June 27, 2013

In the Soup

Chunky Gazpacho with Grilled Bread
This morning when Mr. B and I woke up, it was already scorching hot outside and we were fairly certain that our cool foggy mornings and easy sleeping nights had come to an end. Summer wasn't just lingering about, she'd seeped in through every crack and cranny and was about to flatten us with her presence.

By the time the weather man came on the morning news, I was drifting back into a nice deep second-sleep when I heard him say something about a heatwave, record breaking temperatures and a dire warning to stay cool. Then I heard him say 117 degrees and I sat straight up and stared at the television. I wasn't dreaming; he was forecasting that we'd break our record this weekend, which means it's going to get hotter than 117 degrees outside.

That's not cool.

I turned to Mr. B and I said, "We're in the soup." He gave me his standard reply, the cocked eyebrow and half opened eye; his nonverbal way of saying, "What the hell is that supposed to mean." He kept his other eye firmly shut, clearly trying to get a few more minutes of peaceful sleep. But, that wasn't about to happen. Not only was it going to be hotter than anything I'd ever experienced, but it was our anniversary. We were about to have another adventure!

People don't cook when it's that hot. Even standing over a BBQ is out of the question. It appeared that for the next several days, the only things we'd be eating aside from cold cuts would be things that could either be prepared in a blender or an ice cream maker. Even the microwave was out of question since it had decided to die the previous day. So, as I mentally sifted through the catalogue of cold delights that I could whip up, I thought about a summertime favorite—gazpacho—which has a very special and sentimental meaning for Mr. B and I.

On our first anniversary, which for those non-tradiotionalists, is the paper anniversary, we bought a pair of plane tickets to Spain. What fun it was to eat the top of our wedding cake (which suffered from serious freezer burn) washed down with a couple of beers in an airport bar while waiting for our flight.
I've many fond memories of that adventure, but my favorite by far was the many wonderful gazpachos we had along the way.

Here's one of my favorite versions. It's garnished with chunks of crispy vegetables. It will be the perfect meal for our impending heatwave and it'll give Mr. B and I an opportunity to celebrate getting to be in the soup together!

June 25, 2013

Blossoming Love

Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Goat Cheese
Saturday, I was antsy at first light. Usually, I'd roll over and burrow deep beneath my blankets for one last dream, but lately, I haven't been able to stop thinking about blossoms—those lovely, delicate flowers that profusely decorate plants everywhere around this time of year. In particular, squash blossoms; specifically, zucchini blossoms.

Going to the farmers market in the summertime means that I have a lot of time to kill, especially since Mr. B set me up on an irrigation system. I used to pass the morning watering my own plants, fighting the temptation to to steal a few blossoms off of my own zucchini plants, but now, without watering on my chore list, I just sit around and drink coffee. And wait. And wait.

The bell rings at 9 sharp at the farmers market and since the rules clearly stipulate that the farmers can't sell before that time, most people don't arrive until later. But I'm not most people. I like to walk past the tables a few times, see what's fresh, what's new; strike up a conversation and sometimes, with a few winks and a smile, beg that a choice beauty be set aside for me. That's how it was this past Saturday morning when I spied the most magnificent basket of squash blossoms, the baby zucchini still attached.

The vendor was new to me—maybe even new to the market—for he was welcoming and friendly and already had his table set up and was casually waiting for the bell. Before he'd seen me, I'd scanned the table, so I knew what I was after and with only four baskets on display, I wasn't about to take the chance that someone would beat me to the punch.

"Looks like we still have 12 minutes," he said, glancing down at his watch. I took this as an invitation; shortly, I was complimenting everything on his table. He looked me square in the eyes, his face worn and weathered, but he was still good looking. We both knew where we were headed.

"See something you'd like me to put off to the side," he asked. I nodded and pointed at the basket that I'd already selected and gave him my best smile; I was glad that I'd remembered to put on lipstick and brush my hair. "Well, then, I'll just put them over here," and with that he set the basket off to the table behind him.

My blossoms were safe.

I spent the next few minutes strolling about and enjoying myself. The crowd was growing. Knowing that my squash blossoms were safe, I milled about the clatter, eavesdropping on conversations and when offered, accepting samples of freshly picked fruits ripened on the vine. It was a slightly overcast June morning, chilly enough for a sweatshirt and just as I was about to count my many blessings, the bell sounded. Within a few minutes, I'd be back in the car, the basket of squash blossoms on the seat beside me and within an hour, they'd already be stuffed and put away into the refrigerator until dinner time.

June 21, 2013

Summer's Here!

Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Rémoulade
It's a new season now, which means Mr. B and I will be grilling all the time, hanging out by the pool and enjoying all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Wait—we live in California; we already do that most of the year. For us, it's mostly sunshine and blue skies.

So how do we go about celebrating a season that seems perpetual in our neck of the woods? Strong cocktails, of course. Funny how they always change one's perspective. Aside from that, we start eating some summertime favorites like fresh tomatoes and zucchini and corn. But, to really enjoy those vegetables, we have to wait for the August heat. Thankfully, no one cares if we pluck a few green tomatoes off the vine and fry them up. I know fried green tomatoes are delicious on their own, but why not increase the yum factor with a heaping spoonful of shrimp rémolaude?

This recipe for fried green tomatoes was a favorite of Mr. B's grandmother, Lil Labiche, and it's long been a favorite around our house. The shrimp rémoulade is pretty standard issue, but I like to kick mine up a notch with horseradish and capers.

Step back and wait for the applause—this recipe is perfect for kicking off the summer season. And, perfect for kicking back with a summer cocktail.

June 19, 2013

Good Morning, Sunshine!

Steak, Sweet Potato and Mushroom Hash
Mr. B's a good sport for going along with all the cooking that goes on around our house. Most of the time, it's healthy enough fair, and when it's not, he finds people we can 'donate' it to—but not until he's had his fair share. Anyhow, lately, with all of my various writing projects going on, I've been cranking up my oven and my production.

It's no wonder that my refrigerator is stocked with an impressive array of leftovers. Of course, there's nothing in any sort of reasonable quantity to make a meal; just scraps and bits and pieces of former dishes. Thankfully, I'm wildly creative and love to play with my food. Even better, along with a hearty appetite, Mr. B always shows up to the table with a willingness to try something new.

Since we both love a good breakfast, the other morning, I rummaged through the refrigerator and assembled a handful of ingredients that I thought would make a worthy hash. Sure enough, with a few herbs and spices, everything came together beautifully and we enjoyed this delicious steak and sweet potato hash.

A meal like this will leave you seeing leftovers in a new light.

June 18, 2013

Let Her Eat Cake!

Flourless Bittersweet Chocolate Cake
Is there anything more important for a birthday celebration than a cake? Presents, of course, and cards, too, are quite lovely—and welcome—but if there is no cake, then there's nothing to celebrate.

I love cake and if there's one cake that I truly love, it's my birthday cake. This cake comes but once a year and somehow tastes better than any other cake at any other time of year.

Poor Mr. B learned the hard way about my birthday cake expectations. There were many sad birthday celebrations in the past. One year, Mr. B felt empowered by a box of petite fours; he thought I'd be pleased to have dozens of little cakes. Unfortunately, he thought wrong. Another year, he made haste to get to the bakery before closing time, only to find they'd closed early; there weren't even any cakes left in the case for him to buy. Finally, one year, in an attempt to turn the tide and earn my favor, Mr. B drove around the whole of Los Angeles with a decadent layered chocolate cake. At the time, he was in wine sales, so he had to lug the cake into each account, lest it melt in the car.

The best thing about the Los Angeles cake was that he had to work off years of bad cake karma in order to bring it home. That cake was so good that we ate it straight from the box, two forks and a gallon of milk between us. It was so good, I almost forgave Mr. B for forgetting the candles, but really, what is the point of a birthday cake without candles?

Over the years, Mr. B has fought a good fight. There were a couple of birthdays when he almost managed cake, candles and even ice cream, but it seemed that something was always just around the corner to trip him up.

Eventually, I felt so badly for him and his cake foibles that I couldn't stand idly by and watch him suffer. That may sound magnanimous, but truly, it was I who was suffering, and I simply refused to let another birthday go by cakeless. So, I took over my birthday cake and now we're both happier.

This year's cake—a flourless bittersweet cake with fresh raspberries. And candles. What more could I possibly want?

June 14, 2013

Coffee, Anyone?

Homemade Coffee Ice Cream
Boy, did I ever get sucked into a rabbit hole this week. I could offer up some lame excuse, such as I've been sick, or busy, or both, but truth be told, I discovered a sinful and wonderfully addictive recipe and I slipped deep into its grasp.

I can't tell this to Mr. B because he'd be devastated, but my first true love is coffee ice cream. Back in the day, I used to hang out at the mall with Jamocan Almond Fudge and then when people started to talk, I took my addiction behind closed doors. It was easy—everywhere I went there were pints of coffee ice cream for sale. I could anonymously pick up my fix and then behind drawn curtains, I could loll about in a state of dreamy bliss. Many times, I would get up in the middle of the night and like a sleepwalker, I would unconsciously be pulled, as if by some unseen magnetic force, straight to the freezer. I'd dig spoonful after spoonful out of the carton and let it slowly melt on my tongue before returning to bed. At the height of my addiction, the freezer was the first place I went to every morning. Clearly, I couldn't make it through the day without a little something to keep me going.

All these years, I've managed to keep my secret from Mr. B, but this week, after I made this recipe, there was no hiding it any longer. It was quite a shock for him when he found me cleverly hiding in the pantry, spoon in hand. Perhaps, I was a bit disheveled, and if I recall correctly, I may have been in a state of undress. It could also be quite true, if I go by his account, that I was babbling incoherently and even singing nonsense rhymes. Mr. B doesn't usually lie. But, before he could try any of that silly intervention stuff, I still had enough of my senses about me to shove a spoonful of this frozen bliss into his mouth.

As they say in the movies, the rest is history.

June 07, 2013

Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberries with Feta, Almonds and Balsamic
I live in a swath of the state where strawberries are plentiful and readily available, not to mention, pretty darn good just about every month out of the year. But once the warmer weather arrives, their sweetness is unrivaled.

There's certainly nothing wrong with piling them into a big bowl and burying them under an avalanche of fresh whipped cream or even letting them ski down a mountain of vanilla ice cream, but sometimes a strawberry needs something a little different to spice things up.

I know many people who get a bit unnerved whenever there's talk about mixing sweet and savory, but this salad, in spite of the feta cheese, is definitely more sweet than savory. It's a great dish to include with any type of BBQ, especially when that involves a spicy sauce.

If you're grilling this weekend, give this easy side salad a try— it's definitely a palate pleaser.

June 06, 2013

Mr. B's Big Beef

Mr. B's the Real Grill Master
Poor Mr. B. I felt so bad after running out of butter and nearly ruining his lunch, that I decided that while I was at the grocery store, I'd cruise on by the meat counter and pick him up an 'I'm Sorry' gift. And what could be better for  showing my remorse than a big piece of red meat? I like to think of it as make up steak and I gotta say, in spite of the butter episode, Mr. B was a happy man.

You might think, "What's the big deal about a steak?"—but in our house, it's a big deal not just because like most men, Mr. B happens to be a card carrying carnivore, but because when it comes to top grill skills, Mr. B is definitely the grill master. I may have tossed him a bone, but he grilled it up into a five-star piece of meat that had the neighbors drooling.

Wondering what Mr. B's secret is, I decided to track him down for a quick interview. Mr. B isn't wordy, but he's an eloquent speaker and he does have a way with words. So, it was pretty surprising when he had little to say about his process. He offered me very little, really. In fact, when asked for his recipe, he said, "My secret? You just need a really hot grill and, well, you must become one with the steak." Um, yeah...whatever that means.

Thankfully, I've watched Mr. B enough times and I'm privy to all of his secrets. I know how he grills that steak and I'm happy to share the recipe, so fire up the grill.

June 05, 2013

100 Pats of Butter!

Commemorative Sprinkles
Today marks my 100th post on, "You Had Me at Butter," but there is a far bigger reason why this day will forever live in my mind: I ran out of butter. Yep. True dat. Worse? I didn't even realize it until I served Mr. B his lunch and he was smearing the last vestiges of butter over his cracker and like any good wife,  I announced that I was off to the refrigerator for more butter.

But there was no more. Not in the refrigerator. Not in the freezer. Nor was there anymore butter in my big chest freezer in the garage or the other refrigerator that I like to keep filled with beer. Simply put: we were out of butter. As shocking as this was to me, it was even more startling to Mr. B who calmly set his knife down, relaxed his grip on the cracker he was holding and looked at me with incredulity: "What do you mean we're OUT of butter?"

For as long as Mr. B and I have known each other, I've never been out of butter. On the contrary, there's been butter tucked everywhere from the back of the fridge, to the butter dish to not just one freezer, but three freezers, and in a real pinch, I could always reach way back behind all that ice cold beer and put my hands on a box. We had enough butter tucked away in our reserves to get through not just the ending of the Mayan calendar, but another equally as feared disaster; we would run out of toilet paper, water—even booze, but we weren't about to run out of butter.

"What can I say," I shrugged—"I've been busy." And it wasn't just an excuse, it was the truth; I've been writing. A lot. Most all of the day, everyday. I write for a lot of other avenues than just here. In fact, this month, I will be even more visible as two new projects launch. Of course, that's no excuse for running out of butter, and that's just how Mr. B put it to me, because it's all fine—it's good; it's great—write all you want, just don't forget to buy butter.

I won't. Because I get what he means, metaphorically and literally—butter is everything.

June 04, 2013

Hootch, Mama!

Homemade Myer Lemon Limoncello
If you're up on your urban slang, you know the term hootch means a lot of things, all of which have to deal with some of the, ahem, more interesting aspects of life. The most common definition for the term is to use it when referring to cheap liquor, but I take umbrage with that, because our homemade limoncello was anything but cheap in the making.

Limoncello is more traditionally associated with southern Italy where lemons are most prolific and the indigenous variety is almost pithless. Limoncello is made by soaking the zest of the lemon in grain alcohol. As the lemon oils are released, they infuse the alcohol with a wonderful lemony taste. After the requisite steeping, a simply syrup, along with lemon juice is added to the alcohol and then this mixture is set off to 'age' for an appropriate length of time, which happily coincides with the warmer months.

Back in January, Mr. B was off on a trip to Sacramento where he took part in harvesting our cousins Myer lemon tree. When he returned home, he brought me over 20 pounds of lemons and I enjoyed turning them into all sorts of fantastic creations from my preserved Moroccan lemons to lemon curd.

Making limoncello takes a lot of work, as you can imagine that even with a Kitchen-aid juicer attachment, processing 20 pounds of lemons is a task in and of itself. But wait, that doesn't even include the work that goes along with zesting 20 pounds of lemons. Let's just say that I kept Mr. B's cocktail glass full and parked him and the lemons in front of a really good football game; he made quick work zesting the lemons and before long, I was hunting Everclear—that ever so deadly pure grain alcohol with 151 proof (I've also heard it comes in 190 proof, but I wouldn't want to drink that stuff).

After that, it was clear sailing. We soaked the lemon zest in the grain alcohol for about 4-5 weeks, then we added the simple syrup and lemon juice and carted the big jug back down into the cellar where it's been sitting for months, getting very potent and very, very yummy.

No sense in giving you the recipe since lemon season is far behind us; better you should get your car keys and get yourself to the liquor store, then come back and make this yummy Mr. B special. It's the perfect mixer to sip on while soaking in the hot tub. Mr. B calls it the Hootch Special.

June 03, 2013

June Chowder?

Spicy Corn Chowder
Here's the truth about June in California: it can be unpredictable, depending on where you live, but if you live anywhere near the coast, you often get a lot of, maybe even too much of what we commonly call, 'June Gloom.' When we lived a bit south of where we now live, we had a lot of June Gloom and sometimes, way too much of May Gray. But nowadays, we live smack in the middle of land that has what I commonly refer to as Hot as Hell weather. So, when June offers up a bit of gloom, when it's overcast and a bit chilly, I pilfer my freezer for whatever offers me even the vaguest possibility of making soup.

This weekend, I was in luck, because it wasn't that long ago that I stirred up a big batch of my spicy Corn Off the Cobb and I'd had the foresight to tuck a container away in the freezer. Chowders are quick to prepare, but even more importantly, they're versatile, so adding a few cubed potatoes, sliced smoked sausage, shrimp even cooked shredded chicken just adds to the flavor. I use a mix of stock and milk, but when it comes to the later, I'm not set in my ways. I do like the slight sweetness of evaporated milk, but heavy cream is a decadent component well worth its weight.

Serve this with crusty bread and green salad; fresh fruit makes a nice dessert.