Thursday, December 30, 2010

To the Continuing Journey...

2010 Collage
left to right - Top to Bottom:
desserts at Chez Panisse: gelato at Otto in Vegas: Birthday Party Poms: Brunch at Out the Door in SF: Salumi at Otto in Vegas: Camp Confab: Craftting Community in Palm Springs: Clothes at Sunhee Moon in SF: Oysters at Hog Island in SF: Fish tacos at Mariscos El Pescador truck, Chula Vista
Candy Store Collective Boutique in SF: Momofuku Milk Bar Midtown, NYC: Homemade caramels: Emma's kitty cat cake: Momofuku wall, NYC: Juju's Craft Party: Heath Ceramics Factory Store: Zuni in SF: Meatballs at Delfina Pizzeria, SF: Russ and Daughters, NYC
Birthday Party at Boulette's Larder: The Grand Canyon, North Rim: Corn at our Summer BBQ: Cooks Confab Egg: Esalen Farm, Big Sur: Cakes at the Madonna Inn: The Standard Hotel, NYC: La Super Rica, Santa Barbara: Caelan and Emma at Disneyland: Viva Pops in North Park
Juju and her cake: South Point House at Esalen in Big Sur: The Bell Jar Boutique, SF: Cannoli at Pizzeria Delfina in SF: Rajas at Super Rica in Santa Barbara: Crafts at Juju's party: Dinner at DOC in Portland: Mozza in LA: Crafting Community in Palm Springs: Crafting in Palm Springs
Me with my Birthday Croquembouche: Pizzeria Mozza in LA: Camp Confab: Lobster Roll at the Standard Grill, NYC: Stumptown Coffee in Portland: Mast Bros. Chocolate in NYC: Emma in Vegas: Emma with her cake: The Grand Canyon Lodge, North Rim: Nepenthe in Big Sur
The Tabor cart in Portland: Me with my Grandmother: MIHO Gastrotruck: DOC in Portland: Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Salk: The Standard Hotel in NYC: Eataly: Gobo salad at Okan: Santa Barbara Spot Prawns at Mozza in LA: Zuni in SF.

Without question, this year was filled with good things for us - lots of travel, amazing meals, parties, quality time with friends and family. On the other hand though, I have a feeling as this year comes to a close, that things have changed across the landscape in some sort of permanent - or at least very long term - way. The full brunt of the economic downturn seems apparent now, and it's pretty sobering. There are more homeless people on the street, local businesses and stores have closed, people who should be succeeding are treading water, and those who were treading water are having a hard time staying afloat. It feels a bit Marie Antoinette to discuss this year without acknowledging that reality.

Things aren't perfect for us by any means, but I feel very lucky to have what I have, to do what I do, and to know the absolutely fantastic people in my life. This was the year I turned 40, and as I said in May - I viewed it as sort of a halfway point - maybe even a high point. We can always hope that things continue to get better, but there is definitely something to be said for being grateful for what you have in the moment, and I truly am.

Here's to the continuing journey, friends. I hope 2010 has been kind to you, and wish you all the best for a warm, happy and peaceful 2011.

(p.s. - click on the photo and view in Flickr for a key to all of the pictures.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Some Things I Got and Gave

We are back from our holiday roadtrip!  Big Sur was magical, and it was great to spend the holiday with friends in San Francisco, but it's also good to be home.  (Isn't it always?)  We kept it pretty low key this year with gifts, given the traveling and all, but here are a few things that stick out in my mind.  :)

1. Color study vintage locket, from Verabel  (got)
2. and 4. The Open Daybook - A beautiful perpetual calendar illustrated by 365 artists, including our friend Rick Baker. (got)
3.  Shanna Murray "Hello Friend" cup for Pigeon Toe Ceramics. (gave)
5.  4505 Chicharrones  (got - and holyOMG these were good.  They didn't make it home from SF in the car.)
6. Holiday edition red Salad bowl from Heath Ceramics. (got)
7. Champagne Truffles from Poco Dolce (got)
8. Kitchen Aid 6 Quart Stand Mixer  (got- yeeay!)
9. Stephen Sondheim's new book, Finishing the Hat. (gave)

Hope your holiday was merry and bright!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Road Trip

We're hitting the highway tomorrow for a road trip up to Santa Barbara, Big Sur and eventually on up to the Big City (San Francisco) for Christmas Day. It's probably not the best timing with the rain and all, but it should be nice and cozy once we get where we're going.  Maybe we'll throw a Scrabble game or a chess board in the car with our rain boots. (On the plus side, I'm looking forward to a chance to wear my wellies!)
If all goes as planned, we'll be dining at some of my favorite restaurants, including the Big Sur Bakery (above), The Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara - and Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco.  (Zuni and Chez Panisse are closed, dang it.)   The Big Sur Bakery is doing a multi-course seafood dinner on Christmas Eve - a sort of riff on La Vigilia. I hope to provide a full report.

If we're lucky, the rain will let up enough for us to go for a hike or two in Big Sur. This photo was taken in 2007, from the beach at Andrew Molera State Park. 
We're also planning to spend one night at Esalen in one of these Point Houses, and log some serious time in their cliffside baths.
Central Coast 2007 275

I will be back soon with more New York posts (on Milk Bar, Locanda Verde and the Mast Bros. Chocolate Factory,) some updates to my favorite local restaurant list, and much, much more.

My best wishes to all for a peaceful, relaxing and delighful holiday, and hope to see you back here soon!  xxxooo

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vanilla Bean Fleur de Sel Caramels {A Recipe}

Fleur de Sel Vanilla Bean Caramels
I cannot tell you how long I've been meaning to do this. Four, maybe five years?   Since I decided to scale back on my baking this year, I finally had time to try homemade caramels again.  I attempted these once several years ago - but I overcooked the caramel and ended up with a hardened mass once it had cooled.  This time I might have been a little overly cautious - these are an eensy bit soft and could be just a smidge darker, but they are still dangerously delicious. As it turns out - as long as you don't burn the sugar, and don't cook the caramel to the point you can't chew it, there is a pretty good-sized range wherein success can be achieved here.  I know this recipe will scare some of you - it scared me for the longest time, but honestly, the hardest part has been keeping my hands off of them long enough to get them to their recipients.
Vanilla Bean Fleur de Sel Caramels
There are a few things you will need before you start.  An accurate digital thermometer and cellophane or wax paper caramel wrappers are essential.  You also need a large heavy pot and a wooden spoon, and one more thing - patience.  The sugar can take a long time to turn the right shade of brown, and if you turn up the heat too high to get it moving, it can burn.  If you overcook it, it will turn inedibly bitter - you'll know it's gone too far if it turns the slightest bit reddish.  The good news is it's pretty hard to overcook the sugar in this recipe because it's tempered with some water and corn syrup. This helps it cook more evenly, and prevents crystallization.  (If you object to corn syrup you can use brown rice syrup or Lyles Golden Syrup - they will  serve the same purpose.)  When you add the hot cream to the sugar mixture, it will take a few minutes to come to temperature, but when it starts moving, it will move fast - so definitely keep an eye on the thermometer as you stir.  This recipe makes a lot, but certainly not a ton.  I'm having absolutely no trouble giving them all away - and if I had the time, I'd make another batch!
Vanilla Bean Fleur de Sel Caramels
Vanilla Bean Fleur de Sel Caramels (Edited 12.19.11)
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

3 cups sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks good quality unsalted butter
1 heaping teaspoon Maldon or other good quality sea salt, plus fine fleur de sel for sprinkling.  (I used Fleur de Sel de Guerande)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean (note they are added at different stages of the recipe)  .
neutral vegetable oil

special materials: candy or caramel wrappers , a probe thermometer, a large, heavy pot, parchment paper.

Line a 9x17 inch baking pan with parchment paper and very lightly coat the paper with vegetable oil or butter.

In a large, heavy pot with high sides (a stock pot is good for this), cook sugar, corn syrup and water over medium/high heat until the mixture turns a deep golden brown.  Do not stir, just swirl the pot and tip it to see the color. 

In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the cream, the seeds of half a vanilla bean (if using)  and 2 tsp. sea salt.  Bring just to a simmer.

When the sugar is cooked to the desired degree of doneness (based on the color) pour the cream mixture  into the pot.  The mixture will bubble up and steam vigorously.  Cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the mixture registers 245 on a candy thermometer.  Stir in the vanilla extract (if using) and generous teaspoon of salt.

Immediately pour the hot caramel into your parchment lined pan.  Sprinkle evenly with the fine fleur de sel, and allow to cool until set.   (It can also be refrigerated - coat it with lightly oiled saran wrap to prevent it from getting sticky.)

When the caramel has set, score and cut it into little pieces just a little bit larger than 1 inch square (don't worry about making them perfect - they'll squish in the wrappers)  and wrap them in cellophane or wax paper squares.  twisting the ends closed.  (If you have a friend or two to help with this, it could be a great little coffee-klatsch activity.) 

Store them in the fridge to extend their longevity - then give them as gifts and wow your friends with your homemade candy prowess!   

p.s. - I also made Peppermint Bark.  This recipe is the best on the planet.  The contrast of the harder white chocolate against the slightly soft ganache filling is delightful.   I use Peppermint Oil instead of extract (just because that is what I had) one drop in the white chocolate and 2 in the dark (per batch).  I always at least double the recipe and recommend you do too - it disappears fast!

*EDIT* I've made these a few times since this post was written, and I have made a few edits to the recipe based on my experience.  For one thing, I recommended vanilla paste for an addition - but I think vanilla extract and vanilla bean are more common and easier to use, so I've modified the recipe to use those.  I also recommend cooking the sugar to a darker color, and adding a little less salt to the caramel mixture, since they will also be sprinkled with salt.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tell Tale Preserve Co. Update

A few months ago, I told you about a new enterprise in San Francisco called the Tell Tale Preserve Co.  Pastry Chef William Werner anticipates opening his cafe this Spring, but in the meantime, he is selling sweet and savory pastries, confections and jams through his monthly Tell Tale Society subscription bags - and a weekly stand at the local farmers markets in San Francisco:

The big news though, is that through the month of December, he's also running a "popup shop" - called the Tell Tale Trunk Show,  at Big Daddy Antiques in San Francisco - which looks like a pretty cool place all on its own... 
Open 9-5 Monday - Saturday through the month of December, the shop will offer the pastries, confections and jams Chef Werner is becoming known for, as well as coffee service.  A few people I know have ordered the Society bags and sampled items from the farmers markets, and the reviews are universally positive. 
I finally broke down and ordered one of the Society bags for myself for January - a little treat to help alleviate the post-holiday letdown...  :)

There's a chance the Trunk Show could continue if it's a success, so if you're in the area, get on over there and check it out (and please report back if you do!)   If you're not in the area, you can always order a subscription bag.  You can't pick your items, but that's part of the fun of it, and I can safely say that out of the four or five that have gone out so far, there hasn't been one I wouldn't be thrilled to get!

Photos via Dessert First  - where you can also find more detailed information and background.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Dinner at Ma Peche - NYC

The room at Ma Peche
You would think that finding a restaurant for dinner in NYC would be easy, given all the amazing options.  Not so, at least for me.  I find it almost paralyzing - so afraid I am of wasting an evening. I spent an embarrassing amount of time debating whether we should eat at Ma Peche. It was my first choice, initially, but then I kept second guessing myself. I knew I wanted to try at least one of David Chang's places, but I agonized over the middling reviews on New York magazine's website and Yelp, contemplated the menus and the cost, and debated whether lunch at Ko or dinnner at Ssam Bar were better options. Ultimately, it was all a big fat waste of time, because we went, and it was fabulous.
Ma Peche menu
The menu is deceptively simple - the descriptions are minimalist, but the dishes themselves are not. The prices are also fairly reasonable, as you can see above. Teens for starters, twenties for entrees - not bad for the big city. We sat at the bar, so we could see them preparing the food, and chat with one of the chefs as well as the people next to us. I preferred it to the dark-ish dining room, though I didn't find the room unpleasant - I certainly expected worse after reading the vociferous complaints in other reviews.
Ma Peche
We started with a half dozen oysters - which as you can see here were plump and lovely specimens. They were also, without question, the best I have ever had. Buttery, sweet, rich - just perfect. We would have ordered another half dozen if we hadn't planned to eat our way through the rest of the menu.
Ma Peche Fluke with Butternut Squash, Yogurt & Pepitas
This dish was the surprise stunner of the evening. It was on the menu as "fluke, butternut squash, yogurt, pepitas" - not the most likely combination of ingredients, but a winner nonetheless. The shaved raw fish was layered with shaved pickled squash and plated with a drizzle of tangy sauce, pepitas and a accent of mint leaves. We liked it so much we encouraged our neighbors at the bar order one too, and they thanked us for it.
Ma Peche
Our next course was a David Chang specialty - sticky, sweet pork ribs. Ironically, these were not my favorite. They were fine, but a little bit flabby, and just not all that special.
Ma Peche
We made friends with one of the chefs at the bar. I think he was pleased by our obvious delight with the food, and gave the four of us at the bar a special treat - a delightful little mini-course of raw scallops with mustard oil, mustard flowers and shaved white lily bulb. (This is why it pays to sit at the bar!)
Ma Peche
This next dish was another favorite of mine.  Called a "coquillage" - it borrowed from Vietnamese and Thai cuisine - a rich, creamy stew of king crab and clams made with coconut milk and cream, topped with fried shallots and chives. Somewhere in there, our neighbors also shared a bit of this amazing pork chop for two with us.
Ma Peche
The brussel sprouts arrived last, and though they were good - I was far too full to eat very many by that time. You might have also noticed that everything here was sized generously - plenty for two people to share.
Ma Peche
They don't serve dessert in the restaurant, but after dinner  we went upstairs to the Midtown branch of the Milk Bar in the lobby of the Chambers Hotel. It's not quite as comprehensive as the downtown original, but they have the cakes, pies,  two flavors of soft serve and other treats to go, as well as Stumptown coffee. I picked up a piece of crack pie, a compost cookie and some malted cake truffles. I also tasted the famous cereal milk soft serve, and was a little disappointed to find I didn't like it.
Momofuku Milk Bar - Midtown
The crack pie lives up to it's name though, with a crunchy,oatmeal cookie crust and a thin, rich, sweet filling. You could just call it butter pie, and you wouldn't be too far off.  They make the cake truffles with scraps from their four flavors of layer cakes, Chocolate Malt, Apple Pie, Birthday Cake (vanilla with colored sprinkles)and Banana. A little later in the trip, we went down to the original Milk Bar location next to Ssam Bar, on 2nd Street - which was definitely worth the trip. More on that coming soon!

Ma Peche
15 West 56th Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 757-5878

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pan Roasted Pork Loin with Bacon-Braised Red Cabbage

This is not a very good picture, I have to admit - but this is such a delicious meal - so simple and perfect for this time of year - that I wanted to share it. I used this recipe for the pork, without the sauce, and this recipe for the cabbage (which makes a TON by the way, enough for ten people. ) But from there, I departed from the recipes.

I made the cabbage on a Sunday, and kept it in the fridge overnight. I think it benefits from a little aging.

On Monday, I rolled two pork loins in the seasonings as specified in the recipe, and pan fried them in a large saute pan. It was surprisingly quickly and easy, and didn't make too much mess. It's a good method to avoid overcooking them!

I then fried a few slices of bacon in a saute pan, poured off the grease, chopped the bacon into pieces, and sauteed the cooked cabbage over high heat in the bacon grease left behind. I added a sprinkle of cider vinegar, a dash of sugar, and the chopped bacon back into the pan - along with some salt and pepper. Somehow this gave it that sweet and sour flavor that the cabbage lacked originally. I served the cabbage and sliced pork loin over some buttery mashed potatoes flavored with light sour cream, along with a green salad with pears. This is really quick to make (as long as you make the cabbage ahead of time) and would make a great fall dinner party entree. The exotic spices on the pork loin complemented the red cabbage really well and added a little unexpected extra oomph.

Even if you don't have time for the cabbage, etc. at least try cooking the pork loins this way - I highly recommend it!