Sunday, May 31, 2009

Writing a Recipe

This past Friday I tested my final recipe for my third Williams Sonoma book. It was a whirlwind of a schedule with me creating 47 recipes in about 5 weeks! I'm often asked how I do it. Not the timing so much but, the recipe development.

It's actually a fun process. When I work on these books, my publisher actually gives me a list of dishes to work from. For example, it will say Persimmon Pudding or Roasted Chicken with Apricots. I start by taking all 47 dishes and writing recipes. Some are easy to do right off the cuff. The chicken, for example, I know how to do from beginning to end and it was easy to figure out how to incorporate the fruit. The pudding was another story. I'd never made one before so I did a lot of research-looking at recipes online and in cookbooks and talking to pastry chefs I know. I then took all the recipes I'd gathered and compared them side by side. Does it need eggs, how much butter, what kind of sugar, how much cooking time, etc. From there I wrote my own version, seasoning it with the spices I thought would taste good. I made the dish once and it didn't seen right. I made it again and it was a lot better. I had more persimmon puree and had the idea to use it in place of bananas in my banana bread recipe (one I'd evolved over many years). Now that recipes turned out amazing. I was then able to go back to my publisher and convince them more people would make persimmon bread than persimmon pudding and we changed the recipe.

These were simple recipes-using fresh ingredients from the farmer's market. For more involved recipes, especially when it comes to baking, it takes a lot more time. I will often hire another person to come it at the end and cook all the recipes I'm not getting quite right. It's great to have another set of eyes and hands to poke holes in the recipes during the process.

Now it's just copy editing. Of course someone else does this once I hand over the manuscript but, I like my version to be as clean as possible. I think it'll go off by Tuesday and I'm very excited. It should be a beautiful book when it's done. I'm guessing it'll hit the shelves this fall but I'll certainly keep you posted.

Now, on to the next one!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Don't Try This At Home....

...or anywhere else for god's sake.


Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, Domino's Pizza introduces Pasta in a Bread Bowl. That's right....a bowl. made out of bread. full of pasta.

'nuf said



(picture credit to Domino's)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

First off, a big shout out to Jill and Jen for copy editing recipes for me this week-it's good to know a few of you out there are reading these posts in detail!

As I sit here eating one of my blueberry muffins with a hot cup of coffee, sun is shining into my office. I can tell this is going to be a good day already.

And just when I thought the day couldn't get better, I open the food section in the LA Times and the top article is about one of my favorite thing on the planet: rosé. I know spring has sprung and summer is near when the
rosé starts making its rounds. I'm talking dry, crisp, pale pink French style wine as it goes down easy, pairs beautifully with foods of the season, and is totally drinkable on its own. If it's a little early for wine today, how about more blueberries? They're here and while I prefer them straight up, these are perfect cooking berries too. Lemon Blueberry Buckle anyone?

People don't preserve much anymore. We can get great jams, pickles, and preserves at so many markets that it makes us lazy about doing it ourselves (ok, I'm talking about me). I love homemade jam-we usually had a freezer full of it growing up, along with jars and jars of homemade pickles. If you find yourself with the time, and storage space, for a preserving project this spring, this NY Times article will guide you through both pickled asparagus and strawberry preserves.

Another great dish for those vegetable-centric dinners these days. Today's Washington Post has a quick weeknight recipe for Butterfly Pasta (farfalle) with Fresh Peas. Heck, if you're really in a hurry you can even use frozen ones. This is one of those pasta dishes the whole family will love. If you're more in the baking mood, how about Lemon Cranberry Scones?

More quick veggie pasta recipes at the SF Chronicle. There are lots of ideas-I like the lemony pasta with artichokes.

I have a serious food crush on Anthony Bourdain. I know, after Kitchen Confidential came out he was over-hyped and over done. But, No Reservations on the Travel Channel is one of my favorite shows. I think he's smart, hysterically funny, and has a great sensibility about food. In today's Seattle Times, Tony (who is in town w/Mario Batali for a night of 'banter' at the Paramount Theater), talks about all things food. My favorite quote "The same engine that seems to attract so many serial killers to the Pacific Northwest has attracted an extraordinarily high number of talented cooks". Ha ha! Wish I could be there.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Berry, Berry Good

A week ago today I went to the Ferry Plaza farmer's market with my friend Katie. We bought all kinds of fantastic spring produce. I was seduced by a huge tub of first-of-the-season blueberries. They were good, not great yet but, still good. I realized today I still had a couple cups left so, instead of letting them go bad in the back of the fridge I figured I'd make muffins.

I love good, moist fruit muffins. They're actually not as easy to get perfect as you might think. I've learned over the years that the addition of buttermilk or yogurt makes a huge difference. It keeps the muffins nice and tender and the acidity keeps the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the muffins.

In my recent issue of Cook's Illustrated they had a recipe for blueberry muffins with a twist. In addition to the buttermilk batter, they had you cook a cup of the berries with a tsp of sugar until they transformed into a thick jam. After scooping each muffin into the paper, you spoon the jam on top and swirl it into the batter with a toothpick. Let me tell you-if you saw this muffin at your morning coffee shop, you would not be able to resist it. It's gorgeous to look at and delicious to eat.

Next time you over shop at the farmer's market, try these fantastic muffins.

Blueberry Muffins (from Cook's Illustrated)

2 cups fresh blueberries

1 1/8 cups sugar plus 1 teaspoon

2½ cups flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

¼ cup butter, melted and cooled

¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract


Adjust oven rack to the upper middle position. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin papers.


In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of the blueberries with 1 teaspoon sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring and mashing the berries occasionally, until the mixture thickens and reduces to ¼ cup. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/8 cups sugar and eggs until thick. Add the butter, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Using a rubber spatula fold the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, along with the remaining cup of blueberries. The mixture will be lumpy with some small chunks of dry flour, this is fine.


Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, distribute the batter between the muffin cups (it should come up to the top and mound just slightly). Spoon 1 teaspoon of the cooled blueberry mixture on top of each muffin and use a skewer or toothpick to swirl it into the batter, mixing it throughout as best you can. Bake the muffins until they are golden and just firm, 16-18 minutes. Cool on a rack.


Monday, May 25, 2009

An Old Favorite

As some of you know, I am a cookie making machine. Lately I've been testing recipes for a new cookbook so it's put a damper on my recreational cookie baking, probably a good thing! Well, last night we went to a BBQ and I needed a quick but delicious cookie to bring with me.

My mom used to make Toffee Squares all the time. It's a bar cookie that is a snap to make. It's got a golden shortbread like crust, made with brown sugar for a caramel like flavor. On top is thick layer of chocolate and chopped nuts. Total time-about 20 minutes plus cooling, gotta love that.

Next time you want a fantastic cookie without spending the day in the kitchen, try a batch of Toffee Bars.

Toffee Bars

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar (dark or light), firmly packed
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 cups flour
12 ounces chopped good quality chocolate or good quality chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts, such as pecans, almonds, or walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease or spray a half sheet pan (rimmed baking sheet, 12" x 18").

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg yolk, vanilla, and salt and beat until well combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and beat until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet. With a plastic bag on your hand, press the dough out so it covers the bottom of the pan in an even layer.

Bake the crust in the preheated oven until golden brown and set, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven to a rack and sprinkle the chocolate all over the top. Let stand for 5 minutes then, using an offset spatula, gently spread the chocolate into an even layer. Sprinkle the nuts over the top and score the cookies with a knife while they are still warm. Cool completely then finish cutting cookies into bars.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

An edit to my post this morning: Hot off the presses at GQ.com, noted food writer and restaurant critic Alan Richman writes a fantastic article on why American pizza is so damn good. He ate his way through pizzerias from coast to coast and ranked his top 25 in the country. The #3 pic? Yep, Pizzeria Delfina's Panna Pizza-a favorite of mine (especially when I ask to add sausage to it!). In fact, three SF spots rated in the top 25-in addition to Pizzeria Delfina you'll find Gialina and A16. Good work!

************************************

I'm starting to think my readers are vanishing. Mmm...That's Good has been comment-less for a while. Anyone out there?

Here's what I'm reading on this sunny San Francisco day.

Leave it to Melissa Clark to have another great weeknight recipe in the NY Times. Pan Roasted Pork Chops with Pea Shoot Pesto sounds divine. I love changing up pesto and right now pea shoots are out and about so, give 'em a try. These vines and tendrils have a fresh flavor and, while I've never made pesto with them myself, I am sure they'd be perfect. There is also a great article on one of my favorite sauces, Sriracha-who knew the stuff was created in LA?

Speaking of LA, the LA Times, a la Russ Parsons, tells you how to improvise some great dishes with the bounty of amazing stuff you should be bringing home from the farmer's market these days. Spring Veggie Stew with Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi looks to die for, and a Mixed Berry Crostata is always a fave of mine. Have you been to your farmer's market lately?

This looks like a simple dish for the grill with big, bold flavors: Sesame Ginger Romaine Salad with 5-Spice Chicken from the SF Chronicle. It is Memorial Day Wknd after all, time to dust off that BBQ and fire it up.

I was going to link to the Mango Curry. Then I saw the Spicy Korean Steak Sauce. After that the Berry Corn Bread Cake. I didn't know where to begin so today just read the entire Washington Post food section. It's a good one!

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cookbook Club

Last fall I wrote about my cookbook club. It's a group of women, all of us in the food business in some form or another, from writers to teachers to cake bakers. After a short hiatus, we got together last night and had one amazing meal.

The book of choice was A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis, long time head chef at Chez Panisse. The recipes had the feel of many I've made in the Chez P. cookbooks, simple, seasonal, and fantastic. These are recipes made with the best ingredients so that each one really sings.

Highlights? Last night there were many! The Berber Pizza, a Moroccan stuffed pie fragrant of cumin and filled with meltingly soft onions was amazing. The Harira Soup (pictured above), full of tender lamb and creamy red lentils, could have been one delicious meal in and of itself. We loved the spring rabbit, marinated in spicy French mustard and bacon so it tasted almost smoked by the time it was done, and looked incredible in a crusty, brown cazuela. The Indian Spiced Halibut was so savory and unusually juicy (thanks to the additional step of brining the halibut, improvised by Bibby)-perfect fish. The topper was the yogurt sauce, spicy and cool, meant for the halibut but put on everything. For sides we had a spinach cake, pureed spinach and leeks baked with lots of eggs and a bit of parm and a fresh salad of arugula, mint, tarragon, basil, and parsley.

Dessert was times two. A hazelnut sponge cake, incredibly light and fluffy, with sweet strawberries and a claufouti with Bing and Rainier cherries, gorgeously baked right in a cast iron skillet.

Unlike some of our dinners, this one was a huge hit. Everyone was stuffed and happy with lots of recipes we'd all make again.

Let me tell you, this is definitely my kind of book club.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

No Fail Brown Rice

I mentioned in a previous post my 'baked brown rice'. Truth be told, it's not really mine. I got the idea from Alton Brown on the Food Network. Mine or not, the idea is brilliant.

I was never a fan of brown rice. I'd tried to make it and it was always too raw or too mushy. Enter baked brown rice. This is seriously fool-proof and the end result is fluffy, nutty brown rice that will covert you to the healthy stuff forever. My son mows it in and many a dinner guest has been won over. Sure it cooks for an hour but, this is totally unattended leaving you to cook something else (or to put your feet up with a nice glass of vino and that book you've been wanting to read).

I always use brown basmati rice. I soak it in water for at least an hour but, putting it in a sieve and running cold water over it will also help. This rinses off the excess starch helping you avoid sticky gummy rice.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. You might just decide you prefer brown rice too!

You can find the recipe here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

contiGO

As you know, I'm gun shy when it comes to trying new restaurants. I'm a huge fan of dinner parties at home and when I do eat out, I have my handful of favorites that have set the bar very high. Last night I was meeting a friend from culinary school. We hadn't caught up in ages but, I know she's one to be on top of all the new restaurants in town. I suggested Contigo, hoping she hadn't already been (she hadn't!), and we made a plan.

We met at 6. I know, that's lunch time for some people but, Contigo doesn't take reservations and with the buzz about the place, we figured it would be a long wait later in the night. The restaurant, on Castro St. in Noe Valley, is not big, I'm guessing 50 seats and a small bar. It's simple design, outdoor space, and open kitchen were inviting from the moment we walked in. The hosts took us right to a table and explained the menu-mostly small plates, a few flatbreads, and 2-3 entree size dishes. The wines, from Spain, Portugal, and France were varied and reasonable and for $40 we had a dry, crispy Spanish white that was amazing.

On to the food...my first thought was "what are we NOT going to order?". Then the reality of us being only two people kicked in and narrowed it down. I will say, eating with a fellow cook is always great-you can over order by rationalizing it as 'market research'. From the small plates side of the menu we ordered snap peas with morels (crunchy, earthy-SPRING on a plate), calamares a la plancha (fresh and cooked just right), and a bocadillo of pork belly and pickled red onions (a small 'slider' that was a bit too fatty for me but, the mini pimenton chips on the side were addictive). Next was a flatbread, or 'coca', with artichokes, fennel, and a fried egg (a bit like a thin crust, tomato-less, pizza-crispy, flavorful, and just the right size). Everything hit the spot. Portion sizes were perfect for two people and the pacing of the dishes was spot on.

Of course we saved room for dessert...churros and hot chocolate are not to be passed up, right? The chocolate was rich and thick in the European style. The churros were mini and, at least for me, a bit too crispy. I love churros with a crunchy exterior and a soft, pillowy inside. Because these were so tiny, they got the crunch on the outside but, I missed the inside. Topping it off with press pots of Blue Bottle was icing on the cake.

I can't wait to go back and try things like the tortilla espanola with asparagus, albodigas with lamb and pork, and the oxtail croquetas. The menu changes often, keeping the basics but making sure they include the most seasonal ingredients possible.

I live way across town from Contigo but, the distance won't keep me away. It shouldn't stop you either!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

We have a bit of a pancake obsession at our house. From our weekly cottage cheese pancakes to 'Daddy's Pancakes', another family recipe that my son has deemed 'the best!'. So it's no surprise the article in today's LA Times about Aebleskivers caught my eye. This Danish pastry is sort of a pancake/donut combo, what could be bad about that? Only problem is you need a special pan to make them. If only there were a Netflix for cookware!

This recipe isn't from today but, it's still featured on the NY Times food page, Asparagus with Morels and Tarragon. I can't imagine a more spring tasting dish. It reminds me of an 8 course meal my husband and I had at Alain Ducasse in Paris about 8 years ago. It was the height of spring and every course had asparagus and morels. Mmmm...

I've never been a huge fan of French macaroons. They always seems cloyingly sweet to me. Lately, I'm changing my tune. Last week my cousin brought me a box from Masse's Pastrie's in Berkeley and they were balanced beautifully (chocolate, strawberry, and yuzu was the trio). For mom's day I had a box from the Beverly Hills to Hayes Valley transplant Paulette. These cookies are on an entirely new level! The fillings are fresh and rich and the cookies have a smooth texture that is anything but too sweet. The SF Chronicle (on Sunday) has a rundown of all the local shops...I'd definitely recommend a trip to Paulette (my faves are the caramel pecan and the raspberry).

So many people I know have decided to start eating less meat and more veggies in their weekly diet, a smart way to eat. If you're on a less carnivorous path these days, you might want to try Polenta with Poached Egg, Feta, and Radicchio from the Washington Post. It's dinner in a snap and, if you don't have a taste for bitter greens, I think chard or spinach would both work nicely.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Monday, May 11, 2009

School Lunches


I have a love/hate relationship with packing school lunches. Some mornings I'm up before everyone else and I actually enjoy getting creative with the lunch box. Other days, it a mad rush and my son is peering over me telling me 'I don't like that' after each thing goes in. Always best to pack it when he's not around.

He can get hot lunch at school but, at $5.50 a pop, I try not to do it too often. Plus, I like to know what's in the food he eats. The lunch menu at his school actually reads beautifully but, I know it has been hard to get the cafeteria team moved to organic and sustainable ingredients because the cost is still so high.

So what does he like in the lunch box? Well, the fave is meatballs. When I make them for dinner I make another batch of minis. I pack them in containers of 5-6 and put them in the freezer. I heat them through in the morning and pop 'em in the trusty Thermos. Actually, pretty much anything in the Thermos is a hit-soup (especially homemade Matzoh Ball soup!), rice (either leftover fried rice or my baked brown rice), or potstickers and dumplings (no, those aren't homemade).

Along with the Thermos, I try to make sure there is a balance of other foods-protein, dairy, produce, and something crunchy but healthy. We do yogurt, cheese, good quality salami or ham, cucumbers (love the small Persian ones), carrot sticks, hard boiled eggs, Akmak crackers, applesauce, grapes, melon, and popcorn. I avoid the dessert, knowing its a slippery slope and he has enough of a sweet tooth at home. But, occasionally I throw in a homemade mini muffin or cookie.

He's never seen a Poptart, he doesn't like any kind of 'bar', candy doesn't end up in his lunch box, and yes, sometimes the good stuff still comes home. He's always famished at the end of his school day but, he does eat that lunch. I still remember loving that feeling of opening my lunch box and wondering what my mom had packed. As long as I change it up and keep it delicious, he's a happy camper just like I was.

What do you put in your kid's lunch box?

Friday, May 8, 2009

When Good Dessert Goes Bad

I'm no Brit. I've never been to the U.K. and am not an expert in their cuisine. I didn't seem daunted by this when I began creating my own version of a summer pudding. I know 'pudding' is a general term for dessert in the U.K. but, a summer pudding is a very specific type of dessert. Using sliced white bread as it's 'crust' and cooked fresh fruit for the filling, it sounded straight forward enough to me.

I wasn't creating the recipe just for fun. I'm working on a new cookbook for Williams Sonoma and they requested the dessert. So I did my research, reading tons of recipes for summer pudding, comparing methods, and spending an arm and a leg on the barely in season blueberries I needed for the filling.

I cooked the berries a bit and added orange zest, sugar, and a pinch of nutmeg. It tasted great. I then lined my bowl with buttered bread, cooled the filling and poured it in, and topped it off with more bread so the filling was totally encased. I weighted it down in the fridge and let it sit overnight. When I unmolded it, this mass of purple stained tie-dye looking bread plopped out. It wasn't pretty. I cut into it and served it to my family, along with a few other desserts I was testing out. Ugh! It was horrible. The bread got gummy, the filling was too thick, and it looked awful.

Help! I need another recipe for this English dessert. It is supposed to be blueberry filled and should be simple. Have you made one before? Any hints?

Thankfully the raspberry tart and strawberry creme fraiche ice cream were delicious!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Wednesday! Here's what I like, hot off the presses:

Thai Coconut Chicken-so easy and so delicious. This version is from today's LA Times and
it's an overnight marinade on bone-in chicken pieces then they go on the grill. Perfect food, in my opinion. The recipes are part of a larger story on wading through the ever grown complicated acronyms for chicken at your maket-organic, free range, air chilled, etc.-which really matter?

Mark Bittman must be reading my blogs because the man just knows the way to my heart. Chicken Livers with Caramelized Onions sound soooooo delish. I know, you should give them a try. We ate them often growing up and this article might explain why. Mark writes an article on effectively using the freezer for both cooked and raw foods. My mom was a master at this and, once you read the article, you'll realize most of us are not.

The Washington Post's Michelle Singletary writes an article on what she learned about life from cooking at home. She has two kids, 8 and 11 and writes about the importance of a family meal (thank you!). If you read nothing else today, read this.

I'm not a lady who lunches but, the SF Chronicle has a nice menu for a spring garden luncheon. I especially like the Griddled Lemon Ricotta Poundcake with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Simple Seasonal Cooking

I taught a class today called 'Simple Seasonal Cooking'. I had 15 amazing students who cooked everything from Artichoke and Asparagus Salad to Homemade Pasta with Favas, Mint, and Ricotta-they were stellar. The point of the class was to show them that seasonal produce needs little adornment to make it shine. If you want a quick weeknight dinner, buy what's in season and you'll need so little cooking to have a great meal, you'll wonder why you don't cook more often.

One great example of this was my recipe for a Fruit Tart. I make a graham cracker crust, because even the pastry-phobic can throw that together, and top it with a Mascarpone filling and fresh fruit. Don offered to make it, not being a baker and wanting to tackle the task. It turned out perfect. Of course all the dishes were great but, this happened to be the one I wanted to post because I love the idea that people who don't think they can bake can turn out one killer tart. It's got a cheesecake like flavor, takes under 30 minutes to assemble (plus chilling time), and will surely impress. Give it a try with whatever fruit is in season in your neck of the woods.

Fresh Fruit Tart

2 cups graham crackers (about 8 whole crackers)
½ cup melted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup Mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus extra for garnish
4 cups fresh berries and/or sliced stone fruit (plums, peaches, apricots, or nectarines)
¼ cup apricot jelly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor and grind until fine crumbs form. Add the butter and brown sugar and continue to process until combined-the mixture should hold together when a small amount is pressed in the palm of your hand. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. With a barely damp hand, press the mixture evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake the crust just until set, about 10 minutes, and cool completely on a rack.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the Mascarpone, milk, and vanilla extract and mix with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and continue to mix until no lumps remain, 2-3 more minutes. Use a spatula to spread the Mascarpone mixture into the cooled crust. Cover the tart and chill until the cream mixture is firm, 1-2 hours.

Just before serving, remove the side of the tart pan. Arrange the fruit in concentric circles, starting at the middle of the tart, to cover all of the Mascarpone mixture. Heat the jam until it thins out then spread it with a pastry brush over the fruit. Cut slices and place them on serving plates, dusting the top of each slice with a bit of powdered sugar.


 
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