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.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

If cookbooks are on your holiday wish list, read this article in the NY Times. Julia Moskin reviews the latest and greatest, including a new title from Thomas Keller and a few others from some culinary heavy-hitters.

If the cook in your college house or dorm made beef rolled around a pickle and braised, then you'll have serious food envy when you read the SF Chronicle's article about the new food on campus at UC Berkeley. Goan-Style Shrimp Curry with curry leaves and sambar may seem daunting but, if you have an Indian, or even a middle-eastern, market in your town, these are staples that will be easy to find. Where was this food when I went to college?

You know I love making homemade pasta with our new Kitchen Aid pasta roller/cutter. Today in the LA Times Amy Scattergood writes about adding kids to the equation. We do it a lot over here and it is my son's favorite thing to do in the kitchen. Clean up is a total nightmare but, it's worth it.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking

Monday, October 20, 2008

Food for Thought

If you didn't read the Food Issue of the New York Times Magazine on 10/14, you can still find it here. In it, Michael Pollan writes an open letter to the next president about the disintegration of America's food systems-the end of 'cheap food' and the focus needed to keep America well and healthy with local, reasonably priced food.

I was doing my run for Food Runners today when I caught the tail end of Terry Gross interviewing Michael Pollan on Fresh Air about the article. I will go back to hear the whole thing but, had to post about the part I did catch.

Family dinner...what's happened? Going through the drive through isn't family dinner. I've written about it before but, felt validated when millions of listeners heard Michael Pollan echo the sentiments on the radio today. So much of what has happened to our children's health can be traced back to 'fake food'-boxed meals and fast food. In the interview, Pollan talked about the importance of knowing how to cook-learning the 'basics' in the kitchen so we can feed our families real food made at home. This is better food, no matter how you look at it.

I know we're busy. Work, school, activities, and social lives can get in the way of sitting down to eat. We all eat on the run once in a while but, there really is nothing better than sitting down to eat with friends or your family. Cooking for people is an amazing thing. It is satisfying, generous, healthful, and necessary.

When is the last time you did it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

Here's what I've got for today. By the way, have you thought about your last meal yet?

The SF Chronicle has an article on Chili. It's never been my favorite food because I think it is because it tends to be insipid...kind of boring and one dimensional. It has so much potential and, when the weather turns (which thankfully it hasn't here), I'm willing to give it another try. Chicken and Poblano Chili anyone?

I love the idea of canning but, in my urban environment I've just never gotten around to clearing out the 'cellar' and making it happen (cellar a.k.a. garage). When I read this recipe in the NY Times for Cherry Pepper Poppers-say that 10 times fast!!-I loved the idea of putting them in a jar and covering them with a briny vinaigrette. Maybe they wont fill my cellar but, I bet someone would love to get a jar as a host/hostess gift one day. Beats a bottle of wine, right?

I've got a new crush....whom, you may ask, is the object of my affections? Mr. Broccoli Rabe! Have you met him? He's stalky, bright green, a little bitter at times, and loves being spicy. Today's LA Times combines my new crush with two other things I love-Broccoli Rabe with White Beans and Ricotta Salata. If you're a little shy about his bitterness, this recipe for Broccoli Rabe Pesto will help you get over it. If you haven't met the Mister, give him a try.

I know newspapers are hurting badly these days. When it comes to slashing departments, I think the Seattle Times has taken a whack at their food section. As much as I love my home town, I'm taking this moment to bid them a fond farewell. It's been weeks since I've seen an innovative recipe or article but, if something good comes my way I will be sure to send it along.

Happy Cooking.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

My Last Meal

Occasionally in my classes there is a need for an ice breaker. The group gets quiet, I get nervous, and something needs to help move things along. Years ago I asked the class a question, "What would you eat for your death row meal?" It was a riot figuring it out. As the years went along, I had one to many literal students tell me they'd never be on death row or what they would/would not allow inmates to eat, so I had to change the question:

"If you could pick your last meal in the world, what would it be?"

I've heard so many great answers: a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies from one woman and gooey brownies from a guy with a sweet tooth (this comprising their entire meal!), oysters, oysters, and more oysters (it is usually guys who give this answer), the cheese cart at Gary Danko (again, comprising the entire meal), and lots of childhood favorites like mom's fried chicken, their local pizza spot, or just a perfectly cooked steak.

I've had a lot of time to think about mine and many people have heard it by now. I eat a lot of good food but, in my mind, the last meal never changes: Dungeness Crab, perfectly cooked French Fries, Blackberry Pie, and a bottle of Sancerre. I can't imagine a better feast.

So, think about your last meal and post it here. You can do it anonymously or you can fess up. Either way, I'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

After teaching a class on poultry then watching a late night re-run of the debates, I'm tired! But, it doesn't stop me from browsing the food sections for something more interesting than Obama and Mcain's constant banter.

The NY Times has a great, but lengthy, article by Harold McGee on pots and pans. Read it if you have the time but, if you don't, you still want to see his recipe for a potato galette.

Russ Parsons and Amy Scattergood of the LA Times printed their list of "Kitchen essentials, and items you can pass by". My favorite, from the 'pass by' list:

Mini food processor: What's the point? Anything small enough to fit in the feed bowl of one of these can be just as easily and quickly chopped by hand. Find it in the cupboard, put it together, find a plug, pulse twice, take it apart, clean it up, put it away. Give me a chef's knife and a cutting board any day.

The SF Chronicle reminds us here in SF that 'Nettie's Crab Shack' has opened on Union Street. I am worried. Crab, my favorite food. Union Street, a stone's throw from my hood. This specific restaurant location, totally and completely jinxed. Yelpers aren't too excited yet but, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Please, please, please be good!!!

Finally, people ask me all the time how to extend the life of the produce they buy. I know I'm not the only one who goes a little over the top at the farmer's market and then wonders how to store it all so it lasts. Read this column in the Seattle Times for some easy advice.

Happy Cooking and Happy Reading...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Everything Has a Place

When I started culinary school at Tante Marie's, I was always amazed that Mary Risley ("Tante" herself) would come in during class and rearrange everything on the shelves. She'd move the crock of salt back to the left side, the olive oil back to the corner, the ladles on the rack above the stove, and the basket of napkins under the counter. She seemed so nit-picky. "What's the big deal?" I'd think...

Well, ten years and a lot of cooking later, I get it! When you cook often in a kitchen, be it your own or where you work, you like to know where everything is. Being efficient in the kitchen makes you a better cook and you can only be so efficient if you're running around trying to find the salt, your tongs, or a towel while your chicken is burning in the pan.

So imagine this...I move out of my house for a remodel (most of the house except the kitchen) and the folks running the project decide it would be a sweet idea to hire a professional organizer to clean out all the kitchen drawers and cupboards and 'organize' everything. I am sure the intentions were good but, come on! I cook for a living. Clearly the 'organizer' does not. Knives next to the stove when the cutting board is across the kitchen? Pot holders under the counter near the cutting board? And the Kitchen Aid, which I use all the time, relocated from it's prime real estate on the counter and relegated to the ghetto in the back of the pantry.

I spent an entire day putting everything back in its place. I loved the clean cabinets and appreciated all my little baking gadgets in their own see-through boxes. But, I want my salt out next to the stove and my food processor on the counter. I want to cook without thinking. When I reach for a pairing knife or spatula, it should be where I put it last.

So everything does have a place and a reason for being in that place. Even if that reason is simply "because it's always been there". If it works for you, don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pasta'd Out?

The question stands: "Can One Eat Too Much Pasta?". I was so ready to say yes just yesterday. I am writing a pasta cookbook and have been testing (and in turn eating) too many pasta recipes. Most of them have been delicious (baked pasta with sausage, peppers, cream and fontina!) and a few have been down right awful (anyone know a good way to stir fry Udon noodles without turning them into a gummy mess?).

Thing turned around this morning when I took out my husband's Christmas present and finally put it to use. He and my son make great home made pasta so, when Christmas rolled around last year I thought I'd make their lives just a bit easier by investing in Kitchen Aid's pasta roller/cutter attachment for our mixer. Well, the box was still sealed when I took it out today. I only opened it because I couldn't find the hand crank for my old school Atlas pasta machine (that's another story for another post). "Hmmm" I wondered, "is there any possible way this will be as good as hand cranked pasta?".

The answer...ABSOLUTELY! I was in heaven! It makes pasta rolling a single person job because the motor cranks the machine for you. That's all it does-it doesn't mix the dough or take the art out of the process. It keeps your hands free to roll long smooth sheets of beautiful egg filled pasta dough.

I cut it into tagliatelle and tossed it with chives, creme fraiche, lemon zest and poached lobster. How do you think that was? Right!

If you make pasta, save your dough (ha!) and invest in this attachment. It is a gadget you will use and love. I promise you'll never be Pasta'd Out!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

Took a while to get here today, but, here's what I finally read this food-section Wednesday.

In the SF Chronicle there is a recipe from Bi-Rite market for their Farro Salad. If you haven't cooked farro yet, buy some and make this dish. It's good and good for you. Delicious!

Just one look at the picture and I know you'll think the LA Times' Pan Fried Cod Sandwich is a must-make. I love crispy fish on a sandwich, especially with slaw. If radicchio isn't your thing, use green cabbage instead.

Hey look-farro again! The NY Times has the perfect fall dish-Short Rib Meatballs with Farro and Carrot Salad. I never knew you could get ground short ribs but, if you have a good butcher in your hood, they should be able to do this for you. If not, I'd substitute ground chuck. Mmmmm....

What to drink with your pizza? The Seattle Times sheds some light on alternatives to an ice cold beer or a glass of chianti. Argentine Malbec anyone?

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking...

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