Thursday, December 23, 2010

my office party


I moved into my "painted lady" Victorian 20 years ago around Thanksgiving. By the time Christmas rolled around, I was still unpacking boxes and painting walls.

Just a couple days before Christmas, I was sitting at my very funky, yet to be organized desk... Friends and colleagues were calling and wishing me happy holidays. I could hear Christmas music, Champagne glasses clanging and their office parties in the background. It was sad! I had nothing if I had no office party.

The phone rang. It was my friend, Barbara, also a freelance writer who worked from home. I could hear the loneliness in her voice too. "What are you doing?" she said.

"Oh," I lied, "Listening to Christmas carols. I've got Christmas lights strung around my desk, a plate of Christmas cookies in front of me and I'm wearing a Santa Claus outfit. I'm having my office party by myself! What to come join me?"

When she said yes, I nearly jumped out of my Santa costume! What will we drink? What will we eat? I made a mad dash to the kitchen and started pulling ingredients from the refrigerator.

A little later, the doorbell rang. And for the rest of the afternoon Barbara and I listened to Christmas carols, drank sherry, ate tapas and talked about our plans for the approaching year, 1991. We toasted to the inaugural year of the "Office Christmas Party" with the promise of many more.

I have celebrated my "Office Party" every year since except for last year when at the last minute I had to cancel. My closest, oldest friend, Charlotte, had colon cancer surgery and I flew to LA to take care of her for 5 days. In appreciation and thanks to me and my office-less friends, Charlotte came to the party for the first time this year. She proposed a toast and thanked everyone at the table for letting me ditch out last year to come to her rescue.

Peggy came from Colorado Springs. Going through a difficult break-up, everyone rallied around. I now see she's coming out on the other side!

Paula joined us from NY. She's one of my NY shopping buddies who loves to cook. Extremely successful in everything she does, Paula happened to be in SF with her new boyfriend. Her trip coincided with my party. She works from home.

Jill drove in from Santa Cruz. My totally fun/up-for-anything-gal-pal is so cool. We've eaten great food and drank fantastic wines together in Venice, Paris and Rome. Jill makes really beautiful jewelry in her home studio and like me, she loves clothes, shoes and boots. When she shops, she doesn't just kick the tires.

Let's see, who else... Kraemer is one of the founding members of the "Office Christmas Party." She's attended the second year and has joined us ever since. I've traveled with her a lot too,- Peru, Provence, Italy, Mexico, Florida, Costa Rica and Thailand. She's gorgeous, smart and office-less!

Shannon lived in NY when I first met her years ago. She came to my first cooking class in Venice. In the introductory letter for the course, I told everyone to bring their favorite knife. My idea of a favorite knife would be an 9 or 10-inch chef's. Shan showed up with a paring knife. Living in NY and never having cooked before, that was her idea of a knife... We've been friends ever since.

Linda is my Italian designer/gorgeous/go-to zen/go-to enlightened/cute/sexy friend. She brought a bunch of red roses, love and calm to the table. Hey, no office either!

And then there's Mariangela, my business manager, who I adore. She's smart, fun and a good friend. We've traveled a lot, put some great ideas together, and had fun doing it. She's answers a lot of questions my students have about my classes in Europe, Australia and SF. And everyone says the same thing about her? "I love Mariangela." So do I. Not for what she does, but for who she is.... She has no office, I'm her office.

Finally, last but not least.... there's me,-- the cook, chef, writer, TV personality, wife, sister, daughter and friend who also has no office. I decorated the mantle, wrote the menu, cooked the food, set the table, opened the wine, served the dinner to my wonderful "officeless" girlfriends.

HAPPY 20TH YEAR!
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!


THE 20TH YEAR CELEBRATION MENU
FOR THE "OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY"

Smoked Cheddar Breadsticks
Roasted Olives with Meyer Lemon, Rosemary and Thyme
Santorini Fave

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Coriander Oil and Creme Fraiche

Escarole Salad with Satsuma Tangerines, Fuju Persimmons, Kumquats, Roasted Pecans and Champagne, Pear Walnut Vinaigrette

Fire-Roasted Lamb Chops, Homemade Merguez Sausage with "Salad from Everyone"*

Meyer Lemon Sorbet with Chez Panisse Gingersnaps


SMOKED CHEDDAR TWISTS

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
½ cup coarsely grated smoked cheddar
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water

Mix the all-purpose flour, cake flour, cayenne, cheddar and salt together and place in freezer one hour before use.

In a separate bowl, place the butter in the freezer one hour before use.

Place the ice-cold flour mixture on a work surface and add the ice-cold butter and with a metal pastry scraper, cut the butter into pieces the size of peas and cornmeal. Alternately this can be done in the food processor by pulsing. Place the mixture in a bowl. Combine lemon juice and ice water and add enough of the liquid until it almost holds together.

Turn out onto a lightly floured board and press together as best you can to form a rough rectangle shape. There will be large chunks of butter showing. Do not knead. Roll out dough into a 1/2" thick rectangle. Fold the narrow ends towards the center to meet in the center. Fold in half again so that there are four layers. This is your first turn.

Turn the dough a quarter of a turn and roll again to form a rectangle 1/2" thick. Repeat the folding process. This is your second turn. Turn the dough a quarter of a turn and roll again to form a rectangle 1/2" thick. Fold into thirds as you would a letter. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F.

On a well floured surface, with a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1/8" rectangle, approximately 7-inches by 15-inches. Trim the edges. Cut the dough into sticks 7"-inches by 1/2-inch. Twist them slightly. Place them on a baking sheet 1-inch apart. Bake until golden and crisp, 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets. Remove with a spatula.

Makes 30 sticks

Thursday, November 25, 2010

no one ate the turkey


Years ago on Thanksgiving, I really screwed up! I was working at Chez Panisse at the time where I mastered pasta making. I was making about 40 pounds a day at that point and getting really good at it. I thought I'd show off with friends, so for Thanksgiving I made butternut squash ravioli. They came out perfectly. The butternut squash was sweet with a hint of honey, nutmeg and orange. I was so excited.

I boiled a big pot of water, dropped the ravioli into the water and got everyone to the table. I took the ravioli out of the boiling water and put them on a hot platter and topped them with nutty brown butter, toasted hazelnuts, crispy prosciutto, At the table, I grated Parmigiano Reggiano onto the top. The ooooohs and ahhhhhs were laudable down the street.

My good friend Max was there to spoon them into everyone's bowls. They loved them. "Can we have seconds?" they said.

"Of course," I said proudly.

Pretty soon, all the ravioli were gone. Well, I guess you know the end of the story? When it came time for the turkey, no one ate the roasted turkey, cornbread stuffing, fall roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry with zinfandel I'd slaved over for days.

Needless to say, I didn't make ravioli again on Thanksgiving. That's why I didn't give you the recipe earlier. This way, you won't be tempted.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Lots of love to everyone.
Joanne

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI WITH HAZELNUT BUTTER AND PARMESAN

2 lb. butternut squash
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped sage
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
Nutmeg to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced, cut into 1/4" strips
1 teaspoon walnut or hazelnut oil
1/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lb. egg pasta dough

Preheat an oven to 350o F. Cut squash in half, place on an oiled baking sheet and bake until easily skewered, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove the seeds and skin and discard. Mash the pulp with a potato masher or by pulsing a few times in a food processor. Place the squash, bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons Parmesan, honey, thyme, rosemary, sage, orange zest and nutmeg in a bowl. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a small frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Cook the prosciutto until light golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and reserve. Add the nut oil and hazelnuts, and cook, stirring occasionally until light golden, 3 minutes. Remove from the pan. In a saucepan over medium high heat, melt the butter and cook it until it turns brown and just begins to smoke, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove immediately from the heat and add nutmeg.

Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Using a pasta machine, roll the pasta until you can almost see your hand through the dough. Place the sheet of pasta on a well floured work surface. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of squash filling at one end of the dough, just below the center of the dough. Continue to place mounds of filling all the way down the dough leaving approximately 1 1/2" between each mound. With a spray bottle filled with water, spray the edges with a very light mist of water. Fold the top half of the dough over the squash filling to encase the filling and seal around the edges. With a zig-zag roller, trim the long side close to the edge and discard. Cut in between each ravioli.


Bring a large pot of boiling salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli and cook until tender 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and place in a large serving bowl. Toss carefully with the brown butter. Garnish with prosciutto, hazelnuts and Parmesan. Serve immediately

Serves 6 to 8

EGG PASTA DOUGH

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 whole eggs
1 tablespoon water

In the bowl to the food processor, pulse together the flour and salt. Add the eggs and water and process until the dough forms a soft ball but is not sticky. If so, add more flour a tablespoon at a time until it isn't sticky. Remove the dough from the food processor bowl and knead on a very lightly floured board until soft and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Let the dough rest wrapped in plastic wrap for at least 30 minutes.

Makes approximately 1 lb. pasta

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

sinful crepes


Today is the second day of a weeklong class I'm teaching in my kitchen called "50 Techniques in 5 Days." Not sure why I named the class that? It actually sounds like real school and kind of intimidating. But I think when we began the first tester crepe today, the intimidation began. But as you soon realize, it's all about texture. The crepe batter should be the consistency of thick heavy cream. We definitely had to add a little extra milk to get it just right.

When I was in France a few years ago visiting my friends at Mauviel, they gave me a beautiful heavy copper 8-inch crepe pan. We used it today but I remember when I worked at Chez Panisse, the pastry chefs made three crepes at a time. I worked in pastry too for a while but I never had to do that, thank God. I'd watch David Lebovitz as he flipped crepes, every one coming out perfectly. It's all about trial and error and practice, isn't it?

Today, we filled the crepes with creamy wild mushrooms and prosciutto. Everyone was swooning, eyes rolling back in their head. Absolutely amazing!

I promised you the recipe... Here you go!

BAKED CREPES WITH CREAMY WILD MUSHROOMS AND PROSCIUTTO

1/2 ounce dried wild mushrooms
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1/2 pound fresh button mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 recipe Crespelle or Crepes
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over the dried mushrooms and let sit 30 minutes. Drain well and reserve the water. Chop the mushrooms coarsely. Filter the mushroom water through a paper towel-lined strainer and reserve the mushrooms and mushroom water separately.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 7 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have evaporated their liquid, 10 minutes. Add the chopped soaked wild mushrooms and continue to cook 1 minute. Add the reserved mushroom water, turn the heat to high and simmer, stirring constantly, until almost dry, 10 minutes. Turn the heat to medium, add the prosciutto, and continue to cook 2 minutes.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add the milk, stirring constantly, and cook until the mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture and mix well. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano Reggiano and season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 X 12-inch baking dish.

Place a crepe flat on the work surface. Spread half of it with a few tablespoons of filling. Fold in half, then quarters. Stand the triangles in a baking dish, overlapping one another with the curved side up. Repeat. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and brush on the tops of the crepes. Combine the remaining ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano and the bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the top. Bake the crepes until golden on top, about 20 minutes. Allow crepes to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 crepes to serve 6

CREPES
CRESPELLE

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
4 eggs
4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

Put the flour and salt in a bowl and add the milk slowly, a little at a time, mixing vigorously with a fork to avoid lumps. Add 1 egg at a time, beating rapidly with a fork after each addition. Let batter rest 30 minutes.

Oil the bottom of an 8-inch crepe pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter to start. Place the pan over medium heat. Stir the batter, pour 1/3 cup into the pan, and rotate to completely cover the bottom of the pan. As soon as the batter has set, loosen the crepe with a spatula and flip the crepe. When the other side is firm, remove the crepe and place it on a plate. Repeat with the rest of the batter, stirring the batter occasionally and adding butter to the pan as needed. Crepes can be stacked on top of one another until ready to use.

Makes 12 crepes

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

let me tell you about my provencal students

I'm back from my classes in Provence and Tuscany but not without a couple of hitches. "What? My suitcase is too heavy?" I said to the Luftansa ground staff at the Florence Airport.

Must be bottles of Renzo Marinai Chianti Classico Riserva and La Bastide of Chateau Campagne Baccus olive oil I'd wrapped in bubble wrap, a thousand layers of plastic secured with packing tape and bundled inside dirty clothes. Or could it be the dozen plus knives I'd carried from SF for my students to use. Maybe it was the handmade boots Carlo Fagiano made for me in Panzano, Tuscany? Or was it the apron given to me by Dario Cecchini, the one he tied securely around my waist one of the last nights I was there?

Oh come on! What's wrong with a suitcase weighing 39 kilo? That's only 85 pounds!

Well I made it home but my suitcase didn't. It got stuck in Frankfurt and finally, 2 1/2 days later, it arrived. You'll be happy to know that no one stole my new black boots, the olive oil hadn't leaked and the red wine hadn't broken in transit.

I know a lot of you followed my trip virtually on facebook as I ate and drank my way from Provence to Tuscany. Thanks for all of your comments!

But you really have to come on one of my trips sometime to get the full "flavor"of one of these weeks. I've been teaching in the South of France, Italy, Spain and Australia for the last 14 years and I can tell you that every single week long course I have ever taught takes on a life of it's own.

Sometimes the students meld and sometimes they form cliques. I've had weeks where one or five of the students drink too much and burn out by day three. And then there is the occasional students that develops a crush on my assistant and a few others who have had the quintessential Italian affair right under all of our noses.

Years ago, one of my students missed her 1 1/2 year old baby so much she went to the emergency room after suffering a panic attack and was on liquid valium for the rest of the week. Another student fell the night before she arrived and for the full week her leg was black and blue from toe to hip. One Tuscany trip, I had three cancer survivors. And last year, one tipsy student skinny dipped off the boat I'd hired for the day in the icy Mediterranean waters off the Cinque Terre coast.

I've had two sets of three generations of cousins. And then a couple years ago in Spain, there was the couple who thought they were going to Club Med and brought nothing but bathing suits, suntan lotion and flip flops. One group in the Piedmont drank 73 bottles of wine in the first two days of the trip. And in the Veneto, I've had the young, handsome, cocky next-wanna-be Guy Fieri. I could go on and on!

And every once in a while I get a group like I just had in Provence and it's simply magical! Let me give you a rundown of the cast of characters.

Lynn- Little did I know until the end of the week that her husband was Secretary of State. She exuded that wonderful kind of Southern charm and hospitality. Ya gotta love that accent too. I could have listened all day.

Kristen- Daughter of Lynn who kept us all entertained and laughing with her stories about her more-than-proper Southern grandmother.

Joan- Sweet, kind and a great listener. We need a Joan in every group!

Judy- Roomed with Joan. Judy takes the cake for the most ambitious cook in the group. She probably could have taught the class.

Vic- I'm not sure how old Vic is but he must be nearing 80. You'd never know it. Vic cried the last night when he gave a toast and said to his wife, "Sorry Florence, that was a great honeymoon 52 years ago but this past week in Provence has been the best trip of my life!"

Florence- Has roomed with Vic for the last 52 years. Laughed at every single one of Vic's jokes. Maybe that's the secret!

Elizabeth- She left her doctor husband and two adorable tiny daughters in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the next village over, to join us for the week. Elizabeth, her husband and daughters drove down to Provence from Germany where he is stationed. She brought every single one of my books with her to be signed and was the only one lucky enough to be able to buy as much wine as she wanted and take it back home to Germany in her car. Move over kids!

Nancy- What a fantastic week for me! Nancy is my sister and a wonderful one at that.

David- My brother-in-law helped with the dishes. I've known him since I was in high school so he's like a brother, a great brother. He never complained. I'd kill him if he did!

Peggy- Peggy deserves a punch card for all of the trips she's been on with me; Tuscany, Umbria and the Piedmont to name a few. She's going through a messy break-up and this week was very rejuvenating for her. Lots of late night heart-to-heart talks.

Rebecca- OK, she deserves a medal. This is Rebecca's second week long trip with me this year. She and her husband spent a week with me earlier this year in the wine regions of South Australia. This time she brought her aunt.

Martha- Rebecca's aunt is just 6 years older than Rebecca. Martha had a birthday during the week and her speech brought tears to everyone's eyes. She was a gift to the trip.

Deborah- She could very well be a professional shopper. She and Susan were so excited about the St Remy outdoor market that they never slept the night before.

Susan- She came with Deborah and these two could give lessons on how to shop. Susan bought so much that rumor has it she had to wear one of the Provencal quilts home on the plane.

Martie- Martie gave herself a birthday gift of a week of cooking with me in Provence. My trip was recommended to her by her nephew, Khalil, assistant food editor at Ladies' Home Journal. Thanks Khalil!

Rob- Traveled with his wife Brett and helped David with the dishes. When he walks, he runs and has the best laugh in the whole group! Hats off to Rob and David!

Brett- My friend and assistant extraordinaire in the kitchen. I've known Brett since I moved to Boston in 1976. We both studied cooking with Madeleine Kamman. When Brett went on to be chef to the President of Wellesley College, I moved to San Francisco.

Carla- My assistant on the ground in France and Italy and concierge for the students during the week. Carla and I have worked together for the last ten years very happily. We have a word that we say when the sh*&%$t hits the fan,- "Perfect!" And Carla always makes it so.

Joanne- And then there's the teacher who keeps a smile on her face even when things are crazy, chaotic, and utterly out of her control. That's when she looks to Carla and they say in unison, "Perfect!"















Friday, September 10, 2010

vacation hold


Running off to do some work in NY for 2 weeks with Lindsay Olives as well as teach at deGustibus, Kings and Institute of Culinary Education. Of course, I'll find time to see friends, visit my stepdaughter who just started college at The New School and eat at a few spots, Maialino, Locanda Verde, Co and Convivio.

Home for 36 hours and then off again, this time to Europe for my cooking classes in Provence at Blanche Fleur and in Tuscany at Il Leccio. I have lots of friends in my classes as well as my sister, so it should be very fun. Plus I get to see my best friend in Europe, my assistant, Carla.

And to think... I call this work!

Needless to say, I'm putting my blog on vacation hold until I return mid-October. If you want to follow my travels, you can do so on facebook. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

addiction, part 2


I ate the whole bowl! Do I think you should run out to buy an ActiFry? Read this post first before you do that.

Here's the deal. I had one huge russet potato in my house. I read the directions start to finish. I did just what the direction said. Sort of...

I cut the potatoes into uniform 1/2-inch sticks. The instructions advised not to leave any sharp points as the points will get too crispy. What's wrong with that, I thought? I left points.

I put the potatoes in a bowl of cold water to wash away the excess starch and dried them well. I dried the bowl and put the potatoes back in the bowl along with a few spices, herbs, salt and 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. I tossed everything together and placed them in the basket of the ActiFry along with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. I almost forgot to set the timer for 35 minutes.

As I cleaned up the kitchen, I couldn't help but go back again and again to watch the potatoes through the clear lid as they turned in the machine. At the first sight of "golden" I started to get excited.

When the timer buzzed, I was right there. I couldn't wait... I put one crispy, HOT, spicy hot potato into my mouth ever so gingerly.

Were they French fries? Nope, not as we know them. How could they be? Don't get me wrong, they weren't French fries but they were tasty.

As I downed the last couple "fries" at the bottom of the bowl, I couldn't help but think of what Julia Child once said... "Let's just admit it, fat tastes good."

Spicy Garlic "Fries"

1 1/2 pound russet potatoes, unpeeled
8 garlic cloves, peeled, halved
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pimenton
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Wash the potatoes well and cut into 1/2-inch uniform sticks. Place in a bowl and cover with water. Drain and pat the potatoes with towels until dry.

Place the potatoes, garlic, salt, cumin, pimenton, chili powder, cayenne, oregano and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a bowl. Toss to coat the potatoes.

Place the potatoes into the ActiFry pan and drizzle evenly with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Cook for 35 minutes or until the fries are crisp and the garlic is deep golden brown.

Eat immediately.

Serves 2

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

addiction


I'm being blatantly honest... I am so obsessed with potato chips that I can't even buy a bag. If I was to perform such a blasphemous act, those damn potato chips would be calling my name all day long as I peck away on my computer or cook at the stove. I can't even have them in the house.

This past weekend Joe "surprised" me and bought a bag of Kettle One "baked" potato chips dusted with sea salt. I can't even talk about it knowing that there are still a few crumbs at the bottom of the bag sitting in the trash. I obsessed about that bag of chips that screamed my name until they were gone. I know I have a problem.... It's my weakness, my downfall!

I'm now on a potato kick! (I have Joe to thank for this.) A few months ago, Tefal sent one of those Actifry machines from France. You've heard of them. Supposedly you can fry a whole batch of french fries with one tablespoon of oil. Yes, I repeat, ONE tablespoon of oil.

I'm going to try it out right now.... I'll let you know...

Friday, August 27, 2010

ah-ha moment


Early morning, as the ferry pulled away from the pier in Larkspur, I got out my notes. I knew I had little time to get my message across, maybe 35 minutes, before we’d disembark at the port of San Francisco. We were about to spend a day together on an adult field trip at the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace.

In a quiet whisper, so as not to disturb the commuters, I began telling a little about myself and giving a rough idea of the day ahead.

“This is an abbreviated version of what I do in Tuscany, Provence and the Rioja with my students. We visit cheese makers, winemakers and olive oil producers... We eat great lunches and drink fantastic wines. But it seems when my students are in Italy or Spain or someplace away from “home,” their perceptions are so much keener and they value the experiences more. Why is that?”

I continued, “Have we gotten so busy with our daily lives and crossing things off the list that we don’t stop to notice what’s right in front of us?”

“Today, I want you to notice the little things. Really use your senses... Maybe one of you will notice the sounds of busy foot traffic at lunch time, or someone else might be struck by the colors of the bay as we cruise towards San Francisco. Perhaps someone else will love the peppery, green taste of olive oil at McEvoy Ranch or the spicy hot fish tacos we’ll have for lunch at Majita. And I know many of you have tasted cow's milk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, but have you stopped and taken a moment to smell the pungent aromas of the all the different cheeses there? I know for me, I'm looking forward to heading straight to Boulette's Larder for the best rich, creamy hot chocolate."

I was surrounded by seven eager food writers and bloggers who were part of the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference. As the ferry pulled into the dock, I could tell, they were with me, they got what I was saying. And we had a whole day to explore it together.

I gave them a choice, they could write down their perceptions or keep them in their head. But most importantly, what I wanted to know at the end of the day was what was the inspiration for their ah-ha moment. It could be a thought, a paragraph or a page. I loved them all... And here's what they shared.

______________________________________________________________________
It was a surprisingly difficult decision: deplete my savings by another large-ish chunk and join the Joanne Weir-led group to the Ferry Building, or consider the cost of the Book Passage Travel (and Food!) Conference investment enough. I've been to the Ferry Building so many times, dashing through on lunch hour errands, grabbing a quick sample or making a fast purchase on the way, so why this trip? I decided to take the leap and anticipated a great day.

Our small band of committed foodies spent a glorious day of exploration and discovery, guided by an enthusiastic and charming Joanne. We tasted so many fantastic products; it was real treat was to hear directly from producers, owners, and vendors.
What I hadn't anticipated was the sense of renewal and joy I came away with. Taking the time to slow down, to sniff and savor instead of scrambling around tourists, worrying about getting back to work - that was refreshing! Taking the time to enjoy being a tourist at home with a group of interesting & like-minded people - the shared joy will be remembered and recounted. And to reconnect with the core notion that preparing food is an act of love - always to be held dear.

Mary Beth Brown
mbbrownsf@yahoo.com


At the prodding of a friend who lovingly said, "I'll kick your butt if you don't do this," here I am, crossing the bay on a ferry, revisiting the highlights of an absolutely amazing day. Assigned with the task of sharing an aha moment after touring the Ferry Building Marketplace with Joanne and my fellow foodies, I found it difficult to focus on any one thing due to so many stimulating sights, sounds and aromas. I have been to the marketplace many times before, but never with an assignment. Fortunately, my revelation finally came while listening to Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery speak on the art of cheese making and tasting. I love cheese probably more than any other food on earth, which is actually rather funny – I am allergic to dairy. But, I eat cheese anyway. It is my candy.

I was fixated on Peggy's every word and eagerly gobbled up her samples. What I was the most surprised to hear, however, was that the Mt. Tam Triple Cream Brie actually tastes different with each season. Also interesting to note was that within each herd a lead cow intuitively selects a different pasture each day for the other cows to eat from. This, too, has an effect on the flavor of the cheese. I'm probably a lot like a cow. I don't want to eat the same things every day. I want variety, and I want to check out the other pastures. So, yes, the grass is greener (and sometimes browner) on the other side of the fence, especially when it comes to the world of cheese.

Sharon Landon
subscribe@landoncreative
.com



It was a morning for the senses. A sensation overload nearly. Drab and overcast outside, we stepped into the cacophony of Boulette’s Larder and wham. We were hit with the clatter of cups and saucers echoing off slick concrete floors and high hard ceilings.

And the smells. Garlic. Spices of cinnamon and pepper. Baking bread. All mingling, warm and heavy. And the larder itself, richly stocked: black rice, fried quail, marrow bones and black eyed peas.

And we.....a motley crew of food lovers led by this ebullient character, this ginger haired Mr. Rogers, so obviously in love with her craft and grateful to share her joy with us. Then, as if to bring me back into my body, someone handed me a tiny glass of hot chocolate with a delicate froth on top. We were here to taste after all.

I sipped. I gasped.

The first swallow hit me with such overwhelming pleasure. It was silken sweetness. It was warm grandmother moments. It was hot chocolate and marshmallows in the snow and yet sophisticated like in a European café.

This was just the beginning. This was just a taste.

“If we all drink a full one of those,” said our cheerful leader. Motioning to the tray of the fanciful chocolate saucers. “It will be..........blast off!”

That’s exactly where we were headed.

Alison Pierce VanDis
Pierce.alison@gmail.com



Sailing from Larkspur on a cool summer day, I was excited to be embarking upon what promised to be a passport free adventure for the tongue, eyes, nose, hands, and ears. When my eyes fixed upon the medium brown glass of hot chocolate, I knew that I was seeing what would be close to heaven in a cup. The Eastern European Hot Chocolate served as more than an eye opener, as noted on my itinerary for the day. As the delicious texture of the hot liquid floated from the front of my lips to the back of my tongue, I think I saw the thick clouds hanging over the Ferry Building part momentarily confirming that I was indeed having something poured straight from heaven. Moving toward the various shades of greens and browns of the Petaluma olives and extra virgin olive oil, my eyes danced with delight as I sampled the fresh fruit of the olives and the cut grass taste of the organic olive oils.

With my tongue and eyes fully engaged, I traveled onward following my nose to the cheeses of Point Reyes. Standing with reverence at the specially prepared cheese cart that held my favorite Red Hawk, Pierce PT, MT Tam, and St. Pat Classic cheese, I listened and tried my best to inhale every word that Peggy Smith, The Grand Madam of Cheese, spoke. Lost in my cheese tasting journey, I had no desire to be found unless it was with several Cowgirl Creamery wagon wheels tucked under my arms.

I say with my arms because the next stop of my Joanne Weir led adventure would land me at Cocina Mexican or Mijita where my hands would hold the taco de carne asada, the taco de carnitas, and eventually, the taco de pescado “Baja.” My other hand would hold onto the most delicious margarita that was near perfectly prepared, which could have been a standalone course for this writer. The feel of the soft corn tortilla and the ice cold cocktail glass would provide me with that transformative moment that one gets while taking a journey, an adventure, or travelling to someplace new. My day with Joanne Weir was something new, something treasured, something very special. She provided me with a great day filled with new and exciting experiences for all of my senses.

As the adventure came to a regretful end, the sounds of the white wine and the red wine filling the sparkling wine glasses were music to my ears. Being so caught up in the lyrical sounds of wine from a bottle meeting the wine glasses, it mattered not that I did no writing down of the names of the wines sampled. As I enjoyed every sip of my grapes from afar, I knew that all the notes in the world would not do justice to this day of adventure at the Ferry Building in San Francisco with Joanne Weir.
Melody Fuller




It’s the middle of the week. A grey, drab, foggy sort of morning on the bay. Tourists, commuters, chefs and foodies fill the grand hall of The Ferry Plaza Marketplace. The pitter-patter of feet and swishing of canvas market bags is passing me by. Herb Caen once boasted, “A famous city’s most famous landmark.”

We had arrived. The pungent aroma swirled around us. It entered my senses like liquid. In through my nose and out through my limbs. I could taste the cheese in the air. Heaps and piles of cheese. From this world and the next – our backyard and beyond. The ripeness of these artisanal delicacies was pungent and bold. Evident they had been made by hand, with care and devotion.

Could this be true? We were going to be led through a tasting by none other than the acclaimed Peggy Smith. Peggy to me is one of the matriarchs – a patron saint – of Northern Californian farmstead cheese. Out came a handcart of some of her best work – Mt. Tam, St. Pats, Pierce Point, Red Hawk, and Fromage Blanc. Of the many times I have visited Cowgirl Creamery’s original location at Tomales Bay Foods Company in Point Reyes Station I have never had the opportunity to meet the mother of the cheese. Most women my age hope to catch a glimpse of Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston or even the great Meryl Streep. That day – I felt I was experiencing a true star sighting.

I’m certain I cannot recount the story in the same tone or manner in which Peggy did so I hope you too can one day taste the cheeses of Tomales Bay through the words and from the hands of Peggy Smith. For Peggy, good cheese starts with good milk. And good milk comes from straight from the dairy.

Brooke Gray
brooke@thecountryroots.com
PHOTO BY BROOKE GRAY


I often wonder about people who just don’t seem to understand food. They eat whatever, and never seem to appreciate ‘better’ food. Why go to a small hole in the wall shop, when McDonald’s will do just fine. In contrast, I seem to be constantly seeking out the latest artisan creation. I ask questions, and am eager to learn more about food.

After this last Wednesday, where I was able to spend the day with Joanne and seven other foodies, I realize one of those things is thankfulness. I respect, and am thankful for, the people and labor that goes into making great quality food. It is not lost on me, and I take note when someone puts in that extra attention to make a great guacamole, olive oil, cheese, salami, hot chocolate, wine, honey… and the list goes on. I noticed that this was a common appearance in each of my travelers that day, including Joanne.
I am thankful for people like Joanne and other foodies who take joy in sharing their knowledge and experience without holding back. They labor out of love for their craft, never forgetting that they are making a product – not placed on a shelf in the living room – but to be eaten; placed inside our most precious possession, our bodies. The next time you are about to mindlessly consume some mediocre lunch, ask yourself, are you really thankful for the life you have? Do you take the time to appreciate the hard work and dedication of people who labor each day to provide quality products and instruction to you? Take the time to know what you eat and who is making it. I promise, you will find yourself a happier and more thankful person.
Timothy Snead
Tps777@yahoo.com



McEvoy was easily my favorite of the tasting spots we visited. This is not counting Mijita, where we had lunch. At McEvoy we learned about how the olives are grown and processed into olive oil. We each held a tiny cup of the olive oil in our palm and smelled it, then downed it like a shot. It felt and tasted surprisingly light. It tasted warm and grassy, with an almost spicy hotness on the back of the tongue. Our host told us of the history of the ranch and the high standards of quality and purity. We tasted their olive blend, which in my sample cup included one larger and two tiny olives, bathing in olive oil and herbs. The larger olive was mostly pit with little flesh, and tasted slightly like kalamata. The two tiny ones were fleshier and had a pleasant, candy-like sweetness. I'm not sure of the names of the olives, and they weren't either. It's a blend of various olives they grow. Then we tasted their limited edition olive oil drizzled on bread with fromage blanc (from Cowgirl Creamery) and flowering oregano (see photo). This was amazing and the flower buds of the fruiting oregano reminded me of capers, only fresher and lighter. This was a truly blissful tasting experience.

We also got to try McEvoy's hand lotion. The crushed olives leftover after the olive oil processing are used in their many body care products. They also carry honeys, jams, and things like lemon curd and cinnamon apple butter. On Wednesdays, they have an organic produce market at lunchtime. I bought a bunch of rainbow baby carrots and a bubble gum apple (pink on the inside) for my kids, and a jar of cinnamon apple butter for my parents. I will be making many repeat visits to this little shop. I will be asking my husband, who works near the Ferry Building, to pick up greens or other produce on some Wednesdays, because it doesn't get any fresher. The ranch itself is in Petaluma, very close to where I live. I will make a visit there as well, hopefully for one of their tours.

Lori Sanders
lorimelanie@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

an italian grilled cheese sandwich

Who doesn't love grilled cheese sandwiches? After all, they're about as American as apple pie.

But how would the Italians make them?

Imagine creamy cow's milk taleggio or stracchino cheese sandwiched between layers of crispy, hot pizza dough baked to golden perfection on a pizza stone. That's my version of an Italian grilled cheese sandwich! Nothin' like what Mama used to make.


I was first introduced to a luscious focaccia al formaggio at Manuelina in Recco along the Ligurian coastline. That was years ago, probably my first trip to Liguria. I traveled to Recco just to taste this Italian Riviera masterpiece and it was worth every single calorie, every single kilometer.

I decided I liked the concept which prompted me to write my own recipe for flatbread with gooey cheese all melted inside. This is what I came up with!

Grab a glass of Barbera from neighboring Piedmonte and enjoy!


FOCACCIA WITH CREAMY TALEGGIO

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60ml) plus 1 cup (8 fl oz/240ml) warm (110°f/43°c) water
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 fl oz/45ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups (12 oz/350g) unbleached bread flour
Salt
12 ounces (350g) taleggio or stracchino cheese, coarsely grated
1/3 cup (1 1/2 oz/45g) finely grated aged pecorino cheese

Whisk together the yeast and 1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60ml) water and let sit until creamy, about 20 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup (8 fl oz/240ml) water, the olive oil, flour, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and soft, 7 to 8 minutes. Place in a well-oiled bowl and turn the dough over to coat the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (75°f/24°c) until it doubles in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Place a pizza stone or tiles on the bottom shelf of the oven. Heat the oven to 500°f (260°c) for at least 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces and form each piece into a round ball. On a well-floured surface, roll 1 piece of dough at a time into a 9-inch (23-cm) circle, 1/8-inch (0.3cm) thick. Transfer 1 piece to a well-floured pizza peel or paddle. In a bowl mix together the taleggio and pecorino. Spread one-third of the cheese mixture on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Brush the edges of the dough lightly with water. Roll another ball to the same size and place on top. Crimp the edges to seal well. Pinch a hole in the second piece of dough in the center.

Bake the focaccia on the hot stone until light golden and crisp, 8 to 11 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and cheese filling, making 1 more focaccia. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 focaccie and serves 10

Friday, August 6, 2010

mexican penicillin


In Napa last weekend celebrating my birthday. Stopped by and visited Brian and Claudia at Fleury for a fantastic tasting of their new SB and '07 BDX. By the time we were done, we were so hungry. Where to go? And then I remembered that Joe Yonan told me about LaLuna Market & Taqueria for what he said were "the best tacos."

“How long has it been there?” I asked him.

“Years, I think! You don’t know about it?” he asked. It was kind of surprising. After all, Joe lives in Washington, DC and this is my neck of the woods.

It was now 2:00 PM Saturday afternoon. I was well past hungry, and the taco lover that I am, I was definitely up for a spicy pork taco. There on a side street in “downtown” Rutherford was this non-distinct Mexican grocery store, La Luna. I’d probably driven past this place a thousand times.

As we walked inside, I was transported to Guadalajara. Mexican music was serenading the cute girls behind the counter who were talking Spanish, laughing and chewing gum. It didn’t look like a taco joint at all but I followed my nose past the Arbor Mist, Red Bull and bars of Palmolive to the back of the store. There I found the counter filled with crispy hot tortilla chips, a menu on the wall and a couple guys cranking out tacos and burritos.

We had a few minutes from the time we placed our order so I wandered the aisles. I came across spices that were so aromatic; I couldn’t help but picking up a few, -- California chili, New Mexico chili, pasilla chili and ancho chili. A few minutes later, we found ourselves eating al pastor and carnitas tacos out on a picnic table. What the surroundings lacked in atmosphere, the tacos made up for in deliciousness!

For the next couple days I obsessed about those spices I’d gotten. They were on my kitchen counter and every time I walked past them, they called my name.

By Tuesday, I felt a little under the weather. Kind of a scratchy throat and my head felt like it weighed about a thousand pounds. I needed some penicillin, Mexican penicillin, so I made a huge pot of chicken tortilla soup. And guess what spices gave the best flavor to the broth….

CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP

1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 whole chicken, 3 ½ pounds, cut into 6 pieces
Cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon California chili
1/2 teaspoon pasilla chili
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili
1/4 teaspoon New Mexico chili
¼ teaspoon pimenton or smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
½ jalapeno, halved and seeded
Corn oil for frying the tortillas
8 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4" strips
½ pound green beans, ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 ears of corn, husked and kernels removed
3 zucchini, about ½ pound, cut into ½-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces sharp cheddar, coarsely grated
1 large avocado, diced

Place the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomatoes, chicken, 6 whole sprigs cilantro, cumin, chili, pimenton, oregano, bay leaves, jalapeno and 10 to 12 cups water in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to low and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is very tender, 1 to 1 ¼ hours.

Heat ½" corn oil in a deep heavy pan to 375F. Add the tortilla strips and cook until crispy, 1 minute. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.

Remove the chicken and let cool. Strain the remaining liquid and discard the solids. Place the stock back in the soup pot. Add the green beans and carrots and cook until almost tender, 5 minutes.

Remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones. Tear the chicken into 1-inch pieces and return the chicken to the pot along with the corn and zucchini. Simmer for 5 minutes.

To serve the soup, heat the soup until hot. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cheddar and avocado. Top with tortillas strips and cilantro leaves.

Serves 6

Thursday, July 29, 2010

trip around the mediterranean


I stopped by Wayfare Tavern the other night to give Tyler a phone number he'd asked me for. He wasn't there but Alan, the manager, came by to say hi.

"Aren't you going on a huge trip leaving Monday?" Alan asked.

I had to wrack my brain. When you travel as much as I do, you take things one day at a time. Monday didn't ring a bell. "No, I don't think so, not this Monday," I said.

"Yes, I read it on your website. Aren't you going on a trip around the Mediterranean?" Alan asked.

"Oh," I smiled as it finally dawned on me, "Yeah, I'm going on a
trip around the Mediterranean right here in my San Francisco kitchen."

That was last Monday. I did a
weeklong cooking class and on the calendar on my website it listed my week as "A Trip Around the Mediterranean."

Imagine... Monday we were walking through the Provencal markets buying lavender sachets and colorful linens, Tuesday we were in Italy picking olives and figs, and by Wednesday, we were were swimming in the crystal clear blue waters off the coast of Greece. Thursday, we were eating tapas at
Cal Pep in Barcelona and on Friday, we were buying spices and preserved lemons in the souks or markets of Marrakesh.

Eight students from all over the US, two assistants, one dishwasher and one teacher "cruising" the Mediterranean together.

Ten o'clock each morning, we started in the kitchen with warm muffins or scones. I think the favorite breakfast were the raspberry and almond muffins, a recipe that I got when I used to taste for Alice at Cafe Fanny. Or was it the millet muffins from the same source?
MILLET MUFFINS

1 egg
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 g) melted butter
12 tablespoons millet
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat an oven to 375oF (190oC). Beat the egg and brown sugar well with an electric mixer. Add the melted butter and 1/2 of the buttermilk. Stir in the millet. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and add to the other ingredients. Add the other 1/2 of the buttermilk. Do not mix the muffins together too much or the texture will not be good! Place in greased muffin tins.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Makes 12 muffins.


And then I'd talk about the cuisine from that particular country and explain the recipes. After dividing into groups, we cooked for the next couple hours together. I dug through my library of music to find the right music from my many trips to the Mediterranean. The students seemed to like Zucchero a lot. Or was it Emma Shappin?

Monday, when we were in Provence, we tasted warm olives scented with wild herbs and drank Provencal rosé. That was just the beginning. We made pissaladiere with crispy golden puffed pastry and lots of caramelized onions. Bouillabaisse was next and for dessert,
little lemon souffle cakes that were sweet and tart at the same time.

The next day, we packed our bags and left for Italy. I insisted on starting with spritzers made with Aperol and prosecco (the same drink we served our guests when they arrived for our wedding last August). We rolled bright green spinach ravioli and filled them with ricotta and mascarpone and topped them with a sauce of fresh heirloom tomatoes and really tender leaves of basil. And then we made this really cool main course where we wrapped a baguette around pork tenderloin dusted with fennel pollen, sage, rosemary, coarse salt and lots of black pepper like they do in Tuscany. My favorite Florentine cook, Judy, introduced this to me years ago when I was teaching one of my courses st Il Leccio in Strada in Chianti.

If that wasn't the favorite of the day, it must have been the caramelized chocolate almond budino for dessert. OMG!!!

And what's food without wine, especially when you're on vacation along the Mediterranean? Everyday we have a wine maker or importer come to pour their wine and talk about the wines from that particular country.

By mid-week, it was time to fire things up so we built a really hot fire in the fireplace in the kitchen and spit-roasted a leg of lamb and then slathered it with tzatziki made from Greek yogurt, dill, spearmint and garlic. After all, we were in Greece for the day! I have a special place in my heart for Greece since Joe and I spent our honeymoon in a little villa looking over the sea in Santorini. I recalled lots of memories of my previous trips to Greece, but of course not all of them! We made galatoboureko, Joe's favorite, for dessert.
<GALATOBOUREKO

4 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup fine semolina, sifted
4 tablespoons butter
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3" cinnamon stick
Pinch of salt
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces fillo dough
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
Honey syrup (recipe follows)

Mix milk, sugar, semolina, butter, lemon rind, cinnamon stick and salt in a heavy saucepan and heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Let the custard bubble gently over very low heat for 5 minutes. Take away from the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Cover with a piece of buttered parchment or waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming.

When the custard mixture is cool, blend in the eggs and vanilla.

Butter a 13 X 9" baking dish. Place about 15 layers in the dish, brushing each sheet with melted butter.

Pour the custard on top of the buttered fillo. Next place another 15 layers of fillo on top, brushing each with butter as it is placed in position. Brush the top with the remaining butter and score through the top 3 sheets of fillo into 3" squares or diamonds. Trim the edges and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until it is golden brown and the custard is set when tested with a knife.

Remove from the oven and cool thoroughly in the dish. Serve with the honey syrup.

Serves 12

Thursday brought us to Spain. It's summer, so naturally we began with a bowl of iced gazpacho. Later, we made our way outside to my balcony where we cooked a huge pan of paella over the open fire just like they do in Valencia. And on Friday, we started with the sensuous flavors of spicy eggplant jam smeared on crispy levain croutons followed by couscous and lamb and artichoke tagine. For dessert, we made this really aromatic crispy fillo layered with orange custard, cinnamon and toasted almonds.

Very fun week. I didn't need to pack, I didn't need a passport and I could sleep in my own bed. Yup, I did go on an amazing trip but I did it right here at home!


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

teaching in sunny mexico

My classes take me to many wonderful places around the world-- Lima, Verona, Seville, Chiang Mai, London, Sydney, Auckland, Avignon and this past week, Tecate, Mexico! I was invited to teach at Rancho La Puerta, a health spa tucked into the mountains that border Mexico and the US, just south of San Diego.

I was there for a week, starting on Saturday, and spent the first few days exercising so much my pecs and glutes ached like you wouldn't believe. I did mat pilates, killer water works, circuit cardio work and lots of walking and hiking.

By lunch time, with three classes and hiking under my belt, I was starving. I couldn't wait to dive into my 43-calorie bowl of soup, my salad loaded with roughage, a few sparse grains and enough finely crumbled cheese that if I wadded it together I might have a marble-size piece of protein. And can you believe the dressing only had 14 calories per tablespoon?!

Don't get me wrong, if I wanted, I could ask for tuna, cottage cheese or almonds at lunch. But if I so desired this extra protein, I had to go to a certain door by the kitchen and wait to talk to the chef about my special request. The guilt alone prevented me from even asking! Did I mention-- no dessert and of course, no alcohol!

By Wednesday, I would have killed for a BonBon Bar or a cool, crisp glass of Albarino. But thank God this was the day I was teaching my first cooking class at Cocina que Canta, the gorgeous cooking school at the "Ranch" (as the regulars call it!) And if you think I was hungry for some protein, wine, and diversity of flavor, imagine how the 16 students that descended on the school that morning felt. They were eager and ravenous, to put it mildly.
The weather was perfect. We started in the extraordinary organic gardens with Salvatore, the gardener, picking opal basil, fig leaves, mesclun salad greens, wild fennel, arugula flowers, edible pansies, and pulling fresh potatoes from the ground.

And then back in the kitchen where we spent the next couple hours creating the most wonderful lunch.

Here are the recipes from the class. The salmon cooked in fig leaves with almond salsa verde and the Mexican chocolate souffles with chipolte cream were the winners but honestly, every dish met with an "OMG, "WOW" or "YUM!" And who cared about the calories? We could always work out a little harder tomorrow! Or maybe just skip the cottage cheese?!

GRILLED PIZZA WITH CHERRY TOMATO AND BASIL SALAD

1 recipe Pizza Dough
1 cup grated smoked mozzarella or regular mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half
6 ounces red cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

Make the pizza dough according to the directions and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.

Fire up an outdoor grill until it is medium high.

On a floured surface, divide the dough into 2 pieces and form into round balls. Roll 1 piece into a 9-inch circle, 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to a well-floured pizza peel or paddle. . Transfer the pizza from the peel directly onto the grill and grill, turning occasionally until golden and crispy, 2 to 4 minutes. Turn the pizza and top with half of the cheese. Continue to cook, turning occasionally until golden and crispy and the cheese is melted, 2 to 4 minutes.

In the meantime, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cherry tomatoes and toss together.

When the pizza is done, place on a platter. Top with half of the tomatoes, vinaigrette, and basil. Serve immediately. Make a second pizza with the remaining ingredients.

Makes 2 pizzas, 9 inches in diameter

PIZZA DOUGH

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water (110°F)
2 cups unbleached bread flour (preferably King Arthur bread flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, combine the yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and 1/4 cup flour. Let it stand for 30 minutes. Add the remaining 13/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water and salt. Mix the dough thoroughly and turn out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth, elastic, and a bit tacky to the touch, 7 to 8 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl and turn to cover with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (about 75°f) until it doubles in volume, 1 to 11/2 hours. Or, let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, let it come to room temperature and proceed with the recipe.

GAZPACHO WITH DRUNKEN PRAWNS

1 pound prawns, peeled and deveined
1 cup 100% blanco tequila
1 cup fish broth or bottled clam juice
2 1/2 lb. fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped,
or 1 - 28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
1 green pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, coarsely chopped
5 to 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups tomato juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 slice bread, crusts removed, soaked in water, squeezed dry
Salt and freshly ground pepper

garnish:
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup peeled cucumber, seeded, chopped
1/2 tomato, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into small cubes

In a large frying pan over high heat, bring 8 cups of water to a bowl. Season with salt. Add the prawns and boil for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and let the prawns sit in the water until almost firm to the touch and pink, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the prawns with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add the tequila, stir together and let sit in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

In a bowl, mix the fish broth or bottled clam juice, tomatoes, green pepper, onions, cucumber, vinegar, garlic, tomato juice, olive oil and bread. In batches, blend each batch in the blender on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes until very smooth. Strain through a coarse strainer. Season with salt, pepper and vinegar. Chill.

Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet. Add crushed garlic and cook until garlic is golden brown. Remove garlic and discard. Add bread cubes, and stir to coat. Saute slowly, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until bread cubes are golden. Cool.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Drain the prawns and reserve the tequila. Distribute the prawns between the bowls of soup. Garnish with cucumbers, green peppers, tomato, red onion and croutons. Drizzle a teaspoon of the tequila onto the top of each bowl of soup.

Serves 6

SALMON BAKED IN FIG LEAVES WITH ALMOND SALSA VERDE

1 3/4 pounds salmon fillets, skin and bone removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 fig leaves, washed well, stems removed

Almond salsa verde:
1/2 cup whole almonds, unpeeled
1 1/2 cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 teaspoon each fresh oregano, chopped
3 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 lemon wedges

Cut the salmon into 12 equal pieces. Place a fig leaf on the work surface with the smooth side down, vein side up. Brush well with olive oil. Place the salmon near the stem end. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the outer side edges towards the center. Fold the remaining leaf over the salmon to enclose it completely. Brush the bundles lightly with olive oil. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Preheat an oven to 350ºF. Place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Chop the almonds coarsely.

For the salsa verde, in a bowl, stir together the almonds, parsley, chives, thyme, oregano, capers, shallots, lemon zest, garlic, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 2 cups.

Preheat an outdoor grill. Grill the salmon bundles 4-inches from the heat source for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the grill. Partially open the packets and place a dollop of the salsa verde on the salmon. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve immediately.

Serves 6

WARM GRILLED POTATO SALAD WITH CUMIN AND LIME

2 1/4 pounds small red-skinned new potatoes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 green onions, white and green, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon grated fresh lime zest
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin

Preheat the oven to 375°f (190°c).

Wash the potatoes and place in a 13- x 9-inch (33- x 23-cm) baking dish. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, cover with foil, and bake until tender, 50 to 60 minutes.

Preheat an outdoor grill.

When the potatoes are tender and cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in half. Place 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a bowl. Dip the cut side of the potato in the oil and grill, turning occasionally, until hot and golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the grill and place in a large serving bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the green onions, garlic, parsley, lime zest, lime juice and cumin. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss together. Serve immediately while the potatoes are still warm.

Serves 6

MEXICAN CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉS WITH TEQUILA-CHIPOTLE CRÈME ANGLAISE

I love to play around with sweet and spicy combinations in desserts. The hint of pepper in the soufflé and smoky chipotle in the crème anglaise is an unexpected twist on this classic after-dinner delight! And of course, there is the distinctive kick of tequila in every bite!

Soufflé:
10 ounces excellent quality Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra), finely chopped
¾ cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2tablespoons reposado tequila
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, separated
Pinch of cream of tarter
Confectioner’s Sugar as a garnish
Tequila-Chipolte Créme Anglaise

Combine the chocolate, cream, sugar, butter, tequila, vanilla, cinnamon, cayenne and salt in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and cool to lukewarm. (Chocolate base can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Stir over low heat until lukewarm before continuing.)

Preheat over to 350° F. Butter eight 12 ounce ramekins and coat lightly with sugar. Whisk the egg yolks into the lukewarm chocolate base. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into the chocolate base in three additions. Divide the soufflé mixture among prepared ramekins and place on a baking sheet. Bake until puffed but still moist in center, about 15 minutes.

Serve immediately dusted with confectioner’s sugar. At the table, make a hole in the center of each soufflé and pour some of the Tequila-Chipotle Crème Anglaise into the center.

Serves 8

TEQUILA-CHIPOLTE CREMÉ ANGLAISE

½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1/4 vanilla bean, split & scraped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon tequila
1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
3 egg yolks

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, cream, sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, tequila, and diced chipotle. Over medium-low heat, bring to a scald. Remove from the heat and let steep 15 minutes. Whisk together the yolks in a medium sized bowl to break them up. Slowly add the hot cream mixture into yolk mixture, whisking constantly.

Pour the mixture into the saucepan again. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to coat the back of a spoon and the temperature of the sauce is 170°F when you check it with an instant read thermometer.
.
Strain immediately into a clean bowl and immediately whisk to incorporate some cool air. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. If you are not using it immediately, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring it to room temperature just before serving.

Serves 8

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"homemade"

When I was a kid, can you believe, I was sent to school with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I was mortified, humiliated and totally embarrassed. All the other kids brought Chips Ahoy cookies in their lunch bags! No, not me! I could be so lucky! I would have killed a kid for one of those Chips Ahoy. I never told my mother but I actually I traded my homemade chocolate chip cookies just for the sheer joy of sinking my teeth into a cookie that came from a grocery store shelf.

Can you imagine how horrible it was to take my little sandwich baggie out of my lunch bag and chomp away on homemade Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate morsel-laden, chewy, gooey chocolate chip cookies that reeked of good vanilla and butter? But it was those crunchy, hard, cardboard-tasting Chips Ahoy I craved. All the other kids had them, why couldn't I?

Yeah, everything in my house growing up was homemade. It all started with a tomato sandwich when I was about five. Most kids delighted in PB and J or tuna salad sandwiches but NO, not my house, not my mother. Not on her dead body!

I'll never forget the time when I was about 8 to 10, we were grocery shopping at Stop and Shop. It was lunch time and I was starving. "Can we get a can of clam chowder?" I asked my mother. You would have thought I had asked for the moon. She looked at me like I had just created the worst sin imaginable. Trust me, I was just a hungry kid with a gnawing ache in my stomach. I wanted to go home, use the electric can opener to open that can of clam chowder, pour that chunky, flour-bound clam chowder into a saucepan and in seconds I'd have a steamy hot bowl of soup. No, you know what she did this time? She bought a can of clams and when we got home, made me a pot full of homemade clam chowder, her specialty.

Yup, everything was homemade and when I was a kid, I didn't get it! I guess I was spoiled by the word "homemade." And now I know I could never be so lucky to be burdened by a single word. And so I share a recipe for my Great Aunt Jin's homemade Ginger Molasses Crinkles. Aunt Jin died when I was just seven but I remember how she called me "precious!" I was anything but precious but I had her fooled. Really, her cookies were what was precious and they were homemade!

Ginger Molasses Crinkles

I tried these cookies with all butter and they didn't crinkle. The vegetable shortening contributes a tenderness while the butter enhances the flavor.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Large pinch salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
Granulated sugar

Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together.

In the bowl to an electric mixer, beat the butter, vegetable shortening, sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Add the molasses and beat until smooth. On low speed, add the dry ingredients just until mixed. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets.

With your hands, roll slightly rounded tablespoons of dough into balls, 1 1/4-inches in diameter. Dip the top in granulated sugar. Place the balls, sugar side up, on the baking sheets 3-inches apart.

Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Cool on cooling racks and repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes approximately 3 1/2 dozen.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

burgers and potato salad


Hey, what happened to spring in Ess Eff? We wait for April and May the whole year, those are our only good months with sunny, warm weather. We missed it? And isn't Memorial Day the beginning of summer or at least the time when we set up our appointments for the tanning booth, go out to buy strappy sandals, get out the grilling recipes and make plans to get OUT of the cold, foggy City.

Anticipating summer, I was reading the NY Times food section yesterday and liked the pork burgers Mark Bittman wrote about. Kind of in the shu mai direction, shu mai being one of my favorite dim sum (thanks Becky)... The recipe appealed to me.

Burgers are so hot right now. Remember when burgers were made with just beef and called hamburgers? Soon we'll be ordering burgers like we order coffee... " Grass fed, 92% lean, aged, double, no foam!" And honestly, no person whould be caught dead saying "I'll have a hamburger!" Save that for your grandfather. They're "burgers" now! We got smart, there's no ham in them anyway!

I was in LA last week working and as soon as I got off the plane, I went my usual direction, directly to Gjelina in Venice. I always make that place my first stop. It's right on the way to wherever I'm going. Don't you have places like that? Charlotte and I shared a pork burger. Get this... Juicy ground pork shoulder topped with grilled radicchio and Iberico cheese and slathered with mustard aioli. And I love the homemade pickles. It was a tough call for me since I usually order the lamb burger drenched with spicy harissa aioli, topped with roasted tomatoes and arugula. No withdrawals, the pork burger spoke to me!

The next day, I went to Santa Monica Seafood for lunch. When I see all that fish, it makes me want to strap my Wolf range to my back, I want to cook so badly. I ordered a salmon burger and it was good but nothing like the one I did in my "Weir Cooking in the City" book.

Jeremiah Tower had the burger bug years before anyone else when he made the most delicious lamb burgers topped with caramelized garlic, mint and tomatoes at Santa Fe Cafe in Berkeley. It's been years and I still remember the flavors.

With burgers, you have to have some kind of potato salad to round the whole thing out. I've eaten my mother's potato salad my whole life and when I got big enough to come up with my own, I did. Don't get me wrong, I loved my mother's potato salad all doctored up with mayonnaise and mustard. As a kid, when I tasted anyone else's Mom's potato salad, it just didn't measure up. And though she's made it the same way her whole life, if today I asked her how she made it, she'd just sloth it off and say, "Oh, you know!?" And I'd say, "No, I don't know." Why do mother's just think that you should know everything they did all their lives by osmosis?

Oh yeah, so I was telling you that a couple years ago I decided to come up with my own potato salad. I wrote a story all about it for Fine Cooking. I called it "Not Your Mama's Potato Salad" and they called it a "Grilled Potato Salad." Either way, you roast some new potatoes. Cool thing, you can get them done a day ahead of time. When they're cool, cut them in half, dip the cut- side in olive oil and throw them on the grill, BAMMM (just kidding, I wanted to see if you were reading this) and cook until golden. Take them off the grill and toss in anything from Nicoise or Kalamata olives, shaved parmesan, chopped fresh oregano, slivers of sun-baked tomatoes. Delish! You can even grill the potatoes ahead of time and at the last minute, warm them up again in the oven and toss in the fixin's.

And then in Australia a month ago, the last night of our culinary journey, friend Chef Mark McNamara of Appellation Restaurant, made us the best hoity-toity potato salad that tasted like it was born someplace between India and Morocco. All the students on the trip were begging me to get the recipe from Mark. I got it a few days ago, tested it, reworked it, retested it and happily have been eating it ever since. Voila, "Not Your Papa's Potato Salad" either! Thanks Mark!

SALMON BURGERS WITH WASABI MAYONNAISE

½ cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
6 salmon fillets, about 4 to 6 ounces each, skinned and boned
6 excellent quality rolls, halved
6 large slices fresh beefsteak tomatoes
2 cups peppercress or arugula

Place the mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice and wasabi in a bowl. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

Place the oil in a heavy non-stick frying pan large enough to hold the salmon. Place the pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot and almost rippling, add the salmon and cook until golden and crispy on one side, 3 to 4 minutes total. Turn the salmon and continue to cook until golden and crispy on the other sides, another 3 to 4 minutes. Grill the cut side of the rolls until golden.

Spread with wasabi mayonnaise, distributing evenly. To construct the burgers, place the bottom part of the roll on a serving plate. Top with a piece on salmon. Top each piece of salmon with a slice of tomato and peppercress or arugula. Place the roll on top. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

WARM SALAD OF SPICED SWEET POTATO

1 teaspoon mild curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin powder
Salt
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups sweet potatoes, ¾-inch dice, about 2 pounds
¼ cup whole almonds with skin, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
½ cup chopped cilantro stems
4 green onions, white and green, thinly sliced
3 cups cilantro leaves and sprigs

Preheat an oven to 375 F.

Mix the curry powder, ground cumin and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Toss half of the spice mixture with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sweet potatoes and roast until tender, 30 minutes.

In the meantime, toss the almonds and pumpkin seeds with the remaining spice mixture and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until the almonds and pumpkins seeds are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside.

For the dressing, place the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan over medium high heat and toss until they are aromatic and begin to crackle, 30 to 40 seconds. Remove from the heat, place in a bowl. Add the vinegar, garlic, and remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil.

When the potatoes are done, add the almonds, pumpkin seeds, tomato, green onion, chopped cilantro and half of the dressing. Place in the center of a serving plate. Drizzle the remaining dressing around plate and scatter with cilantro leaves.

Serves 6




Friday, May 14, 2010

i love you guys


I was feeling melancholy the last day of our culinary journey together in South Australia. This group of 13 that I'd assembled were so simpatico that I felt moved, almost transformed, by our time together. Over the years, I’ve taught many weeklong classes, but there was something special, almost magical, about this group. You never have control over the dynamics of a group, it just doesn’t work like that. And as much as I wanted to take credit, this week fell into place like a soft leather glove on the perfect-sized hand.

Everyone was really rested that last morning as we met over breakfast. What a night off and a good night’s sleep with lofty down pillows and mold-to-your-body heavenly beds can do! But wake up! Spinifix Winery brought their tasting to us!


As we tasted I could see nostalgia creeping in. Photos were snapping as everyone tried to capture the last moments in digital frames. Kind of like the last day of high school or a family reunion when reality sets in that soon we’d be going our own ways.

We left The Louise and headed towards my dear friend, Maggie Beer's Farm Shop in Nuriootpa, for a picnic lunch. I’ve known Maggie for years when she used to come to the classes I taught at Yalumba. I’ve always described her as the Alice Waters of Australia (without the hat and the Edible Schoolyard.) But those were the old days! Now Maggie is a true Australian icon without a minute to spare. She's constantly on the road these days so she was only there in spirit. I’m happy for her success but sad I missed her bubbly personality and spirited laugh this trip.

But hold on, we're not done yet. I've got another friend just down the road that I promised I'd visit. We need to make one more stop on our culinary journey, - Rockford Vineyards, owned by my old friend, Rocky O’ Callaghan.
We hit it just right, they were in the middle of harvest. There was lots of activity in the rustic courtyard - trucks unloading freshly picked Shiraz grapes, pumping over and crushing the grapes in his famous basket press. We went into the tasting room for a VIP tasting of at least 10 wines.
Rockford is legendary for their sparkling black Shiraz, one of my personal favorite, and a basket-pressed Shiraz that’s big and gutsy like ink! These were amongst the group.

By now, some of the group was suffering palate fatigue. Could I blame them? And just as we all thought we were finished tasting, we got invited to sample the freshly pressed juice, bright purple-colored and dense, directly from the basket press. Delicious, but now we all needed a nap so we'd be rested for tonight's farewell dinner.

Dressed to kill and ready to die of consumption, we met at Appellation, the signature restaurant associated with our hotel, The Louis, for our last night together around the table. Course after course was cooked by my chef friend, Mark McNamara, who made us an unforgettable dinner for us. I'm still dreaming of the caramelized kombocha squash with Moroccan spices. (Oh that's right, Mark, you promised me that recipe!)

As I handed out the diplomas, I thanked everyone for trusting me enough to travel half way around the world to spend a week in a place I love beyond my wildest dreams. As we said our goodbyes, there were stars in everyone's eyes and joy in their hearts. I’d helped to form those stars and to make that joy a reality. I had a small tear as I gave everyone a hug and a kiss that came directly from my heart.

Until next time, g'day mate!