Category Archives: books

Blogging for Books – Crap Taxidermy

9781607748205

If you’ve been to our house in the last few years, and entered through the front door, you would have been greeted by a raccoon mounted on the wall, along with a couple of fluffy squirrels. Some flea market deer and antelope mounts would be gazing at you from across the room. Plus, a couple of piñata heads.

I’m going to go ahead and blame it all on Disney and the now-defunct Country Bear Jamboree for my love of taxidermy animals. The talking mounted heads of Melvin Moose, Max Deer, and Buff Buffalo would introduce the Country Bears and engage in entertaining banter. I always wanted one for my house; in fact, I still would love a gorgeous moose mounted above our fireplace. [Fun fact: if you go on the Winnie-the-Pooh ride at Disneyland, after you go through the heffalump and woozle dream room, if you turn around and look up, you can see the moose, deer, and buffalo heads hanging above the archway!]
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I love getting mail

 

 

 

Look what showed up on my doorstep! I’ve heard a lot of people saying amazing things about Plate to Pixel, so when Lori held a giveaway for a copy, I entered and crossed every finger (and then I won!)  Can you tell from the photo that I totally need the help?

I flipped through it on my way from the front door to the kitchen and I swear I learned a bunch just from those few pages!  I can’t wait to really get into it and figure out how to make food look pretty.

Changing subjects, how cute are our cherry tomatoes?  I’m amused that they ripen here and there; sometimes I just snack on them straight from the vine and don’t have any to bring in.  Every year I make a note that I need to plant more cherry tomatoes, but I think I also need more room in the garden to do so efficiently.

Heh. Do you think I can convince Travis to help me cut and paint board “backdrops” after we finish the chicken coop?

Thanks for the giveaway, Lori!

 

Do you Kindle?

I’ve already admitted I have a bit of a shoe problem. Strangely, I don’t buy new purses as easily/frequently as I do shoes. Maybe it’s because a purse goes with every outfit so I don’t need as many. Actually, it’s probably because I don’t like moving all my stuff from one purse to another. I tend to stick with a single purse for a while, and I guess now I know it’s out of laziness! It’s much easier to change shoes from day to day, which makes it more fun to acquire more!

I also used to buy a lot of books, too. Usually at Costco, where I could collect a stack, flip through them, then assess which ones I really needed to bring home with me. Then I realized I was getting suckered into books that I either didn’t like or would never read again. They’d pile up in the house, then go into the donation pile. It seemed like a big waste of money. It’s been a while since I’ve purchased a book, aside from cookbooks I know I want or a paperback during desperate times at the airport. I have the library to thank for that! I discovered that you can put books on hold online and you’ll get an e-mail when that book is ready to be picked up. You usually have a week or two to retrieve your books, and they’re waiting for you on a bookshelf – it’s so convenient! I can’t even tell you how many books I’ve put on hold, picked up, flipped through, then decided I didn’t want to read past the first few pages. Back to the library they go, and I’m not out any hard-earned funds. Most cookbooks are at the library, too (even new ones), so I’ll try one out for a few weeks before deciding if I’d use it enough to actually warrant buying it. Some I do, some I find are not my style. I love it. It certainly helps that the library is kind of on my way home from work, which makes it easier to pick up and drop off books.

Because of this wonderful library system, I’d been wary about the Kindle or getting an e-reader. It seemed quite efficient to have all these books on one device, instead of packing a thick book into my purse or dealing with the weight of multiple books for a trip. But, I’d also gotten accustomed to not paying for books, and I wasn’t sure how many “classic literature” pieces I could deal with. I have the Kindle app on my iPhone, but the screen is small and it’s cumbersome to flip pages after only a paragraph or two. Then, Cami got a Kindle for Christmas and the whole wi-fi/free 3G piqued my interest. I was interested enough to put it on my Amazon.com wishlist and, being a good guy, Travis bought me one for my birthday. You really can access the internet on it, which is cool (I can Twitter and check Facebook, although in black and white) and it transferred all the books I downloaded through the iPhone app onto the Kindle. I started looking at e-books I wanted to read, but still couldn’t bring myself to pay for them (especially since sometimes the e-book is more expensive than the paperback version!) So, I downloaded free books and excerpts and blackjack games and sort of read through Alice in Wonderland, but I still put it aside in favor of the library books on my nightstand.

See, you can also “check out” audiobooks and e-books from the library’s website, but the e-books are in Adobe EPub format, which is not compatible with the Kindle. If you have a Sony e-reader or the Barnes & Noble Nook, you can actually read the e-books and then after a set lending period the book removes itself from the device (or something happens so you can’t read it anymore). I really, really wanted to be able to pick out e-books and read them on my Kindle; I probably only needed to read them once, anyway. There were even e-books available for the hard copy books currently on my library hold list! I was a little frustrated with this obstacle and resigned myself to reading the free Kindle books and possibly paying for a couple to load before we left for our next trip.

This is all to say, I have since discovered that there are ways to make library e-books readable on the Kindle. But, they involve steps that are a little not-legal and possibly unethical, depending on your stance on library books and lending periods (I mean, it’s all still not-legal; the unethical part is debatable). this is not to say I endorse taking not-legal steps or endeavors in order to save some money and read a library book on your Kindle… I’m just saying there are ways to do it and I may or may not be knowledgeable of such procedures.

But I still enjoy the hard copy books that I get from the library, too.

The New Portuguese Table Dinner Party

I know, I know… I’ve been promising this write up for ages, but now it’s here! I’ve been trying to get it put together to help promote the Food 4 Kids program and fundraising event, especially since David Leite has sent a signed copy of his cookbook, The New Portuguese Table, as a raffle prize (either donate online or at the collection event Saturday, December 12, 2009 to be entered in the raffle). David’s website, Leite’s Culinaria, is proud of the fact that posted recipes get put through the steps by the extensive network of recipe testers. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t get posted. If a recipe is posted, but readers are finding it really doesn’t work, it gets re-tested and often pulled. So, it stands to reason that his cookbook would undergo the same rigorous procedure.

If there’s one mantra cooks follow (or should follow), it’s “Don’t attempt a recipe for the first time in front of company.” When you are making dinner (lunch, dessert, food gifts, etc) for people, even if those people are good friends, you want to present a dish you’re familiar with, so you’re not left with some weird thing in a dish that requires a) pizza delivery and b) delayed eating. Granted, I’ve fudged that rule a few times, but only on Cami – mainly because I know if something goes wrong I can just whip up something else for us to eat and we’ll be happy. And I always warn in advance, “This is a new recipe so it might turn out terrible”. Luckily, I think that may have happened once. Or twice.

But! The New Portuguese Table has been put through the ringer. The recipes that ended up in the book were tested, retested, tweaked, and tested some more. Plus, there are dishes in there that I never even had the chance to test (or some that I passed on, due to a fear of handling whole squid). So, I thought it would be fun (so daring!) to throw a dinner party using only new recipes from the cookbook. I was a little wary (old habits die hard, you know), but I shouldn’t have been. It all turned out perfectly. Here’s what the menu looked like:

· Green Olive Dip

· Goat Cheese, Walnut, and Honey Triangles

· White Gazpacho with Crab Salad

· Momma Leite’s Braised Beef in Garlic

· Spinach with Breadcrumbs

· Orange Olive Oil Cake

· The best chocolate chip cookies you’ll ever eat

Okay, small confessions: I had made the green olive dip and goat cheese triangles before. And the chocolate chip cookies aren’t in the cookbook, but they are David’s recipe and they’re so good I had to make them. The green olive dip is really delicious: vibrant, tangy, creamy, and spreadable, it makes a good dip or spread. And, we had a beer that pairs perfectly with goat cheese, which is why the goat cheese triangles made it in. But the main course was all new to me! Which is what matters, right? Because if it fell flat or took longer to cook, we’d be in trouble!

This was designed as a sit-down dinner. We had appetizers ready to go when people arrived, but I had timed the beef so that it should be ready by the time we were finishing the soup. And it was.  So, here’s what we enjoyed at our Pre-Holiday Dinner, compliments of The New Portuguese Cookbook.

green olive dip... and other nibbles

The green olive dip is in the bowl towards the middle.  The rest of the nibbles were pretty much leftover things I had in the fridge.  In the front, I put out a platter of crackers and Manchego cheese (it’s what I had) and the rest of the green olives from the dip recipe.  I had also sliced a baguette, drizzled them with olive oil, and toasted them so people could spread the olive dip on them.  I had leftover crab from the gazpacho recipe, so I turned it into a crab salad that we ate for lunch.  What’s in the bowl is what was leftover from that.  In the back is a plate of more crackers and some goat cheese I had rolled in sweet paprika.  Not too shabby, huh?  For the green olive dip, I used Spanish olives from the bulk olive bar at Whole Foods.  The base of the dip is a milk “mayonnaise” (also in the cookbook) – instead of using egg yolks, you use milk and then emulsify oil into that.  The green olives add a salty tang and there’s a hint of garlic in there, too.  I love it and happily ate leftovers on everything for a couple of days after the party.

goat cheese "triangles"

Yes, you’ll notice those are rectangles.  That is completely due to my inability to cut straight lines, which left me with uneven squares.  Uneven squares don’t make good triangles, but they make decent rectangles.  These are filled with a mixture of goat cheese, walnuts, rosemary, and thyme, then brushed with an egg wash, baked, and drizzled with honey and sea salt.  You get crispy soft pastry, a creamy filling with a crunch (from the walnuts) and this salty sweetness on the outside.  I could eat a dozen of these, easily.

not a recipe

When we were in New York, we went to Newark, NJ to stroll through the Portuguese neighborhood.  When we stopped for lunch, we saw a table with a flaming sausage!  Since we had brought back some good linguica, we thought it fitting to see if we could set fire to a sausage without causing too much damage to the house.  I would recommend testing your liquors first to see what lights easily.  We ended up using some of Travis’ Scotch.  We also didn’t have the traditional vessel, so we used one of my stainless steel pans.  As you can see, it’s very visually appealing, and you end up with a crispy sausage that is slightly sweet from the burned off alcohol.

crab salad, pre-soup

gazpacho!

gazpacho!

I had never made a gazpacho before.  I think I was under the impression that I didn’t like cold, savory soups (cold, fruit soups are a different story).  I was also skeptical that all the bread and almonds would result in a soup that wasn’t grainy or clumpy.  And, yes, I realize this may be better suited for a summer meal rather than fall, but it was one of the few soups recipes that allowed us to plate the dish with the crab salad in, and then pour the liquid soup on top of it.  See, when we were in New York, treating ourselves to fancy-schmancy meals, we kept getting impressed by these soups that arrived with tasty morsels on the bottom and a silky liquid that surrounded them.  We wanted to do it at home, and this ended up being our choice.  The crab salad works well here, melding into the soup to give the dish a little more substance.  The gazpacho itself is light and not grainy at all.  Definitely make sure you add enough salt to bring out all the subtle flavors.  We ended up with no leftovers on this course, but I wish we had.

braised beef and chourico

spinach and "breadcrumbs"

The braised beef was delicious.  Meltingly tender and flavored from braising in wine, garlic, and alongside chourico.  By this time, we were all getting so full, but everyone agreed it was so good.  I would have eaten the leftovers for lunch, but Travis beat me to it.  You may notice the breadcrumbs on my spinach are a bit large and perfectly cubed.  I didn’t have time to make the cornbread in the cookbook (it’s like a yeasted bread made with cornmeal), but I did have cornbread stuffing mix and I think it worked in a pinch.  It gave a little crunch to the spinach and there wasn’t much left by the time dinner was done.

this only gets better with age

warm cookies...mmm...

Almost done… we’re at dessert!  The nice things about both these desserts is that you have to make them in advance.  The Orange Olive Oil cake needs to be baked at least a day before you plan to serve it.  Trust me… you may think you want a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven cake, but you don’t.  You want a room-temperature cake that has had at least a day to let the olive oil and orange flavors meld, soften, and seep into the moist cake.  It stays moist (probably due to the amounts of olive oil) and it just keeps getting better.  We kept slicing pieces off the cake for days until we finally sent it into work.  The cookies have made their rounds on the Internet and people keep posting about their famous/popular/best cookies, but these are my favorite.  You make the dough up to 3 days in advance and then bake them up into huge cookies.  The long rest lets the sugars and moisture meld into the flour (or something like that – go read about it) and because of the size, you get a cookie that is crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle layer, and then soft in the dead center.  Plus, there are these layers of chocolate interspersed into the cookie.  It’s heaven and definitely calls for a glass of cold milk.  Sometimes I freeze hunks of dough so I can bake up a couple of cookies on a whim.  They’re still good (as no warm cookie could be bad) but they aren’t as good as the ones made from “fresh” cookie dough.

So… I managed to convince myself that all the recipes in the cookbook work, which is comforting since, as I mentioned, there are quite a few that I haven’t tried yet.  Now I can just pick one at random and know it’ll end up tasty.

The New Portuguese Table

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t tell you about The New Portuguese Table.  David Leite runs Leite’s Culinaria, a comprehensive website full of recipes, many of which can be viewed as excerpts to some of the most touted cookbooks.  Not only does his site offer up these recipes, but each recipe posted is well-tested, ensuring that the recipe works as written and that everyone will be able to turn out a delicious final product.  Trust me on this, as I’ve been one of their (many, many) recipe testers for over 4 years.  I only know it’s been this long because when T and I first started dating, he found one of my reviews when he Googled me.

A quick look through my files shows that David started testing recipes for his cookbook well over 2 years ago.  I was honored (and thrilled) when he asked if I would be interested in being a tester for the book.  How often does that chance come along?

Dozens and dozens (and dozens) of recipes filtered through my kitchen, most of them sampled by T, sometimes presented to friends.  Some of them worked the first time, others got their tweaks and final touches before they were deemed finished.  We took pictures of our dishes to show each other, but none of them come close to the beauty of the cookbook photographer.  Those photos would make me drool even if I didn’t already know how delicious the food was.

David was gracious enough to let us pass on dishes that made us squirm – I still don’t think I can handle raw squid – and often asked for suggestions if we felt something just wasn’t right.

Now, all the hard work has paid off into a beautiful cookbook full of stories and wonderful food.  I’ve paged through it and it’s like a trip down memory lane for me.  If Portuguese cooking has at all intrigued you (the only way I can describe it is like Spanish cooking, with a twist), David’s book will step you through it. 

Do not fear the salt cod – it is far less scary once you soak it and incorporate it into a dish.  Then it becomes tasty!

Thank you, David, for letting me be a part of your journey.  It’s been a delicious path and I look forward to many return visits.

p.s. – if you read through his Acknowledgements page, you’ll find my name there.  It’s a bit exciting (for me, at least!)