Monday, September 29, 2008

Culinary Q&A

A few of you loyal readers have taken my advice and sent me some culinary questions. I hope this is the first of many posts like this. I'll take my lead from you...send those questions along and I'll get to as many as I can.


Tonight I am making your recipe for flank steak and it raised a few questions:

1. Is there a secret to fresh ginger...storing it, slicing it (mine was really fiber-filled)...I don't use it regularly because I don't exactly know how I am supposed to store it if I use a little and I am never sure how to cut it or grate it (do you use a knife or a grater?)

**I peel it w/the back of a spoon. Just shaving the spoon down the side of the ginger removes only the skin and you lose none of the actual ginger. If a recipe wants finely grated or minced ginger, I use my Micro Plane grater to grate it. It becomes really concentrated so I tend to use a bit less than the recipe says if I prep it this way. Otherwise, cut the ginger into thin 'planks', stack the planks on top and cut them into thin sticks, then to finish, turn the sticks crosswise and cut across them into a nice fine dice. Either of these methods will break up all those fibers.

In terms of storage, I generally just leave it out w/my onions and garlic. It'll seal itself up and then you can cut that end off next time you use it. If it'll be a **really** long time before you use it again, just put it in the fridge. It actually keeps quite a while there.

2. I bought a flank steak bigger than I needed (twice as big) I cut it and freeze the other half and prepare only one half....or marinade both halves and then freeze one and cook one, or marinade and cook the whole thing and then freeze half cooked)?

**If you don't want to cook it all now, I'd marinate both pieces and then freeze the half you will cook later. That way, when you're ready to cook it, just take it out the night before, leave it in your fridge, and it'll be wonderfully marinated and ready to grill.

3. Brown sugar....when a recipe (like your marinade) calls for brown you mean golden brown or dark brown?

**I always prefer dark brown. It has a touch more molasses and professional bakers say there can be textural difference if you sub one for the other. I've never had a problem and think it is much easier to just keep one in the house

4. What are the staples in your pantry and fridge? (and how do you know when to splurge (like on olive oil or balsamic vinegar) for an item, versus, the generic salt will do??

**oh...such a long list. Another posting, I promise.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's That Time of the Week Again

Here's what I'm reading today.

Imagine my total and complete shock when I look at the food section in the San Francisco Chronicle and see recipe for Boyos and Borekas? Ok, this may not mean much to you but, if you grew up in a family with a Sephardic grandmother, Boyos and Borekas are the best!! There is a fantastic article today with some Jewish holiday recipes you may not be familiar with. The Spanish, Greek and overall Meditteranean influences on this food make each and every dish fantastic, especially when a grandmother like mine is cooking them. She'd never have made boyos with puff pastry and hers always had spinach. The borekas actually resemble her recipe a lot-a warm oil based dough and a filling of mashed potatoes and Parm. These pastries are great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

This is what I call a cheater's dinner, and I love it. Mark Bittman is the master of quick and easy meals and his recipe in the New York Times for Grilled Fish with Pimenton Aioli couldn't be easier. We should all be eating more fish and this aioli would be delicious on whatever local fish is in season.

Olive oil pancakes? Oh, those are pieces of chocolate in there? Yum! This is probably the most conventional of recipes from Spanish chef Jose Andres. The Los Angeles times profiles the empire of the chef, growing to LA with the opening of the Bazaar.

I love braising and stewing. It is certainly the least sexy of the master cooking techniques. It's not a quick saute or a smoky grill but, the melt-in-your-mouth texture of meat, beans, and vegetables that have been slowly cooked in aromatic liquid can not be beat. Have you seen my friend Tori's book about the subject? Well, in today's Seattle Times there is a great article on cooking in a Dutch Oven (ok-that's basically a huge stock pot). The recipe for Oven Baked Cannellini Beans looks so good. Serve it with a roasted pork loin and you've got a great meal.

Happy Cooking...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pizzeria Delfina (Due!)

Let the countdown begin...the second Pizzeria Delfina will open on California and Fillmore Streets this Monday, September 22nd. Fillmore street is quickly becoming a food lover's mecca. Already the home of SPQR, the hood will soon have their own Pizzeria Delfina, Dosa, and 'Out the Door' from the Slanted Door.

I was lucky enough to try a test meal at the new Pizzeria and I'll tell you that you are in for a serious treat. Before I rave, I will confess that I am friends with Craig and Annie, the chef/owners of the restaurant. But, if it wasn't this good, I wouldn't rave-trust me.

The space is bigger than the 18th street location with three generous booths in the back plus lots of other seating. The open kitchen, in full view from front to back,was jumping with two giant pizza ovens (two ovens each) and chefs doing everything from hand stretching the mozzarella to scooping the house made gelato. Friendly servers, tons of bright light, and a soon-to-be finished San Francisco mural along the wall create the perfect space to enjoy the perfect food.

We tried two pizzas-a Margarita and a pie with house made sausage and panna (yep, that's a drizzle of cream!). The crusts were blistering and crunchy to the tooth with a tender interior. They held up perfectly to the sauces. I love the tomato sauce at the Pizzeria-a bright fresh tomato flavor that isn't muddled with oregano and other 'herbs and spices'. We also tried the meatballs-moist, light, big, and yummy. I love eating meatballs in just sauce with no pasta. Mozzarella in Carozza translates to Mozz in a carriage. It was skewered with chunks of rustic bread and fried, served on top of what I think was an anchovy vinaigrette. My only complaint here was that the plate with the vinaigrette disappeared so I couldn't continue to drag my cheese and bread in it :)

The home made gelato was just rich enough. It has a really nice mouth feel and comes in vanilla, chocolate, lemon, and espresso. You can get it in a dish, a cone, or scooped inside their slightly sweet home made brioche. When I went to Sicily I saw people eating this for breakfast, seriously. It's a good thing the Pizzeria doesn't open until lunch time or I might do the same. That is my kind of sandwich.

No reservations and I have little doubt the waits will start soon when Pizzeria Delfina opens their doors to the public. The good news is that they open at lunchtime and run continuously thorugh dinner so, there will always be time for a slice. Also, don't miss one of their Italian wines by the glass. If you haven't discovered the delicious wines of Italy, this is a great place to do it.

A little slice of the Mission with a side of Napoli right in Pacific Heights. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What I Meant to Read Today

You start testing recipes for another cookbook and what happens? You totally forget your regular Wednesday blog post. Thanks to a friendly reminder for my mom, here we go...

I've made a recipe like this before and it was fanstastic. I'm excited to try Bar Bambino's recipe for Polpette de Melanzane (meatballs of eggplant) from today's San Francisco Chronicle. The polpette can be made ahead and cooked at the last minute-in fact I'd bet they'd hold together better this way. Only thing I'd do differently is to add a little piece of fresh mozzarella inside each one. Yum!

If you're already making your holiday list, read this article in the Los Angeles Times. There are some amazing new cookbooks out and Amy Scattergood reviews a handful. On my list: David Tanis' "A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes" and Jamie Oliver's "Jamie at Home" (record this show on the Food Network-it's amazing).

Julia Moskin, of the New York Times, wrote a well researched article on the new wave nutrient packed processed foods. Is eating a 'fat burning waffle' or a beet powder fortified peanut butter really as good as eating the real deal? See for yourself...

You thought I'd actually get through this post without a link to something sweet? Right! The Seattle Times has a recipe for Pecan Brickle Bars. Love the combo of pecans, chocolate, and caramel. Mmm...that's good!

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking anyone still out there? Keep the comments coming :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies-with salt?

I am a good cook. I can make some great dishes (did I tell you I wrote a cookbook?). But...I have a confession to make: I suck at chocolate chip cookies. I have a zillion recipes for the things. One even makes the BEST dough but the

Until now. Thanks to Kelly (and Cook's Illustrated) things have changed. This cookie recipe is amazing! The cookies are warm and gooey right out of the oven and they stay soft and chewy when they cool. Kelly gave me the hint of sprinkling the tops with the tiniest pinch of salt before they go in the oven-do it. It cuts the sweetness of the chocolate chips and gives the cookie perfect balance. Don't use table salt! Kosher salt works fine but, if you have Maldon Sea Salt around, the flakes would be delicious.

There is one more trick to this cookie. There is a weird method for actually forming the cookies. Don't write this off as some crazy Cook's Illustrated-we over tested this recipe-this really isn't that important trick. It makes the shape of the cookie bakery perfect and I really do think it contributes to the texture. If you link to the recipe, you will see the illustration of the technique-basically, rolling balls of dough, pulling the balls apart and re-attaching them with the jagged edges on top (woops...that sounded kind of nasty, sorry boys).

I made these last night when our friends came to dinner. He is English and she is French. They live in Paris and cook quite often. You know what he told me? He's never (and he meant never) had a home made cookie in his life! I'm writing this off too the fact that Europeans go to bake shops for sweets instead of making them at home but, geesh! These cookies knocked their socks off and I'm sure they'll do the same for you. Even if you have had a home made cookie or two in your time.

Let me know how they turn out.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back on the Soapbox...

...this time it's brief.

Marion Nestle, nutritionist extraordinaire and author of What to Eat (a book on my list but I haven't read yet), answered a great question in the San Francisco Chronicle:

How do nutritionists feel about Michael Pollan's idea in "In Defense of Food" that we should be eating food, not nutrients?

Her answer is aplicable to all of your daily lives, and mine of course. Simply put, she says "Eat less. Move more. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Don't eat too much junk food."

This is how I was raised to eat. A lot of variety, everything in moderation, and nothing was really off limits. We had 'junk' very infrequently and fruits and veggies all the time.

Take a peak and Marion's full answer. It's not a long read and well worth your time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

It's Wednesday. Have you read your local food section today?

The SF Chronicle printed the perfect recipe for me today: Pork Chops with Glazed Figs and Yellow Wax Beans. Our neighbors dropped off a huge bag of fresh figs from their tree just last night. Yum!

It's almost crab season in the Bay Area so I'll be saving this recipe, from today's LA Times, for crab cakes. Better yet, read their article about making home made mayonnaise . I don't do it often enough and I promise, even for you mayo-haters, it is delicious. Add a bit of minced chipotle and I think you'll have the perfect sauce for these crab cakes.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups-who doesn't love 'em?! How does this cookie sound: Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Ganache? The Seattle Times printed the recipe today and it's definitely going to get added to me already bursting cookie file.

Soup is one of my favorite things to make for dinner. It's easy, low fat, it keeps well, and it is a one-pot meal. This recipe, from today's NY Times, for Summer Minestrone, looks perfect. I can't wait to try it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

This Just In...

From today's San Francisco Chronicle via the Associated Press....I really can't add anything to this one:

Fresno man arrested in spice, sausage attacks

Monday, September 8, 2008

(09-08) 04:00 PDT Fresno --

Fresno County authorities have arrested a man they say broke into the home of two farmworkers, rubbed one with spices and whacked the other with a sausage before fleeing.

Fresno County sheriff's Lt. Ian Burrimond says the suspect, 22-year-old Antonio Vasquez of Fresno, was found hiding in a nearby field wearing only a T-shirt, boxer shorts and socks.

The victims told deputies they awoke Saturday morning to the stranger applying spices to one of them and striking the other with an 8-inch sausage.

Burrimond said money allegedly stolen in the burglary was recovered. The sausage was tossed away by the fleeing suspect and eaten by a dog.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My 'WOW' Moment

Imagine me driving down the busy street in my neighborhood, looking right, and seeing my own book on three shelves of a Williams Sonoma display window!


photo credits to saul goode entertainment

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What's For Dinner?

It's that time of year when life gets really busy really fast. The relaxing glow of summer begins to fade, bed times kick back in, you pledge to get to the Container Store to organize your life, and ice cream cones by the beach just can't count as dinner any more.

So, what to cook? It's still warm enough that the simple slow cooked meals of winter don't yet appeal. The grill is out and time is short so put it to good use. I love a do-it-yourself kind of meal that has something for everyone and Grilled Fish Tacos fit the bill. Go to your local market and buy a beautiful piece of fish-as local and fresh as they have. You don't want anything too thin or it will fall apart on the grill. Look for fillets between 1/2 and 1 inch thick. Local black bass and snapper are always good, as is halibut...even shrimp.

Here's my plan for an easy dinner of Grilled Fish Tacos:

At the market, buy your fish, your favorite store-bought salsa (I like tomatillo with fish), a couple avocados, some cabbage (already shredded if you like), 2 jalapenos, a lime, tortillas (I like corn but get what you like), long grain white rice, and good black beans in the can.

For the fish, put it in a dish and squeeze on the juice of half a lime. Sprinkle it with a bit of good quality chili powder (I like chipotle) and some salt. Let the fish sit no longer then 20 minutes then cook it on the grill (you could also saute or bake it if you want). Put the salsa and cabbage in bowls. Mince one of the jalapenos and put it in a bowl as well. Peel the avocados and, if you want guacamole, put them in a bowl and mash them gently with a potato masher or even your hands. Add a good amount of salt, a pinch of cumin, a squeeze of lime juice, and a spoonful of that salsa you bought. Put it in a bowl too. Gently warm up your tortillas and put it all on the table. People can make their own tacos with what they like.

For sides, warm the beans and, if you like, add a scoop or two of your salsa. These will be nice on the side or on your tacos.

I also love this recipe for Mexican Seasoned Rice. It is not spicy at all, despite the jalapeno, and has a really nutty taste and fluffy texture. In the time it takes you to marinate and cook the fish, the rice will be all finished.

Seasoned Rice

2 tablespoons canola oil
1½ cups long grain white rice, rinsed until the water runs clear
¼ medium white onion, minced
3 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 whole jalapeno

Warm the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes, until it becomes chalky white and lightly browned in spots. The rice will crackle as it cooks. Add the onion and stir about 1 minute. Add the broth, bay leaf, salt and jalapeno and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the rice cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, until the rice absorbs the rest of the liquid. Take the pot off of the heat and let it rest, covered, for 10 more minutes. Before serving, remove the bay leaf and chiles and fluff the rice with a fork.

(recipe adapted from Cocina de la Familia by Marilyn Tausend)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

It's that time of the week again...

But, before I get to today's papers, I thought I'd pass on the word that MY BOOK IS ON THE SHELVES! That's right, if you're at your local Williams Sonoma, check out the series of "New Flavors" books. Mine is New Flavors for Vegetables and it looks amazing. Let me know if you cook from it-would love your thoughts.

I'm back in SF, so my first read was the SF Chronicle. Who wouldn't love a banana cupcake after school? Okay, so you probably should have veggies and fruit MOST days but, for a special treat, this recipe looks delicious!

Thankfully the weather is hot and sunny in SF so I'm not missing LA too much yet. Today's LA Times has an article on entertaining with an 'entree free dinner'. I'm kind of over the small plates thing when I eat out but, love the idea of cooking this way at home. You'd be amazed at what you can throw together right from your well stocked pantry.

When you buy my book (yes, I'm making some strong assumptions) you'll see one of my favorite recipes-Creamed Corn with Chipotles. Today's NY Times has a recipe for Spicy Fried Corn with Chipotles and Bacon. Chipotles, smoked jalapenos you buy canned in adobo sauce, are spicy and smoky-a perfect counterpoint to sweet corn.

Tomatoes galore at the market, finally! We've been eating them every night. I love the idea of putting them in a tart and the recipe for Heirloom Tomato Tart with Blue Cheese in the Seattle Times today couldn't be easier. With store bought puff pastry, you'll put it together in no time.

Happy Cooking!

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