February 14, 2017

A Loaf of Love

A Superbly Crusty Rustic Loaf of Homemade Bread

Years ago, I fell hard for the romantic notion of rolling up my sleeves and kneading balls of dough until soft and supple, before carefully shaping them into loaves and letting them rise. In my fantasy, I wore a perfectly starched white apron, resistant to both wrinkles and stains, and had but a few delicate traces of flour on my face, which along with my expert baking skills, would only add to my allure.

Of course, like any fantasy acted upon, the real life version had very little resemblance to the narrative I concocted in my head and was costly and messy.

Sure; I baked loaves of bread, but they were heavy and leaden, more suitable for anchoring small watercraft than slicing and slathering with butter.

I never knew how long to knead the overly sticky dough, or how much flour to use, and I had little dexterity to manage multiple tasks at once, especially in maneuvering the flour onto my work surface. The result--flour everywhere and instead of delicate traces on my face, I would be covered in a thin white film only made worse by trying to dust it off with my sticky hands.

It took very few attempts before I was ready to throw in the towel and drive to the bakery one block over, restoring both order and happiness to my kitchen.

But then, several years ago, while writing an article about sourdough bread, I decided to give bread a second chance. Actually, there was little choice; I had a sourdough starter going and it was a living breathing entity that grew by the feeding and had to do something else with it other than make pancakes and waffles.

Through desperation and a great deal of research I discovered a bread making technique that not only served me well during my sourdough days, but that I eventually morphed into a twice weekly bread baking habit.

Here's a recipe for a loaf that's almost hands off, requires little skill, and makes for the most amazing toast--perfectly crisp, almost flaky, and pure heaven when slathered with butter and good jam.

January 17, 2017

Love and Lamb Bolognese

Rich, Simple, and So Delicious I Couldn't Stop Licking My Bowl

I started off my Saturday morning at 4 AM when I peeled myself off the heated mattress and put one foot onto the cold wooden floor of this almost 100 year old house. Even rising that early left little time for coffee, for I had to assemble my regalia and dress before my ride arrived and we would make the almost 3 hour trek to graduation. I knew I was in for a long day, so Mr. B, who I awoke with my alarm, volunteered to make dinner and have it ready and waiting when I arrived home later in the day.

Cold morning, long drive, and too little sleep didn't matter when I took my rightful place on the stage and extend my hand in congratulations as the students passed by, now graduates and ready to move on with their dreams. It's one of the things I love the most about what I do, especially when the graduates are older and have made so many sacrifices to achieve their success. The joy and love is overwhelming and usually keeps me buoyant--and awake--as I make the seemingly doubly long trek back home.

It's the feeling of love that carries me though the front door and across the threshold and, of course, the heavenly and intoxicating aroma of Mr. B's magical dinner and when he rounds the kitchen corner, dish towel in hand, to kiss me, he exclaims, "I've made something you're going to love." Then, he takes my hand and leads me right into the kitchen and straight to the stove and proudly lifts the lid of the pot and tells me, "I've made lamb Bolognese for you." And, he pronounces it in an old-school Italian accent that draws the word out into at least eight syllables.

I'm startled and he sees the shock register on my face. It's not something that we've ever made before and I'm as shocked by that as I am by the alluring waft of deliciousness that rises, along with the steam, from the pot. But, before I can say anything, he already has a sample on a spoon and it's headed straight toward my lips, "Here--taste this," he says as I open my mouth and fall into pure bliss--the lamb, the tomatoes, the bits of carrot and just enough oregano and garlic are unlike anything I've ever had before. So, I take off my coat and shoes and graciously accept the glass of wine he brings me and wait, as patiently as possible, while he puts the water on to boil the fresh pasta and puts the bread into the toaster oven.

I already know that I'll sleep well, a day filled with love and now, the promise of a bowl of pasta and a glass or two of wine. Not bad for a Saturday evening only days into a New Year.

January 11, 2017

Hello National Hot Toddy Day!

A Better Cure for Whatever Ails You
Could there be any better timing for a National Day recognizing that wonderful wintertime companion--the Hot Toddy? Well, after over 10 inches of rain in 10 days coupled with life in a nearly 100 year old house and teaching, it seems my voice has taken a winter vacation. For me, a guaranteed way to right my world and reclaim my vocal ability is right in my own kitchen, where as I set the tea kettle on the fire, I thank the brandy makers, lemon growers, tea producers and yes, the humble bees for giving me all the ingredients I need to get myself well without a single phone call to the doctor's office or a trip to the pharmacy.

Though there are many versions--some quite elaborate--of the Hot Toddy, I much prefer my recipe, or more appropriately, the version that Mr. B first made me many years ago when we were living in San Francisco and I had a terrible case of pneumonia that I just couldn't shake. Of course, back then, I did need medical intervention, but the powers of this magical elixir certainly hastened my recovery. Plus, who is ever going to say no to a little hot brandy to soothe one's soul and kick off a night of delightfully uninterrupted slumber? Not me!

Here's my recipe. Follow it exactly, or play around and concoct your own version. I'd love to see your recipe, too, so please share.

January 04, 2017

A Southern Breakfast Bowl

I Hit Gold Cleaning Out the Fridge
I love flipping the calendar page to a New Year--it's a perfect blank slate, a time to start fresh, set goals, and plan for the months ahead. January is always a lazy start, too, as people slowly get back to work and in the swing of things. It's winter and here in California, if we're lucky, the start of rainy season and from the looks of it, we're going to have a very wet January--knock on wood!

With the start of a New Year comes an urge to clear away clutter, organize my belongings, and otherwise bring a sense of calm to the chaos. Seemingly, I have the same approach for organizing my refrigerator as I do for my closet, so it was a serendipitous surprise to ferret out the ingredients for a soul satisfying and satiating breakfast bowl.

I'm hoping that most people have the makings for a similar breakfast bowl, but I'm pragmatic enough to realize that not everyone practices the same religion when it comes to a proper New Year's feast. That noted, I'm sure a similar breakfast bowl could be had with whatever scraps you have on hand, but I'm willing to bet it won't be as delicious as mine: collard greens and cabbage, an end piece of cornbread, a spoonful of brown rice, a fried egg, a few shakes of hot sauce, and a thick cut slice of Mr. B's root beer cured bacon.

Happy New Year and here's to 2017!

December 30, 2016

Mr. B's New Orleans Style Dungeness Crabs

Herbaceous Buttery Goodness Awaiting a Crusty Piece of French Bread

This December, our traditional roasted Dungeness crab fest took a turn to Mr. B's southern roots as he tweaked his recipe and served up an amazing batch of deliciousness. For those not in the know, Dungeness crabs are named after Dungeness, Washington and are the most prolific and popular crabs on the West Coast. In California, Dungeness crabs season hits its peak in December and since these babies are caught off our northern coast, they're easy to find and for the amount of meat,  a relatively good bargain.

For our annual crab feast, Mr. B brought home 3 beauties. The first night, he roasted them New Orleans style in a touching tribute to his mother who not only loved picking crabs, but could rock a BBQ shrimp recipe. We stuffed ourselves senseless, literally, until the only option was to roll away from the table. The next day, we picked crabs and I made 5 huge crab cakes. We each ate one for an appetizer and then the following day, Mr. B had two topped with poached eggs. The last crab cake was ours to share over a glass of wine and a good conversation.

My advice--make this dish. Buy extra loaves of sourdough baguette to soak up the deliciously buttery and herbaceous sauce and pair with a California Chardonnay or a winter ale. Definitely roll up your sleeves and put out extra napkins.

December 23, 2016

A Christmas Quiche

Flaky Pastry, Dense Custard and Layers of Mushrooms, Spinach and Comte Cheese

I'm not even going to try to pretend that I only eat quiche at Christmas, because this delicious French classic has been a favorite of mine since I first discovered how easy it is to make over 30 years ago. The basic ingredients for making a quiche are a simple custard and a pastry, but don't despair if you haven't time to make the dough, because you can easily substitute a good quality frozen pie crust, shortening the preparation time even further.

You can add just about anything to the custard, but my favorites are thickly sliced button mushrooms sauteed in butter, sauteed spinach--squeezed dry--and an ample dose of a strong cheese, preferably Comte or Gruyere. Best of all, quiche is delicious served straight from the oven, at room temperature, or even eaten cold, straight from the refrigerator.

Quiche makes for an impressive addition to any brunch and is perfect for Christmas morning, since it can be made ahead of time and goes equally well with a good cup or coffee or a glass of champagne.

December 19, 2016

Lover Come Back

Keep Him Home with Crispy Pork and Potato Hash with Eggs

Monday mornings are hard enough on their own, but when Mr. B wakes up energized and ready to tackle the world, I need a trick or two up my sleeve to keep him home long enough for a good conversation and a few cups of coffee. Nothing slows his step more quickly than the possibility of  a hearty breakfast, especially on a cold winter morning and if it includes pork, I'm all but guaranteed a relaxed and leisurely start to my day.

There's nothing wrong with a pile of crispy bacon or a few slices of ham fried up in a pan and served with eggs and toast, but a much better option is a quick breakfast hash. It can be tossed together in under 5 minutes, cooks in one pan and best of all, uses up any weekend leftovers.

My crispy pork hash is a delicious mix of chopped leftover pork roast, diced roasted potatoes, onions, garlic, and even a handful of shredded sharp cheddar. Once the hash is sufficiently crisp, push to the side and fry a few eggs, cooking as desired, then slip everything onto a plate, pour another cup of coffee, and cozy up at the breakfast table with your lover.