Thursday, January 29, 2009

Betcha can't eat just one...

Looking for something new to serve on Super Bowl Sunday? Why not whip up a bacon explosion? This is a happy little dish made of bacon rolled in sausage rolled in bacon. What's not to love? (I know what Shamu is getting for her birthday!!!)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Craving interrupted...

Ever since reading about La Diva Cucina's fabulous Bollywood feast, I'd been craving the spicy, cheesy, deeply green miracle that is saag paneer. Sadly, satisfying that craving in my neck of the woods is not an easy thing. There are but three Indian restaurants here, and of the three, only one is worth visiting. Add to that Mr. Junkie's disdain for anything other than charred bovine flesh and well, you get the picture.

Yesterday afternoon, however, something unexpected occurred. "I'm craving saag paneer." I told Mr. Junkie, assuming he would immediately offer up a compromise that involved large slabs of grilled beef. "Let's go." he said. I tried to appear composed as I darted for the shower, vaulting over the dog on the way. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Yes." I threw on my clothes and hopped in the car. As we drove, I imagined the hot fragrant saag, spicy lamb vindaloo, buttery naan and cooling mango lassi that had been unexpectedly granted me."They're closed." Mr. Junkie stated matter-of-factly. How could he be so calm?!? "They're what??" I was absolutely crestfallen. There is nothing worse than a craving that cannot be satisfied. "Closed. Want to grab a steak?" Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good steak as much as the next carnivore. But it just didn't sound good. "No" I replied. "No steak". "What then?" asked my curiously affable spousal unit. Hmmmm...what then indeed. We were within a stones throw of fairly decent sushi, Mexican, Chinese and Cajun, but none of those inspired the longing that the saag paneer had. Italian? Barbecue? No lightning bolts. Then it hit me - in an earlier conversation with Shamu, she mentioned that she had eaten fish and chips for lunch. My boat was once again beginning to float. It may not be saag paneer, but being able to adapt on the fly is a good thing, right? Adapt, survive, conquer. "Point this buggy downtown" I said. "Sure. Where are we going?" "Quinn's" I replied with conviction. "I'm craving fish and chips..."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Origami wontons and pretty pastry cookies

"Have you recovered from that terrifying Williams Sonoma shopping ordeal?" the Java Junkie asked with all the sympathy of Cruella de Vil. The Junkie is a former union negotiator, which left her with a keen mind for detail, but very little patience for whining. And yours truly can whine with the best of them. I decided that, at least for the time being, silence would serve me well. "The next baking project requires no special equipment or skills. Unless you don't know how to do know how to fold, don't you?" My mind raced ahead. What madness does she have planned for me now? Origami wontons? "Yes, in fact folding was one of the few Girl Scout badges I earned just prior to being kicked out for attempting to score a double badge credit in mouthing off", I quipped proudly. "Palmiers," she sighed, trying to ignore my remarks, "are an easy and quick pastry that you can make from ready made frozen puff pastry sheets, cinnamon and sugar. I've even found a video so you can follow along." I began to wonder if she truly did doubt my folding skills. Hmmm, perhaps she had seen me struggling with fitted sheets...

So, without further ado, here's the simple recipe:

1 package Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets
3/4 c. sugar
1 T. ground cinnamon

Follow video instructions above and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

"They're not as pretty and shiny as the ones in the video" I lamented. "Are you sure they don't need an egg wash or something?" "No egg wash. It's the caramelized sugar that makes them shine" she replied. "Would that include organic cane sugar?" I asked. Judging by the long silence, I guessed it wouldn't. "Try using superfine baker's sugar" she explained gently. "The organic stuff is fine, but when you're making a pastry like this, you want a fine, even coating of sugar, and the superfine works best." "Roger" said I, and went off to bake another batch."These are great cookies" I gushed after making a few batches. "They're actually pastries" she replied. "Whatever" I replied, flashing the aforementioned badge at her as I wiped the crumbs from my chin - "it eats like a cookie." "Just because cookies are pastry does not mean that pastries are cookies" said Java cryptically. "In any case, we'll see how you feel about that after you've made them from scratch." Suddenly my respect for her grew even larger. Making puff pastry from scratch takes a massive amount of time and energy, and I was suddenly thankful for Pepperidge Farm. But I'm still convinced that, given enough coffee, my good friend could whip up a hundred origami won ton cranes without blinking an eye.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

For the Foodie Who Claims to Have All the Latest In Gadgets

A perfect match to my Conk dicker. Get your Clam Ram at Kiosk. A steal at $18.00. Now if I can just find a sterling pearl poker for my oysters I'll be set...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dear God, please say it's not the bacon...

"It could be you have food allergies. I want you to see an allergist." My doctor's diagnosis was delivered with an efficient, directly to the point manner of someone with an incredibly busy family practice, two teenage children, and a dedication to diving. I mean, it wasn't like she had just given me three weeks to live. Yet my foodie heart skipped a beat. Food allergies? Surely something else was causing the hives; the eye so swollen it looked like I'd been punched by an angry vegan and the runny nose...Not my beloved FOOD?? "I want you to avoid processed foods and cook at home until you get tested." Marching orders and multiple scrips in hand I went forth to make the pharmaceutical companies just a little richer.

The first thing I did? Google for info. According to many online sources, 8 common foods account for 90% of food allergies. My palms started to sweat in anticipation of all I could be losing. Could the culinary creature that I am survive avoiding 8 types of food? It wasn't like I was unfamiliar with allergies. Long ago an allergist gave me a scratch test to determine what I was allergic to in the plant world. When all the little scratch sites gathered together into one united hive front, it was safe to say that the known North American trees, grass, weeds and probably the dirt they grow in are out to kick my respiratory system's ass.How bad is it going to be? Let's check the tape. First up?Maybe it won't be so bad. A tall cold glass of milk only held an appeal to me if accompanied by a huge stack of Oreos. My cereal cravings have diminished as I've grown older. I think I can handle a milk allergy.Soy? OK, I could handle a soy allergy. I love Edamame but it's not like I'm constantly mowing them down like potato chips. But wait, that means the fried tofu with crabmeat sauce at my favorite Chinese restaurant is out. So is Agedashi-dofu. I reached for my new eye drops to disguise my tears.Wheat. While I might be living in the midst of America's breadbasket, I've never been a carbo queen. My mother thinks that I would enjoy a bread machine but I just don't eat that much bread. I do, however, enjoy good crusty loaf on which to slather soft and stinky cheese...And there is that lovely fruit and nut packed rustic bread I get at the farmer's market.Despite my sudden epiphany that cheese was in the dread milk group, I found myself craving a grilled cheese sandwich. Maybe the hives weren't that bad after all...Peanuts? No great loss. I usually get nachos at the baseball game (I calmed myself by thinking of gooey nacho cheese made of oil and food coloring). The peanut butter in my house is mostly reserved for persuading dogs to consume their pills. Still peanut allergies seem to be one of the most serious. My instincts said this wasn't the culprit.Tree nuts. While I might not be a peanut fan, the rest of the nut families did hold a certain appeal. I can only eat brownies stuffed with walnuts. Pecan pie is a joy. Pine nuts often wiggle their way into my pasta and salads. My brother just sent me a healthy supply of sugared cashews. Suddenly I found myself reaching for the bag. No way I was going to let these go to waste. A yearning for spinach sauteed in a little olive oil with raisins and pine nuts, finished with a little balsamic vinegar was planned for the upcoming weekend menu.Danger Will Robinson!!!!! Danger!!! Houston, we have a problem!!!! Were my watery eyes deceiving me, or were the last three foods on the list eggs, fish and shellfish??? It couldn't be! What would my breakfast loving, sushi pounding, bay crab worshiping soul do??? Give up my crab? Omit the ovum? No longer swim with the fishes? Inconceivable. Thank goodness the sushi joints I frequent don't stay open late or I would have been sympathy sucking down some serious salmon, tuna and eel. I peeked at online crab shipping sights. What would I eat with my bacon. (OK stupid question since there's not much I DON'T eat with bacon.) Steamed shrimp with Old Bay would be off limits. And I could never be a judge on Top Chef since the abundance of scallop dishes would send me into a hive infested itch spiral.

I pondered all these things as I slugged down the small pills that would give me some relief from my symptoms. Maybe I was worrying for nothing. Maybe my skin suddenly developed a hatred for the laundry detergent I've used for years. I took some comfort in that but I also practiced my speech to certain restaurant owners that I could no longer patronize their lovely establishments. And maybe, just maybe those same restaurant owners would take up a little collections to keep me stocked in pills. Certainly a small price to pay to keep me coming through their front doors.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cookie of the Day

"You need to make some cookies. " The Java Junkie knew I had some time off. The perfect opportunity to stretch my culinary muscles. "I have a great recipe, very simple, you'll love it." she said. Sweet, I thought, I love simple. "Hit me with the recipe" I said. "Madelines," she replied. Visually I could picture them in my mind's eye, little scallop shaped cookies but I couldn't remember ever having eaten one. She continued, "but you're going to need a madeline pan." Of course I am. The Java Junkie lives to send me shopping. I started to whine. "Oh stop it" she replied, "I'm sure the World Market will have madeline pans." Obviously she had forgotten June's Tangine Incident. "Right, just like they were supposed to have Tangines." I countered. While the World Market might have had a display photo of tangines sitting in the midst of some very lovely plates there were no actual tangines visible. When I took the cardboard photo to a store assistant and inquired if they had any in the back, he looked a bit confused and said they didn't have any. I tried to point out the silliness of displaying a picture of something but not actually selling it. It seemed a bit beyond his grasp. Still I was willing to give them another chance since they sell very cheap kitchen wares.Sadly, World Market took a second strike. Not a madeline pan to be found. However they had taken the opportunity to stock up on tangines. This left me only one option and it was one I was not relishing. I was going to have to enter the Williams Sonoma Zone.

I dread going into Williams Sonoma. So much stuff, such big price tags. Not only that but now the Cooking Pusher Bots attack more fiercely than ever. They are determined not to let you leave their store with just one item if they can help it. Sales are pointed out, samples are paraded before your eyes and the copper pots blind you with their sparkle and gleam. I was strong. I resisted. I was in and out for less than twenty dollars.

Pan and recipe in hand, it was time to cook. Java was right, a very easy recipe to follow.


1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (6 ounces)
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter (for greasing pan)
3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
a pinch of fine-grain sea salt
2/3 cups sugar
zest of one large lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar

a bit of extra flour for dusting baking pan

Special equipment: A madeleine baking pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Melt the 1 1/2 sticks of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it's brown and gives off a nutty aroma, roughly 20 minutes. Strain (using a paper towel over a mesh strainer) - you want to leave the solids behind. Cool the butter to room temperature. By doing the butter first you can complete the rest of the steps while it is cooling.

While the melted butter is cooling, use the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to grease the madeleine molds - get in there and make sure you get in all the ridges. Dust with flour and invert the pan tapping out any excess flour. You can also use "cooking spray" with flour to simplify this part.

Put the eggs with the salt in the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until thick - you are looking for the eggs to roughly double or triple in volume - approximately 3 minutes. Continuing to mix on high speed, slowly add the sugar in a steady stream. Whip for 2 minutes or until mixture is thick and ribbony. Now with a spatula fold in the lemon zest and vanilla (just until mixed).

Sprinkle the flour on top of the egg batter, and gently fold in. Now fold in the butter mixture. Only stirring enough to bring everything together.

Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each mold 2/3 –3/4 full. I use a small cup filled with batter to keep things clean and manageable, it is easier than using a spoon.

Bake the madeleines for 12 - 14 minutes (7-10 minutes for smaller cookies), or until the edges of the madeleines are golden brown. Remove from oven and unmold immediately. Cool on racks and dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 2 -3 dozen regular madeleines.

The hardest thing about making these cookies? Saving enough for others. I can't resist these warm little lemon zesty butter bites. Since I chose the smaller size madeline pan, it's almost deceptive how many you can eat. If you enjoy a citrus bite to your sweets then this recipe is for you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"W" is for...

Click HERE to find out what
"W" stands for...

(Apologies for all those with New Year's Resolutions to diet...)