Monday, August 31, 2009

happy as a clam

When Matty's gone, I try to fill up my evenings with going out - grabbing drinks with work associates, going to see music - anything to pretend that I don't miss him as much as I do. In the last couple weeks, it's also served the bonus purpose of being out in air-conditioning while allowing the house to cool down a bit.

The one thing I didn't account for was how much I would miss cooking. Even if it was for myself. The "to-make" list gets longer and longer, and I just stare helplessly at my calendar, trying to figure out when I might get the chance to be in the kitchen.

Coincidentally, Matty came home today, and while my bid to get home by 7p to start dinner and snuggles was nearly derailed by my fascination with my first visit to Silom Supermarket, I did manage to get everything I needed in one place and have dinner on the table by 8p.

His welcome-home dinner was Hoy Lai Ped, or Clams Sauteed in Nam Prik Pao. So easy and so good. The most difficult thing about the recipe was digging out the 1 1/2 pounds of clams from the trough of ice at the supermarket. I've never dug for my own clams before! :P I was also very glad that the recipe linked to what the sauce looks like, otherwise, I might have been wandering around that store for days.

I'm a spice wimp, so I only used the 2 T. of nam prik pao called for in the recipe, and could not fathom when it would ever be necessary to add 6 bird's-eye chiles. Matty, who is NOT a spice wimp, still thought it was a good amount of heat.

I particularly loved how one simple ingredient, the nam prik pao, so utterly transformed a simple stir-fry. I added about a 1/2 pound of snow peas just to add some vegetation to the dish, and it was a lovely one-pot meal (since I used TJ's frozen brown rice - I mean, why bother ever cooking rice again?) I'd love to do this again, tossing soba noodles in with everything for a nice twist on the clams and pasta combination.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

hey julie, look what they're doing to me

I finally went to see "Julie & Julia" today with some of the girls from the Cooking Club, and although our schedules didn't allow for us to make a meal of Julia recipes as we had planned, I'm still very glad a couple of us had time to see the movie together.

Before the movie, I made sure to grab a couple bites so I was prepared for how hungry all that delicious food would make me. What I wasn't prepared for was my emotional response to the movie. I wept like a baby through a lot of it. I think it had a lot to do with how easy it was to relate to both women's desire to get more out of life. And the Julia-Paul love story. Butter>bread, breath>life. Gah!

By the time I got home, I had developed a massive headache from the crying, but I still wanted to make something Julia-esque. Trouble is, a lot of Julia-esque food requires hours (of which I didn't have) in the oven (which I was not about to turn on in this heat). I settled for quickie versions:

Braised Endive which you see above: Horrible photo, amazing taste. I don't even like endive, but they cooked down to a sexy and delicious leek-like mess that I could barely stop myself from eating. Most other braised endive recipes I found required over an hour in the oven - I will definitely try one of those versions once the heat breaks in the fall. I can only imagine how much more concentrated the flavor will be with extra time at higher heat.

Eggs Poached in Red Wine: Julia's recipe instructs you to reduce the poaching liquid and use it to make a sauce, but I didn't want to go that far, so I just poached two eggs in equal parts red wine and beef broth. A word to the wise: I know how to poach an egg, and rarely have any trouble with it, but it's hard to find where your egg went in the murky depths of red wine and broth, so be careful of breaking the yolk when you go fishing for it.

Believe me when I say that I am sparing you the horror of the blue eggs I used to top the endive. They were purple from the wine upon leaving the pot, but oxidized to a blue while they were sitting on my plate. Terrifying. For the most part, they tasted fine, but the wine left too weird of an aftertaste for me.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

put a ring on it

My little sister got engaged yesterday! We had already made plans to see family today anyway, so I decided this morning that I shouldn't show up empty-handed. Mai - I also had a bottle of Veuve for you, but I left it in the fridge. Know that my orange juice and I will be toasting you tomorrow morning! :)

There were a couple reasons why I chose Dorie Greenspan's Cranberry Upside-Downer (subbing in strawberries for a more seasonal treat) over a red velvet cake that I knew they would like:

a) it's pretty!
b) I didn't have enough time in the morning to create and use frosting
c) heaven forbid I recycle a recipe, no matter how good it is - I mean, why make old recipes when you can make new ones?
d) the last time I used my "Love" pan, a "real" cake stuck and broke - I figured I'd have a better chance with the fruit topping

And thankfully, I did. It didn't make for the cleanest presentation on the plate what with the crumbs and strawberry juices everywhere, but it otherwise released perfectly after about a 15-minute cooling period and after running a knife along the sides of the cake pan.

The cake was delicious - I absolutely loved the combination of cinnamon and almond extract, especially while it was baking in the oven. Totally worth having a 350-degree oven on for 45 minutes even in the hellacious weather we're having here in LA.

What I really would have loved was to have a heart-shaped pan so that I could arrange the strawberries more artistically - since I had to fit the strawberrries in all kinds of nooks and crannies, I kind of just threw everything down. But really, how many random cake pans does one bakist need?

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I don't think I've seen my dear friend Kathryn since I baked for her last. It was so lovely to spend the evening with her and our other college a cappella friends last night.

Unbeknownst to me, she had hired three of her chef friends to cater the event, so I felt kind of foolish showing up with these Spiced Brownies (especially when the Rum-Soaked Bread Pudding came out at the end of the night), but I got a pretty positive review from the folks snacking on the brownies throughout the afternoon.

Personally, I thought they were a alarmingly spicy, even though I'm normally a fan of the spiced chocolate. I think my next go with these will remove either the cayenne or paprika and add some cinnamon to mellow them out. The texture was fabulous, though - so rich and fudgy. I may even use this brownie batter on top of my favorite Caramel Oatmeal Crust and be in brownie heaven.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

so good so good so good

This Crustless Zucchini Pie leaves me absolutely stupefied. There's no fun back-story to be had in this post - I'm simply going to gush about how delicious it is.

First of all, the preparation is dead simple. You just have to leave a little time for the veggies to drain (which after the Flood of '09, you can be sure I did). I also had a bag of spinach to use up, so I only went out and got a pound of zucchini. The spinach was wilted in a hot pan, and drained in the same colander as the zucchini. After that, it's just a matter of tossing everything into a bowl.

The batter is pretty thick. Even though I knew the only liquid ingredients were two eggs and 1/3 c. olive oil, I still thought it'd turn out somewhat quiche-y, but in fact, the eggs and oil only serve to bind the veggies together. Fine with me - I went with it and emptied the bowl out into a 9x13 cookie sheet covered with foil.

After the initial 10 minutes of baking at 400 degrees, the whole house started smelling of browning onions and mint. It was a beautiful thing. When I was finally able to take it out of the oven, the mint had faded into the background, and the gorgeous smell of caramelization took over. I don't really know how to describe it. It's not quite the smell of browning butter, but it's still got those sweet, warm notes. It's the smell of delicious food being DONE.

I knew I was not about to wait for it to cool (or for my sister to come by this afternoon) to grab a bite. I used a pizza cutter to make 16 rectangles, took 2 for myself, drizzled some Cholula on top, and took my first bite on my way to sinking into the couch.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I don't know if I was supposed to use a smaller cookie sheet, but because the "pie" ended up being on the thin side, its texture was not dissimiliar to that of a fritter - it was crispy, but at the same time, had a bit of heft from the addition of cheese. The queso blanco I used instead of feta didn't fully melt - instead, it formed lovely browned pockets that warmed and salted the bite it was in.

I'm leaving for a yoga class in about an hour, otherwise, I would have easily finished off half of the pan. As it is, I will be very surprised if my sister and I don't finish it off by the end of the day. :)

and i want to thank you

A couple months ago, I booked our friend Winston's amazing band What Bird to play at Room5, and while they were in town, I took them out to dinner at Jitlada, where not only did I get to partake in my favorite Thai food in LA, but I also got to know his lovely wife Julia better. As if that were not gift enough, THEY sent ME a thank you - Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home To Yours." To say that I now owe them is an understatement.

The book has been my snuggle buddy while Matty's been away. There's not a better send-off to dreamland. And then to be able to wake up to Coffee Break Muffins is pure heaven. I made mini-muffins to send off to Matty and his bandmates - the recipe yielded about 36 mini muffins. (Um, don't count how many I sent you - I ate the rest of them). They're very tasty - so boldly coffee-flavored and not too sweet that you think you're doing anything bad by popping one or several in your mouth in the middle of the night. I can already imagine these with a billowy chocolate buttercream or as a bread pudding/French toast base.

And just for variety's sake, I added Peach Muffins to the care package, subbing in about 2 cups of Honey Bourbon Caramel filling I had left over from making hand pies for the fresh peaches called for in the recipe. I've become enamored of the peach this summer, and if I'm not eating them out of hand, I can think of no better alternative for them than to live in these muffins.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

nothing gold can stay

Matty's home for two days in between tours, so we're making the most of our time together. He's got a craving for our favorite sushi joint, and since they're closed today, I planned on a special dinner at home this evening. I had this vision of a meal with all his favorite things - Red Pesto Ravioli, a Tomato Tart, and our favorite Brussels sprouts.

Well, the actual dinner was just so disappointingly anti-climactic. I think I built it up too much in my head, and I probably put too much pressure on myself to make it extraordinary, and it fell flat. Let's discuss the ways this went wrong, shall we?

Red Pesto Ravioli
- pasta: This can also go on the list of things I forgot I don't like. Coriander. Lobster ravioli from Trader Joe's. It doesn't taste anything like lobster - it just smells a little fishy when you boil it. I think I would have been much happier with a nice, plain ricotta ravioli.
- pesto: I just whizzed an 8.5-oz jar of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil in the food processor. It looks like Heidi's picture, so a) I think I did it right, and b) I shouldn't really be surprised at how chunky it stayed, but I was. I think next time (with the plain ravioli), I'll continue processing it to a finer grind. I'm thinking I might really enjoy a sun-dried tomato puree to coat the pasta like a more traditional pesto.

Tomato Tart
- crust: I used the Pate Brisee recipe I always use, and had the darnedest time with rolling it out. I don't remember it ever being this resistant to the rolling pin. I also haven't worked out for a little while, so perhaps I really have THAT LITTLE upper body strength left. In any case, I finally beat it into submission and stuffed it in a tart pan.
- tomatoes: After baking for 15 minutes per the recipe, I peeked into the oven to see my tart absolutely leaching liquid. Now I know the tomatoes were probably going to release some liquid, and maybe the fresh mozzarella I used instead of Gruyere was going to contribute to that liquid, but I did not expect to have to bail out several tablespoons of liquid to make the tart presentable. Ugh. I ended up popping it under the broiler to dry out further.

***EDIT*** I'm having leftover tomato tart for lunch the next day, and to be fair, it's delicious. I just needed some time away from the alarming sight of tomatoes swimming in the tart pan to realize that. And really, what's not to like about what is essentially pizza in a pie crust. The mustard spread on the crust is also inspired, even if you just use Heinz Yellow Mustard like I did.

Brussels Sprouts
I overcooked them. I was too busy bailing out the tart, and I let them sit too long. They were sad and gray. Bah.

It's a good thing the sushi place was closed today and not tomorrow. I'd be even more depressed about this if it were our last meal together for two weeks.

summer girls

When I was in college, I was a champion procrastinator, but not for the reasons you might thing (okay, for some of the reasons you might think). The main reason is that I work best under pressure. So I would study, write papers, drink, etc. at a leisurely pace, get good nights' sleep and then wake up super early the day of a due date or exam and cram. I work best under pressure. I felt I was more efficient that way - I was under the wire, and there was no chance to make any excuses for taking a break. It was go-time.

I've carried that over to my catering experiences. Sure, I'll make lists and do a couple things ahead of time, but my main MO has been to get up early the day of the event and stay in the kitchen for 8 hours and go, go, go!

For the GirlsDrawinGirls show last night at Meltdown Comics, I created a menu of summery foods to fit the "Girls of Summer" theme, full of seasonal favorites - watermelon, peaches, strawberries. My plan of attack was to bake the 200 mini Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes and make the meatballs for sliders Friday night, but the bulk of the work was to be done Saturday before the show.

These Caramelized Onion Crustless Quiches were meant to be crusted. It was just that after having the oven on for only an hour into baking 200 Slider Buns (if you're counting, it's that recipe x10), my kitchen had already gotten too hot for the pastry dough to cooperate. After consulting various Internet resources, I came up with the following.

Mini Caramelized Onion Crustless Quiche
makes 36 mini quiches

3 eggs
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. whole milk
3 onions, diced and caramelized
grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together eggs, flour, baking powder and salt. Add milk.

Add a pinch of caramelized onions into each cavity of a mini muffin pan. Fill each with one tablespoon of the egg mixture. Top each with a pinch of grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes. They'll be gorgeous and puffy straight out of the oven, but will deflate upon cooling.

They would have been so much cuter with a crust, but they were still delightfully munchable. Onward.

My favorite items were the Caprese Variations - above are the watermelon and queso blanco bites, cut into cute little diamonds with a cutter from a vintage canape-cutter set I got at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Below are my absolute favorites - peach/mint/mozzarella bites, modeled after my new favorite salad.

To continue the summer theme, Melody came up with the idea of doing a mini barbecue staple - burgers. I made very simple meatballs with just ground turkey, diced onions and chopped parsley, stuffed them into a roll, topped them with a tiny dill pickle, skewered the whole thing, and called them turkey meatball sliders. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take a photo of the cute little devils, but I know there were actual photographers with legit cameras who took much better photos than I could ever dream of taking, and I'm sure I'll find them on Facebook and will link to them soon. Or I might get hungry in a couple hours and go ahead and photograph leftovers. :)

All in all, a very successful event. Since there wasn't an easy prep area, I ended up skewering additional sliders and frosting cupcakes right at the food table, which made for a very interactive feeding fest. Plus, I'm a sucker for a compliment, and it was fun to get the instant feedback of "YUM."

The ladies' artwork will be up at Meltdown until August 30th - lots of really fun and beautiful pieces, so check it out if you get a chance!

Meltdown Comics
7522 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the girl who does yoga

A while back, I read somewhere that in these tough economic times, we have to be more creative in order to find ways to keep the luxuries we're accustomed to in our lives. For example, no money for a yoga retreat? Spend the weekend at home taking yoga classes in town (save on airfare and accommodations), and stop by the farmer's market for clean, fresh foods you can prepare yourself. Tonight's dinner reminded me of that article. And had I taken advantage of the fact that I was staying 2 blocks from the ocean this glorious weekend and done sun salutations on the beach, I would have had myself my own personal retreat.

Alas, antique shopping got in the way, and I had no broiler in my hotel room, so my spa dinner had to wait until tonight.

#37 Tofu and Radish Salad
Serves 1 hungry person

1/4 c. orange juice
1 T. honey
7.5 oz. tofu, cubed
1/2 cucumber
5 radishes
1/4 c. edamame
sesame oil
salt and pepper, to taste
lemon juice

Preheat broiler.

In a medium bowl, whisk orange juice and honey. Add tofu cubes and toss to coat. Spread evenly on foil-lined cookie sheet and broil for 15 minutes or until golden. Discard any leftover juice.

While tofu is baking, slice cucumbers and radishes and add to juice bowl. Add edamame.

When tofu is done, add to veggies. Season to taste with sesame oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice.

I think the sesame oil is key here. It adds a richness that makes you feel like you're eating something much heartier - even meatier (which I guess is only a perk if you miss meat). At the same time, it doesn't drag you down when you're done with the dish, and you may feel you have room to spare for a square of dark chocolate. And still get into downward dog without making yourself sick.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

i gotta have you

I've just spent spent a lovely weekend in Cayucos, CA for the wedding of my friends Dana and Tanya. While it was a huge bummer that Matty couldn't make it (for me; he's fine - in Europe touring with Tristan Prettyman), I did make the most of the weekend - highlights include perhaps the best dinner of my life at the Cass House, very successful antiquing, and an absolutely perfect ceremony featuring some of the greatest vows I've ever heard and performances by Gabe Dixon, Jamie Cullum and Dan Wilson. Gabe singing "Cherry Trees" by one of my favorites, The Weepies, had me crying behind my Fendi sunglasses. I mean, just listen.

The lowlight involved my drinking choices at the wedding. I was actually very responsible because Gabe and I had to leave at 9a today to get back to LA, so it was not so much the amount of booze as it was the combination. For some strange reason, my stomach very much disagreed with the combination of chardonnay, champagne, tequila and Cayucos tap water. I'm sorry - I know the LA tap water I grew up on is nasty, but unless this is what super clean tastes like, Cayucos water is worse.

Anyway, as can be imagined, I was eager for simple, clean food when I got home, and what better recipe for that than one of Bittman's? I know bread and cheese is not really "light," especially the size sandwich I created, but it was just what I needed. And considering I did nothing but drive and nap today, I felt especially accomplished making my own ricotta for the sandwich.

Ricotta and Edamame Sandwich
Serves 2 with leftovers

half recipe for homemade ricotta
16-oz. bag of frozen edamame
8 mint leaves
juice of 1/4 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
basil leaves

Make ricotta according to David Lebovitz' instructions.

While ricotta is draining, bring a pot of water to boil. Blanch edamame for 2 minutes and drain. Pulse in food processor with mint leaves, then add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Split baguette and spread one side with ricotta and the other with edamame blitz. Drizzle ricotta with olive oil and top with basil leaves. Serve.

I'm planning on mixing the leftover ricotta and edamame together with some olive oil tomorrow and stuffing it into a potato roll. I think I'll like the softer bread better, but I was still pretty happy with the results in a baguette. The combination of basil and mint made for a very refreshing treat (unlike tequila + wine), but I also look forward to trying it with arugula as Bittman suggests, or watercress as my brain suggests.

Monday, August 3, 2009

oops, i did it again

Our good friends Brad and Tammy invited us over to their house for dinner and a viewing of "Oz & James' Big Wine Adventure."

Tammy was preparing a delightful tri-tip asada, and asked me to supplement with a side. Matty picked out this Firecracker Cornbread, and away we went. And since it appears I've been making a habit of not photographing my food, I again have nothing to show for this effort, but was thrilled to not have to carry anything home but an empty pie plate. Five people vs. a 9" cornbread - we won.

I'm not sure it was my favorite, though. There were definitely some very good bits - extra sweet and crispy edges spicy and caramelized to perfection by the butter melted directly in the pie plate, but for the most part, I found the texture lacking. Even though it was in the oven for the longer end of the spectrum, it felt undercooked to me. And the top remained pretty lumpy - no smooth, shiny golden surface here.

I did really enjoy the infused butter aspect of it, and will probably try it with other cornbread recipes in the future. Or maybe just to amp up the box of Jiffy mix and call it a day. :)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

nothing to show

I have a confession to make. I was a little too intoxicated off of our buddy Greg's grapefruit margaritas to remember to photograph the sides I made for our barbecue. Sad now, but really fun at the time.

All three dishes are small wonders from Mark Bittman's list of 101 Simple Salads for the Season. I've written out the actual amounts I used so I can refer to them in the future.

#36 Curried Chickpea and Carrot Salad

2 15-oz. cans of chickpeas, drained
2 carrots, grated
2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. curry powder, or to taste
1/2 cup sweetened coconut
salt and pepper to taste

Combine chickpeas, carrots, celery and olive oil in a large bowl. Add curry powder to taste. Add coconut and adjust spices to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This wasn't a huge hit - definitely very interesting, but not something you can just gobble down.

#79 Kale and Olive Salad

2 T. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
large bunch of kale, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
9 oz. oil-cured olives

Heat olive oil in large pot over high heat. Add garlic and stir briefly. Add kale and saute until wilted and dark green. Remove from heat and add olives. Toss to mix well.

This was pretty great. Next time, I'll just use slices of kalamata olives for the bigger texture contrast. These oil-cured olives got to tasting a little too greasy. They were also sweeter than I expected - so much so that Marcela thought they were prunes. Not a bad thing, but not what I was going for either.

#54 Roasted Red Pepper & Mozzarella Salad

15-oz. jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
8 oz. mozzarella balls, quartered
15-oz. can of white beans, drained and rinsed
a handful of basil, chopped
1 T. balsamic vinegar

Combine all ingredients and toss well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Really bummed I missed the chance to photograph this. The prettiest by far, and also the tastiest. Like a more intense caprese. Madly in love with this dish and will probably make it as long as my basil plant is alive since canned roasted red peppers will be around all year. I'll definitely try this with the piquillo peppers Bittman recommends the next time.