Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Quince

Like Rubens’ female form,
Ample and voluptuous, with softest skin,
So beautiful to behold.

Quince Spice Cake
Printable Recipe

1 ½ cups water
1 ¾ cups sugar
½ vanilla bean
2 quinces
Nonstick pan spray
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream, at room temperature

Combine the water and 1 ½ cups of the sugar in a small pot. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and add both the pod and the seeds to the pot. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Peel, quarter, and core the quinces. Add the quinces to the pot and drape them with a piece of cheesecloth. Bring to a boil and simmer for about half an hour, or until tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the quinces to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving the poaching syrup for another use, and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease 4 6×3 ¼×2 ¼-inch loaf pans with nonstick pan spray and line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and remaining ¼ cup of sugar on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined and then beat in the vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then ½ of the sour cream, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the remaining ½ of the sour cream, and then the remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing on low for only a few seconds after each addition until just combined, and stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do not overmix. Divide the batter among the loaf pans. Slice the quinces thinly and fan out the slices atop the batter in each loaf pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the edges of the cakes start to shrink away from the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks and finish cooling completely.

Makes 4 small loaves, serving 8. With these aromatic and moist cakes, which were inspired by the first harvest from the small quince tree in our garden, I welcome fall.

If you don’t happen to have your own quince tree, quinces can be a bit hard to find, but they’re delicious and definitely worth the effort. Look for them at well-stocked gourmet markets. When ripe, quinces are very firm with fuzz-covered golden skin and an intense perfume like that of pineapples and lemons combined. Quinces must be cooked before eating, as they are too astringent to eat raw. Try these cakes with either apples or pears if quinces are unavailable. Buttermilk may be substituted for the sour cream, and a 9-inch square cake pan can be used instead of the loaf pans.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Salad, Please

Since our indulgent trip to San Francisco, I’ve had the desire to eat light and healthy food and lots and lots of vegetables. So this week we’ve had salad nearly every night. I’ve made Cobb salad and Chinese Chicken Salad, and I’m making another big composed salad (I would call it a “chef salad”, but I’m afraid of being judged) for dinner this weekend. I did make a mushroom, spinach & Swiss frittata last night, but it was mostly greens. I’m sure that this craving for light food will pass soon, I can’t seem to stay away from cream and butter for long…

Chinese Chicken Salad
Printable Recipe

1 quart chicken broth
1 star anise
1 1-inch cinnamon stick
3 cloves garlic, crushed, plus 2 cloves, grated
3 ¼-inch slices ginger, plus 1 ½ teaspoons grated
¼ cup soy sauce
2 10-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 ½ teaspoons dark sesame oil
12 ounces napa cabbage, thinly sliced
4 ounces red cabbage, thinly sliced
3 ounces baby spinach, chiffonaded
2 carrots, julienned
½ red bell pepper, julienned
½ cup sliced green onions
½ cup minced cilantro
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Combine the broth, star anise, cinnamon, crushed garlic, sliced ginger, and 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the chicken breasts and poach at a bare simmer for about 20 minutes, or until just cooked through. The chicken breasts will be firm to the touch and the juices will run clear when they are just cooked through. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate, reserving the broth for another use, and let cool.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, lime juice, honey, sesame oil, grated garlic, grated ginger, and remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce in a small bowl. Combine the napa cabbage, red cabbage, spinach, carrots, bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, and sesame seeds in a large bowl, add the mayonnaise mixture, and toss to coat. Arrange the salad on individual plates, slice the chicken breasts thinly and fan out the slices atop each salad, and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a main course. Delicious served on a bed of deep-fried cellophane noodles, but since I was going for light and healthy, I didn’t go there.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Grazing San Francisco

I may never want to eat again. At least that’s how I feel after a two and a half day whirlwind eating tour of San Francisco. So much to eat and so little time…

First stop: the Hayes Valley location of Miette with its rainbow of old-fashioned candy. If entering this confiserie doesn’t put a smile on your face, then absolutely nothing will. It is most certainly the place where the saying “like a kid in a candy store” originated. I got a single chocolate macaron.

I had to pace myself.

Next destination: the Citizen Cake Patisserie. (Actually, we popped into Paulette and Christopher Elbow on the way, but still mindful of the importance of pacing, I ate only with my eyes. Well, except for a tiny sample of raspberry pâte de fruit, but that doesn’t count does it?) Hubby ordered the After Midnight chocolate mousse cakelette, and I had the Retro Tropical Shag, which was composed of génoise, passion fruit mousse, vanilla buttercream, and coconut.

Mine was light as a cloud, and I would’ve happily floated away with it forever. I wish I had ordered a second.

Breakfast the next morning, and again the morning after that (yes, it was that good): Tartine with my Twitter pal and fellow food blogger Janice. Hubby and I decided to share. We started with a colossal gougère nearly as big as my head.

We moved on to an equally humongous ham and cheese croissant.

And we took a lemon tartelette to go, just to make sure we didn’t go hungry later.

As we were finishing up, they brought out the morning buns. Both Hubby and Janice got back in line for those, and we started all over again.

This must’ve been the moment that any pacing went out the window. The morning buns, by the way, were flavored with a hint of orange instead of the usual cinnamon. Meeting an internet buddy to share a meal in real life was a thrill!

Next stop: the San Francisco Baking Institute, just because I wanted to check it out. They gave us a brief tour and a baguette and several raspberry muffins. I hadn’t planned on eating at this particular stop, but what can I say? I had to have at least one little taste of a muffin, so I took a bite and then accidentally ate the whole thing. The baguette was probably the best I’ve ever had in my life, with a shatteringly crisp crust and complex, creamy crumb.

And then: Patisserie Philippe. If only I had been more hungry. I had one passion fruit macaron.

I’m a chocoholic for sure, but—dare I say it—I enjoyed this macaron better than the chocolate one. I suppose it was the heat (it was intensely sunny and hot while we were in San Francisco) that made me crave the tropical fruit flavors.

Followed by: dim sum and bubble tea on Clement Street, with shopping at Cookin’ (339 Divisadero Street, 415-861-1854) and Kamei (525-547 Clement Street, 415-666-3699) before and CB2 after. It always amazes me how cheap dim sum is—we had delicious potstickers, shrimp and garlic chive dumplings, pork shu mai, and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves all for just $6. But I never did find the green onion pancakes I love so much.

Time for dinner: Tanpopo (1740 Buchanan Street, 415-346-7132) in Japantown. Hubby had the very spicy Karamiso Ramen. I had the Wonton Ramen, which was served with a soy sauce flavored broth.

The only Japanese food we have out is sushi, and believe it or not, I’d only had the instant kind of ramen before. So this was a real treat. I definitely want to learn more about Japanese cuisine now.

After our second breakfast at Tartine: cooling refreshment at Tuttimelon. An unplanned stop, but the very long, hot walk to Chinatown got to us. As you may have noticed by now, passion fruit was the recurring theme of my San Francisco trip, and it made its third and final appearance in my cup of frozen yogurt. Hubby had some sort of bubble tea and then decided to help himself to my froyo. We nearly had a scene. These sweet treats sustained us as we braved the Chinatown crowds for more shopping and a stop at Red Blossom Tea Company, where I replenished my oolong supplies.

Next up: Caffè Greco in North Beach. It’s the hubby’s favorite spot for chocolate gelato and coffee. I usually have their tiramisu, but this time I abstained.

Another long, very hot walk (during which we spotted a flock of San Francisco’s wild parrots!) to the foodie wonderland known as the Ferry Building for some browsing and lunch (at least I think it was lunch, but to be honest, I’d lost track of my meals by that point): carnitas and fish tacos at Mijita as we watched the ferries and sailboats float across the bay.

Then a short, air-conditioned walk to the opposite end of the Ferry Building: Miette, take two.

And I wasn’t having just one measly macaron this time!

I would’ve ordered a chocolate cupcake.

But I'd had theirs before and wanted to try something new.
Their lime meringue tartelettes almost looked too pretty to eat.

Almost…Though I’m still trying to figure out how they make that perfect swirl in the meringue…Anyway, I settled on the raspberry mousse cake, which was moist, tender, delicate—in a word, dreamy.

If only I could’ve gone back a third time…

And our last meal in San Francisco: back to Tanpopo for dinner, since it was right across the street from our hotel, and we were exhausted from hoofing it through the city in the heat. This time we ordered the Ankake Ramen and the Yakisoba. Another tasty, satisfying meal. I really wish I had a noodle joint like this in my own neighborhood.

We hit the road bright and early the next morning, and breakfast consisted of some goodies that we had picked up at Acme Bread Company while we were at the Ferry Building. For lunch, we stopped at an In-N-Out Burger—the only fitting way to finish off a fantastic California road trip.

So much good food and so little time…just thinking about it has made me hungry all over again.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Scone Sundays

I know that a cup of coffee hardly counts as a well-balanced breakfast (even though when I load it up with sugar and heavy cream it may have as many calories as one), but I don’t have the appetite for anything more first thing in the morning. I’ve mentioned it before—breakfast is a constant struggle for me. By the time I’m ready to eat, the hubby’s already looking for his second meal of the day. So I’ve decided to try out a new routine: every Sunday, I’m going to bake scones. Scones take no time at all and are a breeze to throw together. And fresh scones are such a treat that even at the crack of dawn I can’t resist them. It takes the two of us 2 or 3 days to eat up an entire batch. So, I think I may have finally solved my breakfast dilemma—at least for two mornings each week!

We’ll see how long this little plan of mine lasts. In the meantime, I’m inspired to dream up some new scone flavors…

Sour Cherry Scones
Printable Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
3 ounces (¾ stick) cold unsalted butter, shredded
½ cup dried sour cherries
1 large egg
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons Turbinado sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Toss in the cherries. Blend together the egg and ½ cup of the cream in a small bowl, add to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Transfer to a work surface and knead a few times until the dough just holds together. Pat the dough into a 6-inch wide, 1 ½-inch thick circle and cut into 8 wedges. Arrange the scones a couple of inches apart on a parchment-lined baking tray. Lightly brush the scones with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cream and sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes 8 scones. Work quickly and with a light touch to prevent the butter in the pastry from melting. Serve warm, possibly with clotted cream. Scones keep for a day or two in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Little Brother, you asked for it! And you’d better like it!

Quiche Lorraine
Printable Recipe

6 ounces bacon, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt
Freshly ground white pepper
4 ounces shredded Gruyère
1 partially baked 9-inch Pâte Brisée Tart Crust

Heat a medium, heavy sauté pan over medium-low heat until hot but not smoking. Add the bacon and fry, tossing frequently, for 9 to 10 minutes, or until rendered. Transfer the bacon to a small bowl. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan and reserve for another use. Add the onion to the pan and sauté for 7 to 8 minutes, or until soft. Transfer to the bowl with the bacon and let cool. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Blend together the eggs and yolk in a small bowl. Stir in the cream and nutmeg and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Spread the bacon mixture and Gruyère in the bottom of the tart crust. Slowly pour in the egg mixture. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. Let cool slightly, cut into portions, and serve.

Makes 1 9-inch quiche, serving 6 to 8. Best served warm.

Flakey Tart Crust

Pâte brisée is French for “short dough”. It’s rich and flakey and used for sweet and savory tart, pie, and quiche crusts.

Pâte Brisée Tart Crust
Printable Recipe

12 ounces pastry flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
4 ounces eggs
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cold water
All-purpose flour, for dusting

Combine the pastry four, salt, and butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture resembles cornmeal.

Blend together the eggs and water in a small bowl, add to the flour mixture, and mix on low until the dough just comes together.

Transfer the dough to a work surface, bring together into a ball, and cut in half. Form each half into a ball and then flatten into a disc. Wrap each disc separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours or freeze for up to 1 month. (Thaw frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator and let soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out a disc of dough to a 12-inch wide, 1/8-inch thick circle. Roll the dough up on the rolling pin. Transfer it to a 9-inch pie tin. Ease the dough into the edges of the tin. Using a paring knife, trim the excess dough along the top edge of the tin. Patch any cracks or tears in the crust with a bit of the scrap dough and reserve the remaining scraps at room temperature. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Line the crust with parchment paper and fill half way with pie weights.

For a partially baked crust, bake for about 20 minutes, or until set and just beginning to brown around the edges.

Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment and let cool slightly before filling. Patch any cracks in the crust with a small amount of the scrap dough.

For a fully baked crust, bake for about 20 minutes, or until set and just beginning to brown around the edges. Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment and bake for another 22 to 24 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let cool completely before filling.

Yields 2 9-inch crusts. Of course, you can use this dough to make any other size or shape crust, too. Work quickly and with a light touch to prevent the butter in the pastry from melting. Beans or rice can be used as pie weights.

Now, what to fill it with?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Salsa Series: Fire Roasted Salsa

This is the third post in a series on salsas.

Salsa isn’t just for corn chips any more. This was my sudden mind-blowing, earth-shattering realization. It came way back during my college days after a working interview at one very famous Southwestern restaurant. They fed me dinner—a grilled tenderloin steak smothered in a smokey salsa (the very one, in fact, that inspired me to create this Fire Roasted Salsa recipe)—in exchange for my night’s work. I had only ever eaten steak plain, and my life would never be the same. I got the job. But more importantly, I opened my eyes to the possibilities of salsa.

Salsas, whether they’re made from chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, avocados, or fruit, are an integral part of Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. They vary from mild to medium to spicy, and they can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold. Salsas can function as either dip or sauce (in fact, salsa is Spanish for sauce), and they are the perfect accompaniment to everything from eggs to tacos to rice and beans. They can transform a simple grilled steak, pork chop, chicken breast, fish fillet, or even veggie into a spectacular meal. It’s no wonder that salsa has overtaken ketchup as the most popular condiment in the U.S.

But while I’m singing the praises of salsa, I want to make clear that I mean homemade, from-scratch salsa. Homemade salsa is vibrant and fresh and delicious and healthy, and it can perk up anything you put it on. (In comparison, the store-bought stuff is appallingly expensive and completely tasteless.) And if there’s a batch in the fridge, it’s sure to inspire many amazing meals.

Fire Roasted Salsa
Printable Recipe

12 large Roma tomatoes
1 yellow onion, quartered
6 chipotles en adobo
1 bunch cilantro, stems trimmed
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Juice of 2 limes
Kosher salt

Preheat the broiler. Arrange the tomatoes on a foil-lined baking tray and broil for 14 to 16 minutes, or until the skin is charred and blistered. Using tongs, give the tomatoes a third of a turn and broil 6 to 7 minutes more, or until the skin is charred and blistered. Give the tomatoes a final third of a turn and continue to broil another 6 to 7 minutes, or until the skin is charred and blistered and the flesh is soft. Let cool to room temperature and skin and seed the tomatoes.

Combine the tomatoes, onion, chipotles, cilantro, cumin, and lime juice in a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

Makes about 1 ½ quarts. Heat level: medium/hot. If you like it hotter, add more chipotles. This smokey salsa is great on everything from chips to quesadillas and fajitas to breakfast tacos. And it’s particularly delicious served as a sauce with grilled rib-eye steaks. If you prefer an even smokier flavor, grill the tomatoes instead of broiling them. It’s not absolutely necessary to peel and seed the tomatoes, though it does give the salsa a nicer texture. Keeps for several days tightly sealed in the refrigerator and freezes well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

More salsa recipes are available here.

Now, if you’re going to have great homemade salsa, you probably want some of this Guacamole to go with it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Cookie Debate

There’s a contentious debate going on here about what the best variety of cookie is. The husband doesn’t play favorites (it’s not normal, I know), but he’s quick to say what he dislikes. He doesn’t much care for shortbread, thinks meringue cookies like these are too sweet, and is downright intolerant of chunky cookies, especially if they contain raisins or nuts. I, however, think all cookies are worth appreciating, be they soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies, crisp and crunchy biscotti, cakey and tender madeleines, rich and dense lemon bars, or light and delicate tuiles. While I don’t discriminate against any cookies (OK, I admit I’m with the hubby on the raisin-hate—let’s just say that my grandparents fed me my entire life’s allotment of raisins when I was a kid), I do have a favorite cookie type: sandy and crumbly. Give me a shortbread or spritz cookie, and I’m a happy camper. Even better if it’s dipped in chocolate. Care to join the debate?

Ganache Filled Spritz Cookies
Printable Recipe

2 ounces heavy cream
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 ounces sugar
1 ½ ounces powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 ¼ ounces eggs, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
9 ounces cake flour, sifted

Bring the cream to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Place the chocolate into a medium bowl, add the hot cream, and whisk until smooth. Let cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, powdered sugar, and salt on medium until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix on low until blended. Add the flour and mix on low until the dough comes together, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a cookie press and press cookies about an inch apart onto parchment-lined baking trays. Bake for 17 to 18 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. Transfer cookies to a rack and let cool to room temperature.

Spread a scant teaspoon of the ganache onto the bottom of one of the cookies and sandwich together with another cookie. Sandwich together the remaining cookies with the remaining ganache in the same manner.

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies. If you don’t have a cookie press, simply use a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe cookies onto the baking trays in decorative shapes. Cookies keep for several days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Glenora Grapes

Do you cook or bake with grapes? I never have. I don’t know why, but I guess I’ve never thought of them as an ingredient. OK, I’ve gone so far as to toss them into a salad, but that’s about it. To me, grapes were for snacking.

Thanks to my gardener, there’s a Glenora grapevine growing on the arbor over our patio table. It’s about 3 years old now, and it provides shade and a romantic atmosphere for our alfresco meals. And for the first time, it’s providing loads of gorgeous purple grapes.

Glenora grapes are juicy and intensely flavorful, like grape bubblegum with a hint of spice, and they have a most satisfying snap when you bite down on them. In fact, they’re so good, they’ve sparked an attitude adjustment in this cook—grapes deserve to be the star of a dish, not just the fruit group in a sack lunch. They are every bit as good as any berry and ought to be treated with the same reverence in the kitchen. Though I can hardly resist eating them out of hand, I’m inspired to transform them into dessert. I made a grape consommé (which the husband insists on calling grape juice), but there are still lots of grapes hanging on that vine. I wonder what else I should make with them…Do you have any suggestions for me? And don’t you just love being inspired by ingredients?

Red Grape Consommé with Lemon-Honey Sorbet
Printable Recipe

For the sorbet:
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey, preferably orange blossom honey
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1 2/3 cups water
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the consommé:
3 pounds stemmed red grapes
1 cup sugar

To serve:
1 cup blackberries

Make the sorbet:
Combine the sugar, honey, lemon zest, and water in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool. Stir in the lemon juice. Chill over an ice bath until ice-cold. Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. Transfer to a container and freeze for 4 to 6 hours before serving.

Make the consommé:
Combine the grapes and sugar in a large, heavy pot. Lightly crush the grapes using a potato masher. Heat to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool. Juice in a food mill using the finest disc. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and chill.

To serve:
Ladle the consommé into individual bowls. Add a scoop of the sorbet to each bowl and divide the blackberries among them. Serve immediately.

Yields about 3 ½ cups of sorbet and 1 quart of consommé, serving 8. I used leaves of lemon balm and jasmine blossoms for garnish in addition to the blackberries. The clarity of the grape consommé is, by far, best on the day it’s made.
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