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

Carrot Cake & Soup, Anniversary Dinner at Izza

carrot cakes

carrot cake

Last week I found a stockpile of carrots in the bottom left-hand drawer of my fridge. So, I set to work slicing and dicing, staining my cutting board, dulling my knife, tearing up my uncalloused little hands. Sike. I did nothing of the sort. I for once used my little brain and pulled out an attachment to my Cuisinart I have yet to use. Magic. In about 30 seconds, this gadget had transformed my pound of carrots into perfect little shreds. I didn’t even peel these guys. Just gave them a good scrub, and sent them down the shoot. 

With prep work done, I set to work on a carrot cake recipe I have had saved for years. It appeared in Fine Cooking magazine in 2004 in an article called “Carrot Cake, Perfected.” Why I have waited five years to give the recipe a go is beyond me, but I am so happy I finally have. This recipe is a winner.

With the rest of my carrots, I made a yummy gingered-carrot soup roughly based off The New Moosewood Cookbook’s recipe. And I promise to supply this recipe once I actually make it properly. For whatever reason, I left out about five ingredients, substituted five others, and produced something resembling nothing close to what Mollie Katzen had prescribed. Fortunately, I have another bundle of carrots to play with this week.

carrotswholeandshredded

With the above-pictured carrots, I made cake.

With the below-pictured carrots, I made soup. Some were a tad wrinkly, sure. Not to worry, once puréed, no one would suspect a thing.

carrots

Below: Carrot-ginger soup served with Bäco flatbreads. These deserve their own post. Soon, I hope.

carrot-ginger soup

ginger & garlic

Mini spring-form pans filled with batter (at left) and baked (at right).

baked & unbaked cakes

cut cakes

carrot cakes

cake

cake

I made several mini cakes with this batter as well as some patriotic cupcakes for the Fouth of July. While the cupcakes were a hit, this batter definitely bakes more evenly and better in cake pans. Stick to cakes with this recipe. It is a yummy yummy recipe. 

frosted cupcakes

The pizza guys at Izza, a new San Clemente pizza joint.
pizza guys

I’m not sure why I’m trying to squeeze so much into this post, but I just want to tell you one more thing. This past Wednesday, the love of my life and I celebrated our four-year anniversary by eating our favorite food on the planet … pizza pizza. Izza, a thin-crust, wood-fired, Neopolitan-style pizza place opened its doors just in time for us to celebrate our happy day. The pizza was fabulous, our server was adorable, and the vanilla gelato was heavenly. We couldn’t be happier with this addition to the San Clemente restaurant scene. Well, if they added a white clam pizza to their menu, I might be slightly happier, but maybe in time that will come.

And last but not least, check out this old photo I found. It was taken way back in middle school when Ben and I met on a field trip in Thessaloniki. I’m just kidding, you know, but seriously, I would have guessed ages 15 and 12 respectively. Yikes.

ben & ali

The Ultimate Carrot Cake
Source: Fine Cooking Magazine
Article: “Carrot Cake, Perfected” by Gregory Case

Note: I have made some modifications to the original recipe. To read the original, click here.

For the cake:
Softened butter and flour for the pan
1 lb. carrots
10 oz. (2-1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cup vegetable oil

For the frosting:
8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and completely softened at room temperature
1 lb. cream cheese, cut into pieces and completely softened at room temperature
4-1/4 oz. (1 cup) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract

Make the cake:
1. Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch heavy-duty metal cake pan.

2. In a food processor, using the shredder attachment, shred the carrots. Transfer to a small bowl and rinse the food processor bowl (you’ll need it again).

3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Whisk to blend thoroughly.

4. In the food processor (again use the steel blade), mix the eggs and sugars until blended. With the machine running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream until combined. Scrape this mixture into the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to combine. Add the carrots; stir to combine.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a rack to room temperature before inverting the pan to remove the cake. Let cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting:
Fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (a hand mixer works, too). Beat the butter on medium speed until it’s quite light, fluffy, and resembles whipped cream, about 3 minutes. Add the cream cheese one piece at a time, beating well after each addition. When all the cream cheese is incorporated, reduce the speed to medium low and gradually add the sugar and vanilla, stopping the mixer each time you add the sugar. Mix just enough to remove any lumps; scrape the bowl as needed. If the frosting seems a bit loose, refrigerate it for a few minutes until it seems spreadable.

Frost the cake:
Scrape about two-thirds of the frosting onto the center of the cake. With a narrow metal offset spatula, push the frosting from the center out to and just over the cake’s edges. Spread with as few strokes as possible to prevent crumbs from catching in the frosting. Cover the top of the cake first then use the remaining frosting along with what’s creeping over the edges of the cake to cover the sides.

Kumquat Upside-Down Cake

kumquats in pan

kumquats in pan

What do you do with two pounds of kumquats? Why you make a kumquat upside-down cake, Silly. What else would you do.

No, seriously, what else would you do? I have been getting them every week in my CSA (which has been awesome), but had it not been for the lovely Huebscher, who pointed me to this recipe, those kumquats would still be sitting in my fridge. I mean seriously, there’s only so much no-face* you can play with these tart little gems, though I have found them more bearable in the past few weeks. I have nothing scientific to back this up, but it seems the bigger the kumquat, the sweeter. Can anyone support this theory?

Fortunately, kumquats keep well in the fridge and do make a fabulous upside-down cake. That said, I wouldn’t mind exploring some other uses. My mother and I were thinking they might make a nice addition to a braised dish or a Moroccan tagine or something of the sort.

So, I have never done this, but I am feeling creative (— just bought a mat cutter … so much fun — ) and would like to propose a challenge which will result in a gift for one of you. What I would like from you are recipes/ideas featuring kumquats. Whoever supplies the best idea will receive a framed picture, perhaps one of these.

As I suspected, another little baggy of kumquats arrived in my CSA today. I will stash them away until I hear back from you.

kumquats

Kumquat Upside Down Cake

kumquats in pan

Kumquat Upside Down Cake

batter

Kumquat Upside Down Cake
Source: Beauty Everyday

1½ lbs. kumquats, halved
1 stick (4 oz | 113g) unsalted butter
¾ cup light brown sugar
3 T. honey
½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt

1 1/3 cup flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 cup (8 oz | 226g) unsalted butter, softened (if using salted use less salt)
1 1/3 cup sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.

2. Melt butter in a large cast iron pan over medium heat. Be careful not to burn the butter. Add brown sugar and stir until mixed. Remove from heat. Add vanilla, honey and salt, and stir to combine.

3. Add the fruit to caramel mixture — fit as much as you can inside. (WARNING: I used about 1½ lbs. of kumquats, and squeezed them all in. About half-way through baking, the syrup bubbled up and spilled out onto my oven floor. Smoke was everywhere. So, you can either place the kumquats in just one layer, or you could take your chances and maybe place a cookie sheet on the rack below the pan to catch any over flow.)

Make the batter:
4. Put softened butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating on high. Add vanilla.

5. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to wet ingredients and mix on low speed until combined.

6. Carefully spoon or pour batter over kumquats, taking caution not to disturb the fruit. Carefully smooth the batter.

7. Place cake in oven on the middle rack. Bake for about 1 hour, checking after 45 minutes. Test the cake with a toothpick, making sure it is cooked in the middle. Take a butter knife and loosen edges along the pan. Put cake on a wire rack and let it cool for about 30 minutes.

8. Put a large platter face down over cast iron pan and flip.

Kumquat Upside Down Cake (side view)

*No-face:  Invented circa 2001 by a Canadian hockey player, no-face is a game that requires participants to take shots of particularly offensive high-octane combinations. Whoever makes no face, wins. Kate Ling, if I recall correctly, is reigning champion.

Alice Waters’ Baked Goat Cheese Salad & Morning Song Farm CSA

salad3

salad3

It’s hard to find fault in a warm round of herb-marinated, breadcrumb-encrusted goat cheese. But seriously my friends, the goat cheese was not the star of this salad. See those greens up there? The tender green leaves and the baby red romaine? These greens, gosh, I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious they are. They come from Morning Song Farm, the north San Diego County farm whose CSA I just joined.

I have been meaning to join a CSA since arriving in California over a year ago now, and when I learned that the new wine and cheese bar in town was a drop off spot for CSAs, I jumped. I signed up on a Monday via email and two days later my box of freshly harvested produce arrived at The Cellar. I can’t tell you how easy it was. Before I knew it, the above pictured greens were in my hands along with a boodle of other treats — lemons, avocados, grapefruits, Swiss Chard, beets, strawberries, herbs and the list goes on and on. (You can see almost everything that arrived in weeks one and two in the pictures below.)

Most of you know what a CSA is, but just in case, there is a quick summary about halfway down the page here. And if you still haven’t signed up for one, check out LocalHarvest.org. With 2,500 participating farms listed in their database, Local Harvest has the most comprehensive directory of CSAs in the country.

When I saw these greens, I thought of Alice Waters’ recipe for baked goat cheese salad, which Cookstr recently highlighted in their Mother’s Day newsletter. It’s a wonderful recipe. I followed it mostly, substituting toasted panko bread crumbs for the freshly made ones, a shortcut I’m sure Alice Waters would look down on, but alas, it worked.

Anyway, hooray!, it’s Wednesday, which means it’s CSA pickup day. I hate to be sentimental, but one of the best parts about belonging to a CSA is actually belonging. I so look forward to walking up to The Cellar every Wednesday and saying hi to Dawn and Zoe, who have become my west coast incarnations of Sarah Cain, Emily Teel and Joanna Pernick, my friends at the Fair Food Farmstand whom I dearly miss. It is so much fun peaking inside the box each week, inspecting the goods, and sharing a strawberry or a few strands of the most fragrant and delectable mint you have ever seen. Seriously, it is a real joy.

csa3

csa1

week2_csa

csa week 2

Red Lettuce

lettuce

babygreens

Baked Goat Cheese Salad
Source: Alice Waters and Cookstr
Serves: 4

For the goat cheese rounds:
½ pound fresh goat cheese (one 2 by 5-inch log)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1 small sprig rosemary, chopped
½ sour baguette, preferably a day old (I used panko bread crumbs)

salad greens, however many you need

For the dressing:

Finely dice a shallot or two. Place in a bowl and cover with the juice of one orange. Add 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and a pinch of sugar. Let macerate for 15 minutes, if you have the time, or less, if you don’t. Whisk in about 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. It’s ok if the dressing is not totally emulsified. Just give it a stir when you’re ready to use it and make sure to scoop out some of those delicious shallots over your greens when you’re ready to toss them.

1. Carefully slice the goat cheese into 8 disks about ½ inch thick. Pour the olive oil over the disks and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Cover and store in a cool place for several hours or up to a week.

2. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Cut the baguette in half lengthwise and dry out in the oven for 20 minutes or so, until dry and lightly colored. Grate into fine crumbs on a box grater or in a food processor. The crumbs can be made in advance and stored until needed. (Note: Using panko makes this process much simpler)

3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. (Note: Cookstr says a toaster oven works well.) Remove the cheese disks from the marinade and roll them in the bread crumbs, coating them thoroughly. Place the cheeses on a small baking sheet and bake for about 6 minutes, until the cheese is warm.

4. Toss the lettuces lightly with the vinaigrette and arrange on salad plates. With a metal spatula, carefully place 2 disks of the baked cheese on each plate and serve.

Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Steaks, Oven-Roasted Potatoes & All-time Favorite Brownies

Balsamic Parsley Caper Sauce for Grilled Steak

steak and potatoes

My mother is worried. This isn’t a new sentiment, I can assure you. Worry, I’m afraid, pervades her daily existence. She’s worried about the plastic wrap in this recipe and would like me to offer you all an alternative. One Thanksgiving, my mother was so worried, she sent me an oven. An oven. She didn’t know how I could possibly make my turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes with only one oven, and so she sent me an oven.

Last week, my mother became worried about my husband, Ben. She’s worried he might wilt away if I keep feeding him tofu and edamame and beets and eggs. So driven by her worry, my mother sent me 10 pounds of steaks, just, you know, to tuck in my freezer in case an iron-deficient Ben starts looking pale and cold.

But my mother is so thoughtful, too. And a wonderful gift-giver she has always been. Sensitive to my feelings about animals and food-miles, she sent me grass-fed steaks from the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, CA. I took the opportunity to make this Grilled Grass-fed Ribeye with Balsamic Caper Vinaigrette recipe from the latest Bon Appetit. Damn, steak is good. I’ve forgotten. And this sauce — reduced balsamic seasoned with crushed red pepper flakes and mixed with parsley, capers, shallots and olive oil — is fabulous. It’s such a treat to have our freezer stocked with this incredibly flavorful, humanely raised and relatively local meat.

Mama, worry no longer. Rest assured that the love of my life is beaming, a hearty helping of meat and potatoes certainly to credit. Thank you for the wonderful gift!

raw steaks
Pictured above: Raw, grass-fed ribeyes, rubbed with smoked paprika, garlic, pepper and salt.Note: While this smoked paprika rub adds a nice flavor, I don’t recommend using it for these grass-fed steaks. We’ve cooked the Hearst Ranch steaks twice now, once with the rub, once without, and we preferred the steaks without the rub — a liberal sprinkling of kosher salt brings out the real flavor of the meat. Also, be sure not to overcook these steaks. For medium-rare, try two minutes a side and allow the steaks to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Balsamic-parsley-and-caper sauce:
parsley-caper sauce

Have I not yet shared with you my favorite brownie recipe? I can’t believe that. I discovered this recipe in a Fine Cooking magazine three years ago and have not tried another brownie recipe since. Like the pizza and the muffins and the orange and olive oil cake, these brownies are it.

brownies and milk

Rich Fudgy Brownies
Source: Fine Cooking
Yield = 16 (2-inch) brownies

Note: If you have a scale, I highly recommend using it. I use my Salter digital scale when I make these and they come out perfectly every time.

Also: To make this gluten-free, simply swap the all-purpose flour with almond flour. You’d never know the difference.

8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter; plus more for the pan
15¼ oz. (2 cups) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
2½ oz (¾ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 oz (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour or almond flour (for gluten free); plus more for the pan
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. table salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and position rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan or line with parchment paper.

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a large separate bowl whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt. Transfer butter mixture to bowl with flour and stir with spatula or wooden spoon until batter is smooth.

3. Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 37-40 minutes. Insert a pairing knife or steak knife straight into center. If it comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs, the brownies are done. Let cool completely in pan on rack.

Grilled Grass-fed Ribeyes with Balsamic-Caper Vinaigrette
Source: Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 4

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for steaks and grill
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

4 3/4-inch-thick grass-fed rib-eye steaks
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1. Simmer vinegar in small pan over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Add shallots, 1/4 cup oil, and crushed red pepper; return to simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in parsley, capers, and thyme. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

2. Rub both sides of steaks lightly with oil. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper.

3. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush grill rack with oil to coat. Grill steaks until cooked to desired doneness, about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to plates. Spoon vinaigrette over or serve on the side.

The Best Bloody Mary, Breakfast at Ramos House

bloody mary with pickled green beans and a scotch quail egg

bloody mary with pickled green beans and a scotch quail egg

I’m not even the Bloody Mary type. And had my friend not encouraged me so, I wouldn’t have thought to order one. But I do as I’m told, generally, and I began my breakfast at The Ramos House Cafe with a Bloody Mary. A Bloody Mary teeming with pickled green beans, sprinkled with shredded basil and chives, and topped — completed — with a scotch quail egg that is.

What, might you ask, is a scotch quail egg? A scotch quail egg is a soft-boiled quail egg, wrapped in ham, breaded and deep fried. And it is insanely delicious. Had I ordered nothing else that morning, I would have been completely content.

Well, in theory, I would have been completely content. Had I never tasted the apple cinnamon beignets, had I never spread the buttermilk biscuits with homemade apple jam, and had I never run my fork through the wild mushroom scramble into crispy sweet potato shavings, I would have been completely content.

I’ve been to Ramos House now several times and can’t say enough about it. For one, it’s hands down one of the most charming restaurants I’ve ever stepped foot in. I could spend hours in the bathroom alone. Truly. Go. You’ll understand.

But even if Ramos House wasn’t rooted in an idyllic garden, flanked by lemon trees and gurgling fountains, stationed next to a railway leading to, perhaps, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the food would make up for any lack of ambience.

This place is worth a trip across the country. Seriously. All of you East Coasters who have yet to come visit me in sunny California, here’s some more fodder. It has been a little over a year now since I moved, and I am finally feeling settled. Meaning, I have finally found some food outlets that rival, in their own way, Ding Ho noodles, Fisher’s soft pretzles, and Melograno’s mushroom pappardelle.

My most recent visitors, pictured here standing outside Pannikin on PCH, another favorite spot, shared my enthusiasm for Ramos House. And, before leaving the OC last week, they managed to so kindly buy me a copy of the Ramos House Cafe cookbook. Words cannot describe my excitement. While I haven’t tested the recipe below, I have a feeling it’s a winner.

Happy Easter!

Ramos House Cafe

Bloody Mary Recipe

Ramos House Bloody Mary

Source: The Ramos House Cafe cookbook
Yield = 4-6 servings

1 liter Clamato
Vodka or Soju
1 T. prepared horseradish
2 T. wild hot sauce (not sure what “wild” means)
1 T. black pepper
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon, blanched (not sure why it must be blanched)
1 clove garlic
¼ cup pitted green olives, chopped
salt to taste

1. Place all ingredients except for the vodka in a blender or food processor and puree. Fill a glass with ice and add desired amount of vodka. Fill remainder of glass with Bloody Mary mix.

2. Garnish with Pickled Green Beans (recipe below), crab claw, herb salad and diced bell peppers.

Pickled Green Beans

2 lbs. green beans
5½ cups rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
½ small onion, sliced
¼ cup crushed, dried red chiles
1/8 cup coriander seeds
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¾ cup water
4 T. salt
1 oz. whole black peppercorns
6 T. sugar

1. Bring all ingredients except for the green beans to a boil. Skim. Allow mixture to steep for at least 30 minutes, then strain.

2. Bring to a boil, blanch beans in brine (add to water for about 15 seconds, then remove), then cool on sheet trays in the refrigerator.

3. Strain pickling brine again. Cool. Return vegetables to cool in pickling liquid. Refrigerate for up to one month.

Scotch Quail Eggs

10 quail eggs
½ pound bulk sausage, raw
2 eggs, beaten
flour for dredging
bread crumbs for dredging

1. Place quail eggs in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Drain off hot water and cover with ice to stop the cooking process.

2. When cool, peel the shells off the eggs. Flatten sausage into 10 pieces. The pieces should be big enough to encase the egg, but not too thick.

3. Roll the eggs in flour then wrap the eggs with the flattened sausage. Bread the wrapped eggs by rolling them in flour, dipping them in raw beaten eggs and rolling in the bread crumbs.

4. Deep fry in 350ºF oil for approximately 4 minutes.

Serve with:

Murdock’s Magic Mustard

1 cup Coleman’s dry mustard
1 cup sugar
1 cup tarragon vinegar
3 large eggs

1. Whisk together all ingredients in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Set bowl on top of a pot of simmering water. Stirring constantly, cook mustard sauce until it thickens. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and chill immediately. Murdock’s magic mustard will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Ramos House Cookbook