Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, coconuts.... - Nutella Cupcakes

I have to get on a plane today and I am once again having panic attacks hours before take-off.

I admit it, I am terrified to fly. I believe it's called "aviophobia."

It's a fairly recent development for me (starting a few years ago) and a few extremely bumpy flights where the flight attendants have been ordered to stay strapped in their seats hasn't helped either. But fly I must! It's Beth's wedding in Pacific City, Oregon and there I plan to be! I'll stick to my current ritual of the following:

a pre-flight cocktail at the airport bar
a trashy magazine
episodes of Mad Men loaded on the ipod
my superstitious habit of touching the outside of the plane with my right hand just before boarding (for good luck)

I don't know why I do that last one, or how it started. Just seems to be the right thing to the giant beast a bit of a pat in an agreement of safely transporting myself and everyone else. At least, it makes me feel just a bit better. And lastly, I'm bringing along the final nutella cupcake from the batch I made earlier this week, the rest being split amongst co-workers and friends.

I realize the cupcake craze ended a year or so ago, and that now everyone has moved on to more sophisticated things such as french macaroons and whatnot. Hip, I may not be.


I had a goal. Take the nutella cake of this post and turn it into cupcakes. Simple. It was such a fantastic cake, how could it not be just as good (if not better) in cupcake form? Turns out, it was! Nothing like a chocolate hazelnut cupcake with ganache icing to calm one's nerves on a flight. This recipe will make 12 cupcakes. All you need is the cupcake tin and some liners (I admit I forgot the liners and ended with the bottoms of these slightly destroyed, luckily that doesn't affect the taste!) Mmmmm, chocolate hazelnut cupcakes!

Which reminds me...the last time I took a flight to Portland Leah came along. The bumps started and tears began to roll down my cheeks. My breathing tightened and I was on the verge of panic. Leah assessed the situation and said calmly, "What's your favorite kind of nut?" I looked at her as if she was just that, nuts! "What? What are you talking about?" she answered, "Let's just name all the different kinds of nuts we can, it'll take your mind off of the turbulence." I tried my best to ignore her as she started her list, "Pine nuts, walnuts, coconut (is that even a real nut?)" but she's a tough one to ignore. I think I chimed in with a few suggestions, and I have to admit, it did help a bit.

Hazelnuts. Even better with chocolate, even better in cupcakes and hopefully just as good on a flight to Portland, Oregon! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


This weekend brought a embarrassment of Bay Area riches. We ate our way through this county and several neighboring ones with oysters, wine and champagne, dinner at Pizzaiolo, Cowgirl Creamery cheese and homemade pickles, Pork Belly, dumplings and cocktails at Heaven's Dog, Zeitgeist burgers and beer, tamales from The Tamale Lady, eggs and toast at Rick and Ann's, Cole Coffee and of course, the best part, the guest of honor, Beth. Safely arrived from D.C. and, as of now, back in Oregon to prepare for her wedding on Sunday!

I picked her up from the airport where she was waiting, wedding dress in tow. With the dress safely secured in my apartment, we were off! Starting with cocktails at Pizzaiolo and sitting down to a dinner of grilled squid, fried fava beans and squash blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta, lemon and basil, rigatoni with pork ragu and a pizza of nettles and Pecorino fresh out of the oven, blackened and blistered crust...oh so good! From there it was on to The Avenue for a few nostalgic games of Ms. Pacman, and I am happy to say, my skills at that game still reign supreme. I beat both Beth and a fellow bar patron who wanted in on the action. I am accepting all challenges, if you dare!

The next morning we headed up to Napa, stopping first at Mumm's to walk through the photography gallery there and have a flight of celebratory champagne. It was cold and cloudy in Berkeley, but the sun broke gloriously through the clouds in Napa. The vineyards were bright green and the yellow mustard was blooming everywhere. After Mumm's we went to one of my favorite's, Vincent Arroyo for Petite Sirah, barrel tastings of port and futures and a picture with Vince, the winemaker, who was graciously handling a tasting for customers himself. If you haven't tried their wine or been up there, it's truly one of the best wine tasting experiences I've ever had.

Our final stop was Frog's Leap. We did a tasting and a self-guided tour. Most of the pictures below are from that stop. This is one of the most beautiful wineries I have ever seen. Someday I'd like to do the guided tour, but we were happy to have a flight and then walk the organic garden's, exploring the beautiful grounds and gorgeous buildings.

There was so much more to the weekend, the oysters at Hog Island in the San Francisco Ferry Building being a true highlight, but I can't possibly recount it all. Suffice it to say, it was truly a perfect weekend. I love having visitors in the Bay Area, it helps me to explore and share everything I love about this little corner of the world. Every time I do, I fall more in love with this part of California. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate Beth's last "single days".

I dropped her at the airport this morning, and tomorrow I'll fly up to Portland as well to begin the wedding festivities. I can't wait! Congratulations, Beth and Daniel, I love you both!

Beth at Mumm's

Final note, posting will be a bit sparse this week, as I'll be visiting with family and friends in Oregon. Hopefully I'll come back next week with tons of new recipes!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rocket Recipe - Guest Post by Leah - Homemade Ricotta with Macerated Strawberries, Rosemary & Black Pepper

Rocket Kitchen is a supper club started by Sonya and me about two years ago. It’s based on our belief that food should be nourishing, interesting, and shared. Our goals are to foster experimentation and to create a community dining experience different from a traditional restaurant. We’re based in the East Bay, but the actual event is nomadic. In essence, we want to bring together great people with great food that is produced with ingredients directly from our community. Mostly though, it’s just an excuse to have fun! For this week’s Rocket Kitchen, we served goat’s milk ricotta drizzled with honey and paired with strawberries to compliment both the season and our main dish of fennel crusted roasted pork loin.

In Italian, Ricotta means, "to cook again" or "twice cooked." It’s a soft, smooth, fresh and un-ripened Italian cheese usually made from the whey of cow's or sheep's milk. In our case, we used goat’s milk to give it a tangy flavor. The traditional recipe uses the whey that remains after removing the curds when making hard cheese, but since we hadn’t gotten farther than buying the rennet (the enzyme used in making cheese that coagulates the milk, causing it to separate into curds and liquid whey – Little Miss Muffet, anyone) from Rainbow Grocery we decided to make non-traditional Whole Milk Ricotta instead.

It was served as the final dish, drizzled with honey from the farmer’s market and paired with strawberries macerated in sugar, rosemary, and black pepper. Inspired, if I do say so myself!

Whole Milk Ricotta
This recipe is taken from the Fiats Co Farm web page.

2 - quarts whole Cow, Sheep, or Goat milk (do not use “Ultra-Pasteurized’)
3 – Tablespoons White Vinegar OR ¼ Cup fresh, strained lemon juice
Cheese Cloth

In a heavy pot, over direct heat, slowly heat 2 quarts of whole milk to 200 degrees. Add the white vinegar OR lemon juice. Make sure to bring the temperature back up to 200. You will see very tiny white particles (the albumin protein) floating in the whey. The heat and acid from the ripe whey has precipitated the protein.

Remove the pot from the heat and set it, covered, to rest undisturbed for about 15 minutes.
Line a colander with very fine cheesecloth, called "butter muslin". You must use a very fine cloth here, or your cheese will pass through. If you do not have fine cheesecloth, use a clean cotton cloth (like a pillow case). Place the colander over a big pot so you can save the whey and carefully pour the whey into the colander. Be very careful because the liquid will be hot. Bring together the ends of the cheesecloth together and hang the ricotta to drain for up to an hour or so (the longer it hangs the "drier" your finished cheese will be.) We left a bit of liquid in the cheese so it would have a creamier and have a less “cottage cheese” like consistency.

When it has drained, place the ricotta in a bowl, break up, stir and add salt to taste (1/4 tsp.- 1/2 tsp.). This Ricotta will keep for about a week in the fridge.
Macerated Strawberries with Rosemary and Black Pepper

1/2-cup sugar
3 pints (baskets) strawberries cleaned and quartered
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Muddle the rosemary and sugar together with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a wooden spoon to release the essential oils of the rosemary into the sugar.

Pour the sugar over the berries and mix carefully to combine. Let sit for 25-30 minutes. A good deal of liquid will release from the berries, leaving you with amazing syrup you can reserve or pour over the ricotta when serving.

Just before serving crack a bit of black pepper into the macerated berries and mix gently to combine.

And finally, a few more pictures from the evening. All photo's in this post taken by Elizabeth Minor:

Post by Leah Zonis

Friday, May 22, 2009

What we ate...

You'll be very jealous after seeing these pictures. This blog should really just be called "what Elissa and her friends ate, and when - a documentation."

My friends Leah and Sonya have an underground kitchen. Oh yes, they do. Not technically underground of course, usually held in a obliging backyard. It's called Rocket Kitchen, and they've been hosting it for several years now. With heat lamps, string lights, cloth napkins and menu's, it happens about once every other month or so (not often enough for me) and it happened again last night. About 20 of us gathered around the tables set up in the yard, picked up our menu's, cracked open the wine and drooled in anticipation.

They know how to impress, those two.

Especially with the homemade goat's milk ricotta. I've asked to be included in the cheese making process the next time. I've always wanted to learn how to do that.

I've asked Leah to write a description of Rocket Kitchen for the next post, so for now, I'll leave you to drool over the pictures.

Oh, and yes. It was as good as it looks!

The Menu

Chilled Soup of Peas and Borage with Fava Bean Toast

Aprium and Wheat Berry Salad with Little Gems

My latest Bonny Doon Wine Club shipment, 2007 Cinsault-featuring a scratch-off label!

Roasted Magruder Ranch Pork Loin with Potato and Artichoke Gratin

Homemade Goat Milk Ricotta with Strawberries, Rosemary and Honey

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Zucchini Warriors - Zuchinni Ribbon Pasta in Marinara

If I had a choice, I might stay in bed watching "West Wing" re-runs and eating nothing but starch. Mashed potatoes and pasta with a little Josh Lyman and I could be perfectly content for days on end.

But let's be honest. Too much pasta and potatoes aren't so good for a girl's figure. And too much Josh Lyman makes one sound like a bit of a least, a bit of West Wing nerd (because honestly, you just can't talk that way in real life, I don't care how smart and politically idealistic you are!) So I had to develop an alternative, because sometimes, there is just no substitute for West Wing re-runs in bed with a heaping plate of pasta, and everyone and their Mother is advising against too much pasta these days...except, of course, for the Italians. Go figure.

Zucchini to the rescue. Which reminds me of one of my favorite book from childhood. The Zucchini Warriors, by Gordon Korman. So hilarious. If you have the means, I highly recommend you pick it up. Your 10-14 year old (or 28 year old as the case may be) will not be disappointed. I still have my copy...I shall re-read it directly.


To be honest, zucchini has never been my vegetable of choice, in fact, I would say it ranks towards the bottom, along with eggplant. You really have to be so careful about how you cook those things. The wrong technique, a little too long over whatever heat source you've got and you can end up with a slimy, unappetizing mess. Thankfully I discovered zucchini ribbons. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's really a perfect substitute for pasta. It's so good, I barely notice the difference. And, of course, it's miles healthier than regular pasta. Just peel the zucchini with a vegetable peeler (skin and all), saute, combine with marinara sauce and Parmesan and eat! It's so simple, yet so delicious! I really feel as though I've stumbled upon some great and precious secret to share with you all, but it's just zucchini! Just promise me you'll read the above book. I'll feel much better about revealing this under appreciated vegetable.

Zuchinni Ribbons
can easily be made vegan by ommiting Parmesan.

2 zucchini, peeled into long strips with a vegetable peeler
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup marinara sauce
1 tbsp Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
toasted pine nuts (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over high heat. Add the peeled zucchini strips and saute till brown on one side. Flip and brown the other side (about 2 minutes for each side) add the marinara sauce towards the end and heat all together. Combine with cheese and pine nuts, serve and enjoy!


There is definitely something in the air, I'm not sure May could get any stranger if it tried. Changes are afoot for just about everyone I know and I think we're all feeling a bit unsettled, with serious trepidations and curiosity about what could possibly come next. All I can say is, thank goodness for friends you trust and can talk things through with. Sometimes I take that for granted, but really, how often is it that you find those people, those friends you trust implicitly and who understand you even between the words? Once you find those people, hold onto them. They don't come around every day.

And when you do find them, I suggest making the following for a tea, sympathy and "popover" session. Light and airy, perfect with rhubarb jam (or whatever your choice of jam may be) and also perfect for sharing. When they come out of the oven and you tear that first one apart, steam escapes from the hollow eggy goodness inside. It's a whimsical kind of thing, and delightfully easy to make. I suggest you set aside half an hour tomorrow and try it out yourself.

adapted from Saveur Magazine
makes 8 popovers

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 425, mix flour and salt together in a bowl. Next, whisk the eggs, milk and butter together in a separate bowl and add that mixture to the flour. Stir to combine. The mixture will still be a bit lumpy at the end.

Pour the batter into 8 buttered muffin or popover tins. Fill them 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 350 for another 20 minutes of baking. Check 5 minutes before being done, but do not open the oven before that or they will deflate! Once done, remove and pierce the sides of the popovers with a knife to release the steam. That way they'll stay puffed up. Serve right away with jam and/or butter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Familiar

I happen to be a person who struggles with change. I move towards it kicking and screaming completely doubtful and heavy hearted. I like the familiarity of things I've grown accustomed to. People and places, the tastes and sounds. I struggle to let go and move on once something has become ingrained in me, and I always like to return as a visitor, to the places and things of my past. Although the feeling is bittersweet, and those places and things take on a haunted quality.

I thought about all this on my drive up to Ashland. With all the milestones that mark that drive for me flying by outside the car windows. So many different chapters and memories associated with the places on that drive. From Williams to Mt. Shasta, from Castle Crags to the rolling fields and high desert outside of Yreka. I thought about it again when I arrived in Ashland and sat down at the familiar bar of The Beau Club. I half expected to see the same bartender who worked there in college, but it was a new person behind the bar. A pleasant and pretty young woman. She took my id as I ordered a Deschutes Cinder Cone Red, and asked if I was on vacation. I was, I replied. She smiled, "It's a nice town," she said, "It's a nice place to be." I nodded. I didn't tell her I used to live there.
The Beau Club used to be the place where you could wander down at 9pm on a Thursday night and meet up with all your friends without making plans. It was the place everyone ended up. Now it was unfamiliar faces in a familiar setting. It was sad, but at the same time, it was also reassuring in some way.

I sent a text to Beth bemoaning her absence. She wrote back, "Is Ms. Pacman still there?" It was. Still there in the corner, where we'd spent so many quarters. "Put some U2 on the jukebox for me" she said. I did. And then I raised my glass and drank to all the friends who'd joined me at that bar in the past, and of course, to all those who will join me there in the future.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bottled Up - Rhubarb Syrup

Sometimes a recipe jumps up off the page, crying out to be made, or in this case, bottled.

Have I mentioned my rhubarb obsession? I think I have. Several times in fact. If something on the menu has rhubarb in it I will order it. Not only that, I'll probably remember it and talk about it incessantly. There was the rhubarb crisp with buttermilk ice cream at Flora, the rhubarb tart tatin at Beast in Portland, and the rhubarb soda made by Dry Creek Soda Company. It's true. I'm obsessed.

Here's the evidence to prove it, in syrup form. Accomplished in 30 minutes after a six hour road trip home. I mixed it with soda water and plan to make rhubarb mojito's tomorrow. I'm guessing it will be delicious on pancakes as well. And not only does it taste fantastic, it looks incredible in the bottle, the most beautiful fuchsia color. I'm in love with rhubarb.

Rhubarb Syrup

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup of water
1 cup sugar
1/2 orange, juiced
1/2 lemon, juiced

Combine ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil. Let simmer for half and hour. Put through a fine strainer over a bowl to remove the pulp and catch the liquid. Pour through a funnel into a bottle or jar.

You can use the pulp as jam, just put it into a separate container

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vietnamese Sadwiches and Overflowing Ovens - Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

First off were the Vietnamese Sandwiches from the hole in the wall shop in Albany, courtesy of Amber. Next came the papaya salad, egg rolls and finally, Lillet, my summer drink of choice. This was all prelude to an extremely economical $12 bottle of champagne split three ways, the newest drink special at my local bar, The Graduate. A cheap and celebratory way to toast a random weekday evening and my impending road trip to Ashland, Oregon.

I love a good road trip. More often than not, my college weekends were spent driving away from and back to Ashland for some reason or another. I know the San Francisco to Ashland stretch of I5 like the back of my hand, and I am especially looking forward to a well-deserved Superbird Sandwich at Granzella's Italian Deli in Williams, CA. Granzella's is the traditional halfway point, and the sandwiches are more than worth stopping for. Not to mention the stuffed polar bear/king corbra combo in the bar. I happen to be a sucker for oddity filled pit-stops.

But before I fall asleep tonight (dreaming of Superbirds and king cobras no doubt) I'll take just one more bite of the leftover Vanilla Bean Pound Cake sitting on my counter. A happy and ambitious leftover from the Carmel Pear Trifle this weekend.

I will admit that I had a bit of trouble with this recipe. It helps to read it more carefully than I did, and not try to fit everything into one loaf pan. Otherwise, you will end up, as I did, with an overflowing cake all over your friend's oven. Still delicious, however!

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake
Adapted from Martha Pearl Villas, New York Times Magazine, 3/16/04

1 pound (2 cups) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, used is fine
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 pound (9 large) eggs
1 pound (4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, grind vanilla bean and sugar until vanilla is as finely chopped as it can get, about one minute. Sift this mixture twice, making sure all larger pieces have been filtered out. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer, then gradually add the vanilla sugar, continuing to beat until well creamed and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the flour and salt, beating constantly. Add the vanilla extract and continue beating until well blended.

3. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or bundt pan. Pour in the batter and ‘’spank” the bottom of the pan to distribute the batter evenly. Bake until a straw inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes, taking care not to overcook. Turn cake out onto a rack and let cool.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Best Intentions - Caramel Pear Trifle

Sometimes the best of intentions end in disaster. Such was the case with the Caramel Pear Trifle I had promised to make for Lesley. The original version is something of a family legend. My sister had made it for Thanksgiving, circa 1999, and no one has forgotten it since. We talk about it in hushed tones, questioning its existence as if it were some kind of mirage or great vision. Lesley had been asking for the recipe for years, and I swore up and down I would procure it from my sister, bring it over and we would make it together. In my rush to get out of the house, I did not call my sister, and picked what I thought was the right recipe off the internet, but as wiser people will tell you, you should not trust what you find on the internet. The real Caramel Pear Trifle, it was not. It was actually a much less delicious recipe.

We knew as soon as it instructed us to make a suspicious substance called "pastry cream." I thought to myself, "I don't remember that being in the original recipe," and when said cream indeed failed to become cream after following the instructions, my sneaking suspicion was confirmed. We dumped the offending concoction down the sink, and set about making real whipped cream to substitute. Total failure was averted, and the final product was good...but nowhere near as good as my sister's Caramel Pear Trifle.

And so I promised Lesley I would get the real recipe. And I did. The picture below is about what it should look like, so use that as a guide. But as with the impostor scones, this is an impostor trifle. So I will forgo that recipe and deliver you the real one below.

Again, sometimes the best of intentions end in disaster. Or, occasionally, just a sub-par trifle. If you want an exceptional trifle, just use the following recipe:

Caramel Pear Trifle
from Bon Appetite Magazine

For pears
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 2-inch strip lemon peel
4 firm but ripe pears (about 2 pounds), peeled, halved, cored

For caramel
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup warm whipping cream
1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

12 1/4-inch-thick slices from purchased 12-ounce pound cake (we were ambitious and made our own vanilla pound cake from scratch, recipe to come in tomorrow's post)
Sliced almonds, toasted

Make pears: Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into large saucepan; add bean. Add 6 cups water, sugar and lemon peel. Stir over medium heat until mixture comes to simmer. Add pears; simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Cool pears in syrup.

Make caramel: Stir 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until sugar turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup warm cream (mixture will bubble up). Return to very low heat; stir until smooth. Chill sauce uncovered until cold, about 1 hour.

Beat chilled cream, powdered sugar and vanilla in large bowl until firm peaks form. Fold 1/2 cup cold caramel sauce into cream; cover and chill remaining sauce.

Drain pears and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the pieces of cake in your serving dish. Top cake with one layer of the pears, a layer of the caramel and then the caramel cream. Repeat layering till through (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Drizzle remaining caramel sauce over trifle. Sprinkle with nuts and serve.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Being Good. - Roasted Broccoli with Shallots

I was on a roll today. Focused and determined at work, knocking out restaurant partnerships and nailing down commitments from notoriously hard to reach restaurateurs. I was prepared for the challenge and hit the pavement , reasoning that it's much harder to say "no" in person than it is via phone or e-mail. Happily and unexpectedly, this method seemed to work, and I congratulated myself at the interns hastily arranged "happy hour bar" in the corner of the office. A fantastically horrible dessert wine, leftover from the annual fundraising gala. The only way to make it drinkable was to mix it with a bottle of pellegrino. Classy.

But with a renewed sense of accomplishment, I continued being *good* for the rest of the day. All flagged e-mails returned, an hour and a half at the gym, and a dinner of roasted broccoli. That might sound painful to some, but trust me, it's mouthwateringly delicious. I don't know how I ate broccoli before I discovered this recipe. Word to the wise though, be careful should you lose a bit of determination and focus as I did halfway through this recipe. I ended up accidentally grating my knuckle on the microplane while zesting the lemon. Daydreaming and zesting do not mix.

Roasted Broccoli with Shallots
Can easily be made vegan by ommiting Parmesan
2 cups broccoli
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup Parmesan
juice from 1/2 lemon
zest from 1/2 lemon
salt & pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 425 and cover a baking sheet with foil. Cut the broccoli into florets, and toss in a bowl with the shallots, 3 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Once the shallots have browned and the broccoli is tender, remove from the oven. Toss with the lemon juice, zest, cheese, the remaining tbsp of olive oil and the toasted pine nuts. Serve while hot.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Pancake Does Not a Scone Make - Rhubarb Almond Scones

I love rhubarb. I wait, all year it seems, for it to finally appear at the market. And as soon as it does, I begin plotting all the different ways I can use it. My current favorite is to eat it after it's been baked in simple syrup with a heaping scoop of fresh ricotta. It makes for a heavenly dessert. There's also a rhubarb peach gallette that I like to turn out again and again throughout the summer. But since the success of those strawberry scones a few weeks ago, I thought it might be appropriate for rhubarb to have it's very own scone. My friend Lesley kindly donated her kitchen, and I took a short road trip up to Sacramento for a much needed visit/baking session.

Our combined efforts brought three, count 'em, three batches of scones in order to come up with an acceptable rhubarb scone recipe. I felt sure such a thing could be found online. It could not. The first batch is not terrible to look at, nor terrible to eat, not by any stretch of the imagination, but that batch was decidedly un-scone like. "They're like pancakes!" my friend Lesley exclaimed. I had to concur, pancake/cake/cookie like things. Definitely not scones.

They may look innocent, but these are impostor scones!

I'll spare you the recipe, and hence, the grief, the pain and heartache of trying to force that runny, sloppy mess onto your baking sheet. I knew things didn't look right after combining all the ingredients. The runny batter sloshing in the bottom of the bowl. However, if you happen to have a craving for a rhubarb pancake in the future, I can help you out, just let me know.

Now this is more like it! Second batch = success!

And so, with a craving for rhubarb like the likes of which Lesley's kitchen had not seen, we pressed onwards. Reverting back to Molly Wizenberg's Strawberry Scone recipe, with just a few adjustments. When you find one that works, might as well stick with it! And finally, a decent rhubarb scone! Thank goodness for adaptable recipes!

Rhubarb Almond Scones
adapted from Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life"

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp (half a stick) of cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup of sugar (I upped this from 3 tbsp to counter the sourness of the rhubarb)
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 cup fresh chopped rhubarb
1 tsp almond extract (it goes so well with the rhubarb, but can be omitted if need be)
1/2 cup half-and-half, plus more for glazing
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 425. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt . Using your hands, rub the butter into the mixture, pinching and squeezing until there are no lumps bigger than a pea. Add sugar and lemon zest, whisk to incorporate.

Pour 1/2 cup half-and-half into a small bowl and add the egg. Beat together well. Pour into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Using your hands, squeeze and press the dough into a rough mass. Add the rhubarb and almond extract and combine with your hands. Turn the dough and any excess flour onto a cutting board or counter and knead until it just comes together. No more than 12 times, you don't want to overwork the dough. As soon as it holds together, pat it into a rough circle about 1 inch thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges.

Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment, or a silpat. Pour a splash of half-and-half into a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the scones with a thin coat to glaze. Bake 10-14 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, serve warm with butter. If you're serving them later, heat the oven to 300 and re-heat the scones for a few minutes

Friday, May 8, 2009

In Anticipation:

Last night found six girlfriends in the corner booth of the newly opened Burma Superstar, Oakland Edition! They're new to the neighborhood, but they're well known far and wide around here. We put ourselves to the arduous task of sampling what they had to offer. I plopped myself down at the bar a few minutes till 6:30, made friends with the bartender (I'm good that way) and asked for his recommendations. We can vouch for the following:
  • Mango Mojitos, sangria and the mint/lime/beer concoction
  • Coconut rice, indian rice with cardamom
  • Vegetarian Noodles
  • Spicy Shrimp Curry
  • Pork Belly

If only we'd had room for more! The coconut fritters on the dessert menu looked very tempting as well. The place was packed when we left, and it's a welcome addition to the Temescal neighborhood, which just seems to get better and better week by week. I'm happy to add this one to my regular rotation over there.

And finally, things on the docket for this weekend:

  • A Carmel Pear Trifle with Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (to be made with the Lovely Lesley on a quick weekend jaunt to Roseville)
  • Swedish Cardamom Bread - I've had a craving for this. My favorite bakery in Sea Ranch makes the ultimate version, but it's so far away! This will be my first "bread" out.
  • Rhubarb Almond Scones - I made baked rhubarb the other evening and ate it with a dollop of fresh ricotta. Heaven in a spoon. I've never seen rhubarb in scone form, so this will be another culinary experiment. Stay tuned!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Rock, Paper, Scissors

My dominance at movie trivia, trivial pursuit, Ms. Pacman and Monopoly are well known, and documented, but some of you might not be aware of my skills at the ever popular game of Rock, Paper, Scissors (also known as roshambo) honed in my high school years, where it was used as the deciding factor to see who got to ride shotgun. I'm not going to reveal my secrets on such a public forum, especially not when there is a major competition to be won at one of my favorite wineries, with a grand prize of 1000k! That's not chump change my friends! So buy your ticket and let's drink some wine and duke it out!

WHAT: 7th Annual Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament - Saturday, June 6, 2009

WHEN: Saturday, June 6, 2009high noon - 5pm
WHERE: Roshambo Tasting Room @ Cornerstone Sonoma 23568 Hwy 121 (Arnold Drive) Sonoma, CA 95476
TICKETS: $20 Competitors$10 Spectators (FREE for Wine Club Members)This years tourney will be held at our swanky tasting room in Carneros at Cornerstone Sonoma where the champion will take home the $1,000 grand prize.

We are pleased to announce that the Space Cowboys Unimog will be spinning some tunes. Come one come all, enjoy wine country the roshambo way. Tickets are available online or at the tasting room. Competitor tickets are limited and are sure to sell out! Get them while you can! Click here for tickets!

Fresh Favas - Pasta with Fava Beans, Roasted Tomatoes and Green Garlic

I love shelling beans. I realize that might sound simplistic and perhaps a bit boring to some, but I find it to be one of those truly perfect tasks. One is perfectly welcome to zone out and go a bit zen on a task like this, and still achieve tangible results in the end. Drinking a glass of wine or a bottle of hoppy beer whilst listening to the new Neko Case album doesn't hurt matters either. Windows open, sun shining and beans a'shuckin. I deem it a perfect recipe for a lovely weekend afternoon. Add some friends into the mix and you're really onto something.

I picked up these fava beans at the farmer's market. Fava beans are twice as exciting as normal beans, because they require twice the shucking! Once from the pod, and another from the casement that surrounds the bean itself. The first shuck job is fairly self-explanatory. The second takes about 3 minutes of blanching on the stove, and then a shock of cold water to stop them from cooking. Then peel and eat. I usually do so with my favorite fresh pasta from the Phoenix Pastaficio booth. The one made from porcini mushrooms that requires 3 minutes of cook time and is far superior to all other pastas. I threw that together with some oven roasted tomatoes, asparagus, fresh arugula and sauteed green garlic and then doused the whole mess with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Finished it off with a dusting of fresh Parmesan, and it tasted just like spring.

Farmer's Market Pasta with Fava Beans, Roasted Tomatoes and Green Garlic
Can easily be made vegan by ommiting Parmesean. Porcini Pasta is a vegan pasta.

1 lb fava beans
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 lb arugula
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes
2 bulbs green garlic
1 lb porcini pasta
1/2 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

The secret to this dish is is to oven roast the tomatoes and asparagus. Preheat oven to 350, halve the tomatoes and put into a bowl with a few glugs of olive oil and salt to taste. Coat the tomatoes in the oil and salt, then roast for half an hour. When the tomatoes are done, turn the oven to 400. Coat the asparagus in a small amount of olive oil and salt, roast for 20 minutes. Boil a pot of water and cook the pasta. Meanwhile, saute the green garlic in a bit of olive oil until slightly tender and translucent. Add the favas and saute for about two minutes over medium heat. Add green garlic, favas, tomatoes and asparagus to a bowl with the arugula. When the pasta is done, strain and then add to the vegetables. The heat from the pasta will wilt the arugula slightly. Add the lemon and a few good glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and finally the Parmesan. Eat while still warm.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tuesday, oh Tuesday. - Ahi Fish Tacos with Green Apple Slaw

Tacos and Lagunitas make Tuesday worthwhile...

In the very early hours of this morning rain was tapping timidly on my windows. I awoke reluctantly but with the best of intentions, tried to force my foot to the floor, and then sank deeper into the warmth of my sheets and covers. I sighed heavily and closed my eyes. Once the rain had tapered off, a couple short hours later, I was somehow able to muster the strength to pry myself from the warmest of beds, grab a granola bar and shuffle off to the bus stop. A few seconds later the 51 arrived and dropped me unceremoniously at work, and when 5 o'clock finally rolled around, I left my office with umbrella in hand, prepared once more for the rain. Instead I stepped into glorious sunshine and bright blue skies. Storm clouds just clearing the Berkeley Hills.

Oh Tuesday. What to do with you? It's a bit of a lonely day. Not the first day of the week, not hump day, not even the second to last day. Tuesday just sits there alone and seemingly unimportant. Just the second day to tick off in a series of five till freedom. I decided to celebrate Tuesday (this particular day was Cinco de Mayo after all) and to mark it with fish tacos. I stopped at my corner butcher shop Ver Brugge for a serious piece of ahi sushi-grade tuna, and Yasai Produce just a few doors down for fresh tortillas, crème fraîche and all the fixings for an epic taco. It did strike me how incredibly lucky I am to have such culinary treasures mere steps from my front doorstep. It makes spur of the moment Tuesday celebrations far too easy.

I've been forcing myself to experiment more in the kitchen, and I think I must be onto something, because this is now a recipe that will be in my repertoire for a good. long. time. And I cannot wait to make it for a large group of friends. I am, by no means, an authority on fish tacos, but I can say with complete certainty, that tonight, I made the best fish tacos I have ever tasted. I am prideful tonight. I am full, and I have earned it. I can also prove it with pictures.

If this were an episode of Top Chef, I would have made Tom Colicchio proud. Even Bourdain, I would venture to say.

Seared Ahi Tacos with Apple Slaw and Crème fraîche
Serves 3 (2 for each) or 2 (3 for each)

1 lb Ahi Tuna
1 tsp canola oil
1/2 mango
1/2 avocado
4 radishes
6 small corn tortillas

For the Apple Slaw
1 cup green cabbage (sliced into ribbons)
1 cup red cabbage (sliced into ribbons)
1/2 red onion
1/2 green apple
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

For the sauce
1/2 cup crème fraîche (sour cream would also work)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 tbsp cilantro
pinch of salt

Green Apple Slaw

Thinly slice the red onion. Put into a bowl with the all the red wine vinegar and set aside for at least 20 minutes to macerate. Meanwhile, thinly slice the cabbages, apple, mango radishes and avocado. Put the cabbages and apple into a large bowl. Discard the red wine vinegar from the onions and add the onions to the cabbage mixture. Toss together and set aside. Plate the mango, radish and avocado and set aside.

Blend all the ingredients for the crème fraîche sauce into a blender, food processor or bowl for a hand blender (the hand blender works especially well for this and is the least messy) blend until combined and set aside.

crème fraîche sauce

Heat 1 tsp of canola oil over high heat. Sear the ahi for about 2 minutes on each side. You don't want to cook it all the way through, good quality ahi is best when slightly rare. Once it has been seared on each side, remove from the pan and set aside to rest. Clean the pan and heat one more tsp of oil in it. Heat the tortillas over medium high heat, one at a time turning until brown spots form on each side.

Once the tortillas are done, assemble, starting with the slaw, tuna, mango's, radish's, avocado and finishing with the sauce. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Pig Named "Dinner"

One of the best things about living in the Bay Area is the inescapable fact that wherever you go, whomever you're with, you can't throw a rock in this crazy, beautiful town without hitting 10 foodies. I am definitely in the right place.

This past Sunday brought food nerd opportunity aplenty with "Pig Out" at Coffee Bar in San Francisco. Pig Out was a butchery demo and subsequent roasting of a 6 month old "Red Wattle Heritage Pig" from Lazy S Farm in Glasco, Kansas. Heritage referring to family lines of farm animals that have never been genetically modified. The pigs are raised free range and are also free of hormones and and stimulants. Our pig was about 6 months old, and said to weigh 150lbs, and no, I didn't catch his name.

Actually, his name was "Dinner."

Me, Dinner, and Chef Ryan Farr

The event was put on by 4505 Meats and featured Chef Ryan Farr, and let me tell you, this man knew his stuff. Those were some serious knife skills. After his impressive demonstration of how exactly to dismantle a whole pig, we then ate the poor thing (and oh my, was it good). It was served grilled and roasted, with a charred carrot, potato salad with cabbage flowers and spring vegetables, giant bowls of Chicarrones for snacking, cheeses, fresh honeycomb and plenty of wine and beer to go around.

I'm a big believer in knowing where your food comes from and how exactly it is prepared. The process of farm to plate isn't one that we all often have access to, and it was a privilege to be able to witness that. It makes you appreciate your food all the more. Especially if you're going to eat meat. Being aware of how the animal you eat is raised; whether or not it's with or without hormones and growth stimulants, what its quality of life is like, these things all end up effecting our own health. How often do we consider all of those factors when picking up a saran-wrapped steak on Styrofoam at Safeway? It's widely known that food free of hormones and pesticides are better for you and also better for the environment. It may be more expensive, but it makes a difference in so many ways. It's why I try and do most of my shopping at the farmer's market. I highly recommend Michael Pollan's books for more on the subject, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food in particular. Pollan is the foremost authority on the matter, and his books are riveting.

And the final product? What can I say? The pictures speak for themselves. It was not only delicious, it was also a fascinating experience. One I would highly recommend to anyone else who happens to eat meat.

The humble corndog

The end results-so tasty