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Archive for May, 2010

anticipation

I am a little too excited for our weekend trip to write about quiche today, so I’ll leave you with some photos of our hike in Muir Woods.

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We’ll be hiking, exploring, and camping for a full three days in the Lost Coast, which is on the far northern coast of California. We’re starting out early tomorrow morning for our five and a half hour drive. Yippee! Can’t wait to tell you more about it when we get back.

Hope you have a happy Memorial Day weekend!

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I don’t recall even knowing about millet until very recently, when my aunt tried to tell me about a certain grain that the Chinese like to use for porridge. We had to use a Chinese-English dictionary to figure out that she was talking about millet. (Its name in Chinese literally translates to “small grain.”) Shortly after this conversation, the prevalence of millet was revealed to me. While browsing through some Chinese snacks at the supermarket, I found that millet was a main ingredient for some of them. Who knew?

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Millet was a staple grain in northern China long before rice became popular. These days, millet is primarily grown and consumed in India and Africa. Millet is quite a versatile grain. It is used to make breads and porridges, and has about the same protein content as wheat. With its revival here in the states, it has also found its way into baked goods. Like these muffins here.

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I made these blueberry muffins for a simple Mother’s Day brunch a couple weeks back, served alongside fresh fruit, broiled shrimp on skewers, and quiche (which I’ll be sharing with you next). While millet is not the main ingredient in these muffins, it is certainly a star. I could not suppress the grin on my face that grew bigger and bigger as I worked my way through my first muffin, crunching down on the nutty millet embedded within.

Try it. I think you’ll like it.

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Blueberry Millet Muffins

Makes 12. Adapted from a recipe for blueberry muffins here

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted millet
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup milk

1. Toast millet by placing 1/2 cup millet in a shallow pan over medium heat. Occasionally move and stir millet until you hear popping sounds and smell a nutty aroma. Set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin pan with squares of parchment paper or muffin liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Working over the bowl, toss blueberries in a fine sieve with about 1 1/2 teaspoons flour mixture to lightly coat. (If you are using frozen blueberries, like I did, there is no need to thaw them. Blueberries can be coated with flour mixture directly out of the freezer.) Set aside the flour mixture and the blueberries. Mix cooled, toasted millet thoroughly into the flour mixture.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a handheld mixer, beat butter and 1 cup sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. Mix in vanilla and lemon zest.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add reserved flour mixture, beating until just combined. Add milk, beating until just combined. Do not overmix. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the blueberries. Divide batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups.
4. Bake, rotating pan halfway though, until muffins are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of one muffin comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. (With frozen blueberries, the blueberries may still be cold after the muffins come out of the oven. Allow for muffins to come to room temperature if you want to bite into room temperature blueberries.)

Note: Muffins can be stored for several days in the fridge in an airtight container, or even at room temperature. For best enjoyment, reheat muffins in the oven before consuming.

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Some English shelling peas arrested my attention at the farmers’ market the other day, and I knew that I had bring some home with me. Sweet, sweet peas! They’re good to eat raw, and they’re good to eat cooked. They’re also fun to shell. You pop open their pods, and with a swift rake of your fingers, the cutest balls in the perfect shade of chartreuse come plummeting down into the catching bowl.

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pea family!

I wanted to use the peas in a risotto, so I bought several artichokes to go along with the peas. Artichokes would impart an earthy flavor to contrast the sweetness of the peas, and also add texture to the risotto. Unlike the peas, artichokes are not much fun to prepare. You end up hacking away at most of the artichoke, saving only the heart and few tender parts of the leaves and stem, but all the effort involved is worth it in the end.

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We ate this risotto with broiled wild salmon marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. The risotto was delicate, bright, and so pleasing that I heaped seconds onto my plate.

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Pea and Artichoke Risotto
Serves 4 as a main dish

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion or 1/2 large onion, chopped
1-1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups water, boiled in a pot and kept at a simmer
4 smallish to medium-sized trimmed artichokes, cut into bite-size pieces (on how to trim artichokes, see here)
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 large cup shelled peas (equal to about a pound of unshelled peas)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a separate pot, boil 6 cups of water and bring to a low simmer. In a larger pot or deep pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. When butter has completely melted, throw in the minced garlic. After garlic sizzles for a short time, add the chopped onion and cook until translucent. The onion and garlic should be shimmering in oil at this point, but if not, you can add a little more olive oil. Add the prepared artichokes and cook for about 5 minutes. (Season with a little bit of salt and pepper if you wish.) Stir in the rice, and cook for one minute before adding the white wine. While stirring, continue cooking the rice until the wine has evaporated. Ladle 1-1/2 simmering water into pot, cooking risotto until liquid is absorbed. Add more water, one cup at a time, each time after the liquid has been absorbed. Remember also to add lemon zest. Stir often while doing this, and cook until rice is just tender and the risotto is creamy. This should take around 20 minutes. In pot with simmering water, add enough water to cook the peas in, and bring to a boil. Add peas and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes and drain before adding to risotto. Stir in grated Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

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It was J’s birthday on Thursday. I took him out for some grilled sausages and beer. You might be thinking, “Now that’s a great pair, sausage and beer. There’s probably not a finer duo.” Well, stick around for dessert.

I made him a gigantic cake, too.

J loves chocolate. He also loves coffee. So, I brought his two loves together by making him a chocolate-coffee layer cake.

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I’ve made this chocolate layer cake several times before. The cake layers are dense, rich, and moist. It’s chocolate upon chocolate, with a touch of coffee to add depth. Chocolate ganache enrobes the cake, adding to its decadence. This time around, I made a variation of the cake by sandwiching coffee mousse between its layers.

Making this cake takes a little bit of efficiency if you don’t want to spend all day on it. After placing the cake layers into the oven to bake, you can begin preparing the coffee mousse. While you wait for the cake layers to cool and for the coffee mousse to firm up in the fridge, you can whip up the chocolate ganache. When all the elements are ready, bring them together to create your own chocolate and coffee masterpiece. This recipe makes a mountain of a cake, so be sure to have many cake-hungry mouths around when you’re done.

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
adapted from here

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cake layers

two 10- by 2-inch round cake pans (I used 9-inch pans, so my cakes were much taller)
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
1-1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process) – Here, I differed from the original recipe. I think it is more important to use a high quality cocoa powder than 3 oz of high quality chocolate, since the cocoa powder makes up most of the chocolate in the cake layers.
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1-1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 300°F. and butter the bottom and sides of the pans. Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper and butter the paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

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coffee mousse
adapted from here

1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp concentrated coffee (I used a French press, adding more coffee grounds than I normally would. I also included 1-2 tsp of the post-brew coffee grounds for taste and for visual appeal)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream

In a small saucepan sprinkle the gelatin over the coffee/coffee grounds and let it soften for 2 minutes. Add the milk and the heat the mixture over moderate heat while stirring. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and set the pan in a bowl of ice and cold water, stirring the mixture every few minutes until it is thick and cold. In a small bowl beat the cream until it just holds stiff peaks and fold the coffee mixture into it gently but thoroughly. Chill until set and spread onto bottom cake layer.
Note: This made a thin layer of mousse, which was perfect for a two-layer cake. Having more mousse would have caused it to leak out of the cake layers. But if you wish for more mousse, I would double the recipe and split the cakes into a total of four layers (it would help to freeze the cakes beforehand), spreading the mousse in between each layer.

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ganache frosting

1 pound bittersweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Finely chop chocolate. In a 1-1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency).

Spread frosting over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

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land’s end

Some photos from a recent trip to Land’s End, a hiking trail located within the city.

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Being where the land meets the sea always takes my breath away.

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In case you’re wondering, that is the title of a sweet, little film we saw about a month ago. It’s a short film that was featured in this year’s San Francisco Women’s Film Festival, created by a friend of a friend. Check it out.

The title of the film alone sold me. The heroine in the film is named Gnocchi Bolognese. Her mother named her after a signature dish that her father made as a chef, but sadly, her father does not even know that Gnocchi exists.

There’s a funny dream sequence where Gnocchi imagines being eaten alive as gnocchi. Scary thought, but it didn’t keep me from craving a dish of gnocchi bolognese.

This was a gnocchi-making first for me. A pretty successful first, I think. This potato gnocchi doesn’t sit like lead in your stomach, like most gnocchi’s tend to do. On the contrary, these little guys are on the feathery side, and they found a perfect home in a substantial meaty sauce. We were able to eat quite a few of them.

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Gnocchi Bolognese (serves 6)
adapted from here

potato gnocchi

2-1/2 pounds large baking potatoes
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake potatoes at 400° for 1 1/2 hours or until done; cool slightly. (For a faster method, I boiled the potatoes by putting potatoes into cold water and bringing it to a boil, then lowering the heat to a simmer. If you do it this way, be sure to keep an eye on the potatoes so that you take them out when they’re tender. I overcooked my potatoes, and the skins broke, adding a lot of moisture to the dough.) Cut each potato in half lengthwise; scoop out pulp. Discard skins. Mash pulp. Place 4 cups mashed potatoes in a large bowl, reserving remaining mashed potatoes for another use. (I also pushed my mashed potatoes through a sieve/strainer; using a potato ricer would be easier, if you have one.) Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and egg yolks to 4 cups mashed potatoes, and stir to combine. Knead until smooth (about 2 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky).

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Note: As I mentioned above, my dough was extra sticky due to the added moisture from boiling the potatoes. I didn’t know when to stop adding flour at this point, and decided to just roll the dough into ropes even when it still felt very sticky. I had little to worry about, though, as the floured surface prevented any sticking from happening. The less flour you end up adding, the lighter your gnocchi will be. Even with the extra flour I added, my gnocchi was surprisingly light and fluffy.

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Divide dough into 6 portions. Shape each portion into a 10-inch-long rope. Cut each rope into 10 (1-inch) pieces; roll each piece into a ball (I forgot this step, so my gnocchi look a bit wonky). Working with one dough piece at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), using your thumb or index finger, roll dough piece down the tines of a lightly floured fork (gnocchi will have ridges on one side and an indentation on the other). Place gnocchi on a lightly floured baking sheet. If you’re unsure about how to roll the dough pieces down a fork, you can view this video here.

sauce

1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 lb beef stew meat, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 oz pancetta cubes (I got mine from Trader Joe’s)
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/3 cup dried chopped porcini mushrooms (about 3/8 ounce)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp dried thyme

To prepare sauce, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook 3 minutes, browning on all sides and adding pancetta 1 minute into cooking. Remove meat from pan, and cool slightly. Finely chop meat.

Heat pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, porcini, and garlic cloves; cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped meat, milk, 3/4 teaspoon salt, tomatoes, and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour. Uncover and cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in parsley and thyme; cook 15 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf.

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putting it together

Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add gnocchi in batches, and one at a time so that you don’t lower the temperature of the water too much. Add enough gnocchi depending on how many you want to serve; cook 3 minutes or until done (gnocchi will rise to the surface). Take care not to overcook the gnocchi. Remove cooked gnocchi with a slotted spoon; place in the sauce to keep cooked gnocchi warm while you continue to cook the rest of the gnocchi. Serve immediately, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese if you wish. If needed, you can freeze any uncooked leftover gnocchi.

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Hmm. I think I see a pattern here.

I must really love lemons.

I was waffling between making a lemon meringue pie or a lemon cake for dessert one day, and thought to myself, “Why not have both? Surely, there must be such a thing as lemon meringue cake.” And it looks like I was right.

Courtesy of Nigella Lawson, I present to you the lemon meringue cake.

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This cake’s got personality. It’s upside-down, it’s right-side-up. It billows like a cloud and oozes with delight. At its surface are turbulent waves; at its center, sunshine.

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You start by making two lemon cake layers, spread thin onto the bottom of each lined cake pan. Then, you top the layer off with a fluffy meringue, one decorated with peaks and one without. Bake. After these meringue cakes are cool and ready, turn the undecorated layer up on its head, onto the cake platter. Slather on some lemon curd (see lemon curd recipe from a previous post), and then some whipped cream. Top with remaining meringue cake. What you have now is pure whimsy and deliciousness, crisp at the edges.

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Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Meringue Cake
adapted from here (measuring units converted)

1/2 cup (1 stick) soft unsalted butter (left to soften at room temperature)
4 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cup granulated sugar (original recipe calls for caster sugar, which is a finer sugar)
3/4 cup flour
1-3/4 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
zest of 1 lemon
4 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp milk
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 cup whipping cream (I only had 1/2 cup on hand, so ended up with less whipped cream than desired)
2/3 cup quality lemon curd

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line and butter two 8 to 9 inch cake pans.
2. Whisk egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar, butter, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and lemon zest. Mix in the lemon juice and milk.
4. Divide the mixture between the prepared pans. You will think you don’t even have enough to cover the bottom of the tins, but don’t panic. Spread calmly with a rubber spatula until smooth.
5. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until peaks form and then slowly whisk in remaining 1 cup of sugar. Divide the beaten whites between the two sponge-filled tins, pouring or, more accurately, spreading the meringue straight on top of the cake batter.
6. Smooth one flat with a spatula, and with the back of a spoon, peak the other and sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the peaks. Put the pans into the oven for 20–25 minutes.
7. With a cake-tester, pierce the cake that has the flat meringue topping to check it’s cooked all through. (It will have risen now but will fall back flattish later.) No sponge mixture should stick to the tester. Remove both cakes to a wire rack and let them cool completely in their pans.
8. Unmold the flat-topped one on to a cake stand or plate, meringue side down.
9. Beat the whipping cream until thick but not stiff and set aside. Spread lemon curd onto the flat sponge surface of the first (upside-down) cake, and then spread whipped cream over the curd. Top with the remaining cake, with peaked meringue facing up.

Note: This cake is best eaten the same day. The meringue flattens out over time, and tends to get a little soggy.

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