Saturday, October 29, 2011

Some good cakes you should bake

1. A pear cake with muscovado sugar and maple syrup from Nigel Slater's Tender. (The recipe can also be found here.) You saute chunks of pear with cinnamon then add maple syrup and cook until bubbly. Spoon this over a dense, somewhat scant batter. The cake will look like the photograph above just before it goes into the oven; when it comes out it will be flattish and golden-brown, a thick, almondy cake with sticky lodes of pear. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

2. An apple cake with marmalade. Also from Nigel Slater's Tender. Recipe here. This was like one of those big nubbly "health food" muffins that paradoxically contains several tons of sugar. My favorite kind. RECOMMEND, though not quite as highly as the pear cake.


3. Plum almond cake from the Bi-Rite Market's beautiful, brand new book, Eat Good Food. I made
this a few weeks ago so I don't remember very much except that the cake was rich and almondy, the fruit juicy and tart, and the whole production a delicious dessert. RECOMMEND, although not as highly as . . . 
4. Chocolate sour cream bundt cake, also from Eat Good Food. CAN NOT RECOMMEND MORE HIGHLY. And I don't even like chocolate.

This is the recipe almost exactly as printed in Eat Good Food. The one thing I will do differently next time is to try milk chocolate in the glaze.


1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water, or black coffee
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Butter and flour a bundt pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a small pan, melt the butter with the cocoa, salt, and water/coffee over medium heat. Cook until melted and combined. Cool slightly.

3. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking soda. Gradually whisk in the melted butter mixture and beat well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the cake tests done, about 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a rack. Cool completely, then place the rack on top of a sheet of newspaper that will catch drips. Glaze.

4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1. Put the chocolate and corn syrup in a bowl. Heat the cream and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar is melted and the mixture is hot.

2. Pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. If it is too runny (it was) let it sit for a few minutes to thicken. Pour over the cake and let it run down the sides.

Outstanding, this cake. In fact, everything I've made from Eat Good Food has been excellent. The book also includes a recipe for a pear skillet cake that I want to try next week, when the CSA drops off another 6 overripe pears.

And I wonder why I'm not skinnier.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Outfit update/Pancetta tutorial, part 2: Spices

Pancetta spices
Thank-you for all your help with the outfit. I wore the skirt, sweater, and a pound or so of pancake makeup. The outfit hardly mattered, though, because I also wore a flowery apron that made me look like a 1940s British housewife. I like that look; I'm dissing myself. The whole Good Morning America taping experience was straightforward, fun and thoroughly exhausting. When I know the air date, I will post it.

Meanwhile, if any of you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am reading at Books, Inc. in Berkeley next Tuesday, November 1, at 7 p.m. I will also be reading on November 12 at Book Passage in Corte Madera at 1 p.m. And in January, I may have a date at the incredible Omnivore Books in San Francisco, which is devoted entirely to cookbooks.

Now, pancetta.

Above is a picture of the pancetta spices used in Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn which is my meat-curing bible. But there's a lot of flexibility here, and you can omit or add spices, depending on your tastes. I've made pancetta without juniper berries and I couldn't tell the difference; I doubt I'd notice if I omitted the nutmeg. Next time I want to add red red pepper flakes. The three really essential components are salt, pink salt and sugar. And probably pepper and garlic

This is the basic spicing for 5 pounds of boneless, skinless pork belly:

6 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons pink salt
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons juniper berries
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 chunk nutmeg

Grind the whole spices; mince the garlic. Mix the spices and garlic with the sugar, salt and pink salt. (In my book I say to put everything in your spice grinder and grind, which worked for me once, but when I did it the other day almost caused the engine to blow out. So don't do that. Sorry!)

Slather this gritty mixture over your pork belly; be sure it's really well jacketed. Now, put the meat into a bowl into which it fits snugly, and cover tightly.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator, where it will sit for the next seven days. You should turn the meat around in the spices once every day or so, just to be sure it's well covered in cure.

Do you have cheesecloth? You'll need it for the next step. Part 3, coming soon.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wardrobe code red

My mother's Benetton sweater and the long-lived Banana Republic skirt?
The Good Morning America producer told me to wear "what feels comfortable."

The media professional told me to wear a fitted top, jewel-toned, perhaps with a scoop neck. And a striking piece of jewelry.

I told myself to wear a "pretty" outfit that doesn't look totally absurd adjacent to a chicken.

Then I went to the mall. Found nothing. Went through my closet. Found two options. I have 36 hours to make adjustments before GMA comes to my house, so your ideas and opinions (gently expressed!) are more than welcome. Some things I'm going to have to live with, like fifteen pounds. But I have time to buy new boots, dig up a better necklace, consider slacks, apply makeup.

Or the year-old Anthropologie dress?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pancetta tutorial, Part 1: Pink salt and pork belly

Hey, I was trying to take a picture of the sign.
I haven't forgotten my promise to do a pancetta tutorial, although I have regretted it. Cooking from my own book? Talk about nerve wracking. What if I find a mistake? Why did I try so hard with the jokes? Why is there smoke coming out of my spice grinder when I'm just following my own instructions? Damn.

Without further dithering, pancetta.

Pancetta is unsmoked Italian bacon and it adds salt and savor to pastas, soups, risottos, and big cheesy polenta casseroles. It is super-easy and relatively (sometimes extremely) inexpensive to make, but you do need two ingredients that you will not find at your typical big-box America supermarket. Once you have these ingredients, the pancetta practically makes itself.

First, you need some pink salt, a.k.a. salt cut with sodium nitrite. This cheap Pepto Bismol-colored powder prevents botulism in bacon, pancetta and many of our favorite carcinogenic luncheon meats. No, it's not healthy, though neither botulism. If nitrites worry you, you probably shouldn't eat pancetta. My personal motto: moderation. You can order pink salt here or from the butcher supplier of your choice.

You also need pork belly, a deliciously fatty cut of pig that is the foundation of bacon, salt pork, and many exquisite restaurant entrees. No, it is not healthy. But you can choose between moderately unhealthy pork belly and very unhealthy pork belly, depending on how much you want to pay.

If you can afford it, you should special order your pork belly from a boutique butcher shop. Where I live, that would be Marin Sun Farms, which sells only pastured meats. The Marin Sun Farms price for boneless, skinless pork belly as of this writing is $7.99 per pound. This is as pure and wholesome as pork belly gets. I love Marin Sun Farms, but acquiring their meat is expensive and inconvenient and I go to the trouble less often than I should.

Alternatively, you can walk into just about any Chinese market and find pink rafts of pork belly in the display case near the tongues, chicken feet, and gelatinous blobs of coagulated pig's blood. The other day I went to my beloved Richmond New May Wah on Clement Street in San Francisco and bought 5 pounds of pork belly for $3.99 per pound. (Important: Wherever you buy your pork belly, ask to have the skin removed.  It's no fun to do at home, but will take a skilled butcher roughly 30 seconds.)

I thought $3.99 per pound was a great deal. Then, walking back to the car, I stopped in at the Wing Hing Fish Market. In addition to live crabs, lobsters, and every manner of finned creature, Wing Hing sells meat. Wing Hing price for pork belly: $2.69 per pound. That was so cheap that it creeped me out a little, but I bought some, as I was curious to see if there was any difference at all between cheap pork belly and dirt cheap pork belly. Back home, I smelled the meat samples. I studied them. I could detect no difference whatsoever. Both are nonorganic, nonpastured pork from pigs that probably led horrendous lives and ate disgusting diets. Not that pigs had such awesome diets in the old days, at least not on Deadwood.

I guess my point is, if you're going for the cheap pork belly, you should go for the cheapest pork belly you can find.

But, truly, I don't think you should go for the cheap pork belly, I think you should buy the best pork belly you can afford. I had buyer's remorse; I know not to buy cut-rate meat and bought it anyway. I'm sure I'll do it again, but that doesn't mean it's right. People, be better than I am.

Pancetta part 2, coming soon.
Pork belly should have a thick layer of creamy fat, but also plenty of meat.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The tyranny of the CSA box

Cabbage, aged gouda, milk, bread crumbs 
It's obviously an error when a dish that Nigel Slater calls "a gratin of white cabbage, cheese, and mustard" does not  include any mustard.

I only noticed the omission after I sat down to eat Saturday night's dinner and thought, wow, this gratin is kind unctuous and could use some. . . hey, wait a second! I assumed I'd missed a step in the recipe, but I reread it and mustard is mentioned at no point except in the name of the dish.

Mistakes happen. Even without mustard, the gratin was hugely popular with the males of our household, who seemed to mistake it for macaroni and cheese. I was not so easily fooled. I feel cooked cabbage is too watery for cheese sauce, which just slid off the limp, sodden leaves. If I am going to eat a fattening cabbage dish, I would choose cole slaw.

Now, I only have two more cabbages left in the refrigerator, plus a bunch of collards, a couple of Delicata squash, many radishes, several weeks worth of beets, some spoiling, slimy bok choy, and much more! They hit us again tomorrow. This is the tyranny of the CSA box. Tyranny that could (and one of these days will) be ended with an email.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

An admirably healthy dinner

Doesn't quite make your mouth water.
Cooking from Tender and powering through my CSA box, last night I made lentil chard soup. Or, as Nigel Slater prefers: a soup of lentils, bacon and chard.

The instructions puzzled me. Specifically, Slater calls for you to set aside  "four beautiful (chard) stalks and their leaves" while chopping the rest and cooking them into a sludgy soup. You are supposed to steam those four beautiful pieces of chard separately -- and whole -- then stir them into the soup at the end. I wonder if chard is smaller in Britain, because my every leaf of chard was the size of a tennis racket, or racquet, and I could not see how I could possibly steam these things whole. Also, I was unexcited about steaming something to put into soup, especially lentil soup, which is supposed to be easy and frumpy.

So I ignored this part of the recipe. I just chopped all the chard and cooked it together with the lentils, pancetta, onion, etc. My husband said he loved the soup, "except for that green stuff." When he went back for seconds he said he was going to "sieve out the kale." (He didn't end up sieving it out, but he didn't eat it.)

I liked the soup a lot. My only complaint about this recipe is that I didn't really need it: I could have improvised the soup. I am worried this will be true of a lot of Slater's recipes.

Incidentally, I bought the pancetta for the soup, even though homemade pancetta is easy to make and much cheaper. (Interested in making pancetta? I am going to do a tutorial on the blog next week.) But I didn't want to wait a week for it to cure. Then, after I'd bought the pancetta, I was digging around in the freezer and discovered a big bag of pink chunks that appeared to be frozen homemade pancetta. Sometimes I think the most valuable and underused tool in my kitchen is a Sharpie.

On another subject, I was on Marketplace the other day, interviewed by Tess Vigeland, who is as lovely and warm as she sounds on the radio. I have not listened to the clip, but my husband says that I did not embarrass myself.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why lite not light?

At least it was lite.
I'm on a 30-day no-alcohol challenge, and yesterday -- day 13 -- I took a short break. It's like when you're swimming across a pool and you have to come up for breath. Right? Okay, not really. But that's what I reasoned at the end of a very unpleasant day in which I interacted with the most unpleasant human I have encountered in 2011. I drank two sidecars while fixing dinner. The bad news is, I failed at my challenge. The good news is, I don't want to do it again any time soon. This morning my husband showed me a picture he took at around 9 p.m. when I was sitting on the sofa in my sleeveless nightgown eating lite Cool Whip out of the tub. The picture is sobering in all senses of the word. I need to stick to my 30 day challenge and I need to go the gym and learn how to use those bicep machines. The picture is also funny and I would post it, but I only post extremely flattering pictures of myself, in case you were wondering why almost all the images of me in "about Jennifer" and "Family" are vintage.

If you are surprised that I even have lite Cool Whip in the house, I will explain. I bought it last spring to make unkind comparisons to real whipped cream, which was easy to do. That I didn't throw it out, well, that is harder to explain. Except, it's not. When it comes to food, I pretend otherwise, but I'm basically a junkyard dog.

On another subject, last night I also started cooking from a new book. Soul of a New Cuisine was fine, but only fine. Marcus Samuelsson's recipes are too expensive and not quite delicious enough. One day last week I spent $90 on two pieces of meat -- a veal shoulder and a rack of lamb -- to cook Samuelsson recipes, and neither was a hit. I decided I was done. 

The new book is Tender by Nigel Slater. I walked into Barnes and Noble with the intention of just browsing for 15 minutes, but I could not walk out of the store without Slater's recipe for beet seed cake.  I haven't made that yet, but it's coming. Last night I did make his Southeast Asian stir-fried lamb with broccoli and as I recall it was pretty tasty.

Honestly, though, it was sort of a blur. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cardamom cake, as requested

Maybe my #1 cake. Maybe.
Cardamom cake was the first dessert I made when I started this blog and I've made it many times since because it is easy, elegant, exotic and awesomely delicious. The recipe comes from Niloufer Ichaporia King's My Bombay Kitchen. Although this is a Parsi cookbook, the recipe is Swedish. People who dislike cardamom will dislike this cake intensely.

butter for the pan
3 tablespoons sugar
sliced unblanched almonds, 1/3 to 1/2 cup
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 sticks unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
1 1/3 cups flour
pinch of salt

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9 inch springform pan and sprinkle with the sugar. Shake so the bottom and sides are covered with sugar. Don't worry about extra sugar on the bottom. Now sprinkle the almonds across the bottom of the pan.

2. With a mixer, handheld or stand, beat the eggs,and sugar until thick, pale, and tripled in volume -- a few minutes. Bruise the cardamom seeds in a mortar.

3. Gently fold the flour and salt into the egg and sugar mixture, then add the butter and cardamom. Pour into the pan.

4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake tests done. Cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan. Serve cool. This cake is wonderful the next day.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My mom's apple cake

She used to make the apple cake. She also made the plate.
It has happened. I have become self-conscious about my blog. I don't know what to do about it except confess, forge ahead, and apologize in advance if I sound more stilted than usual. I'm supposed to be doing a lot of Twitter, Facebook and other squirm-inducing self promotion/book promotion, and somehow my blog has gotten mixed up with all this in my mind to ill and inhibiting effect. I've done so much cooking in the last week, had so many subjects I wanted to write about -- Marcus Samuelsson's rack of lamb (now known forever by us as hack of lamb), Nigel Slater's Tender, the tempting new cookbooks at Omnivore, cottage cheese pancakes, my day with Layne  -- and yet whenever I sit down to the computer it's like sitting down to write a college application essay.

Here goes.

Last week I decided I was going to make Smitten Kitchen's mother's apple cake, as I love recipes that come from mothers. But the very day I was going to bake that cake I got an email from my own mother's friend Ellen. She wrote:

"Jennifer - I've been thinking of Checka so much lately and when I found out I had to bring dessert to  my book club meeting, I suddenly thought of Apple Dapple Cake which is in a cookbook your mother recommended. She wrote little notes about some of the recipes and this one she said was "fantastic." I've made it before and knew it was delicious and I just finished baking it."

I remembered apple dapple cake! But like so many things associated with my mother, I spent years distancing myself, which now seems very silly and sad. If you have a mother with a powerful personality it is understandable and forgiveable if you distance yourself. Distance may be necessary if you ever want to become your own person, and I would probably do it all over again. But it still seems silly and sad, now.

I am definitely my own person now and instead of Smitten Kitchen's apple cake, I baked apple dapple cake. It is my caloric undoing, this incredible cake. It is moist and appley, which is baseline good, but what pushes it over the top is the diabolical glaze of melted butter, cream, and brown sugar that you pour over the cake and which soaks into the crumb and at the same time forms a super-sweet, brittle caramel crust. I highly recommend apple dapple cake. It has vaulted into my top ten cakes, right up there with cardamom cake and Laurie Colwin's nutmeg cake. For perspective, the Orangette/Nigel Slater plum cake I mentioned a post or two ago is merely in my top 50 cakes. I should really keep a ranked list.

The recipe is barely adapted from the San Francisco A La Carte cookbook published in 1979. The book omits an oven temperature; I went with 350, always a safe choice. You will cringe when you see how much oil and sugar the recipe calls for, but steel yourself and make it anyway.


2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups neutral vegetable oil
3 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups finely diced, peeled apples
2 cups chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Combine sugar and oil and beat well. Add eggs one at a time.
3. . Sift dry ingredients together and stir into the egg mixture.
4.  Beat in apples, nuts and vanilla. Pour into a greased, floured tube pan (angel food cake pan) and bake for one hour or more, until a slender knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. (This is a deep cake and a toothpick doesn't reach far enough.)
5. When the cake is almost ready to come out of the oven, combine the glaze ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let boil for 3 minutes. Reserving 1/3 cup, pour over the hot cake, still in the pan. Cool, and remove the cake from the pan. Just before serving,  pour the rest of the glaze over the cake.

Makes a lot.

On another subject, I had never heard of kiwiberries until they turned upin last week's CSA box. I hope they catch on because we loved them a lot. 
No fur, no fuzz
I persist with my aggravating CSA, because I like being surprised like this. You can't really tell from the photo, but these cute fruits are about the size of olives and they are essentially tiny kiwis, but with smooth edible skins so you can pop a whole one in your mouth, no wet, onerous peeling required. They were gone in an hour.

Monday, October 03, 2011

My canning problem, birthdays, a good-bye

the work of a domestic goddess.
I knew I didn't like canning applesauce.

But I let a beautiful post by Soule Mama, who makes every household task look like poetry, sway me. Yesterday, I canned applesauce.
our apple tree
I think everyone in the family would have been happier if I'd gone to the gym, or to the Container Store, or stayed in bed all day, because peeling 12 pounds of wormy apples, sterilizing jars, and cooking down the sauce put me in such a bitchy mood even I couldn't stand me. It was tedious and sticky and took hours, but I was determined to fill the kitchen with the fragrance of cinnamon, load the shelves with golden organic applesauce, capture the moment, celebrate fall, etc.

Even at this advanced age, I still confuse the symbols of domestic happiness with actual domestic happiness. Canning is just not my thing.
My misspent Sunday
It's great applesauce, though!

After the applesauce was done, the day quickly improved: Isabel and I went to see Contagion. As someone who has in the past worried obsessively about infectious disease, I approached the movie with trepidation. But I never even had to stop eating the popcorn. Nothing Steven Soderbergh conjured was as horrifying as what I've imagined while staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. It all looked pretty tame to me, though I don't know how anyone could ever cheat on Matt Damon.

Back to cooking and cookbooks: Owen turned 11 and his cousin Stella turned 6 last week. We threw them a joint party at which I served Marcus Samuelsson's za'atar roasted leg of lamb out of Soul of a New Cuisine. It was good, but not photogenic and not something I'd go out of my way to make again. The next day, I used the rest of the meat to make a Fannie Farmer casserole that I have served many, many times. It is the best vehicle I've ever found for leftover lamb, one of the less appealing leftover meats. Make sure the mixture is good and lemony before you put it in the oven; this rich casserole needs bite.


2 cups chopped leftover lamb roast
1/2 onion, chopped
3/4 cup lamb gravy, lamb stock, or chicken stock (listed in order of preference)
2 cups cooked long-grain rice
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne
3 tablespoons lemon juice, or more, to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Ritz crackers, coarsely crushed

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and oil a casserole dish.
2. Mix everything but the butter and Ritz in a big bowl. Scrape into the casserole dish.
3. Melt the butter and mix with the Ritz crackers. Sprinkle this on the casserole.
4. Cover the casserole and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more.

Just to keep up with my cookbook reporting, I also baked Marcus Samuelsson's peanut cake from Soul of a New Cuisine over the weekend. It's a gremlin recipe. Even in the best of cookbooks, you'll find recipes that simply don't add up. (Hopefully not in mine, but I'm pretty sure. . . in mine.) I knew when I poured the thin, scant batter into the pan that it was not going to right itself in the oven and I was correct. We ended up with a spongy, chewy, very flat, very wrong loaf cake. Complete fail.
It was about 1 inch tall.
The chickens loved it, though. Pecked it all up.

On another subject entirely, eighteen months after my mother died, my childhood home has been sold.
I will miss you, dated pink bathroom.
This morning I went back for very last time. This was the real good-bye, when Justine and I picked up the final dustballs and garden art before the new owners arrive tomorrow. I walked through those empty rooms and I touched every surface, ran my hand down the banister, flipped the light switches, turned the old brass doorknobs I have been turning since 1969. I had the weirdest impulse to hug and kiss the house, to lie down on the floor and cry. (I didn't! Although I might have given one of the walls a very quick kiss.) I can feel my mother in that house and remember her in a way I can't remember her anywhere else.
 I'll miss you too, creaky stairs. 
The new owners told us we can drop in any time, but I don't imagine I ever will.