Monday, August 28, 2006

And on the 15th day, God and cookies?

Are there any monkeys out there who don't like making their own pizza? Our's loves it, but it takes a little oversight to keep the spatula from being licked between applications of sauce, or from keeping the select toppings from going IN the pie-hole and not ON the pie.

The ingredients were as follows: Whole wheat pizza dough (sourdough of course), kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, carmelized onions, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, sauce (tomato paste, onions, italian herbs, s&p,) mozzarella and jack cheeses.

Assembled, they were ready to go in the oven at 450 for almost 20 minutes. While the pizza was cooking, the monkey, H, myself and Aunty enjoyed a bowl of the delicious soup that H made. It was big and hearty, with all sorts of yummy veggies and a little wine. We managed to do something with the rest of the wine that didn't go in the soup, cause hey, that stuff goes bad quickly huh?

They didn't look too much different when they came out, but still, it was an effort to let them cool for a second on the rack without burning the be-jesus out of the roof of your mouth.

Throughout the day, we had been sampling the latest round of Nana's Anise Cookies, with a twist. Hard to tell from the picture, so maybe the secret will stay safe with whoever tasted them that day. All I can say is, when I talked to Aunty first thing in the morning, I announced that I had success tweaking the biscotti recipe and thus today would be remembered for the rest of her life. Now they are just about guilt free and will have to be made with greater frequency, something like, hey today is the fourth sunday of the month........let's make biscotti!

Friday, August 25, 2006

cashew ginger biscotti, a work in progress

Thank you Nana. You have been gone since I was in second grade, but I think of you whenever I find myself even thinking about biscotti. From your mother to you, to Grandma, and then to both of my folks, was passed on the tradition of making biscotti. Anise cookies were what we knew them as when my sis and I were little. They were crumbly, nutty, mildly licoricey, a touch sweet, and associated with holidays or special occasions. I ate as many as I could whenever I could get my hands on them. Now, I've been making them for at least ten years, during the holidays and maybe for a birthday or two. I have loved biscotti my entire life, so while I was pilfering some of the candied ginger from our jar the other day, and I heard my brain play a bit of a conversation from a few weeks ago: J saying, "Biscotti? I've made em' before.....with some candied ginger bits....tasty!" I imagined how I could alter the family recipe and accommodate what my salivary glands were suddenly demanding.

It took about 3 minutes to assemble the ingredients here. This photo includes the mortar because the flax seeds needed a thorough pulverizing. Raw cashews, candied ginger, and lemon zest are on the plate, vegetable shortening and canola oil represent the fats, all backed by canisters of flour and sugar, plus the baking powder can and fertility symbol salt-keep.

Once again, these ingredients here are NOT those involved in the anise cookies. But I could not talk about making biscotti without talking about Nana's and Grandma's cookies and my original encounters with such. Now that I make them for myself and others, I can choose to create somthing to suit my tastes. Think about it. When given a plate of thirty cookies to choose from, your brain usually starts looking for little details: that ones a little more done, or, hey this one is bigger or has more frosting, etc.....So, overall, I make mine drier, and maybe a little harder, but you can dip it in coffee, tea, or vin santo, and most of it comes back out of the glass (granted we really didn't dip them much as kids so this was of no concern back then) I guess you could call me downright discerning at times, but come on, biscotti aren't just any ol' cookie. I'm not looking to get a sweet-tooth craving sated when I consume one. I'm looking for the comfort-food eating experience that only a good biscotti can satisfy. Considering this, when I experiment with biscotti, the odds are stacked against me, for I'm prone to being overly critical. It was with all this in my head that I embarked on this adventure.

I ground 2T flax seeds into more or less a powder and added 6T of water. This sat and soaked while I worked with the rest. I put 2.5c flour and .75c sugar with 1t baking powder and .5t salt in a sifter, and sifted together 3 times. I melted 5T vege shortening and combined it with 2T canola oil and the flax seed mash in another bowl. This was then combined with the dry ingredients and mixed by hand. When the dough started coming together I added 2/3c chopped cashews and 1/4c chopped candied ginger. This was the result. I covered it with wrap and put it in the fridge to chill for a few hours before shaping into a loaf and doing the initial baking.

Biscotti are the shape of the inside of your hand, so the next step is quite easy. Using your hands, form a loaf about a foot long and a middle finger wide. Bake this for 30-40 minutes at 375, on as light of a pan as you have. Remove from the oven and put on a rack to cool like this.

When cool to the touch, cut at a diagonal, into individual cookies, about as wide as your pinky. Lay back on the cookie sheet and put back in the oven at a lower heat, say 325, and bake them even more. After about 10 minutes, flip over the cookies and put back in the oven. You will probably have to do this several times more if you like them like I do. When the cookies are taken out, do not eat any (these aren't anything like chocolate chip cookies, there is no benefit to eating them warm, unless you like burning hot pieces of cookie-shrapnel embedded in your gums.) Hopefully, you are left with something along these lines:

And, if you manage to not eat all of them, and some make it to see the light of day, you can enjoy them with some nice strong coffee. Lord knows a few of my relatives over the years have started their day with a breakfast similar to this.....Ciao!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I'm thinking about now that if my Texan friends knew what I was up to today they would be over this evening for some true barbeque. Smoked, for a looooonnng time, with the fire indirectly heating the meat (we're talkin' below 250 degrees,) and most likely involving mesquite, or a nice fruiting hardwood like oak.



Slow cooked, smoked meat......whenever I hear this, I don't really care what type of meat it is, I have faith it will be way tasty.

A number of years ago, a big-hearted Texan friend gave me some smoked pork, from her dad back home. Check this out D, she said. I gladly accepted a slice of something loin or chop like. I took a bite. I remember thinking "now how did he do that!" It was the softest, most tender piece of pork. Ever. I thought, self, you must figure out a way to procure a smoker. You must learn the ways of the great Texan masters. And thus the seed was planted for a future gastronomic experiment of mine, should I ever find myself the owner of a smoker.

Find I did.

Somewhere around six years later, St Patty's day of this year actually, I found myself chatting with a friend who said "hey, I tell you about my new baby?" (Our friend E, his wife, was very pregnant at the time, enjoying one of their last nights out, before the birth of their second child, so it seemed a funny question) No, I said. "I just went and styled myself with one of those ceramic smokers. I've had my eye on this one for a number of years actually, but it cost a few bucks....... so I finally got one." "Cool," I said, trying to imagine what a ceramic one would look like, since I had only been exposed to the drum/barrel fact, one at his house, in the backyard. "Hey, wait, don't you already have a smoker?" I found myself saying, not really thinking about a response. "Yeah, you want it?"

I thought, is it true, did he just say, do you WANT it? "Ehhhh, well, sure.....yeah......are you serious?" "Come and get it, and its yours. In fact, if you want it, could you come and get it this weekend?" "Sweet I'll put it in the back of my wagon." "No way it won't fit dude. It's about 5 feet long, with 3 foot legs, probably won't come apart ,and must weigh over 150 pounds. You're gonna need a truck." Truck? I thought. Tito! "Yeah, let me ring my brother in law and see if I can borrow his truck," I said. "You might want to borrow him too, if you can, for getting it off the truck at your house." I thought, what am I getting myself into here ? We picked it up the next day. Only then did I realize the scope of this thing. Sweet, my seed from long ago, has grown well and even fruited, and now I am coming home with the beginning of a new chapter in my culinary adventures.

So a few months later, this is what the thoroughly scrubbed and partially repainted smoker looks like while I'm starting it up, and getting ready to play around with some meat.

Todays course? Ahi, Ono, and I'm sorry if it offends some folks out there, but I like it, Tofu. The fish was brined the night before, with some measuring help from the monkey.

I just love this photo. Monkeys in the kitchen are a good thing, they remind us how everyday items can have new and exciting uses. This photo was from a while back but it illustrates nicely how measuring cups can be used for eye protection. As was demonstrated on this occasion.

The food was smoked with some almond wood. Reedley almond wood (I'll check with the source, but there is a chance it could be from a Texan variety of almond) The fish took a little over 3 hours, the tofu around 2. It was nice and brown, very smokey, and quite tasty. It looked something like this:

I promise to pay homage to my friend's father, and in the near future (okay, maybe a month or two) I'll share with you one of my ideas for getting pork to be, well, really tender, like, was that raw or something?, I didn't think you could get pork to be that soft.

Hatexacal=Hawaiian fish, Texan methods, performed by a Californian

Saturday, August 19, 2006

opium bialys

Please excuse the quality of this picture. My knee was KILL-ING and I just didn't have the patience to take more.

I went for a lovely bike ride this morning, however about 4 miles into it, I ate it. "Wow this old road bed is great! Hey looks like its turning to gravel up ahead but still looks smooth and undulating, cool! (Suddenly) Is that a gully cutting perpendicular to my path? Oh crap! (brakes, hard.) Yeah I'm slowing down, looks like I'll stop in time......NOOOOO!," (loose gravel for the 10-15 feet before the gully, and a change in pitch=I start skidding and begin to go over handlebars.) Somehow I landed on my feet with the majority of by bike behind me, before my momentum and loose footing did me in. I found myself saying aloud "I'm ok....I think" even with no one around. Ow. Left knee abraded and bloody in places, and going to be very bruised from impact. Left shoulder also abraded some (thank you shirt, or probably it would look like my knee.) I hobbled around some, contemplated calling H for a ride, then realized I would have to go at least a mile in either direction in order to rendezvous for a pick-up. I went back to my bike, it looked in working order thankfully, and decided that I should just keep going and not let anything like pain or fear of further abrasion stop me (I did ride slower, and after some of the grit in my knee fell out after more riding, I took out the first aid kit and did up a nice field dressing.)

So, yesterday we were at Grandma's and we made another one of those savory bread puddings. It looked much like one from earlier in the week and tasted pretty good too. My mom said she would like to make one for her sister when she is over, but said that she doesn't just have great sourdough leftovers laying around the house for such use. "Hey, the Monkey is staying with you tonight, the least I could do is make you some bread!" (That's right, we went on a date last night.) So why am I writing all this? Well, the dough I made this morning was white and fluffy, and quite large when it came time for the final punch down and shaping, so I trimmed it a little. Made a few crusts for some bialys. Carmelized an onion, added a ton of poppy seeds (praying that the opiates would aid the knee) spread it on top of the crusts and baked em at 400 for 20 minutes. Damn they were good. Nice sour flavor on the crust, and sweet-tangy-nuttiness on the spread. Mmmmm. Think I'll have another.

Wow, now I'm craving another one.....wait a second, are these things addictive?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

leeky butternut and mushroom soup, and lots of boiling

While oatmeal was simmering this morning I chopped some onions and celery and started sauteing (in another pot, not to worry) with some olive oil. In went some carrot and an ear of Brentwood sweet corn. Garden oregano and thyme, bay from a hillside in Novato, and sage from the store completed the spicing. This boiled together for some 2 hours, the solids were removed and then it was reduced a bit. The bowl on the right represents what became veggie stock (1 quart for now, 1 for later) and the other produce represents the rest of our soup for tonight. I was feeling somewhat vegan today and was inspired to make a soup based on one from last fall involving roasted butternuts, sauteed leeks, chantrelles, sage, butter, and a fresh fresno red pepper. It was really good. Topped with creme fraische it was awesome.

Well with todays thinking being vegan, I could use the veggie stock, but had to brown my fresh sage in some soy garden spread. Out came the sage leaves, in went the leeks and some brown mushrooms for near ten minutes. The butternuts had been halved and seeded, coated with olive oil and baked at 350 for about an hour and a half. These were scraped, placed in a larger pot with the sauteed items and covered with stock. This was mashed together and boiled for a few hours during which Peggy Hill and her sidekick Cayenne came by. The soup was ladled out and blended in batches until smooth. This next photo shows the unblended soup, some cherry infused ginger syrup, and working toward being candied, some cubes of fresh ginger cooling in simple syrup. Collectively I have spent nearly a third of my day staring at these three vessels and boiling some type of root, fruit, stem, leaf, or cob.

Tonight we will feast on the soup, maybe with a side of steamed carrots and fresh corn on the cob. There's not much of that fig tart left so we might be forced to drizzle some cherry ginger syrup over vanilla soy dream while we wait for our candied ginger to finish making itself.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

savory bread puddings and a cherry-fig tart

These looked good and tasted even better. The white dish (full-fat and cholesterol) was based on the previously mentioned Strata recipe. It had sourdough slices topped with purple pesto dollops, fresh mozzarella pieces, crumbled cotija and fresh garden tomato slices. Topped by another layer of the same minus the cotija. The custard was 4 large eggs and 1 & 1/2 cups half-n-half, plus a pinch of salt, and was allowed to rest in the fridge for about an hour and a half after pouring over the rest.

The terra cotta piece (more heart-conscious, much lower cholesterol) contained half-whole-wheat sourdough slices that were laced with various seeds (caraway, anise, sesame, poppy, sunflower, and oatmeal) topped with carmelized yellow onion and grated parm, and then another layer of the same but incorporating fresh chives and a single sage leaf on the top. Oh yeah, and the custard was 4 egg whites (3/4 cup) and 1 & 1/4 cups non-fat milk and rested in the fridge for the same amount of time. Both were cooked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, checked out clean with a knife put in them, and were put back in the oven for five more minutes because they could stand to get a touch darker.

The white was something like Italian bread-quiche (go figure) while the terra cotta was akin to a...well, uh........a savory bread pudding! (except that it was distinctly layered, something that I do not believe I have had yet.) The family liked them, and it even prompted the monkey to have us join hands and be thankfull with a little blessing/song.

Ah, dessert. I love dessert. And I love figs. And cherries. When it dawned on me that we now had both sitting side by side on our counter after the morning grocery run, I was called to take action. Last week I made a Reedley fig tart that was well received by the local stomachs; thinking this, I was struck with the notion that another fig tart, vegan perhaps, with cherries and a touch of balsamic doesn't sound too bad, like, tonight. I worked up a crust with 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1/2 cup soy garden spread, put it in that-there oblong dish, and baked it for 25 minutes at 350. I took it out and let cool some while I washed the fruit. Black mission figs and rainier cherries. Yum -mee. Arranged on the crust and splashed with some (mildly) ginger-infused simple syrup and a few drops of balsamic, it looked pretty good. I put it in the oven and while closing the door thought "oh Peggy Hill, just add nutmeg!" It came right back out, got some freshly grated on top of it, a coating of granulated sugar (out of powdered at this point) and back into the oven at 350 for 20 more minutes. It looked good. It, too, was well received by the local stomachs.

Man, I love figs. And cherries. And my brain, when it comes up with these types of things....

breakfast of champions with a side of purple pesto

So this is how that loaf came out. I attempted some sort of wheat-stalk design in the top right before putting in the oven, but the top had dried a touch in the final rise, making the lame pull at the surface during cutting. This was nowhere near precision cutting considering the tool used, but the bread rose sufficiently to deliver a noticible pattern (maybe not in the picture.) This is what I had for dessert last night (warm, with butter) and breakfast this morning (toasted, with butter.) God I love fresh sourdough.

The monkey and I ran over to Monterey Market and had a look at their fresh herb display to be inspired and come up with something for dinner. I have been interested in making some sort of savory bread pudding with the leftovers we have around. Around a month ago I had a savory bread pudding with some soft gooey cheese and leeks in it and it was pretty freakin' fantastic. Then my mom gave me a recipe for something called Saturday Summer Strata by Cheryl and Bill Jamison and I thought, hmm.... first I EAT a delicious savory pudding, then I get a RECIPE, now I must MAKE one. It was with this in mind, a request for some good tubers, and a small list of essentials needed, that we made it through my favorite place for everyday produce.

I'll take some of those chives and sage for a soup tomorrow, and some of that beautiful purple basil for some fresh pesto, we've an idea for that one there, and maybe a few kafir lime leaves for playing with something Thai inspired later on this week...

Mmmmm. The makings for a purple pesto. This will be to layer in some savory bread pudding goodness...I sense that something along the lines of that Strata will be in order tonight.

Monday, August 14, 2006

sourdough basics

Our pet has been laying around the house all full and content, and on the counter. Must mean its time to put it to work making a loaf or two. This morning I started out by adding 2/3 cup starter, 1 cup water and a pinch of sugar and let that sit, while the monkey and I hopped around the house like froggies and even did a little dinky-donking (I'm still working on the exact definition on this one, each time my daughter says it it involves a slightly different activity akin to riding an imaginative horsey.) We took a break from the play, washed our paws and added 2 cups bread flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself at home with a toddler, I recommend that you involve them in your cooking as time permits. It allows for great bonding, makes a fantastic mess, and gives your child a valuable sense of where good food actually comes from. H and I also are hoping that building good kitchen skills in our children will raise the chances for fresh griddled pancakes in bed by the time our daughter is 4. Call me a dreamer but my monkey can already help mix up most soft doughs, scramble eggs, and flip pancakes. At 2 years 9 months old she could probably tell a stranger the ingredients and amounts needed to make chocolate chip cookies. I like my pancakes with fresh bananas in them and maple syrup on them, and if not by 4 years old, then by 5 for sure.

We put the smooth dough into a large lighly oiled green dish thingy. Its one of the nicest pieces we have and I think the sourdough somehow appreciates it. Our new mortar and pestle from Barb can be seen in the background, as well as some leftover sourdough adventure and a Reedley Peach turnover from Aunty. If there is anyone out there who has received peaches through us from the family "Farm" they know that these are as good as it gets for freshness and flavor and simply cannot be matched in a store. Anyway, I could write a book about the fresh produce we get from Grandma and Grandpa, so it just might be easier to talk more as another batch of fresh ingredients comes our way.

We put the cover on the dough and placed it in our ancient wedgewood where the pilot light will keep it a nice 80 degrees or so for a nice rise. We will look at it in a few hours, punch it down maybe, let it rise again, only to be punched down again (the dough likes the abuse.) We'll shape it, put it on a pan, and give it a slash or two with a lame before putting in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes. If time allows and the monkey takes a nap this afternoon, maybe I'll include a photo of todays project.

In just about any other part of our country you might think that it would be appropriate to put dough out on the counter for the nice summery ambient temperatures. Well, I live in Oakland, and at 11 am when the dough was placed it was a foggy 61 outside. It will take until noon to see the sun and our daytime high might reach 68 today, so our dough will spend most of its rising time in the oven before it is heated.

I woke up this morning thinking of this loaf from a few months back (March I guess, around the time Kristin gave us some of her "pet.") We omitted the olives today, and it will be a free form loaf, baked on a perforated pizza sheet, but it hails from the same starter. Since some has lived at our house we have made bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza dough, focaccia, dinner rolls, pancakes, and english muffins to name a few things. But I believe this to be the first picture of a sourdough creation in our house.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

the monkey and the wrangler

"The Monkey" and I sitting at Limantour beach enjoying some cookies and undisclosed liquid in plastic camp cup. Man it was beautiful that day at the beach!

Day 1

Going to some friend's house for a little potluck soiree. Seven veggie soba noodle salad with ginger tahini dressing and a cold pesto orzo salad with fresh garden tomatoes and strauss ricotta. Mmmmm. Knowing Jona and family there will be plenty of killer food. I'll work on posting some recipes (or are they merely outlines?) for the odd person out there who stumbles across my ventures into the online food blogs.

Gotta go, the monkey is up from her nap...

Okay, now I have a little time for some notes on the day: We made it to the potluck on time, due to our monkey not taking a nap today. H made the delicious soba noodle salad with a fresh ginger, garlic, tahini and soy sauce dressing. Along with the noodles were cabbage, red onion, celery, carrot, cucumber, bell pepper, and scallion, topped with black sesame seeds. Wow, this one had nearly everything that was fresh and produce in our house.

While H was working her kitchen magic I was experimenting with a granite mortar and pestle I received from my parent's neighbor Barb. Bless her soul, she is my surrogate grandma of sorts (mine are gone now and you will find them honored here from time to time) and had this laying around her house and thought I might enjoy using it. I washed it with salt and lemon juice and began mashing garlic cloves, pine nuts, olive oil, fresh basil, a pinch of salt, more olive oil and finally some microplaned pecorino. This was set aside while I cooked some orzo, tossed it with some olive oil and freshly made ricotta a la Aunty (about two hours old, made with whole milk from the world's best dairy; Strauss Family Creamery of western Marin.) I also added some whole pine nuts and freshly diced tomatoes from our garden, salt and pepper to taste.

It was while making this salad and reflecting on some recent cooking adventures that I thought "hey, I should start one of those blog thingies that I was reading the other night too," so I could have some means of documenting for the future whatever it was that tasted good at the time.

So this concludes the first post in what will hopefully be updated a few times a week (in a life with a toddler, wish me luck!)