Saturday, March 31, 2007

A rose is a rose is a rose

But when Gertrude Stein wrote those most famous words, she certainly wasn't accounting for rose syrups. Just look at the difference in these two rosey contenders. Some are red, some are clear. Some are cloying, some are sublime. My job today is to make something divine, drawing on this morning's rosey inspiration.

I just returned from the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, every eater's dreamland. Between the brown-sugar smoked salmon "candy", the fiddlehead ferns and the coconut meat, it's perishable paradise. And I can't think of a San Francisco springtime activity I enjoy more: sitting on the pier, eating breakfast (this morning a prosciutto and arugula scramble on grilled bread), perusing the produce and just generally gathering culinary inspiration.

So while I was there, I snapped up some exquisite roses and hyacinths. The roses were everywhere, huge and bursting open and perfuming the air. And coincidentally, also while I was there, I was gifted with a gorgeous bottle of Italian rose syrup by my lovely sister-in-law and cooking conspirator, Adriana. I decided it seems only right that with such floral, fragrant resources at my disposal, I should be making a dessert that tastes like flowers tonight. (If only I could remember the name of that Italian late harvest rosé that tasted like rose petals to compliment my confection.) Wine aside, I'm leaning toward making a rose panna cotta because Adri bought a beautiful gingered one today and its delicate image is fresh in my mental kitchen. It's been on my list for some time to create a honeysuckle-flavored something anyway, so perhaps this afternoon is the time to let my creativity bloom. Like that? Hey remember, this is *cheese* and things.

Anyway, as far as the rose syrups, the red one is the gorgeous new addition. The blue label was purchased at my fave Indian market, Bombay Ice Creamery on Valencia. It's more of a rose water than a true syrup but it is a bit sticky-viscous, so I guess it qualifies. Now that I have two such sugary nectars on my hands, a true tasting is in order. So the test kitchen is open and I'll report back with my floral findings.

And finally, check out this little bit of serendipity urging me onward: the iTunes is set on "random" and it just served up Edith Piaf, crooning La Vie en Rose at me. If ever there was a sign from the universe!

powered by ODEO
Quelle chance!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Meet my doppelganger, Stepford Jamie

[author's note: the following entry was written in the lazy days and hazy daze of Springtime. Brace yourself for a syrupy sweet meditation on gardening, worthy of someone's gramma or a Junior League cookbook. It's hard to realize your own frivolity at writing such a post when the world's in such a sorry state. But I suppose it's nice to know a sunny day can still bring happy satisfaction from something so simple as gardening.]

Previous plans for yesterday’s sunny Sunday in the ‘70s included a trip to Petaluma for the first annual artisan cheese festival and a stop by a friend’s art show at Eos. But when it turned out to be The Most Beautiful Day Ever (or at least in recent memory) I decided to skip the afternoon of eating and drinking to till the soil and prep the veggie garden.

Every year around this time, I spend an afternoon or two pulling the weeds, cursing the crabgrass, befriending the earthworms and banishing the snails from my little veggie kingdom. And yesterday’s weather was a sign that the time had come to perform this annual ritual so that I can begin planting in the coming weeks.

To date, my mix of plants has been experimental, with the only staples being arugula, butter lettuce and tomatoes. The mint is there year round, growing like a weed and keeping us in mojitos through all four seasons. The chives are also pretty robust residents. Everything else is determined each spring according to my fancy on seed-buying day. I’ve played with radishes, carrots, zucchini and peas, but none produced memorable results. This year, I also intend to grow flowers solely for cutting. I figure, buying blooms can get expensive, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t be growing my own.

That said, I believe this afternoon’s activities will include a trip to the seed store and a subsequent planting. So there’s no recipe to share today, but my outdoor effort will bring plenty of edible inspiration in the coming weeks. And there’s nothing so gratifying as tasting a recipe you’re concocting, realizing it needs a little something more and trotting out to the garden to snip it right then and there.

And with the last keystroke I typed in that paragraph, I realized how quaint and cloying and “Martha” it sounds. I apologize. I think the arrival of Springtime and the added hour of daylight have me positively giddy. So much so that if I belched right now, it would probably manifest as a little spritz of perfume on a cloud of cotton candy, wrapped up in ribbon and carried from my rose petal lips by sweetly, singing birds…..

Hm. Well OK. I checked and it’s actually nothing like that.

Good to know it’s still me under there.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A dense, decadent dessert: mi favorito, Tres Leches

Friday night, we had friends from Toronto visiting and I'd decided to make a Mexican meal featuring guacamole, carnitas tacos, real margaritas (you know: fresh limes, no mix) and for dessert, Tres Leches cake. My rationale was that these Canadian folk don't have the same access we do to good Mexican, so I reckoned I'd make something really authentic. This totally cracked Michael up, my being of German & Scottish descent and all. Anyway, snickering aside, I was determined to make the themed meal, and especially the cake, since a) it's divine, b) the best one I've ever had was from Market Hall and I'll be damned if I'm driving to Berkeley for something I can make at home and c) I found a recipe online that sounds super-simple and dead-on delicious.

If you've never had Tres Leches, there's something important to understand: It can be knock-your-calcetines-off amazing, or it can be muy, muy nasty. In the latter case, it's usually because it was produced by a grocery store and slathered in veggie-oil based frosting, like those sheet cakes you get from Safeway. In the former case, however, when it's delicioso, it's probably because it was made by some little abuelita who gave it plenty of TLC. With that thought in mind though, you may be surprised to learn that I chose a recipe from Emeril, who–as far as I know–is neither Mexican, female nor anyone's granny. He does have a recipe however that sounded right on based on the cake I wanted to create. It yielded a dessert that was dense with milky moisture (the desired effect) and sinfully sweet. In short, it was perfect.

And this is it.

Please forgive the poor photo quality. I still haven't replaced my camera, so I'm relying on my built-in Mac computer cam in the meantime.

If you do choose to make this cake, start the night before, so all tres of your leches can soak in overnight.

Also, know that when you make it, you will simply have to eat two pieces, so it ends up being seis leches in the end.

Tres Leches

6 large eggs, separated
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream topping:
1 14-ounce can evaporated milk
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually with the mixer running and peak to stiff peaks. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after the addition of each.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk. (Do this quickly so the batter does not lose volume.) Add the vanilla. Bake until golden, 25 minutes.

To make the cream topping: In a blender, combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream and blend on high speed.

Remove the cake from the oven and while still warm, pour the cream mixture over it. Let sit and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the icing: Once the cake is completely chilled, in a saucepan combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cook until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage, 235 to 240 degrees F. Remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. While beating, add the hot syrup in a stream. Beat until all the syrup has been added, the mixture cools, and a glossy icing forms.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Gingerlicious juice

We really don't talk enough about juice. But you know, when you make it yourself, there's really nothing better. I used to juice stuff all the time, back when I was a yoga fanatic and I attempted healthy livin'. Needless to say, that trend didn't last long. I like food way too much to give up the good stuff. But I still love fresh juice, especially when it's spiked with spicy ginger root. This here is a cool glass of apple-ginger-pear nectar I just squeezed/squoze/squaz, and man, I wish you could taste it.

I used 6 pink lady apples, 6 red d'anjou pears and a honkin' 3" piece of peeled ginger. !Que bueno!