May 31, 2013

Hello, Cupcake!

Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream
Growing up, my mom was a cupcake rockstar! She made so many different kinds of cupcakes with so many different icings and frostings that when my friends would come over, they'd stare at my mom's cake stand, eyes glazed over, jaws on the ground. No one made as many different versions of cupcakes as my mom and not one of the neighborhood mothers could live up to her legendary status.

I had many favorites, from her peanut butter cupcakes frosted with a penuche like confectionary that I still dream about, to her banana cupcakes frosted with spiced cream cheese icing and topped with chopped walnuts to a simple yellow cupcake done with a thick, buttery orange buttercream. My mom was rocking cupcakes long before cupcakes were cool.

Once, when I had a lead role in the school play, my mom whipped up dozens of cupcakes for the cast members. It was right before Easter and she made white marbled cupcakes swirled with pastel pinks and yellows and greens and blues and then frosted them with pale green icing and topped them with coconut she'd dyed with food color to resemble Easter basket grass. Finally, she topped each one with three perfect jelly beans. My acting may not have been Hollywood quality, but those cupcakes made me the star of the show.

Perhaps, my adoration of cupcakes comes from those early years of my life when my mom's many cupcakes were on weekly rotation. They were easy to make, portable and each one had the perfect ratio of cake to frosting. My mom would have never used a box mix, but when cupcake cravings hit, sometimes there's no other means to the end. I add a few tablespoons of booze and some really good finely chopped chocolate to fake homemade, but when it comes to the frosting, well, nothing will do but homemade buttercream.

Here's a quick buttercream frosting that's a snap to make and will calm the chocolate beast who just won't let you sleep without being fed!

May 30, 2013

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Moroccan Carrot Salad
The other night, Mr. B and I got swept up in another one of Anthony Bourdain's shows. In this one, he was off to Morocco, which I found especially fascinating because in my dreamy romantic travel dreams, it's the place I'd most want to visit. Perhaps, I've spent to much time reading about American literary greats who escaped there just after WWII. Morocco, particularly Tangier, an ancient port city, was known for its lawlessness; it was a magnet for the open-minded creative sect, the deviant, and anyone who was looking for a place to disappear and check themselves off the grid.

I've never been interested in Morocco because I was looking for a lawless place to exercise my deviance—I can do that in my own kitchen and routinely eat peanut butter from the jar and drink milk from the carton—instead, I was always attracted to Morocco for its great architecture, labyrinth marketplace and the exotic foods teeming with spices. I suppose, being a bit of a Francophile, that I am also attracted by the French influences and the prospect of untold treasures hidden away in little antique shops and bazaar stalls, too.

I have a few Moroccan dishes that I make fairly often, but none as much as this simple carrot salad which is just as often referred to as a French carrot salad. It's a delicious mix of fresh carrots, cumin, cilantro and I like to put either chopped pistachios or a handful of almonds in for an extra crunch factor. The salad is delicious with grilled lamb and mint tea, but it's also great on its own.

May 29, 2013

One Potato, Two Potato

Garlic and Blue Cheese Potato Salad
Comedian Jimmy Durante came up with the catch phrase, "I got a million of them," and it became so popular that when he was working with Looney Toons™ it actually became one of Bugs Bunny's favorite lines. Well, when it comes to "a million of them," that's how I feel about potato salads.

Sure, I have a few stock potato salads that I make over and over again from the classic Southern-style with mustard, egg and pickle relish to a hot and sour German version with lots of crispy bacon and onions. One of my favorite ways to make potato salad is one that I came up with several years back that includes green beans, cherry tomatoes, an arugula pesto and plenty of fresh basil and Greek olives and the other day, when Mr. B spent the better part of the morning brining a chicken and potato salad was on the menu, that's the one I was planning to make.

But, of course, I had no basil; I had no Greek olives; I had no arugula pesto. Quite simply put, I had none of the ingredients to make the potato salad I had planned on, so I went with Plan B: make something up. What I devised is this simply delicious, unfussy and perfectly balanced potato salad. As you can see, I made good use of my green beans and cherry tomatoes, but there is where all similarities end.

This potato salad is a definite keeper and will get put into my summer rotation. Mr. B, between 'oohs and ahhs' knew precisely what to ask me: "Did you write this recipe down?"

Here it is...

May 28, 2013

Corn Off the Cobb

Corn Off the Cobb
I'm willing to bet that if you take potatoes out of the mix, corn would be the number one favorite vegetable in America—except, corn is not a vegetable, it's actually a grain. In fact, corn is so popular that not only is it the number one field crop in the United States, but it's a top crop in other parts of the world.

Surprisingly, I read a lot about food, and in fact, the real surprise would be that I read literature that's not food based. Anyhow, while I know that corn repeatedly makes the list for most dirty food, most genetically modified and tinkered food and the food most likely to mess with your longterm health, I still love corn. Out of my way I will go to buy organic produce, grass-fed beef and sustainable products, but when it comes to corn, I'll buy it from just about anyone, anywhere as long as the rows are perfectly formed and it looks good.

I'm sure my love of corn goes way back to my childhood. Frozen corn was easy for my mom to prepare and my brother and I loved it, particularly drenched in butter with just enough salt to make the flavors pop. But, my real love of corn comes from those lazy summer dinners when there was plenty of corn-on-the-cobb to go around and everyone had their own little corn holders and corn plate.

While I like to eat my corn like an out-of-control possessed lawn mower, Mr. B likes to eat his in a more dainty fashion, so just for him, I decided to roll out this delicious mix of corn, jalapeño peppers, lime, cilantro, onions and plenty of red pepper cooked down in olive oil and butter. Mr. B loved it and proclaimed it a real winner. It was a hit served up with his falling off the bone pork ribs.

May 26, 2013

What a Fungi!

Portobello and Goat Cheese Baguette
My favorite joke is the one about the mushroom that walks into a bar and sits down next to a beautiful woman. "Can I buy you a drink," he asks. With complete disdain and disgust, she says, "No way—you're a mushroom." His response: "But, I'm a fungi!" I've probably told that joke at least a million times and I still think it's laugh-out-loud funny.

Aside from my love of corny jokes, I have a thing for mushrooms. I love small, white button mushrooms thinly sliced with avocado and this crazy ginger dressing I whip up in the blender; I love brown cremini mushrooms finely chopped and added to soups and sauces and cooked down in butter. Of course, I really love those big, meaty portobello mushrooms, marinated and gilled. Mr. B likes it when I put them underneath big slabs of steak, and, when we're going vegetarian—though I never dare mention this to Mr. B beforehand—he enjoys them on chewy French baguette with juicy slices of tomato, basil leaves, a smear of olive tapenade, a few thin slices of red onion and the best part, a thick layer of goat cheese. The goat cheese and the mushroom make this sandwich a satisfying meal for just about anyone—Mr. B included.

What to serve with it? How about a side of mushroom jokes?

May 24, 2013

What a Jerk!

Jerk Chicken Thighs with Green Rice and Spicy Beans
I love spicy hot food, especially on a really hot summer day, and while my weather forecast is looking like we'll be enjoying a perfect California weekend complete with blue skies, sunshine and nice ocean breezes, the long holiday gives Mr. B and I a chance to spend time together at the grill.

Over a decade ago, Mr. B came home with a recipe for fiery Jamaican Jerk Chicken and when he showed it to me and I read just under the title the handwritten sentence, "Beware; this stuff is hot!" I was completely and unequivocally in. So, off we went to search out spices and Scotch Bonnet peppers, to buy charcoal and to lay in a rather impressive stock of cold beer. We worked together to prepare the marinade and then I started in on a pot of green rice and some spicy black beans while Mr. B fired up the grill and opened a couple of beers.

We weren't disappointed by the recipe and in fact, were so taken with it that we cleaned our plates and sucked every last chicken bone clean and then, for the next several hours, waited to regain sensation in our tongues, which never did happen. However, we had enough beer and our bellies were full, so we were quick to count our blessings.

The long Memorial Day weekend would be the perfect opportunity for you to give this recipe a try—just make sure to ice down the beer.

May 23, 2013

Goodbye Skinny Jeans; It's Time for Cherry Pie!

Cherry Hand Pies
Every year around this time, I say goodbye to my comfortable pants and eat my way into a semi-conscious state of bliss. Weeks before it happens, I try to cut back on calories, hit the gym, and even press myself to do a few extra laps in the pool. I feel victorious; strong; almost as if I might, at least once, avoid the (pardon the pun) pitfalls of cherry season. But no sooner do I feel able to withstand the short harvest, than I fall by the wayside and happily succumb.

Ken is supposed to be the strong one, but once I start talking about pies and turnovers, he forgets about his role, and then he starts asking the question, "Is it pie day today?" But he knows as well as I do that we always start talking pie weeks before we start eating pie. I'm not sure why it takes us so long, but I figure it must have something to do with the sheer labor intensity of pitting five pounds of cherries. Yep. Five pounds—for two people. You must be wondering if my pants are ever comfortable, but I assure you, some things just must be done with passionate vigor and I'd say cherry pie is one of those things.

I've said this before, but it's worth saying again. Let me just say that in my heart of hearts, I know that there are really only two kinds of people in this world: pie people and cake people. I definitely, definitely, definitely fall into the cake category. However, when I think about one of those memorable childhood food moments from my life, those little Hostess hand pies (cherry, thank you) with that crazy sweet glaze, stick in my memory. That said, I LOVE cherry pie, oh, and I can easily eat a sweet potato pie, too,  but other than that, I'm just not that into pie. It was with this particular childhood memory that I embarked on this year's pie making, which led me straight to these beautiful little hand pies, perfect for tucking in a picnic lunch.

May 21, 2013

Spicy Cornbread and Beef Casserole

Spicy Cornbread and Beef Casserole
If traveling isn't tiring on its own, then getting back to a routine—including cooking and writing—definitely will wear out one's patience. Thankfully, I have a few things going in my favor. First, I have several little delectables tucked securely in my freezer and, secondly, Mr. B is so happy to have me home and cooking for him again that I can get away with all sorts of culinary repeats.

Remember the delicious Shredded Beef with Chipotle Peppers I whipped up a few months ago? Remember how I mentioned to pack some away in your freezer for a quick meal? Well, it's time to take advantage of thinking ahead and while it's an easy meal to prepare, it's pretty darn delicious, too. All you need to complete things is to whip up a batch of my jalapeño, cilantro, cheese and green onion cornbread, a dollop or two of sour cream and few cilantro leaves for a garnish.

I call it easy, but you'll call it delicious. Oh, and don't worry about it being too spicy; the freezer really tempers the original spiciness of the beef.

Easy BBQ Chicken and Corn Salsa

Grilled BBQ Chicken and Corn Salsa
My mother used to make the best, stickiest oven BBQ chicken in the world. She'd make it with bone-in chicken breasts and layer it in coat upon coat of sweet BBQ sauce. It's still one of my favorite dishes and it's the reason that I have such a fondness for sweet BBQ sauces. Next time I visit her, I'll have to see if I can't talk her into making a batch up for me.

I have my own BBQ sauce that I've been perfecting over the years. When I make a batch, I literally make up a vat and then portion it out into freezer containers so I can go on enjoying the fruits of my labor for more than one BBQ.

Sauce, however, is saucy—and sticky—which is the point, but not something that I often feel like getting involved in on a regular weeknight and not at all when it's hot outside and it's somehow already 7 p.m. and I haven't even started on dinner yet. To overcome those sorts of obstacles, I developed a quick take on BBQ chicken. It's got all the flavor, but it's not messy and when it's topped with a pile of my corn salsa with basil, it's a refreshing and modern take on an old classic.

Fire up the coals; this one's a keeper.

May 20, 2013

Peach Crisp

Peach Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream
I'm not going to lie: when I was a kid, there were a lot of foods that creeped me out. The number one, with a creepiness factor off the charts was fish. Maybe it was the eyes, or the fact that once while eating a fish sandwich, I found silvery scales. Who knows what goes through a kid's mind and further, who really wants to know?

I, however, know with crystal clear certainty why peaches creeped me out: they were covered in fuzz and in my mind, that was too close to my pet cat to afford me any comfort. But, if my mother removed the skins and tossed the peaches in sugar, I could forget about the fuzzy part and delve right into their juicy sweetness.

On both accounts, thankfully, my adult taste buds kicked in and I enjoy both fish and peaches on a regularl basis, though not together—that would be creepy.

Mr. B has a bit of a sweet-tooth, so I like to hook him up with something sweet to satiate his cravings. Unfortunately, baking is usually the last thing I think about since my mind is pretty much always situated in creating savory dishes. Lucky for Mr. B, a bag of frozen peaches, some oats, brown sugar and butter and a few spices go together quickly to make a peach crisp. Add a little vanilla ice cream and some late night TV and you've got yourself a perfect ending to a great day.

May 17, 2013

Soul Food

Shrimp and Cheese Grits
 The actual term, soul food, wasn't even part of our culinary lexicon until the 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement took center stage. While the term has become synonymous with both the style and seasoning of food in the African-American community, there really is no clear distinction between soul food, Southern food and Country food. For me, while all these monikers describe the same food, soul food is the food that hits you way down deep in your belly and makes you not only feel alive, but grateful to be alive and eating whatever is on your plate.

Grits make me feel alive. Grits make me feel like jumping into the air and kicking my heels. And, when you mix cheese into the grits and top them with spoonfuls of fat shrimp in a spicy tomato and butter sauce, my soul sings.

Shrimp and grits is an easy dish to make and is just as good for a Sunday brunch as it is for a relaxed dinner with a glass of wine and a piece of crusty bread. Get out your frying pan, put a pot of grits on and sauté your way to a soulful dinner.

May 16, 2013

Perfectly Roasted Chicken

Perfect Herb Roasted Chicken
Julia Child once said, "You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken...We never seem to tire of chicken in our house, even though I have fed my husband upon it for weeks, even months at a time... I can go on eating chicken forever." And it's true in our house as well; Mr. B never tires of chicken, particularly roast chicken.

I live in a historic house, which will mark its 100th birthday in five years. As you may well imagine, my kitchen is fairly small and the heat from my gas oven can heat the entire home quite nicely, except, of course, on the coldest days of winter. Once summer arrives, I turn off my oven until the cool fall days arrive. May is unpredictable enough that some mornings are chilly and the marine layer blankets the house. It's on these last cool days that I seize the opportunity to roast a chicken or two and that we savor the juicy goodness and crispy skin.

There are, I'm certain, a million ways to roast a chicken and while I have many different versions of the dish, my favorite is a simple preparation using apples, onions, celery and a mixture of fresh herbs. I roast my chicken, uncovered, in a hot oven until the skin crackles and the juices run clear. This is the perfect end of spring dish and the leftovers are delicious on sandwiches or tossed in a salad. If it's still cool enough in your neck of the woods, use the bones and scraps to make a good stock and then turn that into a hearty chicken soup loaded with spring vegetables.

May 15, 2013

Chocolate Bundt™ Cake

Chocolate Bundt™ Cake
I just returned from a week at my mom's house and I've come to realize two things: traveling is tiring and there's nothing like sleeping in your own bed.

I live three hours from the airport so on my return, I always take the train home. I really do love the train and if the train had a more regular schedule and went a little faster, I would take the train everywhere. The seats are large and luxurious, there are two foot rests and the tray table nicely accommodates my laptop and there's an outlet nearby. I also find it charming to roll through the countryside and observe people in their daily doings. Our train goes right through the Salinas Valley so there are plenty of workers out tending to the lettuces and artichokes, strawberries and raspberries. When the train comes rolling through, many of them stop what they are doing and wave. It's such a small gesture, but it makes me feel so good to wave back: two strangers on two separate journeys connected in one small moment in time.

The train also makes me think of all the family stories from when my mother was a young girl and people traveled by train. My favorite story is when my mother was a little girl--maybe a year old--and her and my grandmother traveled by train from South Saint Paul, Minnesota to California to see my grandfather before he left for war. I can't even begin to imagine the emotional weight of such a trip, for one thing is certain: riding a train gives you a lot of time to think.

My mother gave me stacks of my grandmother's old cookbooks from the 1940s and I am dying to make some of the cakes. The cake recipes are quite amazing and go far and beyond our standard flavors today. But, returning from a trip is tiresome and there is a great deal of laundry and catching up to do. I wanted to make Mr. B a cake to tell him thank you for such a clean house and because I missed him a lot and well, I wanted to show him how much I love him.

This recipe is a simple Bundt™ cake with a simple chocolate glaze and it's simply delicious.

May 14, 2013

Shrimp California Bowl

California Bowl
I'm always on the hunt for a good California roll, trouble is, as they've grown in popularity, they've grown to disappoint me. Finding a really good California roll is as hard as finding really good French fries. Is it reasonable to assume that the more ubiquitous an item becomes, the harder it is to find an exceptional version?

Since I like the fresh flavors so much and the ingredients are easily available, I whipped up my version of the California roll, except I used shrimp, instead of fake crab meat, and instead of complicating my life by trying to roll and cut my creation, I serve it atop mixed greens with brown rice, sesame seeds and avocado. This satisfies my cravings without the expense—or disappointment. It's well worth putting on your menu, particularly when the mercury starts rising.

May 13, 2013

The Almost Famous 'Nigerian' Pesto

'Nigerian' Pesto
My friend Mr. X is a basil fanatic. He suffers from one of the most extensive basil addictions I have ever been witness to and while that in itself is pretty frightening, if you happen to engage him in a conversation about basil, he gets excitable and starts talking about grow lights and greenhouses and ponders aloud how he can keep his basil habit going in the dead of winter. Not too long ago, I happened upon quite a large quantity of basil so I decided to whip up a batch of Ligurian pesto sauce and surprise him with a jar. When I pulled it out of my bag and presented it to him his eyes lit up like a pinball machine.

"Is that pesto, " he asked, his voice barely audible. He looked around the room, his eyes darting to and fro, clearly checking to make sure no one else was observing us.

"Yes," I replied. "This is Ligurian style pesto; it's made with walnuts, instead of pine nuts."

Mr. X's expression went slack, the light diminished from his eyes; he was confused. Very loudly, he asked, "NIGERIAN PESTO?????"

I couldn't help laughing out and it took me a few minutes to gain my composure before I could explain things to him, and when I did he was happy to learn about all of the different styles of pesto. I like Ligurian pesto because I really like the dominance of walnuts more than pine nuts, which can be far too rich for my tastes. Apparently, Mr. X agreed for it wasn't but a couple of days later when he returned the empty jar and admitted that had the opening been wide enough, he would have licked it clean.

This pesto is particularly good on fish or vegetables.

May 10, 2013

Then the Fight Started

Shrimp Guacamole with Crisp Corn Tortillas
Anyone over the age of 25 has a tequila story, or two, to tell. Probably, one they'd rather forget altogether and more than likely, one they really don't remember, but unfortunately, no one else can forget.

Up until 2 years ago, I hadn't drunk a drop of tequila in over 20 years. I was so adverse to the idea of tequila that even the smell of it could send me running from the room. But, then, a few years ago, Mr. B, a big believer in immersion therapy, took the lead and ordered a pitcher of margaritas for us to share. I won't lie, I did enjoy them and in the interim, I learned how to make a pretty tasty pitcher of margaritas of my own. I won't lie, I'm still not going to take a shot of tequila anytime soon and I much prefer a cold beer, but for a Friday night in May, a big bowl of shrimp guacamole, crispy corn tortillas and few drinks around the pool aren't a bad idea.

You might think the blog post is all about tequila since people have a history of getting a little aggressive when served the blue agave elixir, but the truth is, this shrimp guacamole is so good, you'll fight for the last bite.

May 09, 2013

Steak Tacos with Pineapple and Mango Salsa

Steak Tacos with Pineapple and Mango Salsa
I could eat tacos everyday of the week and be pretty damn happy with my lot in life. Mr. B, on the other hand, gets tired of tacos with the quickness of a rattlesnake, but like any man, he's a lot more forgiving when steak is on the menu.

A while back when we were grilling steaks, I had one of those moments of epiphany where the food angels appeared singing right before my eyes. Then the flash went off and I had a brainstorm: I would always cook an extra steak and that would give me a realm of dinner possibilities later in the week, and would give me a quick out in case I hadn't really planned anything for dinner at all.

That extra steak has come in handy for so many great meals from quesadillas to steak sandwiches to steak and eggs. One way that I like to utilize the extra streak is to thinly slice it, whip up an exotic salsa and warm a few corn tortillas. It goes beyond being tasty, but all the colors give it a visual pop and since we eat with our eyes, it's a great plate to see in front of you.

I like to think these steak tacos with pineapple and mango salsa are a real treat for Mr. B, but if I'm just reaching here, then I'm happy to say that they are so good that they can tame a rattlesnake and that's not half bad.

May 08, 2013

The Long Lost Salsa

Avocado Tomatillo Salsa
Years ago, our nephew showed up on our doorstep, suitcases in tow and his leather jacket slung over his shoulders. He was taking a break from his studies and we invited him out to California so we could take a break from house maintenance, which basically means we agreed to feed him and he agreed to be our handyman for a few weeks.

Quite possibly, handyman is the nicest way of putting it, for while Mr. B would never begrudge a growing boy a large steak and a comfortable bed, when it came to running a crew of one, Mr. B was notorious for making a kid work. Hard. Really hard. That of course, didn't faze our nephew one bit. Instead, he extracted from his jacket pocket a perfectly handwritten recipe for what we would soon learn, was his favorite salsa in the universe.

Chockfull of roasted tomatillo and ripe avocado, a bit of onion and lime juice, a few jalapeño peppers and a handful of cilantro, among other ingredients, and whizzed in a food processor, we would find ourselves amazed by the copious amounts of this salsa that our nephew could consume. Of course, we also found ourselves pretty astounded by the pounds of steak he could put away, as well.

Once the handyman work dried up, which coincidently, occurred around the same time that Spring Break came to an end, our nephew packed his bags and left. It was shortly afterward that he told us his recipe was missing. That was several years ago and while we've never found the actual recipe, I'm pretty good about memorizing recipes, especially when I've made them a few times, so I promised him I would have a go at recreating his beloved salsa.

I think this is it...

May 07, 2013

The Big Enchilada

Beef Enchiladas
The biggest enchilada ever made was in a small Mexico City borough named Iztapalapa. When it was finished it was an astounding 230 feet long and weighed over 3,000 pounds—that, my friends is 1 1/2 tons of enchilada.

I like enchiladas. I have fond memories from when I was growing up and my mom would go out to eat. She inevitably would come home with leftovers—always Mexican food— and my brother and I would share it for breakfast, straight from the ice box. We both still love cold leftover Mexican food. But, I digress; I was talking about big enchiladas.

The Big Enchilada, also known as The Big Cheese, The Big Gun, The Big Fish, The Big Deal, The Big Shot and The Big Wheel, is just that, The Big Guy; Mr. Supremo; The Head Honcho. In Yiddish, The Big Enchilada goes by the moniker, The Knocker. I like that and all of those names fit Mr. B, but he's not a know-it-all and he's certainly not boastful, he's just...well...Mr. B has presence, but more importantly, My Big Enchilada likes big enchiladas and that works out perfectly, because so do I.

May 06, 2013

Viva la Shrimp!

Shrimp Acapulco 
For me, Cinco de Mayo lasts a lot longer than one day. In fact, by the end of the week, Mr. B will be so sick of my interpretation of fresh California Mexican food that I predict a few Corona bottles will be smashed in protest. Ah well, good food is always worth a good argument.

Mr. B is a good sport and like any wise husband, he pretends not to notice—and certainly doesn't comment—whenever I become obsessed. My obsessions run the gamut from shoes to roses, cookbooks to tomatoes, but usually, my real obsessions are born in the confines of my little kitchen where I try to keep them hidden in cabinets and drawers, or at least, behind the milk in the refrigerator.

Unfortunately, my obsessions don't stay hidden for long and before I can control myself, Mr. B is being bombarded with my creations. At some point, the Frenchman in Mr. B pokes his stubborn and sarcastic head out and with the stomp of his foot and a few curt sentences, my obsessive streaks are brought to a stop. I could protest, but really, who wants to duke it out with a Cajun-French man whose palate has been inundated by far too much salsa?

I concocted this dish years ago after being served something similar by an amazing chef who refused to part with his recipe. It took a lot of experimenting and I went through cases of chips in my trials, but eventually, I cracked the recipe. Mr. B loves this refreshing mix, so I thought I'd start our weeklong celebration off by releasing all those endorphins in Mr. B's brain.

May 03, 2013

The Salt Cure

Moroccan Preserved Lemons
There's a cure for everything and when it comes to food, it usually involves salt and sometimes, sugar. A few months ago, after a go at curing bacon and successfully getting a sourdough starter up and running, I had fallen smack into the grip of a  'preservation bug' and started looking around for my next project.

It was right around that time that Mr. B returned from Sacramento with over 20 pounds of Myer lemons (here's a recipe for lemon curd) and I decided to venture into territory that for me, was completely uncharted. I decided that I was going to try my luck by making a batch of Moroccan Preserved Lemons. Now, don't ask me why I decided on this, because truthfully, I can't tell you. It's not that I've had the experience of eating preserved lemons on a regular basis—actually, I never have—but, every time I would come across a reference for them, I was intrigued.

Using salt to preserve food goes back to the dawn of civilization. It was how man kept food from spoiling and in some cultures, it's still a prevalent method of keeping a larder stocked with enough food to make it through a long winter (think of the Eskimo people with salmon and caribou). Salt keeps microbial bacteria from developing, or rather, I should say it inhibits the growth of bacteria, for as strange as it seems that anything could survive in a dominant saline environment, there is also a strain of bacteria that can thrive in a salty brine, but, as long as the brine is over a certain percentage of saline to water, it keeps that strain of bacteria at bay.

Preserved lemons are easy to make, but there are a number of steps to follow and then there is a rather long period of preservation time. In fact, it was only the other day, that I opened the jar and transferred them to a smaller vessel and tucked them in the back of the refrigerator.

I haven't gotten around to using them yet, but I did just read an article by David Lebowitz where he discussed the value of using preserved lemons to elevate the flavor of a dish. Two of his suggestions were to use the finely chopped rind (you discard the pulp) in a vegetable dish (one of his suggestions was carrots with cumin and preserved lemon), and the second, to smash or process the rind with butter and use this compound butter as a topping for fish or chicken.

I plan to play around with my lemons this weekend. Depending on how they taste, I'm thinking of trying to take them into the confectionary realm and play with the juxtaposition of sweet and salty.

May 02, 2013

Chillin' With Some Chili

Chipotle Chili Tostado
I was thinking the coffee must be really weak— I thought I heard the weatherman say it was going to be 100º today. Surely, I thought, it can't be that hot, not this early in the year. Can it?

I took another sip of my coffee and watched as the weather map scrolled across the screen. So much for the weak coffee theory. It looked like summer was about to arrive.

Oh, well. It could be worse. I could be dealing with a freak May snowstorm like those poor people in Colorado. That would really stink, because when I was younger and lived in Colorado, I remember late spring snowstorms. Maybe that's one reason I haven't a single desire to ever return to that state; childhood traumas can be long lasting.

One thing was certain, though, I wasn't about to turn on the oven. Hot weather meant that I could sneak outside and work poolside, but I'd need pool food. I immediately thought of the last of my stash of chipotle chili that I had hidden in the back of the freezer. Mr. B was off on business, so I wouldn't have to share, which was perfect, since I'm a chili addict and with summer hot on my heels, I wouldn't be making any more for a while.

I decided to whip up a chipotle chili tostado or two to enjoy in the sunshine and fresh air. But, if you have the misfortune of living in Colorado, you'll have to forgo the pool and the sunshine for today. You could, however, put on a pot of chili and warm your feet by the fire while it simmers away on the stove top. That way, we can both be toasty.

May 01, 2013

Going Topless

Topless Steak Burgers
After wiping the sleep from our eyes, both Mr. B and I looked at each other with astonishment. It was May 1st. Already. Where was this year going? While we could have spent several hours pondering Einstein's Theory of Relativity, we needed coffee first.

May 1st, better known as May Day, is one of the many pagan celebrations that seamlessly worked its way into the fabric of modern culture. Traditionally, it was the first day of summer, hence, the summer solstice is the halfway point of summer. While I've never been to a May Day celebration, I imagine it would be pretty fun, even if just to linger among the food vendors and listen to music.

Interestingly, another common usage of May Day is the internationally recognized emergency code for "Help!"--immediately. I found this a far more intriguing bit of information to ponder over than either Einstein or pagan celebrations, so with all my nerdy intellectualism, I decided to do a little research. Come to find out, May Day is derived from the French phrase, "venez m'aider" which translates to, "Come help me." I'm not sure how it went from that translation to the shorter May Day one, but since it was far too beautiful outside, I decided to ditch my contemplative thoughts and head out into the sunshine. Apparently, great minds think alike, for sitting in quite meditation among singing birds, I found Mr. B.

At first, I felt guilty, thinking that I'd interrupted his deep, introspective thinking. But, I was wrong. "So. What's for lunch today?" he asked. I quickly decided that it was far too nice outside for any sort of heavy thinking; it was the perfect day to keep things light.

"You know," I replied. "I think it's the perfect day to go topless."