April 2, 2009

My Addictions

I’ve been obsessed with these cookies for 3 weeks. I’ve made something like 8 batches. I mean, as long as I have milk and a Stress Tab with them, what's wrong with this for dinner??

The flavor of butterscotch, pine nuts, crunchy sea salt, and a bit of black pepper…well, it’s just wonderful. I don’t know what else to say about them, without going all Jeffrey Steingarten on y'all. The pepper may a bit over the top for some (i.e. wimps), but I’ve tried it 4 times and it was just the bite these cookies needed. These are officially my favorite cookies. I do need to find a better quality of butterscotch chips then the usual grocery stuff. I’m taking suggestions or sources, please!

This is an addiction that Mama don’t want no rehab for! No, no, no.

Cracked Black Pepper and Chunky Sea Salt Butterscotch and Pine Nut Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen (not counting the raw cookie dough you eat off the spoon)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks unsalted butter PLUS 1 tablespoon, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 bag butterscotch chips
1 big handful pine nuts
1 tablespoon French grey sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and table salt. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, with an electric beater, cream together the butter, sugars and vanilla. If too stiff (you want the consistency of butter cream frosting!), place bowl in microwave (well, I hope to hell you didn’t use a metal bowl!) for 20 seconds. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each egg.
3. Beat in flour, in three additions. Stir in butterscotch chips.
4. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small skillet – add pine nuts and toast until fragrant and lightly brown. Remove from heat and stir in the sea salt and pepper. Let cool for a few minutes, and then stir nuts into cookie dough.
5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place scant tablespoonfuls of dough onto paper, spacing about 1 inch apart….cookies will spread. Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes. Remove and let cool on sheets for 3-4 minutes, then continue cooling cookies on racks until completely cool.

I have no idea what these guys are doing here....

March 9, 2009

"One Potato, Two Potato...."

Everything old is new again.

(At least that’s what I keep sayin’ to the mirror!)

My maternal grandmother, a world-class baker and pincher of ears, used to make a version of this Sweet Potato Crisp years ago. I thought it was weird. Sweet potatoes were for Thanksgiving! With a pile of marshmallows and swimming in syrup! So I ran out the door when it came out of the oven because there was NO WAY I was going to eat SWEET POTATOES like that! I was an 8 year old with very specific ideas about how food was supposed to be. Bologna sandwiches ONLY with chocolate milk! Fish sticks on the LEFT side of the plate, not touching anything else! Fried eggs, cooked so long you could bounce them off the pink Formica! I was a picky little brat, and it’s a wonder I’m not deaf or even have any ears at all after all the pinching they endured when I was a kid.

I have an old wooden box full of old family recipes, mostly from my grandmother (my Mom mainly just tried to make sure we all didn’t die of rickets and wasn’t too concerned about recipes...she approached cooking much like a zoo keeper approaches feeding the monkeys) that I rummage around in from time to time. Every time I make the chocolate chip cookie recipe, the lasagna, the chipped beef and gravy, I am amazed how quickly I am transported back to my Grandma’s tiny kitchen and how she never gave up trying to teach me to cook and bake.

(This is not quite what it looked like....)

“Now, listen to me…and quit fidgeting! This is how you dissolve yeast! Stop eating your braid! Look at this dough, now, isn’t it just lovely….what did I tell you about crossing your eyes?? Do you want them to stay that way?? In order for bread to rise, it has to…if you don’t stop cutting the cat’s fur, I’m telling your Mother, the poor soul. Why did she marry your father anyway???”

(No, my father wasn't Paul Newman, but that pose looks awfully familiar...)

Thank goodness I grew up (everybody quit laughing!) and figured out that food and the process of baking and cooking is a marvelous, enjoyable creative thing. Thank goodness some of my grandmother’s wisdom somehow penetrated my preoccupation of trying to teach her parakeets to talk. Thank goodness she knew that some day I would want her recipe for Sweet Potato Crisp.

There has been some tinkering with the recipe (the addition of candied ginger, etc.), but mostly it’s hers. The sauce is mine – yes, thank you very much, it is fabulous isn't it? Try not to slurp it all up before you get a chance to pour it over the crisp, ok?

Sweet Potato and Candied Ginger Crisp with Coconut Caramel Sauce
Serves 6 (or just me with a big spoon)

For Crisp:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup oats
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
5 cups peeled and thinly sliced North Carolina Sweet Potatoes
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger

For Sauce
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk

To prepare Crisp:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position rack to middle of oven.
2. Combine the flour, oats, sugar, nutmeg, allspice, and 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Using the large holes of a cheese grater, grate the chilled butter into the bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly mix until butter and dry ingredients start to come together, being careful not to over mix.
3. In another large bowl, toss the sweet potato slices with the lemon juice, the chopped ginger, and the remaining cinnamon
4. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a non-stick 8” X 8” baking pan. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the sweet potatoes.
5. Bake, uncovered in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until topping is bubbly and brown and sweet potatoes are fork tender.

To prepare Sauce:
1. While crisp is baking, place the sugar into a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Heat, over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is melted and golden brown. Slowly add the coconut milk, stirring vigorously. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

To serve,
Scoop warm crisp into bowl and spoon warm sauce over top

March 6, 2009

I'll Never Tell

I’m not supposed to write about this. Strict orders from the spousal unit. But you KNOW I’m going to. By now you should know I’m a trouble maker.

So promise you won’t tell a soul. I’d hate to kill anyone with my super powers.

We found native Indian relics (pot shards, etc) on our property where we are building our home. Quite of lot of them. In Arizona that could mean stopping the process of building our home and dealing with graduate anthropology students from Yale pitching damn tents all over the place, smoking sage joints, and dragging out their drums for crazy ass ceremonies honoring the dead Indians. Right on the spot where my Thermador is going!!! I’m as National Geographic as the next person, but, hell-to-the-NO to a dig on our property….I’m building my kitchen!

(I will never tell where our property is...but it's somewhere on that map...go ahead, send me to Gitmo and those weak sister water boards. I'll never talk.)

And just so you know that I am culturally sensitive (I’ve waved a few sage sticks around in my time) - we DID check around covertly about what to do about it, but generally we were told, “yeah, there’s a lot of the stuff all over the place out there”, and no one seemed particularly concerned or excited. The area is a deeply researched and cataloged area of the Sinagua people that migrated down from northern Arizona (Flagstaff area) and settled all over central Arizona (our land). And we ARE being super careful about anything we do find and respectful of the general idea we aren’t the first to think our property is pretty damn great. But it is pretty cool to look down and find pieces of someone’s cookery right there, lying on the ground, from some several hundred years ago. And it looks nothing like All-Clad.

I like wandering around, picking up shards and thinking about what it must have been like to cook back then. Well, first of all, evidently, you had to make your own pot. No running down to Williams Sonoma for a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, that’s for sure!!

First Native American: “I’m hungry”

Second NA: “Good grief, you just ate 3 days ago!”

First NA: “Woman! Go get me some meat!”

Second NA, sighs…picks up her spear, heads out. Stops to make a clay pot, and have a baby. Runs cross country about 8 miles to water hole, then crawls in the brush to ambush a big elk. Takes a breather and makes a pot. Throws her spear, then jumps on the elk’s back, wrestling it to the ground. Butchers 800 pound elk, making 12 pairs of shoes with the hide. Takes a break and nurses the baby. Packs the meat back to camp. Digs a fire pit to smoke the elk. Runs down to the crops planted by the creek and harvests corn, squash, and beans. Makes a couple more pots. Starts making dinner. Rattlesnake tries to bite the baby and she ties it in a knot. Makes some more pots.

First NA: “Isn’t dinner ready yet, woman?”

Second NA: “Pipe down, will you? It’s almost done!”

Second NA makes a set of 12 pottery plates (with artistic black squiggles) and fills one with smoked elk tenderloin with a juniper berry sauce and a medley of fresh corn and squash. Complemented by bean cakes, topped with fresh dandelion greens.

First NA: “Oh brother…elk again?”

I think that’s when the pots got smashed.

This recipe has nothing to do with anything I just wrote about. But it’s very good. And I took a picture of them perched on a big pot shard. I hope it was the one she used to bop her spousal unit on the head with.

Butterscotch and Salted Pine Nut Cookies
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 bag butterscotch chips
Handful of pine nuts
2 big pinches sea salt
1. Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs, beating well after each egg. Add vanilla.
2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter mixture.
3. Stir in butterscotch chips.
4. Toast pine nuts in small skillet until barely turning brown and fragrant…toss with sea salt. Stir into cookie dough.
5. Bake for 9-10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool on racks.

February 25, 2009

Is Fabio on Facebook?

My muse has blown a fuse.

I continue to choose to play 12 games of Spider Solitaire in a row over cooking delights like, say, quail leg confit with lemon and basil marmalade. My food mojo has gone to hell in a hand basket. Straight to Suduku hell. No, actually my WRITING mojo has done a Fabio face plant – and it doesn’t even have a charming Italian accent to fall back on.

The FOOD part of my life continues at breakneck and gluttonous speed….I still eat and think about food all the time. It's just that I’ve just lost some of my…interest….in taking pictures of it and writing about it all the live long day. Maybe it’s this process I’m in of designing and building a house. I’m a very busy, artistic, angsty person with all the design and building books I’ve ordered from Amazon….used, of course. I mean, you can get the most gorgeous design book measuring about about 3 feet by 5 feet, weighing 78 pounds, for something like 42 cents. I have dozens!!! So many ideas!!! This is will be either the most beautifully unique house ever built in the entire world or it will look like the monkey tree house at Disney World. Yes, I am very busy with this house business. Then, of course, I have to do Facebook….I have to send people cool applications! And pokes! Hugs! And raise money for blind hamsters in Azbakistan by sending roses and lollipops and little green trolls over and over and over to all my FB friends! All this creative activity takes a lot of time!

No wonder I am having trouble writing.

The Spousal Unit was badgering me (yes, SU, sir, you ARE a badger and a mighty fine looking one at that!) about my blog yesterday. “Why aren’t you writing? I can’t believe you aren’t writing! Didn’t you just fix your blog up? What did that cost? What’s for dinner? Can I eat that cheese? Aren't you writing anymore? Are you making dessert? Where are all these books coming from?? Are those grandma panties??? Are you turning into your mother?”
So I thought I’d give it a feeble shot today. No samples of exotic wood or appliance brochures came in the mail today, so I wandered into the kitchen with an old ratty copy of a recipe yanked from some magazine somewhere…coconut cupcakes. Yes, I can do this! These are very good things to eat. We’ll start there, I guess. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes

Makes 30 regular sized cupcakes
2 3/4 cups butter, room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon each of baking soda, baking powder, and salt
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
8 oz cream cheese, room temp
2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream together 2 cups butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons each of the vanilla and almond extracts.
2. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the tip of sharp knife, scrap the vanilla seeds from the split vanilla bean into the cup of coconut milk and stir. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternating with coconut milk. Stir 1 cup of the coconut into the batter.
3. Fill 30 paper-lined muffin cups in two or more muffin pans about 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden and springy to touch. Cool for 10 minutes before removing cupcakes from pans. Cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, toast remaining 1/2 cup coconut in small skillet until toasty brown. Cool. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, 3/4 cup butter, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon each vanilla and almond extract until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Frost cup cakes and sprinkle with remaining coconut.
Note: Sprinkle - oh, hell to the no sprinkles. I put the cupcake upside down into the coconut and give a twist.

January 29, 2009

Caffeine, Sugar, and Butter - Yessiree!

Is this a coffee cake? Why, yes it is.

I won a California Almond contest with this recipe and with the gift certificate I won, I got a new burr coffee grinder I have been coveting AND a new drip coffee maker. Because I just have to face the facts. I am sick to death of cleaning a French press. I love the taste, but the damn grounds….so annoying to clean every day! They get on my last nerve! Oh…hell, no….! And I have a pathetic little Braun grinder that whirls coffee beans round and round without any kind of specific grinding goal, screaming the whole time like Amy Winehouse running down the street naked. I open it up and a big coffee cloud of caffeine dust wafts up in the air, way up into my nose, and there we are…back in the 80’s, damn it.

I researched burr grinders very extensively….and given the amount I could spend, this
Kitchen Aid Model came out on top. It works beautifully, and looks gratifyingly studly too. And it’s not too loud! More like Eric Ripert sharpening his knife while melodiously asking me what I want for dinner. In French.

The pricier models are very cool, but for a less expensive grinder, this is greatly made. Die cast heavy metal body and a glass hopper, which is supposed to cut down on the static…which it appears to do. It doesn’t take a ton of room on a counter, and looks very industrial and capable. And while I was ordering that, I saw the
Professional Line Kitchen Aid 12 cup Coffeemaker was on sale, so after briefly researching that (ok…I read just one review, from a guy who said he was a “professional barista” and this was the model he used at home), decided to pull the trigger on a new coffeemaker, thereby sending the French Press to “Catherine’s Ass Hat Appliance Abyss”. It’s not the “professional barista” European model I would have loved, but I just haven’t won any multi-thousand dollar contests lately. Ok…I’ve never won one, but J.H.C. on a half-shell, I’m working on it! When I do, I’m SURE that Eric Ripert will THEN return my calls.

My little coffee robots look very Germanic, shiny, and sensible, sitting side by side, ready to do my caffeine bidding!

Ok…about the cake. You need to have a 10” X 3” cake pan. It’s a dense, rich (1/2 pound butter!) cake…a little goes a long way. It’s sometimes hard to find (for me….in the culinary wasteland that I call the local grocery store) unsweetened ginger, so I’ve used the crystallized type and it works just fine, just cut the amount a bit.

It’s a pretty cake, all bakery looking, and it’s awesome for dessert when you have a spicy Asian dish for dinner. Switch out the cranberries for something else, if you prefer….I have done this with blueberries, cherries, and once, incorporating the ginger in the cake too.

It’s great with coffee.

Cranberry-Almond Butter Cake with Almond-Ginger Glaze

(KitchenAid Style)

Serves 8-10

For Cake:
A little butter and flour for preparing cake pan

1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks
2 cups PLUS 1 tablespoon (divided) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup buttermilk

For Glaze:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoon milk (or more to reach desired consistency)
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons finely chopped dried, unsweetened ginger
4 tablespoons slivered almonds (not chopped)

To Make Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10” X 3” round cake pan. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl and using an electric beater, beat together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl. Mix in the vanilla extract. Add the egg yolk, one at a time, beating for 15 seconds after each egg. Scrape down sides of bowl.
3. In a small mixing bowl, place the 2 cups of flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir with fork until well incorporated.
4. Alternating with the buttermilk, add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, blending well after each addition. Fold in the almonds and cranberries.
5. Turn batter into prepared cake pan and level with spatula. Place in preheated oven and bake for 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into middle of cake comes out clean.
6. Cool the cake for 10-15 minutes, and then run a knife along the edge to loosen. Flip pan over onto rack, and then flip back over (and place on serving plate) so rounded surface is ready to glaze.

To Make Glaze:

1. Pour the melted butter into a medium sized mixing bowl.
2. Add the sugar, milk, almond extract and mix well. Add more milk to reach desired consistency if needed. Blend in the slivered almonds and chopped ginger.

To Glaze Cake:
1. Prick warm cake with fork all over.
2. Drizzle glaze over top of cake, letting glaze run down sides of cake.

January 28, 2009

Here Comes the Sun, Little Darlin'

I’m trying to talk the Spousal Unit into building our house off the grid, but he’s resisting. He’s old school (really old school) and still refers to email as “internet letters”. He can’t use the DVD without calling one of the kids for help, and he thought my IPod was a new remote control for the television.
I have to use all my super powers to try to talk him into anything that’s 21st century. Or the 20th century for that matter.

So I just bring out the bacon. A nice piece of crispy bacon calms the SU right down to the point he gets a glazed look on his face and will finally listen to reason about solar tax credits, advances in solar systems that have happened in, oh, the last century, how we won’t turn into hippies with goats eating grass on the roof, and we can actually have back-up electric tied in and have the meter run backwards. He liked that idea. And he liked this pasta.

"Peace out! Here comes the sun! And the bacon!"

Nothing complicated or innovative, but comforting, delicious, rich, and…convincing.
The pint of Guinness didn’t hurt, either.

Spaghetti with Smoked Bacon, Arugula, and Black Pepper Cream Sauce

1 pound dried spaghetti
1/2 onion, finely chopped
8 pieces smoked bacon
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 cups baby arugula, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions or just until al dente (about 9-11 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, in medium-sized sautĂ© pan, cook bacon until crispy – drain on stack of paper towels. When cool, crumble, discarding any big fatty parts.
3. Pour off all but about one tablespoon of bacon fat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and soft. Add 2/3’s of the crumbled bacon, the cream, and the pepper. Continue cooking until reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Turn mixture into blender or food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.
3. When pasta is cooked, drain, and turn into a large serving bowl. Toss in the lemon zest and arugula. Pour in the sauce and blend well. Sprinkle with remaining bacon crumbles and parm. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sir Francis Bacon - patron saint of off the grid solar systems

January 27, 2009

The Spousal Unit Dedication Post

Hey. How do you like this new look? I'm still tweaking and re-arranging, but I'm liking it! (Thanks, Becky!)

Since he has been abused, misused, talked about and generally mistreated here at 'The Dish', I thought I'd dedicate this post to...The Spousal Unit. He's a pretty cool dude. He eats what I cook, mostly likes it, and puts up with quite a bit of derangement, noise, and confusion coming from the kitchen. He works very hard, is a wonderful Dad to our 4 kids, a great brother, son, friend, blah, blah, blah, but mostly is the best Spousal Unit I could have ever talked into marrying me. Thanks, Spousal Unit...couldn't have done anything without you. Now, would you please take out the garbage...smells like tuna cans!

January 22, 2009

Now, for an important update!!!

Lack of posting exquisitely clever vignettes from my life is due to technical changes and squirrely life stuff. The good thing is I’m getting my blog re-designed by someone who knows more about this stuff than I. Once that’s done, I’m moving to Wordpress.

On the negativity side, I’ve been pretty distracted by the issues that the Universe keeps throwing at me - damn that Stephen Hawking!

My Mom is so diminished by Alzheimer’s, well, maybe I’m doing some sympathy neuron firing, cause I just can’t think straight! Ok, not that….maybe it’s my diminishing hormones…that have been known to whack a person out at a certain age. Not that I’m saying I’m a menopausal mess with a propensity to warm up my coffee in the dryer and tell the clerk at Target they are a douche nozzle! Yes. Soon I’ll be shuffling around in a bathrobe from Sears, have 8 cats and write letters to the local newspaper editor complaining about how the population sign outside of town is WRONG.

We weighed my Mom yesterday and she’s down to 75 pounds. This from a woman who was an incredible baker. If she knew what was going on, she’d be so pissed off. She was such a great baker. I can’t even touch her talent. Her lemon meringue pies were THE BEST EVER…period. Don’t even mess with that legend. I've tried to make it and well, let's just say there are certain things meringue can do that reminds me of pictures from "Travel and Tropical Medicine Manual".

Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease, and the Spousal Unit has standing orders to shoot me and drag me out to the coyote cafĂ©, if this ever happens to me.

But some stuff continues to amuse me. A few thoughts….

1. That English judge from Top Chef is bad. If you try to do snark, at least be funny. He’s not. And he has a pinhead. BTW…Tom C. saved some woman’s life at an Inaugural dinner…he did the Heimlich on her! I tell ya…a guy with a bald head just has something special.

2. Leah is an idiot. Seriously, is she in junior high?? And she whacked that fish!!! What was that sauce??? Why do I watch this show? Well, besides watching Tom’s facial expressions when Carla said she’s sending “love” out of the kitchen! Seriously, Tom gives the best face!!!! Padma…not so much. She’s annoying.

3. I won a nice little contest for the California Almond Board…$500 at Cooking.com! Hormone booster! I don’t know yet what to buy…probably just random stuff that needs to be replaced, like the melted spatulas, bent cookie sheets, and burnt wooden spoons. And a cheese grater from l983. Any ideas??


4. I’m leaving a little tune here….so fun! Crank up the speakers and just leave the link open for a while…sitemeter is running!!

5. I'm going to be a grandma. Our daughter who got married in October, well, I guess she had sex with her husband. I can't believe it. Kids these days! Don't they know those things are loaded???

See you cute little bloggers very soon. Seriously, I’ll be back. I’ll be so sleek and sexy and all design-y and there will be truffles and caramelized pork belly, and pictures of Eric Ripert naked, if I can find them.

January 12, 2009


It’s weird that I don’t write more about Mexican food. Because it’s pretty much what I grew up on and what I eat at least twice a week. Just wrap me in a tortilla when I die and deep fry me.

I used to live and work in Mexico and became familiar with the distinct culinary styles of the different regions in Mexico. And each region was quite sure that their version of whatever they were cooking or baking was the best in all of Mexico…if not the world. You do not cross a proud 80 year old tortilla maker! I got fed quite well by pretending to not understand why a certain mole, torta or relleno was better than another. Mexican cooks are fierce, competitive and love to stuff me, a silly gringa, with their mole or panaderia specialty - with me being the judge of how muy delicioso it is. Aren’t I a smart one?

I wonder if that would work with Thomas Keller. Yo, Tom! Is that lobster BLT really the best in the world??

Yesterday I was craving a bread pudding and found this very unusual recipe by Miguel Ravago. It’s a northern Sonora style of bread pudding – as in every type of Mexican cooking, there are so many differences between recipes within regions. The ingredients will surprise, if not shock you. Cheese? Cilantro? Dried pineapple? But I promise, it all works very well together. It’s just one of many bread puddings you could find in Mexican cooking. If you travelled just 12 miles from town to town, each one would have a completely different take on it. The syrup was amazing and I’d consider using it within another recipe…the anise seeds really made a nuanced difference.


by Miguel Ravago

For the syrup:
3 cups light brown sugar
2 tablespoons anise seeds
Cinnamon stick
1/4 cup vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

For the bread mixture
1 loaf French bread (about 12 oz), sliced and lightly toasted
3 cups sliced bananas (about 3 large)
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped scallions, both white and green parts
1 cup dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup dried candied pineapple, chopped
6 large eggs, slightly beaten
Whipped cream for garnish, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9” X 13” inch baking dish.
2. Pour 4 cups of water into a 3 quart saucepan. Add the brown sugar, anise seeds, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and butter. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. For the bread mixture, tear the toasted bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the bananas, cinnamon, cilantro, cheddar, raisins, scallions, peanuts, and pineapple. Toss well. Add the eggs to mixture and toss gently.
4. Strain the cooked syrup into the bread mixture and toss gently. Pour bread pudding into prepared baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 55 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Spoon into serving dishes and to with whipped cream if desired.

January 7, 2009

All the Pretty Capers

Can you believe it is “National Tempura Day” today? I know, I know...I can't believe it's that time of year again.

Did you tempura some stuff in honor of this High Holy Day??

I did, because I’m ALL ABOUT the national food days! I can’t wait for “National Creamed Corn Day”!

At first I thought I’d do liver. Tempura venison liver. But as soon as I thought about it, I got kinda sick to my stomach. I listen to and trust my supremely tuned gut. No tempura liver for you and me!

But I did read last night (or maybe the night before…it all is beginning to seem like one big coma when I read in bed – it could have been a novel by Cormac McCarthy for all I can remember) in the latest issue of Gourmet about deep fried….capers. (btw…I’m really liking the evolving style of Gourmet…for a while there it was getting just a bit too serious and pretentious and who the hell can find those villages in Estonia?)

I thought to self, “Self – deep fried capers sounds like a pretty damn spectacular idea!” Then I passed out.

But when I saw that today was such a special day, I thought, “Self – you could TEMPURA those suckers!” Yes, I had almost a full jar of those extraordinary Spanish capers – the ones that are HUGE….not those wussy little ones you drop in tuna salad from time to time.

What do these look like to you?

That's what I thought!

With a little research, I found numerous recipes for tempura, but for this experiment I stuck to the basics – egg, flour, cold water. There are many variations. Since I’m not so handy with the hot oil, I wanted to keep the recipe simple whilst I concentrate on not starting my hair on fire. One thing I gleaned from my tempura research is that it is critical not to over mix the batter and to have your oil nice and hot (whatever that means…I hate thermometers).

Here’s the very basic recipe. If you feel more confident than I in the smoking oil department, check out the many, many recipes for tempura all over the place. One flavored with wasabi sounded promising.

Basic Tempura
1 egg
1 cup ice water
1 cup all purpose flour****
1. Place capers into bowl of cold water and let sit for 1/2 hour. Drain, rinse, and then repeat for another 1/2 hour. Drain, and pat very dry.
2. Beat an egg in a bowl.
3. Add ice water to bowl…be sure it is very cold!
4. Dump the flour all at once into the bowl and stir with chopstick – do not over mix – batter should be lumpy and barely moist. Any further and just make yourself a pancake and call it a day.
5. Heat oil (I used peanut) in deep skillet until sizzling when you drop some water in there (no spitting, please). Dip caper berries into batter and fry until golden. Drain on paper towels.

****many of the recipes I found preferred rice flour to all-purpose flour.

“Self – that WAS a pretty spectacular idea!”

January 6, 2009

A New House

I can spill the beans now. We’ve bought a 36 acre parcel to build our “dream” home on. We just closed escrow on it yesterday, and since I’m superstitious and believe in voodoo, UFO’s, Leprechauns with hatchets, and not stepping on any cracks anywhere in the universe, I didn’t want to mention it until it was absolutely a done deal.

It’s spectacular and we’ve been looking for something just like this for something like 10 years. It borders millions of acres of National Forest AND a Designated Wilderness area (so important for keeping the ATV riding and beer bottle throwing cretins away), has plentiful water (this is akin to a gold mine in Arizona), plenty of trees and is very VERY private. Because I’m sort of a hermit – a hermit with a Blackberry and Facebook.

I am in love with this land. We can be more self-sufficient as soon as I figure out a good deer fence around the garden. I am afraid of snakes, so I have to work on that issue. Because this land is so…wild…there will be lots of snakes just waiting for a semi-blind gardener talking on her Blackberry.


I guess it’s sort of contrary to buy/build in this economy, but it has worked in our favor…good deal on the land, and supplies, equipment, and construction labor is getting very cheap. But we’ve saved and saved, and it’s definitely not a dumb thing to do, because the Spousal Unit is so…frugal...there’s no way this would happen unless it made financial sense.

I’m finding stuff like Traulsen refrigerators and Wolf ranges for 40 cents on the dollar! I may wet myself.

We’ll start building in a few months, once the weather clears. Right now I’m snake boot deep in design books, kitchen magazines and articles, a plethora of internet sites, and half-baked ideas on cocktail napkins. Cause you know, don’t you? This new kitchen will definitely make Eric Ripert want to come and visit. And, of course, he’ll fall in love with me, which will make things sketchy with the Spousal Unit, but will make for good blog posting. Stay tuned as Catherine and Eric make profiteroles together in her fabulous kitchen and Eric challenges the Spousal Unit to a dual!

My new kitchen is not going to be all disco-y and stupidly fancy and pretentiously useless. There will be no Greek columns, 3 dishwashers, or built-in niches for a small dog with a jeweled collar to sit and eat (yes, I just saw this in a magazine). It will be solidly workable and comfortable. I’ll never leave it. Which means I could give a rat’s ass about the rest of the house. Well…I care; it’s just that my focus will be on the kitchen. I guess doors and windows are a good idea. And a nice bathtub.

"Oh Eric, hand me the soap, will you??"

So, dear and gently understanding readers, that means you’ll be subjected to all manner of nonsense from me for the next year or so. Rantings and ravings, tears and fears, worries and questions – yes, a Dr. Phil show right here on The Dish. Stay tuned as Catherine rips a sub-contractor a new one!

First question for you guys….what would you absolutely NOT do in your dream kitchen? What disaster appliance, layout, or other aspect of kitchen-ness do you hate? I figure I’ll start with what DOESN’T work…then go from there. Because I’ll depend on you guys!!! I really want your opinions! Left to my own devices…well, I just don’t want to scare Eric away. You know?

January 5, 2009

Dead Meat

Ok, I’ve posted before on our deer and elk hunts. There is no better way to eat meat, if you are so inclined. I far prefer elk meat over the finest beef. There is something very basic, satisfying and honest about eating the meat you’ve procured yourself. So, if you’re offended by hunting (which means you’re a hypocrite if you are a meat eater or a vegetarian…either way, we can’t be close friends…well, I can appreciate and be friends with vegetarians, but you’re probably pale and anemic, and need a nice elk roast!) you may want to pass on this post. I guess I feel a bit cranky about comments I get about hunting. Usually from people who have no problem bellying up to a $37 steak cut from a genetically altered animal shot full of hormones and kept on an extremely uncomfortable and unnatural plot of feces soaked ground on an industrialized feedlot, thousands of miles from its habitat and from your plate.

I guess that clears up my feelings on the subject in case there was any doubt.

The Spousal Unit archery shot a quite large mule deer last week. He butchered it himself, and has just completed the last of parceling cuts. We now have a freezer full of meat, which if calculated out into grocery dollars, is worth several hundreds of dollars. All organic and natural protein. Meat that was gotten with some effort, respect, and gratitude. As I said, I prefer elk, but venison is the next best thing. One of my favorite ways to eat it is prepared as air dried jerky. On my kitchen table.

We sliced up a “skirt” cut (any cut would do – but best to keep it lean) into thin strips and seasoned as desired. In the past we’ve brushed with Tabasco and lime, marinated with a little teriyaki, and done a bunch of experimentation – but simple salt and pepper is pretty terrific. We lay out the strips on newspaper to absorb the moisture and as the jerky dries, even hit it with a hair dryer occasionally to keep it moisture free. It takes about 4-5 days (but this is Arizona, very dry air...longer in higher humidity) to get a very satisfying piece of jerky dried at room temperature. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, and no one definitive “recipe”. I love the whole idea of it. No complicated process, ingredients, or utensils…just a sharp knife, some space, and time. It’s ancient, it’s nutritious, and it’s simple and honest. It's a nice change from the complications that we invent involving food.

Sometimes it's best to keep it close to home and the ground, out of the store, and without a recipe or technique.

January 1, 2009

"Do You Have A Safeway Discount Card?"

I hope you all had a wonderful New Year’s Eve and nobody is in jail. That would be a bummer. Computer time is probably limited, I bet.

I never go anywhere on New Year’s Eve. It’s amateur night! I haven’t been to a party or out bar hopping since that unfortunate year that involved a folding table, strawberry daiquiris, a leather mini-skirt, a gay bouncer named Bernard, and a wig stuffed down a toilet.
It’s just not worth it, man.

So it was off to the grocery store for snacky stuff. No cooking, no company, no annoying people who shall remain unnamed, telling me my brilliant joke about a bridesmaid on a cruise boat is stupid. Just me and the person who shall remain unnamed, hanging out around the coffee table, eating a variety of Aisle 7 delights. Crackers, cheese, olives, Serrano ham, avocado, peanut butter right out of the jar, nuts, carrot and celery sticks, mayo (see, you put the mayo on a cracker, then stack with ham, olive, cheese, and a dab of peanut butter…woo!), and whatever else needs clearing out of the refrigerator. It’s New Year’s Eve for Pete’s sake! Resolutions and goals start….later…don’t be a buzz kill!

It was all very delicious.

We shared a perfect, and I mean…perfect…bottle of Swanson’s 2003 Sangiovese, Limited Bottling. I have been saving this bottle for 2 years. What a wonderful winery with a completely charming tasting room. It’s like none other I have ever visited. The Swanson girls (from the frozen dinner family!) have done very very well with their enterprise, and their wines are among my very favorites. If you ever get the chance, do visit their tasting room for an experience you won’t forget – but make reservations, the tastings are scheduled and are very popular. If nothing else, buy the Muscat….then sit down, put some bleu cheese on a cracker, pour a small glass and ponder a life that contains the wonderment of this pairing of flavors. You’ll totally write and thank me. And probably send me some money or gift cards.

I am kinda nutty (or eccentric – you choose the word) about my good bottles. I favor enjoying them in an environment that usually isn’t associated with fine wine drinking. SilverOak, 2003, Napa Valley? That got opened on a recent deer hunting trip – accompanied by a can of mustard sardines, slices of sausage cooked on a rock, and Cheetos. Or the very treasured 2003 Chateau Montrose Saint Estephe? Emptied into water bottles for a toast after a hike into the Grand Canyon. And my Christmas gift of 2005 Opus One (thanks Scott, Nancy, Robert Mondavi and that French guy!) will most likely languish for a year, then come out for some hair-brained excursion down a dirt road with no name that involves shooting beer cans on a fence. And Ding Dongs.

I believe these types of beverages, which are priced about the same as a small pedestal sink, need to be enjoyed without the distractions of fine, rich, complex food. There’s something rather…poetic…about quaffing delicious wine outside, hair in ponytail, hiking boots dirty, armpits smelly. My own personal terroir, if you will. For the life of me, I can't enjoy wine in stilletos. If I could I'd dine at The French Laundry in my pajamas. Yes, indeedy, I DID dine at FL...and yes, it's superlative and the best eating experience I have ever had. If only I would have been in pajamas. They really should have a seating for that, you know. The pajama seating. Reservations made a year in advance.

Anyhoo. A very nice New Year’s Eve. With my best friend in the world. Doing what we do best. Acting like a couple of dorks, eating crap, watching "The Twilight Zone" (the one with Agnes Moorhead and the invaders from space...good one).

Happy New Year – may we all become better people and share our good food and drink with those we love. And, Dear God, may I please quit calling everyone an asshole who just happens to make a right turn from the left lane.
Oh, hello!

Some of you have written wondering what the spousal unit looks like. Well…here he is…

My Monkey Man

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"The Dish" by Catherine Wilkinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.