Monday, December 26, 2011

Space Aliens? Or truffling eggs?

Okay it looks like an alien - but it's a white truffle from The Pasta Shop in a glass jar...

...with eggs that are being truffled. They absorb the flavor thru their shells, and softly scrambled with plenty of butter they are divine.

A little rice in the bottom of the jar to absorb any stray moisture, a few eggs (gently!) laid in, then the truffle, then more eggs and seal the jar and put it in the fridge for a few days.

I scrambled a dozen eggs for the four of us...
Thank goodness there was plenty of brioche for toasting. 
A simple memorable dinner. With dear friends. What could be better?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Stollen Moments From David Lebovitz

A friend used to bring me a stollen every Christmas - she and her German mother baked them from an old (and secret)  family recipe. But the last couple of years as mom grows older, they have baked fewer stollen, and this year they aren't baking stollen at all. So I was thrilled to find this stollen recipe by David Lebovitz, an entertaining and educating blogger who also just happens to be an ex-Chez Panisse pastry chef. And an all-round nice guy. Plus he lives in Paris - I know, I know, not the home of the stollen. Unless they're kisses. But he's closer to stollen central than am I, and he is one amazingly creative i-can-make-that-only-better sort of chef and blogger.
(photo by David Lebovitz and please visit his website. He is fabulousness incarnate)

We've all lost family recipes - my grandmother was ashamed to be a Volga German (look it up) and didn't teach us any old family recipes, though I know there were lots. Being German there must have been a family stollen recipe - alas now lost.

My mom is from the era of Kilpatrick's bread and canned everything, and I am an Adele Davis baby (look that up too) because she knew that stuff in cans could not be good for us and fed us real organic healthy food before any of you know what that was. Lucky me.

Grab your grandma and demand some recipes. Get a voice activated recorder and capture those stories before they are gone. And have some stollen moments.

Hello Cupcake!

My friend Liberty and I made ghost cupcakes, from the book Hello Cupcake!

And I finally found the frosting tip video I was trying to show her. And yes, the keys on my computer are still a bit sticky. If I'd paid attention to the video they wouldn't be...

JoAnne makes the most gorgeous cupcakes -

She made these for Cathy's birthday and there's a whole berry-filled oreo on top. And marbled cupcakes once you get past the beautiful stuff. They were fabulous.

I'm going to ask if she knows the frosting tip...and then I'm gonna ask for a frosting lesson. Everyone who saw (and ate) these cupcakes wants a lesson.  JoAnne, if I bring lunch will you teach us?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - again

Last year we were a bit woodsy - birch logs and white hydrangeas, candles in the snow (okay, candles in the kosher salt, but try singing that) and lots of sparkly silver. Ron Morgan taught me that you need sparkly things and light colors, or the table just dies after dark. 
And we had reindeer! Lots and lots of sparkly reindeer.
But this year I was bored with birch. Several trips to the Flower Mart with different friends I came home with all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff. And thankfully it all came together...
...and it glowed at night thanks to all I've learned from Ron.
It even looked good with the buffet stocked - 

(about 80 people and yes I am still tired, but I had a great time at my own party).

So thank you to family and friends for making this the Best Party Ever. And thanks to Scot Meacham Wood for his party tips (listed on my older post). I would add a few:

1. Make lists. Lots and lots of lists. Lists of what needs to be done day by day. Revise them as you think of new things, get behind, get ahead. If they're neat you can actually read them.

Grocery lists - first list all the stuff you need for one dish, then the next. Then revise the grocery list so all the produce is together, and all the dairy...sounds obsessive but it will save you going back to the grocery store for the one think you just didn't see on the list. I made three trips before I got this one thru my head.

2. Get help. Serving, cleaning up. Be a guest at your own party. Better to be enjoying your guests than cleaning up after them.

3. Said this before, will say it again. Set the table 2 days before. Put post-it notes on all the platters with what's going there the day of the party. 

Do the flowers the day before. If you do they will fall into place. If you're fighting with the flowers when your guests arrive you will look like a deer in the headlights, they will be uncomfortable, you will be weeping...

4. Put food in multiple locations. Avoid the gazelles-around-the-watering-hole syndrome (thank you Scot). 

Have multiples of dip dishes and trays so the old one can be whisked away and the new one plopped into place. No washing up in the middle of the party, no scooping new food into messy dishes - it makes a huge difference.

5. And here's my lightbulb moment: get prep help. I don't usually have parties catered; I like to plan menus, to cook. But I was slicing my way through the eighth potato on the mandoline and chopping my way through the seventh bunch of green onions when it occurred to me: I can get help with this!

Happy Holly Daze. Try to remember to enjoy it - it will be over all too soon. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Peppermint Patties

I am a huge fan of peppermint patties - the creamy white peppermint center, the thin dark chocolate coating on the when I saw a recipe for homemade peppermint patties I had to try it. The recipe promised they would be far superior to any you can buy.

It took a while to get around to it - I was out of Karo syrup, I don't keep Crisco on hand, and tempering chocolate isn't something I'd ever done, altho Flo Braker made it look easy when she did a demo.  But that was a lifetime ago, and Sees really makes good peppermint patties (milk chocolate for you Philistines, dark chocolate for us purists) and the rolling out with powdered sugar sounded like a mess (it was) and freezing the centers in my tiny freezer almost backed me off entirely. Almost. 

In between plays (Monday night football) I mixed and rolled, cut and froze, then melted and dipped. And the result?
They are a bit messy around the edges, but it's my first batch. I'll get better. There is chocolate all over the stove...
and I don't care. They are sooooooooooo much better than store bought! So for those of you up for a challenge, here is the recipe from Gourmet. Even if you've never made candy these are easy (messy, but easy) and will inspire you to try other Gourmet recipes...I hope.

 I so miss Gourmet magazine!

Peppermint Patties

Gourmet  | December 2007
yield: Makes about 4 dozen candies

  1. 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar (less than 1 pound), divided
  2. 1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  3. 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  4. 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  5. 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (preferably trans-fat-free)
  6. 10 ounces 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  1. Equipment: a 1-inch round cookie cutter; a digital instant-read thermometer

Make filling:
Beat 2 1/4 cups confectioners sugar with corn syrup, water, peppermint extract, shortening, and a pinch of salt using an electric mixer (with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) at medium speed until just combined. Knead on a work surface dusted with remaining 1/4 cup confectioners sugar until smooth. Roll out between sheets of parchment paper on a large baking sheet into a 7- to 8-inch round (less than 1/4 inch thick). Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Remove top sheet of paper and sprinkle round with confectioners sugar. Replace top sheet, then flip round over and repeat sprinkling on other side.
Cut out as many rounds as possible with cutter, transferring to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, gather scraps, reroll, and freeze, then cut out more rounds, freezing them.

Temper chocolate and coat filling:
Melt three fourths of chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove bowl from pan and add remaining chocolate, stirring until smooth. Cool until thermometer inserted at least 1/2 inch into chocolate registers 80°F.
Return water in pan to a boil and remove from heat. Set bowl with cooled chocolate over pan and reheat, stirring, until thermometer registers 88 to 91°F. Remove bowl from pan.
Balance 1 peppermint round on a fork and submerge in melted chocolate, letting excess drip off and scraping back of fork against rim of bowl if necessary, then return patty to sheet (to make decorative ridges on patty, immediately set bottom of fork briefly on top of patty, then lift fork straight up). Coat remaining rounds, rewarming chocolate to 88 to 91°F as necessary. Let patties stand until chocolate is set, about 1 hour.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I'm dreaming of Venice...
Love the light in this photo - wish I'd taken it. It's from the Italian Language gadget on Google - so are the ones below.
The Gritti Palace Hotel is my favorite place to people-watch...on the water. People act differently when they're in a boat. Go, have lunch on the terrace, check it out. 

Then, when the sun is going down, get in a boat yourself. Everyone should ride in a gondola once...then go for the water taxi - my preferred mode of travel. 
I wonder what Venice looks like today? Gray? Cloudy? Sunny and cold? Damp? Some day I want to see Venice dusted with snow. But today I have to settle for photos - and memories.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Patricia Wells came to Rakestraw Books for a truffle lunch with her latest cookbook and it was wonderful.
It's a great read. I have it by my bedside, and I keep sneaking out to the kitchen for a snack.

Patricia Wells is elegant, adorable, unflappable, and full of funny stories, and we had the most incredible truffle lunch - truffled scrambled eggs, truffled proscioto-wrapped scallops, chocolate truffles - but everyone's favorite, hands-down was the truffled grilled cheese sandwich. With Epoisses cheese and truffle butter. Recipe below.
Truffled Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
About 8 ounces of fresh specialty mushrooms (Michael used brown crimini and chanterelles; you may use what ever you like)
1 white onion, diced
about 2 to 3 tablespoons neutral oil - grapeseed or a mild olive oil
1 round of Epoisses cheese (it comes in a cute little wooden box)
black truffle butter - my local grocery sells this in 3 ounce packages
2 slices brioche for each sandwich (and you will want more than one)
truffle salt - make your own from Patricia Wells' recipe

Sautee the onion and mushrooms in a large skillet over medium-low heat until the mushrooms are soft - first they will give off a lot of water, then as you continue to cook them the water will evaporate and the mushrooms and onion will become soft. Do not brown.

Remove mushrooms from heat and stir in about 2 tablespoons truffle butter.

For each sandwich you will need two slices of brioche. Spread some truffle butter on one side of one slice of brioche.  Spread a layer of Epoisses on one side of the other slice of brioche. Put about a 1/4 inch layer of mushrooms on top of the Epoisses, sprinkle with a little truffle salt, then close the sandwich by putting the buttered slice of brioche on top of the mushroom-topped slice, butter side down.

Place in a panini grill (or a non-stick skillet) and grill or toast until the bread is golden - flip the sandwiches (carefully!) and toast the other side. When golden on both sides remove to a bread board, slice in half, and dig in. 

I think these would be fabulous cocktail-party fare with the best champagne you can afford. Altho I bet they're great with beer too...

Note: I love arugula in my sandwiches, even grilled, so I'm gonna try adding arugula. I'm also thinking of trying this with shallots instead of onion...I'm on a shallot kick. And any leftover mushroom mixture can be used in an omelette, or used to stuff a pork roast, or I'm sure a million other things.

Get the book - all the recipes can be made with mushrooms instead of truffles, and she has resources for where to get truffles (in case you live in a truffle-deprived zone). 

Now if you will excuse me, I'm off to the  kitchen for a snack. Maybe a little truffle butter on some toast?

Friday, November 18, 2011

It Could Be So Much Worse

In this time of global uncertainty it's good to remember it could be so much worse...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

At the Flower Market

My favorite things about the flower market:

1. The smell. It's not just the heavy sweetness of the tuberoses, or the spicy hyacinths. It's the scent of dampness and the cold and the gentle fragrance of decay that hangs over all. How do you photograph a smell?

2. The flowers, of course.  
and where they end up...
The colors. These are mostly dahlias...or dahlias, mostly.
But there is bittersweet from the east where it is crisply fall...
Peonies from New Zealand where it is spring. Sprays of small green dates from the Middle East where it is always summer. 
And tender-stemmed amaryllis in little coffins.
3. The friends who go with me. Enthusiastically.
4. The time. I leave the house in the middle of the night when even the dogs are sleeping and the newspaper delivery person is not even thinking about getting up. I drive across a deserted bridge (relatively speaking for you sticklers) and turn a lonesome corner in an iffy neighborhood, and there inside the parking gates is a bustling small town. Cars are double parked along Main Street, people are chatting and laughing, criss-crossing between buildings, wheeling flat carts piled high with flowers.

Huge bundles of newspaper-wrapped flowers with legs sticking our below weave their way across the parking lot. No idea how they see where they're going.

Inside the brightly lit warehouses are little stalls, each with a specialty. Orchids in one, branches in another. Chrysanthemums or callas, topiary or tropicals. Roses, ribbons, antlers or amaryllis, candles and cellophane. Flowers from every season, every hemisphere. 

5. The parking - where else can you leave your keys in your car and come back to find it moved but not stolen? You leave your keys so the person you blocked when you double-parked can move your car and get out. Or so you can move the beat-up behemoth someone parked behind you.

6. When I emerge for a last trip to my car, arms full of branches, the sun is just coming up, the parking lot is clearing out (it will fill up again later when the public comes in) and the magic is going. You can feel it fade as the sun rises and the ruts in the parking lot and the flotsam and jetsam on the sidewalk come into view.

But just for a while every weekday morning there is a place in San Francisco that is full of magic. Etherial, ephemeral, magic. And how many magical places are left?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Still Life

Roy Scott is having a show.  
Saturday    November 12th   11-5
Sunday      November 13th   11-5

2230 Tenth Street

I first saw his work in Pam's kitchen and fell in love.

 I now have several of his still life paintings -  in museum frames they really shine.  And I want another. Or a pair. Or a landscape...

All the photos came from his web site. Check it out. Go see his luminous paintings of fruit - and the odd vegetable. And his evocative landscapes. Buy a pair, buy three. Mine make me happy each time I walk by.  And how often can you buy happiness?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Limes, anyone?

The weatherman keeps predicting "Frost in the inland valleys" and I don't know if he means Fresno or Danville. Although why (and how) someone from Fresno would be watching our local TV news is beyond me. Still, we have had some nights so cold I got up and closed my window a bit.

So I've been picking limes.  
More than 50 pounds from one tree, just a bit taller than I.  A branch broke in the wind it was so laden, and so I picked about half the limes. 

Does anyone want some limes? 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Shrink Your Food

Shrink Your Food. That's Scot Meacham Wood's advice for a great cocktail party. 
He gave a talk tonight at Kravat in SF - he was charming, warm, funny, and had a lot of other great ideas, from lovely custom menu cards by Pat McIntosh of Lulalina (who is also warm and charming)
to the coolest wreath created in minutes. The secret? Buy one of those fake pine wreaths. The branches are all wired and you can use them to twist around fresh magnolia branches, some cedar sprigs (okay a lot of cedar sprigs) and a bit of fir. Then you can stick in ornaments, feathers, fruit (real or fake) berries - and they all stay in the fake pine, which by this time has been obliterated by all the cool stuff you've stuffed in. So simple, like Brunelleschi and the egg - but he thought of it, we didn't. 

More of Scot's Fabulous Ideas:

1. Shrink your food - think of a meal. Meat, salad, veggies, dessert. Serve miniature open-faced prime rib sandwiches. Serve stuffing baked in mini muffin cups topped with a dab of cranberry relish. Make mini shepherd's pies. 

2. Do one show-stopper per party - more and you won't enjoy the party. 

3. Plan on one or two pieces of each hors d'oeuvre per person. Two for the show-stopper.

4. If you find someone parked by the food shoveling it in, grab him (or her) by the arm, and drag them away exclaiming "Have you met Lisa? You simply must meet Lisa!'

5. Spread the food around. To prevent the Gazelles Around The Watering Hole syndrome. Or having to find someone named Lisa.

6. Turn off all the lights. Light all the candles. If the party isn't going well turn off more lights, light more candles.

7. If it's a sit-down dinner do something you're comfortable with. Scot's favorite: His grandmother's  Chicken Pot Pie. No complicated new recipes. Only complicated familiar recipes please.

8. Set the table and do the flowers the day before.

9. It's a thing. On a thing. With something on top. That's an hors d'oeuvre. It's not rocket science. Have some fun, spread your wings. It's art not science.

10. Serve dessert - passed (preferably by someone you've hired to help) when it's time for the guests to go. They'll get the hint.

And finally: Go to your own party. Have fun. Don't look at the pictures of your party the next day and wonder when that happened - be there. Not in the kitchen squirting something on an hors d'oeuvre. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Hire some help. Have some fun. If you don't, your guests won't.

He also had some fabulous custom-made cocktails (and some great non-alcoholic ideas) but those are for later. I'm off to plan our Holiday Party...I can see visions of sugarplums already.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Flower Power

If you've never been to a Monday morning class at Loot in Lafayette, you're in for a treat. Ron Morgan, the star and owner, missed a career as a stand-up comic when he chose flowers. Lucky for us.
He has the funniest stories! and great delivery - and he puts together six or eight flower arrangements while telling stories that will make you pee your pants.
He has a fantastic shop full of treasures and inspirations, and while he is making these stunning arrangements...
...he's also showing you how to do it.  Even if you don't have any talent (that would be me) you will learn how to put together a credible flower arrangement. If I can (and I can - finally) anyone can.

Call Betsy at Loot, make a reservation, and go! Oh - and the best part? The arrangements are all for sale. Take a class, give a party. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Garden Thru Her Eyes

Diedre the fabulous photographer took some photos of my garden a while ago, and I'm looking at them to reassure myself that:

1. Spring will come

2. My garden will be beautiful again

3. Things really are growing - Sometimes it seems nothing is happening, then I look at a photo and realize I can't see that view anymore, it's filled in. Or overgrown, depending on your point of view. But I can't see the growth day to day, and it is a joy to see my garden thru Deidre's eyes.

After a long summer in the Big Black Boot that passes for a cast these days, the garden has run riot. I planned to hack some of the thugs back today - the salvia, a rose that spreads like a bad rash. Then a wasp got in my hair, panicked, stung me, and I've spent the day sleeping off the Benadryl and icing my head. But it was beautiful not so long ago...
And tomorrow I'll try again. Weed by weed, plant by plant. 

I must confess I love to garden - I find it soothing, the hours fly by. I like being sweaty and working hard, I like seeing a bed transform from and overgrown jungle into a place where plants have room to show off and are not mugging their neighbors. And I love to sit and catch my breath and listen to the Acorn Woodpeckers argue and the mockingbird singing his heart out and the neighbor's dog barking his head off (okay, that one not so much). I love to feel the breeze come up in the evening, to walk around as the sun is setting and see what I've done, what's blooming, who needs a haircut. This last part is best done when the light is fading or I'll never make it inside.

Last week I dug out some iris that were in shade (who knew the Tulip tree would grow so fast?) and planted icelandic poppies in the brightest oranges and pinks I could find. Now I'm thinking cornflower blue pansies to go with them, the ones with just a dot of yellow in the middle and no faces. I hate faces on pansies. And of course there is always clover to weed out and that nasty little annual grass that can set a zillion seeds without peeking over the alyssum. And the tomatoes are over and the dahlias need dividing. 

A garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall into Yosemite

It's fall in Yosemite. Morning mists rise from the golf course at Wawona,
deer feed in the meadows, unafraid. 

Either it's not hunting season or they know they're in a national park - the best national park. Wawona Hotel is a throwback: wide porches...
...and lovely cottages. 
Old fashioned, charming, recently updated. Get a room with a bath or share with really good friends. 

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is close by...
... and you can't comprehend how enormous these trees are until you see people standing on a fallen tree.
The leaves will be at their best this weekend - the last of October. Go now, before the snow falls, while the dogwoods are still bright red and the poplars are shaking their gold onto the river. And it's not crowded. 

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gift Wrap

Best tissue: at Bags and Bows. Whether you're in the mood for birds...
(my favorite) or beasts...
or funny colored zebras
they've got it all.

Toiles and stripes, 

And lots more - these are just the ones I'm ordering. Share with a friend, they come in huge packages. A lifetime supply, except I'm almost out.

They bring a smile to my face when I'm wrapping. And at this time of year we need all the smiles we can get! (and yes I know it's not even Halloween yet).