Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tortilla Soup

I am not a corn tortilla person. They remind me of corn chips that you absentmindedly put in your mouth when you wonder into the kitchen, still sleepy from last night's party and the bowl of corn chips is there, sitting on the counter and the chips are decidedly not crispy anymore and taste rather like cardboard. And probably I'm not a fan because they usually aren't fresh made corn tortillas. But sometimes you see a recipe and you think. Now is the time to try that. That sounds good.

We have to thank Brett of In Praise of Sardines for giving his wife's Tortilla soup recipe. And for the delightful story that accompanies it. Last night, L. and I cooked up our own occasion for memories.

So many recipes just use tortillas as a garnish. But in this one, the tortillas are cooked right in and thicken the broth while adding their distinct flavor. (Note to self - no need to fret about the right way to cut the tortillas.) And the cumin and chili powder will keep your taste buds thanking God they are alive.

L. and I like leftovers so we doubled Brett's recipe - well, almost, (not the chili powder, or the avocado or the chicken). Plus we cooked the chicken in the soup - it stays so tender when it's cooked in broth (like in this chicken soup recipe).

4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, minced
4 corn tortillas (we used Whole Foods organic stone ground), cut in half and then into 1/4 inch strips
2 Tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder such as ancho chili powder
1 bay leaf
2 cups tomatoes, peeled and diced, fresh or canned (can't wait til summer to try fresh!)
6 cups chicken broth
1 heaping teaspoon Kosher salt
1 chicken breast , de-boned and sliced into 1/2 inch wide strips.
1 avocado
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Add the oil and onions into a stock pot and cook over medium-low heat until onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and the jalapeno chili and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
Go outside to empty your kitchen compost pail. Come back inside. Inhale. Isn't that the most wonderful aroma?
  • Add the tortilla strips and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add the cumin, the chili powder and the bay leaf and stir for about a minute.
  • Add the tomato and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Add the chicken broth and salt. Simmer for about 25 minutes.
  • Add the chicken pieces. Bring soup back to simmer and cook for an additional 5 minutes or so.
Thanks Brett!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Class acts in the South Bay

A couple of classes coming up at Sur La Table in Los Gatos.

Afternoon Tapas: Couples
Saturday, February 11, $60
Hands-on class - tapas creations perfect for parties. Spend the afternoon cooking these bite-sized wonders from Europe.
MENU: Manchego and Onion Tortilla, Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp Sauteed in Garlic and Wine) , Grilled Vegetables with Romesco Sauce , Pan y Tomate with Serrano Ham , Roasted Yukon Potatoes with Fried Herbs and Aioli

If you haven't had too many Valentines Day sweets....
One Baker's World View
Wednesday, February 15, $65
Nick Malgieri takes students on a tour from his latest cookbook, "A Baker's Tour, Malgieri's Favorite Baking Recipes from Around the World"
MENU: "Melissa's Chocolate Pecan Cake: Fudgy Chocolate Cake Layers with Creamy Chocolate Pecan Filling (Cape Town), Gateau Praline: Classic French Genoise Filled and Covered with a Hazelnut Buttercream (Paris), Linzerschnitten: Individual Linzertorte Slices (Switzerland) , Pleyels: Delicate Individual Chocolate Cakes (Paris) , Vanillekipferl: Meltingly Delicate Crescent Cookies (Vienna)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Black Pepper Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta

L. and I spent a couple days in Siena a few years ago. No, we can't remember the name of the painter who created the Piccolomini Library murals anymore, but ask us what the local pasta is called. Pici. We loved the fat chewy strands. We tracked down a pici tool, a ribbed wooden rolling pin. We tried it out before our jet lag wore off. But the pici we made came out, not the size of slim pencils, more the size of a giant kiddie crayon and about as chewy as one too. Later, thanks to the Internet, I learned that we were supposed to roll the strings in our hands after cutting them with the roller.

But this is not about that.

This is about elegant, very thin egg noodles that surprise you with a strong peppery kick. For Amy's IMBB 22 Use Your Noodle, I wanted a pasta that bites back. Mario Batali's recipe for Black Pepper Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta spoke to me.

This time, I checked the Internet for advice before diving in, and found several suggestions to substitute sage for parsley and that the parsnips needed 12 minutes cooking time instead of 5 - 6 minutes. And my own substitution: whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose flour and extra parsnips.

How did it turn out? One tablespoon of butter plus the pancetta fat was not sufficient sauce for the pound of pasta. And adding pasta cooking water to the tossing pasta didn't contribute to the flavor. Pancetta with parsnips is a sweet combination of flavors. The pasta was really peppery. Things I would do differently - slice the parsnips much thinner on a mandoline. They'd be easier to cook and distribute better through the noodles. Use less than 2 T pepper in the pasta ( unless I'm just making it for me in which case I really liked the spiciness). Add olive oil or more butter. It's definitely worth trying again.

Here's the recipe.

Back Pepper Tagliatelle (slightly) adapted from the Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali
3 1/2 to 4 cups whole wheat flour
4 extra large eggs
1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
  • Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the eggs, olive oil and black pepper. Using a fork, beat the egg mixture and then gradually incorporate the flour. When the dough has come together, knead it with the heels of your hand for 6 minutes more. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  • Roll out the dough on a pasta machine to the thinnest setting and then cut into 1/4 inch wide noodles.
  • The hardest part follows - where to hang them in your kitchen. I put them on 3 large baking trays and then on sheets of parchment paper on the table.
Black Pepper Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta

Serves 4
Kosher salt
1/4 pound Pancetta or slab bacon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon unsalted Butter
3/4 pound parsnips, peeled, halved and cut into 1/4-inch half-moons
1/4 cup fresh sage, finely chopped
Parmigiano-reggiano, serving
  • Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.
  • In a 12-14 inch saute pan, cook the pancetta over high heat until browned, about 10 minutes.
  • With a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
  • Add the butter and parsnips and saute over high heat until they are golden brown and slightly crispy, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, add the sage and cook for 1 minute longer.
  • Cook the tagliatelle in the boiling water until al dente, about 2 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the pan with the parsnips and pancetta. Toss over high heat, adding pasta cooking water if necessary to keep the sauce from getting too tight. Serve with grated parmesian cheese.
Here's a link to the final round up of noodle dishes.
Tagged with: +

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Why you want to use superior cast iron pans instead of waiting 15 years.

South Bay a premiere dining experience? Try Milpitas.

So much for the new diet book "French Women don't get Fat"

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Olive Oil and Fresh Rosemary Cake

The clients were coming to our studio in the afternoon. Ever since I was a girl spilling chocolate on my little spiral bound Betty Crocker cookbook for kids (happily reissued in 2003, retro cover and all ), I look for excuses to exercise my oven skills. If you love to bake, sharing the bounty is key, or your future holds many shopping trips for new and ever bigger pairs of jeans. Clients in the studio are a perfect justification - and it's marketing right?

Apple cinnamon muffins are yummy, but muffins love mornings don't you think? Serving them in the afternoon seems vaguely embarrassing - like I have been caught wearing white shoes after Labor day.

After browsing a borrowed Babbo cookbook, I set my heart on making the Olive Oil and Fresh Rosemary cake. A cake baked in a loaf pan, without tons of sugar - a negotiation between a cake and a quick bread. Plus, and this is a big plus, it has ingredients that I always have on hand - eggs, olive oil, flour, sugar and rosemary from the front yard.

Just minutes after happy kitchen bustling began, "10 inch" loaf pan zoomed to my attention. I had a 9 inch pan. After a fleeting panic in which I considering stuffing it in anyway, I poured the extra batter into a second small pan and baked it for a shorter time. (The extra 1 inch high "cake" that resulted was a happy accident, tasting like dainty biscotti baked only once because you couldn't wait to eat them).

The cake? Delicious. Light and fluffy with a gentle rosemary fragrance and flavor. What did the clients think? Well, the two women liked it a lot - not too sweet, and extremely tasty they said. They took seconds. I looked expectantly at the guy, waiting for his glowing comments. Hey, he said. Did you put mary jane in this? I looked at him blankly. You know, marijuana.

Oh well. No accounting for taste. I think you'll love this cake. And I'm going to buy this cookbook.

From The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali pg. 287.

Serves 8 - 10
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Preheat the oven to 325 F. Spray a 10-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  • Using the whip attachment, beat the eggs in a mixer for 30 seconds. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is very foamy and pale in color. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Using a spatula, gently fold the rosemary into the batter.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. The cake is done when it is golden brown, springs back when touched, and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool briefly in the pan, then tip out onto a cake rack to continue cooling.

Whole Foods Animal Compassion Foundation

Ok, maybe we are just a bit too fond of Whole Foods. I mean, the other day we were musing about places to live in this country, when we realized that actually, there are only 181 places we would consider because that's how many Whole Foods locations there are and we need to be within 3 miles of one. But honestly, you have to love a store that comes up with "Compassion Day".

If you shop at Whole Foods today, 5% of your purchases will be donated to the Animal Compassion Foundation, an association sponsored by the company to help producers evolve their practices for raising farm animals naturally and humanely.

It is an independent, non-profit organization for ranchers and farmers that will disseminate information about animal welfare husbandry. Whole Foods is also developing standards for enviroments that support the animal's physical, emotional and behavioral needs.

Maybe we will soon start to see "Animal Compassionate" along with "Organic" labels on our food.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Soy Better than Hotdogs

The American Heart Association Heart finds few health benefits from soy. Now I know that some of you are big soy fans (and you know who you are ), but maybe we can cut down on the soy shakes. Their research indicates that eating a very large amount of soy protein, more than half the daily protein intake, may lower LDL cholesterol by a few percentage points when it replaces dairy protein or a mixture of animal proteins (my italics). Talk about damning with faint praise..... "Dieticians have agreed that soy may be beneficial when eaten instead of less nutritious foods such as hamburgers or hot dogs".

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Belgian Waffles

L. shot me a look as surprised as if I had said I wanted to buy a Soap Genie Automatic Soap and Lotion Dispenser with no-drip technology and a musical chime. But I had made up my mind. I was going to get one. A shiny new Belgian waffle maker.

Maybe L. associated waffles with 24 hour restaurants and formica tables sticky with blueberry syrup and pale wafers featuring an ice cream sized scoop of melting butter (margarine?). The kind of places you go to when you are thinking how good a waffle might be and then always end up ordering a spinach omelette instead. Or maybe it was the memory of fellow 4th of July celebrants struggling to get their mouths around fat sugary waffles topped with a few unripe strawberries and a mound of whipped cream from a can.

But I was thinking light and crispy. And wholesome. And how wonderful it would be to eat a hot and crispy waffle right out of the iron. I made my first batch as soon as I got my waffle iron home. It was good, but I was mildly dismayed to discover that waffles are not really a health food - as full of butter and eggs and sugar and white flour as any self-respecting cake.

And so it was that waffles helped me down the liberal path in the kitchen. I was the type of person as unlikely to alter a recipe as a conservative the constitution. But the waffles were so easy and fast to make that I made them often and and saw my way to take the first timid steps to messing with a recipe. A whole wheat flour here, a little less sugar there. And then I was substituting and evaluating like America's Test Kitchen.

So people, we have some good ingredients going here. Whole wheat flour. Buckwheat which tastes great and is good for your heart. Rice milk which makes the waffles beautifully crisp - you can use regular milk or skim milk or anything in between - the thinner the milk, the more crisp your waffles will be. And then I use safflower oil rather than butter. (You can use canola oil, but I just don't like anything really named rapeseed.) This is our favorite waffle.

Really Light and Airy and Crispy and Wholesome Belgian Waffles
2 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cups rice milk ( or other milk)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour ( I prefer the coarse milled flour)
1 cup whole buckwheat flour
1 Tblsp unrefined sugar
1/4 cup safflower oil (or canola)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 rounded teaspoon Kosher salt

Beat the egg yolks, stir in the milk and oil. Add flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir just until large lumps disappear. Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter. Pour into your waffle iron and bake.

I like to top them with blueberries and maple syrup. L. loves them with pears or bananas. Let me know how you like them.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Study of Two Pears


Opusculum paedagogum.
The pears are not viols,
Nudes or bottles.
They resemble nothing else.

They are yellow forms
Composed of curves
Bulging toward the base.
They are touched red.

They are not flat surfaces
Having curved outlines.
They are round
Tapering toward the top.

In the way they are modelled
There are bits of blue
A hard dry leaf hangs
From the stem.

The yellow glistens.
It glistens with various yellows,
Citrons, oranges and greens
Flowering over the skin.

The shadow of the pears
Are blobs on the green cloth.
The pears are not seen
As the observer wills.

--------- Wallace Stevens -----

So, Mr. Stevens thinks it is impossible to adequately describe two pears. And he was just writing about the visual description. I can identify with this poem. How to describe a taste, a flavor.
A Study of Two Bosc Pears
1. juicy and sweet
2. aromatic, slightly grainy flesh that melts in the mouth when ripe.
3. soft and dense wetness with a sugary buttery flavor
4. not crisp like an apple. more delicate flavor.
5. slight spiciness
6. Like lying on soft grasses next to a lively creek watching a bumble bee visit meadow clovers.

How do you describe a pear?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Class acts in the South Bay

Sur La Table in Los Gatos has a couple of classes coming up that look interesting.

Smart Cooking for Your New Year
Tuesday January 24 , $60
A hands on class - Start the new year off right with heart-friendly dishes from Charles Vollmar. Practice unique preparations that make vegetables the centerpiece of the meal and discuss the need for fresh, whole foods and complex carbohydrates in your diet.
MENU: Asian Slaw with Cilantro and Sesame Vinaigrette . Warmed Spinach and Escarole Salad with Portobellos and Parmesan . Blue Lake Beans with Almonds and Caramelized Shallots . Spicy Broccoli Rabe with Olives . Braised Bok Choy with Enoki Mushrooms and Ginger

Another class that looks promising -

David Peatrowski from Three Degrees Restaurant
Monday, January 30, $60
Chefs table format - MENU: Chef Peatrowski will select recipes depending on availability of ingredients at the time of his class. Signature dishes include: Roasted Duck Spring Roll with Fresh Fig Chutney - Grilled Asparagus Mimosa with Shaved Red Onion, Boiled Egg and Champagne Vinaigrette - Steamed Alaskan Halibut with Lobster-Chive Ravioli and Tomato Chive Broth - Pan Roasted Ribeye Steak with Cognac Cream, Roasted Potatoes and Lemon Baby Spinach

Monday, January 16, 2006

David beats Goliath

"Our bullets were focaccia. And sausage. And bread. It was a peaceful war, without any spilling of blood."

Food Blues

Feeling a little depressed lately? Paranoid? Maybe we should be a bit more paranoid about the food we are consuming.

A study from the Mental Health Foundation in the UK reports that "Changes to diets over the last 50 years may be playing a key role in the rise of mental illness, a study says." Less fresh food and more saturated fats and sugar is leading to depression and memory problems. And addressing mental health problems with diet changes is showing better results in some cases than drugs or counseling. Plus they warn that unless there is a radical overhaul of food and farming policies, there won't be healthy and nutritious foods available in the future for people to eat.

Eat those organic vegetables!

Chicken Soup for the... Body

Everyone was talking about the new chips. No, I don't mean organic blue corn and tomato salsa kind of chips, but the Intel chips that the brand new Apple Imac Duos were sporting. L. and I made our annual pilgrimage to Macworld, at which our inner geeks emerged fully formed and eager to discuss GHz, mbits, and PCIe and debate the merits of various cases for the nano ipod which neither of us own. It was fun, but after a few hours I regretted ignoring that advice that mothers give about not skipping breakfast as I scouted the SF Moscone Center for some lunch. The convention food wasn't very appetizing and we only managed to scrounge a small pack of gumbys from the booths. (Giving out candies seems to have gone out of fashion. The big giveaway this year seems to be buttons. Tell me, who besides the people working the show would pierce their clothing with advertising for some company's products? I'd never wear one, well ok, maybe if it said Neal's Yard Dairy Colston Bassett Stilton.)

After a day and evening of high tech adventure, we were eager for a counterbalancing organic experience - and one that would keep us healthy in spite of all the Macworld in January coughs and sneezes we heard. The choice? Our favorite chicken soup.

This is another excellent creation by L. This tastes wonderful and I swear, it really does cure the common cold.

By all means, get organic ingredients, if possible. The list below is right off of my shopping list receipt.
2x cartons chicken broth 8 cups
1 bundle of Soba noodles
2x cups loose spinach .25 lbs
15-20 Crimini mushrooms (small) .25 lbs
1x jalapeno pepper large .07 lbs minced
1x yam or sweet potato 1.5 lbs peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces - we use garnet or jewel or Japanese yams
2x leeks 1.5 lbs
1x carrot .25 lbs peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1x chicken breast bone-In
1x celery stalk with leaves chopped
2x garlic cloves minced
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch all spice
7x - 12x fresh cranberries (optional)
1 tblsp butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
2x tblsp olive oil

Recipe: Chicken soup
Microwave the carrot and sweet potato for 15 minutes. This jump starts the cooking process for the soup, but if you don't have or don't want to use a microwave, then just put them in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

Cook Soba noodles in a separate pot according to package directions.

Meanwhile, clean and cut leek into 1/2 inch rings
Heat olive oil in large pot.
Add leek and saute until softened - about 6 minutes
Skin chicken breast, separate bone from meat, cut meat into 2 inch long thin stripes
Add chicken breast to leek
Add Jalapeno pepper, garlic , celery, and mushrooms and saute for an additional 6 minutes.

Add chicken broth, yam, carrot, spices, salt and pepper to taste and bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Mix in the spinach and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Mix in the Soba noodles and enjoy. L. likes to add in the soba noodles in the individual bowls, but you can add them to the pot too. Let us know if you make this, how you like it or how you improved it!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

There's a sale going on at Williams Sonoma. Lots of goodies at reasonable prices. Check it out!
I'm off to Macworld today so I'll post more later.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

J.K. Rowling misplaced one of her notebooks. As she writes in her on-line diary, she remembered the notebook as containing essential ideas so imaginative that she would never be able to duplicate them, leading to the mournful result of an impoverished next book. Well, maybe our lost pea soup won't affect as many people as those devoted to the Harry Potter books, but we are upset all the same.

Now this isn't just a misplaced recipe. This was a heavenly creation that L. improvised last Sunday night. As dusk painted the clouds a pink grey and temperatures fell, the split peas beckoned to us. Within a couple of hours, we were congratulating ourselves on such a perfect split pea soup - one that captured the very essence of peas. We enjoyed it so much that we decide to make it again the following day, only this time taking note of quantities and procedures so we could write it up for Foodatista.

This pea soup has now taken on mythic proportions in our minds, for the following day's soup tasted nothing like the one on Sunday night. It's like in the film business, when the rehearsal is the best performance, but you didn't get it on film. And every subsequent take is compared to it and the memory of that rehearsal is magnified into the Oscar winning performance that can never be recaptured.

So what are we to do? Well, we will try it again and report back to you how it goes. Have you cooking improvisers ever had this happen to you?

By the way, J. K. Rowling found her notebook, but discovered that it contained few of the brilliant ideas that she had imagined. But I'm sure our pea soup was exceptional.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Rombauer Jam Cake

We decided to make a cake for L's birthday. After browsing my favorite food blogs, I ended up making the Rombauer Jam Cake from my tattered and stained Joy of Cooking cookbook. We used dark brown sugar and raspberry jam. After chasing around town for a 7 inch bundt cake pan (which doesn't exist in space or time - apparently only 6 1/2 and 8 inch versions are available), I noted that the old cookbook refers to a tube pan. Of course I don't have one of those either, so after much internal debate and anxiety ( I know you pedantic cooks like me will relate to this), I went with the large bundt pan that I had in the cupboard. I cooked it a bit less than the 30 minutes it called for and the cake came out perfectly. Lovely spicy flavor, the moistness and flavor of the raspberry jam is subtly declared. Nice change from our standard chocolate cake(s). Happy Birthday L!

Recipe for Rombauer Jam Cake from the Joy of Cooking (1975 edition)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

6 tablespoons butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons cultured sour cream
1 cup raspberry or blackberry jam
(1/2 cup chopped nuts)

The ingredients should be at room temperature. This usually means setting the wrapped butter on the counter a half hour or more before you need it. The warmer your house, the faster it will warm up to the 68 degrees that's best for creaming. Putting it on top of the pre-heating oven to warm it up faster does not work - it will melt and definitely not ever become light - and yes, I have tried this.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together the first 6 ingredients.
Cream the butter and 1 cup of the brown sugar. If you are not familiar with creaming technique, baking 911 has an excellent explanation complete with photos.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Beat in the sour cream.
Add the flour mixture into the butter and stir until barely mixed.
Add the cup of jam and stir.
Pour the batter into a buttered tube or bundt pan and bake about 30 minutes.

Icing : Quick Brown Sugar
This icing is very fast and easy.
1 1/2 cups brown sugar - you can use either dark or golden brown sugar. Dark will give it more of a molasses flavor.
5 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the first 4 ingredients into a saucepan and heat while stirring occasionally on medium flame until it just reaches the boiling point. Remove from heat, wait a minute and then add the vanilla. Use an electric mixer to beat the mixture until thick enough to spread - about 2 minutes.