Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Little Quirky....

I was shopping [at our farmer's market] last week and I was telling the vendor about my husband's quirky nature. Rob is very particular about certain things. He likes to think he has a specially-honed sense of taste. He likes to have certain things at his disposal at.all.times. If I can keep these things in supply, he is pretty darn happy.

He requires:
1. Perrydell milk (he insists the taste is like no other - I don't drink milk)
2. Honey-nut cheerios
3. Local honey (to put on top of his honey-nut cheerios - I know, I know - you don't have to say it).
4. Starbucks coffee (preferably espresso or komodo dragon)

So, my question is: what are your requirements? What do you need to have a constant supply of? Can't wait to hear your answers!

Plum Cake Tatin

I have a little routine every day. I don't usually watch tv during the day, unless Rob is watching the news early in the morning. I do, however, like to see what Ina Garten is making at 5:00. So, I'll try to leave some mindless task until 5:00 so I can be productive while I salivate. Last Thursday, I had some sugar peas to string, so I made a beeline for the tv.

She was making a special dinner for Jeffrey's end of the week return (I hope you're reading this, Abbie, or I will really feel stupid!). For dessert, she made a plum tatin (she can pronounce it way better than I can). Typically, the dessert uses apples, but she happened to have some italian prune-plums. As I was watching, I remembered that I also had some plums sitting on my kitchen table. They weren't ripening the way I wanted them to, and Kate, my plum eater, was not interested.

Now, I rarely have all the ingredients needed to make a recipe (what fun would that be?) - but, in this case - I did.

The recipe is an easy one - filled with everyday ingredients - but with a decadent result. I will be making this again, but the next time I'll skip the plums. Josh and I were thinking it would be great with figs, but I'm going to make it with peaches for tomorrow. I'll keep you posted. One other note: you have to serve it with fresh whipped cream or ice cream - and it must be warm. Yum.

* 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the dish
* 10 to 12 purple "prune" plums, cut in half and pitted
* 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
* 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
* 1/3 cup sour cream
* 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
* 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
* Confectioners' sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-inch glass pie dish and arrange the plums in the dish, cut side down.

Combine 1 cup of the granulated sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it turns a warm amber color, about 360 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Swirl the pan but don't stir. Pour evenly over the plums.

Meanwhile, cream the 6 tablespoons of butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Lower the speed and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the sour cream, zest, and vanilla and mix until combined. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and, with the mixer on low speed, add it to the butter mixture. Mix only until combined.

Pour the cake batter evenly over the plums and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a flat plate. If a plum sticks, ease it out and replace it in the design on top of the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners' sugar.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I Do (Occasionally)....

I occasionally work as a personal chef. My full-time job is to be a wife and mother - and when it fits into my schedule, I also cook for other people. I first heard of the concept of a personal chef when I worked at a fruit stand during my high school summers. We had a customer that came in to buy produce for one of her clients. She decided to work as a personal chef in order to create more flexible hours than catering allowed. I hadn't yet discovered my love of cooking, but for some reason filed away the memory.

When one of my friends needed to be on bed rest several years ago, some of our friends decided to provide meals for her and her family. As I was preparing meals and delivering them each week, I again remembered the concept of a personal chef. After some research, I decided that this could be something I could do [occasionally].

With a few preparations, I was ready. I established a business savings account, acquired liability insurance, and cooked for my first client. I have consistently worked a couple of times per month, with nothing but word of mouth advertising. I have never pursued expanding my business, simply because I've been a full-time mother. With Emma attending first grade this year, I am deciding if/when to proceed.

Being a personal chef is pretty straightforward. I cook in the client's home, either meal preparation or for an event. I cook in the home of the client because my home kitchen is not licensed or inspected. Today, I cooked for a regular client - preparing enough meals for the next two weeks.

Nothing special -

baby back ribs with baked beans and corn

stewed eggplant with brown rice

grilled smoked sausage and grilled veggies

rigatoni with bolognese sauce

For this particular client - I place meals into plastic containers which can go from freezer to refrigerator to microwave. I double the portions, so there are enough lunches and dinners for about two weeks.

crab bisque

clam and corn chowder

tuna salad

caesar salad with grilled shrimp

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lemon Meringue Pie

In case you've forgotten that this is a cooking blog, here ya go!

Lemon Meringue Pie

Baked Pie Crust
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
3 Tbsp butter
2 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 cup lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Beat egg yolks with fork in small bowl. Mix sugar and cornstarch in 2-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for one minute.
3. Immediately stir half of hot mixture into the egg yolks; stir back into remaining hot mixture in saucepan. Boil and stir for one minute, remove from heat. Stir in butter, lemon peel, and lemon juice.
4. Pour into baked pie crust.

Meringue Topping

4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
6 Tbsp sugar

1. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in medium bowl with electric mixer on high speed until foamy.
2. Beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time; continue beating until stiff and glossy.

Top pie in whatever decorative shapes you like. I filled a ziploc bag, snipped off the corner, and tried to re-create a lemon meringue we saw in Napa. Mine was not nearly as impressive, but it was kinda fun!

Bake for 12 minutes, or until meringue is lightly browned.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sights in San Fran

Yesterday we enjoyed a tour through San Francisco (courtesy of San Francisco Comprehensive Tours). We walked down Lombard St, the curviest street in the world - drove by Fisherman's Wharf, the Presidio, Golden Gate State Park, Grace Cathedral, and Alamo Park. We then drove to Muir Woods and the Muir Beach Overlook.

The curviest street in the world is quite interesting. It is quite steep, and I find it hard to believe that there haven't been more injuries - there are so many tourists trying to drive down and also take pictures at the same time. It is quite beautiful, though. Apparently, there are 40 hills [in the Bay Area], and as a consequence, seven micro-climates within this small space.

The trolley system in San Francisco is unique. They have managed to procure trolleys from around the country and a few from around the world. The funding for the trolley system was lacking a number of years ago and the city managed to convince the federal government that the trolley system was a national treasure.

The Golden Gate bridge was a site to behold. The fog made the entire structure a little difficult to see, but at least we could see part of it from the Golden Gate Bridge State Park. Sometimes, the fog is so thick, that the entire bridge is obscured.

We lunched in Sausalito and then took winding roads into Muir Woods. The California Redwood trees are breathtaking. Ninety-five percent of the trees had been harvested to build the Victorian style houses in San Francisco before an effort was made to preserve the remaining five percent. The trees can reach 390 feet and 29 feet in diameter. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the area a National Monument.

The walk through the park was moving. The pictures do not do justice to this majestic creation. This time was one of my favorite of our whole trip to the west coast.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center

Jenna Weber of suggests the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center for wine and garden tours. We headed to Kendall Jackson yesterday afternoon after perusing the town of Petaluma. We had investigated the website the day before and found that there were culinary gardens and a tasting menu that paired with reserve wine selections. I don't really enjoy the taste of wine and have found that unless I drink an organic wine (ie, no nitrates) I'll have a raging headache. I decided to imbibe in the wine tasting but with only a small sip of each. I'm glad I did - sadly, I was the only one without a headache at the end of the day.

The food pairings were delicious. Enough for a few bites, they also made the wine taste totally different. Apparently, wine should be enjoyed with food - not alone. I didn't love the wine, but I have to admit that it was much more pleasant with the food.

We enjoyed our tasting on the patio of the center, and the surroundings were breathtaking. The mountains in the background provided the perfect backdrop, the weather was amazing (75 degrees and sunny), and the company was delightful.

After our tasting, we headed for a self-guided tour of their gardens. They have so many different fruits, vegetables, herbs, and orchard trees - anything you could imagine. The fruits and vegetables are harvested by the culinary staff for tastings and events. Of course, they have small sections of each of the grapes used to make their various wines - white and red. The Kendall-Jackson company, still headed by the original owner, cultivates over 14,000 acres of vineyards - from Santa Barbara to the northern end of the state.

Here are some sights from our tour.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Closed Cheese Tour

We had a great time exploring the counties of Sonoma, Napa, and Marin today. The landscape is rather arid, but the rolling hills and perfectly ordered rows of grapevines are stunning.

After several wrong turns, we finally reached the Marin french cheese factory. We sprinted to the bathrooms, raced into the showroom and breathlessly asked, "where should we meet for the tour"? The response - there are no tours on Mondays.

Sure, we spent an extra hour in the car, but guess what the best part was - free samples!

The Marin French Cheese Factory, also known as Rouge et Noir, is the oldest operational cheese factory in the state of California (established in 1865). We tried the brie, the breakfast cheese, the blue, and the schloss. They were all delicious, but I enjoyed the flavor of the brie the most. Here is the link, if you're interested.

The cheese was really delicious, and the drive was enjoyable - I'll post on our time at Kendall-Jackson wineries and the town of Petaluma tomorrow. It's 9:10 and we're all ready for bed!


My sister has done a fantastic job of finding fun and interesting things for us to do. Today our first stop was Cafe Boon-Fly. Cafe Boon-Fly is part of The Carneros Inn, named for a pioneer who planted vineyards and orchards in the 1800's. This part of California (Napa) was known for cattle ranching and butchering, and the word "Carneros" is a reference to the butchering.

Kara has been utilizing yelp to find little gems for us. Review for the cafe were rave for their breakfasts and donuts, in particular. The size of "tastycake" mini donuts, the only flavor is cinnamon and sugar. The donuts are made to order and we received them in this darling little package.

They were warm, fried, and spectacular.

Here is the link, if you're interested.