Thursday, December 22, 2011

K's Gingerbread Houses

Due to poor planning on my part, we missed out on the Bi-Rite/18 Reasons Gingerbread House decorating session this year. Instead, for the first time, we made our own at home. Are they as beautiful as the ones the workshop would have provided us with? Definitely not and there are certainly more toothpicks involved. Would it be nice to have a perfect looking house? Sure. But that is a very different sort of project. When baking with K, it is the project that matters and not the outcome. Our baking adventures almost always taste good, but their appearances can be messy. For K, making the house together is what mattered. And the crookedness and drippy frosting and mess are what she is excited about because, "I made it myself!" Plus, R2D2!

Note that even the template is crooked.
Rolling the dough.

Crooked, flour "stained" pieces.
K is all Star Wars, all the time these days.

Initial construction, left to dry overnight with support.

Are they ready yet? Sure. Rather crooked though.
I believe the phrase of the day was: Never too much frosting.

R2D2 on the house.

House #2.

Yes, that is more leftover Halloween candy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cooking from the Books with K: Heidi

"I feel like Heidi eating bread and cheese."
Ah, Heidi. I still remember wishing I could live on a mountain, instead of in suburban Connecticut. How wonderful does this sound?
“She started joyfully for the mountain. During the night the wind had blown away all the clouds; the dark blue sky was spreading overhead, and in its midst was the bright sun shining down on the green slopes of the mountain, where the flowers opened their little blue and yellow cups, and looked up to him smiling. Heidi went running hither and thither and shouting with delight, for here were whole patches of delicate red primroses, and there the blue gleam of the lovely gentian, while above them all laughed and nodded the tender-leaved golden cistus. Enchanted with all this waving field of brightly-colored flowers, Heidi forgot even Peter and the goats. She ran on in front and then off to the side, tempted first one way and then the other, as she caught sight of some bright spot of glowing red or yellow. And all the while she was plucking whole handfuls of the flowers which she put into her little apron, for she wanted to take them all home and stick them in the hay, so that she might make her bedroom look just like the meadows outside. Peter had therefore to be on the alert, and his round eyes, which did not move very quickly, had more work than they could well manage, for the goats were as lively as Heidi; they ran in all directions, and Peter had to follow whistling and calling and swinging his stick to get all the runaways together again.”

K says that Heidi "is about a girl who goes to live with her grandfather on the mountain. Everyone thinks her grandfather is mean and should not be allowed to take care of her. But, he's nice to Heidi. There are friends, a boy and his family and a girl. The girl is in a wheelchair and the boy is really poor. She meets the boy while he is herding goats. She meets the girl when she has to go to the city for some reason. The girl is really nice. Someone gives Heidi kittens. The kittens get into trouble. Heidi comes back and later the girl comes to visit and the boy, Peter, pushes her wheelchair off a hill and the girl, Klara, learns to walk. That is most of the story.
I thought the story was awesome. Because it is a good book and the characters seem like real people. I read this when I was 7 or 8 and I liked that it was a chapter book. It kind of reminded me of the Little House books. "

So how could we not do a Cooking from the Books: Heidi? The obvious dish: fondue. I put this off a bit because not only do I not own a fondue pot, but I had no idea if my cheese-averse child would enjoy it. Unlike most kids, K is rather anti-cheese, except on pizza. But after she learned to eat grilled cheese, albeit with the blandest cheddar possible, I figured it was worth a shot.

First off, I sent a plea out on Facebook for a loaner fondue pot and got two offers. It seems that most people who own fondue pots simply don't use them. As for having never made fondue, well, sometimes opportunity knocks. From our place in the Della Fattoria bread line at the Ferry Plaza Farmers market this past Saturday, we spotted a tub of fondue mix at Andante Cheese. To me, it was a clear sign that this was our weekend for Heidi. Sure enough, Sean Timberlake, of Punk Domestics fame, had a fondue pot we could borrow, mere blocks away. Social media: the modern way to meet your almost neighbors and thus, borrow their cookware. So after a trip to the hardware store for sterno, we were set.
How could I resist an Andante fondue mix?

Our recipe is as simple as it comes and was adapted from the Joy of Cooking. Not wanting to push my luck with K, I skipped the kirsch, though for less picky eaters I highly recommend it.

1 tub Andante Fondue Mix (about 8 oz. grated cheese)
1 cup white wine (from the Savoie in this case)
As much nutmeg as K felt like grating
1 teaspoon corn starch

Heat wine over a medium-high heat until it begins to foam but does not boil. Add cheese gradually, stirring all the while. Grate in nutmeg and continue to stir until the mixture begins to thicken slightly. Add cornstarch and stir until the mixture thickens enough to coat your dipping items. Pour into a fondue pot and place over sterno to keep warm.
We dipped Della Fattoria semolina bread, apples slices, salami and mystery box purple cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower, apple slices, Boccalone salami and bread for dipping.

To my delight, it was a hit. K reports that "the fondue was awesome. It made me kind of feel like Heidi because I was eating bread and cheese. It was fun to dip the bread and the apples. I want to try chocolate fondue next!"

"The apples are good!"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holidy Cookies: A Creative Use of Leftover Halloween Candy

Using the recipe I posted here, this year K and I decided to use leftover Halloween candy to help decorate our first batch of holiday cookies. I made a batch of dough Thursday. We baked the cookies Friday night and this morning was decorating time. Pictures below.

Preparing the frosting: Royal icing and gel food color, mixed with a take-out Chinese unused chopstick.

Frosting, now mixed and colored, assorted sugars and leftover candy.
At work. Chopstick now serving as a "paintbursh."

Squeeze bottle is another frosting option.

Hard at work.

Trees, stars, hearts and a K. K likes the tree with the grape "berries" best.

The "men." My favorite is the guy with the candy corn tie.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cookie Time Again

This year, I have promised K we can make a gingerbread house. To say that I am nervous about it would be an understatement. So in the meantime, I'm making up a batch of my favorite shortbread dough, which we use for cut out holiday cookies, to keep on hand in case our house has construction issues.

The recipe we use is from the Cookie Swap book, which I have mentioned here before. I've included some photos of earlier projects below. Like always, we modified the original recipe, in this case substituting almond extract for the ground almonds in the recipe as K had insisted that nuts would "make the recipe gross." I expect that I could add them back in at this point, but I am more likely to have the extract in the house than almonds anyway. I also flavor the royal icing we use with either almond or vanilla extract to add a but more flavor.
The original recipe can be found on the Kitchen Musings blog.

Last year

Slightly less traditional colors

Same dough, set up for a cookie decorating party.


Makes about 2 1/2 dozen (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inch cookie). We often make 2 batches.

2 cups all purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract

Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually add the flour mixture, blending just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Flatten the dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours, or until firm enough to roll without sticking.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters of your choice. Carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom and firm to the touch. Immediately transfer to wire racks with offset spatula to prevent breakage. Cool completely before frosting.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

K Cooks at Flour + Water

Checking out the set up, pre class.

Well, sort of. As you may know, Flour + Water is a James Beard nominated restaurant here in San Francisco: a finalist in 2010 for Best New Restaurant and in 2011 for Rising Star Chef. I'm a big fan of their pastas, even though I don't eat there often enough. 

Last weekend, a tweet appeared in my time line that sounded just about perfect for K: 

@   Join us & in Sprouts' Celebrity Chef Series! 11/30 5-7pm We're making macaroni and cheese from scratch!
Sprouts Cooking is, according to their mission statement, an organization that: "strives to teach Bay-Area children of all socio-economic backgrounds how to cook, hands-on, with real chefs, using real ingredients, in real restaurants whenever possible. We keep cooking real." They have classes, a garden, run a summer camp that may be in K's future, and more. Take a look at this article from the Bay Citizen/NY Times for more info.  
Today was class day. We packed up K's "kit": grater, knife, peeler, kitchen rag, water bottle and Tupperware (in case of leftovers )and drove over to Flour + Water. Once there, I checked K in and left, wishing I could stay for the class. I will admit that I, and I would guess many of the other parents, spent the class time hoping for leftovers. 

The table, pre-class
K's report on the class:
"We went upstairs and then we put our stuff down and Mama left. After all the kids got there, we stood around the table and introduced ourselves. Then the teacher showed us how to make dough for the pasta we would be making. The dough had about 20 or 25 eggs. Then we worked some of the dough. That means you knead it. Then we wrapped the dough up in plastic wrap and got to use some other dough that was already prepared. 
We got to split it up and roll it out on the metal pasta roller. The handle kept falling off. Then we cut the pieces we rolled out into 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch squares and then we wrapped them diagonally around a wooden stick. Then we got to grate the cheese and wash the broccoli. 
Then the craziness started. We made pasta with up to 32 layers, stacked on each other. Really thin ones, really small ones, anything you could think of. And then the teacher put it in the pan with a sauce made out of cheese and milk and the broccoli. Then it cooked, while we kept making more crazy shapes until there was no dough left. We also got to meet a pig. He was black and a pet. Then the parents came and we got soda and mac and cheese. Mama had some of my soda. And then we went home and Mama ate the leftover mac and cheese.
I liked rolling out the dough and meeting the other kids. I would like to take more of their classes."

Time to eat.

The chef with her leftovers and soda.
My much anticipated dinner.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fall at La Clarine Farm

Vines, goats, dogs and rosé.
A few pictures from a Sunday visit, my second to La Clarine Farm up in the Sierra Foothills. You can read a lot more about the winery on Alice Feiring's site or in this article she wrote for the SF Chronicle.

K admires the view. Her hair and the leaves are just about the same shade.

Fall in the foothills.

A new planting, tannat, if I remember correctly.

Hank Beckmeyer in conversation with Sarah Chappell.

Winery dogs: A very good life.

Also a good life: winery goats. This is either 8/9 or his mother 10/10.

Sometimes a barrel is a book rest.

The rosé is coming this spring! We also tasted the white blend (with semillon) this time, the home vineyard blend, the syrah and the Piedi Grandi (see below).

Also coming soon. A bit further along then when we tasted it in August, a fun blend.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: A Review

I've not reviewed many books here. Given my former day job, it always seemed a bit of a conflict of interest. Honest praise for projects I worked on could have seemed self-serving. Sure, I could have written about books that I did not have anything to do with, but ignoring my titles and only praising those from other publishers also seemed strange. So, I generally avoided it. Which was hard for me, because I read a lot.
As I've mentioned before, my parents were librarians who opened bookstores and I've worked in books for almost my entire professional career. Whether I will do so in the future, either freelance or full-time, remains up in the air. In the meantime, I'm going to start writing more often about the books that cross my desk. 

First up, the very appealingly titled: Make the Butter, Buy the Bread from Jennifer Reese, which was sent to me as a review copy.

From simple projects like make it yourself peanut butter and home baked bread to onion rings, backyard ducks and raising goats for their milk, Jennifer Reese takes us through a diverse range of projects, both successes and failures, with 120 recipes and corresponding  “make or buy” recommendations. The press release included featured this blurb from Mollie Katzen and I tend to agree "I knew this important, original, and necessary book would be informative—and it is, very. What I didn't expect: pure entertainment in an original, fresh voice that will make readers feel they have a smart new best friend. I lapped this up in one sitting, learned a bunch, laughed out loud - and am about to try several of the recipes. You nailed it, Jennifer Reese!” The writing is inviting enough that I sat down and read the book through, eager to learn the results of each experience. The animal experiments, chicken, goats, ducks and turkeys, are particularly entertaining, as are the honest and often hilarious reactions from Reese's family. 

The idea behind the book is one that resonates with me: when does it make sense to make a product versus buying it, in terms of taste, cost and hassle involved? This is something I wish people talked about more often when discussing home cooking and the ongoing debates about convenience foods. For some, the major issue is expense but for many, it is time. A large part of the make versus buy equation becomes how much we enjoy an activity. For example, I could devote hours to making a homemade croissant, but I've tried it, not enjoyed it, and with Tartine down the street, I am not motivated. Yet, although I can buy excellent jam at Bi-Rite, I don't hesitate to spend just as many hours as I would on the croissants, if not more, making jam. Jam making for me is a hobby, rather than a burden. Although some people do work incredibly long hours, most of us have lives with a certain amount of leisure time. If you enjoy cooking or baking or jam making or urban farming, the time is not the burden it would be if even the idea of stirring a pot for hours sounds tortuous. I can or bake or cook because I enjoy the process and not just the results. I'd rather be doing that than playing online poker or golfing or many other activities. Do I save money with these projects, something that I am clearly even more sensitive to today than ever? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Which is why my personal make or buy recommendations don't always mirror Reese's and that is to be expected.
As to the projects themselves, I appreciated the sheer number Reese tried. Personally, I'm not a backyard chicken girl. Having been attacked by a rooster at 5, I may be one of the only people out there scared of chickens. But, I regularly make jam, pickles, chutneys, tomato sauces ryed or bourboned cherries and the like, have made cheese, bacon, corned beef, pates, smoked fish and meats, along with all of my everyday cooking and baking. This year we even grew our own corn for popcorn. Although I haven't tried many of the projects Reese did, I have done quite a few. In general I agreed with the make/buy recommendations, though I feel strongly that she is wrong about strawberry jam. That aside, I highly recommend the book.

I wanted to test a recipe, so I handed it to K, with the caveat that no sweets were to be selected. She chose bagels, a fraught topic for many East Coast transplants. The recipe can be found here. It turned out to be an excellent choice, because, although I buy few bagels these days, K eats them for lunch on days she heads to school from her father's house. Convenient to have a critic available!

After walking K to school this morning, I made the very simple dough (flour, yeast, warm water, salt and sugar) and let it rise while I went about my day. It took, mixing and kneading including, all of 10-15 minutes. After school, we came home and started in on the more interesting side of the project: shaping, boiling and then baking the bagels. Shaping and boiling probably took about another 15-20 minutes, including resting time. Then, into the oven for 30 minutes. The verdict: I was delighted with their chewiness. K felt they were "maybe a little better than store bought," though she was less delighted by the chewiness. I'd make them again, but next time experiment with onions or other flavors. I'm also planning on trying a few more of the projects in the book. Next up? Maybe I will finally try fried chicken at home.


With our homemade strawberry, balsamic, black pepper jam


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cooking the Books with K: Mary Poppins in the Kitchen Lemon Souffle

What is there to say about Mary Poppins? It is one of the most beloved movies of all time. Like many families, we own a copy and I credit it with helping me survive having food poisoning and single-parenting a two year-old one Thanksgiving weekend. The movie was one of K's favorites for many years and the sing-along version at the Castro Theater is not to be missed, though not currently on their schedule.
K says:
"It is a very awesome movie. "
"I love the songs."
"I really like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
"When I was little I watched that and Bedknobs and Broomsticks a lot." 
"I think the penguins are really funny."

I don't remember if I read the books as a child or not. It seems like I must have, but I have no memories of them at all. One day at the library, K discovered the books. 
She says:
"I've never read the original one because it is always checked out."
"They are really exciting and one has Michael getting transported to a planet of cats."
"I think there are four if you don't include the cookbook." 
(Note: there are actually eight.)
"There is also one where they ride candy canes. Like the candy sticks you brought me."
"There is one where she tells them a story about the king of the castle and 
the dirty rascal."

So, clearly, an obvious choice for Cooking the Books, especially after we discovered: Mary Poppins in the Kitchen: A Cookery Book with a Story. The joy of this book is that it is both a story and a cookbook as Mary and the Banks children take over the kitchen for a week. Mary Poppins teaches the children the basics of cooking, from A to Z, with thirty recipes to re-create the week's menus.

As we always do, we took turns marking the recipes we wanted to make. After much discussion about Gingerbread Stars and the fact that Christmas cookies will be on the agenda soon, we decided on Lemon Soufflé. Much like the lemon meringue pie we made recently, the recipe is a nice mix of child-friendly steps, combined with some that probably require adult help. We opted for individual soufflés in ramekins, rather than the large single soufflé in the original recipe, because K wanted her own. The language of the original recipe is charming, but I've altered it here to make it easier for K to follow along.
1/2 stick butter, plus extra for greasing the ramekins
4 T all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 large lemon, juiced and zested
4 T granulated sugar, plus extra for the ramekins
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 400. 

Butter the inside of the ramekins and sprinkle with sugar. Turn upside down to remove excess sugar.

In a saucepan, melt the butter until it foams. Turn down the heat and stir in the flour. Cook for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly to make a roux, a fine cooking vocabulary word for K. Take the pan off the stove and pour in the milk. Stir vigorously and return to the stove over gentle heat. Continue stirring until it thickens. Add the lemon zest (K loves zesting lemons with the microplane). Stir in the sugar and take off the heat. Allow this mixture to cool.

Separate three eggs. Stir in the yolks and lemon juice to your slightly cooled milk-butter-flour-sugar mixture to make your soufflé base. Separate one more egg and add the white to the others in the bowl. Beat until they foam. Add a pinch of cream of tartar and a pinch of salt. Continue beating until they form stiff peaks. 

Stir a heaping spoonful of egg whites into the soufflé base. Spoon this mixture into the egg whites and fold very gently until combined. Spoon into prepared ramekins.
Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fall in New England

My mom has lived in this house for 42 years. Thus, home.

A look at my trip back home to Simsbury and Boston this past week. Some food, some nature, some wonderful friends, some leaves. Much scuffing.
It is a town filled with soccer fields.

A couple of notes: power came on at my Mom's house 10 minutes before I arrived after 10 days without. Simsbury had been called the most devastated town in the state and the level of destruction was incredible, on some roads every other tree had lost significant branches if not collapsed completely. But, because it was fall in New England, it was still beautiful with a light that I miss dearly living in SF.
My mother voted in my old junior high, a place I thought I would never visit again. Wandering the halls, I ran into two home ec teachers decorating. Not only did she remember me, but my older brother as well. Small towns are like that. Also, there is no photo of one of my favorite bites from the trip: a-so-good-I'd-like-to-fly-back-now-and-eat-it oyster slider at Island Creek Oyster Bar.

One of my childhood favorites: A sausage grinder from Apollo's.

And the next night, their sausage pizza, with a bit of a beverage upgrade.

Storm damage
More storm damage
Belden, my first elementary school and now the town hall. My favorite building in town. The sycamores survived.
Last view of town: bridge, famous sycamore.
A most important stop on the way to Boston in Sturbridge for a Joe Frogger and candy sticks for K.
Pouring rain meant I spent a lot of time at the MFA.

There until the end of the year. I was mesmerized.

When I first moved to SF, my family sent me boxes of all leaves. . . .

I would pour them out on the living room floor and scuff. . .

And then, vacuum.

There were oysters.

Lobster BLT at B&G for lunch.

A birth year wine!