Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blogger's Picnic Potluck No Crap Shoot

Sometimes you take your chances at a pot luck. I've been to buffets that should have been called "pot no-luck" with a dozen bags of chips, two quarts of take-out cole slaw and a fruit platter from Costco. And I've been to spreads so grand you don't know where to start and where to end.

The Primavera in Altadena Potluck Picnic on Saturday was the latter.

No gathering is complete without these shoestring potatoes, er pommes frittes, which were mandolined and double dipped in the fryer by Karin, the Altadena Hiker.

Debbi of Altadena Daily Photo served an amazing beef enchilida dish that featured beef that braised overnight.

Vanda of Toadberry brought the beautiful berry dessert (left below). Desiree, The Restless Chef, baked her 5-ingredients brownies (one of five chocolate desserts on the table). (All photos were shamelessly borrowed from Dianne, aka Mlle. Gramophone.)

I didn't snap a picture of my California Salad, ala Marston's Restaurant in Pasadena. This simple salad meets all my criteria for a good salad: something crisp (mixed greens), something crunchy (toasted pecans and diced apples), something sweet (mandarin oranges and yellow raisins), something soft (avocados), something protein (grilled chicken), something borrowed and something blue.

California Salad

lettuce (I use mixed greens, but I sometimes prefer Boston Bibb lettuce)
yellow raisins
green apples, diced
pecans, toasted (Marston's uses candied pecans, but I think that makes the salad too sweet.)
mandarin oranges
chicken breast, grilled
green onion, finely sliced

Marston's San Pasqual Salad Dressing is available at Marston's Restaurant or at Motif, a gift shop on Washington Blvd. in Pasadena.

You could also dress the salad in this light dressing that I used for Salad Nicoise. Just add a pinch of sugar to the recipe.

There's a rumor circulating that sangria was served. I'm sure it must have been the virgin version, but, if you're interested in the real thing, go to an earlier Open Mouth, Insert Fork post for the recipe for Susan's Sassy Sangria.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Last Marble Rye and Chicken Salad on Rosemary Currant Bread

Do you ever feel like your life is a Seinfeld episode?

Last Saturday, while making my rounds from bakeries to food boutiques for the items I needed for the Tea for Ten, I stopped at Europane for lunch and a loaf of rosemary currant bread.

I waited in line and got a little nervous when I spotted a single loaf of the necessary bread on the shelf. And then the lady in front of me politely announced, "I'd like the loaf of rosemary currant bread." Panic set in. I HAD to have that loaf.

"Are there any more loaves in the back?" I asked, trying hard not to sound as though my tea depended on it. "I'm sorry," the clerk reported. "That was our last loaf."

I couldn't help it; I was incapable of hiding my disappointment. "But I need rosemary currant bread to make sandwiches for my Tea for Ten tomorrow," I moaned.

And do you know what the kind lady in front of me did? She handed the loaf of bread to me. (I guess if my life was really like a Seinfeld episode, I would have had to wrestle her to the ground.) She chose a loaf of walnut bread instead, and I only wish that I had forked over the $5.15 for it.

Tarragon Chicken Salad ala Europane

2 chicken breasts, poached in water, white wine and tarragon leaves
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 green onions, finely minced
2 celery stalks, finely minced
2-3 tbsp. fresh tarragon
salt to taste

Shred chicken and combine with remaining ingredients.
Spread on rosemary currant bread, if available.

(For another Seinfeldesque Challah story, go to the blog of the Two Writing Teachers.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Itty Bitty Bites - Miniature Pecan Tassies

Why do most women love tea parties? Well, there is the not-so-English pre- and post-tea champagne. And there's the chance to thrust out our pinkies while sipping from a fine china cup.

But I think the main reason that we gals love teas are the itty bitty bites: the miniature scones; the petite finger sandwiches; the delicate desserts. We love to squeal, "Oh, these are just so cute." And then, after one bite, we say, "These are so good, but so small; I need to have another."

We trick ourselves into thinking we really aren't eating that much.

These miniature pecan tassies, from a recipe passed down from my mother, meet all the criteria for a perfect tea dessert. They're rich, pretty and small enough that you won't feel guilty for indulging.

So, go ahead and have one. And then have another. After all, they're very small.

Miniature Pecan Tassies

3 oz. package of cream cheese
½ cup butter
1 cup flour, sifted

Let cream cheese and butter soften at room temperature. Blend cream cheese, butter and flour. Chill for at least one hour. Shape ito 24 1” balls. Place in ungreased 1 ¾” muffin cups. Press dough on bottom and sides of cups.

Pecan Filling
1 egg
¼ cup dark corn syrup
¾ cup brown sugar
1 ¼ T. butter, melted
1 cup fine chopped pecans (original recipe calls for ½ cup, but I like it nuttier.)
1 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

- Mix all ingredients (except nuts) together, making sure brown sugar dissolves.
- Stir in nuts.

- Spoon filling into pastry cups (about 2/3 full) and bake for 25 minutes.
- Cool before removing.

Melt-in-your-mouth Scones

Eat these straight out of the oven, and they'll melt in your mouth.

I recently wrote about how bad apples and bad flan have a lot in common.

The same can be said about scones. Bad scones are as hard as a stone. (A stone scone?) Bad scones are so dry and tasteless that they can only be salvaged with copious amounts of creme fraiche and lemon curd.

But a good scone? It's filled with butter and melts in your mouth. It's rich and just the slightest bit sweet, and it's the perfect vehicle for creme fraiche or lemon curd.

Thanks to a friend who once worked for Julienne in San Marino, I have the recipe for the best scone ever. I'm sure this recipe will be in Susan Campoy's Julienne cookbook, which will be released on Mother's Day, May 10. The book and a promise to make me something from it would be the perfect MD gift.

Little scones all in a row, ready for the oven

Julienne's Scones
(Makes about 28 mini scones)

2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1 tbl. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbl. sugar
12 tbl. (11/2 sticks) unsalted sweet butter, chilled and cut into small bits (I put the butter in the freezer because it is easier to cut into those small bits)
1 cup heavy cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cups currants dusted with 1/2 tsp. flour (I used dried cranberries)
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbl. cold water for the egg wash
granulated sugar to dust the scones
whipped cream or creme fraiche
lemon curd, jam or butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees
- Use the paddle attachment to mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and butter to a mealy consistency.
- Add the cream & eggs; do not over beat.
- Fold in the currants.
- Turn the dough out on a floured surface and pat it down by hand until it is 3/4 inch thick.
- If you wish cut out the scones with the cookie cutter, occasionally dipping the cutter in flour or cut them and with lighly floured hands shape and place onto large cookie sheet. (I used a 1"+ biscuit cutter.)
- Brush with egg wash, Sprinkle with plenty of granulated sugar.
- Bake about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
- Serve with whipped cream, creme fraiche, lemon curd, butter or jam. Or just pop them into your mouth.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bloggers Picnic

Do you write a blog? Read a blog? Fantasize about starting a blog?

Join us on Saturday, March 28, for the first bloggers' picnic of 2009.

Bring a potluck dish to share and business cards for networking and
a chance to win a raffle prize from local Altadena businesses.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tea for Ten

Polish the silver. Pull out the china. Arrange the flowers. Bake, stir and brew. It's time for a tea for ten (a silent auction item that raised money for A3M - Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches).

Tea for Ten Menu

Pre-Tea Champagne on the Patio
Italian Torta with Pesto, Sundried Tomatoes and Mascarpone Cheese
Assorted Crackers
Cheese Twists

Cranberry Scones with Creme Fraiche and Lemon Curd
Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sandwiches
Tarragon Chicken Salad on Rosemary Currant Bread
Dill Egg Salad Triangles
Fresh Strawberries
(Courtesy of Tanaka Farms)
Hot and Iced Tea

Miniature Pecan Tassies
Strawberries Dipped in Chocolate
(Courtesy of Tanaka Farms)
Tea Cookies

I think all the food was a hit, but the most-requested recipe was for the lemon curd. I can't believe I've lived in a home with a prolific Meyer lemon tree for 11 years and only yesterday bothered to make this sassy little dessert condiment. Smear it on the scones, swizzle it on the strawberries, spoon it into a miniature pastry shell or just lick it off your finger. It doesn't matter because this enhances everything it touches. I call it the ketchup of the dessert world.

I usually start my recipe hunt on Tastespotting, where I found 53 possibilities for lemon curd. I chose this one from Hey Good Lookin', Whatcha' Got Cookin because it appeared to be the simplest. For starters, it didn't require a kitchen sieve. I don't own a sieve, so this recipe seemed like a good match for me.

Lemon Curd
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1 stick butter, cut into 9 pieces

- Combine eggs, yolk and sugar and whisk until smooth.
- Add juice and zest to egg mixture and whisk smooth.
- Stir frequently over very low heat until thickened, approximately 8 minutes, or until mixture coats the back of a spoon or spatula.
- Remove from heat and stir in butter, two pieces at a time. Let each butter pat melt before adding the next.
- Pour curd into a bowl and lay plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to keep a pudding "skin" from forming.

Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, but be prepared to devour it in one sitting.

(I'll post more recipes later on in the week.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is love a thick, rich flan?

"Or is love a big red apple, and you don’t know
whether to bite into it - and you knock on wood
and call off your luck numbers and hold your breath -
and you put your teeth into it and get a mouthful,
tasting all there is to it,
and whether it’s sweet and wild
or a dry mush you want to spit out,
it’s something else than you expected,
I’m asking, sir, is love a big red apple?"

from Little Word, Little White Bird by Carl Sandburg
The same question can be asked about many foods.

Is love a white peach? As dry and tasteless as a cereal box or lively and vivacious as a dancing toddler?

Or is love a flan? ". . . watery and spongy, and tasting a little like a sponge, too. . . . or thick and rich. . .?" (Paraphrased from Margaret of Finnegan Begin Again's post about flan)

Yes, Carl Sandburg could have just as easily waxed poetic about the uncertainty of love and flan.

He also could have, as Margaret did, continued on about the difficulty of finding a good flan (apparently, a good man and a good flan are both hard to find) and the complex task of making one at home (the flan, that is, not the man).

That's when I remembered the thickest, richest, yummiest flan I have ever tasted. I devoured it at a dinner party more than a year ago and asked the hostess for the recipe. I had completely forgotten about that decadent flan until now.

As it turns out, this easy flan is far from authentic. Flan fans may turn up their noses and hit the "x" button as soon as they see sweetened condensed milk and cream cheese among the ingredients.

But isn't that just like love? Sometimes it's not authentic or the "real thing," but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy every delicious bite.

Is Love a Flan? Flan

3/4 - 1 cup white sugar
1 14oz can of condensed milk
1 12oz can of evaporated milk
4 whole eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz. cream cheese

To make the "caramel," melt the sugar in a sauce pan over low to medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar liquefies. Pour into flan pan (or cake pan). Turn the pan around so that some of the sugar coats the edges of the pan a little way up the sides. Set aside.

"What? Are ya' made of sugar? Are you gonna' melt?" YES!

Work quickly to swirl the melted sugar around the pan. It hardens quickly.

In a blender, combine the next five ingredients until they are thoroughly combined. Pour the flan into pan and cover with aluminum foil.

Set a larger pan with about an inch of water in the oven and put the flan pan inside that pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until a knife inserted in the middle of the flan comes out clean.

Cool the flan and then refrigerate until ready to serve. To serve, loosen the edges of the flan with a rubber spatula (or knife) and invert onto a serving plate.

- This was my first time "melting" sugar. At first, I felt like I'd poured a cup of sand into the pot and expected it to liquefy. But the sugar turned to amber liquid in a matter of minutes.
- I tried combining the flan ingredients in my mixer, but the cream cheese doesn't break down enough. Pull out that blender.
- I forgot to cover the pan with aluminum foil, and the top (which becomes the bottom) became a little hard.
- The directions say to bake for one hour, but it was nowhere near done after an hour. Other recipes say 1 1/2 hours, and this is more accurate.
- I was afraid that it would be hard to pry the flan out of the pan, but it slips right out.
- Be careful about centering the flan on the plate when you invert because once it's there, it won't budge.

Now go ahead and dance the "flandango."

I submitted this recipe to Regional Recipes, a food blogging event created by Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok, in which a different culture and cuisine is explored each month. Please read the Regional Recipe rules to see if you'd like to participate. Wandering Chopsticks is this month's host with a spotlight on Mexico. Next month: American food. (I may have to try making biscuits and gravy.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sushi Class Postponed, but Sukiyaki Simmering

You'll have to wait another week to learn how to roll your own sushi. The culinary class at the Pasadena Buddhist Church has been postponed until Tuesday, March 17.

It turns out that the Buddhist church ladies will be heating up the kitchen on the 10th in preparation for their annual sukiyaki supper sale on March 14 and 15. Drop by the church for the tastiest (and cheapest) sukiyaki dinners in town.

Where: Pasadena Buddhist Church, 1993 Glen Ave., Pasadena
When: Saturday, March 14, and Sunday March 15
Time: Sit-down dinner served from 4:00 to 7:30 pm on both days.
Take-out dinners are available from 4:00 to 6:00 pm.
Price: $10

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Roll your own: Sushi-making class at Pasadena Buddhist Church

If you'd like to join me at my next Japanese cooking class, we'll be making traditional sushi, chirashi sushi (sushi in a bowl) and suimono (clear soup).

When: Tuesday, March 10, 7 pm
Where: Pasadena Buddhist Church, 1993 Glen Avenue, Pasadena
How Much: $15 includes a hands-on lesson with a professional instructor and three-course dinner.
Misako Morihiro, misamasumori@yahoo.com

If you're interested in attending, please be sure to email Misako. This popular class is sure to fill up quickly.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Recipe 911 - Farfalle with Yellow Beets, Beet Greens & Pine Nuts

Follow the recipe and get a dish that's beautiful but boring.

This farfalle with golden beets, beet greens and pine nuts from the February issue of Bon Appetit sounded promising. First of all, it's the first recipe that I've found that uses the entire beet, greens and all. And on my quest to use the power-packed 11 ingredients, I figured I'd get extra points for using those beet tops.

Bon Appetit's photo of its beetable pasta

The addition of slowly cooked onions; crunchy, toasted pine nuts; and fresh-grated parmesan cheese on farfalle cooked in the beet juice sounded like an unbeatable combination.

But the finished product was the most ho-hum, forget-the-Tylenol-PM-because-this-dish-is-putting-me-to-sleep concoction I've eaten in years.
Where did I go wrong? Did I leave out an essential step? Did I forget a flavor-boosting ingredient? Did I rush the slow cooking of the onions? Did I skimp on the quality of the ingredients? Were my taste buds jaded from a recent bacon binge?

Could this dish with $6.00 worth of beets from Whole Foods Market be saved? (I since discovered that I could purchase the same golden beets at the PHS Farmer's Market for half the price.)

Too frugal to dump the dish down the disposal, I went back to work. When my daughter's girlfriend, who seems to be perpetually hungry, dropped in, she became my guinea pig. I reheated the pasta dish in a small saute pan and added a drop of good olive oil. Then I splashed in balsamic vinegar and ground in more fresh pepper. Hungry girlfriend devoured the dish and asked for more.

I prepared the same thing for myself, and guess what? It was good as in give-me-more, please. It would have been even better if I had a little goat cheese to crumble on top.

Farfalle with Golden Beets, Beet Greens and Pine Nuts
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

This recipe uses the entire beet—greens included —for a colorful, nutritious dish. You can use red beets if golden beets are unavailable, but your pasta will be pink.

cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
large red onions, quartered lengthwise through root end, sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bunches 2-inch-diameter golden beets, peeled and chopped into 1/2" cubes
greens from beets, cut into 1-inch-wide strips
4 T. balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
oz farfalle (bow-tie pasta
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

- Cook beets in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 30 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer beets to medium bowl.
- Return water to boil. Add pasta to beet cooking liquid and cook until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.
- While beets are cooking, heat heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and stir until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl.
- Add 2 tablespoons oil and onions to same skillet and sauté until beginning to soften and turn golden, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to sauté until onions are tender and browned, about 30 minutes longer.
- Add garlic and stir 2 minutes. Scatter beet greens over onions.
- Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons oil over; cover and cook until beet greens are tender, about 5 minutes.
- Splash with approximately 4 T. balsamic vinegar and cook until vinegar starts to caramelize.
- Stir onion-greens mixture and beets into pasta.
- Season with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.
- Divide pasta among shallow bowls.
- Sprinkle with pine nuts and crumbled feta cheese.

Go from ho-hum to yum yum.

Do you have a recipe rescue story to share?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

For everything a season

A room with a view

I've read about the blogger blues, those stretches when lack of time, inspiration and/or interest keep bloggers away from the keyboard.

After two years of steady posts on either Cancer Banter or Open Mouth, Insert Fork, I thought I was exempt from the blues. But then it struck: two blogless weeks and the admission that I felt the "blah" in blogger.

I haven't felt like blogging or cooking. I've been making reservations, not meals; taking out, not baking in. My few attempts behind the burner have not not been blog-worthy. I tried a promising recipe from Bon Appetit for golden beets and beet greens on farfalle. I even spent a whopping $6.00 on organic yellow beets from Whole Foods, but the dish, like my mood, was a bore. (If you try this and like it, please let me know.)

Beauty and the bore - good looks, little personality

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, "For everything there is a season. A time to blog and a time to give it a rest. A time to cook and a time to put away cooking things." Or something like that.

I've noticed the same thing in my garden. The citrus trees are exploding. The avocado tree has donated a few fruits, and the apricot tree promises a bumper crop this season.

The fruits of no labor

The one blight was a haunted looking plum tree. In spite of its deathly demeanor, just last year it bore the sweetest, over-the-sink juiciest fruit. I couldn't bear the thought of pulling the plug.

Disney called. They want their haunted tree back.

I soon realized, though, that its season in the sun was over. Before making mulch of the tree, I found a local fruit grower who came to the house and cut scions (budding limbs) to graft into his own plum tree.

I recently received word that the graft was a success. My plum tree lives on in La Canada.

A time to die. A time to grow. And a time to start blogging again.