Culinary stories

Always Dreaming

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”
John Lennon

Kentucky Derby Hat
Kentucky Derby Hat

I missed last year’s Kentucky Derby Party at Treo, but, as I revised the poster for this year’s party, I decided I had to give it a go.

“Bring a Southern dish of your choice… fried chicken, …pecan pie, Anything with bourbon…”

Oh, my! How could I not?

Last year’s party was particularly lively (so I heard), fueled by Kate’s Mint Juleps. I noted that this year’s party times from Cathy (our brilliant Social Committee Chair) was from 2 – 4pm, instead of last year’s 2 – 7pm.

Party Prep

Posters went up and the buzz went out. At the monthly Pot Luck party, plans were cooking. Did Eva have extra hats to be borrowed? Who was cooking with whom? Where to buy collard greens? Where to find ham hocks?  

Celeste offered to iron the dress that my sister Cyn had given me. It was perfect for the day, printed with roses, but cotton: even I knew it had to be ironed, but I can count on my thumbs how often I have ironed in the past year. Celeste loves to iron (really??!), and is a pro, so I gratefully accepted her offer. 

What could Steve make? I suggested Pecan Pie in a Jar from Trader Joe’s (I didn’t want to miss out on pecan pie!). I even offered to pick it up for him when I went to the store. I had made a quick pie with it at Christmas and found it delicious.

Turns out, TJ’s only carries it in the holidays, although the checkout person said she had one on her shelf at home. So, I found a Bourbon Pecan Pie recipe from the New York Times and sent it to Steve. We’d make it together on the day.

And, what would I make?

I was dreaming of roasted chicken, smokey and spicy with a sweet bourbon glaze.  But, when I had a go at it earlier in the week, making a dry rub for the chicken and basting it a few times during the last 15 minutes of roasting, it took the crispiness out of the skin. So, I decided to serve the bourbon glaze as a sauce on the side.

Bourbon

Ah bourbon – so smokey, so fortifying, so engaging – the perfect Southern gentleman. A wonderful addition to any party, to so many recipes.

But, bourbon hasn’t always been my beau. I come from a family of Scotch drinkers, for generations, so I was never introduced to it.(Guess it’s my British heritage and husband). We met through a friend, almost by accident.

A few years ago, I wanted to make egg nog from scratch and chose a recipe from one of my most reliable sources: Alton Brown. A Southern gentleman himself, Alton’s recipe calls for bourbon, instead of the brandy or rum that others might. It was delicious! (And reportedly, any alcohol acts as a preservative and sterilizer of the raw eggs.)

Since then, I’ve had a splash in chili to good effect and used it to fortify my turkey gravy last Thanksgiving. I have even had a cocktail or two with it, although I think of it still primarily as an ingredient. 

Derby Day

The day dawned grey in San Diego, rainy in Churchill Downs, making a “sloppy” track for the race.

Bourbon Pecan Pie
Bourbon Pecan Pie

At 10.30, Steve arrived, wearing his Boston Red Sox t-shirt and carrying a shopping bag of all the ingredients, including a bottle of bourbon. The recipe called for only 2 tablespoons, which was certainly in my bottle of Bullitt.

He said he didn’t drink bourbon, so I bought the bottle from him for future cooking.

We mixed up the eggs and syrup, sugar and butter and vanilla, laid the pastry into the pie dish, poured in  the filling, popped it into the preheated oven, and settled in comfy chairs for a neighborly chat. 

Party Time

By 1, it was raining in San Diego, clearing in Kentucky. It didn’t matter to the party goers – we would never step outside on our way to the Community Room.

By 2, neighbors began arriving, decked out in their hats and finery, carrying in dishes to delight.

Chipotle Roast Chicken
Chipotle Roast Chicken

I brought my Chipotle Chicken with Sweet Bourbon Sauce. Eva brought her collard greens, Kaylan (having grown up in West Virginia) had made grits from her grandmother’s recipe.

Marilyn brought meatloaf sliders topped with bacon. Frank brought fried chicken. Celeste, macaroni salad. Silvia, the black-eyed peas. Cathy and Joanne (ever the effort to keep us healthy) brought salads. Chocolate-dipped strawberries appeared next to Steve’s pecan pie.

And there was Kate, with a smile as innocent as Scarlett O’Hara’s, pouring out mint julep after mint julep, made with her own mint simple syrup and plenty of bourbon. 

Tina arrived with a hat she’d decorated for Cathy, and we assembled for photos.

People filled plates, sat at tables arranged around the TV. Always Dreaming was becoming the favorite, despite the sloppy track. Kaylan got a text from her sister (who was at the track) that the rain had stopped. It was now quite steady outside the window in San Diego, but getting quite bright and sunny inside.

More people arrived. Blake introduced himself as a new Treo resident. For some reason, he looked familiar to me but we couldn’t figure out why. 

I sat down next to Kate, with a good view of the TV, discovering that Kate loved watching the horses run. She kept pouring and smiling. Celeste said that she was going with Always Dreaming.

All the food was delicious. Plates filled and emptied. Steve told me that he liked my bourbon sauce, especially with Katlan’s grits.

Post Time

We gathered around the TV as the race began, and for a few minutes something was more important than the food and mint juleps. Celeste was right.

Re-filling our plates and glasses, conviviality bubbled up again and people drifted from one table to another, exchanging places like a Virginia Reel. Over at the bar, Cathy and Blake were speaking German and laughing. Steve tried his pie and liked it. (It was delicious.)

Close to 4, the easy chair in my living room began to beckon, I was ready to take off the high heels. Several of us began packing up and saying “good-bye.” Marilyn gave me the last slider to bring to my husband Mark, and I added a dollop of Katlan’s grits, plus some salad.

I thanked Blake for coming and welcomed him to the building, still perplexed as to why he looked familiar. With glowing, smiling eyes, he said he couldn’t believe I’d forgotten that weekend in Vegas.

As I walked to the door, I saw Steve with a mint julep, heading to the TV for more sports coverage. Always Dreaming may have won the race, but bourbon had won the day.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cake

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cake with Date
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cake with Date

This recipe is based on one of my favorite desserts that my Mother, Georgette Camporini, used to make when I was a kid – Cream Cheese Cake with Sour Cream Topping. I still have her recipe card, written in her delicate and precise script. 

I’ve added pumpkin and some pumpkin spice (especially for my friend Angela), changed the sugar from white to coconut palm, added some lemon zest. But, it is still basically the same recipe that my Mom got from Irene Maresso (as noted on her recipe card) who lived in the yellow house, right across the street from us in Indian Hills, Wisconsin, near Lake Geneva. It takes me back to those Midwest times. Thanks, Ladies!

Serves 8 – 16

Ingredients

Equipment:

  • 8-inch or 9-inch spring pan, greased on bottom and sides, then lined on bottom with a round of parchment paper

For crust:

  • 4oz (by weight) of graham crackers, broken and ground to rough crumb
  • 2-3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoons coconut palm sugar or white sugar
  • Pinch of salt

For filling:

  • 2 – 8oz packages cream cheese, softened. Be sure to use regular, full cream cheese, not light or low-fat.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
  • 1 cup canned (or roasted and drained to thick consistency) pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice (a blend of cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom)
  • Generous pinch of salt

For topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup coconut palm or white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation (Chef's hat)Preparation

1 – Move an oven rack to lower 1/3 of oven. Pre-heat oven to 325˚ F.

2 -In a small bowl, whisk together the cookie crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press into the bottom of the cake pan.

3 – To a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the softened cream cheese, the eggs, sugar, vanilla, pumpkin, pumpkin spice, and salt. Starting slowly with a hand or stand mixer, beat the ingredients for 2 to 3 minutes to combine well, or until the mixture is smooth and liquidy.

4 – Pour into the crust-lined cake pan and bake in a 325˚F for 40 minutes or until cake is set and slightly puffed. It will be a little cracked around the edges. Set it on a rack to cool for 10 – 15 minutes. When cooled, the cake will have settled, filling in the cracks, forming an edge around the top.

5 – While the cake cools, whisk together the sour cream, sugar, vanilla for the topping. When the cake has cooled, smooth the topping over the cake evenly, spreading it to the edges.

6 – Return to the 325˚F oven for 10 minutes to set the topping.

7 – Remove cake from the oven and cool for 30 minutes, before refrigerating the cake pan for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Remove cake from pan and serve cold, as is, or with berries or dates.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Tuscan White Bean Dip

Makes 1 – 2 cups dip

Tuscan Bean Dip with Crudités
Tuscan Bean Dip with Crudités

Ingredients and Equipment

  • Single-portion or full-sized blender or food processor
  • 1 – 15oz cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus 1 or 1 Tablespoons for garnish
  • 1 – 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • Pinch to 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 – 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 2 Tablespoons loosely packed parsley, roughly chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation (Chef's hat)Preparation

1 – Assemble beans, 3 Tablespoons olive oil, garlic, pinch red pepper flakes, salt, 3 Tablespoons lemon juice, rosemary leaves, and half the parsley in the blender or food processor.

2 – Pulse about 10 – 15 seconds, or until well-blended and smooth.

3 – Taste. Adjust for consistency and flavor by adding more salt, red pepper flakes, or lemon juice.

4 – Assemble in serving bowl. Drizzle with 1 Tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with parsley and black pepper.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Culinary Summer Camp

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
Julia Child, My Life in France

Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce
Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

Today is the last day of summer vacation for San Diego School District students.

On Monday, it’s back to school.

As the school routine begins again in the darker mornings,  maybe there will be talk or essays about  “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

Ilya, son of my friends, Tatyana and Nikolay, might tell of the Tai Kwon Do tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas where he competed as part of a crack demonstration team. Or, the writing camp he was on for a week. Or, the free hours he had to play around on the guitar he’d been given last Christmas, making up his own songs. 

And, whether or not he mentions the culinary summer camp we did together doesn’t matter — he and his family have already reaped the benefits. Ilya’s a captain in the kitchen now, playing variations with the recipes we made, and discovering new ones.

Tatyana wanted especially for Ilya to learn how to be safe using a knife and to eat more fruits and vegetables. I proposed a range of dishes for four Fridays in July, plus options for a full family dinner on the last Saturday. Ilya chose what he wanted to make and eat.

Breakfast

Fortified Pancakes with Honey Butter and Bacon
Fortified Pancakes with Honey Butter and Bacon

We started with breakfast: pancakes fortified with ground oatmeal for more fiber, cooked with fresh fruits and nuts. Instead of maple syrup, we made a cinnamon honey butter.

For others, we used a fresh strawberry sauce, a “lumpy syrup.”  We cooked uncured applewood bacon two different ways: frying in a pan (fastest) and baked in the oven (less fuss than frying and easier for a crowdful, but it takes longer).

Cut strawberries
Cut strawberries

We started with a review of the recipes, working out the principles of each – what made them work – and the sequence in which we would cook.

Blueberries, bannans, and almonds
Blueberries, bannans, and almonds

We first measured out and cut all ingredients, putting away the bulk packages to clear space for our cooking stations.

Everything was put in place (“mise en place“) before actually starting to cook. As we went along, we smelled and tasted ingredients, appreciating how they might all work together.

Fruit Sauce on Waffles - by Ilya
Fruit Sauce on Waffles – by Ilya

The Monday after this first class, Ilya surprised his Mom with waffles for breakfast.

He’d made his own variation of “lumpy syrup,” this time made with fresh, ripe nectarines.

Lunches

For the next two Fridays, we made lunches with classic Italian flavors.

We started with pasta –  Spaghetti with Chicken Sausage, Tomato, and Artichokes, along with a green salad with a Balsamic Vinaigrette. Mise en place. More knife skills practice, including learning that “a falling knife has no handle” – don’t try to catch a dropping knife. Practice with the scale, weighing 2oz. portions of spaghetti (the Italian portion size).

Mushroom Risotto
Mushroom Risotto

The next week was Mushroom Risotto, made with a mix of crimini and shiitake (not so Italian) mushrooms, along with a Lemony Green Bean Salad.

Always mise en place. Always cutting vegetables (Ilya was getting faster and more attentive every week), learning tricks like a fast way to peel garlic.

On the last Friday, we made the panna cotta so that it was set for the Saturday night family meal.

Family Dinner

The family dinner included Ilya, his parents, his sister, his brother, two grandfathers, my husband, and me.

Chicken Roulade, Stuffed with Spinach, Basil and Prosciutto
Chicken Roulade, Stuffed with Spinach, Basil and Prosciutto

We started with Cheesy Garlic Bread, munching  away while everything was cooking, then moved on to Chicken Roulade, stuffed with prosciutto, spinach, and basil. We served it with steamed broccoli, and  cannellini seasoned with thyme and olive oil.

The Chefs, with Panna Cotta
The Chefs, with Panna Cotta

 

But, the most fun was serving the Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis. We got toasts with bubbly for the meal. We just had so much fun.

The Chefs, with Panna Cotta
The  Panna Cotta, with Raspberry Coulis, Served
Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

The Soup of Summer – Gazpacho

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Kurt Vonnegut

Gazpacho, with Cilantro and Vegetable Chips
Gazpacho, with Cilantro and Vegetable Chips

After the summer solstice,

and especially after the Fourth of July,

my husband Mark was asking for gazpacho.

It’s what you need all summer long, especially when there’s a heat dome hanging over the country and even San Diego is humid and heavy. 

So, when Barbara and David were coming in from Arizona (definitely one hot place!), one of the first entries on the Happy Hour menu were Gazpacho Shooters.

My Gazpacho

To my mind and taste (and my recipe), gazpacho should be an island holiday, aromatic with fresh herbs, seductive with fresh tomato fragrance, glistening with a beautiful olive oil. All the ingredients should be fresh and harmonious, smoothed into a compatible, thick liquid that sings its own cool breeze song, with no harsh notes.

It takes some balancing, whatever the quantities written down in the recipe, to blend the flavors of the the fresh ingredients, as they are now, in this moment. Buy the most fragrant you can find in the store (I never buy tomatoes without smelling them – if no fragrance, no sale.) Taste and balance, taste and season, maybe just a little. It takes some time and attention.

And, it must be well chilled. Get a bottle of tomato juice that contains only tomatoes and have it in the fridge for at least a day. Mix up your batch of gazpacho and tune it, then chill it for at least a good 4 – 6 hours before serving. 

Anyway, that’s the way I like it. And, apparently so did the gang at the Happy Hour. Some soup even went home to go to the Hollywood Bowl with Russell and Emily the next day.

Everyone Else’s Gazpacho

Everyone seems to have been coming up with Gazpacho this summer, some with watermelon, some with extra cucumber, some quite classical.

 Some (like the one that came out today from Ina Garten) is  quite like mine, which, in turn, is based originally on the recipe in Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, one of my favorite cookbooks of all time. I’ve been cooking out of it since the 1970’s, so the cover’s come off and it is full of my notes and scribbles. 

So try mine, or try others, see which you like the best… and keep cool.

Or, just give me a day’s notice, and I’ll make some for you.

 

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Just the Tip of the Iceberg (Party Planning)

“No single event can awaken within us a stranger whose existence we had never suspected. To live is to be slowly born.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras

Reserved for Treo BBQ sign
Reserved for Treo BBQ

A week ago was the 2nd annual Treo Building Tour and BBQ Party.

It was also the Social Committee’s 1st birthday.

 

Last Year’s Revelations

Like an awakening from a dystopian dream, last year’s tour and party opened up rooms previously unseen by residents.

Matt, heading up the new engineering staff,  showed off the mechanical and electrical rooms, revealed how water and fire and air are handled, told about the daily and weekly system checks, even showed what San Diego looks like from the top of 26 floors. For that one morning, we got a glimpse of what makes the building work, day after day, with scarcely a thought from residents. It’s amazing. And, very reassuring.

The Community Room was also opened up for ad hoc availability or by reservation –  every day –  to residents. Following the building tour, HOA board members doubled as caterers, putting together a BBQ picnic in the Community Room and outside in the courtyard.

Over burgers and salad and wine, Eric (then HOA Board President) asked Cathy if she would put together a Social Committee.

Cathy was the perfect nominee –  former owner of a charming country inn on the East Coast that catered showers and weddings, a great cook herself, a marathon runner, a mother of three grown kids, always ready to step in and help neighbors — she is also a brilliant recruiter. She turned to me and asked if I’d help. Without a second thought about my job, two charities, my aging mother, and my website, I said, “Sure!” 

Within a day, we had more than a dozen ideas for activities that might appeal to various contingencies of the community. Over this past year, we have had potlucks at home, happy hours around town at local restaurants, canasta nights, sporting event potlucks, a street taco party for the winter party. Whenever someone comes up with a new idea, they are in charge of that activity. For the summer party, we decided to cater it ourselves.

Tip of the Iceberg

Running the engineering of a condo tower building well or putting on a great party is like the proverbial iceberg  — 90% of it is not obvious.

It just seems to happen, happily. And, with good staff and planning and systems, it does come off with ease.

Party Planning

Formal planning is to a party what mise en place is to a meal. It’s the organization and thought and imagination that makes it all happen predictably when it comes time to execute.

It all starts with written notes and plans, even if just scribbled on a yellow pad. Menu and equipment lists, budget, lead times and schedules for preparation and setup. Written notes spark the imagination into the minds and preferences and movements of the guests. It also identifies how many people are needed on the crew, both before and during the party.

It’s what I do for an outdoor party for 75, for a Thanksgiving dinner for 15, and even (roughly) for a 12-course small plates “Happy Hour” for four. It’s the only way I know to be calm and happy and in the moment before anyone arrives. 

Developing written notes is like the concert pianist’s hours of arpeggios practice.  It’s the mental imagination of execution that prepares you for the actual party.

Parties are culinary performance. Once a party begins, what counts is the attitude and mood and presence of the host and crew. Practice time is over. It’s show time.

Items and Costings

Treo BBQ Items & Costings - #1 Party Planning
Treo BBQ Items & Costings – #1 Party Planning

A month ago, my sister and I did a survey at Costco to make up a list of menu possibilities and check prices.

I transferred these to a spreadsheet, reviewed it with Cathy for her thoughts and knowledge of current supplies, and added up the prices to submit a budget  to the HOA Board for approval.

This would be our #1 planning document, on which all others would be based. From it, we could determine the final menu, track the shopping and preparation. Original count was for 45 persons, but by the Tuesday before the party, the sign-up sheet showed nearly 70. We shopped for 75. 

Menu Planning

For any party, you need to decide what is bought and what is made. For this party, given the timeframes and small crew, we were going to buy it all. With the large crowd, we would have plenty to do just setting up and cooking.

The menu was designed to accommodate the widest range of tastes and dietary requirements. (On the day, a vegan resident said how delighted she was that there was actually something for her to eat, not just burgers and hot dogs.) We chose top quality, avoiding those with labels that had artificial additives. 

  • Two kinds of salsa and a large range of chips.
  • Sirloin burgers and hot dogs for the traditional. Spicy sausages for a change, sweet chicken Italian sausages for those who don’t eat beef. Two kinds of vegan veggie burgers. Condiments and buns for all.
  • Sweet corn for grilling, trays of raw vegetables and dip, Caesar salad and potato salad, trays of sliced cheeses — all to accompany the mains, whatever the dietary preference.
  • Desserts included a large chocolate cake, a foot-wide apple pie, and a tray of 60 cookies.

The Crew

Jabbear, the Treo property manager, arranged for fold-up tables for the stations, storage of dry goods with access to the room and carts, cleaning and clearance of the fridge for cold items on the afternoon before the party. He also arranged for early cleaning of the barbecues. At 6.15am on the day, I could hear the BBQs being cleaned and I saw staff checking at 7 that they were all ready. 

Russell and Emily (members of the Social Committee who head up the monthly Canasta Night) took on getting the wine and beer the day before the party, and ice early that morning. We already had stocks of water and soda. They also volunteered to help set up and work the party. 

Celeste volunteered to cut the desserts, after she went on the building tour.

Cathy, of course, was there throughout: planning, shopping, set-up, maintaining stations.

Everyone on the crew, as well as others from the party, helped clean up and get the community room restored after the party.

What an amazing crew of cooperation! 

Shopping

After the initial Costco pricing trip, we knew what we could get ahead of time, and what had rebates for the Memorial Day weekend.

We made a separate shopping trip to get all the plates, cutlery, glasses, condiments, and salsa so that we wouldn’t have to worry about them closer to the time. Get whatever you can, as early as you can, and check them off the list.

Besides, we needed to be sure that the goods would all fit in my car. On the day before the party, Cathy and I went and got all the fresh food and stored it in the refrigerator.

Planning Set-Up and Assignments

Treo BBQ Serving Dishes - Party Planning #2
Treo BBQ Serving Dishes – Party Planning #2

On the day, I made a plan of serving dishes and a map of the various stations for review by the crew.

At 9am (for an official noon start), Cathy, Emily, Russell, and I met at the storage room and brought the tables and all non-refrigerated goods down to the community room.

 

Treo BBQ Stations Map - Party Planning #3
Treo BBQ Stations Map – Party Planning #3

 

We went over the plans and the map of the stations, optimizing the flow of people in several different lines.

We chose assignments:

  • BBQ Grill A – Cooking (me) with Emily as the runner to BBQ Grill B (for holding food for the beginning of the party) and Mains station.
  • Bar – Russell as bartender and trash monitor throughout.
  • Appetizers, chips, and salads would be maintained by Cathy.
  • Desserts would be inside, for serving from 1. This would allow me to cook from 11 – 1 and then cut the desserts. (Luckily, Celeste took that on since there were some early diners keen for dessert.)

By 10, we had all the stations set up with table cloths, serving dishes, unopened non-perishable goods, and extra supplies stowed. It was too early to bring out the fresh food and too early to fire the grills. Cathy made us a cup of tea.

Treo BBQ Setup @10
Treo BBQ Setup @10

The Party Schedule

Looking down from the roof top, the building tour could smell the cooking of burgers and veggie burgers, sausages and hot dogs and corn.

They also learned that shouts for attention go up, but not down. We never heard them, but we were ready for them when they arrived early at 11.45.

Here was our working schedule. We stuck to it precisely.

9.00am – Meet at storage room, bring non-perishables to community room. 

10 – 11am – Set up tables, cloths, bar, bowls, plates, servers, grills, non-perishable foods.

10.30am – Fire BBQ Grill A (main grill for cooking).

11.00am – Begin cooking. Get salads and cheeses from refrigerator. Fire up BBQ Grill B (only side fires on low, no fire in middle) for holding cooked food.

11.30am – First cooked to BBQ Grill B.

11.45am – Put out food onto tables.

Noon – Official start of party.

Community

Nearly 50 people went to this year’s building tour, double the count for last year’s. An estimated 75 came to the party afterwards (including two who were looking for the nearest exit, not realizing that the emergency alarm being broadcast was only a test). All reports were happy and the party stretched from before noon to after 3.30.

Like several other new-to-me neighbors who came to the party, Mike and Susan said that they’d never known such a friendly community. And, they’d lived in several other buildings before Treo.

Community means just that – coming together, recognizing your neighbors, living comfortably with others of different ages, interests, and backgrounds.  Community is not only fun, but practical: knowing your neighbors is the best security.

Nothing like a fun party with lots of food and friendly people to start off the summer.

Long live the Treo Social Committee!!

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Let them eat flowers!

“As long as I am breathing, in my eyes, I am just beginning.”
Criss Jami, Killosophy
 
Purple Shades of Spice Cake with Pansies
Purple Shades of Spice Cake with Pansies
Over this past week… 
 
I have made 5 layer cakes.
 
All tolled: two cakes for Andrea, with two before those for practicing new recipes, plus one for my friend Norberta’s birthday.

Birthday Flowers

Chocolate Cake for Andrea
Chocolate Cake for Andrea

Andrea was making a 16th birthday dinner party for her daughter and 15 or so of her friends, including one whose birthday was the day after.

Although Andrea had had a Purple Shades of Spice Cake with basil flowers for the date night party she’d given last year, she thought that a chocolate cake and a lemon cake  would be appreciated more by younger palates. But, she definitely wanted edible flowers as the decorations, whatever the flavors. 

Research

I got going on my research – looking for recipes that sounded delicious and deliverable, checking out the latest offerings at Gourmet Sweet Botanicals, where I’d gotten edible pansies for the Mother’s Day cake I had made for Angela.  

I chose fuchsia for the featured flower, with micro lemon basil for leaves. Gourmet ships overnight in an insulated box with wrapped cold packs, ensuring flower freshness for a couple of days.  I could have gone over to Specialty Produce – one of my very favorite places and where I’d first seen micro greens and edible flowers – but it was quicker and easier to order them from Gourmet Sweet Botanicals, where I’d ordered before.

For the recipes, I wanted truly delicious flavor, nothing too sophisticated, but made with reliable and top quality ingredients. I wanted both recipes to use the same kind of flour for simplicity in shopping. I wanted to decorate them similarly, but not identically.

Chocolate Cake

The chocolate cake recipe I liked best was one by RACH56 on Allrecipes.com, called Extreme Chocolate Cake. It gets an impressive 4.7 star rating from 1613 reviews!

Cake Box for Delivery
Cake Box for Delivery

I do think it is a great recipe, both for the cake and the frosting, although I made a couple of little changes. 

The recipe calls for 9-inch cake pans, which I used the first time I made it.

Next time, I used 8-inch pans because it makes a taller cake (better for splitting into layers) and fits into my 10″ box. For the 8-inch version, I just added a couple of extra minutes to the baking time to account for the greater height.

To ensure a moist, full-flavored chocolate cake, I made a chocolate simple syrup while the cake was baking. I heated 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar until the sugar melted, then added 1 teaspoon of  Chocolate Nielson Massey Extract. After turning out the cakes from the pans, I poked holes across the bottom side of each cake, using the skewer I’d used as a cake tester, and brushed on about half the syrup on both layers. The rest will keep in the cupboard for a while for making cocktails or other cakes.

Also, the “Ready In” figure in the recipe seems a bit misleading to me at 1 hour 5 minutes — that’s how long it takes before the cake comes out of the oven, but then you have to add in the time to cool in the pans (at least 10 minutes), another 30 – 60 minutes to cool the cake completely, and then another 30 minutes (probably) to frost and decorate it.

Lemon Cake

For the lemon cake, I liked the looks of Martha Stewart’s Lemon Cake: fresh lemon flavor, 8-inch pans, all-purpose flour, simple ingredients, already with instructions for making and using a lemon syrup to keep the cake moist. Making the syrup also candies the lemon slices (delicious!) for decorating the cake, too. (Maybe good in a lemon drop martini, too.)

The cake recipe says to Top it off with our (Martha Stewart’s) Whipped Frosting that’s the perfect light and fluffy complement to this moist cake” but, I preferred using the Food Network’s Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. It was 5-starred even after 455 reviews (now 456). It’s quick, so easy, more stable for making ahead of time than the whipped frosting, I thought. In addition to the vanilla, I added a teaspoon of Fiori de Sicilia (“Flowers of Sicily”) for a citrusy sophistication.

On my initial, practice lemon cake, I didn’t use any frosting. Instead, I sliced up a carton of fresh strawberries (now is sure the season for them!) into a saucepan, added the juice of a lemon, a tablespoon or two of sugar, a splash of water. Heated just to the point of melting the sugar,  the strawberries were softened, giving up some of their juice for a syrupy filling and topping. It got rave reviews at my book club.

Delivery
Lemon Cake for Andrea
Lemon Cake for Andrea

Andrea had created a romantic set-up for the party: dining outside, looking towards the Bay to what might be a stunning sunset.

The flowered cakes continued the floral theme: vases of flowers, green leaves and flowers on the long tables, the floral plates that had been Andrea’s beloved grandmother’s. A testimonial to several generations of beautiful women.

The Day After

Orange Marigold Salad
Orange Marigold Salad

After all the cakes were made and delivered, I was definitely ready for salad.

I still had a bonus pack of edible marigolds that Gourmet Edible had included in my shipment. With a sweet and delicate flavor, the marigolds seemed the perfect complement to shredded carrots and an orange vinaigrette. Mark never even noticed he had eaten flowers for lunch.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Soft Openings, Hard Closings

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

One Door North
One Door North

 

 

 

Last Friday night, Mark and I went to an opening and a closing.

Soft Opening

One Door North opened last Friday, an American cuisine restaurant on 30th Street in North Park, just north of its sister, The Smoking Goat, a European bistro.  

The creations of Tammy and Fred Piehl, owners and executive chef of both, the restaurants offer a tantalizing choice between first-class French sophistication and down-to-earth, back-to-the-woods camping, without the critters.

One Door North - You are Here
One Door North – You are Here

One Door North leads you into the peaceful forest, with planks of poplar and pine for tables, laid wth porcelain paper plates.

Tables for Two
Tables for Two

The light is tranquil, the staff friendly and attentive. Simple planters with succulents decorate the tables.

Table in a Tent
Table in a Tent

In the back, in front of a wall of woods, are three tents – cozy and quiet for a gathering of up to eight, each with a unique chandelier. Candy and Denny, Mark and I loved it.

But, don’t be fooled by the rustication of the surroundings – this ain’t no Girl Scout Camp cooking.

The names on the menu may be familiar, from tri tip to trout, short ribs to s’mores, but the flavors are heavenly, subtle, exquisite. Mark wouldn’t even try a taste of my perfectly medium-rare tri tip over a bed of fingerlings and shiitakes because he didn’t want to spoil the delicacy of his trout and coleslaw and cornbread.

Happy Date Night!
Happy Date Night!

What a great date night!

On our way home, Mark got a text from our friend Ryan, who was at the soft opening of Herb & Wood (sounds like “Urban Wood?”) in North Little Italy.

He said that it was the last night of Downtown Johnny Brown’s. Rumor was that they were closing because of non-compliance with ADA regulations.  We decided to walk over.

Hard Closing

Mark described Downtown Johnny Brown’s as “the dive bar you never find unless you are not looking for it.”

Downtown Johnny Brown's
Downtown Johnny Brown’s

Although having a Third Avenue address, it’s actually on the Civic Center courtyard, set back on the left as you come through the walkway from A Street, diagonal from the San Diego Opera.

Outside, three young musicians whined out some Santana, while a few fans jumped to the beat. Inside, people were milling around, drinking, taking down signs. We saw a road sign half hidden by a dropped ceiling, with 8 clear bullet holes, that read “No Shooting within City Limits S.D.M.C. 53.10.”

Public Phone at the Civic Center
Public Phone at the Civic Center

We ordered a drink each of what was still available at the bar, drank it, then headed out. Just outside the patio, we saw a public telephone (When was the last time you used one of those?) that must have been used for years ago for call a taxi to get home.

Amazingly, it still had a dial tone.

Goings and Comings

I’m always sad when I see a place closing, see the sun dropping down behind the horizon, smell the pungency of falling leaves, hear the whoosh of the tide pulling away from the shore, the news of famous and friends passing.

I am, by nature, a “let’s get something new going” – , sunrise-, spring-,  incoming tide-, and newborn- kind of gal. But, I need to realize the other side, too. All that starts in this world, must end and pass on to something else: it’s the inspiration and expiration of life.

My Mom’s under hospice care now, and each day I sit and hold her arm, stroke her hand, kiss her head, just be still with her as she eats less and sleeps more, the fire cooling.

This coming weekend, my 3-year-old grand-niece Stella, that little lady of sparkling dark eyes and dancing feet and cheeky remarks, is arriving with her mama Lynzi and her grandmother Cynthia. The three and my mother my grandmother Marie’s name, too, now to the fifth generation.

Time spins on, an endless knot of connections and disconnections, comings and goings, openings and closings.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

It’s Greek to Me – Moussaka

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
Plato

Moussaka
Moussaka

When Mark and I lived in England nearly 20 years ago, a neighbor always made Moussaka when we were invited to dinner. Greece was a popular English holiday destination and Greek food a popular choice for parties. 

I don’t know how it was that I ever tried making it myself (maybe I’d made it before I’d ever tasted hers) because hers always had hard bitter bites of eggplant (“aubergine”) in it, with big puddles of orange grease floating on the top. Maybe I’d already eaten it in a Greek restaurant in London, so I knew how delicious it could be. Maybe I just was better able to interpret the recipe in Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course, THE cookbook of the day. 

Moussaka Patience

Or, maybe she was just in too much of a hurry. It’s a dish that takes time, even interpreted for the British home cook. Mary Platis, the California Greek Girl, told me that her family has a recipe that takes all day to make, and I’m sure it’s quite amazingly delicious. Delia’s is simpler than that, although it has three major steps that require some time and several pans and bowls.

Still, I recently had a taste for it. It’s been years since I’d made it, and I’d had leftovers from the leg of lamb we had at Easter. With moussaka in mind, I’d cut the medium-rare meat into 1/4-inch cubes and wrapped it airtight for the freezer.

The recipe calls for ground (“minced”) lamb or beef, but I figured  I could just lightly warm the already-cooked meat before it baked in the seasoning in the oven. I cooked the thinly sliced onions well, almost to golden, before adding the meat just to simmer for a minute.

Instead of cooking the garlic with the onions, I added it to the rest of the seasoning — red wine, tomato paste, cinnamon, fresh parsley, salt and pepper. The fragrance was heavenly: fruity and bright, with an exotic tingle from the cinnamon, the fresh-cut parsley, freshly ground black pepper.

The Eggplant

How you handle the eggplant is key to this recipe.

It doesn’t say so in Delia’s recipe, but I peeled the eggplant because I don’t like tough purple strings in my food. I had one large globe eggplant (her recipe calls for 3 medium ones)  that I cut into twelve 1/4 to 3/8-inch circular slices.

I sprinkled salt on top of each, then stacked them in a colander, topping the stacks with a plate and my alabaster mortar and pestle as a weight. I let the colander stand in the sink for 30 minutes to drain out excess moisture while I cooked the onions and mixed the seasonings. Then, I wiped them dry with paper towel before frying.

One thing you’ve gotta know about eggplant before frying it: it is unquenchable when it comes to oil. You should probably keep the full bottle out of its sight, but in any case, don’t use more than 2 Tablespoons per each 4-slice batch.

I heated the oil to shimmering, slid in the wiped-off eggplant slices, flipping each immediately so that each side got a little oil. I cooked them  until each side had brown markings on it, the eggplant had turned a pale green, and was soft. As a final measure against greasiness, I laid them between paper towels.

Meaty and Cheesy

I made a layer of eggplant in the bottom of a casserole dish (no greasing, please!), then topped that with half the seasoned meat and onions. Another layer of eggplant got topped with another layer of meat and onions.

I cooked up the cheese sauce, whisked in the eggs, and poured it over the meat and eggplant. On a whim, I sprinkled on some smoked paprika. All this goes into the oven for an hour, until the topping is high and puffy and a little browned. 

I took it out of the oven and let it cool a little to let the topping set and the bubbling to subside, but the fragrance was enticing. Finally, we had a taste (my mouth waters now as I think of it). It was magic — the eggplant had modestly melted into the mixture, leaving just a savory meat and cheese casserole with a lovely depth of flavor. 

The other day, my friend Patsy told me that I could never get her to eat eggplant. I’m not so sure that’s true.

For my interpretation of Delia’s recipe, see Moussaka.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Good Morning Muffins: Orange Cranberry Whole Wheat Muffins

Orange Cranberry Whole Wheat Muffins
Orange Cranberry Whole Wheat Muffins

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” ― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

 

Brenda was coming over Sunday morning…

… so, Saturday night I thought I’d whip up some muffins to go with coffee or tea.

The other day, I’d bought a bag of organic Cara Cara Naval Oranges at TJs – a slice of those Venezuelan  beauties turn my white wine spritzer into a sweet celebration.

Cara Cara Oranges and Cranberries
Cara Cara Oranges and Cranberries

I could use the juice and zest of an orange in the muffins.

The organic skins are tender and sweet. Maybe I’d also add a drop or two of Fiori di Sicilia to fortify the flavor.

Of course, my first stop for a recipe was King Arthur Flour: Cranberry Orange Crunch Muffins. Seemed like a good North/South fruit collaboration.

Ingredient Substitutions

I had a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour that I wanted to use — Bob’s Red Mill are great flours, and besides, it’s best not to keep flour around for too long, especially organic and whole grain, since they can go rancid. Pastry flour is softer and lighter than all-purpose flour or bread flour, with more starch and less gluten. I wanted to see how it would work for the muffins.

I’ve heard that one should always use the same brand and type flour every time for a given recipe, if you want consistent results. So, I was taking a risk swapping Bob for Arthur, but then, that’s the adventure of cooking. I like to experiment to get to know ingredients better.

The recipe called for vegetable oil, but I tend to have only my favorites on hand: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. Since it has the most neutral flavor — and grows locally in groves near citrus — I used avocado oil.

For a few years now, I’ve been using coconut sugar instead of white granulated sugar in all my baking since it has a lower glycemic index. I think the flavor has more character, too.

I was out of pecans, so I chopped up some almonds for the brown sugar and nut crunchy topping. 

Variations

The ingredients mixed together quickly and easily, although I found it to make only 9 muffins, instead of the recipe’s stated 12, even though I used a muffin scoop as suggested. They baked quickly in the suggested 20 minutes, and domed nicely.

I tried a half after they’d cooled. 

Nice spring, nice taste, although a little dry I thought from the whole wheat flour (and I still would have liked pecans on top). Maybe next time, I’d increase the amount of oil to 1 cup. 

Jackie's Jams Orange Cranberry Jam
Jackie’s Jams Orange Cranberry Jam

Today, maybe a bit of sweet butter and jam would do the trick. I found a jar of Orange Cranberry Jam from Jackie’s Jams, an all-natural artisan production made right here in San Diego County.

When Brenda arrived, she told me she’d already had her coffee and, inspired the last time we met by my tale of losing 40 pounds two years ago, she was on a diet. We drank sparkling water and ice, with a slice of cara cara orange.

For dessert last night, I had a muffin topped with Greek yoghurt. I gave a couple to the man at the front desk, brought one to my mother, while the rest said “Hello!” to the freezer.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Chili Weather – Chili Cheesy Mini Corn Muffins

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Chili Cheesy Mini Corn Muffins, Just out of the oven
Chili Cheesy Mini Corn Muffins, just out of the oven

My friend Tatyana came over for lunch on Saturday…

… and she was willing to taste test my Chili Cheesy Mini Corn Muffins that had just come out of the oven.

It was a lovely, special morning: weirdly warm with a Santa Ana wind. Perfect for a ‘just friends’ time, an hour or two without work or kids or family around.

We love them all, but sometimes friends just need some check-in time alone to discover how we are feeling about life, without other distractions. With friend’s visits, it’s OK that the kitchen is a wreck with about 4 projects going on at once.

CHSD Hospitality

The muffins were my first run for a recipe that I was making up for serving at the Culinary Historians of San Diego public meeting this next Saturday (February 20), when Ernest Miller will be presenting “Chili, Chilies, and Hot Sauce.” (We have a couple of other surprise treats to serve, too.)

Mini Corn Muffin Reviews

Tatyana really liked them, especially with a dap of homemade kumquat jam (Thanks, Heidi!). I gave her a few to take home with her.

Last night she emailed me, saying that her 10-year-old son Ilya also was a fan, and she would make them… as soon as I posted the recipe.

Chili Cheesy Mini Corn Muffins Midmorning Snack
Chili Cheesy Mini Corn Muffins Midmorning Snack

And, a moment ago, my husband Mark just remembered them and asked if there were any left for a midmorning snack. They are warming up now.

Just right for a chili day. (Sorry, Mid West and East Coast… please stay warm. You’ll still be safe when we are blown away with a tsunami or the earthquake of the century as retribution for this amazing climate.)

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

By the Bay: San Diego to Sydney

Bean and Bacon Vegetable Soup

“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.” Iris Murdoch, The Bell

The Guardian of Water
The Guardian of Water

It’s a tradition now…

…when Tom goes to Sydney, Terri and I meet early at The Guardian of Water statue on the harbor side of the San Diego County Administration building.

It started last November, when Tom had to be in Sydney for three weeks, including their 25th wedding anniversary.

Mosaic Base for The Guardian of the Water Statue
Mosaic Base for The Guardian of the Water Statue

To make up for the missed celebration, Tom conspired with friends and family to set up a range of mystery missions throughout the three weeks.

Terri was just told where and when to meet, but didn’t know who was going to be there.

For our meeting, Terri had a good idea it was going to be me, since I live only a few blocks away. She hadn’t been along the bay in a while, so there was plenty to explore with the new Broadway Pier developments. Besides, it’s always beautiful at sunrise along San Diego Bay: the light golden on bobbing masts and white hulls, glinting off windows across on Point Loma, the water a deep blue, the sky streaked pink.

After a brisk walk along the bay, we went over to India and Beech to Harbor Breakfast for a couple of delicious omelettes.

Paleo or Not

The first time we met, Terri had been following The Paleo diet (also one of the 38 rated by  US News and World Reports Best Diets).

I’d first heard of the Paleo diet from Loren Cordain, PhD, its founder, who was seated next to me on a plane from Denver to Portland, 10 years ago. He explained the thought behind the diet (nothing cultivated or processed) and was surprised I’d never heard of it. (It’s much more popular these days.) He also told me that getting enough vitamin D is essential to a healthy immune system. I’ve been taking Ds daily, ever since.

This past week, Terri told me that she’d switched her dietary regimen now to one  that had more fiber, and was feeling more energetic and less deprived. Everyday she makes sure to eat berries and mushrooms, but also has oatmeal and beans, making a big pot of some kind of bean soup every Sunday. She made it sound so good that I went home and made some myself: Bean and Bacon Vegetable Soup.

Reciprocity

Sydney Sunrise (Tom Roetker)
Sydney Sunrise (Tom Roetker)

Terri enjoyed the magical mystery tour that Tom set up for her in November, and it has inspired many to set up similar surprises for others.

In fact, the day after Tom returned from Sydney, Terri successfully surprised Tom with an anniversary party with all those who had participated. 

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Vegan…or Not

Brown Rice Bread Pudding
Tuscan Vegetables Stew
Sweet Potato Fries

“It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think yours is the only path.” Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

Coconut Brown Rice Pudding with Pomegranate Seeds (Vegan)
Coconut Brown Rice Pudding with Pomegranate Seeds (Vegan)

My muse has been running with vegetables…

…ever since I was planning for Jessica’s coming over to dinner last week.  

Vegan, really: no meat, no dairy, no fish, no eggs, just fruits and vegetables and nuts. No animal products.

Vegan Diet Rating

In this year’s  survey by US News and World Reports, the vegan diet ranks high for weigh-loss, diabetes, and heart-healthiness (#7, #4, and #6 respectively out of 38 diets), but not so great (#32) in the  category of Easiest Diets to Follow. Experts evaluated the diets on their eating flexibility and availability of ingredients.

No Imitations (Almost)

Tuscan Vegetables Stew (Vegan)
Tuscan Vegetables Stew (Vegan)

Generally, I’m not keen on processed food or imitation meat products (except that delicious soy chorizo, of course) .

I like to get down to the essence of the whole, fresh vegetable, not making it masquerade for anything. (I don’t mind if anyone else does — for instance, Jessica has recently found some imitation eggs that she says make great omelets.) 

My muse enjoys the challenge of finding a combination of ingredients that are genuinely themselves, within the constraints.

Sweet Potato Fries (vegan) with Pesto Eggplant (not vegan)
Sweet Potato Fries (vegan) with Pesto Eggplant (not vegan)

This week, it’s been vegan guidelines and healthier eating.

So, a dessert without eggs or dairy or simple carbs (Coconut Brown Rice Pudding).

A hearty stew without meat (Tuscan Vegetables Stew).

French fries with more fiber and less fat (Sweet Potato Fries).

Plato’s Pickles?

Years ago, when I was studying Plato, I’m sure I read that the need for political states (and warriors to protect them, guardians to direct them) arose from want of pickles… that itch to have just a little more, just a little spiciness, even one that didn’t grow in one’s own territory. I’ve been never been able to find that reference since, so maybe I dreamed it. But, there is something to it, how a little tweak can change things. 

When I came down to actually serving these perfectly vegan dishes, the muse had one more little whisper or two.

  • “How about a little dollop of Greek yoghurt on that bread pudding?”
  • “Little Italian meatballs or sausages would be great with that stew.”
  • “Those fries would be tasty dipped in a lemon-dill-yoghurt sauce.”

The pudding, the stew, and the fries recipes can be strictly vegan or, with sides and garnishes, more like the Flexitarian Diet

To me, the best “diet”, and easiest to follow, comes from Michael Pollan:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Ch-Ch-Changes: Chorizo

“…Ch-ch-changes
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time” Changes, by David Bowie

Soy Chorizo with Mushrooms and Peppers
Soy Chorizo with Mushrooms and Peppers

Almost 30 years ago…

Mark and I pulled over for breakfast at a café in Coolidge, Arizona, on our way back from the Grand Canyon. He parked the compact rental car between two large white pick-up trucks and muttered, “I want a truck.” (Hmmm, really? I couldn’t quite picture it outside our small cottage in Wargrave, Berkshire, England.)

The place was bright and buzzing. The waitress was working her way down the counter with the Bunn coffee pot, topping up the mugs of Stetson-wearing patrons. She handed us menus as we slid into the last two free stools. I love breakfast, and I was hungry.

What’s Chorizo?

“What’s chorizo?” I asked the waitress, when she came back with two waters and offered coffee. I heard a quiet chuckle from under the hat to my right, and she said, “Ah, …a kind of Mexican sausage.”

“Oh, OK. I’ll try that, with two eggs over easy and brown toast.”

My plate arrived with a little pile of something cozying up to the eggs – looking like a cross between coffee grounds and ground beef, within a nimbus of slick, shiny red oil. Unknown, unexpected (I’d only ever seen sausage as links or patties), but delicious! Spicy, chewy, not too hot. A memorable taste of the South West.

My Favorite Chorizo Now

Since then, we’ve moved to the States, bought an off-road truck, and have ready access to chorizo. But, when I started reading the ingredients label on commercially produced chorizo (typically: salivary glands, lymph nodes and fat, paprika, soy flour, salt, vinegar, spices, red pepper, garlic, sodium nitrate), I was turned off.

Always read the label!
Always read the label!

I was tempted to make homemade chorizo, using Rick Bayliss’s recipe in Mexico, One Plate at a Time, which I’m sure is delicious. Then, I came across Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo. No guts trash, actually no meat at all, and a lot less fat.

Sure, it’s pretty high in sodium (like many commercially produced foods), but, having tasted it once, I was sold. Nice, balanced peppery flavor, not so greasy, easy to digest. I made the mistake once of trying another store’s brand, but so disliked the flavor, I tossed the whole lot out. (Maybe you’d have a different opinion, but you can’t say I didn’t warn you.)

A Staple Ingredient

Mushroom Chorizo on Eggplant
Mushroom Chorizo on Eggplant

Now, TJ’s soy chorizo is a staple in my fridge. We are more likely to have it for lunch or dinner instead of breakfast, since we usually start the day with a protein shake.

We have it with eggs, but also as a component of other dishes. Last week, we had it on eggplant, garnished with scallions, alongside a roasted sweet potato.

When my vegan friend Jessica came over the other night for dinner, I was inspired to develop it into more of a main dish: Mushroom Chorizo and Peppers over Sunny Mexican Acorn Squash. Even the omnivores among us helped themselves.

Yes,  how things change over time.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly

Cuties – California Mandarins (Tangerine Tabouli)

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Cuties - California Mandarins, or Clementines, or Tangerines?
Cuties – California Mandarins, or Clementines, or Tangerines?

“So, what are you going to do with all those?”

…Carole asked, looking at the bag of little Cuties, as we tidied up the kitchen from the cookie making. “I dunno,” I answered. She told me that she’d used some in a chicken couscous dish the night before.

I just love miniature things – like the littlest star cookies we’d just made – and small plates for an entire dinner, and the little cutlery we set to go with them.  And, the mini ravioli I put into broth for a quick soup. And, miniature carrots and squashes. And, my little Mom. 

So, a bag of these of California mandarins (or clementines, or tangerines, or whatever they are called) are just too tempting not for me to get at least once in the season.

Promiscuous Fruit

Kevin West, in his gorgeous and encyclopedic Saving the Season:  a cook’s guide to home canning, pickling, and preserving, says, 

“Left to their own devices, citrus hybridize easily, even rampantly. Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and the rest–in fact all 1,036 varieties housed at the Citrus Variety Collection and untold others growing around the world–descended from just three primordial ancestors.” Those ancestors are the pomelo, the citron, and a primordial mandarin orange.

Whatever their heritage and this year’s name, I love their sweet taste and their low calories.

Using those Cuties

California Mandarins
California Mandarins

I like to include a bowl of peeled clementines at a happy hour spread, since they go so nicely with cheese, or crackers, or just by themselves.

They can always brighten up a drink, too. Last night, my husband Mark tossed a few into my white wine spritzer. Yum. 

And, of course, you can use their juice in a vinaigrette, instead of lemon  or vinegar. 

 

Tangerine Tabouli

Tangerine Tabouli with Sunny Mexican Chicken
Tangerine Tabouli with Sunny Mexican Chicken

I already had planned making Sunny Mexican Chicken for dinner. I wanted to make something light to go with that.

When Carole mentioned couscous, I thought of the multi-color quinoa I saw yesterday in my cupboard. (All my grains  are on the same shelf.)

I had a bunch of curly parsley, and another of scallions. An avocado on the counter had just gotten to perfect ripeness.

With the Cuties instead of tomatoes and lemons, with the quinoa instead of bulgar wheat, with the avocado instead of any feta cheese, and a few other seasonings, I’d have a Californian/South American version of tabouli: Tangerine Tabouli.

Mark said it was the first time he’d really liked quinoa.

Questions? Contact barbara@CulinaryOracle.com
©2017 Barbara Newton-Holmes
Print Friendly