Saturday, December 19, 2009

'Tis the season...of peppermint! (2)

B loves peppermint. As a consequence, the tip of my tongue is burnt. Only slightly burnt, but it's noticeable every time my tongue touches my teeth, or the roof of my mouth.

Let me explain. The other day, I was in line at the grocery store when I noticed that there were peppermint-flavored marshmallows displayed prominently next to the check-out. Not only that, they were on sale! I'm a sucker for gimmicks like this. (Last night I bought a headband located suspiciously near the cash register in a clothing store; was it a coincidence that it was also on sale?) Obviously, peppermint-flavored marshmallows were not on my carefully-constructed grocery list, which contained the components of our dinnertime meals for the next four nights, but lacked a section called "impulse buys." Apparently, the marketing ploys I learned about in a college sociology class called "Shop Till You Drop" are devastatingly effective, even on a presumably educated consumer like me, because I (needless to say, impulsively) bought the marshmallows.

We had the marshmallows for dessert that night, the perfect topping for a mug each of Scharffenberger cocoa (I tend to prefer marshmallows to whipped cream in terms of hot chocolate toppings, because the whipped cream disappears ever so quickly). The marshmallows melted, in typical gooey fashion, releasing the perfect amount of pepperminty flavor into each sip. I was a little greedy, though, and tried to drink my hot chocolate too quickly, leading to the slightly burnt tongue that I already described.

While excellent in the cocoa, the marshmallows on their own, without the chocolate-y accompaniment, were disappointingly firm. And for some reason, I decided that firm marshmallows were not to be tolerated this holiday season!

I think you can see where this is headed.

Thenceforth, I ventured into an unknown realm: homemade marshmallow-making. The only occupant of this realm that I know personally is my mother, she of the three turkeys at Thanksgiving and the homemade ricotta and the countless other culinary feats. For those of you not my mother and thus not familiar with the making of marshmallows, this blog entry will serve as my official field report. At first I was quite intimidated by the recipes I looked into, all of which called for a stand mixer. There's a lot of variation in the recipes as well, in terms of amount of gelatin and presence or absence of egg whites. I figured the recipe in the Scharffenberger cookbook would be a good place to start; chocolate and marshmallows go so well together that I trusted their marshmallow-making acumen.

Though I have a well-equipped kitchen (complete with such gems as a stand-alone pizza oven, a mozzarella slicer, and a milkshake maker), I do not yet own a stand mixer. I'm pleased to inform you that homemade marshmallows are (a) no more difficult to make than any other candy (and, as with all candy-making, a candy thermometer is essential); (b) far more pillowy than their store-bought compatriots; and (c) possible—nay, easy—to make with a handheld mixer.

The marshmallow-making experience was a revelation. I would actually say that marshmallows now fall into a can-and-should-be-made-at-home category, the same category that homemade pasta occupies. B and I eat marshmallows only rarely, but when we do, I want them to be perfect. Which means that I can't go back to the dried-out, slightly firm, store-bought version.

An added benefit is that I can pick the flavoring of the marshmallows if I make them myself! For now, I'm pretty content with peppermint, though I'm planning to whip up a batch of plain old vanilla too. Actually, the only other extract I have in the cupboard right now is almond, and almond-flavored marshmallow sounds a little odd, doesn't it? Besides, peppermint is so much more seasonal.

When my brother E and I were little, we played poker with tidbits from around the kitchen standing in for plastic betting chips. We used marshmallows, chocolate chips, and Mallomars as currency, and you could choose to bet with your pot of winnings, or to snack on them instead. Mallomars, those classic cookies, were worth the most. We never had these peppermint marshmallows back then, but I can imagine that they would have surpassed even the Mallomar in betting value. They are awfully delicious. Enjoy!

Peppermint Marshmallows
Adapted from Scharffenberger and Steinberg's The Essence of Chocolate

Time: 20 min active, 2 1/2 hours total
Makes: 16 2-in marshmallows

3/4 c. powdered sugar
3/4 c. cornstarch
2 1/4-oz envelopes gelatin
3/4 c. cold water, divided
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. peppermint extract

Grease an 8x8-in pan. In a small bowl, mix together the powdered sugar and cornstarch. Sprinkle about 1/2 c. of the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture over the bottom and sides of the pan, then set aside the remaining mixture.

Put the gelatin and 1/4 c. cold water in a medium-sized bowl.

Meanwhile, mix together the remaining 1/2 c. water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a small saucepan on the stove, and bring to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, bring the mixture to 236 degrees. While the mixture is heating, make an ice water bath in a large bowl. Cool the pot to approximately 210 degrees (about 10 to 15 seconds), stirring constantly (the mixture will become very thick and gluey).

Pour mixture into the medium-sized bowl containing the gelatin, using a spatula to scrape the pot. Beat with a handheld mixer for about 5 minutes, or until thick, white, and fluffy. Beat in the extracts.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared 8x8-in pan, using a greased rubber spatula. Sprinkle top with another 1/2 c. of powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture. Allow marshmallows to set in a cool area for at least two hours. Then invert onto a board (you may need to run a knife around the edge to loosen the marshmallow), and cut into desired shapes with a sharp knife, scissors, or greased cookie-cutters. Coat cut edges with remaining powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture. Marshmallows keep, tightly covered, for at least 1 week.

Hot Chocolate
Adapted from the Scharffenberger website

Serves: one
Time: 5 minutes

4 t. cocoa powder
1 T. sugar
1 c. milk
marshmallows, for serving

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the chocolate, sugar, and 1 T. of milk until dissolved into a thick paste. Add the remaining milk and stir infrequently until warm. Serve with marshmallows.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Today is my first blogversary. In honor of this event, I decided to make a cake. A delicious, seasonal cake. The kind of cake that's so good that it convinced my friend JMc that she really does like a cake that she lumps into a category she previously despised: "fruit desserts." This cake represents my sole foray into the world of upside-down cakes, because it's so delicious that I've never felt the need to explore further.

The first (and most important) thing to make this cake is to go to the store and buy some cranberries while you still can. They populate the refrigerated berry section only for a few short months, usually from November 1st (in time for the traditional Thanksgiving sauce) to about January 1st. Maybe in a location closer to the bogs of the Northeast you can find cranberries at other times of the year, but I haven't seen them in California past January. That is to say, if you don't buy cranberries within the next two weeks, you won't be able to make this cake for months and months, until they appear in the store again. That would be tragic.

But if you do purchase cranberries (and I really think you should), heed the instructions on the outside of the bag: "Buy two, freeze one." Cranberries freeze so well that you can just toss a bag (or three) into the freezer for use all year round. Then, when you're craving this cake on a cold day at some other time of year, you'll be able to make it without delay.

It hasn't been as cold this week as last, but the winter holidays are clearly upon us. The pumpkin patch across the street is now officially a Christmas tree lot, and I've ordered a lot of presents in the past week. Also, I made my first batch of toffee a few days ago, and I've been thinking about what to pack for B's and my joint family trip to Tahoe next week.

Partially because of the cold, and partially because of the season, and partially because my life is stressful, I've been in the mood for homey, comforting desserts. (Believe it or not, it's been weeks since I've made ice cream! Though, truthfully, that's going to change this weekend.) This buttermilk cake, with its topping of cranberries and walnuts softened in brown sugar and butter, fits the homey-comforting-dessert bill perfectly. It isn't much to look at, but the taste and texture are divine: tart yet sweet, and thoroughly moist. My favorite part is where the topping meets the cake; it's here that the brown sugar flavor is most prominent, and the texture slightly gooey. An ideal afternoon snack, I can add from experience that a slice of this cake makes an excellent breakfast as well.

The original recipe calls for a 10-inch skillet, but I don't have one, so I've adapted it to an extremely useful round-bottomed 2-quart Pyrex dish I have (the same one I use for red gnocchi). You could really make this recipe in any number of vessels, provided that you like the shape when it's turned out upside-down. Invariably, some of the topping will stick to the bottom of the cake pan, but you can scoop it up with a spoon and put it right back onto the cake without anyone noticing your patchwork.

I think the recipe for this cranberry-walnut cake epitomizes some of the goals of my blog: it's quick, it uses mostly freezer or pantry ingredients, and it's delicious. Try it if you get a chance over this holiday season; I think you'll really like it.

Here's to many more blogversaries to come! Enjoy.

Cranberry Walnut Upside-down Cake

Time: 20 min active, 75 minutes total
Serves: 8

For the topping:
4 T. unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. chopped walnuts
2 c. cranberries (fresh or frozen)

For the cake:
6 T. unsalted butter (3/4 stick), softened
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. First, make the topping. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, then add the brown sugar. Stir until dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the walnuts and cranberries (O.K. if still frozen), and stir until the brown sugar melts again, approximately 2 minutes. Spoon the topping into a 2-quart capacity oven-safe vessel.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. Add 1/2 c. flour, baking powder, soda, and salt, and mix well. Add half the buttermilk, then another 1/2 c. flour. Repeat with remaining buttermilk and flour, being careful not to overmix. Scrape the cake into the 2-quart vessel containing the cranberry topping.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester plunged into the center of the cake comes out clean (your baking time will vary considerably depending on the diameter of the vessel you choose). Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge, then invert onto a serving platter. Spoon any extra topping from the dish and place on top of the cake.

Cake will keep for 3 to 4 days, tightly covered, and is best served warm.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The verdict

Thanksgiving 2009 is over. A lot of cooking took place, but the humble homage to Gourmet, like the magazine, is now done. The leftovers were distributed between the attendees, the pumpkin cheesecake has been devoured, and the napkins are washed and ironed. Overall, the three turkey extravaganza was an unmitigated success, prompting one diner to propose a toast: "To four turkeys next year!"

I'm sure you remember seeing the three brined birds lined up before cooking. One was to be deep-fried, one barbecued on a spit, and one oven-roasted.

Thankfully, the fried turkey was not the explosive, fiery mess I had been worried about. Nonetheless, preparing for the worst, I made my dad wear eye protection in the form of a shield he uses for welding. It turns out that this was overkill. He lowered the turkey into the hot oil slowly, and it was very "fire burn and cauldron bubble" (hot oil often is, I guess), but at no point was I concerned for his safety.

Forty-five minutes later, the turkey was done! It was nothing short of a miracle. I don't have a picture of the traditional turkey roasting in the oven, but I DO have a (very short) movie of the barbecued turkey.

Impressive, right? However, one lingering question remains. Which turkey won the taste test? I know you're all at the edge of your seats! After some discussion, we decided to vote by asking each person at the dinner table to pick their favorite turkey. (Drum roll, please.) The final tally was as follows:
  • Fried: 6*
  • Barbecued: 4
  • Oven-roasted: 2
*B's sister E also voted for the fried turkey, but she had a head-cold and could hardly smell anything, so her vote is not included. Additionally, my 98-year-old grandfather partook in the eating, but not the voting.

My mom (in a breach of voter confidentiality, I will inform you that she did not vote for the fried turkey) calls the results "not definitive." Which means, of course, that she's seriously considering the possibility of having four turkeys next year, if she can think of a fourth way to cook a turkey. Which would mean lots and lots of leftovers.

The turkey leftovers this year were surprisingly manageable, considering the large number of turkeys cooked. We ate turkey sandwiches (twice), a reheated Thanksgiving reprise complete with stuffing and other sides, and chilaquiles. I've already written about the delicious roasted tomatillo salsa that makes the chilaquiles exciting (and frequently requested by B). The chilaquiles were, I have to say, particularly delicious this year since we made them with the spicy leftover fried turkey. In order to inject flavor into the turkey, my dad literally injected flavor: a hot sauce went into the thickest parts of the meat with a big syringe. Frankly, this unexpected extra punch may have been what caused the fried turkey to win the overall competition.

Chilaquiles are basically a casserole, with chips and salsa and cheese standing in for tuna and crushed potato chips and cream of mushroom soup and whatever else people typically put in a casserole. With the weather as cold as it ever gets in San Francisco right now (it's 38 degrees as I write this), cheesiness and warmth and layering are desirable traits for an ideal dinner. Chilaquiles form a south-of-the-border casserole, while gnocchi make an Italian one.

Gnocchi are the easiest pasta to make. They start with one of my favorite ingredients, potatoes, which are mashed with egg, salt, and a little flour. The dough is rolled out into cylinders (or, as I used to call them when I was young, "worms") and chopped into pieces with a sharp knife; then each piece is shaped by pressing the back of a fork into it. It's important to use plenty of flour to keep each gnocchus (?) from sticking to the next. Also, try to make them a somewhat uniform size; when B helps, they tend to get larger and larger as he goes along.

Many recipes using cooked gnocchi exist in the world, but there is only one that B asks for, what he calls "red gnocchi." This "casserole" is perfect for a cold winter night, with two layers each of gnocchi, mozzarella, Parmesan, basil, and marinara sauce. It's warm, and cheesy, and fortifying if you, for some reason, need to leave the house and venture outside. It takes some time to make, and it doesn't use turkey, but the leftovers are quite satisfying as well. Enjoy!

Red Gnocchi
Adapted from Pasta Fresca

Time: 1 hour active, 1 1/2 hours total
Serves: 4, with leftovers

For the gnocchi:
1 russet potato
3-4 medium red potatoes
1 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 egg

For the marinara sauce:
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 t. dried oregano or basil
1 t. salt

For the casserole:
4 oz. ball of mozzarella, sliced in small pieces
1 c. grated Parmesan
1/4 chopped Basil

First, place the potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork (the russet may take a little longer than the red potatoes), approximately 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the marinara sauce. Heat the olive oil in a small pot until hot but not smoking, then add the garlic. After 1 minute, when garlic is starting to turn golden, add tomatoes, basil, and salt. Lower heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes or until desirable consistency.

When the potatoes are cooked, peel them, running under cold water if too hot, and place peeled potatoes in a large bowl. Mash, then mix in flour, salt, and egg, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Heat salted water in a large pot to cook the pasta and preheat oven to 450. While the water is heating, place a handful of dough on a well-floured board, and roll into a cylinder about 1/2-inch in diameter. Slice into individual gnocchi about 1 inch long with a sharp knife. Press the back of a fork into each gnocchi, and then dip cut edges in flour, shaking off excess. Place gnocchi in a single layer on a well-floured surface. Repeat with remaining dough.

Cook gnocchi in boiling water until they begin to float to the surface. Turn heat off, and place half of cooked gnocchi in a 2 to 3 quart oven-safe dish using a slotted spoon. Cover with half of the marinara sauce, then with half of the mozzarella, Parmesan, and basil. Repeat. Place casserole in the oven for 5 minutes, or until cheese melts and begins to bubble. Serve immediately.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


It sort of seems like kale is everywhere, doesn't it? Maybe not as everywhere as the term "cougar" or Twitter, but it's popping up a lot recently. We have had kale several times in our CSA box. Then, we had it from JB's CSA box in New York over the weekend when we were visiting, and now we're going to have it today as one of the Thanksgiving side dishes. Kale was even the answer to a clue in the NYT crossword puzzle from 11/22 (we're finishing it up today).

I've learned to appreciate kale's fall-winter taste, but I never thought of it as particularly pretty, and certainly not as a species for a planned and terraced garden. Until, that is, we went to the Sarah Duke gardens at Duke University a few days ago (B and I have been traveling around the entire country this past week). And there, we saw a whole garden full of autumn vegetables planted in ornamental rows.

That's right! You spy cabbage roses and Swiss chard, and in the back left, purple kale. Strangely beautiful, right?

I only have one real way to cook kale. I cook it with olive oil, slivered garlic, and salt. The secret is to saute the garlic in olive oil first, until brown and nutty, and then to add the sliced kale and stir for five minutes or so, until it wilts. (You can squeeze some lemon juice at the end and add red pepper flakes if you so desire.) Quite simple to prepare, but also quite delicious and complex in flavor for such a minimal number of ingredients.

The best part is that you can adapt this recipe (really, more of a technique) to all sorts of vegetables, particularly those of the fall-winter variety. The produce has changed, in the store and in the CSA box, confirming once again that fall is here. Sometimes it's nice to see that change in the grocery store, though, because it can seem like there are so very many out-of-season vegetables available from South America. It's nice to have strawberries in winter, but they often don't taste very good.

But back to the technique: one of my favorite vegetables (other than kale, of course) to use it with is broccoli. I love broccoli. A little less, maybe, than I love cauliflower, but I end up cooking it a fair amount because B does not share my devotion to cauliflower. The same basic technique applies to broccoli, but you have to add a little bit of water so that the broccoli steams and then sautes in the same pan.

Last week, when we had J&C over for dinner, I cooked four broccoli crowns for the four of us (we also had flank steak, my go-to as it was a weeknight dinner party). It was pretty popular, and this was all that was left of the broccoli (thankfully, a convenient amount for lunch the next day).

As I've made this recipe/technique a number of times, I've learned that it can be the basis for a lot of variations. One of my favorites is to add a splash of sesame oil during the cooking, and then toss the cooked broccoli with a tablespoon of sesame seeds and a tablespoon of soy sauce for an Asian-inspired side. I'm sure you can come up with variations of your own, from vegetable choice to seasonings. Random bag of braising greens from your CSA box? This is the perfect recipe, my default if you will. Use the technique with whatever vegetable you desire, but most of all, enjoy!

Sauteed Broccoli with Garlic

Serves: 4 as side dish, with leftovers
Time: 15 minutes active and total

2 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
4 broccoli crowns, divided into florets
1/2 c. water
1/2 t. salt, or more to taste

In a 12-inch frying pan (I use my Scanpan), heat the olive oil until shimmering over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned, stirring and flipping with a wooden spoon. Turn heat off, and allow to cool for 3-5 minutes. Then add broccoli and water, and turn back to medium-high heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, or until water has evaporated and broccoli has turned bright green and is starting to brown. Sprinkle salt and serve immediately. Broccoli can be cooked several hours ahead of time, covered, and then reheated on the stove or in the microwave before serving.

P.S. With all this talk about kale and broccoli, you might think I've forgotten that I'm typing this post on Thanksgiving. It would be hard for me to forget, however, because I'm writing at my parents' house in San Diego while my mom is running around like a whirling dervish (and has been since 3am). We will be 14 for Thanksgiving dinner, and there are approximately 52 pounds of turkey waiting to be cooked. We like leftovers, thank goodness. (B&K, who are cooking a 12-pound turkey for just the two of them, still have us beat in ppp—pounds per person, that is.)

You see, this is the first time we have done a turkey cook-off. (The other theme of dinner is "Homage to the Final Issue of Gourmet"; the kale I mentioned earlier, along with almost every other side dish, will be directly from the magazine.) First, a traditional stuffed turkey will be oven-roasted. Another will be spit-roasted on the outdoor barbecue (not dissimilar in spirit to the delicious vinegar-spiced pulled pork we ate in North Carolina a few days ago), and the final one will be deep-fried.

My parents bought a special turkey-fryer for the occasion. The imprinted text, which is difficult to read in the picture, says, among other advisories: "Caution: hot." In case you hadn't figured it out, the large amount of oil will get very hot, and subsequently will cook the turkey very rapidly (only 3 1/2 minutes per pound!). The directions that come with the fryer say in big scary red letters:


We're going to have a fire extinguisher nearby, and my dad's going to wear safety goggles. I think it's going to be very exciting. I'll keep you posted about the results, both of the fried turkey and the turkey taste-off. We may take a poll at dinner, to keep it as objective as possible.

For now, though, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Peter, Peter

San Francisco is finally experiencing summer. Which is strange, of course, because it's now officially November. Seventy degrees in November? J and other B need to stop delaying the inevitable and move back here already!

Since the weather isn't convincing me, one harbinger of autumn is that Daylight Savings is officially over, and it gets dark so very early. It reminds me of ninth grade when the end of Daylight Savings basically spelled the end of the JV field hockey season. I loved field hockey; I was a midfielder who ran down the field in my plaid skirt and shin-guards and smacked the ball with the stick my dad had hand-crafted in his workshop. The JV squad always played games after the varsity team, which was fine for the first half of the season; unfortunately, by the second half of the season, post-Daylight Savings, the ref would call our games at half-time or even earlier because of impending darkness. Which was so totally unfair.

But enough memories of far away high school past for now. Also reminding me of fall is the pumpkin patch set up in the vacant lot across the street, complete with scarecrows and hay rides for the kiddies (though it will soon morph into a Christmas tree lot since Halloween is over). We bought our pumpkins there before we went to a pumpkin-carving party at V's last week. B went a little crazy with the detail work by using a special little pumpkin-carving hacksaw.

B's eyes are not as bloodshot as the pumpkin's, but the mouth expression is quite similar, no? Everyone else's pumpkins were pretty good too, though there was an awful lot of Texas pride exhibited for a California party. My rather traditional, angry-eyebrowed pumpkin is to the right of B's on the bottom level.

We haven't gotten pumpkin in the CSA box, but we have been getting squash regularly, last week of the butternut variety. Though he likes squash, B starts to clamor for pumpkin every fall. Pumpkin ice cream is pretty good (though there are better options in my opinion), but his favorite is Afghan pumpkin, which I have to agree is pretty delicious.

So, last week, when we bought our two pumpkins for carving at the local pumpkin patch, we also bought a Sugar Pie pumpkin for cooking. I've made pumpkin ravioli in the Afghan style before, but this year I decided to experiment with kaddo bourani, a slab of melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin served with meat sauce and drizzled with yogurt.

It's typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, but it is definitely substantial enough for dinner. I found a recipe published in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years ago from our favorite Afghan restaurant, Helmand. (Rumor has it that the owner is related to Hamid Karzai, but that may not be such a selling point these days.) I was disturbed to find out that it's not all natural pumpkin sweetness that you taste: there's quite a lot of sugar in the dish! The slightly spicy meat sauce and the cooling mint yogurt cut the sweetness; the perfect bite consists of all three components in nearly equal proportions.

When you're cleaning the pumpkin (whether for carving—next October, I guess—or for cooking), save the seeds. Spread them evenly on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, sprinkle generously with kosher salt and lightly with ground cumin, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees, or until toasted. They're a delicious, healthy snack, best eaten the day you make them.

This pumpkin dish is one of the only ways I've ever seen pumpkin cooked as a main course, and not as a dessert. It's still sweet, like I mentioned, but the sweetness suits the natural flavor of the pumpkin (and I did cut down on the sugar in my adaptation below). The Chronicle describes this as a "weekend recipe" since it takes a good bit of time from start to finish. If you're not willing to invest four hours upfront (though a lot of it is unattended time), go to Helmand or your local Afghan restaurant first to try kaddo bourani. After you do, I'm sure you'll return to this post so that you can try making your own savory pumpkin dish at home. Enjoy!

Afghan-style Pumpkin with Meat and Yogurt Sauce (Kaddo Bourani)
Adapted from a recipe from Helmand

Serves: 4 for dinner, or 8 for appetizer
Time: 4 hours total, 30 minutes active

1 Sugar Pie pumpkin
3 T. canola oil
1 c. sugar

For the meat sauce:
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound ground beef
1 tomato, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. salt
1 T. tomato paste
1 c. water

For the yogurt sauce:
1 1/2 c. yogurt
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 t. dried mint, or more to taste
1/2 t. salt, or more to taste

First, prepare the pumpkin. Preheat oven to 300 degrees, and line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil. Using a large knife, cut pumpkin in half through the stem end, and clean out the seeds and stringy fibers. Cut pumpkin into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half crosswise. Place pumpkin pieces hollow-side-up on the foil, and coat evenly with oil using your fingers. Cover loosely with another piece of foil. Bake for 1 hour, until fork tender. Remove cookie sheet from oven, and allow pumpkin to cool for 10 minutes or so. When cool enough to touch, use a small paring knife to remove the rind from each pumpkin piece, then place each piece back on cookie sheet. Sprinkle evenly with sugar, and return to oven, loosely covered with foil, for another 2 1/4 hours until very soft. Baste with pan juices once during cooking.

Meanwhile, make the meat sauce. Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan until hot but not smoking. Saute onions for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned. Add meat, breaking up pieces, and cook for 5 minutes or until no longer pink, stirring frequently. Add tomato, garlic, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, and salt, and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, and add water. Once water boils, turn heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes until a sauce forms. Meat sauce may be made ahead of time, and heated up as needed.

Make the yogurt sauce by stirring all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, place a small dollop of yogurt sauce on a plate. Top with a piece of pumpkin. Spoon 1/4 c. or so of meat sauce over the pumpkin, and drizzle with more yogurt sauce.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WNK: So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, good-bye

Much has been written about the passing of Gourmet. It's been a few weeks since the announcement that the venerable institution is packing up shop, and, frankly, I'm still in shock. It's more than just a magazine; it represented a way of life for almost seventy years. In fact, one of my favorite issues is the 65-year retrospective published in January 2006, where they picked one of the best recipes from each year of the magazine to date. It's a gold mine. We love the po-boys from 1945, the Chinese egg rolls from 1946, the chocolate souffle cake from 2001...and those are just the recipes I remember off the top of my head.

I'm not the only one who feels this sense of loss, of course. By the time I looked at the article in the NYT announcing the end of the Gourmet era, there were over 600 comments posted online. In the interview I linked to above, Ruth Reichl talks about Gourmet's incredibly loyal subscriber base. My 92 year-old grandmother only let her subscription lapse a few years ago when her arthritis got so bad that she really wasn't able to stand up in the kitchen to cook anymore. My mom has kept and archived every single issue since 1972, and is devastated by the closing. Even with the advent of Epicurious (which is an awesome resource), certain issues are particular favorites that she turns back to again and again, like December 1995 (the Christmas butter cookie dough is memorable and lends itself to variations). My mom is planning an extravagant Thanksgiving memorial to Gourmet, based on the final issue that arrived last week.

When you publish dozens of new recipes each month, they can't all be winners. But Gourmet has, or rather had, an unusually high percentage. To me, what's remarkable about the magazine are not the three-hour recipes for chicken mole, but rather the consistent goodness of all the recipes, including those in the "Quick Kitchen" section. The editors realized that the modern cook wanted to eat well, but realistically also needed to eat quickly.

Last night I needed a quick weeknight recipe (and had a surplus of green beans from the CSA box), so I turned to this stirfry with green beans, onions, and bell peppers. It has become a standby in our house. I'd almost forgotten about my plan to incorporate quick weeknight recipes into my blog, so I thought I'd share it with you.

It barely squeaks in under the thirty-minute mark, but the flavors are complex and satisfying. Compared to the original recipe, I've taken out the cashews, and added onions for sweetness and cilantro for brightness. (In the picture above, you may notice that I added yellow and red bell pepper, though the recipe only calls for red.)

The sauce is primarily coconut milk, flavored with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and lime. When B and I went to a cooking class a few years ago, our instructor told us that brands of coconut milk that have "OK" in the name are better than those without. Neither of us can remember what was supposedly wrong with the other brands, but we've been scared to deviate from the instructions, so we buy the ChaOKah brand available at our supermarket. This is a full-fat coconut milk; if you use a low fat one, you may have to take the vegetables out with a slotted spoon towards the end of the cooking and boil the sauce down to thicken it.

The stirfry reheats beautifully for lunch, or a dinner later in the week. Eat it while you think wistfully of the fact that you won't be receiving a magazine full of similar recipes each month. It almost makes me cry just to contemplate it, and I've only been subscribing for five years.

Good-bye, Gourmet.

Stirfry with Tofu, Green Beans, and Bell Pepper

Serves 4, as main course
Time: 30 minutes active and total

1 14-oz package firm tofu
3 T. soy sauce, divided
2-3 T. vegetable oil
1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced into pieces 1/4 in. wide
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 T. fresh chopped ginger, or 1 t. powdered ginger
1 t. red pepper flakes
1 15-oz can coconut milk
1/2 t. salt, or more to taste
juice of one lime
1/4 c. chopped cilantro

Slice the tofu into pieces 1/2 in. by 1/2 in. by 2 in. Place into a shallow bowl with 2 T. soy sauce. Marinate for 10 minutes and then dry completely with paper towels. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables, and heat the oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the marinated, dried tofu pieces and saute, turning frequently, for 5 minutes or until golden. Place the tofu in a separate bowl using a slotted spoon.

Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes to the oil. When they become fragrant after 3o seconds or so, add the green beans, onion, and bell pepper. Stir for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, salt, and remaining tablespoon of soy sauce. Once mixture comes to a boil, turn heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes or until green beans are cooked through (take one out to taste). Add sauteed tofu, and cook for another minute until tofu is heated through. Turn off heat, and add lime juice and cilantro, along with more salt to taste.

Serve immediately with rice (1 cup of dried rice makes a perfect amount).

Friday, October 16, 2009

The world is your...

B and I have been making great use of our 101 Great Hikes in the Bay Area book recently. There are a lot of beautiful spots around, and, now that the fog-ridden summer has passed, the weather has been sunny. Except (notably) for the freak rainstorm earlier this week that showed us that the drain on the back patio was clogged with accumulated eucalyptus leaves and silt; the overflow temporarily filled the garage and our downstairs neighbor's apartment with muddy water. We were delighted, truly delighted, to have the opportunity to learn that plumbers can snake outside drains the same way they snake indoor ones. Thankfully, the problem is now fixed.

But back to the hikes. In the past few weeks, we've been to the Point Bonita lighthouse (we spotted whale spouts off the coast), Hill 88 in Marin Headlands (a former military radar installation with expansive views of the city), and Tomales Point (extremely windy, but we spotted the tule elk as the guidebook promised). Here we are in Marin Headlands.

Recently, I've decided that I like oysters. Raw oysters, that is. I'd always liked them cooked, and we used to have smoked oysters on stoned-wheat crackers on picnics when I was a child. My main previous experience with raw oysters was nearly a decade ago. The year after college, I lived in England for a year, and JB met me in Nice so that we could explore Provence for a week.

We spent one night in Monaco. We visited our third jardin exotique of the trip (filled with cacti and not worth a visit if you're from Southern California), watched the changing of the guard at the castle, walked down a sidewalk-free stretch of road that may or may not have been where Princess Grace died, and visited the famous casino. (For future reference, do not wear jeans to the famous casino. Women in long red dresses with diamonds will sweep by, looking down their noses at the stupid Americains.)

Before the casino, we went out to dinner. Unlike the women at the casino, our waiter was enchanted with the American girls. So enchanted, in fact, that he presented us with a complimentary appetizer. We each received an absolutely enormous raw oyster on the half-shell. We couldn't turn them away—our nice waiter would be offended—so I choked mine down.

Then I looked over at JB's plate; she doesn't eat shellfish at all. Her oyster seemed even larger than mine. Our waiter shot a glance over to our table to make sure we were enjoying our oysters. We didn't want to upset him!

I choked yet another oyster down.

And that was the end of my raw oyster eating for years. But then, a few months ago, B and I ate brunch with my parents at Foreign Cinema and had some sweet and briny Kumamoto oysters. They were a revelation! Much smaller and more manageable than whatever I'd eaten in Monaco. And so delicious.

When B and I went for our hike to Tomales Bay, then, we knew we had to stop at the Hog Island Oyster Company.

We bought some oysters at the stand, learned the elements of oyster-shucking, and made our way over to the picnic tables overlooking the bay. As you can tell, B was intent. So was I.

B is better than I am at a lot of things, but it turns out that I'm a better oyster-shucker than he is. I felt like I was ready for Top Chef by the end of it.

We can't wait to go back to Hog Island with a crowd of people to use the barbeques on the patio and have a full-on picnic. The sea air, the briny oysters, the warm sun altogether added up to an idyllic afternoon. I'll never think about oysters the way I did before. Enjoy!

Oysters on the Half-Shell
Serves: 2

18 fresh oysters
1 lemon, halved

Place a glove on your left hand, and place the flatter side of the oyster face-up. Put the sharp end of an oyster knife (conveniently attached to the tray at Hog Island) through the hinge, and rock your hand back and forth until it gives (it takes some force). Keeping the knife parallel to the ground, swing the knife around the left side of the oyster to detach the muscle. Remove the top shell. Detach the muscle from the bottom shell without disturbing the oyster and its liquor. Squeeze some lemon juice on top, slurp, and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Figs and Cream

B and I were introduced by our friends other B and J, while J and I were in medical school at Stanford and the Bs were working in San Diego. It's sort of a complicated story (made even more complicated by all the initials I'm using, for which I apologize). Our introduction involves the Fourth of July, fireworks, my parents' back patio, two dogs, a long bike ride, bad directions, apricot pie, and figs.

Here's the connect-the-dots version. Other B and J wanted to set the two of us up. J and I flew down to San Diego for the Fourth of July weekend, and had dinner at my parents' house. We ate al fresco on the back patio, and had an extravagant dinner involving, among countless earthly delights, figs baked with gorgonzola. Then we went to the local fireworks, where my B was supposed to meet us. Due to a longer-than-expected bike ride (he was training for an Ironman), my B missed the fireworks, so we all rendezvoused back at my parents' house for dessert (apricot pie). B almost didn't make it because I gave him the worst directions of all time, but he showed up and was almost bowled over by the two dogs and six people he hadn't ever met who all greeted him excitedly at the front door. I learned later that B didn't even like dessert very much (dessert in general, that is; the apricot pie was delicious). He was a good sport about it all, which is of course why he is now sitting on the couch next to me as I write this.

Obviously, J remembers the fateful meeting that she played a large part in coordinating, but perhaps the part she remembers most clearly involves the figs we ate with dinner. She didn't dwell on the love-at-first-sight part in her toast at our rehearsal dinner; no, she instead rhapsodized about the figs, which were a revelation that she still talks about.

Recently, J asked me how to cook with figs, which are in the midst of their brief but memorable fall season right now. As she asked me, I realized that at home I only eat figs prepared one way, and it's not a way that really even counts as cooking. I eat them sliced, sprinkled with a small amount of sugar, and doused with cream. It's a perfect (and perfectly simple) dessert.

Don't get me wrong; I've tried other fig-based recipes in the past. I made a fig-and-frangipane tart once that was delicious. The figs with blue cheese on the Fourth of July were, as you've been told, memorable. SS served beautiful figs with proscuitto on thick slices of Italian country bread at a party last month. I think it's telling, however, that the one time we got figs in our CSA box this summer, we ate them sliced with cream.

It's a short step (in my ice cream-centric imagination, at least) from figs and cream to frozen figs and cream. That's right: fig ice cream!

I've made this ice cream twice, and it's everything I hoped it would be. Seasonal, fresh, and ever-so-figgy. I would buy two pints of figs when you want to make the ice cream, so that you can have extra to slice on top for serving. I love David Lebovitz's description of allowing the cooked figs to become "jammy," but I've modified his recipe significantly to incorporate a traditional ice cream custard. I think a custard adds depth and richness to an ice cream, and works particularly well with the figs.

When my parents were visiting recently, my dad had fig ice cream for dessert three nights in a row. (Part of this may have been related to the ice cream moratorium my mom has instituted at home as part of a diet.) J hasn't tasted this ice cream yet, though I'm sure she'll be clamoring for it once she and other B move back to the Bay Area next year.

And my B? Let's just say that I've worked my dessert magic on him over the years. He's not a complete dessert convert, but he does love ice cream. And figs. And therefore this ice cream. Enjoy!

Figs and Cream Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop

Time: 15 minutes active, 4 hours total
Makes approximately 1 quart

20 small figs, approximately 1 pint
1/4 c. water
3/4 c. sugar, divided
zest of one lemon
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. milk
1/2 t. salt
4 large egg yolks

First, prepare figs. Cut off stem ends, and then cut each fig into four pieces. Place fig pieces and water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for ten minutes, until figs are very soft. Uncover, add 1/4 cup of sugar and lemon zest (you can zest directly into the saucepan, and cook for another ten minutes or so, until jammy. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Then puree fig mixture in blender.

Meanwhile, add the cream, milk, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar to another medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and turn off heat once mixture has boiled and cream is scalded. Whisk cream mixture into egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl. Add cream and yolk mixture back to saucepan, and bring to 170 to 175 degrees on a candy thermometer, stirring constantly. Mix cooled fig mixture into yolk mixture.

Chill ice cream custard for at least 1 hour in refrigerator. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Place ice cream in freezer to harden for at least 2 hours before serving, preferably overnight.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Blackberries are a fruit I enjoy. But sun-warmed blackberries, picked by the roadside in Sonoma County on a day with blue sky and a few picturesque clouds? Wow. Those blackberries are indescribably delicious.

B and I have been on a couple of blackberry-picking expeditions recently, with excellent results. Over Labor Day weekend, we took my visiting parents to our favorite stretch on the Bohemian Highway near Freestone because we figured eight hands would be better than four. Here's my mom, nearly lost in the thicket of blackberries, picking to her heart's content.

(We also stopped at a fantastic bakery in Freestone that A introduced us to. Get the cheesy, sourdough, hearty fougasse bread. It's a wonderful treat, especially when fresh and warm out of the oven, before or after a bike ride on the rolling hills in this area—though truthfully, some of the hills are more like steep mountains. B can handle them much better than I can.)

The ripe, uber-black blackberries were easy to come by. Here's just one of many sprays of berries.

When we saw a similar, heavily-laden branch last year when we were cycling with A&K, K picked off one of the "raspberries" and was shocked at how tart it tasted.

It turns out that eight hands are better than four, and we ended up with a ton of blackberries. The first order of business when we got home in the evening was making jam. My mom and I went a little nuts with the home-preserving business while she was visiting; we made pickles, nectarine preserves, applesauce, and three kinds of blackberry-based jam (straight-up, fig-blackberry, and blackberry-fig). When we were making jam, the house smelled fruity and jammy and inviting, but I would advise care in the timing of the pickle-making process: even with the windows open, it smelled potently of vinegar in here for at least a day and a half following the completion of canning.

But the jam! The glorious blackberry jam! The jam was the reason that we (really, I) dragged my parents up to Freestone and put them to work picking. Without getting too poetic, it tastes like summer. A stolen spoonful is delicious, but what it works best with is scones.

Especially scones like these that have a hint of orange zest spicing up each bite, scones that beg to be served with a tangy concoction of cream cheese and sour cream and then topped with a generous helping of blackberry jam. This dairy concoction which ties together the scone and the jam, in the original recipe from Sunset magazine in the 70s, is called "fake Devonshire cream." Even though I lived in England for a year after college, eating more than my fair share of scones including some in Devonshire itself, I'm not sure what Devonshire cream is supposed to taste like. Perhaps they mean the ubiquitous-in-Devonshire clotted cream? If that's the case, the fake cream is not at all like clotted cream, which is much more similar to butter. Regardless, both go beautifully with scones. The difference is that you can make the fake variety in seconds—but good luck finding clotted cream on this side of the pond!

The scones are perfect for breakfast, but B and I also ate a lot of them as afternoon snacks. (Apparently, I really like afternoon snacks.) The jam would be lovely in these cookies, or on toast, or in a PB&J. Enjoy the jam or the scones or both!

Scones with Devonshire Cream
Adapted from Sunset, June 1975

Makes: 12 scones
Time: 10 minutes active, 25 minutes total

For the scones:
2 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
2 T. sugar
zest of one orange
1/4 c. (half-stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-in pieces
1 slightly beaten egg
2/3 c. buttermilk

For Devon cream:
6 oz. light cream cheese
6 T. sour cream
2 t. sugar

First, make the scones. Preheat oven to 400. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and zest. Cut butter into flour mixture, until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in egg and buttermilk and mix quickly. Turn mixture onto lightly-floured board. Split into two parts, and pat each into a round about six inches in diameter. Cut each round into six wedges. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.

While the scones are baking, mix together the cream cheese, sour cream, and sugar. Serve the scones warm with Devon cream and jam.

Blackberry Jam
From the Sure-Jell pectin box

Time: 30 minutes active and total
Makes: 9 cups

4 pints blackberries, rinsed
1 box pectin
1 t. butter (optional)
7 cups sugar

Crush the berries with a potato masher. Place berries and pectin in a large (6 or 8 quart) heavy pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Add butter to reduce foaming, if using. When mixture is at a full rolling boil, add sugar. Return to a full rolling boil, and boil for another minute. Ladle hot mixture into prepared jars. Process for 10 minutes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

You say tomatillo

You wouldn't know it from the dearth of recent posts, but I have been cooking a fair amount recently. Last night I made these delicious scallops that we discovered a few weeks ago, and I will try to blog about blackberries sometime soon. (B and I had a very successful berry-picking expedition last weekend.) I also made more almond macaroons (which incidentally are better than the hazelnut variation I tried using the same proportions; the hazelnut cookies ended up slightly bitter).

This month I also (I know this is crazy!) started another blog. I guess I'm sort of obsessed with food, whether from a restaurant or my home kitchen. I'd love to know what you think of the new site.

For now, though, back to the cooking side of things. One of the ways that I am able to cook a lot even when I'm on call twice a week in the ICU is by having key ingredients ready ahead of time. Today, I'm going to tell you about the tomatillo salsa that we had with skirt steak soft tacos for dinner last week. Minimal prep work, beautifully colored, and great with chips as leftovers.

I don't remember when I tasted my first tomatillo, but I do remember picking my first one. I was about seven or eight, wandering around in the backyard, when I found these odd little fruits growing in a corner of the garden I didn't visit much. They had papery husks that were extremely fun to peel off, and the fruit that was revealed looked just like an unripe green tomato.

Tomatillos are a little astringent when eaten raw; I like them best when roasted. (Apparently, I'm really into roasting vegetables lately. Also very into the grill-pan, which has led to some excessive smoke inhalation recently.) The roasted tomatillo salsa that results from the recipe below is a powerful staple to have ready in the fridge, ready to be served with eggs to spice up breakfast, with tortilla strips in the original chilaquiles recipe, or with skirt steak for the tacos I made for dinner last week.

Or, just served with chips as a snack, like I did today. This salsa is just too good to stop eating, and with my afternoon snack I seem to have filled up even my separate chips-and-salsa stomach. (This stomach is in addition to my separate dessert/ice cream one, as well as the French fry one.) The good news is that this recipe makes several cups of salsa, and there's no fat in it all. Also, it keeps in the fridge for a week or two. I bet it would freeze well, but there's never been enough left over to try that. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Time: 10 min active, 30 min total
Makes: 3-4 cups salsa

1 1/2 lbs. tomatillos (approximately 15), husks removed and rinsed
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2-3 serrano chiles, or more to taste, stems removed
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1 t. salt, or more to taste

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chiles in a single layer in an ovenproof pan (I used my Pyrex 9 x 13-inch glass dish). Roast vegetables for 15-20 minutes, until charred, turning once. Allow vegetables to cool for at least five minutes. Then puree vegetables and their juice in blender or Cuisinart with cilantro and salt. Salsa keeps well in the fridge for one to two weeks.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Corny, but good

My mom and I invented a soup recently. My mom was being creative on behalf of my grandfather; he loves corn, but doesn't like eating it off the cob anymore. He used to plant rows of it in his backyard and hand-pollinate it each spring. For me, the need for the soup was based on, yet again, the surplus of vegetables from the CSA box. Like my grandfather, B doesn't like corn off the cob; he doesn't adore the taste of corn to start off with, and then he dislikes picking it out of his teeth.

But in many ways, corn distills the essence of summer. This was proven to me when we went to my cousin's wedding in Maine last summer (another cousin--keep in mind that I only have five first cousins total, none from New England--got married in Maine last month, but we unfortunately weren't able to attend). Acadia, near Bar Harbor, is a beautiful national park.

In Maine, we ate lobster daily. Most frequently we ate lobster rolls, but we also went to a lobster pound which made B very happy. Here he is holding the bowl of now-empty shells.

At the wedding, we met one of the bride's friends, who had grown up in Maine as the daughter of a lobster boat fisherwoman. We heard crazy stories about the competition for sites to place lobster traps. Basically, it's easy to get a permit from the state to fish for lobster, but hard to find a place to put your traps unless it's been passed down to you for generations! Other fisherman will cut your buoys if they think you're interloping, leaving your trap permanently stuck at the bottom of the ocean.

Times were tough for the bride's friend and her family growing up, and they didn't always have enough money to buy groceries. Every summer, though, they ate like kings. Her mom, obviously, brought home fresh lobster. Their next door neighbor had fields of corn, and he gave them plenty of free ears. She and her siblings would gather wild blueberries for dessert, et voila! A quintessential summer meal was born. Night after night, though, is apparently too much; difficult for me to imagine, but the bride's friend told us that she got sick of having lobster and corn and blueberries without variation.

Maybe they would have been happier if they'd shaken things up with blueberry scones or a corn chowder once in a while. The corn soups that my mom and I came up with are a little bit different, but both end up with a hearty, satisfying meal. Hers has bacon as a base, whereas the smokiness in mine comes from roasting the vegetables ahead of time. The base of my soup uses onions and potatoes, spiced with cumin and seasoned with plenty of salt. The soup is a thick light brown, but the chopped pasilla and red bell pepper together make each spoonful as brightly colored as confetti. The cilantro sprinkled on top adds a fresh, Southwestern note.

Roasting the vegetables is a little bit time-consuming, but can easily be done ahead of time. With them, the soup ends up delicious, corny but good (sort of like B's neverending puns). I've never cooked lobster at home before, but I bet it would be a lovely, sweet complement to the soup, should you find yourself summering in Maine with nothing but corn and shellfish available to eat. Enjoy!

Roasted Corn Chowder

Time: 30 minutes active, 90 minutes total
Serves: 4, as main course (makes about 8 cups)

4 ears of corn, shucked and ends trimmed
2 red bell peppers, cored and halved
2 jalapenos or serranos, or more to taste, stem removed
2 pasilla chiles, cored and halved
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 T. olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
3 medium sized red or yellow potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 t. salt, or more to taste
1 t. cumin
6 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
sour cream (optional)

Preheat the broiler. Place the corn, bell peppers, jalapenos, pasilla chiles, and garlic cloves in one layer in a Pyrex dish or broiler pan. The peppers should have their shiny side up. Broil for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping once. Peppers should have black blisters on the shiny side. Place roasted bell peppers, jalapenos, and pasilla chiles in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap for ten minutes or so, until they cool. Then peel off and discard the blackened skin. Chop the peeled chiles. Remove the kernels from the corn with a large knife. Set roasted vegetables aside.

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high. Saute onions for 5 minutes, until beginning to soften, and then add potatoes. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, until beginning to brown. Add cumin, salt, and roasted garlic; stir rapidly for 1 minute. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, until potatoes are softened. Blend soup, preferably with a hand-blender. Add roasted vegetables to soup pot, and simmer until heated through. Taste for salt. Serve garnished with cilantro and sour cream, if using.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Help! My life is being controlled by my CSA box.

It didn't seem that way until I was talking to one of the interns on the ICU team last Wednesday. I was on call in the hospital, and knew that it would be hard to remember to pick up the box as I drove home on Thursday because of typical post-call delirium. I said as much to the intern, and she flatly said, "I hate CSA boxes."

I thought to myself, what's to hate? Delicious seasonal produce, delivered to a convenient spot weekly (well, for us, every other week since we alternate pick-up with A&K), allowing a connection for jaded city dwellers with enthusiastic local farmers. I mean, I do dislike that the large box has gotten figs for the past two weeks, while we medium-sizers haven't gotten any figs at all this summer, but I love pretty much every other aspect of the box.

The intern continued to make her case while I ruminated. Her friend with a CSA box was never able to go out to eat, because she had to make dinner at home in order to use up produce from the box. Her friend had to rearrange her schedule to be able to pick up the box. Her friend had to design awkward meals around that week's shipment of vegetables. This Slate article the intern pointed me to sums up these difficulties.

Of course, these points are valid. But I cook more than this intern does, and I look at the contents of the box each week partly as a challenge and partly as inspiration. That is, I did look at the produce that way. I did, I swear I did, until we began to get bag...after bag...after bag...of carrots. And, like I said, we only pick up the box every other week!

The bags of carrots accumulated in the crisper, and I finally started to feel guilty about not using them. I tried pickling some; they looked really, really beautiful in the Mason jar, but they didn't taste like what I imagined (basically, I wanted to replicate the ones that come on the side of the panini at Tartine), and they were sort of a pain to make. I also used the odd one here and there for chicken stock or a vegetable curry, but I still had a lot of carrots to deal with. I came across a few recipes for cooked carrots, which are pretty much my least favorite cooked vegetable in the entire world. JL suggested making carrot juice (he calls it "decadent"), but we don't have A&K's juicer. The carrots were becoming a problem; they were more challenge and less inspiration.

Then I pulled out my secret weapon: carrot cupcakes. (See the ray of sun on the left? Even the ubiquitous San Francisco fog parted in honor of the inspiration.)

Mmm, cupcakes. I promised that I would write about them soon. They are really one of the greatest desserts known to man! My mom made B's and my wedding cake, but if she hadn't, we would have considered one of those cupcake tiers. Cupcakes are the perfect size for a snack, plus they have a great cake-to-frosting ratio. And this recipe has the added benefit that it uses four (count them, four!) carrots. I still have a few left, but the bags have (finally) been depleted.

No offense to the CSA box, and the carrots from it, but the cream cheese frosting is my favorite part. Silky smooth and tinged light brown from the molasses, it provides a great foil to the moist, dense carrot cake beneath. The cupcakes themselves are sort of healthy, with all those carrots within, and their only fat is canola oil. The frosting, on the other hand, has half a stick of butter in it. I like the frosting the way it's written in the recipe below, but if you want to experiment, I think it would turn out well with less butter too.

Maybe you have a CSA box or farmers' market to provide farm-fresh carrots, or maybe you have a few old ones lying around in your crisper, or maybe you're planning to head to the store expressly to buy carrots for this recipe. However you get your hands on some carrots, make sure to try these cupcakes. Enjoy!

Carrot Cupcakes with Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Gourmet, May 1995

Makes: 17 to 18 cupcakes
Time: 25 min active, 2 hours total

For cupcakes:
3/4 c. canola oil
3 eggs
1 1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 t. vanilla
1 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
2 generous c. carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded (about 4)
1/2 c. walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

For frosting:
8 oz. light cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 stick (1/4 c.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 T. powdered sugar
1 T. molasses
1/2 carrot, finely shredded (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Line muffin tin with paper or aluminum cupcake cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla. Then whisk in dry ingredients, including flour, baking soda, and spices. Then mix in carrots and nuts. Fill each cup two-thirds full with batter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned and cake tester plunged into the center comes out clean. Place cupcakes on a rack to cool. Line muffin tin with new cupcake cups, fill with remaining batter, and bake as first batch.

Cool cupcakes completely on rack, at least half an hour. Beat cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and molasses together in a small bowl until completely mixed. Frost cupcakes generously. Place 1/2 teaspoon shredded carrot on top of each cupcake, if desired. Cupcakes stay well, covered, for several days.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Afternoon snack

Everyone in the family likes ice cream. B likes it, I like it, Jackson and Jasper like it. (The cats don't get their own servings, but they do enjoy licking the bowls when we're done. Jackson, however, only likes licking bowls that don't have spoons in them; for some reason he is irrationally scared of utensils.) Jackson spends a lot of time in the kitchen with me; in addition to tasting the ice cream, he likes watching the machine while it's churning.

He is endlessly fascinated, and will perch there for the entire thirty or so minutes that the machine is whirring away—which is frequently, because right now in the freezer we have:
  • espresso ice cream
  • Earl Grey tea ice cream (JL and A got to choose if they wanted coffee or tea after dinner last week, but they semi-cheated and chose both)
  • peach frozen yogurt
  • blueberry ice cream
  • honey-pistachio ice cream
  • strawberry ice cream
  • Meyer lemon ice cream
Wow. That list makes me sound like a crazy person. Or more specifically, a crazy person with the one specific problem of making too much ice cream. Perhaps they'll add this disorder to the forthcoming DSM-V (thoughts, JB?).

But there are still so many flavors to try! I actually can't believe what I'm about to write, but we've had the ice cream machine for over three years and, when you count it up, four of the seven bulleted flavors above are first-run batches. (Even more remarkably, only one of them, the honey-pistachio, was a disappointment; soon I'll be sacrificing the remnants, because it's time to liberate some Tupperware.)

It's not just making ice cream that's a problem, though; there's also the eating. The amount of ice cream we have in the freezer reminds me of an interaction I had with an attending physician in clinic a few months ago. Before I went into a patient's room, he said, "Make sure you ask Mr. A how he's doing on his new diet. Last time I saw him I found out that he was eating ice cream for dessert three or four times a week—isn't that ridiculous?"

"TOTALLY ridiculous!" I agreed, lying through my teeth.

(My weight's stable, I swear. So is B's.)

This post wasn't supposed to be about ice cream, believe it or not. I meant to write about something that goes very well with ice cream but is not itself ice cream. As you might expect, we often serve ice cream for dessert when we have guests over. I like baking, but some of the unusual ice cream flavors would compete negatively with a pie or a tart or a cake. I've been looking for something that would complement ice cream without distracting from it, and this afternoon I did: the stalwart almond macaroon. I had forgotten how much I love macaroons. Chewy, sweet, airy, bite-size, perfect.

The idea of pairing them with ice cream wasn't really mine. I happened to be reading the summer fruit section of Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts (lots of ice creams in there, so clearly it's not just me that's obsessed), and she recommended serving one of the frozen desserts with macaroons on the side. It had been years since I had made a macaroon. I remember using a Julia Child recipe once (by the way, so excited to see Meryl Streep), but for some reason macaroons had fallen off my cookie-making radar. It seems like everyone adores coconut macaroons, but I prefer to stick with the nut variety since saying that I don't love coconut is putting it mildly.

Today seemed like the perfect day to experiment with macaroons, because I was trying to procrastinate from doing research; after all, you can only spend so many hours a day staring at tables in Excel. First, Wikipedia taught me that the word macaroon comes from the same root as macaroni (weird, right?). Then, I got down to business. I ground nuts, I whipped egg whites (finally, a use for some of the whites generated in the ice cream custard-making process), I folded, I piped rounds onto the Silpat, I baked for seven minutes, I watched the macaroons deflate and wrinkle quickly once out of the oven, I peeled them off the Silpat, and then I ate my afternoon snack.

The macaroons were delicious with a glass of iced tea. I will eat the macaroons with ice cream later, and I'm sure they'll go perfectly. Truth be told, I may have already tested this theory with a spoonful of blueberry ice cream spread lavishly on top of a macaroon; it may have been so delicious that I had to wash the spoon quickly so that I couldn't fix another one and thereby spoil my dinner. Next time, I'm going to enter uncharted waters: hazelnut macaroons, and possibly some sort of ice cream sandwich. For now, enjoy these macaroons, with or without ice cream!

Almond Macaroons

Makes: 36 cookies or so
Time: 10 minutes active, 30 minutes total

1/2 c. sliced almonds
1 c. powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 t. cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 400. Line two cookie sheets with Silpats or parchment paper (both work equally well). Grind the almonds in a food processor (I used my mini-Cuisinart), or finely chop. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the almonds and powdered sugar together. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff peaks form, about five minutes. Fold the egg whites into the almond and powdered sugar mixture. Place mixture in a pastry bag with a half-inch tip. Pipe rounds about 1 inch in diameter, spaced 1 1/2 inches apart, onto the lined cookie sheets.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until puffed and light brown. Cool for at least 10 minutes before peeling each cookie off by bending the Silpat or parchment paper back. (If you discover that it is very difficult to peel the cookies off, they may not be cooked enough; pop them back into the oven for another 2 to 3 minutes.) Cookies will stay for several days in a sealed container.