butter

Steven’s co-worker owns a rental property in the Central Valley. The small apartment building sits on a big chunk of land which her husband planted with fruit trees. A few months ago she gave us bags and bags of citrus. Now that we’re nearly in summer, we’ve entered the stone fruit season. Thus far, she’s given us some cherries, plums, apricots. I don’t even know if cherries qualify as stone fruit. Are they berries? Anyway over the past week we got two bags of sour plums from her garden. The first batch I devoured in no time after dinner. Yum! The second one Steven wanted me to bake into something. So, ta-da: sour plum upside-down cake.

sour plum upside-down cake

sour plum upside-down cake

Sour plums tend to be a little sweet in the middle but sour near the skin and close to the pit. I love taking a bite of a plum and tasting all these flavors. Well with this cake, despite the sugar caramel coating the bottom of the pan, the sour flavor came out in FULL! We loved it: perfect with some tea or a cuppa coffee. We ate this entire cake in a couple of days for breakfast.

sour plum upside-down cake

~2 lbs sour plums, skin on, pitted
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
1 cup soy or almond milk
½ cup canola oil
2 tbsp butter
Cast iron pan (12 inches diameter, 2 inches deep)

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Add one cup of sugar along with one tablespoon of water to cast iron pan over medium heat on your stovetop. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar melts and acquires a nice caramel color. If some sugar sticks to the wooden spoon scrape it off and let it melt until all lumps are gone. Spread the caramel all over the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat to cool down if caramel starts to burn. You just want a caramel color, not a smoking ruin. Cooking to long will make the flavor bitter. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, put remainder of the sugar, then eggs, salt and vanilla. Whisk it to combine. Add oil, soy milk, flour and whisk it again to combine. Lastly incorporate baking powder into the batter.

At this point, although still warm your caramel may be hardened and stuck to the bottom of the cast iron pan. Worry not! Spread the butter until all melted over caramel and sides of the pan. Add sour plum, along with juices if any and spread the fruit evenly over the bottom of the pan. Gently top with the batter. Bake about 35 minutes. Check for doneness via inserting a tooth pick in the center. If it comes out clean then baking is done, if not then you know what you have to do.

{ 1 comment }

simple Israeli couscous finished with Maldon salt

simple Israeli couscous finished with Maldon salt

To me Israeli couscous looks like and almost has the same texture as fish eggs. Obviously this is a pasta variety but somehow it seems so different compared to spaghetti and her friends. I love it. This recipe is a snap as an elegant side dish. We had it with salt cod brandade. Mmmmm!

The Maldon salt isn’t strictly necessary but somehow the huge flakes of the stuff crunching in your mouth as you devour the chewy couscous are a match made in heaven.

simple Israeli couscous finished with Maldon salt

2 cups uncooked Israeli couscous
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
2 tbsp butter
Sea salt
Maldon salt to finish
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a big pot with water to a boil. Add a bit of salt. Cook couscous for about 4 minutes or until pearls are still al dente. Drain.

Heat up non-stick pan on stove top, add one table spoon of olive oil and garlic and cook just until garlic is aromatic. Add couscous and toss it around to coat. Add garlic and onion powders, Maldon salt, the remainder of the olive oil and butter and toss again. Immediately remove from heat and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and a bit more Maldon salt.

{ 3 comments }

I know I should have bought a smaller container of Greek yogurt in the first place…

We don’t normally eat yogurt by itself. In fact, we usually only have it at home when a recipe calls for it. Like Ottolenghi’s Greek yogurt baba ghanoush. But that scrumptious dish only required two tablespoons. What to do with the rest??

Blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes, of course!

blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

The day before I made these pancakes NPR’s Morning Edition aired a special report on Smitten Kitchen during our morning breakfast ritual. Not about pancakes, the story spoke about how that now famous blogger turns out beautiful dishes in her tiny Manhattan kitchen (That sounds so familiar! Do you think that she got the idea from Julie Powell? Just a thought…)

Obviously, Deb Perelman was also promoting her new cookbook over the radio. Congratulations, Deb! She prepared latkes for Lynn Neary during the story—so not pancakes exactly but bear with me here. The following day I googled blueberry yogurt pancakes and one of Deb’s entries came up first.

So influenced by the morning news and Google’s high ranking, I decided to give the recipe a try. I didn’t have all the ingredients that she calls for. Here’s my adapted version of Smitten Kitchen’s dish.

blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

1 large egg plus one egg white
1 cup plain, full-fat yogurt
2 to 4 tablespoons soy milk
3 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cup (62 grams) whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed
Some butter to grease the skillet

Sift together sugar, salt, flour, baking powder and set aside. In a separate bowl add egg, egg white, soy milk, lemon zest, vanilla extract. Whisk to combine then whisk in yogurt. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Add a bit more soy milk if batter seems too thick.

Place two non-stick skillets on stovetop over medium. Melt a bit of butter in each pan. Add one small ladle full of batter to each pan and cook for about 3-4 minutes on one side, sprinkle some blueberries on top, flip and cook for about 3 minutes more on other side. Continue in that way until batter used up.

Serve with butter, maple syrup and a good cup of freshly brewed black coffee.

{ 3 comments }

Sometimes the most memorable dining experiences are when you cook with friends. Dinner yesterday was a treat: our friend, John, and I made it together. This delicious shiitake mushroom on toast was his contribution. I was mentally taking notes while watching him preparing it. The dish came together in almost no time and it tasted so good that we ate it all just as fast, obviously with sips of red wine and lots of laughs. Most of the ingredients were grown or made locally, so it was all super fresh.

Shiitake mushrooms & fromage blanc on toast

Shiitake mushrooms & fromage blanc on toast

Shiitake mushrooms & fromage blanc on toast

6 slices of rustic country loaf
1 lb shiitake mushrooms, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 shallot, minced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp Marsala wine
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
½ cup container fromage blanc (ours from Cowgirl Creamery)
1 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped fine

Turn broiler on and position rack close to coils.

Place a non stick skillet on stove top, bring temperature to medium high, and add olive oil, shallot, garlic and cook until translucent. Toss in chopped shiitake and continue cooking for another minute or so. Add Marsala wine and stir until all absorbed, sprinkle with salt and pepper, add butter and set aside.

Place bread slices on a baking tray and lightly toast them in the oven, about 2 minutes. Remove spread cheese evenly on each slice. Return to the oven and toast until edges of bread have become brown and cheese starts to bubble. Remove from oven, top with sautéed mushrooms and sprinkle with parsley.

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This is my first time ever cooking rhubarb. I have eaten it before of course. Steven made a beautiful rhubarb streusel cake last year. His recipe used rhubarb with very red stalks. At the time I didn’t think much of it. The stalks are always red, no?

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

We inherited a rhubarb plant in our new garden plot. The leaves are enormous and so are the stalks. We waited and waited for them to turn red but they never did. They only sort of reddened at the base of the stalk. I thought that they looked ready but what’s up with that color?

Last week I decided to harvest some of the stalks still ‘green’ just to give them a try. Since everyone knows that rhubarb can be poisonous, I read up on it. Turns out that there are several types and that the green ones with red at the base of the stalks is a traditional variety and are fully mature and ready for harvest. Hooray!

my picked over rhubarb plant

my picked over rhubarb plant

rhubarb from my community garden plot

rhubarb from my community garden plot

Sadly, that same informative site recommends refraining from harvesting after the end of Spring to give the plant time to recover. So this is it for this year. Those jams and chutneys will have to wait till 2013.

This recipe comes from rhubarb-info. It is a very informative site. Some more interesting facts about Rhubarb can be read here. I’ve changed the flour types, oil, nuts and the amount of rhubarb.

I love the combo sweet and sour rhubarb flavor. It goes perfectly with a good cup of coffee.

rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

~ 2-3 cups ripe rhubarb stalks, cut into chunks
1½ cups brown sugar
2/3 cup almond oil (or other neutral oil such as canola)
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1½ cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup of mixed broken almonds and walnuts
1½ tbsp butter at room temperature
¼ cup coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 13”x9” Pyrex glass dish.

Whisk together brown sugar, egg and oil. Add salt, buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla and flours. Continue mixing to incorporate. Fold rhubarb and nuts into batter. Transfer batter to baking dish and spread evenly.

Mix sugar and semi-soft butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until bread passes the toothpick test.

Cool and serve.

{ 5 comments }

Polenta is a popular staple back home in Brazil. I grew up eating lots of it and never got bored. My mother cooked it on her fire wood stove in an iron pan. It had to cook forever! So she would use a wooden spoon to stir it occasionally while she prepared other delicious dishes at the same time. Wood fires are tricky and you can’t always get excellent temperature control. Occasionally the polenta would burn a bit at the bottom. That was the part I liked the most. That burned crust had a singular smoky flavor whose memory makes my mouth water. Mom didn’t like it, despite everyone praising it to the skies. She was a perfectionist in the kitchen.

shiitake mushroom polenta with truffle salt

shiitake mushroom polenta with truffle salt

my polenta and truffle salt--thanks for that Devaki!

my polenta and truffle salt--thanks for that Devaki!

My mother made her polenta in one of two ways. Both started with just corn, salt and water. For the first variation, she’d cover it with a nice tomato sauce. Alternatively, she’d let it harden then cut it into finger-sized pieces which she’d fry in hot oil. Sometimes day old polenta would appear for our breakfast too. Delish!

Yotam Ottolenghi in Plenty tells the story of his dad making polenta for him while growing up which reminded me of my own childhood. So this dish is in the spirit of Ottolenghi’s father and my mother. I’ve modified his recipe mostly because I didn’t have all the ingredients. And of course I made the polenta mom’s way (on an electric stove if you were wondering).

shiitake mushroom polenta with truffle salt

6½ cups vegetable broth*
2 cups yellow corn grits (I used organic Bob’s Red Mill)
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup 6 month aged Manchego cheese, sliced thinly
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt
2½ cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, halved with stems if soft enough
Truffle salt
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped chives
3 cloves garlic, minced

*for the broth:

1 carrot
2 shallots
1 stalk celery

Begin by making the broth. Fill a pot with 8-10 cups of water, add celery, carrot and shallot, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard solids.

Add 6 and ½ cups veggie broth to a heavy bottomed pan and bring it to a boil. Add salt, gradually stir in corn grits. Reduce temperature to medium low and cook for 30 minutes. You need to stir it frequently to prevent sticking. A whisk does this job fairly well.

Ten minutes before polenta is ready turn the broiler on and prepare the mushrooms. Heat a large skillet on high. I did mine in two batches. Add ½ of the olive oil. Once it becomes aromatic, toss in half of the mushrooms and sauté them until slightly caramelized on the cut side. Stir to cook evenly. In the last minute, add ½ of the garlic. Toss together with mushrooms and just cook long enough for raw aromas to dissipate. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm. Repeat process with the second batch.

At this point polenta should be ready. Turn heat off. Add butter and Parmegiano-Reggiano. Stir. Add a bit more kosher salt if needed. Pour into a serving platter. Spread slices of Manchego cheese over the finished polenta. Broil the dish long enough for cheese to melt and become bubbly, about a minute or so. Remove from oven, top polenta with mushrooms and sprinkle with truffle salt. Return to the oven and broil for a couple of minutes more. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with chives and voilá!

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We’ve been blessed with lemons recently. Earlier in the month Kristen harvested her Meyer lemon trees and surprised us with a huge bag of fruit. We’ve been using them essentially every day but I still have a good amount in the fridge. A couple of weeks ago we went for a BBQ at a friend-of-a-friend, Maja’s house in the Oakland Hills. She had a stunning Eureka lemon tree laden with aromatic goodness. She let I harvest a large bagful. Thank you, darling! Then last week, our neighbor, Ann, left us another bag of lemons. It was hanging on our front door knob. She lives in a condo in town but has what sounds like a marvelous house on the California Central Coast. These lovelies were Lisbon.

lemon coconut triple layer cake

lemon coconut triple layer cake

In this cake I used lemons with the Oakland terroir from Maja’s backyard. I like to improv with food, but when it comes to baking I just try to follow instructions as much as I can. This recipe comes from the 1997 Joy. Cheers to the Joy, which to me remains the best, no frills cook book ever!

This recipe is a pain in the b*** to make. It takes forever. Plus the kitchen gets very, very messy. One thing I wanted to do differently was to use freshly grated coconut in the frosting, just like we do in Brazil. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it so I stuck to the dried unsweetened.

I was impressed with the lemon curd. I had no idea how easy it was to make and how delicious it turned out to be. I also didn’t know that it was made with eggs: a lot of them. Living and learning.

lemon coconut triple layer cake

for the cake:

3½ cups of cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
½ lb butter room temperature
1 & 2/3 cups sugar
8 egg whites from large eggs
3/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/3 cup additional sugar

Pre-heat oven to 375F.

You need 3 round non-stick cake pans lined with parchment paper at the bottom

Using a large stainless steel bowl beat butter until creamy. Add 1 & 2/3 cups of sugar, mixing it gradually. Continue beating for about 5 minutes. Mix will turn light in color and texture.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, mix milk and vanilla together. Add sifted flour alternating with milk mix in 2-3 phases to beaten butter. The dough will be thick. Set aside

Add egg whites and cream of tartar to another stainless steel bowl. Beat on medium speed until it turns to a snow white color and gets relatively thick. Increase speed to high and gradually add 1/3 cup sugar. Fold about 1/3 of the mixture onto cake batter. After it is mixed in, fold in the rest.

Divide batter equally among pans. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Test for doneness via inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake. Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes. Invert cakes, peel parchment paper off. Turn them back up and let cool completely.

for the lemon curd:

3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter cut into small pieces
Pinch salt
½ cup strained lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp vanilla

Prepare a double boiler so that the water’s simmering when you begin this part.

Put eggs, sugar and zest in a stainless steel bowl and whisk until it turns into a light yellow color. Add lemon juice, butter and place bowl on top of double boiler. Whisk non-stop until butter has melted and mixture thickens. Allow it to cook for few seconds more after thickened. Remove from heat and strain to remove zest. Mix with vanilla. Refrigerate.

for the “7 minute” frosting:

5 tbsp water
¼ tsp cream of tartar
1½ cups sugar
2 whites from large eggs at room temperature
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
¾ cup grated dried unsweetened coconut

You need the double boiler for this.

Place water, cream of tartar, sugar, egg whites and corn syrup on double boiler and beat non-stop on medium speed until temperature reaches about 140F. Once it reached that temperature increase speed to high and beat for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, fold in vanilla and grated coconut. Let cool a little.

to assemble the cake:

I used a cake stand for a more impressive presentation. Whatever dish you use, start by placing a dollop of lemon curd in the center of it to help cake remain in place. Place the first layer of cake on top. Ice the top of the layer with lemon curd. Repeat with the next layer. I added a bit too much curd to mine and the cake started sliding! To “fix” the sliding I added a bamboo skewer to increase stability. Add final layer of cake then frost it entirely.

{ 3 comments }

halibut en papilote

by Heguiberto on April 27, 2012

A throw back to the past? Maybe, but the thing is I had never prepared fish this way before using the actual parchment paper. It’s a snap with tin foil, but the result is not as dramatic and pretty. I made this for five people, so reduce or increase your proportions accordingly. The approach is Mediterranean but I did bake the fish steaks over carrot cumin rice which adds an Indian flare. I sort of used Mireille Guiliano’s halibut recipe from French Women Don’t Get Fat.

halibut en papilote

halibut en papilote

We at weirdcombinations were obsessed by Mireille a year or so ago, and she remains a fave. Jasmine met her in San Francsico once, if you can believe it!?! Of course, we loved the classic FWDGF! Who doesn’t really? Did you like the book about food and style over the seasons? I haven’t read the one about work, but Jasmine loved it.

Anyway, back to the fish. We had Jasmine Turner for this splendid Mireille-inspired meal. I forgot to mention it at the time, but I’m sure that she knows all about it by now. Love you, Jasmine!!

a charger with several halibut en papilote

a charger with several halibut en papilote

halibut en papilote

5 pieces of wild caught Pacific halibut
5 pieces of parchment paper, each about 13×26 inches
cumin carrot rice: double this recipe
½ cup dry white wine
4 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
½ tbsp lemon zest
juice of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp butter at room temperature
chili flakes to taste
Kosher salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus more for brushing

Mix salt, butter, tablespoon of olive oil, lemon zest, parsley, black and chili peppers together. Set aside.

Pre heat oven to 375F.

Fold each parchment paper into a 13×13 inch square. Lay one folded paper on top of another. Draw a half heart shape on top, filling as much of the paper as you can, then cut it out to form large paper hearts.

filling my heart shaped piece of parchment paper with carrot cumin basmati rice

filling my heart shaped piece of parchment paper with carrot cumin basmati rice

all set and ready to fold closed

all set and ready to fold closed

Place one heart shaped parchment paper on counter top. Brush with olive oil. Put two scoops of carrot cumin rice in the center, top with a halibut steak, smear some of the herbed butter over, and add a tablespoon of white wine. Inch by inch fold the edge of paper in such way that the folds overlap one another until you get to the “tip” of the half-heart. Twist the tip tightly to seal everything together. Repeat process with remaining portions. Put individual papilotes on baking trays and bake for about 15 minutes. Serve in paper.

{ 3 comments }

artichoke leek lasagna

April 2, 2012

Is lasagna elegant enough to serve at a dinner party? That is the question that I have been pondering for the past couple weeks. I had invited about six friends over for a Saturday meal, including two, Jocelyn and Devin that we hadn’t seen in months. So I wanted to impress but also not be […]

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Anna’s almost secret family recipe: chocolate cake with cooked frosting

March 16, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Anna’s blog, Keep It Luce, since shortly after she started publishing. Her Great Aunt Sue’s recipe for chocolate cake with cooked frosting really resonated with me. I’d neither had the cake before nor heard of “cooked frosting,” both of which made this intriguing. But it was the story of her […]

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