Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cheddar Swirl Breakfast Buns

Cheddar Swirl Breakfast Buns, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
There's been a whirlwind of kitchen activity since about a week before Thanksgiving and, if all goes according to plan, shall continue through Christmas. Here's what's been going on:
Thanksgiving was all about The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
These Cheddar Swirl Buns never made it to Thanksgiving brunch. I auditioned them the week before and they were declared a winner by my friend and neighbor, Sheena and her family...then I went totally ADD as Tday approached.
The family went non-traditional this year. Instead of heading out of town to the little sister kitchen, which moved even further out of town than last year, we convened locally and dined at the Tonga Room, a historic Polynesian restaurant and famed tiki bar. Not a turkey or cranberry in sight.
Dinner reservations weren't until 8:45 so I hosted a very casual lunch for 4 that became 3, featuring a cluster of Smitten Kitchen salads I'd bookmarked but couldn't decide on, so I made them all. I also made what's become pretty standard fare around the little kitchen, smitten's Shaved Asparagus Pizza, which I've prepared and written about on numerous occasions and a pizza of my own convoluted brain, the Chicken Fajita Pizza, inspired by Jamie Oliver's recipe for Chicken Fajitas.
The three Smitten Kitchen salads were all wonderful. things were so fast and furious that morning that I never had a chance to take a pic. First up:
Vinegar Slaw- a no brainer because all I needed was a standard head of cabbage and an english cucumber. Super simple and a great reminder of what I love about slaws. They're even better the next day.
Next up was what turned out to be my favorite for a couple of reasons:
the Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Miso Dressing intrigued me from the gorgeous picture and then, it's list of unfamiliar ingredients, starting with the miso. I was so intrigued that I didn't let the fact that I couldn't find sugar snap peas and napa cabbage at my local produce market at 7pm on Tday Eve stop me. I substituted french cut green beans and used the green cabbage I already had for the Vinegar Slaw. The salad was a hit and the left-overs ended up in my egg salad toasts every morning for a week.
Finally, there was the Zucchini Ribbon and Almond Pesto Salad-a dish so simple and special it got me thinking I needed to add yet another vegetable peeler to whats become the vegetable peeler drawer, a Y-model a tad wider and a little more upscale than the one I purchased months ago from the Dollar Store. There's got to be something out there that doesn't leave you with a final fat length of vegetable because the blade is set too far down the Y. My solution to this is to turn my wooden cutting board on it's edge and lay asparagus, for example, along it and shave it down to nothing, I just have to pick out the wood slivers.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Big Breakfast Latkes

Big Breakfast Latkes, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
Within two hours of my finally getting my mitts on the smitten kitchen cookbook, exactly one week ago, I had bookmarked well over half of if its recipes. We've been attached at the hip since. Literally. It's always in my bag. I show it off to my co-workers. I read it on the bus. It sits atop my table at my local cafe provoking comments from hovering patrons whilst standing in line. I take it to bed with a cup of tea, flipping it open to a random page to read or re-read the recipe introductions, re-arranging the color coded neon post-its in an attempt to figure out what to make next. 
I can't believe it's taken me a week to make something from it, but I've finally gotten around to picking number one. This jumped the line-up for several reasons:
~I love potatoes!
~All of the ingredients were on hand.
~I'm always on the lookout for time efficient meal ideas (I can get my butt out of bed a lot quicker for this than for toast-'cuz, you know, I love potatoes) 
~The do ahead note promises the cooked latkes keep well in the fridge and freezer, so the other night I made a double batch 'cuz I knew they'd be gobbled up just as easily for breakfast and dinner.
~I had made my first  Rosti (from Jamie Oliver) a few weeks ago, so Smitten pushed my OCD button and got me thinking about all of the differences and possibilities amongst rosti's, latke's, potato cakes and hash browns.
I've christened my new gem with it's first stain...bacon fat!
Hmnnn...can this still be called a latke if I cooked it in bacon fat? Have I just created a culinary faux-pas?

Big Breakfast Latkes
from the smitten kitchen cookbook

1 large baking potato (1 pound or 455 grams) peeled
1 small onion (1/4 pound or 115 grams) peeled
1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Vegetable or olive oil, for frying (I used bacon fat-Is that bad?)
fried or poached eggs, to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, and keep it in the oven until needed.
In a food processor or on a large box grater, coarsely grate the potato and onion. Line a colander with a lint free towel, dump the shredded mixture into the towel-lined colander, gather the ends and wring out as much water as possible. Let it stand for 2 minutes, then squeeze it out again.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt, pepper, and egg together. Stir in the potato-onion mixture until all the pieces are evenly coated.
In a small, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmery or melt some bacon grease.  Divide the mixture into 4 portions and spoon the first one into the skillet and flatten with a spatula into a 5-inch round. Cook the latke over moderate heat until the edges are golden, about 4 to 5 minutes; flip, and cook until golden on the bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes more.
Transfer the latke either to a warmed baking sheet in the oven, or onto a sheet to cool if your planning to keep them around. Repeat process with remaining latke batter in three batches, creating a total of four large latkes
You can either serve the latke whole with a fried egg on top or cut it into 4 wedges, stacked  with a poached egg on top, taking a moment to delight in the yolk running down the slices.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Potato Fennel Gratin

Potato Fennel Gratin, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
This dish of dreamy, creamy, cheese slathered potatoes is as off-the-hook good as this picture is bad. This is the fate of night-time cookery in the little kitchen. The first bite is taken, then another and before I know it, the chances of anything sticking around until the next morning for the optimal photo-op is veryveryvery slim. I've found this to be a very good thing.
The Barefoot Contessa gets the credit for this little kitchen keeper.
<insert rant> I don't have much to do with her because more often than not, I'm put off by some elusive ingredient. She makes my pantry seem inadequate. She's a big tease, luring me in with a Simple Tomato Soup  only to be turned away by my lack of saffron threads. Don't get me started on that truffle butter. I love/hate The Barefoot Contessa. A while back I went all ADD in the cookbook aisle at the library and came home with a big stack including Back to Basics. I flipped through the book and found myself, as expected, going all bi-polar, engaged then enraged (too strong of a word but it sounds good).  That ginormous showcase barn kitchen? Jeez...I shudder to think of the damage I could do to that, unless I had a team of assistants cleaning up after me. Shoot, I don't even have a Kitchen Aid, much less a dishwasher. There's that gorgeous patio where she (some hidden catering staff) serves her fabulous friends at a table that's bigger than my kitchen?  There she is trotting around those charming little shops in East Hampton arms loaded with tulips, vanilla beans and truffle oil...yes I'm green with envy<end rant>
But every now and again I stumble across one of her recipes that gets me all churned me up and I can think of doing nothing else.
This wasn't one of those times.
I found myself with a couple of sprouting potatoes and a sadly drying fennel bulb, crying out to become something wonderful STAT! I plugged "fennel" into my Google search and ultimately landed on this: Potato Fennel Gratin. It's from my other guilty pleasure, The Food Network.
But back to Back to Basics: It inspires. I easily and immediately bookmarked more than 10 recipes (that's my cookbook quota) that might actually have a place in my un-Hampton-y, tulip-less world. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

sweet and sour pork

sweet and sour pork, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
Yesterday was a great day in the little kitchen. It started with the revelation that sweet and sour pork can be really good, thanks to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I've had this recipe bookmarked for months now, when a certain test kitchen dummy casually asked if I had a good recipe for sweet and sour pork. No, because I don't particulary like it. Hmmnnn all the more reason to give it a go. 24 hours, a Google-thon and a trip to the library later...I found the recipe. forward to yesterday. I now have my very own copy of Food Revolution and I finally made the sweet and sour pork. It was super good and ridiculously easy. I have only ever eaten take-out sweet and sour pork. It has to be practically force fed to me when whoever I'm with insists on sharing.  I don't hate it. I just don't like it enough to order it myself. I've always found it way too sweet for my liking. So, I wasn't all that inspired to attempt it until I came across Jamie's version, which is not overwhelmed by syrupy sweetness.  The chinese five-spice blend is a new and much welcomed addition to the little kitchen pantry. The discovery of  keeper recipes always makes me happy so the day had already felt complete, purposeful and productive.
I had no sooner snapped the picture above when I got a phone call from my friend and neighbor Sheena, informing me that our Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks had arrived and she was coming right over with it. Wheeee!!!

This has not left my hands since Sheena handed if off to me. I carried it to the library where I finally paid off my record high overdue fines, relieved and free to check out dvds again.  Nothing left to do but spend  the remainder of the day, and well into this morning, pouring over my much anticipated new kitchen companion from cover to cover, bookmarking away and planning shopping lists that will keep me occupied through the new year. Jamie who?

Friday, November 9, 2012

apple mosaic tart and one sunny afternoon in the city..

apple mosaic tart, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
The morning I woke up to this on my Smitten Kitchen news feed, I knew this was the next thing the little kitchen would attempt to re-produce. I finally got around to this last week and it was perfectly lovely in spite of my gross mismanagement of the puff pastry. Normally, I don't have much to do with puff pastry as I've always related it to precious hors d'oeuvres or elegant desserts, neither of which have much of a place in my life. But when a certain test kitchen dummy blindsided me with a lobster pot pie challenge, somehow it seemed that pedaling up to the market for puff pastry was on the top of my to-do list. The produce market was ripe with apples and I was ripe to make this pretty tart. I got de-railed by something or other and had to re-freeze the puff pastry. Well, the pastry was in and out of the freezer 3 times before it made it's way into the tart.
Once baked though it was nice and puffy on the sides, the bottom was a little flimsy but brilliant, fresh from the oven. It was also great the next day for breakfast and then crumbled up with ice-cream and chocolate sauce for dessert the next two nights. I managed to consume it all by myself.
That was not the plan.
I was going to share it with my co-workers the next day...but somehow it never made it to the office. I had another idea. I'd bring it with me to the Smitten Kitchen book signing at Omnivore to share it with my friend while waiting in line. I wanted to tell Deb, whilst she was signing my cookbook, all about it. None of those things happened.
A little over a week ago The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook came out and last Sunday, Smitten Kitchen came to town. I'd been anticipating this event since I first read that Omnivore Books was an early stop on the book tour. I even refrained from pre-purchasing the book from Amazon, happy to pay full retail (something I NEVER do) in support of my local independent bookseller and of Deb Perelman, cookbook author and the genius behind Smitten Kitchen. I wanted an autographed copy.
So did everyone else, as it turns out.
On a gorgeously sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, my friend and neighbor Sheena and I showed up around 1:30 for the 2:00 event and the line was already around the block. No surprise. I knew this was gonna be huge. Sheena dropped me off so she could park the car and by the time she met me in line, the line had grown another 1/2 block.
A few minutes later, a gobsmacked bookseller came out to inform the huge line that the 150 copies had already sold out. I had to chuckle, 150 books? There were at least 300 people there and probably even more who showed up and were deterred by the overwhelming crowd. A few minutes later Deb Perelman, with her equally gobsmacked husband Alex, came out to greet the crowd and say hello. She was so sweet and  so humbly overwhelmed at the turnout.
No one seemed deterred by the shortage of books. I saw no exasperation or impatience. I seemed that people were just happy to hang out with others of their ilk.
We were welcome to wait in line to purchase a book that would be mailed to us later. And guess what? we gladly did!

Friday, November 2, 2012

back to some basics

Jamie Oliver...How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

I love this book-I really want to make everything!
you are super cute
love the crazy-hair
love the British accent and the lisp
love the ninja-like kitchen lingo: bash, whiz, whack & bosh
love "Oliver's Twist"-my favorite episode is cooking for Elvis
love the simplicity and un-preciousness of the recipes
love the pretty pictures
love the philanthopy
love the passion
love the energy

Just when I thought I couldn't obsess over this guy more, I found this:

Yes, it's just rice. But finally I found the best way to cook it.
It started a few weeks back when I read this post from Smitten Kitchen. I first realized that I didn't really know how to cook rice properly. I felt oddly comforted that I was not alone in that rice was mostly a crap shoot for me. I was making due with sub-standard rice, following package directions that mostly produced under-cooked or over-cooked  gummy, rice. I don't own a rice cooker because I can't justify the counter space to uni-purpose appliance. I first went back to my Big Book of Cooks Illustrated and that attempt left me with way undercooked rice. WTH?!?

Then I saw this...waaaay outside the box approach to simple white rice. Thanks Jamie!

Get a large pot of salted water boiling.
Add 1 1/2 cups of well-rinsed rice (in a mesh strainer-run it under cold water for about a minute-until the water runs clear)_
when the rice starts dancing around, boil for 5 minutes from that point on.
Strain the rice in a colander and cover with aluminun foil, pressing it down onto the surface of the rice. Add an inch of water back into your original pot and bring that back to a boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer and place your colander of foil-covered rice back into the pot and place the pot cover back on as well.
Let it simmer and steam for 10 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and you've got perfectly cooked rice! Yay!

Lobster Pot Pie and Lessons Learned

Last week my friend, aka the test kitchen dummy, presented me with the task of making lobster pot pie. There were problems. So many problems I don't even know where to begin.
Seafood is the one chapter of cookery (and eatery) that challenges me the most. I've never liked fish. I'm slowly dipping my toe into these somewhat uncharted waters.  I figured if I could make gumbo and devein and prepare 2 pounds of shrimp, I felt up to the task of lobster. The strategy was that after googling lobster preparation and recipes, it seemed prudent to find a source for frozen lobster meat as I was not up to the task and timing of using fresh/live lobster, especially if it was to end up in a pot pie.
Lessons learned:

1) Fish makes shitty leftovers.
2) Only agree to make tkd requests when Safeway ingredients will suffice
3) Know when to channel my inner Iron Chef from the get-go and prepare to make do with what I get or be super* explicit when issuing a shopping list. 
4) Always go to trusted sources** when attempting a new recipe
5) Be thankful for foodie neighbors***

 *1 lb of frozen lobster meat ("don't get whole lobster!") apparently was translated as one 2 pound frozen whole lobster

"This was all they had, I figured you'd figure something out" ...after scraping about 3 ounces of meat out of that lobster...
***Sheena saves the day with a can of frozen lobster meat imported from her last trip to New Brunswick

A funky recipe (given to him by the co-worker who inspired the request) elicited my next problem : **I was left standing with a cup of cream (no mention anywhere as to when to add it) over a pot that was already a watery mess... no way I could add another cup of liquid. I put the cream back into the carton and made a roux. The filling was really tasty and that canned lobster meat was brilliant, but
by the time, sometime that evening, I got the pies baked up with puff pastry, I was pretty much over the whole thing.
One of the three  pies came our really puffy and pretty, the other two, the pastry had sunk in the corner and was not so pretty. It was too dark, I was too tired and too frustrated to even attempt a picture at that point.
My apartment smelled fishy for days and I was not happy about that. I sent the pies off the next day with tkd and have yet to hear how he liked them. I can't imagine him, evenwith his cast iron stomach and indiscriminate taste, thinking this was a remarkable effort in any way.
But you can't win 'em all.

Herein lies the rub: I enjoy the solitary confines of my little kitchen and the freedom of creating what I want, when I want but I need a more present and audible audience...a greater purpose, I guess. I need somebody to cook a fresh-from-the-oven meal for, but whose flexible enough to be amenable to my moodiness.
What's the equivelent of the kitchen booty-call?