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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