Sunday, January 27, 2008

I love me a chickpea.

A simple Sunday lunch.

This Sunday was such a beautiful day in San Antonio - sunny, dry, a bit breezy, and in the low 70s. After a week of cold and clouds it provided a welcome change. To celebrate the weather, Sam and I did our local errands on foot. We walked to the pharmacy, walked to the grocery store, and then treated ourselves to coffee at the new local joint up the street before walking home. It felt wonderful.

In an attempt to be healthy AND creative, we whipped up the simplest but most delicious salad for lunch. It only involved a basic seven ingredients, and as a result the final product tasted exactly the way a mosaic of seven distinct colors looks. The tastes were separate, but at the same time unified. Eating, I could absolutely distinguish the flavor of each and every item in the salad - the tang of lemon, the bite of the cheese, the earthy dampness of the chickpeas and the nutritious vegetative flavor of the greens, all enveloped the silky coating of olive oil. I could taste the colorful flavors individually, but I could also step back from the flavors and let them meld in my mouth into a beautiful, picturesque dish.

We listened to The Beatles and ate our lunch as sunshine streamed through our windows. It was a lovely, simple, Sunday meal.

I must give credit where credit is due, I found this recipe at Orangette, a superior blog dealing with all things delicious that I recently discovered. I modified her recipe by adding chopped flat leaf parsley, as well as tossing some spinach in a simple dressing of lemon juice and oil.

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Parmesan

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
A pinch of salt
¼ cup loosely packed shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and stir gently to mix. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve immediately, or chill, covered, until serving.

For my sister Claire, the nurse, some new scrubs.

Yes, the title of this post is "For my sister Claire, the nurse, some new scrubs," and no, that burly model in the new scrubs is NOT my sister Claire (although sometimes her toes look just as hairy). Let me explain...

You see, I am taking a five-week beginners sewing class to kick off my New Year's resolution to learn to sew, and the course required me to create four relatively ugly pieces of beginners clothing. One such piece is a pair of scrub pants that are not actually ugly, but are not useful in my everyday life (primarily because I am not a doctor or a nurse, and therefore I never have need of scrubs). But when choosing the patterns I had a brilliant idea! I would make the scrubs for my sister Claire, who is studying diligently to be a pediatrics nurse.

I choose the most adorable strawberry print fabric for the pants. Claire always says that cute scrubs are the key to a pediatric nurse's ability to bond with a child. The nurse asks the kiddo what they see on the scrubs, the kiddo gets distracted looking at the cute pants, and bam! the nurse sticks the kiddo with a needle full of vaccines. Everybody wins.

The pants are my first successfully completed sewing project. I even made a back pocket, two internal pockets, and relatively straight seems and hems. All in all I was very proud as I trimmed the last thread and shook out the garmet to survey my work. Except when I surveyed my finished work, I realized that the pants are HUGE! To confirm this suspicion, I asked my large and manly husband to model them for me.

The long and the short of it, or should I rather say, the long and the wide of it, is that the pants are indeed gianourmous. I don't know how it happened, but the pants designed to fit my 5' 5", 145 pound sister actually fit my 6' 3", 232 pound husband.

Hmmmmm, I suppose I have more learning to do. Next up, a skirt for Ellen.

Here's a pretty "little" skirt for my sister Ellen.

Isn't this just the cutest little skirt?!?!
I made it for my little sister Ellen.

Oh wait, the skirt isn't so little.
In fact, the skirt is HUGE!

Huge enough, in fact, to accommodate BOTH me and Sam,
and still look fashionable. Yikes!

This is the second project I have completed for my beginners sewing class, and oddly enough, this is the second project that has turned out absolutely large. Too large. Much larger than I intended.

I think I have learned my mistakes on both the skirt AND the scrubs for Claire. When determining the size of the pattern to use, I only looked at the section that graphs out the measurements of the person to wear the garment, rather than the section that also graphs out the measurements of the final garment. So I assumed that when it said "34 to 38 inch waist = size Large" the final garment's size would correspond with the proportions of the waist. Little did I realized that most of Simplicity's clientèle likes to wear garments twice as big as their waist measurement.

So I am keeping the skirt for myself. I don't foresee Ellen ever wearing it. After all, she is only 21 years old, still livin' the wild college life. Therefore I expect she only wants clothing that hugs her hiney and makes her look smokin' hot. This skirt will make her look like a giant lemon-y potato sack. Albeit a really CUTE lemon-y potato sack, but a potato sack nonetheless. There is no way she will wear a skirt with 58 inches of fabric flappin' around in the breeze, disguising her best assets (her best assets other than her brain, wonderful personality, and ability to bake well, of course).

I am married already, so I can look like a potato sack. I will alternate the skirt with my over sized t-shirt and sweatpants ensemble for the ultimate diversity in "wife outfits." Ha.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I love popcorn on a cold afternoon.

It has been very, very cold in San Antonio these past few days, and nothing suits a chilly afternoon at home better than homemade popcorn. I love my Whirly-Pop for making authentic popcorn. The entire experience reeks of old fashioned goodness, from the toasty aroma to the sound of exploding kernels, and the sensations of turning a crank over a low flame to keep the kernels from burning. It is all very fulfilling. When I was growing up this was the only kind of popcorn my mom would make, often on Friday nights to accompany a movie with the family. I remember sometimes feeling unlucky, because all the other kids got to have the saturated flavor of microwave popcorn, and I always had to eat the homemade stuff. But now that I am older and wiser with a more developed palate, I realize what a special and unique experience it was to eat fresh popcorn, served hot from popper and drizzled with real butter. It is a treat I now like to share with my friends who grew up on the microwave popcorn. Thanks Mom.

Monday was Martin Luther King Day and I woke up early to take part in the San Antonio Martin Luther King Jr. March with my radio station. We broadcast jazz along the parade route, marched with the group, and in general supported the cause. It was cold and rainy. Or to put it in a glass-half-full context, rather it was popcorn weather. So after the march and a long hot shower, I settled into my apartment to make popcorn. I have been eying a recipe for maple pecan popcorn for weeks and knew it was the time to try it.

Sadly, I do not have a candy thermometer, so I hypothesized instead that I could use my eyes to gauge the "doneness" of the carmelizing maple syrup. I was wrong. The recipe suggested the maple syrup should boil for 10 to 15 minutes to reach 300 degrees, so I put it on the stove and alternated watching the pot with readying other things. It went something like this: glance at the pot and things look good, measure out the popcorn, glance at the pot and things look good, wipe up the counter, glance at the pot and things look good, put the butter back in the fridge, glance at the pot and all of a sudden things look baaaaaaaaaad.

Somewhere in the span of 20 seconds my entire pot of beautiful boiling maple syrup went from a lovely golden brown caremel to a smoking black blob. Whoops. This blob then managed to congeal into a sticky rock hard block in my non-stick pan. Oddly enough, it stuck.

Without any more maple syrup, I defaulted to plan B and whipped up a batch of caramel corn, followed by a batch of Parmesan cheesy corn. The evidence of my successful second attempt is pictured here. I will re-try the maple popcorn recipe this weekend, perhaps accompanied by a good foreign film or artsy movie.

Mmmmmmm, popcorn. Such a feel good experience (when nothing burns).

Maple Pecan Popcorn from Gourmet magazine


1 cup pecans (3 1/2 oz), toasted and coarsely chopped
About 8 cups plain popcorn
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
Special equipment: a candy thermometer


Toss together pecans and popcorn in a large bowl.

Line a large shallow baking pan with foil, then lightly oil foil and a wooden spoon.

Melt butter in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add syrup and salt, then boil, without stirring, until mixture registers 300°F on thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes.

Pour syrup over pecans and popcorn, stirring briskly with oiled spoon to coat. Immediately spread popcorn in baking pan. Cool completely, then break into bite-size pieces.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The husband does the grocery shopping.

We are having dinner guests over tonight for a dinner of homemade hummus, yellow chicken curry, and for the finale, a pineapple coconut bread pudding. I did the majority of the grocery shopping on Sunday so I could concoct the curry ahead and let the flavors marinate and intensify for a few days, but I wanted to wait to buy the bread until the night before so it could dry out, but not get too dry.

So, in true good husband fashion, Sam generously offered to go to the store while I attended my beginners sewing class. What a sweetie! I carefully explained what I needed, mainly 3/4 pound bread and a small container of half and half, and he agreed to pick it all up. Well, at least I THOUGHT I carefully explained what I needed.

I came home from my class last night ready to whip up the dessert, and saw looming on the counter two enormous bags of bread cubes ready for pudding. "Wow," I thought, "3/4 pounds is a ton of bread." The task of mixing all that bread into one dessert seemed daunting. In fact, eyeballing the quantity of bread, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how the recipe expected to fit all that bread into one 9x13 baking pan. So, with the daunting task of mixing all that bread into dessert, I did what any normal gal would do and put off making the pudding. Instead, I laid the bread out to dry, hoping some of the volume would decrease with the loss of moisture.

As I was spreading the bread out in bowls (three of my biggest mixing bowls, mind you, because 3/4 pounds bread cubes is A LOT of bread), something clicked and I realized that something was not quite right. I casually asked Sam exactly how much bread he bought.

"I bought four pounds of bread, just like you asked for," he replied proudly, "It took the baker about ten minutes to cube it all, I hope it's what you need." Whoa there, four POUNDS of bread?!?!? I just stood there for a moment, wondering what to do. Did I tell him he bought to much, and risk hurting his feelings after he did such a good deed? Or should I come up with stealth ditch-the-extra-bread plan to preserve the warm fuzzy feeling he had for doing me a favor. An image of myself cloaked in black - Zorro style - sneaking out to feed the ducks at midnight flashed through my mind, but after a quick assessment of my options, I realized there was no way I could hide the excess bread from him to cover the mistake. So instead I grabbed the recipe and showed him the line that says 3/4 pounds bread.

We laughed until we cried, marveling at the fact that he heard me say three or four pounds of bread, when I heard myself say three fourths pounds of bread. We laughed and laughed, then we immediately hit the internet for recipes for other bread puddings. Looks like this week we will also be enjoying a savory mushroom and goat cheese bread pudding, as well as a whimsical PB&J bread pudding. Ha, reviews of our efforts to follow.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Warm Lentil Salad with Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese

I have been finding culinary inspiration from a recent trip to Paris, and the subsequent library check-out of Julia Child and Jaque Pepin's Cooking at Home cookbook (you can see a taste of the book here). It's a great book with recipes sandwiched between commentary from the two chefs. It taught me loads about preparing well-cooked lentils, even though the recipe is from a different source.

So last night for dinner we whipped up a simple French-style warm salad. I included the recipe below for those of you that are inspired.

This is THE BEST recipe, and how could it not be with the combination of both bacon and goat cheese? And my favorite part is that, despite the inclusion of both of these ingredients, the salad manages to remain a fairly healthful and well rounded meal. Kudos to those French chefs who figured out how to include rich, savory ingredients that add depth and flavor to a dish, without adding them to excess. This time, we wilted spinach into the lentils before serving instead of dishing the warm lentils onto cold field greens. We also sliced several heirloom tomatoes to complement the flavor and add more health!

The salad includes roasted beets, which I must say are an under appreciated veggie. I think people are frequently scared away from beets because they stain, and they seem out dated, like something my great grandma served years ago. But in truth they are flavorful, easy to prepare, and add a sophisticated flavor. I love 'em. I hope you enjoy.

RECIPE: Warm Lentil Salad with Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese

1 medium Spanish onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, quartered
1 stalk celery, quartered
1 fresh or dried bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cups dried French green lentils
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound slab bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

4 cups frisee or mixed greens
Sherry Vinaigrette, recipe follows
4 slices goat cheese
French bread, for serving

Begin by roasting the beets.

Tie onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs together in cheesecloth. Place chicken stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the lentils, season with salt and pepper, and reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well and discard the cheesecloth bag of aromatics.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until lightly golden brown. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a dish lined with paper towels. Add the garlic and carrot to the pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked lentils and bacon to the pan and stir to combine. Stir in the chopped thyme and 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Keep warm.

To assemble, place the frisee in a large bowl, toss with half of the vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the roasted beets around the outside of 4 dinner plates. Divide the greens among each plate in the center. Top the frisee with some of the warm lentils and place a slice of the goat cheese on top. Drizzle each salad with the remaining vinaigrette. Serve with slices of French bread.

Roasted Beets:
3 medium beets (red or gold), scrubbed, leaves trimmed
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Coat beets lightly with oil. Wrap beets in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until cooked through, approximately 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and then peel and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Sherry Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, thyme and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil and whisk until emulsified.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Today is my first day as a blogger. Yikes.

Wow, I have finally entered the world of online communities. Well, except for the fact that at this point I think I am a community of one. Perhaps I can coerce my husband to look at my blog sometimes, making it a community of two. Then again, I already engage with him frequently, so I supposed we don't require the internet to sustain our relationship. Hmmmm, I will have to do some research on how to establish blogging friends.

I cannot believe how easy it is to set up a blog. I just typed in a name, added some pictures, choose a font, and WHAM, I have a blog. Yikes, the responsibility.
Now comes the more difficult matter of creating meaningful and interesting posts. I am not sure exactly what this blog will be, but certainly it will be something...

I'll get back to you.