Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

brownies

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

I love the power of the Internet. Last month I came a cross a recipe by way of an American in Paris who was vacationing in Sicily. There he met a woman from Estonia, who baked a cheesecake she had learned to make on a previous trip to Tuscany. The cake in question was an Italian Ricotta Cheesecake or ‘Torta Della Noona’. It sounded delicious and it was as you can see by the final results here. The original recipe was on a blog called Nami-Nami. I thought about writing a post about it but there was really no need to. It was perfect just the way it was written. The recipe called for sheep’s milk ricotta, which isn’t exactly on every grocery store shelf. Bellwether Farms in Sonoma however makes a delightful sheep milk ricotta that you can find at Cowgirl Creamery or Whole Foods. It was this leftover cheese from the Torta Della Noona that inspired me to make some brownies. There was no way I was going to waste the 6 ounces of sheep’s milk ricotta I had left over from the torta.

Brownies are about my favorite sweet treat. I like them moist and chewy. I have made them before with a cream cheese filling, but never ricotta. I am not really sure what inspired me to add the raspberry filling but I really liked it in there. As you can see by the picture below, it starts out looking like a mess but ends up very appealing in the end. I have made them again since with cows milk ricotta and they are just as good. I really enjoyed this recipe. I am sure it is going to be in my regular rotation from now on.

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

Ready for the oven

 

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

Brownies with Ricotta and White Chocolate Raspberry Filling

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Filling
  • 6 oz. fresh ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

Instructions

Combine butter and sugar together in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and blend well. Mix all the dry ingredients together and add to wet mixture a little at a time while mixing at a low speed. Blend together thoroughly and set aside.

Prepare the filling by placing the cheese in a small mixing bowl. Melt the butter and white chocolate chip together is a bowl inside the microwave for about 40 seconds. Stir to blend thoroughly. Add this mixture to the cheese, along with the sugar, eggs, flour, and vanilla and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. Microwave the raspberry jelly for about 30 seconds.

Pour half of the brownie mixture into a lightly oiled 8 x 8 pan and spread evenly. Pour the filling mixture over the brownie mixture. It should not be even, you want it to be in ‘globs’. Pour the heated jam over the filling in a random pattern. Spoon the rest of the brownie mixture over the top. At this point it is going to look like quite a mess, but that is ok. Drag a knife though to incorporate the filling slightly and smooth the top a bit. Do not over do it, you don't want to mix all the ingredients together. Bake in a 350 oven for 35-40 minutes. When it is done a wooden pic will come out clean when inserted into the middle. Cool on a rack before cutting and removing from the pan.

Enjoy!

CUESA Summer Celebration 2014

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CUESA Summer Celebration 2014

Last weekend CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) held their annual ‘Summer Celebration’ at the San Francisco Ferry Building. As usual it was a party like no other. If you love food and drink and dining out this was the party to attend. Star chefs and bartenders from some of the best restaurants in town were on hand to support a great cause (and spoil everyone present in the process). If you are not familiar with CUESA and all the great work they do you can find out more about them here. I strongly recommend following this great organization and subscribing to their newsletters. I could go on about all the great food and drinks but I am just going to share some of the pictures from the celebration instead. Enjoy!

Honeydew Melon with Thai Beef & Pumpkin Seed from Paula Leduc Fine Catering

Honeydew Melon with Thai Beef & Pumpkin Seed from Paula Leduc Fine Catering

starbelly

Smoked Stone Fruit with Buratta and Ham Crumbs from Starbelly

 

 

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isaac miller maven

Isaac Miller from Maven preparing Summer Squash with Cocoa Mole & Spiced Pepitas

 

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With over 45 restaurants contributing to the evening, you can bet that I was only able to scratch the surface here. I hope I have convinced you to check out next years CUESA’s ‘Summer Celebration’. See you at the Farmers Market. Have a great summer!

Check out some more pictures on my photography site:  http://www.shyimage.com/galleries-2/cuesa-summer-celebration/ IMG_0142a

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Cocktails from Suzanne Long and Erik Mariscal of Longitude Oakland

Cocktails from Suzanne Long and Erik Mariscal of Longitude Oakland

Tom Ka Gai

tom ka gai

Tom Ka Gai (Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)

Back in September of 2012 I hosted a dinner party and thought it would be a good idea to post some of the recipes from the party on my blog. They are some of my favorite recipes. If you missed that party you can find that post here. Unfortunately, because they are buried somewhere in the middle of that post no one ever sees them. I am going to repost each one in a separate post because every good recipe deserves a post of its own. Here is my version of Tom Ka Gai, AKA Thai Chicken Coconut Soup. I really love this soup. I love this soup so much it makes my eyes roll back in my head. This fun effect is just one of the reasons I choose to make it for dinner parties. The other reason is that it is easy to prepare and you can make it ahead of time. The hardest part of this recipe is gathering all the ingredients. I often find them in the high-end supermarkets, but you can’t always count on it.  A trip to the Asian market is usually in order. Before I get to the soup, I am going to go over each one of the main ingredients. If you are already familiar with them feel free to skip this part. I don’t want you to get bored. tom ka gai galangal lemon grass kaffir lime Galangal Root Galangal root is the ‘ka’ in Tom Ka Gai. It is also sometimes called ‘Laos root’. I sometimes find this at Whole Foods, but usually end up getting it at the Asian Market. It is a rhizome not unlike ginger in appearance, but it is much larger and very woody. So woody in fact that it can be a little difficult to slice. You can also find it frozen (not bad) or dried either whole or in powdered form (forget about it). You only need a little and it usually comes in a big piece. If you have any leftover I advise you to cut it up into a few chunks and freeze it for later.

imageKaffir Lime Leaves Here is another item that you can sometimes find in the large upscale markets. They are also known as ‘bai magrood’ or ‘kieffer’. Like galangal, it is ok frozen, but terrible dried. Sometimes these are even hard to find in the Asian markets. I solved this problem a few years ago when I found a kaffir lime tree at Orchard Supply Hardware of all places. It’s doing very well in a pot on my balcony and supplies me with more leaves than I could ever use. Another source for these trees is Four Winds Growers (they sell trees online and deliver). The fragrance of these leaves is incredible. They bear very small fruit that have little or no juice but have great rind for zest. If you like limes you will find other uses for this wonderful tree. Infused kaffir lime vodka anyone?

Lemon Grass Lemon grass has gone very mainstream, so it is pretty easy to find. It is also relatively easy to grow if you are so inclined. If you want to try growing your own, get a couple of stalks with some nice woody ends and put it in water until it sprouts roots; then plant it in some soil.

Thai Chilies These are pretty easy to find and/or grow. They also freeze very well. I always have a bag in my freezer. They are very hot so you need to be careful when you are cutting and chopping them. Like all chilies, seeding them will tame the heat a bit.

One of the other things to note about this recipe is that the ingredients that flavor it are not really edible. The galangal, lemon grass, and kaffir leaves are too intense, tough or woody to eat. You have two options. One is to just make an announcement at dinner instructing your guests (that don’t know better) to avoid eating the lemon grass and galangal. Option two is to simmer the soup with the flavoring ingredients, then strain them out before adding the chicken and mushrooms. It is not quite as authentic that way, but there are no 911 calls to worry about. Either way you decide to prepare it, I hope you enjoy it. tom ka gai 

Tom Ka Gai

Tom Ka Gai

Ingredients

  • 2 13.5 oz. cans coconut milk
  • 6 thin slices of galangal root, lightly crushed
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, lower 1/2 only, trimmed into 1 inch pieces, slightly crushed
  • 5 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
  • 1 whole chicken breast, boned, skinned and sliced into bite size pieces
  • 4-5 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon, red curry paste
  • 2 green Thai chilies, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Instructions

Combine one can of coconut milk with the galangal, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. * Add chicken, fish sauce and sugar and cook (stirring occasionally) until chicken is cooked throughout. Stir in the other can of coconut milk and curry paste and heat until boiling. Remove from heat, and add lime juice and chilies a little at a time, tasting it as you go. You don’t want it too spicy or too sour. Adjust seasoning, adding more sugar or fish sauce, to get that perfect balance of salt, sweet, hot and sour. You can heat this before serving and plate it individually or in a tureen or soup pot. Garnish with the cilantro leaves just before serving.

*If you are going to strain the soup add both cans of the coconut milk and simmer gently for about 20 minutes before straining and adding the remaining ingredients.

kaffir lime

Kaffir lime tree

Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac)

shaking beef bo luc lac

Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac)

OK, here’s the deal. We are having a potluck party for 14 people and we are doing the hosting. The theme is ‘Asian’ and most of the people coming can’t even boil water (sounds a little sassy to say, but they would be the first ones to admit it). What is a host to do? Well, fortunately one of my guests, Ann, is an accomplished cook and Burmese cuisine is one of her specialties (you guessed it, she is the one who decided on the theme).  Ann is planning on bringing a Burmese Salad. The recipe calls for special fermented tea leaves that are ‘kinda sorta’ a black market item that she buys in some dark alley somewhere (I’m sure there is a story in there somewhere).  The rest of the menu is up to me to either delegate or cook myself. To give the guests that can’t cook something to bring, I have assigned a sushi platter, chow mien, egg rolls, and some Thai prawns…all certified crowd pleasers. The rest is up to me. Because it is a celebration to honor my friend Sue who just retired, it has to be special  (I might add that Sue is a chef and the party will be attended by yet another chef, so I really have to be on my toes). I decided to make some Thai Chicken Curry (one of my old standbys) and a Vietnamese dish called Shaking Beef or Bo Luc Lac.

Shaking Beef or ‘Bo Luc Lac’ is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. I am using the recipe from The Slanted Door that was published in Charles Phan’s book, “Vietnamese Home Cooking”. We had a look at the book when it came out in 2012 here. The dish consists of seared morsels of filet mignon on a bed of watercress. It’s not just one of my favorites, it is also one of the most popular dishes served at The Slanted Door. I think it will be a perfect main dish for our potluck. There is just one problem…cooking this dish for 14 people would require a lot of time doing last minute work and I didn’t want to miss the party slaving over a hot stove. The recipe from the book calls for one and a half pounds of meat that is cooked in two batches. Even with all the BTU’s I can manage at home, the meat has to be cooked in small batches to get the correct sear (beautifully browned on the outside and perfectly rare on the inside). I figure I will need at least 4-5 pound of meat…are you getting the picture? In addition to that, I would need to clean and pick numerous bunches of watercress.  If I really wanted to serve this dish and still have time to socialize with my guests I was going to have to ‘bastardize’ one of the most popular dishes from the 2014 James Beard “Best Restaurant in America”. I am already feeling ashamed of myself.

I am a purist by nature so normally I detest tinkering with a classic. However, I had to come up with a plan to cook all that meat in a single large batch. To solve my dilemma I am going to grill the beef on skewers so that it can be cooked to perfection and all at the same time. The dressing can easily be made ahead of time. The red onion will be roasted in a hot oven until they are browned on the edges, but still crisp. Instead of watercress I am planning on using wild Arugula. The taste is different of course, but it is pre-washed for ease of use and delicious with beef. Paul and Sam will be in charge of BBQ-ing and I will prepare everything ahead of time. When it comes time to serve, all I will have to do is point and direct. Perfect!

As it turns out, the party was a huge hit.  As with most pot lucks the people bringing the appetizers were late (but everyone had a drink or two so no one cared). As usual, I made the rice ahead of time so the house would smell like jasmine rice when everyone arrived. The bar was set up in the living room so every one could steer clear of the kitchen. The egg rolls, shrimp and sushi arrived resulting in more standing and pointing from me (I love that part). When it came time to eat, the curry that I made earlier was an easy reheat and Paul and Sam did a great job with timing/barbecuing the beef to perfection. In the end the final preparation turned out to be quick and easy. The party and the meal were a huge success, and yes, The Shaking Beef was a hit!

I should probably come up with another name for the Shaking beef after all the liberties I took with it. However, I think preparing it this way still maintained the character of the dish and I was really pleased with how it came out.  I liked it so much that I doubt I will prepare it any other way. Regardless of whether you stir fry or grill it, I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac)

(adapted from Charles Phan’s “Vietnamese Home Cooking”, and bastardized for the American home kitchen by Tim Gast)

Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac)

Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb. beef filet, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3-4 handfulls wild arugula
  • 1 lime, freshly squeezed
  • Salt and Pepper to finish

Instructions

Trim the fillet of any excess fat and sinew, cut into 1 inch cubes and place into a non metal bowl. Add the chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt, 3/4 teaspoons fresh black pepper and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Mix well and marinate for at least 2 hours. Prepare the dressing by combining 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/4 cup mirin, 5 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fish sauce and 2 tablespoons melted butter (the dressing can be made ahead of time; just warm slightly before serving). Slice the onion into strips, toss with a little vegetable oil and roast in 450° oven for 8 minutes, set aside. Thread the beef onto skewers and grill over a hot fire until seared on the outside and rare on the inside. Do not overcook! When the meat is cooked allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Remove the meat from the skewers and toss with the roasted red onions, green onions and dressing. Make a bed of arugula on the serving plate and spoon the meat over the arugula along with the dressing. Squeeze a fresh lime over the top to taste, and season with a little more salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.

 

shaking beef bo luc lac

Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)

esquites mexican grilled corn salad

Esquites (Mexican Corn Salad)

Last summer I had a serious addiction to ‘Elote” (Grilled Mexican Corn) which I wrote about here. The recipe was buried in a post along with a few other recipes and I don’t think it got the attention it deserved. It was the tastiest thing I’ve eaten in a while and I could hardly wait for corn to come back in season so I could eat it again. Elote is corn that is grilled until it starts to caramelize on the outside. It is then slathered with a sauce consisting of mayonnaise, lime juice and chili powder then sprinkled with cheese. Yes, I know it sounds a little over the top, but that’s only because it is. The only problem with this one is that it can be a little on the messy side. I like getting down and dirty as much as the next guy, but when you are having company it can be a little much. So I’ve found a better way to serve this delightful dish…say hello to my new little friend, “Esquites”.

esquites mexican grilled corn

Esquites is the same great recipe I grew to love last year but cut from the corn and plated like a salad. It is just as good (if not better) and it can be easily prepared ahead of time making it perfect for entertaining. Esquites in Mexico is more or less street food or ‘antojito’. It is the kind of thing you would buy at a festival, a market or from a street vendor. Traditionally, the corn is boiled, then sautéed in butter with onions and chilies. For my tastes I like it grilled (hey, this is California after all). To prepare the corn you will want to husk it completely and remove all the silk. Then just brush it with a little vegetable oil and grill it. Once it is grilled it is just a matter of cutting it off the cob and assembling your esquites. As I mentioned before esquites can be made ahead of time and if you are taking it somewhere, it travels well. I love esquites served warm right off the grill but it is ok at room temperature or even cold (as in midnight refrigerator runs). If you are adding avocado it is always best to add it before you are ready to eat it.

esquites mexican grilled corn shun

When shopping for corn, always make sure to buy the freshest and most locally grown corn you can find. I really love the flavor that grilling lends to this dish so if you are using frozen corn or sautéing it instead of grilling it I don’t want to hear about it!  I won’t be joining you. At the time of this post the California corn season has started. So far it is tasting pretty good, but it will be even better in a few weeks when local Brentwood corn starts up.  I love this time of year! Enjoy your esquites and have a great summer!

Esquites, Mexican Corn Salad

Esquites, Mexican Corn Salad

Ingredients

  • 8 ears of corn
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5-6 tablespoons Mayonnaise
  • 5 ounces Cotija cheese, crumbled
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ancho powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 limes, juiced (3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons jalapeño, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • Avocado (optional, but highly recommended)

Instructions

Remove all the husk and silk from the corn and brush lightly with vegetable oil. Grill over a medium high heat, until the corn is lightly browned. Remove and allow to cool slightly before cutting the corn from each ear with a sharp knife. Brown the chopped red onion in the melted butter until browned, adding the chopped garlic at the last few minutes to brown slightly also. Add the corn and the onion to a large bowl, and add all the rest of the ingredients. Mix well, adjust seasoning to taste and serve. (Note-if not serving immediately, do not add the avocado until you are ready to eat)

Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad

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Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad

Is it just me or does everybody just love asparagus? I am trying to think of anyone I know that doesn’t like it but I can’t. Most of my friends actually get a little excited at the mere mention of it. It seems that it has been this way over the ages where it appears to have enjoyed a rich and fascinating history. Images of it as offerings have even been observed on ancient Egyptian frieze. Did you also know that Roman Emperors (long known documented asparagus enthusiasts) kept stashes of asparagus frozen in the Alps for later use? This is not at all astonishing given the adoration reserved for everyone’s favorite vegetable. Taking into consideration that it only was available in the spring, it is not surprising that people have gone to so much trouble to ‘stretch out’ the season for as long as possible. Now thanks to modern agriculture it is now possible to get it all year round. Off season it isn’t always as good (or cheap) as it is now that spring has sprung. In addition to the recent arrival of spring, asparagus fanciers will also be happy to hear that asparagus turns out to be very good for you.  I was surprised to learn about all the health benefits of asparagus, which I caught up on here. Regardless of why you eat it or whether you boil, steam, grill, roast, or stir-fry it, now is the time to enjoy it.

All that being said I only have one problem with asparagus…I hate it. Nobody seems to understand how this could be possible, but I really don’t like it. It probably goes back to my childhood when I was forced to eat over-boiled asparagus that no amount of cheese sauce or mayonnaise could disguise. As I have gotten older I have learned to enjoy it, fake it, or sometimes just manage to choke it down. What makes it work for me is keeping it crunchy. I like it grilled or quickly roasted in a hot oven. I also like it stir fried. Boiling and steaming unfortunately come dangerously close to painful childhood flash backs. It is those times all I can do is pray for sauce (and lots of it). It sort of defeats the purpose of eating vegetables doesn’t it?

About a year ago I saw a recipe on chow.com for a raw shaved asparagus salad and my interest was piqued. The color was beautiful and it had two of my other favorite ingredients: lemon and parmesan cheese. I tried it and I loved it but somehow forgot about it…so little time, so many salads! I saw it again on Facebook recently and remembered how much I liked it so I made a mental ‘post it’ note to try it again. I was drawn to the simplicity of this dish. I admire dishes that have a minimum of ingredients. The crisp refreshing nature of this salad makes it the consummate spring salad and the recipe was perfect the way it was. However, on my last trip to the farmers market, in addition to the beautiful asparagus, I found some very nice fennel and spring onions that caused a little light to go on. I came up with this Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad. I am happy to report that I liked it better than the original that I had tried last year. The salad couldn’t be easier either. If you want to make it ahead, you can prepare the dressing ingredients and keep everything in the refrigerator for a few hours to toss together at the last minute. I strongly recommend that you break out the good olive oil on this one. It is also good the next day. Enjoy and Happy Spring!

Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad

Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad

Ingredients

  • 1/2-3/4 lb. asparagus spears, woody ends (if any) removed
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons of champagne vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese (1-2 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley.

Instructions

Trim the woody ends of the asparagus (if necessary) and cut into ribbons using a potato peeler. Discard the top of the fennel bulb (reserving some of the top for a garnish if desired) and slice thinly. Slice the spring onion. Add all the vegetables to a large bowl. Toast the pine nuts in a small pan until brown*. Set aside. Sprinkle the lemon, vinegar and olive oil over the vegetables and toss really well. Salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning as needed, adding more oil or lemon if necessary. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Add the pine nuts and most of the cheese, reserving a little for garnish, and toss. Plate the salad onto individual plates, garnishing the top with the reserved cheese and a pinch of parsley (or reserved fennel tops). It is now ready to serve.

*Tip Pine nuts contain a lot of oil which can make them burn easily so stir constantly and remove from heat immediately. These little gems are also expensive so keep unused pine nuts in the freezer to keep them fresh.

image

 

Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu

spicy Thai grilled tofu

Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu

Isn’t technology grand! I remember a time when you had to go to your doctor’s office and actually see your doctor to find out the results of your lab tests. Now with the magic of email and the internet, you can have the bad news delivered right to your inbox. In my case this usually occurs on the onset of my weekend. Of course, until I turned 50, I only went to the doctor about every 15 years so I never worried about getting that kind of potential bad news. Alas, I can’t get away with that anymore (and according to my latest lipid panel that isn’t the only thing I can’t get away with). I guess it was just a matter of time. It appears that good genes can only take care of you for so long; sooner or later you just have to make some good dietary decisions. It’s not like I don’t know how to eat well; I just don’t always do it. Good nutrition isn’t always convenient…it takes time and planning (getting up and moving away from the couch or the computer couldn’t hurt either). So now I’m on a mission!  With any luck, a little exercise and the occasional salad, I am planning on having my cholesterol right back down to the same post-adolescent levels they were at last year.

One of the dishes I plan on consuming to bring me back on the road to health is this old favorite that my friend Sue makes and was nice enough to share with me. This ‘Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu’ is so tasty that I often make it just because it tastes so good (regardless of how nutritionally responsible it is). It is composed of fresh raw vegetables and topped off with grilled tofu. The sesame dressing is light and refreshing and would taste great on any combination of fresh vegetables you might like to add to the salad. Lately I’ve been adding a little kale even though I am running the risk of being trendy (truth is it tastes good in there). I generally follow the recipe exactly as she gave it to me, but sometimes I add a tablespoon or two of peanut butter for a little added richness. This dish is good hot or cold, and tastes great (if not better) the next day. If you are new to grilling tofu don’t panic, it is easy.  Grilling gives it a little more texture and flavor, and the grill marks are very appetizing. You can grill it easily in a grill pan indoors or outside on the BBQ. I hope you enjoy this Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu as much as I do and thank you Sue for sharing it with us. See you at the gym.

Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu

Spicy Thai Grilled Tofu

Ingredients

  • I 16 oz block of extra firm tofu
  • I carrot, peeled and cut into julienne strips
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
  • I cup kale, shredded
  • Fresh cilantro to taste
  • Dressing
  • 1/8 cup sesame oil
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter (optional)

Instructions

Combine and mix all the dressing ingredients together. Taste and adjust to your personal taste and set aside. Combine all your fresh vegetables in a large bowl and set aside. Take your block of tofu and slice it lengthwise into 4 half inch slabs. Blot the slices dry with paper towels. Brush with vegetable oil and cook over a hot grill to achieve some nice grill marks and to lightly toast the exterior. Remove from heat, cool, then cut into small triangles. Add the grilled tofu to the vegetables and toss with the dressing. It is now ready to serve.

 

 

Fresh Baked Bread

fresh baked white bread

Fresh Baked  Bread

Lately I have been thinking about baking some bread. Bread has been on my mind since I recently came across a spate of articles bashing the bakeries in San Francisco for serving four dollar slices of toast (places like Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club, The Mill and Tartine to name a few). To read the articles, you would have thought that it was the end of the world and the hipsters and techies were responsible. I was confused (or maybe I’m just jaded) but I don’t think $4 is too much for a great piece of toast. It’s not like they were serving Wonder Bread and margarine. It could also be that I know how much work goes into making a good loaf of bread and just how satisfying an exceptional piece of toast, warm and slathered with butter, can be. This is probably because of the freshly baked bread my grandmother used to make every week.  For her making bread was part of her routine and just business as usual in our house.

bread1

bread2My grandmother was born in Hangtown, California, the daughter of California pioneers. She was an exceptional homemaker and an incredible baker.  As the story goes she began baking her own bread during the war because it was rationed. When the war was over, grandpa liked it so much that she continued making it on a regular basis. We were fortunate to live close by and spent a lot of time in grandma’s kitchen. She had an old Wedgwood stove, the kind that sat very high off the ground on four legs. I loved that old stove… so did grandma. Grandpa bought her a new top of the line ‘O’Keefe and Merritt’ in the 70’s, but she kept the Wedgwood in the garage and continued to use it. I reminisce about my grandparents’ house often. I can picture their kitchen and hear the screeching sound of the broiler drawer sliding out for melted cheese sandwiches while the Giants game played on the radio. The garage always smelled of Gravenstein apples from the garden that eventually ended up in apple sauce (another thing that we never had to buy at the store…Thank God!)  I am grateful for these special memories even though I get a little melancholy thinking about how much I miss my grandparents. But as the old saying goes, “you can never go home again”.

Fortunately, what I can still do to honor my grandmother is bake bread using her recipe. Even though she never wrote it down, her recipe has been lovingly preserved by my sister Mary. Baking bread isn’t hard but it takes a little practice and you have to follow directions to a tee. It is chemistry and physics after all, and one goof can mean the difference between success and a bomb. Some of the steps that don’t seem important can make a big difference in the final product. Case in point: scalding the milk. The idea is to get the milk to a temperature of around 180° F. (but no higher) in order to denature the proteins in the milk which assist in the rising process. If you get the milk too hot and it boils or scorches, it will also have a negative effect on rising. Once you have scalded your milk it is also important to let it cool so it doesn’t kill the yeast. Another vital step is to find a warm place to let your dough rise, somewhere around 80° F. is ideal. If you have a ‘proofing’ setting on your stove you have it made. Dissolving your yeast in warm (but not hot) water is also important. It is probably hot enough out of the tap but check it out with a thermometer if you aren’t sure. You should be able to put a finger in it without burning it. For reasons like this the recipe might sound a little wordy. I hope I haven’t discouraged you from attempting to make bread. I remember getting a bit discouraged the first time I made bread and it didn’t come out. I am glad I kept trying, because not only does it get easier every time, but as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Grandma also made Cinnamon Bread every week. The basic bread recipe is for two loaves of white bread so it is easy to make one into cinnamon bread. My favorite sandwich when I was growing up was a toasted ‘Ham Salad Sandwich’ served ‘open faced’. We referred to the ham salad as ‘Ham Goop’, not the most appetizing name if you didn’t hear it all the time growing up, but delicious just the same.

cinnamon home baked breadAs I sit here after baking bread for the best part of the day and writing this post I am feeling very reminiscent. I even decided to go all out and make some Ham Goop to go along with the bread. I am enjoying the lingering smell of fresh baked bread and a toasty Ham Goop Sandwich. Then, all of a sudden I realize that I am no longer melancholy…I am home.

White Bread

This recipe is for 2 basic loaves of white bread.

White Bread

White Bread

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup warm water (about 100°-110° F.)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to around 100°-110° F.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6-6 1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
  • Vegetable oil

Instructions

Heat the milk in a small sauce pan over medium heat string constantly with a wooden spoon until it gets to around 180° F. (about the time when small bubbles appear on the edge of the pan). Check with a thermometer if you aren't sure. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat and add the butter to the milk. Set it aside to cool a bit (around 90°-110° F.) Add dry yeast to a mixing bowl and add 1/4 cup warm water and 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Allow to proof for 10 minutes (it should double in size and get foamy if the yeast is good). When the milk has cooled to the correct temperature you can add it to the yeast along with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and salt. You can now begin mixing in the flour. I use a stand mixer, but it can also be done by hand. Add the first three cups of flour one at a time stirring each time until the flour is evenly moistened. Add the fourth cup of flour and beat until dough is smooth and elastic. Mix in the 5th cup of flour to make a stiff dough. You might have to take it off the mixer and mix it by hand at this point as the dough will be very stiff. Measure out another cup of flour and sprinkle half of it over a board. Turn your dough out onto the board and start kneading it. Keeping the board floured as you go, knead the dough by pulling it toward you with your fingers, than folding it over and pushing down on it with the heal of you hand. Knead it for about 10 minutes. It should be satiny and smooth when you are done. I suppose you can do this in the stand mixer with a dough hook, but I like doing it on the board. Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, flipping it over so that the top has a coat of oil on it as well. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and put it in a warm spot (80° F. is ideal). Leave it undisturbed for about 1 1/2 hours. If the temperature was right, it should have doubled in size. After it has risen, punch it slightly to remove some air and turn it out onto a floured board. Briefly knead to form into an oval, then divide in half, cover and let rest for 5 minutes. Shape each into a loaf and put into a 9” x 5” lightly greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. After that time, place is a preheated 375° F. oven and bake for 35-40 minutes or until well browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Turn loaves out onto a rack to cool.

Cinnamon Bread

When I bake bread, I make one into cinnamon bread. This recipe calls for 1 of the 2 balls of dough from the above recipe.

 

Cinnamon Bread

Cinnamon Bread

Ingredients

  • I ball of dough from the basic white bread recipe above
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Instructions

Prepare the dough for white bread up to the point where you divide the dough into two balls and allow it to rest for five minutes. Combine the cinnamon and sugar and blend together. Melt the butter. Take the dough for one loaf of bread and place on a floured board. With a rolling pin, roll dough out to a rectangle that is approximately 6” x 16”. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Beginning at one end, roll the dough into a loaf, pinching the seams and the ends of the loaf to seal. Place in a greased loaf pan and bake at 375° F. for 35-40 minutes or until well browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Turn loaves out on a rack to cool.

Ham Goop

This is your basic ham salad recipe that we always referred to as “Ham Goop”. I still make it the same way my grandmother did, but sometimes I add a little grated cheddar. I don’t think grandma would have objected.

ham salad sandwich

Ham Goop Sandwich

Ham Goop Sandwiches

Ham Goop Sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 12 ounce piece of ham, chopped
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped sweet pickles (please don't use relish)
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2-3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Instructions

Mix all the above ingredients together and spread over toasted bread. Serve open faced.

Tan Tan Noodles

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Tan Tan Noodles

They say that there is medicinal value in garlic, ginger and chilies. If that is true, then this dish is a tour de force. If you have had Tan Tan Noodles before then you are aware of the assertive ‘in your face’ flavor and sinus clearing properties of this dish. Tan Tan noodles (also spelled Dan Dan noodles) originated from the Szechwan region of China. Their name refers to the pole (a tan tan) that was used to carry them through the streets and sold by food vendors. A tan tan held two pots, one for sauce, and one for noodles. The dish eventually found its way to Japan, where it is a popular ramen dish, and of course the United States where it is a Chinese restaurant staple. Like all ancient Chinese recipes, they have changed and been adapted to fit   modern tastes. I’ve done some adapting myself and I have no doubt you will too, adding or subtracting seasonings to suit your own taste. For example, you can easily go meatless by substituting a vegetarian broth and including tofu or fresh vegetables. Sometimes I use Siracha instead of chili sauce, which is less oily and will give you a different texture. Some people like more broth for a soup-like consistency, while others will prefer less for a ‘spaghetti-like’ dish. The only thing I insist on every time is making sure I use fresh noodles. I like fresh Chinese ‘Shanghai” style noodles that are thick and chewy. As long as you start with good noodles and taste as you go, I am sure they will turn out great. Enjoy!

 

Tan Tan Noodles

Tan Tan Noodles

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Mock beef broth (see below)
  • 1 pound fresh noodles
  • 1 pound ground beef or pork
  • 1/4 cup garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh ginger, chopped
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup sesame paste (see note)
  • 1/3 cup Chinese hot chili sauce
  • 4-6 tablespoons peanuts, chopped
  • Mock broth
  • 32 ounces beef bouillon
  • 2 pieces star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns
  • 2-3 green onions cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons bean sauce
  • 1-2 slices of fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup rice wine or dry sherry

Instructions

Begin by preparing the mock broth. Place the bouillon along with all the other broth ingredients into a sauce pan and heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the ginger, anise, and green onions. Set aside. Chop the garlic, ginger, green onions and peanuts and set aside. Heat the oil in a wok and add the garlic and ginger, give a quick stir, then add the ground meat and continue to cook until it is well browned. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. When the meat is sufficiently browned, lower heat to low and add soy sauce, green onions, chili sauce and sesame paste. Continue to stir until all ingredients are combined and heated through. Remove from heat. Cook noodles according to directions on the package. Drain but do not rinse. Divide the noodle between 4-6 bowls. Divide the meat evenly and place some in each bowl. Pour the desired amount of broth over each bowl (usually ½ to 1 cup of broth depending on how you like it). Top each bowl with a spoonful of chopped peanuts and you are ready to serve.

*Note. Sesame paste is found in Asian markets. There are two different kinds so make sure to use the lighter colored one. You could also substitute tahini sauce or even peanut butter for a distinctly different flavor.

Best Ever Lemon Bars

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Best Ever Lemon Bars!

Lemon Bars are a classic. They are served everywhere and recipes for them are a dime a dozen. I love them all, but like everything else some are better than others. I came across this particular recipe in Time-Life’s, “The Good Cook Book” series in the “Cookies & Crackers” volume. This series was first published in 1984 and were some of the first cookbooks I ever bought. I love the Time-Life cookbooks and always felt they were under-appreciated; they are not only loaded with great recipes but do a great job of teaching various cooking techniques with their generous use of illustrations and descriptions. Anyway, in my personal opinion, these lemon bars are by far the best I’ve ever tasted!  They are richer than most due in part to the buttery cookie-like base. This recipe also calls for icing on top (as opposed to powdered sugar) which just kicks them up another notch. If you follow the directions and let them sit overnight (which is virtually impossible to do) they take on a chewy ‘gumdrop-like’ texture. I usually make two batches because I can’t keep my hands off of them until the next day (yes, they are just that good)! The recipe is for a small batch (8×8) and they suggest cutting them into 1” x 2” squares (due to that buttery richness I mentioned earlier). I adapted this recipe only slightly from the original.

Best Ever Lemon Bars

Best Ever Lemon Bars

Ingredients

  • 8 Tablespoons butter (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer Lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1 cup confectioners’ glaze (see recipe below)

Instructions

Cream the butter in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add confectioner’s sugar and thoroughly blend together with the softened butter. Gradually beat in one cup of the flour a little at a time. Transfer to a lightly greased 8’ x 8’ square pan and pat it smoothly and evenly with your fingers. Bake in a 350° oven for 15 minutes until the cookie base is lightly colored and firm to the touch.

Next, combine the granulated sugar, baking powder and 2 tablespoons of flour in a bowl and blend together. Add the eggs and beat well until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Pour this mixture over the cooked cookie base. Bake in the 350° oven for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool.

When the bars have completely cooled, spread the glaze evenly over the bars with a rubber spatula. The glaze is very sticky so you will need to take care not to ‘break’ the top of the bars. Let the glaze harden for at least 15 minutes before cutting into 1” x 2” squares. Cover loosely with foil or wax paper and let sit at room temperature overnight (good luck with that). The three layers will bond with each other giving them a great chewy texture. Enjoy!

Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons water

Instructions

Sift the sugar into a bowl. Stir in the water a spoonful at a time to reach the desired consistency making sure there are no lumps. Use it immediately!

Note: You can replace some of the water with vanilla extract, lemon juice or even liquor, such as Grand Marnier.