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..

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

From Farm to Table...Blueberry Muffins

  • The three pounds of blueberries that Jenna and I came home with a couple of weeks ago from Santa Barbara Blueberry Farm were the absolute best I've had...ever.  After picking these no spray/no pesticide beauties myself, and gladly handing over $15 for a pail that held 3 pounds to the sweet young gal at the fruit stand, I knew I had to share these blue's and make something special.  
  • Last season, I made a pie, this year, being only June, I know I'll be going back and have plans for pies later on in the summer season, but for now I woke up very early one morning this week, way before the heat of the day hit my kitchen and baked some blueberry muffins. 
  • They're pretty darn good and this is how it goes:

  • Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated
  • The secret to these better than a bakery muffins, is the addition of blueberry jam that is swirled in to the batter just before baking 
  •   2 cups fresh blueberries (about 10 oz) 
  • 1 1/8 cups sugar (8 oz) plus 1 tsp
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour (12 1/2 oz)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted then cooled slightly
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1 c buttermilk (make your own in a pinch by adding a of  couple squeezes of lemon juice to a cup of milk)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla 
  • Lemon sugar topping: Add  1  1/2  tsp lemon zest to 1/3 cup of sugar.
  • 1. FOR THE TOPPING: Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined; set aside.
  • 2. FOR THE MUFFINS: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 teaspoon sugar to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to ¼ cup, about 6 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • 3. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Whisk remaining 11/8 cups sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (Batter will be very lumpy with few spots of dry flour; do not overmix.)
  • 4. I use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Spoon teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion. Sprinkle lemon sugar evenly over muffins.
  • 5. Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.
  • Here's a hint:  Do all your baking on the middle racks of your oven.   If you have 6 slots for racks, use the middle two. If you have two   pans in the oven, switch and rotate halfway through baking.

    So if you're ever traveling north or south along Hwy 101 in the Gaviota, keep your eyes peeled for the Santa Barbara Blueberry Farm. Pull in, grab a bucket get yourself to pickin'. You'll be happy you did.

...and isn't that what it's all about

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Cake for Ann's been a long time since my last "in the kitchen" post. I've been having fun sharing my adventures of travels near and far on that "other" blog that I fiddle with. But what better way to return than with a celebration for a friend.  My dear friend Annie(who luckily is also my neighbor), had a birthday yesterday.

We celebrated her day by sharing a lovely Italian dinner at a neighborhood trattoria. While we chatted and laughed over a robust Chianti and freshly made pasta (mine canneloni and hers orrechiete), our most delightful waiter Roy, charmed us with stories of his family in Italy, wines of the region and a huge smile.  He went on to teach us two new Italian words..Maremoto (tsunami) and Terremoto (earthquake), just in case we happen to be caught in this type of disaster on our next visit to Italy...a future visit, yes, but hopefully Terremoto or a Maremoto will not be in the picture!  After this truly delicious meal, and lengthy discussions about our childhoods and husbands, our evening drew to a close.  But not until it was topped off with a creamy, rum-based tiramisu, complete with candle and brought to the table by Roy, our Italian-Argentinian waiter. The three of us (including the chef) sang a lovely rendition of "Happy Birthday" to my dear girlie girl, Ann.

This past weekend as I thought about how I wanted to celebrate Ann on her birthday, it occurred to me that I should bake a cake. Now I can't really recall the last cake I made, but it's been awhile, last spring maybe, but Annie had given me some Meyer lemons and I knew I wanted to make her something with these fragrant favorites of hers. As I was searching around, I came across a recipe for "The Brown Derby's Grapefruit Cake". Perfeto!  Reading through the recipe, (which all good bakers should do before even attempting to bake anything), I realized I didn't know if Annie even liked grapefruit. It's my opinion that you either like grapefruit or you don't. It's very different from liking oranges or even lemons, and can be quite bitter. But I went ahead with it, for a couple of reasons. I loved the Brown Derby restaurant. I went there as a young girl with my mom many years ago in Hollywood before it closed up and they tore it down. It was such a cool place..very old Hollywood. Second reason was that I knew I could make a few adjustments that would make it more of lemony.

*I made Annie a little 6 inch cake. This recipe will fill two 6 x 2 inch pans. Since the pans were smaller,I baked them for 15 minutes, then rotated and continued baking for another 20 min. Test the cakes by touching the tops. When they spring back, they're done. Once the cakes are completely cooled (on a rack), release them and put them back in the pans.  Take a serrated knife and trim the "dome".  You will then have two flat surfaces to frost.  As a garnish, you can add candied grapefruit, but on this cake, I added a single rose from my garden... Annie has the greenest thumb I know of.  She loves flowers and can name most any species I point out. Amazing.  I thought it fitting to top Annie's birthday cake with one lovely, grapefruit~y colored rose...and so it was!

Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake (adapted from LA Times Magazine)

1 2/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs, separated
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp. cup grapefruit juice (I used 1 T. Meyer lemon juice, 1 tsp. grapefruit juice)
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
1 1/2 tsp. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 325. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Separate eggs. Beat egg white and cream of tartar to a stiff peak and set aside. Beat yolks until fluffy and pale yellow. Combine water, oil, grapefruit juice and fruit zests. Slowly stream water mixture into egg yolks. Fold egg-yolk mix into egg-white mix (be gentle here!). Incrementally add dry ingredients to wet mixture in 4 additions. Pour  batter into cake pans. Bake 20 minutes then rotate and bake an additional 25 minutes. Let cool completely.

1/3 cup butter, room temp  (I always use European butter..this time Irish)
1 1/4 cups cream cheese, room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp grapefruit zest
1 3/4 tsp grapefruit juice (I used mostly lemon juice)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

With paddle attachment, beat softened butter on medium setting until smooth. Add cream cheese and mix until thoroughly blended. Add powdered sugar in 1/4-cup increments, making sure it’s thoroughly incorporated after each addition. Add zest, juice and extract.

Annie and I..we're big on celebrating!