Archive for June, 2010

In one week’s time, we’ll be moving into a much bigger place. Hallelujah!  And right now, I’m looking at our two empty book shelves.  They are normally filled with cookbooks.  Over 200 of them!  I love cookbooks.  Not so much for the recipes, but for the ideas and inspiration.  Of course when it comes to the sweet side of life, I stick mostly to recipes.  As I’ve gotten better, I’ve learned how to tweak the recipes for baked goods, but you can’t just go changing things willy-nilly.  Specific ratios are really important in baked goods.  For the most part it’s best not to tweak unless you understand the science behind it all…

But for the savory side, I just love to pour through cookbooks, imagining what I’d have for dinner every night if I had the time (and money) to cook whatever I wanted for dinner every night.

I had a realization the other day about the difference between cooking at home and cooking in the restaurant.  Although home cooking can be simple and easy, in a way, it takes more advanced planning.  For example, at the restaurant, we always have chicken stock on hand.  And yogurt. And celery. And a baguette, canned tomato,  green peppercorns, herbs, fennel, oranges, 2-dozen different shapes of pasta…the list goes on.  The thing is, we can keep all of that stocked because of the volume of business the restaurant does.  We can keep tons of perishable items on hand at all times.  At home, especially cooking for just the two of us, we could never keep such a variety on hand at all times.  We’d never move through it fast enough!  So I think you have to be creative when cooking at home.  Plan to make chicken stock a day ahead, and be sure to use it up before it goes bad.  Keep creating things until the little bits of leftovers are gone.  Use up that half-can of tomato paste, rather than just letting it go to waste.  It is essentially the same thing we do at the restaurant, just on a much smaller scale.

My favorite way to use up leftovers is to make clean-out-the-fridge-soup. It’s a good way to use up little odds and ends leftover from dinners past.  The best soups we’ve had at home will never be made again because they were comprised of little odds and ends that we’ll likely never have again in that specific combination.  A little o’ this, a little o’ that… Soup requires very little advanced planning and is always filling and satisfying.

Anyway, I started rambling because I was staring at these two empty bookshelves.  I already miss my cookbooks and they’ve only been packed for a few days!  Last week at work, a couple of the guys were talking about their favorite cookbooks and I thought that might be a fun thing to mention here.  Now, as I said before, I don’t often use my cookbooks for their specific recipes, but for the ideas.  A jumping-off point, if you will…

So here are a few of my favorites.

Lulu’s Provencal Table by Richard Olney

At Home in Provence by Patricia Wells

Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook

Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

My Mexican Kitchen by Diana Kennedy

Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere

All About Braising by Molly Stevens

The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld

…and that’s just to name a few!


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Do you have any cookbooks that automatically open to the most-used page?  That page is, by now, splattered, creased, stained and yellowed.  I have a book like that.  It was one of my first cookbooks.  I think I got it in college.  The Best Recipe by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  They have since come out with a newer version, but this old one suits me just fine.  Over the years, I’ve used it nearly as often as The Joy of Cooking, both of which I keep in the “reference book” section of my cook-book shelf.  It’s a great resource for figuring out how to cook because they include lengthy explanations of their trials and errors in coming to the final recipe.  Honestly, I don’t often use it for savory recipes, but they do an awfully good job with the sweet stuff!

So anyway, this is my favorite pancake recipe.  I keep trying others, hoping to find something even more magnificent, but so far, nothing measures up.  I just love this one!  Plus, I can whip them up in the time it takes the griddle to heat, making a pancake breakfast,  easy Monday morning- fare.  (Monday is my week-end, mind you…)

My favorite pancakes (with blueberries, if you’d like!) barely adapted from The Best Recipe by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine
serves 2 hungry adults

I like to give my griddle a full 5 minutes to heat up over medium-low heat.  This ensures more even cooking once the batter is ready to go.   Also, I like to use a combination of oil and butter for frying the pancakes- the butter is tastier, and the oil helps to keep the butter from burning.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • butter and pure olive oil or vegetable oil for brushing griddle
  • about 1 cup blueberries (optional)

Place a griddle or large saute pan over medium-low heat to warm through as you measure the batter ingredients.  Heat the oven on the lowest setting, and place an oven-proof platter large enough to hold all the pancakes in the oven to keep warm.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, whisking to combine.

In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks (it really only takes a minute or two to do it by hand!)  Set aside.

Pour the buttermilk and milk into a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup or small bowl.  Stir the egg yolk into the cooled, melted butter, then whisk the yolk mixture into the buttermilk mixture.  Dump the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients all at once, and whisk until just combined.  (If using blueberries, stir them in now.)  Using a plastic spatula, gently fold the whipped egg white into the batter.

Pour a Tablespoon or so of oil into the pan and add about 1/2 Tablespoon of butter.  Spread the fat around so that it coats the pan.  Using a 1/4-cup measure, pour the batter into the pan, to make as many pancakes as will fit.  When the bottoms are golden and bubbles are visible in the surface, flip, and cook until the other side has become golden and the center of the pancake bounces back when lightly pressed.  Place the cooked pancakes on the warm platter in the oven, and repeat, adding more oil and butter to the pan as needed until the batter is gone.

Serve with warm syrup!  Yum!

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This is the kind of thing that’s yummy to eat on a hot summer day when you just can’t bear to turn on the stove.  In fact, a few nights ago we had it along side a baguette and 1/2 a wheel of Sir Francis Drake cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.  And while we’re at it, The Sir Francis Drake is similar to their Mt. Tam, but is a little stronger. The rind is washed with sweet white wine-soaked currents…it’s so yummy!

Gilbert, one of the owners of the restaurant calls this a “carpaccio” when he puts it on the menu, and it sells like crazy!  It’s easy to vary, depending upon what you have on hand.  For this version, I used toasted pine nuts, lemon juice, mint, and olive oil.  But you could also use shallots, chives, basil, cheese, …the possibilities are endless!  Just be sure to use young, tender summer squash.  With all the funny-shaped varieties that are out there, you could make a fun and colorful plate.

Summer Squash Salad

Rather than supply you with a recipe, I’ll supply you with a method.

  • Gather a variety of young, tender summer squash (and please don’t attempt to do this in the winter!!)
  • Use a sharp mandolin to slice the squash into planks about 1/8-inch thick
  • Spread the slices on individual plates and sprinkle with salt (use fleur de sel if you have it)
  • Squeeze lemon juice over the whole thing
  • Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the whole thing
  • Sprinkle a minced herb (like basil, mint, chives, tarragon…) over the whole thing
  • Add a few toasted nuts if you’d like
  • Add a few shavings of cheese if you’d like (Scott and I love to use hard cheeses like Parmesan, pecorino, or Piave)
  • Enjoy on a warm summer’s-eve with a glass of white wine…  Ahh, bliss!

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Cherry Cake

I don’t really have anything funny, cute or silly to say about this cake.  Just that it’s yummy, tasty, and delicious and I was pleased at how it turned out.  I’m usually very skeptical about trying a new recipe to bring to a party without making a “test batch” to taste first.  But alas, I did the unimaginable, and made a cake that I’d never tried before.  And hallelujah, it was lovely.  As I said to Scott, “this is a re-make cake”, meaning, this cake is good enough to make again. Soon.  Ahhh, I love the on-set of summer!

Cherry Cake barely adapted from The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells

I often make cakes a day ahead, wrap them tightly in plastic and keep them on the counter to be eaten the next day.  I find that a lot of cakes become more moist this way, and this was certainly the case with this cake.  Also, Scott suggested that it’d be fun to brush the top with a little kirsch or cherry brandy.  Perhaps I’ll try that next time when there aren’t a bunch of 1-year-olds partaking in the “adult” desserts!  I did, however substitute cherry brandy for the vanilla that she calls for.  In addition, I think this cake would be wonderful with a 1/2 teaspoon or so of ground cardamom- but you know me!!

Also, I used a 10-inch spring-form pan, rather than a 9-inch, as is called for in the recipe.  It worked beautifully- I simply baked the cake a few minutes less.

  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2/3 cups white sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon cherry brandy or kirsch
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 pound fresh red cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted, divided

Place oven rack in the center-most position and preheat oven to 425º.  Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.  Set aside.

Prepare the cherries and cut 3/4 of them in half.  Leave the remaining 1/4 whole.

In the bowl of a kitchen-aid fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on high-speed until they become thick and lemon-colored, about 2 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and add the melted butter, olive oil, milk and cherry brandy.  Mix just to blend.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the lemon and orange zests and stir to coat.  Spoon the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.  Do not over mix.  Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquids.  Stir the halved cherries into the batter and pour the batter into the prepared pan, using a spatula to smooth out the top.

Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle the remaining whole cherries on the top of the cake and continue baking for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Place on a cooling rack to cool for about 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the sides of the pan to help it release and then remove the side of the springform pan.  Leave the cake on the pan base until it is completely cool.


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