Saturday, July 31, 2010

soaked in cinnamon

I hardly want to talk about this Cinnamon Baked French Toast. It would just mean time spent away from having seconds, thirds and fourths.

We have a super busy weekend ahead of us. Today, we're spending the entire morning on the Westside, and then heading to a wedding that evening. Tomorrow, I've got yoga and will be going straight to a birthday brunch. That means we're leaving our impromptu house guest Alex home alone for two mornings in a row.

I felt bad about that, so after we grabbed drinks and late-night eats on Friday, I threw this together and let it sit overnight. In the morning, I made the cinnamon crumble, and into the oven it went.

One word of caution - this bakes up really puffy, so don't put it in the top third of your oven unless you want crumble bits to stick and burn. Luckily, nothing else burned, and after an hour in the oven, the most delicious baked French toast I've ever made came out. It was still nice and fairly custardy - I think it had to do with the extremely fluffy loaf of sourdough we grabbed from Vons. Day-old bread would probably bake up more well-done.

It's like cinnamon rolls without any effort whatsoever. And it's even better than cinnamon rolls because you get the contrast of the crispy crumble topping. I had a momentary flash of regret when I found a Granny Smith apple on the counter after I put the dish in the oven - it might have been fun to add the apple under the topping, but in hindsight, it was for the best. Nothing should distract from the pure goodness of just custardy bread and buttery, cinnamon-y crumbs. And even though there's plenty of sugar in the topping, it's not cloyingly sweet like I find most cinnamon rolls to be; rather it's just sweet enough to allow for that extra helping.

I've never been a fan of early afternoon football games (i.e. the breakfast tailgate), but with my new-found luck with brunchy items, especially, this dish, I'm starting to hope all our games are early.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

all i want

I've had just the biggest craving for mushrooms. So much so that when I pulled out the roasted mushrooms for this Mushroom Pistou, I considered scrapping the recipe, and just making a dinner out of the slices. But I had already spent the money on the herbs, meticulously measured out packed Tablespoonfuls of the stuff, and everything else was ready to go, so I had to follow through.

So glad I did - what resulted was a delightful pasta dish that was as good warm as it was at room temperature (do you hear me, summer barbecue sides?). It didn't really have the full-on mushroom flavor of obviously just roasted mushrooms, but enough of it was there to both satisfy my craving, and not completely scare off a mushroom hater I didn't know about.

I made a few substitutions - hazelnuts for the walnuts because I was out, Tofutti's Better than Sour Cream instead of creme fraiche because I was sharing with at least one vegan, and didn't add the Parmesan to the pistou straightaway and instead just brought it along for anyone who wanted to sprinkle it on top. I was in a hurry this time and dumped all the olive oil in the mushroom mixture at once, so it turned out just slightly greasy. Will go slower next time to properly emulsify the oil.

Monday, July 26, 2010

who knew

I was absolutely blown away by how good these Sugar Snap Peas with Whipped Ricotta were. I mean, sugar snap peas, good; ricotta, good. But for some reason, I couldn't fully wrap my mind around the two of them together. My curiosity was going to make me recreate this dish, but I was prepared to toss it all and fill up on leftover stromboli.

My biggest fear was that the snap peas would be too light and bright, and that it would taste completely wrong with the rich, decadent ricotta. I don't know if it was the drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over top that tied everything together so perfectly, or what, but I do know that

By the way, you definitely don't need to dirty up the mixer for the whipped ricotta. A few vigorous turns of a fork in the container the ricotta came in made my ricotta just perfect for me. I'm sure it'll be even more of a revelation when the ricotta does get whipped the way it's supposed to, but I'm saving that for a bigger party where there's more ricotta to play with.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

no weenies

I'm a big menu planner. I like to gather all my bookmarks on Sunday, look at our social obligations for the week, and then plan meals around them for my weekly grocery trip. Sure, sometimes things come up, and we end up going out, or I find a recipe I have to make immediately and then make another visit to the store, but I'm pretty good at sticking with my plan.

However, having just gotten back into town from Sister's wedding, and pretty much going straight to a friend's birthday party, there was no time for all that today. Our new favorite thing to do on such occasions (even though we haven't had a chance to do it terribly often) is pop over to McCall's Meat & Fish, pick from their selection of treats, and make an unplanned (gasp!) dish around it. On Sunday, while their jumbo quail looked intriguing, their leg of lamb looked like an amazing challenge, and their hamachi made me want to move into their display case, we chose a selection of their house-made sausages and created three dishes around them. A Sausage Fest, if you will.

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower + Merguez
Hands-down, my favorite, and probably also the simplest and least time-consuming. I forget where I last had merguez (probably Lazy Ox), but it made me swear that I would seek it out as often as possible to eat again as often as possible. I simply uncased the sausage, crumbled it as much as I could over cauliflower that had been tossed in olive oil and put on a cookie sheet, and roasted the whole thing in a 450-degree oven while the pasta cooked. Once the pasta was done and drained, I tossed it with the contents of the bakcng sheet. The only thing I would change for next time is to use a smaller pasta. Orrecchiette comes to mind.

Sausage with Onions + Peppers
A classic treatment. We got one each of two kinds of pork sausages (I regret to say I didn't look closely enough at the case to remember the details on both), sliced them, and tossed them in a large saute pan with thinly sliced bell peppers (2) and onion (1). I covered the pan for a little while to speed up the cooking, and then took the lid off for the last few minutes because everything was getting a little too juicy for my taste.

Chicken Sausage Stromboli
This stromboli was originally supposed to be a pizza. Well, as much a pizza as was going to be possible with no pizza stone and our vintage oven. But here's where my overachieving nature failed me. In an attempt to create a make-shift pizza stone - heating an upside-down cookie sheet at 550 degrees (the highest the oven goes), I had forgotten that an uncooked pizza doesn't transfer very well. You see, I had rolled out my Trader Joe's pizza dough on a cutting board roughly the size of my cookie sheet, spread it with about 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, tossed on 8 oz. of fresh mozzarella, and sliced up two chicken-basil-tomato sausages to go on top, and then when it came time to bake, I realized there was no way I was going to get it from cutting board to cookie sheet. So I rolled it up jelly-roll style and called it stromboli. Even my resident pizza snob was impressed.

And the obsessive-compulsive in me didn't freak out throughout the whole process! No menu planned in advance, no recipe to nearly memorize, no laptop in the kitchen for the bits I didn't memorize. It was liberating, really.

so happy together

My little sister got married yesterday. That sentence and fact is just mind-blowing. Not that I still think she has cooties or anything. It's just incredibly grown-up, and I will admit that I can't believe she is.

The wedding weekend was absolutely perfect - it couldn't have gone any better. We kicked everything off Friday with a girls' brunch overlooking the ocean, moved on to a champagne manicure/pedicure, and then headed down the 405 for the ceremony rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. After a night of tiramisu and zinfandel dreams (thanks, Ristorante Ferrantelli), I woke up extra early to pop in an hour of cardio and than went for a breakfast run (thanks Trader Joe's and Starbucks). Supplementing our breakfast were Chocolate Chip Muffins, the request of the bride.

These were pretty good. Fairly dense (but not in a bad way) with a tight crumb, they're just sweet enough for enjoyment, but not too sweet that you couldn't have them for breakfast. Or lunch. Or in the bridal holding room. Or in the limo on the way to the reception.

I didn't forget the boys - Sister told me that John's favorites were oatmeal-raisin cookies, so I went back into the archives and dug out the recipe for Thick, Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. The only problem was I didn't realize they weren't getting ready in the same hotel, so I had them in my possession until just a few hours ago when we met them for brunch. Sorry, groomsmen.

So what does all this have to do with the photo above, you ask? Well, when I doubled that muffin recipe, I got 48 mini muffins plus enough batter to fill about one inch of an 8x8 pan. And when I made the cookies (just one batch because I ran out of brown sugar), I had maybe another 2-3 cookies worth of batter but no room left on my baking sheets and no time left to bake another batch. So I crumbled them up, sprinkled them on top of the muffin batter, and saved it in the fridge for another occasion.

That occasion happened to be my friend John's birthday barbecue this afternoon. I hesitated to bring such a crazy concoction untested, but I did get asked for the recipe, so something must have worked. I'd also like to try this with a lot more cookie dough as a base for the muffin top.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

share love

The only way I know of to kill time when waiting for Matty to get home is to bake for his return. It's like my meditation. Last Monday night found me making my way through two tarts for Wednesday's dinner. I may have overdone it with the savory portion of the meal because we all transitioned from food coma to bedtime, and only managed to make the smallest dent in the sweets after a late-night sushi dinner on Thursday. My co-workers think I'm trying to destroy them when I bring these things in to the office, but really, it just gives me alone time with them - I'm probably eating way more than they are.

The first leftover treat this week was a Plum Almond Tart. I was inspired to do a plum dessert after being at a shoot this past Sunday where catering had the most juicy and delicious plum of my life. Sadly, the plums I bought for this tart were not nearly as epic as Sunday's specimen, but with the heat of a 375-degree oven and a filling of buttery goodness, they were more than beaten into submission. The tart was absolutely gorgeous and impressive when first out of the oven, with the almond filling rising to fill the spaces between the plums. The only thing I would change is to swap out about half of the framboise (or cherry brandy, in my case) with some almond extract to really punch out the flavor of the filling.

I did manage a piece of Macaroon Cherry Tart by the end of last week, but didn't really get to savor it until this week. It is so incredibly easy to make, and it looks so impressive. The crust is just a stir-and-go, and there's no rolling required. The filling is also a stir-and-go - the macaroon is so pretty when it bakes up. I thought about mixing the cherries right in for more even distribution, but since they were already cut, I didn't want to run the risk of streaking the macaroon with red and pink.

Joe said it best: "The buttery flavor of the macaroons are offset by the tartness of the cherries." :) For just being egg whites and coconut (and fine, a little bit of sugar), the filling absolutely oozed richness. I think it's also found me a new best friend in the newest member of our office team.

Monday, July 19, 2010

'cause monday is a mess

Monday. You're a caricature of yourself. I mean, what on earth. Matty and I both had a real case of them today, and couldn't really decide on much for post-work plans except that we needed to pay a visit to our new favorite gelato place, Gelato Bar.

Eventually, though, we figured we wanted a simple fish dish as a pre-cursor to gelato. Didn't want to get too fancy with the prep - straight salt and pepper was going to be enough. And the day was just bad enough to warrant splurging on a pound of really nice halibut. All it needed was an olive oil bath and voilĂ  - Olive-Oil Poached Halibut.

Next time I'll get a little naughty and poach it in butter. It was good in olive oil and especially good with rosemary, but I feel it would definitely not suck with the extra indulgence. As it was, it was just the kind of clean, simple supper that didn't weigh us down. The day had already done a good enough job of that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

too cold, too cold

It's been hot as balls in LA the last few days. I mean, I'm pretty sure everyone who was complaining about June gloom (and early July gloom) is kicking themselves now, myself included. We didn't know how good we had it.

Days like this, I wish I could live in this Buttermilk Granita. A big scoop in a pretty glass, sprinkled with blueberries, drizzled with a little Peach Balsamic. It's a delicious hit of icy tanginess that melts away to the burst of juiciness from the berry. A couple seconds later, your get an aftertaste of sweet-tart balsamic that reminds you how lucky you are to be an adult because your childhood self would probably have passed out from sheer disgust from hearing the combination of buttermilk and balsamic vinegar.

But let's be real - the best part of making granita on a hot day? Getting to stick your head in the freezer every 30 minutes to stir the thing around. Who needs A/C?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

overnight sensation

I was up and gone to the gym and work early this morning, but I didn't want Matty and his dad to have to have to fend for themselves for breakfast, so I left them with a Blueberry Maple Breakfast Bake.

Perfect make-ahead fare (which means, watch out breakfast tailgates and Easter brunch) - I put everything together last night and kept it in the fridge overnight. I definitely needed to use a 13" x 9" pan to fit all the bread).

And since I have a near-obsessive compulsive need to check all email, Facebook feeds and Twitter updates before I leave the house, the 1-hour baking time was no problem. I stuck it in the oven when I woke up, did my online thing, packed by gym bag, and left it on the counter. I hear it was good enough for two servings each, but I can't personally comment until at least the weekend since anything heavier than half a Clif bar would probably not make for an ideal situation on my treadmill.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

home at last

The men are home! The men are home!

After a 6-day cross-country trip, Matty and his father rolled in just after I made it home from work. I felt a little bad to keep them waiting on dinner, but I underestimated how much time it would take to roll out 12 empanadas, and stuff them. Thankfully, I had made the dough last night - can only imagine that the poor exhausted fellas would have fallen asleep before the food was ready if I hadn't.

They were fairly unusual - Banana + Black Bean Empanadas. I loved the filling - sweet from the bananas, earthy from the beans and spicy from the cayenne. I thought the cayenne alone gave it enough heat, so I didn't add the extra hot sauce at the end. Next time, I might try plantains instead of bananas - the bananas I had this time caramelized to just the right amount of sweetness, but I fear that bananas any riper would become overwhelming. I'd also like to try this as a smaller appetizer - perhaps a few teaspoons in a wonton wrapper, baked.

The accompanying Blackberry, Apple + Jicama Salad was a welcome contrast to the heavy filling of the empanadas. I didn't follow the proportions of the recipe too closely (a whole apple, half a small jicama, way more blackberries, added 3 kiwis and used spinach instead of arugula because I thought the sweet dressing would contrast too much with something as strong as arugula). I also tweaked the dressing by a bit more honey since my lime must have been particularly tart. Super refreshing all around.

The piece de resistance, though, was the Scallops with Tomatillo Guacamole + Corn Salsa. Specifically the tomatillo guacamole. At one avocado, though, I felt it was more of a tomatillo salsa, so I added two more avocados to get it to a nice creamy texture. Also loved the corn salsa - I don't often have raw corn off the cob, and I now feel that I need to incorporate more of it into the rotation.

All in all, I think I did okay. :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

i've seen better days

Today did not go as planned. Today was supposed to have started lazily in San Diego, stretched into LA by mid-afternoon and ended with an opera recital fundraiser in a beautiful Hancock Park home. Instead, it started with a 7:00a wake-up call for a solo drive up the 5, cursing myself for missing the exit with the drive-thru Starbucks and ended with me being too tired to stop at the grocery store for dinner fixings.

I mean, I had made the grocery list. I planned to stop. But I was a block away from home before I realized I needed to, and decided to throw up my hands and say, "Screw it." To both grocery shopping and to the day.

I briefly considered take-out, but didn't feel like leaving the house again, and didn't feel like ordering enough to meet the various delivery minimums. I peered through the refrigerator, trying to will a head of broccoli to appear for me to roast, but all I saw was week-old leftover Eggplant Pasta. How funny. The food I made the last time I was tired and cranky.

I've already been having leftovers for lunch (turns out a pound of pasta and eggplant will feed a woman for days), and I couldn't bear the thought of heating up yet another plate of spaghetti. However, I couldn't bring myself to throw it out, so I slowly dragged it out. As I swung the refrigerator door closed, the eggs clinked against the railing, and I had my out. Pasta frittata!

I've made pasta frittata before (and spelled it wrong, to boot). I didn't like it then, but I thought it couldn't hurt to give it another try. This was spaghetti - surely it would be different than the cavatappi of the last go-around. It's hardly a recipe - my leftover pasta (maybe a little less than 1/2 pound cooked pasta), the remaining eggs (9), the remaining Parmesan (about 1/4 cup). Toss together, pour into oven-proof 10" skillet, bake at 350 (maybe 400) degrees until the top is just set.

When I took my first bite, I was instantly transported to my childhood. To the omelettes made with nothing more than onion and lap xuong that we ate over rice. (Which of course makes me think of making a rice frittata - maybe something to play with the next time I have leftover risotto). Anyway, I think it was the texture that was so familiar, but whatever the reason was, it was delicious and completely hit the spot. After I had digested the first wedge, topped with sour cream and some slivered basil, I snuck back to carve out three thin slices to sandwich between toasted Wonder Bread with a slip of mayo. Also reminiscent of my youth, also totally comforting and good.

Maybe today wasn't that bad after all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

when there's no one there to hold you tight

I woke up this morning with major post-vacation depression. I didn't want to get out of bed. I had left gorgeous, sunny, 90-degree weather and a house full of love and laughter to come home alone to a quiet house (Matty's on the road for the next 10 days), and as I was putting out the new basil plant I had just bought, rain! Really, Los Angeles? Of all the times to rain. Bah humbug.

Luckily, a really long workout (just making up for slacking off last week) and a busy day at work prevented me from thinking about it too much, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the post-work hang at my friend Adrianne's house to watch Glee helped as well. I mean, "A House Is Not A Home." Come on now. Makes me miss high school, so here's bonus:

Anyway. Just as added insurance for happiness, I brought along Donna Hay's Strawberry Tarte Tatin. If summer didn't want to manifest itself, I was going to force it to in this tart. I knew I had to make it when I saw it appear twice in the span of about a week on two of the prettiest baking blogs on the Interwebs, Dessert First and Technicolor Kitchen. I was in a huge rush and was completely lazy about the puff pastry crust - I let one sheet from a package of frozen ones thaw on the counter while I hulled the strawberries and made the caramel. I didn't even bother rolling it out - I just laid the sheet over the pie plate and pinched off the excess. I figured it wouldn't matter much since I was going to flip the thing over anyway.

Let me just tell you that being in a hurry is not a good time to bake this tart. It smells so devastatingly good, that you want to pull it out of the oven as soon as the first wave of roasted strawberries hits your nose. I was pacing like you wouldn't believe, watching the timer click down on the microwave.

When I first pulled it out, I was quite alarmed by the amount of liquid that had accumulated, but as I let it cool, it either thickened up or was absorbed by the crust, and by the time I walked over to Adri's house, it was pretty much perfection. Topped with some unsweetened whipped cream (I didn't know her friends well enough to bust out some basil whipped cream on them), it was a great way to close out the evening.

Monday, July 5, 2010

let me go home

I have been awake for the last 21 hours. I have been traveling for 18 of those hours. I am so tired that the sip of water I just tried to take spilled mostly on my foot. And so tired that I just walked away, and sat back down with my foot completely in that spill for about 5 minutes before I realized it.

I paid dearly for two days of complete bliss in upstate New York. I knew my two-stopper flight (both ways) would be no picnic, but today's return was particularly gnarly. What was supposed to be two stops ending up being three as we were diverted from San Francisco to Sacramento to refuel because we didn't have enough to be in the 40-minute holding pattern over SFO due to that morning's fog.

I had resigned myself to deplaning in Sacramento, renting a car and driving myself back down, stopping at every In-N-Out along the way for consolation, but we didn't even have a gate when we got to SMF, so we sat there for about an hour before heading back to SFO, missing my connection by 15 minutes. I was resigned to waiting for another three hours before I could get on a plane coming home.

I thought about stopping at the In-N-Out between BUR and home, but I decided I needed to celebrate being back in the house. You know, chop and stir things just to prove to my now-delirious self that I was actually home.

This Eggplant Spaghetti was luckily straightforward enough that my compromised brain wasn't overwhelmed. I used whole-wheat spaghetti, which stood up nicely to the sweet, garlicky eggplant and the generous slick of olive oil. It was comforting in the way that only monochromatic food can be. Paired with seared, equally slinky cauliflower...oh hell, I can't talk like this anymore. Eggplant pasta = yum. I had two helpings. And the entire 12-oz. bag of cauliflower. And now, I sleep.