Category Archives: Seasonal Cooking

Olive Oil Cake with Orange Marmalade

Guys? Guys. So I made this cake.

What cake?

This cake. A whole cake. A layer cake, of a Sunday evening, just because I wanted cake.

Because I wanted cake.

It wasn’t a birthday, it wasn’t a holiday, no company for dinner, it wasn’t because of some pre-lenten must-eat-all-the-sugar cake feeding frenzy. It was, simply, because I wanted cake.

(I have to say, as I write this someone nearby is outside in the rain barbecuing chicken and it smells heavenly. Now I want barbecued chicken. Anyway.)

I made this cake for me, and for Nick of course, but mostly for me. I never bake cakes just because. I bake them because people are coming over, because we’ve been invited somewhere, because it’s a holiday and I’m one of The Bakers in my family, et cetera, et cetera et cetera. Do I ever bake a cake just for me? Never. Or, rarely.

She’s a simple cake, though, with humble larder ingredients, just a few eggs,  no butter, no mixer involved. Me, a whisk and two bowls. An hour of sitting on the sofa watching That Touch of Mink, et voila, cake.

The cake by itself is a beaut, but I made a ton of Satsuma mandarin marmalade around Christmas time after buying a boatload of them and some Clementines at the grocery store and finding we’d crapped out on eating them. We always devour the first two bags with reckless abandon, and then *poof* the orangy magic is gone and they sit in a bowl on the table composting. So I made marmalade, and we aren’t even marmalade people.

I adapted my recipe from here, cutting the oil back to just one cup, and lowering the sugar to 1 1/4 cups. The orange liqueur if you’re using it is plenty sweet, and even if you use all orange juice and not the hooch it’s still sweet enough. Cake doesn’t have to hurt your teeth to be tasty.

Also, no frosting on this one. I considered making a nice dark chocolate glaze to pour over the top layer, but meh. It sounded fussy and it was late and Sunday and rainy, and just like that the thought was gone. I used a bit of powdered sugar on the top just to make it pretty, but it would have been just as lovely without it.

While this cake is humble, simple, and let’s just be frank, not a looker, she makes up for all of it with a gentle crumb, moist (and I hate that word but it just fits), orangy and lovely and perfect, with a cup of tea and an old movie. And while this is the simplest of cakes, don’t keep it from company. It’s most definitely a crowd pleaser.

Olive Oil Cake

Olive Oil Cake with Orange Marmalade
Makes 1 9″ cake, serving, 12ish.

2 c. flour
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. EACH baking soda and baking powder
1 c. good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 c. milk
3 eggs
Zest of one large organic orange
1/4 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 c, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or more orange juice
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. orange marmalade
Powdered sugar, for dusting, if desired

Preheat oven to 350*F, line the bottom of a 9″ cake pan or springform pan with parchment (if your pan has sides less than 2″ tall, separate into two cake pans, this is a tall cake). Spray with olive oil spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour through the baking soda and powder together with a whisk. In another smaller bowl, combine the olive oil through the vanilla extract, whisking together until incorporated. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry with that same whisk, mixing well so there are no lumps. Dump it into the pregreased cake pan (or pans), and bake at 350*F for an hour or a bit more, until a cake tester comes out clean (If you’re using the two cake pans, start checking after 30 minutes). Remove from the oven and set aside on a rack to cool, about an hour.

Remove cake(s) from pan(s). If you used a single tall cake pan, bisect the cake across the equator and gently lift the cake top to a plate, with the top of the cake laying on the plate (trust me). Gently shmear the marmalade on the exposed surface of the cake and top with the upper layer. Use the plate you set the top on as a vehicle, this cake needs a bit of gentle handling and even pressure. If you used two cake pans you’re home free, level out the top of the lower cake layer with a knife, apply marmalade, and top with the second cake half (use the more handsome of the two as your upper cake layer). Dust with powdered sugar and serve in large wedges.

Tuna Noodle Salad with Fennel and Preserved Lemon

We’ve talked before about how tastes and foods stick in our heads until we just have to get of our arses and make them. I woke up on Sunday morning and after coffee and cruising the interwebs, I realized I wanted tuna macaroni salad. I NEEDED tuna macaroni salad. But the version I make most times has a ton of mayo and is heavy and it just didn’t sound quite right. I make it a lot in summer, on a cool weekend morning before the heat climbs the walls of the valley, so it has plenty of time to cool and the few simple ingredients have time to mingle and get to know one another. The one I made yesterday was a bit different, not by much but it has fennel, which I don’t normally add, and a big hit of lemon, which I also don’t normally add and now I’m wondering why the hell I don’t, because it made this AMAZING.

The end result of this is still a cool, creamy pasta salad, with lots of bright springy flavors since we are now in March and I feel like it’s time for this. Northern California hosted some much needed rain over the weekend and between you and me it can rain all month long, we need it so bad. But I want cleaner, brighter flavors and veggies and springiness too. Sundresses and rainboots for a while, I guess.

On another note, I made preserved lemons a few months back, as a friend of ours has a very stout but robust Meyer lemon tree in his yard and begged me to take a few grocery bags home (!). Who can turn down giant bags of Meyer lemons, amirite? I came home and squeezed, zested and preserved my little black heart out for a few days, canning lemon juice for lemonade this summer, making limoncello, and preserved lemons, as well as my dear mother-in-law’s amazing rosemary lemon roast rub (which has now become our very favorite). It was a friggin’ ton of work but I have a whole cabinet of lemony goodness, and didn’t waste a bit of those lemons. I should do a post on the preserved lemons too, because they came out so damn good and are stupid easy. They add a huge boost of flavor and a bit of savory sweet saltiness to dishes. If you think I’ve lost my mind and have no idea where to find them, you can get them at fancy-pants gourmet grocers or Indian markets a lot. In the absence of one of these options or the will to go find them, you can use good old fashioned lemon zest and it’s just as tasty.

Pasta Salad

(I really have to find my real camera, sorry for the blurry cell phone pics as of late.)

Tuna Noodle Salad with Fennel and Preserved Lemon
Serves 4

For the salad:
2 cups of small pasta (elbows, mini-wheels, mini bowties, etc.)
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and fronds saved
1/2 small red, orange or yellow bell pepper
2 stalks of celery
2 small or 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1″ long matchsticks
3-4 large radishes, thinly sliced
1 small can of tuna (the regular ol’ sized can, water or olive oil packed, you choose)
1/2 of a preserved lemon, rinsed well, white pith and lemon flesh removed and discarded, and chopped finely
-OR-
Zest of one lemon

For the dressing:
2 T. good quality olive oil
3 T. lemon juice (if you’re using zest instead of preserved lemon, zest off the whole lemon before squeezing)
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 T. fennel fronds, from
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Start a pot of water to boil for the pasta, and boil according to package directions. When it’s done, drain and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, fennel fronds, mayo, and taste. Adjust for salt and pepper to your liking.

Very thinly slice the fennel bulb, or if you have a mandoline deploy it for the slicing. Chop the bell pepper and celery, matchstick the carrots, slice the radishes, and add to the bowl, along with the fennel and the preserved lemon or lemon zest. Drain the can of tuna and add to the bowl, and give everything a good stir. Add the pasta while it’s still warm, and combine everything well. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Moroccan Spiced Chicken and Vegetables

We eat a large amount of chicken in this house, in many forms. Baked, grilled, slow cooked and shredded, in stir fries, as tacos, in pasta, on salads, on sandwiches. You name it. It’s a good, cheap protein, I get whole organic free rangers and stock up on parts and pieces and the Busy Housewife’s Best Friend, the boneless skinless chicken breast, when they are on sale and freeze them in small or individual portions for quick thawing and use.

I get sick of the same old standbys, though, and am constantly trolling the web and my copious number of delivered periodicals for something new and exciting in the world of poultry. I do a lot of marinading and grilling, we roast whole birds a lot, and there’s almost always a lemon involved in either of these. Booooring.

When my new magazines arrived a week or two ago, I got my requsite glass of wine and hunkered down for some digging and drooling and dog-earing of pages. I love when my magazines deliver each month, it’s one of my favorite little self-indulgences. When I was young and quite broke and could ill-afford a night out, I would go to the grocery store and treat myself to a magazine and microwave popcorn and would entertain myself for hours.

Anyway, I digress. I happened upon this recipe and was so excited that I had the spices and some chicken in the freezer, and it sounded perfectly aromatic and yummy and most of all, healthy, with a big fat pile of veggies and some lemon-scented quinoa on the side.

Fast forward to today when I want to share the recipe with you, and damn if I can’t find the magazine it came out of. I have more than a few issues in the pile, and cannot for the life of me remember which one it was in. I guess it’s OK? I only used it as a guideline anyway, but I like to credit my inspiration. Luckily this will eat at me until I find it later this weekend, and I’ll drop in the credit then.

I made mine with bone-in chicken thighs and it was so yummy and juicy, all warm spices and succulent chicken. I’m generally a white meat chicken kind of girl, but roasted or grilled thighs are awesome. To lighten the dish a bit next time I’ll pull the skin off of my portion of chicken and then coat with the spices, as I peeled the crispy bits off and gave them to Nick this time around and my spice coating went with it. Le sigh.

I threw in a handful of Brussels sprouts with mine, but it was a decidedly odd choice as they are not Moroccan and didn’t exactly fit into the whole of the dish. But they needed using before composting in the crisper, and I didn’t want to dirty another dish, so into the pot they went. Next time I think I’ll double the carrots or maybe cube up some sweet potato.

We decided these would be equally yummy with the spice rub applied and then grilled, instead of pan roasted, when the weather gets a bit warmer. Adding that bit of smokiness to the exotic spice blend would be, in a word, amazing.

Moroccan Chicken

Moroccan Chicken and Vegetables
Serves 4

4 bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 t. each: cinnamon, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika
3/4 t. salt
2 t. olive oil, divided
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced on the bias into 1″ pieces
1 yellow onion, sliced
1/2 c. dried figs, sliced in half or quarters if large
Lemon-Scented Quinoa, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 400*F. In a medium bowl, combine the spices and 1/2 t. of salt. Add chicken to the bowl, drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil, and rub the spices into the chicken well.

Heat a large oven proof skillet over medium high heat and add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil. Place chicken skin side down in the pan and sear until golden, 3-5 minutes. Flip the chicken and brown the back side. Remove to a plate, and add the carrots and onions to the pan, sauteeing until the onions start to loosen up and cook a bit, 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle in figs, and add the chicken back to the pan, skin side up and on top of the carrot/onion mixture. Put into preheated oven and cook until chicken is done or a thermometer inserted into it registers 170*F, 20-25 minutes. Serve with Lemon-Scented Quinoa.

Lemon-Scented Quinoa

1/2 c. red or white quinoa, rinsed if it needs it
1 1/2 c. water
Zest from 1 lemon (try to get organic, so you aren’t eating the wax they put on conventional lemons)

Bring water up to a boil in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Pour in quinoa, stir, lower heat and simmer without peeking for 15 minutes. Add in lemon zest, stir gently, and allow quinoa to sit for 5-10 more minutes or until all water is absorbed. Serve. Leftovers make a great lunch salad with a handful of crunchy veggies and /or nuts and some dried cranberries.

Smoky Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Anyone pinching pennies knows that brown bagging (or cute coolering) one’s lunch saves a bunch of money on a weekly basis. I take myself out for lunch every now and again, but I really try to bring something every day.

I had a soup a week or so ago when I was under the weather that I’ve been dying to knock off. It was a vegan sweet potato soup with chipotle powder that was so silky and wonderful, I was sad that I didn’t buy the larger size. The nice man running the soup and prepared food counter at my favorite little lunch spot in walking distance of my office winked at me when I asked for the recipe, which told me I was on my own.

I bought some sweet potatoes at the store this weekend and roasted them last night, knowing I would make this soup tonight to tuck into my lunches all week long. it’s not vegan, but it’s still healthy, clocking it at under 250 calories a serving. A slice of buttered sourdough toast and a glass of hearty red wine were the perfect end to a cold winter’s day, and I have plenty for lunch for the next couple days.

IMG_8680 (1)

Smoky Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
Makes 4 generous servings

2 lbs red skinned sweet potato
1 T. butter
1 c. diced yellow onion
1/4 to 1/2 t. chipotle powder (start slow, this soup gets spicy quick. You can always add more but can’t take it back!)
1/2 t. smoke paprika
1 t. fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
1 quart of chicken stock
1 t. worcestershire sauce
1/2 t. molasses
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350*F. Wash sweet potatoes, pierce with a fork, wrap in foil and bake until easily pierced with a sharp knife, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle (potatoes can be roasted and stored in the fridge, still wrapped, for 2-3 days prior to use. Let them come to room temperature before using).

Melt butter in a 6 quart pot over medium low heat, add onion and saute until onion is soft, 3-5 minutes. Stir in chipotle powder, paprika, and rosemary. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out of the peels, dropping them into the pot and mashing with the spices and onion (I peeled them and squished them with my hands before dropping into the pot, it was so much fun). Stir all together and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Pour in chicken stock, Worcestershire, and molasses. Add about a teaspoon of salt and simmer all together for 15ish minutes. Puree in a blender in batches or grab a stick blender if you have it and puree the soup until it is smooth, uniform and silky. Season with pepper and a bit more salt if you’d like, and more chipotle powder for the daring. Serve in warmed bowls with buttered sourdough toast for dipping and bowl wiping.

Manifest Sticky Bun

I’m struck with cooking ideas at times that just won’t go away until they manifest themselves into a real life scenario. There I was, sitting on the sofa with the cat, reading and enjoying my coffee, and had a need for cinnamon rolls. Our little hamlet is 10 minutes from anywhere that would have one worth driving for, and even if I could muster the gumption to get dressed and go there is no guarantee that one would be waiting for me. I could make my own, but the mixing and rising and punching and all just sounded so unattractive, This, and I wanted a cinnamon roll before 2:00, and classic risen yeast ones weren’t going to be ready.

I dropped the idea, and drank my coffee with Ted. Read a chapter and thought ‘we could make biscuit buns, ones that don’t take rising time.’ Meh, dropped it. Read another page, ‘Pumpkin biscuit sticky buns?’ That one got me off the sofa. Ted stayed put.

I mishmashed a couple of recipes, most notably the spiced pumpkin biscuit recipe on Cooking Light as the base. Made those, rolled them out thinner and into a big rectangle, added cinnamon and brown sugar to the middle, and placed in buttered muffin tins. Topped with vanilla glaze when cool, and voila, a pumpkin sticky bun in no time flat.

 

Pumpkin Sticky Muffin

 

Pumpkin Sticky Muffins (Sticky Buns? Sticky Bun Muffins? I can’t decide)
Makes a dozen

Biscuit dough:

2 1/4 c. all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/4 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t. salt
5 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. buttermilk, cream or half-and-half
3/4 c. canned pumpkin
3 T. honey

Filling:

2 T. melted butter
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 c. chopped pecans (optional)

Glaze:

6 T. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 T half and half

Preheat oven to 350*F, and lightly butter a standard 12 hole muffin tin.

Thoroughly combine flour through salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse mea. In another small bowl, combine combine the buttermilk, pumpkin and honey. Add wet ingredients to dry, and combine  until the dry ingredients are just moist.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 4-5 times. Flatten it out into a rectangle with your hands, and using a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a roughly 9×13″ rectangle, about 1/4″ thick, making sure one of the 13″ edges is closest to you.. Brush surface of dough with butter, and brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts (if using( over the dough, leaving about 1/2″ space on the long edge furthest from you. Starting at the long edge closest to you, gently roll the dough up and seal at the blank long edge, using a bit more butter if needed to close the dough. Cut into 12 even-ish pieces using a serrated knife, and place cut side down into the buttered muffin tin. Bake at 350*F for 25-30 minutes until lightly brown.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze:

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, vanilla extract and half and half in a small bowl. When sticky buns are cool enough to handle, remove to a plate and drizzle with icing.

Get up already

Hold the phone. In cruising the internet the other day I came across this recipe.

Yes. Bacon. Booze. Maple. Popcorn. Popcorn popped in bacon grease. With dry roasted peanuts. What’s not to love here?! I have no words, I have no description, but I have some advice: Be sure to make it when you can give it away IMMEDIATELY, because eating the whole tray is not good for one’s diet aspirations.

Why are you still sitting there? Take this in the kitchen and get busy, kids!

Tipsy Maple Corn
Adapted from Food52

This recipe makes a boatload. I found that I had a good amount of the syrup left over (which is fine, we’ll drizzle it over ice cream or something), but if you want to use the whole of the syrup for the corn, increase your popcorn by 1/4 cup, popping it in batches. Read the whole recipe first and then attack, as the coating method used here is different than regular caramel corn.

  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease, or non flavored vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/3 cup bourbon (they used Jack Daniels, and I had none. So bourbon it is.)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts
  • 3 pieces prociutto, lightly fried until crispy, and minced (they called for pancetta; again, working with what I had here. Good smoked bacon would work too. Use about 3 oz. total)
  1. Place the bacon grease in a 3 quart dutch oven with a lid. Add the kernels and place the covered pot over high heat. Once the popping begins, gently shake the pot to keep the kernels from burning. Once it is done remove the lid and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In another small pot add the bourbon and heat it to burn off the alcohol and reduce it by half. Add the syrup and butter and heat until the butter is melted, whisking to combine.
  3. Place the popcorn, peanuts and the prociutto into a large mixing bowl. You want to sprinkle a little of the syrup over the corn a little at a time. You want to stir as you do this. Take your time otherwise the corn will saturate with syrup and collapse and just be gooey. (OK, here’s what I found: I drizzled on just over half of the syrup IN TOTAL, adding just a bit at a time and stirring thoroughly, Heed this warning and go sloooow, stirring a lot with a pair of spatulas before drizzling on more syrup. Reserve the remaining syrup.)

  4. Once it is coated put it on a sheet tray and spread it out, giving it a couple of dashes of freshly cracked black pepper (less than 1/8 tsp). Then place it in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10-12 minutes. I drizzled on just about half of the remaining syrup on the first turn, turning to coat (there was a bit left on the bottom of the pan that caramelized and crackled).  Corn will not be completely crispy on the finish, but it will dry as it cools and get a nice kettle-corn type coat on it.

I also transferred mine to a layer of paper towel on a clean baking sheet, so some of the butter could absorb off of the corn. It was a tad oily when it came out of the oven. But LOOK at this halloweeny, crispy, bacony goodness:

Toast and Jam

Well, how has your summer been so far? Are you crossing off summery Bucket List items left and right, or are you taking a more relaxed, lazy approach? I’m doing a bit of both this year – being blessed with the time to relax and do more than I’ve been able to do for many summers. The weather has been mild and not too hot for the most part here on the West Coast. There’s been camping, barbecues, playing at the river, and of course some jam making.

Oh, the jam making. I was blessed with two HUGE boxed overfilled with the most beautiful plums. Not sure what kind they are? I don’t think they’re Santa Rosas, anyone with more fruit identification skills out there have any idea?

They’re juicy, with creamy yellow- to red fleshy interiors. And they aren’t free stone (bummer). Not being free stone they are a bit of a (read: complete) pain in the ass to process, as you have to cut them off the pits in order to glean any kind of flesh from their little bodies. But darn they’re tasty.

I’ve processed about 15 pounds of them so far, and have about, oh, 30 left hanging around, as evidenced by that picture above. Nick said to me very seriously yesterday that no one expects me to process all of these plums, we can use what we want and dispatch the rest. The only thing holding me back from canning them all is the sheer number of jars that it would take to can this many plums. (Those of you in the immediate area, the plums that are going to land on your front porches in the next 24 hours are not from me). I’ve already blasted through a flat of pints and a flat of half pints making Cinnamon Plum Jam and a batch of Savory Plum Chili Sauce, both of which came out great.

The Cinnamon Plum Jam was a new one for me this year. I found this blog a few weeks ago, and when I read this recipe I knew I had to make a cinnamon-laced plum jam of my very own. I know many of you out there are pectin purists, which translates that you don’t use any. Hats of to your skills! I am impatient and can’t handle stirring over a hot cauldron for the amount of time it takes to process fruit without pectin, so I use it the majority of the time. I plan to get out my big girl pants and make a pectinless version with some of these plums, but for now I made the recipe on my pectin box and dropped two 3″ cinnamon sticks into my hot lava jam boil, fishing them out before I canned it up. The result was a lightly scented and flavored jam of the most luxurious taste and texture. Just look at this:

The ultimate jam test, though, is how it tastes on toast. I am deeply in love with toast; heavily slathered with salted butter, seared under the broiler and not in the toaster, rendering the outside crisp and leaving the inside soft. And folks, I’m proud to announce that I found THE BEST bread recipe, which gave me the most amazing toast I may have ever had. No kidding.

Ordinarily and up to now, sourdough toast is my favorite. Being blessed with true San Francisco sourdough in my Outer Bay Area existence has spoiled me and mine with some of the best bread on the planet (should I ever have to give up gluten, well, perish the thought). This new bread is gently sweet, with a nice light crumb. Nick and I agreed that it smelled like graham crackers when it was cooling on the rack. Waiting for it to cool was the longest hour of my life.

The best part about this new loaf is that it’s a no-knead loaf, with only one rise. These two caveats make this a great loaf even for a beginning baker, especially one with yeast terrors. You literally mix it up, plop it in a greased loaf pan, let it rise, and bake it off. And for singletons and/or couples who don’t eat a lot of bread, it only makes one normal sized loaf. Between the ease of the recipe and the yield this might be the perfect sandwich loaf. The recipe has a lot going for it.

Those of you that do bake bread are going to see that it’s 100% whole wheat and doesn’t call for vital wheat gluten to help with the rise, which struck me as odd (and made me excited, since I’m too cheap to buy a bag and thus have none). The bread rose like a champ on my counter,  gaining lofty altitudes high above the edge of the loaf pan. It rose a bit more in the oven, with a gently browned crust, and popped right out of the loaf pan after a brief respite on the counter. In short, even in the long version of the story, this bread is perfect. And the toast this morning? Heavenly.

No-Knead 100% whole Wheat Bread
from King Arthur Flour website

Makes one nice loaf

1 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil (mmm…butter)
3 tablespoons molasses, maple syrup, dark corn syrup, or brown sugar corn syrup (I used dark molasses)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk (I used nonfat and it worked just fine)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour, white whole wheat preferred

Heavily grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan. This loaf tends to stick, so be sure to grease the pan thoroughly with non-stick vegetable oil spray.

Combine bine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Beat the mixture vigorously for about 3 minutes; an electric mixer set on high speed works well here. You should have a very sticky dough. It won’t be pourable, but neither will it be kneadable. Scoop it into the prepared pan. (Take some care to level it out and push it into the corners of the pan. It may fight a bit, but you risk an uneven loaf if it isn’t leveled out.)

Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes; it should just about rise to the rim of the pan, perhaps just barely cresting over the rim. (I let mine go a full hour and it rose about 1/2-3/4″ above the pan.)

Preheat oven to 350*F. Uncover the bread, and bake it for about 40 to 45 minutes, tenting it with aluminum foil after 20 minutes. The bread is done when it’s golden brown on top, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers between 190°F and 195°F. Remove it from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out onto a rack. Brush with melted butter, if desired; this will keep the crust soft (I didn’t bother, and the crust was still soft the next day). Cool the bread completely before cutting it.

Putting it together

I was on my feet all day working a wine event and realized I didn’t have a dinner plan. The horror. Being food obsessed, this isn’t something that gets past me very often. I make my meal plans for at least 4-5 days at a span so I always have something yummy in the wings waiting to be prepared. That day, though, my mind was melting in the heat and my best-laid plans were all but gone. This, roughly translated, means that nothing that I had on my plan sounded good.

When I hopped in my car at the end of the day and tried to put something together that wasn’t a vat of frozen yogurt consumed in an ice cold shower. Something that didn’t require standing up too long since my dogs were barking, and something that was tasty and cool and refreshing, that didn’t require an additional trip to the store. Once I had slipped in to the sublime coldness of my air conditioned car I wasn’t getting back out until I was home sweet home.

I first made this shrimp cocktail many years back on an equally mind-melting night. I packed up my picnic hamper with cold beer and fresh tortilla chips and went over to Nick’s house, where he had a pool and air conditioning (I had neither of these things). We sat on the deck in the breeze and stuffed ourselves with chips and shrimp cocktail and ice cold beer, and declared this dish a withering-heat winner.

Food Purists take note: yes, I do know that this isn’t traditional ceviche. For those who are unsure what ceviche is, it’s fish and seafood cooked only with citrus juices, generally lime, whose acids ‘cook’ the fish. But Rick Bayless knows his Mexican cuisine, and I trust his naming of this concoction. It’s very similar to the coctail de camarones you get in a Mexican restaurant. And yes, it calls for ketchup. Think of it in this application as a pre-seasoned tomato sauce base (and don’t even try to use tomato sauce as a substitute, it won’t taste the same and you’ll be severely disappointed. You’ve been warned).

One could go about the shrimp preparation a number of different ways. The suggested poaching in lime water makes for succulent, soft shrimp, but in a pinch I’ve poached them with out the lime water when I didn’t have enough for the completed dish. I’ve also made this with defrosted, precooked, previously frozen deveined shrimp and no one was any the wiser. It’s a great dish to take to a barbecue or potluck, as well as for company. It’s surprisingly filling, too. So on a hot night when you have some folks over, a margarita or two or some icy cold Mexican beer and a great big communal bowl of this is a festive alternative to a sit down dinner. Make it ahead and stir in the avocado just before serving (it gets cloudy otherwise), serve some grill-roasted corn on the cob with chile powder and lime, and it meets or beats every taqueria whose coctail de camarones you’ve dared to try. Give it a whirl, you won’t be disappointed.

Ceviche de Camaron: Shrimp Ceviche “Cocktail”
by Rick Bayless, via Epicurious

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound unpeeled smallish shrimp (I prefer the ones that are 41/50 count to a pound)
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce (such as Tamazula, Valentina or Búfalo, the latter being on the sweet side)
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jícama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
Salt
Several lime slices for garnish
Tostadas or tortilla chips, store-bought or homemade or saltine crackers for serving

1. Cooking and Marinating the Shrimp.
Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes. Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Peel and devein the shrimp if you wish: One by one lay the shrimp on your work surface, make a shallow incision down the back and scrape out the (usually) dark intestinal tract. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour. Spare yourselves, kids – get the shrimp that are already peeled and deveined. No one will know but you.

2. The flavorings.
In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

3. Serving the ceviche.
Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime. Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside. We dispense with the additional dishes and eat it out of the big bowl like savages. You may do as you wish, it IS lovely in a tall glass with a couple of shrimp hanging off the side, with the extra lime slices and cilantro sprigs.

Working Ahead:
The ceviche is best made the day it is served. The flavorings can be added to the shrimp a few hours in advance.

Hearthside Happy Hour: Sangria

In typing the title there, I realize that I’m going to have to rename this series of segments someday, as we have no hearth in our new home.

I’m going to be so, so sad about that come Fall. But right now, it’s springtime and sunny. And there’s a festive reason to eat and drink this weekend (though you know me, I don’t need a festive reason to do either of these things).

I got an email from a reader (remind me to teach you guys how to comment soon) asking about a Sangria recipe, as there are many out there and they vary widely in ingredients and additions. Some call for lemon lime soda, some call for orange soda, some call for orange juice, some call for brandy and some don’t, ad nauseum. I’m here to tell you, it’s going to depend on how sweet you want your punch. I personally like to let the fruit and wine do the talking and let the sweetness take a back seat. This is a twofold preference, as the sugar added to the red wine makes for a Wicked hangover if you have too many. And a red wine drunk is bad, but a red wine hangover is awful.

Or so someone told me.

Here are a handful of tips:

  • Make your sangria at least 4 hours before you’re serving it and stick it in the fridge. This will help with keeping it cold later.
  • If you are heeding my advice and making it hours ahead, add the sparkling water just before serving (and make sure it’s cold before adding).
  • Use an inexpensive red wine, but not an out-and-out cheap wine. I prefer using Yellow Tail over Two Buck Chuck.
  • I personally like my Sangria a little less sweet, and so I use mineral water or club soda in place of the lemon lime soda. You may do as you wish, but in my personal polls most people dig it without the sweet soda. It’s more refresca that way.
  • You can easily sub in white wine for the red if the mood strikes you.
  • For a larger party or open house, I like to make fruit skewers to put into the glasses and serve the punch from a dispenser. And I drizzle my skewers with a little bit of Triple Sec for some added kick.
  • Speaking of fruit, the I list the basics in the recipe. You can add strawberries, blueberries, apple slices and melon cubes to your skewers or serving glasses.
  • And if you are using additional fruit in your dispenser or punch bowl, wash and freeze it prior to adding it to the container. Helps keep your punch cool.
  • If you’re using a beverage dispenser, do yourself a favor and pick the seeds out of the citrus. Nothing slows a party down like having to disassemble the nozzle and pry out a seed. And it’s not as easy as it sounds.
  • And last but not least, adding ice cubes directly to the Sangria if you’re serving it punch bowl or dispenser style will water it down in a hurry. Keep the ice on the side and let people fill their cups with it on their own.

And without further ado, here’s the recipe.

Sangria
Makes 8 servings, and scales up easily

1 750-ml bottle of dry red wine
1 1/2 cups of club soda, mineral water, or lemon-lime soda (regular or diet)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 lime, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 orange, thinly sliced
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup sugar or honey or agave
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, etc.)

Combine all in a large pitcher and let sit for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Serve over ice with additional lemon, lime and orange slices, and any other fruits you wish.

Cinco de Mayo ~ Taco Bar and Side Dishes

A taco bar is one of the easiest, most festive buffets that you can lay out for people. I love having sit-down dinners for a handful of people, but sometimes we have open house-style get togethers where people are coming and going throughout an afternoon and it’s nice to be able to have food come out in waves, or to be able to replenish as the day goes on. With a little bit of careful planning and menu construction, you can have a full-blown taco bar for an entire day.

My favorite taco bar set-up includes the following:

Carnitas or Carne Asada
Margarita Marinated Chicken or Shrimp
Tortillas, corn and flour (because my gringo self loves a flour tortilla)
Salsas, rojo and tomatillo (green)
Diced green onions
Pickled red onions
Shredded cheddar and crumbled Cotija cheese
Shredded cabbage or iceberg lettuce
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedges
Many, many hot sauces (and in fact I have been known to host a hot-sauce competition, getting everyone to bring one and we vote on which is best)
Fruit salad
Black bean and corn salad (mine is similar to this one, without the salad greens and sometimes with cucumber instead of mango)
Tortilla Chips
Refried beans
Guacamole (lots and lots of guacamole)

And of course, beverages:

Sangria Rojo (or Blanco, but only if the weather is REALLY hot)
Mexican beer selection
Lots of cut up limes

What, no margaritas? Depends on the size of the crowd, but usually, no. I’m too cheap to buy stuff for marges, because I only like them top shelf. Tequila also has a way of turning a party into a Par-Tay so I usually steer away from it. I never turn a soul down that wants to bring them, though.

As for folks bringing things, you can make this a less expensive party if your friends are like ours and offer to bring things. Make a list of what you want on your bar (or snacks you’d like to have) and when people ask, say ‘why yes, if you’d bring four avocados it would be awesome!’ You can also word your invitation to have your pals bring a bottle of inexpensive red wine to keep the Sangria pot full or a 6 pack of their favorite Mexican beer. The hooch is by far the most expensive part of a party but spread out this way it becomes a lot more affordable for everyone involved.

On  my taco bar, the condiment that always seems to fly off the buffet, that I can never seem to make enough of, is the pickled red onions. They’re not traditional by any means, but a smattering of them gives a nice vinegary brightness to the food that cuts through the richness of the fillings. And they are so, so easy to make.

Pickled Red Onions

In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Bring up to a simmer, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar and salt.

Meanwhile, dice a medium-large red onion and place in a non-reactive, heat proof bowl or jar (I use canning jars for this). Pour your vinegar mixture over the top of the onions, submerging them in the liquid. Make these several hours ahead of time so they can really get pickle-y, or even a day or two ahead and cross it off of your list.