'll be able to find for good prices.  You probably have Cointreau, brandy, or rum in your liquor cabinet already.  I did not drink the whole pitcher in one day.  In fact, there is half a pitcher still chilling in the fridge.  The weekend isn't quite over yet.  Come this evening, I'll be pouring a glass.

Summer Sangria
Makes 1 pitcher

1 bottle (750ml) red wine (I used the Tisdale Sweet Red)
3 oz triple sec (or Cointreau)
1 cup club soda
1 6-oz package raspberries 
1medium nectarines, cut in chunks
2 medium plums, sliced
1 medium orange, sliced 
Juice of one large orange
1 oz agave nectar
Orange slices, for garnish

In a medium to large pitcher, pour in the wine.  Add the raspberries, nectarine, and plums.  Stir.  Add the triple sec and orange juice, stirring to mix.  Add the club soda, agave nectar, and orange slices.  Mix thoroughly, tasting, and adding more agave if you see fit.  

Chill for at least 4 hours or longer.  Garnish each glass with a orange wedge before serving.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Uncommon Flavors

When I was asked to bring dessert for a Memorial Day cookout at a friend's house, I took the task seriously.  I also used the opportunity to dig into a few of my cookbooks that tend to just sit on shelves once I've given them a cursory glance when first added to the collection.  I wanted something a little different, a little offbeat...but not so offbeat that people would look at it and go running to the s'mores that the kids would be making.

I pulled from the shelves a handful of new and relatively new cookbooks.  'My Paris Kitchen' by David Lebovitz, 'Supernatural Everyday' by Heidi Swanson,  'The New Persian Kitchen' by Louisa Shafia, 'The Sugar Cube' by Kir Jensen, and even Martha Stewart's 'Cookies.'  No dearth of choices in any of those books.  I had to make something that would travel well; nothing that could melt;  nothing that would shift on the drive over and look a mess when unveiled.  No...the choice had to be relatively simple, but still outstanding.  Or as Don Draper said, "Make it simple, but significant."

I went through those cookbooks numerous times.  I eliminated a couple of books right off the bat and flagged  possibilities in the books that made the cut.  I considered making the cake I had for my birthday, but without the buttercream, made into a single layer and dusted with confectioners sugar.  I toyed with a macaroon tart from Heidi Swanson, a Pavlova overflowing with berries, the list went on.  Then while flipping through Kir Jensen's 'The Sugar Cube,' I found a recipe I couldn't resist.  Black and White Sesame Brittle.   I'm a total sucker for sesame.  A sesame seed bagel, toasted and slathered with cream cheese, is nothing short of heaven; a drizzle of sesame oil takes any stir fry right over the edge; and the sesame and malt candy/chewy treat I sometimes find at Jon's market is totally worth the risk of losing a filling.  Even more importantly...I had everything on hand! down, one to go.  Ever since I was the lucky recipient of 'The New Persian Kitchen' thanks to a giveaway on Zester Daily, I have wanted to dig into this book.  When I came upon the recipe for Chickpea and Almond Flour Cookies, I knew they would be the really quirky choice.  Not the usual tastes to most people's palates...chickpea flour, cardamon, and rosewater.  Who has chickpea flour in their pantry?  (Mmm hmm...yours truly.)  While I knew they would be different, I hoped they wouldn't be so different that they'd be shunned.

Both desserts were a hit, especially the brittle.  Just uncommon enough to pique curiosity, stepping out of the ordinary paid off.  The recipes are available online.  I'll post links below.  I strongly recommend reading the article Louisa Shafia wrote, accompanying her recipe.  It's just sweet and beautiful.

A couple of notes.  The brittle recipe states to bring the temperature of the candy to 350 degrees before taking it off the heat.  I had a hell of a time getting it that hot.  In fact, when it reached 310 degrees, I was afraid that I was close to burning the whole thing.  The color seemed right so I took it off the heat.  I don't know if I need a new candy thermometer, but go with your gut.  As for the chickpea flour, if you have a grocer that carries a good selection of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean foods, you should be able to find it.  If not, there is always online.  The brand I've always been able to find is Sadaf.

Black and White Sesame Brittle
From 'The Sugar Cube' by Kir Jensen

From 'The New Persian Kitchen' by Louisa Shafia

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Golden Goodness

After a lazy Sunday morning of sleeping in until almost 10 a.m, I thought I should be a little productive and go to the farmers market in Encino, since I had missed Saturday's market in Burbank.  While I typically prefer to go first thing in the morning, when the temperatures are still cool and the sun hasn't reached its peak, I wanted to get some produce and thought maybe I could score some bargains since I was going to get there near the end of the day's run and figured the vendors didn't want to haul back what didn't sell earlier.

 I did get a few bargains that day.  I made a lightning quick round through the market, 25 minutes from parking to shopping to back on the road and came away with a huge bouquet of flowers for five bucks, because sometimes you just have to buy yourself flowers, golden beets, daikon radish, lettuce, carrots, leeks, a huge bundle of purple basil, and a bunch of yellow carrots.  Productive.  On the drive home, all I could smell was basil and eucalyptus.  It was blissful.

Pesto was definitely being made.  I've discussed and waxed about pesto on here before (at least four times!), and my feelings have not changed.  I love pesto today just as much as I did when I wrote about it previously.  Though I will tell you that this pesto was some of the best I've made in awhile.  No kidding.   Maybe because I was a little more precise on measurements.  Maybe because the basil was so amazingly fresh.  Maybe because pesto is really just an amazing food.

And what could be more amazing than taking that pesto and pairing it with those yellow carrots?  On that day, not much.  The carrots were perfect for roasting.  I let them roast long enough to leave them with a little, just a little, bite.  Al dente, as it were.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I was eating them out of the baking dish before dinner was even ready.  They were that good.  And bits of the pesto had actually browned and crisped in the oven.  AMAZING!

 I used walnuts instead of pine nuts.  I noticed the last time I made pesto, I had an aftertaste in my mouth.  I honestly didn't think too much about it until I was over a friend's house and she mentioned how she wasn't going to use pine nuts grown in China.  So, thanks to the power of Google, I found a slew of articles and blog posts about pine nuts leaving a metallic taste in people's mouths.  Realizing that's what happened to me, I decided to look for pine nuts grown anywhere but China.  Let me tell you how expensive Italian pine nuts are.  Very.  As much as I want to get some, I'm holding off on spending the money.  By all means, if you don't get the horrendous aftertaste, don't like walnuts, or feel that using anything BUT pine nuts is blasphemous, use them.

Roasted Yellow Carrots with Pesto
Pesto makes about a cup

3 cups basil leaves, purple or otherwise
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cups Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese, grated
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

1 bunch of carrots, yellow or otherwise, tops trimmed, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the walnut pieces  just until you can smell.  Remove from heat and let cool.  In a food processor, toss in the basil leaves and walnut pieces.  Pulse until the basil and nuts begin to pulverize and combine.  Add the cheese and garlic (you can chop the cloves).  Slowly drizzle in the oil and run the processor on high until everything mixes together.  Give it a taste, adding salt and pepper as you wish.  

For the carrots, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a shallow baking dish, lay the carrots in and pour olive oil over them.  Make sure all the carrots are evenly covered with oil.  Roast carrots for about 25 minutes, then spread 2-3 tablespoons of pesto on vegetables.  Return to oven for another 5-10 minutes or until fork tines easily pierce carrots.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

But Wait! There Was Cake!

You know I took the day off for my birthday.  Whenever I have the opportunity to do so, you can count on it.  Every employer should allow their employees to have their birthday off, without having to use a vacation or sick day.  Your very own personal national holiday.  I had to use vacation hours, but it was worth it.

I spent a good portion of the day in the kitchen baking cookies and crackers for an order that was due the following day.  I decorated my birthday cake and now looking through my photo feed, realize I only took one photo.  The birthday was also the beginning of a mini-heat wave out here and before noon it was already flirting with the 90 degree mark.  Hot weather and buttercream don't mix all that well.  My goal was to decorate the cake before the frosting had a chance to melt.

Happily, I didn't have to worry about cooking on my birthday.  I had a surprise lunch date with my favourite person and went out to dinner with two very special friends.  There was birthday chocolate ice cream and an old fashioned involved.  It was a good day.  And the baked goods were a total hit that Friday.

All this to tell you that I made a mini orange cake with vanilla buttercream.  I had these little square cake molds that I bought a couple of years ago and finally decided to use.  Originally, the cake was going to be a little tower of squares.  Larger 4 inch squares topped with 2 inch squares.  Turns out they reminded me too much of a wedding cake.  Nixed that idea.  So, the cake was a little 2-layer square.  It was a little wonky even after trimming the layers.  There were also 10 cupcakes since the recipe makes enough for 2 8-inch layers.  This was also one of the rare occasions where I didn't wander (too much) from the original recipe.  It was fabulous.  Just the right amount of orange flavour.  It was light.  It was Springy.  Covered in vanilla buttercream, it was just lovely.

Orange Birthday Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
From Bunny's Warm Oven
Makes 2 8-inch layers or 12-14 cupcakes

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar (also known as bakers' sugar)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice, preferably fresh squeezed (mine was a combination of navel, blood orange, and cara cara)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tbsp grated orange zest

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour or line cake pans, or line muffin pan with cupcake liners.  In a small bowl, combine milk, oil, orange juice, and eggs.  Mix well and set aside.

In a large bowl, add flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Mix until combined.  Make a well in the center and add liquid mixture.  Stir until thoroughly mixed.  Pour batter into pans or muffin tins (about 2/3 full) and bake for 30-35 minutes (for cakes) or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  For cupcakes, start checking around 20-25 minutes.  Let cool in pan before removing.

Vanilla Buttercream
Adapted from Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

3 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp half and half

Cream sugar and butter until smooth, add vanilla and mix.  Add half and half until desired consistency is found.

An aerial view to hide the wonkiness

Enjoying cake for decades.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Shot of Rye

You might think from this post and my post at the beginning of this month, that I eat a lot of muffins.  Or, at least, I did for the month of April.  I do love me a good muffin, don't get me wrong...but I normally don't eat them all that much.  I guess I felt that April was the month of muffin experimentation.  At least twice.  [My apologies also to those who saw the title and thought it might lead to libations.]

I was sorting and organizing my pantry and found my rye flour.  There was also an overripe banana or three.  You know as well as I do, that overripe bananas invariably lead to some sort of baked goods with bananas as the key ingredient.  One of the work study students told me her mom had made banana bread the day before I brought these into work because she had past-prime fruit sitting on the counter.  The natural progression in the life of a banana.  There is the desperate need to make something quickly, because I am not a fan of refrigerated or frozen bananas.

I really like what the rye flour did to these little guys.  They turned out a little dense, with an almost savory quality, but it's 'under the radar', 'can't quite put your finger on it', kind of flavor.  These muffins are also less sweet than you'd probably expect.  The original recipe called for a whole cup of sugar.  Way too much in my opinion.  Drop the sugar, up the cinnamon, you've got enough sweetness from the fruit.  I was also able to finally use up my Easter muffin/cupcake liners!  And yes...I made these on Easter Sunday.  Baking alignment!

On another note...once again, the month of April was my annual mid-life crisis month.  Someday I'll get tired of doing this to myself.  But, hey...consistency, right?  This also means that there will be cake.  Yes, I have decided on my birthday cake.  No, I am not spilling the beans.  You'll just have to come back in a couple of days and see for yourself.  Or find me on Instagram.  No doubt there will be a photo posted.  In the meantime, enjoy a muffin (again).

Banana Walnut Rye Muffins
Makes 10-12 muffins

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3 overripe bananas
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-muffin tin with paper liners or lightly grease and flour.  In a bowl, sift flours, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, mash the bananas, cinnamon, and vanilla together until all big lumps are gone.  In another bowl, vigorously whisk the oil, sugar, and egg until well-mixed and smooth.  Add the bananas and mix.  Add the dry ingredients and mix well.  You can use a hand mixer if you like, but I like doing it all by hand.  Spoon the batter into the cups so each is about 2/3 full.  

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in muffin comes out clean.  Let cool in pan.  

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 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 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
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


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.