Tuesday, November 03, 2009

If ever you doubted whether food...

...can make someone feel very, very special, doubt no more. Behold, the most gorgeous, glamorous, mania-inducing birthday cake of all time. Underneath that glossy chocolate shealth resides a supernaturally moist yellow cake (thanks to this recipe, doubled and baked in 8-inch pans), the two layers sandwiched together with a coconut pastry cream (made using this recipe, halved), topped with toasted, unsweetened large flake coconut. Yes, it tasted as good as it looks. No, there isn't any left.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ain't No Party Like A West Coast Party

If there is anyone who wouldn't love one of these limited-edition letterpress posters (printed by Nashville's legendary Hatch Show Print) from SF-based 4505 Meats, marked with owner Ryan Farr's fingerprint in lard, I don't want to be friends with them. There are three different designs, and all of them are fabulous.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

All the Single Ladies

I understand that there is an art to creating a meal for one. I must also admit that I do not know anything about this art. When my wife leaves town for work (these days, frequently), rather than rise to the challenge, creating exciting dishes for the pure pleasure of eating exactly what I want, I get incredibly thrifty, lazy and uninspired. I eat baked potatoes as a main course for days on end. Pasta with butter and Parmesan? Of course. And, this morning for breakfast, the lamest "fruit cup" I've ever laid eyes or money down on. I'm not proud.

Because of the nature of my work, people ask me all.the.time what I eat, where I eat it, and why. And let me tell you the wash of shame I felt recently when I admitted on a panel (where I sat with Tyler Florence, Sara Moulton, Hubert Keller and Michael Chiarello), to a captive audience, that when I cook for myself I just cook eggs. Glamorous, no?

Still, there is a different type of satisfaction that can be derived from scraping the depths of the pantry and the fridge to create a meal. It's sort of like Macgyver meets Survivor, and this is something I'm very good at. So last night, late and tired, I combed the depths and emerged with the last remaining egg, a very sad half-bunch of broccoli rabe, the last cup of delicious basmati rice I bought at Kalustyan's in New York (also know as one of the best places on earth), a tiny chunk of leftover pork chop (from dinner at Sonoma's Zazu on Saturday, the age of which did give me pause) and three scallions. Are you all following me here? I fried up those scallions and pork while the rice cooked, blanched and chopped the broccoli rabe, whisked together the egg and a bit of soy sauce and then threw the whole mess into a cast iron skillet. It can't really be called fried rice, exactly, but it was like fried rice's cousin and I had no trouble polishing off the whole pan. In front of the television. Watching Dog the Bounty Hunter because the Bravo channel (and thus, Top Chef) would not come in. Like I said, I'm not proud. Then again, what's that they say about pride coming before a fall?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cooking With The Canal House

While we're on the subject of tomatoes, I'd like to introduce you all to one of the most fabulous cookbooks I've come across in a long time (I have a lot of them--stacks next to the bed, stacks in the living room, so I know of what I speak). Canal House Cooking is a lovely volume put together by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Hirsheimer, a founding editor of Saveur magazine, has shot for scores of cookbooks. Hamilton was the food editor at Saveur and is an accomplished recipe developer and cook (she is also sister to Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of New York jewel-box restaurant Prune).

The result of Hamilton and Hirsheimer's collaboration is this slim book, a seasonally-inspired volume (they plan to do four each year). It's filled with recipes that you want to cook immediately, and since many of them call for last gasp vegetables--tomatoes, zucchini, corn, peppers--you should not dawdle. But if you do nothing else, quickly adopt Hamilton and Hirsheimer's recipe for "buttered" tomatoes: thickly slice an assortment of tomatoes, then spread each slice lavishly with mayonnaise (if you've made your own, good for you, but Hellmann's works just fine). Sprinkle with salt, pepper, chopped chives and a drizzle of good olive oil. Serve alongside some toasted slices of bread that have been rubbed lightly with a clove of garlic. For the record, the women also recommend this same treatment for steamed potatoes, a suggestion I can't wait to try.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Can Do Attitude

All of a sudden I'm noticing the change in light. Northern California may not have the crisp fall days, the foliage, the mulled apple cider, but there's no denying that one season is ending and another beginning. After five years on the West coast, you learn to look for the little things, to observe subtleties.

So even though the days are still warm and the sun is still shining brightly and the markets are positively overrun with all the goods you wait an entire season for, this light tells me to get going, to make the most of it. It was in that spirit that Sarah and I canned 20 pounds of San Marzano tomatoes over the weekend. I don't mess with them much, just blanch, peel, jam into jars with a tablespoon of lemon juice and then hot water process for 10 minutes. There's nothing better than listening to the ping! of each jar as it seals. Well, nothing better except stacking the finished, cooled jars in the pantry...my idea of money in the bank.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sweet on Stoves

There's a new woman in my life. After my old trusty Magic Chef finally gave up the ghost for once and for all, expiring dramatically while one layer of Sarah's birthday cake baked within--and after a lengthy wait for a replacement--this little sweetheart took up our residence in our kitchen. I'll admit that I have been swayed in the past by stainless models with high BTU burners. I have fallen victim to Thermador and Wolf and Garland envy. But ever since this O'Keeffe and Merritt came to live with us, Viking only means marauding, red-headed, bearded sea farers.

This solid cast-iron beauty is like the living, breathing heart of our little apartment. I love it. And in the week since we've had it we've canned 20 pounds of San Marzano tomatoes, made a giant pot of lobster and corn chowder and tested three recipes for a Valentine's Day dessert story. Everything has been turning out pretty well (more on that in subsequent posts); I think it may be the stove.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Simple Best

The truth is, I've fallen victim. All of a sudden, without warning, I've started craving all that comforting food that people in the thick of a recession are craving the nation over. My fantasy dinner world is now dominated by daydreams about bowls of macaroni and cheese, rolled omelettes, slices of chocolate layer cake, chili.

So instead of elaborate meals we're frying eggs for dinner and eating pancakes at 7 at night with our feet propped on the coffee table. We're making pizza (using this dough) and topping it with whatever is left in the crisper and cheese drawers (asparagus and pecorino, not bad). I had a freelance assignment that involved baking many pies, and Sarah and I both "evened off" slices until half of the crumb-topped apple version was gone.

Lately I've been prone to general weepiness. I cry when I watch Friday Night Lights and I cry when I listen to NPR and my eyes get wet after yoga when I'm lying on the floor face to face with the tufts of pet hair and dust motes. Sometimes life seems like too much--too many decisions, too many choices, too much--and instead of moving forward a kind of paralysis takes hold. The weepiness and the breakfast for dinner, I think, is some sort of defense mechanism. With an unknown future looming in a scary, overwhelming fashion, what can one do but hunker down, all eggs and tears, and wait?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Is Just Around the Corner

When I walked out the back door this morning I took a deep breath. It's spring here, which means it won't be long until it makes its way to your corner of the world too. I know I've got it easier out here in California than a lot of folks, but still it's a welcome treat to see asparagus and the season's first strawberries at the market after a winter of greens, turnips, greens, more greens and, just to keep things interesting, daikon radish. All things I don't mind, not at all, but as the weeks turn to months even San Franciscans long for spring. And so it arrives, just like that, when you think you can't stand another cold morning, another stir-fry.

For some reason, lemon bars seem to be an appropriate way to celebrate this season. Citrus is still plentiful, but the sunshine requires something a little fresher. I object to some lemon bars that have an aroma I can only describe as "wet dog" and a bland, underbaked crust (I suspect I'm not alone in this ... does that description sound delicious to anyone?). These, a hybrid of two recipes, have a shortbread-like crust and a tart, smooth filling. I like to cut them into tiny fingers and eat them ice cold, straight from the fridge, which extends the life of a 9x13-inch pan for many, many days.
Lemon Bars
Most lemon bars are overly sweet or otherwise disappointing. These combine a shortbread-like crust with a tart lemon custard. They take a bit more time than other cookies to make, but the big pan is perfect for a crowd.

1 ¾ cup flour
2/3 cup confectionary sugar, plus more for dusting on top
¼ cup cornstarch
½ tsp. salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk

½ cup flour
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup lemon juice (from 7 lemons)
Zest of 1 lemon
6 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-in by 13-in. pan and line with one sheet parchment, then lay a second sheet of parchment crosswise, allowing for enough overhang to make it easy to lift finished bars out of pan.
Make crust: combine flour, confectionary sugar, cornstarch and salt in bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut butter into small pieces and add to flour; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk and pulse until mixture comes to together in large, moist crumbs. Turn crumbs out into prepared baking pan and, with your fingertips, press into an even ¼ inch thick layer. Put pan in freezer and chill 15 minutes before baking.
Bake on middle rack, rotating pan halfway through, until crust is lightly browned, 20 minutes.
While crust is baking, make filling. In a large bowl combine flour and sugar. Add lemon juice and zest and stir until sugar is dissolved. In a second bowl, whisk whole eggs, egg yolk and salt. Add eggs to sugar mixture and whisk until well combined.
Remove crust from oven and, while still warm, pour lemon mixture over. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees, return pan to oven and bake until custard is just set in the center, 30 minutes.
Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and refrigerate until cold, at least one hour. Lift bars from pan by pulling up on parchment “handles” and transfer to a cutting board. Dust generously with confectionary sugar and cut into small squares.