Tuesday, October 5, 2010

a quick story

in the picture you can see all the stuff i received after winning a giveaway on one of my favorite blogs. surprising factors: i won - i never do - and also, this is a romanian blog. you don't see that many giveaways on romanian blogs, especially not ones that allows u.s. residents to participate. cristi's bucatar maniac, which translates to maniac cook, has been gathering momentum for a while now and i'm besides myself to see his talent validated. if you don't speak romanian, there's the google translator in the sidebar. but seriously i doubt you'll need it, because cristi's shots are so incredible, they don't require explanation. you'll find lots and lots of stuff - jams and preserves (wait until you see those pics - if that won't make you crave jam, nothing ever will) a big dessert category, and an amazing savory section. what i really love about it though is that cristi will post every now and then about a simple, peasant dish or a very traditional pot, or better yet, snacks we all grew up on that i'd forgotten about. it takes me back and it warms my heart. lastly, cristi has a daughter. how is that relevant? pony cakes. cakes with ponies on them! multicolor, psychedelic ponies!!
about a month back i went over on my regular round, to find him hosting this giveaway for a $100 csn store gift card. can't hurt, i thought, and i left a comment, although i've never won anything before. well, won i did and i got a pasta machine, a silpat and a dough mat. and even though i had to chip in a bit to get the rose muffin pan, i couldn't resist. you see how cute it is! the dough mat - the yellow roll -  is wonderful. it stays into place on your counter, and its easy release helps tons when you work with difficult dough. it's also big enough to roll a 16 inch pie. i've been using it intensely. the silpat works exactly like you'd expect. nothing ever sticks to it, so it's a great piece to have around, especially as i've been baking some meringues. the pasta machine has yet to meet pasta dough. i've been busy, but apparently not sufficiently so that it would keep me from spending half the night trying to roll chocolate plastic through it. i've discovered it works good and dandy, but it helps to have another set of hands. it's not the kind you screw to the table, and it tends to get a bit hairy when you're trying to hold up a sheet in the air, crank the machine and hold it in place at the same time. i'm keeping my fingers crossed, waiting for the magical intersection of enough time, husband home, and husband willing to make fresh pasta. finally, look what the muffin tin produced, much - much - to my daughter's delight:

edible roses. i had picked up a delicata squash, and made it into a side dish by braising it in apple cider, with pineapple sage and rosemary until the cider reduced into a glaze. she did not eat it. (i've given up wondering why she doesn't like foods kids usually fight over). anyway, i refused to end it there, and as the squash was quite perfumed and sweet i pureed it with some ricotta and used it as a filling in these. i made a regular vanilla muffin batter, filled the tin half-way, spooned some squash in each and topped with more batter. did i mention the rose shape? zhara begged for more. if your picky eater might like these, please leave a comment for details.

Monday, September 27, 2010

um, i don't have a title for this.

what i've been up to, or why i've fallen off the face of the earth sound like reasonable enough ones, or please, lost routine come back and suffocate us with your monotony, we miss you! seriously, i've missed you. i missed this space, and seeing what everybody's been doing. first zhara got sick, her entire preschool class got knocked out. when she got better, hubs collapsed, and when he was fine, it hit me. i haven't been this sick in years! it was truly horrible, but i have to admit it was nice to be taken care of, for a change. (not that i was able to enjoy any of it, but husband did bring me toast and chicken broth to bed. and he was on toddler patrol the whole time so i could rest). then i got better and went back to work and the day-to-day. and i never resurfaced... i have packed what feels like a million lunches and snacks. i have made enough laundry to have some sort of softener overdose. (i'm all for the arts and such, but could we use a bib when we're glueing glitter to dry leaves?! i swear she messes up three outfits a day.) work has been beyond exhausting. draining. and it seems more complicated than ever to divide the day into more bits than the mandatory stuff. get the kid dressed and fed, and to daycare. get to work. breathe, don't blow a gasket. get dinner on the table. get tomorrow's lunch packed up. get the kid bathed and kissed and tickled. get to bed. repeat. at the end of the day, when i'm showered with never ending requests for 'just one more story' i have to make a very conscious effort to be nice to my kid. i have to pace myself so i can patiently explain yet again why it's night and therefore, bedtime. this kid never wants to go to bed. i could sleep standing, like a horse. it was an intense couple weeks, and i felt like i could talk about nothing else. i can also see very clearly that it would bring everybody down if that was the whole story, but it's not! because every now and then i remember why we do it. we're building a business, and that's never easy for anybody. every beginning implies lots and lots of legwork, and it's unrealistic to expect anything else. no one gets the red carpet from day one. (unless you're gwyneth paltrow.) everybody pays their dues. i decided to simply stop feeling so tired, or more precisely, that being tired is the end of the world. tired doesn't have to equal mean cavewoman. it doesn't have to mean that right now, your bones are mush. tired can mean you've tried your best. tired can mean you're on your way. so you can feel tired and content. they're not mutually exclusive notions.
in between, we have managed to get out and pick raspberries. zhara had a grand time rolling in the grass like a dog, and eating raspberries straight off the bush. i made the best jam ever. and cake, and cupcakes. we had regular plum fest, with jam, compote, pie and ice cream all out of italian plums. we made zacusca. this is a traditional canned veggie spead. i'll do a post on it as soon as i get around to taking some pictures. we made a batch of roasted tomato passata with all the heirloom toamtoes we've been picking from the garden. (speaking of which, i have a lot of green ones that i doubt will ripen with this cold weather - does anyone have a nice recipe for canned green tomatoes?) we've made pear compote. the sourdough starter is still alive, i'd say despite me. we've had some very good sourdough waffles, but the bread is not working out the way i'd hoped. i'm not giving up.
the liquor up there is good stuff. you take a bunch of sour cherries, and you mix them with half their weight of sugar. let them sit overnight to form syrup. then you add alcohol 3 to 1. and then you wait around doing nothing for two weeks. and then you bottle up the liquor, and use the cherries in truffles or something. this is a sweet drink, very fragrant and fresh. a shot before or after a nice meals round things up like nothing else.

these are the tomatoes that got roasted for passata. there's shallots and garlic and all those herbs (all from the garden), i can't begin to tell you how good this is! each time i open a jar i feel i'm making a sacrifice, and i ponder whether the dish is worthy. silly, but it can't be helped.

look at this treasure. they really were so delicious! and the jam is incredible. it's a low-sugar recipe from pam corbin. they also made a delicious mousse in a dark chocolate cake. it got wolfed before i even had a chance to put it on a cake plate.

over the course of my absence, i've won a giveaway hosted on a wonderful blog. i'll tell you all about it tomorrow. (i really, really, hope i do). i was supposed to post about it as soon as i got my loot, and then it all got away from me. in all honesty i haven't had a chance to use half the stuff, and so there wasn't much to say about it...
next weekend we plan to pick some apples. jelly is not my thing, but i'm thinking some more jam can't possibly harm us. tomorrow i'll take a pic with all the canned stuff sitting pretty on a shelf. i want to go pet them. and if that's me plain and sober... maybe i'll drink some of that cherry liquor and take a bath in raspberry jam.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

peach ice cream

i know that increasingly this place is turning into a shrine for all things lebovitz. it's just the natural effect of buying his book, let it run its course and don't complain - you're ruining my mood. and in a mood i am! my job is very stressful. i make it a point of not bringing it up here, lest it take over the place and suffocate everybody, the way it did my friend this afternoon (sorry!). some days can get truly hectic, and when you couple that with the rigors of potty training and the general toddler discourse, you're in for a treat. and not the kind you bake. it's too hot for baking anyway. hence all the ice cream, because making ice cream is relaxing and fits the schedule. i make the custard in the evening, chill it overnight and then churn it before dinner. this one is the easiest ice cream you'll make - no egg tempering required. matter of fact, no eggs required. just peaches and cream, slap me if this combo ever gets old!

what's that it sits on? old habits die hard, that's what. it was 10 PM and i had a ridiculous hankering for mom's apple tart. did the filling before discovering i had nowhere enough white flour, so i used whole wheat pastry flour in an inordinate proportion, and it's not the best crust ever. don't worry, the ice cream made it all better. see how it keeps saving the day? told you it's worth keeping around.

peach ice cream
from david lebovitz's the perfect scoop

4 large peaches, pitted, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 ts vanilla extract
a few drops lemon juice

cook the peaches with the water over medium heat, covered, until the fruit is cooked through, about 10 minutes. remove from heat, mix in the sugar and let cool. puree the peaches and their juices with the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla and lemon juice to a consistency you like. refrigerate the mixture until it's very cold, then churn in your ice cream maker.

it's a divine clean taste. goes with everything, on everything. apotropaic treat, promptly ends toddler meltdowns. the apotheosis of summer's end. somebody stop me or we could be here awhile.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

my beautiful heirloom tomatoes, and the delicious soup they make

remember these guys? well, it's payday. all the fuss planting the tiny seeds, making sure they got enough sun and water those critical first six weeks, then transplanting them in the garden, the constant weeding and watering, staking poles to give them support as they grew - it's all paid off. i now have red, yellow, purple and green heirloom tomatoes ready for picking every day. they are very juicy and sweet, and i can tell each variety by taste alone. i love them all, but my favorites right now are those green-yellowish ones. they have a pale green flesh that is a bit more tart than the others. it's lovely in salads. the purple ones are good slicers for sandwiches. the tiny yellow ones are sweet and flavorful, but soft, so they're harder to slice. they are going to get roasted for passata.
(and by the way: this post is a long time coming! every time i went in the garden, at any hour, i was assaulted by a gazillion blood thirsty mosquitos and it was impossible to stay longer than 30 seconds. today i braved it and i am ravished beyond repair. it's like the 11th plague is ongoing in my backyard. anyone know why they're so vicious this year?)
anyway, they're still worth it.

big gal on the left clocked in 1 lb 13 oz, or 835 gr.

and the best part yet: there's more to come!

the first thing i always make after eating a few of them raw, in salads, is cream of tomato soup. it's as comforting to me as a giant hug, if hugs were filled with summer and sun. it's a very simple thing. these tomatoes are so tasty they require little intervention. i like it with croutons, and i've been know to bake meatballs in it once i've had my share.

summer cream of tomato

2 tb olive oil
2 cups onion, julienne
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup celery, diced
4 pounds heirloom tomatoes, roughly cubed
1/4 cup lightly packed basil, chiffonade
2 ts coarse sea salt
1/3 cup half and half

saute the mirepoix in the oil over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but not browned. add the tomatoes and the salt and cook on medium hight heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have given off their juices. do not add water. when the tomatoes start to boil lower the heat to low and simmer partially covered 30 to 40 minutes. stir in the basil. remove from heat and go at it with your immersion blender or puree in batches in a food processor. stir in the half and half (or cream, milk, sour cream) and correct seasoning. you're done, enjoy.

lemon cherry cheesecake

i love cherries. each june i tre-pi-date with anticipation. i eat pounds after pounds and i'm unable to cook them, no matter what great recipes i have stashed. nothing beats a bowl of chilled cherries, crisp and plump and so juicy all the t-shirts i own bear the proof. i think their short season is one of nature's meanest way of reminding me who's in charge. local cherries are long gone, but i can still get good washington ones. the monster craving is appeased, so i finally got around to trying this cheesecake that's been on hold long enough.
my husband loved it, and he's not much for cheesecake. i was very pleased with the taste, especially starting on day four, but the texture i think could be improved. it all depends on which side of the camp you reside: if you like fluffy, airy, light, sort of moist, you'll not be head-over-heels for this. if you think cheesecake by all means should be firm and intense, you'll think this is perfect. (and i'd say it kinda is, if i weren't too polite for such tasteless vaunt).

i had a single meyer lemon, incredibly perfumed and sweet, and i used both juice and peel. you'll want to reduce the juice by half if using a different variety. the cherry topping is better than this picture may lead you to believe. it only has one prerequisite - use fresh fruit. it's easier to make then opening a can, anyway. and lots tastier. no goop. this cheesecake is based on an old raspberry white chocolate recipe i have, but heavily adapted to accomodate the lemon and the cherry topping. don't forget to take the cream cheese out of the fridge a few hours beforehand. i left it out overnight.

for the crust:
9 graham crackers, or 5 oz, or 145 gr;
1 cup or 4.2 oz or 125 gr toasted blanched almonds;
4 1/2 tb or 2.1 oz or 60 gr butter, melted.

for the cheesecake:
2 x 8 oz packets or 450 gr cream cheese;
2.8 oz or 80 gr white chocolate, melted;
2/3 cup or 5.4 oz or 150 gr sugar;
2 ts pure vanilla extract;
2 eggs;
juice and zest of one lemon.

for the sour cream topping:
8 oz or 225 gr sour cream;
3 tb or 45 gr sugar;
1/2 ts vanilla extract.

for the cherry topping:
3 cups or 450 gr cherries, halved and pitted;
1 tb cornstarch;
1/3 cup or 75 gr sugar.

preheat oven to 325F. get your 8 inch springform out. grind the grahams with the almonds and when they're pulverized add the butter and mix. line the pan with this mixture, pushing it all the way up the wall. (this is my personal preference, if you like your crust on the bottom only, or half-way up the wall, that's your business. you can freeze leftover crust mixture.) when you have an even layer (some plastic wrap helps) bake it until golden, about 10 minutes. maintain oven temp.
melt the chocolate in the microwave, in 10 second bursts, mixing after each one. mix cream cheese with the sugar, lemon juice, the lemon peel (very finely grated), and vanilla. then add the eggs, beating well after each one. mix in the white chocolate. pour in the crust and bake 40-45 minutes, until the edges are set but the middle still jiggles when you give it a shove.
prepare the sour cream topping by mixing all ingredients together. let sit on the counter while the cake bakes.
pit and halve the cherries. sprinkle the sugar over them and let sit a few minutes. mix every now and then and the juices will melt it. sprinkle the cornstarch through a fine sieve and mix. put the pot on the stove and cook over medium heat just until the juices thicken some, about 5 minutes. the cherries will not be cooked through. you should still have a bite to them. the point is only to tie the juices. set aside to cool.
when the cake is baked, remove from the oven but maintain temp. let it cool 5-10 minutes, then pour the sour cream and spread it in an even layer. return to oven and bake 5 minutes more. let cool until the topping is set. then arrange the cherry topping all over the cake. refrigerate overnight. heads-up: pace yourself, because it peaks on day 4. believe me, you want to still have a slice on day 4. you're welcome.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

seared mahi mahi with green tomato-pineapple sage sambal

in thai and filipino cuisine a sambal can designate a multitude of sauces or sides. usually it's gonna be a scorching red sauce, but it varies greatly in components and there's green sambals too. the usual suspects are peppers or chillies and shallots. they can incorporate tamarind, fish sauce, mango leaves, all sorts of unexpected ingredients, depending on region. mine was gonna be a casual pineapple salsa, but i had this green tomato that had fallen to the ground during the last storm. (i think one more of those and my garden is going to rot from the roots up, jeesh).  maybe it's a bit improper to name it sambal, because i can't add any heat to stuff i feed my daughter, but the methodology is the same - you chop up whatever you want in, and then you stir-fry it quickly on high heat. 
the fish is a very simple story - you just rub some coarse salt on it, you heat up a tiny bit of oil in a pan, and when it's very hot you sear the fish about 2 minutes on each side. done. the sambal has a bold profile, so to avoid conflicting flavors we season the fish simply.

for the sambal:

2 shallots, or 1 onion, chopped finely;
1 green tomato, cubed, about 1 cup;
1 cup pineapple, cubed;
1/4 cup packed fresh pineapple sage leaves, minced, about 10 to 12;
1 hot pepper, finely chopped, optional;
2 ts sugar;
2 ts sherry vinegar.

once you have everything cubed bite-size, heat up two teaspoons of olive oil and saute the shallot. when it's soft, add the green tomato and the sugar. once it's melted stir in the vinegar, then add the pineapple and mix.  finally, stir in the chopped sage and remove from heat. if you wish to add heat, use your favorite pepper - a mild poblano or a gutsy habanero - throw it in after softening the shallot. the whole thing will take you about 5 minutes, and it should all be done on high heat. spoon over the fish and serve.

this was a big hit over here. my daughter eats fish pretty well, but the great thing about this was that she ate the side rice, too. the rice had green beans, carrots and mushrooms, and she really doesn't like the green beans, but when i perched a piece of pineapple on top it had a whole new allure, and for once there was no drama. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

cold cucumber-avocado soup with beet mousseline

i wonder if the comments you leave for me count as social interaction. perhaps if i responded promptly, like i used to, it would. the thing is, i'm ready to move someplace secluded, deep forest, forgotten island, if it will get me some quiet. if it's not some horrible thunderstorm - seriously, did anybody sleep saturday night? - it's neighbours having parties - and when did i turn into the jerk who blows the whistle on party folk? geez, i don't even recognize myself anymore. and it's all from lack of sleep. hence the moving-away-contemplation-thingy. i'm wondering if what we do here counts for human contact. the days i'm not wandering around forgetting what i set out to do, like an old geyser, it does. i can't wait to see what you think. if you replied to my messages. while i take every comment seriously, there's a few people out there whose opinion really matters to me, people i'm not likely to ever meet, but people i've connected to, despite that. so if i take my sweet time responding to comments and emails, it's not because i don't appreciate you. it's because of my drunken-pothead-neighbouritis, okay? it's a serious condition, there's no cure, and the only way to manage it is, well, if you can't beat them...ahem
luckily, there's this soup. if you've been trying to induce sleep, by methods unnamed, you'll be patting your own backs the next day when this just needs to be poured. you don't even need a spoon, (god knows how people put up with that racket anyway.) it's great if you can chill it overnight, but two to three hours will do. room temp will do. it's delicious, a lot more delicious than i ever imagined cooked cucumbers could be. you can even dispense with the whole mousseline affair, which is just a puree with some whipped cream folded in. if you have the time, though, it's worth it, i've been eating the leftovers on tortilla chips - it put a lot of dips to shame.

cold cucumber-avocado soup, with beet mousseline
adapted from epicurious

for the beets:
4 small to medium red beets
1 tb balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

preheat oven to 400F. wrap each beet in aluminum foil and roast about 1 hour. let cool and rub off skins. pulse in food processor or blender until very smooth, then mix in vinegar, cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. refrigerate.

for the soup:
4 seedless cucumbers, or 8 short stubby ones, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 avocado
1 tb lemon juice
2 tb oregano, finely chopped
1 tb olive oil
2 cups stock or water
1/3 cup sour cream
pinch of white pepper

heat the oil and sweat the onion until translucent. add the oregano and the cucumbers and saute 2 minutes more. add the stock or water and bring to boil. season, then simmer 20 minutes. let cool a few minutes, then blend it up or puree it with an immersion blender. cut the avocado and remove the pit. add the flesh to the soup and douse immediately with lemon juice. blend again til smooth. mix in the sour cream, correct seasoning - salt, white pepper - and you're done.
when you're ready to serve, ladle the soup in bowls and top each serving with a dollop of beet mousseline. garnish with herbs and perhaps a few crushed pistachios. i was out, and just so you know: the original recipe which doesn't contain avocado asks for dill, not oregano, which i think would still work very well here, try it if you have it on hand.
when you mix the two the entire bowl takes on a crazy, completely crazy fuchsia shade, and you think you're still having side effects from the unnamed methods, but then you take a slurp and somehow it makes sense.