My Story

I've always loved being in the kitchen. Isn't that the gathering place at parties and get togethers! That's where the action is, where delicious smells come from, and where I go to create some really great stuff! My Grandma was my inspiration. She lived her life in Baltimore and she was ALWAYS in the kitchen (or down at the VFW for a crab feast and beer) but Alice created so many wonderful meals for our family. I remember there was always soup before the meal, usually a steaming bowl of crab soup with a rich tomato broth and lots of vegetables. Her crab cakes were incredible, a recipe I use today, and undeniably the best. I would challenge ANY other crab cake recipe to match my Grandma Alice's. The first meal I made for my mom was macaroni and cheese from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook back when I was about 7 years old. I was very proud of it, and it was really good..a creamy white sauce combined with good old cheddar and shells sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs..yum. So off I went through life, cooking and baking, and came to realize that baking was the shizzy. I loved finding a great recipe and making it even better. Funny my kids didn't like sweets much, so I showered friends and neighbors with treats. Later down the road, when some real decisions needed to be made, I decided to attend the baking and pastry arts program at The California Culinary Academy. I was 47 years old and had no idea what I was in for (another blog). So I mastered the art of baking thanks to a dedicated and talented team of instructors. I did a gig in the basement of well known pastry kitchens and had a wonderful time working for a small caterer cooking with a great bunch of gals. But here I am now, still cooking, still baking and loving it, in my own kitchen where I can share my love of this sport with the world. I take all my own photos (another passion) and I hope you will have patience and stay with me in this newest adventure. So thank you Grandma Alice for all those delicious memories, stories and inspiration. Stay tuned..

Monday, September 27, 2010

Oh, You Lovely Green Beans

 I found 8 tiny, perfectly ready green beans ready to pick in my garden the other day. I had picked at least a couple of pounds of green beans this summer.  The 6 vines that we planted in June are now a giant mass of twisted vines...weaving in and out of whatever they can grab onto. I recently learned that the younger the better when it comes to harvesting the green bean. I never really managed to pick them when they should've been picked, which meant tough stringy beans...not so good.  But on this day, as I was out watering, crouched down low with my face in the tomatoes and basil, (they just smelled so good!) I looked up and spied 8 little green beans all in a row on one vine.  I sat there just for a minute or two, trying to think how I could use these perfect little beans.  What I came up with was as simple and down to earth as you can possibly get (in my opinion).  It was a perfect lunch for me...healthy, colorful and delicious.  I'm sure there might have been other perfect little green beans hiding somewhere in that tangle of delicate vines and beautifully shaped leaves, but sometimes you just have to go with what's in front of you, a good lesson as a cook and life in general.

  • So, take a handful of green beans (fresh is best) trim, then throw them into a pot of salted boiling water for 1-2 minute (depends on how much crunch you like)...put them right into ice water to stop the cooking
  • A beautiful ripe heirloom tomato was also picked that morning, chopped it up, put it in a bowl with a few leaves of chopped basil, salt and pepper...let it sit for an hour or so
  • Out came the  4 roasted fingerling potatoes from dinner the night before... they are buttery and creamy, yum...slice them up!
  • Nothing's better than sweet cherry tomatoes...I eat them like candy, so in they went 
  • I love cheese...any type, from any country...I chose feta, it would add creaminess and loads of flavor
  • Into a bowl everything goes...Chopped or sliced... A vinaigrette of olive oil, salt and pepper and the juice from the tomato/basil mix...A combination of crunch, creamy, smooth, cool...The flavor that says the very best of summer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sunday Roast

My brother Ted and I recently had a conversation about our dad. Ted and a gathering of his neighbors are constructing a Dia De Los Muertos altar honoring their dearly departed relatives who are no longer of this world. A photograph of the chosen loved one, along with their favorite food is placed on the altar for a week or so in early November.   My brother, who is the actual builder of the altar, has decided to honor our mom and dad. He called me wondering what our dad's favorite food was.  There was no hesitation when it came to Mom's favorite, we both agreed that the obvious choice for her would be doughnuts.  Not just any doughnut you see, but the still famous Winchell's Donut's.  She was a Winchell's Donuts afficionado...a "french twist" girl, Mom made Winchell's one of her daily stops.

"What do you think Dad's favorite food was?"

"Ice cream... root beer floats", I said.  My dad was the root beer float king. He loved his Dad's Root Beer and vanilla ice cream.  Chatting about Dad with my brother made me smile remembering the image of my boys, then 3 and 5 gathering around their Grandpa Ed as he constructed a proper root beer float.

Although Dad loved ice cream, Ted and I both agreed that a root beer float may become unrecognizable even for the dearly departed after 5 days on the altar.  Instead I said, "How about a roast?"

Dad was a meat and potatoes man, growing up with a British mother and a father who was a born and bred Easterner from a large, well to do New Jersey family.  And despite living in the high country of Idaho for the first 15 years of his life, (besides being smack dab in the depression) it was likely that there was some variety of Sunday roast, be it venison or elk.  But when my dad's father died, he was sent off to live with the "Aunts and Uncles" in a big, old, beautiful house in Pasadena, Ca. The Aunts and Uncles, as our family refers to them, were a loving mix of silver miners, actors, adventurers and even a WW1 war hero.  They were seven brothers and sisters who, all but one (my grandfather) had never married.  This was a period of time (1934) when families actually sat down to dinner every Sunday afternoon.  The Condit's carried out the tradition of dressing for dinner and a highball with the family in the living room.   Then when the dinner bell was rung, (one of my treasured memories) they would all gather in the formal dining room around the beautifully set mahogany table.

There was always a roast on Sunday.  The meat tied and placed in the pan, roasted slowly in the old 1930 era porcelain stove, with no real temperature gauge, just a "moderate, slow, or hot" oven (much like the Aga stove still used in England). The potatoes would be mashed with butter and cream, the pearl onions creamed, perhaps some string beans, a lovely puffed yorkshire pudding, and always ice cream or sherbet for dessert.  I can imagine Aunt Molly in that big old kitchen, cigarette hanging off the corner of her mouth (as I am told) preparing those Sunday meals along with her brothers and sisters and their only nephew, my dad, all of them having a grand old time.

It makes me happy to imagine my dad as a young man sitting at that lovingly seasoned old table, surrounded by laughter and lively conversation, sharing a meal.. a Sunday Roast with the family.

I have those same memories as a child at that big old house, but by the time I came along there was just one of the uncles left.  My family would still go over on Sundays, and each of us would have a part in creating the memories of that Sunday meal, that to those of us that are still here, keep very close to our hearts.

I imagine that's why my favorite meal, like my dad's, is a roast.  Beautifully browned, surrounded by tender potatoes, carrots, fennel and onions, it sits before us on any given Sunday in all its glory, comforting and delicious.  Filling our bellies and our lives with memories of family and reminding us that the simpler things in life come from the kitchen.

So when my brother finishes the Dia De Los Muertos altar for the many well loved relatives of Flora Morgan Trail friends and neighbors, I know that there will be a Winchell's Donut, and a nice cut of roast and mash under my mom and dad's photo.  Cheers!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pears to you, Anthony Bourdain...

Somehow in the past few weeks, amidst the heat of summer, the "back to school (thus work) blues, and the absence of any recent travel adventures, I lost my appetite to cook, bake and blog.  I'm now 3 weeks into school, it's cooled down just a bit, and still no real traveling in store for me.  But what has prompted this newest journal entry, didn't really have anything to do with the aforementioned, but instead, a combination of just two things.

First of all, I was given several beautiful home grown pears last week. I watched them turn rosy as they sat on my counter, but came to the sad realization that I just wouldn't have time to make a lovely Pear Tarte Tatin that day or the upcoming weekend, (we were off to our cabin for a couple of days). So I did something I never do, and popped them in the refrigerator Friday afternoon with the promise that I'd rescue these perfectly ripe pears on Sunday evening when we returned.

My next big motivator, was Anthony Bourdain.  Now, not to say that Anthony himself isn't motivation enough for this foodie girl to do pretty much anything if he asked, but I turned on the No Reservations marathon first thing Monday morning, and the first show that I caught was the episode filmed in Sardinia. The visuals had me hooked.  The countryside and surrounding towns were incredibly beautiful, and as I stood there with my mouth open, watching Anthony and his lovely Sardinian wife, Ottavia share a meal, I think I actually drooled. The food was glorious and delicious (Anthony said so), and I could just about taste the fresh ricotta with local honey...oh, if only.

I admit, it doesn't take much to make me happy.  The simple combination of watching a top rate, beautifully photographed food/travel show and 5 pears, is what got me back into my kitchen.

It's late in the afternoon now. The tarte is cooling, Anthony Bourdain is now eating his way through the south of France, and enough said... tomorrow's another day

Thinly slice 3 pears, sprinkle with lemon juice

Role out puff pastry~Cut out a circle with a medium dinner plate

Fan the pears in a cast iron or heavy non stick pan over cooked caramel

2 T. water
1 1/2 tsp. cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. butter

Blend the first 3, cook undisturbed over med-low heat for 10 min, add butter.

Cook the pears in the caramel until dark golden brown, about 10 min.

Lay the puff pastry over the pears~ cover the pastry with a lid~Put the pan in the oven
Bake at 375~10 min~ Remove lid~ Bake another 15 min. until golden brown~Let it cool 15 min~
Run a knife around the edges~Flip over onto a plate

Voila! Tarte Tatin de Poires !

I do love this beautiful tarte tatin, but I love these petite cheris even more. They are sweet and crisp and buttery and beautiful...what more could a girl ask for?

Use a metal one cup measure to cut circles from the left over puff pastry.  Spoon a little of the caramel (make sure you save a little bit) fan 3 pear slices over the caramel, and drizzle a bit more on top.  Pop them into the (375) oven until they're golden brown and bubbly, about 15-20 min.

Tartellettes Poire Mini