Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Myer Lemon Sugar Cookies

Who doesn't love a standard issue sugar cookie?  I certainly do.  A homemade one even more.  What makes a baker special is how they elevate the basic and make it truly their own.  I'm working on being more experimental and discovered it's not so hard to make something special too.

My overflowing Meyer Lemon tree gave me the perfect excuse to update my tried and true cookie recipe with a zesty twist.  Let me taunt you with a few images.  You'll find the recipe below.

Fresh Out of the Oven, Myer Lemon Sugar Cookies

Myer Lemon Zest

Dry Ingredients Whisked Together

Butter & Sugar
Roll the Dough in the Sugar

Ready for Baking

Sugar Cookies Before....

Sugar Cookies After

Myer Lemon Sugar Cookies.  Look carefully and you'll see the zest.

Meyer Lemon Sugar Cookies


2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 large Meyer lemon
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar for rolling cookies


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
3. Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy.
4. Add lemon zest, egg, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Mix until combined. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients.
5. Roll rounded tablespoons of dough into balls and roll in sugar. Place on prepared baking sheets,  about 1 1/2 inches apart.
6. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are lightly brown around the edges. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

With a Little Help From My Blogger Friends, A Do-Over Vegetable Patch

Every spring the vegetable garden story begins the same way, with great promise.  Like a good book, the observer hopes for a Victory Garden ending later in the summer.  The Victory Garden ending always seems to be in question though.  It wouldn't be a well appreciated tale if it weren't without its conflicts along the way, now would it?

Let's take my previous spring edition of this same story.  Last year, I struggled to grow tomatoes.  My educated guess was lousy soil and my primary protagonist, the bee, failed at making an appearance to complete my story.  Enter the antagonist, a mystery thief who was never fingered, took my only two tomatoes from the season. Thanks a bunch possum, squirrel or whoever you are.  You gave me a bummer ending to my kitchen garden tale.  I must rework the story this season.

Not wanting a fairy tale or wishful thinking garden, I researched as any decent author would do.

Starting with the soil, it's is all about nutrients.  Unhealthy soil will give you very little in return.  Wanting an organic approach, having a healthy compost amended in the beds will act as a superhero fertilizer warding off pests and disease.  A Way to Garden.com has an excellent tutorial on composting  if you are in need of help too.

Foxglove, a welcoming sentry
How do I make an alluring environment for my lead character, the sadly ever elusive bee?  The Honeybee Conservancy has an excellent guide on planting a bee garden  that provides food and habitat.  Bees like showy flowers just as much as humans.  They have spectacular vision and seem to be especially drawn to blue, purple, white and yellow flowers.  Aim for blooming flowers each season if your gardening zone allows; it will provide them a constant source of food.  Ideally, single petal blossoms are best since they have the most pollen and nectar to snack on.

Purple Salvia beckons the bees

Psst, hey Mr. Honeybee...over here and pollinate me so I can make a glorious, juicy tomato!

Tomato flower shows early promise
Tomatoes can use the help of a wing man.  The Back to the Basics blog, clued me in on the merits of companion planting. Marigolds, for example, fend off the nematodes and insects with it's not so heady perfume.

Marigold, the great defender of Tomatoes
The last twist in this version of the tale is time and weather.   We will have to wait to see how this version of the summertime garden story ends.
Meyer Lemon in hiding
As for spring, I'm proud to report, my matchmaking bee efforts paid dividends around my Meyer Lemon tree!  With a little help from my friends, I hope I've helped you too!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Female Mind on Meal Planning Delivers A Mexican Casserole

Gents:  for a limited time, this is your rare opportunity to see the inner workings of a woman's brain on how she ultimately plans a home cooked meal.   Ladies, I hope you don't mind I left the door open a crack; I promise I'll close the door when I finish this post!

And so, this how I came up with a fireside dinner one evening.

First, I need to address all of those typical thoughts floating around in my head:
  • What vegetables do I have on hand?
  • I'd love to make that recipe I saw (now where did I see it?)
  • Anything in the freezer I could use?
  • Oh yeah..I'm trying to lower my food bill
  • But is it going to be tasty?
  • Can I sell my meal idea to everyone else in the household?
  • I've got to do better about not wasting food
Now having tamed all the noise, I'm almost prepared to answer the age old question, "what's for dinner?"   How to do it and not drive myself into an overbooked, over spent and overtaxed frenzy?

Tamara Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking With Economy & Grace, has saved my sanity.  Her succinct observations have transformed my meal planning skills.   She didn't say anything terribly revolutionary; what she did do for me was eloquently write it down in one cohesive spot. 

While her book is part essay, it has inspired me more word for word than any other cookbook I own.  And therein lies it's beauty; it's not really loaded with recipes but with insight on how to summon great tasting meals from what I already have.  Cutting to the chase...here's your CliffsNotes:
"Great meals rely on the bones and peels and ends of meals before them." - Tamara Adler
What does that mean?  Roast a chicken on the weekend and save the carcass to make a chicken broth.  The chopped off ends of a carrot or celery you didn't use are still nutritionally valuable in making a broth.  Cook dried beans (much cheaper than canned) and freeze individual servings.  Make mash potatoes and use the leftovers to thicken a future soup.  Keep the rind from the Parmesan cheese you shredded; it will give you extra flavor in a vegetable soup.  Look how much money I just saved you by not having to buy additional ingredients to make a soup or having to buy pre-made broth.

My decision to make a Mexican Casserole is just one example of a scrumptious meal made possible by having a nicely stocked pantry and "ends of meals."  Enough meal planning insight.  On to making the casserole.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prep or mise en place all of the ingredients and this will come together in a snap.

Ingredients I had on hand: frozen corn from a previous shucking, pinto beans from another day's cooking session, corn tortillas,  salsa and Hatch enchilada sauce.

We also had leftover chicken from the previous night's roast.

Fresh vegetables I had in the fridge included a red bell pepper, half an onion and zucchini.

The only purchase I needed to make was this glorious hunk of creamy Manchego cheese.  Shred the whole thing.  Freeze the rind for a future meal.

Give a gentle warm up starting with sweating the chopped onions till they are translucent.  Add the bell pepper and cook for a minute.  Add in the zucchini, corn and pinto beans with an occasional stir for another 5 minutes.

Add in the enchilada sauce.  You can't go wrong if you are able to find Hatch.  Bring to a simmer on low heat.

Smear the salsa on the bottom of the casserole dish.  This will help eliminate the tortillas from sticking to the bottom.  

Start layering as you would a lasagna.   Salsa...tortillas...beans....chicken...cheese.  Repeat!
Bake for 30 minutes.  Garnish with fresh avocado and cilantro. 

Ole'!  I used mostly what I had and delivered at least one dinner and leftovers.  I'm now going to quietly close the door as I start pondering on our next home cooked meal.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday - A Child's Tea Party

Looking for a way to do better in living in the moment?  Take a step back to your childhood and remember what made you joyful.  You just might be reminded of your true passions.  Here's mine!

Sly's Tea Party


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Does Your Kitchen Inspire Cooking?

Ever have a monologue with yourself?  You know the kind where you're talking out loud and are thankful no one caught you in the act of talking to yourself? My latest script goes something like this, "why am I not cooking more?"  I answer myself hastily "time of course."  When I'm more patient with myself, the answer changes to, "space." That's because I have a small kitchen.  Since I can't really change the time equation, what I can do is deal with design issues.  Think about it, design expresses how we feel about working in a space.  If you're not a big fan of cooking, perhaps it's because you're in not in an inspiring, workable space.

How to get your kitchen zen-on you ask?  First, know thyself.  If you can't easily lay your hands on the most basic of items, find a new home for it.  I loved this idea as it serves a double purpose with easy to reach solutions and is a window covering to boot.

If money were no object, this stove is an outstanding design statement just begging to be used.

If you have a heavy stand mixer buried in your cabinets, its weight for lifting it out of there may be just enough to deter you from you using it.  This one stands alone in its beauty as if its in a statue gallery.  Yet it's workable in the space where it is housed.  What's that above the attachments you ask? Controls for the drop down television of course.

Pizza is a major staple in our house.  Takeout is fine, but it tastes so much better if you can make it at home.  Cheaper and healthier too.  Make the pizza paddles wall art and never have the excuse again  for not making your own. 

Just having a happy color splashed in the kitchen makes you want to spend time here.

The idea of having this cozy little eat-in diner in the kitchen buys space for making scrumptious meals, invites guests to visit and also serves as a good homework station if you need it.

Robin-egg blue is my new favorite color.  I'd be quite content taking in a meal or two in this home.

Perhaps it's the company.  It's so necessary to have a companion!

All of these ideas came courtesy of last year's annual Kitchen Revival Tour hosted by Portland's (Oregon) Architectural Heritage Center.  John and I actually planned our 2013 spring break/vacation around this event which happens every spring.  You may remember we did all things foodie on that trip when we went on a food walking tour.

Feeling inspired and wish you had thought of going?  It's not too late.  Here is your next opportunity straight from their website:

2014 Kitchen Revival Tour

Saturday, April 12, 2014    10:00 am - 4:00 pm

The Architectural Heritage Center is a non-profit resource for historic preservation
Homeowners and their all-volunteer tour selection committee make it happen. This self-guided tour represents a range of approaches to renovating your kitchen in a manner that reflects the home's original design and style.
If you are considering taking on a kitchen renovation project yourself, homeowners and contractors will be on hand to provide tips and real-life experiences on everything from retaining original material to hiding (or disguising) appliances. The tour will convince even the biggest of skeptics that you can adapt an older home to a 21st century lifestyle while still retaining its historic character and charm.

This event is held in some of Portland, Oregon's finest historic neighborhoods.

Saturday, April 12, 2014      10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Members: $20    General Public: $25

Pre-registration is strongly suggested


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Local Restaurant, A Local Coffee Distributor and a Thank You Note Can Make All the Difference

In the faceless, virtual world of the Internet and retail, a vendor's only tool for repeat business is to provide decent customer service.  At a minimum, that means timely delivery, a quality product and getting the order right.   Smart promotion can get the customers through the digital door.  Most times it takes more than all of those moves combined to be successful.

The story I'm about to tell you, reveals a superb example of supporting the local guy (and gal) while thinking globally and how it can benefit so many.

Silverback Coffee of Rwanda
John and I came across this remarkable company, Silverback Coffee of Rwanda by patronizing one of those unique little breakfast hotspots in the Valley, Charlie's Pantry.  The ever delightful Maria Di Salvio  who owns and runs Charlie's believes in making most of what you eat in her restaurant there on site.  She knows how to maximize flavor by using seasonal, farm fresh, locally sourced ingredients while crafting simply prepared dishes.  

Charlie's Pantry in Studio City, CA
On our first of many visits, we were immediately enticed by a most intoxicating aroma of coffee when we walked in the door.  Sometimes a fragrance fools the desire but in this case the aroma did not lie.  In fact, the aroma delivered on its promise with a sultry but richly mellow body leaving a slightly toasty after taste.  Funny thing about love at first sight (or taste in this case), you must know the name of the object you desire.  

Silverback Coffee and Charlie's have cleverly seized their ability to satisfy the senses while motivating customers to buy the coffee beans at the restaurant.  With subtle signage and a retail aspect to the restaurant we were hooked  We now buy a bag of Silverback's beans every time we visit Charlie's to satisfy our caffeine desires at home.

Charlie's Coffee Station
When we couldn't make it over to Charlie's, we tried to mail order from the distributor directly.  Low and behold, their offices are in Los Angeles.  Visiting their website, we learned so much more about the company's mission:

SILVERBACK COFFEE OF RWANDA™ supports its values by donating a percentage of its profits to organizations that build schools in Rwanda's local areas and provides services to widows and orphans as a result of the genocide.

In addition, together with the Rwandan government, SILVERBACK COFFEE OF RWANDA™ will improve the quality of care and growth of the native endangered silverback gorilla. Furthermore, our product can be traced to the farms where it's grown, to ensure fair wages and proper treatment of workers.
Not that I needed further encouragement to buy their product, but I'm confident their motivations are in harmony with my desire to put my money in worthwhile causes.  Imagine our delight when Silverback Coffee of Rwanda not only gave us good customer service, but the Founder & CEO Jack Karultetwa sent along a thank you note in his own handwriting no less!  What a great touch.

Jack's family became refugees of Rwanda during the 60's.  He ended up in college in Arizona where he discovered he had a talent for basketball.  Ultimately, he became a Harlem Globe Trotter with stints as an actor.  Now with means he, is able to help the poorest coffee farmers in his homeland realize their value and empowers them to become a part of a global economy.


By merely treating ourselves to breakfast out, not only did we keep our money local but we also helped in our own minor way on something of a much grander scale.  Thank you Charlie's Pantry and Silverback Coffee for providing us the opportunity to do so.   Do you have any similar stories?  I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Epicure Imports!

In a most unassuming industrial location deep in the San Fernando Valley, resides a gourmet treasure hunt.   Directly under the glide path into Burbank's Bob Hope airport, Epicure Imports distributes high-end gourmet items to restaurants, hotels, caterers, chefs, resorts and retail.  Their daily deliveries can include stops San Diego, Palm Springs, Orange County, LA as well as San Francisco and Las Vegas. 

Fortunately, I caught a random blurb on my neighborhood Patch back in December announcing an Open Warehouse sale at this import place I had never heard of.  Intrigued, John and I viewed this as a culinary field trip where we may or may not buy anything.

Owner Preparing to Open the Doors
A Small Portion of the Line Waiting to Get In
When Epicure Imports has their Open Warehouse sales for the general public (next one is this coming weekend), it's usually discovered by word of mouth.  By the looks of the line to get in before the doors opened, it appears Los Angelenos can't keep this a secret.  We went on the second day of their December sale, a Saturday at 9a (the moment they opened their doors) and the line strung through the parking lot out to the street.

Talk about a kid in a candy shop, any foodie will go bonkers in here.  Those impossibly creative restaurant specials more than likely started with sourcing an ingredient from a place just like this.  No wonder high-end restaurants appear to be superheroes.  Here is just a minor sampling of the goodies we found during our winter excursion:

Here's what you need to know before going.  Bring a jacket; you'll want to spend plenty of time in their refrigerated rooms where mountains of cheeses, butters and meats are stored.  Also bring your own bags.  They do accept debit, credit cards and cash. 

One more thing to anticipate; the sale is popular and wait time to checkout may take a bit.  Be patient...it's worth it. 

Their schedule for the Open Warehouse events is below.  If you still are unsure and need further enticement, click **here** for their February product list.  Happy hunting!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Turn Your Tagine into a Working Member of the Kitchen ... A Beef Stew Creation

Has your tagine taken up a permanent, cozy residence on a dining room shelf like ours has?  Every night, our tagine looked languidly on as we noshed on dinner.  If it could talk or think, it probably thought it had the easy life without having to lend a hand.

Not a whimsical purchase on our part, we had every intention of cooking with it as we were inspired by the gift we had given to our friends last year.  We even cooked in the tagine the weekend we purchased it and were quite delighted with the outcome.  Yet, it retired itself to the shelf of collectibles for the next few months.

Giving the seemingly lazy tagine a break, its usefulness is most appreciated on a leisurely weekend afternoon.  Finding the leisurely afternoon problem is on us, not the tagine.  Finally a free Sunday afternoon presented itself and we asked the tagine to take the stage...front and center.  The entertainment of choice (i.e. the recipe) was a variation of Jamie Oliver's Beef Tagine.  If you're interested in Jamie's recipe click **here**.

Our adaptation of ingredients and a summary of the recipe we created are outlined below.  If you do not have a tagine, it can be prepared in a dutch oven as well.  We've done it both ways with great success.

Massage the spice rub over the meat, refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours before cooking
Prep your tagine with a generous coating of olive oil and warm over medium heat.  Managing expectations here, browning the meat in an earthen tagine will take much longer than you are used to in today's conventional pots and pans.  The beauty of a tagine is the shape of the lid which traps the condensation, returning it back into the cooking liquid. The meat retains a glorious dry/moist flavor that no other type of cooking can provide.

This recipe calls for using the whole cilantro stem (a nose to tail approach creating no waste).  Check out our mise en place prep.

After the meat has seared, add the onion and cilantro stems.  Reserve the leaves for garnish at the end.

Cook for an additional 5 minutes before adding the rinsed/drained chickpeas and chopped tomatoes.

Pour in the stock and bring to a boil.  We used our homemade chicken stock but store bought is fine too.  If you need a homemade recipe for stock check out John's take on stock making.

Bring to a boil, reduce and cover simmering for 1.5 hours.  

This would be a good time to play a game of chess!

After attempting to beat John (an hour and half later), added the prunes and the cauliflower.  If it looks dry, add a bit more stock or water.  No, I didn't win the game.

Gently stir what was just added and put the lid back on for another 1.5 hour simmer.  In the meantime, I found this terrific recipe for homemade pita bread and now would be the perfect time to make it.  If you want to make your own, I can highly recommend fellow food blogger, Half Baked Harvest's recipe.  Click *here* to make it yourself.  So soft and chewy you will NEVER go back to store bought.

After the final simmer, your beef stew is ready.  Garnish with a heavy load of cilantro leaves and sliced almonds.  So perfect for a winter afternoon.

Beef Tagine (adapted from Jamie Oliver)


  • 1.5 lbs of stewing beef 
  • Spice rub:
    • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 Tbsp Ras El Hanout (Moroccan spice)
  • Olive oil
  • One onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • A small bunch of cilantro
  • (1) 14 oz can of chickpeas
  • (1) 14 oz can of chopped tomatoes or 1 large freshly chopped tomato
  • 3.5 cups of chicken broth
  • (1) small cauliflower head .. florets only
  • 3.5 oz of dried prunes roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp of sliced almonds

To prepare:
1. Mix all the spice rub ingredients together in a small bowl.  Place the beef in a larger bowl and massage the spice rub into the meat.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or preferably overnight. This will allow the spices to really penetrate the meat for flavor.
2. When it's time to start cooking, warm the tagine with medium heat and coat the tagine with a very generous portion of good quality olive oil.  Sear the meat over medium heat till it just starts to take on a brown color.            
3. Add the onions and cilantro stems and continue to cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
4. Fold in the chickpeas and tomatoes.  Add the broth and bring everything to a boil.
5. Reduce heat to a simmer and place the tagine lid on and cook for an hour and a half.
6. At the hour and half mark, add the cauliflower and prunes.  Give it a gentle stir. 
7. Cook for another hour and a half.  Check in on it occasionally to make sure it hasn't gotten too dry.  If it has, add more broth or water.
8. It's ready to eat when the meat is tender and falling apart.  Garnish with cilantro to add brightness and almonds for a bit of crunch.

Serving size is approximately 4
Time to prepare and cook 3.5-4 hours depending on how leisurely you want to approach this


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...