Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Oven is Hot

What is wrong with me? I'm going to be putting on a ball dress in less than 10 days and instead of being on my yearly JBD (Jewel Ball Diet) I've been accompanying Mary on a dizzying journey of recipe discovery. I kid you not, we spent an entire morning last week at a restaurant supply store buying a food mill, which Mary had been coveting since watching Tyler Florence and Ina Garten use theirs ("Mommy! You can grind the tomatoes and most of the seeds stay in the top!" Yeah, she's nine. This week she made chocolate ganache and a lemon cornmeal bundt cake, pretty much alone. Some people are born foodies, and some of us develop later in life.) Anyway, in addition to arroz con pollo, honey glazed salmon, spaghetti both bolognese AND carbonara, ad infinitum, the last two weeks have seen a plethora of baked goods, including three of the jam crostatas you see here. Yes, three.

Here are a few of the things we whipped up, with the reviews of the Windansea 5:

Coffehouse Scones - these were okay.
Lemon Cream Scones - a keeper. We have nut and dried fruit allergies here so I left out those additions, but the plain scones were fantastic.
Lemon Cornmeal Bundt - this has its place; it had an earthy crunch and wasn't too sweet. We used blueberries.
Zucchini Bread - we made about 18 muffins from this recipe, which everyone liked.
Easy Jam Tart - this was my favorite find this week. It's easy and every version came out great. The one you see here is apricot, but we especially liked one made with plum preserves - just plums, no sugar added - that we served with homechurned vanilla gelato. Did I mention I've been making gelato?
Better than Pinkberry - Fiona says it is, and to please make it again. I used a combo of Greek and Bulgarian yogurt, and at least it's for sure yogurt, no lawsuit needed.
Chocolate Cream Tart - from Dorie Greenspan's fantastic book. This went out to my sister's house to be served at a dinner party, so we'll have to wait on the review. I added a tiny bit of espresso and a splash of Bacardi to the chocolate cream.

Did I hear a crumb drop?

In knitting news, there's nothing to report. About a week and a half ago, while chiffonading some basil, I narrowly averted slicing the top of my left index finger off with a dull Wusthof and I've been babying it ever since. It's actually all better now, except for the nail being extremely short at the moment. Very attractive, and just in time for my JBM (Jewel Ball Manicure).

But lest you think I've only been cooking, Fiona, Anna and I did go out to lunch (See? That's eating, not cooking.) last week. I took them to a place they'd never been because I avoid crowds of more than 10 people I don't know personally: what used to be called the Bazaar del Mundo here in Old Town San Diego, but now it's the Plaza del Pasado...I think the restaurant is Casa de Reyes, which used to be Casa de Pico. Amid the tourists, we had a moment of staycation. We were serenaded by the mariachis, and I had a salad.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Biscuits and a Vest

Run, Patty! Mommy said TREAT!

In typical fighting Irish fashion, our dog Patty feels compelled to bark her head off about twice a day in response to the insulting presence of some neighbor dogs way up at our back fence. She's not very food-driven, but we have finally trained her to abandon the barkfest and come back to the house when we call her by giving her a treat when she comes through the door. Snoopy, who's very food-driven, loves it when she goes up and starts barking, because he's learned to anticipate the T-R-E-A-T. (That's what we have to do - spell it out - that and the word D-I-N-N-E-R, both of which set him off in hysterics.)

This morning, I prompted the same response from Anna, propelling her into the kitchen from a dead sleep at 10:00 am (remember, it's summer, and she's a teenager) by saying, "Anna, fresh biscuits!" They're a little craggier than Tyler Florence's biscuits, but they tasted great with fresh strawberries.

I only had about a 1/4 cup of buttermilk so I made some with a cup of milk and a tablespoon of lemon juice; the biscuits had a very faint lemon note that was actually quite pleasant. A word of caution - I only used 1 teaspoon of salt in the recipe, not the tablespoon listed, and it was plenty.

In knitting news, I am done with the ribbing on my Back to School Vest. That was a LOT of ribbing. I'm now ready to start the patterned top portion, which will be a very welcome change from K2P2. I'm knitting the smallest size and I had just a few yards left of my first skein of Cascade 220, in case you were wondering.

Can I PLEASE have a biscuit too?

Friday, July 11, 2008


Every now and then I get a hankering for a food I can't get. Does this ever happen to you? Maybe it's something your grandma made when you were a kid, or maybe it's something from a restaurant that's closed, or maybe it's something that's geographically challenging to acquire. For me, typically, it's something Spanish that you just can't replicate here. My local Whole Foods and Bristol Farms have a lot of Spanish products now, and I love that, but sometimes you want something a little less known or a bit more regional. Even if you find the ingredients, which isn't easy in San Diego, where you can get any Pacific Rim/Indian subcontinent/Mexican ingredient you need (or maybe you can't - what do I know, I don't cook those cuisines!), many Spanish ingredients are hard to come by and they don't taste the same. It's like New York pizza: no matter how ardently a place claims to make the genuine thing it just isn't the same. There's something in the water, as the saying goes.

Anyhow, the other problem with Spanish cooking is the recipes themselves. I have no problem winging stuff in the kitchen, but many Spanish recipes put me off because of their lack of standard measurements, cooking time, or temperature, and when you're trying to duplicate a flavor that can be problematic. For example, a recipe might tell you to use half a tall glass of oil and a big spoon of salt, cook it at a pretty hot but not too hot temperature for a while until it looks right, and then serve. Yeah, see, if I could do that, I wouldn't need the recipe, right?

This week, for one of Mary's marathon cooking sessions, we decided to make Madalenas. They're the Spanish version of Madeleines, but not really - they're made with oil instead of butter...they're more of a muffin, really, and on the days I didn't eat fresh bread and the most heavenly creamy butter you've ever tasted - Plugra is close but still not right - I had these for breakfast at my grandparents' house with my giant cup of cafe con leche. I looked around the internet for a likely starting point, combined a couple of recipes that seemed like they might work, and managed to produce a fairly decent batch of 18. John and the girls really liked them so I only got to eat one (Whose memory are these, I'd like to know?). I'll be tweaking the recipe and making them again soon, but this was how I made this batch:

First Time Out of the Gate Pretty Good Madalenas

Zest of one lemon (about 2 T)
4 large eggs
2/3 c olive oil
1/3 c canola oil
1 cup sugar
3/4 c flour
1 1/2 T baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 and line 18 muffin tins with papers. You could just jam the papers into a brownie pan to make square Madalenas if that's what you're used to, but I was after the taste more than the shape. And see, no Madeleine pan needed.

Beat the zest and the eggs together until the eggs are light and fluffy, about doubled in volume. Add the oil and beat to incorporate. Add the sugar and beat some more.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together, and add them to the egg mixture. Blend it in thoroughly and then fill the muffin tins about 2/3 full.

Dot each uncooked Madalena with a pinch of sugar, and bake them for about 15 minutes, or until they've puffed up and turned a golden yellow color. You can let them get light brown if you'd like them a little more done. Cool them on a rack - they're better the next day, even.

Make yourself a latte, dip in a Madalena, and enjoy! Stay tuned for further refinements...Like I said, I'm going to tweak those quantities, but these were still pretty good.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Did I mention that Anna and I went to San Jose this weekend? It's Fencing Summer Nationals, and Anna qualified for Cadets, Div II, and Div III. She flew up for Cadets, lost in the DEs (a heartbreaking 15-14 to a lefty), we flew back up for Div III (another heartbreaking 15-12 this time - they were tied all the way up to 12-12 with about 30 seconds to go in the third 5-minute round and then the girl from ASU took her) and now Div II is on Thursday but we're going to sit that one out. The schedule had her events just too far apart to make one long trip, and we're busy. Plus, it's damn hot in San Jose. Really hot. Thank goodness the Convention Center is air-conditioned, but that doesn't make up for the hundreds of sweaty fencers all decked out in their padded kevlar.

Anyway, we're back. Mary and I spent most of the morning cooking. We started the day with a batch of no-knead bread that we mixed up yesterday to rise overnight. Isn't it pretty? You should've heard it singing when I took it out of the oven. I love this recipe; today I tweaked the method a little by using a silpat instead of floured cloths for the second rise, and that seemed to work fine. The one funny thing was when I poured the dough into the hot Le Creuset casserole off the silpat, it landed on one half of the bottom of the dish and no amount of shaking would spread it out (okay, given - I didn't try very hard since I was shaking a 500 degree hunk of enameled iron), so it baked off like a loaf instead of a round. No problem - so far this recipe is foolproof.

I also have a batch of dough in the fridge from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book. It's more of a sourdough because I'm into the second cycle of making dough in the same container as my last batch without having washed out the remnants, so it's got a starter. I'd show you a loaf of that but I baked one last night and it's gone, and the raw dough isn't much to look at. It's hard to keep fresh homemade bread around in the best of circumstances, but add ballet classes for Fiona, fencing practice for Anna, and growing like a weed for Mary and it's just impossible.

We also have some chicken breasts in the fridge that we pounded flat and have marinating in a little buttermilk for dinner later, and we made a base for blueberry gelato that we'll churn tomorrow. I bought a couple of packages of frozen organic wild blueberries last week to use in a cobbler and they turned out to be shriveled, miserable-looking little things. More like capers than berries, really. We figured gelato would cure anything. I used 3/8 c of 2% milk and 1/8 c of heavy cream, so we'll see how it all turns out.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Every Heart Beats True...

In case you couldn't guess, the theme for today is red, white and blue. We started the morning with ricotta berry muffins, which we took down to a friend's house. This particular friend lives on the Beaumont Street Parade route and happens to be a genuine VIP - she's one of the parade judges - so all the floats stop right in front of her house. The parade consists of homemade floats and scooters & bikes dressed up in bunting, kids waving flags, dogs in red bandannas, etc. There's a band and food at the end of the route and an awards assembly, but mostly it's an excuse to mill around the street and drink a bloody mary (Hey - it's red, and hence patriotic!) before 10 am.

Next we're taking a chocolate cake and hummus over to my sister's for our patriotic 4th of July feast. People, in my family, it's all about the food. It's a good thing there's a holiday in just about every month so we have an excuse to be more over the top than usual. What can I say? We're Spanish. Food = love. I was going to take pictures of the cake and the hummus, but they're not in theme, so you'll just have to use your imagination. I've made the hummus before so I can assure you that it's terrific and easy - minty fresh with a garlic one-two punch at the end; I haven't tasted the cake yet but I made it with Valrhona cocoa so how could it go wrong? The cake recipe is the Texas Sheet Cake version made by Pioneer Woman, although John says it should really be called Nebraska Sheet Cake. It's a geography joke made all the more amusing by the fact that he thinks Nebraska is shaped like a sheet pan, but that's why he's a physicist.

Instead, you can look at the start of my newest knit, a Back to School Vest from Fitted Knits, in red Cascade 220. Because it's in theme.