December 28, 2012 § Leave a Comment
There’s something about San Francisco and name recognition that when you put the name of a certain café or restaurant before an item of food, you instantaneously know it’s good. Tartine is one of those places, always with a line tailing out the door, always full of the smells of fresh baked croissants and scones, and bread, if you’re very, very lucky. So when an old friend suggested we make Tartine’s lemon bars together, I was definitely on board. We used the pine nuts suggested for the crust. We surprised the man down the street from whom we bought the pine nuts with a plate of still-warm bars. We mixed it up with his family’ breakfast of apple pancakes, a whole hidden apple slice enrobed in soft, fluffy batter; a run out for a pour-over Blue Bottle coffee; a break for Vietnamese sandwiches. It was good to catch up and remember times past. He even reminded me of a pear and almond cake which I made for our prom dinner — I had completely forgotten, but he still had the recipe, and remembered being impressed by the spring-form pan. I only remember the pan of black-and-white cheesecake brownies we devoured in the limo on the way to the after-party.
As I was sitting on the bed the other night, having another freak-out about my post-graduation future, my mother reminded me that sometimes I need to try harder to live in the present. So I’ve compiled another list of little things that make me happy, something I’ve found helpful when the big picture starts to seem overwhelming.
Watching the World Junior Hockey Championships, filling the void created by the NHL lockout.
Lemon sugar cookies, the same ones we’ve made every holiday season since I can remember, devoured this year before I could even photograph them. The stained pages of the Christmas Cookie Cookbook, one of the first cookbooks properly my own, now lacking a binding.
Taking pictures of snow on Boxing Day, with absolutely no one on the road and only a scattering of people on the sidewalks.
Everything bagels from the local bagel and coffee shop, actually covered in seeds instead of just lightly dusted.
The burn in my legs, the powder, the trees turned to icicles, and the pure whiteness that is the peaks of the Fernie Ski Resort in the fog.
Sending out my mother’s hand-printed holiday cards to friends far, far away.
Opening wrapped presents, that I um picked out and tried on a month ago. Gray cashmere sweaters and striped silk wraps from Thailand.
Being in the middle of nowhere, until I’m sick of being in the middle of nowhere. By the way, Hi! I’m in Fernie, British Columbia!
July 3, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The other day I was sitting on our rooftop balcony, overlooking the grassy area between the houses on our block, wearing Ray-Bans, book in hand, wanting for a friend to arrive. This cake was sitting on a heavy wood cutting board on the table and places were set for two people. The plates may have been a bit chipped, but this cake came out of the pan perfectly intact; so perfectly in fact, that I still like looking at the pictures of it in awe at how pretty it was.
Upside-down cakes make me really nervous. Actually, cakes made me nervous in general. I always, always manage to skip a step in the recipe and never wait long enough for them to cool and end up with a cake that needs significant patching up. Add to that the stress of having to flip something upside down, and I’m left with that brief but sickening moment wondering if I’m going to end up with a picture perfect slab of cake or a gooey, broken lump of cake and cooked fruit. But that queasiness was gone in a flash when this cake overturned beautifully.
We ate some for lunch that day, some for breakfast the next day, some with a glass of Slivovitz the next night. Basically everyone I know if this city ate some of this cake, which is a very good thing because there was quite a bit of it. The other point of triumph is that I finally found some produce that was more than just edible here. In the states, I would never pick up a basket of cherries at a corner store, from a table right next to the liquor shelves. But I will say that the apricots I purchased here were the first fresh apricots I have ever enjoyed eating in my entire life.
How’s that for eating in the Czech Republic?
Apricot-Cherry Upside Down Cake
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes one 13 x 10 inch slab cake
For the fruit layer:
6 tablespoons butter (90g)
1 1/2 cups packed (270g) brown sugar
About 20 apricots, quartered
2 cups of cherries, halved and pitted
For the cake layer:
8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (210g) flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (125ml) plain yogurt
In a saucepan, melt the 6 tablespoons of butter. Add the brown sugar and stir constantly until the sugar is melted and begins to bubble. Remove from heat and pour into the baking dish. When the caramel mixture is cooled, top with rows of cut fruit. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350F (190C).
Cream the 8 tablespoons of butter and sugar until fluffly. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, and beat until smooth.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold in half of the flour mixture, then the yogurt, then the remaining dry ingredients. Mix until the flour is just incorporated.
Spread the batter over the fruit layer and bake for about 40 minutes. The center of the cake will be set and the fruit may bubble around the edges when it is done. Remove the cake from the oven, let cool for about 20 minutes and flip the cake out onto the plate.
May 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Between cancelled flights, an onslaught of interviews for a new article, finishing up at work last week and houseparties this past week, the downtime conducive to actually putting a coherent sentence together has been pretty much non-existent. While I haven’t been writing, I have had mouth surgery, made a trip to the emergency room with excruciating chest pain related to an antibiotic I have been taking, barely recovered from that and jet-setted across the country. But I am now back home with very little to discuss that does not have to do with beer — be it the drinking it, the after effects of it, or the new article I’m writing that is all about beer. That said, I left campus again feeling like I finally had a clean slate to start next year on, summer funding secured, a new major that I am actually excited about, and a lineup of junior paper topics that I can’t wait to start thinking about (someone studying for finals right now, feel free to punch me in the face here).
It’s disconcerting going back to campus. The lawns are still pristine, the grass cut, the walk to the Street still feels like second nature. It’s like it has stopped in time. Sure, someone may have a new boyfriend and someone else may be about to graduate, but otherwise not much has changed. It brings a new definition to the “Orange Bubble.” I took a trip in New York City one evening to meet a friend I had met in Paris of all places. As I stepped out off the escalator of Penn Station and the world screamed and pushed around me, I was reminded of how much comfort I found on my trips to the city during school (though they were not many), because the city actually feels like life. It makes even a city girl, born and raised, feel like she just left the farm for the first time.
But today is not for beer drinking, rather it is for margarita drinking and taco eating and and and it’s Cinco de Mayo!!! Okay, so this isn’t actually a margarita and it’s actually lemon, though I’m sure it would work with lime as well, but it still fits the theme because — and really listen to this — all you have to do is throw a lemon in the blender with some sugar and there you have a tart. Genius.
Whole Lemon Tart
This is a bit different than your standard lemon tart as it actually tastes like the whole lemon, rind and all. It’s a bit scary to throw the whites of the rind into a tart filling and I admit I wasn’t completely sold on first bite, but once the tart cooled and chilled, I really changed my opinion on it. I’m not sure I’m willing to leave my dearest lemon curd behind, but make this version at least once as a novelty.
1 average-sized lemon (about 4 1/2 ounces; 130 grams), rinsed and dried
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons (12 grams) cornstarch
1 stick (4 ounces; 115 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 9-inch tart shell (or use your favorite rectangular tart pan) made with Smitten Kitchen’s Sweet Tart Dough, partially baked and cooled
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Slice whole lemon in half and pull out seeds from it and the half. Then cut lemons into small pieces.
Throw lemons and sugar in blender or processor and pulse, blend and scrape down sides until you have smooth consistency. Add the eggs, egg yolk, butter and cornstarch, and pulse and blend until filling is thoroughly mixed. Pour the filling into partially baked crust.
Carefully transfer baking sheet to oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then increase oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake tart for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t be alarmed when filling starts to bubble up. Tart is baked when the filling is set, but still shaky in the center and top has a sugary crust. Don’t worry if it bubbles some, mine overflowed and the fire alarm went off.
Transfer tart pan to cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Serve with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
April 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This weekend I went down the hill to the Alemany Farmers’ market for the first time — ever. It’s odd that, even though we live in such close proximity to it, we always chose the market at the Ferry Building. Perhaps that market has a soft place in my heart after many mornings when I was younger spent at the old Embarcadero parking lot location eating watermelon and root beer flavored honey straws. But these days that location is madly overrun with people, so we went for a quick stop at the Hayes Valley Grill stand for the mandatory crab cake sandwich — char-grilled crusty roll, creamy, toasty fresh crab, with a hearty swipe of herb aioli, mixed lettuce and sliced cabbage, and a couple of tomato slices — and a leisurely stroll through the Alemany market. We found fresh corn tortillas, spicy smoked scallops, vibrant chard in every color of the rainbow and even long stalks of sugar cane, which I had to be convinced out of purchasing before I even knew what to do with sugar cane besides eat it raw. I think I’ll be back just for the smell of corn over the fire.
Following the eating extravaganza, in which I demolished a carton of organic strawberries in a couple of minutes right there in the parking lot, I went for an afternoon run along the Sawyer Camp Trial. The trail starts as a crowded mess of weekend walkers and children biking during the first mile and then the crowds thin out, and you’re practically on your own, winding along the twists and turns of the reservoir, until you finally cross to the other side and start climbing. The trail is marked every half-mile, which makes pacing very easy but also pushes you faster than you should be going. I topped off the last mile really pushing it only to come to the realization as I sat down on the hot pavement to stretch, that the marathon is in less than a week. Cue terrified freak-out.
While we were down on the Peninsula, my mother picked up a bag of lemons from a friend’s backyard tree. A couple of extras were thrown in the paper bag upon the news that I was on a citrus curd-making spree. Following my blood orange tart, which I made a couple of weeks ago (and you can find it at Eat the Love, alongside the other fabulous citrus desserts at 18 Reasons — my skirt matches, don’t you think?), I have started branching out from my favorite lemon and discovering the ups and downs of curd making. I’ve struggled to get a firm consistency from my blood orange curd while maintaining its bright, sing-song color and zesty flavor, and I’ve found that while lime works interchangeably with lemon in my favorite recipe, it’s flavor doesn’t sing “lime.” Rather, the lime curd pops with citrus flavor, but does not meld into a distinct lime burst until after it has sat on the tongue for awhile. Which is okay I guess, when you’re eating it straight off the spoon.
August 17, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Apricots. I love the word. I love the way it rolls off the tongue. So many different letters in one word. I think apricots are a beautiful fruit — lush and orange — on the outside. Yet despite these appearances and knowing many people who profess to love the fruit, I have never taken a bite of an apricot that has not been disappointing. The whole fruit just squishes in my hands and I am left with a mouthful of mushy, stringy apricot flesh. Seduced by the beautiful sunset tints of the exterior and then let down. Every. Single. Time.
Yesterday, I went to Whole Foods for lunch with one of my fellow interns. We were seduced by the tiny, orange apricot morsels at the front, with their skins slightly tinted sunset red. We bought a cartoon and carried it back to the office, eagerly looking forward to the beautiful fruit feast. And then it turned out to be ugly and mushy and I wondered why I had let myself hope for a wonderful apricot.
So I was given the task of taking these apricots home and making a cake of them. Slather them in sugar, caramelize them, enfold them in butter and flour and make them beautiful inside and out. I am sad to say I failed in this. I did make wonderfully light tea scones, the ones my mother always made as I was running out of the house for school. I would grab a handful of three or four, still warm on the cooling racks, split them in half and spread them with blackberry jam and honey, and then make a mad dash for the car. Sadly, I had to pick the apricots out of the scone before eating, much like I do with raisins in most baked goods. I’ll say the apricots were just there for decoration, but I had hoped for more, so much more.
If anyone knows a recipe for seriously delicious apricot cake (or really anything, desperate here), I would love to hear it. I’m all about second — or third or fourth — chances here.
From Having Tea
Recipes and Tablesettings by Tricia Foley
August 11, 2010 § 2 Comments
A torrential downpour just started here in Washington D.C as I write this post. I am always amazed by how quickly a sunny day can turn into a thunderstorm. Here, it is not unusual for a quiet summer day to end with the tree down the block being split in half by lightning. When I stare out of the window at work in awe at the darkening sky, my co-workers just laugh at me, the typical California girl, who doesn’t seem to understand that this is simply how East Coast weather works. I was lucky enough to catch a tiny glimpse of calm as I walked home from the bus stop, and then was caught in the downpour again, which started just as I stepped out the door to drop of my dry cleaning.
It’s days like these that require a little bit of comfort the minute you step in the door. The kitchen has always been a place of comfort for me, a place where we gather around the counter to roll out pizza dough, cut sugar cookies into hearts and stars (or, in my house, elephants) and make large, steaming mugs of hot chocolate with lots of Dutch cocoa. It is also the place where I learned my first lessons in patience, following directions and then, in breaking rules.
Perhaps my first real memories of the kitchen come from my grandmother’s house in Victoria, Canada. I used to love my grandparents backyard, with its tire swing, blackberry and raspberry bushes, plum trees and tall stalks of rhubarb. Late August, before all of the grandchildren returned to school, we would pick blackberries from their backyard until our fingers were stained purple and we had several yogurt containers full. My grandmother froze a lot of the fruit but she also made crisps, pies and flans. I was not an immediate fan of cooked fruit, but I gradually grew to liking crisps — though the sweet, oat topping was my favorite part — and from there, pie.
I am firm believer in the idea that pies and crisps are meant to showcase the fruit. A lot of recipes out there these days seem to pile on an unnecessary amount of sugar. With a lot of cherries on hand, and some blueberries thrown in for good measure, I started off making this piecrust. However, when I got to making the filling, I omitted half of the sugar and used some flour in place of the cornstarch.
All Butter Crust (Pâte Brisée)
From Elise on Simply Recipes
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 to 8 tablespoons ice water
Cut the sticks of butter into 1/2-inch cubes and place in the freezer for 15 minutes to an hour (the longer the better) so that they become thoroughly chilled.
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it’s ready. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again.
Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a clean surface. Gently shape into 2 discs. Knead the dough just enough to form the discs, do not over-knead. You should be able to see little bits of butter in the dough. These small chunks of butter are what will allow the resulting crust to be flaky. Sprinkle a little flour around the discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days.
Remove one crust disk from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes in order to soften just enough to make rolling out a bit easier. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, add a few sprinkles of flour under the dough to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully place onto a 9-inch pie plate. Gently press the pie dough down so that it lines the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge of the pie dish.
Add filling to the pie, discarding most of the liquid.
Roll out second disk of dough, as before. Gently place onto the top of the filling in the pie. Pinch top and bottom of dough rounds firmly together. Trim excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving a 3/4 inch overhang. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with a fork. Score the top of the pie with four 2-inch long cuts, so that steam from the cooking pie can escape. *I cut out fluted circles for the top pie crust and dusted with a bit of cinnamon sugar as I didn’t have an egg for the egg wash.*
These are the ingredients for the sweet cherry filling as described by A Sweet Pea Chef and adapted from Smitten Kitchen. I can’t say I exactly followed this recipe, as I used both cherries and blueberries, a dash of orange juice and flour instead of cornstarch. It worked out really well.
4 cups pitted fresh cherries (about 2 pounds unpitted)
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar (adjust this according to the sweetness of your cherries)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F. and bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack.
August 8, 2010 § 2 Comments
When I was younger, our family spent a summer at family camps in France. I was ten years old, shy, incredibly picky about what I ate and a little intimidated about spending a couple weeks solely in the company of French kids. We spent our first week at Les Lavandes, in the town of Rémuzat near Nyons. We had a small sunny room by the field, where teenagers and young men played soccer and smoked cigarettes, and we dined in a large room at communal tables. During the daytime, I went off with the other kids my age for organized hiking and swimming. My brother was too young to leave my parents in a strange new country, though there were camp activities for his age group. So instead, I was the one of the family shoved off to do all the traditional camp activities. I played name games, learned about different trees and animals native to the region, and on the last day, accompanied the family of a new friend on a daylong hike. We packed crusty bread and cheese and set off with several other families, though not my own. At the end of the hike, my mother drove out to pick me up, because my ten-year-old self refused to camp out without my parents.
At the end of the week, we drove to a second camp called Pont-Les-Bains. There, I feasted on M&M Ice Cream Pops and played boules (bocce in Italian, which is the name most Americans know it by) with the girls my age. There, we ate at smaller family tables, much like at a restaurant. I don’t remember liking much of the food, which would explain why the M&M ice cream stands out so clearly in my mind.
Though the premise of the camp — complete immersion with real French families — made me nervous at times and I was forever self-conscious of my slight English accent which the girls my age called “adorable,” this summer stands out from any other vacation I have taken. I had never seen France quite like this before, though I had been on a couple of occasions, and I made some friends with whom I kept in touch with for many years afterward. Indeed, as a child, I was big on snail mail, with penpals in France and Australia. We would send friendship bracelets enclosed in letters decorated with colorful stickers back and forth across the oceans and I collected the cutest notecards for such occasions.
Real memories of this summer are fuzzy for me, though blurry images of cobblestone roads and small bridges remain in my mind, alongside more vivid images of vibrant purple lavender. When I got home, I collected long stalks of lavender from the farmers’ market and colorful fabrics, fashioning small lavender pouches. They smelled lovely, though I think I made more pouches than anyone in the family ever needed or wanted. Now, I know there are other uses for lavender; it can be used in many baked goods, giving classic cakes and cookies a fragrant lift. Lemon loaf is a huge favorite in my house and this is probably the best one I have ever made. The loaf is wonderfully moist, with lavender and lemon zest in the batter, and glazed with thin lemon juice icing. A light garnish of lavender is a pretty touch on top of the loaf.
Meyer Lemon Lavender Cake
From the Former Chef
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter (the original recipe called for oil)
2.5 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp fresh lavender flowers
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, lemon zest and lavender. Add the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven. Using a long wooden skewer, poke holes in the top of the cake, all the way to the bottom, about 1″ apart.
You can see the original recipe for the lemon glaze, which called for heating the sugar and lemon juice to make a syrup. I simply combined the lemon juice with confectioners sugar to make a very thin icing, which I used to coat the top of the loaf.
August 3, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Once upon a time, there was a lemon tree in my backyard. It was short and planted along the walkway to the stairs leading to the basement. I am not sure why, but I don’t remember it ever growing any lemons. Maybe it did, but I do know it had difficulty with the lack of sunlight in our backyard, due to the overshadowing of the huge cedar tree.
The failures of other plants in the garden I remember more vividly. I was disappointed for weeks when my potted vegetables — lettuce, carrots and tomatoes — all failed to become edible, with only the carrots looking remotely like they should, and even then they were about a quarter of the size of my pinkie. The only plant in our backyard that produced was our white peach tree, which produced ripe, fuzzy peaches late in the summer. And then our kitchen and friends were flooded with peaches for a few weeks until our garden went back to being its usual unproductive self.
Both the lemon and peach trees are gone now; I’ll have to remember to ask my parents what happened to them. But lemons and peaches are still two of my favorite fruits to eat. I remember cutting up lemons into wedges and eating them dipped in white sugar. Lemons also bake exceedingly well in cakes and tarts; lemon loaf cake is a huge favorite in our house, as are simple lemon tarts (without the meringue).
Today, I finally managed to get David Lebovitz’ lemon curd into a tart shell. Creamy while still undisputedly tart, this curd was perfect for a delicate almond shortbread crust. I baked it in my new rectangular fluted tart pan, reminding me on the lemon tarts my brother and I used to buy by the slice at La Boulangerie Bay Bread in San Francisco.
From COOK, a oui chef journal by Connie
8 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 375˚F with the rack in the center.
Combine the flour, salt and ground almonds in a medium mixing bowl.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix to combine.
Add the butter mixture into the dry ingredients and combine until a dough is formed. If the dough is too hot to handle, allow it to cool slightly.
With your hands, press the dough into a 9-in tart pan. When it comes to working up the sides, a measuring cup can help.
Bake the shell for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.