Archive | October, 2009

Secondhand Love

28 Oct
I loooooove shopping secondhand.  Craigslist, Ebay, Etsy, Swap Meets, Thrift Stores, Garage Sales…  75% of my furniture was purchased (or scrounged) secondhand and I find some of my favorite gifts – for other people as well as myself! – in secondhand places.  I just can’t help myself – antiques, even mid-century ones, tend to be better-made (and more durable), more beautiful, and more creative than a lot of what is available in stores today.  If I had hundreds of dollars, I would decorate my whole house in beautiful, old, eclectic pieces (as it is, it’s a pretty strange mix of what I could find when I needed it).

I am often drawn to certain things – I love kitchen gadgets and fun cook- and serve-ware, old cookbooks, records, and holiday goodies.  I also have an eye for vintage jewelry – but not the budget!  Here are some of my favorite finds! 

First up, kitchen goodies:

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My fun kitchen gadgets. I use the hand mixer ALL the time!

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My collection of cookie cutters. I even found the set of red ones in the box (at the back)

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My pyrex collection. Actually this is only about 80% of my Pyrex collection. I love Pyrex. You can almost never break these, and we use them constantly!

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More fun stuff to bake in and use - a mixture of new and old

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Old Tupperware - like the old Pyrex, it's almost indestructible!

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Serving ware I love the Serv-a-Snack kit!

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My gorgeous glasses! Old glass is really thick or really dainty - but I love the excellent quality.

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A fraction of my vintage cookbook collection

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A handwritten page from a recipe book I "adopted"

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Interesting vintage china originally purchased to use for the centerpieces at our wedding

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More vintage china - I love the art deco-esque salt and pepper shakers!

 And now a few more fun finds:

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Some of my favorite vintage records

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Fun kids' records! Kids' records are really hard to find because they usually get scratched up... To find them in good condition and not marked up to stupid prices by a collector is a feat!

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Some of my newer Christmas finds - we've also found an awesome 3-foot light up Santa (yes, I adore it's cheesiness) and a ton of other excellent Christmas swag, as well as fun bits and pieces for other holidays too!

Yes, this was merely a self-indulgent post, but it makes me smile! 🙂

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Soup

27 Oct

Have you ever thought about how many cultural variations there are on chicken soup?  From Mexican Tortilla Soup to Japanese Udon, it seems like every great cuisine has a soup recipe for those cold breezy days when you’re not feeling quite like yourself.  Some researchers claim that chicken soup contains compounds that actually help speed up the healing process when you’ve got a bug.

My grandmother always used to make us tortellini soup – steaming bowls of her homemade pork-and-veal-filled belly button-shaped tortellini with her incredible paper-thin pasta, full of warm nutmeg flavor and topped with handfuls of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  I have yet to make the tortellini on my own – her recipe is somewhere at my grandfather’s house and no one has had a chance to really look for it – but I’ve found a suitable replacement at Vons (chicken and prosciutto borsetti – my uncle says that my grandma’s secret ingredient was prosciutto and, after tasting these the first time I had to agree it probably was).  Every time I have a hard day, I crave her tortellini soup.

When we were sick, growing up, my mom would make plain chicken broth with alphabets, or pastina, or cream of wheat (try it – just use the recipe on the back of the box, with 1/3 of the cream of wheat in proportion to the liquid – it works really nicely to help fortify an upset stomach).

In college, I was introduced to Thai and Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine, which all have beautiful chicken soups.  Last year, my friend Shera shared her homemade matzo ball soup with me, and I can see why it’s known as Jewish penecillin.  Chock full of veggies and herbs, it’s like a great big hug.  I’ve experimented with making my own matzo ball soup, and it’s not too tricky (especially with the Shera-approved matzo mix!), but it’s definitely labor-intensive.

Matzo ball soup 001

A big pot of Jewish penecillin... Yum...

 

Today I stayed home from work.  Two nights ago I started feeling really weak and achy, and all day yesterday I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open (despite sleeping a crazy number of hours the night before).  I made it through the workday by the skin of my teeth, but when I woke up this morning I was just as weak and tired and achy, with the addition of a headache, sour stomach, sniffles, and a little cough.  I decided it was definitely better to take one day and get better now than struggle through the week and have a lingering sickness!  I’ve been napping all day, drinking loads of orange juice, taking vitamins and Oscillococcinum, and trying to get myself well.

Of course I wanted chicken soup.  I was craving chicken soup!

The leftover soup from last week is actually in the freezer for just such an occasion, but I wanted something different.  I flirted briefly with the idea of making an abbreviated matzo (chicken broth + matzo balls) but I decided on pho.

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup.  It’s typically made with beef and there are entire menus devoted to pho variations, but I’ve always really liked the chicken version.  It’s what I love to order at Vietnamese restaurants.  My “homemade” pho used just what I had on-hand, so it wasn’t very authentic, but it hit the spot.  It was garlicky and gingery and slightly spicy and so awesome.  It really felt almost as restorative as a big ol’ bowl of matzo ball soup, which is a high compliment!  It was so incredibly yummy and so pretty that I had to share.

My White Girl Pantry Pho

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water (I always think of the pho broth as a little lighter than regular chicken broth – if I’d made my own broth, I probably wouldn’t have added water, but I really liked the slightly-lightened-up broth in this)
  • A piece of fresh ginger – I used quite a lot, approx. 3/4 inch square – grated or cut really fine
  • 2 large cloves garlic, cut very fine or put through a garlic press
  • A small piece of yellow, red, or white onion, cut into paper-thin slices (I think I used about 2 tbsp worth)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce (you’re supposed to use fish sauce – but of course I didn’t have any…  strange that it’s the second time in a week that I should have used some in a recipe; when I had some in the pantry it went unused for years!)
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • dash ground pepper
  • dash Chinese five spice powder (okay, I know…  you’re supposed to toast up coriander seeds and anise…  I looked it up…  But I have neither in the house because I actually don’t like either, on a regular basis, so I improvised…  I was a little worried, to be honest, because Chinese five spice is pretty sweet, but I was pretty excited because it actually did give the broth a little anise flavor that I think I might have missed)
  • handful cooked shredded chicken (it’s so nice to have this in the freezer for just such an occasion!)
  • 1/4 package rice stick noodles
  • 1 green onion, cut into rings
  • a small bunch of basil, chiffonade (you could also use mint or parsley, or cilantro if it works for you – it makes me sick, so even though it’s actually the traditional accompaniment I don’t use it)
  • I didn’t have bean sprouts but they’re traditional in this soup too!

In a small saucepan, bring the broth, water, garlic, ginger, pepper, five spice,soy sauce, lime juice, and regular onion to a simmer.  Add the rice sticks and cook until tender.  Add chicken to bring up to temperature.  Serve in a large bowl topped by green onion, herbs, (and bean sprouts).  The broth is flavorful, and while it’s not authentic pho, it was sure a welcome bowl of goodness!  Here’s hoping it helps me get better fast!

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White Girl Pho

Asian-Inspired Pasta Salad

26 Oct

Last week I grilled up a nice piece of tuna for dinner.  We had a green salad with it but I wanted something more.  I knew we had rice noodles and so on the way home I came up with a fun recipe for a rice noodle salad.  It plays off the flavors of my favorite Thai Spring Rolls, and while it might not be the most authentic (I didn’t have any fish sauce but adding some would probably help), it was awfully tasty!

Asian-Inspired Pasta Salad

  • 1/2 package dry rice noodles (I actually wanted to use rice sticks but didn’t see them in the cupboard; these “chunky” ones work fine)
  • 1 shredded carrot
  • 1 rib shredded celery
  • 1 small portobello mushroom, cut into very small strips
  • 3 snap peas, cut into very small strips (you could also go with pea sprouts)
  • (use your imagination for anything else that you might want to throw in!)
  • 1 recipe sauce

Sauce

  • 3 tbsp chunky peanut butter (smooth would work fine, of course)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (hubby said I could have used more but I was worried it would be too hot!)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp shallot, cut very very small
  • 2-3 tbsp pineapple or rice wine vinegar

In a small bowl, mix sauce together.  Taste and add seasoning accordingly.  I added a touch of olive oil because hubby’s peanut butter needs to be refrigerated and I didn’t have time to let it come to room temperature and I couldn’t mix it!  But I don’t think that’s necessary for the overall dressing.

Bring water to a boil on the stove.  Add rice noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes or until soft.  Immediately drain and wash with cold water.  Add shredded vegetables and sauce and stir.  Serve garnished with sesame seeds and basil or mint (if you have holy basil, use that – it’ll be the most authentic!).  Serves 4.

Asian-Inspired Pasta Salad

Asian-Inspired Pasta Salad

Although this is a vegetarian pasta salad as it stands, you could easily add cooked shrimp or chicken to it.  We ate the leftovers with some pulled pork I made a while back and had stashed in the freezer.  Totally yummy!

Ch-ch-ch-chaaaanges!

26 Oct

You might notice a few changes around here (then again, you might not!) over the next couple of days.  I have decided to make my blog public and searchable, instead of private (only available to people who know the URL).  I don’t really know why, except that I’ve been enjoying plenty of other peoples’ blogs all year and I don’t know why I couldn’t share mine.  There are a few topics I deemed not for public consumption, but for the most part it’s all here still (and what’s not here I’ve saved – it’s just not available to everyone, all the time).  The topics will still stay relatively the same – if something strikes me or if I want to share, I’ll post (hopefully with more frequency than I have been!).  I just will be mindful of the fact that everyone can now read what I type! 🙂

Lemon, Brown Sugar, Olive Oil Cupcakes

25 Oct

Yesterday hubby and I went up to Riverside County; he wanted to check out Tom’s Farms in Corona (we’d seen it on a recent drive up to LA – yes, we went up the 15; it was rush hour on Friday and we got there a lot sooner than if we’d have taken the 5!) and do a little wine tasting.  Plus, we’d hoped to go olive oil tasting with friends earlier this month but it didn’t work out.

We spent the whole day meandering around – first at Rancho Bernardo Winery, then up at Tom’s Farms, Bella Vista Winery in Temecula, and lastly at the Temecula Olive Oil Company.  We were really impressed with the last one – you can try all of their oils and vinegars for free!  I’d definitely reccommend stepping into the front room before your tasting, though, and picking up a (gorgeous, cheap, and super-yummy!) cibatta bread to dip into the oil.  They say it dulls the taste, but really most of us aren’t used to taking olive oil as shots.  And after a few, it gets just a little heavy on the tummy!

That said, we decided to pick up a lemon olive oil while we were there.  All evening and this morning, that olive oil was on my mind – I had to use it in a baking project!!  I ended up googling olive oil cupcakes and came up with a few recipes; ultimately I adapted this one, from a blog I hadn’t yet seen (but quickly bookmarked – YUM!).  I wanted something that would be nice and light, with a good flavor of lemon and brown sugar.  But I’ve gone off by myself too many times and come up with would-be recipes that don’t have the right proportions, so I had to start somewhere!

This recipe was supposed to make 12 cupcakes; either my cupcake pans are smaller than hers or perhaps I didn’t fill mine enough; anyway, I filled up all 12 of my cupcake cups and had plenty to spare.  But that was okay – it gave me a chance to experiment and bake a little cake!

Lemon, Brown Sugar, Olive Oil Cupcakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 wheat pastry flour and 1/2 unbleached white; you could probably use cake flour as well but sifting the flour made it nice and light)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar (you might be able to use all brown sugar, but I didn’t want it too molassess-y)
  • 1/2 cup lemon olive oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  In a large bowl, combine zest, sugars, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Combine with an electric mixer.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the milk, beat well.  Add 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture and 1/2 of the remaining milk, beat well.  Add the remaining flour and milk and beat until smooth.  Pour into cupcake cups (I used 1/4 cup measure) and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes (I decided to go for 350 instead of 375 because I didn’t want them to dry out – you could probably go up to 375, as the original recipe suggests).

Lemon, Brown Sugar, Olive Oil Cupcakes

Lemon, Brown Sugar, Olive Oil Cupcakes

I didn’t frost these yet (they literally came out of the oven 20 minutes ago), and I might actually not frost them at all but eat them with vanilla ice cream and strawberries.  Otherwise I think they’d be really nice with a lemon or almond buttercream or whipped cream.  They have a really beautiful dainty and soft texture; they’re not very heavy, but they’re incredibly moist.  They taste lightly of lemon and brown sugar – if you want more of a lemon flavor, you could up the amount of lemon juice in them and remove some of the milk – and are not too sweet.  Just the way I like a cupcake!

We just couldn't resist trying one!

We just couldn't resist trying one!

As I said, I had some leftover batter once I poured all the cupcakes into their cups.  So I decided to be daring! 🙂  I know how much I love basil and lemon together, and I had some fresh basil we’d bought last week at Henry’s.  So I pureed a little of the basil (a good handful – sorry, I didn’t measure) and threw it into the batter before I baked up a little cake out of it!  It came out a little strange-looking, but it’s very tasty.  It’s unexpected and doesn’t really taste very “basil”-flavored, but it really adds a little kick to the recipe!

The little cake with the basil in it - yes, it's a little brown on the top... oops...

The little cake with the basil in it - yes, it's a little brown on the top... oops...

 Edited to add: I frosted these with a quick C&H buttercream variation: I used half a box of powdered sugar, 2 tbsp of butter, 2 tbsp of lemon juice, a tsp of almond extract, and some cream (I have no clue how much – it just had to be the right texture).  It was tangy and sweet but balanced, and since the cupcakes themselves were pretty mellow it just was a little wakeup call for them.  Very nice!  I still like them plain, though, too, or with berries…

Lemon Olive Oil Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Lemon Almond Buttercream

Lemon Olive Oil Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Lemon Almond Buttercream

:)

🙂

Tuscan White Bean and Sausage Soup

22 Oct

Last night I made dinner to bring to my friend Chrystal.  She and her hubby just had a beautiful baby!  I wasn’t planning to blog about it, but since I made extra for our dinner and since it was SO totally yummy (and since I haven’t had time to write the posts I’d been planning…  sorry), I thought I’d do a quick post with the recipe.

You can do this sort of soup a million different ways, adding or subtracting things as you go.  In fact, I added a few more pantry items to our soup when we ate it than I’d added to Chrystal’s soup when I brought it over; I’ve updated the recipe as such.  I’ve had white bean and sausage soup a lot of places, but this recipe was something I came up with a few years back.  Parts of it are a riff on Italian Wedding Soup, but it’s not like any recipe for that soup I’ve ever seen.  It’s a nice light-tasting soup, but it’s a good meal in itself!

If I’m making a big pot of soup, I try to pick up a whole chicken at the grocery store and make my own stock.  The night before (or early in the day, if you’ve got time), I cut up the chicken and toss it in a pot of water.  I used about 5 gallons of water, a tablespoon of light salt, a small onion (halved, not cut – and with the brown peel still on, since it actually helps the broth take on a nice golden color), a handful of baby carrots, two stalks of celery (also pretty much whole), and three or four whole cloves of garlic with a pinch of pepper and herbs.  The pot should be on a relatively low heat – it should steam, but there should be NO BUBBLES!  Let it go for an hour to an hour and a half.

Remove the chicken pieces and let them cool, and remove all the vegetables (throw them away or compost them; they’ve done all they can).  Bring the pot up to a rolling boil and let the liquid reduce for about 20 minutes before skimming and cooling.

I do this step the night before if I can because if you let the whole thing cool in the fridge you can skim a lot of the fat off the top of the pan.  It’s not mandatory to do so, but I am not a big fan of greasy-tasting broth, so I like to.

 

I also like to make my own sausage meatballs (although you can use packaged sausage; I like the sweet Italian from Whole Foods).  It’s super-easy to do and you can control what goes into it.  I use one package of ground turkey from the supermarket (it’s about a pound) and some ground herbs.  I don’t really have a recipe – I just throw things in until it feels and smells good – but I think it’s about 2 teaspoons each of dehydrated garlic, lemon pepper, basil, and parsley, with a pinch of paprika.  To that, I add an egg and a quarter cup of panko breadcrumbs (I find that using them helps keep the meatballs from being heavy).  For soup, I shape the meatballs into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces so that they’re bite-sized.

The next day, assemble your soup:

  • 4 gallons of chicken broth or stock (Pacific Organics makes a really good chickeny-tasting broth that has a lot less salt than other broths; since there’s a lot of flavor in the ingredients, you don’t really want the broth salty)
  • 1 small onion, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 ribs celery, cut into small pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into small pieces (or a good handful of baby carrots!)
  • 1 medium parsnip, cut into small pieces
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, cut into very small pieces
  • 1 package of small pasta (anything bite-sized – I usually use about 6 servings’ worth and I like orzo or orichiette, but you can really use any shape that’s fun)
  • The meatballs made above, or 3-4 links of your favorite sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cans of white beans, rinsed and drained (I’ve cooked dry beans once for this purpose but really it’s a pain; don’t forget to rinse them really well, though!)
  • Some of the chicken you poached in the broth, shredded
  • 2 small tomatoes, cut up (or a can of good diced tomatoes, drained)
  • two or three bunches of basil, chiffonade (I like adding fresh parsley if I’ve got it, too; or if you prefer you can use any combination of those herbs and spinach or kale)
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • a nice sprinkling of fresh parmesan cheese

First, bring the broth up to a simmer.  Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and parsnip and cook about 10-15 minutes.  Add the pasta and cook until there are about 5 minutes left (since every type of pasta has a different cooking time, you’ll need to check your own).  Add the meatballs or sausage and cook another 5 minutes.  The meatballs will float to the top.

In the bowls you’ll be eating from, add some cooked chicken, beans, and tomatoes.  Pour the soup over the top.  Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice and sprinkle your leafy greens over the top.  Top with parmesan cheese!  Stir before taking a big bite, but not until after you’ve taken a photo because it’s just too pretty!

It's tasty and beautiful!

It's tasty and beautiful!

I like how all the flavors act subtlely together, and how versatile this soup is (don’t have tomatoes?  don’t use them!  don’t like basil?  use spinach instead!  don’t like beans?  leave them out!).  The tiny bit of lemon juice helps brighten the whole thing up – and trust me, it doesn’t taste lemony.  Using a mild broth (chicken-flavored rather than salty) helps each of the different components of the soup stand out on its own, and using ingredients that play nicely together helps the flavors come together and create a completely new dish.  Since you’re pouring the hot broth over the prepared ingredients (you could also, in theory, cook the meatballs and pasta separately too), you’re able to control the amounts of each of the ingredients you have in your bowl – and customize them for a picky palate.

Almost all gone

Almost all gone

Mmmm…  And now I’m hungry, and wishing I had a big bowl in front of me!

 

Edited to add: Apparently I forgot I made a variation on this soup and posted it back in May.  Oh well, you can see how awesome it is, that I make it often and in different ways!

Fall is in the Air…

5 Oct

It may be the start of the third “official” week of Fall, but it’s finally looking like a change is in the air.  In Southern California, we tend to have very minimal seasonal changes – Spring basically warms up a few degrees to turn into Summer (in fact, much of the coast is so mired in “May Gray” and “June Gloom” that we tend to forget that Summer is even a season until July), Summer sort of fades out in the middle of December (anyone who lives anywhere else in the country will laugh at this – but sometimes Christmas is warmer than the Fourth of July).

Even so, this year I can sense a definite change in seasons.  This weekend was crisp and clear, a little windy, and cool and damp at night.  After the Summer we had – hot and humid and oppressively still – it’s made me a little giddy.

I wore a sweater for much of the weekend, relishing in the comforting softness against my skin.  I went for a walk today – sweater on, even though it’s admittedly probably 5 degrees too warm for it – and the store windows are full of displays in fall colors.  Whereas for much of the spring and summer I wanted to wear nothing but light dresses in pink and purple and blue, I am drawn to beautiful heavy skirts and sweaters and scarves of berry and sage and pumpkin.  One of the stores even has a sort of a Christmas-y vibe in it’s window – bright red coats with jaunty white hats topped with pom-poms and paper snowflakes.

It’s comforting, too, to have this need for warmth – I wore slippers this morning for the first time in ages, cuddled up with a blanket last night, and wished for all the world that we’d already found a new house with a fireplace just so I could use it for the first time.  This change in the weather has me thinking of house cleaning and decorating and baking and shopping, and parties with friends and family.  I want to make soup and pie and hot chocolate and drive up to Julian to pick apples.

Mostly, I think that this seasonal change gives me hope for the future.  It’s been an especially difficult year, bringing a seemingly neverending onslaught of problems and stressors.  At times I felt like I should just give up.  It’s not easy to deal with a constant barrage.  I know I’m not out of the woods yet – the year is not yet over and I haven’t yet achieved what I set out to – but the crisp Autumn wind seems to remind me of all the good things yet to come, and how cyclical the world is.  And getting out of the oppressive heat and humidity, even if only for a short while (the worst weather in Southern California – the destructive fire-feeding Santa Ana winds – typically sweep in during September and October), is helping to start clearing my head.

 

Edited on November 4th to say: What a difference a month makes!  A little spooky, isn’t it?  Change is good!!!

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