Category Archives: Food

Blush My A**


Okay, so I’m about to go out on book tour again, and there is something needling me– just a wee needle in the otherwise massive haystack of life and its challenges. Allow me to rant a bit.

Rosé is often my go-to selection when it comes to wine. I love it. And I’m not talking about Lancers. Or White Zinfandel. Or Blush. Some of you might love that pink sweetness and that’s just fine with me. It’s none of my business. Personally, it makes me gag and I want no affiliation with it, truth be told. I take my palate way too seriously, and if I’m going to have a sweet wine, I’ll take a nice Vin Santo or Sauterne or Port after my meal. Sorry if I sound like a snob, but in this case I’ll admit it: I am.

And so are a whole bunch of other people out there who were traumatized by their mother’s Blush in the box when they snuck some from the fridge at an early age and woke up with the “sweetest” hangover, second to what Sangria can deliver.

But most Rosé is dry. I’m no sommelier, but when I order Rosé in a nice restaurant, the wait person always nods at me with a knowing respect. The problem emerges when my table mate raises her/his eyebrow as if to say, “I’ve just lost all respect for you.” When really, it’s kinda the other way around. And I take the bait and I actually go into a dissertation that sort of rivals sorority hazing.

It’s ridiculous, and I know it. I actually go so far as to garner justification by aligning myself with these three cooking and eating and writing giants: Alice Waters, Russell Chatham, and Jim Harrison who claim to love the same wine I have at the top of my list: Domaine Tempier Rosé. .

“You should read about how Alice actually based Chez Panisse on an experience of sitting with Domaine Tempier’s Lucien at his vineyard, slathering a piece of rye with fresh sea urchin, and sipping their Rosé. It actually makes me weep.”

Usually I get a chirp chirp. Not budging.

“Come on– try it. It’s heaven.”

And if they’re kind enough, they will. They hold the glass to their nose, cringe, and drop their tongue in its pale pink waters like they’re considering a swim in a snake-infested river. “Too sweet,” they say.

“Too sweet? It’s as dry as can be! You’re a wine-ist, is what you are.” And I grab back my glass.

It’s how the Italians treat you when you order Parmigiano with a fish pasta dish. Non va! It doesn’t go. One waiter in Venice actually told a friend of mine that he’d get fired if he served her cheese with fish. With significant fear in his eyes.

In my recent experience of travelling the country for book promo and dining in many major cities across the US, Rosé is one of the hottest wines out there. In certain circles. But old judgments (and hangovers) die hard, and often enough, I get scoffed at by my dining partner.

So…to that end…this is what Wikipedia has to say about it: I rest my case.

How it’s made: Red-skinned grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period, typically two or three days.[1] The grapes are then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation (as with red wine making). The skins contain much of the strongly flavored tannin and other compounds, thereby leaving the taste more similar to a white wine.[2] The longer that the skins are left in contact with the juice, the more intense the color of the final wine.

How it got a bad rap:

White Zin: In the early 1970s, demand for white wine exceeded the availability of white wine grapes, so many California producers made “white” wine from red grapes, in a form of saignée production with minimal skin contact, the “whiter” the better.[6] In 1975 Sutter Home’s “White Zinfandel” wine experienced a stuck fermentation, a problem in which the yeast dies off before all the sugar is turned to alcohol.[7] Winemaker Bob Trinchero put it aside for two weeks, then upon tasting it he decided to sell this pinker, sweeter wine.[8]

Blush: In 1976, wine writer Jerry D. Mead visited Mill Creek Vineyards in Sonoma County, California.[6] Charlie Kreck had been one of the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon vines in California, and offered Mead a wine made from Cabernet that was a pale pink and as yet unnamed.[6] Kreck would not call it “White Cabernet” as it was much darker in colour than red grape “white” wines of the time, yet it was not as dark as the rosés he had known.[6] Mead jokingly suggested the name “Cabernet Blush”, then that evening phoned Kreck to say that he no longer thought the name a joke.[9] In 1978 Kreck trademarked the word “Blush”.[10] The name caught on as a marketing name for the semi-sweet wines from producers such as Sutter Home and Beringer, although Mill Creek no longer produces any rosé wine.[11]

The term “blush” is generally restricted to wines sold in North America, although it is sometimes used in Australia and by Italian Primitivo wines hoping to cash in on the recently discovered genetic links between Primitivo and Zinfandel. Although “blush” originally referred to a colour (pale pink), it now tends to indicate a relatively sweet pink wine, typically with 2.5% residual sugar;[12] in North America dry pink wines are usually marketed as rosé but sometimes as blush. In Europe almost all pink wines are referred to as rosé regardless of sugar levels, even semi-sweet ones from California.

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A Tale of Two Cookies

Ever since I posted that I’m not much of a baker, I’ve gotten emails from readers sharing their favorite holiday cookie recipes. And as, by Murphy’s law, I seem to be on the radar for email chain letters re: sharing holiday cookie recipes, I’ve decided to give a few of these a whirl. I’m glad I did. The first one is the ginger-iest triple play ginger cookie I’ve had. And the second, in its browned butter spooned up self, is my new favorite indulgence. I wish there was some way to make up a few batches, put them out on one of my grandmother’s china plates in cyber space, and share them with you. Happy holidays. yrs. Laura

Ginger Spice Cookies

ingredients:

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
5 cups all-purpose flour
4 t. ground ginger
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. ground white pepper
1 t. baking soda
1 t. table salt

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses

Other ingredients needed:

Turbinado sugar
powdered sugar
milk

Whisk flour, spices, soda, salt, and
pepper together in a bowl; set aside

Cream butter and both sugars
together in a bowl with a mixer
until smooth.

Add egg, beat until incorporated,
then beat in the molasses, gradually
add flour mixture, mixing just to
combine. Chill dough until slightly
firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350; line baking
sheets with parchment (or use a Silpat.)

Scoop out about a tablespoon size amount
and smooth into balls, coat in sugar, and
arrange on baking sheets, about 2″ apart.

Flatten balls with the bottom of a
measuring cup, then bake 10-12 min.
(9-10 min. for softer cookies)

Ice with p. sugar/milk mixture (about 1 c. sugar to 1T. milk, paste like)

Makes about 5 dozen.

Browned Butter Spoon Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt, slightly rounded
1/3 cup fruit preserves (your choice)

Make dough:
Fill kitchen sink with about 2 inches of cold water. Melt butter in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter turns golden with a nutlike fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn a rich caramel brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (Butter will initially foam, then dissipate. A thicker foam will appear and cover the surface just before butter begins to brown; stir more frequently toward end of cooking.) Place pan in sink to stop cooking, then cool, stirring frequently, until butter starts to look opaque, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from sink and stir in sugar and vanilla.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and stir into butter mixture until a dough forms. Shape into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and let stand at cool room temperature 1 to 2 hours (to allow flavors to develop).

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Press a piece of dough into bowl of teaspoon, flattening top, then slide out and place, flat side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. (Dough will feel crumbly, but will become cohesive when pressed.) Continue forming cookies and arranging on sheet. Bake cookies until just pale golden, 8 to 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheet on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Assemble cookies:
While cookies cool, heat preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until just runny, then pour through a sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids, and cool completely.

Spread the flat side of a cookie with a thin layer of preserves. Sandwich with flat side of another cookie. Continue with remaining cookies and preserves, then let stand until set, about 45 minutes. Transfer cookies to an airtight container and wait 2 days before eating.

Cooks’ notes:
• Dough can be made 12 hours before baking and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature to soften slightly before forming cookies, about 30 minutes.
• Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

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Holiday Baking Panic

My Pear Brandy Applesauce

As I’ve written before on this blog, I am not much of a baker.  Mostly it’s because I’m too stubborn to follow directions (I know, my loss.)   I like to riff on recipes, and that can work beautifully on the stove-top, but not so much when it comes to measuring out ingredients that make things rise and lift and puff.  So this time of year, I do things like make applesauce and add pear brandy to it and think pretty highly of myself. 

NOT my Bouche de Noel

Yesterday, at school pick up, one of my children announced, inbetween “can we go get ice cream,” and “my boots fell apart and I had to duct tape them together, but that’s okay, they look pretty cool that way because I used purple duct tape”….this little benign morsel of holiday cheer: “We’re having a party in French class tomorrow, and I promised my teacher I’d bring a Bouche de Noel (otherwise known as a Yule Log– you know, with the meringue mushrooms.) That’s what I get for addicting myself, and consequently my family, to the Food Network.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. This after an entire day wrapping presents and putting up garlands. Fun in theory, until your back starts to hurt, and you start swearing at tape dispensers and can’t find the scissors for the fiftieth time. “You want to make a Bouche de Noel TONIGHT?” Yup, those little eyes begged from the back seat right there in my rearview mirror. Ugh.

Bouche de Noel is one of those things that I’ve planned on making one day. Like, when I have grandchildren or need to impress a visiting queen or something. It involves layering and rolling and whimsy and frosting prowess– things I aspire to have one day. But not last night. Last night I wanted to pour out a glass of vino and lie on the couch by the fire and watch old Christmas musicals like White Christmas. Still, I’m a sucker for the word “Yes” when it comes to delivering in the way of homemade goodies and my children’s wildest dreams…so to the grocery store we went (mind you, I’d just been to Costco, something I dread– I have a hard time with the smells of hotdogs and radial tires comingling).

And you know…sometimes you just can’t be that homemade kinda gal– not this time of year– not when you start to resent this season that is supposed to be about love and giving and receiving and “dreaming,” as my father used to say with a tear in his eye, gazing up at the Christmas tree. So I gave myself a colossal break– grabbed the Betty Crocker and the pre-made frosting and the whipped cream in a can and called it good.

My child said, “Oh, I feel kind of sad, not making it from scratch. We’ve never made a box cake before. It won’t be made with love.” Tough crackers, I wanted to say, but instead I said something like, “Well sometimes you need to give yourself a break. It’ll still be made with love. It’s all in the intention.” Then I grabbed another box of cake mix just in case, because I had zero confidence in this “loving” endeavor.

I’d seen Tyler Florence make a Bouche de Noel recently on TV and I recalled needing to make a sheet cake, and then cut it in half making thin layers to cover in whipped cream and roll. (maybe we could just get a bunch of Ho-hos and line them up, yes? No.) I remember something about the dough needing to be especially springy and moist (my least favorite word). It said right there on the box: “Moist.” This, as a result of putting the called for cup of vegetable oil into your cake mix, and no, not EVOO. So I grabbed a bottle of Wesson oil– something I hadn’t seen since about 1972. And off we went.

After dumping out two attempts, a few hours later, this is what we came up with. Not so bad. My kid made little French flags taped to toothpicks instead of woodland meringues and we smiled at each other, pleased. “You’re a lot different than you used to be,” he said. “You used to be more Martha Stewart-ish.” It’s true. “It’s important to have range,” I said. Thank you, in this case, Betty Crocker.

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For the love of a little decadence. Or a lot.

From time to time I stumble upon edible items that make me want to weep, and whilst touring around the country this last year, every so often I’ve gotten the urge to splurge food-wise. I usually do it in a fabulous glass of wine and an appetizer. This was one of those weepful splurges.

It was the night before Good Morning America. I’d had the stomach flu a few days prior, puking my brains out all day in a mid-town Manhattan hotel on, yes April 1st, and yes, my book’s PUB day. I know– very funny. So once my green in the gills-ness cleared, I thought I’d take a stroll. And lo, somehow I landed at one of the best restaurants in the world. That’s what I get for wandering into the Four Seasons. L’Altelier de Joel Robuchon.

I ordered two things and I ordered well: one of Robuchon’s signature dishes, sea urchin in lobster gelée, topped with a cauliflower cream with a ring of parsley mayonnaise dots. My god, it should be outlawed.

And with it, I had a gorgeous glass of Sancerre. I love two kinds of wine these days, a good rose, and a good Sancerre. This writer can tell you all about why it made me want to weep. I just know that it was good. So good. We all deserve a little ridiculous with our sublime.

May you find a moment like this wherever you live and no matter what your pocketbook looks like these days. Back in Montana, it’s going to come in the way of cider by the fire and that makes me want to weep too. There is no end to extravagance when the heart is open. So much in the way of salvation via sal-i-vation. May your holiday time be full of just that…and so many gifts given and received.

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Eataly– Bless you, Mario Batali.


I love markets. Whenever I’m travelling, whether it’s in a third world country or in a massively gentrified city, I try to go to the central market. It not only is a feast for the senses, but it holds the pulse of the place. One of the highlights of my book tour, and I mean SERIOUS HIGHLIGHT, was dinner with my fabulous agent and gal-around-town New Yorker, at Eataly. Run don’t walk. This is the sort of place that makes me want to weep for joy whilst in its walls, and weep for deprivation whilst back in Montana– where the grocery stores just don’t have live uni or kobe beef or towers of Parmigiano Reggiano or…well, you get the picture. Here’s the scoop:

Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world, is finally here in New York. Two years after Oscar Farinetti opened his groundbreaking food and wine market in Turin, Italy, he has teamed up with Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich of Batali-Bastianich (B&B) Hospitality Group to transform a 50,000 square – foot space in the Flatiron District into New York City’s premier culinary mecca.

The marketplace located at 200 Fifth Avenue (the former Toy Building) is the city’s ultimate destination for food lovers to shop and taste and savor – an extravaganza includes a premier retail center for Italian delicacies and wine, a culinary educational center, and a diverse slate of boutique eateries. This gourmand’s delight features cured meats and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, fresh fish, handmade pasta, desserts and baked goods and coffees.



Here’s what The New York Times has to say about it.

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Pear Cake Bliss


Okay, I know I said that I don’t bake– not to any large extent, but I ran into a friend at the copy store and she was copying this recipe for friends and I demanded one. I have a thing for pears. And if ever there was a need in the English language for OMG…this might just be its landing place. You will love yourself for making it. You will love the bubbling brown sugar and butter. You will love the pear juice on your fingers as you arrange them in a cast iron pan. You will love that maybe your great grandmother made the same cake because those women were savvy with a cast iron pan. Sip some pear brandy with it. And…OMG.

Golden Pear Cake
Step One:
Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

Melt butter in 9-inch cast-iron or oven proof skillet. Stir in brown sugar. Cook and stir until sugar is melted and bubbly. Cool.

Step Two:
Ingredients:
3 or 4 pears, cored, peeled, and thinly sliced

Arrange pear slices in skillet

Step Three:
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Combine dry ingredients in small bowl.

Step Four:
Ingredients:
1/2 cup softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk

Beat butter and sugar until combined. Beat in vanilla and eggs (one at a time). Stir in dry ingredients with milk until just combined, alternating between milk and dry ingredients. Spoon batter over pears.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Cool 5 minutes
Loosen cake from pan. Invert onto serving plate.

Enjoy warm or cold!

Here is my other favorite fruit: Can you tell me what to do with it that might be within my realm of abilities?

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Co-create Cake.


I wish I could say that I baked this cake. I didn’t. My writer/blogger friend Brigetta’s husband did. I don’t like baking. I’m not good at following directions and improv doesn’t work so well in that arena unless you already know the basics. I love to cook, instead, and leave the baking to other more patient people. This gorgeous cake arrived in my kitchen and at the last minute, I was moved to put the borage on it (the blue flowers) from my garden.

I believe in collaboration. Moments like these present themselves every day, and I am learning to join in the dance of them. Who are you? Why did you show up in my life? What can we co-create? I’ve spent so many years thinking I had to do everything alone. But so much of the beauty of life is in intimacy. Sharing. The empathic journey. So I am a new believer in co-creating. I believe in admitting when you’re not good at something and being okay with it. And I believe in creating beauty, however it is that you come to it. Today it came in cake. What can you co-create today? I’d love to hear about it!

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Personal Day

When is the last time you took a personal day? Mine was yesterday. I had just come off a few stunningly wonderful days in San Francisco doing readings. Readings are intense, especially with a memoir. People are hungry for messages of empowerment and appreciate vulnerability. So there is much sharing– something that I love and am deeply grateful for. But there’s so much pain in the world that I don’t see in my life spent here at my writing desk. In this time of sharing my book with people, I have found that I need to let that pain move through me as part of the collective We. To not let it get stuck. I don’t know how doctors and nurses and therapists and teachers do it, or anyone in any field where they are daily looking at pain. I have learned that pain can be our guide. My book is all about this. Thanks to people being so willing to share their own stories of pain and transformation, I’m reminded over and over of the freedom found in the present moment. That we need to breathe away thoughts of the past and the future and receive life moment by moment. That’s where the fear goes away. That’s where the freedom is.

To that end, the other night when my flight from San Francisco landed in Seattle, I did not get on my connecting flight home. Instead, my trusty little green roller suitcase and I marched right out of the airport, grabbed a cab, and checked into a hotel. It was like I was being pulled by something magnetic– as if I had no control. I simply needed to spend a day alone, and I did. I slept until ten am, and then roamed around Seattle for hours and hours– a city I love and one in which I lived a long time ago for some of the most inspiring years of my life. It feels like a city that is constantly in a state of expression, holding out its palms, full of gems. Here are some of them. And yes, I gave and received that free hug. Thank you, Seattle. I’m home now, better for having had a day with you. yrs. Laura

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Food Can Bring You Back

Thank to all of you who sent in recipes to my Sentimental Recipe Contest. I admit that the stories alone were food for me. As fall tucks us into Montana and the fever to spend long afternoons in the kitchen takes over, I will look forward to trying them all.

To that end, I’ll share a sentimental recipe moment with you that happened just yesterday.

I have not cooked anything in recent history that made me want to weep like this dish did. Where every simple item blends so perfectly with the next that the result is akin to Violet Beauregarde’s reaction to Willie Wonka’s magical gum, hitting on a four course dinner with every chew. One bite: and there it all was, the caulifower, and the lemons, the olive oil, the oregano, the cinnamon, the tomatoes, the onions, the garlic, the feta. And I was back in Greece, where I spent the summer of my 19th year, sitting at an outdoor cafe with cats crawling around my feet, just waking to my senses. I hadn’t relived that moment in over half my life and there it was. There I was. Greece in Montana.

It began as an exercise in trying to figure out how to get my kids to eat a new vegetable. I chose cauliflower and I remembered that I’d loved a particular dish in Greece, went on line, found what seemed like the right ingredients to that particular dish, and made the recipe. By the end of the day, I’d completed an entire casserole-sized portion of this fantastic dish– forget my kids. I’ll make it for them later this week. Sentimental recipe indeed.
Kounoupithi (Baked Cauliflower With Feta and Tomato Sauce)
By Cookgirl on October 27, 2005

• Total Time: 40 mins
• Serves: 4-6
About This Recipe
“Cinnamon is one of the intriguing and delightful ingredients in this Greek dish.”
Ingredients
o 4 tablespoons olive oil
o 3 garlic cloves, minced
o 1 large yellow onions, chopped
o 30 ounces Italian plum tomatoes (I used diced canned tomatoes)
o 1 bay leaves (I used 3)
o 2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano (I used fresh)
o 2 inches cinnamon sticks
o salt
o fresh ground black pepper
o 1 large heads cauliflower
o 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I used 2 tbs)
o 5 ounces feta cheese (I used 8 ounces)
Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a saute pan, gently cook the garlic and onion in half of the olive oil until soft. Add the tomatoes, herbs, spice and seasonings. Cover pan and simmer 5 minutes.
3. Cut up the cauliflower into florets and stir into the tomato sauce mixture. Cover pan and cook another 10 minutes.
4. Transfer the mixture into a shallow, ovenproof dish, and drizzle with the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice.
5. Grate the feta cheese on the top and garnish with black pepper.
6. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes. (I cooked mine another 15 minutes until the water from the tomatoes was absorbed and the cauliflower was soft.)

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Ceres’ Table– Fantastic New Chicago Restaurant!

Ceres’ Table: 4882 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640 773. 878. 4882

Ceres is the ancient Roman goddess of the harvest. She was born in Sicily, like our chef.

Recently I had the pleasure of dining at a new Chicago restaurant in a part of town that you might not stumble upon if you aren’t a local. The Sicillian born owner, Giuseppe Scurato (formerly of Boka and Landmark) brings the freshest, most local ingredients to his tradition of Sicilian cuisine, which given its trade history and geographical orientation, is quite different from my idea of Italian food. Sicilians have long enjoyed spices and flavors not indicative of other Italian regions, so I found myself eating unlikely items– currants, saffron, sardines, walnuts– and in preparations I’d never seen in my year living in Florence. Sicilians eat very little meat and the menu reflected that, full of halibut, swordfish, scallops, cod, and crab.

These were some of our favorites: (but it was all food that made you want to weep it was so good!)
Day boat scallops with lobster agnolotti, baby carrots, spring onions, cress and lobster cream sauce.

Corzetti (hand-stamped pasta) with fennel, anchovies, currants and pinenuts.

Anancini– rice balls made with artichoke and saffron rissoto, filled with taleggio.

Yukon Gold potato gnocchi, with a pesto Genovese, green beans, toasted walnuts, and parmagiano reggiano.

 
It was the kind of menu I love: the prices were very fair, and the portions perfect for sharing. My friends and I were joined by Giuseppe’s wife, Carolyn, who graciously walked us through the menu and suggested her house favorites, and since she lives with the chef, in this case “house” really means “house.” She is intimately apart of these dishes and you can see the pride in her eyes for what she and her husband have co-created.

In short, we ended up ordering most of the small plates, and feasting for hours all the way through to Giuseppe’s delicious homemade Limoncello.

Ceres is getting great reviews all over Chicagoland, and I was thrilled that my local friends were savvy enough to find this little gem.  It’s nice to have foodies in every port!

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