Tuesday, December 30, 2008
This image goes in my mental aloha file, tucked away when I need a bit of sunny cheer. I have a framed photograph uncannily similar to this in my office, from our trip there in 2006. It brings back many happy memories. I brought home (legally) some plumeria starts; it's been two years and they have only to leaf out nicely in the summer, and then drop the leaves in the fall... maybe one day the picture I post will be a flower from my own kitchen!
Sunday, December 28, 2008
These sweet treats were made on the night that Bad Dog Ruby temporarily disappeared. (I have been told that maybe she wouldn't hike off if I called her Good Dog Ruby, but I'm not so sure.) For some reason, she decided that one of her little bunkers under the junipers would make a good overnight camp, much to our distress. When she reappeared at the back door at 7 a.m. the next morning, I was much too happy to be angry. We had a hugging/warming session and all was well.
All that is to say that the caramel came off the stove just as I discovered Ruby was AWOL. So it sat for more than an hour cooling, and I thought maybe it would be a wash and I'd be starting over the next day. But when I finally decided I'd searched high and low and wasn't going to find Ruby that night, I came back in and distracted myself with putting the turtles together. The caramel actually worked quite well still after all that cooling, and was actually more manageable than I imagine it would be with the 5 minutes* recommended cooling in the recipe I was (sort of) following.
Caramel on the stove, bubbling away.
Aloha! This will be the closest I'll get to Hawaii this year...
(adapted from the Boston Herald)
Caramel requires about 60 to 70 minutes from start to finish. Remember never to touch the boiling sugar mixture. (Have you ever had a caramel burn? It's unlike any other. Really.)
3/4 pound roasted cashews (Coastal!)
3/4 pound raw macadamias (Hawaiian!)
3/4 pound roasted peanuts (otherwise...)
2 2/3 cups sweetened condensed milk
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut up
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 pounds semisweet and milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
In a medium heavy-based saucepan, combine the milk, granulated and brown sugars, and corn syrup. Set the pan over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugars. Wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in hot water. When the sugar mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat to medium-low. Stir every 3 to 5 minutes until it turns dark amber and a candy thermometer reads 236 degrees. This will take about 1 hour and time will vary with each pot. (If you do not have a candy thermometer, remove a sample of the caramel with a spoon and drop it in a glass of cold water. If it forms into a soft ball, the caramel is done.)
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Let the mixture cool without stirring for about 5 minutes.*
Spoon a dollop of caramel over a small group of nuts. Spoon another dollop of caramel over another group of nuts, so the two rounds do not touch. Repeat until every group of nuts has a hood of caramel on top. Leave to cool.
You can do the grown up thing and melt your chocolate over a simmering water bath, but if you're a shortcutter like me, the microwave works just fine. I have learned my lesson (repeatedly, sadly) and follow the general rule of 1 minute of microwave time, followed by 30 second intervals with stirring at each stop, until a soft and dippable consistency is reached.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Separate the turtles and transfer to the parchment.
Spoon melted chocolate over the turtle clumps, thoroughly, and chill.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Thursday, December 25, 2008
This is a very new one, a birthday present from my sister- and mother-in-law, a tribute to the shared love of gardening. Isn't it pretty? Surprising light for it's size and heft.
OK, this is a really cheap little thing from Target a few years back. I have them in every jewel color of the rainbow, and love love them. I have always had a thing for snowflakes... how appropriate this year of super snow everywhere!
Wishing all of you a merry Christmas and a very wonderful 2009. May it be filled with all good things. And if it's not (and, well, we already know it won't be, because it's life, right?), may we have the grace and strength to deal with what comes and be supported/supporting and loved/loving along the way!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
The very popular mini caramel apples:
These are florentine tarts, about to go in the oven. They bubbled and baked quite lovely.
Traditionally these are cookies dipped in chocolate. I remember the day I first tasted these. 1988. (Holy cow, that's 20 years ago. Calm down, old lady. Breathe.) There was this amazing bakery down on the food level of the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney and I would pass by it each day on my way to work. I hadn't ever heard of Florentines before, but never forgot them from the first bite, and tried various recipes over the years. Caramel and fruit and nuts and chocolate. Wow. They aren't the easiest to make (runny and hot, sometimes unruly. If you've ever had a burn from caramel, you won't soon forget it!), so when I discovered this recipe for Florentine Bars in Sunset magazine a couple of years ago, I was quite happy. It was an easier version of the original, and a way to make large quantities--alwasy a plus with me. But me being me, I needed to find an even easier way to make Florentines, and thought maybe putting the filling in tart shells would accomplish that. It did, more or less... But I'm going to list the recipe for the bars here, and let you fiddle as you will...
1 c salted butter, room temp
1 3/4 c sugar
1 egg plus one egg yolk
2 1/2 c cake flour
1/2 c plus 6 T unsalted butter
1/3 c honey
1/3 c heavy whipping cream
12 oz. sliced almonds
1/2 c. candied orange peel
1/2 c. dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter with 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and egg yolk and beat to combine. Gradually add flour and mix well. Dough will be very soft. Transfer to a floured 16x11 inch parchment paper and roll to size of parchment. Lift and transfer, still on parchment, to large rimmed baking sheet. Bake about 12 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
In medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together unsalted butter, remaing 1 1/4 cup sugar, honey and cream. Cook mixture, stirring frequently, until it registers 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in nuts and fruit.
Using spatula, spread warm topping over crust and bake until topping is carmelized and almonds are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cut while still warm into 2-inch squares. Cool completely.
So good. Just ask my sister-in-law. We've been known to sit around the Florentine platter on many a Christmas morn. That and the caramel corn... but that's another story!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Peanut Butter and Nutella Cake Truffles
(I changed the name from "balls" to "truffles"... don't you think?)
1 box yellow cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)
8 oz. peanut butter
8 oz. nutella
Bake the cake according to package directions. As soon cake is cooked split the cake into two halves and crumble each half into a large bowl. Mix each bowl of crumbled cake thoroughly with peanut butter in one and nutella in the other. Roll each mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet lined with wax paper (Should make approximately 40). Chill for several hours (you can speed this up by putting in the freezer).
I rolled the peanut butter truffles in confectioner's sugar and the nutella ones in finely chopped toasted hazelnuts. I would probably do the peanut butter ones in chocolate in the future, but I was perfectly happy with how the nutella ones turned out.
These are definitely keepers!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
They are mostly based off An Apple A Day recipe, but largely done by feel and by memory at this point. Today we had them with mashed potatoes and gravy and a broccoli bake, and I'm surprised I got off the couch and went for a ski afterward! But I did. After a bit of a pause, I did.
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 t. salt
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
1/2 c. grated cheddar
1 T. chopped parsley
1 c. bread crumbs
1 c. cottage cheese
Mix all ingredients together and from into patties. Fry in a nonstick pan (sprayed with Pam or some such spray, of course, who trusts nonstick anyway?) until brown on both sides. Serve with mushroom gravy.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Martha Stewart as quickfire judge, very cool. Love the one pot idea. A nice constraint for the cheftestants. And there were some yummy entries to boot, and in 45 minutes too.
However, I couldn't believe that Ariane won with her cauliflower puree and beef--once again the big protein rules the day. Granted, I would love love love to eat the dish, and probably will attempt it at home soon, but in the realm of one-pot, her dish barely qualified in my thinking. (I may have to eat my words on Ariane eventually; time will tell... I'm not ready to completely roll over on this one.) In the one-pot realm, if the dishes tasted good, Stefan's goulash or Eugene's stew or Hosea's paella or even Fabio's polenta (minus the duck) would seem to fit the bill much better. Even Jeff's potato risotto. I think I would like that dish, in concept. I might even try that at home too, just to see if it could work. Martha's criticism of Fabio's polenta ("it was a little gray") didn't ring true as the video of the dish rolled and it was obviously yellowy and yummy looking. And her criticism that she couldn't "see the mushrooms" seemed odd. But, on-the-spot judging can't be easy. Martha didn't seem to really enjoy that process, and I heard her on some talk show earlier this week chatting about how she couldn't do a Top Chef style of show regularly, which presents her as softer than I envision her. I think of her as being rather sharp and ruthless... maybe not. She actually apologized to the people whose food she didn't like ("I'm sorry, Jeff, your risotto was a little starchy and heavy."). Ha.
So, on to elimination. Or so we thought...! The Twelve Days of Christmas for a charity event... not a bad idea. Fits quite nicely when you have 12 cheftestants left...
Ariane's comment about feeding 250 people being "a lot" made me laugh. Tis true. Most restauranteurs don't have a clue what caterers put out (so to speak) on a regular basis. So the caterers in the bunch (Carla, etc.) should have an edge there... but as we found later (pause for drama), not so much. There were also some comments while they were cooking about how much food it is for 250... again, ha! If you need to cook all courses for 250, maybe. But one little appetizer for 250? That's nothing. Really. When people ask me how to cook for large quantities, I always say just think about cooking for 10 people. That's easy, right? Now multiply it. There. Not so hard. Well, that and a little practice. I actually have a hard time scaling it back to just 10 now... Leftovers. Ugh.
Very interesting challenge, all in all. The major whoo-haa was having the fridge door open overnight and various proteins being ruined. That would be horrible. I haven't had that particular horror, but I used to have more than a few OCD moments with my walk-in reefer. I would check it, go to lock the door to the catering kitchen, feel somehow that the walk-in door must have opened (yeah, heavy door, on it's own...) and go back and check it again. Yeesh. But when you have hundreds of dollars of ingredients at stake, you can get a little twitchy sometimes...
Anyway, just before that little fiasco, I was just thinking about how nicely they are all getting along this season. No real swearing fits, no fisticuffs in the stew room, people helping each other. What's with that? Way too friendly. Obviously these people haven't been watching Survivor (but neither have I. Maybe they've gotten friendlier there as well?). But in it's own way, nice to see. So then, with proteins ruined, everyone pitches in to help Hosea and Rhadika. Very cool.
My favorite line of the night: "You aren't going to win with deviled eggs." I had been thinking, just prior to that comment (notice how my brilliance just preceeds Top Chef revelations? Curious, eh?) was that it was a very creative thing for Ariane to do, and how much I would love to sample six different varieties of deviled eggs. So Tom and I aren't on the same page about that one!
I was glad to see the winners get their kudos, but after the losers were called in and they revealed that really, no one cooked well this time around, it was a little sad. I do have to give some support to the chefs and a wee bit of criticism to the judges: I think that good food is entirely possible and expected in any one of the elimination challenges, and since I didn't taste the food, I can't say if it was all really as "disappointing" as Natasha Richardson (guest judge) said it was. But! This is a catered event. That means not cooking on site. That means difficulty with assembly and execution. When was the last time you raved about an hors d'ouevres, hot or cold or inbetween, at a cocktail party? It's just not the same setting as a restaurant kitchen and I felt like they were judging it AS IF that was the standard... maybe it was, but that's a bit unrealistic. I'm just saying.
So, no one went home. They got a little pep talk in the stew room from Tom, and next week they get to all cook "their food." Well, if they don't get great food with wide open no-parameter cooking, then definitely someone should pack their knives and go!
I've been waiting for Toby Young all season. I knew he was coming along, and I'm assuming he's here to take Gail's place while she honeymoons? We'll see. I'm looking forward to his wit and brutal honesty (though what he knows about food seems beside the point)! And from the previews, it looks like the chefs don't much like him. How very fun. Gimmicky, but fun. Which brings us back to product placement... gimmicky and not fun. Nuff said.
I haven't yet created anything on either site, but I've viewed favorites (drawminoes must be English or Canadian--check out that u in favourite!) and pondered diving in... maybe over the Christmas break?!
Happy creating! Now off to watch Top Chef and hopefull stay awake enough to follow what's going on!
Monday, December 15, 2008
But the menu for this week... think of me at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Actually, just think of me all day on Wednesday!
In the savory realm...
*Tortilla tapas. Think bite size chile rellanos, sort of.
*Broccoli cheese souffle cups. The broccoli is just there as a foil for the cheese, and a little color too, I suppose.
*Endive with chevre and grapes.
*Artichoke toasts--as in, artichoke spread on baguette, broiled, toasted, etc.
*Cucumber cups with salmon mousse.
The sweet kingdom contains:
*Chocolate cups with custard--I have wanted to get those chocolate cups from Costco for the past couple of years... finally did. Now to fill! Yum.
*Florentine tarts. Taking the easy way out with the florentines... yum. They turned out scrummy tonight. Don't ask me how I know for sure (pats her tummy).
*Chocolate-dipped marshmallow squares.
* And here's where we confess that things change up around here... rather frequently. I said something about peanut butter cake "truffles" and chocolate hazelnut cake "truffles" for the last party... then I decided I didn't want too many round things (mini caramel apples in little cups) and went for the fruit and nut fudge (which was very yummy indeed). Well, now the truffles are ready to roll (ha, literally! I amuse myself!), and they are quite fine. AND, I'm making those apples again (see below; so obviously I got over the too-man-round-things issue...).
So here are the truffles on their first go-round with experimenting...
Fine, pretty, gooey and chocolatey, of course...
And then, I spent a few hours dipping the marshmallow treats in chocolate and thought, not gonna do that again. I like mindless dipping same as the next fella, but really? Let's get a little creative. And, having a steady supply of hazelnuts on hand (always!), I went for a little more rustic on the approach. And, frankly, I like the taste better... less overwhemingly CHOCOLATE. (Don't kill me chocoholics. I understand your kind, I'm just not one of you.)
*And back, by popular demand, the mini caramel apples. Every once in awhile there's an item that gets so many positive comments you just have to make it over and over again. And since I finally got it going really well just as I was finishing making these last week, I figured, why not?!This time I will take pictures.
And now for a completely random boy in the post. Someone had his last basketball game of the 6th grade season today! It's been a fun season, some really good games, and not that it matters, but his teams (he's on both A and B) both won today, so yeah! And the only way I got him to even smile for my camera (Mom at a basketball game is pretty embarrasing on so many levels) was to tell him this was for his Grandma and Grandpa! Ha. So I figured I should share, seeing as how it was such a blatant lie!
I will one day figure out how to cook AND blog about it at the same time. Right now I am fine doing one or the other, but both seems just a little more than this little bunyon can handle. Yes, you read right. I feel like a bunyon right now. Not Paul. A foot thing. And yes, that is an acceptable spelling. Thanks for asking.
Friday, December 12, 2008
* Friends and sushi and cookie exchange parties (1 down, 1 to go!). And chatting. And sharing sweet kid stories. Love it.
* Music, Christmas and otherwise. Check out the video below. Straight, No Chaser from Indiana University. A great a capella group that has a new holiday CD out: Holiday Spirits. The CD is a reunion effort of a former SNC group (from a decade ago), and they are getting great press and will be on TV many times through the holidays. So fun. After the video below is done, there are some other clips with a fun interview, etc.
* My doggies. See Wednesday if you need more explanation. And, Darby and Ruby had a "moment" yesterday that resulted in Darby needing a nice warm bath and some comfort. I hope order is restored in the pack...
* Online Christmas shopping. Love it. Packages come, and sometimes things go back, but still, the ease of shopping from the comfort of home... ah!
* My men. So grateful for the haven that is home.
* Health. With news of illness (some serious, some less so) all around, I am so struck by gift of good health and what I need to do to continue that in the coming years. I want to be well in the "pre-golden" era... and beyond!
* Almost to the solstice. In a little more than a week we will get to turn the tide on this darkness and it will begin to creep back to longer days! Hermit tendencies will ebb, hopefully.
* Goodies galore. This is related to health, I suppose, but in moderation, I am tickled with all the new goodies and yummies of the season. It took me a bit to get the momentum going, but now that I'm there, expect pictures and posts.
* Which brings me to being grateful for computer access even though my laptop seems to be on the fritz. With Seth gone this week, I've comandeered his desktop and while it doesn't afford the cozy, go-anywhere freedom of my laptop, doesn't make me feel like I'm back in the dark, pre-computer ages, either.
* Unexpected packages in the mail. There are the expected ones, which are many this time of year... and then there are the unexpected, filled with tidbits and yummies and inspiration. I hope I wasn't supposed to wait to open it?
Peace, joy and goodwill, people. Remember that this is the time of year when extraordinary things can and do take place! Love it.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Fun quickfire. Each season they have done the test-your-palate thing, and this was a quirky spin to it. I liked the way they pitted the cheftestants against each other, and had elimination rounds. And I very much liked it that Stefan didn't win. Ha. I do still like him, and think he's a great chef, but the crossed arms and smug exterior can wear on a viewer... that and the admission that he'd married the same woman twice. I thought that was hilarious. You could tell he's not into the whole American "sharing" thing and he was very uncomfortable with the level of familiarity in that setting. Hee hee. I don't think I know anyone who's actually done that--married the same person twice. No thanks. But Hosea won the quickfire fair and square, yeah for him!
OK, moving on to the elimination... Quite fun to get to cater Gail's bridal shower. How very game of Gail... And, some good teams--cool to divide it up into something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue... I would have liked to work with the "old" team, I think. Or the borrowed. (Um, yes, both winning teams. What can I say?) And why "blue" didn't do something blueberry and desserty for the fourth course is a mystery to me. But for the "old" guys, that was such a grin of relief and pride on Jeff's face when they praised his heirloom tomato sorbet. He has been under the gun more often than not lately, and you could just see him brighten with their positive comments. So good for him. And for "borrowed," I thought it was clever to borrow a culure. I wouldn't have known where to start with that one.
Can I just say that I continue to believe that Ariane is NOT going to win Top Chef? I could go down on this one, but really, I just don't see it. I get that well-executed lamb (and meat in general) is a good thing. But sweet little Jamie had conceptualized the whole dish, seemed to lead out quite solidly, and did her rock-solid carrot puree (that doesn't sound like a big deal as I write it, but still...), and I couldn't believe they just handed it to Ariane. Unreal. And I felt for Jamie with the under-her-breath comment of "I so want to win," and WHAM they name Ariane. Double ouch with a bandaid. It didn't have the feel (that they usually do with their editing trickery) that the decision was discussed, debated, had some weight/thought to it.
And I kind of felt the same way about the decision on who should go home. I was actually very surprised to see Daniel get the ax. I mean, Eugene conceptualized the whole surf-n-turf sushi thing, and was the genius brains behind deconstructing it too. Huh? Deconstructed sushi? Those poor ladies at the bridal shower seemed so confused. So Eugene would have been my pick, hands down. (Although, judging from the bravotv.com site's poll on the topic, I am close to alone in that thought: 85% thought Danny should go; 15% thought Eugene deserved the chopping block. Hmmm. So maybe don't trust my judgement here? Nah. Everyone else is wrong.)
And what about Carla with that whiz-bang comment about not even tasting her dish? They have POUNDED that concept in over the years: do NOT serve food you haven't tasted. Period. (Alas, I have done that many times. Haven't had it bite bad, yet, but always make resolutions not to do it again... then too, I'm not usually conceiving on the fly like these guys.)
But Daniel, who has never been my favorite, rose on my list with his parting shot of some goofy jowly thing he did to make everyone laugh. A class act on the way out the door. And, at least no tears and wimpers like that last guy...
And it related Top Chef news, Season 4 winner Stephanie Izzard (above) was in Walla Walla this past weekend for the barrel tasting event that ran the entire weekend. Check out the video segment from our local newspaper. Down to earth girl. Oh, and I know one of the guys who was working the line at Saviah, but that shouldn't be too surprising, given that this IS still Walla Walla!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I just love this little guy. What persistence!
Chief went to the vet yesterday afternoon. Just his usual annual check. No shots, but we wanted to make sure all is at least stable with his hip, and he had a funky spot on his sweet white nose a while ago, so just wanted a thumbs up on health. While we were there another doggy was on his way in for his last visit, so to speak. A very sweet, very old and sick dog. Chief and I shed a little tear on the way home (he's quite sensitive like that), and came home to an enthusiastic greeting from the pack. Hugs all around.
So as they are annoying me in the coming days, whether barking at coyotes or digging for gophers in the lawn, or chewing on sprinkler heads, I will be grateful for their happy greetings, their desire to kiss me and their sweet dispositions (for the most part). Now, must go give the morning meds.
Friday, December 5, 2008
The fire in the fireplace.
Glass Christmas balls. I discovered this week that someone has invented shatterproof (ie plastic) Christmas balls. That's wrong, plain and simple. Christmas balls are glass, and should be treated gently. So I found a few more GLASS ONES in all my favorite colors, and smiled.
Fudge. And cookies. And all the good things I need to make before Monday... My pantry is full and ready to burst forth with various goodness-es.
I have pondered, the past 5 Christmases or so (after an especially horrific Christmas 6 years ago), that Christmas is such a special and magical time. It's like things are possible at this time of year that couldn't happen at any other time. It is possible for friendships to be mended. Romances might begin. There's just a general feeling of goodwill that I find very reassuring about humans. It's a nice time to be on the planet. So go on now, mend those friendships. Start those romances. Go on now!
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Fabio performed very well for someone who was nervous about his English and didn't really relish the whole live-TV thing. I've never been super-charmed by Italian men (most of the ones I've had personal interaction with were Italians living in Sydney, while waiting tables at an Italian restaurant... so put the two cultures together and I'll just leave it at that...). But, Fabio is charming. I really think he's got some good potential, is laid back enough, and a good chef... his dishes are usually simple but look like they taste good (other than his breakfast in the quickfire!).
Jeff's dish(es) didn't really do it for me this week--either in the quickfire or the elimination. Maybe trying a bit too hard? Just a thought. He seems to be having some difficulty settling in. Like there's some substance there, but it's not focused. My perception, anyway.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
First party's on Monday. I think the time to stop browsing is now?
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Seth making himself useful on the little tractor! And posing.
The dogs are ready to go. She who is known as RubyBadDog is in the middle. Check out her dirty snout. Who knows where that's been... Peaceful Jack (right) and little Darby are just ready to be home!
And Chief is annoyed with me and won't look at the camera. He hopped in and got Seth's seat all muddy in his eagerness to get his prime position for the ride home... and got a little scolding from me for his muddy paws. So he's withholding affection for a few minutes to punish me. He's almost human, that one.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Maybe tomorrow we'll see the sun for a bit longer, but right now that seems unlikely. A little Eeyore with your tea? Possibly. Time to take some happy pills. Or, nail down those holiday menus for upcoming parties.
Either way, outlook is bound to improve. I'll be back when mood elevators take effect.