Friday, August 28, 2009

Plum Kuchen

There are some recipes that take the internet by storm, and I think this one is well on its way. I mean, just look at this photo:

(c) 2009 Gourmet -CondeNast Publishing

I don't know about you, but the minute I spotted this in my August issue of Gourmet, I fell in love. It's just so dang beautiful, I had to make it mine. So I set out to bake in my un-air conditioned house in August. Love makes you do crazy things, doesn't it?

My heart went pitter-patter once again when I saw these plums at the Pasadena Farmer's Market:

Be still my bejeweled heart!

I went about making the yeasted "dough" although the consistency is a cross between a bread dough and a cake batter. After letting it rest/rise I cut up the plums and got ready to bake.

So this is where the love story sours just a bit. I swear I don't know WHY I sometimes choose to ignore that little voice of instinct when it starts talking to me, but each time I pretend not to hear it, I regret it. I mean, it's downright stupid really. Trust Your Instincts. I should write that in large red letters and post it on my fridge........or my forehead. You see, for some reason I went against my better judgment and decided to bake the kuchen in glass bakeware instead of aluminum or a cast iron skillet, even though that little voice kept nagging me that I probably wouldn't get great caramelization or browning with glass bakeware. It kept saying, "Don't be a fool, you're gonna get checked if you bake it in glass," and I said, "Who gonna check me, boo?" Wait, sorry that was a quote from Sheree of the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Anyway, you get the point.

Not to say that the cake was a failure by any means: the plums, sugar and butter had created a wonderful syrup that dribbled down the sides of the cake, which was moist, sweet and delicious. I was just disappointed that most of the top didn't really brown very well, and we all know why. Oh, well. Based on looks, I'd give it a 5 but it had great personality overall. Next time: cast iron!

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Something Out Of Not Much

6:00 PM, Saturday night: Despite having an 8:30 PM reservation to one of Los Angeles' most beloved restaurants (Sona- to which neither of us had ever been), J and I found ourselves in a heap on the sofa, exhausted from running around in unusually muggy weather all day. We got into the do-you-wanna-go-well-I-don't-care-what-do-you-wanna-do? conversations which basically made us realize that a pricey restaurant like Sona should be saved for a time when we were totally feeling it. J tuned into the Raider game while I stared glumly into the refrigerator (I know mom- I shouldn't stand in front of the fridge with the door open!) wondering what to make. Since I'd assumed we'd go out for dinner I hadn't really done my grocery shopping, I was looking at a few veggies in the drawer, plus an array of condiments, some random nubs of cheese and one baked chicken breast that sat alone in a Tupperware. Not very promising.

Upon further investigation (read: I looked in the freezer) I found a badly beaten up Whole Foods ready-made pizza crust that was bent out of shape and hiding underneath bags of frozen corn and a bottle of vodka. At least I had a jumping off point now! I took it out, saw that it was intact and let it thaw back into its normal flat shape on a cutting board.

Since I didn't have any marinara or pizza sauce, I decided to do a kind of white pizza with what I had. After combining some sour cream, grated parmesan, grated gruyere, 1 egg yolk, lots of cracked black pepper and chopped basil into a paste, I spread it onto the thawed crust all the way to the edge, then covered the whole thing in thinly sliced zucchini which I'd salted and drained. Dinner was starting to come together! A grating of parmesan finished up the "flatbread" as I like to call it, and I popped it in the oven.

I was lucky enough to have one ear of corn and one gigantic tomato which came together, with some basil, to form a simple salad. Then I took the lone chicken breast and made a chicken salad and thinly sliced what I had left of a baguette to serve with it. I normally don't do the carb/carb dinner combo, but it seemed to make sense!

So, this is the dinner that came out of having to create something with what was there, and it turned out pretty well!

I think I'll try to do this more often- instead of buying more groceries, just try and create a meal out of what's already there. It forces you to be creative, and is a good way to use up leftovers.

What's in your pantry/fridge?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Non-Dairy Salmon & Corn Chowder

I hadn't really planned to make this for supper the other night; I actually had something more along the lines of a grilled salmon with a side of veg on my mind but as the day wore on it just didn't appeal to me. I knew I had the frozen salmon thawing in the fridge, plus a drawer full of veggies that I'd bought at the Larchmont Farmer's Market, but I felt.......uninspired.

Once I started to take a mental inventory of what vegetables I had, however, I started to put it all together and came up with this chowder. I'd purchased three ears of sweet corn, a bag of white onions, some really nice asparagus and had leftover basil, thyme and chives. The idea of a salmon and corn chowder hit me, and after a pit stop for two yukon gold potatoes and a pint of Silk soy milk, I was off to the races.

Basically I started this soup as I do with most others I make- sauteeing a mirepoix in a bit of olive oil before adding the corn which I cut off the cob. After the corn cooked a bit, I took about 1 1/2 cups of the vegetables and blitzed it in a blender along with about a cup of soy milk. After adding low sodium chicken broth to the remaining veg in my pot, I swirled in the corn/soy milk mixture- this thickens the soup and adds a creamy consistency without dairy. Not that i have anything against good, fresh cream, but shoveling large spoonfuls into my mouth is not something I should do too often. Sound fun though, doesn't it? After bringing the soup to a simmer I added the potatoes and let them cook, then added the herbs, asparagus, chives and green onion at the end. Right before serving, I folded in the salmon which I'd seasoned with salt and pepper, roasted for 10 minutes and flaked with a fork. Dinnah is served!

A sourdough baguette and chopped salad was all we needed to make a meal out of this....oh, and a bottle of rosé, of course! Wine always makes the meal.........or sometimes, IS the meal....but that's a whole other blog post........

TGIF, and have a great weekend!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer Dinner Party

As I mentioned in my last post, we had some friends over for a summer dinner party a couple of weekends ago. For once, I didn't really have much of a plan and let the Farmer's Market guide my menu. It turned out to be one of my favorite menus and just really fun to put together.

One thing I had decided was that I wanted to make a side dish with lobster. Since there were six people total for the dinner party I figured it best to not attempt a main course of lobster as to not break the bank; plus it's a bit of work to get the meat out of the shells. After boiling the two Maine lobsters and extracting the meat, I decided on a salad of butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes, freshly cut corn off the cob and the lobster with a creamy tarragon dressing. You know when you're thinking of what to make and a dish just sort of comes to you instantly? This salad was like that and I just knew all of those components would work well together. Some fresh chives finished off the dish:

The main course was a variation on the many savory tarts I've made in the past. I used what has become my absolute favorite tart crust recipe (it is seriously a JOY to handle and roll out) and made a crème fraiche/egg yolk/cheese paste to spread (similar to the one Suzanne Goin uses in her savory tarts in her Lucques cookbook) on the dough.......

.......before topping that with sliced gruyere, different verities of heirloom tomatoes, grated parmesan and a good sprinkling of black pepper. I love this base which can be made with ricotta, sour crème, grated cheese, whatever- just spread it on your dough and top with anything from bacon to mushrooms to leeks to tomatoes, like I did here:

I did sprinkle the sliced tomatoes with sea salt and let them drain between two paper towels for about 20 minutes before arranging them onto the unbaked tart dough so that the water in them wouldn't make the tart soggy. It worked very well and helped concentrate the flavor of the tomatoes once they baked:

Initially I thought to do a zucchini or other type of summer squash as a second side dish, but to be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of either as they tend to be watery. Luckily I saw some gorgeous, multicolored carrots which I roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, then tossed with sliced avocado, red onion and a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, cumin, olive oil, agave nectar and lots of chopped cilantro:

Those of you who frequent Southern California farmers markets have probably seen the overabundance of big, juicy strawberries this summer- they are everywhere- so I picked up a bunch before figuring out what I was going to make. I'd purchased these really cute milk glasses at Anthropologie awhile ago and was inspired to make a vanilla bean panna cotta topped with the strawberries which I macerated in a bit of agave nectar and this amazing blackberry balsamic vinegar which I bought at Nicole's:

A cheese plate and some prosciutto finished off the light menu and we had a great time sipping rose and catching up in the back yard. I hadn't cooked for a group in awhile and it was like the shot in the arm I needed to get back in the kitchen. I love to cook, but when a menu comes together without recipes, based on inspiration gained from the local produce and ideas gained from years of cooking, it restores your faith in cooking, ha! I had as much fun cooking this as I did eating it and look forward to at least a couple more summer dinner parties before Autumn comes!

Pasadena Farmer's Market
Victory Park
Saturdays 8:30 AM- 1:00 PM

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Summer Dinner Party: Sneak Peek

Last weekend we had some friends over for an outdoor dinner party, and I didn't really have much of a plan when it came to the menu, which is rare. I just took a trip to the Pasadena's Farmer's Market and picked up what was fresh and kind of just went with the inspiration provided by the gorgeous produce. I plan to blog about it next week, but here's a little sneak peek:

Three kinds of juicy, heirloom tomatoes. Is there a more perfect summer food than ripe tomatoes? I think not:

Gorgeous herbs all in a row: cilantro, basil, Italian parsley, chives and thyme:

Multi-colored baby carrots:

Maine lobster, purchased at Fish King:

Which held an unexpected surprise: lobster roe (eggs), right in the tail:

And, I'm sure this may gross some of you out but to me, it's like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: lots of tomalley, the creamy, green substance found in the cavity of the lobster:

………which, when spread on crackers and sprinkled with sea salt, makes the perfect thing to munch on with a glass of prosecco while you're cooking the rest of your meal………delicious!

Next post: the actual dinner party and my favorite summer menu so far.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Maui, Part 2

Based on my last post you probably think I'm the douche who complains about Maui. After all, it's an idyllic tropical paradise, and even if the majority of the food we ate there was kind of "meh," we were still surrounded my miles of gorgeous beaches and beautiful greenery. So here's the post to counter the last one and tell you that yes, Maui is an amazing place, filled with beauty and some pretty good food in unexpected places!

On our first full day there, we just hopped in the car and headed north on a stretch of road that ran parallel to the deep, blue ocean. We made a few stops to gawk at the turquoise water and take photos, then continued on the road to somewhere- we figure we'd just let it lead us to wherever it, um, lead. Little did we know that the two lane highway would turn into a single, narrow road with a thousand-feet drop on the driver's side (ok, maybe it wasn't a thousand but I am really bad at this stuff and it was really far down!) which J masterfully navigated, although we both wondered what would happen if a car came from the other direction. We were among three cars that puttered along this death trap (ok, again probably embellishing a bit but it was scary!) and when a car finally did come from the other direction, it was thankfully driven by a local who simply drove it so it almost teetered on the cliff while we all drove around it on the "safe" side. Phew.

Risking our lives, however, was not in vain as this treacherous road of doom (alright, I'll stop but I tell you- it was frightening!) lead to the Best Banana Bread On The Planet. I'm not making it up- it said so on the sign so of course we couldn't help but pull over.

See? The sign SAYS it's the best!

I had actually JUST read about this place on another blog so I shouted excitedly to J that we had to try some, so we got out of the car and approached the small green shack that held The Best Banana Bread On The Planet.

We were greeted warmly by the proprietor, Julia, who had samples of the bread, some coconut candy, macadamia nuts and other goodies. It was hard to tell if it was the best banana bread I'd ever had based on the small piece I ate, but I bought a loaf to take back to the hotel and Julia handed me one that was still warm and smelled divine. After making our way back alive (oops) we cut several slices and made some coffee to have with it. The verdict? It really is the Best Banana Bread On The Planet………but since I haven't had every banana bread on the planet I can just assure you that it's the best one in MY planet. It was sweet but not cloyingly so, and had a pronounced banana flavor but one that was deep, dark and caramelized. I really liked that it had no bells and whistles- no nuts or visible fruit- and was as tender and rich while being light at the same time. Definitely worth risking life and limb for, that's certain (last reference)! We kept slicing off chunks and nibbling on it for the next couple of days until it was all gone.

Another culinary highlight was the pineapple that we had on several occasions- Maui pineapple really is a different animal and every chunk we had throughout the entire trip was sweet and almost syrupy with natural sugars. I'm afraid I'll never be able to eat a pedestrian pineapple again.

Not an actual Maui pineapple but a stand that sells them!

Ok, now here's one that will throw you……….another surprise was how pretty damn good my Spam musubi was. I don't know if I have even ever had Spam, although having eaten a few school cafeteria meals in my day I would only have to assume that I have. I bought it in Paia at a gas station before we headed down the Road to Hana and ate it a couple of hours later. I didn't really know what to expect, but it was good. I mean really good. The Spam was seared so all of the fat from all of the unknown parts contained within a slice of Spam oozed out onto the rice of which there was a perfect proportion to cut the saltiness in the meat (product). It was everything a processed pig product should taste like, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Hey- when in Rome…………

Cheap too!

Speaking of the Road To Hana, it's what we tackled on Day Two of our trip. We started out with a breakfast at Café Kapalua - J had the huevos rancheros which were excellent, and I had a less-successful omelet but it was really my fault. No, I wasn't the cook but I have a tendency to "edit" breakfast dishes which I did again by asking for egg whites only, easy on the cheese and extra tomatoes. I should have just had it as the cook intended and it probably would have been better. Ah well, live and learn.

So after breakfast and the Spam pick-up, we headed down the long Road to Hana. The beauty of the hills, ocean, flowers, waterfalls and other presents the Road To Hana held won't be justified by words, so here's a few photos for you:

This reminds me of Japan.......Hokkaido, oddly....

We reached Hana just in time for the skies to open up and start pouring, but we trekked along a path that lead to a black sand beach and black lava rock cliffs overlooking a pounding surf. It looked very dramatic and we just stood there and peered out at the ocean, but threw in the towel earlier than we wanted to due to the rain.

So we were once again back on the road, this time away from Hana. Unfortunately, even the Road To Hana needs repairs now and then, which we found out via some orange cones and a "Do Not Enter" sign:

I walked up to the snoozing road worker who on cone duty and asked how long it would be, and he said "we'll open it back up at 3:30." Not bad, right? Oh wait, it's only 1:00 PM which means we had TWO-AND-A-HALF-HOURS to kill smack dab in the middle of Hana and our destination in Kapalua. The only bright side was that we hadn't reached the road barricade at 11:30 AM which is when they closed the road- could you imagine being told you have FOUR hours to wait? I think I would have lost it. With no real options we drove about 45 minutes back down the road to the one food stand we saw and had some Maui-style tacos (what's with putting black beans and shredded cabbage on everything? They don't belong in tacos!) then drove back 45 minutes to the barricade and sat in our car, along with all of the other people stranded on the Lone Road To Hana.

We were pretty exhausted by the time we finally made our way to the other side of the island, but look what we saw right before we reached our hotel:

…..some Maui magic!