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Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Dessert for breakfast
Made this galette using Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse recipe and Frog Hollow nectarines. It was devilishly simple, with a lovely flaky crust. Lately I have been making my tart dough with various percentages of pastry flour for extra tenderness, but this recipe uses 100% AP. Good to know I can still get delicious results without the "fancy" flour.
Monday, June 08, 2009
I'm a little bit obsessed with orange marmalade. I blame the Tartine cookbook. They propose the idea that zucchini bread and orange marmalade are a natural fit. After I read that recipe, it was all over.
What isn't a natural fit with orange marmalade, I ask you? I know a lot of people hate it, but they're sickies. Learn to love the bitter, people. Bitter is your friend. Smear it on muffins, toast, scones, brioche. Plop some in your tea, or your cocktail. Slather it on pork, or chicken, or shellfish before roasting or searing. Maybe after searing, so it doesn't scorch. I love it mixed with yogurt. I love it mixed with chocolate. I love it mixed with buttery shortbread, or peanut butter. It plays well with ginger, and herbs (rosemary?), and I bet you could mix it with certain cheeses (hard? nutty?) for a delightful taste sensation.
I haven't tried it yet, but you could probably work it into salad. Fennel, vinaigrette, radishes? Pair it with something with a nice crispy texture that tastes fresh and clean?
I'm glad I have so many ideas, because I have a LOT of orange marmalade. A LOT. Additional suggestions welcome.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
This month marks the third anniversary of our move to San Francisco. We've been living in the same place all this time, despite our best intentions to buy a house. The global economic collapse has gotten in our way just a bit.
We live in a flat above our landlords, and we love them. They're Chinese, from Guangzhou originally, and refer to us as their Caucasian children. Our landlady, Melissa, is a great cook and often knocks on our back door to deliver a couple of ripe mangoes, or Asian pears, or piping hot fried rice, or turnip cakes. By the way, if you deliver a platter of turnip cakes to my door, you'll make a friend for life. Just saying.
Over the years, I've developed a weakness for Melissa's coconut and coffee tapioca cubes. During Chinese New Year, she delivered a platter of fa gao (Prosperity Cakes), perky little rice flour cupcakes that seem to explode up out of the pan. They're fluffy, light, and not too sweet.
The Lees recently became grandparents, and a few weeks before the baby was born I noticed a couple of giant empty black vinegar jugs sitting in the garage. I asked Melissa about it, and she showed me a big earthenware pot that she had filled with the vinegar and huge chunks of ginger. She said that it's traditional for a new mother to eat pigs' feet that have been cooked in this mixture; it helps the woman regain her strength after childbirth, and makes breastfeeding easier. She offered to let me try some after the baby's arrival. A few weeks later, she handed me a big container of the feet plus a couple of dark, vinegar-steeped hard-boiled eggs, and we scarfed it all up with rice for dinner. I hope I remembered to ask about the new baby. "As long as it's not going to make ME pregnant!" I joked. So far so good.
Our latest edible gift from the Lees is zongzi, or sticky rice stuffed with lots of goodies, wrapped in a bamboo leaf and boiled. Melissa's were filled with Chinese sausage, peanuts, chestnuts, pork belly, salted egg yolk, and dried shrimp.
I loved them so much that she brought us a second batch - "made by an old lady," she said when she dropped them off. If you see any of these leaf-wrapped packages carefully bound with string, pick up a couple. They last a few weeks in the fridge, or you can freeze them for later snacking. Boil them for about 20 minutes, unwrap, and dig in. I like to drizzle a little sesame oil on top. Who knows what you'll find inside.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Roast chicken with butterflies
Even though I'm not the biggest poultry fan in the world (they remind me a little too much of my parrot sometimes), I've been roasting chicken on weekends for many years now. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how a roast chicken makes your whole house smell cozy; how delicious and crispy the potatoes become when they get thrown in the pan too; or how easy it is to turn a tattered chicken carcass into stock the next day.
But usually I think my roast chicken sucks. I've never quite gotten the combination of oven temperature and cooking time right. That deep little pocket of flesh above the thigh continues to leak pinkish juice far too long after the breast has cooked through and the skin has grown dangerously tan. I sigh and swear and shove it back into the oven with foil on top until the whole bird turns rubbery and weird and we're about to pass out from hunger.
People always look at me like I'm an asshole when I admit this. "But you went to COOKING SCHOOL. You mean you can't roast a simple chicken?" Ok, yes, I can roast a chicken. It will be decent and will not poison you. But is it the Perfect Chicken to End All Chickens? Am I satisfied with it to the point that I can serve it without pointing out every single flaw? No.
Am I too hard on myself? Yes. Often.
Like any hack, I enjoy blaming the equipment. I own a gorgeous All-Clad roaster that weighs about 20 pounds, and no matter what method I use, its sheer bulk always seems to double the roasting time of any recipe that I try. (No, my oven temperature is not off. And yes, I have tried preheating the roaster.) So lately I've taken to using an insulated baking pan combined with a small roasting rack that I bought at Goodwill for 60 cents. This works better.
After watching Mark Bittman's 45 minute turkey video, I thought I might try a different approach: butterflying the chicken first and just laying it out on top of the vegetables.
Well, wouldn't you know it -- it worked great, and the whole thing cooked to perfection in about 50 minutes at 400 degrees.* Still longer than the hypothetical Bittman turkey, but who cares? Every bit of it was tender and juicy, and the vegetables still got a good dose of chicken drippings for flavor. It's not as pretty when it comes out of the oven, but it is easier to portion. The skin also wasn't as crispy as I would have liked, but we cannot have it all. There I go again, nit-picking.
Try this recipe, and if you suffer from the same roast chicken impairment that I do, give butterflying a shot. More importantly, don't give up. Your dream chicken is out there somewhere in a field filled with butterflies.
*At least, I think it was 50 minutes. The memory is a little hazy because I was simultaneously cleaning up the living room, making rice pudding, listening to music and drinking beer. Just set your timer for about 40 minutes and take a peek and decide where to go from there.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Last week I went to a cafe in Oakland with my friend Riva. She ordered a hot chocolate and one of those cupcakes wrapped in plastic that are usually stacked limply near cash registers.
I love sweets, but I almost never eat cafe pastries. They're a continual disappointment, almost always stale, or soggy, or gluey from being individually wrapped, or served freezing cold when they should be room temperature. (Those thick, heavy, chilly slices of cake topped with stiff rosettes of whipped cream ALWAYS piss me off. I'm sure the health department is responsible for their frigidity, but it's still annoying.)
Riva sat down across from me and unwrapped her purchase. "Have you ever had one of these?" she asked. "They're soooo good."
Bah, I thought. Who does she think she is, chasing a cupcake with a cup of hot chocolate without a moment's hesitation? The girl was mainlining chocolate, something I only allow myself to do when I'm feeling particularly devil-may-care. But her obvious delight was hard to ignore. It was a black-bottom cupcake, the kind with the dark, rich chocolate cake divided by a dollop of cream cheese. I couldn't take my eyes off that damned thing. Despite the plastic wrap, it really did look delicious. It'd been years since I'd had one.
The cupcake haunted me for the next seven days. I'd be watching TV. "Cupcake?" my mind would interject. Editing a spreadsheet at work. "Maybe you could have a cupcake soon, what do you think?" said a little voice. "But what about the black-bottom cupcake?" it asked as I was busy eating some other, vastly inferior form of dessert. "Why don't you just go buy some cream cheese..."
So I finally gave in. I just used the Joy of Cooking's recipe, which worked fine. I did not bother with frosting. I did not add a light dusting of powdered sugar. I did not use fancy cocoa or chocolate. Once I had baked them, Randy and I did not do anything except jam as many of them in our mouths as possible (while watching The Wire) until they were gone.
And now the cupcake voice has shifted its focus to something else: gingerbread from Tartine. "Why didn't you buy some of that soft gingerbread?" it is asking. "You were just there. You could have tried it. It looked so festive."
"But I have the cookbook," I tell the voice. "I can make it at home."
"Well then?" ...
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Such a brilliant concept deserves a wider audience
This falls into the category, "Everything That's Wrong with America ...and Everything That's Right".
In case the photo is too reflective to truly understand what's going on, allow me to describe: this is a frosted brownie with a chocolate chip cookie pasted on top. It is available at the Nestle Toll House Cookie Cafe in South Lake Tahoe. Prior to this unearthing, it was available only in my wildest fantasies.
For a veritable laundry list of real stuff that's wrong with America (or our government, at least), you should listen to Daniel Schorr's commentary last week on NPR. Almost as delicious as the brownie.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Cinnamon Buns and Burnout (Oh yeah, and French Laundry)
You know a food blogger is burned out when she doesn't even write a real post about her recent trip to the French Laundry. What to say? It was enormously expensive. Almost all of the food was quite good, except for a hunk o' beef that had too much of the sous-vide thing going on (flabby, no crust). Dessert was forgettable (I can say this because I've forgotten it), and the winter squash soup was so good that I will never look at a squash dish again without feeling short-changed. I grappled with pangs of guilt for spending that much money on food. They shoved us out of there in 2.5 hours, which stank, and did not even offer us any coffee after dinner. Can you believe that? Can you believe that? Me either. Anyway, I would still go back, if someone else was paying. I guess this indicates that my sense of self-respect defers to my sense of gluttony.
Now, on to more interesting topics--to me, anyway. Cinnamon buns. Every single time I walk past a Cinnabon anywhere in the world, I feel compelled to stop. But I never do. I suspect they taste like chemicals and contain 1000 grams of fat and frankly, the chain reminds me uncomfortably of the '80s.
You know what else reminds me of the '80s? Palm Springs. Which is where we went last weekend, and which is where I encountered a roach the size of my fist in the bathroom of our adorably hipster modernist hotel. I also encountered a cinnamon bun the size of my skull at Rick's. Here it is, with a knife stuck in it right where one might stick a knife into a skull, if one was so inclined:
Our waitress asked if we wanted it warmed and slathered with butter. You already know the answer to that one. Additionally, my breakfast came with these:
Am I bad food person if I confess that the sight of the cinnamon bun and its knife and the biscuits with Knott's Berry Farms jam and the plop of whipped butter made me at least as happy as many of the beautiful items on the menu at French Laundry?
It's been so long since I posted that I will throw in an extra bonus cinnamon bun photo for you; these are made from Molly's recipe in Bon Appetit, which was truly a gem. Give them a shot.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Le Fancy Jam de Christine Ferber
Before I left Paris last month, I had to buy an extra suitcase to cart back all the foods that I simply couldn’t live without. Yes, I’m one of those sad individuals who insists on bringing foreign items back (including four bottles of wine!) even if I know perfectly well that I can find them in the U.S.—and probably at a lower price, too. There’s just something about that cheery little carton of brown sugar cubes sitting on my shelf that wouldn’t be quite the same if I had bought it in Brisbane.
And no, I'm not an international drug smuggler. That's a bag of cornstarch-free powdered sugar, if you must know.
This morning while I was still in bed, Randy came into my room holding an unopened jar of Christine Ferber’s raspberry jam, fresh from its trans-oceanic journey and still bedecked with a charming little polka dot hat and white ribbon.
“Can I open this?”
“Sure. That’s the famous jam woman. We saw her cookbook at Powells, remember?”
“Oh. Sort of. Can I use it in my PB&J?”
“Sure. But remember that it’s $9 a jar.”*
At this Randy fell to the carpet, writhing in mock agony. Once back on his feet, his voice rose an octave and his eyelids lowered to cruel slits as he began channeling Snotty Foodie, a character we like to drag out every now and again. “But perhaps a peanut butter and jelly sandwich will be the best possible application for this jam, so simple in its elegance! What HONESTY! The purest expression of a humble sandwich! A raspberry jam of this type of perfection will complement the rustic wholegrain goodness of the bread, the smooth creaminess of the peanuts!”
Groaning, I pulled the covers back over my head.
An hour later, still pajama-clad, I am staring at the jam. The cute little polka dot cap and jaunty white ribbon have been callously flung aside and now lie sadly clinging to our sticky counter top. I throw them both in the trash. All this charming packaging is wasted on us. I love the idea, but what are we supposed to DO with it? It lies between me and the food. Therefore, it must be speedily discarded. What do the French do with all their wrapping paper, their ribbons, their expensive stickers? And the Japanese? My god, the Japanese! Everything's elaborately wrapped in Japan. How am I supposed to appreciate this packaging enough to justify the increased price? Stare at it? Photograph it? I need tips.
Randy’s sandwich has been built and there is no bread left, so I reach for a package of $1 Trader Joe’s hot dog buns (stale, naturally). I toast one and smear it with butter. Then I smear the butter with Madame Ferber’s raspberry jam. It’s wonderful. Dare I say that it’s worth 9 euros? The berry flavor is intense. The color is deep scarlet. I'm sorry. It's worth 9 euros.**
The next day when I get home from work, I open the fridge and see this:
Elegant Madame Ferber had been replaced by Mary Ellen, that trashy ho! I guess a certain person had decided that Madame's jam WAS too good for a lowly PB&J. But it'll still have a home on my hot dog buns.
*I was wrong. It’s actually 9 EUROS a jar.
**But I wasn’t as big a fan of her blood orange marmalade. It’s good, just not as earth-shatteringly yummy.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Intellectual insecurity and Cafe Sarkis
Last month I went back to Chicago to attend the IACP conference and, of course, to eat with wild abandon. One day I met up with a friend from my brief sojourn in grad school.
A few years back, late in the summer -- right before I was about to quit my job, move across the country and start my classes, in fact -- I received an invitation to a party hosted by someone named Melvin. I hadn't met any of my classmates yet, so I had no idea who the guy was that had sent me such an enormous document that also happened to be written entirely in 18th century vernacular. I read this tome while I was at work, sitting in front of my computer at the large tech company in Seattle. It terrified me. I had to scan it a few times just to figure out that I was being invited to a party. After leaping a few more linguistic hurdles, I felt pretty confident that there might even be booze available at said party. Oh dear God. Why did I think I could go back to school? Would I have the slightest chance of keeping up with these academics with their whither-this and their libations-that? I couldn't even understand their PARTY INVITATIONS.
Thankfully, I did make it through school with only a smattering of humiliations, and Melvin became a good friend after keeping our entire class entertained during a sustained period of attack on Pere Goriot and Bleak House.
Melvin has been living in Evanston, Illinois for a long, long time and, like a latter-day Lucien Chardon, no longer holds any illusions about the city's various dining options. He has been everywhere, eaten everything and is over it, weary and wary of the great Evanston culinary classics (Joy Yee's, Lulu's, Clarke's) as only a long-suffering sixth-year doctoral candidate in 18th century literature who's ready to get the hell out of Evanston forever can be.
So when he suggested we dine at Sarkis, I accepted.
Cafe Sarkis is a classic greasy spoon on the North Shore that keeps on going despite the retirement of Sarkis himself. I had not been there since I was 16. We'd ditch high school, hop in some guy's uber-cool (at the time, at least) Jeep Wrangler and careen out of the student parking lot so as not to get busted by the "narcs" who patrolled the vicinity. Soon we'd converge on Sarkis for a huge plate of omelets, hash browns and Diet Coke. With a side order of bread. Ah, sweet teenage metabolism, why hast thou fled?
Beyond the omelets, Sarkis specializes in something called a Disaster, which includes a generous helping of home-made Armenian sausage, sauteed green peppers, onions, and tomatoes atop thick, chewy bread (see below). You must also order the special hash browns, which come topped with a heart-stopping pile of melted cheese.
Hash browns, ready to go.
After lunch, we drove to the cafe where Melvin works as a barista. Along the way, he ran out of gas. For the second time that week. In Martin Amis's autobiography Experience, somebody at some point says, "Poets shouldn't drive." But what about people that study poets?
Melvin ponders at the pump.
Later, Melvin pours.
Some caffeinated creations.
Sometimes--for example, whenever I go back to Evanston for any reason--I really, really miss school. Guess the grass is always greener.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Magical Greens and Beans Soup
After enduring a long interlude on a waiting list, we finally got a call from Eatwell Farms telling us that we could begin picking up a CSA box from them each week at our neighborhood collection site.
Every morning until the pick-up day, I woke up thinking, "Four more days until our box arrives! Three more days until we get our box!" I felt like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning.
When Thursday came, I excitedly lugged home our order: one box of produce and half a dozen pastured eggs.
Now it's Tuesday. The death grip of speedily decaying greens has been gradually tightening around my neck with each passing day. What to DO with all of them? Bunches of chard...piles of stir-fry greens...a bag of assorted lettuces...Italian parsley...not to mention that bundle of wild arugula and dandelion greens and sage that I couldn't resist at the Ferry Terminal on Saturday...HELP!
I can only handle so many nights of robust, dark green leafy stir fries before I go cuckoo, so today I created my own version of that old favorite, escarole and white bean soup. I basically took everything in my vegetable drawer, deposited it in a pot and heated it. Ok, it was a bit more than that, but not much. It came out splendidly, which I found absolutely shocking given how little effort was required. That's why it gets the "magical" title.
Magical Greens and Beans Soup
Serves about four
2 T. olive oil
1/2 purple onion, chopped
1 bulb green garlic (including green top), chopped
3 carrots, sliced into rounds (peel if you care to!)
Full handful of Italian parsley leaves, lightly chopped
Half a handful of sage leaves, lightly chopped
An even smaller amount of fresh thyme and rosemary, lightly chopped
1 T. Better Than Bouillon chicken base*
5 cups boiling water (approx.)*
6 tiny potatoes, halved
Copious amounts of assorted greens that have been washed, destemmed, and roughly chopped
1/2 of a 15 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained
A bit of spicy Spanish chorizo, chopped into bite-sized chunks (optional; I used some leftovers from the Fatted Calf)
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
In medium-sized pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, green garlic and carrots, and saute for five minutes or until softened. Add parsley, sage, thyme, and rosemary and cook a few minutes more. Add Better Than Bouillon paste and stir to coat all ingredients. Add boiling water to pot and cover. Bring liquid to a boil. Add potatoes and greens, and reduce heat so that mixture lightly simmers for 15 minutes. Add cannellini beans and chorizo and simmer 5-10 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top each bowl with grated Parmesan before serving.
*Or you can just use chicken broth here instead... or veggie broth, of course...
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
In college, I had a stellar roommate. We were very lucky to have been assigned to live with each other, and we shared a similar sense of humor along with our hippie tapestries, G. Love CDs, and mini-fridge (in which I always kept a log of raw cookie dough and a spoon...shudder).
R. was great at impersonations. My all-time favorite was her version of some twangy-voiced, simpering aunt of hers back in Pennsylvania. The details are fuzzy now, but I believe she was immortalized for repeatedly pestering R. during family holidays with the unforgettable, "Dontcha want some cheeeeyucken and pee-yummpkin pee-ayee?" All R. had to do was mutter "peee-ayee" under her breath and I'd lose it.
It's been a long time, but I still have trouble saying the words "chicken" and "pumpkin pie" like a normal human. When I decided to make chicken potpie last week, you can bet I had to suppress a snort or two before embarking.
I hadn't made one of these in a long time. I turned to Julia Child, of course. I knew without even looking that Cooking at Home would contain a chicken potpie recipe, and that it would be exactly what I wanted: creamy chunks of chicken with a smattering of veg underneath a crispy brown crust. Julia knew a good thing.
To complement the potpie, I threw some extremely low-quality frozen peas on the table (although I don't exactly know if high-quality ones even exist...). For some odd reason, Randy decided that he would enjoy a nice frosty glass of milk with his meal that night. I suspect that it was perhaps the second time ever that a glass of milk had been drunk in our house (and that first glass was, I'm sure, an accompaniment to warm cookies).
All of sudden we realized that dinner was starting to resemble something from The Gallery of Regrettable Food. But it tasted great, cheap peas and retro milk aside.
P.S. If you've got a potpie itch that must be scratched, you might want to check out this book, newly released from Chronicle Books.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Sara's grandma's simple cake
Many years ago, a good friend passed along another friend's grandmother's cake recipe to me. I was in desperate need of a dessert that would let me make use of a generous gift of Italian plums. These plums had been busily overwhelming a coworker's backyard in Seattle, and one fall day she dropped an ugly plastic bag full of them unceremoniously on my desk with visible relief in her eyes. (Zucchini-growers will empathize, I'm sure...).
I am ashamed to admit that I rarely return to a recipe--there are just so many dishes out there in the world that demand to be tried!--but something about the cake's old-fashioned simplicity appealed to me, and it managed to make the leap into my spiral-bound, greatest-hits recipe notebook for good.
I recently returned to this cake, and was once again charmed by its strong Midwestern values and freshly-scrubbed appearance. Well, you know what I mean. It's honest. And versatile. And, yes, easy.
This recipe pops up all over the place in various guises, as it should. The version I received suggests a layer of halved plums atop the batter, but I have also made it successfully with thinly sliced Bartlett pears. You could top it with strawberries, or caramelized apples, or sprinkle in some nutmeg, or candied ginger, or dried cranberries, or swirl in a spoonful of jam...in other words, I doubt you can go wrong here. And adding a nice dollop of creme fraiche or whipped cream before serving never hurt anybody.
Sara's Grandmother's Plum Cake
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour (I have used cake flour with great results)
1 tsp. baking powder
Enough plums to cover top of cake, halved and pitted (perhaps 8-12, depending on size)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 8-inch springform pan, lightly greased
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream sugar with butter. Add eggs and mix. Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until combined.
Spoon batter into 8-inch springform pan.
Arrange plum halves in a single layer on top of the batter so the top is nicely covered.
Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top of everything and drizzle with lemon juice.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until done (do the toothpick maneuver).
Remove from oven and allow to cool so that it doesn't collapse when you pop the springform.
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