August 26, 2013

A Well-Oiled Machine

Parsley and Garlic Oil and Basil Garlic Oil
Just about two weeks ago, I returned to the world of the working, not that I haven't been, mind you, but there's a vast difference between writing articles at noon, pajama-clad, and getting into the car every morning and driving off into the day. Personally, I like the latter--I like routine and I like to be busy and engaged.

Unfortunately, however, I'd completely forgotten about how much effort it takes to work full-time and simultaneously keep all of the other balls up in the air. Poor Mr. B endured the first week with paltry, unplanned, by-the-seat-of-my-pants meals. The second week went a bit better, but there were still a few sandwich dinners and then the one night when I just threw up my hands and said, "Let's go out to eat," something entirely uncharacteristic of me. In fact, I'm fairly certain that over the last several years, we've rarely eaten dinner away from home. I like to cook. I find it relaxing; I like the creativity that goes into cooking, and I like being able to choose my own ingredients and shop for seasonal fare at the farmers market.

Now that I'm fairly scheduled into a routine, I decided the best way for me to cook the dishes I love, is to keep my larder amply supplied. A big part of that, for me, is cooking with herbs, but when the rush is on to get dinner made, it's the herbs that often languish, forgotten, deep in the bottom of the crisper. I decided to get a leg up and whip up two herbaceous condiments to keep things lively and fresh.

I use the parsley and garlic oil on everything from steamed veggies and grilled cheese sandwiches to subbing for a quick marinade. It's also delicious slathered on good sourdough toast with a few sliced tomatoes. The same is true of the basil oil, though I admit, I'm less adventures and usually use it as a drizzle on fresh sliced tomatoes and feta.

One thing is true: my kitchen is going to run like a well-oiled machine and allow me to unwind and enjoy cooking dinner. And, for Mr. B, it means his days of living off of scraps are coming to an end.

It's win-win.

August 19, 2013

Antipasto Pasta Salad

A Hearty Pasta Salad
Not too long ago I needed to come up with a hearty snack that had staying power. The sort that you can throw into a backpack before heading off on a hiking trail or take along on a long car ride, when you know there's not going to be anywhere worth stopping.

The truth is,there are all sorts of things that fit the criteria, but they aren't necessarily man friendly. Translation: they're not full of meat and cheese and fat--all key ingredients in ensuring that a woman has a pleasant hike/car ride without falling victim to hungry man syndrome. You know the situation--a man's eyes narrow, his pupils darken and before you know it his demeanor changes and his sense of humor is non-existent.

Now, I'm not saying that I've ever seen this happen to Mr. B, but then again, I'm not saying I haven't. I will say that when I say that whenever I happen to pack this recipe up for one of our jaunts, I always have a good time. Another bonus of this delectable and hearty salad is that you can change the ingredients up depending on the season and your individual tastes.

August 13, 2013

Pasties, My Sweet

Apricot and Cream Cheese Pasteries
How many people actually have a surplus of puff pastry hanging around in their freezer? I am talking about normal people, not caterers or over zealous home pastry chefs or even people who are planning a wedding--just people like me? Probably not many, but it's worth hoping that someone will be able to relate to the dilemma I found myself in this last weekend. Why, I wondered as I dug about the freezer for a chicken to thaw out, do I still have more puff pastry?

The puff pastry is a throw back to a party I did a while back. A party, depending on who you ask, that I either threw myself into head first, or was summarily marched toward in the same sort of fashion that prisoners are often taken to the executioner's chamber. It was so very long ago and it seems unnecessary to argue the details, suffice it to say that I spent a rather long and tedious week in intimate company with puff pastry. I remember very well, however, rolling out and baking cheese straws from the wee hours of the morning until very late into the night. I went through sheet after sheet of fluff pastry and to be clear, the box that still remained in my freezer was not the only box-- it was the only box that was left.

I didn't think that using up puff pastry would be such a difficult task, but there was hardly any cause for using it. I suppose, had I been French, I would have used it quite quickly, but living in California without much need for puff pastry made getting rid of it a much harder prospect. So, when I came upon the box of late, I decided to recreate one of my favorite pastries-- not my favorite eating pastries, but my favorite to look at . For some reason, the shiny apricots make me happy and I love that they look like sunshine, but I also find them a bit amusing. And even better, they're simple and delicious to make.

August 09, 2013

Hula Burgers

Teriyaki Pork  Burgers
Is it possible to let summer slide by without  dragging out the Tiki torches and mixing up a few tropical drinks garnished with those little paper umbrellas? Doesn't everyone have a secret soft spot for Tiki culture, or is that just me?

Well, it may not be hot outside, but it's still summer.

Tiki culture gained popularity in the late 1930s after a Polynesian inspired restaurant opened in Hollywood. The restaurant was a huge hit--people loved the exotic decor and relaxing atmosphere. Soon after, just up the California coast in Oakland, another similarly themed restaurant opened with equal popularity.

While Tiki culture was inspired by the restaurant industry, it quickly became an integral part of the American landscape. The 1939 Golden Gate Exhibition on Treasure Island (an artificial island off the the San Francisco coast) not only served as the debut of the Golden Gate Bridge, but had an exhibit celebrating Polynesian culture. The exhibit was one of the more popular exhibits of all time.

Right after WWII, the fascination with Tiki culture exploded. Hollywood stars were photographed at exotic spots, such as the Tonga Room, adding to the glamour. Tiki culture dominated the film and culture of the 1940s and 1950s, and why not--it was escapist pleasure at its best and the rum drinks certainly didn't hurt the cause.

History lessons aside, throwing a Tiki inspired party is just plain fun. Even if it's only for two!

August 07, 2013

Sweet Candied Tomatoes

Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Brown Sugar and Sea Salt
Usually by this time of the year, my tomato plants are laden with fruit so large that the stems threaten to snap and I'm left scrounging as many bamboo canes, pieces of fencing and old metal rods that I can to shore things up. However, this summer has been anything but a usual summer. Our temperatures have been very temperate, something I'm very appreciative of since I live in a very old house without central air conditioning and our normal summer weather can be unbearably hot.

By nature, I have an obsessive streak that seems to color several areas of my life. I have well over 250 cookbooks lining my shelves, I tend to bake cookies in the multiple dozens and when it comes to tomatoes, I am obsessively in love with heirloom varieties. Due to space issues and a very tenacious species of gophers, I limit my tomato planting to 18 plants--although one year I pushed the envelop by putting in 24. With such a passion for tomatoes, you can probably imagine that any summer meal contains at least one, if not two, tomato dishes.

Unfortunately, this just isn't the case this summer.

I do, however, seem to have a prolific harvest of cherry tomatoes and since I had the foresight to plant a few varieties, at least I can enjoy a decent night's sleep with a belly full of some kind of tomato deliciousness. Since cherry tomatoes are too small to properly employ in a number of traditional recipes, I decided to oven roast a batch with brown sugar and sea salt, an idea that made them ever so versatile. I like them slightly squished and spread over buttered toast, but they're wonderful served with grilled fish or roasted chicken and unbelievable topped with a bit of crumbled goat cheese and a pinch of fresh thyme.

I may only get a fraction of my normal tomato harvest and I may have to wait until late September, but with this recipe for these candied jewels, I can pass the time a little more easily.

August 05, 2013

A Bigger, Better Bundt

Pound Cake with Blueberry Filling
I may be aging myself here, but I clearly remember when Bundt cakes became the rage. I have no clue where my mom got her pan from, but once she had it in her possession, I don't think the oven ever turned off. And, if I remember correctly there was a little Bundt cookbook that came along with the pan, because somehow, my mother had all of these crazy recipes with names like Tunnel of Love (cherry cream cheese filling) and Chocolate Dream (chocolate filling, chocolate chips and chocolate frosting).

Whenever my brother and I talk about my mom's baking, we catalog it by whichever craze she happened to be fixated on at the time. I really loved it when she was in the throes of her cupcake craze, but her Bundt cake craze came in at a close second. Bundt cakes tend to be denser cakes, so the slices are easily portable and since they're usually glazed and not frosted, you need not worry about frosting 'squish' as you do with transporting a cupcake.

There are only two drawbacks to making a Bundt cake: you need a specially made pan and because the pan is larger and requires more batter, the cakes take longer to bake. Due to the longer baking time, they are not the ideal summer cake, but yesterday proved to be a most temperate day and there was a heaping bowl of blueberries staring me down every time I opened the refrigerator, so I decided to bake an Ode to Summer  Bundt cake filled with a thick blueberry and cinnamon filling, iced with an almond glaze and finished with a scattering of toasted pecans.