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Confessions of a Girls Scout Cookie Hater

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It’s Spring, which means it’s Girl Scout cookie season. Little Girl Scouts and Brownies everywhere are marching door to door selling boxes of Americana. If you live a few flights up or don’t have any Girl Scouts in your neighborhood, you may have escaped the door-to-door sales period, but I would be surprised if you haven’t encountered little green- or brown-vested girls somewhere else. Rosy-cheeked and armed with multi-hued boxes, they sit at card tables in front of your local hardware or grocery store, at parks, or near the door of your morning coffee spot ready to sell Thin Mints and Do-Si-Dos. You may even work with people who push cookies for their daughters at the office. The Girl Scouts and Brownies are everywhere this time of year, and many of us can’t dodge buying a box or two (or ten). I mean, who can turn down a cute little 8-year old girl selling cookies to pay for the big end-of-year campout?

So each year I find myself with boxes of Samoas, Lemon Chalet Cremes, and Tagalongs, to go with the ever popular Thin Mints and Do-Si-Dos. But here’s the problem: I hate Girl Scout cookies.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate the Girls Scouts of America. Unlike the Boy Scouts, with their appalling homophobia issues, the Girl Scouts are quite likable. The organization works to empower girls of all ages, which I think is great. My daughters were Brownies for a couple of years, and if the meeting time hadn’t interfered with piano lessons, they would still be in their old troop hawking their own boxes of cookies.

My dislike of Girl Scout cookies has nothing to do with the Girl Scout organization itself and everything to do with the actual cookies. They’re just not very good. Actually, they’re awful. Whenever I see people look genuinely excited to get their boxes, I am confused. The chocolate in the Thin Mints and Samoas is waxy, while the Samoas themselves are so overtly sweet they make me nauseous. Trefoils are sort of like shortbread, but without the great buttery taste, so why bother? The Do-Si-Dos, which are peanut butter cookies, are probably the best of the bunch, but even they’re a poor facsimile of what a real peanut butter cookie should taste like. And don’t even get me started about the partially hydrogenated oils in every box.

I have kept my feelings about Girl Scout cookies bottled up for years as detesting them seems tantamount to hating grandma and apple pie. But I need to be brave and stop living a lie. So I am shouting it from the rooftops (or rather my computer). I hate Girl Scout cookies! There is nothing tasty about them and I’m tired of pretending Thin Mints are a treat. If this organization is going to bombard us with cute kids selling plastic-wrapped confections, can’t the cookies at least taste good?

Maybe they really aren’t all that bad and I’m just turning into a crabby old lady. The next thing you know I’ll be screaming at the kids to get off my lawn. Okay, it felt good to get that off my chest. That said, I’m sure I’ll be buying more boxes next year.

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I Heart Pea Shoots

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Sure, I love chocolate truffles and Valentine’s Day goodies, but February has another sweet treat: pea shoots. If you haven’t tried these lovely greens before, you’re in luck because they’re all over the farmer’s market right now. And, at $1 or $2 a bag, you can feel the love.

Pea shoots are simply the leaves of the pea plant. But that description doesn’t do them justice. The leaves are bright green and succulent, with accompanying tendrils that curl up like wavy Mohawks and have a subtle sugary flavor that is delicious both raw and cooked. Like peas, pea shoots have a sweet crispness that goes beautifully with just about anything. They have a pleasant sweet pea flavor that works well on its own, or as an accent with meats, pastas, or beans. Some things I like to do with pea shoots are:

  • · Use as greens in a salad
  • · Incorporate into omelets or frittatas
  • · Include in soups as you would spinach or chard
  • · Stuff inside chicken breasts or flank steak with lemon zest and garlic
  • · Mix with pastas

On Saturday, I was so excited pea shoots were in season, I bought two batches at the farmer’s market. The first night, I made pasta with pea shoots and crumbled bacon, and then the next night we had a pea shoot salad with cured chorizo, Marcona almonds, couscous, and lentils. The saltiness of both the bacon and chorizo nicely accented the natural sweet flavor of the pea shoots, as did the Marcona almonds and Parmesan.

When cooking pea shoots, be sure not to oversteam them as they’ll lose some of their flavor and texture if they’re cooked too long. I like to toss them into a very hot pan with a little olive oil so they crisp up a bit before they cook down. If eating raw, make sure you thoroughly trim off the woody ends, and then dress as a salad green. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Below are the recipes for the dishes I made this week with my pea shoots. Both are easy and relatively fast to make. If you’re looking for further inspiration, I found a site called <a href=”http://www.peashoots.com/”&gt;pea shoots.com</a>, which has a number of eye-catching recipes that made my mouth water. I haven’t had time to cook any yet, but am especially looking forward to trying the pea shoot and smoked bacon soup (yes, I know, again with the bacon); although the pea shoot bubble and squeak also looks enticing.

So if you’re looking for a unique Valentine’s gift for your sweetheart, how about a bouquet of pea shoots?

salad-for-bab

Pea Shoot Salad with Chorizo, Almonds, Lentils, and Couscous

Makes 2 large or 4 small salads

Salad

Ingredients:

1 large bunch of pea shoots (washed with ends trimmed)

1/2 cup cooked lentils, white beans, or fava beans

1/3 cup roughly-chopped fennel

1/3 cup cured chorizo or soppresetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/3 cup Spanish Marcona almonds

1/3 cup cooked couscous

1 Tbsp chopped parsley

1 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Dressing

Ingredients:

Juice from one medium Meyer lemon or 1 1/2 Eureka lemons

Zest from one lemon

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Preparation:

1. Chop pea sprouts into 1-inch pieces, discarding large tough stems, and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a medium sauté pan and then add the chopped fennel.

3. After the fennel begins to soften, add the beans and parsley and then toss together, adding salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. Lay pea shoots onto plates and then evenly scatter beans, couscous, chorizo or soppresetta, and almonds onto each plate.

5. Drizzle dressing on top of each plate and serve.

pasta-for-bab

Pea Shoot Pasta Sautéed with Bacon and Lemon Zest

Makes 4 – 6 servings

Ingredients:

1 bunch of pea shoots, cleaned, dried and cut into 3-inch long pieces

2 cloves garlic

1 lb cooked pasta

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon zest

1 ladle of hot pasta water

2 -3 slices cooked bacon or 1/4 cup cooked cubed pancetta

Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste


Preparation:

1. Clean and dry your pea shoots and remove any hard stems. Cut shoots into 3-inch pieces.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok until oil starts to sizzle.

3. Smash and then chop garlic into medium pieces and add to the olive oil.

4. Add pea shoots and lemon zest and sauté for about 3-5 minutes, or until pea shoots start to wilt.

5. Stir in cooked pasta and pasta water.

6. Crumble bacon and add to the pasta.

7. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top along with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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Kriek

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I love cherries and I’m also quite keen on beer, so you would think that I would have jumped at the chance to try a Belgian cherry beer on tap when offered one; yet I at first refused. Although I adore cherries — they may just be my favorite fruit — I abhor fake cherry flavoring. This is why I am unable to take cough medicine or drink cherry soda. It just tastes fake and wrong to me. So last year, while visiting the lovely city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, I had to be convinced to try the cherry beer that is a staple at most pubs in the fall. I am so glad I relented.

Kriek (pronounced like “creek”) is a fruit beer made from lambic, a sour and dry Belgian beer, which has been infused with sour cherries and their pits. According to the bartender I chatted with in Haarlem, the pits are where the real cherry flavor lies. Lambic is only brewed in Belgium. It is unique in that brewers don’t add any yeast as an ingredient. Fermentation instead occurs through exposure to yeast strains and bacteria native to the area of Pajottenland (is it me, or does that sound like a name thought up by Dr. Seuss?). The marriage of lambic with sour cherries is really a regional match made in heaven.

After sipping my friend Corbin’s kriek, I was hooked. My first response was literally “Wow!” The cherry flavor was tart and sweet, but understated and not syrupy, and the texture of the brew was perfect. Although we had just had a big meal, I drank two and a half pints. I realized this was my one and only chance to have this stuff on tap (well, until my next visit to Northern Europe, whenever that may be) and I wanted to make the most of it.

The next morning, before I flew to London, I dashed to the local liquor store and bought a few bottles of kriek to share with my husband, who was stuck at home with the kids while I gallivanted throughout Europe with my oldest friend. It was the least I could do — really. I knew he would love it, and wasn’t sure I could find the stuff at home.

But a few months after returning home, I saw it on the menu at Luka’s Taproom in Oakland. And, although it wasn’t as fresh and earthy as the lovely brew on tap in Haarlem, it was close enough to make me quite happy. Our waitress told us she had seen it at Whole Foods, so I journeyed over there a few days later and bought some, along with a bottle or two of framboise, kriek’s raspberry cousin which is equally intriguing.

The most common brand sold in the United States is Lindeman’s, which comes in both 750 ml and 8 oz bottles, and is sold at both Luka’s Taproom and Whole Foods. But if you’re interested in trying a few other varieties, The Trappist in Oakland has a number of different brands by the bottle and actually sometimes even has kriek on tap (at least their web site says they do). I tried a bottle there recently. Unfortunately I can’t remember the brand, but it was less sweet than the Lindeman’s and quite good.

Although Luka’s refers to kriek as a dessert beer, I think the designation is too limiting. Since finding that I can get it here, I’ve tried it with numerous dishes. Kriek is a fantastic accompaniment to roasted pork, spinach salad, and baked chicken. It’s also nice with a plate of cheese — the stinkier the better.

So if you come across some kriek, I highly recommend it. Better yet, if you find yourself in Belgium or The Netherlands in the fall, try a pint on tap. You won’t regret it.

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Hot Chocolate with Homemade Marshmallow Whip

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On a cold day, a cup of hot chocolate is about as good as it gets — well, as far as food and beverages go. More often than not, people get their hot chocolate fix from Starbucks or another coffee shop, spending about $3.00 a cup. For a family of four, this can add up — especially if your kids are prone to dropping their to-go cups inches from the front door of the cafe, as mine are. The other problem with buying cups of hot chocolate is that the paper cups and plastic lids sabotage any attempt to really enjoy the full flavor and aroma of the drink. Worst of all, you either need to drink your tasty beverage on the go, or get it back home in the cold, only to find it’s lukewarm when you finally sit down to drink it. No. I have a primal need to warm up on a cold day with a steaming cup of hot chocolate — in a real cup, in my favorite chair — and so I need to make it at home.

When I was in college, I was misinformed and poor, so we used Swiss Miss packets of cocoa. After dumping each pack in a cup of microwave warmed water, we would all settle down for what we hoped would be a delicious treat (which often included Peppermint Schnapps). I didn’t realize at the time that I was a foodie, but I did know one thing: those cups of cocoa were awful. If it weren’t for the Schnapps, I would have passed on the whole affair.

It was only when I was an adult that I started to make real hot chocolate. I learned that there is a difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate, and experimented with different cocoa powders and bittersweet bars, enjoying the results from both, but preferring hot chocolate. In case you’re curious, hot cocoa is made using cocoa powder, sugar, and milk, while hot chocolate is made with melted chocolate, sugar, and milk. For me, there’s just something about drizzling hot bittersweet chocolate into warmed milk that really satisfies both my hot beverage and chocolate cravings.

For years I topped my hot chocolate with either warm milk foam or whipped cream, which at the time seemed perfect. But, a few weeks ago, my mother created the ultimate topping for our steaming chocolate beverages: homemade marshmallow whip. She initially made a batch All-Around Frosting from Cooks.com to frost my daughters’ gingerbread house, but we soon realized that this lovely confection had a far greater purpose in our lives.

Although the recipe is supposedly for frosting, the ingredients are everything you would need to make marshmallows, minus the gelatin, and the result is the lightest marshmallow whip you could ever hope for. My only recommendation is to half the recipe if you don’t want a ton of it.

One of the things I love about using the homemade marshmallow whip is that it has a luscious creamy texture that melts beautifully into your hot chocolate. It is also rich and full enough to add body to your drink if you want to use low-fat or nonfat milk. And, you can always frost a cake or stick a gingerbread house together with it if afterward.

So the next time you crave a cup of hot chocolate, go for a version that doesn’t come in a paper cup and isn’t made from a packet. Adding Schnapps, however, is completely up to you.

Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

Makes 2 servings

  • 2 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preparation

1. Chop chocolate into small pieces.

2. Heat milk in a sauce pan on medium-low heat, being sure not to let it boil over.

3. There are two ways to melt the chocolate:

A. Place the chocolate pieces in a metal bowl that will fit securely over your sauce pan. Reduce the heat for the milk to a low simmer and then place the bowl on top of the pan. Stir until the chocolate is melted.

B. Place chocolate pieces in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir chocolate to help distribute the heat. If chocolate has not thoroughly melted, heat for another 20 seconds and repeat until chocolate is melted through.

4. Add chocolate to the heated milk along with the sugar and vanilla extract and stir thoroughly to incorporate everything together. I like to use a whisk, which creates some froth.

5. Serve.

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How to Save a Fruitcake

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We’ve all heard horror stories about rock-hard fruitcakes. They’re supposedly the favored gift to “re-gift,” can last for years, and are hockey-puck textured. According to the late Johnny Carson, “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

I thought this all more legend than reality, however, as I had never actually tasted one in person until recently. This could be because I’m Italian and my people don’t make traditional fruitcakes (we instead eat the divine panetone), or maybe people just don’t give each other fruitcakes anymore. Whatever the case, I was out of the loop until I purchased one in Scotland a couple of months ago.

While visiting the gift shop at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh — I spied some traditional British fruitcakes and thought it would be fun to bring one home to share with my mom over the holidays. When I asked the cashier if it would last until December, he laughed and said “Definitely.” Thinking his droll response had more to do with the reputation fruitcake has than the actual merit of the one I sat on the counter, I spent 5 pounds on it (that’s $10 US bucks) and packed it up in my suitcase. When we got home, I stuck it in the fridge, all bundled up in its shrink wrap niceties, until the holiday season arrived. Then, on Christmas Eve, my mom and I made a hot pot of tea while it stormed outside, and sat down to our plate of authentic English fruitcake.

After one bite, our eyes met as we mutually realized the obvious: if this fruitcake was an authentic representation, the stories weren’t rumors. With a texture both brittle and brick-like, it was difficult to chew even the smallest bite without choking. I read the list of ingredients on the wrapper and realized that this sad example of a holiday cake didn’t have any alcohol in it.

Fruitcakes are traditionally aged in a cloth wrapping of alcohol for at least five weeks. The alcohol preserves the cakes, fruits, and nuts within, and keeps everything moist. I wondered what the chefs at Holyrood Palace Gift Shop were thinking when they stuck this sad use of flour, fruit and nuts in cellophane without a little brandy. Maybe it was an attempt to get more people to purchase one, although I was reminded of the old adage that when you try to please everyone, you end up making absolutely nobody happy. I began to wonder how many of these confections were made — and aged — without alcohol or some type of moistening agent. It seemed that in an attempt to gain a wider audience through omitting the alcohol, cooks had turned what had once been a yearly treat into an inedible burden.

My mom and I love a culinary challenge, so we jumped into action. With just a little bit of work, and about a half cup of brandy, the fruitcake became more than edible. Yes, I am here to say that a hard-as-nails, dry-as-the-desert dessert can be revived in, amazingly, less than ten minutes. Not only revived, but made moist and delicious. After “fixing” the cake, mom and I enjoyed our nice hot cup of tea and gobbled up our treat quite happily.

So if you find yourself a recipient of a fruitcake this year, please know that your only recourse is not to pass it on to another unsuspecting dupe. In just a few short minutes you can bring new life to your confection, and spend an afternoon happily nibbling away with a hot cup of tea.

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How to Revive a Fruitcake

1. Place a 1/2 cup of alcohol in a sauce pan along with the zest from an orange. I used brandy, but you could also use cognac, rum, Grand Marnier, or whatever else you like.

2. With a skewer, poke numerous holes into your cake, making sure the holes go all the way through.

3. Set your cake into the sauce pan and heat it until the alcohol starts to simmer.

4. Cover and steam for a few minutes and then start spooning the sauce over the cake so it runs through the many holes you created.

5. Cover the cake in the pan for another minute and then spoon the remaining alcohol over the cake. Continue this process until most of the alcohol is absorbed.

6. Turn off the heat, cover the cake and let it sit for another five minutes.

7. Set the cake on a plate to cool and then serve with your favorite pot of tea.

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Buckingham Palace Shortbread

After having more than our fill of butter and sugar throughout Christmas, I for some reason felt a desire to have more yesterday. I therefore dug out my copy of Holiday Baking to find a shortbread recipe. But this wasn’t just any shortbread recipe. It was for Buckingham Palace Shortbread and is supposedly the recipe used at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s tea each day. I loved that it looked thick and buttery, so decided to give it a try. The shortbread was very easy to make and the results were also quite nice: buttery, crisp, and with a nice coating of sugar on top. The Queen has good taste.

As luck would have it, the recipe is also on the Chronicle Books web site, so you can try it yourself, even if you don’t have the book.

I am hoping this is my last use of excess butter for the year. Only two more days to go. Wish me luck!

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You say Yorkshire Pudding, I say Baccalà

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Every family has its own way of celebrating the winter holidays. But what happens when two different cultures converge through marriage? Although my husband and I both grew up celebrating Christmas, this is exactly what happened to us 15 years ago when we started dating.

It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear that my childhood Christmas traditions were all centered around Italian food. Although we lived 3,000 miles from my mother’s family when I was growing up, she brought her Italian and New York heritage to San Diego. Sweet ricotta cakes infused with citrus, struffula (small fried egg dough cakes covered in honey and candies), and sandies (pecan shortbreads dusted with powdered sugar) graced our dessert table. Meanwhile, Christmas Eve was a seafood extravaganza — as it is for most Italian Catholics — and we dedicated ourselves to frying clams, shrimp, octopus, and calamari; stuffing whole baby squids and gently cooking them in a savory marinara sauce; baking freshly made pizzas; and frying ricotta and sausage calzones in vats of hot olive oil. The preparations all started a few days before Christmas Eve, when my mom would start soaking salted cod so she could make Baccalà– a chilled cod salad with vinegar peppers, celery and other delights.  We had enough food, and wine, for at least 20 people.

On Christmas morning, we would excitedly open our presents, and then just as enthusiastically eat reheated pizza and calzones for breakfast along with a meatball or two from my mother’s simmering gravy. After a few hours on the stove, the gravy would be ready and we would sit down for our holiday meal which included — along with the gravy — either lasagna or baked ziti, prosciutto pie (ricotta and prosciutto baked into a homemade olive oil dough crust), chicken cacciatore, a mashed potato soufflé, eggplant parmesan, and a few other tidbits.

Those big Italian Christmas meals make up some of my most vivid holiday memories. I loved them and always thought I would one day mimic my mother’s Neopolitan feasts, down to the smallest details, when I was old enough to host my own Christmas dinners. But something unexpected threw a wrench into the works of this plan: I married someone with completely different holiday traditions than my own.

After marrying a Midwestern boy who ate ham on Christmas Eve and rib roast on Christmas Day, my eyes were opened to the fact that there were other ways to make a Christmas dinner. Sure, Anglo-American culture, depicted in movies and books, always showed people eating turkeys and roasts for Christmas dinner. Old Scrooge gives the Cratchits a turkey as big as Tiny Tim at the end of A Christmas Carol and even the Grinch gets to carve the roast beast. Yet although I was familiar with these stories, I had never had that type of Christmas meal: what appeared to be the norm in most American households seemed more like an oddity to me.

My husband and I spent our first few years together enjoying holidays at our parents’ houses, partaking in an Italian Christmas one year and then switching off to an Anglo one the next. I usually made dessert at my in-laws’ house, but left the job of cooking the roast beast up to my mother -in-law. But now that we have young children, we find ourselves hosting and cooking the holiday meals at our own house more often than not. So in an attempt to have our children grow up experiencing both their Italian and Midwestern heritages, we celebrate each of our family’s Christmas traditions. The holiday starts with a very Italian Christmas Eve, followed the next day by a standing rib roast or Beef Wellington with all the trimmings, including a nice steamed pudding or trifle for dessert.

One thing that has surprised me through all this is how much I have come to really love our Anglo Christmas dinners. Persimmon pudding has even become one of my favorite holiday desserts. Sure, the foods my mother made on Christmas are part of my cultural identity and embody flavors and tastes that I will always love and want to pass on to my own children, but I now simply save that menu for another occasion, usually Easter. I sometimes wonder what my daughters will do when it’s their turn to host their own Christmas events. In the meantime, I’m trying to raise them with some shared traditions from both parents, along with some that are unique to our own family as well.

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Hachiya Persimmons

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About a month ago, I wrote about Fuyu persimmons, which are one of my favorite fall fruits. This week, I’d like to extol the virtues of the Hachiya persimmon. Hachiyas are the misunderstood fruit of winter:  although they are sweet and wonderful when baked into cakes and puddings, many people are afraid to eat them because they are truly awful when immature. A firm Hachiya is extraordinarily astringent and inedible.  I admit that taking a bite out of one is sort of like eating an unripe bitter walnut while suddenly having all the moisture sucked out of your cheeks and tongue. But there’s a very simple way to avoid this: don’t eat Hachiyas until they’re ripe.

Like Fuyus, Hachiyas range in color from light orange to a reddish sunset. They are easy to distinguish from Fuyus, however, because while the Fuyu looks like an orange tomato, the Hachiya is shaped like a large acorn. Hachiyas are lovely in both appearance and taste, just not at the same time. While they are outwardly attractive when unripe, they only become gastronomically appealing once the skin mottles and starts to shrivel over the soft ripened fruit. Yet while Hachiyas may not be pretty when they’re ready to be eaten, they are luscious when added to cakes and steamed puddings.

ripe-persimmon

Before you eat a Hachiya, make sure it is soft and squishy as you need to wait for the fruit’s tannins to break down before the pulp loses its astringency and takes on a sweet and sugary flavor. The mature fruit has a jellylike texture, which may make them seem unappealing as a raw snack, but shouldn’t stop you from cooking with them. To coax Hachiyas into ripening, just set them out on your counter or window sill for a few days to over a week, depending on how firm they are. If you’re in a hurry, you can freeze a partially ripe Hachiya for at least 24 hours and then defrost it, which helps soften and sweeten the fruit. I tried this once and it worked okay, although the taste wasn’t as sweet as a naturally-ripened persimmon.

You can buy Hachiyas at the farmer’s market or grocery store during the fall and early winter, but as they grow in abundance in the Bay Area, you may be able to get them for free if you know someone with a tree. In my neighborhood, there are at least ten trees within a four-block radius of my house. For years, most of the fruit from these trees was left to rot each December on the ground. I always wanted to stop and ask the people who lived in these houses if I could have a few, but usually I had two toddling twins running ahead of me and so always put it off for another day. But this all changed a few years back when my neighbor George started knocking on doors and asking people if he could collect their fallen fruit. George is in his late 70s, has a big smile for everyone, and loves to chat. How could anyone refuse him? Luckily George also knows that I love persimmons (from all that chatting we’ve done over the years), so each December he now gives me persimmons by the bagful, and I, in turn, give him persimmon cake.

I came up with my Hachiya persimmon cake recipe as a way to use up all those lovely persimmons George leaves on my doorstep. If you’d like to try the sweet, nuanced flavor of Hachiya persimmons, this might be a good recipe to try because it’s fast and easy. Although the recipe calls for some fresh orange juice and brandy or cognac — all of which nicely accent the persimmons’ sweet flavor — you can leave them out if you don’t have them on hand. Just be sure to add in a teaspoon of vanilla if you leave out the orange juice.

So here’s to the Hachiya persimmon: a fruit that is lovely both inside and out.

Persimmon Cake with a Citrus Glaze

Makes one 9 x 13-inch cake

1 1/4 cups Hachiya persimmon pulp

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 cup softened butter

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

2 Tbsp orange juice

1 Tbsp brandy or cognac

3/4 cup raisins or currants

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Icing

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp orange juice

2 tsp lemon juice

Preparation

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Remove skin from persimmons and seed the fruit. Blend the pulp in a food processor or blender and set aside.
  3. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Blend the sugar into the butter until creamy.
  5. Add the eggs, orange juice and cognac to the butter mixture and beat until fully incorporated.
  6. Blend in the persimmon puree.
  7. Add the flour to the butter and persimmon mixture.
  8. Add the raisins and nuts and mix until just barely incorporated. Don’t overmix, however, as this will make your cake rubbery.
  9. Grease a 9×13 pan and then spread the batter inside.
  10. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. To make the icing, mix the powdered sugar, orange juice and lemon juice in a bowl until you have a thick syrupy consistency. Add more lemon or orange juice if you need to thin it a bit more.
  12. Spread the icing on top of the warm cake.
  13. Cool and serve.



Related Posts

Fuyu Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

Hachiya Persimmons


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Baja Cuisine in San Diego

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[Also published on KQED's Bay Area Bites]

Last week my family and I went to San Diego for Thanksgiving, but instead of focusing on the turkey, I was obsessed with Mexican food. When I’m in San Diego, I crave rolled tacos with guacamole, carne asada burritos, and fish tacos. I grew up in North County San Diego, the land of Baja taco shops. When I was growing up, fast food didn’t mean McDonalds or Jack in the Box. It meant Juanita’s and Roberto’s, two local chains that specialize in Baja street food.

When I moved to San Francisco, I was surprised, and a bit outraged, that the Mexican food was so different. I couldn’t comprehend why everyone put beans and rice in their burritos and was appalled that the rolled tacos not only had a different name — taquitos — they tasted completely different. The Mexican food in the Bay Area is influenced by the foods of central Mexico, while in San Diego they serve Baja food, which is really the only type of Mexican food I crave.

If any of you grew up in San Diego, went to college there, or visit on a regular basis, I’m sure you’re familiar with the type of restaurant I’m talking about. They go by many different names. Juanita’s and Roberto’s are part of a larger family of Mexican appellations: Aliberto’s, Filiberto’s, and Alberto’s, to name a few. These taco shops are in pretty much almost every strip mall in San Diego County, and run down Highway 1 on the coast. Most are open until the wee hours of the morning and are the go-to place for anyone staying out late. It is not uncommon to see a line in these restaurants at midnight. They’re also open bright and early, serving some of the best breakfast burritos I’ve ever had. And, as if all this weren’t enough, the food is ridiculously cheap. One day for lunch I fed my extended family for pennies on the dollar compared to what it would cost in the Bay Area, buying 3 orders of rolled tacos with guacamole, 2 bean and cheese burritos, 1 carne asada burrito, 1 fish taco, and 2 quesadillas for $27. This all came with free helpings of vinegar and jalapeno-marinated carrots and onions.

The décor in these shops is spare: usually a few heavily stained formica tables and plastic booth chairs set next to a big counter where you order. But who cares how it looks. The food is amazing. As far as I’m concerned, there is no carne asada burrito I’d rather eat than the one that can be found at Juanitas on Highway 1 in Leucadia. A soft flour tortilla stuffed chock full of perfectly seasoned carne asada. Other than some added guacamole and salsa, there is nothing else inside–no pinto beans, rice, sour cream, vegetables, or anything else to distract from the full meat flavor of beef seasoned to perfection with the most incredible Baja salsa.

rolled tacos

But as much as I love the carne asada, I adore the rolled tacos even more. This dish is a staple of Mexican taco shops in San Diego. Everyone here knows what a rolled taco is. No one calls them “taquitos” and they always come with a slather of fresh guacamole and melted cheddar cheese on top. I spent every Friday and Saturday night eating these for less than $2 when I was a teenager.

Another favorite, the fish taco, is simple and perfect. Cod covered in a mild batter flawlessly fried. It’s served with some cabbage, a white sauce and fresh salsa. My husband, who could eat fish tacos daily, goes to Juanita’s when we’re in North County (where my family lives), but craves the ones served at El Cuervo, a little Mexican restaurant near our old house in the Hillcrest neighborhood downtown.

I have tried quite a few Mexican restaurants in the Bay Area, and although I like a select few, I haven’t yet found a restaurant in the Bay Area that can even come close to my old buddies Juanita, Roberto and Alberto. If you know of one, please pass on the information — my time between rolled tacos stretches too long.

Juanitas Taco Shop‎
290 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA

Roberto’s Mexican Food‎
274 N El Camino Real # B, Encinitas, CA‎

Roberto’s Mexican Food‎
445 N Highway 101, Solana Beach, CA‎

El Cuervo Taco Shop‎
110 W Washington St, San Diego, CA‎


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Pork and Pumpkin Coconut Lemongrass Curry

currybowl

[Also published on KQED's Bay Area Bites.]

Holidays are the ideal time for big family dinners followed by days of leftovers. But by this time, you may have eaten your fill of turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey chili, and turkey casserole. After a few days of eating all things turkey — and pie! — I have an urge to dig into either pork or beef. As an added measure, I like to make it a bit spicy to wake up my palette. So if you’re also a bit tired of holiday leftovers, Pork and Pumpkin Coconut Lemongrass Curry may be just the antidote you’re looking for.

As an Italian girl whose blood flows with as much olive oil as hemoglobin, I am not a confident curry maker. But after a trip to the market where the butternut squash was beautifully stacked and the organic pork shoulder looked so tempting, I decided these were the perfect curry ingredients and so gave it a try. Because I didn’t have a recipe on hand, I was forced to shop with just my imagination as a guide.

It seemed to make the most sense to pick up some lemongrass, which has such a lovely fresh flavor, along with cilantro, coconut milk and green curry paste to go along with my pork and squash. If you are not a cilantro fan, you could just as easily use Thai basil.

Once I got home, I wanted to make the cooking process as easy as possible, so decided to let my blender do most of the work. This is the type of meal that simmers on your stove for a good hour or more, but making the dish itself is fairly quick. If you like to use a crock pot, you could easily pull this meal together in the morning and then let it simmer all day. Whichever route you take, the result is a rich, aromatic and flavorful bowl of curry goodness — just the remedy for turkey leftovers.


Pork and Pumpkin Coconut Lemongrass Curry

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 cups butternut squash or sugar pumpkin

1 medium onion chopped

2 lbs pork butt or shoulder cut into 1-inch cubes

1/8-cup finely chopped lemongrass

1/2 cup cilantro or Thai basil 1-inch chunk of ginger peeled and cut into pieces

2 large garlic cloves

1 large or two small shallots, or 4 green onions (only the white part)

2 Tbsp fish sauce

4 Tbsp water

2 Tbsp green curry paste

1 can coconut milk

2 1/2 cups water to cover the meat

Salt


Preparation:

1. Sprinkle salt on the pork cubes and set aside.

2. Heat a large stew pot on high. When the pot is nice and hot, add the oil and then carefully drop the pork into the pot, leaving at least a 1/4-inch space between pieces.

3. When the meat carmelizes on one side, turn each piece over and brown the meat on each side. Note: If you do not leave room between the individual meat pieces, they will steam instead of sear. This means you will probably need to brown the meat in two batches.

4. When the meat is browned, place all of it in the pot along with any juices that have collected.

5. Add the onion, stir it in, and let it cook for about 2 minutes with the meat on medium heat.

6. Add enough water to the pot to cover the pork and then scrape the bottom of the pot to incorporate the browned bits.

Note: If you are using a crock pot, you would now start to put all the ingredients into the main basin. Just put everything in (including the curry paste mixture and pumpkin) and then simmer for 6-8 hours on low.

7. Place the lemongrass, cilantro or basil, ginger, garlic, shallots, fish sauce, curry paste, and 4 Tbsp water in a blender and blend until everything is fully chopped and incorporated so you have a runny paste.

8. Stir the paste into the meat, add the coconut milk, and then simmer for at least a half hour (although preferably an hour) with the cover on.

9. While the meat simmers, peel the butternut squash or cooking pumpkin and then cut it into 1-inch cubes.

10. Add the pumpkin to the meat and continue to simmer until the pumpkin is soft.

11. Serve over rice.

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