Archive for January, 2013

A Slice of My Life – Week 2

January 14, 2013

Last week was one of guests, lots of eating, and some house construction and stress.  Let’s start with token cute boy pictures, shall we?

Randy found a box in the garage that should not have been there because it contained Things That Should Never Be Given away.  Like Spencer’s sweater which a great-aunt knit for my brother and Graham also wore.  I think we missed the fitting window, but he loves it anyway and so do I.  See also: my ever-amazing view.

We have embarked on some remodeling projects.  Our house is in the part of Oakland that was destroyed in the terrible fire of 1991.  Almost every single house in this area burned, so they are almost all relatively new construction.  Ours was built in 1994 and the owners wanted to keep it as close to their original house as they could.  Therefore it had very dated finishing.  Another couple bought the house in 2004 and did an extensive remodel that updated most of the rooms.  Then they ran out of money and left the laundry room and two bathrooms.  We knew that eventually we would need to fix those rooms but we decided to just go ahead and start because we want to be able to take advantage of the changes right away.  We are going to leave the boys’ bathroom as is however, mauve toilet and all.  Graham’s room was a storage room and therefore had no heating vent and no closet.  It also had ugly carpeting and was very small.  We are working with a great contractor who has tremendous vision and he realized that we could bust into the crawl space in his room and almost double the size of it.  Then he suggested popping out a dormer and building him a great window/skylight.

So we have had a big hole in our roof for over a week.  Something that would be unthinkable in Seattle.  Almost as soon as this project started, our neighbors to one side starting taking pictures of what was going on.  Randy had several conversations with them, allowing them to voice their concerns.  It turns out that we happen to live next door to the only people in Oakland who would rather look up until the hills that are crammed full of houses, rather than out to the Bay, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Or so they say.  We think they are just a bit crotchety and would complain about anything we decided to do.

I baked them some muffins as a peace offering.  It didn’t work but they enjoyed the muffins.  And so did we.

Speaking of baking – Apple Crostada.  Amazing.  One of the best things I have made in a while.

I made this soup a couple of weeks ago and have been wanting to write about it.  The problem was I did not have a good photo of it.  So I made it again and will share this week.

This was a week full of visits from friends.  Some of our best friends came down and stayed three nights with us.  I got an afternoon with all of the kids so of course we had to visit our local candy store.  I love this sweet place.  They have Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the original version) playing on a loop.  The kids were riveted.

We had two good dinners out in a row.  The first was at Pizzaiolo, a great pizza joint in Oakland.  People have been telling me to go there since we moved and we just haven’t had a chance.  We all loved it.  The salads, pizzas, and pasta were terrific.  Can’t wait to go back.  The next night the grown-ups went to A16, another place I have wanted to try for a long time.  We had another great dinner.  The salads were terribly underdressed, but everything else we tried was tasty and fresh.  I am very excited that they are opening a location in Rockridge, my neighborhood.

Sunday we drove our friends to the Oakland airport and then drove across the Bay Bridge to have dinner with my dear friend Julie.  I’ve been wanting to try Aziza ever since meeting Mourad at a Book Larder event last year, so we agreed to meet there.  It is the only Moroccan restaurant in the world with a Michelin star.

The place was beautiful and the food was beautiful.  It just wasn’t that satisfying.  It was very fancy and stylized.  Tasty too but I can’t say it fed my soul.  We all felt this way.  Nice to be able to cross that one off my list!


Sugar Buns

January 10, 2013

(Like my shoes?)

Friends, I know it is January. I know this is the month when food bloggers pull out all their healthy recipes and do end of year recaps. This is when everyone talks about whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, less excess. I know! This is my fifth January as a food blogger. Like many of you, I ate too much in the month of December and will be toning it down a bit in January but really, if you are a regular here, you know that most of my savory posts are, in fact, healthy. I even have a “Super Healthy” category (with 50 recipes!) you can refer to. So if you want to talk about quinoa, head over to the healthy side. I want to talk about these buns. A bun made with brioche dough, filled with fromage blanc, topped with berries, brushed with butter, and then rolled in sugar. That is what I want to talk about.

Whenever I make something that is a big hit, someone always invariably asks me, “Is it easy to make?” Well, I say define “easy”. Easy like you could make it in an Easy Bake Oven? In this case, no. Easy like you can whip it up in an hour? Again, no. Easy like you don’t really have to touch the dough and it just ends up looking like that? Um, no. Baking and working with dough, especially yeasted dough, requires time, patience and a tiny bit of finesse. It is not hard per se but it does require really reading and following the recipe, and a bit of practice. If I had never made any kind of baked good, would I attempt these buns? Probably not. But I think if you have been around a few different kinds of dough a handful of times you are probably safe. Nothing is too tricky here.

This recipe comes from the new Macrina cookbook. Macrina is a bakery in Seattle that is very special to me for many reasons. (Cue the story music!) In early 2000, I happened to see an ad in the paper that Macrina was hiring bakers. I had separated from my ex-husband a year before and our divorce was final a few months prior. I was working a job that had been fun and exciting at one point (selling advertising on a radio station) but after a couple of years, it was draining me. As much as it was not my dream job, the commission I made allowed me to keep the small house that my ex-husband and I had bought. I was desperate to keep that house but also desperate to do something I loved. After seeing the ad, I called and made an appointment to talk to the owner about the job. Leslie Mackie was lovely and extremely passionate about her bakery. I think she sensed something in me because, in spite of my lack of experience beyond home baking, she offered me the job on the spot. I asked about pay and she said they could offer me $8/hour. At that rate, I would have had to work about 175 hours every month just to make my mortgage, not to mention things like utilities and food. As soon as she said it, I knew I would not be able to take the job. I was crestfallen but I’m sure I knew it was impossible even before I walked in the door. I just wanted to believe it could work.

Leslie was kind to me that day and she runs a very fine bakery with multiple locations. I have eaten lunch at the one in Belltown so many times with friends. (I miss that mezze plate!) I have a soft spot in my heart for a place that, from the moment I walk in, makes me want to go home and bake. I walk into a lot of bakeries and I don’t often feel that way. So I have loved baking from her first book. And I was incredibly excited for the second one. I have only made two things from it so far but both were hit it out of the park home runs. Even if you have never heard of Macrina or been to Seattle, I would still say both of her books should be on your shelf.

I made these buns for a brunch where I knew they would be appreciated. Good eaters are the most fun people to feed, are they not? I thought they would be a huge hit with the kids but the adults were the biggest fans. I made the dough the night before and allowed it a slow rise in my garage (there was no room in my refrigerator). If you are going to do the same, I would definitely allow two hours in a warm kitchen for the dough to come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

One Year Ago:  Carrot Cake, Two Potato Vindaloo
Two Years Ago:  Tofu and Shiitake Noodle Soup, Herbed and Spiced Goat Cheese Balls
Three Years Ago:  Petites Pissaladières, Black Bean Chilaquile
Four Years Ago: Poblano and Cheddar Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms

Sugar Buns

More From More from Macrina
Makes 12 buns

The initial part of this recipe, for the dough, is a great master brioche recipe. The book includes tantalizing things like Cocoa Puffs (like a pain au chocolat but with brioche dough), Kugelhopf, and Apple Cinnamon Pull-Aparts that you can make with this dough. You could also form it into a loaf pan, bake it off, and have an incredible vehicle for your favorite salted butter and jam.

For the Sweet Brioche Dough:
¼ cup lukewarm water (about 80F)
½ cup sugar, divided
1 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
¾ cup lukewarm whole milk (about 80F)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 ½ cups (1 pound) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Lightly oil a medium bowl with canola oil. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the water with 2 teaspoons sugar (taken from the ½ cup sugar). Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water. Mix until the yeast is dissolved, then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to activate the yeast.

Add the milk, vanilla, eggs, flour, and salt. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes to bring the dough together, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. Increase to medium speed; pinch off grape-size pieces of butter and drop them one at a time into the dough as it mixes (this should take no more than 2 minutes). Continue mixing for 2 to 3 more minutes. Now gradually add the remaining sugar (½ cup minus the 2 teaspoons) and continue mixing for a final 4 minutes. With floured fingers, pinch a big piece of dough and pull it away from the mass. It should stretch about 3 inches without tearing – it will feel a bit like a rubber band. If it tears, mix for another 1 to 3 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, transfer the dough from the bowl onto a floured work surface. For the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, 2 ½ to 3 hours. (If you are making the dough ahead – either for convenience or to develop more complex flavors – simply deflate it after this initial rise, then re-cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day, pull it out 2 hours before you want to use it, and allow it to come to room temperature. The dough should be doubled in size and feel slightly warm to the touch. This dough is best used by the second day. If you’d like to freeze brioche dough, it’s best to form it into the desired shape, brush it with egg wash, wrap it well, and freeze for up to a week.)

For the Sugar Buns:
1 recipe Sweet Brioche Dough
1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water, for egg wash
6 ounces (¾ cup) fromage blanc
1 large egg
2 tbsp. sugar, plus about ½ cup for topping buns
2 cups fresh berries
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Using a rubber spatula, pull the brioche dough onto a floured work surface. Using your hands, flatten and shape the dough into a 7-by-12-inch rectangle. (Do your best to keep the dough an even thickness.) Using a bench knife or plastic scraper, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces by first cutting the rectangle in half lengthwise, then cutting each long piece in half vertically, and finally, cutting each half into 3 pieces.

Roll each piece into a 12-inch rope: First roll it into a log. Coil the rope (starting from the center and working out), forming a circle that ends up being about 3 inches in diameter. Tuck the ends under. (DT: I found the dough was really fighting me at first, so I let it rest for 10 minutes. Then it was much easier to work with.) Put 6 buns on each prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart – they will expand when proofing. Brush the buns with the egg wash, cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap, and let them rise until they are 4 inches in diameter, about 1 hour at room temperature.

Meanwhile, whisk together the fromage blanc, egg, and the 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside.

About 20 minutes before baking, position 2 racks in the center of the oven and preheat to 375ºF.

Flatten a 1½-inch circle in the center of a bun and spoon a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture into the indentation. Top with a few berries (you may need to quarter large berries such as strawberries). Repeat with the remaining buns. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are deep golden brown. Halfway through baking, rotate the pans to ensure the buns bake evenly. Cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

Put the ½ cup sugar in a pie pan. Lightly brush the melted butter on the top and sides of the buns. Roll each bun in the sugar, coating the buttered area first and then sprinkling a little sugar on the berries.

(DT: While I will tell you to absolutely eat these the day they are made, they are still pretty darn good the next day if you wrap them in foil and leave them out at room temp.)

Cashew Fried Rice

January 8, 2013

“Fried” is kind of a bad word in my family.  We – my brothers, sister-in-law, parents, and husband – are a pretty healthy bunch.  We all like to eat, some of us more than others, but we also like to fit into our clothes and we are all fairly health conscious.  That doesn’t mean that dietarily we are at a spa all the time.  There is plenty of time for Thai food, rich dips, the occasional chocolate cakeCookies and ice cream too.  But I think fried food is where most of us draw the line.  That and cream sauces.  I can’t enjoy something if I know it has been dredged in egg, then breadcrumbs, and then fried in cups of oil.  French fries are my very favorite thing on earth but I almost never eat them and if I do, it’s just a few.  Because I rarely eat fried food (or cream sauces), when I do, I almost always end up feeling sick.  So if I see “fried” on a menu, I usually pass it by.

I recently made fried rice and when I told Randy I was doing so, he scrunched up his nose.  I’ve been cooking for 20 years (!) and I think this was the second time in my life that I made fried rice.  I have childhood memories of sitting in our suburban Chinese restaurant digging through the pork fried rice for the succulent bits of pork (yes!  I ate pork!), ignoring the peas, and allowing the cooked egg and slippery grains of rice to slide down my throat.  Pork Fried Rice was a staple on that table.  As soon as I stopped eating meat, I never ordered it again.

I am here to tell you.  Fried rice is not fried.  At least, not the way I make it.  It is sautéed and, unless you are a raw foodist, most things you eat are sautéed.  This is what I told Randy and as soon as I said it, I realized it was completely true and that I had been passing recipes for fried rice by because of that pesky “fried” word.  In other words, I have been seriously missing out.

Now you can make fried rice lots of different ways and it is great for those little bits and bobs of produce that you have left over in your refrigerator after a week of cooking.  I’m giving you this recipe because a) it is what got me back on the road to fried rice, b) it is delightfully satisfying and yet healthy, and c) it features an intriguing sauce that makes an already nice dish extra tasty, and which you will want to put on just about anything.

One Year Ago:  Roasted Banana Muffins, Spinach, Cheddar, and Egg Casserole
Two Years Ago:  Linzer Tart, Yeasted Coffee Cake
Three Years Ago:  Bruce and Dana’s Pasta Sauce
Four Years Ago:  Curried Red Lentil Stew with Vegetables

Cashew Fried Rice
Adapted from Vegetarian
Serves about 4

The amounts I have listed here are a little loose.  The book has metric measurements and rather than explicitly translate them, I just kind of winged it.  And then I didn’t write down what I did.  If you have a little more or a little less rice, or a little more or a little less vegetables, all will work out fine.  You can really use whatever vegetables you like or have in your crisper drawer.  The main thing is that you want to use cold rice.  Warm rice, or even room temperature, will make your dish a big ball of mush.  Just make a bunch extra the next time you serve rice.

½ cup raw unsalted cashews
1 handful green beans, tipped and tailed, cut into 1″ pieces
1 handful snap peas, de-stringed, cut in half
¾ cup frozen peas, thawed
Canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-inch piece of peeled ginger, minced
About 4 cups cooked cold rice (I used basmati)
1-2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Green sprouts of any kind, for garnish (optional)
Chile Tomato Jam (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Place the cashews on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until they are fragrant and just a shade darker, about 5 minutes.  I always do this in my toaster oven and you can also do it on the stove in a dry pan if you don’t want to heat up the oven.  Just watch them very carefully!

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Have a bowl of ice water nearby.  Drop in the string beans and snap peas and cook for 2 minutes.  Immediately scoop them into the ice water.  Once they are cool, drain and pat dry.

Heat a large skillet or a wok over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough canola oil to coat the bottom.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a minute, then add the cold rice and the vegetables.  Stir fry for a good 2 minutes to heat through.  Push everything to the side of the pan and tip in the egg and sesame oil, stirring occasionally to form a sort of omelet.  Break the omelet into pieces with a spatula and mix it into the rice, then add the toasted cashews.  Season with soy sauce and serve topped with sprouts, if desired, and the chile tomato jam on the side.

Chile Tomato Jam

10 mild fresh red chiles, seeds and membranes removed
2 shallots, roughly chopped
2-inch piece of peeled ginger, roughly chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, touch outer stalks removed, roughly chopped
½ pound cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
4 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. soy sauce

Place the chiles in a food processor with the shallots, ginger, and lemongrass.  Pulse, scraping down the sides every few seconds, until finely chopped.  Scrape into a saucepan with the tomatoes and sugar, and cook over a medium-high heat for about 20 minutes.  Stir often until the liquid evaporates and the sugar caramelizes.  Add the vinegar and soy sauce and simmer until the liquid evaporates.  Season with salt to taste.  Allow to cool completely.  Can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week or more.

A Slice of My Life – The Holiday Weeks

January 7, 2013

Soon after our move to Oakland in August, we decided what to do about the holidays.  I could not imagine a Thanksgiving away from Seattle, so we opted to travel for that holiday and stay put for Christmas.  Even though I knew I would feel sad to not celebrate with my family, I also knew it was important to start establishing new family traditions.  We made sure to have a tree and put our beloved decorations up.  We went to some nice parties and had good family time.

I took this photo of my kitchen before the holiday madness set in.  Before I made treats for all the teachers and helpers, before I made three cakes for a birthday party, before I hosted lunches, brunches, and dinners.  Before I made a big giant mess, in other words.

On Christmas Eve, we took BART into San Francisco.  (For those of you who don’t know, BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit and it is the subway system in the city and the East Bay.  It is terrifically convenient if you happen to live and/or work near a stop.)  It was an absolutely glorious day and we spent some time walking around Union Square.  They had an ice rink set up and a beautiful tree.  We went in to Macy’s to see the decorations and were surprised by a super short line to see Santa.  So the boys put in a few last minute requests.  We ended our time in the city by walking down to the Ferry Building and joining the last minute rush for good bread and cheese.

Christmas Day was joyful to say the least.

One of the things that Graham wanted most was a basketball jersey so my parents sent them to both Graham and Spencer.  He has barely taken it off since Christmas morning.  We went to Alameda to check out the lights a few days after Christmas and stopped to get pizza.  Graham ate four pieces.  And not four “kid size” pieces – real pieces.  I am going to be in trouble when he hits his teens.

Megan came to town so I hosted a lunch for her and Sam along with Denise and Lenny and Tracy.  I made Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger, Ashley’s amazing Brussels Sprouts Salad (I made this several times over the break and I added pomegranate seeds to it), and a bunch of tartines.  My favorite one was topped with a thin omelet streaked with lots of green herbs and topped with harissa.

I cooked and baked a lot.  Some old favorites and some new things.  I love having large batches of delicious things around the holidays to put in gift bags and also to hand out to the garbage guys and mailman.  I had never tried Christmas Crack before but it’s going into regular holiday rotation.  It’s about as easy as it gets and totally addictive.  I ended up making two huge batches.

This is a dreadful photo of a terrific dessert.  I make it every December.  It is a chocolate torte – a layer of chocolate cake topped with a mousse, whipped cream, and raspberries.

Enough wonderful food people whose taste I trust have written about this gorgeous cake that I decided it was my turn to try it.  A huge hit.

A lovely apple walnut cake from the new Macrina cookbook.

From the same book – a brioche bun with a little fromage blanc mixture in the center.  I was really pleased with how they turned out both in looks and taste.  Not a quick recipe by any means but not difficult.  I’ll share the recipe on Thursday.

My in-laws came to town for the week around New Year’s.  We spent some fun days showing off our new area and then took a little trip to Monterey on Randy’s birthday with the boys in tow.  The weather could not have been more perfect for a lunch outside and a couple of hours in an incredible park.  We stayed in a hotel with a (heated) pool and the boys would have spent the entire night in it if we hadn’t had reservations for dinner at La Bicyclette in Carmel.

We spent the next morning in the aquarium which, if you ever find yourself in Monterey, you really must visit.  This was my third visit to that beautiful city and my first time in the aquarium.  It is magnificent.  I liked these jelly fish the best.

Just a side note.  I took this photo on a random street in December.  The fact that so many trees still look this way really blows me away.  Happy New Year!

The New Year

January 4, 2013

In January of 2012, just after the New Year celebration, we went out to dinner with my friend Jen (she of the wonderful yoga retreats) and her husband Tom.  Jen told us that she begins each year by choosing a word for that year.  The word then becomes part of her life for the year in intentional and unintentional ways.  This is an endearing quality of Jen’s – she puts something out there that might sound weird coming out of someone else’s mouth but coming from her, it sounds perfectly reasonable.  Without thinking too carefully about it, the word that came to mind was “Push”.  As I sat with it that night and over the next couple of days, my mind went in the direction of my work.  “Push” meant teach more, attempt recipes I have been avoiding, create more original dishes.  It also meant “Push” outside my introvert nature and get in front of more industry people, maybe get established with an agent and start on the road to publishing a book.  I had no idea, in those January days a year ago, that what “Push” would ultimately mean is picking up my family and moving outside my comfortable and safe surroundings of the city in which I had spent almost my entire adult life.  “Push” meant leaving beloved friends and family, my career, a city that I knew inside and out, and embarking on new adventures in a new town.  Now, in my new surroundings, I no longer have my career but I am having to “Push” beyond my introvert nature in order to meet new friends.  I am having to “Push” to make sure my son Graham gets taken care of in his new school.

With so much  being new, I need to tell you that I am extra grateful to all of you who read this blog in this challenging and oh-so-rewarding year.  I have mentioned several times how I have lost my rhythm when it comes to blogging.  I miss it very much.  Writing is like a muscle in that, if you don’t exercise it often, you lose your strength, endurance, and flexibility.  Because I haven’t been posting regularly, it has become that much harder for me to sit down and just DO IT.  So here we go.  2013, new year, new routine.  I am committing to two food posts a week and one Slice of Life.  I was very touched by your comments on my last post and delighted to read that you like those posts.  (Comment #27 was particularly sweet.)  I got some interesting suggestions so I plan to mix it up on occasion and talk about other things besides just regular everyday life.  Sundays will be the day for these “other” posts and I’m thinking about featuring general thoughts on food and diet, party planning tips, general cooking tips, dinner party how-to’s, discoveries in the Bay Area, etc.  Any suggestions are welcome.

I hope that Santa or Hanukkah Harry was good to you.  I hope you have had a break from work or school.  I hope that on Tuesday morning, you woke up to a new day with new possibilities and joy in your heart.  I hope for the very best for you in 2013.

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