April 19, 2013

Under Construction

Things are changing around here! Look for an exciting new ingredient-driven project to take over soon!

December 14, 2012

Ohhhh Tannenbaum

I had just knelt down around the tree to demonstrate to my still new-ish husband the approved "Pam Way" procedure of stringing the lights. Brand new boxes of sparkly lights were stacked and ready to go, and I was eager to pawn off this nasty job and tackle other Christmas preparations. My Dear Sweet Helpful Husband was asking all the right questions which were showing me he was keen to the assignment. My confidence in the outcome was building when things went sideways. Not the fun Pinot Noir kind of Sideways: The dishwasher gurgled, sloshed, and gushed gunky water, flooding the kitchen floor.
Another reason to love Le Bete!
The sharp one I am, I figured that the fates had just given me the choice between plumbing and lighting our tree, and since my plumbing skills are zilch, I settled in amongst the strands while The Man of The House made himself comfortable under the kitchen sink with his monkey wrench. I'd like to say that a fun time was had by all. Ha.

The Zen mindframe I'd talked my husband into adopting pre-tree lighting seemed to carry him over to the plumbing. Me, on the other hand. . . Apparently, I had missed the 100-lights per foot of tree rule by, oh, say, half, when purchasing the new strands, which I only discovered mid-way through the endeavor. This moment of awareness coincided with my Mister's not first but second trip to the hardware store for plumbing parts. My hopes for productivity rose as he arrived back home with more boxes of Made in Taiwan lights that looked to be a perfect match to the unique sparkly little globes purchased all the way across town. Things appeared to be back in the flow, at least as much as they can in times like this.
At this point, I must say that I don't think I've ever had more than five tree-trimming experiences in my half-century plus of Christmases that have gone without some form of grand emotional display or disaster. Each of the five "good years" have been in the most recent past, so I'm still a little skittish. You'd think that this tree curse would have passed over someone born on Christmas Day, wouldn't you? But no. As if we weren't having fun already, the new lights, when plugged in, glowed a strange flickery fluorescent blue, not the pretty candlelight glow of the others. Not wanting my living room to feel like a Wal-Mart store, the project halted until tomorrow. (The good news: The dishwasher works better than it has in years, and there's a new kitchen faucet installed to boot. My Dear Sweet Helpful Husband has earned his Hero badge for the week. And, to borrow the words of my friend Kim, we both managed to keep a cuss-fest at bay. )
So yesterday turned to today. I found a huge stash of old Christmas lights buried in a box I thought I'd lost, and decided to put them up along with the new ones rather than going to the across-town store for more that match. About four frustrating hours into the six total hourlong job of hanging 17 strands of lights, I gave up on my hidden cord technique. Seventeen (YES! 17!) strands of lights on our six-foot high tree-plus-antlers, and I've still got a light gap about a quarter of the way up from the bottom. And a neighborhood holiday cocktail party to host this weekend. And the resignation that Christmas is just like this, and I can choose to either be depressed or to laugh. I think I'll laugh, and officially declare this the Year of the Wreath.
I'm an utter failure at lighting a tree, but I make a crazy good soup. The other day, Martha Stewart was kind enough to send me her January 2013 magazine issue, right on time, like she has for the better part of 22 years. She has a few nice soup recipes included, and within a couple of hours of pulling the mag out of the mailbox, I'd made a version of her Mexican corn and poblano soup. I won't presume to instruct you on lighting your tree, but I will encourage you to give this warming, spicy, friendly, chowder-like soup a go. And I'll refer to Martha, the Maven of Everything, for tree decorating advice.

Martha Stewart Living, January 2013

As much as the scent of a freshly-cut evergreen is nice, so much more is that of a roasted poblano!! You'll see where I differed from the recipe, as I roasted my chiles over the open flame and the onions (and yes, I added garlic) on top of a cast-iron comal in the traditional Mexican way. The recipe is also a bit wonky with their corn measurements. I used a 2-lb. bag, about half of which went into the blender and the other half later.

The recipe is not yet available online.

December 11, 2012

Lion Taming and Other Illusions

Chicken with 40 (or More) Cloves of Garlic 
Forget everything I said about The Beast. When I first moved in to the our "city house" last spring, I was sure that I'd forever detest the massive hunk of steel in my kitchen. While many of you were thrilled at the prospect of using a commercial Wolf range as your primary cooking heat source, I had done it before professionally and didn't find it all that terrific. The oven ran hot and cold, shall we say, and as the restaurant's baker, it was also my job to clean the monster every week, which was no small task. I'm a function-leads-form person, thrilled with the innovations of variable BTUs, sealed gas burners and self-cleaning ovens. A home cook needs to make a delicate sauce every now and then without burning it, and doesn't want to spend her life cleaning the stove, right??
Well, here's the deal. I have grown to love the She-Beastie. Just like the lion-tamer believes that she is the one to revise the characteristics of the lion, I had assumed that I would take charge of this enormous beast and impose my own set of rules upon her. And, just like the lion-tamer, I ended up standing back and letting her teach me a thing or two. It's simply an illusion that it is me who is in charge.

No, I' won't be cooking a hollandaise anytime soon, at least not without a stack of three flame-tamers underneath the saucepan. How often do I do that, in reality, anyway? What I do cook is a lot of one-pot stews, soups and tagines, which are so easy to do on this rather large and roaring piece of equipment. Like this perfect pot of 40-garlic chicken.

40-clove garlic chicken was the restaurant rage in the '80's, but I'd never prepared it at home. The recipe comes from my favorite issue of my new favorite food mag, Saveur. The October 2012 issue featuring 100 classics is a treasure. I was pretty thrilled that the recipe called for 40 cloves, or up to 100 cloves of garlic. I had a rather large bag of peeled garlic from Costco, an impulse purchase, langoring in the fridge that could use a purpose, so in went 80 or so cloves. (I stopped counting at 60, but know I didn't quite make it to 100.) This definitely falls into the "garlic as a vegetable" category rather than garlic as a seasoning.

We all know that garlic cooked low-and-slow tames to a very mellow, smooth flavor rather than it's biting, ferocious raw counterpart. This recipe exemplifies that mellow quality, with the garlic melting into a fantastic rich brown pan sauce. This amount of garlic also makes the sauce a little thicker than it looks in the photo in Saveur.

My adaptions to the recipe were these:

  • Instead of piling the ingredients into a baking dish to finish in the oven, place them back into the large, deep-sided skillet that I had used to brown the chicken, lidding it, and finished it on the stovetop. One less pan to wash, and incredible results.
  • After reserving a generous amount of garlic to be left whole, I smoothed the sauce with my immersion blender and used perhaps twice as much stock as called for to thin it, adding back the whole cloves after blending. 
  • I had thyme and rosemary instead of tarragon, which were wonderful added to the sauce. 

Make enough of this for left overs, as it tastes even better the next day.

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Saveur Magazine, October 2012


3 tbsp. olive oil
1 (3 to 4-lb.) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
40 cloves garlic, peeled (you can use up to 100 cloves)
½ cup dry vermouth
¾ cup chicken stock
1 tbsp. chopped tarragon

Heat oven to 350°. Heat oil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper; add to pot and cook, turning once, until browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to an 8″ x 8″ baking dish; set aside. Add garlic to pot; cook until browned in spots, about 6 minutes. Add vermouth; cook, scraping bottom of pot, until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add stock; boil. Transfer ¼ of the garlic to baking dish; mash remaining into stock. Pour over chicken; bake until chicken is glazed and tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with tarragon.

December 6, 2012

Take Five

Ready for the oven
This week, a historic musical paragon passed away. Dave Brubeck helped shape the jazz scene back in the day, and introduced innovations that can only come from some secret source of giftedness. For 91 years, Mr. Brubeck's presence made a difference in this world, simply because he shared his gift. His most icon piece was this:
This year, I'm adding Take Five to our holiday music playlist. While it may not be traditional, this piece will be a reminder to, like Dave Brubeck, add an extra beat to my timing, to move with intention and joy, to bravely contribute my own innovations, and to take those extra five precious minutes to realize all the good that surrounds my world.

While you listen to your holiday playlist, why not throw together this delicious supper? It's rich, warm and gooey, perfect for an early winter holiday season evening or Sunday afternoon supper. The combination of the music and the pumpkin lasagne may just be the perfect inspiration for seeing the world in snappy new ways.
Half baked
This Pumpkin Lasagne recipe came from Food & Wine magazine, a wonderful resource for interesting, delicious meals, many of which are quick and easy.
Fully baked
Because I'm recipe-bound challenged, here are my personal riffs: I used fresh sage from my back-door pot, and I always use cooked lasagne noodles rather than the no-boil noodles suggested in the recipe which never give me the textural result I desire. And, a little extra chard in the filling didn't hurt, either. I also wouldn't hesitate to exchange the chard for just about any other greens or combination thereof. The bitterness of kale or twang of mustard greens would nicely counterpoint the richness of the dish. Food & Wine suggests pairing this with an Oregon Pinot Gris, and I couldn't agree more.

To learn more about the remarkable man, Dave Brubeck, listen to this 1999 interview.

Pumpkin Lasagne, Food & Wine magazine online

  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 onions, chopped
  3. 2 pounds Swiss chard, tough stems removed, leaves washed well and chopped
  4. 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  5. 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  6. 1 teaspoon dried sage
  7. 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  8. 3 cups canned pumpkin puree (one 28-ounce can)
  9. 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  10. 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan
  11. 1/2 cup milk
  12. 9 no-boil lasagne noodles (about 6 ounces)
  13. 1 tablespoon butter

  1. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to moderately high and add the chard, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sage, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook, stirring, until the chard is wilted and no liquid remains in the pan, 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Heat the oven to 400°. In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups of the pumpkin, 3/4 cup cream, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sage, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.
  3. Pour the milk into an 8-by-12-inch baking dish. Top the milk with one third of the noodles, then spread half the pumpkin mixture over the noodles. Layer half the Swiss chard over the pumpkin and top with a second layer of noodles. Repeat with another layer of pumpkin, Swiss chard, and noodles. Combine the remaining 1 cup of pumpkin and 3/4 cup of cream. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the lasagne, sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of Parmesan, and dot with the butter. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, about 15 minutes more.

November 11, 2012

Celebrating Our Way

Because life is short, we tend to do a lot of celebrating, and the entire month of October was devoted to commemorate our second wedding anniversary. Pulling out the precious bottle of Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc from our dwindling New Zealand stash demanded the just right food pairing. It didn't take too much imagination to refer back to our first Goldwater tasting adventure for ideas.

It was a great experience several years ago at a Turkish restaurant, Troya, on Clement Street in San Francisco, that determined the destination of our honeymoon trip. Actually, it was the aromatic, spicy, honeysuckle-nosed Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough that stopped us in our tracks that night and caused us to head off to New Zealand in search of more. More we had, and this beautiful bottle made the trip home with us.

With dolmas in mind, I'd brine-preserved leaves from our own Pinot Noir and Riesling vines this summer. We always have our favorite local Anderson Ranch lamb in the freezer, and adding fresh mint from the garden, pine nuts, rice and spices, it all came together into these beautiful little packets of goodness.

Taking another hint from the Troya menu, muhamara, a spicy red pepper and walnut dip, and smoky baba ghanouj because it's a favorite of my Sweetheart, rounded out our meze platter.

We sat in the glow of the fireplace and candlelight, eating with our hands, pulling apart pieces of chewy pita. Warm little bundles of lamb and rice, all wrapped up in the leaves of the vines we planted from clippings we were given from vineyard visits on some of our earliest dates made the celebration all the more special.

While I was cooking, my sweetheart and husband pulled together a playlist for the evening of music that we'd fallen in love to, including the first dance song from our wedding. And we danced.

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