Friday, October 30, 2009


Is it wrong to gloat when you’ve managed to find a rare and desirable raw ingredient? Well, as soon as we were back in cell phone range from our mushroom hunt, I called my family in Texas to let them know that we had found four bagsful of chanterelles.

“I hate you,” was my mother’s reply. (In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the first time she’s become nasty over foodstuffs. At least she didn’t threaten to sever all contact this time.) And then she retaliated, “I’m poaching lobster.” Who knew that the conversation would end with me being just as jealous as they were? Serves me right.

Cream of Chanterelle Soup with Wild Rice
Printable Recipe

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 ¾ pounds chanterelles, torn into bite-size pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup white wine
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig Italian parsley
¼ cup heavy cream
¾ cup wild rice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté for 10 to 12 minutes, or until soft. Increase the heat to high, add the chanterelles, and sauté for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and tomato paste and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more, or until fragrant. Stir in the flour. Add the wine and simmer, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, cream, and 2 ½ quarts water. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, or until the flavors come together.

Meanwhile, place the wild rice into a medium pot and add enough water to cover by several inches. Add several large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Drain.

Discard the bay leaf, thyme sprig, and parsley sprig from the soup, remove from the heat, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the wild rice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 6 as a main course. This is a vegetarian soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender but remember: never fill a blender more than half way with hot liquid. This means you will need to blend the soup in batches and reheat it before serving.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Husband

On our first restaurant date, he ordered dessert first. That was the moment I knew he was the one for me. We’ve been together ever since, and yesterday we celebrated our eighth anniversary. I made two cakes for the occasion, since just one wouldn’t be enough to satisfy his sweet tooth. Here’s to many more desserts and many more years together!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cobweb Cupcakes

Halloween is just around the corner! Here’s the perfect treat for the spooky season…hope you’re not afraid of spiders!

Pumpkin Cobweb Cupcakes
Printable Recipe

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
15 ounces pumpkin puree
2/3 cup water
½ cup heavy cream
1 ounce white chocolate, chopped or 2 tablespoons white chocolate chips
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line 2 standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined. Blend together the pumpkin puree and water in a medium bowl. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then ½ of the pumpkin mixture, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the remaining ½ of the pumpkin mixture, 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 muffin cups. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the edges of the cupcakes start to shrink away from the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Invert onto cooling racks and finish cooling completely.

Bring the cream to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Place the white chocolate into a small bowl and the semisweet chocolate into a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the hot cream to the white chocolate and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining hot cream to the semisweet chocolate and whisk until smooth. Let cool until thickened slightly.

Dip the top of a cupcake into the semisweet chocolate ganache and, while still holding it upside down over the bowl, give the cupcake a few abrupt shakes so that any excess ganache drips off. Transfer the white chocolate ganache to a paper cone and pipe a swirl pattern over the semisweet ganache on the cupcake. To complete the web design, draw the tip of a toothpick through the ganache from the center to the edge of the cupcake 8 or 9 times, wiping off the tip of the toothpick between each swipe, in a pattern of evenly spaced radiating lines. Glaze the remaining cupcakes with the remaining ganache in the same manner.

Makes 24 cupcakes. Cupcakes keep for 2 to 3 days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place. Leftover ganache will keep for a week tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Reheat it gently using the microwave or a double boiler and serve it as a sauce or use it to make hot chocolate or mochas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Apple-Quince Sauce

What a pain it is when your better half has a completely irrational food aversion. It forces you to avoid certain ingredients or possibly even entire categories of food—food that you yourself might otherwise enjoy—or risk whining, countless complaints, or worse yet, “yuck face”.

Well, my husband hates quinces (and pears too—he says it’s a texture thing), and considering that we planted a quince tree in our backyard a couple of years ago and are now inundated with quinces, that’s a problem. Sharing the harvest with family and friends made a good dent in our quince supply. Now what do I do with the rest? I can think of dozens of tasty things I could make with these quinces, but I have to admit I’m never very motivated to go to the trouble of cooking something just for myself. So I determined to come up with a dish that the hubby would like too. I thought about making a quince crumble with a pecan streusel topping. But then I remembered he doesn’t eat pecans either…

After much brainstorming, a sudden craving for some comfort food, and the need to use up some of the apples from our trip to the orchard, Apple-Quince Sauce seemed like the way to go.

The dual strategy of diffusing the quince flavor with apples and creating a brown butter cookie distraction worked, Hubby approved!

Apple-Quince Sauce
Printable Recipe

2 quinces
¼ cup sugar
1 cup water
4 Braeburn apples

Quarter and core the quinces. Combine the quinces, sugar, and water in a medium, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and 15 minutes, or until the quinces turn pink. Quarter and core the apples, add to the pan, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for another 45 minutes, or until the apples are very tender. Remove from the heat and let cool. Puree in a food mill using a fine disc.

Makes about 1 ¼ quarts. Quinces have lots of pectin and turn a rosy color when cooked, so using them in combination with apples makes for a very flavorful thick sauce that’s a pretty shade of pink. Any variety of cooking apple may be used instead of the Braeburns. If you prefer applesauce that’s on the sweet side, feel free to add more sugar. Flavor the sauce with cinnamon, vanilla, or lemon zest if you like. There is no need to peel the fruit because the food mill will remove almost all of the skins. Keeps for several days tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Serve either warm or chilled.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall and Apple Cider

While it pains me to say goodbye to the berries and stone fruit of summer, I still greet autumn with open arms. (And while we’re on the subject, I just want to take a moment to say how super it is to live in an area that actually has four distinct seasons a year.) At the first sign of a chill in the air, Hubby and I hop in the car for a drive to the scenic Hood River Valley, otherwise known as apple and pear country, to take advantage of the fall harvest. The Draper Girls' Country Farm, situated in the shadow of Mount Hood, is the friendliest orchard on the Hood River Fruit Loop.

I hadn’t even started deciding between the countless varieties of apples when Theresa Draper, the owner, emerged to greet us. She may not know our names, but from our many visits to her orchard and her farmers market stand*, she remembers exactly how hubby likes his apple cider—tart. “They’re pressing the cider right now,” she said as if it were my lucky day and invited us to take a peek. You bet I jumped at the chance! (For the record, Theresa had invited me to see the cider-making process before, but you know how complicated coordinating a time can be…)

That day’s blend included lots of Gravensteins. The just-picked apples are meticulously washed and then chopped. The apple puree is pumped onto sheets of canvas, which act as a sort of filter.

Then pressure is applied, and out flows the golden liquid.

A surprisingly simple process—old-fashioned cider but produced with modern equipment.

Unfortunately Theresa would not let me drink directly from the press. But she did sneak us a sample.

A very, very generous sample. The just-pressed cider was cold, tart, and extremely refreshing, the essence of the fruit. To drink it was to gulp down fall. The Drapers do not pasteurize their ciders, so the fresh flavor is retained.

Too bad we came too late to see the cinnamon-sugar dried apple production.

With the cider to energize us, we headed off for a stroll through the orchard.

Then it was time for the shopping. I loaded up on Gala, Braeburn, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious apples.

This, by the way, is the place where I learned that Red Delicious apples are indeed delicious. I didn’t get any pears because for some inexplicable reason the husband abhors them. We picked up plenty of winter squash too.

Perhaps there will be Butternut Squash Gnocchi and apple crisps in our future.

The Drapers also have a petting zoo, where we got a good lesson in manners. (Keep this in mind for Thanksgiving, as it will most likely apply.)

If the food is really good, it is perfectly acceptable to climb into the platter for choicest bits. If you’ve had a little too much to eat, go ahead and take a nap under the dinner table. No one will mind!

Now that the pantry is stocked, bring on the cold and rain. Give me space heaters and steaming soup, snuggly blankets, pajamas, and fuzzy socks, and mulled cider and hot chocolate. I’m ready for fall!

*We love to visit the Drapers in the summer for u-pick cherries, Italian prune plums, peaches, and nectarines. We also go for the cherry cider, which is so good you’ll think you died and went to heaven.

And no, I am not a paid representative.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cook's Block

Everybody knows what writer’s block is, but have you ever heard of cook’s block? This debilitating condition is more common than most would suspect. Symptoms range from a lack of desire to cook or bake to weariness at the thought of dinner. Appetite can disappear. People suffering from particularly acute cases have been known to turn to takeout. Cook’s block can happen to the best of us from time to time, and it strikes without warning.

I have my periods of inspiration and intense creativity, but this is not one of them. I’ve been overcome by cook’s block *sigh*. I try to focus—what to cook today? But it’s futile, there’s just a blank where the ideas used to be. Thank goodness the pendulum always swings. Eventually.

In the meantime, we still have to eat. Fall says it’s time for soup. And the leftover basmati rice in the fridge tells me curried lentils. I listen.

Curried Lentil Soup
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup minced garlic
¼ cup minced ginger
2 to 3 jalapenos, seeded and minced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
4 quarts water
1 ¼ pounds red lentils, picked over
Juice of 2 limes
Kosher salt
½ cup minced cilantro

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapenos and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft. Add the celery and carrot and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft. Add the curry powder, cumin, and bay leaves and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more, or until fragrant. Add the water and lentils, bring to a boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the lentils fall apart. Discard the bay leaves, stir in the lime juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into individual bowls, top with plenty of cilantro, and serve immediately.

Serves 8. A bowlful of this nourishing vegetarian soup with its aromatic spices will warm you on the coldest of days. I sometimes serve it over cooked basmati rice.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Scone Sundays Update

Remember my grand idea of Scone Sundays? Would you like to know if I’ve kept up with it? Well, that would be a great, big NO! I missed two Sundays straight, meaning I haven’t baked scones since. But here are my valid excuses: two weeks ago I was worn out from a whirlwind eating tour of San Francisco, and last week I was risking life and limb on our third outing in our little sailboat. This weekend I don’t have any excuses, so it’s high time I get back on the wagon!

Needless to say, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate what kind of scones to make next. The combination of apricots and tonka beans proved to be so good in these cakelettes that I decided to translate the flavor into scones.

Apricot-Tonka Bean Scones
Printable Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon freshly grated tonka bean
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
3 ounces (¾ stick) cold unsalted butter, shredded
½ cup diced dried apricots
1 large egg
½ cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, tonka bean, 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 apricots. Blend together the egg and 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. 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. Read this if you’re curious about tonka beans. For the record, tonka beans are illegal to use in food in the U.S. You can substitute a few drops each of vanilla extract and almond extract and a pinch of ground cloves for the tonka bean.

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