Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hide The Zucchini

I promised to bring you more fall, and I'm a woman of my word. Something about fall makes you bake. Most people find baking a glorious heart warming experience. I do not. Baking requires trust in the recipe, strict adherence to the rules of baking and has a "no taste as you go" policy in effect. It's not the trust thing I have a problem with, but the fact that you can't "wing it" in baking and turn out the product in the picture... Oh, and my oven hates me.

You are wondering what this has to do with zucchini? Well, this is the time of year when the abundance of summer squash crops can meet up with any ones passionate quest for creative baking material, and inspire the making of zucchini bread. I have seen this phenomena before, I was raised this way, it's a great trick to hide vegetables in yummy baked goods, and all the mom's are doing it.

I grew up on an urban farm. An urban farm is an acre or two in the heart of town where family size crops and barnyard animals abide. On our farm, my industrious mother always planted so much squash, we had to eat it at every meal and every day through the summer. Even our neighbors, saturated in squash, started turning it down.

Toward the end of September it was impossible to keep up, the zucchini grew as big as baseball bats and our protests about eating it grew louder. Mom got creative and ingeniously started sneaking squash into baked goods. Zucchini cakes, breads, muffins started appearing on the kitchen table. Neighbors answered their doors again, welcoming this well concealed version of the vegetable. The whole family loved moms zucchini creations, and though she may have not have fooled anyone, everyone ate more.

Take advantage of seasonal abundance of zucchini, and the natural inclination to bake. This is a recipe you can trust, I found it in Cook's magazine years ago. Follow it and it works! Give some to to your neighbors, fool your kid's and send some to me. I hate to bake, but I love to eat!

Zucchini Bread Ingredients:
1 pound zucchini, shredded
2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled

Pre heat convection oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9x5 loaf pan generously with cooking spray.
Shredd and squeeze zuchini to remove water.
Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder,cinnamon, allspice and salt in large bowl.
Whis sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice and butter inbowl until combined.
gently fold yogurt mixture and zucchini into flour mixture until combined.
Transfer batter to greased pan.
Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and skewer comes out with a few crumbs.
Turn out onto wire rack for cooling.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tastes Like Spain

One look at my passport and you would know I am due a trip. Last used in China in 1994, my passport gave up hope of travel and expired years ago. I realize I sound pitiful, who's fault is it any way that I chose to chain myself to a stove for a decade? China was great, I'm glad to have gone, but if I get away this century my choice is Spain.

Why Spain? Because the fact that is, it's beautiful, and old, and known for its amazing flavorful lifestyle and cuisine. Of course I don't have first hand experience, but I've heard stories of cities jam packed with restaurants, cervecerias, tascas, sidewalk terrazzas and bars. The scoop I got was bars stay open until dawn serving legendary "tapas", small plates and tidbits of things most delicious.

In an effort to learn more about tapas, I did the usual research, books, articles, internet. I must say however, experience is the best teacher, if I want to learn anything, I get in the kitchen and cook! Soon I was turning out albondigas (little meatballs), crisp bite sized breads topped with olives and chorizo and garlic sherry shrimp. Omelets with spicy sauces and potatoes, mushroom flan, saffron clams and fruity sangria.

Spain made its way onto my catering menu, drawing praise for it's flair and flavor. The small plates where easy for cocktail guests to manage. In a situation where there was no guest seating I developed the "Tapatini", a martini glass filled with bite size tapas instead of the usual beverage. I enjoyed teaching classes on "tapas parties", as well, the food was fun and the sangria...oh, the sangria!

I 'll keep itching to go to Spain for the real honest to God, in your face tapas experience. Until my plane leaves, I'm settling for my version of,"what Spain must taste like." If have a big enough suitcase I will bring Elton John as well, he sang ,"they say Spain is pretty though I've never been"... I can tell, he wants to go too!..

Albondigas - Spicy Spanish Meatballs ( makes a ton, you know everything I make is big!)
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound spicy ground sausage
8 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
4 tablespoon oregano, finely chopped
4 tablespoon dry sherry
½ teaspoon ginger, ground
½ teaspoon allspice, ground
½ teaspoon cinnamon, ground
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 egg, beaten
5 tablespoon flour
olive oil, for frying

Combine all ingredients except flour and oil in large bowl.
Mix together well. Roll mixture into small balls and toss lightly in flour.
Heat oil in pan over moderate heat.
Cook until evenly browned and cooked through, turning often for about 12 minutes.
Drain well and serve. makes about 50-60 meatballs.
Something for the Spanish cheese plate...

Zamorano a raw milk cheese from said region of Spain. The cheese is made from the milk of Churra and Castellana sheep. Now I never met a Churra or Castellana sheep but I can imagine a happy fuzzy, four legged creature lazily munching on sweet grass. The cheese of these blissful sheep is remarkable. When it touches your tongue, you taste....fresh milk and sun. Zamorano is available at Frogs Breath Cheese Store, along with many terrific Spanish cheeses and wine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Reunited with Red Dragon

Once upon a time... I created a Renaissance themed birthday party for a clients 70th. The menu was perfectly period, with bangers, prime rib roasted turkey legs. The show piece de resistance was the "Market Place" a table over 20 feet long laden with fruit, cheese and charcuterie. One of the featured cheeses on display was Red Dragon , a bit hot and feisty like its namesake. I loved this cheese but alas I couldn't use it enough to stock it and so we lost touch.

Working at Frogs Breath Cheese Store I have the chance to meet up with some old friends, like Red Dragon. Red Dragon is a rich flavorful Welsh cheese, one of the few still made in the farmhouse tradition. Red Dragon is a pasteurized, cows milk cheddar cheese aged 3 months. The cool thing is the tangy, spicy flavor it takes from brown ale, and mustard grains.

This is not a foofy French cheese, Red Dragon puts you in a pub, hugging your buds and slugging down pints. I steer guys, planning a game of pool or some other male bonding event, to its rustic bite. When mentioned it pairs with cured meats, pretzels and ale, there is love in their eyes.

I may never stage a "Renaissance Feast" again, I still like to indulge in a properly prepared stout cheese, as you may. If this inspires you to head off with your pals to the tavern, please don't ask me along. I'll be headed home to my own boys and a wedge of Red Dragon.
"Iiechyd da"!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fall out

Living in Southern California, its hard to tell, but there is a ever so slight hint of fall in the air. Its not in the middle, but on either ends of the day. I shouldn't act surprised, I'm back to stressing over my sons lunch box and fighting my way through the crush at school pick up.

Really you can hardly judge the arrival of the season by the store displays, fall items were already up on the morning of July 5. Since then, stores have been proudly featuring fall things like pumpkins and Halloween bric-a-brac. Also by this time anything "summery", sent to the 1/2 off bin. Try to find a swimsuit after July, I dare you.

It's time now to decorate with with dead leaves and shamelessly eat tiny candy bars and fist fulls of candy corn. I think of apples, dipped in caramel and squashes and how cool it is that cob webs are in. The oven replaces the grill, as savory roasts and sweet pies are on the menu.

In the spirit of staying ahead this fall I thought you might enjoy this entree. Mediterranean Pork Loin, is a dish that for me, bridges the seasons. Summery flavors tucked inside my favorite fall roast. As usual I have offered a recipe that feeds a crowd, but maybe I have given you a reason to entertain this season.

While I'm writing this I realize there are dozens of great recipes I want to share, all the colors, and tastes both comfortable, and rich. I must warn however, don't get too comfy with fall, before you can put away your tricks and treats, turkeys, pilgrims and Christmas will be up.

5 lbs. pork loin
½ lb. french bread
1 cup artichoke hearts
6 garlic clove chopped
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices bacon chopped
2 tablespoons capers
½ cup shallots chopped
½ cup green olive chopped
1 ½ teaspoons rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons thyme
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Butterfly pork loin by cutting length wise down 1 side pork loin 3/4 the way deep, spread open on cutting board, Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay plastic wrap over and pound with a meat mallet until 3/4 inch thick and set aside.
Cut bread into cubes and bake at 300 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes until dry.
In a heavy saute pan saute bacon in olive oil until brown.
Add shallots cook one minute.
Add Artichokes, tomatoes, garlic, capers, herbs and green olives, stir in bread cubes and chicken broth.
Pack stuffing mixture down center of pork and roll over stuffing overlap at closure and secure with cooking twine every three inches.
rub with salt and pepper place on rack seam side down in roasting pan and roast at 475 degrees for 10 minutes then drop down temperature to 325 degrees and roast approximately 1 hour until center reaches 150 degrees.
Cover loosely with foil, allow to stand about 30 minutes before cutting. Remove cooking twine, Slice one inch thick for serving. Serves about 12.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More Cheese, Please

Frogs Breath Cheese is a grown-up toy store. I covet everything in the store. There are oodles of goodies that food lovers love. There are gourmet jams, jelly's and fancy sauces. Mixes for frilly scones, flavored honey and mustard, crackers and coffee. Tea and teapots, tools, trays, and towels. Chocolates, elegant bottles of oil and vinegar, fondue pots and picnic bags. There is a boutique collection of wine flanking the left wall and exotic salts on the counter.

Then there is the cheese, glorious cheese! Two big jam packed cases of cheese. France is well represented, as is Spain. Dutch, English, and Italian cheese as well as imports from all over the world. Creative American craftsman cheese are among the favorites. People visiting the store for the first time stare respectfully as if viewing fine art.

Priscilla Madrid is owner of a Frogs Breath Cheese Store. Priscilla is an example of a person who can successfully leave her dream to follow her passion, and do it well. I had the good fortune to work with her on a cheese exhibit where she graciously demonstrated the art of specialty cheese trays. After the project, I was restless and Priscilla let me come work in her store.

I am surprised, that though I'm surrounded by cheese it's people that I'm learning about. I meet people who have traveled all over the world, many are visiting from other countries. The most unlikely people I would have guessed as "just browsers", actually know cheese and have discriminating palates. I am amazed how many very young customers are gourmets and excited to share stories of their culinary exploits.

Last spring when I first met Priscilla she spoiled me with a glass of wine and a selection of fine cheese. Now for few hours at Frogs Breath, I get to be around all things unique and delicious. Located in a charming historic district of Orange, California, the store is a special find. While I'm there I'm like a kid in a candy store, only not candy... cheese and more cheese, please.

Frogs Breath Cheese Store
143 N. Glassell, Orange, CA. 92866 714 744-1773

My Cheese Affair

I have been planning on telling you what I did this summer, and here goes...I had an Affair. I'm not trying to keep it a secret, most people know, my husband knows, it was a cheese affair. I know, you think I'm joking, but it's the truth, cross my heart, and stuff like that, and I'm ready to talk about it.

The OC Fair and Events Center, formally known as the Orange County Fair, traditionally runs with a theme. This year the theme was "Say Cheese". The creative minds and Big Cheeses, at the fair, saw an obvious connection to the industry and an exhibit would be needed ...on cheese. With me so far?

This is how I got involved, I know someone who works there, who knows someone, who needs someone to do it. What I was thinking at the time was, "wow, a fun, easy project to do, now that my business is closed and I don't have any plans." So, I go see Joan, Community Relations Director, who eagerly and generously hires me. I wonder sometimes if its because shes thinking a 25 year event veteran and "fresh out of the kitchen caterer" could pull this off, or she had know idea how to post for a cheese exhibit job. Thus I became OC Fair Cheese Exhibit Coordinator.

The cheese exhibit was to take place in a large tent 160x 100 feet, over the last twelve days of the fair. With the name "The OC Cheese A-Fair" approved , I was ready to develop concept for the enormous area. I decide on a old fashion"fair-slash-circus theme" for the venue look and developed a mission statement for its direction. Joan is a half glass over full person, so any cheesy idea I came up with she whole heartedly agreed to. If my ideas weren't crazy enough, Rachelle, Exhibit Supervisor at the fair, and insanely creative, added more.

I had about 12 weeks to create a program, that would educate and entertain fair goers about cheese. My ambitious ideas included an arsenal of 15 different contests, professional as well as amateur demonstrators, these would run on the hour and total 104 stage presentations by the end. In addition, there would be hands on games and activities, an exhibit of antique cheese gear, and educational signs with a bevy of "did you knows"cleverly written on them. I punctuated the theme with circus props, and silly cheesy things like fun house mirrors, a full sized faux cow painted to look like cheese. One of Rachelle's ideas were to have giant cheese replicas made for people to climb and sit on, so we did. She also created the cheese fountain and came up with the idea to hang colorful streamers from the ceiling.

The venue was so big, an exhibit of antique farm tractors would help fill the space. The tractors graciously on loan from the Segerstrom Family were beautiful. In producing signage and meeting with the Segerstrom Farm Foreman, Oscar, I learned everything I ever wanted to know about tractors. To tie the farm theme with the rest of the look, a baby "Happy Cow", was on exhibit as well as a kiddie tractor ride called "Cheesy Rider". The hit of the whole tent, however was "The Mac and Cheese Bowl" a blue child's swimming pool I filled with foam float cut "noodles" instead of water.

The headliner of the "Cheese A-Fair", and truly the most unique, was a 650 pound block of cheese donated by Land O' Lakes, and sculpted by artist Jim Victor, of Pennsylvania. The very act of arranging for, delivery of , installation and elimination of a 650 pound block of cheese is a story itself. Another key feature was the gourmet cheese and wine counter, Joan championed. It was a source for fine cheese amongst a fair known only for junk food and produced by the fairs on site caterer, Ovations.

I realize I'm getting long, so I'll save more detailed experiences for another time. Should I forget to tell you about the "Iron Man Cheese Challenge", the "Easy Cheesy Contest", and the amazing chefs and demonstrators I worked with, remind me and I'll get back to it. Until then, just know I had an exhausting, stimulating affair with cheese,and I'm not over it yet.