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March 29, 2013

Hotter than Hello Chipotle Coleslaw

Mel's Chipotle Coleslaw
Tonight's the night that Mr. B and I have been waiting on for quite sometime. Things are going to get hot around the B household tonight. It's Good Friday and that means it's time for our annual shrimp fry. Did I mention that Mr. B fries up some of the best shrimp in the history of fried shrimp? Well, he does--just another reason why I'm a lucky woman.

But, I pack a punch at the shrimp fry myself. I bring a bowl of my famously infamously hotter than hello chipotle coleslaw along for the ride. This slaw is hot--fiery hot--but it tricks your palate because it's chock full of bits of tart green apple and sweet carrots and all you want to do is eat more and more, even with your lips on fire. It's the perfect complement to crispy fried shrimp--all the more reason to start your annual shrimp fry tradition today.

March 28, 2013

Pea Soup Revisited

Pea Soup with Pea Shoot and Mint Salad

I like to read old cookbooks that not only contain recipes, but include suggested menus. One of the things that I find amusing is that all of the dinner party, company-coming-for-dinner and holiday gathering menus always begin with a soup course and then move on to the salad.

I've had the occasional dinner party where soup was the starter, but those affairs were few and far between. It's a lot of extra work putting together a soup on top of all of the other menu items and soup requires depth, which means you need good stock, which means you have to make stock. That said, it's pretty easy to see why the whole "Let's start with the soup course," fell out of favor. But there are many easily and quickly prepared soups that require an alarming lack of effort, but provide big returns. This pea soup is one of those soups.

If you're still planning your Easter menu, I urge you to give this a try. You can serve it warm, but I like to serve it slightly chilled with a dollop of créme frâiche and a sprinkle of parmesan. It's topped with a chopped salad of pea shoots and mint gently mixed with champagne vinegar and if you'd like, you can always add a few croutons.

March 27, 2013

The Nesting Instinct

Bittersweet Chocolate and Toasted Coconut Nests
It's a fact that our palates are more sophisticated as we age, which is why young children prefer very plain foods. But for every rule of science, particularly when a kid is involved, you can find a rule breaker.

I never liked coconut when I was a kid, but if it was toasted, I was in. Especially if it was enveloped by creamy chocolate. My palate developed a preference for this semi-exotic taste combination thanks to my mother who was just slightly obsessed with these chocolate coconut stars that were about to be discontinued.

The one place where they were sold these chocolate coconut stars was at the drugstore in our local mall. So, once or twice a week, my mother would take us there in the evenings to 'walk around and stretch our legs,' which was really just code for 'buy some chocolate coconut stars', and since we were kids and my mother was generous, we needed no further convincing. There wasn't enough money to casually shop and we rarely bought anything at the mall, but my mother always had change for a treat--an ice cream cone or a bag of pop corn--that we would enjoy while walking around. Then, just before leaving, we would stop at the drugstore and buy a bag of the coconut stars. Carefully, she'd open the bag and take three out, giving one to both my brother and myself and popping one into her mouth. We'd walk out to the parking lot and to our car, slowly letting the chocolate melt on our tongues to revel the sweet toasted coconut.

Eventually, the coconut stars would disappear forever, but my mom would never give up searching for them. We'd venture farther south and then north, to other malls. She checked the shelves of grocery stores not in our regular rotation and when we'd travel anywhere outside of a 25 mile radius, she'd think of reasons to stop at various drug stores--cold cream, batteries, aspirin--none of which we'd ever buy. Of course, we never did find them again.

The only other confectionary that came close were the bird's nests. Every year at Easter, she'd buy us each one little chocolate and coconut bird's nest and slip it into our Easter basket. It was my favorite treat and I'd always save it for last when I could slowly pick off the three jelly beans and then, savor the chocolate nest; it always made me think of the coconut stars.

I decided to relive my memories and make my own chocolate coconut bird's nests. I added some realistic looking chocolate eggs, a bird and some moss to make the scene into a vignette worthy of the center of the table.

March 26, 2013

Pastel Peanut Butter Cups

Pastel Peanut Butter Cups
Mr. B thinks I'm crazy, but I swear that pastel candies taste better than their usual counterparts. Every year when those pastel M&Ms™ show up on the shelves, I'm right there scooping them up. Even better are the pastel almond M&Ms™. And malted milk balls are pretty good anytime of the year, but when those sweet little pastel malted bird eggs hit the stores, I quickly revert to my 5 year old self and eat them until my stomach aches from sugar overload.

My brother's favorite was always Reese's™ Peanut Butter Cups, but when we were kids, they never came in pastel colors. I don't think they come in pastels now, either. Eventually, though, when the Reese's™eggs came out, my mother would always tuck a few in his Easter basket.

Mr. B likes peanut butter anyway he can get it, mostly that's right from the jar. Fairly often I'll make peanut butter cups for him with natural peanut butter and dark chocolate, but since it's the week before Easter, I figured I'd channel my inner Easter Bunny and take advantage of my box of food colors.

Mr. B really appreciated the gesture. He even offered to buy me a pair of big ears.

March 25, 2013

Black Bottom Beauties

Black Bottom Cupcakes
Mr. B is always game for something chocolatey--just one of the many reasons that he's my perfect match and since we both are rather fond of cheesecake, every now and then when we're looking for something sweet, I like to mix up a batch of Black Bottom Cupcakes.

I can't tell you why or how these gems came about getting that particular moniker, but I can tell you that most food historians think the recipe originated during the 1930s, right after the Great Depression because the cake is a basic wacky cake. Wacky cakes were popular because they didn't use eggs and included a mix of white vinegar, water and vegetable oil, all common and fairly cheap. Personally, I don't think women were using cream cheese and chocolate chips at that time, but whoever came up with the addition is a real champ in my book.

National history aside, the real reason I love this recipe so much is that it came to me from a friend. The first real grown up friend I ever had when I wasn't a grown up yet myself. After my parents were divorced, my dad only introduced me to one woman and of course, she was in the friend category and not the girlfriend category which is just as well since I don't think I would have liked any of the women who wound up in the latter category. Unfortunately for her, though, my father would never have the sort of feelings for her that she had for him.

I was fourteen when I met her and we immediately clicked. She was newly divorced and had two children many years younger than I was at the time. She was tall and solid and had a mass of red hair and she was strong and dependable. She was, in fact, the antithesis of the sort of woman who my father would have found attractive, but for a teenage girl with a flair for the dramatic who spent her free time writing very bad, violent and tragic poems, she was everything I was looking for in a friend.

While I didn't live close enough to my father to visit her on a regular basis, she was kind enough to strike up a correspondence with me anyway and thus, we wrote back and forth for many years, all the way until I was an undergraduate and sadly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer; she died very soon after.

In one of her many letters, she tucked in a recipe card handwritten in her solid script. It was her recipe for Black Bottom Cupcakes, which along with her red hair, had become the way others identified her. I was fifteen when I opened the envelop to find the card and somehow--a miracle, perhaps--I have never lost or misplaced it. This is a true feat since I've never managed to live anywhere for more than a seven year stretch.

At some point, I put the recipe card on my refrigerator, among a hodge-podge of artist cards with brilliant landscapes, interesting pictures cut from magazines, and two or three poems that I find a need to read over and over again in the span of a day. I've had the card now for over 30 years and it's come to be much more than just a recipe for delicious cupcakes. It's also a  symbolic reminder of how important it is to be a true individual, even when it means writing bad poetry and having a weakness for chocolate.

March 22, 2013

Creamy Shrimp and Spaghetti

Creamy Shrimp and Spaghetti
I like a dish that's quick to prepare, easy on the wallet and flat out delicious. Mr B likes a dish that's hearty, chock full of sweet shrimp and lots of garlic and arrives at the dinner table right when he does.

Mr. B isn't the sort that slowly realizes he's hungry. Rather, it hits him with a quickness and then he hits the kitchen just as swiftly and roars, "I'm hungry! What's for dinner." And like any wife who wants to enjoy a reasonably peaceful evening without any drama, I know there isn't much lead time between when he utters these words until it gets flat out ugly. This dish saves both Mr. B and myself from that old frying-pan-over-the-head trick.

March 21, 2013

A Sweet Little Tang

Créme Frâiche
The other day, and for the life of me, I can't remember where I was, but I overheard a conversation between two women. One of the women was raving about how much she loved--no, adored--Greek yogurt. The other woman, however, didn't and went on, at length to mention every reason why she didn't care for it at all. Finally, she ended by saying, "I don't get it at all; it's just like eating a big tub of sour cream."

In that brief instant, I had a moment of enlightenment and finally understood why I so passionately do like Greek yogurt, especially the plain version. It's because it is just like eating sour cream and I am, I admit, a sour cream sort of woman; I put that stuff on everything.

This got me thinking about why I so adore the stuff and I had a very clear memory. When I was young--who knows how old, but it was somewhere around nine or ten, I was at my grandparent's house and I was hungry and asked for a snack. My grandmother was nowhere around, or she would have opened her snack cabinet and fixed me something served in a bowl, with a napkin and at the table. My grandfather, not one to stand on such formality, handed me a piece of soft white bread spread with a thick layer of cold sour cream and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I had never had this particular combination before and I don't remember if it was ever repeated, but man, was it a revelation; it was so darn delicious that I still think about it to this day. I know that I had eaten sour cream prior to that day, but I had never really appreciated the sourness of it until that moment.

I like a little tang. My palate is wired to appreciate sour tastes, thus, I have a love for things like sauerkraut and pickles and sourdough bread, too. One reason for the sourness of these items is that they are all fermented, which is when all the good, happy bacteria meet up with all the other good, happy bacteria and they party down. Besides tasting good, fermented foods are good for us, too.

I still buy sour cream--I like the real, organic kind because it has a lot more tang--but what I really love is créme frâiche, which is rich and thick and dense and creamy and really, really tangy. I love créme frâiche on everything from scrambled eggs to chili to fresh fruit; it's also wonderful mixed into cakes or used for frostings. It's also pretty darn good licked right off a big spoon.

If you've never made crème frâiche before, you owe it yourself to give it a try. Here's my quick and easy recipe. Follow it today, and you'll be enjoying it by the weekend.

March 20, 2013

You Can't Beet Them

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Sunflower Seeds
I love beets, but this wasn't always true. Actually, the truer statement would be that I never knew beets until I moved to California. It was after we moved out of San Francisco and up into Sonoma county. We were living on the westside of Santa Rosa and I had a job at a little nonprofit agency in Sebastopol.

Sebastopol, like so many California towns, had that small town quaintness where you could actually imagine what life had been like decades earlier. The town had been known for its plums and apples, particularly the tart little Gravenstein apple, but eventually with the growth of the wine industry, the old orchards were replanted with grapes. Sebastopol is just 20 minutes from the Pacific Ocean and the drive is breathtakingly beautiful with rolling pastureland and grazing animals, endless blue skies and winding roads.

Of course, this bucolic idyll had one giant behemoth a short walk from my office--Whole Foods--which I fondly referred to as Whole Paycheck. I am, admittedly, much enamored of Whole Foods, particularly of their extensive salad bar, and for this reason, I bought my lunch there daily. Expensive, yes, but well worth it.

It was there that I decided to toss beets into my little salad box. I knew they were a powerful superfood and good for me, so it was worth a try. My love for them was instantaneous and I ate them daily. I exaggerate not a bit when I say that they instilled me with super powers--maybe even the x-ray vision, I need a cape now sort.

Eventually, I moved on to another job and left my daily Whole Foods salads behind, so I embarked on the task of preparing beets at home. And what a task it was, for preparing beets, while easy, leaves behind a violent mess in the sink, on your clothes, and particularly on your hands.

But don't be daunted by the mess, for beets are unbelievably tasty, earthy and sweet, and go perfectly with apples and sunflower seeds, spinach, bacon, fennel--and so many other things. This recipe for beet salad is paired with creamy goat cheese, baby spinach, sunflower seeds and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy.

March 19, 2013

Taco Tuesday

Shredded Beef Tacos
This past weekend when my brother and I were emailing back and forth, the subject of food came up, specifically, I had asked him to give me some ideas of things I could cook and then write about on my blog. Thus began a long list and an extensive series of back and forth emails as we chronicled and reminisced about things my mother used to cook for us when we were growing up.

Somewhere in the volley of missives, my brother said that he'd like to see more budget-friendly ideas, after all, he reminded me, these days everyone is trying to stretch a buck.

That got me thinking about a lot of different things, but particularly about how my mother, as a single-parent, ever managed to feed two kids as well as she did on her sole income as a secretary, a job where she brought home just under $800 a month. She was definitely the sort of mother who cooked every night and baked at least once a week. I remember a childhood filled with good food--baked casseroles, chili and stews, homemade breads and dense chocolate cupcakes with thick chocolate buttercream. And since we all loved Mexican food, once a week she would make tacos for us.

My mother's tacos were the same tacos that were popular everywhere when I was growing up in the 1970s on the outskirts of Denver. She'd fry her own shells--thin corn tortillas slipped into a pan of hot grease until just crisp, and then quickly folded--then she'd cook ground beef  with chili and cumin and plenty of onions, chop tomatoes and then shred the lettuce and the cheese. I remember the cheese the most because she always bought Velveeta™ and would use the large holes on the box grater; the cheese melted flawlessly into the meat.

I can't tell you the last time I had a taco like that, but it's been decades. I still make some sort of Mexican dish one day a week and I definitely have a weak spot for tacos. This recipe for shredded beef tacos isn't just economical (the whole meal is less than $10 and you'll have enough leftover meat for burritos, a pan of enchiladas and will even be able to stretch it for a plate of huervos rancheros come Sunday) but this dish is delicious. Nowadays, I serve my tacos California-style--warmed corn tortillas, chopped onion, cilantro and jalapeño and I like a spoon of sour cream and a spoon of mashed avocado with lime and salt.

March 18, 2013

Spring, Sprang, Sprung

Green Spring Vegetable Medley 
Poor Mr. B. The look on his face when he found out there would be no corned beef and cabbage this year was rather priceless. Although he was disappointed, even a bit crestfallen, he did understand my reasons.

I wanted to 'corn' my own brisket. Is that so wrong? But an un-corned brisket was nowhere to be found and trust me, I searched high and low with the hope that I could avoid seeing Mr. B's sad little face.

I may be incorporating a bit too much fiction into the story to tell you that my green vegetable mix made up for the missing corned beef, so I won't even try to convince you--or myself that it's the truth. I will say, though, that Mr. B was quite pleased with this dish and even went back for seconds.

All the ingredients came fresh from the farmers market where, from the looks of it, spring has truly sprung forth. This dish is a mega-nutritional hit high in vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, fiber and protein. With a bit of olive oil, a sliver of butter and a handful of parmesan cheese, the dish comes alive with the light, sweet, fresh flavors of spring, and best of all, you can use up any leftovers in a risotto or an omelette. I call that one lucky dish.


March 15, 2013

What a Phony!

Chicken Ph'o
Ask Mr. B what his favorite soup is and he'll quickly tell you how much he loves plain old chicken noodle soup. In fact, he loves it so much that in the winter, I make big pots of it and keep containers handy in the freezer.

If you were to get technical and ask Mr. B for more details, say, to describe the perfect chicken noodle soup, he'd start describing chicken Ph'o--mounds of rice noodles, peppery, spicy broth, a handful of basil and cilantro and a good squeeze of lime. Mr. B could live off the stuff--if I'd let him.

Unfortunately for us, the last Vietnamese restaurant closed down last year. For some reason, Vietnamese food isn't very popular in our area, but since we have a few really good Thai restaurants, we've decided that somehow things are even, especially since we both know how to cook up some pretty good Vietnamese food.

Mr. B swears that a bowl of Ph'o will cure whatever ails you. He even said it will send the devil packing. So, if you find you've been spending too much time with the devil, best to cook up a pot of Ph'o and send him on his way.

March 14, 2013

Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Mint

Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Mint
When I first discovered this easy dish, Mr. B's cholesterol levels shot through the roof. But, how could he care?

Butter, heavy cream, a bit of garlic, fresh asparagus, farm fresh eggs, a big pinch of grated Parmagiano-Reggiano and fresh mint make a wonderfully delightful combination.

The recipe is also easily adaptable. I mix up the ingredients to reflect the seasons and to use what I already have on hand. This is fabulous with marjoram, a bit of diced tomato and crumbled bacon. Wherever your creativity takes you make sure to serve this with crusty bread, a light salad and a bottle of good wine for a memorable and satisfying dinner.

March 13, 2013

Here Come the Strawberries

Strawberries Romanoff
Here comes strawberry season. Well, that's sort of misleading in my part of the world because it's pretty much always strawberry season around here. But, these are the spring berries, the first of the lot and they are particularly sweet for this time of year.

My favorite strawberries are so tiny and fragile that they barely make the ride home. They are hard to find and the one vendor who carries them, usually only has them one or two Saturdays out of the year. Unlike other strawberries, they need nothing but a welcoming palate.

I'm a purist when it comes to eating strawberries. If anything, I like a drizzle of organic cream and a dash of good vanilla, but this time around, I decided to whip up a batch of Strawberries Romanoff. Romanoff sauce is something that I've never had on my berries, but I remember it from a very long ago time when I worked in an upscale hotel. Back then--just like now--it sounded so exotic, but it was just a simple mix of sour cream and brown sugar and depending on who was making it, either a splash of brandy or Grand Marnier.

It was a good decision. Both Mr. B and I licked our plates clean.


March 11, 2013

The Trouble with Tuesday

Spanish Hot Chocolate
It was tough enough waking up on Monday morning, especially after the time change, but, somehow, I managed to pull myself together and get through the day.

Then Tuesday morning came and it was still dark outside and chilly, too. It was impossible to get out of bed. Even Mr. B, who always gets up before me, had the blankets pulled up to his chin.

I've always thought Tuesdays were trouble. It's the second day into the week and momentum flags. And losing that hour? Not good. It dawns on me that eye creams and concealers were probably invented on a Tuesday.

Eventually, enough daylight creeps through the blinds and I make my way to the coffee pot. I haven't even poured the first cup when I'm already thinking about making a second pot, and just as I'm thinking it's going to be the longest day of the year, in a split second, I decide it's the sort of morning that needs a jump start. I need to make some Spanish hot chocolate.

In sum, Spanish hot chocolate is flat out amazing. Years ago, when we traveled to Spain, in spite of the fact that it was 100º outside, our hosts drug us into a cafe and insisted we order the hot chocolate. I remember sitting at the table. The couple next to us was in a heated disagreement; the shop was noisy and hot and a colicky baby was crying so loudly that I was positive the mother was about to join in. I was sweating in places I didn't even know could sweat, my feet hurt from wearing the wrong shoes and I was on the verge of a serious migraine.

Then the waitress arrived and set down steaming cups of hot chocolate. I picked up my spoon to give it a stir, but it was thick--and warm; it was similar to homemade pudding just taken from the stove and when I put the cup to my lips and the first wave of warm chocolate cascaded over my palate, well, nothing else mattered. Not the heat, or the crying baby or my sore feet. Everyone in the cafe receded and I was alone in my own cottony soft world where I quietly sipped my hot chocolate and listened as the angels sang.

It was just what I needed to get myself going on this particular Tuesday, so I made myself a generous serving and settled down at the kitchen table where I could look out of the window and watch the sun come up through the Wisteria vines. The first sip made me feel better. By the third sip, I was fairly sure that I wouldn't need any eye cream. Maybe, I thought, I could even forgo the concealer.

Getting Fresh

Vietnamese Chicken Salad
It's funny how certain events trigger our memories. When it's time to change the clocks and 'spring forward' I feel just like a kid again, when the change meant being able to stay outside and play longer.

Things haven't changed much; I used my extra hour to enjoy a beautiful March afternoon with Mr. B. We took our bikes down to the park and rode around the lake and through the adjoining neighborhoods. It was great seeing all the people out and about, walking and playing, setting up picnics and BBQs. There were Frisbees™ flying and kites aloft and dogs trying to get just a wee bit closer to the ducks and geese. In a nutshell, every living thing had gotten the message--spring has arrived, and while it's still chilly enough to wear a jacket and there's often frost on the grass in the mornings, it won't be long now until we fire up the grill most evenings.

To kick start the grilling season, I made my delicious Vietnamese Chicken Salad. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

March 08, 2013

Fresh from the Sea

Grilled Shrimp and Scallops

When I was a kid, I hated fish with a passion. Even shrimp. And when it was on the dinner menu, I'd chew it up and then when my parents weren't looking, I'd spit it into my napkin and then, after dinner, I'd flush it down the toilet. I'm not sure how I got away with it for as long as I did, but nobody nowhere was going to make me eat seafood. Ever.

But, that was a long time ago. Now, I can't get enough--I love seafood. I would eat it everyday of the week if I could and when it comes to salmon and tuna sashimi, I could eat it for breakfast day in and day out. I especially love shellfish, most especially boiled crabs. But right up on the top of my list are scallops and of course, shrimp. So, for our seafood Friday, we're grilling up shrimp and scallops, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and then drizzled with olive oil, butter, lemon and garlic.

Mr. B knows better than to leave me alone, even for a minute, with these delicious tidbits; I'd eat every last one of them and never feel a bit of remorse.

March 07, 2013

Use Your Noodle

Somen Noodles with Thai Peanut Sauce
In 2002, archeologists unearthed a clay pot, which after thorough examination and carbon dating revealed its contents--noodles. They were able to link the pottery to China, but that wasn't the real surprise. The real shocker was that the noodles were 4,000 years old!

Coming across this bit of history made me think about my own pantry where I have boxes upon boxes of noodles tucked away. Why not, right? When they're on sale, it's easy to pick up an assortment and they're quick to fix, delicious and really satisfying.

Mr. B loves his noodles, especially in a big bowl of steaming broth. He also has a fondness for angel hair pasta dressed with garlic, olive oil, cheese and parsley. Me? I'm a sucker for Asian style cold noodles, especially in the summertime. My favorite are done Japanese style with a soy based dipping sauce, but I can really get into a big bowl of spicy Chinese style peanut noodles. In March, though, with the floor furnace cranked up, my body wrapped in multiple layers of sweaters and my feet in thick socks, I just can't seem to get excited about cold noodles.

The other day, I wanted a big bowl of spicy noodles, so I decided to play around and I came up with this Thai style noodle dish.  The sauce is so good you could dip your entire fist in the bowl and happily suck away at your knuckles. But, I decided that was a bit too much, even if I was dining alone. So I sorted through my noodle stash and came across a box of Somen noodles. The sauce was just as good on the noodles as it was on my knuckles and I enjoyed my lunch. Right next to the floor furnace.

March 06, 2013

Hippie Chick

The Best Granola
Back in the 70s when I was growing up, granola was hippie food. The sort of breakfast cereal that people who wore torn jeans and braids in their hair ate. It wasn't the bacon and eggs that my grandparents served and it certainly wasn't the Lucky Charms™ that I loved, even if it was only to pick out the marshmallow four-leaf clovers. Nope; granola wasn't something that graced our breakfast table.

In high school, my best friend's mom didn't quite fit into my mom frame of reference. She went to yoga classes, meditated, made her own wheat bread and sprinkled nutritional yeast on salads. She also made homemade granola. But, she was pretty cool, so one night when I spent the night, I wound up trying it for breakfast the next morning and aside from the chewiness of the dried fruit, I found myself liking it well enough to talk my mother into buying a box. Naturally, the boxed granola was no where near as tasty as the homemade kind, so the box wound up getting shoved to the back of the cabinet. Right behind the Lucky Charms™.

Of course, I ate granola off and on over the years, but mostly, I didn't think much about it one way or the other. Then, by chance, I decided to make a batch and well, the stuff I make never gets shoved to the back of the cabinet. In fact, I'm lucky if it lasts half the week.

The great thing about granola is that you can customize it any way you like, so if you don't like apricots or almonds, substitute what you like instead.

March 05, 2013

The Root of the Matter

Celery Root and Apple Salad
Everyone has a fantasy. While I don't want to distract you with all the exotic details, mine involves waking up in a luxury suite--in Paris--and breakfasting on buttery croissants and bubbly champagne. Then, when I'm sufficiently stuffed with buttery pastry and a little tipsy, I'll venture out to wander the streets of Paris where I'll do plenty of shoe shopping, eat several more pastries and undoubtedly, polish off more champagne.

I'm a Francophile through and through. Mostly that comes from having lived in New Orleans for a big part of my life, but also, I like the French style of things. The food really is simple and simple food is good food. The French also have an appreciation for old things--architecture, furniture and tradition. I like that they're proud of how old things are and value them for their age.

My friend, N, is turning 50 this year, but you wouldn't know it from looking at her beautiful face or being around her joyful spirit. We had lunch the other day and she told me that she always wanted to turn 50 in Paris, but instead, is going to mark that milestone on a beach in Costa Rica. Probably in a bikini. So, while she won't get Paris this year, I whipped up this classic French salad--but of course, I changed things up a little--so she could enjoy a bit of the Parisian life, even if it's just on the tip of her fork.

March 04, 2013

Eggs and Greens

 Eggs with Garlicky Kale and Spaghetti
Fresh eggs are one of the great gastronomical delights, so much so, that I am even trying to talk Mr. B into buying me a little chicken coop to set up in the back corner of the yard. Mr. B never seems very excited about  the idea of lodging chickens right next to the pool. He says it will conflict with the landscape, but I say, we live in a rural area, so why not? Plus, the juxtaposition of a chicken coop in such close proximity to the pool could give us a certain edge, in a hipster cool backyard farmer sort of way.

Of course, Mr. B never goes along with my logic, but there are times when he really does think a chicken coop would be a good idea. Sometimes that happens after a marathon of watching Doomsday Preppers, but mostly it's when our neighbors, who live two doors down, bring us a couple  dozen eggs from their chickens.

I've no clue what kind of chickens they're raising or what they feed them. Actually, I've never even seen their chickens, but I can see the roof of the chicken coop from my bedroom window and in the winter, I've watched as a fox climbed atop the coop and tried to pry the chickens out with its muzzle. What I do know about their chickens is that they lay the best eggs. In the world. The yolks are so orange they shine and the taste, well, there really isn't a better egg to be found.

I like to cook these eggs many different ways, but my favorite by far is to soft boil them and serve them over thick spaghetti with garlicky kale, bacon, dry toasted walnuts, a sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. When I make this for Mr. B, in between bites, he'll talk excitedly about the sort of coop he'd design and the breeds of chickens that we would raise. He even tells me how cool it would be to, you know, have a chicken coop so close to the pool.

March 01, 2013

"You want fries with that?"

Perfect Oven Fries
Mr. B and I are always searching for the perfect burger. To that end, we've found many that we like and while they are all wildly different in size and style, they are all very good in their own right. Sometimes, you feel like eating a burger so saucy you have to roll up your sleeves, while other times, you just want that really good, simple burger.

Finding a good burger is easy, but trying to find really good fries is one of the more difficult culinary pursuits. Mr. B and I order fries just about everywhere, but after a few, if they're not good, well, we don't bother. We live by the mantra Life is too short to eat bad fries.

There's a secret to really, really good fries--no, that's not true; there are two secrets to really, really good fries. The first, they are fried twice, once at a lower temperature and the second time at a much higher temperature. The other secret? Superb fries, the sort you never want to stop eating, the kind you don't share, those are fried in duck fat. Yep; good old duck fat.

Trying to make good fries without breaking out the deep fryer, or going in search of a tub of duck fat, kept me busy for several years. I knew that oven fries could be the ticket, but I just never came across a method of preparation that really turned out good fries. Not to mention, so many of the recipes had added steps--soaking, freezing, even starting off with partially cooked potatoes, and all the extra steps just made for more work without better results.

Eventually, though, I came across the perfect method. Simple and straightforward, this recipe turns out delicious, crisp fries every time. Fries so good and easy to make that I often find myself asking Mr. B, "You want fries with that?"