Monday, April 30, 2007

Questions of the day....

Can you name three things you consider yourself to be very good at?

Can you name three things you consider yourself to be very bad at?

Here are my "skills" or lack there of.....

Good things: cooking, party planning, college (I loved being a student, lectures and studying)

Bad things: driving in reverse, making pie crusts (the art of the crust eludes me to this day....), running (unless someone is chasing me with a knife, it just doesn't happen)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Proof that I am an airhead....

Wednesday was Administrative Assistant's Day. Since my boss has been in and out of the office for the last few months, I took it upon myself on Tuesday to email the staff and ask what we would like to do for our assistant. We took our tasks and it was my responsibility to pick up a card for all of us to sign. Good enough!

After work, I headed over to Target to pick up some items and the card. I couldn't find my ATM card anywhere, I had no cash and had left my credit cards at home (an attempt to curtail my spending which now, given my current situation, supports my original belief
that a girl and her credit card should never be parted...). I then remembered that I had left my ATM card in the pocket of my jeans on Sunday. I also remembered that I had washed AND dried said jeans on Monday. Oh great! So, I left Target empty-handed and went to work out. After I got home I headed to the bedroom and that pile of clothing that I had just washed. There, still in the pocket, was my ATM card....curled up and slightly burnt (I dry my jeans on high heat) on the edges. It reminded me of a Shrinky Dink. The spender in me was thinking, "Nah, it's still good...maybe I can heat it again and flatten it out" After coming up with a half dozen ways to "McGuyver" my card, I opted to just order a new one.

I now had the task of dialing the dreaded 1-800 number to cancel the card and order a new one. After I had pressed a MILLION numbers into the phone, I finally got a live person. I explained that I had washed and dried my card and it was now out of commission; I needed a new one.

"You washed and dried your card? Why?"

Was he serious? Did he think I did this intentionally? I wanted to respond, "I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Do you know what kind of bacteria is on that card?"

However, my banking future was in his hands. I opted to be kind. I instead responded with, "I'm an airhead and I left the card in the pocket of my jeans." He laughed (mockingly, in my opinion). What a pleasure to know that I am providing entertainment...most likely to the entire Wells Fargo Call Center..

After going through the standard question and answer tango, he then tells me that he has cancelled my card and directs me to destroy it. Wasn't that the whole point of this call? I had already destroyed it. "Yeah, let me take care of that buddy. Buh-bye now!"

And here is the latest in Wells Fargo Shrinky Dinks.....

Monday, April 23, 2007

A weekend of food, fun, friends and laughter

I apologize in advance for this being such a lengthy post, but there was much to write about and I was unwilling to do more than one post. I can say that it's shorter than, War and Peace....

I love when I have weekends that can be marked by friends, fun and especially food. It was a rather lazy weekend and I quickly decided that the weekend would not include any demands on myself. I had my list (yes, I am a list person) going of all the things I had planned to accomplish over the next three days ( I have Monday off too). But, as I type this post, the list is less than half completed...(sigh).

On Friday, I left work an hour early to get a jump on the traffic and run a quick errand. As I pulled my car onto the freeway, I was met with a parking lot. What are all these people doing on the road at 3:30? Don't they work? They couldn't possibly have the same idea I did.... So, I settled in my lane with my right foot bouncing back and forth on the gas and the brake. Of course, all the people in the carpool lane were flying past me. I started to take a look into the cars to check out the passengers and noted one driver and the passengers....a baby in a car seat. That baby shouldn't count. The whole point of the carpool lane is to avoid two or more people driving solo. So, unless that baby has a license...that driver is really stretching the definition of a carpool lane and a passenger.... If that's the case, then my dogs should count as extra passengers as well. Add a letter to the Department of Transportation on my list...

After the stop and go traffic, I completed my errand and headed over to the wine bar for some much needed rejuvenation. As luck would have it, friends started to trickle in and soon Colin, Irene, Dennis, Mike and Gen had joined me. It was a fun evening of cheese plates, wine and laughter. I was having such a good time, that I completely forgot to pull out my, no visual of this evening.

The next day, I did actually mark off a few items on my list. I met a friend for a quick walk, came home and did some yoga, caught up on some reading (I am one of those people that juggle the reading of multiple books at any given time) scrubbed my kitchen from top to bottom, and made some delicious hummus with Kalamata olives. As the rain really picked up, I headed over to Tanya's for dinner and a movie. The original plan was to go to Whole Foods Market to purchase a ridiculous amount of food, make a four course meal, take tons of pictures and blog about our decadent evening... In my head, it was running like our little version of Babbett's Feast. However, Tanya wasn't up to such an evening, so we tweaked our plans a bit. I headed over to Freeport Bakery and picked us up a slice of Tiramisu and Lemon Cooler. Then I popped over to Trader Joe's and picked up a plant to brightened Ms. Tanya's day and an extra bottle of wine...just in case (wink, wink). We dined on a delicious veggie pizza, a beautiful salad with avocados and this fabulous Green Goddess Dressing that Tanya made. After dinner we settled down to enjoy some "Sex in the City" and dive into dessert. Kody was quite taken with the dessert as well.....

Kody "jonesing" for our treats.....

On Sunday evening, Craig and I were invited to Colin and Irene's for a dinner party. Since all of the guests were bringing various items to the party, I decided to make dessert. At first, I decided on a flourless chocolate torte with some fresh cream. However, when I got to the store, there were these beautiful blueberries and raspberries in the produce section. So, I decided to make two desserts; the chocolate torte and fresh berry parfaits with lemon cream....Yum! Normally, I will make the parfaits in martini glasses...but there were going to be 10 people at the party. So, I headed over to Ikea to pick up some dessert glasses for the parfaits. As luck would have it, I ran into my old friend Bart. He had just recently purchased a house in our neighborhood and was buying a very large rug. After catching up with one another, I invited him over for dinner on Monday...Leg of Lamb, it will be.

Back home, I whipped up the parfaits and the torte. Since I have already shared the preparation of the parfaits with you, we can just dive right into the torte! So, to speak...

Berry Parfaits in my new dessert glasses from Ikea

Measure out four ounces of bittersweet chocolate. I used Scharffen Berger.

Chop up the chocolate for easy melting.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl with one stick of unsalted butter. I use a stainless steel bowl over a small pan of water on the stove at low heat.

After the chocolate and butter have melted, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in 3/4 cup of sugar. Add 3 large eggs and whisk.

Sift 1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa over the batter and mix until just combined.

Pour batter into the prepared (recipe below) 8-inch cake pan. Batter will be similar to a thick brownie batter.

After the cake has completely cooled. Dust with unsweetened cocoa powder. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Then the fun starts.... Colin and Irene had invited Craig, myself, Lori and Mike, Bob and Sondra and Dennis. We had a delicious dinner of grilled tri-tip, fresh green salad and roasted baby potatoes. And since Bob and Sondra own the wine bar, many bottles of wine were introduced and enjoyed.

Dennis, Mike and Lori sharing wine bar gossip

Bob and Dennis perhaps conspiring on how to keep the Stag's Leap District Cabernet all to themselves.....

Bob takes the next step in the plan as he deftly grabs the coveted bottle...

Irene and Craig enjoying themselves and the wine.

That must have been some kick ass wine. The Riedel broke in a way I have never seen before....

Looks like Colin can add writing a letter to the Riedel Glass company on his to-do list....

Flourless Chocolate Torte

4 ounces of high quality bittersweet chocolate
1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for finishing

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom of pan with a round of wax or parchment paper. Butter the paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate with butter, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into the pan and bake in middle of oven for 25 minutes or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes and then invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder after the cake has completely cooled. Serve with fresh whipped cream, gelato or coconut sorbet.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A possible venture into polygamy.........

For those of you who are not aware, Tanya and I met our future husband this weekend..."George Clooney". Since "George" was already married, it appears that polygamy is our only option since we found out that his wife is a dead-ringer for Heather Locklear. (Information that we really didn't need to know......) Anyway, since I doubt "George" will leave "Heather", and neither Tanya or I would be willing to step aside and give him up, we will have to settle for Sister Wives #2 and #3.... However, we neglected to get his name, so it puts a bit of a wrench into our plan.

But, all is not lost..... Our co-worker ran into "George" on her way home. Apparently he works very close to us in the downtown area. I requested that she approach him, explain that she is our (by "our", I mean, the slightly inebriated women that took their picture with you at the Bockbierfest last weekend) friend and then find out his name. Obviously, I will need to work on her because she refuses to associate herself with us. Whatever! Anyway, this little project may take longer than expected. I will keep you posted on our progress.....

Friday, April 13, 2007

Everything tastes better roasted.....

When I was in culinary school, I had a job with the director of the department as an instructor's assistant and a general flunkee. On Saturdays we had Chef Series classes that were opened to the general public for a flat rate. My friend Marion and I (due to our low level status) had the pleasure and at times, the curse, of convincing area chefs to come in early on a Saturday morning to teach a class for the "housewife demographic" on any subject they preferred. Lucky for us, one chef, Rick Mahan, was always available. He had a bit of that "chef rock star" air about him and due to his roguish good looks, he was always a big draw.

Both Marion and I had worked for him at different points in our culinary careers and we loved and respected his talent and genuine kindness. His approach to food is very tactile, involving all the senses and and his charm cannot be ignored. Currently, he owns and operates my favorite restaurant in town, The Waterboy, named after a Celtic rock band that he loves.

It was in one of these classes that Rick taught me one of the most important aspects when composing a dish; each ingredient should be able to stand on its own. Quality means everything and the layering of flavors can take a simple dish to a whole new level. The item on the class agenda that day was pizza. This was the early 90's and "gourmet pizza" was the trend du jour. Since the actual cooking time on a thin crust pizza is minimal, it's crucial to cook the actual toppings individually, thus giving gourmet pizza all its flavor. Rick took the class from cradle to grave as he caramelized onions, sauteed wild mushrooms, and roasted bell peppers and garlic. It was a long process, but what a payoff. To this day, Rick still conducts cooking classes (now held in his restaurant), sharing all his knowledge and love of food.

Chef Rick at The Waterboy

For the Lunch Club this week, I decided to bring in a Roasted Vegetable and Potato Salad. I adhered to the lessons Rick taught me, seasoning and roasting all the potatoes and vegetables, layering my flavors.

Approximately 2 pounds of Baby red potatoes cut in half and seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper before roasting in a 400 degree oven for 35-45 minutes depending on your taste and size of potato.

One large sweet red onion sliced crosswise in 4ths to make large rings, 3 large zucchini sliced in a 1 inch diagonal , and 1-2 pounds of whole crimini mushrooms seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper before roasting in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes.

After all the vegetables have cooled, I combined the potatoes and vegetables together and checked the taste to determine if more salt was needed.

When I was ready to serve the salad, I added roasted red bell peppers (this time I used peppers from a jar due to the rain dampening my ability to get to my outdoor grill), fresh arugula and a simple balsamic vinaigrette. I use one from Trader Joes. I prefer to eat this salad at room temperature and since there isn't any protein or dairy, it is safe to do so.

I served the salad with a roasted chicken that I picked up at the market. It was unfortunate that we were at work, because the lunch would have been bliss with a glass of Viognier. True to form, Rick was right.....layering the flavors added complexity and texture to the salad. The only seasoning added was olive oil, salt and pepper. The roasting allowed the natural sugar and flavors of the vegetables to emerge and the arugula added that peppery pungency...simple and delicious.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Odds and Ends

I have been meaning to post pictures of my birthday celebrations and other little escapes, but sometimes I get lazy and posting all those pictures seems like a daunting task. But then again, so does blow drying my hair, ironing clothes and cleaning out my purse. Obviously, this is an issue beyond posting pictures....but, that's a whole other post.

This is my Birthday Brulee....yum!

Mike enjoying his wine at my birthday celebration at the wine bar...

The other Michelle and Sondra look on...

Craig toasting my day.....

This is my attempt at satirizing those Internet dating website "self portrait" bathroom pictures. Sad thing's one of the better pictures taken of me recently, seriously.

This is the beginning of last Friday evening....Tanya's first beer.

My first cocktail....

My second cocktail and the second bar.....

The buzz is on......

At some point in the evening, Kevin ends up dancing an Irish Jig....unfortunately, he is the only one who can hear the music.

I close out the Friday evening and end up at the wine bar.....

Now some pictures of a little birthday get together at my cousin's house.

This is a lovely cocktail of Proseco and berry sorbet...yum!!!

After many Proseco cocktails, the stories start to flow.....

And ultimately they have quite an impact. I guess it is not wise to recall the first time you caught your parents in a "compromising position". Thank god we have the cocktails to comfort us.

Well, that's about all I have for now....

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Easter Feast

Okay, I really don't celebrate Easter. Since I am now a "fallen Catholic", Easter is just another one of those holidays centered around eating. Sounds good to me... And since it is just an "eating holiday", I had the luxury of sleeping in and having breakfast with my family at Denny's. No Sunday Service for me to attend...yes!

Gotta love a restaurant that has a "table tent talker" for deep fried cheesesticks and onion rings at 8:00 in the morning.

Before I left my cousin's house, she had given me some beautiful strawberries, so I decided to stop off at the store and pick up a few items to complete my Easter Feast. It was around noon when I made it to the store and I was surrounded by people in their Easter finest picking up last minute items and floral arrangements. I noticed that I was getting some odd looks as I was steering my cart around the store. Did I have something in my teeth... or oh god, something coming out of my nose. I nonchalantly brushed my finger over my nose and quickly looked down to inspect myself. Then I remembered what I was wearing; yoga pants and this shirt....

It's a t-shirt from Sharffenberger Chocolate...Uplifting, isn't it?

Oh well, then I am a heathen. A heathen with great taste in clothes and chocolate. Anyway, since I had those beautiful strawberries, I thought that I would make Lemon Mousse and Berry Parfaits with pistachios...yum!

I started by making the mousse. A very simple technique. I used a half pint of heavy whipping cream, whipped until stiff peaks formed and then folded in a 1/2 cup or 3/4 cup (to taste) of lemon curd. (Trader Joe's has a fabulous lemon curd that I could eat by the spoonful right out of the jar.... )

I only had half a jar of lemon curd left, so no sneaking any with my spoon!

I love spring and all the beautiful fruits and vegetables it brings

I then sliced the strawberries and placed them in the bottom of a small glass and added a layer of the mousse, more strawberries, more get the idea. Sprinkled the top of the parfait with chopped pistachios and garnished with a strawberry... It looks like springtime in a cup! And in keeping with my Sharffenberger themed holiday, I decided to serve Sharffenberger bubbly with dessert.

Good thing I made "extra" parfaits for any late night cravings...

The infamous "Sharffenberger".....

With my beautiful little parfaits all nestled in the icebox, the rest of meal was assembled, rosemary and garlic roasted beef with horseradish cream, roasted baby bella mushrooms and lemon grilled asparagus. Add wine, and our Easter Feast was complete.

Just in case on bottle isn't enough.....

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Question of the day....

What people (dead or alive, famous or obscure, family, friend or foe) would you invite to the ultimate dinner party???

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Happy Easter!!!!

*object in picture is smaller than it appears

Happy Easter from my Easter "Dust" Bunny to yours!
Oh, the joys of owning a German Shepherd....

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Night of the Carnivore...

I have to admire my friend Tanya. As some of you may know, she is a vegetarian....a vegetarian that loves meat. However, she gave up the fabulous flesh for her belief in the right of every animal to not become someone's meal.... I could never have her fortitude. I am carnivorous in nature and unwilling to change my ways...

I was craving a big juicy steak and nothing could steer me off course. I 'm partial to New York Strips and Rib Eyes marbled to perfection, thus flavoring the meat throughout. I love everything about meat. The smell when you unwrap it from the butcher paper and the anticipation of how I will prepare it. Keep in mind, I am a purist and generally never dabble in the various sauces... So, I keep it simple....fruity olive oil, lemon zest, fresh garlic and herbs, coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper. I massage the ingredients in and allow the meat to come to room temperature. It is a ritual that I have come to respect. I am blessed to live in California where I can barbecue most evenings. And this would not be an exception. The other items on the menu would be grilled asparagus, a kick-ass Cabernet from the Stag's Leap District of the Napa Valley and for dessert, imported chocolate and port.

And after the last of the port and chocolate were consumed, I started planning my next carnivorous meal....veal chops. And with visions of veal chops buzzing around in my head, I reached for my inspiration, the latest issue of Food & Wine....