Monday, August 29, 2011

Peaches with Ginger, Pecan, and Brown Sugar Cake

This post should be more aptly entitled "Summer's Last Hurrah."  Like these peaches.  Just when I thought the sad end of stone fruit season had come, I ran into these peaches at the market.  And they are some of the juiciest, most peachy-tasting peaches I have ever had.  Most of them didn't even make it into dessert form--they just disappeared into my belly as soon as I brought them home.  True noms!

What I did manage to save, though, went into this cake, which was designed purely as a sweet vessel for thick slices of these wonderful peaches.  (Like, seriously, people. This is about the peaches.)  The cake itself is a ginger-pecan cake, with the perfect balance of freshly grated ginger to add a bit of spice and toasted pecans to add a bite of nuttiness.  The frosting is a simple affair--basically a creamy, sweet bed on which to rest peaches, with the dark, rich undertones of brown sugar instead of white sugar.  Just because dark sugar is so much more superior. :-)

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As for summer, I'm having the hardest time getting my head and body and spirit back in the game for the new academic year.  *sigh*  This is not entirely helped by the fact that I am... get this... going on vacation!  Ohhhhh yeah....  :-)  I know, I know, I'm totally playing hooky from one of my schools (granted, my home institution is still on summer break, so I feel at least partially justified in this), and I am headed out to the Big Island of Hawai'i.  Haha!  You don't know how excited I am for this.  I've never been to Hawai'i before, so this is going to be extra awesome.  (I'm sorry if you're jealous...)

That said, please!  I need your recommendations for places to go, things to eat, experiences to have on the Big Island!  If you have any, please leave them in the comments below.  Any and all recommendations would be greatly appreciated.  I'm also looking for any contacts to cacao growers on the Big Island for a special project, in case any Hawai'i cacao growers or anyone who knows anyone reads this blog.

Just a few more days of work before vacation, but at least, in the meantime, I have a slice of peach cake left in the fridge... :-D

Read on for recipe....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fig, Mascarpone, and Pistachio Tart

Given that nearly every stall at the farmers' market this past weekend was brimming with figs, I'd say that it's officially fig season here.  Swoon!  The arrival of figs marks one of my favorite food seasons--late summer and early autumn.  I swear that this cross-over time has some of the best produce ever: melons, tomatoes, berries, stone fruit, peppers, apples, pears, winter squashes.  Basically, any foodie's dream.

Since I missed fig season last year due to my finger surgery, I've been *itching* for figs to finally come back this season so that I could make this tart, which I've been lusting after since last August: figs, mascarpone+brown sugar filling, and pistachio crust.  Three of the best things packed into one dessert!--sweet and soft figs atop a creamy bed of rich and fluffy mascarpone cheese, sweetened and darkened by just a little brown sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla extract, with a faintly nutty and very buttery pistachio sweet pastry crust.  Oh, and topped with a light glaze of raspberry-apricot jam, like a little touch of sugary sparkle. :-)

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The arrival of figs to the markets also marks the beginning of the academic year.  Sigh!  Usually I'm quite happy with everything starting back up, getting back into the grind of things, but this year, summer was just too, too short.  (That's what you get bouncing back and forth between a school on quarter system, which ends for summer break in mid-June, and a school on semester system, which starts for the fall in late August.)  Then, I felt even more cheated out of my final days of summer when, on Monday, one of my professors pointed out (while eating a slice of this tart, coincidentally) my error in thinking that school actually started a week later than it actually does (read: it starts now)!  Ack!  Talk about a rude awakening.

So, I suppose it's fitting to be posting this tart recipe, which I'd planned to post for next week, a week early (by demand of fellow Instagrammers).  Welcome to (early) autumn, folks!

P.S.  If you think I'm going to acquiesce so easily over ending summer this early, think again.  I've still got summer plans, yo.  Stay tuned.  :-)

Read on for recipe....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Postcards from Summer: the French Laundry, Yountville, CA

Oh, the French Laundry.  This is somewhere where I had never dreamt I'd go--it's something of legends and myths, a restaurant that 'normal' people who walk on soil and ground and eat cheap college eats (read: me) can only fantasize about.  And fantasize about it, I have.  "When I finish my dissertation, I'll go," I've repeated to myself, never truly believing that it (or both, really) would happen.

And yet, now--without even coming close to my dissertation getting underway--it has.  The French Laundry!  This is how I ended up there:  My best friend, Jessi, and I have known each other for a long time now, and a few years ago, we finally reached a point where we just couldn't consistently think of anymore good Christmas and birthday presents for each other, since we'd been doing so for years.  So we agreed that instead, we would save up the money we would have spent on presents and treat each other out to a fine meal at the downstairs Chez Panisse restaurant (both being from Berkeley, this seemed like an appropriate choice).  Finally, after a few years of saving, it came time to pool our agreed-upon resources and make that reservation to claim our gift to each other.  Then, I got a phone call one day from Jessi....
"My friend has two extra spots for the French Laundry.  Do you want to go there instead?"
Rule #1 in a food-lover's life: if someone offers you the chance to go to the French Laundry, you don't. say. no.  (Got that? Write it down.)  Despite it being slightly (read: a lot!) overbudget than we'd originally planned, we both jumped at the opportunity, and months later, here we were--headed up to wine country to the legendary restaurant itself, to celebrate the past three Christmases and birthdays that we've saved up.

And let me tell you: the food was deliriously divine.  I think "delicious" is not strong enough a word for how amazing everything was.  In the food, you could tell just how much these chefs respected and celebrated the ingredients--everything was picked and cooked and plated with such care and precision.  It was really true foodie dedication and love.

I did take pictures of the food, but between my poor camera (read: crop-frame and low ISO capabilities) and the low light and my haste to enjoy the food quickly while it was hot, nothing came out very well.  I've gone back and forth all week about whether I wanted to post the photos, but out of respect to how much work the chefs put into the food, I've decided that the photos just would not do them justice, unfortunately.  Instead, I have photos of the beautiful gardens outside the French Laundry, from which they pick many of the vegetables and fruits they use in house (true locavore-ism!).

Look at all those microgreens!  It's a California native's dream.

Here's what I ate that night:

(Amuse bouches: gruyere cheese puffs and 
salmon caviar+red onion creme fraiche+sesame tuile cone)

"Oysters and Pearls"
"Sabayon" for Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters
and White Sturgeon Caviar

Jacobsen's Farm Apple Salad
Baby Beets, Red Walnuts, and Dijon Mustard

Sashimi of Geoduck Clam
Hearts of Palm, Fennel Bulb, Tarragon, 
and Orange-Espelette "Gelee"

Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit Sirloin
Medjool Dates, Nantes Carrots, Marcona Almonds, 
Cilantro Shoots, and Madras Curry

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail
Black Mission Fig, Piedmont Hazelnuts, Scallion Salad,
and Coffee-Chocolate Emulsion

Snake River Farms "Calotte de Boeuf Grillee"
Bone Marrow Pudding, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Marble Potatoes, 
Tokyo Turnips, and "Mignonette Bordelaise"

"Fourme d'Ambert"
Baby Corn, Jingle Bell Peppers, Romaine Lettuce
and Hobbs' Bacon Vinaigrette

Yellow Watermelon Sorbet
Basil-Honey and Saba Vinegar

"Peach Melba"
Sicilian Pistachio "Pain de Genes," Andante Dairy Yogurt,
"Biscotti" and Raspberry Sorbet

(including "Coffee and Donuts": espresso semifreddo and brioche donuts; 
chocolate-covered macadamia nuts; and a box of chocolates of various flavors)

A couple of notes on the food:

1.  I was so excited to see the lobster and chocolate combination on the menu!  Clearly Thomas Keller has been stalking me on Twitter, because I mentioned this combination in a Twitter conversation last year, citing it as the next big sweet-savory combo after the bacon-maple syrup fad passes.  So, ha!  I must have top-notch taste instincts.  (right? riiiiight??? :-P)

2.  The "Oysters and Pearls" was probably one of the best dishes of the night--it's clear why that has stayed unchanged on the menu for decades.  It was reminiscent, for me, of these delicate steamed eggs that my grandfather used to make, except also with tapioca and caviar, both things that I love (as evidenced by my excessive boba drinking and sushi eating).

3.  The best bite of the night was--get this--the turnips that came with the main course!  I'm not kidding.  You will not believe how hands-down amazing these turnips were.  They tasted like the whole world encompassed in one just-soft-enough turnip bite: savory, juicy, umami, all of those wonderful things.  I later asked one of the chefs (when they let us visit the kitchen!) how the turnips were made, and he said they had steamed them, but it must have been a magical steaming method, because I have no idea how they were so, so, so incredibly good.  (The turnips were also grown in the French Laundry gardens.)

Jessi, at the French Laundry entrance

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the night was when we finished eating and got a brief visit to the kitchens and chatted with one of the chefs.  Upon entering the small and amazingly clean kitchen, lo and behold--guess what the chefs were eating as the night wound down at 1am:

In'n'Out burgers.

:-)  Love it.

Have a wonderful weekend!

more Postcards from Summer:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Turkish Coffee Ice Cream with Rosewater Raspberries

Some recipe ideas always seem to take longer to come to fruition than others.  Take, for example, this Turkish coffee ice cream.  It's a recipe idea I've been turning over in my head for quite a few months now.  It started out way back in early 2011, when my good friend Nadeen and I were brainstorming ice cream flavors that we wanted to make together (she suggested Earl Grey with condensed milk, which for some reason, led me to think about Turkish coffee--food association works in mysterious ways).  Then, when Nadeen moved away (sadness!), she kindly bequeathed me with a generous bag of Turkish coffee, so for months, I've had all of the ingredients to make said ice cream just sitting in my refrigerator, waiting.  But, I've just never been able to think up the right dessert for which to make this ice cream--until now!  Finally!

Enter, the raspberry.  Actually, back that up.  Enter the French Laundry, where I had the pleasure (or the great fortitude and honor?) to go last Friday night.  I think the French Laundry in and of itself deserves a special, dedicated post, so I won't share too many details right here.  But suffice it to say for now that the word "delicious" barely does it justice.  Anyways, one of the dessert courses (yes! there were multiple dessert courses--though not enough of them, in my humble opinion) had a few lightly glazed raspberries sitting delicately on the side, and perhaps they got into my subconscious somehow because that night, as I was sleeping off my intensely satisfying food coma, I dreamt about Turkish coffee ice cream... with raspberries.  (It really says something about how good that meal was, since usually good food can inspire me to cook, but rarely do I get inspired even in my sleep!)

Raspberries ended up being the perfect pairing for the Turkish coffee ice cream, especially after they macerated in a dash of rosewater, lemon juice, and a light sprinkling of sugar.  The raspberries were delicate and summery and fresh, with a touch of the floral brightness from the rosewater, which was exactly what the rich and dark ice cream, heavily spiced with cardamom and teeming with the extra fine coffee grounds that's so characteristic of Turkish coffee, needed.  Ah, sigh--add in a touch of warm weather, and the slanted light of a summer sunset....  (P.S. why is it already mid-August?!)

I promise--more to come on the French Laundry soon.  In the meantime, enjoy the Turkish coffee and raspberries!  (Nadeen! I wish you were here!)

Read on for recipes....

Friday, August 12, 2011


Hi! I'm still here! Admittedly, though, I have been a bit absent from the internet this past week, giving myself a small mid-August internet detox--it's been nice not to be chained to the computer or mobile internet 24/7 for a change.  But that doesn't mean that life itself stopped this week--friends visited from far away places, meaning running around, sight-seeing, strawberry-picking, food-eating, and ice cream-sampling galore.  Then a bunch of meetings at work, and then a quick trip to a local cannoli factory with a friend--something we've been meaning to do for a while now and finally got crossed off our list.  It's really no wonder I found little time to sit behind a computer this week, and I kind of liked it like that.  :-)  This weekend promises to pack a bunch of excitement in, too, between what's supposed to be a meal of a lifetime and the Glee movie (yes, the Glee movie!), so have a great one, and I'll see y'all on the flip side!

Report!  How was your week?  What excitement do you have planned this weekend?

[Edit: by popular request, here's the cannoli factory. They aren't open much in the evenings, but if you can make it, I'd definitely recommend a visit!]

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Everything but the Kitchen Sink Cookies

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Quick!  It's Friday!  Open your cupboards and grab any and all sweet nothin's you've got stashed in there, chop 'em up, and mash them into a cookie that's larger than your head.  Sit back, grab a warm, straight-out-of-the-oven cookie, and relax with all of the crappy-but-addictive summer television programming you've missed out on during the week.  Plus, you've got Saturday to be productive and work it off, right?

(NB: these cookies ain't pretty, but they sure are delicious.  Extra points for adding spices and a little somethin' salty--like pretzels--if you've got that laying about.)

Weekend plans?  Past week heartbreaks or/and triumphs?  Share below, please!

Read on for recipe....