March 21, 2010

Mmmmmm.....What is that Delicious Smell?

The power of good baked products is like magic. People come together following the heady scent of butter and flour coming together in the oven to make something delicious to eat. My Dad was a baker for the Merchant Marines, baking bread and pies for over 5000 captive sailors...and as you can imagine, providing these swarthy guys with the sweet smell of home for months at a time at sea, my Dad was a pretty popular guy on the ship. So I guess my appreciation for a well made baked product is in my blood.

Lately I have been obsessed with a local place that hands down, turns out some of the best bread and pastry that the Bay currently has to offer on it's already full menu of culinary marvels. Tartine Bakery is on the corner of 18th Street and Guerrero in the Mission District of San Francisco. Elisabeth Prueitt, turns out flaky buttery tarts, cookies, croissants and beautifully simple but decadent cakes and pastry using local and seasonal ingredients. Her partner in crime and husband (lucky man) is Chad Robertson is the reigning king of the dark crusty loaves (available by calling and reserving one by 3pm Weds- Sun) and the smell of the fresh bread wafts down the Mission like a beacon.

Tartine is not hard to find. Just follow the line outside of the black store front always adorned with a huge lovely bouquet of flowers and of course, follow your nose. This is where Troy and I were first introduced to Four Barrel Coffee and I must admit, I like it just a teeny bit better than the much more popular Blue Bottle Coffee. It seems, after waiting in the queue of grungy posh and hungry folk from all over the neighborhood, everything in the case looks good and it is very easy to over do it here at Tartine.
From the savory Croque Monsier done with spicy turkey or ham, to the Banana Creme Cream Pie with Caramel and Chocolate or seasonal fresh fruit Bread Pudding, literally everything screams fresh and delicious.

What has caught my eye lately is the tiny crisp Chocolate-Oatmeal-Walnut Cookies and the Buttermilk Scones. This amazing crisp and buttery cookie also comes in a huge size, but I prefer the small ones. This way I am able to have one and not break the calorie bank......but of course, you should leave such thoughts on 18th Street and come back to them after your pastry party.

At home, I have been methodically working through Elisabeth and Chad's book called of course, Tartine (Chronicle Books, 2006). The pictures, recipes are all impeccable and amazingly, they seem to be the exact recipes from the bakery. I still cannot seem to get my favorite cookies just crisp enough, but that may be because I don't have convection oven at home. For me, what is most agreeable about their cookbook is the addition of kitchen notes. For each recipe, Elisabeth give a paragraph of ideas that will bring each recipe to her exacting professional addition that as a professional myself, I am extremely grateful for.

This Sunday morning, focusing on an impending visit to Troy's grandma Nelba in the South Bay, I decided to make the scones from the book. Amazingly easy and delicious with a substitute of Callebut chocolate chips instead of currents and lemon zest. The recipe below does not include the weight measurements, as I used the standard American volume measurements that most home cooks will use, and it also omits the directions for using an electric mixer, as I made the dough by hand.

Tartine Bakery Buttermilk Scones
Yield 12 scones

Zante currants (or as I used today, chocolate chips).... 3/4 cup
All purpose flour........................................................... 4 3/4 cups
Baking powder.................................................................... 1 TBSP
Baking soda..........................................................................3/4 tsp
Granulated sugar................................................................1/2 cup
Salt.......................................................................................1 1/4 tsp
Unsalted butter, very cold.................................1 cup and 1 TBSP
Buttermilk.......................................................................1 1/2 cups
Lemon zest, grated..................................................................1 tsp

Unsalted butter, melted......................................................3TBSP
Sugar, for needed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a baking sheet.

Combine the currants with warm water to cover in a small bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes until currants are plumped. Drain well.

Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir with a wooden spoon. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and scatter the cubes over the dry ingredients. Using a pasty blender or two table knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. You want to end up with a coarse mixture with pea size lumps of butter visible.

Add the buttermilk all at once and the drained currents and lemon zest (chocolate chips) and mix gently with the spoon or by hand. Continue to mix just until you have a dough that just holds together. If the mixture seems dry, a little more buttermilk. You still want to see some of the butter pieces at this point, which will add to the flakiness of the scones once they are baked.

Dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Using your hands, pat the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches long, 5 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches thick. Brush the top with the melted butter and then sprinkle with sugar. Using a chef's knife, cut the dough into 12 (I cut 14) triangles. Transfer the triangles to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

March 19, 2010

Top Chef Should do School Lunch!

With school lunch being debated on Capitol Hill, "Top Chef" should get in on the action and focus some kitchen challenges on school meals. One challenge could have each contestant try to cook a collection of delicious and healthy meals (breakfast and lunch) that spend less than $1 on food per meal. Another might be to cook in a real school, perhaps H.D. Cooke Elementary School, the setting of The Slow Cook’s excellent multi-part series on school meals, or use the actual school kitchen staff as assistants, though this one might be getting a bit close to the upcoming Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC. The contestants could also integrate ingredients from local farms with USDA-provided material.

Washington and the school lunch community also offers plenty of interesting possibilities for guest judges: First Lady Michele Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Chef Ann Cooper (the "renegade lunch lady"), or a room full of cute and opinionated schoolchildren.
I think this idea is genius.......what do you think?

March 17, 2010

A Ole Irish Wish.......

Happy St. Patrick's Day Everyone! Have a drink with friends, do an Irish jig just because, eat something that you shouldn't (like the Luck O the Irish Rice Krispy Treats that I made for my kids at Seneca today) and be our Lucia with her Ivy earrings! Just be safe and if your drink is an adult beverage, have someone else (like a bus driver) to get you home!

March 09, 2010

Anniversary with Michael Chiarello

Troy and I spent a day last weekend tasting our way through lovely little Yountville in Napa Valley, to celebrate our seventh anniversary. It was a lovely day, and though rain was predicted, we were spared. We stopped for coffee at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery (all we could afford with Keller's name attached to it, to be honest!) and had a delicious lunch at Bottega. We lucked out and Michael Chiarello showed up ready to work, kitchen clogs and all. Though he has gotten a bit of bad press recently because he called out a young, smart mouthed chef, who was there to assist him, on the Bravo TV show "Top Chef Masters" last season; we found the Chef extremely accommodating and full of good cheer.

The food was completely lovely and deeply satisfying. We started with a nice bruchetta trio on some crisp, light bread from the Model Bakery......which we made a bee line for after the meal to bring some of this bread home. Honestly, the Bay Area has the best bread ever! I ordered a handmade handkerchief pasta with a slow braised rabbit ragu and Troy had the fall-off-the-bone, balsamic glazed short ribs. We found the service professional and friendly, and when we asked our server to suggest a nice spicy red wine to accompany our meal, she brought us one of Chiarello's own. I confess to say, that I don't remember which one it was....but it was terrific with just enough spice and berry goodness to compliment our menu selections.

After lunch and our picture with the Chef, we meandered the streets, trying to walk off our hearty lunch and enjoying our rare time just the two of us. It wasn't expensive or a fancy kind of day, but it was slow and easy and just what we needed and wanted.

March 02, 2010

As we are enduring yet another round of the rainy day blues here in the Bay Area, it is not too late to think about what we can do to boost our health and immunity while we wait for Spring to come. Taking care of your heart is one of the most important ares that people neglect in the Wintertime, as we sit and sleep more and exercise less. Of course, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption helps but nutritionally you can:

-Eat more salmon which is loaded with omega-3s and antioxidants (if you are a veggie person, you can get these from flax seed as well)

-Add blueberries to your diet. The compound that makes blueberries that rich shade is called anthocyanin and it is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect the structures of the entire vascular system

-Get your ruffage, like your Mama says. Consuming vegetables from the brassica group (cabbage, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts) is linked to a significantly decreased risk of stroke and heart attack.

-Lead with legumes! Researchers following 16,000 middle aged men in seven countries for 25 years found that those who ate the most beans had an 82 percent reduction in risk of death from heart disease.

-Go nuts! Five large epidemiological studies at 11 clinics show that frequent nut consumption decreases the risk of coronary heart disease. Plus nuts are just about equal in good fats, carbs for energy and protein to maintain after working out, a small handful of nuts are a great snack to get you through the afternoon slump!

-See red.......pomegranates and their juice do more than just give your heart a boost. Research suggests that long-term consumption may help to slow the aging process and protect against heart disease and cancer.

-Add supplements when your diet lags behind......Omega 3 fats should be taken on a daily basis, Flaxseed can be toasted and sprinkled over salads for a boost. Other important supplements are L-Carnitine for building muscle and magnesium, as it helps to relax the blood vessels. And for those folks who are on cholesterol-lowering (statin) medication, CoQ10 is a must, since statins deplete this important heart healthful nutrient.

Below there is a recipe for one of my family's favorite rainy day meals, which coincidentally uses three of the above ingredients. Sometimes I add ground lamb or brown rice for a one pot meal and a punch of protein to boot, but it is delicious as it is.

Kitchen Notes: For little kids or folks who prefer a less spicy version, you can omit the red pepper flakes. And of course, any dark leafy green can be substituted for the Broccoli Rabe....I just am totally hooked on the stuff!

To make a delicious vegan version, add 1 cup of brown rice, which together with the beans makes a complete protein, and can of fire roasted tomatoes. When I do this version, I use my canned-in-the summertime oven roasted tomatoes, same measurement as the chicken stock (with the tomato juice).

M'Lisa's Greens and Beans

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch or 2 cups broccoli rabe, washed, stems trimmed and chopped into 2 inch pieces
1 (15- ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
3/4 cup chicken stock

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven.

Add onion and garlic. Saute until tender about 3 minutes or until golden and caramelized. Add the red pepper flakes, sea salt and pepper; stir until fragrant.

Add the broccoli rabe and let saute until it cooks down slightly.

Add the chicken stock. Cover and let cook for 30 minutes. Add the beans, cook another 10 minutes.

Serve hot with grated sharp cheese of your choice and some good crusty bread.