Thursday, December 31, 2009

steamed persimmon pudding

An absolutely must make for this time of year and possibly one of my very favorite desserts of all time. A little sweet, a little spicy. It's the old fashioned cakey pudding, btw. Not like the kind you eat with a spoon that comes out of a box. If you've never had this before, just make it. You shan't be sorry.

It's also a delightfully resilient recipe. As in if you, SAY, forget the egg and realize this only after you've started the pudding steaming on the stove, you can dump the batter back into a bowl and add the egg and it still comes out perfectly tasty. That's my kind of "baking".

Don't they look like pretty orange jewels all lined up in their box?

So, the only complicated part of the recipe is procuring very ripe persimmons. These are abundant at farmers markets this time of year. And actually many grocery stores sell them too, just not ripe. So if you plan ahead you can ripen them yourself on the kitchen counter. The classic variety would be Hachiya, which are 100% inedible until they are dead ripe. Like they taste very similar to sandpaper. So make sure they are suuuuuper soft. I've also used super soft Fuyu before, ripened on the counter for a few weeks. I found an excellent post about persimmons on Food Blogga if you're not familiar with them.

Steamed Persimmon Pudding
from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
2 to 3 ripe ripe ripe Hachiya persimmons, enough for 1 cup puree
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

I lied. There's one more semi-complicated part. Organizing your steaming situation. Not hard, you just have to get it set up. Select a bowl for you pudding. It can be made of crockery, metal, or glass... or you can use a real pudding mold. The most important thing is that it needs to fit inside a large dutch oven-type pan (or something similar) with the lid on. Place a small inverted bowl in the pan you've chosen as your steaming vessel and make sure the pudding bowl sits comfortably on top of the bowl when the lid is on. You're evenutally going to fill the outer pan with bowling water and then simmer the pudding in the pan with the lid on. Hopefully this makes sense.

Kay, now onto the recipe.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Using a little bit, liberally brush the inside of your pudding dish and set aside.

Bring a kettle of water to boil.

Halve the persimmons, pick out any seeds (sometimes there's one big one in the middle), and scrape the super soft fruit out of the skins. Puree and measure 1 cup.

Mix the puree with the melted butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, milk and salt.

Stir the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon together. Then wisk the dry mixture into the wet.

Pour the batter into your pudding dish and set it inside the pan, on top of the inverted bowl. Pour the boiling water into the outer pan so that it comes about 2/3 of the way up the pudding dish. Cover the outer pan with its lid and cook gently on the stove for about 1 1/2 hours. Make sure the water is just barely simmering. If it boils too vigorously, it can tip your pudding over. Especially if your pudding dish isn't heavy enough. You also don't want the water boiling over into the pudding itself.

You'll know the pudding is done when it turns a dark chocolately brown and an inserted knife comes out clean.

You can either invert the pudding onto a serving plate or if it's for some reason not coming out of the mold easily, just spoon individual servings out of the mold.

Serve with loosely whipped cream and slices of fresh Fuyu persimmons. Vanilla ice cream makes a nice accompaniment too.

Happy New Years Eve everyone! And Betty, definitely make this. I'll post the chestnut recipe soon. Amazing how unmotivated I am to sit at my computer when I'm away from home.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas

Just one more day left in the kitchen. With many things that still need to be finished...

But I did a lot of prep yesterday so hopefully things will go smoothly. Except for the minor kitchen emergency that happend 30 seconds ago. I turned on my candied grapefruit peels to reheat them so I could sugar them, and burned them to a very smokey crisp. And now every door and window in the house is open, desperately trying to air the place out. Le sigh.

Stock for my chestnut soup. It's so pretty, stock. I can't help but take pictures.

Chestnuts with the recipe. I haven't made this for years but it's soooo delicious and festive. I'll be sure to post the recipe before New Years in case someone is looking for a decadent treat for the eve.

Persimmon puree for pudding. Again, unbelievably delicious if you've never had it. The pudding, not the puree.

And then I stepped outside for a moment, to grab some herbs and survey the yard before we leave. And look what I found! This is probably only exciting to me, but...

Millet! Sprouting up everywhere the chicken house has been. They're messy eaters those chickens, but now we have lovely grain plants coming up around the yard.

Mysterious squash that won't quit growing

More squash that's been harvested and needs to be brought inside and consumed.

And succulents, who are much happier in the shade with reliable rain, it turns out.

Happy last few days of 2009. I'll be around a bit before New Years, since they don't exactly allow pregnant people on the ski slopes. Mountainy posts to follow. With the chestnut soup recipe.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Toffee for December

A la my mom. (Via her friend Liz Simons from back in their married student housing days).

She's been making this since I can remember. Every year we gave it to our teachers for Christmas, wrapped up in a little tin canister. Though if it was up to my brother and I, we would have eaten every single batch on our own. It's so buttery and salty and sweet and just delicious. And it's simple as can be, once you get the timing and stirring down.

I've made this many times with my mom, but for some reason when I tried to make it myself it kept separating. Which is like the worst thing that can happen. But my failings proved an excellent teaching moment for sharing the recipe with others. Had it worked perfectly with little thought, I wouldn't have had step by step photos to share. And I wouldn't be able to tell you the key pointers for success. It's a blogland miracle!

Okay, so here we go.


1 c salted butter
1 c sugar
1 T water
chocolate (dark or milk, depending on your preference) roughly broken up or chopped
1 1/2 - 2 c chopped, toasted almonds

See? Simple. 4 ingredients.

Also, you need to prep your equipment.

2 cookie sheets lined with foil. You absolutely must do this before you start.

This recipe is extremely time sensitive, which means it's the perfect example of when to absolutely employ the time honored cooking concept of mise en place. Which translates roughly to "everything in it's place". Which translates functionally to "have everything 100% prepped and ready to go BEFORE you turn on the stove". I'm serious about this. Once the butter melts, you cannot walk away from the stove.

Another note, use the salted butter. It makes for a perfect balance of salty and sweet, plus when I tried it with unsalted I failed. Though my mom and I find it hard to believe the salt was the culprit, but just stick to the recipe and things will turn out fine. Also, on chocolate. My mom usually uses Hersheys milk chocolate bars and it's perfectly delicious. I made this batch with Green & Blacks dark chocolate. Also perfectly delicious. But I think dark chocolate melts slower than milk, so if you're going to use it, chop it into thinner chunks than shown in the photos so you're not frantically trying to get it to melt before the toffee cools.

Okay, now that we have those notes out of the way...

The recipe:

Melt butter, sugar and water in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium to medium-high heat. At this point you can stir casually until the butter has melted. Once the mixture starts to foam a little around the edges, you are committed to stirring for the next 15 - 20 minutes. Your wrist will be sore. But don't stop.

Stir mixture continually in a figure 8 motion at a relatively fast speed. Not as fast as you can stir, but not leisurely either. This was a mistake I made with my first batch. If you stir too slowly, the candy will separate. The mixture will get nice and fluffy and start to move as one unit (you'll see what I mean). This is good. Your candy is coming together.

It's going to looking pretty much the same for a while. Don't worry. As long as the butter doesn't start to separate, you're on the right track. (If it does start to separate, stir faster. Perhaps it will come back together). The goal is keep stirring until your candy is the color of peanut butter. We don't use those new fangled candy thermometers in my family. We use the jar of peanut butter. It hasn't failed us yet. But to do this, you MUST get the peanut butter out of the cupboard and use it as a visual aid.

Once you've reached peanut butter color, turn off the heat and start moving like lightening. Poor the hot toffee onto the first cookie sheet (lined with foil, don't forget) and spread it using a spatula until it's pretty thin. 1/8 of an inch is about perfect, but there will definitely be thinner and thicker parts. Just get it done as fast as possible. One batch covers most of a standard sized cookie sheet.

Next, lay your chocolate pieces over the top of the toffee and using the spatula spread the melting pieces around until the chocolate is totally melted and the toffee is covered. Again, move as fast as you can without tearing the toffee. It will still be a little soft for the first side. The goal is to get to the other side before the toffee has cooled too much to melt the chocolate.

Then, sprinkle the chopped almonds over the entire thing.

Turn the second cookie sheet foil side down over the top of the toffee and flip the two sheets over. Now peel off the foil from the second side of the toffee and repeat the chocolate and nut process.

If you're moving fast enough, your chocolate is thin enough and you're not stopping constantly to snap photos, you should have enough heat left to melt the chocolate on this side too. But it will take a little longer. If by some chance your candy has gone cold, the hair dryer will work. But it will also spray chocolate all over your kitchen counter and everything on it.

Once you've got the second side coated, into the fridge it goes. Leave it for at least a few hours before you attempt to break it up. Overnight or all day is better.

Then break it up into lovely organic pieces and either eat yourself or pack into cute jars and give away.

I should also note that this recipe is easier if there's another person around to help out occasionally. For instance if you need to take a break from stirring or need help holding the pot of boiling candy while pouring and spreading it onto the cookie sheet. Though it is possible to go it alone.

Happy candy making!

Monday, December 21, 2009

getting closer

Feeling more ahead of Christmas than I have in at least 5 years. Tis a miracle on Bonaparte Ave, I'll tell you that much. Pretty much the entire weekend was devoted to puttering around the house, (with the exception of a few hours of essential last minute-ish errands), finishing projects, starting projects, reading recipes, wrapping presents... things of that nature. Somehow this Christmas is shaping up to be much more relaxing than usual. What a treat.

Made my mom's Christmas toffee, successfully, after only 2 failed attempts. I'll be posting the recipe tomorrow, with step by step photos because while it's very simple, it's also finicky and requires visual aids to get it right. And um, it is the most delicious sweet that makes perfect presents, if you're looking for a last minute project.

Turned those cute escort cards from Inchmark and Martha Stewart into gift tags. Tutorial and template here... though the template prints HUGE so I had to downsize it in photoshop. And I own every circle punch BUT the size I needed for the project (1.5") and Michaels was out of that size so mine are a little proportionately awkward. There was no way I was waiting til Tuesday when their next shipment was due to arrive. These tags had to be made on Saturday and that was that.

Do you like my groovy 70's print from Lincoln Fabrics? I'm so into that store right now. Even though there is dust covering every inch of every bolt of fabric. Buried treasure is all I'm saying.

All but 3 presents successfully wrapped in paper grocery bags and fluorescent pink ribbon. I went back for their entire stock after I used it for my uncle's bookmarks.

And am diligently making my way through my list of edible gifts.

Granola. I'm not comfortable enough with my own recipe to share... mostly because I don't really follow a recipe. I just throw a bunch of stuff together and then my oven burns it. But I will offer this nugget of advice, because I'm not sure all recipes note it's importance:

DO NOT BAKE THE FRUIT. Add it just when the oats and nuts come out of the oven. The heat from the granola plumps it up perfectly. If you bake it with the oats you will be sorry.

Here's to the last few days of preparation for Christmas-celebrating folk. For those who don't, be glad you aren't part of the frenzy. Though I do love Christmas I must say.

I have to go into the office this morning for a rush project. IMAGINE. Working on Mondays. Sick.

(I'm usually working from home on personal projects on Mondays, in case I've never mentioned that before).

Toffee tomorrow. See you then?

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's a project kind of weekend

Actually it started last night with the first round of wrapping. Now the living room floor is covered in little bits of paper scraps and ribbon trims. And I'm enjoying an eggnog-y coffee and listening to Christmas with the Rat Pack and plotting my course of project action for the next few days. Which includes a bit of baking, a few little errands, more wrapping, two birthday parties, and beginning to pack for 10 days out of town to San Diego and then to Mammoth.

And since they don't let hugely pregnant people on the ski slopes, I have to bring an entire car full of project supplies to keep me occupied in front of the fire. I have a SNEAKING suspicion that my most wonderful husband has succumbed to my incessant whining and will be giving me my sewing machine for Christmas. yessssssssssss. Which means I will be bringing it to Mammoth along with stacks of fabric so I can make a few things while I'm up in the snow. Including a few more strands of bunting flags for baby presents to a dear friend and to myself.

In a moment of weakness, while innocently looking up a project on their blog, I ordered a few more yards of fabric from Purl last night. Now that I am a "seamstress" I can do things like that. Maybe sewing will be my true calling. I will buy a lot of fabric and see how I take to it.

Happy Birthday to my ladies Leslie and Deja today!

And everyone have a festive weekend wearing sequins and tights and other cute things that I don't own because I cannot fit into them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

For winter

I saw this vintage postcard at Solo in Solana Beach over Thanksgiving. Finally downloaded it from my phone:

"Quite cold here too, so what's the use of getting hot about it?"

I love the simplicity and the wit.

Cold weather = pampering for skin. I for one cannot resist delicately scented, sumptuously textured lotions.

Take Kiehl's Imperial Body Balm. The black packaging is a nice marketing tool, don't you think? OOOOH SPECIAL AND LUXURIOUS AND BLACK.

I actually waited on this one until we got our annual Kiehl's holiday coupon thing in the mail. $20 off a purchase of $50 or more? Someone's getting her fancy lotion.

It's gloriously buttery with a teeny hint of cloves. I so deserve it for my tightly stretched skin. Highly recommend getting a sample next time you're near a Kiehl's store. Or just buy it online and bathe in it.

Raw chocolate pudding

This recipe isn't exactly a seasonal delight, but guess what? Sometimes pregnancy doesn't care what season it is. Sometimes it wants mangos in December or raw chocolate pudding.

This is one of my favorite, incredibly delicious, incredibly simple recipes and because it's raw, it for some reason doesn't feel like it's bad for you. I haven't made it forever but yesterday it sounded like a perfect diversion from the huge numbers of things that need to be finished pre-Christmas.

It's from the book, Raw Food Real World, which is a great raw cookbook if anyone out there is into that sort of thing. I'm not, but I was for a brief stint. Sooooo time consuming. My entire kitchen was covered in sprouting beans and I spent all day thinking about what I would make for dinner. Not a functional lifestyle if you have things to do other than prepare and eat food.

ANYWAY, the recipe. The only thing special you need for this is a cleaver. Or some other heavy sharp knife that will reliably split coconuts. Which is the only complicated part of the process. I'm always afraid I'm going to chop my hand off. But I haven't yet. Also, when I say coconuts I mean the young white coconuts that come wrapped in plastic. NOT the brown ones.

Chocolate Pudding

2 cups young coconut meat (roughly 3 coconuts worth)

3/4 cup coconut water (err on the conservative side with this one. You can always add more if it needs thinning).

scant 1/2 cup maple syrup (maybe less, depending on how sweet you like things. I might use 1/3 cup next time).

1/2 cup unsweetened, high quality cocoa powder

2 tablespoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Quickly, one note on sweetness. The original recipe calls for 1/2 c maple syrup and 1/3 cup agave nectar. (Raw food recipes tend to be over the top on flavor). If I used all of that, I would consider this recipe inedible. I used just the 1/2 cup of maple syrup this time and it's still a little on the sweet side. Perhaps consider trying just a third of cup if you don't like things too sweet.

And now onto the "instructions". Put everything in a blender and puree until smooth. If you have a Vita-Mix, I am jealous of you and your pudding will be like silk. If you have an old Osterizer like I do, some fine chunkiness may remain. Definitely adding a Vita-Mix to the baby registry. Must have it for the making of baby food.

The pudding will be pretty runny to start so I definitely recommend refrigerating for a few hours until it's a little firmer. Then eat by the spoonful out of the jar. Or serve yourself a sensible helping garnished with chopped almonds or berries.

Also, if you happen to be into raw food items, one of the authors of the cookbook has a raw food supply website called One Lucky Duck that's worth checking out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A goodbye

oh look, it's Monday again. Which means time for my weekly post? No, no. Let's not make this a habit, self. But yes, I am slacking a bit in the blogging department. This time of year is so busy with so many things and to be honest, in the morning I don't want to be sitting in front of my computer. Hence the sparsely spaced posts.

This weekend was the memorial service for my uncle. He passed away the weekend before Thanksgiving. Expected? To some extent, yes. But that doesn't mean you're prepared. He waged an intense battle against a particularly aggressive cancer that in the end took him very quickly. We are all so sad. He was an amazing man, father, teacher and generally essential member of our small family. I don't think I can do him justice in a post, but it's very strange that he's not here.

The only bright spot was hearing from so many of his students and colleagues and friends that he made in his 51 years. He truly touched so many people, which is the mark of a good teacher I think. One whose untimely memorial service was jammed full of students and former students he taught at Santa Monica High School for so many years. He was the front man in a band in his youth, he was a wild adventurer, a philosopher, an inspiration to everyone he met. There's no reason on earth that his life should have been cut short. Except that cancer sucks.

But I will say that as terrified as I was that my family would never be the same once he was gone (and we clearly won't), I think we will be okay. And I know this because as sad as Saturday was (and the weeks that preceded), we still found moments of laughter. And for a family that thrives on silliness, things would have felt truly dire without those windows of happy normalcy.

My aunt asked me to make bookmarks to give out at his memorial. And I did have fun with the colored ribbons I tied on the tops of each. Sort of therapeutic, to be making something nice for people to remember him with, tucked inside a book I hope.

So that was the focus of my weekend. That and the surprising back pain that ensues when you wear heels all day when you're 7.5 months pregnant and you haven't worn heels since May.

If you're in LA and haven't been to Lincoln Fabrics in a while, I strongly suggest stopping in for their crazy ribbon and vintage trim selection. They have fluorescent ribbon people. It's pretty cool. But warning, the store is not fancy, some of the fabric is decades old. Kind of like a scavenger hunt...

More soon, I promise.

Monday, December 7, 2009

weekend doings

So last week I slacked a bit. Somehow the week passed without anything interesting to report. But look! Here I am on Monday with pictures. This week I'll be a less delinquent blogger. Maybe.

The weekend was pretty satisfying in terms of crossing things off our to-do list. Not the BIG to-do list, mind you. The mini one intended for just the weekend.

Christmas tree and lights in place. Makes the house smell so nice.

On the nesting front, started to rearrange the 2nd bedroom which is now a complete disaster. Why do people have so much stuff??? But it did mean ripping down a FLOR tile bulletin board, (Note: tacks don't actually stick reliably into FLOR tiles... thanks so much for the idea Martha), and turning it into a rug for our bedroom. Yay. Free rug.

FINNNAAAALLLLY started weeding out the overgrown vegetable patch. And found these pretty carrots and this collection of tomatoes and peppers, plus lots of yummy tangerines from our little tree. I'd love to get some new things in the ground before baby, but that might be pushing it. Yard work is not that fun later in your pregnancy.

Forced narcissus bulbs, approximately a month late.

And then spent Sunday afternoon in the kitchen...

Making pumpkin soup in the pumpkin. More on that soon.

And today it's positively pouring rain. Which is nice for catching up on work and maybe baking something tasty? We shall see.