Monday, March 28, 2011

Wise Sons Pop-Up Deli

What you should do this Saturday morning, Jewish division:
-Go to shul
-Then go to SF's new pop-up deli, Wise Sons.

You can read about Wise Sons on KQED's Bay Area Bites column, which I wrote last week. My favorite comment on this, of course, came from my sis on Facebook, who wrote, "Your grandfather, may he rest in peace, he didn't eat at delis that popped up. He married a balaboosta and SHE cooked for him."

Too true. But should you not have a bubbe at home baking babka, you could do worse than to let Beckerman & Bloom do it for you. True, their pastrami is a little fatty for my taste, cut a little thick and not quite as tender as it could be. (I also like a lot more spice falling off the edges.) So, not Katz's, but then again, lemon trees here, not slush!

Anyway, I don't need to eat pastrami when they have such awesome, house-baked bialys loaded up with Acme smoked salmon from Brooklyn. You could do a smoked-fish throwdown between their "Ollie's Bialy" and the open-faced smoked-salmon sandwiches from Capt Mike's at the Ferry Plaza farmers' market, and everyone's mouths would be too busy happily chewing to pick one or the other.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wheat-Free Muffins & Other Morning Treats

Somewhere inside me, and not really very far in, is a bright & shiny morning caterer waiting to launch. Honestly, I'm not that interested in making salmon pinwheels or chicken satay-on-a-stick. But muffins? Coffee cake? Waffles? Frittata squares? Yum, yum, fun. Bring me your bagels, your bialys, your Nova, capers, and a schmear yearning to be free!

I got my chance to do this out of PQ Castle last weekend, when the Ecological Farming Association (of Eco-Farm Conference fame) came to Oakland for a meeting. Mostly the EFA meets somewhere down near Santa Cruz, so it was a Big Deal for folks to come to the big bad city on this side of the Bay.

I find meetings in fluorescent-lit conference rooms only bearable if a lot of strong coffee and tasty treats are nearby, so I offered PQ's catering services in support of the good work EFA does. It was also a chance to show off what we can get at our local farmers' markets--all of the organic produce was bought at the Grand Lake farmers' market, plus gorgeous marigold-yellow eggs from Danny and Becky's backyard chickens in Rockridge.

So, on the menu: wheat-free Morning Joy muffins; savory cheddar-herb biscuits; asparagus frittata; strawberries and tangerines; PQ's Strawberry Beautiful preserves; a lovely donation of Marshall Farm's Fairmont honey, from the 4 hives they've got up on the roof of the swanky Fairmont Hotel now; and, since it was Purim on Sunday, a little plateful of apricot and prune hamantaschen.

The Morning Joy muffins were a spin on Nantucket Morning Glory muffins, which usually have pineapple and coconut in them. Wanting to stay local, I doctored up the Carrot Spice Muffins recipe from the excellent Streamliner Diner Cookbook (named for an adorable restaurant on Bainbridge Island near Seattle), adding grated apple, ginger, and cloves, reducing the amount of honey, and substituting rice and oat flours for regular white flour.

Now, normally I wouldn't put in what I consider a cupcake-worthy amount of butter into a morning muffin. But, I was baking these for strangers, and I also wasn't exactly sure if the oat & rice flours might bake up denser than usual. In the interest of not serving little hockey pucks, I used a full stick (4 oz, 8 tbsp) of butter, and I have to say, they were quite nice and not greasy at all. You could probably reduce the amount of butter quite easily to suit your own taste.

The biscuits came from a brunch recipe I picked up during a weekend cooking class I took at The Apple Farm in the Anderson Valley, about 3 hours from SF. A lovely, lovely place, and well worth a trip, especially during spring apple-blossom season. Made silver-dollar-size, these biscuits make a perfect cocktail snack or pre-dinner nibble.

Wheat-Free Morning Joy Muffins

Makes 10-12 muffins

1 cup oat flour
1 cup rice flour or barley flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
2 eggs
1 stick (4 oz or 8 tbsp) butter, melted
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup, or a combination
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
1 large apple, peeled and grated
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan, or line with paper liners.

2. Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, melted butter, and honey together.

3. Stir egg mixture gently into flour. Add carrots, apple, and raisins, and stir until mixture is just combined.

4. Spoon into muffin cups (you may not use all the cups) and fill about 3/4 full. Bake until just golden, checking to make sure a toothpick comes out clean.

5. Cool on a rack. Serve warm.

Apple Farm Cheddar Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose white (you can also use whole-wheat pastry flour)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold butter (5 1/3 tbsp)
plenty of freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (do not use dried! substitute fresh chives or parsley instead if you can't get fresh rosemary)
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup milk, light cream, or half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment.

2. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Cut in butter until pebbly. Toss in pepper, rosemary, and cheese. Drizzle in milk, tossing and mixing lightly to make a very moist dough.

3. Drop by spoonfuls onto baking sheet--each biscuit should be a nice peaky, rocky lump. Bake 15 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Serve warm.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Soda Bread, for St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Here's a recipe I used just yesterday to make some very nice soda bread, based on the "Irish Wholemeal Soda Bread" recipe in Elizabeth David's majestic tome, English Bread and Yeast Cookery (yes, she deigns to give some Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and even French recipes, too). The egg is definitely an American touch but it helps make the bread a little fluffier/cakier.

Ms. D. suggests putting the soda-bread dough into a cake pan, putting the pan onto a cookie sheet, then upending a deep (7") cake pan, baking dish, or heavy ovenproof pot over the dough. This will trap both heat and moisture around the dough as it bakes, helping it to rise. The pan or pot is removed after 30 minutes, so that the bread can brown for a final 10 min. or so.

Soda bread was originally baked over turf fires in the hearth, usually in heavy cast-iron pots. For baking, the rounded lids were flipped over, so they fit into the top of the pot like a shallow dish; coals were then piled into the lid and the pot suspended by a hook over the fire, so that the bread was baked by radiant heat from all sides. Lacking a turf fire, you can imitate this by putting a heavy cast-iron (or enameled cast iron, like Le Crueset) pot into the oven to preheat for 10-15 minutes. Once the dough is ready, drop it into the pot and pop on the lid. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and let it bake another 10 min or so to brown. It's the same mini-brick-oven concept as used by the No-Knead Bread folks.

But, if you don't want to bother with this, a cast-iron skillet makes a very good baking pan, giving a good crust and helping the bread bake & brown well.

Personally, I love the taste of caraway seeds in soda bread, but you can leave them out if they're not your thing. Oh, and make sure your baking soda is reasonably fresh and hasn't been sitting over the stove for the past 5 years. It's CHEAP, and since you're probably going out to the store to get the buttermilk and caraway seeds anyway, spring for the buck or so and get a new kitchen-only box.

St. Patrick's Day Soda Bread

1 1/2 cups whole wheat or white flour, or a combination (I love the flavor and nuttiness of all whole wheat, but adjust to your taste; a non-wheat mix of oat and barley flours would probably also work well)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
2 tbsp butter, softened
1/3 cup raisins or currants
1 to 2 tbsp caraway seeds (optional)
1 egg
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup buttermilk
extra water and/or buttermilk, as needed

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Lightly grease a cast-iron skillet or 8" cake pan. Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Rub in butter until mixture looks grainy/pebbly. Mix in raisins and caraway seeds, if using.

2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, beat egg and buttermilk together. Drizzle into dry mixture, stirring gently, until mixture comes together into a moist dough. If patches remain dry, add a little water or more buttermilk.

3. Pat mixture into a plump round. Slash a cross on top with a sharp knife. Put bread into prepared pan. Bake approx. 40 minutes, until golden brown. Best served warm or toasted.