Monday, February 28, 2011


Brrr! It was chilly out there, but the sunshine was bright and the Great San Francisco Snowstorm of 2011 did not materialize, so PQ did not have to bolster everyone with hot toddies to get through her demo (although they probably would have been welcome!).

On the menu: apricot-candied lemon scones, and meyer lemon-blood orange curd to go with. The scones were particularly successful, as several people came up to me, post-sampling, to say that they'd always thought they hated scones, only to realize that they only hated BAD scones.

Unfortunately, almost every bakery & coffee joint I know makes/serves these crappy, hard, tasteless scones, so scones have gotten an undeserving bad rap. (The only exception is Remedy, the coffee place at 43rd & Telegraph, in Temescal, which has gotten justifiably famous for the awesome scones made by its in-house baker. Lotsa cream & butter, and a madly perfectionist attitude, seem to be her secret...)

Given that this was a farmers' market demo, I tried to use as much stuff from the market as possible, which meant using Eatwell Farm's locally grown and freshly ground flour, made from Sonora soft winter wheat. Soft wheat, as opposed to hard, is lower in protein, which makes it less gluten-y and thus better for tender "quick" breads like scones, muffins, and pancakes rather than yeasted breads that need to rise. The whole-wheat flour was more delicate than I expected and worked beautifully, in a 2:1 ratio w/ regular all-purpose.

Since it was winter, without a lot of fresh-fruit option besides citrus, I decided to highlight the gorgeous dried & preserved fruit available at the market, using chopped dried apricots and June Taylor's candied lemon rinds. This made a lovely sweet-tart combination that balanced nicely with the fluffy, buttery, not-too-sweet scone.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cooking Demo Today with PQ!

Brrr! Yes, it's chilly out, but that infamous SF snowstorm didn't hit, so you have no excuse not to pull on your woolly socks and hat and come down to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market (1 Market St., SF) this morning. The PQ will be doing a cooking demo at the outdoor kitchen under the archways at the front of the Ferry Building at 11AM, followed by a book signing.

What's on the menu? Scones that don't suck! I am a lover of scones, and yet I almost never eat them outside of my own kitchen, because almost all commercial scones, particularly the ones you get a chain coffee shop like Peets or Starbucks, are AWFUL: dense, tasteless hockey pucks that aren't even good for you. At least those equally dense & tasteless little oatcakes on the countertop of every Berkeley coffee joint are redeemed by Swiffering your colon with all the fiber in there.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Like chocolate chip cookies, which are infinitely better when made at home from the recipe on the back of the chip bag (although, picky picky, I like Guittard or Ghirardelli's dark chocolate chips a million times more than the overly sweet & metallic Nestle ones), excellent scones are easy to make. The recipe I rely on is an adaptation of one from a basic British cookbook that I took out of the library in, oh, 1981 or so, in order to make scones as part of a welcome party my school was hosting for a new English exchange student. I probably had a little crush on this guy, who was several years older, wore a long knitted scarf, and had, of course, That Accent.

Now, about the egg: most British scone recipes don't call for an egg--they're basically flour, sugar, leavening, butter, and buttermilk, milk, or cream. But I'm up here with all the chickens, rolling in eggs, and I've found that adding an egg does make for a lighter, fluffier scone that's a wee bit more cakelike, so it holds together nicely when you split it open to make way for all the jam. It's really optional, though, and you can make these quite nicely with or without it.

You can also mix up the flours--I usually use a mixture of whole-wheat pastry flour and all-purpose white, but you could also try non-wheat flours like oat or barley. (I've found a mix of oat & barley flours to be a good substitute for regular wheat flour in quick breads like this one.)

Now, some troubleshooting: don't worry if you add in all the liquid and get a very sticky or mushy dough. Just skip the folding/patting/cutting step, and drop your scones off a big spoon onto the baking sheet in nice big lumps. These are drop scones, perfectly legit.

Feel free, as I know you will, to mess around with what you put in the scones. Currants and lemon rind, cranberries and orange rind, pecans or almonds and chocolate chips, golden raisins, whatever you like.

Apricot-Candied Citrus Scones

Makes 16 scones, depending on size

3 cups flour (I like to use a mixture of whole-wheat and white)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

6 oz butter (1 stick + 4 tbsp) butter, cold and cut into cubes

2 tbsp finely chopped candied lemon or orange rind*

1 cup plain yogurt

¼ cup half-and-half or heavy cream

1 egg, preferably from a pastured hen

½ cup diced dried apricots

2 tbsp milk or cream, for glazing

1 tbsp sugar, for finishing

Preheat oven to 425F. In a large bowl, sift dry ingredients together. Add butter cubes, tossing them around with your fingers or a fork until each cube is covered in flour. Keep tossing mixture lightly and cutting butter cubes down smaller and smaller, until mixture looks pebbly. Quickly toss in chopped citrus rind.

Beat egg, yogurt, and cream together. Drizzle most, but not all, of yogurt mixture over flour-butter mixture. Grab that fork and start tossing again, scooping up from the bottom so that the whole bowlful gets evenly moistened. Mix in diced apricots.

Dump out your big, rather straggly lump of dough onto a clean countertop. Pat down gently into a round. Fold over, then pat down again 2 or 3 times, just until it smooths out and holds together. Pat into a round about an inch thick.

Cut in rounds or wedges, using a sharp knife or a biscuit cutter. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease lightly. Place scones on prepared sheet. Brush top of each scone with a little milk or cream. Sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from baking sheet and cool on a rack. Serve warm with citrus curd or jam.

*Candied citrus rinds are available in the market from June Taylor Jams.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

White Bean Soup for Another Rainy Day

I'm a much neater cook in someone else's kitchen. Especially when it's a professional kitchen, complete with a generous supply of clean towels, sharp knives, and plastic storage buckets. (Even when all the kitchen dishes have to be washed by hand.)

It's actually quite relaxing, I find, to cook for a larger group when you have the right tools for the job. Today at the Headlands, where I'm helping out for the next week while a small group of artists does a 2-week special residency (in preparation for my actual kitchen internship there this summer & fall) my job was soup for lunch, made with white bean, fennel, and kale, a kind of pasta-less minestrone.

It was very easy and pleasant to do, with a spacious expanse of clean counter on which to dice and chop, plus the elbow room of an eight-burner stove. And as it turned out, quite a hit, if I say so myself! So, here's a nourishing veggie soup for a chilly, rainy day--I leave the amounts up to you, depending on how many people you're cooking for, and keeping in mind that it's impossible to make a small amount of bean soup. And why would you want to, when it only gets better the next day around?

White Bean, Fennel & Kale Soup
Good for using up the dregs of your winter CSA box
What you need: Olive oil; fennel bulb(s); spring onions; tomato paste; white wine or vermouth; white wine vinegar; vegetable stock; cooked white beans; dino kale (cavalo nero); fresh sage, parsley, oregano; chile flakes; some grated hard cheese for serving

In a nice big pot, heat up some olive oil. Saute some chopped fennel bulb(s), sprinkled with salt, until soft and beginning to caramelize. Let it go slowly, stirring frequently, to bring out the sweetness. Add about half as much scallion/green onions, chopped, and cook until it's all soft and getting a little brown here and there. Add a few good squirts of tomato paste, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Deglaze the pan with a good glug of white wine and a spoonful of white wine, champagne, or cider vinegar. Cook, stirring, until liquid is almost evaporated and everything looks kind of jammy.

Add enough vegetable stock to make everything float. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until flavors have melded. Add some cooked white beans, a little salt and chile flakes, and some chopped fresh sage, and continue simmering for another 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. 10 minutes before serving, add some finely shredded dino kale. Simmer until kale is tender. Add some minced fresh parsley and oregano. Taste again for seasoning. Top with a generous swirl of olive oil (a little fat at the last minute helps relieve the austerity of a purely vegetarian soup). Serve with some grated hard cheese (dry Jack, asiago, grana, parmesan) and a sprinkle of red chile flakes.


Of course, you could make this with chicken stock, or saute a little pancetta in with the fennel. Yesterday, when we made a slightly Indian-inflected (turmeric, cumin, coriander) vegetarian lentil soup for lunch, the artists ate it straight (with yogurt and scallions) and all the cooks took a bite, then turned to the fridge to forage for the leftover sausage they knew was in there. They each broke up some cold sausage in their bowl, added hot sauce, and then ate happily. So, everything's better w/ sausage and a squirt of Sriracha sauce! At least lentil soup is. (I ate mine plain, and it was still pretty darn good.)

As a perk, today I got to take home not only soup but a plateful of last night's dinner: roast chicken, potato-fennel mash, sauteed kale, lovely mushrooms and a bit of tempeh. Plus, even more importantly, dinner for the goats: a big paper-bagful of the day's veggie scraps, including carrot peelings, parsley stems, and all the not-ready-for-prime-time mustard greens. (This on top of the compost-ready leftovers--carrot tops, old chard, withering fennel--I'd already begged from the kind folks at County Line & Full Belly Farms at the Marin Farmers' Market that morning.)

The goats, like a couple of haughty teenagers, were a wee bit disdainful of all those greens, but the chickens were STOKED. Peck, peck, peck, chomp! The goats preferred their hay, and I spent some minutes simply watching them munch inside their little stable as the rain pattered down. Earlier that day, I'd come down to check on the group and give out a little hay--a redundant occupation, given that the goats have figured out how to break into their hay bin, the plastic doors of which are now semi-detached and hanging open, no matter how I try to prop them up & block them shut.

As is my wont, I did a quick head count of the chickens: 6, when there should be 7. But no stray feathers, nothing out of place. Suddenly, a volley of crowing, coming from the vicinity of the hay bin. Not behind the bin, but yes, inside it, where one of the Buff Orpingtons had snuggled down in the sweet alfalfa and laid a warm brown egg.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Roasted Carrot-Parsnip & Lentil Soup for Rainy Winter

You'd think, perhaps, after writing 3 cookbooks, I might be accustomed to the thought of other people actually feeding themselves from one of my recipes, but no! Every time, it's a surprise and a thrill. Especially when it comes from a friend. My pal Susie Bright sent me an email a couple of days ago, headlined "Yr recipe is my command" with this, her own picture of the carrot-lentil soup I've been going on about. And she said it was delish, even cold! So nice to hear and see...

So, back to the ladies' luncheon...Trying to make multi-grain rolls, lemon-buttermilk cake, and soup all at once, along with taking out the recycling, throwing all the shoes into the closet and setting the table, was a little crazy. (Such is studio living--everything's right there, all in one room, and how I long for the days of my glamorous, by comparison, Brooklyn one-bedroom, with an actual door that could be closed on fallen sweaters and an unmade bed.)

So I didn't end up roasted the tomatoes like I'd planned, but you should. I also had another thought, long after the soup was made, that parsnips, those tough, unappreciated wallflowers of the root-veggie bin, would be a really nice addition. So, here's the recipe, partly how I made it, partly how it should have been made. And again, mess around the spicing as you wish. This had a nice, vaguely smoky-Moroccan thing going on, but you should suit your own taste. I would go for the seedy/barky/warming spices though, rather than leafy green things like basil or dill.

Roasted Parsnip, Carrot, and Lentil Soup

1 lb carrots, peeled but left whole
1/2 lb parsnips, peeled, split if large
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
1 ornion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chipotle pepper or smoked paprika (pimenton)
1 tsp pure chile powder
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup red lentils
Water or chicken broth as needed
Lemon and plain yogurt, creme fraiche, or sour cream for serving

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Lay carrots and parsnips out on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roll around until well coated.

2. Drain liquid from tomatoes, and set aside. Halve tomatoes and place, cut sides up, on a baking sheet. Put both baking sheets into the oven. Roast, turning occasionally, until carrots are tender and browned here and there, about 15-20 minutes. Add sliced onions to the carrot pan and roast for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove both baking sheets from the oven. Let carrots rest until cool enough to handle. Dice carrots, parsnips, and onions. Roughly chop tomatoes, reserving any juices.

4. In a deep saucepan, saute carrot mixture with garlic and spices for a minute or two. Add tomatoes and lentils, along with reserved tomato liquid and juices. Add water and/or chicken broth to cover. Stir well and bring to a simmer.

5. Partially cover and cook, stirring frequently, until lentils are tender and have broken down to a nubbly sludge, adding more water or broth as needed. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if necessary. Depending on the texture, feel free to attack this with an immersion (stick) blender, or to puree some or all of it in a food processor or blender.

6. Add a squeeze of lemon before serving, if desired. Top with a dollop of yogurt, creme fraiche, or sour cream for serving. A sprinkle of fresh cilantro leaves would also be nice.

As mentioned in an earlier post, you could also add some diced or crushed canned pineapple in unsweetened pineapple juice shortly before serving.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Carrots & Lentils for Winter

So, the Ladies are coming over for a lunchy tea tomorrow afternoon, and with the rain beating down and a raw chill in the air (especially here, where icy water is actually dripping down the INSIDE of the windows), something lovely and hot must be served.

The other day, hungry but with not much in the larder, I had a sudden flashback to a NYT recipe for a kind of thick, terra-cotta-colored potage. Red lentils were involved, I seemed to remember, along with oven-roasted carrots and some warming spices. I sifted through the many torn-out, wrinkled recipes in my big, messy, much-loved recipe binder to no avail, before trying the obvious fix: entering "roasted carrots and lentils" into the NYT search engine. Instantly, there it was, circa 1998, by Molly O'Neill, Roasted Carrot & Lentil Ragout (scroll to the end of the piece for the recipe).

This is as easy, cheap, and nutritious a thing as one can imagine. Plus, it's a good pantry dish to remember during spates of bad weather, since you'll very likely have all the ingredients (carrots, onions, lentils) on hand. The spices are quite flexible--you could use any number of Moroccan or Indian-style spice combinations to very good effect, things like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, etc.

This time, I'm thinking of opening a big (28-oz) can of whole plum tomatoes, halving them, and putting them into another baking pan to roast alongside the carrots and onions. This would concentrate and caramelize them a bit. Then, I'll add in the tomatoes (chopped) as well as the reserved tomato liquid from the can when the rest of the veg are ready to simmer with the lentils. Some coconut milk at the end would make for a richer, creamier dish, or you could buzz the whole thing in a blender for a smoother puree.

Of course, however satisfying to our peasant forebearers, pulses and beans can be a bit dull. They can always benefit from an acidic pick-me-up right before serving. A big squeeze of lemon or lime juice helps any lentil dish. Fresh salsa perks up black-bean soup, and a shake of hot-pepper vinegar (or a few dribbles of hot sauce) gives a lift to any long-simmered beans.

In keeping with the theme of Kitchen-Cabinet Homesteading, I had a sudden brainwave that afternoon while looking at a half-emptied can of pineapple chunks sitting in the fridge after the morning's Grape Nuts. Quickly diced, the chunks and juice went into the lentils, where they added a lovely tropical tang, doing the more or less the same thing as tomatoes would. (Only do this if you have plain old pineapple in unsweetened pineapple juice, not pineapple in any other kind of juice or syrup.)

Why red lentils rather than the usual greeny-brown ones? Well, red lentils break down quickly into a gently nubbly sludge that I find very comforting. And the deep-orange color is cheering when everything outside is so gray.

So, I'm going to play around with Molly's recipe for tomorrow. Will post once I've got my own version down. And stay warm! It's crazy hailing out there!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


OK, pie-loving readers: I need your help. What are your favorite pie metaphors, pie puns, pie references? Here's what I've got so far: humble pie, lucy in the pie with diamonds, pie in the sky, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie...your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

No-Knead Bread Revisited

2006 called Monday, right on time, since PQ Castle had just gotten down to the crumbs of last week's loaf of Easy Multi-Grain Bread. Breakfast has always been toast-dependent here, perhaps due to the vast overstock of jam & marmalade currently stashed under the bed, or because nothing goes as well with that very necessary first cup of cafe au lait as a plate full of crunchy brown toast.

So, the Castle being bereft of bread but well-stocked with various flours and most importantly, the long-stored, much-missed, well-loved little Le Creuset enameled cast-iron pot, we got to thinking about no-knead bread, which made such a sensation when it first came out. I remembered baking it several times back then in my Cobble Hill apartment and being quite pleased with the results.

So I consulted a past PQ entry and, mindful of my own advice, mixed up a batch of dough, using a mixture of what was on hand: about 1/2 cup of white flour, another 1/2 cup of rye flour, a cup of whole-wheat and another cup of coarse-milled graham flour. Why this mix? Simply because that's what I had--a little bit each of a bunch of different things. I do think this bread benefits from at least a little white flour in the mix, although I do prefer that the whole grains predominate, for health and taste. Also because, here in the Bay Area, there is so much high-quality white bread already out there, baguettes and boules and sourdough and pain au levain, why would you bother making yet another white loaf? The fun is in making up your own mix, adjusted to taste and made out of whatever's in the cupboard.

This is part of Kitchen-Cabinet Homesteading: Use what you've got. It's hardly frugal to keep running to Rainbow Grocery or Berkeley Bowl to get another plastic baggie filled with this grain or that flour, of which half will be used and the other half left, unlabeled and unloved, to subside into rancid dusty nothingness. If you got it for one thing, find a way to use it for something else.

The dough was very wet and sticky-goopy, but I let to do its thing under a sheet of plastic wrap. Perhaps because my kitchen is quite cool--closer to 60 than the typical central-heated 70 degrees--it rose very slowly, and didn't seem to mind being left out for a full 24 hours, rather than the recommended 12 to 18. Stirred down, with a couple of tablespoons of flour sprinkled over to make it workable, it had a lovely bouncing, eager quality, supple and light, and quite unlike the denser doughs I usually make.

The trick to the second rise is finding something that this very wet dough won't stick to. Regular flour is no good; much better is rice flour, if you have it, or cornmeal. The original instructions call for rubbing a tea towel with plenty of rice flour or cornmeal, then lining a shallow bowl or basket with it to make a home for the dough's second rise. Still, however much I sprinkled or rubbed, the dough always seemed to get caught in the folds, sticking and deflating when the time came to heave it from basket to oven.

Instead, I laid down a thick layer of rice flour in a high-sided cake pan, rolled the dough into a fat round, and let it rise there. The sides of the pan girdled the slack dough, helping it stand up as it proved. Meanwhile, during the last half-hour of rising, I heated up the pot and lid in a 450 degree oven. (I've also had good luck dumping the dough onto a preheated pizza/baking stone, then covering it with a preheated, upside down cast-iron pot.) The idea is to make something like a mini brick oven, in which the dough is trapped in a very hot place with indirect heat radiating inwards from all sides. As the moisture of the dough evaporates outward, it forms air pockets inside the crumb and bathes the outside of the dough in steam, which helps create that classic, hard-to-achieve, crisp-chewy crust.

Once the oven was hot and the dough risen, I flipped the pan over--quickly! no hesitating!--and the poofy, risen dough fell into the hot pot barely deflated. Clapped on the lid and into the oven for about 40 minutes, another 15 minutes with the lid off, then a final all-around crisping up out of the pot on the oven rack for another 5 or 10 minutes.

Out of the oven onto the counter to cool--because of the dampness of the crumb, this is a bread that needs to cool down intact. No matter how divine it smells, let it be for at least an hour. Sitting there on the counter, it's still cooking inside, and ripping into it while it's still crackling-hot will result in a loaf that's gummy inside rather than appealingly moist.

Sliced later in the day, spread with butter and marmalade, this was a lovely, full-flavored, wholesome thing, spattered with holes inside, rustic and very appealing, and well worth the 10 minutes of actual work it required.

No-Knead Whole-Grain Bread

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
15 oz (3 cups) mixed flours, including white, whole-wheat, coarse (graham) whole wheat, and rye, or whatever mix of flours you have on hand
2 scant teaspoons sea salt

1. Sprinkle yeast over the water in a measuring cup, and let sit for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until yeast has dissolved.

2. Stir flours and salt together in a big bowl. Add yeast mixture, and stir vigorously until a rough dough is formed. Cover with a damp tea towel or a sheet of plastic wrap. Place somewhere cool-ish, dry, and out of the way for 18 to 24 hours. It will roughly double in size and look bubbly.

3. Stir down, adding a little more flour as necessary to make the dough able to be shaped. Fold dough over onto itself several times, until it holds together. Shape into a ball.

4. Thickly powder a high-sided 8" or 9" cake pan with rice flour or cornmeal. Place the ball in it. Drape with plastic wrap and let rise for another 2 hours, until well-puffed.

5. 30 minutes before dough is fully risen, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a heavy ovenproof pot and lid (like an earthenware or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven) into the oven.

6. After pot has heated for at least 30 minutes, remove the lid and quickly dump the dough into the pot. Clap on the lid and return to the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 15 minutes to brown crust. If a thicker crust is desired, remove loaf from pot and let it bake bare on the oven rack for another 5-10 minutes.

7. Remove from oven and let cool for at least an hour before slicing.