Sunday, November 21, 2010

Big Sur

Due to life, I've been absent from posting. I confess, I've hardly cooked at all lately, and when I have, it's been a bit of a disaster.

So I haven't been cooking. But...I did go here:

and here:

and here:


And thought I should share.

In lieu of a recipe, I'll instead recommend this cookbook as a gift for the holidays.

I knew I had to have it when I opened it up to a recipe for rhubarb bars. Big Sur has amazing restaurants, but Big Sur Bakery was our favorite. All the recipes in here look fantastic.

And if you're looking for a place to stay, I recommend Glen Oaks. It's a cozy place, with heated floors, a fireplace in each room, an outdoor fire pit and wild turkeys roaming the grounds. All in all, it was a beautiful first trip to Big Sur.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Visit with Beth - Pasta with Arugula, Pine Nuts & Lemon Sesame Vinaigrette

I have a serious love of hotel rooms. Sparkling clean, crisp white sheets, giant beds, mini-toiletries, mountains of pillows, and of course, mini-bars. I can't get enough of hotel rooms. If I could move into one, I probably would. Depending on the hotel, of course...

This weekend my dear friend Beth invited me to stay over in the hotel room she'd booked while she was at a conference in Sacramento. I was happy to join her and we reveled in lounging about, catching up, drinking champagne and splurging on dinner. It's not often that we get to see each other as we live on opposite coasts now, she in Georgetown and me in the Bay, but we've done pretty well this year as far as the visits go, 3 times now in the last 6 months. A record since college.

There's nothing quite like staying up till all hours of the night, chatting away with a best friend in a hotel suite in another city. Far from all responsibilities and reminders of being back at work on Monday. We had a lovely dinner at Grange in Sacramento, where we both got our fill of house-made pasta. Thanks to Les for the suggestion!

Which reminds me of a dish I started to throw together in college. One I still make fairly often. It combines fresh Arugula with pine nuts, a lemony-garlic vinaigrette and sesame oil. It's delicious, and every time I make it, it seems I can't get enough. It's a great week night dinner.

Pasta with Arugula, Pine Nuts and Lemon Sesame Vinaigrette

Your choice of pasta, enough for 4 people. I recommend bowtie or penne.
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp dark sesame oil
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
6 cups arugula or baby arugula
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine lemon juice, sesame oil, garlic and a pinch of salt. Whisk together. Toast pine nuts in toaster oven or over the stove in a skillet. Place Arugula in a bowl, add cooked pasta and let sit for about a minute so that the arugula wilts from the heat of the pasta. Toss together with pine nuts and vinaigrette, top with Parmesan and salt & pepper to taste.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Voted - Brown Butter Scrambled Eggs with Sage

I always feel a sense of pride when I come out of the voting booth and collect my "I Voted" sticker. I leave the polling place feeling optimistic, and proud of democracy. Then the returns start to come in, and more often than not, my heart sinks, and disappointment sets in. The morning after is like a bad hangover. A headache that's impossible to shake. I've had the "why vote" conversation several times with a few different people over the past few weeks, and this morning I was at a bit of a loss to defend my position, until I heard how few votes it would have taken to pass some of the most important California propositions, and the statistic that if the younger population had turned out in the same numbers that they did for Obama's election, things would have been different.

When I stepped into the voting booth, there was a mother and daughter in the booth next to me. The daughter was 18, and voting for the first time. It was a shared moment of pride between the two of them. I remember accompanying my parents to vote at the church down the street from us. I remember those nights feeling so important and meaningful. Seeing that girls cheeks flushed with excitement and pride, I felt hopeful, and know that I'll do the same some day with my children.

I'm trying to keep the memories of Obama's election night in mind. To stay hopeful about the future. The Bay Area celebration of the Giant's winning the World Series feels a lot like it did that night. A renewed sense of hope and optimism for the underdog, and for the possibilities ahead.

There's not exactly a segue into this dish. All I can tell you is that brown butter lends a nutty flavor to anything you pair with it. Sage is one of my favorite herbs, and the two together with someone as simple as scrambled eggs, brings it to a whole other level. You'll love it.

Brown Butter Scrambled Eggs with Sage

4 large eggs
1 tbsp chopped sage
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper

Beat eggs with sage and a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl with a fork until well blended.

Heat butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until milk solids on bottom are a dark chocolate brown. Reduce heat to medium-low, then add eggs and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to consistency of soft porridge with small curds. Serve hot over toast.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rainy Days - Apple Crisp

The rain's been pouring down outside for the past two days. The wind's picked up outside, but inside I've got some homemade chicken soup on the stove, apple crisp just out of the oven, Ray LaMontagne on the radio, and, candles, in lieu of a fireplace. It's pretty cozy in here.

I love rainy days. They make a great excuse to stay in and cook. But they also lend a great moody quality to a road trip. Yesterday found us wine tasting in Dry Creek, just outside Healdsburg. We started the day at Preston Vineyards and ended at Unti. Stopping only for sandwiches, and for quick walk through the dripping vineyards. The valley was positively cloaked in fall, with golden leaves, heavy fog and pouring rain that never let up.

I wanted to stand out in between the vines forever, breathing in the smell of wet leaves, rain and woodsmoke. Simply fall. It's easy to love.

But back to the cozy indoors...where the soup is ready, Ray is singing, and the apple crisp is still warm, steam rising from the bubbling, caramelized juices. And I'm thinking, "This was a good idea."

Apple Crisp

For the apples:
2 Tbsp. lightly packed brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cardamom
5-6 large apples, roughly cut into same size pieces. I used half Rome apples and half Honeycrisp

For the topping:
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 egg, beaten well
7 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375, with a rack in the middle of the oven.

In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. Add the apples, and gently combine. Arrange the apples in an ungreased deep 9-inch pie plate, cake pan or a large glass dish.

In a second bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping the sugar through the salt. Whisk to blend well and then add the egg. Combine by using your hands, mixing thoroughly and squeezing and pinching the dough together until it creates a shaggy mess. Spread the mixture evenly over the apples.

Spoon the butter evenly over the topping, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is browned and the apples are tender. Cool.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Staying Sane - Panko-Crusted Chicken with Mustard Maple Pan Sauce

Lately, if feels a bit as if I'm losing my mind. I forget where my car is parked on a regular basis, I'm constantly leaving my wallet or phone at home, e-mails and phone calls go unanswered, and trying to make even the smallest decision leaves me at a loss.

My friends who've delved into working from home before tease me about my good intentions at the start, "Remember all those yoga classes you were going to take? All the time you'd supposedly have to cook?" I dimly remember thinking I would have more time to do those things. So far, I have yet to make those activities materialize on a regular basis.

The nice thing about it is, there's no time to be bored. There's nothing worse than sitting at a job, watching the minutes tick by and not feeling challenged. That's certainly not my problem, but as you might have gathered, I'm still having some trouble finding a balance to it all. On Monday I blink, and all of a sudden it's Friday. The weekends speed by, too short as always, and all I want to do is get out of the house and onto the road, out into the woods, taking a hike, picking apples, visiting friends. The weekend trips are keeping me sane.

And there happen to be a few on the horizon, I just hope that when they come, I can find a way to stretch out the minutes and hours to make it last just a bit longer.

And if there's one victory to this day, it's that I managed to sneak in half an hour to cook dinner. That's all it took, and the results were delicious. Panko crusted chicken, kind of like a "healthy" fried chicken, but with an amazing sauce. Maple and mustard, oddly enough, they go together, and fit the season as well.

This is a sauce that I've used for pork as well, it's a favorite. Feel free to use chicken breasts or chicken thighs, both are great. Is there anything better than a good pan sauce? No...I think not.

Panko-Crusted Chicken with Mustard Maple Pan Sauce
from Bon Appetit

2 8-ounce skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswise in half (alternatively, you can use 4-6 skinless chicken thighs)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon coarse-grained mustard
1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter

Using meat mallet or rolling pin, pound chicken in resealable plastic bag to 1/3-to 1/2-inch thickness. Whisk egg, parsley, and 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard in large bowl. Place chicken in egg mixture; turn to coat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Dip each chicken piece in panko; turn to coat. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook until brown and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, whisk broth, syrup, coarse-grained mustard, and remaining 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard in glass measuring cup.

Transfer chicken to plates. Add broth mixture to skillet; boil until reduced to 3/4 cup, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add butter; whisk until melted. Spoon sauce alongside chicken.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lick the Spoon - San Marzano Tomato Sauce

Lately I've been trying to make a concentrated effort to schedule things into my day aside from work; namely, cooking and having some sort of a social life. To that end, I've accomplished several things in the past week:
  • Attacking a Lamb Ragu recipe I've had in my recipe file for the past year or so
  • Driving up to Sacramento to visit a dear friend
  • Visiting the apple orchards on Apple Hill with said dear friend to try my first ever apple cider donut, oh so good!
  • Wine tasting for the first time in Amador, even the first rain of the season couldn't put a damper on this
  • San Marzano Tomato Sauce from scratch
I've been meaning to make San Marzano sauce for ages, and just never got around to it. Once I did, I finally understood why people say that these tomatoes make the best sauce. So, so good. It was such a comforting thing to have it simmering away on the stove all day while I worked, taking a break every so often to stir the bubbling sauce and inhale the savory fragrance. By the time I finished work I was practically crazy from the heavenly smell, I couldn't wait to dish it over fresh pasta...but I must admit, I snuck in a few spoonfuls before the pasta was ready. This sauce is so good, you'll literally be licking the spoon.

More on the apple excursion later, in the meantime, make. this. sauce.

San Marzano Tomato Sauce

12-15 San Marzano Tomatoes
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 small to medium yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher Salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and in the meantime, score an "X" in the bottom of each tomato and set aside a large bowl of ice water. When the water is boiling, slide each tomato into the water, blanch for about 30 seconds, and then remove the tomatoes and stick them into the ice water bath. Use your fingers to peel the skin right off. Set the peeled tomatoes aside.

Over med-high heat, saute the onion in the olive oil until caramelized. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper; stir to combine. Simmer on low for about an hour or more , stirring once in awhile, and tasting as you go for seasoning (you can simmer for several hours for a deeper flavor) Remove bay leaf. Taste for salt & pepper, and add more if desired. Serve over pasta, or jar to save.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coming 'Round - Cream of Cauliflower Soup

I kept the sickness at bay for a good couple of days, enough so that I could enjoy beer with friends, the farmer's market and the long awaited Arcade Fire concert at the Berkeley Greek. Finally, this morning, it caught up with me. The aching neck and aching bones wouldn't be denied. There was only one thing to do: make a big pot of comforting soup and climb into bed.

And so I thumbed through the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, and stopped on the Cream of Cauliflower soup recipe. It just sounded right; rich and velvety, comfort in a bowl. It doesn't matter if you're not exactly crazy about cauliflower, you will love this soup. It's just rich and creamy goodness. So good, it made me forget my aching bones for awhile. It came together easily, and made my apartment smell amazing. It's the perfect thing for a brisk fall day. Outside, the wind has picked up, and the leaves are swirling around in the street. The fog is low, and slowly rolling in from the other side of the bay. You can smell fall in the air. It's arrived. And this soup is the perfect greeting for it.

I've really come around to fall. I've pulled out the back issues of gourmet and am spending some time going over the best of the season, marking the recipes I have yet to make, and being reminded of a few old favorites that I haven't made in a year or so. I'm feeling good about it. As long as the next recipes live up to the standard this one has set, I think the transition will continue to go well.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup
adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home

2 heads of cauliflower (4-5 lbs)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
3/4 cup coarsely chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
1/4 tsp yellow curry powder, or madras curry powder
Kosher salt
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups water

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and cut out the core. Trim the stems and reserve them. For the garnish, trim 2 cups florets about the size of the quarter and set aside.

Coarsely chop the cauliflower and the stems into 1 inch pieces. Melt 3 tbsp of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, leeks, curry, 2 tsp salt, and cauliflower. Cover with a piece of parchment paper, cut into a circle with a small hole in the middle. This acts as a parchment lid for steaming the cauliflower. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are almost tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard parchment lid.

Pour in milk, cream and water, and increase heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off the foam from time to time.

Using a hand-mixer (or a blender in batches) puree the cauliflower on the lowest speed, slowly increase until the consistency becomes smooth and velvety. Check for seasoning and adjust if needed. Transfer to a large saucepan and keep warm.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to boil. Add the vinegar and the reserved cauliflower florets and blanch until tender, 4-6 minutes. The vinegar will help keep the cauliflower white. Drain.

Melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a rich golden brown. Add the florets and saute until a rich golden brown, set aside.

To serve, reheat the soup. It should be thick, but if it's took thick for your taste, add water to thin it to the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour soup into bowls and top with cauliflower garnish. Serve hot.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Easing Into Fall - Black Cod with Chanterelle Mushroom Ragout

Just as I was beginning to accept the fact that it was fall, and that the Bay Area had completely skipped summer...the heat wave came. You will not hear me complaining about this: bring on the tubing and camping trips! Finally!!! As long as the temperature stays above 80, you'll find me by the water. Hello Russian River! I've missed you! I'm already planning my Sunday getaway. Everyone here is moaning about the heat. What's wrong with you people?! Break out the fans, sprinklers and sunscreen! It's so funny...this is my 7th October in the Bay Area...every October, I'm sure the temperature will drop, and the rain will start...and every October, I'm wrong. Thank god.

My trip to the Farmer's Market this weekend left me with the ingredients for a very fall like dish. Like it or not, I had to turn on the oven in this heat to make this dish I'd been thinking about all last week. Black cod with Chanterelle Mushroom Ragout. Garlic, shallots, chanterelles and white wine...on top of Black Cod. It just sounded perfect. The only possible way I could ease into fall. Now I've thrown the windows open and am taking a few cold showers...but still. It's worth it, to be able to cook my own lunch on a weekday, and enjoy a long awaited summer day. And to top it off, it was easy. Amazingly simple. Simple enough to become a weekday staple...

Black Cod with Chanterelle Ragout

adapted from Bon Appetit

3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound fresh chanterelles, cleaned, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium shallot, sliced thinly
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 large black cod fillets with skin (about 2 pounds)
2 tbsp dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Melt butter with 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until beginning to color. Stir in garlic, shallot, and parsley. Add wine; simmer until almost evaporated, scraping up browned bits in skillet, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon peel and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Brush 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil. Place cod, skin side down, in baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and Parmesan; drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Bake until fish is opaque in center, about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Week 6 - Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Lately, my perception of time feels exactly like the summer we've had here in the Bay Area this year: non-existent. I start to work around 8 every morning, and the next time I look at the clock, it's just past 1pm, I haven't eaten, and I feel pretty confused about where those 5 hours went. I get up, try and scrounge together some semblance of a lunch, and then go back to work. Next thing I know, it's 6pm. It's a bit of a vicious cycle at the moment.

They say it takes 3-5 months to finally feel settled in a new job. I'm on week 6. And I'm thinking I need to try and find a balance. Also: don't talk to me about fall. I'm sick about it. We had exactly 3 days this summer where the thermometer climbed above 80. Ridiculous.

When Bon Appetit magazine fell out of my mail box yesterday, I sort of sighed, and put it on top of the growing pile of things I'd like to read, but just haven't had the time to delve into. When a break rolls around, the last thing I want to do is stay inside. To that end, some friends and I found ourselves in the middle of San Francisco Bay this weekend, passengers on the boat The Pegasus. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, accompanied by a pod of porpoises, around Angel Island and past Sausilito. We had front row seats to the Rolex Regatta race. It was a memorable experience. Especially due to our Captain: Captain Richard, who taught me this little ditty:

What a marvelous bird is the pelican
it's beak can hold more than it's bellican

in it's beak it can hold, enough food for a week

but I don't know how the hellican.

I have a thing for birds. So much so that it has earned me the nickname "Ladyhawk" amongst my friends. Captain Richard also has a thing for birds.

He and I got along famously.

Anyway. Check out this city, would you? From the boat, everywhere we looked was a beautiful view.

As far as weekend plans go, it was pretty good. And I managed to keep work at bay for an entire day.

I have cooked exactly 0 times this week. Thankfully Leah had sent this recipe for her Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. I had them. They were divine. Thanks to Leah.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from

2 1/4 cups All-Purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 cups dark brown sugar (packed)
1 Tbs half and half cream (or milk)
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 cups chocolate chips

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

Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Continue to cook on low heat, stirring often, until butter is browned. Turn off heat and stir in white and brown sugars.

Scrape into a medium mixing bowl and use electric mixer to cream the butter and sugars together. Add half & half, lemon juice, vanilla extract and eggs. Mix in until well combined. Add half of the flour mixture and incorporate into the batter with electric mixer. Add the rest and mix until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. The cookie dough will be very soft and buttery. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until firm (an hour or two).

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop up heaping Tablespoonfuls of cookie dough and use your hands to roll into balls. Place 12 balls on a sheet, keeping about an inch and a half between each ball.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes, depending on how large you’ve rolled your balls (mine took 11 minutes).

Yield: About 2 1/2 dozen

*Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Absent - Peach Upside Down Cake from Leah

I've been shamefully absent in blogging lately, and can't provide much by way of an excuse. Other than the fact that I've been eating out quite a bit lately, and when I'm not doing that, I'm eating handfuls of cherry tomatoes like they're going out of style (or season, as the case may be).

Friday was an embarrassment of Bay Area riches. Literally. Breakfast AND dinner at Pizzaiolo, and what may be one of the best sandwiches I've ever had (Pulled Pork BBQ) from a new place in Berkeley, Ironwood BBQ. Go there. Trust.

It's always fun to bring a person to Pizzaiolo who's never been there before. I talk it up beforehand quite a bit, and people are always skeptical, thinking it won't be quite as good as I've promised, but it always, always is. It was a stellar meal on Friday that included padron peppers with burrata cheese, halibut carpacio with avocado, and a squid and cherry tomato pizza with a farm egg on top. Not once have I ever been anything less than extremely impressed with a dish there. I hadn't been in quite awhile, so I figure 2 meals there in one day make up for it.

Man, am I lucky to live here.

I did stop by the farmer's market this morning to stock up on more tomatoes and peaches. Not sure how much longer they'll be in season. While picking out some juicy and fat looking peaches, I remembered that Leah had sent me this recipe for Peach Upside Down Cake. It comes highly recommended. Just thought I'd pass it on...make it while you can!

Peach Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen by Leah

3-4 peaches - skinned and sliced thinly
1/4 stick unsalted butter - cut into small cubes
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup peach juice or apple juice

Special equipment: A well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9″ spring form cake pan. I used a fluted one because I had it.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Make topping: Arrange peaches in the bottom of the pan in overlapping concentric circles. Sprinkle brown sugar and butter over the peaches.

Make batter: Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Beat in juice, then add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. (Batter may appear slightly curdled.)

Spoon batter over peach topping and spread evenly. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake stand in skillet/pan for five minutes. Invert a plate over skillet/pan and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and skillet/pan firmly pressed together). Replace any peach stuck to bottom of skillet.

Serve cake just warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BLAT - Iceburg Wedges with Bacon, Tomato, Avocado & Buttermilk Dressing

Maybe it's all the Mad Men I've been watching lately, or maybe it's the fact that since I left the office life, I also left the sandwich shop my co-workers and I all held so dear, and my beloved BLAT sandwich (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) but for awhile now, I've been craving a hunk of iceberg lettuce dressed up to the nines with all kinds of goodness.

If you're confused about the Mad Men reference, just think 1960's and salad. End result being iceburg with ranch.

Back to that sandwich shop. Our patronage of that place was a full-blown addiction. Since their opening a couple years ago, not a week has gone by that failed to see each one of us at the counter. Quick, cheap and damn good sandwiches. Now that I'm working from home, I thought I'd try to recreate some of the magic of "The Sandwich Zone."

This salad is basically a deconstructed sandwich. The recipe is also another Thomas Keller from the Ad Hoc cookbook, lest you think I alone was crazy for craving a salad of iceburg and other things. Nope. Keller agrees. This salad is magic. It's a meal. In my version, I omitted the croutons and added the avocado, but next time, I'll throw the croutons back in. I highly advise you to do the same.

BLAT Salad - Iceburg Wedges with Bacon, Tomato, Avocado & Buttermilk Dressing
adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hod at Home

1 head of iceburg lettuce, cut into 6 wedges
1 ripe tomato, cut into wedges
4-6 slices cooked, crispy bacon, crumbled
1/2 avocado, cut into slices

For the Buttermilk Dressing:
1 cup greek yogurt
1/4-1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp minced chives
1 tsp minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp minced mint
Kosher salt to taste

Whisk all ingredients together, taste for salt. Dressing can be refrigerated for up to one week.

Place lettuce wedges, tomato, avocado, croutons, and bacon in individual bowls. Dress with the buttermilk dressing, serve with remaining dressing on the side and freshly ground pepper.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When the Tomatoes are Ripe - Tomato Basil Pasta

When August rolls around I only crave tomatoes. It seems they've been later than ever in coming around this year. But they're finally here. And that means one thing: Tomato Basil Pasta. It's my all time favorite. It tastes like summer, and it's about as perfect as a simple dish can get. My friends request it time after time. It's what I always make to impress whomever it is that is I want to impress. And it can only be made in the late summer months when each ingredient is at its very best.

It reminds me of late summer dinners on the porch, still dripping wet from our swimming pool. Of a warm Mediterranean night in Corsica when dinner started at 1opm and ended around 2am. Of a summer in Santa Cruz, cooking in the most gorgeous kitchen I've ever seen for people I loved. Of cooking for one in a stuffy studio apartment over the plaza in Ashland, Oregon with the first bottle of wine I got for free from the winery I worked at. Of a late night dinner eaten out of Tupperware in a caboose in Dunsmuir, while the rain poured and the wind howled outside, and we were on our first road trip together.

There's something about a dish that brings about that kind of nostalgia. It's comforting. And it feels important when you make it.

But be forewarned. Do not even attempt to make this dish when tomatoes are not in season. You will be sorely disappointed.

This is less of a recipe, and more of a set of guidelines. This is all about how it tastes to you. Measuring out tablespoons and teaspoons would just ruin it:

Tomato Basil Pasta

Pasta (I used fresh porcini pasta from Phoenix Pastaficio) bowtie and penne shapes are especially good for this.
good tomatoes, roughly chopped (I used 4 medium heirlooms, green, gold and red)
3-4 cloves of garlic, I mince the garlic and then create a sort of paste with the back of my knife and some kosher salt. You want the garlic to mix well with the juice of the tomatoes, almost like a salsa. If you don't make the garlic paste, mince it very finely
Basil, torn into small pieces, about 3/4 a cup to 1 cup
good extra virgin Olive Oil, a few tablespoons
Fresh Parmesan

Mix the tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil together. Add kosher salt to taste and let sit to sort of macerate for a half hour or so. Do not refrigerate.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water, according to package directions. If you're using fresh pasta (which I recommend) this should only take a couple minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the tomato mixture. Taste, add salt and freshly ground pepper if needed. Top with grated or shaved Parmesan. Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Russian Roulette - Grilled Padrón Peppers with Olive Oil & Sea Salt

It was naive of me to think I'd have more time to cook now that I'm working from home. Nope. Definitely not the case. The whole work from home thing has so far equaled some very, very long days. I'm quickly learning that I have to schedule things like breakfast, lunch and dinner, or I just don't get around to actually eating a meal. Now, more than ever, things will have to be scheduled, and spontaneity will be taking a back seat, for now.

The most spontaneous thing I've done this week was to buy these Padrón peppers. When 6pm rolled around I shut my computer, rose from my desk and started to heat up my grill pan for a decidedly unique dinner.

I first had these peppers as an appetizer at Pizzaiolo. I couldn't get enough of them. It's like playing Russian Roulette with these, some are hot and some are not. I can't seem to pop them in my mouth fast enough. They're the epitome of a quick dish. Just toss with olive oil and sea salt, grill and serve. Your guests will think you're very fancy.

Grilled Padrón Peppers with Olive Oil & Sea Salt

1 bunch of Padrón Peppers
enough olive oil to coat the peppers
sea salt

Heat an outdoor grill or grill pan on the stove to medium-high. Meanwhile, toss the peppers in a bowl with the olive oil and salt. The peppers will start to char and blacken after about 4 minutes or so. Keep an eye on them to gauge when to turn them with some tongs. Char on both sides. When done, transfer to a plate, add more sea salt if necessary, and serve.

Pimientos De Padron

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Four Little Words Nearly Everyone Hopes to Hear - Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon & Thyme

After 3 days (roughly 30 hours) of intensive training in a Westin hotel just outside of Washington DC with my 20 fellow trainees, we were cut loose at 4:30 on Friday evening. We sat in the hotel conference room, blinking in surprise and exhaustion. We were free? To do what? The last 72 hours had been under strict schedule and direction. It seemed as though we couldn't remember exactly what we did when we weren't absorbing and brainstorming together.

We packed up our new laptops and training manuals and headed up to the hotel lounge like zombies. Waiting for the cars that would whisk us off to the airport. We collapsed into the overstuffed chairs and ordered a round of drinks, unable to stop talking about work. My brain felt several tons over capacity, and when I headed over to the bar for a refill, the bartender took one look at me and said the words you always hope to hear a bartender say: "This one's on me."

God bless him.

It's true, my eyes were bloodshot, with some serious dark circles parking under them. I must have been a seriously pitiful sight. But if it's pity that leads to a free glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I have no problem with that.

There are other stories from the past week and a half, of course, but I choose to start at the end for now. From Washington/Dulles airport I boarded a Virgin American red-eye, and more than four hours of Top Chef later, I landed at SFO. My head hit my pillow at 2am, and the next day I gathered myself together to head to my friend Brigid's wedding in Mill Valley. It was a fairly surreal 24 hours, and a very lovely wedding filled with old friends and co-workers from my first couple years in the Bay Area.

When Sunday rolled around, I reveled in my first truly free day in what seemed like months. Feeling ambitious, I whipped out Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook and opened it up to this recipe. I'd been eying it for months, but just hadn't gotten around to making it. Not that it's difficult, but sometimes tacking a recipe from a master chef can seem a bit intimidating for a weekday night. Surprisingly, this is a one pot mean that would translate nicely to any given Wednesday.

It felt so good to be back in the kitchen. And it feels great to be embarking on a new job, even if I am too nervous to sleep much. But here's hoping to less hours of the week commuting, and more in the kitchen.

Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon & Fennel
from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home
serves 2-3

2 large fennel bulbs
6 chicken thighs, skin on
kosher salt
canola oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
4 tbsp dry white wine
1/2 cup large green olives
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 dried bay leaf
4 strips of lemon zest, removed with a vegetable peeler
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley leaves for garnish

Cut off the fennel stalks. Trim off the bottom of the bulbs and peel back the layers from the core. You can use the cores for another recipe. Cut the fennel layers into 2 x 1/2 inch batons. You'll need roughly 2 cups of fennel. Reserve any leftover fennel for another recipe.

Preheat the oven to 375 and set a cooling rack out over a baking sheet for later use.

Season the chicken thighs on both sides with salt. Heat a couple tablespoons of canola oil in a large oven-proof saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the thighs, skin side down and cook until brown on that side, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook for about a minute more to sear the other side. Transfer the thighs to a cooling rack and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onions. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another minute, stirring often until the onions are translucent. About 5 minutes. Add the fennel, turn the heat up to medium and cook, stirring often until the fennel is crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.

Add in the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes to cook off the alcohol. Sir in the olives, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, lemon zest, thyme and chicken stock. Increase the heat, bring the liquid to a simmer, and cook until the fennel is tender, about 1 minute.

Taste the stock and season with salt to taste. Return the chicken to the pan, skin-side-up, in a single layer. When the liquid returns to a simmer, transfer the pan to the oven and cook 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Turn on the broiler and put the pan under it for a minute or two to crisp and brown the chicken skin. Remove, transfer to a serving platter, garnish with parsley and serve.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Simple - White Peaches in Muscat Wne

I spent my freshman year of college at a small liberal arts school smack in the middle of Boston. My dorm was at the corner of Boylston and Tremont, right across from the Common and the Boston Gardens. The year before, I was attending my final year of high school at a tiny school for the arts in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and to go from the nearest town being 15 miles away, to being in the heart of a bustling city like Boston was a bit of a shock to my system. My hike to class in Michigan was literally just that, a hike through the woods on campus, past a gorgeous lake with the sounds of students practicing their instruments all around. In Boston, it was a stroll across the Commons, pushing past droves of people to the sounds of construction, sirens, and basic city life.

There weren't many places to escape the constant drone of the city that year. I didn't have a car, but occasionally I would take the T across the river to Cambridge and find a quiet park somewhere. But more likely, I was taking full advantage of the student offer at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Free admission. I was there nearly once a week, taking in the hush of that place. Peaceful, open and bright, with it's towering ceilings and stark white lines. It's where I discovered my favorite photographer, Edward Weston. In particular, it's where I discovered this photo that has haunted me ever since:

I stood in front of this photo for hours, collectively. Marveling at it. So many shapes in one body. I loved coming back to that exhibit. Taking some time out from the noise and activity to walk peacefully throughout the museum and take in all the beauty. Always starting and ending at this particular photograph.

So imagine how ecstatic I was to walk into the Oakland Museum for the first time, and stumble upon the same photograph in the back of the art section of the museum. I gasped out loud. It's famous, to be sure, but for me it's personal. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that it was there, but I was. I couldn't help but grin.That was a difficult year, and seeing the photograph brings me back to being 18 years old and on my own in the big city for the first time. It was so many things at once. Exciting and frighting, full of activity but lonely at the same time. In the end, I learned to embrace being on my own in the big city, and it's something I take pleasure in doing every once in awhile now.

I especially love spending time alone in museums. No one to rush me, no one to wait for. Just me, taking my time to look at whatever I want, for however long I want. It feels positively decadent.

The Oakland Museum is a beautiful place. I wandered around for a few hours, and spent a good deal of time in the current Pixar exhibit, which was spectacular, to say the least, but when I was ready to go, I headed back into the art exhibit, to look at the Weston picture one more time.

What's so beautiful about the piece, I think, is it's simplicity. The duality of curves and straight lines, the exposure of skin and the face concealed, the gradation of color in the simple black and white.

There's something so elegant about beauty extending from simplicity.

That might be the same reason why I like this dessert so much. Simple. Peaches and Muscat. Maybe a little sugar if I feel it needs it. It's less of a recipe than it is a good idea.

White Peaches in Muscat Wine

from the Zuni Cafe cookbook
serves 4-5

1/2 bottle sweet muscat wine (about 1 3/4 cups)
sugar, if needed
4 medium, ripe peaches
red berries for garnish

Bring a few quarts of boiling water to a boil, and in the meantime, prepare a large bowl of ice water for the peaches to sit in after they come out of the hot water. Once the water has come to a simmer, add the peaches in with a slotted spoon, one by one. After about 15 seconds, remove the peaches with the slotted spoon and slide them into the ice water.

Remove the skin from the peaches, it should come off easily at this point.

Add the wine to a large bowl, and add sugar to taste. I added about a teaspoon, since my wine was already quite sweet.

Using a small knife, cut the peaches into 1/2 inch wedges over the wine, and let the fruit drop into the liquid. Once all the peaches have been cut, cover the fruit and wine with plastic wrap or a piece of parchment paper, and let macerate in the refrigerator for up to an hour.

Remove the peaches from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving and taste. Sprinkle more sugar over the peaches, if needed.

Spoon into wine glasses to serve. It looks beautiful garnished with red berries.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Leading Lady Red - Cucumber Salad

This is a case of good intentions leading to a likely ill-advised shade of red lipstick. Leading Lady Red, it's called.

In the almost two weeks of my in-between employment, I've tried to have a mix of the responsible "get er' done" kind of stuff, and the more enjoyable vacation things. Guess which list I prefer? Compare sectioning off an area of my studio to write off on taxes for working at home, to a hike with a good friend at Muir Beach. Or closet cleaning, to a gorgeous concert by the musician Nathaniel Rateliff at Cafe du Nord. File organizing, in order to justify drinks with friends at Smugglers Cove in San Francisco.

Yesterday the plan was to exchange book donations, oil change and car wash for an afternoon meandering through the SF MOMA. I hopped off BART and ran over to the museum, only to find myself sadly locked out. I then tried the Contemporary Jewish Museum, same story there. San Francisco museums are all closed on Wednesday afternoons, for some strange reason. My afternoon of culture was not to be.

Hence the red lipstick.

This is what in-between employment me does when her plans are thwarted. She makes an odd impulse purchase. I am now bound and determined to wear the stuff...despite the images of Bozo the Clown it conjures. Not to mention the fact that I'm terrified to pair it with any green article of clothing, lest I end up looking like some kind of deranged Christmas tree...

So today, Thursday, it's deep cleaning time for the kitchen in exchange for the Pixar exhibit at the Oakland Museum. I hear good things. I'm actually pleased with the progress that's gone on in my little studio. I think we're both ready to greet these new experiences.

You'd think I'd be doing a bit more cooking these days, what with a bit of free time on my hands, but mostly, it's just been quick and easy old favorites. This cucumber salad is something my oldest sister makes fairly often. I'm not sure if I have her recipe exact here, but it's at least inspired by her, and it's totally refreshing and delicious. Not to mention easy...

Cucumber Salad

1 English Cucumber (about 1 lb)
1/2 small red onion
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil (I stand corrected by my sister, I had written canola oil originally, mistake!)
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp parsley or dill, chopped

Cut the cucumber and onion into paper thin slices, and layer on top of each other on a serving dish.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, salt and sugar with a fork. Whisk together, and pour over the cucumbers. Garnish with dill or parsley. Serve.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mid-Century Modern - Old Fashioned Cocktail

Well hello there, Don Drapper. I've missed you so...

We celebrated the beginning of the 4th Season of Mad Men on Sunday at Amber's with a cocktail hour. Old Fashioned's were served. It seemed to be the most appropriate (not to mention delicious) choice. And then the new episode started, and seemed to last all of 10 minutes. It flew by and barely served to whet our appetite. In reality, it was 45 minutes of sheer mid-century modern bliss. Just a glimpse of the gorgeous sets and costumes on that show makes me positively giddy.

Like this:

I would like to own Don Drapper's chair. Come to think of it, I could make do with his entire office, really.

Or this:

Now that is a dress.

I think we all need a little more Joan Holloway in our lives, wouldn't you agree?

And now I'm itching to run down to the Alameda Flea Market to snatch up yet another chair. The mid-century modern addiction is a serious thing. It often results in impulse furniture purchase. I think I'm going to have to move on to lamps.

In the meantime, my recipe for a proper Old Fashioned...

Old Fashioned Cocktail

2 ounces bourbon (I used Makers Mark)
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 orange slice
1 good-quality cocktail cherry (I used Trader Joe's brand)
2 large ice cubes
*club soda (optional)

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of a cocktail glass, and soak it with the bitters. Add the orange slice and the cherry, and muddle together until the sugar has thoroughly absorbed the liquid and melted a bit. Add the bourbon and the ice, and stir well. You can also add a splash of club soda if desired. This is also the point where I add another cherry. Just for fun.

*Tip: If you want to get really fancy with it, try making ice by boiling the water before you place it in the ice tray. This makes the ice cubes turn out perfectly clear. They do this at the restaurant Flora in Oakland, one of my favorites. It's always an impressive trick.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Music Break - Arancini (Risotto Balls)

There are few things better than trotting home with a hard-drive filled with new music. Thus begins the discovery process: sifting through the new collection to find that rare gem that becomes your favorite song of the next few months. The one that, when you hear it in the years to come, brings back the memories of that point in time forever. The one that perpetually finds itself smack in the middle of nearly every future road-trip mix, a constant on compilation cd's for friends, the one that's on repeat on a lazy Sunday morning. The one you lend an earbud to a friend for..."you gotta hear this," you say as you share a pair, watching their face in happy anticipation and expectation, hoping they'll share your elation on discovering for themselves their own new favorite song.

A few months ago, it was this one:

and now, it's this one:

This blog has been in desperate need of music. By all means, if you have something you can't get out of your head, feel free to share in the comments. There's nothing I love more than new music.

But Arancini is a close runner-up.

I was excited to take Leah's class at Kitchen on Fire in Berkeley, I was even more excited when I found out we were going to be making Arancini. I've had a strange fear of deep-frying, and have been much too reluctant to try it out on my much oil. But it wasn't nearly as intimidating as I'd thought it would be. In fact, it was easy. Not to mention delicious. It's the perfect appetizer. Once you have risotto hanging out in your fridge, it's just a skip away from Arancini. And honestly, who doesn't love a deep fried rice ball?

Arancini (Risotto Balls)

Enough vegetable oil for deep frying
2 eggs, beaten to blend
2 cups cold risotto (recipe here)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
assorted ingredients for filling: we used goat cheese, fig, proscuitto, parmesan chunks...use whatever sounds delicious to you!
thermometer for monitoring the oil temperature
baking rack for cooling the arancini

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat about 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, risotto, 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs and the Parmesan till well mixed. Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a medium sized bowl, and place about 2 tbsp of the risotto mixture in your hand, flattening it out into a disk. Make an indentation with your finger in the middle of the risotto disk, and place a small amount of your filling (goat cheese, fig, prosciutto, whatever) into the middle. Form the rice into a ball around the filling, and gently roll until firm and well-formed. Roll the balls in the bread crumb mixture to coat and set aside until you've formed them all.

Using a slotted spoon, add the balls to the oil in batches, cook until lightly brown and heated through. Cooking time will depend on the temperature of your oil, so keep a close eye on the color. It can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Possibly longer. Remove the balls with a slotted spoon and place on cooling racks with paper towels placed under the racks. Do not place directly on paper towels, or the arancini will become soft. You need air circulating all around to keep the crispy texture. Season with salt, and let rest for about 2 minutes until slightly cooled. Serve hot with a marinara dipping sauce.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Record Lows - Risotto

People in the Bay Area are feeling gypped right now. It's the end of July, practically August, and yet, the weather has been stubbornly hovering between a frosty 50-65 for the past couple weeks and the fog is constant. "Record lows," are the words falling out of every meteorologist's mouth.

It's a strange state of affairs when you're looking forward to leaving freezing California for warm and sunny Oregon.

Even the tomatoes seem to have gone on strike due to the weather. The good ones are nowhere to be found. Stonefruit is here, but the weather calls for something you can curl up with, warm and comforting.

Risotto helps. But the only way I'll be ok with this weather is if the sun and high temperatures return soon and extend into November or so. And there's another reason for making it, an Arancini (fried risotto balls) recipe courtesy of Leah that's perfect for the leftovers. Stay tuned for that...and hopefully some decidedly more summery recipes.

Basic Risotto

6 cups chicken broth
2 cups white wine
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups aborio rice
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
*note: you can also substitute a bit of water in the broth/wine mixture if you'd like

Bring the broth and wine to a simmer in a saucepan on a back burner. Keep broth warm over low heat while you're cooking the rice.

Heat the butter & olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until tender, add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains evenly, continue to cook for about a couple minutes more to toast the rice and then add about 1 cup of the hot broth. Simmer over medium to medium-low and stir often until the liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes or so. Continue to add about a cup of broth, stirring and letting it absorb until the rice is creamy and tender. The whole process should take less than half-an-hour, and you should have used 6-8 cups of the broth. Season with salt & pepper to taste and serve hot, right away.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What Next? - Quinoa, Tomato & Cucumber Salad

I'm in preparation mode. Cleaning out my desk at work, organizing my files, creating the necessary paper trail for the person who comes into my current position next, trying to get my apartment ready for the work-from-home transition. It's all very cathartic actually. And so far, it's a terrific distraction from the fact that I've set into motion a fairly drastic change for myself.

I'm not a person who comes around to change very easily. I wouldn't call myself impulsive per say...impromptu road trip, yes. Impulse purchase of that thing I want but don't need at the check out line in the grocery store? Often enough. The occasional late night piano bar karaoke session? It has been know to happen. But when it comes to the big decisions; a move, a job, a relationship, I tend to take my time to carefully examine the facts, and then do it again, and again, and again, until I'm so sick of thinking about it I just make up my mind to decide. I can be a tad over-analytical, and as much as I wish it weren't the case...cautious to a fault.

I don't know if this current path I've chosen will work out, but I do know it was time for me to move on. For now, at least, I have the organization of my life to keep me from pondering to death the idea of, "what happens next?" Well...I have that and True Blood, also a terrific distraction. I'm trying to just let go, take it a day at a time, and enjoy the fact that I'm about to have almost 2 weeks vacation. Unheard of. The last thing I want to do with that time is over-analyze the fun out of it.

When you clean out the desk you've worked at for the last four years, and you come across things that remind you of something that seemed to happen only yesterday, you tend to realize how quickly the time has gone by. And hopefully, how much fun you had in the process.

Quinoa, Tomato & Cucumber Salad

adapted from the NY Times

1 cup quinoa
1/2 large english cucumber, diced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 avocado, sliced for garnish
1/2 cup basil, chopped
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
salt & pepper to taste

Soak the quinoa in cold water for 15 minutes, cook according to package directions. When the quinoa has cooked and is tender, drain and set aside and let cool to nearly room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar and lime juice. Pour the vinaigrette over the tomatoes, onion & cucumber and let sit for about 5 minutes to marinate. Add salt & pepper to taste.

When the quinoa has cooled, mix together with the tomato mixture and add the herbs. Taste for seasoning and then garnish with avocado and serve.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-changes! - Creamy Tomato Gazpacho

Two weeks ago, this was my view from the Washington/Dulles Airport:

I was in Washington D.C. for less than 24 hours for a job interview with interviews in fact. It was a complete whirlwind, but I'm happy to say that they went very well! Today I gave notice at my current job. As of August 9th, I am the Oakland Account Executive for LivingSocial. I'll be scouting out my city and other parts of the Bay Area to find the things I love to do and share. They're going to pay me for that. Crazy.

There's something unbelievably frighting and exhilarating about taking a new job. A leap into the unknown. You never know if you're making the right just have to go on instinct. Mine is telling me to leap. I'm overwhelmed, nervous, excited, relieved and, of course, I feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to move on to a new opportunity, especially with the economy being what it is.

I'll be working from home and able to set my own schedule. It means that I'll have more time to take the classes I want to take, to do all those extra activities I've been thinking about, to go the gym at 10am if I want, and, more time for this blog. To be able to photograph during daylight hours! I can't tell you how exciting that is. Even to just be that person in the coffee shop working on their laptop at 11am. I have always mocked that person...yet secretly, I always wished that was me.

And now it will be.


In a few weeks, I head back to D.C. to start my training. I plan to take a long vacation in the meantime. Get my head together, visit with family and friends, enjoy a bit of free time, and get my apartment in shape for the work-from-home transition. Wish me luck! Here goes nothing...

This NY Times recipe for Gazpacho came at a fortuitous time. The evening before some friends and I had shared an unbelievable bowl of Sungold Tomato Soup at Boot and Shoe in Oakland, and I couldn't get over my tomato soup craving. I had a pound of cherry tomatoes in the fridge, along with all the other ingredients laying around the kitchen. It called out to me. I made it in about 20 minutes for a weekend lunch...savoring the fact that making my lunch with care at home will be a regular occurrence soon. It was delicious, creamy, savory and tangy...everything I want a soup to be.

Creamy Tomato Gazpacho
adapted (slightly) from NY Times

1 lb cherry tomatoes (I used red, but the sungold would be amazing in this soup)
1 1/2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
10-12 basil leaves, roughly chopped, reserve some for garnish
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 medium cucumber, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 ice cubes
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 3/4 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
pinch of Cayenne pepper

Blend all of the ingredients in a food-processor, blender or with a hand blender. Puree until smooth. Taste, and season with salt and/or vinegar if needed. Pour into bowls, garnish with basil and serve.

Monday, July 12, 2010

An Intensive - Cultured Butter

Recently some friends asked me to come along on a hike. "I can't," I replied, "I'm taking a 6 hour cheese intensive that day."

You risk some raised eyebrows and prolonged stares when making a statement like that. But then again, this is the Bay Area. A passion for cheese (or really anything food related) is not uncommon, and more often than not the response is something like:

a. Awesome, where's the class and when can I take it?
b. Cool! I did a (insert butchery class, knife skills, pasta making, bread, etc.) last week.

The culinary arts are well respected in this part of the world. Otherwise 6 hour cheese intensives wouldn't be a possibility. Luckily for me, they are. My friend Elisa kindly invited me to join her in the class. I can safely say we didn't really know what we were in for, which was, roughly, five different cheeses (ricotta, mozzerella, camembert, chevre, feta, yogurt) and 2 different kinds of butter.

It was a long day of dairy at the Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland, ending in a feast of our labors. With the feta, we assembled a beautiful caprese salad, pictured above. The feta was my favorite of the bunch, tangy and mild. I've always been somewhat intimidated by the cheese making process, having only attempted ricotta and chevre. My ricotta turned out great, the chevre, not so much. It's a fairly precise art. You need the right ingredients, the right tools and above all, the right temperatures. Some of the cheeses require more time and effort than others, of course. I thought I'd share the recipe for cultured butter, totally easy and incredibly delicious.

I don't know why I hadn't considered making my own butter before. Now that I realize how simple it is to do, I'll certainly be doing it again. It's far superior to store-bought, especially the cultured butter, or yogurt butter. Basically, you just add yogurt to the milk, let it ferment a bit, and then whip it up. It was delicious.

Well worth a 6 hour cheese intensive.

Cultured Butter

1 quart heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
a couple pinches of salt

In a glass bowl, mix the cream and yogurt together. Cover with a hand-towel or cheesecloth and let the mixture sit out in a warm area of your kitchen overnight. The ideal temperature for this is between 70-75 degrees. It will still work if it's colder, it will just take a bit longer.

In the morning, the mixture should have thickened a bit, letting the yogurt cultures meld with the cream.

A couple options at this point, you can put the mixture in your cuisineart (if you have one) on high for about 3 minutes, until the butter has formed a ball, you can use a hand-mixer on high, or you can put it in a jar and shake it vigorously until it's turned (if you have very strong arms).

If using a hand-mixer, turn the setting from high to low once the cream starts to form stiff peaks. At this point, the milk solids are separating from the liquid and things can get messy if the speed is too high.

When the solid butter has formed, pour off any buttermilk liquid in the bowl, and squeeze the butter to release any additional liquids (you can reserve the liquid, which is basically just buttermilk, for dressings). This is where a butter press can come in handy. The picture above is of butter that has been pressed, the press had the bird design molded into it. Pretty, no?

The final step is to rinse your butter with cold water, do that until the water runs clear and it will keep it from turning rancid. After that, salt the butter on all sides.

Dish, and serve.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Peace & Quiet - Caramel Banana Cake

Photo by Brian

While at the river last weekend, I stepped out of the house alone around midnight and walked a few yards away. The moon was just about full, the forest and river were lit just enough to see by it's light. I stood still and silence and stillness. I couldn't even hear the river.

I can't remember the last time I heard silence like that. So incredibly peaceful.

It's easy to forget that that sense of quiet and stillness even exists when you live in the city, amid the constant hum of fans, air-conditioners, motors, refrigerators, traffic, etc. After having been on the go non-stop for the 3 days prior to our river trip, it was an unbelievable relief to be able to stand completely still, and not hear a single thing. Just peace and absolute quiet.

After a few minutes, I did hear a car drive by on a road not too far away, and then a small splash in the river, and what sounded like a owl in a nearby tree. I can't tell you how peaceful that moment was, especially after 96 hours of being on the go, non-stop.

It was a good weekend. So good that we decided to head up again this Saturday. I can't seem to get enough river time these days.

Have I mentioned that summer is my favorite season?

So, more about that Caramel Banana Cake. A cake I'd never made before, but one that Leah had requested. She was quite specific, Caramel. Banana. Cake. Anything for her 30th! As I said in my last post, this batter would be perfect for muffins. It's like the worlds greatest banana bread. I mean come on, it has caramel in it!

Caramel Banana Cake
2 9-inch layers

3/4 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas
1 1/2 cups caramel sauce (recipe below)

Heat oven to 325. Grease two 9" cake pans.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy then add the eggs and beat until silky and lightened. Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt. Whisk the milk and mashed bananas in a separate measuring cup and add to the eggs and butter, alternating with the flour. Beat just until smooth.

Pour batter into the prepared pans. Pour half the caramel sauce into each pan, and swirl with a knife. The pans will be quite full. Put in the oven carefully and bake for about 60 minutes, or until the centers are set and a knife comes out clean.

Cool completely before serving. Optional, whip about 2 cups of heavy cream with 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp vanilla. Whip until the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Coat the cake in a layer of whipped cream with a flat rubber spatula.

Caramel Sauce
makes about 3 cups

2 cups cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
Pinch salt
1 tbsp butter

Warm the cream in a small saucepan over low to medium heat. While it's warming, add the sugar and water to a large, heavy, high-sided pan over high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then leave it alone to boil until it reaches a deep amber color. It's hot, but if you can, taste while you go, you don't want to caramel to burn.

Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream. The mixture will bubble and spit while adding the cream, so stand back and go slow! Add the pinch of salt and butter and whisk smooth. Simmer until slightly reduced.