“But Brandi”, you say “It’s Friday night, the WEEKEND.” It’s true, but for me Friday nights are really Wednesday nights. I’m in the middle of my work week and I’m usually exhausted. But since it’s Friday night for everyone else I know (well, except all my architect friends that were laid off – they’re looking down a long line of Saturdays), I try to make an effort to go out into the world. My friends Mindy and Jimmy invited me over for dinner (mac and cheese, yay!) and of course I’m bringing dessert. Lucky for me I keep emergency crisp topping in the freezer! I had pears leftover from the upside down pear cake (when John was doing the shopping, I panicked on quantities and asked him to get as many pears as he could carry, and ooops – we only needed 3). Following some Mark Bittman advice, I keep a chunk of ginger in my freezer so I didn’t have to do much of anything!
First I chopped the ginger into tiny little bits.
Then I chopped up the pears and tossed them with the ginger, brown sugar and some spices.
I popped it into the oven for 20 minutes and then added my already made pecan crisp topping.
I baked it until the crisp was crispy and I could see the juices bubbling up over the sides.
A scoop of ice cream later and it was on! I would show a picture of a cute little slice, but it was eaten before I remembered to take one…
They’re actually much easier than I anticipated. Which should have been obvious since everything I read about tamale making started with “they’re not as hard as you might think”. Lots of ladies over tonight to celebrate the arrival of Maggie in town. I wanted to make tamales, and was inspired by the local company “Primavera” that makes yummy veggie tamales. I had a butternut squash hanging out in the pantry, just BEGGING to be diced up, so I decided to freestyle a tamale filling with that. While I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming spring veggies (peas!!!), I will miss the trusty old butternut.
We are very lucky in SF to have tons of great Latin markets, so I didn’t have to look too hard to find fresh masa and banana leaves. I’m not really sure I chose banana leaves, corn husks seem to be more traditional. I was holding both in the store, having a hard tome deciding. It must have been the color of the banana leaves that got me, they’re so shiny and pretty… Anyways, I cut the banana leaves up into what seemed like the right size and smeared on some masa dough.
I had cooked the butternut with some onions, garlic, chili verde sauce, jalepenos, spices and a few other things that I threw in during a panicked moment of “It doesn’t taste GOOD ENOUGH! Why the f*ck did I decide to use this squash!”
Around this time everyone showed up and went to work in the tamale factory. They even tied cute little belts on them! Such lovely friends…
We put them in the steamer and then I realized that it takes 75 minutes of steaming, not 20 minutes. Oooops. So there was lots of waiting. Thank you Leila for bringing chips and salsa. And everyone else for bringing wine and beer! It was enough time for me to spin versions of the evening that ended in mushy, gooey blobs of unappetizing orangeness. At some point Liddy mentioned that tamales were one of her favorite foods and I kept thinking “She’s gonna know that I’m a fraud! What do I know about tamales?”
But it was worth the wait. We ate them on a plate of spicy black beans, with some chunky guacamole, my chipotle creme fraiche, and the fresh queso fresco. A delicious meal it was.
And of course, there was dessert. I fried up some churros and made a thick mexican hot chocolate for dipping.
*That only makes sense if you live in San Francisco. We have a nice lady that pushes a cart around the mission bars selling tamales. We love her. But I think my tamales were better.
No 90210 for a while, sadness. I will try to distract myself with celebrating other things with dinner! My old roommate Maggie is in town, so tonight we eat! Maggie rolls deep with a vegetarian crowd (ok they’re my friends too), so I’m gonna be making some vegetarian tamales (first time! why haven’t I made tamales before?). To keep myself from going bonkers today (since we all know I can be a bit of an over achiever when I throw dinner parties), yesterday I made my creamy bits for tonight’s dinner.
First some salty queso fresco, to toss on the tamales and the salad.
And then some creme fraiche, that I’ll blend with chiles to make a yummy sauce. The great thing about creme fraiche is that it’s so damn easy to make, and if you’re me, there’s a very good chance you already have the ingredients. Just mix 2 tablespoons of buttermilk for every 1 cup of heavy cream and let it sit (covered) in a warm place for 24 hours.
Can’t wait to make dinner out of these guys!
I was so tired yesterday. I love working in the food industry, alot. It’s hard work, but so much more satisfying (to me) than sitting at a desk all day. But yesterday I just felt weeks of exhaustion pile up. And Pantea was throwing a dinner party last night (coq au vin!) and I was making dessert. Laying on the couch thinking “Could I just go in my boxer shorts and apron? Would it be weird or just mildy eccentric?”, whipping up a dessert seemed impossible. But John helped, and I had thankfully picked one of the easiest cakes in my recipe bank. Upside down cake is the ultimate comfort dessert, and tonight I made one with pears, ginger & molasses.
First I creamed some butter and brown sugar, the beginnings of a quick caramel sauce. I smashed it into the pan, so that as the cake baked it will melt into the top of the cake.
Then I sliced up some pears and layed them onto the sugar butter mixture.
I made a super easy cake batter with cinnamon, ginger & molasses and poured that on top of the pears.
And then I baked it while I layed on the couch some more…
Upside down cakes are so damn cool. They come out of the oven looking so unsuspecting.
And then you flip them over and all the fruit and gooey yumminess is right there.
Pantea’s Coq au Vin was gorgeous. The salad & veggies that other friends brought were perfect. And the cake made me feel like everything was gonna be ok. Well, once I slept, which after eating a second slice happened very soon.
Leftovers. I love them.
I know it was an obvious move, but here’s a pic of my corned beef hash anyways!
My culinary curiosity has taken an interesting turn in the past year. Like most people, when I began cooking, the focus was on throwing killer dinner parties involving elaborate concoctions that kept me busy for hours. Slowly my interest has shifted over to traditional food crafts: making jams, cheese, bread – things that are fairly simple in their ingredients and labor, but infinitely complex in technique. While perusing Green Apple Books for a present (for myself) a few weeks ago, I found a book on charcuterie that screamed “buy me!”. I did, and last night I tried out my first recipe. I wanted to start simple, since playing with meat is kinda pricey (I would rather not eat meat at all than succumb to cheaper, factory farmed meat), and I possibly have an unhealthy paranoid fear of botulism. Corned Beef seemed like a good intro to meat curing. It’s not something that I normally thought of as a great meal, but as of now that has all changed.
The first step was to create the blend of spices known as “pickling spices”.
I made a brine of water, salt, curing salt (I ordered it immediately after getting home with the book!), sugar and the pickling spices. I placed in 6 lbs of beef brisket, making sure that it was completely submerged, and let it chill in the fridge for 5 days.
I admit, I was skeptical after seeing it in its brined state. Not exactly…pretty.
I got even more skeptical when I cooked it, which involved boiling it for 3 hours. I generally reserve boiling for things like pasta, potatoes & bagels. The thought of boiled meat doesn’t exactly get me salivating. But my confidence built every time I walked outside and back in and could smell the spices doing there thing. John started greeting our dinner guests with “Welcome to the best smelling house on the block” and I started feeling REALLY good. And you know, it WORKED!
Like, REALLY worked. It was so salty and juicy and pink and delicious. For some people, it was religious. Even “I just got back from India and now I wannabe Hindu and cows are sacred” Bronson tried a piece. Tessa rediscovered Judaism, at least the salty meat part of Judaism. John postponed dumping me for some younger, hotter chefling. I couldn’t have been happier.
I cooked a full spread of Irish American food to compliment the Beef: Braised Cabbage & Collards, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, Brown sugar glazed roasted carrots…
and of course, a loaf of whole wheat Irish soda bread.
I slept very well last night.
For the pickling spice:
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons hot red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons allspice berries
1 tablespoon ground mace
2 small cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into pieces
24 bay leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger
For the brine:
1 gallon water
2 cups kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 ounce (5 teaspoons) pink salt (see Note)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons pickling spice (above)
One 5-pound well-marbled (first-cut) beef brisket
2 tablespoons pickling spice (above)
To make the pickling spice:
- Lightly toast the peppercorns, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds in a small dry skillet, then smash them with the side of a knife just to crack them.
- Combine the cracked spices with the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Store in a tightly sealed plastic container or glass jar.
To make the brine:
- Combine the water, salt, sugar, pink salt, garlic, and pickling spices in a pot large enough to hold the brisket comfortably. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate the brine until it’s completely chilled.
- Place the brisket in the brine and weight it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Refrigerate for 5 days.
- Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cool running water. (Resting is not required here because the distribution of the brine will continue in the long, slow cooking process.)
To cook the beef:
- Place the brisket in a pot just large enough to hold it and add enough water to cover the meat. Add the remaining pickling spice and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for about 3 hours, or until the brisket is fork-tender There should always be enough water to cover the brisket; replenish the water if it gets too low.
- Remove the corned beef from the cooking liquid, which can be used to moisten the meat and vegetables, if that is what you’re serving. Slice the beef and serve warm, or cool, then wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve, or for up to a week.
Note: Pink salt, a curing salt with nitrite, is called by different names and sold under various brand names, such as tinted cure mix or T.C.M., DQ Curing Salt, and Insta Cure #1. The nitrite in curing salts does a few special things to meat: It changes the flavor, preserves the meat’s red color, prevents fats from developing rancid flavors, and prevents many bacteria from growing.
In my experience, bread pudding gets no love. It’s like the drunk uncle of the dessert world. And it makes me so sad. I think bread pudding is just fantastic. I mean, it’s bread and sweet custard. Really, what’s not to love? I think most people just haven’t had GOOD bread pudding. I make GOOD bread pudding. And this is how.
I always use a nice locally made egg bread. If I was being ambitious, I would make my own brioche. Today I am not being ambitious (at least not with dessert). I bought 2 loaves of Semifreddi’s challah, one with cinnamon and one with poppy seeds. I sliced the loaves and arranged them loosely in a baking pan. Then I toasted them in the oven, just long enough to dry them out a bit.
Then I made a custard by mixing up some eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla & salt. I poured that custard all over the toasty slices.
Then I spent a little time admiring the loveliness, while pressing all of the edges into the custard.
Then I wrapped it up and let it soak overnight.
When it was time* I pulled it out of the fridge and checked it out. All that soaking made room for me to pour in more of the custard, which I happily did. The important part (really the ONLY important part, it’s not exactly rocket science) is to get as much custard as possible into the pudding, without spilling of course. I let it soak in for a few minutes and then baked it until the custard was just set.
At this point you’re probably thinking “and why is this special?” So while it’s cooling, I make a caramel sauce. Now you’re probably thinking “Why don’t you just call this blog ‘I Made Caramel” since I make it so much. It’s true. I heart caramel. My choice of last dessert meal ever would be floating in a bowl of caramel sauce.
Anyways, I chopped up some apples and sautéed them in the caramel sauce. And then I poured them all over the bread pudding. Now do you see what I’m talking about?
It was GOOD. So so good.
Thank you Tartine, for showing us how it’s done.
*this is different for everyone, just go with your gut.
I am mildly obsessed with food waste. The more I cook/bake (and the poorer I get), the more I try to use every scrap of food. The farm that I get my CSA box from offers amazing citrus every year, and this winter has been no different. I look forward to squeezing the juice for John once a week (mostly because I think it might be the only time he gets fruit, if it wasn’t for me I swear he would have scurvy), but I always look guiltily at the pile of peels leftover from all that squeezing. So yesterday when I squeezed all the citrus in the house – several oranges, lots of meyer lemons (gelato -hello?) and 2 GIGANTIC grapefruits – I saved the peels. Today I decided to candy them.
First I sliced up my peels into what looked like yummy, chewably sized strips.
Then I boiled them 3 times, each time starting with fresh cold water. That step supposedly helps to remove some of the bitterness as well as open the peels up to absorb the sugar.
Once rinsed of their bitter ways, I poached the peels in simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) for an hour, until the pith turned from opaque to translucent.
I drained the peels and gave them a good toss in some sugar.
Then they spent the night on cooling racks, to dry out.
So tomorrow we snack! And probably the day after, and the day after.
I really should be posting about the fabulous Valentine’s Day dessert that I slaved over last night. That would have shown all of you what a lovely girlfriend I am. Alas, I ended up working an 11 hour shift that started at 6am, so John showed me what a lovely boyfriend he is by letting me off the hook. Instead, I’m here to talk about ice cream.
I’ve been wanting to make some ice cream for months. I don’t even really like eating ice cream all that much. I’m just into the process of stirring air into cold custard until it’s something else entirely. I’ve picked up an ice cream machine with the intention of purchasing several times, but I always stop myself. It seems dangerous to have that kind of weapon at home. And spinning ice cream is easy, I could spin me and John straight into obesity without too much effort. So when my landlords offered to let me borrow their machine occasionally, it was the perfect plan. So begins my odyssey into ice creams, gelatos, sorbets & sherberts. In many ways, making ice cream is the perfect way to express the fruit seasons. It’s basically HEALTHY!
Since we’re dead in the middle of winter, I chose to kick things off with a Meyer Lemon Gelato (please do not ask me the difference between ice cream & gelato, because no matter how many times it’s explained to me, I just don’t get it).
I first whisked together some lemon juice, lemon zest, egg yolks & sugar.
Then I heated it up over simmering water to pasteurize the eggs, all the while whisking it into a frothy fluff.
Then I chilled it over some ice while heating up some milk, cream & (more – YAY!) sugar.
I poured the hot cream mixture into my lemon mixture (slowly, since I’m not trying to make scrambled eggs here). Then I chilled that for a bit before pouring it into the ice cream spinner. I let it spin for about 30 minutes, checking in on its progress every few minutes. Once it was “there” I spooned the gelato into some containers to finish chilling in the freezer. At that point is was just a matter of when we cracked. We TRIED, we really did, to make it 2 hours, the suggested time in the recipe.
We probably made it an hour. So it could have been a tad firmer. But still – not a bad late valentine.
5 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup fresh meyer lemon juice (about 8 lemons)
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
- In a medium stainless steel bowl, beat the egg yolks, water and lemon juice. Gradually whisk in ½ cup of the sugar. Add lemon zest.
- Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk vigorously for 3-4 minutes, until you have a thick foam. Remove from heat and cool in an ice bath while continuing to whisk for another minute.
- Mix cream, milk, corn syrup and remaining ½ cup sugar in heavy pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Remove from heat and slowly whisk into egg mixture. Return to ice bath and add the vanilla and salt. Taste and adjust flavor if desired. Let chill in ice bath, stirring occasionally.
- Spin in an ice cream maker according to that maker’s instructions. Transfer to freezer and freeze for at least 2 hours to firm.
This is one of those “everybody else is doing it” salads. I’ve been hearing “chickpea salad this” and “chickpea salad that” for months. So when I had a giant tupperware of chickpeas that I boiled for hummus that never got made, I decided it was time. For salad. Chickpea salad. It may sound a bit dull, but sometimes a girl feels simple. Besides, I think the whole “I’m a pastry chef now so I’m allowed to put on a few pounds” thing is losing its charm. So anyways, salad. I looked at a few recipes online and then adjusted for what ingredients I already had. I have no measurements, and found myself sprinkling paprika on our plates midway through dinner, but it turned out pretty good!
Roughly it went something like this: I diced and roasted a medium sized butternut squash. Then mixed that with about a pound of cooked chickpeas and spinach (though while eating I kept thinking “Arugula would be better). I made a dressing of lemon juice, tahini, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper and a tiny bit of water to thin it out. then I tossed it altogether and crumbled some feta on top. Easy peasy!
Now I must get back to thinking about a dessert for Valentine’s Day.