December 17, 2006

The Aftermath of the Storm, and the Quest for Coffee

This week's entry has been guest written by Heather Hurley. Thanks Heather! I loved the story and the coffee. Maybe you'd do it again sometime? And, next time I think we should be more prepared with, perhaps, a portable coffee maker?

by Heather Hurley, coffee aficionado
The rest of the country is more than likely unaware (due to the non-coverage of our current Pacific Northwest Crisis) that many areas have been without electricity for going on three days now. The Eastern Suburbs (where Bekah and I live) and the surrounding rural areas were hardest hit when the wind storm of the century whipped through the Pacific Northwest late last Thursday night. I spent most of the night listening to trees cracking open and my windows shaking in the almost futile attempt to block 75-110 mph winds. Just as I was about to doze off to sleep a deathly silence shocked me wide awake. The power went out at exactly 12:52-am.

It's not a big deal to go without electricity for a few hours so I calmed myself down thinking that life would be back to normal by the time I woke up that morning. I was wrong. Day one with no electricity Bekah came to my door around noon wearing 8 layers and bundled up for a Minnesota winter. She sat down grumpily "I can't believe we still don't have power!" Bekah has since interjected this comment into conversation at least once an hour for the last 72 hours. Little did she know at the time that now, on day three, 80% of the over a million people affected by this would still be without electricity- including her. All we could think or talk about was a piping hot cup of coffee, a nice jolt of caffeine to bring us out of our lethargic mood.

I can go without a hot shower for a day, I don't need a lighted mirror to prepare myself for the day and I can even deal with having to wear 12 layers while sitting in a dark room staring at a blank wall...for a day, but any day without coffee is a bad day.

I decided to venture out in search of not the Perfect Cup of Coffee, but ANY cup of coffee. I would go for Perkins coffee as long as it was hot. I had no idea the extent of the damage, block after block and mile after mile I passed non-functioning traffic lights and every single grocery store and retailer was closed (I guess people don't know how to count money without functioning computers). Defeated I turned home with a continuing chant at the front of my mind, "need coffee, need coffee, need coffee."

When I returned home I grabbed my whole coffee beans out of the cupboard and began frantically grinding them with my mortar and pestle. Once the beans where coarsely ground I ran lukewarm tap water through a filter and poured it over the beans into my French press. I let it sit for about 45 minuets before agitating the plunger to bring out as much of the coffee flavor as was possible with lukewarm tap water.

I decided to share the wealth and walked myself over to Bekah's house. Even with the more-than-a-little-bit of grounds remaining (that were spit out into the sink with every sip) coffee has never tasted better (or chunkier).

Today, with the memory of that first day without our precious elixir, Bekah and I made a trek across the lake to the glowing city lights of Seattle, most of which has maintained a constant flow of electricity during this ordeal. We went through a Starbucks drive-thru for, you guessed it, coffee. When I pulled up to the window it was cracked and splintered. The barista informed us that someone had tried to break in during the power outage. I guess that I'm not the only one whose caffeine addiction drove them to desperate ends....."

The author saves the day

with supplies as we prepare

for a long cold dark night.

December 10, 2006


A roast, according to Wikipedia, is "an event in which an individual is subject to publicly bearing insults, praise, outlandish true and untrue stories, and heartwarming tributes.... Anyone who is honored in such a way is said to have been "roasted". Why not honor fruit in the same way? Only instead of roasting with jokes, lets turn up the heat in the oven.

My copy of Barbara Kafka's book Roasting sits on my cookbook shelf in my direct and daily line of sight from both the kitchen and my dining room table. Its simple title has been burned into my subconscious and little by little I have felt more and more the need to roast things...ok, everything. Especially interesting to me is roasted fruit. What will the miracle of caramelization do to the natural sweetness of an ordinary apricot, papaya, or plum?

You will find the Muscat Caramel to be an amazing addition to the pears. There are different flavors of Muscat. The amber-gold sugar syrup brings the dessert to ethereal heights.

Roasted Fig- Stuffed Pears with Muscat Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Price Kushner
Serves 4

-- 4 Pears, they don't necessarily need to be ripe.
-- 1/2 Cup sugar, white or brown, for pears
-- 5-6 Medjool dates, pitted
-- 1 Cup Muscat
-- 1/2 Cup sugar, white, for caramel


(Click each image to enlarge the directions.)

Directions for Caramel Sauce
(Click image to enlarge)

Notes from the Kitchen

* I used both brown and white sugar to see which seemed to work better for roasting. I didn't find much of a difference between the two during the roasting. The only difference I noticed was that the fine grain sugar coated the pears more evenly than the large granules of Sugar in the Raw.

* In the picture for step 5 you might have noticed that the pan I used was too shallow to hold 1 inch of water. That was a mistake. Beware...if the water evaporates while roasting you will probably have massive billows of smoke coming out of your oven (as I did). This is not the pears that are burning. It is the sugar on the bottom of the pan. If you would like to avoid smoke alarms going off be sure to have water in the bottom of the pan for both roastings. You've been warned...

*Don't be afraid of the caramel. It is easy, just pay attention to it and you will have an amazing sauce to coat your pears with.

December 03, 2006

The Recipe Burglar Strikes: Autumn Nachos

As I was searching for a recipe for this week's post I do as I always do, flip through my three-ring binders of recipes, think about what I feel like cooking, eating, and writing about, and then imagine ways to re-work the recipe. On the blog, I note where the inspiration for the recipe came from and then move on, with pictures and text on how to make the recipe and any suggestions that I think might help you, dear reader, in your kitchen.

Last month Food and Wine magazine printed a rather alarming article on the idea that recipes might, in the future, be copyrighted. You can read the article here. Not long after, a well-trod blog,, hosted a discussion about the issue which you can read here. OK. So enough with the links. I'll stop. But the discussion can be summed up with this quote, "If a recipe is good it should be used by as many people as possible regardless because eating is all about enjoying food."

On that note, I'll proceed. This week's inspiration came from my friend Sharon and her fabulous salad and dressing. It made its debut on my thanksgiving table, and, as with most thanksgiving dishes, leftovers from the salad could be found in my fridge the week after. Leftovers too good to toss out: prosciutto, Gorgonzola, candied walnuts, pear. The food deserved a replay. Besides re-issuing the same salad, what could I do? Why not crostini? So the the thanksgiving leftovers appeared on my plate with the help of French bread turned crostini, pears caramelized with a decent roasting, and prosciutto made crisp with a turn through the oven. With a leap of the imagination, when I plated it up it looked like nachos. So, as a stand against recipe copyrights and legal formalities, I present:

Autumn Nachos
Inspired by Sharon
--French bread, about half of a loaf
--walnut oil
--1 Cup spinach
--2 Tbs. Gorgonzola cheese
--1 apple, such as Fuji
--1 pear
--2 slices of prosciutto
--2 Tbs. candied nut, such as walnut*
--Oil dressing to taste**

To make the crostini
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2)Slice French bread on the bias, 1/2" thick.
3)Spread out in one layer on a baking sheet.
4)Lightly drizzle both sides of bread with walnut oil.
5)Salt and pepper to taste.
6)Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 8 minutes. If you want both sides crunchy, flip the crostini over and pop back into the oven, toasting the second side until golden brown, about 8 minutes.

To crisp the prosciutto
1)Place prosciutto on parchment-lined baking sheets.
2) Bake in 350 degree F oven for about 8 minutes, or until crisp.

To roast the pear
1) Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
2) Thinly slice the pears and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
3) Bake about 16 minutes, flipping the pears halfway through to brown both sides.

*To candy the walnuts
--I Tbs. butter
--1 Cup walnuts
--1 Cup sugar

1) Butter a baking sheet and set aside.
2) Place walnuts in skillet and place over medium high heat. Stir frequently. Toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Remove nuts from heat.
3) Melt 1 Cup sugar in a skillet over low heat. Stir constantly.
4) When the sugar becomes a light brown, when it has caramelized (310 degrees F on a candy thermometer), stir in 1 Cup walnuts and mix until well coated.
5) Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet. Let it cool.
6) Crush the brittle into small pieces.

**Oil Dressing

--1/2 Cup walnut oil
--1/4 Cup cider vinegar
--1 shallot, minced or pressed through garlic press
--2 Tbs. lemon juice, fresh
--1 Tbs. maple syrup, use the real stuff
--1/4 tsp. salt
--1/4 tsp. pepper

1) Combine all ingredients in a screw top jar and shake (or combine in a bowl and whisk).
2) Drizzle over Autumn Nachos to taste.
Plating the Nachos

(Click to enlarge)

Tips and Notes from the Kitchen:
* Roasting pears in the oven brings out flavor that might otherwise not be there if your pears aren't very ripe.
* Brittle becomes praline when it is crushed or ground into small pieces.
* This is a perfect lunch for one or an appetizer for a crowd, just increase or decrease the ingredients depending on your needs.

Last words for this post are from George Bernard Shaw:
"If I find in a book anything I can make use of, I take it gratefully.
My plays are full of pillage of this kind."
So pillage from my table and enjoy good food.