Sunday, May 22, 2011

Baby Love

I know... crazy.  A post, finally, out of nowhere and it's not even about food, but just look at my new baby!

We brought her home late last night from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  We are still working on a name.  Any suggestions?


Friday, April 15, 2011

Every Day Indulgences

A recent discussion in the comments of Gourmet & Gourmand, on the high price of pine nuts, led me to thinking about what types of things I am willing to pay high prices for and what I am not.  Having a modest but not entirely restrictive budget allows me the luxury to make decisions like the following:

* order take-out once or twice a week from some perfectly acceptable but non-inspiring neighborhood restaurant with entrees in the $6-10 region OR cook modest meals at home/eat leftovers every night and have one night out every month or so at a really good restaurant with wine, dessert et al.  I am ashamed to say that, out of laziness, we usually choose the former when we really want to choose the the latter.

* buy the really good $6/lb pasta, local creamery milk, old-ish balsamico, imported San Marzano canned tomatoes here and there but stick with the cheap stuff the rest of the time OR get ingredients of middle of the road, good quality all the time but forego anything really special.

It requires planning, waiting and priorities, my food budget does.  I'm not complaining.  Not in the slightest way.  However, as someone who values high quality ingredients above most else, it does lead me to some interesting inner dialogues on what's worth buying and when.

There are some things that I never skimp on.  They are my every day indulgences and I know myself too well to go back to lesser things if I can help it.  I will just grumble, gripe and moan about it and lose whatever enjoyment I might have gotten from the inferior product simply due to my own bad attitude about it.  My list of must-have indulgences isn't long:

* Parmesan Reggiano.  I have to have the good stuff.  I have to.  I can eat $3 pasta sauce from a jar, but it has to have excellent Parm shavings on top.

* Chocolate.  I'm not going to say that I never eat a Snickers or a bag of M&M's (I totally do)  but I must have excellent chocolate in the house at all times.   French, Spanish, Austrian, Venezuelan, artisanal truffles or dark, dark bars with ridiculously high cocoa content...  mmmm.  For a mere $10 or so, I can have a small bit of the best chocolates in the world.  Since it is so good, I nibble it in tiny amounts and make it last, but when it's gone, I flounder.  Must have excellent chocolate!

* Meat.  Kid Cayenne has her squeamy nature and I just like really nice meat.  I buy the best quality we can afford, all the time.  It works because we only eat meat in smallish quantities and with just two of us, that doesn't add up to a lot.

It makes me happy that gorgeous, good quality ingredients are a luxury that I can attain (in moderation), as opposed to most beautifully made items like clothing, cars and fab furniture.  Eating good food makes me feel incredibly privileged and I never take it for granted.

What do you consistently splurge on?  What are your every day indulgences?


Monday, March 7, 2011

Pączki: a Polish Fat Tuesday Treat

Happy Mardi Gras, everybody!

Despite the fact that I am both Polish and live in a city renowned for it's celebration of Fat Tuesday, I had never heard of pączki until some Northern and Midwestern living friends of mine in an online forum started discussing them a few years ago.  I realized instantly that I needed to have these!  I found some last year at one of the local supermarkets and they were like powdered jelly doughnuts.  Nice, but nothing special. Turns out, true pączki "are *not* large jelly doughnuts, but small, delicate, rose-petal or plum-preserve filled balls of goodness. Possibly Avocat-cream, but that's dangerous territory for a filling. The only possible addition is icing (again, a shimmer of semi-translucent sweetness, not big blobs of white icing) and maybe a few (3-4) tiny squares of candied orange peel.", says my Polish friend Anna, from Ann Arbor, MI.  Even more intriguing!  But where to get them?

My friend Melinda, from Seattle, had the same dilemma and solved it by making them herself. She also volunteered to guest blog them for us, so we could try them ourselves. You may remember her from previous guest posts about Fig Butter and Vegetarian Pigs In A Blanket (Cabbage Rolls).   Hooray Melinda!


Fat Tuesday always fills me with nostalgia and longing for home. Not because I'm from New Orleans and I'm excited about Mardi Gras, but because I'm from Michigan, and I'm excited about Paczki Day. Paczki (pronounced punch-key) are traditional Polish pastries, something akin to jelly doughnuts. In Michigan, you can find them with a wide variety of fillings, but they traditionally come with red plum jam inside - it's not too sweet, so the whole thing isn't overpowering.

A few weeks ago, I asked my Polish friend, Ania, whether she knew where to find paczki here in Seattle. Her answer was "no, but we should make some". I certainly couldn't turn that down, so I invited her and a few other folks over for the occasion. We found a recipe, and using Google Translate and some help from Ania and her mother, we were set to go.

After confirming that I did, in fact, have to separate 8 eggs, I did so. Can you spot the free-range organic one?

I followed the instructions in the recipe and let the dough rise for a couple of hours while we all hung out and drank beer. After that, I kneaded the dough, adding plenty of flour and completely forgetting to put in the butter. Oops. Then I rolled it out. It's a little darker than you might expect because I used whole wheat pastry flour, on account of being a dirty hippie:

We formed an assembly line. I cut out circles of dough using a glass, Kevin put teaspoonfuls of plum jam in them, and Ania made little dough-and-jam sandwiches and rolled them in her hands to seal the jam inside.

It made a lot of paczki. Or at least, it made more paczki than any of us felt that we had a right to eat.

We let the paczki rise again while we ate dinner. My husband was kind enough to make some spelt kasha with mushrooms so that we didn't also all die of paczki overload. It was a very good idea. After dinner, we made the glaze with powdered sugar, water, and bits of orange peel. We fried the paczki in a cast iron skillet, and that worked perfectly, because it was just the right depth. Here I am frying while Kevin glazes.

It was glorious.

I ate two.

I highly recommend this exercise. The only thing I would do differently is invite more people over, because we still have a bunch of paczki hanging around.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Breakfasts of the Infirm

I am still fighting this stupid, no good, rotten old  rheumatoid arthritis, tooth and nail.  I have to take a number of meds in the morning with food, but they also make me feel sick and nauseated and like the last thing I want is food, lately.  This is not conducive to food blogging, I know.  Sorry.  I'd rather not blog at all than blog about being a sickly old whiner, but here I am, doing it anyway.

Latest meds make me not want my old breakfast standbys of eggs, croissants, toast with goat cheese and fruit.  I'm still doing yogurt with fruit and nuts or honey but it's wearing thin and I'm just about over it too.  Also, I am too tired to wait around on oatmeal or congee most days.  I need something fast and not very sweet or rich.  In other words, bland.  I need super easy (heating is ok but cooking is exhausting) and yeah, kind of bland.  No cereal, because milk has begun to taste a bit bitter.  Lots of things have started to taste bad.  Very annoying.

Need ideas.  Help?


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year, New Possibilties

Well, I'm a bit late on the Happy New Year Ra Ra! and the resolution this and holiday that train, but I hoped if I got it in before the week was over it might still be considered timely. I realize that by now everyone is well and truly tired of the holiday season and wants to move on to Mardi Gras and spring and new things. I do too, but I've got these cabbage and blackeyed pea photos on my phone and they are really nice things to eat at any time of year so I'm going to share.

On New Year's Day, I always try to do the traditional good luck thing but this year I was bored of Hoppin' John and braised cabbage, so I went a different route. Inspired by the cold bean side salad (usually served alongside pork rillette and various other dishes) at Tartine, I ad libbed a little black eyed pea salad with a red wine vinegar dressing. For the cabbage, I went with a chilled salad as well, using a NY Times recipe from a few years back for savoy cabbage slaw with applesauce vinaigrette and mustard seeds. They were both wonderful.  The bean salad is simple and delicious.  The slaw is so much better than you might think (and also makes surprisingly good leftovers).  I served them both with seared pork chops and it was a lovely meal.  Recipes, below.

I have to stop using my iPhone to take food photos. The white balance is terrible and my kitchen is nothing but yellow light at night. Sorry 'bout that, folks.

As for new year's resolutions, I'm going to keep it simple this year and rather than try to reform my hopeless ways, I am resolving to expand myself and do some things I've never done before, but think that by now I really should have. In some cases, it's unforgivable that I haven't yet. In 2011, I plan to:


1. a muffaletta at Central Grocery - I've had them at lots of places in NOLA but never there, and really, what kind of muffaletta lover do I think I am if I haven't, right?.
2. turtle soup at Commander's Palace - When given the choice, I always go for new generation restaurants over the old traditionals, so I have a huge gap in my NOLA restaurant experiences. This seems to be a glaring one.
3. boiled crawfish at Hawk's in Rayne, La - Happily, my brother in law lives very close to it and we have plans for this spring.


1. Butter - I (oh so briefly) met Chef Daniel Patterson of Coi Restaurant in San Francisco several years ago (and had the pleasure of dining at Coi, which if you ever have the opportunity to do, DO!) and later watched him make butter in this fun video. Epiphany! Homemade butter! I've wanted to do it ever since, at least once, and now that I've gotten a stand mixer for Christmas, I intend to. Just look at it! All yellow and beautiful. Imagine lacing it with fleur de sel and spreading it on fresh bread with radishes. mmmm.... I'm not sure the reality can live up to my bucolic fantasy but we shall see.

2. Marshmallows - Another project that required a stand mixer to do, and one that I think I only need to try once or twice to appease the desire. The sticky clean up factor will probably prevent too many repeats, but I do want to sink my teeth into very fresh marshmallow. 2011!

3. Madeleines - Got the pan. Gonna make the treats. More than once. Need to put the pan to use and not let it collect dust in the back of the cupboard.


1. Learn to shuck oysters - This requires an leap of faith on my part. I am trusting that this year, my rheumatoid arthritis will be treated into remission and I will have the ability to bend and twist and bear weight with my right wrist again. Once I can, I plan to celebrate by learning to shuck and then eating a minimum of a dozen oysters on the half shell with champagne. It just seems right.

2. Plant some container herbs and tomatoes - This one borders on the "yeah right" type of resolution, since I say I'll do this every year and don't, but I might as well try again this year. Perhaps you can help me stick to it by reminding me when the time comes that I need to get those plants going.

3. Visit some of the River Road plantations - I never have. Might as well learn a bit more about the history of Southern Louisiana. I've always perceived the plantations as too tainted by the horror of slavery to make it enjoyable for me to visit for pleasure, but maybe by shutting the entire idea out, I am allowing myself to be ignorant. Maybe I could learn a thing or two. And eat a thing or two along the way.

That's that.

The recipes:

Black Eyed Pea Salad

1 lb frozen black eyed peas (precooked), thawed
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small red onion, diced
2 TB fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)
drizzled olive oil, to taste
red wine vinegar, to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

Mix gently and serve cold or room temperature.  That's it.  It's delightful.

Serves 6

Savoy Cabbage Slaw with Applesauce Vinaigrette & Mustard Seeds
Adapted from Jeremy Fox, Ubuntu, Napa, California


1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon applesauce
1/3 cup olive oil


4 cups savoy cabbage, sliced as thinly as possible (store was out of Savoy by the time I got there, so I used half green and half Napa)
1 large bunch red radishes
3 or 4 Granny Smith apples
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste.

1. Make vinaigrette: In a bowl, mix together mustard, salt, vinegar and applesauce. Slowly whisk in olive oil a little at a time until dressing emulsifies. Set aside.

2. Make salad: Put cabbage in a large bowl. Using the shredding blade of a food processor or a box grater, shred radishes until you have 1 cup. Add to bowl.

3. Core apples and shred in food processor or with box grater until you have 2 cups. Put shredded apple into a bowl filled with lemon juice and 2 cups water, to prevent apple from browning.

4. When ready to serve, gently squeeze water from apple, add to cabbage and toss slaw with vinaigrette. Add mustard seeds and toss again. Sprinkle walnuts on top of slaw. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas, 2010

Christmas dinner came out beautifully this year.  It was small, for just Kid Cayenne, myself and a friend.  I roasted my first duck.  I was terrified to do it, but it came out well and I'm over the trepidation hump so I think I can continue to hone the skill.  Other dishes included roasted red and golden beets with arugula and goat cheese, a nice baked mac and cheese and  roasted sweet and spicy pumpkin wedges.  We had milk chocolate and  salted caramel gelatos from La Divina for dessert.  All in all, quite lovely.

Amongst my Christmas gifts this year were these jewels:

  • ad hoc at home - Thomas Keller

  • Around My French Table - Dorie Greenspan

  • How To Cook Everything Vegetarian - Mark Bittman

  • The Art of Simple Food - Alice Waters

  • tart pan

  • madeleine pan

  • kitchen scale

  • a Kitchenaid stand mixer

  • 1 of those beautiful iitalla EgO coffee cups I oohed over earlier this year.  *sigh*

  • Needless to say, I'm thrilled with the prospects.  I've hardly put my cookbook stack down since Christmas morning (and quite a hefty stack it is, since each book feels like it's about 45 pounds a piece, at least!)  I've inaugurated the mixer with a batch of tart dough which is currently chilling in the refrigerator and is destined to become a Meyer lemon tart this evening.

    I'm looking forward to 2011 with great anticipation.  Rather than compile a list of resolutions for the new year, I'm just trying to think of new and interesting things I'd like to try that I haven't yet.  I'll get back to you with some of those.  Hope your holidays were warm and full of love and joy and your new year is brilliant!


    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Hollygrove Market and Farm Home Delivery

    I've been a fan of Hollygrove Market and Farm for some time now.  They are close to my house, have Tuesday afternoon pick up hours in addition to regular Saturday hours and always provide really lovely produce, eggs, milk and more.  Despite the fact that I have often picked up some goodies from Hollygrove Market, it has always been from the Lagniappe tables, never the box itself.

    I'm about to change that.  Because they will bring it to my door.  Yeah I know and yes, I really am that lazy.

    Hollygrove Market and Farm recently announced their Produce Box Home Delivery Program, whereby you can get your nice locally grown fruits and vegetables, yard eggs and even Smith's Creamery milk (which I adore like crazy and deserves an entire post of its own) all delivered to your doorstep on Saturdays.  They will deliver to all neighborhoods within the city limits of New Orleans (excluding New Orleans East) as well as limited service to Metairie.  Boxes must be paid for in advance and there is a $2.00 delivery fee.  Well worth it, I say.

    Initially, the packages were produce box only, produce box with half gallon of milk and produce box with a dozen eggs.  I wanted produce with half dozen eggs and a half gallon of milk, so I emailed asking if that could possibly be an option.  Wonderfully, it became one.  Thanks, Bill!

    I'm excited about spending time on Saturdays to review the box and plan a week's menu accordingly.  And yard eggs for breakfast!

    Does anyone else go to Hollygrove Market?  What have you cooked from their offerings?  Also, anyone have any great recipes for mustard greens?


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