Archive | July, 2010

double chocolate espresso cookies

29 Jul

When it comes to cookies, I’m in the soft and chewy camp. When I worked at a big agency, I always looked forward to co-workers’ birthdays because it was an excuse to order that ridiculously gigantic chocolate chip cookie cake from Mrs. Fields…. warm, soft, and a little chewy like a brownie, plus it came in a cardboard pizza box that, once emptied, revealed its evil twin: an enormous footprint of grease.

For my mom’s birthday, I thought about shipping her a giant cookie cake, but breakage was an obvious concern. Instead, I sought out a dressed up cookie recipe worthy of a celebration. These Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies fit the bill perfectly with a description stating, “chewy in the middle with pockets of soft chocolate.” They came out soft and airy, yet decadent as the two kinds of chocolate and espresso would suggest.

double chocolate espresso cookies
from, a site i adore

* 2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 cup light brown sugar
* 2 eggs, room temperature
* 2 1/2 cups flour
* 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger)
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (like Medaglia D’Oro, or similar)
* 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Then, add eggs one at time, mixing after each addition to make sure they are well combined.

In a separate bowl mix together dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder. I use a whisk to make sure the dry ingredients are well mixed.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix everything until the ingredients are fully combined, but do not overbeat. Using a wooden spoon, stir in chocolate chips.

Line a baking sheet with Silpat or parchment paper. Using a 1 1/2″ ice-cream scoop, or rounded teaspoon, drop dough on the sheet 2″ apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and serve.

Makes 50-55 cookies

nectarine and plum crostata

27 Jul

Butter can do no harm. Take for example: crust. Savory or sweet, this golden brown vessel can be your means to a delicious end whether it be a latticed pie, custard tart or quiche.

When what matters most is getting a piece of buttery crust into your mouth as quickly as possible, the crostata should be your vehicle of choice. A crostata is a rustic free-form tart — simply a round of dough piled with a mound of fruit with the sides folded over. It’s as easy as pie… only easier!

Recently, my baker friend Rosie made a fantastic crostata with plums and nectarines ripe from her parents’ garden. Tart purple-fleshed plums oozed from a thick buttery envelope of golden pastry dough with every pinch of my fork.

Feeling particularly inspired last Sunday morning, I whipped up a copycat crostata to take over to my 88 year-old grandma. I was running a bit late, so I definitely could have baked the crostata until it was more browned.

nectarine and plum crostata
with super easy food processor crust recipe from Cucina Simpatica

* 2 sticks cold, unsalted butter
* 2 cups unbleached flour
* 1/4 cup superfine sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1/4 cup ice water

* 2 cups of nectarines, plums or any other semi-soft seasonal fruit (raspberries, figs, etc)
* 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon superfine sugar (use less, if fruit is super sweet)
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

prepare the crust (1-hr in advance): Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Since butter softens rapidly, return cubes to refrigerator for at least 10 minutes while you set up other ingredients.

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter, tossing quickly with your fingers to coat each cube with flour, taking care not to touch the blade. This prevents the butter cubes from adhering together and helps them to break apart and combine more evenly with the flour.

Pulse 15 times, or until the butter particles are the size of small peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through feed tube. Process for about 10 seconds, stopping the machine before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the contents of the bowl onto a sheet of aluminum foil, pressing any loose particles into the mass of dough. Roughly form the dough into a 7-inch disk.

Cover the dough completely with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The dough may be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen up to 2 weeks (defrost for 30-45 minutes at room temperature before use). Makes 20 ounces of dough — enough for one large tart, two 9-inch shells or four little tarts.

prepare the crostata: Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Slice fruit into 1/2-inch slices. Sprinkle sugar and vanilla over fruit mixture and let sit about 20-minutes, until some juice is released. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch free-form circle (use about half of the dough from recipe above). Transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Leaving 1 1/2-inch border all around, cover the dough with the drained fruit mixture. Raise the dough border to enclose the sides of the tart, letting it drape gently over the fruit. Press down on the dough at the baking sheet, snugly securing the sides and the bottom of the pastry; be careful not to mash the fruit. Gently pinch the soft pleats that form from the draping.

Bake the tart for 20 minutes until the fruit has given off some of its juice and the dough is golden. Cool on a rock for about 10 minutes and serve while still warm and aromatic. You can brush the fruit with jam or the leftover sugar/vanilla juices, if the top looks dry.

what’s old is new again: panos

26 Jul

labyrinth at land's end (click to enlargen)

Growing up, I had a friend who was always had to be the first to get whatever was trendy and new. She was the first to wear Z. Cavariccis. She had a see-thru pager (more expensive than the black kind). When everyone was into Gameboy, she was growing a pet tamagochi. She also owned a mini disc player.

One of the coolest things she introduced me to was panoramic photography (pre-digital cameras). Her parents had given her a special wide-angle lens camera with a switch to shoot in panoramic format. We marveled at the giant prints that wouldn’t fit into the normal drugstore photo pouches and instead arrived jutting out of huge envelopes.

aqua tunnel, academy of sciences (click to enlargen)

There’s just something about taking in a 180-degree view from another’s perspective that I find particularly captivating — as if standing in their shoes contemplating one’s smallness on earth.

As you may know, I hate the Hipstamatic iPhone app that gives photos a vintage look complete with tattered edges. It’s about as dumb as tearing holes in and acid washing your jeans. I am, however, a huge fan of the Pano app that stitches together photos into a glorious panoramic.

What’s cool about Pano is that while taking consecutive photos, it shows you a ghosted visual of your last shot, so you can line up the seam perfectly. It also does alignment and color adjustments for you through the magic of algorithms. Props to Pano for bringing back the old school, new school style.

A collection of my latest panos – CLICK TO ENLARGEN:

osprey sanctuary, maine

grand view park, overlooking golden gate park

view from sausalito facing angel island and sf

fourth of july from outer mission rooftop

ropeswing at billy goat hill

housewarming ice luge

22 Jul

It started off as a joke. I told C & J that I’d craft a 90’s frat boy-style ice luge for their “Welcome to the Burbs” housewarming party. If you’re not familiar with ice luges, there’s apparently a wikipedia entry you can read here. I imagine a Siberian dude chiseled the first ice luge out of sheer boredom.

After some internet research, the prospect of building my own ice luge didn’t seem so intimidating. I’d start with a plastic storage box filled with water and frozen at a tilt in my freezer for two days.

Next step, remove the ice from the container. After 10 minutes of thawing on the counter, I carefully tipped the ice out of the box.

I was skeptical at first because the container bottom had grown bulbous during freezing. But, after thawing on a baking sheet, the bottom flattened itself.

Also, the surface appears cloudy due to cracking. I blame air bubbles and uneven temps in the freezer.

Next, I decided to create a paper pattern for the squiggly channel I was about to carve, so I wouldn’t have to free-hand it.

Using a flat head screwdriver and hammer, I chiseled an outline around the paper pattern, then went back and chipped out chunks to form a half-inch deep channel.

The cracks under the surface of the ice at times caused large chunks to break off, but you really don’t need to be precise here…. it is what it is!

Last step: I poured a bit of warm water down the channel to smooth out the luge course and deepen it. All told, it only took me about 20-minutes to create the ice luge.

Handily, I plunked the ice luge back into the container I froze it in, which has handles for carrying. And off to the burbs I went!

The big unveil incited a chorus of oooohs and ahhhhs and giggles. We propped the ice luge on the edge of a kitchen counter such that the drinker would have to kneel on the floor to take a shot. I think you can imagine the embarrassing photos that I decided not to post here…. Next time, I’ll be sure to carve a pool or lip at the bottom to avoid awkward “slurping.” 😉

avocado monster

19 Jul

I’m an avocado monster. This is what California has done to me. Here, avocados are like cheese. You put them in any food that requires assembly — burgers, salads, sushi, omelets, egg rolls… anything goes!

I still enjoy avocados most in their purest form, halved with a bit of soy sauce and a spoon. That’s how we grew up eating them in Hawaii. My grandma would walk down the block every day to check if any of the neighbor’s delicate “pears” had fallen to the ground street-side (i.e. “up for grabs”).

These days, I hit up my local farmer’s market for the super ripe hass avocados — perfect for guacamole making. I’ve been making guacamole for years now with on-par results, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I was introduced to the ultimate recipe.

I get compliments every time I make this for a party, and everyone always asks for the recipe. There aren’t any special spices, just well-measured ingredients and traditional grinding (preferably in a molcajete).  I have my foodie friend Christina to thank for introducing me to this guacamole of perfect proportions.

the very best guacamole
adapted from Rosa’s New Mexican Table via Saveur magazine

* 2 tbsp. finely chopped white onion
* 3 firmly packed tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
* 2 tsp. finely chopped jalapeño
* 1 tsp. salt
* 3 medium-ripe hass avocados
* 3 tbsp. diced tomato
* 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice (or more to taste)

Grind 1 tbsp. of the onions, 1 tbsp. of  the cilantro, jalapeño, and salt together in a molcajete until all the ingredients are well ground. (Alternatively, use a fork to mash the ingredients to a paste in a wide bowl.)

Cut avocados (about 8 ounces each) in half. Twist the halves to separate them and remove the pit with the tip of the knife. Place an avocado half, cut side up, in your palm and make 3 or 4 evenly spaced lengthwise cuts through its flesh down to the skin, without cutting through the skin. Make 4 crosswise cuts in the same fashion.

Scoop the diced avocado flesh into the molcajete. Repeat with remaining avocado halves. Gently fold the avocado into the chile–onion paste, keeping the avocado pieces fairly intact.

Add lime juice, tomatoes, remaining 2 tbsp. of the cilantro, and remaining 1 tbsp. of the onions.

Fold together all the ingredients. Taste and add salt, if necessary. Sometimes I add a dash of soy sauce instead of salt for extra umami!

Serve immediately, directly from the molcajete (or bowl), with tortilla chips.

when it’s hot: the moscow mule

17 Jul

It’s the middle of July and currently 59-degrees here in San Francisco. WTH!!!!!

Beyond our 7 square mile bubble, it is the height of summer and refreshing cocktails are in demand. Recently my New Yorker foodie friend Jenny visited and whipped us up a batch of quenching Moscow Mules. I fell in love with this tangy citrus ginger cocktail, which Jenny served shamelessly in oversized water glasses.

moscow mule
as quick to make as they are to drink

* 1 part vodka (we recommend Tito’s handmade vodka)
* 1 part fresh lime juice
* 2-3 parts ginger beer
* ice
* giant glass

Mix, sip, repeat.

walnut pesto, riviera dreams

16 Jul

A couple summers ago, I took a trip to the Cinque Terra in Liguria, Italy. I snapped this photo of Vernazza from the hiking trail that connects these five picturesque coastal towns. The castle tower in the distance was built to watch out for pirates (yaaaargh!). Just below the tower, I enjoyed a fantastic meal of frutti di mare and pesto lasagna at the restaurant with orange awnings.

Memories of that heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth pesto lasagna — infinite layers of handmade pasta, white sauce, cheeses, no tomatoes or meat — came rushing back after reading a recent Bittman article about Pra, Liguria’s famous basil-growing town.

Pesto is pesto, and it’s pretty difficult to botch up a handful of nuts, cheese, basil and oil. On the other hand, if you’ve had truly great pesto made with the best Italian-grown ingredients, you know it can be an utterly transcendent experience in shades of green.

Here in San Francisco, Farina is the hands-down pesto champ, but they don’t do a lasagna! Until my next trip to the Italian Rivera, I will continue to dream of pressing my fork greedily through a piece of fantastic pesto lasagna. In the meantime, I will take the basil California gives me.

walnut pesto
tasty but not like in Liguria… walnuts are a fine alternative to pine nuts when that’s what you’ve got

* 1/2 cup walnut halves
* 2 cups lightly packed basil leaves
* 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
*1 /2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
* Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are fragrant and lightly browned. Let cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the walnuts with the basil and garlic until the walnuts are finely chopped. With the machine on, add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until the pesto is almost smooth. Add the cheese and pulse until just incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.

mint chocolate cupcakes, metrics mayhem

15 Jul

At Christmas time, Trader Joes makes a special candy cane version of their Joe-Joe cookies (fake Oreos), which happens to be a favorite of my friend Mariel. So, when asked to make birthday cupcakes for her 30th, I set out to find a recipe that would mimic that oh-so-festive mint and chocolate combination.

Unfortunately, a search for “mint chocolate cupcakes” returns surprisingly slim pickings. However, one recipe stood out with a description stating “like an AERO chocolate in cupcake form.” If you’ve ever had an AERO bar, the titillating sensation of bubbles of chocolate bursting on your tongue immediately springs to mind. I was definitely going to make this recipe.

Of course as AERO would suggest, this recipe comes from the UK, specifically from the kitchen goddess herself, Nigella Lawson. While I am a huge fan of Nigella, she does live in the land of metrics and I am total crap at mathematical conversions. But… I will do just about anything for the sake of a cupcake.

Here is my metrics conversion masterpiece. Perhaps a tad bit off, since the cupcakes turned out slightly more concave than convex…. all the more room for butter cream frosting!

mint chocolate cupcakes with butter cream frosting
adapted and converted from Nigella

* 1 2/3 cup self raising flour (not the same as AP flour, but you can find it at Safeway)
* 4 tbsp cocoa powder
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1 1/8 c super fine sugar
* 2 sticks unsalted butter
* 4 eggs
* 1 tsp peppermint extract
* 3/4 c plain choc chips

* 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
* 1 2/3 cup confectioners sugar, sieved
* 1 tsp peppermint extract
* green food colouring

Preheat oven to 325-degrees.

Place 18 paper wrappers into muffin tins.

In a bowl sieve flour, baking powder and cocoa. Beat butter and sugar together in another bowl. Add eggs one at a time and beat together.

Add flour mixture gradually. Stir in the mint extract and chocolate chips. Spoon mixture into cases and bake for about 25 mins.

To make icing, beat icing sugar and butter in a bowl stir in the mint extract, and just enough food coloring to turn the icing mint green.

Ice the cooled cupcakes and decorate with chocolate chips or sprinkles.

Did I mention our cowboy party theme?

modern cartography

6 Jul

One of my nerdy pleasures of late has been building custom Google Maps for summer trips. Call it anal, but I appreciate knowing exactly where I’m going from hotels to bakeries to hiking spots. Moreover, who would visit a place like Portland, Maine without mapping the twenty best restaurants in town?

Memorial Day Weekend Maine Food and Hiking tour. I love the customizable location icons — fork and knife for food, backpackers for hiking, plus you can include driving directions from one place to the next.

Favorite meal of the trip? Besides dinner from the farm at Primo in Rockland, our best home-cooked feast included grilled Maine lobsters purchased live from Three Sons Lobster & Fish, sweet summer corn, and a sour cherry pie from Two Fat Cats Bakery for dessert.

Grilled Maine Lobster

* 4 live lobsters (1 – 2 lbs each)
* 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
* 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
* 2 teaspoons minced chives
* Sea salt and pepper
* Lemon wedges, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare an ice-water bath. Generously salt boiling water and return to a boil. Plunge lobsters headfirst into boiling water and cook for 5 minutes; immediately transfer to ice-water bath to cool.

Meanwhile, light charcoal grill. In a small bowl, mix together butter, parsley, chives, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; set aside.

With a large knife, cut cooled lobsters in half lengthwise. Place cut side up and brush cut side with butter mixture.

Transfer and grill until lobsters are cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

ice cream bombe

5 Jul

A dear friend of mine is allergic to both gluten and dairy. When tasked with creating a birthday cake for her, I found myself completely stumped. I don’t care to mess with ingredients like xantham gum and even Whole Foods only sells cakes that are gluten, but not dairy free!

Eureka! What about an ice cream-less, ice cream bombe? A splendid idea from Bubby, who had seen Ina Garten build a spectacular layered dome of fruit sorbets and ice cream on the Barefoot Contessa. All I would need to do is swap out the ice cream for non-heinous soy ice cream, if that were findable.

A simple endeavor really, especially if you are using pre-made ice cream. Rather than press soften ice cream into a normal crusted pie pan, we build the “bombe” upside down in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Using multiple flavors, we layer and press with successively smaller nesting bowls that have been covered in plastic wrap. You must freeze the layers between, so the process does take a bit of time — plus, you’ll want to freeze the whole thing overnight to set.

To unmold, we dip the entire bowl into warm water for a minute. The melted sorbet ended up artfully cascading off the bombe onto the plate, forming an elegant birthday platter.

It was a delightfully refreshing slice reminiscent of a creamsicle — the perfect gluten and dairy free “birthday bombe.”

Ice Cream Bombe
Adapted from Ina Garten

* 1 quart and 1 pint mango sorbet, softened
* 2 pints raspberry sorbet, softened
* 1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened (for dairy free, I used Trader Joe’s Vanilla Soy Ice Cream)

Freeze an 8-inch stainless steel mixing bowl. Note: These vary in depth/volume, so you’ll want to check how much ice cream you’ll need for each layer by filling the bowl with water and submerging the next smaller bowl until the water level hits the rims — repeat for each layer and convert cups of water to pints/quarts of ice cream.

When the bowl is cold, place the mango sorbet in the bowl and press it against the sides of the bowl. If you have a 6 1/2-inch bowl the same shape as the 8-inch bowl (such as from a set of nesting bowls), cover it with plastic wrap and press it into the sorbet to make the layer even. Freeze the sorbet for 30 minutes or until firm. Remove the 6 1/2-inch bowl.

Spread an even layer of softened raspberry sorbet on top of the mango sorbet (a 4 1/2-inch nesting bowl wrapped in plastic wrap helps with this) and freeze for another 30 minutes or until firm. Remove the 4 1/2 inch bowl.

Finally, spoon in enough softened vanilla ice cream to fill the bowl. Freeze until hard.

To unmold, dip the bowl up to the rim in warm water. Run a knife around the edge to loosen the bombe and unmold upside down onto a flat plate. You may need to run a flexible metal spatula along the edge of the bombe to release it. Freeze until ready to serve. Serve in wedges using a knife dipped in hot water.