Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Welcome to part two of my spring holiday edition.  For those of you celebrating Easter this weekend, enjoy and happy cooking!

Brunch is the perfect meal for a family holiday when it falls on a Sunday.  Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day...they all work.  Entertaining in the morning is nice because you can pick and choose recipes to prep the night before and the whole meal always feels like less work than a big dinner.  In today's LA Times I was immediately taken by the photo of one of my all time favorite foods, cinnamon rolls.  I melt inside when I taste a good one...bad ones be damned.  Amy Scattergood's recipe warns you to be patient-this is a yeasted dough that needs time to rise.  She also references food scientist and writer Shirley Corriher.  Shirley says that small amounts of spices like cinnamon actually enhance the activity of the yeast-who knew?  Amy adds buttermilk, which gives dough just the right tang, along with a bit of baking soda, to react with the buttermilk for a balance of acidity & sweet.  I could go on and on about this recipe, my stomach is growling just writing about it.  Amy also offers a whole wheat version that would be a bit more toothsome but looks equally as mouth watering.  That said, if you're going to dive in, why not bite the bullet and just stick with the real deal?  Oh, and don't forget to invite me over when these are about to emerge from your oven.

I mentioned Darina Allen here a few weeks ago.  Being one of the foremost cooking teachers and food writers in Ireland, I'd have been remiss leaving her out of any mention of food and St. Patrick's Day.  But Irish food is not just for one day a year.  Darina's new book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking, is profiled, along with the legend herself, in today's NY Times.  Darina owns the Ballymaloe House  in Ireland and I've heard nothing but wonderful things about the cooking courses, gardens, and food there.   She's even been by Tante Marie's to teach a few classes.   Her new book is an off-shoot of a series of classes she teaches at Ballymaloe, "Forgotten Skills".  I love the idea of reintroducing traditional dishes to a modern audience and think Darina is absolutely the right person to do it.  Her Forager's Soup is a creamy dish of pureed springs greens topped with crispy chorizo or bacon.  I think it would be an excellent way to start off any holiday dinner.

Spring means artichokes and here in Northern California we get them as fresh as can be.  Did you know that if you gently rub together the leaves of an artichoke you should actually hear them squeak when it's fresh?  The leaves should be nice and tight too, not loose or pulling away from the base.  Once you pick out some good ones, you can always steam them and serve them up with drawn butter-that really is the best.  But, if you see baby artichokes at the market, buy them!  Because they are young, the fuzzy choke hasn't grown in so you can use a lot more of the vegetable and they're a lot less work.  In today's Washington Post there is a recipe for Fried Baby Artichokes, a Greek style dish that would work with any Easter menu.  These are not battered or breaded, just quick cooked in hot oil and drizzled with an olive oil/yogurt sauce.  They will be eaten at light speed, I'm sure.  However, if frying isn't your thing, you could also use your baby artichokes in a simple Salad with arugula, red onion, and dill.  Either way, if you find yourself at the farmer's market this wknd, be sure to add baby artichokes to your list!

Happy Holidays! 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Wednesday.  Remember, if you are in the Bay Area this Saturday, come by and see me at the Chestnut Street Williams Sonoma.  I'll be signing copies of "eggs" from noon-2pm.  Hope to see you there!

Welcome to my first of two Spring holiday editions.  Happy Passover.  Whether you're making kkeftes de prasa or gefilte fish with head-clearing horseradish, I hope all your celebrations are special.  And, hey, if you don't celebrate Passover, read on...any and all of these recipes would be delicious for you too.
(Kirk McKoy/LA Times)

Cooking for a crowd is always a challenge-how to make a great meal without stressing yourself out.  My best tip for hosting a celebratory dinner: pick recipes you can make mostly in advance.  No one wants to show up and find you stuck in the kitchen.  If you're hosting a Passover Sedar this year don't miss the menu from today's LA Times, all the recipes are make-ahead: Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers, Vegetarian Chopped "Liver", and Roasted Salmon with Marinated Fennel Salad.  I was particularly attracted to the salmon as it would be a stunning main course on any Spring table.  Fennel is definitely the star here-thinly sliced and marinated for hours, even overnight, with onions, lemon, and thyme.  The salmon is then roasted on a bed of fresh thyme with the fennel over the top, allowing it to caramelize, which is the best way to eat fennel in my opinion.  It'll keep the fish moist and add just the right texture contrast.  I love the idea of plating the whole side of salmon on a big platter and bringing it to the table.  When you're shopping for fennel at the market it may be called anise.  Look for bulbs with the long stalks attached-you wont use them in the salad but they'll tell you that the bulb is fresh.

(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Matzoh Balls...a true staple of the Passover table and my son's favorite soup any time of year.  When it's good it is oh so good.  When it's bad, ugh-dense, heavy matzoh balls that sit in your stomach like lead.  Every Jewish grandma has her tricks on keeping them light-carbonated water, egg whites, etc.  My trick is simply not over mixing-being gentle with the mixture keeps the matzoh balls light and tender (and using chicken fat instead of oil doesn't hurt either).  In today's Washington Post Bonnie Benwick writes of her trials and tribulations in the quest to make matzoh balls that aren't sinkers.  The variations she offers in her article are many but, her classic version does rely on a bit of seltzer water, claiming the carbonation adds extra lift and lightness.  She also makes a great point about not crowding the cooking pot-too small a vessel and the matzoh balls bump into each other, inhibiting them from growing to their full size.  I'm not so sure about the pyramid shaped version, above, or the versions with Shitakes or Chicken Liver.  I'm always happy to have my cousin Lori's classic and perfect version-straight up chicken soup with matzoh balls that are absolutely perfection.  

(Craig Lee/SF Chronicle)

Did you know that Passover desserts can be a real drag?  I used to think it took some incredibly creative baking to make a dessert with no leavened ingredients (goodbye flour).  But over the years I've come to love the challenge.  Depending on how strictly one follows the rules, you may or may not use butter (I avoid margarine at all costs so I'm sticking with the real thing).  Rather than trying flour substitutes, try to think about recipes that don't have flour at all-meringues or Pavlovas, flourless chocolate cake, and custards or puddings.  Then there's candy...ahh how I love my homemade candy.  My favorite Passover confection is Matzoh Brittle-think English Toffee with crunchy bits of matzoh, and no need for a candy thermometer.  In the San Francisco Chronicle Amanda Gold writes about her version and low and behold, it is exactly what I make every year.  The great thing about this recipe is that you can top it with anything you like-I usually do one version with sea salt, one with sliced toasted almonds, and one straight up.  This year I bought both dark and white chocolate-I think I'll try the white chocolate version with toasted peanuts on top.  Get creative-dried fruit, jimmies, contrasting mini-chips, or even a swirled version with milk and white chocolate.  It's so darn easy to make, you'll forget you're baking for Passover.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Dirty Dozen

When I teach my cooking classes I am often asked if I buy and eat everything organic.  I usually tell students that they should buy the best they can afford, realizing everyone can not always afford to shop all organic (let's hope this changes over time).  I try to do my best, but even I don't make it work all the time.

There is a list, validated by the Environmental Working Group, of the 12 most contaminated types of produce ("the dirty dozen").  The EWG uses thorough methodology to determine pesticide levels in produce-they are an amazing organization for so many reasons.  They even produced an iphone app so you can keep this list handy whenever you're at the market.  While they were at it, they also published a list of the "clean fifteen", the 15 vegetables/fruits least likely to have pesticides.  This is produce that is probably okay to buy conventional, if you are making choices.

Here is the list...

The Dirty Dozen
Imported grapes
Sweet bell peppers

The Clean Fifteen
Sweet Corn
Sweet Peas
Sweet Potatoes

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Several months ago a small little restaurant called Frances opened its doors in the Castro.  Melissa Perello, the chef/owner, hails from the Fifth Floor and Charles Nob Hill.  She clearly didn't garner three James Beard nominations and a Michelin star for nothing.  This woman can cook!  Her small staff, cooking madly behind a postage stamp of a window in the dining room, puts out a new menu daily, highlighting the absolute best of the season.  The restaurant is small, albeit loud enough to feel gigantic (hence the "bomb" rating in the SF Chronicle review).  They do take reservations so be sure to call ahead.  I almost didn't write about it for fear of never getting in again but I think it's safe to say that the secret is already out. 

There were four of us at dinner and we started out by sharing three appetizers.  The first, Applewood Smoked Bacon Beignets, had been written about in several reviews so they were a must.  To be honest, the food we ate that night was so amazing I'd have to say the beignets didn't overwhelm-ok but a bit on the doughy side.  Grilled Calamari with Butternut Squash, Preserved Lemon, and Pickled Currants was outstanding-a lovely balance of acidity, crunch, and tender calamari.  Ricotta Gnocchi could be a small entree in and of itself.  Rich and fresh at the same time, the dumplings were tossed with fresh favas and morels and spiked with green garlic.  I'd have loved some of the "by request" bread to soak up the last of the sauce but didn't realize it was available until dessert (note to self, read the fine print before ordering next time).

There were four entrees on the menu so we ordered them all.  The first was a Lucky Dog Bavette Steak with glazed cipollinis and green garlic Chimichurri.  This steak, a cut from the short loin that can be tough if not cooked correctly, was succulent, well seasoned, and gone at light speed.  Next we had the Lacinato Kale and Crepe Cannelloni.  Next time I'm getting this entree and not sharing a bit.  The crepes, stuffed with kale and Andante "Cadence" cheese sat on a bed of matustake mushrooms-a vegetarian entree for even the most carnivorous.  I adored it.  We also had the Sonoma Duck Breast, seared medium rare over a bed of butter beans, sauteed escarole, and cotechino sausage.  Duck isn't usually my first choice of meat but this was not the least big gamey and that escarole, yum!!  Last but not least was the Caramelized Atlantic Scallops served atop baby artichokes and leeks with a pea shoot salad.  This was the lightest of the entrees, screaming "spring" with scallops cooked just right.  The portion sizes were spot on-enough to fill you up while leaving room for dessert.

Speaking of dessert, there were three on the menu so, once again, we ordered them all.  The first was the Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse.  The base of the plate was a burnt caramel cream and the mousse sat on top in three quenelles (oval shaped scoops).  Each one was topped with a wafer thin chocolate sea salt cookie and crunchy course salt was dotted throughout.  Not at all too sweet, the varrying textures made this dessert completely satisfying for a chocolate lover like me.  We also ordered the Lumberjack Cake-studded with pears and dates it had an almost caramel like flavor to it.  On it's side was a scoop of Humphry Slocombe Maple Walnut Ice Cream which, in my mind, is truly ice cream nirvana.  Finally there was a Buttermilk Panna Cotta topped with candied citrus zest/compote and served with three tiny shortbread cookies.  Panna Cotta isn't my favorite but for the fans at our table, it was declared delicious. 

Our wine server was attentive and very knowledgeable, letting us taste several wines by the glass until we find the one that was just right.  Our waiter was busy and I would rank his service with those beignets, slightly underwhelming. 

That said, the pros absolutely outweigh the cons at Frances.  It is a neighborhood restaurant serving up some of the best food around.  I can't wait to go back. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

I'd be willing to bet butchers sell more corned beef today than any other day of the year.  The brined and seasoned cut of brisket is likely simmering on many stoves right now, awaiting cabbage, soda bread, and a pint of Guinness.  Some say traditional Irish St. Patrick's day meals didn't include corned beef, rather Bacon and Cabbage-apparently the corned beef became popular with Irish-American immigrants in the late 1800s.  Others claim the dish was quite popular through the 1800s, the curing technique used to store the beef when there was no refrigeration in Ireland.  Either way, I happen to like my corned beef piled high on rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing, decidedly not Irish, I know.  But for those of you still motivated to fire up the Irish version, here is a recipe that couldn't be any easier.  Corned Beef with Cabbage from Darina Allen's book Irish Traditional Cooking (via The Bellingham Herald) cooks in 3-4 hours and yields a deliciously tender piece of meat.  Finish it off with Irish Whiskey Cake from the Washington Post and you're all set.

Did you know that just one ounce of chicken liver has 20% of your daily requirement of iron?  I love so many things about chicken livers, and the nutritional value is just one.  Yes, they are high in cholesterol so keep an eye on that, and don't eat them every day.  But, as an occasional treat, they're cheap and full of flavor-we should all cook them a bit more often.  As a kid my mom would coat them in seasoned flour and pan fry then in oil and butter-still one of my favorite ways to eat them.  Today I actually spotted two recipes for chicken livers.  One comes of Pizzeria Mozza, via the LA Times, for their Chicken Liver Pate. Pancetta, Cognac, and capers perk up the buttery taste of the chicken livers and the entire mixture is coarsely chopped, creating a rustic pate that is not your mom's chopped liver.  The Washington Post has a recipe for Crispy Chicken Livers with Lime.  This appetizer, made straight from ingredients you're sure to have in the pantry, makes for an inexpensive and addictive snack.  If you haven't tried chicken livers lately, give 'em a shot. 

Salads in general do not get me excited.  I've never been one to count a salad as a meal, as much as I know I should.  I'm always on the hunt for exciting ways to liven up my greens in the hopes of motivating me to eat them more often.  This recipe from The Seattle Times, for Spring Salad with Beets, Prosciutto, and Creamy Onion Dressing, looks like it will definitely fit the bill.  I love to cook fresh beets, and did you know you can keep them in a fridge for 3-5 days once they're done?  Perfect when you want to throw them in your salads at the last minute.  Homemade dressing is another essential, this version made with pureed caramelized onions.  It is sure to be better than any version you buy at the supermarket.  Check the ingredients on the next bottle you buy-I'll bet you'll be able to pronounce or recognize about 10% of the ingredients-the stuff is just plain bad.  Adding crunchy prosciutto (who needs bacon bits?) and mixed baby greens makes this one amazing salad-one even I could get excited about.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Butterscotch Brownies with Caramelized Cocoa Nibs

I read and own a lot of cookbooks but lately have tried to curb my urge to buy them on a regular basis.  When my friend Meagan gave me a copy of Salty Sweets by Christie Matheson I literally drooled onto the pages. This is a book I'd have bought myself in a heart beat.  75 recipes for sweets dotted with a bit of salt to create that perfect balance I happen to adore when I eat dessert.

I finally had the chance to try it out today and zeroed in on the Butterscotch Brownies.  Also known as "Blondies", these are buttery brown sugar bar cookies, usually filled with chopped nuts and, occasionally, chocolate chips. I've tried many in my time and usually find them cloyingly sweet or way too dry.  I figured this version, with the addition of extra salt, might cut that sweetness a bit, so I gave it a try.

I was making my batch for some no-nut eaters so I turned to the pantry for a crunchy alternative.  I still had a stock of caramelized cocoa nibs and thought they'd make a great substitute-not too sweet with a nice cocoa flavor and crunchy texture.

I followed the recipe using 1 cup of cocoa nibs instead of the chopped nuts and sprinkling the top with a bit of extra salt.  The verdict?  Butterscotchy Goodness!  They're still a bit sweet but not overly so-cut 'em small and you'll be very happy.

( the finished product-they were so yummy)

I'm anxious to try more recipes from the book but what to do next-Butterscotch Caramel Pudding, Kickass Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting, or Salty Sweet S'mores??  Tori tried the Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Butterscotch Icing from the book cover and they look amazing too.

Butterscotch Brownies with Caramelized Cocoa Nibs 
"Excerpted from Salty Sweets, by Christie Matheson. (c) 2009, used by permission from The Harvard Common Press. "

2 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp fine sea salt, divided
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
10 tbs butter, melted
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup caramelized cocoa nibs (or chopped toasted nuts)
pinch of coarse sea salt, optional

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter and lightly flour a 13 x 9 glass baking dish.

Combine the flour, 3/4 tsp of the salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together the brown sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp of salt until well combined.  Add the melted butter and whisk until well blended.  Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk well.  

Slowly add the flour mixture to the bowl, whisking until it's just incorporated.  Fold in the cocoa nibs.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan evenly and sprinkle with the pinch of coarse sea salt, if using.   Bake until the batter is completely set and the edges just begin to brown, about 30 minutes.  A toothpick should come out of the center with some moist crumbs on not overbake.  

Let the brownies cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes then transfer the pan to the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes-this will help the cookies set before cutting them.  Cut the brownies into squares and serve.  They will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature or up to 1 month int he freezer. 


Friday, March 12, 2010


I didn't grow up eating much pasta.  When we did eat it, it was most definitely "noodles"- pasta was, well...I'm not sure I even knew what pasta was.  As time went along and I expanded my childhood diet of cottage cheese, toast, and Cheerios, I came to appreciate pasta.  When I went to Florence to study cooking with Giuliano Bugialli, I learned that pasta dishes are about the actual noodle.  The sauce on top should be thought of as a condiment to compliment the pasta and it should be "dressed" much like a salad-just enough sauce to coat the noodles but not so much that it pools at the bottom of the bowl.  Quick side note, the amazing Giuliano will be teaching his annual classes at Tante Marie's on March 26th, 27th, and 28th.  If you haven't taken one, they are not to be missed! 

So on to Pasta Bolognese.  This thick, rich, meaty dish epitomizes the marriage between al dente pasta dressed with just enough sauce.  This is not red sauce, it's meat sauce-tinged with a bit of tomato, white wine, and milk (which keeps the meat nice and tender).  I have always based my recipe on the version from legendary Marcella Hazan.  Over the years it's morphed into my own version, still true to its root method and ingredients with just a few changes.  While Marcella uses just beef in her recipe, I like mine with veal (for tenderness) and pork (for richness) along with the beef.

This is a sauce that benefits greatly from a long, slow simmer.  You don't make it in a hurry and you don't make it for two people.  It's food for a crowd-that said, it freezes beautifully.  Most of the cooking is largely unattended so don't be scared off about the steps.

Bolognese Sauce, inspired by Marcella Hazan

1 tsp olive oil
2 tbs butter
2 medium carrots, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground beef (preferably chuck)
1/2 pound ground pork
1/4 pound ground veal
2 cups whole milk
2 cups dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
3-4 cups canned Italian tomatoes, with juices, chopped (this amount depends on how tomato-y you like it)

In a large dutch oven or stock pot, heat the oil and butter over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery, and onion with a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to get tender but not browned, 6-7 minutes.  Add the beef, pork, and veal and break it up into small pieces using a wooden spoon.  Sprinkle the meat with a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat looses all its red color and it lightly browned in spots, 20-25 minutes more.  Add the milk and when it begins to bubble reduce the heat to medium low.  Cook the sauce until the milk has evaporated almost entirely, 20-25 minutes, stirring just once or twice.  Increase the heat to medium, add the wine and when it begins to bubble reduce the heat to medium low.  Cook the sauce until the wine has evaporated almost entirely, 20-25 minutes, stirring just once or twice.  Add the tomatoes with a pinch each of salt and pepper and stir to combine.  

Cook the sauce, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, up to 5, stirring from time to time. If the sauce begins to dry out, add ½ cup water as necessary, stirring to combine. At the end of cooking, the water should be completely evaporated and you will see the fat separating from the meat.  

If serving right away, cook 1-2 pounds of pasta until al dente.  Stir the pasta with just enough sauce to coat and transfer to warm serving bowls.  Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and serve right away.

If saving sauce, cool it completely then transfer it to an airtight container.  Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 month.  Once the sauce has cooled in the refrigerator, the fat will solidify on top and you can scrape it off and discard it before reheating.

A great variation on the sauce it to make a bechamel and layer the two sauces with fresh pasta sheets and freshly grated Parm for an amazing Lasagne Bolognese.  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

D-Lish T-Lish

(Matt, from Delfina, holding their two signature tacos)

Have you been to Tacolicious?  I wrote about their killer taco stand at the Ferry Building a while back, drooling over the guajillo braised short rib tacos.  Since then Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran opened their brick and mortar place of the same name, on Chestnut Street in the Marina.  I've been to the restaurant a few times, not only loving the tacos but the fresh chips and salsa are so utterly addictive I quickly learned to pace myself.

 (Craig giving Sara her soon-to-be-posted interview about his taco inspiration)

I was motivated to head back to the Ferry Building today when my friend Craig Stoll, chef and co-owner of Delfina, was the guest taco chef.  The Tacolicious stand is hosting a number of the city's great culinary minds over the next few weeks, each one making a couple signature tacos to add to the already amazing menu-you can read about them here.  Today Craig, with his chef Matt (above), were firing two kinds of tacos-Cabeza tacos: beef head/tounge that had been braised forever then put on "la plancha" for a bit of crispy goodness AND Lamb Riblet tacos: tender bits of lamb topped with a cooling pineapple salsa.  I was hesitant on the cabeza but have to admit, it made for a perfect taco filling-tender, not at all greasy, and full of flavor.  The lamb was my favorite-the combo of rich meat and bright salsa were a taco match made in heaven. 

I look forward to trying more Thursday tacos at the Ferry Building.  What a great way for chefs to come together and cook new things.  The lines are long, I wont advice is an 11:30 lunch then a scoop of gelato for dessert.  Hope for sunshine and walk around to do some shopping.  This is why I love San Francisco!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

I'm a huge fan of deep, dark, dense pots de creme.  Pudding be damned-I'll take the French version any day.  I love how my spoon stands up in it and, when I order it in a restaurant, how the cup seems so small but I never manage to finish it, rich, rich.  When I saw the picture above in today's New York Times my mouth was watering. Then I read the article and was surprised to see it was actually panna cotta.  This Italian dessert is not pudding it all.  Translating literally to "cooked cream", this light custard is stabilized with gelatin to give it its distinctive silky texture.  Its the smooth talking sister to the bold pots de creme.  This particular recipe takes the milk chocolate hazelnut spread, Nutella, combines it with good quality bittersweet chocolate and a combination of cream and milk.  Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Panna Cotta...probably wont convert me from pots de creme for good but will certainly convince me to give it a try.  And, to boot, the recipe is from The Craft of Baking by Karen Demasco so you know it's going to be tasty. 

I've always loved the idea of a stove top smoker.  I have a friend who uses hers to make bacon, that's right-homemade bacon.  If that isn't enough to get you to run out and get one I don't know what is.  We recently invested in a bigger, backyard version that works much the same way but has three racks inside (I'm sure the neighbors love us when we're smoking salmon out back).  Either way, these recipes from today's LA Times for home-smoked pork belly, scallops, ribs, or game hens look totally doable at home and well worth the neighborhood smoke-out, even if you don't own a smoker.  Take a close peek at the game hen recipe-they use a method I've taught in my class and it works swimmingly.  You line a heavy wok with foil, fill it with a layer of white rice, brown sugar, and aromatics (anything from black tea to star anise to lemon zest), cover it with a rack, and put the lid on.  After a few minutes over high heat the mixture begins to smoke like mad-I take off the lid and add whatever it is I'm smoking (for the game hens they are pre-roasted but for something smaller like a piece of fish or a duck breast, no pre-cooking is needed).  Cover the wok back up tightly and in under ten minutes the meat is beautifully lacquered and smoked.  It's a great method for you to try if you don't want to invest in a smoker...pretty amazing.

Leek Smothered Pork Chops...mmmm.  I guess if you throw the word "smother" into a recipe with any kind of meat it makes it sound uber-appealing.   Using a tip from Julia Child, the recipe from today's Washington Post calls for browning the chops first then quickly brasing them in a combination of white wine and chicken stock.  The entire recipe takes about 45 minutes but much of it is unattended, leaving you time to make a salad, some veggies, or pour a glass of that white wine for yourself. In fact, you could probably do all three-perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Classes at Tante Marie's


For those of you in the Bay Area, Tante Marie's has posted their Spring/Summer schedule on line.  If you have ever taken classes at the school before you know how quickly they fill up.  Get on over there and sign up for something to energize you in the kitchen.

I'll be teaching an Easy Entertaining class (April 18th or May 2nd, 10am-3pm) as well as a classed called Cooking for the Outdoors (May 30th or June 13th, 10am-3pm).  If you're looking to throw a few more dinner parties or spice up those menus from the grill, I'd love to see you in one or both of these classes.

For my Basics students out there, look for Basics III starting April 13th.  We only offer this course 1-2 times a year.  Focusing on using all your skills from Basics I and/or Basics II, this series pulls everything together into full menus.  We talk about why certain dishes pair with others and how to get them all done in a timely fashion.  It's the perfect next steps for those of you who want to keep learning.

Hope to see you soon.

Happy Cooking!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lemon Scones

I recently noticed that my neighborhood Peet's coffee is selling petite lemon scones for $.95.  I've was in there one afternoon thinking 1) that three bite scone would be the perfect snack and 2) I could make that for a LOT less than $.95!  I love scones.  In fact, I love any biscuit like concoction that combines  butter/flour/buttermilk and creates a flaky bite of loveliness.  

I have a folder full of scone recipes so when I decided to make a batch of these on a whim this afternoon, I went through it.  I knew I needed a buttermilk based recipe, versus the true English scone which is made with heavy cream (also delish but no cream in the house today).  Truth be told, I had no buttermilk either but that is easy to pull together by souring milk with some lemon juice.  

I put a few recipes together and here's what I came up with.  Bigger, fresher, and definitely cheaper than what you'll find at the local coffee shop.  Come on over, I'll sell you one for a lot less than $.95!

Lemon Scones with Lemon Glaze

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 2 tbs fresh lemon juice and 1/4 c plus 2 tbs milk mixed until slightly thickened)
1 egg
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment or a sil-pat.

In a medium bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.  Mix until well combined.  Add the butter and mix until the butter pieces resemble coarse crumbs.  If doing this by hand, literally use your hands and flake the butter into small pieces.  If using the electric mixer, be sure the butter is cold and mix on very low speed until it just breaks down into coarse crumbs.  Whisk together the buttermilk mixture and egg and slowly add it to the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.  

Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured work surface.  Gently press it into a rectangle, about 1-inch thick and fold the dough over on itself one time.  Gently press it back into a rectangle, again 1-inch thick.  Using a sharp knife or bench scraper cut the dough into 12 small squares and transfer them to the prepared baking sheet.  

Bake the scones until lightly golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

While the scones are cooling, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar, adding more sugar or lemon juice as needed to form an opaque glaze that is slightly thickened.  When the scones are cool, drizzle the glaze over the top and let sit until the glaze sets up.  
Makes one dozen scones.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Was Wrong...

Cooking from the Farmer's Market is hot off the press.  I thought it was a June 1 release but was thrilled and surprised to answer the door to my friendly USPS delivery person handing me a box full of the books.  From what I hear, they are at your local Williams Sonoma now.

The book was a collaboration between myself (writing the fruit half of the book), Tasha DeSerio (writing the veggie half of the book), Jennifer Maiser (writing the forward), and Maren Caruso (taking the stunning photographs).

This is the perfect book for anyone who shops like I do at the local farmer's market.  If you bring home your basket full of whatever looks good that day, you can reference the produce in the book and find lots of great ways to prepare it.  With tips on picking out what's fresh and recipes like Pork Medallions with Roasted Figs, Strawberry Creme Fraiche Ice Cream, Pan Seared Scallops with Caramelized Oranges, you'll use this book all the time.

Check it out, let me know what you think.  Note that WS has an older book, from 1999, with the same title so be sure you look for the new one, sub-head is "Shop, Cook, & Eat". 

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Wednesday!  Hope you're hungry.


I never thought I'd eat a torta.  I LOVE Mexican food, and I don't mean plates heaped with massive amounts of melted cheese.  I mean the real deal with all the textures and flavors I love-spicy & cool, soft & crispy...ahhh.  But, when I first heard about Tortas I wasn't so sure.  A Mexican sandwich?  Beans and mayo together, piled with avocado, cheese, and meat?  Sounded like too much of a good thing.  Then, on Balboa Island about three summers ago my brother-in-law convinced me to try the Torta al Pastor from the tiny fast food window by the ferry.  Run by a Mexican woman, the place was completely legit, down to the homemade tamales.  Well, that was a game changing sandwich.  Full of grilled marinated pork and all the fixins, the key was the roll.  Usually a Mexican roll called a bolillo, crusty on the outside and tender enough inside to soak up all the goodness-if you can't find them a kaiser roll could do in a pinch.  Yes, it was HUGE and maybe by the last bite I did feel like it was too much of a good thing but there is definitely and completely a right time and place for that.  While you can generally find tortas at any good taco truck, today's Portland Oregonian actually gives you tips and recipes for making your own.  With homemade Pickled Onions, Avocado & Tomatillo Relish,  and Chipotle Refried Beans you'll be well on your way to satisfying your craving, even if you don't have it....yet.


You know when I saw this picture I fell in love.  These could have been called anything and I'm telling you, just from that photo I'd have been sold.  My mom makes homemade anything-with-yeast and I've loved these recipes since I was a kid.  I can guarantee you right now she'll be making these within a week and inviting people over as an excuse to serve them, she's good about that.  They're called Orange Dinner Rolls and they are from today's LA Times.  The recipe actually hails from The Morrison Lodge in Oregon but a reader wrote in raving about them and the Times tracked down the goods.  Don't be scared by yeasted doughs.  The big trick is getting the water to just the right temp-the recipe calls for "lukewarm" which usually means about 105 degrees.  You don't need a thermometer-just remember you usually run about 98.6 degrees, so 105 should feel just warm to the touch.  Hotter than that and you'll kill the yeast, resulting in buns that are not so flattering, and who wants unflattering buns.   Let me know how these are mom, I may even try to make them before you do!


Twice baked potatoes have been around for a long time.  When people of my generation make them its because they remind us of food our mom used to make.  They work well when you're cooking ahead, planning a menu that you can prepare in advance and cook at the last minute.  Today in the New York Times Melissa Clark kicks your mom's twice baked potato up a serious notch.  Once version reminds me of a Caesar Salad with Parm, Anchovy, and Olive Oil.  The other, pictured above, uses Creme Fraiche and Salmon Roe.  Her's use Russet potatoes, definitely the standard for this dish but if you're thinking about apps for your Oscar party, you could try these with New Potatoes for a two-bite version.  A bit more work but stunners for sure.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Turkey Burgers

In my quest to feed my family less red meat, I tackled the turkey burger last night.  Ever since my friend Rory told me he would not eat any ground poultry, I too have had a bit of an aversion to it.  I'm a big fan of both chicken and turkey but something about making burgers, meatballs, or Bolognese with them just turned me off-texturally and taste-wise it wasn't my thing.

But, I sucked it up and tried it again last night.  I bought a pound of ground dark meat turkey from my local butcher.  That is the first important step!  Ground meat has a short shelf life and commercial meat processors add who-knows-what when they pre-grind the stuff.  Always buy it from a butcher who will grind it fresh at the store.  Dark meat is essential too.  The white meat on turkey (or chicken for that matter) is so darn lean that no matter what you do to it in a burger, you'll be eating dry shoe leather. 

After reading several hints and tips for keeping the meat moist, I settled on the idea of loading it up with onions and garlic.  The onions, finely chopped and raw in the mixture, release lots of their natural liquid as the turkey burger cooks.  This not only keeps it from drying out but it seasons the meat as well.  A drop of Worcestershire, salt, pepper, an egg, and a tbs of flour (to about a pound of meat)-I mixed it all very gently so as not to toughen the meat and made the patties.  I let them rest in the fridge for a few hours and then brought them to room temp before cooking.

Now to tackle the cooking method.  The trick was a nice crusty exterior with a moist interior while still cooking them all the way through.  I seared the patties off in a pan with a bit of olive oil then transferred them to a baking sheet once they were well browned.  I was already roasting broccoli in a 425 degree oven so I popped the burgers in there and in about 10 minutes they were perfect.  When I pressed on the tops I got just enough resistence to indicate they were done (firm with only a tiny bit of 'push').  You can also use a meat thermometer-they should register about 155 as they'll keep cooking to reach 165 before you eat them.

I made a relish of fennel and onion with a little apricot jam and champagne vinegar-just cooked the veggies nice and slow until they caramelized then added the jam and vinegar.  I served them open faced with some Dijon and Romaine.

I did all the right things.  The were incredibly juicy, my son inhaled them, and my husband gave my the thumbs up.  We ate them so fast I didn't even take a picture!  If you're going for a turkey burger, try this method, it's definitely a winner.
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