Friday, December 31, 2010

Sol Food

It's a Puerto Rican restaurant.  Get it?

I stopped there for lunch the other day, wanting to try something on the menu I hadn't tried before.  I chose a Nino Pobre (how the heck do you make the tilde work on this thing?), which is this restaurant's version of the classic Po' Boy, only the prawns are dredged in a plantain batter.  I don't know who thought of that, but it's delicious. It paired perfectly with the side of maduros I ordered.   I can't think of much that doesn't pair well with maduros.  I have also been known to eat just maduros for a meal in extreme cases. And in Guatemala.

The problem, though, was when I paid for my food. Sol Food ain't the cheapest place in town, but the total was more than I expected.  And I'm pretty good at estimating. In fact, I won a prize once at a math seminar for coming the closest to the actual number of jelly beans in a jar. The point is, I knew I had been overcharged, yet was surprised into paying the total and stepping aside to calculate more precisely. I was still correct and had still been overcharged by the third or fourth time I checked my calculations.  But the line at Sol Food never disappears, and I didn't really want to wait in line for the $3 I was owed. I figured it was about how much should go in the tip jug anyway, so I said nothing, waited for my food, and left. 

I don't suspect Sol Food of overcharging its customers regularly, and still cannot figure out how I was charged more for my food than I should have been, since my order, stapled to my bag, was correct.  I was annoyed at them and at myself for tolerating it.  But if it does happen every so often, and people don't complain since the line is long, or the staff is too busy, or the amount is too small...

I still love this place, and will eat here again.  And I will also get a receipt.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sweet Things Should Be Soft

A guy I dated said this more than once after I'd baked some sweet creation that was not to his liking.  While I disagree with the statement, and also find it the perfect metaphor for our difficult relationship (me= not so soft. Or is it me= not so sweet?), it happens to be true in one instance.

I had a hankering for caramels, and thought a little bag of hand-made caramels tied with pretty ribbon would make a great gift enclosure, so I looked in an old Fannie Farmer cookbook for a recipe.  And by old, I mean copyright 1937. The recipe seemed quite simple, calling for just 4 ingredients: granulated sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. The directions said to boil the mixture a total of 3 times, never getting hotter than 244 degrees, which, according to my candy thermometer, is the "firm ball" stage. "Firm ball" seems to describe caramels pretty well, so I dove right in.

Chocolate-topped, pecan-crusted toffee.

Oooh, presents!
Part of the test for doneness, says this recipe, is to drop a small amount into cold water and see if it forms a soft ball (first boil/238 degrees) or a "decidedly firm ball" (last boil).  My mixture did form these balls, but not at the specified temperature.  No, mine formed the soft balls at maybe 225 degrees, and formed a hard-as-a-rock ball at 238 degrees. By 244 degrees, I had invented Caramel Life Savers. 

While I wound up with candy in gift bags anyway, I wonder what went wrong.  I actually followed directions this time, knowing that candy-making does not leave much room for improvisation. I found a new recipe today for salted caramels, and notice the ingredient list is much longer: 3 kinds of sugar (white, brown, and corn syrup). heavy cream, butter, vanilla, and sea salt.  Does the additional sugar help stave off the hard crack stage?  Does the butter? I admit I am totally confounded by the science behind this problem, and to add to the confusion, the new recipe calls for heating the mixture to 255 degrees!

Can anyone help with this?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Mexican Christmas?

Forgive me the gray-on-gray blog design, but it has been raining for days, and more rain is predicted. I might as well still live in Chicago.

In my family, a Christmas tradition was to make at least 2 varieties of cookies each year, to be nibbled secretly until dessert time on Christmas Eve.  My mother would store the tins of cookies in what we called The Back Hall, which was unheated (and likely unenclosed at some point in the house's history); having to brave 50-degree "weather" to get to the cookies was no deterrent for me.  I don't think it was much of a deterrent for anyone else in the family either, since some years we came dangerously close to having no cookies on Christmas.

By far my favorite cookie was one we called a pecan sandy (sandie?). My mother obtained the recipe from a work colleague perhaps 30 years ago, and the directions called for the cookies to be rolled by hand into finger shapes, baked, dusted in powdered sugar, and dipped at one end into melted chocolate. I alternated between believing it was best to eat the chocolate end first, and thinking it was better to save the chocolate end for a most satisfying finish.  As an adult, I solved this dilemma once by dipping BOTH ends into chocolate. 
Fingers and rounds, as homage to the cookies' Mexican roots.

 For the last few years, many of my cookbooks have been in storage, first in Utah and now in Christy's garage.  I thought this would be the end of pecan sandies, but I remembered an observation of mine one year.  A guest brought us a tin of what she called Mexican wedding cookies. They were round ball-shaped cookies dusted in powdered sugar, and were green. After one bite I exclaimed, "These taste just like pecan sandies!" Many years and the Internet later, I had no trouble finding a replacement recipe for my beloved pecan sandies, which are someone's Americanized version of Mexican wedding cookies. 
I'm not sure which colleague my mother got the recipe from, since several were involved in some kind of recipe swap.  I suspect, though, the one named Sandy. Who was Filipina, not Mexican.

Caution: the baked cookies are fragile, and should be dusted and dunked with care.

Pecan Mexican Sandie Wedding Cookies
adapted from, and Sandy
1 C (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1/2 C confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 C pecans, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream butter and sugar until light. Add vanilla and beat well. Add flour to butter mixture and mix well.  You may need to add up to 1 tablespoon of water to the mixture. Mix in pecan bits. 
3. Shape dough into a ball and wrap in waxed or parchment paper.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. Shape dough into fingers or balls and arrange on baking sheet. 
5. Bake for 14-17 minutes, or until cookies are golden and edges are brown.
6. When cooled, roll carefully in more confectioners' sugar, and dip one end into melted chocolate (I prefer bittersweet here, but semi-sweet will work too).


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Slices of Quince

"They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon..."
                                      -Edward Lear, "The Owl and the Pussycat"

 I don't have any runcible spoons, which until now has been a non-issue because I've never had quince either. This is probably because I don't live in Roman times, when lovers were said to give each other quince as a pledge of fidelity.  Or perhaps it's because quince is a little high-maintenance: it needs to be sweetened before it can be eaten, since the raw fruit is sour.  Most likely, though, it's because my trusty food magazine has never run an article on it before, tempting me to try it.

I let the fruit sit for a few days in the fruit bowl to let it ripen a bit more, and noticed that the fruit gives off a very sweet scent, which reminded me of the bubble bath my mother used to put in the water when I was little.  I doubt it was intentionally quince-scented, but you never can tell...

 I precooked the quince slices in water with some agave syrup and cinnamon for about 10 minutes.  This softened and sweetened them, making them perfect for the winter crisp recipe I found in a random stack of recipes culled from godknowswhere.  I added a little more agave to the baking dish, tossed in the slices with a few spoonfuls of the cooking water, and topped it with an oat mixture. 

Now all I need is a Roman lover.

Quince Crisp
*note: I cut this recipe in half, since I used only 2 quince. 

1/2 C sugar (use less if you toss the slices in agave)
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
5 C quince, sliced (leave peel on)
up to 1/4 C reserved cooking water

3/4 C rolled oats
1/3 C brown sugar
1/4 C whole-wheat flour
2 TBSP gr. cinnamon
1 tsp gr. allspice
1/2 tsp gr. ginger 
2-3 TBSP butter, melted

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine filling ingredients, mixing well to coat.  Spoon into 6-cup baking dish, and add enough cooking liquid to keep the fruit moist and a little syrup-y but not soggy.
3. In a small bowl, combine dry topping ingredients and mix well.  Add melted butter, one tablespoon at a time, until mixture is coated and forms small lumps. 
4. Sprinkle topping over filling, and bake for 16-20 minutes, or until filling is bubbly and top is nicely browned.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Turning into a Pumpkin

When I was little, I ate Swiss cheese like it was going out of style. My parents used to tell me I'd turn into Swiss cheese if I ate any more.  That didn't happen.  However, I did become lactose intolerant at adulthood, which was probably Swiss cheese's sweet revenge.

This fall, I am eating and reading about pumpkin like it's going out of style (and yes Dad, I know that's a grammatical faux pas but saying "as though it were going out of style" is just so awkward).  This weekend I came across recipes for pumpkin cake, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pudding (which turned out to be more like pumpkin frittata), pumpkin cornbread, and even pumpkin lasagne. That last one sounds a little sketchy to me.  But no matter-- there are plenty of delicious pumpkin recipes to satisfy my pumpkin-eating soul, such as the Maple Pumpkin Spice Bread I made on Sunday.

Little Orphan Annie and her trusty dog Sandy (also handmade)
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday.  My mother insisted this was the influence of my Celtic heritage. It could just as easily have been the combination of my birthday 2 weeks before, the handmade costumes my mother always made for me,
 the smell of singed pumpkin flesh permeating the air, and THE CANDY.  As anyone who has come within 50 yards of me knows, I am drawn magnetically to anything with sugar. Either way, I get all pumpkined out around Halloween: my friend Christy sends me pumpkin-themed gifts from all over the world, I stock up on canned organic pumpkin at Trader Joe's, and giant pumpkins appear out of nowhere.

While I am sad that I no longer get to trick-or-treat*, I am happy to have discovered how versatile my beloved pumpkins really are.  I roast them and throw them in a pan with a little sausage or bacon and some greens. I bake sweets with them.  I make smoothies with them.  I feed them to my cats.  Yeah, virtually all cats love pumpkin.  Evolutionarily speaking, though, what are the chances of a big cat encountering, let alone cracking open and eating, a pumpkin?

*One of many trick-or-treat memories is me coming home with my little plastic pumpkin filled with candy, and my older brother coming home with a friggin' pillowcase full of candy.  He made sure to point out how much more candy he got.  A day or two later, I figured out his secret candy hiding place.  After that, our piles were even-steven.

Maple Pumpkin Spice Bread
adapted from Vegetarian Times, November 2009
*While the recipe calls for a cup of maple syrup, I used agave syrup with a tablespoon or two of evaporated can juice instead.  It's less than half the price of maple syrup, and agave is low on the glycemic index.
1 C whole wheat flour
1 C all-purpose flour
1 TBSP gr. cinnamon
2 tsp gr. ginger
1/2 tsp gr. allspice
1/2 tsp gr. nutmeg (I used less than 1/4 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 C maple or agave syrup
1 C pumpkin puree
1/2 C canola oil
2 eggs
1/2 C chopped hazelnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x5 loaf pan with cooking spray. 
2. Whisk together flours, spices, baking soda, and baking powder in a large bowl.
3. Whisk together syrup and oil in a separate bowl. Whisk in eggs, and then pumpkin and vanilla.  Stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture with a spatula, mixing only until combined.  Add hazelnuts. 
4. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40-50** minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack 5-10 minutes, and then remove from pan to cool completely. 
5. Slice and top with a little bit of pumpkin cream cheese from Trader Joe's.  Wait, that's not in the recipe...

** My oven is temperamental and I usually have to bake desserts for less than the recommended time, at a slightly lower temperature than indicated.  However, this bread needed extra time in the oven, and the very edge got a little black.  It has not affected the flavor, but know that
it will be important to check the center with a toothpick regularly.
I  made a few muffins with this batter, since my pan is smaller than 9x5, which could also affect baking time.

Not burned. And a cute muffin to boot.

I heart Trader Joe's.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sausage and Peppers

My dad used to talk of opening a sausage and pepper stand.  He'd make his fortune that way, selling only one thing, cooked and flavored to perfection.  No fancy packaging necessary, no exotic ingredients needed.  Just really good food.

My parents always made sausage and peppers to be eaten in a roll: they left the sausages whole, and added layers of sauteed onions and green bell peppers.  My critique of this presentation was that the sausages would slide across the roll and splurt out one end or another, usually to land in my lap by way of the front of my shirt.

Several grease stains and many years later, I had dinner at my cousin's house before going to a show, and she told me over the phone she'd make me a little sausage and peppers.  She served it to me in a bowl, with clear evidence of TOMATOES in the dish, and no roll in sight.  I felt sorry for her, not knowing how to make sausage and peppers and all.

As I ate the bite-sized pieces out of the bowl, I secretly enjoyed the flavors and textures, with the tomato adding a pleasant acidic balance to the dish.  I think we ate a little sourdough bread with the meal, using it to dip up the juices at the bottom of the bowl.  By the end of the night, my shirt was still stain-free.  I've been hooked on her method ever since. 

I discovered cute, funky-shaped sweet peppers at the farmer's markets in Los Angeles, and prefer to make sausage and peppers with them, though I'm probably being my usual food snob self there.  My favorites are the purple and pale yellow ones I find sometimes; this weekend I bought a small green, an even smaller yellow, and a long reddish-yellow one, along with a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes from the same farmer.  I bought a couple of sweet Italian sausages at-- where else?-- Berkeley Bowl, and served this with a seeded Semifreddi's baguette.  I don't use any cheese these days, but note that this dish, be it in a bowl or on a roll, is delicious with a very light sprinkling of grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmegiano.

Sorry, Dad.

Sausage & Peppers
Serves 2
adapted from Several Members of the DiStasi Family

2 sweet Italian sausages, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 cup bell peppers, cut into thumb-sized strips
1/2 cup tomato, cut into chunks
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
salt, pepper, and maybe a little oregano

1. Saute onion and garlic in a little olive or canola oil over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add sliced peppers and saute another 3-4 minutes, until shiny and beginning to soften. I add my salt, pepper, and oregano here but "real" cooks add it at the end.
2. Add sausage pieces. Continue to saute until sausage is nearly done, about 8-10 minutes.  Peppers and onions should become soft but not mushy.
3. Add tomatoes and cook another 2 minutes, or until tomato pieces have softened and released some liquid but haven't disintegrated.  Sausage should be fully cooked by now.
4. Serve in bowls with warmed baguette, and sprinkle with grated cheese, if desired.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name

I've laughed out loud in the produce section lately. While Berkeley is filled with people who talk to themselves or laugh at silent, invisible jokes, I had rather hoped I wouldn't be one of them.  Anyway, it seems funny food names favor fruits disproportionately.  Obviously, vegetable growers lack a sense of humor. 

Recently I've eaten foods called:
-'Hippy Zebra' (a green striped tomato)
-'Beef Master' (only a man would come up with this)
-'Jolly' (I pop these in my mouth whole.  Is that piggish?  So?)
-'Mortgage Lifter' (who cares what they look like? I'm buying these by the truckful)
-'Torpedo' (a red onion in the shape of... a torpedo)
-'Elephant Heart' (a blood-red plum with an odd shape)
-'October Sun' (I'm totally biased here)
-'Ruby Velvet'(aptly named, but plum people clearly have too much time on their hands)
-'Emerald Beaut' (sic) (ditto)
-easter egg radishes (red, pink, purple and white all in one bunch)
-lemon cucumbers (these are the cutest cucumbers EVER invented)
-rainbow chard (I wish the color didn't fade when I cook it)
-dinosaur kale (you can't NOT eat this stuff!)

I've probably fallen for the oldest marketing trick in the book-- make the product sound enticing and people will buy it.  But hey, I'd rather buy 'Elephant Heart' plums than 'Red Misshapen' ones.

Friday, September 17, 2010


About a month ago, a friend handed me a bag with 4 unripe avocados in it.  I had no idea what I was supposed to do with them.  We were going to Santa Cruz with her family, so I wondered if I would be forced to eat hard green avocados on the beach, Filipina-style.  I doubt that's really Filipina-style, but whatever.

It turns out they were from one of the avocado trees in her backyard, which her husband planted and tends lovingly.  I waited patiently for the avocados to ripen, and gave one to my dad since I knew a) he'd like it; b) all four would ripen at once and I'd be avocadoed out. I put one in a bag to speed it along, but heeded the advice of my friend's husband: "If you think it's ready, wait one more day."  When it was finally ripe-plus-one-day, I cut open the freshest, perfectest, most deliciousest avocado I've ever had.

I stood in the kitchen, tasting small bites of the fruit, while trying to decide what to make with it.  I considered making guacamole, but figured that was just so expected.  I thought about adding it to burritos, but didn't feel like preparing all the ingredients.  I remembered the salads we had several nights a week with dinner when I was a kid, and how I'd always steal pieces of avocado off the top while my parents put the finishing touches on the rest of the meal.  But I wasn't really in the mood for salad this night.

By the time I contemplated and rejected several dinner options, I had only a quarter of an avocado left.  It was clear that there was only one thing left to do: polish off the rest!

Leilani and Gary, I can't wait for more avocados!

Oh, and it turns out that Filipina-style avocado eating involves cutting up the avocado and adding sugar and milk.  Hmmm...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Black Pepper and Sweet Potatoes

Yep, that's what I've put in cakes lately. 

You've probably seen the movie Chocolat with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp (omigoditsreallyhimplayingtheguitarthatistotallyhotlovehim!), about a woman whose Maya ancestors passed on the tradition of chocolate-making and pepper-adding.  The book, by the way, ends with totally different characters falling in love.  Don't get me started on the-book-versus-the-movie.  Anyway, thanks to the movie, I knew about adding cayenne to hot chocolate, which, though it sounds vile, in fact heightens the flavor of the chocolate.  No seriously, it does.  I've tried it.  But what I hadn't thought of was adding pepper to chocolate baked goods, so when I came across this French Chocolate-Almond Cake recipe, I was intrigued.

It looks dense, but is incredibly light and melts in your mouth!  Well, practically. 

The pepper and cinnamon in this recipe are optional, according to the authors.  According to me, you can't pass up the opportunity to add black pepper to your chocolate cake and actually have it turn out well.  The first time I made this cake, I used pepper that had been sitting in my spice cabinet for way too long. I think I bought that container of pepper the last time I lived in Los Angeles.  That was what, 2005?  It was one of those Costco-sized containers. What was I thinking?  Who uses that much pepper?  Nevertheless, the cake came out perfectly, with just the right kick of pepper at the end.   For the second go-round, I decided to get a fresh supply of black pepper, which Berkeley Bowl sells in bulk.  Apparently, there is such a thing as too fresh.

My dad's old buddy, Gian (who knows EVERYTHING about food), reminded me of the cayenne-into-chocolate possibility, which he says the Spaniards do as well.  So I'm thinking that for the third go-round, I'm going to add mostly cayenne to the cake, and just a touch of too-fresh black pepper, since it was a bit strong in Cake Number Two.  I am quite certain that the particular heat of the cayenne will complement the airiness and perfect sweetness of the cake, without any of those elements being overpowering.

The same issue of Vegetarian Times that featured the Okinawa sweet potatoes had a recipe for a Chocolate-Sweet Potato Torte, which I made and which turned out well.  The two are variations of the same cake, though I prefer the pepper and cinnamon version, since those ingredients get a chance to shine, whereas the sweet potato just disappears.  Though come to think of it, that might be a good thing.

French Chocolate Almond Cake
(adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, which adapted it from Julia Child)

**Be sure to start with ALL ingredients at room temperature, including the eggs. 

1 tsp instant coffee granules
2 tbsp hot water  
(I use 2 TBSP espresso instead)                
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/3 c butter
1/2 c sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/3 c unbleached white flour
1/3 c finely ground almonds    
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat an 8-inch springform pan with cooking spray and dust lightly with flour.
Stir together coffee and water in a small saucepan or double boiler.  Add chocolate and stir on lowest heat until smooth and blended.   Remove from  heat and set aside.
Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer or whisk until light and creamy.  Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in reserved chocolate mixture.  Set aside.
In a separate bowl combine flour, almonds, and spices.  Set aside.
Whip egg whites (*see note below) in medium bowl until white and foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and salt, and whip until the whites form soft peaks when the beaters are lifted.  Add granulated sugar and continue to whip until whites are stiff and glossy.
Combine the mixtures: fold the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture alternately with the egg whites in two or three batches.  DO NOT OVERMIX!  The fluffiness of the egg whites are what make the cake melt-in-your-mouth-y. 
Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake cake in center of oven for 20-25 minutes.  When done, the top will be slightly cracked, the center will be soft and slightly puffed, and a toothpick inserted about 2 inches from the edge will have a few crumbs adhere to it.  Cool on rack for 10 minutes. 
Dust lightly with confectioners' sugar and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.  

Two notes: 
1. Egg whites are finicky creatures.  If there is even a speck of yolk in them, they will not whip up properly.  Ditto for water, soap, chocolate, dryer lint, chicken grease, and tofu.
2. The cookbook actually says the secret to this cake's texture is a healthy amount of elbow grease while whipping the whites by hand with a whisk.  Who does THAT?

Saturday, July 31, 2010


I have a thing for purple.  My bedroom was a soothing shade of lavender for years.  I own more than one pair of purple shoes.  Heck, I was even Violet Beauregard in the school play in third grade.  So when an article in Vegetarian Times (January 2010) featured varieties of sweet potato that included a purple one, I knew I had to have some.

It turns out these are not easy to come by.  I finally found them at Berkeley Bowl, selling for almost three times as much per pound as every other variety.  But, I reason, I buy less than a pound at a time and I NEVER waste them.  No, I devour them.  They are the sweetest sweet potato I've ever tasted. They tend to be a bit drier and starchier than other varieties, but that just means I add a little extra butter and milk. Truth be told, most of the time I don't bother to mash or butter.  I roast them in the pan with chicken, so they get lightly coated with the drippings, and become so sweet and tender that they practically melt in my mouth. 

Mashed, with skin on.

Add these Okinawa sweet potatoes to a laundry list of purple foods I've been eating lately.  Tomatoes.  Radishes.  Cherries.  Plums.  Bell peppers at the farmers' market when I lived in the Midwest.  Asparagus comes in purple too, but I was sorely disappointed to discover that it releases its color and turns green when steamed.  Ugh, what a waste.

Purple is so unexpected in the realm of food.  It feels somehow extra-special, powerful, surreal, as if any food that accumulates such an intense pigment has to be other-worldly and somehow magical.  Not sure I'll develop X-ray vision or superhuman strength any time soon, but I will have fun trying.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saving Some Serious (Star)Bucks

$2.60 x 5 days per week x 4 weeks per month x 10 months per year (I'm a teacher) = $520 worth of soy lattes from Starbucks.
$140 (regular price) - 30% (sale) + $15 (cute cups) + $70 (a year's worth of beans from Trader Joe's) = $185 to make my own espresso.

Translation? I was spending an insane amount of money at Starbucks on coffee (and let's be real here-- you know I also got some lemon pound cake, or an apple-walnut muffin, or some oatmeal).  I'm not one of those omigoddon'teventalktomeuntilI'vehadmycoffee people, but I do become a nicer person after one cup in the morning.  It prevents headaches (no, I'm not addicted-- the headaches came first) and helps me focus, so Starbucks became an integral part of my job performance.  But on a teacher's salary, $500 is a BIG hit.  So I hit up Macy's instead.

Check out this bad boy!
The only downside to this machine is its height: it fits a demitasse cup under the spouts where the espresso comes out, not a regular cup.  One could argue that really, that's the way it should be-- an espresso-sized cup fits in an espresso-making machine.  But if I want to make a latte (and I do), I have to pour the espresso into a larger mug, and then I lose a little bit of the foam, which is the best part.  There are bigger problems in the world, I know.  But still.

I'm having just one problem.  Whenever I use non-dairy milk in my coffee, I notice a metallic aftertaste.  I don't like it.  I've tried almond milk (chocolate and regular), hazelnut milk (chocolate), and soy milk (unsweetened). I don't have this problem when I use dairy milk, and I make a darn good latte with all that foamy milk from my machine.  But a) I'm lactose intolerant;  b) if Starbucks can do it without the aftertaste, dang it, so can I!  So what am I doing wrong?   Help!

The key to really good espresso is the grind of the beans.  The big grinder at the store doesn't grind them up well enough, though it's a good start.  Enter my dad's 40-year-old Braun grinder, made in Germany and made to last FOREVER.

This thing is a classic!

The cute little red demitasse cup and saucer is the perfect indulgence in the morning, and makes me feel like I'm in un bar in Italy.  OK, not really-- I hardly notice it as I gulp down the espresso because I'm almost always running late.  

Un espresso (the crema is soooooo good!)
A dairy latte, with good foam.

Lemon pound cake? Stay tuned...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fruit Tarts and Cuisinarts

Dear Inventor of the Food Processor,
You are a genius.  Your machine is squat and ugly but dang, is it a workhorse.   The blade inside could kill someone, but I guess it has to be sharp to do its job. Like blending butter I was too lazy to defrost into flour and a touch of cream cheese to make a flaky, perfectly-browned, substantial-yet-not-too-heavy crust for my fruit tart.  Seriously, it was perfection.

My uncle gave your machine to my mom about 25 years ago, and somehow it fit right in to a 1980s kitchen (like I said, it ain't pretty).  She used it to make "cuisy gravy" as well as delicious desserts and probably some other things I can't remember.  She warned me about the blade.  I used to lick it anyway.  Probably cut my tongue more than once.

Now it's mine.  I knew all the usual tricks one could do with a food processor, but not until this tart came out of the oven did I understand just what this little machine could do.  So thanks, Inventor, for helping me make fabulous desserts that I don't even have to break a sweat preparing (omg, can you imagine cutting frozen butter into flour BY HAND? As if!). 



Rustic Fruit Tart (adapted from Moosewood: New Classics)
The recipe calls this a plum tart, but I added nectarines, peaches, and strawberries.  Oh, and it's fabulous with a little dollop of whipped cream on top!
Use cold ingredients to achieve flaky pastry, and be sure to let the dough rest in the refrigerator while you prepare the fruit.  I used Tofutti fake cream cheese to reduce the dairy, and it worked quite well. 
1 1/3 cups unbleached white flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter
1/4 cup chilled cream cheese
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp ice water

1 1/2 pounds (about 5 cups) fruit
2/3 cup sugar (use less if you use sweet fruits)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp grated lemon peel

1 egg, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt in large bowl or food processor.  Cut butter and cream cheese into 1-inch pieces and incorporate them by hand, or by pulsing in food processor until they are the size of peas.  Mix in lemon juice and ice water until mixture begins to form a dough.  Shape into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to roll out.
3. Slice fruits into 1/2-inch wedges and put in a bowl.  Add sugar, cornstarch, and lemon peel and mix well.  Set aside.
4.  Lightly flour your rolling surface, rolling pin, and the dough.  Roll from the center out into a 14-inch circle, flipping and rotating directions as you go.  If dough seems too sticky or soft, refrigerate for about 10 minutes.
5. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet or pie plate.  Arrange fruit in concentric circles, starting at center of dough.  Leave about 2 inches between edge of fruit and edge of dough.  Fold dough over fruit to make a border (center will be open).  For a pretty golden sheen, whisk egg with a tablespoon of water and brush it on pastry dough.
6. Bake for 15 minutes.  Then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes.  Crust should be browned and juices bubbled up.  Cool on rack for 30 minutes.  Serve while still warm.

Pomegranate plums (the darkest fruit pieces in the tart)