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.
June 29, 2010 § 2 Comments
It’s not even July yet and I already feel like I know what people are talking about when they complain about DC summers. Afternoons spent standing in buses, in business clothes, sweat dripping down you certainly aren’t my idea of fun. I have a distinct feeling that by the time August comes around, I’ll be changing my outfits at least three times a day in pursuit of the ever elusive fresh and clean feel. But afternoons in DC aren’t all bad. Come the weekend, our house is all about the afternoon BBQs — or as East Coasters call them, cookouts — on the backyard patio. And the grill is finally working again, so there’s no more smoky kitchens while the boys try to prepare meat.
A couple of days ago, one of my housemate’s families came to stay and they prepared dinner, which was really nice of them. We were put in charge of preparing dessert. This was a near disaster — when we came home from the grocery store with all the ingredients at 11 p.m., only to discover we were out of eggs, we tried a faulty egg substitution that turned our cakes into dense, flat, pancakes. Definitely not the pretty layer cake we were hoping for.
But nothing that couldn’t be saved with a little (or a lot of) whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
The original recipe, from Martha Stewart, was for 34 cupcakes. We made two 8-inch cakes. Martha also suggested a strawberry buttercream frosting, which we nixed in favor of sweetened whipped cream.
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups finely chopped strawberries, plus small strawberries for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350º. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla mix until smooth and creamy. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add the dry mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with adding the milk. Finally, stir in the chopped strawberries. Top the cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Bake until the top is golden brown and the knife comes out clean.
June 10, 2010 § 1 Comment
Well, we are good and settled into Washington D.C. We are subletting a cute townhouse with a red front and green trim, right next door to Saxby’s coffeeshop. A couple oddities about the house first: front door keys seem to be nonexistent, as does hand soap in the bathrooms, the backyard is more of a concrete pit and there are strange paper flowers as décor in the front room. But we’ve been slowly switching things up a bit. Hand soap came a few days ago courtesy of a CVS trip and the Phillies flag hanging over my bed was quickly replaced with a California state flag. Other than a few minor roadbumps, the house is great and the boys are sweethearts* (though one of them, deemed the Georgetown cuddler by the others, has yet to arrive).
While everyone else has started work this week, Caroline and I have been bumming around the house and exploring the neighborhood. We’ve discovered great vintage clothing stores, Georgetown Cupcake and plenty of frozen yogurt and gelato shops. We’ve gone on an ill-fated trip to the grocery store and still have yet to cook dinner, despite the fact that neither of us are absolute disasters in the kitchen. We went on a run and somehow found ourselves jogging through the Arlington Cemetery. Oh, and then we met Ralph Nader at a book signing in Dupont Circle.
I’ve also spent a bit of time in the kitchen, exploring the baking options. It’s a good thing I brought most of my baking pans from college as well as most of the ingredients that were left over at the end of the term. Unfortunately, in a last minute panic over how many bags I had to squeeze into the car, I decided to leave the flour and sugar behind. This posed quite a few problems when I decided to make a cake yesterday morning. I picked this recipe for a nectarine golden cake from Sassy Radish. Except instead of nectarines, I decided to use blueberries, which I picked up Buy one get one free at the supermarket. Then realizing I had no white flour, I used ¾ cup of whole wheat flour and ¼ of almond flour. And with no white sugar in the house, it was all brown sugar. Sure the cake didn’t come out anything like the original, but it was delicious all the same.
Blueberry Golden Cake
Adapted from Sassy Radish, which in turn was adapted from Gourmet, September 2009
3/4 whole wheat flour
1/4 almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar, divided
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blueberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9-inch pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined. Spread batter evenly in pan, then scatter blueberries over top. Stir together cinnamon and remaining 1/2 Tbsp sugar and sprinkle over top. Bake until cake is golden-brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool to warm.
Photo by Caroline Clark.
*Bill would like to make a correction that he is a thug and not a sweetheart.
May 30, 2010 § 1 Comment
This morning I sat down with this list of 250 things to do in San Francisco before you die and realized it is epically hard to not eat in this city. I mean, have pumpkin ravioli at L’Osteria, buy a heap of cheap avocados at Casa Lucas, and grab a Vietnamese sandwich from Saigon Sandwiches?
These are just three of the many, many items of the list that have to do with eating. So instead of checking out all these bakeries and restaurants and groceries that 7×7 has decided are necessities for San Franciscans, I decided to revisit some of the places that I remember from my childhood.
When I was younger, the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market didn’t exist. Rather a smaller, more intimate market existed in a parking lot in the Embarcadero. We used to go every Saturday morning fairly early. My mom would shop for produce and I’d buy a couple small items, always the same.
Honey straws, in a multitude of flavors though my favorites were watermelon and root beer, and cinnamon twists from the Noe Valley Bakery stand. Now the farmers’ market has moved to the Ferry Building and with this move, it has become a must-see for many tourists. Navigating the crowds can be annoying, but it is hard to find this much food in one spot in the city.
Even as farmers’ markets spring up in every neighborhood of San Francisco, I’m still clinging to the original. Which, I guess, isn’t really the original anymore.
May 6, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I had all these grand plans for this week. A margarita cake for Cinco de Mayo, strawberry shortcake cookies because I’ve been dying to make an all-inclusive handheld strawberry shortcake and lavender shortbread to send off to my best friend, who is leaving for India in four days. I bought a basket of strawberries at the local farmer’s market on Tuesday for this purpose and searched for lavender without success. Unfortunately, Princeton doesn’t quite have the same obsession with all things lavender — fresh stalks in a vase, dried stalks hanging from an open window, embroidered sachets imported from Provence — that most cities (or, towns) have come summer.
And sadly, this week, school got in the way. I’ve been in the library since lunchtime and it doesn’t look like I’m going to make that US Postal deadline to send off that package. Nor does it look like I’m going to get into the kitchen at all anytime soon. So, I searched through my photo archives, thinking I could at least leave the students here with a little finals period procrastination. These are some of my favorite food moments from last summer, in anticipation of this summer, which is quickly approaching.
18 Reasons, run by BiRite Grocery and Creamery in San Francisco, runs weekly local food events. This night last summer it was Chocolate: From Bean to Bar, featuring a presentation by Taza chocolate, cocoa bean and nip tasting as well as a variety of chocolate goodness and fresh milk from Bi-Rite. Taza is a small, direct trade chocolate company that uses cocoa beans grown in the Dominican Republic and process them using the traditional Mexican stone-grinding method. It was love at first sip with the chili chocolate milk. It’s deliciously sweet with a spicy burn and tingle that sets in a couple seconds after the sweetness.
Tea and scones might be my favorite combination ever. This lovely scone is part of a high tea service at the Point Ellice House in Victoria. My grandpa was adamant that it wasn’t real clotted cream because it wasn’t thick enough to be cut with a butter knife but I happen to enjoy my scones with a simple pat of blackberry jam anyway. Double props if it’s Granny’s blackberry jelly.
I’ve never had a lemon bar as good as my dad’s lemon bars. They are tarter than any other bar I’ve ever tasted. I love all things lemon — lemon loaf with that delicious lemon glaze, lemonade, lemon curd, lemon tarts…I could go on and on, but I won’t.
April 30, 2010 § 3 Comments
If there is one thing I’ve learned this semester, it’s that there are people who come and go and there are people who will be there forever. There are people who are worth your time and there are people who are just…not. This semester, I’ve relied quite a bit on my two best friends scattered about the East Coast, the ones who drop everything and invite me up to visit when I call them crying. And there are my friends here, who are willing to sit around on a Thursday night while I, mid social life freakout, bake up a batch of cheesecake squares.
With the end of classes, I have twelve days left at school for the year. Visions of next year are still dancing around in my head; I’m becoming overwhelmed by all the options that are open to me. Being typically indecisive, I’m not sure what direction to go in but I know that a whole year to figure that out can only be good for me. And I know now what I have at this school — some of the best friends in the entire world — which maybe makes it an itsy-bitsy bit harder to leave.
So this one is for you all, because there is no better way to say thank you than with lemon and blueberries and cheesecake. I first stumbled upon this recipe a couple months ago and thought these squares were positively adorable. Somehow, I never made them back then. But somehow, I keep clicking on links that lead back to them — so here they are, finally. The lemon cuts the richness of the cheesecake, making them a perfect lighter dessert for summer. I love blueberries in anything, and here they are perfect little bursts of juice. I used whipped cream cheese, which I was worried about but it worked just fine. The one thing I would change next time is to increase the amount of graham crust as I found it wasn’t sturdy enough to hold up the filling. That said, there’s really no need for sturdiness, as one of my hallmates proved when she took a fork to the entire pan.
The recipe comes from Kesha at Shared Sugar. Her pictures are beautiful, check them out here.
Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from Tyler Florence
Makes 9 bars
To make the crust:
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
9 graham crackers
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
To make the filling:
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Butter the bottom and sides of an 8 by 8 inch baking pan. Cut two pieces of parchment paper in rectangles long enough to extend up the sides of the pan (so later you can use them as tabs to pull out the finished cheesecake bars). Place the parchment paper in the buttered pan cross-wise and press it into the corners.
Crush up the graham crackers in to dime size pieces or smaller crumbs. In a bowl, mix the sugar, cinnamon and graham crackers. Add the melted butter and mix until the butter is incorporated. Pour the mixture into the baking pan and evenly press it into the bottom of the pan and about a 1/4 inch on the sides. Use a glass or another smooth surface to disperse the graham cracker mixture. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes.
In a bowl with an electric mixer, add the cream cheese, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar. Mix until the ingredients are creamy and the cream cheese is fully incorporated. Pour into the pan with the cooled crust. Then evenly distribute the blueberries.
Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the cheesecake comes out mostly clean. Only allow the top to get a hint of brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Then refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the pan using the parchment paper.
April 13, 2010 § 1 Comment
I used to be the pickiest eater ever. Just ask anyone in my family. Or any of my friends’ families, who were charged with feeding me on all my play dates. I used to hate going over to my friends’ houses because I knew I’d face the challenge of having to eat some strange, unknown dinner. Even spaghetti with tomato sauce was ruined if the sauce had a chunk or two of tomato or was speckled with green herbs. Cheese was ruined if it wasn’t grated finely enough. I imagine I was quite a hassle to deal with.
Luckily I’ve grown up a bit since then. Not only do I now like chunks in my tomato sauce, I also heartily embrace most of the food crazes of the blogsphere, even the weird ones. Take bacon infused chocolate for instance. I would never have touched bacon with a ten-foot poll much less as a dessert; coated in milk chocolate? That is such a weird combination, not to mention counterintuitive. But now I’m sitting on a 5-hour plane ride happily making my way through a Vosqes Vo’s Bacon Bar (I swear it’s only half gone…). I have been meaning to bake with bacon and chocolate forever, but have never quite been able to bring myself to do it. As a former vegetarian, the thought of mixing bacon fat into cookies and watching the grease sizzle on the frying pan still makes me a little sick. But I have answered the calls of other blogsphere crazes, like the savory quickbread.
This isn’t the same quickbread you’ve seen floating around other blogs, you know the one with the olives and the cheese and the herbs. Rather this one has roots in my childhood. Early weekend morning, my mother used to cook up a batch of cornbread in a black cast iron skillet. It was wonderfully old-fashioned, making for crisp and curved outside edges and a rich, slightly sweet crumb. I used to cut large slices from the middle and eat it still warm with a fork. Later in the day, it was great toasted with some butter and honey or jam. The recipe comes on one of those worn down recipe cards, written in my grandmother’s handwriting, which can be found in the old wood recipe box (which I hope will someday be passed down to me). It’s for Johnnycake, a funny name I have never actually heard to modern talk. I baked it up in muffin tins, topped with a couple sliced strawberries that were reaching the end of their good days and a couple crumbles of chèvre.
My mom uses all brown sugar instead of the mixture of white and brown. I cut the brown sugar down to ½ a cup in order to make it more of a savory cornbread. My mom likes to use half-white flour, half whole-wheat, which I prefer to using all white flour. However, the whole-wheat flour bin was empty, so all white it was. When I ran out of strawberries, I sprinkled the few remaining muffins with cinnamon-sugar, which my brother happily delegated for himself.
Recipe to come in a few days.
April 10, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It’s funny how two years ago, as a spring semester high school senior, it was all the rage to want to escape home. We were all so eager to leave, bored, restless and anxious for the future. Since then, I’ve had many panicked moments thinking about the future but home is no longer a place to be escaped. I flew home yesterday morning. After all the stress of the past few weeks — and the screaming babies sitting behind me for the entire six-hour flight — all I’ve wanted to do is bake cakes. I’ve spent the past day in and out of bed and the kitchen. But if I was expecting to be comforted by the predictability of baking, it was not meant to be.
I picked the lemon-blueberry yogurt cake from one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I had recently made her almond blueberry cake — and a pear hazelnut spin-off with dark chocolate chips — for a dinner party and so I went into the recipe with high expectations. I choose to make mini-muffins instead of the full cake, and topped them with a sprinkle of toasted coconut and the suggested lemon glaze. I added a couple extra teaspoons of lemon zest and splash of lemon juice to the batter for extra tartness. They were delicious, but a little unexpected: the texture of the muffins was much more like a flan than a cake. I admit to opening the oven and checking on them every couple minutes because I just couldn’t understand why they weren’t rising in the oven.
I have a couple theories to why they turned out this way. I did not adjust the baking temperature for the first batch of muffins, which could have contributed to them not cooking evenly through. The blueberries were also slightly damp when I folded them into the batter, making for a denser crumb. Nonetheless, these were beautiful sweet-tart bites that were a hit with the team.
Here’s the recipe from Smitten Kitchen (or go visit her site):
Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Loaf
Adapted loosely from Ina Garten
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (if you’re skipping the fruit, you can also skip the last tablespoon of flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed (miniature wild blueberries are great for this, and pose the least risk of sinking)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.
Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and oil. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix the blueberries with the remaining tablespoon of flour, and fold them very gently into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 (+) minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in (a pastry brush works great for this, as does using a toothpick to make tiny holes that draw the syrup in better). Cool.