Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!!!

I know I have been MIA for a while but I have been busy designing custom holiday cards for people (including myself as seen above) and packing up other orders and THEN finally starting in on Christmas shopping etc... not to mention all the birthdays and kids parties we have been attending. It is a busy time.

But I wanted to pop on and wish you all a Merry Christmas and happy holidays and I hope to visit all of you on your blogs very soon.

Best wishes in the New Year!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I have news!

Okay. I am going to make this quick. I feel badly that I haven't had time to visit blogs or post on my own. This is very commonly my busiest time of year. I have custom Holiday cards to design and get to the printer so they can be sent out in time. Today I am doing a holiday boutique with a few other women who will also be selling their wares. So I have been busy packing up cards and preparing display boards along with all the designing and print proofing. Pile kids and a house on top of that... Well you get the picture.

Oh yes... my news! I am so excited. NOOOOOO! I didn't win the lottery (I WISH). I am not expecting or anything. But yesterday at Trader Joes I found it! Burrata!!! I have been looking each and every time I go since falling in love with the cheese several months ago. And it is HERE! At least in my neck of the woods. Hooray for TJ's!

(Sing to the tune of "Tomorrow" from Annie)
Burrata. Burrata. I love you Burrata. You're only a TJ away!

So tonight after standing on my feet all day trying to peddle my stationery and HOPEFULLY making a little money, (please send your heartiest hopes for me.. I need it desperately right now), I will be sitting down to the lovely white gift of sheer creamy heaven paired with tomatoes, basil and a glass of red!

I hope to be cooking and blogging more soon. Hope your holiday season is faring well. Cheers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Tag and a little about me!

Thank you to everyone who had well wishes for me and visited while I was taking a little break. Nothing really wrong here. I just sometimes need to change things up. In addition, it is also a busy time for all of us and I am getting the Holiday card orders out so there hasn't been much time for blogging anyway. Even though the last week I have been itching to do so.

Now, first things first. I have been TAGGED! Lisa at What We Eat was so kind in inviting me into the game. The object is to list 7 random or little known things about yourself and then tag others to do the same. So here goes.

1) My great great great (not sure how many) grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence! His name was James Wilson. My mother's grandfather still bore the name of James Wilson (Cox) as did his son and grandson.

2) About 12 or 14 years ago, I was in an infomercial for Perfect Smile Tooth Whitening Cream which was hosted by Vanna White.

3) I have had the wonderful opportunity to glide in a hot air balloon across the Masai Mara over Tanzania and Kenya in Africa at sunrise. It was quite an experience. So beautiful to see the earth awakening and all the animals.

4) I am a pretty good snow skier and was on the ski team in college. Unfortunately I have only skied one day in the past six years due in part to the pregnancies and then a husband who doesn't love it as much or want to spend the money to go. I am slightly a snob about it and will only go to the good spots... Mammoth, Tahoe, Park City... I don't like the local mountains.

5) The only body part I have ever broken is my nose. I did it at 18 while water skiing and attempting to jump the wake. (I'm not too bad at water skiing either). It wasn't pretty and now I am afraid to jump the wake.

6) The best concert I ever went to was to see Neil Diamond with my parents. I love his music and he has such an electric quality to his performance. It was amazing. Of course, even as a teenager I preferred his music, folk music, new age, classical, or musicals to top 40 or much of the rock. I know... I am a dork!!!!

7) I have written and illustrated two children's books which have yet to be published. I have a few other idea in my head that I need to work on as well.

Now I am not sure who to tag. So please, if you would like to play, anyone and everyone is welcome. Please join in. I would love to hear more about you.

So here is a little bit of what I have been doing the last few weeks. Food is never too too far from my mind even when I am not cooking a lot or anything too special.

Painting pumpkins and making flower pot turkeys.

Finding unique and fun ways to use kitchen tools!

Silly kids!
Crazy space girl! They think this makes a great space helmet. Not the best picture of here but ooohhh sooo funny.

One of the meals I made. Grilled chicken with some sort of lemon, garlic, cream sauce I think. I don't really remember now.

Hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving! The holidays are upon us. Cheers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Salmon with Tarragon Leek Sauce

I am in a funk. It isn't just writers block or food funk. I just can't seem to be very inspired by much the last few days. There is plenty to do. I need to clean the house, fold laundry, organize, exercise, plan for Christmas, file and more. I could take the kids to the park more or play more. I could write some other ideas that have been rolling around in my head. But really nothing is inspiring me or motivating me beyond the absolute necessary. I cannot even seem very motivated to cook. What is wrong with me? Did the 12 kids and 7 moms I had for dinner and movie last Friday just wear me out that badly? Am I getting sick?

There are just no good words or thoughts. I cannot wax poetic or even offer you anything remotely interesting to think about or to eat. My head is heavy.

So here is a dish I made a couple weeks ago to tide you over until I get some spunk back. I had some leeks and some salmon and was craving Tarragon which is one of my favorite herbs. And what do you know... I found this on the Epicurious site! I modified mine and just threw in rough guesses at the ingredients to make just enough for myself. I didn't have vermouth so substituted some white wine vinegar as per the suggestions on this site:

I served the salmon on a bed of rice with steamed artichoke on the side. I cannot say it was the best I've ever had. But it was a good meal and my daughter did eat a little of the salmon. For a mid-week dinner for me and the kiddos, it was just right.

Salmon with Tarragon-Leek Sauce
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 4 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1 1/4 cups dry vermouth
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 8 6-ounce salmon fillets
  • All purpose flour
  • Additional chopped fresh parsley
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-low heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft and transparent, about 15 minutes. Add vermouth and boil over high heat until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Add cream and boil until thickened to sauce consistency, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup parsley and tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, cover to keep warm.

Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Dust salmon lightly with flour. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in each of 2 non-stick skillets over medium-high heat. Add 4 salmon fillets to each skillet and cook until opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer salmon to plates. Spoon sauce over salmon. Sprinkle with additional parsley and serve.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Testing 1-2-3, Testing

Have I ever told you about my cooking history? When it all started? Now that I am nearing my 100th post, and in light of the menu at hand, I thought I'd give you a brief synopsis. Okay. As many friends and family can attest, I don't make stories short very often. So let me appologize in advance.

Up until I was a senior in high school, I had helped my mom in the kitchen when I had to. The usual things... chopping this, tossing a salad, making sandwiches, frying up taco shells, making the garlic butter mix for garlic bread and stirring now and then. My mom is a good cook but not experimental too too often. It was all fairly standard things. Oh and there was that one chocolate mousse for French class. But my sisters and I all like to bake cookies and cakes. Mostly so we could eat them! I baked A LOT of cookies in high school! I made them for friends, for fun, for boyfriends, for teachers and for the whole football team!

I am not sure exactly what inspired the decision to cook my first WHOLE meal. At the time I had a serious boyfriend who I loved dearly. His parents and siblings were going to be gone for an entire evening. Now being the good Catholic kids we were (HEY, I am serious! We happened to be the type that actually DID NOT go against the rules or not much anyway), we didn't think of "monkey business". Somehow, we decided or I wanted to make a romantic dinner for him.

My aunts and mother helped inspire the menu based on what we really liked and what they thought wouldn't be too complicated for me. Except the cheesecake. At this time I can't remember if I made the cheesecake at home or over at his parents house. I do remember we were there early in the day and did the grocery shopping together. I felt like such the "couple". The menu was chicken piccata, rice, some vegetable I forget, salad and cheesecake. And do you know what? It came out great! All of it. I mean it may not have been the best I'd ever had but hey, for my first dinner by myself?

Now let's skip off to college. Freshman and sophomore year I lived in a dorm. We made quesadillas and burritos there with our IRON! They were actually great by the way. But nothing was interesting until junior year or senior year. By then I was declared as an art major. My close friend had always cooked with her mom. While they too mostly baked, she also made a lot of pasta dishes. So she and I would bake together and started making more than burritos for dinner and experimenting a little. We started preferring wine to beer or cocktails by senior year too. Often we would paint and sculpt all day and then go home and cook and drink wine and sometimes use the wine in the food. Then go back to the studios and create some more. Good memories. Good times. After graduation, I then dated her brother for about a nano-second. He had dropped out of cooking school in San Francisco and was staying in Santa Barbara for a while. I was in awe with his abilities. Then I started working at a French restaurant. Ohhhh yeah. That was cool.

I think I got my Bon Appetit subscription around that time as a graduation gift from a relative. I started dabbling. By the time I was 25, I was living on Balboa Island and jumping from job to job and cooking more and more. Sometimes just for myself. I loved it. I also started watching Emeril and the cooking channel then. At that time when I wanted a recipe, I had to either send in a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) or madly write it down. I have a few copies of the later still in a box of recipes. It is funny. I can barely read it. By 30, most who met me knew two things right off the bat. "This girl likes food and wine!" Then came into play another boyfriend. He was happy to eat any experiment I might put before him as were his friends. I had always favored doing sauces as there was room for play and measuring wasn't imperative. Then came the soups. I was making soup right and left for a year or so. And with roommates, a boyfriend and his MANY friends, there were plenty of people to help eat it. They all said they loved it. And since I rarely had left overs I believed them. I was experimenting and making a lot of "everything but the kitchen sink" soups. Or what I called "Mother Hubbard's Cupboard Soup." Just when we thought there was absolutely nothing to eat in the house, I would somehow whip up a soup to satisfy many. It was fun. It was challenging. It was at the height of the Seinfeld show and its popularity too. So as you can imagine, I got the nickname, "Soup Nazi" for a while!

After that life took a few twists, some turns. I went through short period in which I didn't cook too much because I was so busy. But rest assured. This was a time of going out and dining well often. Good food was no stranger for me. It was a fun time. And I started getting some VERY good wine! Then the kids came and a picky husband and little time. Cooking wasn't as often and soups? Almost never.

Now as you can see, cooking is back in full force and as of this fall, so are soups! The soup Nazi is back folks! And I've got a new creation.

Now I am not sure what to call it though. Maybe you can help. It is definitely a Southwestern flavor with some heat. I was in the mood for something in the Mexican family and so I pulled out the trusty stock pot and started dumping stuff in. But this time, I actually considered each ingredient as I did it and guess what? I actually wrote it all down for you (and for me).

Spicy Baja Bisque -- A Southwestern Soup

2 tbls. butter
1 leek chopped
1/2 onion chopped
5 cloves of garlic chopped
1 1/2 jalapeno diced
3-4 whole tomatoes
1 roasted red bell pepper
1 4-oz. can of diced green chiles
1 4-oz. can corn
32 oz. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. Cholula seasoning (available on the spice aisle or Mexican aisle of supermarket)
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup tequila
1 cup heavy cream

In a large stockpot melt the butter and add the leek, onion, garlic and jalapeno. Continue to saute until soft and onion is translucent. Add the tomato, roasted red bell pepper, chiles, corm chicken broth, cumin and Cholula and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1/2 and hour or so. Remove from heat and puree in batches or using and immersion blender until smooth. Return to pot. Add the lime juice and tequila and bring to gentle boil. Add the cream and let boil gently again. Reduce it to simmer and allow the flavors to meld for at least 20 minutes. I often keep soups on the stove for an hour or more on low. Keep an eye on the consistency. If it is really getting thick, remove it from the heat or add more cream or chicken stock. If it seems to thin, let it reduce some. Add salt, pepper and more lime juice to taste.

On this evening I chose to garnish the soup with grilled shrimp and a jalapeno, cilantro lime oil. Unfortunately I didn't write down all those ingredients exactly which is a shame because the flavor was phenomenal but here is what I think I put in the oil.

Jalapeno Cilantro Lime Oil

1 small avocado or 1/2 large avocado
1 large handful of cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime (maybe more)
1 jalapeno
1-2 garlic cloves
1/8 cup or more vegetable oil

In a food processor add the first 5 ingredients until smooth and combined. It will probably be thick and hard to get the cilantro smooth at this point. Begin slowly adding the vegetable oil and possibly more lime (depending on taste preferences) until you get the consistency you like and it is completely smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle the jalapeno cilantro lime oil on top. Garnish with grilled shrimp, chicken, corn chips or diced vegetables.

I made homemade flour tortillas for the side with butter and salsa. I found the recipe for these on Orangette. They were delicious and the perfect accompaniment. I also topped with some crumbled tortilla chips for crunch.

My take on the new soup? Good. Very good. It is worth making again for sure. My mom? Mmmm this is good. It is kind of spicy. We like spicy. My dad? After he ate 3 bowls of it, said, "This is pretty good." Not a man with a lot of words mind you. Now should you try it too? YES! And please, help me think of a good name for this. Any and all ideas are welcome.

Ideas on the top of my head:
Spicy Southwestern Soup with cilantro oil
Mexican cream of tomato and jalapeno soup
Southwestern Kitchen Sink Soup
Drunken cream of tomato jalapeno soup with cilantro lime oil

Oh it is late. I don't know. What are your thoughts?

A couple days later I topped the soup with pepper jack cheese, guacamole, tortilla chips and a quickie made-up stuffed jalapeno. There are a ton of things that can top this soup. Have fun with it. I sure did!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trick or Treat...

Smell my feet. Give me something good to eat!
You can be sure I will do that! Or my sisters and I will. We love Halloween.

The previous post was actually my youngest sister's 30th birthday costume party the week prior to Halloween. This post features my other sister's house where we always go to celebrate the night of the dead. She gets really into it and has a ton of decorations! She really goes all out. And she makes a ton of food too. So adults and kids alike have a blast!

The ghostly dining room table spread for all the goulish guests to help themselves.

The bar. Complete with "blood"! Or red and white wine anyway.

Brie with golden raisins and some sort of sauce as well.

Spinach dip and crackers.

Cream cheese with spicy red jalapeno jelly... mmmmmm!
Cheddar, jalapeno cornbread and spicy nuts in the background.

Soup Station: Tortilla soup with avocado and other good fixin's.

I tried out the popular "almost no knead bread" recipe. And paired it with a pistou.

I also made an Alsatian tart. I made up the recipe for the most part and
want to play with it again soon so I will do a full post when I recreate it.


Friday, October 31, 2008

All Hallows Eve

Last weekend we celebrated my youngest sister's 30th birthday. All of us sisters like to help in the food department and brought a dish. I made Robin Sue's Jalapeno Popper Dip. The only change I made was to add 2 finely diced fresh jalapenos to kick it up a notch. It tasted great and is perfect party fair for a good size group. Next time I will add even more jalapenos though. Maybe an extra can of jalapenos and 3 or 4 fresh ones. Most of my family and friends are happy to have it HOT!

Oh and I served it with the very fresh corn chips available at a nearby market.

Oh... did I tell you the theme? Well it is close to a certain time of year....

Costumes were in order! Famous duos was the theme.

My husband vetoed just about every suggestion. But agreed to be Dopey??? Huh???? Chalk that one up to a huge crush on Snow White! I guess he was willing to sacrifice all dignity to have a date with a "real" princess.

The biggest problem was that there is not a Dopey costume to be found ANYWHERE!!! Especially last minute as no decisions were made until two days before. In fact, you cannot find a dwarf costume of any kind.

Luckily??? I say that with hesitation. I found a green table cloth at a thrift store. Mind you, I DON'T know how to sew and haven't a machine!!! That afternoon I created the above. The hat was a baby blanket from Target sewed over a ski hat!! The buttons are the lids to Pringles cans. The boots are just felt wrapped and tied at the ankles. The belt buckle is cardboard with yellow tape and the belt strap is fabric. Whew!!! Looks kinda crazy and sloppy but I got a lot of Kudos for originality! And he for huevos!

Happy Halloween Everyone!
Have fun and be safe!
Don't eat too too much candy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Golden Egg

Do you like eggs? There are A LOT of people who don't seem to like them. My sister doesn't. Well it is the yolk that she mostly doesn't like. Good for her in a diet and health standpoint but ooooohhhh the yolk! I don't think I could eat an egg without it. And then there are those who say they like them but only eat them scrambled or really well done. Well then you miss the best part of the yolk I think.

But the egg is so beautiful, so neatly packaged, so healthy and SO versatile. There are so many things you can make with eggs and so many ways to prepare them. You can have poached, fried, scrambled, over easy, hard boiled and more. You can make omelette, quiches, frittatas, and stratas just to name a few. Eggs are NOT just for breakfast. They make a great lunch or dinner. And don't forget dessert! My chocolate mousse was 90% eggs.

A few weeks ago, Gloria from Canela Kitchen reminded me of a recipe in the August issue of Bon Appetit for poached eggs on brioche. I remember having seen it and then seeing it again on Gloria's blog pushed me to think of it more. In fact, I couldn't stop thinking of it for a few weeks. I thought it would make a great dinner. Then came the night when I had good bread, fresh basil and as always, eggs.

It was simple other than the fact that I had never actually poached an egg before. It is a bit tricky to get it to stay together and look nice. Mine was far from perfect. But the taste? With all that golden yellow yolk oozing out onto the bread and the plate and melding with the parmesan and pistou sauce... Well that and the sips of a clean crisp chardonnay had me in near nirvana! Eggs are worth their weight in gold! So delicious. I am all about the Pistou now too. Step aside pesto, there is a new basil sauce in town!

Bored of the same old things for quick night dinners? Need something new and totally satisfying? Have an egg.

Poached Eggs and Parmesan Cheese over Toasted Brioche with Pistou


1/3 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/2 small garlic clove
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
2 1/2-inch-thick slices brioche or egg bread, toasted
Parmesan cheese shavings

Puree basil, garlic, and oil in mini processor until very smooth. Season pistou to taste with salt and pepper.

Add enough water to medium skillet to measure 1 1/4 inches. Sprinkle salt generously into water. Bring water to simmer over medium heat. Crack eggs 1 at a time and gently slip into water. Cook until egg whites are just set and egg yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes.

Place hot toasts on plates. Top each with Parmesan. Using slotted spoon, transfer 2 eggs, well drained, to each piece of brioche. Sprinkle eggs with salt and pepper. Drizzle with some of pistou and serve.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Soup and Salad - Food and Friends for Fall

One of the best things about having friends for dinner is it inspires me to clean the WHOLE house. So for a couple of hours, the house is all clean. Then I tear apart and create happy havoc the kitchen. The kids bring the toys back out. Spills begin to occur. And once again we are back to where we started. Ahhhh well it was fun while it lasted.

The other thing I love about guests is trying out new recipes. I know a lot of people who only make tried and true dishes. Things they know turn out well every time. Not me! Fool that I am, I usually tend to see this as an opportunity to try something new or experiment. Luckily, most of the time, the food turns out pretty well if not very good! (Can you tell I typed that while knocking on my wooden desk and my head?)

The weather was cool again and I was still in the mood for soup. I also wanted to practice that amazing French bread again. That decided, I thought I'd add some green salad. Paul doesn't eat any soup at all so I wanted to do a salad he would like. He loves Caesar salad and I have admit, when it is a good one, it is one of my favorites too.

Caesar salad and I are no strangers. I have made this recipe and that for years. Most of the time the ingredients are all the same or similar. In fact really it has been quite a while since I followed a recipe. I was getting lazy and sloppy and the dressing hadn't been coming out quite as well as in days of old. Hence my decision to find a new recipe again. Where did I go? To whom did I seek advice? A fellow blogger of course. Peter at Kalofagas has never let me down so far. His Caesar had all the ingredients I have been using but the portions were actually laid out. This is where I had been lacking. Peter's recipe was well balanced and creamy. I probably added an extra clove of garlic as I am obsessed with garlic and can never have enough. And let me tell you, I can find nothing wrong with this recipe. It is simple and so delicious.... In fact... I am hungry. It is dinner time. I must retreat to make it again, NOW! I see no reason to really mess with any other set of ingredients. Go for this one! Thanks Peter.

I wanted a soup that just sang fall. As I had never made butternut squash soup, I searched for a good recipe. After a glance at this and that, I came across a very simple recipe that sounded just right at June's site Thyme for Food. It was my first time on June's blog and I am so glad I found it. She has really got some good looking recipes there. I might just try her No-Knead Bread this weekend! The only modification I really did was to add a leek. I have been so into leeks lately and had a bunch here. I also topped it with one of the homemade croutons I made for the salad and some sage fried in butter. I wanted whole sage leaves but the market was out. Go figure! So I had some nice Greek sage that I just sauteed in butter on the stove for a few minutes. Here is June's recipe with my changes.

Butternut Squash Soup

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 leek chopped
1/2 onion chopped
2 gloves galic chopped
1 3lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into even small chunks
6 cups chicken broth (48 oz)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
pinch or two of fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the squash, chicken broth, dried thyme and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer and cover. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the squash is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, or in the stockpot with an immersion blender until smooth.

Return the pureed soup the heat. Stir in the heavy cream. Bring to a brief simmer, then remove from the heat. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with additional broth or water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and more nutmeg if desired.

Top with fried sage and homemade crouton.

Serves 4 to 6 as a main meal

Did I like the soup? Oh yes! My guests just loved it too. I even served it the following day again to my sister and her husband. They inhaled it! It was smooth and subtle and very festively fall.

Now soup and salad with homemade bread are certainly enough for me. But I like to fatten up my guests and spoil them as best I can. I also need to give Paul something with more substance than just salad. So I marinated some flank steak which he threw on the grill. When I say it was a cool day, I am talking 60's and our grill is just about 5 feet from the kitchen so I grill year round! I thought another earthy vegetable would be nice. And what goes better with some steak than mushrooms. I based my recipe off of a recipe I had done before from Bon Appetit December 1999. It is Creamy Sautéed Mushrooms with Toast. When I made it for my aunts 60th birthday, the crowd inhaled it. Now this recipe is for 30 appetizer servings so for a side to dinner, I simply used one box/carton of button mushrooms and just splashed in the Marsala and heavy cream until it felt right. Any way you do it, you just can't go wrong with mushrooms, marsala and cream! So very very good.

So here's to good friends, good food, good wine and cooking and sharing! Cheers!

The Prize

Look at this beautiful specimen that I picked up last week at the farmer's market. I was a good 4 or 5 inches in diameter and about 3 inches tall. And the colors... red and yellow and orange and peach. It looked like a glorious sunset. I wanted to keep it as a sculptural design element in the kitchen. But we all know it wouldn't last. It wouldn't stay beautiful.

So I took a bunch of pictures. And let it sit there for a day just to look at. Just to gently touch the smooth fiery skin. And then.... I cut it open. I ate it. How did I eat it? With what did I eat this gorgeous heirloom tomato with?

I made a special, out of the way trip to Whole Foods Market to get that Buratta cheese again. I had been dreaming and thinking of it for so long. This was my meal two nights in a row. Pure heaven! So delicious. And if you have not gone out to get that cheese yet, I urge you, do it NOW! You will not regret it.

Oh! I almost forgot. Here are come pictures of the tomatoes at the farmer's market stall and the man who grows them in San Clemente!

He was excited to pose and be on the blog!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Bold and the Beautiful!

No. Don't worry. I am not going to talk about or review or comment on a soap opera or anything. Rather, I am going to praise the Daring Bakers (Breadchick and Sara) and one of their great mentors who has truly inspired so many, Julia Child! These women are bold and beautiful and amazingly talented.

It all started with the desire to make bread. And French bread is my favorite. I have made bread before. I probably started about ??? 15 years ago. I made some here and there. It went from not very good at all to somewhat decent loaves. If I really really had to though, I could maybe count the number of times I made bread. Not too too many. Less than one a year in total and it has been a few years since attempting it again- pizza dough and focaccia not withstanding. Recently, since starting my blog, I have been once again yearning to make bread. So a few weeks back, I made some. It was an easy recipe and a little quicker than some. The bread fell into the "decent" category. So I decided to search for a better if more complicated recipe. So I googled a little and clicked around and decided upon French bread ala "Ze Daring Bakers Conquer French Bread ala Julia." Go check it out! This is not a recipe to be trifled with. It is not one for the timid, rushed or faint of heart. This is a bold and very LONG recipe. After I began reading and scrolling down, I got a little dizzy. I printed it out.

My default in printing things online is usually at about 90% size. Out spit 19 pages of this recipe! Not only does Breadchick provide all of Julia's recipe and suggestions but some of her and Sara's notes as experienced bakers. These Daring Bakers suggest reading the recipe over at least twice before starting. And I HIGHLY suggest you follow their advice. As it was lunchtime already I did not have time to more than skim the whole thing first. And before I even knew which end was up, I simply dove into these new and slightly choppy waters. To compensate for not reading it all over a couple times, I read the first steps VERY thouroughly as I followed them. Rereading from time to time with each couple steps. I did this until the my perfect little ball of dough was ready for the first rise.

*********Big Sigh*********
Can you hear it?
Isn't it lovely up there? All round and smooth and perfect and dough-like. Beautiful. While this little dough baby was resting and happily covered with a bath towel in it's cozy little bowl, I reread the first part. I probably read that first part a total of 10-15 times as I worked through the steps. But you know what? For the first time ever, I have an understanding of what the yeast is supposed to really do (besides make the dough rise). I began to understand the gluten and how it was supposed to work and how it is supposed to feel. It felt GOOD! So good that one of these times I may have to try it all by hand, without the stand mixer.

So far, so good now right? Okay. So I had at least 3 hours to wait for the first rise to finish. I had plenty of time to read and reread the rest of the recipe. I started to. YIKES!! It was just so long. Not that I didn't have the time. It just looked so daunting and hard. So instead I read the steps to the next rise and did NOT look any further for now. I read those steps a few times saving the later portions for later to ease my tired little mind.

Here all these times working with dough and I never knew the sides of my bowl should be as vertical as possible for the rise to work properly. I had always placed the doughs in a wide glass bowl. For shame! Look how big and poofy and blistery my dough got! And in the minimum suggested amount of time! The hints and tips these Daring women provide are great. I love the "marking" of the bowl to know how much larger the nebulous "3 times the size" truly is.

And so I went on through the recipe, reading only the steps that were next on the agenda. I did not want to overwhelm myself. It worked well for me this way. Unfortunately I started a bit late and was at this point counting on the bread as part of dinner. I cut a few corners on the second and third rise and did a little less than I think would be optimum. And so came time to actually cook my creation.

As per the tips, I similated my oven the best I could to be like that of a baker's oven. I made 2 round loaves as I did not think the baguette shape would fit on my pizza stone very well. I let the second loaf rize a little longer while cooking the first so in actuality, this loaf did have the right amount of time for the final rize.

The trickiest part of the whole thing was getting my shape onto the wooden paddle and then onto the stone. It was also hard to cut the top. No knife I found was sharp enough. Even my exacto knife did not make the cut very smooth or easy. Do any of you Daring Bakers have any more tips on this?

The other big "no no" or short cut I made was to cut the bread before letting it cool the recommended 2-3 hours. As it was, dinner was running really really late! My silky, subtle, sexy soup was finished and smelling so so good! The kids were whining. My stomach was too! I DID let the second loaf rest and cool though. Does that count for anything?

The end result? Not the very best bread I have ever had. BUT it was by far and away, THE best bread I have ever made, despite rushing things a bit here and there. This bread was just as good or better than any fresh bread from my regular markets. It simply did not stand up to the best breads I have ever had from really good bakeries, restaurants or of course those lofty gorgeous loaves I carried around in Paris!

I made the bread again the following weekend. I started at 8 am this time. Once again I accomplished it by reading each section as I went and did not try to overthink parts that were to come later. Maybe with a few more attempts, I will not have to read quite as intensly. I did not take short cuts on this second try but only allowed the bread to cool about an hour before eating it. But the results were about the same as the first week. Very good. I would have to say at least a strong B or B+. I do think I need to start earlier. Maybe at 6 am? And the other large pitfall is just getting the perfect little risen shape onto the transfer board. Any advice on this?

If you have some time and patience, do go and read Julia's recipe as posted on The Sour Dough site. It was a challenge! And while I do not feel I have conquered the mountain, I do feel I have made my way pretty far up there and really enjoyed the trek so far. How very Zen of me, right? Well I do want to get pretty close to the top but for now I am enjoying the path and the fruits of that path. Keep tuned in as this is not the end of my attempts for the perfect French bread. I am having some fun now. Won't you come and enjoy a slice with me?

A special thanks to Julia Child for all the inspiration she has provided all of us and to Breadchick and the other Daring Bakers for their recreation.