Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fathers' Day meal: I spend and I save

So the Fathers' Day steak.

I could not but help admire this image in my recent Williams-Sonoma catalog:

Fathers' Day was upon me, Husband clearly wanted a steak, and this looked appealing. So I coughed up a crazy sum for filet mignon (rarely seen in our house—we're more of a tri-tip family), but I saved the $80 for the fancy skillet the recipe was slyly contrived to make me purchase.

Haha! My plain old cast-iron skillet worked just fine set on my gas grill worked just fine for this bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin.

You can see why a dear friend (one of a group known as The Usual Suspects) gifted me the day before with this excellent apron and matching oven mitt.

Seriously, this technique will most likely replace forever my traditional Steak au Poivre method (I make it without the sauce). Moving this outside eliminates the stove top mess and inevitable smoke alarm going off, the searing on the steak was perfect, and it was easier to keep an eye on things as they progressed. Heaven forbid I overcook a steak that costs this much.

I matched up the steak with these potatoes from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, which I goosed up with a little fresh tarragon and Parmesan cheese, Romano beans steamed and then sauteed in brown butter, and the grilled tomatoes and onions from the steak recipe.

So I can easily do without the griddle, but what do you think about this, a few pages later?

Meatball on a grill? Can I live the rest of my life without THAT?

Monday, June 21, 2010

My birthday: Let's survey the loot

I know I promised to post what Mr. Gift got me, but first a word from Sophie:

The illustrated border is all made of fingerprints. And "baby" is the name only I am allowed to call her (Daddy's little girl, Mama's baby). She also complied with my wish that she be nice to me all day.

I went to fix it to one of my kitchen cabinets and almost removed an old faded piece of art when I realized I was looking at a pair of tiny sparkly paint handprints, so old they were almost faded away. It's getting harder all the time to see the baby in the moody pre-teen who lives in my house. Is sometimes put my mouth to her stomach and call "Where's my baby?? Is she anywhere in there???" And she usually answers "Right here, Mama."

Husband is sweet too but clearly operates with a agenda. He surprised me once again, this time with a cornucopia of barbecue equipment.
First up, a gauge for my barbecue propane tank. Who even knew such a thing existed?? But it's a great idea. I have on more than one occasion been reduced to tears by an empty tank, wailing "If only I had known, we could have had pasta!!!!" Never again.

Next up, a scrubby brush for my grill. I totally needed one of these: My old one is completely bald. And finally two sets (for a total of eight) Henckles steak knives to replace old ones that are falling apart. It was at this point in gift opening that his agenda became clear: PLEASE MAKE ME A STEAK!

And do you think Fathers' Day coming up had anything to do with this? I don't believe in coincidences; I'm really a conspiracy theorist at heart. So yesterday I made him a steak. Even though he is not my father, he is a great father to our child and therefore deserves a steak on Fathers' Day.

Tune in tomorrow to see how I adapted this recipe from Williams-Sonoma and avoided buying the $80 barbecue griddle they designed the recipe to illustrate.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Detox, retox. Repeat?

Once a year the girls and I day trip it to Indian Springs in Calistoga, located just north of us in the Napa Valley. It's luxurious, indulgent, and (for me) expensive, but Husband (you know, the guy we call Mr. Gift) presented me last year with a gift certificate after returning from a mountain biking excursion in the area, so I got to enjoy my day without stressing over the cost. Thank you, Husband!

Calistoga is traditionally known for mineral water and mud baths, but I needed something new given that in the middle of my last mud bath I made a note to self: NEVER AGAIN. I'm just too wiggley to stay still in all that heavy hot mud and find it sort of claustrophobic. I opted instead for a body polish, thinking that their description sounded appealing:
Relax in our steam room before your treatment to warm your skin. Our skilled therapists combine the skin-smoothing qualities of a body scrub with the soothing elements of massage to remove dry skin, increase circulation, and aid detoxification.
It was very nice, and I felt all de-scaled and slippery afterward.

The treatments are lovely, but perhaps the best part is the naturally heated mineral water pool, where we always spend the rest of the day floating, picnicking, and gabbing.

The water is always clean and not overly chlorinated.

Thank goodness Sophie and I celebrated the last day of school with lunch and peddies.

The woman our children refer to as Aunt Boo works the pool.

My contributions for lunch included one of my picnic favorites, pickled shrimp. It's easy to throw together the night before so it can marinate overnight to be enjoyed chilled the next day. I served with slice baguette, which is perfect for sopping up the marinade.

3/4 cup white wine or champagne vinegar

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoons English-style dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds, crushed
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed

1 cup olive oil

3 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 by leaves

1/2 pounds (24 to 30) large shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 medium onion, sliced
1 lemon, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

In a bowl whisk together vinegar and dry ingredients. Add oil in a stream, whisking. Stir in garlic and bay leaves.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil. Add shrimp and cook for 1 minutes. Drain and add to marinade. Let mixture cool, stir in onion, lemon, and dill. Cover and chill, stirring occasionally for at least 12 hours.

Serve as an appetizer or with a green salad for a light lunch.
Of course after an afternoon of such detox, we all found it necessary to retox at one of our favorite Napa restaurants.

Over salad, pasta, and wine we gabbed not only about how much we love each other but how much we love each other's husbands. It's nice to have a women-only outing, but the truth is friendships are as strong in the group across as within genders. And it's kind of nice to have my next husband lined up in case mine and my girlfriend are simultaneously struck by lightening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

And how old are you?

2nd—sometimes adorable
3rd—fun to dress up
16th—annoyed by family
18th—too cool
22nd—moving target
25th—can balance checkbook
26th—still idealistic
28th—cute as a bug's ear
29th—has a clue
31st—knows everything
32nd—trying to seem younger
33rd—set in own ways
34th—mellowing slightly
35th—resembling parents
36th—in denial
37—shows age when dancing
38th—still untamed
39th—bothered by loud music
40th—attractive in some lighting
41st—wearing hair of yesteryear
42nd—should know better
43rd—turning strange
44th—takes longer
46th—wise-elder wannabe
47th—still got it
48th—still got part of it
49th—embarrassing when flirting
50th—probably can't read this
51st—mostly harmless
52nd—respected by some
53rd—out of the running
54th—worrying offspring
55th—most content while resting
56th—confused by young people
57th—resting on laurels
58th—shouldn't really be driving
59th—stories sound improbable
60th—valuable historical resource

I've still got part of it, which is certainly better than none of it.

Are you wondering what Mr. Gift will have for me? So am I. He used the plural "gifts." I have to wait until we get home from work this evening. Stay tuned!

Happy birthday to me. :)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Working my last nerve,
messing with my heart

My daughter. Because she can.

Just like why I embarrass her: Because I can. It's my job. We usually keep it in balance pretty well. When it's just to the two of us, I'm the greatest person in the world. When there are other kids involved, I pretty much suck. Acknowledgment of my presence is limited to grunts and groans. No kisses. We roll our eyes and sneer at each other, she trying to claim distance and I trying not to look as pathetic as I feel.

This morning marked the first day of summer camp. We woke early, were wonderfully organized thanks to preparations made the night before (outfit, backpack, directions to camp), but things fell apart at the last minute as we packed ourselves on the scooter. We needed to run back for her helmet, my wallet, something involving the cats. . . . It was a wonder we arrived on time. But we did, I signed her in, and was summarily dismissed. The days when she thought it was cool to roar into camp on the back of my scooter in a motocross helmet are obviously over. She probably wishes I were driving a Volvo or Prius like very other mom. But I left quietly without a fuss and without my kiss.

After a few hours at work, I opened my purse and found a branch of rosemary. The scooter was parked in front of a large bush of it this morning, and while I was dashing in and out of the house, she pulled off a branch and put it in my purse, knowing how much I love the smell and probably knowing how the little reminder of her thoughtfulness would make me smile.

I can't wait to pick her up this afternoon. I'm going to wait until we're around the corner where no one can see us to give her a big hug and kiss. I'm getting it, slowly.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Who do you want in your kitchen?

My blogger pal and friend in real life Trevor (if you're lucky someday I'll show you our high school homecoming picture) LOVES Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Loves her. Ina this, Ina that. When he was recently pondering what to prepare for an upcoming dinner for eighteen, I advised him to do whatever Ina says. He knows I'm right.

I could totally imagine them hanging out in his kitchen threading kabobs and glazing cakes. And maybe he could ask her what I've always wondered: Is that really her name? Is it supposed to be a sort of play on "In a Garden"? Or is just a coincidence that her name sounds like that and she likes fresh produce? I looked in the questions section of her website, and they don't address this.

Who do I love? That's easy: Joanne Weir.

I first discovered her on her PBS cooking show Wine Country Cooking. She cooks exactly what I like to eat, Mediterranean-inspired seasonal California cuisine. And unlike other cooking shows, when I watch hers I think "I could make that!" and "Oh, she seems really nice!" Both are important to me. Her book Weir Cooking: Recipes from the Wine Country is one of my favorites go-to books when I need inspiration and a no-fail recipe. I've cooked my way through it and back several times.

And it's not just cookbooks and a show. For a ghastly sum of money you can accompany Joanne on a "culinary journey." Joanne arranges everything: fabulous accomodations, cooking, shopping, touring. I would love to go on vacation with Joanne. I would happily carry all her bags. She also teaches private cooking classes in her San Francisco home. I probably couldn't afford those either, but sometimes I dream about standing on my tiptoes outside her window and watching one.

I've made her recipe for Asparagus Cheese Puffs several times this spring. The puffs are best hot out of the oven, and guests were delighted when I pulled out sheets of these as they hung around the kitchen with a glass of wine or enjoyed a game of dominoes and a cocktail while I finished dinner.

Affordable asparagus is nearing the end of its season, so the time to make these is now.

One of my adaptations is mixing the dough in a standing mixer, beating thoroughly after the addition of each egg.

I'm eager to try variations of this recipe when the asparagus are gone—cheddar chive is one I'm thinking of.

I cooked one sheet of these at a time for a total of two sheets, so just as guests were finishing one batch, out came another.

Adapted from Weir Cooking in the Wine Country

1/2 pound asparagus, ends trimmed and bottom of stems peeled
3/4 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the pot
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup coarsely grated dry sheep’s milk cheese, such as pecorino or Manchego
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cut the asparagus into 1/4-inch lengths. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and simmer until just tender, about 1 minute. Drain immediately and reserve.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with lightly buttered parchment paper or use a Silpat-lined pan.

In a heavy saucepan, bring the milk and butter to a boil over medium-high heat. In the meantime, whisk together the 1/2 teaspoon salt, flour, and cayenne. As soon as the milk comes to a boil and the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the flour mixture all at once. With a wooden spoon, beat the mixture until it thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Do not add another egg until the previous one has been thoroughly incorporated. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Add the asparagus, sheep’s milk cheese, and Parmigiano to the dough and mix together. Spoon rounded teaspoons of the dough 1 inch apart onto the baking sheets (half of the dough—this will give you two sheets). Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the puffs from the parchment and serve immediately.

Makes 36 puffs to serve 6.

In this day of over-the-top bombast celebrity chefs, it's so nice to find a true cooking inspiration. If I agreed to sweep the villa and scrub pans after everyone else goes to bed and carry Joanne's bags, do you think she'd let me come on one of her tours??