Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

My last post of 2008. Thanks for reading, commenting (the **very* few of you), and telling me in person how much you enjoy the blog. Hope your 2009 is full of lots of cooking and fantastic eating.

The folks at the SF Chronicle spent some time compiling their 2009 Foodie Wish List. Some of the items come from the paper's food writers and others come from locals in the food biz. My favorites on the list? More soft serve ice cream in restaurants (I miss having a local DQ), less small plates, better nutritional education for kids, and down with the burgers at $20 and over. It's a fun read.

At the end of every December the LA Times compiles their top recipes of the year. I've been reading this articles for ages. When my grandmother used to winter in SoCal, she'd cut it out and send it to us. Yes, my family has always been a little crazy about the Wednesday food section! This year I'm liking Midnight Chocolate Brownie Bites and the Maple Bacon Biscuits I wrote about earlier this year and still haven't made.

Anyone that goes to the Dining section of the NY Times today could guess in a minute what I am loving there. Fleur de Sel Caramels. I am sure by next year some list will include our over-doing the combination of salt and caramel but I can't imagine anytime in a my life where I get stick of this duo. One of my all time favorite combinations.

I know the name is weird-Weiner Schnitzel. However, if you call it crispy breaded veal scallopini, it probably sounds great, right? This recipe from the Washington Post is a really simple weeknight dish and, if you don't do veal, it works nicely with chicken breast of medallions of pork tenderloin. Call it what you want, just give it a try.

Happy Cooking in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Sticky Buns

I don't watch TV during the day unless I'm sick or, it's Saturday, the house is empty, and I can turn on the PBS cooking shows. So, I'm not sure why I had Martha Stewart on a week or two before Christmas. She was hosting an adorable baker named Seth Greenberg of Seth Greenberg's Just Dessert's. He is a Scarsdale based baker who creates his delicious looking baked goods out of his home. He and Martha had a four segment session where they prepared his mini-sticky buns. They looked FANTASTIC, albeit a labor of love as the real recipe takes two days to prepare.

Having worked in the kitchens of the Food Network, I know the magic of the 'beauty shot'. This is the finished product, meticulously prepared by the show's kitchen staff, used for the camera shots at the end of the segment (and sometimes at the beginning). Martha did have a lovely plate of the sticky buns to show before she and Seth started working. But, she was also supposed to pull the through-the-magic-of-television finished buns out of the oven at the end. Well, she opened that baby and was apparently greeted with a burning smoking mess. She recovered nicely and I giggled to myself seeing seemingly perfect Martha find the words to cover this one up.

Burned mess or not, I decided to tackle the buns. The first time it was with my mom in Seattle. We divided the job and came out with what I thought were adorable and really tasty little pecan cinnamon bites. I made them last week too. I brought a few pans to friends so they could bake them on Christmas morning and a pan for our family as well. Sadly, mine didn't rise enough. They tasted lovely (a bit sweet for me) and looked fine but, for two days of work, I'm not sure.

I am always on the hunt for a the perfect American style cinnamon roll and this just wasn't it. Recipe or bakery, I'm there. Any hints????

Hope your holidays were are sweet and wonderful as mine.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

Well, it's Christmas Eve and tonight will be the 4th night of Hanukkah. Happy Holidays to everyone!

With a sick husband, no presents wrapped, and food to cook I still managed to sneak in some reading of the food sections this morning.

I'm in a Crab and Shrimp kind of mood. I dashed out to Swan Oyster Depot this morning to pick up mounds of fresh cracked crab and shrimp for dinner tonight. If I have any shrimp left, I'm all over this Shrimp Hoagie with Spicy Remoulade and Cherry Tomatoes from today's SF Chronicle. Totally my kind of sandwich with a perfect contrast of tastes, textures, and temperature. Yum!

Roasted Hedgehog Potatoes sounds odd, right? Think small Yukon Gold's sliced about 90% through on the horizontal so they look like a fan. Now tuck Bay and Thyme into the potatoes, drizzle them with olive oil and roast. These are often called Hasselback potatoes and I've never tried them. Might just do it tonight! Thank you LA Times!

Chowder-I love it! Clam, shrimp, name it, I am a fan. I don't like it too thick but too thin is a serious dissapointment too. Today's NY Times has a recipe for Manhattan Bay Scallop Chowder that looks amazing. Note: "Manhattan" chowder is tomato based, not cream based but, this combo of plump juicy scallops, bacon, and fennel will be perfect in a tomato broth. If you're not a scallop person, I think clams or shrimp would be great in here too.

You probably have your Christmas brunch menu all figured out. If so, save this for another day. If not, why not make Emily Luchetti's Cinnamon Sugar Toast from today's Washington Post? You can make a big batch by doing it in the oven. Who doesn't have childhood memories of this sugary sweet breakfast treat?

Happy Holiday Cooking!

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Was the Best Thing you Ate All Year?

With 2008 coming to a close, the newpaper, magazine, and blog world are all full of lists. I've been seeing many people posting the question I did: "What was the best thing you ate all year?". Not only is this a fun question to answer but, it actually prompts you to post a comment. After almost 100 posts, my comments have sadly dwindled. I know you're out there and I want to hear from you.

For me this is a seriously hard question so I have to answer with a list. As I type it, a favorite might jump out for now, I'm taking the easy way out (and these are not in any particular order). If we dined together in 2008 and you see that I'm forgetting something, jump in and remind me.

1) I really loved that fruit galette I made last summer. The original post with the recipe is here. If you're anything like me you'll starting counting down the days until summer fruit is back

2) The Momofuku Ramen and Pork Steamed Buns and New York's Momofuku Noodle. I have craved this meal on every cold day since we returned from the city. Just smelling that broth put me over the edge.

3) The first time I made Bon Appetit's Orzo with Creamed Corn Sauce it was the height of summer with farmer's market corn. Rich, sweet, and delicious. This is the perfect summer side. For some reason I can't find the recipe on Epicurious. I have a hard copy and will post it when corn is back.

4) The Panzarotti at Pizzeria Delfina on California street. Picture a mini (say two bite) calzone filled with melting cheese and the best pepperoni ever (I don't usually even like the stuff). Now, deep fry it (I know...) and serve it on a bed of perfect tomato sauce. Four in an order is never enough. I could eat these every day. Thank god I don't.

5) The Panzanella salad at Redd in Yountville. This was one of those incredibly simple dishes that was elevated to perfection because the ingredients were amazing. The best tomatoes, crusty bread, and just enough salt and olive oil to bring it together.

6) The Crispy Pork Belly at Lucques in Los Angeles. I wrote about it here and can't wait to have it again. Peaches, Saba, and porked cooked until it was meltingly tender. Mmmm...

7) The spaghetti at Scarpetta in New York. Much like the Panzanella, this simple dish was better than the sum of it's parts. The combination of homemade pasta and straight forward ingredients came together to create this over the top yummy spaghetti. As I wrote, the restaurant was good but the spaghetti was great.

Alright you...what is the best thing you ate this year? I'm waiting...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Much Do You LOVE Top Chef?

Personally, I just can't get enough of the show. For the most part, I am not a fan of reality TV but, there's just something about Top Chef that's drawn me in.

Is it home town girl Jamie's bad ass attitude? Eh, it's fun to watch but I don't think that's it

Is it Fabio's Italian accent? Cute but no

Is it Ariane's 'if I can do it you can do it' attitude? Nope-"you wont win with deviled eggs!"

Is it the fact that Melissa is still there despite some seriously sketchy food? Maybe?

Is it Padma's next outfit, Tom's shiny head, or the mystery of the next guest judge? Naaa

So, what keeps bringing me back? Honestly, it is the food. These people have skills, some more than others but, this is not a show of hacks with something to prove. Most of the contestants have earned their stripes in restaurants and their ability to think on the fly blows me away. Sure, there are things like hot dog wraps and deconstructed 'train wreck' sushi, but there are also beautiful dishes that look good enough to eat. They don't always hit it out of the park but, they work hard. It's not unlike the clothes made on Project Runway (sewing skills no part of me will ever come CLOSE to having).

I constantly ask myself if I could do it. It looks tough, really tough. It is so easy to be an arm chair judge and rip those dishes from here to Tuesday but, with the short windows of time and constraints like no ovens or cooking food in the theme of 'blue', they don't have it easy.

This season I think Stephan (a bite of 'tude but a great cook) and Jamie (despite those slimy scallops) have great chances to go all the way. Leah is strong and and I want to see Radhika kick some butt. I can't believe Melissa is still around and I don't see Carla hanging on too long.

So, what is it that draws you to Top Chef?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

It's food section Wednesday, what are you reading?

Brandade is something I fell for in culinary school. The combination of salted cod and potato are heavenly together. Today's New York Times takes it to the next level with a recipe for Brandade Potato Latkes. It looks more like a croquette than a traditional latke but, either way, I'll take it. Of course if you're still in the cookie mood, Julia Moskin writes all about the butta' and has recipes to go with it.

I've made Thomas Keller's Chocolate Bouchon's (or chocolate 'corks') before. They are dense little cakes that taste like the best brownie ever. Today's Los Angeles Times suggests making them as a holiday gift. I'm pretty sure you'll make some good friend if you take their advice.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle has a fantastic looking recipe for Roasted Pork Shoulder with Farro and Squash Stuffing as part of their Italian holiday menu. It looks savory, rich, and perfect for a winter celebration.

Trying to decide how to cook your holiday Prime Rib? Well, in today's Washington Post Micheal Mina has a suggestion-poach it in butter. Not just a little butter, 8 POUNDS of clarified butter. That's one pound of butter for every pound of meat! Granted, you don't actually eat the butter, it's more the vehicle for cooking the meat (think pasta cooked in water) but, I am pretty sure this is the only recipe I've seen in my lifetime that called for 8 POUNDS OF BUTTER! That said, is there any way this can't turn out delicious?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Serious Pie

I just returned from a great visit up north in Seattle. In true winter fashion, we were dusted with snow and chilly weather but, it felt like real winter which we don't get too often in SF (with the exception of this morning's massive hail storm).

We managed to sneak out with friends one night for a meal at Serious Pie. Any long time readers of mine know I love Tom Douglas-Seattle chef extraordinaire. Starting with Dahlia Lounge, Tom has created a restaurant empire that really is the pillar of Northwest cuisine. Tom calls the restaurant a 'pizzeria with a bread baker's soul'.

We arrived late on the snowy night and still had to wait a good 45 minutes. The place is small with long communal tables and stone floors-a nice rustic Seattle vibe. We were finally seated and ordered 7 of the 9 pies on the menu. We didn't sample any starters as Karen had made us too many yummy appetizers at her house before hand.

The laundry list of pizzas begins:
1) Special: Anchovy pie with Tomato and Olives-Big anchovy flavor-you loved it or hated it
2) Buffalo Mozzarella, San Marzano Tomato (a.k.a. Margherita) -nice, simple, clean flavors
3) Yukon Gold Potato, Rosemary, and Olive Oil-to me this pizza fell flat-bland and really one dimensional
4) Cherry Bomb Peppers, Sweet Fennel Sausage-delish! loved the peppers and lots of juicy sausage
5) Guanciale, Soft Egg, Arugula (although it came w/Dandelion Greens instead)-as we said, anything with a fried egg on top rates high-this fit the bill nicely
6) Delicata Squash, Roasted Garlic, Gorgonzola-good but, beware the roasted garlic-it was overly pungent at times
7) Venison Sausage, Caramelized Onions, Rustico-warm and rustic, this was a well balanced pie

The wood oven created a nice blister on the crusts of these pies but, in my opinion, it burned in too many spots. I know thin crust pizzas need blisters and even black spots-I'm used to that (Delfina does it perfectly). This was just heavy on the char, at least for me.

Sadly, we went to dinner having heard that the servers would let you order Tom's signature Coconut Cream Pie off the menu and grab it from next door at Dahlia. We did this, much to our server's chagrin, and were told Dahlia was closed and we couldn't have it. Hmmm...not sure that was true but, oh well.

Service was really mediocre and the food was good but not amazing. Would I go back? I think it would be a while. My list of other places to try up North is just too long.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What I Read on Wednesday

Sorry...on a short vacation so I stepped away from my blog duties a bit. Finally caught up on the Wednesday food sections and here's what I like. I think I'm in a baking kind of mood...

I am a HUGE fan of old fashioned American style cinnamon rolls. I love to eat them and love to make them. Not entirely sure how I feel about using frozen bread dough instead of making the dough from scratch but, I do LOVE Ubuntu so, I trust this recipe from their pastry chef Deanie Fox in the SF Chronicle. Any of you who are intimidated by yeast recipes should try this version.

Last Sunday I taught a class on Holiday Baking. One tip I shared with my students is the idea of making one butter cookie recipe and using the dough to make all kinds of different cookies-thumbprints, cut outs, rolled, etc. Well, Mark Bittman of the NY Times and I were obviously thinking alike. Check out his recipe for an all purpose holiday butter cookie. Even non-bakers will be happy about this one.

I say it all the time-people love gifts from your kitchen. Anyone can whip up cookie dough and wrap it in a log for giving. You can make caramel or hot fudge sauce. Or, can you turn to the LA Times and look at their ideas for 50 homemade holiday gifts. I love #1, homemade breadsticks, as well as #19, seasoned salt.

Bake your Pick. What a great title for an article on cookies! Check out the Washington Post's selection in their photo gallery of cookies. Caramel Crumb Bars anyone??? Yum

Happy Cooking and Happy Reading.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My New Favorite Treat

Mindy is a great cook. I know she loves to bake and she never ceases to surprise me with the amazing things she does. Check out these lovelies!!!

She calls them "Heaven on a Stick" which, let me tell you, they absolutely are. Ready for this? Take a marshmallow and put it on a lollipop stick, dunk it in caramel, dunk it in chocolate, then sprinkle it with colored sprinkles, chocolate jimmies, or crunched up Heath Bar. Not only do they look spectacular but they taste amazing. Of course kids go absolutely nuts over them but, I will tell you, grown ups get pretty damn excited too.

Next time it's your turn to bring treats, create your own seasonal version of "Heaven on a Stick"-I'm imagining red and green sprinkles for Christmas, white chocolate with blue colored sugar for Hanukkah, white chocolate with red heart candies for Valentine's day, or dark chocolate and sea salt for my own next birthday!

I emailed Mindy for the recipe this morning. In the meantime, I Googled "heaven on a stick" to see if I could find it myself. Ha ha ha-some hysterical results: corndogs, fried fish on a stick, lobster sandwich on white bread (not on a stick but, oh well), and frozen bananas. I think I'll stick with her version.

Here's the recipe she uses, adapted from Sticky, Gooey, Messy, Chewy: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth (how do I not have this cookbok?), by Jill O'Connor and Leigh Beisch.

Heaven on a Stick
36-48 large sized marshmallows
lollipop sticks
1 can (14 ounces)sweetened condensed milk
4 T. unsalted butter
¼ salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 bag (14 ounces) caramel candies (about 50 individual caramels), unwrapped
1 pound your favorite dark, white, or milk chocolate, melted
candy/sprinkles to decorate outside

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray

Combine the condensed milk, butter, salt, and vanilla in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook until the butter melts and combines with the milk. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Stir in the caramels and cook, stirring constantly, until the caramels melt and mixture is smooth. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the caramel, stirring, for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat and dip the marshmallows into the caramel, rolling them around and coating them completely, except for on top. Place each skewer on the prepared baking sheet and store in the freezer until the caramel hardens and the skewers are easily lifted from the parchment, about 30 minutes.

When the caramel has hardened around the marshmallows, dip them in the melted chocolate, then roll them the candy coating/sprinkles. Refrigerate until hard (it usually hardens instantaneously).

Skewers can be refrigerated for up to one week, or packaged in cellophane bags and tied with a ribbon for giving.

Mindy buys all of the candy ingredients (sticks, caramels, melting chocolate, etc.) from .

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Holiday Baking

To me, nothing says it is holiday time more than baking. I go through pounds of butter, bags of sugar and flour, tons of vanilla extract, and lots of dish washing. I don't bake with a mission-I figure out what to do with the stuff after it's all done. The neighbors certainly benefit, as do the teachers at school. But, I'm the one who gets the most pleasure from it.

Whether it's late at night after my son is sleeping or during the day when no one is home, baking in the kitchen is one of my all time favorite ways to spend time. There is something so completely magical about transforming simple ingredients like sugar, flour, and butter into incredibly tasty sweets.

Lately I've taken to making candy. It sounds a lot more impressive than it really is. Talk about an amazing transformation! Today I cooked equal parts sugar and dark corn syrup to 300 degress ('hard crack stage' for you candy gurus), stirred in some baking soda, salt, and vanilla and poured it out on a baking sheet. Once it cools, it gets cracked into chunks and becomes the crunchy airy honeycomb candy I remember as a kid. Simple ingredients that yield an amazing result.

There is something so special about giving people your own baked goods at the holidays. I have the best memories of helping my mom pile dozens of her different home made cookies on to holiday paper plates. We'd wrap them in plastic wrap and my brother and I would deliver them to the neighbors. They loved it! My mom baked for months preparing those cookies but, she loved doing it and the neighbors appreciated it more than I can say.

If you're not a baker, step out of your comfort zone and give it a try this year. It doesn't need to be complicated, just home made. It could be banana bread, fresh cookies, or even my honeycomb candy (the recipe is below). What ever it is, you'll have a blast doing it and trust me, the person on the receiving end will be a very happy camper.

Chocolate Coated Honeycomb Candy

1 cup dark corn syrup
1 cup sugar
just under 1 tbs baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
4 ounces your favorite good quality chocolate (white, milk, or dark)
1 tsp vegetable oil

Before you start, cover a baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (Sil-Pat). In a medium saucepan, combine the corn syrup and sugar. Place the pan over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Place a candy thermometer into the pan and continue to cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees/hard crack stage. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully put the thermometer in your sink. Sprinkle in the baking soda and add the vanilla and salt. Stir to combine and pour the mixture in an even layer onto the pan. Do not spread or stir once it is on the pan as you will deflate the bubbles inside. You can tilt the pan to spread it but, don't worry, it won't cover the whole thing. Place the pan on a rack and let the candy cool until it is hard and room temp or cooler. Break it into pieces, 1-2 inches. Melt the chocolate and stir in the vegetable oil. Dunk each piece of honeycomb into the chocolate, coating it on all sides. Set the coated pieces on waxed paper and let rest until the chocolate is set.

Candy keeps in an airtight container (preferably tin v. plastic) for 3-4 days.

Enjoy and happy holiday baking! Hey, when you do actually bake something for the holidays, what is it? I'd love to know...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Eating at the Right Price

Is it possible to eat good, healthful, satisfying food without breaking the bank? These days, this is a question all of us should be asking. I've noticed many of the food magazines and newspapers writing articles on the subject. I've tried to be more conscious of what I'm spending at the grocery store while still putting great meals on the table.

I won't sacrifice quality so, for me its about shopping in season as much as possible and buying cuts of meat that are not too pricey. It really is the right way to cook for anyone, whether you're rolling in the dough or watching the pennies. I was at the market this morning (yes, Whole Foods) and was extra observant when it came to the prices, knowing I wanted to write this today. I was shopping for two dinners, plus leftovers, snacks, and general produce.

When it comes to produce, look for what's cheap and abundant at the market. This is usually a sign of what's in season. I bought a pound of Brussels sprouts for under $2! I'll slice them thinly, saute them in browned butter and sherry vinegar and have a side that tastes anything but cheap. Satsumas are a bargain at $1.49 a pound and these juicy, seedless orange are only around in the winter so get them while you can. They are a perfect snack, great in the lunch box, and just the right size for throwing in a salad. Think the Mandarin oranges you ate from the can as a kid but fresh. When it came to protein, I bought a pound of Whole Foods brand bacon-thick sliced center cut Applewood bacon. The pound was $8 which is not the cheapest bacon but, this will go a long way-weekend breakfast and Carbonara for dinner tomorrow night. Independent of their low price, I always prefer chicken thighs to the breast meat. At $3.29 a pound, I bought five of them for just over $5 and will braise them in beer, stock, and caramelized onions. It'll take under an hour and it's one of those winter dishes that tastes like it has cooked all day. The Carbonara I mentioned was in one of my recent food magazines, can't remember which now. I'll do the basic version with eggs and bacon, add broccoli rabe or broccolini, and top each portion with a fried egg! I have the picture from the magazine in my head and let me tell you, not expensive and it looked to die for.

When shopping for less costly cuts of meat, it's always better to look for the tougher muscles. These are the cuts that need long, slow, moist heat when cooking but, the result is that melt-in-your-mouth consistency that, to me, screams 'winter meal'. You really don't need a recipe-just season the meat well, brown it in a deep pan, remove the meat and pour off the fat, add some aromatic veggies and saute them, return the meat to the pan with wine and/or stock. The meat should simmer for several hours, until it falls apart easily with a fork. You can do this over low heat on the stove (covered) or in an oven at 325 degrees. At the end, I take off the lid, remove the meat and reduce the sauce to give it a bit more body. Try this with beef stew meat (chuck), lamb stew (shoulder), or pork stew (butt-it's actually shoulder too, don't ask me why they call it butt!). With beef I like red wine and beef or veal stock, lamb can go red or white wine and chicken stock, and pork is nice with white wine or even a hard apple cider and chicken stock.

It's easy to cook great meals for less. Just shop smart, cook at home, and take the time to find the produce and meat that fit your bill. If you ever get the stuff home and don't know what to do with it, you can always drop me an email-I'm happy to help

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

So, have you awoken from your turkey coma yet? I'm back and cooking (and of course eating) again. Here's what I'm reading today.

Salumi is all the rage everywhere these days. Huge varieties of salami, guanciale, and lardo are all showing up on restaurant menus. Today's SF Chronicle has an article about the porky trend and a great looking recipe for Salami Filled Gougeres. Gougeres are French cheese puffs, made with a dough called 'choux', the same dough used in profiteroles. This savory version is a perfect appetizer with a bubbly Champagne or Prosecco.

In today's NY Times, Mark Bittman writes an article about finger foods, rolled finger foods in particular. He has some of his signature simple and tasty recipes for snacks like Eggplant and Feta Rolls or Smoked Salmon Rolls with Ricotta and Chives. Quick ways to get big flavors when your friends drop by this holiday season.

Who isn't going to read an article called "Bacon Recipes Galore!" Gotta love the LA Times. There is a huge, growing, list on the site of Bacon recipes-you too can add your favorite. I'm totally intrigued by the Apple Bacon Coffecake. I'm generally not a fan of cooked apples but this I might just try.

That's it for today. Happy Reading and Happy Cooking

Monday, December 1, 2008

Eating in NYC

I love New York. I love the feeling I have when I'm peaking out the cab window, coming from the airport. I love that everyone always seems so much hipper than me, no matter how hip I think I'm going to look when I pack my bags. I love that anxious feeling I have when I mentally scroll through the list of places I want to eat and realize there will never be enough time. I love a lot about New York and the food is certainly high on the list.

This was a Thanksgiving trip so, there was certainly no shortage of good eats. Our Thanksgiving dinner was stellar-a juicy, juicy turkey, cornbread stuffing with Italian sausage, tender slow cooked root vegetables, Peter's famous hummus, the list goes on and on....That night we left stuffed to the gills but, by the next morning it was all about the next meal.

The night before turkey day we ate Mexican at Mama Mexicana. The food was really fresh and tasty. The best part was their creamy roasted pepper and tomato salsa that they actually emulsify with olive oil. I've never had anything like it and can't wait to try making it at home.

For dessert we walked over to Chickalicious Dessert Bar. They have a sit-down restaurant on one side of E. 10th and a take out place across the street. We went take out as we were too full for the three course dessert menu (but I love that idea!). We tried everything from cute frosted gingerbread men to 'adult chocolate pudding' (basically crushed up chocolate cookies top with a big scoop of pot de creme) and house made hot chocolate filled with house made vanilla soft serve. The place was jammed packed-clearly people are not worried about their waist lines the nige before Thanksgiving.

The day after Thanksgiving, we hit Momofuku Noodle for lunch. It was packed and smelled like a combination of five-spice, fresh ginger, and and pork-yum. We had the Momofuku ramen noodles in fragrant steamy broth with juicy pork and topped with a perfectly poached egg (my son ate the egg and most of the noodles but, I got my fill too). We also had the house made pork buns, which melted in your mouth, and the smoked stick-to-your fingers-but-you-can't-stop-eating-them chicken wings. It's not to be missed, especially on a cool NY afternoon.

Dinner that night was at Scott Conant's Scarpetta in the Meatpacking district. This was post-Thanksgiving and the place was no where near full, although when we called we got the 'sure we can take 10pm' line. Oh well..we showed up at 8 and got in within a few minutes. The meal was delicious. We started with yellow tail crudo topped with crispy fried garlic then had two of the house made pastas: cavatelli with a ragu of rabbit and spaghetti with tomato and basil. Both dishes were clearly more than a primi-they were huge portions. The pastas were beautiful-perfect texture and well seasoned. The ragu was nice-savory, and rich. The spaghetti was out of this world. I know, spaghetti with tomato-how good could it be? It took on an almost creamy texture and it was just one of those dishes where each of the few simple ingredients were so perfect that when they came together they created an amazing sum. I'd go back just for that. We then shared an entree, which was tough after those giant pasta dishes. We had the black cod with caramelized fennel. The fish was amber brown and crunchy on top, perfectly seared. The sweet fennel cut the richness of the fish nicely. Overall, it was a really tasty meal but, I could get all of this in San Francisco so, with the exception of the spaghetti, there wasn't anything to draw me back.

We skipped dessert at the restaurant that night to detour a few blocks downtown and have a cupcake at Magnolia. Say what you want about the recent cupcake rage all over the country, I still prefer the homestyle version they make there.

The next meal of note was Saturday lunch. Have you been to Katz's deli? If not, GO! San Francisco is pathetic when it comes to good NY style delis. New York has many but, none are like Katz's. This is the deli from When Harry Met Sally and, while I didn't 'have what she's having', I did have a corned beef sandwich that was easily 5-inches high and brimming with tons of juicy tender meat. I slathered it with their briny Russian Dressing and old style coleslaw and quickly found myself eating the thing with a fork and knife. My son had Matzoh Ball soup with one giant ball, as big as his head. The place is loud, crowded, and a bit chaotic but, it is the quintessential NY deli experience and well worth it.

Tummies full, we got on the plane and made our way back to SF. It's good to be home. Both my husband and I realized we no longer had the burning desire to move to New York but, it will always be an amazing place to visit, and of course to eat.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day

Well, for the first time in months I missed my regular "What I'm Reading Today" Wednesday posting. I was on a plane east starting at the crack of dawn and then, too excited about being back on the streets of New York, the blog just didn't happen.

So here I am on Thanksgiving morning. For the first time in years, I'm not cooking dinner. You know that feeling when you spend the entire day cooking 'the meal', tasting and seasoning all day long, and then when you finally put the food on the table you can't eat a thing? It's the worst. All that work and no appetite. Well, tonight I get to make a tart and just show up so I have no doubt I will enjoy anything and everything on the table. Our group is made up of friends and family, old and new, 14 in all. While I won't be with my family today, this is the next best thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Make a juicy turkey, perfect stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, and gravy with no lumps. And, of course be sure to come back tomorrow and tell me how it went.

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Anarchy on Thanksgiving

I know. You're going to tell me that there would be anarchy at your Thanksgiving table if you didn't serve the stuffing you've been eating for generations. What-no green been casserole with cream of mushroom soup and those crispy fried onions? And the dried out turkey! Would it really be Thanksgiving with out that good ol' dried out turkey?

Thanksgiving dinner is a funny one. You get barraged with the "Thanksgiving Issue" of every food magazine in existence. Your local paper fills its pages with recipe after recipe of innovative ways to cook all the old standards. Everything looks SO good. But you just can't do it. You think about it. You try-you really do. But, when push comes to shove, this is the night that really is like all other nights. People go crazy when anything changes at this meal.

I'm looking forward to my Thanksgiving this year. We're visiting my brother-in-law in NYC and everyone coming to dinner is bringing something (although he and D are cooking a lot). This way we have a little bit of everyone's tradition and who knows, maybe we'll find something we love so much it shows up again at another Thanksgiving.

If you really want to be adventurous and try something new, here's an idea. Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding instead of stuffing. I made this recipe up tonight with stuff I had in the fridge and let me tell you...delish! I roasted a chicken and made a quick pan gravy and when I dragged that bread pudding into the gravy it reminded me of the same old trick on Thanksgiving-I loved it.

For those of you willing to risk the anarchy, here it is. Otherwise, skip it this Thursday but definitely try it.

Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding

3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tbs minced Italian parsley leaves
coarse (Kosher) salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 loaf (half-pound) Pugliese bread cut into 1-inch pieces (or whatever sturdy bread is lying around)
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3/4 to 1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced (whatever kind you have-I just used white buttons)
1/2 cup Port (sherry, madiera, or marsala would work great too-even red or white wine)
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, and sour cream. Add the parsley, a generous pinch each of salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Stir well to combine, add the bread, and stir to coat. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, 5-6 minutes. Add the mushrooms with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until they begin to release their moisture, 3-4 minutes more. Add the thyme and Port and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced completely, 4-5 minutes more. Let mixture cool for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and butter a 9-inch square baking dish.

Stir the mushroom mixture into the bread mixture. Transfer it to the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyere.
Recipe can be prepared up to this point, covered and refrigerated up to 6 hours. Bring the dish to room temp before cooking (about 1 hour on the counter before it goes in the oven).

Bake until the bread pudding is nicely browned on top and bubbling around the edges, 20-25 minutes.

Serves 6-8

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Seasonal Soup

Like most of you, I try to cook 'in season' as much as possible. It cost a fortune to buy produce out of season. These days, who needs to spend that extra money on fruits and veggies coming from half way around the globe, right?

Lately I've found myself buying a whole butternut squash at least once a week. No matter how hard I try, and trust me I've tried, my son won't eat it. I'll keep trying because one day he'll tell me he loves it and I'm crazy to think he ever thought different. In the meantime, I've tried to come up with ways to cook it that my husband and I will like. My favorite is soup. Sometimes butternut squash soup is too sweet, cloyingly sweet. I like dessert (love it in fact) but, don't want it for dinner.

I think the soup recipe I've come up with is just the right balance. It's spicy, savory, and just a tiny bit sweet. It takes no time to make and keeps in the fridge for 3-4 days, in fact you could even freeze it. I served it last time with sandwiches of spicy Italian sausages, fresh mozzarella, and broccoli rabe pesto. That was a good meal!

Just-Right Butternut Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash, 1½-2 pounds
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, thinly sliced
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of red pepper flakes, or more to taste
4 cups chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise then again in half crosswise. Scoop the seeds out of the bottom halves then sprinkle all four pieces with salt and pepper. Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil and place the squash pieces, cut side down, on the sheet. Roast in the preheated oven until completely tender (a sharp knife should go in and out of the squash with no resistance), 20-30 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Add the onion, cayenne, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and tender, 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with salt.

When the squash is tender, peel the skin off with a knife or just pull it off. Put the squash in the pan with the onions, add the chicken stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook just until the squash begins to break apart, 10-15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture, in batches, to the blender and puree until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, add a bit of water if the soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Makes 4-6 servings


Thursday, November 20, 2008

When a Knife is More Than Just a Knife

Anh was brimming with pride when she sent us an email telling us her husband's article was in the current issue of the New Yorker (the food issue, none the less). I knew Todd had been working on this for a LONG time and was very passionate about his subject, Bob Kramer. "Who's Bob Kramer?", you might ask (as I did). Well, I'll give you a brief preview.

Bob Kramer, living now in Olympia, Washington, is a Master Bladesmith. No small feet, he earned his title by forging a knife that cuts through an inch-thick piece of rope in a single swipe, chops through a 2x4, cuts a swath of arm hair (after cutting the rope and wood!), and then, locked in a vise, permanently bends to 90 degrees. The account of the grueling test he went through is in the article. I feel for him but, ugh, the poor knife! After you read Todd's thorough and fascinating description of how these knives are made, you'll empathize too.

Bob makes only 5 knives a week while most knife factories make at least 5 each hour. He painstakingly perfects each one, earning them a price tag upwards of $475. Thomas Keller and Charlie Palmer approve. Even Cook's Illustrated said his knife, when they tested it, was absolutely worth the money. Sadly, when I went to Bob's site, it says his order list is currently full.

The good news is Kramer has now worked with the Shun knife factory in Japan to create a line of more accessible commercial knives that are available at Sur la Table. I don't have the down-low on them yet but, can't wait to go try one out. They still run upwards of $300 but, a knife like this, when well taken care of, should last you a life time.

The article is well researched, completely engrossing, and full of amazing tidbits. In San Francisco I take my knives to Columbus Cutlery on Columbus and Vallejo whenever they need to be sharpened. Turns out Bob Kramer learned the 'nuances of the proper grind', even lubricating the wheel with lard, at the same spot. Bob, a former chef himself, said he turned to knife making when he decided he 'wanted to make something that lasted longer than a meal'.

A link to the article is here but to read the whole thing online you need to subscribe to the New Yorker's online edition. Just get off your chair and go buy the magazine. I haven't read the rest of it yet but am sure that Todd's article, and what ever Calvin Trillin wrote about Texas BBQ will be well worth your $4.99.

Nice work Todd!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What I'm Reading (about Thanksgiving) Today

Wednesday again..Here's what I'm reading. Food sections are all about Thanksgiving this on.

I always get asked "how do I make the gravy"? I've had some great Thanksgiving gravies and some not so good. The best were from homemade turkey stock. This recipe, and the great article that goes with it
(from Julia Moskin in the NY TImes) , looks like perfection. Don't be alarmed when it says it'll take you 9 hours. Most of that is just the stock simmering away-simple, simple, simple-seriously. If anyone who reads this goes out and buys pre-made turkey gravy I will be incredibly bummed.

While the SF Chronicle pits Doug Keane against Michael Mina for a Thanksgiving shoot out, I was taken with a recipe not in this article. It was Tara Duggan's recipe for Mini Tostadas with Chile Butter Crab and Avocado Crema. I think I'd pass up turkey for a plate full of these any day.

The LA Times is not only brimming witha amazing recipes today but, at noon you can join an online chat with food guru Russ Parsons. His recipes are always fantastic, as is his food writing. I'm not sure which looks better in his food section today: Cream of Parsnip Soup with Crispy Fried Pancetta or the Pissaladiere with Spiced Ricotta and Poached Apricots.
Trust me, just go to the top of the food section today and read-it's a good one.

Blackberry Cobbler for dessert on Thanksgiving? Hello! That's my kind of meal. Today's Washington Post is also packed full of recipes but my eyes went straight to the blackberry cobbler. Made by a grandmother called "Meme" it just has to be good.

Happy Reading!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cleo's "Happy Birthday to Me" Cake

You should bake a cake. Seriously, why not? No one actually makes layer cakes anymore. You can buy them at the bakery or even at the supermarket but the artificial ingredients or dry cake make them not worth the money.

We had some people to dinner on Thursday and I remembered an AMAZING cake my friend Kelly had made at our cookbook club one night. It was Ina Garten's cake from Barefoot Contessa at Home. The recipe is called "Beatty's Chocolate Cake" and a fudgy buttercream-frosting recipe follows it. It could not have been any easier. I baked the cakes late morning, let them cool while I prepped other stuff for dinner, frosted them mid-afternoon and finished it with a sprinkle of flaky Maldon sea salt. If you don't know yet, I love adding salt to my sweets and this cake definitely benefited from the simple garnish.

We served the cake after a dinner of pan roasted chicken with Meyer lemons, creamy orzo and green beans sautéed with pancetta. Our youngest guest Cleo, just three years old, kept calling it her 'happy birthday to me cake’, which I think is just the perfect name.

Try it for yourself, your friends, or your neighbors. You'll be glad you did.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake (from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten)

2 8-inch round cake pans, buttered, floured, and lined w/buttered parchment
1 3/4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good quality cocoa powder (unsweetened)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, well shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Take the bowl off the mixer and stir in the coffee just to combine, using a rubber spatula to scrape any dry bits from the bottom of the bowl. Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out without any wet crumbs. Cool the cakes, on a rack, for 30 minutes in their pans then turn then out onto the rack and cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting

6 ounces good quality semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks butter, room temp
1 egg yolk, room temp (I left this out as my cake was sitting for a long time at room temp)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tbs instant coffee powder, dissolved in 2 tsp hot water (optional-I use it because it really intensifies the flavor of the chocolate)

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot w/1-inch of barely simmering water. Stir gently until the chocolate melts and remove it from the heat. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium high speed until it is light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the egg yolk (if using) and vanilla and beat 3 minutes more. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the powdered sugar. When all the sugar is in, increase the heat to medium, scraping down the bowl as needed, until the mixture is light and fluffy. At low speed add the chocolate and coffee and mix just until combined.

Frost the top of one cake, spreading about 1/2-inch layer of frosting all over the top, leaving about 1/4-inch border around the edge. Top the cake with the second cake and use the remaining frosting to cover the sides and the top. Sprinkle the cake with about 1 tsp flaky sea salt and serve.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

A crazy day today but, still managed to squeeze in a few of the food sections.

In today's SF Chronicle, I noticed a link to their annual Thanksgiving guide. It's time to start planning your menu or figuring out what you should offer to bring. This guide is full of everything you ever wanted to know about that gut-busting meal.

Cranberries are something I could take or leave. I don't put them on my Thanksgiving plate and definitely wouldn't opt to have them for dessert. BUT, the recipe in today's NY Times for Cranberry Parker House Rolls might just turn me around. I love making bread and hardly ever do it. I think these rolls are a perfect excuse to get out the yeast and try it again.

Speaking of making bread, I think I may attempt, for the second time in my life, homemade bagels. My mom did it when we were kids and for some reason that memory is forever etched in my brain. Who makes homemade bagels? Well, they are good-trust me. The LA Times talks a lot about the 'Holey Bread' today, including this recipe for trying them yourself. Let me know if you give it a shot.

I am definitely in a baking mood this morning. The meeting I am headed to better have treats. Homemade scones could not be easier-really. Today's Washington Post has a recipe for Buttermilk Scones with Fruit which looks simple and really tasty. The best thing is, you can make the scone dough, divide it into wedges, and freeze it! Just thaw it 1 hour in the fridge and pop it in the oven. If you've having house guests this holiday season, give this a try. I also love the idea of bringing frozen scone dough to someone's house as a hostess gift.

Happy Baking :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

A New Kind of Book Club

I'm in a regular book club. We meet monthly, when we can. We talk about the book for a good 10 minutes then proceed to drink a lot of wine and chat for the rest of the night. It's great, don't get me wrong, it's just not easy to get all us women to read or talk about the book.

So I'm in another book club. This one is a cookbook club. The host for the month picks a cookbook and we all claim a recipe we want to make. We show up for our meal, dishes in hand, and like my other book club, we do a lot of eating, drinking, and chatting. The difference here is that we really do talk about the book. Did the recipes work? Was the writing clear? Would we make any changes? Should we cook anything from the book again? The nights are a blast.

Last week we met and cooked from the A16 Cookbook. A16 is a neighborhood restaurant for most of us and we know Shelly Lindgren, the restaurant's owner and wine guru. We invited Amanda, who had tested all the recipes for the book and she gave us great insight on how it all came together. We ate braised short ribs, meatballs, roasted carrots (grown right here in SF's Richmond district!), beet salad, lamb crepes, and chocolate 'budino' tarts with sea salt. The food was fantastic, the company even better.

If you're one of those people who has dropped out of countless bookclubs because you can just never finish the book. try a cookbook club. Pick a book you've had on the shelf but just haven't tackled. Invite 5-6 friends and, if they don't have the book, just give them a recipe. Try it once and you'll be hooked. You'll never feel guilty for not finishing the book again.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Some of My Cookbook Favorites

This will not be a review of the hottest, newest cookbooks on the market. You can read any fall cooking magazine and or newspaper food section and get that scoop.

These are some picks from my library. The books I go to on a regular basis and the ones I cook from on special occasions. I've recently done a huge purge of my cookbook collection, whittled it down from 200 to closer to 100. The ones that made the cut are near and dear to me and they aren't going anywhere, at least for a while.

*Best 'Basics' cookbook for simple everyday food: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Published 10 years ago, this is still the book I recommend to my students who want to invest in one go-to book. I think it is the modern day Joy of Cooking with simple recipes and great menu ideas.

*Best Everyday cookbook: Sarah Foster's Fresh Every Day. I bought this book on a whim one day when I was wandering Barne's and Noble with a gift card. I haven't regretted it for a minute. Not only are the photographs and food styling absolutely stunning but, the recipes consistently work. Try her "Mom's Pot Roast", "Sliced NY Strip with Horseradish Mustard Sauce", and "Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Warm Goat Cheese Rounds" and you won't be dissapointed.

*Best Ina Garten cookbook: The Barefoot Contessa is now in a category on her own. With so many books, it is hard to pick a favorite but I think I have to go with Barefoot Contessa Parties. The book's recipe for "Shortbread Cookies" is my all time favorite and the "Filet of Beef with Gorgonzola Sauce" is pretty damn good too.

*Best Non-U.S. cookbook: I love the Jamie Oliver books. I don't have his most recent but, Cook with Jamie, which came out last year is gorgeous. It too is a great reference book for tips like how to buy the best fish, how to cook certain cuts of meat, and what to do with pasta. There is a recipe for "Creamy Butternut Squash" that will knock your socks off.

*Best Indian/Southeat Asian cookbook: Madhur Jaffrey's From Curries to Kebabs is one of those books that you read and think "I will never have time to make all the things in here that look so good!". Her "Chicken Tikka" is the best-a simple weeknight dish to change up your dinner table. The recipes are easy but unique and well worth trying.

*Best Pull-Out-All-The-Stops cookbook: I could have said the French Laundry Cookbook but seeing as I've only cooked from it once (and that was just for my cookbook club), I have to instead say Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook. My husband has done most of the cooking from this book but, everything we've eaten has been delish. I have made the "Pumpkin Orzo" and the "Ziti with Tuscan Syle Cauliflower"-both surprisingly simple.

*Best California Restaurant cookbook: I've mentioned this book before: Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin. You can open up this book blindly and what ever page you land on, the recipe will be out of this world. Try the brisket, short ribs, or even the salad with melon, figs and burrata. You'll be glad you did.

*Best Northwest cookbook: I love Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen by none other than Tom Douglas. If you buy this book for nothing else but Dahlia Lounge's famous Coconut Cream Pie recipe, it will be worth the purchase. I can not begin to tell you how amazing that recipe is!

My list goes on and on but, this is a good intro to some of the books I use on a regular basis. If you're putting your holiday gift list together, you might want to add one or two for yourself.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

Whew...finally, after all those years of debating, fighting, advertising, and seeing Russian from the backyard, it's over. Wa hoo!

Absolutely Divine Devil's Food Cake? What more do I need to say. Thank you SF Chronicle for satisfying everyone's favorite craving.

I'd never had a chestnut until I went to culinary school way back when. I made Thanksgiving stuffing with them one year and really loved it. They have a nutty taste and a rich, smooth texture. I loved Russ Parson's article about the humble nut in today's LA Times and his recipe for celery root-chestnut puree looks delish too.

If you are a "Yelper" or just look at yelp for your restaurant, dentist, carpet cleaner, or watering hole recommendations, today's NY Times article about the site is a must read.

The Washington Post might be next Wednesday regular stop. Today's article about giving Jacque Pepin $24 and watching him create an impromptu meal was fabulous. I'm definitely making his short ribs with mushrooms!

Have a good day!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

BLUEberry Coffee Cake

If you haven't yet voted, quit reading the rest of this post and do it now!

OK, now that you've taken care of your civic duty/right, it's time to reward yourself. I won't tell you which way I'm voting today but, maybe there is a hint in my recipe.

I love brunch food and coffee cake is one of my favorites, when it's done right. This cake can be made with or without the BLUE berries and, when they aren't in season, frozen berries work just fine. The cake is moist, crumbly on top, and fantastic warm or room temp. I didn't grow up in New York but I do have a strong affinity for NY-style crumb cake. You know the type-a tender white coffee cake topped with equally as much crumb topping. That is what this cake is, plus 5 cups of juicy BLUEberries!!

Happy Election Day!

BLUEberry Crumb Cake

3 cups flour, plus extra for the pan
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 6 tablespoons butter, plus extra for buttering the pan
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup milk
5 cups frozen or fresh BLUEberries
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the inside of a 10-inch springform pan and cover with a thin layer of flour, shaking out excess.

In a medium bowl, sift together 2 cups of the flour, baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream ½ cup of the butter with the sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg and vanilla. Mix until combined. Add half the flour mixture, all of the milk then the remaining flour mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixture and gently fold in the BLUEberries. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Make the crumb topping by combining the cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon salt, brown sugar and remaining cup of flour in a small bowl. Add the 6 tablespoons of butter and mix the ingredients with a fork or your fingers until fine crumbs form. Using your hands, squeeze together most of the mixture to form large crumbs. Sprinkle the crumbs over the cake batter in the pan.

Bake the cake for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out batter-free. Remove the pan from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and let cool 15 minutes more before serving.
Serves 8

(recipe from Martha Stewart Living July/August 2000)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Yes, Brussels Sprouts

Right now my mom is reading this post and thinking "What has happened to my daughter? She's posting about, and eating, broccoli rabe, swiss chard, and now Brussels sprouts!! Where is that little girl who, for the first 15+ years of her life, at mostly cottage cheese on toast and Cheerios?" It's true-I've changed. I was the pickiest eater ever as a kid and my mom did all the right things. I always loved to cook, it was just the eating part I didn't get too excited about.

I still don't love Brussels sprouts. They're kind of stinky when you cook them, although they're beautiful to look at. However, there is one way of cooking them that has me reconsidering this cruciferous little veggie.

Next time you want to cook a new veg for dinner, go out and buy a pound of fresh Brussels sprouts. Give your self a good chunk of prep time (this part is kind of a pain in the you-know-what) and slice the tough bottom off each sprout. Now, with a good, sharp knife, thinly shred each one so you end up with a bowl of something that looks a bit like cabbage you've prepped for coleslaw (hmmmm, that might be a good idea right there). Now, in a big skillet, melt about 1/4 cup of butter over medium heat and cook it until it begins to brown and smell nutty. Add the Brussels sprouts with a good pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are just tender with a bit of a bite, 3-4 minutes. Add 1 tsp sherry vinegar, cook 1-2 minutes more, or until the vinegar evaporates, and serve. These are crunchy, nutty, and so delicious. You won't even know you're eating Brussels sprouts.

Mom, aren't you impressed?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkin woes

Growing up in the 'burbs, their were Jack-O-Lanterns everywhere. Of course, the sure sign Halloween was over were the smashed pumpkins filling the streets by early the next morning. Damn kids! Ha!

I love a good Jack-O-Lantern but, eating pumpkin has never been my thing. Muffins, pie, tart, you name it-cooked sweet pumpkin does not do it for me. I love savory roasted squash and pumpkin but, have never been convinced to go the other way.

This wknd I am teaching a holiday baking class. I didn't want a pumpkin recipe because, ugh, I'd have to taste it. But, what's a holiday baking class without it, right? So I compromised. I found a recipe years ago for miniature pumpkin cheesecakes. Now cheesecake--that's a dessert I love. These are a combo of regular cheese batter and pumpkin puree, swirled together. They look fantastic and, even for my fellow pumpkin pie haters, the pumpkin is pretty mellow and actually tastes nice with the cream cheese mixture. The bonus is, you can make them up to three days in advance. I think this is the fall dessert to make everyone happy. Give it a shot.

Miniature Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecakes

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup pure solid-packed canned pumpkin
2¼ teaspoons flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with foil liners and grease them lightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium high speed until very smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar, vanilla and salt and continue beating until well blended and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice, about 1 minute-there should be no lumps. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed until just blended-do not over mix.

Transfer 2/3 cup of the batter to a small bowl and add the pumpkin, flour, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg-stir well, until completely blended.

Divide the plain batter among the muffin cups, about 2 generous tablespoons in each. Then, divide the pumpkin batter evenly among the cups (about 1 generous tablespoon each). Drag the tip of a wooden skewer, toothpick or pairing knife through the two batters in a random, swirly pattern to create a marbled look.

Bake until the centers of the cheese-cakes barely jiggle when nudged, 15-18 minutes. Set the muffin tins on a rack and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, 6 hours or up to 3 days.
Makes 12 mini-cheesecakes

Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine by Abigail Johnson Dodge

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

I don't know how a week flies by so quickly, but it's already Wednesday again! Whew, I'm still catching up from last week...

Chicken, Lemongrass, and Potato Curry-my kind of meal. Especially, as Janet Fletcher writes in today's SF Chronicle, when it's is made with chicken thighs. All you "I only eat boneless, skinless chicken breast" folks need to expand your horizons. Chicken thighs are the dark meat of the bird. With more fat, the thighs have a lot more flavor and the meat stays nice and juicy. Plus, they cost of fraction of the price you'd pay for those lean breasts. Give 'em a try. You'll be glad you did.

Calories do count! In today's NY Times, Kim Severson writes about the in-your-face calorie counts restaurants are now disclosing. If the average person should eat 2000 calories a day, do you think that Starbucks fruit scone at 480 calories is a good idea? Just remember, whole, real foods are always a better option than that artificially 'low cal' stuff. Of course if reading about the calories in your favorite foods is too much for this Wednesday morning, you can always read the recipe for Edible Googly Eyes instead.

Brunch and Breakfast baking-I love it. Give me a new recipe for scones, coffee cake, or muffins and I'll find an excuse to have people over so I can make it. In today's LA Times, they've printed a recipe for Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake from the restaurant Rustic Canyon. I think it is from the regular dessert menu but, I'm all over it for breakfast.

I went east this morning to read the food section in the Washington Post. The American guru on Mexican cooking, Diana Kennedy, is profiled in a fantastic article. If you like Mexican food, you should know Diana and her books. I met her once and she is a bright, gracious, and intelligent cook. Her passion for the foods of Mexico really is unparalleled. I dream of taking a class from her in Mexico but, in the meantime I'll live vicariously through her recipe for Shrimp in Pumpkin Seed Sauce.

Happy Cooking and, if you know what's good for you, don't steal your kid's Halloween candy until *after* they go to bed Friday night!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Leafy Greens

We ate a lot of spinach growning up (well, I didn't because I pretty much didn't eat anything). Beyond that, it was iceberg, romaine, and maybe butter lettuce. This was the extent of my leafy green knowledge until the last ten years or so. Things like chard and kale sounded like health food and I wanted nothing to do with them.

I've changed my tune and these veggies are some of my current favorites. Sure, you can wilt them like spinach, which is quick, easy, and delicious but, there are some other great things to turn you on to these healthy leaves.

Swiss Chard Gratin is fantastic! Think creamed spinach with a crunchy topping. I also love the idea of a raw kale salad. Finely chop the kale, make a simple vinaigrette with lemon juice, chili flakes, s&p, and great olive oil. Dress the kale 20-30 minutes before eating then top it with some toasted breadcrumbs. Yum!

Here is my recipe from New Flavors for Vegetables for Swiss Chard Gratin....enjoy!

Swiss Chard Gratin

2 teaspoon minced marjoram leaves
1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the pan
3 tablespoons minced shallot
2 bunches fresh Swiss chard, stems removed and minced, leaves cut into bite-size pieces
1½ tablespoons flour
½ cup milk
½ cup Heavy cream
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
¾ cup freshly grated Gruyère cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter four 1-cup ramekins or small baking dishes.

Place the marjoram and thyme in a bowl with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper and toss well. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and add to the crumb mixture. Stir well and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and ½ cup of the minced chard stems (reserving the rest for another use) with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the chard leaves, and stir to combine. Cover the pan and cook until the leaves just begin to wilt, 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium, and continue to cook until the leaves are just wilted and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir in the flour. Cook, whisking, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, until smooth. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook until thickened, 1- 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat. Add the nutmeg and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the Gruyère and stir until smooth. Add the chard mixture and stir well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared ramekins.

Sprinkle the herbed breadcrumbs over the chard. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crumbs are lightly browned and the chard mixture is warm and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings (Jodi L.)

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