Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Santa keeps me cooking

I must have been good this year because Santa brought me lots of cooking accessories, implements, and appliances!

Looks like homemade waffles are on the menu for New Year's Day!!

This is an old timey cookie mold. It's almost too pretty to use, though, and will be just kitchen decoration at least for now.

I asked for these tools. The peeler because my old one is just too dull. I discovered that while attempting to peel a pile of potatoes for latkes earlier this month. Uf. The sharp grater is perfect for harder things, like nutmeg. And since, after tasting the intense flavor of fresh grated nutmeg earlier this month I vowed to never purchase ground nutmeg again, I desperately needed this to stick to that promise.

Isn't this cute? Since I often have to wear an apron when we're hosting friends for dinner, it's wonderful to get one that's just as pretty as a party frock. Detail of the front pocket below. Thanks, Mom!

I was so excited to unwrap Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc At Home." It's a surprisingly large tome for a casual, family style cookbook, but since having the Heirloom Tomato Salad and Buttermilk Fried Chicken at Ad Hoc restaurant in Napa (while dining next to Mr. Keller himself!) I've been dying to recreate them at home. Coming up on New Year's Eve, Fried Chicken!!

Lastly, my mother gifted me her very own, well loved copy of Julia Child and Simone Beck's "The Art of French Cooking." I was most touched by this hand-me-down since Christmas is all about family traditions, particularly of the edible kind. My mother is an excellent cook and hostess. I continue to learn from her and will treasure her cookbook treasures!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Spicy Sweet Potato Casserole

These sweet potatoes have a spicy thai twist that had all our Thanksgiving guests happily licking their lips and guessing what the tasty magical flavorings were. I'm making them again this week to go with our Christmas ham.

Fiery Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from the New York Times

Time: About 2 hours

5 pounds sweet potatoes

1 cup lite coconut milk

1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste

1/2 cup brown sugar -dark or light

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake potatoes on a baking sheet until very soft, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, peel and mash.

Heat coconut milk with curry paste over in a heat proof bowl in microwave until warm. Stir until combined. Mix coconut milk mixture, half the sugar, half the butter, and salt into potatoes. Keep warm until ready to serve, or cover and refrigerate up to two days.

At least 30 minutes before serving, heat oven to 425 degrees. Put potatoes in a baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover potatoes, dot with remaining butter and sugar and broil until brown and crusty on top, checking often to prevent scorching.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pear Upside Down Cake

When I saw this Mark Bittman recipe for Pear Upside Down Cake in last week's New York Times, I knew I had to try it even though the other resident of my home dislikes (hates?) pears. Bittman wrote that he meant this dessert to be a cross between tarte tatin and upside-down cake, which it is, though, for me, it's simply a more fancy, more adult, more complex version of the traditional (and my dad's personal favorite) pineapple upside down cake in all its caramelized sweetness.

Surprisingly, it got raves from my pear-hating husband, who compared it's moist sweetness to tres leches cake, and our bridge buddies. It's easy enough to make on a weeknight if you have some time to spare and would be perfect to serve for brunch as well as dessert. And speaking of, it would be a very good substitute for pie at your Thanksgiving table for any crust-phobic amongst you. Make sure to use the best pears and highest quality maple syrup you can get your hands on. Happy fall baking!

Maple Pear Upside Down Cake

Time: About 90 minutes

11 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

3 medium sized pears (I used a mix of bartlett and bosc) peeled, cored and thinly sliced

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk (skim is fine)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat; add maple syrup and brown sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for another 2 minutes; remove from heat and set aside. When mixture has cooled a bit, pour it into a 9-inch baking pan and arrange pear slices in an overlapping circle on top (a double layer of pears is fine!)

2. In a mixer, beat remaining 8 tablespoons butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time, continuing to mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with milk; do not overmix. Carefully spread batter over pears, using a spatula to make sure it is evenly distributed. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and edges begin to pull away from sides of pan, about 45 to 50 minutes; a toothpick inserted into center should come out clean. Let cake cool for 5 minutes.

4. Run a knife around edge of pan; put a plate on top of cake and carefully flip it so plate is on bottom and pan is on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Pear in the raw

Use a melon baller for quick and easy core removal

Mmmmm browny sugary

Pear slices pinwheeled

Not so pretty right side up

Quite nice upside down!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rules for Restaurant Servers

There's an interesting what not to do for waitstaff on the New York Times' "You're the Boss" blog.

As a lover of New York City tap water and also of saving a few $$, my favorite has to be #6 Do not lead the witness with, “Bottled water or just tap?” Both are fine. Remain neutral.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Candy Day

Happy Halloween from DA! In New York City, many children trick or treat in their own apartment building instead of outside. We're thrilled to finally live in a large enough building that we can expect a fair amount of little ones in costume. We will be handing out Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Twix, Snickers and M&Ms all of which were chosen because I'd be happy to eat any leftovers. Let the sugar induced coma begin!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mom's Banana Bread slightly healthier

Last week I did a little baking experimentation (always an iffy proposition) with my mother's recipe for banana bread. It didn't NEED any improvement at all. It's moist and tender with a crusty top. But I did want to see if I could healthy it up a little bit without negatively impacting the taste and texture. And...success! I cut down fat by removing an egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of butter and by using reduced fat sour cream. I also added nutrients and a great nutty taste by using whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. Voila: new, improved banana bread. It's my favorite thing to have on hand for nibbling house guests. Perfect for breakfast or snacking.

Mom's healthified banana bread

6 tablespoons butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg white, beaten
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 medium bananas, mashed
2 tbsp rum
1 tsp almond extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Spray PAM into a standard loaf pan.

Cream butter and sugar using an electric mixer (hand or stand). Add eggs and sour cream. Mix to incorporate. Combine dry ingredients and add alternately with mashed bananas, mixing. Incorporate rum and extract. Pour into loaf pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until cake tester inserted in middle comes out clean.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Top Chef Redux

If you're a fan of Top Chef and haven't been reading Max Silvestri's Top Chef episode recaps at Eater, you are really missing out. (Disclosure Max and I have met socially and I have instructed him on making his own butter in order to impress chicks). Go there, get your laugh on, and watch out for comments by Colicchio.

Things Fall Apart

As Yeats wrote, "Things Fall Apart. The centre cannot hold." Well, in this case it was the potatoes. Despite a handy step by step guide aptly titled "How to Wrap Fish with Potatoes", the darn tubers just wouldn't stay around the halibut and instead of ending up with this:

I got this:
Still very tasty, but it'd get an F in presentation.

I've included the recipe (from March '09 Bon Appetit) but I've concluded that next time I'll cook the 'chips' separately from the fish, then use them as artful garnish. Same flavor result, less headache. The spinach accompaniment was easy, tasty and not at all obstinate, I'll admit. Enjoy the photo essay chronicling my ill-fated effort to keep the fillets wrapped sans the curse words uttered during the actual cooking process.

Potato-Wrapped Halibut
Bon Appetit March 2009
Recipe by Greg Atkinson
Photograph by Levi Brown
6 servings

4-ounce halibut fillets (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick)
4 3-inch-long unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed
tablespoons olive oil, divided
garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
ounces fresh baby spinach leaves (about 16 cups loosely packed)

Pat fish dry; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place large sheet of parchment on work surface. Halve each potato lengthwise. Using V-slicer or mandoline, slice each potato half very thinly. Set 5 to 6 slices on parchment in row, overlapping long sides. Make another row that overlaps short ends of first row, forming 6x5-inch rectangle. Sprinkle rectangle with salt and pepper. Set 1 fillet across overlapped short ends of slices. Fold sides of rectangle over fish, forming packet. Press to adhere. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining potato slices and fish fillets.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in each of 2 large skillets over medium-high heat. Set 3 wrapped fish fillets, seam side down, in each skillet. Cook until golden on bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn; cook until fish is opaque in center, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer to plates; cover to keep warm.

Add 2 tablespoons oil to 1 skillet. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add 1/3 of spinach; toss with tongs until spinach begins to wilt. Add remaining spinach in 2 additions; stir just until beginning to wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Divide spinach among plates with fish and serve.

I suspect my potato slices were just not thin enough despite the mandolin being on the thinnest level that would actually slice.

Halibut pre-portioning

Hopes are high!

It stays as long as I'm holding it together!

But then they go in to the pan

Stay, darnit!

I said stay!

Ugh. Browned and crispy, but not pretty

Time for Plan B. I crisped up the remaining potato slices in the pan and sprinkled them with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. They tasted better than anything in the actual recipe.

Yum. Spinach with garlic. The sole triumph of the meal

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chana Masala Dip

My husband and I have recently taken up bridge. We're aware that it's a nerdy, old-timey pursuit, yet we really like it...maybe exactly because it is so dusty and grandma-esque. On Friday night we had our bridge buddies over, and since I had an extremely ripe tomato, cilantro and garbanzo beans I thought I'd make a hummus-like dip version of the Indian dish Chana Masala to nibble on between tricks.

I was shocked at my guests effusiveness and the quickness with which the bowl of dip was emptied. This healthy, flavorful vegetarian dip is a great, make-ahead appetizer for any party or for your own personal snacking.

1 14.5 ounce can garbanzo beans
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup chopped seeded tomato
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1/8 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Drain garbanzo beans.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic to pan; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt, cumin, and pepper; cook 1 minute. Add chickpeas, water, and tomato; cook 5 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in garam masala, cool.

Transfer to bowl or food processor. Puree garbanzo bean mixture and incorporate olive oil with immersion blender in bowl or in food processor. Fold in cilantro. Serve with pita chips.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Magazine to be put down

Devastating news. Gourmet will cease publication after its November issue. As many of my readers know, it has been my go-to publication for special occasion recipes, quick weeknight meals and classic dishes. Home cooking will never be the same. A moment of silence, please.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oysters at The Marshal Store

One of my favorite parts of a recent visit to San Fran/Napa was driving the long and scenic way up the coast on Highway 1. Just before the turn off inland towards Petaluma is Tomales Bay where tons of oysters are aqua-farmed and harvested. If you want to grill/shuck your own along with a picnic, stop at The Tomales Bay Oyster Company or Hog Island Oyster Company for a large bag. If, like us, you travel a little lighter (without an industrial sized cooler, let's say) drive further towards the small town of Marshall and The Marshall Store which has its own shellfish-centric no frills restaurant.

Simply shucked oysters served with a mignonette were good, as was a crab sandwich with incredibly fresh heirloom tomatoes, but best were the local specialty, barbecued oysters. They were warmed on a grill and served with a hard to place herb and tomato sauce. Very hearty, and entirely appropriate for the cloudy, chilly day.

You really can't beat the ocean views or the super fresh from the water eats served right on the dock.