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Welcome to Paradise — Hawaii and Shrimp with Ginger Chili sauce

It has been hot as blazes in Los Angeles, and the thing about Los Angeles is it does hot extremely well. 3 digit temperatures, brush fires — a heat wave turns the City of Angels from a reasonably convincing rendition of paradise (OK, in some places) to a reasonably convincing rendition of hell.

So I think it’s time for another piece in the travel series, because when L.A. gets like this, I would certainly love to be anywhere but here. And I find myself (as I often do) dreaming of sea breezes and warm water and golden sand — in short — Hawaii.
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Too Much Zucchini — Zucchini Pappardelle with Pine Nuts

Zucchini Pappardelle
It’s that time of the year when people who have vegetable gardens and live close to the earth and in tune with the seasons and all that start complaining about zucchini. “I have so much zucchini!” they say. “It’s coming out my ears! Won’t you take some zucchini?” Zucchini bread starts magically appearing in offices, as people try desperately to use up this weed.

I do not have a vegetable garden — I have a vegetable patio, courtesy of Ken, which really means that we grow almost enough tomatoes to keep me in BLT’s, and a few assorted herbs. We also have many pots taken up by useless things like FLOWERS and CACTI, despite my many attempts to get through to Ken that this is a waste of time and space. “Can you eat it?” I ask. “Because if you can’t eat it, then WHY are we growing it?” Ken thinks I am a plebeian when it comes to gardening. I think he is a plebeian when it comes to growing food. The Nuni doesn’t care. She just likes to pick the “teeny teeny teeny maters”, take a bite, then drop them on the ground.

Which is all a very long and blathery way of saying I am not one of those too many zucchini people (and even if I did have a genuine vegetable garden I would not be one of those too many zucchini people because I have a remarkable habit of picking the zucchini when they’re still flowers and frying them and eating them, and you can eat a lot more zucchini when they’re in fried flower form than you can when they’re in fully grown marrow form). However, I do like a good zucchini, and I do take pity on the too many zucchini people, because, really, there is only so much zucchini bread that anyone can eat.
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I Spy Plum Pie

Plum Pie with Foolproof Crust

Is there anything more wholesome than pie? The very word brings a smile to one’s face, and it’s associated with all sorts of pleasant things — someone who is sweet as pie (or a sweetie pie) may wish for their pie in the sky which may be easy as pie to get or as American as apple pie. In the eternal debate that rages between cake and pie, pie is eternally the winner, being both less serious and less frivolous than that cake frippery. Liking pie is almost a moral imperative. And yet … I don’t. Or at least I didn’t.

The problem with pie is nearly always in the crust. Crusts in pies that aren’t homemade is nearly always somewhat tough because it has to stand up to storage and handling. And homemade is hard. Those premade pie crusts have a funny taste or a greasy mouthfeel (though I will recommend Trader Joe’s brand frozen pie crusts in a pinch). And making it from scratch is just fraught — there’s all that nonsense about cold hands and whether to rub in the fat or cut it in or use a food processor or NEVER USE A FOOD PROCESSOR or only use lard or only use crisco and the whole thing is so nervewracking that your hands are sweating buckets and OH NO YOU’VE JUST RUINED YOUR PIE CRUST. IT WILL NEVER BE TENDER AND FLAKY AGAIN. Or if by some miracle you manage to make a pie crust that has flaky possibilities then you have to roll it out, and it cracks and sticks and then you have to worry about patching holes because IF YOU HANDLE IT TOO MUCH YOU WILL HAVE RUINED YOUR PIE CRUST AND IT WILL NEVER BE TENDER AND FLAKY AGAIN.

No thanks, I’ll just sit over in this corner with my cake, thank you very much.
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Perfect Picnic 2 — Potato Salad with Prosciutto

The Nuni has been very taken with picnics lately. It started last weekend when we were at the Huntington Library. After a hard hour of playing in the bubble fountains and the rainbow tunnel of the children’s garden, we spread a towel on the grass to dry off. Being toddler parents who are never without snack food, we broke out the water bottles and the dried apples. Nuni looked happily around and said, “Mama! Dada! Nuni! Family! PICNIC!”

Since then she has applied the term “picnic” to every nontraditional eating situation in which we find ourselves, and let me tell you, they are not infrequent. Morning coffee in bed is a picnic, so are takeout ribs eaten on the couch and dinner on the deck behind Nonna and Pappi’s house. Of course, the Nuni may be on to something here. Calling a meal a picnic makes it less formal and more exciting — an adventure in the making.
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RIP Childhood — Flatbread Pizzas With Fennel

It’s funny how life works. We spend our entire childhoods longing to grow up, so eager to join the ranks of adulthood that we can almost taste it. To a child, the charms of being grown up are many — driving cars, earning money, wearing fancy clothes, eating cereal for dinner WHENEVER YOU WANT TO, being on your own (and lets be frank — alcohol and sex also hold their own lures. And, um, voting?) Of course, a few years into adulthood we find ourselves in the thick of reality – our commute is too long, jobs are hard to come by and difficult to do, we have to wear a suit when we’d rather wear yoga pants, cereal for dinner means we haven’t managed to get anything worthwhile onto the table, and we wish we ddn’t have to be on our own — that someone would just take care of everything for us. (I’m not knocking cocktails, sex or voting, however.)

In the past couple days, I’ve been thinking about one of those childhood pleasures which is rarely duplicated by adults — the sleepover. On a Friday night like this one, I’d go home after school with my friend Stacey. We’d go swimming in the afternoon, rummage around in her glamorous older sister’s room, make ourselves English muffin pizzas for dinner, then lay out sleeping bags on the floor of her family room and watch movies on betamax — Sixteen Candles, the Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and my personal favorite — Some Kind of Wonderful. We’d stay up late and tell secrets, and in the morning Stacey’s dad would make us coffee ice cream milkshakes for breakfast. There’s a special magic to a sleepover — it’s almost as good as being grown up. Making your own pizza! Staying up late! Eating ice cream for breakfast! And of course, those wonderful movies about the perils of growing up, of following your heart, of living in an unfriendly world, that we were too young to really empathize with but loved nonetheless.
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A Late Date — Brown Butter Sandwich Cookies


I am woefully behind in posting my Daring Baker’s challenge this month, and I am woefully behind in doing it as well. But this weekend I finally screwed my courage to the sticking point and set to work.

 

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network. If you haven’t picked up on it, these are both recipes for popular commercial cookies – Mallomars and Milanos. While I do love a good Mallomar, and they are nearly impossible to find in California, I have always had a soft spot for the Pepperidge Farm Milanos, and decided to try my hand at those (with the bonus that they were much simpler, and did not involve making marshmallows, which is not difficult exactly, but is very, very messy. At least in my kitchen.)

Of course, being in the dog days of summer and feeling somewhat lackadaisical, I mixed up the recipe techniques quite a bit (I’ve linked to the original recipe below, and posted my changes) which resulted in chewy, buttery sandwich cookies that were nothing like Milanos (mostly in texture – these were NOT crunchy) but tasted fantastic all the same. They certainly disappeared in my house. I was lucky I got to take any pictures.

Brown Butter Sandwich Cookies
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 15
 
Ingredients
For the Cookies:
  • 6 ounces salted butter
  • 2.5 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 egg whites
  • 2 T vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour
  • Cookie filling, recipe follows
Cookie filling:
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1 ounce butter
Instructions
For the cookies
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, and cook, over medium heat, until the butter is fragrant and has taken on a rich nutty brown color. Set aside and cool. Beat the egg whites until frothy, add the powdered sugar, vanilla and brown butter and beat until combined. Add the flour, stir until just mixed, and spoon mixture onto cookie sheets lined with parchment. Bake at 350 degrees 10-11 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.
For the Filling:
  1. Melt the butter and the chocolate together over low heat until smooth.
To assemble the cookies:
  1. Match up cookies until you have reasonably matching pairs. On one side of each pair, brush a layer of chocolate to edges of cookie. I like to keep the chocolate relatively thin so it doesn't overwhelm the flavor of the brown butter. Sandwich together with pair.
Notes
Note: the original Gale Gand recipe can be found here: http://thedaringkitchen.com/recipe/mallows-and-milans-cookies I will admit that several cookies got eaten in my household before I got around to sandwiching them at all. If you have more self-restraint than we do, you might want to double the filling recipe.