Lemon Bars with an extra crunch

As promised;

For the Crust, you will need                 

8-9 graham crackers (each 2 1/2 by 5 inches)                  

1 cup of nuts. I used raw pistachios, which I toasted off first. But Almonds and Pecans also work.

Sugar  

    2 tablespoons regular fine white sugar

    5 tablespoon Turbinado              

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Pinch of salt                  

For the Filling                 

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature                  

1  8-ounce container of marscapone cheese (or substitute another 8-ounce package of cream cheese)

3/4 cup sugar fine white sugar                  

2 large eggs                  

Pinch of salt

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon (2 to 3 teaspoons zest and about 3 tablespoons juice). If using Meyer you may need to check for tartness.  This also works for Orange and limes

DIRECTIONS  

Make the crust: Preheat oven to 325  degrees. 

This is the Lemon version with the extra sugar layer crust

This is an orange version with the single step method crust

Note – this crust is made in two parts!

  • Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. You can fold the extra foil over the edges.
    • I don’t recommend using a foil pan for this. They are too thin and bend when moving. You want the solid stability of the hard pan. 
  • In a food processor, blend 5 graham crackers, 1/2 cup of nuts with 2 tablespoons of fine sugar until finely ground; add 2 tablespoons of the butter and pulse until it looks like damp sand.
  • Transfer the first level of crumb mixture to prepared pan, and pat in gently. Bake 6-7 min

Second layer

  • In the same food processor, blend remaining 3 graham crackers with the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts and 4 tablespoons of turbinado sugar until finely ground; add the remaining 1 tablespoon of the butter and pulse until moistened.
  • Add the layer to the prebaked layer.  Pat firm, sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon of turbinado sugar.  Bake until beginning to brown, another 7- 10 minutes. 

While crust is baking, Make the filling:

  • Place the 16 ounces cream cheese in the (wipe processor bowl clean first) food processor; blend until smooth. Add sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice; blend 
  • When ready, remove the crust from the oven and pour the mixture on the top layer over the hot crust in pan; smooth top.
  • Return to oven, and bake until set (filling should jiggle only slightly when the pan is gently shaken), 35-45 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and cool completely in pan.
  • When cool, cover very loosely with plastic wrap; chill until firm, at least 2 hours (and up to 2 days).
  • Use foil overhang to lift cheesecake out of the pan. With metal spatula, lift cheesecake from foil; cut into squares.
  • You can sprinkle confectionary sugar or top with candied lemon peels etc.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

It Was A Fermentation Weekend

Fermentation you say?

Yup. I got a rare chance to take a class on it. This one was on Fermentation, but first.

OK yes. I am “one of those” that when I get a new cookbook; I read it cover to cover. So there’s nothing better than getting a cookbook that actually has some storytelling in it. I finally got my copy of DeepRunRoots from A Chefs Life’s Chef and Author, Vivan Howard. All I have to say is it’s a good thing I had a full pack of post-it tabs! Oh and by the way- the cookbook is huge and very well done and worth every penny.

So, of course, that meant a morning was spent first finishing up another batch of DeepRunRoots version of watermelon rind pickles. My first batch did well, (which I Facebooked and Instagrammed but didn’t write here about but you can find via the hashtag #BiteTheRoad) but having used those bowling ball sized watermelons which will only make 4-5 jars. Those went pretty fast, and I also wanted some of that leftover liquid to simmer down further into a syrup for other uses this weekend.

Next on my “To Do’s” before I could get myself ready for Fermentation class

Was to knock out a few quick “gestures” for a few pals recovering from surgery; my fav lemon bundt cake converted to mini loaves drying. Many of you who read this, know I am a big fan of making a heartfelt and genuine gesture or appreciations. Be it a way of saying “thank you” or recognizing someone who went the extra mile or simply to cheer up a sick friend.

In this case, in addition to having someone home laid up post surgery, I have two other friends who also went under the knife (or laser as the case may be” and wanted to prepare a little something to send over. To be precise –  my philosophy is either drop it off and go or mail it. When making a gesture like this, it isn’t supposed to be a way for you to take up the persons time with social stuff. It’s your making the effort to drop something off and not be in the person’s way by making them entertain you.

Now I keep a few recipes for precisely this. That meant a trip to the “tree” to get some lemons and I adapted my favorite lemon bundt cake into mini loaves. Now, this isn’t my recipe – it’s one of those from the folks at King Authur flour called Lemon Bliss Cake. They do it so well I don’t really screw with it. The batch recipe makes a huge bundt, two loaves or 4 mini’s. (Check out the recipe’s comments as many shared include some great tips). One lucky person is even getting a jar of the pickles.

When all that was done – it was time for fermentation!

Why Fermentation?

Well, why not? I grew up seeing my Mom occassionally can and jar fruits, pickled eggplant and such but never really learned how. Last year I started to explore more about canning and pickling and decided why not learn more. A pal who has taken classes from the UC Master Food Preserver Program mentioned they were doing one on fermentation. What I liked most was it was hands-on and you got to take stuff home and all materials and supplies were provided, you just had to bring an apron. You can read more and see whats coming up here or the more San Francisco/San Mateo centric list here.

So bright and early Saturday morning we drove down to the Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center for the class.

I have to say it was one of the best mornings I have had in a while.  With some great volunteers and trainers from the Master Foor Preserver program and a small group of learners, we got down to business with making a huge batch of Kimchi, a jar of preserved Lemons (which I had already tried and written about last year) and a starter kit for making home-brewed Kombucha.

Oh yeah  – if you are so inclined, the next Master Food Preserver Open House/Volunteer Recruitment is May 8th. I may be leaning towards doing the Master Food Preservers Introduction to Canning next myself. They can also be found on facebook: MFP Facebook

Turmeric & Ginger Rice Porridge in the Slow-cooker

In the past, I had posted about making a slow-cooker version of rice porridge or a rough version of congee. So when a pal who also happens to be vegetarian mentioned he was sick I played around with a version that he might like. After making a few times, and with my housemate writing things down as I “added this and that”  I came up with this version of the recipe below. But this is mostly a recipe to taste. So start with conservative amounts and then you can add more halfway through to meet your pallet needs. the soup is done pretty much when it is thick and rich.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of Arborio Rice (you can use other kinds of rice, this is one I like as I often have it on hand for other dishes)
  • 6 cups of hot water (from the tap is fine) or you can use vegetable or chicken stock for more flavor.
  • 3-inch piece of ginger peeled,  or (ground ginger about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1-2 Bay leaves (fresh or dried)
  • 1 2-inch strip of lemon peel ( or a 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or up to as much as 2 teaspoons to taste)of Zaatar ( you can also use any other dried herbs such as Herbs De Province or even Oregano)
  • 1 teaspoon of onion flakes (you can use 1/2 cup of diced onions if you want more texture as well)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • Stat with a 1/2 teaspoon and then add to your taste to a total of 1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper (you can also use white pepper) but I like the flecks of black in the finished product
  • 1 4-5 inch sprig of Rosemary
  • 1/8 (or up to as much as 1/2 to  taste) of Ground Aleppo pepper
  • 3 heaping teaspoons of Tumeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ok kosher salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parsley (fresh is fine as well but add towards the end)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons of Agave syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 – 1/2 juice of one lemon

Optional – slow cooker liner bags. I started to sue these for some of the dishes I make that could get sticky. This is one of them that it works great with but totally optional.

Instructions

  • To your slow-cooker add rice and water. Turn on high.
    • Add the following now:
      • Bay leaves, garlic powder, onion flakes, lemon peel, 1/8 portion of the black pepper and the rosemary.
    • Cover and leave it alone for 4 hours. You can stir occasionally after the first hour.
  • After 2 hours
    • add the Aleppo pepper, Tumeric, Zatar, salt, dried parsley, Cayenne pepper, Agave, Apple Cider vinegar and lemon juice
    • Stir well and taste remembering you will taste it again in a few hours once the base flavors have melded some.
  • After another hour, stir and taste.
    • Make adjustments to any of the flavors. You may also want to add additional water (up to 2 cups) if you feel it is too thick for your taste)
  • After a total of 4 hours
    • Remove the bay leaves, rosemary, ginger root and lemon peel.
  • Serve warm.

Total cook time is 4 -4.5 hours

A few additions – you can through in some butter or stir in some coconut oil (about a heaping teaspoon) at the end to add some smoothness.

 

 

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Oatcakes with a Protein Punch

Who would have thought adding protein to my snakes would be so good.

So life has had me in full out overload mode for a few weeks so I have been a little behind in my posting. Today I am hoping to catch up with a few over the week.

One of the fun finds I came across was a great recipe for a protein-based, oatmeal version of “pancakes” I wrote about them on my blog post on my Engage blog which had a theme that day about “How A Middle-Aged Workforce Can Keep Up With Millennial Coworkers“. I found this recipe in the  March Issue of  Men’s Health Magazine for Blueberry Oat Pancakes, the primary ingredient is plain oatmeal with added protein. While dense, when whipped up on a Sunday night, cooled and wrapped – they freeze well and I can grab them on my way out the door.

Cold or toasted, maybe with a bit of peanut butter on them, they are a lot better than skipping a meal or grabbing something on the road. I found a similar version here, but the March version as follows is updated more and better tasting.

Since then I have made it a few times and made some additional revisions:

I am sharing my adapted version of the March version below:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats (any will do I just happen to use this one)
  • 3 scoops of Vanilla whey protein powder (I use a few versions and mine tend to be lactose-free. I also found that those with “pea” base didn’t lend this a very good aftertaste. A little too “green for me”
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 bananas
  • 3 large eggs, plus 6 egg whites (I used the pre-made version from the store for this)
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (I would use more at least a full teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of All Spice (optional)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil or butter for brushing the cooking surface

To Make: 

  • Using the blender or a Ninja machine; blend together everything but the blueberries and the oil/butter. It will be “batter” like texture.
  • Using a non-stip skillet, brush with coconut oil or butter and ladle about a 1/3 of a cup of batter (this will make about 12 cakes).
  • Cook 2-3 minutes per side.
  • Cool (or eat), package in zip bags and freeze or put them in refrigerator

Note: this is a simple example of how to snack or eat on the go – it’s a flexible batter – so change it up! So while recipe says a serving is 3, I found 1 -2 to be perfect.

 

SaveSave

The Power of Home Crafted Vanilla2.0

For You More Creative Types, Make Your Own Vanilla2.0

Yup – that’s right. Well, I goofed this week – I had intended to let had my guest post from Anna go live first, but some of you might have gotten a sneak preview of this one when the “now” feature got clicked. In either case, you can read Anna’s post  “Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking” once it goes live late this week, then perhaps you will be inspired to go on to the next step and try making your own version of Vanilla2.0

Vanilla is one of those elements in baking that you either love or don’t. Somewhat like using good quality Tumeric is in cooking. I got started on this road myself after watching some of the baking shows on TV that were using Vanilla Bean Paste which I hadn’t seen before. After visiting the blog Superfoodly.com which had posted a December piece “The Scandal Between Vanilla Bean Paste vs. Vanilla Extract” .and served as a good place to start (I didn’t necessarily agree with everything – they shared some great content on the post).  I started following links, speaking with other folks who do more baking and came across the whole movement of making your own Vanilla Extract.

Several great recipes are available online for making your own home inspired version of vanilla extract. But to make a good quality one, you need time and the right beans. It isn’t something you want to rush. In fact, if you get them started now. They will make great Holiday gifts this season.

Choosing which beans you want to use also takes some research. Areas to take note of include the grade of bean, the type of bean, the age of them and the source ( they can be expensive) and what liquid you intend to use to extract the flavor (a variety of options exist based on flavor or non-alcohol needs).

My next plan

I will be starting a batch in April in fact with ” Tahitian Grade B beans but I also like the Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans (Vanilla Planifolia so may make some comparison batches. A few of the online sites that offer recipes for making your own, including purchasing recommendations include: 

Once you get ready to start making your own here are a few things you will need to have on hand.

If you are like me and tend to be more creative, plan early:

  • You will need the beans; that means deciding on the grade of the bean and the ration of beans to the liquid mix; I saw lots of variations on this from 1 whole vanilla bean for every 2 liquid ounces of alcohol. I think to keep it simple I may start with a 1:1 ratio as in 1 bean to each ounce of liquid (then depending on the jar size might top off)
  • Extracting liquid; lots of options for this the most common include Bourbon, Rum, Brandy, and Vodka. The key factor is the liquid has to be greater than 70% proof
  • Bottles/Jars; You will need to decide if you are making a large batch then decant into smaller ones or just go right to the smaller ones. I think I will be hitting the swap and flea markets for vintage and unusual decanters to use as gifts. One common theme I heard was to avoid clear jars (or keep stored in a dark place) and my preference to stay away from plastics. As a back up I found 4 ounce Amber jars on Amazon that I may order to have on hand for “extra” last minute needs.
  • Labels: start thinking what size you will need and how you plan to label them if you are gifting them

Note: this post has some affiliate links to Amazon

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking

Vanilla extract; the first thing I check on my baking supply list.

So we have another great guest post this week on the power of vanilla from my pal Anna who also wrote the “5 Ways to Taste the Mediterranean Without Actually Going” post. I love sharing BiteTheRoad with folks who want to write and talk about the various passions they have so was grateful she was willing to do this one. Ok, and truth be told it’s one of my favorite flavoring tools! Thanks again Anna!

 

Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking

It’s a question that seems as old as baking itself — chocolate or vanilla?

These two are the most popular cake flavors out there, and making a good chocolate or vanilla cake is critical to any baker’s repertoire. But we’re not here to argue. Whether as a flavor enhancer or the star of the show, vanilla tastes good, smells good, and has been used in all kinds of sweets for hundreds of years.

But did you know that not all vanilla is created equal? While it’s likely not shocking to learn that there are different forms of vanilla you can buy, it might be more surprising to know that some are better than others for certain contexts. This, as well as the overall quality of what you use, can have dramatic effects on what comes out of your oven.

High Quality Vanilla vs Low Quality

Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking

In general, “high quality” and “low quality” designations for vanilla are related to the origin and purity of the flavor, as well as alcohol content.

Imitation vanilla, on the other hand, is often made using lab-created vanillin (the flavoring compound found in vanilla). Generally, this vanillin is made as a byproduct of other forms of manufacturing, such as while processing wood pulp. While that might sound concerning, it is still perfectly safe to consume, though typically has a slightly less pronounced vanilla flavor and less alcohol content.

Pure vanilla extract is exactly what it says on the label; pure vanilla extracted from vanilla pods and processed into a liquid by boiling it with ethanol and water. Additionally, it is required by law to contain at least 35% alcohol content and 100 grams of vanilla beans per liter.

Natural vanilla is taken directly from vanilla beans and has the least amount of alcohol at roughly 3% per bottle. It generally has the most pronounced and “pure” vanilla flavor of the three liquids.

Vanilla paste is a compromise between liquid vanilla and straight vanilla beans. It is made from vanilla extract, adding sugar and thickening agents for texture. Most brands also add small quantities of ground vanilla beans to achieve the desired speckling.

Vanilla beans are considered the ultimate for vanilla in flavoring and baked goods. These are the real deal, no alcohol or additives in sight. Just a long dark pod filled with tiny caviar-like “beans” ready to add to any recipe.

When to Use Each Kind of Vanilla

Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking

While instinct may say to use vanilla beans for everything, this would not actually be the best use of resources. Imitation is, of course, the cheapest and most affordable, but the more pure and better quality the vanilla, the more it costs:

(Prices based on Cook’s Bulk and Wholesale Vanilla)

  • Non-alcoholic vanilla — $12
  • Pure vanilla extract — $13
  • Vanilla bean paste — $25
  • Vanilla bean pods (3) — $15

Aside from price restrictions and personal preference (for example, imitation vanilla may have a less robust flavor/aroma than vanilla bean pods), any form of vanilla can be used for any type of baking.

That being said, most bakers (and especially social media food personalities) prefer vanilla bean paste and pods for the telltale speckling that they leave in the finished product. This only works for light-colored, vanilla-centric baked goods, however. If you wish to use a high-quality vanilla in a darker product, save some money and use a good vanilla extract.

For bakers who object to using alcoholic vanilla in recipes that don’t involve heat (frostings, creams, sodas, etc.), non-alcoholic vanilla or vanilla bean pods are optimal.

Love vanilla? Try these vanil-licious recipes from Bite The Road:

 

Be sure to read the next BiteTheRoad.com post on other creative Vanilla ideas later this week

 

 

 

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Meat Buns Nebraska style

For last week’s Bookclub, I needed a recipe that would be connected to the theme from the book Oh Pioneers by Willa Cather.After searching around a bit – I found several versions of a local version Runza. Similar to other regional “hand-held meat buns”,  such as the spicey one I did in a previous Bookclub. This was version seems to be popular in the books region oNebraskaka with the addition of cabbage to the ground beef and onions. I had some time so I also made a rolled loaf version using pizza dough that mimicked the Cheese Bread recipe I posted about back in November.

Here is my version of the Runza recipe;

Runza

  • Frozen Bread Dough (I used the frozen bread dough loaves from Safeway which comes in a three pack. Each loaf, thawed allowed to raise will make 6-7 buns)
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 1 yellow onion
  • garlic salt/minced or whatever you like for garlic ( I use the Sage, Thyme & lemon seasoned salt I make)
  • 2 TBSP butter.

Instructions

Step 1

  • Brown ground beef and drain fat, season with salt and pepper ( you can do this in two pans if you like)
  • Add chopped onion, garlic, butter, and chopped cabbage. Cook until wilted (7-10 min) on med-high. Mix with meat if done separately and let cool.
  • Note: You can also brown meat, season, then set aside and in a second pan sauté cabbage, onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper at each step. Then toss together. 

Step 2

  • Follow package instructions for bread dough (or make your own); Let the dough thaw covered and raise for up to 5 hours or as directed on your dough.
  • Cut and Roll into small sections.
  • Preheat oven to 350

Step 3

When ready to make

  • Flatten each section
  • Add ¼ to ½ cup of the cooled beef mixture to rolled out sections of dough. Fold and seal in half/wrap/shape how you wish but gently compress the air out of each bun.
  • Let sit covered with plastic wrap 20 min. (Or freeze them for later)
  • Prior to baking coat with melted, salted butter, oil or an egg wash. Omit butter topping if you want a crisper bun
  • Bake uncovered middle rack for 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees.

A few hints;

  • Pizza dough works well too.
  • Mix in small cubes of cheddar cheese in the cooled mix for a different variation.
  • Update: if you have leftover stuffing it makes a great addition to a simple soup. Simmer carrots, veggie or chicken stock, a few bay leaves, parsley, a can or two of drained canned beans and pepper for 50 mins.
  • Then add the meat & cabbage stuffing, ( you can also toss in leftover rice or pasta) simmer on med for another 30 min more. Toss in some halved cherry tomatoes. Serve

SaveSave

The Value of Holiday Cheer; Gestures, Thank You’s & Acknowledgments

This is a good time to consider the art of thank-you’s and gestures.

Like it or not, Thanksgiving has passed and we are officially on the close-out of 2017.

Every year about this time I start messages from folks, asking me about our annual Orphans Holiday Party held each year around late December and how will I be managing to pull it off this  year or how do I have all that stuff to prepare for it.

As the summer wraps up, the fall is normally one of my favorite times of the year and the Orphans Holiday Party is one of the highlights of the year to share time with friends.

This year, I seemed to get several inquiries asking me about my thoughts on the customs, gestures, and traditions that go along with being a guest. You know, those commonly held, or historically offered niceties that civil society says is “what polite society” dictates as a way to thank a host.

I started this post as I sat on a flight from DC just before Thanksgiving but got sidetracked catching up till now. So I figured  I would try to jot out some thoughts as I check my “to be answered” folder of questions.

What is the scoop on “Invitation Protocols”?

Frank,   It’s that time of the year when I have started to get invitations to dinners, brunches etc. What do I bring ? Do I need to bring something?  Is there a universal set of gestures I should know?— TK

This is a great question and while I wouldn’t say I am the “arbiter of good taste and manners” all the time –  I have some opinions on what I believe to be common courtesy and reflect a gesture of appreciation for your host. (For the sake of ease when I write “host(s) it is implied as “host or hostess”).

Mostly it’s about three things:

Appreciating the gestures of being invited

Acknowledging the effort and work that goes into that brunch or party

Common Sense understanding that tokens & gestures do matter to some, but doing something needs to not derail the host/hostess’s game plan.

Appreciation

This is key – when you are invited to something – your host(s) has taken the forward thought to plan, design and arrange what they hope will be a memorable time. During the days that lead up even to the smallest luncheon or brunch to the largest open house – tension rises and many last minute “fixes” are in full implantation mode.

Ensuring that your host(s) know how much you appreciated the invite, the time you had, and any special moments that the event made for you. These could include photos, gestures, networking or even a memory made is a great way to appreciate the experience.

3 simple gestures to show your appreciation

Ask: If you know you are going to the store the day of the event. Maybe in the morning (or the day before). Call and ask if you can pick anything up that may have been forgotten. But be prepared to get those supplies back to the host early so that they have time to use them as needed. (Hint: even if you don’t need to go to the store, but you have the free time and willingness to help, the offer to do so is huge)

Offer to stay late to clean up; come the “witching hour” when the bulk of the guest have left, most of us that toss the party, push through on adrenalin alone. So come the end, the energy runs out. Nothing says “appreciation” better than “Frank, We are going to stay and help you clean up; what do you need to be done

Check in after the event; If you aren’t able to attend or have conflicting events, let your host know as soon as possible. then a day after the event, drop the person a call, text or email asking how it went. That lets the host know you valued the invitation and was disappointed at not being able to attend. Who knows you might even get an invite for coffee or dinner to help use up those leftovers.

Acknowledgment

Look I can say how much I love to throw a party – and I do. But being acknowledged for the effort I put is, while it may not look like it’s important, it is.

Those of us that like to entertain and create these moments, feed off the excitement of the planning and staging something that will be memorable. We often take special care to blend in specialties to make everyone feel good. So hearing someone acknowledge the time and effort that goes into it, or noticing the small personal touches go a long way.

For instance, for me, I take pride in creating a menu that includes dishes and options that encompass vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free needs without them feeling like an aside. I use these as a way to “challenges” me to expand my food thinking and try new dishes that I might not generally eat myself.

In fact, some of the results can be stellar, like the gluten-free orange cardamom granola and spinach stuffing I created for a stuffed turkey one year. That recipe has now become a great alternative to my regular “old school” recipe.

One simple way to show your acknowledgment is to let the host know with a simple gesture says ” you noticed something that made them feel special”. One way to send a small token; this could be something fun, whimsical, or useful and in the theme that the host would enjoy. Feel free to ask for the recipe or the brand and where they found it. We generally love to tell you; once the event is out of the gate. For those of you “less creative types” here are a few ideas that I either send or have enjoyed receiving:

For those of you who know how “anal” I can be, will understand why this Magnetic Dry Erase Weekly Meal Planner 11X17 Whiteboard ($12.99) tickled me: 

Many of us make notes for the planning of the next event and your comments, feedback, and notes are ways we know what to keep or use again so journals such as this Refillable Travel Diary Notepad ($15.99)

Another way to acknowledge the effort is to share your own specialty ideas. If you have special food issues and knowledge of brands, recipes (or even well-loved book cook) and ideas for substitutions. Those I keep handy for the future. A great way to do this is making use of mail order or online services that stock your preferred “finds”. In some cases, you may even find them on Amazon.com.

Common Sense

Tokens and gestures to show your appreciation with a thank you are long-held traditions. They may changes from time to time, perhaps with an updated look or trend – but the basics remain the same.

If you are invited to a small dinner party, brunch or dinner:

Cut and arranged flowers, potted plants are perfect thank you gestures. But if you really want the host(s) to know you are excited or had a good time, have them delivered the morning of the event so that they have time to place them in a spot instead of having to figure out a frantic fix while trying the deal with the last minute preparations. (Hint: you really want the host to love you? Call  a few days before and say you want to send over an arrangement to the table or the fireplace and what colors is the room or theme). Or even better, have something delivered a few days after the event for the host(s) to enjoy a lovely personal note inside.

At the holidays (or any time of the year) if you know the host has a fondness for collecting something; I work hard to custom select something for them. In my case, I have a “story tree” at the holidays where most of the ornaments come from friends & family.  So I often get unique ornaments from places I might not have visited as a thank you or clever people found out I keep a “gift” list on Amazon of stuff that I want (and eventually plan to buy but should someone ask – it’s easier to send them to the list)

A few thoughts for those that haven’t got a clue yet:

Resoprocity is equally as important. 

Even the most gregarious and “party loving” host, doesn’t always want play host.  Offering to have the host over for a dinner to say thank you is perfect. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it’s the fact that you took the time to say thank you and take the night off is what matters. If you don’t cook, then offer to take them to dinner or at minimum, send them a gift certificate to a store with a fun personalized note “saying you are happy to taste any new dishes this inspires“.

Larger events like open houses, parties etc

These are less formal or because of the crowd less likely to need something to be given. But special bottles of wine or alcohol is always a nice touch – but remember to add a personal note – with your name and mention why this beverage is significant. Is it a special year or from a vineyard you love. Is it a hidden wonder etc. I know one of my “go to” gifts this year will be a vodka that has a dedication of funds toward dog adoption. Or try your hand at making something. The last few years I have made and jarred gifts to give to hosts; preserved lemons, pickled vegetables are two that get mentioned a lot. Remember to include the recipe tag and hold long they will keep with them.

What about Potlucks? Or invitations to meals or parties held at a restaurant?

Potlucks play a unique role. If you agree to bring a dish, let the host know early on what you are bringing and ask when do they want it. Nothing puts a host on edge more than during a potluck when someone arrives late with a dish and half the food has already been served. You can always drop your dish offer earlier if you think you will be late.

If you aren’t bringing a dish to a potluck – any of the other ways listed above will work – but letting the host(s) know you would like to offer to help out with clean up is always welcome.

Resturant or venue-based dinner parties: If you are invited to a dinner party held at a restaurant and the host has made it clear that you are guests (i.e. they are covering the costs of the meal) can be tricky. I rarely want to bring in a bottle of something or a gift as I know the hosts then have to figure out a way to get them all home.

So try to find out what the host’s plan is.  For a birthday or anniversary held at a beloved resturant or because of the host(s) lack space at home, then it’s likely they may either have a “no gifts” on the invite or will have a place identified to put cards, gifts, and gestures. Just remember to secure your card well so they don’t get separated. I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up with orphan gifts and gift tags after we get them home.

If it is a more casual setting or annual open house type thing, I would lean towards sending your acknowledgment after the event (use any mentioned above – I personally love waking up to breakfast or brunch baskets) and have it delivered to them at home.

When all is said and done  

Whatever you send or do, it should be significant to the host, serves as a way to show you care, and how you felt special about being included and appreciate the effort.

You can blend all or any of these ideas into one “thank you”. Gifting the host with that special dietary cookbook you love, with a note inside letting the host know much that it meant including their food sensitivities into the party menu and you are wanting to share this cookbook… etc. Those personal touches are the part I like best.

Over the years I have had several “thank you’s” that stand out as memorable to me:

One was to find a case of small batch, specialty tomato sauce delivered as a thank you from two guests who had been to a dinner party at my home. the brand was a favorite they thought I would enjoy being introduced too.

Another was taken right from the “Martha Steward school of entertaining” when the morning after a rather large party, my doorbell rang and I opened it to find a box with all my favorite breakfast foods; bagels, lox, cream cheese, hard boiled eggs, a loaf of poppyseed bread, jam, ground coffee ready to be made and savored.

Another was a gift certificate good for brunch at a restaurant we had spoken about but that I hadn’t gotten a chance to try yet. Included with a thank you card reminding me of our chat about how much they liked the food and they thought I would as well.

The common theme here is personalizing it, make it memorable and do it timely.

I have left the comments open on this post so that others can share ideas as well…

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Bite-Cap3: The Final Chapter

Bite-Cap3 … well, it is Halloween, the most notoriously themed holiday for “sequels, prequels, and new adaptations”.

As many of you know or saw on Facebook – Sunday was our monthly book club. This months book was a Werewolf book; Mongrel by Stephen Graham Jones

So trying to stay in tune with the book and determine what to make to eat – I recalled a recipe for Braised Cauliflower I had been wanting to try. Which when I remembered, it looked a lot like brains. Which I imagine why when it is photographed it gets special treatment. So that started the menu. With some help from Lidia Bastianich’s cookbook Mastering the Art of Italian Cooking, my variation to her standard recipe for Braised Cauliflower is below. I also checked out several other versions including one at NYT and they all offered options and flavors and cooking technique (oven or stovetop). But I stayed with the style that Lidia’s version offered.

But I couldn’t stop there –

Last week I also caught an episode of Nancy Fuller’s FarmHouse Rules For the  Meaty Intestines – and I thought that would marry well with the brains.

Stuffed Bread intestines – this originated from Nancy Fuller’s FarmHouse Rules shown for Halloween on Meaty Intestines.  But since I wasn’t going to make a slow-cooked pork butt, which is what she used to fil her “Intestines”.  I improvised the stuffing some. (Note: The leftover stuffing is what I mixed with the leftover sauce and onion from the Braised Cauliflower and places around the Brain in the pan)

But the ones I served at Bookclub revised as follows:

Braised Cauliflower Brains

Ingredients

1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons
4-6 ounces chopped Bacon (I use a black pepper thick cute sliced)
1 large onion, large diced
1 large head of cauliflower (keep it whole)
1 can 28 ounces can plum tomatoes (San Marzano work well), plus the amount of one can of water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar (or you can use 1/4 cup red wine)
2 teaspoons Parmagrante paste (omit this if you use wine)

 

 

 Instructions

In a Dutch oven over medium heat:

Add oil and bacon, cooking off until almost crispy, then add onions.

As the onions soften, add red pepper flakes. Stirring frequently.

Open and pour the tomatoes into a bowl and hand crush them ( I left some chunks for affect) and pour entire can, along with adding enough water the fill the empty can with water to the pot.

Pour the crushed tomatoes into the pot and then, adding enough water the fill the empty can with water into the pot.

Add Bay Leaves, Thyme, Rosemary, red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and pomegranate paste (You can adapt for personal  taste – if you have red wine handy – swap that out for vinegar and pomegranate paste )

Stir and raise heat to a low simmer, place the head of cauliflower in the center.

Spoon some of the mixture over the head of cauliflower, like you are giving it a bath…

Bring back to a simmer and cover.

Cook for 25 – 35 minutes. It is done when a knife slides in easily.

Covered it will keep warm for a while or turn the heat back on to bring back to temperature when serving.

Serve by slicing or break it up as you please

 

Stuffed Bread intestines

– this originated from Nancy Fuller’s FarmHouse Rules shown for Halloween on Meaty Intestines.  But since I wasn’t going to make a slow-cooked pork butt, which is what she used to fil her “Intestines”.  I improvised the stuffing some. (Note: The leftover stuffing is what I mixed with the leftover sauce and onion from the Braised Cauliflower and places around the Brain in the pan)

Ingredients

Two (2) 13.8-ounce package pizza dough (I removed them from the container and wrapped in loose plastic wrap prior to using)
1 medium onion -small  dice
2 Jimmy Dean Sausage roles ( or any kind of ground pork will do)
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
3/4 cup shredded cheese ( I used  a mixture of Cheddar and Provolone cheeses)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large eggs
1 – 2 tablespoons tomato paste
All-purpose flour, for dusting work surface
All-purpose flour, for dusting work surface
1 box of long grain rice and almond mix
1 tablespoon of pomegranate seeds (optional)

 

 Instructions

In a Dutch oven over medium heat

Add oil and cook the pork sausage, break it up as it cooks -but you don’t want is so small that you haven’t any texture.

Add onion, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper stirring frequently.

When done, remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon of pomegranate seeds (optional)

Mix well and leave to cool uncovered (you can make this mix the day before and then use the mix on the day you need it for.While the meat cools, prepare a box of long grain & almond rice mix but omit the seasoning packet. Once made – mix it into the meat & rice mixture

While the meat cools, prepare the box of long grain & almond rice per manufacturers instructions mix but omit or use less than half the seasoning packet.

Once made – mix it into the meat & rice mixture

On the day you plan to bake the “Intestines” off:

On a lightly floured table, roll out the dough into so you cut it into 3-4 in wide strips however long you want them to be. Note: One thing I did was removed the dough from the tobe container the day before so I could let it breathe a bit and soften to room temperature before rolling.

Lay the meat mixture down the center, add shredded cheese alongside it, and the cilantro.

Now seal the edges, keeping the tube affect. Don’t worry much id they look a little ragged -that helps the effect.

Place on parchment covered sheet pans.

Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 – 30 min, switching pans 1/2 way through the cooking.

Hints

I especially love the tip from on the recipe – about using a wash of  1 – 2 eggs and 1-2 tablespoon of tomato paste whisked together to make the pre-bake glaze. That is what gave it the “intestinal” color.
Another hint is to use some of the tomato paste and dab it on the precooked bread to give it a “gashed” look.

Afer 5 min cooling, remove and let cool on a rack

Once baked and cooled a bit I laid them out as you saw to create an affect. I also mixed the leftover rice and meat with the sauce to serve it around the “brains” to help soak up the liquids and used a small rack, under the bread, in the serving pan, to keep them semi-dry.

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Fire & Brimstone week

Early in the week, I started off with some “mummy wrapped” sausage patties. I found this silly recipe on one of those cooking magazines with a Halloween theme and couldn’t resist making them for Paul’s breakfast.

Midweek, with the fires still high and smoke and smell string, I stayed in as much as possible and tossed in a batch of Banana Bread; one to trade with a pal and one to save for us. For our version, I tried a recipe from my roommate’s grandmom of peanut butter frosting and tucked in a few Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups for fun.

With the rest of a busy week on deck, between some planning for two presentations and a “TED” style talk at Tech Inclusion this week, transitions in my own life and workplace and the dramatic unfolding of the devastation North of San Francisco from fires. I have been stockpiling my posts for tonight.

Anginette’s have been on my mind and I wanted to get a test batch up and out. Especially after a pal summed it up so nice on Friday; about it being time for cookies.  So Friday night I mixed up the batter for a batch of old-school anise #anginettes.  Then as the smoke settled back on Saturday, I gave them a quick 10 min bake to cool before glazing them in several colors and flavors. Pickled Avocados. I am gonna blame Ryan Knight’s mom on this today. Tried hers several weeks ago and was amazed. So put up a jar to Sunday dinner.

On Saturday I tossed up some quick Pickled Avocados. I am gonna blame my friend Ryan’s mom on. I tried hers several weeks ago and was amazed at the taste. So put up a jar to Sunday dinner.

😋 Don’t judge till you have tried them.  Note: it’s a perfect solution when you have several not quite ripe enough to eat and not sure you will get to them later in the week.