Sunday, December 30, 2007

mood: disappointed.

as much as i love being Big and Gay about the holidays, i think that next year, the boy and i will be taking a trip to the Caribbean. i'm tired of not living up to my family's expectations.

end rant.

but seriously. anyone want to join us in St Lucia next year? happy new year from someplace warm?

i really am being serious here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

some random pics from the last week

seen while standing in the security line at atlanta's hartsfield airport.

near-full moon over belvedere.

south tower of the golden gate bridge at sunset.

the christmas tree in the atrium at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco.

me putting the finishing touches on the chocolate buche de noel.

maryland-style crab cakes.

flying over the Rockies.
no, i'm not dead. prior to christmas, i worked. a LOT. and i had a lot of work-related issues. then i traveled to the west coast; and now i don't feel so hot due to trying very hard to not come down with a cold (i'm remedying this by taking heavy doses of nyquil and red wine).

i ate this in a little restaurant in sausalito called Fish, where one can sit back and watch the houseboat community with great envy.

dungeoness crab, baby. weird to think that in all the years of childhood i spent in california, i never had it before. it was pretty darn good.

i'll write about christmas eve dinner at a later date, but christmas day, i made duck a l'orange (something i've never made before, but in all honesty, wasnt' that hard to
make). i had asked my mom to pick up some chicken stock from the store...

and she brought this dude home.

that picture is strangely creepy to me!

so i dismissed it by drinking some local sparkling. because, on christmas day, one must imbibe with some local Napa goodstuff while cooking. at least, that was my motto.

i'll write more in the next few days. right now, it's a nyquil fog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

my usual mass christmas gift

Years ago, my sister-in-law and I started making candy apples to give away as Christmas presents. It all started because we saw here and here that candy apples go for ridiculous amounts of money, and we thought, Hell we can do that.

Because it is totally doable, as long as you have refrigerator space (or the right weather - more on that below), counter space, and ample time on your hands.

When every Christmas season rolls around, I make my list of recipients, the Chosen Ones. Last year I overdid it to the extreme. I made around 30-something apples, and gave one to each of my coworkers and a bunch of other people who, in retrospect, didn't deserve one. And yes, I was a complete nut, and apparently had too much time on my hands. This year, the list is not nearly so long (and I have very little free time for extracurricular activities); most of the recipients are the boy's coworkers. This year, Mrs B decided to play along as well, and she has made her list of her Chosen Few who will receive an apple.

Making these isn't particularly hard, nor is it very expensive ... at least for me it's not because I tend to have a rather large chocolate and baking candy stash on hand and buy supplies throughout the year. In fact, the most expensive item for this grocery bill will be the apples. This year, I went to the Super H and walked around the produce section, scrutinizing all their apples. I decided to use the Fuji variety out of Washington, because they were the largest and prettiest I could find. next, I inspected each apple. you don't really want one with blemishes, although you'll be coating it so it doesnt really matter what color the skin of the apple is. but I do try to pick out the very best ones I can find. I picked each one up and checked it for bruising, for critter entry (e.g. worm holes), for smell. the boy was with me and ran off to do the rest of the produce shopping while I stood there picking out the Very Best apples I could find. don't be rushed doing this, either. this is really the main ingredient, after all, so you want to find the best ones. some years i've use Granny Smith's, and the combination of chocolate and tart green apple is really good - but the Fujis were calling to me this year.

next step is to wash your apples and take off any stickers they might have. I use Veggie Wash, because i've had the bottle for ages, but you could just as easily rub the outside of the apples with baking soda and water. This step is crucial, because caramel will not stick well at all if the apple still has its waxy coating. you really should wash all your fruit and veggies anyway.

while you're letting the apples air dry, you want to start on the caramel. you can do one of two things - make your own or buy those individually wrapped caramels from the candy aisle at the grocery. As much as I like making caramel, the store bought caramels have been my go-to for this project. I would prefer to make my own caramel, seeing as you control the ingredients, but sometimes I feel a bit odd making a large vat of caramelly napalm on the stove. {One day I was cooking barefoot and a drop, a mere drop of caramel fell and hit in between two of my toes. it was one of the worst pains i've ever felt. moral of the story? wear shoes when cooking}. The instructions on the side of the caramel bag says that one bag is enough to coat five apples. well, I don't know how much crack they smoke. I'm lucky if I can coat three apples out of one bag. Depending on the size of your apple and how thick a coating you put on will depend on how many bags of caramel you'll need. For the seventeen apples we made this year, we used six bags of caramel.

Unwrap each caramel and put it in a large saucepan. I've even used the slow cooker for this step, especially those years when i've made a lot of these. Add a couple of tablespoons of water and heat on low to medium low, while stirring and keeping an eye on it so as not to burn the bottom.

When all the caramels have melted, it's time to move on to the next step.

grab a couple of cookie sheets and line them in parchment; set aside. those little wooden sticks that come in the caramel bags? don't throw out, but save those for later. The apples are so big and will get so heavy, that the sticks will not hold them throughout the process. I use the sticks for decoration only, at the end. For now, take a fork and plunge it into the top of the apple. It helps if you have many forks. we used almost every fork we had in the house. then plunge the apple into the vat o' caramel, using a spoon to cover the areas which aren't getting dipped. Set the apple straight up on the cookie sheet and move on to the next one.

Normally, when I make these, it's about 40 degrees F outside. Last year, I kept my apples in the garage because it was fridge-like in temperature, perfect for storing apples temporarily, because before you move on to the next step, the caramel has to cool. The consistency of this caramel is between hard and soft, so it won't get totally rock-hard on your apple; but you also don't want it to be too soft and gooey. It has to stay put.

So we covered all of our apples on sunday, put them in my garage to wait for the next coating, which we planned on doing Monday night.


Monday afternoon, I got home from work and the house was hot. We're getting hit with unseasonably warm weather here in the ATL - and hitting record high temperatures. Insane. My first thought was to check on the apples, and oh my.

They still had some caramel on them, but the majority had melted and pooled around the base of each apple. I brought them into the kitchen and thought about what to do next.

Mrs B came over, and we brainstormed a bit. Neither one of us felt like making caramel or running to the store for caramels, so we washed our hands really well and carved off the caramel around the base of each apple to remelt. You will make a mess, you will get sticky, you can put food-safe gloves on if you want (but it's actually easier with bare hands). But this is fun, really. Think of it as fun! after remelting (and a lot of giggling), we took the forks out, drizzled the caramel over the apples and immediately put these into the fridge to cool. Problem solved.

While these were cooling, I fished around in the right hand side cabinet of my kitchen island to see what stuff i'd been stashing in there throughout the year, and came out with several bags of milk chocolate-peanut butter chips, Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips, and Heath bar toffee pieces. Gold! We mixed the milk chocolate-peanut butter chips with the semi-sweet chips, and put those to melt over a double-boiler.

Then, we ladled the chocolate onto the apples. I've dunked the apples into the chocolate before, so you can either do this; or put the chocolate into a squeeze bottle and channel your innner Jackson Pollock. the problem that I have with the squeeze bottles is that they tend to stop up all the time, and they're a pain in the ass to clean afterwards, so i'm always trying to figure out a new way to coat these suckers. We ladled the chocolate on each apple and spread it around the sides, and let it cool slightly before pressing Heath bar bits into the sides. Put the wooden sticks into the top of each apple, and then back into the fridge for another short slumber. And as you can see, i'm no real food snob. Country Crock (which, actually, i never use, it's the boy's), Publix brand egg nog, and a containter full of baked Pillsbury cinammon rolls sitting next to a baggie of haricots verts.

You can stop here if you'd like, or melt some white chocolate and with a fork (or squeeze bottle) produce some amazing looking modern art all over the apples (and your kitchen).

I package them up in treat bags from Michaels or Joann's, although if you're using the larger apple, you will have to find the Large Size treat bag, which can sometimes be hard to find. I couldnt find any this year at my usual haunts, so I paid a little extra for them at the Container Store (along with some absolutely gorgeous Christmas wrapping paper that my mom will adore). Tie a ribbon around the top, put a name tag on it if you want and give away. I would store these in the fridge (if you have room) or some other chilly area in your house until they're ready to give away to the mailman, your favorite coworker, your kid's teacher.

In years past, i've used Granny Smiths and rolled them in chopped peanuts and chopped M & Ms. it would also be nice to use a coconut white chocolate (Lindt makes some) and then roll in toasted coconut. Basically, your options are limitless here. these are fun to make, and people love to get them (well, except for my director last year, who probably threw it away). And there is absolutely no point in plopping down 22 bucks from Williams-Sonoma, unless you want it to be "perfect" looking. In the case of these apples, it's not a bad thing if they look totally whacked out, imperfect, and built up in candy.

Next year, Mrs B and I are going to buy inexpensive forks (or find them at yard sales) and just keep the forks in the apples when we give them away. There is something very satisfying-looking about that top picture, with the forks jutting out of the top of the apples (with laundry in the background). I'm just not willing to give up my good flatware this year.

Monday, December 10, 2007

the season of giving

When I was a wee little kid barely able to walk, my parents used to pile us three kids into the car and head over to a Christmas tree farm right outside of Novato, California. We'd walk around and inspect every tree, choose one, and watch my dad cut it down. and when we got bored with watching my dad, we'd go pet the sheep behind the fence (they had a petting zoo area). I remember one year when I insisted that we get this one particular tree; to me it seemed 20 feet tall, and it probably was, because pictures from that year's Christmas show a tree with the top cropped down about a foot so as not to hit the ceiling.

That farm is no longer there, and i'm sure by now new condos have been built over that ridiculously expensive land. About ten years ago, my dad and my sister's kids went searching all over Marin and Sonoma counties looking for tree farms, and finally found one in Petaluma, but Dad doesn't think that farm is there anymore either.

Whenever Christmas rolls around, I talk the boy's ear off about the Christmas tree farm of my youth. This past Friday night, the boy looked up from his computer and said, "I've a surprise for you!" and I blurted out, "Did you find a Christmas tree farm?". His face fell. "How did you know?"

When you've been with someone long enough, you start to read each other's minds. I just knew what he was talking about. and I was totally thrilled.

On saturday, we headed out bright and early with cash in hand to Bottoms Christmas Tree Farm in Cumming, GA (no snickering!). And memories from my youth were revived. We picked out the best tree and promptly named him Frank (we have a habit of naming our trees. Last year, it was Bing. Previous to that, there was Elvis). And I had the best time, walking around trying to find a good tree. My boy, he's good. He'd never been to a Christmas tree farm before, but the act of bringing his wife to one and watching her jump up and down for joy made him happy.

So from now on, we're getting all our future trees from the Bottoms farm, and I hope they stick around for a good long time.

While there, I picked up some pickled beets and squash rings for Charles' Christmas box. Charles will get the biggest kick out of it, especially because the labels say "Bottoms Christmas Tree Farm".

We had a little bit of trouble on the way back home, though. We had to get on 400 South and drive about a half hour, going 45 mph in the far right lane, because even though we'd secured Frank pretty well to the roof of the car, he was slipping a bit and I was positive that he'd go flying off and hit a car. I was making the boy crazy by staring through the sun roof at Frank and gasping every time Frank slipped. Then the boy noticed a mini van driving in the left lane next to us, a little bit behind, and going the same speed. The mini van followed us to our exit then moved on at normal speed. And we thought, How nice! this kind lady saw that we were freaking out (okay, I was the one freaking out) about the tree, and that we were driving really slowly, so she kept an eye on us the whole way. The whole time we had people flying by going 90 mph, and she stayed with us to ensure we got to our destination with no issues. And that small, insignificant act revived my hope in the humanity. I just don't get humans, especially these past few days with all these nutters running amok shooting people, ruining all kinds of lives. That one tiny act of kindness made a world of difference for me.

Frank is mostly decorated, complete with nativity scene and homemade star on the tippy top. The last thing I want to do (if i have the time) is to make my usual cookie ornaments. Normally, I make gingerbread ornaments, but the recipe is quite involved; so I was happy to see Dorie Greenspan's roll-out cookie recipe last week. I have a whole bunch of cookie cutters, stars, gingerbread men, dogs, and camels (I found a lot of these at yard sales) and in years past all kinds of shapes of cookies have gone up on the tree. I'm just kind of running out of free time these days, though, so i'm not 100% sure this will take place this year.

There's always next year.

UPDATE: I saw this and think it is a very clever way to hang cookie ornaments. i may have to try this out, as i'm always struggling with the size of the hole in the head of my gingerbread men ornaments. one particular ornament a few years back had a hanging hole right smack in the middle of his forehead, so i felt compelled to use royal icing and make Xs for eyes (it was all in fun - don't hate me). surprisingly, that ornament was a big hit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

MEME on you

I got tagged by Ann. and now you got meme tagged too.

I always enjoy these kind of meme tags because I like to write about myself. not because i'm an egotistical beotch, but because I like to remember things in my past. I recently wrote that I love to daydream, and man do I have that down to an artform. Daydreaming and reflecting on memories got me through Architectural Theory and Criticism in college. I thought i'd love the class, but the professor was a hard-ass and took all the fun right out of architecture.

What were you cooking/baking ten years ago?

Uh. let's see. this very month ten years ago, I was on a school break staying with my parents and working at Macy's. A woman I worked with had a Meyer lemon tree in her yard, and she gave me a huge paper bag full of lemons. I made a lemon tart with them. But the rest of that year, I lived on beans and rice, beans and rice, beans and rice. Hey, I was a poor college student.

What were you cooking/baking one year ago?

We were eating a lot of roast chickens last winter.

Five snacks you enjoy:

i absolutely adore Blue Diamond wasabi and soy almonds. i've eaten a whole can in 5 minutes and been very upset when i finished them. I also enjoy standing at the fridge with the doors open stealing pieces of cheese from the cheese drawer (we have a cheese drawer in the new fridge). Pistachios (not shelled - I like to put them whole into my mouth and then spit out the shells - classy!). Peanut butter on saltines - reminds me of childhood. Popcorn with hot sauce splashed all over it. i'm throwing in a 6th here; i love Utz brand potato chips, but those are a Pennsylvania/Maryland thing. Can't find them here.

Five recipes you know by heart:

Roast chicken. Rice Pilaf. How to make a good cup of coffee. Dauphinois potatoes (you don't need a recipe for that). Salad dressing.

Five culinary luxuries you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:

I would hire a gardener to keep track of the lovely and fantastic herb and veggie garden i'd have.
I would definitely have a bigger stove, 6 to 8 gas burners, with electric oven.
while we're at it, how about a walk-in fridge? oooh, and matching freezer!
and i would totally hire help to clean up after me.

Five foods you love to cook/bake:

Roast chicken.
Ice cream.
bread of any kind (because to me there is nothing better than the smell of bread baking).
pizza (same as the bread thing, love the smell of pizza dough baking on the stone)
fried eggs. i don't eat them often enough.

Five things you cannot/will not eat:

hmm. this is a hard one.

i don't think i'd eat one of those Thousand Year Old eggs.

and i don' t like kimchee that is overly fish saucy.

from my youth, my mom would buy andouillette from the butcher near her childhood home and haul it back to Paris, and the smell repulsed me enough to never want to eat it. but i tried some on my last trip to France, and I admit that the smell is much worse than the taste. I could eat it again, but make the executive decision not to.

Scrapple. Although I will eat the hell out of some pork roll. I guess that's a Northern thing; picked that up when we lived in Baltimore.

I can't think of a fifth.

Five favorite culinary toys:

a tiny little Nigella Lawson whisk
sugar cube tongs
pizza stone
suede oven mitts
the Boat Motor (stick blender)

Tagged are Carolina Girl, and my buddies Mrs B, Nathan, and Ashley (even though they don't have food blogs); and I humbly understand if you just don't feel like participating. Just poop on my parade, will ya.

and if you weren't tagged yet want to participate, well by all means do so.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

girl's night in

Patty invited me over to her house on Friday night so that we could watch Amelie. J asked me later if we sat around in skimpy nighties and had a pillow fight. Men are such dim bulbs. Of course that's what we did!

(eyes rolling)

Amelie has been out forever now - in fact, i think i may have a copy on VHS that Charles sent me but never watched as I don't have a VCR anymore. I'd never seen it. I wanted to see it. I really did. But for the past few years, everyone has been telling me I ought to watch it, and somewhere deep down, the rebellious teenager in me came out and I was just not going to have it. years ago this German dude I knew in Florida was waxing poetic about how damn great Dances With Wolves was and how I just had to get to the movie theater to check it out. That's all he talked about for days, which resulted in me not seeing the movie for about 10 years.

frankly, I don't know what my damn problem was.

and i'm going to have to rewatch Amelie soon, because Patty and I drank a bit too much while cooking and I had a tendency to start talking during key parts. We were having an animated discussion about wedding dresses and how they are ridiculously sized. As if women weren't already batty about their dress size, wedding dressmakers size their dresses even lower than industry standard. I'm surprised they don't just hand out sedatives and Kleenex at bridal boutiques.

part of the deal about going to Patty's was that we'd have a nice light dinner, to kind of compensate for overindulging during Thanksgiving. that meant, no cheese and crusty baguette, which is usually what we opt for when eating together. so we made shrimp curry with yogurt and peas, and I adapted that Cook's Illustrated recipe for it.

by the time this picture was taken, we'd imbibed a bottle of champagne and were on to the dessert wine I brought. it took us forever to do the mise en place (which you must to do before attempting any successful curry recipe; well, any recipe for that matter).

while we were cooking, Patty had the Arena Rock station playing on Comcast, so we rocked out to this gem.

I hadn't heard that song in about 20 years. and next? they played Slaughter. anyone remember that band? yikes. I do. and now I feel old.

I want to thank Patty for a lovely evening in, and thanks to Zack for sharpening his knife for me and having all the curry spices at hand. and i'm sorry I left your kitchen in a mess. I'm normally pretty good about doing dishes, but it was creeping on 1 am and I had to drive back to suburbia. I'm old and stuff. I don't like seeing 1 am.

Friday, November 30, 2007

it's magically delicious!

I was on the phone the other night with my mom, doing some preemptive damage control (at my father's bidding). Controlling damage for a possible situation that might happen in the near future. it's not so much different than what i do for a living, so i was happy to oblige.

the boy and i are going to visit my parents who live just north of San Francisco for a couple/few days over Christmas, so naturally the conversation with mom eventually turned to food. it pretty much always does (followed by the Very Exciting topic of weight and weight gain, which she always rolls around to at some point). in my family, we really "do it up" on Christmas Eve, with a more relaxed Christmas Day. My parents' house is where everyone always ends up on Christmas Eve; it's been that way for as far back as I can remember. since people show up randomly throughout the evening, Mom likes to serve food buffet-style, that way early people can graze and get bombed on champagne and greet late-comers with hearty cheers and glazed-over eyes. Mom likes to serve very special foods, some smuggled from France in the toe of a stocking in the bottom of her suitcase. I think she does this for two reasons: one, she likes the luxuries. and secondly (but probably most importantly), she likes to show off and have her relatives ooh and ahh and Ooh La La over it. i can't blame her. if i'd smuggled truffles and foie gras and the world's stinkiest cheese from France, i'd want that pat on the back and some recognition too, dammit.

Part of the preemptive damage control i was working on was to ensure that we spend Christmas Day at home (and not elsewhere, like, say, at an acquaintance's house an hour and a half away from where my parents live, acquaintance who is not very well liked in the family, and which would pretty much ruin Christmas as it did the last time the family was forced to go there). so i roped her into a technical discussion about the Christmas Day meal. we delved into the merits of serving a capon versus turkey, versus standing rib roast (what the boy, my dad, and i are rooting for), versus a stuffed tenderloin (she saw one in the Needless Markup catalogue and is thinking of replicating it).

Then we started talking about gifts. this is the first year that the boy and i aren't giving each other anything. honestly, we don't need anything. we have enough crap as it is. but we're getting our families some gifts. my mom announced that she wanted some pastry brushes from Williams Sonoma (who buys their pastry brushes from Williams Sonoma? are they that much better than the ones at Linens N Things? seriously? but then again, who buys their stuffed tenderloin from Neiman Marcus? WHO deserves to be smacked on the back of their head?). then she said she was going to give my brother's kids an ice cream maker for Christmas. because ice cream makers are for kids, apparently. two kids well under the age of 10.

Mom: "So you think the Cuisinart ice cream maker is a good gift for the kiddies?".
Me: "Uh yeah, i'm sure if they had guidance, and had an adult help them prepare it or watch over them, then yeah i guess it would be okay".
Mom: "What do you mean, an adult help them? I don't understand. Can't you just put everything in the machine and it automatically makes ice cream? so it's not for kiddies?"

POOF! just like magic!

Me: "Well, I have a Cuisinart ice cream maker".
Mom: "You do? but you're not a kiddie!".

i'm all about kids in the kitchen, but i think the Cuisinart ice cream maker is not an age-appropriate gift for two kids who'd rather watch The Wiggles and Tom & Jerry than stare at cream simmering on the stove. am i wrong?

Monday, November 26, 2007

on rain and turkey

i'm sure everyone in atlanta had a nice relaxing weekend, but that was all thrown out the window this morning when the rain started. because, Rain? what is that? suddenly, all ability to drive, all logic and common sense is thrown out the window. people in atlanta do not know how to drive in the rain (and don't get me started on snow - you might as well just stay home on those rare occasions)**. it took me an hour to get to work this morning; and just when i thought i'd made it, i almost got hit in the parking garage of my building. some shmo who was pissed off that another lady stole his spot decided to slam on the accelerator while veering around her; if i hadnt jumped backwards about two feet i'd have been hit. i yelled out, "HEY! WATCH WHAT YOU'RE DOING, DUDE!" but he just blinked at me and sped away.

and then i realized how silly i sounded by screaming out DUDE at 8 am. especially while wearing 3 inch heels.

i have plenty to write about regarding thanksgiving, and lots of pictures to show, but not today (sorry!). i recently purchased a domain name (yay!) and will be migrating Things and Stuff over there, so i spent the entire weekend swearing at my computer because i can't get Things and Stuff to work properly. i am totally in over my head when it comes to All Things Computer Related. 8 years ago i would have been able to do this stuff, but i'm out of practice, which resulted in me getting pretty grumpy. i want it to work, dammit. i'm willing it to work.

so anyway, i'll keep you posted on that grumpy progress. in the meantime, here's something to tide you over, even though i just know we're all sick of the sight of turkey at this point (i'm so leftovered-out i could scream).

yes, your eyes do not deceive you. we had not one but two turkeys this year. not because we were feeding hoards of people, mind you. but only because we are gluttons; fools, really. the boy discovered the joys of deep-fried turkey this year and decided to make it for thanksgiving. but more than anything, he loves his roast turkey; so instead of tossing a coin and figuring out which one to make, he made both.

** this rant isn't against the rain itself, because i realize that we're in a drought and georgia needs rain. so i'm not complaining about that. i'm being a complainy-pants about the drivers on GA400 South. end rant.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

on Thanksgivings past

this thursday marks the seventh Thanksgiving that the boy and i will spend together. Thanksgiving is the boy's favorite holiday, and we whoop it up right. to get inspired (not that we need much more inspiration since our minds are going a mile a minute), we spend full evenings discussing menu options and watching all the Thanksgiving-related shows on OnDemand. we get ridiculous about the planning. i wouldn't want it any other way.

while falling asleep last night, i thought about all my Thanksgivings past; and even though the majority were good, the ones that are the most memorable are the ones where things weren't perfect. for instance, the Thanksgiving when i was 16 and living in France. my mom was visiting relatives in the States and it was just going to be my dad and I for dinner. i was a bit down because i knew we wouldn't have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but my dad told me not to worry! he had a Master Plan, and he would provide an honest-to-goodness Real Thanksgiving Dinner for me when i got home from school. i was a bit skeptical. for one, November isn't the time for turkeys in France; maybe times have changed in the last twenty years, but back then you couldn't find a turkey for at least another month. and cranberries? not to be found. not indigenous to those parts. so i got home to find my dad with a big grin on his face, all pleased with himself. i sat down to dinner. and on my plate was a cornish hen with mashed potatoes and groseilles en gelée. i'm sure the look on my face spoke volumes, so my dad said, "Just pretend it's turkey!".

man, what a snot-nosed brat i was.

then there's thanksgiving 1988, when i was attending the University of Florida. i hitched a ride with some friends to Miami, so that i could spend Thanksgiving with my American grandmother. a lot of my dad's relatives would be there, and my parents showed up as well. that Thanksgiving is memorable because i vividly remember my mom and my grandmother arguing over the stuffing. my grandmother wanted pecan and cornbread stuffing, while my mother wanted to "class it up" with chestnut and oysters. this escalated into a huge argument, ending with them not speaking to each other for the rest of the weekend. i don't remember who won (i think we ended up with both dressings), but i'll always remember my grandmother's determination, "You just can't put chestnuts in the stuffing! not in my house! that's just not right!"

there were some Thanksgivings in my early 20s which were memorable but in a different way, and frankly i'd prefer not to remember those. those are best left in the dark of my brain, never to be revisited.

and last year, well. you can read about that here . i sincerely hope that the power doesn't go out this year!

this year, it'll be just three of us. usually we feast in the late afternoon, and by then J will be there after spending the first part of the day with his own family. the boy and i have extended invites to all kinds of people, but everyone we know here in Atlanta already have plans or family to go to. so it'll be the three of us for dinner, with Mr & Mrs B showing up for dessert and some grazing in the kitchen. last year they came over in the early evening and Mrs B and i stood at the stove, grazing on the leftovers of the 22 lb turkey. this year, even though we're such a small crowd, we're having not one but TWO turkeys; one brined and roasted, and the other brined and deep fried. i know it is excessive, but we do feast on leftovers for days quite happily, and the boy always makes turkey noodle soup. i feel guilty, in a way, that we're able to splurge monetarily and gastronomically regarding this holiday. i know a lot of people don't have the good fortune that the boy and i have, and i am truly thankful that we are able to do this.

here's to all of you out there, wishing you good memories and full bellies this Thanksgiving. please remember the things you are thankful for, people long gone, and call the people you love who can't be with you.

me, i'm going to call my Dad and thank him for all the trouble he went through in 1985 to ensure that we'd have a nice family meal together.

Monday, November 19, 2007

martha stewart

i have issues with Martha Stewart. okay, just one issue. up until the point where i had the bad fortune of meeting her at a booksigning, i always liked her a lot. but i read that her mother died this past weekend and that makes me a bit sad. Food Network used to air her show (and then pulled it after she got sent to the pokey - the show is now on Fine Living), and i liked watching the episodes when Martha Senior was on. she was really cute, and the Marthas together had a good dynamic. Martha Kostyra, rest in peace.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

quick and dirty way to make preserved lemons

A couple of months ago when i was in between jobs and had a lot of time on my hands, i cooked a lot. one of the things i made was preserved lemons, something that i've been yearning to try for years now. i'm occasionally running across some recipe that calls for two tablespoons of sliced preserved lemons or something or other, and it was always such a letdown that i couldn't make the recipe immediately. a "real" preserved lemon takes, what, a month to make? it's encased in salt and left to hang out and do it's thing in a container at room temperature. i think Nigella Lawson has one that can be done in the freezer and takes less time.

so when the boy told me he had a preserved lemon recipe that took a day or over night to make, i begged him to share it. I call it the Quick & Dirty Way to make preserved lemons.

this is not a traditional preserved lemon because, as you'll see, it's way more fragrant and has more spices in the mix than an honest-to-goodness authentic one. but if you're longing to make your house smell fantastic, put aside a day to do this; put Casablanca or even Lawrence of Arabia on the DVD player, and daydream that you're transported to North Africa. i've never been, but i imagine this is what a Moroccan spice market smells like (I've a vivid imagination, and daydreaming is something i'm no stranger to).

10 lemons, cut in half vertically. you'll first want to scrub them clean, including any green ink left over from the word "sunkist"
1 stick cinnamon
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon white peppercorns (I didn't have any so I used pink peppercorns)
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup sugar
5 sprigs thyme
1/4 bunch parsley
1/4 cup kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot:

Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Do not feel like you should stir this while cooking; in fact I insist that it's best left untouched.

Remove from heat and cool, then put in the fridge until completely chilled. Repeat steps 2 and 3 four or five times until lemons are tender (it may only take 3 passes, my batch did). you will know when they've been through enough passes when the lemon rinds look and feel totally smooshy.

Cool and store in a container, including all the liquid, in the fridge. This will keep about 3 to 4 weeks. Your house will smell like a Moroccan marketplace, minus the smelly camel dung and B.O.

this is what mine looked like after the first pass on the heat:

second pass:


I'm throwing in the boy's recipe for preserved lemon oil, which can be useful for a lemon-garlic aioli, among other things. this recipe makes an enormous quantity, so do some fractions if you want just a little bit.

3 preserved lemons - gently cleaned of excess spices - leave as much inside flesh as
possible, then quarter.
4 cups canola oil

Puree preserved lemons in food processor.

Add canola oil and puree more.

Store in a clear container in the fridge , shake occasionally.


handmade gift

“I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.”

i saw this on ann's blog, who recently befriended (be-blogged?) me via serious eats. ann's got a great blog and has inspired me to earnestly makeover our kitchen walls with art of some sort (sorry Boy!).

so, you're tagged.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

on waffles

i don't get a craving for waffles, but every once in a while the boy does. so on those days, out comes our cheap little waffle iron. it was all of 7 dollars at a Target sale a few years ago, and we couldn't pass up on it. if we made waffles every weekend, that thing would have probably keeled over by now; but it gets used maybe once every 4 months, so it suits us perfectly.

the recipe we've been using for the past few years is this one from emeril. i can't eat more than two waffles in one sitting, and neither can the boy; so i make a whole batch and put them in a ziplock bag in the fridge so that the boy can eat them for breakfast for the rest of the week. these also freeze beautifully; freeze in one layer for a bit then store in a ziplock and pop them in the toaster when you want one. better than an Eggo, i tell ya.

one of these days i'm going to have to try that Southern speciality, fried chicken and waffles. i'm actually surprised i haven't tried that yet, seeing as i've lived on and off in the South for almost 20 years.

Friday, November 16, 2007

i'm probably touching a raw nerve here with some folks, but who cares.

Being half-French and growing up in France is not the first thing i usually tell people about myself when I meet them in person (except if you've run across this blog, but that's another thing altogether). I don't have any French friends here, and i really ought to go seek some out because i do yearn to speak French and do "French things" on occasion. i might join the Alliance Française; who knows.

however, in the past few years, i find that if i tell people i grew up in France, i come across as pretentious. i think it's because i dont have an accent when i speak English (which is a shame, really; i adapted too easily), so some people naturally assume that i'm full of shit. this kind of used to bother me, but the older i get, the more i dont care. i find it rather amusing now.

when we moved to Maryland in 2001, my sister-in-law was friends with a man whose future wife was a self-proclaimed francophile. i looked forward to meeting said future wife, because she apparently spoke some French, and unless i'm on the phone with family, i don't get to speak French very often. imagine my surprise when i was introduced to the girl and she shunned me. i thought, Here's a chick who spent a high school year in Provence, whose house is full of stupid touristy so-called French crap (eiffel tower trinkets, posters of rolling fields of lavender, the kind of slum - as my Dad calls it - you'd never find in a French household), and upon being introduced to me, turned her nose up and looked away. now, why is that?

i dont get my feelings hurt anymore because of people like her. i just deem them not worth being friends with. i have come to a conclusion though (and i'm not sure that i'm right, but it seems to be the only logical conclusion to describe her behavior; and most importantly, it satisfies me). before i met her, this woman was the center of attention amongst all of her friends because she was "worldly" and "cultured" and had supposedly spent a fair amount of time in Provence, which is where my mom's family is from. and here i come into the picture, and i'm a threat. even though we have different circles of friends and i'm by no means an attention whore when i'm out with people, she saw me as a threat to her carefully planned French aura. her mother was much the same; when a few years later i was invited to the girl's baby shower (shocking that i even got an invite), her mother's house was overly-decorated in what she called "Provençal country" style. i tried to initiate conversation with the mom, without sounding the least bit cocky or snobby, but no go. the minute this woman found out that i'd actually grown up in France, she would no longer have anything to do with me.

weird how people are.

end rant. back to the regularly scheduled program, e.g trying to find liquor store that actually carries the Beaujolais Nouveau today.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

on the Beaujolais Nouveau

At this exact moment, my buddy Charles is sitting on the curb in front of his favorite wine store in Williamsburg VA waiting for it to open. But booze stores don't open this early, you say. That's right; they don't. But Charles has an "understanding" with the owner of this particular shop. Every year on the third Thursday in November for as far back as I've known Charles, he sits on the curb out front of this particular store until the owner notices him, which prompts the owner to unlock the door and let Charles buy a case of Beaujolais Nouveau. Charles feels it would be an intrusion if he knocks on the door, so he graciously sits outside until he's noticed.

I have heard nothing - and i mean, Nothing - about this year's BN. I normally celebrate along with the rest of the pleebs. I've hosted gatherings in the past, been to the French Consulate dinners in San Francisco, and went to a good party last year hosted by a francophile friend of Patty's. I usually scour the web looking for related articles on the subject on the days leading up to The Day to find out what the weather was like prior to the grapes being picked, what the experts are saying, what the French are saying.

But this year, nothing. I almost forgot about it, to be honest. I've got so much going on right now, and on top of that I keep forgetting that we're already half way through November and that Thanksgiving is in one week. (How is that possible? Dear Boy, we better get on the task of finalizing our menu and shopping, ¡rapidamente!).

I'll email my mom in a little bit to find out what she thinks of this year's release (she's currently in Paris, braving the lovely transit strike by schlepping all over town in high heels; this is the same woman who rode a camel in Morocco wearing Prada boots). And I will spend part of my lunch hour calling the liquor stores close to my house to see if they've got their shipment in. I had a heckuva time last year finding some On That Day.

Happy Beaujolais Nouveau day to all of you!

Friday, November 9, 2007


Five things about me that my friends may not know.

1. I’ve never eaten at an Olive Garden.

Shouldn’t I get some kind of award for this? huh?

2. In the late 90s, I bought a pink garlic braid at the local marché in Aix-en-Provence, and was determined to get it back to my US home kitchen. Now, I’m not a good liar. I have no poker face. I had the hardest time containing my horror when I arrived at US Customs at San Francisco Int’l and saw not one but two happy waggy tailed dogs sniffing around the bags. I was traveling with my mom and gasped, “But what if they take my garlic?” She said, “Don’t be stupid. Keep your mouth shut. Watch me, I do it all the time”. When the stoic customs agent asked me if I’d brought back any foodstuff from overseas, I quit twitching enough to stammer out a “No”. Okay, so I know people have done much, much worse. My mom brings back whole grocery bags of unpasteurized cheese and saucisson and doesn’t bat an eyelash when interrogated. But I always find myself giggly and embarrassed in front of authority, even if I’ve done nothing wrong.

3. I spent the summers of my 16th and 17th years flying gliders in Germany. Our landing strip was used at night by a local sheep farmer, so in the mornings when we pushed the planes out, it would be a minefield of poop. And every morning, everyone would scream out “Schaf Scheiße!” in unison. Incidentally, it was during my first summer there that I drank beer for the first time. I got hammered on two Becks beers, wandered away from a party, and got lost in the woods in rural Germany. Around 5 am, I found the main road and hitchhiked back to the compound.

Moral of the story: Now, I don't recommend that women hitchhike, especially naive 16 year olds. But if you had to hitchhike, Germany is the place to do it. Germans are the nicest people ever.

4. When the boy and I were first dating, I didn’t know he could cook. Three entire months into our relationship, I get to his house one evening and he’s made a really nice dinner. I asked him why he was holding out on me for so long, and he said, “I wanted to make sure you were worth it”.

I’ve never let him live this one down.

5. When I was 7, the cafeteria at my school served cow brains as the entrée for lunch (this was a typical French school lunch back in the day). My entire class refused to eat. In an effort to get us to eat, my teacher announced that no one would get any dessert unless we ate at least some of the brains. And do you know what dessert was? Chocolate cake. I was determined to get that damn cake; I did what all kids do when they’re being force fed something they don’t like. I plugged up my nose with the thumb and index finger of my left hand, picked up a fork in my right hand and shoveled those brains into my mouth. I was the only kid that day who got chocolate cake. I don’t remember the brains being all that bad though, except maybe texture-wise.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

on the Almighty Mini Moo

I havent brought my one-cup french press into the New Big Corporate yet, because I wasnt sure if that would look pretentious. See, i'm the New Girl; and rumor has it that she was hired to spy on everyone for the Main Corporate Office (not true). It's been hard making friends here (which has actually made it easy to focus on work). I figured i'd wait a little bit before bringing in my tiny french press and good coffee as i don't want to add to their rumor mill.

the breakroom here is equipped with this machine which dispenses a myriad of teas and coffee (like my 25 cent word there? myriad? okay, i watched Heathers far too much in my youth). there is also a display of Lipton Tea and Bigelow's Green Tea. I usually stick with trusty Lipton's, and i've been using the occasional Mini Moo in it.

so i'm sitting here this morning, drinking Lipton's with one Mini Moo in it, and i had a momentary thought about Gee - Exactly What Is In This Thing? and how many calories have i been ingesting? so i did a little Googling and found this.

Land O' Lakes Mini Moo. Ingredients: Grade A Milk and Creme, Sodium Citrade, Carrageenan, DATEM, and Tetra Sodium Pyrophosphate.

Calories: 15. Total Fat: 1g. Sodium: 10 mg. Shelf Life: 2 months.

I'm a little bothered that this is considered dairy yet is stored at room temperature. and if you don't follow the instructions and shake first - well, the product is a bit separated. Coagulated, if you will.

i just looked up the last three ingredients, which all do more or less the same thing (thicken, gel, etc), but that last one, Tetra Sodium Phyrophosphate? it's listed as "a slightly toxic and mildly irritating colorless transparent crystalline chemical compound".

This isn't much better than the alternative, which is to use the powdered creamer which is also provided in the breakroom. First ingredient on the side of that container is Corn Syrup Solids.

so i've been flying through these things at a rate of 4 a day or so - depending on how many cups of tea or coffee i've been drinking, and now i'm kind of worried. i going to bring in my own milk starting tomorrow.

Side note: yearsss ago I worked in Ocala Florida (I lived in Gainesville but couldn't find a job there, so i got a job working at a hotel in Ocala). One of the girls i worked with was married to an Official Butter Taster at Land O' Lakes. Apparently, Butter Tasters make boatloads of money. But before you get all excited and decide you want to switch careers (taste butter for a living! hell yeah!), here's the kicker: the husband was forced to eat an extremelly bland and plain diet. He was not allowed to eat salt, pepper, hot sauce; no FLAVOR of any kind was to be introduced into his food for fear that it would intrude with his butter tasting abilities.

Would you be able to do this? Swap money for taste buds? I don't think I could.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

pumpkin... pie?

My neighbor Mrs B sent me this. It's right up my alley of big-n-gayness.

Hope everyone has a happy halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

a big pot of chili

it was 43 degrees outside when i woke up this morning (62 in the house). actually, when i first woke up i couldn't move because Mrs. P had hopped up on the bed and was so smooshed up against me that she had pinned down the blankets, and i felt like i was in a cocoon.

mental note to switch out blankets tonight; on goes the down comforter.

i'm pleased that this cooler weather has us making comforting dishes. i did end up making french onion soup on sunday (used a Julia Child recipe), and we will be dining on that tonight along with sandwiches. when i walked through the door last night after an especially long Monday at work, i was greeted with this.

this is a wendy's chili knock-off recipe, which the boy added chopped jalapeno, garlic powder, and tabasco sauce to. i made the cornbread when i got home, and normally i do make it from scratch. but last night i just grabbed one of those jiffy box mixes and followed the recipe plus added a few tablespoons of sugar and let the mix set for a few minutes before putting in the oven to bake. say what you want, but those jiffy cornbread mixes are cheap and handy to keep around. and the added sugar? that's a northern thing (i think). the boy prefers his cornbread that way.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

on pumpkins and pumpkin pie

When i was 20, i was a nanny to a high-strung 5 year old child i'll call DiDi. DiDi's mom ran a male modeling agency in Paris. she asked me to meet her at her office for my interview, and I showed up and giggled my way through it, what with all the eye candy standing around posing and trying to get their schedules from her. Lord knows why she gave me the job in the first place, because I acted like a total dweeb when I met her.

DiDi clung to me like glue. She was high-strung because her mom was always working or at work-related fashion functions and her dad was a male model and never around (the parents weren't together. the mother, a lesbian, made what i'm sure was a very expensive arrangement with one of the most attractive gay models at her agency. Needless to say, DiDi was a gorgeous kid). Sometimes when DiDi was having one of her tantrums, i'd pop a movie in the VCR and sit her in front of it, and she'd sit there completely mesmerized. one of the movies we watched the most was Disney's Alice in Wonderland, and i will say now that it happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. i love nonsense (one of my favorite authors is Edward Lear, who wrote my all-time favorite poem The Owl and the Pussycat). i own a copy of Alice in Wonderland on tape someplace, although i can't watch it because we gave our VCR away when we last moved to Atlanta. (Dear Boy, this is a less-than-subtle hint to please find a copy of said movie for me in your broad innernet travels and burn it. thank you, love Me).

anyhoo - so i love AiW, and for a while when i lived in Savannah my answering machine message played the sound bite of the cheshire cat saying, "Can you stand on your head?". I love the cheshire cat, i think he's the bomb; and when i found a pumpkin carving pattern of him on the good ol' web, i couldn't resist.

I meant to take pictures of lit pumpkins last night, but forgot. We were busy roasting pumpkin seeds at the time. and my carving doesn't remotely look like the cheshire cat, more like the Grinch. who's another favorite of mine, so i'm not all that sad about it.

We have now entered into my absolutely favorite season of all time. I get really excited at the beginning of fall and spring because of the weather change, the colors, the smells, and the new and fresh culinary options available. Which reminds me that I want to make soup today, although I’ve no idea what kind. I’ll probably wind up making French onion soup, which will give me an opportunity to use up some of that beef stock I made last month.

The boy informed me yesterday, when we were out and about in our travels (running errands) that he really wanted pumpkin pie, which made me very excited, because I had just caught up on blog reading and was drooling over pictures of Joe Pastry’s pumpkin squares. I didn’t use Dorie Greenspan’s recipe as I don’t have that book (but am adding it promptly to my wish list), so I used the recipe on the site and added rum, as Joe suggested. I also took Joe’s advice on using my baking stone to cook the pie on.

I’m still kind of new to pie making, although it’s not scary anymore (once you’ve figured out how to make pie dough and go through those motions, all will be right with the world). And I loved the silky texture of the pie and the fact that it wasn’t ridiculously sweet, which is my problem with all holiday pies. Pecan pie is so good, but the kind my dad makes calls for an entire cup or so of corn syrup. foul, evil stuff. When I make this again, I will definitely make some sweetened and/or booze-laden whipped cream to serve alongside.

I also think I rolled the dough out too thinly. The boy said he would have liked more crispiness in his crust, so I think it’s a combination of the dough being too thin and I probably didn’t pre-bake it enough.

Another reason I wanted to make this is because we’re going to visit my folks in San Francisco for Christmas, and I want to help make some good food. this is part 1 of me trying to perfect my pie skills before i head out there. I think this pie would please my mom for the fact that it’s not overly sweet.

then again, watch me not make pie while i' m out there.

Happy Halloween to you all.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

and what did we do with the leftovers?

well, i'm eating mine for breakfast this morning.

not the healthiest thing in the world to eat for breakfast, but who cares? sometimes you just gotta have a meatloaf sandwich. and it's not like i'm filling up on hashbrown casserole from cracker barrel.

Friday, October 19, 2007

in honor of National Meatloaf Appreciation Day

so yesterday, i tried to catch up on some food blog reading and noticed, via the Serious Eats website, that it was National Meatloaf Appreciation Day. which prompted me to text message the boy.

me: Today is Nat'l Meatloaf Appreciation Day

15 minutes go by.

me: And then monkeys flew outta my butt

which prompted him to call me.

him: "So what are you trying to tell me? are we supposed to have meatloaf tonight?"
me: "Well, it was just a thought. But I wont be home until late". (i had an appointment with my hairdresser later).
him: "It'll take too long. Let's make something else".
me: "Okay lets just have big salads with grilled chicken".
him: "Sure thing".

I fully anticipated coming home to grilled chicken salad. But to my surprise, the boy made meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I guess he got the taste in his mouth for some meatloaf and nothing but meatloaf would do. he's good, my boy.

Years ago when i lived in Savannah, my buddies and I would go eat at Paula Deen's restaurant, because it was cheap and there was a buffet. which means that poor college students could go there and fill up to their hearts content. it was long before Miz Deen became popular on the Food Network. i had her first cookbook back then, and i've used the basic meatloaf recipe ever since. Say what you will about her (and God knows i do), but her food is no frills and sometimes that's exactly what you want and need.

I never had meatloaf growing up. Sure, i had the French versions all the time (pâté is more or less a meatloaf, if you want to get technical). but i never ever had meatloaf for dinner until i was 17 and went to visit my American grandmother in Florida. the first night the boy met my mom (poor boy), she parked his butt in a chair across from her and proceeded to interrogate him like the Catholic inquisition until he was sweating. she asked him pointedly about his "intentions" (we were engaged by that time), direct and indiscreet questions about his family, about his political views, about why he liked working with food. the poor boy, who'd only heard about Mothra through my dad, my brother and I, held up well. during that conversation, he mentioned that i did a fair amount of cooking as well. Mothra said, "Oh yes? she cooks? No. she doesn't cook". He replied, "No, she really does cook well. Sometimes we have meatloaf...", and before he could proceed any further, she cut him off. "Meatloaf ? Mais, what ees that? Meatloaf?". Then stared at my dad, accusingly, as if it was his fault, being American, that i cooked this atrocity. "We never eat that een thees family. Where deed you learn about meatloaf? Mais, c'est pas bon, ça!".

I've heard of people using the Joy of Cooking's meatloaf recipe and replacing the liquid in the recipe with Guinness. This is something that i will eventually try. because Guinness? so good. i definitely have to be in the mood for one, and now that it's truly fall, at least it certainly feels like it today (this is a happy, good thing), i'm jonesin' for one. well, maybe for later. it's still early morning here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

barbecue and stuff

I have to make this kind of snappy because i'm at New Big Corporate and i'm not sure what their rules are regarding surfin' around and bloggin' and stuff. however, i am severely behind on all blogging, as you can tell. i'm also severely behind on all blog reading. i have no idea what's been going on out there in the world of the innernets. we just watched the finale of Top Chef on Tuesday night (this past tuesday night - yes), so until we watched it, i couldn't permit myself to lurk on anyone else's blog because then that would have spoiled all the fun, wouldnt it have? and how come Dale didn't win? he ought to have won just from the lamb recipe alone. lamb cooked in duck fat, jesus h. christ. he will coast to heaven on a rickshaw pulled by cabana boys in hot pants, much to saint peter's shock.

so even though i've been behind on all things blog, i actually haven't been cooking of late. the New Big Corporate has me working odd hours, such as coming in late and staying late. i am an early person; i used to be at work at Old Big Corporate no later than 7 am. this Coming In Late thing, i dont know what to make of it yet. my usual routine is shot. i haven't been kickboxing, and i most certainly haven't been cooking. in fact, i called the boy yesterday while stuck on 285 East while trying to merge on GA 400 North and asked him to order a pizza because i was starving and about to eat my steering wheel.

But i ate this in Raleigh.

oh sweet jebus, barbecue is good. This picture shows a tub o' Noth Cahrolanah style barbecue, a tub of Brunswick stew, and a tub of baked beans. I've had my fair share of Brunswick stew from Carey Hilliards when i lived in Savannah, but i'd never tried NC barbecue before. there is no sauce, not a touch of red in there (except for the spice). the meat is seasoned with a fair amount of vinegar. i'm all about that. i ate the hell out of this while there, then brought some home for the boy to try.

i like sauce, though, so i don't think that NC barbecue is my favorite kind, but i wouldn't kick it out of bed.

anyway, back to the ol' grind.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

on what i've been up to

can you believe it's october already? i have no idea where the month of september went. and i do apologize for my lack of posts. you'd think since i'm currently in between jobs that i'd be blogging like crazy. not so. last week was busy, and i actually have a new job (!) which starts next monday. not bad for a girl who was hungover during the interview (in my defense, i had no idea i'd be interviewing that day; i got the call for the interview that morning. which prompted me to lift up my eye mask, scrutinize the caller ID, and groan, "You've got to be kidding me". so i go from one Big Corporate to another Big Corporate - go figure. i just got back from peeing in a cup for said new job. i've never been drug tested for a job before, so this was a new experience for me. and i giggled a lot. why? who the hell knows? it just seemed like the thing to do. "here - go pee in this cup. when you're done, do not flush or wash, just walk out here and hand me the cup. then you can go flush and wash". isn't that a riot? well. i thought so.

so since i only have this week off before i have to Start Dressing and Acting Like an Adult Again, i'm off to Raleigh tomorrow to visit the in-laws for a couple of days. i haven't seen them since new year's, and my sister in law and i are pretty great friends and i do miss her a lot.

i was going to bake something to bring along, like cookies or a smooshy cake, but i just don't have it in me today (again, i'm hungover - i've been awake since 5:15 am sporting a good sized headache). it was all i could do to run to the grocery store, trader joe's for dried fruit for the sister-in-law, and the pee in a cup thing. i'm actually contemplating a short nap here in my immediate future, before i get up and pack up the car and figure out the best driving route to get to NC.

i'll blog in depth about some of these things later, but i just wanted to show you what i've been up to the past three weeks.

preserved lemons.

a 10-pound roast chicken, which i brined first. the boy said that this was the best roast chicken he's ever had. :)

southern style cornbread with bacon (this went with the big pot of texas style chili i made).

beef stock.

three kinds of chicken wings. we ate these on our anniversary, which is why there are glasses of bubbly up front.

anyway - this girl needs a nap. i've a dog moaning from the top of the stairs wanting some attention, so i better get to it. nothing like falling asleep with your arms around a big smooshy dog. see you all when i get back from raleigh in a few days.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

not remotely food related

so i'm sitting here minding my own business after a long week at work (that's a joke! get it! long week at work! ha! ok nevermind). so anyway, today i've been making chili and cornbread, which maybe i'll blog about someday. and j is over, so we're watching college football. and at 7:44 pm Eastern Standard Time on the dot, Saturday night college football started, and a little ditty came on and i looked at the television and who should it be but Perry Farell, on stage with two other shmuckaroos, singing about how great Saturday Night College Football is.

Did you get that part about Perry Farell?

Singing about how great college football is? while wearing sparkly pants?

I have no idea what to think. that's like saying trent reznor sold out to Nascar. okay okay, perhaps not that extreme.

nothing to see here. move along.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

lunch for a friend

my friend Mrs. B teaches 6th grade special ed, and since i'm not doing anything these days, i decided to bring her lunch. but not just any lunch; it had to be good. no pb & j here! although having said that, i do like pb & j a lot. and it probably would have transported me back to childhood, to eat pb & j in her classroom. but i wanted better than that.

whatever i made had to be easily transportable, so i sat down and went through some cookbooks (incidentally, i catalogued them yesterday - did i say i was bored? and we have 120 cookbooks and food-related books in our library. we have more that have been loaned out and i know of two steven raichlen books that have gone "missing" and for all i know they're in the box of occult and anne rice books in the garage. so 120 is the low end there). the boy suggested i make something of the barefoot contessa's, because a lot of her stuff is portable. and as soon as he said that, i knew exactly what i wanted to make.

Caesar Club Sandwich
From Barefoot Contessa At Home

Serves 3 (generously!)

2 split (1 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
good olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces thinly slices pancetta (i used bacon)
1 large clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
1 large ciabatta bread
2 ounces baby arugula
12 sun-dried tomatoes in oil
2 to 3 ounces shaved Parmesan (use a peeler for this)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan skin side up. Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. Cool slightly, discard the skin and bones, and slice meat thickly. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the pancetta (or bacon, in my case) on another sheet pan in a single layer. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes until crisp (closer to a half hour for bacon). Set aside to drain on paper towels.

Place the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until minced. Add the anchovy paste, mustard, lemon juice, and mayo and process again to make a smooth dressing. (Refrigerate the dressing if not using immediately).

Slice the ciabatta in half horizontally and separate the top from the bottom. Toast the bread in the oven, cut side up, for 5 to 7 minutes; cool slightly. Spread the cut sides of each piece with the dressing. Place half the arugula on the bottom piece of bread and then layer in order: the sun-dried tomatoes, shaved parmesan, pancetta, and sliced chicken. sprinkle with salt and pepper and finish with another layer of arugula. Place the top slice of ciabatta on top and cut in thirds crosswise. serve at room temperature.

i've been dying to make this recipe for a while, and i'm irritated with myself because i was running low on time while assembling and forgot to take pictures of the sandwich before cutting. trust me, it is impressive! the flavors marry so well together. the recipe says it makes three servings, but you'll see that each portion is so huge that you can share with someone else. i stopped by the boy's work on the way to the middle school and dropped off his "serving", which he shared with the executive chef. he had suggested i used shaved Asiago, so i used a mix of both parmesan and Asiago. later, he suggested that next time i cut the sun-dried tomatoes into slivers, as they would be easier to eat that way.

I wrapped each piece in plastic wrap, packed up some pretty disposable plates with big huge gardenias on them (i do have my big, gay, and girly moments sometimes), and brought along a big tupperware of mixed greens, which i dressed when i got to the school with a simple vinaigrette (1 clove chopped garlic, salt and pepper, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and olive oil, put it in a container with tight fitting lid and shake like hell. the amount of vinegar and oil is up to your taste). growing up, we had salad every single night with dinner, and this was the dressing we used. if you need help with basic dressings and sauces, i suggest purchasing Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, which is my absolute favorite "cookbook" ever. it's basically a condensed version of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Oh, and anchovies. if you don't already know this. a bit of advice: don't advertise that there are anchovies in your dressing. well, most people like them and will get over it; but a few will not deal with that well. i once brought homemade tapenade to a party in DC and i was going through the list of ingredients with one of the guests who immediately looked disgusted with me and life in general when i mentioned anchovies. people assume the worst, but honestly you cannot get a better source of savoriness for things like caesar dressing without them.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

brownies for charles

My friend Charles, who lives in Williamsburg VA, has a birthday coming up. i've mentioned him before; he's the one who has sent me kooky gifts over the years including all the miniature booze bottles for made-up holidays. i always try to include some kind of baked good in his goodie box for his birthday, and this year i decided on brownies because i'd never made them for him before (he usually gets something that ships well, like a lemon loaf cake or some other pound cake).

this year's gift box included Wings Across America, the best and cheapest little peeler in the whole world (you can find clear plastic ones at williams sonoma for 3 bucks apiece), and a couple of Georgia products. i found an article about georgia wines and decided to go looking for some; but our upscale liquor store nearby the house only had the habersham winery "scarlett", so i included a bottle of that in his package. i hope the wine is good enough to drink and not just mediocre, although regardless of the taste, he will enjoy the idea of a wine named "scarlett". i also sent him honey from weeks works (they're just north of here in cherokee county), because i like their product. a few months ago when all the food sites were discussing the diminishing bee population and whether or not cell phone signals had anything to do with it, i emailed the good people at weeks works just to get their opinion on the matter. after a few emails back and forth, i was asked if i'd like to keep bees, but i passed on the offer. it's not that we don't have the room in our yard, because we do; it's that i have a very nosy dog, and also as much as i like bees, i'm terrified of them. didn't anyone see The Swarm? that shit scares the crap out of me.

Charles prefers pecans to walnuts, so i included these in the brownies; besides, that kept with the bit of Georgia theme i had going on already. but my next dilemma was that i was unsure which brownie recipe to use. a basic brownie is a basic brownie, whichever cookbook you may use, but i wasn't liking what i saw, so i kind of just wung it a bit with what seemed right. after the brownies had cooled, i cut them into squares and wrapped each individually in plastic wrap and put them in a box. the top brownie i wrapped with ribbon and included a birthday candle, and also a note which read (as i write every year) that he could either share with the other kiddies or go off into a secret corner and eat the whole lot himself.

i hope he will be pleased.

Brownies for Charles
makes 9 square brownies

4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped up
2 sticks of butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. line a 9-inch square pan with parchment and lightly coat with spray oil. I use the method that joe pastry describes to line the pan with parchment.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave; run it on high for about a minute, then stir - you might need to go an extra 30 seconds to another minute for this. Set aside. Or you could melt these together in a double boiler, but my preferred method is the microwave. It's pretty much the only thing I use the microwave for.

Beat the eggs and sugars together until well blended and smooth. Add the vanilla, then mix in the chocolate mixture.

Sift together the flour and salt and add to the mix but DO NOT overblend, then stir in the pecans. Pour this into the pan and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes (check at 30 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the center). Leave to cool on a rack for 20 to 30 minutes, then remove brownies from pan and cut into 9 even squares.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

on the hunt for pork fat

the boy went to ireland for a month in the fall of 2004, and that was one of the most miserable periods of my life. not only did i miss him like crazy, but during that time i got a flu shot and then proceeded to have the worst flu ever. i couldnt get out of bed for days, and not having anyone there to dote on me totally sucked ass. the only beacon of light during this time was the arrival in the post of the Les Halles cookbook i had pre-ordered from Amazon. i read the entire book from beginning to end, and sat up in bed and laughed out loud. and when i came across the recipe for rillettes, i just knew i had to make it.

well, that was 3 years ago minus a month, and i didn't get around to making rillettes
until just now.

rillettes is one of those childhood favorites of mine. it's basically a pork spread that you slather onto crusty pieces of baguette. you can make it with other meat, like duck and whatnot, but to me the real thing is made with pig and it is laced with pork fat. so yes, it's not the best thing for you in the world. the boy mock-threatened to call up my kickboxing instructor and inform him of what i've been eating so that my next workout will be a doozy.

so i decided to make this on saturday, and enlisted my buddy zack for some help in finding pork fat. zack told me that the dekalb farmers market sells pork fat, and as much as i love that place it's also a good 35 minute drive from the house (on a good day with no traffic and driving 80 mph). i figured it wouldn't hurt to ask around up here in suburbia if pork fat was available, in order to avoid the trek.

i first asked the butcher at the publix near the house. well, i'm pretty sure he was not the butcher, probably just some assistant wearing a white coat and hair net. so i asked him if he had any pork fat and he looked at me blankly.

"Pork fat? did you say, pork fat?"
"Yes. Do you have any?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Well, you know, pork fat. The bits and trimmings of fat. From a pig." i mean, shit. how difficult is this to comprehend?

another blank stare.

"What do you need this for?"
"Well i'm doing a french recipe."

blank look turned into skeptical look.

"We've got salt pork over there. Is that what you mean? I've never heard of pork fat."

blank look from me this time.


Next! i called Kroger and asked to speak to the butcher, who told me that although Kroger didn't carry pork fat, he was almost positive that Publix did. Nevermind.

Next! i called Whole Foods, where a kind man who actually sounded like a butcher because he knew what pork fat was told me that the pork they receive is so lean they have barely any fat to trim off.

so i decided to make the trek to dcfm, on a saturday at 4:30 pm. anyone who's ever been there knows that although this place is fantastic in every aspect, a saturday afternoon is absolutely NOT the time to go; but i was on a mission and i had pork belly and shoulder bubbling away on the stove and i needed to get back to it pronto. away i went, down 400 and over to 285, a road i never venture on but now i know why. it is totally filled with potholes and assholes. i thought 400 was bad, but i must have gotten used to it. drivers on 285 are a whole different shitlick breed. but i arrived and proceeded to pushy-shovy my way through the warehouse, and i mean this literally, i really did have to pushy-shovy my way through it to the meat department and secured my one pound treasure of fatty goodness.

honestly, it's pretty gross looking. when i got home, i rendered it away on the stove until it released its porky goodness. but the whole idea is gross. just dont think about it. just do it.

while it was rendering, mrs p was pulling the best song and dance from her repertoire. that dog was pacing the kitchen and giving me the long sad face, the one she likes to pull when she's pretending that she's a starving orphan. i am wise to her ways, though.

i'm not posting the recipe because those of you who are anthony bourdain fans already own the Les Halles cookbook, and i have a sneaking suspicion that rillettes is probably the last thing you want to make. but you are totally missing out, man.

but i have two small issues with the recipe as it is. i was a little unclear as to what stage the rendered pork fat had to be for me to add it to the mixture, so i added it while it was still warm and liquidy. and i think in the end i added too much of it. i mentioned this to zack via email, and he wrote back, "I think there is a typo in your email.. you said 'too much pork fat'. This phrase doesn't exist!". the other issue i had is that it wasnt salty enough, so i've added some kosher salt to the finished product.

all in all, it was a nice trip down memory lane for me. one bite, and i was transported back to childhood. thank you, mr. bourdain.