Sunday, June 14, 2009

back with cake.

Dear me,

I'm sorry I made you wait so long for the next post. In the meantime I've been discovering farmer's markets, eating kale, quinoa and beets. Three foods I'd never thought I'd eat in my life, let alone like.

But the sweets always figure in my life somehow. I was determined to make myself a birthday cake this year, an ambition I've always had but rarely follow through on. I usually bake cakes for friends on their birthdays, but when it comes to my own I just want to sit back and do nothing. Or cross my arms over my chest and pout, wondering why none of my friends take it upon themselves to bake me a cake. But I know, I know that I would prefer to eat my own cake. I think I'm habituated (is that a word) to my own baking just as I am to my own scent. I don't know the scent is there, though I'm sure it is, and therefore it sits just fine on me. In fact I'd say it suits me well. And so does my baking. I know what's going into my dessert, (i.e. I know how much butter, how little salt, etc) and somehow that makes me sure that I'll like it.

So for the big 3-0 I thought I'd bake a classic genoise from this cookbook. I added orange rind and lots of vanilla bean paste to make for an extra tasty sponge-like cake. I pictured it layered with a rich chocolate (homemade) buttercream frosting. But I wouldn't settle for anything less than perfect and when the two cakes came out of the oven but would not release from the non-stick pans that I had buttered, I knew I was in trouble. I managed to get one out OK, but the other one clung to the pan in odd patches leaving huge chunks in the cake when I finally got it out onto the rack. On top of that, I noticed the occasional speck of flour that hadn't mixed in to the batter properly. With two days before my birthday I sighed, called it a night and decided to make a new cake the following day.

Attempt number two was to produce a two layer chocolate chiffon cake from this book. The cake was one I had made 5 months earlier for a friend--with terrific results. While it looked picture perfect when removed from the oven, the taste wasn't well, chocolatey. I don't know what went wrong--could it have been the Sunny Select canola oil from Lucky's that I'd used? Or the year(s?) old Hershey's cocoa that had been sitting in my cupboard? I started beating myself up for not having refrigerated the cocoa, and immediately suspecting that as the reason behind why my cake tasted wrong. The 6 eggs that I used--no, make that 12 since I messed up the first crack around by spilling egg yolk into the whites--to make the orange buttercream frosting were well worth my time. The italian meringue-style buttercream was a hit. But the cake, cute and all as it looked, was kind of a bust.

But what of that genoise I'd snubbed the day before? I froze it, only to dig into it a couple of weeks later and promptly eat 1/3 of one layer straight out of the freezer. I kid not. And, it was delicious. Flour clumps and all. The remaining cake and 2/3 were put to use this weekend with a little help from semisweet chocolate chips and my roommate's confetti frosting a la Betty Crocker. I'm not sure how I feel about BC, but the cake, layered with apricot jam (a little grand marnier as well) turned out to be delicious. I shouldn't have doubted in the first place. But that was back when I was 29, not nearly as wise as I am now at 30.

The canola oil chocolate cake, disguised in delicious orange buttercream.

The not-so-dolled up genoise. Looks can deceive... this was a much tastier cake.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

What have I to complain about, weather-wise? I'm lucky enough to live in California, where the temperatures have been up and down but reaching 65 degrees on the odd January day. But San Francisco can also be very cold, as I've mentioned over and over. It's the humidity, I think. Cloudy, cold days scream soup to me. As in, I should eat some.

I've never been a huge soup fan. It somehow doesn't seem as satisfying as a sandwich. "Liquid lunches" have never held the number one spot in my lunchtime repertoire because I tend to feel hungry only an hour or two after eating soup. But soup is good for you. This winter I've trained myself to slurp it and feel satisfied. By adding a slice of bread--maybe a tiny bit of butter--the meal feels rounded out. (Have I been living under a rock? you're thinking. Cause I'm pretty sure cafes have been serving soup with bread forever.) Just let me enjoy my naivete, and you enjoy the recipe I have to offer for a delicious butternut squash soup.

Butternut Squash Soup

adapted from Eating Well magazine

1 medium butternut squash, halved, seeded, and roasted (350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. The longer it cooks and more caramelized the squash, the better flavor your soup will have.)

1 tbsp olive oil

2 stalks celery, diced

2 carrots, chopped

1 sweet onion, diced

4 cups chicken broth (low sodium)

2 cups water

2 tsp cumin

1 dash ground cloves

1 dash cayenne

1/2 serrano pepper (de-seeded if you want less heat in your soup)

salt and pepper to taste

Allow the roasted squash to cool. Meanwhile, in a large pot pour in olive oil and add onions. Allow to soften for 1 minute. Add celery and carrot and cook over medium low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Scoop squash flesh out into pot. Add chicken broth and water, and spices (except for salt and pepper). Bring soup to a gentle simmer and let cook for 20-25 minutes. The water level should be reduced by about 1/4, then remove soup from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree soup to desired consistency. Enjoy warm, with some hearty wheat bread.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

a tribute to friendship

And now I digress! Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing a long gone friend, Ms. Tiffany Bartz, and her partner in doing crazy things (not crime, exactly), Shane Bussmann. One Brandi Howell accompanied me on the journey, where we encountered the full Bussmann/Bartz and extended family clan (i.e. Nelson) and enjoyed a day of heat, Mexican food, libraries, and Old Maid! It was a really great day. In honor of that, I would like to share the photos of friendship!
Have a great weekend.

The Bartz-Nelson's:

Grin and Bare It: A Tale of 20-somethings post-orthodonture:

An Elf on the Loose:

Duck Fat Fries

So much has been eaten (by me) in the past month or more that I hardly know where to start. For one, I was obsessed with the October 2008 issue of Eating Well and kept repeating the pineapple coffeecake (with nectarines instead of pineapple) because it was at once so "healthy" and delicious. Ok, it wasn't fat-free or anything, but it had a hearty cup or more of whole wheat flour, adding some much needed fiber to my diet. (ha ha, or not!) All in all, it was delicious. I made a teryaki chicken dish from the same issue, also delicious. And I have been wanting to make a turkey meatloaf from said issue, that uses bulgur as a fibrous filler. I shelled out the big bucks for the bulgur, but still haven't gotten around to making the meatloaf. Turkey meat sauce and spaghetti is just way too easy for me to make, and prevents me from getting round to the meatloaf.

Also, I was weighed down with some stomach troubles for awhile, and was trying to eat only bland foods. That wasn't so much fun. When I started feeling better for maybe a day, my boyfriend decided that it was time to try making double fried french fries (fried in duck fat a la Vegas, baby) AT HOME! Thankfully, this is San Francisco, and finding duck fat was as easy as typing "" in the url. I can always count on the Chow threads. While the duck fat didn't leave a poultry-ish taste, the fries were crispy, golden, and looked super professional. Good job, Joe! The tasty shoestrings called for meaty steaks, which I topped with a wine/broth/shallot/basalmic/mustard reduction which was sweet, acidic and heavenly. All this, and a bottle of 2 buck Chuck called for nothing less than a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. It was a real bistro meal. So good. Of course, it wasn't the best meal for a rebounding stomach, but it certainly dazzled my tastebuds.

And so I leave you with a few pictures...

Start off by peeling and chopping your potato into desired width:

Next, place shoestrings in big vat of hot oil, or melted duck fat:

Then drain on paper towel (and prepare for 2nd fying---not shown here, unfortunately. I can vouch for the fact that the end result produces a deep golden, crispy fry.)

Finish it all off with chocolate cake for dessert!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tomato Tarte Tatin

A friend's lunch visit yesterday (Saturday last) inspired me to make something from Chocolate & Zucchini, (the cookbook derived from the eponymous blog,) which my old roommate gave to me for my birthday. I enjoy the blog and was taken with the book, which is a surprisingly rich compendium (for a blog-turned-book) with color pictures of many of the recipes. Since it's summer, the idea of slightly caramelized, oven roasted tomatoes was very appealing. I've made a traditional tarte tatin before--basically an upside down apple tart--and liked the idea of turning it into a savory lunch dish.

The recipe turned out great, and the tart looked just as it did in Clotilde's book. I modified her recipe slightly (of course!) and in the future I would add even more tomatoes, because, well, why not?

Tomato Tarte Tatin
(adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini, Broadway Books, 2007)
pate brisee (recipe to follow):
1 c. bleached flour
1/3 c. cake flour
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
large pinch of salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
ice water

tart filling:
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 lbs Roma tomatoes (about 8 tomatoes), washed, seeded and sliced in rounds 1/2" thick (or thicker, depending on your preference
2-3 oz goat cheese
1/2 c. fresh basil, washed and dried
spices: thyme, dried basil, rosemary--whatever you have on hand will work.

Begin by working on the pate brisee, as this will need to chill in the fridge before tart dough can be rolled out. Using a food processor, combine flours, salt and butter. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Then add egg and pulse until mixture starts to come together in a ball. If this doesn't happen within a minute or so, add a teaspoon of ice water to the mix. Add a teaspoon at a time until the dough starts to form a ball. At that point, remove dough from the food processor and shape into a ball. Flatten slightly, then cover tightly in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and let dough sit outside of fridge for at least 10 minutes before rolling out.

While dough is in fridge, work on the tomatoes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9" pie pan with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Sprinkle on a teaspoon of a sugar. Then arrange your tomato slices in the pan in a circular formation, layering slices if necessary. Try to squeeze in as much tomato as possible on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt, pepper and additional spices, and a little more olive oil. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until soft. Remove pan from oven.
When tomatoes have cooled, sprinkle on the goat cheese.

Sprinkle your work surface with a little flour. Roll dough out into a circle about 11" in diameter, or even larger if you prefer a thinner crust (which you can then chop down). Prick the dough with a fork (to help prevent it from puffing up while cooking). When the tart pan has cooled off, cover the tart with the crust. Chop off unnecessary borders, leaving an extra 1/4" around the edge of the pan. Then, tuck this extra crust into the pie pan; this will help form a nice crust. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until crust turns a nice golden brown cover. Let tart cool on a rack before flipping it over. I tend to use the tart-to-plate method, placing a plate face down over the crust, then flipping the pie over with the plate simultaneously. Spoon up the remaining juices from the pan and pour over tart. Sprinkle with fresh basil. Best served still slightly warm, with a side of salad and a slice of bread. Bon appetit!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Blueberry Tart

Summer is here, but the only way I notice it is from the appearance of "classic" summer fruits in the markets. Not to get too down about the weather here, but SF is not known for its warm, languid summers. Instead, we get wind, fog, mist (imagine the combination of all three at once), and occasionally a sunny day. (Today happens to be one of those, hooray!)

It's a good thing that the farmers in the North Bay area and Central California get lots of summer sun, providing juicy and ripe fruit to this windy city. Nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, blueberries--I like just knowing that they're readily available for purchase.

I love blueberries the most, especially when ripe, plump, and sweet. For what I imagine will be a limited time only, the big chain groceries seem to have an abundance of the bluebs. 22 ounces on sale for $4! That's an amazing deal, considering that throughout the year imported berries cost about $4-5 per half pint. I can eat through that in one day.

But with my surplus of cheap berries, I actually have a hard time eating all of them in a week. This, in spite of my throwing about 1 cup and a half of berries into my cereal each morning. And I have been buying more berries before running out of the old batch, for fear that the following week's shipment won't be on sale. (And I'm not going to buy the same clamshell I'm currently getting at $4, for $8, when the price goes back up.) As a result, I'm always thinking about what I can bake with the excess blueberries. A week or so ago I made a delicious lemon blueberry coffeecake with pecan crumble topping (thanks to Cooks Illustrated), and the blueberry tart shown above. I cobbled the tart together from several recipes, baking the crust from the tarta de naranjas recipe that I made back in February, and topping it with cooked vanilla pastry cream and fresh blueberries. The three layers come together nicely in spite of their differences: buttery pastry crust with creamy topping and crunchy berries whose juice is released in the mouth. I can assure you, the combination is quite good.

Blueberry Tart
1 prebaked tart pastry (adapted from The New Spanish Table)
1 pastry cream recipe
1-2 cups fresh blueberries (washed & dried)
prebaked tart pastry shell:
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
2/3 c confectioner's sugar
1 pinch salt
10 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk beaten with 2 tbsp chilled heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp ice water, if needed

Place flour, sugar, and salt in food processor and pulse 5 or 6 times til mixture is combined. Add the butter and pulse until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Remove mixture to a bowl and stir in the egg yolk mixture with a fork until evenly distributed. If the dough has started to stick together, shape it into a ball and flatten slightly. Cover tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 day. When ready to use dough, remove and let sit out on the counter for about 10 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into an 11 inch circle. Transfer the dough to a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing it into the sides of pan. Trim any excess dough that hangs over. Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Freeze dough for about 20 minutes, and meanwhile preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove from freezer and cover tart shell with aluminum foil, then add pie weights (or something heavy to keep dough from puffing up while baking) and and bake crust for 25 minutes. Remove pie weights and foil and keep baking for another 8-10 minutes. Cool tart shell in pan on a baking rack completely before filling.

While tart shell is in the oven, prepare pastry cream:
1 c milk
3 egg yolks
1/4 c sugar
1 1/2-2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk 1/4 cup cold milk, egg yolks, sugar, and flour together. Gradually add remaining milk (warmed, then mixed with cornstarch) and stir until smooth. Heat in double boiler, beating until cream becomes thick, stirring constantly to prevent burning. When thickened, remove from stove and transfer cream to a bowl to let cool. Stir in vanilla extract. Place bowl in a shallow pan of cold water to help cool, and stir cream mixture from time to time to prevent skin forming on top of cream. When mixture is room temperature, use it to fill tart shell. Or, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for up to 8 hours.

Once tart shell has been filled with pastry cream, smooth it out with a spoon or spatula. Then add blueberries, and voila, the tart is ready to eat.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

what's new.

Some of you may well be wondering "Just what is going on in Jessica's food life? Her absence is driving me mad, knowing that she's cooking up something delicious and refusing to share it (visually) with the rest of us. She's so selfish." Ha ha, I'm sure that evil thought has never crossed your innocent minds. Instead you may have chalked up my blog-absence to laziness. Now that's more like it!

To brief you all on what I've been up to, I have a quick pictoral collection of a few goodies I made over the past month or two. Or three. Listen! I came back from Europe bummed out in general to be back, so please! I'm finally coming out of the mourning period.

Vanilla applesauce cupcakes with strawberry frosting:

1 vanilla cake mix (from a box!)

I followed the recipe for the lowfat version of these cupcakes, which involved "no sugar added" applesauce in place of butter. The result: I couldn't tell the difference than if I had used butter. As long as you're using a chemical mix, might as well through in some fruit and kick up the vitamin quotient, right? The frosting was a concoction purely my own. Take a stick (or two) of (very) softened butter, add a tablespoon or two of vanilla extract, and 2-3 cups of powdered sugar. Stir together til ingredients form a smooth frosting-like substance. For the true strawberry flavor I poured half a cup of frozen strawberries into a blender, pulsing until they formed a puree. Then I add about a third of this mix to the frosting, stirring completely until well-mixed. This made for true strawberryliciousness. Believe me, you'll impress everybody with the intense flavor in this homemade frosting. And then for the big reveal before your crowd: there are two fruit involved in the making of this cupcake!

Oh, and well, I lied about the pictoral collection I was going to show you. I'll have to save the next few for upcoming blog posts. It'll give me a reason to keep on.