Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jeff Goldblum is very much not dead. - Mango Curd

It seems everyone has been taking a trip down memory lane for the last week or so. The death of a certain pop star may have something to do with that, strains of PYT (Pretty Young Thing), and I Wanna Rock With You ringing out from passing cars and the open doors of convenience stores in San Francisco's Mission District automatically transporting us all back to the 80's. It was not a good week to be an 80's pop culture icon, that's for sure.

But it was more than just the nostalgic throwbacks of MJ echoing down the streets. Lately so many things have that strange air of familiarity and distant memory. Friends from the past seem to be popping up right and left (we can all thank facebook for that) and it's funny how easy it is to slip right back into old friendships and patterns from your past long after the fact. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's actually a very thin veneer that separates our grown-up selves from our high school and middle school selves, and that if put in the those same classrooms today, we would be shocked by how quickly we would all revert back to our old ways.

Can you tell I skipped my high school reunion this weekend?

Ah, well. There's always 2019.

All I have to say is, I can deal with the Michael Jackson thing. I could not have also dealt with the death of Jeff Goldblum in that same day, so thank god it wasn't true! Facebook and Twitter may put you in touch with old friends, but the rumors tend to spread like wildfire. And this was never more true than on Thursday when the news about Michael Jackson hit. All of a sudden it was Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford, The Oxy-Clean Guy (oh wait, apparently that one is true) and as my friend Laura remarked, it was like the internet had suddenly gone all lord of the flies.

Thank god we still have Jeff Goldblum though.

You'll need a little something to serve alongside the pavlova of the previous post. I recommend this mango curd, especially if you're using kiwi on top.

Mango Curd

Adapted from smitten kitchen, in turn adapted from Bon Appetit, June 1998
Makes 1 to 1/2 cups

The first time I made this it was much too sweet for my taste, so I've cut the sugar back from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup, and upped the lime juice by a tbsp.

1 15-ounce ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup sugar
4 tbsp fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Blend the first 4 ingredients until smooth. You can use a hand blender, regular blender or a food processor. Add the egg yolk and puree 15 seconds more. Strain over a large metal bowl, pressing on the solids with a spatula to get as much of the juice out as possible. Discard the mango solids left in the strainer.

Set the metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened for about 10 minutes. Remove from over water. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. Cover and refrigerate for several hours.

Monday, June 29, 2009

From Anna to Leah - Pavlova, or Meringue Cake

The first time I ate at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, I was with my parents. The meal was wonderful of course, perfectly executed, as one would expect. But the highlight of it all was the dessert. Single servings of pavlova with fresh mango and kiwi, a dish my grandmother used to make on a regular basis. It was sweet nostalgia on a plate. Hers were small cookie-like treats, served in a bowl and covered in raspberry sauce. Airy and sugary confections that cracked under a spoon and melted on the tongue.

We were delighted with our single serving pavlova's and begged our waiter for more details. He then explained the story behind the impressive looking dessert, which I had never heard before. It was created and named for the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova during the 1920's, in either New Zealand or Australia (a source of great debate to this day between the two). After a riveting performance she sat down with friends to a multi-course dinner. By the time dessert rolled around, she was stuffed, but she was also known for her sweet tooth and was never one to pass up dessert (my kind of ballerina). So she asked for something light, not too filling, something with fruit. The chef obliged, and the Pavlova was born.

And thank goodness, because it is one of the easier desserts to make, but you would never know that just by looking at it. It gives the impression of having anti-gravity properties, puffing up and then cracking apart in the most delicate way. It's the kind of dessert that leaves an indelible impression. The kind you might want to make for some big event...

I made three, count 'em, three birthday confections for Leah's Birthday Dinner, as evidenced by that first picture. It's a feat that sounds much harder than it was, when you consider how easy they all were to make. Especially the Pavlova. Whip up some egg whites and sugar, throw it in the over and you're basically done. Then you can pretend exhaustion and intense labor when you unveil the finished product! Sigh heavily and tell them it nearly did you in. Then sit back with the Birthday Girl and have someone else cut you a piece.

I obviously lied when I said I would stop with the cake recipes. In fact, I will never make such a ridiculous promise again! In a completely brazen turn of events, I will be posting yet another cake recipe this week. So prepare yourselves!

Thanks to Brian for the fantastic photos!

Pavlova, or, Meringue Cake
adapted from The Joy of Baking

4 large egg whites
1 cup superfine (castor) sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tbsp cornstarch

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

preheat the oven to 250 and place a rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment and draw a 7 inch circle onto the parchment.

Attach an electric mixer with the whisk attachment. In the bowl of the mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until the hold soft peaks. Add the sugar one tbsp at a time until well-combined. Test the mixture with your fingers, if it still feels gritty from the sugar, continue to mix. Keep beating until the mixture feels smooth. The meringue should be holding stiff peaks at this point.

Sprinkle the vinegar and the cornstarch over the mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula. Gently spread the mixture onto the parchment in the circle. Smooth the edges and make sure they are higher than the center of the meringue. You want to have an indented center so that it will hold the whipped cream.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the outside is dry and takes on a pale cream color. Turn the oven off and leave the door slightly ajar. Let the meringue cool completely in the oven. As it cools, it will crack a bit. The inside will be the consistency of a marshmallow.

Top with whipped cream and fruit of your choice.

What. Is. That.- Kombucha

What. Is. That????

THAT, my friends, is a SCOBY. A Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria Yeast. It's what you need to make a delicious batch of kombucha. And yes, it does look like some kind of crazy alien life form, but not to fear.

This is a project I've been dying to try for quite awhile. I am not the world's most patient person. I am in fact a fan of instant gratification. Waiting for things can be so difficult. And that was true of the homemade kombucha now hanging out happily in my fridge. I waited 10 whole days for it to be ready, and I could have waited even more!

Day 3

Kombucha is a fermented tea. It has a ton of amino acids and vitamins, and it's widely claimed to be healthfully beneficial. It has a sweet, tart and vinegary taste to it and I find it to be extremely refreshing. I also feel like I have a lot more energy when I drink it regularly in the morning. In fact, it's almost replaced my morning cup of coffee. I said almost.

My friend Sonya has been making her own kombucha, and she offered to start a first batch for me. She kindly gave me a SCOBY which is necessary for the fermenting process. Sonya boiled water, steeped some gunpowder tea and dissolved a cup of sugar into it. We poured the tea into two 2 liter jars and let it cool, then added the scoby, which we cut in half. One for each jar. Then, I waited. I waited and waited and waited.

On day 3, the scobys rose to the top of the jars. So far so good. I checked on the mixture everyday to ensure that things were on track. I smelled the jar to make sure it smelled like vinegar, if it doesn't, you should be worried about contamination in your jar and throw it out. So far so good. The scobys grew to the width of the jar opening. On day 10 I couldn't take it anymore. I removed the scobys and saved them in a glass jar with a bit of the kombucha liquid for my next batch. I strained the kombucha into another jar and put it into the fridge to chill.

Day 10

And it's fantastic! Thanks be to Sonya! I can't wait to start my next batch...which I'd better do quite soon as I'm tearing through the stuff. Perfect on a hot summer day!


You'll need a scoby, try kombucha.org. Or ask around and see if any of your friends are secretly brewing their own. Once your kombucha has fermented, a brand new scoby will form on top of the old one. You can use the new one for the next batch, or give it to a friend. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

1 scoby (if you're filling two jars, cut the scoby in half, one half for each jar)
a clean 5 liter jar (or two 2 liter jars)
3 liters boiled filtered water
6-8 tea bags or the equivalent of loose tea; green, black, or white only
1 cup white sugar

Boil 3 liters of water. Steep the tea for about 10 minutes. Add the sugar and stir with a metal spoon to dissolve. Strain the liquid over your kombucha jar. Fill the rest of the jar with filtered water and add your scoby. Cover the jar with a clean cloth or a paper towel. Your scoby should rise to the top of the jar around day 3. Start checking each day to be sure it smells like vinegar. If it doesn't, throw it out. Taste on day 5, it should be vinegary and slightly sweet. Keep tasting on the following days. You can drink around day 8 and let it steep up to 14 days. It will seem slightly carbonated due to the fermentation. As I said, around day 10 I thought mine was perfect. Strain the kombucha and reserve your scoby. A new one will have formed on top. You can discard the old one and save the new one in a glass jar with a bit of the kombucha liquid to preserve it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Kitchn

I'm thrilled to be a guest-blogger for thekitchn today! If you're visiting from there, welcome! If you haven't checked it out, it's one of my favorite food blogs. You can view my post here.

Peonies and Squash Blossoms - Fried Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Creme Fraiche, Basil & Lemon

I have something of a love affair going with peonies. No joke. It's a well-known fact that I swoon at the mere sight of this superior flower. I've documented this before. When I visit my parents in Portland in the Spring and Summer, my Mother always has one in a vase at the side of my bed. She is quite incredible that way. And once, after a difficult split with a boyfriend, my roommate at the time had a vase full of them waiting for me in the North corner of my room. She maintained that this particular arrangement of flowers in that particular corner would always bring me luck in love. While I've never been able to ascertain the truth of that statement, I do enjoy the thought of it. And it becomes an added excuse to buy them every once in awhile.

While admittedly, the fact that they are my favorite flower does not make me unique, it certainly doesn't quell the impulse purchase in the checkout line at Trader Joe's. I bought 9 for $9 there this past weekend. And oh-so carefully, lovingly and tenderly brought them home, trimmed the ends, poured a small amount of plant food into the vase, and made sure they were given the proper amount of water. Only ONE of them opened.

It was as though my favorite flower was mocking me.

Whatever, flowers. No more will I spend $9 of extra grocery money on your fickle petals. I will however have my revenge. I will eat you instead.

This week has been full of coincidences. One of which being that Beth and I bought squash blossoms to fry on the same day, neither of us having ever attempted squash blossoms before. Her recipe was a bit more adventurous than mine, I didn't even fry them in the traditional sense, but they did turn out well. Mouthwateringly delicious, actually. Flowers are so much less insulting when they're fried.

In other news, Wilco tomorrow night! Oh Jeff Tweedy. You really are quite charming with your guitar.

Fried Squash Blossoms with Creme Fraiche, Basil and Lemon
This recipe serves one, double as needed

3 squash blossoms
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp mint
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp creme fraiche
1/4 cup oilve oil

Combine the basil, mint, lemon zest and creme fraiche in a small bowl. Transfer to a plastic bag. Snip the tip of the plastic bag off, and carefully squeeze the creme fraiche mixture into each blossom until stuffed full. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, gently place the blossoms into the skillet. Fry for about 1 minute on each side. When the blossoms are slightly brown, remove and let drain on a paper towel. Serve while hot.

To truly fry the blossoms, try coating each blossom with a batter of beaten egg and a tiny bit of flour before frying.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Butterball Potatoes and Jim Lehrer - Roasted Butterball Potatoes with Rosemary, Apple Cider Vinegar and Olive Oil

Driving across the Bay Bridge last night I was scanning through the radio and the station I ended on was featuring an interview with Jim Lehrer. He was talking about his recovery from aortic valve replacement surgery, and the remedy suggested by his doctor. He was told to make a list of everything that was stressful in his life and to highlight the things that were necessary to keep and the things that he wanted to do. He said making the list changed his life. He became aware of his life. This is a man who is an incredible journalist and reporter, he's world-renowned and respected, but of all his awards and accomplishments, the thing he is most proud of is his career as a novelist. The more he rearranged his list of thing he had to do and the things he wanted to do, the more writing kept creeping up, further and further to the top the list. And so, he wrote.

He's written 20 novels and three plays. He has no concept of what writer's block is. He says he enjoys his life so much more now that he allows the things he wants to do take precedence.

I love this. To see your life written on the page. To confront it and contemplate it. It's scary in a way. It's timely and poignant and selfish in the most important way. And I don't use the word selfish in a negative sense. To be able to make the time and room in your life to do the things you most want to do, and to try as much as possible to make the obligations into desires...I think that must be the secret to it all. It moves so fast, life seems to go by in a minute. As the great philosopher Ferris Buller once said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

So I'm starting mine. Two items on it so far:
  • Write. Everyday. And learn to do it well.
  • To cook for the people I love, as often as possible.
So far so good. There's so much more to add, and maybe a few things to remove that aren't as important as I once thought. Suggestions? What's on your list?

Tonight's dinner consisted of a delicious lamb sausage from the farmer's market, grilled peppers and onions and tiny butterball potatoes roasted with rosemary, olive oil and a bit of apple cider vinegar. Topped off with a Lagunitas IPA. Heavenly.

Roasted Butterball Potatoes with Rosemary, Apple Cider Vinegar and Olive Oil
Serves 2

1/2 lb Butterball Potatoes (fingerling or red potatoes will also work)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp rosemary
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425. Meanwhile, boil water and blanch the potatoes for about a minute. Drain and douse in cold water to stop them from cooking further. Toss the potatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, vinegar, rosemary and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Serve while hot.

Squid Ink Pasta with Halibut and Shrimp

While I've gotten a whole lot of "Ew! What the heck is that!" from these pictures, and from the description of this dinner, I would like you to know that my choice in pasta elicited a high five from the pasta guy at Phoenix Pastaficio. "I love when people buy this stuff. Way to be adventurous." He said, and then promptly sent me down to the fresh fish stand for some halibut to go with.

Squid was long on the list of "things I will not eat," (which for now only consists of eel and other snake-like things) but it was removed after I fell in love with a grilled squid dish at Pizzaiolo several years ago. Nowadays, if squid is on the menu, I will probably order it, though I prefer it grilled and not fried.

Stumbling upon a pasta made with squid ink was an exciting concept. One that seemed destined for my staple seafood pasta dish, typically made during a vacation escape to the coast, but often requested and sometimes made in lieu of a great vacation. Ah! The transportive effects of good food. I'm feeling better already.

Seafood Pasta (with Squid Ink Pasta)
Serves 6

2 thick halibut fillets (about 1 inch thick)
12 ounces shrimp
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup parmesean
1/2 cup white wine
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
12 ounces pasta
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter on the stove over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and garlic, saute till translucent and fragrant. De glaze the pan with the white wine. Add the halibut fillets, cook about 3 minutes on one side and add the shrimp when you turn the halibut to the other side. Add the lemon juice and cook about a minute all together over medium. Turn the heat down to low.

Add your pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.

When the pasta is ready, drain and reserve 1/4 of the pasta water to add to the fish. Toss the pasta and the reserved liquid together with the fish, shrimp and onions, making sure to coat the pasta. Add the cheese and pasta. Toss with salt and pepper. Serve while hot.

Honey! - Honey Cakes

I know what you're thinking. "No more cake!" You're shouting at your screen, "I can't take anymore cake!" And you might be right.


These are Honey Cakes. They really don't call for that much sugar. Butter, yes. Sugar, just a bit.

And did I mention they're called Honey Cakes?

I mean, really. How cute is that?

Not to mention the whipped cream topping, with just a dollop of honey on top. I might faint from cuteness overload. Really quite disgusting. Except that they're so delicious. Made for a dearly departed co-worker (she's moved to the next building over) and enjoyed by our mourning staff. We cried bitter tears into our Honey Cakes. Actually, we pretty much just ate them and moved on to happy hour where I hear she closed down the joint in celebratory style. My department and I can party in style on occasion.

And so, for your consideration. The humble Honey Cake.

Honey Cakes
from Donna Hay's "Off the Shelf"
makes 12 small cakes

6 oz butter, softened
2/3 cup superfine sugar
3 tbsp honey
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder

1 cup heavy cream
chilled honey

Preheat the oven to 325. Place the butter, sugar and honey in a bowl and beat until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Fold the flour and baking powder into the butter mixture.

Spoon the mixture into 12 lightly greased muffin tins, about half-way full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean. Cool the cakes on wire racks. Spread the cakes with the cream. Before serving, drizzle with chilled honey.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fun Guy. - Asparagus & Pecorino Salad

Tomorrow will be my first free Saturday in what seems like months. What with all the out-of-town visits, the arduous wine tasting, the wedding and the camping, I finally have a day to do the obligatory cleaning and a very thorough visit to the farmer's market. I might even venture over to the San Francisco Ferry Building tomorrow, and pay a visit to my favorite mushroom guys, Far West Fungi. Ever wanted to grow your own mushrooms at home? Well, they can help you with that. They even have a convenient online store, for those of you unlucky enough to live further than a quick BART ride away. The Ferry Building Farmer's Market really is an embarrassment of riches. I might even have to stick around for the happy hour special of $1 oysters at Hog Island Oysters, just to make the trip "easier."

The mushroom guys have reminded me of my favorite joke.

So a mushroom walks into a bar. He sees a stunning blonde sitting alone at said bar. He goes up to her and says, "Hey, how about I buy you a drink and we go get some dinner?" The blonde says, "No thank you, I don't go out with mushrooms." The mushroom replies, "Why not? I'm a fun guy!" Fun guy. Fungi. Get it..."Fun Guy?!"

Crickets. Crickets.

With my refrigerator looking sadly empty, but for a bunch of asparagus, a block of cheese and a few random herbs, I scoured the blogs for some sort of mad genius recipe. I found it at thekitchn who found it from Mario Batali. I had the pleasure of eating at his restaurant Lupa in New York with Brian, Ben and Tom several years ago and I fondly remember it as one of the best meals I've ever had. Perhaps due to such stellar company. I remember they were playing Journey in the restaurant (always a good sign in my opinion and not to mention, one of my karaoke songs of choice) and that it was my first time eating oxtail (it was delicious) and that we all moaned happily over the dessert and the wine. What those were I can't recall, except that it was all fantastic.

So. From Mario, to thekitchn, to me, to you:

Asparagus & Pecorino Salad
Adapted from thekitchn
Serves 4

8 ounces fresh asparagus
1 tbsp good-quality olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped basil
2 tsp chopped mint
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, diced and smashed into little bits
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

Chop the aspargus and pecorino into small bite size pieces. You don't want to grate the pecorino, as the pieces should be a similar size to the asparagus. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon, and herbs. Toss all together in a bowl. Add the salt and the black pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Guest Post for TheKitchn

Just a few updates:

My Nutella Cake post will be featured next Friday, June 26th on Apartment Therapy's sister blog www.thekitchn.com. I'm thrilled to be included! Please hop on over there next Friday and take a look.

In other exciting news, I'll have a short article on the tour and tasting at St. George Spirit's/Hangar One Vodka in the September/October issue of Alameda Magazine. I'll be sure to post the article here at that time.

Now. Carry on. As you were.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hold Time - Raspberry Thyme Smash

My music habits have been decidedly repetitive as of late. I alternate throughout the day between the Dark Was the Night album (if you like things that are good then you will enjoy this album) Neko Case's Middle Cyclone, and M. Ward's Hold Time (the aforementioned current soundtrack to my life.)

Some of those I care for are quite sick of M. Ward on repeat, but some, some request another round of it! Oh what a thrill it is to hear the words "More M. Ward!" from your friends around a campfire! And luckily, the drive home from camping was solo, so I was able to sing along at the top of my lungs to my hearts content. What I did before this album came around, I cannot tell. It's a mystery.

In other news, this week is so far filled with birthdays, cheese and kombucha making and the start of the outdoor movie season. More to come on all. In the meantime, I am formally requesting camping invitations from all my friends. If you plan to camp within the next few months, I shall be an excellent companion! I come with homemade kombucha, marshmallows and an unparalleled sense of direction. I am not one to get lost. My inner compass is almost infallible. I may, however, have to borrow a tent...

In the meantime:

Raspberry Thyme Smash
from Bon Appetit, July 2008
serves 1

2 fresh thyme sprigs, divided
7 fresh raspberries, divided
ice cubes
1/4 cup Hendricks Gin (or your choice)
2 tbsp simple syrup
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
(I added a splash of club soda, which can be added or omitted as you wish)

For the syrup-
stir 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, cool and chill.

Remove the leaves from 1 thyme sprig. Place in the cocktail shaker with raspberries, mash with a muddler or wooden spoon. Fill the cocktail shaker with ice and add gin, syrup and ice cubes. Cover and shake until cold. Strain into glass. Thread the raspberry onto the remaining sprig of thyme, place on the rim of the glass. Serve.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pack-Rat Mentality - Spaghetti with Rustic Tomato Sauce and Basil

Several times in the past few weeks I have been admonished for my overly-sentimental pack rat mentality. At issue was the coffee pot I inherited when my parents moved out of the house I grew up in. 20+ years to it's credit, and still, it lives! Often, acting as my alarm clock for those early mornings after particularly late evening adventures. Also accused was the Georgetown sweatshirt, stolen from an unsuspecting siblings closet, circa 1988 (and she never noticed!) The one that is especially comfortable on camping trips.

Beth had a particularly keen eye during her visit, wandering through my apartment and pointing out what had been transplanted from our house in college. Lauren added to the embarrassment by highlighting the items she recognized from 23 years of friendship. I say, to me, that coffee pot is better than all the other coffee pots in the world. Not as fancy, but certainly trusty and dependable. It reminds me of what the fox says to The Little Prince before he asks to be tamed.

I cannot bear to throw things out. In the ability to edit down my life, I fall distinctly short.

But is that really such a great fault? In the end, my coffee pot produces a perfectly robust cup of coffee in the morning. That sweatshirt is particularly soft (and can double as a pillow when camping to boot) and the dog-eared, aging yellow pages of cookbooks, post-it notes and old envelopes that hold recipes I've collected for years on end are finally finding their ways into the digital age via this blog.

So it's a good thing I saved them all.

I can't remember where this one came from. I found it on the back of the envelope from an old phone bill from 2002. It fell out of an old copy of East of Eden. Scrawled out hurriedly in my handwriting and used as a bookmark, no doubt. A classic quick tomato sauce. Perfect for a Monday night. Throw it out? No! I'd much rather share.

Spaghetti with Rustic Tomato Sauce and Basil
serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 sweet yellow onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
freshly ground black pepper (about 5 turns of the pepper mill)
1 zucchini, cut into half moons
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
8 ounces spaghetti
4 tbsp roasted pine nuts
1 tbsp pecorino romano cheese

Heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the shallots, onion and garlic. Saute for about two minutes. Add the red wine and stir. Next, add the tomatoes, oregano and black pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the zucchinni towards the last two minutes of simmering. Remove from heat and add the basil, stir to combine.

Cook the pasta according to directions. Drain and top with the sauce, nuts and cheese. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Camping Style - Creme Fraiche Roasted Salmon

Being a Northern California Native and an Oregon Transplant, admitting that you came to the camping game late in life can be a little tough. It's an activity that tends to come with the region (like New York and bagels) and having limited skill and experience with it can make you feel a bit embarrassed. People are always baffled when I say that my family didn't camp.

And to be fair, I'm sure they did at some point. But having two older sisters ahead of me, I think that by the time it was my turn to be lugged along with the tents and sleeping bags, my parents were much more inclined to stay in a well-equipped cabin or house. I don't blame them. I also think it might have had something to do with the fact that I was something of a homebody as a child. Constantly outside, but always in the forts and familiar trails of the forest and land close to home. Come to think of it, what I did back then was pretty similar to camping. Just bringing a few of the necessary indoor items to the great outdoors really.

These days those items include coffee, sleeping bag and mat and plenty of thing to roast over an open fire. We "roughed" it this weekend in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, wine tasting at Navarro, beer sampling at Anderson Valley Brewing Co. and plenty of grilled vegetables, sausages and s'more fixings over the fire, and I have no complaints. Exactly what some weekends of camping should be. Your totally basic camping food and fare.

But next time...next time I'm going to kick it up a notch. I plan to roast all manner of foods over the next campfire I encounter. Grilled bread with smashed avocado and tomato spread, grilled peaches and figs wrapped in pancetta, and salmon cooked over the coals in foil. Here's the salmon recipe I plan to adapt. My first attempt was done at home in the oven, but I think it's the perfect recipe for gourmet camping. So easy. Just make sure the cooler is packed with ice, and eat on the first night.

Creme Fraiche Roasted Salmon
adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine, June 2009
serves 4-6

1 2lb center cut wild salmon fillet with skin, about 1 1/4 inches thick (it pays to buy the best salmon possible for this recipe. Make sure it's fresh)
1/4 cup creme fraiche
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Season the salmon with salt and pepper on the baking sheet. Spread the creme fraiche generously over the salmon. Roast the fish in the oven until it is opaque in the center, about 12-14 minutes. Transfer to a plate and serve hot.

Friday, June 12, 2009

You Put the Mallow on the Graham - Marshmallows

Once again, I'm about to hit the road for the weekend. Boonville ho! Nothing like camping in the middle of the Anderson Valley. It's serious wine country up there and also happens to be home to a several great breweries. So I'm packing up my mason jar for stylish beverage consumption, filling the cooler with sausages, peppers, onions and corn for grilling and finalizing the ipod road trip mix (many thanks to Brian for fixing my ipod car contraption) which will be comprised of songs that were made for the open road:

Old 97's - Drowning in the Days
Neko Case - People Got a Lotta Nerve
Radiohead - Electioneering
Ryan Adam's - Beautiful Sorta
Wilco - Wilco Will Love You Baby
The Dodo's - Joe's Waltz
M. Ward - the entire Hold Time album (I've had this on constant repeat since picking it up while Beth was visiting, I now think of it as the current soundtrack to my life)

I'm itching to get on the road. I've been dying to go camping in Mendocino County for awhile. Just one thing to do before I hit the pavement. Make marshmallows. There's just nothing better for sitting around a campfire with friends.

I admit, I was intimidated. For such small, unassuming little things, they do seem daunting when you consider making them yourself for the first time. I dove in feet first with gelatin, two kinds of sugar, egg whites and vanilla. Luckily it wasn't nearly as hard as I'd expected it to be. I used this recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. Others I looked at included crazy things, such as potato starch (where does one pick up potato starch these days?) and this recipe seemed a bit more my speed. Success! These babies are coming on the road with me!

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 96 1-inch cubed marshmallows

1 cup powdered sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin (such as knox)
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar (cane sugar worked just fine)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla (alternately: 1/2 of a scraped vanilla bean or other flavored extract)

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold cold water, and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of cold water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about six minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer.

In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters beat egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla (or your choice of flavoring) into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan. Sift 1/4 cup powdered sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to one day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up one corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and ease onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly one-inch cubes. Sift remaining powdered sugar back into your now-empty baking pan, and roll the marshmallows through it, on all six sides, before shaking off the excess and packing them away.

Marshmallows keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 week.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

G & T

I have a confession to make. I haven't cooked in days. Last night's dinner consisted of a bowl of quinoa and popcorn for dessert. I hope to remedy this situation tonight.

I have some good excuses for my lack of kitchen time. One involving Neko Case at the Warfield, the other including theatre tickets with friends and finally, a dinner and cocktail paring at Camino in Oakland. Many thanks to Elisa for inviting me!

The event was co-hosted by Leopold Bros, a small batch distillery based in Colorado. The cocktails were flowing at the bar, by the time I arrived it was packed, but we managed to score tastes of the following:

*Moonraker Cocktail ~ Savoy Cocktail Book
Leopold's Peach Whiskey, Osocalis Brandy, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Leopold's Absinthe

*The Delicious Sour ~ Ted Haigh, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails
Leopold's Peach whiskey, Lemorton Calvados, Lime, Small Hands Gum Syrup, Egg White

*Opalescence Cocktail ~ Boothby's Cocktail Book
Leopold's Gin, Lemon, Leopold's Cherry Liqueur, Mint, Cream

*Camino Gin Cocktail ~ Camino, Oakland
Leopold's Gin, Spatlese Riesling, House-made peach and hibiscus bitters

Onto dinner, served family style at the giant wooden communal tables:

*Paella cooked in the fireplace with chicken, peas, fava and romano beans

*Grilled spicy pork sausages

*Little Gem lettuces with lemon and herbs

*Walnut meringues with pluots and cream

*assorted cookie plates, candies and Leopold's Liqueurs
(boysenberry, peach, cranberry, cherry, sour apple)

Rough right? It was delicious. I was especially partial to the Gin Cocktail and the meringues.

Lauren and I have been having an argument about gin. I bought a bottle of Hendrick's while she was here to try out a new recipe. She then asked me if my bones were starting to creak, as gin is an old person's drink. I don't think she could possibly hold to that statement after trying the above. Apparently gin has gone out of style in LA (just another reason I refuse to move South.) Personally, I prefer gin cocktails, but it does depend on the gin. I normally stick to Hendricks (Tanquerey in a pinch) but I was impressed with Leopold's. Not too grassy or piney, just very smooth. Perfect in a cocktail.

No gin. Now that's rough.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

St. George Spirits and Hangar One in Alameda

I'm going to let you in on an East Bay secret. On the first Sunday of the month, Alameda is the place to be.

The morning starts with the Alameda Flea Market (although if you really want to do it right, a stop at Bakesale Betty's for coffee and banana bread is required) where you can wander the aisles for hours upon end, perusing furniture, jewelry, clothes, dishes, just about anything you can think of. From croquet sets to cast iron pans, I've picked up some fantastic things. I even saw Francis McDormand here once.

When your feet are tired and you've had enough of the sweltering East Bay sun (something our SF counterparts aren't so familiar with) you can make your way to the first airline hangar on the left for a St. George Spirits/Hangar One Vodka tasting and tour, where Lou or one of the other staff members will regale you with tales of the trials of distilling wasabi root (gas masks are a must) and rediscovered brandy barrels "accidentally aged" for 20 years. He'll also explain why a donkey is very often a necessary part of the tequila making process. It's the kind of tour that re-defines informative, and the best part is, you get to belly up to the bar at the end and taste the fruits of their labors, what they call a trial and error process that is often filled with happy accidents and all sorts of deliciousness.

Preserved Buddha's Hand Citrus

Our group of four was feeling pretty adventurous this Sunday. We split two $10 tastings of the regular menu, which includes small pours of 12 vodkas, brandies, eux-de-vie's and liquers. We then bought an absinthe and de profundis pear brandy (selling for $200 a bottle and almost gone) to split all around. The St. George absinthe was recently ranked #5 overall in the NY Times. I'd tried it before and found it interesting. It's fascinating to hear the story behind the ban of absinthe in the early 1900's. St. George was the very first distillery in the US to produce it once the ban was lifted. We watched as our bartender poured the liquor over ice and added a bit of water, turning the liquid a gorgeous opalescent color. The notes of anise and fennel were especially strong.

Our favorite in all was the seasonal Fraser River Raspberry Vodka. It's truly amazing just how many berries go into one bottle. 20lbs per bottle in their raspberry liquer, and even more for the vodka. That much is clear from the taste, not too sweet, just a pure, tart, berry flavor with a fantastic fuchsia color to it.

When all is said and done you'll need some food. Dim Sum is always a good option, luckily East Ocean is close. Nothing like soup dumplings to cap off a great afternoon. Though, my last suggestion would be a good nap.

Now that's how you do Alameda.

A very plum, plum. - Plum Tart Tatin

Say it's your last day on earth. And that all those on earth are happy, peaceful and well-cared for. No need for any last minute world peace requests or anything like that. No...let's say you are faced with a choice. Diamond necklace, ownership of the world's fastest and best car, a time-share in Maui, OR, a New York style steak with a good Cabernet. Which would you choose?

Oh come on. That's too easy.

I have that food gene. The one that never forgets a good wine, or a good steak for that matter. I get such a kick out of hearing my Father say the name of the wine he had at The French Laundry, years ago, "Radio-Coteau!" He exclaims. The same inflection, every time, as if he's sharing the world's greatest secret. I inherited that. Something I'm pretty proud of actually.

Because of that, I knew exactly what it was that we tasted last year at Cyrus, when the sommelier poured our wine at Leah's birthday dinner. I knew the sentimental value of what was in my glass before I had even one sip. It was Radio-Coteau! And of course, it would be delicious.

Food and drink are markers on the road map of memory. They're the associations we make with people and place. Taste is a sentimental business. A topic eloquently exhausted by Proust and his Madeline's. But,to find a shared taste sentimentality, now that's something that can really bring people together. Reminiscing over the taste of Cappuccino in Italy, the perfect pint of Guinness in Ireland, or the Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery...now those are the foundations for everlasting memories and rock-solid bonds.

I would choose the steak and the wine. No question.

There's something about the subtlety of this dessert. Perhaps it's the nutmeg, or maybe the vanilla bean. Of course, it could be the taste of ripe plum on pastry. I can't say what it is, exactly. There's just something about it. Something that makes you remember...remember what? That, I can't say either. I suppose the taste of plum varies for us all.

Plum Tart Tatin
adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine, 2007
serves 6

1 cup creme fraiche
1 tsp grated orange peel

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half a package) thawed

2 1/4 lbs firm red plums, pitted and halved
2 tbsp plus 2/3 cup of sugar, divided
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon peel
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

Pre-heat oven to 400. Whisk creme fraiche and orange zest together in a small bowl. Cover and chill. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface or silpat. Trim the corners to create a circle.
Place on a plate.

Mix plums, lemon juice, peel, sugar, nutmeg and seeds from vanilla bean together in a large bowl. Let stand for 30 minutes.

Melt the butter in an ovenproof 9 inch diameter skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle remaining 2/3 cup sugar evenly over the butter. Tightly arrange the plums in concentric circles, cut side up, in the skillet. Drizzle juices at the bottom of the bowl over the top of the plums. Cook over medium heat, shaking from time to time to prevent the plums from sticking. Continue cooking until the syrup turns deep red, pressing plums slightly to create a compact layer, about 35 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

Slide the crust atop of the plums in the skillet. Press the crust edges down around the plums at the edge of the skillet. Cut several slits in the top of the dough to let the steam escape. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool the tart completely in the skillet.

When cool, place a large platter or plate over the skillet and invert, allowing the tart to settle onto the plate. Slowly lift off the skillet. Let stand for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Serve with the orange creme fraiche.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer Season - Cesar Potato Salad

It was a jam packed weekend. Lauren drove up from LA to start her vacation in style by taking part in the Rock, Paper, Scissors challenge with us at Roshambo Winery. It was epic. Out of our team of four, Lauren and I both made it to the second round, where she came close but fell to a tough competitor, and I, well...I was robbed. I don't know who the ref's were at this so called "official competition," but I can tell you that they were blind. When your challenger throws a full second after you've put your choice down, something is clearly awry.

We drowned our sorrows in a game of mini-golf and dinner at Pizzaiolo.

The excitement never ends around here. This coming Friday brings camping for Lesley's birthday in Healdsburg and a combined birthday tubing trip down the Russian River. Not to mention the numerous BBQ's. I find that BBQ season can be a tad stressful. They tend to sneak up on you before you know it. I have visions of grandeur in the beginning. Of cakes and tarts and grilled everything. The weekdays fly by and all of a sudden it's Saturday afternoon, I'm due to show up to a party and find that my great visions are unrealized and somewhat limited due to poor time management. Caesar Salad is a good option for a time like that. Potato Salad is even better. What's even more impressive, is to mix Caesar Salad with Potato Salad.

Cesar Potato Salad with Sugar Snap Peas
adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine
Can easily be made vegan by ommiting Parmesan

1 1/2 lbs unpeeled fingerling or baby potatoes cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices (this is the perfect time to use purple potatoes, they look beautiful in this dish. Red skinned, white or yellow will also work. Try using an assortment.)
8 ounces trimmed sugar snap peas
1 bunch radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Steam potatoes on rack over boiling water for 10 minutes, until almost tender. Add the peas and steam for about a minute more. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly. Add the radishes and onion.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl, adding the Parmesan last. Season with salt and pepper. Add the dressing to the potato mixture and toss to coat. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Copper River Salmon and a Bachelorette Bonfire - Grilled Salmon in a Citrus & Mustard Marinade

Another wedding debauchery story: most notable (aside from the actual wedding of course) was the Bachelorette party. Starting with appetizers at the Pelican Brewery and moving to the locals bar, where it just happened to be karaoke night! Heaven! Beth had never participated in the beauty that is karaoke before (I nearly fainted when I discovered that fact) so we started her off on a Madonna duet. Four out of town girls and four die hard locals who knew the ropes. They were very kind to us. They dedicated songs to the bride to be, especially exciting was the young man in the baseball cap who gave us a rousing rendition of Lisa Loeb's "Stay." He turned out to be one of the restaurant managers for Beth's wedding. Angelle nearly brought down the house with her song (the girl can sing!) and when a group of boisterous out of town boys came in, they were more than happy to send over a round to help us celebrate. I finished it off with Hank Williams, "All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down," dedicated to Beth. It just seemed fitting. We finished the night with a bonfire on the beach, female built and quite sufficient. I admit I may have suggested at some point that we combine the Bachelorette and Bachelor parties. I was told that just simply wasn't done. It was a girls night, and I really couldn't argue, the company was fantastic and our fire was quite nice. The perfect sendoff for Beth.

Nothing like bonfires on the beach to celebrate an impending wedding, not to mention the start of summer on the West Coast.

One of the best things about living in the Pacific Northwest (PacNoWe as it's known to some) is the access to fantastic seafood. It is now salmon season, specifically, Copper River Salmon, which is thought by many to be the best kind of salmon there is. It comes at a hefty price, but it's pretty worth it, especially if you have a no-fail, always delicious recipe. This is my parent's standard, whip up the marinade and put it on the grill. My Father is something of a master at the grill. He says he's tried other salmon recipes from time to time, but this is the best. The gold standard. Ceder planks? They overwhelm the fish, he says. Baking? Just so-so. Outdoor grilling? Just right. The is the Goldilocks of salmon dishes. I tend to believe him when he says things like this. He has good taste.

So, while I did not officially cook this dish, I did procure the recipe. Family secret no more!

Grilled Marinated Salmon
recipe courtesy of my Parents (which they've used for 25 years)
serves 4-6


1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of olive oil (you can use even less if you want)
1 tsp of sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp Italian herbs
1/4 tsp of pepper
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp of onion
1 large piece of salmon, enough to feed 4-6.

Combine all ingredients together and use a blender, food processor or hand blender to blend together until fairly smooth. Put the fish on a plate or in a baking dish and rub marinade over the fish and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Start the grill, when it's at medium heat put the fish onto a large piece of foil to keep the marinade from dripping onto the grill. Create a "foil pan" by using heavy duty foil and turning the sides up to keep the liquid in. Place the foil pan over the heat and cover the grill and cook the fish for 4-6 minutes, depending on your desired "doneness." Make sure to test the fish often so it doesn't overcook.

A Happy Accident - Brown Butter Raspberry Tart

There's something fishy about this Bay Area weather. So far this week it has paled in comparison to Portland weather. Almost unheard of. 80+ degrees most of last week in P-town, but not in San Francisco. Nope. This morning I awoke to thunder and pouring rain (happily that was around 6am, so I nodded right back off). It cleared up later, but only to a paltry 70 degrees.

Just when summer has arrived everywhere else, the Bay Area cools off and is swaddled in thick fog throughout the day. This is the time of year when you see the tourists (expecting the California sun) shivering in shorts and tank tops on Pier 39, begging the vendors for a windbreaker or sweatshirt.

And tomorrow will bring even more rain. Le sigh. For now I'll transport myself back to Portland (land of sun?) and my Parent's gorgeous patio, which hosted Monday night's dinner of grilled salmon, balsamic asparagus, Cesar potato salad, crusty bread from Pearl Bakery, good wine and one of the best desserts I've ever had.

I'm not exaggerating about that last part. Everyone was in agreement. I can only suggest that you try this out at your next dinner party or gathering. Pretend it took an entire day of preparation. They'll be so impressed.

A happy accident in my adaptation of this recipe. I didn't mean to pour all the ingredients in before cooking the tart crust, the original recipe calls for baking it in the oven for 18 minutes before adding the berries and filling. I just forgot. My niece Pearl had placed the berries so beautifully in the pan, and I got excited and just piled it all together and shoved it in the oven. And guess what? It turned out perfectly. So I'm omitting that part. Feel free to add it back in, but if you'd care to save some time, you can repeat my "mistake."

Brown Butter & Raspberry Tart
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine
serves 8-10

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup of sugar

2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
2 6ounce containers of fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 375. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the four and salt and stir until well combined. Press the dough into a 9 inch tart pan making sure that it is even on the sides and bottom of the pan. Arrange raspberries, pointed side up and close together in concentric circles, in bottom of the crust.

Nest, whisk the sugar, eggs, and salt in a separate medium bowl. Add flour and vanilla and whisk together until smooth. Cook the butter in heavy small saucepan with a light colored bottom over medium heat until deep nutty brown, being careful not to burn it. Keep and eye and stir often, about 6 minutes. Pour the browned butter into glass measuring cup. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture until well blended.

Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over berries into the tart. Put on the center rack in the oven and bake tart until filling is puffed and golden and a knife into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool tart completely in pan on rack.