Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Pear in Hand -- Oven Poached Pears with Almond Filling (and Maybe Some Chocolate Sauce)

I have so many good associations with pears. When I was a child I was entranced by the pear-in-the-bottle liqueur my father had. As an adult I learned to make all sorts of baked and poached pear recipes and served the cooked pears by themselves, with chocolate, berry or caramel topping, or even as part of a lush almond tart filling. One memorable menu del dia in Spain that concluded with Pears Helene sealed my affection for using this fruit as a dessert. But I think I find found my ultimate pear recipe (at least for now) -- Oven Poached Pears with Almond Filling. The pears are sublime and with each bite you get the sweet jolt of almond. Yum.

The cooked pears are wonderful napped with some rich chocolate, berry or caramel (particularly a dulce de leche) sauce, either homemade or not. You can also add a small scoop of vanilla or other ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

I find this cooked fruit recipe very forgiving. You can vary the type of pears (I've used Bosc, Bartlett and D'Anjou pears) and use pears that are not yet ripe (in fact I think slightly under ripe pears work better) or even border on the hard and still come out sweet and luscious.

The process is made easier if you have a good vegetable peeler and an apple corer, although a paring knife will work, too.

Oven Poached Pears with Almond Filling
Serves 6
I prefer this dish unsweetened. If you suspect your pears might not be naturally sweet or you like things a bit sweeter, you may want to sprinkle a little sugar over the pears before baking.

6 D'Anjou or other pears
1/2 cup lemon juice plus juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup water
4 oz. almond paste prepared (I used Love N' Bake) or homemade
zest of 1 lemon, minced
2 Tbs. of unsalted butter, cut in bits

Toppings as desired (see post for ideas)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix 1/2 cup of lemon juice with the water. Cut a slice off the bottom of each pear if needed to help it stand upright. Peel and core pears, not cutting all the way through to the base, leaving a 1/2 inch "plug" at the bottom so that the hole from the core does not go all the way through. After each pear is prepared dip into the lemon juice mixture until covered. Set into a glass or other baking dish that can snugly fit all 6 pears. (Discard the lemon water mixture after all the pears have been dipped.) Shape the almond paste into 6 cylinders about the size of the cored hole and fill each pear. Drizzle with the juice of one lemon, scatter lemon zest on top and dot top with butter bits. Cover top of baking dish with foil, place in oven, and baste the pears with the cooking liquid periodically. Bake for 35-50 minutes (depending on kind of pears and how ripe they are), until pears are cooked through and can be easily pierced with the tines of a fork. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, spooning cooking syrup over pears. If desired serve with topping(s).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cornmeal Waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland CA

Food Network's Tanya Holland has a lovely small restaurant in Oakland called Brown Sugar Kitchen. The food is fresh and lovingly prepared from local organic ingredients and sources Southern foodways for breakfast and lunch.

I had the cornmeal waffles which were crisp and lacy and wonderful served with brown sugar butter and apple cider syrup. Next time, I'm up for the shrimp and grits.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Support Alameda Meals on Wheels -- Tickets for Five-Star Night Still Available

Never has doing good tasted so great.

Help Alameda County's Meals on Wheels program help feed homebound seniors in our community and have a "Five-Star Night" at the same time by joining the organizaton's annual fundraising dinner on Friday, April 23rd in Oakland, CA. (Tickets are still available as of this post, click here to purchase.)

(Can't make the event? You can still donate here. Or contact the organization to sign up to help deliver meals.)

The organization counts on fundraising efforts such as this to cover half of the $1,440 cost to feed a senior for a year. More than 2,200 meals are delivered every day. This year's gala is expected to provide some 25,000 meals.

Five-Star Night features a champagne and fine wine reception, silent and live auctions, gala dinner, and entertainment. The four-course dinner, under the guidance of Narsai David and Ellen Tussman, will be created by 15 of the Bay Area’s finest chefs, all of whom donate their time and services to help reach this year’s fundraising goal of $150,000. They include classics such as Bay Wolf to newcomers such as Bocanova. For a full list, please see below.

If you know of someone living in Alameda County (CA), who would benefit from Meals on Wheels, please click here to find out about eligibility and how to apply.

On the menu this year (listed by course with donating provider):

Hors d’oeuvres

Arancini: Deep-Fried Rice Balls Filled with Pork Ragu

Muscovy Duck Breast Crostini with Mezgaldi Onions

Pear and Blue Cheese Croque Monsieur

Spiedini of Castelvetrano Olives, House-Pulled Mozzarella and Marinated Artichoke

Mini Corn Quesadillas with Huitlacoche
Mini Sopes Yucatecan-Style with Cochinita Pibil: Slow Roasted Pork in Achiote, Citrus Juices, Garlic, Oregano and CuminServed with Pickled Red Onions
Sopa Verde served in Demi-Tasse Cups

Amuse Bouche

Sea Bass Ceviche with Aji Amarillo: Yellow Peppers, Lime, Garlic and Olive Oil, Served on Endive Leaf

First Course

Shaved Artichoke, Fennel and Mushroom Salad with Truffle Oil Vinaigrette

Second Course

Seared Bay Sea Scallop, Served on Parsnip Puree with Wild Mushroom-Smoked Bacon Vinaigrette

Third Course

Daube-braised Lamb CheeksGarnished with Carrot and Chioggia Beet Brunoise,and Rack of Lamb with Shallot, Parsley and Meyer Lemon Gremolata, served with Asparagus and Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes and Chives


Georgia Pecan Pie served with buttermilk ice cream and Michter’s Rye Butterscotch sauce

Pavlova: Meringue Shell Filled with Lemon Curdand Whipped Cream, Topped with Assorted Berries

Bizou Au Chocolate: Almond Macaroon Sandwiches filled with Chocolate Ganache

Mini-Brownies and Blondies

Assorted Chocolate Truffles

Update: 4/27/10 -- The event raised more than $145,000, a record. On a personal note: Gary and I won the raffle and are happily nibbling on all the goodies, contemplating drinking the case of wine and scheduling ourselves to use all the restaurant and other gift certificates we won.
About the photo: The chefs of Five Star Night 2010, from the Alameda County Meals on Wheels website, photo by Eliot Khuner

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Blush

Thank's to Cody of Cody's Food Blog for finding Blog Appetit so inspiring and for really getting what I'm trying to do here. Check out her post that names Blog Appetit as one of the blogs she enjoys.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Heavenly Cakes -- Part 1

Consider this an introductory post. I'm making some of the cakes out of the Heavenly Cakes cookbook by Rose Levy Beranbaum and plan on hearing her at Omnivore Books in San Francisco at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 17.

So after I complete the baking and hear her, I'll create a new post with more info, photos and more.

While you are waiting, check out this video of Rose talking about the book, her first one on cake making in 21 years, and her baking tips.
Look for me at the reading. I'll be helping to staff the Share our Strength bake sale table from 12 - 3 p.m. on Saturday. We are raising money to combat childhood hunger. What will I be baking? Well, some of Rose's baby cakes from this book.
No actual babies are harmed in the making of baby cakes.
The cookbook was given to me by SpruceTV.com, which is also the source of the Rose video mentioned above.
Photo of Heavenly Cakes book from Ominvore Books website.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oven-Fried Chicken & Honey-Mustard Slaw With an Order of Memories on the Side

Long ago, in the life I led before I met and married my husband, I dated a man with whom I'd eat fried chicken (oddly enough I don't remember ever eating true fried chicken with Gary). Our favorite place to indulge was in an Israeli restaurant on the outskirts of Baltimore, which somehow specialized in fried chicken. The details on the restaurant are a bit fuzzy, but not my memory of that chicken. The fried chicken there was truly stupendous, the crust crackly, the chicken tender and juicy. It was Maryland style (dipped in egg, flour and bread crumbs) but Middle Eastern in its seasoning with lots of cumin and hot pepper. It was truly the best fried chicken I've ever had.

One night as we were coming home from the restaurant we put the white cardboard box of leftover chicken in the trunk of the car. I think we put it in the trunk since we knew the smell of the chicken would drive us to distraction if we had the chicken in the main compartment and that we would rip the box open and devour the chicken down to the bone before we got home and there would be no leftovers for lunch the next day.

We drove out of the parking lot and realized we were being followed by a small red car being driven by a tall man with a large red beard. We tried evasive measures, taking odd turns and u-turns, but our pursuer kept up with us and seemed to be intent on ramming our Japanese import with his. This was our turf though, we knew what to do, we drove into the parking lot of the nearest police station, screeched to a halt and began yelling for help. With the help of a friendly policeman we discovered that red beard was convinced we had just made a drug deal at the restaurant and the box of leftover fried chicken in our trunk was the stash we had just scored. Clearly our would-be vigilante was fueled by his own paranoia, but in one sense he was right, that chicken was addictive.

Eventually I moved away from Baltimore, broke up with that boyfriend and eliminated most fried foods from my diet, but I never forgot that chicken, so when I wanted to come up with some good picnic foods to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day on April 20) or just to celebrate Spring, I thought of that chicken. (You can read more about the holiday and see my j. weekly column here.)

My Oven-Fried Chicken adapts the concept a bit, removing the chicken’s skin and oven baking instead of frying. It is good hot from the oven for dinner or room temperature straight from the picnic basket at an outdoor get together. To accompany the chicken, try the Honey-Mustard Slaw with its shreds of crisp cabbage and tangy vinaigrette. Both dishes travel well if you are taking them to a picnic or potluck and the recipes multiply well if you are making them for a crowd.

Oven-Fried Chicken
Serves 4

Oil spray
1 egg
2 Tbs. lemon juice
Dash of hot pepper sauce
¾ cup flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¾ cup panko (Japanese tempura-style) bread crumbs
3 pounds of chicken breast halves or chicken thighs on the bone, skin removed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking tray with oil spray. Set aside. In a large, shallow bowl large enough to dip a piece of the chicken in, beat the egg with the lemon juice and hot pepper sauce. Mix the flour with the salt, cumin and black pepper and spread on a plate. Spread the bread crumbs on a plate as well. Rinse and dry skinned chicken. Dip one chicken piece at a time in the egg mixture, turning to coat. Shake off excess egg mixture. Dip into flour mixture, turning to coat and shaking off any excess. Place the chicken piece in the bread crumbs and turn to coat, pressing down or patting on if needed to cover with bread crumbs. Set chicken on prepared baking tray with what would have been the skin side up. Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken. Spray top of chicken pieces with oil spray. Put into oven, spraying the top of the chicken pieces again with the oil spray after about 25 minutes. Bake for about another 25 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden brown and the chicken is cooked through. (Note: Timing will depend on thickness of the chicken pieces. Also, dark meat will take longer to cook than white.) Serve hot or at room temperature.

Honey-Mustard Slaw
Serves 6

2 lbs. green cabbage
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs. honey mustard
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper

Trim cabbage and remove and discard core. Cut or shred cabbage into ¼-inch shreds or slices. Place in large bowl and set aside. Mix oil, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk until well combined, pour over cabbage shreds and toss to mix thoroughly.
Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Making Whoopie (Pies)

If I have the trendiness factor thing right, French macarons are the new cupcakes (which were the new muffins) and whoopie pies are the new macarons.

I find it all very amusing since nothing takes me back to childhood in the 60s faster than a bite of one of these whoopie pies. It reminds me of the hot dog-shaped Drake's Devil Dogs I would unwrap and practically inhale when I came home from school. I think they are an East Coast brand. My mom used to cram boxes of 12 into her carry on when she'd come to visit me in California until I begged her to please stop. I made out it was my middle-aged waistline that couldn't handle them anymore, but the truth is they just didn't taste the same. I thought it must be my taste buds had gotten too sophisticated for the milk chocolate cake and creme filling, but I also suspected they weren't made quite the same as when I was a kid.

One bite of my homemade whoopie pies and I was transported back to old school milk chocolate cake goodness, so I'm guessing that it was the later.

For the cookie part of the whoopie pie I used a recipe by Maida Heatter for what she calls "Whoops" in her book Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. You can view this recipe on Google books. Click here. (It should take you to page 142. If the recipe doesn't open all the way, click on the underlined page 142 link and the page should open for you so you can scroll through the recipe).

Since the recipe is kind of old-fashioned Americana, I choose to use a Hershey's Dutch process cocoa rather than one of my richer and fancier brands. I think if I was making them again I would use the richer cocoa and also melt in a little bittersweet chocolate for depth. However, there was no whoopsie about these whoopie pies -- they were perfect as is.

Maida's filling is more butter cream than marshmallow cream (sometimes referred to as marshmallow creme or fluff), so I adapted a recipe by Hungry Mouse for that, except I used the whole 7-ounce jar of marshmallow cream, partly because I wanted a stronger marshmallow presence and partly because Maida's recipe made more of the cookies than Hungry Mouse's recipe.

Since I only bake goodies like this when I can get them out of the house, I made these bad babies (also known as Moon Pies, Cowboy Pies, Devils Delights and other regional variations) for my book group. Women who have major diet control were skipping the daintily cut halves and going for whole whoopie pies.

Like the Black and White Cookies I recently posted about, these blasts from my cookie past are really more in the cake family than cookie, but because of their size, shape and eaten-in-hand functionality have become labeled as cookies. Also like the B&W cookies, they have that chocolate and white monochrome look going for them. Don't know if that's significant at all, but my favorite movies are pre-1934 black and white ones.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Great Cookie -- In Black & White

Maybe you had to grow up a New Yorker, but there is something special about the magic of black and white cookies, giant cakey cookies frosted with half chocolate and half vanilla icing.

Growing up, they were an occasional treat that my grandmother would buy me from Ebinger's (I think) bakery in Brooklyn. (This is the bakery that was famed for it's chocolate blackout cake, but that's another post.) These never disappointed, with the alternating pleasures of rich chocolate and sweet vanilla over a cake with great taste and lots of crumbs.

In later years, black and whites stopped being just bakery treats and began to be an ubiquitous prewrapped staple of deli take-out counters, an impulse purchase that tugged on the heartstrings and taste memories of New Yorkers (and others inducted into the canon of black and white cookies by such cultural icons as The Seinfield Show, click here for YouTube clip with Jerry's musing on the pastry).

I had pretty much given up on black and whites, finding them stale and tasteless, the chocolate icing more chemical than cacao and the vanilla frosting only tasting of sugar when I found Molly O'Neill's recipe in her New York Cookbook. It was a revelation. The cake was good, not bland, with a lilt of lemon to it, the vanilla frosting fragrant, the chocolate frosting actually chocolaty. It became my standard and if you crave black and white cookies, it should become your standard, too.
O'Neill's recipe is available here, in a New York Times article from 2001. It is based on a recipe from the famed Zabar's emporium. As O'Neill wrote in her cookbook: "Zabar's versions are to deli black and white cookies what pate is to chopped liver." (Although to be honest, a good chopped liver is nothing to sneer at.)

Want the original from Zabar's? You can order them here.

Some notes: Be prepared to ice the cooled cakes quickly, or the frosting will become harder to spread. Reheat gently to soften. I keep the frostings in gently simmering jury-rigged double boilers while I work with them. The recipe makes 2 dozen cookies, but I often make them smaller than the traditional oversized size for parties. The "mini" black and whites are always a buffet pleaser. Be sure to use butter to grease your baking sheets, oil or oil spray will allow the batter to run too much.

Here's another version from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen, also based on Zabar's cookies. I'd love to know if anyone has a different black and white cookie recipe out there they could recommend. Leave a comment and a link and I'll check it out.
About the photo: Black and white cookies in (what else) black and white.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Celebrate Mimouna -- or Bread Rises Again -- With Special Breads, Honey Butter Caramel Sauce and Eggplant Conserves

Passover ends tonight after sundown and Jews of Moroccan heritage will begin to celebrate Mimouna, a delightful folk holiday that honors (depending what source you read) the birth or death of Maimon, father of Rambam (a revered scholar and rabbi), the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus from Egypt or just the neighborliness and support that once existed between the Muslim and Jewish communities in Morocco. The holiday lasts until tomorrow night.

Historically, on Mimouna the Jews of Morocco and their Muslim neighbors would exchange food baskets, including gifts of flour and yeast to replenish the Jews’ pantries. Open houses with tables groaning with sweets awaited revelers. Picnics and parties continued the next day. As these Jews immigrated to other parts of the world, they brought Mimouna traditions with them, especially to Israel.

Aliza Harari is a teacher at the Jewish Community High School in San Francisco and an Israeli of Moroccan descent.

“My memories from Mimouna have to do with music, costumes and lots of sweet foods. The main dish is called mufleta which is like a thin tortilla, home made, on the spot. It is eaten with butter and honey that you spread on it, roll it and eat it, and usually it drips on your shirt! It is the highlight of every Mimouna.”

Harari says another specialty of the holiday is preserves, especially vegetable-based ones. Her favorite is eggplant jam.

Mufleta is a chewy, pancake-like bread. Spread with honey and butter or try with Honey Butter Caramel Sauce or Eggplant-Tomato Conserve. Put a tablespoon or two of either in the middle, roll up and eat. Crepes or flatbreads are good substitutes.

Makes 8-10 Pancakes

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup water, room temperature, plus extra
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus extra

Stir flour and salt together in large bowl. Add water, mixing until dough comes together. Add additional flour or water as needed until smooth and not sticky. Knead by hand a minute. Cover. Let rest 10 minutes. Pour ¼ cup oil onto a plate. Form dough into 1½” balls. Roll in oil. Lightly grease small fry pan and heat over medium high heat. Grease work surface. Using fingers or rolling pin flatten a ball and stretch into thin 6” circle. Fry 2-3 minutes on each side in heated pan until cooked and lightly browned. Set aside. Cover to keep warm. Repeat. Serve immediately.

Honey Butter Caramel Sauce
Makes 1 Cup

½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup mild honey
½ cup heavy cream

Melt butter in saucepan over low heat; add honey and cream, whisking constantly until blended. Raise heat to low medium and, still whisking, cook for 20 minutes until thick and syrupy. Cool to room temperature (it will continue to thicken). Gently reheat if desired.

Eggplant-Tomato Conserves
Makes 3 cups

4 cups ¾” cubed, peeled eggplant
¼ cup plus ¼ tsp. salt
3 Tbs. plus 2 Tbs. olive oil
1 ¼ cups thinly sliced onion
2 tsp grated lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, plus extra
1- 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ cup honey, plus extra

Toss the eggplant with ¼ cup salt and put in colander. After 30 minutes, rinse well, drain and blot dry.

Heat 3 Tbs. oil in large fry pan. Sauté onion over low heat 15 minutes until soft and brown. Remove from pan. Heat 2 Tbs. oil over medium high heat. Add eggplant. Sauté until lightly browned. Add onions, zest, juice, tomatoes with liquid, red pepper, black pepper, cinnamon and honey. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Taste. Add ¼ tsp. salt if needed. Cook until eggplant is soft and mixture is very thick. Correct seasonings, adding more lemon juice or honey as needed to get a more sweet than sour taste.

This post is adapted from the article I wrote for the j. weekly. You can read the original article here.


About the photo: A stack of mufletas awaiting their fate.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Buy a Cupcake, Help End Hunger (and Not Just Your Own)

Here's info on the upcoming bake sale:

Can't read the details? Click on the image to enlarge it.

Friday, April 02, 2010

King Cake for Easter?

I was thinking that the hazelnut praline-filled cake I made for Mardi Gras would work out well as an Easter (or other spring event) cake. Decorate the rich brioche ring with its sweet surprise filling by sprinkling the glazed cake with pastel colored sugars, or just before baking, place colored eggs around the top of the ring.

I used a combination of recipes, but this one from Emeril Lagasse (via The Gumbo Pages) is the closest to how I made the brioche cake. That version has a cream cheese filling. I used the filling recipe and forming techniques from Ms. Enplace. You can see those here. It relies on the wonderful hazelnut praline available from Love'N Bake. (One tip, make sure the rectangle of dough is evenly sized before you begin to fold and shape. That will result in a more even-looking ring in the end.)

You can make the cake with either the cream cheese or hazelnut filling, or just leave it out, which is probably more traditional but makes for a more bread-like cake.

I found that I got a better result from purchased colored sugar crystals than the homemade (it was really tough getting the food dyes I used to create purple, it came out more red-black), but there are lots of lovely colored sugar colors out there.

One warning, it is a yeast-raised dough and will need time to rise.

King Cake is a New Orleans tradition which some feel should be limited to only the Mardi Gras season. I say, let the good times roll any time.
A disclaimer: I was once provided with several cans of Love'n Bake products at no charge.