Thursday, October 20, 2011

Back to the Kitchen

Where did the summer go? The last vestiges are sitting in a box on my counter: peaches waiting to be made into a cobbler or sorbet if they last until the weekend. I've been enjoying one an evening as dessert and I will be sad when they are all gone.

We traveled only as far as San Diego, celebrated a major birthday (mine), and then it seems like I was in tax-prep hell for all of August and September. That's done, and I'm well on my way to making up for all of the backlog of statement reconciliations I've avoided doing for YEARS, as statements got lost or misplaced during the various moves because of the fires. I find reconciling bank statements somewhat zen, and I have a permanent spot to work on bookkeeping now, which will encourage me to work on this stuff during the year.

Right now, I'm looking outside at gloom and cold and all I can think of is how wonderful it would be to be at home making huge pots of soup: butternut squash for me and chicken for my son Michael. We're both going through dental work right now and soup is easy to eat.  Len's been in New York for a week and he sounds like he'll need that chicken soup as well when he gets home tonight. It's been raining in New York and he was sneezing when we spoke on the phone last night.

It isn't as if I haven't been busy cooking for the Sunday Super Supper Squad. It's just that I usually forget to grab the camera before the chow hounds chow down. I've done some new recipes and some old reliable ones. In one case, I made a beer bread that my friend Melinda Snodgrass insisted I had made for her one winter that caused her to go out and buy the Silver Palate cookbook it is in, but I had no recollection of ever making it. It was a big hit, and went well with the pot of vegetarian chili I made that night.

Another recent evening, I did make pots of butternut squash soup and chicken with rice soup for the gang, along with an old favorite recipe for a no-kneed rye bread. The stock for the chicken soup came from all of the pieces left over from when I fabricate whole chickens. Eventually, you need to empty out the freezer, and it was a good time to do it. The resulting meal was food that looked like October, in a very good way. Plus there were leftovers for lunch at work.

With Len out of town last week, I took the opportunity to make a dish with an ingredient he doesn't like: wild salmon. I used a variation on Marcella Hazan's baked fish and potatoes, and it was a huge hit. The leftovers were delicious as well.  When I started making the recipe I lived on the East Coast, and I was able to use blue fish filets, but I can't find them in California. The wild salmon is a good West Coast substitute. There were 10 of us for dinner, so I needed two large filets of salmon and I used 5 pounds of the small red, white, and blue potato mixed bag that Costco sells.  They fit nicely down the center feed tube of a large Cuisinart, so slicing them all thinly took very little time.  Marcella says to peel the potatoes, but, unlike my friend Mark Evanier, I like the skins, so I kept them on.

The potatoes are coated with a mixture of minced garlic, olive oil, and parsley.  I mixed them together in a large bowl, adding additional olive oil so the potatoes were all covered. I added some salt and pepper. Then spread the potatoes out in as thin a layer as possible in a large pan (in this case, two half-sheet pans), sprinkle with coarse salt, and put into a 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  Then they are turned and I left them in the oven for another 10 minutes before I took them out to lay the salmon on the top, skin-side to the potatoes.  Spread more of the olive oil, parsley, minced garlic, salt and peper mixture over the top of the fish.  Bake for approximately 12-15 minutes, until the salmon is almost cooked through. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes to continue cooking and then serve.

I made a salad of butter lettuce, radicchio, and thinly sliced fennel tossed with a lemon-garlic-olive-oil dressing and plenty of salt and pepper to go with it. Plus I cut up a couple of butternut squashes and roasted them for a side. Dinner was colorful and delicious.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Grilling Season

Is it just my imagination, or is the July 2011 issue of Bon Appetit ("The Grilling Issue") a little easier to read than the recent run has been?  I'm not sure about that, but I am sure that it contains some of the best recipes I've tried in a while.

With Len out of town last weekend, I had an opportunity to make Food That Len Won't Try because it breaks one or more of his eating rules:

1. No curry and nothing really spicy.
2. No fruit or berries.
3. Nothing that looks like itself.
4. Nothing with a bone except beef or pork.
5. No eggplant, ever.

There might be a good reason for the first rule, but the rest of them must have some deep psychological origin and I accepted that he wasn't going to change before I married him almost 20 years ago.  But I do look forward to making things he might not eat when there are plenty of folks around who will. The Sunday Super Supper Squad gives me that excuse, as long as I can accommodate my  non-meat eaters (some of whom will eat fish and others will eat bird.)

From the above-mentioned magazine, I made:

Grilled Chicken with Za'atar (page 80), which required roasting some garlic and mixing a za'atar spice blend (page 111.)
The chicken was charred, but pronounced excellent. The recipe called for halved chickens, but I also used bone-in breasts and increased the recipe for the marrinade (I had 12 people for dinner, only two of whom only ate salmon.)

Roasted garlic.
For the non-meat eaters, there was Green Shawarma Salmon (page 80) and vegetarian lasagna. In keeping with the Middle-eastern theme, I made tatziki and a potato salad with green beans dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Potato Salad.
For dessert, because the berries at Costco looked great that morning, I made the Blackberry Buttermilk Cake (page109), the standout in the collection from the story "The B-List."

Blackberry Buttermilk Cake.
Served dusted with powdered sugar.
Len did not get home until after 10, so he missed out on all this goodness. Now I'm flipping through the magazine to see what we might try when folks come over on Sunday to use the pool and watch 1776.

Middle-eastern Potato Salad

5 lbs. mixed small potatoes
1/2-1 lb fresh green beans
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
Fresh mint & dill, a few tablespoons, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Combine the olive oil, lemon juice and garlic and let sit while vegetables cook.

Boil the potatoes in their skins in well-salted water until just tender, drain and let cool.  If desired, peel the skins (I leave them on) and quarter the potatoes. Steam the green beans until tender-crisp and shock in cold salted water to stop the cooking process. Drain. Add the beans, onion, salt (start with at least 1 1/2 teaspoons), and freshly ground pepper to the potato quarters in a large bowl.

Whisk the oil and lemon dressing well, pour over the potatoes and gently toss to cover everything.  Add the parsley, mint and dill and additional salt and pepper to taste.  This can be served warm or cold (I like warm best.)

Because I had baked extra garlic cloves, I used some of the garlic paste in the dressing.  It added a nice depth of flavor.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Winter Is Coming, If You Know Where to Look

I've been planning to write about Game of Thrones for months, ever since I read about the food truck which debuted in New York City during the last week in March.  The fact that Tom Colicchio had designed the menu was a clue that HBO was going full-throttle on it.  When I attended Wondercon in San Francisco the weekend of April 1, I got a chance to ask a representative of the agency about plans and discovered the Game of Thrones Food Truck would also be in Los Angeles--but not at the HBO party for Game of Thrones we were invited to  attend.  (The food there was delicious anyway.)
My friend George R.R. Martin is the author of the books upon which HBO based its latest hit series.  I've known George almost 25 years, but my husband has known him even longer. They met through the letters pages of comic books back in the 1960s, and George has the No. 1 badge from the first "comic-con" Len co-created back in New York. George loves to eat, but I'm pretty sure that never in his imagination did he think his television show would be promoted with a food truck. (Apparently, Camelot rushed in to follow suit with turkey legs, a staple of Renaissance Fairs, but totally anachronistic to that production.)

We tracked George down at the food truck on the last day it was in L.A. back in April, at a stop in Venice. That's him in the captain's cap. We got a big kick out of George being surrounded by an entourage, paparazzi, and television cameras--and the show had not even debuted yet. We are so pleased for him that the show became the "water cooler" event of the spring, If you have not seen it, try to catch it on HBO On Demand or in reruns before the next season.

But we did come for the food, and it did not disappoint--except, perhaps, in portion size. Head cheese is not nearly as scary as it sounds--it is something akin to a terrine made of bits of meat boiled off the skull. As long as I didn't have to see the original, I was o.k. with it.  The venison was excellent and is something I grew up with. It is the only red meat I've had in years and was worth the momentary lapse.

The "famous Westeros Lemon Cakes" are delicate and tart cakelettes (in the center of the photo below) that come from one of Tom Colicchio's cookbooks and you can watch a video about them and the food in the video above and here where there's a link to download the recipe.  I'm planning to make them one of these days.  I just wish the rest of the recipes were as easily available on line. I really enjoyed the farro and dried fruits and the baked apple, barley, and cinnamon that accompanied the venison.

 George directed me to a web site where the goal is to recreate every food dish in the Song of Fire and Ice series.  It is off to a good start, and if you have an interest in a look at medieval food adapted for a fantasy book series, you want to take a look at Inn at the Crossroads.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sur la Table Update

I got a note from a Sur la Table representative this morning asking me to update the links I had to their cooking classes. They've upgraded their website and moved things.  I'm flattered to find I am on their radar and I am happy to oblige. I updated the links on the two posts where I found them. For convenience sake and your information, here's the link as well.

I've been a fan of the store since I visited the original location in Seattle almost 25 years ago and now I am happy to live in the vicinity of four stores. For some reason they do not have a location in the San Fernando Valley, but I can get to the Thousand Oaks, Los Angeles Original Farmer's Market, Santa Monica, and Pasadena stores without too much trouble. Parking isn't even a problem with the TO store. But only the Farmer's Market location holds classes.

By coincidence, my niece is visiting and asked if I was still writing this blog. I am. Sitting down and working on it at the computer that's got access to the best versions of my pictures has been my downfall lately. I realize promises to do better haven't been fulfilled, either. I'm sorry. Will try harder.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I am a long-time subscriber to Bon Appetit, and before I subscribed I would buy issues on the news stand as they appealed to me. My husband shares my addiction, and we had a pretty complete set of the magazine going back almost 20 years before we had a house fire. Now the set goes back only two years, with a couple of composite cookbooks on the shelf.

So, I've seen a lot of changes to the design of  the magazine over the years and the latest arrived in my mailbox yesterday.

I don't like it.

This doesn't mean I won't get used to it (I wasn't overly fond of the last make-over either, but I did get used to it), but I found it difficult to read and very hard to tell the difference between ads and editorial content.  The visual clues weren't there. Or, more accurately, I thought the ads looked beter than the content pages, so I was a little confused.

I also did not like the first letter from the new editor.  It reeks of a New York snobbishness I try to quell in myself unless I need it for humorous effect.  I don't think that Adam Rapoport was going for that.

I guess I found a certain comfort with Barbara Fairchild, someone who must have started out in the publishing business around the same time I got out of college and went to work for a New York publisher.  I found it easy to relate to her editorials and enjoyed her stories.  I'm not sure that the former editor of Esquire has a lot in common with me and he's unlikely to make people feel as welcomed as Ms. Fairchild.  Take for example this post that came up in a link on Facebook today.  The question asked is "Are Goyim Allowed at Your Seder?"  Mr. Rapoport's answer, related at the bottom of the article, is a resounding "No."

If my subscription wasn't paid up for the next five years, I probably wouldn't consider renewing it despite my heretofore delight in reading the articles and trying out new recipes like this Pistachio and Dried Fruit Haroseth from the April issue of the magazine, which was a huge hit at the seder I took it to on Monday night.  It is a good thing the May issue was about things Italian or it might already be in the circular file. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fried Dough

As threatened, I made beignets last night. They are not the most beautiful lumps of fried dough I've ever made, but they tasted pretty good.  I've come to the conclusion that my Cuisinart fryer is really too small, but I don't actually use it enough to upgrade to a bigger capacity.  I think that I should just plan on using my cast iron Dutch oven the next time I need to fry something.

I had a box of Cafe Du Monde beignet mix, but I passed on using it.  I had made brioche dough on Friday night and I was running up against a use it or freeze it deadline (according to the source, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.) I decided to shape the brioche and use the left-over dough for the beignets (which is one of the uses suggested in the afore mentioned book.) 

I probably should have used more flour on my work surface, which is why the dough looks free form: it stuck as I tried to get it up and my bench scraper just kind of mushed things.  Never the less, I got about two dozen of the tasty bites made and neither my husband nor son complained about the appearance.

Beignets always take me back to New Orleans, a city I have visited on two occasions, both times for conventions.  The first one was over Labor Day Weekend in 1988 and the weather was terrible.  We got deluged by rain, which is not surprising for hurricane season.  I was busy working on my portrait project, so I got out very little during the course of five days.  The second trip was in late October of 1995.  The weather was much better and, although some of the company was the same, the relationships were different.

Every night for the week we were there, we'd end the night at Cafe Du Monde, across from the cathedral, and eat beignets and drink chickory coffee or hot chocolate.  Then a shuttle would take us back to our hotel north of the French Quarter, along with a group of our friends.

My first trip was on a tight budget and my big eating experience was dinner at Dooky Chase's Restaurant.  I was divorced, self-employed, had a seven-year-old, and was pretty much living from hand to mouth.  I met a lot of people for the first time who are now very close friends, and I even caught a glimpse of the man I would later marry, although I did not have a clue that was in my future.  I spent most of those four or five days corralling writers like Connie Willis, Pat Cadigan, Jack Williamson, and George Alec Effinger to sit for portraits for my planned exhibit in Boston in 1989.

On my second trip, I was married and our finances were a lot more stable than mine had been.  We did dinner at K-Paul's, the Court of the Two Sisters, Tujaques and many places I can't even remember.  As I recall, in 8 days, we had only two bad meals.  One was the banquet for the World Fantasy Awards (no surprise there, with hotel food fare) and the other was our last dinner in the city at what purported to be the oldest Italian restaurant in New Orleans.  A friend later described the place as a tourist trap.  The food was awful, but we did discover that our adventures at Tujaques the night before had made the rounds of stories among the food service personnel in the city.

Tujaques is located in an old building across from the old market in the Quarter.  We had made reservations  with three other couples (Fantasy and Science Fiction editor Kris Rusch and her husband Dean Wesley Smith, screenwriter Ted Elliott and his then-girlfriend Kim Rawl, and novelist and television writer Melinda Snodgrass and her then-husband Carl Keim) to have a private dining room for an evening of conversation and laughter. 

In the next room was a huge party of diners with other friends of ours from the convention.  We were separated by a door which had a knob only on our side, and the door knob could easily be removed. When we discovered who was on the other side of the door--the party included George R.R. Martin (before he became "The American Tolkien", the late, lamented Roger Zelazny, Joe Haldeman, Gardner Dozois, Walter Jon Williams, and various wives, girlfriends, and others--we asked the waiter to send them a bottle of Perrier, in a champagne cooler, with our complements.  This started an on-going escalation of hilarity.  They sent a waiter with their bill for us to pay.  We refused.  Then Sue Casper (Gardner's wife, and a writer in her own right) and Parris McBride (G.R.R.M.'s significant other and now wife) came over to visit.  And took the door knob.  Then they started opening and closing our door to much laughter on all sides. 

I went to get the door knob back.  I think I'll leave the story there, except to say that the tales of Gardner's Knob reached epic levels among the science fiction community  in the years to follow and I was reminded of it this morning when someone said they referred to it to discover if a spammer was trying to reach them by IM or if it was really Gardner (it was a spammer.) 

I was happy to learn that most of the French Quarter was spared the destruction of Katrina, and that the Cafe Du Monde and Tujaques, the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans, are still there.  It's nice that you can pick up a box of beignet mix out here in L.A. (World Imports carries it) and have a taste of New Orleans in your own kitchen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras

March is turning out to be a good time to try different things in the kitchen.  This past Sunday, I decided to do a New Orleans themed dinner to celebrate Mardi Gras.  The menu for the Sunday Super Supper Squad was Shrimp and Crayfish Etouffee, Jambalaya, home baked bread, and a King Cake.

I looked for a recipe to make a King Cake from scratch.  I've got several of them now, but I realized the problem I had the last time I tried to make one from scratch was coming up with the correctly colored sugars for decorating.  So I decided to go with Mam Papaul's box mix, which includes all the necessary ingredients and decorations.

Unfortunately, in my haste to get the dough made, I threw in the wrong packet.  It looked brownish, so I thought it was the yeast.  Wrong.  It was the praline mix for the filling.  That dough is still sitting in the refrigerator. 

Len was out, so I called him and asked him to pick up another box mix.  I had seen it on Friday at the World Imports.  They were out.  Instead of calling to tell me, he headed all over the San Fernando Valley until he found one where the King Cake mix was in stock.  It threw my timing off, because I had the main courses to make, but I did manage to pull it off.  I'm glad our friends were happy to wait until I had finished decorating it.  Tonight, I'll make beignets to remind us of the Cafe Du Monde.

While I don't really have any desire to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras (Halloween there was enough for me), I do enjoy the food in limited quantities.  The eight days we spent there in 1995 were about 5 days too long.  I needed fresh vegetables and no more fried food for a while. 

I was very pleased with my first attempt to make a dark roux for the etouffee,  but it sure is labor intensive to make.  I got the right color, but I think the final result was not quite as thick as traditionally done.  That's o.k.  I liked the effect on rice.

We've got a bit more leftover jambalaya for tonight.  It's even better that way.

Oscar Party Time

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my new kitchen? Space. I have space. And I know how to use it.

Christmas finally got put away in time for our annual Oscar Watch party.  This year, we had almost 20 people.  As often happens, there was the same basic crowd plus a few newbies.  I didn't get to attend our party last year because I was still packing us out of the rental house and cleaning as I went--I had a really good crying jag over that one.  This year, I didn't really have much interest in the show hosts, so I happily puttered in the kitchen getting food out to everyone else.  I missed something funny at the beginning--there was a lot of laughter--but it wasn't like Hugh Jackman was hosting.  I did see him sitting in the front row, and I did enjoy Anne Hathaway's singing complaint about him not doing a duet with her.  I wish we got a dime every time Wolverine is referred to outside of the comic book industry, but we don't.  I meant to ask Bruce Vilanch if Hugh had actually bailed on the song or if it was just the routine, but I forgot to do it when I photographed him last Wednesday.  He is not on my PDA, so the moment has passed me by.  Back to food.

The hit appetizer was my Inception dates, stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped in bacon.  Even my non-fruit-eating-spouse ate them and the credit goes to Secrets of a Restaurant Chef Anne Burrell, who made them with manchego cheese on a recent show.  What I really like about them is that I can make future batches ahead of time and throw them in the oven during a party to keep them coming.  They are a little labor intensive, but oh, so good.  I couldn't find my maple syrup to do the final step of Anne's recipe, but they were fine without it.

My friend Lisa Klink brought True Grits, which I think was an inspired name.  They went quite well with the ham (always appropriate for the Academy Awards) I made for more serious eating.  I got my son Michael to make another lemon tart from the supply of fresh lemons I've harvested from the little tree in my old garden. I'm really happy I can push him into making some of the things he learned in the baking class we took last fall.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pasta and Gnocchi alla Fabio Viviani

Somehow, I missed out on the first two seasons of Top Chef, but then I became a convert.  I'm a fan of the Richard Blais, the Voltaggio brothers, Carla Hall, and some of the others, but I was greatly entertained by Fabio Viviani.

Now it happens, that the first time I heard of Fabio and his restaurant out in Moorpark was when William Shatner sang Fabio's praises at one of his charity horse shows and Cafe Firenze provided catering for the event (we didn't have tickets to dinner, sadly.)  Then my hairdresser, who lives out in Moorpark, also gave the place a rave.  That was about the time Fabio showed up on Top Chef.

After he was on Top Chef, I heard he wasn't at the Moorpark restaurant any longer (that's changed and he is back there) and then I heard he had opened a place in North Hollywood.  Lately, he's been hosting Top Chef viewing parties at both restaurants (doing the east coast feed in Moorpark and the west coast feed in North Hollywood.)  He's also teaching cooking classes at both places, though, sadly, not hands-on classes.  At least, not yet, but he promises they are forthcoming.

Fabio is also an avid tweeter, and I happen to follow him (and a lot of other chefs) on Twitter and Facebook.  So I caught the announcement that he would be teaching a pasta and gnocchi class at Firenze Osteria in North Hollywood on February 13.  The class was $40/per person or $70 per couple, so I signed up for two, figuring that if Len couldn't go with me, my son Michael or someone else would.  Michael lucked out because Len started a class on Sunday.

We got to the restaurant about half an hour ahead of start time, which was good, because there were only two people ahead of us in line and it turned out that seating was first-come, first served, and it was a fairly large group.  Women outnumbered men by a factor of about 10 to 1, and there was a huge group of women who all came together, leading me to the obvious conclusion that this celebrity chef has groupies.

We came to watch pasta and gnocchi being made and we got an afternoon at Comedy Central as well.  Fabio is hysterical.  From his good-natured difficulties with English ("the thumb rule" "rule of thumb-a") to his retro male-chauvanist-pig remarks (reminding me why I would never marry an Italian-American male), I laughed until I wanted to cry.

Fabio wanted everyone to understand that making pasta is EASY.  A egg, some salt, some oil, and some flour in a food processor--that's pasta.  Some baked potatoes, an egg, some salt, some nutmeg, some pepper, some flour in a mixer--that's gnocchi.  There was also a big emphasis on common sense--I pinch or a hand of some measurement isn't a child's hand or that of Andre the Giant, use a folded towel to take a hot potato out of the oven and the n let it cool off.  And so on.

Like most of the Italian and Italian-American cooks I have known, there's less about measuring and much more about taste and feel in his methods.  To make pasta, Fabio uses one egg per person and he advises working in batches of no more than four eggs.  ("Don't have more than 4 people to dinner!")  So for four eggs, add a pinch of salt, a little olive oil, and about 2/3-3/4 cups of all purpose flour in the food processor until a ball is formed.  Then knead the dough a little and cut it into several pieces to run through the rollers of a pasta machine.  The kneaded dough feels a bit like your earlobe when it is ready to rest.  Depending on the type of pasta, either cut it by hand (after rolling up the sheets of dough) or use a pasta machine to cut the noodles.

He advocates the use of the food processor over the hand-mixing method because it is quick and easy.  He does recommend giving the dough an opportunity to rest between mixing and rolling.

I remember watching my grandmother rolling out her pasta dough by hand.  She made it look so easy, but it is so much faster and easier to use a pasta machine.  I love mine.

After Fabio finished making the pasta, we were all served some with a meat sauce.  Then it was on to gnocchi.

The rough recipe for gnocchi, which won rave reviews every time he made them on Top Chef, involves baking potatoes, letting them cool, and running them through a meat grinder or a ricer after peeling them.  Do not mash them--it give the wrong consistency.  It looked like he used about 4 cups of ground, cooked potatoes to 1 egg, two pinches of salt, one pinch of pepper, about a half-teaspoon of nutmeg, and a handful and a half of grated Parmesan.  This was mixed with a paddle in a Kitchen-aid mixer.

(There were lots of ooohs and aaahs over the mixer and a number of people were whispering about how expensive they are.  I will say that my Kitchen-aid is one of the best investments in the kitchen I ever made, and the one I had before that was one my mother owned for 30 years.  I've had my K5A for twenty years now and I expect to leave it to my son.  My sister may still own the one our grandmother had.)

After mixing those ingredients together, Fabio added flour to reach the consistency he wanted.  It is a softer consistency than the pasta dough.  I would guess that he added around 1-1/2 to 2 cups of all purpose flour to get the consistency he wanted.  After that, he took lemon or tennis ball lumps of the dough, shaped it into cylinders of about 3/4" thick and 10" long and cut them into approximately 3/4" pieces.  He used very little flour on the counter and on his hands to keep things from sticking because adding too much flour to the gnocchi makes them heavy.

When cooking the gnocchi (and the pasta) he advises adding olive oil to the pot.  With the gnocchi, don't stir them in the pot and, no matter how many are in the pot, scoop them out and drain them all when two or three of them have risen in the water to float.  To do otherwise will water-log the gnocchi and make them fall apart.

We got to sample the gnocchi in a marinara sauce.  Heavenly.

Fabio spent quite a bit of time answering questions from the room.  And then we got an added surprise--door prizes for four of the attendees.  We were told to check under our seats and this note is what I found under mine:

And this is what it redeemed:
It is a Bialetti ceramic-lined, nonstick saute pan.  Fabio will be selling it on QVC or some such channel in the not too distant future.

I planned to upload some video of the class, but I'm having big problem with it.  So I am sorry.  If I figure out what to do, it may just be another entry.  Fabio will be teaching a risotto class at Firenze Osteria on Sunday, and I think there are still spaces available.  It is a fine bit of entertainment on a Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Paula Deen's Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin, with Reservations

My friend Gillian had a gathering on Sunday because a friend who had moved back east was in town for a long weekend. That meant there was not Sunday Super Supper Squad and the pork loin I've been storing needed to be cooked.  I went looking for a recipe that would be simple and could travel.  I found one on the Food Network website from Paula Deen for Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin.

I had rosemary growing out by the pool, thyme in a pot on the patio, and basil growing inside--the benefit of a Southern California winter.  I made up the rub, put it on the pork and popped it into the oven.  Is there anything as wonderful as garlic infusing the air on a Sunday afternoon?

My boneless pork was just over the four pounds called for, but I've got to change a few things before I try this again.  The half-hour at 475 degrees caused a lot of smoke and charring of the herbs.  The recipe is also a bit heavy on the salt.  I used kosher salt and biting into the crust really tasted too salty--applesauce cut that back, but I think less salt may be in order.  I should also have tested with an instant read thermometer at the end of the half-hour, but I waited until 45 minutes into the hour at 425 degrees.  It was too long and the internal thermometer was already close to 170 degrees rather than the 155 degrees she indicates.  So it was a bit dry, despite having plenty of time to rest before we drove across the Valley to Gillian's house.

I am planning on making the rest of the pork loin for dinner.  I will avoid too much salt and roasting it to death this time.  Too bad there will only be two of us for dinner, but I think the leftover pork will be good for sandwiches.

UPDATE on 1/20/2011:  Careful measurement of the salt and oil, and repeated checks of temperature after 30, 45, and 60 minutes resulted in a more satisfactory result.  Unfortunately, the glass on the inside of the oven window cracked in two places.  I don't know what caused it, because I didn't spill any cold liquid when I opened the door, and it happened between temperature-taking.  I wonder if something spattered, but it didn't look like it.  I often use a 475 or 500 degree oven when I'm making bread, so I'm baffled.  Another call to appliance insurance today.  Good thing it is a double oven.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Run-down

Christmas means it is time to pull out the special china, which I've been gathering for only about four or five years now.  I bought some dinner plates in the Lenox Holiday pattern at an after-Christmas sale and I was hooked.  I've accumulated service for 12, a large number of serving pieces, and matching linen. I've even acquired matching flatware. It makes for a very festive table.  If we have an earthquake, I'm screwed.
We spent Christmas day, as we usually do, with our friends Karen Bodner and Michael Olecki (that's Michael in the photograph.)  Karen's a recovering attorney who plans to open a bakery when they move to Three Rivers, up near Kings-Sequoia National Park.  She went through the baker's training program at L.A. Trade Tech and currently bakes to special order or for special events.  For Christmas, she made us sticky buns (in the foreground of the photo below, with Len, Karen, and my son Michael.)  Quite yummy, and indicative of her Philadelphia origins.
Karen and Michael used to hold a party on Christmas Eve called vigilia, which is the Polish version of the Italian  Feast of Seven Fishes.  Except that the Poles prepare 11 or 13 fish dishes. They haven't done it recently, but we used to get the left-overs for our Christmas brunch.  This year, Karen brought poached salmon, cold shrimp and smoked salmon for brunch so we wouldn't feel deprived (I did miss the traditional pierogies, but I understand why she didn't make them.)  We made mimosas with proseco while Len made eggs and bacon.

It had been so long since Len used the coffee maker, he forgot to put a filter in the basket.  This was NOT a good idea.  It is very difficult to clean a coffee maker which has been so abused.  And it made a real mess on the counter and the floor.  Do not try this at home.

In other disasters, the refrigerator (behind Karen in the photo) betrayed us once again on Christmas Eve.  The motor in the fridge stopped working and I lost a lot of food.  Thus far, the freezer is still functioning but the insurance people have not returned our calls.  This is the fifth time in four months the motor has stopped functioning.  I hope they will agree to replace it.  I'm not sure how I'll be able to handle food for the party, because I doubt it can be replaced by then.  The repair guy who came the first time said "you've got great appliances--except for that refriderator."  No kidding.  I'm looking for recommendations.

My favorite Christmas gifts included the ones which are helping to rebuild my cookbook collection.  I got several of the books I requested (I love the "Wish List" feature on, including Bon Appetit Desserts, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and The Arabian Nights Cookbook. There's a brownie recipe in Desserts which incorporates pieces of toffee.  I remember getting it out of the magazine when Michael was really little and taking it to my chocoholic friends Michael Whelan and Audrey Price as a gift.  I think they've tinkered with it, but I can't wait to try it again.  Or I'll let Michael give it a try for Saturday.