Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Apricot Pistachio Lemon cake

Apricot Pistachio Lemon Coffee Cake

The more and more I bake, the fewer cookbooks I use. Isn't that interesting? Instead, I dig deeper into my favorites. And Coffee Cakes, by Lou Seibert Pappas is most definitely one of my favorites.

Thanks to my split subscription to Happy Child CSA at Frog Hollow Farm, I had a few bags of dried apricots, nectarines and other random stone fruit. What to do with it?

Then I came across this recipe that included dried apricots. Perfect! So I soaked my random dried stone fruit (that was very dry) and cut it up into regular supermarket dried apricots. The recipe referred to simply "pistachios" but I had to chop those up too. This was a fair amount of prep work for a cake!

Fresh lemons, yogurt...recipe for terrific. And it was: moist and mild with a lovely presentation. (That's chef-speak for: "it looks good.") The only thing that didn't work well was my reconstituted stone fruit. The regular chopped dried apricots, that were still somewhat squishy before chopping, worked a lot better.

My baking photography always suffers from the Denny's Menu Dilemma (it looks soooo much better in the photo), but this time, I had a really good model.

The recipe also includes a cherry-hazelnut variation that absolutely must be tried. Now all I need is a special occasion to bake it for.....hmm, no I don't!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Grilled Chicken with Brie and Baby Spinach Salad

Grilled Chicken with Brie and Baby Spinach

I haven't had much time to watch Food Network recently, and when I do, it seems whatever's on is too flashy or hip or competitive or about restaurants -- not stuff I can take into my kitchen. I was sick one day and had little energy to do much more than channel-surf, and caught a Food Network chef I really should like more than I do. Robin Miller does a lot of making a few core items and then using it in different dishes during the whole week. Somehow that never seems to work for me, but it really should. Leftovers are a sorely undervalued commodity in my house.

This recipe seemed almost too simple -- not even a recipe really, just an assembly of simple components. But the idea of melting brie on chicken was too good to resist. Served on top of a spinach salad, it had terrific visual appeal too.

It was pretty easy to make, though the steps about how to melt the brie on the chicken seemed excessive. It melted just fine on the warm chicken taken straight off the grill pan, without the risky step of putting it back onto the grill. The spinach salad was fantastic -- nothing like a little dollop of honey to transform a vinaigrette, and the bacon added a zingy touch to it. Actually, I used the tiny-diced pancetta from Trader Joe's, and "pancetta" just sounds so much more classy than "bacon.

And, as advertised, it shows great.

...though looking at it now, I see it didn't photograph great. Really, that looks like an excessive amount of brie, but it was perfect, especially when parts of dripped down onto the spinach.

As usual around here, this is a great guest dish, since everyone else in my family prefers the grilled chicken in the buff, no dressing-up. But it's good enough I might still add the fluff just for myself.

The New Kitchen

In case anyone ever reads this poor dusty old food blog again, the reason for this hiatus has been the best possible for any cook: a new kitchen!

My last post was at the end of January, when final installation details and coordination and missing materials came to a crescendo. There was a panic about the range hood, delayed flooring, the redesigned island top, the missing sink front pieced, and countless other decisions and things to deal with.

Somehow we got through it all, and moved in to our newly remodeled house on March 18, 2009. And now, almost 4 months later, we're still hardly settled in -- most rooms still have boxes and all the crummy old furniture is still here. But I did set up the kitchen!

My careful planning of where every kitchen item would go mostly worked, with a few notable exceptions (such as the silverware drawer -- situated perfectly for setting the table, but poorly for the 1000 times a day you reach for a knife to spread mayonnaise or a spoon to scoop cottage cheese). I was concerned that the ovens being so far would present a problem, but an oven isn't something you get to frequently during a cooking session. The distance does complicate stovetop-to-broiler items like frittatas, but it's livable.

Did I really need two ovens and six burners? Probably not. Most cooks -- real cooks, not posers like me -- work fine without them. However, I've found some unexpected benefits to both. With two ovens, you don't have to shift racks around as much. The bottom oven has the racks spread out to fit larger items; the top oven for flatter things. My GE Monogram ovens have glide-out racks on rollers, and that is an expected fabulousness, I absolutely love that. I actually have had occasion to use all six cooktop burners at once, but quickly found a major drawback to that: you just can't keep up with six things on the stove! But I love being able to put the three items -- which I frequently do have -- all up front. And the teakettle can stay where it is.

Since moving in, I have done lots of fun cooking and even taken some photos, but putting it together into a post has been tricky. But I'm going to resume food-blogging now, because if there's one thing I can't stand, it's a poser kitchen. This one is here to be used.