Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)

esquites mexican grilled corn salad

Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)

Last summer I had a serious addiction to ‘Elote” (Grilled Mexican Corn) which I wrote about here. The recipe was buried in a post along with a few other recipes and I don’t think it got the attention it deserved. It was the tastiest thing I’ve eaten in a while and I could hardly wait for corn to come back in season so I could eat it again. Elote is corn that is grilled until it starts to caramelize on the outside. It is then slathered with a sauce consisting of mayonnaise, lime juice and chili powder then sprinkled with cheese. Yes, I know it sounds a little over the top, but that’s only because it is. The only problem with this one is that it can be a little on the messy side. I like getting down and dirty as much as the next guy, but when you are having company it can be a little much. So I’ve found a better way to serve this delightful dish…say hello to my new little friend, “Esquites”.

esquites mexican grilled corn

Esquites is the same great recipe I grew to love last year but cut from the corn and plated like a salad. It is just as good (if not better) and it can be easily prepared ahead of time making it perfect for entertaining. Esquites in Mexico is more or less street food or ‘antojito’. It is the kind of thing you would buy at a festival, a market or from a street vendor. Traditionally, the corn is boiled, then sautéed in butter with onions and chilies. For my tastes I like it grilled (hey, this is California after all). To prepare the corn you will want to husk it completely and remove all the silk. Then just brush it with a little vegetable oil and grill it. Once it is grilled it is just a matter of cutting it off the cob and assembling your esquites. As I mentioned before esquites can be made ahead of time and if you are taking it somewhere, it travels well. I love esquites served warm right off the grill but it is ok at room temperature or even cold (as in midnight refrigerator runs). If you are adding avocado it is always best to add it before you are ready to eat it.

esquites mexican grilled corn shun

When shopping for corn, always make sure to buy the freshest and most locally grown corn you can find. I really love the flavor that grilling lends to this dish so if you are using frozen corn or sautéing it instead of grilling it I don’t want to hear about it!  I won’t be joining you. At the time of this post the California corn season has started. So far it is tasting pretty good, but it will be even better in a few weeks when local Brentwood corn starts up.  I love this time of year! Enjoy your esquites and have a great summer!

Esquites, Mexican Corn Salad

Esquites, Mexican Corn Salad

Ingredients

  • 8 ears of corn
  • 5-6 tablespoons Mayonnaise
  • 5 ounces Cotija cheese, crumbled
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ancho powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 limes, juiced (3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons jalapeño, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • Avocado (optional, but highly recommended)

Instructions

Remove all the husk and silk from the corn and brush lightly with vegetable oil. Grill over a medium high heat, until the corn is lightly browned. Remove and allow to cool slightly before cutting the corn from each ear with a sharp knife. Add the corn to a large bowl, and add all the rest of the ingredients. Mix well, adjust seasoning to taste and serve. (Note-if not serving immediately, do not add the avocado until you are ready to eat)

Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad

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Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad

Is it just me or does everybody just love asparagus? I am trying to think of anyone I know that doesn’t like it but I can’t. Most of my friends actually get a little excited at the mere mention of it. It seems that it has been this way over the ages where it appears to have enjoyed a rich and fascinating history. Images of it as offerings have even been observed on ancient Egyptian frieze. Did you also know that Roman Emperors (long known documented asparagus enthusiasts) kept stashes of asparagus frozen in the Alps for later use? This is not at all astonishing given the adoration reserved for everyone’s favorite vegetable. Taking into consideration that it only was available in the spring, it is not surprising that people have gone to so much trouble to ‘stretch out’ the season for as long as possible. Now thanks to modern agriculture it is now possible to get it all year round. Off season it isn’t always as good (or cheap) as it is now that spring has sprung. In addition to the recent arrival of spring, asparagus fanciers will also be happy to hear that asparagus turns out to be very good for you.  I was surprised to learn about all the health benefits of asparagus, which I caught up on here. Regardless of why you eat it or whether you boil, steam, grill, roast, or stir-fry it, now is the time to enjoy it.

All that being said I only have one problem with asparagus…I hate it. Nobody seems to understand how this could be possible, but I really don’t like it. It probably goes back to my childhood when I was forced to eat over-boiled asparagus that no amount of cheese sauce or mayonnaise could disguise. As I have gotten older I have learned to enjoy it, fake it, or sometimes just manage to choke it down. What makes it work for me is keeping it crunchy. I like it grilled or quickly roasted in a hot oven. I also like it stir fried. Boiling and steaming unfortunately come dangerously close to painful childhood flash backs. It is those times all I can do is pray for sauce (and lots of it). It sort of defeats the purpose of eating vegetables doesn’t it?

About a year ago I saw a recipe on chow.com for a raw shaved asparagus salad and my interest was piqued. The color was beautiful and it had two of my other favorite ingredients: lemon and parmesan cheese. I tried it and I loved it but somehow forgot about it…so little time, so many salads! I saw it again on Facebook recently and remembered how much I liked it so I made a mental ‘post it’ note to try it again. I was drawn to the simplicity of this dish. I admire dishes that have a minimum of ingredients. The crisp refreshing nature of this salad makes it the consummate spring salad and the recipe was perfect the way it was. However, on my last trip to the farmers market, in addition to the beautiful asparagus, I found some very nice fennel and spring onions that caused a little light to go on. I came up with this Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad. I am happy to report that I liked it better than the original that I had tried last year. The salad couldn’t be easier either. If you want to make it ahead, you can prepare the dressing ingredients and keep everything in the refrigerator for a few hours to toss together at the last minute. I strongly recommend that you break out the good olive oil on this one. It is also good the next day. Enjoy and Happy Spring!

Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad

Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad

Ingredients

  • 1/2-3/4 lb. asparagus spears, woody ends (if any) removed
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons of champagne vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese (1-2 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley.

Instructions

Trim the woody ends of the asparagus (if necessary) and cut into ribbons using a potato peeler. Discard the top of the fennel bulb (reserving some of the top for a garnish if desired) and slice thinly. Slice the spring onion. Add all the vegetables to a large bowl. Toast the pine nuts in a small pan until brown*. Set aside. Sprinkle the lemon, vinegar and olive oil over the vegetables and toss really well. Salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning as needed, adding more oil or lemon if necessary. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Add the pine nuts and most of the cheese, reserving a little for garnish, and toss. Plate the salad onto individual plates, garnishing the top with the reserved cheese and a pinch of parsley (or reserved fennel tops). It is now ready to serve.

*Tip Pine nuts contain a lot of oil which can make them burn easily so stir constantly and remove from heat immediately. These little gems are also expensive so keep unused pine nuts in the freezer to keep them fresh.

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Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu

spicy Thai grilled tofu

Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu

Isn’t technology grand! I remember a time when you had to go to your doctor’s office and actually see your doctor to find out the results of your lab tests. Now with the magic of email and the internet, you can have the bad news delivered right to your inbox. In my case this usually occurs on the onset of my weekend. Of course, until I turned 50, I only went to the doctor about every 15 years so I never worried about getting that kind of potential bad news. Alas, I can’t get away with that anymore (and according to my latest lipid panel that isn’t the only thing I can’t get away with). I guess it was just a matter of time. It appears that good genes can only take care of you for so long; sooner or later you just have to make some good dietary decisions. It’s not like I don’t know how to eat well; I just don’t always do it. Good nutrition isn’t always convenient…it takes time and planning (getting up and moving away from the couch or the computer couldn’t hurt either). So now I’m on a mission!  With any luck, a little exercise and the occasional salad, I am planning on having my cholesterol right back down to the same post-adolescent levels they were at last year.

One of the dishes I plan on consuming to bring me back on the road to health is this old favorite that my friend Sue makes and was nice enough to share with me. This ‘Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu’ is so tasty that I often make it just because it tastes so good (regardless of how nutritionally responsible it is). It is composed of fresh raw vegetables and topped off with grilled tofu. The sesame dressing is light and refreshing and would taste great on any combination of fresh vegetables you might like to add to the salad. Lately I’ve been adding a little kale even though I am running the risk of being trendy (truth is it tastes good in there). I generally follow the recipe exactly as she gave it to me, but sometimes I add a tablespoon or two of peanut butter for a little added richness. This dish is good hot or cold, and tastes great (if not better) the next day. If you are new to grilling tofu don’t panic, it is easy.  Grilling gives it a little more texture and flavor, and the grill marks are very appetizing. You can grill it easily in a grill pan indoors or outside on the BBQ. I hope you enjoy this Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu as much as I do and thank you Sue for sharing it with us. See you at the gym.

Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu

Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu

Ingredients

  • I 16 oz block of extra firm tofu
  • I carrot, peeled and cut into julienne strips
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
  • I cup kale, shredded
  • Fresh cilantro to taste
  • Dressing
  • 1/8 cup sesame oil
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter (optional)

Instructions

Combine and mix all the dressing ingredients together. Taste and adjust to your personal taste and set aside. Combine all your fresh vegetables in a large bowl and set aside. Take your block of tofu and slice it lengthwise into 4 half inch slabs. Blot the slices dry with paper towels. Brush with vegetable oil and cook over a hot grill to achieve some nice grill marks and to lightly toast the exterior. Remove from heat, cool, then cut into small triangles. Add the grilled tofu to the vegetables and toss with the dressing. It is now ready to serve.

 

 

Fresh Baked Bread

fresh baked white bread

Fresh Baked  Bread

Lately I have been thinking about baking some bread. Bread has been on my mind since I recently came across a spate of articles bashing the bakeries in San Francisco for serving four dollar slices of toast (places like Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club, The Mill and Tartine to name a few). To read the articles, you would have thought that it was the end of the world and the hipsters and techies were responsible. I was confused (or maybe I’m just jaded) but I don’t think $4 is too much for a great piece of toast. It’s not like they were serving Wonder Bread and margarine. It could also be that I know how much work goes into making a good loaf of bread and just how satisfying an exceptional piece of toast, warm and slathered with butter, can be. This is probably because of the freshly baked bread my grandmother used to make every week.  For her making bread was part of her routine and just business as usual in our house.

bread1

bread2My grandmother was born in Hangtown, California, the daughter of California pioneers. She was an exceptional homemaker and an incredible baker.  As the story goes she began baking her own bread during the war because it was rationed. When the war was over, grandpa liked it so much that she continued making it on a regular basis. We were fortunate to live close by and spent a lot of time in grandma’s kitchen. She had an old Wedgwood stove, the kind that sat very high off the ground on four legs. I loved that old stove… so did grandma. Grandpa bought her a new top of the line ‘O’Keefe and Merritt’ in the 70’s, but she kept the Wedgwood in the garage and continued to use it. I reminisce about my grandparents’ house often. I can picture their kitchen and hear the screeching sound of the broiler drawer sliding out for melted cheese sandwiches while the Giants game played on the radio. The garage always smelled of Gravenstein apples from the garden that eventually ended up in apple sauce (another thing that we never had to buy at the store…Thank God!)  I am grateful for these special memories even though I get a little melancholy thinking about how much I miss my grandparents. But as the old saying goes, “you can never go home again”.

Fortunately, what I can still do to honor my grandmother is bake bread using her recipe. Even though she never wrote it down, her recipe has been lovingly preserved by my sister Mary. Baking bread isn’t hard but it takes a little practice and you have to follow directions to a tee. It is chemistry and physics after all, and one goof can mean the difference between success and a bomb. Some of the steps that don’t seem important can make a big difference in the final product. Case in point: scalding the milk. The idea is to get the milk to a temperature of around 180° F. (but no higher) in order to denature the proteins in the milk which assist in the rising process. If you get the milk too hot and it boils or scorches, it will also have a negative effect on rising. Once you have scalded your milk it is also important to let it cool so it doesn’t kill the yeast. Another vital step is to find a warm place to let your dough rise, somewhere around 80° F. is ideal. If you have a ‘proofing’ setting on your stove you have it made. Dissolving your yeast in warm (but not hot) water is also important. It is probably hot enough out of the tap but check it out with a thermometer if you aren’t sure. You should be able to put a finger in it without burning it. For reasons like this the recipe might sound a little wordy. I hope I haven’t discouraged you from attempting to make bread. I remember getting a bit discouraged the first time I made bread and it didn’t come out. I am glad I kept trying, because not only does it get easier every time, but as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Grandma also made Cinnamon Bread every week. The basic bread recipe is for two loaves of white bread so it is easy to make one into cinnamon bread. My favorite sandwich when I was growing up was a toasted ‘Ham Salad Sandwich’ served ‘open faced’. We referred to the ham salad as ‘Ham Goop’, not the most appetizing name if you didn’t hear it all the time growing up, but delicious just the same.

cinnamon home baked breadAs I sit here after baking bread for the best part of the day and writing this post I am feeling very reminiscent. I even decided to go all out and make some Ham Goop to go along with the bread. I am enjoying the lingering smell of fresh baked bread and a toasty Ham Goop Sandwich. Then, all of a sudden I realize that I am no longer melancholy…I am home.

White Bread

This recipe is for 2 basic loaves of white bread.

White Bread

White Bread

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup warm water (about 100°-110° F.)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to around 100°-110° F.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6-6 1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
  • Vegetable oil

Instructions

Heat the milk in a small sauce pan over medium heat string constantly with a wooden spoon until it gets to around 180° F. (about the time when small bubbles appear on the edge of the pan). Check with a thermometer if you aren't sure. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat and add the butter to the milk. Set it aside to cool a bit (around 90°-110° F.) Add dry yeast to a mixing bowl and add 1/4 cup warm water and 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Allow to proof for 10 minutes (it should double in size and get foamy if the yeast is good). When the milk has cooled to the correct temperature you can add it to the yeast along with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and salt. You can now begin mixing in the flour. I use a stand mixer, but it can also be done by hand. Add the first three cups of flour one at a time stirring each time until the flour is evenly moistened. Add the fourth cup of flour and beat until dough is smooth and elastic. Mix in the 5th cup of flour to make a stiff dough. You might have to take it off the mixer and mix it by hand at this point as the dough will be very stiff. Measure out another cup of flour and sprinkle half of it over a board. Turn your dough out onto the board and start kneading it. Keeping the board floured as you go, knead the dough by pulling it toward you with your fingers, than folding it over and pushing down on it with the heal of you hand. Knead it for about 10 minutes. It should be satiny and smooth when you are done. I suppose you can do this in the stand mixer with a dough hook, but I like doing it on the board. Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, flipping it over so that the top has a coat of oil on it as well. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and put it in a warm spot (80° F. is ideal). Leave it undisturbed for about 1 1/2 hours. If the temperature was right, it should have doubled in size. After it has risen, punch it slightly to remove some air and turn it out onto a floured board. Briefly knead to form into an oval, then divide in half, cover and let rest for 5 minutes. Shape each into a loaf and put into a 9” x 5” lightly greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. After that time, place is a preheated 375° F. oven and bake for 35-40 minutes or until well browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Turn loaves out onto a rack to cool.

Cinnamon Bread

When I bake bread, I make one into cinnamon bread. This recipe calls for 1 of the 2 balls of dough from the above recipe.

 

Cinnamon Bread

Cinnamon Bread

Ingredients

  • I ball of dough from the basic white bread recipe above
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Instructions

Prepare the dough for white bread up to the point where you divide the dough into two balls and allow it to rest for five minutes. Combine the cinnamon and sugar and blend together. Melt the butter. Take the dough for one loaf of bread and place on a floured board. With a rolling pin, roll dough out to a rectangle that is approximately 6” x 16”. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Beginning at one end, roll the dough into a loaf, pinching the seams and the ends of the loaf to seal. Place in a greased loaf pan and bake at 375° F. for 35-40 minutes or until well browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Turn loaves out on a rack to cool.

Ham Goop

This is your basic ham salad recipe that we always referred to as “Ham Goop”. I still make it the same way my grandmother did, but sometimes I add a little grated cheddar. I don’t think grandma would have objected.

ham salad sandwich

Ham Goop Sandwich

Ham Goop Sandwiches

Ham Goop Sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 12 ounce piece of ham, chopped
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped sweet pickles (please don't use relish)
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2-3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Instructions

Mix all the above ingredients together and spread over toasted bread. Serve open faced.

Tan Tan Noodles

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Tan Tan Noodles

They say that there is medicinal value in garlic, ginger and chilies. If that is true, then this dish is a tour de force. If you have had Tan Tan Noodles before then you are aware of the assertive ‘in your face’ flavor and sinus clearing properties of this dish. Tan Tan noodles (also spelled Dan Dan noodles) originated from the Szechwan region of China. Their name refers to the pole (a tan tan) that was used to carry them through the streets and sold by food vendors. A tan tan held two pots, one for sauce, and one for noodles. The dish eventually found its way to Japan, where it is a popular ramen dish, and of course the United States where it is a Chinese restaurant staple. Like all ancient Chinese recipes, they have changed and been adapted to fit   modern tastes. I’ve done some adapting myself and I have no doubt you will too, adding or subtracting seasonings to suit your own taste. For example, you can easily go meatless by substituting a vegetarian broth and including tofu or fresh vegetables. Sometimes I use Siracha instead of chili sauce, which is less oily and will give you a different texture. Some people like more broth for a soup-like consistency, while others will prefer less for a ‘spaghetti-like’ dish. The only thing I insist on every time is making sure I use fresh noodles. I like fresh Chinese ‘Shanghai” style noodles that are thick and chewy. As long as you start with good noodles and taste as you go, I am sure they will turn out great. Enjoy!

 

Tan Tan Noodles

Tan Tan Noodles

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Mock beef broth (see below)
  • 1 pound fresh noodles
  • 1 pound ground beef or pork
  • 1/4 cup garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh ginger, chopped
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup sesame paste (see note)
  • 1/3 cup Chinese hot chili sauce
  • 4-6 tablespoons peanuts, chopped
  • Mock broth
  • 32 ounces beef bouillon
  • 2 pieces star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns
  • 2-3 green onions cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons bean sauce
  • 1-2 slices of fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup rice wine or dry sherry

Instructions

Begin by preparing the mock broth. Place the bouillon along with all the other broth ingredients into a sauce pan and heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the ginger, anise, and green onions. Set aside. Chop the garlic, ginger, green onions and peanuts and set aside. Heat the oil in a wok and add the garlic and ginger, give a quick stir, then add the ground meat and continue to cook until it is well browned. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. When the meat is sufficiently browned, lower heat to low and add soy sauce, green onions, chili sauce and sesame paste. Continue to stir until all ingredients are combined and heated through. Remove from heat. Cook noodles according to directions on the package. Drain but do not rinse. Divide the noodle between 4-6 bowls. Divide the meat evenly and place some in each bowl. Pour the desired amount of broth over each bowl (usually ½ to 1 cup of broth depending on how you like it). Top each bowl with a spoonful of chopped peanuts and you are ready to serve.

*Note. Sesame paste is found in Asian markets. There are two different kinds so make sure to use the lighter colored one. You could also substitute tahini sauce or even peanut butter for a distinctly different flavor.

Best Ever Lemon Bars

lemonbar1

Best Ever Lemon Bars!

Lemon Bars are a classic. They are served everywhere and recipes for them are a dime a dozen. I love them all, but like everything else some are better than others. I came across this particular recipe in Time-Life’s, “The Good Cook Book” series in the “Cookies & Crackers” volume. This series was first published in 1984 and were some of the first cookbooks I ever bought. I love the Time-Life cookbooks and always felt they were under-appreciated; they are not only loaded with great recipes but do a great job of teaching various cooking techniques with their generous use of illustrations and descriptions. Anyway, in my personal opinion, these lemon bars are by far the best I’ve ever tasted!  They are richer than most due in part to the buttery cookie-like base. This recipe also calls for icing on top (as opposed to powdered sugar) which just kicks them up another notch. If you follow the directions and let them sit overnight (which is virtually impossible to do) they take on a chewy ‘gumdrop-like’ texture. I usually make two batches because I can’t keep my hands off of them until the next day (yes, they are just that good)! The recipe is for a small batch (8×8) and they suggest cutting them into 1” x 2” squares (due to that buttery richness I mentioned earlier). I adapted this recipe only slightly from the original.

Best Ever Lemon Bars

Best Ever Lemon Bars

Ingredients

  • 8 Tablespoons butter (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer Lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1 cup confectioners’ glaze (see recipe below)

Instructions

Cream the butter in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add confectioner’s sugar and thoroughly blend together with the softened butter. Gradually beat in one cup of the flour a little at a time. Transfer to a lightly greased 8’ x 8’ square pan and pat it smoothly and evenly with your fingers. Bake in a 350° oven for 15 minutes until the cookie base is lightly colored and firm to the touch.

Next, combine the granulated sugar, baking powder and 2 tablespoons of flour in a bowl and blend together. Add the eggs and beat well until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Pour this mixture over the cooked cookie base. Bake in the 350° oven for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool.

When the bars have completely cooled, spread the glaze evenly over the bars with a rubber spatula. The glaze is very sticky so you will need to take care not to ‘break’ the top of the bars. Let the glaze harden for at least 15 minutes before cutting into 1” x 2” squares. Cover loosely with foil or wax paper and let sit at room temperature overnight (good luck with that). The three layers will bond with each other giving them a great chewy texture. Enjoy!

Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons water

Instructions

Sift the sugar into a bowl. Stir in the water a spoonful at a time to reach the desired consistency making sure there are no lumps. Use it immediately!

Note: You can replace some of the water with vanilla extract, lemon juice or even liquor, such as Grand Marnier.

 

Meyer Lemons

lemon2

There’s not too much for me to get excited about during the winter… its cold, the days are way too short, and the holidays are all but a distant memory.  Don’t get me wrong, Christmas and New Years were great fun and I do so love all the comfort foods that went along with them (in fact, Christmas cookies are right up there with ‘brown paper packages tied up with string’).   However, what I really miss the most during these winter month are all my favorite summer fruits. Pomegranates and persimmons are OK, but thank goodness for winter citrus! Blood oranges are downright exciting! Kumquats and limequats…thrilling!  Navels, Satsuma Mandarins and tangerines are right up there with ‘warm woolen mittens’. But my best ‘favorite thing’ of all the citrus is Meyer Lemons.

lemon5

Meyer Lemons are originally from China. They are thought to be a cross between a conventional lemon and a mandarin. That is what gives them their wonderfully fragrant smell, unique sweetness and luscious beautiful color. They were brought to the United States by Frank Nicolas Meyer (hence the name). They became very popular in the US but were most widely grown in California.  Sadly, sometime in 1940’s it was discovered that they were carriers of a virus that was lethal to other citrus tree so most of the trees were destroyed.   A virus-free variety was found and cultivated in the 1950’s by ‘Four Winds Growers’, and was later certified by the University of California and sold as the ‘Improved Meyer Lemon’. Being a native I guess I have taken Meyer lemons for granted. It turns out that these beauties were not as well known outside of California until somewhat recently. Thanks in part to Alice Waters, Martha Stewart and others who have popularized them, we now have to share our Meyer lemons with the rest of the world .Their amazing fragrance and sweetness make them an exceptional choice for baking or really using for anything that calls for a lemon.   A new crop of Meyers should be hitting the store shelves now. If you can’t find them and you are not lucky enough to have a tree in your yard (or if you are afraid of getting caught reaching over you neighbor’s fence) there is one other option…call up the “Lemon Ladies Orchard”.

When I first heard of the Lemon Ladies Orchard, I imagined fields of lemon trees being attended to by scores of ladies (or at least a few girls in ‘white dresses with blue satin sashes’).  Instead, I found Karen Morse, ‘orchardess supreme’ and sole caretaker tending to some of the most beautiful Meyer lemon trees I have ever seen. How Karen came upon this role has been somewhat of a journey. She started out in Philadelphia before ending up in California running her own software company. After moving on from that endeavor, she bought a flight school. It was there that she got her first taste of a Meyer lemon. She was already known as the lemonade lady at this point but tasting her first Meyer lemon was somewhat of a revelation. After her years of success Karen eventually sold the flight school and set out trying to find something new to keep her out of trouble. She had a patch of land behind her beautiful Emerald Hills home without anything on it…this is where the dream began. Karen already had great luck with the one Meyer lemon tree she had planted and she knew how well they grew in this area. She started reading everything she could about growing citrus trees, and with some help from ‘Four Winds Growers’ in the East Bay, Karen planted her trees and set out on yet another successful venture. Wandering around the orchard I still had my eyes peeled for some more ladies. I knew they had to be some here somewhere! That is when Karen told me about how she named every tree after a woman who has inspired her over the years. Each tree bears a handmade tile that was painted by each one of these inspirational women. Now it became clear: Karen is the “orchardess”, but the trees are the “ladies” of Lemon Ladies Orchard. This is the inspirational spirit (plus a lot of hard work and love) that make Karen’s lemons the best around!

Karen started out selling her lemons at local markets, restaurants and the internet.  Her lemons became so popular over the internet that she now only sells them online.   In fact, people all over the globe are clamoring for them. Fortunately for us all, the ladies came through the recent cold snap and will probably be shipping into March. You can find her online at lemonladies.com and on Facebook as well.  I wouldn’t wait too long either as word has gotten out as well as demand. I can easily see a day in the not too distant future when demand outweighs supply.

Meyer lemons are great in any recipe that calls for lemons. If you manage to come by some Meyer lemons and you need a good recipe, there are some great ones on Karen’s web page. The Panna Cotta is amazing! Right now I am off to make some lemon bars. I will be posting that recipe in a couple days.
Thank you Karen for your inspirational story and for making your lemons one of my “most favorite things”.

Enjoy!

 

Rumtopf Cake

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If you have been following my blog, you might recall that we started a Rumtopf early in the year (if you missed that, you can read about it here as well as get some great ideas for using your Rumtopf). If you have been following along you would also know that traditionally Rumtopf is supposed to be enjoyed on Christmas morning. Well, guess what? We couldn’t wait until Christmas to dive in! I got the crazy idea to attempt to make one of my favorite cakes using the rum and the fruit from the Rumtopf. Ages ago, I clipped a recipe for a rum cake from a Bacardi Rum ad I found in a magazine and have been enjoying it ever since.  If you have never made it before and you want to give it a try, the original recipe is below. We decided to kick it up a notch by using the rum and fruit from the Rumtopf, and I am happy to report that it was a huge hit! Since we started making the Rumtopf in May, I guess you can say that this cake was almost a year in the making! Although a fair amount of work goes into a making a Rumtopf, preparing the cake is relatively easy. If you don’t have any Rumtopf the original is almost just as good.

 

Rumtopf Cake

Rumtopf Cake

Ingredients

    Cake
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped and toasted
  • 6-8 fresh dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1 18.5 ounce yellow cake mix
  • 1 3.4 ounce package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cold milk (or water)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup strained Rumtopf liquid
  • 1 cup of Rumtopf fruit, roughly chopped
  • Glaze
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup strained Rumtopf liquid

Instructions

For the cake Measure a cup of fruit from your Rumtopf and place it in a strainer to drain, reserving the liquid. Grease and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan. Add the nuts and dates to the bottom of the pan. Combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, milk, oil and the 1/2 cup of the Rumtopf liquid together in a mixing bowl and beat for about 2 minutes. Gently fold in the chopped fruit and pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake in a 325°F oven for 50-60 minutes or until done. Remove from oven to cool on a rack.

Prepare glaze Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the water and sugar. Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the strained Rumtopf liquid.

Glazing your cake You can glaze the cake in either of two ways. You can invert the cake from the pan onto a plate, prick the top with a fork or a wooden skewer and brush on the glaze until it is completely absorbed. This method takes a bit of time. I prefer to leave the cake in the Bundt pan, prick the cake with a wooden skewer, and pour the glaze over the cake. When the cake has absorbed all of the glaze, you can invert it onto a plate.

Enjoy!

If you want to try the original, here is the recipe:

Original Bacardi Rum Cake

Ingredients

    Cake
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 18 1/2 oz. yellow cake mix
  • 1 3 1/2 oz. package vanilla Jell-O instant pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup Bacardi dark rum
  • Glaze
  • 1/4 lb. butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Bacardi dark rum

Instructions

Grease and flour a 10” tube or 12 cup bundt pan. Sprinkle nuts over bottom of pan. Mix all the cake ingredients together and pour batter over nuts. Bake 1 hour in a 325° oven. Cool on rack, then invert onto serving plate. Prick top and spoon or brush glaze over top and side of cake until all the glaze has been absorbed.

Glaze Melt butter in saucepan, stir in water and sugar, boil for 5 minutes, remove from heat. Stir in rum.

Quiche

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Spinach Bacon and Mushroom Quiche

I had my first quiche back in the late 70’s. It was the trendy thing to eat…at least it felt like that to me. Then in 1982 someone penned a book entitled, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche”, and quiche became a cliché and passé. I hated that book for that, but I never gave up on quiche. I have to admit however that it is not on my list or regulars even though I am very fond of it. It is easy to throw together and I often have what I need for it on hand. Somewhere along the way I found a recipe in a magazine that worked for me and I have more or less stuck with it over the years. Quiche is one of those recipes that is very amenable to interpretation and improvisation. After starting with the basics of eggs, cream and cheese, you can add, create, and invent all sorts of delicious combinations. Spinach, bacon and mushrooms are my favorite default combination. For years I used the frozen pie crusts that come in foil pie tins; they worked out fine, and it was convenient keeping a couple in the freezer. Then one day I came across some deep French tart tins at a garage sale and the quality of my quiches improved dramatically. I still haven’t learned how to master a homemade pie crust, so I just stick with Miss Pillsbury (the kind you unfurl and drop into the pan). My original recipe called for Swiss cheese, but I like to use pepper jack cheese instead of Swiss for a little extra kick. I also like to sauté my onions in the rendered bacon grease, but you may opt for a healthy option and sauté them in some olive oil. Whatever you decide to put in yours, I hope you enjoy this blast from the not so distant past.

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Spinach Bacon and Mushroom Quiche

Spinach Bacon and Mushroom Quiche

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. Applewood smoked bacon
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • One half of a 9 oz. package of frozen spinach, thawed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 12 oz. cheese (Swiss or pepper jack), grated
  • 1-9 inch pie crust

Instructions

Begin by browning your bacon until crisp (Tip: cutting it into small pieces facilitates this step, since you are going to crumble it anyway). Pour off all but a tablespoon of the rendered fat and add onions to pan and sauté. After a minute or so, add the sliced mushrooms and continue to sauté until tender and browned. Thaw the frozen spinach and squeeze out as much water as you can. Give it a rough chop and add it to the onions and mushrooms. Cook for another minute or so then add the crumbled bacon to the pan. When it is all incorporated and combined, remove from heat and set aside to cool. Roll out your pie crust and line a lightly greased nine inch pie plate or tart tin and set aside.

Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly. Whisk in the cream and then the grated cheese. Stir in the bacon, spinach, mushrooms and onion mixture. Pour this into prepared quiche shell and bake in a 375° oven for 35-45 minutes or until the top is evenly browned and the center is “set”. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

Note on seasoning: You may notice that I did not add seasoning or salt to this quiche. I think the bacon is salty enough, and I like pepper jack cheese which has all the flavor I need. If you are using Swiss cheese, you may want to add a pinch of nutmeg and a little black pepper. Top with sour cream if you are anything like me.

Potato Onion and Cheddar Soup

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Potato Onion and Cheddar Soup: A Tale of Two Soups

I was excited about sharing my ‘Blue Cheese Soup’ recipe last week, but disappointed to learn how many of my friends don’t like blue cheese. I have always known that these kind of people existed, but I just never wanted to think that it might be anyone I knew! I am not the type to judge others however, and I respect others preferences as long as they don’t wave it in my face. One of things I like about the blue cheese soup recipe is how adaptable it is. So this weekend I reinterpreted it into something entirely different with only a couple changes to the original. It is still as easy to make and every bit as good, if not better! I dare any of you “blue-cheeseaphobes” to take issue with this one!

Potato Onion and Cheddar Soup

Potato Onion and Cheddar Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced

  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 
2 cups chicken stock

  • 1 1/2 cups half and half

  • Salt and pepper
  • 
8 ounces sharp cheddar
  • Garnish with any or all of the following:
  • Crisp cooked Applewood smoked bacon, crumbled
  • 
Sour cream

  • Green onions or chives

  • Siracha sauce

  • Jalapeño ‘Nacho’ slices

Instructions

In a large non-reactive pot, melt butter and sauté onions and garlic until soft; do not let them brown! Add potatoes and garlic, stir to coat with butter and cook about 4 minutes. Add stock to cover, lower heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow it to cool a bit.  Blend smooth with a hand blender, or transfer to a blender and   process until smooth.  Return it to the pot if you are using a blender. Stir in the cream and cheese. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the reserved cheese.

 Enjoy!