Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cool Tool

I found this overgrown micro-zester last week at my local kitchen shop and have been merrily grating cheeses and citrus rinds at every opportunity. It requires a little restraint when used on lemon skins, lest its Big Boy teeth slice down into the bitter pith, but basically it does a splendid job of making slender strands of rind.
This afternoon I bought some lovely fresh scallops at the Los Altos farmers' market and decided to serve them with a lemon risotto reminiscent of one I'd tasted at Myth in San Francisco. I kept it super simple: I sauteed chopped shallots in olive oil, sweated the Arborio rice in the oil and then added a few slugs of vermouth. Once that was absorbed I finished the cooking with vegetable stock and, at the last minute, I stirred in the juice of half a Meyer lemon and then blitzed the pan with grated lemon rind.
This went onto hot plates while I quickly seared the scallops and then arranged them atop the rice. No one would have mistaken the dish as coming from Myth's superb kitchen, but it was pretty damned good for a suburban patio dinner on a hot Thursday night.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Eagerly Awaiting Nigella

Nigella's Book

Be of good cheer, Nigella fans, as I bring you tidings of great joy: "Nigella Express" will be serialised in The Times Magazine, starting this Saturday. And since it's the London Times, the first installment should be posted sometime Friday, US time. I'll be at the computer obsessively logging on to from Friday morning on.
The single best day I've had in my years of freelance writing was the one I spent shopping and cooking with Herself. Usually I find it's not a great idea to meet your heroes; too often they are shorter, plainer and grumpier than their public personnae. Nigella, however, was smarter, funnier and ridiculously more gorgeous in person.
OK, enough of this babbling like a 1960's teenage girl who once touched Paul McCartney's jacket cuff. Back to cookbooks. I've had terrific success with dozens of Nigella's recipes and "How to Eat" is high on my list of "Cookbooks I'd Want if Stranded on a Desert Island or Confined to Prison for Poisoning Dick Cheney."
When I heard about "Nigella Express" I immediately posted a request on one of the online used book sites -- my technique for getting early copies of books I crave. It's no secret that book reviewers for magazines and newspapers sell their review copies this way and I've had 100% success in getting books before they hit retail shelves or appear on Amazon.
Until now. Not a single copy -- even though the British edition will be in stores in September, which means there are books in existence. Why haven't they made it to my beloved cyber stores?
And then I realized: every danged reviewer is holding on to his/her copy. Reading it. Cooking from it. Loving it.
Selfish; selfish; selfish.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Souffle Tuesday: Pears A-Plenty

These Comice pears on the tree just outside our kitchen window won't be ready for picking for another few weeks, but good pears are beginning to appear in the markets, which means I'll soon be making one of my favorite dessserts: Poire William Souffle with Fresh Pear Slices.
The recipe is an adaptation of Christopher Idone's Chartreuse Souffle from his aptly named book "Glorious Food." For years I made it just as Idone instructed, but the mocking comments on an on-line community called The Well ("Chartruese tastes disgusting" being one of the milder gibes) led me to substitute pear liquer for the Chartruese and fresh pear slices for Idone's rich creme anglaise.
If you happen to have a 9 x 13.5 x 1.5" tin-lined oval copper pan, you'll find your souffle will look gratifyingly similar to the gorgeous photo in Idone's book. Lacking that particular pan, use any shallow oven-proof dish that comes close to those dimensions.

Poire William Souffle

9 egg whites
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup Poire William
Confectioners ' sugar
2 ripe pears -- preferably Comice -- sliced

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Butter the souffle pan and dust with granulated sugar.
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until fluffy; then add 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the cream of tartar; continue to beat until soft peaks form.
In another bowl, beat the egg yolks until smooth and lemon-colored. Fold in the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and then fold in the Poire William.
Stir one heaping spoonful of egg whites into the yolk mixture; then lightly fold in the remaining whites.
Transfer the mixture to the souffle pan, shaping the surface into peaks.
Place the pan on the lowest shelf of the oven and bake 12-15 minutes or until the souffle is puffed and browned on top.
Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve immediately, accompanied by a bowl of the sliced pears. Serves 6.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ugly but Tasty

My dislike of carrots holds only a weak candle to my abhorrence of peas, but if Bugs Bunny's favorite snack should vanish from this earth, I'd shed no tears. The Resident Gardener, of course loves carrots and insists on growing them -- not just the basic orange variety but also yellow and purple ones. Now you can call a carrot 'Yellowstone' or 'Cosmic Purple' but it's still a carrot and I'd still rather not eat it.
This weekend, however, I found a dead-simple way to cook our home-grown carrots that resulted in my actually liking both the taste and the texture: I was fixing Nigella Lawson's Loin of Pork with Bay Leaves from "How to Eat" and didn't have enough onions to make a sufficient base for the roast. I rummaged through the vegetable bin and pulled out some particularly gnarly yellow carrots. With my favorite little cheap-o Y-shaped vegetable peeler I made slim carrot ribbons, mixed them with the pitiful little pile of sliced onions and then topped the vegetables with bay leaves and the pork.
By the time the meat was cooked, the carrot ribbons had braised in it's herby juices and were, I must admit, extremely tasty. Resident Gardener claims it was due to superior basic ingredients but I think of it as The Miracle of the Pork Drippings.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sunday Supper, Italian-style

I'm still purring with delight at the memory of last Sunday's dinner: a four-course, set-menu meal served family-style at La Posta in Santa Cruz. Describing the menu makes the food sound prosaic: tomato bruschetta, followed by a zucchini frittata, chicken caciatore as the main course and a melon sorbetto for dessert. But the bruschetta was topped with a cascade of fresh cranberry beans, the frittata was tender with young zucchini, the tomato sauce on the chicken was rich with olives and the sorbetto was made from aromatic Charentais melon. Oh, and with the chicken came a bowl of perfect -- perfect, I tell you -- polenta. We scraped the sides of the serving bowl to get every bite.

I'm a huge fan of chef Chris Avila's food, which always shows a dedication to the Italian traditions of simplicity and seasonality. I asked him if he'd spent extensive time in Italy. "Just one trip," he told me, "but I look at a lot of cookbooks." High on his list of favorite cookbook writers? "I really like Mario Batali," he said. And I suspect that if Batali should visit Santa Cruz, he'd really like the food at La Posta.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Souffle Tuesday: Showcasing Fresh Thyme

Four varieties of thyme are thriving in our vegetable garden right now --and all of them work well with goat cheese. To showcase the lemon thyme I took an unusual souffle recipe from the lovely cookbook by Sally Clarke of Clarke's -- a school-of-Chez-Panisse restaurant in London -- and doubled (at least) the amount of herbs. Not subtle, but delicious.
The twist on traditional souffle-baking here is the use of shallow individual soup dishes which gives you souffles with lots of golden top crust.

Goat Cheese and Thyme Souffles for Two
(adapted from "Sally Clarke's Book: Recipes from a restaurant, shop & bakery")

A few tablespoons of melted butter
3 ounces grated Parmesan
2 eggs, separated
5 ounces soft goat cheese
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tsp -- or more -- fresh thyme leaves
Salt & pepper

Butter 2 shallow oven-proof soup bowls. Brush them with the melted butter and sprinkle the bottom and sides with some of the Parmesan.
Beat the egg yolks until smooth; beat in the goat cheese and then stir in the thyme and a dash each of salt and pepper and half the remaining Parmesan.
Beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage and fold them into the yolk/goat cheese mixture. Spoon the mixture into the soup bowls and sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan and a few more thyme leaves on top.
Place the bowls on a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven. Immediately lower the heat to 375-degrees.
Bake until the souffles until puffed and deeply golden -- about 10 minutes, although smaller, deeper bowls may take a couple minutes longer. These must be served immediately, but you knew that.

I had lunch at Clarke's nearly a decade ago, but have no notes as to what I ate and remember only a superb pate as the first course. London is not on my regular dining circuit, but a visit to Clarke's website ( is a small gift I regularly give myself.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Charcuterie of My Dreams

I've been to three farmers' markets in the last eight days -- despite having my own rather substantial vegetable garden. But I've been seeking sausages rather than late summer produce. Sausages and bacon and mortadella and the savory little patties encased in caul fat that the French call crepinettes.
The source of all these porcine delights is an artisan enterprise called Severino's -- a labor of love and skill by butcher/chef Justin Severino and his wife Hilary. Their output is small: they sell only at farmers' markets in Santa Cruz and the South Bay and if you arrive late at the market, many items will be sold out. (Read more at
Many years ago I had a simple but delicious lunch in the French village of Blois. The weather was so beastly that J and I chose the restaurant mostly to escape the driving rain. There was a fire in the fireplace, a nice local wine available by the carafe and grilled sausages that still haunt my memories. The sausages crafted by Justin Severino are every bit as wonderful as those I ate in Blois. And, if you live within 50 miles of Santa Cruz, a lot easier to find.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Belated Birthday Musings

Wednesday was Julia Child's birthday.
She taught me how to cook. Who knew there was an easy and efficient way to chop an onion, julienne a carrot, roll an omelet? Truth be told, I'd never seen or eaten an omelet before opening "Mastering."
One of the many things I loved about Julia was the way she shared credit with Paul. After she signed my copy of "Julia Child & Company," she immediately handed it to him. Nearly 30 years after that evening, looking at this signature page still makes me smile.
August 15: Shouldn't it be a national holiday?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Honey Lemon Souffles

Damn these were good! And I'd had low expectations: I wanted to play around with some souffle techniques, didn't want to trek to the store and had the ingredients in my pantry. I set out some vanilla gelato and a bowl of olallieberries and raspberries as accompaniments, but the souffles were so delicious that we completely ignored the gelato and added only a scattering of berries.
The dishes are French charlotte molds -- these measue 4-inches across the top and are 2.5-inches deep.

Honey Souffles for Two
(adapted from "Omelettes, Souffles and Frittatas" by Lou Seibert Pappas)

3 eggs separated + white from one additional egg
dash salt
1 Tb. powdered sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 tsp. coarsely grated lemon zest
1 Tb. flour
1 Tb. butter, melted

Place a baking sheet on the lowest oven shelf and preheat oven to 400-degrees. Lavishly butter 2 individual souffle dishes; dust the bottoms and sides with sugar and then place them in the refrigerator.
Beat the egg whites until they just begin to foam ; add the salt and powdered sugar and beat until *soft* peaks form.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and pale in color. Whisk in the honey, lemon zest, flour and butter. Fold one-fourth of the beaten egg whites into the yolk mixture and then fold this into the remaining egg whites.
Spoon into the prepared dishes, filling them to the rim.
Place on the baking sheet in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 375-degrees.
Cook until well-risen and browned on top. Mine were perfect after 10 minutes, but if you use ceramic dishes rather than metal charlotte molds, I suspect they'd take a bit longer.I also suspect that my oven runs a little hot. Once I get my gorgeous new Viking ovens installed I'll be able to provide laboratory-accurate oven temps and times.
Of course, I have to order the ovens first. Details, details.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Inaugurating Souffle Tuesday -- part the first

It was, after all, a five- (maybe six-) inch souffle dish, certainly an adequate portion for two. But the next time I'm in Paris I'm going back to Le Recamier and have a caramel souffle ALL TO MYSELF.
Le Recamier is a delightful little restaurant in the 6th arrondisement, just across the street from the Hotel Lutetia. Souffles are their specialty, which meant that the waiter didn't arch an eyebrow or curl a lip when we ordered savory spinach souffles for a first course and then followed our veal shanks entrees with the aforementioned caramel souffle. Caramel au fleur du sel, to be precise.

Since it may be quite a while before I return to Le Recamier I've decided to explore souffle-making with a tad more intensity than my usual pace of one-souffle-every-other-month and will report back here on my successes and failures each Tuesday.
Tonight I made a very simple dessert souffle ( flavored with honey and lemon zest) to see if two tips I'd learned recently would make any noticeable difference in my quest for souffle success.
First, in rereading an old New York Times article, I found this from Amanda Hesser: "With sweet souffles it is helpful to add a little powdered sugar at the beginning (about a tablespoon for every four egg whites). This helps the whites form tight bonds and for the finished souffles to rise evenly in tall, firm cylinders."
Second, I decided to ignore the usual cookbook advice to fill souffle dishes only to within an inch or so of their tops. A visit to the kitchen at Le Recamier had revealed cooks heaping the souffle dishes to the rims -- even, in some cases, mounding the batter into pyramid-like peaks above the dishes' centers.

I incorporated both suggestions into tonight's individual souffles. Results in the next post--because Computer Guru is still frolicking in Maine, far from any internet service, and I still can't figure out how to incorporate multiple photos in a single post.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Eric's EZ Lemongrass Maple Granita

Here's another granita recipe that was intended for last Wednesday's Chronicle FOOD story. This one hit a hurdle in the testing stage: the oh-so-convenient Gourmet Garden prepared lemongrass had all but disappeared from supermarket shelves. Since a recipe that began with "Beat the hell out of lemongrass stalks, puree them and then beat them again" hardly fit the article's premise of quick and easy desserts I asked cookbook author Eric Gower for another suggestion.

The resulting Ginger Maple Granita made it into print, but I still loved the lemongrass idea. Recently I found that the prepared lemongrass is again widely available, so I'm delighted to share this recipe from one of the most creative cooks I know. His beautiful new cookbook, "The Breakaway Cook," ranks as one of my favorites of the year.
Yes, that is a pile of his books sitting on my desk - a pile that soon will need replenishing, as I'm finding the book to be a perfect birthday/shower/host gift.


Unlike most granitas, which require four or five hours of freezing time and periodic tending, this granita takes just a few minutes, start to finish. For a creamier version, add a tablespoon of plain yogurt to the blender.

2 cups ice (about 10 medium-large ice cubes)
2 tablespoons prepared lemongrass*
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 cup very cold sparkling mineral water

Place all the ingredients in a blender, and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary. Transfer to bowls and enjoy right away, or transfer to a plastic tub and freeze for later.

* Gourmet Garden lemongrass, comes in a refrigerated tube (sold in the produce section of most supermarkets)

I'd add three more footnotes:
*The Gourmet Garden tubes are about 5-inches long, have green lids and often are located near those little plastic packets of obscenely overpriced fresh herbs.
*My puny circa-1987 blender wasn't up to the task of creating instant granita, so I used the standard freeze-and-scrape method.
*Chill the serving bowls for a while before making the granita.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Loving Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena is the herbal equivalent of The Eggplant that Ate Chicago. It starts out as a wee little slip of a plant in a 4-inch container and by mid-summer it's taller than corn in Kansas. I like how it looks both in the garden and in flower arrangements, but I never made much culinary use of it other than steeping a few leaves in tea.

Then Michelle Polzine -- the brilliant and adorable pastry chef at Range in San Francisco -- gave me this recipe for an article. The article appeared today in the San Francisco Chronicle's food section , but -- because of space constraints -- only the recipe for Polzine's delicious raspberry granita made it into print.
Her lemon verbena ice also is terrific, so I'm happy to have a place to share it. If you don't have the herb in your own garden and can't find it at a farmer's market, check to see if a friend is growing it. I'll bet you a dinner at Range that said gardener will have plenty to spare.

Lemon Verbena Granita

1 scant cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
1/3 cup lightly packed *small* lemon verbena leaves
2 cups spring water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt

Whirl lemon verbena leaves in blender with cold simple syrup until only small green flecks are visible. Strain through a coarse sieve, pushing most of the non-fibrous bits through. Add spring water, lemon juice and salt. Pour into a shallow pan and set in freezer. Every 30-40 minutes, rake icy portions until entire mixture is frozen into feathery flakes.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Perfection Found

Should Heston Blumenthal be planning a sequel to "In Search of Perfection," he doesn't have to crisscross the world in search of the perfect hoagie. It exists, as it has for 53 years, at a tiny storefront in Ocean City, New Jersey.
Usually I welcome culinary debate. Are the macarons better at Pierre Herme or Laduree? Which crab meat is sweeter: West Coast Dungeness or East Coast blue? Is Humboldt Fog one of the five top cheeses of the world or does it only rank in the top 10? I have my opinions, but well-reasoned arguments and numerous comparative tastings might sway them.
But my Hoagie Manifesto is carved in granite. Until you have tried the Basic Italian -- with hot peppers -- at Voltaco's, you simply have not sampled the Platonic Ideal of hoagies.

There's been plenty of twaddle printed in Mid-Atlantic newspapers and magazines as to what determines hoagie quality, with most articles including quasi-mystic references to the bread -- in particular, the water used to make the bread dough. Balderdash. As the attractive young woman I spoke to across the counter a few days ago said, "We use the best quality ingredients, more meat and cheese than most other shops and make the sandwiches only to order."
So, if you ever find yourself anywhere near Ocean City, proceed directly to 975 West Avenue, order the largest size hoagie and refuse to share it with anyone. And if you should run into Heston Blumenthal, expect to see an enormous grin of delight on his face.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sweeter than Mother's Love

My feelings about yellow-kernel corn on the cob can be summed up by a question a French friend once asked: "Is that not something one feeds to the horses?"
But corn with tiny white kernels -- grown in South Jersey, harvested early in the morning, heaped on a wooden table in a vegetable stand a few hours later and cooked that night -- heaven.
This summer J has been grilling the corn and we're all loving it. No more cauldron of water steaming up the kitchen--just sweet, tender corn steamed in its own juices and rushed to the table.

To prep the corn, J pulls back the husks, removes all the silk (well, most of it), closes up the husks and wraps each ear in aluminum foil. These packages go on the gril for about 15 minutes, with one turn about halfway through the cooking time.

And each time she takes her first bite, my mother -- who has been eating sweet Jersey corn for nearly 90 summers -- sighs and says: "Sweet as Mother's love."