Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Well, that's another year down.  Too many dishes to count and a lot of cooking and writing, at least for me.  I'll recap some of my favorites after the first of the year.  But, for this last installment of 2009, enjoy my picks from today's food sections.

We all start the new year with every intention of getting our diet on track.  Eating healthy is a top priority, although how long that priority actually lasts is a question.  Today's New York Times features a Greek twist on the Southern tradition of black eyed peas for New Year's.  In this Greek Black Eyed Pea Salad you'll find a salty burst of feta along with sweet peppers and a simple vinaigrette.  I think it would be the ideal side for simple grilled fish or shrimp.  The great things about salads like this one?  Well, they keep for a few days (and often taste better), they are perfect for a crowd so double, triple, or quadruple away, and they taste so good you don't even know you're eating healthy.  We should all eat more salads like this in 2010!

Now, after that healthy salad, you mine as well dig into a piece of Rum Walnut Chocolate Chip Pie, right?  Sure.  In today's LA Times the recipe comes from a restaurant called Cold Springs Tavern in Santa Barbara.  The pie looks rich and velvety and if you served it warm it might just taste like the world's best chocolate chip cookie.  While you're there, check out the slideshow featuring their favorite 50 recipes from LA-area restaurants.  I'm loving the Grilled Cheese with Shallots from Lucques (see, that healthy eating thing has already gone out the window and the new year hasn't even started!). 

At the Washington Post they're helping me out with a gorgeous recipe for Beef Satay on Rice Noodles.  A full meal on a plate, this dish includes beef tendlerloin marinated in a homemade, yet simple, hoisin sauce and quickly cooked under the broiler.  It's served on top of tender rice noodles with snow peas, cilantro, carrots, and green onions.  I love a one-recipe dinner and it's even better when it is actually good for you.  If you're stearing clear of beef, this would certainly work with chicken or pork. 

I love, love, love pozole.  It's a Mexican soup laced with red chiles, hominy, and usually tender pork.  If I'm eating it out in SF, my favorite is from Nopalito.  But, with this recipe, from the San Francisco Chronicle, I'm going to try making it myself.  It uses chicken drumsticks to speed things up, which makes it work well for a weeknight dinner.  The dried chiles are easy to find at most supermarkets these days so don't be scared off.  This is a dish that is flavorful from top to bottom, every bite should make your mouth sing.  Garnishes are key too-serve sliced radishes, oregano, more chiles, lime wedges, and crispy tortilla chips along side.  It's another one recipe meal, one that makes a cold winter night warm up very quickly. 

Happy Reading, Happy Cooking, and Happy New Year!
(photo by luigi diamanti via )

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


What a day!  I spent the morning making tamales and the evening eating them up.  It was fantastic.  I have two great friends who invited my friend and I over to help make tamales with them.  Both Texans, with Mexican heritage, they've got cooking in their genes and good cooking at that.  They were incredibly prepared-masa from La Palma, home braised red chile pork, roasted green chiles and onions, and tons of corn husks to be boiled.  Here are a few pictures to get us started...the fresh masa and both fillings-red chile pork and green chiles with onions:

We cooked until mid afternoon, leaving our friends to finish up.  They had 10 DOZEN tamales to steam plus gorgeous calabacitas (braised zucchini), beans, and rice to finish.  When we showed up for dinner, with another 12+ people, the feast was augmented with chile con queso, chips, homemade  salsa, wonderful margaritas, and a huge platter of holiday cookies .

What a way to spend the night before Christmas-amazing friends and out of this world food.  It was spectacular in every way!! I hope you have friends who are as open and generous with their own family holiday traditions.  It really is a very special thing.

What I'm Reading Today-Tamales!

Today I'm off to spend the day with a friend and her mother-in-law making authentic Mexican tamales.  I'm going to pass on my usual post and will be back later with the full tamale report.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Make it yourself!

These days it is so easy to buy food already prepared or partially prepared.  People have strayed from the kitchen and gravitated to the deli counter, take out window, and frozen food aisle.  Frankly, I can't really think of what else to say beyond "it bums me out".  I know, I sound about 15 when I write that but it's true.  The demise of family dinner and homemade meals truly does get me down.

I was lucky enough to have a Micheal Pollan moment a few weeks ago.  A dear friend invited me to hear him speak at a breakfast at her daughter's school.  I was so excited that morning-I had butterflies in my stomach (goofy but true).  He spoke for a long while, heralding the benefits of CSAs and Farmer's Markets and the tragedy that is our industrialized food system.  He also talked about the importance of sharing with your kids the source of the food on your table and the process of cooking.  He is fantastic speaker who talks with no notes, plenty of levity, and a relatable quality that allows him to explain pretty heavy subjects in terms anyone can, and should, understand.  I love the guy. 
When the speech was over he sat down for a book signing.  I rushed upstairs, not with a Pollan book but with my own book.  I'd written him a note, thanking him for inspiring me to teach and write the way I do.  I felt like an eight year old girl meeting Hannah Montana.  I could barely hand him the book and talk at the same time, stumbling over words and turning beet red, I'm sure.  Needless to say, he was incredibly gracious, paged through the book, and said to me "Wow, this is gorgeous.  Not only will I look at this but I will cook from it too.".  I was thrilled.

As I walked in my kitchen to cook my own dinner last night, I thought of Michael Pollan and his simple philosophy of cooking your own food.  We grilled two rib eye steaks and alongside I made homemade French fries (baked very crispy in the convection oven) and my old recipe for homemade Caesar salad.  This is the meal people go out for but why?  It's so easy to make yourself, costs way less, and tastes just delicious.

Next time you think about what to do for dinner, make it yourself.  You can start with this Caesar.  Happy Cooking!!

Caesar Salad

2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 anchovy fillets, mashed with a fork (or a bit of good quality anchovy paste)
1 tbs Dijon mustard
pinch each of salt and freshly ground pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1/2-3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 of a baguette, crust removed and bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes (any bread you have will work)
1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and cut into bite size pieces
additional Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a small bowl, combine the garlic, Parmesan, anchovies, Dijon, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Add the olive oil, staring with 1/2 cup, and whisk (or use an immersion blender for a creamier dressing) until well combined, adding more oil as needed to balance out the flavors.  Season to taste with additional salt or pepper and set aside.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Toss the bread cubes with about 1 tbs of olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Bake until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes (I do mine in the toaster oven which works great).

When ready to serve, place the Romaine pieces in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add half of the dressing and toss well, adding as much additional dressing as needed to lightly coat all the lettuce.  Toss in the croutons and grate some additional Parm over the top for garnish.  Enjoy right away.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What I'm Reading Today-Cookie Edition

It's time for cookies.  Holiday cookies galore!  Happy Baking.

As you can see from the picture above, I LOVE holiday cookies.  In today's LA Times there is an article called Sweet Memories of Mom's Christmas Cookies.  Who doesn't have a memory of some kind of treat during the holidays, whether it was made by your mom, grandma, or neighbor.  I was shocked to see a recipe for Frozen Fruit Slices.  This is much like a cookie called "Santa's Whisker's" that my friend Kelly makes as part of her annual holiday tradition.  They are her grandmother's recipe and her dear grandma lived to be 103 so they always make me smile when she brings a batch to our house.  Very buttery and nutty, they will elevate candied fruit to an entirely new level for you.  Kelly rolls hers in toasted coconut but truth be told, they look much like the cookies in the Times.

More cookies over at the NY Times today.  These are wedding cookies, in the Italian tradition.  I remember going to a family wedding for my husband's cousin and the table of cookies his aunt had made was gigantic.  Like my own great Aunt Bobby used to do, his Aunt Roe had made dozens of types of cookies and stocked them away in her freezer for just the right special occasion.  If you're looking for a new cookie you can stash in your own freezer, try Chocolate Italian Wedding Cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms, or Aunt Gen's Biscotti.

What's not to like about a Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Chewie?  Maybe its not your traditional holiday cookie but with ingredients like  cocoa, brown sugar, peanut butter, and yogurt, this is a very easy cookie, from today's Washington Post, for anyone wanting a more straightforward recipe.  Decorating be damned!

If your holiday cookie spread isn't complete without something rolled in powdered sugar, maybe you need the SF Chronicle's recipe for Auntie Ella's Snowballs.  Whether you call them Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, Sandies, or Snowballs I LOVE any version of this buttery, rich cookie rolled in powdered sugar.  Thank goodness my mother in law makes a ton of them.

Finally, a big shout out to my Basics Two class that ended last night at Tante Marie's.  You guys were an amazing group and I had such fun cooking with you.

Happy Reading

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Crispy Potato Latkes

Happy Hanukkah!  To ring in the holiday here, I made a huge batch of potato latkes.  One of my all time favorite foods, they're just delicious....if you get them right.  Latkes need to be crispy and crunchy on the outside with the interior cooked through and tender.  They shouldn't be laden with grease either.  I've made many recipes over the years and think this one might just be the best.

I started with some inspiration from my friend Leslie Jonath.  If you haven't seen her video on making latkes, watch it here.  What I loved about her method is the two blade process in the food processor.  She puts her potatoes through the grating blade then changes back to the normal chopping blade.  I ended up grating three and putting two-thirds of the grated potatoes in with the chopping blade. This left me with some potato chards, which I like to have poking out of the latkes.

I cook mine in a non-stick pan with a thin layer of oil, versus a pan with an inch or two of oil.  They still come out beautifully crisp but I find them much less greasy.  I used a small ice cream scoop to get my pancakes nice and even, pressing on the mixture well to remove any of the excess moisture before I dropped each mound into the pan.  This helped get that uber-crunchy texture too.

I keep them in a low oven to stay warm while I cook the rest and serve 'em up with applesauce and sour cream.  My best advice?  Make lots!  They dissapear fast.

Crispy Potato Latkes

3 large russet potatoes, peeled
1/2 large onion
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup matzoh meal or flour
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable or canola oil for frying
apple sauce and sour cream for serving

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Place a rack in a baking sheet and set aside.

Set up the food processor with the grating blade.  Grate all the potatoes, and the onion, then transfer them to a bowl.  Remove the grating blade, replace it with the regular chopping blade, and return two-thirds of the potato/onion mixture to the bowl of the processor.  Press the "pulse" button 4-5 times, just enough to create a roughly chopped mixture.  Transfer the mixture back to the bowl and stir well to combine.  Add the eggs, matzoh meal, salt, and pepper and mix well.

Heat a large non stick saute pan over medium heat.  Add just enough oil to coat the pan in a thin (1/4-inch at most) layer.  When the oil is hot, add spoonfuls (about 2 tbs each) of the potato mixture, pressing out any excess moisture in the bowl before the mixture goes into the pan.  Gently press each pancake and cook until golden brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes.  Flip over, cook until brown on the other side, transfer to the rack, and sprinkle with salt.  Place the rack/baking sheet in the oven to keep latkes warm while cooking the remaining batter in the same way.

Serve latkes with apple sauce and sour cream on the side and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Taking a Break Today

"What I'm Reading" will be back later today or tomorrow....Thanks for waiting.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Candy Making & Holiday Baking

My absolute favorite thing about December is holiday baking.  My mom used to bake 10+ different cookies throughout the month, stash them in the freezer, then dole them out to friends and neighbors right before Christmas.  The gene definitely got passed down to me, although lately I've been partial to making candy.  Over the years I've done caramels, toffee, honeycomb, and hot fudge sauce.  This year I wanted to try something different and ventured into the world of homemade lollipops.  I was inspired by a recipe in the December issue of Martha Stewart Living.  I don't have too many "Martha moments" but seeing her perfectly shaped disks of citrus flecked candy I thought "that doesn't look so hard".

In truth, it wasn't that hard but my execution was not quite as perfect as Ms. Stewart's (then again, who's is?).  I found myself at two cake supply stores.  The first molds I bought turned out to be for chocolate pops, not 300-degree molten sugar syrup so they immediately melted when I used them once.   The second set of molds were the right material (look for "hard candy molds") but no disks, just half-spheres (that some really crazy person probably figures out how to put together to make an actual sphere...I am not that person).  Had I taken the time to plan ahead, I would have ordered my supplies on this site and been a lot a lot better prepared. 

Martha's recipe needed a bit of tweaking.  Like when I poured the hot syrup into a glass measuring cup to get it into the molds...the leftover immediately hardened onto the Pyrex cup, leaving me to chisel off every last bit (next time, non stick cooking spray came to the rescue).  She has you add 2 tablespoons of citrus juice but, if you do this once the mixture reaches the "hard crack" stage, it immediately cools down and never sets back up.  After a lot of trial and error, I finally got it right (and probably gave my son his first cavity after all the taste testing).

Mine are pomegranate, caramelized orange, lemon/lime, green apple, and (my fave) grapefruit-all made with natural fruit extracts/oil except the apple (which has a nice Jolly Rancher flavor to it).  After the two cake supply shops, I also hit Michael's for sticks, little cellophane bags, and just the right ribbon (that place makes anyone want to be crafty, beware).   The final result is above...not to shabby, eh?

Homemade Lollipops

1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup or glucose (from the cake supply shop)
1/4 cup water
1/4-1/2 tsp fruit extract or natural fruit oils (some of these are very strong, some less so, so the amount varies)
1 drop gel based food coloring

Before cooking, spray a two cup glass measuring cup with nonstick cooking spray. Also lightly spray your lollipop molds and insert the sticks.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Stir to combine, using a wet pastry brush to brush down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan.  Place the pan over medium high heat and clip a candy thermometer onto the side.  Cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches the "hard crack" stage, 300 degrees, and immediately remove it from the stove.  Add the extract and food coloring and stir with a heat-proof rubber spatula.  CAREFULLY pour the mixture into the prepared glass measuring cup, tap it lightly on the counter to pop the bubbles, and pour it into the molds.  Work carefully but quickly as the mixture starts to set up very fast.  Let lollipops rest for 30 minutes, remove from the molds, and package as desired.

Makes 20-24 small pops

PS...if you're more of a cookie person, you must see what my friend Mindy did, below.  She baked all these gorgeous cookies plus my honeycomb recipe and packaged them in a very "Martha' way...nice going Mindy! 

What are you baking for the holidays this year?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Blogging today from 32,247 feet, 437 mph, and -51 degrees.  Yep, gotta love free wifi on the airplane!

This time between Thanksgiving and the December holidays is a busy one.  Parties, shopping, giving, and more all happen on top of the rest of life  Dinner still needs to get on the table so here are a few ideas to help make the season go a bit more smoothly.

In today's NY Times, Mark Bittman writes about cooking your pasta like risotto.  He lets the pasta slowly absorb stock after a quick saute with fresh mushrooms. The 15-20 minute cooking time is about the same as boiling a pot of water and cooking pasta the traditional way.  It's the method that differentiates the dish, creating a rich dish with sauce that clings beautifully to each noodle and coaxing flavor out of the stock that you normally don't get in pasta.   He throws in boneless chicken thighs the last few minutes but I think shrimp would be fantastic too.

Holiday shopping-are you done?  I haven't even started!  Russ Parsons, in today's LA Times, puts together his list of gifts for the cooks in your life.  I love anything Russ writes so I may just print his list, cross off what I already have, and pass it along.  Some of the best ideas?
--The carnivore in your life should have a great instant read thermometer
--Every cook you know should have a Microplane zester
--The big ticket item that will last a life time is an enameled cast iron Dutch Oven, like a Le Creueset
For some of my own favorites, click here

I love poaching fish in a flavorful broth (remember Halibut all'Aqua Pazza?). Not only is it quick but it ensures moist and juicy fish that is well seasoned.  A simple salad and crusty bread for dragging through the bowl and you've got dinner.  Today's Washington Post has a recipe for Cod in a Fennel Tomato Broth. Any fish would do, even shellfish like clams and mussels or a mixture of a couple favorites. 

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.  I'll do my best to try and keep you sane over the next few weeks, at least as far as food and cooking are concered.
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