September 30, 2013

Sweet Tooth

Little Cheesecakes
I may have been living under a rock for the last 8 or 9 years, because somehow, this simple recipe that everyone seems to know all about, has never even registered on my radar.

First of all, I have a dirty little habit that I try to keep secret. In the evenings, I like to kick off my shoes, kick back, and sneak Mr. B's iPad over to the sofa where I spend the next few hours surfing through Pinterest. I know. Some people look down on that and really, there is an awful lot of stuff about planning the perfect wedding, but other than that, I really enjoy those few hours of mind-numbing visual stimulation.

That is how I came across this little gem of a recipe. When I first saw it, I didn't even think of Mr. B; I thought of my father-in-law, Pop, who's not only a regular reader of my blog, but who has a wicked sweet tooth.

A few months ago he called me after discovering all of the little single-serve microwave mug cakes, so I've been trying to think of good little dessert recipes to help him satisfy his sweet tooth without too much effort on his part.

B-I-N-G-O--here it is Pop; enjoy.

September 26, 2013

Getting Chili

Spicy Turkey Chili
I could eat chili at least once a week. Seriously. I love it super spicy and topped with spoonfuls of chopped onion, shredded cheese, a handful of crumbled tortilla chips, and a big dollop of sour cream. Sort of like Frito pie without the Fritos.

Growing up, my mom made chili fairly often and it was one of my favorite meals. I know there are literally a million interpretations of chili--and I make a few others myself--but my loose interpretation of my mom's recipe is my idea of comfort food.  You can kick up the heat as much as you like, but this is pretty spicy already. So, grab a pot, crack a beer, and get chopping. Oh, and if you have any leftover, it makes for a great chili dog.

September 25, 2013

Come on Over to the Dark Side

Mini Double Chocolate Bundt Cakes
Is it possible to be too creative? I don't think so. Creativity is a force to be reckoned with, so when I found myself in what remains of my garden, staring down at the last zucchini of the season, I knew exactly what I was going to make.

Welcome to the Dark Side. Darth Vader clearly had his own concept of the realm when he said, "If you only knew the power of the dark side," but for me, that world exists in chocolate upon chocolate upon chocolate. Oh, and a bit of zucchini thrown in for good measure. Even big guys like Darth Vader need to eat their vegetables!

These mini chocolate zucchini Bundt cakes are based on an old school recipe that I've been making for years. Usually, I don't add the frosting, but this time, I figured, what the hell, why not really push the envelope? So, if you're sick of coloring between the lines, why not come on over to the Dark Side?

Just Passing Through

A few weeks ago, Mr. B told me that old friends of ours were passing through town. It had been over 4 years since I'd last seen them or heard from them, and I'm guessing from Mr. B's initial reaction of pleasure and surprise, that it had been that long for him as well.

While it may seem unusual that friends would allow so many years to pass by without so much as a word, it certainly didn't stop me from planning a delicious late summer afternoon lunch to serve poolside.

Besides being an especially warm day, it also happened that they were passing through at the end of a weekend trip in honor of their 10th anniversary. It was enough for me to pick flowers and pull out a table cloth, to set the table under the umbrella, to artfully arrange a platter of tomatoes, and to buy imported water in the dark blue glass bottles I like so much.

I decided to go Cali-Persian with my menu, but truthfully, by the time I left the kitchen, I think I had a few other cultures thrown in the mix. While Mr. B fired up the grill for my Middle Eastern inspired lamb and beef patties, we chatted it up over a platter of hummus and salty chunks of imported feta.

All in all, it was a fabulous afternoon and I sent them on their way with a jar of homemade harissa and a bar of good imported chocolate.

September 24, 2013

Shredding It

Okay. So, I like thumbing through the dictionary randomly flipping through the alphabet until I come to a letter that suits me, and then I just go to town, reading all about the nuances of words. While that may sound nerdy and strange--who cares?--I really like sifting through the urban and slang dictionaries, too.

Shredding it, is one of those urban phrases that started out with one meaning and then morphed into several others. Technically, when you're shredding it, it means you're rocking the skatepark, but it also means to be an incredibly good guitar player. I like the third meaning--to go frickin' berserk, off the wall, awesome and that's just what I did last week when I met up with a pork shoulder roast and my crockpot: I shredded it!

My rendition of BBQ pork was a real winner with Mr. B. I served it on toasted buns with a simple, crunchy slaw and a side of football for a perfect, messy, good time.

September 23, 2013

I Rise Again

Millie The Magnificent
I've always felt a kinship for the Phoenix of Greek mythology. According to legend, the Phoenix would rise up from the ashes of its predecessor, regenerating into a new being. I like the image of rising from the ashes, lessons learned, wisdom gained, and moving into a new life.

I'd forgotten all about the Phoenix until this past weekend when I was cleaning out my refrigerator. Actually, I hadn't forgotten about the Phoenix--I just hadn't thought about it in a really long time. That is until I reached into the very back of the refrigerator, on the very bottom shelf, way back in the far corner, hidden away under the cheese bin and I saw the crumpled brown paper lunch bag.

It was Millie--my sourdough starter from way back last November when I was furiously working on an article about sourdough starters. Millie wasn't my first try, in fact, I'd gone through the heartbreak of several failed starters before Millie sprang, quite unexpectedly, to life one gray winter morning. Immediately, I knew she was different; she was fierce and steady and her aroma was the sweet fruity smell of peaches just a shade too ripe.

Millie did more for me than just teach me the ins and outs of lactic fermentation. There were a few days when I let Millie languish between feedings and just when I was certain that she was done, having died from my neglect, she'd rise up stronger than ever.

Millie and I spent a season baking bread. Everyday at the same time, I'd give Millie her feeding and then take my share of her sweet yeasty ferment for a loaf of bread. Every afternoon I'd turn on the oven and every night, Mr. B and I would butter thick slices to go along with our dinner.

My whole house smelled of yeast--even the curtains smelled as if they had been hanging in a bakery. Then, the inevitable happened--spring arrived. Over a few weeks, it grew far too warm to bake bread, so I gave Millie one last feeding, slid her jar into a paper lunch bag, and tucked her into the depths of the refrigerator.

Over the course of the ensuing months, I thought about her and promised myself to check on her, but, alas, I never did and there she stayed, forgotten all of these long months until this past Saturday when my hand ever so gently passed alongside her crumpled bag.

September 18, 2013

Chop Chop

Tuscan Inspired Chops
The weather is just beginning to change ever so slightly. It seems that each day brings a more autumnal feel to life and in California that means it's time to stop the summer grilling and get right into the fall grilling.

I may have mentioned that Mr. B likes pork. If I haven't, then I want to tell you that Mr. B likes pork. Whenever it's on the menu, his mood swings right on in to happy territory.

Anyhow, while I love grilled pork chops year round, a new season means, well, new seasoning. For fall, I like to add some rosemary and garlic, fresh ground pepper, a pinch of red pepper, and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. Served with grilled lemons, these chops could make anyone happy.

September 16, 2013

Mr. B's Big Butters

White Beans with Pickle Pork
Mondays in New Orleans are all about red beans. If you work anywhere--hospitals, school, hotel--where there's an employee meal, you're going to find yourself staring smack at a big plate of red beans and rice. This tradition goes way back in time to when Mondays were wash days, so women had too much to do without having to think about cooking dinner, too. Red beans go on the stove in the morning and cook all day and honestly, nothing smells better.

Now that you know a little about red beans, let me introduce you to the other beans of New Orleans--white beans. White beans are actually Lima beans, cooked just like red beans, except after hours on the stove, they're so soft and buttery that they also go by another name--butter beans.

While Mr. B loves a big pot of red beans, nothing gets his heart to fluttering like a pot of butter beans. So, you can image his excitement when the postman arrived with a huge heavy box bearing a New Orleans post mark. I told him that I had ordered a surprise, but nothing prepared him for opening the package to find 16 pounds of assorted beans from our beloved Camellia Beans company. Truthfully, if you're going to make beans, there's no other brand.

I decided to make a pot last Monday and I used Mr. B's homemade pickle pork to make it extra special. If you can't find any pickle pork, then use a ham bone and some ham scraps.

September 09, 2013

Get Your Beta Carotene

Some vegetables are the little black dresses of the crisper. For instance, carrots are the perfect everyday casual accompaniment to a sandwich, but they can also get  gussied up and go fancy with a buttery bath and a simple toss in of slivered almonds and minced chives. Carrots also have a sultry side, especially when exotically spiced and topped with finely shredded mint and cilantro.

I know there's only a small percentage of the population that has an unreasonable fascination with chilled soups and I happily count myself as one of the few. This isn't a genetically shared trait. My family never served chilled soups and in fact, if it was ever suggested, they would have surely cringed.

Somewhere along the line, I was introduced to chilled soup. It was the '80s and everyone was living like there was no tomorrow. I'd gone to a party and before I knew it, someone was passing a tray lined with little miniature cups of chilled vichyssoise. All it took was one sip and I was hooked. I spent my 20s wandering upscale restaurants, always on the lookout for something to satisfy my craving.

Eventually, through trial and error, I learned to make my own chilled soups. This one is a keeper. It's perfectly spiced, very exotic, and just the thing for a hot afternoon.

September 05, 2013

Freshly Plucked

Heirloom Tomatoes with Shallots, Herbs, and Feta
I'm generally not one to walk around espousing conspiracy theories, but my garden has been so sadly unproductive this year that I'm blaming it on my water company. I mean really, the weather's been pretty divine, I have a new irrigation system hooked up, and I purchased high quality plants. Is it a mere coincidence that a dismal lack of rainfall and a unproductive garden could happen in the same year?

Of course, if my garden were dependent on rainfall, I'd see the connection. But our rainy season (or lack of) ends by March, so I'm more inclined to think that the water company might be adding all sorts of things to the mix to improve the water, just not necessarily for the plants.

In spite of all the trouble and low production, I managed to pluck a few big, beautiful heirlooms this past weekend, just in time for a poolside luncheon with friends. I love the heirlooms because they never disappoint with their unique characteristics (that's a black tomato on the plate), whether in color or shape or taste.

I've grown weary of the common basil and tomatoes, so I decided to venture into new territory and top these delectable wonders with a healthy handful of chopped mint and cilantro. Add a really good fruity balsamic, some salty feta and it was so good that I almost forgot about my conspiracy theory.

But still, I think they're up to something at the water plant...

September 03, 2013


Mr. B has a marked proclivity for pork and while he much prefers it when I bread and fry thick chops, he's never disappointed when I make my famous fennel crusted pork roast.

This one is simple to do and takes very little time to prepare. I like to brine my loin overnight for extra juiciness, but it's not necessary. This is best made with a lean pork roast (the big fat loins that you can buy in one 10-12 piece), but I'm guessing that it would be just as delicious with a more fatty cut.

One thing is for sure, don't scrimp on the fennel--it's what makes the dish. And while I waffle back and forth between chutney and apricot jam, I think I favor the apricot (or peach) jam. Leftovers are divine thinly sliced, topped with Swiss cheese and piled between pieces of buttered sourdough and grilled until golden.