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Wednesday
Oct262011

THOUGHTS

Without question, this book manuscript has been the most challenging thing I have ever done. Ever.

I remember leaving my old job desperate for a project that would push me and presently, I see my prayers answered about tenfold. I've watched my self, my marriage, and both mine and Hugh's work grow and improve these past ten months. I'm not even out of the woods yet, and I am filled with emotions over what an experience this has been so far.

I've studied dozens of cookbooks, poured over the photography, the writing style, and how they are composed overall. It seemed simple enough, given ample time, to make a collection of how I cook during the week, for friends, and for family on occasion. It's never fancy, typically on the lighter side, produce focused, and now, because of Hugh's influence, a second thought is given to the aesthetics of the plate. At the start, I imagined I would cook and write and just transcribe what I know. Turns out there is more to it. We seem to have learned the hard way - learned by doing, actually. We're currently going back to the first few recipes written and pictures taken and bringing them on par with where we are now (we haven't "figured it out", but the big picture is looking less nebulous than it did in January). Improvement or not, I have to be honest with you lovely people, those of you who have so kindly encouraged me, and convinced me that I AM capable of this. It is extremely difficult to explain a process that is creative and spontaneous for me, and treat it as something concrete and specific. I want to share this with people, but a list of directions seems cold compared to how I feel about simple, wholesome food. This is my art. The books I've admired, and thought I could use as reference, became useless when I realized how personal writing a cookbook is.

When I consider the permanence of print, the self doubt becomes sort of paralyzing. We crave affirmation, and by we I do mean all of us, but females especially. We crave for people to tell us that they like us, that we are good at something. A 'regular' job, if you will, usually consists of someone above you setting a standard and giving direction day in and day out, while you also have others around you with constant feedback. It is really nice to work at home is stretchy yoga pants, but I miss that. Maybe I love the braised white bean recipe in the book, but what if other people don't like them? Gasp! Then what?? Hugh assured me this is the demon of a creative person (something I actually never considered myself, to be honest), that we set a high standard, a great expectation for our work, but the means to reach or even exceed that standard is always a challenge. I must rest in the fact that it is simply not possible to please everyone. It's not possible to make a book full of recipes that everyone will like and that is going to be alright. I knew going into this that the project was bigger than what I felt capable of, and I still feel that way, but participating would be the only way I would grow. I wanted to be pushed, but that doesn't mean I have not had a considerable amount of breakdowns.

I'm about a week away from turning in a gigantic word document and already feel the weight of responsibility lifting from me. Not in the sense that it is being passed to someone else, but that I know I have done my best and at this point, my art is making its way out there.
These are not thoughts of complaint, believe me, I am grateful. I am merely trying to write the fear out of my head.

Ah. Deep breaths.

I don't have a recipe for you, seriously, I can not talk about food for awhile, but I wanted to include just a few pictures from my phone of the mess and process we've been up to. Sidenote, that baby is not ours, she is our niece, and we are trying to kidnap her.

Thursday
Oct062011

CRUSTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH



I'm so late to the party of being drawn into the cookbook Plenty by Yotam Otteleghi. I sat in Barnes and Noble with a big stack of cookbooks to flip through and his book was so lovely in its brightness, simplicity and the thoughtfulness of bringing out the best of vegetables. I took a few dozen pictures with my phone of recipes that inspired me, and I plan to buy it after this crazy month is over and I have the time to cook from it. The chapters are divided by vegetable, and while the internet is not short on fall recipes at the moment, I was sure this recipe, as he has written for pumpkin, would be a great way to use some of the butternut squash I have at home. It's a why-haven't-I-done-this-before? kind of recipe - written with a short list of familiar ingredients, likely things you have on hand and out comes a tender squash with just the right crunch of breadcrumbs and parmesan. I typically make more than we can eat to have leftovers, but this is the kind of side you'd want to have fresh as the breadcrumbs get a bit soggy. I'm giving some measurements, but squash vary so much in size, just use it as a guideline and adjust as needed, each piece needs a nice, hearty coating.

We're heading to Hawaii with my family tomorrow for a sunny vacation, and we return to the last few weeks before the manuscript is due for our cookbook (crazyness!). I hope to pop in here for another post amongst all the editing of recipes, photo shoots etc., while both of us are keeping up with other work as well. But if it's quiet around here, it's for good reason. Forgive me. It's a good kind of crazy, I'm excited, feels like I'm in school again, except I'm writing about things I give a hoot about. See you on the other side!

CRUSTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Slighty adapted from Ottelenghi's Plenty

I didn't write down the recipe, all I had was an iphone picture and a vague memory, so this is my best shot. I believe the original may have had pine nuts in it, which would have been nice. My one regret is that I gave the breadcrumbs a few too many pulses in the processor and they were too fine, I will leave them coarser next time.

1 Butternut Squash (about 2 lbs.)
2 tsp. Olive Oil
1/2 tsp. Fresh Ground Nutmeg
1/3 Cup Fresh Breadcrumbs / Panko
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Minced Garlic Clove
1 Tbsp. Finely Chopped Parsley
1/4 Cup Fresh Thyme Leaves
Salt and Peppersprouted kitchen

Oven to 400
Peel the squash (vegetable peeler works great). Slice it in half length wise and discard the seeds. Cut into 1/4'' slices.
On a parchment lined baking tray, pile the squash, drizzle the olive oil and the nutmeg and toss everything to coat evenly. All should have a thin coat of oil, amount may vary based on size of the squash. Spread them out in a single layer on the baking tray. You may need to use two, too much overlap won't yield a crunchy crust.
In a food processor (or magic bullet) pulse together the breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic, both herbs, a few pinches of salt and a lot of fresh black pepper.
Sprinkle the topping on the squash. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the tops are browned and the squash is cooked.

Friday
Sep232011

BAKED SWEET POTATOES WITH CHILI BEANS



I had a late night chat in the driveway with a friend a few nights ago that got me thinking about the things we do that make us feel "healthy." OK, first off, I love the driveway chat - you know, you're getting ready to head back home and then you kind of unload the stirrings of your heart in those last moments of conversation? "Yes, things are great, lovely to see you. But oh, hey, I feel like I may be going nuts!"- that's the good stuff. Anyway, we we're talking about how when life gets busy the first sacrifice is the "leisure" of doing the things that make you feel healthy inside. Hugh needs to read sometime during the day, the more the better, but always in the morning with his particularly perfect cup of coffee. Even when he has a list of things to do, he does this, and it has been a great example for me. Mine is a bit more literal in the way of feeling healthy, as I need to get out and move. Be it pilates, yoga, a long walk with a friend. Somewhere along the way, I picked up this impression that working hard meant not getting to do the things that make you happy/healthy, and in turn, me feeling guilty for going to pilates at 10:30 when I should be trying to come up with more recipes. There is actually a great article in this month's Whole Living about time, pretty interesting.

The thing is, especially during the current point in my life, where some days I am forcing out creativity, you've got to do the stuff that feeds your insides. Maybe those of you who actually do creative work, already know this, but if the hours of obligations and responsibilities aren't giving way to the things you NEED... find a way. The tai chi, brushing up on Spanish, volunteer work, hip hop class, vegetable garden etc... it fits in somewhere.

My sister chose a few meals to be delivered from me as her birthday present. The woman is picky about vegetables, textures and most things green. I mentioned her a while back. I made this for her so she had something easy to warm up while also being nutritious and filling. If you need to bring a meal to a friend who isn't feeling well, just had a baby, a new neighbor, or the like, it's easily portable and keeps for a few days. Serve it with a little side salad and ta-da! less time on dinner, more time at hip hop class, and such as :)

BAKED SWEET POTATOES WITH CHILI BEANS // Serves 4
The recipe includes cooking the beans from scratch, which is slightly time consuming (all be it, hands-off time). You could use well rinsed, canned beans to speed things up. I'd go one can pinto, one can black beans.

4 Small Yams/Sweet Potatoes
Heaping 1/2 lb. Pinto-type Beans, I used Rancho Gordo beans, soaked in water overnight.
2 tsp. Olive Oil
1 Yellow Onion
2 CLoves Garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. Chili Powder
1 tsp. Cumin
1/2 tsp. Paprika
1 tsp. Smoked Salt
28 oz. Can San Marzano Tomatoes

Cilantro
Chopped Red Onion
Avocado
Sour Cream or Whole Milk Greek Yogurt

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Pierce holes in the sweet potatoes/yams, lightly wrap them in foil, and bake on the middle rack for about 45-55 minutes.
2. Put the beans in a pot and completely cover with water, plus 2 extra inches. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 45-60 minutes until the beans are cooked through.
3. While the beans cook, thinly slice the onion. Over medium heat, warm the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot and cook the onions and garlic until softened. Add the spices and the jar of San Marzano tomatoes. If the tomatoes are crushed, great, if they are whole, just smush them to a puree. Bring to a simmer and reduce for about 20 minutes while the beans finish cooking.
When the beans are cooked, drain and add them to the tomato mix, cook another 10 minutes for all the flavors to marry. Taste for salt and spices, add more if desired.
4. Split open the baked sweet potato/yams and create a little cavern down the middle. Fill the cavern with the chili beans and add toppings as desired. I like a bit of avocado, sour cream and cilantro. You could go with a bit of shredded cheese and minced red onion... something tells me you've had chili before and know the drill.

Wednesday
Sep072011

PLUM TART WITH MASCARPONE CREAM



There was a piece in Sunset magazine from writer Anne Lamott awhile back, and I was redirected to it recently from Orangette. Anne Lamott is a great writer, I have read a couple of her books, and appreciate how she makes points with both humility and humor. The line that struck me the most was "Time is not free - that's why it is so precious and worth fighting for". I make plans with my sister-in-law months in advance, or start discussing a date for a dinner with friends weeks before it's a reality, but isn't that how time goes? We fill it up in trying to get the most out of it, and then end up a bit drained. I just think you should read the article, it will mean something.

I've been envisioning this tart for awhile now, after seeing the posts from the two ladies mentioned below. Hugh shakes his head when we do a post over something I haven't ever made before (which is actually pretty frequent). It is time consuming, especially at the moment while both of us have pretty full plates, but I took a chance. The crust is great, with a nice crunch of cornmeal, and not so much butter than you feel a bit of guilt with each bite. The plums are sweet, barely tart, with some nice texture from not being cooked much at all. Then there's the filling, which may have turned out a bit gooey on first run (I made changes below, don't fret!), but it tastes quite nice. We started this blog as a creative outlet - a place for both of us to collaborate on things we enjoy, food and pictures. The moment it becomes solely about perfect food and a perfect story and mass traffic, I'll have lost sight of why we started doing this in the first place. I love sharing this space, am grateful for relationships I've started and opportunities that have come from it, but every now and then, the tart turns out a little gooey, alright? We ate it anyway, cause time is precious, and if you're waiting for everything to be perfect... you're going to be doing a lot of waiting. Cheers.

PLUM TART WITH MASCARPONE CREAM
With influence from Not Without Salt and Beyond The Plate

As mentioned, the first time around I used honey and cream to thin out the mascarpone, which was unnecessary once it went back in the oven. Even if you want to play around with the sweetener, just make sure it is a dry one, as things melt during its second trip to the oven.

1/2 Cup Cornmeal
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1 Tbsp. Natural Cane Sugar
1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
4 Tbsp. Cold Butter or Coconut Oil
2-3 Tbsp. Ice Cold Water

4 Ripe Plums
1 Tbsp. Tequila
Bit of Orange Zest

1/2 Cup Mascarpone, room temperature
2 Tbsp. Muscavado or Brown Sugar

1/4 Cup Walnuts
2 Tbsp. Turbinado Sugar

1. The crust can be done in a processor, or by hand with a pastry cutter. For the processor, put all the dry ingredients in the bowl and give them a quick pulse to combine. Cut the cold butter into cubes, add it to the processor and give it a few more pulses so there are little pea size flecks of butter. Add the cold water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until the crust just begins to hold together (Alternatively, you can cut the butter into the flour mix with a pastry cutter, and add the water 1 Tbsp. at a time as well). Press the dough in an even layer, into a 11x5 rectangular tart pan and put it in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 400'. Bake the crust on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes until golden on the edges, remove to cool.
3. While the crust cools, cut the plum into thin slices and gently toss it in the tequila. In another bowl, mix the mascarpone with the honey. Chop up the walnuts pretty fine (you can use the processor, but I hate washing that thing), mix them in a bowl with the turbinado.
4. Set the oven to 475'. On the cool crust, spread the mascarpone cream, drain the plums if needed then layer them nicely on top of the mascarpone. Lastly, sprinkle the walnut turbinado mix across the top. With a rack in the upper third, bake it another 5 minutes just to toast the top. Put it back in the fridge to cool and set the cream. Eat it!

Tuesday
Aug302011

SWEET CORN CEVICHE



There is all this chatter about 'back to school' and I feel like I just got in the summer mood! Not that other people going back to school means that much to me, but I know what is coming. It is just around the corner when people will start talking pumpkin and apples and the holiday Starbucks cup. I still need to go for another swim in the ocean, have a beach picnic and make popsicles! Let's just enjoy the corn and tomatoes and peaches a bit longer. I can see those of you in other parts of the country, the ones enduring some crazy weather patterns, shaking your head.

As simple this recipe is, it needs some defense in case you are thinking it looks too basic. First off, I used the corn I got in my CSA basket this week from the organic farm down the road and OH MY goodness, it was unbelievable. It's the end of August, and if there is ever a time to find sweet, creamy corn from a farmstand or farmers market, it is now. I've watched enough documentaries on the food system to make the effort for organic corn, and besides the ethics of it, the flavor and texture is completely different. The raw corn kernels marinate and soften up a bit, absorbing all the flavor (hence 'ceviche'). You could very well eat this as a side salad, in a quesadilla, mix it with a bit of queso fresco and use it as a condiment for whatever you're bbq-ing. The finely chopped serrano brings the perfect amount of heat, enough to warm up your mouth but not send you searching for a drink. I know I already said this about the tomato soup, but I mean it, this recipe is only as good as the ingredients you use. It is raw corn after all.

SWEET CORN CEVICHE // Makes 2 Cups
Inspired by a picture in Food&Wine
I paid attention to chop the ingredients pretty small, as I wanted the corn to be the star, and the rest to merely compliment - I really think this made a difference.

2 Farmstand Corn Cobs
Zest and Juice of one Lime
1 Generous Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (use the good stuff)
1 Green Onion, finely chopped
1 Serrano Chile, seeded and minced
1/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro*
1/4 tsp. Sea Salt


1. Shuck the corn and use a sharp knife to cut off the corn kernels from all sides. Put them in a mixing bowl.
2. Add the zest and juice of the lime, good olive oil, green onion, serrano and stir to coat. Add the cilantro and sea salt and give it another stir. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes before eating for the flavors to blend. Taste for salt. Keep in a covered container in the fridge, it gets slightly more spicy with age.

* I know there are people who despise cilantro, but don't let that deter you from making this. You could substitute 2 Tbsp. finely chopped, fresh oregano leaves. It won't be quite as 'mexican' tasting, but it does need a fresh herb, and this is the second best option.