Archive for December, 2008

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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A No-Hassle Holiday Breakfast with Leftovers


One of the things I love about cooking around the holidays is experimenting with all the ingredients in my refrigerator. Although I have a great time planning our Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s feasts, I think I enjoy the impromptu ones even more. Take Christmas breakfast this year: although I had every intention of making cinnamon rolls the night before Christmas so we could have freshly-baked ooey gooey deliciousness in the morning, an ill-timed head cold forced me to bed early. So there we were, Christmas morning with no buns. What we did have, however, was a fridge full of fresh and luxurious holiday ingredients.

After my daughters had their fill of opening the slew of presents Santa left, I sidled into the kitchen and opened the fridge. As I stared at the contents, I started to get hungry. My cold was subsiding and my nasal passages were starting to be able to discern smells again. As I scanned the shelf before me, I realized I had all the makings for a great frittata: eggs, baby spinach, pancetta, ricotta, parmesan, and heavy cream. It didn’t take long to mix everything together, and once I did, my mother commented on how the pancetta’s pink color coordinated with the green spinach to make a lovely Christmas color combination. I stared at my plate and felt a bit like an accidental Martha Stewart until I looked up and was brought back to reality by my messy kitchen. Even better than how it looked, however, was the fact that the eggs, ricotta and heavy cream had merged into a gorgeous custard, with the pancetta, spinach and Parmesan adding both salty and savory flavors.

The foods I had on hand worked well for my needs, but I could have easily used a variety of other items many people have lying around during the holidays. If you have a refrigerator full of random leftovers from holiday menus, just use whatever sounds good to make your own great holiday frittata. Some items you may want to use are cheeses left over from an appetizer platter, crème freche, ricotta, heavy cream, baked ham, sausage, pate, or al dente vegetables. There’s nothing like a frittata to make the most of a 1/2 cup of leftover whatever.

I’m also including my recipe for breakfast sausage, which I made on Christmas morning to go with the frittata. I like to start with sausage meat from my local butcher, but you could just as easily cobble this dish together using mild Italian pork or chicken sausage, or bratwurst. Any sausage you like is fine as the real flavor comes from adding a few more ingredients to the meat. Sometimes I add rosemary, spring onions and mustard, but I have also tried and liked adding a tablespoon of maple syrup, thyme, and shallots. You could also toss in a tablespoon of fruit chutney.

Most of us don’t have heavy cream and aged cheeses sitting in our refrigerators on a daily basis, so if you have holiday foods left over, make the most of them. Chances are your cupboard will revert back to a more modest and healthier ingredients list in a week or two and the opportunity will be lost.

Holiday Frittata
Serves 4 – 6 people

6 eggs
1/2 cup ricotta, crème freche, or sour cream
1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped pancetta, sausage or bacon
1/2 cup fresh spinach or arugula
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Place olive oil and your meat of choice into a medium pan that can go into the oven for 5-7 minutes or until your meat is lightly browned.
3. Meanwhile, whisk your eggs in a medium bowl until they start to get frothy.
4. Whisk in the ricotta, crème freche or sour cream and then add in the 1/2 cup of heavy cream or whole milk (please note that you should only use one of each ingredient, i.e., not heavy cream AND whole milk).
5. Once the meat is browned, add your spinach or arugula to the pan and sprinkle on a dash of salt. Mix and set in the oven for 2-3 minutes, or until the greens wilt.
6. Add the Parmesan to the egg mixture and then add it to the pan and bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the eggs become semi-firm.
7. Switch your oven to broil and place the pan about two inches beneath it. Broil your frittata until lightly browned and then quickly remove from the oven.
8. Serve.

“Homemade” Breakfast Sausage Patties
Makes 8 – 12 sausages (depending on how large you make the patties)

6 sausages (chicken or pork) or 1 pound sausage meat
1 Tbsp finely chopped rosemary
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped spring onions or shallots
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Remove sausage meat from their casings and place meat in a medium bowl.
2. Add all the other ingredients and then form sausage into patties.
3. If making baking in the oven, place the patties on a large baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes on each side or until the patties are thoroughly browned.
4. If making on the stove top, heat a large pan on medium high and fry patties on each side until browned and thoroughly cooked through.
5. Serve.

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You say Yorkshire Pudding, I say Baccalà


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


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.


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


1 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp orange juice

2 tsp lemon juice


  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


[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

Other Mexican Food Posts

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