Cookie Love

cookie love

Cookie Love by Mindy Segal – A Book Review

Truth be told, there probably isn’t a sweet on earth I love more than a good cookie. In my opinion no cake, pie, ice cream, or cupcake can hold a candle to a great cookie. My dad used to call me the cookie monster back in the day when every kitchen in America had a cookie jar on the counter, and I couldn’t keep my hands off of any of them. When I came across Mindy Segal’s new book, ‘Cookie Love’, checking it out was a no-brainer.

Mindy Segal is the proprietor of Chicago’s ‘HotChocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar’ and is also the recipient of the James Beard Award for the outstanding pastry chef in the country in 2012. When it comes to baking, she is one smart cookie and more than qualified to write a book on the subject.

After a brief introduction, the book starts off with eight chapters dedicated to eight different types of cookie. The enticing recipes and beautiful photos are inspiring to say the least. Browsing through ‘Cookie Love’ I was struck with the thought that these were not your ‘run-of-the-mill’ cookies. The book is full of recipes for the cookies we have always loved, but taken to another level. As happy as I was to see ‘Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies’, I was more excited checking out the ‘Fleur De Sel Shortbread with Vanilla Halvah’ or the ‘Graham Cracker and Passion Fruit Whoopie Cookies’. The cookie monster in me wanted to eat them all, but I just didn’t know where to start!

cookie love

I found myself drawn to the chapter on ‘Rugelach and Kolachkes’. Mindy’s exceptional flair is never more apparent than in this chapter. In her words, this is her “epic chapter”. In this chapter a few basic tips and a recipe for Classic Cream Cheese Dough quickly gives rise to knock out combinations like ‘Raspberry and Rose’, ‘Honey and Peach’ and ‘Red Wine and Ginger Pear’. I zeroed right in on Fig Newtons (a childhood favorite of mine), which are transformed here to ‘Fig Segals’, a grown-up version of the classic where the figs are soaked overnight in port wine. Not surprisingly, this was the recipe I wanted to try first. I am not the most experienced baker in the house and I probably should have started with something simpler like ‘Chocolate Chip’, or ‘Smoky Bacon Candy Bar Cookies’, but my mind was made up. Fortunately for me there is an experienced baker in the house (Paul), and he was all too happy to take the lead on this project. Rugelach is a little more complicated than most cookies but very rewarding. It was a two-day process, soaking the figs overnight in port and preparing the dough. The actual assembly of the cookies, that initially seemed somewhat intimidating, was made easy by Mindy’s precise and clear instructions. They came out too good to share…we ate them all!

After you make your way past the recipes, there are a chapters dedicated to your pantry (‘Tools of the Trade’ and ‘Tricks of the Trade’) as well as a reference for sources. I started out with these chapters, and you might want to begin here as well. The information and tips in these short chapters are invaluable and plentiful.
I would recommend this book to any cookie monster out there. If you are looking for some quick recipes for your standard cookie fare, this is probably not the book for you. However, if you are looking for inspiration and you want to make something memorable in the form of a cookie, you have come to the right place.

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”

CUESA’S Summer Celebration 2015

cuesa summer celebration 2015

Spirit Works Distillery with Hog and Rocks

CUESA Summer Celebration 2015

Last Sunday I attended the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) Summer Celebration. I think there have been five of these so far, and I have gone to the last three. As long as they continue to have them I will go. This year 40 of San Francisco’s top restaurants and 20 assorted bars, wineries, and breweries came together to raise money to support CUESA’s Educational programs. This annual event, however, leans more towards celebration than a fundraiser. I am not going to go on about CUESA; you can read all about them here. This post is going to be all about the pictures.

If you enjoy dining out in San Francisco and you consider yourself to be a ‘chef groupie’ this is the place to go to rub elbows. Some of the best chefs in town are here serving up their best offerings.

Of course if you are just all about the food, the Summer Celebration will not disappoint.

cuesa summer celebration 2015

White Nectarine, Burrata, Guanciale Chip, Pickled Watermelon Radish & Pea Shoots on Acme Baguette from 1760

And then there’s the beverages…

cuesa summer celebration 2015

cuesa summer celebration 2015

CUESA core mission: Education

I Hope I have convinced you to join me next year at the Summer Celebration. I am planning on being there. I am just not sure if I am going to take the camera. I think next year I am just going to eat, drink and enjoy, I hope you will too!

cuesa summer celebration 2015

Tory Farm’s Stone Fruit

Have a great summer!

 

 

Grilled Fish with Mango Salsa

 grilled fish with mango salsa

Grilled Fish with Mango Salsa

This recipe is one of those recipes I have had for so long that I don’t exactly know where it I got it. I have been making it off and on for years. Many people like it with chips, but I prefer to use it on grilled fish and poultry. The sweet-tart crisp acidity and the tropical flavor is a perfect balance for something smoky and spicy off the grill. It is the perfect time to make it because there are some outstanding Mexican mangos available in the stores now.

grilled fish with mango salsa

Picking a good mango might be a challenge if you do not buy them often. There are 100’s of varieties of mangos from which to choose. Some are better than others. One of my favorites is the ‘Haden’. They are at the peak of the season now, and they seem to be everywhere. ‘Ataulfo’ mangoes (AKA Champagne or Manila mangoes) are also really delicious and have a great texture. They are a little smaller, but the pit is smaller as well, so the ratio of meat to pit is good (it is hard to go wrong with these). ‘Kents’ are also good mangos but don’t expect them to have great color. The green hue of the Kent mango throws people off, but when you ripen them to perfection they eat well. The one you might want to avoid is ‘Tommy Atkins’. Sorry Tommy…you are a little too stringy. When you reach for a mango in the store look for one that is soft. They are ready to eat when they are about the same softness as a ripe avocado. Don’t be thrown off if the skin is a little wrinkled; as long as there are no dark spots and they have a uniform consistency they are good to go.

mango

Cutting a mango is not the easiest thing to do: there is a large pit, and the flesh does not come away from it easily. When people ask me, “what is the best way to cut a mango”, I advise them that the best way to do it is under a tropical waterfall. If you have a good mango, the juice will be running down your arm and all over the counter. Being in a tropical waterfall takes care of that, and you will find it very soothing on your nerves. The other methods involve taking a sharp knife to the top of the mango. Keeping the knife flat along the flat side of the mango, cut one-half of the mango off coming as close the pit as you can. Repeat on the other side. Using a paring knife cut the flesh of each half in a crosshatch pattern all the way to the skin without cutting into the skin. Then, scrape off the chunks of mango with a large spoon. Cut the remaining skin off the rest of the mango, and remove as much flesh as you can with a sharp pairing knife.

mango salsa

I also like a little papaya in my salsa. If you wanted to you could leave it out and make up the difference with more mango, but I like it in there. I use Mexican papaya. Usually, they are a little easier to find than a good ripe Hawaiian papaya, and they are meatier (and cheaper). For the fish, I use anything that is fresh and firm enough to hold up on the grill. I like Mahi Mahi or swordfish, but I depend on my trusted fishmonger to steer me in the right direction. I have played around with the seasoning, but I usually just go for salt, fresh ground pepper and a thin film of olive oil to flavor my fish. I also look at the Seafood Watch from the Monterey Aquarium to make sure I am making an environmentally sound choice and choosing a sustainable species of fish.

This recipe makes about five cups of salsa, which is more than you’ll need. If you don’t want leftovers, I recommend making half. Another great use for mango salsa is in ‘Mango Salsa and Chicken Quesadillas’. Just use some shredded chicken, a good melting cheese like mozzarella or pepper jack and some flour tortillas. Assemble the chicken and cheese evenly on a flour tortilla, spoon on some salsa, and then top it with another tortilla. Grill them on the stove or in a Panini press.

Grilled Fish with Mango Salsa

Grilled Fish with Mango Salsa

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh mango, diced
  • 1 cup papaya, diced
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • 3-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 piece of firm fleshed fish per person

Instructions

Combine everything but the fish in a large bowl. Adjust seasoning to taste. This salsa can be made ahead of time. I like the flavor better after it has sat for a bit. Refrigerate until ready to use. Allow the salsa to come back to room temperature before using. Grill fish and plate, and top with a generous amount of salsa.

grilled fish with mango salsa

 

Baked Goat Cheese

baked goat cheese

Baked Goat Cheese

One of the many things I will always be indebted to my friend Porter for is his recipe for Baked Goat Cheese. This delicious appetizer was a standby in his kitchen and quickly became one of mine. Always the showman, Porter would often bake his goat cheese in an 18th-century roof tile from Provence. Even though I still have a couple roof tiles floating around from my days of hanging out on the set of his TV show, I generally opt for a more modest approach (a gratin dish or a cazuela works great). Whatever you decide to bake it in, I promise it will be consumed quickly.

baked goat cheese

I love goat cheese; it is truly a versatile cheese. Just putting out a log of unadorned goat cheese with some crackers is usually enough to make everyone happy. However, why stop there when with a little effort you can create something truly memorable. Baking it with some goodies on top from your well-stocked pantry kicks it up a notch. The great thing about this dish is that it can be prepared quickly and with only a moment’s notice. So take some advice from Porter: in addition to stocking roof tiles in your kitchen, keep a little goat cheese on hand. Along with a few other staples like olives, artichoke hearts, and capers you will be good to go.

Last fall in Seattle at IFBC, I was introduced to a great goat cheese from ‘Redwood Hill Farm’ just north of the city in Sonoma. They make some great rind cheeses, but what you want for this dish is their Fresh Chèvre. It comes in a plain version as well as a Three Peppercorn, Roasted Chile, or Garlic Chive flavor. I like the plain version because I plan on adding my own flavors. My ‘go-to’ basic baked goat cheese consists of olives, artichoke hearts, capers, and garlic, but the sky is the limit when coming up with other flavor combinations. After preparing the Baked Goat Cheese that we used for this post, Paul and I sat down over cocktails and brainstormed some other great variations as we polished off the entire dish. Just a sample of some of the ideas we came up with were:

  • Sun-dried Tomato, Mushroom, and Shallots
  • Black Fig, Prosciutto, and Walnut
  • Green Chile, Jalapeño, and Chorizo

It occurred to us while we were brainstorming that almost anything would be good baked on top of some goat cheese. While I usually stick with my time-tested combination of Kalamata olives, marinated artichokes and stuffed green olives, any number of combinations will work well. I am also crazy about salt, so I like some grey salt (sel gris) on top, but the olives and capers might be briny enough for you, so I will leave that one up to you.

Baked Goat Cheese

Baked Goat Cheese

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces of Redwood Hill Farm Chèvre
  • 1/3 cup mixed chopped pitted olives (Kalamata, green, stuffed, etc.…)
  • 1/3 cup drained and chopped artichoke hearts
  • 1-tablespoon capers
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sel gris (coarse grey sea salt)

Instructions

Spread the cheese loosely into the bottom of an ovenproof dish to a depth of around 1/2 to 3/4 of and inch. Combine the olives, artichokes, capers, and garlic together and spread over the goat cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sel gris or other coarse salt to taste. Bake uncovered in a 350° oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the top and edges have slightly started to brown and the top is nice and bubbly. Serve immediately with sliced baguette, crackers, or pita.

baked goat cheese

 

Links

Porter William Brooks http://www.entertainingpeople.com Buy the book! http://www.amazon.com/dp/1497502039

Redwood Hill Farm http://www.redwoodhill.com

International Food Blogging Conference (IFBC) http://www.foodista.com/ifbc

Mastering Pasta

9781607746072

Mastering Pasta-The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto, by Marc Vetri

People have debated and argued about the origins of pasta for years. It may have been invented in China (as some claim), but very few would argue that the Italians aren’t the ones who really own it. In his book “Mastering Pasta”, Marc Vetri has written a definitive reference to the art and science of pasta. Classically trained in Bergamo, Italy and founder of Philadelphia’s Vetri Family of Restaurants, Marc Vetri is clearly suited for the job.

If you are looking for a sauce to put on some pasta you picked up at the store this is not the book for you. If you want to know why tipo 00 flour from Italy is going to give you different results than all-purpose flour, then you’re in luck. The second chapter of the book is all about flour. I was a bit concerned that this was more information than I needed to know, and I was beginning to feel a bit intimidated (despite how interesting it was to read). Fortunately, like everyone else, I thumbed through the entire book first. After browsing through the recipes, I was willing to take all the time I needed to create the beautiful dishes that seemed to jump out of the book as I turned each page. As I read along I realized that making pasta is much easier than you might expect and very approachable for any level of cook. The recipes in the book are perfect examples of what a dish of pasta should be. It should be flavorful on its own with a texture that is a delight to bite into and seasoned to accentuate the pasta, not overpower it. All too often in America the pasta is reduced to a flavorless vehicle for a cacophony of flavors. Often heavy and over sauced, American pasta may be familiar and satisfying but can fail to live up to its potential.

I love a cookbook that is more than a collection of recipes, and that is where “Mastering Pasta” excels. It also serves as a reference book. As such, you can explore the topic as in depth or as lightly as you desire. All types of various pastas are explored here: baked sheet pastas, stuffed, extruded, formed pasta, and flavored pasta. The recipes are well written and easy to understand, and there is plenty of information on technique. There is also a welcome chapter on risotto. I was also excited to see a chapter dedicated to gnocchi, one of my all time favorites. I had made pasta before but never tried to make gnocchi. A quote from the book summed up my trepidation attempting to make gnocchi:

“No matter what type of gnocchi you make, texture and flavor are still the two most important things to consider when making them. Not enough flour and you’ll create soup when the dumplings go into the water. Too much flour or too much kneading and you’ll make the ever popular “asshole stoppers,” as they were lovingly called years ago in South Philly. But with the right amount of flour, maybe a little egg, and a gentle touch, gnocchi can taste like tender puffs of flavor that seem to float from the fork to your mouth.”

The reason I have avoided making them is that I was afraid they would not be the light tender pillows that seemingly float up from the plate, but the other kind that you can imagine haunting you later (the latter kind described above). However, after reading the chapter on gnocchi, I am now ready and eager to give it a try. That is the kind of inspiration I love and appreciate in a cookbook the most!

Nothing gets me more excited about a new cookbook than discovering something new (to me anyhow) and in this case it was ‘testarolo’. The picture alone stopped me in my tracks for a recipe for ‘Testarolo with Pistachio Pesto’. Testarolo is a form of pasta that starts out as a batter that is then cooked on a hot skillet like a crepe. Like a pancake, it is cooked crisp and browned, and is then cut into diamond shapes and put briefly into the water before being tossed with a sauce (the sauce here was a pistachio pesto). It is served with a garnish of goat cheese and orange zest. The dish is as spectacularly visual as it is delicious.

Mastering pasta is full of classic pasta dishes anyone should be familiar with like ‘Tagliatelle with Traditional Bolognese’, ‘Risotto all Milanese’, and ‘Ricotta Ravioli’ as well on many other fresh takes on traditional dishes: dishes like ‘Fig and Onion Caramelle with Gorgonzola Dolce Fonduta’ and ‘Linguine with Peekytoe Crab and Horseradish’ to name a few. A chapter on stocks, sauces, and the basics rounds this ‘must have’ cookbook for any pasta devotee. I highly recommend this book. I can’t wait to get started.

 

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”

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