Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spring Really is Springing

Spring really seems to be having a hard time here in Sacramento…now I realize I have only been here for 12 years and there is a lot of weather history I have missed, but even the folks who grew up here are crabbing! I mean, cold and rain as we approach the end of May! The possibility of Memorial Day being rained out! What’s up with that? We should be well into the 80’s by this point, shorts, cotton skirts and tee-shirts the fashion choice of the day! But no-o-o, Sunday I actually donned a fleece pull over and a light weight down vest to go to the farmers market – now I realize it is in a shady and often breezy spot that is often quite a bit cooler than the rest of the city but still…
Despite it all Mother Nature is pressing on. Being the persevering gal that she is, she is taking advantage of those little spots of sun to get things blooming! And I must say she is doing a darn good job! So this morning I took a little tour of our yard, which was still very wet from yesterday’s rain, to see just what is going on…

Well, the little dove family who cleverly laid eggs on the top of the fence holding up the wisteria – hey throw down a couple twigs and call it a nest – are none the worse for wear with all the dampness…the eggs didn’t fall off the fence and the babies are thriving – just goes to show, if your mother is sitting on you it is hard to move – since they are right in the middle of where we are every day they are pretty unfazed by picture taking…the blue-jays with their nest in the orange tree were a little more touchy, but now their teenaged young are driving their parents crazy by not staying in the nest and wandering around the yard.

My bush beans already have flowers, the sweet peas have exploded, one of my yellow roses went so crazy producing multiple blossoms on one stem that the stem actually broke! The tomatoes and the cucumber are starting their competition for space – guess I’d better get them under control before it’s too late -
and the basil, with the help of some industrial strength copper tape and ‘snail patrol’ have begun to thrive. The bees are exceedingly happy and the hive is really growing...could be enough honey to share by fall...  And oh yes, let’s not forget my goofy amaryllis that seems have a little synapse issue with the seasons – we just wish it Merry Christmas every time we go out the back door…

So I guess spring really is springing – even if I have to wear a parka to enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Fantasy is in the Cheesecake...

It started as a sort of fantasy…I thought it would be cool if I could become so good at preparing a particular food item it could become sort of my signature. You know, when someone was having a gathering where they wanted everyone to bring something, they would say…’oh do you think Janet would bring her blank’. How do I come up with this stuff? Anyway, I decided the said ‘food item’ should be fun, a treat and something not everyone prepared. Not much use in becoming a specialist at say, baked potatoes…Well I decided on cheesecake.
I set about practicing, reading, researching and collecting various cheesecake recipes. And I’m here to tell you there is some learning to be done on this subject. Some of the early editions cracked like the grand canyon (lots of fruit on top can usually disguise this issue), some didn’t get cooked all the way through, some were so rich they were just too much, but I stuck with it and it has paid off. Actually, my only request for cheesecake came from one of my nieces when she was really quite young, she told my sister that she hoped I would make my pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving! From young taste buds I took that as a huge complement!

So last weekend, with guests coming to dinner, I thought a cheesecake would make a good desert. I chose one of my personal favorites, Lemon Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust – Bon Appetit, March 2005. This one is especially light and the combination of lemon and ginger is pretty dreamy!


2 C ground gingersnap cookies (Trader Joe’s has a great gingersnap that works well)

6 TBS (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

5 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temperature

2C sugar

¼ tsp salt

7 lg. eggs

3 C (24 oz) sour cream

2 TBS (packed) finely grated lemon peel

2 TBS fresh lemon juice

For Crust:

Preheat oven to 350D.

Stir cookie crumbs and butter in medium bowl until evenly moistened. Press mixture onto bottom of 9 inch diameter removable bottom spring form pan with 3 inch high sides. Bake crust until deep golden, about 12 minutes. Cool completely. Reduce oven temperature to 325D.

Stack 3 large sheets of foil on work surface.

Place same cake pan in center. Gather foil snugly around pan bottom and up sides to waterproof.
For Filling:

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth and fluffy.

Gradually beat in sugar, then salt. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in sour cream, grated lemon peel, and lemon juice. Pour filling into pan.

Place wrapped cake pan in large roasting pan.

Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides on cake pan. (I set the roasting pan on the pulled out oven rack and fill it there – sounds obvious, but believe me, once I tried to walk across the kitchen with the roasting pan full of water – let’s just say I didn’t need to do that twice!)

Bake cake until filling is slightly puffed and moves only slightly when the pan is shaken gently about 1 hour and 25 minutes. ( You really need to check this. I have had them be ready, spot on, at an hour and 25 and other times, at 5 minute increments, it has needed an additional 15 minutes – same recipe, same pan, same oven – I think it has to do with star alignment…)

Now when the cake is ready, remove the roasting pan from the oven, set the whole thing on top of the stove and let all of it cool down, then remove the cake from the water bath, remove the foil and continue to cool. This is a tip I found in some very fine print on some cheese cake experts website, it’s what keeps the darn thing from cracking! There I shared a big cheesecake secret.

Chill uncovered in the refrigerator until cold, cover and keep chilled.

Cut around pan sides, carefully loosen pan bottom from sides and push up pan bottom to release cake. Place cake (still on pan bottom ) on platter. Garnish with lemon leaves. And there you have it…no point waiting around until someone remembers you’re the one that makes cheesecake…just volunteer!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How about a Veggie Burger?

Several weeks ago we met some friends at Tavern at Lark Creek for lunch. It’s a lovely place and the food is really yummy. Well, I had their veggie burger and I am here to tell you it was like nothing I had eaten before. Of course I knew it was going to be very different from the weird too salty ones you can find in the frozen food section of the market, but I had no idea what a treat it would be. Very moist, lots of texture and wonderful flavors. So in true form I decided I needed to make them at home…I started a search for recipes with similar ingredients, since they had mentioned a few in their menu description…lentils, bulgur wheat and cashews. Of course I found several recipes that had parts or pieces so I had to do a little recipe combining…here’s my take on it…
¾ C dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over

2 ½ tsp salt

¾ C bulgur wheat

2 TBS vegetable oil

2 medium onions chopped fine (about 2 cups)

1 small leek chopped fine (just the white & light green part)

2 medium garlic cloves minced

1 lb. crimini or white mushrooms, sliced

1 C cashews (raw, unsalted)

1/3 C mayonnaise

2 cups bread crumbs

Ground pepper

Some sort of bun…I used ciabatta bread cut in half and grilled with a little butter)
1. Bring 3 cups water, lentils and 1 tsp salt to boil in a medium saucepan over high heat, reduce and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until lentil are just beginning to fall apart, about 25 minutes. Drain in a fine mesh strainer, line a cookie sheet with paper towels and spread drained lentils to dry. You can gently pat with additional towels to remove more moisture.

2. While lentils simmer, bring 2 C water and ½ tsp salt to boil in small saucepan. Stir bulgur wheat into boiling water and cover immediately. Let stand off the heat until water is absorbed – 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in fine mesh strainer, use rubber spatula to press out excess moisture. Transfer to medium bowl and set aside.

3. Heat 1 TBS oil in large skillet over medium heat, add onions, leek, and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to cookie sheet, cool and set aside. Add remaining 1 TBS oil to now empty skillet, heat, add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 12 minutes. spread mushrooms on sheet with vegetables.

4. Process cashews in food processor until finely chopped, about 20 – pulses, stir into bowl with the bulgur wheat along with the cooked lentil and vegetable/mushroom mixture. Transfer half the mixture to the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, 15 to 20 pulses, mixture will be cohesive but roughly textured. Transfer processed mixture to large bowl, repeat with remaining mixture. Combine the two batches and stir in the bread crumbs, 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste. Line a baking sheet with paper towels, divide mixture into 12 – ½ cup or so portions, shape each into a tightly packed patty about ½ inch thick. Set patties on paper towels to absorb excess moisture.

5. If you choose to grill your patties, put a little oil on the grill to avoid sticking or stove top cooking in a pan with a little oil. Cook patties until brown on each side about 4 minutes.

6. Serve with buns and favorite burger toppings.

These were GREAT! There were sort of a lot of pots and pans, at the end of things, but the good news is that the patties (according to all the recipes I read) can be wrapped up individually and frozen! I am always up for something I can make a lot of and then put in the freezer. There is just nothing better on those evenings when you can’t bear to cook something from scratch to know there is a great meal waiting to be thawed! That always makes me feel real organized! Bon appetito!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's Vegetable Planting Time!

Several weeks ago, while the weather was still trying to decide if it was winter or spring, we had one of those‘fake out’ spring Saturdays before we dove back into winter. In that few hours of sunshine I decided it was time to pull up the remains of my winter garden, turn the soil, add some of the lovely compost we had been making since last summer – what felt like 5 zillion lbs. of kitchen scraps, flowers and yard waste composted down to a mere 36 cubic feet or so of compost – amazing how that happens – but the stuff is a bit like black gold – and then I had to let the whole thing sit…we were blessed with some nice rain and the compost really mixed in. Now it was time to add plants. Last Saturday was a glorious day and I was ready to get things going! I had purchased some starts from a man at the farmers market, yellow and orange bell peppers, bush beans, lemon cucumber and some peppers called 'Big Jim' that are supposed to be good for chili rellenos. Then I picked up a few more starts from our local co-op – yellow corn and three types of eggplant. I had my tomato starts – remember them – six varieties of heirloom tomatoes ranging from cherry , roma and slicers of various colors to some lovely green zebras. Lastly I had some seeds for crookneck and green summer squash as well as beets. Out to the garden I went. Well, I discovered the rain had caused some of the errant seeds from last year to sprout – yippee! So added to my list were some really great Russian heirloom tomatoes!
that I was kicking myself for not saving seeds from last year and some ( I think) traditional green cucumbers – of course they could be crook neck squash since the starts were all over the place and those ‘gourd like’ veggies are voracious, so they are my surprise vegetable! In fact there were so many stars I potted some up for friends and still had to pull a lot or that’s all I would be growing! I spent most of the day figuring out where things would go, planting both the bed from last year as well as a new raised bed we built along the side of the house. I planted basil in a tough like planter I salvaged from the trash heap, I squeezed a few more tomatoes into a bed my husband insists is good for tomatoes but only gets moderately enough sun. At the end of the day I was dirty, sweaty and tired but very happy. My garden is planted and before I know it we will be enjoying our garden’s bounty