Friday, March 27, 2009

Banishing the Big White Studio Wall

My studio. Back when I painted it Racer Pink, I purposely left the biggest uninterrupted expanse of wall in the room white. And I've had a rough idea in my head about what I wanted to do with that (still) big white wall for ages, but other projects and the inability to nail myself down to specifics kept me from acting. But today, I finally got around to spitting a little bit of that out.

Because sometimes, you just gotta slap some paint on the wall:

I'm indulging my inner wannabe graffiti artist and while I have to point out that I am lacking the insane artistic genius that many of those who create public art possess, I think this will end up to be something pretty cool. It certainly helps that I'm not forced to work under pressure or to complete it under the cover of night and threat of arrest.

To be sure, it'll be a work in progress for a while. Here's the planning sketch I did this afternoon to give myself some direction:

I've done several other whole-room murals in the past, but those required a fair amount of pre-planning and sketching, and the subject matter was mostly dictated by the client. In this case, it's all about whatever my brain spits out, and I have to say that that getting out my big artist brushes, taking a deep breath and just going for it with no rules...on the crazy fun. Exciting and satisfying.
I'll keep you posted.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Faux Creamy, Faux "Recipe": Baked Potato Soup

I say "recipe" because as is typical with my day to day cooking, I didn't really use one, but I can tell you what I did. This makes more or less a double batch of soup, a big stockpot full, enough for eating and leftovers plus plenty to freeze for later.

Faux Creamy Baked Potato Soup
1 head cauliflower
1/2 lb. bacon, diced, plus a few slices extra for garnish if desired (or what the heck, use a full pound if you're feeling naughty)
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 c. white wine, cognac or cider vinegar
3 or 4 quarts chicken stock
1-1 1/2c. heavy cream
2-3 T. fish sauce, soy or worstershire
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2" dice.
Salt, pepper and seasonings ( I used about 1/4-1/2 tsp. each of mustard powder, dried rosemary, dill, and oregano, plus a few dashes of cayenne pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Penzeys salad sprinkle is a good choice too, as is Slap Yo Mamma if you want a bit of spicy heat)
Chopped scallions, parsley bacon and grated cheese for garnish

Rough chop the head of cauliflower and steam in 1/2 c. or so of the chicken stock in your stock pot until very soft and tender. Cool for a bit, then transfer to blender one or two cups at a time and puree on high speed until smooth and creamy, adding some cold chicken stock to the jar if necessry to get it to blend. (be super careful blending hot stuff!) I got about 8 cups of puree from one large head of cauliflower. Set aside.

In the same large stock pot, sautee bacon until crisp and remove a few tablespoons worth for garnish. Drain off all but a couple of tablespoons of fat (or bacon was fairly lean). Add celery, onion and carrot to bacon and saute until veg is tender and starting to carmelize. By this time, you should have a nice fond going, aka the stuff stuck to the bottom of the pot...which is good good good. Pull the pan off heat and add the wine, cognac or vinegar. Return to heat and stir to get all that yum up off the bottom of the pan. I also added in the dried herbs and pepper at this point. Add the chicken stock, cream, fish sauce, cauliflower puree and diced potato, simmering uncovered until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. You should have a fairly thick soup at this point, but if the consistency is not to your liking, you can whisk some Wondra flour directly into the hot soup or hydrate a couple of tablespoons of regular flour in stock or water and whisk that in to thicken things up a bit. Or, if it's too thick, add more chicken stock. Season to taste with salt and adjust the other seasonings as you please. Serve garnished with chopped crispy bacon, grated cheddar and chopped scallion and parsley.

Oh, and did I mention it's one pot? It is, although I will say that cooking the potatoes in the soup like I've suggested renders them slightly less tasty than if one took the extra step of cooking them separately in boiling well-salted water and adding them in at the end.

cheers to soup! Let me know what you think if you try it.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another How Did I Not Know Moment

So, can we talk about cauliflower? I promise it won't be as boring as you think.

Do you know its secret?
How is it that such a common, everyday vegetable that's been around forever could hold such undiscovered awesomeness?
It's the magic vegetable, and there's been another planet realignment in the Splatgirl Creates kitchen.
Because did you know that cooked cauliflower, pureed in the blender, becomes something velvety and lush that looks and acts pretty much exactly like cream?

It does.

And I just have one question:
How has this fact escaped me for thirty-plus years? And how is this not like the first thing they teach you in cooking 101?

Anyway, I have this awesome baked potato soup recipe that's been a house favorite for years, but it's like evil in a pot because the whole soupy part of the soup, or what would be known in other recipes as the broth, is a roux based white sauce that's made with one and a half sticks of butter, a quart of whole milk and a pint of heavy cream per batch. And it's not that I am a fat-o-phobe (obviously) but geez, that's a bit much even for me, and we haven't even discussed the bacon or the grated cheese garnish. So tasty, yes, in a once a year kind of way, but my real issue with the recipe as written is that all that heavy duty dairy seriously does not agree with me, and it's the kind of soup that pretty much forces you to eat at least two bowls full at a sitting.

Anyway, having recently discovered the wonder that is pureed cauliflower, I decided a pot of makeover baked potato soup was in order on this very un-March 25th-like day.

I steamed and then pureed a whole head of cauliflower in the blender and made the soup without any butter or milk, and only about 1/2c. of heavy cream. It turned out just as good or better than the original:

So yep, that there bowl of soup, that luscious, creamy delicious looking soup, is mostly made with cauliflower, and eating it, you'd never guess in a million years. Heck, I'll even go out on a limb and call it healthy.

So next time you're contemplating cooking up a cream soup, try cooked pureed cauliflower in place of all or most of the dairy and thickening. Sounds hokey, but trust me, it's fabulous.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Did I Not Know? - Our online book club offers free books when you swap, trade, or exchange your used books with other book club members for free.

So do you guys know about I'm still trying to figure out how it is that I didn't know this existed from like, day one, because it's the kind of thing I've been thinking needed to be invented ages ago. Because, you see, I am inclined to go to the book store and spend like $50 or $75 at a crack on books and read them all up in two weeks. Which leaves me without a book to read, which makes me antsy and whiney. Just ask Boy. And it also leaves me with piles and piles of nearly brand new, often newly released paperbacks that until now I've either just given away or donated to charity. And we're talking PILES of books. I keep a basket just outside the door to the garage as a holding pen just for them.

But then the other day, my stars were realigned, because I happenend upon, quite possibly the second best money saving thing I've found this year, right behind switching our cell phones to prepaid.

Riteawayquick I gathered up my current pile-0-books from their garage basket and entered them into the swap-o-matic system at paperbackswap and guess what? My pile of lonely books is already shrinking AND I have three new books on their way to me as I type, which means no need for a $75 bookstore run this weekend.

So the deal is that you enter whatever books you have (in good condition) that you want to swap into their database using the ISBN numbers. They call this your bookshelf, and when another member requests a book from your bookshelf and you can send the book, you reply to the request and then print a pre-addressed mailing wrapper right from your computer. And because you can buy and print postage online, too, you don't even have to worry about trying to get to the post office. All you have to do is wrap up the book and put it in your mailbox.
It does cost a couple of bucks for postage, but the trade off is that when you requsest a book, the sender pays, so the you GETTING books end of the deal is FREE. Or a trade. Or however you want to look at it. Either way, for me, a complete and total win.
It works on a credit system, so one credit for each book sent means one book you can "order", and they start you off with two credits for nothing, just to be nice.

I love it when feeding my addictions becomes more convenient and less expensive.

Do go check it out, won't you? And if you click through to their site using the logo at the top of this post, I'll get a referral credit, too!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Pretzel Knots

My pal Knit-Whit came over yesterday and we spent a lovely, sunny afternoon (and evening) cooking, eating and chatting.

A few weeks ago, when the March issue of Bon Appetit arrived in our mailboxes, she immediately spied the recipe for pretzel knots. I hadn't gotten around to looking at my issue yet, but when she mentioned it to me, I decided we HAD to get together and make them.

It turns out Knit-Whit had never made bread of any kind before (!) so this was the perfect way to get her acquainted with the ins and outs of making and working with yeast dough.
These were a fairly simple and straightforward recipe, similar to bagels in that you scald the formed knots in a bath of water, beer, sugar and baking soda before baking them off.

We had been chatting each others' ears off all afternoon, taking a quick break in between for a lunchtime bowl of homemade French onion soup, but as soon as we pulled these out of the oven and sat down to try them, all speaking ceased :)

She had proclaimed her craving for cheese for dipping, so we threw together a traditional cheese fondue that was a perfect pairing and made for a delicious, stick-to-your-ribs snack.
The pretzels turned out to be spot-on for texture and flavor and chew, and the smell and fresh baked loveliness of them was irresistable. They were everything that you hope for in a street vendor pretzel but never really find.

Fortuantely the guys were hanging around to help us devour this plate or things might have gotten a little out of hand.

We baked off two full batches and half-baked another two for freezer stash, to pull out, bake and enjoy hot and fresh as the craving arises.

As far as the recipe goes, we both decided that they should have been brushed with melted butter instead of oil like the recipe calls for, and that they'd be the perfect platform for playing around with sweet and savory seasonings other than salt. I'm adding them into rotation to serve as dinner rolls for sure!


Wednesday, March 04, 2009


For as long as I can remember, one of the ways I (and we) mark time is through all things motorcycling. And this time of year, when the European motorcycle racing season gets underway (last weekend, WSB at Phillip Island...way to go Ben!) and we start to think about being able to get our own bikes out of hibernation, I always start dreaming of Spain.


If I could pack my bags and move anywhere in the world, I'm certain that one of the many gorgeous, ancient little towns in Spain would be high on my list. Look at a map and find a place that's tucked into a puddle of twisty roads, and that's where you'd find me. I'd grow lavender, raise pigs and goats and make cheese. And jamon, of course. You can come over for lunch. I'll make you a bocadilla.

My pangs are especially acute this Spring, on account of having used up my very last teaspoon of this:

Purchased right in the place where it was made, in a tiny shop in Jarandilla, this is the one and only souvenier I brought back from my trip to Spain. Because trying to cram two weeks of stuff onto the back of a motorcycle can put a serious damper on a girl's shopping mojo.

That was a few years ago, and this tin has been around since, nestled among my other spices, ready and waiting to provide a hit of that intense, distinctive sensory memory that is smoked Spanish paprika. And as spices are wont to do, it lost a lot of it's oomph long ago, but it didn't matter because just extracting it from my spice shelf, admiring the pretty tin and prying open the lid was enough to bring me back.

And yea, I could just go order some more (from my favorite Spanish food hookup,, but that feels like cheating.
Instead, I'm taking it as my official notice to start planning (and saving!), and to set a date for my return stock-up trip :)

BTW, I think I may have mentioned it before, but if you want to see and know and drool over Spain, the show "Spain: On the Road Again" on PBS is AMAZING with a capital A. Talk about fits of nostalgia. It's a lot about food (two of the stars are Mario Batalli and Mark Bittman from the NYT) but it also takes you on a bunch of sightseeing adventures, foodie and otherwise. It's like eating your way around Spain but without the calories and with plenty of siestas and spa breaks. My favorite host on the series is the Spanish actress Claudia Bassols, who is so fun and smart and funny and freaking gorgeous that you just can't take your eyes off her.
I think there's only ten or twelve episodes total, but it seems like it's been playing in reruns almost constantly, and it's completely worth your TiVo space.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Homemade Tortilla Enchiladas

All put together and ready to tuck into the oven for dinner:

This batch was stuffed with some leftover shredded chicken, cooked brown rice, a (drained) can of black beans and one of corn, a can of diced green chiles and some grated sharp cheddar plus cumin, corainder, chili powder, Mexican oregano, salt and pepper. You'll also want a can or bottle of your favorite prepared enchilada sauce and some chopped fresh cilantro for garnish once you pull it out of the oven. Quick and easy, 100% from the pantry and leftovers, and the filling is just as tasty heated up by itself in a bowl as it is wrapped up and baked if you're short on time.

Anyway, as the title of the post suggests, I made the tortillas from scratch. More because I was too lazy to go to the grocery store than anything else, but it turns out flour tortillas are quick and easy and pretty much completely worth the effort and it's something I'm definitely going to continue to do. And in general, I find that I am making bread products from scratch more and more lately because I am so totally over all of the processed weirdness of 99% of supermarket breads and it seems like that and the overall quality are just getting worse and worse. So these totally win on that account, too.

The recipe I used was:
2c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. oil
3/4 c. warm water

Basically you just mix up the ingredients and knead for a bit until the dough smooths out, then let it rest for a 30 mins. to an hour but I think you could let this go as long as works for your schedule. And generally speaking, longer resting (technically called retarding)=more flavor anyway. After that it gets divided up into eight balls, rested for a few more minutes, rolled out into thin rounds and cooked in a hot, dry cast iron skillet. That's it.

I gather that these are considered more of a tex-mex style tortilla in that they're thicker and chewier, and I liked that about them. And mine totally did NOT turn out round, but that's ok. I think getting them perfectly round takes either your Mexican grandmother, a whole lot of practice with the rolling pin or a tortilla press...none of which I have. Totally delicious nevertheless.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Now Playing Next Door

So Big Love?
We've been watching it up on DVD over the last couple of months, and I have to say that the more episodes I see, the more I am creeped out by the similarities between the characters on that show and my neighbors.

As in my real life neighbors, in their real life. Other than the polygamy thing, that is.

Now, I am not one to want to talk snark about my neighbors because, superficially at least, they are seriously the best, least offensive neighbors one could possibly ask for, but they're a little outside the boundary of what I consider the spectrum of normal. And sometimes I just have a hard time keeping my observations about their whole deal to myself.
Especially when life imitates art.

So, outside the boundary of normal, as in they have a double digit number of kids. All theirs. And showing no signs of stopping. We're talking a constant state of pregnancy or having just given birth.

And outside the boundary of normal in that the girls and women don't wear shorts or tank tops, ever. Or cut their hair. Or style their hair beyond a braid down the middle of their back. And no makeup, ever.

And everyone, including every member of whatever clan or sect or family they're from that we've ever seen, dresses like they could be stand-in's for the Juniper Creek characters, and Nikki, on Big Love.

So yea. Creepy.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?