10 Reasons Lamb is Awesome: How to Roast a Leg of Lamb

Monday, December 22, 2014

 -It's like something out of a Flinstones cartoon.-

1. If cuteness had a flavor it would be lamb. Lambs are adorable when they are alive so this only makes sense that it comes through flavor-wise.

2. Because it gives you a big awesome bone that - when combined with stock, lentils, thyme, garlic, and a bit of sausage - makes for one of the most amazing meals you will ever eat.

3. Cause what the fuck else are you going to make a vinegar-mint sauce for?

4. Leftovers are amazing in sandwiches built with sourdough bread, bitter greens, Dijon, pickled onions, and more mayonnaise than should be considered healthy.

5. It gives you a reason to consume insane amounts of garlic. Not that you need a reason anyways, but justifications are always nice to keep in your back pocket.

6. Fuck vegetarians.

7. Fuck vegans, too.

8. I'm pretty sure lambs are threatening the ecosystem by eating grass, pooping everywhere, driving SUVs, trolling online political forums, and posting pictures of your children on 4chan just to be total dicks. You're doing your part to keep the earth safe by devouring them and and putting a halt to their evil ways.

9. It pairs well with white and red wine! What other goddamn food can do that?

10. Because you're encouraged to "cook" it by serving it practically rare. If you take it over medium-rare it just becomes leather. Put those freaks who like their meat well-done in their place and give them some education by serving a red-pink slab of lamb.

Bonus Reason. It's so easy to cook. My method is thus...

You will need:
6-8 leeks
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
a few good sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped (not dried, you heathen)
many sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped (again, dried just won't do here)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra
many good grinds of freshly cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
A leg of lamb (bone in, for fuck's sake), 4-5 pounds is more than enough to feed your family and give you leftovers.

Preheat your oven to 325F. Trim the leeks of their dark green tops and the tips of their roots; cut them in half lengthwise. Run them under a bit of water to get the grit out but keep the halves together and neat. Douse them in a bit of olive oil and hit them with some salt. Place them at the bottom of your roasting pan as they will absorb the drippings from the lamb and get softer than your gut and so savory you'll just die.

Now this next part you can do in a food processor, but I like to use a mortar and pestle so there's some texture and, somehow gosh darn it, the flavor it better. Plus, more fun. Place the garlic, rosemary, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper in whatever you're using to mash them up and mash away into a paste. Smear this paste all over the leg of lamb. Hit the lamb with another good sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Place the lamb on the leeks. Cover with some foil.

Roast for 20 minutes per pound, removing the foil after the first hour. You want the internal temperature to be between 130F and 135F, which is a nice medium-rare. Plenty of pink is key.

(If the lamb doesn't drip that much fat or juice, add a splash of chicken stock or water to help the leeks along. This is rare that I have to do this, but it does happen once in a while.)

Allow the leg of lamb to rest for 15 minute before carving and serving. This is lovely on its own, but some mint sauce, red wine vinegar, or just flake salt are nice accompaniments. With this and the leeks I usually serve just some bread and sheep's milk cheese alongside to keep it in the family. 

Attitudes: Peppermint Chocolate Crinkles

Thursday, December 18, 2014

-I roll them in cocaine just like Uncle Escobar taught me.-

(Originally posted in 2012. A favorite post of mine.)

So here's a little Christmas story for you all that should bring some cheer or cause you to bang your head against the desk so hard you black out. I inadvertently got an employee at Target fired from his job. Well, I was a catalyst. He did it to himself. I find it's generally hard to keep a job when you're a disrespectful douchecanoe; but, hey, that's just my opinion.

I went to the Target around the corner looking for a certain electronic gift for my dad. (He reads this blog sometimes - not always as a dutiful father should, dad - so I can't say what.) I went to the electronics section and inquired as to the item I wanted. The attendant, a very helpful and conciliatory man with a mighty neck beard that could shame all other neck beards, apologized and told me they were all out.

"What I can do is call the other store on 65th Street and see if they have it," he said with a smile.

Oof: Red Hawk Macaroni with Prosciutto and Raspberry Jam

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

-Utter deliciousness in a bowl.-

During the writing of Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, Stephanie and I had to deal with a small little problem. The food.

We were eating gourmet pasta and cheeses nearly every single day for a year. Testing mac and cheese, after mac and cheese, after mac and cheese. Both of our cholesterol levels didn't just shoot through the roof, they went further than any probe ever sent into deep space by NASA. It was utterly brutal.

The weight gain was equally trying. My whole life I maintained a slim build my brother once lovingly called, "Heroin chic." I was practically a collection of organs bound by skin and held up by bones.

Eating mac and cheese practically every single night for a year drastically changed that. Since then my metabolism has sputtered more than my Dad's old Jaguar and I can no longer eat and drink to my struggling little heart's content. The weight gain was intense, to say the least. About twenty pounds for me, and Steph saw a significant gain to her tiny frame as well.

Steph and I did our best to fight this off by eating a lot of salads and trying to put away more fruit than a Farmers' Market. Still, it was a losing battle when your intake is so staggeringly high.

Since the book came out I've been doing my best to exercise when I can and eat far more fruits and veggies. It seems to have worked. My jeans aren't so tight anymore so, you know, progress.

Heck, this last Halloween I saw friends I hadn't seen in over a year since the book come up to me with a, "Wow, you lost a lot of weight!" I wasn't sure whether to slap a bitch or take the compliment because it wasn't until that I didn't realize just how big I had gotten. Looking back at pictures it's a bit daunting. Given, I was probably at an unhealthy underweight before, but when you've been that way your whole life and quick gain is shocking. Still, at book release I was sporting a extra chin that complimented by original chin strikingly well.

This isn't to say I no longer eat mac and cheese. Far from it. We eat it probably once a month or so. After all, it's delicious and moderation is key. The only reason you should ever eat mac and cheese every night is if you're writing a cookbook on a deadline.

So now things have taken a turn in a rather very different direction. I've taken on a job working for About.com on a brand new channel: Fruits and Vegetables. This produce-focused channel is a place where I'll be writing about the mythology, history, science, and fascinating varieties of produce out there - from tubers to pommel, nuts to herbs! Of course, there will also be plenty of engaging and easy to make recipes that you won't find anywhere else.

The channel will post ten times a month with two pieces of produce being the focus each month. For November I decided to start with some of my favorite fall fruits: cranberries and persimmons. We looked at the history of cranberries in Thanksgiving and how they were harvested, to how persimmons can be used to predict the weather. Naturally, some of my favorite fall recipes went up: persimmon oat scones and cranberry applesauce.

-And you will notice that pictures there are not via Instagram for you food porn geeks.-

I do hope you'll make the Fruits and Vegetables channel one of your go-to food sites. Vanilla Garlic will still be posting so no worries there. You'll still find essays and certainly more baked goods here in the future.

And for good faith, I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes from Melt. I hope you enjoy it (preferably with a salad).

Giving In: Gruyère and Emmentaler Macaroni and Cheese Casserole with Ham and Cubed Sourdough

Saturday, November 8, 2014

-This utterly sexy photo by Matt Armendariz.-

So I'm giving in this year.

Admittedly, it's not something I usually do, let alone admit to. I'm what many call stubborn, though I prefer stalwart. But after complaints, begging, pleading, and even a bit of polite asking I'll bend for once.

This year I'll make stuffing for Thanksgiving.

Now, admittedly, this probably sounds odd. Can one have a Thanksgiving without stuffing?

Yes. Yes you can.

Usually, I make blue cheese biscuits, cheddar crackers, homemade olive bread, or some epic macaroni and cheese where the cheese sauce bubbles over the sides and the house smells like warm feelings and comfort.

Last year, I crafted a wild rice stuffing studded with feta, roasted chanterelles, toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, and the finest mince of scallion.

What did my guests say? "Oh, it's good. Delicious, in fact. I just miss real stuffing."

One even had the gall to ask if I wanted him to run out and grab a box of *shudder* Stouffer's. After beating him unconscious and leaving his corpse on the street I went back to my apparently simple rice stuffing and spooned in onto the unappreciative plates of my so-called loved ones.

So, this year, I'll make stuffing. I plan to use sourdough, cherries, sage, hazelnuts (or, perhaps, pecans), and plenty of turkey sausage. That should shut them right up.

However, if you're looking for something hearty for Turkey Day but don't want to do stuffing, might I recommend the following?

This is another popular recipe from my cookbook, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. If sitting by a warm fire in Europe has a flavor I imagine this to be it. It'll put meat on your bones, no doubt, but think of it as protection from the cold or perhaps a return on investment when you ate nothing but salad last summer.

It uses ham, but feel free to omit it and use roasted cauliflower instead.

Another option is leftover turkey because fuck yes leftover turkey mac and cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese Stuffed Pumpkin

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's that time of year again and I felt that now was a great time to re-post one of my favorite recipes from Melt: The Art of Macaroni & Cheese. Pumpkins are everywhere now and the cold weather is seeping in.

My advice? Make mac and cheese studded baked in a pumpkin. This recipe is insanely easy and sure to impress during the cold holiday seasons ahead of us.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni 

1 sugar pumpkin, or other sweet variety (not a carving pumpkin), about 5 pounds
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ pound mild Italian pork sausage
4 ounces elbow macaroni
5 ounces Fontina, cut into ¼-inch cubes
2 ounces Gruyère, cut into ¼-inch cubes
3 scallions, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 cup heavy cream

Fontina is a creamy, woodsy, Alpine-style cheese . There are m any varieties of Fontina, from Swiss to Italian, with some fine specimens even coming out of Wisconsin. Each has its own unique profile, so be sure to taste them all and pick the one that you like best. Regardless of which you choose, you will get a nice semihard texture and subtle mushroomy flavor. It just so happens that Fontina pairs beautifully with the sugary flavors of a good baking pumpkin.

This recipe, baked inside the pumpkin—a trick inspired by Dorie Greenspan and Ruth Reichl, both famous for their stuffed-pumpkin recipes (among other things)—simply knocked our socks off with flavor and a stylish yet homey presentation. Although best with Fontina and a touch of Gruyère, another Alpine favorite, this recipe is flexible and can use whatever cheeses, meats, onions, or extra pasta you have on hand. Feel free to experiment. We particularly like Valley Ford’s Estero Gold or its Highway 1 Fontina, as well as Roth Käse’s MezzaLuna Fontina. If you want to try something radical, a creamy blue cheese like Buttermilk Blue or Cambozola will do nicely too.

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/178°C. Cut a circle from the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle, the way you would cut open a pumpkin to make a jack-o’-lantern, and set aside. Scoop out the seeds and strings as best you can. Generously salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin, pop the top back on it, place it on a rimmed baking dish (since the pumpkin may leak or weep a bit), and bake for 45 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. If the sausages are in their casings, remove the meat and discard the casings. Crumble the sausage meat into small chunks and cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Discard the drippings, or save for gravy or what have you.

3. Also while the pumpkin bakes, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.

4. In a bowl, toss together the Fontina, Gruyère, sausage, pasta, scallions, and herbs. Once the pumpkin is done baking, take it out of the oven and fill it with the macaroni and cheese. Pour the cream over the filling. Place the top back on the pumpkin and bake for 1 hour, taking the top off for the last 15 minutes so the cheese on top of the filling can properly brown. If the top cream still seems a bit too wobbly and liquid, give it another 10 minutes in the oven. The cream may bubble over a bit, which is fine. If the pumpkin splits while baking, as occasionally happens, be thankful you set it in a rimmed baking dish and continue to bake as normal.

5. Allow the pumpkin to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Be careful moving the dish, as the pumpkin may be fragile. You can serve this dish two ways: Cut it into sections and serve them, or just scoop out the insides with scrapings of the pumpkin flesh for each serving. Either way is just dandy. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4 

Wine pairings: white Rhône Valley blends, Viognier, oaky Chardonnay, champagne

Additional pairings for the cheese: apples, toasted walnuts, toasted hazelnuts

Wanting and Getting and What's In Between

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wanting is easy.

We want all the time.

It drives us to reach farther and work harder. Wanting brings out our best qualities, rough and sharp to the touch, and makes us polish them until their brightness blinds us. Wanting also brings out our worst. Jealousy and rage clawing at our guts, grey matter, and speech leaving us empty and often alone. Wanting allows us to endure - to face challenges and accomplish feats we never knew we could overcome. Wanting also breaks us down. We cry, we wonder why we aren't worthy and why our friends and co-workers and the bitches we hate are so damn lucky to get what they want. Wanting makes us forget that they probably suffered through want too, and we both empathize and forget this in waves of fluid coherence that change like the tide. Wanting makes us wonder how those other motherfuckers that came before us somehow wanted more. Wanting makes us freak out when yet another obstacle gets in the way. Wanting gives us the hammer needed to obliterate that obstacle, or at least make a hole to crawl through assuming we don't just walk around it. Wanting makes us move. Wanting makes us hopeful for the future and irritable at the present.

It's the getting.

Getting is hard.

Let's take an example...

My writing partner, Stephanie, is picking up and moving to France for a month for charcuterie classes, and then moving to Chicago for pastry school for six months.

Because this will make her happy and help lead her to her ideal career.

This is a perfect example of wanting so hard that she achieved the getting.

And please, read into that previous sentence. The getting required work, and dedication, and worrying, and freaking out, and long conversations over the phone, and second guessing, and making plans for a year from now before making plans for next month let alone next week.

Getting also required leaps of faith that paid off.

It demanded perseverance.

It needed hope that things will work out.

It insisted on a sound game plan that was well thought out mixed with a tinge of fuckitall.

And you know what? She got what she wanted. She's off to cleave up sides of bacon on a rural farm outside Paris before learning to make sugar sculptures and wedding cakes.

Getting is hard.

So now, I need to go back to my wanting so I can strive for my getting. 

Things I Forgot About Working in a Professional Kitchen

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

-200 Pippin apple tarts with prune-brown sugar compote and cinnamon sugar. Served with apple cider butterscotch, mascarpone sabayon, and almond crumble. Sabayon and crumble not pictured because I had to finish plating these bastards for service.-

1. Working on your feet for a 14 hour shift is hard. Running around kitchens, brushing tarts with egg wash, teaching culinary students, and running under the orders of a lot of captains can really work you out. This ordeal is made intensely more difficult when your husband has co-opted your old kitchen clogs as his work shoes, resulting in them becoming warped and no longer fitting for your feet. This results in feet that are covered in so many callouses and bruises your feet turn as purple and swollen as a fresh summer plum.

2. It's said that you can consider yourself an expert at something once you've put 10,000 hours of work into it. This may be true but professional kitchens do offer crash courses that certainly count for at least a 1000 hours in the space of a single shift. For example, take peeling apples. You've probably peeled scores of them in your lifetime. However, you will find a noticeable uptick in skill and speed after you stand there for three hours peeling, coring and slicing 200 of those fall season fuckers.

My top time to peel, core, and slice an apple into 24 wave thin wedges? 17 seconds. I didn't cut my hand once.

Whole Foods Pie Chart

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Spice Jungle

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

So I finally get to reveal to you all a major project I've been working on. For the last year I've been collaborating with the people at Beanilla to open a new online spice store: Spice Jungle.

Now this isn't a paid post. This is simply me bragging about some contract work I did with them. Work that I'm incredibly proud of. Plus, the team I got to work with was so amazing, knowledgeable and professional.

The job? Write the creative copy for over 1000 products. Unlike other online spice shops that simply list ingredients and their basic usage Spice Jungle aimed to create a site with gorgeous visuals, fresh products, and engaging writing that went against the norm. Having had a great working relationship with Beanilla, they gave me a ring.

It was an intense task. Every week a box with about 40 spices, mushrooms, teas, chiles, coffees, sugars, salts, peppers, and so on arrived. Have you ever worked with annatto seed or amchoor powder or cubeb pepper? I hadn't.

There was a lot of trips to the library, and I bought plenty of research books and encyclopedias. I even had to translate a 1200 year old Germanic text with the help of a university professor to learn about a unique type of pepper. I hadn't crammed that much since my GRE exams and was beating my head against some old trig textbooks.

Still I learned a lot and the descriptions came out great! Take this example for Grains of Paradise:

Teaser: Plenty of ego and an air of mystery. Like Mr. Gatsby, there’s a lot of show masking rather humble beginnings.

Description: A truly lavish name for what has historically been seen as a mere substitute. Grains of Paradise have gone by the geographically accurate name, Guinea pepper, and the more bestial moniker of alligator pepper. However, if you wanted to give it a name that reflected how most of the world has treated it then it should be called It’ll Do Pepper. It’s a shame considering how intriguing it is.

When black pepper was truly the spice that defined the spice trade – and, to be frank, still does – Grains of Paradise began to be brought by caravan from Guinea and Ghana. It was used as a replacement spice when black pepper was unobtainable and cubeb berries were still a few centuries away from being a real competitor. It never really found a proper home, even amongst its native African origins. It is still used in West Africa, Ghana, and Guinea to some extent. Oddly enough, Scandinavia has an affinity for it, but only as a flavoring for akvavit.

We say it’s a shame because Grains of Paradise are a rather intriguing spice if not for the inflated sense of self. They’re technically related to cardamom, but have more of a pepper flavor. Hot, pungent, and spicy but you’ll definitely notice a fruity-cardamom flavor. Yet it’s still rather timid amongst burlier flavors of actual black pepper and cardamom, and as such should be treated as a subtle pepper or a baking spice.

Grains of Paradise are popular in spice blends and for flavoring alcohol. However, a growing number of people are beginning to use it as a substitute for black pepper. If you’re into home brewing then this is a godsend. It won’t overpower your brews with a kick in the shin of spice and is easier to control. In addition, alcohol has a fine way of bringing out the more unique flavors.

So there it is. This is a bigger example, but essentially you should be able to learn about a spice's history and lore, as well as how to use it.

I hope you all go check out Spice Jungle and give it a look. 

The Research Process: Fig and Brandy Jam

Monday, August 18, 2014

1. Collect information from the library, internet, interviews, etcetera.

2. Read it all. All of it.

3. Take so many notes that you would shame Tolstoy. 

4. Make sure your notes are in such a ludicrously archaic and indecipherable form that Tolstoy would literally spin in his grave as such that the thanatropic energy harnessed from his whirling corpse could power a Hyundai. 

5. Put all of your sources into a annotated works referenced page. This is to help you in the long run. You know it does as it helps you remember what sources said what. 

6. Of course, it's also a huge pain in the ass. Most likely you will skip this part often until a small stack of sources begins to get so tall the cat climbs to the top of it to survey his territory (e.g., you). Then spend four hours logging that shit into EasyBib and hoping a publisher doesn't make you switch it all from MLA to APA, or, god forbid, Chicago Style. 

7. Write!

My Day: Fresh Cherry + Coconut Scones

Monday, August 4, 2014

-God damn it all…-

How was your day?

Really? That's super awesome.

My day? Oh my day was utter godamnitallfuckery.

The day began with the fact that it is the first of the month. Ostensibly, it's a great day because at my work, a local nonprofit, this is the day that pledge payments are processed and new donations are recorded in the books. It means we can pay bills, do payroll, and generally keep our education programs a-runnin'. For me, this means I process every single one of these payments and touch base with every single donor. While rewarding and necessary it can also be hectic and tiring dealing with complaints, lost payments, and documenting every single piece of information in numerous ways for various departments. There are reports to generate, calls to make, mailings to file through, and so on and so forth.

And today, of course, every step of the way imploded on itself like a dying star with the gravitational pull to yank in extra bullshit to boot.

Keeping Up With The House: Biscuit Doughnuts

Monday, July 14, 2014


It's amazing how the best laid plans get tossed quicker than rancid oil. How's the phrase go? Man makes plans and God laughs? I see no place that this is more true than homeownership where the unexpected and the planned are as tangled as a knitting drawer.

For example, the decrepit windows were low on the To-Fix List. Sure, most of them didn't have any screens and what with the cats that meant they had to stay closed all the time even in the worst heat lest the wee demons decide to go out for an adventure via Homeward Bound minus the happy Disney ending. Sure, they were also cracked and broken, but they weren't a concern. 

Then winter came. Then window replacement shot right to the top of the list and our bank account was $3000 lighter. 

Do I regret it? Not a bit. These windows keep the house cool and temperate and boy they shut out the noise. I could barely hear my neighbor's quinceañera fireworks due to these things.

Still, I keep trying to save money to re-do the bathrooms and take them gloriously out of 1979 when they were built. For God's sake, the faux marble countertop has gold glitter mixed into the surface because for some reason people in 1979 though gold glitter countertops were cool. Then again, You Don't Bring Me Flowers was in the Top 40, so I don't have a lot of respect for 1979.

Unfortunately, the trees in the front yard were infected with borer beetles and those had to be removed. Then we needed to repair a few shingles. Oh, and the cover for the dilapidated hot tub the previous owners built a platform for and then craned the hell in, but then never hooked up collapsed and became a mosquito cesspool so it needs to be ripped apart. Then there's the fact that the house is four different colors due to reconstruction and the previous owners never deciding on a color. So the front is yellow, the sides are grey, and the back is blue and white.

So yes… plans are askew. I guess that wood burning pizza oven is at the bottom of the list now, as well.

As husband goes at the hot tub with hammer and saw attempting to save us some cash I'm escaping it all. Of course, this means cooking. Normally this would usually involve fresh produce or at least a handle of liquor so cheap and rough it could fuel an engine.

But no. Stress levels are too high for this shit.

We're going straight to doughnuts, motherfuckers.

Grilled Chicken, Always

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

-The "Come hither" look.-

One should always have a good grilled chicken recipe on hand. I feel these things are mandatory for when you want a full chicken but don't want the tedium of turning on an oven in triple-digit weather and yet need more cooked bones for soup stock.

When you grill a chicken it should be butterflied, which is something I always ask the butcher at the market to do because it's free and simply put they can do it quicker and cleaner than I can. My butchering skills simply put - emphasize the "butcher" part of that word. Want ground chicken? Done. Want it butterflied? Well, ground chicken coming up anyways.

The dressing for this is easy enough. Ground chipotle, ground cumin, fresh thyme, amchoor powder if you have it (but let's be frank, you probably don't and should seriously get some because its sour flavor is epic in meat rubs), salt and pepper. Make more than you'll think you'll need and use it all.

Turn on your grill with the grates greased with plenty of oil. Cook the chicken skin-side down first for 15 minutes with the lid up, then flip it and cook it for 15 more with the lid down. Remove it from the grill and let the bastard rest a bit to reabsorb the juices.

That's my method. Imprecise, but reliable. You could serve it with a side salad, but fuck that noise. Make some guacamole and break out the chips. Drink a beer or some sangria made with the cheapest wine you can find. Done and done.

Garrett out.

-And then it was gone. Took, like, four minutes.-

Fruit Tree Status Report: Blueberry & Coconut Popsicles

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

 -Best way to fight a miserably hot day.-

The Apricot, aka: Bernadette
She's in the ground with minimal fuss. Bold, beautiful, and ready to shower me with apricots next year.

The Bing Cherry
There was a girl I went to high school with named Michelle. She was the friend in our group we all hated but still hung out with all the time for some mysterious reason. Probably because we all started school together and the nigh-incestuous dating circles within the group solidified her position for ineffable reasons that could't be talked about out loud. Yet, we still had a soft spot for the noisy bitch.

We all had that friend: begrudgingly put up with, despised by all, and yet still sort of loved for their own unique reasons. ("Outspoken in a way most people aren't!" "Willing to say what she thinks." Read: Shut the fuck up already.)

The cherry tree is that. Persnickety, mercurial, prone to blight and pests, the slightest rain with knock off every blossom before it can develop fruit. Yet when it does have a good year the cherries are the best I've ever had and I remember why I appreciate it so much.

The Kumquat
Oh god. It's flowering again. In the middle of June. That's the fifth flowering in the last twelve months. How is that possible? I haven't even used up the kumquats from the second flowering, let alone the third and fourth. I can only make so much marmalade. Make it stop…

The Washington Orange
I love you. You make winters with living with naturally chilled oranges plucked off the tree in a brisk December morning for tall glasses of only the most ephemeral orange juice ever. Golden nectar, it is.

Some Nifty Cookbooks Worth Your Time

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

So I feel the need to share some cookbooks with you guys. A heads-up: I received copies of these books free of charge. However, I'm only writing reviews of them because I actually enjoy them and gleefully stained the heck out of many of their pages.

I'm not being paid to write these. I'm not so base as to do that.

These books rock because the authors put a lot of time and effort into developing quality books with a engaging narratives, capturing photography, and unique recipes. They're worth having for the stories and foods they share.

So let's move on...

Things You Will Never Hear a Sacramentan Say + Chai Thai Tea

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

 -Spicy, sweet goodness like this is needed in skin-melting Sacramento heat.-

Okay, for the non-Sacramentans this might be over your head. If you live here or have visited here then you get it. You just do. At the very least, tourists will have a heads-up.

Things you will never hear a Sacramentan say:

1: I have no opinion about the new Kings stadium.

2: We need another Korean restaurant on Folsom.

3: I found free parking in midtown!

4: I'm excited for the new frozen yogurt shop that opened.

5: I love how safe the Amtrak stations are.

6: I feel overwhelmed by the police presence in Arden.

7: 45th street is so god damn filthy.

8: What's crystal meth?

9: I volunteer regularly.

10: Local craft beer? I'm more of a PBR person.

11: There's so much to do here that I never go to The City.

12: I'm just not into Farm to Fork.

13: Yay August!

14: Let's take a walk around South Sac tonight.

15: If I do another half-marathon it will be the death of me.

16: Of course I own a tux.

17: There's no good Farmer's Market near me.

18: Bike friendly!

19: Who the fuck is Patrick Mulvaney?

20: I just don't get what people like about Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates.

21: Ugh, Moscow Mules.

22: Let me tell you my secret river spot.

23: I shouldn't have a second Thai iced tea.

24: The east coast can keep their ramps.

25: I understand the theory behind the I-80 and the Business 80.

Plated: Lemon Poppy Seed Shortcake with Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream and Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Plated desserts are a thing for either the professional pastry chef or for the criminally insane home baker who has a day to fill. Having been both I generally understand the motivations.

When you work in a professional pastry kitchen you get a paycheck at the end of the day. Yes, that paycheck wouldn't cover the pound of vanilla beans the manager somehow found the cash for but you getting a $1.50 more an hour would be such fiscal lunacy that he'd rather burn the place down, but it's totally not about that. You get paid in satisfaction, pride in your work, and hopefully family meal in a kitchen that's cool sending fried chicken your way once in a while.

For the home cook it's about challenge, a day without errands pecking at your heels like angry hens, and a desire to recreate a cake you saw online but that will likely end up as a meme on the Cakewrecks fan page.

Of course, both require passion and dedication. Plated desserts require patience, planning, and so many bowls and spoons that you'll wonder why you didn't get an apartment with a dishwasher.

Lucky for me I have one, so if you don't then I guess it sucks to be you.

I also had a day to kill and a friend who insisted that we do a plated dessert because once these ideas spark in her head it's hard to put that brushfire out. So she put me to dancing my knife between piles of strawberries and stacks of rhubarb while she whisked out every lump in a pot of pastry cream that would feed fifty but only needed to feed two.

Shortcakes were made and dressed with lemon and freckles of poppy seed. Whipped cream was, oh yes, whipped by hand.

And so at the end of our afternoon we had the following: Lemon Poppy Seed Shortcake. Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream. Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote. Whipped Lavender Cream.

Proof that crazy can be a good thing.

Pickled Rhubarb and a Couscous Salad

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

-It was too pretty to Instagram since I had light and wasn't cooking in the middle of the night.-

We seem to a be a nation that has no problem pickling anything. We pickle eggs and that seems strange and terrifying until you try one. We pickle asparagus knowing full well it will make your pee even worse that eating it unpickled. String beans which are then renamed to dilly beans. Cauliflower; always with curry. And recently I have discovered pickled cherries, which may very well revolutionize the Manhattan and the martini.

Pickling and preserving books are now all the rage. It seems there's always a new one every few months purporting to be the end-all, be-all cookery book for packing your pickles.

However, this vinegar-fueld enthusiasm seems to have looked over humble rhubarb. Lovingly discarded like a stuffed animal still on your adult bed out of filial duty and not because you sleep with it, rhubarb is and forever will be in most minds the "pie plant".

How I Fight with Family: Spring Quinoa Salad + Giveaway!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

-You are wrong because I am right.-

Heads Up: Giveaway is at the bottom of this post. If you're feeling all TL;DR about it then scroll away!

My family is a family who has passes on an astounding gift through the generations: that of always being right. This often comes with other genetic traits such as blue eyes, nearsightedness, sweating the small stuff, never letting it go, and having the last word in the conversation.

It's fine and dandy if only one person an average family inherits these genes because the other family members can learn to roll it off their backs with a sigh and intimate reminders to each other that "It's just how he is."

However, when every single member of the family is assured by The Universe that his or her opinion (read: authority) is not only the logical one but also, unquestionably, the most right one as decided by said Universe it can only lead to debate. One that often accumulates in wondering how this person could possibly be related to you when they are so utterly wrong. Probably about everything ever.

All this goes without ever realizing that the other person is thinking the exact same thing.

Oh, the family resemblance is more than skin deep.

As such, I've developed unique methods of arguing with each family member. Though methods might not be the best word...

Tactics. Yes. Tactics is appropriate...

Cookbook Tour Advice: Rhubarb Scones

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

-Smile all the time. Even when you are tired of smiling.-

For those aspiring cookbook writers or for those about to go on their first book tour allow me to offer some helpful advice I wish I had been given.

Shit happens. Roll With It.

I had an event where after plenty of email communication it still went to hell.

The venue insisted that they did not want to sell books themselves so I organized a third party bookseller, a locally owned mom-n-pop shop, to come in and sell the books instead.

Unknown?: Port Royal Sugar Cookies

Monday, March 24, 2014

-That thing that apparently no one but me has heard of…-

Years ago when I was traveling through Europe, my brother and I having gotten tired of the hot springs and quaint village scene, which apparently can happen, took a day to ourselves and hopped a dilapidated train under a stainless steel sky from Baden to Vienna.  At 17 and 19 we did what most teenagers in Europe did: went to the museums, toured the architecture, and quoted lines from Faust at the statue of Goethe. Obviously.

Such wild, irresponsible rigamarole characteristic of our heathen-like ages took a toll and we were forced to finally put down our saddlebags and sparkling waters (something that at that age we drank with reluctance as still water cost at least another one of the curious new Euros) and decided that food was in order.

At the time I had little interest in food and if I have a regret it's not treating myself to some truly glorious meals through Europe. A sin, really, but I suppose it's one more reason to visit again someday. Rather than go to a cafe or restaurant where my appalling French and our collective total lack of German would likely embarrass us all into a blush-colored puddle we agreed that a nearby pastry shop would be the best option. Not wanting to appear too terribly American we could easily look through display, point, and then pay without more than a simple, "Danke!"

Recipes for the Jaded Cook

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fried Chicken
Get out the tallest, most sturdy pot you've got and fill it with four bottles of vegetable oil. Ignore the fact that this is probably one of the biggest food wastes ever because that would infringe on your self-image as a food-conscious individual who eats responsibly. Dredge the shit out of that free range chicken in heirloom flour and 120 ASTA paprika, and the buttermilk you got for $9 at the Farmers Market. Debate whether it's worth it when it doesn't taste as good as the fried chicken from the market deli. Spend the next ten minutes Windex-ing oil off of the counter, stove top, floor, and - somehow - the ceiling. You tried at least, right?

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Everyone tells you to age the cookie dough in the fridge for a week. Even two weeks. Hell, let's aim for a month for that dough. Those caramel notes will be buff motherfuckers. Realize that when you want chocolate chip cookies you probably want them now. Age them for about half of an episode of House of Cards. Good enough. Eat half the dough before baking the rest.

Trendy Cocktail #1
Have a Happy Hour cocktail for $8 that's served in a highball glass and has a sprig of rosemary sticking out of it. When you get home convince yourself that you can totally make that shit. Why pay $8? The next day be sure to spend at least $60 buying liquors. Make the drink once for five friends on a Saturday night before a Netflix binge. Forget about the mostly unused liquor and let it spend the next five years in a dark cabinet corner until you give them to a friend for an 80's themed party. Toss the rosemary in a month when you find it's gone bad.

First Spring: Asparagus with Lime

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

-Good with lime and feta. An easy peasy meal.-

Aside from trying to stop the slow advance of ants into the house with all means necessary - both organic and chemical - I'm slowly feeling out my first Spring in my house.

Projects are underway. The husband in all his do-it-yourself mindset has gone about stringing up trellises for snap peas and dug out the ancient, mercurial grape vines and replaced them with far more temperamental kiwis that are being trained about the arbor. He's also built a workbench and has dreams of wainscoting our bedroom (I'm trying to smile when he talks about it as I come up with a scheme to make sure that does not happen. S.O.S. Please send ideas.)

When we moved in the unkempt cherry tree hanged so heavy with fruit it groaned in the wind. At the time we didn't have a ladder to reach most of it but this year I plan to offer it continuous relief. In addition, during the winter we planted apples, pomegranates, plums, pluots, and too many citrus to count. Finally after months of dormancy green springs are burrowing their way out into the sun and it's rather exciting. I even called my first plum blossom glorious, because it was. It was tiny and small and won't bear fruit but that's not the point. The point is that our home feels like it's beginning to wake up and is eager to thrive.

Never Enough: Baked Blackberry-Banana Oatmeal

Monday, February 17, 2014

-I've started the habit of keeping frozen berries on hand at all times because they make life better.-

Can we take a moment to talk about oatmeal? I know it's not the most riveting subject. Oatmeal hardly ever is, especially when you relegate it as simply a pasty beige goop. It doesn't have the saucy, cheese-tasting goodness of a perfectly soft boiled egg's yolk, nor the crunchy, porcine goodness that is only the crispiest farmers' market bacon. And then there are cinnamon rolls. The yeasty, homemade kind with crusty bits of cinnamon sugar peaking out of the folds and an aroma that curls through the house curing everything from Mondays to broken hearts. Then there's all cream cheese icing, the sort that you slather on with a spatula as if you were going to mason together a wall of sticky buns.

I mean, I dig oatmeal. But no oatmeal is really ever gonna match that. Let's be honest.

Thing is: cinnamon buns are a fuck-ton of work. Oatmeal? Not so much. It's a snap, and you can still craft some truly flavorful recipes with minimal effort that'll ensure you aren't missing any cinnamon buns. And, heck, you can serve it up with some soft boiled eggs and bacon just fine.

I was lucky in that I was never served goop. My dad, who usually worked well past nine, ten, sometimes eleven o'clock at night, was the one who made my brother and I our lunches for school and ensured we ate a halfway decent breakfast. This left my mom to have a peaceful, child free morning before she went off to teach a room full of third graders then come home to watch her own kids.

Look a Hot Mess: Sweet Potato Biscuits

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

-Sweet potato biscuits for when you look like a hot mess.-

So I know I'm the furtherest thing from a fashion plate, a term that still perplexes me because if I can't eat cake on it then it has no business being a plate of any sort, but I actually can lace up my shoes and dress myself without anyone having to worry. At times I can even put together a simple outfit with coordinating accessories such as a pair of leather gloves and actually look competent. For example, the other day I happened to pair some boating shoes with socks that weren't white (my usual per diem), some indigo washed jeans the color of a sharp bruise, a smart pea coat, hand knit gray scarf, glasses, and a tousled dress shirt in a perfectly smart olive color. Somehow it all worked and I received a compliment or two. Huzzah.

I'm not sure I can properly articulate how proud I am when I look like a real adult.

I can't imagine I will ever be able to call myself fashionable. I'll keep at it, but the idea of washing whites and colors separately, never mind my sheer avoidance of the phrase "Dry Clean Only", doesn't provide much hope. I generally just heave myself at the closet and hope for the best every day.

Still, once or twice I have been mistaken for a homeless person. The first time, shamefully, by my mother.

Back to Basics. Making crepes.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

-Pastry perfection.-

I tend to be wary of crepes. I love them, but I just happen to have a habit of burning them as if I were knitting tissue paper over an open flame. Dodgy business these crepes.

Admittedly, at times I have a tendency to simply skirt away from certain challenges as if stealing away from disapproving parents in the middle of the night, not bothering to even leave a note. Most of my life I'm happy to meet a challenge. Yet there are always those lesser confrontations; ones where neither your future nor your reputation on the line. Some of them don't even bother to address you, instead happy to lay a deck chair out in the middle of the road and wait for you to drive around them simply because, let's face it, it's easier for both of you that way.

Stupid Raccoon: Earl Grey & Kumquat Marmalade

Monday, January 13, 2014

-The perfect cure for the busy mind.-

We took down the Christmas tree today, an event that has as much joy as getting your bits waxed. Down came the teddy bear advent calendar I grew up with. The mistletoe - which didn't see nearly enough action - was removed from the foyer. The mantelpiece was de-garlaned. The tree's bobbles and strings were delicately removed and tucked into boxes with a throw-n-go method. The tree itself, a marvelous Martha Stewart fake that could fool even the most scrutinous botanist if not for the lights miraculously growing from its branches, was packed away.

Once stored and shelved for the next eleven months the husband and I went out to the garage for the comfy sack - a large beanbag chair of sorts. It's filled with foam pellets instead of those crappy polyurethane beads that exploded over many a living room in the 80s, and upholstered in a chocolate microsuede cover. Quite fun. Extremely comfortable. I highly recommend it if you want a touch of whimsy in your home.

It was also, apparently, very peed on.

A Simple List: Celery, Almond, Blue Cheese Salad

Thursday, January 2, 2014

-The first meal of 2014. Some French blue cheese called Fourme d'Ambert and a bit of fresh celery from the Asian farmers' market in downtown Sacramento.-

I like to wrap up the years on this blog by going through resolutions for the coming year and reflecting on ones that we're about to nail up in the coffin. I usually make a list of resolutions and try to hold myself publicly accountable because, well, someone god damn has to.

However, this year was a rather busy year. There was the hunt, purchase, and complete remodel of the house down to the studs and then building it back up. That consisted of a lot of work with a contractor, hosing down asbestos, hammering in floors, painting every surface, and moving (which, I'm pretty sure is God's way of proving that he's not always going to help so much as sit back and laugh). Not to mention the process had a few extra surprises like having to mug my bank account to buy a new furnace and having homeless people break in and jerk off on the wall. 

Then there was the book. Two and half years of pregnancy defined by a constant craving for carbs and dairy followed by a well-publisized birth defined by excellent reviews and a minor bit of critique. After that, Melt's mother and I paraded him up and down the West Coast like the proud parents we are. Admittedly, he's all grown up and while we love him I feel Melt is like a high school grad: it's time for him to move the fuck out of my house and get a job or go to college. 

Not that we won't support him. We still have more events coming in 2014. Woo!

So what's this year?

Well, I'd like to keep it simple to be honest.

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