Friday, May 29, 2009


Food and travel go hand in hand. Certain dishes can take us back to places we visited years ago. Just the other day, I made a Nicoise Salad which of course reminded us of a trip to France where we visited the coastal city of Nice and ate the freshest seafood and soaked up the sun on the pebbly Mediterranean beach. As we ate that hearty dinner salad topped with seared Ahi tuna, we also reminisced about a trip to Australia where we indulged in a similar rendition of the classic Nicoise. Our thoughts turned to the quaint, inexpensive hotel we stayed at in Port Douglas, a coastal town just north of Cairns, which had an attached outdoor restaurant that served amazingly fresh seafood for very low prices. The food was so good in fact; we ate there twice, against our "traveler code". For one of these meals, we sat at the bar and chatted with the friendly bar tender. I ordered sea scallops for the second time while in Australia and again the white firm fleshed circular mollusk that I was so familiar with had an orange colored "wing" on one side of it. From my prior experience, I knew I was supposed to eat it, but now I had the added benefit of being able to ask what the heck this was for I had never before seen a scallop like this in the states. The chef was beckoned and I was informed that it was the roe. I told him I had never seen this before and the chef alluded to the possibility that I was not buying real scallops. Interesting take, I thought, knowing this was not the case, but also finding it amazing that we had such a different knowledge and understanding of a common food, shaped by our geographical location of what we call home. And then there was the lemonade.

I was 4 months pregnant while traveling in Australia and it was an unusually hot summer in that January of 2007. Melbourne was in the middle of a 1000 year drought. While Lou was able to partake in their refreshing beers, I was looking for alternatives. Lemonade seemed to be on all the menus, but I never received quite what I ordered. I was continually getting a glass of soda, like Sprite or 7 UP. I reluctantly drank them, for lack of an alternative as ice tea was no where to be found either. It was on a bar tour in the city of Sydney that we clarified the issue. I was told by some locals that were entertaining family by taking them on the tour that lemonade IS soda. When I described the lemonade made up of lemon juice, sugar, and water that is so common here in the states, they looked confused and said they'd never heard of it. Never heard of Lemonade? I was shocked that such a common summertime drink for us Americans did not have the same reputation in another English speaking country. Perhaps they don't have lemons? Not so. My thoughts quickly turned to the fortune I could make by introducing lemonade to Australians. I figured it would be an instant hit, but then we don't buy much Vegemite either, so perhaps it is just a matter of taste. At any rate, I never pursued that business venture, but in the spirit of good will, perhaps an Aussie or two will find this post and decide to popularize this refreshing, centuries old concoction that we Americans have come to take for granted.


1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 8 lemons)
3 cups cold water
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or to taste

Mix all three ingredients until sugar is dissolved and serve over ice.

Variations: for basil or mint lemonade, muddle a few basil or mint leaves in the bottom of a glass before adding ice and the lemon juice mixture

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Angel Food Cake

When our farmers market starts selling strawberries each year, I start buying and tasting samples, eager to determine whose strawberries will result in the most flavorful jams and sauces. Then, when the season peaks I buy a flat of the tastiest variety and set out to make jam. This year, I may have jumped the gun a little as there is still time left in our strawberry season, but I am on a bit of a time crunch with our second daughter on the way and my nesting period in full swing. I made two batches of the freezer jam I make every year using traditional pectin and plenty of sugar as well as a trial batch of a low sugar variety of freezer jam using Pamona's Universal Pectin. This pectin does not require sugar to jell and is instead activated by calcium. I found it at our local natural foods store and thought I'd give it a whirl. It was also quite inexpensive considering how much jam you can make with one box. With the remaining strawberries, I made some simple strawberry topping and package it in two to three cup containers for freezer storage. With just a bit of sugar, strawberries make a fresh and simple topping for homemade vanilla ice cream or angel food cake and the freezer allows us to enjoy them when strawberries are no longer at their peak. So much for eating seasonally, huh? Well, I don't usually find myself craving strawberries in the winter, so we do try to make use of them before our warm fall ends and winter vegetables like pumpkins start showing up in our baked goods again.

With strawberries on hand, angel food cake is now residing in our glass domed cake plate. Not for long, however, as it is a favorite in our household. It is simple, light, even fat free, which seems to make it way too easily digestable. I'm not claiming it is healthy, as it's loaded with sugar and usually made with refined, bleached cake flour, just that it is not in the least bit "rich", and so satisfyingly, yet so unsatisfyingly light that we tend to inhale it. The real bonus is it is so simple to make... that is if you have a stand or hand held mixer to help you with frothing the egg whites. It is no fun (and actually painful if you're not used to it) to whisk egg whites to a stiff peak by hand. Plus, you don't have to grease the pan! I always loved this about angel food cake as a kid, when it seemed like such a chore to grease a pan. The cake actually needs to stick to the pan so its delicate batter can climb up the sides.

You can find recipes for angel food cake in almost any basic cook book and all over the internet, but I tend to reach for the same recipe my mom used- the one out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. Most recipes I've come across do not vary too much on ingredients and instructions, but unfortunately, some of the ingredients are not in the average pantry. Quite a few recipes call for superfine sugar and most call for cake flour. I don't usually buy superfine sugar, but do keep a stock of powdered sugar. I usually keep cake flour on hand, but have improvised when I've found the box to be almost empty while my eggs whites are whirring in the stand mixer. Cake flour has a lower gluten content than all purpose and will result in a more tender cake that rises a bit higher. If you don't want to buy a box of cake flour for the one cup of flour you need in this recipe, you can substitute 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour plus 2 Tablespoons of corn starch for one cup of cake flour.

Angel Food Cake

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cake flour (or 3/4 all-purpose flour + 2 Tablespoons corn starch)
1 1/2 cups egg whites (10 to 12 depending on size of eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift together the powdered sugar and flour. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer until foamy. Beat on high speed, gradually add the granulated sugar, then the salt, vanilla, and almond extract. Continue beating until stiff and glossy.

Remove bowl from stand mixer or set hand mixer aside. Using a large spatula, fold 1/4 at a time the powdered sugar and flour mixture into the egg whites just until incorporated. Spread the batter in an ungreased tube pan, cutting through the batter with a clean knife to break up any air pockets.

Bake at 375 degrees until the top springs back when touched, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool cake upside down in pan. If the cake has risen above the cooling prongs, you can balance it on an upside down funnel placed in the center. Remove from pan when fully cooled by running a knife along the outside and center edges of the cake and inverting it onto a serving platter.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


There's nothing like a plate of Madeleines sitting on your counter top under a glass dome. It's like owning a French Bakery and getting to eat all the Madeleines you want for a day or two... that's all the longer they last around here. To me, Madeleines and croissants are the benchmarks for a French Bakery. If they can't do either of those well, then the bakery cannot succeed, or at least shouldn't succeed in my opinion. Important as they are, it is rare that I find a truly fresh, light, flavorful Madeleine. And, so I make my own.

I've tried other flavors like hazelnut and chocolate, but the following recipe for a classic lemon Madeleine is my all-time favorite. It produces a cakey textured cookie that is light and fluffy with just the right hint of lemon. Sprinkling the cookies with powdered sugar strikes the perfect balance as it off-sets the slightly sour lemony taste.


Special equipment: 2 Madeleine pans which make 12 large madeleines each

2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Butter and flour pans for 24 madeleines and set aside.

In a large bowl or bowl of electric stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon peel, and salt. Add flour, beating just until blended, then slowly add cooled melted butter, beating as you add it, just until blended.

Divide the dough amongst the 24 madeleines, using 1 1/2 Tablespoons of dough for each cookie. Bake until puffed in the center and browned around the edges, about 15 minutes, checking after 13 to ensure you do not overbake. Cool 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely before sprinkling with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pork Tenderloin

I have a favorite recipe for pork tenderloin that seems to never disappoint. I've made it for countless dinner parties, brought it to camp outs for cooking on the grill, and it is a staple in our home dinner rotation. I recently prepared a meal with a friend who wanted different ideas for her family's dinners. I chose pork tenderloin as the main dish since it is simple to prepare and cooks in little time- both great qualities for a busy mom.

One gadget that makes the preparation of this or any other larger piece of protein a cinch, is a digital thermometer with an alarm. It enables you to set the desired temperature and will sound an alarm when the internal temperature of the meat reaches that temperature. For this cut of meat, I find 145 degrees is a safe temperature that leaves the meat moist and juicy.

Pork Tenderloin

1 12-ounce pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
Pinch of ground allspice

Combine the salt, pepper, thyme, and allspice in a small bowl. Place the pork tenderloin on a large sheet of plastic wrap laid out on your countertop and rub the spice mixture and the minced garlic onto all sides of the meat. Wrap the pork tenderloin in the plastic wrap and if preparing within an hour, allow to sit at room temperature until ready to sear. The tenderloin can also be seasoned a few hours ahead of time, wrapped in plastic wrap, and kept in the refrigerator until ready to sear.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place an oven-safe pan with a diameter large enough to fit the length of your tenderoin over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and when the oil is hot, but not yet smoking, place the tenderloin in the hot pan and allow it to sit, without moving, until the underside is seared. You will know when it is time to turn the meat when it easily releases from the pan. Repeat until browned on all sides. Place the pan in the preheated oven and cook until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, about 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil, allowing to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
The rub on this meat is flavorful enough on its own, but if desired, you can make a pan sauce with the beautiful frond that will be left in the pan. Here's a rough guide that will surely require some experimentation on your part: Use white wine or chicken stock with a dash of white wine vinegar to deglaze the pan then reduce to sauce consistency. Remove from heat and whisk in cold unsalted butter until nicely emulsified and tastes balanced. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yet Another Reason to Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup

MERCURY. Mercury, you say in high fructose corn syrup? Egad, yet another source of this toxic metal, and yet another reason to avoid this processed sweetener. Found in not only obviously unhealthy foods such as soda, high fructose corn syrup is also found in yogurt, soups, ketchup, cereals and even breads, almost any processed food and unfortunately, in foods kids love and eat every day. Mercury intake seemed controllable when we only had to worry about how much, how often, and what types of sea food we consumed, but when it starts to show up in our staple foods, how can we know how much our kids are consuming? Change the staple foods you buy. Vote with your consumer dollars and refuse to buy foods with high fructose corn syrup in the ingredient list, especially those foods your kids consume in quantity. For example, it might be hard to find a super market ketchup that contains sugar, but given the small amount your kids consume at one time, it is of less concern than say, yogurt. Next time you buy yogurt, look at the label, see what you are actually buying, is it filled with corn sweeteners, thickeners, and things you cannot pronounce in an ingredient list more than an inch long? My yogurt has two ingredients: organic whole milk and live active cultures. If we want to sweeten it, we add honey, and as far as I know, that's mercury free.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides

The Environmental Working Group recently updated their list of the Dirty Dozen- those fruits and vegetables that have the highest levels of pesticide residue. Very little changed since last year's list. Kale and Carrots replaced Spinach and Potatoes. That's not to say that Spinach and Potatoes are now on the clean list. They just fell off the top 12 and are now the 14th and 15th most contaminated. Click on the title of this post to find the full list and see how your favorite vegetables ranked.

Monday, March 16, 2009

One-Day Whole Grain Bread

My Grandma used to make a bread called "colonial bread" that was similar to a peasant bread in that it contained mostly all-purpose flour with a little whole grain for added flavor and texture. In this case, the whole grain was corn meal and whole wheat and rye flours.

The rising food prices of last summer provoked me to unearth my bread maker, but unfortunately, it didn't seem to work right anymore. The bread was not rising, so I would end up with a heavy loaf that was about half the size it was supposed to be. I was using the same recipes I had in the past, so I bought new yeast, retested the recipes and again ended up with the same disappointing results. The breadmaker was about ten years old, so perhaps it had made its last loaf. I decided I didn't need a bread machine and dug out my bread books and favorite recipes and resolved to make bread the old fashioned way- using my KithenAid Stand Mixer.

I came across my grandma's colonial bread recipe and noticed a very unique step in the process she used. It started with boiling water. Boiling water can be a disaster in a bread recipe if you add the yeast at the wrong time. Water at boiling or even close to boiling temperature will kill yeast and leave you with an unleavened lump of a loaf. To prevent this from ending in disaster, the recipe calls for an equal amount of COLD water to be added before the yeast is finally mixed in. To contrast this method, I found that many of the breads that contain a whole grain (at least one that has not been milled to a flour), start with a soaker consisting of a grain and some liquid that stands overnight. According to Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, "Its purpose is to activate the enzymes in the grains in order to break out some of the trapped sugars from the starches. It also softens the coarse grain." The boiling water method my grandma used seemed to shorten the time needed for "soaking" the coarsely milled grains, allowing me to make bread the same day I set my mind to it, which makes it that much simpler when your trying to work around naptimes.

The following recipe has evolved from what I have on hand in the freezer, so feel free to supplement other grains as desired. This recipe calls for use of a stand mixer, but you'll need a larger mixer fitted with a 5 or 6 quart bowl. (I have the professional 6) If you have a smaller stand mixer, such as an Artisan the recipe can easily be halved to make one large loaf. If you do not have a stand mixer, use a large mixing bowl to soak the whole grains and then add the flours, cold water and yeast and mix with your hands. Then finish by hand kneading on your counter top. It'll be much harder work, but you may find it to be therapeutic!

One Day Multi-Grain Bread
Makes 2 ten inch or 3 eight inch loaves

In a small bowl, mix together, then set aside:
1/2 cup warm water
4 teaspoons active dry yeast

In a 5 or 6 quart bowl of your stand mixer (or large mixing bowl) combine and let stand for 10 minutes:
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup flax seed meal
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt or 2 Tablespoons table salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups boiling water

Fit the bowl onto your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and add the following ingredients (or work the remaining ingredients in by hand in a large mixing bowl):

4 cups whole wheat flour
5 + cups all purpose or bread flour
2 cups cold water

Mix with the dough hook until combined and the dough is just warm and no longer hot, then add the yeast dissolved in the 1/2 cup of warm water. Continue to knead with the dough hook on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes, adding additional all purpose or bread flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl. It should stick slightly to the bottom but clear the sides. When finished kneading, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the risen dough from the bowl and place onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into two (or three, depending on the size of your loaf pans) equally sized pieces. Form round balls, spray them with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Season your loaf pans with a thin coating of spray oil, then lightly flatten the balls and roll into a loaf shape pinching the loose seam-end into the dough and place each loaf into a prepared pan seam-side down. Spray the loaves lightly with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 20 minutes before you are ready to bake. Bake the loaves on the middle rack of your oven, about 30 to 35 minutes for 3 eight inch loaves or 45 minutes for 2 ten inch loaves. They should be lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped.

Cool on a cooling rack in the pans until they can be handled, then remove from the pans. I would tell you to allow them to cool before eating, but this never really happens in practice, and there is nothing like fresh baked bread straight from the oven, so enjoy!

The extra loaves freeze very well. I usually use one immediately and freeze the second. Allow them to cool completely (overnight if necessary), then bag and freeze.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Chai Latte

Chai means "tea" to much of the world, but to the English speaking, coffee house frequenting set, Chai has come to mean spiced tea. Enjoyed for centuries in South Asia, Masala Chai is the Hindi term for what is usually black tea with a mixture of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, and nutmeg. Our neighborhood coffee houses along with the corporate chains have all popularized chai with their own version of a "chai latte" or "chai tea latte". Similar to a traditional cafe latte consisting of espresso and steamed milk, a chai latte replaces the espresso with concentrated black tea and spices. Over the past few years, I've managed to try quite a few chai lattes and they range from a spicy, rich, creamy, sweet concoction to what tastes like watery tea with milk.

Chai has also made it onto our grocer's shelves with instant powdered mixes as well as pre-made drinks you just pour and heat or pour over ice for a iced chai latte. I've purchased some of the instant powdered mixes and have used my espresso machine to make freshly frothed milk recreating the rich, creamy coffee house experience to a T for a fraction of the price and in the comfort of my own home, when I want it (often at naptime). In fact, I've seen the coffee houses use some of the same instant powdered mixes. Unfortunately, these mixes include one unacceptable ingredient- non-dairy creamer. The opposite of everything that is good and wholesome, non-dairy creamer is derived from corn and in my opinion, is an unnecessary ingredient in a world with cows. The mixes also contain nonfat dried milk, which allows them to be mixed with water to produce a milk based drink. Neither of these ingredients were necessary for my purposes as I was frothing fresh milk for my chai latte which would give me a milky, creamy latte. I therefore decided to concoct my own mix using instant tea and only the necessary ingredients, none of the fake stuff. I purchased a jar of unsweetened Nestea, sold as an instant iced tea mix, it's only ingredient is tea and it comes in regular or decaffeinated. To tbe instant tea, I added a mixture of sugar and spices, tasting for sweetness and the correct spice balance. The first batch, I found to be a little too strong with cloves, but the second time, I halved the cloves and found it to be exactly what I was shooting for.

Chai Latte Mix
1 cup unsweetened instant tea
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Stir all ingredients together thoroughly and store in an airtight container.
To make a latte, mix 3 spoonfuls (or more or less to taste) of the mix with 8 ounces hot or steamed milk. Enjoy!

Note- If you prefer to use an alternative sweetener like agave syrup or honey, (of course I don't mean a fake chemical one) you could omit the sugar and add your preferred sweetener to taste when you make your latte.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

King Cake on a Rainy Day

Today I am finishing up the King Cake and am utterly disappointed in my results. Perhaps it is due to the rain pouring down outside, as humidity in the air can affect the moisture content of dough. For whatever reason, the brioche dough is just not cooperating. It is normally quite difficult to work with, but today it seems it is impossible. I had planned to make one King Cake and some cinnamon rolls with the remaining half of the dough, but my first attempt at King Cake was such a flop, I had to give it another try. Luckily, while assembling the first, I decided to use only half the fillings. It was a good call, because the filling I did use ended up spilling out through cracks in the dough as I tried to move it onto the pan. Imagine the mess I would have had with double the filling. The King Cake looked perfect until I tried to move it. I even took the parchment off the pan and attempted to slip it under the cake, but that proved to be unsuccessful and so I ended up with this:

On my second attempt at assembly, I formed the dough into a ring on a floured sheet of parchment, thinking this way I wouldn't have to move it for baking. I rolled it flat into a big doughnut shape,
Spread the fillings inside, (although, I think I was a little heavy on the berry filling)
then folded the dough over the fillings.
Well, it was more successful than the first one, but still not what I was looking for. I didn't end up with enough dough to fold, so my fillings ended up sticking out through most of the top. Kind of like one big danish. I am baking them with hopes that the berry filling doesn't spill out and burn on the pan, smoking us out. (we have really sensitive smoke alarms that get tested from time to time) On the bright side, if they bake up ok, we'll still have some pretty tasty cakes even if they look like total flops. Besides, they ARE supposed to look gaudy, and I can always cover them up a bit with some purple, green, and gold frosting.
I'm going to go back to my old posting and update the recipe based on what I learned today, in case you want to attempt making King Cakes. I hope my little disaster has not deterred you!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

King Cake

Tuesday is Mardi Gras which means it's time to make a King Cake! Breaking up larger baking projects into two days makes them seem less daunting and much more manageable. Especially when you have a 20 month old demanding your time. I just stirred some flour, yeast, and warm milk together to make a sponge for the Brioche dough. I plan to make the dough today then let it retard in the refrigerator overnight. Tomorrow I'll make the cream cheese and berry filling, then assemble and bake the cakes.

Chow posted an article and recipe for their version of "Mardi Gras King Cake". They decided to fill their ring of dough with a spiced pecan filling. I'm sure it's tasty, but I thought of dry coffee cake when I read the article and looking at their picture only made it less appetizing. It did not make me want to try this version, especially when I know how rich and tasty my own cream cheese and berry filled creation can be. I only make this one time a year, if that, so it better be good. That being said, I was really glad to see that other sites are posting recipes for the reknowned Mardi Gras treat.

Ok, so the filling is not what I personally would choose to use to fill my King Cake, but the indisputable problem with their version, was that it was not decorated. They used a plain white frosting for the top. I suppose you could make this for Easter brunch, but not Mardi Gras! Whether you frost your King Cake or not is up to you, but whatever you do, make sure it is gaudily decorated. It should be covered with bright green, purple, and gold frosting and/or sugars. Think "Mardi Gras" when you're embellishing your cakes. Remember, it is a festival of excess and indulgence. Traditionally, the last day to eat, drink, and be merry before Ash Wednesday, the first of the 40 days of lent leading up to Easter. It's Fat Tuesday!

Valentine's Chocolates

This photo says it all. Addison thoroughly enjoyed making chocolates. She must have eaten half a dozen by the time we were done dipping. She emphatically asked for "Mo chocolate" as I tried to explain it was not for us to eat right now... it was for Valentine's day and to be shared. That logic was pretty much lost on a 20 month old. She continued to ask for "Mo chocolate!"
We made fillings during the week prior to Valentine's day, which fell on a Saturday this year. I made fleur de sel caramel and poured 1/3 over toasted mixed nuts, 1/3 over halved pecans and the remaining 1/3 was left plain. I found some 9 inch loaf pans lined with parchment and sprayed with oil to be the perfect size for this task and the parchment proved to make removal a cinch. The caramels were easy to work with and held together nicely while dipping in the chocolate coating. I brought them up to a temperature of 250 degrees, which kept them nice and chewy- just like I like them.
I also experimented with different flavors of dark chocolate ganache: earl grey, star anise, mint, and hazelnut. I started with a ratio of two to one for chocolate to heavy cream. This worked well for the hazelnut and the mint, which were both flavored by adding a liqueur or extract. The earl grey and the star anise, on the other hand, required a bit more cream as I needed to heat it twice- once for steeping and then a second time to ensure it was warm enough to melt the chocolate. Both ratios worked out just fine and there was no noticeable difference. I think heating the cream twice also reduced it a bit, so we probably ended up with a two to one ratio by weight afterall.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
First, prepare the pans:
If making plain caramels, line the bottom and sides of a 9 inch square pan with a square of parchement, then spray lightly with oil.
If you'd like to make plain caramels and some with nuts, line two or three loaf pans with parchment and spray with oil. I did it three ways- one pan I filled about 1/2 inch deep with toasted mixed nuts. A second pan was filled with a layer of pecans, lined up side by side, so when the caramels set, I could cut them into individual rectangles, allowing for one piece of pecan inside each caramel. A third pan was lined and left empty for plain caramels.
To make the caramel, combine the sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Boil until the caramel is golden brown, stirring with a wooden spoon as it starts to brown.
While the sugars are boiling, bring the cream, butter and fleur de sel to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Keep warm.
When the sugars have browned to the desired color, slowly add the cream mixture. Be careful, it will boil up as you add the liquid filled cream mixture to the hot sugars. Stir in the vanilla and continue to stir while cooking over medium heat until the caramel reaches 250 degrees. Remove from heat immediately and carefully pour into prepared pan or pans. Allow to cool and set before removing from the pans.
I would suggest making the caramels a day or two before you want to coat them with chocolate. When the caramels have set, remove the parchment from the pan and cut into the desired shape and size. I cut the mixed nut caramel into a rectangle, resembling one of my favorite candies from See's, then I proceeded to coat the bottom and sides only, leaving the top peeking through, showing the nut mixture through the glossy brown caramel. For the turtle-esque pecan caramels, I turned the block of caramel over so I could see the layout of the nuts within and cut them so each caramel enrobed one pecan half taking care not to cut through any of the nut meats. Lastly, the plain caramels were cut into squares and after coating with chocolate, are sprinkled with fleur de sel. Make sure you sprinkle the fleur de sel on them before the chocolate dries.
Mint Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao), chopped
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Chop the chocolate and place into a small bowl. Heat cream over medium heat until just boiling, pour over chopped chocolate and stir until chocolate has melted. Add the peppermint extract and pour into the prepared pan. Top with another sheet of plastic wrap and allow to set at room temperature.
Hazelnut Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao)
2 Tablespoons Frangelica liqueur
Toasted Whole Hazelnuts
Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Chop the chocolate and place into a small bowl. Heat cream over medium heat until just boiling, pour over chopped chocolate and stir until chocolate has melted. Add the Frangelica liqueur and hazelnuts, then pour into the prepared pan. Top with another sheet of plastic wrap and allow to set at room temperature.
Earl Gray Ganache
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao)
2 teaspoons loose leaf Earl Grey Tea
Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Chop the chocolate and place into a small bowl. Heat cream over medium heat until just boiling, add the tea and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes or until the cream smells fragrant. Reheat the cream, then strain through a fine mesh sieve while pouring over the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Pour into the prepared pan. Top with another sheet of plastic wrap and allow to set at room temperature.
Star Anise Ganache
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao)
3 star anise, ground in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Chop the chocolate and place into a small bowl. Heat cream over medium heat until just boiling, add the ground star anise and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes or until the cream smells fragrant. Reheat the cream, then strain through a fine mesh sieve while pouring over the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Pour into the prepared pan. Top with another sheet of plastic wrap and allow to set at room temperature.
When the flavored Ganaches have set, cut them with a very sharp knife and dip in dark chocolate for a decadent chocolate candy.
Tempering Chocolate
The dipping process was by far the most tedious and time consuming of all the candy making. For the above chocolates, I used 2 pounds of 60% cacao dark chcolate and I ran out. No worries, as ganache tastes just fine without a chocolate coating. Note that you'll need an accurate candy thermometer to temper chocolate.
To temper dark chocolate, use at least 1 pound of chocolate. Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and place 3/4 of it into a large stainless steal bowl. Reserve the remaining 1/4 of chocolate.
Place the large stainless steal bowl over a couple of inches of simmering water in a medium saucepan creating a double boiler. Melt the chocolate, bringing it to 115 degrees, no hotter.
Then, remove from the bowl from the saucepan and cool the chocolate by adding the reserved chopped chocolate, about 1 tablespoon at a time and stirring until the chocolate falls below 84 degrees.
Remove any chunks of chocolate keeping them for another use, then place the bowl back over simmering water a few seconds at a time, stirring, until it reaches 88 to 89 degrees. Do not allow it to exceed 91 degrees. Your chocolate is now tempered and should be shiny and smooth.
Keep the chocolate in the 85 to 88 degree range as you dip your candies. It is much easier to maintain the appropriate temperature if you are using a larger amount of chocolate. You'll need to place the bowl over the hot water once in a while to maintain the heat.
A trick I learned from a cooking class at Sur La Table, is to use a heating pad- the same type you use for achy muscles. Place the heating pad inside another large bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, then place your bowl of chocolate over the pad and your chocolate should maintain your desired temperature. Start with the lowest heat setting and work your way up as needed if the temperature of the chocolate drops.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Potato-Leek Soup

On crisp winter days, there is nothing more satisfying to me than a warm bowl of soup. I think the best soups are those made with a few fresh quality ingredients, so when I found some nice organic leeks on sale at a local market, I picked up a couple for a batch of my potato-leek soup. I like the hearty creaminess that a pureed potato can contribute and the delicate flavor of a fresh leek. This soup makes for a simple but satisfying lunch on its own, or you can serve a small cup of it with a sandwich. You'll need about 10 minutes for preparation and another half hour for cooking, but it can easily be made ahead of time and warmed up for a quick lunch at home or at work.

Potato-Leek Soup

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, halved length-wise, sliced into 1/2 inch slices, then thoroughly washed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, sliced
2 large or 4 small potatoes, cubed
2 cups chicken stock + additional stock or water as needed
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs de provence or Italian herb mixture
1 cup milk

In a 3 or 4 quart saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced leeks and cook until they begin to appear translucent. Add the garlic, then the carrot and potatoes. Finally add the chicken stock and the dried herbs. The stock should just cover the vegetables. Add a little more stock or water if necessary to cover. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes and carrots are fork-tender. Blend the soup until creamy using an immersion blender or in batches in a conventional blender. You can also just use a potato masher- your results will be less smooth and less refined, but you can just call it "rustic". Finally, add the cup of milk, salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A cake you don't want to make

This has been a bad food week. For one, I wasn't able to eat for two days and am still having trouble choking down even the blandest of foods... I am just getting over the most awful stomach flu. I haven't been this sick in at least 10 years. Unfortunately, I caught the bug from my 19 month-old daughter, Addison, so we were both grumpy and vomiting. I'm sure there's plenty of parents out there who know what it's like to have to clean up your child's vomit while all you want to do is lie down and take a nap.

Earlier in the week, before the bug struck, I made a Grapefruit Upside Down Cake thinking I'd make good use of all the grapefruit we have on hand. It was a bad call. The cake itself tasted great- it was a light, fluffy spice cake, and it was what inspired me to make it in the first place as it was not the traditional yellow cake batter usually used.
After turning the freshly baked cake upside down, we were excited for our scrumptious warm treat to eat with the homemade vanilla ice cream that was waiting in our freezer. Unfortunately, the sour grapefruit just does not lend itself well to a topping for a sweet cake. The sugars brought out the pure bitterness of the grapefruit and covered up any of the citrus flavor I had expected. It was so disappointing and at first I felt like it was a total waste of time and a waste of two grapefruits, but it seems mistakes in the kitchen end up teaching a cook just a little bit more about flavor. I may try another dessert using grapefruit, but I know it won't have chunks of the bitter sections, perhaps it'll be something using the juice or the rind. For now though, I think I'll stick to eating it straight or in savory salads.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Grapefruit Avocado Salad with Grapefruit Glazed Shrimp

Lou was visiting his parents last week while attending a conference in Fresno and brought home a huge bag of grapefruit from their neighbor's grapefruit tree. Lou doesn't care for grapefruit alone and I doubt I can devour all of them on my own, so I have been creative about incorporating them into our meals, mostly with various takes on grapefruit salad. I served a smaller version of my Grapefruit Avocado Shrimp Salad as a starter for a dinner I made for a friend the other night. I had forgotten how good this combination is.

About a year ago, I submitted this recipe for a recipe contest at Apparently, I didn't win, because I never heard from them. Perhaps my original recipe was too common or boring as it seems everyone does some combination of avocado/grapefruit/shrimp salad. Winning recipe it's not, but I think this dinner salad is tasty, easy, and fresh and well worth sharing with you. Let me know what you think!

Grapefruit Avocado Salad with Grapefruit Glazed Shrimp

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter

1 Grapefruit
½ head bib lettuce or about 3 ounces mixed greens
1 medium avocado, diced and salted
¼ of a large daikon radish, peeled and julienned (cut into 1 inch long matchstick pieces)
¼ red onion, sliced thin

1 to 2 Tablespoons Olive oil for sautéing
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Remove the peel and pith from the grapefruit by cutting around the fruit with a sharp knife. Next, section the grapefruit by cutting along the membranes, collecting the fruit in a wide mouth bowl and capturing any juice. Squeeze the membranes to release any extra juice before discarding them. Set aside.

In a large bowl, place the prepared greens, diced avocado, daikon, and sliced red onion. Remove the grapefruit sections from their juices and add the fruit to the salad greens, reserving the juice.

Heat a 10 or 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cover the bottom of the skillet with olive oil. Add the minced garlic, then the shrimp. Salt the shrimp to taste and stir until pink and just cooked through. Place the shrimp in a bowl and set aside. Put the hot skillet back on medium-high heat and add the reserved grapefruit juice to the pan, scraping up any garlic left in the skillet until the juice is reduced to a glaze. Pour the glaze over the shrimp and stir to coat.

Make vinaigrette by mixing one Tablespoon white wine vinegar with two Tablespoons olive oil. Add a dash of salt and fresh ground pepper.

Pour the vinaigrette over the greens and toss. Separate the greens onto plates, then top them with the grapefruit glazed shrimp and serve.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


It seems scones get a bad wrap these days. A lot of us think of the dry, over-sized clumps of cooked dough sitting under the lights behind the glass of the coffee shop counter. Then we here how fattening they are, causing some of us to avoid eating them altogether so the same coffee shop resorts to making an even less tasty, just as over-sized low-fat version. Yum. There's no denying that the coffee shop scone is high in fat, but it has more to do with their being unnecessarily over-sized than with the nutritional content. My local Starbucks sells a blueberry scone for example, that has 12 grams of fat and 370 calories. One serving is 121 grams! What I was very happy to see and to their credit is they also sell a "Petite Vanilla Bean Scone". They call it "petite", but it is actually a normal sized homemade scone or one purchased anywhere outside the US. One serving weighs 31 grams. Of course they also have to sell a three-pack of these, because one is just not enough for some of us super-sizers. (Perhaps we will see more down-sizing as a positive side effect of the slowing economy?)

As you might have guessed, I have never actually tasted the blueberry or the Petite Vanilla Bean Scone sold at our local Starbucks. Not only do I restrain from spending money at the big corporate coffee houses, I know that I can make them better and get them fresher if I make them at home... and eating them freshly baked is what makes a scone taste truly great.

A few years ago, after a trip to London, I was missing the scones that were served with the ritual teas which we indulged in almost daily. I experimented with a few unique recipes I had found, using more or less liquid and changing them as seen fit to get a lighter, flakier texture. I ended up with what I would call a pretty good scone, but it didn't "wow me". It wasn't something we craved and my lack of enthusiasm for it's taste and the difficulty of its preparation caused me to set the recipe aside. About a year ago, I found some dried currants at the market and thought... scones! Instead of going back to that old recipe, I started anew with a fresh perspective. I went back to basics with the ratios that Betty Crocker suggested. After only a few trials, bingo, we had it... a tender, flaky, flavorful. Exactly what a scone should be. With very few tweaks and some improved techniques, this is the recipe that I will make again and again.

This recipe is truly basic not only because it uses simple ingredients that most of us have on hand but also because you need no fancy equipment for it. You may use a food processor or a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, but I get great results by using my fingers to rub the butter into the flour mixture and a simple table fork for stirring. For baking, no fancy partitioned scone pan is necessary, just cut with a bench scraper or knife and place on a baking sheet. Note that a pastry brush will come in handy if you choose to brush the scones with the egg wash. It's an optional step that results in only a cosmetic improvement so don't delay making these for lack of a pastry brush. Dried currants may prove difficult to find, and when you do find them, they may be expensive, so I suggest dried sweetened cranberries as a fine substitute. They both have a strong pungeant flavor with just the right level of sweetness.

1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
1/3 cup unsalted cold butter, cubed
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup dried currants or sweetened dried cranberries
4 or 5 Tablespoons milk

optional- 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together with a fork. Add the cold cubes of butter and rub the butter into the flour mixture with the tips of your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. With the fork, stir in the beaten egg with 4 tablespoons of milk and the currants or cranberries. Dough should come together and away from sides of bowl. Add another tablespoon of milk if necessary.

Lightly flour a small area on your countertop and dump the dough out onto the flour. Sprinkle a very small amount of flour onto the top of the dough and knead the dough by pressing into it and away from you with the heals of your palms, then folding the dough in half, turning it 1/4 turn and repeating this another 7 times. Don't over-handle the dough. Pat it into a rectangle that is aproximately 6 X 12 inches. With a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the rectangle in half so you have two 3 X 12 inch strips, then cut 6 triangles from each of those strips to get 12 equally sized scones. Place the scones on an ungreased baking sheet and brush with the egg wash if desired. Place on the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until browned. Remove from baking pan and cool before eating if you can stand the wait.

I calculated the fat content of one scone to be about 6 grams if you make 12 scones in total.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Luncheon

Today was the Inauguration of our new President, Barack Obama. He is coming into office during a recession, but we set aside our lack of confidence today and celebrated in grand style. Besides all the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony itself, the news of course covers all the social events that surround the inauguration... 10 official inaugural balls (I wonder how many unofficial ones there are), a grand parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and the Inaugural Luncheon. While NBC was covering the luncheon, I heard Brian Williams or Tom Brokaw comment that the menu garnered the most hits on a particular website. I was glad to hear that Americans were interested in more pertinent subjects than what the First Lady would wear today. (By the way, she looked great) We are a nation of foodies afterall! The menu consisted of three courses for which they even list wine pairings. It started with a first course of Seafood Stew, followed by "A Brace of American Birds", (pheasant and duck) and finished with an Apple Cinnamon Sponge Cake. Yum. To my delight, the recipes are available as well! I considered making the menu for our dinner today until I read the list of ingredients for the seafood stew- it called for 6 Maine Lobsters. That'll have to wait until the recession is over.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Yesterday, we took a drive up Highway 1 along the California Coast to visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse. On the way, we stopped at Stinson Beach to bask in the sun and enjoy our lunch. I hate to admit it, but our lunch consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, although, they WERE made with my own recipe for homemade mulitgrain bread. The lunch wasn't fancy, but I think anything would have tasted gourmet sitting on the beach watching the waves on January 15. Our unseasonably warm weather and Lou's lack of work due to the economic slump were the reasons for our little day trip. After our lunch and an unsuccessful search for seashells, we packed the car back up and headed north for Point Reyes Station. We took a short stroll through the quaint couple of blocks of the downtown and stopped in at Bovine Bakery for a coconut macaroon and an oversized chewy ginger cookie. I wondered, why is it that commercial bakeries always make their cookies so big? I guess they can charge a lot more that way. Anyway, we didn 't seem to mind as they were a perfect size for sharing. After dropping in at Cowgirl Creamery, we started the drive off of highway 1 in search of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. It was a long and meandering drive through historical ranches. Appopriately called the Pastoral Zone, our car weaved up the windy road that led us through cow pasture after cow pasture. There were happy cows everywhere, eating lush, green grass. We left the unusually warm January sun behind us and found ourselves in a thick, dense fog, more dense than any I'd seen in San Francisco. It was surely responsible for keeping the fields so thick with greens. When finally reaching the parking area for the lighthouse, we realized we'd vastly underdressed for the outing. The summerlike weather was miles away and we were bare-legged and sockless and standing in cold, blustery fog. After deciding we should finish the trek as we had come this far afterall, we scrounged around for extra clothes and started the half mile hike. It ended with 300 stairs down to the lighthouse. The light was well-kept and we received a personal tour from the park ranger on duty who was enthusiastic even at the end of his day. I thought he must rattle off the same details to tourist after tourist a few times every hour day after day. After our tour, we hiked back up the 300 stairs, walked the half mile back to our car, and drove a little over an hour back to San Francisco, where the sunny city seemed a world away from those foggy pastures.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse in the dense fog.

A break in the fog.

These two photos were taken from the very same spot within seconds of each other. The first is looking west down the steps to the lighthouse and the second was taken facing south.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Years Resolution #1

Normally, I do not make new years resolutions. I am a big believer that if you need to make an improvement in your life, just do it.
This year, it was different. January 1, 2009 caused me to reflect on myself and my accomplishments, or lack thereof. Perhaps because I'm older now, or because I am a parent. Maybe because my full time job as a stay at home mom doesn't have quotas or deadlines and January 1 presented itself to me as just that. Perhaps I've disappointed myself by neglecting what I so much like to do... post to my blog. Whatever the reason, I have decided that resolution #1 is to take more time for myself and to pursue my writing. Ok, so it's taken me thirteen days to realize this, but the important thing is I have resolved to just do it.