So, you see my vision. It’s nothing earth-shattering. A classic combination, really. But a timeless one, and one I think will be festive for Thanksgiving Day.
So, to execute this salad, all I need to finish tweaking is my recipe for poached pears. The pecans I’ve got down to a science, (for me at least — I’ll explain in a bit); the dressing, made with reduced orange juice, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil, has been tested countless times (Aunt Vicki’s recipe, to be provided next week); the blue cheese (perhaps Stilton or Maytag) and the endive merely need to be purchased. The pears, however, have been giving me a little trouble this past week. I’ve been working with a combination of white wine, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Something is not quite right yet. Any suggestions are welcome.
Now, about these pecans. I’ve been making this recipe for several years now, and I find it produces the crunchiest, most delicious candied pecans. I’m not promising a simple and foolproof recipe, however. It’s the kind of recipe, in fact, that could potentially lead you to swear off my recipes altogether.
The first two-thirds of the recipe is simple: the pecans are blanched for two minutes, then simmered in simple syrup for five minutes. The final third of the process, which calls for deep-frying the pecans, is where problems can arise. I suggest using a deep fryer with a built in thermometer. My deep fryer continues to exist in my kitchen solely for the purpose of making these pecans — it keeps the oil at 375ºF, which is key for this recipe. I tried deep-frying the pecans in a heavy-bottomed pot on my stovetop once, and the process was so frustrating: At first the oil was too hot, then it wasn’t hot enough, and before I had finished frying, I had ruined nearly half the batch.
The key, I’ve learned, is to let the pecans fry for about 3 to 5 minutes — the longer they fry, the crunchier they will be. However, they must be removed from the oil before they burn, and they continue to cook a little bit once they’ve been removed from the oil. It’s a trial-and-error process, but one well worth it in the end. I highly recommend using a deep fryer with a built-in thermometer, but if you are comfortable with stove-top deep frying, by all means go for it.
1 lb. raw (unblanched, unsalted) pecans = 4 heaping cups
1 1/3 cups sugar
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add pecans and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
2. Combine the sugar with 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes, add pecans and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain.
3. Meanwhile, preheat a deep fryer to 375ºF, or pour canola or peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot to reach at least one-inch up the sides and fix a deep-fry thermometer to its side. When oil is ready, fry pecans for 3 to 5 minutes in small batches. This will be a trial-and-error process. The longer the pecans fry, the crunchier they will be. If the oil is too hot, they’ll burn before they get crispy. So, fry the pecans in small batches until you can read your oil. Remove pecans from fryer with a slotted spoon or spider and let drain on cooling rack or parchment paper — not paper towels. Repeat process until all pecans are fried. Refrain from sampling until the pecans have cooled completely — they’ll be crunchier and tastier when they are completely cool.
This recipe begins with raw (unblanched, unroasted, unsalted) pecans:
They are blanched for two minutes in boiling water, then drained:
Then they simmer in a sugar syrup for five minutes:
Then they are drained again before being deep-fried for three to five minutes.
What makes a good stir-fry?
Sometimes all I want for dinner is a big bowl of steaming rice (or noodles) topped with stir-fried veggies, tofu, perhaps a little meat, and, maybe (always) a fried egg. And so, my friends, I ask you, what makes a good stir-fry?
Adapted from this 1995 Bon Appetite recipe
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Sherry
1 T. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. orange zest
Whisk ingredients. Set aside until ready to cook.
Note: I often add some finely minced ginger as well. It adds a wonderful flavor.
I wish I could give more detailed instructions/measurements, but this truly is a no-measure recipe.
1. Cook rice — whatever you like. Set aside. Prepare sauce (recipe above). Set aside.
2. Chop all of your ingredients. The stir-fry takes five minutes of cooking once all the veggies are prepared, so it’s best to have everything chopped ahead of time. This is what I used: onion, cabbage, baby bok choy, rapini, cilantro, snow peas, zucchini, scallions, tofu and peanuts. Be sure to wash the bok choy.
3. Heat wok with about one tablespoon of canola oil until smoking hot. (Alternatively, heat wok without oil, then add oil once hot — I’m not really sure what the difference is, but I think it depends on your pan.) Add tofu cubes and let brown until nice and crispy on one side, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove tofu from wok and set aside.
4. Add onions and zucchini to wok. Let cook until onions are slightly browned. Refrain from stirring — just let the vegetables brown. Add the cabbage, rapini, and bok choy and cook for another two minutes. Stir briefly. Add, the snow peas, scallions, cilantro and peanuts. Add about a ¼ cup (or less) of the sauce and let cook for about a minute. Add the tofu. Turn off the heat. Top rice with veggies and douse with Sriracha.
I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I must share some disheartening news with you about olive oil. The extra-virgin olive oil you find at your local supermarket very likely is not extra-virgin at all. It turns out that the USDA doesn’t even recognize classifications such as “extra-virgin.” As a result, bottlers all over the world can blend olive oil with cheaper vegetable oils and sell it for a premium price as “extra-virgin.” If you care to learn more about the widespread fraud in the olive oil industry read this: Slippery Business, The New Yorker, August 13, 2007.
A recent visit to the Temecula Olive Oil Company’s shop forever changed how I think about olive oil. I learned so many incredible things and recorded them all here. In sum, the company is awesome, their olive oil is delicious, and, as with all foods it seems, it pays to know your grower.
Now, about this recipe. I made this cake — a longtime family favorite — using the TOOC’s citrus extra-virgin oil, and never has it tasted so delicious. I didn’t even use fresh-squeezed orange juice (the horror!). As you can see, I baked this batch in my mini springform pans, but a standard 9-inch springform pan works just as well. This cake puffs up a touch when it bakes, and sinks when it cools. It is moist and delicious, perfect with coffee or tea, and only needs a dusting of powdered sugar to make it fit for consumption.
Note: If you cannot get TOOC extra-virgin olive oil or any other extra-virgin oil you know to be from a credible source, use an olive oil as opposed to an extra-virgin olive oil. I’ve made this cake with e.v.o.o. from the grocery store and the taste is too overpowering. That is not the case, however, with TOOC oil.
A few notes: This cake sinks way down as it cools. Don’t worry. It will still be one of the most delicious cakes you have ever tasted. It is so moist. Also, this is one of those cakes that seems to get better by the day. Don’t be afraid to make it a day early if serving for company.
Orange And Olive Oil Cake
Yield = One 9-inch cake or six 4-inch cakes, Serves 10-12 people
Butter for greasing the pan
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1¾ cups sugar
2 tsp. grated orange zest
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (the juice from about 2 oranges)
2/3 cup olive oil, such as any made by the Temecula Olive Oil Company,
Note: If you cannot get TOOC oil or oil you know to be from a credible source, use olive oil as opposed to extra-virgin olive oil.
1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter a springform pan (or pans) or a 9-inch cake pan. (If using a cake pan, place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.)
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until blended, then gradually add in the sugar, beating until thick. The mixture will be pale yellow. In a separate bowl, whisk the zest, juice and oil. Add to the egg mixture in thirds alternating with the flour mixture.
4. Spread batter into pan and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack for 15 minutes.
5. Sift confectioners’ sugar over top before cutting and serving.
The cafe might be called something like Olallie, open for breakfast and lunch daily from 6am to 3pm. My friend, a lovely girl, would run the front of the house, wooing customers with her big smile and California charm. I would be the devil in the back of the house, running a tight ship, raising hell when my little culinary student interns burn the croissants and overcook the oatmeal. And if all goes as planned, around 10 am everyday, when the grunt work is completed, my friend and I would turn the reins over to our obedient staff while we dipped biscotti in our cappuccinos and read the newspaper on our sunlit patio.
At Olallie, we would serve coffee and tea, homemade muffins and scones, wood-burning-oven-baked breads and pizzas, salads and soups, house-made granola and open-faced tartines. We would be renowned for our sandwiches. All of our ingredients would, of course, come from local farmers or Fair Trade vendors and would change with the seasons, peaches in the summer, persimmons in the fall. I’m still working on perfecting our signature coffee cake, but Teddy’s Apple Cake will make a fine substitute in the meantime.
I know, I know. Let me dream.
This folder, created in 2003, holds all of the recipes we will use at Olallie’s.
With any luck, our cafe will draw a loyal following, much like San Francisco’s Tartine:
And, after years of honing our skills as restaurateurs, we will turn that folder of recipes into a fantastic cookbook. I am so excited about my latest purchase: The Tartine Cookbook:
Surely you’ve heard of Gateau Tiede Aux Poires Mas De Cure Bourse. No? The best translation I’ve found so far is this: Delectable Pear Custardy Caramel.
Attention all crème brulée, tarte tatin and crème caramel lovers. Here is another recipe that must be added to your repertoire, especially now during pear season. Apples would make a fine substitute as would quince, (though the quince might need some preliminary cooking. Maybe? Maybe not.) For my mother, this recipe rivals Balzano Apple Cake — my favorite fall (maybe, all-time) dessert, a recipe everyone should try, at least once.
Just a slight warning about the preparation of this gateau: Nothing about it feels natural. If you are out of practice cooking sugar, the first step might turn you away. Don’t be afraid. It’s quite quite simple. Moreover, the recipe calls for a sprinkling of yeast. Again, don’t worry — no rising or proofing is called for. And lastly, the batter in its final state looks like a curdled mess. But fear not. In the oven, the caramel, pears and batter combine to form, as my mother described, a delectable custardy goodness.
Gateau Tiede Aux Poires Mas De Cure Bourse
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup sugar
1¼ tsp. yeast
4 large ripe pears, about 2 pounds, (Bartlett or Anjou), peeled, cored and sliced very thin
1/3 cup flour
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
7 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter a 9”-round cake tin. In a large skillet cook ¾ cup of the sugar over moderate heat until it begins to melt. Continue cooking until it turns a golden caramel. Meanwhile, sprinkle the yeast over one tablespoon of lukewarm water.
2. Pour the hot caramel into prepared pan. Make sure caramel covers the bottom. (If your caramel has hardened up before you allow it to cover the bottom of the pan, place the pan, using potholders, over one of your stovetop burners and hover it over the heat until the caramel begins to melt.) Arrange thinly sliced pears in slightly overlapping circles on top of caramel.
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the flour, 1/4 c. sugar, the yeast mixture and vanilla. In another large bowl (sorry about all of the bowls!) beat the butter with an electric mixer (or standmixer) until smooth. Add the egg mixture and beat until the mixture is combined well, but do not overbeat. It will look slightly curdled. Pour the mixture over the pears being careful not to dislodge the pears.
4. Bake the cake on the middle rack for one hour or until golden. Let cool on rack for five minutes and then run a knife around the edges, and invert onto a large dish or platter deep enough so the syrup won’t flow over the edges. Serve warm.
I am resolved. I am resolved never to make another recipe for pizza dough. Seriously. This is it. My family has been making this recipe for years and it is incredibly delicious. Tried and True. Foolproof. No tweaking necessary. Caramelized onions, grapes (or figs), gorgonzola and mascapone (or some other creamy cheese like ricotta) is one of our favorite combinations.
These strong feelings stem partly from several recent failed experiments but also because I am realizing now truly wonderful homemade pizza is. Really, for me, the idea of a perfect dinner is this: several of these thin-crust pizzas (each topped differently), a salad (a homemade Caesar salad sounds nice at the moment) and a glass of wine.
I can think of only one thing that might — MIGHT — improve this recipe: A wood-burning oven. Which I intend to build soon. Or, let’s say within the next six months. Seriously. It only takes a day-and-a-half to build. It’s just a matter of getting organized. I saw the construction of a wood-burning, adobe oven in San Francisco at Slow Food Nation last month, and I have been wanting my very own ever since. There are two pics at the bottom of this post of the oven I plan to build and there are several other pictures of the adobe-oven-making process here.
This recipe yields enough dough to serve about 6 to 8 people. I am submitting this recipe to the World Food Day blog event. Created by Val of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste, this event seeks to raise awareness about world hunger: Around the globe there are 862 million undernourished people. Since 1945, October 16 marks World Food Day, an event created by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. To participate in the blog event, follow these instructions.
Want to build your own adobe oven, too? Buy this book: Build Your Own Earth Oven. I met the authors at SFN and they were pretty awesome. I also just found this article on Sunset.com — it might be interesting to compare the two methods: Sunset’s Classic Adobe Oven
One key to making a good pizza is this: keep toppings to a minimum. A thin layer of yummy ingredients is all this is needed. It helps keep the crust crisp and allows you to taste the dough. (I may have over done it a bit here. Refraining from overloading the dough is a true skill.)
¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil
1. Place the flours and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Or knead by hand. I have not had luck making this in the food processor — the engine starts smoking after about five minutes.) Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, under 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.
2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.
3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin (or continue using floured hands if you are skilled at making pizzas) and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion.
Note: This dough freezes beautifully. After the initial rise, punch down the dough, wrap it in plastic and place in a Ziplock bag. Freeze for several months. When ready to use, let sit at room temperature for about an hour, then proceed with rolling/topping/baking.
1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Place rolled out dough onto parchment paper. Drizzle dough with a little olive oil and with your hand, rub it over the surface to coat evenly.
2. Top with a thin layer of your choice toppings. Here I used caramelized onions, grapes, gorgonzola and mascapone cheese. (The mascapone is really wonderful). Place in your very hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is slightly brown and the cheese is melting.
3. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh basil. A drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil is nice. I used a little bit of truffle oil, which would be wonderful over a mushroom pizza.
I have an excellent recipe for a buttery, cornmeal tart shell. It NEVER fails to please. Why then, I ask you, must I continue to experiment with other recipes? Oiy. Rarely do they measure up. Tonight I’m annoyed. Truly. I mean, this tart would have been unbelievably delectable had I just stuck to the tried-and-true recipe I know.
Alas. This tart closely resembles the breakfast pizza I made several months ago. The topping is nearly identical: sautéed Swiss chard with garlic, grated cheese (whatever you have on hand), and a couple of eggs — a combination I really adore. OK, fine, I adore eggs on everything, but you know what I mean.
So, I can’t in good conscience leave you with a foolproof recipe today, but I can give you some guidance. Use this recipe for the tart shell and follow this recipe for the topping. Combine the two and you’ll likely create a yummy dinner. Again, I regret, I am leaving you with yet another recipe that must be revisited shortly.
My Swiss chard plants are still going strong. In fact, they have been consistently productive since I planted them. For all of you novice gardeners out there, Swiss chard is a great vegetable to start a garden with — it is easy to grow and very tasty.
What do you get when you combine heavy cream, half and half, egg yolks, sugar, fresh mint and dark chocolate? Absolute, pure, utter and complete deliciousness. I don’t know what else to say about this mint chocolate chip ice cream except that it is one of the best things I have ever tasted. Ever. Seriously.
Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Adapted from Alice Q. Foodie’s recipe
1 cup half and half
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups lightly packed mint leaves
5 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
pure peppermint oil* (not extract), optional
1 cup chopped dark chocolate, such as Valrhona 70%, chopped with a chef’s knife into ¼-inch pieces
*Peppermint oil can be found at specialty cookware shops. I found mine at Fante’s in Philadelphia, but Alice Q. Foodie says Henry’s Market carries it as well.
1. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the cream and half and half with the mint leaves until it’s good and hot but not boiling. (You can just touch it lightly with your finger to test it.) Cover pan and set aside to steep for 30 mins. Strain out mint and discard (or compost) it.
2. Whisk yolks in a large bowl. If your cream mixture is still relatively hot to the touch (which it should be after only 30 minutes), slowly ladle the mixture into the egg yolks whisking constantly. Transfer yolk-cream mixture back to the saucepan and add the sugar with a pinch of salt.
3. Cook the custard over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula. When the mixture begins to coat the back of the spoon, remove the pan from the heat. (If you have a thermometer, it should be about 170 degrees.)
4. Strain the hot custard into a bowl. If using the peppermint oil, take it and drip one or two drops into the cap of the bottle, then dip a toothpick in the oil and swish it through the custard mixture. (This stuff is powerful and can easily ruin a batch of custard if restraint is not used.)
5. Chill the mixture until completely cold. Churn in an ice cream maker. During the last few minutes of churning, add the chocolate chips. Freeze mixture until ready to serve.
Before I mislead you any further, I’m going to come clean. I don’t know the secret to making lemon-ricotta pancakes. In fact, what I flipped around the griddle on Saturday morning was nothing short of a disaster. Breakfast was saved only by the bacon.
Which leads me to the “secret” I am referring to in the title. Several weeks ago, I was up in San Fran dining with a few friends for brunch. One of my friends was being particularly indecisive. I think he sent the waitress away twice, insisting that he “needed more time.” My stomach grumbled while he wavered between the burger and the pancakes. He finally chose the pancakes, ordering a side of bacon to satisfy his grease craving. He promised the rest of us he would share.
And share we did. No sooner had the waitress dropped our food had we ordered another plate of bacon for the table. I had ordered the pancakes, too, and I have to say, with the addition of a few strips of crispy bacon, I don’t think I’ve ever been more satisfied with a brunch order. I’m always tempted by dishes such as French toast, waffles and pancakes, but I always worry about missing the greasy, savory egg dishes. A side of bacon, I’ve discovered, is the perfect solution. So, I suppose, all I can share with you today is this: perhaps the secret to enjoying pancakes is to eat them with a little grease?
Now about these pancakes. Several years ago while visiting my sister in NYC, I ordered lemon-ricotta pancakes for brunch at Sarabeth’s in the upper west side. I have been dreaming about them ever since and over the years have saved countless recipes from various newspapers and magazines. After comparing the recipes, including a handful from the blogosphere, I chose this one and set to work.
Now, I don’t want to blame the recipe because I think I’m partly at fault. I have never figured out how to make pancakes. By the time I get my rhythm going and start cooking the pancakes properly, I’ve eaten about 100 and can hardly bear to look at the griddle any longer. That’s precisely what happened this weekend. But even the pancakes that I believe I cooked properly lacked the flavor I remember so fondly. The lemon flavor certainly came through but the ricotta was indiscernible, likely a tribute to the icky ricotta I purchased at my grocery store.
So I wish wish wish I could leave you with an awesome recipe for lemon-ricotta pancakes, but alas I cannot. I am determined to make these again soon, however, and when I do, I hope to report back with more favorable results.
On a side note, imagine my excitement upon seeing this month’s Saveur in my mailbox. Look at this cover! Pure genius. There’s a nice little two-page spread offering detailed instructions for cooking eggs four ways: baked, sunny-side up, soft-boiled and scramble. Might be a good thing to tuck inside a cookbook for future reference. Just a thought.