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!