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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday Hangover

I am having a serious holiday hangover.  Not an alcohol hangover, or a food hangover, but just general malaise related to the holidays.  It felt like the holiday season was longer than ever this year--I don't know whether it is that Hanukkah was early or the party rounds started even earlier.  All I know is that I have an absolute inability to make small talk anymore.  I need a vacation.

It probably doesn't help that I am directing a show these holidays and we open in ten days.  It's a very intellectual play called Freud's Last Session, which imagines a conversation that Freud would have had with C.S. Lewis (a/k/a the theologian who wrote the Narnia books).  I'm not sure I have the requisite brain cells for this show some days.

I did manage, though, to make this month's Cake Slice pick--Mississippi Mud cupcakes with marshmallow frosting.  The cupcakes made the rounds of two parties on Saturday, plus went to a rehearsal. 

The frosting took a little work, but the cupcakes were a snap--use your favorite chocolate cupcake recipe and add about a cup of chopped pecans. 

As for the frosting?  Let's just say I ate spoonfuls of it out of the bowl.  I adapted the original recipe slightly to decrease the amount of sugar and increase the vanilla.

Marshmallow Frosting
Adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup water
4 large egg whites
1/8 tsp. fine salt
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Stir together the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small pot over medium heat.  Bring this to a boil, then cover with a lid and boil for an additional two minutes.

Uncover the pot and let it cook until a candy thermometer registers around 240 degrees, which is the soft ball stage for candy.

While the syrup is cooking, add the eggs whites and salt to the bowl of a stand mixture and whip them into firm peaks.  When the whites are at the firm peak stage, transfer the syrup to a measuring cup with a lip and then pour it gradually down the side of the mixing bowl. 

Keep whipping the egg white mixture until the peaks are very firm, then add the vanilla and whip the mixture again briefly.

Makes enough frosting for 24 cupcakes and some eating out of the bowl.

Friday, November 30, 2012

November Foodie Penpals

Wow!  I can't believe it's time for Foodie Penpals reveal day again.  Can I just say how much fun I've had doing this over the last four months?  I love picking out what to send to my penpal, but I'd be lying if I didn't say the best part is getting a box of goodies from a different part of the country every month.  If you're interested in participating or learning more, head over to the Lean Green Bean.

This month's box was courtesy of Leigh Ann in Florida, a/k/a the state with the climate least like the one I inhabit.  Imagine my delight when I opened up my box and saw these:


A gorgeous ripe avocado (no, a slimcado, which is apparently an avocado with less fat) and a Florida orange.  I can't tell you how ripe, colorful produce in the middle of our long spell of 10-as-a-high weather makes me feel.  The orange juice and zest went into the Thanksgiving bread pudding (really), and David devoured that avocado in sandwiches.

The box also contained fun mango chewy candies, honey, and post-workout supplements.  There was also a granola-type bar made out of quinoa--I'm packing that sucker in my purse when I leave for another business trip this weekend.

Thanks, Leigh Ann, for the fabulous treats!

On another note, is anyone else still working on their Thanksgiving leftovers?  We've turned the turkey carcass into broth and made turkey udon soup, and tonight I'm trying a recipe I saw on another website:  leftover cranberry sauce and brie panini with coarse mustard.  It sounds pretty fabulous to me--will report back next week on the results.

Which leads me to this question:  what is the most creative thing you've made out of Thanksgiving leftovers?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Taking the Cake

Where has November gone?

No, seriously, that wasn't a totally rhetorical question.  Where has November gone?  Granted, yes, I've been traveling for work.  Granted also that my two best friends from law school trundled all the way up here for four days.  But aside from that, why haven't I had time to post?

Le sigh.

David turned the cake out of the pan while I was at the airport picking up my friends. 
He apparently didn't get the memo that the streusel goes on top.
The good news is that this month's Cake Slice pick, Shoo-fly Cake, was a kind recipe for those on a time budget.  It took less than fifteen minutes to whip up, less than an hour to bake and stayed moist for four days in a cake keeper.  It's simple, and perhaps not the prettiest cake ever (it initially looked burned when turned out of the pan), but is delicious and spicy.  I served a warm slice to my friends when they arrived, and trust me when I said they looked very happy.

This cake is redolent of dark molasses and is wonderfully old-fashioned.  My father-in-law loves molasses, so when David travels to Cleveland next month, I'm contemplating sending one of these babies with him.  I'm not sure David will consent to carrying a cake carrier through the airport, but what he doesn't know now won't hurt him.

I changed the spices in the original recipe slightly to accommodate what was currently in my pantry, but another point in this cake's favor is that most of this items are likely to exist in a well-stocked pantry already.

On another note, wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Shoo-fly Cake

For the streusel:
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed

For the cake:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2/12 cups flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup warm coffee (I used a Starbucks Via packet dissolved in 8 oz. warm water)

Spritz a 9-inch cake pan with nonstick baking spray, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

First, make the streusel by whisking together the flour and brown sugar in a small bowl.  Add the butter cubes and pinch the mixture together with your fingers until it forms crumbs.  Put the bowl in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble the cake.

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, butter, molasses and vanilla until well combined.  Stir in each egg separately.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda and salt until well combined.  Add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture in three additions, alternating with the coffee, folding the mixture together with a spatula.  The batter will be somewhat thin--don't worry about that.

Pour the batter into the cake pan, then smooth the top.  Sprinkle the crumb topping liberally over it and bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer through the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool partially on a wire rack, but this cake is absolutely delicious warm!  Keeps for at least four days in a cake keeper.

Makes eight generous slices.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October Foodie Penpals

It's that fabulous time of the month again, where we reveal what was sent as part of the Foodie Penpals program.
I have to say, I totally love participating in this.  A box arrives on my doorstep after the 15th of the month, filled with goodies.  It's equally fun trying to pick out what to send to my penpal.  If you're not involved in the program currently, head over to The Lean Green Bean and check it out--this is my third month participating and it rocks.

My penpal this month was Rona from Berrymorin's Bits and Tips.  She sent me a gorgeous tea basket with a small teapot and six kinds of flowering tea, which is especially appropriate considering that it has suddenly become subzero in Alaska.  If it's going to be this cold, though, I really want snow!


My box went to Geneva in California, who was kind enough to supply this guest post in response to my "Baby, It's Cold Outside"-themed box.  Can we just say how envious I am that she got to attend a playoff game for the World Series?

I received a package from Krista all the way from Alaska. In the package were 2 biscottis. One was almond dipped in dark chocolate. The other was blueberry drizzled with white chocolate. They were so delicious with my coffee. I had them on 2 separate days even though I was tempted to scarf them both down the first morning.
 
Also in the box were 2 packages of hot cocoa mix. One was plain and one had picante spices added. I was lucky enough to get invited to attend one of the San Francisco Giants vs the St Louis Cardinals playoff game. I made the package of the plain hot cocoa mix, put it in my thermos and added some peppermint schnapps. Later that evening when it got chilly we drank the contents of my thermos and it warmed us up all the way down.
 
I'm saving the cocoa picante one for a special occassion.
 
There was a package of mulling spices in the box. I'm gonna use that to make mulled wine on New Years day when I have people over and make ollie bollen (a dutch donut). Making ollie bollen on New Years day is a tradition at my house that was started many years ago by my Mother-in-law whose family was from Holland.
 
There was a dark chocolate bar with spiced pumpkin seeds on top. I haven't tried it yet, but am sure when I do it will be excellent.
 
The last item in my package was a jar of maple cinnamon toast sprinkle. Sunday I made plain french toast, slathered it with butter and sprinkled on the contents of the jar. It was delicious. It took me back to when I was a little girl and my granny would make french toast and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. The added maple sugar was a great touch.
 
I want to thank Krista for the package of unique goodies. October was one to remember.
Geneva, you are so welcome!  Now I have to plot a theme for next month's penpal...and make some French toast with cinnamon toast sprinkle.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sugar & Spice

Allow me to recount a conversation I had with David yesterday as we were compiling a grocery list for last night's dinner party:

Me:  Do we have molasses?

David:  Yes.  Two kinds.

Me:  Is there at least a cup?  That's how much I need for this cake.

David:  Definitely.

The problem was that I didn't ask what kind of molasses.  I assumed one was milder and the other was darker.  Little did I know that one of them was pomegranate molasses, typically used in Middle Eastern food but not exactly suitable for a ginger spice cake.  However, by the time I discovered this all the ingredients were on the counter and I had to get started.

This cake was probably meant to be ginger-spicy and sweet, but ended up slightly tangy due to the pomegranate molasses.  Although it was tasty, it wasn't quite what everyone was expecting.  It was amazingly tender, though.

The original recipe is for a snack cake to be dusted with powdered sugar, but I added a light layer of cream cheese frosting and sprinkled additional candied ginger over it to dress it up for the dinner.

Farewell to The Cake Book as the Cake Slice book for the year!  It's been interesting (and by interesting, I mean there were some interesting cake fails in my kitchen), but next month we start working from Vintage Cakes.

Ginger Spice Cake
Adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
3/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup mild molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed (I used dark)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9-inch springform pan. 

Whisk together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon and salt;  remove two teaspoons of this mixture and transfer them to a small bowl.  Mix the candied ginger with the two teaspoons of flour.

Mix together the molasses and brown sugar in a large bowl, then add the eggs and mix until blended.  Add the candied ginger and mix again.

Heat the butter and water together in a small saucepan, and whisk until the butter is melted.  Stir in the baking soda, and then remove from the heat.  Add half a cup of this to the molasses mixture to temper it--this will foam wildly, hence the need for the large bowl.  Then whisk in the remaining butter mixture.

Whisk in the flour mixture and candied ginger, then pour the batter into the springform pan.

Bake for approximately fifty minutes.  This time is approximate, so use a toothpick and check at the forty-minute mark.  Cool the cake on a baking rack before removing the side of the springform pan.

Dust with powdered sugar or add cream cheese for a "dressier" cake.  Serves 10-12 depending on the size of the slices.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm Back!

Too much to say in this post...but the executive summary is that On Golden Pond is open, it's going well and I would be starting to have my life back...if I weren't finalizing an enormous appellate brief that's due on Friday.  More on all of that later.


Sorry for the poor quality of these photos. 
Who said iPhones were so great?
I received my monthly Foodie Penpal box at just the right time, before I went into technical rehearsals.  The lovely Gigi from San Antonio sent me a sampler of dried fruits, candy and other treats, all packaged into little parcels that I threw into my bag and ate during the last week of rehearsals.  Who knew wasabi sunflower seeds were so good?  And that candy corn, something I have historically not liked, tasted good when flavored with blackberries?
 
It was an embarrassment of riches that arrived at exactly the right time.  Thanks, Gigi, for such a fabulous box!
 

In other news, David and I came out of the opening night of On Golden Pond to find the first snow of the year falling.  It didn't last past Saturday morning, but it's a sign that winter is on its way in Alaska.
 
Also, this week marked the end of the Jewish high holidays, so a belated l'shanah tovah to all those who observed them.
 
Back soon with the promised Vegas restaurant reviews and the first post-show meals!  But first, the accursed, appellate brief...
 

 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

AWOL

I feel a little guilty that I have been AWOL lately, but I literally haven't had a spare second in the day.  It makes me wonder how people with children manage to do everything, because I can barely manage my own life.

David and I went to Las Vegas over Labor Day weekend, and I have lots of restaurant reviews to share.  But the truth is that I haven't cooked much since I returned.  Here is a list of things that have happened since then:

1.  Work is insanely busy.  I have an appellate brief due at the beginning of October, a case scheduled for hearing that same week and a mediation the following week.  That's on top of all of the depositions, meetings, and other miscellaneous pleadings that need to be filed in claims that don't have huge deadlines.

2.  Rehearsals--On Golden Pond is just two weeks out from opening.  Although I'm very pleased with how the show is shaping up, I don't get home until 9:30 at night. 

3.  David left Las Vegas and went to a training in Colorado.  This means that care of the house and the Grande Dame Ingrid has totally fallen to me.  This might have been more manageable if we didn't lose power for the better part of three days last week, wiping out the contents of the fridge and freezer.

I will be back in a couple of weeks once the appellate brief is underway and the show is open.  In the meantime, I'm going to try not to feel guilty about this blogging vacation, which is a challenge considering my finely-honed sense of guilt.

Looking forward to catching up with everyone then!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Out of the (Mail)Box

I love a good surprise.  That's not a shocking statement, but I particularly love boxes that arrive on my doorstep promising food-related goodies selected just for little ol' me.

This was my first month participating in the Foodie Penpals program put together by the lovely Lindsay over at her blog The Lean Green Bean.  The concept is that someone spends $15.00 to put together a box of goodies and mails it to you, and you put together your own box and mail it to a different person.  On the last day of the month, the penpals post what they have received.  What's amazing is that 1,300 people in the US/Canada participate each month!

I was the lucky recipient of a box from Ashley P. of Virginia Beach--Ashley doesn't have a blog, or I would plug it here, but she apparently has a sixth sense of WAW--What Alaskans Want.

WAW is a little skewed--our local daily paper, which is about the thickness of your average leaflet left on your door trying to convince you to buy lawn services or order Chinese food--periodically does a survey asking Alaskans what stores/restaurants they think should come to town.

Target was on the list for a long time, and now they're in the Alaska market like gangbusters.  Too bad that they are nowhere near my house.

The Olive Garden was the number one for years and years.  I was recently informed that Anchorage is now the proud owner of a newish Olive Garden, in which I have not set foot and plan never to do so unless a client drags me there. 

The number one now?  It has to be Trader Joe's.  I am not exaggerating when I say that people literally take an extra bag on vacation when they are venturing to a place that has a Trader Joe's, and fill it up with food.  The dried fruit is particularly popular, since it makes for great hiking/skiing/camping snacks and is wicked expensive at grocery stores here.

So imagine my delight when I opened my box and found tons of Trader Joe's goodies, including dried bananas and green mango.  David opened the latter immediately and started popping pieces in his mouth.  Ashley also sent brown rice-marshmallow treats (think a healthier version of a Rice Krispy bar), shelf-stable gnocchi (delicious with a brown butter-Swiss chard sauce a week ago), wasabi peas (spicy and delicious), a tin of green tea-flavored mints and a packet of her very own, delicious granola. 

To check out the penpal program, which is open to both bloggers and readers, go here.  Thanks to Ashley for the wonderful treats!

My box went to Sarah--you can check out her blog Sparkly Lil' Life here.

Have a great holiday weekend!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cucina Povera

I've been getting to work really early lately.  Part of it is being super-busy, which I love, but part of it is that I love being in the office when it is so quiet.  This morning I can hear the rain pounding on the roof.

We're on a downhill slide into fall here in Anchorage.  I've been meaning to take pictures of the transformation, which include a flock of Canadian geese gathering on the mud flats near my house and the blooming of the fireweed.  Alaska legend is you can tell how long it will be until winter by when the fireweed finishing blooming and then goes to cotton.

For the first time in a couple of weeks, I was home to make dinner last night.  On Golden Pond is fully blocked and going well, but the nights we aren't in rehearsal I'm usually staying late at work or running the errands that I haven't had time to do. 

Last night I was determined to make something delicious, simple and packable to take to work for lunch.  I am fascinated by the Italian concept of cucina povera--literally, poverty kitchen--not because of the financial aspect of it (we are fortunate in that regard), but because it means you make a delicious dish from basically nothing. 

This dish is so simple that I kept wanting to do something more with it, like adding anchovies, chicken sausage or olives.  In the end, I left it proudly unadorned, the way it was meant to be.  It originated in Puglia, the single food region I most want to visit in Italy and haven't had the opportunity to--yet.

Rigatoni with Bread Crumbs and Parmesan
Adapted from Lidia's Italy by Lidia Bastianich

1 eight-inch piece of white country bread--baguette, French, ciabatta
1/3 cup olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 lb. dried rigatoni
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup good-quality Parmesan, finely shredded, with more for garnish if desired
4 small dried peperoncino peppers, crumbled
Good-quality finishing olive oil
Sea salt and freshly-ground pepper

Trim the crust from the bread and then pull it into crumbs with your hands.  The crumbs should be various sizes.

Start a large pot of water to boil for the pasta, adding at least a tablespoon of salt.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.  When it is shimmering, add the bread crumbs and garlic.  Toss the crumbs to coat them with the oil, and toss occasionally when cooking so that they brown and crisp.

When the water is ready, add the pasta and cook for about nine or ten minutes, until the pasta is al dente.  Reserve half a cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta thoroughly.  Then add it back to the pot and cover it until ready to use.

The crumbs will be ready when they are lightly golden and crispy--make sure not to scorch the garlic.

Toss the pasta with a little of the cooking water to coat it.  Add the crumbs, parsley, peperoncini and Parm to the pasta and toss thoroughly.  Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with good-quality finishing olive oil and toss again.


Serve with another grating of Parmesan.  Makes six appetizer pasta servings or four generous main course servings.  I served this with a side of fried zucchini and a bottle of dry, minerally Gruner Veltliner.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lost and Found

There is nothing like bringing a dish back from the brink to make you feel a sense of accomplishment.

This month's Cake Slice pick, an "ultimate lemon roll," sounded fantastic.  However, like so many of the other desserts I have made from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book, in execution it turned out to be a bit sloppier.  As in crumbling sponge cake, oozing lemon curd kind of sloppy.  Eesh.

Since I was serving this as dessert for Erika's going-away dinner, I wanted it to look presentable.  Everything tasted good, it was just too messy to put on a platter and serve for dessert.

Enter the savior of many a baker with a less-than-gorgeous cake:  frosting.  Specifically, frosting made from the remainder of the pint of heavy cream I purchased for the recipe.


As an aside, why is heavy cream not sold in containers smaller than a pint anywhere in the Municipality of Anchorage?

I whipped up that cream with a tiny bit of sugar and some vanilla, and frosted the heck out of the cake.  It covered the bumps, cracks and general lack of beauty, and gave it a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to boot.

If I made this again, I would go with a straight lemon curd filling, minus the cream.  Regular curd is thicker and therefore less likely to ooze.

In other advice, buy a lot of lemons.  I used at least five in making all the components of the cake.

The (Kinda, Sorta) Ultimate Lemon Roll
Adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle

For the filling:
7 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp. lemon zest
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, sliced into tablespoons
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the cake:
1 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 eggs, separated
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg white
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
Powdered sugar

For the frosting:
Remainder of pint of heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. granulated sugar

First, the lemon curd filling:

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, then place the pan on medium heat and add the butter, lemon zest and juice and butter.  Whisk the mixture together for about ten minutes, or until it thickens.  Using a fine strainer, strain the curd into a medium bowl, preferably a metal one.  Place the metal bowl in an ice water bath and stir frequently for fifteen minutes.  The curd should be slightly chilled.

During this process, be careful not to splash water into the curd, or disaster will ensue.

Next, the cake:

Using a hand mixer, whip 1/2 cup of the heavy cream at high speed until the soft peak stage.  Fold the cream into the curd in stages, then cover and refrigerate this mixture.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and prepare a jelly roll pan for the cake.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment and sprinkle it with powdered sugar.  In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, the baking powder and the salt.  Whisk these ingredients together.

Using the hand mixer again, beat the egg yolks, lemon zest and juice, oil, water and vanilla until just blended.  Add the flour mixture in four installments and mix again.

If you look carefully, you can see the
start of the dreaded oozing.

In another medium bowl and using clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until the soft peak stage.  Drizzle in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, then increase the mixer speed to high.  When the whites are very stiff, fold them into the cake batter and then spread the batter in the jelly roll pan as evenly as possible.

Bake the cake for about fifteen to eighteen minutes, until it is lightly colored and springs when touched.  Place a baking rack over the cake and invert the pan so the cake ends up on the rack.  Do this as gently as possible, because this cake wants to crack. 

Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake, then roll the cake using the parchment paper--the paper will be rolled up with the cake.  Let rest on the baking rack until fully cooled.

When the cake is cool, unroll it and trim the edges on the short ends.  Spread the lemon mixture to within one inch of the cake edges, then re-roll the cake and transfer to a serving platter.  You will have leftover curd.

Finally, when the cake appears to be lost, the frosting:

When your cake doesn't look presentable, whip the remaining cream with the vanilla for the frosting, drizzling in the tablespoon of sugar.  Wipe up any lemon curd that has oozed out of the cake and onto the platter and then frost the heck out of the cake.  Cover and refrigerate immediately.



I served the cake slices with a pool of the curd mixture beneath them and garnishes of the remaining frosting on the side.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Goodbye Is the Hardest Part

We have all kinds of relationships in our lives...but a theatre director's relationship with a longtime stage manager?

Priceless.

For those who don't know what a stage manager does, it is the person who takes all the blocking notes, keeps the director on schedule, is the primary contact for the the designers (sound, costumes, lights, props) and, when the show opens, has the primary responsibility for making sure that it runs right and on time--and those are just the common duties.  The director hands the show over on the day it opens. 

It's a terrifying thing, or would be if I haven't been fortunate enough to have a small handful of stage managers who I also consider good friends and confidantes.

My friend Erika first stage managed for me when I directed my first professional show, Deathtrap, in 2007.  I would trust her with just about anything, and never had a second's hesitation about handing a show over to her on opening.  I've lost track of how many shows we've done together, but Sandy, the head of our local semiprofessional theatre company, calls us "the Dynamic Duo."

Eeks, it sounds like I'm eulogizing her, doesn't it?  It's not that.  Erika is heading off to a four-year program at a Russian Orthodox seminary to become a counselor.  She moves to Kodiak Island later this week.

It's a perfect fit of a profession for her, and I wish her all the best. 

David and I had Erika and Sandy over to dinner this past Sunday to say our goodbyes, or at least our "farewell for nows."  It was a lovely dinner, but of course bittersweet since we will really miss Erika.

For a first course, we served the Barefoot Contessa's salad with phyllo-wrapped goat cheese.  It's a stunning salad, even if my phyllo purses were not quite as pretty as the ones in the cookbook.  Make sure you serve the salad when the purses are fresh out of the oven.

Summer Salad with Phyllo Purses
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten

8 sheets frozen phyllo dough, defrosted
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
6 oz. log goat cheese
Baby salad greens (I used a spring mix, about 2 oz. greens per person)
2 1/2 tsp. champagne vinegar
1 tsp. coarse Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for serving
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  To prepare the phyllo purses, unroll the dough and set aside only what you need to use.  Cover the dough with a very lightly damp dishtowel--I ruined a couple of sheets of dough by using a towel that was too damp.


Trust me, they look so much better when browned.
Spread out one sheet of phyllo on a cutting board and brush all over with the melted butter.  Repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo--you will want four sheets stacked on top of each other.  Cut the dough stack in half crosswise.

Cut the goat cheese log into discs about 1/4 inch thick.  Place two in the center of each phyllo section, then bring the sides of the phyllo square up to wrap around it.  The Barefoot Contessa compares it to wrapping a circular gift--you'll want to crimp together the top as much as you can, and get the dough as tight as possible around the bottom of each phyllo purse.

Repeat with the remaining phyllo--you will likely have some leftover goat cheese.

Spritz a small baking sheet or cake pan with nonstick spray and place the phyllo purses on it.  Bake for about twenty minutes, or until the purses are lightly browned.

In the interim, prepare the salad dressing by whisking the vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Then whisk in the olive oil in a steady stream until the dressing emulsifies.

Place the greens in a salad bowl and toss by hand with a pinch of kosher salt, preferably flaked salt.  Then toss with the dressing until the greens are evenly coated.

Plate the salad with a small amount of dressed greens on one salad and one phyllo purse on the other.

Serves four, but could be easily doubled.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dazed and Confused

Some weeks I feel like I'm sprinting for Friday, full of energy and purpose.  This week I feel like I'm crawling.

It hasn't been a bad week, just an exhausting one.  Work has been super-busy (not that I'm complaining--better that way than the reverse), and we just blitzed through blocking twenty-four pages of On Golden Pond over the last two nights.

Somehow, David and I have no plans for the next couple of nights.  I'm kind of grateful.  I foresee a long walk in my future tonight, followed by a glass of wine and some of the good cheese here my parents schlepped from one of the Italian markets in St. Louis.

A totally random photo demonstrating what happens if one flops on the
bed in our household.  Ingrid considers you her personal chaise.
David is doing somewhat better after his rib-fracturing bike accident a couple of weeks ago, but he's not up to hiking or other outdoor activity yet, so I also foresee a solo hike in my future this weekend.

We also received the latest CSA box, which includes a bunch of one of my favorite veggies, Swiss chard.  I love the stuff but am forever trying to find new ways to prepare it.

This recipe might win over people who don't particularly like dark leafy greens--it is savory and just slightly cheesy, and it has a terrific combination of tender and crispy bits.  While the original recipe did not call for oiling the pan prior before placing the chard cakes in it, they wanted to stick without it.  I thought it sounded weird not to oil the pan, but who am I to overrule Lidia?  Learn from my mistake.

Crispy Swiss Chard Cakes
Adapted from Lidia's Italy by Lidia Bastianich

1 lb. rainbow chard
2 tbsp. good olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely shredded
1 egg yolk, beaten

Wash the chard and trim off the stems, then trim away the central ribs.  You won't be using these for the dish, but they are great slow-cooked with a little broth, oil and garlic.

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat, then add the chard leaves.  Continue to let the pot boil for about twenty minutes, or until the chard is tender.  Drain and rinse the chard under cool water, and then finely chop the chard.

Here's the step I can't emphasize enough--squeeze every drop of water you can out of the chard, or the cakes will fall apart. 

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the butter.  When it is melted, add the onion and half a teaspoon of salt.  Cook the onion until it turns lightly brown, then add the chard and remaining salt.  Cook another 7-8 minutes, until the butter has all been absorbed.  You will want the chard to be dry but not crispy.

Remove the chard from the skillet and let the skillet cool.  When it is cool enough to handle, wipe it absolutely clean. 

When the chard is lukewarm to the touch, combine it with the cheese and egg yolk.  Divide the mixture into small patties and press them together firmly.  If there seems to be too much liquid in the mixture, squeeze some out and start again.

Reheat the skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.  When the oil is shimmering, carefully place the chard cakes in the skillet.  Cook for about three minutes per side, then drain on a paper towel.


Serve warm--should make about four large cakes or six small ones.  We served them with a grilled Florentine steak, though they would make a fantastic addition to a vegetarian meal.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bouquets of Freshly Sharpened Pencils

One chapter of this summer is closing.  My parents have just left after their annual visit to Alaska.  Another chapter is opening, though;  tomorrow I start rehearsals for On Golden Pond.  I always think of the first day of rehearsals like the first day of school:  anything can happen.  There is anticipation mixed with a little dread.  My evenings and Saturday afternoons will no longer be my own, there will be drama (hopefully mostly) onstage, but a little offstage as well.  It's inevitable.  The goal is that at the end we will have something wonderful.

The late, wonderful Nora Ephron wrote a great line that Tom Hanks writes to Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail.  He refers to the beginning of the school year in New York and says that if he could, "I would send you bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils."  I love that line.  It speaks of the same optimism with which I start the rehearsal process whenever I direct.

It's funny, but I never use pencils--except when I direct.  The notes I write for my actors, to be given at the end of rehearsals, are always in pencil.  The stage manager always writes notes in pencil in the script, so they can be changed at any time.  Theatre is a constantly evolving process, a living thing.

Tomorrow the cast will sit together for the first time and read through the script.  Several of them have never met, but they will spend much of the next ten weeks together. 

In honor of the occasion, I am bringing them these brownies.  They have great texture and a sweetness that I hope the twelve-year-old in the cast will love, but I made them with a combination of Ghirardelli and Guittard chocolates, which I hope the adults will appreciate.

The next time I make these, I will cut back the granulated sugar to 3/4 cup.  If you like a slightly less sweet brownie, I recommend this adaptation.

Rocky Road Brownies
Adapted from Fat Witch Brownies by Patricia Helding
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
1/4 semisweet chocolate chips (I used Guittard wafers, chopped)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spritz a 9 by 9 baking pan with nonstick spray with flour.

In a small saucepan, melt together the butter, unsweetened chocolate and two tablespoons of the semisweet chocolate over medium heat.  As soon as all the ingredients are melted, remove the mixture from the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat together the sugar and eggs until they are light and slightly foamy.  Add the chocolate mixture and then sift in the flour and salt.  Beat the mixture again until just combined.

Spread half the batter in the pan and bake for about 12 minutes.  While this is baking, add the butterscotch chips, marshmallows and remaining semisweet chocolate to the batter and stir together.  Remove the pan from the oven and spread the remainder of the batter over the bottom layer.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Some of the marshmallows may burst and spread goo over the brownies;  don't worry, this just makes them tastier.

Cool the brownies for an hour on a wire rack.  Makes 12 to 16, depending on size.

Friday, August 3, 2012

I'll Have What She's Having

Today is a bit of a detour from food.  The swiss chard cakes I meant to post will wait until early next week.

Today I write an appreciation.

When I moved to Alaska, I clerked for an appellate judge for a year.  He is one of the smartest men I've ever met, but kind of shy, and a champion fiddle player to boot.  His work ethic is unparalleled.  I admire him greatly.

In addition to all of his other admirable qualities, he was happily married, with three accomplished daughters.  Earlier this summer, I learned that his wife was terminally ill.  They took a final trip together, and she died last week. 

They were married almost forty years.  His late wife was an artist and an active volunteer, in addition to working and having a happy marriage and accomplished children. 

I didn't know her, really.  I think I met her a few times when I was clerking for her husband, and then saw them during the high holy days at synagogue. 

There's a saying that you should live your life as if you knew you were dying.  But it's more than having an adventurous life:  what a satisfying thing to know that you have lived your life by doing well for others.

David and I married relatively late, in our mid-thirties.  I can only hope we will have the kind of long and happy marriage that this couple did.  I can only hope I will do as much good for others.

It's worth a try.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shorthand It

I hate when I've gone a week between posts--which I never mean to do, but life happens--because it means that there is too much to catch up on.  It makes me think of a scene from Will and Grace, a show I used to love.  Will and Grace had a fight, they want all the drama to be over, but don't want to go through a big, emotional, apologetic conversation.  Grace says, "Let's shorthand it."  They both laugh for a second, fake-cry for a second, hug and the fight is over. 

If only.

So let me shorthand it--here are the bullet points:
  • On Golden Pond is finally cast, and I'm really pleased with everyone involved. 
  • David managed to fracture and displace one of his ribs in a mountain biking accident last weekend, plus sprain his right wrist.  He'll be fine, but he's a little helpless right now.
  • My parents are in town for their annual visit.
  • I had one of the longest depositions of my career last Friday, in which opposing counsel beat up on my psychiatric expert and was just a total jerk.
You would think that the last one wouldn't surprise me at this point, but I work in such a specialized field that I see about the same thirty lawyers over and over again.  The vast majority of them manage to be totally civil while disagreeing with each other.  I think the motivation to be nice is that we're all going to see each other again, so don't want to piss each other off.  This guy was not one of the thirty people I usually see, and obviously was not advised about the civility rule.

I have two more depositions with him in August.  Give me strength.

Last week I posted the crisp green salad with quinoa that I served with Nigella's salmon.  Salmon fishing is at its peak in Alaska right now--friends keep bringing home upwards of twenty fish and we're often the lucky recipients of extra fish.  This recipe is dead simple--portion the fish, pat it dry, dunk in seasoning and then pan fry.  Couldn't be easier.

Seared Mustard-Crusted Salmon
Adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. crushed mustard seed or powder
4 6 oz. fillets of salmon (the recipe calls for skinless, but I left the skin on)

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat.  When the skillet is warm, add the oil. 

In a shallow bowl, mix together the sugar and mustard.  Dredge the fish in it--if you are using skinless fillets, dredge it on both sides.

Throw a plate in the oven to warm.  Then add the fillets to the skillet and cook for three minutes on each side.  If you are using fillets with skin, start with the skin facing up.  You might want to check one of the fillets at the six-minute mark to make sure it is cooked through, although this recipe is meant to keep the salmon juicy and slightly opaque. 

Remove to the warmed plate and serve with last week's greens and quinoa.  Makes a lovely summer dinner for four.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Here Comes the Sun

The sun is out!

This wouldn't be such an occasion for celebration were it not for the fact that it has been gray and rainy since last Friday night.  My hiking shoes and I will be heading out after work.

Despite the gloomy weather, I haven't been cooking much over the past couple of weeks.  Part of it is the casting process for On Golden Pond, which sadly remains ongoing as I seek out the last person, plus long hours at work, but part of it is that I've been wanting to eat basically two things:  Mexican food and salad.

There have been lots of blogs lately extolling the virtues of quinoa, a chewy little grain that takes on the flavors with which it's surrounded.  I have nothing but love for it, especially since it's kosher for Passover (a huge discovery this year) and a complete protein.  It's good hot or cold, and pairs particularly well with summery fish dishes.

This salad would make a light main course or a perfect side--I served it with Nigella's mustard-coated salmon.  I've doctored it up to add some additional color and crunch from radishes.  The ones we get in Alaska are vividly colored and very peppery, and I can't resist them.  We ate this salad outside on a sunny night with a bottle of Italian white wine.

Quinoa Salad with Greens and Spring Onions
Adapted from Salad as a Meal by Patricia Wells

For the salad:
1 1/2 cups quinoa
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 dried bay leaves
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. good olive oil
3 small spring onions (or scallions, if spring onions aren't available)
5 oz. baby spinach
4 radishes, sliced thinly

For the dressing:
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 cup 2% milk
1/3 cup chives, minced
Lemon zest

Toast the quinoa in a large saucepan over medium heat, shaking or stirring it regularly until it crackles, about five minutes.  Remove the quinoa from heat and rinse it in a sieve with cold water.

Return the saucepan to the stove and heat the stock to a boil.  Add the quinoa, bay leaves and salt, then reduce the heat.  Cover the saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Taste the quinoa to see how chewy it is and cook for an additional five minutes if it isn't soft enough.

Remove the quinoa from the stove and allow to sit for an additional ten minutes.  While it is cooling, whir the lemon juice, parsley and olive oil in a mini-prep food processor until the parsley is very fine.  Pour this mixture into a small bowl and add the spring onions and radishes to marinate them.

Then make the dressing:  in a jelly jar with a lid, combine the lemon juice and salt and shake to combine.  Let sit for a minute to dissolve the salt, then drizzle in the milk.  Shake to combine, then add the chives and lemon zest.  This will make more than enough dressing for this dish--you could halve the recipe if you don't want leftovers.

Doesn't this look like the best brown-bag lunch?

When ready to serve, toss the baby spinach with enough dressing to coat the leaves but not leave a lot of extra.  Then combine the quinoa with the marinated vegetables.  The original recipe calls for these two mixtures to be combined, but I left them separate--all the better to keep the spinach fresh for leftovers. 

Makes four main course servings, and would easily serve six as a side.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Start with the Basics

I've been in the casting process this week for the next play I'm directing, On Golden Pond.  Do you know the movie?  It had Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda as a couple in their late 70s who return to the same rural cabin in Maine every summer that they bought when they were newly married.  That's really about it for the plot, except for a subplot concerning their adult daughter and her difficult relationship with her father.
The movie came out when I was nine or ten, and I loved it.  What nine-year-old loves On Golden Pond?  I think mostly it was because I was obsessed with Katharine Hepburn.  As an aside, do you know if you type the name "Katharine" into Google, the first entry is for Katharine McPhee, who was on American Idol, and not Katharine Hepburn?  That just seems wrong.

Most people are nervous when they come audition.  The thing they don't know is that I'm nervous, too, because I really want to find the right people. 
It's a little like having the right ingredients--if the basics are solid, it's much harder to screw up the end product.
This month's Cake Slice pick didn't initially interest me--a loaf cake of frozen mousse sandwiched with chocolate wafers.  However, the mousse is simple and delicious.  I made a few adaptations to use coffee rather than espresso beans, and Kahlua rather than Frangelico because I don't think I've ever had Frangelico in the house.
We served it for the Bastille Day dinner, and it was delicious.  Better yet, I was able to make it a day ahead of time and didn't have to worry about it the day of the dinner party.
Frozen White Chocolate-Espresso Loaf Cake
Adapted from The Cake Book  by Tish Boyle
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. powdered gelatin
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup ground coffee
9 oz. good-quality white chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. Kahlua liqueur
Nabisco chocolate wafers
Line a large loaf pan with plastic wrap, ensuring that the ends of the wrap hang out of the pan.
To make the mousse, pour the water in a small coffee cup and sprinkle the powdered gelatin over it.  Let it sit for five minutes.  In the interim, make a small sachet out of cheesecloth (I used an old linen tea towel) and put the ground coffee in it.  Place the sachet and 1/2 cup of the cream in a small saucepan.  Bring the cream to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat and set it aside for at least fifteen minutes.
Place the coffee cup in the bottom of another small saucepan or skillet and add water until it comes halfway up the side of the cup.  Bring the water to the boil and stir the gelatin until it is totally dissolved.  Then turn off the heat and set the pan aside.
Remove the coffee sachet from the cream, squeezing it to release excess liquid.  Put the saucepan back on the heat and let it come to a boil.  Put the chocolate in a medium bowl, then pour the hot cream and gelatin over it.  Whisk the hot liquid into the chocolate until it is completely melted, then whisk in the vanilla and Kahlua. 
Let the chocolate mixture cool.  Then pour the remainder of the cream in a medium bowl and whip it to the soft peak stage using a hand mixer on medium speed.  Fold in the white chocolate mixture in three installments.
To make the cake, pour about one and a half cups of the mousse over the bottom of the loaf pan and smooth it.  Spread one of the chocolate wafers with a dollop of the mousse and press it against the long side of the pan.  Continue placing the chocolate wafers in rows in this same manner--you may need to break wafers in half to get to the end of the pan. 
When you put the second row in, make sure the wafers are sandwiched against the first row.  Continue until you have put it as many rows as possible, then carefully pour the remaining mousse in and spread it evenly.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap, ensuring that it is touching the mousse.  Freeze for at least four hours, or overnight.

To unmold, lift the edges of the plastic wrap.  Cut into 3/4 inch slices and allow them to stand a few minutes at room temperature before serving.
Makes approximately ten slices.