30 December 2010

A perfect brunch: baked tomato and eggs

Savory tomato sauce, rich and velvety with notes of basil and oregano, is something I could eat by the bowlful.  And I love any kind of egg where I can dip strips of golden toast-bread into the warm, gooey yolk.  So ever since my friend Christine over at Chibitofu posted about tomato-baked eggs with toast, I have been hungering to combine these delicious flavors and textures in a single dish.  And with the many festive brunches going on this time of year, I've had ample opportunity to make and enjoy it!

While poaching eggs for a crowd can be a bit of a challenge, and gauging the actual doneness of soft-boiled eggs is a trick in itself (initial egg temperature, size of the pot, strength of the burner, etc. all change the cooking time), the beauty of this recipe for baked eggs is that you can both cook for a large party and easily monitor how quickly your eggs are setting throughout the whole cooking period.

This recipe really lends itself to make-ahead entertaining; in fact, I'd recommend you try this for your New Year's brunch!  The sauce can be prepared a number of days ahead of time, and you can even work it out so that all you need to do on the day-of is to crack the eggs and bake!  Just be sure the ingredients are at room temperature before baking--this will ensure that the yolk heats through during baking and that the nuggets of goat cheese get soft and melty.


This weekend I'm actually going to get to ring in the new year with Christine--I'm super excited to see my college roommate and cooking buddy extraordinaire again!  As I get ready to wrap up 2010 and head out on my little trip, I want to wish you and your loved ones a very happy and prosperous new year!  And einen guten Rutsch wünsche ich to all my German readers!

Here is my version of baked eggs in tomato sauce...enjoy!

Baked Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce with Goat Cheese and Toast 
Serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 handful fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces, plus more for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup goat cheese (crumbled)
8 eggs, at room temperature (important!)
8 slices toast bread, toasted to golden brown and cut into triangles

To make the sauce, heat olive oil in a small pot over medium-high heat, and saute the chopped onion, carrots, and garlic for a few minutes until slightly softened.  Add red pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes, oregano, and basil, and stir to combine.  Cover and bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent bottom from burning.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then blend well with an immersion stick blender.  (Do Ahead: Sauce can be made up to a week ahead of time.  Reheat before continuing.)

Spoon 1/4 cup of warm sauce into each of 8 ramekins (use leftover sauce for another use), then dot each ramekin with about 2 teaspoons crumbled goat cheese.  (Do Ahead: ramekins can be prepared with sauce and cheese the day before, then covered and refrigerated overnight.  Heat in the pre-heating oven until ramekins and sauce are warm, not hot, and continue with recipe.)  Crack an egg into each ramekin, sprinkle with salt, and bake in a preheated oven at 425 F for 15-20 minutes, until whites have set but yolk is still soft.

Garnish with fresh basil chiffonade, if desired, and serve immediately with toast points for dipping into the yolk and sauce.

26 December 2010

Merry Christmas Wishes!

There are a few things that every self-respecting German eats around Christmastime, Lebkuchen and Stollen being two of them.  Though these baked goods are not freshly available in southern California bakeries, my family has been sustained over the years by shipments from the family bakery in northern Bavaria.  The Lebkuchen are always fresh and delicious (thanks to the extremely low flour content), but the Stollen unfortunately just never hold up that well.  So I have gotten into the practice of making our yearly Christmas Stollen here at home.

But wait...does everyone know what Stollen is?  It's hard to describe it perfectly, as it comes in many varieties, but it is something like a sweet bread crossed with a fruit cake crossed with a cake.  They can be leavened either with baking powder or with yeast, resulting in very different textures, but they always have an assortment of nuts and dried fruits incorporated somehow.  And wow, they are tasty!  Just the thing for a breakfast treat on Christmas morning.

Way back in 1979, when my mother (an Italian American) was newly engaged to my father (a native Bavarian), my mom's mom came across the December issue of CUISINE Magazine, which just so happened to be featuring a "Christmas in Bavaria" menu.  Grandma picked this up for my mom, who of course would be wanting to learn all about how to feed her Schatz, and one of the stellar recipes that has appeared at our Christmas spread on many occasions over the years is this Garmischer Nußstollen, or Garmisch Nut Stollen.

This version of Stollen is a luscious, yeasty sweetbread dotted with golden raisins and marbled with a toothsome ground walnut filling.  It's absolutely delicious and is perfectly complemented by a cup of good coffee.  We've treasured this recipe as a family, and I knew I had to share it with you.

To make the directions a little more straightforward to follow, I've included some of the original images scanned in from the magazine.  I wanted to request reproduction permission from the publishers, but they are no longer in business, and I was unable to find any current contact information.  (If you're affiliated with the magazine, do please let me know if CUISINE has concerns about these images being posted!)


But what really blew me away today was that as I was searching through the magazine for some contact information, I discovered, to my utter amazement, that this magazine used to be published right here in Santa Barbara!  Little did my parents know it, but they and two little girls of their own would be moving to this very town only 6 years later.  Talk about fate!

So here it is, with just a few minor modifications from the magazine's version.  Merry Christmas!

Garmisch Nut Stollen / Garmischer Nußstollen
From Cuisine: The Magazine of Fine Food and Creative Living, December 1979
Makes 2 loaves

Note: the dough and nut filling can be made the day before baking and should be stored refrigerated.  The dough will get a fantastic cool rise overnight, and the nut filling will be perfect.  Just let both come to room temperature before assembling the stollen.

Milk Mixture:
1 cup milk
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 tsp. salt

Yeast Mixture:
1 ½ packages active dry yeast (3 teaspoons)
2 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)

Main Mixture:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 Tbs. sugar
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup golden raisins

Nut Filling:
4 egg whites at room temperature
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups of ground walnuts
1 cup sugar
4 tsp. water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For Finishing:
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs. whole milk
2 tsp. sugar
White icing (2/3 cup powdered sugar + 1 Tbs. water)

Heat milk, butter, and salt in microwave or sauce pan until butter is melted.  Stir to mix, then set aside and let cool until lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water and let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.  (If yeast does not foam, discard and start afresh with new yeast.)

In an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the eggs, then gradually add sugar and beat until thick and lemon colored. Beat in the lukewarm milk mixture and 2 cups of all-purpose flour until smooth.  Beat in the yeast mixture.

Add the remaining ingredients (2 ½ cups flour, lemon peel, spices, and raisins) and mix together.  Switch to the dough hook after dough comes together and knead for 5 minutes.  Let rise covered in large greased bowl in the refrigerator until doubled (4-5 hours) or overnight.

Make Nut Filling:  Combine all ingredients in medium sized saucepan. Cook, stirring over low heat until warm and sugar dissolves.  Cool to room temperature.

Prepare Stollen:  Remove dough from refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, about 30-60 minutes.  Place a 24 x 12-inch piece aluminum foil on work surface and lightly flour foil.  Roll dough on foil into a 22 x 12-inch rectangle.  Spread nut filling over dough, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides.

Mix the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons whole milk in a small bowl.  Brush border with part of the egg mixture. Roll up dough beginning at long edge, using foil to help turn dough. Pinch seam and ends to seal.

Using long sharp knife, cut roll crosswise in half.

Transfer pieces to baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Cut one piece lengthwise in half, then working quickly, twist halves together with sliced edges turned upward to form a loaf.  Pinch ends together.

 Repeat with remaining piece to create a second loaf.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Bake stollen 15 minutes; brush with part of the egg mixture.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 10 minutes.  Brush with remaining egg mixture; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar. Bake until golden and nut mixture is set, at least 10 minutes.  (If stollen browns too fast, cover loosely with aluminum foil.)  Cool on wire racks 30 minutes.

Drizzle with white icing, then slice and serve!

Notes on storage: Wrap tightly to prevent the stolen from drying out.  The stolen is best when eaten within a couple of days, though the second loaf may be frozen and enjoyed at a later time.

18 December 2010

Christmas baking: crispy ginger cookies!

I love these incredibly crispy ginger spice cookies...they are so fun to nibble on and are perfect with a mug of tea on a cold December afternoon.  I first made these back in 2006, when they were published in the December issue of Bon Appetit, and they were such a hit with family and friends that I planned on making them a recurring part of my Christmas baking.

Unfortunately for me, by the time Christmas rolled around the following year, I had completely forgotten the name of the recipe and where exactly I had seen it!  But this year, after some digging around, I finally found the right recipe and am thrilled to share it with you.  To get thin, crunchy cookies, you have to roll the dough out to a mere 1/8-inch, which can be tricky when working with the soft butter dough, but I've discovered that rolling it out between plastic wrap and then peeling the wrap off the cut cookies makes the process a breeze.

They are highly addictive...bet you can't eat just one!

Ginger Crisp Cookies
From Bon Appetit, December 2006
Makes 64 cookies

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses

Whisk the flour, spices, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the molasses.  Add the dry ingredients and mix well.

Divide the dough into four portions and wrap in plastic wrap, flattening to 1/4-inch thick discs.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Let dough rest at room temperature a few minutes before rolling out to 1/8-inch thickness between 2 sheets of plastic wrap (this helps prevent the dough from breaking and sticking to the rolling pin).  Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and cut out cookies with shaped cutters.

Transfer cookies to parchment-lined baking sheets.  To easily transfer the cookies, lift plastic wrap off of the counter and invert one cookie at a time over your free hand, then peel the plastic wrap off the bottom of the cookie.

Bake cookies for 12 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 F.  Let cookies rest 2 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack.  Let cookies cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

12 December 2010

I heart juk

It happened.  As it inevitably does when the big deadline is over, when the school semester is over, when the adrenaline subsides.  Your body knows, it's okay to succumb to a cold now...well, my body knew it.  So I have been craving nothing but soup the past few days, and I knew it was time to pull out this recipe for juk (pronounced "jook"), a congee-like rice porridge that Koreans cook for loved ones when they are under the weather.

This is spoon-licking good, folks.  As the rice cooks, the starches are released and develop the most enticing velvety texture.  Shrimp bits stirred into the juk, as well as chopped green onion and flaky kim (seasoned pressed seaweed, similar to nori) sprinkled on top, give multiple layers of appetizing savoriness.

Easily digestible, warming, and nourishing, juk should definitely be on your short list of recipes for feeding friends and family when they are fighting an illness.  There is something wonderfully heartening about this nourishing porridge.  Hey look, this green onion is sharing the love!


But I'm telling you, once you taste this, you will soon start wanting this for breakfast.  Forget oatmeal--seriously!  To make juk, you will need to plan ahead a little, soaking the rice for at least two hours before cooking, but it's super easy to just set the rice to soak the night before and then you'll have it ready to go for a quick breakfast prep.


Korean Shrimp Porridge, Saewoojuk (새우죽)
Recipe from Maangchi, Serves 4

1 cup short-grained rice
1 Tbs. sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped raw shrimp
7 cups water
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 tsp. salt
3 green onions, chopped
1 sheet roasted kim, crumbled

Place rice in a large bowl and wash rice in several changes of water, then cover with about 4 cups water and let soak two hours to overnight.  Drain rice thoroughly before proceeding.

Heat sesame oil over medium-high heat in a medium-large pot, then add the garlic, carrot, and shrimp and saute for about 30 seconds, stirring about to cook evenly.  Add the soaked, drained rice to the pot and continue stirring and sauteing for a few minutes.  Add 7 cups water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover pot and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent bottom from burning.

Add fish sauce and salt, then taste and check seasoning and add more salt if desired.  Ladle juk into serving bowls and sprinkle with chopped green onions and crumbled kim.

To make this a more substantial meal, suggested accompaniments include kimchi and other other side dishes such as broiled fish, japchae, sigeumchi namul, and kongnamul muchim.

08 December 2010

Gingerbread with a twist

Is this bread, or is this cake?  The soft and fluffy texture and bits of chocolate say cake, but the subtle sweetness and small proportion of butter would suggest it's really bread...it just happens to be an incredibly delicious--not decadent--bread.  That's what I told myself, anyway, when I had a big chunk of this buttermilk-based chocolate-chip banana gingerbread for breakfast this morning!

I don't know about you, but for me, the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the time to roll out all those warming spices, finding recipes that feature cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg.  So when I saw this interesting twist on gingerbread from How Sweet It Is, I was more than game to give it a try.  Bananas in gingerbread?  New idea!  Chocolate chips?  Yum!

And I'm so glad I did try this out.  Warm from the oven, the chocolate chips are all melty, and the cake is ever-so-slightly gooey (maybe from all those bananas?).  Perfect for morning coffee with friends, or as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream added on top!

Chocolate-Chip Banana Gingerbread
Adapted from How Sweet It Is

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup molasses
2 medium very-ripe bananas
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
 3 tablespoons raw turbinado sugar

Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and spices in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and 1/3 cup sugar.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Add the molasses and bananas and beat on high until bananas are thoroughly mashed and incorporated into the creamed mixture.  (Tip:  Lightly oil your measuring cup before measuring out the molasses--the oil will keep the molasses from getting stuck in the cup!)

Add half of the dry ingredients, mixing just to barely moisten, then mix in the buttermilk.  Add the remaining dry ingredients, along with the chocolate chips, and gently mix to thoroughly combine without over-beating the batter.

Pour the cake into a lightly-oiled 9 x 13-inch baking pan, and sprinkle with the raw turbinado sugar.  Bake in a preheated oven at 375 F for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  (If you hit a melted chocolate chip with your toothpick, try again in another spot.)  Let cool for a few minutes before serving warm; or, let cool completely in pan and serve at room temperature.  (The warmer it is, the more crumbly it will be when you cut into it.)

04 December 2010

From my Italian family archives: Biscotti

Hello dear readers!  Wow, it has been so long since I've last posted--the time has flown as my day-job has been demanding a lot of my energy of late--but I am really excited to be back with another wonderful recipe.

As Christmas draws closer, my thoughts have inevitably turned to biscotti, one of my family's Christmas baking traditions.  Some of my early memories of my mother in the kitchen are of her pulling biscotti loaves from the oven, slicing them, and then carefully broiling the cookies on each side.  The anticipation would build during the two-part baking process, and the delicious toasty crumbs that broke off from the slices would only whet my appetite for more.  Though in recent years we've been using a stellar Tuscan cantucci recipe, I was missing the comforting almond-sesame combination in this family recipe from my great-aunt Diana Todaro.

So here it is, an early Christmas present from my family to yours.  It's delightfully straightforward to make, and the results are fantastic.  It's perfect served with a demitasse of espresso or a little glass of schnapps for an after-dinner treat, or with some tea for a cozy afternoon snack.

And I love the original directions so much that I'm posting them verbatim below! 

Aunt Diana's Biscotti
Makes about 40 cookies

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder 
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup chopped (ground) almonds
4 cups flour
sesame seeds

Beat eggs; reserve a little for brushing on cookies later. Add oil, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, and almonds. Mix. Add flour one cup at a time. Knead dough about 5 minutes. Divide into 4 balls. Roll each until 10” long “frankfurter.” Place on greased baking sheet. Flatten slightly. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 375°F for ½ hour until golden brown. Remove from oven. Slice and broil each side. Watch carefully!

20 November 2010


Urged on by my sister, who is also developing a taste for all things Korean, I have been pushing forward in my course of self-instruction in Korean cookery.  My latest favorite is jjajangmyeon, a single-dish meal of wheat noodles (myeon, traditionally hand-pulled) covered in a thick and glossy sauce of meat, chunks of vegetables, and an amazing salty black bean paste.  Though it's actually derived from the Chinese zha jiang mian, it is now considered to be one of the national dishes of Korea and is enjoyed both as a snack and as a quick meal.

After making it a number of times with noodles, I was tipped off by a Korean friend that the sauce goes great over rice (bap) as well.  Though I think I prefer the noodle version, the pictures I managed to snap were made with rice.  And in honor of my sister's visit this week (hooray! one week of getting time with my baby nephew!), I'm sharing this recipe with you today.  Hopefully you will all have a chance to try this deliciousness for yourselves!

The plating can be simple: for each person, one bowl of noodles, another bowl of warm sauce, then a few side dishes of garnishes like cucumber, danmuji, and kimchi.  Or you can compose each plate immediately before serving by pouring the sauce over the noodles and adding some garnishes on top.  In either case, the diner should be the one to actually mix the sauce together with the noodles, right before eating, lest the noodles become "bloated."  Plus, watching the dark jjajang coat each white noodle strand definitely whets the appetite!  If you're unable to find Korean noodles, linguine might be a possible substitute, but rice also makes for an easy alternative and is popular among many Koreans.  (Made with rice, this dish would then be called jjajangbap.)

One substitution that you shouldn't make, though, is for the bean paste, as Korean black bean paste (usually sold by the name of chunjang) has a distinct flavor.  Before adding the chunjang (literally “spring sauce”) to the rest of the ingredients, it traditionally is fried in oil (and then becomes jjajang, literally “fried sauce”).  You are welcome to fry your bean paste (see Maangchi's video), but for the sake of simplicity and health, I have omitted this frying step, even though I know many Koreans have told me that it doesn’t taste quite the same!  I haven't been able to figure out how cooking it by frying could make that much of a change in flavor, if the sauce is going to be cooked with the boiling vegetables anyway.

Strips of fresh cucumber, as well as 단무지 (danmuji), are great for nibbling on in between bites of jjajangmyeon.  Often bright yellow in color, danmuji is a pickled radish that Koreans love to eat along with any Chinese-style dish, as it provides a cool and refreshing counterpoint to the rich and savory sauce.

Jjajangmyeon Recipe 
Adapted from Maangchi, Makes 4 servings

½ lb. pork belly meat (uncured bacon meat, samgyeopsal/삼겹살) or pork butt
Vegetable oil, for sautéing
1 cup carrot, ½-inch dice
2 cups onion, ½-inch dice
1 cup Korean radish, ½-inch dice
2 cups zucchini ½-inch dice
½ cup Korean black bean paste (chunjang/춘장 a.k.a. jjajang/짜장)
2 Tbs. potato starch (or corn starch)
1 Tbs. sugar
½ cup thinly sliced green onions
½ cup frozen green peas, thawed.

Cooked rice or Korean noodles
1 Tbs. roasted sesame seeds
Cucumber, julienned
Yellow pickled Korean radish (danmuji/단무지)

Cut pork into ½ inch cubes, then fry in a large-bottomed pot, wok, or dutch oven over medium high heat until fat has rendered and meat is crispy and golden brown.  Drain any fat and set meat aside.

Heat a couple tablespoons oil in the pot and sauté carrots and onions for a few minutes, then add the radish and zucchini and continue to sauté a few minutes more, stirring occasionally.  Add the crispy pork and enough water to cover all the ingredients.  Stir in the black bean paste, then cover and bring to a boil and cook 10-15 minutes, until carrots are done.

Whisk the potato starch into 2 tablespoons water, then stream the starch slurry into the boiling sauce, stirring to mix thoroughly.  Let boil a minute more, until sauce becomes thick and glossy, then remove from heat and stir in the sugar.  Just before serving, stir in the green onions and peas.

Divide cooked noodles or rice among bowls and spoon warm sauce over.  Garnish with a sprinkle of roasted sesame seeds and julienned cucumber, and serve with danmuji.

14 November 2010

This is The Pie


Every year at Thanksgiving, pie-duty inevitably falls to me.  And my family is very specific about which pies I am to make.  Apple pie--our family's favorite.  And pecan pie--it's such a sweet indulgence, and we're all about treating ourselves since it's Thanksgiving.  And pumpkin--well, because it's tradition, right?  Recently we've started having a berry pie show up at the table too.  But, I think everyone in my family knows that the pumpkin pie is the ugly duckling of the lot.  We have it there for show, and everybody takes a little taste, but what we really want is the apple or the pecan or the berry.

Well, all that is going to change this year.  It's high time that if I'm going to invest so much energy in making a pumpkin pie on top of all the other ones, it had better be swoon-inducing too.  And with this new recipe I've developed, I know the pumpkin pie will finally take a competitive place among its cousins.

My strategy?  A crisp crust (fully blind-baked before adding the filling), a silky-smooth pumpkin filling with the nuanced addition of candied yams, and a topping of sweet and crunchy pecans resting on top.  And the nice news for me, Miss Pie-Baker?  This Thanksgiving, I won't have to make a separate pecan pie--this single recipe lets the best of both types shine!

I think you'll absolutely love this pie...I know I'm already looking forward to it being a recurring part of Thanksgivings to come! 


Pumpkin and Caramelized Pecan Pie
Makes 2 (9-inch) pies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. fine-grained salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1 1/4 cups cold (salted) butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
4 Tbs. ice-cold vodka (do not substitute! alcohol evaporates during baking)
4 Tbs. ice-cold water

Pumpkin Filling
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams (or sweet potatoes)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. fine-grained salt

Pecan Topping
1 1/2 Tbs. salted butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups pecan pieces

For the crust, place flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 2 seconds to mix.  Add the butter and gently pulse on/off until butter is blended to the size of peas.  Sprinkle the mixture with vodka and water, then continue to gently pulse just until dough starts to hold together in large clumps.

Divide dough into two portions and wrap in plastic wrap, flattening into 6-inch discs.  Chill for at least 45 minutes and up to two days.  For each disc, roll dough out between two layers of plastic wrap into 12-inch circles.   Peel away the top layer of plastic, then center a pie plate over the center of the dough and carefully invert the pie dough together with the pie plate.  Gently rearrange the dough to fit into the corners of the plate, and then chill for 15 minutes, keeping the plastic wrap still on top.

Remove plastic wrap and fold all ragged crust edges under to make it flush with the pie plate.  Using thumb and fore-finger, pinch crust to form a fluted edge.  Chill again for 15 minutes.

Line both of the pie crusts with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights, dry beans, or pennies.  Bake in a pre-heated 400 F oven for 15 minutes, then remove foil and weights and continue baking for 5-15 more minutes, until crust is golden brown.  Remove crust from oven and reduce oven temperature to 300 F.  Note: It is important at this point to fill the crusts while they are still warm from the blind-baking step and to proceed with the final baking step, as the residual heat of the crusts will help set the pumpkin filling.

For the filling
While the pie crusts are chilling and baking, prepare first the pecan topping and then the pumpkin filling.

For the pecan topping, melt the butter in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Remove from microwave and whisk in the sugar and corn syrup, then the eggs, vanilla, and salt.  Fold in the pecan pieces to coat each piece thoroughly with the sugar mixture.  Set aside.

For the pumpkin filling, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Combine the pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a small pot and bring to a sputtering simmer over medium heat.  Cook for about 15 minutes more, stirring constantly and mashing yams to form a smooth mixture.

Remove pumpkin mixture from heat.  Add pumpkin to egg mixture in 4 separate additions, whisking to fully incorporate pumpkin between each addition.

Strain pumpkin mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl, using the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula to press solids through.  Divide pumpkin mixture between the two warm pie crusts, then top with pecan filling, being sure to evenly divide the pecans over each pie.

Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil (to prevent your perfectly-baked crust from getting burnt!), and place pies in oven (now at 300 F).  Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until filling puffs up.  Remove pies from oven and let cool slowly to room temperature for at least 3 hours.

28 October 2010

Pumpkin Goulash

It's Fall here in Santa Barbara.  The air is distinctly crisp in the mornings, general humidity levels are dropping, the daylight is losing intensity, and pumpkins are for sale everywhere.  So while the last of the summer tomatoes are still lingering on the vines outside, I am getting into the spirit of Fall.  (I'm also realizing that I need to start preparing Thanksgiving ideas!)

Part of the fun has been perusing seasonal recipes, and I have to say I get really excited whenever I come across a new and interesting way of using pumpkin.  Sadly, the pumpkin is too frequently marginalized in the U.S., being relegated to the limited role of Thanksgiving pie filler, when I believe it has the potential for so much more!  So I was thrilled when I came across the idea for incorporating pumpkin into a traditional Hungarian goulash.  The pumpkin, slowly cooked with the beef and spices, is rather subtle in flavor, but it adds a wonderful quality to the whole dish.

I've certainly had my share of goulash, growing up as a part of a German family, and I remember my grandmother always adding in some sour cream at the end.  It would transform the broth into a smooth gravy-like sauce that would coat the chunks of slow-simmered meat and cling so nicely to the egg noodles.  But this goulash--wow--has such a velvety smooth finish, thanks to the pumpkin, that you won't have to add any cream to this one!

Pumpkin Beef Goulash
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds stewing beef, in 1 to 2-inch cubes
3 Tbs. Hungarian sweet paprika
(1 Tbs. Hungarian hot paprika, optional)
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/2 medium onions, sliced into strips
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup canned pure pumpkin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf

3/4 pound egg noodles, cooked and tossed in a couple tablespoons butter

Sprinkle cubed beef with paprika, salt, and pepper and turn to coat evenly.  Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and sear beef cubes, turning cubes to brown the major surfaces.  (If excess paprika has burned on the bottom of the pot, remove cooked beef to the side, deglaze the hot pot with cool water and scrape up any burned bits.  Rinse and wipe dry, then return beef to pot.)

To the seared beef, add the sliced onions, chicken broth, pumpkin, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until beef is very tender.  Scoop beef and onions out of the broth and cover to keep warm; discard bay leaf.  Heat remaining broth to boiling and reduce until it resembles more of a thick sauce.  Return beef and onions to pot, stirring to coat with sauce, and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed.  Serve over egg noodles.

22 October 2010

French apple cake for the Fall

In the mood for a great weekend dessert?  Here's an easy and delicious French apple cake to try!  This recipe, originally from Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table," takes the unassuming apple and elevates it to a grander level.  And given our fantastic local harvest of apples that is currently available, I can't think of a better dessert to make right now.

As it bakes, your house will fill with the heavenly scent of rum and vanilla.  Just take a few minutes to mix this up, pop it in the oven, and then enjoy a nice leisurely dinner...or go for a walk...or do your Fall gardening...then come back and enjoy a warm slice of this cake.

And you'll love how easy it is to mix this up.  Though you'll be in for a dessert of sophisticated flavor, it won't take you very long to prep the batter and the apples (see my tip in the recipe below), and in my opinion, it's a total breeze to make compared to making an apple pie!

You might be surprised at how many apples are incorporated into the cake batter, but it actually turns out quite well; the top becomes brown and crispy, while the interior, chock full of apples, remains soft and moist.  I recommend serving this with some sauce anglaise or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  And while I am only an occasional coffee drinker, I actually do think I'd make the effort to pair this with a fragrant cup of good-quality coffee.  Enjoy, and happy apple-season!

French Apple Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 cups apples (I recommend Fuji, golden delicious, Gala, or Pippin)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
3/4 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Using some of the melted butter, brush the inside of an 8-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl and set aside.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Slice the apples or cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks.  (Note: the larger your apples, the fewer you will have to peel!  And, the smaller your chunks, the less fragmented your cake will be when you cut into it to serve it.)

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk or electric mixer until they are foamy. Add the sugar, rum, vanilla, cardamom, and lemon zest and whisk to blend.  Add in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and smooth out the top with the spatula.

Place the cake on a baking sheet and position it on the center rack of the preheated oven.  Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a thin knife around the edges of the cake to loosen and then open and remove the sides of the springform pan.  Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

Delicious when served warm or at room temperature, with a vanilla sauce, ice cream, or creme chantilly.

15 October 2010

Korean tacos!

Korean tacos are all the rage right now in foodie circles, getting a lot of press both here in the States and abroad.  Born out of the confluence of Mexican and Korean culture in Los Angeles' K-town, these tacos unite the flavors of two of my favorite cuisines in some of the tastiest street food ever.  Denizens of LA and its environs have the great fortune of easy access to a fleet of Kogi trucks, serving Korean-Mexican fare at varying locations throughout the week.  A number of weeks ago, one of these famed Kogi trucks made a rare visit to Santa Barbara, and I and some of my foodie friends went with much anticipation to sample some of their specialties.

Unfortunately for us, what I had thought was an insiders-only Kogi truck stop in Santa Barbara turned out to be a widely-publicized event, and we hadn't counted on the mass of people coming in from all corners of Santa Barbara county (and beyond) to get a bite.  After waiting well over an hour and only making it through a quarter of the length of the line, my friends and I reluctantly abandoned ship and headed over to a local Mexican taqueria, starving and disgruntled because of all those out-of-towners who got between us and our K-tacos.

But as you know, dear readers, I've been working on my own K-cooking skills, and as I munched on my carne asade taco that disappointing day, I realized how easy it would be to just make some of these fusion tacos myself.

You can bet that I peeked at the orders coming from the Kogi truck, almost to the point of making the diners uncomfortable.  I wanted to know what was going into those tacos!  It was hard to get a good look, so I watched some Youtube videos, read some articles and blogposts, and then even visited a dive of a place here in town that boasted their own version of Korean tacos.  (That last, by the way, was a disappointment--no kimchi in sight!)  In the end, I just went with my gut instincts...I knew if I wanted the flavor combo I'd been imagining and looking forward to, I'd just have to make it myself.


And they turned out to be pretty rad.  If I say so myself.  A delicious combination of comforting corn tortillas, savory bulgogi beef, spicy Korean red pepper, and fresh and tangy kimchi and cilantro. And after serving these up to a bunch of friends, I know it's not just me that thinks they're awesome.   Dig in, guys, and enjoy!

Korean Tacos

corn tortillas (fresh, hand-made are best!)
ssamjang (recipe below)
bulgogi (recipe below)
roasted sesame seeds
Napa cabbage kimchi, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 bunch cilantro, thick stems removed, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely minced and mixed into the cilantro
lime wedges, for serving

To assemble tacos, spread a dab of ssamjang on a warm tortilla.  Then layer on a scoop of bulgogi, a sprinkling of roasted sesame seeds, some chopped kimchi, and some of the cilantro-onion mixture.  As a finishing touch, squeeze fresh lime juice over the top.


4 Tbs. fermented soybean paste (doenjang, 된장)
2 Tbs. Korean red chili paste (gochujang, 고추장)
2 Tbs. roasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. roasted sesame seeds
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. brown sugar

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.  If desired, use as a base for a spicy Korean aioli by mixing 1 part ssamjang with 2 parts good-quality mayonnaise.


2-3 lbs. round beef roast, partially frozen
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely minced or grated
1 kiwi (or Asian pear)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Place onion, garlic, and kiwi in a food processor and process until very finely minced.  Transfer to a large bowl and stir in soy sauce, water, and sugar.  Slice the roast into 1/8-inch thin slices. (Using a partially-frozen roast, as well as an electric slicer, makes this considerably easier!)  Dip each slice of meat in the marinade to coat both sides, then place sliced beef in a large plastic Ziploc bag.  Pour the marinade in over the meat and seal.  Marinade at least 2 hours to overnight.  Heat a griddle or grill pan over high heat and cook meat slices, turning once to cook on both sides.  (Optional: cook the remaining marinade until thickened and caramelized, and pour over the meat for extra seasoning.)

10 October 2010

Cooking therapy


I have been craving kimchi--really, really craving it.  It's kind of funny, because it actually has never figured largely into my diet growing up as a European American.  In fact, the first time I ever heard of it was in college, eating out with some roommates once or twice back then.  Now, years later, after having it a number of times over the course of the past few months, I have this persistent longing that just won't go away.

And so I gave in, jumped into the process undaunted, made a batch, and have now devoted a section of my refrigerator to the storage of some of the most beautiful kimchi ever.  Yes, it's beautiful.  And abundant!  I had to use the largest food storage containers I could find in my house.  For some reason, this taps deeply into some of my most primal instincts...I feel like I've been a dutiful provider, a competent housekeeper, a feeder of the stomach and soul... it just totally presses my "satisfaction button" knowing that I now have so much delicious kimchi on hand.

As I reflect on the steps of the actual process, I am realizing how joyful and life-giving it was for me.  The recipe, on intial reading, appeared rather involved, but as I lifted each cabbage leaf, salting, washing, and massaging them with kimchi paste in turn, it became a calming, centering therapy one evening in the middle of a busy week.  Though I love the touch of soft dough and enjoy kneading bread dough by hand, I've discovered that the tactile pleasure of preparing kimchi in this more traditional way is superlative.  What fun it was, elbow deep in my largest work bowl, stuffing one layer at a time!  And the fragrance of the red pepper paste, promising of the succulent kimchi to come--absolutely mouth-watering!

I hope you will be inspired to make this sometime yourself...I think you will love the process as well as the results!

Traditional Kimchi
Adapted from Maangchi

2 heads Napa cabbage
1 cup salt
1/4 cup sweet (aka glutinous) rice flour
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 1/2 cups gochugaru (Korean hot pepper powder) or more, to taste
1/2 cup finely minced garlic
1 one-inch knob of fresh ginger, finely minced
1/2 medium white onion, grated or finely minced
1 1/2 cups green onions, finely sliced
1 cup Asian (or regular) chives, cut into 1 1/2 inch strips

Salting the cabbage:

Cut each cabbage into quarters, cutting through the core.  Wash cabbage in cold water, submerging completely to soak all leaves, then sprinkle each leaf with salt, using about 1/2 cup salt per head of cabbage.  (Try to sprinkle more salt on the thicker stems than on the thin leafy parts.  The goal is to draw water out of the cabbage and cause it to wilt.)  Place salted cabbage in a large bowl and let sit for 2 hours.

After the first 2 hours, turn pieces of cabbage in the bowl, exchanging the top and bottom layers, so that they get salted evenly, and let sit for 2 more hours, until cabbage is soft.  (Total salting time should be about 4 hours.)

Thoroughly rinse the salt off the cabbage under running water and/or by submerging in 3 fresh changes of cold water.  Let cabbage drain.

Making the kimchi paste:

To make the kimchi paste, whisk together sweet rice flour and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  As soon as boiling begins, whisk in the sugar and continue to cook one more minute.  Let cool, then transfer to the largest bowl you can find!

To the flour paste, add the fish sauce, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, and grated white onion and whisk together.  Then stir in the green onion and chives.

Putting it all together:

Before getting started with this final step, set up a work station: the drained wilted cabbage, the large work bowl containing the kimchi paste, and a large (air-tight and seal-able) storage container ready to receive the prepared kimchi.  Next, put on some rubber gloves (to protect your hands from staining as well as from the painful capsaicin).  You will definitely want to be working with your hands, not only to better coat each leaf, but also for the tactile enjoyment!

Place one of the quartered cabbage pieces in the large work bowl.  Scoop up a handful of the paste and spread it onto each cabbage leaf, massaging it into each of the curls and folds of the cabbage.  Place the coated cabbage into the storage container.  Repeat with remaining cabbage pieces, then close the container with an air-tight lid.

If you like your kimchi on the fresher-tasting side, like I do, store the kimchi immediately in the refrigerator.  Or, if you prefer the slightly sour, fermented flavor, let kimchi sit overnight at room temperature until desired level of fermentation is reached, then store in the refrigerator.

06 October 2010

Edamame-feta hummus

Over and again, I find that it just takes a few key ingredients lying around on hand to come together and make something good.  Here I got inspiration from the things sitting on my refrigerator shelf, and I ended up with a great hummus-like dip, made with edamame (fresh soybeans) and feta cheese and a dab of tahini.

Also blended into the hummus are sesame leaves, which add a delicate hint of fresh herbs.  These green, heart-shaped and serrate-edged leaves (also known as perilla) can be found in most Korean grocery stores, but if you're unable to find them, a tablespoon of fresh mint would be a suitable substitute.

This dip was the perfect bring-along for an evening of cocktails and games that I enjoyed with some friends recently!

Edamame Feta Hummus

12 oz. shelled edamame
1 1/2 Tbs. tahini
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup (packed) sesame leaves, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup plain non-fat yogurt
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until fully blended and smooth.  Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper as desired.

02 October 2010

Putting it all together

I think it was so obvious that I overlooked it for a while...but why not put it all together?  A re-incarnation of my pea soup (but served warm and using 1/2 cup fresh basil instead of the mint this time), garnished with a lotus chip and tomato jam.  Gorgeous!  Yum!

I think the aromatic basil pea soup and the tangy tomato jam complement each other well, and there's nothing so special as starting off a meal with a little visual "wow" factor.  This combination lends itself to so many fun plating possibilities!  You can set up the lotus chip as a little boat floating on the soup, with a dollop of tomato jam on top...

 ...or put the jam on first and stand the lotus chip on end in the jam.  Then all you need are a few chives threaded through the lotus root to add some extra visual detail, and you've got a perfect little appetizer!

25 September 2010

A chill soup for a hot day

Hot days call for cool foods, and there's not much more refreshing than this chilled mint pea soup.  Bright green, fresh hints of mint, and cooling with a dollop of creamy yogurt.

It's so funny--we're just a few days into the official fall season, and the weather finally heats up!  After a dreary and foggy summer here in Santa Barbara, I am welcoming these super-warm days with open arms, and I was so glad to have some of this soup chilling in the fridge and ready to eat.

Chilled mint pea soup doesn't take very long to make--no laborious work in the kitchen--and it can be made a couple days in advance, which is great if you want to pull it out for an easy first course when entertaining.  Enjoy it this weekend, as a part of a relaxed hot-day dinner, or serve it up as a pretty hors d'oeuvre in shot glasses for your next party!

Chilled Mint Pea Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 5 cups

1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. fresh or frozen peas
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
European-style whole milk yogurt, for serving

In a medium pot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until softened.  Add the peas and broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 5 minutes.  (Avoid extended cooking to retain a bright green color.)  Let soup cool slightly, then add chopped mint and puree with an immersion stick blender, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  Chill completely, and serve with a dollop of yogurt.