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He says Uh-Oh, I say Tomatoes! Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Posted by Grace in from the kitchen.
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We’re up to our ears in tomatoes around my neck of the woods at the mo.’

This isn’t a problem for me, because tomato is one of the staples in my diet; but my poor brother, who is not a huge fan of them is having some issues with the mountain that seem to be coming inside every time anyone goes out to the garden.

The thing is, he will eat just about anything if it’s covered in cheese. (Funny, I’m that way with tomato, or gravy, or chocolate…) I seem to have made a hit today with a cheesy tomato-y tart.

Tomato Tart with Cheese and Thyme

pie crust to line a 9-inch tart pan

1 1/2 pounds garden tomatoes of mixed variety, sliced 1/4 inch thick

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, sliced into thin rings

1/2 C cream

2 sprigs of thyme leaves (maybe 1 to 1 1/2 tsp)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 C grated aged cheddar

Roll out your pie crust to 1/4 inch thick. Line the pan, pressing the crust into the sides. Bake, weighted, in a 400 degree oven 15-20 minutes, and then an additional 5-10 uncovered to let it brown up.

While the baking is going on, brown the onion slices in the olive oil in a heavy pan, transferring to a plate when finished. Pat the tomato slices dry and then start them caramelizing in the same pan, 2-3 minutes per side, adding them to the plate with the onions once they are finished. Do this in batches so as to not over crowd the pan.

Add the cream, thyme and garlic to the remaining juices and simmer, reducing by half. Season it with the salt and pepper. Stir in most of the cheese. Pour the sauce into the cooked tart shell and top with the onion and tomato. They should lay mostly flat, so that you can see all of the pretty concentric circles. Sprinkle it with the remaining cheese. Replace in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

I used a mix of all of the tomato types we’ve got in the garden, because we’ve got some crazily flavorful heirlooms that gave it a different taste, but any kind of tomato you have available to you should work. Also, mix it up with the cheese you use, if you give this a try, because I just used what we had in the fridge.

Bon appetite!

Summer Kisses and Drunken Cherries Friday, August 22, 2008

Posted by Grace in from the kitchen, until the wheels fall off.
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…And then I don’t post for eleven days. Ha ha.

Cherries always make me think of kissing. The bite of flavor from one gives me a similar rush to when a certain someone’s lips are on mine. That, and the taste of cherries takes me right back to my first kiss.

I was working up at one of the national parks for the summer, not too many years ago, as a camp counselor. It was Saturday afternoon, in that gorgeous space of time when one week’s campers had left and the next week’s weren’t going to arrive until the next morning. That left the entire camp: kitchen, cabins, beach, canoes and kayaks to the camp staff.

A group of us counselors had hiked the hour or so into town, to pick up various amenities that had run out over the week. Candy, soap, sunscreen, etc. At the tiny general store, which carried everything from swim suits to screw drivers, I purchased a bag of cherries.

When we got back from the excursion, some of us went to suntan or nap, and the rest of us headed to the beach to swim.

Sitting on the dock, drying in the sun, we talked of schemes that seem to bubble up in camp counselors left to their own devices.  How long would it take to swim across the lake? Lifejackets would slow us down, wouldn’t they? How could another fan be jerry rigged into action in stifling hot cabins with a single electrical outlet? Do we have enough finger paint left from last week to make a mural on a staff cabin wall?

People gradually started to head back to shore from the floating dock, taking with them their sandy damp towels and half empty bags of chips, candy and fruit that had been contributed to the floating smorgasbord. It was starting to get cool, so the last of us started to pick up our stuff. I folded up my towel and zipped the top of what remained of the cherries.

As I stood up he stepped in and I was face to face with TM. And he smiled, took my hand in his, and kissed me.

… Neither of us heard the end of it the rest of the summer.

Drunken Cherries

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs dark cherries

2 C red wine

½ C sugar

2 strips of orange peel

1 stick of cinnamon.

In a saucepan, bring everything but the cherries to a boil for a couple minutes until it gets syrupy. Let cool. Strain out orange peel and cinnamon stick.

Put the cherries in a bowl that has a tight fitting lid. Pour syrup over cherries. Cover and put it in the fridge. You’re going to want to let it get happy for a couple of hours, or even make it a day ahead.

When you’re ready, ladle them out into cups or bowls. They’re great by themselves, but even better over ice cream.

Eight Days a Week Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Posted by Grace in graceisms.
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‘Tis the eight meme. I’ve seen it about, and thought I would give it a try.

Eight passions in my life:
People: there is so much you can learn about the world and yourself from people. So much you can experience and grow from. Some people do well, looking inwards to themselves. I am a people person, I need people.
Making tasty food for people to eat: I love food, and have been raised in a family where food is love. Ever heard the saying food is the way to a person’s heart? It works.
My friends and family: If I’m passionate about people, wouldn’t it go to logic that I’m passionate about the people I love? No further explanation needed.
Being active: because your body is the greatest tool you’ll ever have.
Love: showing it to others, and fostering the relationships that direct it at me.
Learning: the more I do it, the more I realize how much there is out there to know and how little I really do know which makes me want to learn more.
Painting: It’s one of those things I just get lost in doing. Hours of a brush, acrylic or oil, and a canvas can take you almost anywhere.
Experiencing the world: There are so many beautiful and new things out there to do.

Eight things to do before I die:
Marry a man I’m madly in love with.
Continue to be that madly in love until death parts us
Have children: I think four is a good number for me
Write a book and get it published
Make or garner a scientific discovery
Open a restaurant
Spend time by the ocean: I’m thinking Atlantic, but any one would work
Show the people most important to me how much I love them on a daily basis

8 Things I often say:
What do you think about…?
giggle: Not actually saying it, but doing it. I laugh a lot and am prone to getting the giggles. Does that count as something you say?
You always have a choice.
Wait…. What?
But why?: It seems I ask a lot of questions. Inquisitive? Yeah, a little.
… makes me melt: That’s right, it’s my phrase. Things I like make me melt. I’m pretty sure I’ve used it on here before. I’m not sure where I got it from or where it came from if it is original.
Hello: After some thought, I say this very often. Most people do.
Come cuddle: I’m one of those people. I cuddle.
What are you hungry for?: I cook for others, often. I like to involve them in the process at least that much. They can choose but I shall make.

8 Books I read (or reread) recently that I enjoyed:
The Four Fires – Bryce Courtenay
The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
Venus as a Boy – Luke Sutherland
Brother Fish – Bryce Courtenay
The Fabric of the Cosmos – Brian Greene
Feersum Endjinn – Ian M. Banks
Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures – Vincent Lam
Textbooks, which I am lumping into one category

Eight songs I listen to over and over:
River Man – Nick Drake
Vienna – Midge Ure & Eddie Izzard at Live 8
No More Named Johnny – Hawksley Workman
We’re in this Together – Nine Inch Nails
If I had a Hammer – Gord Downie & the Country of Miracles
One by One – Billy Bragg & Wilco
When the Stars Go Blue – Ryan Adams
The Drugs Don’t Work – Ben Harper
so very difficult to whittle down to eight, there are many

Eight things that attract me to my best friends:
Knowing they will stick through with you, high tide or low
Being able to laugh at every day things
Their being open minded but opinionated
A certain measure of vim and vinegar
Their talent for mischief
Their enormous propensity to be generous and kind
Their honesty
Their deep understanding that friends can be, and are, family.

Song of the Day: Eight Days a Week – The Beatles

 

My Way Out: Auntie’s Brownies Friday, February 29, 2008

Posted by Grace in from the kitchen, marble & holly.
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The marathon of exams, that’s three in sixty hours, is coming to a close. Just 12 more hours until the last one, and here I am, washing the flour off my hands to write a post.

Why does she have flour on her hands? I imagine you readers asking. It is because that is what happens when I feel stressed out and need to take a second to escape. I bake.

Strange coping mechanism, I agree. Lots of difficult exams to write? It would seem logical to be perusing that last textbook, doing sample questions for the umpteenth time, but who ever said that I’m always logical? I am in the kitchen, amongst the cocoa and the sugar. And as soon as this gets typed up, I’ll be back to the books. I promise.

Though cupcakes would be nice to bake too…

I’ve been like this since I started cooking, standing upon a chair pulled up to the counter so I could reach, beside my grandma, or my mother, or (my kitchen idol) my grandpa’s little sister, who we will just call Auntie. Being in the kitchen, doing that alchemy of taking raw ingredients and putting them together just so to make something divine, has always been a very tranquil place for me.

When I visit said Auntie, we invariably end up making something. Either she has a new recipe she wants to show me, or I’m asking about how to make some particular request. And she tells stories of wee little me becoming overwhelmingly engrossed with cooking. The hyper, bouncing off the walls little girl becoming tranquil if she had flour on her hands.

So this post is for that special Auntie, as this is her recipe. They’re perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth, or a need to escape from studying.

Farmer’s Brownies

1 1/4 C Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Salt

3/4 C Butter

1 C Brown Sugar

1 C Granulated Sugar

4 Eggs

2 tsp Vanilla extract

1 C Chopped Walnuts (optional)

Melt butter over low heat in saucepan. Let cool.

Blend together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Beat cocoa, both sugars, eggs, and vanilla into the melted butter. (You really do want to let it cool or else the eggs will start to cook, yuck!)

Stir in dry ingredients and walnuts.

Spread batter in 9X9 inch pan. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes.

Sometimes simple is best.

Song of the Day: My Way Out – David Usher

I’ll Cover You Monday, February 18, 2008

Posted by Grace in eating crackers in bed, from the kitchen.
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Yesterday, the rescheduled Valentine’s was rescheduled again because Fearless has come down with a serious bout of the flu.

I went to his place at the time he had given me, dressed for the weather as I was told to do. And when I rang the buzzer, there was no answer at the door. I was confused at first, wondering if I had forgotten I was supposed to meet him elsewhere? I got out my phone and dialed his number.

The door opened. It was him, looking like death warmed over, wearing naught but a pair of gray sweats.

It’s Sunday? He asked, voice a little raspy.

I didn’t answer. You’re sick?

He ushered me inside. His movements were slow, very out of the ordinary because he normally carries this kinetic energy that buzzes from him. He grabbed a blanket from the floor, where he must have dropped it, and plunked down on the couch. I’m sorry about Valentine’s. He proceeded to lie down again.

The caregiver in me kicked in (as it always does), Have you eaten anything today?

He pointed at an open but untouched looking packet of soda crackers and said, Keep throwing up.

Are you staying hydrated?

He lifted a bottle of water from his side.

I fluffed the pillow under his head. He started to mumble something about moving Valentine’s to another day again, but I shushed him, gave him a kiss on the forehead, and told him I was going to make him some chicken soup. Fearless started to protest; he’s such a protector, he likes to do the taking care of, not be the object of it. Luckily, he was tired and weak from being sick, so protesting didn’t get him very far.

I whipped up a simple stracciatella, the perfect thing for a sensitive tummy, and brought him a new glass of water.

He ate, got sick, and tried to eat a little more. I got him into his bed, solved his achey muscle issue with a long massage, and just sat with him for a while in the quiet. He kept saying sorry about Valentine’s day, he had so much planned; but really it wasn’t bad at all. I got to spend a quiet day pampering my man and showing him I care. The only thing better would have been if he wasn’t sick.

Valentine’s has been moved again, to as soon as he’s feeling up to snuff again. From talking to him today, it seems he already feels much better. I hope work tomorrow doesn’t make him any worse, it sounds as if it’s going to be a rather intensive day.

Stracciatella

7 C Chicken Broth

1/2 C Orzo (my personal choice for this) or other small pasta

2 Eggs

1/3 C Grated Parmesan Cheese

2 Tbsp Chopped Parsley, fresh is best but dried works too

Pinch pepper, to taste

Bring six cups of the broth to a boil, reserving one cup. Stir in orzo or other pasta, and cook until al dente.

In a bowl, whisk together eggs, cheese, parsley, pepper, and reserved broth. Gradually pour mixture into boiling broth, stirring constantly until the eggs break into strands.

Serve!

Song of the Day: I’ll Cover You – RENT

She’s So Hot… BOOM!: Chocolate Lava Cakes Sunday, February 10, 2008

Posted by Grace in eating crackers in bed, from the kitchen.
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What better than to follow up the first, cold part of the weekend with something luscious and hot?

Quintessentially female, I have quite a love affair with chocolate. I made them for Fearless earlier in the week, and he loved them too! I’m lucky the recipe makes a bunch, because he didn’t want to settle for just one. He was a lucky man because I let him take some of the extras. What can I say? Food is love! They’re just perfect little personal cakes of pleasure, ready to go the way of volcanoes at the first touch of a spoon. Each mini cake is baked with a truffle in the middle, and as the cakes bake, the truffles melt. Just divine!

1. Truffle

4 oz bittersweet chocolate

1/3 C whipping cream

2 tbsp Bailey’s Irish Cream (or other preferred liqueur, Bailey’s is my personal favorite)

In a saucepan, heat whipping cream over medium heat until steaming. While waiting for the cream to heat, chop up the chocolate and place it in a bowl. When the whipping cream is ready, pour it over the chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the liqueur, and then refrigerate until firm. That takes about an hour.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with plastic wrap. Spoon mixture into eight mounds onto the sheet. Roll them into balls. Cover and freeze until firm, around four hours.

While you wait, grease eight 3/4 cup ramekins lightly, these cakes are sinful enough without adding a lot of extra butter.

2. Cake Batter

3/4 C Butter

3/4 C White sugar

12 oz Bittersweet chocolate, chopped

4 Eggs

4 Egg yolks

1 tbsp Vanilla

1 C All purpose flour

In a bowl set over a saucepan of hot, but not boiling, water, melt the chopped chocolate with the butter. Let cool.

In another bowl, while the chocolate bowl is cooling, beat the eggs, extra yolks, and sugar until thickened. (Takes me around 5 minutes, but I guess it depends on your skill at beating eggs) Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in the flour.

Spoon half of the batter into the prepared ramekins, and then place a frozen truffle in the center of each. Cover with the remaining batter.

Bake with ramekins on a baking sheet on the center rack of a 350° oven for 22 minutes, or until the centers are sunken, soft, and shiny. Let cool until you can just handle them. Gently loosen edges with a knife, and unmould onto plates. Serve immediately.

They’re beautiful little cakes, that so far haven’t ever failed to impress. The person who taught me the recipe serves them with a Crème Anglaise flavored with the same liqueur, but I find the cakes rich in and of themselves, and skip it. They’re great when you have people coming over for dinner, or any other time, but then you don’t get to finish them all right when the cakes have come out of the oven and are perfect. Though, a little reheating and treating yourself the next day or for a midnight snack isn’t uncalled for…

Song of the Day: She’s So Hot… BOOM! – Flight of the Conchords

The Sweetest Thing Thursday, January 31, 2008

Posted by Grace in eating crackers in bed.
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I was sitting in the science library, with my organic chemistry lab partner, attempting to figure out a particularly difficult problem via teamwork. It wasn’t going very well, despite the fact that he and I tend to be a rather formidable team when up against the most heinous of organic questions.

My cell phone started to ring. I rushed, digging through my purse to stop the ringing, but still received a couple of glares from surrounding students in the moment it took. I told my lab partner that I would be back in a moment, and made for the exit.

It was Fearless. He asked, Hey, where are you?

I’m at University, like I always am on Thursdays at this time of day…. aren’t you at your school? (He goes to a different University).

I know you’re here, but where here?

Um, outside the entrance to the Science Library? Why?

Okay, I’ll be there in a minute. And then he hung up.

I waited outside. What else could I do? I was wondering what he was up to, because he was supposed to be in classes at his University, and we hadn’t planned anything.

When Fearless arrived, quite soon after, he didn’t explain anything, he just told me that we had somewhere to be. When we went back into the library really quickly, to pick up my books, my lab partner just smiled.

We left the building and headed across campus. I wasn’t sure where we were going, we left the complexes that most of my classes are in, and I began to wonder how he knew where we were going, because he isn’t a student here. He just smiled and told me he knew where he was going.

We entered the ecology building, a building that until this point I had never been in, and he lead me to the atrium that attaches the buildings to the greenhouses. Great big windows showed a variety of plants.

Well, he explained, finally, I made us lunch. And at least this way it can seem like we’re outside without freezing our asses off.

He surprised me with a picnic at the end of January. It was perfect.

Song of the Day: The Sweetest Thing – U2

Fisherman’s Blues: Coming Home to Soda Bread Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Posted by Grace in from the kitchen, marble & holly.
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My Grandma, a transplanted product of the Green Isle, has never served a meal I’ve attended without soda bread. My mom, who isn’t Irish at all, tells stories about meeting my father’s family and wondering why they always ate that ‘funny, dense, nutty bread.’ It’s tradition that Grandma has just never let go of.

I learned to make this bread standing on a chair at the counter beside her, listening to stories of about my grandfather, her husband, who worked on ships before they came here, and how he would come home smelling of salt in the evening for a warm meal with this ubiquitous bread.

Not being in that household for every meal, the habit of eating it with every meal hasn’t been instilled in me to its full extent, but there is little else so comfortable as a thick slice of soda bread, warm from the oven, with some butter or some home made jam.

Grandma’s Brown Soda Bread

1 C All-purpose flour

1 C Wholemeal flour

3/4 C Rolled oats

1 1/2 tsp Baking soda

1 1/2 tsp Caraway seeds

1/2 tsp Salt

1/2 C Cold butter, cubed

1 C Buttermilk

2 Tbsp Molasses

In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients (that would be the first six, for those of you who may wonder). Add butter cubes, and use two knives to cut it in until mixture gets fine crumbs.

In a different bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and molasses, and then add to the dry ingredients. I suppose you don’t have to mix the two together beforehand, but doing so lets the molasses distribute evenly. Mix together just until combined; do not overwork!

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 8-10 turns, just to even it out. Form into a round loaf, and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cut a cross into the top of the loaf, and bake at 375 until the edges go golden and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Those are the cooking rules I’ve been told, but it generally takes about 45 minutes.

Often, soda bread comes with raisins, it just depends what you’re eating it with. If you want the raisins, add a handful in the mixing process before you start kneading.

I have found that substitutions for the buttermilk do not go over well, as the loaf won’t turn out with the gorgeous tender crumb that soda bread is famous for. Also, after some conversations with non-family members, I’ve learned that molasses isn’t the most common ingredient to use in soda bread, and have tried other recipes without, but this is the one I’ve been raised on, so I’m sticking to it.

Song of the Day: Fisherman’s Blues – Kilt

Louisiana Bayou Saturday, January 12, 2008

Posted by Grace in from the kitchen.
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The kitchen has always been somewhat the heart of the home I grew up in. It is a place where advice is given, relationships are discussed, stories are told, food is prepared and, in my case, a lot of singing and dancing goes on.

I play music when I cook. I have since I started cooking when I was still rather small. And, as things tend to go with music and myself, a good deal of silly dancing about and singing along soon follows.

A few evenings ago, after getting back from classes (yes, classes have started up again), I decided to whip up a nice hot pot of my Jambalaya. So I turned on my Creative Zen, put on my headphones, and got to the chopping, browning, stirring, singing and dancing.

After I got it simmering away and I was giving it a last good stir before covering, one of my ear buds decided to escape. I guess I have small ears? The buds just never sit right, and then proceed to fall out at inopportune times. With quick reflexes, I saved it, but it still got a little wet. They don’t work anymore. Anyone know of any good ear buds that are small-er?

Anyways, the recipe.

Jambalaya

12 oz chorizo sausage, sliced

4 chicken thighs, skin removed and cubed

1 medium onion, chopped

3-4 stalks celery

1 green pepper

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp basil

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper to taste

1 28 0z can diced tomato

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup water

2 cloves of garlic, very fine chop or through a press

1 1/2 cups parboiled long grain rice

12 large raw shrimp, thawed, peeled and deveined

In a large Dutch oven, slowly bring up heat and add sliced sausage. As fat renders, increase heat to medium-high, and brown. Transfer into a bowl, leaving behind fat. Add the cubed chicken (I prefer a fine cube, it cooks faster and is more bite size, but its really up to you), and brown well. Place chicken in the bowl with the cooked sausage.

Drain the Dutch oven of the majority of fat and decrease heat a little so that when you add the vegetables (onion, celery, and green pepper) to saute and caramelize, they do not stick to the brown bits on the bottom of the pan and burn. Mix regularly, because that is what they’re going to want to do. While waiting for the veggies to brown, I like to run the thyme, oregano, paprika, cumin, basil, salt, pepper and cayenne over with the mortar and pestle to increase their aromaticity. When the onion starts to turn golden, the vegetables are done so it is time to add the crushed seasonings, bay leaves, sausage and chicken.

Give it all a mix until you can catch the aromas of the herbs. Add the can of diced tomatoes, liquid included, the chicken stock, and the water, and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom. Bring to a boil, and then decrease heat so the oven holds a low, even simmer.

Normally, the garlic is added with the onion, celery, and green pepper, but I find I get the acrid overcooked garlic flavor in the jambalaya if I add it then. I add it here, after the liquids are put into the Dutch oven, so that it heats through and the flavor comes out, but you don’t get the acridity.

Add the parboiled rice, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes until rice becomes tender. If you happen to have leftover rice in your fridge, I find its okay to just add that in, making sure it isn’t in big clumps, but then you just want to simmer until it can heat through.

Stir in the shrimp, and cook, stirring, until they become pink. It should around 5 minutes, but probably a little less. You don’t want to cook them much longer than that, or else they get overcooked and rubbery.

This recipe will generally last two suppers in our house, but if you aren’t a fan of leftovers (I like it better the second day), you can half the recipe, or if you have got a crowd coming, it is easily doubled.

Song of the Day: Louisiana Bayou – Dave Matthews Band