Friday, February 29, 2008

The challenge

by Lisa

So, today I face a challenge. No, it's not Can I Eat More Bananas Than My Housemates? (The checker at TJ's asked me, when scanning the second batch of 12 bananas in a month, "Do you live in a zoo?" Last time I checked, no. )

No, it's a lot more serious than that. Steph emailed me yesterday morning, providing the stats on our blog. Exactly three posts every month since we launched - no standard deviation on that mean. She said, "You have two days to post. Go!" (Thank goodness for leap years.)

It didn't take long to figure what I could write about. Because most of my brain space these last few days has been occupied by another challenge I had been facing. I was asked to cook for a dinner party for seven. Not a difficult task, under usual circumstances. But when I thought about those in attendance, I realized one of them had given up meat for Lent. Not a big deal, I frequently cook vegetarian. But add to that two lactose intolerants (one of whom also gave up sweets for Lent) and another who is deathly allergic to nuts, and there go a few good stand-bys like quiche, quiche, and quiche. Also, having recently read Smitten Kitchen's gracious post, I wanted to make Rachael Ray's You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Sauce. (My two cents' on RR is, well, simply this: Steph's amazing chocolate pudding is from her.) In any case, alas - vodka cream sauce contains, well, cream. Another no-go for the attendees.

So, anyway, the dinner. I was excited about this one. On the menu was a fellow foodblogger's Accidental Chickpea Soup, a Great Big Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers, Dessert Stolen From Someone Who Stole It From Cesar. For appetizers, crusty bread with all kinds of yummy tapenades: roasted garlic in warmed olive oil, parsley pesto but without almonds (it's official - I'm obsessed), sun-dried tomatoes, buttered mushrooms.

The dessert idea is so killer - figs and dates quartered and arranged in a flower pattern against white dishware with a dollop of lemon zest marscapone, drizzled with honey, garnished with an almond.

And, on a whim, I decided to use the lemon curd I made the night before (which I made for no other reason than just to make it), to make a lemon tart not unlike this one. For the curd itself, I used a hybrid of a few recipes I found, and I liked how it turned out - not too much sugar so that it's tart/sour enough to surprise you but not too sourface sour, if that makes sense. Maybe you'll just have to make it yourself. I think you'll like it, too.

Of course, getting to use my cake dome was really the highlight of it all. And the new pitcher. Oh, the new pitcher.

Two other things that made smile this week:

One. At Trader Joe's they were giving away balloons to the kids. I watched as what looked like a four-year-old girl tell her two-year-old brother, "Don't let go." As though the period at the end of her sentence were a cue, the little boy released his balloon just as she finished. The green balloon floated to the ceiling. I laughed out loud.

Two. On a more serious note, the other thing that made me smile this week was the rad sunset on Tuesday night. I think God uses these to remind me that He's in control. About a year-and-a-half ago I remember watching a sunset and sensing Him say to my heart that I don't lift a finger to make such a beautiful thing happen; can I not, therefore, trust Him to make a beautiful thing of all my life?

What two things made you smile/laugh this week?

(Thank you to my dear friend, David, for taking photographs tonight when I was without Elizabeth's point-and-shoot, the only camera with which I have any amount of familiarity.)

Here's a recipe for the tart; it's very flexible, so use your intuition and vary as you go!

Tart with chocolate and lemon curd

1 prebaked tart
a handful or two of semi-sweet chocolate chips

5 egg yolks plus 1 egg
1/2 cup lemon juice (~4-5 lemons)
zest from lemons (~1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup baker's sugar
5-8 tablespoons of butter

In a small saucepan, whisk together eggs, lemon juice, zest, and sugar. Heat on medium heat and continue to whisk constantly for about 8-10 minutes as it thickens. At some point, switch to a rubber spatula and continue to stir until it coats the back of the spatula, or you can run your finger through and it holds.

Remove from heat and stir in butter, a tablespoon at a time. Place saran wrap directly on surface to prevent skin from forming and refrigerate.

Place chocolate chips on tart. Place in warmed oven for a minute or so until chips begin to melt. (This works well when you've just baked the tart and the oven is already warm.) Remove and spread chips into a layer of chocolate. (I just used a butter knife; a spatula will do, too.) Refrigerate entire tart for a few minutes to cool.

Spread curd on top of tart with chocolate. Refrigerate some more. Garnish and serve!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

touring my City

by Stephanie

Yes, I know, I have been absent from this blog for quite some time. But it's not my fault, really it's not. It's not my fault that Lisa has all this pent-up creativity and therefore has constant material to blog about, and it's certainly not my fault that I have no kitchen facilities at this house! I was thinking about the loveiscooking title of this blog, and how I rarely cook nowadays (when I get really hungry, like tonight, I call Lisa and bug her to cook for me). So, it's almost like for Lisa, loveiscooking, and for me...loveisbeingcookedfor? I know that's bad grammar, but you should bear with me because I have some fun stuff coming up.

So this entry is definitely less about cooking and food, and more about the things that I see. I'm currently interning at the Burt Children's Center, which is this incredible place for kids in need, and I will most likely have a lot more to say about it later, but for now...a few snapshots of the City (capitalized because it's the best city in the world...that is, San Francisco). The kids live in this huge renovated Victorian house and it is just gorgeous.

(check out that blue sky!)

Just across the street is Alamo Square, this gorgeous park with amazing views.

So if you grew up in the 90's like me, you definitely remember the TV show Full House. This is the exact lawn (I think?) where they run down in the beginning sequence!

I made friends with this doggy! There's a special section in the park where you can let your doggies run around unleashed and where I can pretend that your doggies are my doggies!

And then I went to this place I've been eyeing for quite some time. As a very recent Yelp convert, I kept reading about this place, this place that draws tons of raves from people, especially people who are obsessed with coffee. And so I decided on my way back from BCC that I would stop by because I am also obsessed with coffee. In short, it was amazing. I will say that I felt more than a little out of place because I am not a thirty-something San Francisco hipster. And after being in college for almost four years, it is weird to hang out with people who are older than 20. But it is a magical place, the very newly opened Blue Bottle Coffee cafe.

So Real Good coffee doesn't actually taste bitter; the bitterness comes from all this other gunk that manages to afflict most coffee around here. Blue Bottle coffee was slightly sweet, and with a bit of half & half it managed to be almost perfect. I love how the coffee here reflects the building up above.

Now this thing was incredible. (Notice how my vocabulary does not fall outside of words like "amazing" and "incredible". If you'd like some new words, inform me please.) I had never seen one of these things before...they had them set every 3 seats or so, and it's a cream pitcher on the top and a sugar bowl on the bottom! Coffee accessories never fail to delight me.

This cafe is famous because it houses a $20,000 coffee machine. I was way too intimidated by the trendy clientele and the ridiculous luxury of this thing to photograph it, so check out the NY Times article instead.

So look forward to more of the City! I'm there every Friday until May.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Setting the record straight

by Lisa

I have a few wonderful things to tell you about today, which I think we all deserve, since it is Valentine's Day.

Tonight I started making a beef stew tonight with no one in mind to feed. All my roommates had plans and I hadn't thought ahead of time, but I went with it. It turned out magical, and even more so when a few friends showed up. (Apparently, by calling to say I had a beef stew going I caused a previous dinner engagement to be broken. But it's okay, they said - they were going to have Pasta Roni, anyway.)

It all started last week when I was craving stewy meats, Mexican style - chile verde or colorado with tender, pulled pork. But we didn't have any tomatillos or pork. What we did have, however, was beef and the leftovers from a bottle of Newcastle that Albert had brought over last night for Maria's 21st. (Don't be disappointed, Albie, because you rejected the dinner invite for chicken and waffles. So yeah. ) After searing the flour-dusted beef cubes, I used the Newcastle to scrape up the drippings. The result? Deliciousness. I cooked the beef slowly on low heat with tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalepeno, a bit of cumin, oregano and bay leaf. The wonderful secret was a the smallest sliver of butter (inspired by a tomato sauce recipe I've been wanting to make).

My mom called in the middle of it all and gave me the brilliant suggestion of serving it over angel hair - brilliant because this would be more incentive to make Ms. Steph I-love-noodles-more-than-I-do-rice Lai come over. And because for weeks I'd been wondering what to do with all the stacks of capellini we have. (Somehow I find suitable purposes for all other shapes of pasta: fettuccine for pesto, shells for saucy stuff, spaghetti for garlic and olive oil [I'll have the share the Silver Palate recipe sometime] - but never anything for angel hair.) Anyway, Mom was right. It was delicious.

And now for the almost nothing-to-do-with-food comment of the day. The man at the flower shop by my house gave me a rose this morning on my way to work - isn't he sweet? And then on my way back from work a little baguette caught my eye and so I bought that. The two were just so perfect together, and I was very content. Anyway, it reminded me of the time last week I went two days in a row to Trader Joe's just to pick up three things: baguette, brie, and 71% cacao chocolate. (Yes, I share.) 12 items or fewer line? Why don't they just open up a lane for three? Let me just say: I could be wooed with bread and cheese and dark chocolate. (Flowers would help, too.) I'm just saying.

What three things could you be wooed with?

Newcastle beef stew over angel hair

1 1/2 pounds stew beef cubes
flour, salt, pepper for dusting
1/4 to 1/2 cup Newcastle or other similar brown ale
good-quality olive oil

1 medium white onion, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes, with juices
half jalepeno, sliced thinly, lengthwise
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf, cracked
1 pat butter (I used less than a tablespoon, but you can't go wrong with more)

1 pound angel hair
cilantro and lime (optional)

Rinse beef and and dust with a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. Heat stainless steel pan (preferably not nonstick) on medium heat. Add olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and increase heat to medium-high. Add beef and allow to brown. (You may have to do this in two batches, adding additional oil if needed.) Turn and sear other side. Add seared meat to another pot in which you'll cook the stew. (This recipe would do well in a crock pot.) To that pot also add the vegetables, spices/herbs, and butter. Allow this to heat up while you scrape up the drippings. While the pan is on some heat, pour the beer in, scrape up the bits, and add it to the stew. When the stew is at about a boil, turn down heat and allow to simmer for as long as you can wait - forty-five minutes to an hour and a half would be great, but I don't think even we waited that long.

Ten minutes prior to serving, drop angel hair into boiling, salted water with a few drops of olive oil to keep from sticking. When cooked, drain and serve with beef stew on top.

Also, I didn't try it this time, but I'm sure it would be great with cilantro and a squeeze of lime. I wasn't sure if it would be good to put the cilantro into cook - it probably would be good, too. And we didn't have much more than a sip of the brewski left, but I'm sure dinner would go well served with whatever beer you use in the stew.

Lastly, I found a recipe for chile verde I'd like to try sometime. There are also nice pictures, so it's worth checking out.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A brainstorm of sorts

by Lisa

Oh, no. I think I have writer's block.


Okay, so I just took that to my wonderful roommate Maria, and we talked it out. So here's how I feel: I have been cooking up storms and taking pictures like nobody's business, but have had absolutely no inspiration this past week to write about any of it. Sure, I wanted to show off my pictures, but, having been an English major, I sort of cringe at the idea of having no theme for my writing. At the same time, this feeling reminded me of brainstorming ideas for papers in college or high school. I would have all these brilliant ideas jotted down on sheets of unlined paper - or if I was lucky, on a huge white board (thanks, Ms. Moore!) - seemingly disparate but somehow connected. Many a time I wished I could just turn in my brainstorm, filled, as it were, with bursts of ideas - raw, distilled, and ready to be unpacked, reinterpreted, connected, extended.

So that's what I come to offer today. My raw, unedited thoughts and reflections on what has been going on in my kitchen (and beyond). Is it okay if I show off - my work and others' - in unorganized/conglomerate fashion?

Let's start simple. I've been enjoying a lot of toast and English muffins lately. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. Like I'm-not-having-lunch-but-instead-I'll-have-three-slices-of toast-with-butter a lot. (Daily bread? Um, how about hourly bread?) I think the ability to be content with this simple jewel of a food has to do with the fact that I recently added salted butter to the repository that is our fridge; usually, unsalted does the trick for all the baking that goes on around here, certainly not by me.

(Steph wants to know if anyone else eats buttered toast upside down so that the butter hits your tongue first.)

I tried to make cornmeal pancakes, like they make at Rick and Ann's, but I have yet to perfect the recipe. If anyone has ideas, please let me know!

My friend Milton (whom I had over for shepherd's pie) made me amazing chicken katsu, which is what inspired today's adventure with Stephanie. It was such a pleasant, satisfying meal - brussels sprouts gave it a spin on the traditional bed of shredded cabbage. Recipe to come soon (perhaps), along with a magic sauce. In the mean time, find yourself an old t-shirt to wear while deep-frying.

One word: quiche.

Also, I went through a phase this week when I made things from other good food blogs: curried egg salad, quick black beans with cumin and oregano, and (ahem) more of that parsley pesto. The humbling reality of it all is that I really haven't made up much myself. But that's okay, if it means I get to have Arizmendi pizza. (Steph and I are in the process of whipping out a plan to storm all the good pizza places in the area.) And I certainly don't mind the simple things like oranges and buttered toast.

I don't need to end this thing formally, do I? It is, after all, a brainstorm. Maybe I'll expand on any one of these topics someday. But until then, have a happy weekend!

I feel like breaking all the rules today and not leaving a recipe. This isn't because I don't love you, because I do. It's because I almost never write down recipes, which I know surprises people when they find out I was also a chemistry major. (I hated lab notebooks, except for finding other uses for carbon paper.) And so it's a lot of work when I write a post and have to figure out what I did and share it so you can replicate it at home. Sometimes I even do it again on my own with the measurements just to make sure it's exactly the same. (Example: tonight I tried to redo the katsu sauce and it just wasn't the same as when I did it the first time without measuring.) And now I'm tired and just want to get this post up on the web. But I'd be happy to give rough instructions for anything if you give me a ring. Or, better yet, just show up at my door and I'll make you something real quick. I may not feel like writing, but I almost always feel like cooking.

Thanks for reading!