September 29, 2010

California the Beautiful

We're off tomorrow morning to go explore Yosemite National Park.  I've never been, but luckily I'll be in the hands of some knowledgeable friends.  Good company, camp fires and stunning surroundings, I'm so excited!

Oh please don't let me see any bears....

September 28, 2010

Fête for a Cake

This poor cake.  It's been ignored and left behind for almost a month now.  Not the actual cake, no, that was gobbled up long long ago.  But the sharing of a delicious recipe.  It deserves better treatment, a brighter spotlight, at least some recognition for being a terrific birthday cake.  Don't you think it dressed up nicely for the occasion?

I saw a few different incarnations of this Mexican Chocolate Cake around the internet; baked as a loaf or in a 9"x9" square baking pan, but there's something about celebratory cakes being round that just feels right.  A loaf seemed too everyday, so did the square, both were left unadorned with nothing except a light dusting of powdered sugar.  So I changed it up.  Baking it in a 9" spring form (the better to unmold after making) and drizzling some ganache over the top.  Instant transformation.  It went from looking Plain Jane to completely birthday appropriate. (By the way, I used these Martha Stewart cake stencils to do the design on the top of the cake, I seriously love the added touch they give.  Thank you Martha.)

And the flavors!  It's like those little orange chocolate balls you get in your stocking on Christmas, banging them against a hard surface to crack them into segments, but with a little something more.  The cinnamon isn't very pronounced but makes for a nice background flavor and the coffee just deepens the chocolate.  It's incredibly moist with a tighter crumb, neither a bad thing in my book.  And if you eat straight out of the fridge, it's a little like fudge.

Mexican Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, April 2004

Sometimes, I get lazy when I'm baking and cooking.  I got lazy here; I didn't sift the flour and other dry ingredients, whoops!  What?  You don't like little white specks throughout your chocolate cake?  But you all are smarter than me and I'm sure you won't make my mistake.  Otherwise, this cake is pretty straight forward and such a pleasure to eat.  To keep the ganache from slip sliding away down the sides, I kept the cake in the fridge and just brought it out a few minutes before eating.

12 servings

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

4 oz semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350F.

Release the ring around a 9" spring form pan.  Across the bottom piece, lay a piece of foil, shiny side up, over it and close ring around it.  Some foil may stick out the sides which is what you want, just push them up around the outside.  Spray the inside with non-stick spray.

Melt butter in a microwave safe bowl.  Once melted, then whisk in cocoa. Add coffee and water and whisk until smooth. Whisk in separately sugar, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and orange zest.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl, then sift again into cocoa mixture and whisk until just combined.  Pour batter into the spring form pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out with only a few crumbs adhering, about 60 minutes.

Cool cake in pan on a rack 20 minutes, then loosen loosen the ring and invert onto a plate.  Peel the foil slowly off the bottom and invert again onto the cooling rack until the cake is room temperature.
Meanwhile, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl.  In a small sauce pan heat the heavy cream to just a simmer and then pour over the chocolate.  Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and the mixture looks satiny.  Cool for a few minutes in the fridge until it begins to thicken to a spreadable consistency.

Pour over the top of the cake and spread to edges so the ganache can drip down and cover the sides.

September 25, 2010

A Colorful Bounty

I can't believe summer is officially over.  Lucky for me, the late summer offerings at the Mercato (and D's Mom's garden) are still plentiful and popping with vibrant color.  I have some delicious plans for these beauties. 

Candy Stripe Beets - Schaner Farms
Heirloom Tomatoes - Schaner Farms
Reed Avocado - Heritage Family Farms
Black Mission Figs - Pudwill Berry Farm
Spicy Salad Mix + Extra Osaka Mustard - Maggie's Farm
Cherry Tomatoes - JR Organics
Eggplant - D's Mom's garden
Purple Bell Peppers - D's Mom's garden

September 22, 2010

In a Jam

I fear I've missed the seasonally appropriate window to post this recipe.

It's been weeks since D snagged these last-of-the-season cherries at a roadside farm stand.  I can't recall the last time I saw them fresh, in a store.

But the show must go on; there are still frozen cherries, after all.

I've never made jam before.  My Mom and my Aunt make jam all the time, or at least, more often than I do.  Big batches of jam.  But every time I see how much sugar they add to the cooked down fruit, I cringe.  You add how much?  This from an inexperienced jam maker, a never before canner, I had no idea about these things.

So back to a few weeks ago, when these cherries showed up.  There was an over abundance of fruit in the house, pretty typical for summertime and spending every Saturday at the farmer's market eye balling gorgeous produce.  They had no chance of survival, would never be eaten before they started to go bad and turn mushy.  I could not waste the precious cherries!  Must preserve!

Preserve!  Like canning!  Except I'm not ready for that part yet, so for now I'll just stick with the jamming.

Thanks to a little confidence from David Lebovitz, and a strong physical aversion to wasting any little scrap, I attempted my first batch of jam.  It was a wee batch, baby size; the 1 pound yielding a cup or so of jam.  It wasn't traumatizing, or difficult really, just time spent over the stove.  I set to work pitting the cherries by hand, their crimson juices splattering all over the cutting board, like a bad crime scene, as I smashed them with the broadside of a knife, chopping the cherries into bits and bites, it's such a therapeutic process.  Although, I can see how the charm quickly fades when it's hot outside and you have the stove going and you're standing over a huge pot of boiling fruit and sugar, stuck in a never ending cycle of stirring.  But stir I did.  And jam I did make.  I even managed to get over the heap of sugar.

(I call this one...Dexter.)

Cherry Jam
Adapted from David Lebovitz

Like I said, I made a baby batch, but if you can get your hands on the volume, you should make more.  It's tasty stuff.  I imagine frozen cherries (which have most likely been pitted - yay!) would work just as well here if you can't get your hands on fresh.

about 3 pounds of cherries
zest and juice of 2 lemons

Rinse the cherries and remove the stems. Then remove all the pits. Chop about ¾ of the cherries into smaller pieces, but not too small.  Leave the rest whole.

Cook the cherries in a large non-reactive stockpot. It should be pretty big since the juices bubble up. Add the zest and juice of one or two fresh lemons. Lemon juice adds pectin as well as acidity, and will help the jam gel later on.

Cook the cherries over medium-low heat, stirring once in a while with a heat proof spatula, until they’re wilted and completely soft, which may take about 20 minutes, depending on how much heat you give them.

Once they’re cooked, measure out how many cherries you have (including the juice.) Use 3/4 of the amount of sugar. For example if you have 4 cups of cooked cherry matter, add 3 cups of sugar.

Stir the sugar and the cherries in the pot and cook over moderate-to-high heat. The best jam is cooked quickly. While it’s cooking, put a small white plate in the freezer. Remain vigilant and stir the fruit often with a heatproof utensil.  

Once the bubbles subside and the jam appears a bit thick and looks like it is beginning to gel, (it will coat the spatula in a clear, thick-ish, jelly-like layer, but not too thick) turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the frozen plate and return to the freezer. After a few minutes, when you nudge it if it wrinkles, it’s done.

September 17, 2010

Chill Out

I had visions of serving this as a first course or in a shot glass as an hors d'oeuvre at a themed dinner party, dressed up with panko bread crumbs that have been tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and toasted until a deep golden brown. The crispy topping contrasting with the smooth, cooling avocado/buttermilk and the spicy kick from chili flakes sounded like a perfect entertaining dish.

Alas, I ended up making this soup under far less glamorous conditions: after a solid 8 hours of school, brain fried and energy levels barely registering. It's a soup that takes about 5 minutes of active prep to get on the table, mostly owing to the fact that it's a cold soup.  Just wave a knife at a few ingredients, throw it into the blender and then chill it in the fridge for a bit and dinner is ready.  There are no words to describe how thankful I am for recipes like this on days like that.  And the time it spends chilling?  I can just take a quick nap and wake refreshed no longer searching for the energy to lift my spoon to my mouth.

It's creamy but not in a heavy way, it's more of a mouth feel thing and brightened up with lime and chili flakes, no one flavor dominating.  It felt nourishing after a long day, swiping the last drops clean from the bowl with some bread.  So, as we squeeze out the last days of summer, or whatever this season is we're experiencing, you may also be thankful to have one last chilled soup recipe.  For those days you'd rather spend outside, or for easy entertaining, or when your brain has been in hyper-drive and you'd rather not fuss about a meal.

Avocado Soup
Adapted from Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights, Sophie Dahl 

Orginally, the recipe called for 1 cup plain full-fat yogurt but I didn't have any around.  Instead what I had was a small carton of buttermilk that I needed to use up.  It may have lacked the body the yogurt would have given it, but a good substitute none the less.  Heck, now that I think about it, you could even make this using some silken tofu in place of the dairy.  When choosing a chicken (or vegetable) broth, use one that is on the lighter side, you don't want the flavor overwhelming the avocado.  It's best to eat this within hours of making otherwise the avocado starts to oxidize and turn brown and the chili flakes take over flavor-wise.

Makes 4 cups

2 ripe avocados
1 green apple, cored, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon of dried red chile flake
juice from ½ a lime
2 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable broth)
pinch of salt
Fresh chopped cilantro, to garnish

Slip the avocados out of their skin and discard the pit.  Toss the avocado, apple slices, buttermilk, chile flakes and lime juice into a blender.  Blend until the mixture is creamy and smooth.  Warm the broth just slightly in a pan and then add to the pureed mixture with a pinch of salt.  Blend again until everything in combined.  Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary.  Chill in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.  Enjoy.

September 14, 2010

Like No Other

Stop what you're doing, go out and buy a watermelon and a couple deep red and golden hued heirloom tomatoes.  Hurry.  Before they disappear for the season and you miss out on something amazing.

I have been obsessed with this salad ever since eating at The Blue Plate in San Fransisco back in August.  I could gush on and on about all the delicious food I ate in that fantastic city, but it all comes back to this salad for me.  Some kind of genius in the kitchen created this salad and put it on the menu where I ordered it one fateful dinner and nothing has been the same since.  Sure the fried chicken and buttermilk dressing it shared a plate with were delicious as well, but it was the salad that I was in a near romantic relationship with.  Complete spotlight hog.  So fresh and unexpected.  Olives, slightly pickled pieces of onion and tomatoes with that quintessential summertime melon and basil?  I could not get enough.  Could you bring me more, in a to-go box, please?

I know these watermelon salads are hip right now, popping up on menus all over the place this summer (if not last summer as well), though they're mostly based on a melon/feta/mint/balsamic platform.  But have you had watermelon and basil together?!?  Blows the mint pairing right out of the water, bringing just a slight bit of the savory element.  I could never love another summertime salad the way I love this one.  Too perfect.

Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato Salad
Inspired by The Blue Plate, San Francisco

I did my best to create some semblance of a recipe here, but mostly I was just tossing things into a bowl until it looked right.  Isn't that the beauty of cooking?  A little bit of this, a little bit of that.  Don't let it sit too long, maybe a few hours tops, all the delicious juices start collecting in the bottom of the bowl and the fruit will go a bit soft.

4 servings 

4 cups watermelon chunks, about 1" square
2 cups heirloom tomatoes, cut into rough chunks
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup sweet onion, cut into 1/8" thick slices
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
a handful of Nicoise olives (I used about 15)

Whisk the vinegar and sugar together in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves, add the sliced onion and toss.  Set it aside on the counter for 1 hour, letting the onions soften and get a bit pickled.

Meanwhile chop the watermelon and heirloom tomatoes and put them in a bowl.  Add the basil leaves.  If the leaves are on the smaller side go ahead and leave them whole, otherwise tear larger ones into smaller pieces.  Once the onions are done, fish them out of their liquid with your fingers or a fork and add them to the watermelon/tomato bowl.  Gently give everything a good toss and top with the olives.  Drizzle the vinegar/sugar mix over each serving.

September 12, 2010

It's Been a While

Just another Saturday, gathering goodies at the Little Italy Mercato...

Black Radishes - Suzie's Farm
Armenian Cucumber - Suzie's Farm
Cherry Tomatoes - Suzie's Farm
Golden Raspberries - Pudwill Berry Farms
The cutest little pluots you've ever seen - Sage Mountain Farm
Tuscan Salumi - Knight Salumi

September 10, 2010

Tree + Fish

I don't know if you could tell, but, we don't eat a lot of meat around here.  I mean meat meat.  The red kind, or the pork kind, or the game kind.  Really.  I'm sitting here, trying to remember the last time I prepared some and the only instance that is coming to mind is a couple of hamburgers I made way back in July.  And let me tell you that was only because I had some random craving that caused me to obsessively think about hamburgers for a week straight.  What we do eat, and still infrequently at that, is mostly chicken and fish.

This seems to confuse people, the lack of meat we consume around here.  Are we vegetarians?  What's the problem?   Don't you ever just want a steak for dinner?  No, no problem, and rarely.  It just is what it is, we don't eat a lot of meat.

I've tried making cedar planked salmon before, but was slightly underwhelmed by the results, though I think I missed the point last time, slathering the fish in a brown sugar/mustard/dill paste.  It didn't allow for the smoky flavor of the charred cedar to come through.  Lesson learned, I went the simple route this time and the salmon definitely picked up a nice smoky sweet flavor.  The sauce was just icing on the cake.  Light, tangy and herbaceous, it was a nice contrast to the richness of the salmon.

The next night, having two leftover fillets and not wanting to reheat and dry them out, I simply placed them on a lightly dressed salad with the leftover potatoes, slices of tomatoes, some avocado and the last of the sauce.  Both were excellent.

Cedar Plank Salmon with Yogurt Herb Sauce

I highly suggest the longer soaking time for the cedar plank.  I soaked mine for only an hour because of time constraints and man, that thing was smoky on the grill.  I'm talking like it looked like it might be on fire in there.  You might get away with only an hour of soaking if you cook over indirect heat with a charcoal grill, but I don't have any experience with that.  Proceed with caution.

4 servings

1 untreated cedar plank
1 pound skin on sockeye salmon, cut into 4 - 4oz fillets
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 garlic clove, minced
small handful of mixed herbs, minced (I used tarragon, basil, chives and parsley)
1/2 lemon, juiced

Soak the cedar plank in water, keeping it submerged with some cans in a Tupperware/glass pan full of water, for at least 1 hour, though 2 would be better.

Mix the yogurt, garlic, herbs and lemon juice in a small bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until the salmon is done.

Heat a grill (we have a gas grill) on high heat for 10 minutes and then reduce it to a medium heat.  Remove the plank from the water and let the excess water drip off.  Place the 4 fillets, skin side down and not touching, on the plank and drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Grill, with the top closed, for about 10 minutes (my fillets were barely more than an inch thick and might have even been a little over cooked).  When finished cooking the salmon will feel firm and will no longer be oozing any milky substance.  Remove entire plank from heat and onto a platter, use a spatula to transfer the fillets to your plate.  Spoon a tablespoon of sauce over each serving.

September 9, 2010

Resistance is Futile

Sometimes you just really want a cookie.

A perfect chocolate chip cookie with crunchy caramelized edges and a chewy center. 

Sometimes this craving comes when you know you'll be alone for the rest of the week and making 3 dozen cookies just doesn't make any sense, at least when you're considering a sensible and balanced diet.

And sometimes you run across a recipe for said cookies that is just so exactly what you were looking for that there is just no resisting and you compromise.  You make only a half recipe.

Then you remember, in the upcoming week there are 2 birthdays, which means 2 birthday cakes.  Two sugary sweet delicious cakes (one chocolate orange cake, one cheesecake) that you will also not have the will power to say no to.

So long moderation.  Bring on the sugar!

My cookies don't need to win beauty contests, they just need to make me smile.  So they're as flat as a pancake and the all the chips congregate in the middle, making a craggy range of chocolate and they're a little floppy when you move them from cookie sheet to cooling rack.  They still have a deep caramelized flavor, chewy and buttery, nicely contrasted by a sprinkling of sea salt that's added just before baking.

Exactly what I was after.

P.S.  Lest you think I'm a total glutton, I only baked about half of the half recipe I made.  I took the rest of the dough, plopped them in cookie sized drops onto a baking sheet and froze them, transferring them to a freezer bag after a few hours.  Now I can have cookies whenever I please (just not right now, there's too much cake around)!

Molasses Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Joy the Baker

How fun is this recipe?  You get to make your own brown sugar!  The extra molasses really deepens the flavor, I may have to make my own from now on.  And read carefully.  You have to use bread flour here; the high gluten content will help keep your cookies resembling cookies with all that extra moisture from the molasses you don't want to end up with a blob covering your cookie sheet.

3 dozen bigger cookies, or 60 with smaller spoon-sized scoops

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon dark molasses
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups dark chocolate chips or chunks
sea salt for sprinkling on top of cookies just before baking

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix the granulated sugar and molasses until no large molasses clumps remain.  Add the softened butter and cream the mixture on medium speed for 3 minutes.  Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Chill the dough for about 20 minutes (or a few hours, or overnight), then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  Lightly sprinkle each dough ball with a few flecks of sea salt.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Mine we perfect at 8 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer the cookies on the parchment paper to a cooling rack.

September 3, 2010

Eat Your Veggies

I guess I'll stick with the salad theme here.  But instead of something to eat on the side, how about making this one your whole dinner?  I had been eyeballing this one ever since it showed up on The Kitchn months and months ago. Then just a few weeks later it popped up again at Sprouted Kitchen.  This salad had my number, it was taunting me.  It was meant to be a winter salad, being posted all the way back in February, but there's no reason you can't make it any old time.  Which is why it finally came to be, tossed and mixed, in my kitchen in late August.

If you have a tub of miso lingering in the back of your fridge, like me, this here is a good way to put a dent in it.  If you need to buy the miso, don't worry, you'll want to make this dressing again and again.  Actually, I'm not sure if the dressing is the star here or the tofu.  Those tofu sticks are darn tasty.  Caramelized from the sugar in the marinade and a high oven temp, coated in nutty sesame seed with a peppery kick and baked to a nice firm texture.  Give me some more!  (Sorry tofu haters, I think you're crazy, but if you must, go ahead and leave it out.)

It's not all-American, BBQ fare or any of what you'd expect for this Labor Day, but whatevs, it's good. So until next time; stay out of trouble, be safe and have a great holiday weekend, ya'll!  We'll be celebrating D's birthday tonight (Happy Birthday!) and wine tasting this weekend in Santa Barbara County.  Oh yes. 

Miso Slaw with Baked Tofu 

Go ahead and make the full dressing recipe, although you probably won't use all of it for the slaw.  It's terrific on salads or to dip vegetables in.  And after you eat the salad, give yourself a pat on the back, you just ate a bunch, and I really do mean a bunch, of veggies! 

4 servings as a main, 8 as a side 


1/2 cup plain greek yogurt

1/3 cup rice vinegar

3 tablespoons yellow miso paste

3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 14oz package firm tofu
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon sesame oil
freshly ground pepper
sesame seeds

1 12oz bag broccoli slaw

4 cups spinach, chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut lengthwise, seeds removed, and sliced into half moons

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

For the tofu, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slabs and put on a layer of paper towels on a plate or cookie sheet.  Cover with another layer of paper towels, another plate and a heavy object, let drain for 1 hour. Cut the tofu, lengthwise again, into half inch sticks.

Preheat oven to 475F.

For the dressing, put all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined and set aside.

In a wide bottomed bowl, mix the tofu marinade of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and pepper. Working carefully with a few sticks at a time, roll them through the marinade to coat each piece. Space them apart on a baking tray covered with a piece of foil. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds, and bake in the upper third of the oven for about 20 minutes, flip them over halfway through baking. Remove and cool.

While cooling, mix your broccoli slaw, greens, cucumber, scallions and almonds in a bowl and toss with desired amount of dressing.  Serve and top with a few tofu sticks.