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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Onwards and Upwards!

Hey everyone,

My blog has a new home! I'll try to get an auto-redirect going, but in the meantime, just click over to

It's pretty exciting!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cori's Guacamole

"Cori," I called the other night through a mouth full of chips and guacamole, "we're going on a diet this summer."

"Um, ok," came the skeptical reply. (I'm not really the dieting type.)

"An all-guacamole, all-the-time diet," I finished.

"Ok!" Cori said happily. (She's not really the dieting type either.)

Cary and I first had Cori's guacamole a few summers ago when we all lived together in a different house with additional housemates, including one from Nogales, Arizona. This guy was having a bunch of Latino friends over for an asado, or Mexican-style barbeque.

"I make good guacamole," Cori volunteered.

The rest of us, all from the Southwest or Southern California, were most incredulous. This girl from New York probably had never even tasted good guacamole, let alone made it. Did they even have avocadoes on the East Coast?

And then we tasted it. And it was the best guacamole any of us had ever had.

The funny part is that if she had told us her secret ingredient, we might never have let her make it for us in the first place, and that would have been very sad indeed. So take our word for it - this guacamole is delicious and incredibly addicting, traditional or not.

Cori's Crackamole
This is more of a method than a recipe - start with these proportions and then add more of whatever you think it needs to make it delicious. That means have more of each thing on hand than you need (i.e., 4 avocadoes instead of just 3) in case you need extras.

3 ripe avocadoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 of a white or red onion, minced
A large pinch of Kosher salt
Juice from 1/2 a large or 1 small lime
A splash of balsamic vinegar (seriously! Just try it!)

Mash avocadoes together with a fork in a bowl. Add onion, salt, lime juice, and vinegar and stir well. Taste (copiously) and add more of whatever it needs - onions if it needs more sharpness, salt if it's too bland, lime juice if it needs to be brightened up or vinegar if it needs more sourness, another quarter of an avocado if the other four flavors are too strong.

Eat on chips, chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, rice, in burritos or tacos, on baby carrots, bell pepper slices, spoons, fingers, or with anything else that sounds good.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cream of Asparagus Soup

It's asparagus time here in California. Farmer's markets and Whole Foods stores stock up on the dusky green bundles, with a few white ones or purple ones thrown in for good measure.

Asparagus is great roasted or sauteed with ricotta gnocchi or tossed into a chowder, but what about a soup that showcases asparagus on its own?

I turned to Simply Recipes for a great creamy asparagus soup. With some crusty bread, the springtime flavor of asparagus shone through despite the chilly March weather.

I'm not sure it's possible to make this soup look appetizing. You'll just have to
admire the roses instead and take my word for its deliciousness.

Cream of Asparagus Soup
Barely adapted from Simply Recipes

2 lbs asparagus
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Leaves of 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Slice asparagus into thin rounds, discarding the woody ends and reserving the tips for garnish.

Saute onion in butter over medium heat, until softened. Add in asparagus slices, plus salt and pepper. Saute, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add broth and thyme and simmer, uncovered, until asparagus is tender, about 20 minutes.

Blend soup with an immersion blender or in a normal blender in batches, being careful not to burn yourself. Add back to pan and add cream and lemon juice. Taste, adding more cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper if necessary.

Garnish with asparagus tips - the heat of the soup is enough to cook them slightly. Serve with fresh bread.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fat Pony Cake

Some occasions just require a fat pony cake.

Like when a pony-loving friend gallivants off to Europe for three months and you have a going-away party for her. Clearly, a normal cake won't do in this instance.

So instead, Cori and I baked two 9-inch chocolate cakes, cut out the shape of a fat pony,

(snacked on the scraps),

made some delicious chocolate frosting,

kneaded together some marshmallow fondant (Ever had gross real fondant? This tastes like a giant spreadable marshmallow. So much better!),

placed it over the pony cake,

and then added details like grey fat pony hooves,

a fat pony tail tied for polo,

and a fat pony face, complete with fat pony ears, eyes, roached mane, forelock, and smile.

(The smile is key. It makes everyone else smile too. Or maybe that's just the chocolate cake.)

Fat Pony Cake

For the cake
(Devil's Food Cake from the Williams-Sonoma Dessert cookbook)

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature (I made buttermilk by adding about a teaspoon of lemon juice to a measuring cup, then filling it up with milk to the 1 1/2-cup-line and letting it sit for 5 minutes or so to sour)

Preheat the oven to 350. Line two 9-inch cake pans (I used springform pans, but normal pans would work too) with parchment paper. Grease the paper and the sides of the pan and dust with flour.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another large bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until smooth. (Lazy? I've made this cake with melted butter and it comes out just as delicious, as far as I can tell.) Gradually add the brown sugar and continue beating until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches alternately with the buttermilk in 2 batches, mixing on low after each addition.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans and spread it out evenly. Tap the pans gently on the counter to pop any air bubbles.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Let cool for at least 15 minutes, then run a small knife around the inside of the pans to loosen the layers. Invert onto a rack and lift off the pans, then carefully peel off the parchment paper. Let the layers cool completely before frosting.

Awesome, Barely Sweet Chocolate Frosting
First four ingredients (and accompanying directions) from the Fudge Frosting that accompanies the above cake recipe; sugar and cocoa powder technique all mine (hubris much?)

Note: this is a half-recipe, since we weren't filling a layer cake. Want a round layer cake instead of a fat pony cake? (Why would you?) Double the recipe.

6 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used 60% cacao)
7/8 cup heavy cream
1/4 sour cream
Pinch of salt
Powdered sugar, to taste (have at least 2 cups on hand)
Unsweetened cocoa powder, to taste (have at least 1 cup on hand)

In a double boiler or a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate with the cream. Whisk until blended and let cool slightly.

Add the sour cream and salt and stir.

Using beaters, stir in a cup of powdered sugar until totally incorporated.

At this point, you get to start being chef-y. If the frosting is too thin to spread, add a little more powdered sugar. Taste it. If it's too sweet, add some cocoa powder and beat well. Taste again (your cake scraps can come in handy here). Keep adding powdered sugar and/or cocoa powder a little at a time until you get to the desired consistency (something just runnier than you'll want to spread on the cake, since it will firm up as it cools) and taste (the unsweetened cocoa powder acts as an anti-sugar, deepening the chocolate flavor and cutting the sweetness. It is awesome).

Cover bowl of frosting with saran wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes, or until at a spreadable consistency.

Did you let it chill too long and now it is too firm to spread? Just let it sit on the counter for a few minutes to warm up, then re-beat to soften up a bit.

Marshmallow Fondant
2 lbs mini marshmallows
1 lb powdered sugar, plus more if needed

(This recipe makes a ton of fondant - you may be able to halve it, or just have leftover fondant for your next fat pony baking endeavor.)

Melt the mini marshmallows in a microwave-safe bowl for a few minutes. Let cool a bit and then add powdered sugar. Knead together until a smooth dough forms (this took Cori about 30 minutes - a good workout!). You should be able to leave fingerprints in the dough by the time it is done - keep adding sugar if you can't get it sufficiently solid.

To Assemble the Fat Pony Cake
Note: wet fondant is sticky. If you specifically want to attach two pieces of fondant together (like sticking a fat pony forelock on a fat pony head), moisten the fondant. If you need to clean some frosting off the fondant, use a damp paper towel, then immediately dry the fondant with a dry paper towel. Otherwise, keep your fingers and utensils dry!

Cut one 9-inch cake into a cute pony head (thanks for the template, Cori's mom!), a cute pony tail, and two stubby little fat pony legs. Aww.

Frost entire cake, including sides. Clean up cake board or other surface to make the fondant part easier (we didn't do this and were sorry).

Roll out fondant on a cornstarched cutting board or counter, preferably to a size that will cover the entire cake. We had to overlap other pieces of fondant in a few places, which looks far less professional.

Carefully lay the fondant over the frosted cake. With fingertips, push fondant down and slightly under the edges of the cake. Use a sharp knife to cut away any excess fondant, then use the knife tip to push the fondant under the edge of the cake. (Be careful here, as dark frosting just loves getting on your white fondant).

Using gel colors (we love the Wilton ones) and a toothpick, draw eyes, nose, mane, and tail onto the fondant. You can cut out other small pieces of fondant (like the forelock) and even color them with more Wilton gel colors (like the hooves - just run your toothpick through the gel color and then through the fondant, and knead into the fondant. Your hands may be a different color for a day or two, though it may be a small price to pay for adorableness), then adhere them (see note above) to the base fondant.

(Carefully!) deliver to friend. Enjoy!

Miss Gamo, our lovely, adorably chubby model.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kale and Pancetta Barley Risotto

Looking for something other than corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day this year? Try this Barley Risotto I cooked up for the Los Altos Town Crier last year.

St. Patrick’s Day is a cause for revelry throughout the nation. People without a single drop of Irish blood love the excuse to wear green, pinch each other, and drink Guinness. And who can blame them?

Food served at St. Patrick’s Day parties, however, is generally less exciting. Verdant food dyes can be fun for kids, but lose their charm after the third or fourth glass of green milk or plate of green cookies. Traditional Irish recipes, while hearty in their simplicity, are often uninspiring to palates used to exciting spices and healthier fare.

With a little work, however, an Irish classic can be transformed into a modern gourmet dish – and a greener one, at that.

Cabbage doesn't have to be boring.

Traditional food?

If you ask Americans to list some traditional Irish recipes, they may rattle off colcannon, Irish soda bread, and anything involving potatoes.

Corned beef and cabbage, however, is probably the meal most associated with St. Patrick’s Day and Irish cuisine. This is somewhat unfortunate, since the resulting dish generally contains bland beef and limp cabbage. Though some supermarkets do sell corned beef with a flavor packet, and one could always add potatoes and onions, most people associate the dish – and the rest of Irish cooking – with flavorlessness and boredom.

Corned beef and cabbage, despite protestations to the contrary, is also not traditionally Irish. Beef was expensive, often prohibitively, in Ireland until relatively recently, so pork was the meat of choice. Cabbage boiled with bacon was probably the original recipe, which was then changed to the dish we know today by early Irish settlers in America who were celebrating the abundance of our country along with their own heritage.

Spicing it up

One way to spice things up while still retaining traditional Irish roots is to use the essential ingredients in another form - a kind of Irish fusion.

A great riff on bland corned beef and cabbage is a kale and pancetta barley risotto. Lacinato or dinosaur kale, one of the closest modern species to the wild cabbage that Irish peasants would have eaten hundreds of years ago, is a dusky green beauty with a sweeter taste than regular kale.

To further emphasize the Irish connection, make your risotto with pearl barley, a traditional Irish grain, rather than the usual Arborio rice. The resulting dish has a fuller texture than typical risottos, and adding pancetta and Italian cheeses turns the meal into a masterpiece of Irish-Italian fusion. Serve in a leaf of green cabbage for the prettiest presentation.

Going green

There are other ways to go green at mealtimes. The health benefits of adding green leafy vegetables to your diet are undeniable. Kale is rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, and beta carotene, and is thought to have cancer-fighting properties.

Fresh green vegetables are perfect candidates for purchase from local farmers' markets. Buying vegetables through a Community Supported Agriculture program is another great way to eat sustainably.

Veggies and staples like barley are also relatively inexpensive, especially if you are assembling your St. Patrick’s Day feast at home rather than heading to your local Irish pub. The pancetta is a little pricier, but you could go the way of the historical Irish peasantry and use regular bacon.

Given the economic climate, it’s always a good thing if you can save a few dollars for your mortgage payment – or another round of Guinness.

Kale and Pancetta Barley Risotto

6 cups vegetable broth
3 oz pancetta, diced
2 Tbsp butter or oil
1 yellow onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1 head lacinato or dinosaur kale, rinsed, destemmed, and chopped
1 ½ cups pearl barley
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tbsp mascarpone cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Cabbage leaves (optional)

1. Place vegetable broth over medium high heat and regulate temperature throughout so it remains very hot but not quite boiling.

2. Sauté pancetta in skillet over high heat until crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

3.Heat butter or oil in dutch oven, sturdy stock pot, or large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic until onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add kale and sauté until cooked down and wilted, about 5 more minutes.

4. Add barley and sauté until opaque, about 3 minutes.

5. Add the pancetta back in.

6. Add vegetable broth ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly and waiting to add more until all the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding broth until barley is cooked to taste. The resulting texture should be chewy but not hard.

7. Remove from heat. Add parmesan and mascarpone cheeses and stir to coat.

8. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, in cabbage leaves if desired.

Makes four generous servings.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ricotta Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables

I've never made potato gnocchi. But ricotta gnocchi, sweet potato gnocchi, and butternut squash gnocchi are delicious.

(I'm trying to see how many different kinds of gnocchi I can make before caving and making potato ones - you know, real gnocchi - just to be difficult.)

Rather than requiring precooking and ricing and other annoying steps, these ricotta gnocchi just require adding flour to a container of ricotta and mixing until the consistency feels right. Then you make little gnocchi logs, cut them into individual gnocchi, and - since we're being lazy anyway - skip the boiling water and just pan-fry them in butter with a bunch of seasonal veggies.

Don't like ricotta? These really don't taste like ricotta once you stir flour and herbs into them. They're just fluffy balls of deliciousness.

Try them, and you'll see why I'm not too driven to make "real" gnocchi.

Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables
Ricotta Gnocchi adapted from Steamy Kitchen, who provides fantastic step-by-step photos, and Spring Vegetables inspired by Smitten Kitchen

2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
1 1/2 to 2 cups all purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons herbs - I used dried tarragon, thyme, basil, and oregano
2 tablespoons butter
Your choice of seasonal vegetables (I used 1 bunch of chopped lacinato kale, 1 chopped leek, 1 bunch asparagus sliced thinly on the diagonal, about 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, 1 cup frozen corn kernels, and 1 cup frozen peas)

1. Combine ricotta, zest, salt, and herbs in large bowl. Mix well. Add 1 cup flour. Knead well, and add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a dough that you can shape with your hands.

2. Roll gnocchi into long logs, each about an inch in diameter. Cut each log into sections about an inch long.

3. Chop your veggies into bite-sized pieces.

4. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and saute the gnocchi in a single layer, in multiple batches if necessary.

5. Move the gnocchi to a plate and saute your vegetables, starting with the ones that will need the longest saute times. I sauteed my leeks for a few minutes before adding the asparagus, then the kale. Then I added the gnocchi back in along with the tomatoes, corn, and peas, just to warm everything up before serving.