Thursday, November 5, 2009


There is a tree next to my garden that bears little, pear-apple like fruits known as quince. Quince! Too tart to be eaten raw, these little darlings must be coaxed into palatability through contact with heat. Heat, and lots and lots of sugar. However, with both of these things incorporated they transform from a dull yellow to a lovely pink. This difficult fruit's sweet interior thus been exposed, they blush from revelation. How adorable.

I tried two quince recipes today. One for poached quince with cinnamon and vanilla, and one for quince paste, which will be dried, sugared, and cut into squares for use with fancy cheese courses. The former is done, and has turned a lovely shade of pink, though the pieces of fruit themselves have deteriorated, much unlike the photo provided on The Wednesday Chef's lovely blog, where I got the recipe. The paste has yet to be scrutinized, as it's unfair to judge it while it's still cooling. The bits on the spoon were quite lovely, though.

As any functional alcoholic, my interest in the poached quince inevitably turned to the possibilities in a martini glass. Since the syrup in which the poached quince floats is nothing more than simple syrup with fruit flavoring, it can be incorporated into several alluring cocktails, the once most recently sampled being "The Quimlet", which is nothing more than a Gimlet with quince syrup instead of Rose's Lime Juice. Quite optimal, as far as girly drinks go.

The syrup itself is relatively easy, as long as you can locate the quince, which should be available in any reputable autumnal farmer's market, or in my backyard. If you're in the area, come help yourself!

Quince Syrup
Makes quite a bit.
[Adapted from the Wednesday Chef's Poached Quince with Vanilla and Cinnamon]

3 or 4 large quinces
2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean, split
4 cups filtered water

1. Peel, core, and quarter the quinces. This may prove more time consuming than you think, they're tough little buggers. Meanwhile, combine sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and water in a large pot. Heat gently til sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil.

2. Add quince to sugar solution and bring to just below a boil. Then, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for about 45 minutes, until the fruit can be easily stabbed with a knife. The syrup should have turned a lovely pink color.

3. Remove mixture from heat and let cool. Pass liquid through a strainer lined with cheesecloth to remove the bits from the syrup. Pour syrup into a clean, sealable, container and store in fridge. The syrup should keep for at least two weeks.

With your delectable quince syrup, you can make a batch of Quimlets!


Makes one quimlet.

You will need:

A chilled martini glass

3 ounces gin

1.5 ounces quince syrup

splash of soda

ice cubes

1. Combine gin, syrup, soda, and ice cubes in a shaker (or a glass, whichever) and mix vigorously.

2. Pour into chilled martini glass and enjoy with intelligent conversation and applicable cheese.

Woo! I also considered a Quin and Tonic, but haven't explored that. Maybe next drink.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress

A while ago, before embarking on my journey across the country, I decided that once I got to my destination, instead of directly looking for work, I'd spruce up all the beautiful raised beds that adorn the far side of the driveway at my father's beautiful Northern California home. Being excited at the prospect, I started telling everyone I encountered of my plans for the future.

"Oh yeah, my dad's got these great raised beds that'd be perfect for vegetables. I think he has five or six of them, maybe 4 feet by 8 feet each, and they haven't been touched for years. I'll spend a few weeks doing that and then I'll apply for jobs."

Hoo boy. I drastically overestimated the depth perception in my own memory. The beds are definitely 4 feet by 8 feet, but there are approximately 14 of them in various stages of overgrowth.

But, hey! That just means more room for delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers!

So I got some new shit-kickers.....

and started off. By the end of the first day, I was moving right along. The two little beds next to the grape arbor were to be sacrificed: the soil to other beds, the wood to a compost box, and the space to perhaps cultivate a nice spot for sitting under the grape leaves, on some sunny, far-off afternoon.

I'm glad I started out small. Getting two done in one day felt like a major accomplishment!

Before and after!

Woo! Fast forward to a week later: three of the 4x8 foot monsters had been cleared, tilled, and covered in newspaper, waiting to be planted with nature's bounty. A quick trip to the Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery in Sebastopol and I was all ready to go with mustard, kale, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, two types of garlic, shallots, and onions. After a long and exciting day of experimentation and planting, here was the result.

My fantastic handyman dad helped me out by making the lovely hogwire fence for keepin' out the critters. I wish it kept out slugs too, I understand they really like cabbage and broccoli. By the way, those two box-like things in the background were the little beds cleared out on the first day. Can't wait to get compostin'!

So here we go again! I have almost no prior gardening experience, so this should be a glorious experiment. I can already smell the shallots sizzling in olive oil, waiting to be paired with mustard, spinach, and garlic and served over polenta cakes fried in brown butter. Remind me to plant some sage. And some tomatoes. And some chardonnay.

The adventure continues! Even after this extremely satisfying day, more overgrown possibility looms on the horizon. And I just can't wait to get back!!!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sarah's Focaccia

Tuesday afternoon! The most cosmic time of the week, when everything gets done, according to Dan O'Neill.

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but what with relocating, gardening, cooking, and watching TV, it's been tough, let me tell you. Since my last posting, much has happened! I've moved back to California and am living with my dad once again, back in the land of cuisine, farmers' markets, and lots and lots of good ingredaments. So much to do! So much to see! So much to eat!

On my first weekend back in Bodega, I was invited to cater a party for dinner and breakfast. 17 for dinner and 14 for breakfast. All in all, it took 20 hours of prep work, 12 of which were on the day of the party. On the menu was barbecued lamb, greek style, focaccia with red skinned potatoes, rosemary, and onion, wild rice pilaf with carmelized onion broth, salad with lemon dressing, lemon chevre, and cranberries, with apple and pecan pie for dessert topped with real whipped cream. I didn't take care of the lamb, I left that honor to my father the grillmaster, but the rest was all me! Well, me and the avid volunteers at the party who were a great help.

Everyone was fed and no one complained. I'd say it was a great success!

The focaccia is quickly becoming one of my favorite party foods. It debuted at Sarah's birthday party/my going away party in Highland Park and was based on a delightful concoction that Sarah experienced on her trip to Italy. Here, for those of you who have been asking for it, is the recipe.

SARAH'S FOCACCIA (or, Focaccia with Red Skinned Potatoes, Rosemary, and Onion)
Base dough recipe taken from "Bread" by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno, page 107, there named "Focaccia con Olive"


For Dough:
2 tsp dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
pinch sugar
3 3/4 cups flour (any combination of wheat and white, although the more white, the tastier)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or rosemary)

For the Top:
5 red skinned potatoes
1 red onion
fresh rosemary
freshly ground pepper
olive oil

1. Sprinkle the yeast into 1/2 cup of the water in a bowl, adding a bit of sugar on top. Let stand for 5 minutes; stir to dissolve. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast.

2. Use a wooden spoon to draw enough of the flour into the dissolved yeast to form a soft paste. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let "sponge" til frothy and risen, about 20 minutes. (After the 20 minutes, the mixed portion at the center of the flour should appear spongy and will have increased in size).

3. Add the olive oil and the white wine to the well. Mix in the flour. Stir in the remaining water, as needed, to form a soft, sticky dough.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes (or, use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, kneading on low speed til smooth and elastic, while adding flour every so often). Work in the thyme or rosemary into the dough towards the end of kneading.

5. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise in a warm and relatively undisturbed spot until doubled in size, 1.5 - 2 hours.

6. Punch down and "chafe" dough: form the dough into a ball by cupping your hands gently around it. Apply a light downward pressure to the sides, while simultaneously rotating the dough continuously in a steady clockwise motion. Continue until the dough is formed into an even, round shape, for about 5 minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes.

7. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to form a circle or a rectangle, whichever your preference (I usually do a rectangle, but a circle might be quite striking), to 1/2 inch thickness. Place dough on an oiled baking sheet and cover with a dish towel. Proof until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (In my understanding, proofing is a second rise). About halfway through, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

8. Lovingly massage some olive oil onto the surface of the bread, and add thinly sliced potatoes and onion to the surface, leaving about 1-2 inches of clearance on all edges. Incorporate rosemary as desired, and drizzle the lot with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

9. Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Serves 6-10, depending on how hungry you are.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Couch Party

A few weeks ago we added a new member to our household. Namely, we purchased a couch at Ikea and now it really ties the room together. To celebrate, we gave a party. The first party that I have hosted since I lived in Santa Cruz! It was a long overdue, well attended, dessert and booze party, not unlike the wine and cheese parties long ago in a petit chateau by the sea. I wanted to design a menu that would be all inclusive, so we served sticky rice, pretzels, and vegan chocolate cake. As Ina Garten says (and I paraphrase) why emphasize dietary differences? Why not incorporate all tastes when giving a party?

Sticky Rice with Mango

Serves 2-4 for a sit down dinner, or 8-10 for a cocktail party

As seen on

1 cup sticky rice (I used sushi rice, seemed to turn out fine)
1 3/4 cups water
1 ripe mango, sliced
1/4 cup + 1 T brown sugar (I used white, seemed to turn out fine)
1 can coconut milk (don't use low fat, it's not the same!)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder dissolved in water

1. Soak the rice in 1 cup water for 20 minutes to an hour in the pot you intend to cook with.

2. When done soaking, add 3/4 cup (more) water plus 1/4 can coconut milk, and 1 Tbsp. brown sugar. Stir this into the rice, lifting any rice grains that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Gradually bring to a gentle boil, then partially cover with a lid (leaving some room for steam to escape). Turn the heat down to medium-low.

3. Allow to cook for 10-20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed by the rice. Remove the pot from the heat, place the lid on tight, and leave to "steam" cook for 5-10 minutes. The heat within the rice pot will finish cooking the rice.

4. Make sauce and serve the dessert right away, or store the rice (covered) in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
[To make the sauce, warm the rest of the can of coconut milk together with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla flavoring over medium heat (~5 minutes)]

5. Add cornstarch or arrowroot powder (dissolved in the water) to the sauce and stir to thicken it slightly. As it thickens, turn down heat to low. When thickened, remove from heat (this should only take a couple of minutes).

6. Before serving, taste-test the sauce for sweetness, adding more sugar if desired. If too sweet for your taste, add a little more coconut milk. If not sweet enough, add some more sugar.

The chocolate cake was modeled after the ecstasy cake that we used to serve at Chocolate, the most uppity bistro in Santa Cruz. It was a dark chocolate cake, soaked in chocolate syrup (the kind they make mochas with at Starbucks, not Hersheys). I was unable to find plain chocolate syrup, so I used mint chocolate syrup instead! No one complained.

Mint Chocolate Ecstasy Cake

Serves 4-12, depending on how hungry you are
Based on a recipe as seem on

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbs sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbs white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup soymilk

1/3 cup mint chocolate syrup, plus more for serving
Fresh mint leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan (or a comparably sized springform pan or pie plate). Combine in the pan (not a separate bowl) the flour, cugar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Shake around to combine.

Make three holes in the mixed dry ingredients. Pour the oil in one hole, the vinegar in another, and the vanilla in the third. Pour the soymilk over the whole shebang and mix well. If you scrape some of the grease and flour off the pan, it's not the end of the world.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan. When cake is cool, pour the chocolate syrup onto the serving plate and set the cake on top. Dust the top of the cake with the remaining chocolate powder.

To serve, pour about a tablespoon of syrup onto plate and set the slice on top. Garnish with fresh mint.

I made the mistake of garnishing my cake with powdered sugar instead of chocolate powder. It just made it look moldy, so I don't recommend it.

Ahhhh. A good time was had by all and now we have a couch! It's so wonderful. Too bad it only sits two people so most of us had to stand for most of the party. I'd say the dancing was all the better for that fact!

Silly hats only!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lessons (Learned) in Crepemaking - Or - How to Make Two Delicious Breakfasts from One Disastrous Dinner

Let me just say up front that I used to make crepes for a living. Crepes and bubble tea, day in, day out for almost a year. I could make a crepe with one hand behind my back. Or rather, one hand hanging in a sling in front, as for the first two months of my tenure at the Ambrosia Cafe I was nursing a fractured elbow. People used to comment with wonder about it, although the tips never matched their enthusiasm.

Until last week, I hadn't made a crepe since I left that establishment. Some strange passing fancy convinced me that it might be fun to make an asparagus mushroom sauce as a crepe filling, as suggested by Ms. Katzen in the Moosewood Cookbook. I made the sauce, which was a disappointing color, but tasted delicious nonetheless. The filling thus complete, I started on the crepes. The batter is very simple: flour, milk, egg, and salt. I used a combination of white and wheat flours to create a cross between the savory and sweet crepe. My first try was an egg, asiago, and prosciutto crepe to use up the half an egg leftover from the crepe batter. It turned out pretty deliciously, if a little burnt. The rest were rather a disaster. The pan was too hot, and I lacked the proper equipment so most of the crepes came out broken and a little smoky. In the old crepemaking days, we had crepe irons and proper long thin spatulas that were easy to shove under a crepe in progress to flip it over. Alas, with my clunky thick spatula and frying pan, I definitely needed to practice more. But no matter. Once they were filled, they'd no doubt look stunning as they had in my crepe fantasy, right?

WRONG. I lined each broken crepe with prosciutto and asiago and filled them with the sauce and stuck them in the oven to heat and melt together. They looked OK in the dish when they came out. When I put them on the plate, they just looked awful. They tasted OK, but it was very hard to hide my disappointment in them from my dining companion, who tried to assure me of their merit in taste, but to no avail. How pathetic.

Two mornings later, we still had a bunch of asparagus mushroom sauce left over. Matt, who has still been experimenting with omelettes, suggested that we try to put some in an omelette. We ended up going a scramble instead, and it was just divine. Yep, scrambled eggs with asparagus mushroom sauce, asiago cheese, and prosciutto (and ketchup of course) with some homemade bread and coffee. The next day we made breakfast tacos, with the same variation of eggs and sauce, but with added chopped tomatoes, swiss cheese, and salsa on top. Had the tortillas been bigger, they would have been burritos.

The two great breakfasts definitely outweighed the horrible dinner. However, if you'd like to try crepemaking, I'd suggest using a seasoned cast iron skillet that's been well oiled on medium high heat. You can put almost anything in them, but I'd recommend starting with ham and cheese variations, chocolate and fruit, nutella and whipped cream (add the whipped cream after you cook it!), ibarra and nuts, peanut butter and jelly, or anything else you feel like!

Basic Crepe Batter Adapted from "The New Moosewood Cookbook"
Makes 8-10 7 inch crepes

You will need:
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
Oil for the pan (spray works fine!)

If you're making savory crepes, try substituting half the white flour with whole wheat flour. If you're making sweet crepes, use all white flour, omit the salt and add 1 Tbs. sugar.)

1) Place egg, milk, flour, and salt in a blender of food processor and whip until smooth (or just whisk).

2) Heat your pan. After a few minutes, lightly brush (or spray) its entire surface with oil. When the pan is hot enough to sizzle a drop of water instantly on contact, pour in approximately 1/4 cup batter. Slowly tilt the pan in all directions until the batter thoroughly coats the bottom. Pour off any excess batter (the crepe should be thin!). Cook on one side over medium heat until set (about 20 seconds), then flip over and cook for just another second or two on the other side.

3) At this point, put any filling on top of the crepe and wait for it to melt (or set, or get hot). Fold the crepe in half and remove from the pan. At this point, serve whole or in slices. Repeat as many times as it takes to satisfy! If you're left with extra batter you can't finish, cook crepes and put them aside on a clean, dry, dinner plate. They will safely stack, and not stick.

4) Cover any unused crepes with plastic wrap and refrigerate until use. They should keep well for several days.

-to reheat, fill as desired and warm in a 325 degree oven-

If asparagus mushroom omelettes sounded great to you too, here is the recipe for the sauce, also from Miss Mollie. If you prefer to do your savory cooking in the evening, it's great for pasta.

Miss Mollie's Asparagus Mushroom Sauce (also from "The New Moosewood Cookbook")

Makes 4-5 servings, or 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts for 2 people

You will need:

1 1/2 lbs. fresh asparagus
2 Tbs butter
1 1/2 cups sliced onion
1 tsp salt
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp tarragon
black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine (I used 2/3 cup of vermouth instead. tasted fine)
1 cup water
1 to 2 Tbs. flour (depending on how thick you like it!)
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced

1) Steam the asparagus until just tender. Transfew to a colander over a sink and refresh under cold running water. Drain well and set aside.

2) Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add onion and salt and saute for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, tarragon, and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3) Add booze and water. Turn up heat until the liquid boils. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking constantly until it completely dissolves. Lower heat, cover, and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook about 5 minutes more. Set aside until serving time.

4) Add asparagus at the last minute and enjoy in the manner of your choosing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Catfish Tacos

So there is this great burrito cafe on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland that we affectionately call Baja. They have the greatest fish tacos in the world. They are also the home of the 18 dollar steak and lobster burrito. My friend Bryan got it once and he said it wasn't that great. However, that's the first time I've ever heard of anyone saying anything from Baja was "not that great", but it was an 18 dollar burrito. One of the best parts is that they have a nice little array of cheap drinks. Four dollar margaritas, mojitos, and cuba libres to accompany your chicken taco plate smothered in mole and sour cream. Yum.

My friends Bryan and MLE went out to Baja without me one time and brought me a fish taco. Although it was lukewarm, it was still the most delicious taco I've ever had. Blew those ridiculous expensivos across the bay at Mijita out of the water. Nicely fried fish, excellent cabbage relish. I tried to recreate them tonight, and I must say to my credit, that I was close!

Catfish Tacos (makes 4 big tacos, or probably 6 small ones)

You will need:

(for the fish)
About a pound of catfish, tilapia, or a similar boneless white fish
1/3 cup fine cornmeal
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 peanut oil
1 egg, beaten

(for the cabbage relish)
1 1/2 cups purple cabbage, shredded
2 small ripe tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeno, minced with seeds (if you like it spicy)
1 shallot, or half a red onion, minced
juice of 1 lime or 3/4 lemon
2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar
*If you like cilantro in your salsas, put a handful of chopped cilantro in too.

AND you'll need some tacos.

About an hour before you want to eat, prepare the relish by combining all the vegetables together in a tupperware with a lid and sprinkling the citrus juice and rice vinegar over it. Fasten the lid on the container and shake it up to combine. Chill for at least a half hour to combine the flavors while you prepare the fish.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees, unless everyone is standing around the kitchen watching you cook and waiting to sit down to eat.

Combine the cornstarch and cornmeal in a bowl and keep near the bowl with the beaten egg. Slice the fish into manageable portions (deck of cards size or smaller). Put the oil in a preheated frying pan and wait til it's hot. (It's hot when you drop it a breadcrumb and it sizzles)

When the oil is hot, bread the fish pieces (by dipping first in the egg and then in the cornmix) and fry about 2 minutes on each side. Depending on the size of your frying pan, this may take a few batches. If the oil starts to get low, add some more!

When the fish is fried, put it in an ovensafe dish and place in preheated oven to keep it hot until you're ready to eat.

When you're ready to eat, put the fish in the taco and top with the relish. Serve with beans, rice, and cuba libres.

Cuba Libres

(Makes One)

1.5 - 2 oz light rum
juice of half a lime

Combine all in a glass with ice and a toothpick parasol.

(I guess it's just a glorified rum and coke, but cuba libre just sounds so much better.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Still Life With Breakfast

Ah, the first and arguably the finest meal of the day. Such limitations and possibilities together. I live with a man who has an extremely rigid concept of what can be constituted as "breakfast food". Basically, if it ain't eggs, it ain't breakfast. I think he'll on occasion make an exception for lemon pastries with coffee coffee coffee, and tofu is also accepted now, but isn't that funny how no other meal has as closed a set of items as breakfast has. Eggs, toast, coffee, tea, donuts, hashbrowns, orange juice, pancakes, french toast....sometimes pie and cake.....sometimes champagne......what is the common element? A split between indulgence and nutritional responsibility? Some people have smoothies with protein powder. Some eggs and bacon or tofu and toast. Some have donut holes and frappacinos. Some poor buggers have nothing at all....

Breakfast is such a powerful time. You roll out of bed, groggy and disoriented, perhaps rubbing the last bit of a lingering rush of caffeine. Or perhaps not, if you're one of those who can thrive without it in the morning. Bully for you. The rest of us prepare our morning libations with ritual even if it's so old hat now that most of us don't think to notice or enjoy it. I still try to. My french press has become a good friend of mine, one with whom I share a friendly conversation each morning as it helps me to become human again.

Such wonderful things we have for breakfast. My gentleman friend has taken it upon himself lately to practice the art of the omelette. He's doing very well, they look and taste extremely professional, although I still must take mine with ketchup. My boyfriend doesn't understand this, although he puts cold tomato sauce on his when it's available. I have a friend who has told me on several occasions that if we had met in elementary school, we would not be friends. She refused to befriend anyone who put ketchup on their eggs.

She is a woman of principle.

I believe the best album for breakfast is the Velvet Underground and Nico by the Velvet Underground. Sunday morning just lends itself to brunch, especially if you are still a little drunk from Saturday night or it is raining outside. Satie and David Bowie are pretty good too.

I have another good friend who throws breakfast parties. Not exclusively, but more often than not. Almost always on a Sunday morning, my friend invites a few people to his sunny and cluttery kitchen for a mimosa, a mocha, and crepes. Oh, all kinds of crepes! And always glorious ones. Having spent years perfecting his crepe technique, he can now put just about anything inside a crepe successfully. My personal favorite is parmesan and prosciutto, although the chocolate jam ones are also divine. I can think of no place that I would rather spend a Sunday than in my friend's kitchen for a breakfast party, drinking champagne and talking about wonderfully fascinating things from japanese film to his nephew's obsession with trains to anything else under the sun. Perhaps it's the champagne that makes the conversation flow so. It's so extravagant drinking in the mornings. But what better time to start, really?

He also taught me how to make fantastic french toast.

And here are some bagels I made. They are excellent for breakfast with cream cheese and jalapeno jelly.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cheesy Romance

My mother's best friend gave me a copy of Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" a few birthdays ago and it's been staring at me expectantly from the shelf ever since. Although I greatly admire her, I have been wary to delve into one of her recipes mainly because they are expensive in so many ways; in time, in energy, in currency, and in fat. But you do have to live a little sometimes.

I decided last week to make French Onion Soup as it's been dreadfully cold and I just got some new oven safe bowls. In the past, I have used Mollie Katzen's Onion Soup recipe which has always been pretty good, but not fantastic. Good on the first round but upon reheating you have a bunch of fried onions in a watery soy sauce broth. I love Mollie, don't get me wrong, but her recipes need a little rounding out with some animal fat every now and then. So, I decided to try Ms. Child's version, which included french vermouth AND fine brandy. Well well well.

Of course, I am still a twenty something and cannot keep liquor in the house, especially not FINE brandy, so this warranted a trip to the liquor store. I emerged after procuring a tiny little bottle of E&J (fine enough for me!) and an economy sized bottle of Martini and Rossi.  I was also making a curried chicken salad so I got a tiny bottle of chardonnay as well. Pete's Liquor store on Easton is fantastic for cooking alcohols in any size to fit any budget.

It was a fine soup indeed. I was pleased as punch when it emerged bubbling and steamy from the oven, despite the fact that my bread had disintegrated partially into the soup. Oh Julia, she warned us about that too, "Be sure you have a homemade type of bread with body here because flimsy loaves [like Stop and Shop 100% Whole Wheat] will disintegrate into a slimy mass[.]" (pg 19). But it certainly was delicious.

And we both enjoyed it.

The biggest learning experience, however, was through the salad. Usually I think of myself as a reasonably good vinaigrette maker (I thought that adding mustard to one's balsamic mix was the height of cleverness and sophistication) but Julia had more to teach me on that front. I thought it might be fun to make a lemon and oil dressing for my arugula salad with bleu cheese and currants so I checked out what she had to say about it. Turns out all my vinaigrettes in the past had been all off. No wonder people's eyes watered so much when I made them salads; they certainly weren't tears of joy. The vinegar-oil ratio was TOTALLY WRONG. Here's what she had to say about proportions:

"Vinaigrettes, as dressings for green salads are usually called, are made with all vinegar, or all lemon juice, or a little of both. Although standard proportions appear to be 1 part vinegar or lemon to 3 of oil, I think this makes far too acid a mixture, especially when you are serving wine with the meal. I opt for the dry martini proportions, 1 to 5; but you must judge this yourself for each salad. You can always toss in a little more lemon or vinegar if needed, but it's hard to remove or disguise an excess." (page 350).

I was fascinated enough to try it out. Here's the recipe for any budding vinaigrette fans out there!

Julia's Oil and Lemon Dressing (the Master Recipe!)
For about 2/3 cup, enough for 6 to 8 servings

2 strips of fresh lemon peel (1 by 2.5 inches each) [I just used zest]
1/4 tsp salt, plus more, if needed
1 Tbs Dijon-type prepared mustard
1 to 2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup fine fresh oil [olive was delicious]
Freshly ground pepper

Special Equipment Suggested: A small mortar and pestle, or a heavy bowl and wooden spoon; a small portable beater or wire whisk.

Mince the lemon peel very finely with the salt, scrape it into the mortar or bowl, and mash into a fine paste with the pestle or the spoon.

Beat in the mustard and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice; when thoroughly blended, start beating in the oil by droplets to make a homogeneous sauce - easier when done with a small electric mixer. Beat in droplets more lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Emulsion Note: Slow additions or oil and constant beating make the emulsion here, and if the sauce doesn't "take" - too bad - just beat it well before using. Or whisk in a spoonful of raw egg white, heavy cream, or condensed milk, which should bring it together. For security, these could be added at the beginning, with the mustard. (Pages 350-351, The Way to Cook)