Monday, October 03, 2011

Love in the Refrigerator

As acknowledged in my last post, I have been remiss in posting to Eating Suburbia. During my absence, I often looked at it longingly, wishing I could find more time in my day to share thoughts and recipes with you. But circumstances prevented me from doing anything other than my paid job and being with my mother at the hospital. And I mean that literally.

I did not exercise, I did not shop, I did not have lunch with friends, and…most of all…I did not cook. In the two months my mother was in the hospital, I cooked two meals, both breakfast/brunch. Which of course made me sad. I love my remodeled kitchen, and I love to cook.

But during that terrible, awful, depressing time, a wonderful thing happened. Actually a lot of wonderful things happened, but the one that is pertinent to this blog is that my daughter stepped in and filled my shoes. And she did so brilliantly, meaning that she is living up to her moniker.

With my commute to the hospital, and long hours there, I completely neglected my household duties. All my focus was on my mother and her recovery. But during that time, Mr. B and Brilliant Daughter trekked to the store every Sunday and did the shopping. And then my daughter would spend the day in my kitchen cooking a week’s worth of meals. She cooked enough for my stepfather, for our household, and for her own household. Wonderful soups, chicken potpies, enchiladas, pasta sauce, quiche Lorraine, and the list goes on.

It was a blessing.

It was love in the refrigerator.

Sunday cooking was a ritual that lived in our house while my children were growing up. I started it when they were in elementary school. I would shop on Sunday morning then spend 3 hours making 4 meals for the week, along with some sweet treat. Then no matter what we were doing—Little League, Girl Scouts, art classes, soccer—there was always a good solid meal to eat every night. Sometimes we were able to share it together at the table, sometimes we ate in shifts, but I always knew they were eating well and I didn’t have to stress over cooking in between work and carpool runs.

I developed a repertoire of recipes and now my daughter is developing her own. And during this family crisis, she showed she could run with the big dogs. Creating great meals out of surprises in the CSA box, learning to cook in large batches that could feed eight or more, and providing a lot of comfort food, something we all desperately needed.

While I have often thanked her, I’d just thought I would share how special she is and how lucky we all are to have her. I am one proud mama and she is one brilliant daughter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Return of Eating Suburbia

You may have noticed my absence over the last 6 months; something that was a bit out of my control and left me too drained for anything creative. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March of this year. For two solid months I sat by her hospital bed, through each Code called on her, through 3+ weeks in intensive care, through septic shock, a C diff infection, and several touch-and-go episodes. I spent too many nights trying to sleep next to her, at times not leaving the hospital for 36 straight hours. On May 18th she finally succumbed to complications from multiple surgeries.

Upon her death, I threw myself into two projects: helping my stepfather cope and go through her things, and a backyard project with Butcher Son, where we completely tore out the back lawn to build 4 huge raised beds for vegetables. It wasn’t until last week that I had the impetus to write again.

In going through another round of boxes of my mother’s possessions, I found a binder, which she had lovingly hand-painted. Inside was a printout of each and every column from this blog. The fact that she had done this left me with both a smile and a tear. (Well, more than one.)

My mother was intensely proud of her two children. We were the first in the family to graduate from university, and we both went on to have successful marriages, meaningful engaging jobs, and raise some really wonderful children. She regularly praised me on my writing, which often brought her to tears, not only because of the subject matter, but because it touched her so that I could manipulate words in a way that was heartfelt, passionate, and deeply personal at time.

My mother was an inspiration. She battled back from heart failure more than once, living with both a pacemaker and a defibrillator; went through two knee replacements and a heart valve repair, and multiple other surgical procedures. The cancer was just another in a long line of challenges, and one that she should have recovered from.

Her gynecological oncologist was a master, able to remove all the cancerous tissue and give us hope for a full recovery. But the heavy dose of antibiotics required allowed a C diff infection to flourish, eventually causing septic shock and a body that was not strong enough to fight back. After several rallying episodes, her heart gave out. And our hearts went with her.

But her belief in me, and my joy in writing this blog, was reignited when I saw the binder. So I hope to put pen to paper (or keyboard to computer) and get back on track, weaving words from my food experiences. And, I hope to tell you a little about my first attempt at raised bed gardening and the glimpse of joy my whole family found in making the project happen when all we could do was cry.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Makin’ Bacon

I have always loved cooking with my children. When they were little, they would sit on the counter and help add ingredients to the mixing bowl, happily licking the beaters afterward. They would stand on stools and stir pots, picked veggies from the garden to help make salads, and gleefully made my nana’s shortbread recipe, which they would mix only with their hands, butter and sugar gushing between their little fingers. But I still enjoy that kitchen time with my kids today, even though they are adults.

Brilliant Daughter is my frequent companion in both savory and sweet endeavors, and was my collaborator on Eat Drink Merry. She is my canning assistant every spring, summer, and fall and often brings some really good recipes to light. I spend far less often in the kitchen with Butcher Son and, not surprisingly, the main ingredient involves meat of some kind. We’ve tried more than a few sausage recipes and he experiments with marinades on a regular basis. More recently we have had a yen to try our hand at smoking.

So we started out with pork belly. Butcher Son brought home two slabs for us to try our hand at smoking.

I had purchased a bacon cure when we were out visiting family in Colorado last January (and which caused me a bit of grief at the airport due to its nitrate/nitrite content.) I poured over several of the books I had (Smoking Food: A Beginners Guide and Jam It, Pickle It,, Cure It) and came up with a bit of a hybrid cure. I mixed it up, rubbed it on and sealed the two slabs in Ziplocs. (I should note here that there was one small hesitancy on my part when rubbing up the belly. There were actually nipples on the belly, which were so pale and small, you might have missed them, but which was a vivid reminder—to me—that I was looking at what had been an animal. Some might find this a bit uncomfortable, but it is the reality of what feeds us.)

Each day I checked the plastic packages in the fridge, turning them over and poking and prodding to see how they were coming along. They were probably ready after seven days, but there was one little problem: We didn’t have a smoker. No one we know has a smoker. So, Butcher Son, who has a knack for being creative, asked around and found someone willing to donate an old Weber barbecue for transformation. And boy did it need some transforming.

When the Weber landed in our driveway it was a rusty, dirty, falling apart hunk of metal. But on his lunch hour Butcher Son took it apart and started cleaning it. He washed, he scrubbed, he sanded. Then the thing literally fell apart in his hands. So on his day off, he redrilled holes, put the legs back on with reinforcement, scrubbed some more, and then headed out to buy some charcoal and wood chips.

Last Thursday he assembled the grill, and we began the process to cold smoke the pork belly, after a 10-day cure in the refrigerator. For four hours, I babysat the smoker, adding coals and wood chips as needed, making sure that smoke was still curling out of the upper vents. I watched as the pork belly went from pale white to faintly brown, to heavily tea-stained slabs. I worried that the coals weren’t hot enough, that they were too hot, that they would go out. But everything went well. And we had our first product.

Friday morning, we sliced it up and fried a few the bacon on the stove. I always find it more gratifying to eat the things I have taken the time to make. In fact, I always prefer to make things from scratch and if I had all the time in the world, I would probably make just about everything myself. But I am a realist and I cannot store all the ingredients or equipment needed and I will probably never have that much time. (Now I understand why large families were the norm back in the day, as it takes a lot of hands to make your daily bread and butter…literally.)

And despite my worrying, the bacon tasted great. Smoky, not too salty. And really not all that hard to do. Just takes time and patience, and a little creativity from my son.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Happy Accidents

Wednesdays are a full house for dinner. Brilliant Daughter stops by after her weekly afternoon volunteering at NCEFT, an equine therapy facility for children and veterans, plus Butcher Son and his girlfriend are here. So I try to make something special, with the occasional dessert thrown in. Not as full out as Sunday dinner, but close.

Today I wanted to make a big batch of chili and cornbread. But my pantry had other ideas. Despite turning over every can on the shelves, Mother Brady’s cupboard was apparently devoid of any beans other than cannellini and garbanzo, neither of which I wanted to use. But I did spy a large can of white hominy, kept on hand to make pork pozole. While I wasn’t feeling like making a variation of pozole, I liked the idea of creating something new. A Southwestern stew, perhaps?

I started by browning lean ground beef and tossing in a bit of garlic. Then finished off the cooking with a bit of beer from Butcher Son’s kegerator (which I guess makes us a full service restaurant and bar!). I added a teaspoon each of ancho chili powder and regular chili powder, plus a half teaspoon of chipotle chili powder. Then dumped in one can of fire-roasted tomatoes, plus two cups of the homemade tomato sauce we jarred last summer. This conconction simmered for a half hour before I added in the hominy. Back on the heat for another half hour.

I finished it off with a cup of my homemade chipotle cream sauce, an all-purpose sauce that has a bit of heat to it and which can be used in a variety of Mexican dishes—from tacos to burritos—as well as a dressing for taco salad, sauce for pasta or a dip for chips! (It’s featured in my Eat Drink Merry cookbook, but I’ll provide the recipe below as well.)

Talk about YUM! I kept going back and sneaking tastes all day long. In fact, I was afraid I would eat the whole pot before the family came home. But I tempered myself, and managed to save enough to share. And to top it off, I made cornmeal dumplings, which sat nestled together on top and concealed the fact that I had been depleting the main stew for the last four hours.

And so my happy accident will now become a standard, owing to my own rave review and that of my family. Sometimes it pays to dig around the pantry and be creative….

Chipotle Cream Sauce

This is an all-purpose sauce that has some heat to it. I have used it in all varieties of Mexican dishes, from tacos to burritos and as a dressing for taco salads. It also works well as a pasta sauce and a dip for chips.

4-5 chipotles (dried or canned)

8-10 ripe tomatoes

1 large yellow onion, sliced

3 carrots, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup sour cream

1 mashed avocado


white pepper


If using dry chipotles, remove stems and seeds and soak in hot water for 15-20 minutes until soft. If using canned chipotles (en adobo), take seeds out and pour 1/2 cup hot water over to soak for a few minutes. Drain and chop the chipotles, saving the liquid.

Roast tomatoes until blackened. This can be done on a barbecue grill, over a gas flame on the stove, or under the broiler. Roughly chop up the roasted tomatoes and put into a bowl.

Saute onion and carrot in oil on medium heat until soft, but not brown. Put garlic in at the end of the saute. Add tomatoes and any residual tomato juice. Bring to boil and simmer 10 minutes. Add chipotles and cilantro. Simmer another 10 minutes. Cool mixture.

Once cool, puree with immersion blender, standing blender or food processor. Use additional chile water if you need to thin the sauce. Stir in sour cream and mashed avocado, add salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

First Attempt: French Bread

For Christmas in 2009 Butcher Son bought me Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, a book I had been wanting. But with kitchen reconstruction, all my cookbooks were consigned to a cabinet in the garage for 5 months. Once the kitchen was complete, I had no display piece for my collection and they remain relegated to the far regions of our home, blocked by our treadmill and various other household items. Periodically I clear a path, open the cabinet doors and look longingly at them. I touch their spines, pull one or two out, and remember fondly recipes I have tested out of them. Once and a while I get a bug up my butt to use one of them, which was the case this week.

My brother, who shares my love of the kitchen, sent me a recipe for last week for La Daube de Boeuf with Press Wine. His missive, short and sweet, said, “From the Wine Spectator – sounds excellent (uses lardons!). Would go great with Bordeaux.” (He is also a oenophile.) So we both decided to make it for Sunday dinner. We chose a marbled stew meat over the hard-to-find beef cheeks and he traveled over to Bristol Farms to get pork belly, while I was fortunate to have three pounds of it curing in my fridge (courtesy of Butcher Son). We marinated our meat for 24 hours in red wine, chopped our veggies, and cooked away, 380 miles apart.

I got to thinking that some fresh French bread would go great with stew, and since my mother had generously offered to bring dessert, I had some extra time to make it. So I grabbed that aforementioned Artisan Breads Every Day, and went straight to the French bread recipes. To my disappointment, the dough needs to be started 24 hours prior, something that I should have done while marinating my meat in a whole bottle of wine. But hubby went out and got me the requisite flour and yeast, and I scoured around for an alternate recipe.

I found just such a recipe on a post on Steamy Kitchen blog. Titled, “Baking the Perfect Loaf of French Bread,” it was a recipe I could accomplish by dinnertime. I followed the directions and in a jiffy had a two-loaf batch mixed, kneaded and ready to rise. So easy, I decided to make another batch, thinking that four loaves would be better than two, right?!? I left them alone to bubble and rise and then shaped them into long loaves. I placed them in baguette pans that I have had sitting in my baking cabinet for a decade, a gift from my grandmother who used to bake bread. The second rise was only 30 minutes and then came the baking.

I used my handy dandy Thermoworks digital oven thermometer, a holiday gift from Brilliant Daughter, which allows me to place a thin metal probe into whatever is baking and set a temperature timer. (Takes a lot of the guessing out of baking and worked wonderfully in this instance.) Within 20 minutes, I had four browned baguettes. I resisted the temptation to tear into one right away and set them to cool.

Taking them out of the pan, I noticed that the underside was not browned nor crisped, probably a function of the pan. I, personally, like a crisp crust all the way around, but the rest of the family steadfastly maintained that the softer crust was better. And given that two loaves disappeared along with the stew, I can’t argue with their preference. It was light, tasty and a great sopping utensil for the winey broth of the stew.

This recipe was easy and quick to make (excepting the rising time). I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is hesitant to tackle breads. I was somewhat disappointed overall with the results, however. It was more like the type of French bread you would buy at Safeway rather than a good French bakery. The interior was closer to a standard white bread than the airier French version. It would be great for hoagies or deli sandwiches (or banh mi), but not what I would use served with cheese or to make crostini. Which means that I am going to make the time to try Peter Reinhart’s version.

And la Daube de Boeuf? Both my brother and I decided that it was just okay, nothing spectacular. And that our own versions of stew were superior in taste and ease of cooking.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My New Favorite Breakfast: Jam & Bread Pudding

Sometimes I get into a rut in the kitchen. It can be due to the ingredients in my pantry, the ease of a recipe, or my sheer laziness. One such item is Cafe Beaujolais Coffeecake, a breakfast favorite. Torn out of the Food section of the San Francisco Chronicle two decades ago, this recipe is from Mendocino's famous CafĂ© Beaujolais. Delicious and easy to make, it is my default breakfast dish, great for larger crowds and holidays. But I’ve been looking for a companion dish, something that is easy and goes together quickly. Scanning my archives of clippings, I found it. Sitting there, waiting to be seen for five years!

Jam and Bread Pudding is a recipe I clipped from Food and Wine in December of 2005. Why I have never made this before is beyond me, and is clearly a mistake on my part. It takes about 30-35 minutes from start to finish and the ingredients are simple. I’ve served it twice now and it gets raves each time.

It is somewhat delicate in the mouth, due to the use of challah or brioche bread, and has just the right amount of sweet for kids and adults alike. The original recipe suggests you serve it with maple syrup, but there is absolutely no need. It is terrific all on its own.

I used homemade strawberry jam but I think this would work well with seedless raspberry, plum, or peach jam as well. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Jam and Bread Pudding

From Food and Wine, December 2005

One 1-pound loaf challah (or brioche) bread, sliced 1/2 to 3/4 -inch thick

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons strawberry jam or preserves

4 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon whole milk or half-and-half

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Arrange half of the challah in the dish; tear the slices to fit. Spread 3/4 cup of the jam on top; cover with the remaining challah.

Whisk the eggs, sugar, 2 1/2 cups of the milk and the vanilla and pour over the challah; press to soak and brush with 4 tablespoons of the butter. Cover with foil and bake for 24 minutes, removing the foil halfway through, until the pudding is set; remove from the oven.

Preheat the broiler. Blend the remaining 1 tablespoon of milk with the confectioners' sugar.

Add the remaining butter and jam and stir until the glaze is smooth. Spread all but 1/4 cup of the glaze over the pudding and broil until the glaze is golden. Drizzle the bread pudding with the remaining glaze and serve.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

An Organized Cooking Style

I am a Virgo*. Many say that makes me well organized, methodical, efficient, and apparently I cook in that same manner. And it works…for me.

It makes perfect sense to set out all my ingredients prior to starting a recipe. The French call this mis en place, “everything in place.” Then as I use each item, be it flour, sugar or a spice, I put the remainder away. Once I have come to the end of a recipe, my counter should be empty except for the finished product. In this way I know I have used all the ingredients. I don’t do this with everything, as I wing it a lot with savory dishes. But I am pretty faithful to this preparation in all things sweet or bread-related. I have had a few disasters in the past when I have failed to do so (like bread pudding without any sugar).

This method also keeps me from opening cabinets or drawers to retrieve ingredients or tools when I have dirty hands. Just as important, is using this technique when teaching someone to cook. Starting them out with good habits, like mis en place, gives them an edge in delivering a successful final dish. Success means they want to try again, try something new. And when a novice cook is unfamiliar with a kitchen, ingredients or tools, it keeps them from getting flustered in the middle of a recipe.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t improvise from time to time and throw something in spur-of-the-moment, like chopped pecans into my buttermilk banana muffins or some fresh orange zest into chocolate cupcakes (to celebrate the Giants World Series final game).

I’m not saying that this is the best method for everyone, but it does seem to make my kitchen life easier. What works for you?

* Out of curiosity I checked out the traits of a Virgo woman, and this description—while it has a few misspellings which make me crazy (part of my nature)—is scarily accurate. Kinda makes me a believer in astrology.