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?
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