Monday, November 30, 2009

Thankful - Cranberry Pecan Cake

My one year old niece has just recently learned how to say my name. She omits the "E" at the beginning, so it's just "Lissa," but it's the best sound. I couldn't hear it enough. She has about a billion nicknames herself already. We traded them back and forth over the holiday, a sort of call and repeat. Tonight I got to hear it again over the phone. She sounded so happy.

Leaving home was difficult, and I'm having a hard time being back. It's hard to be away from my family, and I wish I could still be home with them all. This time of year makes me miss them all the more, and this year, more than ever, I realize just how thankful I am for them all.

I didn't make this cake for Thanksgiving. I made a pear and almond tart instead that will soon be making an appearance here. This cake is one everyone should have in their repertoire. Calling it a cake isn't totally accurate. It's a bit of a cross between a cake and a tart, maybe even a bread depending on what you cook it in. It's tart, just a bit sweet, spectacular right out of the oven and it tastes like the holidays. I've even had it requested as a birthday cake before. It's one of my favorites, and it's so easy. Just toss all the ingredients together and throw it in the oven. I like to use fresh cranberries, but frozen will work nicely.

Cranberry Pecan Cake

1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter melted, with a bit extra for the pan
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup flour
2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen)
raw sugar for topping
zest of 1 orange
whipped cream

Pre-heat oven to 375. Combine pecans through the cranberries in a large mixing bowl. Brush pan with butter. Scoop mixture into a pie pan, tart pan or small baking dish. Bake 30-40 minutes, until knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool. Top with orange zest and raw sugar. Serve with whipped cream. Also delicious for breakfast.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

With a Twist - Sauted Brussels Sprouts with Pumpkin Seeds & Lime

A pumpkin pie and a pear and almond tart in the oven, a turkey brined in apple cider, green beans with gremolata, chanterelle mushrooms in butter and white wine, cranberry relish, rolls, mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts in lime with pumpkin seeds.

Actually, that last one was Thursday night's dinner. My friend Diana had mentioned that her fiance had a killer sprout recipe. I'm not one to pass up a killer recipe of any kind, especially not when it involves those delightful little cabbages. Hell to the yes, send it on!

And it was easy as pie. Some brussels sprouts sauteed in olive oil, a little salt and pepper, squeeze some lime on it and you're done! Having been won over last month by brussels sprouts sauteed and then dressed with cream and toasted pine nuts, I knew this could be a winner. But I thought it needed a little something. Enter the toasted pumpkin seeds. Pepitas, a perfect Mexican twist that goes perfectly with the lime.

To be honest, it's not even a recipe. Roughly chop the sprouts, saute them over medium to medium high with a good glug of olive oil, season with salt, pepper and lime, toast some pumpkin seeds and toss them in with the sprouts. That's it. It couldn't be simpler. And when you have some crazy complicated turkey recipe, desserts or whatever you might be serving tomorrow, it's not a bad idea to have at least one dish that is perfect in simplicity. Happy Thanksgiving to you, wherever you are. I hope the food is abundant and delicious, and that the company is just as good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Before Today - Persimmon Jam

Recently a co-worker of mine mentioned that she had a tree full of persimmons. Trouble was, the tree hangs over her neighbors yard and the fruit inevitably ends up on the wrong side of the fence. She said I was welcome to the persimmons if I brought an apple picker and was able to get to them. I called Leah, and we headed over this morning, apple picker in tow.

At this point I should mention one tiny detail. I don't actually like persimmons. Well, actually, that's not quite correct, I didn't like persimmons before, before today that is. Before today, I'd only ever had them in cookies or in persimmon pudding, neither of which were favorites of mine. The trouble is, persimmons are extremely hard to ignore at this time of year. They seem to be everywhere. It seems there's at least one persimmon tree in everyone's yard, heavy and practically groaning with fruit. The farmer's market is overrun with them. And the thing is, they're so beautiful. You can't help but admire such a exotic looking fruit. I only wished they tasted as good to me as they looked.

My co-worker mentioned she was going to try to make a chutney with them, and on the drive back home I pondered what to do with mine. "Jam!" Leah said.

A good idea. And so that's exactly what I did.

I cut off the tops of each fruit, peeled them, chopped them and removed the cores. I tasted one of the pieces raw, skeptically. No good. Too sweet and just not much going on. I dumped them into a saucepan with some sugar and lemon juice, and turned up the heat. Five minutes later a delicious smell permeated my apartment, and I knew I had something good going on in that pan. Some kind of magical alchemy had occurred and the persimmons had been transformed into something sweet, tart and slightly early. The taste reminded me of fresh apricots. Once the jam was finished, I sterilized a couple jars, ladled in the jam and sealed the jars.

It was so easy to make, I even set aside a couple jars for friends, and one jar will come with me to Portland for Thanksgiving, to be served alongside some cheeses, or to be spread on toast the morning after. But, the best part is now knowing what to do with that gorgeous orange fruit.

Persimmon Jam
makes 2 small jars

5-7 Fuyu persimmons
1/3 cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Peel persimmons, remove top and cores. Chop into small pieces. Put persimmons into a medium saucepan with sugar and lemon juice. Turn heat to medium and cook, string occasionally for 25 minutes, until fruit has broken down. Ladle into jars. If you decide not to seal the jars, jam will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Good Intentions - Mediterranean Cocktail

I've had the same hand-me-down coffee maker since my Junior Year of college. It's a Mr. Coffee, and it's served me well throughout the years. It has one of those timers that you can set, so that lo and behold, your coffee is your alarm-clock. I love that coffee maker. It has been a trusty and true companion.

Now, admittedly, it's been a little neglected lately. I hadn't given it a good and thorough cleaning in quite awhile, and recently someone mentioned that it might be time to do that.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Where have I heard that before?

I cleaned it. Thoroughly. It is now thoroughly broken.

I am now making my morning coffee with teapot and sieve.

I wish I hadn't cleaned the damn thing so "thoroughly".

You know which saying I like better than the "road to hell one?" The one that goes, "it's cocktail hour somewhere in the world." I say, it's high time for cocktail hour.

When I lived in Ashland, my favorite restaurant was called Pilaf. It was a colorful place with a Mediterranean menu, oilcloth tablecloths and brightly painted walls. It had the best polenta fries, the best falafel, baba ganosh and mango mousse I'd ever had. It was the first place friends would mention when the came to visit, "Can we eat at Pilaf today?" And I was always happy to oblige. They even provided the feast for my graduation party (complete with individual mango mousse's.) One of my favorite things on the menu was the Mediterranean Cooler, a drink made of lemon, lime, sour cherry syrup and rosewater. I'd stop at Pilaf on the way to the Park in the afternoon on a hot day to pick one up and take it with me. It's such a refreshing and delicious drink. And I thought to myself, as I often do, this would go quite well with gin.

So here's my take on a Mediterranean Cocktail. And oh man, is it good! Careful with the rosewater, it's very floral and full of perfume, so just start with a drop or two. To find rosewater and sour cherry syrup, check your local Middle Eastern Market.

The Mediterranean Cocktail
serves 2

juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lime
2 shots sparkling water (you can use still if you like)
2 shots Hendricks Gin (or whatever gin you prefer)
2 tsp sour cherry syrup
2 tsp sugar
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. rosewater (start with just a little and add more if you like)
4-5 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients (except for the sparkling water if you use sparkling instead of still!) in a cocktail shaker. Shake till cold. Pour into two chilled glasses, top off with sparking water (again, if you used it) and serve!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Makes Sense - Curried Udon Noodles

At least cooking makes sense. At least I know that if I put coconut, ginger, lemongrass and lime together, I'll end up with something I like. I appreciate the certainty of that, when nothing else makes sense and when every other small task seems so pointless and drab, at least there's that.

When disappointment strikes it starts in physicality. I feel heavy and tired, quiet and at a loss for words. I go a bit numb and the world around me starts to blur. There's really nothing to do but sit with it for awhile, to piece through and reflect and regroup as best you can. Everyone needs their own time to deal with it, to mourn and recover, and hopefully when you emerge from that place of recovery, you come out of it with new ideas and realizations about where you're headed and what the opportunities are.

And hopefully by then you've also done several loads of laundry, cleaned the house, watched some sappy movies and worked up a couple of killer recipes.

I've only crossed two of those things off the list so far, care to guess which ones?

It irks me to no end that I can't get a decent picture now that it gets dark so early. Please forgive the photos and the insufficient lighting. Please know that, pictures aside, this is really a great dish. So satisfying and delicious. Everything I like about a Thai style soup; coconut, lime, lemongrass and ginger thrown together with crisp stir-fried vegetables and thick udon noodles. And the best part? It's meant to be slurped up out a big bowl. If you upped the amount of coconut milk and lime, it could be a soup, but I wanted it to be a saucy noodle dish. So, so good.

Curried Udon Noodles

1 tbsp peanut oil
12 ounces fresh udon noodles (or 2 single serving packages)
1/2 package extra firm tofu, cut into cubes
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2 baby bok choy, ends trimmed off and discarded, cut lengthwise into ribbons
1/2 cup snow peas
1/3 cup frozen shelled edamame
1/3 cup fresh mushrooms (I used oyster mushrooms) coarsely chopped
4 green onions, chopped diagonally

For the Curry Sauce -
1 cup coconut milk
3 stalks lemongrass
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 limes
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp curry powder
salt to taste

Trim the stalks of the lemongrass and bruise to release the oils. Remove the outer stalks from the inner core. Mince the core and set aside (should provide about 1 tsp). Cut the stalks in half and place in a saucepan with the fish sauce, juice of 2 limes and the lime rinds. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, curry, minced lemongrass core, and sugar. Continue to cook while stirring until the mixture is yellow. Remove from heat and salt to taste, set aside.

Heat the peanut oil in a saute pan over medium heat, and bring a pot of water to boil. Add the tofu and stir fry until slightly browned. Add the carrots and mushrooms, stir for a minute more. Next, add bell pepper, edamame and snow peas. Saute until the vegetables are tender and then add bok choy and green onions. Turn off the heat and stir until the bok choy is wilted.

While stir-frying vegetable, cook the udon noodles for about 3 minutes (or according to package directions). Toss noodles in a large bowl with the vegetables, tofu and curried coconut sauce. Salt to taste and serve while warm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nutella Cake Featured on TheKitchn!

It's the cake that refuses to be ignored, and it's back up on thekitchen!

This is a recipe that I found from Nigella Lawson, and it's more than deserving of a place on your Holiday Table. Check out the recipe here and visit the post on thekitchen here!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'd say this has been a tough week, but it's only Monday. I'd say it's been a tough month, but we're hardly halfway through it. I guess it's just more of a tough time in general.

It's hard to know when to walk away from something you've put time and effort into. Be it a job, a relationship or any life event. It's hard to accept the fact that you've given so much energy and time and still things didn't work out as you'd hoped, and now it's time to move on. How do you do that without regret? How do you feel like your time wasn't completely wasted, and that it was all for nothing?

Those are the times when people like to say things like, "You learned something from all this," or "You do the most growing in times of heartache and change." You hear those kinds of things a lot. And you want to believe it. That you've learned your lesson, that you've gained from the experience and become a better person, but underneath it all, you can't help feeling like you've failed at something.

And people will then say, "Follow your heart. Trust your instincts." And I sometimes wonder what that means, or why if I do understand, it's usually the hardest path to take.

If I step back and think about it all in terms of years and not days and hours, I know that, eventually, it won't be about the little things that carry so much weight in this particular moment in time. Eventually, it won't be about what was said and done, it will be about my own response to all of it. What I did with it and where I chose to go from there.

Because if you didn't learn your lesson the first time, it will come back to haunt you, one way or another in the next job you take, in the next person you love. Those issues will be back, and you'll have nothing but the knowledge that until you make the right choice, you haven't gained anything. Even though it's hard, even though it's scary to feel like you've failed at something again, it has to be better to move forward, to not keep putting things off and living your life at a standstill. Because that would be the real failure. To know things need to change, to know what you need to do and not do it. Like living your life in-between.

And maybe it takes a few times around to really learn your lessons. But once it's done, you won't forget. And when it comes around again you can smile with the recognition and the knowledge that you're done with that one, and you'll hopefully meet the next challenge head on, learning, however hard it may be, not to always run from the fear and the pain, but to sometimes accept it as an opportunity, and to be the person in that time that you'd like to remember and appreciate years later. That's the opportunity. To become the person you want to be in that situation. Even when it's hard. Especially then.

It's a hard time. But I have and will have even more perspective. And cookie dough. And I will always share, both the cookies, and also, what I know to be true now.

This is the second installment in the quest to find the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe. So far, after much debate, this seems to have beat out the classic recipe for several of my friends. It's not as sweet as the classic, leaving room to really taste and appreciate the two different kinds of chocolate used. Make of that what you will, and make your own decision. I'm reserving mine until the end. Two more recipes to go!

Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies
from the Ad Hoc Cookbook
makes about 30 3-inch cookies

2 1/4 cups plus 1 tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
5 ounces 55% chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (about 1 1/4 cups)
5 ounces 70 to 72% chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 lb (2 sticks) cold butter cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar, preferably molasses sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Position the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat to 350. Use a silpat, or line a baking sheet with parchment.

Sift the flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl, stir in salt. Put the chips in a fine-mesh strainer and shake to remove any of the chocolate "dust" (small fragments).

In a mixing bowl, beat half the butter with a hand held mixer (or kitchen aid) on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter, and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in the chocolate.

Fold the dough with a spatula to be sure the chocolate is evenly incorporated. At this point, you can shape the dough into cookies and either refrigerate (well wrapped) for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 weeks. Each cookie should be about 2 tbsp in size. Arrange 8 cookies on each pan leaving about 2 inches of space in between as the dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes or until the tops are no longer shiny, switching the position and rotating the pans halfway through baking.

Cool the cookies on the pans on racks for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer the cookies just to racks to cook completely.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Familiar Table - Rose's Baked Artichoke Hearts

I have trouble being away from my family on the holidays. I'm pretty spoiled as I've only had to do it a few times in my life. The most recent being a Thanksgiving a couple years back in Ashland with Lauren. We decided to create a feast for just the two of us. Everything from a giant turkey to the green beans, cranberry relish and mashed potatoes to Lauren's Grandmother's famous Ambrosia Salad (the recipe for that involved a box of Dream Whip and terrified me immensely, I shouldn't have been frightened, it was delicious!) We were the two obnoxious last minute shoppers in the grocery store that morning, buying the very last turkey. The process of making said feast ended up including a batch of brandied apple cider and a large bottle of red wine. When we finally took our first ever turkey out of the oven after a lot of "how do we do this?", "is it ready yet" and "is the thing popped out? I don't think it's done till the thing's popped out" the turkey had turned out beautifully. When we finally had everything on the table we were exhausted, full from snacking on cheese and tasting everything throughout the day. We were also very, very tipsy.

We took small bites of each dish, packed the rest up for leftovers and promptly feel asleep. So much for that. It was all delicious, but I gained a certain respect for people who do most of the cooking on Thanksgiving. After spending the entire day in the kitchen, for some reason you can really lose your appetite. I suppose brandy and red wine don't help.

Fortunately, I'll be in Portland with my family this Thanksgiving. A last minute change in plans. It's going to be a full house, with eight, count 'em, eight of my nieces and nephews running around. My Sister's my Mother and I will combine efforts and ovens and turn out the very best buttery Oregon Chantrelle Mushrooms, bright and verdant green beans with white wine and garlic, gingery cranberry relish, mocha pecan pies, pumpkin pies and fluffy rolls, and of course, a huge golden turkey, brined for days and stuffed with citrus.

I'm hoping to play some part in the mashed potatoes process. My Sister and I have a battle every year over the potato issue. She likes to spice things up, add some herbs and garlic. While at any other time of year that might be appropriate, I am firmly in the classic mashed potatoes camp at Thanksgiving. Keep your garlic and rosemary out of there! I like them just the way they are.

There's one dish that I'm particularly excited about. These Baked Artichokes. It's a recipe my sister Erika found a couple years ago in a Martha Stewart Magazine that featured their readers favorite family recipes. It is to die for. Normally nothing can replace my love of mashed potatoes. They're the first things I go looking for around midnight after the big meal, and they constitute breakfast for the next several days. But once these artichokes came around, they took an equal piece of my heart, and now make up half of my Thanksgiving Breakfast Bowl.

It really couldn't be simpler. Frozen artichoke hearts (which can be found at Trader Joe's and other stores) bread crumbs, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, herbs, lemon juice and olive oil. And as many simple dishes are, mysteriously delicious. It's just the right combination, and it will be one of the first dishes on your Thanksgiving Table to also, mysteriously, disappear.

Rose's Baked Artichoke Hearts

from Martha Stewart Living
Serves 8

1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh curly leaf parsley
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1/4 cup)
2 ounces Pecorino Romano, grated (1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs such as thyme, oregano, and savory, or Italian seasoning blend
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 packages (9 ounces each) frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for baking dishes
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 garlic cloves, minced (2 teaspoons)
Preheat the oven to 325. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, cheese, herbs and salt in a bowl and season with pepper.

Brush the insides of two 9 1/2-inch ceramic baking dishes or pie pans (or 1 9 by 13 glass baking dish) with olive oil. Divide the artichoke hearts between the dishes and spread into a single layer.

Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over artichokes, pressing down to push into the cracks. Tap bottom of dishes on the counter to settle the mixture.

Whisk oil, lemon juice, zest and garlic in a small bowl. Drizzle the dressing evenly over the breadcrumb topping. Cover dishes with parchment, then foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Increase the heat to 375, uncover and bake until breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Finally - Sourdough Bread

Is there anything better than the smell of fresh baked bread? Specifically, freshly baked sourdough bread? No. I think not. This is one of those smells that immediately transports me to my childhood. Actually, it transports me to Buzz's Crabs in Redding, California. I'd go there often with my Mother when she picked up fresh seafood. In addition to the many tanks of live crabs they had fresh sourdough bread, which they took out of the oven a couple times a day. Crusty on the outside, steaming hot and soft on the inside. We'd grab a loaf and tear off chunks of it to snack on the drive home. The smell was always too much to even consider resisting. It's a wonder there was ever any left over for dinner. I loved that ritual, and that's still how I prefer to eat my bread. Torn off in chunks from the freshly baked loaf.

Bread is always best right out of the oven, and I'm still not over the giddy feeling of actually baking it myself, without the aid of a bread maker. My dutch oven has been working overtime for this project. It was finally time to put my sourdough starter to use. It had been brewing for five days and it definitely smelled like sourdough, but the baking was the true test. While the entire process took several days to complete, the results were worth it, and if I keep feeding the sourdough starter, it will keep for weeks. More bread for everyone!

Sourdough Bread
adapted from King Arthur's Flour recipe
makes 1 loaf

1/2 cup sourdough starter
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/8 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon sour salt (citric acid)

Combine the starter, water and half of the flour. Beat together until smooth. Cover and let rest at room temp for about 4 hours. Then refrigerate overnight for about 12 hours. When the dough is ready, combine the rest of the flour and the other ingredients and knead together to form a smooth dough. Put the dough in a lightly oiled dutch oven or loaf pan and allow the dough to rise once more until it's smoothed out in texture and risen a bit, about 2-4 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425. Spray the loaves with lukewarm water and make two deep horizontal slashes with a serrated bread knife in the top of the loaf. Bake the bread 25-30 minutes until it's a deep golden brown. Remove and let cool on a rack.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Email Info

Hi All,

Several people have let me know that they're unable to comment on this blog. While I'm not sure why that's the case, I have added an email link on the sidebar to help remedy the situation. So if you have a question, a comment a recipe suggestion or would rather converse in private, just go ahead and email me. I promise to try and return all emails in a timely fashion. Thanks! Carry on.


Skeptic - Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry with Tangerines & Chili Sauce

Now that the show is open I'm getting back in the swing of things with a more regular schedule. More evenings off means more time to cook and get together with friends. You'd hardly know that based of the infrequency of my posting here. I'll do my best in the coming weeks to post more often. It's such a relief to be able to have the time to get back in the kitchen and to try new recipes that require more than 10-20 minutes. Like being able to take a long breath again, to just relax and enjoy the process. It's amazing how cooking has become such a stress-reducer for me. I sometimes wonder if it would stay that way if I actually did it for a living. Would I enjoy it as much? Would I come to resent it? Or would it just continue to make me happy? Cooking and sharing with others. I love both the familiarity and the experimentation, the endless combination and new riffs. Seeing a new technique or coming across a pairing I'd never even considered, those things now seem to jump off a page or website like an exclamation mark.

This is one of those dishes that just struck me as so weird and interesting while also quick and simple, I really couldn't pass it up. It's unique in that you saute the tangerines peel and all. You eat it that way as well. Once they hit the heat, the peels become tender and less bitter. Daniel looked at me with a healthy amount of skepticism once he saw the recipe I had stealthily tried to shield from his prying eyes. He voiced his concern and then sat back, waiting to be proven right. In the end, he ate both his words and skepticism. Both he and his roommate pronounced the dish a winner. Though I did notice that his tangerine peels remained untouched. I thought they were great.

A word of caution, I couldn't find sweet chili sauce. I got plain old chili sauce instead, and it made a huge difference in the spice level. Be sure to taste it before you combine it so you can determine your own comfort zone with the spice. While Daniel loved it, I had tears streaming down my face. Very tasty, but VERY spicy, and I didn't even use the whole 1/4 cup it called for.

Pork Tenderloin Stir-Fry with Tangerines & Chili Sauce
from Bon Appetit, November 2009
serves 4

1 1/4 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick rounds, the sliced into 1/2 inch strips
1 tbsp cornstarch
salt & pepper for seasoning
2 tbsp sesame oil, divided
1 tbsp peeled & minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 small unpeeled tangerines, cut into 3/4 inch slices (keep peel on)
1/4 cup sweet asian chili sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp chinese five-spice powder
6 baby bok choy, ends trimmed and discarded, sliced crosswise into 1 inch ribbons
5 green onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

Toss the pork tenderloin strips with salt & pepper for seasoning, add the conrstarch and toss to coat. Heat 1 tbsp sesame oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic, saute for 30 seconds. Add the pork and stir fry till pork starts to brown and is almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add tangerines and cook while tossing about 30 seconds, then add chili sauce, five-spice powder and soy sauce. Toss to coat. Boil until sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Add remaining sesame oil, bok choy and half the green onions. Stir fry until bok choy is wilted, about 1-2 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to a serving platter and top with the remaining green onions. Serve over rice.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Feeling Fall - Homemade Ricotta on Toast with Persimmon, Hazelnuts & Honey

As much as I love my Sunday Farmer's Market, it's not a one stop shop kind of place. Today I needed to stock up on some basic pantry staples, and after enjoying sleeping in for the first time in recent memory, it was a bit too late to hit the market. I decided Berkeley Bowl would be my best bet for the basics and good produce. Berkeley Bowl is something of a legend in the Bay Area. As the name suggests, it used to be a bowling alley, now it's aisles are stocked with gorgeous produce and hard to find spices, cheeses and other items. A word of caution, however, Berkeley Bowl is an enter at your own risk kind of place. Once you're in, it's every man for himself. The lines are ridiculously long and every Berkeley hippie with dreds and a patchouli fetish is wielding a shopping cart and not afraid to run over your foot or ram you with it. It can be an unpleasant experience, and it can take forever, but mostly, the goods are worth it.

Among the items in my basket were a package of cheesecloth and a large glass bottle of Strauss Family Creamery Whole Milk. Strauss milk is a luxury item in my house, but today I was making my first attempt at homemade ricotta, so I wanted to use the best ingredients possible. I grabbed a couple of beautiful flaming orange fuyu persimmons as well.

The ricotta couldn't have been easier to make. I couldn't believe how quickly it came together, and with only three ingredients no less. So much tastier than buying a carton from the store. I'm so excited with the results. I spread it on a slice of sourdough I'd baked the day before, added some toasted hazelnuts, a couple slices of persimmon and drizzled some honey over that. A perfect autumn breakfast.

Ricotta and instructions have been all over the blogosphere lately, but I'm adding mine to the pile. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Go ahead, give it a try!

Homemade Ricotta
adapted from Bon Appetit
makes about 1 cup

4 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Line a colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth. Heat milk and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Stir in the lemon juice. Curds will start to form, continue to simmer for 1-2 minutes. Next, using a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove the curds from the liquid, and transfer to a cheesecloth lined colander. Let the cheese drain for about 1 minutes. Don't drain it for any longer than that, or your cheese will be too dry. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Keep chilled. Cheese will keep 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rushing - Linguine with Tuna, Cherry Tomatoes & Herbs

It took about 20 minutes to sneak a little cooking into the schedule tonight. Well, hardly cooking. Opening a can, boiling some water for pasta, throwing some things into a saute pan and running my knife through a handful of herbs. But it felt so good. I'm so excited to have some time this weekend to finally delve into my new Ad Hoc cookbook. I woke up the other morning to the sounds of "mmmm...." coming from the chair Daniel occupied after getting up early for coffee. He was thumbing through the pages and lingering on the photographs. The leek bread pudding seemed to catch his eye. I myself still have my heart set on the chocolate chip cookie recipe.

So after 20 minutes of "cooking" tonight, and 10 minutes of shoving it into my mouth, I rushed off to the theatre. Tonight was our first night in front of an audience. It was an impressive crowd. It's always a bit of a revelation to see what happens to a show once it has an audience. To find the laughs and feel the energy. As a cast, we were relieved to finally feel what it was like with this show. To hear the first collective laugh is always a bit of a rush, not to mention totally addictive.

So, just two more nights of rushed dinners and leftover lunches for now. Thanks to my friend Denise in Ireland (and Happy Anniversary by the way!) for the Monkfish recipe suggestion, which I'm dying to try. And as I said, suggestions are welcome! This show runs for five more weeks and this girl needs ideas!

This is a great, quick recipe. Don't skimp on the herbs, there should be a ton. They really brighten the flavor of this dish.

Linguine with Tuna, Cherry Tomatoes & Herbs

1/2 lb linguine, cooked according to package directions
1 can Italian tuna packed in olive oil (the quality of tuna makes a huge difference in this recipe, so spring for the good stuff!)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped mint
1/3 cup chopped basil
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Parmesan for serving
salt and pepper to taste

Boil water and cook the pasta. Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Saute the shallots until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and saute a minute more. Add tuna and tomatoes, turn up the heat and saute about 3-4 minutes more. Add pasta to the tuna mixture and toss with herbs, vinegar and salt and pepper. Serve with Parmesan.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Going Up - Ginger Chicken Soup

As an actor onstage, the absolute worst thing that can happen to you is to either miss your cue or "go up" on your lines, meaning to forget them completely. There is nothing more terrifying than this prospect. It strikes fear in the heart of every actor, and each can give you their own personal horror story of when their number was up. How long those seconds seemed to stretch out across time, how terrified their co-actor looked across stage realizing what was happening and being unable to help them through it. How quiet the audience got, and seriously, how those 10 seconds seemed like hours.

Tonight, my number was up. Luckily it was a dress rehearsal and there were only a few donors in the audience, but nonetheless, it was certainly the worst bout of forgetfulness I've ever had onstage, and it was simultaneously mortifying, frustrating and terrifying. There were no words, none, just some sputtering and gasping, "" and then there was silence. When the words came, they were not the lines I should have been speaking. I simply couldn't get back on track. This went on for about 30 seconds. Or basically eternity. Luckily my fellow actor was able to step up quicker than I was. She saved the scene.

I've never been so glad to get off stage. Not even when I had the stomach flu during a high school musical. Buckets waiting in the wings and all.

Generally you have to have at least one bad dress rehearsal to feel really good about a show. I don't know why, it's one of those old theatre superstitions. Let's hope to god this will do it for me. Because that sucked.

So I came home and made comfort food. Ginger Chicken Soup and Sourdough Bread. I wanted something homey, but with a fragrant twist. When I couldn't find just the right recipe, I improvised. I have to say, I'm pretty excited about the results.

Hey, if I can't improvise on stage, at least I can do it in the kitchen.

Ginger Chicken Soup

adapted from Real Simple

2 tbsp olive oil
1 5-inch piece fresh ginger, minced (3 tablespoons)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, chopped
1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped
1 medium turnip, peeled and chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 lb fingerling potatoes
2 32-ounce boxes low-sodium chicken broth (8 cups)
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tsp hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 rotisserie chicken, meat shredded (2 cups)
1/3 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
3 scallions, trimmed and sliced

In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the parsnips, turnip, carrots, potatoes, broth, and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the chicken, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the edamame and scallions, and let sit, covered, for 1 minute.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All's Quiet...

It's been very quiet in here lately. No one is at home. Well, not at home by a decent hour that is. The truth is, I'm hardly cooking at all. While I do have my first batch of sourdough bread nearly ready to go, I can't seem to keep anything else together. I went to the store tonight, planning on getting all the ingredients for a chicken soup with ginger to make late tomorrow night. I came back with about half of what I needed. The necessary chicken broth and celery (among other things) never even made it into the cart. I'm a scatterbrained mess who luckily has had the good sense to make friends with people who can cook, and are happily willing to do so (especially when it's Mad Men night) thanks Amber!

This week, it will continue to be quiet. My show opens on Friday and I'll be at the theatre late every night until Sunday. In the meantime, I did a very short piece for Alameda Magazine on St. George Spirits and Hangar One Vodka. You can read it here. If you haven't taken the tour there yet, I highly recommend it.

And since I have very little of either brain or will power, I would happily take any and all recommendations for extremely quick and easy late night meals. Preferably something portable to take with me to rehearsal. There are only so many turkey and PB&J sandwiches a girl can take in one week. Thoughts? Indulge me.