Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010


I had to work a weekend recently, so I brought Ayla in with me for the day for company. She did really well too: she ran around the office in the morning, then hung out in my office. At lunch we took a hike on the Fire Trail, and then she came back and slept the rest of the afternoon. I'm very lucky to have a job where I can bring my dog in with me on occasion, though I'm very careful not to abuse that privilege. Here's a few shots from the day...

 Babushka Ayla - her neckerchief fits well over her head.

 A forest of fungi

On the Fire Trail - it was a beautiful, slightly foggy day

We went on a walk this afternoon and passed this tree or bush I've been admiring for a while. It looks so interesting without its leaves, all bare white branches.

That's it for now. Time to get ready for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Biscuits and Gravy: Deconstructed

Call me bandwagon jumper, and I won't disagree. The fact is, I'm a little late to this party already.

"Deconstructing" took the food world by storm perhaps four or five years ago, and Tom Colicchio of Bravo's Top Chef explains the phenomenon succinctly as "... an approach to a plating style, as well as a way of personalizing a dish and making it one’s own." Its about taking the different elements of a dish and putting them together in a different fashion. Its basically another way of playing with your food.

Technically, my biscuits and gravy aren't really deconstructed. I separated the dish into three components: the biscuit, the gravy, and the sausage (since I always remember it being a sausage gravy). Then I plated it all on one of my favorite leaf-shaped plates and we ate - tearing off bits of biscuit and dipping them in the gravy, spearing slices of sausage and biscuit to dip together, eating the gravy on its on, and doing whatever else sounded good. I didn't really put the components back together in a new way, but eating the dish this way allowed us to pay more attention to the various components themselves, which might have gotten lost in a big ol' pile of biscuits smothered in gravy. Not that there's anything wrong with that either!

And of course I slightly altered the individual components. I just can't leave well enough alone, so I made cheddar garlic biscuits, a creamy mushroom gravy with a good splash of wine (a lovely Bowers Harbor Vineyards Gewurztraminer, from a wonderful friend in Michigan, because its what I was drinking that night!), and vegetarian Italian sausages (I like Lightlife's Smart Sausages and Morningstar Farms Italian Sausages best).

The sausages aren't the only shortcut I took. The biscuits are Bisquick! We always had this around when I was growing up, and keeping a box handy makes pancakes, waffles, biscuits, and more even easier when you just can't be bothered to do anything harder. I used the recipe on the back of a box of Heart Smart Bisquick and threw in about a cup of grated cheddar, three cloves of minced garlic, and a pinch of Herbes de Provence.

I did, however, make the gravy...

 Hearty, Creamy Mushroom Gravy

  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. white wine
  • 1 c. vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally,for about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the flour and stir until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the wine and broth and bring to a boil, cooking until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the cream and thyme, and season with salt and pepper.

Its easy-peasy, and very tasty! Now get on out there and play with your food!

Related Recipes:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fetch Fiend

I've been playing a lot of fetch with Ayla lately. It gets dark so early now that there's not much time to do much else after work. She loves it, though I do have to use treats to get her to drop the ball. I brought the camera out this afternoon and snapped a few shots.

Ayla's ears flip inside out when she runs. They're her Princess Leia buns.

She is very intent when we're playing and can barely stand still, just look at those eyes. She also gets drooly in her excitement and looks kinda rabid.

I threw the ball up in the air for this one, though she's pretty much useless at catching. But you can see just how big of a dog she really is. Standing up like this she's only a few inches shorter than I am.

We also saw some deer on the hill right behind our condo complex. This was a young male with cute little horns. He didn't like Ayla much and took off when he spotted us.

And a few does. I don't think I've ever seen deer on this hill, just coyotes, rabbits, turkeys, and pheasant; I wonder where they came from?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Three in One

"Meat"loaf base, topped with a layer of creamed spinach souffle, and finished with a generous helping of garlic Parmesan mashed potatoes. What do you call this? Meatloaf terrine? A take on Shepard's pie? Casserole? I don't know, but I call it tasty!

I don't have exact recipes, since this is really just layering three yummy dishes. Make your favorite meatloaf recipe (I used faux ground beef and the usual meatloaf suspects - bread crumbs, egg, seasonings).If you use a big pan you can make one big dish, but I liked the idea of smaller terrines so I used large ramekins.

For the spinach, I sauteed garlic and onions in butter, then added baby spinach and cooked until wilted and bright green. Next add heavy cream and a little cornstarch and cook until slightly thickened. Whiz together in a food processor with an egg or two until combined and the spinach is chopped. Return to the pan and cook, stirring frequently so the eggs don't scramble, until thick. Then put a layer of this spinach mixture on top of the meatloaf mixture.

Mashed potatoes are simple. I like to put garlic, butter, cream, and Parmesan in mine, and use my food processor to whip them. Some people don't like the consistency of using a food processor as it makes them a little gluey, so feel free to mash them with a standard potato masher. I like the gluey consistency and the ease of using the food processor. Mound the mashed potatoes over the spinach, and top with more Parmesan, then bake at 350F for 30 minutes or until the meatloaf at the bottom is cooked through.

This was a great dinner for the first rainy day of fall: hearty, homey, and warming. I think the next time I make this I want to get some small springform pans and see if I can remove it completely after cooking. The spinach would probably have to be less creamy, and I'd most likely have to use less mashed potatoes, but it would look great on a plate.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Girl's Weekend

A couple weekends ago one of my oldest friends Katie came to visit. I've known her since the third grade, twenty-something years ago. She's getting married in a few more weeks, and she came to spend a bachelorette weekend with me and another of closest friends Stef, and we had a glorious time!

We set up our home base at Stef's place in Belmont. She had decorated with some funny bachelorette-inspired things (confetti, something overly large and inflatable, lollipops and whistles), which was hilarious. Friday night we had mushroom puffs, mini quiches, cheeses, crackers, and great wines. Katie opened gifts that Stef and I had fun shopping for (you're welcome, Eric!). We talked and laughed until our cheeks hurt; went for a walk along a bay inlet; and watched "The Last Unicorn," which we hadn't seen in quite a while. It was kind of a trip; I remember loving it as a kid, but its strange as an adult! When we were in high school we used to get together to watch movies all the time, and it was straight out of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so it was great nostalgia to get together and do it again.

Saturday morning we got a call from the fourth of our group, Liz, who is currently in Iraq and whom we were missing like crazy. It was wonderful hearing from her, and in her honor we made a little green dinosaur-dragon-monster-thing out of clay (another inside joke from high school) and vowed to take her with us the entire weekend. Then we headed out to Half Moon Bay to spend the day at the beach. We went to the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for lunch. Mmm... hefeweizen. Then we went to Stef's favorite beach, which entailed a steep hike down a cliffside to get to. We lounged in the sun, played in the surf, poked anemones in the tide pools, and just relaxed. It was wonderful!

After getting back to Stef's and cleaning up, we went out on the town. We started at B Street and Vine, a wine cafe where we had champagne, antipasto, and a cheese course. It was crowded and small, and I felt a little bad for the jazz trio shoved into a little nook, but it was still fun. The waitress here was the first person to ask about the Liz-monster we kept taking pictures of and kept on our table. Next up was The Cask, a wine and cheese bar where we sat on the patio and drunk-people watched. We had a red wine flight here, with a Malbec that tasted like old rubber boots after it sat a while. Yuck! The interior is beautiful and the other wines were tasty though. Then we went to Flight Lounge for wine, chocolate brownies, and chocolate port. The bartender here was the only other person to comment on the Liz-monster - I guess three 30-year-old women carrying around a toy and taking pictures wherever they go with it is not strange? Flight Lounge is a flight-themed wine bar that was nicely decorated with vintage airline posters and a bar that looked like a steel airplace wing. And the chocolate port was very good! Finally we headed back to Stef's, where we fell asleep watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the bazillionth time.

Sunday morning we went to breakfast at Hobee's (great blueberry coffee cake and florentine eggs benedict), and then went to play mini golf. I just barely beat the other two and my prize was custody of the Liz-monster, so its now my responsibility to get her to the wedding in a few weeks. Then we wandered the Japanese Tea Garden and Rose Garden in San Mateo, picked up bubble teas and went couch-shopping with Stef at Scandinavian Designs to cool off. A little later I headed home, and Katie flew back to Michigan later that night (and she didn't check her luggage; I hope airline security got a laugh).

It was a wonderful weekend, and so very nice to see two of my dearest friends again (we miss you Liz!). I can't wait for the wedding, which sounds like it will be awesome and very much Katie & Eric.

And I hear Stef is finding bits of x-rated confetti in the strangest places... :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


What a nice Labor Day Weekend just went by. We did a lot of resting and relaxing. On Sunday I took Ayla to Hap McGee Park, one of my favorite dog parks that I don't often go to since its further away than the other two. But its very big, with oak trees for shade and pretty benches as in the photo above to hanging out. It was a hot day, hence Ayla's huge baloney tongue, but she ran around and had a great time. She also adopted a family that already had two dogs and kept bringing the ball back to them, though she didn't drop it for them.

On Monday I took Ayla with me to wash my car, and the guy that runs the coin-op car wash brought out a box of cookies for her. Then we went to Memorial Dog park, which is much closer to home. We met up with a couple that had a scrappy little terrier named Benny, and it turns out they live in my condo complex. Hopefully we'll see them more often; I think Ayla kind of like Benny.

When I got back from the dog park I went to relax by the pool for a while, where I ran into my next-door neighbor and her friend. We sat around for about an hour sipping peach champagne and soaking up the sun, which was heavenly. Then I threw some chicken on the BBQ for Chris and spent the rest of the day reading, watching movies, knitting, and playing sudoku. Not terribly exciting, but extremely restful.

At one of the dog parks Ayla found this pink ball, which she brought home to Mac (when she finds a ball at a park that she likes its near impossible to get her to drop it, so I bring a couple balls with me each time we go to replenish the resident ball supplies). Mac loves it, maybe even more than his glow balls right now, probably because its new.

It compresses a bit more, so he can almost chew it like gum which is great exercise for his jaws. Mac is still recovering from his illness. Its been very, very slow and with frequent set backs, but I'm still hopeful. In the meantime we've discovered he cannot tolerate dry kibble and doesn't do very well with canned food either, so for the past three or four weeks I've been cooking homemade food for both dogs. Ayla now starts whining for dinner about half an hour before its time, and Mac cutely begs at my feet whenever I'm cooking up a batch (every couple of days) and when I'm dishing it up. The things I do for my pets.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why Did I Decide to Bake Bread in this Heat?

This summer has been so mild; at work its been cold even. The Farmer's Almanac is predicting a mild winter for us as well. However, this week and the previous week we've actually had some hot weather. What better way to celebrate than bake bread? Yeah, I'm a rebel.

We're been attempting to cut gluten from the majority of our diet, to see if we notice any effects. But we also like a good piece of toast with melty cheddar alongside a cup of coffee on weekend mornings. Last week I bought a loaf of gluten-free tapioca flour-based bread. It was tiny, and very dry, pricey, and just kind of sad overall, though I did make some mean sandwiches for dinner one night with it. I'm going to look into making my own gluten-free goodies, but in the meantime I picked up a bag of Bob's Red Mill GF Hearty Whole Grain Bread Mix.

The bottom left picture makes me think the bread is raising an eyebrow at me. 

It is quite good! They recommend a stand mixer to make the dough, but I used my food processor with the dough blade and dough cycle and it worked out just fine. I did have to add a few more tablespoons of water than the mix indicated though. I also let the dough rise until it was puffed up over the bread pan (I had something else in the oven, so let it rise extra long inadvertently), which I will definitely do again. The bread is nice and light, not dense as I was fearing it might be. The taste is close to pumpernickel or rye, with a moderate carraway seed flavor. There are whole sunflower and sesame seed that provide good texture. The loaf is a good size, and the cost of the mix is about half the cost of buying premade GF bread at the store. I'm hooked! I'm also looking forward to playing with all of the GF flours out there.

I also made this quiche from a new-to-me blog, Dixie Caviar.

I had some trouble with the crust, perhaps because I was using my food processor rather than mixing by hand. It was too crumbly to roll out (probably needed more water) so I ended up just pressing it in to a pie plate, and its nowhere as pretty as Nealey's version. I also used salted butter since its what I had on hand and could have done without adding the extra salt to the dough.

The quiche itself is very, very good. It is simple and not too eggy, as I find many quiches to be. I even used all half-and-half in place of the milk and cream, and it turned out great. To me this is comfort food with a glass of wine, a great light dinner. In fact, I'm going to go have leftovers now.

But before I go, just a reminder that my dog is funny:

She's a good girl and let's me do pretty much anything to her, and the white tank top did make her easier to see when I took her out that night to with the laser pointer in the dark. She loves chasing the "laser bug" and its a great way to tire her out a little more before bed. And the ears? They flip inside out all the time - they're her Princess Ayla buns.

Related Recipes:
Zucchini Bread
Banana Bread with Macadamia Nuts and Chocolate Chips
Tomato Swirl Bread

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Still Alive

And if you get that reference, I just might kiss you.

I'm still here, I just haven't had an urge to blog much lately. I think its coming back though.

The tomatoes are finally starting to ripen on the patio. This has been an unseasonably cold summer, with a few hot spells here and there (107 degrees last week!), so they've been slow to mature.

We've been eating, of course. There has been sinfully rich creamed corn (adapted from some recipe I found online, but I no longer remember where it was).

There has been many a spicy sriracha burger (just add a good amount of sriracha sauce and whatever other seasonings you like, such as garlic powder and black pepper, to ground beef and grill; I coat a veggie burger in a similar mixture for myself, and plan to incorporate it into a homemade veggie/bean burger soon).

Last week was my 3rd Veggie-versary, and I celebrated by making personal zucchini lasagnes in big ramekins (thinly slice zucchini length-wise and toss with salt, put in a colander, and let the moisture leech out for at least 30 minutes; then use in place of lasagne noodles with your favorite lasagne components).

I've been keeping quite busy with music, playing on board the USS Hornet with the Hornet Big Band; at the Sunol Jazz Cafe for regular gigs and even a wedding party with the Nightlife Big Band; and at the Livermore Farmers Market, Alden Lane Nursery's Art Under the Oaks, Ravenswood Historic Site and more with the Pleasanton Community Concert Band. I have no pictures, since my hands were full of saxophone, but I'll try to get hold of some that I know were taken at some of the events.

And today my good friend Stef came to visit and have some fun. We started with lunch at Stomp Wine Bar in Blackhawk Plaza. They have a large wine list and small plates for noshing. We sat on the patio in the comfy cushioned patio chairs, near the fireplace that I imagine is divine on a cool night. I had the 2007 Skylark Pinot Blanc, from the Orsi Vineyard in Mendocino, which was very good - subtle and refreshing. She had the 2007 Unti Barbera from Dry Creek Valley, which was underwhelming until we tried it with food, then it was quite good. When you sit the waiter brings water and house-made potato and root vegetable chips, with a little dip.

We stuck the metal lizard in the cone there in honor of our friend Liz, who we wish could have been there with us. There was another metal lizard on the fireplace grill that we were taking pictures of, so the waiter brought this one out for us to play with.

We ordered the fava bean crostini - spicy fava beans on top of what I believe was ricotta and toasted baguette, with an apricot drizzle. It was excellent.

And we had the fresh fig, goat cheese, prosciutto (I didn't eat the prosciutto), and caramelized onion flatbread, which was earthy and delicious.

I was eyeing the house-made chocolate and cheese platter desert course, but we were too full, which only means we'll need to go back and sample some more.

After lunch we had a good time shopping and hanging out. And I bought a pair of black sequined flats as DS shoes that are very cute, so I'm happy. Then we took the dogs out to play a little fetch, and Stef chased Mac around trying to get his plush soccer ball from him, which is just what he wanted.

All in all, a great day. I may not have a ton of friends, but I truly love and appreciate the ones I do have. :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

This is what I had for breakfast - banana blueberry pancakes. And now I have a bag full of pancakes in the fridge, since I'm the only one here who usually eats breakfast, ready to be reheated and re-crisped in the oven for a few more days. They are great too, even for cheater pancakes. Yup, I used Bisquick. And I used the recipe on the back of the box for melt-in-your-mouth pancakes (to the regular recipe add 1 tablespoon each of sugar and lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon each of baking powder and vanilla). I also added my last handful of fresh blueberries and a chopped banana.

But you're not here for the pancakes... because I ate them. No, you're here for the creamy macaroni and cheese.

I used to make macaroni and cheese where I baked it after combining the pasta and cheese sauce, but I've found that to make it too dry. Although cutting a cold hunk of macaroni and cheese out of the dish from the fridge the next day and being able to eat it out of hand is always fun. I had a macaroni epiphany last winter while visiting with family and making dinner. The back of the cornstarch box had a recipe for cheese sauce that yielded something silky smooth and cheesy. Then I realized if I wanted a creamier mac and cheese, I should just skip the baking step, which is what I've done since.

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

1 package of cooked pasta (I used bowties this time)
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup milk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch (or 2 Tbsp. flour)
Seasonings as desired
2 c. or more of shredded cheddar cheese

Get your pasta cooking in salted water. 

While the pasta is bubbling away, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. If you're using flour, add it to the melted butter and stir with a wooden spoon or whisk constantly until golden, then add the milk. If you're using cornstarch, mix it with about 1/4 cup of the milk and add the cornstarch mixture and the rest of the milk. Stir until thickened, then add whatever seasonings you wish. I used salt, pepper, garlic, dry mustard, and crushed red chili flakes this time. Then add the cheese and stir until melted.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss with the cheese sauce. I like BBQ sauce and Sriracha sauce with my mac and cheese, as well as topping it with a little shredded Parmesan and sliced basil.

Related Recipes:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I'm Still Here!

So, that was a long blog break. I kinda lost my mojo for a while, and then looked at my Google Reader where I had somewhere between 400 and 500 unread posts, after which I threw my hands up in the air and just walked away.

But, I've since regrouped. I simply marked all of the unread posts as read without looking at them. I'm sure I've missed seeing some great things, but sometimes you just have to let go. And now I'm back posting here in my little corner of the world.

Here's some pictures from our trip for the 4th up to Mammoth. Hopefully I have other good stuff to put up soon too. Until then, enjoy and thanks for coming back!

Chris and Greg, and Greg's awesome truck that he drove through a creek

The hippopota-Willy

 Beers and a bulldog on the deck

 My two favorite guys

 The most patient lab ever - he didn't even try to take my sunglasses off

 Chris and I went up to the Main Lodge on the mountain and wandered around. It was completely empty, but everything was mostly how we remembered it from when we were kids skiing up there.

 We played mini golf just around the corner from Greg's place. It was actually a good little course too.

Pool and Big Game Hunter at Grumpy's, as well as Hefeweizen and jalapeno poppers

I took Ayla and Willy for a hike around Horseshoe Lake on our final morning

There was a snowboarder building a ramp over a bridge to jump - I can only assume he wanted to land in the lake and its ice-cold snow-runoff water
Willy sure likes it though

Ayla prefers to play fetch on the beach, but I didn't have her swimming vest so maybe she would have like swimming too... dogs are strange

Case in point

Mac loves that Ayla is forced to snuggle with him in the car