Pumpkins and Peanuts

November 1, 2007

Yet another self-indulgent post here . . . for three reasons:

1) My daughter is turning turned one (ONE!) on Tuesday and we had her party this past weekend, with loved ones mingling and toasting and sipping pink champagne. I swear, when we all broke out into Happy Birthday, Noe clapped her hands and got this look on her face that said, “oh wait a second, you mean you’re really all here for ME?” It was precious. 

2) I baked cupcakes. Pumpkin spice cupcakes with caramel cream cheese frosting to be exact (you may have skidded to a halt in shock after reading “I baked,” so let me just restate . . . I . . . baked . . . cupcakes)—and they turned out FABULOUS. 


3) We dressed Noe up as a peanut for Halloween and paraded her about our cozy little town with all the adorable kiddos trick-or-treating from shop to shop (naughty mommy and daddy even filched a Snickers bar) and she was so dang cute I had to share.


So consider this an “isn’t life grand?” post. Can’t get the smile off my face . . .

{ Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting }

I had the combo of pumpkin cake and caramel-cream cheese frosting in mind and scoured the internet for recipes, bound and determined as I was to actually follow a recipe. I even gave my friend Julie free reign to smack my hand if I so much as uttered a “but what if we . . .” In the end, I went with pumpkin spice cupcakes from Martha Stewart Living, and a caramel-cream cheese frosting from Cottage Living. (Nicole, as much as I wanted to make your double chocolate pumpkin cupcakes, we thought these might pair better with champagne . . . so I’ll just have to make yours for the next party and serve red wine!)

{ Cupcakes }

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.

Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

{ Frosting }

1/4 cup light brown sugar
10 tablespoons butter, divided
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar

Melt brown sugar and 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat. Whisk in cream; blend well. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl. Cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Place remaining 6 tablespoons butter and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer running, slowly pour in cooled brown sugar mixture; beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating well after each addition until completely smooth. Chill slightly for a firmer texture, stirring occasionally.

PS — I also made a mix of the spices used in the cupcakes, added a bit of salt and olive oil, and tossed it with almonds and pumpkin seeds (separately) and roasted them at 350 until they were nice and toasty and crisp. Then I cooled them and mixed them together and served them as a little nibbly before the cupcakes. It was kind of cool to have the spice theme play throughout the party.

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Braise Days

October 11, 2007


I wish I could capture the feeling (and scent!) in my house right now. It’s 5:00, the sky is the color of a dove and the mist just solidified into rain. But there’s a warmth pervading the air that has nothing to do with the thermostat. 

I have the first braise of the season in the oven.

Why is it that as the days get grayer, the light inside seem to glow a tad warmer, and anything cooking over a slow, mellow heat in the oven seems to suffuse our very souls with comfort?

Right now, Noe is playing at my feet. She’s enamored with two plastic cups that, when pulled apart, make a whistling sound. I am enamored with the little giggle of wonder she emits each time she does it (and I think we’re at about 50th time right now). My husband will be walking through the door any minute into a house that—thanks to the braise and my daughter, and not necessarily in that order—exudes home tonight and I feel like my heart is smiling. It’s moments like these that I just want to bundle up and carry with me throughout the rest of my life.

And here, my friends, is what’s in the oven . . . the dish that inspired this cozy post. I originally developed it with lamb shanks for the September issue of Cooking Light. But I struck out twice at the market with lamb this week, and Christopher’s been craving beef. So it’s beef short ribs in the doufeu tonight in lieu of lamb. I’m serving it with cubes of sticky-savory roasted sweet potato and I think it’s gonna be gooood.

Before I turn over the recipe, though, I wanted to expand the circle of warmth by “tagging” a few fellow food bloggers and asking them to share their favorite braises.

Amanda (Figs, Olives, Wine) ; Molly (Orangette) ; Nicole (Pinch My Salt) ; Katie (Thyme for Cooking) ; Kalyn (Kalyn’s Kitchen) . . . would you share with us a recipe for your favorite braise? And heck, if you feel like it, tag five more of your favorite food blogs and we’ll see if we can get a “braise tag” going. (And . . . if I’m going about this tag thing the wrong way, please have mercy and send me an e-mail to set me straight)

{ Braised Beef Short Ribs with Orange and Olives }

While this dish takes more than three hours to complete, it can be left unattended much of the time. Nestle the ribs in the pan so they’re surrounded by cooking liquid. The long, slow braising process yields fork-tender, succulent meat.

1 tablespoon olive oil 
8 (12-ounce) beef short ribs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (about 2 oranges)
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
4 kalamata olives, pitted and quartered lengthwise

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish. Dredge ribs in flour, turning to coat; shake off excess flour. Brown ribs on all sides, in batches if necessary not to crowd, and remove to a plate.

Add garlic to pan; sauté for 1 minute. Add orange juice, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in wine; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes. Stir in beef broth, thyme, and tomato paste; return to a boil. Remove from heat.

Add ribs back to pan; cover and bake at 350° for 2 hours. Stir in rind and olives; bake an additional 30 minutes or until beef is very tender. Remove ribs and place on a platter; keep warm.

Place a large zip-top plastic bag inside a 4-cup glass measure. Pour cooking liquid into bag and refrigerate 10 minutes (fat will rise to the top). Seal bag; carefully snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain cooking liquid and olives into pan, stopping before fat layer reaches opening; discard fat. Bring cooking liquid to a boil over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 2 cups (about 20 minutes).

Reduce heat to low, nestle ribs back in pan and warm through.

Serves 6



Congrats Calcaire!

October 2, 2007

I admit it. I never made it to that glass of Pinot Noir I had intended to sip after salmon. I never even made it to the salmon. On Saturday, I found out that Clos du Bois’ Calcaire Chardonnay won the coveted Best in Class sweeps at the Sonoma County Fair, and all weekend long I was dreaming up the perfect dish to pair with the winning wine.

When I talked to Erik, he and his team were all smiles. “We never thought it would happen, especially for a Chardonnay.” In fact, he and his wife had snuck out after winning golds on Calcaire and three other wines (including one of my favorites . . . Tempranillo!)—but before the announcement of the sweeps—to get home to the kids. “I got a call on my cell phone while we were still in the parking lot saying I’d better get my a** back inside to accept the award for Best White Wine!” Woops. I have to say, though, I’m not a bit surprised at the win.

What I know of Calcaire from a recent tasting is that it’s minerally on the nose, with a hint of ripe peach. On the palette it spreads out to several layers of flavors: clove, kumquat, honeydew. It’s silky and rich without being overly buttery, and it has a gloriously crisp, acidic finish that makes it fabulous with food—unusual for a California Chardonnay.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can take a couple of different routes when pairing wine and food, the two most well-trodden being complementing or contrasting. But I made it my mission this weekend to complement not just one of Calcaire’s traits, but as many of them as I could in one dish.

Maybe it was Orangette’s ephemeral gush about last-of-the-season corn. Maybe it’s because they’re the same color as a Chardonnay, but I couldn’t get the little kernels out of my mind. So I ended up making this:


And I’ll tell you what, it was GOOOOOD. The brininess of shrimp hits the slate-like element of the wine, the earthiness of pancetta and mushrooms harmonizes with the deeper spice-notes, and corn plays up the sunnier flavors of Calcaire’s palate while the caramelization keeps it rooted in richness.

So congrats to Erik and the team at Clos du Bois . . . and to everyone—enjoy!Mushroom-shrimp-corn-fett-l

{ Shrimp and Mushroom Fettuccine with Caramelized Shallots and Corn }

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound large shrimp, shelled, deveined and halved lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce pancetta, minced
4 cups wild mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
2 ears of corn, shucked and kernels removed from the cob and reserved
10 ounces dried fettuccine
1/2 cup dry white wine (preferably a Chardonnay)
3 tablespoons cream
a tiny dash of nutmeg
2 tablespoons chives, minced
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat and saute shrimp until just opaque. Lightly dust with salt and pepper and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Add olive oil to pan, raise heat to medium-high and add pancetta, mushrooms and thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until pancetta is crisp and mushrooms are well-browned, about 10–12 minutes. Add to shrimp.

Melt remaining tablespoon of butter in pan and add shallots and corn. Saute until shallots are well-bronzed and corn is tender and browned in places—about 10–12 minutes—while cooking the pasta to al dente. Add wine to pan and deglaze, cooking until liquid is almost evaporated.

Reduce heat to low and add cream and nutmeg to pan. Add shrimp and mushrooms and toss to coat. Transfer fettuccine back to pasta pot over low heat, pour the sauce over the top and toss to coat again, adding in the chives. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and serve in warmed pasta bowls.

Serves 4

{ PS . . . I’ve been wanting to participate in Presto Pasta Night at Once Upon a Feast for a while now, so here’s my chance! Stop by and check out the roundup. }

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I’m headed to San Francisco tonight to fete my friend’s 40th (for the second year in a row) and Christopher and Noe are going to meet me there tomorrow morning for a picnic with some of our city friends. I woke up bummed that I wouldn’t see them tonight, what with this being the big “day care” week, but I had to smile when I saw Christopher’s note on the kitchen counter.

“Baby, would you leave your frittata recipe for me? I’ll make a couple tonight to bring to the picnic.”

I mean come on, how great is that? It’s Friday night and my husband is opting to be home alone with his daughter making frittatas. Lord I love that man.Zucchini blossoms0002

And I love this frittata. Mind you, I grew up on frittatas. My mother would clean out the fridge once a week for her version of a frittata. But this one—THIS ONE—was unlike anything I’d ever had before.

The recipe dates back a few years, to our first trip to Orvieto in the Umbrian hills. We were staying at Locanda Rosati, hosted by the larger-than-life Giampiero Rosati and his brother-in-law Paolo, the chef. One evening’s antipasto was this Zucchini Frittata. Simple, unadorned, it was served in wedges at room temp and was somewhat uninspiring at first sight. But when I took a bite, it was like a flavorful savory custard in my mouth. I couldn’t get enough. So I pestered Paolo for the recipe and eventually pieced it together between his English and my Italian (who knew parsley in Italian was prezzemolo?). And here I share it with you . . . and Christopher.

{ Zucchini Frittata }

3/4 pound zucchini
3/4 pound onion
1/4 pound tomatoes
salt and pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
8 large eggs, beaten, salted and peppered

Slice the zucchini and onion crosswise very thinly, preferably on a mandolin, and place in a big bowl. Dice the tomatoes and add to the bowl. Salt and pepper the vegetables liberally and toss to mix well.

Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large salt pan and cook vegetables over medium heat for ten minutes, or until tender and just softening, but not yet brown. Stir in parsley and set aside to cool for five minutes. When slightly cooled, pour vegetables back into the large bowl, add the scrambled eggs, and mix thoroughly.150x150WHblogging_57

Heat a large, nonstick salt pan over high heat, and when hot, add the remaining olive oil. Wait until the oil is shimmering but not smoking, and gently pour the egg and vegetable mixture into the pan. Lower the heat to medium and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the center of the omelet is almost firm, about ten to twelve minutes.

Place a large plate or platter  (larger than the rim of the pan) over the pan, facing down, and gently flip the pan over, sliding the omelet upside down onto the plate. Gingerly slide the omelet back into the pan, still upside down, so the side that was just browned on the bottom is now on the top. Gently tuck the edges under with a spatula and cook until firm throughout, about another ten minutes. Slide onto a plate and serve either warm, room temperature or chilled.

Serves 8 as an antipasto

What to drink? We had this with a nice, crisp Orvieto Classico at Locanda Rosati, which paired perfectly. Along a more mainstream line, I’d recommend a Pinot Grigio or even a Sauvignon Blanc that played more on citrus notes than herbal or grassy ones.

This post is part of Kalyn’s Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging. Thanks for hosting Katie (from Thyme for Cooking)!

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I was thinking about Labor Day. It’s a funny title for a time that’s meant to be a break from labor. I mean, shouldn’t it be called Rest Day? Or Chill Out Day?*. I think so.

So it’s in a very non-laborious spirit that I offer this, one of my highest reward-to-effort ratio recipes (i.e. lots of yum without much work), to accompany you into this deliciously long weekend. Enjoy! 

{ Grilled Flank Steak with Salsa Verde }

This Salsa Verde is of the Old World variety—think parsley and anchovies in lieu of cilantro and chiles

1-1/2 pounds flank steak
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Rub flank steak with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and half of the pepper and garlic; set aside. Grill steak over medium-high direct heat for 7 minutes, turning once, or until cooked to desired doneness. Transfer to a platter, cover with foil, and let rest 10 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain.

Meanwhile, in a blender or mortar and pestle (although an m&p will lower the reward-to-effort ratio), combine remaining salt, pepper, garlic and next five ingredients until smooth. Spoon over steak.

Serves 6

Pair with . . . An Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon would meet the meat while echoing the greener notes in this dish. Or try something a bit more daring, like a Tempranillo or Cabernet Franc.

* (according to Wikipedia, Labor Day was instituted in 1882 at the bequest of the Central Labor Union . . . hence the name)

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Roasted Tomato Roundup

August 24, 2007

Forget it. I was planning to expound on prolonging the pleasures of the tomato in this post, but I’ve found so many other fantastic recipes for Slow Roasted Tomatoes that I decided it would be better for everyone if I just did a roundup. So here goes:222x173_3_Tomato

It’s Tomato Season! (Prevention: September 2007). This is my recipe for Slow Roasted Tomatoes, along with two ways to use them—Tomato and Goat Cheese Manicotti and Grilled Halibut with Roasted Tomato Tapenade.

I will add, though, a note about freezing. I freeze several batches of these during the summer and then enjoy them all through the winter. Here’s how:

  • Let them cool enough to handle.
  • Lay the tomatoes in tightly packed single layers on pieces of parchment paper cut to fit in gallon Ziplocs, then lay them flat in the freezer and freeze until solid.
  • Keeping the tomatoes on the pieces of parchment paper, stack a few layers on top of each other and slide them into a Ziploc freezer bag.
  • When you’re craving tomatoes, you can just pop a few off the parchment paper, let them sit out for about 15 minutes to defrost, chop them up and toss them with pasta, mix with goat cheese and spread on crostini, anything you want.

How to Make Slow Roasted Tomatoes (Kalyn’s Kitchen). Great step-by-step with links to some tasty recipes.  

Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes in Olive Oil (Figs Olives Wine). What I love about this recipe is that, while most slow-roasted tomato recipes call for Roma-type varietals, Amanda uses a smattering of gorgeous heirlooms here (beautiful photos too), proving that those plump, juicy heirlooms shine in all kinds of guises. There’s also a nice historical/botanical wrap-up of tomatoes and . . . oooohhhhh the recipes. Roasted Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta (what this woman does with bread is amazing) and Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Fettucine with Thyme.

Better Living Through Slow Roasting (Orangette). Simple, slow, spectacular. Ground coriander is an interesting addition.

Oven Dried Tomatoes — Really a No-Brainer (Delicious: Days). You get the gist. They use tiny sun-golds, though, which is a playful little twist.

Pantry Essential: Slow Roasted Tomatoes (FamilyStyle Food). A cute story about how a decaying box of tomatoes can have a sweet ending.

Tomates Confites (Chocolate and Zucchini). Clotilde uses a pinch of sugar on these, which makes them a touch sweeter than the rest.

Red and Yellow Cherry Tomato Confit (New York Times Dining Section). A quicker version of a confit made with cherry tomatoes.

So there you have it, I have officially fulfilled my “tomato post” promise. I’d say it turned out rather tasty! Enjoy . . .

(Photo credit: Prevention Magazine)


I know, I know. I promised tomatoes as my next post. But darn it, my brother came to visit from New York this weekend, we got caught up in the revelry of Healdsburg’s 150th anniversary and I caught a cold. As a result, I never made it to the farmers market, (I still owe the fish man) and since only two of my own tomatoes are ripe in the back at the moment, I thought I’d put the subject on hold once again until later in the week.


This time, it’s Epazote that’s usurping the tomatoes. Or, more accurately, it’s Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging (hosted by German food blogger, Zorra from Kochtopf). I’ve been wanting to enter a post into the Weekend Herb Blogging ring, but my timing has just been a bit off since Little Miss 150x150WHblogging_57Noe arrived on the scene (who is, by the way, crawling all over the kitchen and pulling herself up on all the chairs and tables like it was no big deal!). And when I opened the fridge today and was hit by the herbaceous, petroleum-like scent of Epazote—left over from a batch of frijoles that I made last weekend—I thought, “this is it!”

The name Epazote is originally an Aztec word, epazotl, adapted into its present form by the Spanish. Epazote’s unique taste is ubiquitous to several Latin American cultures, from Mexico to South America, yet you’ll be hard pressed to find it on plates in the States. You can find fresh stalks of Epazote at many Mexican markets in the US or online through Melissa’s

The herb itself grows in large, mint-like tufts and has medium-green, saw-tooth leaves that have an extremely pungent flavor and deep, earthy scent that reminds me of a Riesling (with its tarry notes) in herb form. When cooked with black beans, as I did last weekend in a riff on Rick Bayless’s Frijoles de la Olla (which we had with fresh halibut—for which I still owe the fish man—seasoned in achiote paste and grilled in banana leaves that was absolutely fantastic, I might add), Epazote lends a distinctive licorice note to the dish, but not a sweet one like tarragon. More like the bitter black licorice of Europe. Epazote also gives a heady earthiness to other dishes—I like it sliced into a chiffonade and sprinkled on the cheese in a quesadilla, or stirred into a mole for yet another added dimension of flavor.

Here’s my version of Frijoles de la Olla (adapted from Rick Bayless’s Authentic Mexican). Enjoy! 

Frijoles de la Olla

2 cups dried black beans
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or lard
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, stemmed and sliced lengthwise
3 large sprigs epazote, roughly torn
1 teaspoon salt

Soak beans overnight and drain.

Heat oil or lard over medium heat in a large pot and saute onion, garlic and jalapeno until soft and just coloring, about 10 minutes.

Add beans, epazote and salt, and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, partially cover, lower heat to medium-low and simmer until the beans are tender, roughly 2 hours.