Sunday, January 13, 2008

BIGA WATCH 2008!!!!!


I've decide to jump in to the murky world of 'starters' for sourdough bread (biga). I think I can trace this sad turn of events to the fact that my children are gone and as of yet there are no grandchildren I can devote myself to. From what I've read and been told, harboring a starter is like having a child, a pet, or a sick husband constantly whinning for attention. I'm either lonely or not drinking enough. (note to self: get that gallon of Kahlua going tomorrow)

I'm not going into this alone, my friend Mary-Beth is giving birth to her own starter, we're planning on play dates for our pets later. We decided to use the simplest of recipes for the starter, that way if it fails we won't cry too much if we have to flush it.


1 cup warm water
1 cup bread flour

Mix and cover. Every day for 4 days take 1 cup full of mix out and toss it, replace it with 1/2 cup of warm water and 1/2 cup flour, cover. Once it starts to bubble, put in the refrigerator and feed it once a week. Simple! Bubbles, my biga, started burping up yeast at the end of the first day and excreting hooch (a liquid, much like a wet baby). He is currently on his third day and very happy (yes Bubbles is a he, hoping for a Broadway career later in life).

Then Xoch called....I now have a second starter. This second starter is going to make the first one look tame. The second one, named Fizz, is going to be the trouble child. Xoch got the recipe from a cookbook named Made In Italy, by Giorgio Locatelli. Fizz (he will be ADHD), will be demanding much more of my attention than Bubbles, I'm hoping to survive the first 3 weeks of Fizz.

1 pear, grated
1 (250 g.) cup warm water
1 (250 g.) cup bread flour

Soak grated pear in the warm water for 24 hours. Strain and save the pear water, whisk in the flour and put in a tall glass container, mark the level and cover. Every day, for 3 long weeks, remove 3/4 of the biga to a bowl, refresh with 3/4 cup (200 g.) warm water and 1 1/2 cups (400 g.) flour (henceforth this process shall be referred to as 'refresh'). Scrub out the glass jar, return mix and wait for tomorrow. Oh yes, you will be enslaved by this little white evil mix for the next 21 days (I have to go to Las Vegas next week, I hope Barbara or Mary-Beth can babysit).

Fizz will be ready to leave home once he triples in size in the first 8 hours after being refreshed. He will then be refreshed again, and put in the freezer to await my command. When needed, defrost, take out what is needed for the recipe, put 3/4 of what's left in a bowl, refresh and freeze.

I haven't introduced The Don to his new children yet. I'm waiting until after the weekend, on Friday his little friends come over. They hang out at the square (a big deck around a tree tricked out with an outdoor kitchen), they BBQ, drink beer, listen to loud music and solve the problems of the world. I know he can't be trusted to babysit the children, he might let one of his little friends drink them! This will be an ongoing saga, more to come.

Monday, January 7, 2008


I've come to realize that I was still in my lost period while the no-knead bread phenomenon flew by. Since I am a relative newcomer to the blogging world, it seems like every other blog I read has something new and amazing to entice me. Last month I took part in the Menu for Hope fundraiser. In the process of investigating what to buy a ticket for, my online travels lead me to the fabled no-knead bread.
There were quite a few sites with recipes and links, but I finally came across the one that drew me in. It's writen by Morgana. She presents her recipe in conjunction with photos. I'm very visual and even though I've used this recipe several times, I still like to go back and check the pictures.

No-Knead Bread

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 cups water

Combine the dry ingredients, add water and stir just enough to make sure you get all the dry flour on the bottom of the bowl into the dough. Cover and let rise for about 12 hours. When you get home from work, it should be perfect.

Prepare a floured surface, and dump out your dough, it will be wet and sticky. Sprinkle the top of the blob with a little flour, with a scraper or spatula fold over all 4 sides like an envelope. Cover with a non-terry cloth towel and let rest for fifteen minutes.

Now let it rise the second time, but first, refold the dough into a rough loaf shape (it’s very fluid dough and won’t stay in a perfect loaf shape; it will be a roundish blob) and place on a 12 x 18 inch piece of parchment paper. (It was this step that sold me on this site. Every other one said to try and move the blob in a towel or by hand, this just seemed a sheer genius way to do it) Again, cover with a non-terry cloth dish towel and let rise.

After the dough has risen for 1 1/2 hours, preheat the oven to 450 degrees with the baking pan and lid inside. Let the dough rise for another half hour while the oven heats for the full 3o minutes.
You want the oven and the pot extremely hot. Carefully remove the very hot pot from oven. Take the towel off the bread. Pick up the parchment paper with the dough on it and carefully lower both into the hot pot. Sprinkle with Kosher salt if desired. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes. (The parchment paper won’t burn.) Remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes

Remove the pot from the oven and carefully lift up the edges of paper and place it and the bread on a cooling rack. Pull the paper out from under the bread and let the bread cool before slicing… if you can resist the aroma of warm, fresh baked bread. I like to rub butter over the top and sides.
I have made this loaf several times now and I like it more each time (as does The Don). It makes wonderful panini sandwiches, I have only one criticism. The bread itself seems to be rather bland, it tastes better if you use salted butter, or once buttered, sprinkle a little finishing salt on it.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


If you're familiar with Mexican cuisine, you know that one of the traditional foods to make on Christmas is tamales. When done well, those little pockets of goodness inside a cornhusk jacket are wonderful. Most people are intimidated by the whole process because it is time consuming, but not hard. The fastest and most fun way to make tamales is to get a group together and do it assemly line style.

My younger daughter and boyfriend were flying in Christmas morning, and I had my Christmas dinner menu ready to go. Everything was going smoothly when The Don decided the tamales had to be done on Christmas day to keep with tradition.

Breathe deeply.
1-drive to the airport at the crack of dawn in the middle of a horrible windstorm to get the kids.
2-rush home and open presents, fast.
3-put all the dinner makings aside to make room for the assembly line.
4-make massive amounts of tamales, steam them for hours, vacuum seal them for travel back to Washington in 2 days.
5-begin dinner preparation of crown pork roast with the trimmings while drinking copious amounts of wine.
We had a wonderful day.

We accomplished the tamale marathon but ran out of masa (dough) before running out of meat. A week later using the leftover meat I made tamales again with some girlfriends. This time of course we ran out of meat before running out of masa. Are you sensing a pattern here? So back at home I finally used up the masa with fillings I had in my refrigerator. By this time I had made hundreds of tamales and wanted nothing more than to use them as target practice.
Instead I hit the homemade Kahlua as a reward!

Our fillings of choice were pork, chicken and a vegetarian take of chiles rellenos. We used Ortega style canned green chiles, frozen corn and grated cheddar cheese. All three taste great but my favorite is the vegetarian one.


Prepared masa dough
1 or 2 bags of dried corn husks

Meat filling, pork roast or chicken (you can use cheaper cuts since you will basically be making stew with the meat)
1 whole seeded black olive for each pork or beef tamal, 1 whole green olive for each chicken tamal. I don't know why, that's just the way it is.

Vegetarian filling, cheese, corn and green chile
any cheese you like, except soft ones
frozen corn
Ortega green chiles

Sweet filling, pineapple and raisins
1 can each of Pineapple chunks and Pineapple tidbits

This recipe has no set amounts given, the amount of filling needed is in direct correlation to how much masa you have and vice versa. All you need are guidelines and a short tutorial of smearing, filling and tying.
The purists will treat this whole process with military precision and no flexibility...pretend to listen to his instructions, then give him a beer and kick him out of the kitchen.

Tamal fillings--Fillings are either savory or sweet and contain anything you want. I put an inexpensive bone-in pork roast in the pressure cooker with a bit of water and seasonings. Half an hour later the meat was falling off the bone, the stock was used to help flavor the dough. I also made a thin chicken stew for another batch. We flavored all the savory masa with the same ingredients. It's important to be a bit hot spice aggressive with the seasonings while cooking the meats, lots of cumin/chili powder/garlic/pepper/etc. The more flavorful the meat filling the tastier the tamal.
We made different flavors, you can chose just one favorite filling. I have a friend who whips them up the night before, the next morning she pops them in the crock pot before going to work and they are ready for dinner.

Tamale dough--In a perfect world you would have access to a tortilleria or an authentic Mexican market where they sell prepared masa. That means that the dough is already mixed and fluffy, which translates to saved arm muscles on your part. If you must buy your dough in a regular store, it will be quite solid and firm and up to you to aerate it.
If you have a stand mixer, add the room temperature dough along with a bit of shortening, lard or oil and seasoning, begin mixing until light and fluffy. (as fluffy as corn dough can get I guess) If you don't have a mixer, you will use good old arm muscle and mix until both arms give out then turn it over to the next person.

Once the dough feels lighter, add some stock from your meat and test for seasonings. Cumin, salt, pepper, red chili powder, paprika, etc. The dough should be flavored so that you like the taste of it raw, some of the saltiness will be steamed out in the cooking process. For the sweet tamales, once the dough is soft, add pineapple bits, pineapple juice, raisins and sugar. I like to use one can of pineapple bits to add to the dough, and a can of pineapple chunks to add to the middle as the filling.
Add your liquid flavoring slowly, you want the dough pliable, not runny.

At this point, your masa is divided into 2 bowls, one savory, one sweet. You will also have your fillings in bowls ready to use.

The corn husks will come bagged and neatly folded onto each other in bunches. Carefully peel apart and soak in a sink full of very hot water until pliable. By now you should also of broken out the wine, for self consumption. Take a few minutes to pick thru the leaves and separate the wider ones, so when you start filling you already have some nice leaves ready to go.

This is where the assembly line comes in handy. Holding the corn husk in one hand, use the back of a spoon to scoop out some dough and smear it onto the husk. Don't use too much, remember the husk has to closed. Pass it to the next person, who will take some of the filling, savory or sweet, and put it in the middle of the tamal along with an olive. Don't be stingy with the filling.

Working with the width of the husk, fold one side over to meet the opposite side of where the dough ends. Like a burrito. If your husk is not wide enough to close over the filling, get another leaf and overlap them so you can cover the dough. You should now have a fat little cornhusk roll resembling a burrito.

Again you pass it on to the next person, (usually the least coordinated or cooking impaired member of the group), depending on how many fillings you will use, will depend on how you close them. You need to be able to tell the different types apart later.
The easiest and fastest method is to hold the packet in one hand, fold the smaller thinner end up, and stack them standing up as you go. You can also tie one or both ends with torn husk strips. A much easier way is to use up different color curling ribbon to tie so you can tell the flavors apart.

After you have a couple dozen made up, get the steamer going. Use a large canning or turkey frying size pot. It needs to have a steamer insert at the bottom, or fasten one of your own with a cup and plate. Add water and bring to a boil. I like to stand the tamales in the pan as best I can, you can put them in a couple layers deep if you want.

Find an old clean hand towel, wet it and lay it over the tamales, then cover the pot. (the wet towel helps to keep the steam down low over the tamales) Keep at a steady boil, you should be able to hear it, but make sure it doesn't dry out. Trust me, if it dries out you will smell it! Steam them about 2 hours (that's why you want to put lots of them in), to see if done, pull one out with some long tongs and open it up. If it's not mushy and holds its shape, it's done and time for the next batch.

When you're done with all the steaming, throw the towel out, it's not worth washing.

Since tamales can be a chore to do, you want to do as many as possible and freeze them to enjoy later. Steam them before freezing, you will be more likely to pull them out for a quick bite if you know they are already cooked.

I will share with you the best way to eat tamales. Unless you're an intimate part of the culture, nobody thinks to tell you. Even if you buy some tamales, try this method. The following day, for any meal including breakfast, peel the husk off the cold tamal, heat up a bit of oil in a frying pan and fry it until golden and crusty. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


A couple years ago I discovered how simple and satisfying it is to make biscotti. Having settled on a base recipe, I have changed ingredients to make multiple flavors, all with great success. For the last 2 years, biscotti has been the main part of my Christmas giving to family and friends. The only kind I have never made is savory, a future project.


base recipe:
2 1/2 cups flour (I've used all-purpose or bread flour with success)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sugar (I've done some batches using 1/2&1/2 brown/white sugar)
1/2 cup butter, rm. temp.
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. almond extract ( I also add vanilla, substitute almond for anise oil or any other flavour you wish to try)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, I love using a baking stone. Combine sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat sugar, eggs, butter and extract together until light and fluffy. It's at this point I like to add my fruits and nuts because the dough is soft enough to accept the add-ins, see ideas below.

With mixer at low speed add the flour mixture, divide dough into 2 or 3 portions. I like to make smaller loaves which yield smaller but many more finished pieces.
Using floured hands, form logs lengthwise directly on the parchment paper, gently flatten top.
Whisk an egg white or use flavoured syrup to brush on the formed loaves. Optional, sprinkle logs with coarse sugar, it looks nice once baked.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes until light golden, remember you will be baking it even more once its cut. Cool.
Slice logs with sharp serrated knife (slice and press down to cut, it keeps the log from breaking apart) and return to baking sheet, laying the pieces on their sides. Bake another 10 minutes, turn biscotti pieces over and bake another 5 minutes (save your fingers and use tongs to turn the biscotti). Turn the oven light on and keep an eye on the biscotti during the last step to make sure you don't brown it too much. If your oven runs hot, take the temperature setting down a little.

Here is the fun part, the fruit, candy and nut additions. My favorite combination of all time is dried cranberry and sliced almonds, following is a list a some ideas to try.
dried cranberry and sliced almonds (pistachios add to the holiday look)
dried cherries and semi-sweet chocolate
candied citrus peel and sliced almonds or nut of choice (brush logs with flavoured syrup)
dried cocoa powder, spoonful of instant coffee (espresso powder if available) , almonds and white chocolate chips-opt.
anise seed with anise oil extract and almonds

The great thing about biscotti is that with the base recipe, you can add whatever you have on hand without going to great expense, it stores well and everyone thinks you've worked much harder than you really have.


I live on 5 acres smack in the middle of Southern California Wine Country, halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. Surrounded mostly by dirt (good for gardening and off-roading), citrus, grapes and other products I mostly take for granted. Butting up against the back of our property are rows of Ruby Red Grapefruit and juice orange trees. When they bloom twice a year it is absolute heaven and that is the true smell of home for both my daughters. For the last 23 years all I did was juice the fruit, but no longer!
I have discovered the joys of creating my own candied citrus peel. I made a batch of it this year with the winter crop and it was heads above any store bought products. I used it to make some biscotti, and then brushed the syrup on the formed loaves instead of egg white. The candied orange peel biscotti was the best I have ever made, as matter of fact I plan to make another batch today to use up what is currently in the refrigerator, there is another bucket of oranges on the back porch waiting for my attention.

Needless to say, come spring along with all the dehydrating and canning I plan on doing, canning some candied citrus peel is high on my list. (I actually don't have to wait for spring since the fruit is falling off the trees now) On my first go at it, I used a knife and peeler to get the rind off the fruit, with the method I used to candy it, having some of the pith on it didn't matter too much. After the 30th orange you start questioning whether it's worth the trouble, that's when The Don had a brainstorm (few and far between I might add). Use the hand cranked apple peeler/corer. It was a brilliant idea!

I had a batch of lemons on hand, using the apple peeler made short work of it. My main concern was that it would dig in too much to the pith, it didn't, and it made perfect and uniform lengths of peel ready to be candied. If you happen to have access to a nice amount of citrus please don't waste the peel. NOTE-apple peeler only works on the lemons.


Oranges, Lemons or Grapefruit
Equal parts Sugar and water Water

There are no measurements because this is totally up to the supply of fruit you have on hand. Use you preferred method to remove the peel from the fruit, don't worry too much about the pith since you will be neutralizing its bitterness in the cooking process.

Put the peel in a pan with cool water, bring to a boil and drain. Repeat blanching the rind at least 4 times with the oranges, more with the lemons and grapefruit. Making sure to always start with a pan of cool water. You will know it's ready when the taste of the peel is not so bitter and it will start to take on a bit of a translucent look.

Make a simple syrup of equal parts white sugar and water, bring to a boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, add your parboiled citrus peel and simmer for a few minutes before turning burner off. At this point you can either can it or cool it and pour into a freezer weight zip lock bag and refrigerate.

Monday, December 31, 2007


It's New Year's Eve, windy as hell in Southern California and the temperature is about to hit hyperthermia level. Which in our world means it's in the 50's with the wind chill, and I did my first recipe for the blog! I'm going to my friend Belisa's house for a get-together with a few friends, my job is dessert. Of course it has to be a wow dessert, I know my friends and I know how critical and cutthroat we can be, sooo....I turned to Martha.

My new cooking bible, on the advice of my daughter Xochitl, was to get Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. I will admit I got it mostly to humor her, (plus I was able to get it at Lowe's with The Don's card) but as soon as I leafed thru it I finally understood The Power of the Martha. I've already made several of her recipes but for now I'll focus on The Cake! Just reading the name imparts its decadence, I got so caught up with it that I made 2 of these bad boys since it makes a huge amount of ganache. One goes to the party with me and the other will impress The Don's friends over poker and tamales.
This recipe is long because it has several components and The Martha tends to be a bit wordy.

Makes one 9-inch layer cake

3 sticks butter (1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted plus more to flour pans
3/4 cup hot water
3/4 cup sour cream
3 cups cake flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 lg. eggs
1 TBS pure vanilla extract
Mint-Chocolate Ganache
Chocolate Mint Leaves

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 9-by-2 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter parchment paper also. Dust pans with cocoa powder and tap out excess. In a medium bowl, whisk cocoa with hot water until smooth. Whisk in sour cream and let cool. Into a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt, set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar of medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each; scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla.
With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in two parts, alternating with the cocoa mixture and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined.

Divide batter between prepared pans; smooth with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto a rack; peel off parchment. Reinvert cakes; let cool completely, top sides up.

Transfer half of Mint-Chocolate Ganache (3 1/2 cups) to the bowl of an electric mixer; save the other half for another use. (reason why I made 2, I couldn't think of what else I would use it on) Let ganache cool completely, attach bowl to mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until ganache holds soft peaks, 5 to 7 minutes.

Trim tops of cakes to level out. Put one of the layers on your workspace, I put it on a cardboard round on top of a wire rack over the sink. Spread top with 1 1/2 cups of ganache, top with remaining layer, cut side down, and spread rest of ganache over entire cake, letting it run down the sides. (easier clean up with rack over the sink) Refrigerate until set.

Transfer cake to your serving dish and garnish with Chocolate Mint Leaves.


18 fresh mint leaves (or as many as you want or have, with our weather I was able to go pick some fresh ones from the garden)
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Wash and dry the mint leaves, with a small brush coat the underside with chocolate and drape over the round handle of a wooden spoon. (it gives them shape) Refrigerate until set, using tweesers to hold the chocolate, glently pry the leaf away from the chocolate. Arrange chocolate leaves along with some fresh ones on top and around the bottom of your cake.

makes 7 cups, next time I would cut recipe in half.

4 cups heavy cream
2 pounds best-quality semisweet chocolate-chopped or use chips
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. pure peppermint extract

In a saucepan over medium heat bring cream to a full boil. Turn off heat, add the chocolate and gently whisk until dissolved. Add corn syrup, salt and peppermint extract, stir until combined. Transfer to a clean bowl to cool.

I spent all day making both cakes, by the end of it, I along with all kitchen counters was covered in cocoa, but the results were impressive. I'll report back later with what the girls had to say.

NOTE: The cake was a success per Dana who is pregnant, Carlene who depends on chocolate for her sanity, Cheryl who knows what she's talking about since her daughter-in-law is a chef, and Belisa who is just incredibly picky and critical (it's part of her charm). Would I do it again? Yes, when I need to pull out another wow dessert. This is definitely not an every day kind of cake, too rich.

NOTE TO SELF-in the recipe, Martha says to whip the ganache until soft peaks form. I realized once I had begun this step, the whole purpose of ganache is it's silky smoothness. Next time I ignore that step.


It's after one in the morning of the last day of 2007, as I lay here in bed reading other people's blogs, I have finally decided to start one of my own. I don't plan on telling anyone until I can find my footing and not feel like such a novice. I'm a little wary of criticism at the moment, since my daughter and one of my best friends are a fierce writers.
I have spent the last year reading blogs from all over the world, some simple, some masterpieces. I have some favorites I keep going back to and would like to use as my guides, and possibly add as links. Since I have no idea how to get permission for all that it will have to be done at a later date.

I discovered the blogging world when my daughter, Xochitl, shared hers with me. As you know, you click on one thing, then the next and so on and so on. Pretty soon you've been to at least 2 continents before you finish your first cup of coffee.
I've spent the last month baking up a storm, in the process I've pretty much killed my beloved and aged KitchenAid. I was still a KitchenAid virgin when I bought it from a friend for $25, it wasn't much but she was my first.
Christmas presents to my friends this year were baked goods, which also turns out to be much more expensive than just going out and buying small trinkets.

It was worth it, I honed some of my forgotten kitchen skills, found some new 'stuff' I didn't know I couldn't live without, and can't wait to get back in there to do more.
My passion at the moment happens to be baked goods, sweet and savory. I'm excited and hesitant to begin this blog and keep a log of my endeavours, when I feel confident enough I'll share the site with my family and friends.

For now, my confidant shall be my new kitchen buddy, Pearl. My Christmas gift from my husband (bribery for staying home instead of going to Las Vegas), was a brand new KitchenAid Professional 600! She's a big girl, coming in at 6 quarts, 575 watts, and Pearl Gray... she's beautiful! What makes her even better is that I got a killer deal after a 20% off coupon and $50 rebate.
I now have the happy dilemma of not knowing what to grab if the house catches fire, my sewing machine, my dehydrator or Pearl. I hope my husband, The Don, can save himself.