Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Not a White Christmas, But...

...it'll still be good to be back in California. We're leaving Friday for my parents' house -- apparently it's seventy degrees there today. Quite a difference from twenty degrees here, but I will say this -- the prospect of shorts-weather for Christmas seems a little strange this year. Maybe I'm a real New Yorker now.

Anyway, I'm not cooking this week because we have no groceries and don't want to go to the store before we leave. So we're indulging in the glories of takeout! But Devorit and I have some seriously good menus planned, so I'll keep you updated on those as we concoct them. The goal for the holiday is to prevent Mom from cooking so much as a side dish. We may have to tie her to a chair to accomplish this, but I'm not afraid to get stern when necessary.

So many things I'm looking forward to in California -- family and friends, of course, but also salt breezes, Trader Joe's (I'm bringing a separate suitcase for TJ goodies. I'm totally not kidding), Baja Fresh, and...ok, I'm just going to come out and say it. I am and have always been completely in love with Del Taco. When I was little, Mom, Devorit, and I would order breakfast burritos at dawn and eat them on the beach. When I moved to San Francisco from LA, I moped for YEARS until they opened a Del Taco on Market Street. And then I moved across the country!! So yes, we're making lamb chops and timbale and tortilla soup and hordes of other wonderful things, and I will eat myself silly...but you'll still see me at Del Taco at least twice. Some traditions you just don't mess with.

Happy holidays, one and all!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

WCB 28

So I thought I'd be all industrious this morning and simmer up a batch of basic tomato sauce as part of Project Clean Out the Fridge Before Jetting Off to California for Week of Joyous Feasting and Frivolity (Project COFBJOCWJFF). But when I hauled out my trusty 6-qt saucepot, I was mightily puzzled. The rim was rather markedly dented. Enough that the lid will no longer fit.

Now, I just used that darn pot to make the meatballs, and the lid fit just fine then. And I was here when Dimples washed the pot that night and left it on the stovetop to dry, and I didn't hear any suspicious noises (bangs, crashes, "Oops").

There are four of us in this apartment...so I went to confront the other two.

Here's how I found Max. He won't even look me in the eye.



And here's how I found Widget. Tell me that's not a look of artful innocence.



They know we're heading west, they're not happy about it, and they've started taking their vengeance a little early.

Head on over to Clare's to see the other kitties, all of which I hope are better behaved than mine.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Holiday Cookie Exchange #1 -- Part 3

Third installment, but the first for me. Dawn at So Cal Foodie is hosting, and her suggestion is for something simple. Excellent notion. I don't have a famous four-ingredient cookie like she suggests, but I do have these tasty morsels, and they're pretty straightforward. And they're even seasonal, although I'll be forthright and tell you that I make them all year long. (I also listen to the Nutcracker all year long, and I am unrepentant.)



It's no secret that I love ginger, and these cookies pack a spicy punch. They're also soft and toothsome, which is refreshing after all those crunchy gingersnaps. For an over the top touch, serve them with dishes of lemon curd for dipping.

Ginger Cookies

Makes 3 dozen.

4 c. flour (preferably King Arthur)
1 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. shortening (non-trans fat, if possible)
1 c. molasses
1 egg, beaten lightly
1/2 c. boiling water
extra sugar

Combine flour, sugar, soda, spices, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix together the shortening, molasses, and egg. Beat the wet ingredients into the dry, then add the boiling water. The dough will be so soft and sticky it will practically slump in the bowl. So, cover the bowl and pop it into the fridge for at least an hour.

Heat the oven to 400 and pour some extra granulated sugar into a small bowl. Roll the chilled dough into balls, about an inch across. Roll the balls in the extra sugar and arrange them 2" apart on ungreased baking sheets. (Be sure they're light baking sheets -- dark ones will cook the bottoms of these cookies too quickly.) Shove the bowl back into the fridge if the dough becomes mutinously soft while you're working. Bake about 12 minutes or until the cookies puff slightly and crack charmingly across the top. (The centers will still be soft. This is a good thing.) Transfer to racks and cool.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Meatball Montage

I had an entire post written about this dish -- how it's a combination of recipes from Mario Batali (the sauce) and Giada de Laurentiis (the meatballs), and how I'm starting to wonder if I have some kind of weakness for Food Network stars with Italian-themed shows. And then Blogger ate it. And now my happy meatball mood is in danger of vanishing in a burst of Blogger irritation.

And that would be a shame, because these are really pretty darn good meatballs. So here's the recipe, and just imagine that it appears here after a droll analysis of my obsession.



Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Mario Batali and Giada de Laurentiis

Serves 4, more or less.

1/4 c. plain dried bread crumbs
1/4 c. chopped Italian parsley
2 large eggs, beaten
2 T. milk (not skim)
3/4 c. grated pecorino romano, divided
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
ground oregano or marjoram
1 lb. ground turkey
1/4 c. olive oil
5 c. tomato sauce (see recipe below)
1 lb. long pasta

Add the milk, salt, and pepper to the beaten eggs. Stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, and 1/2 c. cheese. Add the milk mixture and toss together, then add a few shakes of the oregano or marjoram and mix well. Add the turkey and mix together gently in as few motions as you can manage.

Put your salted pasta water on to boil. Cook the pasta as you work on the next meatball steps, stopping when it's about thirty seconds away from al dente.

Shape the meat mixture into bite-sized balls.

In a large skillet or pan, heat the oil on medium-high. Add the meatballs to the pan in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. You're looking for a golden-brown, seared crust on these little guys, so cook them on each side for about three minutes without turning or jostling them about as they sizzle.

When all the meatballs are done, remove them while you pour off any excess oil. Return the meatballs to the pan and add the tomato sauce, stirring gently to coat all the meatballs. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for about five minutes until everything's heated through.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. Sprinkle with remaining romano.

Tomato Sauce

Yields about 4 cups, so you'll need some extra for the meatball recipe.

1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 T. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 med. carrot, shredded
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic together and cook, stirring occasionally, until they're soft and palest brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook until the carrot is starting to think about breaking apart, about 5 minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes and their juice and mix. Bring the pot to a boil, stirring frequently, then lower the heat. Simmer about 20 minutes, until it thickens to a consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper.

Freezes nicely.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Triple Threat



These cookies showcase three star ingredients in crunchy gooey spicy glory. They're dangerous to have around if you're supposed to be saving your appetite for later. Worth it, though!

Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 c. roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and set aside. Add the butter and peanut butter to the bowl of your stand mixer, and mix on medium speed until you have a bowl of smooth golden goo, about two minutes. Add the sugars and mix for another two minutes on medium speed. Mix in the eggs.

Gradually add the flour mixture until it's all beaten in. Stir in the vanilla and then fold in the chocolate and peanuts. Refrigerate the dough for 15-20 minutes to make it easier to handle.

Roll the dough into 1" balls and distribute 2-3" apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or a Silpat. Bake until golden, about 13 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack to cool for as long as you can stand to wait.

Makes 4-5 dozen.

Notes:
* This makes a crispy cookie -- more of a chocolate chip cookie with peanut butter-flavored dough than a peanut butter cookie with chocolate chips.
* Increase the cinnamon if you'd like a more pronounced spice flavor.

You Are What You Eat...

...heaven help me!

Thanks to the always marvelous Darla at Messy Cocina for tagging me with this meme, which asks you to list your ten favorite foods. As everyone's remarked with this task, it's pretty much impossible, but here's my version of the ol' college try. I want you to know that numerous pens were sacrificed in the making of this list (between the gnawing, the throwing in frustration, and the kitten-chasing).

I abandoned the idea of including actual dishes, in the interest of salvaging 2006 for other projects. And for sure I gave myself a break by eliminating beverages as contenders. (Don't hate me, teapot. We'll cuddle later.) So with those caveats, here's my much-edited list...



1. Berries. Forever my favorite fruits -- be they straw, blue, rasp, black, boysen, marion, logan, or goose. Without having the slightest idea whether I'm entitled to do so (in the biological sense), I include currants, black and red. And thimbleberries! I haven't had a thimbleberry since I was eight and on a hike through the California redwoods, but I've been yearning for that spicy sweet flavor ever since. (This is a picture of that elusive darling.) I eat blueberries every morning with...



2. Greek Yogurt. The thick and creamy texture leaves all theoretical competitors twenty-six miles behind. (Sure, I can deliver lame jokes with a straight face.) Drizzle honey or ginger syrup and chopped walnuts over a bowlful, and you have instant dessert!



3. Warm Spices. I'm kind of cheating here, I know (but wait, I'll get worse). I'm thinking here of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, mace, allspice...those sometimes sweet, sometimes savory spices that liven up everything from cookies to carrots to casseroles. With alliterative abandon.



4. Parmigiano-Reggiano. The emperor of cheeses, no question. It demands your complete attention. To guarantee my utter silence -- should I be prattling on, which has been known to happen -- shut me up with a hunk of this cheese, a glass of wine, a drizzle of good balsalmic vinegar, and one or two paper-thin slices of...



5. Prosciutto di Parma. I periodically go vegetarian, and so far, what always brings me back to the dark side is this salty-sweet, tongue-curlingly delicious dry-cured Italian ham. I love it plain, always and often, and I can't really think of things that aren't improved by being wrapped in it.



6. Peanut Butter. You had to know this would put in an appearance! And yes, it really is fantastic on toasted bread with so-thin-they're-translucent purple onions.



7. Stuff Made from Cooked Tomatoes. Ok, this is weird, I know, but I didn't know how else to convey how much I adore tomato-based sauces and similar things. Spiked with oregano and garlic -- pizza sauce. Slow-braised with fennel and onion -- pasta sauce. Pureed with roasted chiles -- hot sauce. My requirement, though, is that the tomatoes have to be cooked. I may have given bottles of Heinz to Hunts-challenged friends as a kid (...what?), but you will never see me eating a raw tomato. (I couldn't find a good cooked tomato picture, alas.)



8. Basil. I'm starting to see an Italian theme that I hadn't really realized was there. Hmmm. Anyway, basil is my favorite herb -- bright, cheerful, the green essence of summer. I am cursed with the inability to grow it, though. Damn.



9. Oysters. I only just discovered that I love oysters about eight months ago, when I was my friend's "date" at a wedding caterer event. He got a kick out of introducing me to his wedding planner as his girlfriend; I was too busy slurping down sweet briny oysters to mind.



10. Chiles. There is no life without chiles. I have no more to say.

You knew that was an exaggeration, didn't you? I always have more to say. Let's see...I'm going to tag Julie at A Finger in Every Pie and Dawn at SoCal Foodie. Have fun!

And thanks to Wikipedia and Fage for the pictures, which I certainly do not claim as my own.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Weekend Cat Blogging #27



Widget and Max are exhausted from the effort of being adorable all day long.

Be sure to go see all the other cute kitties at Clare's!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Insatiable Curiosity

I've been fascinated by British food since I was a kid. So many of my favorite books described wonderfully strange dishes -- Turkish Delight, sticky toffee pudding, bangers and mash, treacle tart, Yorkshire pudding. I have to admit, my imagined versions were often extremely off-base. I maintain that it was perfectly reasonable to picture Yorkshire pudding as a kind of butterscotch souffle and Turkish Delight as coffee-infused caramel. Real Yorkshire pudding I like; my disappointment at tasting actual Turkish Delight, though, I will quite possibly never get over. (And it gives me even more reason to disapprove of Edmund's choices in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

So when I made my first Thanksgiving dinner this year, I knew I had to try my hand at bread sauce, yet another British standard I had never seen, much less tasted. I've been dying to try it for at least twenty years; I think it was part of a meal in one of E. Nesbit's books. All I knew was that it was a sauce for roast chicken or turkey, and that nutmeg played a part.

I have no idea if mine turned out as it ought, but wow, it was amazing -- velvety, comforting, rendolent with nutmeg, onion, and bay. Poured hot over turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, it brought everything gorgeously together. And spread on rye bread, it destroyed any possibility of my ever putting mayonnaise on a turkey sandwich.

Try it the next time you roast a bird -- you'll like it. Now if only I could find a recipe for the seed cakes that Bilbo offers Balin at that fateful Wednesday afternoon tea.

Bread Sauce
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast

3 cups' worth of torn-into-cubes day-old white bread (sandwich is fine) -- no crusts
4 c. milk
1 onion
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. white peppercorns
heaped 1/4 tsp. ground mace
2 tsp. sea salt
2 T. butter
2 T. heavy cream, optional
fresh nutmeg

If your bread cubes are still feeling fresh and springy, spread them out for a few hours on a wire rack so they dry out a bit and aren't so pliable.

Pour the milk into a saucepan with a lid. Peel and quarter the onion, then impale each quarter with a clove. Drop the onion quarters into the milk and add the bay leaves, peppercorns, ground mace, and salt. Bring nearly to a boil.

Remove from heat, cover, and leave to infuse at least an hour.

Put the pan on low heat, add the bread cubes, and cook until they disintegrate into the milk. Strain. Just before serving, add the butter and cream, and stir to melt. Grate over more nutmeg.

Serve and swoon.

Notes:
* I forgot the butter and cream entirely and didn't miss them, but then again, I didn't know what to miss, so I include them here.
* I infused mine for about four hours.
* Nigella claims you need only 15 minutes over very low heat for the bread to fall apart in the sauce. Me, I needed 30 minutes at closer to medium, so experiment a bit. The bread will not completely dissolve (or at least mine didn't), so don't fret about that.
* I had a lovely photo of whole nutmegs that I swiped from Wikipedia, but Blogger is pretending that it doesn't understand me when I click the photo button. Pfah.

* Update: lo!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Relax

I'll admit it: I'm a recipe person. I am not the person who rummages through the produce drawer and spice rack and tosses ingredients together at whim. I wish I were, really; I think I'd cook more often if I weren't constrained by the need for a reassuring 3x5 card telling me what to do. But it's not out of character when I reach for solace in instructions; I am, after all, the girl whose lists quite literally have lists. Cross-referenced lists. Which may or may not be color-coded. And, on one memorable occasion, flagged.

Hey, at least I know my quirks, right?

So even with this pasta -- a weeknight staple that I make all the time when neither Dimples nor I can muster the energy to choose a delivery option -- I reach for my recipe box. It's just about the easiest pasta sauce you can imagine. In fact, I'm sure all of us have a version of this up our various sleeves -- a simple, garlicky tomato sauce whipped together from pantry staples. I like this one because it's vegetarian and spicy, and because it uses pecorino romano, which gives it a tangy, salty kick.

I don't know what was different tonight, but I didn't realize until I was scooping the pasta into our bowls that I hadn't taken out the recipe. And I didn't miss it! Can you believe it? Maybe I'll become one of those instinctive cooks after all...well, probably not. But it's a step.

Pardon the lack of photos, but this is not a particularly photogenic recipe (ok, I tried, and failed) -- but it is just what I want on a chilly Wednesday night, when the prospect of going to the store is entirely dismaying.

Pantry Pasta

1 lb. pasta of choice (we prefer penne rigate; I'd avoid long pasta)
1 T. olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (reduce considerably if you prefer less heat)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 to 1 1/2 c. freshly grated pecorino romano
handful chopped fresh basil, if you happen to have it on hand

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.

While the water is heating, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a largish skillet. Add the garlic and red pepper and saute until the garlic is golden and you can really smell the pepper. Pour tomatoes and wine into the skillet, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens.

Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot, reserving about half a cup of the pasta water. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to coat. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to thin it out. Add the grated cheese and stir well. Divide the pasta into bowls and sprinkle the basil over the top, if you are so inclined.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ahem!

I haven't confessed this before, but I may have a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty crush on Mario Batali. Hardly enough to speak of, honestly. Not much more than a mild admiration...he has a nice way with cardoons, okay?

And no, it was totally NOT appropriate for Dimples to ask our server at Otto last month if Mario would be in that night, and it was even LESS appropriate for him to jerk his chin at me and roll his eyes in a "chick crazy" way, and don't even get me started on the fight we had when he deleted -- DELETED! -- episodes of Molto Mario off the DVR. "Blah blah blah but you don't even like risotto blah." WHAT-ever.

But I am not a stalker. I swear.

But I am going to Otto again tonight!