Thursday, May 19, 2011

Last School Lunch

I made school lunch for the last time today. And I cried.  I didn’t cry at Senior Volleyball Night, the St. Pius Baccalaureate Mass, or the Mother/Son Walk at the Serra Fashion show but this morning standing in my kitchen staring down at the last bolillo, the bowl of tuna, and block of cheddar the tears simply rolled down my cheeks.  I had known for years those big events were coming and I carried a freshly laundered vintage hanky to each one because I was sure I’d be reduced to a puddle of tears. At that moment I wanted something beautiful, dainty and dignified in my hand but the tears did not come. But this morning I was in my jammies and slippers searching for a hanky or tissue.

I’ve made hundreds of lunches sometimes with pleasure, occasionally with a little resentment but mostly by rote. Have you ever driven to a familiar place and when you arrived you didn’t really remember the drive? That’s what school lunches were like most days. Andrew wanted the same thing every day: tuna on a roll with cheese, fruit, water, and a bag of Sun Chips. He’d be pleased to find string cheese, cookies or another treat but didn’t miss them if they weren’t there.  When he was practicing for volleyball, wrestling or football he needed more so there might be an extra peanut butter sandwich or granola bar.  Making his lunch didn’t take much thought or time and I did it almost everyday for the last 13 years.

I did change things up now and then with some hits and a few misses. Turkey was favored for a while, he liked it and it didn’t make his backpack stink the way the tuna did. But before too long he missed the tuna and it was back to Costco for the multi-pack. Leftover pasta and pizza were a welcome change especially once he got to high school and had access to the cafeteria microwave. At one point, in a fit of independence, Andrew made lunch for himself but that didn’t last long. There was the bagel and cream cheese phase, the Top Ramen phase, and the “I don’t have time to eat” phase. There was the year in grammar school he got hot lunch almost every day until thankfully he grew tired of it. He’ll tell you that was the year he was heaviest and got sick the most due to the poor nutrition. He might be right.

I didn’t want to make a big deal out of the last lunch but I did stick in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup as a special treat.  I placed the brown bag next to the door, in “the drop spot” like always and wiped away the tears before Andrew was out of the shower.  As he was getting ready to leave he said, “I don’t really need a big lunch cuz were having pizza in Hudleson’s class”.  He spied the Reese’s cup and pulled it out to leave at home for later and took the rest.  It was just like any other day, I’m not sure how much of it he’ll eat or if he even needs it but it’s there if he does.

I insisted on a picture. I guess I did make a big deal out of it. I’d like to thank the resident teen for indulging me.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who needs a pizza stone?

The January 2011 cover of Sunset Magazine promises “Pizza in a skillet … and other one-dish wonders” and there’s a photo of “Luscious & low-fat: Easy broccoli rabe skillet pizza” to whet your appetite. I’ve made the broccoli rabe version once or twice and it is delicious. But it’s this easy skillet technique that I’m most excited about. Pick up a package of whole-wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and use whatever you have on hand to top your pizza … it’s fast and economical and you can please everyone with a custom pizza. Fancy or finicky, everyone’s happy. Follow the Sunset recipe directions for preparing the dough in the skillet and cooking in the oven but top anyway you like.

Here’s how I topped the pizza most recently: spread about ¼ cup of char-roasted cherry tomatoes on the crust, sprinkle with a cup of shredded Italian cheese mix, 1/3 cup of sliced roasted red peppers, and 8-10 baby artichokes blanched in salted water with 1 teaspoon of dried Italian Seasoning and cut in halves and quarters. Sprinkle with some crushed red pepper and coarse sea salt just before serving.

Disclaimer: I work as a Recipe Tester in the Sunset Test Kitchen, but I am not compensated for this blog or for endorsing Sunset Recipes. Because of the time I spend with these recipes, I am familiar with them and confident about the results. That is why I often turn to Sunset when searching for recipes or ideas.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Swiss Orange Chip Tart

Growing up we always went to Swenson’s when we wanted ice cream; it was a San Francisco original and never disappointed. When I was very young I liked bubble gum ice cream but once I matured some and discovered Swiss Orange Chip there was no turning back. Orange continues to be my fruit of choice when it comes to chocolate but I rarely see it on dessert menus. Memories of Swenson’s ice cream led me to this dessert. When I saw Dories Greenspan’s "double chocolate and banana tart" I was inspired to try something similar with oranges and enter into food52’s week 28 contest. (Find a link at the end of this post.)

Are you a fan of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City?” Can you name Mary Ann Singleton’s favorite Swenson’s ice cream flavor? Yep, Swiss Orange Chip but I swear I liked it first. Maybe the upcoming musical at A.C.T. inspired me too.

Tart Dough

1 ¼ cup flour
¼ cocoa powder
2 tablespoons sugar
zest from one orange, save fruit for tart topping
½ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces and well chilled
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, sugar, orange zest, butter, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the butter is the size of a pea.

In a bowl or measuring cup with a spout whisk together cream and egg, processor is running pour into flour mixture. Process just until the dough comes together.

Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Put a piece of parchment larger than the tin over the dough, extending above the pan. Fill the parchment with pie weights, beans or rice. It gets tricky here because a standard crust is baked until golden brown but that test doesn’t work with chocolate. Make sure the crust looks and feels baked but doesn’t smell burnt. Bake for 20 minutes with the weights in, remove the weights and cook another 10 minutes until the bottom is fully cooked. Cool completely on a rack before filling.

Orange Caramel

¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon orange oil
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup sugar
2 ½ tablespoons corn syrup

Whisk together ¼ cup cream and 1/8 teaspoon orange oil, set aside until needed.
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and corn syrup, using a silicon spatula stir gently until sugar is melted. Once melted only stir to avoid hot spots, remove from heat when cream turns a light to medium tan color. The sugar and corn syrup should be over the heat about 4 minutes. Whisk cream and oil into the hot mixture.  Cool slightly, pour into cooled crust, and tilt to coat crust evenly. Chill in refrigerator to set caramel.

Bittersweet Orange Ganache and Fresh Orange Topping

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
¼ teaspoon orange oil
4 tablespoons, unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into several small pieces
3 large navel oranges (one of them should be the orange from the crust)
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
orange juice/water

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat 1 cup cream and ¼ teaspoon orange oil to boiling and pour over chocolate. Let sit for about 30 seconds and stir gently until combine and the chocolate is melted.

Add butter to chocolate, one piece at a time, until butter is melted and completely integrated and mixture is at least room temperature. Stir gently to avoid bubbles.

Pour over caramel layer and return to refrigerator to set.

Peel and section oranges over a bowl (See link to technique below). Once the ganache is set, lift the sections from the juice and place around the edge of the tart, on the ganache just inside the crust. Add 1 tablespoon of orange juice, use the juice left from the sections and add water to reach 1 tablespoon of liquid, if needed to marmalade and melt in the microwave. Drizzle over orange sections. Return to refrigerator to set glaze.

The tart should not be refrigerator cold when cut and served.

Useful links: 


Thursday, March 3, 2011

FFwD: savory cheese and chive bread

Once again, it’s Friday and time to post my latest attempt at one of Dorie Greenspan’s recipes from her book, Around My French. This savory quick bread (pages 34-36) came together as easily as promised. I sampled this bread each of the ways Dories suggests. I had a slice when the bread was still warm from the oven.  Once the bread cooled I cut up a few cubes and invited a neighbor over to share the bread and a glass of wine. The bread was good but the conversation was better. My favorite way to eat this bread was lightly toasted and buttered.

The cheese is both grated and cubed. The grated cheese gives the bread it’s flavor and the cubes provide a toothy cheese texture because they don’t melt completely. This is a great technique. I want to try it in quiche next. I made the cubes very small but next time I’d like to make them a little bigger and see how it changes the bread.

Kitchen tip: keep butter wrappers that have a fair amount of butter on them. Fold the wrapper over on itself to keep the butter fresh until needed to grease pans or cookie sheets. 

Used Comte cheese.
1 teaspoon Maldon salt.
Instead of optional cayenne I added a dash of Tapitio to the milk.
Used some sliced toasted almonds I had on hand in place of walnuts.
About 40 minutes cooking time.

 Visit French Fridays with Dorie to see what everyone is doing with this recipe.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

FFwD: Dorie Greenspan’s "short ribs in red wine and port"

It’s another French Fridays with Dorie. This week’s dish was started on Wednesday, finished and served on Thursday but not posted until Saturday. Things got busy. Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for “short ribs in red wine and port” can be found on pages 254 & 255 in her book around my French table: more than 300 recipe from my home to yours.

They’re predicting snow in San Francisco. Could there be a better night to come home to short ribs? Most of the cooking for this satisfying meal was done the day before which made for a relaxing dinner prep after a long day at work. The overnight chill allowed for a quick and easy removal of the fat. Broiling the meat and heating the sauce filled the house with a warm earthy aroma and just the slightest hint of Asia.  The meat was tender and flavorful and the sauce was thin but velvety rich. In the recipe Dorie warns the sauce will be thin so I wasn’t worried as I warmed it on the stove. Served the short ribs with mashed potatoes and peas. Well received by resident teen. 

Bon Appétit

11 short ribs, about 4 inches each weighed close to 6 pounds. I had the butcher cut them in half because I like them small and it looked like they weren’t very big in the photo.
Carrots were small, used 3
Used parsnips, also small, used 2
6 cups broth
Citrus = orange
More salt?
Vegetables got soft but never really browned. The pot I used (yellow Club Dutch oven) was deep and narrow; wonder if there had been more surface space would the vegetables have browned?
Keep an eye on meat while under the broiler.
Very good.
Meat, fall off the bone tender.
Plenty left, will freeze some for future dinner. Hope it holds up.
Would make again but be sure to allow 2 days.
Store meat, sauce, and gremolata separately for tasty leftovers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meyer Lemon Pudding to-go

I’ve made Meyer Lemon Pot de Crèmes several times and think they’re delicious but I was looking for something a little homier when I came up with this recipe. I also wanted to use my small Chinese to-go boxes and knew they wouldn’t stand up to a water bath. Voilà, pudding adapted from an old copy of “Joy of Cooking” and entered in the food52 pudding contest. For kids lunches chill pudding in something a little sturdier like Tupperware or Gladware.

I also chilled some of this pudding in used canning jars. Inspired by Stephanie Brubaker & her blog Stephmodo who is always sharing treats from her kitchen with friends and neighbors I wanted to share some of this comforting pudding. My neighbor Patricia is famous for her plum jam and every Christmas I’m a lucky recipient of this homemade treat. Patricia likes the jars and rims back so that she can re-use them and I’m all for it. This year, instead of giving her jars back empty she’ll have ready-made dessert for tonight. Patricia also gave me the lemons I used in this recipe. I have great neighbors!

Meyer Lemon Pudding to-go

½ cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
4 cups milk
2 eggs
3 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt and lemon zest in the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl you can set over boiling water. While mixing, slowly add milk and place over (not touching) boiling water. Stir constantly until mixture begins to thicken. About 10 minutes. Cover and cook 10 more minutes.

Whisk together Meyer lemon juice and eggs. Stir about 1 cup of hot milk into eggs and add to milk over hot water. Stir constantly and cook for 2 minutes. Don’t overcook. Remove from heat, stir gently until slightly cooled, and add vanilla.

Continue stirring over an ice bath and pour into individual to-go containers and refrigerate until cold and somewhat firm.

In my bridal shower gift (1986)  “Joy of Cooking” edition the pudding is called blancmange but I can’t say blancmange without thinking of Monty Python. At roughly the 3 minute mark the menacing blancmange shows up. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

FFwD: Dorie Greenspan’s pancetta green beans

This dish is quick and delicious. Green beans are a family favorite and often part of our weeknight dinners. Typically I quickly steam beans and serve them plain so it was fun to give our old standby a bit of a twist. Dorie Greenspan’s recipe found on page 333 of her latest book, Around My French Table was a great discovery. The recipe made more than the two of us could eat. The next morning I quickly reheated the beans and pancetta until they got just a little brown and crisp. I cleared a spot in the same non-stick pan, added a small bit of butter and prepared and egg, over medium. I found the combination very satisfying and tasty. 

Thank you French Fridays with Dorie for keeping me cooking and trying dishes from this wonderful cookbook.

Cumin Infused Olives in Rye Garbanzo Bean Salad with Oranges

I was thrilled to discover this recipe on the "Editor's Picks" list at food52 this week; they even used my photo.  This is what editor Kristen Miglore had to say about my salad.  Here I reworked my rye berry salad from last year to create an entry for the olive and citrus contest.

This salad works with any whole grain and if you’re in a hurry couscous it a great option. I like the olive, cumin, and orange combination as a simple salad before a heavy Mexican, Moroccan, or East African meal. I’ve added that quick salad to whole grains and garbanzo beans for something more substantial. Great on its own for lunch or as a side dish with grilled or roasted meat or fish. And, if you’re wondering, rye has a mild nutty taste but doesn’t taste like rye bread, which gets most of its flavor from caraway seeds.

Cumin Infused Olives in Rye Garbanzo Bean Salad with Oranges
1 cup rye berries or other whole grain
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

¼ cup chopped red onion
½ cup parsley, coarsely chopped
2 oranges

2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup pitted green olives
2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

2 tsp. mustard

½ tsp. kosher salt
additional salt and pepper to taste

Place the rye berries and salt in a large pot, cover with 2 ½ cups water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 60-90 minutes, until tender and most of the rye has split open. Add water as needed to keep the rye covered.

While rye is cooking prepare dressing. Toast cumin in a dry pan until fragrant, about 30 seconds, add olive oil and olives, sauté 1 minute or so to infuse oil and olives with the cumin. In a small bowl whisk together remaining dressing ingredients and scrap olives, oil, and cumin from pan into bowl, toss to combine (adjusting to your taste). Cover and bring to room temperature until ready to use.

Drain rye well and run under cool water to stop the grains from cooking. Transfer to a bowl; add garbanzo beans, prepared dressing and toss to combine. Chill until the mixture is completely cool, or for up to a day.

Zest one orange into the rye mixture. Peel and section both oranges and add to salad along with the red onions, and parsley. Section the orange over the salad allowing any juice to drain into the salad. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Salted Orange Cardamom Caramels – with or without pistachios or chocolate

You will also find this recipe at the wonderful food52 website and blog. I've added it to the cardamom contest. Check it out and participate, it's lots of fun. I am impressed with the work Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs are doing but what I love most is seeing what the contributing home cooks are creating in their own kitchens.

I love caramel sauce and candy but I’m a bit intimidated by any recipe that requires me to use my candy thermometer.  A strong craving for this combination of flavors sent me to the kitchen despite my fears and I am very pleased with the results.  The pistachios are optional; I don’t think they add much more than a little crunch and color but some of my taste-testers disagree and urged me to leave the option in. A small drizzle of chocolate is also tasty and looks nice but is optional too. Inspired by Emily Luchetti’s Orange-Cardamom Ice Cream (A Passion for Ice Cream, Chronicle Books, 2006) and  adapted from David Lebovitz Salted Butter Caramels (  Avoid Ultra-Pasteurized whipping cream and use cultured butter if possible.

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, divided (I use Maldon)

4 green cardamom pods, crushed

Zest of 1 medium orange

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 cup sugar

about 4 tablespoons, divided, salted butter, cut in small pieces, at room temperature (cultured if available)

½ ounce salted pistachios, chopped (optional)

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped (optional)

Calibrate you candy thermometer.

Line a 9-inch loaf pan with foil.  For best results, use Reynolds Rapid Release and coat with cooking spray or butter.

Combine cream, 2 tablespoons butter, vanilla, ½ rounded teaspoon sea salt, cardamom and orange zest in a small saucepan heat to just before boiling – small bubbles will be forming around the edges of the pan.  Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes before continuing. Don’t let the cardamom cream cool too much.

Attach your candy thermometer to the side of a heavy bottomed 4-quart saucepan so that the bulb will be submerged. Heat corn syrup and sugar over medium heat; stir carefully until the sugar melts. Once the sugar has melted only stir to avoid hot spots.

Cook the syrup to 310ºF (155ºC).

You may need to tilt the pan to submerge the bulb and get an accurate reading.

Remove from heat and stir in warm cardamom cream, until smooth.

Return to heat and cook to 260F (127C).

Remove pan from heat, take out thermometer, and stir remaining butter, until it’s melted and caramel is smooth.

Pour caramel into the loaf pan and let sit for ten minutes, then sprinkle with rounded 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and pistachios, if using. Set on a rack and completely cooled. You can check this by touching the sides and bottom of the pan. When cool, lift foil and caramel from, carefully remove foil**, and slice caramel with a long, sharp knife into squares or rectangles.

** For chocolate option: melt chocolate in the microwave and using a fork drizzle over the caramel.  Place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before cutting to allow the chocolate to set.

Wrap caramels individually in waxed paper otherwise they get sticky. David Lebovitz says they’ll keep for about a month but I’ll never know cuz they disappear very quickly around here. 

A Passion for Ice Cream, available on Amazon: Disclosure: Emily is my cousin by marriage and I tested recipes in this book before it was published. In spite of that connection, or because of it, I always reach for Emmy’s books first when making dessert.

I don't have any financial interest in the book.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

FFwD: Dorie Greenspan’s Basque Potato Tortilla or how I learned the truth about my broiler.

Here I am participating in my first French Fridays with Dorie and feeling like a screw up. There is nothing wrong with the recipe just with the cook and her equipment.  I decided this week’s dish would be perfect for dinner because my teenage son is great fan of breakfast for dinner.  Greenspan suggests serving the tortilla with bacon for an American diner meal and I knew my son would love it. The final dish was fine for dinner and very good cold in my lunch the next day but it wasn’t perfect and I know why …

When I try a recipe for the first time I always read carefully through the whole thing once before I shop, again while collecting the ingredients, and one last time before I start cooking. Well, maybe not always. I was in a rush to get dinner on the table and was multitasking. I didn’t read the first paragraph on page 143 carefully enough.  Dorie writes that “the top is almost set – there’ll be a circle of liquid or jiggly egg at the center” but I stopped reading after I saw the word “set”. Finally I figured out that 21 minutes was too long for the eggs to be on the stovetop and checked the recipe one more time.  I had let the eggs go well beyond the suggested 8-10 minutes. Lack of extra ingredients and a hungry teenager forced me to carry on.

This is when I encountered problem number two. My broiler had been pre-heating for a long time, over heated and shut itself off. I didn’t know my oven did this but now I know the truth about my oven’s broiler. The oven was warm because I cooked the bacon in there and I didn’t notice that the broiler was off.  I continually peeked through the window to see if the top had browned and it never did. I finally figured out what was going on but at that point the eggs were very well cooked and I decide to stop and call it dinner. Lesson learned.

I will do better by Dorie next time, I promise.  Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table (available on Amazon) is full of beautiful photos, delicious recipes, and headnotes that make great reading. I encourage you to find out for yourself.

Bon Appetit

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Capellini with Mussels & Clams in Rich Saffron Broth

Capellini with Mussels & Clams in Rich Saffron Broth
Dinner for 2

My son has always loved clams with pasta or in chowder and he doesn’t mind if they come from a can but we both prefer them fresh and flavorful right out of the shell. We were Italy when Andrew was first served clams and mussels in there shells; he was pretty young. I was worried that he wouldn’t want the fish once he saw it in its natural form but boy was I wrong because he dug right in and loved it.

Live clams and mussels straight from the fish market allow me to whip up a special dinner quickly on a weeknight. There’s something about seeing the pile of empty shells grow as we each create our own bowl of seafood pasta. Sometimes we eat them one by one and the brothy pasta is our satisfying finish and other nights we empty every shell before we dig into the seafood, pasta and broth combination.  Make sure you have a spoon to get every sip of the yummy broth. Crispy crostini or a chewy bread like Acme Sweet Batard are also great ways to soak up the broth.

Pinch of saffron
2 cups seafood or chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste or 1 grated roma tomato
18 dozen clams, scrubbed
18 mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
1/3 cup crème fraiche

2 oz. angel hair pasta, prepared following package instructions.

Warm the broth in the microwave, mix in the saffron and allow it to steep while the seafood is cleaned and the shallots cook.

Melt butter over medium heat in pan or pot with a lid that is large enough to hold the broth and seafood.  Add the shallots to the butter and sauté until softened then add tomato, broth and saffron. Bring the broth to a simmer. Add the seafood, cover and simmer until all the clams and mussels open, 7-10 minutes. Once most of the clams and mussels have opened discard any that haven’t opened and assemble pasta

Divide the pasta between two deep wide pasta or soup bowls, top each serving of pasta with half the clams and mussels. Whisk the crème fraiche into the broth over high heat until combined and heated. Pour the broth over the clams, mussels and pasta.