Friday, December 30, 2011

Cranberry, white chocolate, and macadamia nut cookies


I'm not much of a baker and as shocking as it sounds, I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I really only ever make things like this decadent flourless chocolate cake or a heavenly light as a feather vanilla semifreddo or a spring rhubarb crumble with orange zest. And the only other sweets I make are Indian sweets like kheer and burfi for Diwali.  But there is one sweet that I just love love love: a cranberry, white chocolate, and macadamia nut cookies.

When I was in college, I often studied at the student run 24 hour coffeeshop, Coffeehaus, on the third floor of the student center. Once in a while they had these amazing cranberry and white chocolate scones that would sell out instantly. But I was lucky; the guy working the late night shift would save one for me whenever they were delivered.

Years later I started to make these cranberry, white chocolate, and macadamia nut cookies with a little whiskey. There was something oh-so-wonderful about the way the tartness of the cranberry balances the sweetness of the white chocolate and the unexpected crunch of the macadamia nut. They have a wonderful balance of sweet and salty that many cookies lack. And using a little whiskey or brandy gives the cookies a warm, wintery feel.

I usually make a batch of these around the holidays. Recently I brought a batch of these cookies into the office and they disappeared so fast. Everyone who eats them asks me for the recipe!

I baked the cookies on a Silipat which resulted in the most perfect texture, crispy on the outside and dense and chewy on the inside, without the bottom browning. They turned out moist and absolutely wonderful!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fennel gratin with leek and potato


Happy holidays to you all! As much as I love the holidays, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming to constantly host and cook for crowds at home or cook for various parties and potlucks. This fennel gratin is beautiful enough to serve at a holiday party and easy enough to prepare for your next potluck or get together in the midst of other holiday craziness.  Not only is it wonderfully comforting and delicious, it is easy to prepare in advance and very transportable.

The creamy fennel gratin is a wonderful way to use fennel bulbs in cold weather dishes and I imagine that it would be delicious served with fish. I made the delicious fennel gratin for a friend's birthday dinner and it disappeared in minutes! It was really, really good! And it paired surprisingly well with Swedish mulled wine, glögg. If you are planning to transport the dish, you can bake it for 1 hour at home and bake the last 30 minutes just before serving.

Given the large size of the fennel bulbs I was using, I decide to half the fennel bulb and thinly slice it lengthwise, but if you have smaller bulbs, you can cut the bulbs into quarters. A gratin is really one of those dishes that is infinitely easier to prepare if you have a mandoline. Using a mandoline really, really helps here because you want to slice the potatoes into 1/16" inch even slices so that it will cook evenly.

Saute the fennel and leek in butter until soft, seasoned with salt and pepper, fresh thyme, and fennel fronds.  Overlap thinly sliced potatoes on the bottom of a buttered 9 x 13 (really a 10 x 13) gratin dish, season with salt and pepper, top with leek and fennel, and add a layer of parmesan.

Repeat once more starting with a layer of potatoes and if you have potatoes remaining, add a final layer on top. Whisk red cayenne pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, and salt and pepper into the milk and pour on top of the vegetables, pressing down with a spatula so that the vegetables are just covered.  If you want to emphasize the fennel flavor, you can toast some fennel seeds over medium high heat until fragrant and then grind coarsely using a mortar and pestle and add to the milk before pouring over the gratin.

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour, pressing the layers down every half hour and adding a little bit of milk if needed to reach the top layer. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining parmesan and bake uncovered for 30 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Martha's mac and cheese with gruyere, sharp cheddar and bread crumbs


Oh. My. Goodness. This has to be the best creamy, rich, grown-up mac and cheese EVER. It is utterly divine and comforting and so easy to make. And it reheats to perfect creamy, gooey-ness without separating or becoming oily. Seriously, this is the king of all macaroni and cheese.

You may have come across Martha Stewart's mac and cheese recipe before, as it has been popularized by Serious Eats and Smitten Kitchen. It really is that amazing.

To make it "grown up," I used a mixture of nutty, aged gruyere and sharp English cheddar with coarse sourdough breadcrumbs. The sharp cheddar was so wonderful, with tiny little crystals that pop in your mouth.

I made this mac and cheese for a friend's wedding in Tahoe for 60+ people. After figuring out how to boil pasta in a massive pot at a high elevation and stirring massive pots of milk and cheese sauce, making a single batch of mac and cheese was a simple feat.

If prepared according to the recipe, the mac and cheese will serve 12 people, but you can easily halve the recipe. 12 people isn't an exaggeration. You may think that you can eat it all but you WILL have leftovers, unless you have 12 hungry mouths to feed.

But having leftovers of this mac and cheese is a good thing. I am convinced that it tastes better the next day. Be sure to serve it hot so it will be nice and gooey.

I made a tray for Thanksgiving and we ate leftovers for dinner on Friday, breakfast the next morning (don't judge) and for dinner again on Saturday.

Sadly there are no more leftovers. I cannot wait for an excuse to make it again.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Artichoke and Fennel Ravioli with Tomato Fennel Sauce


Whenever I get a bulb of fennel in my CSA box, I struggle with ideas for using the fennel in ways that showcase the fennel other than a simple arugula and fennel salad with lemon and parmesan. And I always try to come up with uses for fennel fronds. Fennel is in season from autumn through early spring is an excellent source of Vitamin C for the winter months as well as fiber, folate and potassium.

It seems that I just love fennel in salads, like this shiitake and fennel farro salad with parsley oil, in shaved carrot, radish and fennel quinoa with lemon and in a wonderful antipasti of grilled zucchini, fennel, cherry tomatoes and cannellini beans. But those are all things I crave in the spring or summer, not in the winter.

Sometimes grocery stores sell fennel bulbs with the stalks and leaves chopped off, but usually the fennel bulb comes attached to long stalks topped with feathery leaves, called fennel fronds. I never knew what to do with the fennel fronds; my instinct told me to throw them into a vegetable stock but the flavor of fennel is far too strong and overpowering for most stock uses.

After spending much time wondering what to do with fennel fronds, I have come up with the following uses for fennel fronds. Usually I end up using fennel fronds as I would use dill, mixed with  yogurt and garlic for a refreshing dipping sauce, or as a garnish for a dish, like roasted golden beets. I don't eat fish, but I've heard that roasting a fish over a bed of fennel fronds is simply wonderful.

I have also used fennel fronds in a "feta salsa verde". If the words "salsa verde" make you think of a green tomatillo salsa, you are not alone. I, too, was once confused but learned from Suzanne Goin that "salsa verde" can also mean a green sauce made of herbs- usually parsley and other herbs, lemon and olive oil, with unmistakeable Mediterranean flavors. Simply chop fennel fronds and parsley, toss with lemon zest, garlic and sea salt, coarsely pulse with olive oil and lemon juice and mix in crumbled French feta. It makes a wonderful sauce for topping cannellini bean crostini or fish.

In my search for vegetarian main dishes starring fennel, I came across a wonderful recipe in Bon Appétit for an artichoke and fennel ravioli in a beautiful tomato fennel sauce. It is so festive and perfect for the holidays! The ravioli filling is a blend of fennel seeds, garlic, diced fennel bulb, artichoke hearts and fennel fronds. The recipe calls for frozen artichoke hearts but I used a can of artichoke hearts in water from Whole Foods.

And the tomato fennel sauce, oh my, the tomato fennel sauce has garlic, fennel seeds, diced fennel, san marzano tomatoes, crushed red pepper, oregano and ground cloves. Such an elegant, holiday-appropriate vegetarian dish!

For a perfect first course for a dinner party, spoon the tomato fennel sauce on to an appetizer plate and top with artichoke fennel ravioli. Garnish with fennel fronds and a grind or two of cracked black pepper.

To make the wonton ravioli, cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter and brush with egg white.

 Place 1 tsp of filling in center. Fold into a halfmoon and press firmly to push out any air.

I had some of the tomato fennel sauce leftover so the next day I toasted a crusty slice of bread and topped it with cannellini beans sauteed with tomato fennel sauce.

For the Artichoke and Fennel Ravioli with Tomato Fennel Sauce recipe, see Bon Appétit

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Glögg (Swedish mulled wine)


It's often hard to feel in sync with seasons in San Francisco given that it can be sunny and 60 degrees in December and unbearably chilly in the summer months. If you aren't yet feeling the Christmas spirit, gather your friends for a night of glögg, a wonderful Swedish mulled wine guaranteed to bring out the warmth and joy of the holiday season.

Many years ago my very dear, old friend Kristi first introduced me to glögg back when we both lived in Boston. It was the perfect drink for a chilly wintery night, and was sure to make you warm and toasty inside. To be fair, glögg isn't just mulled wine, it is mulled wine topped off with brandy (sometimes vodka). So it definitely has a kick! 

Although San Francisco doesn't compete with Boston or Chicago in the cold factor (let's be honest, we don't really need a reason to drink), we gathered friends (and maybe a Swedish dad to play judge) for a little glögg competition. My Swedish friend brought over bottled glögg, apparently no one makes homemade glögg anymore in Sweden. I, of course, made homemade glögg. And the taste off began!

It is pretty easy to make glögg at home. Simply simmer red wine or a mixture of red wine and port with spices including cardamon, cinnamon, cloves and orange rind, but do not let boil. Add sugar along with blanched almonds and raisins. Continue to simmer for about an hour, taking care to keep the wine from boiling. Serve hot in small cups and top with brandy or vodka, if desired. I should warn that the glögg  will be ridiculously strong if you do add brandy or vodka. 

Be sure to include some almonds and raisins in the glass, but avoid serving the spices. You can tie the spices in a bundle of cheese cloth or leave them loose. 

In case you are wondering, it was a close call, but ultimately the homemade glögg was the absolute favorite.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monkey Bread with Dill, Butter and Sea Salt


When I got a huge bunch of dill in my CSA box, I struggled to find uses for the dill. It felt a bit out of season, but then again it is still warm in California in early November. I've made tzatiki with pita triangles, zucchini dill and feta patties, dill feta and scallion scrambled eggs and even dill pilaf.

Then I remembered a wonderful meal I had during my last few days in Chicago at The Bristol and the incredible monkey bread pull apart with dill, butter and salt.

This isn't sweet Monkey bread, you know the kind with cinnamon, caramel and cream cheese icing; this is monkey bread for grownups. Buttery, warm and fluffy pull-apart pieces of bread flavored with dill and sea salt and dipped into a dill butter sauce.

And it is so much fun to eat! You "pull apart" the warm fluffy bread balls from the loaf and dip into a salty, dill butter sauce.

And the chef even shared his wonderful recipe with Chicago Magazine with a fabulous short video demonstrating the steps!

You knead the dough in a stand mixer with fresh dill and then let the dough rise for 30 minutes.

Once it rises, you punch it down, section it off into pieces and form into balls and arrange into a loaf pan. Allow the loaf to rise again for 20 minutes, brush with melted butter and dill, sprinkle with sea salt. Then bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes, brushing with melted butter and dill again and serve hot with a dill, butter and sea salt dipping sauce.

The recipe suggests placing 7 balls in a 4 oz loaf pan, but I only had a full sized loaf pan and it worked just fine. 

We feasted on the warm dill monkey bread right out of the oven for brunch along with our favorite herb and parmesan baked eggs.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Spaghetti Squash with herbs


Isn't that a gorgeous plate of pasta? Oh, wait... that's not spaghetti... it's spaghetti squash!

I am embarrassed to admit that I have never used spaghetti squash before it showed up in my CSA box. It is very unfortunate because I find the whole concept of vegetable spaghetti strands extremely exciting. And there really isn't an easier way to prepare winter squash (other than maybe roasted delicata squash). Spaghetti squash contains folic acid, potassium, vitamin A and beta carotene.

Personally I don't have a taste for winter squash recipes with brown sugar, cinnamon or apple. I like to contrast the subtle sweetness of winter squash with bold, tangy and spicy flavors like red cayenne pepper and lemon, ginger and thyme, and cumin and garlic.

I found spaghetti squash to be pretty bland on its own, especially compared to other winter squash varieties like butternut squash or kabocha squash. But when treated like spaghetti and tossed with garlic and fresh herbs, spaghetti squash takes on a whole new personality!

Carefully halve the spaghetti squash using a large sharp knife. It takes a bit of effort, as the squash is hard. Then place halves on an oiled baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes (for al dente spaghetti, up to 45 min for softer strands) until can easily pierce skin with a paring knife. Let cool slightly and then scrape inside crosswise with a fork to pull spaghetti strands away from the skin. Shout with glee that there is spaghetti growing inside and transfer to serving bowl.

The dish comes together even quicker if you microwave the squash instead. Carefully pierce the skin of the spaghetti squash in several places. Microwave for 10-12 minutes and let cool slightly before handling. Halve the squash and use a fork to scrape out the inside.

You could, of course, just toss the spaghetti squash with marinara sauce. Or stir fry it with veggies. I opted to toss it with garlic and crushed red pepper infused olive oil, fresh herbs, toasted pine nuts and finely grated parmesan. Either way, it is a fabulous pasta substitute!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cheese Course - Cypress Grove and Cow girl Creamery


I miss Chicago. I miss the dramatic Gothic architecture looming over the bustling streets contrasted by piercingly tall modern glass structures. Something about the dramatic height of the buildings and the lights against the black night sky grounded me whenever I felt uprooted or lost.  There is something magical about the way the vast Lake Michigan sparkles just so when hit with sunlight and something visceral about the way the brisk wind makes you acutely aware of your face. I miss the captivating, poignant beauty of the Monet room at the Art Institute. I miss living a few blocks away from my foodie haven, Fox & Obel, with its incredible cheese counter, wine room, cooking classes and tomato soup and grilled cheese pairing, and of course, I miss the heavenly vodka sauce at Volare.

But what I miss the most of all about Chicago, you know, the kind of miss that makes your heart ache, is RG, my dearest, fabulously wonderful in every conceivable way, best friend. Today is her birthday, and I want nothing more than to celebrate it with her. 

From dirty tramps and morals, dirt cake (in a flower pot, complete with gummy worms), and chicks and salsa to wine and cheese hour in our cubicles (grad school doesn't always have to suck), Dom Perignon and Caymus Special Selection (the latter accompanied by our very own fabulous dance to Forever), and Arun's, RG and I have shared quite the culinary journey over the years. And it has continued in SF with feasting on dosa until it hurts at Udupi Palace in the Mission, buying out the farmer's market, Cowgirl creamery and Acme bread, followed by an impromptu picnic in oh-so-charming Sausalito.

It is only appropriate that this post about cheeses is attributed to RG because she is the one who introduced me to the wonderful, exquisite world of French cheeses, like delice de bourgogne, comte, pont l'eveque, and creamuex de bourgogne.

In the Midwest, I fell in love with Wisconsin cheeses, like Pleasant Ridge, Little Darling and Dante, but didn't know too much about California cheeses, other the more popular ones like Cypress Grove's acclaimed Humboldt Fog and Purple Haze. 

When I first moved to California, my Saturday routine was to walk over to the Ferry Building, grab a latte from Blue Bottle coffee and prepare myself for the mobs of people at Cowgirl Creamery.

I sampled many Cowgirl cheeses, like Mt. Tam and Red Hawk, as well as the collection of other local California cheeses, like Cypress Grove's Truffle Tremor and Midnight Moon. 

Below are my tasting notes on some of my favorite local California cheeses, including Cowgirl creamery's mysterious, rare cheese Sir Francis Drake.

Happy Birthday, my dearest RG. I love you millions.

Source: Artisanal
Humboldt Fog, pasteurized goat, California
Mary Keehn at Cypress Grove 

Humboldt fog is a complex goat's milk cheese with a vein of vegetable ash running through the middle of the bright white cheese. The cheese is creamy and melty near the bloomy, white ribbon rind and dense like a fresh, tangy chevre in the center. When you bite into the delightful cheese your palate is hit with pleasant tangy, lemony notes. Humboldt fog is one of my favorite, go-to cheeses and is widely available.

I like to serve humboldt fog with walnut levain bread, honeycomb and pears. I pair Humboldt fog with either an oakey chardonnay, like Far Niente's Oakville Chardonnay, or with a fruit forward Russian River Pinot Noir.

Source: Artisanal
Purple haze, pasteurized goat, California
Mary Keehn at Cypress Grove 

I've reviewed Purple Haze before, but to recap it is a delightfully fresh,white as snow goat's milk cheese dusted with golden fennel pollen and lavender. It is creamy, smooth, tangy, lemony and oh so refreshing.

I like to serve Purple Haze with an arugula salad with lemon and olive oil and pair it with a bright, grassy and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc. 

Source: Cow girl creamery
Truffle tremor, pasteurized goat, California
Mary Keehn at Cypress Grove 

Mary Keehn's newest cheese is Truffle Tremor, A ripened, creamy and lush goat's milk cheese noticeably infused with earthy black truffles from Italy. Specks of black truffle dust the dense interior of the tangy, velvety cheese. Similar to humboldt fog only in that it has a fresh chevre center and is melty and creamy just below the bloomy rind. One of my favorites! 

Some may suggest pairing the cheese with a sparkling wine but personally, I love love love ripe Truffle Tremor paired with a cherry, spiced oak Pinot Noir or a full bodied Cabernet.

Midnight moon,  pasteurized goat, California
Mary Keehn at Cypress Grove 

Midnight moon is a firm, dense goat's milk cheese that is ivory in color and slightly grainy and nutty. It has notes of brown butter and hints of caramel, like gruyere or an aged gouda. You won't believe it is goat's milk!

I loved serving Midnight Moon with figs and pairing it with a fruit forward Cabernet or a fruity, medium intensity Zin, like Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel. If you prefer a white wine, try an oaked Chardonnay.

Source: Cow girl creamery
Mt. Tam, pasteurized cow, California
Cowgirl creamery

Mt. Tam is a wonderful triple cream, silky, buttery and lusciously rich with a mild mellow earthy flavor, slightly salty. The cheese ripens from the outside in so it is softer near the bloomy rind and slightly more firm in the center. You may except the cheese to be more like an oozey brie but it is supposed to be a firm not-so-oozey cheese.  

Personally, I prefer the salty, ooziness of the beloved fromage d'affinois, but Mt. Tam is certainly a noteworthy cheese.

As with most luscious, creamy cheeses, I like to pair with a sparkling wine or a champagne.

Source Reluctant Gourmet
Red hawk, pasteurized cow, California
Cowgirl creamery

Red Hawk is a soft, supple, pungent washed rind triple cream that has a luciously creamy texture. It has intense aromas of earth and mushrooms, but is mellower than you would expect from the pungent smell. This sensuous cheese just screams Northern California Coast. 

I haven't played with pairings for Red Hawk but Janet Fletcher recommends pairing Red Hawk with Gewurztraminer.

Source: Flickr user BudgetBougie
Sir Francis Drake, cow, California
Cowgirl creamery

Sir Francis Drake is a mysterious, rare cheese by Cowgirl creamery. It is hard to locate and the only bit of information I came across said that Sir Frances Drake is a delicious mistake that only appears when something happens with Mt. Tam. It is washed with a dessert wine and sprinkled with a few currants.

Whatever the reason, if you can find this cheese, TRY IT. It has the aroma of salty ocean air, like the Pacific Ocean, and is creamy and luscious like Mt. Tam but not as briny and pungent as Red Hawk.

I was lucky enough to try Sir Francis Drake at Local Mission Eatery. And boy was it wonderful!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Roasted radishes on crostini with bagna cauda


Have you tried roasted radishes yet? Simply delicious. Unlike crisp and pungent raw radishes, roasted radishes are sweet and mellow. They make a wonderful side dish or light snack on crusty bread. Who knew radishes could have two strikingly different personalities like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Lately I seem to regularly get a bunch or two of radishes in my CSA box. Continuing with my research about the nutritional value of things I eat, I recently learned that radishes are rich in asorbic acid, folic acid and potassium and are a good source for Vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, cooper and calcium.

At a dinner party celebrating Spring a couple years ago, I sliced up beautiful French breakfast radishes at the beloved Green City market, bathed them in vegetarian bagna cauda and served with crusty bread. The crisp, raw radishes complemented the pungent, savory bagna cauda.

Now that roasted radishes are appearing all over menus, I pan roasted radishes in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with warm (vegetarian) bagna cauda made of butter, loads of garlic, crushed red pepper, capers and kalamata olives (instead of anchovies). For an appetizer you could spoon the bagna cauda onto crusty toasted bread, arrange radish wedges on top, and spoon additional bagna cauda on top, garnishing with thyme or parsley.

Elegant, while satisfying my craving for savoriness!

Alternatively, try pan roasted radishes in a single layer in olive oil simply seasoned with salt and pepper. Or pan roast with thinly sliced shallots, season with salt and pepper, top with fresh thyme and maybe crumbled French feta. For a slightly sweeter version, pan roast, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Warm red cabbage with balsamic infused currant, feta and spicy pepitas


I got a beautiful head of red cabbage (also known as purple cabbage) in my CSA box. Did you know that red cabbage is even more nutritious than green cabbage as it contains anthocyanins, which likely have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and sulfur compounds, in addition to lots of Vitamin C? And the deep purple reddish hue is a stunning addition to any dinner table.

This particular head of red cabbage was such a vibrant purplish red, almost the color of roasted red beets, that I immediately wanted to contrast it bright white feta cheese, purely from an aesthetic point of view. I quickly sauteed the red cabbage with shallots and garlic, seasoned with sea salt and pepper and tossed it with crumbled, tangy French feta. 

For a textural contrast and to add some spice to the dish, I added spicy toasted pepitas. I simply rubbed a cup of raw pepitas with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and half a teaspoon each of chili powder, red cayenne pepper and ground cumin and toasted in the oven for 5 minutes at 350 degrees.


To counter the salty tangy feta, I added some dried red currants soaked in warmed balsamic vinegar. The result was a slightly crunchy, savory, tangy, spicy and sweet wonderful red cabbage salad. It was a huge hit as a side dish at my vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner and we can't wait to have it again!

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