Friday, September 30, 2011

A birthday cake

Three years ago, my good friend and I co-hosted a baby shower for our best friend. I baked a recipe from  Smitten Kitchen's project wedding cake. The mom-to-be doesn't have much of a sweet tooth so I thought the yellow cake filled with mango curd and finished with Swiss buttercream was the way to go. I was right. She loved it. 

Fast forward to Labor Day 2011. That "baby" is now a sweet and adorable three year old girl! They have since moved to NY, but they came back for an early birthday visit. I decided to make that cake once again, but this time, I used a different yellow cake recipe. I have been on a never ending quest to find THE yellow cake recipe to end all searches. Being a fan of Annie's Eats, I decided to try out her favorite yellow cake. I was pleased that it was not overly soft and delicate. It had a nice, tight crumb, which made it easy for decorating. I followed the recipe to the letter, and I found the cake to be lovely. It wasn't overly moist, but it wasn't dry either. I would definitely consider making it again.....that is until I saw that Baked had shared their  recipe for Everyone's Favorite Birthday Cake on Martha Stewart this week! Given my previous successful experiences with their cake recipes, this is my next yellow cake recipe to try!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Spicy Tomato Jam

If you had asked me earlier this spring if I would be canning this year, I probably would've said no because I was scared. Canning has long intimidated me with all the steps taken to ensure that the contents are preserved correctly to thwart off the growth of bacteria. The jars and lids have to be sanitized, and the jars have to be processed to create a vacuum seal. I had also learned that a lot of jam recipes called for an exorbitant amount of sugar, which was a turn off for me.

However, once I saw the plethora of tomatoes at the market, I couldn't resist. I never tried the beloved spicy tomato jam that RAB made for the 2010 LTHForum picnic. It was so good that it had everyone running off to make the recipe. This year, it was my turn to make it. I really wasn't sure what to expect. There was a long list of spices that required a visit to the Spice House for yellow mustard powder. (You know that I can't leave with just one thing from the Spice House!)

I slaved away on Sunday afternoon prepping all the jam ingredients. My tomatoes were really juicy because it took about 3 hours for it to reach the gelling point. I tried the candy thermometer test, but the temperature did not want to go above 210, when I was trying to reach 220. I decided to go with the sheet test in which the jam falls off a metal spoon in the form of a sheet as opposed to several drops of liquid. After filling my glass jars, I had just enough leftover for dinner the next evening. On its own, the jam was quite spicy, more than I ever would have expected. When used as a ketchup alternative on a burger, it mellowed out when paired with the juicy beefyness of the burger. I will post update this post at a later date when I finally cave and open up a jar.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tomato cobbler

It's tomato week around our household as their summer season winds down. I picked up these gorgeous and colorful cherry tomatoes at the Logan Square Farmers Market last Sunday.

I had seen Martha Stewart's Tomato Cobbler all over the blogosphere. Having had a good experience with baking tomatoes in this dish, I knew this would be a hit as well! Some of the cherry tomatoes popped while baking, which created a wonderful sauce. The added heat enhanced the tomatoes, which was complemented by the flavorful caramelized onions. I was a little worried about the biscuit topping since it was really sticky and did not really resemble any other biscuit topping I had made before. My worry was put to rest when I bit into the crispy outside and fluffy interior of the buttery and cheesey biscuit that was rich but light. It was so good to soak up the tomato juices. If you can get your hands on the last cherry tomatoes of the season, I urge you to make this. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tomato & Corn Pie

I had been craving corn lately, and so lucky for me, Nichols Farm still had some mirai corn at the farmers market last week. I hadn't bought corn at the market yet this year since we had them in our summer produce share a couple of times. Mirai corn is a little different in that it is really sweet and tender, has a long life in the refrigerator, and is delicious eaten raw.

With a couple of tomatoes from our produce share, I was able to make this summer dish that we have made three summers in a row now: Tomato & Corn Pie. The combination is not something that would naturally propel me to make this, but this really works. I first sampled this at the LTHPicnic. After sampling a small slice, I knew I had to taste more of it, and the only way would be to make one for myself. 

It always reminds me that it's the end of summer whenever I make this dish. Even though it's baked in a crust, the corn and tomato retain their shape, crispy freshness and vibrant flavors. They marry really well with the fresh basil and chives. It's still delicious as leftovers heated up in a toaster oven.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fig Balsamic Jam for Pizza

Most people probably come home with t-shirts or tchotchkes as souvenirs, but I always get something edible. At this time of year, I decided to bring home California figs! I also picked up two pounds of the best white nectarines ever - they were so fragrant and sweet, I thought I was eating candy.

After our comforting meal at ad hoc, I quickly ordered their cookbook. The night I received it, I promptly made the fig balsamic jam. Instead of using it as a filling for a pork loin, as recommended in the cookbook, I decided to make pizza. Ree, the Pioneer Woman, has one of the most popular blogs out there, and she now has her own show on FoodTV. In a recent episode, she made a fig prosciutto pizza with arugula. This was a great recipe to use the jam, and we finally tested the thin crust pizza dough from Cooks Illustrated. It was so easy to mix up that I think this will be our go-to pizza crust.

Thin Crust Pizza Dough
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
  • 3cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour
  • 2teaspoons sugar
  • 5/8teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3cups water (divided)
  • 1tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 1/2teaspoons salt

  1. 1. Add yeast and sugar to 2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F). Let the yeast proof for 10 minutes and add remaining 2/3 cup water. Place the flour in a food processor fitted with metal blade. With machine running, slowly add water through feed tube; process until dough is just combined and no dry flour remains, about 10 seconds. Let dough stand 10 minutes.
  2. 2. Add oil and salt to dough and process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of workbowl, 30 to 60 seconds. Remove dough from bowl and knead briefly on lightly oiled countertop until smooth, about 1 minute. Shape dough into tight ball and place in large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.

    3.  One hour before baking pizza, adjust oven rack to second highest position, set pizza stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and divide in half. Shape each half into smooth, tight ball. Place on lightly oiled baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray; let stand for 1 hour.

    4. Generously coat 1 ball of dough with flour and place on well-floured surface. Using fingertips, gently flatten into 8-inch disk, leaving 1 inch of outer edge slightly thicker than center. Using hands, gently stretch disk into 12-inch round, working along edges and giving disk quarter turns as you stretch. Transfer dough to well-floured peel and stretch into 13-inch round.

    5. Cover pizza with desired toppings. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove pizza and place on wire rack for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat step 4 to shape, top, and bake second pizza.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Peach butter and English muffins

As you may have noticed, we received double peaches from our CSA for three weeks in a row now. With the abundance of peaches, I was elated to see that Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for peach butter. Even though I just attended a canning class, I had yet to get any supplies. I decided to make a quarter batch of the original recipe, which was the perfect yield for us to finish within a reasonable amount of time.
Fruit butter is made by cooking down fresh fruit that has been slightly sweetened with sugar. It becomes thick from being cooked down as opposed to the addition of pectin used in jam. The peach butter yielded a very vibrant peachy flavor. If you're looking for a way to prolong the summer's peaches, make this peach butter now.

UPDATE 9/20/11: I succeeded in my first canning effort! I can't wait to share these little jars of goodies with a few lucky ones this holiday season! When I made the full batch, it took me about 2 hours on medium low.

I have been mixing a spoonful with my plain Greek yogurt and Kashi cereal during the week. Over the weekend, I had been craving English muffins for the peach butter. I set forth making the recipe from Peter Reinhart. I haven't made these in a year now, but they are so easy, I don't know what took me so long in between.

I only have active dry yeast, so I used 1 1/2 teaspoons and proofed it with the water and sugar. I also used powdered buttermilk, so I used the full cup of water plus another tablespoon. When it came time for the second rise, I created 8 dough balls, about 2.5 oz each. I found these to be the perfect size for one serving.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Zucchini & ricotta galette

Earlier this year, I asked my dad to plant some zucchini in his yard. I always envied people who had too much zucchini to consume it all. It was a great opportunity for him to enlist the help of my four year old niece: my dad dug  the hole, and she tossed in the seeds. During summer break, she would help water the zucchini plant during her weekly visits. She's pretty proud of the zucchini she "planted and grew."

With the upcoming annual LTHForum picnic, I had initially wanted to make a s'more pie. However, given that several other people signed up to bring a dessert, I opted to bring something savory instead. With my large supply of zucchini, I decided to make Smitten Kitchen's zucchini and ricotta galette. Wow, this exceeded my expectations. I'm not a huge fan of things that are overly cheesey, but when there are three cheeses all sourced from JP Graziano's, yes please! The aroma of garlic infused olive oil created a mouth watering scent as it baked. I ate it within 10 minutes out of the oven, and the cheese was wonderfully melty, mild, chewy and milky. The crust was so buttery and flaky - like puff pastry! Fresh basil from the balcony was the perfect finish. Run, don't walk to make this with your remaining summer zucchini.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bay Area Coffee

While A is a coffee addict, I didn't learn to start drinking coffee until the past year. Once we got married, A upgraded from a French Press to the handmade Technivorm Moccamaster. Given how much he used to spend on coffee each day, this trusty coffee maker has easily paid for itself. I was surprised to learn that such a strong coffee culture had emerged in San Francisco. I didn't really notice it on prior visits since I wasn't drinking coffee yet. Here are some pictures of some popular coffee spots that we hit. The only one missing from my portfolio is Philz Coffee. A always ordered a drip coffee, which are made to order, and I ordered the cafe au lait or the latte.

 Ritual Roasters

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, San Francisco

A farmers market is set up at Ferry Plaza on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday each week. Saturday is the biggest day at the market because stalls are set up along the side and back of the building, rather than just the front. The additional stalls also include several food trucks, which come out in smaller numbers on Tuesday and Thursday. 

If we lived in San Francisco, we could easily cook as vegetarians at home and always have a bouquet of gorgeous locally grown flowers. I think these pictures speak for themselves.

August 27 was the last day for Tell Tale Preserve until they find a new partner. I went a little nuts and bought a bacon pop-tart, 2 rebels within, and a brownie with salted caramel and marcona almonds.

I got a Korean beef taco from Namu. It's described as a ssam style "taco," with seasoned rice, kalbi short ribs, daikon and kimchee salsa, kimchee remoulade, housemade teriyaki folded into japanese and
korean toasted seaweeds. Meanwhile next to Namu was 4505 Meats. A ordered a bacon maple sausage sandwich with aged gruyere, over easy egg and peppercress on a buttery housemade griddled bun. 

 Do you see these gorgeous dahlias and zinnias?!? I know I am swooning. We returned to the market on Tuesday morning before our afternoon flight. A picked out two delicious sandwiches from Acme Bread: the salami and potato pesto to eat on our way home to Chicago.

Friday, September 9, 2011


After attending the wedding in Livermore, we made the drive up to Napa. We started our day with brunch at Redd. After browsing their online brunch menu, we had predetermined that we would probably order three appetizers instead of two entrees. We had difficulty deciding, and with our server's recommendations we went with the steamed pork belly buns, breakfast pizza, and tuna tartare. The steamed buns were light and pillowy. the pork belly was deliciously prepared but overly sauced with hoisin. I let some of the hoisin sauce drip out of the bun, and added some slaw for contrast. The tartare was prepared using yellowfin tuna, Asian pear, avocado, chili oil, and crisped rice. The Asian pear was bright, and the rice was a fun, crispy crunch. The breakfast pizza was topped with scrambled eggs, prosciutto, creme fraiche and chives. The eggs were light and fluffy, but creamy from the creme fraiche. Since this was the last to arrive, we were only able to eat half, and took the rest with us.

For dinner, I was able to score last minute reservations at ad hoc. I was really looking forward to trying one of Thomas Keller's restaurants. ad hoc started out as a temporary restaurant space for Keller and his team, but it was so wildly popular, that they made it a permanent fixture.
 On that menu that evening was a Summer Vegetable Salad  using ingredients from the French Laundry Garden down the street. Our salad included patty pan and zucchini squash, eggplant confit, red bell peppers, cherry tomato vinaigrette. For an optional add on that evening were fish and chips, which are only offered twice a year. That rare treat easily convinced us to order it, and our server assured us that our main can easily be reheated as delicious leftovers. The fish that evening was a Northern California halibut that was lightly battered. The main entree were Grilled Beef Short Ribs served with white beech mushrooms, sweet carrot stew, siparello kale, buttered pearl barley, and glazed cippolini onions. The cheese course was Humboldt Fog: k & j orchard peaches, wildflower honey, toasted mixed nuts. This was a goat milk cheese that had a a vegetable ash layer. It reminded us of a mild blue cheese. Finally, dessert was a Banana’s Foster with candied hazelnuts, vanilla ice cream, and rum caramel sauce. It was a lovely meal that really felt like comfort food that you would enjoy with your family on a Sunday night.

 Before departing Napa, we stopped at the Oxbow Market for breakfast. My second cousin is a pastry chef who worked at the Model Bakery in St. Helena while studying at the CIA. We arrived at the St. Helena location just as they closed the day before, so it worked out well for us to have breakfast at the Oxbow location instead. Their english muffin is famed, and rightfully so. It doesn't have the nooks and crannies as advertised by a certain mass producer. However, these were so much better - so light, fresh, and perfect crust.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stuffed Eggplants

I think this is our fourth time since April getting eggplants now. One of my favorite new found uses for eggplants is to make a dip from it, courtesy of Rice Kernel. I've never actually had the right weights for the vegetables, so I just tried to keep the proportions in check and winged it from there. It's a very forgiving recipe. I love it plain or as a dip with pita chips or Trader Joe's Rice and Bean Chips with Adzuki Beans. I have yet to try it with eggs. 

I used the previous mini eggplants for the confit, and with this week's larger eggplants, I decided to stuff them. I hollowed out the insides and cooked the inside pieces with some broken up Italian sausage. I had some leftover cooked quinoa so I mixed it in with the eggplant and sausage mixture. 

Prior to our trip to California, I had several fresh tomatoes that I didn't want to waste. I didn't have the supplies or time to can them, so I quickly peeled them and froze them whole. I thawed them a few days ago in anticipation of using them up quickly. I used these tomatoes on the bottom of my Dutch oven, and put the stuffed eggplant halves on top, covered them, and cooked for an hour. For the last few minutes, I topped them with the confit that was thinned with my frozen tomatoes and some shredded Pecorino. I garnished the eggplant halves with freshly chopped basil. I wasn't sure how these would turn out, but we were both pleased. The Italian sausage provided a lot of flavor; the eggplant was tender and meaty in texture; the quinoa provided a nice filler, and the tomatoes and confit really pulled everything together. This dish incorporated eggplants three ways with the shell, confit, and sauteed pieces.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Second Fall CSA

Below are the contents of our second fall CSA. 

Basil (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Carrots (Nichols)
Eggplant (Genesis Growers, IL)
Sweet Peppers (Genesis Growers)
DOUBLE peaches (Seedling, Michigan) 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Oakland, CA

Oakland is fairly spread out, but can be easily navigated using public transportation. We took a bus out to an industrial area to seek out Brown Sugar Kitchen for their chicken and waffles. The fried chicken was perfectly seasoned and you could see the bits of freshly chopped herbs in batter. The skin was crispy, and the chicken was tender and juicy. Best of all, it didn’t feel overly greasy or heavy. The cornmeal waffle was incredibly light and crispy. When I think of cornmeal, I often think of dense, dry cornbread, but I’m always amazed at how light cornmeal can be. This chicken and waffle combination was divine and worth the trek.
We then ended up in the same area as Bakesale Betty’s. I’m not even sure how I came across to learning about it. Again, it was one of those places with a long line spanning multiple storefronts. Old iron boards and wooden stools lined the sidewalk for patrons to eat outside. Since we were already there, we couldn’t resist ordering the signature fried chicken sandwich. A boneless, skinless chicken breast is fried and topped with a light jalapeno coleslaw. The batter on this fried chicken was crunchier than breakfast, which was crisper and lighter. I think the star of the sandwich is the coleslaw. It’s a far cry from one of those overly creamy messy coleslaw salads. Instead, it’s a light vinaigrette dressing that has a healthy punch from the jalapeno slices. I think they recently posted the recipe online, so I will have to add it to my recipe box. We also picked up a chocolate chip walnut cookie and a strawberry shortcake. I was disappointed in my chocolate chip walnut cookie as it did not taste as good as my own based on the NY Times recipe. Strawberry shortcake is one of A’s favorite desserts, and so he couldn’t turn it down. The shortcake was a true shortcake in the sense that it was not a spongy pound cake, but rather closer to a biscuit.

Fried chicken is one of those guilty pleasures that I rarely indulge in, but when I’m on vacation, I try not to over think it and just enjoy myself. Who would’ve thought that fried chicken would be such a popular item in Oakland?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Berkeley, California

While planning our wedding, I fell hopelessly in love with all the gorgeous outdoor Californian weddings featured on Style Me Pretty. I even spent a month researching the possibility of a destination wedding. However, that was not in the cards for us….but perhaps a vow renewal? Imagine how thrilled I was when we were invited to my friend’s wedding at Crooked Vine in Livermore. Obviously I could not decline the invitation. I hadn’t seen my friend in at least three years, and I was looking forward to meeting the wonderful woman that captured his heart. She is even sweeter than I could’ve imagined. I am so happy for them.

Trips to the San Francisco area are never long enough! My previous few trips included a drive down Highway 1 (LOVE the Big Sur!) and a day trip to Napa. With the wedding inland from San Francisco, we decided to explore the East Bay on this visit. We stayed in downtown Oakland for our first two nights, which allowed us to visit Berkeley. With the 40th anniversary celebration of Chez Panisse and our recent CSA subscription, I knew that securing dinner reservations was mandatory.

The exterior of the restaurant is quite unassuming with all the dark woodwork, and the restaurant name carved into the sign. The interior of the restaurant is softly lit with gorgeous wood and copper. The walls are covered with archives of previous menus and beautifully vintage looking illustrations of colorful fruits and vegetables. I loved the open kitchen space that displayed large bowls of produce and allowed patrons to see all the dishes being plated for service.

In celebration of their 40th anniversary, each menu highlighted items that had an influence on Alice Waters. On that particular evening, the inspiration was taken from a specific French chef, whose name escapes me at this moment. I really liked how our server was so knowledgeable about the history of this relationship and felt very comfortable with the menu items. 

I ordered a delicious elderflower soda for my drink. I'd been curious about using elderflower for drinks, and this did not disappoint. I was a little apprehensive since the server said it would be like a sweet camomile, and I'm not a big of fan of an overly sweet drink or camomile tea. In the end, I had nothing to worry about - it was light, crisp, refreshing and just the right amount of sweetness for me. I loved it. 

For starters, I opted for the avocado and beet salad with ginger vinaigrette while A ordered the pizzetta gypsy peppers and sausage. I’ve recently come to love garden fresh beets, although they can be messy! They are so lovely when served in a salad with soft cheese. A’s pizza was a beautifully thin, artisan crust with flavorful peppers. 

For our mains, A had the Riverdog Farm chicken leg and sweet peppers roasted in the wood oven with shell beans and savory. I had the Gigot aux olives noires: grilled Watson Ranch lamb leg with little turnips,green beans, and black olives, which was one of the French chef's inspired menu items that evening. The skin on the roasted chicken was incredibly crisp for being roasted. My lamb was tender and the olive were a nice accompaniment considering that I don’t like olives except for olive oil. We rounded out the meal with a Flavor King pluot tart with framboise cream. The pastry shell was buttery and flakey, but the pluots really stole the show. This is one of my most memorable desserts to have touched my lips. I even contemplated ordering a second one.
Chez Panisse is located on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, which is also known as the Gourmet Ghetto for the high concentration of fine dining, independent establishments focusing on high quality, seasonal ingredients. Across the median is the Cheese Board Collective, which is a worker owned collective. Several years ago, they started making pizzas at the end of the day for themselves and eventually a few regulars. This became so successful that they expanded their store front to serve pizza. What’s really unique about their set up in which they only make one type of pizza a day - no substitutions, additions or subtractions on the toppings. The pizzas are always vegetarian and made using their own cheese and some locally sourced produce. The line is always out the door, and the median on Shattuck is littered with groups of people picnicking with their pizza boxes from Cheese Board. Don’t be intimidated by the line though, it’s very efficient and fast moving since the choices are limited. You can order pizza by the slice, half or whole. They have a daily salad in two sizes and a dessert. We ordered half a pizza for lunch, and on this day the toppings were heirloom tomatoes, asiago, garlic and herbs. The cheese was chewy, and the crust was thin, chewy and crispy all at once. I loved it!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Quickfire: Pandel vs. Izard

I am fully guilty of having one of my web browsing tabs open to Twitter during the work day. It helps the day go by! A couple of weeks ago, I was quick enough to reserve two spots for the local Quickfire event held at Perennial Virant each month. Similar to the Bravo series, Top Chef, two local chefs are given an hour to prepare 100 small bites for the judges (audience) to taste. This month's competition was between last month's winner, Chef Chris Pandel from the Bristol, and Chef Stephanie Izard from Girl and the Goat, and also Top Chef Season 4 winner

It was a warm summer evening on the patio, which is across from the park where the semi-weekly Green City Market is held. When we checked in for the event, we were given two drink tickets for Goose Island Beer or a summer cocktail punch, a ticket to sample each chef's dish, and finally our voting ballot. We were able to secure a spot pretty close up to Chef Izard and her sous chef. We arrived a few minutes late so we didn't hear all the parameters of the challenge, but the key ingredient was flank steak provided by Dietzler Farms. Being near the ladies' end of the prep area, I spied a watermelon, two boxes of rice krispies, and two jars of pickled summer beans. I sympathized for the sous chef for spending the entire prep time on cutting the steaks for tartare - that can definitely cause tennis elbow over time!

So onto the food! Chef Izard prepared an Ethopian tartare garnished with a piri piri sauce made with garlic and watermelon rind. It was topped with spiced rice krispies and nori flakes. It was a beautifully plated dish and interesting flavor combination. Chef Pandel prepared a Rhode Island flatbread using Hungry Jack biscuits for the crust! It was topped with a goat liver puree, eggplant, peppers and grilled flank steak. We had to give the slight edge to Chef Pandel as the flavors really went well together, but our opinion was contrary to the rest of the judges since Chef Izard was crowned the winner. All in all, it was a fun night to see these local "celebrity" chefs in action up close and under pressure. We also had the pleasure of sampling bites of their food that probably no one else will.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Canned tomatoes workshop

Before heading out to California, I had a canned tomato workshop hosted by Slow Food Chicago. I was thrilled when I saw the Local Beet post the event on Facebook. I've been wanting to learn how to can for ages now. I've always been a little intimidated by the whole process, but my fears have been put to rest after this class. The workshop was taught by Sam Radov, Pastry Chef at the Publican, which also happens to be one of our top 10 favorite Chicago restaurants.

When registering for the workshop, I added 10 pounds of sustainable tomatoes to be canned during the class. They came in the form of plum tomatoes, but one of the other participants brought her own tomatoes, which were green. These tomatoes added a beautiful pop of color amongst the sea of red. Here are some pictures from the class. I cannot wait to open up my cans of tomatoes in the dead of winter when there's not a decent tomato in sight.

 ta da! The end result.....

First Fall CSA

We picked up our first Fall 2011 CSA from Green Grocer this week, and there were lots of goodies! I will feature recipes using the contents as the week progresses.
Leeks (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Green Beans (Nichols)
Sweet Corn (Genesis Growers, IL)
Cantaloupe (Genesis Growers)
DOUBLE peaches (Seedling, Michigan)