December 15, 2011

Bolognese Sauce

We have mentioned our cookbook Italian grandmother, Marcella Hazan, in previous pasta posts. It turns out that Marcella, as kindly as she is (or at least, the way she is in the image we have created of her while we cook from her recipes) can be a bit of a tyrant when it comes to pasta shape choice. We recently made her amatriciana sauce (tomato sauce with pancetta and pepper) and she chastised us for not using bucatini. Yes, from the pages of her cookbook, she chastised us. And when we finally decided to make bolognese sauce she was not pleased that we didn't serve it over homemade tagliatelle - according to Marcella, "there is no more perfect union in all gastronomy." However, our choice of dry rigatoni was given a nod as a possible second choice; at least we didn't use spaghetti, since she claims that despite "the popularity of the dish in the United Kingdom and countries of the Commonwealth, meat sauce in Bologna is never served over spaghetti." 

Oh well. I guess if you're going to claim someone as your Italian grandmother, and especially if that someone is basically responsible for introducing Americans to Italian cooking, you have to be prepared to accept a little bit of stubbornness when it comes to cooking.

November 30, 2011

Cinnamon Buns

We've been wanting to make cinnamon buns forever, and there is a glorious looking recipe  in Peter Reinhart's The Breadbaker's Apprentice. Cinnamon buns might be one of the best things on earth. Even otherwise reasonable people are tempted by the smells of Cinnabon at malls and airports. There's just something completely irresistible about a sweet, yeasty dough filled with fragrant cinnamon and drizzled with a glaze (I'm calling it a glaze and not a frosting because this is a breakfast food, and I wouldn't want to make you think otherwise).

What kept us from making these tempting buns was the time required to prepare them. The dough needs to rise for two hours before you shape it into buns, then rise again in bun form for another hour and a half before they're ready to bake. We're not afraid of the occasional long preparation (wait for our forthcoming bolognese recipe), but if you want to eat these buns for breakfast, you'd have to get up at the crack of dawn to have them ready. And we are  afraid of waking up too early - especially on the weekends. However, we found a brilliant solution from Smitten Kitchen, who suggests freezing baked goods like scones after you've formed them but before you've baked them. Then you can remove them from the freezer and bake them at your leisure. After enjoying several weekends of being able to wake up and pop some scones in the oven, we thought that this might work just as well with cinnamon buns. And guess what? It did. 

November 6, 2011

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

This lovely little fall cake came together last spring, when we had half a can of pumpkin puree in the freezer, and some sour cream and cream cheese in the fridge that needed using up. Don't you love it when you have to bake something because otherwise, things would go bad, and you just can't let that happen. Just today, in fact, I had no choice but to make up a batch of these cream scones because I couldn't let the whipping cream that we'd bought go bad. Now there are 12 scones awaiting us in the freezer for a breakfast emergency.

But back to the coffee cake.  I realize that it's a bit silly that we waited until the fall to share it with you, since we used canned pumpkin which really is not exactly a seasonal item. But there's something really appealing about baking with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and pumpkin during this season, even if the pumpkin comes from a can (it's available year round, I'm sure, but it's not until October that the grocery store starts featuring it at the ends of aisles, with big signs, suggesting that you bake something delicious). 

October 27, 2011

Meat Loaf

The term meat loaf has some interesting connotations. First of all, there's that singer from the 70s who resurfaced in the 90s with "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)." Before we get distracted by pondering what exactly it is that he won't do, let's talk about meat loaf the food. It seems that it's a dish that people have strong feelings toward - they either love it or hate it. We suspect that in both cases it has to do with meat loaf they ate as a child (delicious homemade comfort food or frozen TV dinner horror). We didn't really swing either way until we made this recipe from The New Basics, but now it has become one of our favorites. This recipe makes about five servings, so we like to have it the first night with mashed potatoes and some veggie, and the second night with pasta and some other veggie. The big question then is - who gets to have the last serving in a sandwich for lunch the next day?

October 16, 2011

Blackberry Barley Muffins

Summer is most definitely over now. We got our first rains, and it's starting to get dark noticeably earlier. However, this is kind of an exciting time of year food-wise, when the end of the summer produce overlaps with the beginning of the fall produce, and you can have blackberry apple crisp, or choose between butternut squash and glorious heirloom tomatoes. In fact, we had our first butternut squash of the season last night, but we're still enjoying our tomatoes and fresh shellbeans. 

We thought we'd take advantage of this inter-season by doing some baking with the last of the season's blackberries, in a tribute to one of our favorite desserts of this summer - Smitten Kitchen's strawberry summer cake (originally Martha Stewart's). What made this cake great, and the reason why we made it over and over again this summer, was of course the pint of strawberries - but also the unexpected addition of barley flour. We had never baked with barley flour before, but it's a great thing. It has a very slight nutty flavor, and also lends a little bit of crunchy texture to the final product. We decided that if it's good in strawberry cake, it must be good in blackberry muffins too - and guess what? We weren't wrong.

September 19, 2011

Pad See Ew

It would be silly to say that we're never going to go to a Thai restaurant again, or that we no longer need to pick up Thai takeout from our neighborhood place a few blocks down.

Still, when we made this Thai menu favorite for the first time, I'm pretty sure we made those claims. We just couldn't believe how easy it was, once we had finally gotten a good (but inexpensive!) wok (although if you don't have a wok, I'm confident you could still make this dish successfully in a large skillet). You just need noodles, broccoli, chicken, an egg, and a selection of your standard Asian condiments. The only problem is, it doesn't come with egg rolls or papaya salad!

September 6, 2011

Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies

Wow, we really like brown butter. Of course, I already knew this, but it became readily apparent when I started typing the title of this post and Google helpfully predicted for me: was I about to type "brown butter gnocchi?" or "brown butter ricotta muffins?" or maybe I meant "brown butter apple tart"? 

No, Google. We've already made those things. And, in fact, a number of other things that we didn't tell you about - though to be honest, not all of them were resounding successes. The thing is, brown butter is never going to be bad. So when I put it in my granola, nothing bad happened - but I realized that there were already too many flavors in there for the brown butter to really stand out. Brown butter is a brilliant ingredient, but it's most successful when it can stand out. I'm not sure what got me thinking about shortbread this weekend, but as soon as I did I knew that it would be the perfect vehicle for that caramel-y, nutty brown butter flavor. Shortbread, after all, is all about butter. So these cookies are all about brown butter. I adapted the recipe from Smitten Kitchen's twice-baked shortbread, since the recipe starts with melted butter; I also used mostly brown sugar for a little more flavor.

August 31, 2011

Ultimate Banana Bread

There's a lot to say about bananas. They're a funny shape, and I'm pretty sure there are more songs about bananas than any other fruit. They're frequently involved in cartoon gags. The word bananas is a synonym for crazy. But you know what's really strange about them? They are ubiquitous in the U.S.. You will see them at any supermarket, year round; if you stop at a convenience store that makes an effort to sell something healthy by having a couple of pieces of fruit by the counter, it's a pretty safe bet that a banana will be there (right next to a red apple). You'll find them at your continental breakfast at any roadside motel. But bananas are tropical fruits, native to the tropics of south and southeast Asia. The bananas we get from our supermarkets, convenience stores, and breakfast buffets are grown mostly in Central America and the Caribbean - some bananas are grown in Florida and Hawaii, but not nearly enough to satisfy our enormous appetite for bananas. When you take this into consideration, it's also strange that bananas are so cheap. Also, while we expect to see at least Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Fuji apples in any old supermarket, bananas are always just "bananas." 

August 27, 2011

Honey Almond Granola

So it's late August, and I started getting emails from a school about meetings and classes and schedules and things like that. I was confused. I had to put down my knitting and take a closer look. It turns out that those paychecks I've been getting all summer? They're not actually paying me to sit at home in my pajamas and knit and go on bike rides and have elaborate lunches and go cheese tasting or sake tasting with my teacher friends. In fact they are expecting me to come and teach some children. Sigh. Well, it was probably time I stopped eating ice cream every day anyway.

The return to school seems an appropriate time for me to share with you my granola recipe. I love, love, love my granola. It might sound like hyperbole but I am not exaggerating when I say that making a batch of it on Sunday makes me feel ready for the week, and a bowl of granola with yogurt and fruit actually makes me kind of excited to get up in the morning.

August 22, 2011

Pasta With Cranberry Bean, Sage, and Rosemary Sauce

When we cook from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking, we feel like we know Marcella. We feel like we have an Italian grandmother, and that she is standing there in our kitchen, looking over our shoulders as we chop herbs, making sure that our gnocchi have the right texture, and peering into our pots of pasta sauce. We refer to recipes as though she has spoken directly to us: "Marcella says that this sauce would be best with rigatoni," or "Marcella thinks that it's best not to use eggs in the gnocchi dough." 

In short, this is an excellent book, and this is one of our favorite recipes (granted, it's a large book and there are many recipes we haven't tried yet). Marcella says that the dish comes from a particular restaurant, a trattoria owned by the Dalla Rosa in San Giorgio, and that the name of the dish is embogoné, which probably comes from a local word for snails (bogoni). The idea is that the beans cooking in the skillet look a little bit like snails. In fact, it's definitely true that this dish is neither beautiful nor photogenic, but it really doesn't matter because it is delicious.

August 8, 2011

Crispy Roast Duck Breast

Well, we have been busy lately, as evidenced by the lack of activity on our blog. Michael started a new job not long ago, and I started my summer teaching, and my dad came to visit, and our friends had a baby, and my brother came to visit, and we did fun things like going strawberry picking at Swanton Berry Farm. We have certainly been doing plenty of cooking and eating, just not as much writing. And we have made an exciting culinary discovery - we can cook duck! In fact, it's pretty easy! It's one of those things that we love to order in restaurants but for some reason had never tried ourselves. The key to getting a nicely cooked duck with crispy flavorful skin is to sear it in a pan first, then finish it off in the oven. And a big plus, if you're into that sort of thing, is that you render out the fat in the pan so you're left with some duck fat for future cooking - we've now made duck three times so we're accumulating a good amount and not sure yet what to make with it. Ideas?

July 18, 2011

Quesadilla with Goat Cheese, Corn, and Caramelized Onions

We have been eating a lot of corn lately.

Really a lot. It's hard not to, when they're practically giving them away at the market and each ear is bursting with sweet yellow kernels. 

We also have quite a lot of goat cheese these days, since our friends Stephanie and Mike convinced us to go to Costco "just to see what it's like" and we came home with a giant tub of Laura Chenel's chèvre, a 24 pack of Lagunitas beer, and 12 boxes of tissues.

Costco is difficult to handle. Everything is in such huge volume at such huge prices that it's hard to let practical matters like "where am I going to store this?" or "how are we going to eat an entire wheel of Mexican farmer's cheese before it goes bad?" cross your mind. 

July 9, 2011

Herb Salad with Breadcrumbs

This recipe was inspired by a meal at one of our very favorite places: the Boonville Hotel, in the tiny town of Boonville up in the Anderson Valley. The valley has a quite a few vineyards, including Roederer Estate, which makes a very tasty and reasonably priced California sparkler, and Toulouse vineyards, where we tasted some very nice Pinot Noir). We love going there because it's far less crowded and pretentious than certain other wine producing valleys; tastings are generally free or $5 at most, and on several occasions we've been in a tasting room with just us and the winemaker. There is also the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, which not only makes some very nice beer, but also has a frisbee golf course and an interesting brewery tour. We also like taking a walk through the old growth redwood groves at Hendy Woods State Park (which, sadly, is one of the 70 parks slated for closure due to budget issues), and stopping by the Philo apple farm for some fresh apple juice. 

June 30, 2011

Ceviche de Atún

We both grew up on the East Coast, and we have to confess that we both thought that the people from California that we met were kind of obnoxious. All they could talk about was the wonderful food and weather in their home state. Then we moved here, and we turned into those people. See, the weather is really great, and the food...well, it's pretty good too.

One sign that we might have become obnoxious Californians is our tendency to gloat when we have a random week of 70 degrees and sunny weather in the middle of January or February, and we check the forecast for Connecticut or New York or North Carolina or D.C. and we see temperatures in the teens/snow/sleet/ice, and we just can't resist sending our families an email with our weekly forecast, or a picture of us enjoying the sun in our backyard.

June 23, 2011

Marin Sun Farms Tour

On  June 15, we took a very interesting (and free!) tour of Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes. This is something that we had wanted to do for a while, since, like many other people who have read books like The Omnivore's Dilemma and seen movies like Fast Food Nation, we are trying to be more aware of where our food comes from, and to make responsible choices about what we buy and eat. We've found this to be fairly straightforward when it comes to produce; we are fortunate to live in an area where a lot of fruits and vegetables are grown, and we try to stick with what is in season and has not traveled too far to make its way to us. Things get a little trickier with meat, though; we can buy things that are labeled "organic" or "grass-fed" or "free-range," but it's hard to say what that really means when it comes to the lives of the animals involved. 

June 15, 2011


This recipe caught my eye last asparagus season when I saw it on Epicurious, but somehow I let the spring season pass and it has been languishing in my recipe box ever since. This is really a shame, now that we know how good it is (Michael declared it "one of the best meals we've ever made," and he does not utter those words lightly) - so many missed bibimbap opportunities! Fortunately, now that we know what we've been missing, we also know that this dish is a simple concept that can be applied to various vegetables and meats and need not be limited to asparagus season.

Bibimbap means "mixed meal" in Korean (so says Wikipedia); it involves rice, some kind of vegetable(s), chili paste, maybe some meat, and probably a fried egg. And there is something greatly appealing about a meal where everything (meat, veggies, grains) is served all together in a big bowl (or in a big wrap, as in the case of a burrito - which is, according to Michael, "the perfect food").

June 7, 2011

Brown Sugar Cake

This is a spectacular cake. You should make it, right now, and you should eat it right out of the oven, when it's hot and the gooey caramel top is dripping all over the cake. You should probably also put whipped cream on it.

This is the kind of cake that we rarely make. We're usually doing something with frosting or something with fruit (or something with both), and tend to forget about the simple deliciousness that happens when sugar is mixed with cream and butter and turned into caramel. This is a pretty standard upside-down cake, but with no fruit, and I have to admit it was hard to resist the temptation to add something to it (but what if we put raspberries in the cake? Or added some sliced apples to the topping?), but I am so glad that we did, because it's perfect and simple and beautiful as it is. There's a very moist, buttery cake made with almond flour, cooked with a layer of caramel in the bottom of the pan. As the cake bakes, the caramel boils and bubbles up the sides of the pan, coating the cake. Some of the sugar topping bakes into the cake, making a sweet, sticky cake layer, and then some gooey caramel stays separate and oozes over the sides when you turn the cake out. Some of our caramel stuck in the pan - make sure you scrape that out with a spatula and drizzle it over the cake.

May 31, 2011

Black Bean Vegetable Chili

Yesterday was Memorial Day, and we know we were supposed to be out grilling meats, but we actually did our grilling a day early. On Sunday we had a few friends over for skewers of Middle Eastern seasoned lamb, chicken, zucchini, and onions, with Israeli couscous and tzatziki sauce. Our friend Andrea made pita chips (homemade pita chips! Delicious!) and hummus, and our friend Kathryn brought over this amazing Summer Strawberry Cake from Smitten Kitchen. 

So, having had our fill of meats and beer (and strawberry cake), we now bring you one of our favorite veggie recipes. I've been making this since my vegetarian phase in high school, when I abruptly announced to my parents that I was no longer eating meat, and that they would have to completely change their cooking and eating habits to accommodate me (that last part was implied; I, being 17, had not really thought about how my decision would affect anyone else). My parents were very good sports about it, and we started making some of the meatless recipes from The New Basics Cookbook. Fortunately everyone enjoyed them, and I kept this recipe in my repertoire from my earliest cooking days (actually I made this for dinner for a bunch of friends, including Michael, when he and I were just friends in grad school) to now. Michael and I find that we always come back to this one. It's so flavorful and satisfying, and the perfect use of so many tasty summer vegetables. Although I was only a vegetarian for about a year, and the decision was rather hasty, I'm glad that I did it, because I think it changed the way I think about meals and meat. Before that, my idea of a meal was based around a meat, with some sides. This chili (and the New Basics vegetable lasagna) made me realize that a filling, hearty meal can be based entirely on vegetables, and I've been cooking with that in mind even since I started eating meat again.

May 23, 2011

Best Hash Browns

Just before I moved to California, where I met Michael in 2005, I was living in a small town in Brazil, teaching English at a language school. While I was there, I ate a lot of papayas (and papaya ice cream), learned how to play the guitar, introduced my Brazilian friends and family to chocolate chip cookies, and got in the habit of eating churrasco with my lovely host family every Sunday. I also spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time talking about things that we don't do in the U.S. Here are two of my favorite misconceptions about American life:

1. All Americans eat eggs and bacon for breakfast every day.
2. All Americans live in two story houses.

OK, the first one I got, no problem - I know that we have a worldwide reputation as bacon-and-egg fiends. But the second one was more puzzling to me, until I finally figured out the obvious culprit when someone said "but on TV, everyone in America always lives in a two-story house!" Ah-ha. And if you think about it, it's true; picture any family sitcom set (Full House, Cosby Show, Married with Children, Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and there is, inevitably, a staircase featured prominently in that big living room where everything happens. And usually, that same family gathers for breakfast for some humorous exchange before the kids head off to school, and the mom is cooking a full breakfast of eggs and bacon. Most of us here in the US probably don't spend too much time thinking about how other countries are constantly receiving images of life in the US in the form of television and movies, and although they know that television and movies are not reality, when they're the only images you have of something they're hard to ignore. 

May 13, 2011

Pea Pesto and Ricotta Crostini

Today we bring you - more pesto. And more fresh ricotta. What can we say - it's spring, and there are so many delicious green things waiting to be blended with cheese and oil and happily married with fresh ricotta. This time around we used peas, because they are so fresh and sweet right now, and we put the pesto on little pieces of toast and called them crostini (there was some debate about that, and some research on the difference between bruschetta and crostini, but what's in a name, anyway?), but we're sure you can find many uses for this fresh green spring spread.

May 10, 2011

Brown Butter Ricotta Muffins

As we've mentioned, we've been really into fresh ricotta recently, and when we get some to toss with pasta and broccoli or to spread on toasted bread with fava beans we often have a bit left over. This, of course, is not really a problem, but it is kind of a fun task to try to figure out what to do with the extra ricotta. This was the situation we were in going into this weekend - extra ricotta! What should we make?

We had some friends over for brunch Sunday morning. It was not intended to be a Mother's Day brunch; this just happened to be the day when everyone was available, and none of this group has a mother living nearby. However, one of our friends is in the early stages of motherhood, with her son due in a couple of months, so we celebrated her this morning with  a cauliflower and caramelized onion tart, lots of the fresh berries that they're practically giving away at the market these days, excellent bagels made by one of our friends, and...something with ricotta.

May 6, 2011

Tomato, Tapenade, and Spinach Grilled Cheese

Americans have a great love for grilled cheese sandwiches, as evidenced by the existence of an entire restaurant dedicated to the grilled cheese in San Francisco, and an annual grilled cheese invitational competition in LA (thanks to our friend Elizabeth, a great appreciator of cheese, for sending us that one). It's pretty easy to understand our grilled cheese obsession - you can't go wrong with cheese melted on bread, especially if that bread has also been browned in a pan with butter. And we're not the only ones. In Mexico, there are quesadillas. In France, there are cheese-filled crêpes, but the French also went ahead and took the concept of the grilled cheese to the next level by adding bêchamel to make a Croque Monsieur, and all that plus an egg to make a Croque Madame. 

April 28, 2011

Rigatoni With Broccoli Pesto, Sausage, and Fresh Ricotta

If you put something green in a food processor with cheese, olive oil, and garlic, good things will happen. This is an important lesson that we have learned from the Italians.

We should eat more fresh ricotta. This is the lesson that we learned from Food 52's recent contest, "Your Best Recipe with Fresh Ricotta" which featured an amazing and mouth-watering variety of dishes with ricotta (if you aren't familiar with Food 52, please go check it out - lots of good things are happening over there). Like its cousins fresh mozzarella and burrata, ricotta adds such a pure, sweet cream flavor to any dish, and the texture is wonderful wrapped around big pieces of rigatoni. We especially loved the runner-up in the ricotta contest, this delicious Rigatoni with Sausage, Peas and Ricotta (and from that recipe we learned that Italian sausage is much more flavorful if you brown it in the casing and chop it, rather than removing the innards before cooking them). And we finally gave in and decided that it's worth getting the good quality ricotta, the kind that is freshly made and comes in a clear container and is priced by weight, rather than the pre-packaged big brand name kind. It takes ricotta from being just a filler to being a major flavor and texture contribution in the dish.

April 24, 2011

Passover Seder

We've been out of the action for a little while here in the blog world, because we've been out of the action in the kitchen too - we didn't cook for an entire week. We went to the East Coast to spend Passover with Michael's family in New York and Connecticut, and were completely spoiled food-wise. First, there was a lovely dinner in Brooklyn with friends of mine from college and their husbands, then there were many bagels (one for breakfast and one for lunch - what a versatile food!) and black and white cookies.

April 13, 2011

Warm Mushroom Salad with Crispy Polenta

We hope you're not tired of polenta (or other forms of cornmeal), or of mushrooms, because we've been eating (and posting) about both a lot recently, and this recipe was so good that we couldn't resist sharing it with you.

Don't you love it when you think you have a really good idea, and you try it out, and it turns out that you were right? This is one of those times. I made the first version when Michael was out of town last weekend (I think it might be a sign that I'm growing up that I no longer just cook macaroni and cheese when my husband is away). I wanted something tasty and not too heavy, and this really hit the spot. I told Michael about it when he got back and we tweaked it a little bit, and found it to be a perfect little lunch. If you're into mushrooms, and not tired of polenta, that is.

April 10, 2011

Cornmeal Berry Buckle

I mentioned last week that I teach at a French bilingual school. Once a month, we have a full faculty meeting, and to keep the masses happy, there is usually a snack of some kind. Sometimes it's some nuts and chocolates and dried fruits from the grocery store across the street from the school. And sometimes one of the teachers or staff members prepares something. This month, I decided to prepare something, since I think everyone is happier at the meeting if they have something good to eat, and I like it when good food makes people happy.

When I came home and announced, "I'm baking snacks for 70 people for the faculty meeting next week," I think what Michael heard is "I'm going to make a huge mess in the kitchen and only half clean it up." Despite that, he gamely agreed to help me out by first deciding what to make, then making a little test, then finally preparing the real thing.

April 5, 2011

Zucchini Cakes

We get inspiration for new recipes and dishes to try out from a lot of places: various other cooking blogs and food-related sites, meals out in restaurants, America's Test Kitchen, and conversations with food-minded friends, for example. This idea, though, came from one of my preschool students' lunch boxes.

It shouldn't be all that surprising, really - I have mentioned before that I teach at a French bilingual school in Berkeley, and these little kids eat pretty well. Of course there is a fair share of preschool standards like cream cheese and jelly sandwiches or spaghetti with butter, but I am often jealous (and a little surprised) when they open up their thermoses and I see what they have inside: mushroom risotto! Baby artichokes! Quinoa with avocado! And just last week one little girl had some cut up little pieces of pancakes flecked with green tucked into one compartment of her lunch box. I asked her what they were. "Zucchini cakes!" she said.

March 29, 2011

Blueberry Polenta Pancakes

Sunday was Michael's birthday. We had been planning for quite some time to have dinner at Frances Restaurant in San Francisco. "Quite some time" was six weeks - that's how far ahead I called, and I was lucky to get a reservation at 6:30 on a Sunday! I wore makeup and heels, and Michael put mousse in his hair. And it was worth it. We were impressed with the service, and the fact that they have house wine for a dollar an ounce. We had a "market shot" - some fruit fresh from the farmer's market (in our case it was asian pear), squeezed and spiked with something (in our case pommeau - which we had never heard of but liked very much). We ate chickpea fritters with harissa sauce, and a lovely asparagus salad with fried shallots, and a perfectly cooked steak with mushrooms and farro...but, we're not here to talk about our dinner.

March 26, 2011

Shiitake Mushroom Enchiladas with Poblano Sauce

These enchiladas are not the most photogenic food, but they are really really tasty. We took our inspiration from a recipe from Bon Appétit for mushroom crepes; we just took out the step of making crepes and replaced them with corn tortillas, and tweaked the sauce a bit (a little more flavor and a little less cream). The result is one of our staple meals. You could definitely use this sauce on all sorts of other things, or switch out the filling in the enchiladas if mushrooms aren't your thing. 

March 21, 2011

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

We've tried tons of different recipes in search of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. For a while we just used the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chips bag, and these tasted great. But we've had better, so we knew that there must be a better recipe out there somewhere.

There's the New York Times' recipe for what they consider to be the best, which uses a mix of bread and cake flour, and requires overnight refrigeration. But who wants to wait 24 - 36 hours, and buy two different types of flour that you might not already have on hand? Then there's the Food Network's "Best Chocolate Chips Cookies Ever" recipe, but these tended to be too dry due to a higher flour content.  

March 19, 2011

Huevos Not Quite Rancheros

My friend Liz, who is part of my weekly knitting group, raises chickens in her backyard in Oakland, and on certain lucky Wednesdays she shows up at the cafe where we meet with cartons of fresh eggs to share. They are lovely and brown in color, with amazingly bright orange yolks and a flavor that is nothing like the eggs you buy at the store (even the cage free organic free range et cetera). The first time we got a batch of these eggs, we had a luxurious Saturday breakfast of fried eggs over spicy beans with chorizo and polenta. Then we got another batch and had that breakfast for dinner. They're sort of our take on huevos rancheros...

March 15, 2011

Ginger Molasses Pumpkin Bread

We "sprung forward" this weekend, the weather patterns are shifting, and there are buds on our wisteria and asparagus in the markets. We are happy to see spring and looking forward to longer hours of daylight, warmer weather, and a some of our favorite produce. But before we go all into spring, we wanted to make one of our fall/winter favorites one last time: pumpkin bread. We've been working on this recipe for a bit, trying to make a quick bread with lots of spice and a little extra kick of freshly grated ginger and molasses, in addition to your standard pumpkin pie spices. We are very happy with the result, and hope you enjoy it too. Make it before blueberries come into season and you find yourself unable to resist blueberry muffins!

March 6, 2011

Pappardelle with Mushroom Sauce

We like mushrooms, but we have always wondered exactly what is in them. Based on the amount of liquid we have to cook out when we prepare them, they must be mostly water. But nutritionally - are they good for you? Do they have vitamins in them? Most of our general nutrition knowledge is about plants - we know that dark leafy greens have iron. Orange foods have beta carotene. But mushrooms? Little brown or white or tan fungi? What is in them?

February 28, 2011

Chicken Gyros

It was supposed to snow in the Bay Area last week. There was a big hullabaloo. It was in all the newspapers, and there was even a website where you could get a minute by minute up date. 

It didn't snow. Well, they're saying it did, but that was only a few flakes falling on the highest hills in the city and the north bay. No snow at sea level. But, it was cold, and rainy, for quite some time. This got us dreaming about warmer climates. Did you know that the Canary Islands have near perfect weather? It seems to be constantly between 60 and 70 degrees. Maybe we'll move there.

In the meantime, we have to satisfy ourselves with foods that make us think of warmer climates. Soups and stews and warm comfort foods are great, of course, but instead of making foods that accompany the weather, we wanted to make foods to defy the weather. We wanted warm, sunny Mediterranean foods. So we set about perfecting our chicken gyros, with creamy tzatziki sauce, hummus, and a Mediterranean salad. In the past, the weakest link has been our chicken, so we took a new approach - instead of just cooking some boneless, skinless breast in a pan, we took a bone-in, skin-on breast, browned it, roasted it with tons of flavors, then took it off the bone and back into the pan to give it a final browning. The results were very tasty, and definitely cold weather defying. 

February 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

When I lived in Brazil, a friend asked me about an amazing and wonderful American thing that she had heard about. It was called pasta de amendoim, and she had seen it in movies, and it looked sooo delicious, and she desperately wanted to try it.

And I had no idea what she was talking about. Those words in Portuguese didn't mean anything to me, but it sounded to me like it should be almond paste. Almond paste doesn't sound very appealing, and there is certainly no such famous American delicacy.

I'm sure you figured it out much more quickly than I did. Yes, pasta de amendoim is peanut butter, and the movie she had seen it in was Meet Joe Black, in which Death comes to earth in the form of Brad Pitt in order to learn about the wonders of life on earth - and one of those wonders is, you guessed it, peanut butter.

February 13, 2011

Braised Pork, Ossobuco Style

We are seriously into braised meats. How come nobody let us in on this little secret earlier? Braising is amazing, because it uses fairly inexpensive cuts of meat (butts, shoulders, and shanks) and gives you incredibly rich, flavorful, and delicious dishes that are perfect served over some kind of flavor-absorbing carbohydrate (polenta, mashed potatoes, risotto, pasta - take your pick). It's not even that labor intensive - all you really need is some time. Chop up a few aromatic vegetables, add some seasonings, wine, stock, and tomatoes, add them to the meat, put them in the oven, and let magic happen.

Riva Cucina is our neighborhood Italian restaurant. We like it there. It's quiet and calm, they know our names, they really know how to make good pasta, and they introduced us to pork ossobuco. Ossobuco is a traditional Italian dish (specifically, from Milan) made with veal shank served over risotto alla milanese (that's also from Milan. Get it?). However you might feel about eating veal, this dish is just as tasty made with pork butt/shoulder (oddly, the "butt" is part of the shoulder). We did make the risotto the first time we tried this out (this epicurious recipe leaves out the traditional ingredient of bone marrow, which we are sure would make it very tasty but honestly there is enough richness and savoriness that you can certainly do without it). This time around we had it over polenta. Both are excellent.

Once you get the idea of braising, you can try it with all sorts of meats and flavors. In fact, as we write this dish up, we've got some lamb shanks braising in the oven with middle eastern spices, and are going to eat it with Israeli couscous.

We checked out a few recipes for inspiration, but the most helpful were Marcella Hazan's traditional Ossobuco, and the Reluctant Gourmet's Pork Osso Buco.

Pork Ossobuco (serves 4-5)

- 3 lbs pork butt (aka "shoulder")
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil, for cooking
- 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
- 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 15 oz can of tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup vegetable stock (or substitute any other kind of stock)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 sprigs of thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the pork, and heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Brown the pork on all sides, then transfer it to a casserole (one that has a lid).

Add the vegetables to the skillet and cook them just until they soften, then add the wine and deglaze the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let most of the wine cook out, then add the stock and chopped tomatoes with bay leaves and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil again, then pour it over the pork in the casserole dish.

Put the lid on the casserole and put the pork in the oven. Cook it for about three hours, or until the pork is tender and falling over the bone. Serve over polenta or your choice of flavor-absorbing carb, and spoon plenty of the liquid and vegetables from the pan on top.

February 6, 2011

Petrale Sole with Warm Farro and Brussel Sprout Salad

We may claim to be omnivorous, but the truth is that we don't eat a whole lot of seafood. In fact, both of us refused to eat any of it for most of our childhoods (with the exception of canned tuna, which really seems as though it should not be classified as seafood). But we discovered something about sole (and other whitefish): it doesn't taste like fish. In fact, it doesn't taste like much of anything. It's really more of a textural thing - and it makes a nice base for other delicious flavors. We coated this fish in flour, sauteed it lightly, and covered it with a lemony winey shalloty sauce, all served over farro with brussel sprouts and toasted almonds.

If you don't like fish, you might just like this one. If you don't like brussel sprouts, on the other hand, this might not be the dish for you.

Warm Farro and Brussel Sprout Salad (serves 2)

- 1/3 cup farro
- (just under) 2/3 cup vegetable stock
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 lb brussel sprouts
- Dash of lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup slivered toasted almonds

Farro is a little tricky - we've found that using a 2:1 ratio of liquid to farro is just a little bit more liquid than we need, so we do just a smidge under (fill the second third of a cup not quite to the top). Put the farro and stock in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. When it's boiling, turn the heat down to low and cover. Let simmer until the farro is tender (about 40 minutes).

Slice off the stems of the brussel sprouts and remove any wilted or dirty looking outer leaves. Slice the brussel sprouts parallel to the stem, making narrow rounds. These will breakdown into confetti-like strips when boiled.

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the brussel sprouts by cooking them for 4-5 minutes. Drain them.

Heat some oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. When the garlic has just started to soften, add the brussel sprouts and cook until they are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir the brussel sprouts into the cooked farro, and season with the salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Stir in the almonds, then keep everything warm in a pot - the fish and sauce are quick so you can make them after you finish the salad.

Sauteed sole (serves 2)

- 1/2 - 2/3 lb petrale sole (or similar white fish)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup flour
- Salt and pepper
- Oil, for cooking

Put the flour, salt, and pepper into a large plastic bag. Dredge the fish in the egg, then transfer the pieces to the bag with the flour. Shake it around until the fish is covered with flour.

Heat some oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and, when it is hot, add the fish. Cook until each side is golden brown.

Serve the fish over the salad and spoon the sauce (recipe below) on top.

Lemon Shallot Sauce

- Oil, for cooking
- 2 tbsp chopped shallot
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp white wine
- 1 tbsp butter
- Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook the shallot until it is soft and fragrant. Add the lemon juice and white wine and then the heat up to medium high. Let the sauce boil and reduce for 3-4 minutes, then stir in the butter, salt, and pepper.

January 24, 2011

Apple Pancakes with Apple Cider Syrup

We love pancakes, but we're not crazy about maple syrup.

The artificial stuff is so sweet, and although we're not going to launch into a lecture on the evils of corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (the two first ingredients in Aunt Jemima's syrup), we will just say that we have a hard time bringing ourselves to pour it all over our pancakes. But to be completely honest we don't love the real stuff either. Pancakes definitely need something on top of them, and we wanted something that would add a little more flavor and complexity, rather than just sweetness, and that would go well with whatever is inside the pancakes, too. On this particular occasion, that was apples.

At the Philo Apple Farm, just down the road from one of our favorite campsites at Hendy Woods State Park up in the Anderson Valley, we have seen apple cider syrup for sale (in season, they have tons of delicious apples, as well as incredible fresh apple juice that everyone should taste at least once in their lives). This sounded like a good idea, and although we didn't buy any last time we were up there, we figured we could make some. We perused some recipes online to get the general idea: apple cider with a little sugar and spices, lemon juice for tartness, and a bit of butter, thickened with cornstarch. Easy enough.

The pancakes themselves are our own creation, with yogurt, apple cider, grated apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the batter. The syrup is great because you can adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste, and add spices and flavors to your liking. Cooking (and of course, eating) them is a great way to get a late start on a weekend morning.

Apple Pancakes (makes 6 5-inch pancakes - serves 2)

- 2/3 cup flour
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/3 cup yogurt
- 1/3 cup apple cider
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp melted butter (plus more butter for cooking)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 apple (ideally a tart, firm baking apple - we used a pink lady)

Peel the apple and grate it using the largest holes on a box grater. Place the grated apple in a strainer and press down on it with a paper towel to remove some of the moisture.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt and apple cider until well blended. Add the egg, butter, and vanilla and combine.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined (all pancake recipes we've ever seen have dire warnings not to overmix, so we feel obliged to mention it to, although we have never actually seen the negative consequences). Fold the grated apple into the batter.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and melt some butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, form pancakes using about 1/4 cup of batter. When you see bubbles forming on the top side and the bottom side is golden brown, flip the pancake and brown the other side. Remove the pancakes to an oven proof plate and put them in the oven to keep them warm while you cook the rest of the batter.

Apple Cider Syrup (makes 2-3 servings)

- 1/2 cup apple cider
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 and 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp turbinado or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp butter

Combine the apple cider, lemon juice, cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk together and bring the mixture to a boil. When it has boiled and thickened, stir in the butter (this whole process is very quick - it should take no more than 5 minutes).