Monday, July 26, 2010

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden

Today, my sister and I went to the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden.  It was really great to get some one-on-one time together.  The garden wasn't very busy, so we were able to just wander at our own pace and lose ourselves in conversation and enjoy each other's company.

The weather was very warm, and it was so lovely in the garden.  Unfortunately we arrived at a time when many of the plants were in the shade, so I skipped snapping as many shots as I might have if the lighting had been more favorable.  I also left my extra camera battery in the trunk of the car by mistake, which didn't help matters any.

It was reassuring to see so many bees today.  They were not swarming or anything, but we saw plenty of them.  Several different species. 

Lately, in my neighborhood, I've seen many more dead and/or dying bees than I have live, healthy ones.  So it was fantastic to see so many in abundance that were thriving.

Below are some of the shots I got.  Hope you enjoy them. 

Sapphire Dragon Tree (Paulownia Kawakamii)
Laurel Leaf Sumac (Malosma laurina)
Brazilian Pepper Tree
Brown Turkey Fig
Passion Fruit Flower
Passion Fruit on the vine
Such a cutie!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fresh Fig and Lemon Tart [crostata di fichi e limoni]

Fresh Fig and Lemon Tart

Do you have a cookbook that you just love?

Love to look at it...

and to read it...

because it transports you to a world you wish you could live in?

I do.  It's The Renaissance of Italian Cooking by Lorenza de'Medici (a descendant of the famous family).

I rarely ever cook from this book.  That's because every time I pick it up, I get totally sidetracked.

I don't make a list of ingredients I will need from the market, or even get to a point where I choose a dish to make.

I go into a dream-like state, seriously.  

Sometimes it is the recipes, or the pictures of the food, that take me away to that magical, dreamy place.

Other times it is a picture of an Italian landscape, or a dining area I'd love to see in person.

Every time I pick the book up, it is some other page or reason that draws me in.

It relaxes me, just thinking about it.

If you have a book that does this to you, I'd love to hear about it. 

I made this tart a week or so ago.  As soon as I saw these beautiful Black Mission Figs, I knew exactly what I would make with them...  

....a Fresh Fig and Lemon Tart.

Shortbread crust, sliced lemons and sliced figs, with some syrup poured on top.

The lemons were boiled whole, after perforating the skin, then boiling three times for a couple of minutes each, changing the water in between each boil.

Why?  What's this process called?  I have no idea, only guesses.  If you know, please let me know :)

Then the lemons are sliced and put into some water with some sugar and boiled for 10 minutes.  I'm sure I did this part wrong, using too many lemon slices and/or too much water, or both, since my syrup was a bit thin.  That said, after layering the lemons onto the shortbread, with the figs over the top, some of the lemon syrup is poured over the top, and then the tart is baked.
The figs really turned the lemon slices a pretty color, and the rinds provided an interesting texture.  It was a little odd for the first couple of bites, since I don't normally eat lemon rinds, but after a few bites, I found it quite delightful.

The tart in the book had many more figs, but I just used the amount I had on hand.  I thought it was prettier this way too, being able to see the lemon underneath :)

Do you have a favorite kind of tart?  I'd love a suggestion for one to try next.

So far I've only made the two I've posted about on this blog and they both included lemon.  I really need to enjoy some lemonade with the next lemons that come my way :)  So, I'd love some non-lemon suggestions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Agua Frescas [Watermelon and Lime / Prickly Pear (Tuna) and Mango]

Agua Frescas [Watermelon and Lime / Prickly Pear (Tuna) and Mango]

It's summertime and it's time for cool, refreshing drinks!

Inspired by a couple of Gabriela's posts, starting with "Contemporary Aguas Fresca from Food52", I have become completely intrigued with agua frescas.  I've made them in the past, but with blinders on in regards to what I could put in them.  My imagination was limited to making only those I had tried before at various places around town - watermelon and cantaloupe ones. I've seen others, but it is normally almost impossible for me not to say "watermelon" when they ask me which kind I want :)  I've only seen the cantaloupe ones for sale once, but since then, I make them at least once a year at home.

I haven't made the contemporary ones Gabriela posted about yet, but I did make Gabriela's Agua de Jamaica -- and loved it!  I made it exactly as she suggested, and I'm glad I did.  I found her proportions to be very refreshing and they left the mint flavor in tact.  I'm sure I'd have covered some of that up with too much sugar, if I had been left to my own devices :)

For watermelon agua frescas, I rarely make them the same way twice since it all depends on the sweetness of the fruit.  Sometimes they don't need much sweetener, sometimes they do.  For the one I made most recently, the fruit wasn't the most flavorful.  However, rather than compensate with more sugar like I normally would, I opted to add lime juice to keep it a bit tarter.

I used the fruit from one normal sized watermelon (not the baby ones), strained, then blended with the juice of three limes, 1/2 cup sugar and 9 ounces of water.

The Prickly Pear (Tuna) and Mango agua fresca is new for me this year.  I had bought the mango for something else, but that's another story.  A story that needs passion....fruit, that is.  Which apparently isn't in season here yet.  I'm told maybe next week?

Although there are two mangoes in this picture, I only used one for this drink.

Fruit from the five prickly pears and one mango went into the blender, then strained through a sieve, directly into a pitcher.  Added 1/8 cup of blue agave sweetener and 18 ounces of water.  Mixed together.  Served over ice.

If you're a lemonade fan, Jessica at FoodMayhem posted, "Lemonade by the Glass".  I haven't tried hers yet, but only because my lemons keep getting put into something else before I get to it. 

How about you?

What's your go to drink to cool off in the summer?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BBQ Sirloin Sandwiches

BBQ Sirloin Sandwiches

While shopping for some red oak wood chips we're going to need for an upcoming Santa Maria-style cookout at our place, my husband purchased some wine barrel wood chips.  Afterwards, he was inspired to make these barbecue sirloin sandwiches.  A simple dinner that allowed us time to sit around the grill -- talking, listening to music and enjoying all the birds our neighbor's new bird feeder coaxed into visiting.

Most of my input into this dinner occurred a couple of weeks ago when I put the rub together and prepared the sauce.  So I just put my feet up, so to speak, and relaxed. 

Here are some pictures of our sandwiches.  His had barbecue sauce, but the picture was taken before he put it on.
Mine (above), which - as usual! - has a lot of barbecue sauce, and a decent amount of mayo on it.  [Why mayo?  I have no idea.  It's like a pregnancy urge thing without the pregnancy!  Ever since I cut my dairy intake to less than 2%, my interest in mayo has increased.  I'm not sure why this is.  I think I've eaten more mayo in the past three weeks than I have in the three years prior.  If anyone knows why this might be -- please comment below.  Sincerely, it baffles me.  Much like my relatively sudden desire for stone ground mustard.] 

We both chose to use the Kansas City Classic Barbecue Sauce for our sandwiches, which were really good.  The meat was very tender, and we were both very happy with how it turned out.  The wine barrel smoke was definitely noticeable and added an interesting flavor.  We also thought the rub and the sauce went very well together.

Below is a semi-brief run down of how he cooked the steak (as relayed to me). 

Meat used: three sirloin steaks

Whacked with a meat tenderizer (to tenderize and so the rub would penetrate more)

Rubbed liberally with the Rendesvous-style rub (you'll have to scroll down to find the rub in the post)

Put the steaks in a marinating dish (which is covered), and then put them in the fridge for a couple of hours.

The charcoal was started and allowed to burn until medium heat and then arranged so the steaks would be cooked indirectly.

The wine barrel oak chips and some water were put in a foil packet, which was mostly covering the chips, and then placed directly on the coals.  [I will try to remember to take pictures next time]

On the grill, an open foil pocket was placed, with about 1/4 cup water inside. 

The steaks were put on.

Put lid over grill with the vent open, so it was smoking gently.

Cooked 20 minutes, then turned steaks over.

Poked hole in foil packet containing the chips so water drained out and opened packet up more, so mostly opened.

Water packet on grill still had water on it, so he left it.  Otherwise he would have added more.

Cooked another 10 minutes, with the lid put back on.

Then he removed the water pack from the top of the grill and broke open the wood chip packet and scattered the wood chips over the coals.  Then he turned the steaks again, put the lid back on and allowed the steaks to cook for another 5 minutes.

Removed steak from grill.  

Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes, then cut it for the sandwiches.

Mine was gone in about 2.5 seconds, I think.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Norwegian Toast

Norwegian Toast

One of the cookbooks which has been handed down in my family is Rosemalers' Recipes.  This book was put together for fund raising purposes by the Rosemalers for the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. While the copy I have was printed in 1990, which doesn't seem that long ago, it's already become a family heirloom, and has changed hands at least a couple of times.  Inside the book are handwritten notes regarding how some of my great-aunt's recipes varied from the ones written in the book.

One of the recipes in the book is for Norwegian Toast, which I made today to take to my grandmother tomorrow.  She's had some dental work done lately, so she can't eat all the wonderful things she enjoys.  I hope that this will work out for her, after she's able to soften it up by dunking it in her coffee.

I adapted the recipe, and cut it in half.

1/2 cup butter (room temperature), 3/4 sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 cup sour cream, 2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

I mashed and blended the butter together with the sugar before adding everything else and blending it together with a spoon.  Blend until everything is fully incorporated and no flour remains on the side of the bowl.  Then form it into a long loaf.

I wasn't exactly sure how the loaf was meant to be formed, so I guessed.

This is how I formed the loaf, and I like the way it came out.

Move the loaf to an ungreased cookie sheet and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Note: The dough is very sticky at this point, so be sure to put additional flour on your hands before trying to move it.

After the 30 minutes pass, remove the loaf from the oven and turn the oven up to 375 degrees to preheat the oven for the next baking step.

Slice the loaf.  [I did this immediately after removing the loaf from the oven with only minor consequence.  A couple of slices suffered a little cracking.  I didn't mind, but you might want to wait a few minutes first.]

Dip the slices into a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  I used approximately 1 cup of sugar to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.  Adjust according to your preference.

Lie the slices back down on the cookie sheet.

Put the slices back into the oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.
Remove the slices from the cookie sheet to a wire rack, then allow to cool.

Not only is this toast yummy, it smells wonderful while cooking!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Markin' the 4th with Shannon's Sangria

Markin' the 4th

This post is dedicated to my good friend Shannon, who lives way too far away, and is married to one of my husband's dearest friends.  Even if we live 100 years, I can't imagine finding another couple who my husband and I would get along better with, or miss more, than Shannon and Damien.  Only the 2,000 miles we live from them keeps us from showing up on their deck every night to barbecue, light fireworks and just enjoy every minute of the day together.

Shannon and I usually drink pinot noir when we get together, but she is a fan of Maker's Mark, too.  So, months ago, I decided I had to create a sangria mix using Maker's Mark, in her honor.  There was no better day to do this than the 4th of July.  Her dog Lux loves to chase fireworks and we have fond memories of shooting fireworks off their deck.  So, here it is, Shannon's Sangria. 

Lots of fresh fruits: one cup each - strawberries, golden raspberries, blackberries, and lemon and lime slices.  One bottle of Turning Leaf pinot noir, maker's mark (1/3 cup - it's all we had on hand), triple sec (1/3 cup), raspberry-lemonade concentrate and some ginger ale.

In addition to the sangria, we marked the 4th by the following dinner.

We grilled some chicken and used the Tennessee Hollerin' Whiskey Barbecue Sauce I made last weekend using Maker's Mark.

I also made some pinto beans (canned), flavored with jalepeno peppers (2 chopped with seeds and veins), onions (2 small, diced), bacon ends (1/4 cup) and green bell peppers (2 small, chopped).

We also made an adapted version of La Frutte Grigliate [Basil Infused Fruit Salad] - by grilling two apricots and two plums which were glazed with honey and some lemon juice, which were then tossed in simple syrup infused with basil.  I couldn't get this site to load earlier so I made the recipe based on our memory of it.  We came pretty close.
My dinner. 

The picture doesn't do this one justice -- everything was really good!

We will be making all of these dishes again, to be sure. 

We're already looking forward to having the leftover beans tomorrow with our pulled pork sandwiches. 

Yes! :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Individual Berry Pies/Desserts

Individual Berry Pies/Desserts

Unfortunately, I didn't keep good mental notes while making this dessert.  I was just messing around in the kitchen and trying out some ideas.  Up front, the only thing I knew was that I had berries that needed to be eaten soon, and that I wanted to make a pie.  I just didn't want a lot of pie, and I didn't want any left overs.

So I decided to make two mini pies in my little ramekins.

I didn't take notes because I wasn't sure how this was going to come out.  But, since they came out very good, I will be making these again and will add the instructions next time.  For now, I'll just share the pictures and give a general overview.

I made a crust that didn't need to be rolled out, but rather just pressed into the edges of the ramekins. 

Then I baked the ramekins with the crust inside for 10 minutes at 475 degrees.

While the crust baked, I made a simple syrup using 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract. 

I chopped the strawberries and left the raspberries and blackberries whole.  I put them in the still warm lemon syrup and made sure they were good and coated all over.  Then I put the berries in the ramekins and poured a few tablespoons of the syrup over the top.

Then I put a layer of streusel topping over the fruit, which had some nutmeg in it.

Then I baked them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. 

After letting them cool for 10 minutes, they were served. 


His (my husband's).


Friday, July 2, 2010

Cabbage Komatsuna Roasted Negi Salad with Mustard Slaw Dressing

Cabbage Komatsuna Roasted Negi Salad with Mustard Slaw Dressing

Please forgive the odd name of this one. I wasn't sure what to call it by the time it morphed a few times.

This was meant to be just some salad where I'd use up some odds and ends, and not something I would have necessarily posted about.


Then I opened the baby spinach.  The kind that is pre-washed, packaged, etc.  It was bad.  Let's just leave it at that :)   Needless to say, the spinach was off the menu. the fridge. the cabbage.  The cabbage meant for something else, but it's what I have, so I say, "Batter up!"

Now I have cabbage and komatsuna.

And the other fixins' I planned to use: red bell pepper, negi (which was grilled on the bbq before being chopped for the salad), tomatoes from our garden, and Vietnamese Style Pickled Carrots.

With all my heart and soul, I want to make this into a coleslaw (even though it was all wrong, at least to me).  I refrain, not just because the ingredients are wrong, but I just don't want to pour hot liquid over the Komatsuna!  I want everything to be as crisp as possible.

So I decided to make a Mustard Slaw Dressing and let it cool before using it.

This recipe is adapted from this Mustard Coleslaw recipe from

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup brown (spicy) mustard
1/2 cup sour cream (I used Tofutti, mistaking it for a sour cream substitute.  Still learning to be non-dairy [not by choice].  Sour cream would have been heavenly in this dish.)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Add everything to sauce pan.  Stir continuously until boiling.  Remove from heat.  Waited 30 seconds, then moved dressing to a bowl to cool.

Now, before you hear me say how incredible I thought this dressing was, it is not for everyone, I'm sure.  I put a reasonable amount on the salad before it was mixed.
And it was good!

But, after having some, I went back and added more.  And, while I loved it, it was a tad bit overwhelming...but...

I still loved it.  I just couldn't eat it as quickly :)

So if you make this, start by adding a little...and add more if you want more.

Most times, I want the vegetables to shine in my salads.  I want them all to have a voice.

This dressing definitely has a voice that will be heard above all if you use it without care.  But sometimes those veggies need to stand in the background and let the dressing take center stage.  This is one of those times.

The crunch.  The texture.  Of the veggies shines through, to be sure.

But this dressing steals the show.  And, I, for one, was glad it did!

My husband enjoyed it too.  He was glad I cut the yellow mustard in half and used brown (spicy) mustard in its place.  He said he wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much if it was all yellow mustard.

Here's our dinner, in its entirety.

This my plate.  Not much steak, mostly salad.  As usual :)

But I added this picture so I could note that we used one of the bbq mop/sauces I made over the weekend for this steak.  This one was Texas BBQ Juice.  Although this one was tasty and we enjoyed it, it was a step down from my husband's normal marinade flavor, so we likely won't make it again.  I believe the recipe is for brisket, which is not what we cooked.  So we will try it for brisket sometime and see how it fares.

That said, I want to note that two sauces I made from the site have been BIG winners here so far.  We made BBQ chicken the way my husband normally does, using the Kansas City Classic Barbecue Sauce, in the marinade and as a sauce,  My husband and I both liked it.  The surprise was how much my son loved it though.  I didn't adjust the recipe at all, leaving it much more vinegar-y than I might have.  So I was very happy when my son loved it anyway.  I liked it less sugary, too.

The other sauce we made was one that I didn't post about.  When I did my BBQ sauce marathon last weekend, I meant to make Bayou Bite, but I didn't have enough red bell pepper at the time.  BUT, I had bought the shrimp to make it, so after making my post, I went back to the store just to get more bell pepper.  Yes, after making bbq sauces/mops/rubs all weekend, I went back to the store so I could make one more :)


I am SO glad I did.

The Bayou Bite recipe was amazing!!  I have referred people to that recipe on Craig's site all week!

We are not a big shrimp eating family here, but we ate a lot more than normal that night.  I completely credit the sauce and recommend it to anyone who enjoys the flavor of roasted red bell pepper and some heat in their sauce!