Saturday, April 30, 2011

Trouble me

[Click play to hear the original while reading]


Trouble me.
Disturb me.
With all your cares.  And these brownies.
Bake with me.
Oh, the day will be well spent.

Why put this caramel in, underneath the chocolate, when
A mix is quicker, and good?
Eat with me.

Trust me.
Just believe me.  Each bite you take is like fudge brownie heaven.
Trust me.
There's no telling how they bake up deep and dense.
Trust me.
Why am I using this great big slug of fine chocolate?
Trust me.
When it calls for Dutch cocoa, too?

Why put this caramel in, underneath the chocolate, when
You can't see it, in the end?
Eat with me.

Let me.
Put them away to keep, while you're yearning.
Let me.
Please don't try them, just because they're near.
Let me.
Have you slice them small
because they're, they're rich, calories never endin'.
Let me.
Sprinkle that salt on, and watch you squeal. 

Spare not.
Don't spare...the fleur de sel.

Trouble me.

Trouble me.
Disturb me.
With all your cares.  And these brownies.
Trust me.
And be converted from the ones that are your norm.
Let me.
And lastly, just say goodbye to being thin.

There's more, honestly, than my sweet friend, you can see.
Bliss is what I'm offering...
If you'll bake with me-e-e-ee.

With appreciation of the original "Trouble Me", by 10,000 Maniacs.  The whole song, but most especially the line, "Send you off to sleep, with a 'There, there, now, stop your turnin' and tossin'," is for Mom, whose ashes are being scattered at sea today.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Instead, I'm just making a batch of scones and watching it on TiVo

If Mom were around, she'd be all over this wedding.  Constantly reminding me of my British heritage and childhood connection to the lovebirds across the pond.   The dress, the cake, whether Oprah is going, the carriage, the Queen's hat:  all would be subjects for her in-depth analysis and running commentary.    Should they have children right away?  Is a normal home life possible in a castle?  What lessons could they learn from Al and Tipper?  Will she wind up like Diana, the victim of those awful media people?   Is a tiara appropriate when children are being hurled into tornadoes in Alabama?  She'd be tuned in while seeming to sleep, lying on the couch, enjoying the wall-to-wall coverage and waiting to share tidbits with my sister on the phone, and with me as I tried to get the kids out the door in the morning*.

Royal weddings apparently hurt worse than Mother's Day.  Note to self.

Buttermilk Scones with Spicy Roasted Strawberry Jam
I had these scones at a recent book group meeting, and I barely made it home before I was begging for the recipe via email.  They are, by a mile, the best I have ever had. And you know, since I'm British, I should know from scones.    Then, in a strangely fortuitous development, I discovered a new blog today, and right there, front and center, was this amazing recipe for roasted strawberries.  Honestly, Mom's working her tail off up there so I do wind up celebrating these occasions in style.  Thanks, Mom.

Buttermilk Scones
from The Foster's Market Cookbook, via Lisa, our gracious book club hostess.

4 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 c. chocolate chips, dried fruit, candied ginger or nuts, optional
Zest of one lemon or one orange, optional, depending on what other stuff you may be adding
1 1/4 c., plus 2 Tbs. buttermilk
Egg wash:  1 large egg, beaten lightly with 2 Tbs. milk
Coarse sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400.  Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda together in a large bowl, or pulse to combine in a food processor.   Add the butter, and cut in with a pastry blender or two forks, if using a bowl, or pulse about 10-12 times if using the food processor.  Mixture should resemble coarse crumbs.   If using food processor, transfer to a large bowl for the next part.

Stir in any of your optional add ins at this point.

Add 1 1/4 c. of the buttermilk, and mix with a wooden spoon just until combine and the dough begins to stick together.  Add remaining buttermilk, a teaspoon at a time, if the dough seems too dry.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll or pat into two six inch rounds, about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut each round in half with a sharp knife, then cut each half into three triangular wedges and place on the baking sheets. (Or, pat the whole thing out and cut with biscuit cutter, as I did)

Brush the tops with egg wash, and sprinkle with a little coarse sugar.

Bake for 30-35 minutes (if you made wedges) or 20-25 minutes (if you made smaller circles), until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Roasted Strawberry Jam
In perusing the blogs that were nominated as favorites this year by Saveur Magazine, I discovered Eat The Love, and stopped short when I saw this recipe.  Lo and behold, I had exactly two pounds of fresh strawberries just sitting in my fridge.   How does she do that?  The original recipe keeps the strawberries whole with their sauce, and suggests spooning over ice cream or right into your mouth.  I chose to puree mine into a delectable spread for the scones.  Either way, this is truly fit for a king.**

2 lbs. fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced into 1 inch (or smaller) pieces
1 vanilla bean
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar (can use lemon juice or another acid of your choice)
2 Tbs. red wine (use a big bold one...I used a glorious red dessert wine)
1/2 tsp. fresh, finely ground mixed peppercorns
1 1/2 inch cinnamon stick.

Preheat oven to 275.

Place strawberries into a medium mixing bowl.  Split the vanilla bean with a sharp knife, and carefully scrape the seeds into the bowl with the strawberries and stir.  Toss the bean into the bowl, too, along with the remaining ingredients.

Stir one more time, then turn out onto a rimmed baking sheet, scraping well to get all of those luscious juices, and making sure to spread the strawberries out into one even layer.

Roast in the oven for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so to keep the strawberries and juices from sticking.  The strawberries are done when they are softened, darkly colored, and a little dry on top, and juices have thickened.

You can cool, store and use as is, or, transfer the entire pan contents to a blender or food processor.   Process/blend for a minute or two, until smooth.  Taste it...the balsamic and the wine combined with the intense strawberry flavor and the spice from the cinnamon, vanilla and peppercorn are so rich and complex that you may find yourself wanting to have a steak dinner to go with it.  Scones will do in a pinch.

* We would have had a laugh about this photo.  And Mom would have LOVED the dress.

** God, I hate that I even wrote that down.  But I may never get another chance for that trite food descriptor to be so very apt!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hurry Curry

If you are (perhaps) a little weary of grilled cheese sandwiches, try this for lunch instead*.

Curried Chicken Salad
I've been making this for years, and it's always a big hit.  For some reasons the mix of slightly spicy mustard, bright curry spice, tangy onions, crunchy celery, sweet-tart apples and fresh herbs is just right.  It's also a delightfully versatile dish to have in your back pocket.  You can serve it a million on grilled sourdough bread with sliced Roma tomatoes on top is my favorite, but for company or a party, it makes a great appetizer served on endive leaves.   The best part of all is how easy it is to pull together.   Feel free to experiment with add-ins of your own, too!

Meat of one roasted chicken, from the deli at your local grocery store, cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Should yield about 3 cups of chicken.
1/3 c. finely chopped celery (about 1 or 2 stalks)
1/3 c. finely chopped red onion, rinsed under cold water for a few minutes to tame the bite
2 Tbs. finely minced fresh basil
2 Tbs. finely minced fresh cilantro
1/3 c. sweet-tart apple, such as Pink Lady or Fuji, peeled, cored, and chopped
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. curry powder, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bread, endive leaves, lettuce leaves, puff pastry shells, avocados or whatever else you are into, for serving.


Combine chicken, celery, onion, basil, cilantro and apple gently in a large mixing bowl, so as to not break up the chicken.   In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayo, mustard, olive oil, and curry powder.  Taste the dressing and adjust seasonings to suit yourself.  Gently fold dressing into the chicken mixture.  Cover, and allow flavors to blend in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Taste one more time, adjust as needed, and serve!  

Feel free to add more or less of anything along the way, particularly if your chicken yields a lot more or less than my estimate here.   The curry-mustard dressing on its own makes a great dip for chicken fingers, chilled shrimp, and vegetables, too.

* Or, if you have to bring a dish to a teacher appreciation lunch (today's occasion!) or a potluck.  Or if the book club is coming over and the book was The Hundred Foot Journey, about an Indian chef's adventures in France.  It's way easier than making something elaborate and French, trust me.   Of if you just prefer chicken to cheese.  I hear some people do.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


It seemed like destiny.   After all, what are the odds that:

1.  I just happen to make myself a really good lunch one day*.
2.  That the very next month happens to be April.
3.  That April happens to be Grilled Cheese Month.
4.  That some guys happened to decide to honor this auspicious occasion several years ago by drinking themselves silly and seeing who among them could make the best grilled cheese sandwich.
5.  That this innocent drinking game between friends would happen to grow into the gigantic, corporate sponsored, but still extremely irreverent, extravaganza known as the 2nd 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational.**  Their motto:  Bread-Butter-Cheese-VICTORY!!!
6.  That I would happen to read about this event in the LA Weekly, AND...
7.  That I would happen to conveniently forget the debacle known as the KCRW Good Food Pie Contest at the exact moment that I found the link marked "competitor sign up"?***

About 200 to 1****.

Fortunately, the odds of having a great time that day, despite not even coming close to the trophy ceremony, were entirely in my favor.  Destiny, it turns out, is a thrilling, delicious, fattening, hilarious, completely entertaining bitch.  At least for me.  And my good friend, the giant block of Tillamook cheese. (Last photo in this series!)

Our kit, ready to go.  Note the emergency Diet Coke.

Competitor swag - ours to keep!

Heat #1 - Team Cheesy Pennies is ready to go!

If they gave cuteness points for sous chefs, it might have put us over the top 

Votes poured in...

60 % from the popular vote...

And 40% from "Executive Judges" -- Just like the Pie Contest, I did NOT meet Barbara Fairchild, or any other famous people.  I did have one exec judge say we had "great caramelization" on our bread.   My daughter turned to me anxiously:  "Is that good?"   Yes, honey.  It is.  Now hand me that knife and move over.

That's me, way in the back, behind the guy in the cowboy hat.

There were also a slew of professional vendors, all offering their own creative spins on the sandwich of the moment.

The Feast's "Bacon Me Crazy" with cayenne and brown sugar crusted bacon, strawberries, mozzarella, and chocolate balsamic reduction.

Not one, not two, but three Grilled Cheese Trucks were on hand.  And they were all mobbed.  They somehow found time to enter the contest and win, not only The People's Choice Award, but a trophy for their invention, "Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner" - Waffles, Cheese, Fried Chicken and Maple Syrup on the side.

There's very little loyalty in this world.  I am dumped for American on White.

The winner of the costume contest:  Grilled Cheese-Us.   He beat out a guy dressed as a can of tomato soup, and someone else who came as a grater.

 A highlight for demos from the pros.  Thursday is Grilled Cheese Night at his restaurant, every month of the year!

Grilled country bread, fresh burrata cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes, and parsley pesto.   I may be biased (as someone whose entry had exactly four ingredients),  but I agree with his statement, "When you have more than four ingredients, you're in trouble.  A great grilled cheese is really simple."

Tell that to Ricardo, whose sammich included crsipy lamb, chorizo, two kinds of cheese, and some kind of exotic Peruvian BBQ marinade on raisin walnut bread.  Seen here awaiting the grill.

Or to the people from Comme Ca who made Foie Gras peanut butter for their entry (in the foreground), or the chef from The Standard who used 100 hour smoked mozzarella and ramp vinaigrette (in the background)

In a the first of several pro chef "throwdowns" in the Hot Knives Thunderdome (a folding table), Ricardo Zarate (best new chef in America, per Food and Wine), is declared the victor.

Guy skating backwards with a wedge of cheese on his head. This about sums up the whole day.

My new best friend.

Supposedly our personal results will be announced soon, so I can see just how far out of the running my little lunchtime bundle of joy was. Until then, I'll just have to start thinking up what to do next year.   Probably American cheese on white bread, if my sous chef has anything to say about it...suggestions?  Let me know!

For a great slideshow and detailed descriptions of some of the wining sandwiches, check out this link from Serious Eats.
Other write ups and stories from the day:
LA Times (gorgeous shot of a fantastic sounding dessert sandwich)
Squid Ink (story and a full photo gallery)
Panini Happy (a judge's viewpoint)
Tillamook Blog (the sponsor, using the actual phase "post GCI-cheese coma" in title of their post.

* Subsequently tweaked to include Beecher's Flagship Cheddar, freshly minced tarragon and arugula, and Trader Joe's brand of sun-dried tomato pesto.   I still love love love this sandwich.
** An event to which no invitations were, apparently, issued.  Instead, thousands of people just bought tickets.
*** I may have been influenced by the fact that just reading the rules made me start howling with laughter.  Sample:   Butter: For the purposes of simplicity, all sammich-grilling lubricants will be hereafter referred to as “Butter.”
**** That's how many teams showed up (from all over the country, mind you) that day to grill every form of cheese imaginable. I knew we were in trouble when the guys next to us started unwrapping their duck confit, fried in bacon fat, with fresh fig marmalade and smoked French blue cheese, and stacking the works on their homemade black pepper brioche.  Sigh.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You can actually try this at home

My sister and I stayed up until the wee hours the night before the lunch, reminiscing and catching up and making tray after tray of these cookies*.   We were both very skeptical that my crazy idea to dispense Mom's wisdom via baked goods (hatched at the last minute, of course) would work, but thanks to google, we found this recipe, and a very helpful instructional video, with a single search.**    I'm happy to report that not only do they look exactly like the real thing, they taste a thousand times better.  

Homemade Fortune Cookies
The most important thing about making these is patience.  If you are working alone, you should only bake 2-3 cookies at a time.  Working together, my sister and I could handle a pan of four.  This recipe makes about 20 cookies, so at 12 minutes a pop, you might be at the oven for a while.  But it's worth it!!!

2 large egg whites
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sugar
2-3 Tbs. water 

Write up and print out your fortunes.  Set up the spacing on your paper so that fortunes can be cut into strips about 3 1/2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide.  Preheat oven to 300.

In a medium mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg whites, the extracts and the vegetable oil until fluffy, but not stiff.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt and sugar, then add to the egg white mixture and mix until combined.  Add enough water so that batter is smooth, but not overly runny.   The original recipe mentions that you can add food coloring at this point if you want to make colored fortune cookies!

Cover a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (very important!).   Place a level tablespoon of batter onto the baking sheet, and, using the back of your spoon, spread evenly into a circle about 3 1/2-4 inches in diameter.  Repeat, so you have 2 -3 cookies on your sheet, at least 3 inches apart.

To prepare for forming your cookies, get out a coffee mug or glass with a thick edge, a wide spatula, your fortunes, and an empty muffin tin.  The cookies will become crisp very quickly after they come out of the oven, so you will need to work fast!

Bake for about 12 minutes, until the very outer edges of the cookies are light brown, and cookies are set. Working quickly, lift one cookie with a spatula, and flip it over (so your fortune goes on the reverse side of the cookie).  Place a fortune on the lower half of the cookie, and fold the cookie in half, over the fortune.  Pinch the edges together with your fingers (will be hot!).    Next, take the half circle and press the middle over the edge of the coffee mug, gently folding the cookie over.  Hold for several seconds, then place formed cookie into the muffin tin.   This will help it hold its shape as it cools.  Repeat with remaining cookies.   

Note:  If you get pretty good at this, you can bake more than one sheet of cookies at a time.  Just stagger them, so they are coming out of the oven a few minutes apart.     

Allow to cool, then serve.  Can be stored in an airtight container for a few days.

*Mom would have loved this, too, but would have also scolded us about not getting nearly enough sleep.
** My sister, being the anal baker in the family, checked every single link that came up, compared and contrasted various approaches, considered using a round cookie cutter to ensure that every cookie was an exact circle, debated the merits of butter vs. oil with herself, weighed the high temp vs. low temp oven, and ultimately determined that the first recipe on the list was, in fact, the right one for our needs.  Thus she turned an instant one-click answer into a full afternoon of intense research and internal debate.  But she felt very confident when we eventually did get started.   I was exhausted just watching her.