Thursday, December 30, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

I can't believe it's my last installment of 2010.  I've been thinking about new year's resolutions and hope you have too.  If you cook at home, can I make a suggestion?  Let 2011 be the year you start to cook more without a recipe.  I know, I write recipes for a living and maybe I'm crazy to say that but I've noticed more and more of my students telling me they want to be more instinctual cooks.  My best advice?  Pick a few basic recipes-a soup, a vinaigrette/salad, a stew or braise, a pasta sauce, and a seared meat dish.  Cook the recipe to the letter then, the next time you make it, try it with a variation or two.  Cook it another time or two and pretty soon you'll not only have the recipe etched in memory but you'll have made it your own.  Variations from there are endless and you'll be surprised how simple it is to improvise.  It takes practice, learning which flavors you like and what works well together, but it isn't hard.  Commit to it, do it, and the results will follow.  Have fun in the kitchen! 

In the meantime, here are a few great recipes to get you started and to close out an amazing year in food.

Before my grandmother passed away she used to fly south for the winter, spending the colder months in Orange County.  A great cook herself, she loved the LA Times food section and always clipped recipes to send up to my mom and I.  Her favorite section was the paper's compilation of the year's best recipes.  I thought of her as I read the 2010 version today.  She loved to bake so I'm sure she'd have gone right to the kitchen to fire up a batch of pecan and coconut Paradise Bars.  I'm loving the Chicken, Chorizo, and Green Chile Hash and, a recipe that's been on my list all year, the Momofuku Crack Pie.  

Bacon and Cheddar Quiche, a la Melissa Clark in the NY Times, is decadent, rich, and soul satisfying.  Homemade crust makes all the difference and Melissa recommends using both butter and lard.  The combination of both fats is hard to beat if you're looking for a rich and flaky crust but your favorite all butter pie dough will work just fine here too.  Whether it's New Year's Day brunch or a simple, elegant supper paired with mixed greens, there really isn't a bad time of the day to enjoy quiche.

When you start looking ahead at January, healthy eating certainly comes to mind.  I'm starting with this casserole-Butternut Squash, Kale and Shitake Casserole peppered with the flavors of Thailand.  Ginger, coconut milk, and green curry paste take simple seasonal ingredients and turn them into a dish with huge flavors.  Better yet, the casserole can be made two days in advance and kept in the fridge so it's perfect for weeknight dinner because you can make ahead of time.  There is a bit of cutting and chopping but pulling this one together couldn't be easier.

Here's to a food filled and delicious 2011!  Happy Reading and happy cooking.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Two days and counting until Christmas eve.  I hope you're shopping is done, your meals are planned, and you're well and healthy.  Me?  Well, shopping is done, meals are almost planned, and my holiday
cold should turn the corner any day now.  Happy Holidays and may the rest of the 2010 bring you everything you could wish for and more.

Ahhh, gougères.  If you're ever looking for the go-to appetizer for your next dinner or cocktail party, these should, hands-down, be your number one pick.   Russ Parsons writes about them in today's LA Times and I couldn't agree more with his notion about how simple they are.  These French cheese puffs are made using a traditional choux pastry, very heavy on the eggs and mixed over the stove top until the dough resembles thick and smooth mashed potatoes (some people transfer the dough to a mixer to finish it-I do it by hand and it always works just fine).  The best thing about these light and airy cheese puffs is that you can make them in advance, freeze them (uncooked) on baking sheets, them store them in zip-top bags in your freezer for weeks.  I pop them right onto a parchment lined baking sheet and into the oven with no defrosting at all.  They still rise beautifully and save lots of last minute work.  You can serve your gougères as is (perfect with a crisp, dry Champagne) or cut them open and pop in fillings like smoked salmon mousse, crumbly bacon and arugula, or smoked duck with cherry jam.  They really are the perfect appetizer. 

I have been making candy non-stop this holiday season.  I adore the candy thermometer I got for Christmas last year and it's helped me ensure perfection in all those batches of toffee, brittle, and bark.  Today, however, the esteemed food scientist Harold McGee writes, in The New York Times, about using your microwave to make all types of candy.  He says the heat in a microwave boils sugar syrup more quickly and evenly, avoiding the inevitable hot spots on the stove top that can cause scorching.   He judges doneness by color, instead of using a thermometer, and if the photo of this nut brittle is any indication, it comes out quite nice.  I'll admit, I don't own a microwave so this isn't a method I'll be testing any time soon but if you've shied away from making candy because the thermometer thing seems too overwhelming (it isn't, really), this could be a great place to start. 

Sticky buns and cinnamon rolls rank in my top five all time favorite foods.  Just like my mom, I've tried dozens of different recipes on the quest for perfection.  In today's Washington Post there is a Pecan Toffee Sticky Bun recipe that just jumped to the top of my list.  A brioche dough is coated in caramel like toffee sauce and loaded with cinnamon and pecans.  These take some time, I'm not going to lie-homemade buns like this are a labor of love.  I often do them for Christmas morning, making them the day before, refrigerating them (unbaked) overnight, and, after they come to room temp in the morning, I pop 'em in the oven.  Perfect after a marathon round of cleaning up gift wrap, taking photos, and drinking coffee. 

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.  Enjoy the flavors of the holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Cookies, Brittle, Peppermint Bark, and Toffee...I've been fitting in batches of baking anywhere and everywhere I can.  My candy thermometer and sil-pats are working over time cranking out homemade gifts for friends, teachers, and neighbors.  I love this time of year!!

The New York Times gathered handfuls of readers' cookie recipes and, after giving them a thorough test run,  published many today.  The paper's fave is this alternative to your basic sugar cookies, Rich Chocolate Cookies, made for rolling, cutting and decorating.  Some other lovely looking recipes are beautifully assembled here.  I'll definitely be adding Maple Vanilla Pizelles to my holiday assortment, shaking up the usual anise variety and hoping they're a welcome addition.

The LA Times assembled their own list of sorts, 22 Food Gifts to Give...and Keep for Yourself.  I love the adorable Snowflake Pretzel Rods as well as Almond Cherry Coconut Granola.  Both recipes are simple for anyone who normally shuns the idea of baking anything.  A trip to your local craft store will give you dozens of cute packaging ideas and, voila, before you know it you'll have knocked out all those extra gifts that were still on your list-UPS guy?  Check!  Dry Cleaners?  Check!   Dog Walker? Check!

Since I've been in nut brittle mode, making what I'm nicknaming "brittlicious" by the bucket full, I loved seeing this No Peanut Brittle in today's Washington Post.   Chock full of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and pine nuts, it's a great alternative to the peanut version. I actually like the idea of small seeds and nuts, making room for more of the caramelized candy.  I always give mine a sprinkle of sea salt before it starts to cool but the tiny touch of chipotle powder in this recipe might be enough to amp things up on its own.  For your spiciest friends, this brittle is it.

Happy Reading and Happy Baking!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My New York Italian Adventure

Last week I was lucky enough to spend three and a half days eating my way around some of New York's most delicious Italian restaurants.  I tagged along with my friend Annie who was doing a research trip on Roman food for her upcoming restaurant Locanda here in San Francisco.  We were breaking down the intricacies of dishes, checking out the table settings, looking at server uniforms, and doing it all in the name of "research"...can you think of a better business trip?  Nope, me neither.

We came to a few conclusions on this trip.  The first: "if the service is bad, neither great food or a longstanding reputation can make up for it" and the second: "more often than not, casual, home style dining satisfies infinitely more than white tablecloth fine dining".  Oh, and good Pasta all'Amatriciana needs lots of guanciale. 

Our absolute hands-down highlight meal was at a tiny spot in Nolita called Torrisi Italian Specialties.  The sandwich shop by day and 18 seat restaurant by night is truly a stunner.  The chef/owners spent their earlier years cooking for the likes of Daniel Bouloud and Mario Batali before opening Torrisi.  Their pedigrees shine through clearly, not in the fussiness of the food but in the meticulous attention to detail and the clean flavors of each and every bite.

Getting into Torrisi is a bit of an event.  The restaurant opens at 6 and only takes reservations on site, beginning at 5:45, for that night.  So you line up, in our case about 5pm, make friends with folks standing outside with you, and at 5:45 the host comes out and goes down the line, asking you when you want to eat.  You can hang out and eat right at 6 or, as we did, give her a later time and grab some drinks in the hood while you wait (a word of warning-don't eat anything before dinner, you'll be happy you showed up hungry).

We were a table of five and the host sat us right on time.  The dark wood tables are surrounded by shelves of Italian-American grocery products-Progresso bread crumbs, olive oil, and dried pastas.  The menu is set with no substitutions so be prepared to take what you get.  Each meal starts off with mixed antipasti, a selection of four appetizers brought to the table family style on small plates.  We had:
--Still-warm made-to-order mozzarella drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, and served with amazing little garlic toasts. 
--Cucumbers New Yorkese: loved the name and LOVED the cukes!  These were cucumbers in five stages of pickling, sliced together and tossed in a light mustard vinaigrette.  Each bite had different flavors and textures and I could have taken home a gigantic jar of these babies...amazing
--Seafood salad: crisp green lettuce leaves tossed with a very fresh and clean tasting mixture of fish and shellfish.  It was lovely but, to me, got a bit lost in all the other big flavors on the table.
--Pork liver mousse with pretzel crostini and pickled red onions:  This disk of perfectly smooth mousse was French Laundry worthy-spread it on the toasted pretzel bread, top it with picked onions...mmmm

After the antipasti, there was a pasta course.  We had German Style Gnocchi served with shredded brussels sprouts, a vinegar brown butter sauce, and crispy rye bread crumbs.  The gnocchi were kind of cross between spaetzle and gnocchi, light as air and very acidic with that sauce.  I loved the rye bread crumbs and will add them to my own brussels sprouts next time I make them.

For entrees there are generally two choices and that night we were offered Devil's Chicken (a breast and thigh cooked until absolutely moist and bathed in a guajillo chile spiked sauce-served with homemade yogurt) or a crispy skinned trout fillet served with sunchoke hash.  They were also offering an additional "entree for two", a prime cut whole short rib, sliced and served on the bone (think Fred Flintstone my friends)-a $15 supplement to the regular menu.  We had all of the above and the highlight was absolutely that meat-the texture was succulent and the flavor simple and out of this world.  I should also mention we were grabbing every last bit of chicken we could off the plates on the table.

Before dessert they brought out a small cup of house made lemon Italian ice then came the plate of "pastries".   Modern interpretations on your Italian grandma's classes, the plate had five petite bites for each of us:
-a pinky sized cheesecake cup-graham cracker crust, cream cheese topping, and a dried cherry on top
-rainbow cookies: the red/green/white marzipan bars coated in chocolate at either end
-tiny profiteroles stuffed with walnut cream
-star-piped butter cookies dotted with chocolate and sea salt
-miniature cannoli made with pizzelles

I debated writing about this dinner because it was one of those nights where you finish a meal and know there is no possible way to describe how good it really was.  We called it "epic" and I stand by it.  After meals at Babbo, Lupa, Marea, and Mialino (plus two visits to Eataly), we experienced a few dining highs and many dining lows.  The meal at Torrisi was spot-on from beginning to end.  The service and food both shined and at $50 a head, it was worth every penny.  My only tiny criticism might be of the wine list...most bottles were from California and the price points seemed very high given the price of the food. 

Next time you find yourself in New York, spend your day enjoying every minute but by 5pm be sure to make your way to Mulberry street to get your name on the list for dinner at Torrisi.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

I'm back!  After an amazing food adventure to New York last week (post to come), holiday madness has officially set in here.  I'm in a bit of denial but figure some time in the kitchen might just cure that right up.

Shrimp and Cilantro Shu Mai are gorgeous little steamed dumplings.  Mark Bittman, in today's New York Times, helps you realize that making them at home is no where near as difficult as you might think.  Won ton wrappers are easy to find, big supermarkets or your local Asian market will give you plenty of options.  With a very simple but well-seasoned filling of fresh shrimp, ginger, and toasty sesame oil, these dumplings can be made early in the day, covered with a lightly damp towel in the fridge, and steamed just before serving.  Bittman even has a video to walk you through the recipe.  Perfect party bites or great for dinner with sauteed pea shoots or snap peas. 

Does this cookie scream Christmas or what?  These Peppermint Meringues from The Washington Post (via Fine Cooking) are absolutely adorable snow-white kisses adorned with a dusting of crushed candy canes.  A few tricks on making your meringues bakery-worthy: have your egg whites at room temperature, whisk them in a very, very clean bowl, sift your powdered sugar so there isn't a lump in sight, and invest in a pastry bag with a big star tip.  Finally, the best meringues, and the ones that really do look this white, are baked in an obscenely low oven for a long time.  This recipe calls for 3 hours at 175 degrees...sounds nuts but once that heat goes up the cookies start to brown and wont look nearly as lovely.

Tis the season for indulging.  No matter how hard we try, over-doing it during the holidays is tough to avoid.  Some while you're baking cookies, sipping eggnog, frying latkes, or nibbling candy, make yourself a big ol' batch of this Lentil and Barley Stew from The Los Angeles Times.  In under an hour, this hearty stew, prepared right from pantry ingredients, comes together.  Toss a simple salad and you've got a fabulous dinner.  Extras will freeze beautifully too.  Love their idea of topping it with a bit of crumbled feta but look in your fridge and use whatever cheese you have on hand for that little something extra.  Healthful and tasty, we could all use a bit more of that this month, right?

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Back Soon

"What I'm Reading Today" will be back in a few days with some delicious tidbits for you.

See you then!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Welcome to the procrastinators edition of 'What I'm Reading Today".  That's right, if you don't know by now what you plan to put on your Thanksgiving table tomorrow, you've officially procrastinated.  However, having read through today's food sections I think you're in luck.  Gorgeous recipes are ripe for the picking and many of them come together with what you've already bought at the market. Wait, you're a haven't even shopped yet have you?  Time to get moving my friend, that bird needs to be in the oven in about 24 hours!  Happy Turkey Day....Gobble Gobble!

The Los Angeles Times brings us this beautiful gratin of potatoes and mushrooms, Potato Gratin Forestiere.  Sure, French style potatoes a la Daniel Boloud might not be your first go-to dish on Thanksgiving but check it out regardless.  Paper thin potato slices are layered with plenty of nutmeg tinged heavy cream and wild mushrooms. Indulgent?  Yes but, isn't that what Thanksgiving is all about?

Gravy can be tricky.  No recipe is needed, really, but knowing a few helpful tips will ensure you gravy that has a smooth texture without being too thick and enough flavor to perk up turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes (if you're like me, it's one bite of all three on the fork at once-drizzled in gravy).  From The New York Times, this Simple Gravy You Can Make Ahead of Time is brilliant.  The link, to a video, features the always spot-on Melissa Clark so you know this one is going to be good.  Key hints?  Save those giblets (the gizzard specifically) and turkey necks for a quick homemade stock and go for a texture that is "less like heavy cream and more like rich half-and-half".  To make it even richer, reheat when your turkey is resting and add your turkey drippings.  No one will know you did all the "hard" work ahead of time!  

Pumpkin pie not doing it for you this year?  Want something else to shake up your dessert table?  How about a Cranberry Almond Crisp from The Washington Post?  With the potential exception of crystallized ginger, everything in this recipe is in your kitchen right now-you already bought some cranberries, right?  Thrown together quickly in a cast iron skillet, you can have this dessert assembled and bake it while you eat dinner.  I might dice up some pears to balance out the tartness of the cranberries but the ginger and sugar will do a fairly good job of this on their own.  Add a little vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and your pumpkin pie will have the perfect mate.

Happy Cooking and I look forward to hearing about your Thanksgiving kitchen adventures.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

It's countdown time...9 days from now you'll be cooking and/or eating what many of us consider the best meal of the year.  Make it even better by trying a few new things this time.  I know-changing up the Thanksgiving menu can lead to anarchy in a family but pick a dish or two, throw it subtly into the mix, and see who really misses those soupy green beans with cream of mushroom soup.

Starting with appetizers, how do you not use crab?  In the Bay Area the season officially opened this week so what better way to kick off your meal!  These Dungeness Crab Spring Rolls with Endive and Almonds from The LA Times are made very simply with rice paper wrappers.  The slight bitterness of the endive and the crunch of just a few almonds will balance that sweet richness from the Dungeness crab.  What makes this a perfect pick is that it is light, fresh, and not too filing.  No one wants to sit down to dinner with a belly that's already full.

In yesterday's NY Times Julia Moskin declared San Francisco and New York the "national centers of pie innovation".  With places like Chile Pies, and Ice Cream in SF and Hill Country Kitchen in NY, pies might just be pushing cupcakes out of the spotlight.  Since pies are a must for your Thanksgiving table, what about trying this one from Diner in Brooklyn: Rye Pecan Pie-love those meticulous circles of pecans on top...that tell you a little something about how I bake? Great step by step pics if you are dough-phobic, the article will get you making homemade pies in no time.

I've grown to love my Brussels Sprouts, especially when they're caramelized and crispy.  For an ideal Thanksgiving side, try Brussels Sprouts, Green Bean, and Wild Mushroom Saute from the SF Chronicle.  A little bacon kicks it off and with about 10 minutes of cooking time you've got a perfect side (which, by the way, would make the best leftover breakfast with a poached egg on top!).  Seek out fresh chanterelles-they are in season now and might be my all time favorite mushroom.  Buttery and rich, they are a bit more assertive than your everyday mushroom and will pair perfectly with these green veggies.  

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Flourless Carrot Cake

 (photo by A.D. Liano)

If you read my post earlier this week, you saw this recipe for Flourless Carrot Cake from The New York Times.  The recipe has been calling my name for a few days.  With little over 1/2 cup of sugar in the entire 9-inch cake plus no flour and no butter, would this really taste good?  Only one way to find out!

I made the cake today, following the recipe to the letter.  It was done in about 50 minutes, as opposed to one hour, but it rose beautifully and, when I baked a side cupcake just so I could taste it, I have to tell you it was lovely.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest made up for the small amount of sugar plus, carrots are naturally sweet on their own so they helped too.  I beat the hell out of the eggs and sugar-at least tripled their volume.  Don't skimp on this part (it took about 7 minutes) because it's what makes your cake rise.  When the recipe says beat to a ribbon, it means ribbon (by the way, beating to the "ribbon" stage means that when you drizzle some of the batter over the top of the bowl in the shape of a ribbon, it should hold that ribbon on top for a bit before it sinks back into the rest of the batter-in other words, nice and thick). 

When all was said and done, I just couldn't leave well enough alone.  Taking my own advice, I whipped up a simple batch of lemon cream cheese frosting and slathered it over the top of the cake.  So much for that low sugar cake!  I toasted and chopped a handful of walnuts and put them over the frosting. Sans the frosting the cake would be perfect with tea or for breakfast.  My version is definitely dessert.

I think it is gorgeous and can't wait to give it to my gluten-free friend Jen.  I'll be sure to tell her to report back here after she cuts and tries the first slice.

Cake recipe is available here

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (very soft)
2 tbs butter, room temperature (very soft)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until completely smooth and creamy, 2-3 minutes.  Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and salt and mix well to combine.  Sift in the powdered sugar and continue mixing, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until very smooth.  Makes enough to frost one 9-inch cake.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

This week's installment is a bit late but none the less delicious. Enjoy!

I've always had a soft spot for Greek food.  My grandmother (Noni), with Greek and Turkish heritage, constantly kept a gigantic block of feta in the fridge and I even remember her stretching homemade dough across the kitchen table when she was making her phyllo sheets from scratch.  One dish that seems to be the true litmus test for a Greek cook, or restaurant for that matter, is Avogolemono Soup.  The lemon chicken soup with rice is true comfort food, usually enriched with eggs to give it a silky, wonderful texture.  It can be flat and bland or balanced perfectly and warm you all the way through with one bite.  Naturally I was thrilled to see a recipe in the LA Times for a version from Taverna Tony in Malibu, CA.  This is true cooking from the pantry-no fancy ingredients or techniques involved-the rich soup makes a perfect dinner on any cool night.

One of my close friends is wheat-free in all she eats.  She loves a good treat so I'm always sending her recipes for flourless baked good when they cross my desk.  I'm picky though-I don't get excited about flour substitutes or the use of baking mixes.  I look for recipes like flourless chocolate cake or chewy coconut meringues that taste great with their natural ingredients (that said, I have not ventured deep here and I'm sure I could be convinced there are other wheat free sweets I would like).  This version of Flourless Carrot Cake in the NY Times is totally intriguing to me.  It looks much less dense that a traditional carrot cake, almost a tea cake (or a breakfast cake, if you ask me).  Easily embellished with a layer of cream cheese frosting, I'm giving this one a try and will report back.  If it passes the test it's heading up to hill to Jen's right away.

Remember that Greek and Turkish influence in my Noni's cooking?  This recipe, hailing from Morocco, looks exactly like something else she would bake.  Clearly she's looking over my shoulder today.  Anise Flavored Challah Bread with Sesame Seeds was a staple on her table at every celebratory meal.  I don't know if her recipe mirrors this one exactly.   Actually, I know it doesn't because she never used a recipe!  But, I can smell it in my head right now-warm from the oven with that sweet scent of anise, we'd pull it off the loaf and eat it as fast as we could.  I've never made it myself but with this recipe staring right at me I think it's Noni's way of telling me to get on it pronto.

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cookie Swap

If you haven't read through your copy of this Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, go check it out-the Magazine sections, specifically.  You'll see the cover article on Cookie Swaps and that is yours truly featured inside.  The writer, Meredith May, contacted me when she heard that I throw a whopper of a cookie exchange here in SF every December.  She came by and was part of it herself and I love how the event translated to the page.  It's an amazing night that I look forward to every year, bringing together friends from all aspects of my life over something as simple as a cookie.
The article outlines the ins and out of throwing the event if you are interested in hosting your own, and I think you should!  If you have any questions, let me know-I'm more than happy to answer them here in the comment section.

I also wanted to write about the dishes I served for dinner that night.  It was a perfect menu for cold weather and light enough to leave room for tasting plenty of sweet treats.  I made a Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Tart (below), a Lentil Salad with Dried Cherry Vinaigrette (from Sara Foster's Fresh Every Day), and this Curried Cauliflower Soup

Here is the recipe for the Tart.  If you have a Trader Joe's near you, go buy their frozen puff pastry.  At $3.99 a box, it's the deal of the century! Made traditionally with only butter, flour, and salt it rivals the much more expensive brands (but is only here for a few months so stock up).  Did you know the supermarket brand, in the long white box, contains NO butter at all-that's shortening my friend, which is absolutely not traditional in puff pastry.

Let me know what your holiday baking traditions are.  I'd love to hear them!

Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Tart

1 tsp olive oil
1 tbs butter
3 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2 large onions)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed and rolled out to 1/8-inch thickness
1 egg, beaten
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tbs finely chopped Italian parsley

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the sliced onions and stir well.  When the onions just begin to soften reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and lightly golden, about 20 minutes more.  Stir in the thyme with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook 1 minute more.  Set aside until the onions have cooled.

Meanwhile, place each sheet of puff pastry on a parchment lined baking sheet and prick it all over with a fork.  Gently crimp the edges to form a 1-inch border.  Brush both sheets, including the borders, with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a pinch each of salt and pepper. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Set one rack in the top third of the oven and the other in the bottom third.

Combine the cooled onions with the Gruyere cheese and divide them evenly between the two sheets of puff pastry.  Sprinkle with the Parmigiano.  Bake tarts for 10 minutes then swap the rack each tart is on, baking until the pastry is golden brown all over, about 10 minutes more.  Cool the tarts on the baking sheets for 5 minutes then cut into squares.  Sprinkle pieces with parsley and serve warm.

Makes 2 tarts, each serving 8

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cookbook Club-The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

Matt and Tedd Lee, wow!  Cookbook club last night was fantastic.  We cooked from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook and in a few words, it rocked.  This is the first book from the quirky and cute Lee brothers, James Beard award winning as a matter of fact.  They draw on their Charleston, S.C. roots and their urban lifestyle in Manhattan to create a cookbook that is as much about their musings as it is about the recipes.  This is the kind of cookbook you read cover to cover, transporting yourself to the deep south and tasting deliciousness on every page. 

We were a smaller than usual group at Emily's last night but managed to leave with our belly's more than satisfied.  Kelly kicked the night off with three tasty nibblers that set the mood perfectly.  She made Spiced Pecans (utterly addictive), Cheese Straws (buttery with a perfect kick of heat), and Pickled Shrimp (the *best* pickling spices ever).  She presented them together-don't they look great?

Emily not only hosted us but she made three dishes as well!  The first was Crispy Fried Okra-these were amazing-the kind of amazing you need to walk away from or you'll eat the entire dish.  

For dinner, Emily pulled out the stops with the Oven BBQed Picnic (pork) Shoulder that you could cut with a fork-molasses, vinegar, and smoked paprika made for sauce perfection.  She served it with Hot Slaw a la Greyhound Grill-really more like braised red cabbage but the perfect crunchy bite with that succulent pork.    CC rounded out the meal with the classic Hoppin' John.  Made with homemade pork stock, the simple combination of ingredients has such depth of flavor-I can see eating this dish as a meal on its own. 

I took on dessert and made the Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.  This version had not only cocoa and plenty of red food coloring but a tablespoon of fresh orange zest too.  I'm generally not a fan of chocolate and citrus together but the chocolate flavor is so mild here it really lets the orange do its thing.  I promise I have a pre-cut picture of this cake that is much better than this one (it was quite beautiful, if I may so so myself)...I'll get it up here soon.

All in all we loved every dish.  The recipes worked perfectly and we found very little we would change (and trust me, we are a critical group).  Thank you Matt and Ted.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Whether it's Giant's Fever or Halloween excitement, it's decidedly fall. 

In honor of tonight's pitcher, Tim Lincecum, I'm passing on the LA Times' recipes for hash.  OK, not that hash!  I'm talking crispy, crunchy, greasy, and dripping with a fried egg kind of hash.  Not just your old fashioned Blue Plate Special version of hash either-the Times has versions that will have your breakfast or dinner plate smiling back at you.  Think Curried Pork and AppleSmoked SalmonRoast BeefChicken with Chile and Chorizo, and Autumn Vegetable.  

This morning on our local NPR station, KQED, Mark Bittman was interviewed for an hour, talking about The Food Matters Cookbook and all things food.  As you know, I love the guy.  I think his straight-forward approach to food and cooking is pragmatic and spot-on (I even wrote into the show and told him so-they read my letter on the air...ah, blush).   In today's NY Times that simple cooking philosophy manifests itself in his recipe for Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi.  I've made a version of these before and they could not be easier.  They don't require much prep and come out much lighter than their potato-heavy cousins.  Look for good ricotta-I like the "hand dipped" version at my local market, it's not watery and has a lovely flavor.  You can serve these with simple browned butter or even toss them gently with diced roasted squash and fresh sage.  If you want step-by-step directions, you can watch Mark make them here. 

I found this recipe for Warm Lentil Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Maple Vinaigrette in today's Washington Post.  Not only does it look very appropriate for Halloween (or the Giant's game) but it's made from lots of pantry staples and I do love recipes that don't have me running to the store.  The sweet potatoes are baked and could absolutely be swapped out with roasted butternut squash.  The vinaigrette is simply Dijon, apple cider vinegar, chives, nutmeg, and a little olive oil-you surely have most of this at home right now-who knew they'd be so tasty all together?  

Happy late October and may your baseball dreams come true and your candy buckets be filled with all your favorite treats.  Happy Reading and Happy Cooking! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not Your Average Roasted Autumn Veggies-So Very Good!

I pulled my inspiration for this recipe from Food & Wine magazine one year ago (you can find it here).  It is Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Mushrooms, Potatoes, and Sausage and topped with a Perfectly Fried Egg.  It reminiscent of a hash but I made it for dinner and not breakfast.  It turned out so incredibly delicious that I'd eat it for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. 

It begins like this-a simple rough chop of all the veggies plus walnut-sized pieces of sausage.  Use a roasting pan or sheet pan, toss in some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put in a screaming hot oven.  Here's what it looks like before it is cooked:

Flash-forward about 30 minutes, turning just once or twice, and pull out the pan.  Shave a few ounces of Manchego cheese over the top (or whatever nutty cheese you have around) and put it back in the oven for a couple minutes longer.  When it comes out it will have transformed to this:

In the last few minutes, while the cheese is melting, fry up some eggs to your liking (I think the dish deserves a runny yolk but that's your call).   When you plate it up, here's what you'll have:

I am generally not a big Brussels Sprouts fan but I couldn't get enough in this dish.  The high heat roasting caramelizes the veggies so they have both fantastic texture and flavor.  The egg just gilds the lily but of course you could do without.  I can't recommend it enough.  I'm actually looking forward to leftovers tonight (this from a girl who doesn't generally like leftover anything).

Roasted Autumn Veggies with Sausage and Egg

1 pound Brussels Sprouts, halved lengthwise (or quartered if large)
1 pound fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise (or quartered if large)
1/2 pound mushrooms, quartered (I used cremini but shitake caps, oyster, or button would all work too)
2 sausages, 1/2-3/4 pound (uncooked), casings removed and meat broken into walnut sized pieces (I recommend sweet or spicy Italian, chorizo, andouille, or what ever you like)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Manchego cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler into thin strips (or coarsely grated)
1 tbs butter
4 eggs
1 tbs chopped Italian parsley, if desired, as garnish
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the sprouts, potatoes, mushrooms, sausage pieces, olive oil, and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper on a roasting pan or sheet pan and toss well.  Spread everything out in one layer.  This can be done a few hours ahead of time and put in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook.

Roast the veggies until tender when pierced with a sharp knife and golden brown, about 30 minutes, stirring just once or twice.  Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the cheese over the top, stir to combine, and continue roasting until the cheese is melted, 4-5 minutes more.
Meanwhile, just before the vegetables are done cooking, heat the butter in a large non-stick saute pan over medium heat.  Fry the eggs in the pan to your desired doneness, sprinkling them with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon the roasted vegetables into large shallow soup bowls.  Top each with a fried egg and sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

Serves 4

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Those chocolate chip cookies are long gone and the cold has definitely set in.  Rain is coming and there is no longer any denying it, hello fall!

Spicy Cherry Chocolate Brownies...good morning!  Just when you thought no one could reinvent the brownie or improve on it any other way, the Los Angeles Times brings you this kicked up version.  Dried cherries meet cayenne pepper in this unexpected but well balanced grown-up brownie.  The recipe is part of an article by Katherine Nitsou on the combination of sweet and spicy in desserts.   Rosemary Marshmallow Treats and Tangerine Thyme Chocolate Cookies anyone? 

If you've ever eaten Moroccan food you've probably enjoyed the fragrant flavor of preserved lemon.  The pickled citrus, packed in a brine solution, uses all parts of the lemon but it gets incredibly tender, loosing its bitterness at it ages.  Problem is, they're difficult to find at a market and making them means thinking weeks ahead as they need a long time to "ripen".  Until now, thanks to Mark Bittman in the New York Times and his recipe for Quick "Preserved" Lemons.  Mark's recipe doesn't truly preserve the lemons (they keep about a week, as opposed to months and months) but they are actually ready to use within three hours, which is a huge bonus.  He shortens the process by dicing up the lemons instead of preserving them whole.  Be sure to use organic lemons as they wont have the waxy skin you find with the conventional varieties.  Once finished you can use your lemons in any braised dish but I particularly like them with lamb or chicken.

(Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle)

Ahhh, chicken picatta.  I know it's not a true Italian dish but the combination of butter, capers, and lemon works for me anytime.  We ate it as kids over pasta and I think I've loved it ever since.  In the San Francisco Chronicle Marlene Sorosky Gray writes about the dish, be it with chicken, soul, duck, or trout.  It's one of those go-to dishes when 6pm is staring you in the face and you have no idea what's for dinner.  Capers and lemons are pantry staples and hopefully you picked up some kind of protein at the market this week (I think you could even use firm pressed tofu here).  Her method for the Classic Chicken Picatta  takes about 10 minutes to make.  Be sure to have your chicken breasts pounded out nice and thin (I do this myself, to vent my end of day frustrations, but your favorite butcher can do it for you too).  Look how beautiful it is?   

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Because It's Just That Kind of Day

Some mornings just cry out for warm chocolate chip cookies.  I adore this recipe, originally from Cook's Illustrated for many reasons.  First off, you don't need to bring your butter to room temp because you just melt it.  Second, the texture of these cookies is soft and chewy and it stays that way even after they cool (although I dare you not to take a bite right you can see above, I couldn't wait).

I took a few liberties with the recipe.  Inspired by my friend Kelly, I sprinkled the cookies with coarse sea salt before they go into the oven.  I love the way it balances out the sweetness and adds a tiny bit of crunch every few bites.   I also decided to infuse my butter with vanilla bean instead of adding just extract (truth be told, I was out of vanilla extract today and did happen to have a bean).  I scraped the seeds into the butter as it melted, threw in the pod, and let it steep for about 15 minutes (straining it before I added it to the sugar).  Due to a happy accident, the butter was on the heat about 3 minutes longer than I'd planned and it began to brown.   I went with it, loving brown butter, and this batch of cookies was even better than usual.  The folks over at did the same thing with their butter when they made this recipe (but on purpose).  Finally, I was low on chocolate chips but had a few bars of semi-sweet chocolate in the ol' baking box.  I chopped 'em up and added them instead.  It all added up to one damn good cookie!  Here she is close up:

Next time you reach for your Toll House chips and intend to follow that recipe on the back of the bag, give this recipe a try instead.  Let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I'm Reading Today


Beer Baked Mac-n-Cheese?  It's breakfast time and this still sounds amazing.  Today's LA Times hunts down the recipe from Rackhouse Tavern in Denver so you can create the magic in your own kitchen.  Five kinds of cheese, a cup of beer in the sauce, and a dusting of crunchy panko...this is definitely not your mom's mac-n-cheese (in fact, I don't think it's the kids mac-n-cheese either). 

When the guilt kicks in from your over-the-top mac-n-cheese, The New York Times comes to the rescue.  This Provencal Tomato and Basil Soup, thickened with a bit of rice or tapioca, can be made with your late season fresh tomatoes or even your favorite brand from the can.  One optional ingredient, which you should try to have around, is the rind from a wedge of Parmigiano.  Never throw these away! They add a lovely depth of flavor to soups and stews and the punch it will give to this recipe will take it well beyond other tomato soups you've had before.  

Much like dolmas (but easier when the chard doesn't need to cook for hours like grape leaves do) these Bulgar and Beef Stuffed Swiss Chard Rolls from today's Washington Post would be a wonderful dinner, appetizer, or lunch box treat.  They're a bit laborious but how fantastic do they look?  I can only imagine how they taste!  I think I'd serve mine with a little yogurt/cucumber sauce on the side for dipping or drizzling.  Warm or room temp, this little package of goodness will have you eating your greens in no time.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Hope the beginning of fall is treating you well. 

When my friend Tori was last in L.A. she told me about an amazing dinner she had at Little Dom's in Los Feliz.  I don't know if she tried the fruit foccacia but, wow, how good does it look?  Today the LA Times nabbed the recipe and here it is for you to make at home.   Individual rounds of pillowy soft foccacia topped with berries, sugar, and rosemary.  This sounds like the perfect breakfast to early do I need to get up to have this tomorrow morning with my coffee? 

Although the sun in still shining bright in SF, it definitely feels like fall.  Days are getting shorter and pumpkins are everywhere.  It's the right time to get yourself a fresh pumpkin, and not just for carving.  Today's Baltimore Sun has three seasonal recipes to use your favorite variety (they like the "baby" and the "spooky").  Did you know pumpkins are packed with vitamins (A, B, and C) and full of beta carotene?  So whether its fresh pumpkins baked Afghan style (think cinnamon, yogurt, and garlic) or roasted in risotto, you'll find fall on your plate and feel good about it.  Check out all the recipes here

The San Francisco Chronicle has a lovely recipe gallery packed with vegetarian recipes.  So many things looked delish but I was particularly taken with this dish: Red Quinoa with Chickpeas, Spinach, and Egg.  Granted, I love anything with an egg on top but I'm also a huge fan of one dish meals.  I always have quinoa in my pantry (ok, not red quinoa but I think the traditional variety would work fine here too) along with canned chickpeas.  Eggs?  Check.  Spinach?  Check.  Dinner tonight?  Check, Check.  Yum!

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Braising and Lamb

I generally think of braised lamb as a spring dish, studded with fava beans or fresh English peas.  Of course there are plenty of cold weather recipes for braising as well, it really is my favorite cooking method.  Yesterday, being Sunday and feeling very much like Fall, it was a braising kind of day so lamb it was.

Braising is one of those cooking techniques that you can easily master, freeing yourself from recipes altogether.  It's important to choose the right cut of meat.  The slow and low cooking screams out for those tougher cuts.  You know the ones, usually cheaper at the butcher and marbled with plenty of fat.  The reason these cuts work so well is that the long cooking in moist heat allows the muscle fibers to breakdown, rendering the meat so tender it should melt in your mouth.  Think shoulder and leg cuts, avoiding tenderloins, lean steaks, and anything you'd normally throw on the grill.  The method below is my way of braising meat.  Use it as a guide for the meats and flavors you like and be creative. 

Lamb has a lovely flavor on its own so matching it with just the right flavors is important.  After breaking down my meat into 1-2 inch pieces, I made a paste in the food processor with a handful of Italian parsley, three cloves of garlic, a hefty pinch of salt, and enough olive oil to give it an almost pesto-like consistency.  I tossed it with the meat and let it marinate for an hour, although several hours would be fine too.  This is definitely an optional step when making a braise but I'll tell you, it is what took my dish out of the park-the flavors were incredible.

I browned the meat well.  Don't be afraid of this part-I think it's what separates killer restaurant dishes from the ones people make at home.  Let the meat cook in one layer without turning too often.  Each side should be dark golden brown and you should see the juices on the bottom of your pan begin to caramelize.  If they get too dark, turn down your heat.  These juices will become the base of your sauce and you don't want them to burn.

Once the meat was done I took it out of the pan and added about 1 1/2 cups sliced fennel, a large leek thinly sliced, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  I cooked it until it was lightly browned then added about two thirds of a bottle of Pinot Gris (Sauvignon Blan or Pinot Grigio would work too).  I deglazed the pan, loosening up all those browned bits with a wooden spatula and letting the wine cook down by about half.  The meat went back in with just enough water to barely cover the meat, it shouldn't be totally submerged.  I brought the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, covered the pot, and let it do its thing.   Of course chicken stock would work well here too.

After a couple hours, stirring occasionally, the meat should be very tender.  I usually just taste a piece but you can also press it gently against the side of the pot and it should begin to fall apart.  At this point the liquid should be reduced by at least half.  If it is not, remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon and increase the heat to medium high.  Cook the liquid down until it begins to thicken, taste it, and season with additional salt and pepper.  There should be just enough liquid to coat all the meat and form a bit of sauce, but it shouldn't be swimming in liquid.  This dish would hold up well if you wanted to make it in advance.  Just cool it down and refrigerate then, before you reheat it, skim any of the fat off the top. 

I served mine with good old fashioned mashed potatoes and some sauteed green beans.  It felt like fall and was as good as a braise gets.

Friday, October 1, 2010

French Fries are Not a Vegetable

Kim Severson, of The New York Times, wrote a must-read article last week titled Told to Eat It's Vegetables, America Orders FriesYou can probably surmise in an instant the soapbox I'm about to jump on, right?  I've thought about this article a lot since I read it.  It's not a shock-we don't eat enough vegetables in this country. The number of people, particularly parents, who categorize French fries as their veggie of choice is, frankly, pathetic.  Really?  French fries?  Next thing you know they'll count the ketchup as another serving. 

I realize I'm entirely privileged when it comes to access to produce.  Living in San Francisco I'm a few short miles away from some of the country's best vegetables. I  can find them not only at the farmers' markets but at my supermarkets as well-local, organic, and fresh.  When veggies are in season the prices are accessible and I don't shy away from spending a healthy portion of my grocery budget getting the best ones I can find.  I realize most people don't have this luxury.  Local produce doesn't exist in their town and vegetables are expensive, especially compared to junk food.  This is a battle being fought all over the US right now-the cost of real food being out of reach to so many. 

But, I don't know that price is always the obstacle.  In Kim's article she talks a lot about the work it takes to prepare vegetables.  People want convenience and when food prep takes time they just wont do it.  Here's where that soapbox comes in...

People-think of all the possible ways to prepare vegetables.  They are easy to cook, a blank canvas for flavors, and fun to play around with when you want to try new things.  What's 20 minutes of time in the kitchen when we're talking about your health, feeding your family, and being smart about what goes into your body?  In 20 minutes you can prep and cook a vegetable stir fry, you can wilt greens for a frittata, you can saute carrots with fresh cilantro and lime, and you can blanch and saute green beans with almonds and browned butter.  Heck, you can even tackle it in 10 minutes-roasting asparagus spears, steaming broccoli, or sauteing strips of bell peppers.   Think about building meals around your veggies instead of relegating them to the side of your plate.  Invest in a new cookbook or two (New Flavors for Vegetables or Cooking from the Farmers' Market would by my suggestions) and get inspired.  Wander the market and let your kids pick out the veggies for a change-they'll be a lot more likely to eat them when they are invested in the preparation.   Make a simple salad with dinner every single night.  It'll fill your belly with good stuff each day. 

Four and a half cups of veggies and fruit a day is the recommendation.  It's not that hard-make it happen.  For you, for your family, and for your health.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Whether you're beating the heat on the west coast or dodging the rain out east, here are a few tasty tidbits to keep you satisfied.

Homemade Ricotta...sound daunting?  Think again!  A few easy steps, and ingredients from your local market, and you're good to go.  Really-it's that easy, and oh so good.  Russ Parsons, known for his thorough and expert testing of recipes, dives into the process and writes all about it in today's LA Times.  The process boils down to this (no pun intended): buttermilk and whole milk are cooked to 185 degrees (less than a boil), a bit of white vinegar is added, and after five short minutes you're skimming gorgeous cheese out of your pot.  It is heads and shoulders above the supermarket stuff.  In fact it is so good it's a shame to use it as an ingredient-it really should be elevated to the star of a dish.  I like mine on toasted baguette with sliced radishes, good olive oil, and sea salt.  Russ gives a few other alternatives too: Roasted Peppers Stuffed with Homemade Ricotta and Ricotta-Honey Gelato with Orange. Whatever you decide to do with it, definitely give it a try.  You'll fall in love with the results.

Seems Roman food is taking the food scene by storm.  High on the critic's lists is Maialino, Danny Meyer's latest venture in Manhattan.   I haven't been but loved reading about Melissa Clark's experience with an incredible bowl of seasonal Minestrone soup.   In fact, she was so satisfied with her seasonal bowl of veggies and broth she tackled the recipe at home and created a more straight forward and rustic version, topped with an almond pistou (French-style pesto).  She adds fresh shell beans (such as the beautiful pink spotted cranberry beans) but if you cant find them at your farmers' market, stirring in canned beans towards the end would work in a pinch. Like Russ at the LA Times, Melissa, at the NY Times writes a thorough and fab recipe yet again.

When schnitzel is done well it is absolute perfection.  Made with veal, pork, or even (bucking tradition entirely) chicken, the boneless meat is pounded thin, coated in breadcrumbs, and quickly fried.  Usually served simply with a drizzle of lemon, my favorite is at Suppenkuche where it's generous, filling, and crunchy every time.  In the San Francisco Chronicle there is a simple do-it-yourself version of Wiener Schnitzel just in time for Oktoberfest.  This is quick weeknight eating at its best and may just show up on my table tonight.  Cheers!

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.
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