Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pear Upside-Down Gingerbread Cake

Due to a roommate moving out, our new wireless router not working, Comcast taking its sweet time to send us a new one, and Christmas messing up the whole postal service, I have not had the use of internet on my computer in a couple of weeks. This isn't a huge problem; I still connect at work and I can borrow a housemate's computer at home if need be. Unfortunately, that does mean that all the pictures I've taken to share with you here are sitting on my laptop's hardrive and not going anywhere any time soon. Another picture-less post is better than nothing, I guess.

Recent deliciousness to come out of my kitchen:

A vegetarian white bean/squash/kale mole (from 101 Cookbooks) cooked in my new beautiful Le Creuset oval dutch oven (thanks Mom and Dad!), served over polenta/corn grits made with queso seco. There's something wonderful about using the right "nationality" of cheese for a given meal.

What do you do with all the extra white beans you've soaked and cooked when your mole recipe only calls for one and half cups? Make white bean hummus! Combined beans, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and some basil/parsley pesto I froze over the summer to make a surprisingly light and delicous dip for carrot sticks, crackers, or pita.

A pear upside-down gingerbread cake, made by combining a pear upside-down cake from Bitten with my mother's gingerbread, recipe below. Baked it in my 10-inch cast iron skillet and the whole thing plopped out perfectly, with a soft spiced cake on the bottom and deliciously caramelized fruit on top. Turned out pretty damn well, if I do say so myself.

Snickerdoodles for Lee, who doesn't like fruit in desserts. I didn't have any cream of tartar, so I subbed baking powder for baking soda and added a splash of lemon juice. The cookies turned out puffier and cakier than I remember, without the deep cracks that usually tell me they're done. But they tasted just the same, and Lee loved them.

Balsamic glazed brussels sprouts, recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I made these a few weeks ago in my cast iron, substituting mushrooms for the pancetta, and absolutely loved them. Since I had more brussels sprouts this weekend, I figured I'd give it another shot, but cut the sprouts in half to cut down on the cooking time and cooked them in a soup pot so as not to dirty another dish. Both bad calls. The cooking liquid permeated the brussels sprouts too much so they overcooked into a slightly-too-mushy state, while overcrowding in the pot didn't let the outsides caramelize right. Do me a favor: make these brussels sprouts as written and smile, because these little guys are like mini cabbage manna from heaven.

Winter squash pasta: Roasted an ambercup squash (my new hands-down favorite) and pureed its pulp with caramelized shallots, garlic, and sage, adding vegetable stock and a bit of butter until it was a saucey consistency. I had some leftover homemade fettucini from a lasagna project the previous weekend, so I cooked that al dente, tossed it with some squash sauce, and topped it with Point Reyes blue cheese and fresh sage. Divine. Shared it with my roommates, who liked it so much they washed all my dishes. Perfect. :)

Pear Upside-Down Gingerbread Cake

3 T plus ½ C butter, divided

¾ C maple syrup or other liquid sweeteners, I used honey for part of mine

¼ C packed brown sugar

3 to 4 firm pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

½ C sugar
1 egg
1 C molasses
1 C hot water
2 ½ C flour
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat; add maple syrup and brown sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for another 2 minutes; remove from heat and set aside. When mixture has cooled a bit, pour it into a baking pan or iron skillet, 9 or 10 inches wide, and arrange pear slices in overlapping circles on top.

In a large bowl or an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar, add egg, and beat well. Separately, combine molasses and water. Sift together dry ingredients and add alternately with the molasses to the butter-sugar mixture, mixing well. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool five minutes. Run a knife around edge of pan; put a plate on top of cake and carefully flip it so plate is on bottom and pan is on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Restaurant All to Ourselves

On Christmas day, my Sister #2 and her family gathered in a new spot--a restaurant that was closed to the public, but open for us and only us!

Our darling Nephew-in-Law #1 (on the right, below) is the manager. He was such a gracious host! He gave us the run of the place, turned the game on, showed us all the fun stuff behind the bar, and let us loose to play:

Oooh! Pretty bottles!:

The men especially seemed to have fun around, behind, and near the bar:

Maybe it was partly the attraction of the fancy computerized cash register, which could read employees' fingerprints, verify a person's age, and spit out little printouts of drink recipes. With this machine, a patron can order a "Fuzzy Bellybutton" or something equally obscure, and the bartender can make the drink, every time. No need to memorize hundreds of recipes!:

The Boy had a lot of fun messing around with this machine:

The bar's attraction might have had something to do with this gizmo, which can dispense different liquids with the touch of a button. Anything that looks like it has a handle and shoots stuff seems to attract men....

What is it with guys and Stuff That Shoots Stuff? This is Niece #4's Best Beau:

And this is Niece #4, striking a cute barmaid pose:

Here's my Nephew #3, looking handsome as ever:

Speaking of handsome, I am blessed to have these two dudes under my roof:

Drinks and nibbles in hand, we settled down to the serious task of having fun:

This is my sister's first grandson. Isn't he a cutie?

Daughter #2 and Grand-Nephew, getting some one-on-one time in:

Mistletoe alert: Incoming!


Meanwhile in the kitchen, those of us who wanted to cook got busy. There were potatoes to boil:

Milk to scald and butter to melt. Mmmm!

Here's my Sister #2, prepping something or other and laughing as her family swirls around her:

My super, computer-skilled Brother-in-Law #2 hacked in to the restaurant's computer to fix up a few things and make systems run better:

And I poked around the kitchen.

I love restaurant kitchens. I'm fascinated by the stacks and stacks of china:

They have things I'd never have, like steak knives by the dozens:

And enough plastic film to entirely wrap up a minivan:

Restaurant refrigerators are amazing places. Look how huge this is!

Even in such unfamiliar surroundings, we cooks got to work and turned out a delicious roast of beef:

My Nephew-in-Law-the-Manager's grandpa carved the beef to perfection:

I was in charge of making the batter for the Yorkshire Pudding:

I guess they don't do much blended stuff at this place--the blender was normal size.

Here's my mom's recipe for Yorkshire Pudding, in my sister's handwriting, with many spills attesting to its age. This recipe is fantastic!:

I'll include it at the end of this posting, so you don't have to strain your eyes making out the writing, okay?

Meanwhile Sister #2 and Niece #1 tackled the potatoes:

And Brother-in-Law #2 had a heckuva good time wielding this wicked-looking whisk. The mashed potatoes never had a chance!

Stand back! Men with power tools!

At the end of the night, we'd accumulated quite a lot of dirty glasses:

Nephew-in-Law showed The Hubby and The Boy how to use the three-sink system to wash and sanitize the glasses:

Here's a real Christmas miracle--The Boy washed a glass!:

And then he washed another one, and another, and another:

Hallelujah! Now, if only I could get him to do this at home....

By the end of the evening, we were starting to feel like a gingerbread man who'd been mangled by a five-year-old:

And when the bottles start looking like this:

We knew it was time to go home. Night-night, everyone!

Yorkshire Pudding

1-1/2 C. milk
1-1/2 C. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
4 Tbsp. butter or drippings from a roast

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a 9x13 casserole into the oven to heat up.

Pour milk into a bowl or blender. Combine dry ingredients; pour into bowl or blender. Blend until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Remove hot casserole dish from the oven; put butter or drippings into the heated pan; pour in the batter and return dish to the oven.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until pudding is puffed and golden.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I haven't posted on Teapots for so long and for that I am so sorry! I could give you all the excuses about being a busy college student, having five finals to write, packing up my entire room because I'm going abroad next semester, etc., but instead, I hope to placate you with some pictures of something we don't really get around these parts: snow!

I know the Northeast is completely inundated with snow right now, so to those of you over there, you might want to stop reading, as these pictures will be either ho-hom or simply remind you of the fact that right outside your doorstep is a good foot of powder. However, for those of you who are otherwise-located, perhaps right here in Southern California, I give you that rarely-seen sight of wintery goodness.

Two weeks ago I went on a trip through my college to Mammoth Lakes, CA. Each year, the ski group on campus rents out two large cabins in Mammoth (about a 5 hour drive north of Los Angeles) and 70 or so college students take them over for three days and two nights. These cabins, though large, really only sleep about 30ish people, so there were people sleeping on floors, in closets, in bathrooms, everywhere! Despite the odd sleeping arrangements, however, it was an amazing trip. Though 90% of people were there to ski or snowboard during the day, I went up with a couple of friends who were all intending to just sit around the cabin, explore the town, and play in the snow instead of paying extra to go up the mountain. We had a great time.

This was the cabin we stayed in. Beautiful!

It snowed during the night, so in the morning, my car looked like this.
Not something this LA girl is used to...

I loved the way the snow domed over these little fence posts.

It was quite cold, but we warmed ourselves up with Hot Buttered Rum.
SO delicious.
Recipe soon to follow!

All in all, I had a blast. That's not to say I'm ready to leave the land of palm trees and perpetual summer just yet, but it sure was nice to take a vacation. :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Flying Chihuahuas!

In my dear city, this is waaaay too common a sight:

(Photo by Genaro Molina, of the Los Angeles Times)

The City of the Angels has too many four-footed angels like this one:

Oh, those ears! And this one:

Dinky but dignified, his look says. And long-haired versions, like this one:

Los Angeles has more homeless Chihuahuas and "Chi mix" dogs in its animal shelters than any other type (only Pit Bulls and Pit mixes are more populous). And, ironically, the East Coast has very, very few Chi's in its shelters. Like, entire cities haven't seen one for months.

So a smart lady named Laurel Kinder came up with a brilliant idea:

Yup, Project Flying Chihuahuas:

Twice this month, Kinder has arranged for American Airlines to fly these petite pets to Humane Society locations in New Hampshire. The first batch of Chi's flew there on December 2, where they were snapped up by eager, would-be dog owners. Almost immediately, word got out that more of these cuties were coming, and animal facilities in and around New Hampshire had to create waiting lists to handle the number of interested customers.

Of course, this is Los Angeles. The land of Hollywood. Movie stars. And connections.

And so this story has a star element.

To fund this operation, Kinder turned to the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, created by "Grey's Anatomy" actor Katherine Heigl and her mother, Nancy. The women started the foundation in memory of Katherine's brother, an animal lover who died at the age of 15 in 1986. The foundation donated $25,000 to fly the first batch of little pooches to the East Coast.

The Flying Chihuahuas project is getting publicity, too.

People Magazine's online version, People Pets, ran an article on it dated December 3.

And The Los Angeles Times ran an article on the effort on December 10 by Maria La Gonga. She reported that fully a third of the dogs in San Francisco's city shelters are chi's or chi mixes. I don't know what the stats are for Los Angeles, but from what I've seen, I'd say that's about right for this city, too.

The second squadron of flying Chihuahuas took off for The Granite State last Friday, the 18th of December. That morning, I got a last-minute email asking for us volunteer types to help prepare the pups for their red-eye back East. Folks needed help loading the dogs into their individual carriers and--get this--putting sweaters on them! Gaack! Putting sweaters on Chihuahuas! Can you imagine?

Other Person: "What did you do yesterday, Juli?"

Me: "Oh, nuthin' much. Just stuffed 17 chihuahuas into eensy little holiday-themed sweaters, and then kissed them on the head as I tucked them into their carrier kennels for a jet flight to the East Coast."

Other Person: [Emitting faint choking sounds as they OD on the Visual Cuteness Factor of such a scene.]

Well, unfortunately, I wasn't able to help, because the last-minute call for help was too last minute, and it was taking place at the other end of The Valley, and I had company coming for dinner that night and a lot of cooking to do.

But you can be sure I'll do whatever I can to be there the next time a pile of these puppies goes airborne. It's just too hysterical a scene to pass up.

No, this isn't Laurel. It's one of our many good-hearted volunteers, holding one of the way-too-many Chi mixes available for adoption in this city:

Fasten your seatbelts, puppies. You might have in your near future a wonderful ride back East!

All photos, except for the first one by Genaro Molina of the Los Angeles Times, provided by Karl Loveys. Thank you, Karl!


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