Hamburger Buns, My Favorite Way to Eat a Burger, and J&J Grassfed Beef

burger

burger

About a month ago, a hankering for homemade hamburger buns led me to a wonderful discovery: Belles Hamburger Buns. You see, I wanted to find the perfect vehicle to hold the burgers I have been savoring every week since stocking up on J&J grass-fed ground beef at Delaney’s 100-Mile Market in Temecula back in August. Oh if I only lived closer to this store! I would never be without Jordan Stone’s legendary homemade pastas, or cans of American Tuna, or wonderful local produce, chickens and eggs, and as I already mentioned, this tasty grass-fed beef.

Alas, back to the buns. Belles Hamburger Buns happened to be the first recipe to turn up on my google search. I have made the recipe three times now and have had success with every batch. The dough is simple to make and forgiving, too — yesterday, for example, I mixed the dough before work, let it rise in the fridge during the day, punched it down when I returned and proceeded with the recipe as if I had never stepped out of the kitchen. I have frozen the portioned dough, too, let it thaw in the fridge overnight and proceeded with the recipe the following evening. Simps.

Now, I know it’s not really burger season, but Liza, my mother, has turned me onto a burger recipe  — a preparation, really — that has become a weekly staple. It’s simple: Roast green peppers, chop them up, and mix them into hamburger meat with a little kosher salt and pepper. Then, form patties and cook them in a cast iron pan for about four minutes a side for delectable medium-rare burgers. Not sure what it is, but the roasted green peppers — and it’s important to use green not red though I can’t give you a scientific reason why — add just the subtlest bit of flavor, enough to keep the burgers juicy and tender but not so much as to mask the flavor of the meat.

And while any skillet will likely work, the cast iron skillet has produced consistent results every time: Four minutes a side for patties about  an inch thick weighing five to six ounces each has become my magic formula for producing medium-rare burgers. I don’t care what anybody says, cooking a burger to a desired temperature is damn hard, and I attribute the success I have had thus far to the cast iron pan’s ability to retain heat so well. I might add, too, that it is a cinch to clean — mine, a gift from Liza, is seasoned such that I rarely have to do anything but wipe it out with a paper towel. If bits do stick, I clean the pan the same way I clean this pan, by heating some kosher salt in it, then wiping it out with a paper towel. Simps.

Like many of my mother’s suggestions, this one took a few months to consider.  Why haven’t I learned? Liza doesn’t mess around, especially when it comes to food. I should just  immediately make and do everything she tells me to. Anway, try this burger-cooking method! I know you’ll find success. And if you have the time to make homemade buns and locate some yummy grass-fed beef, you have quite a memorable meal in store. Thanks, mama, for another wonderful recipe, and thank you, Belles, whoever and wherever you are for a fantastic bun recipe.

I hate to bore any of you who have already heard my thoughts on grass-fed beef, so here are a few links to past posts and articles if you are interested in reading up on this matter:

Grass-fed Beef
Pasture-Perfect Patties
Anxious to Purchase a Steer
Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Beef
Grass-Farming in Lancaster
Small Farm Productivity
When Searching for Solutions, Don’t Forget the Farm

hamburger bun

Making these buns couldn’t be simpler: Combine yeast and flour in a stand mixer. Heat milk, water, sugar, salt and butter together until warm to the touch. Add the warmed milk mixture to flour and let the stand mixer do its thing for 8 minutes. Ta-da! The dough is ready to go.

hamburger buns

Cooking these burgers couldn’t be simpler either. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast-iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins swirling in the pan, add the patties and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes. Flip. Add cheese, if desired, and cook for about 4 minutes longer for medium rare. Yum.

patties in pan

The wonderful J&J grass-fed beef:
J&J Grass-fed Beef

burger

Are these not the cutest little buns you have ever seen? You can make them, too! Promise. It’s easy and fun and delicious.

hamburger bun

Update 5/4/2012: If you’re looking for a brioche burger bun, try this recipe. It’s my new favorite burger bun recipe. I love love love Belles Hamburger Buns, but there’s something about a brioche bun and a burger, you know? They’re just a perfect match.

Belles Hamburger Buns
Yield = 12

1 cup milk
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups (about 23.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds (optional)

1. Combine the milk, 1 cup of water, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat until warm to the touch and until the butter has melted — this only takes a minute or two. Remove from the heat. If you have heated the mixture longer than you had intended, let it stand till room temperature. Warning: if the mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

2. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), stir together the flour and yeast. Pour in wet ingredients and stir until the dough starts to pull together. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough hook to mix for about 8 minutes. If not, knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Punch down the dough and divide into 12 portions. Make tight balls out of the dough by pulling the dough tightly around and pinching it at the bottom. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Note: I would only bake 6 buns at a time on one sheet and place only one pan in the oven at a time to ensure even baking. Set rolls aside until they double in size, about 20 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Mix together the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water in a cup or small bowl. Brush onto the tops of the rolls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if using.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned on the top and bottom. Let cool before slicing and serving.

Note: I have served these warm, which I love, and also sliced and toasted, which I think is even better for burgers — the toasted buns don’t get soggy.

Liza’s Burgers with Roasted Green Peppers
Yield = As many as you wish

Note: This is more of a method than a recipe.

hamburger meat (I usually use about a pound)
green peppers (I usually roast about 2 peppers per pound of beef, but don’t end up needing all of them for the patties.)
Parchment paper, for easy cleaning
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper

Homemade buns (optional), recipe above
Burger accoutrements: cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, Dijon, ketchup, mayo, etc.

1. Roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and stem. Place peppers cut-side down on the prepared pan and place in the oven. Roast until the skins are browned and blistery, about 20 minutes. This may take longer or shorter, depending on your oven. Just keep an eye on them towards the end — you don’t want them to be totally charred. Remove the peppers from the oven. Place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside. When peppers are cool enough to handle, remove skins and discard. Chop peppers into small pieces. Set aside.

Note: This can be done days in advance. Also, you might not need all of the peppers. Save any remaining to add to an omelet. Yum.

2. Prepare the patties: Spread the meat into a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle as many of the diced peppers over the meat as you like. Gently begin forming your patties. I portion mine into either 5- or 6-ounce patties depending on the day. Season each side of the burgers with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins to gently swirl, add the patties and turn the heat down to medium or medium-high. Cook for 4 minutes. Flip. Top with a thin slice of cheese, if desired, and cook for about four minutes longer for medium-rare. Serve on a toasted bun with all the fixins.

Balzano Apple Cake, Revisited | (Bolzano Apple Cake)

Balzano Apple Cake

Balzano Apple Cake

I have blogged about this cake before. It is one of my favorites, and I want it to be one of yours, too.

The roots of Balzano apple cake lie in the Alto Adige region of Italy, where Scott Carsberg of Seattle’s Lampreia trained as a young chef. There, Carsberg worked at the Michelin one-star restaurant, Villa Mozart, whose menu reflected the simple foods of the region, and whose chefs taught him how to make Balzano apple cake, a classic northern Italian peasant dessert. Over twenty years later, Carsberg put the cake on his menu, serving it with caramel ice cream. Yum.

(Read more about Carsberg, Lampreia and the Balzano apple cake in this New York Times article: Seattle Grown, Italian Flavored.)

I adore this cake, but classifying it as a cake, I am discovering, is perhaps misleading. The word cake is why several of you, I suspect, have had trouble with this recipe, mostly with the baking time — some of you have had to wait 90 minutes for your cakes to finish cooking.

I know every oven is different and every pan conducts heat differently, so baking times will surely vary, but I worry that cooking this “cake” for over an hour will severely alter its delicate texture and flavor.

You see, Balzano apple cake is more like a cross between a clafouti and a pancake — and the most delicious clafouti-pancake cross you’ve ever tasted at that. After the cake is removed from the oven, it falls, and the slices of vanilla-seed speckled apples meld together sinking into the tiniest of tiny layers of cake. It is delectable.

If you fear your oven’s temperature and dial aren’t quite calibrated accurately — mine certainly are not — I recommend getting one of these little oven thermometers. Mine hangs from my top oven rack, and I refer to it every time I use my oven.

When testing the doneness of this cake, inserting a knife will offer little guidance. The paring knife I used emerged covered with little bits of batter. I still removed the cake from the oven after 55 minutes of cooking and let it cool in its pan on a rack for more than 30 minutes before tucking in.

It has been over a year since I made Balzano apple cake, and I have forgotten how much I love it. I most enjoy eating it when it has cooled to room temperature. I’d wager, in fact, that it peaks at breakfast the day after it has baked. Yum yum yum.

Smit Orchards’ apples, found at the San Clemente farmers’ market:
farmers' market apples

Apple slices:
apple slices

Balzano Apple Cake

Source: Adapted from The New York Times 2004
Serves 8

1 stick butter, plus more for greasing pan
parchment paper
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean 

4 Fuji apples
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt such as fleur de sel (or 1/2 tsp. kosher salt)
½ cup milk at room temperature
powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease a nine-inch-circle pan with butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and place inside pan. Grease sides of pan and parchment round with butter.

2. Melt butter in small saucepan. Set aside. Beat together eggs and half of sugar in a bowl. Continue to beat while slowly adding remaining sugar until thick — it should form a ribbon when dropped from spoon.

3. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds into the egg-sugar mixture and add pod to melted butter.

4. Peel apples and cut straight down around the core into four big chunks. Discard the core then slice the apple pieces thinly.

5. Remove vanilla pod from butter and discard. Stir butter into sugar-egg mixture. Combine flour, salt and baking powder, then stir into batter alternating with the milk. Stir in apples, coating every piece with batter. Pour batter into pan.

6. Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, but not for much longer, or until cake pulls away slightly from the pan and is brown on top. Cool for at least 30 minutes, then cut into wedges sprinkling each with powdered sugar if desired.

Dinner for One with Bittman’s ‘Polenta without Fear’ + A Huge Thank You

polenta, chard and fried egg

polenta, chard and fried egg

I never thought the day would come when I would consider sautéed greens over polenta topped with a fried egg as the idea of the most delicious dinner. Well, the day is here (has been for a little while now), and I am so glad it is, because nothing could be simpler to prepare.

Before I write another word, however, I just want to extend a huge thank you to the reader who submitted my blog in the comments section of this Bitten post. I am so touched that you thought of me and am so shocked to have been selected. Thank you, too, to the Bitten bloggers for considering alexandra’s kitchen as a worthy under-the-radar blog.

I could think of no better way to commemorate this moment than by making one of my favorite Bittman recipes: Polenta without Fear, which recently appeared in the featured recipe section of Bitten. I first made this dish shortly after returning from a dinner party where, upon arrival, I had been charged with polenta-making duties. I went to work, but what I had hoped to produce to complement the host’s delectable braised short ribs left me embarrassed. (I must note that it didn’t help that the host didn’t own a whisk, but I can’t turn all the blame elsewhere.) My polenta was lumpy, dry and unflavorful. Why?!

Of course my mother had the answer. Or at least a solution. Have you made Bittman’s polenta recipe, she asked? No, I hadn’t. But I would soon, and I did. And it’s delicious. The recipe uses a ratio of 1 cup stone ground cornmeal to 3 cups of liquid (1 cup whole milk + 2 cups water) with the addition of 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano and 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter at the end. Minimal stirring is required and the addition of a little water towards the end of the cooking process is all the doctoring necessary to produce “creamy, soft, mouth-filling polenta,” as described on Bitten.

So, as the title suggests, this polenta, topped with some sautéed greens — chard, kale, spinach — and a fried egg makes a great dinner-for-one. Would I love some braised short ribs on my polenta? Of course, but there are better opportunities for that. Need another dinner-for-one idea? Try these Zuni Cafe Eggs Fried in Bread Crumbs … so yummy!

The ingredients:
mise en place for dinner for one

Sautéed onions and Swiss chard from my Morning Song Farm CSA:
Swiss chard and onions over polenta

polenta, chard and fried egg

Polenta without Fear

Source: Bitten
Serves: 4

1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
Salt
1 cup coarse cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste, optional

1. Bring milk to a boil with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and add a large pinch of salt. Adjust heat so liquid simmers. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking as you do to prevent lumps. When it has all been added, let mixture return to a boil, then turn heat to low. Polenta should be just barely simmering.

2. Cook, stirring occasionally and being sure to scrape sides and bottom of pan, for 15 to 20 minutes, until mixture is creamy and cornmeal tastes cooked. If mixture becomes too thick, whisk in some water, about 1/2 cup at a time. (I added about 2/3 cup water in 1/3 cup increments.)

3. Taste and season polenta as necessary with salt and pepper. Take pan off stove, stir in the butter or oil and the cheese if you are using it, and serve, passing more cheese at the table if you like.

Serve with sautéed greens and a fried egg for a simple simple dinner.

The Best Bread Pudding, So Much Love for Tartine

bread pudding

bread pudding

I never expected to receive a return phone call. I had been agonizing over how I was going to make my bread pudding … with fruit baked in it or without? Did Tartine really not add any fruit to the bread pudding while it baked? Their cookbook says without, but I thought I remembered bits of warm peaches dotting the pudding throughout. I needed affirmation before proceeding, and so I placed a call to Tartine itself. 

I called about 10 times before leaving a message. I explained that I had read the preface to the brioche bread pudding recipe in the cookbook, which explains that Tartine serves their bread pudding with seasonal fruit lightly sautéed in butter and then heated in a caramel sauce. Was this accurate, I asked? Or did Tartine sometimes bake the fruit right in with the custard and brioche? I left my number, hung up the phone, accepting I would likely have to make the decision on my own.

Not so. Later that day, I turned on my phone to find a message from Suzanne, a lovely Tartine employee. She confirmed exactly what the cookbook says, that Tartine indeed bakes the bread pudding without any fruit in it. They do also warm a seasonal fruit of choice — peaches, berries, apples, pears — in a caramel sauce, the recipe for which I have included below though have yet to test. Moreover, when the busy bees in the bakery remove the pans of bread pudding from the oven, they poke holes in it to let steam out and to create space, and then they pour the warm fruit in caramel sauce over top. Brilliant! Thank you, Suzanne.

I have been meaning to post this for months now, and I am afraid peach season is long over. So, while my picture below is a little dated, I write this with even more confidence in this recipe. You see, I have just returned from a  most wonderful wedding of two most wonderful people in San Francisco, where I was able to sneak in a visit to Tartine with five friends. Together we ate two bowls of bread pudding, one slice of quiche, one croque monsieur, one croissant and one chocolate croissant. As anticipated, the bread pudding triumphed as the table’s favorite. With my new knowledge, too, I was able to discern a caramel flavor permeating the pudding. I must note, too, that the Tartine caramel sauce is as light as a caramel sauce can be. It adds a subtle yet critical flavor, and I most definitely will make it the next time I prepare this bread pudding.

Hooray for apple season! I imagine apples warmed in caramel sauce will make a lovely topping for this most delicious bread pudding.

Just some quick notes here about the recipe:

• I decided to make the brioche from scratch, which was well worth the effort, but also a two-day affair. If you have a good source for brioche, by all means, buy it! The recipe for the bread pudding itself is quite simple and so long as the brioche you purchase is baked in a standard loaf pan and you can slice it into one-inch pieces, you should be able to add an accurate amount of bread to your pudding. 

• Really follow the instructions about the ratio of bread to custard. I was shocked by how much more custard there was in my pan than bread, but I trusted the recipe and went with it. That is the key! The bread soaks up all the custard. The key to producing a moist bread pudding is to not crowd the pan with bread. This is by far the best bread pudding I have ever made and I attribute that mostly to sticking to the proportions prescribed in the cookbook.

• The cookbook suggests using a 9X5-inch glass loaf pan. When I made this, I hadn’t yet purchased this size pan but had success with an 8X8-inch pyrex pan I happened to have on hand. I am looking forward to using the real deal next time around.

bread pudding with sautéed peaches

Tartine's brioche

bread pudding in pan

Below are some invaluable notes from the Tartine cookbook. I took their suggestion for what to do with remaining custard. Delectable!

• Never crowd the bread slices in the mold — when a bread pudding is dry, crowding is usually the cause.

• If you use a shallower mold (than a loaf pan), reduce the baking time.

• If you end up with more custard than you need, transform it into a simple dessert: pour it into ramekins, place them in a hot-water bath, and bake in a 350ºF oven until set, about 40 minutes.

• If you have left over bread pudding, chill it, slice it, and fry it as you would French toast.

• This recipe works equally well with croissants, chocolate-filled croissants, challah or panettone

Brioche Bread Pudding

Yield = one 9×5-inch pudding, 6 to 8 servings
Source: Tartine

6 brioche slices*, cut 1-inch thick, see recipe below
8 large eggs
3/4 cup + 2 T. sugar
4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

* I did in fact make the brioche for this recipe, and it is a great recipe. Just a warning, it is quite a process … it takes literally about 2 days to make. If you have a source for good brioche, by all means, use it — buy the brioche … your bread-pudding-making experience will be all the more enjoyable. 

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×5-inch glass loaf dish. Arrange the brioche slices on a baking sheet. Place in the oven until lightly toasted, 4 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve.

3. Place the toasted bread slices in the prepared loaf pan, cutting the slices to fit as needed. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, filling the dish to the top. You may not be able to add all of the custard at this point. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, so that the bread can absorb the custard.

4. Just before baking, top off the dish with more of the custard if the previous addition has been completely absorbed. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and bake the pudding for about 1 hour. To test for doneness, uncover the dish, slip a knife into the center, and push the bread aside. If the custard is still very liquid, re-cover the dish and return the pudding to the oven for another 10 minutes. If only a little liquid remains, the pudding is ready to come out of the oven. The custard will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven and it will set up as it cools.

5. Let the pudding cool for about 10 minutes before serving. You can serve the bread pudding by slicing it and removing each slice with an offset spatula, or by scooping it out with a serving spoon.

Serve with fresh or sautéed fruit.

Brioche

Yield = Three 1¼-pound loaves
Source: Tartine

Preferment
¾ cup nonfat milk
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 ¾ cups bread flour = 8 ¾ oz.

Dough
2 T. + 1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 large eggs
1 ¼ cups whole milk
3 ½ cups bread flour
¼ cup sugar
1 T. salt
1 cup + 2 T. unsalted butter, chilled but pliable

Egg Wash
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch of salt

1. To make the preferment, in a small saucepan, warm the milk only enough to take the chill off. The milk should not be warm or cold to the touch but in between the two (80º to 90ºF). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with the spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and place in a cool, draft-free area for 1 hour and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 3 hours to cool down. The mixture will rise until doubled in volume and not yet collapsing.

2. Meanwhile, measure all the ingredients for the dough. Once you measure the butter, cut into cubes and return the eggs, milk and butter to the refrigerator to chill.

3. To make the dough, transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, begin to add the eggs one by one, increasing the mixer speed to medium or medium-high to incorporate the eggs and stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

4. Once all the eggs are incorporated, reduce the mixer speed to low and begin slowly to add 1 cup of the milk. When the milk is fully incorporated, stop the mixer and add the flour, sugar and salt. Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until you see a dough forming and it starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Turn off the mixer and let dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. While the dough is resting, place the chilled butter cubes into a separate mixer bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix the butter on medium speed until the cubes are pliable but not soft and are still chilled.

6. Remove the bowl holding the butter from the mixer and replace it with the bowl holding the now-rested first-stage dough. Refit the mixer with the dough hook and begin mixing on medium speed. When the dough again starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium-high. At this stage the dough will appear very silky and elastic. With the mixing speed still on medium-high, add small amounts of the butter, squeezing the cubes through your fingers so that they become ribbons as they drop into the bowl. Stop the mixer to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed with the spatula. Make sure that you don’t add too much butter too quickly and also make sure that you don’t mix the butter too long after each addition or you will heat up the dough. When all the butter has been added, allow the mixer to run for another 2 minutes to make sure the butter is fully incorporated. The dough should still be coming away cleanly from the sides of the bowl at this point.

7. Now, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup milk in increments of 1 tablespoon and increase the mixer speed to high. Mix until the dough is very smooth and silky and continues to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. This should take another 2 minutes.

8. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Spread the dough evenly on the prepared pan. Dust the top lightly with flour and cover with cheesecloth. Put the pan in the freezer for at least 3 hours and then transfer to the refrigerator overnight.

9. Brush three 9X5 loaf pans with melted butter. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface in a cool kitchen. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Press each portion into a rectangle the length of a loaf pan and slightly wider than the pan. Starting from a narrow end, roll up the rectangle tightly, pinch the ends and seam to seal, and place seam side down in a prepared pan. The pan should be no more than one-third full. The dough increases substantially during rising, and if you fill the pan any fuller, the brioche will bake up too large for the pan. When the pans are filled, place them in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity. Let rise for 2 to 3 hours. During this final rising, the brioche should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy but still be resilient to the touch.

10. Preheat the oven to 425ºF for at least 20 minutes before you want to begin baking. About 10 minutes before you want to begin baking, make the egg wash: whisk together the yolks, cream and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, brush the wash on tops of the loaves. Let the wash dry for about 10 minutes before baking.

11. Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and bake until the loaves are a uniformly dark golden brown on the bottom, sides and top, about 45 minutes longer. Remove the pans from the oven, immediately rap the bottoms on a tabletop to release the loaves, and then turn the loaves out onto wire racks to cool. The loaves can be eaten warm from the oven or allowed to cool and eaten within the day at room temperature or toasted. If you keep them longer than a day, wrap them in plastic wrap or parchment paper and freeze them indefinitely.

Caramel Sauce

Yield = 1 1/2 cups
Source: Tartine

2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 of one vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 T. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp lemon juice
4 T. unsalted butter

Kitchen Notes:
• Use a good-sized pan when preparing this caramel. When the hot cream is added, the caramel will boil furiously at first, increasing dramatically in volume. Have ice water nearby in case of burns.

1. Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the cream. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

2. In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

4. Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.

The caramel will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Tomato, Corn & Cheese Galette — A Favorite Summer Meal — With A Chocolate Chip Cookie for Dessert

tomato tart

The August 2000 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine was fantastic. I can’t believe that two of my all-time favorite recipes came from that issue — from one article in fact — and that I have now been making these recipes for almost 10 years. I feel old.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but David Lebovitz, author of The Perfect Scoop, wrote the article and supplied the two fabulous tart dough recipes, one sweet, one savory, that I have been making all these years. The sweet galette dough is used in this recipe as well as this one (both from the above mentioned article), and the savory cornmeal galette dough is used in the above pictured tart, and it is so tasty.

This galette, filled with caramelized onions, fresh corn, basil, Gruyère cheese and heirloom tomatoes, is prefect for the end of summer. Serve it with a simple mixed greens salad or a cucumber-and-feta cheese plate for a light, vegetarian meal. Yum.

I have actually blogged about this tart before. In that post, however, I had pressed the dough into a tart shell and blind baked it briefly before adding the remaining ingredients. That method is fine, just a touch fussier. I prefer making these rustic, free-form tarts.

 tomato tart

The original recipe for this tart calls for onions as opposed to leeks. I used leeks because I received a whole bunch in my CSA, but truthfully, I think this tart is tastier with onions. Use whatever you have. Gruyère is particularly tasty, but any cheese you have on hand will do.

tart ingredients

Assembling these tarts is easy: Simply spread the corn and caramelized onion (or leek) mixture into the center of the dough; top with cheese; top with the tomatoes; then fold the edges up to make a free-form tart.

Assembling the Tart

Tomato, Corn and Cheese Galette with Fresh Basil

Source: Fine Cooking Magazine (40, pp. 68-73 August 2000)
Serves 4

Note: For no particular reason, I split the dough in half and made two small tarts, but this is unnecessary. Normally I make just one large tart, and it is fantastic.

Cornmeal Galette Dough

1-1/4 cups (5 oz.) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (1-1/2 oz.) fine yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/4 tsp. salt
6 T. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
3 T. olive oil
1/4 cup ice water

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Cut in the chilled butter using a stand mixer, a food processor, or a pastry blender until it’s evenly distributed but still in large, visible pieces. Add the olive oil and ice water and mix until the dough begins to come together. Gather the dough with your hands and shape it into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Finishing the tart:

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 bunch basil or tarragon, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped, (to yield about 1/2 cup); plus 10 whole leaves
Kernels from 1 ear of corn (about 1 cup)
1 recipe Cornmeal Galette Dough (see above)
1 large or 2 medium ripe tomatoes (about 3/4 lb. total) cut into 1/3-inch slices, drained on paper towels
3 oz. Comté or Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp. milk or cream

1. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 min. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, chopped basil, and corn and cook for 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside to cool.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet, preferably one without sides, with kitchen parchment. (If your baking sheet has sides, flip it over and use the back.)

3. Roll the dough on a floured surface into a 15-inch round, lifting the dough with a metal spatula as you roll to make sure it’s not sticking. If it is, dust the surface with more flour. Transfer it by rolling it around the rolling pin and unrolling it on the lined baking sheet.

4. Spread the onion and corn mixture over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border without filling. Update 7-16-2014: Sprinkle the cheese over the onions and corn. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer over the cheese and season them with salt and pepper. Lift the edges of the dough and fold them inward over the filling, pleating as you go, to form a folded-over border. Pinch together any tears in the dough. Brush the egg yolk and milk mixture over the exposed crust.

5. Bake until the crust has browned and the cheese has melted, 35 to 45 min. Slide the galette off the parchment and onto a cooling rack. Let cool for 10 min. Stack the remaining 10 basil leaves and use a sharp knife to cut them into a chiffonade. Cut the galette into wedges, sprinkle with the basil, and serve.

tomato tart

This is another recipe I’ve already blogged about, but it is so good. Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. The key is to keep your oven at 375ºF; bake only 6 cookies on a sheet at one time; and remove them from the oven after 11 minutes — they won’t look done but they continue cooking on the sheet. For kicks, I added a little fleur de sel to the tops of these before baking. Here’s the recipe.

chewy chocolate chip cookie with a touch of salt on top

In Honor of Top Chef: Padma’s Salad with Rancho Gordo Beans & Bäco Flatbreads

Padma's Salad

Padma's Salad
Early last Wednesday morning, before the premier of Top Chef Las Vegas, Padma Lakshmi made a delectable looking salad on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. She chopped up fresh spinach, mixed it with chickpeas, bell peppers and chives, and tossed it all together with olive oil and lemon juice. Served with fresh pita bread, says Padma, this “chickpea tapas” makes a wonderful whole meal.

I couldn’t agree more. Upon seeing this segment, I felt inspired to cook up some of the Ranch Gordo beans I had picked up in San Francisco earlier this month. I have been wanting to incorporate more beans — such a healthy, affordable food, filled with protein — into my diet, and this salad has proven to be a great way to do so. I made this salad two nights in a row last week with my Alubia Criollo beans and various other goodies from my CSA — arugula, cherry tomatoes, chives, shaved zucchini and chopped orange.

Beans, I am learning, are really not so much trouble to make from scratch. I soaked mine in the morning and cooked them according to the instructions on the Rancho Gordo website. I’m not a bean connoisseur, but I like RG’s description of these small white beans: Alubios have a “rich, buttery flavor and creamy, over-the-moon texture.”

I ate my salad with these Bäco flatbreads, the recipe for which I spotted in the LA Times in June 2008 and have had tacked to my fridge ever since. Bäco flatbreads, made with Greek yogurt seasoned with ginger, garlic and lime juice, are similar to the pita breads used for gyros — the pocketless pita breads. They are delicious! The recipe yields more yogurt sauce than needed, but the sauce makes a nice accompaniment to both the flatbreads and the salad. A nice little combination eaten taco style is a bäco flatbread, spread with some yogurt sauce and topped with some salad. So yummy!

Note: I omitted the lavendar and added some chives.

Bacao Flatbread

Bacao cooking in pan

salad ingredients

Here is Padma’s basic recipe. Please note, however, that Padma prefers making this with raw spinach or arugula — I used raw, chopped arugula — as opposed to cooked, which is what her recipe says to do. Also, any vegetables — tomatoes, zucchini, corn, mushrooms, etc. — can be added to this salad. A nice variety of vegetables makes for a nice variety of flavors and textures. I also used a little balsamic vinegar in addition to the fresh lemon juice.

Here is the Bäco Flatbreads recipe. I added some chives to the yogurt mixture and served some of the remaining yogurt sauce with the flatbread and the salad — this is such a yummy meal!

Tartine’s Quiche, Homemade Crème Fraîche & A Little Trip to Napa & Bouchon

Tartine's Quiche with Homemade Crème Fraîche

Tartine Quiche

The weekend would begin with quiche. That was a given. My friend would pick me up at the San Francisco airport and before beginning our journey north, we would stop for breakfast. For quiche, that is. I have been dreaming about the Tartine quiche for over a year now, since my last and only other visit to this most adored San Francisco cafe.

The much anticipated weekend arrived, and I found myself at Tartine with two dear friends standing in a line stretching around the corner. As we waited, we contemplated our order, which quickly became apparent would be a feast. None of us was prepared to make a difficult decision this morning, so we decided to keep things simple — we would order everything. Or nearly everything: Quiche. Croque monsieur. Morning Bun. Scone. Croissant. Almond Croissant. Bread Pudding.

The quiche with ham and Swiss chard, my friends confirmed, lived up to every expectation I had created for them. The bread pudding with fresh peaches, too, and the croque monsieur with heirloom tomatoes and Gruyère similarly blew us away. It’s rare for a restaurant to offer an across-the-board spread of so many delectables, but it seems that’s just how Tartine rolls. 

So, what separates Tartine’s quiche from others? Well, I have a few ideas, thanks to the Tartine cookbook, which so generously has provided a dead-on recipe. Seriously. I followed the recipe to a T and recreated, what I believe, is the most delicious quiche on the planet. 

1. The custard ingredients/ratio. I suspect this is the primary reason why Tartine’s quiche is so fabulous. Tartine uses a ratio of 1 cup crème fraîche to 1 cup whole milk to 5 eggs. The mixing method is also interesting — one egg is whisked with 3 T. of flour until smooth. Then the remaining eggs are whisked in. Then the egg mixture is strained over the crème fraîche-milk mixture. Sound fussy? Well, it sort of is. But it’s so worth it. I wouldn’t recommend straying from the recipe or taking any shortcuts in any way.

When I made this at home, I, for the first time ever, made my own crème fraîche, which was so much fun — it’s crazy  to see heavy cream transform into a thick, tangy mass of goodness. Making crème fraîche is easy: Mix 2 tablespoons of buttermilk (or 2 tablespoons of yogurt) with 2 cups of heavy cream. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir and then store until ready to use.

2. The flaky tart shell is delectable. There is nothing unusual about the Tartine recipe — flour, salt, ice water and lots of cold butter. Blindbaking the shell for about 30 minutes ensures a crisp, perfectly browned crust.

3. Tartine uses uncooked greens. For whatever reason, I have been in the habit of quickly sauteéing any type of green before adding it to a quiche, but Tartine recommends otherwise. The recipe calls for 1 cup of uncooked roughly chopped greens. This is the only step where I strayed a tad — I added more like 2-3 cups of roughly chopped Swiss chard.

The Tartine quiche has completely changed my perception of this classic dish. The texture of the Tartine quiche, which has not an ounce of cheese, is truly a beautiful thing. Prior to tasting Tartine’s, quiche for me was all about the fillers — onions, bacon, cheese, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, whatever. Now, it’s about the custard, the light, creamy, custard. 

I must admit that making this quiche is no simple task. That said, if you have the tart dough made in advance (which I do now since the tart dough recipe yields enough for two 10-inch quiches) and if you have the crème fraîche made in advance (or are using store bought), making this quiche isn’t such a process. It’s also just a matter of getting familiar with the process. 

Tartine Quiche

Clockwise from top left: Quiche shell, lined with parchment paper, ready to be blind-baked. Filled quiche shell ready for the oven. Baked quiche. Baked quiche up close. 

Quiche

Next on my recipes to tackle in the Tartine cookbook is bread pudding made with homemade brioche bread. Before we head there, however, I just want to share a few highlights of my trip to Napa:

Wine tasting at Cakebread Cellars in Napa Valley. Grapes at Cakebread:

Grapes

Wine tasting at Hendry’s Winery in Napa. The tasting table at Hendry’s:

Tasting Table at Hendry's Vineyard

Eating macaroons at Bouchon in Yountville. Incredibly delicious.

Bouchon Macarons

Visiting Bouchon altogher. Here we sampled TKOs (Thomas Keller Oreos), chocolate bouchons, macaroons, croissants, almond croissants, ham and cheese sandwiches, epi baguettes and quiche. The spread, pictured at the very bottom, was remarkable. 

Bouchon

Quiche with Crème Fraîche and Swiss Chard
Source: Tartine (Chronicle Books, 2006)
Serves 6 to 8

Flaky Tart Dough
Yield = 2 10-inch tart or pie shells

1 tsp. salt (I used table salt)
2/3 cup ice water
3 cups + 2 T. all-purpose flour (1 lb.)
1 cup + 5 T. unsalted butter, very cold

1. In a small bowl, add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold until ready to use.

2. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into 1-inch (or smaller) pieces and scatter the pieces over the flour. Using a pastry blender or two knives or two forks, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture forms large clumps and the butter is in pieces the size of small peas. Drizzle the water-salt mixture over the flour and stir and toss with a fork until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Gently mix until the dough comes together into a ball but is not completely smooth.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 2 equal balls and shape each ball into a disk 1-inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

5. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/8-inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. (Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn every few strokes to prevent sticking, and work quickly to prevent the dough from becoming warm.) Transfer the round to the pie dish, easing it into the corners. Trim excess dough.

6. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit over the pie plate generously. Fill parchment paper with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the surface looks light brown. Remove from oven and remove the weights and paper. Return the shell to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Cool shell on wire rack until ready to fill.

Quiche with Swiss Chard and Crème Fraîche

1 fully baked 10-inch Flaky Tart Shell Dough (recipe above)
5 large eggs
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup crème fraîche*
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. fresh thyme, finely chopped (I didn’t have thyme so I used chives)
1 cup uncooked coarsely chopped Swiss Chard (I used more like 2 or 3 cups)

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

2. Place 1 egg and the flour in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 4 eggs until blended.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the crème fraîche until smooth. Whisk in the milk. Pour the egg mixture through a fine mesh sieve held over the milk mixture. Whisk in the salt, pepper and thyme (or other herb). Stir in the chard.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the pastry shell. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF and bake until the filling is just set, about 30 minutes longer. The center of the quiche should still feel slightly firm, rather than liquidy, when touched. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes to allow the custard to set up, so that it will slice neatly. It can be served warm or at room temperature. To serve a fully cooled quiche warm, cover it with aluminum foil and reheat it in a 325ºF for about 15 minutes.

* To make crème fraîche, place 2 cups heavy cream in bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt or 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Stir to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir. Mixture will be nice and thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Note: Try to use good heavy cream and not ultra-pasteurized if possible — I used to have no trouble making crème fraîche, but recently I have found that it takes an especially long time for the cream to thicken. If you find that after 12 hours the cream does not look thick at all, add a few more tablespoons of buttermilk or yogurt to the mixture.

Bouchon Spread

Asian Lettuce Wraps for Almost Meatless Potluck

Asian Lettuce wraps

Asian Lettuce wraps

Many years ago, my grandmother coined a phrase the women in my family haven’t been able to let go. My grandmother, the women noticed, would describe certain dishes — certain dishes she really liked — as “light light.” If Gramma declared a meal “light light,” the women knew she approved.

Since noticing the pattern, my mother and aunt have strived to make everything they serve to their mother “light light.” Buttermilk panna cotta and orange and olive oil cake pass the “light-light” test with flying colors. Well, when I took a bite of these Asian lettuce wraps made with ginger-marinated chicken thighs topped with a simple slaw of carrots, cucumbers, celery and scallions, I instantly thought of my dear Gramma mou and, of course, of my mother and auntie who will be so pleased to add another “light light” recipe to their repertoire. I know Gramma will approve.

This recipe is fabulous! What’s more, it comes from a book that one of my very own friends wrote! Yeah, I know, I have famous friends. This past April, my friend Tara Mataraza published a book, Almost Meatless, with co-author Joy Manning.  Tara and I met way back in Philadelphia while working at Fork, which recently received Three Bells from Craig Laban of the Philadelphia Inquirer … a huge deal. (Congrats Ellen and everyone at Fork!)

Almost MeatlessAnyway, when Tara invited me to participate in a virtual potluck on her blog, Crumbs on my Keyboard, I jumped. The hardest part about partaking in this event was picking the actual dish. So many of the dishes — crab pad Thai, steak salad with blue cheese dressing, and Thai coconut curry soup — I saw in the table of contents caught my eye. And if the recipe I’ve made here is any measure of goodness for what’s in the rest of the book, I am in for a real treat once my copy of Almost Meatless arrives.

I am most looking forward to making this recipe for company. It is simple to prepare, stunning to serve, and exceptionally satisfying to eat. Both the slaw and the meat are incredibly flavorful and the combination of the crunchy cool slaw with the tender hot meat is so yummy. Make it. You’ll be happy. I promise.

Slaw Ingredients:

Slaw Ingredients

Marinade ingredients:

Marinade Indredients

Asian Lettuce Wraps

Source: Almost Meatless by Tara Mataraza and Joy Manning (Ten Speed Press, 2009)
Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press and the authors.
Serves 4

For the marinade:
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
1 scallion, green and white parts, sliced
8 to 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs, or 2 thighs and 2 legs), cut into small cubes or strips

For the slaw:
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 teaspoon dark (asian) sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 thick carrot (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/8-inch strips
1 cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch strips
2 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick diagonally
2 to 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal
16 lettuce leaves (romaine, Boston, Bibb, or green or red leaf)
2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Make the marinade. Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, 2 tablespoons oil, the ginger, garlic, chile flakes, and scallion in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat the meat. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator, letting the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the slaw. Whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, sesame oil, salt, and ginger in a large bowl. Toss the vinaigrette together with the carrot, cucumber, celery, and scallions. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

3. To prepare the lettuce, rinse and pat the leaves dry. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use. (If you choose romaine, use the leafy top part of the lettuce for the wrappers. You can tear off the stiffer bottom stem half, chop it up, and add it to the slaw for extra crunch if you like.)

4. Cook the chicken. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the marinated chicken and marinade and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often, until the chicken is firm to the touch and beginning to brown. Stir in the peanuts.

5. To assemble and serve, set out the slaw and chicken in bowls along with a platter of the lettuce. Wrap a scoop of slaw and chicken in each lettuce leaf. Have a napkin handy!

Bubalus Bubalis Mozzarella & Heirloom Tomatoes

signboard

signboard

Does it seem odd that I have to go to Costco to find local cheese? Well, I do. And I must admit, I didn’t join Costco because they sell the delicious Bubalus Bubalis mozzarella cheese. The truth is that I joined last February to buy a flat screen tv. I know, I know. You hypocrite, you say. But before you completely judge my membership to this megastore, hear my defense.

Actually, hear Bill Buford’s defense. (Or my interpretation of a Buford theory.) In Heat, Bill Buford spends a considerable amount of time in Panzano, Italy, a small village overlooking vineyards and olive groves in the “Conca d’Oro”, the “Golden Valley,” a large chianti-producing region. Towards the end of his stay, he reflects:

“My theory is one of smallness … As theories go, mine is pretty crude. Small food — good. Big food — bad. For me, the language we use to talk about modern food isn’t quite accurate or at least doesn’t account for how this Italian valley has taught me to think.

“The metaphor is usually one of speed: fast food has ruined our culture; slow food will save it … You see the metaphor’s appeal. But it obscures a fundamental problem, which has little to do with speed and everything to do with size. Fast food did not ruin our culture. The problem was already in place, systemic in fact, and began the moment food was treated like an inanimate object — like any other commodity — that could be manufactured in increasing numbers to satisfy a market.

“In effect, the two essential players in the food chain swapped roles. One moment the producer determined what was available and how it was made. The next moment it was the consumer. The Maestro blames the supermarkets, but the supermarkets are just a symptom.

“What happened in the food business has occurred in every aspect of modern life, and the change has produced many benefits: I like island holidays and flat-screen televisions and have no argument with global market economies, except in this respect — in what it has done to food.”

How does this passage help my case at all? Certainly, you say, Costco carries much of the “big food” Buford describes. 

But Costco also carries those very inanimate objects which Buford notes have produced many benefits, many benefits I enjoy on a daily basis. TV watching has never been more enjoyable since we introduced a Vizio to our livingroom. Work on the computer has never been more efficient since I replaced my laptop with a desktop. Countless frustrations vanished when I purchased my Canon Rebel XT. I am so thankful these gadgets have been manufactured at a scale that affords me and so many others the opportunity to have them. 

Is this so wrong? Why do I feel guilt when I shop at Costco even if I am purchasing zero food? I know why. It’s because I know that by supporting Costco’s sale of inanimate objects, I am supporting the store overall and supporting a type of food system that contrasts sharply with that I have been trying to support these past few years. It’s a quandary. 

That said, it’s a quandary that has become less troublesome since I discovered one item in the dairy aisle. Costco carries Bubalus Bubalis mozzarella, a local brand of mozzarella made from water buffalo. The buffalo actually graze in northern California, but the cheese, if I understand correctly, is produced in Gardena. I first tasted this mozzarella last summer at the Santa Monica farmers’ market and became instantly smitten. It is creamy and delicious, rivaling the imported Italian mozzarella di bufala. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere near me until I stumbled upon it at Costco.

coveresdsum09Summer wouldn’t be summer without tomato and mozzarella salads. Bubalus Bubalis mozzarella paired with Cherokee purple tomatoes is a recipe for success. I discovered Cherokee purple tomatoes last summer at the San Clemente farmers’ market and I have looked forward to eating them since last October, when they disappeared from the farmstands. In April, I had the chance to visit Valdivia Farm, the Carlsbad farm that grows these delectable heirloom tomatoes. If you’d like to hear about my trip, read this. Below, there are a few pictures from the farm in April just after the tomatoes were planted.

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Bubalus Bubalis Mozzarella

cheese and tomatoes

A man selling produce at the Valdivia Farmstand in Carlsbad.
Valdivia Farmstand

The tomato field at Valdivia Farm in April just a few weeks after the tomatoes were planted.
Tomato field at Valdivia Farm

tomato field

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

A Simple, Most Delicious Sandwich

Jamon Iberico Sandwich

sandwich3

My mother recently described a sandwich an old man prepared for her at a bed and breakfast in Barcelona: toasted bread, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, moistened with a squeezed tomato and topped with jamón Iberico. In the mornings, the man tops this concoction with an egg fried in olive oil. Holy cow.

These pigs, the man told my mother, feast on acorns, which impart a nutty flavor into the meat while also making the fat composition of the meat high in monounsaturated fat, the good kind that, like olive oil, helps lower bad cholesterol. I believe it. When Ben and I visited Polyface Farm, Joel Salatin told us roughly the same thing. He described his pork as “olive oil pork” because his pigs’ diet consisted of acorns and other nuts from his forest.

I wasn’t able to find jamón Iberico at any shop near me, and depending where you live, you might have difficulty, too. Jamón Iberico made its first appearance in this country in December 2007, when the U.S. finally approved a producer in Spain to export the delicacy. LaTienda.com gives a more extensive history about jamón Iberico and jamón Iberico de Bellota, which is the acorn-fed variety. According to La Tienda, the black-hoofed Iberian hog is a prized animal whose lineage stretches back to Christopher Columbus who is said to have had a few of these hogs aboard the Santa María when he set out to discover the New World.

Oh how I long to get my hands on some of this ham. Prosciutto di Parma is a fine substitute but jamón Iberico sounds so exotic and divine. To my sandwich, I added a few slices of Mahón, a cow’s milk cheese produced in Menorca, an island off the eastern coast of Spain. Manchego would be nice in this sandwich as well.

Also, I just saw in my Gourmet magazine email newsletter, that Ruth Reichl’s “secret weapon” for a no-cook summer meal is the American version of serrano ham produced by the Edwards family of Virginia. Made from humanely raised Six-Spotted Berkshire pigs smoked slowly over hickory, this ham, according to Ruth, pairs nicely with melon or simply with some really good bread. (While this is by no means local to me, this might be a nice alternative for those east coasters looking to eat more locally.)

Also, if you live in the area, check out some of the food Chef Nolan is cooking up at Cafe Mimosa.

sandwichingredients

Pigs at Polyface Farm:
such happy pigs

sandwich

ingredients

The Most Delicious Sandwich on the Face of the Earth, Presently
Serves 1

two slices of bread, bakery-style bread (French, Italian)
1 clove garlic, gently smashed and sliced in half
1 tomato
extra-virgin olive oil, use a good one (Temecula Olive Oil Company Citrus Reserve)
nice salt
a few thin slices of jamón Iberico or prosciutto di Parma or Serrano ham
a few thin slices of cheese, such as Mahon or Manchego or Zamorano

1. Toast or grill the bread. I grilled it, but that was mostly to get the pretty grill marks for the picture. Toasting would be simpler and just as effective.

2. Rub each slice of bread with the cut garlic.

3. Cut the tomato in half (or cut off one-third of it). Squeeze the tomato over each slice making them nice and juicy. Drizzle each slice with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

4. Top with a few slices of the ham. Lay each piece down one at a time, allowing the meat to sort of form ripples so air pockets form between the layers. Top with the cheese. Close the sandwich and eat.

sandwich