Monday, April 9, 2012
Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday I couldn't believe it was March and now we're steam rolling through April. Signs of spring are everywhere: big bouquets of ranunculus and tulips; lingering warm, sunny afternoons; crisp, seasonal beers. I even saw strawberries at the farmers' market this weekend!
As much as I love warm weather and summertime, I must admit that I'm sad to see winter go. Here in the Bay Area at least, we hardly felt winter at all. Aside from a few swiftly passing storms, our winter was dry and unusually pleasant. Which means that I didn't quite get my fill of cold winter nights and rainy afternoons. It's like we missed winter entirely.
My favorite part of winter is mornings so blustery you don't feel a tiny bit bad for sleeping in. On mornings like those, I want something special for breakfast. Not cereal, not oatmeal. Something that cries out for a hot cup of coffee and a newspaper. Something that sings with the crisp, clean flavors of winter fruit. This meyer lemon cranberry buckle does the trick just fine. Sure, it's original recipe was intended as a dessert, but with a tad less sugar I thought it adapted beautifully to breakfast. The fresh cranberries and lemon give it a bright freshness, while the buttery crumble topping offers crunch and a bit of decadence. I substituted yogurt for sour cream, since that's what I had on hand, and it worked just wonderfully and imparted a pleasant tang to the cake itself.
The recipe comes from the San Francisco Chronicle. For ease, I won't retype it here, but as I said I made a few changes: swapped yogurt for sour cream, used a scant 1/4 cup of sugar in the cake batter, and added about two tablespoons more of butter for the crumble topping. If you make the dough and have a friend make the strussel, it comes together in a flash, and while it takes about an hour to bake, it rewards your patience by making your entire house smell like a European pâtisserie. Easy enough.
Spring may be around the corner, but you can still celebrate winter's end with breakfast cake. Take my advice: bake this up this Sunday and enjoy watching the seasons change before your eyes. You wouldn't want to miss it.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
A few of my friends have dabbled in meat and animal product restrictive lifestyles (i.e. vegetarianism or veganism). Generally speaking, I disagree with their choices. I like meat. I love butter. I swoon for fancy French cheeses. A lifestyle where I cannot eat those things is not something I want to participate in. However, many of my friends believe that this makes me some sort of meat and dairy fiend, wielding a steakbone and foaming at the mouth. That just isn't the case. In fact, I agree with many of the philosophical underpinnings of these lifestyles.
Conventional meat and dairy production is bad for the environment and our bodies. Our cows eat antibiotic soaked, pesticide ridden, genetically engineered corn and expel more greenhouse gasses than the automobiles we drive. Our chickens are pumped full of so many growth hormones that some believe they are a contributing factor to the early onset of puberty in young girls. And diets high in animal fats like those found in red meat and dairy are under scrutiny as a cause of cancer. We should all try to eat less meat and dairy and more vegetables and fruits. It's a better diet for us and the planet.
So why do I stick my nose up to the vegan train? It's a personal choice. For me, it's the idea of complete restriction that I have a problem with. I absolutely try to eat less meat and more vegetarian protein, but I also want to be able to have a bacon blue cheese burger or a slice of Cheeseboard pizza every now and then. I don't believe in absolutes. Almost everyone has a different perspective on what makes a healthy diet, but so many of them include the word no: NO meat, NO gluten, NO dairy, NO fat. You can ask 10 health conscious people what their secret is and you'll get 10 different, and vehemently passionate, answers. My friends often think I'm so against vegetarian and veganism because I can't live without meat, but it's just not the case. I don't like those types of lifestyles because of their extremism. I've been on diets like that, and have ended up an obsessive compulsive wreck. I've learned my lesson.
I'd rather just keep it simple. I want to eat many different kinds of good food in moderation. Meat and dairy products are healthful, nutritious food if they are sustainably raised without pesticides and chemicals and eaten on occasion. So that's what I eat. That, and many other things like vegetables, beans, chocolate, quinoa, bourbon, and tofu. Like vegetarians and vegans, I stick to my principles: I eat sustainable meat and organic dairy, and I don't eat either every day. Almost everything in life, including eating right, is a balancing act that takes practice, budgeting, and some tough choices, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
That said, let me tell you about this delicious and entirely vegan tofu dish. I saw this recipe for panang tofu curry on Bon Appetit's website a few months ago and instantly felt that I needed to make it. So I did! The spicing is robust and interesting, the coconut milk gives the curry a creamy contrast, and the tofu brimming with more flavor than you could ever expect from processed soybeans. The carrots and bell peppers lend flavor and textural contrasts as well. I didn't use kaffir lime leaves, but I suspect that they would taste wonderful in this dish if you can get your hands on them. The flavor itself improved with age, but the texture of the tofu did not; after a day, the tofu started fall apart (which is fine, just slightly less appetizing). All and all it was a wonderful meal and a very easy way to cook tofu, even if you don't have a lot of experience working with it. With a dish so tasty, it almost feels like I could go vegan. Then enjoy glass of cows ice cold milk and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies before bed, and I regain my senses.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
I recently took a trip up the beautiful west coast to visit a friend in Portland, Oregon. I'm embarrassed to say that it was my first time significantly north of the San Francisco Bay Area, much less California state border. What a beautiful part of the country I've been missing out on!
Portland was a terrific city. It's young and off-beat, studded with food carts, hip bars, and bougie stationary stores. The art and music scenes are vibrant and the most of the people I met were down to earth, genuine and friendly. But for all Portland has to offer, it's no wonder my friend was most excited about showing me the food scene. The food in Portland was dynamic, decadent, and delicious. It spanned the low-brow high-brow divide with grace, ranging from grilled cheese food carts eaten inside of a reclaimed old school bus, to lovely and unique finer dinning. Below are a few of my highlights. Can't wait to go back to continue exploring!
Pine State Biscuits
Hands down my favorite meal in Portland, Pine State Biscuits seems to be something of an institution. They're known for their breakfast sandwiches, which are not for the faint of heart: their classic, the Reggie, is a thick, juicy piece of fried chicken, crispy bacon, cheddar cheese, and a savory, salty gravy piled high between to glorious halves of the most buttery, flaky biscuit you'll ever sink your teeth into. I got mine with a side of apple butter to play off the saltiness of the sandwich. It was fantastic. If fried chicken's not your thing, there's pulled pork or steak sandwiches as well. Whatever sandwich filling or topping you decide, it's hard to go wrong when it's served inside the most perfect biscuit imaginable.
Winter Farmer's Market
Beautiful market filled with root vegetables and all your favorite dark winter greens. Saw some great local butchers and dairies as well. Plus, excellent free samples!
Portland takes coffee very seriously, and Stumptown Coffee played a heavy hand in fostering that culture. Stumptown pioneered the micro-roasting movement that's taken off in the Pacific Northwest, and buys their beans directly from the farmer. The coffee was excellent.
Little Big Burger
I love the idea behind this place. The burgers are the perfect size: they fill you up juuuust enough without overdoing it. With fries and a beer, it's a perfect meal. They also use locally source ingredients, make their burgers with naturally raised beef, and drizzle truffle oil on their fries. What's not to love?
The Woodsman Tavern
This restaurant is new to Portland but already seems to have quite a presence. It's cozy rustic interior is decorated like hunting lodge, with scenic paintings scattering the walls, and it's menu features what it's website describes as European style American fare using local and artisanal ingredients. The cocktails were lovely, very well balanced (I loved the Kentucky Special I got a second round: 12-year old bourbon, black tea infusion, cherry liquer, and Angostura bitters. Bliss!). The starters were unique and refreshing, the mains sophisticated and elegant, yet filling. My friend and I shared a fabulous seared cod dish, with pork belly, clams and mussels, and a broth so delectably rich and creamy, I could have eaten an entire bowlful. The desserts shone as well; we shared a warm brown butter almond cake with blood orange caramel, and a not-too-sweet maple pot de creme with shortbread. It was heaven.
Pok Pok is something of a Portland legend. It's known for it's epic waits and thoughtfully prepared Thai food. The menu features small plates that are best shared amongst a small group of two or three. Everything we tried was great. The famous hot wings were addictively spicy, the skirt steak salad savory and flavorful, and the crisp root vegetable salad refreshing and herby. My tamarind whiskey sour was fantastic as well. My only complaint would be that it's slightly overpriced for the meager portion sizes. We shared three plates but could have easily had a fourth. And the rice? Not included, which was a bummer. Definitely worth the trip though, it was truly lovely Thai-inspired food.
Other Notable Eateries and Bars
Salt and Straw: amaaaazing ice cream! Coffee cocoa nib was my favorite, but I also loved the blue cheese and pear.
Breakside Brewery: Try the gin-barrel aged IPA if they have it.
Migration Brewing: Loved their coffee IPA. Truly unique.
The Kennedy School: Local elementary school that's been converted into a hotel and features 4 different bars and it's own movie theater? Yes please!
Saturday, February 4, 2012
I promise that I eat vegetables. Really, really I do. I even drink that weird green juice with all the funky grasses in it. I eat raw kale. I eat tofu, beans, and sometimes meat for protein. I take vitamins and drink kombucha. I'm pretty darn healthy, all things considered. But today, I want to tell you about cake.
"Give me a break, Liz! You're blog is entirely dominated by desserts. Your last five posts would make dietitians panic. You're going to give us all diabetes!!" I know, I know. And I'm sorry. But this cake is so good and so lovely and so entirely delicious that I have to share it with you. Just, take a breath, eat a carrot, and when you're ready to come back and read this post for what it is, sit back down in front of your computer screen.
Feel better? Good. Because this cake is so rich, so indulgent, it'll make your heart flutter. It's deeply chocolaty, simple and classic, and elegant in every way. I made this cake for my roommate's birthday a couple of months ago and people are still talking about how it's the best cake they're ever eaten. Seriously.
The recipe, as many classic, decadent recipes do, comes from the illustrious Ina Garten. The buttermilk gives the cake moisture and a subtle tang, and the coffee in the cake and the frosting brings out the richness of the chocolate in ways you can't even imagine. I used about 1.5 times the amount of frosting that the recipe calls for, and added dark chocolate shavings on top for decoration. I imagine it might even be a great cake for writing on, but my piping skills leave much to be desired, so I kept it simple.
If you have occasion to treat yourself and people you love to an indulgent dessert (Valentine's Day anyone?), this cake would be absolutely perfect. Find the recipe on Food and Wine. I can't imagine a more perfect way to balance out all of that kale.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Let me guess. Christmas is the last thing you want to think about right now. Ornaments and decorations have been dutifully dismantled and packed away. You've begrudgingly payed off your December credit card bill. You're eating prudently, trying to trim back those post-holiday wastelines. Your New Year's resolutions are in full swing. Don't worry, I get it. But I still want to tell you about Christmas cookies.
I know, I know. I'm sorry. But everyone knows that the holiday season is the very best time of the year for baking, but since I was all but consumed by my last finals as an undergraduate (!!) at the beginning of December, I wasn't able to start my holiday baking until right before Christmas. Then came a whirlwind of post-Christmas colds, the new year, moving back to Berkeley, and starting a new job. Sharing these lovely holiday treats with you took a backseat while life hurtled forward. Can you forgive me?
Know that I made up for missing an entire month of decadent cookie baking by spending an entire day (which I lovingly dubbed the Christmas Cookie Extravaganza) baking all of the goodies that I'd been admiring all December long. I chose my cookies carefully and purposefully to contrast colors, flavors, and textures. There were ginger cookies. There were bourbon balls. There were homemade marshmallows (something that my dad was never able to fully grasp. "Did they run out of marshmallows at Vons?" he asked upon learning that I was making them). I then arranged all of them on a platter for our family's Christmas dinner and they were happily devoured with warm mugs of coffee.
I know these treats are coming to you about a month too late, but I hope you can appreciate them. Plus, there are some great uses for these cookies outside of the holiday season. Linzer cookies? With heart shaped cookie cutters, a Valentine's day classic! Chocolate crinkles? A perfect birthday present for the choco-fanatic in your life! But more generally, do cookies really need an excuse to be made? No. Holidays or not, these cookies are delicious treats that stand alone. So whatever the cookie baking occasion, Valentine's, Christmas 2012, or just Wednesday, I hope you enjoy.
Homemade Vanilla Marshmallows
These would also be great with peppermint of hazenut. Just replace the vanilla extract with the flavoring of your choice. Recipe found on Smitten Kitchen.
Loved the strong bourbon flavor! A decadent twist on classic rumballs. Recipe found on the LA Times.
Beautiful special occasion cookies. There are lots of recipes out there, but I found one I liked from Southern Living. It calls for pecans instead of more traditional hazelnuts, which I found was much more economical and still gave a rich sweetness to the dough.
These were a big hit! They're beautiful cookies with the texture of a rich chocolate brownie. Used the recipe from Simply Recipes, and chose to omit the espresso powder.
Frosted Ginger Cookies
These are my favorite holiday cookies. I love the combo of ginger, molasses, and the lemony glaze. These are bright, chewy, and sure to go fast, no matter the occasion. The recipe comes from Sunset, but you can read more about them in a blog post I wrote a few years ago.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Now I quite adore oatmeal raisin cookies. I suspect that many of you still feel a little wary of cookies that contend to have some health qualities to them, but I find them deeply satisfying and believe that they can be perfect cookies in the right moment. I love the rich, molassesy flavor of the brown sugar, the hearty chew of the oats, the tart sweetness of warm raisins, and the woodsy smell of cinnamon. I love oatmeal raisin cookies that are thick, chewy, not too sweet, and that taste heavenly piping hot from the oven with a glass of ice cold milk.
Now I'm not trying to win any cookie converts here. If you are sworn against oatmeal raisin cookies, I have no doubts that I can do little to persuade you otherwise. But, if you like oatmeal raisin cookies, even if you just like them a little bit or only sometimes, you will love this recipe. This recipe yields the type of oatmeal raisin cookies that all oatmeal raisin cookies, and I daresay, ALL cookies aspire to be. They are warm, comforting, make your house smell heavenly, and bring back nostalgic smiles to peoples faces. The recipe, as do many fabulous recipes, comes from Smitten Kitchen, and if you follow the recipe's very simple instructions, these cookies are hard to mess up. Is it possible to say that these cookies are perfect? I think you'll have to be the judge of that.
Note: I have MANY Christmas cookie recipes to share, but alas, I left my camera at my parents' house over the holidays. Updates coming soon.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Life is filled with milestones. Some are big, like going to Europe for the first time, graduating from college, buying your first car, or even getting engaged. These are important, life-changing experiences that you're unlikely to forget. They don't happen to often, but when they do, it's a time to reflect on your past, present, and future, and to appreciate yourself and how much you've grown and accomplished as a person. Milestones like these are a big deal.
Other milestones are much smaller but no doubt some can be just as meaningful. Milestones like beating your best mile-time on your afternoon jog, your first kiss, poaching an egg perfectly the first time you try, or learning how to wear contact lenses are special events that are far less recognized than more grander achievements, but, to me at least, are just as important. Sure, we may end up forgetting these occasions in a few years, but at the time they're a source of excitement and personal pride, and for that, they should not be overlooked. It's these every day milestones that keep us going.
I don't remember when I first learned how to fry, but I know that my mom taught me how by making french fries. French fries were a rarity when I was growing up, but home-made french fries were even more special. My mom would cut a russet potato into big matchsticks, and carefully slip then into a big pot of sizzling oil. The fries would emerge, piping hot and golden brown, and be sprinkled with a generous palmful of Kosher salt. Watching and learning how to make french fries was a skill I was able to apply to a litany of my favorite cardiologist condemned foods as I got older, like fried chicken, fried eggplant, and zucchini fritters. And I have my mom to thank for it. Learning to fry was certainly a small milestone, but an asset I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.
These apple donuts are the perfect treats to hone your frying skills. I recently bribed my boyfriend to drive two hours to visit me with this post from Joy the Baker (along with the promise of eternal love etc). It worked, and a few Sundays ago we whipped up these little guys for a decadent breakfast. They're crunchy on the outside, soft and tart on the inside, and with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar on the top, they're just the right amount of sweet. I used Granny Smith apples and followed Joy's recipe pretty exactly and they turned out beautifully. Plus, they're slightly less terrible for you since they actually contain fruit instead of dough... or maybe I'm just grasping for straws. Either way, they are incredible so give them a try. I can't think of a more special way to celebrate an everyday milestone. After all, isn't that what life is really about?