May 31, 2009

summer food

I have eaten more than my fair share of grilled sausage and baked beans over the years. Growing up, sausage and baked beans was one of our go-to meals when time was tight or Mom/Dad didn't feel like putting much effort into making dinner. In those days, all it involved was heating a can of baked beans on the stove and quickly frying up a few links of kielbasa. Easy peasy.

I kind of forget about "beans n sausage" (as we called it) these days, because my tastes have changed and most varieties of canned baked beans make me queasy, with all their sugar/corn syrup and frightening ingredients. Also, the kielbasa from the supermarket is filled with preservatives and, oh my God, salt galore.

But still, last week I found myself with a nostalgic craving for the stuff. I picked up some jalapeno-pork sausage at Central Market and, of course, had to have my beans on the side. The sausage, I was happy to see, is all natural -- which is my way of saying that every ingredient on the label is something recognizable. Pork. Jalapeno. Salt. Sugar. Garlic. Spices. That's it -- no nitrites or nitrates. (Obvs I am one of those people who stops her cart in the middle of the aisle to scrutinize every ingredient on the label.)

The beans were a little trickier, so I picked up a couple of cans of plain pinto beans to jazz up. Today I found this NY Times article by Melissa Clark and was so pleased with the results. You simply add a few cans of plain boiled beans, in their liquid, to a saucepan. Then you combine ketchup, molasses, dry mustard, Tabasco sauce, and vinegar in a bowl, stir, and add to the beans. This simmers for 30-40 minutes, while the sauce thickens and the beans soak up some of the flavor. The end result is tangy, a little sweet, a little spicy, and just as satisfying as the beans of my youth. The beans still have some sugary ingredients (ketchup is obviously quite sweet, and hello molasses) but you can control the sugar content yourself, which I appreciate.


And about the sausage: super delicious. The skin gets crispy and burnished (the snap of the skin as you bite into grilled sausage is so great, isn't it?), while the inside is juicy and spicy. We also grilled asparagus --my favorite way to cook asparagus these days-- and had a cucumber salad on the side. A pretty perfect, low key summer lunch.

P.S. The regional baseball tournament has been such a nail biter! Rice v. Kansas State tonight was an amazingly fun game to watch but was a heartbreaker in the end. We gave up 3 runs in the top of the 9th innning, giving Kansas State a big lead with 7-3. In the bottom of the 9th, we scored 3 runs to make it 7-6 and had 2 men left on base -- only to strike out. Argh.

Melissa Clark's Fake Baked Beans

This recipe calls for bacon, which I omitted due to lack of bacon. I am sure that bacon would add a delicious smokiness here, though.

2 cans of beans (I used pinto, but navy would be great here)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 slices thick cut bacon (optional in my opinion)
Chopped red onion, for garnish

1. Add canned beans, with their cooking liquid, to a saucepan and turn heat to medium low.

2. In a small bowl, combine ketchup, molasses, apple cider vinegar, dry mustard powder, Tabasco, and black pepper. Stir and add to beans.

3. If using bacon, add one slice of uncooked bacon to the beans and fry the remaining bacon slices in a separate skillet.

4. Bring the beans to a simmer. Turn heat to low and let simmer 30-45 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove bacon slice, if using, and add salt to taste.

5. Transfer beans to heated serving dish and top with fried bacon slices, if desired, and chopped red onion.

May 28, 2009

buns in the oven

[Updated January 2012]

Kim here, with buns in the oven. No, that's not a euphemism. Cinnamon buns, you guys!

There isn't a breakfast food that makes me feel any more like a kid than cinnamon rolls. I mean, steel cut oats make me feel wholesome, healthy, and responsible. These are all good things to be sure; but on Sunday, after a week of poached eggs and steel cut oatmeal and asparagus frittata? Bring on the sticky, sweet icing.
 Especially if that icing is smeared on cinnamon rolls made with brioche dough. Brioche is one of my favorite things in life. These cinnamon buns are improbably airy and light (especially considering there is a stick of butter beaten into the dough), with a soft, tender center. I'm so craving one right now.
And now I turn the keyboard over to Mark, to blog about his sweet, sweet cinnamon buns. (In case you're wondering about my contribution, I took the pictures and spread the icing and ate my fair share. This marriage is an equal partnership.)

Cinnamon Brioche Rolls

This recipe combines a bunch of recipes, which I developed after several attempts to make cinnamon rolls. Essentially, the brioche is adapted from The Bread Bible (printable PDF here), while the filling and icing are adapted from a recipe appearing in Food and Wine magazine.

Makes one (1) 9 or 10 inch pan of cinnamon rolls.

For the brioche dough
Combine the following in a large mixing bowl:
2 Tbsp water) (30 grams, room temperature)
1 Tbsp granulated sugar (13 grams
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (71 grams)
1 large egg

Thoroughly whisk (for 2-3 minutes) until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary.

In another large mixing bowl, whisk together:
1 cup plus 1 1/2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour (156 grams)
2 Tbsp sugar (25 grams)
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt

Pour this mixture over the dough mixture and cover with plastic wrap. Let this rest for at least 15 minutes, and up to 2 hours. The longer rest will add more flavor, but it is not completely necessary if you're in a hurry.

While the dough mixture rests, soften 1 stick of unsalted butter (you want this to be very soft).

When you are ready to mix the dough, add 2 cold eggs. Then, using a stand mixer with a dough hook on low, mix for a minute or so until the flour is incorporated into the dough. Then raise the speed to medium for 2 minutes. If necessary, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue beating for 5 more minutes. Now begin adding the butter, a tablespoon at a time, beating until the butter is incorporated before each new tablespoon. The dough will be incredibly sticky when you're done. Use an oiled spatula to scrape it into a lightly greased/oiled bowl to let it rise.

Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Then move the dough to the refrigerator to cool it so that it is easier to handle. Cool for about an hour.

Cinnamon-sugar-butter filling
In a small mixing bowl, combine the following:
2 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
3/8 cup packed light brown sugar (81 grams)
3/4 stick softened unsalted butter
pinch salt

Work the ingredients together to make a paste. Set aside.

Assembling the rolls
Unmold the refrigerated dough onto well-floured wax paper or silicon baking mat. Press the dough into a rough rectangle; I aim to make mine roughly 10 x 15 inches. If the dough is cool enough, it should not be too sticky to roll, but a floured rolling pin will help you get a good/flat rectangle. If it is too sticky to work with, place the dough in the freezer for a few minutes to help the dough firm up. Once you get a good rectangle, place the dough in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to make it easier to handle.

Next spread the cinnamon-sugar-butter mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough (a frosting spreader does a great job here). With the long side of the rectangle facing you, begin rolling up the dough. An oiled bench scraper can help you as you go if the dough is sticking to the baking sheet/silicone mat, as will popping the dough briefly in the freezer as necessary. When you are done, you should have a single long roll of dough.

After a brief freeze, you can now cut it into 1-2 inch long sections (being careful not to use a knife that will cut your silicone mat, if you're using one). You can cut them into shorter or longer sections to obtain fewer, larger rolls, or more, smaller rolls as desired.

Place the rolls in a 9 or 10 inch round pan that is lightly greased. You want to arrange them (with the cinnamon spiral showing on top) roughly evenly across the baking sheet. As the rise/bake, they will likely expand to tough each other, which makes the inner rolls very soft. If you prefer a crispy exterior crust on your rolls, then place them with a couple inches between them on a large baking sheet.

I prefer to do everything up to this point the night before, and so I usually pop these rolls in the fridge to rest overnight.

One hour before you are ready to bake the rolls, remove them from the fridge, and begin preheating the oven to 375 F. Regardless of whether they have been refrigerated, the rolls need one hour to rise before you put them in the oven. The rolls should bake for approximately 30-40 minutes (if you want to be exact, they should reach an interior temperature of 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). To help keep the exterior of the rolls soft, it helps to add some water or ice cubes to a hot pan at the bottom of the oven. If the rolls begin to brown early in baking (after about 20 minutes), cover them loosely with aluminum foil. After removing them from the oven, let them cool for 5 minutes or so while you make the best part.

Whisk together in a medium bowl:
1 cup confectioners' sugar (115 grams)
2 Tbsp softened butter
2 Tbsp heavy cream
pinch of salt

That's it... now you just have to spread on the icing and then try to stop yourself from eating the whole pan by yourself.

In conclusion, I (Mark) would like to place a moratorium on any jokes around here about even the prospect of multiple buns in the proverbial oven. Thank you.

May 18, 2009


I made paella tonight. It involved a bit of prep: Making a sofrito (browning minced onion and garlic). Browning chicken in a hot skillet with smoky pimenton, coarse salt, and pepper. Making a quick stock with frozen shrimp shells and fish trimmings. Scrubbing and cleaning mussels. Slicing rings of squid. Soaking saffron threads in hot water. OK, so it was quite a bit of prep. Luckily, I have Mark here as my sous-chef!

Next step, starting the rice. Unfortunately, I did not find any bomba rice at Central Market so I subbed arborio, which was not ideal, but passable. I added the rice, hot stock, and saffron to the sofrito and let it cook on the stovetop, covered, for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I steamed the mussels in fish stock and wine and sauteed the squid, then pulled the chicken off the bone in chunks. After 15 minutes, I added the peas, mussels, squid, chicken to the rice and let it dry out in the oven for 5 minutes. Final garnish with parsley and scallions. We had this with a bottle of vinho verde, a slightly sparkly, minerally white from Portugal that is one of my favorites for summer.

Verdict: good, but not excellent. I was looking for some soccarat: browned, crisp rice on the bottom. It didn't happen, which was disappointing-- the soccarat is the best part! I attribute this to using the wrong rice (and not enough heat, obvs), but now I'm definitely motivated to try this again with proper rice. Still, the rice was flavorful from the stock, the chicken was salty and smoky, and the mussels were plump and slightly briny. I might leave out the squid next time -- not that exciting.

I'll refine this and eventually post a recipe.


May 17, 2009

fun with lists

I don't like to make lists. I freaking love to make lists.

Until recently, I made my lists on scratch paper (and my bag was always filled with a ridiculous number of scraps of paper, not to mention gum wrappers, receipts from 2003, and other embarrassing crap. bag lady alert.). These days, my bag is a little cleaner because I keep a notebook with me. In it: dozens of random lists. Weekly meals. Books to read. Restaurants, cafes, bars to try. Things to pack for trips. Places I want to visit. Things to do with all the crap we have socked away in the freezer. Things I want to do around the house. Ideas for gifts. Ideas for dinner party menus. Etc etc etc.

Making lists is what I do to clear my head, to be organized, and to have fun thinking about all the fun stuff I get to do. Today, my list was summer food I'm looking forward to making. I get a little picky when it's hot outside, so I figured it'd be helpful to make a list (naturally!). So, in anticipation of delicious summer fruits and vegetables and refreshing meals, here is my "food I'm looking forward to making" list:

Cold noodles, especially soba noodles with tofu in a spicy ginger vinaigrette, sesame noodles, and Vietnamese rice noodles with nuoc mam
Salads especially panzanella, tomato/cucumber/onion salad, crab salad with jalapeno-lime vinaigrette, salade Niçoise, and anything with basil.
Grilled sweet corn brushed with spicy lime butter
Grilled stuff -- steak, marinated chicken thighs, salmon, and lots of burgers/kebabs
Pasta tossed with cherry tomatoes (marinated in garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and garlic), torn basil, and mozzarella
Cold dips, e.g. hummus, babaghanoush, green goddess dip, or herbed yogurt cheese -- with pita and crudites
Crostini with ricotta and roasted tomatoes, or garlic and tomatoes.
Frozen yogurt (looking forward to experimenting with blends of full fat, 2%, and nonfat greek yogurt), topped with berries or stone fruit
Gelato / ice cream / sorbet
Mark's terrific thin crust pizza
Iced mint green tea and cold brewed iced coffee every day
Cold fruit tarts, especially with berries and whipped cream. Oh, and Pierre Herme's lemon cream tart.

See, I'm getting excited already. What are you guys looking forward to making and eating this summer?? My little notebook has more room in it.

May 15, 2009

blue sky and mountains

We left last Saturday morning for Napa Valley and I really can’t remember anything about the prior week other than being ridiculously excited about the trip. I suppose I have vague memories of researching restaurants, wineries, picnic spots, parks, scenic routes, etc.

Meanwhile these are some of my favorite snaps from our 5 day trip to Napa Valley. This was my second visit, and Mark's third, but we had never been together. It really is a spectacular place, with unbelievable weather -- and for longtime city dwellers, it never felt so good to get out of the city!



Tasting at Silver Oak Cellars. Since we've both done lots of tastings in Napa Velley, we decided to pick just a couple of wineries. We visited Silver Oak Cellars, a cult favorite that produces classic California cabs (although plenty of people also vehemently say it's not that great), and we had a terrific time talking to the staff about the wine and looking around the property. We tried two 2004 releases as well as a reserve wine, the 2000 Napa Valley blend (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot). All were quite nice, but the 2000 stood out for me because, besides having amazing flavor, the tannins had receded and the finish was super smooth, almost velvety.

Tour/tasting/dinner at Pine Ridge Winery. We tasted their rosé, merlot, chardonnay, and a few cabernets and had dinner deep in the caves (this was part of the workshop where Mark gave a talk). The property was beautiful and, from the tour, it was clear that this is a top-notch winery. However, I didn't enjoy their cabs as much as I liked those at Silver Oak. The Pine Ridge cabs we tried were on the young side and, to me, had a very harsh taste. On the other hand, the first course was outstanding -- seared scallops served over tarragon scented corn and garnished with crispy shallots. Must try to make this!

Yank Sing in San Francisco with my dear, awesome friend Sue. The first thing I did was splatter hot xiao long bao juice all over myself (so smooth), but after that it was a nice lunch.

Taqueria San Jose (San Rafael) -- My dad used to work in San Rafael and I found this little taco place on a previous visit. Messy, drippy, but ever so tasty carnitas and al pastor tacos.


Angele (Napa) -- Well done French fare -- I had a salade Nicoise and Mark had duck confit -- on a shady patio overlooking the river (or so they told me -- I couldn't see it at all!).

Pizzeria Azzurro (Napa) -- Loved the Point Reyes blue cheese, house cured olives, and pizza with burrata, freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil, and tomato sauce.

In-n-out -- How could we not get double doubles while in California? I do like their burgers, though their fries suck.

Finally, the best part of our trip was driving around in our little yellow punchbug convertible. Spectacular routes: Silverado Trail, the Oakville Grade, and the drives to Lake Berryessa, Robert Louis Stevenson State Park (we did a short hike here), and the Pope Valley. Valley with my husband. What a treat!

May 4, 2009

he cooks... birthday dinner

Not to put too fine a point on it, but my husband is great. This weekend, he planned a perfect birthday celebration -- fun, but low-key. We relaxed, snacked on delicious treats, and Mark didn't let me lift a finger (and he did all the chores -- sweet!). And he made me feel very special by taking me to sushi and the symphony on Saturday and making me a nice dinner on Sunday.

I gave him a few ideas about dinner and then let him get creative. Namely, I requested a pretty and light starter. And, instead of cake, I asked him to make me a silky chocolate pudding with whipped cream for dessert.

This is what Mark made:

He piled crab and avocado mixture on thick slices of tomatoes and garnished everything with a lime/jalapeno vinaigrette, cilantro, and minced red onion. Then he went old school. Broiled Kobe ribeye with a knob of chive compound butter. Baked potato (which he filled with creme fraiche, chive butter, and bacon). Crisp-tender asparagus, rolled in olive oil, coarse salt, and pepper and roasted at 400 for about 5 minutes. It was great.

Finally, my chocolate pudding. He scraped and steeped a whole vanilla bean in whole milk, then whisked in corn starch, sugar, salt, and bittersweet chocolate. (I make it sound like a snap, but he was patiently whisking for at least 20 minutes.) On another note, someone please come eat some chocolate pudding with us. Really.

Also, even though they were not there to celebrate, I must thank my parents for bringing me into this world only 26 years ago -- and for all the love, encouragement, and support they've given since then. Love you guys!

May 2, 2009

new blog

I've been meaning to change my blog name for, let's see, forever -- I wanted it to be more relevant to food and cooking/baking, since that is most often the subject of my posting. I also wanted Mark to be more involved in posting about his baking, because he really does amazing stuff and I'm in awe of him. I came up with the name because, while I am the classic improvisational cook, blithely ignoring recipes and tasting as I go, Mark is obsessed with the science behind baking and prefers precision to improvising any day.

I transferred all my old content here, with the exception of the comments which don't seem to want to join the party. This makes me sad, so I look forward to reading more comments soon :)

Welcome to our new blog!