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Archive for April, 2010

I love to make cakes for people. Not just random, anyone next in line people, but my friends and family. My usual rule is the higher the better. I’m madly, madly in love with 3 layer cakes. They make me beyond happy. There is something about the all those layers stacked up, filling gently oozing out and swirls and swirls of icing. Never mind the decorating part, ooohhh! When I get one of those cakes done, the sense of accomplishment is so very sweet. Turning it around for a last look, nodding, yep, they’re gonna like this. I just know that with each bite they’re going to feel the love. Mercy! Feel the love! CAKE = LOVE. Okay, before you start looking up the closest Mental Health facility (do they have spas?) I am aware that cake is not love (sob) and there won’t be a tent revival in anyone’s mouth when eating a piece of cake.  I was just letting you in on the giddy delirium that happens at 2am when you finally finish one of those suckers. But I digress.

Sour Cream Lemon Cake will not make you giddy, it’s not a 3 mile high show stopper, and I’ve never put icing on it.  An abundance of powdered sugar sometimes (I can get carried away with that), a fruit sauce might get dribbled over now and then, but never icing.  This cake is very simple to put together, there are no scary ingredients, or stacks of cake pans, and lists of a plan of attack need not be attached to your fridge.  One bowl, one pan, one cake.  Embellish or not.  It’s good, tender and delicately tangy, and appropriate for almost any occasion.  The LBD of cakes.  So you know, I will only make this cake in twos from now on.  There will be one in the freezer, ready to be unwrapped, put on a plate and served so that anyone who drops by for tea will think that there must be a bit of magic in my home.  I might suggest that you do the same.  Oh, and pssssssttt? Cake does equal love.

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Not a marshmallow in sight. For the longest time, the only sweet potatoes I saw were either covered in bubbling marshmallow goo, or baked in a pie. A pie that kinda tasted like pumpkin, but not really. It was stickier and not as creamy. I prefered pumpkin. As you can see, my sweet potato reference was limited. Then there’s yams. The word feels funny coming out of your mouth. While I know they’re different, I’m not exactly sure of the distinction so I looked it up for you. We are talking about sweet potatoes here. Bright orange, moist and so very good. I’m seeing sweet potatoes show up on all kinds of menus, from the fanciest places to fast food joints. Surely you’ve had sweet potato fries? Seriously, are they fantastic or what?

Now I have a sweet potato biscuit recipe for you. No fooling, you’ve got to try these biscuits. They are just made for butter and honey. Ham? Absolutely. Bacon? Did it. With some apply jelly. Wowsers. I would serve these along side a fried chicken dinner. You could gussy these up with pork belly or duck confit and serve them as appetizers. (I just talked myself into that, so if you’re coming to dinner at my house in the near future, get ready.) The best part? Easy. So easy. Roast the sweet potatoes ahead of time, even days ahead of time, and you’ll have these biscuits put together in 5 minutes. Hot, fragrant biscuits out of your oven in no time. Pale orange (pretty!) sweet potato biscuits. Do try them, I’m fairly certain you’re going to fall for them like I did.

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Chef Elise Wiggins is here! I got to sit down and talk with Chef Elise of Panzano about home cooking, flavor profiles, and recipe development. Not only that, she shared a recipe with me, which I’m sharing with you, AND I got to taste one the dishes on the new menu. I know, right? Let me tell you, this woman is a force of nature. When I arrived at Panzano she was finishing up a staff meeting, talked to me while cooking through the lunch rush, and smiling for the video camera that was her next appointment. She is like her food, vibrant, approachable, and thoughtful. With a beautiful smile that lights her whole face, she was gracious and generous.

One of the first things we spoke about is her total immersion in cooking and food. She says she’s always known that she wanted to be a chef. One of her earliest memories was being held by her mom who was putting her little hands into cool cookie dough. The cookies they prepared made her family happy. Cookies = happiness. That’s what she was going to do, cook and make people happy. I asked her if she wasn’t a chef what would she be doing. She said she couldn’t imagine doing anything else and had never thought of doing anything else. She’s a cookbook junkie (like me) who spends her days off reading cookbooks, getting inspiration, and creating new dishes in her mind. There doesn’t seem to be much that she does that doesn’t involve food or cooking in some way. She’s out sourcing local ingredients and suppliers, leading cooking classes, or grabbing a bite at a favorite restaurant. Her current fave is really good mexican, other than Italian of course.

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Panade.  According to Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe, it translates to “Big Bread Thing”. Which I guess it is.  I think it’s as much about the onions and whatever else you put in it as the bread.  It has caramelized onions in it.  I almost automatically love anything with caramelized onions.  Then there’s cheese. Cheese is always good. When this version of panade is done it’s a light, souffle-y creation. I used beef stock in this, which made it very onion soup-ish. The bread soaks up the broth, the onions and cheese melt into the bread, need I say more?  Also, it’s a great way to use day old bread. You can even save money and buy the day old in the bakery if, like me, you don’t always have loaves of bread around. Now I’ve made another version of panade, which was more soup like. Both are wonderful, and I’ve been looking at her recipe for quite a while.  (Don’t you just love the Zuni Cafe Cookbook?) It’s warming up here, spring has definitely arrived. Nights are cool and breezy, perfect to curl up in a chair with a bowl of this warming your hands and tummy.

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” ….a land flowing with milk and honey”.  The phrase conjures an image you can settle into. Green and lush, softly warm, with a gentle sweet fragrance.  A pillow-y chair in morning sunlight that you can curl up in and sip your tea.  Santa Barbara is such a place for me.  A long weekend there is an affirmation that all is right. Prince Charming and I recently spent a weekend there.  A beautiful hotel, sunny, lazy mornings, and evenings filled with the scent of night jasmine.  Perfection. Oh, and fabulous food.  What has all of that to do with the picture of an avocado up there? I’m going to tell you.

One evening, we made reservations for dinner at 8 pm.  By 6, we were hungry. We went into town very early thinking that we’d sit at the bar and have drinks and appetizers until our table was ready, and of course, since we were there they’d give us our table early.  Ha! The joint was jumping, not a square inch to even stand in to see if we could wait for a seat at the bar.  We would have to wait for our appointed time and come up with Plan B.  Plan B was “we’ll wander through town until we find a place to drink and hopefully have a bite until 8”. Gratefully, I wasn’t wearing stilettos and actually had shoes that I could wander around on. Fingers entwined, we start on our journey. Cross the street, turn the corner, wait, what’s this?  “This” turns out to be a zen/funky/retro tapas bar called…….Milk and Honey. (The circle is complete!)

We happily enter and settle into a pillow filled banquette table.  We’re handed a drink list and menu and quickly become even happier.  Blood orange martini, why yes, thank you!  Single malt scotch, of course!  We order. They have cool, funny names for their dishes which I can’t remember, but we have bacon wrapped dates, goat cheese in a thick, tomato sauce, and avocado hummus.  We were blown away by the avocado hummus which neither of us ever had before.  We actually finger boxed for a moment to get the last piece of pita to scoop the final bit up with.  Prince Charming won, popped the last bite into his mouth with ummms, an “I’m in heaven face”, followed by “wow”.  After another round of drinks we went on to dinner and enjoyed every scrumptious bite.  We even sat next to a minor Food Network celeb! What do we remember most about that night?  Avocado hummus.  I knew that I’d be making that soon.  Weekends end, no matter how much we don’t want them to, and we have re-enter real life.  😦

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