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
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