Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Slow" Goings On About Town and Tartine Brownies

Jay and the Linkery gang
I've really been enjoying participating in the active local Slow Food chapter lately - it's apparent that they have some dedicated, hard-working people running these events - which makes it a real pleasure to show up and reap the benefits! This trend continued on Sunday afternoon last weekend, when I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Slow Food Santa Maria BBQ, hosted by Jay at the Linkery at Bird Park - near Morley Field. Jay slaved all day over his Red Oak Grill, cooking up some delicious tri tip (donated by Hamilton's Meats). It was served with wheat bread, homemade pinquito beans and fresh homemade salsa. I don't know how he managed to get it so tender - I've always thought tri tip was a little spongy and tough - but his was excellent.

If you haven't had a chance yet, you really must go see Jay at his restaurant in North Park, the Linkery. They are doing some great stuff with local ingredients and vendors. They will be moving to new bigger digs soon (on University) but will be keeping an interest in the old site - so it will be interesting to see what happens there!
Tri Tip
There were a few silent auction items up for sale at the event - I took home the framed vintage print on the right, below. I also bid on the one on the left, but alas someone wanted it more than I. I guess the silver lining is that Slow Food made a lot of money on it!
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I also had the pleasure of meeting Lotus, of Good Food Comes from Happy Cows and her husband Thor at the event. Lotus and her husband are both charming and fantastically good company, and I hope we will get to see them again soon. If you haven't already discovered her blog, you really should check it out. She writes about cooking, growing food and eating locally here in San Diego - topics near and dear to my own heart.

A big thanks to Membership Chairs Dominick and Donna for all of their hard work - I heard they got there at 7 AM to stake out the site, clean it up and get it ready for us to enjoy! Cafe Calabria and Jimbos also donated the iced tea and desserts, respectively.

Slow Food has two other fantastic-sounding events coming up that I wanted to tell you about. On August 26, 2007 is the Fourth Annual Taste of Slow Food at Orfila Winery in Escondido. Tickets are $55.00 for members and $65.00 for non-members. Food is included, but you'll need to bring some cash for the additional donation for beer and wine (from Stone and Orfila) if you plan to indulge. Tickets can be purchased (and you can view a partial list of the participating chefs) here. All proceeds benefit the San Pasqual Academy Farm. (I still owe you another post on my visit there.)

On Friday August 31, 2007 (Friday of Labor Day weekend) the Boosters of Old Town are throwing a event partnering with Slow Food and many local "Slow" eateries to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the arrival of the Overland Mail in San Diego. The "alfresco, lantern-lit dining experience" will take place from 5 to 9 PM in the historic plaza, and will feature food from the Lodge at Torrey Pines, Brandt Beef, The Linkery, Stone Brewing Co., San Pasqual Academy and Waters Catering, among others. The flyer can be downloaded here. To purchase tickets, click here.

I took some brownies to the BBQ on Sunday - made from Tartine's recipe - which calls for no less than a full pound of chocolate. I tried another experimental batch before making these - which utterly failed. I still have yet to find the perfect formula - the flavor in these is good, but they're just a leetle bit too dense. I think next time I will try beating two of the egg whites to a soft meringue and folding that in to lighten it up. In the meantime, I had a some requests for the recipe on Sunday - so here it is.

(That's a test batch of homemade maraschino cherries in the background (made with Marasca liqueur- more on those later - if they turn out that is!)
crackly brownies

"Tartine" Brownies
by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson
Published in the Oakland Tribune October 25, 2006

Kitchen Notes: You can't use a cake tester or toothpick to judge doneness. Because the batter has a high percentage of chocolate, the tester comes out wet even if the brownies are done.

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used a Trader Joes Pound Plus 70% bar - I would have used Valrhona, but that's a lot of chocolate!)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
2 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed (not "tightly packed" as is the norm)
1/ 2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping (optional) 2 cups nuts such as walnut or pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13 inch glass baking dish.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. If the heat from the butter does not fully melt the chocolate, put the pan back over the heat for 10 seconds and stir until melted. Set aside to cool.

Sift the flour into a small mixing bowl. Set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until the mixture thickens and becomes pale in color and falls from the beater in a wide ribbon that folds back on itself and slowly dissolves on the surface, 4 to 5 minutes.

Alternatively, use a mixing bowl and a whisk to beat the ingredients until the mixture falls from the whisk in a wide ribbon. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cooled chocolate into the egg mixture. Add the flour and fold it in quickly but gently with the rubber spatula so that you don't deflate the air that's been incorporated into the eggs.

Pour the batter into the prepared dish and smooth the top with the spatula.

If you are using nuts, evenly distribute them across the batter. Bake until the top looks slightly cracked and feels soft to the touch, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 squares (I cut mine into more like fifty!) The brownies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 1 week.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Daring Bakers July Challenge - Strawberry Mirror Cake

Strawberry Mirror Cake
Joining the Daring Bakers has really been fun, in that it gives me the opportunity to use skills I learned in culinary school that I would never otherwise use at home. With this stuff it's use it or lose it - and it doesn't take long as I've discovered!
half section
This months' challenge was a "Strawberry Mirror Cake" a classic French patisserie concoction involving a sponge cake layered with Bavarian Cream and topped with a clear strawberry gelatin layer - a.k.a. the mirror. We actually did a Passionfruit mirror cake in my cake decorating class last semester, (at Grossmont Culinary School, taught by James Foran - the pastry chef at Market.) Unfortunately the cake had to chill for several hours in order to firm the filling, so the mirror had to wait for the following class - when I was absent. Not only did I not get to see the mirror, but since I wasn't there when the cake was finished, I didn't get to take any home! Poor, sad me.

The cake we prepared in class was somewhat different from this recipe. We lined a ring mold with a thin layer of joconde sponge, patterned with a chocolate tuile batter. The mousse was the poured inside, allowed to firm, and then covered with the mirror. It was an elaborate process - but not especially difficult, technically.
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For the lining (I wish I had a picture of the other side!) we laid a patterned template on a silpat with holes punched in it - stripes, checkerboard or polka dots, and spread the chocolate tuile batter over the form. It was then lifted off, leaving the pattern on the silpat. Sponge cake batter was spread on top of that (carefully) and then baked. The patterned cake was then cut into strips for lining the pan. (If you look at the cake in the bottom right of this photo, you can see how it looked before the mousse was added.)
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For the July challenge, Peabody's method called for us Daring Bakers to make a layer of sponge cake in a jelly-roll or sheet pan, cut the layers to fit a springform pan, and cover it with Strawberry Bavarian Cream - sort of a firm mousse - then with the mirror. The rules specified that the cake had to be white, but substitutions were allowed for the fruit and the gelatin if anyone was allergic or averse to gelatin. As far as decorating, the only rule was that you had to be able to see the mirror.

This was a fitting send-off to the local summer strawberry season, and I picked up a couple of boxes at the Farmers' Market last Sunday that I used for the puree and the juice. I made those earlier in the week and stored them in the fridge until I was able to get around to the cake itself on Saturday. (The cake needs to chill for several hours in order to let the fillings firm up, so it's not a bad idea to make the fruit puree and juice and the cake ahead of time.)

The sponge layers came out nice and airy and were brushed with a simple syrup spiked with kirsch for flavor. With this type of cake it's important to really beat the heck out of the sugar and eggs at the beginning to get them to full volume and give the cake a nice elastic base. The cake flour is sifted into the sugar and egg mixture, and then a meringue is folded in for lift. The key is to not stir too much, or the batter will deflate. My layers came out about 3/4 of an inch thick.

As I prepped it, I realized the Bavarian Cream has all the ingredients for strawberry ice cream - just jelled instead of frozen. You start with a custard - cooking egg yolks, sugar and milk together until thickened. The strawberry puree and gelatin are stirred together and added to the hot custard, and after the custard mixture is cooled over an ice water bath, softly whipped cream is folded in. (I had to add a couple of drops of red food coloring for the pink color, since the cooked cream had an unappetizing slightly grayish color.)

One thing I was a little confused about - the recipe seemed to call for 2 1/2 Tablespoons of gelatin (noted in the recipe as TBSP) - but a packet of gelatin contains 2 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin. I wasn't sure, but I figured two packets ought to do it (close to 2 Tablespoons altogether.) That seemed to work fine, but I am curious to see if other people used different amounts, and what their results were.

I added some cut strawberries to the sides of my cake - both for decoration and because I cut my cake layers a little on the small side (I used the pan as a guide, but I guess I overdid it on the trimming!) I placed them against the sides of the pan before adding the cream, then added the second layer of cake, and filled it in with the cream - being careful to leave space for the mirror.

I lined my pan with parchment paper, thinking it might help keep the strawberries in place when the sides of the pan were removed. The paper absorbed moisture though, and sort of crinkled a bit - I wouldn't bother with that the next time.

When the cream was thoroughly chilled and firm, I made the mirror topping. Again, this seemed to call for a large amount of gelatin - 1 TBSP. I used one packet (2 1/2 teaspoons) which seemed to work well. I added the fruit to the top before putting the cake in the refrigerator to firm.

I was really pleased with the way the cake looked when I unmolded it, even if it was a little crinkly. I was planning to take it to a barbeque yesterday to share it, but unfortunately we weren't able to go. (Sorry Mendy - and Happy Birthday!) It doesn't keep well out of the fridge, so taking it to work is out. Husband is at work tonight... hmmm... Guess I know what I'm having for dinner!


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer To Do List

  1. drink lots of Trader Joes Iced Green and White Tea with Mint - mixed with a few drops of lemon simple syrup (simple syrup made with lemon juice instead of water.) Sooo refreshing.
  2. drink lots of Syrah Rose and Rioja
  3. wait anxiously for the delivery of the patio furniture next week (I got some of it as floor samples - hooray for sales!)
  4. make homemade ricotta and mozzarella cheese to eat with my upcoming homegrown tomatoes
  5. read Harry Potter (or as my husband likes to call it "Hairy Pooper" - he's very mature) while drinking above-mentioned iced tea and lounging on above-mentioned patio furniture.
  6. finish my summary judgment motion before doing any of the rest of the above
  7. somewhere in there, throw a dinner party
  8. go to the Slow Food Santa Maria BBQ this Sunday at Balboa Park put on by the Linkery (and you should too!)
  9. fantasize about all of the fun things I could be doing if I didn't have to work all summer. Sometimes, I really do wish we were more like the French!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lucques, the Kwik E Mart and Crowded House - Part II

The crowd when we left
I dunno, maybe it's the kid in me, but I really wanted one of these donuts - maybe a comic book and a Squishee too. So when we planned our trip to LA last week, I made sure we stopped at the Kwik E Mart in Culver City on our way up.

When I saw the crowd of people standing outside and circling the block looking for parking, I was A) amazed, and B) - afraid they would be sold out of everything. I wasn't far off - they were sold out of the Krusty O's, the Buzz Cola and Radioactive Man comic books, but they had donuts galore. They even had donuts on the floor. They also had Squishees, in fun Simpson's cups. I chose Marge - I feel like she and I have a lot in common. I'd forgotten how good a cherry slushee can be. The donuts, buzz cola and krusty o's are available at 7 Eleven stores all over the place - the comic books are harder to come by though, and may be sold out.

It was a little too crowded to fully appreciate the decor, but it was still fun to see. It felt like a "happening" - something new and different. It was a pretty brilliant idea - blending reality with advertising - and I think the success of the whole thing far exceeded their expectations. Call me psychic - but I predict we'll see more advertising like this in the future.
Seating at the Farmers' Market
From the Kwik E Mart, we headed to the Farmers Market, after a quick stop at the H.D. Buttercup furniture store in Culver City. I hadn't been to the Farmers Market in a very long time and I was glad to see it hasn't changed much at all. The food stalls remind me of a combination of the Del Mar Fair and Pike's Place Market in Seattle. I love that they still have the old chairs and tables, and that each stall has its own personality. I had a lot of fun taking these photographs and we had no trouble killing a few hours just wandering around. We even found some Marie Sharp's hot sauce at one of those specialty hot sauce stores. (We always keep some of this in the pantry since we enjoyed it on a trip to Belize a couple of years ago.)
toward the front
When six o'clock drew near, we headed over to Lucques for our early dinner reservation. There's something to be said for early fine dining. It was still daylight - so we could sit outside comfortably (and I had plenty of light to take pictures) and we had the place to ourselves for an hour or so. It was also sort of fun people-watching as diners filed in. We spotted someone we thought we recognized as a character actor - but we couldn't think of his name. That happens all the time in LA, doesn't it?
enjoying the olives
The service was professional and helpful but inobtrusive. We started with some drinks, and they brought these lovely almonds and olives, thick sour warm bread, sea salt and butter.

The menu was short and fairly well edited - the starters were heavy on salads with only one red meat option and one seafood, and a carrot soup. We chose the tempura soft shell crab and the cherry tomato and kumquat salad with purslane, lebneh and mint. The salad was a bright combination of sweet and tart with an accent from the purslane and mint. Every bite was perfectly fresh and the jewel-like colors were gorgeous, as you can see. I saw a lot of people eating the summer peach and nectarine salad, and it looked delicious too. (I have some peaches and nectarines on hand right now - something along those lines might be in order for dinner tonight.) The lebneh were little balls of soft herbed yogurt cheese - I think made with goat's milk, but I can't be sure.
Tomato and kumquat salad with mint, purslane, red onion and goat cheese (labneh)
The crab was also very good - but the flavor was dominated by it's "fried-ness." The aioli was also little bit heavy and sweet for me (not being a fan of mayonnaise based sauces generally) but the chopped salad was tasty. The large chunks on the bottom are bacon - which added a nice touch. Overall, James enjoyed this a bit more than I did - so we were each very happy with our selections once we each settled on one.
Tempura soft shell crab
For the main course, I ordered poorly. I don't know what possessed me to order chicken in a seasonal restaurant like this - much less a fall/winter dish in the middle of summer. Silly silly me. When I asked about the title - "The Devil's Chicken" - they told me it was their take on a classic Julia Child dish - chicken baked with a dijon mustard crumb coating. One of the things I love about the Lucques cookbook is that it is full of sprightly reinventions of classic dishes (the chocolate bundt cake, for example) and being a sucker for Julia - I went for it. It wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't one of the best meals I've ever eaten. The crust was crisp on the outside but a little soggy underneath. It had good flavor though, and the chicken was juicy and perfectly cooked, so it's not as if I went hungry.
The Devil's Chicken
The succotash that we ordered as a side dish was my saving grace. It was the perfect summer side dish - fresh, crisp and bursting with sweet summer-vegetable flavor.
Corn Succotash
James' veal cheeks were perfectly cooked, served over risotto with a broth sauce. When the plate arrived he said "look, I've got broth!" I thought the meat was a little bland - but it's veal, so I guess that's expected.
Veal Cheeks with Risotto
For dessert, our very competent server sold us on the semifreddo with fresh fruit - a frozen concoction that tasted of of sweetened whipped cream, with candied orange peel, pistachios and a crunchy crust. The fruit was perfect, and it was a refreshing finish to the meal.
Out of curiousity, I also ordered the confiserie plate. The large chunk on the left is a piece of honeycomb covered with dark chocolate, which was to die for. The rest of the bits were pates des fruits, a marshmallow and some chocolates. There's also a caramel in there. I was hoping for some nougat and maybe some more caramel, but I'll take what I can get. This would be fun to share at the table with some coffee for a light dessert.
Confection Plate
Our server also recommended a glass of wine for James' veal that we really enjoyed - in fact we liked it so much we asked him to write it down. It turns out it's from a boutique winery in Napa that specializes in Cabernet Franc, called Lang and Reed, and it seems to be an absolute steal at $22.00 a bottle.

From the restaurant we headed over to the Troubadour for the Crowded House show.. I personally prefer Neil Finn's solo stuff to the Crowded House material, but it was fun to see the band in such a small venue with so many avid fans. There are a few really good songs on the new album and they are coming to San Diego this Summer at Humphrey's. If the tune up was any indication, it will be a great show!

8474 Melrose
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 655-6277

Recommendations - anything with fresh vegetables or fruit - all of the produce was absolutely perfect. I'd also recommend seasonal specialties, everyone seemed to be ordering the salads and lighter dishes. Their short ribs are also very popular.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lucques, the Kwik E Mart and Crowded House

Menu at Lucques
I haven't had time to finish the post yet, but here are the photos.

We had a lovely meal at Lucques, and the Kwik E Mart was a hoot. They are sold out of most of the stuff though, so it's probably not worth bothering at this point. The concert was fun too - nice to see them in a small venue like that!

Cheers and happy weekend everyone!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

David Lebovitz's Salted Caramel Ice Cream

salted butter caramel ice cream

I think I'm trying to recreate Bi Rite Creamery in my kitchen this week. (Have I told you that I'm contemplating a special trip to San Francisco just to check this place out?) Last night it was Salted Butter Caramel (phenomenal), tonight it was Lemon Buttermilk Sherbet (very good) and tomorrow (or the next day) will be Vanilla Raspberry Swirl. I made the bases/syrups all at once, and they are - or were - waiting in the fridge.

I know, all of these desserts and not a chocolate one in sight - but I have to say, I think my preference may be to eat the chocolate on or under the ice cream, rather than in it. There's nothing better than a scoop of really good vanilla or creme fraiche ice cream with a side of Boulevard Hot Fudge, some warm caramel sauce, or a sprinkle of malt powder. Brandied cherries and toasted sliced almonds don't hurt either.

But I digress. I have to tell you how good this Salted Butter Caramel ice cream is. It's so good, that I actually became angry today - downright mad - when I finished the tiny afternoon spoonful that I allowed myself, and realized I'd have to wait until after dinner to taste it again. It's so good that I actually want to horde it and ration it out (which is not my usual m.o.) It's definitely the best ice cream I've ever made.

I saw the recipe a while ago on his blog, and looked for it in the book The Perfect Scoop - but it's not there. It's here and only here, as far as I can tell. It's a little more complicated than some other ice cream recipes because it requires the cooking of sugar not just once, but twice. It's really not difficult though, and it's sooo worth it. I promise.
caramel ice cream base

I did have a tiny bit of trouble getting mine to freeze. It took nearly an hour and was still fairly soft, but I suspect that could be due to one of two problems that are easily fixed. First, I might not have cooked my custard quite long enough. I have a tendency to overcook custards waiting for them to thicken, so I took it off at about 163 degrees. Next time I think I'd cook it about five degrees further.

The second (and more likely) possibility is that the base just wasn't chilled down quite enough when I put it in the freezer. It was a very hot day (at least 80 in the kitchen) and my ice water bath melted (as you can see above) so it didn't really do much to chill it down. I put it in the fridge for about two hours, and it was cool, but really the custard should be thoroughly chilled - eight hours or so is optimal unless your ice bath really works. Ultimately it came together, but I think it would be creamier if it hadn't churned for so long. (On the plus side, it's relatively soft straight out of the freezer!)

One suggestion I do have is to make the caramel for crushing right before you churn the ice cream. It gets very sticky after about an hour or so, and if I had chilled the base overnight, I would have had to figure out some way to store it. By morning, I suspect it would have been a sticky mess.
caramel in the pan

The Silpat was fantastic for this project - and David really isn't kidding when he says don't stop to scratch your nose before pouring out the caramel. I tried to stir in the salt, and the caramel burned in just that amount of time (you don't need to.) You have to stop when it's dark but NOT reddish - if it is, you've gone too far. The good news is that it's a quick process, so doing it over really isn't such a hardship (lucky for me). The picture above shows the caramel when it's almost there. Once it starts to darken, it happens fast.

The ice cream itself is creamy, buttery and sweet, with crunchy bits of burnt sugar and salt. It melts fast, and goes down even faster.

Too fast, if you ask me.

I used Maldon sea salt, organic milk and cream, and Plugra butter. Since the Plugra wasn't salted, I added an extra sprinkle of salt. I also added a couple of generous pinches during the cooling process to suit my personal taste.

I'll be back sometime soon with a catch up post about where I've been lately, and more about the farm tour. Have a good week everyone!