It was a beautiful day. It was a hard day. I woke up and immediately ran out the door for a bike ride with my boss. My boss who is SO much more in shape than me that the ride left me crippled (well, crippled in that good kind of way – I’ll appreciate it in a few days, when I can feel my thighs again). But it was also a night of 90210 and dinner with the girls, and there was dessert to be made. After a weekend of heavy meaty man-food (not to mention Scott’s meatloaf that I DESTROYED for lunch after the ride), we were going light and springy. Since I was basically attached to the couch, I also needed it to be quick and easy. So sorbet it was. And what a better way to kick off strawberry season than a strawberry vanilla sorbet.
First I made a vanilla sugar by spraping the seeds of a vanilla bean into the sugar and rubbing it in until it looked like this:
I mixed my vanilla sugar and bean with some water and brought it all to a boil. Once it boiled, I turned off the heat and let the flavors steep, occasionally stirring to dissolve the sugar.
While that was steeping, I washed, chopped and hulled my berries. I pureed them and pushed them through a fine sieve to get rid of the seeds.
I mixed the berries with the sugar syrup (minus the bean) and let it hang in the fridge for a bit before spinning it in the ice cream machine (How am I ever gonna survive without this guy once my landlord’s want it back?).
It was so cold and light and strawberry-ey. A perfect springy dessert. Made even more perfect by a crispy vanilla shortbread cookie, because, well, I need a LITTLE fat for it to feel like dessert.
2 pints strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 vanilla bean
basically, do what I did above..there’s really nothing more to it!
This weekend was a lovely one spent up in Napa Valley. My friend Bronson has a house in the woods that he’s been trying to fix up. So this weekend he threw a labor camp party, inviting a bunch of his friends to come up with him and build stuff (fun stuff like concrete foundations!). Not a difficult proposal with a bunch of architects as friends. Since I’m a pipsqueak with some culinary skills, I was hired as camp chef. There was a breakfast of dried cherry scones and homemade granola, a lunch of tuna sandwiches and homemade potato chips, and turkey pot pies for dinner. And lemon poundcake with strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. While that was certainly a big pile of cooking, the part that got me all giddy was the potato chips.
Bronson wanted to keep lunch simple, with some sandwiches and chips. When I heard that, all I could think was “Yes! I can make homemade potato chips!” At first he wasn’t too keen on the idea of making them ourselves (What is UP with all the fryer haters? We’re people too! I’ll fry anywhere, anytime. I don’t even need a deep fryer, just a pot. I even travel with my own splatter screen…), thinking it would be too messy. But he was swayed. Potato chips are very simple – you just need 2 ingredients: potatoes and oil. We went with a mix of sweet potatoes and yams. Oh yeah, I guess you need a mandolin too.
Mandolins make light work of slicing, and allowed me to get super-thin discs of potato.
The trickiest part is getting the temperature of the oil right. We didn’t have a thermometer with us, so it took some trial and error to get to the sweet spot, but I think 350 is about right. Once the oil temperature is set, they only take about 3 minutes to fry!
While they were still warm I tossed them with some salt, pepper, cumin and parsley.
They were way better than any chip I’ve ever gotten out of a bag. I think they’ll make it into the regular picnic rotation.
You know that calm before the storm? This is what it looks like to me:
It’s that moment when I know I’m about to enter a world of “Oh my god, I’ve been doing this for 5 hours, why am I not done?” At this point in our relationship, I think John has learned to leave the house quickly and quietly when he sees me dragging the pasta machine out of the pantry. Because, inevitably, I will be moaning and groaning until he is guilted into helping. But sometimes a girl just wants some homemade pasta. It’s spring and I’ve got fresh asparagus and english peas that want some lovin…Italian lovin. I’ve been watching the pasta dude at work, I think I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve. I can DO this.
Peas are awesome. Simply awesome. I understand how if you were to grow up eating English peas out of a can, you might think they are all kinds of icky. But I didn’t. I grew up with fresh southern peas from the pea patch in the woods behind our backyard. While we didn’t grow English peas (we’ve got all kinds of crazy peas in the south), my love of peas does not discriminate. So I’m gonna celebrate these little guys, because they only come out to play for a few months every year.
This time, John made the mistake of coming home too early. So I snagged him for some help. Turns out he just keeps getting better and better with the pasta machine. He cranks out much nicer pasta sheets than me! So maybe it was meant to be.
I prepared a filling of peas & asparagus that I boiled in vegetable stock, homemade ricotta, parmesan, lemon zest, bread crumbs and chili flakes. I pureed them into a nice fluffy cream that I piped onto John’s beautiful pasta.
Then I layered on the top sheet.
And stamped out little circles for my raviolis!
Since they were so fresh, the raviolis only took a minute or 2 to cook.
I served the raviolis in a vegetable broth that I had simmered with the asparagus & peas that went into the filling, and some parmesan rinds I had been saving (I KNEW they would come in handy some day!). I threw in some fresh peas, the asparagus tops and shaved some parmesan to finish.
It was pretty decadent. I kept thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe I actually made that”. Most definitely worth the effort.
You know how some people bake a cake when they’re stressed? Or make a loaf of bread? I make cheese. When I feel overwhelmed, or bummed, or nervous, cheese makes me feel better. There’s something about all that milk, the cheesecloth, the thermometers, and the TIME (it ain’t no 30 minute meal)…it just relaxes me. So last night I was feeling the need to make some cheese, and didn’t have the energy to try something too wacky or new. So ricotta it was, the recipe that introduced me to cheesemaking.
Ricotta is super easy. I know I say that a lot, but this time I really mean it. Anyone could make ricotta. Well, anyone with a stainless steel pot, a thermometer & some cheesecloth.
I started with a ratio of 1:4 of buttermilk and whole milk. I heated them up to 180 on the stove, gently stirring occasionally. Then I let them sit for half an hour or so, until I could see nice strong curds separated from the whey. Then I scooped the curds onto a strainer lined with cheesecloth. I let that sit for a while and drain until it reached what I thought was the right amount of dryness (that is personal preference that totally depends on what your plans are for the ricotta). Then I salted it to my liking and was all done!
This time I went for a pretty dry ricotta. But not too dry.
But now I have about 3 lbs of ricotta…I guess I’ll just have to bake a cake out of it. An Italian Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake to be precise. It’s my first time making an Italian cheesecake. The first time I had one was while living in New York. My friend (and maker of magic in the kitchen) Kate baked one that was so fluffy and gorgeous that I still think of it when I see them. Hopefully mine will come close!
First things first, I needed a crust.
After I baked my crust I started on the filling. I put my ricotta in the food processor to fluff it up a bit, and break down any huge curds. Then I mixed some egg yolks, sugar & and a vanilla bean until they too were nice and fluffy. I mixed into this my fluffy ricotta and some lemon zest.
Then I whipped a meringue to just medium peaks.
I folded that into my ricotta base and poured it onto my baked crust.
It spent an hour baking in the oven and came out a beautiful souffle.
And then it slowly falls. I love fallen desserts. There’s something really honest about a dessert that souffles up as high as it can go and then sinks back down as it cools.
I served it with some strawberries that had been soaking in sugar and lemon juice.
It was so light and fluffy that people kept asking if it was really cheesecake. I think Kate would have been proud.
RECIPE (Adapted from Gourmet Magazine):
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 lb whole-milk ricotta, drained in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl until dry, chilled
6 large eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
1/8 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Pulse flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal.
- Add yolk, vanilla, and lemon juice and pulse just until mixture begins to form a dough.
- Spread dough with a flat bottomed cup over buttered bottom of a 24-centimeter springform pan and prick all over with a fork.
- Chill 30 minutes.
- Bake crust in the middle of the oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes, and cool on a rack.
Make filling and bake cake:
- Increase oven temperature to 375°F.
- Pulse ricotta in food processor until fluffy and smooth. Beat yolks, vanilla bean seeds and sugar with an electric mixer until thick and pale.
- Beat in ricotta, flour, and zests. Beat whites with salt in another bowl until they hold soft peaks, and fold into ricotta mixture.
- Butter side of springform pan and pour filling over crust. Bake in baking pan in middle of oven until cake is puffed and golden, about 1 hour.
- Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in springform pan on rack.
- Chill, loosely covered, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
In the fall I did an internship with Tartine bakery in the Mission district (maybe you’ve heard of it?). While I mostly worked in the pie & tart shells station, occasionally I worked what’s called “the morning bake” shift. It starts at 4.30am (ick) and among the things being made are the gougeres. Tartine does many many things well, and gougeres are one of them. Today I’m gonna try to remember how it’s done. Gougeres are basically a cheese puff, made from pate choux, same dough that’s used for cream puffs and eclairs. Tartine kicks up the eggs and fat in the recipe, to get the most tender puff I’ve ever tasted.
Pate choux is a crazy dough, and a super fun one to make. You start by melting butter with milk and salt.
Once the butter melts and it’s about to boil, you throw in some flour. You (using a wooden spoon if you’re following the rules) beat the mixture in the pan with the heat on, making sure it doesn’t burn. You do that for a few minutes, basically until your arm gives up.
Once it’s time, you start beating the eggs in. If you’re feeling hard core you can do this in the pan, using the aforementioned wooden spoon. I prefer to do it in the kitchenaid mixer. I just run the mixer with the paddle attachment and beat the eggs in one by one, until it’s smooth and shiny.
Then I mixed in some cheese, fresh thyme & black pepper.
Then it’s off to the piping bag! At tartine the gougeres are these intimidatingly large bowling ball sized monsters (oh yes, and they’re good), but I’m gonna make little bite sized ones. A little egg wash and a sprinkle of cheese, to give them a nice crust.
And then I bake them until they puffed up and got all crispy.
Now that’s what I’m talking about.
OK, so maye I’m not a vegetarian deep down. I had been itching for some fried chicken. And hinting at the fact that maybe we REQUIRE a waffle maker in the house. When my upstairs neighbors/landlords (Jim and Abbe) mentioned they had a Belgian waffle maker, it seemed obvious that a fried chicken and waffles dinner was due. Since they have the machine, and I’m a good little southern girl, they’re making the waffles while I’m in charge of frying up the chicken.
First things first, marinating the chicken. I let the pieces spend the day soaking in a lovely buttermilk and hot sauce bath. You, know to relax them for their delicious journey through deep frying and into my mouth. For hot sauce, I buy Youk’s, which is made at Maverick restaurant in San Francisco. Coincidentally, I also use Maverick’s fried chicken recipe. Those punks know how it’s done. At least in my opinion.
When it was time to get to business I made the dredge. Lots and lots of spices go into this one. There’s even cinnamon. I think that’s just swell.
After I mixed the spices and flour, I tossed in the chickens.
Then the frying happened.
All the while Abbe was working that waffle maker with some cornmeal waffles.
I’ll be frank, it was kind of obscene. A drizzle of maple syrup and some greens later and we were staring down one gluttonous dinner.
I might feel a little dirty now. And I’m not even gonna mention the chocolate caramel tart that Abbe snuck in for dessert. But it was worth it. Sooooo worth it.
1 3 1/2-pound whole fryer, cut up into pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 gallon peanut oil
8 ounces flour
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch white pepper
3 tablespoons kosher salt
- Place chicken in a large container and cover with buttermilk and hot sauce. Let stand for at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Pour peanut oil into large stockpot. Do not fill more than halfway; the chickens will raise the level of your oil and could boil over. Bring oil temperature up to 310°, using a digital thermometer to monitor.
- In large bowl, mix all dry ingredients. Piece by piece, pull the chicken out of the buttermilk, letting excess drip off, and dredge completely in flour. Pack flour on to the breasts lightly and repeat these steps for all.
- Place chicken, one piece at a time into the oil. The pieces should be completely submerged. Be careful not to crowd, and probably do one to two pieces at a time. Do not stir; let the oil do the work. If the oil temperature drops below 260°, give more heat. But the temperature should never exceed 320°.
The oil will start to slow down and the chicken pieces will float to the top. Using a strainer or tongs, pull out the chicken piece by piece. Test firmness. If the chicken gives a lot, put it back. If it doesn’t give at all, they’re done. Wings will take about 5 minutes; legs, breasts and thighs around 10-12 minutes. When cooked through, salt immediately. Put in a warm oven if you are doing batches, or let dry on cooling rack, towels or paper towels. Do not stack them.
Borrowing this ice cream machine from my landlords has been very…dangerous. I just want to stay home spinning ice cream forever. When I’m not, all I can think about is ice cream flavors. I still have stacks of pecans to get through, so a butter pecan ice cream seemed appropriate. And then I found a recipe for a maple butter pecan in Gourmet magazine, and there was no turning back. I first fried the pecans in some butter, until it just started to brown.
Then I made a maple custard base for the ice cream.
After my custard chilled in the fridge for a bit, I spun it in the ice cream machine and put it in the freezer to finish out its freezing.
While that was going on, I needed a dessert. Something to serve that ice cream on. Since it’s almost time to say goodbye to local apples, but not quite time to say hello to strawberries (oh my god – you just WAIT, I am going to DESTROY some berries this summer), I decided to go with a classic, an apple cobbler.
Really, cobblers are like my two favorite things combined into one: delicious local fruit and biscuits. Need I say more. Obviously I do, or I wouldn’t have a blog. So here goes:
First things first – the biscuits. I’m still in the experimental phase with cobbler biscuit recipes. Being a bama girl, I like my biscuits crispy. As in, you could potentially do some damage if you threw them at someone. But that seems a bit much for a dessert, not quite delicate enough. But squishy, doughy biscuits are so…not what I want. So I’m looking for the happy medium. One thing I do know is not to overmix those puppies. You want to see that butter in the dough.
I let the dough hang out in the freezer for a while (you know, to get to know the ice cream a little better), and then cut it into chunks.
Then placed the chunks on my chopped and spiced apples.
Then it all went into the oven for a while, until my biscuits were nice and puffed and browned.
And after a little cooling, it was ready to be served with my maple pecan ice cream. And completely devoured it was. I even ate it for breakfast this morning.
MAPLE BUTTER PECAN ICE CREAM RECIPE (adapted from Gourmet magazine):
3/4 cup pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
-Coarsely chop pecans. In a skillet melt butter. Toast pecans in butter, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes, and sprinkle with salt to taste. Cool pecans and chill.
-In a heavy saucepan bring cream, milk, maple syrup, and salt just to a boil, stirring occasionally. In a bowl beat yolks until smooth. Add hot cream mixture to yolks in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into pan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 170° F. Pour custard through a sieve into a clean bowl and cool. Chill custard, its surface covered with plastic wrap, at least 3 hours, or until cold, and up to 1 day.
-Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker. Fold in chilled pecans. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.
Don’t judge, but I’m just not really a fan of St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe because I’m not much of a drinker, or maybe because San Francisco turns into one giant frat house. Probably both. So this year I decided to cook. And I was thinking lamb. My feelings about lamb are mixed (alongside the fact that I have mixed feelings about eating meat in general. Well, except pork maybe). When I lived in Australia it seemed like the only thing I ever ate was lamb cutlets, and I loved it. But since being back, I’ve slowly lost interest in the taste. Now the flavor just seems incredibly intense. So tonight gave lamb another shot. And what better way for lamb to prove itself than a humble Irish stew.
I bought what looked like a very large pile of lamb shoulder meat and threw it in the pot with some cooked onions, garlic, thyme and stock.
I covered the stew and popped it in the oven for an hour, then added some carrots, potatoes, barley & cream. Then it baked for another hour. In the meantime I made a loaf of whole wheat Irish soda bread. Since I was also baking a dessert, I had to borrow my landlord’s oven to get all this baking done. I really like Irish soda bread, possibly because it’s the only bread I do well. Which could be a sad thing, since it doesn’t even have yeast in it, but it’s so yummy!
Shane brought a bunch of Irish cheeses and it was a great starter. And then there was the stew.
Definitely a stew to show off some lambiness. So straightforward, and yet…I still don’t love lamb. My favorite part of the whole dish was how the potatoes and carrots were cooked perfectly, nice and soft, but still had their shape. Does this make me vegetarian? That all I cared about were the vegetables floating around in all that meaty juice? Possibly. But I suspect I would have felt differently if it had been a beef stew.
Now it’s official. Spring. I got my first batch of asparagus in my veggie box this week. Only took me about 3 hours to decide what to do with it.
One of my favorite discoveries this year was this: souffles are easy. Super easy. I spent many years intimidated by their quirky ways. It probably doesn’t help that the first time I attempted souffle it was for a surprise birthday party with 19 guests. If you think serving a souffle to a friend before it falls is scary, try doing it to 19 people. It was an intense night involving an oven that didn’t quite close (or get very hot) and a trip to Walgreens to clean out their supply of toaster ovens. There were a few different recipes on the menu, and only one kicked ass. And it’s the one I still use today. Martha Stewart – that lady knows what’s what. That night I learned that if you have a good base recipe, souffles can absorb any flavor you want. Tonight I wanted my asparagus, and I wanted a quick dinner, so asparagus souffle it was.
First I blanched the asparagus for about 90 seconds to soften it up a tad. Then I sliced it into thin rounds (since it needs to get held up by some egg whites in a bit, the pieces need to be a manageable size).
I prepared some ramekins by coating them with butter and bread crumbs. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but the bread crumbs act like little steps to help the souffle hoist itself up as it gets hot.
Then I prepared my souffle base by making a quick roux and mixing it with egg yolks, spices, cheese & the asparagus rounds. Traditionally souffle’s involve Gruyere, but I usually just throw in whatever cheese I have in the fridge. Tonight was a mix of Dubliner, Parmesan & Goat cheese. Get crazy, it’ll taste good as long as it’s tasty cheese.
I whipped up the egg whites into an almost stiff meringue and folded that into the base.
17 minutes in a hot oven and we had perfect little souffles of cheesy asparagus heaven!
RECIPE (adapted from Martha Stewart):
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons dry breadcrumbs
12 ounces of any cheese you like, a good mix is always a good idea.
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 large egg yolks
12 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place rack in center. Generously butter bottom and sides of 6 small ramekins with 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Sprinkle bread crumbs in dish, swirling to thoroughly coat the bottom and sides.
- Grate cheeses into a small bowl and combine. Set aside.
- Melt the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour and mustard, and cook, whisking constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk, and cook until thick and smooth, an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper & nutmeg. Pour souffle base into a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks a few at a time until smooth. Stir in cheese until well incorporated.
- Use a whisk (or whatever machine you have) to whip 12 whites until you ALMOST have stiff peaks form.
- Quickly mix about 25% of the meringue into the souffle base. Then gently fold in the rest into the souffle base just until incorporated. Pour into souffle dish, and bake for 17 minutes. Serve fast before it sinks.
Spring is SO close, I can almost taste it already. Well technically I did taste it tonight. Another Tuesday night of cooking and general happiness. My friend Brooke had a birthday that I missed out on, so a little dinner celebration was definitely needed. I had 2 heads of cauliflower that needed some love, and I can no longer ignore the California grown asparagus popping up in the grocery stores. And to confuse seasons even more, I just remembered a tupperware filled with cherries that I froze this summer (during a particularly crazed moment of “cherry season is ending – I need to store some immediately to get me through winter!”). I, of course, promptly forgot about them when pumpkins and citrus started showing up, but now I am ready to put those babies to good use.
So a feast was born: beet and arugula salad with homemade goat cheese and a meyer lemon dressing, asparagus risotto with poached eggs and pancetta, roasted cauliflower with lemon, capers, anchovies & bread crumbs and for dessert an almond panna cotta with a cherry almond caramel sauce.
And it was delicious. Well, except for the goat cheese that never became cheese.
Do I have pictures? No. We ate it so fast that I forgot to snap some to share with my friends. Oops.
Well maybe just one…
and just one more…