Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dinner Party

Friday evening brought friends Emilia and Howie to the Brady B&B to share in some cocktails, tasty vittles, and a bit of my lemon meringue ice cream. Emilia is the invaluable right-hand woman who helped bring my book, The World Is a Kitchen, to reality. This was a long overdue thank you and a chance to catch up and see pictures of their recent trip to Kenya.

Something new from the kitchen was in order, so I scoured my recipe file and came up with three appetizer recipes to try. I even bought a new tri-level serving dish for the occasion. I wanted it to look a good as I thought it would taste. In my estimation two of the recipes fell a bit short, although I didn’t hear any complaints from anyone. Well, I’m not sure they had time to complain, because I kept the food coming most of the night.

We started with some lemon drops, made with our own Meyer lemons. The appetizers comprised the 3 new recipes. On the menu was Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs, Endive with Stilton, Pears & Pecans, and gougeres. I was able to make each item, or components of each item ahead of time, and just assemble and bake when the time came. This was followed by Fiery Cajun Shrimp and some good crusty bread. The best thing about this meal is that I spread a plastic tablecloth on our dining table, and we eat with our hands, peeling the spicy shrimp and throwing the shells on the table. It’s fun and clean-up is as easy as rolling up the plastic cover and dumping it in the garbage. It was hit this time as it was at our big dinner party last summer. We ended the meal with cappuccinos and lemon meringue ice cream. Mmmmm.

So in the recipe department we have the 3 apps. The fig recipe cost about $16 and was just so-so. It was also a bit time-consuming to prepare. I was unable to find fresh figs, which could possibly make it a better dish, so I will try it again when fig season comes around. The endive dish was a big hit. The strong flavor of the Stilton, with the sweet softness of the caramelized pears was only made better by the crunch of the pecans. This was a definite keeper. And the gougers, well…they weren’t quite right. They didn’t rise as they should have, and the flavor was nothing to write home about, and yet I know that this pate choux/cheese mixture is time-honored and well used. So I believe I must have done something wrong. Any suggestions?

Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs

4 large whole fresh figs quartered or 16 small mission figs
4 oz Chevre
3-oz proscuitto
3 T honey
¼ t pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut slit in fig and fill with quarter to half teaspoon of goat cheese. Tear proscuitto pieces in half longwise. Wrap each fig with half slice, tucking ends underneath. Place figs on prepared sheet. Combine honey with pumpkin pie spice and drizzle over figs. Bake in oven for 8-10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Note: I made these ahead of time and kept them refrigerated, drizzling and baking them right before serving.

Endive with Stilton, Pears & Pecans

3 T butter
2 T sugar
2 pear, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T red wine vinegar
1 t salt
1 t fresh ground pepper
¼ c olive oil
½ cup Stilton, crumbled
25 endive spears
½ cup pecan halves or 25 pieces, toasted

In large sauté pan, over medium heat, add the butter and sugar. Add the diced pear and cook until well caramelized, approximately 8-10 minutes. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the garlic, red wine vinegar, salt, fresh pepper and olive oil. Add the Stilton.

Layout the endive spears, top with a bit of the cheese mixture, then the pear mixture, then the pecan. Plate and serve.

Note: you may substitute any other blue cheese for the Stilton and rough chopped pecans for the pecan halves.


½ c butter
1 c water
1 c flour
5 eggs
1 c grated gruyere
½ c grated parmesan
2 t Djon mutard
1 t fresh ground pepper

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In heavy medium saucepan, heat butter and water to simmer. Turn heat to low, add the flour and stir vigorously until mixture forms a ball that pulls away from the pan sides (about 1 minute). Remove pan from heat. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Mix into a smooth paste. Stir in both cheese, mustard, and pepper. Drop mixture by heaping tablespoonful onto 2 buttered baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, cut slits into sides of pugs and return to oven, lowering the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake an additional ten minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.

The lemon meringue ice cream recipe will be coming soon.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

5 Things About Me

I’ve been tagged by my good friend Tea over at Tea and Cookies with my second meme. It made me wonder where it started, so I dug around trying to trace it back. Okay, I only went back as far as February 1st, and I am sure this goes back much further than that, but the thread of this meme, 5 Things About Me, came from the
Perfect Pantry to Cumin and Coriander to Tigerfish at Teczcape to Budding Cook to Rasa Malaysia to Pim of Chez Pim to Amy of Cooking with Amy to Tea of Tea and Cookies to me!

And by stating the obvious, here are 5 things you didn’t know about me.

1) I played softball for 27 years. Coming from a completely non-athletic family, I took up softball at age 13, at the urging of my mother when we moved to a new town. I played in the first Bobby Sox league in our area, for my high school, in summer leagues in high school and college, in the cannery leagues in San Jose, and in corporate leagues until I was 40. My primary positions were pitcher and first base—the reason being: I hate to run and these are 2 of the 3 positions that require little chasing of the ball.

2) I have two tattoos. My first tattoo, a large Celtic Tree of Life on my lower back, was done on the same day as my son’s first tattoo – a real mother/son bonding experience. This was a long time coming for me. I had wanted a tattoo since I was in my late teens. It only took me twenty-plus years to decide what to get and where to put it. I chose this image because it represented family to me; the roots are my ancestors, the branches my children, coming together to form a circle around the image. The second tattoo was done in honor of my nana on the day she passed away. She was always my guardian angel, and so I have a small angel on my shoulder, watching over me every day.

3) I have a large teacup and tea pot collection. Not that I am an avid collector, but somehow these things gravitate to me. I received two tea pots from my wedding, my mother gave me one from her first marriage, I inherited several from my granny, my husband gave me one, one is a gift from the Taiwanese government, and several others have been gifts over the years. My nana left me several antique tea cups, and when my granny died, I was able to save quite a few from her, as well. The teapots are displayed on a large shelf in my kitchen and are used regularly.

4) My favorite car was my Volkswagen Vanagon. The only new car I ever owned, it was purchased when my children were 1 and 3 and was the best investment a young family could have made. The kids sat far enough in the back that they were not screaming in your ear. There was a table you could pull up for them to play on. It had a removable refrigerator, cupboards, seat storage. It was a mobile playpen – with toys, towels, snacks, and diapers. It took us to the in-laws in Arizona, camping two or three times a year, trips to LA and San Diego. It hauled Little League players, soccer players, Girl Scouts. I was force to give it up because of an illness that resulted in arthritis that affects my hands and ankles and could no longer drive a stick shift.

5) I actually like deep-fried twinkies. I came up on these by accident walking down Fremont Street in Las Vegas and happening on a small innoculous looking venue with girls in sweats underneath tacky Carmen Miranda outfits passing out Mardi Gras beads. In the window was a sign. The sign I had to read twice to understand. Because in my part of the world, we don’t serve DEEP FRIED TWINKIES. I can’t even imagine who concocted such a thing. After dragging my husband into the The Mermaids Casino, we made our way to the back food court. Well, not really a food court. More of a Little League refreshment stand with sodas, corn dogs, hot dogs, and, of course, deep fried Twinkies. I ordered one, for the reasonable price of 99 cents, and proceeded to watch the delicacy being prepared. Out of the freezer comes a Twinkie, stuck on a stick. It is dipped in batter, and thrown into the fryer. A few minutes later, it is done, drenched in powdered sugar, and ready to eat. When I bit into it, I stopped laughing at what I thought would be culinary hell. It was actually good. It wasn’t too sweet and the deep frying had changed the texture of both the cake and the filling. And I ate the whole thing. It’s amazing to me that the humble Hostess Twinkie, which has a shelf life that NASA would love, could taste that good. It has served as a reminder to try more new things, because you just never know what you might like.

In the spirit of the meme, I am trying to tag several of my recipe testers from The World Is a Kitchen, but this new version of blogger is making my life hell, so I cannot do links right now. Apologies. Here is the list, without links:

Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice
Jenna of Jennatarianism
Helene at Tartelette
Lee at Welcome to My Pantry
Fran at Flavors

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Spice Rub Confusion

Christmas of 2005 I made a bounty of homemade goodies as gifts, of which Brilliant Daughter not only helped, but designed special labels for each item. There was the 2 versions of limoncello made with my very own Meyer lemons; herbed olives from a recipe I garnered at Michael Mina’s Nob Hill restaurant in Vegas; Sweet & Spicy Pecans; Garlic & Rosemary Almonds; Poultry Rub; and Barbeque Rub.

All of these items garnered rave reviews, but the Barbeque Rub seemed to hog the glory, and people still rave about it. In fact, Son the Butcher gave some to his best friend’s sister’s boyfriend, and he can’t get enough. So Son asked if I would make some more to share. I thought it would be no problem, until I went to dig out the recipe and found, to my horror, 4 different rub recipes for barbecue meat in my files. And I could not, for the life of me, discern which was the recipe that had made it to the top of the hit parade. What’s a cook to do?

You guessed it, I made all 4. I made a jar for testing in-house and 4 little baggies to send over to the friend’s sister’s boyfriend to compare with what he has and to act as second tester. Of course, it isn’t barbeque weather, not even here in California, so we may have to wait awhile to get the results. But in the interim, if you feel a bit creative one day, and don’t want to cook up a messy batch of something, you might try out these rubs…and then give me your feedback on which you like the best.

Rub #1
2T cumin
2 T paprika
2 T granulated garlic
2 T granulated onion
2 T chili powder
2 T brown sugar
4 T kosher salt
2 t cayenne pepper
2 t black pepper
2 t white pepper

Rub #2
4 T brown sugar
4 t paprika
2 t dry mustard
2 t black pepper
2 t salt
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1 t ground cuin
¼ t cayenne pepper

Rub #3
¼ c paprika
3 T chili powder
2 ½ T dry mustard
2 T coarse kosher salt
2 T sugar
2 T ground cumin
2 T granulated garlic
1 T cayenne pepper
1 T ground black pepper

Rub #4
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup paprika
1/3 cup garlic salt
2 T onion salt
2 T chili powder
1 T cayenne pepper
1 T black pepper
1 1/2 t dried oregano
1 1/2 t white pepper
1 t dried cumin

HINT: If you go to a big box store like Costco, you can buy the herbs, spices, peppers, etc. in larger quantities, making this more economical for gift giving and large batches.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Super Bowl Menu

Tomorrow is the big day, and while we are not rooting for any team in particular, we do celebrate any big event with food. Actually, we celebrate everything with food, no matter how big or small. And why not?

Since we are not having a big crowd this year, and Son the Butcher took off for Chico to party in a town that seems to know how to party, I am off the hook for cheesy appetizers. Originally, thinking that hordes of twenty-something males would invade, I had asked Son what he wanted. He mentioned beer, chili-cheese dip and wings. I shudder at the thought of mixing a pre-made can of chili with Velveeta, heating it up into a gooey yellowish-brown mass, so am thankful I could take that off the menu. We’ll do something simple like guacamole.

For the main meal, I wanted something different than the usual chili, barbecued pork, ribs, etc. Thankfully, the Wednesday food section of the SF Chronicle came through. They had a recipe for Chipotle Roast Pork that sounds really good. While it takes a bit of planning, due to the overnight brining, it really is a very simple, easy to prepare dish. I’ll serve it along with black beans and some fried plantains.

And for dessert, a recipe I have been saving for just such an occasion. The November/December issue of Imbibe had a great recipe for Chocolate-Guinness Cupcakes. Football being a beer-related sport, I think these cupcakes, invented by Dave Lieberman of Food Network fame, will be the perfect ending to the day. You might want to get his new cookbook, Dave’s Dinners: A Fresh Approach to Home-Cooked Meals.

And now for the recipes. Do beware, I have not made the pork or cupcakes yet, so I cannot attest to their taste, but I have faith.

Chipotle Roast Pork
Serves 4-6

If you happen to have any leftover meat, you can whip up some Cuban sandwiches.

2 ½ pound boneless pork butt, tied

4 cups water, divided
3 T kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 T pureed chipotle en adobo
1 T Dijon mustard

2 chipotles in adobe
6 garlic cloves
1 t cumin seed, crushed
1 T olive oil + 2 T for browning
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup orange juice

Instructions: Heat 2 cups water in glass measuring cup in microwave until hot. Stir in the salt and brown sugar until dissolved and then add the pureed chipotle and mustard. Add 4 ice cubes and the remaining 2 cups unheated water. The ice cubes just cool down the brine so it can be used immediately. Place the meat into a gallon size Ziploc plastic bag. Pour cooled brine on top and seal. Refrigerate for 12 to 16 hours.
When ready to cook, take meat out of refrigerator. Make up the rub by mincing chipotles and garlic together. Place in bowl. Add a little of the adobo sauce from can along with the cumin, oregano and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Remove the meat from the brine (discard the brine), dry it off and rub all surfaces with the chipotle rub.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Heat a heavy Dutch oven like a Le Creuset pot and add the 2 teaspoons olive oil. Brown the meat on both sides over medium heat. Allow the meat to brown for 5 to 8 minutes before turning over. If you turn too soon, the spices tend to stick to the pot. Turn gently by sliding a spatula underneath.
Mix the lime juice and orange juice together and pour over the roast. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 155 °.
Remove the roast from the oven and let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing. The temperature will climb another 5 degrees.

Black Beans

I have to say that I use a shortcut on these beans, but they are as good as the original recipe I have since lost. They take next to no effort and are great served with white rice as a main dish. Or do not drain the water off and serve as a soup.

1 package black beans
1can Trader Joe’s Garlic Salsa

Cover dried beans with twice as much water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn to very low. Stir occasionally, cooking until beans are tender (an hour or so). When tender, drain most of water from beans, leaving some for moisture. Add the whole jar of salsa and salt to taste. Return to heat and cook for 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle with half bunch chopped cilantro, stir, and serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Fried Plantains

If you want, you can skip the water bath. But you will need to fry the plantains twice, smashing them after the first fry.

2 cups water
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
2 green plantains

Combine water, garlic and salt in medium size glass bowl and set aside.

In a large (12-inch) saute pan, heat oil to 325 degrees F. Peel plantains and slice crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Carefully add plantains to oil and fry until golden yellow in color, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side. (The oil should come halfway up the side of the plantain). With a spider or slotted spoon, remove the plantains from the pan and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, standing them on their ends. With the back of a wide, wooden spatula, press each piece of plantain down to half its original size. Then place the plantains in the water and let soak for 1 minute. Remove and pat dry with a tea towel to remove excess water.

Bring oil back up to 325 degrees F and return plantains to pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a dish lined with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

1 12oz. bottle Guinness stout
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 T pure vanilla estract
3 large eggs
¾ cuo sourcream
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa (for a richer chocolate taste, use up to ½ cup additional cocoa)
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1.2 t baking soda


1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 cup heavy cream
1 ½ pounds confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the Guinness, melted butter and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream. In another large bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, flour and baking soda. Gradually mix the dry ingredients in to the wet Guinness mixture. Butter 24 muffin tins and divide batter among them. Bake 25 minutes until risen and set in the middle but still soft and tender. Cool before turning out of the tins.

To make frosting, beat the cream cheese in a bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the heavy cream. Slowly mix in the confectioners’ sugar. Top each cupcake with a heap of frosting and dust with cocoa.

Enjoy the game!