November 2010

baking therapy: chocolate chiffon cake

I recently purchased the Tartine Bakery cookbook and it is wonderful! The recipes are well written and clear, the photos are beautiful and now I get to learn the secrets behind of the tasty delights from Tartine that I love so much!

For our second Thanksgiving dinner with Jordan’s parents, my parents and their neighbors, I spearheaded the dessert course armed with my new cookbook. There are so many wonderful things to choose from, but I decide to go with something relatively easy.

Chocolate Chiffon Cake with Vanilla Pastry Cream

I’ll briefly describe the recipe. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. In another bowl mix egg yolks, water, and oil. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add lemon juice and zest. Fold these three mixtures together and pour into a springform pan. Bake for about an hour in a 325 degree oven. Let cool and then unmold.

You’ll end up with a four inch tall, very impressive looking cake. I was pretty proud when that puppy came out of the oven … and didn’t collapse.

The pastry cream is like making any sort of custard. Whole milk, salt, eggs, sugar, vanilla bean, and cornstarch plus heat. Also fairly easy, but requires a great deal of attention. There is no going back from burnt milk or curdled eggs!

Conclusions: The cake was good – chocolatey, moist, of the appropriate density. The vanilla bean pastry cream might just be my new favorite accompaniment. I can’t really think of anything that wouldn’t be good with it! A sprinkling of fresh berries would have made this dessert outstanding. Next time!

-Emily

quick cauliflower

We’ve been getting really into cauliflower lately … sauteed cauliflower, baked cauliflower, broiled cauliflower, maybe even braised cauliflower … perhaps because it’s cheap, but certainly because it’s delicious.

We made this quick side dish last night with ingredients we had languishing in the fridge.

Cauliflower with Fontina, Chives and Chili Flake
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 T olive oil
Salt, pepper, chili flakes
Chives, sliced
1/2 -3/4 cup grated fontina cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss cauliflower with olive oil, salt, pepper and chili flake. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, or until fork tender. Turn oven to broil. Sprinkle with fontina. Melt cheese under the broiler for a few moments. Sprinkle with chives and enjoy!

-Emily

brunch

I have a complicated relationship with brunch: I love breakfast foods. I love lunch foods. I love waking up late and still getting to enjoy breakfast in the company of friends. BUT… I hate waiting in line. I hate even more waiting in line for mediocre food (as brunch food out often is). I’ve struggled with these dueling desires for the last few years, especially during my stint in Washington D.C. where brunch is oh so fashionable. Last weekend I decide to host a brunch for a few friends hoping to maximize the elements of brunch I enjoy and minimize those that I don’t.

The Menu

Fresh Berry Tart with vanilla bean pastry cream (recipe courtesy of my new Tartine Bakery cookbook!)

Breakfast Pizza with fontina, bacon, sauteed mushrooms, eggs and chives (recipe by Jordan)

Hash Browns

Orange-Cranberry Scones (baked expertly by Jeff Quinn)

And of course, mimosas

(That goopy brown bit in the upper right is the hash browns. While not visually appealing, they were tasty).

Jordan and I diligently prepped all we could the night before and the cooking went splendidly that morning. Everyone showed up! The food turned out wonderful! The dishes were simple, but very satisfying. It was fun and relaxing – a perfect brunch! And the best part … No lines!

And perhaps one of the best compliments I’ve received lately from my dear friend Jeff: “… and I thought the gays had a monopoly on brunch!”

And just one more picture of my tart …

-Emily

pizzeria delfina

It’s no secret that Jordan and I both love pizza. We’ve walked by Pizzeria Delfina (18th and Guerrero in the Mission), and its sister restaurant Delfina several times and always been jealous of the diners. The food looks and smells incredible, there’s great outdoor seating and always a crowd waiting. So after a Greyhound happy hour at Doc’s Clock (21st and Mission), we decided to treat ourselves to pizza. We strolled over, put our name in and were seated outside with our pup almost immediately. (I was shocked that we were seated so quickly, but I guess we just had perfect timing because a serious crowd had formed as we finished our meal).

The waitress brought us breadsticks and a little dish of parmesan, chili flake and oregano to start (and a bowl of water for Willow – very sweet). We ordered two pizzas – the margherita ($12.5) and the special funghi ($16), which had maitake mushrooms and fontina cheese.

The pizzas were wonderful! They both had a nice balance between bread, sauce, cheese and toppings. For me, the funghi pizza was out of this world. The mushrooms were so earthy and they paired perfectly with the fontina cheese. Overall, I really enjoyed the whole experience – great atmosphere, wonderful food, a well-behaved dog.

We stopped by Bi-Rite Creamery for a gigantic soft-serve ice cream cone ($3) for dessert. The vanilla was delicious, the chocolate mint was a little overpowering. I’ll stick with just vanilla next time.

Conclusions: We’d go back to Pizzeria Delfina in a second. I kind of want to go again tonight!

quick mac and cheese

Since the weather has been so nice here in SF, Emily and I have spent much of our time outside with our dog Willow.  This was great all last weekend until it came time for dinner on Sunday.  We didn’t want to go out, but we didn’t feel like cooking up something worthy of a typical Sunday dinner;  mac and cheese felt like a perfect compromise.  Typically, mac and cheese is made with a béchamel sauce in which you add cheese to make a basic cheese sauce for your noodles.  This still seemed like too much work, but I wasn’t about to make that stuff that comes from a box with the little bunny on it that Emily likes.  Inspired by the pasta dish we had a couple weeks prior, I thought it would be nice to make the sauce with ricotta to thicken it rather than a béchamel.  I started by cooking some bacon that had been cut into lardons (I almost forgot to mention this was mac and cheese with bacon, of course).  After taking out the bacon and setting the fat aside, I slowly heated up about 0.5 – 0.75 cup of cream.  Now, my loyal reader, you must be thinking “But Jordan, what will you do with that glorious bacon fat?!”  Of course I’ve thought this through, and mixed the bacon fat with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese for a delicious, bacony, cheesy topping.  Back to the sauce: the cream is over a low flame and I’ve added about 0.5 cup of ricotta, 0.5 cup of grated fontina, and 0.25 cup of grated parmesan until melted together to a fairly thick sauce.  If the sauce is not sufficiently thick, add more of the cheeses to your taste.  Season with salt, pepper, and a very small sprinkling of nutmeg; it sounds weird, but it’s classic and tasty even though you don’t really taste the nutmeg, if that makes sense.  Add the sauce to about 0.5 lb of cooked pasta of your choice (Emily picked fusilli, which would not have been my choice, but she didn’t know that … until now).  Sprinkle on the topping and bake at 375 degrees until the top is crisp and looks like this:

Conclusions:  This version was much quicker and easier to make than traditional mac and cheese without sacrificing flavor.  On the downside, the ricotta prevents the sauce from becoming perfectly smooth and so you don’t get as much gooey, cheesy goodness either.  I’d make this again, but if I have the time I’ll go all out and do the béchamel.

-Jordan

hyde street bistro

It was Monday night. I had just gotten home from work. It was 80 degrees in our apartment (in November! in San Francisco!). We had no ideas for dinner and the thought of turning on the oven was just too much. We decided to go out. I told Jordan that I wanted to eat something light on a cool, quiet patio. Also, I didn’t want to walk far. While I thought this request impossible, my sweet Jordan found exactly what I was looking for in Hyde Street Bistro, just a few short (but uphill) blocks from our apartment.

Hyde Street Bistro (Hyde and Pacific) is a small, farm to table French restaurant. It is positively adorable, the wait staff is charming, the food is simple and French. We sat outside at a small bistro table under a tree decorated in white twinkle lights, the drone of the cable car tracks in the background. For sidewalk seating (especially in our colorful neighborhood), it was nice and quiet. I was quite pleased and I hadn’t even ordered.

We started with the butter lettuce salad with honey cider vinaigrette ($7). Simple, acidic, slightly sweet – a nicely composed salad. We then ordered the mussels mariniere ($14), fries ($5) and fresh vegetable sauté ($5). The mussels were delicious – you can’t go wrong with shallots, wine, parsley and butter. The fries were crisp and well-seasoned. The aioli that was served with them was also nice. The vegetables left something to be desired, although they were an appropriate crisp-tender. Nicely done, quickly prepared, simple and satisfying.

Overall, Hyde Street Bistro was exactly what I wanted: a light meal eaten outside on a quiet patio with no dishes for me to clean up afterward. Great pick Jordan! In addition to a full French menu, they also have a happy hour from 5:30 – 7 with $3 draft beers, $5 glasses of wine and $10 mussels with fries. We certainly will be back!

-Emily

nara sushi

Jordan and I both really enjoy sushi, but so far we have not found a place in San Francisco that can hold a candle to Mikuni in Roseville. We’ve tried several different restaurants in our neighborhood, and last Saturday we went to Nara Sushi at Polk and California.

I’ll keep this short. Skip the tempura appetizer ($5) and dive straight into the fish. We ordered the chirashi ($17). The portion was generous with about 3 pieces each of 7 different fish and the quality was good. The sushi rice was also tasty. Still a little hungry after finishing the chirashi, we ordered a spicy tuna, shrimp and masako roll off the special board ($12). It was also a generous portion and quite tasty, but a bit spicy. Overall, the atmosphere was typical, the service was attentive and the fish was good – certainly the best out of the restaurants we’ve tried in our area. Regardless, we were still left longing for Mikuni and are looking forward to going back to Granite Bay for Thanksgiving (hint hint!).

-Emily

baking therapy: chocolate ganache tart

Another week full of coworker birthdays! Why so many birthdays? Well, as my coworker Noah pointed out, this week is 9 months after Valentine’s Day. 😉

I always ask the birthday boy or girl if they have any allergies (I don’t want to kill anyone on their birthday) and Joel replied, “I’m allergic to anything that’s not sweet, fattening or chocolate”.  Sounds good to me!

I decided to make a chocolate ganache tart because it looked so pretty and fancy in the picture, but the recipe was super simple.

Chocolate Ganache Tart, from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food
3 tablespoons slivered blanched almonds
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups (spooned and leveled) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated orange or lemon zest (I did lemon)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make dough: In a food processor, pulse almonds until finely ground. Add sugar, flour, zest (if desired), and salt; pulse until combined. Add butter, pulsing until coarse crumbs form with no large butter lumps. I don’t have a food processor, so I grated the butter on the cheese grater and cut it in with 2 knives.

Immediately transfer dough to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Using a measuring cup, evenly press dough in bottom and up sides of pan.

Bake in center of oven until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. (At 20 minutes, my crust was still really soft so I let it go longer, but upon eating the next day it seemed too crunchy). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make ganache: Place chocolate in a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, heat cream until just about to boil. Pour hot cream, through a sieve, over chocolate. Stir until smooth and creamy in texture. Mix in vanilla. (As we learned in the chocolate mousse adventure, be careful not to torture the chocolate).

Pour chocolate mixture into center of cooled tart shell. Let stand until set, about 2 hours, or chill for 1 hour.

I served it with fresh raspberries.

Conclusions: It was rich, chocolatey and decadent. The acidity of the berries was a perfect accompaniment. I wasn’t thrilled with the crunchiness of the crust and may try a different crust recipe next time. The coworkers all really enjoyed it and I’m pretty sure I saw someone go in for thirds.

-Emily

baking therapy: banana cream pie

Oh pate brisee, why did you torture me so! I lovingly and carefully incorporated your flour, butter and water, painstakingly chopping the butter into tiny bits, and all you do to thank me is collapse upon yourself in the oven.

Not a terribly successful weekend for desserts. I decided to make a banana cream pie for my coworker’s birthday (she requested a banana dessert) and wanted to make the pie crust from scratch. I followed a recipe that used all butter, because crisco sort of freaks me out, but sadly, only one of the two pie crusts was even usable after baking (and the usable one was definitely ugly).

I followed a Martha Stewart recipe for the pie.

Despite the aforementioned crust issues, making the vanilla custard went smoothly. And once the pie crust was topped with sliced bananas and vanilla custard, you could hardly tell it was an once ugly. I served it with a dollop of whipped cream.

Conclusions: All of my coworkers loved it, even the ones that don’t like banana cream pie (myself included). Surprising myself, I would make it again and recommend you all to try it.

-Emily

chocolate mousse: trial and error

This is a lesson on how to make chocolate mousse, and also how not to make chocolate mousse. It took Jordan and I two tries to turn out an edible product for our Sunday party, and sadly, we can’t say we’re thrilled with the end result of this recipe.

Eggs, cream, chocolate … all delicate ingredients that don’t respond well to harsh treatment. We were harsh. On our first attempt, we’re fairly certain we burnt the ingredients every step of the way. The result: a chunky, grainy, chocolate goop.

A side-by-side comparison of a correct custard (smooth and creamy) and an incorrect custard (burnt and grainy).

While we successfully passed the custard stage on on our second attempt, we over-chilled the chocolate custard, which resulted in an overly dense mousse even 1.5 cups of whipped cream couldn’t save. It was edible certainly, but too rich to be throughly enjoyed.

Still on the hunt for the perfect chocolate mousse …

-Emily

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