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!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Maple Cranberry Apple Sauce

A week or so ago, in the midst of our annual too-hot-to-cook Indian summer, Serious Eats published a recipe for Maple Cranberry Applesauce. I've made cranberry applesauce before, in a failed attempt to convince K that applesauce was a joy and not a punishment. I naively assumed that a food she did not like would appear magical in pink. Alas. I had not thought of adding maple, another of my favorite flavors. With a fridge full of apples, from our own tree, the farmers market and our Mariquita box, I just needed a cool day. Today, finally, I awoke to cool winds and later, rain, a perfect day for apple sauce. 

The original recipe, from Lucy Baker, can be found at the link above. I used unpeeled apples figuring that the peels might provide a bit of nutrition, upped the cranberries and used the smallest recommended amount of maple syrup. I also upped the cooking times a little bit because canning at my house rather than Lisa's means a less powerful stove. The resulting sauce is on the sweet side and would probably be perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  • 6 pounds apples, cored
  • 1/2 cup  water
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  1. Combine the apples, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon stick in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the apples are tender and easy to mash with a fork, about 30 minutes.
  2. Remove the cinnamon stick. Using an immersion blender, puree the apple mixture until it is mostly smooth with a few small chunks. (Alternatively, puree half of the mixture in a food processor or blender.) Stir in the cranberries, brown sugar, and maple syrup. Return the mixture to a simmer and cook until the cranberries begin to pop, about 15 minutes.
  3. Ladle the hot applesauce into sterilized jars and process for 20 minutes.