September 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve packed all my clothes and books into seven moving boxes and brought them down to the UPS. I’ve stashed together energy bars and dried fruit to get me through the semester, and handpicked the cookbook collection that will make the trip across the country. I’ve thrown together a bag to get me through the week at school before my boxes arrive and printed out 150 pictures for my dorm room wall. Junior year here I come.
This is a quick post because I am in the midst of running around campus, filling out forms to switch majors and going to new departmental luncheons. In between going to class and catching up with people I haven’t seen in over a year, I am dashing down to the boathouse for practice and trying to organize a trip to the apple orchards this weekend.
But since I know the seasons are changing and this is soon to be irrelevant, I figured it’s now or never. We haven’t gotten into the kitchens since arriving on campus, but these scones were one of the last things I made in my home kitchen. We brought home three cartons of purple figs for this torta, which really didn’t need too many of them. I simmered them down into a fig butter with some sugar and a split vanilla bean, and spread it between cakey layers of buttery scone, made with earthy buckwheat flour. The scones are soft enough to fall apart in your hands, but hold up well in swirl form. Be careful to not over mix the dough, it’s okay if it looks a bit inconsistent, with flecks of flour and butter, even as you’re throwing into on the floured-countertop and rolling it out.
1 Lb. figs, stems and skins removed
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup port
1/8 cup bottled lemon juice
One vanilla bean
Cut the figs into quarters. Place the cut fruit in a sauce pan over low heat, mashing with a fork if needed. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the inside into the pan, before throwing in the entire bean. Cook down for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally with a spatula to prevent the bottom from sticking.
Add sugar, port and lemon juice, zest and vanilla and continue to cook for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and take out the vanilla beans. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and let cool (if you wish to save the fig butter for later use, it keeps about a week in the fridge, or you can can it).
Fig Buckwheat Scones
Adapted from Good to the Grain
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 recipe fig butter
In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the butter to the dry mixture and work in with your hands, until the mixture feels like small grains of rice. It is important to do this fairly quickly, in order to keep the butter as cold as possible. Pour in the cream and mix with a spatula until the dough just comes together.
Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface (it will be quite sticky). Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle about 8 inches wide, 16 inches long and ¾ inch thick. Spread the fig butter evenly over the dough rectangle. Roll up the long edge of the dough so that you get a log 16 inches long. Using a sharp knife, cut the long in half. Place the two logs on baking sheets, lined with parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for half an hour. While the logs are chilling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
After 30 minutes have passed, remove the logs from the refrigerator, cut each log into six even slices and place each roll flat on the baking sheets, 6 to a sheet. Bake the rolls for 38 to 42 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Let cool (or don’t) and eat the same day.
August 31, 2010 § Leave a Comment
When I made the decision to start eating healthy again, I never imagined what would be the first cake recipe to fall in my lap. It is almost as if fate meant for me to make a diet change right at that very instant, meant for me to sort through our bins of whole grain flours, meant for me to skip right over the white sugar—and even the brown sugar, and land on a jar of unsulfured molasses. It meant for me to be browsing 101 Cookbooks at that very minute and open I recipe I had never thought to open before, despite the many times I have scoured the site for wholesome baked goods and sorted though dinner recipes, even knowing that I would never cook them because, let’s face it, I don’t cook. But at that very moment, I opened up this recipe for Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake and I knew the palate had changed.
If you do not love molasses, I suggest you stop here. This cake is not for you. It is entirely sweetened with molasses, which lends it a deep, dark color, so dark in fact you would swear it’s chocolate on looking at it. But that first bite, through the crunch of the walnut topping, reveals that that darkness is not chocolate at all. And you are not disappointed at the discovery. Because just when you thought someone so healthy could not be so deeply satisfying, you take another bite of cake and the flavors that were so unexpected in the first bite become wonderfully addicting in the second. It’s rustic, it’s hearty, it’s not for the faint-hearted (in the flavor sense of the idea, not in the butter content) and it’s, dare I say it, pretty quaint. And it’s one of those cakes that you have to cut off three tablespoons of butter from the stick, instead of just throwing the entire stick (or two) in the bowl. Have you ever noticed that most recipes call for either ½ cup or 1 cup of butter, conveniently the size of a stick of butter or two? I wonder who came up with that. Was it the recipe writers or the butter packagers?
But back on subject, you should make this cake. With more blueberries than I used, because blueberries have a habit of disappearing (read: I have a habit of eating them by the handful) when I am baking with them. And with the chopped walnuts on top, though I think many other nuts would do, sprinkled with (okay, I admit it) maybe a teaspoon of brown sugar. And bake it in one of your prettiest pans, because this cake deserves it.
This cake accompanied me to my old high school’s English office, alongside my travel journal, which I have been jamming full of sights, restaurants and many, many bakeries, to visit during the coming year. I have a Paris section (of course) and a Provence section (of course). And then there is Venice and Wales and Barcelona. And so many others that I am afraid I am trying to go everywhere, but I just can’t pick up a travel magazine and not want to go everywhere it writes about. I wonder if the French like molasses. I packed a jar of peanut butter and another of maple syrup, but now I am on the plane wondering if I needed to bring molasses too. I hope not.
Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
5 tablespoons milk (divided)
1/2 cup unsulphered molasses
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, barely melted
1 1/2 cups blueberries, frozen (I freeze fresh berries)
1 teaspoon flour
For the topping:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or a small rectangular pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a small bowl combine the cider vinegar with 3 tablespoons of the milk. In another bowl combine the molasses with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk. Add the cider vinegar mixture into the molasses mixture, then whisk in the eggs.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just barely combined. Stir in the butter. Fold the blueberries, tossed with the small amount of flour, into the batter. Top the batter with the chopped walnuts and sprinkle with the brown sugar.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about thirty minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.
August 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
I have been having a very difficult time with this post. Like much of my writing — essays, newspaper articles etc. — my blog entries usually just flow out. I don’t often mess around with how to phrase sentences. If a metaphor doesn’t form itself, I don’t push it. If a word doesn’t come naturally, I use another and figure I will return to it when the time is right. So when I do hit a block that has me staring at the screen and reforming a single sentence over and over again, changing single words and punctuation marks here and there, I know something is off about my subject matter.
I came home the other day and I decided it was about time I buckled down, started eating healthy again and got back into better shape. I tend to function better under rigid guidelines and tight schedules, and my diet works no different. I’ll get into funks where I eat only oatmeal and insist on just ordering coffee when I meet up with friends. And it may sound strange, but oftentimes I’m just happier that way.
Once I’ve decided to eat healthy again, it’s fairly easy to turn down that piece of sheet cake with the fake, fluffy, brilliantly white frosting and a greasy slice of pizza late at night. I’ve finally made that decision again and I’m sticking with it, and I relish that feeling of control. I relish knowing exactly what goes into every little bite I eat — I like adding the spoonful of sugar myself, measuring out exactly a half cup of milk and simmering a pot of whole grains, knowing that the only other ingredient is water. I like that getting back in shape means falling into a routine of running every day. Sometimes that tight schedule may mean arriving somewhere else a bit late or starting the morning errands two hours later, but it doesn’t mean I’m missing out on anything. It just means that I’m living my life, exactly how I want to live it. So that when I make this cake, with a full cup of extra virgin olive oil, I can cherish a bite or two and then give the rest away.
I understand that this can be a strange approach to food, especially for someone with a food blog. When I started reevaluating what I was eating, I spent some time thinking about this blog and what I was going to do with it. Should I pull a total 180 and start posting recipes from my parents’ 1970s vegetarian cookbooks? Should I instead focus on baked goods with lower butter and sugar content? Or should I start posting food I’ve never even tasted? The thought of abandoning this blog altogether scares me, I have come to rely on it so much that it would feel as though the ground had been yanked out from underneath me. It has been a source of satisfaction and accomplishment when other parts of my life feel like they are falling apart and it has restored my love of writing, which I had once thought was all I wanted in a career. It has given me a lot more faith in myself than two years of college ever did.
Moreover, I never realized starting this blog how quickly one forms a connection with one’s readers. I never realized how many times I would hear “I saw that on your blog,” or that people would ask about my new haircut or my scrapped knee without me ever mentioning it, or that friends of friends would actually read the words I’m writing and make the very same cakes I am pulling out of the oven. I would never want to abandon that feeling of companionship right as I am about to embark to another continent. I would never want to abandon this right before I start learning how to bake with just a stove top and a toaster oven.
But I realize some part of this blog needs to change as I start living on my own. In order for me to continue, and not feel guilty pulling a cake out of the oven for the hundredth time, I need to start feeling closer to the food I am producing.
I realized this as I toyed with the idea of making S’Mores cookies, chock full of graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey chocolate bars. We bought all the ingredients at the local Safeway, all the while I ignored the quiet voice in the back of my mind, which was saying you could make these all on your own. What I really should have been doing was buying graham flour. That voice in the back of my head finally stopped prodding my thoughts when my hands landed on the matte cover of Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce. I opened the book — one of the few cookbooks I own that does not sit on the shelf, abandoned — and flipped to the section on spelt flour, where the binding easily fell open on its own to this olive oil cake.
The fruitiness of good olive oil — I used De Cecco Extra Virgin — is paired with deep, dark chocolate and fresh rosemary in this cake, which is at once homey and ground-breaking. The flavor is wholly unexpected and yet, one even begins to think of the olive oil as the sweet note in this cake. I only had a couple bites of a slice and the rest of the cake went to mother’s Italian class. But when a cake is truly worth eating, a couple bites is all you need to feel indulged.
Olive Oil Cake
From Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce
3/4 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped into roughly 1/2 inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits you sift out. Set this bowl aside.
In another large bowl, whisk the eggs until light. Add the olive oil, milk and rosemary and whisk again. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the chocolate. Pour the batter into a fluted tart pan or cake pan (about 8-9 1/2 inches in diameter) and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
June 17, 2010 § 1 Comment
You would think, just based on this blog, that I would have no troubles cooking meals on a daily basis. It is a rare occasion for me when something goes really, really wrong in the kitchen. Sure, I’ve seen not-so-knockout cupcakes and cookies that spread a bit too thin, but I really don’t share the aversion to cooking of many of my teenage friends. But the last week and half have proven that cooking is a lot harder than it looks.
I have no problem with baking. I can roll out of bed and start making cookies in a heartbeat — and have done so on many occasions — but when it comes to actually cooking dinner, I’m dragging my feet. I find myself making all the excuses I’ve heard so many times previously and laughed at: I don’t have any ingredients, cooking will take too long, there is this friend I really want to have dinner with, Lucky Bar is having 50cent taco Happy Hour, it’s Ladies Night at the Melting Pot fondue restaurant and, my favorite one after starting work, I’m just too tired. So we have been in Washington D.C. for about a week and a half (though it feels like so much longer) and we have only managed to cook dinner twice. To put that in perspective, I have also made a cake and two batches of cookies. This week, all we managed to cook up was prosciutto tortellini. Last week, it was this spinach quiche. And then there was that time the boys made fried chicken and the kitchen fogged up with smoke for the entire night. But we swear we are cooking tonight, so be on the lookout for a dinner update coming soon.
In the meantime, here is a little taste of home. My baking and my parents’ fully stocked kitchen, with all the ingredients already there and no need for a frantic, last minute grocery run. The recipe will follow soon, as it is currently in a brown box being shipped across the country.
May 27, 2010 § 1 Comment
I really suspect you’re tired of hearing about whole grain flours by now. Rye, corn, barley, it all starts to sound the same after awhile. Your eyes start to a glaze over and you start to think, oh no we’re descending into San Francisco hippie territory again. Next thing you know, I’ll be telling you to cook everything by sunlight on the roof. But I swear that day hasn’t some yet. And I swear this really isn’t my fault. In fact, these multigrain flatbreads were actually my brother’s idea. His 13-year-old, just barely teenage boy and still clinging to his picky-eater notions, idea.
We started making these on a weekend afternoon, right as my mother decided she was making whole wheat bread. We set up two simultaneous stations in the kitchen for the baking, the two doughs came together at the same time, and then I was given the task of kneading them. Whenever the opportunity arises, I love working dough with my hands. Like shortbread? I mix the butter in with my hands. But working with yeast gives a whole new level of fun to playing with dough. The dough almost rises in your hands, giving gentle resistance to every push into the countertop. It slowly absorbs the heavy dusting of flour you put down to prevent sticking, becoming more and more sticky until you throw down more flour. Finally, when the dough almost seems to be bursting and can take no more flour, it develops a glossy texture. A quick dusting of olive oil and you leave it to rise. It’s like abandoning a child in a playground. Except when you finally come back, it’s big and puffy without a trace of tears. And then you throw it in a pan and fry it.
Kim Boyce’s flatbread is left to rise twice. The first time for two hours, the second time covered in a towel for 1 ½ hours. Once fully risen, you divide the dough into 8 equal parts and roll them out to about a 9-10 inch diameter. Lightly paint on some olive oil and sprinkle with the spices (fresh or ground) of your choice before throwing in the pan, oil side down. Repeat this process on the other side while the dough circle bubbles.
The original recipe uses amaranth flour. But both the brother, who shies away from strange new foods, and the mother, who has bought far too many new flours for me in the past week, weighed in and we decided to go with a mixture of white, whole wheat and corn flours. We used Stonehouse California Extra Garlic Oil, one of those oils you can pick up at the wonderful bread and olive oil tasting station in the Ferry Building, some variations of chili and curry powders and paprika alongside fresh rosemary and a quick pinch of sea salt.
Eat them plain straight off the skillet or later with something like hummus. Or these would make a great accompaniment to a salad — green or quinoa, you decide how much of a hippie you are.
May 23, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I just pulled a batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven but those are going to have to wait another day. I returned from Victoria, Canada the other day from a brief visit with my grandparents. They just bought a condo in Victoria, in addition to their house by the mountains, and the past couple days have been filled with the logistics of setting up a new home as well as a couple afternoon getaways. The trip included the obligatory trip downtown to Roger’s chocolates, where we picked up a couple boxes of dark chocolate mints and a bag of chocolate-covered English toffee for me to bring back to San Francisco. Soft maple sugar candies also found their way into my carry-on. I was that kid sitting in the coffee shop eating the sugar cubes meant to go in grown-up coffee and I still firmly believe I could go days on sugar alone. Maple sugar is even better than cane sugar, as it has a melt-in-your-mouth translucency and comes in the pretty shapes of maples leaves and acorns.
We also spent an afternoon at the James Bay Tea Room, which is a small white cottage on the outskirts of downtown. With a pot of the house tea — orange pekoe — we got scones with jam and whipped cream, mini quiches, butter-raisin and lemon tarts, and triangle egg and tuna sandwiches. The tea service was slightly spoiled by the fact that the sugar came out of a large jar and the strawberry jam out of plastic packaging.
While the tea was satisfactory, it did not live up to expectations. Last summer, we went to the Point Ellice Tea House, which is further out of downtown, which was much better. While Point Ellice didn’t have authentic Devonshire cream (Grandpa was adamant that authentic cream is thick enough to be cut with a knife), it offered a full array of sweets, including lemon loaf and trifle, and savories like tomato soup and cucumber sandwiches. A lovely afternoon.
I had another lovely experience last night at 18 Reasons, which is a small storefront run by Bi-Rite Market on Guerrero in San Francisco. The non-profit runs a series of events about food and art for the community, including presentations by local food producers. Last night, it held a potluck dinner with Kim Boyce, author of Good to the Grain. Every attendee made and brought a recipe from the book and we sat around a long wooden table enjoying the wide array of baked goods. Good to the Grain is all about baking with other grains besides white flour, including whole-wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat and spelt among others. The food table concentrated mostly on sweet rather than savory and boasted ginger-peach muffins, olive oil rosemary cake with chocolate chips, quinoa cookies, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies and my own contribution, summer peach pie.
This was my first time making a pie with a real pie crust. I’ve made my fair share of tarts, as well as a pumpkin pie, but never real pastry dough. Everyone said the pie turned out beautifully and we were instructed during introductions that we were not allowed to apologize for whatever we brought, but next time I will be careful to ensure the crust is sealed on the edges as some of the peach juices seeped out.
I won’t give you the recipe for the pie but rather instruct you to go buy Kim’s book. The photos are beautiful and I’ve already made several of the recipes which turned out wonderfully. If you’ve never cooked with other grains before, you should definitely try it out. Even the simple switch to whole wheat flour lends a new dimension to whatever you are baking. I won’t say anything more about whole wheat flour now, as it might spoil my next post!
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.