August 31, 2009

Chocolate Pots

About a week and a half ago I got a new cook book, don't tell my husband (hi Babe!) I shouldn't have, we have no room for more cookbooks, half of them are boxed up with most of the other books waiting for bookshelves that will probably take ages to decide on, get and install. But I couldn't resist. I had a good excuse, two in fact! You see, my husband is sort of a picky eater (I love you anyway!) and when I find things that he actually likes, I try to stick with the theme. And last year when I bought this book, he loved everything that I made from it. I've cooked pretty much everything from it I'm going too and now I'm getting a little bored with it, so short of copying Julie Powell, I decided I needed a good, basic french cookbook. And since the new Anthropologie was opening and I knew they had a good, basic French Cookbook, I just had to go (reason number two :))

Here's the thing. Anthropologie and I go way back. No really, waaaay back, back to when they had just a store or two and no one on the west coast had ever heard of them.

The summer before my senior year of high school my parents took us to the east coast, partly as a family trip, partly as a work trip and partly as the obligatory looking at colleges trip. This was when I has visions of myself as a Bryn Mawr girl.Because I'm so very mainline, right? When you think about the fact that the school I eventually did go to was University of Oregon, where Birks are a necessity, clothing is optional and it's perfectly legal to carry around pot as long as it's just enough for one joint, it's pretty funny that Bryn Mawr even crossed my mind.

But it did, and so off we went to see Philadelphia. And between visiting colleges (the nuns at Chestnut Hill scared the crap out of me) seeing the Liberty Bell and buying the best strawberries I've ever had in my life from an Amish woman selling them out of her kitchen, I discovered Anthropologie where I proceeded to blow my entire back to school clothing budget on one outfit.

I'm pretty sure my mother thought I was making a huge mistake, but really, it taught me that having a few great pieces can be better than having a ton of crap. OK, what it really taught me was that I loved Anthropologie. So I was more than a little excited that they were opening one here. And I had to go on the day they opened. And I had to buy something. SO the cookbook it was.

A good thing too because when we were all too beat to pull together a normal get together of our supper club and decided on ordering pizza instead, I said I'd bring something desserty and simple. Good thing I had a new cookbook.

Simple is the key here. This thing is EASY. And good. But it's really rich so small servings are important. I used espresso cups which were just the right size without being overly rich.

Chocolate Pots
adapted from Classic French Cooking by Elisabeth Luard

4 ounces good dark chocolate (semi-sweet works)
2 Tablespoons espresso
1 tablespoon coffee liqueur
3 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon sugar

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, remove from heat and beat in egg yolks, one at a time. Allow mixture to cool to body temperature. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff and then fold into the chocolate mixture along with the coffee and liqueur. Taste for sweetness and add in sugar if necessary. Spoon into individual cups and refrigerate for an hour or so until firm.

August 28, 2009


It's been a busy week this week. For one thing, Briton started school again Tuesday which was great, only somehow I feel like I've been busier without him home than I was before he went back! How does that happen?

Will and I have been working away in the evenings on our countertops in between Cub Scout Round Up, book club, dinners with friends and getting the kids back on a decent sleep schedule. We're hoping to get the pour done this weekend and then it will need to cure for about two weeks before we can mount it. So two more weeks before we have a normal counter. Two weeks, two weeks....Ahhh.. But who's counting?

With Briton's return to school I churned out a bunch of lunch packing goodies this week, trying out a few new ideas so that we now have enough reuable baggies and sandwich wraps to last us through the year (I hope!)

I also finished painting the kids art table, a project I started the week we closed on the house and then languished, half completed, until this week. Still working on the chairs although I did finally find some fabric for the seats so we should have some good playroom chairs in the next week or so.

Evelyn and I had a blast making her an apron so she can roll out playdough to her hearts content at her new art table without getting her, um, interesting and self chosen outfits dirty necessitating yet another outfit change. One day next week I'm going to try to take a photograph of every outfit she puts on during the day so I can post them. You cant quite understand how creative my girl can be wiht her clothing choices until you see a full days worth of outfits.

Will and I put up the swingset which means I've been spending a few hours a day sitting out in my chair under the tree watching Evie swing, and today, attempt to trace herself lying on the sidewalk with chalk. Very entertaining, but also good for my editing since I have to stay with her but she keeps herself busy so I can finally get back to that book that has been languishing in a basket next to my bed all summer.

So life is clicking along here with lots of to do lists and mini projects but nothing big or exciting. But since I dont have anythign profound to say, well, I'll jsut leave you with some photos and go off to plan dessert for supper club tonight. Humm, what to cook, what to cook....

August 23, 2009

Fresh Figs, with Just a Tiny Side of Guilt

Would it still be considered foraging if you picked the basket full of figs in your fridge off the two HUGE trees in the kind of mean neighbors next to where your chickens live who are in France until September? Really, I was rescuing them. Right?

Beside, they were the people who objected to the chickens because they could not understand how a chicken could lay eggs if you didn't have a rooster. And if I don't pick them, they'll just rot anyway. AND, there are THREE varieties. THREE!

Humm, I'm going to need to do some digging in my cookbooks not yet unpacked box for that recipe. That is if I don't just eat them all first. Homemade yogurt, sliced ripe figs, blueberries and honey. Gooooodddd breakfast.

August 19, 2009

Ready for Adventure

Months ago, back when we first knew for sure that we would be moving this summer and that the move would happen sometime in August (at that point we were still planning on a late august move allowing for us to get more done before we were in the house, like, say, a counter top)Briton and I decided that for his birthday, which would fall in the midst of all the chaos, we would do a small sleepover. Well, I decided. And since Briton has been begging for a sleepover for a few months he agreed. Whew, one less party I have to plan, right?

So Sunday afternoon, we're running errands and Briton is talking about his birthday (the only topic of conversation all week) when he said "And it's going to be an explorer adventurer sleepover party. With Explorer stuff."

Oh, well, alrighty then. I guess it is.

The good thing about boys is that they really don't care that much what kind of decorations you have, or even what kind of cake. They just want to play. But just for laughs, I did try. We had planned to set up the tent trailer for them anyway, so that fit in well. And instead of plain old party favors I bought them each a battery powered lantern, because every great explorer needs a lantern. And I made marshmallows to roast over the fire (the fire that we could light in the Webber, that is) Finally I made a cake (yellow boxed cake, at Briton's request, how weird is that?) and decorated it with a fondant tent and Playmobil. Now why hadn't I thought of that before. Who wants to make little tiny fondant people and trees and sleeping bags when you have plastic ones in a basket in the playroom.

Of course, all they did is play. I mean ALL they did is play. They didn't want dinner, they only barely paused for cake, the marshmallows were given a pass in favor of some good old playtime with Briton's new Playmobil. So in the end, it was even easier than I had thought.

In the back of my mind I know I haven't registered that he is now SEVEN. I remember when he was three and we lived in Ireland, we had a friend who had four boys aged four, five, six and seven. And I thought the seven year old looked so impossibly old. He sat and played his Gameboy or read while the little boys rolled around on the floor amongst the cars and trains and action figures. Three seemed old to me then, four ages away, five wasn't even imaginable and seven, I couldn't fathom it. And now here we are, at seven. Which seems undeniably big, and not in anyway connected to the little round cheeked toddler that was sitting on my lap making train sounds just yesterday. I swear, it was just yesterday.

August 13, 2009

Bon Anniversaire to me, Or, What to make for dinner when your husband is late for an Anniversary Meal

It's funny, whenever Will and I have plans of any sort, his work suddenly has a project that just cant wait till tomorrow and he end up spending half the night working while I seethe at home over missed occasions, dinners, parties and concerts. EVERY TIME. OK, it's not funny, it down right annoying. It's all down to the fact that his company has a West Coast office. And they, invariably, decide at 2 their time, 5 ours, that there is something that MUST be done before morning and Will is the only one to do it. And then at 5 their time, eight ours, they pass along a set of changes that must be made to that thing and then go blithely home to their families while Will works away into the night. They like to set up must attend meetings at 5 their time as well. So kind.

Tonight was our ninth wedding anniversary. I had plans. I spent the morning baking a cake, I bought wine (sparkling red, something I've never had before) marinated the pork chops, fed the kids early, put them to bed and then I got the call. "I'm going to be late" Nice.

So, not having any clue when my husband would make it home for dinner I made myself a tide me over meal. What do you eat when you don't want to spoil your dinner but need to eat something substantial so you don't keel over from hunger? Well, if your me, you take a clove of fresh pinky garlic that your neighbor brought you from Vermont (Thank you Elvira!) and smash it to smithereens. Then you saute it in a tablespoon of bacon fat (oh yes, bacon fat) You also fry a couple of slices of french bread in that fat. And then you crack a few eggs over the bacon fat and garlic combo and you pile it all up and eat it. Very nice. Almost nice enough to make up for the fact that Will didn't make it home till almost 11.

Now by then I was too mad at the whole situation to make something that would inevitably give me heartburn if I ate it that late (I know, what a old grouch, right? Heartburn? But it's sadly true) But I cooked it up for Will anyway. Pork Chops marinated in milk, balsamic vinegar and mustard, sauteed apples and a whisky, stock gravy. It looked pretty good, but who know. At that point Will would have told me dinner was great if I'd served him dirt. It was 11 at night.

I did, however, indulge in a slice of the cake and a glass of the wine that my favorite wine store guys had helped me pick out. I never did get around to making myself a birthday cake since the day fell on the second most stressful of the whole move/remodel drama and we ended up sprawled out on the couch eating pizza and Ben and Jerry's out of the tub. So I was way ready for some cakey goodness.

The original recipe was for gateau chocolat framboise from my favorite French foodie. But I didn't have raspberries, and I also didn't want to make a big old cake for just Will and I. What I did have is about a quarter of a jar of good Irish marmalade with Irish Whiskey mixed in for kicks. A little intense on toast in the morning, but great in savory dishes and, I hoped, in a chocolate cake. I was hoping for a Jaffa Cake-esque flavor. Jaffa Cakes being Will's all time favorite cookie (see what a nice wife I am?) I also have this cook little half sized cake pan that I picked up at Michael's ages ago for about $5 that makes the perfect sized cake for a family of four. So with a little finagling and some recipe reducing I crossed my fingers and mixed up this cake.

Now there is something truly decedent about making a cake that calls for a whole stick of butter, for solid ounces of chocolate and only 1/6 of a cup of flour. The batter alone looks divine. And in the end the cake was too. No, truly. I think it's probably the best thing I've ever made other than the devil chocolate and salted carmel tart. It might even be just as good. It might even be better. I'd have to do a side by side taste test to determine a winner. And just having that much chocolate in my kitchen might cause me to drop dead from happiness, so I probably shouldn't risk it.

If you don't have a half sized cake pan you could double the recipe and cook it in a regular old pan, or in a 9 inch spring form, but maybe reduce the time by five minutes. This is one of those things you don't want to over cook.

Jaffa Cake Cake

1 stick of butter
4 ounces of chocolate (I used 2 unsweetened cubes and 2 semi sweet)
1/2 cup of sugar
2 large eggs or 3 small
1/4 cup of good quality marmalade
1/6 cup of flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Melt the butter and chocolate in the double boiler. When it's smooth pour it into a medium mixing bowl and fold in the sugar. Let the mix cool for a few minutes before gently whisking in the eggs one at a time until incorporated

Sift in the flour and salt and stir gently until combined.

Grease and flour a 5 inch cake pan and pour the batter in, knocking the sides gently to remove bubbles. Cook at 350 for 28 minutes, remove from oven and let it cool for an hour in the pan before carefully removing it. I have this handy dandy tool for popping cakes out. I think it's actually an artists tool for blending oil paints. It looks like a tiny little brick layers trowel and it's fantastic for loosening the sides and bottoms of cakes. But I think an offset spatula or even just a knife would do the trick.

I poured a thin chocolate ganache over the top and let it rest for the rest of the day (and into the night, sigh) It turns out fudgy and gooey but still set to firmness, and really really delicious. And it goes well with a sparkling red wine, at least in my very inexpert opinion.

Definitely a cake worth making.

August 12, 2009

And the kitchen is....not done, but getting there

The Kitchen. Seriously, if I go stark raving mad about something to do with this house, it will be the kitchen. In the beginning we were going to just keep the old cabinets and repaint them, and then they turned out to be really uneven and pretty nasty inside so we took them out. And we were going to get nice, beautiful butcher block counter tops. But then the idea of concrete crept into our brains and wouldn't let go. And then we found the wood flooring, and the overly heavy but so cool farm sink that needed serious shoring up if our cabinets wasn't going to buckle over on itself. Between one thing or another, this kitchen renovation is taking a LONG time. Well I guess since we are doing most of it ourselves in the evening between moving, working, writing and parenting it has probably gone pretty quickly. But for a girl who loves to cook, it seems like a long time.

It's not done. There are still counter tops to measure, make a mold for, build a mold for, pour into the mold and let cure for two weeks. And there's a lot of finish work to do. And handles to find since I don't like anything I've seen so far. But at least it's now usable. Yesterday the shelving went in, this morning the dishwasher go hooked up and running (Thank you! THANK YOU! gods of the dishwasher!)

Today was Briton's first full day home after a two week stay at Will's parents house and fora little welcome home and yay! the kitchen is working project we decided to make some homemade marshmallows.

I say that like it's a regular occurrence. Believe me, it's not. But I got this neat book for my birthday that has all sorts of how to makes for things we eat all the time. Like cheese crackers and crispy bread sticks and Junior Mints- Will's favorite candy. And bacon. Bacon. Humm, should I? Could I?....We'll see about that one. But along with the bacon and cheese its was a recipe for marshmallows. Something I've always meant to try but just, haven't.

It was sticky. I wont lie. There were a lot of gooey fingers, particularly during the cutting and rolling in powdered sugar stage. But they are pretty darn yummy. Next time, oh yes, there will be a next time, I think I'll roll a few in toasted coconut. Just for me since I'm the only coconut lover in the family. hey, I deserve it. And maybe by then the kitchen will be done. Right. A girl can dream.

Marshmallows adapted from Jam it Pickle it Cure it

2/3 cup water, divided
3 enveloped unflavored gelatin
1 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar

Pour 1/3 cup of water into the bowl of the stand mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over it, letting it set for at least 10 minutes to soften. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan mix remaining 1/3 cup water, sugar, corn syrup and salt over a medium heat until the liquid reaches 220 degrees. Carefully (and with the kids no where near you, just in case) pour the hot sugar mix into the gelatin with the mixer on slow. Once incorporated add the vanilla and turn the mixer up to medium high and then high until things are nice and white and fluffy. Pour into a oiled pan and allow to set up and cool. Cut with a damp knife and roll each cube in powdered sugar.

August 10, 2009

Queen for a Day, or two or three...

One of the things I miss about living in Ireland is the food. No, Don't laugh! It is true that Ireland is not known for it's culinary masterpieces (they do make some mean breakfasts though) but the availability of good, fresh and ready made food is pretty outstanding. France and Italy are only a hop skip and a five euro plane ticket across the waters after all. And with the influx of mainland Europeans at the time we were there, the availability of great food was growing rapidly.

I've talked before about my love for Marks and Spencer. A friend of mine once told me her mother had given up cooking altogether thanks to M and S and their pre-prepared foods. While I don't really think I could ever give up on cooking, I was a big fan of their sandwich fillings. In the deli section, right next to ready made sandwiches of the same varieties, were rows of squat containers all filled with the making for some superb sandwiches. Nothing fancy, and probably not particularly healthy, but easy and good and just the right amount to provide one person with about three days worth of sandwiches.

Today I was sitting on our stairs, delaying the moment when I would have to go up to our bedroom and face the mess that is our closet by munching on a Nutella sandwich and daydreaming about M and S and their sandwich fillings I suddenly realized that I had, roughly, the ingredients to make Coronation Chicken Salad just sitting in my fridge. Ah-ha! Another reason to not go up and sort out all those clothes.

A few days ago I roasted a whole chicken because, well, sort of just because. I wanted to test out the new oven, I was passing the chickens at our favorite place to buy meat and I thought, what the hey, it's not in the plans for meals, but you can always use some roast chicken around the house.

Now this isn't a true Coronation Chicken Salad. In fact, it's sort of a Coronation/Waldorf Salad, but it leans more toward the spirit of Coronation, so that's what I'm going to call it. I replaced chopped celery and raisins with grapes and dried cranberries because it's what I had on hand and sounded good and I added a squeeze of lemon juice for good luck, but he rest is pretty standard.

Coronation Chicken Salad

The breast and some dark meat of a roast chicken, roughly chopped
1/2 cup plus a tablespoon of mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped grapes
2 T dried cranberries
1 heaping teaspoon, maybe even two of curry powder
1 heaping tablespoon of some good chutney
pinch of salt
squirt of lemon

mix it all up and let it set in the fridge overnight (although, to be totally honest, I've already had some, and it's still good without waiting, but tomorrow it will be better!) And I'm guesing it'll keep me in sandwiches for at least three days. Umm, is it lunch time again yet?

August 7, 2009

How to Eat Dried Figs

Yesterday was my 32nd birthday, and in honor of the day, my Grandmother, fabulous woman that she is, sent me a bag of her dried figs. Now let me pause for a moment to explain that these figs are unlike any other dried figs in the world. No, you might think you've had great figs, but these would blow them out of the water. I do have the recipe for them, somewhere, probably in the box of cookbooks that is currently residing in the basement until we get around to building the kitchen bookshelf (would it be weird to have a bookshelf in every room? I don't think so!) But since it's a somewhat long and arduous process that is greatly benefited by having a fig tree in your yard, which my grandmother did when I was growing up and which I, as yet, do not, I've never attempted it. So getting that bag of figs was very exciting.

These photos are not of those figs. One, because I am hording them and I would never allow myself to eat four in one sitting and two, because I actually had this post in mind the day before yesterday and took the photos then. But trust me, it's a good way to eat any kind of fig.

First, take a dried fig or four

Second, smear some cream cheese (NOT the fat free kind, yuck!) on each one

Three, start eating





August 4, 2009


So you know those breathing techniques they teach you when your pregnant. The ones that look funny on movies and that you pretty much forget the moment labor starts? Turns out they are good for more things than cuing the laughs in romantic comedies. They are very hand when, say, your daughter drops a large wooden car on your toe causing your toenail to fall off completely. Or when you are hauling the very solid headboard off your bed across the street to you new house. And t comes in very hand when, as you are applying the fourth and final coat of paint to your soon to be new kitchen cabinets, your husband cock his head and says emphatically "I don't think I like the color after all."

The good news is that I didn't kill him. And in the end, I even agreed with him. The bad news is that I set out at 6 am the next morning to buy a new can of paint to repaint the cabinets which means that instead of having painted and cured doors that could be hung on Saturday as planned, they are still spread out across the newspapered floor of our old dining room. In theory, they will go on tonight after which we will measure for the temporary plywood counter tops to be put on Wednesday. Which means that in theory, we will have a working kitchen by Thursday morning. Minus the Dishwasher, unless a miracle occurs and we get the cabinets in, the counter tops on and the dishwasher plumed and wired. But I'm not holding my breath.

But we really have made progress. In fact, other than the kitchen and the dresser drawers in our room, everything that's coming to the new house is here. And as we only came across the street and didn't do much in the way of packing, the house is looking almost put together. Evelyn keeps telling me that this is our house now and that the other is "broken" and the cat has stopped yowling all night and has started to resign herself to her new abode. If we can get the kitchen in and the pictures hung, it will feel like home.

And just for kicks, here's a before and after of the living room. If I can retrieve it from my poor little computer that has decided to poop out on me, I'll add a before before, as in, before the old owners moved out so you can really get the full impact. For now you'll just have to make do with the empty, unpainted house view and the moved in with new paint one.

**oops, the before disappeared from my memory stick, I'll have to go recopy. Stay tuned...

**Update, OK, I've found the before before, but not the empty before, so this will just have to do :)