Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas & to all a good night!

Ahh, Boxing Day. My new adopted favorite holiday. I'm still in my pajamas, there's a cat sitting beside me, Casablanca was just on TV, and there are tons of leftovers in the fridge. Nobody has to do anything or be anywhere, and as the boys are happily playing with their new toys, I get to catch up with my friends and flip through my new books!
Our Christmas Eve dinner was great, and it was a nice night with family, good food & wine. I'd made chocolate cloud cake for dessert, and even managed to loosen my iron grip on my decorative gold buttons. What the hell, I said to myself, it's Christmas, and sprinkled and dotted the whipped cream with abandon. Okay, well, not really abandon, but judicious generosity.

My dog is the happiest creature on Earth. He got steak handouts and washed them down with fresh rainwater captured in his giant bowl outside. He stole the boys' new football, but didn't get into any trouble b/c he did it in such a cute manner. And Santa Paws (Wyatt's secret identity) gave him a squeaky mallard duck. Within a half hour, Troy discovered a lone duck foot on the floor and we found bits of white fluffy stuffing clinging to Lucky's chin.

We had Christmas brunch here, and then went to Aunt Nancy & Uncle Jim's for another awesome dinner. The boys were relatively tuckered out from the events of the day, so they hung out and watched some tv. After coffee & port, and by the time Gina started discussing Clay Aiken & Kelly Ripa, it was time to call it a night, go home, & collapse.

This year, considering all the changes in our family, I'm very touched by a gift given to me by the boys, picked out especially for me by Wyatt. It's a snowglobe filled with fine glitter that floats over our city, with landmark buildings & a palm tree, and it plays "Here Comes the Sun."
"It's alright..."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gone in 60 Seconds

Reminded & inspired by DG, I made Nigella's Christmas Decorations cookies (HTBADG) for the tree. I don't make them peppery like La Nige specifies, since I'm not into the peppery Germanic style of cookie, and I know they'll get eaten, so figure: why not make it a completely pleasant experience.

This was a Saturday morning project, and I made stars, angels, and the traditional holiday alligators. Hung on the tree at 9:44 a.m., they pretty much disappeared within a couple hours, max.

They looked good while they lasted. More importantly, the boys were really excited about them and especially loved the dragees.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Hard to believe, but I may actually have a grip on Christmas. The tree is up, the lights are strung, all gifts ordered/some wrapped, and I finally got the last piece of my Secret Santa compilation, and sent off that box (whew).

Church-of-the-Target had boxes of gingerbread housing for assembling & decorating, and I was on that like white on rice. Now, I don't want to lose any street cred, so let me just say that I have baked the gingerbread houses from scratch before, but I was quickly willing to bag that whole dealy this year when I saw these kits. I mean, the decorating is the fun part & the candy is really what my people want, so this was great. They even supply the icing -- mixed! -- in a bag that you can use to pipe.

It was really nice to see all the ornaments again, and decorate the tree. For a while now, our trees have been bare from the middle down in an effort to save ourselves some brutal breakage. That tradition continues this year. Lucky knows he's got some chewy bones wrapped up under the tree and went berserk one afternoon and ran off with the silver package, but we saved it, and he has been calm ever since.

Winter Warlock likes the solitude he finds under the tree.

And now...I've put out a call to my foodie think tank and am starting to plan the Christmas Eve menu. I'm definitely making New England clam chowder, and am going to pour through my books to see what else I can come up with.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dips, chips, chains, whips...

December is here & everybody's looking for good party chow.
After enthusiastically recommending this white bean dip w/pita chips to a friend for her upcoming party, I got a craving for it. So I made a batch today and remain convinced it's a great offering.

This recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian book. The dip is healthy (bonus); quick & easy to make (bonus II); and it tastes delicious. I use twice as much lemon juice so it is sharp-flavored, and also add some chilli salt (red pepper flakes would work, too) b/c I like the little surprise of the hot hidden bite.

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons
1/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
6 pitas
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the beans, garlic, lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, and parsley in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the bean puree to a small bowl.
Cut each pita in half and then into 8 wedges. Arrange the pita wedges on a large baking sheet. Pour the remaining oil over the pitas. Toss and spread out the wedges evenly. Sprinkle with the oregano, salt, and pepper. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until toasted and golden in color.
Serve the pita toasts warm or at room temperature alongside the bean puree.
Pretty stress-free! You can make everything ahead of time, and it's simple to transport, if the party does not happen to be at your place.

Party talk from the other Lisa

Friday, November 24, 2006


Aww, look at Amber, my Labrador-niece. I just snagged these from Ryan's blog b/c I think she's so beautiful, I just love her! She's a Seattle girl & she likes cheese.

Turkey, paella, and ham! Oh my!

We had such a fun & festive time yesterday! The dinner Becky made was AMAZING. Here she is carrying the turkey out to the table.

Becky is a Southerner & an incredible cook. She not only served the traditional turkey w/sides of stuffing, mashed potatoes, & cranberries; but also a ham, baked beans, sweet potato casserole, a fruit platter, deviled eggs, rolls, and an incredibly delicious shrimp & lobster paella!

Mr. Turkey, headliner...

The Kids' Table. They were happy to be segregated.

One of the best Thanksgivings ever. And we were sent home with a bag packed full of lefovers to eat all weekend long, so I got to have paella for lunch.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Last night I made spinach pies w/puff pastry dough for one of today's appetizers.

As I was assembling the little triangles, I was thinking about my loved ones. While it's impossible to not think of those who are absent today, I was listening to Christmas music (thanks to Elisabeth, I downloaded Sarah Mc.'s "Wintersong"), busily working with my hands, and thinking of how lucky I am to have my beautiful family, and the best of friends. I am very grateful.

Today is also about food! I just made John Thorne's Best-Ever Pecan Pie, from Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts. Troy loves pecan pie, but I've never been a big fan, b/c usually it's all gelatinous and claggy (is that a word?), and way too sweet. Finding this recipe changed my feelings about pecan pie -- John Thorne cracked the code. It really is the best ever! It contains golden syrup and dark rum, and is perfect.

Wishing you lots of love & happiness today.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Laurie Colwin's Gingerbread

My absolute favorite recipe for gingerbread comes from Laurie Colwin's great book Home Cooking. I've tried others, but have always returned to (and now never bother to stray from) this recipe, which is featured in the chapter, "How to Make Gingerbread." Ms. Colwin writes about her preference for a very gingery cake; her discovery of Steen's pure ribbon cane syrup -- the King of Molasses from the South; and, most memorably, lovingly recalls the afternoon she spontaneously made button-sized muffins and tiny cakes for her daughter, using her daughter's set of child-sized baking tins.
Laurie Colwin died young of a heart condition. I do not know much about what happened to her, only that the world lost a wonderful writer, and someone who must surely have been an extraordinary woman. Yesterday, one of my beloveds, my mother-in-law, underwent a heart procedure that probably saved her life. As my son and I sat at the kitchen table today, both eating a slice of the most comforting of cakes, I thought about Laurie Colwin, and my mother-in-law, and, of course, my Mom. Perhaps it's as Southern (gothic) as Steen's cane syrup to be thinking about death while eating gingerbread, but so be it.
Listen to your body, listen to your heart, and try Laurie Colwin's gingerbread...that is, if your cardiologist doesn't mind you having a little butter & some eggs.
Makes one nine-inch cake:
1. Cream one stick of sweet butter with 1/2 cup of light or dark brown sugar. Beat until fluffy and add 1/2 cup of molasses.
2. Beat in two eggs.
3. Add 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and one very generous tablespoon of ground ginger (this can be adjusted to taste). Add one teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves and 1/4 teaspoon of ground allspice.
4. Add two teaspoons of lemon brandy. If you don't have any, use plain vanilla extract. Lemon extract will not do. Then add 1/2 cup of buttermilk (or milk with a little yogurt beaten into it) and turn batter into a buttered tin.
5. Bake at 350F for between twenty and thirty minutes (check after twenty minutes have passed). Test with a broom straw, and cool on a rack.
Chocolate Icing
1. Cream 1/2 stick of sweet butter. When fluffy add four tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa.
2. If you have some, add one teaspoon of vanilla brandy (easily made by steeping a couple of cut-up vanilla beans in brandy -- another excellent thing to have around), or plain vanilla or plain brandy. Then add about a cup of powdered sugar, a little at a time until you get the consistency you want.
This cake is also delicious with lemon icing. Substitute for the cocoa the zest of one big lemon, one teaspoon of lemon juice, and proceed as in chocolate icing.
Of course, you need not ice gingerbread at all. You can bake it in an adult-sized pan and shake powdered sugar on top or serve it with ice cream or leave it alone.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen

Learn more about female heart health

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Daisy Saatchi's stuffed potato patties: the breakdown.

I made this recipe from Feast on a whim after flipping through the book. In the lead-in to the recipe, Nigella kind of makes the recipe sound daunting, which I really didn't think it was. I suppose any food that requires separate, multiple steps can be a bit of a chore, but the steps for these patties are pretty basic, like, 1.) bake potatoes; 2.) sautee onion & add ground beef/spices.
I'm much more motivated to try a recipe if I can see it made, or visualize the process, so I wanted to post these pics for anyone thinking of making these. They're very delicious.
You're starting w/4.5 lbs. of russet potatoes (about six) scrubbed and baked in the oven for an hour, then cooled so you can split them scoop out the fluffy cooked potato. The "dough," as Nigella calls it, is basically mashed potatoes with a couple eggs.

Meanwhile, little doses (1/4 tsp., 1/2 tsp.) of the C spices are added to a small amount of sauteed onion & ground beef and cooked through. That's cinnamon, ground cardamom, clove, cumin, coriander, and all-spice -- & it makes for a very aromatic mix. Reminded me of some of the Greek pasta dishes that call for these spices which I usually associate with sweets. It's a nice change. When the beef is cooked & cooled, you add chopped fresh parsley.

And now, for the assembly. The potato mixture was super-sticky. So the forming of the patties did not, for me, work as expected -- like a pliable bread dough. Rather, I ended up with those wet-dry-wet mittens. At this point, I did swear a bit and suggest that probably I would have to be married to Charles to make these again.
A small amount of the beef mixture is pressed into the middle of the potato mixture and you form a patty, then coat w/Matzo meal and fry. I used olive oil, simply b/c it's always my preference.
The patties turned out nicely, and my "Charles" was so enthusiastic, that I beamed a little stoveside. But I thought they could be thinner, so I switched methods. I covered my wooden board w/Matzo meal, pressed down discs of potato mixture; put a little spoonful of the meat mixture on top; and then pressed more potato mixture onto the top & formed it. A final sprinkling of Matzo & then into the frying pan.

(That pic is a little blurry b/c I wasn't faster than the eater.)
The second batch turned out flatter, and larger but thinner, and of course as tasty as batch #1.

See? Easy! You would have to be slightly insane, in my opinion, to fry any kind of food for 20 people, as suggested as an option in the sidebar to this recipe (probably only b/c it's part of the "Wedding Feasts" chapter), but if you're perhaps not insane but willing, then your guests would be happy.
I would only make these for parties of 4, where it's a casual gathering & you're all just hanging out. The bottom line is that they're not as hard as you might think, and they're so delicious that they're worth the multiple-step process.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Message from Monster

I think my cat is telling me he has found a better use for my computer! I think he is right!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Lay it down!

I really got an earful when I worked for Norris, my old boss who liked spouting off almost as much as he liked to be left alone. He was such a snob, and when I showed him my portfolio, one of his very few comments was, "Well, you write reasonably well." Looking back, that was a nice compliment from him, and I went on to become his first writer-on-staff for long enough to receive lectures on hundreds of topics, including form. Like how to behave in front of Passport Control (no jokes!) and Englishmen (behave). Also: Why you shouldn't ski in Michigan (it's not really skiing -- go to the Rockies or Switzerland, for God's sake); the difference between a filet and a fillet (fish, beef); and -- this via his wife -- what amazing things a good shoemaker can do ("you'd be surprised"). Norris used to sit in his office with his feet propped up on his desk, doing the NYT crossword in ink...Montblanc fountain. He turned me on to Fowler's and instilled in me a further love & obsession for the right word at the right time. It's like a hobby. And I do mean "like." As much of a pain in the ass (not asp) he could be, I did learn a few things from him.
There's a new book out that I highly recommend if you strive to use the right word at the right time. If you're into the English language, you will enjoy it. Common Errors in English Usage by Paul Brians. He'll set you straight on:
-card shark/cardsharp
and the big one:
I have to look them up every time, damn it.
Norris might be decrepid by now (but dressed in fine woolens), but they both were always behind me (Norris for the most part). I salute them for their encouragement and teachings, and say to you: read this book.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cuss Muss Fuss

My son, who just turned five, is really into rhyming this week. There's a lot going on in that growing mind, as evidenced by last week's question, "What the hell is heaven?" said as he ran around the backyard in circles. But back to this week.
Griffin: "Does itch rhyme with rich?"
Me: "Yes it does."
Griffin: "Rich, itch, bitch. Does itch rhyme with bitch?"
Me: "It sure does! But bitch is a bad word, so you're not allowed to say that."
Griffin: "It is?"
Me: "Yes it is. It means a really mean lady! But in England, it means a girl dog."
Hm, confusing perhaps. But as long as we stay on these shores, he can't say it.
Griffin: "Does FAKE rhyme with FATE?"
Me: "Mm, not really. FAKE rhymes with BAKE though."
Griffin: "FAKE BAKE."
I'm glad he wasn't going through this phase last July when we had Great-Grandma's birthday party, because Uncle Chuck was there.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bring back the charm bracelet

This week I happened to take out my Mom's charm bracelet. I attached it to my wrist, listening to the jingle-jangle as I worked, and stopping on more than one occasion to gaze at the little silver charms.
It's like a mental photo album, flooding my mind with remembrances of days gone by. There is a charm from her jeweler sister -- a silver B encased in a padlock, always a chic token from Tante Ingrid. The very sentimental "A Date to Remember," marking the day my Mom became an American citizen -- this was given to her by my grandmother, her mother-in-law, who my Mom said was always so kind to her. A zebra from Africa; a little stagecoach from Tombstone, Arizona, home of Wyatt Earp. My Mom & Dad travelled constantly and the bracelet is laden with snapshots from their life together. The Olympics in Los Angeles; Chinatown in San Francisco; Las Vegas; Jamaica; Bermuda; and a tiny 3-dimensional diver...from...could be any island. A miniscule pewter mug, reflective of the pewterware my Mom had, and visits to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Rothenberg, one of many visits to her homeland. And a miniature windmill from the Netherlands. She loved Delft pottery, and while she travelled to The Netherlands a few times with my father, I'm lucky to have my own memories of the two of us (and Troy) together in Amsterdam & Delft, before Wyatt was born. We went to the Anne Frank house; ate ristofle at her urging (spectacular!); smoked outside at a cafe b/c "everyone was doing it; why not;" cruised the canals; and made a day-trip to Delft together, where we enjoyed a nice lunch all together in the sunshine.
It really is charming, this bracelet, and I have such vivid memories of not only the events, but the charms, too, that it makes my heart ache while simultaneously swelling with happy thoughts of special times. What a conversation piece. I gave it to Wyatt to have a look at, and he really was enthralled. We talked about my parents and various places, and spoke of adventures we hope to make together in the future. There is a small glass vial with a silver cap on my Mom's bracelet, and it contains earth from her hometown of Kassel, Germany. I remember when she received this, there was a celebration -- an anniversary marking. I always knew that it was significant in that it was a piece of where she came from, and her bracelet to me serves much the same purpose. You can look at it and see a tiny glimpse of, not the town, but the woman I came from.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fun in a box

If it weren't for other clues, I might wonder if Sons 1 & 2 were switched at birth w/some strangers' babies. Wyatt doesn't like pickles (I love them) and they both are crazy about mint foods (hack). Like Mint Oreos (which Troy calls, "self-protecting" b/c I never go near them), and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I like fresh mint, and mojitos, but that's about it. So when I asked Griffin what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, I wasn't particularly thrilled when he gave me his specific directions: a chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream piled on top.
Okay. At least I had a theme, that's helpful. So I went full-throttle on it and also bought mint chocolate pirouette cookies, too, which the boys love. Griffin told me that, for his special birthday dinner, he wanted peanut butter & jam sandwiches with no crusts. For everyone! I took my marching orders and proceeded dutifully.
Like many days here, the routine left me scrambling for time & space in which to bake. It's always this way lately, and it's a miracle that no one has been hospitalized due to burns from caramel-making, so insane is it sometimes in our kitchen, but so I made a devil's food cake out of a box. Actually, Harry & I made the cake together, he dumping in the oil, water, and eggs. And luckily, the spoon-in-the-moving-paddle move wasn't a problem.

We ultimately had two 8" layers of chocolate cake. One layer was smothered in a caramel sauce frosting, and eaten warm from the oven with the birthday boy's grandparents. The second was the piece de resistance. The bride of the runway. I used the cake as a base for a massive tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and then covered with crushed pieces of chocolate cookies (Oreos w/out the cream filling). I then stuck the chocolate mint pirouettes in & added FIVE stars, one for each year my star has been on this earth.
He loved it! It had a definite Boy-Ker-POW!-presentation at table, and he blew out all the candles, so I'm sure his wish will come true! They went so nutso over the cake, which they declared the "Best Ever," that I felt quite happy and surprised.

Most of the cake base served simply as a vehicle for the ice cream.
You da mom!

It's so good for me to have them in my life to remind me of everything that's important & everything that's not, b/c we sometimes forget. They get so happy about little things, and they don't even think of things that adults sometimes make a big deal over.
Yes, even though these boys like mint and don't like pickles, I'm keeping them.
Happy Birthday to Grif!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Salted butter-->caramel + milk chocolate = mousse. Whoa.

The salted butter caramel wave hit me full force this summer with the downing of a dreamy crepe containing the hot stuff and some sliced bananas. I now also believe that the caramel ice cream I swooned over at Berthillon was salted caramel ice cream. Mm mm mm mm MM!
Elisabeth, always with a finger on the pulse, gave me a heads-up when The NY Times Magazine recently featured an article on this wonderful Breton traditional, and a recipe for this mousse was included. Described as "palate-awakening," salted caramel & salted chocolate treats are apparently sweeping the nation, so if you don't feel like making your own, you can pretty easily stumble upon something to satisfy your salty-sweet craving. It's sooo good!

Definitely put this recipe in your back pocket and remember it on Valentine's Day or some other romantic evening, b/c I'm sure it will serve as a love potion...if not something more obscene, as our normally cool-headed friend Fosse described when she made it earlier this week! It's freak-out good.
Salted Caramel & Milk Chocolate Mousse
100g granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
30g good-quality salted butter
200ml double cream or crème fleurette or heavy whipping cream
200g milk chocolate (38% cocoa solid)
3 eggs, separated
Make a caramel with the sugar and water. Off the heat, mix in the butter and cream until smooth.
Add the milk chocolate and wait for a minute or two for the chocolate to melt. Homogenise by mixing.
Mix in the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites until they form firm peaks and fold into the chocolate mixture.
Divide between six ramekins and chill for at least 6 hours or as long as you can hold out & hold 'em off.

Props to l'adorable Fanny's Foodbeam for this version of the recipe, which she adapted from Du Caramel Plein la Bouche by Trish Deseine.
And a big thank-you to E. for sending me the magazine, which also happened to include a thoughtful article on elephants, beloved by me.

Comfort in the guise of dairy products

Finally, a day with no appointments, no plans, no visitors, and no obligations. Just a chance to relax, regroup, and try to read some of the books that have been piling up. I made macaroni & cheese for the boys and myself for lunch.
My Grandmother was a woman of great kindness and some talents, for example, she was a good pianist and also played the organ for her church, but when it came to cooking, she was virtually inept. I'd even go so far as to say she was notoriously disastrous in the kitchen. However, Grandma could make one dish -- one: macaroni & cheese; and at this, she excelled! It was always very special to visit her and my Grandpa, they were the nicest people, and I always asked her ahead of time if she would make mac & cheese for me, which of course she always did.
Paula Deen has a great recipe in her cookbook The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook or, what Troy and I call The Stick o' Butter Cookbook. I didn't consult it today, but have used it enough that I can go on memory...it ought to be submitted to the American Dairy Association for an award, b/c it's all butter, cheese, sour cream, & eggs. It does taste like what my Grandma used to make me, though, and it's delicious.

The Lady's Cheesy Mac
Serves 6 to 8
4 cups cooked elbow macaroni, drained (aprrox. 2 cups uncooked)
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk, or equivalent in evaporated milk
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. After macaroni has been boiled and drained, add Cheddar cheese while macaroni is still hot. Combine remaining ingredients and add to macaroni mixture. Pour into casserole dish and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. Top with additional cheese, if desired.

And turn off the phone.