Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Sorry for the lapse in my roundup last week.  Re-entry after my long Seattle trip plus a busy week of book PR had me a bit sidetracked.  Happy to be back!

Peach Pie evokes summer, the old days, and heaven for most people.  Buttery, flaky pastry bursting with peak-of-the season fruit baked in an old-fashioned pie tin...does it get any better than that? In today's Observer, Nigel Slater ups the ante a bit by studding his crust with a bit of lemon and his fruit with a bit of orange.  The hint of citrus will make those peaches really shine without sacrificing their natural sweetness.  If ever there is a time to really pull out the stops for pie crust, this is it-no store bought crust is going to be worthy of this filling.  Written in Slater's very approachable style, the crust recipe is not time consuming or difficult (by the way, caster sugar is super fine white sugar but regular white sugar works too).  My favorite part of the recipe?  His suggestion that "a jug of cream may be welcome".  Absolutely!

I have a weakness for cookbooks from clubs and community groups.  You know the ones-Junior Leagues, church groups, school teachers, or synagogues.  Their plastic spiral bindings and home-style recipes conjure up visions of the way a community or neighborhood used to be--centered around gatherings, potlucks, and good food.  Many of these books have become classier over time but they still include recipes that take you back to days that seem much simpler.  A perfect example is the Chicken Salad recipe in today's Washington Post.  The recipe comes from a cookbook by the local D.C. chapter of the League of Women Voter's.   I'm sure it's been served at many a "luncheon" and taken to a meeting or two.  It's curried chicken salad with grapes, pineapple, and Major Grey's chutney.  You can just taste it, right?  It's not necessarily current or trendy but, you know, sometimes the old favorites are exactly what you need, potluck or not.

I love me a good fish taco!  There is something about that balance of textures, temperatures, and flavors that make we weak in the knees.  When I bite into a soft corn tortilla and get crunchy cabbage, rich crema, and crispy coated perfectly cooked fish, I'm one happy camper.  I had some surprisingly delicious fish tacos this week at San Francisco's Woodhouse Fish Co.-not a Mexican restaurant but they are incredibly skilled at getting that batter just right.  In the San Francisco Chronicle there is a lengthy article on creating perfect fish tacos.  With recipes from Tacolicious as well local fish taco guru Nick Fasanella, you can now conquer them at home.  It's a bit of work to get them perfect so be sure to read the article. If you aren't feeling up to it, try one of the restaurants they mention.  After seeing what goes into making them so tasty you'll be all the more appreciative next time you're eating out.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking! 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Fruit Clafouti

I've been to the farmers' market a lot lately.  We've got peaches, blueberries, nectarines, apricots, raspberries, and blackberries in abundance.  Don't get me wrong-that should sound nothing like a complaint because summer fruit is my absolute favorite thing in the world.  Problem is, we can't eat it fast enough.

My go-to dessert with quickly-ripening fruit is a crisp but this summer I'm changing things up with the clafouti.  A classic French dessert, the clafouti is traditionally made with cherries but I also find it stunning with stone fruits and berries.  The fruit is spread into a buttered dish and topped with an egg-filled batter, much like crepe or pancake batter.  After 45-or so-minutes in the oven the batter bakes up, around, and over the fruit, looking like the love child of a Dutch Baby/German pancake and a fruit tart.  There is no crust, and mixing the batter is a cinch.  This definitely falls into the "dessert for dummies" category.

I've seen several methods for making a clafouti-using a blender, heating the milk, whisking by hand, and even cooking some of the batter as a base first (a trick to keep the fruit from sinking to the bottom).  The recipe I'm using is adapted from Cooking from the Farmers' Market and it works every time.

This weekend I made one with blackberries and white peaches...take a look at it "in progress".  Good news?  It was outstanding.  Bad news?  It wasn't until we'd licked our plates that I realized I hadn't photographed the finished product. Sometimes the belly takes precedent over the camera...woops!

Summer Fruit Clafouti
Note:  If you're using cherrries, be sure to pit them (though rumor has it the original clafouti used un-pitted cherries).  If you're using stone fruit, take out the pits and cut them into 1-2 inch pieces.  Berries can be washed and used straight up.
butter, for greasing the pan
1 pound summer fruit (pitted, peeled, and cut into 1-2 inch pieces as needed-see above)
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sifted cake flour
4 eggs, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract (I prefer almond with cherries or apricots and vanilla with other fruits)
powdered sugar, for dusting

Place the rack in the top third of the oven.   Butter a shallow 1 1/2 quart baking dish and arrange the fruit in a layer over the bottom of the pan.

In a saucepan, heat the milk and cream over medium low heat until small bubbles form around the edges.  Remove from the heat and vigorously whisk in the flour, adding it a little at a time, until almost no lumps remain.  

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and salt until creamy.  Whisk in the milk mixture and the extract (I use an immersion blender here just to be sure the batter is completely smooth-a whisk will do the job too).  Pour the mixture over the fruit.  If you have the time, let the clafouti rest about 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until nicely browned on top and set, 45-55 minutes.  Transfer to a rack to cool slightly.  Spoon onto serving plates and dust each serving with powdered sugar.  Clafouti can be served warm or at room temperature.

Friday, July 23, 2010

See you Saturday

If you're in the San Francisco area, come by the Fillmore Farmers' Market this Saturday morning.  Not only is it a fantastic little neighborhood market but I'll be there signing books from 10:30-Noon.  You can find coffee and pastries to get you going plus all the produce you need to make a delicious weekend dinner.  Stop by and say "hello"!

The market is on Fillmore at O'Farrell Street.  Plenty of street parking.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


This time of year we're flush with gorgeous strawberries-the deep red ones that smell sweet and perfect, one of my favorite scents in the world.  On today's episode of the View from the Bay I made two of the strawberry recipes from Cooking from the Farmers' Market, Strawberry Creme Fraiche Ice Cream and Fresh Strawberry and Spinach Salad.  Both let the berries shine through, one in a sweet way and the other savory.  Click the video above to check it out!

When you're done watching,  head to the market to buy the best berries you can find and fire up the ice cream maker.  Look for small, deep red, fragrant strawberries as opposed to the gigantic ones at the supermarket, usually anchored by a hard white core and little flavor. 
Strawberry Creme Fraiche Ice Cream (adapted from Cooking from the Farmers' Market)

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup each heavy cream and whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
2 cups (about 8 ounces) fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup creme fraiche

Combine the vanilla seeds, vanilla pod, cream, milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Turn off the heat.  In a large bowl, whisk the yolks then whisk in 1 cup of the warm cream mixture.  Add the yolk mixture back to the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture and cook over low heat, stirring gently with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon, 3-4 minutes.  Strain the mixture into a heatproof bowl and set it into a bowl of ice water, stirring often until cool, about 30 minutes.

Puree half of the strawberries, the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, and the lemon juice in a food processor.  Stir the puree and the creme fraiche into the cream mixture.  Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Just before the ice cream is done, add the remaining strawberries pieces and finish freezing.  Ice cream will keep 1-2 days in your freezer but cover it tightly. Place it in an airtight container, covering the top surface of the ice cream directly with plastic wrap to keep any ice crystals from forming.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

My book tour is in full swing-I'm two down and five to go for book events in the next week and a half.  Be sure to check out my "upcoming appearances" on the side pane of the page-would love to see you soon.

Ahh, tempura.  When done right it's light as a feather and perfectly crunchy.  When done wrong it's a heavy greasy batter disguising sub par veggies.  In yesterday's LA Times Sonoko Sakai writes about using the best at the farmers' market as the base for an airy tempura batter.  I love the idea of using shishito peppers.  Over the past few years these bite-sized peppers have started showing up everywhere, lightly sauteed and sprinkled with great olive oil and coarse salt.  They can be full of seeds but Sakai recommends cutting a slit in the pepper and shaking out the seeds before frying (it also prevents them from popping in the oil).  Keep the batter ice cold and don't over mix it and your peppers, or whatever veggie you bought at the market, will be the ideal base for your own home cooked tempura. 

Spicy Quinoa, Cucumber, and Tomato Salad, from The New York Times, would have been the perfect substitute for the potato salad I brought to a BBQ last Sunday.  Sure, the potato salad was tasty but this salad screams "fresh" and "summer".  I've mentioned quinoa (that's "keen-wa" if you didn't know) here many time, a lovely little whole grain, originally from the Andes, that itself is a complete protein (rare for a grain) and hugely high in fiber.  In addition to being good for you, it's got a very mild flavor making it ideal for salads with big, bold vinaigrettes.  Be sure to soak your quinoa before you cook it-it can have a bitter flavor to it if you skip this step.  Once you try this salad, experiment with the grain.  I love it with roasted corn, lime juice, and crumbled queso fresco too.  See ya' later Mr. Potato!

The word "slump" doesn't conjure up the most appetizing of desserts, does it?  Read on and your mind will be changed.  Think nectarines, peaches, and cherries simmered until thick and juicy and topped with tender buttermilk-based dumplings.  The result is a cobbler like dish that is made on your stove top instead of the the oven.  Any summer fruit will do so head to the market and think of the "slump" as your go-to recipe for whatever begins to get over ripe later in the week (you've always got something like that this time of year).  Thank you Chicago Tribune for convincing me that a Slump can be a very good thing. 
Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tomato and Mozzarella Tarts

A quick thank you to all the amazing friends and family who showed up at Williams Sonoma yesterday. The demo and book signing went swimmingly!  I expect pictures from all you camera wielding folks.

If you don't yet have a copy of Cooking from the Farmers' Market, this recipe is a taste of what you're missing.  I demo'd it yesterday and it was a huge hit.  Perfect as your local tomatoes begin to ripen in the sunshine.

Rustic Tomato and Mozzarella Tarts (adapted from Cooking from the Farmers' Market)

4 medium varied colored heirloom tomatoes, cored and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet puff pastry, preferably an all-butter brand, rolled out to 8x10 inches and cut in half lengthwise
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbs melted butter
3/4 cup grated whole milk mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
4 large basil leaves

Place the tomatoes on a paper towel lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Let sit at room temp 30-60 minutes to drain.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the two pieces of puff pastry on the sheet.  Combine the garlic and melted butter and brush it over the tops of the pastry.  Sprinkle half of the mozzarella over each piece of pastry and top with a sprinkling of Parm, reserving one tablespoon to sprinkle on top.  Divide the tomatoes between the two tarts, overlapping them slightly.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the remaining Parm. 

Bake the tarts until golden brown, about 25 minutes.  Remove them from the oven, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, and shred the basil leaves over the top.  Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 6-8

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

When I decided to pick up and leave Seattle for San Francisco, I'd quit a big corporate job to enroll in culinary school.  I had lots of support from family and friends, but none more so than the dad of my best friend.  His name was Glenn and I'd known him since my early teenage years.  He was big, boisterous, opinionated, and smart-intimidating sometimes but sweet as could be too.  He was the first 'foodie' I'd known, well before the term was popular.  He knew wine, particularly French wine, like the back of his hand and he loved good food.  He sent me off to San Francisco with a copy of the Guide Culinare by Auguste Escoffier-of course then I had no idea what it was.  Whenever I came home Glenn would ask if I'd been to Chez Panisse, if I'd learned to make a veloute, or if I'd met Kermit Lynch when shopping for wine.  As time went along I was able to speak Glenn's language-I knew a sancerre from a chablis, I'd made cassoulet, and I'd even been to Provence, one of his favorite spots in the world.  We continued to talk about, and enjoy, all kinds of food and wine over the years.  He loved what I was doing and always talked to me with an amazing amount of pride.  It was a privilege to be close to Glenn and I will miss him dearly.  I think of him as I write today, knowing he'd never want me to stop exploring my own love for all things delicious.

If you read my blog last week, you saw the article from Mark Bittman in the NY Times called 101 Fast Recipes for Grilling.  Melissa Clark follows up this week with four mouth-watering recipes for your grilled leftovers.  Extra Italian Sausage from last night?  Make Italian Sausage Sandwiches with Pickled Pepper Coleslaw.  Your grilled steak can transform into Vietnamese Style Rice Noodle and Steak Salad.    Chicken Quesadillas with Avocado Cucumber Salsa will make your leftover chicken feel anything but left over.  And, Lamb and Couscous Salad with Chickpeas, Mint, and Feta is the perfect redux for grilled lamb.  Everything looks so tasty I'm grilling extra on purpose next time!

I think rice pudding is one of those things you either love or hate.  I've never met anyone who's "eh" on rice pudding.  I'm a lover-it conjures up soul-satisfying comfort food and I can't get enough of the stuff.  In today's Los Angeles Times they've printed the Rice Pudding recipe from a restaurant called the Lazy Ox Canteen in downtown LA.  This is rice pudding at another level-cooked, cooled, folded with soft whipped cream, and topped with caramel sauce & almond brittle.  I know, right?  I rarely meet a rice pudding I don't like but I think this version may be the Oscar-winning cream of the crop.  Can not wait to make it!  If you beat me to it, I want details. 

Wish I could tell you this picture came from the backyard garden party I had last night, when my dear friend Jamie stopped by....sadly, not all wishes come true.  But, in today's London Guardian I found Jamie's recipe for homemade Gravadlax, the cured Swedish style version of lox.  It might seem intimidating to cure a side of salmon but Jamie's recipe will dispel any fears you've had about tackling this project.  Get the best salmon you can and give yourself two days to let the fish cure in the fridge.  Jamie tops his with the traditional dill, salt, and vodka but he also covers it with a layer of grated beets and demerara sugar (natural brown sugar).  This sweet/salty combo will be stellar on the fish, which he serves thinly sliced and topped with a simple sour cream mustard sauce. Brunch, lunch, or dinner...homemade and lovely.

If you happen to be in the Seattle area this weekend, come by Williams Sonoma in Bellevue Square.  I'm doing a short demo around 10am and then signing copies of Cooking from the Farmers' Market beginning at 10:45.  Would love to see you there.

Happy reading and Happy cooking.
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