Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fortune Cookie Reflections

Today my fortune cookie fortune said: “You will be a great success – both in business and social situations.”  Phew!  What a relief!  Seriously…after 2+ years of unemployment I was really beginning to wonder.  Now I know I can rest easy.  I mean, if the fortune cookie says it’s so then it’s so…right?! 
But that fortune cookie did get me to wondering about my current situation.  Who am I kidding?   That didn’t GET me to wondering.  Thinking and wondering about my situation is what I seem to be doing most of the time these past several months.  When will I find a job?  Will I ever go back to feeling financially secure?  How long is this recession really going to last?  Why does it seem like I’m the only one still out of work?  What’s wrong with me?  My friends and I affectionately refer to this kind of counterproductive self reflection as “ShitTown.”  I on more than one occasion have said that “My mind is like a bad neighborhood – no one should go there alone!”  I think we all find ourselves in ShitTown from time to time.  Like any bad neighborhood, the key is: DON’T GET OUTTA THE CAR.  Just find a way to get your ass back on the interstate and the hell out of that place.  It’s no good.  But it is so easy to become paralyzed by thoughts (analysis paralysis) and allow yourself to feel isolated believing you are the only one in the world who is suffering.  But you have to remember – and believe – that just isn’t so.  SO many people out there are hurting.  Many are in far worse shape than me.  We all have clouds in our life.  Stormy times.  Difficult struggles.  I try to remind myself of what my Mom would often tell me when life gets me down: “This too shall pass.”
I was watching Oprah’s new network this past weekend and she has this really wonderful new program called “Master Class.”  In it she interviews people she considers to be Masters; people like Diane Sawyer, Jay-Z, and Simon Cowell.  The one I was particularly moved by was Maya Angelou.  I’ve never read one of her books.  I’ve seen her on television and probably heard bits and pieces of her famous poems but so much of what she said about what she’s learned in life struck a chord with me.  Here are just a few of the thoughts she shared that I loved:
I’m aware that I’m a child of God.
It’s amazing to think that the IT which made fleas and mountains…and rivers…and stars…made ME.
What I pray for is humility…to know that there is something greater than I.
Then I have to know that the brute, the bigot and the batterer are all children of God; whether they know it or not.  And I’m supposed to treat them accordingly.  And it’s hard.  And I blow it all the time.

I loved that…and share her belief.  She talked about her grandmother “Mama” who raised her as a young child and her mother who raised her later in life and the lessons they instilled in her.  Like “When you get: give.  When you learn: teach.”  So simple. So powerful.  She also talked about doing right.  This especially inspired me because doing right is so important to me.  Maybe it’s because I was born a Libra ruled by the scales.  Or maybe it’s because I am the youngest of six children, a child of divorce who continuously fought so hard to keep peace in my family.  She said:
Now sister, you know what’s right.  Just do right.  You don’t really have to ask anybody.  The truth is: right may not be expedient.  It may not be profitable.  But it will satisfy your soul.  It brings you the kind of protection that body guards can’t give you.  Try to be that…in your church, in your temple.  Try to be that in your classroom.  Do it because it is right to do.  People will know you.  And they will add their prayers to your life.  They’ll wish you well.
So…take up the battle.  Take it up.  It’s yours.  This is your life.  This is your world.  So pick it up.  Pick up the battle and make it a better world.  Just where you are.
Isn’t that beautiful?  I can’t think of a better blessing than to have others wish you well and to add their prayers to your life.  So for today – I’m going to BELIEVE that dame fortune cookie.  Recognizing that I, too, am a child of God.  That there is something in me that is of value – and maybe not just to me.  I just have to keep FAITH and HOPE and TAKE UP THE BATTLE.  And remember that if my Mom were still here, she would tell me: “Child, this too shall pass.”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Welcome 2011!

Wow… where has January gone?!  Umm…while we are on the topic: where did that last decade go?!  As I reflected on that this morning I was really surprised at how quickly time has passed.  Isn’t it funny that as we get older time seems to go by faster?  As a child I remember thinking a month was nearly an eternity, let alone a year (except when it came to summer vacation which always flew by like lightning).  Yet as a quatrogenerian (can you dig it?!) I’m marveling at how the passage of TEN years went by so quickly?!  An old boss of mine had a great insight into explaining this phenomenon:  When you are a child, say ten years of age – the time that a week or month or even a whole year represents in comparison to your lifetime is much larger when you’re younger.  For example, a year when you’re a ten year old represents 1/10th of your lifetime vs. at age 30 one year represents only 1/30th of your life. Therefore, time is relative.   So in some twisted way, this seems comforting to me.
Speaking of twisted…(great segue right?!)
I know we usually think about lemons as a summer time fruit, but they are actually in season right now.  Tom’s mom has an abundant Meyer Lemon tree next door to her so last time I was there I picked oh… about 30 lemons.  I louvre lemons…especially Meyers!  In my excitement – perhaps it was their sweet floral scent that was intoxicating me – I didn’t really stop to think about how 2 people could possibly consume 30 lemons before they rotted.  So what did I do?  Well when life gives me lemons…I don’t just make lemonade, I head straight to the internet for every recipe I can find on Meyer lemons. 
I remembered coming across a food blog (Yummy Supper) a few months ago with beautiful photos that had 3 or 4 recipes for Meyer Lemons and so that’s where I started.  One recipe was for preserved lemons.  Never heard of it.  But then I saw the pictures of the Braised Halibut with Preserved Lemons and Pistachios and decided immediately I needed to try it!  I would love to say I’ve tried the Halibut, but the lemons take a month to “preserve” so all I can say is that I HOPE it turns out as good as it looks.  They are currently curing away in my fridge. 
Now that was all fine and well – but I needed a quick fix.  I needed to make something with my lemons that I could try RIGHT NOW.  So I decided to make Candied Lemon Bits – a fantastically easy recipe that is fast and Oooooo so yummy.  I think they could make a very sweet hostess gift, and certainly work great as a sweet breath freshener post-morning coffee.  Next I plan to make Martha Stewart’s Lemon Curd.  Do YOU have a favorite lemon recipe?  If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Now – normally I offer up a wine pairing suggestion.  But today I’m offering up a cocktail recipe – a Meyer Lemon Drop Martini. 
I hope you are lucky enough to have a Meyer lemon tree near you!
Preserved Lemons
There are some great photos demonstrating the process found on Yummy Supper Blog


12 Meyer Lemons
10 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
1 – 2 Clean Canning Jars

Scrub lemons until nice and clean. Cut a thin slice from the tops and bottoms of 10 lemons.  Set 2 whole lemons aside to juice later.  Cut two deep intersecting slits in the 10 lemons. Make sure each lemon is still attached, but the center should be nice and accessible to receive lots of salt. Heap salt into each crevice. Squish salted lemons into a clean jar or two.

Let lemons sit jarred for 3-4 days allowing the skins to soften. Then press the lemons again and cover them with juice squeezed from the two remaining lemons. Be sure the curing lemons are completely covered with juice (this will avoid mold growth).  Store in the refrigerator for at least a month before using.  As needed, pluck a preserved lemon from the jar, rinse off salt and use as directed by your recipe.
Also check out the Halibut recipe I mention…I can't wait to try it out!! 

Candied Lemon Peel 

4-6 Meyer Lemons
2 Cups Sugar, Divided
1 Cup Water
Wash and scrub lemons.  Peel your lemons into long strips while trying to avoid as much white “pith” as possible. After removing the peels, blanch them in simmering water for about 3 minutes to remove the bitter oils.  Scrape any remaining pith from the blanched peels using the back of a spoon. You might end up with a little pith, which is fine.Lay out parchment paper and set out a low bowl with sugar.  Take the strips/bits and dip them in the sugar, which will easily stick to the syrupy peels.  Let dry on parchment.  Store in an airtight container.

Make a simple syrup by combining 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir regularly until sugar has dissolved.  Add peels to simple syrup. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. (Note that thicker skinned citrus like oranges may need 5 minutes to blanch and up to 20 minutes in the syrup).

Be sure to save the simple syrup for my Meyer Lemon Drop Martini or if you are willing to part with the syrup, bottle it and give it to a friend!

Meyer Lemon Drop Martini
1 ½ oz. High Quality Vodka (I like Ketel One)
Juice from ½  Meyer Lemon
2 to 4 Tbsp Reserved Lemon Syrup (from Candied Lemon Peel recipe)
1 Cup Ice
Sugar (for rimming glass)

Wet a martini glass and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Run flesh of lemon around the rim of martini glass then dip into a plate with sugar on it to give a nice sugared rim.  Then combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker (add the ice last so as not to water down the delishiousness).  Give it a few good shakes (or stir if you prefer).  Pour into chilled martini glass and garnish with a bit of the candied lemon peel.  Mmmm…I Die.
Cheers -- and Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Yummy Weeknight Roast Chicken

Recently I came across a food blog called The Cilantropist whose author is a young woman from San Diego.  I am not sure exactly how I found her other than I had been surfing through blog after blog looking for some culinary inspiration.  Nearly every recipe she had listed had me salivating at the thought of making it myself, not to mention she’s an amazing photographer so I could see just how delicious her food would be.  Needless to say, I immediately bookmarked her and have been “following” her ever since.   The recipe I’m going to share this evening is her Roast Chicken with Grapefruit and Cilantro. 
Quite honestly, this is the BEST roast chicken I have ever made at home.  Now, I will tell you that if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and you want a delicious roast chicken go to my buddy Jon’s restaurant Radius in SOMA (used to be Julia’s Supper Club).  That roast chicken is probably the very best I’ve ever tasted in my life (and everyone I’ve sent there agrees so far)…but I would have to pay for a very expensive culinary education or hire a chef to be able to serve something quite like it at home.  Plus, you can be sure it was drowned in butter because it was just too good, and I’m not allowed to use butter in weekday recipes in my household. J  This particular recipe is geared more for the home cook.  The original recipe was an adaptation of one of Ina Garten’s classic recipes – one I have made nearly a hundred times.  That is what first drew me to it.  While Ina’s recipe is a great go-to staple with classic ingredients of lemon, garlic & thyme – there was something intriguing to me about the combination of Grapefruit and Cilantro.  Since I first found the recipe about a month ago, I have made it four times.  Including last night.  It’s THAT good!  Oh, and also -- this is a good time to mention that recipes like this are great because it teaches you a METHOD.  Any ingredients you think sound good together can be stuffed into the cavity of a chicken and roasted.  What I took away from this recipe is the desire to explore what you can stuff under the skin to flavor the chicken (stay tuned).  The flavors of the grapefruit and cilantro completely infuse the meat – and it comes out SO moist.  You’ve gotta try it! 
For the Chicken:
1 4-5 lb. Whole Chicken
½ Grapefruit (I prefer the Pink or Ruby Reds)
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
1 ½ Tablespoons Butter, melted
Onions, small potatoes, and carrots (if desired) -- my favorite combination is onion, carrot and fennel served with mashed potatoes
For the Cilantro Paste:
¾ Cup Fresh Cilantro leaves
¼ Cup Olive Oil
1 ½ teaspoons Grapefruit zest
3 teaspoons Grapefruit juice
2 Shallots, roughly chopped
1 Garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Brown Sugar (I use closer to 1 Tablespoon)
1 teaspoon Honey
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Rinse and pat dry chicken, removing giblets, neck, etc. from cavity (not all chickens have them, but many do).  Generously salt and pepper all sides of the chicken (inside and out).  Zest grapefruit, reserving 1 ½ teaspoons of grated zest.  Cut grapefruit in half, squeeze one half to obtain about 3 teaspoons juice.  Cut remaining half into chunk
s and stuff into the cavity of the chicken (placing flesh of grapefruit towards the meat for maximum flavor infusion).  Blend ingredients for cilantro paste in a blender or food processor until a paste is formed. 

Then, carefully separate the skin from the breast meat.  Gently using your fingers, create a pouch between skin and meat.  Use a spoon to transfer several tablespoons of the cilantro paste under the skin, on top of the breast meat.  Truss the legs of the bird, and tuck the wings under.  In a roasting pan, arrange vegetables (if desired), then place bird on top. 

Baste bird with melted butter (or you could use olive oil if watching your saturated fat intake), and then place chicken in oven to roast for about 1 ½ hours.  Check bird about half way through cooking time, if skin is burning from paste, add a tin foil tent to prevent further browning allowing the chicken to continue to cook until it comes up to temperature. 
Just a side note: there is much debate about the proper temperature for poultry…I recommend using a good digital thermometer making sure your internal temperature is at about 165 degrees, and that when pierced the juices run clear.  I usually cook my breast meat to about 170 and thighs about 180 before pulling out of oven to rest.  It pays to be safe especially when it comes to poultry.  Bon Appetit!

Suggested Wine Pairings:
Whites:  I prefer a drier, crisper white with my poultry – like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, although a Chardonnay would go well too.  Last night I drank a Jacob’s Creek Moscato which was delicately sweet and slightly carbonated which was unexpected but it went along deliously.
Reds:  I generally stick to whites with poultry, but if you’re a true red enthusiast go for a lighter styled red like a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Homemade Pumpkin Soup that's Mmm Mmm Good!

I’m not sure what happened to our cool fall weather here in Southern California, as we’re hitting record highs in the 90s this week.  But, that didn’t stop me from trying my hand at making pumpkin soup. 
I have only made pumpkin soup from scratch one other time, about 3 or 4 years ago.  I remember being surprised at how easy it was and how yummy it turned out.  I’m not sure why I forgot to try it again…so when my boyfriend Tom’s mom gave me a Sugar Pie Pumpkin last week, I decided to roast it up and make some soup.  I searched high and low for that recipe I used a few years back, but couldn’t for the life of me remember where I found it.  I’m sure from watching some television show on the Food Network or PBS.  I couldn’t even really remember what all went into it, though it seems I had to purchase some spices I didn’t already own.  And there was a jalapeno pepper in it – that, I remember!  But beyond that, I just remember that it was a spicy savory yummy goodness that seemed worth revisiting.  In my search I did find 3 or 4 different recipes that sounded good and that very well could have been close to the same recipe I used before, but there was one that really stood out: Thai Spiced Pumpkin Soup.  I absolutely L-O-V-E love red Thai curry and my most favorite version is the one with coconut milk and pumpkin.  When I was living in the Bay Area (most recently in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland) I would have pumpkin curry about once a week.  Much to my disappointment, I have not been able to find pumpkin curry anywhere in Orange County.   L  So when I found this recipe, I just HAD to try it.  I’m sure you’ll find this to be a real TREAT especially now that prices on pumpkins have been slashed post Halloween! (puns intended J)
I have to admit, I’m a little intimidated by making homemade soup.  I consider myself to be a fairly skilled home cook with better than average skills and so it’s a bit counter-intuitive that something as simple as soup would instill culinary insecurity in me.  You see, I didn’t grow up eating homemade soup.   My mother like many moms of the early 70s made great use of all the modern conveniences of boxed and canned goods in her recipes.  Growing up, she never learned to cook because her mother passed away when she was young.  It was my Dad’s grandmother (my great-grandma Graves) and mother (my Nana) who were the first to teach her when she was in her early 20s and first married to my father.  By the time I was born, I had five other siblings, so with all those mouths to feed she took every convenience she could in the kitchen.  So Campbell’s was the soup of our household.

There is so very little that intimidates me in the kitchen, and even I can see the irony that soup – arguably one of the easiest things to make, would be my nemesis.  About 6 or 7 years ago I had an Italian roommate named Alessandro who lived with me for a few months.  As you can imagine, being Italian, he was a great cook.  The thing he cooked the most – nearly every single night – was soup.  Ultimately, it was watching him make soup that finally started to unravel the mystery for me, and I began to gain confidence and finally the courage to try it for myself.  It’s not a mainstay in my arsenal of recipes, but if I had to whip one up with just the ingredients I had on hand I could.  And, it probably would even taste good.  But this soup…this one is going into the arsenal!  I can see enjoying this each and every fall.  I did make a few tweaks to the recipe I found…hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did! Trust me it’s Mmm Mmm Good!

1 Sugar Pie Pumpkin
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 Can of Coconut Milk (14 oz.)
1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon of Red Curry Paste
1-2 Cups Vegetable or Chicken stock (heat separately in microwave)
Dash of Fresh grated nutmeg
Pinch of sugar

Crispy Sage Leaves (optional as garnish)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the pumpkin in half lengthwise, and remove seeds and stringy stuff (reserve seeds if desired and roast for snacking or as a garnish for soup).  Lightly oil with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.  Place cut side down on a foil lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 45 min to an hour until a knife easily pokes through flesh.  Remove pumpkin from oven and let cool.  Once cooled, scoop out flesh and place in saucepan.  Depending on how much pumpkin flesh you yield, add ½ to 1 can of coconut milk to your desired taste.  Gently heat on stove top and add in curry paste.  I like my curry fairly spicy so I added more than a Tablespoon…start with 1 teaspoon and add to it for your own desired spiciness.   Remove from heat and add in warmed stock ½ cup at a time.  Puree the soup with a stick blender adding additional stock until soup reaches your desired texture.  Then season with salt, a pinch of sugar and a dash of fresh nutmeg.  I also browned some small sage leaves in butter until they were crisp and added as a garnish.

Suggested Wine Pairings:
When eating spicy Thai foods, I enjoy a dry Muscat or Riesling if opting for wine.  Otherwise go for an ice cold beer (I recommend Singha or Sapporo)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Great Fall Recipe – Homemade Chili Con Carne Y Frijoles!

Last fall, I got a hankering for chili.  Now, I know there are a lot of debates about what makes for a good bowl of chili, however for me it always means: meat and BEANS.  So if you're Texan, or a purist, this might not be the recipe for you.  However, if you are the casual cook, or just like to savor yummy deliciousness in every bite...then this recipe will not disappoint!

Up to that point, I had only made homemade chili about a dozen times or so.  Typically very basic versions including ground beef (or sometimes chicken or turkey) + chili seasoning + tomato sauce + kidney beans.  This time, however, I was looking to create something I hadn't ever tasted before, and wasn’t even sure existed.  You know -- a rich, thick & chunky chili that had a little heat (but not too spicy), that was savory with a little smokiness?!  So I searched the internet far and wide and pulled from a few recipes I found that inspired me.  The result: perfection in a bowl! 

So if you're feeling like fall has fallen where you live, this is a perfect dish to warm your soul and welcome the change of season.


For the Spice Mix

1 Tbsp Chili Powder
¼ tsp Cayenne (to taste)
½ Tbsp Cumin
½ Tbsp Sweet Paprika
½ Tbsp Oregano
¼ tsp Ground Cinnamon
Dash of Ground Cloves
(You could also add some ground coriander…about ½ Tbsp)
Combine above spices together in a small bowl and set aside.
For the Chili
2-4 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Medium to Large Onion, chopped (reserve ¼ finely chop for garnish)
1 Green Pepper, chopped
1 Small Red Pepper, chopped
1 Large Stock of Celery, finely chopped
1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeded & ribbed, finely chopped (for more heat, leave in the ribs & seeds)
2-3 Cloves Garlic, finely minced
1 – 1 ½ lbs of Ground Sirloin
½ - ¾ Bottle Amber or Dark Beer (I used Fat Tire…yum!)
1-2 Tbsp Sugar
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
2 Regular Cans of Diced Tomatoes
1 Large Can + 1 Regular Can of Dark Red Kidney Beans
1 Large Can of Crushed Tomatoes
1 Tbsp Worcestershire
Few dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce (to taste)

For the Toppings
¼ Large Onion (reserved from above)
1 Cup Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 Avocado, cut into thin slices
½ Cup Sour Cream (I prefer Daisy)
Step 1 – Prepare spice mixture, set aside.
Step 2 - In a large stock pot over medium heat, add half of the oil and allow it to head before adding the onion, cooking until slightly translucent. Next, add the green and red peppers along with celery, garlic and jalapeno.  Stir regularly to prevent browning.  Slow cook for a few minutes until all veggies are slightly softened.  Set aside in a separate bowl.
Step 3 - Heat remaining oil in same stock pot and add beef, use a wooden paddle to crumble beef and cook until brown.  Add ½ to ¾ of one bottle of beer (reserve the rest for sipping while you cook J).  Stir until most of the liquid has evaporated then add in spice mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If the mixture tastes a bit bitter, add in sugar to balance the flavors.
Step 4 - Once flavors are close to where you want them, add back in the reserved veggies.  Drain and add in diced tomatoes. Drain and rinse the beans and add them into the pot.  Next, add in the crushed tomatoes stirring to combine all ingredients together.  Check flavors and add any additional spices as needed.  Then add ½ to 1 Tbsp of Worcestershire and a few dashes or more of hot sauce to taste.
Step 5 - Let simmer on low for ½ hr or longer.  Then serve in a big bowl garnished with finely chopped onion, grated sharp cheddar cheese, a few thin slices of avocado and a dollop of Daisy sour cream.  Mmmm Good! 

(Serves 4-6 people, depending on their appetites (Leftovers are even more tasty the next day!  This is also a freezer friendly recipe)

Suggested Wine Pairings:
Several red varietals could go well -- a Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or perhaps a Zinfandel
If you only drink white -- try a full bodied Chardonnay.  It's your best bet to stand up to the rich spicy flavors of the chili.
Just writing that made my tummy growl.  It must be time for lunch…

Sunday, October 17, 2010

To Blog or Not To Blog...

I have wanted to create a blog for quite some time now.  Although I consider myself to be tech-savvy, I admittedly am not always an early adopter to technology.  I prefer to sit back, observe others, think about it, procrastinate some, and then finally take the plunge.  This blog is no exception. 
My Mom was a great writer, who was full of wit and wisdom.  I like to think that I got my knack for writing from her.  I am no master of the English language, nor do I consider myself a literary scholar.  I am, in both written and oral forms, a conversationalist.  I write like I speak.  And truth be told, I fancy myself as funny, and a good story teller.  Just like my Mom!  You may or may not agree.  I guess we’ll just have to see!
The biggest roadblock for me in starting this blog was WHAT to write about…and then I decided I would write about the things that I love (like food, wine and cooking), the things that inspire me, and some of my basic observations on life.  I have no idea who might be interested in reading my blog, but I certainly hope that it will be an inspiration to those around me.