Tag Archives: food

I Miss You / I Miss Your Onion Dip

Everyone was talking about what they were cooking and eating for the Superbowl, our last sports hurrah until Spring Training starts in a few months.  It started me thinking about all the fun parties my family used to have for the Superbowl and how much I miss those days.

My mom would have a dichotomous party at her fabulous Russian Hill apartment, the 49ers hopefully would be one of the contenders, we wore our colors and sipped Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and ate her lavish spread of appetizers and something luxurious to fill in the corners, like lasagna and her Boston cream pie.  Friends from the choir, our blended family, and other family friends would join the sports fanatic side of the party rooting for the teams, while other friends (big wigs in advertising) would root for their commercials and discuss that side of the Superbowl experience.  It was so funny to hear people say, “Shhh! The commercials are on!”

My dear sister would often make her onion dip for picnics and football game watching parties to eat with the ubiquitous ridged potato chips.  It’s a marvelous concoction with the usual ingredients (sour cream and onion soup mix) but it had a special, wonderful nuance to it.  She shared with me one day that it contained a small shot of very fine gin, now isn’t that a brilliant idea? Who would have thought, but it really made for the most perfect onion dip.

I always had sort of an Auntie Mame fantasy of my sister discovering this wonderful addition – her sipping an elegant martini in her tiny SF kitchen while adding this and that to the dip, and then…….

Hmmm, perhaps a touch of dill, a little more cracked black pepper, some onion powder, oooops! There goes the martini!  (pause to taste….)  ((big grin))

I am sure it really was nothing of the sort but you know, it’s a fun “movie” to run in my head and I know she would laugh at it.

My family has moved away and life’s changes has made our getting together a rare experience.  As I had the Superbowl on and was alone eating store-bought salsa and waiting for my humble vegetable soup to cook when I had an epiphany that I missed my sister’s onion dip, and I miss her even more.

Victory Blackberry Pie

I made a victory pie, a blackberry pie to enjoy on Superbowl Sunday. Sadly the 49ers lost (even though they shouldn’t have but I don’t want to get into *that*) the pie was still a win because it was my own victory.

I have long had an irrational fear of pie crust, any kind of rolled dough just doesn’t work for me. I never get the consistency of the dough right, it sticks, it rips and tears, it bakes up wrong, it tastes wrong or pasty, it’s just stupid and scary. For years I have struggled with my hot, not made for pastry, hands and have grumpily given up to buying premade pie crusts and hated them.

Meanwhile my mOm bangs out perfect pie crusts with her elegant, cool hands like she’s making a bed, smoothing out the pastry with effortless strokes. I have watched her and helped her year after year and I’m still a failure.

Then a great lady in town started her handheld pie business. Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies delivered her mini sweet and savory pies using her cute bicycle and the pie crust was the bomb. I met her when I was doing culinary tours during The Great Unemployment. I couldn’t really afford them but loved the samples she gave during the tour.

When I got a job I would order her pies for myself and then I started ordering them for the office and we all scarfed them up marveling at her great crust and divine fillings. How on earth did she make her pies so well and make so many of them? Practice obviously, and a great recipe.

When she stopped her business due to exhaustion and burnout I was glad for her for taking a rest and selfishly a tiny bit sad because how could I possibly live without her Shaker lemon pies? But then, a fabulous email arrived! Natalie had written a recipe booklet!  It is probably the most adorable recipe book I have ever seen, the illustrations are so adorable and really capture the joy of Bike Basket Pies.  The instructions and recipes are well written and explained and are a joy to use.

http://bikebasketpies.com/index.php/bike-basket-pies-booklet/

But I was still afraid. Then the Great Allergy/Intolerance arrived and fruit was banned from my life, along with many things I loved, nuts, potatoes, eggs, who all knew what else. The doctor still doesn’t know why but one day I could eat raspberry jam, then cherry, then walnuts, then fresh berries (but not strawberries) and the occasional potato chip. This summer I ate about six pies, mostly blackberry, and life was good again.

Last year Natalie announced she was teaching a pie crust making class. I had to go! With a very gimpy ankle I got to the darling Pot and Pantry for her class and made pie crust. It was great, we all had to make a batch and it felt good. I froze the pie crusts from the class since I had yet to go grocery shopping alone.

In early February, after a month of heinous flu and secondary sinus and ear infections, I made it to the farmer’s market with D___ and bought great vegetables and $15 of blackberries and Buddha’s Hand citrus. It was fantastic to shop without a cane and not feel so petrified of being knocked over. I was weak as a jellied eel after a long fever but the sunshine felt great. The moment I got home I went hope to bed and slept for 3 hours. I sugared down the berries though before going to bed for the evening and resolved to bake a pie for the Superbowl.

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On Superbowl Sunday I made breakfast and had a nap and tried to knit but that didn’t work, too tired still, but I did get up to make soup from all my vegetables, a minestrone of sorts, and to roll out the pie crust.

I was nervous but just did it, using a Silpat on my kitchen table. It rolled out pretty nicely, cracking here and there but it went okay! I made a rustic pie/tart using a tiny tin, just enfolding the giant berries inside the dough.

I brushed the crust with milk and a generous sprinkling of coarse sugar, and just remembered to add a pat of butter on the fruit. Into the oven it went.

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The juices were thick and bubbling, the crust was nicely browned, it smelled good. I was excited.

The game was sad but I thought consolation by pie would be nice. It was better than nice, it was perfect. The 49ers should have won that game but it cut as keenly because the pie was my victory.

The crust was crunchy and yet flakey, it held together, the fruit was delicious and not too soggy or sweet, it was just perfect. I still have one crust left to make a savory pie this week, greens and goat cheese I think or perhaps a winter squash. I can make pie now!

My pie.

My victory.

Natalie’s pie recipe booklet for Bike Basket Pies is available here, I have given away several copies as gifts so I would recommend you buy several.

The Finale: Slow Braised Pork with Squash and Orzo

It was worth the wait.

Over the past few days, the slow braised pork medallion had marinated in orange zest, garlic and cumin and cooked to utter tenderness in a savory broth with onions and butternut squash and a dash of balsamic vinegar to balance the sweetness. I deglazed the Dutch oven with a tablespoon of dry sherry and added this to the meat.

Did you know that those small silicon basting brushes are great for deglazing sides of pots like this one?  You just dab it into the liquid and wiggle the brush along the sides and all that lovely fond comes off and enriches the broth. Brilliant.

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I pulled everything out of the fridge and preheated the oven.  I had tried to return to work after a long bout of flu and secondary infections but was still quite unwell. I really needed some good nutrition. I had to finish this dish despite a lack of appetite and the ability to taste anything but I knew I would enjoy it regardless.

The oven was hot so I scooped out the meat and veggies and pulled off about a cup and a half of solid fat from the surface of the cooled broth. I was glad I took the extra day to remove the that thick layer of unctuous pork fat!

Everything went into my new lidded Le Creuset casserole dish and I popped it into the oven to get bubbling and hot. I added a half of a package of orzo to the broth and put it back into the oven to cook and absorb all the great flavors from the braising process. A final sprinkling of salt and it was ready.

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The orzo had absorbed just the right amount of the broth but still had a pleasant brothy aspect. The meat was so very tender and yet not over cooked or stringy as one often finds in slow braised dishes. The onion had almost caramelized and the squash was tender and yet whole.  Succulent is a wonderful word for this dish.
All I can say @4505_Meats is mmmmm and I <3 pork #meatCSA

I untied the twine around the pork medallion and it fell apart into perfect hunks.  I wish I had some parsley but it was just wonderful without it.

This is quite a rich and hearty dish, despite the defatting, and the 1.75 pound of pork would have easily fed six people.  After eating a cat sized bowl and a small glass of wine (which I shouldn’t have had but it tasted wonderful), I portioned up the rest for work lunches.

On the 3rd day I realized suddenly that I could taste the nuances of orange and cumin from the marinade.  I am so glad the flu etc. had ebbed enough to allow me to appreciate how these lovely flavors mingled together.

Printer friendly recipe

My First Tagine – Chicken with Preserved Lemon

A beautiful Emil Henry tagine found its way to my home and I was so excited to wash it up and begin my maiden voyage of Moroccan tagine cooking.

My apartment is so tiny and I have enough kitchen equipment to stock several large homes, so my new tagine gets to live under the antique Japanese slat table I use as a coffee table. It’s such a gorgeous color, it looks like sculpture nestled under the bench.

My new tagine, which gets to live under my coffee table. #cityliving

The tagine gets to keep my vintage Taylor and Ng chicken roaster company along with my massive Irish cut crystal ice bucket that currently houses yarn.

Tagine and Chicken, good neighbors :)

This lovely gift also included a jar of preserved lemons from Tunisia, a large jar of saffron from Spain and some fancy couscous. I started with browning the chicken in some deep green olive oil from Lodi.

Heating the deep green olive oil.

The base of the tagine holds 6 cups of stew and is larger than my Caphalon searing pan. It did a tremendous job slowly browning the chicken to the perfect golden hue.

This tagine is amazing for browning chicken. I'm smitten.

(My, what big thighs!)

I used a 5 pound 6 ounce chicken, on sale from the Unsafeway for $6.00. What a whopper of a bird! I could have fit in all of the parts at once but I didn’t want to crowd the pan. While the chicken was searing, I chopped up some onions, garlic and ginger. I fished out three preserved lemons from its jar of brine and rinsed them a little. Then I cut the lemons into quarters and removed the pulp, and finely shredded the rind. Preserved lemons, if you aren’t familiar with them, are simply lemons preserved in coarse salt and a touch of water, and jarred until the salt completely melts into a brine. The lemons have a unique flavor, lemony but mellowed, and are essential to the recipe. You can make your own like Anna and I did one day.

Making chicken tagine for lunch today!
Three large onions and all of the aromatics and the saffron threads went into the tagine base until soft and gently browned. The aroma was heady. I have adopted Molly Katzen’s dogma that if you don’t know what to make for dinner, start by sauteing an onion. The scent will inspire you.

Sautéing onion, garlic, ginger in Lodi olive oile
The vegetables had softened and were golden so I added in the browned chicken, some artichoke hearts in lieu of olives, water, the preserved lemons and artichoke hearts.  I used artichoke hearts because I had them and did not have green olives, which are the traditional accompaniment to this dish.  I really don’t care for the flavor cooked olives, however, and the brininess they add to stews but that is just my preference, and it was my lunch, so I went with what worked for me.

I also added a splash of wine, it may not be authentic but the spirits moved me! On went the adorable cone lid and I relaxed for half an hour while it gently simmered.

My tagine's maiden voyage.

(Ready to simmer, and it already smells great)

After 30 minutes, I flipped over the chicken pieces, basted everything a little, tasted for salt and pepper and added pinches of each, and a good squeeze of fresh Meyer lemon juice and let the tagine cook for another 15 minutes.

I also started water boiling to make the couscous. Couscous is a fine pasta that is shaped into small grains. Traditionally one makes the couscous in a coucousiere, which I happen to have, and it is steamed and fluffed in the top section of the pot while a stew (or just boiling water) simmers in the base. We are fortunate today to have basically instant couscous that only needs to be added to boiling water, returned to a boil, removed from the heat with the lid on to rest for 15 minutes, and voila! Perfect couscous and no effort. The couscous that I received as part of this gift was particularly cool, larger sized shapes but not as large as Israeli couscous. It was *fancy*.  I let the couscousiere languish and used a 2 quart saucepan instead, super fast and so tasty. Why don’t I make more couscous?

m'hamsa couscous

The timer went off, and it was time for my Moroccan lunch! I heaped my bowl with some couscous, pulled out a tender and moist piece of chicken breast and a rich spoonful of vegetables and sauce. The chicken was gently flavored with lemon with the earthy undertone of the saffron and a zip from the ginger and garlic. I was surprised the chicken was a bit spicy but then remembered the lemons were preserved with some beautiful crimson chile peppers, no doubt the peppers infused the lemons with a bit of their heat. I was supposed to have added parsley or cilantro but did not have any and the dish did not suffer from the lack of it. It was a frigid and moist afternoon but inside I was enveloped in a fantasy of dining under azure skies, feeling cool breezes through twisting stone alleys and buildings, hearing exotic foot traffic behind ornately carved screens and wearing embroidered caftans and leather slippers. I nibbled at my beautiful lunch and sipped some rose wine and felt quite pleased with myself for making a hot cooked lunch on a weekend. And it was so easy!

Chicken tagine complete, I must say it was quite tasty and easy.

When I make this again I will use the fresh baby artichokes, quartered, because the canned and frozen ones really lacked the lovely artichoke flavor I was hoping for but it did add a lovely subtlety to the tagine regardless. I set aside some of the couscous and chicken in small containers for the freezer for dinners on another night, and packaged up the rest to take to work for lunch for the next few days. At my office, reheating the chicken and couscous in the work microwave the aroma of lemons, saffron, ginger and spice filled the kitchen and my coworkers were quite complimentary on my humble repast. I made myself a cup of mint tea and relaxed for a moment at my desk, enjoying my desk-chair visit to Morocco in rainy San Francisco.

(Recipe here)

Diner en Blanc San Francisco

Ever watch those viral videos of flashmobs dancing or doing other crazy things? San Francisco had it’s own version of a flashmob – a dinner al fresco where everyone dresses all in white called Diner en Blanc San Francisco.

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Originally from France, the Diner en Blanc phenomenon is where diners are dressed with the height of fashion and descend upon a secret location at a designated time and dine al fresco, until the end, when everyone magically clears up their picnic and tables and vanish into the night leaving nary a trace of ever being there. Imagine it as an Occupy movement but with food and happiness instead of violence and arrests.

I was invited to attend Diner en Blanc San Francisco with some friends. Months ago the tickets to the event were purchased and the date was set for the late fall but the location was a secret.  We waited excitedly for the email announcing the location, and by 3 pm on the day of the event we learned we would be dining at the Marina Green!

Sadly our brief warm weather departed that morning and the fog was thick and “frizzle” was falling heavily. Frizzle, if you are not in the know, is fog and drizzle, where visibility is hazed and one feels a constant and light prickling of tiny droplets on your skin. It’s quite refreshing if you are a fern but for humans and cats it is quite sodden.

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(Warm but with damp hair)

We had a great time figuring out what to wear and how to decorate our table for the dinner. Our shopping efforts to find elegant, all white evening wear resulted in mostly white denim and linen but we added warmer things like blankets for the laps and luxurious pashmina throws for chilly, frizzled shoulders. I was fortunate enough to have on loan from my mom a luscious cream wool coat with a white fur trimmed hood, normally my apre ski wear but perfect upon this chilly and damp occasion.

We arrived at the Marina Green by 5:00 pm to claim our table and rent our white chairs from the organizers. There were hundreds of dining tables set out on the green and thousands of diners setting their tables and arranging their decor for the evening.

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Our table was dressed in D___’s great aunt’s heavy white damask linen and lace table cloths with matching serviettes, her grandfather’s railroad silver service (Reading Railroad, no less) and a variety of white table wear. I brought along the Block china demitasse set from my late neighbor Lucille, complete with silver demitasse spoons, a S’Well thermos of espresso and another of frothy steamed milk. We had a lovely floral arrangement of cream roses and hydrangea and lime green Irish belles, wrapped in a banana leaf inside a round vase. Tiny votive candles were arranged in little clear cups weighted down with a spoonful of water.

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Despite this elegance, our first effort at Diner en Blanc made our table look like we were the poor churchmice cousins at a fancy dress ball. Surrounding us were tables with extremely elaborate settings teeming silver chargers, 5′ high floral arrangements, candelabra, tiered stands filled with the finest delicacies, silver footed champagne buckets and fancy cocktail shakers, arbors of fairy lights and hanging Chinese lanterns. Someone had recreated the Golden Gate Bridge all in white as their centerpiece!

We vowed next year to take our decor up to the next level and go all out. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed our cozy and quietly elegant table for four.

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Our menu was representative of the bounty of San Francisco: Columbus Salami’s new Farm to Table fennel salami, local cheeses from Rouge et Blanc and an Acme baguette, a salad with strawberries, feta, walnuts and a balsamic dressing, red cooked Chinese chicken, garlic roasted mushrooms and a deluxe French chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate dipped strawberries and chocolate shavings.

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We sipped Mumms Cuvee Rose sparkling wine and Stag’s Leap Pinot Noir under the foggy skies, and at dusk, lit our candles to dine. The event began with the ceremonial waving of the serviettes and the crowd hooted and cheered until our arms tired of waving the fine linen around in circles.

Throughout the night pockets of cheering erupted as the San Francisco Giants dominated over their playoff game for a spot in the World Series. We saw elegantly dressed people furtively watching the game in flickering candlelight. GO Giants!

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The wind picked up and the frizzle fell firmly but everyone was undeterred in their enjoyment of the evening. Under the drapery of our table linens we were cozy and warm with heavy blankets covering our laps and feet. The breeze played havoc with our votives but we discovered by toppling the cups over they still burned perfectly protected from the wind.

We savored our wonderful dinner.  The salad was teeming with surprise goodies with each bite.  The red cooked chicken was so complex and melt in your mouth and was perfect with the garlic laden miniature mushrooms.  Our bread basket lined in heavy linen became damp from the frizzle but the chewy sourdough and fresh, sweet butter were the quintessential San Francisco accompaniment to our multi-cultural meal.

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We lingered over the wine, nibbling here and there on cheese and salami until the dessert hour was reached.  Cheers went up and more serviette twirling ensued when the Giants won the game, hooray!   We finished the wine at last and then poured steaming hot espresso topped with hot, steamed and frothed milk. The gorgeous cake was cut and a wonderful sugar and caffeine high lifted our laughter above the crowds around us.

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(After – sorry for the flash photo)

Finally, at 9 pm, we hastily packed up our leftovers and table settings, returned our chairs and strolled over to our princess parking by the seawall.

Farewell Diner en Blanc, until next year!

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Slow Roasting a Thick Cut of Meat

Lately I have been buying wonderful T-bones from 4505 Meats, both beef and pork cuts.  Their email newsletter advertises from time to time specials on aged grass-fed beef or local pasture-raised pork cuts from a whole animal that they age and butcher themselves.  The meat quality is divine.

But when one is presented with a 3″ or 4″ hunk of steak or monster pork chop, how on earth do you cook it?

Here’s my foolproof method that turns out meat that is perfectly cooked from edge to edge with a nice crispy sear on the outside.

I must say that this method is completely counter-intuitive to what I have been taught when preparing and cooking a steak but it is so simple and never fails.

Step 1:  Bring Meat to Room Temperature and Season

Here is the two-pound beef T-bone from 4505 Meat that I cooked a week ago – what a massive steak!

Before - @4504_Meats

It was about 4″ thick and a full 11″ long hunk of luscious, 28 day dry aged grass-fed beef.  Talk about gorgeous meat!

I patted it dry and placed it on a plate and seasoned it with a dry rub.  My dry rub had powdered smoked red onions and a dried chipotle from Tierra Vegetables, a powdered shitake mushroom, all of which I blitzed up in my food processor,  then added sea salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme from a friend’s garden and some paprika.

For the pork T-bone that I cooked on Sunday I used a dry rub that came from Golden Gate Meats, which had dried onion, paprika, orange peel, sage and some other herbs.  I added salt and pepper to the pork steak first, then the dry rub.

The meat came to room temperature snuggled under its savory seasoning for about an hour, meanwhile I preheated the oven to 275 F.

Step 2:  The Slow Roast

Once the oven was hot and the meat was at room temperature I placed it on my roasting pan and anointed it with some olive oil and bunged it in the oven.  I set the timer for 45 minutes and started some potatoes to roast in my convection oven.

After 45 minutes I checked the temperature of the meat with a digital thermometer.  I was looking for 125 F for the beef which is for a medium rare steak.  For this particular steak I roasted it for a total of 55 minutes.

The pork T-bone also weighed 2 pounds and roasted for 65 minutes until it reached 135 F.

Step 3: The Sear

I heated up my largest skillet under medium high heat and added a good splash of grapeseed oil and watched the oil until it started to shimmer.  Using tongs I placed the steak in the pan to sear quickly on all sides, including the fat side and the bone side.  It took about 2 minutes per side to get a nice deep brown.

Here is the pork T-bone getting its sear.  Can you see the thick fat ring? It was 2″ thick of glorious pure white fat.  Later I removed the fat and rendered it down for other nefarious purposes.

It's huge! Browning the fat side first.

Once the meat had achieved the deep golden brown color I was looking for it was time for the final step.

Step 4:  Resting the Meat

This may be the most important step in any meat cookery, letting the meat rest.  I removed the T-bone from the skillet and set it on a heat-proof plate and rubbed the top with a thick dab of unsalted butter.  I set a sheet of foil lightly on top of the meat, not sealing it with the foil but just letting the foil rest on top.  Then I set a timer for 10-15 minutes and walked away; I had a glass of wine and left the kitchen while the meat rested.

Whatever you do, do not poke, prod, cut or otherwise molest the meat while it is resting!   Just leave it alone!

When meat is cooked under direct heat the juices rise to the outside of the meat.  If you cut open the meat without resting it the meat will look dry and almost dull in appearance by the time you get to the halfway point of consuming your portion.  If you let the meat rest for the appropriate period of time, the juices have time to redistribute themselves to the center of the meat, ensuring a juicy and perfectly pink interior.

This resting stage can take 5 to 10 minutes for a normal steak, up to 20 minutes for a chicken and 30-45 minutes for a large roast such as a prime rib cut.

If you feel that the meat has cooled too much during the resting process, I have a trick to fixing that.  I melt butter until it is very hot and then pour it over the cooled meat, just a tablespoon or two will do the trick.  It will warm up the meat just enough and adds so much flavor.  If you have ever wondered why the steaks at an expensive steak house taste so good, a lot of it is due to this final application of butter. If you have maitre d’hotel butter then more’s the better (I will post this recipe soon).

When the timer went off I dashed to the kitchen and grabbed my carving knife and voila!  Perfectly cooked meat!

After- 4505_meats

Feast your eyes on this perfect steak. It is medium rare throughout the entire cut, a perfect rosy pink and super juicy. You can see the rich fat on this beef T-bone and there is no grey ring or unevenness of any kind.  It is a meaty miracle.  I was too hungry on Sunday to snap a picture of the pork T-bone but it was pale pink, extremely juicy and tender, everything a perfect chop should be.  And I ate it *all*.

This slow roasting cooking method is perfect for apartment dwellers like myself, or for cooking perfect steaks in the dead of winter when grilling outside is not an option.

So don’t be afraid of ruining a whacking great cut of meat like these monster T-bones, it is really foolproof and I guarantee your steak will come out perfectly.

Resources:

4505 Meats
San Francisco Ferry Building
Saturday market between 8 and 2
Thursday market between 10 and 2
Shop online at 4505meat.com

Golden Gate Meat Company
Retail shop at the Ferry Building
goldengatemeatcompany.com (catchy song too!)

The Irony of Food Allergies and Being a Food Blogger

For the past two months I have been having problems with food allergy symptoms; tingling and numbness, swelling, rash, problems swallowing, problems breathing. What a nightmare!

At first it was a reaction to taro root. For those of you who do not know what taro is, it is a tuber and is the primary ingredient in poi, the Hawaiian starch paste. It is also commonly used in vegetable chips. The irony of being allergic to an essentially tasteless food product was not lost on me. Happily it is easy to avoid taro, except taro is used frequently at a lot of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. I was prepared to mourn the loss of crispy spring rolls at certain places, got my Epi Pen and put it in my handbag and thought the drama was over.

A month later I had enjoyed a lovely quiche Lorraine and a fruit salad at a work breakfast and experienced allergy symptoms. What could it be? The fruit? The eggs? Surely not the bacon?

My mind recoiled in horror. Not. Bacon. Please, let it not be bacon.

After questioning my family about any history of food allergies it came out that my grandmother, the one who had everything you could think of wrong with her, might have had a pork allergy. But she was a hypochondriac so I automatically have discounted anything hereditary from her side. Well except for breast cancer and diabetes type 2, those are real issues that worry me.

A week later, after many phone calls to the doctor, I had started avoiding all ingredients in quiche and fruit salad and was recovering pretty well. Pretty well, that is, until I ate a lemon cupcake. This stupid lemon cupcake made me so ill that I ended up in the emergency room that night. So not fun, let me tell you. Also, the staff and UCSF are awesome, just in case you need to visit an ER theirs is the place to go.

The immunologist’s office is a very busy place, and my testing and consultation will not be completed until mid December.  You do realize what this means, right? What is between now and mid-December?  Thanksgiving.

The horror.  What on earth can I eat that won’t make me sick and/or die between now and then?

So I have been prudent. And I have been taking lots of antihistamines, some of which I have discovered have the effect of drinking 10 cups of coffee an hour.  Some are like taking a quaalude, zonk, out like a light, which can be fine but not at 11 am in the morning.

This past week I was very excited because I made pear custard tarts and bacon blue cornmeal waffles.  It felt great to be cooking again, being able to make food and not be in pain from my shoulder, and most importantly to be able to clean up the kitchen after cooking something.

I did not plan on feeling severe allergy symptoms after eating my own cooking.  The pear tart made me feel like a rabid dog.  I took more antihistamines and tried to ignore the shaking hands and extreme anxiety it gave me.  I went home and threw away the mostly uneaten tart I had made for myself.

Saturday I had a great  fun day out with L___ and we had tater tots, a baby slider and salted caramel shakes.  Delicious!  However I started getting numb and tingly and sore after a few bites.  Was it the ketchup? The mayo? The bun? I really don’t know.  Yesterday I made my beautiful bacon blue cornmeal waffles and tried to ignore the numb and swollen tongue and closing throat feelings I was getting.  Harder to ignore was the itchy face and puffy lips, but I consoled myself with more Benadryl and lip gloss thinking the Hollywood types pay all kinds of money for lips like mine.

I ate a left over waffle at work and just threw it away after 3 bites.  What the hell.

Happily I am not alone.  On Twitter and elsewhere I know many, many people who have food allergies, and found out one or more of them have the same type of allergy I might have, which is called Oral Allergy Syndrome.  Basically severe hay fever can manifest itself into oral allergy symptoms because certain foods have proteins in common with the pollens that cause allergies.  There are also non-oral symptoms which I can’t discuss.   Maybe I have food allergies too, or maybe it’s something else, I really won’t know for months.

What I do know is that not knowing really bites.  I am not really sure exactly what foods I can and cannot eat safely.  I know I can have meat, and cheese and bread and chocolate and coffee and feel okay.  But waffles are made of flour so what does that mean about eating bread?  Fruits are still on my avoid list, and I think I am also going to abstain from eggs for a while.

Begrudgedly I am starting a food journal and am squintingly reading food labels and not eating out very much.  I am taking a few bites and waiting before I can proceed.  I am taking way too many pills and am tired of feeling sick.

It is going to be a sad Thanksgiving.  A gal cannot just live on bacon and turkey.  Or can I?

The irony of being a food blogger and not being able to eat food is keeping me chuckling, but life is not fun right now.

Fingers crossed this gets sorted soon.

Joy To The World, And A Great Bowl of Soup

I was happily ensconced with my family over the holidays and we celebrated a wonderful Christmas with way too much food and dare I say too much football?

To help offset the three pounds of butter we used for our dinners, a new historical *low* I might add, I made a healthy lunch of butternut squash soup for Christmas eve.

We have been visiting the local grocery store up here in the country daily, and on Christmas eve, two times. The store was established in 1852 as a stagecoach stop and owned by the family continuously. They have the nicest staff. Since my stepdad shops every day he, and by extension, we are well known. It is expected that you chat with the grocer, the butcher and everyone else. It is the country after all! I was joking with the clerk about the massive butternut squashes they have in the product department, they easily weigh 7 pounds.

“My stepdad called it Junior.” I laughed as I cradled it in my arms, “Junior is going in the soup pot today!”

The clerk told me she had always wanted to cook one but was afraid of trying. I told her how easy it was and that I would write about it for her. So, Carol, this is for you!

I make this soup a lot during squash season and never thought it worth writing about until talking with Carol. I can now see by looking at this giant squash how intimidating it could be to someone. But in reality, once you get the beast cut into half, it is no work at all. The soup is quite basic, albeit delicious, and can be quite versatile flavorwise by adding a few different spices or aromatics.

First off, tackling the large squash: give it a good wash and dry, then lay it down on the cutting board and with your biggest knife cut off the stem. Off with Junior’s head! Then, split it down the middle and use an ice cream scoop to eviscerate the seeds. The oven was already hot at 400 F and I had put some foil on a cookie sheet and spread some oil around. The squash halves got plunked onto the foil cut side down, and into the oven for 45 – 60 minutes.

Meanwhile I did my manicure and watched some (more) football with my stepdad.

An hour later, I took the tray out of the oven and stuck the squash with a fork. The tines slid right through with no resistance. The skin was browned a little here and there and was puckery in places. I returned to watch another quarter of the game while the squash cooled. Piece of cake!

At this juncture you can scrape out the squash into a bowl, add butter and salt and pepper and stir well with a fork and eat. Or, you can use the meat in a variety of other preparations, such as a casserole with pasta and breadcrumbs (and bacon), as a filling with ricotta for ravioli, in the dough for gnocci, or my embarrassingly simple soup. As you can see this squash preparation takes little skill or cooking talent, you just need a bit if courage to cut the huge thing open, then the rest is easy. You can use this method with any kind of squash, including pumpkin. I prefer cooking it cut side down as it ensures the meat stays tender and moist. If you want to have a glazed squash, you can turn it over after 30 minutes, add some butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper and bake for the remaining 15 minutes or so until it is tender.

But back to the soup, in a large pot I put a pat of butter, a chopped onion and some chopped fresh ginger and let that saute until the onion was tender, about 10 minutes. I used a big spoon and scooped the squash out of its skin and added it to the pot.

I went out the garden and cut a sprig of rosemary, and back in the kitchen tossed it in with a bay leaf and a sprinkle of sweet curry powder onto the squash. Everything was topped off with 8 cups of chicken stock, I gave it a vigorous stir and resumed keeping my stepdad company while knitting a sweater in the family room.

Thirty minutes later the soup looked like this:

I used the immersion blender to smooth it out, this time finally remembering to remove the bay leaf first, and lunch was ready. I dished it out into warm soup bowls and topped each one with a hefty dollop of sour cream as a sprinkle of chives. We were still eating the Funions so I added some along side the soup bowl as well.

We tucked into our hearty soup and listened to the rain ping on the roof. Chatting about this and that, mostly about that, we whiled away the afternoon decorating the house and the tree for Christmas, satiated with good company and good soup.

I hope you give take home a “Junior” of your own this winter for the soup pot.

(recipe here)

Idyllic Spring

Ahhh, Spring!!!

Such an idyllic day.

It’s 74 degrees outside, a soft breeze is blowing.

I am barefoot.

I relaxed in the back garden and painted my toes strawberry red and finished a scifi novel.

The cat napped (and yawned) in a pool of sunshine.

Yawn...

I found the first pink rose of the spring.

First rose

A neighbor dropped by to share fresh spring lettuces from his garden, a welcome addition to our dinner tonight!

Shared booty from a neighbor

mOm made Granny’s German potato salad while I watched, taking notes.

German Potato Salad

Another knock at the front door was a young neighbor, selling raffle tickets as part of her fundraising for next year’s fair.  She’s joining the Miss Junior Calaveras County contest.  I hope she wins, she’s so lovely and charming.  Hope one of our raffle tickets is a winner too!

Have I got a winning ticket?

Sundays in the country are so charming and relaxing, with soft warm weather, nice neighbors, a beautiful day, an even more beautiful dinner to come.

Sundays with family are such a gift.

I will miss it here.

Requiring Much Patience: Baked Beans

(Update: see recipe for revisions and commentary…)

There are a few things in life that test our patience.  Traffic jams.  3:00 pm on Friday at work.  Doing taxes.  Waiting for the ‘puter to load.  Filing.

People have said to me in an admiring fashion that I must have a lot of patience to knit.  Well, I don’t.  I am actually quite an impatient person.  This is why I always, without fail, burn my tongue with hot soup.  I feel that actually it is the other way around; knitting has taught me patience.  The act of knowing that in order to finish knitting a sock it takes a certain amount of inevitable time has taught me patience and to enjoy the process of what I am doing.  It is the zen of being in the now.

This, however, all went out the window today because mOm and I decided to bake beans.  Not just any beans, but the original Boston beans in a darling authentic Boston bean pot.

The Beans are A'Bakin'

(See, it’s even helpfully labelled in case you forget)

We put the bag of Boston pea beans to soak last night in a vast quantity of water and a good palmful of salt.

This morning, we drained them and put them in fresh water to cook with a nicely bundled bouquet garni (celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaf).  Brining them overnight really helps the beans to cook quickly.  Once they were done, 45 minutes later, tender but perfectly intact, we layered them in the bean pot for its maiden voyage.  They were snuggled together with thinly sliced salt pork and nice cubes of Easter ham, and topped with a soup of bean broth, black strap molasses, brown sugar, chopped onions, ketchup, dry mustard, salt and ground pepper.  Topped with its little cute lid, they went into bake.  For 5-8 hours.

So, we got started a little late this morning.  The fog hadn’t lifted in the corpuscles or brain pan and needed frequent applications of hot coffee.  A little breakfast was in order, as was the prerequisite period remaining absolutely frozen still in order to watch quail bob along the terrace.  Eventually, around 11:00 am, we felt compos mentis enough to handle a knife and in we went to the kitchen to assemble the beans.  Then we retired to the living room with another cuppa and various amusing volumes, the collected short stories of Lord Peter Wimsey for me and Dorothy L. Sayers Society monthly bulletins for March and January for mOm.  We wait for the beans. The house began to fill with an incredible savory scent after an hour, and after three hours we gave a peek within the pot.  Alas, no miracle had occurred, the beans were a long way away from being done.  At five hours we checked again, and again, the beans were just achieving a medium beige color and the onions were threatening to dissolve into a succulent mush.

Meanwhile, the aroma drove me outdoors.  I really just couldn’t stand the tease of the scent of onion and molasses and pork products emanating from the kitchen.  Fortunately the rain has stopped today and the porch was a pleasant place to sit and knit, accompanied by multitudes of birdsong.  It was deemed warm enough to open the front door to air out the house, meaning my tranquil perch was invaded by the ever alluring scent of baked beans.  I gave up trying to concentrate on knitting my sock, and wandered the terrace.  The weeds were mocking me so I began yanking them out by their roots like errant gray hairs, such a pleasant feeling of revenge.  And still I was tormented by the scent of baking beans.  The neighbor kids from the bottom of the cul-de-sac meandered by, walking their bikes up the formidable hill, and they paused near my parents’ mailbox.  I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I assiduously weeded, and noted they were sniffing the air, like a hungry pack of dogs that only preteen little boys can emulate.

Finally, at 5:00 pm, I checked the beans again.  Alas, still not done.  We changed the linens, folded laundry, uploaded pictures from the Flip, watched the news, checked email, pacing the house like lions before mealtime.  It’s after 6:00 pm and the beans are still not done.  I think I may never survive this process.

If you would like to similarly torture yourself, here is the recipe.  If I survive this torment and long wait, I will post a picture tomorrow of the finished beans.  In the meantime, be very glad that we have not yet developed the capability of smell-o-blogs.

Baked Beans

1 # dry pea beans or navy beans
1 Bay leaf
1 celery rib, halved
3 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig thyme
1/2 # salt pork
1 large slice baked ham
1 cup c molasses, black strap preferred
1 T dry mustard
1 c ketchup
1 c dark brown sugar
1 T salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 c dry sherry

Soak the beans overnight in a very large pot with copious amounts of water and 3 T of Kosher salt.  Drain the next morning.  Replace into the pot, and cover generously with cold water (at least 2″ above the surface of the beans).  Make a bundle of the celery, parsley, thyme and Bay leaf and secure with string, leaving a 6″ tail.  Place in pot and tie the tail to the handle of a wooden spoon, which rests at an angle at the top of the pot.  Simmer the beans gently for 30-60 minutes until tender but intact, and the skins blow off when blown upon lightly.

Drain beans, reserving the broth.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, and divide the salt pork into 2 pieces.  Thinly slice one piece and deeply score the skin side of the second piece.

Preheat the oven to 300 F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet heavily with foil.

In the bean pot or a large covered casserole, layer half of the beans and half of the diced ham and all of the sliced salt pork.  Gently pour the remaining half of the beans and add the remaining half of the diced ham and the scored chunk of salt pork.

Mix together 8 c of the bean broth (we had 5 c and this was plenty) with the molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, ketchup, salt and pepper and chopped onions.  Mix well and pour this gently over the beans.

Cover the beans and bake 7-8 hours.  An hour before they are done, meaning the beans have achieved a dark brown hue like good polished walnut, add the sherry.  Cover the pot again and bake one more hour.

******

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that one should make these beans the day or two before the target service date.  And one should be outdoors during this baking process, else sanity may be lost.

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Update:  After baking for 6 1/2 hours, the beans finally achieved that dark brown hue we associate with properly baked beans.  The flavoring was a bit bland to our taste though, so we updated the recipe above with additional quantities of ingredients, which helped achieve the desired taste we wanted.  They could have baked another 2 hours though, to deepen the flavors, so we changed the baking time to 7-8 hours minimum.

For dinner last night we each had a nice bowl of baked beans, a slice of ham and some fresh pineapple.  It was heavenly.  I even considered having hot beans on toast this morning, in the English fashion.

The Boston Bean pot was incredible.  Mom bought it because it was so cute and our family loves baked beans.  After the 6 1/2 hours in the oven, the pot was crusted with thick, dark, burned-on bean juice and I thought it would have to soak all night in order to wash up.  Mom took a gentle scrub brush to it and all the baked on crusts and stains just wiped away! It must be the heavy glaze on the pot or something.  It was well worth the minor investment and the cupboard space!  Check them out!