Friday, April 29, 2011

I Can't Wait

Today I learned how to make fresh rice noodles from one of the cooks at the Slanted Door--it's another recipe we're planning to put in the cookbook. Three ingredients: rice flour, water and tapioca flour, kneaded until it attains a Play-Doh quality, then pressed through a ricer into boiling water. The resulting noodles--silky and tender, perfect in soup--were a total revelation.

It's another example of something I didn't realize you could actually make at home, and it's doubly exciting because the recipe is dead simple. We're still fiddling around with the proportions, but once we have a reasonable home-sized batch of dough, I can't wait to share it with you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

For Breakfast This Weekend

One of my first food media-related jobs, 15 years ago, was working on a web site PBS produced in conjunction with the re-release of the Julia Child: Lessons with Master Chefs series. It was a pretty thankless gig that mostly entailed watching (and rewatching, and watching again) the series (on VHS, naturally), taking notes so that each video could be time-coded, and writing biographies of the featured chefs.

So the work itself was mind-numbing, but the silver lining was getting to watch hours upon hours of the greats--Zarela Martinez, Daniel Boulud, Madhur Jaffrey--together with Julia Child, who was getting on in years but was still a terrific joy to watch.

One of my favorites, and the one that has stuck with me all these years later, is the episode with Beatrice Ojakangas. Beyond having an amazing name, Ojakangas is a skilled Scandinavian baker, and on the show she showed Julia how to make Danish pastry. I got sort of obsessed. There are some things that you think you can't make at home, and Danish was one of those things. But with Beatrice on my side, I made a flaky, glazed fruit-and-cheese filled Danish bread without breaking a sweat.

It would be years before I realized that the dough is essentially a yeasted puff pastry, and up until this weekend, it had been years since I had made it. But I baked one again this weekend, and it was just as successful and easy to work with as I'd remembered. Also: It is so impressive, and covered with glaze, and the "braiding" looks far more complicated than it actually is.

Click here to read the recipe. I filled mine with lightly sweetened fromage blanc and some tart apricot jam, but the possibilities are endless. And since the dough recipe makes enough for two braids, you can choose two different fillings (or put half of the dough in the freezer).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Green Goddess-ish

After a week of barbecue, queso and other Tex Mex delights, it's was about time to get the Texas out of my system. Extraordinary though it was (with particular praise for Smitty's, in Lockhart, to Ray's Drive Inn, in San Antonio, and to Papalote and Torchy's Tacos in Austin), after five days I started to casually daydream about vegetables.

How very California of me.

In particular, I dreamed of green goddess, the brilliant, creamy, herb-flecked salad dressing. Except that I believed that green goddess had avocado in it. For some reason, I'd always attributed the lovely hue to avocado, but not so: the tarragon, basil, chives, parsley do the work.

Well. I guess I can't call the dressing I made green goddess, lovely name though it is. Instead, we'll just call it avocado-crème fraiche-anchovy-buttermilk-herb dressing, and we'll also call it delicious. I left mine a bit thick, so it would cling to the leaves of Little Gem lettuce (you could use romaine, too, but this is not really a dressing for those tender young things, not for spring mix or mesclun or whatever it's called.) When you leave it thick like that, it can also be used as a dip, and if it sits overnight in the fridge and thickens even more, it's good spread on a piece of toast.

Here goes into the food processor:

Half of a Hass avocado
A big spoonful of crème fraiche
About a 1/4 cup of buttermilk
2 anchovy filets
1 small clove garlic, chopped
salt and pepper


Add the juice of half a lemon, a few tablespoons of olive oil, a few tablespoons of Champagne vinegar (if you've got it, otherwise, more lemon juice). Gather up a good cup of soft green herbs (chervil, parsley, basil and tarragon are nice, but dill and mint aren't invited to this party) and add those to the processor. Whir the whole bit together until the herbs are finely chopped and the dressing is smooth and bright green.

If it's too thick for your liking, thin with a bit more buttermilk or even a small amount of hot water. Season to taste with additional salt, pepper or vinegar.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looks Can Be Deceiving

This cake
smelled so good when it was baking. The combination of fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves and honey gave our house that toasty, cozy, wintertime smell. It rose beautifully, the top shiny—I couldn't wait to cut into it.

Well, you know where this is going, don't you? It just wasn't that delicious. Oh, it was fine and all—mildly sweet, mildly spiced, mildly moist, but it wasn't all that I was hoping it would be, which was a quick-cooking alternative to the laborious pain d'epices I so enjoyed in Burgundy, France, a bread particularly well-suited both to tea time and as a transport vehicle for thin coins of foie gras torchon.

So no recipe, today, either. Not because I don't care about all two of my readers, but because I simply can't bear to disappoint you. And, to show you that to err is human—sometimes I make crappy food, and we use the remaining loaf to hide pills for the dog. I'll be back soon, with something you can cook.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In This I Believe

I think I've told some of you about this book project I'm working on with Charles Phan, chef-owner of the Slanted Door here in San Francisco. It is taking up a lot of time and brain space, but in the most excellent way. I'm so happy to be here. I'm learning so much (although not all lessons are good ones--yesterday I popped a cube of fermented red tofu into my mouth, having never tried it before. For others unfamiliar, I caution you--bad idea).

Once or twice a week, I head down the Slanted Door kitchen, where we work on recipes, shoehorning our Dutch ovens filled with sizzling pork belly right next to the pastry cooks and their nice, polite, coconut tapioca. I think they love it. Yesterday we worked on this recipe, above, for beef stew fragrant with lemongrass and star anise. We used brisket, cubes of carrot and daikon, and a knob of smashed ginger.

Some of our recipes fail on first attempt. Some fail on the second. Some we decide aren't worth the work necessary to make them great, so we replace them with something better. But sometimes, when the Gods of recipe development are shining brightly upon us, a recipe works brilliantly the first time around. I get so happy when that happens, not only because it means we'll have less work to do but also because I imagine someone cooking the recipe and making a really great dinner and feeling pleased as punch. And this stew will do that. We tasted it, and we loved it, and then we topped it with Thai basil and minced Thai chilies and I loved it even harder.

When this recipe debuts in the fall of 2012, people will be so glad. And there is no sweeter reward for all this work.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Darkness in the Kitchen, Lightness on the Plate

Is it dark in your kitchen by dinner time? We're getting there. It's feeling less and less like summer, though there are still some tomatoes, peppers and eggplants at the market, and more and more like early winter. For some reason, I'm not minding the change of seasons this year. I feel ready to hibernate.

The next few months are going to be busy, but I love the bustle and excitement of a year winding down. I've got tons of projects going on, and this dish—a modern take on a root vegetable salad—is for one of my assignments. To make it, I combined shaved fennel, leaves of variegated radicchio, fingerling potatoes, radishes, blanched carrots and super sweet golden beets, along with a handful of chopped parsley. I made a warm dressing that is basically bagna cauda, the Italian "dip" for vegetables that is comprised of good olive oil, garlic (sliced Goodfellas thin), a pinch of red pepper flakes and some mashed anchovy filets. It's a nice (and pretty) antidote to all the roasted root vegetable salads that debut this time of year.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Great Food Packaging

This is in no way a product recommendation, since I have yet to try and of the things contained in these tubes (three types of German mustard and an Italian anchovy paste). And the reason why I haven't tried them yet? Because the packaging is too.damn.cute. I happen to be a sucker for things in tubes. So handy! So space saving! You can use without dirtying a knife or spoon! Given that Americans may well be the laziest cooks in all the world, it seems like tubed condiments would have caught on here like wildfire, but it reality the only tubed thing I see regularly is tomato paste and, occasionally, harissa. What gives?

Incidentally, the packaging is the same reason that I want to plant my non-existent vegetable garden with Franchi Sementi seeds.

Not only does Bergamo, Italy-based company offer an irresistible array of heirloom varieties, the seeds are sold in these simple, well-designed seed packs. Wouldn't an assortment of these be a great gift for someone who does have a "back forty?"