Thursday, August 16, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Flavor!

Oh blessed Epicurus, my ability to taste has returned! I know it's silly, but whenever I'm sick, there's a part of me that genuinely fears that, just maybe, I will never taste again. Who knows, it could always be some new neurodegenerative disease. Right?
Hypochondria and delusions aside, I am overjoyed to be able to appreciate more than texture and calories again. Hallelujah!

+Mom and I adventured about Chinatown, picking up fun kitchen toys at the now-famous Wok Shop (thanks to an article Saveur ran last November). I also found one of my Quest Locations (Golden Gate Bakery, home of SF's best egg custard tart). But alas! They're on vacation till September 1st. Oh well, absence makes the heart (stomach?) grow fonder...

+I decided to make the kid's last summer science lesson "fun," so I put together a workshop on the science of flavor. After a chat about the sensory system, psychology of perception, and cultural culinary traditions, I set them loose on a "flavor lab." We played with everything from measuring taste bud density to the effect of temperature on complexity of cheese flavor to sampling "unusual" flavor combinations from varied cultures (rose-saffon ice cream, spicy dark chocolate, and crema de abacate). The kids were extremely positive about the assignment, and several expressed complete surprise at what they enjoyed. The girl who claimed not to like spicy foods begged for extra pieces of the capsaicin chocolate sample. Even the rose-saffron ice cream had a following. Hurrah!

+I'm this close to splurging on one of these: i-Roast2

+I'm going to help cook for the Ferry Plaza Sunday Supper! Of course, I won't be doing anything glamorous -- probably washing bowls and peeling onions. However, there's a neat lineup of chefs preparing the meal, and I'm excited to be a part of the kerfuffle.

+Tomorrow, I'm meeting a friend for dinner at Range. Their online sample menu makes me salivate -- so my hopes are high.

Okay, I have a real job and I need to be rested for it. Till next time,

Monica

Fresh Peach Frozen Yogurt

Millions of peaches, peaches for me.

On a whim, I added Thai basil for garnish since I have an abundance in the garden. Wow! The heady ripeness of the peaches was enlivened by the complex herb, reminiscent of pineapple basil curry or basil-lemongrass soup. That's a good thing, by the way. I chopped up an extra tablespoon to stir in. I bet a coconut milk-peach sorbet with Thai basil would be delicious too.

Ingredients:
3lbs extremely ripe peaches
1/2 c. sugar
1/3-1/2 c. full fat plain yogurt
Fresh peaches and basil for garnish (optional)

Blend till smooth before freezing in an ice cream machine. Garnish with fresh peaches and basil, if you're adventurous.

Also, amounts are estimates. I blend, taste, and tweak, remembering that the frozen product will be less sweet than its liquid form. Play around!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

MISERY

I have been sick for days and cannot taste. Life is hollow.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Oompa Loompas and Reusable Mugs

+Adventures: Saturday wine-n-cheese soiree. Sunday brunch at the Berkeley Thai Buddhist temple, followed by a Sharffen Berger factory tour and spectacular coffee at Guerrilla Cafe. Failed to locate oompa loompas, but developed 60% crush on our attractive, snarky tour guide.

+Conquests: replicated Curried Coconut Soup from Cafe Gratitude. Success!

+Musings: Ideas for sustainability contest -
*reduce car use (which is already low). I enjoy walking, biking, and public transportation; I haven't yet biked to work as I am still adjusting to being anywhere by 8am, but I think I am up to the challenge. My goal is to walk anywhere within 1 mile, bike anywhere within 5, and public transport anywhere further. When all else fails, carpool.
*carry my portable coffee mug.
*set up recycle bin in room.
*use Julia's compost bin.
*caulk windows/doors in house to reduce heat loss.
*switch to rechargable batteries.
*reduce consumption of new goods (recycle goods via thrift store, freestore, or craiglist, or make own)
These are a good start. If I can incorporate one lifestyle switch a month, it'd be easy to make each of these a long-term habit.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Greens, Sustainability Marathon, and other Gustations

+I sous cheffed at the farmer's market cooking demo again, this time with Annie Somerville of Greens Restaurant! We made a tasty poly-bean salad as well as crostini with marinated goat cheese (Adante dairy), roasted red peppers, and basil. Yum! Annie is a strikingly warm and bubbly person -- especially since many cooks go stoic during "kitchen mode." (I always sent out a preemptive apology to my kitchen staff before a Head Cook.) Two of the other sous chefs were culinary-academy bound, and they hoped openly for future executive chefs as pleasant.

+Julia B. revealed to me that she and her sister Gracie are undertaking a Sustainability Competition for 2007-2008. Julia lives in our 9-person cooperative where we buy goods at the farmer's market, line-dry our clothes, and don't own a TV...one might guess she has the upper hand. But no! The goal of their project is to see who can make the most relative improvements to their current lifestyle. Clever, no? Anyway, I might join in on the sustainability-awareness adventure, so I'm going to brainstorm eco-friendly life adjustments.

+Fraiche! For months, I walked by the empty hollow of their soon-to-be fro-yo store, rolling my eyes at what I expected to be a post-workout hive of diet-conscious yoga-mommas. (To my defense, their decor smacks of Starbucks-chic.) But soon after their opening, I began to question my snub. Enough friends had advocated the little dessert stop, I decided to have a taste. Wow! Fraiche cultures their own yogurt (daily!), uses only organic ingredients (local when possible), and brews only Blue Bottle Coffee. Plus, their fresh frozen yogurt with dark chocolate shavings and raspberry coulis is delicious. They ARE expensive for yogurt, and they still look like a Starbucks, but their values (and flavor) I can get behind. So there you have it. Thanks for un-snobbing me, little local fro-yo stand.

+I won't go into much detail yet, but there may be a movement at my school to make our curriculum agro-centric. I'm so excited, I could pop.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fried Squash Blossoms with Basil Fromage Blanc

Mmm. Fried. Zucchini flowers must be healthy, right?

I've never cooked with squash blossoms before, but when I spied them at the Ferry Building this Saturday, my quest was clear. A brief consultation with The Google yielded several recipes, which I tinkered to accommodate the contents of my shelf. The result: yum.

The Batter

1 cup all-purpose white flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup-ish beer (I used a touch more...depends on the humidity. You want the batter smooth but not thin.)

The Stuffing

1/4 cup fresh cheese (I used Bodega Goat Cheese fromage blanc, but ricotta would work too)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon-ish each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh basil (Aside: I suddenly have a ton of basil in sweet Italian, Thai, and lemon varieties. Help me eat them.)
16ish large squash blossoms, washed
Canola or peanut oil for frying

Prepare the batter. Sift together dry ingredients, then whisk in beer or cold water until smooth. Cover and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Leftover batter can be stored for up to two days.

In a bowl combine cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, and basil. Open the blossoms and spoon about one 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into the center of each. Twist the top of each blossom together to close. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Pour the oil into a skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat over high heat until a small cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown within seconds.

Dip each stuffed blossom into the batter, then carefully slip into the hot oil. Cook until golden on all sides, about three minutes total cooking time. Transfer with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain briefly. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

These are wicked tasty even without the filling, if you wish to veganize the recipe. Orion tells me they made these in his cooking class in Italy, but that he liked this recipe better. :-)


Marinated Thousand Layer Tofu with Ginger-Sesame Chard

Kid tested, mother earth approved.

The traditional practice of freezing and pressing tofu ("thousand layer tofu") is excellent for marinade recipes, enhancing flavor absorption and imparting a meatier texture. I brought my leftovers to school, and three 10-year olds oogled the hippie masterpiece, vocally lamenting their cheese curls and Jello. 10 year olds! Chard! This recipe is clearly a powerful force for Good.

Note: when I make this next, I will marinate the shiitake mushrooms (separately, in a sesame, soy sauce, ginger-garlic mix) to boost their flavor; I may also throw in a fresh hot pepper to bring in another layer of spice.
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 package frozen extra firm tofu, defrosted and drained
  • Canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 cup shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups Swiss chard, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
To prepare tofu, combine the first 4 ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Cut tofu lengthwise into 4 equal slices. Carefully place tofu in a baking dish. Pour the soy sauce mixture over tofu. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes, turning once. Preheat broiler.

Remove tofu from dish; discard marinade. Place tofu on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Broil 10 minutes on each side or until tofu is lightly browned.


To prepare greens, heat sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, ginger, pepper, and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add chard and sesame seeds; cook 3 minutes or until chard wilts, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 teaspoons soy sauce.


Place 1/4 cup chard mixture on each of 2 plates; top each serving with 1 tofu slice. Repeat layers with remaining chard and tofu.

Burrata and Heirloom Tomatoes

a
It is easy tempt a promiscuous palate.

I was seduced by the Daily Impulse Buy placed at the Whole Foods checkout line: burrata cheese. I had never heard of this luscious fancy, and my curiosity got the better of my wallet.

Burrata is a specialty mozzarella, a pouch of fresh cheese that has been gratuitously filled with cream. Be still my heart. Literally.

With ripe heirloom tomatoes, garden basil, and a drizzle of fresh-pressed olive oil, my curiosity was sated. This cheese was delicious, although twice the cost of the mozzarella di bufala I prefer. But here's to novelty!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: and now the fun begins

Orders of business: I am no longer unemployed.

Yes, three days ago, I started work at a science teacher at a Montessori middle school. I can already tell it will be awesome; however, I (a) am not a trained educator, (b) am new to the Montessori method, and (c) dip from the bio/psychology end of the geek spectrum. Teaching physics and earth sciences to "the wolves" will be quite an adventure. But the situation calls for optimism: the other staff seem rad, and the students I've met are a hoot. OH, and the school has COOKING lessons. :-D

Moreover, I just got a check in the mail, which means that the Town Crier published another article of mine in their paper. Hurrah! It's a blurb on food politics books I've been reading: http://www.latc.com/2007/07/11/special_sect/special_sect4.print.html
Elsewhere in this issue, Eliza includes an account on the chicken slaughter workshop we attended in the spring.

Last week, I ventured to the Ferry Building to help out with their weekly cooking demo. The chef made an amazing mixed berry pie (tayberries + strawberries from the farm I'm visiting Sunday), as well as a fantastic salad (strawberries, mint, tarragon, romaine, pistachio, and lemon-shallot vinaigrette). The salad surprised me -- I'm don't usually fall for mixed herb salads, but both the mint and tarragon added interesting complexities. I made this salad three days in a row (minus pistachio - I impose a five-ingredient limit on greens). I'm excited to cook with them again -- their market chef, Sarah, mentioned that they have a number of talented chefs come through for demos, and it's a good way to pick up neat kitchen tricks for free!

Lastly, I've been hitting the espresso. Hard. I'm trying to find a bean source I like more than Peets, but I'm coming to terms with the fact that, as much as I want to support the "small local roaster," Peets Garuda blend consistently rocks my world. All my love to Barefoot's incredible artisanry, but their love of fruity hightones doesn't suit my lowtone needs. I might give Blue Bottle's beans a whirl, or have another shot at roasting.

I'm not wine-snobby enough to be able to dole out the fancy adjectives, but I have noticed that with wine, beer, and coffee, words like "soft," "earthy," and "complex" tag the things I like and "fruity," "jammy," and "bright" tag the things I don't. It's fun to get to know one's palate. :) I wish there were regular public food tastings, or a food and scent museum, or gustatory health clinic, as though cultivating a sense of one's olfactory sense was as essential to wellbeing as hearing and sight. But hey, I'm a hedonist. I believe in backrubs, lavender, and full-fat dairy. God bless America.

Maybe this can be a political platform.

Employed-ly yours,

M

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: I'm Not Dead Yet!

Okay, I'm a crappy blogger.

I've been having so much fun bouncing about from farm to farm (Trader's Point Creamery! Marin Sun Farms! Webb Ranch!), reading food lit (United States of Arugula! Slow Food Nation! Molecular Gastronomy!), dining out (Manresa! Zante's Pizza! La Farine Boulangerie!), and eating in (various), that I've been very very bad about posting. Forgive me?

But, I have been taking plenty of low-quality photographs of my conquests for your amusement, and in a final bout of time-wasting before my new job starts, I am updating as much as possible. Also, I can apparently add keywords to my posts, so my nascent recipe collection is now searchable. Hurrah!

In other news, I volunteered at the farmer's market for the first time recently and am stoked about their upcoming farm tours; I've published a second article in the Los Altos Town Crier (https://latc.com/2007/06/13/special_sect/special_sect3.html); and I recently purchased a set of sexy knives. Rrrrrowr. [ASIDE: Oh lordy, ALSO, Andronicos was unloading a bunch of high-quality miniature tartlett tins that had been discontinued...I got nearly 30 at a dime each. Pastries, dear god there will be pastries.]

Shortly, there ought to be more recipes, a list of local restaurants and food producers I am enamored with, culinary photography, and inane babble. I know you have a lot of options when choosing how to procrastinate, and I appreciate your bringing your business here. :)

M

Monday, July 9, 2007

Quiche Lorraine

Curried Dal with Bhutanese Red Rice

Dal and rice were the flavor of my childhood. Mmm, childhood.

I tinker with quantities depending on what is on hand -- onions and carrots add extra sweetness, celery adds tang-- but this is my skeleton recipe. A squirt of fresh lime/lemon juice, or a tablespoon of ghee (Indian clarified butter) added at the end is delicious.

Ingredients:
1 cup red split lentils, rinsed
4 cups water
1-2 medium onions, chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. turmeric
1-2 dried hot chilies
1-3 Tbs. garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. fennel seed (optional)
fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
2 Tbs. oil (olive or canola recommended)
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Procedure:

In a saucepan, combine lentils, water, turmeric, celery, and carrots. Bring to boil, skimming off the foam that inevitably develops no matter how many times you rinse the lentils beforehand. Grr.

Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, add oil, cumin, fennel, bay leaf, and chiles. Sautee on medium heat for 30ish seconds to bring out the flavor of the spices, but taking care not to burn them. Add onion and sautee until clear, about 8 minutes. Add spice and onion mixture to lentils when saucepan begins a rolling boil.

Cook lentils until soft, about 20 minutes. Add extra water to desired thickness as lentils expand (according to Dad, serving thicker dal is considered a mark of affluence, since one might thin this staple soup to serve many mouths in hard times). Using an eggbeater, whisk lentils to smooth texture. Reduce heat to low, adding tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper to taste.

Elsewhere, steam rice. You can figure that out yourself. Enjoy immediately, or considerably later -- lentils are one of those magical Indian dishes whose flavors are improved the second day, making for excellent leftovers. You can make a load to freeze and reheat dal (gasp!) if you're camping out for a long period and want several simple, satisfying, and easily stored meals (for example, a week at Burningman).

Chana Masala

My mom frequently makes this dish to bring to potlucks. It's proven to be a more Caucasian-friendly curry, which she often Midwesternizes by adding ground beef meatballs sauteed in olive oil. That's tasty, I won't lie -- but I slightly favor the traditional version, simple garbanzo beans in a curried tomato sauce.

Ingredients:
2 cups garbanzo beans, soaked and boiled
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 whole fresh tomatoes, diced
1-2 medium onions, diced
cilantro, to taste, chopped
1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1-3 hot chili peppers
2-4 Tbs. garlic (I love garlic, and probably add even more than this. Tell you what...chop as much garlic as you can personally justify and simply add to taste).
2-4 Tbs. oil (olive or canola)
salt and pepper to taste

In skillet, heat oil and add cumin, bay leaf, and chilies. Sautee for 30ish seconds to bring out flavor. Add onions and sautee until clear. Add soaked garbanzo beans, roasting in onion mixture for ~7 minutes. Add can of diced tomatoes, one canful of water, and garlic. Continue cooking on medium, stirring occasionally, and adding extra water if the mixture dries before the beans soften. With any luck, this stage is 20 minutes or less...but I recommend tasting the curry every 5-10 minutes to gauge how well the flavors are melting into one another. When the beans are soft and the onions have completely cooked into the light sauce, turn the heat to low and add the tomatoes, cilantro, and salt/pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve over rice.

Divine Cinnamon Rolls

Animal fats, loosely held together by refined carbohydrates. Breakfast of champions!

But seriously, this was the most succulent batch of cinnamon rolls I've ever made, perhaps because I modified my original recipe to absorb an extra two sticks of butter.

Each rich bite melts upon your tongue and enters directly in to your bloodstream, bathing your every cell in creamy goodness.

Ingredients:
For the dough --
9 - 10 cups flour
1 1/2 c. butter, softened
1 T salt
2 c. whole milk, warmed to room temperature
3 T yeast
1 c white sugar
4 eggs

For the cinnamon filling --
1 1/2 c. butter
50/50 brown sugar-white sugar mix, of indeterminate quantity
cinnamon, to taste, but usually upwards of 2 tsp.

For the delicious vanilla icing --
1 c. butter
"enough" confectioner's sugar
vanilla bean paste or extract (~1/2-1 tsp)
"enough" milk

Combine lukewarm milk with yeast and a tablespoon of sugar; allow to proof until frothy (~5 minutes). Add sugar, eggs, softened butter, and 5 cups flour. Mix until smooth, gradually adding more flour until the dough is soft but not sticky. Allow to double, ~1 hour.

Knead dough, split into two lumps, and roll each lump into a thin rectangle. Mix filling ingredients in a bowl, combining "enough" sugar to make a thick paste. Spread a thin, even layer of the cinnamon paste on each sheet. Starting at one long side, roll the rectangle tightly, pinching the end of the sheet tightly to secure the roll. Slice into 12-14 rolls, and arrange on a buttered cookie sheet, about 1" apart on each side. Allow rolls to expand one hour. (Note: you can make these the night before through arranging the cookie sheet, place in the fridge, and bring out the next morning. Simply add an extra 20 min to this second rise before baking.)

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. While rolls bake, combine icing ingredients to suit taste and result in a thick paste. Allow to cool slightly before icing rolls. Serve warm. Store extras in a tight container, reheating gently in an oven before enjoying. Leftover rolls, if you have any, can be combined with a simple custard for a delicious cinnamon bread pudding (spectacular when topped with apples, berries, or stone fruits lightly sauteed in...you guessed it...more butter).

Life is indeterminate, so live well. :-)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chicken Liver Mousse

Notes from the Pantry: May!




Oops! Where did May go?

Fear not, gentle reader; I have not taken to fasting, but rather, mere laziness.

But here's what I've been up to: read Peter Singer's "The Ethics of What We Eat," picked organic strawberries at Eatwell Farms, planted an herb garden, licked envelopes at Slow Food, learned how to slaughter a chicken at Hidden Villa, and tasted fresh milk straight from the udder (swoon).

Feast-wise, I have several recipes to update: grilled scallops and mango salsa, dal with Bhutanese red rice, spelt-walnut bread, vegan lemon-cream tart, cappuccino-infused cream eclairs, morels and asparagus sauteed in butter, devilled eggs with wasabi caviar, grilled potato coins with creme fraiche and wasabi caviar, liver mousse with shallots and port, and grill-roasted beer can chicken. Yum!

Also, I am now employed! Which means my dream of owning a good knife set will soon be realized...

Work supports my food addiction.

Recipes to follow!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Molten Chocolate Cake


Despite apparent decadence, this rich treat requires only basic ingredients, 10 minutes of prep time, and 10 minutes of baking. It's the closest thing to instant gratification I know.

Molten Chocolate Cake

1/2 c butter
4 oz dark chocolate (I use 62% Scharffen Berger)
1/4 c sugar (I use brown or white interchangebly)
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tsp flour
pinch salt

berries, coulis, mint, chocolate sauce, fresh vanilla cream, or powdered sugar (for decor)


Butter and flour four ramekins. Preheat oven to 450. Using a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt. Whisk in hot chocolate-butter mixture, slowly and carefully so not to create a chocolate omlette. Divide amongst ramekins. Either bake for 10-12 min (depending on how molten you prefer your center), or refrigerate until ready to use. After baking, run a knife around cake edge and turn carefully upside down onto a plate. Allow to set for 1 minute before pulling off ramekin. Decorate and serve warm.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Egg-cellence

















I am in love with these eggs.

Marin Sun Farms promises the tastiest eggs from the luckiest chickens, and as far as I am concerned, these eggs deliver. At $7/dozen, they aren't cheap, but I got what I paid for.

The eggs (a motley mix of brown, white, and blue) displayed their quality at first crack: the whites were superbly viscous and yolks of stunning safety-orange. Thick whites are a calling card of fresh eggs, and the deep vibrance of the yolks a testiment to the varied and highly-nutritious diet of the pasture-raised flock.

With these eggs, I had: 1 quiche (4 eggs), 3 devilled eggs, 1 fried egg, and 4 scrambled. The mouthfeel of the whites was noticeably superior: smooth, firm, and without a trace of rubberyness. The yolks also lacked the sulfuric aftertaste often present in less-fresh store-bought eggs. I can't tell if these benefits are solely a feature of their freshness, or if Marin Sun's pasturing practices contribute to the added quality; pastured-eggs do outperform solely-grain-fed eggs in nutrition profile.

Jenny found a small local egg producer at the Menlo Park Farmer's Market today, so next time I snag Marin Farm beauties at the Ferry Building, we can do a freshness-controlled taste test.

Other MP market finds: delicious, local organic strawberries (3 pints/$7, so we bought 6). I love heritage strawberries. Smaller fruit, concentrated sweetness, and complex flavor. The big, shiny supermarket variety tastes bland in comparison. I also bought another olive oil (I'm such a sucker for olive oil). Olive de Oro (produced in Los Gatos) offers several varieties of certified extra virgin and flavored organic oils. After liberal sampling, I settled on their basil-infused oil. May tomato season come quickly, as this will be divine on those sweet, sun-ripened beauties. I may even plan a mozzerella-making experiment for the occasion.

Oh man, hungry again. How does this always happen?

Chocolate Vegan Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

Tastes sinful, yet "cruelty-free!"

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a goddess. I am a devoted omnivore, but the delicacies this woman constructs using only plant products woo my dairy-loving tastebuds.

I baked one dozen vegan cupcakes for an animal-product-free friend, but -erm- several "escaped" during delivery. Free-range cupcakes are a wiley breed.

Chocolate Cupcakes and Vanilla Frosting
(adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, 2006)

For cupcakes:
1 cup soymilk (Silk rocks)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/3 c canola
1 tsp vanilla extract (or bean paste!)
1/2 tsp almond extract, chocolate extract, or additional vanilla
1 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin tin. Mix soymilk and vinegar; let sit a few minutes to curdle (this process yields cupcakes with a tender crumb). Whisk in sugar, canola, and extracts till foamy. In a separate bowl, sift remaining dry ingredients. Blend together dry and wet ingreadients until no large chunks remain. Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling no higher than 3/4 full. Bake 18-20 min, until a toothpick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let sit 5-10 min; then turn out cakes onto cooling rack and bring to room temperature. Frost when cool.

For icing:
1/2 c vegan nonhydrogenated buttery spread (EarthBalance rocks)
1/2 c vegan nonhydrogenated shortening (again, product placement: EarthBalance rocks)
3 1/2 c powdered sugar (any brand will do)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
1/4 c plain soy milk or creamer (I actually use Silk creamer in either plain or vanilla. I find these yield richer frosting)

Cream spread and shortening, whisk in extract and milk, and then slowly fold in sugar. Whisk 5-7 min, until fluffy. If you are using a pastry bag to pipe frosting, let frosting come to room temp for smooth application, then return frosted cakes to fridge to allow frosting to set.

A note on pastry bags: in a moment of weakness, I bought a "mechanical pastry bag" ($20) at Williams-Sonoma. It promised more control when decorating with frostings. Instead, this cumbersome tool is no easier to maneuver than a traditional bag -- and is even less reliable when handling thicker frostings. This mechanical bag can't handle the pressure of thicker pastes and, rather than pushing frosting out the tip, forces the paste back up around the plunger. That sucks. Buy a pastry bag. They cost half as much and work twice as well. It's science.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Potato Leek Fennel Soup with Spinach Quiche and Chard

Home, sweet home.

With very little cheating (wheat, pepper), this is a gastronomic spotlight on Bay Area goodies.

Potato, Leek, and Fennel Soup

7 c fresh vegetable stock
2 c leeks (white and light green only)
2 c fennel (chopped, fronds saved for decor)
4c (2lbs) red or yukon gold potatoes, chopped into 1/2" pieces
6 Tbs. butter
salt
pepper

In large saucepan, sautee butter, leeks, and fennel till soft, about 7 min. Add potatoes and stock, bring to boil. Reduce to medium-high simmer, 25 min or until potatoes soften. Blend in food processor till smooth. Return to saucepan, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve.

Spinach Quiche with Flakey Crust

Adapted from Tartine Bakery Cookbook, 2006.

For crust:
1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/3 c water, very cold
1/2 tsp salt

Mix salt and water, place in fridge to chill. Cut cold butter into 1" chunks. Using pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour until pea-sized chunks of butter remain. Slowly drizzle in cold water, mixing with a spoon to create loose dough ball. The dough should not be smooth, and you should see butter chunks. Do not overmix -- big chunks of butter now = big flakes in crust later. Heat and overmixed dough are your enemies. Flatten dough to 1" round and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerated 2 hours or up to overnight. Roll out dough to 1/8", line quiche pan. Refrigerate 30 min to one hour. Line with parchment paper and weigh with baking beads or dry beans. Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake 25 min until surface looks light brown. Removed parchment and baking beads, bake 5 minutes longer. Remove and let cool fully.

For filling:

1 c creme fraiche
1 c whole milk
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs flour
1 tsp fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 tsp freshly grated pepper
5 large eggs
1-2 cups fresh spinach, coarsely chopped

Whisk one egg with flour until smooth. Blend in remaining eggs, In a separate bowk, whisk creme fraiche till smooth, and then whisk in milk. Strain egg mixture into milk mixture. Whisk in salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir in spinach.

Preheat oven to 375. Pour quiche mix into fully cooled crust. Bake 10 min, then reduce heat to 325. Cook an additional 30 min, or until center feels firm and not liquid. Allow to cool at least 20 min. If fully cooled, reheat in oven preheated to 325 for 15 min.

For the chard, I simple chopped it coarsely before tossing it in Adams Ranch olive oil with farmer's market smashed garlic cloves.

For dessert, I'll be having Strauss Cream Top yogurt and blackberry honey. Yum!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Farmer's Markets and Vegetable Stock

I am a suburban forager.

Saturday: Caltrained to the Ferry Building for goodies. I arrived too late to snag a Spring Hill Organic butter (drat!), but I was able to secure a dozen Marin Sun Farms pasture-raised eggs. At $7, these are the most expensive eggs I have ever purchased, so I hope these chickens live like kings.

After filling my grocery tote, I grabbed a cappuccino from Blue Bottle Roasting Co (a local roaster). Good coffee, lovely cappuccino art, and friendly (attractive) baristas. :-> I also bought a lamb sausage from Prather Ranch Meat Co., another purveyor of sustainable, humanely-raised animal products. Served on a fresh Acme bun with mint sauce...divinity.

I forgot to pick up local olive oil for the week, and I used this excuse to visit Mountain View's Sunday farmer's market. The only olive oil supplier was Adams Ranch, which offered reasonably priced organic oil which I found wonderfully flavorful. Strong, buttery Mission olives dominate -- definately a finishing oil. Jenny picked out a bottle of mildly-flavored Napa Valley olive oil at Country Sun on our way home, so between the two we will have our olive oiling bases covered. Mmm. Country Sun also stocks Spring Hill butter -- not as fresh as from the farmer's market, but at least I get local cred.

My culinary plan for the week: using my fancy-pants eggs, remaining creme fraiche, and frou-frou butter, I will make a Tartine Bakery cookbook quiche. I picked up leeks, fennel, and potatoes at the Ferry Building, so a rich soup is in order. And a Synergy lemon, Mountain View shallots, and crisp local greens will join forces for a simple side salad. I expect my excessive leftovers to last a few days, and my other purchases (chard, celery, carrots, eggplant spread, Spring Hill sage cheddar, etc) will sate my Bay Area-loving palate.

Revision on rules for this week: I've been reading up/thinking on local fooding, and I aim for 80/20 locavore. That is to say, if I can get 80% of my food locally, and 20% from other sources, I get a pat on the back. I cannot, for example, purchase flour, coffee, or (gulp) chocolate from local sources; and although I could abstain from these imported fares, the point of this exercise is to become familiar with local providers of staple items. It is not a low-carb, no-caffeine diet.

Besides, mindful purchasing is a bigger than prioritizing local, or organic, or whatever. Some items, like butter or strawberries, have local sources, and buying these confers benefits to me and my community. Other items, like rice, can be sourced through California, but because grain production in this region is water and petroleum-intensive, purchasing rice from Bangladesh actually creates a smaller eco-footprint. Gah! So many details! I want a food ethics litmus test -- four legs good, two legs bad!

Food ethics make for a complicated calculus -- any over-simplified metric becomes an exercise in purity rather than values. I am enjoying the excuse to try, say, new local olive oils and visit nearby farmer's markets. But dammit, I need my caffeine.

Using some otherwise unappealing vegetable bits (celery hearts, leek tops, etc), I made a gallon (!) of 99% local fresh veggie stock (peppercorns from whoknowswhere). Crazy easy. I'm now officially swearing off storebought stocks alltogether. If you have random veggie bits and can boil water, you can too!

Basic Vegetable Stock

4 cups chopped mixed vegetables (I used: 2 cups leek tops, 1 cup carrots, 1 cup celery hearts; onions work here too)
18 cups water
6-8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
8 branches parsley
10-14 pepper corns
salt (to taste)
olive oil (splash to taste)

Bring everything to a boil for one hour. Strain out solids. Voila! Refrigerate all the stock you can use in 3-5 days, and freeze the rest.

Quiche and soup to come!

P.S. I've been craving raw oyster; or rather, never having eaten raw oyster, I've roused the desire to do so. Today, at a fishmonger's suggestion, I downed a fresh Kumomoto. I loved it. It was sweeter and milder than I expected, and the texture was delightful. I could see myself eating a plate of these -- which is unfortunate, given their price.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Eat Local!

For the conscious consumer, grocery shopping can seem like a word hunt: is that apple organic? Are peas in season? Were the chickens that laid those eggs vegetarian-fed, free-range, and humanely raised?

In terms of ecological impact and (let's be selfish for a moment)
flavor, there's one adjective to put on the radar: local.

That Argentinian avocado may be organic, but the petroleum required to cool and transport it to your neighborhood Whole Foods makes for a hefty carbon footprint. Local produce, dairy, and meats require less refrigeration, shipping, and handling -- and, since they can be harvested closer to their sale (often within hours), you're more likely to get a product that is at its freshness and flavor peak. Many places that feature local producers (farmer's markets, local natural foods stores) offer organic foods from your own area. So your purchase supports not only the reduction of pesticides in the environment in general, but fewer pesticides in your own community. Eating local keeps sales profits local as well, giving consumers a direct means of influencing local agricultural practices. Plus, farmer's markets offer lots of samples. :-)

ANYWAY, there's a group that is putting on a 2007 Pennywise Eat Local Challenge to get people involved in consuming more from their local foodshed. The "challenge" is to go one week (April 23-29) eating only products originating within 100 miles of your residence. Since I live in the Bay Area,
the year-round epicenter of local deliciousness and progressive food values, I have no excuse -not- to try it. I expect there to be some work involved -- but there are good websites on Bay Area food producers and where to find their wares. Forcing myself to seek them out will make incorporating local items into my cooking inexcusably simple from here on out!

You can read more about the challenge, the value of eating locally, what to eat in the Bay Area, and other brain food at these sites: Eat Local Challenge, Locavores, and The Local Food Wheel.

I'll keep you posted on this little experiment. I'm going to be cranky without coffee (sigh), so we'll see how long I last!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Baked French Toast with Strawberries, Creme Fraiche, and Lemon Sugar

This is a decadant combination of flavors. I like my french toast a little creamier for this recipe, so I add vanilla to the custard. I am also a sucker for floral notes in sweets (jasmine, rose, lavendar), but if that pushes the boundaries of tasty for you, the berries are delectable on their own.

For toast:
1 loaf sweet Italian bread
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean extract (optional)

For topping:
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
3 pounds strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 Tbs. lavendar (optional)
Crème fraîche

Butter a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Cut twelve 1-inch-thick diagonal slices from bread. Generously butter one side of each slice and arrange slices buttered sides up in one layer in buttered dish, squeezing them slightly to fit if necessary. Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, and vanilla (if using) in a bowl until well combined, then pour evenly over bread. Refrigerate, covered, until bread has absorbed all of custard, at least 1 hour. Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 425° F. Bring soaked bread to room temperature. Sprinkle bread with sugar. Bake until golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Mash 1/3 cup sugar and lemon peel in small bowl to blend well. Set lemon sugar aside. Bring 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, honey, and lavendar (if using) to boil in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Strain syrup into a bowl. Place berries in a separate bowl. Pour warm syrup over berries; stir to coat.

Ladle berries and syrup onto plated French toasts. Spoon generous dollops of crème fraîche over berries, sprinkle with lemon sugar, and serve immediately.

Creme Fraiche


Creme fraiche: light of my life, fire of my loins. I will extoll its many virtues later. What is important now is that it is amazing and painfully simple to make.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup buttermilk

Yeah, see what I mean? Combine buttermilk and cream together, cover with cheesecloth, and leave out at room temperature (~70 degrees F) for 8-24 hours, until as thick as sour cream.

When I made this, the cream took more like 26 hours to mature properly...but that's because "room temperature" in my hippie-save-the-planet house is around 60 degrees. Brrr. It wasn't until the following day, when I made sure to leave the bowl out in direct sunlight, that the dairy cultures decided to make me some fraiche.

Now I have two cups of creme fraiche, made from organic, local cream, for about $4 of raw ingredients. Hot damn! It's good in and on everything, especially those plump red strawberries that are currently in season.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Palak (Saag) Paneer

She's not much to look at, but damn, she is tasty. Palak paneer is a consistant favorite of mine at Indian gatherings -- her incarnations vary but are inevitably delicious. This recipe hails from the creamier end of the spectrum -- smooth, rich, and spinach-tacular!

2 lbs fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1" piece ginger, peeled and grated
1/4 c. ghee (ie indian clarified butter), or oil
1/2c whole milk yogurt
splash of cream, to taste, if desired
1 tsp. garam masala
8 oz. paneer (indian fresh cheese)
pinch cumin (toasted seeds or ground)
pinch turmeric
1-3 dried chilies
freshly ground black pepper
salt
additional oil for panfrying paneer

Using a blender, puree onion, garlic, and ginger. In a stovepan, heat ghee or oil on medium and add onion blend. Sautee until onion is well cooked (will give off carmelized odors rather than stinging fresh onion odors), about 10-15 minutes. Add spices, sautee an additional minutes. Add spinach. Cook until spinach is reduced and takes on an olive, rather than vibrant green, color, about 7-10 minutes. Remove stovepan from heat and transfer contents to blender or food processor. Process until smooth, adding additional water if needed. Return to stovepan. Heat blended spinach, adding yogurt and cream, if desired. If mixture is too thick, add additional water. In a separate pan, add 1/2 in oil and heat. Slice paneer to 1"x 1/2" x 1/2" rectangles. Fry lightly in oil until browned and transfer to spinach mixture. Salt and pepper as desired.

There are a lot of variations on this dish depending on region, family recipe, etc. Many versions throw a diced tomato or two into the spinach as the dish cooks down, yielding a brighter and sweeter curry. Others include more cumin powder, or turmeric, or coriander. Still others add considerably more cream, or blanche the spinach first, or don't fry the paneer. Anything that meets the definition of spiced spinach and cheese is legit, so play around!

About this paneer business: I made this recipe to use up the Cowgirl Creamery Paneer (also written "panir") I purchased on their tour -- however, you can make your own using whole milk, fresh (fresh is very important) lemon juice, and cheesecloth. Just take a liter of whole milk and bring it to a boil; add 1/2 to 1 tsp of lemon juice, and removed from heat when the milk curdles. Let the saucepan sit a couple minutes, and then strain out the curds with a cheesecloth. With the curds wrapped in cheesecloth, press out as much water as possible, and then weight down the curds under a heavy slab for 2-3 hours to let it drain. When you return, you should have a reasonably cohesive ball of dairy goodness, ready to be sliced and diced into your favorite curry.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Brain Food and Tacos!

My brain is gluttonous.

Tuesday, I went to my first "Geology of Terroir" class. I'm no somelier, so I'd like to have a better sense of what kinds of wines I like and be more mindful in my appreciation of them (drinking non-Chuck helps). The class is structured such that we will spend a day on each of seven large wine-producing regions of California, discussing characteristics of the vinyards and varietals of the area. And then we drink generously. This week, we talked a bit about tectonic plates and volcanic soil, and then we tasted six different California table wines. I sense this class will be less academic and more "adjective-spouting-geriatrics-plus-Monica getting tipsy." And I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, I went to my "Food Writing" workshop. I missed the first class (whoops!), so I'm already the bad kid in the back row. The instructor is an established food writer -- the other students are mostly middle-to-"golden" aged women. We went through the process of constructing a book proposal and talked about different style elements in food writing. Again, this course feels much less "academic" than what I am used to -- but this practical treatment makes me jazzed. Putting together a competative food writing piece sounds doable, given practice and planning. Maybe one day I'll write a book!

Also also also --- I got my first piece of food writing published! It's an article on seasonal vegetables for the Los Altos Town Crier, and you can read it here: April vegetables herald the spring season. I may be able to publish more in the future, proceeds benefiting the Monica Foodie Slush Fund.

Last note: I had a super yummy taco while running errands in Redwood City. The restaurant was one of five El Grullenses I passed on the three-mile trek. However, unlike the franchisey other four, this was markedly a hole in the wall (four items on the menu, and two tables between the kitchen and the door). The roja salsa was delicious -- wake-you-up spicy at the head with complex smokey undertones that unfold and linger. Also, the whole order when down in Spanish, and the waitress made no indication that I was a tiresome and inarticulate gringa. This pleases me. I have been reticent to bust out the espanol lest I sound tooly or foolish. Now I'll be more bold!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Fantasy!

Oh, to be young and unemployed.

I'll soon thirst for meaningful work, structure, income...but meanwhile, I enjoy being a roustabout. It leaves much time for daydreaming.

One minus to communal living is the limited kitchen space. Whereas Synergy seduced me with their 8-burner gas range and industrial Hobart mixer, my current digs leave little room and much danger for personal culinary acoutrements (did you plan to keep those knives sharp?). But one day, "when I grow up," I will have an utterly gorgeous kitchen (even if it is the only room in the house, and I sleep there).

Here is my running Kitchen Wish List:

1. A sharp set of professional knives.
2. Bamboo cutting boards.
3. Le Creuset dutch oven.
4. All Clad stainless steel cookware.
5. Several cast-iron skillets, well seasoned.
6. One sexy espresso machine, with accompanying burr grinder.
7. One industrial Hobart N40 5-quart mixer, with all attachments.
8. Prep bowls. Not prep JARS, prep bowls.
9. Professional blender, food processor, and juicer.
10. Matching white plateware, silverware, wine glasses, etc.
11. Pasta extruder, for when I want capellini instead of linguini.
12. Brick oven, for naan. Delicious, delicious naan.
13. Professional convection oven.
14. Assorted bakeware, gizmos, gadgets, and thingamajigs, herefore unnamed.

My god, it will be beautiful.

Flat Zucchini Omlete


Thin and buttery with a hint of sweet majoram, this is a favorite simple pleasure. As you can see, I couldn't wait two minutes to grab my camera before I took a bite.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb small zucchini
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh marjoram flowers or leaves, or a pinch of dried marjoram
2 large eggs
1 large pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Trim ends of zucchini, then coarsely grate on large holes of a box grater. Toss zucchini with salt in a large bowl and let stand 30 minutes.
Transfer zucchini to a colander, then firmly squeeze handfuls to remove excess liquid.
(note: when I'm hungry and impatient, I skip the standing and try to remove as much water by hand).

Heat olive oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and sauté zucchini, stirring until golden, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in marjoram, then let mixture cool to warm, about 15 minutes. (note: again, when impatient, I skip the cooling. When hunger hits I am not to be trifled with!)

Lightly beat eggs with zucchini and pepper in a large bowl, using a fork.

Heat butter in skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides and butter has a nutty fragrance. Add egg mixture, distributing zucchini evenly with a heatproof rubber spatula, and cook, lifting up egg around edges occasionally to let any uncooked egg flow underneath, until egg mixture is set around edge, about 1 minute.

Reduce heat to moderately low and cook omelet until softly set but top is still moist, about 3 minutes.

Shake skillet to loosen omelet from pan, then slide omelet onto a large plate.

Wearing oven mitts, invert skillet over omelet, then holding skillet and plate together invert omelet, browned side up, into skillet. Cook omelet until underside is set, about 1 minute, then slide omelet onto a serving plate.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

Lovely Bit of Crumpet

Griddle-hot crumpets, with steamed sweet peas and heirloom carrots, all dotted with fresh-churned butter.

Yeasty as baked bread but light as a pancake, crumpets have been a mystery to me since girlhood. When I was a tot, my Girl Scout leader (aka Mom) put on a "breads of the world" activity for our troop. I nibbled through naan, challah, and lavash...but oh, then I came upon this wonderful spongey delight, toasty and fraught with curious butter-trapping crevices. I was enamored and mystified. While other breads could clearly be replicated in a home kitchen, I was ready to believe crumpet magic was wielded by a priviledged and professional few.

Two decades later, I find myself in a flour-dredged apron, laptop on hand, surrounded by simple ingredients and simple instructions, lamenting each slightly-stale and passionless crumpet I have purchased in these intevening years. Crumpets are divine, yes, and exceedingly simple.

Thanks to the Internet, I came across this marvelous recipe from The Bread Book (Linda Collister and Anthony Blake).

But first, my recipe tweaks:
1. I don't own crumpet rings, and since I was too hungry to run to Williams-Sonoma, I improvised. I used the ring from my miniature (4") springform pan to shape the batter, altough simple round cookie cutters would work too. Apart from having to cook each crumpet individually, this provided a perfect substitution.
2. I did not have bread flour, but rather, "Ultimate Performer" high-protein wheat flour. I suspect this is even gluteny-er than the bread variety, as I found I needed to add much more lukewarm water (~1 c extra) when thinning the batter to create a consistancy in which crevice-making bubbles would form. It's a trial-and-error process, so don't be afraid to play around with your batter until the crumpets bubble-up perfectly!
3. I was afraid of burning the crumpet bottoms, so I turned the burner down to medium after heating the griddle. Then, my first couple crumpets did not bubble well. I toyed with the heat until my crumpets were desirably holey -- a consistant medium-high worked for me, but the heat distribution may vary depending on the nature of your range and griddle material.
4. Cool these fellas on a rack if you aren't devouring them immediately. My first two cooled on a plate and ended up with soggy bottoms from trapped steam. I re-grilled the bottom side of these two and all was righted, but foresight avoids this extra step.

Fluffy, spongey, and steaming with bready aroma, these were the crumpets of my dreams.

Crumpets

Ingredients:
(makes about 18)
2 cups (230g) unbleached white bread flour
1 2/3 cups (230g) unbleached all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 0.6oz cake fresh yeast (15g) or 1 envelope active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons) plus ½ teaspoon sugar
2 ¼ cups (510ml) lukewarm water
3 ½ teaspoons (10g) coarse sea salt, crushed or ground (gk: use about half this if you're not grinding your own coarse sea salt -- or, y'know, if you're measuring by weight, not volume, you're fine.)
½ teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup (140ml) lukewarm milk

a griddle or cast-iron frying pan
4 crumpet rings, about 3 ½ inches diameter, greased.

Instructions:

o Sift together the flours and cream of tartar into a large bowl. Crumble the fresh yeast into a medium-sized bowl. Mix in the lukewarm water until smooth. If using dry yeast, mix the granules and the sugar with ¾ cup lukewarm water and let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining lukewarm water.
o Mix the yeast mixture into the flour to make a very thick, but smooth batter, beating vigorously with your hand or a wooden spoon for two minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm spot until the batter rises and then falls, about 1 hour.
o Add the salt and beat the batter for about 1 minute. Then cover the bowl and let stand in a warm spot for 15 to 20 minutes, so the batter can “rest”.
o Dissolve the baking soda in the lukewarm milk. Then gently stir it into t he batter. The batter should not be too stiff or your crumpets will be “blind” -- without holes – so it is best to test one before cooking the whole batch.
o Heat a lightly-greased, very clean griddle or frying pan over moderately low heat for about 3 minutes until very hot. Put a well-greased crumpet ring on the griddle. Spoon or pour 1/3 cup of the batter into the ring. The amount of batter will depend on the size of your crumpet ring.
o As soon as the batter is poured into the ring, it should begin to form holes. If holes do not form, add a little more lukewarm water, a tablespoon at a time, to the batter in the bowl and try again. If the batter is too thin and runs out under the ring, gently work in a little more all-purpose flour and try again. Once the batter is the proper consistency, continue with the remaining batter, cooking the crumpets in batches, three or four at a time. As soon as the top surface is set and covered with holes, 7 to 8 minutes, the crumpet is ready to flip over.
o To flip the crumpet, remove the ring with a towel or tongs, then turn the crumpet carefully with a spatula. The top, cooked side should be chestnut brown. Cook the second, holey side of the crumpet for 2 to 3 minutes, or until pale golden. The crumpet should be about ¾ inch thick. Remove the crumpet from the griddle. Grease the crumpet rings well after each use.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Lard(er)!

Left my paycheck in San Francisco. I should carry less cash when cavorting with foodmongers. I am helpless to their wiles.

Palo Alto's farmer's market won't open until May this year. Alas! Saturday mornings perusing food stands are a favorite weekend activity. To get my fix, I trekked north to that infamous foodie haven, the Ferry Building Farmer's Market.

So what was enticing this week?

1. Heirloom carrots: from spicy white to deep sweet red, these varied beauties were abundant.
2. Sugar snap peas
3. Asparagus
4. Spinach (for saag paneer, with last week's creamery aquisition; incidentally, I ran into our tour guide from Cowgirl, proffering wheels of triple cream bliss to Ferry Building patronage). Greens of all kinds are great right now.
5. My proudest find: Spring Hill Farms freshly churned butter. Oh god, it's amazing. Deep yellow in color due to spring grazing, this butter is noticably sweeter and smoother than its grocery-bought comrades. Even the frou frou organic European-style Strauss butter seems waxy by comparison. I've been eating it on plain matzah crackers, but this delicacy deserves a lofty purpose. Ideas?

Also in the grocery bag: onions, garlic, ginger, Point Reyes blue cheese, Affi's Aubergine spread, and some organic oranges. I'd love to try the pasture-raised beef and eggs from the market soon, but I'll wait till I am re-employed.

Post-market, I swung by Tartine to grab a bowl of bread pudding and to drop off an application (have to replenish the wallet somehow). Before heading south, I met with Erica at a cafe near her flat -- she had a beautifully presented french toast and berry plate, and I had an open-faced sandwich of grilled chicken, bacon, swiss, and horseradish mustard on wheat toasts. My plate came with home-pickled vegetables, which I had been craving (although the pickled carrots alongside Tartine's croque monsieur are my favorite).

I also have twelve meals worth of leftover chili to consume. I don't know how I am going to eat all of this while it is fresh. I wish I had the appetite of an adolescent boy to justify my cooking addiction. Friends, I implore you: stop by and come hungry!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Seder Foodstrvaganza!

Our house had a seder. I cooked. Wheee! Gahhhh I love food! The lamb kabobs will make your eyes roll wildly back in your head, causing great public embarrassment. You were warned.

Matzah/o/oh Ball Soup


1/3 package matzah crackers
matzah meal
3 eggs
1/2 medium onion, diced
1-2 Tbs. parsley
1/4 c. butter
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 qts. fresh chicken stock
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
additional parsley, if desired

Bring pot of salted water to boil. While waiting, soak crackers in separate bowl of water. When crackers soften, drain and mix with egg, onion, parsley, butter, salt, and pepper. Add matzah meal until doughy. Drop balls into pot and let boil until balls float. Remove and drain. Heat broth, adding carrot and celery and cooking until softened. Add matzah balls and simmer 10-15 min. Add parsley if desired, salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Yum!


Marinated Lamb Kabobs with Mint Yogurt
Marinade:
3/4 c. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. freshly chopped mint
1 tsp. freshly ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2/3 c. fresh lemon juice
4 tsp. freshly grated lemon rind (okay, okay, just use fresh ingredients always)
4 tsp. salt

Mint yogurt
1 c. mint
1/2-1 c. whole milk plain yogurt
2-3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2-1 tsp. freshly ground cumin (optional)
salt to taste

Kabobs:
1 lb. lamb meat, cut into 1" chunks (leg meat works well)
2-3 zucchini (optional)
baby tomatoes (optional)

Combine marinade ingredients and marinate lamb, at least 2 hours. Skewer meat and veggies. Cook on open-air grill to desired doneness, brushing with marinade often. For yogurt sauce, put ingredients into blender and process till smooth. Serve immediately.

Potato Kugelettes

1 1/2 c. grated Idaho potato, drained of excess liquid
3/8 c. onion
3 Tbs. rendered chicken fat, plus extra to grease (from homemade broth! or the store, lazybones).
3 eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Grease muffin tins and dust with matzah meal. Combine all ingredients and spoon 1 Tbs. of goo into each tin. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden. Serve and enjoy!

Will's Mom's Charoset

1/2 c finely chopped almonds
1/4 c finely chopped walnuts
1 Tbs. sugar
1 c. grated apple
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
enough Manischewitz to create mortar-like substance

Mix and eat. It's that simple!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Homemade Chicken Stock

Bubble bubble, toil and trouble.

Passover is my favorite holiday. I'm not Jewish, but I've attended enough seders to answer at least two of the Four Questions, find an afikoman, and cultivate an unfettered obsession with matzah (matzo? matzoh?) ball soup.

Also, the Iron Cheffiness of a week without leavening really tickles my fancy.

The beauty of matzah ball soup is it's simplicity: light, fluffy, slightly rich dumplings floating in flavorful broth. Since "make it from scratch" is my credo, I've taken to making my own chicken broth, and this dish highlights a homemade stock perfectly.

Chicken Stock for Shiksas

1 1/2 - 2 lbs chicken bones/carcass, either deboned yourself from a whole chicken, or purchased from your favorite meatmonger

2 c mixed onion, carrot, and celery, roughly chopped

1 bouquet garni (mix of herbs used for stocks, sold together; or make your own with fresh parsley, thyme, and bay leaf)

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 clove

6 peppercorns

2-3 quarts water

Add bones, veggies, and seasonings to pan, pour over water. Bring to boil, then let simmer 2-3 hours. Ladle broth through sieve to remove solids. Refrigerate stock overnight, then lift off any surface fat with a slotted spoon. Makes ~2 quarts stock.

Use that tasty stock within 3 days, or else pour cold stock into ice cube trays and freeze, storing up to 6 months.

Tomorrow: matzah balls!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Cheese and Bees

Hold this up to your mirror for a secret message!

The last 48 hours have been decadence.

Thursday:

5:30pm met with Christina, Aaron, and Bryn

5:35-7:00pm debated dinner locales

7:00pm called Osteria for reservation

7:02pm learned earliest reservation for four is 8:30

7:04pm walked to Whole Foods for "pre-mealing" bread, wine (PeachyCanyon Zinfindel 2005), and cheese (D'Affinois brie, and a salty truffled Italian soft cheese I adore).

8:30pm Osteria. Bryn and Aaron's gnocci were perfectly textured, although the marinara sauce lacked something. Christina's salmon was delicious, as was my spinach-ricotta ravioli. Osteria is my choice Italian restaurant in Palo Alto; I admit their dishes never leave me enchanted, but food quality is reliably solid.

Friday:

7:00am alarm goes off

7:01am hit alarm

7:09am hit alarm

7:18am hit alarm

7:27am get up, make espresso

8:30am Caltrain to SF

9:20am SF to Point Reyes

11:00am Cowgirl Creamery cheese tour! Learned about the history of the creamery, their basic methods and philosophies, and nibbled on delicious, delicious dairy products. Like an alcoholic in a bar, I was powerless against the lure of their cheese shop. For the next seven days, I eat only dairy.

1:00pm Picnic: fresh baguette, fresh chevre, fresh Cowgirl Creamery St. Pat, organic local strawberries, dates, organic carrots, organic local apples (note: Enophiles describe wine as having a flavor trajectory, each sip imparting layers of tastes for the palate to unpack. These apples had layers. Without hyperbole, these were the most amazing apples I have ever eaten. Will described them as tasting like "fall in Massachusetts.")

1:30-3:00pm post-picnic snooze in the grass

3:30pm-7:00pm Point Reyes hike, wherein we see an amazing view of the ocean, forest, and rolling hills, and where Eva and I discover a herd of fauns led by two white adult deer. Life is beautiful!

7:30pm-9:00pm commute south for rest and disgestion

Food, beauty, and a soft bed. Could life be better?

Oh, right, the bees.

I have a quirky obsession with bees-- communal insects facinate me. I am also terrified of bee swarms, but that's another issue. Anyway, I had attended a beekeeping class in Gilroy last year and remain on their mailing list, which has recently been "abuzz" about Spontaneous Colony Collapse. Beekeepers open up once flourishing hives to find no one is home, with a few disoriented, dying bees scattered nearby. No one seems clear on what is happening -- the dying bees seem to have several common bee viruses and fungal infections, not one particular plague, as if their entire immune system has been compromised. Their sense of direction, a hallmark within the insect world, appears lost. This is happening worldwide. If you care about bees, this is one yikes, but if you care about food and know bees do most of the pollenating for our produce industry, your yikes gets much bigger.

I witnessed a glut of peculiar bees on a walk last week -- a third had died and were in a pile, and a third clustered around the pile, milling about confused and aimless. The last third wandered around in circles within a few feet of the heap. The bees could fly -- which I discovered after prodding one. But they just didn't want to, or didn't know where to go, or something. I had noticed a similar phenomena this fall with a couple confused individual bees -- this was before SCC was all over the news -- and I just assumed that this is how bees behaved when they were ready to die.

Insecticides? Global warming? The Apocalypse? All I know is, I like my honey, I like my produce, and I hope this gets sorted out soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"BYO Coffee" Cake

I love coffee, I love cake, and these two words in proximity seem cause for salivation. But brace yourself: the truth is, there is no coffee in coffee cake. Scandel! When I first learned of the hoax, I was crestfallen.

I have sinced learned to love coffee cake for what it is: butter, thinly disguised as nutritious breakfast food.

"BYO Coffee" Cake

For the cake:
1 c milk, whole
2 c. flour
3/4 c. sugar, white
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. butter
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste (have you bought some yet?)

For strudel:
1/2 c. flour
2/3 c. sugar, brown
1/2 c. butter
1-2 tsp. cinnamon, to taste

Sift dry ingredients, mix in egg, milk, butter, and vanilla. Pour into parchment-lined 9" cake pans. Cream sugar and flour into butter, fold in cinnamon, and sprinkle strudel atop cake.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before serving. Seriously. It will be soft and moist at the cake base and delicately-crisp on top. Serve with coffee!



Tuesday, March 27, 2007

San Francisco Values Banana Bread

And so good for you!

There is no secret that my culinary rapport has a hippie streak. Five years drinking soymilk out of a co-op kitchen has it's effect. Anyway, after my pasta-n-porkfat gorgefest, I felt like attempting something nutritious.

San Francisco Values Banana Bread

2 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. wheat germ
2 Tbs. flax seed, freshly ground
2 eggs
1/4 c. butter, melted (no, Dharma, put the earthbalance expeller pressed oil down, we're using cow fat)
1 1/2 - 2 cups mashed banana (4-5 unmashed bananas)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. honey
1 tsp. vanilla bean extract
1/2 c. walnuts or pecans
Big-crystal brown sugar, for sprinklin'

Stir together mashed banana, butter, honey, vanilla, flax, and egg. Sift dry ingredients, and mix together. Throw in nut of choice. Pour into a bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Or until your knife comes out clean.

I had used the spice grinder on cardamom before grinding the flax, so there was a very, very slight tinge of cardamom in the bread which was a pleasant surprise. Next time I may add a couple pods of crushed cardomom seeds and some cinnamon, for that East-meets-West fusion so popular with bourgeois Bay Area white people. Hey, you know it's true.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pasta Carbonera

Yay for high-fat, high-carb diets!

Today was one extended foodgasm.

Morning: dropped by Synergy (butter), Safeway (hey! no one else carries Nutella), Trader Joes (balsamic, olive oil), and the Menlo Park farmers market (French carrots, baby beets, strawberries, garlic). Had a cappuccino and a bowl of berries with creme fraiche before heading to Oakland. Discussed whether food blogging is a useful medium for critique with Will on the drive north.

Afternoon: met up with Aaron and Christina, my two core partners-in-foodsnobbery from college. Lunched at Gregoire off Shattuck (pulled pork loin with date chutney and greens on baguette, potato puffs, and tomato soup; all divine). Coffee at Cafe Guerilla, a funky joint on Shattuck that featured a live hip-hop DJ, fantastic photography, and a lively staff. First time at Berkeley Bowl, where I spent an hour wandering around the store, cradling a pepino melon and oogling their diverse bounty of foodstuffs (they carry chestnut spread! joy!). Back to Aaron's house for wine, cheese, berries, and sunshine. Brainstormed a delicious tart recipe we may try later this week. Hopped back on the 101 to Palo Alto.

Evening: decided to try a new recipe that necessitated the day's sixth trip to a food distributor (ninth if we count restaurants). Got a call from John on my way over to Whole Foods, decided to combine gustatory forces. Stuffed selves silly.

Life is bliss. Also, I should buy some elastic-band pants.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

3 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2/3 lb. pancetta, sliced into 1/2 in. strips
2/3 c. white wine
1 lb. spaghetti
1/4 c. pecorino romano, freshly grated
2/3 c. parmesan reggiano, freshly grated
2 Tbs. parsley, minced
2 eggs

Heat oil with garlic cloves, allow to brown (~ 1 min). Remove garlic. Add pancetta, cook until crisp (5-6 min). Add wine, simmer until thickened (2-3 min). Remove from heat. In pot of salted water, bring pasta to boil and cook until al dente. In separate bowl, combine cheeses, parsley, egg, and whisk in 1/4 c water from boiled pasta. Toss in pasta and pancetta mixture. Pepper generously.

Oh god. I'm going to be up front with you, I licked my plate clean after this meal. Seriously. Manners be damned.

Also, I chopped and steamed two of the fat French carrots from the farmer's market, tossing them with parsley and olive oil. These carrots were fantastic -- full of depth, sweetness, and earthy flavor conspicuously absent in standard carrots, even organic varieties. The baby beets, on the other hand, were insipid. I nibbled one before preparing them and decided against serving them to others. I think it is still too early in the season. Sigh.

Oh man, the wine John picked out was fantastic as well, and I am not much of a white wine girl. Fruity and complex without sickly sweetness that puts me off other whites. Not that I know diddly about wine -- but I do know this is the first white wine I've finished a glass of and went for seconds. Noblio Sauvignon Blanc, 2006, a paltry $9.99.

Oh dear, time for sleeping! My second favorite bedroom activity (mmm, breakfast in bed).


Monica

Chestnut-Pancetta Ravioli in Sage Butter Sauce

In case you were wondering, yes, this is pretty much the best dish ever.

Chestnut-Pancetta Ravioli in Sage Butter Sauce

For filling:

1 cup roasted, shelled, and skinned chestnuts
2 oz sliced pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1/4 cup water
1 Granny Smith apple
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook pancetta in 3 tablespoons butter in a large heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp on edges, about 5 minutes. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until onion is softened. Add chestnuts and water and simmer, stirring, until liquid is reduced by half. Discard garlic.

Transfer mixture to a bowl and mash to a coarse paste with a fork. Peel half of apple and cut enough of peeled half into 1/4-inch dice to measure 3 tablespoons. Reserve remaining (unpeeled) apple. Stir diced peeled apple into chestnut mixture with parmesan, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

For fresh pasta:
Semolina flour
Eggs
Olive oil
Water

Yeah, I don't exactly follow a recipe. I pour out a mound of semolina, probably 2-3 cups, and make a little volcano in the center where I put 1-2 eggs and perhaps a tablespoon of oil. Then I add water or flour as necessary until the dough feels soft but is not sticky. Then I knead the bejeezus out of that dough until it is supple, a forearm-taxing 10-15 minutes. But oh ho ho, it is worth it. Then I let the dough rest 30-60 minutes before running it through my pasta machine, usually to #2-#3 thickness. If you don't have a pasta roller on hand, you can try rolling out the pasta dough with a pin, but may the gods be with you, because you're going to want that dough thin. When I pulled the original recipe off epicurious.com, they suggested using won-ton wrappers, but those rice-flour noodles felt too slippery and lacked the toothsomeness of italian pasta.

For Sage-Butter Sauce:

8 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sage, coarsely chopped

Heat 8 tablespoons butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides and butter begins to turn brown. Stir in sage and cook, stirring, until sage is crisp and butter is golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.


To prepare ravioli:
Here I use a ravioli cutter to parse the pasta, spooning a heaping teaspoon of filling into one side before sealing the package. Set aside but do not stack, until you are ready to boil the ravioli. Prepare a saucepan of salty boiling water and boil ravioli in batches for 3-5 minutes per batch. Drain with slotted spoon. Douse with sauce, extra parmasan, and garnish with remaining apple slices. Serve immediately.

When you make this, your eyes will roll back in your head and you will feel a greater sense of connectedness to the universe. Anyone sitting within your proximity will immediately be overcome with a maddening desire to make love to you. Birds will sing. Flowers will bloom. It is pretty freakin' good.