Thursday, December 30, 2010

C is also for...


as in, the Cheesy Pennies Cookbook. Chock full of recipes from this very blog. I've spent the past month making this as a gift for my family this Christmas, and the book came out so well I just had to share it here.

Check out the cool preview, below!

You can actually buy one for yourself, through the Blurb Bookstore*. I apologize right now for the fact that it's not cheap. But they print these up custom, one at a time, on gorgeous thick paper, and it is over 140 pages long, with full color photos to go with every recipe. The process of creating it was both a joy and a huge amount of work, and I am really, really proud of it. Enjoy!

* Can't say enough good things about Blurb. Their software was easy and fun to use and the finished products are tremendous. The fact that this felt a little too much like giving birth without the nice drugs was not their fault.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

C is for...

But that's not good enough for me.

C is for Christmas Eve.   For Correspondence and Carrots and Campouts with Cousins and Cute little ornaments twinkling in the night.

C is for Cinnamon Rolls in the morning*.

C is for Cries of joy all through the house as gifts fly open, and for my Complete Shock when I discover what this entire Crew has been up to for weeks**.

And for the Criminal Cruelty of my mother, who refused to keep any of the gifts her grandchildren brought to her bedside, on the grounds that she had no need for them in her condition.

Curse your Condition. Be Compassionate.  For a Change.

C is for Curative Crab Cakes with a Curry-Cayenne Condiment,*** Chauteubriand**** for dinner and Cheesecake for dessert.

C is for the Comfort that being together today has brought, in the face of all the Confusion, Consternation and Concern.

C is for Contented.  And Cherished.  And Chubby.

That's MORE than good enough for me.  That's Christmas, 2010.

Crab and Shrimp Cakes with Curry-Cayenne Mustard Sauce 
Based on a recipe from the Fog City Diner Cookbook

1 lb crab meat
1 lb cooked shrimp, chopped fine
¼ c. each minced red, yellow and green bell peppers
1 ½ inner stalks of celery, including leaves, minced
¼ c. red onion, minced
½ jalapeno chile, seeds removed, minced
¼ c. combo of cilantro and basil, finely minced
2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
2 large eggs
1 Tbs. Tabasco sauce
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ c. mayonnaise
1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs

About 1 1/2 c. of peanut oil, for frying

Make sure crab/shrimp is really drained (no moisture).   Place in large mixing bowl.

Add in all the minced stuff, then stir in the Old Bay, the eggs, sauces, and mayo.  Add bread crumbs until mixture is a consistency where you can form cakes that hold their shape.

Form cakes about 2-1/2 inches in diameter, and ½ inch thick. I usually make these a few hours before we eat them and keep on a cookie sheet with layers of waxed paper in between in the refrigerator.

Heat peanut oil to 375. Fry cakes 2 min. on each side.  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with the Curry-Cayenne Mustard Sauce.

Curry-Cayenne Mustard Sauce

1 c. mayonnaise
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 Tbs. finely chopped basil/cilantro mix
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
Juice of ½ lemon
1 Tbs. Sherry vinegar

Blend together, adjust seasonings to taste and serve with crab cakes. Best if made at least an hour ahead.

Click to Print this recipe!

* Bonus!  B is for the Bacon (Peppered and Apple-Cinnamon Smoked), we ate with the Cinnamon Rolls, thanks to the BaconFreak Gift Pack that arrived on my doorstep a few days ago.  Bless you, Marie!
** All orchestrated by the most incredible husband on earth.
*** Actually, Curry-Cayenne Mustard Sauce, but that's much less alliterative.
**** Made possible and delectable by the gifted gentlemen of Huntington Meats in the Farmer's Market, who provide us a perfectly butchered, melt-in-your-mouth cut every Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dear Santa

Why I love her.

Mine goes to 12

There is a great scene from the movie Spinal Tap:

Nigel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel: Exactly.
Marty: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty: I don't know.
Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel: [pause] These go to eleven.

Well Nigel, I can top that.  Mine goes to 12.  That's TWO louder.

Happy 12th birthday to my very special daughter, who may yet push me over the cliff.

The candles are stuck into fruit snacks.   They weren't going to stand up straight in the strawberries .

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Bittersweet Abundance

Our annual holiday open house is magical in many ways:

Thirty two pounds of raw meat are transformed into a chili that yanks people out of their cars, through the front door, past our outstretched arms of welcome, and straight to the vast simmering pots covering the stove.  Only after they have a bowl from the stack, filled to the brim with Fritos, onions, sour cream and cheese can they stop to greet the rest of the throng gathered around the artichoke dip and mulled wine.

Reunions break out, as people discover have gone to law school together, worked a first job in LA together, have kids who went to preschool together, or run the same route in the neighborhood.  Alumni of colleges, companies and elementary school classrooms relive old times and catch up on what's new. Strangers who had a great conversation at last year's party find a place to sit down and pick it back up again over guacamole*.

A gingerbread house appears**.  

A friend with sick children at home stops by to bring hot cornbread*** and wish us merry Christmas.   

Kids who first attended this event in their parents' Baby Bjorns now tower over us.  Even more incredibly, they converse directly with adults and each other without the aid of electronic devices.  They are fueled by soda and sugar.   And chili.  Clearly we will need to make more chili next year.  But no fewer corn dogs.  The adults are eating the corn dogs.   

A steady downpour means the crowd that normally spreads out across the yard is packed indoors****.  Like my waistline, the house expands to accommodate the overflow seemingly without effort.  Instead of being a disaster, it is cosy and wonderful to have everyone so close.

There is an enchanted dessert room.   With silver reindeer and Peanut Butter Bacon Brittle Cookies.  Hot coffee to go with the Kahlua Cream Cheese Chocolate Bites.   Candles glimmering among the Lemon Icebox Squares, the Mini Pecan Tarts and the Chocolate Almond Tassies.  Ginger Hermit Bars and Graham Cracker Toffee Squares nestle near Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies.  And, just out of the oven and filling the room with its irresistible perfume of vanilla, my sister's Cream Cheese Pound Cake.

In the midst of this swirl of warmth and joy and happy noise, the question comes again and again, as I knew it would.   Sometimes it comes with a puzzled face, sometimes a sympathetic squeeze of the hand or a heartfelt hug.   I am healed and I ache each time they ask. 

"Where's your mom?"   

Where indeed?*****  

She's not rolling out the sugar cookie dough or tinting the frosting for the kids' decorating table.  She's not opening the 22 cans of tomatoes and carefully measuring spices out for my husband as he cranks his chili-making playlist through the house at full volume.   She's not in the flour-covered kitchen with me and my sister as we bake for days and hours, talking and ranting and tearing up as we spread batter onto baking sheets.  She's not fretting aloud about how much I overspent on the fruit platter.  She's not carefully arranging cookies on the reindeer plates and setting them out "just so" in the dining room.   She's not sitting with her feet tucked under a blanket in an armchair in the library, chatting quietly with a steady stream of guests who find their time with her to have somehow been one of the best parts of their evening.   She's not urging me to forget the dishes and get some sleep.  She's not stashing leftovers in the laundry room for the people in her building, who apparently will be thrilled not only to get a few cookies but will just adore the extra carrot sticks and jicama.   She's not beaming and telling me I did such a job.  That we really outdid ourselves this time.

She's painfully, willfully, absent.  She's everywhere.   It's another magical gift of the open house.

A bittersweet abundance of Mom.

Michael's Famous Mulled Wine

2/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. water
peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon
2-3 Tbs. mulling spices (easily found at Trader Joe's or other places during the holidays)
1 c. fresh squeezed orange juice (or lemon juice, your call)
1 gallon inexpensive, fruity red wine (Two Buck Chuck cabernet is perfect for this)

Dissolve sugar in water in a large stock pot.  Add peels and mulling spices.  Simmer over medium heat until you have a light brown syrup, about 10-15 minutes.  Strain, and return the syrup to the pot.   Add juice and wine, and heat gently over medium-low heat until nice and warm.   You can make this ahead of time, then cool and store in bottles for a day or so.  Just reheat and serve!

Click to print this recipe!

Ginger Hermit Bars

Adapted from Martha Stewart Cookies.  These taste even better if you set them aside in an airtight container for a day or two before you eat them.  A perfect winter cookie!

For the cookies:
1 3/4 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbs. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
pinch of cloves
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/4 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 c. unsulfered molasses
1 c. candied ginger, diced into 1/4 inch pieces, divided
3/4 c. raisins

For the icing:
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
4 Tbs. milk, plus more as needed
1/4 c.  (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. sifted powdered sugar, plus more as needed.

Preheat oven to 350, and butter a 10 x 15 rimmed baking sheet.

To make the bars, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper and cloves in a large bowl.    Put butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, and beat on medium speed until smooth.   Add brown sugar and mix until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.   Mix in the egg, the yolk, and the molasses.   Reduce speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture.   Mix in 1/2 c. of the candied ginger and the raisins.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan, and bake until firm, about 18-22 minutes.   Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, prepare the icing.  Put butter, brown sugar and milk together in a saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, until butter has melted and sugar has dissolved.   Remove from the heat, and stir in the salt, vanilla and powdered sugar.   The icing should be pourable, but not too thin, so add more milk or powdered sugar to get the consistency you want.

Pour over still-warm bars, and spread to cover bars completely with a thin layer of icing.  Sprinkle remaining 1/2 c. of chopped candied ginger over the icing.   Cool completely, cut into bars, and serve, preferably after they've had a little time to age.  

Click to print this recipe!

Kahlua Cream Cheese Chocolate Bites
Adapted from a recipe in the LA Times

1 c. flour
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, lightly packed
1/3 c. butter, softened
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. Kahlua
1 Tbs. vanilla

1/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Tbs. Kahlua
1 tsp. water

Preheat oven to 325, and butter a 9 inch square baking pan.  Set aside.  

For the crust, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well until combined.   Press mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.   

For the filling, beat the sugar, the brown sugar, butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add flour, baking power and salt, and mix well.   Blend in Kahlua and vanilla.    Spread over the crust.   Bake until set and the edges are light golden brown, about 35 minutes.   Cool slightly.

For the glaze, melt chocolate chips with Kahlua and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth.   If needed, add additional water to get the glaze to a nice drizzling consistency.   Drizzle over filling while still warm.   Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least an hour.   Cut into bars and serve!

Click to print this recipe!

* Homemade by my friend Rosana.  Fantastic stuff to continue or start a conversation over.
** OK, I admit I kind of rigged this one.   It was just sitting there at a school charity breakfast, and I may have mentioned repeatedly to a friend of mine working the breakfast that I could really use a gingerbread house.  
*** She hated the thought of people eating chili without cornbread.
**** Except for some 7th grade boys who decided that nothing says Christmas like a good game of hide and seek tag in the dark, stormy night.   That's how this became the first ever open house where the dryer was running constantly.
***** She was propped up in bed a few miles away, waiting for her evening graham crackers and her sleeping pill.  She spent the day praying for the rain not to ruin everything (she decided against praying for the rain to stop, as that was clearly a losing battle and she didn't want to pray in vain), and picturing other people pitching in to help since she wouldn't be there.   As always, she came through with flying colors on both counts.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Coping Mechanisms


Merriam-Webster online has this definition:


\ˈhä-lə-ˌdā, British usually ˈhä-lə-dē\
: a day on which one is exempt from work; specifically : a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event
chiefly British : vacation —often used in the phrase on holiday —often used in plural
: a period of exemption or relief
Let's see.  Suspension of work?  Not so much.   Vacation?  Nope.  A period of exemption or relief?  Boy, that'd be nice, wouldn't it?

Here are a few ways I am coping with the reality of the holidays this year.

  • Denial:   When the UPS guy drops off a new package at the door every single day from my hyper-organized, annoyingly prepared sister as a reminder of just how far behind I am in my Christmas shopping, I immediately dump said boxes into a huge pile in the way back of my garage and pretend nothing happened.
  • Escape:  I got on a plane and went to New York.   Where the city was completely decked out for the season, with twinkling lights everywhere and Christmas music and people with large shopping bags getting into cabs and office holiday dinners and...Oh, forget it.
  • Laughing*:

4.  A bunch of these:

Butterscotch Cashew Bars with Salted Rum Caramel Icing
This is an adaptation of a recipe I found on the delicious blog Culinary in the Desert.   I'm a huge fan of cashews, and of frosting on cookies like these, so I went ahead and threw those in.  It helps during the holidays to do that kind of thing.  Spontaneously**.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Where did I go wrong?

As you know, I can bake pretty much anything.   I can even make ice cream.   And yet, this is what my daughter wanted instead of a birthday cake for her party yesterday.

Yes, that is a styrofoam cup of crushed ice with a candle in it.   Guess I'll have to start boning up on how to make sno-cone syrup.  

For Grandma

subject:  For Grandma

Someone who cares deeply for you has shared the following news content from America's Finest News Source just with you.

Oprah Invites Hundreds Of Lucky Fans To Be Buried With Her In Massive Tomb

Made my day, that kid.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Peanut Butter Bacon Brittle Cookies to make rare public appearance

Yes, it's true. For once, when you read the words
Peanut Butter Bacon Brittle Cookies 
all put together like that

When you see the photos of the bacon brittle...

and of the peanut butter cookies...

When I tell you that I will be putting these two things together into one unbelievably scrumptious cookie and you imagine just how good that would taste with a big glass of cold milk...

You will not have to groan in frustration while you try to stop drooling.
You will not have to preheat your own oven or run out for butter.
You will not have to curse my name.

No. Just this once, you can come and get 'em*.  

I will be channelling this week's baking urges into making these ridiculous things for the Eat My Blog bake sale extravaganza, being held tomorrow, December 4th, at Tender Greens in West Hollywood.   From 10am-4pm, goodies of all kinds from bloggers and bakeries all over town can be had.

My humble offering may not be enough on its own to get you out of the house, but consider the Cardamom Espresso Cheesecake Bites.   The Chocolate Dipped Vanilla Bean Marshmallows.  The Eggnog Muffins and Lavender Honey Shortbread Cookies.   Not to mention the Coconut Clouds, Mocha Macarons, the Chocolate Bread Pudding or the Guiness Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting.   They'll even have homemade doggie treats and something called apple pie in a jar.    Worth the drive just to see what the hell that's all about, I say.   The full menu is here.

Don't just read this.  Eat this!  Nothing more that $5, and all proceeds to to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.  

Plus, if you come, I can split something with you.

* With near instant gratification, too, since I'm using this convenient, yet probably not very effective, just-in-time approach to publicity.

UPDATE:  The bake sale raised $3,750, and the PBBB Cookies were gonzo by lunchtime.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Glad Game

I admit it.  I love this movie.

I'm taking my cue from the wise Miss Haley Mills, and finding a lot of things to be glad about over the past week:

  1. A sister who gave me strength in a moment of weakness.
  2. A hospice team that has saved my sanity, and mom's dignity.
  3. That my mother's family truly becomes magnificent in a crisis.  These people are in their element, I'm telling you.
  4. Bacon.
  5. Distractions and busy work and normal things like soccer practices and analyzing spreadsheets and making birthday party goody bags and cooking dinner.  Walking the dog and knocking the living daylights out of the punching bag at kickboxing.
  6. That mom is still exactly herself, just lying in an adjustable bed with a lot of covers.  Today she balanced her checkbook, did the crossword, told me she knows what Barack is going through (they both cut their lips, you see), and informed me that she had a stash of quarters in her apartment that the kids could split since she won't have to pay to do her laundry anymore.  Then she asked if I could bring her some yogurt (just the strawberry flavor) and individually wrapped packets of graham crackers.  She really liked the kind they had at the hospital.  Oh, and milk would be good, too.   
  7. Each and every message and call and email and good wish and warm thought.  From long ago neighbors and brand new colleagues, from dear friends and perfect strangers who read this blog.    All the prayers and hope and kindess and love are coming through clear and strong.   It's tangible and it's working and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
She's still here.

And for that, above all, I am glad.