Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Plumeria love

Is there a more beautiful flower than this? I think not. It looks good enough to eat, though I've been hard pressed to find any recipes that call for plumeria (it is edible, but the stems are poisonous... seems like a delicate line to walk). Even so, it is entirely blog-worthy. Have you smelled them? Amazing.

This image goes in my mental aloha file, tucked away when I need a bit of sunny cheer. I have a framed photograph uncannily similar to this in my office, from our trip there in 2006. It brings back many happy memories. I brought home (legally) some plumeria starts; it's been two years and they have only to leaf out nicely in the summer, and then drop the leaves in the fall... maybe one day the picture I post will be a flower from my own kitchen!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Turtles: Hawaiian, coastal and otherwise

My mother-in-law loves turtles. She especially enjoys a variety she found on the Oregon Coast that have cashews as the nuts, not pecans. I decided I wanted to make some for her for a Christmas treat. Having cashews around our house (or nuts of any kind, really), they can disappear rather quickly (!), so I ended up with much more caramel than nuts, so I rummaged up some peanuts and some macadamia nuts I hadn't already used for Christmas baking, and thus, some unusual and tasty turtles were born!

These sweet treats were made on the night that Bad Dog Ruby temporarily disappeared. (I have been told that maybe she wouldn't hike off if I called her Good Dog Ruby, but I'm not so sure.) For some reason, she decided that one of her little bunkers under the junipers would make a good overnight camp, much to our distress. When she reappeared at the back door at 7 a.m. the next morning, I was much too happy to be angry. We had a hugging/warming session and all was well.

All that is to say that the caramel came off the stove just as I discovered Ruby was AWOL. So it sat for more than an hour cooling, and I thought maybe it would be a wash and I'd be starting over the next day. But when I finally decided I'd searched high and low and wasn't going to find Ruby that night, I came back in and distracted myself with putting the turtles together. The caramel actually worked quite well still after all that cooling, and was actually more manageable than I imagine it would be with the 5 minutes* recommended cooling in the recipe I was (sort of) following.

Caramel on the stove, bubbling away.

Peanuty turtles...

Aloha! This will be the closest I'll get to Hawaii this year...

(adapted from the Boston Herald)

Caramel requires about 60 to 70 minutes from start to finish. Remember never to touch the boiling sugar mixture. (Have you ever had a caramel burn? It's unlike any other. Really.)

3/4 pound roasted cashews (Coastal!)
3/4 pound raw macadamias (Hawaiian!)
3/4 pound roasted peanuts (otherwise...)
2 2/3 cups sweetened condensed milk
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut up
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 pounds semisweet and milk chocolate, coarsely chopped

In a medium heavy-based saucepan, combine the milk, granulated and brown sugars, and corn syrup. Set the pan over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugars. Wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in hot water. When the sugar mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat to medium-low. Stir every 3 to 5 minutes until it turns dark amber and a candy thermometer reads 236 degrees. This will take about 1 hour and time will vary with each pot. (If you do not have a candy thermometer, remove a sample of the caramel with a spoon and drop it in a glass of cold water. If it forms into a soft ball, the caramel is done.)

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Let the mixture cool without stirring for about 5 minutes.*

Spoon a dollop of caramel over a small group of nuts. Spoon another dollop of caramel over another group of nuts, so the two rounds do not touch. Repeat until every group of nuts has a hood of caramel on top. Leave to cool.

You can do the grown up thing and melt your chocolate over a simmering water bath, but if you're a shortcutter like me, the microwave works just fine. I have learned my lesson (repeatedly, sadly) and follow the general rule of 1 minute of microwave time, followed by 30 second intervals with stirring at each stop, until a soft and dippable consistency is reached.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Separate the turtles and transfer to the parchment.

Spoon melted chocolate over the turtle clumps, thoroughly, and chill.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday night grateful moment

We spend all this time and energy looking forward to Christmas and then it's over, and so quickly... but, still, many things to be grateful for:

* Safe travels for family and friends who traveled to be together. I'm so glad we spontaneously decided to move Christmas to Seattle when the Goerlitz Jrs. couldn't get out of town to California... it was so wonderful to be all together. But for cousins and aunties and others who were on the road, we're glad you got where you needed to be. Now let's all get home safely too!

* Lots of good food, amazing Perfect Bites (already capitalized, soon to be trademarked!) and many sweet nibbles that we only have this time of year.

* So much snow it's stunning. I can't really remember this kind of snow since my childhood, and then only occasionally. I know it has jammed up many a traveling plan, and I'm sorry for that, but I can't help but exclaim about it, frequently. And when it appears to be melting even slightly, I'm disappointed. Weirdo, I know.

* Laughter. Whether from sweet neices or son or mother or sister-in-law, we've giggled and laughed and just had so much fun.

* Warmth. I can't help but think of those who don't have our comforts in these extreme weather conditions, and I'm grateful that my toes are warm at night.

* Snow tires! The guys helped push someone up the street today and I'm grateful for my tires that keep me going going going, even through major slush and ruts.

* Most of all I'm grateful for the (trite alert) reason for the season, and though I (sadly, barely) pause for what Dec. 25 actually means, it means so much. And I'm grateful for that.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas ornaments I love, on our tree

I wandered around the tree last week and just enjoyed the various arrangements of ornaments and bows. Our tree is very very eclectic--no designer colors and trendiness here, just old-fashioned glass and variety and sentimentality. Ah! I thought I would share some of them, new and old.

This is a very new one, a birthday present from my sister- and mother-in-law, a tribute to the shared love of gardening. Isn't it pretty? Surprising light for it's size and heft.

OK, this is a really cheap little thing from Target a few years back. I have them in every jewel color of the rainbow, and love love them. I have always had a thing for snowflakes... how appropriate this year of super snow everywhere!

A leaf, yet another new-ish acquisition from sweet auntie MJ. I love it. This one didn't actually make it onto the tree this year... it hangs out down by my end of the dining table so that I can see it all the time! It has some of my very favorite colors in it, and a leaf to boot!

This one was a wedding present (or was it a gift on the first Christmas of marriage? Hazy memory...) and is a very favored ornament. I got a companion red one for my birthday this year, and can't think for the life of me why I didn't take a picture of it too. I just love them both--there are those gorgeous maple leaves that make me very proud of my Canadian heritage!

This is one of a series that includes Noel, love, peace, etc. Very Christmas sentiments... I love the round typeface and the idea of words on my tree? How cool.

This one is the oldest ornament on the tree. It's my very first ornament, from my childhood. (I can hear the "ahhs" now.) So probably 30+ years old... and probably a Hallmark one as well. I love hanging it every year.

We have lots of different birds on our tree, from cardinals to bluebirds in all forms--glass, wood, carved, etc. This snowy owl is my favorite, mostly because he seems to be watching me no matter where in the living room. While that might seem spooky, it's really not. It's more comforting. I would do a whole tree of birds some day, but keep it really a mixed bag of materials and forms so that it looks funky and natural still. We'll see. I would have a hard time not hanging the ornaments that mean so much to me and bring back happy Christmas memories every year...

Wishing all of you a merry Christmas and a very wonderful 2009. May it be filled with all good things. And if it's not (and, well, we already know it won't be, because it's life, right?), may we have the grace and strength to deal with what comes and be supported/supporting and loved/loving along the way!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Goody platter delights!

Here's a platter of goodies I took to a ladies' tea a couple of weeks ago... and these also graced teh first work party, too. Candy cane biscotti (left), fruit and nut fudge (center) and elfin shortbread bites (right). A happy trio!

Elfin shortbread bites
1 1/4 cups flour
3 T sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 TB red and green sprinkles

If using a food processor, pulse the flour and sugar until blended. Add in the butter until it all resembles fine crumbs. Add the sprinkles and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. (Don't overdo it, or the dough will turn pink from the sprinkles.)

Remove to a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until the dough forms a ball. The original recipe I found online called for patting it out into a square and cutting little squares. I decided I wanted round shapes, so used a melon baller and used that to shape little cookies.

Bake at 325 for 12-14 minutes, and then transfer the cookies on the parchment to a cooling rack. Store in a tightly covered container at room temp for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months. Makes approximately 4 dozen little rounds.

Candy cane biscotti
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
2/3 cup finely crushed peppermint candy canes

1 14 oz. package white chocolate chips
Crushed peppermint candy canes

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine butter and sugar in large bowl, beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often until creamy. Add eggs, continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour and baking powder; continue beating until well mixed. Stir in crushed candy.

Divide dough into fourths on lightly floured surface. Shape each fourth into long round logs with lightly floured hands. Place logs three inches apart onto lightly greased large cookie sheet.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until tops are cracked and ends just start to turn light brown. Remove from oven; reduce oven termperature to 325 degrees. Cool logs 10 minutes on cookie sheet.
Carefully remove logs to cutting surface. Cut each log into 1/2 inch slices with sharp serrated knife. Arrange pieces on same cookie sheet, cut side down.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, turning once, or until cookies are ligh golden brown and crisp on both sides. Place on cooling rack, cool completely.

Melt white chocolate in microwave--1 minute, then stir, continue 30 seconds at a time, stirring until chocolate is melted. Dip one end of biscotti into chocolate, then into bowl of chopped candy canes, set on wax paper until hard.
Makes about 4 dozen biscotti.

Fruit and Nut Fudge
1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
3 cups chocolate chips (half semi-sweet, half milk chocolate)
1.5 tsp vanilla
Dash salt
1/2 c toasted hazelnuts, chopped in half
1/2 c dried blueberries
1/2 c dried cherries

Foil line an 8x8 pan, and spray lightly with cooking spray. Melt your milk, your chips and vanilla in a pot on stove top. Remove from heat, stir in nuts and fruit, then pour into foil-lined pan. Chill 2 to 3 hours. Put your longest non-serated cuttin' knife in a glass of warm water, wipe dry, then slice. Re-heat your knife via the water whenever the going gets less smooth.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Florentine tarts and bars, oh my!

I have always had a hard time remembering the camera... I used to think, after every catering event, that I really should have taken pictures. And yet I never got any better at remembering the camera! Same was true this December... alas. I did think of it last Wednesday, but after the hungry hordes had already gone by, and things were a little picked over... but I a couple of shots of the holidays, with recipes:

The very popular mini caramel apples:

These are florentine tarts, about to go in the oven. They bubbled and baked quite lovely.

Florentine tarts
Traditionally these are cookies dipped in chocolate. I remember the day I first tasted these. 1988. (Holy cow, that's 20 years ago. Calm down, old lady. Breathe.) There was this amazing bakery down on the food level of the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney and I would pass by it each day on my way to work. I hadn't ever heard of Florentines before, but never forgot them from the first bite, and tried various recipes over the years. Caramel and fruit and nuts and chocolate. Wow. They aren't the easiest to make (runny and hot, sometimes unruly. If you've ever had a burn from caramel, you won't soon forget it!), so when I discovered this recipe for Florentine Bars in Sunset magazine a couple of years ago, I was quite happy. It was an easier version of the original, and a way to make large quantities--alwasy a plus with me. But me being me, I needed to find an even easier way to make Florentines, and thought maybe putting the filling in tart shells would accomplish that. It did, more or less... But I'm going to list the recipe for the bars here, and let you fiddle as you will...

Florentine bars
1 c salted butter, room temp
1 3/4 c sugar
1 egg plus one egg yolk
2 1/2 c cake flour
1/2 c plus 6 T unsalted butter
1/3 c honey
1/3 c heavy whipping cream
12 oz. sliced almonds
1/2 c. candied orange peel
1/2 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter with 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and egg yolk and beat to combine. Gradually add flour and mix well. Dough will be very soft. Transfer to a floured 16x11 inch parchment paper and roll to size of parchment. Lift and transfer, still on parchment, to large rimmed baking sheet. Bake about 12 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together unsalted butter, remaing 1 1/4 cup sugar, honey and cream. Cook mixture, stirring frequently, until it registers 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in nuts and fruit.

Using spatula, spread warm topping over crust and bake until topping is carmelized and almonds are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cut while still warm into 2-inch squares. Cool completely.

So good. Just ask my sister-in-law. We've been known to sit around the Florentine platter on many a Christmas morn. That and the caramel corn... but that's another story!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Oh, I am so blogging about this"

Isn't this a Christmas card for the times? Love it. Available at Wondermark, but probably not going to get to you in time for Christmas, much less in the mail, too! Put that one on the to-do list for next year.

Cake truffles: Peanut butter and Nutella heaven

I posted a couple of pictures last week on these babies, but not the recipe. It's really easy, and really yummy, so you must give it a whirl sometime. The blog where I found it online, Baked Perfection, talked about all sorts of flavors, but I went for the same ones she tried and loved them. I didn't go all out and dip them in chocolate--I had just finished dipping a couple of hundred little marshmallow-krispie treats in chocolate and thought not only would that be redundant, but my little carpal tunnel hands needed a different activity!

Peanut Butter and Nutella Cake Truffles
(I changed the name from "balls" to "truffles"... don't you think?)

1 box yellow cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)
8 oz. peanut butter
8 oz. nutella

Bake the cake according to package directions. As soon cake is cooked split the cake into two halves and crumble each half into a large bowl. Mix each bowl of crumbled cake thoroughly with peanut butter in one and nutella in the other. Roll each mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet lined with wax paper (Should make approximately 40). Chill for several hours (you can speed this up by putting in the freezer).

I rolled the peanut butter truffles in confectioner's sugar and the nutella ones in finely chopped toasted hazelnuts. I would probably do the peanut butter ones in chocolate in the future, but I was perfectly happy with how the nutella ones turned out.

These are definitely keepers!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Yummy nut patties

These little gems are a family favorite. I used to try and make them into balls, like meatballs, but because they aren't really that consistency, they would have a hard time holding together. So gone are nut balls (aren't you relieved?) and here are nut patties.

They are mostly based off An Apple A Day recipe, but largely done by feel and by memory at this point. Today we had them with mashed potatoes and gravy and a broccoli bake, and I'm surprised I got off the couch and went for a ski afterward! But I did. After a bit of a pause, I did.

Nut patties
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 t. salt
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
1/2 c. grated cheddar
1 T. chopped parsley
1 egg
1 c. bread crumbs
1 c. cottage cheese

Mix all ingredients together and from into patties. Fry in a nonstick pan (sprayed with Pam or some such spray, of course, who trusts nonstick anyway?) until brown on both sides. Serve with mushroom gravy.

And enjoy!

Winter wonderland

We have lots of birds right now in the feeders outside the living room window. They are happy and chirpy and I love that we feed them.

Who has to snuffle around in the snow and get cold? Bad Dog Ruby, that's who. She's sweet and loves the snow like the crazy dog that she is, but doesn't really know when it's time to come in and get warm. Doesn't she just look so huggable, though? She really is, in spite of her bad dog ways...

Chief, looking like a prison dog there behind the wire... he was watching me come in from a little xcountry ski jaunt this afternoon...

I don't know if you can tell what this is, it didn't photograph well, but all over the fields there are these patches where hawks have come down into the snow to grab some rodent or something, and there are beautiful marks where the claws scrape the snow before the big grab. Anyway, it seemed picture-worthy at the time, made me wish for better photography skills... but I wish that most days anyway.
There's an idea of how much snow we've gotten. This sweet and wonderful birdbath was a gift from Corinne five years ago. I remember it showed up on a very particular day (sadness and joy, and the slightest glint of possibility for romance...) for me (Dec. 18, also sweet Lucy's day of birth), and it has meant a great deal to me over the years to look at that birdbath and think of our dear friendship.
He may look like he's guarding the property, but what Chief is really doing is watching the sheep at the neighbor's place. He turned his head back for me at just the right moment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday night grateful moment

Oh this week flew by! Can't really believe it's Friday. But o-so glad it is... This week I'm grateful for:

Seth's band concert. It was good to be reminded that all great musicians have to start somewhere. The difference between beginning band and the jazz group (8th graders) was quite significant. I could actually tap my toe along with them...

Snow days. I know many both near and far who cursed the snow days, but with Seth at his dad's it didn't impact me too greatly, and on the day I was able to snag him away for lunch with husband and I, and some afternoon wrapping/Wii time, I was quite pleased with the seemingly schizophrenic school district. (FYI, the picture above is from two days ago... we have about another foot now!)

Persistence for my precious laptop. When it crashed almost two weeks ago, I thought the end was near. But with help from IT and husband's calm persistence in finding a solution, I am now typing away happily again on ye olde laptop!

Majority of baking is done. What's left will be "for fun" and small batches, none of this x8 multiplication! And some of it will undoubtedly be with my mother, so that's extra sweet.

Anticipation of a break--a break in the snow (hopefully!) and a general vacation break. Theoretically we're headed out in the general direction of the Great White North. Snow may make the journey longer, but it will happen, between storms. I'm just taking it one day at a time.

Green boots that warm my feet and my heart (ahhhh). Ever-thoughtful early Christmas gift from husband. All things green rock with me, so these are beyond fab. Wore them today and love them! Comfortable and chic, what more could you ask for?

Humor. I just dig laughing, so much. I like to hear other people laugh too. I saw this fun thing on Jen's blog this week and laughed so long and hard. I want to laugh more; it's one of my new year's resolutions. I remember times in middle school and high school when my partner in giggling and I would get kicked out of class and make our stumbling, giggly way to the hall, and just lose it for minutes at a time. It's hard to make a case for adults giggling their way through the world, but still, a laugh now and then just clears my mind and puts everything in perspective.

Christmas memories. I have some really great memories over the years, but one of my favorites is of Seth and I looking up Christmas lyrics online and singing songs and carols at our little house on Francis Street five years ago... can't believe he was 7! And, we slept by the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and fell asleep watching Home Alone. He gave me a hat and mitts for Christmas that year, and I still wear the mitts even though Bad Dog Ruby chewed a hole in one finger last winter...

Soon this Christmas will be a memory too... so make some good ones! Merry merry and blessings all around.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 6

Product placement criticism right off the bat: Catch Hosea's flagrant use of the Samsung phone? Those product placements are just a bit more than I need in a reality show. Pays the bills, I suppose. But still...

Martha Stewart as quickfire judge, very cool. Love the one pot idea. A nice constraint for the cheftestants. And there were some yummy entries to boot, and in 45 minutes too.

However, I couldn't believe that Ariane won with her cauliflower puree and beef--once again the big protein rules the day. Granted, I would love love love to eat the dish, and probably will attempt it at home soon, but in the realm of one-pot, her dish barely qualified in my thinking. (I may have to eat my words on Ariane eventually; time will tell... I'm not ready to completely roll over on this one.) In the one-pot realm, if the dishes tasted good, Stefan's goulash or Eugene's stew or Hosea's paella or even Fabio's polenta (minus the duck) would seem to fit the bill much better. Even Jeff's potato risotto. I think I would like that dish, in concept. I might even try that at home too, just to see if it could work. Martha's criticism of Fabio's polenta ("it was a little gray") didn't ring true as the video of the dish rolled and it was obviously yellowy and yummy looking. And her criticism that she couldn't "see the mushrooms" seemed odd. But, on-the-spot judging can't be easy. Martha didn't seem to really enjoy that process, and I heard her on some talk show earlier this week chatting about how she couldn't do a Top Chef style of show regularly, which presents her as softer than I envision her. I think of her as being rather sharp and ruthless... maybe not. She actually apologized to the people whose food she didn't like ("I'm sorry, Jeff, your risotto was a little starchy and heavy."). Ha.

So, on to elimination. Or so we thought...! The Twelve Days of Christmas for a charity event... not a bad idea. Fits quite nicely when you have 12 cheftestants left...

Ariane's comment about feeding 250 people being "a lot" made me laugh. Tis true. Most restauranteurs don't have a clue what caterers put out (so to speak) on a regular basis. So the caterers in the bunch (Carla, etc.) should have an edge there... but as we found later (pause for drama), not so much. There were also some comments while they were cooking about how much food it is for 250... again, ha! If you need to cook all courses for 250, maybe. But one little appetizer for 250? That's nothing. Really. When people ask me how to cook for large quantities, I always say just think about cooking for 10 people. That's easy, right? Now multiply it. There. Not so hard. Well, that and a little practice. I actually have a hard time scaling it back to just 10 now... Leftovers. Ugh.

Very interesting challenge, all in all. The major whoo-haa was having the fridge door open overnight and various proteins being ruined. That would be horrible. I haven't had that particular horror, but I used to have more than a few OCD moments with my walk-in reefer. I would check it, go to lock the door to the catering kitchen, feel somehow that the walk-in door must have opened (yeah, heavy door, on it's own...) and go back and check it again. Yeesh. But when you have hundreds of dollars of ingredients at stake, you can get a little twitchy sometimes...

Anyway, just before that little fiasco, I was just thinking about how nicely they are all getting along this season. No real swearing fits, no fisticuffs in the stew room, people helping each other. What's with that? Way too friendly. Obviously these people haven't been watching Survivor (but neither have I. Maybe they've gotten friendlier there as well?). But in it's own way, nice to see. So then, with proteins ruined, everyone pitches in to help Hosea and Rhadika. Very cool.

My favorite line of the night: "You aren't going to win with deviled eggs." I had been thinking, just prior to that comment (notice how my brilliance just preceeds Top Chef revelations? Curious, eh?) was that it was a very creative thing for Ariane to do, and how much I would love to sample six different varieties of deviled eggs. So Tom and I aren't on the same page about that one!

I was glad to see the winners get their kudos, but after the losers were called in and they revealed that really, no one cooked well this time around, it was a little sad. I do have to give some support to the chefs and a wee bit of criticism to the judges: I think that good food is entirely possible and expected in any one of the elimination challenges, and since I didn't taste the food, I can't say if it was all really as "disappointing" as Natasha Richardson (guest judge) said it was. But! This is a catered event. That means not cooking on site. That means difficulty with assembly and execution. When was the last time you raved about an hors d'ouevres, hot or cold or inbetween, at a cocktail party? It's just not the same setting as a restaurant kitchen and I felt like they were judging it AS IF that was the standard... maybe it was, but that's a bit unrealistic. I'm just saying.

So, no one went home. They got a little pep talk in the stew room from Tom, and next week they get to all cook "their food." Well, if they don't get great food with wide open no-parameter cooking, then definitely someone should pack their knives and go!

I've been waiting for Toby Young all season. I knew he was coming along, and I'm assuming he's here to take Gail's place while she honeymoons? We'll see. I'm looking forward to his wit and brutal honesty (though what he knows about food seems beside the point)! And from the previews, it looks like the chefs don't much like him. How very fun. Gimmicky, but fun. Which brings us back to product placement... gimmicky and not fun. Nuff said.

Craving creativity

Feeling rather done with food for a few minutes (other than posting and sharing recipes, which I still intend to do!), I turn back to my second love, the internet! And, having my laptop fixed and back on my lap (bare naked like a newborn, however), I am ready to frolic online and find my old faves. Here are two sites that I think are pretty cool in the creativity realm:



I haven't yet created anything on either site, but I've viewed favorites (drawminoes must be English or Canadian--check out that u in favourite!) and pondered diving in... maybe over the Christmas break?!

Happy creating! Now off to watch Top Chef and hopefull stay awake enough to follow what's going on!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Party No. 2, or as Sher says...

...help me, I've fallen into the holiday baking black hole! Or is it rabbit hole? Either one works right now. I have moments of sheer baking joy, followed by despair. (Will my kitchen ever be clean again? How many cookies should one person eat in an hour? Why am I out of chocolate again?) The highs, the lows. Could it have something to do with sugar? Perhaps...

But the menu for this week... think of me at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Actually, just think of me all day on Wednesday!

In the savory realm...
*Tortilla tapas. Think bite size chile rellanos, sort of.
*Broccoli cheese souffle cups. The broccoli is just there as a foil for the cheese, and a little color too, I suppose.
*Endive with chevre and grapes.
*Artichoke toasts--as in, artichoke spread on baguette, broiled, toasted, etc.
*Cucumber cups with salmon mousse.

The sweet kingdom contains:
*Chocolate cups with custard--I have wanted to get those chocolate cups from Costco for the past couple of years... finally did. Now to fill! Yum.
*Florentine tarts. Taking the easy way out with the florentines... yum. They turned out scrummy tonight. Don't ask me how I know for sure (pats her tummy).
*Chocolate-dipped marshmallow squares.
* And here's where we confess that things change up around here... rather frequently. I said something about peanut butter cake "truffles" and chocolate hazelnut cake "truffles" for the last party... then I decided I didn't want too many round things (mini caramel apples in little cups) and went for the fruit and nut fudge (which was very yummy indeed). Well, now the truffles are ready to roll (ha, literally! I amuse myself!), and they are quite fine. AND, I'm making those apples again (see below; so obviously I got over the too-man-round-things issue...).

So here are the truffles on their first go-round with experimenting...
Fine, pretty, gooey and chocolatey, of course...

And then, I spent a few hours dipping the marshmallow treats in chocolate and thought, not gonna do that again. I like mindless dipping same as the next fella, but really? Let's get a little creative. And, having a steady supply of hazelnuts on hand (always!), I went for a little more rustic on the approach. And, frankly, I like the taste better... less overwhemingly CHOCOLATE. (Don't kill me chocoholics. I understand your kind, I'm just not one of you.)

*And back, by popular demand, the mini caramel apples. Every once in awhile there's an item that gets so many positive comments you just have to make it over and over again. And since I finally got it going really well just as I was finishing making these last week, I figured, why not?!This time I will take pictures.

And now for a completely random boy in the post. Someone had his last basketball game of the 6th grade season today! It's been a fun season, some really good games, and not that it matters, but his teams (he's on both A and B) both won today, so yeah! And the only way I got him to even smile for my camera (Mom at a basketball game is pretty embarrasing on so many levels) was to tell him this was for his Grandma and Grandpa! Ha. So I figured I should share, seeing as how it was such a blatant lie!

I will one day figure out how to cook AND blog about it at the same time. Right now I am fine doing one or the other, but both seems just a little more than this little bunyon can handle. Yes, you read right. I feel like a bunyon right now. Not Paul. A foot thing. And yes, that is an acceptable spelling. Thanks for asking.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday night grateful moment

This has been quite a week. So glad to get to Friday night... peace and relaxation for a few hours before it starts all over again.

Grateful for:
* Friends and sushi and cookie exchange parties (1 down, 1 to go!). And chatting. And sharing sweet kid stories. Love it.
* Music, Christmas and otherwise. Check out the video below. Straight, No Chaser from Indiana University. A great a capella group that has a new holiday CD out: Holiday Spirits. The CD is a reunion effort of a former SNC group (from a decade ago), and they are getting great press and will be on TV many times through the holidays. So fun. After the video below is done, there are some other clips with a fun interview, etc.

* My doggies. See Wednesday if you need more explanation. And, Darby and Ruby had a "moment" yesterday that resulted in Darby needing a nice warm bath and some comfort. I hope order is restored in the pack...
* Online Christmas shopping. Love it. Packages come, and sometimes things go back, but still, the ease of shopping from the comfort of home... ah!
* My men. So grateful for the haven that is home.
* Health. With news of illness (some serious, some less so) all around, I am so struck by gift of good health and what I need to do to continue that in the coming years. I want to be well in the "pre-golden" era... and beyond!
* Almost to the solstice. In a little more than a week we will get to turn the tide on this darkness and it will begin to creep back to longer days! Hermit tendencies will ebb, hopefully.
* Goodies galore. This is related to health, I suppose, but in moderation, I am tickled with all the new goodies and yummies of the season. It took me a bit to get the momentum going, but now that I'm there, expect pictures and posts.
* Which brings me to being grateful for computer access even though my laptop seems to be on the fritz. With Seth gone this week, I've comandeered his desktop and while it doesn't afford the cozy, go-anywhere freedom of my laptop, doesn't make me feel like I'm back in the dark, pre-computer ages, either.
* Unexpected packages in the mail. There are the expected ones, which are many this time of year... and then there are the unexpected, filled with tidbits and yummies and inspiration. I hope I wasn't supposed to wait to open it?

Peace, joy and goodwill, people. Remember that this is the time of year when extraordinary things can and do take place! Love it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 5

Otherwise known as the "But I didn't even taste it" episode. I swear, I thought those words were going to be Carla's doom, right there. Just pack your knives, lady.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Fun quickfire. Each season they have done the test-your-palate thing, and this was a quirky spin to it. I liked the way they pitted the cheftestants against each other, and had elimination rounds. And I very much liked it that Stefan didn't win. Ha. I do still like him, and think he's a great chef, but the crossed arms and smug exterior can wear on a viewer... that and the admission that he'd married the same woman twice. I thought that was hilarious. You could tell he's not into the whole American "sharing" thing and he was very uncomfortable with the level of familiarity in that setting. Hee hee. I don't think I know anyone who's actually done that--married the same person twice. No thanks. But Hosea won the quickfire fair and square, yeah for him!

OK, moving on to the elimination... Quite fun to get to cater Gail's bridal shower. How very game of Gail... And, some good teams--cool to divide it up into something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue... I would have liked to work with the "old" team, I think. Or the borrowed. (Um, yes, both winning teams. What can I say?) And why "blue" didn't do something blueberry and desserty for the fourth course is a mystery to me. But for the "old" guys, that was such a grin of relief and pride on Jeff's face when they praised his heirloom tomato sorbet. He has been under the gun more often than not lately, and you could just see him brighten with their positive comments. So good for him. And for "borrowed," I thought it was clever to borrow a culure. I wouldn't have known where to start with that one.

Can I just say that I continue to believe that Ariane is NOT going to win Top Chef? I could go down on this one, but really, I just don't see it. I get that well-executed lamb (and meat in general) is a good thing. But sweet little Jamie had conceptualized the whole dish, seemed to lead out quite solidly, and did her rock-solid carrot puree (that doesn't sound like a big deal as I write it, but still...), and I couldn't believe they just handed it to Ariane. Unreal. And I felt for Jamie with the under-her-breath comment of "I so want to win," and WHAM they name Ariane. Double ouch with a bandaid. It didn't have the feel (that they usually do with their editing trickery) that the decision was discussed, debated, had some weight/thought to it.

And I kind of felt the same way about the decision on who should go home. I was actually very surprised to see Daniel get the ax. I mean, Eugene conceptualized the whole surf-n-turf sushi thing, and was the genius brains behind deconstructing it too. Huh? Deconstructed sushi? Those poor ladies at the bridal shower seemed so confused. So Eugene would have been my pick, hands down. (Although, judging from the bravotv.com site's poll on the topic, I am close to alone in that thought: 85% thought Danny should go; 15% thought Eugene deserved the chopping block. Hmmm. So maybe don't trust my judgement here? Nah. Everyone else is wrong.)

And what about Carla with that whiz-bang comment about not even tasting her dish? They have POUNDED that concept in over the years: do NOT serve food you haven't tasted. Period. (Alas, I have done that many times. Haven't had it bite bad, yet, but always make resolutions not to do it again... then too, I'm not usually conceiving on the fly like these guys.)

But Daniel, who has never been my favorite, rose on my list with his parting shot of some goofy jowly thing he did to make everyone laugh. A class act on the way out the door. And, at least no tears and wimpers like that last guy...

And it related Top Chef news, Season 4 winner Stephanie Izzard (above) was in Walla Walla this past weekend for the barrel tasting event that ran the entire weekend. Check out the video segment from our local newspaper. Down to earth girl. Oh, and I know one of the guys who was working the line at Saviah, but that shouldn't be too surprising, given that this IS still Walla Walla!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Grateful for doggies

I just love this little guy. What persistence!

Chief went to the vet yesterday afternoon. Just his usual annual check. No shots, but we wanted to make sure all is at least stable with his hip, and he had a funky spot on his sweet white nose a while ago, so just wanted a thumbs up on health. While we were there another doggy was on his way in for his last visit, so to speak. A very sweet, very old and sick dog. Chief and I shed a little tear on the way home (he's quite sensitive like that), and came home to an enthusiastic greeting from the pack. Hugs all around.

So as they are annoying me in the coming days, whether barking at coyotes or digging for gophers in the lawn, or chewing on sprinkler heads, I will be grateful for their happy greetings, their desire to kiss me and their sweet dispositions (for the most part). Now, must go give the morning meds.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday night grateful moment

The tree is up and decorated. Took a week, sort of, and help from the lovely s-in-l to get it done, but it's beautiful.

The house looks beautiful and Christmas-y, finally. There are still pumpkins on the front step though... I haven't had time to cook them up and I can't bring myself to throw them away, but some resolution on the pumpkins will happen this weekend.

The sound of the boys wrestling upstairs makes me very happy. As long as it stops before someone loses an eye, all is good.

Haystacks. I may have made a too-large one for myself tonight, but I was hungry and it was yummy!

Safe travels for the brother and family as they headed over clear roads from Seattle this afternoon. They and the lovely dog Beatrice arrived in time for haystacks! And our wild pack of dogs wants to know why the litttle sweet Beatrice has the coveted indoor spot... and Beatrice wants to know who are those big kids outside and when can I go play? Um, never.

Friends and soup. Had a lovely lunch with a girlfriend today and lovely Thai chicken coconut soup too... I appreciate so much the people who have been with me lo these many years and seen me through some pretty interesting life changes. Invaluable. The karmic debt is deep.

The fire in the fireplace.

Glass Christmas balls. I discovered this week that someone has invented shatterproof (ie plastic) Christmas balls. That's wrong, plain and simple. Christmas balls are glass, and should be treated gently. So I found a few more GLASS ONES in all my favorite colors, and smiled.

Fudge. And cookies. And all the good things I need to make before Monday... My pantry is full and ready to burst forth with various goodness-es.

I have pondered, the past 5 Christmases or so (after an especially horrific Christmas 6 years ago), that Christmas is such a special and magical time. It's like things are possible at this time of year that couldn't happen at any other time. It is possible for friendships to be mended. Romances might begin. There's just a general feeling of goodwill that I find very reassuring about humans. It's a nice time to be on the planet. So go on now, mend those friendships. Start those romances. Go on now!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 4

So I got to pace and talk to the TV again this week... life is good! Well, actually I ironed (a very rare occasion these days) and puttered around cleaning the basement while watching this installment of As The Chefs Stew. Don't you like how everyone has to sit in the "stew room" together while we know that it's down to 3 potential knife-packers? Looking for drama, methinks.

Speaking of, this is a bit of an aside, but the first 500 times I heard the phrase "thrown under the bus," I thought it was funny and clever if used appropriately, more or less. But now, I'm over it. Really. Figure out a new way to say it, chefs. You're not being thrown under a bus, you're... being hacked by Henkels? being gored by Globals? I don't know. Someone is fighting to stay while you get sent home... yeah, that's called competition. But no more under-bus-throwing.

I would have very much enjoyed both sides of the quickfire--fun to make/conceptualize a breakfast amuse bouche, and so so so much fun to eat! And, I like Rocco DeSpirito well enough--he has weathered some pretty sorry flops (anyone remember The Restaurant? What I remember was that the product placement made Top Chef look tame by comparison.) Anyway, not my favorite chef of all time, but I don't suppose we can have Anthony Bourdain every week, right?

But breakfast in a bite? Great idea. Reminded me of my pondering re: the perfect bite combining all the flavors of Thanksgiving on a fork. (Next year we'll just do Thanksgiving amuse-bouche style! Ha. I think there would be protests.) It was nice to see Leah do well again (though she quite predictably tanked in the elimination challenge, as seems to be the curse of the "immune"). And I loved what Stefan did with the egg shell and heuvos rancheros concept.

From there we moved on to the idea of a 2.5 minute live television segment. This would not have been my favorite area to compete in. I do that "freeze" thing in front of a video camera and get all stiff. (Not as stiff and cross-armed as Jamie and her undercooked egg, though. Just over-poised and all wide-eyed. Not comfortable.) They ran through the contestants pretty quickly in this segment--it was hard to get a sense of what each made, other than the chefs at either end of the spectrum. I felt bad for those who couldn't get it together enough to actually finish the dish, and found it interesting that the judges decided to judge based on the food they got to eat, since the competition's all about food/taste. I get they had to draw the line somewhere, but not completing the task? That's pretty big.

The idea that Danny (Daniel) is charming is rather lost on me... I was in agreement with Tom that Danny's hamminess isn't really all that appealing on air. But Danny's kind of lost on me most of the time anyway. I'm all for cuddly chefs, but cuddly chefs with strange sideburns and a Brooklyn accent? I feel like we see this "character" every season, and they are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Oh dear, now I fear I've gone too far. Hate emails from Danny's mom... yeah, right.

Now about the creme brulee. What was the loser sentence Alex said as he was concieving that dish--"It's like a free pass making dessert because they'll expect you to not do well." So what did he do? Not well. Dork. Make and cool and brulee a custard in an hour? Double dork. At this point I'm taking the whole dessert thing personally. Do it right or go home. Which is what happened in this case! Justice. Sweet justice.

Fabio performed very well for someone who was nervous about his English and didn't really relish the whole live-TV thing. I've never been super-charmed by Italian men (most of the ones I've had personal interaction with were Italians living in Sydney, while waiting tables at an Italian restaurant... so put the two cultures together and I'll just leave it at that...). But, Fabio is charming. I really think he's got some good potential, is laid back enough, and a good chef... his dishes are usually simple but look like they taste good (other than his breakfast in the quickfire!).

Jeff's dish(es) didn't really do it for me this week--either in the quickfire or the elimination. Maybe trying a bit too hard? Just a thought. He seems to be having some difficulty settling in. Like there's some substance there, but it's not focused. My perception, anyway.

Major kudos to Ariane for that salad. As soon as I heard watermelon-tomato-feta-olive salad I thought she would at least be able to pull off something flavorful. While it's not exactly menu-stretching material, I don't think she deserved any flak for choosing something "easy." Pfffft. As if. The whole idea is to do something well, and do it in 2.5 mintues. Now granted, those Today show ladies didn't have a clue how long it took her to make it, they just voted based on taste. But still, that was the stated goal, right? The taste. A great win for Ariane. May have to eat my earlier she's-not-here-for-the-long-haul words, but my gut says that she's in a lull, and will come back under fire sooner rather than later. But we won't dwell on that, we'll just wish her well. Next week will come soon enough.

I have discovered a fun blog about Top Chef. I thought they'd have last night's already up, but the link is for Episode 3... I'm sure the next one will be up soon. It's a fun blow-by-blow. And, from Bravo, I'm now following Spike and Andrew (Season 4) on Twitter, as they tweet during the show. What a hoot that should be.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas party menu No. 1

Woe is me. Holiday menu planning has gotten more and more difficult over the years. One simple reason: access to an increasing number of recipes online. Isn't that just a trial? Don't you feel sorry for me? Ha.

Those lovely and predictable Better Homes and Gardens special occasion publications at the grocery checkout just don't cut it any more. Which is not to say I don't still rely on old favorites and traditions... I do. But this year is somewhere around the dozenth year that I've done the work-party-catering thing, and I do feel the need to shake it up a little. So no little flourless chocolate bites this year, no pesto-sundried tomato torte. There's time enough for those next year... let's do something different. Something fun! The only problem is knowing when to stop looking and just start cooking. It's a bit of a trick.

First party's on Monday. I think the time to stop browsing is now?

My go-to site for inspiration (at the moment) is http://www.foodgawker.com/. I know that http://www.tastespotting.com/ is over there in my "blogs I love" section, but they are incredibly similar, and I discovered the "favorite" tag on foodgawker first, so I have just been returning there out of habit.

OK, first up is a party for grown ups and kids, about 200+... so the menu needs to be a) easily maintained in a buffet setting over a few hours, and b) family friendly!

So we start out with a big display of fruits, veggies, cheese and crackers. Yummy, fresh, easy for everyone to find something they'll enjoy. Very good for the youngsters. I remember attending these things when Seth was little and he'd go straight for the cheese and crackers... actually, he still does...

Then we move on to the ubiquitous tortilla roll-up (there's got to be a more classy name than that...). Two varieties: cranberry/turkey and cream cheese, and kalamata olive/roasted red pepper and cream cheese.

I found a great recipe for a jalapeno popper dip, with chips. I can see this one disappearing quite quickly...

And hummus with baguette.

So that takes care of the non-sweet... on to the fun stuff!

I found a rockin' recipe for peanut butter "cake" truffles... I am very excited to try it. I think they will be entirely too popable! There's also an option for Nutella ones... I may have to make both...

Orange cinnamon palmiers: a twist on the traditional puff pastry favorite. (Picture above is from epicurious.com.)

Elfin shortbread bites: Don't they just sound cute. A little red, a little green, a lot of butter. Yum.

Candy cane biscotti: I discovered these last year and just loved them. Easy to make, easy to eat! I figure I'm not really repeating, since I've only done these one year... right?

Mini caramel apples. This is another big fun new experiment this year. I had this idea of dipping apple slices in caramel and coating them with nuts or chocolate or something. So I did a little online fiddling around and found that Cat Cora did something really cool on an Iron Chef America last summer, and now it's been recreated and flick'red and it's everywhere! So I'm hopeful that it will work and be as cute and creative as it seems like it might...

So that should keep me busy this week. I'll post for the next, more grown up (employees only!) party, once this one is past...

And recipes as I go! Whee!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Order has been restored to the universe...

Fog's gone, for the moment. Take a look at that tail end of the sunset tonight. Much better. I know, you really wanted to see what the shop looks like (not!), but we were zooming home (quite literally) tonight from basketball practice and barely got this shot before all the color was gone...

Here are a few other pictures from our Thanksgiving time, that wouldn't load via dialup, go figure:

Seth making himself useful on the little tractor! And posing.

The dogs are ready to go. She who is known as RubyBadDog is in the middle. Check out her dirty snout. Who knows where that's been... Peaceful Jack (right) and little Darby are just ready to be home!

And Chief is annoyed with me and won't look at the camera. He hopped in and got Seth's seat all muddy in his eagerness to get his prime position for the ride home... and got a little scolding from me for his muddy paws. So he's withholding affection for a few minutes to punish me. He's almost human, that one.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It was a Monday, a very long Monday

This is how the day started (once again). Thankfully not how it ended--there was some spectacular sunshine for about an hour this afternoon before we went straight to pitch blackness.

Maybe tomorrow we'll see the sun for a bit longer, but right now that seems unlikely. A little Eeyore with your tea? Possibly. Time to take some happy pills. Or, nail down those holiday menus for upcoming parties.

Either way, outlook is bound to improve. I'll be back when mood elevators take effect.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fried egg quesadilla heaven

I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to do justice to this little slice of heaven... but I'm going to give it a try! I swear this came to me in a dream, maybe, or in the shower? Anyway, it was percolating around in my brain for awhile and finally I thought I might as well just start experimenting... a few go-rounds with a fry pan and a few eggs later, and I think I'm ready to share my new favorite.

So I start with two white corn tortillas and some no-stick spray on the skillet.

Lay one tortilla in the sprayed pan and warm a bit. Sprinkle some cheddar around the outside of the tortilla, in a ring around the edge, to hold the egg in place. Once the cheese has melted a bit, break an egg into the middle.

Let the egg cook a bit (1-2 minutes), sprinkle a litle more cheese over the egg and then place another tortilla on top; then flip the quesadilla.

Once both sides are browned and the egg is the desired "doneness," it's ready to go. (I have returned a quesadilla or two to the pan upon learning it was too gooey for my taste. I like my egg a bit runny, but not too runny... a bit of a science to it, but I've learned as I've gone along.)

One hand on the quesadilla, one hand on the camera, here we go! You get the idea, right? Yum.

A quick Google search only returned scrambled egg quesadillas. Hmm. No so much. That's a bit too much like a breakfast burrito... fine in it's own way, but no fried egg quesadilla! Do you think I might have actually invented something? That would make my day. Especially since it's something that's so yummy, I think I ate it almost every night for a week not that long ago... sad but true. I have yet to talk my nightly dinner companions into it, they look at me a little like I'm headed for the Cocoapuffs, but maybe one of these days...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday night grateful moment

Life is good! Another mellow day in the country... home tomorrow by dark or so. Even though we just had that special day yesterday chock-a-block with thankfulness and football and naps, I should be able to dredge up a few extra things I'm thankful for...

*Thankful for the wide open spaces. The dogs have had such a wonderful time running to and fro. There has been a great deal of gopher digging and mouse chomping and let's-get-as-muddy-as-possible (mostly Ruby). They run as far up toward the tree line as they can before we call them back. But even Ruby hasn't gotten lost-lost... I did have to holler quite mightily to call her back from chasing a deer into the next county this afternoon, though.
*Thankful for a boy who is willing to help out, and can kick in with a good attitude too if you ask just so (and he knows future computer time is hanging in the balance! Ah, motivation...).
*Thankful for yummy leftovers. I have had so many of those perfect bites--that amazing combination of turkey-stuffing-gravy-mashed potatoes-cranberry sauce-yams. I know it is startling to think that all those dishes could get on one fork and into my dainty mouth, but it happens. And it's heaven. (I almost took a picture of my plate yesterday as I was about to tuck into it, but then I thought, "Good grief, I don't want people to know how much I eat! It's a shocking amount!" and thought better of it. So you'll just have to trust me that it was divine.)
* Thankful for blue sky patches among the clouds, and temperatures that have been rather moderate. I guess I'm a wee bit sad that we haven't had snow, but the warmth has been welcome.
* Thankful for a couple more days of home-time.
* Thankful we can put the tree up on Sunday so it's ready to to be reclined around when the Goerlitz Jrs. come to town next weekend.
* Thankful I didn't go out Black Friday shopping... I mean, I went out, but to little shops in little Joseph... no wild crowd mongering for me. And extra thankful I'm not a Wal-Mart employee in Long Island, NY. (Aside: I don't usually watch a lot of commericals, as any TV I watch has been dvr'd (meaning zip-zip through ads, oh joy), and wow, did we get our fill of ads yesterday. Who exactly is out at 4 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving? I can't remember which store was advertising this crack-o-dawn opening time, but I was particularly mystified by what exactly it is one needs that can only be gotten at 4 a.m.... I'm assuming it's something quite special that would be gone by, say, a normal 10 a.m. shopping spree?)
* On my outing, I was thankful to discover a very fun bath/body shop in town, with a day spa. Yipee. A girl needs her indulgences. I will remember that for future trips...
* And just so thankful for all the fun pieces that make up life--work, home, relax time, friends, family, food. Seth got a fun little lecture this morning about work, productivity/work ethic and what a big percentage of his life these endeavors will take up in the future. I feel lucky to have enjoyed almost all the work I've done in my adult life, and grateful to have had some of those suck-it-up jobs in my younger years to be able to know the difference.
* Thankful that this is my 4th Thanksgiving in Joseph--we somehow didn't quite make it over the year we got married ('05)! It's a wonderful place to retreat and come back refreshed to the world, ready for the holiday whirlwind. Whoosh--that was the sound of December going by!

Happy weekend, all. There were more pix I wanted to share, but this connection isn't about the uploading right now, so more later.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 3

Finally wrenched the laptop away from the 12-year-old clutches and can comment on the episode last night. I was planning to catch up via dvr over the weekend, but we clicked on Bravo at the right time and had all been sufficiently Mythbusted or Time Warp-ed out, and everyone was game. So I didn't get to pace and talk to the TV, but I did get commentary from the peanut gallery, so it all evened out.

We were a couple of minutes late to the show so I didn't see the name of the guest judge, and didn't immediately recognize him. I've read more about Grant Achatz than seen him, especially in regards to his cancer fight a year or so ago. But, major chops in the culinary world, and great to see him on Top Chef for the first time. We started watching just as the quickfire started, and I thought, "This seems really weird. Since when do they ever just cook a recipe?" And then. The twist. Happy me. I did also like that the winner of the quickfire wasn't in love with her ingredient... it's easy to cook when you adore an ingredient, but when you have to wrap your brain around something you're not so fond of, it's definitely more challenging. So kudos to Leah, who hasn't been one of my faves so far.

I liked the way the teams split--I would have picked just about everyone Leah did for her team! And nice name, too, with the Sexy Pants. But the Cougars had some strong contestants too. It was good to see Ariane redeem herself with the turkey. I thought they were setting her up for a total fall when she made that comment about not needing much time for the turkey since it was just a breast... I always underestimate the amount of time for just a turkey breast (as I did, indeedy do, once again today!). So my thought was she would bomb... but that is for a future show, I guess. (Can you tell I don't really see her in it for the long haul?)

I liked all the nasty situations that came their way, with the tiny ovens and microwaves, cooking outside and then the rain. (Kind of like real life in the catering world...) But poor little Jeff and his whineing about the terrible conditions that they had to cook in... Ha. I liked it, very much, when Tom just cut him off and said, you know, everyone had the same conditions, and go figure, they still won. Backing up to the decision of which team won, as the judges and the Foo Fighters were sitting around talking about it, the editors did a good job of cutting it to make it seem like it could have been either team. I wanted it to be Sexy Pants, but with the turkey being so good on the Cougar team... it was hard to call. And who knew vegan stuffing could get such rave reviews? I'll have to check that recipe out if they post it online, just to see their tricks.

Sad to see that it came down to dessert again. Not sure exactly what Jeff was thinking with layered pumpkin "foam" and berries; that just sounds bad. When the one Foo Fighter called it a "barfait" instead of a "parfait," we had a good little chuckle. And while the idea of the s'mores didn't sound too bad to me (although I'm hard pressed to name a dessert with bananas I like), it appeared to come down to execution, again. The Foo Fighters were just brutal with some of their judgements--was the vanilla foam on the s'mores like spit? Really? Just honest rocker folk, giving opinions.

I was disappointed that the judges didn't declare a winner on the winning team--usually when they have a team challenge, they still declare someone as most golden, winner of the winners. Not sure why that didn't happen. As for the losers, wasn't too surprised who it came down to. See, it really can end over that one bad dish. To go home over s'mores, really? How sad. But that sad, really? To cry? Hmmm. Other than Ariane and her tears of unworthiness last week, I don't think we've seen that much boo-hooing since our sweet crier in season 1, Dave...

And then there were 13. Still kind of early to put hard money down, but I'm quite fond of our two Europeans and Carla and Jamie... also, I really like Gene's spunk--how about that homemade grill for his pork? But for the long haul, I'm not sure he has it. Time will tell. And I'm happy to watch, every step of the way!

Future related topic: Top Chef's ever-expanding world of endorsements... I wouldn't have an opinion about that, would I?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I haven't done a lot of research into recipes for moose steak... is that a done thing? Canadians, weigh in here... I just couldn't resist the sentiment in this sign.

We left the dense fog of Walla Walla this morning and rose out of the mist by the top of Tollgate, and enjoyed sunshine all the way over to the Wallowas. In quiet and peaceful Joseph, Oregon, it is cool (well, cold, really!) but clear. As I write this the night before Thanksgiving, it is 25 degrees F and going down. Nice to be in by the fire...

Internet connection is much more sketchy than planned, so we'll see what, if anything, gets posted the next few days... I take it as a sign to unplug for a minute or two, or at least just catch up on every gadgety show known to man on the Discovery channel! I sense a Mythbusters Thanksgiving Day marathon...

Wishing everyone, near and far, a very happy Thanksgiving. We all have so very much to be thankful for, today and every day. Again with the royal "we," but I feel confident that if you're reading this, then you probably are also clothed (I don't want to know about your nekid blog surfing, if that's the case...), fed, warm and dry and have confidence that tomorrow will bring more of the same. Right there, count your blessings. That's a gentle suggestion, not quite the order it sounded like...

Peace and joy, turkey and stuffing too!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Does it get any better than this? Why yes, Virginia, it really does! Leftovers!

Yesterday was our 3rd anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate quietly at home--it had been a long day for both of us and we were looking forward to putting our feet up and catching up on Jack Bauer's latest adventures. Alas, I'd forgotten how brutal 24 can be...

So, I needed some comfort food to go with the drama. We both wanted pasta, and I made a very meaty non-meat marinara for Alan, and went straight to the hard stuff (alfredo) for myself. I have not made anything with full-fat dairy in a very long time, and I will blame the Warm Bunny herself for dragging me back with her green bean gratin recipe. I bought some heavy whip to make a butternut squash gratin for Thanksgiving, and knew I could spare a little for some pasta love.

Here's my standby alfredo. I have made this recipe (times 50) for really big crowds, and it works well to multiply. It is very much a keeper, even if the times between making it need to stretch out further and further as the years go by...

Happy Anniversary Alfredo:
2 T. unsalted butter
1/2 c. cream
1 egg yolk
1/4 c. parmesan
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the cream and simmer. Briefly beat the egg yolk before adding to the cream, stir in the parmesan and warm through. Toss with pasta and devour. Last night I added about 3/4 cup chopped basil, 1/4 cup pinenuts and a generous handful of parmesan. Oh my.

Now very tradtional alfredo won't have the egg yolk, but I'm not a big purist on this, and find it is a good addition without getting too rich. Or so I remembered...

This is NOT an everyday meal. No way. About six mouthfuls in, I was a little overwhelmed with the richness. So my compromise was to add some of Alan's lovely red sauce to it (see below), which cut the richness a bit and I was able to soldier on! I didn't actually make it through my bowl... but I DID rewarm the leftovers for lunch today, and it was even better than last night. If possible.

Yum. Scrum. Love. Pasta. Love. Husband. Happy. Anniversary.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holiday photo shoot, with few pictures

It was quite a day, last Wednesday. But the pictures (mine, at least, I trust the actual photographers did much better!) don't do it justice, even close. I think it was the waking at 3 a.m.--at least, that's the best I can think of... I was sleep deprived... yeah, that's it.

Anyway, we set up for Christmas first (above), and then ran through Thanksgiving (below, before we set it up all pretty-like). It was fun, kind of like catering in that it moved really quicky and time passed in a flash. Mostly I was pretty pleased with how golden I got the turkey. When you don't have to think about drying it out, is it done? isn't it done? you can just think about the color and crank the oven heat up and go!

One of the fun parts of the set-up was accummulating garnishes for the turkey. In "real life" I am just pleased to get the turkey to the table. But for photographic purposes, I referred to various publications like MS Living, Sunset, Gourmet and Bon Apetit, etc. The settings they featured ranged from quite rustic and bare to very elaborate. I aimed for middle of the road, and let the art directors pull off the platter any items they thought didn't work.

For the Christmas setting, I used sage and rosemary tucked in to the neck area, and bay leaves around the bottom, with halved little key limes and tamarillos and fresh cranberries for red accents (you can see that in the top picture--the tamarillos are the roma tomato-like fruit; I'd never used them before, and they were very pretty). For the Thanksgiving setting I used roasted garlic heads, halved lemons, mandarines and key limes, with lime leaves around the bottom. Oh and persimmons! It had a nice fall feel to it. The picture below is the Thanksgiving turkey garnish, just hanging out and waiting for the turkey...

All in all, a productive day! Next time, though, I will do better at getting some shots of the action...
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