Friday, May 15, 2009

taraji and brad muffins

i usually bake about twice a week.  i love baking because it calms me down and makes me happy. :o)  somehow, my life got so busy that i went more than a week without baking anything.  how could i let that happen???  it was about 10 pm when i realized i couldn't go a minute longer without baking.  that's when i pulled out my "recipes i wanna try" file.  (do you have a file like this?  what's in it?)

even though this is my first dorie greenspan recipe, i know she's an excellent cookbook writer.  i mean, there's a even group of bloggers that have been baking their way through her (huge) cookbook together.  

i love dorie's headnote: "the orange flavor in these delicate, cakey and generously blueberried muffins is in the background, like a play's prompter - present, but only to encourage the performance of the star.  in this case, the blueberries."  this description was all the encouragement i needed to get in the kitchen.  and it's accurate.  if the blueberries are brad pitt, the orange is taraji p. henson.

adapted from dorie greenspan's baking: from my home to yours

orange berry muffins
grated zest and juice of  1 orange
about 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons honey
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries

preheat oven to 400 degrees.  put paper liners in a 12 cup muffin pan.  pour orange juice in a glass measuring cup.  add enough buttermilk to make 1 cup.  whisk in eggs, honey and butter.  put sugar and zest in a large bowl.  rub together with your fingertips until fragrant.  whisk in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir everything together with a spatula.  stir in blueberries then fill paper liners.  bake for 22 - 25 minutes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

mexican everyday

when i was in chicago last month, i went to frontera grill and had an amazing dinner! the guacamole was the best i've ever tasted....buttery and tangy.  tender pork was wrapped inside house made corn tortillas and blanketed with a complex sauce.  (complex because i've seen rick bayless make a sauce with 17 different ingredients on his show) the rhubarb ice cream was lovely by itself, but the bittersweet chocolate sauce and the goat milk cajeta took the dessert to the next level.  after loosening my belt, i waddled out of the restaurant with a smile plastered on my face and a dazed and confused look in my eyes.  fortunately, i was lucid enough to buy rick bayless' cookbook "mexican everyday" on the way out.  

with hundreds of recipes and great photos throughout, it's a beautiful book.  for sunday dinner, i decided to test a few recipes: jicama salad with watercress, romaine and lime-cilantro dressing, red chile chicken and rice with black beans and pineapple skillet upside down cake.  

the salad was delicious!  the jicama was refreshing and crunchy, the watercress was peppery and the vinaigrette smoothed everything out.  this was my favorite recipe.  i didn't add the jalapeno because some of my friends don't eat spicy food.  

when i was studying abroad in the dominican republic, i spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my host mom, and arroz con pollo was one of her specialties.  she didn't have to measure anything!  somehow she knew the perfect amount of  water the rice and beans needed to cook perfectly.  when i got home and tried to replicate her dishes, my experiments failed horribly, with the rice either burned or undercooked.  this was a few years ago, but i hadn't tried again...until now.  and it worked! the rice wasn't cooked burned or undercooked, the only problem was it was too mild for me.  maybe i'll add a jalapeno next time, when i'm cooking for myself.    

the last time i made a pineapple upside down cake, i used canned pineapple slices.  this time, i used fresh fruit.  the brown sugar topping was caramelized and intense.  everyone thought it was delicious.  the cake had a great texture and the brown butter added nuttiness.  ku even said it was still on her mind the next day!  i was happy everyone loved the cake, so i just watched their eyes roll up and to the side and let them go on and on about how good it was.  

but my taste buds were pleading for vanilla.   next time, i'll add a teaspoon or so to the cake batter and hopefully that will round out the flavors.

here is one recipe i tested.  you can find the others - and many more - in his book.

adapted from mexican everyday by rick bayless
serves 4
3/4 cup vegetable oil or olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/2 cup cilantro
1 medium jicama, peeled and cut into sticks
1 medium bunch watercress
romaine leaves

combine the oil, lime zest, cilantro and salt in a mini food processor.  blend until smooth.  in a large bowl, combine jicama, watercress and romaine.  drizzle a little vinaigrette on top and toss.

Friday, May 8, 2009

contact high

when i went to dopo the first time, i didn't order pizza...and i was starting to realize that might have been a huge mistake.  this is what somebody wrote:

best pizza in Oakland
I've tried them all and Dopo is the best

that's a bold statement!  i was skeptical, but intrigued.  pizza was on my mind for an entire week, so i decided to pick one up on my way home.  it was a white pizza (which just means it doesn't have red sauce), topped with house made pancetta, asparagus and thinly sliced red onions.  i watched the cook check the bottom crust to make sure it was brown.  she pulled it out with a pizza peel, sprinkled shredded white cheese, cut it into slices and put it in the box. 

i got in my car and the aroma immediately filled every breath of air.  i made it exactly one block before i had to pull over.  somehow, i remembered to take this picture before i grabbed a slice and shoved a corner in my mouth.  

with wide eyes, i exclaimed, "WOW!"

the salty pancetta brought out the sweetness from the asparagus.  
i sped home, rushed in the door, poured myself a glass of wine, plopped down on the couch and gently placed the pizza box on the table in front of me.  i grabbed another slice.  the chewy texture of the cured meat highlighted the tender slices of vegetable.
the crust was so thin and crackly on the bottom - and chewy on the edges.  the edges didn't have enough flavor.  maybe they should add more salt to the dough.
after a while, i noticed that i was moaning after every bite.
this reminded me of a book i read last summer, eat pray love.  i raced to the bookshelf and grabbed the book, glancing at the pizza every couple seconds to make sure it was ok.
"so sophie and i have come to pizzaria da michele, and these pies we have just ordered - one for each of us - are making us lose our minds.  i love my pizza so much, in fact, that i have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return.  i am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair.  meanwhile, sophie is practically in tears over hers, she's having a metaphysical crisis about it."
yes!  that's exactly what i feel like.  i'm delirious!  i'm high!  i'm high on pizza!  i take another bite.
i had to call a friend to share what just happened.
"i'm high on pizza!"
he laughed.   i explain that pizza was invented in naples and i read the passage from the book to see if that will help him understand.  he laughed again.  
"i have to go to naples!"
"you cannot go to naples just to eat pizza."
my face drops into a frown as i try to think about which friend i should have called in a moment like this.  i'm having a revelation.  this is not a game.  i don't need to be discouraged right now.  i need to be uplifted.  i need to fly and soar and frolic.  i wonder if pizzaria da michele is still...  what did he say?  how can i concentrate when this beautiful, lovely, gorgeous pizza is just sitting there, patiently waiting for me???  what?  he has to get off the phone?  yes!!!  i mean...
"ok, talk to you later."

without wasting a nanosecond, i dive into the pizza box again and resurface with another triangle of love.  this time, i noticed the pepper in the pancetta.  my tongue was so happy, it was dancing in my mouth. 
at this point, i wasn't even hungry anymore. but i couldn't stop.  just.  one.  more.  slice.
finally, i flopped back on the couch and looked at the lonely slice of pizza that was left in the box.  "did i really just eat almost an entire pizza?  by myself?  oh well.  it was delicious."  

and that was the last thing i remembered before i fell asleep on the couch, smiling and dreaming about naples.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

spring aint so bad

spring is not my favorite season.  maybe it's because june, july and august are always the best months for students and teachers.  maybe it's because i love fruit and can't wait to eat all the sweet melons, berries and stone fruits that are available.  maybe it's because if i had to choose, i would rather be too hot than too cold.  maybe it's a combination of a few different reasons, but the fact is....i love summer.  

spring is ok.  my birthday is in the spring.  the weather is mild.  but really, spring just makes me look forward to summer.  

this year, a poem and a picture really touched me.  deep breath.  i started to notice lovely blossoms on trees that had previously been naked.  spring IS a new beginning.    and that's always a beautiful thing.  
i know what fruits and vegetables are in season in the spring, but they hadn't really inspired me....until i decided to give spring a chance.  i went to the farmer's market on a saturday.  

there are a few reasons why i go to the farmer's market:
1. it's fun.
2.  seasonal and local food tastes better.
3.  it's a good place to learn about food.
4.  you can taste before you buy.
5.  it's cheap.

i had a taste for a fresh, simple pasta dish that would celebrate spring.  this was on my mind as i walked through the market.  first, i saw green garlic.  i've read that green garlic has a different flavor than regular garlic - more mild and gentle.  i had never cooked green garlic before so i decided to buy a bunch ($1).  next, i picked up some carrots to add some sweetness and color ($1).  these were actual baby carrots - not the packaged nubs that are cut from large carrots.  the crooked orange fingers beckoned to me.  i noticed a type of basil ($1) i had never seen before.  the aroma was familiar, but the leaves were on a very long stem - about a foot long.  i forgot to ask what kind of basil it is.  does anyone know?

i thought it was too early for tomatoes, but one farmer was selling some.  i slipped a strawberry tomato in my mouth and closed my eyes.  it tasted like summer!  these will make a nice addition to my pasta.  i put about 1/2 pound ($2) in my bag.  the asparagus was the most expensive thing i bought that day.  after looking at all the different types, i decided to buy the skinny ones ($3.50) because they were roughly the same size as the carrots.  all of this fresh, beautiful produce would only cost me $7.50.  

i channeled my inner alice waters and decided to make a very simple dish.  i wanted the vegetables to speak for themselves.  it was my first time working with green garlic so i didn't expect it to make my eyes onions.  watch out.  you've been warned.  

you all know i learned how to cook without using recipes.  this is just a general guideline so you can make your own pasta dish, depending on what you find at your market.  just make sure all of your vegetables are sliced before you begin.  the cooking goes pretty fast, and you don't want the veggies to get mushy while you're slicing and dicing.  

the tomatoes released their juices and combined with the wine to make a silky sauce that enrobed the pasta.  delicate is the perfect word to describe green garlic.  the taste definitely reminded me of garlic, but this was much more subtle.  i need to work on my knife skills, because this dish didn't exactly look attractive.  but it sure was tasty!  my restraint paid off in the end, and i got exactly what i was looking for:

spring on a plate

olive oil
green garlic, thinly sliced
skinny carrots, sliced diagonally
skinny asparagus, sliced diagonally
salt and pepper
white wine
tomatoes, diced
basil leaves, torn

heat oil in a pan. add green garlic and saute for a minute.  add carrots and saute for a minute.  add asparagus then a few glugs of white wine.  add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for a few minutes.  add tomatoes and basil and allow to heat through for a minute.  serve over any kind of long pasta, cooked al dente.