Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Café Volcano Cookies

I was all set to skip this week of TWD because - let's face it - I think we're all busy, and while there is the opportunity to share creations both knitted and baked with those we love, we're also going to parties and shopping and taking finals and applying to college around here and it's all just too much sometimes! Plus three people in my extended family exhibit unmitigated gall by having their birthdays in December.

There's also the whole nut allergy thing here. John's got to be careful with nuts because, while we aren't quite sure exactly which ones he's allergic to (Understandably enough he doesn't want to do a taste-test to find out.), many of them are processed with peanut oil so they're out no matter what. The result is that I mostly leave the nuts out of stuff - I don't miss them too much and nobody swells up with hives that way. This week's cookies are 90% nut, so leaving them out was not an option. At the last minute I decided to whip them out because they are just so easy to make. I was so glad I did - they're easy, yes, but they're also really good. My family was over on Sunday and they loved them. I'm not sure I'll make them again because there are a million great recipes out there, but once more, Dorie's recipe didn't disappoint.

Thanks MacDuff of The Lonely Sidecar for choosing Café Volcano Cookies!

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Specialty Produce recently started offering CSA boxes once a week. You can opt in via email, which is great because I have commitment phobia when it comes to things like this - I already struggle with a weekly milk/dairy delivery that makes me guilty every time I can't quite finish the milk in any given week.

This is my first week, and I was so pleased with the contents of the box. In addition to the pretty vegetables you see here (heirloom lettuce and tomotoes, baby pink turnips. baby carrots, a leek, some thyme, a fennel bulb, asparagus, arugula, a squash - all locally grown and absolutely beautiful) there were also a couple of nice Meyer lemons and some Satsumas (which I don't really need because I've got a bumper crop of them myself). The interesting twist is that you suddenly find yourself in the position of having to cook something you normally don't buy, forcing you to be creative in your menu planning.

Last night I roasted a pork loin and accompanied it with roasted baby turnips & carrots that I dressed with just a little olive oil, kosher salt, and thyme - fresh, simple and delicious, and the carrots actually tasted like carrots. I also took the greens off the turnips and sauteed them in a bit of bacon fat (from what John calls my little jar of happiness). Dinner was so good I think it actually brought a tear to my husband's eye.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Sablés

Okay, I know I say this about a lot of things, but these are my favorite Christmas cookies of all. They're buttery and rich, yet delicate and finely textured. I can't help it if I have a long list of favorite things. Don't even get me started on brown paper packages tied up with string.

In a rare instance of perfect timing during this crazy holiday season, Dorie Greenspan's sablés were the TWD pick for this week just when I had to provide cookies for an open house at the La Jolla Historical Society. And in addition to being timely and delicious, they come together in a snap and you can keep the dough in the fridge or freezer to slice and bake whenever you need a few.

Last Christmas I made them several times because they disappeared quickly, and at Easter I made a batch using pink sugar instead of the pretty yellow you see here. I've also tried making them with red and green sugar, but the yellow is my favorite. It plays up the golden buttery flavor of the cookie, I think. Thanks Bungalow Barbara for giving me an excuse to make yet another one of my favorites!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

File this under better late than never...I just now finished assembling this tart at 9:30 pm on Tuesday while John was putting the lights on our Christmas trees alone (That's right, trees, plural. It's excessive, but you know how I am.). I almost thought of skipping this week but I love pears and I love pistachios so I had to give it a whirl despite the fact that I still have pie left over from Thanksgiving and I'm finally back to my normal weight after I gained a whopping five pounds in one day last week. It's my super power, gaining weight that fast.

The tart requires a few steps that have to be done in advance, i.e. poaching pears in a beautiful red wine bath, making the pistachio pastry creme (which bore an unfortunate resemblance to my minty hummus - but it's under those gorgeous pears, so who cares?), caramelizing more pistachios and blind baking a tart crust (which I made this morning). While the crust baked I reduced the poaching liquid as Dorie suggests and sliced up the pears in preparation for the assembly.

Given all those steps, you have to ask yourself if it's worth it. Well, it is. It is worth every bit of effort and dirty dish - that's how good this is. And it's impressive as all get-out in person. Go make one for any of the special occasions you have this month. I'd give you a slice of mine but I haven't figured out how to share with you all quite yet.

Thank you, Lauren of I'll Eat You, for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie entry - it was fantastic!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

Back in September I had some kind of flu that had me down for several days and I really haven't felt right since. I've been kind of tired and a little achy all over, but I kept attributing it to my sporadic workout schedule, since I've been traveling (where all I did was walk but no yoga or anything else) and then coming back and hitting classes to make up for it.

Last week I went for my yearly checkup and all was great except for one thing: my Vitamin D levels. Now, the one thing I try to be really good about is applying sunscreen and mainly staying out of the sun. Living here it's easy to get too much and while I'm trying to avoid getting skin cancer my real fear is of turning into Godzilla. Turns out all that sunscreen can actually be too much of a good thing...unless there's some other crazy reason for it, I'm not getting enough Vit D from our friendly UV source.

Vitamin D deficiency can make you achy and sore, depressed (SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder), lead to bone loss, osteoporosis, diabetes, give you insomnia (which I already have in spades), etc. Basically a big list of all the things I'm trying to prevent with all the stuff I am doing. Now I'm taking a supplement every day for six months and making an effort to get my Vitamin D the natural way, too. The natural way is better, I think. And after I sunbathe a little I can knit a little.

The Pi Are Squared shawl I was working so diligently on turned out to have a major flaw, all because I don't follow directions. I was periodically doubling ALL the stitches between the diagonal increases instead of just the middle stitches. I'm not sure if it speaks to my idiocy that I thought that was right for as long as I did or to my brilliance that I realized that made no sense, geometrically speaking. Anyway, I frogged the whole damned thing. It was cursed, and I do know better than to work against the curse. I started from scratch instead.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

I was finally able to get a couple of photos of these cookies after baking off three previous batches on other days - that's how much my family liked them. I made the dough a couple of weeks ago, doubling it as a go-to in case any cookie emergencies might arise this month. Little did I know that the emergency would be keeping up with the demand.

The dough is super sticky and it spreads like crazy in the oven, but the resulting cookies are simultaneously crisp and chewy, with a very interesting note added by the black pepper in the recipe. We tried them rolled in raw sugar and also in regular cane sugar, and I think the cane sugar held up better. We also tried them after refrigerating the dough, which made it easier to handle, and after freezing, which was easier still since I made logs and just slice-and-baked.

Despite rave reviews on the taste, I'm not sure I'll make these again. I didn't like handling the dough and I didn't like how much they spread - you can't get that many cookies on a sheet. Instead, I might add a little pepper to another ginger/molasses cookie recipe and see how that goes.

Thank you Pam of Cookies with Boys (Make sure to go look at her cookies - they are perfect.) for suggesting this recipe. This is the second sweet TWD recipe in the last couple of months that called for black pepper - fantastic taste, and a great way to expand the palate!

Temptation on a Plate

WARNING. The contents of this post may be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. If you are susceptible to the aroma of fresh donuts, frying dough, sugar puffs of warm sweetness, or anything of the like, you have been warned. Don't come crying to me about your potential episode of excess, abuse, or waistline expansion - blame this guy.

It turns out you can take a can of ordinary pop-n-fresh biscuit dough and turn it into fresh donuts in a maneuver that is so easy it's scary. Ordinarily, I wouldn't even consider making donuts. (I'm not from the South; I'm from So Cal - we don't deep-fry, we stir-fry.) And I wouldn't buy biscuits in a can anymore, either. (I'm not from the South; I'm from So Cal - but I do like mixing me up a batch of some of them biscuits.)

But then one morning I was perusing my bloglines and I came across this little video at the Amateur Gourmet where they were talking about how easy it is to make donuts, and I was thinking, "Yeaaaah, once I'm making yeasted dough it's not going into donuts," when bam - they showed the instant donut method and it made me get in the car and go buy a can of biscuits.

The next morning I poured canola oil into the bottom of a pot, heated it up to 325F and punched holes out of the individual biscuits. A couple of minutes later, we had fresh, hot, light, and crispy donuts (and their holes) for breakfast. They fried up easily, were not greasy at all, and they were delicious - so delicious that I might actually make them again using the real yeasted dough - but these were really good for being so incredibly easy. As a bonus, check out the relatively small mess:

FYI, we decided that the ones coated in regular sugar were better than the powdered sugar ones.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Cran-Apple Crisp

This Tuesday's entry for TWD is the Cran-Apple Crisp, chosen by Em at The Repressed Pastry Chef. Let me preface by saying that much as I don't like cherries in anything cooked, I'm not all that fond of dried cranberries. I tolerate them, but just barely. I do love cranberry juice (including any permutation with vodka - which sounds so bad; my friends will tell you I'm not really a drinker, really, but I seem to keep referencing cocktails here. Must be indicative of my state of mind but I assure you I rarely imbibe.) and I like cranberry sauce (as long as it's the kind that slides out of a can - is that so bad? I don't like actual cooked cranberry sauce.), but that sour aspect of dried cranberries, coupled with the fact that they stick to your teeth, bugs me.

Luckily, this crisp has plenty of sweetness to counteract the sour. The apples were sweet on their own, and then there was the topping - more of that crumbage I love - and I added golden raisins to mine as Dorie suggests as a variation.

I ended up taking the crisp to Sunday dinner at my sister's where it was served up after a wonderful fall dinner of pot roast, mashed potatoes (which I'd gladly eat every day), and parsnips. It was fantastic, warm from the oven with homemade vanilla ice cream - can you think of a single thing that wouldn't be improved by a scoop a la mode?

Friday, November 06, 2009

November is for Pie

I'm till working on my red shawl, but yesterday I justified casting on a new project because I needed a nice piece of non-thinking knitting to take out on the town. Sometimes I'm in a meeting where people persist in actually talking to me, or where they truly expect me to pay attention...It's just not always compatible with lace knitting. Yesterday I knit four rows on the Gaenor shawl before realizing I'd left out the kfb increase called for on all the right-side rows - i.e. not even in the lace portion - on the first row I touched. I'm still hoping it is magically correcting itself in my knitting bag so I won't have to rip it back.

This is my big fat piece of comfort knitting, no thought required: Pie Are Squared from EZ's Knitting Around, on relatively big needles (10) with pretty fat yarn (Cascade Eco-Wool left over from Bella's Mittens).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Something Red

Now that my little bout of bitterness toward my local supermarket is over, shall we see what's happening with the knitting? I'm still on a shawl jag, this time working on Gaenor in Red Rocks Fiber Aspen Sock, colorway Ruby Slippers. It's knit from corner to corner so the lace border is knitted on as you go.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Fage Yogurt, Ronzoni Pastina, White Pepper - Shall I Go On?

Dear Vons La Jolla, despite the fact that you don't sell most of the things I want anymore and that the meat department looks like we live in Odessa (not the one in Texas), thank you for the reminder that now that we're two days past Halloween, Christmas is right around the corner.

PS You can stop asking me if I found everything I need now. You don't really want to know, and I really don't have the time to invest that much in you emotionally.

Tuesdays with Dorie - All in One Holiday Cake

Very festive care packages!

A few times during the year a bunch of us moms get together and make care packages for our collegiate daughters. It's a nice surprise for the girls, especially since they're sophomores now and their expectations of what we'll do for them are probably dimming by the minute.

There was even homemade apple jelly...

And it's nice for us, because we get together and socialize...and this year we barely even talk about those girls! Not that we don't miss them, of course!

...and homegrown walnuts...

This time there were 15 of us, so we each brought 15 items, ranging from cute socks and gloves to a spooky cd to walnuts from someone's farm. I think we were all on the same wavelength this year because there wasn't nearly as much sugar on the table as there was last year.

...and a light dinner for the moms.

We all share appetizers and salad a little wine. And of course, there's always dessert! I used this as an excuse to get on with my November TWD assignments and busted out the All-in-One Holiday Cake. I've made this before when I've had to take something for a crowd, and it's a definite pleaser. It contains every flavor of the season, all in one cake. I think the only thing it's missing is actual turkey.

I think I could've been a little more generous with the maple glaze, don't you?

I also brought the leftovers from last week's offering: the infamous flaming cherry cake. Both these cakes improve with time as the flavors blend so we all enjoyed a little bite of each.

Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte

The next day the packages were in the mail via Priority, so two days later Fiona sent me this picture of her feet - so see? It must be genetic.

Thank you, Britin of The Nitty Britty, for picking the All-in-One Holiday Cake. It's a great choice for this time of year!

Monday, November 02, 2009

It's Done!

I decided on a picot bind-off, and I believe I might like it even a little better than the original.

Now I only have to decide whether it's a gift or if it's a keeper.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Racing the Yardage

I'm a quarter of the way through the knitted-on border of my second Aestlight and I think I'm not going to have enough yarn. When will I learn? This is Aspen Sock by Red Rocks Fiber Works, a really wonderful superwash merino in the colorway Lemon Zest. I've bought a few Red Rocks products at my fave LYS, Knitting in La Jolla, and I've loved all of them; this particular yarn, though....I bought it on sale and I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it so I only bought one skein, about 410 yards. When I cast on I knew it would be close but I plowed ahead.

So now I'm faced with this dilemma: I can forge ahead, knowing I'm going to be close, and then rip out. Or, I can just admit defeat, rip out now and finish it off without the points.

Or maybe I can figure out another knitted-on border that wouldn't take as much yarn...hm. Maybe I'll explore that possibility. Maybe even a picot bind-off; that would be better than nothing.

Isn't this color amazing? It has depth and flecks and saturation and everything I love.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Boil for one minute, then stand back and carefully ignite the Kirsch."

First let me state for the record that I despise cherries in baked things. After being subjected to heat they always looked like some kind of organ to me, and organs in my dessert? No thank you - I'll pass. Cherries from a tree eaten out of hand, yes. Maraschino cherries? Double yes, especially accompanied by rum, fruit juice, and a tiny umbrella. But cooked? No. No thank you. Not even chocolate can change my mind on that.

But here I was faced with this week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection: Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte. I figured I'd just knock it out and get it over with and take it with me on the bus to the Head of the American River, to be consumed by a horde of hungry teenaged girls. That was when I pre-read the recipe and came upon these directions: "...stand back and carefully ignite..." and I thought, maybe I oughta wait until John gets home from work so he can either: a) man the fire extinguisher or b) call 911 or c) all of the above. Plus...mousse filling. Not really roadtrip friendly.

So last Thursday after John got home (so I'd have a spotter...you don't need one too often in the kitchen but every now and then when you attempt a particularly adventuresome maneuver it seems like a good idea) I made the brownie layer, cooled it, and left it in the fridge all wrapped up so I could go off on my chaperoning adventure and find it waiting for me when I got back.

The mousse layer was simple to put together and delicious to clean up from - I don't often lick the beater blade but if you were trying to seduce me with food and didn't have any chocolate, a mixture of mascarpone, sugar, and heavy cream would probably do the trick.

Would you like to see a little video of me almost losing my carefully tended eyebrows? I knew that you would:

And would you like to know how the torte turned out in general? I ate the little slice you see pictured above, just to try it before I served it to my family. It was the bomb! It's more like Cherry Garcia than weird cooked cherries, and the bottom layer was fudgy and chewy with little chunks of chocolate still whole. I ate it and then I wished I had time to lie down because it was definitely kind of heavy, but the flavors were interesting and went together very well. Thanks for this week's pick, April!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Head of the American River

After being home for what seemed like 20 minutes this week, Anna and I loaded ourselves and a few possessions onto a bus with the rest of the ZLAC girls and headed up to Sacramento for the Head of the American regatta. A few of you have expressed your deep sympathy for my situation, i.e., being trapped on a seemingly endless bus ride with 40 teenaged girls, but don't worry. I had my iPhone, my iPod, a book, some knitting, four other adults and a stream of teen movies to entertain me.

You can tell it's Anna by her black cap...she's the 2nd one from the left.

I hadn't seen (and was unlikely to, in other circumstances) Step Up 2 The Streets or Fired Up!...I actually laughed during Fired Up! so I either must've been really tired or suffering from all the teen hormones in the air on that bus. And Step Up 2 The Streets...well, I do secretly want to join a dance crew, so I was bound to enjoy that. We also watched Get Smart and Blades of Glory, which I slept through.

They remind me of my kids when they were still in high chairs!

The place the girls raced was very pretty: Nimbus Flats there on the American. It's surrounded by oak foothills and I was able to hike around on a couple of really nice trails while the girls weren't actively racing. I'm sure this place is a birder's paradise when there aren't a zillion rowers, and even so I got to see a flock of wild turkeys and lots of ducks and geese.

Really, how hard could a duck bite you with that bill?

The weather was fine and our canopies were right in front of the finish line, and we were shaded with the sun at our backs for the whole time...amazingly comfortable compared to the freezefest on the Charles last week!

I tried to sneak up on it, but the goose would have none of my petting, even for spaghetti!

The biggest entertainment came from the local waterfowl. We had a pan of leftovers that they went nuts over! After gorging themselves for a few minutes, they all ran down to the water, drank and drank, and then ran back to finish. You know how ducks shake their heads when they eat? They made a huge mess of themselves.

Sacramento Sunset

Belated Birthdays

I finally gave my friend her birthday Aestlight. Isn't she the very picture of fall? And she gave me this beautiful new project bag, stitched with her own hands. I needed a new bag, too - I'm all in Ziplocs right now!

Belated birthdays are so fun - presents when you least expect them!