Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cookie Baking and Merry Making

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I did the rest of my baking this past weekend, using the same butter cookie dough that I used for this recipe. (In fact, I even baked another batch.) For the rest of the dough, I decided to go easy on myself and skip the cut outs this year. Instead I went the slice and bake route with two flavors - pistachio and cranberry (for a little green and red flair) and cocoa nib and orange zest. I also did a batch of little thumbprints with chopped almonds and cherry jam. The flavors worked really well, and I was pleased with the tiny bite sizes. (I actually didn't make them quite small enough the first time around and had to adjust the size of my "rolls" accordingly.) I did the pistachio cranberry in little squares, and the cocoa nib and orange in rounds. They got good reviews at work, and we have been nibbling on them all week. One tip I can share - I used raw pistachios in baking instead of toasted - they have a nicer bright green color. Learned that from my pastry class.
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I also made another batch of brownies, using this recipe. I was in a hurry when I started mixing up the batter, and forgot to add the vanilla. It affected the taste a little, but they are still very good. I used Scharffenberger unsweetened chocolate this time (it was on sale at Whole Foods for $5.99) and Valrhona Amer Noir (55% I believe?) for the semisweet. I couldn't believe how gorgeous the big plastic-wrapped bar of Scharffenberger was when I opened it. It will be hard (maybe impossible) to go back to Baker's Unsweetened now. Even if Scharffenberger is owned by Hershey's, it's still better than that stuff.
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Last weekend we also attended one of my favorite holiday events, the Solstice Dinner hosted by James' mother Francena. foodblog 1390
As always, the meal was delicious - Francena served pot roast, smoked turkey, couscous, green beans, zucchini with bacon, and gravy, cranberries and bread on the side. Perfect for a mid-winter's meal. The champagne and conversation were free-flowing and a good time was had by all.

As Roibin toasted, "Here's to friends and family, may they be one and the same." Here's hoping that you and yours also have a happy, memorable and indulgent holiday, filled with champagne, hot chocolate, fires in the fireplace, and lots of wonderful presents!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gingerbread Souffles with Warm Caramel Sauce

Of all of the recipes we made in my baking and pastry class, I think this one was my favorite. It is certainly the most impressive payoff given the work involved. Not that it's easy - but it's certainly not as complicated as you might think. It is a recipe that was devised by my instructor, and I hope he doesn't mind my giving it away here!

A baked souffle is basically a recipe for pastry cream (the custard filling for eclairs and pate a choux) lightened with meringue and then baked. It involves a two part process - the first part, the base, can be prepared well in advance. At the time of preparation, all you need to do is make your meringue, fold the base and the meringue together and bake. Souffles must be served immediately - hot from the oven, because they deflate almost immediately.

In addition to the recipe, we learned that there are a few basic rules that are essential to making a good souffle. One, grease and sugar the the ramekins - so that the souffle can rise evenly. Two, do not overbeat your egg whites before folding into the base. If you do, they will be dry and difficult to fold, and the mixture will be more likely to deflate. They should be beaten only to soft peaks.

This recipe is delicious, and perfect for the holidays. We prepared a burnt caramel sauce to serve with it, which is also very simple as long as you are careful in the process. The two of these together would make a phenomenal dessert for a Christmas or New Year's celebration. Though I haven't had time to make them myself (hence the lack of pictures) I really encourage you to try it if you have the time. I guarantee your guests will be in awe.

Gingerbread Souffles with Caramel Sauce

Makes 10 4 oz servings

6 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
5 oz brown sugar
2 oz milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 oz All Purpose Flour
1 T. ginger powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground clove
1 tsp cinnamon
9 oz of scalded milk, hot

8 egg whites
2 1/2 oz of granulated sugar

For the base, whisk together the egg yolks, brown sugar, milk and vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients together, and gradually incorporate into the wet. Temper in the hot milk by adding a small amount to the egg yolk mixture, then adding the rest. Whisk together and set aside. This mixture can be refrigerated for several hours or even a couple of days.

When you are ready to bake the souffles, grease and sugar your ramekins, and preheat the oven to 375. Bring the custard base to room temperature and stir it to loosen it up.

Place your egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, making sure the bowl and whisk are perfectly clean. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy, and gradually add the sugar, beating only until the meringue forms a soft peak that holds it's shape but flops over instead of standing straight up.

Using a spatula, thoroughly but gently fold the meringue into the base mixture. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet, and evenly divide the mixture among the ramekins. Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes, or until the souffles are fully risen and dry on the top. They shouldn't really brown very much. (This is approximate since we used convection ovens, so watch them carefully!) Post Script: Based on feedback below, I'd recommend baking an extra one or two so you can poke them with a tester (in case they deflate.) The tester must come out clean.

Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately. If you are using the warm caramel sauce, encourage guests to poke a hole in the souffle with a spoon, and drizzle the caramel directly inside. Mmmmm.... it makes me swoony just to think about it.

Warm Caramel Sauce

10 1/2 oz of sugar
1 oz corn syrup
1/2 cup of water
1 cup cream
1 1/2 oz of butter
1/2 t vanilla paste (or 1 tsp extract)
1/8 tsp sea salt (or a bit more if you like a salty caramel)

Have everything measured and ready to go before you begin - timing counts in this recipe!

In a medium saucepan - between 2 and 3 qts, cook the sugar, corn syrup and water until the mixture reaches a deep golden amber color. The depth of color and flavor here will determine the flavor of your caramel sauce. The darker you go, the less sweet and more intense the flavor will be. You don't want to burn it though - if that happens it will become irretrievably bitter and you will have to start over. If you see it starting to become reddish in color, it is in the danger zone.

When your caramel is deep amber but not burned, tilt the pan and carefully pour in the cream. It will foam and bubble and release steam, so keep your hands and face away from the pot at this point. Stir until the mixture is incorporated and the bubbling has subsided. Add the butter, vanilla paste and salt, and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Makes two cups (one pint.)

**You can also make caramels from this recipe, by simply cooking the mixture to the soft ball stage, about 240 degrees. You have to be careful here though, because if it continues to cook after it is removed from the heat, the caramels will be too hard when cool which makes them difficult to cut -not to mention chew. I am still working on mastering this technique!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Eggnog Mousse and Gingerbread Cake with Pecan Caramel Rum Sauce

This semester is coming to a close, and for our pastry class final exam, we were tasked with creating a plated dessert with three elements - one of which was required. Our required element was mousse, so in keeping with the season we decided to do a holiday themed dessert - a plate for Santa with a cup of eggnog mousse. The class is divided into five teams, and each team had to make one dessert for presentation, and four others to share with the group.

The original idea for the "Plate for Santa" was a cup of the mousse, some cookies and a slice of an Italian fruitcake confection called "panforte" - but one of our team members tested the panforte and we decided we didn't like it so much - so we switched to gingerbread. Just to be safe, our team got together this past weekend to test the recipes and do a "dry run" with our display. As a result of our testing, we decided the mousse had too much white chocolate flavor and not enough eggnog, and we added fresh ginger to the cake in place of the dried - which turned out to be a fantastic idea. We tested two caramel sauce recipes, and decided we liked one sauce better than the other - but we liked the nuts, so we added nuts to the sauce that we liked.

I made the cut out cookies using my favorite butter cookie dough that I made earlier this week (I baked it at 300 degrees so they wouldn't spread or brown) and the curly cookies are tuiles, which we learned to make in class. The cookie sticking out of the cup is also a tuile, flavored with cinnamon and a little molasses - the molasses colored it, and helped make it more flexible and easier to mold into the cinnamon stick shape.

When Chef Foran tasted our dessert, he liked the mousse so much he actually asked for the recipe. He was impressed that we had modified another recipe to come up with something original, and really liked the presentation with the glass cups. His only criticism was that there was too much whipped cream on top, which was my fault. I should have piped dollops on top instead of spreading it.

If I were going to make this at home, I'd probably shrink the portion sizes. You could also do either or, the gingerbread or the mousse just fine. I like the idea of the mousse by itself with cookies on the side too. The gingerbread recipe can be found here, on Epicurious, just substitute an equal volume of grated fresh ginger for the powdered. The sauce is here, we just added some chopped toasted pecans.
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Eggnog Mousse

1 packet of gelatin (2 1/4 tsp)
3 Tablespoons of whipping cream
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup of eggnog
4 oz of white chocolate (by weight)
3/4 cup of chilled whipping cream
1/4 tsp of nutmeg

1/2 cup of chilled whipping cream
1 Tablespoon of powdered sugar
fresh grated nutmeg

Put one inch of water in a shallow pan and bring to a simmer. Set up a double boiler (preferably using a bowl) and melt the white chocolate - keep the water simmering. Set up an ice bath, and put your whipped cream bowl and beater in the freezer.

Stir together the gelatin and three tablespoons of cream together in a small bowl, and set in the shallow pan of simmering water to dissolve. (If your water isn't simmering,the gelatin will harden - as we learned the hard way.) Add the gelatin, egg yolks and eggnog to the white chocolate and whisk until dissolved. (It may have some lumps.) Remove from heat and stir in the nutmeg.

Sieve the mixture into a bowl and place in the ice bath. Stir until thickened to the texture of lemon curd. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Whip the 3/4 cup of cream to soft peaks. Gently fold the cream into the eggnog base -being careful not to overmix. It should be slightly foamy and creamy. Pipe or pour the cream into cups or bowls, and chill for at least an hour.

Just before serving, whip the remaining half cup of cream to soft peaks, sifting in the powdered sugar about halfway through. Top each serving with a dollop of the cream and some fresh grated nutmeg.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Caramel Pecan Shortbread

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This is one of my very favorite cookies to make around the holidays - it's the first one to disappear off the tray every time, and always the most requested recipe. It all starts with this Basic Butter Cookie dough, from Gourmet's December, 1995 issue, which I have made faithfully every year since I discovered it. The recipe suggests a number of different creations, and over the years I've come up with a few of my own. I use it for cut outs, jam thumbprints (with finely chopped pecans in the dough), lemon curd sandwiches, toasted coconut sticks dipped in chocolate, and cranberry orange oatmeal rounds. This past weekend, I made a double batch to get a head start on holiday baking. I made one small change based on something I learned in my pastry classes - substituting one teaspoon of vanilla paste for the vanilla extract. It put lovely vanilla flecks throughout the dough and gave it a good flavor - both improvements in my book. (I found mine at Trader Joes.) One thing you should know, it's not terribly sweet, but this is a very rich, buttery short dough - not like a sugar cookie at all.

To make the caramel pecan shortbread, I used about a quarter of one recipe of the dough, and made the topping from this recipe - from 2003. (The 2003 issue also has a link to a different recipe for a butter cookie base, but I'm committed to my old one.)

The recipe says to bake this until the caramel is bubbling - but I find that I need to bake it a little longer - about ten minutes into the bubbling - 20-25 minutes total. The trick is to get the caramel and the cookie in the middle done, without turning the outer edges brittle. I cut these into teensy tiny pieces because they are so rich - and because I have a thing for small cookies - but you could cut these into any size once the pan comes out of the oven. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lucques Short Ribs

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Short ribs are one of my favorite things to eat, and one 0f my favorite go-to dishes to serve at dinner parties when the weather is chilly. They're easy to cook for a crowd they're not something you have everyday, and everyone seems to love them. I figured this recipe had to be a winner, since it is one of the signature dishes at Lucques, Suzanne Goin's restaurant in Los Angeles. With port, red wine, and that horseradish cream - how can you go wrong?

I did make a few modifications to the recipe, based on my previous experience with short ribs. Above all, I highly recommend chilling the cooking liquid overnight to allow the fat to solidify so it can easily be removed - a tip I learned from Cooking Light. I also pared down the potato recipe, using some yogurt and milk in place of some of the butter - though if I were serving this to company, I might consider going whole hog. I also lightened the greens by using chicken broth to saute them along with the oil.

My husband doesn't like pearl onions (something about the texture) so I used chopped onions to saute the greens, which worked just fine. I also finished the greens with some vinegar, to give them a little zing.

I actually prepared these over three days, removing the fat and straining and reducing the sauce on the second day. I added the ribs back to the sauce and simmered them for about 45 minutes on the day they were served. The longer this simmers, and sits in the fridge, the better it tastes - or so it seems. The sauce definitely tasted better on the third day.

The recipe is supposed to feed six people, but I don't think one rib is an adequate serving per person. The recipe recommends flanken cut ribs, rather than the "English cut" ribs you often see in grocery stores here. If you are using English ribs, I would count on two to three bones per person. If you are feeding more than four people, I would also double the rest of the ingredients.

If you would like to try a similar dish, but don't have the time or wherewithal to make it, try the short ribs at Market. They're not as good as homemade (and there is no horseradish cream) but they are pretty close. If you really like short ribs though, I recommend you try this for yourself. It is a bit time consuming, but it's also quite simple, and very much worth the trouble.

Braised Short Ribs with Sauteed Greens, Horseradish Cream and Potato Puree
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin

6 -8 meaty beef short ribs (count on at least two bones per person)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced carrot
1/3 cup diced celery
4 whole sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1½ cups port
2½ cups hearty red wine
6 cups beef stock (I used canned, but would seek out fresh-made if possible)
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

For the greens:
1 Tbsp of olive oil (or olive oil sprayer) ½ cup chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
2 bunches Swiss chard, collard or mustard greens, cleaned, centre ribs removed (I used 4 handfuls of pre-washed bagged greens from Trader Joes) a splash of cider vinegar (about 2 tsp)

Potato Puree
3-4 medium potatoes, well scrubbed, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks salt
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup light sour cream
2-3 Tbsp whole milk

Horseradish Cream
½ cup creme fraiche
2 Tbsp jarred prepared horseradish

Remove ribs from refrigerator an hour before cooking and allow to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Season generously with salt on all sides.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 3 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot, almost smoking. Add short ribs (in batches if necessary) and sear until nicely browned on all three meaty sides. Do not crowd the meat or get lazy or rushed at this step; it will take at least 15 minutes.

Transfer ribs to a large bowl.

Turn heat down to medium, and add onion, carrot, celery, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the crusty bits in the pan. Cook 6 to 8 minutes or until vegetables just begin to caramelize. Add balsamic vinegar, port and red wine. Turn heat up to high and reduce liquid by half.
Add stock and bring to a boil.

Place short ribs back in the pot. The stock mixture should almost cover the ribs. Tuck the parsley sprigs in and around the meat. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and a tight-fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven for about 3 hours or until the meat is fork-tender.

Remove the ribs from the sauce, and discard the bones if they have separated from the meat. Allow the sauce and meat to cool slightly, and refrigerate them separately overnight (I leave the sauce in the pot).

Using a large spoon or your fingers, break up and remove the layer of congealed fat on top of the sauce.

Bring to a simmer. Reduce by half, adding seasonings or more wine if necessary.

(If you are serving them immediately, this is a good time to start boiling the water for the potatoes. Also, remove the ribs from the fridge so they can come to room temperature)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Add the shortribs back to the sauce, and simmer for fifteen minutes or so, until heated through.

Place short ribs on a shallow pan in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, to brown.

Strain broth into a saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables with a ladle to extract all the juices. If the broth seems thin, reduce it further over medium-high heat. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, prepare the greens:
Spray a medium saute pan generously with olive oil (or swirl with one tsp of olive oil). Heat on medium/high heat until hot but not smoking. Add a little of the chicken broth, the chopped onions and clove of garlic, and saute until translucent. Add a little more of the chicken broth and loosely pack the pan with the greens. Stir the greens and spray with a little olive oil to help them wilt, then cover and allow them to steam a bit. Remove the lid when they are wilted, and stir. If it looks like you don't have enough, add a little more liquid and some more greens. As a finishing touch, add the cider vinegar and stir to allow it to burn off. Reduce or turn off the heat and replace the lid until ready to serve.

Boil the potatoes in salted water until they are fork tender. Mash with the butter, milk, sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. Press through a sieve for a smooth puree. Add more milk if they seem thick, and keep warm over low heat - stirring occasionally, until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon a serving of potatoes into a large shallow serving bowl and top with greens. Rest two short ribs on top of the greens, and add a generous pour of the braising liquid.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Almond Brioche and Stephanie's Beer Bread

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This past weekend, I made my first attempt at brioche. Almond brioche, to be precise - after seeing a mention of this creation on Rorie's blog, Milk and Honey. I love brioche because it has the buttery sweet flavor of a pastry, without being quite as sugary or indulgent as a croissant or cinnamon roll. Almond brioche just takes it to the next level without quite going over the top. It seems like the perfect holiday indulgence to me.

I started with the recipe in Joy of Cooking, and my own very rudimentary knowledge of yeast breads, gained in my baking classes. All was going well until I put the dough in the microwave (not turned on, of course) for its first rise. I chose this spot because the microwave is in a cabinet above the oven, and I figured it would be a nice warm spot.

Unfortunately, I then went to take a nice hot bath, and promptly forgot about the dough. By the time I retrieved it it had "overrisen." Apparently this can cause the dough to collapse, which it had not done yet, but it deflated in a hurry when I went to punch it down. I wasn't sure what this would do to the finished product, so I read up on the internet and in the primer section on bread in the Joy of Cooking. I learned that overrising causes the gluten in the dough to overstretch and results in a less elastic dough with a dry crumb and "an unpleasant beery taste." Hmmmm. I decided to go ahead and see what would happen. I slapped the dough down and put it through its second rise in the refrigerator. Since it was a little overactivated, it didn't take long to double. I went ahead and shaped the dough and put it back in the fridge overnight to proof.

I was a little concerned that it hadn't risen much by the next morning, but I took the individual brioches out of the fridge and put them back in the microwave, over the preheating oven, to finish rising. They rose nicely, and I went ahead and baked them.

The finished product looked beautiful, smelled good and tasted ok, but the texture was definitely affected by the overrising. It was a bit dry - more like cake - and did have a bit of the yeasty taste, though it wasn't quite "beery." I think the copious amounts of butter and sugar in the dough probably helped with that. The almond paste/frangipane I concocted for the filling was delicious, and I am quite confident (particularly given the source of the recipe) that if you do it right the finished product would be great. Accordingly, I will go ahead and post the recipe, even though it didn't quite turn out perfect for me.

The next recipe is definitely "beery" - but in a good way. My friend Stephanie brought this to a recent supper club gathering and it was a big hit paired with some Curried Butternut Squash Soup.

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Almond Brioche
(adapted from "The Joy of Cooking")

1 package dry yeast (2.25 teaspoons)
1/3 cup whole milk, heated to between 105 and 115 degrees F.
1 cup all purpose flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp whole milk
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 sticks of butter, softened

almond filling
1/2 cup almond meal (ground whole almonds)
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp egg white (about half of an egg white)
1/8 tsp almond extract
a little water
slivered or sliced toasted almonds

egg wash
1 egg, lightly beaten

Place the yeast and warmed milk in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and allow to stand until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour, eggs, sugar, the 2 Tbsp of milk and salt, and mix until well blended. Gradually add the bread flour and incorporate on low speed.

Switch to the dough hook, and knead the dough in the mixer for about 7 to 10 minutes, until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. Add the butter, and continue to knead the dough until the butter is fully incorporated, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Place the dough in a large buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place (75 to 85 degrees) until it has doubled in volume - about 1 and 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down, knead it briefly, and refrigerate, covered, for 4 to 12 hours, until it doubles in volume, then punch it down and shape it using the instructions below. If it has not doubled in volume, let it finish rising in a warm place - then refrigerate for thirty minutes before shaping.

While the dough is rising, make the almond filling by simply stirring the ingredients together. If it is too thick, add a little water.

To shape the doug, use a dough cutter or bench scraper to divide the dough into twelve evenly sized balls. Lightly oil your brioche tins (I used cooking spray) and place them on a half sheet pan.

Take each ball and pinch off 1/3 of the dough. Roll the smaller pieces into balls, and set aside. Roll the larger pieces into balls and press them into the brioche tins, making a depression in the center for the almond filling. Add the filling, pressing it down and spreading it with your fingers or a spoon. Place one of the smaller dough balls on top, nestling it into the depression. Brush each formed brioche with the egg wash. Cover the tray of brioche with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and either let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, or refrigerate overnight and allow to come to room temp and finish rising in the morning. Before baking, brush each brioche carefully with egg wash again, and sprinkle with slivered or sliced almonds.

Bake at 375 degrees, or until deep brown and a knife or tester inserted in one in the center comes out clean. Unmold the brioches onto a rack, and allow to cool. Serve slightly warm.

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Stephanie's Beer Bread
(from Cooking Light)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced onion
3 cups all-purpose flour (about 13 1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (4 ounces) grated fontina cheese
1 (12-ounce) bottle beer (such as amber ale) Cooking spray
1/4 cup butter, melted and divided

Preheat oven to 375°.
Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and sauté 6 minutes or until tender.
Cool to room temperature.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Add onion, cheese, and beer; stir just until moist.

Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; drizzle evenly with 2 tablespoons butter. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes; brush with remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Bake an additional 23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

CALORIES 149 (30% from fat); FAT 5g (sat 2.3g,mono 2.1g,poly 0.3g); PROTEIN 3.5g; CHOLESTEROL 12mg; CALCIUM 61mg; SODIUM 259mg; FIBER 0.8g; IRON 1.2mg; CARBOHYDRATE 22.2g

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How I Ate My Way Around San Francisco Bay

I just got back from a phenomenal food-centric weekend in San Francisco. We had the best time - eating on the high and low end, seeing friends and soaking up that peculiar brand of San Francisco smugness that is only tolerable because it is - as much as we So-Cal folks hate to admit it - well earned.

The orgy of eating started with Oola, on Folsom South of Mission (near Lulu) on Thursday night. They are famous for their spare ribs, which I literally could not get enough of. I'm a sucker for ribs to start with, so when I heard that they were the speciality of the house here - along with good cocktails - I was sold. We ordered an appetizer portion, which was one apiece, and then had to order more. Turns out the ribs are braised and deep fried, which is what makes them taste so good. The recipe was actually published in Food and Wine back in January. I would say it's probably something best enjoyed occasionally, and the arduous process is best left to the professionals, but if you're really feeling ambitious, here is the link.

The following day, we pointed North to meet some friends for brunch in Mill Valley at the Dipsea Cafe. The food wasn't very memorable, but it was great to see our friends. After a nice long visit, we headed up toward Napa. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, a beautiful chateau-style winery just past Gloria Ferrer on the way to Napa. We did a three sample flight of their sparkling wines and pinots, and were so taken with their 2002 Brut Vintage and Pinot Noirs that we joined their Chateau Society club. They will send us a bottle of champagne and a bottle of red wine (generally a pinot) every other month. Seemed more than doable to us. We also get good discounts on re-orders and on wines purchased at the winery - which we took advantage of on our first order of six bottles - one of which we brought with us and the rest of which we shipped home.

After that, we were ready for some lunch. After our late breakfast and long visit, we had canceled our 1 PM reservation at Redd in Yountville. Instead, we headed to the Taylor's Automatic Refresher near St. Helena. I must have driven by this place a dozen times when I lived in Northern Cal (from 1995 to 1998,) but it never seemed to be much more than a little roadside burger stand. Somewhere along the line, it morphed into a hip little gourmet spot - something like the West Coast version of the Shake Shack (or so I imagine since I haven't been there.) Here in San Diego, we have Johnny Rockets and Ruby's, but somehow this is better. You order at the counter in front, and then seat yourself at one of the picnic style tables, either in the front or in the pleasant, grassy, tree-shaded area out back. I chose a chicken club sandwich - with swiss, bacon, lettuce and tomato on grilled sourdough, and James had a bleu cheese burger. We ordered sweet potato fries and onion rings, and each had a good glass of wine - since we were, after all, in the Wine Country. I ordered a glass of Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, always a winner. The food was very good, though next time I would order the sweet potato fries without the funky chili seasoning, it tasted like Old Bay, and I have a thing about that. I'd also be curious to try one of their milkshakes - they looked really good.

By the time we made our way through the traffic and stopped for coffee at Dean and Deluca in St. Helena after our late lunch, we were staring 4:00 PM in the face. We drove down the lane to visit the Niebaum-Coppola winery - but were appalled to find that they were actually charging visitors a tasting fee simply to park and walk in. We turned right around and left. The only reason to go there anyway is their gift shop which carries Francis Ford Coppola's personal favorite items - like Rhodia notebooks and Amedei chocolates. We were kicking ourselves that we hadn't made plans to stay overnight in the valley, but it was too late for that now - so we headed back down to the City where we were staying with our good friend Tom.

We had reservations for dinner at Michael Mina, and we had told ourselves that we would go, having missed our lunch reservation, but after our day of fun we just didn't have the energy. Instead, we chilled down our bottle of Taittinger Brut, and enjoyed it in front of a roaring fireplace with a delivery pizza.

One of the things I knew I definitely wanted to do on this trip to San Francisco was go to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. I got up bright and early (by my standards anyway) on Saturday, and headed down there to meet the lovely Sam, of Becks and Posh - who had graciously agreed to give me a tour. Sam shops the market every single week, essentially doing her marketing there rather than in the stores. How I wish we had that luxury in San Diego! By the time I got to the market at 9:05 it was as bustling as Los Angeles International Airport - to my horror and delight. How great that people are patronizing the market, but my goodness - the lines were twenty people deep for the restrooms!

We met near the Sur La Table store, and headed out on a tour of Sam's favorite stalls, including the Fatted Calf (where I bought a 12 dollar salami!) and the Dirty Girl produce farm, where Sam picked up a box of tomatoes. We also looked over the food stands, and some of the shops inside. I bought some delicious cannelle (my first!) and cookies at the delightful Boulette's Larder (which came packed in a cute little bentwood basket), some Humboldt Fog, aged gouda and a Beaufort style cheese at Cowgirl Creamery and a still-warm baguette and almond croissant at Acme Bread. We also visited Recchiuti Confections (where Sam insisted on buying me two to sample - no need to twist my arm!) and the Slanted Door's elegant takeout stand, called "Out the Door" where we purchased our breakfast. Half of a Saigon Roast Pork sandwich (a lovely incarnation of a Bahn Mi) and a "Blue Bottle" coffee for me, and summer rolls for Sam. Coffee probably wasn't the best choice of beverage, given the chile sauce I slathered on the sandwich - but I needed it and it was delicious nonetheless. I highly recommend this as an eating option within the building. It's right across from the Ferry Building branch of Taylor's Refresher. After bidding Sam adieu, I toured back through the mall portion of the Ferry Building and went back to Michael Recchiuti to buy some gifts and a few more of those fabulous chocolates for myself. They are almost as good as my favorite L.A. Burdick chocolates - but being from California, they are more local which gives them an edge.

Next on the agenda was a visit with my "oldest friend," Moira. Moira and I are the same age, but we've known each other since we were four. We don't do a very good job of keeping in touch - I think it had been about two and a half years since we'd seen each other, and almost as long since we talked last - but really, what's two and a half years when you've known someone for more than thirty? I picked her up at her place and we popped down to the Fillmore to do another one of my foodie errands - picking up Parisian Macarons at the Bay Bread Boulangerie on Pine. By that time we were ready for a light late lunch, so we stopped by Chez Nous, a cafe on Fillmore which serves mainly small plates. I opted for mussels with curry and coconut milk and frites, while Moira had a souffle-like omelette. It was lovely, and gave us a chance to catch up.

On Saturday night, James and our friend Tom and I put on our Sunday best, and went down to my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world, Boulevard. I have never had a bad thing to eat or drink in this restaurant, and it did not disappoint this time. I started with my favorite cocktail - a "Boulevard Pink Limonade" - made with Bacardi Limon rum and pink lemonade. It sounds a little silly, but it's just so delicious. I started with an appetizer of dungeness crab salad with avocado and tobiko caviar, my husband ordered the scallops with pork belly and Tommy had the foie gras. They were all good, but the scallops were exceptional. Tommy had ordered them for his main course, and I changed my order from the squab and short rib entree after tasting them. James ordered a halibut dish that came with a "carbonara" made from shaved hearts of palm and oyster mushrooms. It was interesting and delicious. We then ordered three desserts, since they are always so good. The "Naughty Mascarpone Creme Brulee" with gingerbread and huckleberry sauce, an apple cake with apple fritter ice cream, and an ice cream sandwich assortment. When they arrived, I realized that the sandwiches were made with the same vanilla ice cream I made from their cookbook, and served with the same hot fudge sauce - which did not diminish my enjoyment of them in the slightest. I almost licked the hot fudge ramekin clean.

On Sunday morning, we wound up our trip with a visit to Le Petit Robert, a bistro in Russian Hill that I read about on Rorie's blog, Milk and Honey. Like Chez Nous, it is owned by the Bay Bread people. James and I had "Croque Madame" sandwiches and Tommy went with the Petit Robert burger - both of which are served open faced. It was very good, but we were puzzled by the lack of croissants or pastries. None were offered which seemed a bit strange for a French bistro serving breakfast.

I didn't make it to the East Bay on this trip, but I would love to go over there and visit Shuna at Poulet, and check out my old haunts in Rockridge. I'd also like to do another Wine Country tour, with a bit more time to spend, and hit some "Old San Francisco" spots for the sake of nostalgia. I am planning another visit this winter, so we'll see what develops!

Here are a few of my favorites from this visit:
Oola's ribs
The Saigon Roast Pork Sandwich at Out the Door
Cannelle and salty chocolate cookies from Boulette's Larder
Fresh french baguette and almond croissant from Acme Bakery
Fleur de sel caramel and peanut butter pucks from Recchiuti Confections
Scallops with pork belly at Boulevard
Mussels with coconut milk, curry and lime at Chez Nous

Special thanks to Sam, for not only hosting me on a delightful tour of the market, but for telling me how to make these cool collages, and to Tommy, for letting us stay with him at his fabulous house!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

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My friend Sara made this soup when she hosted our Cooking Light Supperclub meeting a few weeks ago, and it was incredibly delicious. It's so perfect for this time of year and relatively easy and quick. My contribution was a Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Pepitas, and we also enjoyed Stephanie's Beer Bread and Wendi's Upside-Down Apple Cake - which was made with healthy ingredients like whole grain flour (and which I will post if they send me the recipes!)

I have also made a couple of other good and easy autumn meals lately. One was based on an idea from The Grub Report - which was recently featured on Sam's blog, Becks and Posh. The idea - almost not even a recipe - is to roast the pre-cut squares of butternut squash from Trader Joes with some olive oil, curry powder, salt and pepper in the oven until they are falling apart, and serve with Trader Joe's Gorgonzola and Walnut Ravioli. I used a little warm water to make it more of a sauce (stock would also be good) and sprinkled gorgonzola, walnuts, and some reggiano parmesan on the top. With a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, it was very nearly heaven.

The other meal was a simple pizza, made with Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Pizza Dough. I rolled it out thin and brushed it all over with olive oil and a heaping tablespoon of creme fraiche that I happened to have on hand. I then sprinkled it with an Italian cheese blend, some gorgonzola and mozzarella, sliced mushrooms, some bacon (Niman Ranch) and thinly sliced red onion. I've discovered after making a few pizzas that I have a tendency to put too few ingredients on, and not bring them out to the edge. I'm getting the hang of it though - this one was really good. Since tomatoes have gone out of season I've been putting apples and pears in salads - they're so good with these rich, fall flavors.

Here is the soup recipe:

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Curried Butternut Squash Soup
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup onions, chopped
1 leek, cut in small pieces
2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cups potato, peeled and diced
3 cups vegetable stock
2 cups milk
dash of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp curry powder
1 cup half and half

Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion and leek and cook about five minutes. Add the squash, carrots, potatoes and vegetable stock and cook, partially covered, for thirty minutes. Puree in batches in a food processor, add the spices and milk. Heat to boiling and simmer for twenty minutes. Just before serving, add the half and half and salt and pepper to taste.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Jour Français!

french day puffs
A few weeks ago, we had a very big day in my baking and pastry class - we did three fundamental French techniques all on the same day, Puff Pastry, Pâte à Choux, and Crêpes. It was a lot to absorb in one class, and a lot of fun.

One thing I hadn't thought much about before - the French don't use chemical leaveners, such as baking powder, like we do (ever heard of a French biscuit?) The lift in these recipes comes from mechanical leaveners, primarily steam. We used a LOT of butter in these recipes - as evidenced by the huge hunk Greg is unwrapping in this photo:
french day greg butter
We started with the puff pastry, using the "blitz" method, where you freeze small chunks of butter, then blend it into the dough. The dough is then rolled, turned and folded just like the "butter block" method, but fewer times. This photo shows Chef Foran demonstrating the proper way to fold and roll out the dough:
french day puff demo
The steam trapped in the dough makes it rise, created by the little bits of butter melting in the flour. It's essential that the dough remain cold and relatively stiff the entire time you are working with it, or else the butter will be incorporated into the dough.

It is a bit of work, but this recipe makes quite a lot and freezes well. It also bakes very quickly once it's thawed and shaped. It would be nice to have some on hand for making appetizers and desserts, like cheese straws, tarts or pot pies - especially during the holidays and winter months. Unfortunately, you will need a scale to make this recipe, because I don't have the volume conversions available. I did find this alternate though, on the Taunton's Fine Cooking website, which I would trust as a reliable source.

"Blitz Method" Puff Pastry
3.5 oz butter, melted
8 oz water, room temperature
1/2 oz salt
17.5 oz All purpose flour

10 3/4 oz butter, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes and frozen

Place salt and flour together in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly just to blend. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the frozen butter chunks and blend just until incorporated. The dough will look very shaggy and rough at this point. Add the melted butter and water and mix just enough to bring the dough together.

Turn the dough out onto parchment paper, and shape into an 8" by 10" rectangle.
Chill the rectangle in the freezer for one hour.

Remove and allow to thaw just until the dough can be rolled, about 15-20 minutes.
On a smooth floured surface, roll out to 10"x20" and fold three times - bringing each short side toward the center (one and two), and folding the whole thing down the middle (three). Turn the dough sideways, and roll out again to 10x20, then fold again going the other direction. Mark the dough with two lines, wrap well with plastic, and chill for one hour in the refrigerator.

Roll the dough out, and do two more folds, each time folding the short sides in, and rolling the dough in the long direction. (For these last two folds, you can also fold the dough like a business letter in an envelope - bringing one short side up and the other one down and over.) If you plan to freeze the dough before using it, freeze it just after the last fold, without rolling it out. Always tightly wrap the dough in plastic before chilling or freezing.

When you are ready to use it, let the dough thaw at room temperature just until it can be rolled, and roll into an even rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Allow the dough to rest for about five minutes, to prevent shrinkage after cutting.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To shape, cut the puff pastry with a very sharp knife. Flipping the cut pieces over will help it rise a little higher, because the knife going through the top layers of pastry compresses them slightly. We cut the sheets into long rectangles and did pear tarts, with thinly sliced pears and almond frangipane. We used egg wash to glue thin strips of pastry to the sides as a crust, and trimmed off the rough ends after it was baked. (those were the best part!) If you have leftover scraps of dough, you can roll them in sugar and cinnamon, twist them in opposite directions (like making a snake with dough) and bake them like cookies.

Bake the pastry on a baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes, until it is uniformly brown and crisp.

While our puff dough was chilling, we set to work on our Pâte à Choux - which translates to "cabbage paste." This recipe isn't terribly complicated, but has to be done right (like most techniques in baking) or you can end up with a gluey mess. It's unusual in that it is first cooked on the stove and then transferred to a standing mixer for the addition of the eggs.

We piped our Pâte à Choux into little mounds (which can be tricky, because the dough is sticky) and baked them off - then filled them with mocha whipped cream and glazed them with chocolate. Pâte à Choux can also be deep-fried to make Beignets. I can see these for an indulgent breakfast during the holidays - with some good strong coffee or hot chocolate.

Pâte à Choux
16 oz water
8 oz butter
1 tsp salt
12 oz bread flour
1 pound 2 oz of eggs (roughly 1 dozen eggs - but weigh them. If you find that you are over, remove some of the egg white - not yolk)

Place the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the salt and bread flour all at once, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball.

Scrape the dough into a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat for about 1 minute to allow to cool slightly (so it won't cook the eggs!)

Start adding the eggs, two at a time, allowing them to incorporate each time. It will separate and look like a slippery mess each time the eggs are added, and then come back together. At the end it should be very smooth and shiny.

Load the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip, about 1/3 inch across.
french day piping
To make cream puffs, pipe into small mounds, using a sideways flick on the tops so they don't look peaked (like these!) The dough is sticky though, and this can be hard to do. You can just smooth them out with your finger or a spoon. This is a good chance to practice your piping skills.

Bake at 400 degrees in a conventional oven (350 in a convection oven) for about twelve minutes, until they puff and start to brown. When they look done, open the oven a crack and put a wooden spoon in to vent. Turn the oven down 25 degrees, and bake about 5 minutes more. Take one out and break it open to test - it should be fairly dry and hollow - a bit of moisture is ok, but if there are strands of wet dough, bake an additional few minutes. They may look done on the outside, but if they are taken out too soon they will collapse as they cool and turn soggy.

Cool these in the pans on a rack. Once cool, they can be split and filled with chicken salad or similar for an appetizer, or filled with a pastry bag with whipped cream or pastry cream and coated with chocolate glaze. They should be used soon after baking or frozen.

Last but not least, we made crêpes. Chef Foran told us that he usually just whips up this batter in a blender at home. We did it in a standing mixer with the whip attachment. Either way, they were surprisingly easy and it was fun to spread the batter and flip them. We couldn't stop eating them right out of the pan. For a savory crêpe, I assume you can just omit the sugar and vanilla, or there are multiple crêpe recipes out there on the internet.
french day crepes
Sweet Crêpes
12 oz milk
4 oz cream
2 oz sugar
4.5 oz All Purpose flour
3 eggs
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk eggs with sugar, flour and salt. Whisk in milk and cream.

Heat a 8 inch skillet or crêpe pan over medium heat. Spray with vegetable oil. Using a small ladle, scoop about 1/4 cup of batter and ladle into the pan, swirling the pan to spread the batter to the edges. When the edges start to come away, and the batter starts to dry slightly - pick up the edge of the crêpe nearest to you with your fingertips and peel it backwards up off the pan, turn it over and and flip it to the other side. (Think about how you would flip over a small rug.) It's a little tricky the first couple of times, but the edges really aren't that hot, so you can play around with it a bit. You can also use a small spatula to straighten it out if you drop it in the wrong place. The trickiest part is getting the heat right, so they brown properly but don't burn. Fold the crêpes and stack them until ready to serve. This a sweet recipe, so these would be best with fruit, a flavored butter or chocolate.

P.S. - I have also sent away for some canele molds - and a set of brioche molds (from France, naturellement!) so with any luck, there will be lots of French days in our future! (and lots of trips to the gym - but I won't be writing about those!)

À bientôt!!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Things I'm Really Liking Right Now

  1. Baking with whole grain pastry flour
  2. The look of a pencil skirt with a white shirt and slingback heels
  3. Written correspondence on letterpress stationery.
  4. Black and white graphics
  5. Pellegrino with lime
  6. Domino and Blueprint magazines.
  7. Groovy 70s enameled cast iron and earthenware cookware and bakeware
  8. Red Coral jewelry
  9. J. Crew sweaters (great quality and I love the colors)
  10. Baking bread
  11. Homemade granola
  12. Ikea housewares
  13. Double espressos
  14. Moby on my ipod
  15. The idea of a throwing a catered dinner party

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sunday Morning Decadence - Two Ways

I am a huge fan of indulgent breakfasts. There's just nothing like a delicious buttery pastry and good strong coffee to kick start the day. Given that I don't eat these things often and generally don't eat for hours after indulging I think the calories almost even out - or at least close to it. At least that's what I like to tell myself anyway.

A few months ago, we did the doughnut muffins, which are pretty much unbeatable, given the ease with which they are made, and the fantastic flavor. Everybody loves them.
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A couple of weeks ago though, James outdid himself when he prepared not only the doughnut muffins but this to die for Orange Pecan French Toast. It doesn't photograph very well cold, sadly - but I was too excited about eating it to photograph it when it was still warm. It's really more like a sticky bun, with a bread base on the bottom, and is oh so good. There is no need for syrup - since the topping makes its own, but the sweet orange flavor is the perfect foil for a dollop of creme fraiche and some berries. This is also pretty easy, given that you just mix everything up and dump it in the pan the night before, then bake it in the morning.
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This week, I also decided to try my hand at some homemade cinnamon rolls. We had a bake sale at work to raise money for breast cancer awareness and I wanted to bring something breakfast-y, since it started at 9 AM. I started with a recipe of this dough, made in two batches and wound up with thirty rolls. They were rather time consuming to make - but I was quite proud of myself, having never made anything with a yeast dough before in my life (unless you include a couple of not-so-successful attempts at bread made with a grape sourdough starter ages ago). I think the next time I try these, I will do up the flavors a bit with some cardamom or ginger, just to make them a bit more interesting - but this traditional version was very good.

I think I'm going to need a bigger KitchenAid if I'm going to become a bread person, because that thing only holds about a fist sized ball of dough! Someone else suggested using a bread machine to mix the dough and bake it through the first rise - after which you can take it out and shape it or do other things with it, but that kind of takes the "hands on" fun out of it.

Anyway - here are the recipes. Both require a little planning, but are well worth the effort. Indulge and enjoy!

Orange Pecan French Toast
(adapted from
Serves 6

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
12 (3/4 inch thick) slices French bread (we used a baguette)
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg whites
2 eggs
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar for dusting

1/2 pint creme fraiche - stirred
fresh berries for garnish
  1. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, melted butter, and corn syrup. Pour into a greased 9x13 inch baking dish, and spread evenly. Sprinkle pecans over the sugar mixture.
  2. Arrange the bread slices in the bottom of the dish so they are in a snug single layer.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the orange zest, orange juice, milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, egg whites, and eggs. Pour this mixture over the bread, pressing on the bread slices to help absorb the liquid.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight.
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C ). Remove the cover from the baking dish and let stand for 20 minutes at room temperature.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and fresh berries
Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 15 (one 9x13 inch pan)

Half of this recipe - prepared through the first rise and punched down.

1 stick of butter - softened
5 Tablespoons of good quality cinnamon
1 cup of brown sugar

Cream Cheese frosting:
4 oz of cream cheese, softened
1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup of powdered sugar - sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 drops of lemon extract or oil (optional)

Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment paper, and lightly grease the paper.

In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon and brown sugar together with a fork.

After punching the dough down, divide it into two pieces. Let it rest for a few minutes, then roll out and stretch each piece into a rectangle about 13" x 9", with the long edge facing you (it should be about a quarter of an inch thick). Spread softened butter on the rectangle, leaving a one inch border at the top uncovered. Evenly sprinkle half of the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture over the butter - still leaving the one inch border at the top. Starting at the bottom left corner - start rolling the sheet of dough away from you, until the border at the top comes in contact with the outside. Evenly slice the roll into pieces about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick, and place in the paper lined pan about 1 inch apart and one inch from the edges of the pan. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

From this point you can either let them proof at room temperature (preferably in a warm moist place) for about 30-45 minutes - at which time they should be ready for baking, or set them in the refrigerator to proof overnight. You can also cover the pans and freeze them. If you do this, leave them out on the counter (covered) overnight and they will be ready for baking in the morning - this is what I did and it worked well.

Bake at 350 for about fifteen to twenty minutes, until they start to brown on the top. If they look brown but aren't done yet (pull up the center of the middle roll to check) you can cover them with lightly with foil to finish baking.

Meanwhile, make the cream cheese frosting. Whip the cream cheese and butter in a mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment. Sift in the powdered sugar and add enough milk to make it a pourable consistency. Beat in the vanilla and lemon extract or oil (be careful with the lemon oil - just a little too much can make it taste like pledge!)

When the rolls are still warm, drizzle the frosting over and spread it around with a spatula or brush. These are best served warm.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Dozen Things I'd Like To Do In San Francisco

  1. Go to the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building on Saturday.
  2. Sit outside and eat oysters and drink beer at the Hog Island Oyster Company.
  3. Get BBQ at Brother In Laws'.
  4. Eat one "fancy meal" at Gary Danko, Michael Mina or Boulevard.
  5. Eat out one other night, at Delfina, Cafe Zuni, Oola, Coco500, Range or similar.
  6. Buy Parisian macarons to take home from the Bay Bread Boulangerie in the Fillmore (the caramel is swoon-worthy!)
  7. Try to get into the French Laundry for lunch, with Redd or Bistro Jeanty as a backup.
  8. Go over to Berkeley/Oakland - brunch or lunch at Cafe Fanny, Poulet, Chez Panisse or Oliveto. Stop in at the Marketplace Hall and surrounding shops in Rockridge (including La Farine for my favorite chocolate chip cookies.)
  9. Check out the new (to me) Asian Art Museum.
  10. Go shopping at some cool boutiques and shops.
  11. See all of our friends up there - the Schidams, the Mallards, et al. - either at Tom's or over in Marin.
  12. Try the pastries and desserts at Tartine (and the rest of Rorie's recommendations!)

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Ultimate Fall Lasagna

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This lasagna is based on a recipe my husband makes that uses cinnamon and nutmeg in the ricotta layer, and Jamie Oliver's - which uses slow cooked stewing beef (in his case ground, in mine pounded to a pulp with a potato masher) and fall vegetables (in his case squash, in mine pumpkin.) The end result takes a long time to make, but the results are pretty darn good. This recipe is also pretty flexible - you can follow it exactly or approximately, and chances are it will turn out just fine.

The recipe makes a lot of sauce, which is just fine with me - I like my lasagna (heck, all of my pasta dishes) heavy on the sauce. If you don't want so much on top or on the side - feel free to adjust to taste.

Ultimate Fall Lasagna
Serves six generously or eight reasonably

6 slices Niman Ranch bacon
1 med onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 handfuls of chopped fresh herbs, such as oregano, basil, thyme, or sage,
or 2 teaspoons of dried herbs (any assortment)
salt and pepper
14 oz to one pound slice of bone-in beef shank
1 28 oz can San Marzano canned tomatoes or organic canned tomatoes - doesn't matter if they're diced, whole, etc.
2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 cup water or broth (beef or vegetable)
2 bay leaves

1 egg
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pint organic whole milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cup canned pumpkin (about half of a can)
salt and pepper

1 cup loosely packed finely shredded parmesan
1/2 pint creme fraiche
about 2 tablespoons of milk
a pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

14 oz shredded mozzarella
1 handful of shredded finely fresh parmesan (about half a cup)

fresh lasagne sheets

1. In a large heavy dutch oven or saucepan, fry the bacon until golden. Remove from the pan to paper towels to drain, and pour off most of the fat. Chop the bacon roughly and set aside.

2. Dust the beef shank with flour and season with salt and pepper. Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan and brown the shank on both sides. Remove the shank to the plate with the bacon.

3. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and cook the onion, garlic and carrots until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes, cinnamon and herbs and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Place the beef shank and bacon back in the pot. Add the wine, water, tomatoes, tomato paste and bay leaves, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

4. Use tongs to remove the shank to a cutting board and chop the meat into half inch pieces, removing the bone and any gristle. Return the meat to the pot, and using a potato masher, smash the tomatoes and meat together. Simmer for another thirty minutes to an hour, tasting and adjusting the seasoning as you go. Give the sauce a good smashing every time you taste. If it seems too thin, remove the lid for the last fifteen or twenty minutes of cooking, so it can reduce a bit.

5. Meanwhile, make the ricotta mixture and white sauce:
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg with the nutmeg and cinnamon. Fold in the pint of ricotta cheese and season with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture in half, and fold the pumpkin into half of the mixture. Set aside. (note - next time I plan to try it with all pumpkin ricotta)

6. For the white sauce - stir the parmesan cheese and creme fraiche together in a small bowl. Stir in the pinch of cayenne and just enough milk to make the sauce liquid. Season with a little salt and fresh ground pepper.

7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

8. Lightly oil an earthenware or glass lasagne dish. Lay one sheet of the pasta on the bottom of the pan and spread with sauce. Cover with the pumpkin ricotta mixture, and top with another sheet. Using a slotted spoon, scoop a generous portion of the meat from the bottom of the sauce and spread it over the pasta. Top that with a pasta layer, and spread with the plain ricotta. Spoon sauce over that - using both the meat and the liquid. Top that with another sheet and a thin layer of sauce. Pour the white sauce mixture over and spread. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese and parmesan.

9. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the top is brown and bubbling. Allow to rest for fifteen to twenty minutes before serving. Reheat the sauce while the lasagna rests (and make the salad).

10. Cut into portions, spoon sauce over, and serve with a green salad and red wine. Pass more sauce on the side.

Bon Appetit!!

**Post Script**: We just ate the last of the leftovers of this, after having frozen them for a week, and they were absolutely fabulous - even better than fresh from the oven. If you have the freezer space, I would highly recommend making one and freezing it! Also, I was thinking as I ate the leftovers that some mushrooms would be really good in this - maybe sauteed in a little garlic and broth or oil and added to the sauce layers?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

20 23 Things to Do Now That It's Fall

  1. make shortribs and beef curry and post recipes...Mmmmm....
  2. toast some pumpkin seeds
  3. start taking hot baths again (with lavender oil!)
  4. snack on organic gala apples
  5. go to San Francisco for Veteran's Day weekend (I can't wait!)
  6. make lentil soup
  7. drink red wine
  8. bake bread (see two prior posts)
  9. get out the down comforter
  10. slow roast something
  11. try Jamie Oliver's lasagna recipe from Jamie's Dinners
  12. roast beets and use them in salads
  13. start xmas shopping (I always wait too long!)
  14. get a massage and a facial
  15. get a headlamp for me and flashing collars for the puppies, so I can walk them after dark
  16. make panini sandwiches (good with soup!)
  17. light a fire in the fireplace
  18. curl up with a good book
  19. try and stay away from the halloween candy that I bought, even though we have no trick or treaters.
  20. get all my favorite fall shoes and boots re-done for yet another season
  21. Go see Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, and Michael Gondry's Science of Sleep
  22. Go to yoga more often
  23. Watch football on Sunday afternoons (Go Chargers!!)

Sweet Dough

foodblog 1056
This is the other recipe we made in our class on breads. The following week, dubbed "French Day" by Chef Foran, we made a veritable plethora of classic french recipes - Pate a Choux, Puff Pastry (using the "blitz" method") and Crepes, which I will post next. These are all so basic, but again - just like the french bread, magic. Such good stuff from so few ingredients.

My dough hook did come in, but it's pretty clear that my little mixer will not handle this whole recipe, so I will probably halve it. I plan to try it later today or tomorrow and I will post some pictures.  This is the recipe for plain straight yeast rolls - for the cinnamon rolls above, click here.

Sweet Dough
(makes 3 dozen 2 oz rolls - we did one dozen round rolls, one dozen cloverleaf rolls, and one dozen single knots.)

2 pounds 10 oz bread flour
3/4 oz instant dry yeast
20 fl. oz whole milk
4 oz butter - very soft
4 oz eggs
4 oz sugar
1 oz kosher salt

egg wash
1 egg
2 T water
pinch salt

Place the bread flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer.

Warm the milk gently to between 105 and 115 degrees. Add the yeast and allow to foam (this could take a few minutes.) Add the milk mixture, butter and eggs all at once into the flour mixture.  Blend in the mixer until the dough starts to come away from the sides. Knead a bit longer with the dough hook, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand until it is smooth and elastic, and a small ball can be flattened and stretched paper thin without breaking. (This is called the "window test.") It will still be quite soft and a bit sticky.

When the dough is sufficiently kneaded, form it into a smooth ball. Keep it flat on the surface, but turn it in circles with both hands - simultaneously stretching the surface down over the top and tucking it under until the dough is perfectly round and taut on top, and has a little indentation on the bottom. Place the ball smooth side up in a lightly oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in volume. (The amount of time this takes will vary depending on the conditions - but it should take less than an hour. The inside of the oven with just the light on is a good spot for this).

Turn the dough out of the bowl and punch it down to let the excess gasses out. Let it rest for just a few minutes. Decide how you want to shape the dough, and cut it into appropriate portions. For dinner rolls use 2 oz of dough per roll. If you are making cloverleaf rolls, divide the 2 oz portions into 3 balls about 1 inch across. Roll each ball across the work surface with your palm, simultaneously stretching the surface of the roll and tucking the edge under the ball with your fingers. It's a fluid motion, sort of like rolling dice only with your palm down. Place three balls in a muffin tin.

For regular rolls, do the same rolling motion with the 2 oz of dough, and place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment. If you like, you can place the balls close together for a pull-apart effect, or sufficiently apart to create a round roll with crust all the way around.

To make knots, roll each 2 oz piece of dough into a snake about eight inches long, and tie in a knot, so the ends are flush with the surface.

Place the formed dough in a warm moist place to proof for about 45 minutes, until risen to the appropriate size for baking (assume they will rise a bit more in the oven.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and brush the rolls generously with the eggwash mixture. Bake the rolls for about 10-15 minutes, carefully watching for the browning. They should be fairly deep brown when they are done - the surface caramelizes fairly quickly because of the sugar content in the dough.

Tear apart and devour warm, with butter. Mmmmm....

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The 12 Steps of Bread Baking

  1. scaling (ingredients)
  2. mixing (kneading)
  3. fermentation (rising)
  4. punching
  5. scaling dough (dividing)
  6. rounding
  7. benching
  8. makeup and panning
  9. proofing
  10. baking
  11. cooling
  12. storing (or eating, if you are like me)

This is when you realize baking really is magic - when you see something like flour, water and salt turn into delicious bread. I didn't have my camera that night, so no pictures unfortunately, but we made this in my class with Chef Foran two weeks ago (at Grossmont's culinary program.) I just love his class, he's such a good teacher and a lot of fun. I lost the dough hook to my mixer at home, but I ordered a replacement and as soon as it gets here, I am whipping up a batch of this!

Leftovers freeze very nicely - just wrap them well before putting them in a heavy plastic bag, and cut pieces into portions so you can only defrost what you need. To defrost, either put slices directly into a toaster or warm in an oven at 300 degrees for ten minutes or so.

Baguettes - Makes 5

2 pounds 12 oz bread flour
1/2 oz yeast
26 oz water @ 105 degrees
1 oz kosher salt

Put bread flour and yeast in bowl of standing mixer, fitted with dough hook. Add water and salt all at once. Mix until the dough comes together, and continue to mix for about five minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a board or table, and knead by hand until it is smooth and elastic enough that a small ball can be stretched paper thin without tearing (the window test).
Using your hands, form the dough into a ball and tuck the edges under - pulling the top taut and smooth. Cover with plastic and allow to rise to double volume (about 45 minutes)
Turn the dough out onto the table or board and punch down thoroughly to expel air. With a dough cutter, divide the dough into five equal pieces. Allow to rest approximately ten minutes, and shape each piece into a long snakelike form, rolling it back and forth between your hands. If desired, form pointed ends on the loaves by rolling them between your fingers. Place the dough on a baguette pan (long ridged perforated pan - they have them at Great News) and place in a warm moist place to proof (rise) until it is the appropriate size for baking. Slash each loaf diagonally with a razor and sprinkle with flour for a rustic look.
Preheat the oven to 425 or 450 depending on how hot your oven burns ( the bread should start to brown fairly quickly, if it doesn't turn the oven up a notch or two.)

Place a couple of handfuls of ice in a rimmed sheet pan, and place in the bottom of the oven. Slide the baguette pan into the top of the oven and bake the loaves until they start to brown. Rotate the pan, and continue baking until the loaves are an even deep golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and set on a rack to cool.

Devour immediately, or to store in the freezer - wrap each piece in foil or paper and place in a plastic freezer bag.

Sweet dough recipe, appropriate for cinnamon rolls, yeast rolls or challah bread - coming soon!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Aceitunas y Uvas en la Valle de Guadalupe

Adobe Tower
Our trip the Baja Wine Country started with a pleasant drive through the rural back country of San Diego early on a Friday afternoon. We crossed through the town of Tecate and traveled about two hours on the two lane Highway 3, turning off at a small town named Francisco Zarco - just thirty minutes north of Ensenada. Here the pavement ends, and the last two to three miles to the Adobe must be traveled on dirt roads.
Adobe Gates
The Adobe Guadalupe is a six-room inn, winery and stables owned by Don and Tru Miller, an American couple who retired to the valley in the late nineties. Don is a former Orange County banker and long-time wine connoisseur whose focus is clearly on the grapes, while Tru spends much of her time caring for the horses they keep in their beautiful stables. In 1998, they bought the land on which the Adobe now stands, and built everything you see there today. In 2000, they planted their first grapes.

Today, the winery produces four red wines - Serafiel, Kerubiel, Miguel and Gabriel, and one rose, named Uriel. (The wines are named for the Archangels in Spanish, in honor of their son who died in a car accident at a young age.) They focus on reds and red blends, because the grapes seem to do better in the intense heat.
Adobe Rose
The hotel itself is built in a courtyard formation, with the living rooms and the owner's home at one end, along with the dining room, kitchen and office. It was designed and built by a Persian architect, and the design is very Moorish. On the other side of the courtyard are the six guestrooms.
Adobe  Courtyard Fountain
Dinner is available for an additional $50. or so per person, including wine. It was served in a dining room off the kitchen decorated with silver and crystal and lit solely by candlelight. The food was delicious.
We were served a cream of mushroom soup, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with a sprig of cilantro, a green salad with oranges, tomatoes, local cheese and avocado, pan-grilled salmon with a curry sauce served with basmati rice, and a strawberry mousse dessert served with a caramelized slice of banana, a crisp chocolate cookie and a maraschino cherry. With the meal, they served us a Vina de Liceaga Sauvignon Blanc, and the house Kerubiel red. After dinner, we were offered shots of the smoky housemade "Lucifer" mezcal and espresso. We were amused that the owner's three Weimaraners joined us during the meal to snooze on the sofa and chair facing the giant fireplace that dominates the room.

After dinner, headed out to the jacuzzi for some stargazing. We could see the milky way and several shooting stars, and all of the stars and planets burned far brighter than they do at home. We also had some Kalyra Port that I had brought with me in my bag - and a few bites of Vosges and Valrhona chocolate that I had toted down as well.
Fruit and Avocados
The next day started with breakfast in the Adobe's beautiful kitchen. The enormous room features a long farmhouse table which looks to seat about fourteen people. Bowls of fresh fruit and vegetables heap the counters. Breakfast included wonderful coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh cut fruit, and a choice of huevos rancheros or cheese and eggs on the first day, and huevos rancheros or pancakes on the next. After two days, it was clear that the huevos rancheros are definitely the way to go.
Huevos Rancheros
After breakfast, we went for a walk around the grounds - having planned a private wine tasting with Don at 11 AM. I walked around and took some pictures of the grounds and the stables.
Black Stallion
Their horses were beautiful, and as horses are wont to do - they greeted me looking for treats. I wished I had some apples or carrots to make friends with them, but I hadn't planned that far ahead. By the time I got back, it was time for the wine tasting.
View from the Tasting Room
The private wine tasting in their cellar is fantastic, and I recommend a visit for anyone in the valley - whether you stay at the hotel or not. They throw open the giant double doors onto the vineyards, and the bar is just inside. Past that is the cellar where their barrels and bottles are aging. It's really a beautiful room.
Winetasting with Jack
The wines are fruity and rich - we chose the Kerubiel as our favorite, and brought back as many bottles as we were allowed - well, actually one extra, since we thought we were allowed 1.5 bottles per person. It turns out that U.S. Customs adheres to the Federal guideline of one bottle per person, but they let us off since we were only one over. The others were also very good, but we were smitten with the Kerubiel. As much as I like rose, I wasn't in love with their Uriel. I found it a bit strawberry-ish for my taste. I didn't mind drinking it by the pool, but I didn't feel a need to bring any home with me.
Looking back, the cellar
After the tasting, we set out to do a little wine tasting in the area, armed with recommendations from Don to stop at Liceaga and a small town called San Antonio de Tomas. If we were looking for a bite to eat he recommended a restaurant called the Hacienda. We drove all the way to Ensenada before realizing that we must have missed our destination - and backtracked until we found the little town. We found the Hacienda restaurant which was really a nursery, with a restaurant attached. It was lovely, with each table in sort of a private alcove surrounded by plants, and sheltered by several ancient oak trees.
Hacienda Restaurant
The ice cold beer served in frozen mugs really took the edge off of a headache I had been nursing all morning (something about the previous night's mixture of red wine, mezcal and port no doubt) and the chips with two kinds of salsa and guacamole were fantastic. We tried to keep it light because of our upcoming reservation at Laja, but realized we had utterly failed when we saw the plates come out.

By the end of the meal we realized that we would need to push back our reservation to a later time, so we decided to stop by the restaurant on our way back and pay them a visit. On our way back toward Francisco Zarco, we passed two wineries we wanted to visit - one was Casa Piedra, the winery owned by Hugo d'Acosta, who is also the winemaker at Adobe Guadalupe. Unfortunately, they were closed, but we saw their interesting modern facility. Next, we stopped at Vinas de Liceaga. Liceaga is an Ensenada construction mogul known for his Merlots, which are produced in the winery attached to his residence. It looked like they also had a large construction project underway, which we later learned was a hotel. At Liceaga, we tasted their sauvignon blanc (which we had been served the night before) and Merlots. We liked the reserve Merlot enough to buy a bottle. The sauvignon blanc was also good, but we were saving room in our suitcase (and our import allowance) for the Adobe's wines. They also sold a couple of ouzos, which were interesting. One had a very whiskey-like taste and was far more palatable than the other. They also sell a cake made with the ouzo - which they had samples of out for tasting. It reminded me of a whiskey cake my dad used to make when I was a kid, around the holidays.
Laja interior
After the tasting at Liceaga, we headed out in search of Laja. We found it not too far from Hwy 3, off of a side road that led directly to the Adobe - cutting across a large swath of farmland. We walked into the peaceful room furnished with natural wood and asked about changing the reservation. Oddly, without asking our names and without canceling our earlier reservation, they told us to come back at 7:30. Perfect. As we were leaving, we saw an employee in their garden picking vegetables for the evening's meal.

We had time for more pool lounging when we returned, and we were refreshed and relaxed when we walked into Laja for our reservation. Unfortunately, the sun-drenched peaceful room was now starkly lit and noisy, dominated by a huge party of fourteen at one long table in the middle. The din was deafening. We took our seats and surveyed the situation, trying to figure out where the group came from. My guess was that they were all employees on some sort of company sponsored trip, but it turned out that they had journeyed to the restaurant from a cruise ship docked in Ensenada. We assumed they would be there forever, since they had just been seated when we arrived, but it turned out that they had to get back to their boat and left about forty five minutes after we arrived.
Butternut Squash Soup
Making the best of it, we ordered the seven course tasting (the other choice is a four course) and some cocktails and wine to take the edge off. The first course was a butternut squash veloute soup with local olive oil, which was very creamy and rich. The second was a nice salad with herbs and arugula, tomatoes and viniagrette. It needed salt, which they brought in a small dish upon request. The third course was a bluefin tuna tartare with cucumber and preserved lemon. I normally really like tuna tartare - but I didn't love their version for some reason. I think it may have been the variety of fish used. It wasn't the super mild ahi I'm used to. The seasoning also wasn't balanced quite right - it simply tasted of lemon and oil with no sweetness to smooth it out.
Garden Lettuce Salad
After the third course, we wised up and moved outside to the flagstone patio, following the party of four which had left before us. The weather was nice and mild, and we had a long wood table lit by tea lights they placed on the table for us. They lit lanterns on the steps and a fair amount of light filtered through the glass doors and windows onto the patio from the dining room. It was very dark (I couldn't see the food until the flash went off!) but much more pleasant than the din of the dining room.
Corn Gnocchi
The fourth course was by far my favorite, a sweet corn gnocchi, served with eggplant and squash blossoms. The gnocchi were sort of caramelized, and the components of the dish were perfect complimentary. The fifth course was a seabass served with some baby vegetables. This was fine but unremarkable.
LambThe sixth course however was fantastic - oven roasted local lamb with shallots and mustard greens. It actually tasted almost like pulled pork, but with a hint of lamb flavor.
Yellow Watermelon Soup
Though the menu boasted of seven courses - we actually received eight. I had assumed they would ask us to choose between the two desserts listed, or the two main courses, but they never did, which was just fine with us. The first dessert was a cold yellow watermelon soup, with prickly pear and lemon balm sorbets. This was certainly the most visually dazzling course of the evening, with the contrasting colors. It was refreshing and cool, but didn't really satisfy my chocolate-and butter-centric sweet tooth.
Almond FinancierThe second choice did however - though it didn't contain any chocolate. It was an almond financier, served with butternut squash ice cream and green apple. Though it looks half eaten in the photo, this is how they brought it out, with the financier broken into pieces and interspersed with the apple. It was rich and delicious, and again - interesting.
We had two wines with our meal, an un-oaked Casa Piedra Chardonnay recommended by Don, called Piedra del Sol. We drank two bottles of that, and one of a Tempranillo Cabernet blend from Baron Balche - one of the wineries near the Adobe that we did not get a chance to visit. The Tempranillo Cabernet was not my favorite, but the Piedra del Sol was fantastic.
All in all, the visit to Laja did not disappoint. The service was excellent, the price was excellent (about $60.00 for the seven course meal, not including wine) and the food was interesting and delicious - though we enjoyed some courses more than others. I will definitely go back - perhaps for a late lunch. They serve from 1 PM to 8 PM (at least during the time of year we were there) and I think a day visit might afford a better opportunity to see the grounds, stroll the gardens, and enjoy the atmosphere.
The next day, we hopped in the car to return to the States shortly after breakfast, thinking we would make it home by mid-afternoon at the latest. Instead, we encountered an ungodly wait at the border - about two and a half hours total. I think we would have been better off had we made it there a bit earlier, but it's hard to tell. I'm sure it didn't help that Customs only had a few lanes open.
Adobe Sky
Overall, I highly recommend a visit to the area if you live in Southern California - I'm not sure it's worth traveling from a longer distance because there isn't really enough to keep you busy down there for more than a few days. It would really depend on your mood and what you are interested in. I found it fascinating - like visiting California fifty years ago, and I am sure we will be going back. I would also like to try some of the taco stands along the way (if anyone reading this has been to any of them, please send some recommendations!) When I asked Don about them he scoffed - clearly taco stands are not his thing- though I am sure there are some good ones out there.

For the photo album, click here.
Where we went:
Adobe Guadalupe -
Laja -
Also recommended by Jay -
the Hacienda restaurant - near San Antonio de Tomas -about 1/4 mile East of Hwy 3. Follow the signs.
Vinas de Liceaga - winery speciazing in Merlot on the East side of Hwy 3 near San Antonio de Tomas

Other recommended wineries to visit:
Casa Piedra - on Hwy 3 just North of San Antonio de Tomas, on the west side of the L.A. Cetto - on the East side of Hwy 3 toward the North end of the valley (has a hot springs you can hike to)
Monte Xanic (pronounced Cha-neek) (on the road to the Adobe)
Baron Balche (also on the road to the Adobe)