Saturday, December 13, 2014

the weeks before Christmas


White Christmas is on the television at 2 in the afternoon and the Christmas tree is lit.  She's a minuscule version of my typical Christmas tree, but I love that she's bottom heavy and fits in a big galvanized tub.  Decorations are vintage, all glass ornaments, some indented and discolored.  When they hit the floor they shatter and today, that's okay.  It brings me back 25 or 30 years ago and I love that.  I have a few glass birds with feather tails who clip onto the ends of a branch.  My Irish grandmother would not have approved as birds of any kind in your house, whether on a plate or your wallpaper, well, they were "bad luck".  But I love these little birds.

I would like to feel certain I will always have a Christmas tree.  A real one.  I will admit to feeling tempted to skip the tradition that sometimes feels like a ritual.  It's several errands,  it's messy and it's expensive.  Ebeneezer (the man I love) could not care less about this live intrusion in the family room.  The lights are a hassle and some people are particular about the placement of those lights.  Also, you have to water the thing.  But here's the deal.  A big part of Christmas is resurrecting memories.  Blissful memories.  I don't ever want to skip that.

I read something recently (I wish I could remember where) that talked about those old Christmas movies I love.  The point was that the movies aren't really that spectacular.  I mean, I feel passionate about White Christmas and I'm not a fan of musicals.  The sets are cardboard and fake, I know.  But when I turn that movie on it transports me right back to Lowell, Massachusetts, to that house on Windward Road.  My sister and I in the finished basement in front of the tree waiting for that movie.  We waited for it each year, no DVR, no VCRs - just that one opportunity each year and we loved it.  Later I shared that tradition with my children and felt the same way.  Now they do the same.  So boys, this is what it's all about.  We really understand the tortured rolling of the eyes.  But it's not about the movie, men.  It's about the way it feels to watch that move.  So Bing Crosby, I will always love you, no matter what that new PBS documentary says about you.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Garlic and Sapphires and Beatty's Chocolate Cake

Saturday morning I decided to bake a cake I first read about in one of Ina's cookbooks, Beatty's Chocolate Cake.  The recipe seemed a little um, maybe contrived?  I have a pet peeve with recipes calling for 1 cup of flour AND 1/4 teaspoon, for example.  Yes, baking is a science and all, but that seems a little overboard.  So instead of following the recipe step by step, I made the cake the way I pretty much make every cake.  Cream the butter and sugar, add the dry ingredients . . . you know the drill.  I did not sift all the dry ingredients together and then add the wet ingredients to that bowl.  No.  I did it my way.  The cake baked and smelled heavenly.  Five minutes before it was due to come out of the oven I had a deja vu . . . this looked like a cake I made many years ago.  A sort of "wet" chocolate cake.  Not fudgy and more than moist.  It looked and smelled familiar.  The 8" pans came out of the oven and were placed on racks.  In five minutes the middle of both cakes fell.  A big hollow pit in the middle of each.  No worries.  Frosting will save the day.  I used my regular buttercream (because why stretch myself?) and added some cocoa and some melted milk chocolate.  Except in my haste I added too much milk.  Nothing was right.  But you can always salvage a chocolate cake, right?  So I began to frost the beast.  The more I worked on this little project of mine the more frustrated I became.  I tossed it.  The entire frosted cake went in the trash and I picked up my book and walked away.

Except I couldn't let it go.

Four hours later I started again.  This time sifting the flour and sugar and cocoa and baking powder and baking soda and then adding the wet ingredients to the bowl.  Precise and with precision.  And yes, the cake worked. The frosting was different than anything I've made before . . . lots of butter but little confectioners sugar.  It was light and lovely and stayed that consistency overnight.I still love this recipe, but Ina's is incredibly moist and lovely.  A completely different crumb.



Beatty's Chocolate Cake (Serves 8)


Butter for greasing the pans
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
¾ cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Chocolate Frosting

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

I think I learned a real lesson yesterday.  This is now my "go to" chocolate cake.

The book I left because I wasn't willing to let that recipe win?  Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl.  What a fun read.  She walks you through her tenure at the New York Times as their food critic, documenting each disguise and persona she adopted before visiting various establishments.  Then you read her actual review of those restaurants.  Sometimes she visited a restaurant five times before settling on the number of stars.  And sometimes readers were more than unhappy with her assessment of a New York institution.  But it's a decadent read and completely enjoyable.  Her career is the the most enviable there is . . . as much as I dreamed of cracking this recipe (and but good) I dream of her life as a food critic.  That's the job that got away...

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It's how you know...

                                            

Today I sat in a red adirondack in my beautiful yard and read Ruth Reichl's Not Becoming My Mother.  It was such a fitting thing to do on this anniversary of my mother's freedom from her earthly body. I thought of her and smiled.

When I was halfway through the book I thought even more about how we never really know our mothers.  I know that is true for me.  I believe it is true of my mother and her mother.  And I'm certain it's true for my children.  Mothers protect.  We are never really all out there . . . why burden those you love?

In 1961 (I think) my Mom had a baby, a tiny baby boy.  He lived only two days.  I have some vivid recollections of that time, despite the fact that I was only 5 years old.  It goes something like this.  In a VW Beetle, probably one of the first models you could buy in the United States, my father told my 4 year old sister and I that our Mom had a baby and the baby went to heaven to live with God.  Two days prior my sister and I were in a doctor's waiting room in downtown Lowell while our Mom was in with her doctor.  My Aunt Margaret walked through the door and swooped us up and took us to an ice cream parlor down the street.  I remember having an ice cream soda and wondering why she was carrying my Mom's beautiful red coat with the black fur collar.  They didn't want us to see the ambulance come take our mother out of the doctor's office . . .  it was all a plan to protect us.

Later, after my dad told my sister and I his confusing story, he took us to Lowell General Hospital.  This was when children weren't allowed to visit patients . . . so we stood on the grassy hill and waved to our Mom who stood in a window and waved back.  This makes sense to me now, that my mother would want a glimpse of her girls after losing her baby.

Most things make sense looking back, especially as you grow older.  Most of us need to have children to realize our parents once felt the very same way we did at that very moment the surge of love overtook us.  Most of us.  Some are mature enough to learn that lesson before life's experiences teach them. Not me.

Once while looking through my Mom's top dresser drawer I saw the obituary for that little baby, named John.  My sister and I didn't attend any funeral and neither of us had any memory of that event ever taking place, but it did.  We didn't experience the sadness our parents must have felt.  We were protected.

The plans you have to protect your children aren't always realized.  There are outside factors one has no control over and maybe others that are missed.  But that's what mothers do . . . and mine was good at it.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

my new life...

I quit my job.  After 19 years at the same place, on a drive to a potentially serious doctor's appointment, I had an epiphany.  Time to go.  I pulled the trigger and yesterday, after four weeks' notice, I turned in my key and walked right out the back door.  When it's right it's right.

I'd like to take a stab at describing how Saturday morning felt, but I know I can't find the words.  Pressure to cross items off my list was gone, just like that.  Saturdays won't be doing all the things difficult to accomplish during the week, at least for a while.  My plan is to take some time off before looking for the next thing.  And my goal is to remember the lesson I thought I learned when I lived in Chicago . . . you don't have to be miserable going to work. 

My first order of business is to head to Salt Lake to pick up my cute pregnant daughter and then head off to Boise.  Ruby needs some attention, specifically people to teach her all the music (and dance moves) to White Christmas.  It was a collective decision that it really isn't a Christmas movie until the last scene.  Can I find some feathers or a feather boa for the girls to use to sing the beloved Sisters?  I shall try.

This morning I began my new life by baking two dozen of the biggest frosted sugar cookies you've ever seen.  Later I whipped up a batch of caramel corn, all attempts to ensure the person I'm leaving behind this week has some goodies to munch on.  Everyone should have someone like him.

Short terms goals are many, things like reading all 83 Conference talks and taking notes, organizing my spices to avoid buying cloves when I already have two bottles of them, reading all my back issues of Vanity Fair and Esquire, and releasing all those titles sitting in my queue at the public library.  Farmers' Market?  Yes.  Sitting in my yard in the morning sounds heavenly, too.  Time will tell. 

For right now, right this minute . . . I'm basking in the warmth I feel knowing I'm about to spend a week with my girls.  I am a very "lucky" girl, but not.  It's so much more than that.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pumpkin Pound Cake

How pretty is the shape of this cake?  Purchased simply to generate the extra crunch on a pound cake that my biggest fan enjoys so much, the pan can be found here.  Highly recommend.
This is a pumpkin pound cake . . . see how it morphed into something snowy and wonderful?
Eventually the middle was filled with a cream cheese frosting spiked with a little rum flavoring instead of vanilla.
Pound Cake Ingredients:

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
6 eggs
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup milk

Glaze Ingredients:


1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
4-6 teaspoons milk

Heat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.

Combine sugar and 1 1/2 cups butter in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Continue beating, adding eggs one at a time, until well mixed. Add pumpkin; continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low. Beat, gradually adding flour mixture alternately with 3/4 cup milk, until well mixed.

Spoon batter into greased and floured 12-cup Bundt® pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan. Cool completely.

Combine powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons butter and enough milk for desired glazing consistency in small bowl. Glaze cooled cake OR dust with powdered sugar.

Recipe previously posted three years ago...

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Burger Bash deliciousness at the MGM

What a beautiful sight around the pool at the MGM yesterday for Burger Bash.  This was my birthday gift to my spouse, and was he ever happy.  Beats a Brooks Brothers tie!

Eight MGM restaurants competed, pulling out all the stops on their version of a winning burger.  As much as I loved how beautiful each burger was, the highlight of my day was seeing Joel Robuchon sitting right behind me.  I am a a celebrity chef groupie, no question about it!  Michael Mina, too.  Michael, nobody makes a lobster pot pie like you.

There was a beef cheek patty topped with Boursin cheese and tomato jam with some shallot cracklings.  I am now a fan of beef cheek and will happily order beef cheek ravioli.  In fact, I can't wait to order beef cheek ravioli.

Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak burger was a pork belly patty with a slice of heirloom tomato, blue cheese and a chipotle BBQ sauce.

Emeril's burger was hand ground steak with an oxtail marmalade, Havarti cheese and a crispy onion crust.  The hand made potato roll was beautiful.

Michael Mina (PUB 1842) won the competition with his signature bacon cheeseburger.  A beef patty topped with some Gouda cheese and melted American cheese with lettuce, the pub's secret sauce and plenty of bacon.

There was a salmon burger with crispy rice wrapped in seaweed.  And Wolfgang's burger was topped with Gouda, habanero-tomato chutney (my spouse LOVED the burn on this), caramelized onion, arugula, served on a pretzel bun.

The fry station was beautiful.  Onion rings served in brown paper bags with a large assortment of dipping sauces.  Sweet potato fries, waffle fries and, the hit of the afternoon, homemade tater tots fried in duck fat.  They were FUN.










This was the definition of an afternoon of fun.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sugar Cookies

                                   
I first saw this recipe on Or So She Says and knew I would give them a try.  I'm a sucker for any cookie recipe calling for 4 sticks of butter and a sugar cookie recipe that doesn't require rolling and cookie cutters.  I decreased the flour amount a little to suit the Nevada desert ... this recipe is a keeper.

1     pound butter
3     cups sugar
2     eggs
2     t. vanilla
5     cups flour
2     t. baking soda
1     t. baking powder
6     T. buttermilk
       sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Cream butter and sugar and then beat in eggs and vanilla.  In another bowl sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed ingredients and mix well.  Add buttermilk to make the dough soft, not wet.  I used an ice cream sized scoop (we like large cookies) and placed them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, sprinkling them generously with sanding sugar after flattening them with a sugared glass bottom.  Bake until slightly brown around the edges, barely showing  a golden color.

A quick note about sanding sugar.  Williams Sonoma will always have pretty sanding sugar, but it's pricey.  I like the King Arthur sanding sugar and it's less money, especially if you wait for a 'free shipping' promotion.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Maybe Autumn will happen


                                   

At 6 am this morning there was a lovely breeze coming in from the French doors.  For the first time in I don't know how long I opened both and let the fresh air come in.  I had no choice but to bake.

First up?  A new pumpkin bar I saw on Pinterest.  Highly recommend.  Texture is halfway between a bar and a dense cake.

4 eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15-ounce can pumpkin
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin on medium speed until light and fluffy.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.
Hand mix the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just combined. Do not overmix. Spread the batter into the prepared 13 by 9-inch baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars.

Source: Sweet Pea's Kitchen adapted from Paula Deen

Recommend.

Just before the pumpkin bars was some banana bread from King Arthur Flour.  They gave a hint about putting the ripe bananas in a ziploc back and kneading them.  I decided this might be the trick to a good banana bread.  I was supposed to get 1 1/2 cups of mashed banana from three medium or two large bananas.  It was much less.  Measuring is everything when it comes to baking, so from now on I shall stick with recipes asking for bananas in cups rather than numbers of bananas.  This bread had a nice crust to it.

Recommend.

Cookies came next with some heath bar toffee bits and miniature Hershey kisses.

The baking matched the weather.

Happy official Autumn.
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

au revoir Laguna


In case you couldn't tell vacation was pretty perfect.  Lazy days by the ocean reading and plotting our next culinary adventure - very hard work I tell you.  Hard to believe, but I don't blog about every single place we go to eat.  Only the ones I can really say good things about.  So, um, I am on calorie restriction and not very happy about it.  Monday night we both went to bed hungry and there was whining.  This trip was worth waiting for, even through the long hot Las Vegas summer.  I cannot wait to go back.

No segue at all...

My family is cursed with lumps where lumps just shouldn't be, so I found myself in an operating room the week before last.  I didn't find out about this little adventure until the day before I left for my vacation.  Did it put a damper on my fun?  No.  Not one bit.  See how that made me sound like the chill girl?  I'm not her, but in this case I was!  One for Patti.  Also, I'm well.  Results confirm.

Being home doing nothing for a few days wasn't exactly like being at the beach doing nothing.  I thought I might lose my mind on one of those days and then I thought, HEY, order your Christmas cards.  Good idea, right?  This is the same person who can't stop ranting (I'm being nice) about the universe talking about Autumn, pumpkin desserts and apple cake when it's still 99 degrees here.  Whatever.  Did I do some Christmas shopping while I was at it?  YES.  Yes, I did.  Oh, the hypocrisy.

La la la la . . . so it's later than mid-September already.  October is that month where, despite the Autumn thing that's going on, the world loses just a little bit of focus and starts to talk about pink ribbons and pink M&Ms and all the things we can do to help "the cause."  The breast cancer cause.  If you're in the mood for some chocolate, buy the pink package, would you?  If you just want to support Susan Komen, THAT is awesome.  One walk for breast cancer will tug at your heartstrings - you can register on October 1st.  That pink month.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Lunch at C'est Si Bon


Where the bread has a time on it to let you know when it came out of the oven.

Same for the chocolate croissants...

Where the best chicken curry salad is made and then put on that French bread...


And finally...where the best apple tart resides, complete with that delicious French almond filling.

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vacation coma...


Today is our last full day at the beach.  That familiar "why does it have to be over" has overtaken us but we are determined to make the most of our day.  I love this place more than I can communicate.

Yesterday there was tennis and beach time, rides on that breathtaking section of the PCH and delicious food.  We ate breakfast in The Blue Cottage and got to the sand earlier than most days.  I finally made my contribution to Vine and took some fun video of my spouse in the water.

I finished Defending Jacob.  Another departure for me, this novel, but the review I read convinced me to give it a shot.  I'm glad I did.  If I could have paced and read at the same time that would have helped.

By now you can see we went back to The Counter for dinner last night.  I think the waiters might all be models.  Models with lots of personality.  I digress, probably because I'm experiencing beef overload. Food overload.

On the drive to The Counter I pulled the car over at a local flower stand to check out an Autumn wreath I spied the day before.  Purchase!  We kept driving north and stopped at that cupcake place, only the BEST cupcake place in the entire universe.  Red velvet, strawberry, vanilla with sprinkles.  I went to Bristol Farms to check for a Fall doormat and found one.

We stopped at a new candy shop to check for the tiny boxes of fireballs.  Always looking for those.  No luck.

After dinner we went to Balboa Island to see if that little baby shop was still open.  When it wasn't I had no choice but to get that frozen banana.
I have not had a Laguna Beach caramel apple nor have I stopped into LaRue du Chocolat or the gelato shop.  I don't know how time evaporates when you're here, but it does.  I have a few things to bring home from the trip that will trigger a memory.  A pillow here, a shell there, a silly piece of coral, all reminders of the time I spent eight days at the beach with my best friend, who I love.

I'm headed down to the sea now...

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Friday, September 6, 2013

We did it again...

I should be embarrassed, but I'm not.  I have, however, had my fill of beef.  I'm very sleepy.




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Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Counter

This morning I opened my eyes and said, "What are we going to do today?"  BEST reply ever followed.  "Whatever we want."  I just love this kind of vacation.

We were slow getting started and that's okay.  There was tennis and a trip to the gym to get on the treadmill.  I wasn't kidding when I said there were lots of old people at this little gym.  Not exaggerating for emphasis here, today I actually saw a woman with a cane.  Except for the guy checking everyone in, I am the youngest person there.  SCORE.

Lunch was at The Counter.  Yes, it was good.  How can you go wrong with a burger covered in bleu cheese and grilled onions and onion strings.  You cannot.



Lunch was followed by time in the sun.  We didn't leave the beach until after 7 again . . . it was dusk walking back to The Blue Cottage.  Heavenly.

I finished the book11/22/63 is behind me and I'm glad.  It was tedious at times, but it had to be. So many details to incorporate, many with implications that followed much later in the book.  I'm not unhappy I read it but I'm extremely happy to be done.

I have a mini-library here to choose from not to mention a stack of back issues of Esquire, Vanity Fair and Bon Appetit.  Not sure what's next . . . probably more hamburgers.

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Pacific love

I shall finish 11/22/63 today.  My goal was yesterday but it just didn't happen.  It's Thursday and I've yet to finish my first book.  Not right.  It's been a fun read and I want to say very well crafted (there's are so many details to think about when you write a book like this), but until I get to page 847 I will stay mum.  There's so much riding on how he ends this book.  I don't believe I've read any Steven King since 1980 . . . I just had to read this one.

Later I will have to decide what book gets my attention next.  Luckily it's the most difficult decision I have to make this week.  How great is that?

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Ho Sum Bistro (redux)

We ended the best day ever back at Ho Sum.  Except for that little crisis at Southwest Gas and those conference calls that lasted a few hours, it was the best day.  It was a 90 degree day so arriving at the beach a little later just worked for us. 

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