Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fall Special: Apple Pear Chutney

Thumb-sucking good.
I've been on a sort of bar cookie rampage recently, but the last ones I made were not as good as I remembered (a recipe from my old culinary school's student bakery/cafe). To comfort myself I made this chutney, and it turned out to be fall in a bottle. So wonderful, and almost better than a gingersnap.

I used organic heirloom Pippins and red Bartletts for this (rounded out with a couple of Granny Smiths), but you can experiment with other apple and pear varieties. I think adding the sherry vinegar is a good flavor component, but if you don't have it just use all cider vinegar. The important thing is to achieve a sort of almost too sweet/too sour balance - that's totally the right note for autumn. You can also mess with the spices if you want, adding or leaving them out as you see fit. This chutney would be fabulous on roasted root vegetables (or meat if you eat it, I guess), or chopped a bit and added to a rice salad, or just piled high on a piece of good bread.

Apple Pear Chutney, with Golden Raisins

Makes about 4 cups

5 or 6 large tart apples, peeled and cut in largish chunks

2-3 large firm pears, peeled and cut in largish chunks

2 to 2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar (start with 2 cups)

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 orange

1/2 to 1 cup granulated sugar (start with 1/2 cup)

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2-3 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or more cider vinegar)

2 cinnamon sticks

1/2 teaspoon each: ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)

2 tablespoons brandy

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups golden raisins

In a large shallow pan, combine all ingredients BUT the golden raisins. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium low and cook for about 20 minutes or until fruit has released lots of juice. Add golden raisins and cook for 10 minutes more. Now taste - if it needs more sugar, more vinegar, more spice, add them now. Remember: this should be very sweet and sour. The fruit should be swimming in juice - if so, drain the hot fruit into a sieve set over a medium bowl. Set the drained fruit aside and return the juice to the pan. Reduce juice over medium high heat until it is syrupy and reduced at least by half (the syrup should coat a spoon). Return drained fruit to the bowl and add the reduced syrup. Note: if the apples and pears are dry, you may not have to do the reducing-syrup step - use your own judgement. The end result should look like the chutney in the photo.

Let the chutney cool for a few minutes, remove the cinnamon sticks, then pour into a clean glass jar or a heatproof plastic container. Cover and chill. This chutney will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Chocolate Coconut Barrows: low rent, fabulous.

They're not mounds, they're barrows!

You need to make these. No, really -- right now. I say the holiday cookie season is upon us, so make these to celebrate Back to School. Or Halloween/Samhain/Dia de los Muertos. Or Rosh Hashanah! Yeah, that's it. Ring in 5769 with sweetened condensed milk products - v. trayf.

I'd been thinking about those Antipodean chocolate caramel slices I mentioned in my last post and then I started toying with my sister's Magic Cookie Bar [tm Borden's] formula (and everyone has their own even if they won't admit it due to "culinary cringe" [tm Cherry Ripe]). Finally I decided I wanted a facsimile of one of my favorite candy bars, only with a crumb crust. So here they are. I love them and want to smash them to my bosom, only that would defeat their purpose somewhat.

Chocolate Coconut Barrows

Makes 36 tiny squares (and believe me, you'll only want a little bit of these at a time)

Note: I used salted butter throughout this recipe for I am the Star Trek Salt Monster, but if you choose to use unsalted butter just throw a pinch of salt or two into the crust, the coconut filling and/or the glaze. It will give your bars tamm.

For the crust:
10 single or 5 double graham crackers

1/3 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (you can use walnuts or macadamias instead)

2 tablespoons sugar

Tiny pinch of cinnamon

1/4 cup butter, melted

For the layers:
1/2 generous cup good quality (this means NO NESTLE) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

1/2 generous cup good quality (see above) milk chocolate chips

2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened (I use half and half)

1 15-oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon coconut extract (optional, but you should use it)

For the glaze:
1/2 cup semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

1/2 cup milk chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

1/4 cup butter

Preheat oven to 325F. Spray an 8" square pan with more non-stick cooking spray than you ever though possible, THEN line it with one 18" long by 8" wide strip of heavy duty aluminum foil, pushing it along two sides to fit, pressing the overhanging bits down outside the pan. Take another 18" long by 8" wide strip of heavy duty aluminum foil and place it over and opposite the first strip, pushing along the sides to fit, pressing the overhang down, etc. You're creating a sort of double sling effect with overhanging foil on all four sides of the pan. Spray the whole thing generously with nonstick cooking spray. Later you'll be happy you did this.

Place graham crackers, pecans, sugar and pinch cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to make fine crumbs. Add the 1/4 cup melted butter and pulse to combine (alternatively you could put the graham crackers, pecans, sugar and cinnamon in a plastic bag, press out the air, seal it and whack it several times with a rolling pin to crush everything. You'll need to transfer it to a bowl to mix in the melted butter, though). Press this mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake crust for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden at the edges and firm to the touch.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix coconut, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and cococut extract to combine.

When crumb crust comes out of the oven, scatter the two half cups of semi/bittersweet and milk chocolate chips evenly over the bottom. Wait a couple of minutes and swirl this now-softened chocolate over the crust with a spoon or offset spatula. Carefully pour coconut mixture evenly over this, spreading carefully to the edges of the pan with a clean offset spatula (or spoon). Return to oven and bake for 7 minutes, then turn pan around front to back and bake again for another 7 minutes or until coconut layer is very lightly golden and is firm-ish to the touch. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for about 10 to 15 minutes.

For the glaze: Place semi/bittersweet chocolate, milk chocolate and butter in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave at 75% power for 25 seconds; remove from microwave and stir to mix. Microwave again at 75% power for another 25 seconds, remove and stir until all chips are melted and mixture is smooth (you may have to microwave it again at 75% power for 10 to 15 more seconds to achieve this). Pour glaze over baked bars and smooth with an offset spatula or a spoon. Let set at room temperature for about 20 minutes, then refrigerate until glaze is set and bars are cold (4 hours to overnight).

To cut, pull foil overhang up on all sides and ease the bars out of the pan (be patient and don't tug too hard). When bars are out of pan, peel aluminum foil off. Place bars on a cutting board and let rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Using a long sharp knife, cut into 36 pieces (cut cake in half, then each half into three long strips; turn cake and repeat cuts to make 36 pieces). Store bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but let bars sit at room temperature for 15 or 20 minutes before serving.

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Go-to cookie: the Anzac biscuit.

Much, much easier than pie.

When I was in Australia, I sort of ignored Anzac biscuits. They were too plain-Jane, too ubiquitous, and I was on a quest for the rare and strange: vanilla and anise checkerboard ice cream in an edible cellophane frame, passionfruit mousse and curd with the crunchy black seeds left in (Australians would watch me closely as I ate these, to see if I'd crack with the usual American distaste for odd bits - I didn't), steamed upside down quince pudding, etc. While I was entranced by Cherry Ripe candy bars and chocolate caramel slices (which for all its downmarketishness is a cookie which makes brownies look like bupkis) , Anzac biscuits seemed too much like your run-of-the-mill American oatmeal cookie to turn my head.

Hah! What a fool I was. A month ago I stopped in at a very twee deli in the nearby foothill community of Montrose, and there in their pastry case were Anzac biscuits, looking really, really good amidst the Key Lime shortbread and pecan toffee cookies. The counter girl had no idea why they sold them ("Everybody always says the only place they've ever seen them is in Australia and New Zealand"), but no matter - they were fabulous: crisp, chewy, buttery, caramelly, sort of like a British flapjack, only better.

And then it hit me: what both cookies have in common is Golden Syrup, a staple of British and Commonwealth dessert and cookie (well, pudding and biscuit) cookery. You may have seen Nigella Lawson pour it over Yorkshire pudding which she'd already slathered with double cream and then devour it, an image which has stayed with me, you betcha. It is simple cane syrup, much like the one sold in this country in the South, only less...molasses-y. It is essential in the making of British treacle tart and those flapjacks (which bear no resemblance to American pancakes but are instead a sort of crisp oatmeal bar), and to Anzac biscuits, the ultimate oatmeal cookie.

I hauled this recipe back from Australia, but this is the first time I've baked them. The best things about them: they literally take two minutes to make and can be turned into a vegan cookie by substituting vegan stick margarine for the butter. Parchment paper and nonstick cooking spray are essential for these. This recipe makes a small batch, so you won't feel awash in cookies - they'll just feel like a small treat.

Anzac Biscuits

Makes 16

3 ounces butter or 3/4 of a stick (I use salted butter, but if you use unsalted, add 1/4 teaspoon extra salt) OR 3 ounces vegan stick margarine

2 generous tablespoons Golden Syrup (available in most good supermarkets, in the baking aisle or jam aisle, next to the molasses)

2/3 cup all purpose flour

2/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (DO NOT use instant oatmeal - quick oats are OK, but old fashioned are best)

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup flaked coconut (I've used sweetened and unsweetened - both are OK)

A pinch of salt (if using salted butter)

A tiny, TINY, bitty pinch of ground cinnamon - really, just a breath

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray the paper lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a small non-reactive saucepan, melt the butter and Golden Syrup together over low heat. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix all purpose flour, rolled oats, sugar, coconut, breath of cinnamon and pinch of salt (or extra salt if you're using unsalted butter) together until well blended. Add the teaspoon of baking soda to the butter-Golden Syrup mixture (it will foam up a bit) and pour this over the dry ingredients in the bowl. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and stir everything together with a spatula or spoon until all ingredients are just blended.

Wet your hands a little, and form the dough into sixteen balls about the size of large marbles. Place eight balls on each cookie sheet, well spaced, and flatten each ball a bit with your slightly wet fingers. Place sheets in the oven. Bake for about 4 to 5 minutes. At this point (and using oven mitts), turn the sheets around, back to front. Bake for another 4 to 5 minutes, watching carefully, or until the cookies are a uniform golden brown (see above photo). Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool on the sheets for about another 5 minutes, or until they are somewhat firm to the touch. Using a metal spatula, remove cookies from the baking sheets and place on cooling racks. Let cookies cool thoroughly. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator (they seem to do better stored this way, and cold cookies rule).

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jam jam jam jam - lovely jam, wonderful jam.

Jam on it.
When I worked at Pasadena's late, lamented Old Town Bakery, we used to make this jam in huge rondos (actually braziers) every day, because the restaurant would go through buckets of the stuff during every breakfast shift.

I remember the bakery's owner (hi, Amy!) skimming off the foam from the top of the simmering jam and then pouring this reserved byproduct over our homemade vanilla ice cream. Sounds disgusting, was delicious.

Anyway, you should make this, especially if you make the mistake of going to a farmers' market or Costco and buying about two metric tons more strawberries than you can actually consume before they spoil. This recipe will reduce those tons (or "tonnes," for our British friends) down to a couple of manageable little cups.

Oh, and these ingredients might sound as if they make some sort of horrible aberrant bad-Margarita-from-Chili's strawberry jam, but actually the Grand Marnier and lime juice serve to make it strawberry-er, if that's possible. The play up the taste. Trust me. Not only is this ridiculously fast, it's purely delicious, and great on toast, crackers, ice cream, in ice cream (as you're freezing it), on pound cake, as a shortcake or summer pudding enhancer, etc. etc.

Quick, Delicious Strawberry Jam

Makes about two or three cups.

6 heaping cups of hulled, washed, halved fresh strawberries

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 tablespoons Grand Marnier (or other orange-flavored liqueur, like triple sec, Cointreau, Mandarine Napoleon, etc.) - don't omit this because it is a subtle but crucial flavor enhancer

Juice from one medium-sized lime

Two things: this is a non-jarred jam which must be stored in the refrigerator, AND it has a peculiar equipment requirement: you will need to cook it in a 10" non-corrosive skillet or frying pan - that is, one made of stainless steel, tempered glass or enamel. I've never tried it in a Teflon-coated pan, but as long as there are no weird smells clinging to it, it might work. At any rate, DO NOT cook this in a saucepan or an aluminum or cast iron pan, because a saucepan is much too deep and will not allow for quick reduction of the strawberry juice, and because an aluminum or cast iron pan will turn the jam a horrible color and impart a terrible taste (aluminum and cast iron react with the acid in the strawberries AND the lime juice).

So - pile the strawberries in the skillet (don't worry; it may look overfull but like spinach it will cook down quickly). Top with the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the Grand Marnier. Don't stir yet. Place on a stove burner and crank the heat to medium low. Let the strawberries cook for a few minutes until they start releasing their juice, then stir carefully with a big spoon. Bring them to a simmer, then set a timer for 10 minutes. You can walk away for this amount of time, but make sure the heat is on the low side.

When the timer goes off, return to the strawberries and add the lime juice. You may see some foam collecting on top - skim this off with a skimmer or a large spoon. Set the timer for 10 minutes again and let cook.

When the timer goes off again, you will see that the strawberries have released a lot of their juice and there may be more foam on top -- skim it off (save it or throw it -- your call). Add the last tablespoon of Grand Marnier and turn the heat up slightly - the strawberries should just come to a gentle, rolling boil. Let cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the juice is reduced and thickened and strawberries are cooked. It may still look soupy - this is OK - it will thicken as it cools. Remove from the heat and pour into a storage container. Cover and chill thoroughly. Keep this jam in the refrigerator for about a week (ours only lasts a few days). You may be able to freeze this, but I've never tried it, so don't do it on my account.

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I would never, EVER ask you to make tuiles.

Lovely, isn't it? RUN CHILD RUN.

Tuiles are the Devil's Cookies, the...Biscuits of Beelzebub. They are the antithesis of a no-brainer dessert: they require thought and preparation, are fiddly in the extreme and half of them don't come out anyway. Every recipe makes vast quantities of batter. You need to use Silpats for them. They don't keep. They are decoration. Bleh.

Still, my nephew wanted me to make this, and so I did. It was his idea - he wanted a dessert which combined "cookies like Milanos, only without the chocolate," fresh fruit and lightly sweetened Greek yogurt. This is the result - a beautiful composed dessert. He loved it. But I wouldn't wish making it on anyone. Life is much too short, and this is why I don't work in restaurant kitchens anymore.

Tuile recipes can usually be found in French pastry cookbooks, which immediately tells you something [bad] about their fundamental nature. Actual no-brainer recipe (not tuiles) to come shortly.

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich
All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Latino Dessert 2: Electric Boogaloo (Pastel de Tres Leches).

Milky white.

Hey, I said I had a problem with Mexican desserts. The origin of this thing is up for grabs.

As is their wont (Latino intermural fighting always being norm), at least three Hispanic countries (Mexico, Cuba, Nicargua) claim pastel de tres leches as their creation. I say: who cares? It exists, and when done right it is delicious - a sort of miraculous cross between a cake and a pudding, but at the same time totally unlike either.

One of my rigidly-held opinions about this dessert is that it's best when the cake base is made without butter. Butter only gums up the works, and really, isn't anything that has three milks poured over it already fatty enough? The other thing I insist upon is that it be iced with stiffly whipped cream, not the also-hotly-debated Italian or Swiss meringue (known to Americans as "7-minute" or "white mountain" frosting). For one thing, few people can do meringue well and also it's really more trouble than it's worth. Also, Porto's Cuban Bakery in Glendale does it perfectly on their tres leches, and so the rest of us mere mortals had better leave it alone if we know what's good for us.

Although tres leches is special, it is also now run-of-the-mill due to thousands of online recipes and the fact that it's on nearly every menu in Los Angeles in one form or another (chocolate, goat's milk (BLEH), cajeta/dulce de leche, etc.) . I say phooey to all that. This version approximates the Most Unbelievable Coconut Dessert On The Planet, namely, the vegan coconut ice cream at the Wheel of Life Vegetarian Restaurant in Irvine, California, which is smooth, creamy, rich and apotheosis of coconut flavor. This is a pale imitation of that lofty Platonic ideal, but it's still good.

If it were up to me I'd serve this cake slathered in fresh passion fruit pulp or at the very least passion fruit curd, but as North Americans are highly divided about passion fruit (they either really love it or really hate it), I just serve it with a bunch of diced fresh mango or pineapple. Oh, and this looks like a daunting recipe, but it's actually simple (otherwise I wouldn't make it). As Nigella says, please don't confuse "somewhat time consuming" with "difficult."

The sun is shining! Break out the bossa nova songs and cakes drenched in lactose and nut milks! Ooof, I have to have a lie down.

Coconut Pastel de Tres Leches

Serves 12

For the cake:

5 eggs, separated (make sure the whites have no yolk in them and separate them into a clean, dry, grease-free bowl)

3/4 cup AND 1/4 cup sugar (superfine is best (also known as "baker's sugar" in those milk cartons) but regular will work too - everything will just take longer to beat)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon coconut extract (don't sneer; buy the quality stuff at a good market)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the milk syrup:

1 13 oz. can coconut milk

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon coconut extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

3-4 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Thawed frozen grated coconut or shredded sweetened coconut to garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray the bottom of a 13" by 9" rectangular baking pan (don't use your Pyrex here). I lined the bottom with parchment paper so I could invert it into another 13"x9" pan, but you don't need to do this.In a medium bowl, stir together flour and baking powder and have a sieve ready. In a mixer bowl using a whisk attachment, beat yolks and 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until very light-colored and ribbon-y (a long ribbon of the mixture will fall from the beaters). Stir in 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Transfer this mixture to another large bowl. Using a whisk, sift in flour mixture and pour in milk, folding in carefully until all the flour is incorporated. Set aside.

In a clean, dry, grease-free mixer bowl using a clean, dry, grease-free whisk attachment, beat whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and begin adding 1/4 cup sugar gradually, beating until whites are glossy and hold a stiff peak.

With a rubber or plastic spatula, quickly fold beaten whites 1/3 of a time into the yolk mixture, folding only until there is little or no trace of whites. Immediately pour into prepared pan and bake for 23 to 30 minutes, or until cake is risen, lightly browned and firm when touched in the middle (it will look a bit like an angel food cake). Remove pan from oven and with a short sharp knife sprayed with a bit of nonstick cooking spray, loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. It will deflate a bit -- this is OK.

While cake bakes, make milk syrup: in a bowl or pitcher, whisk together the coconut milk, condensed milk, cream, coconut extract and vanilla extract. When cake is done, remove from oven, poke a few holes in it with a skewer and pour the milk syrup slowly over the hot cake, letting it soak in a bit. It will look awash in milk syrup - this is fine. Let cool for about 20 minutes and then refrigerate, covered, for at least 6 hours or overnight.

When the cake is thoroughly chilled, whip cream and powdered sugar in mixer with a whisk attachment until stiff (I use an immersion blender for this - it's the best kitchen tool for whipping cream). Spread whipped cream decoratively over the surface of the chilled cake. Top with thawed fresh frozen grated coconut or sweetened shredded coconut if desired. Chill any leftovers (ha!).

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cue the Spanish guitars.

Watch out - I'm going to get ethnic!

As a general rule, I don't like Mexican desserts [castanets snap angrily in the background]. With the exception of my maternal grandmother's rice pudding (more on this in a later post) and flan made by certain people, Mexican sweet stuff is usually that: too sweet, too sugary, too doughy, too too. I hate Mexican chocolate. I'm very sorry, but the desserts and pastry of my cultural antecedents usually leave me cold [mournful Herb Alpert-ish trumpet solo wails overhead].

Take capirotada, for instance. This Mexican bread pudding is full of things I just don't like: piloncillo, the hard brown cone sugar that is, to put it mildly, a bitch to work with; canela, the flaky weird faux-cinnamon dear to the hearts of Mexican cooks everywhere; peanuts (although sometimes almonds are substituted, an even more irritating old world ingredient) and Colby cheese. In big horrible lumps! Gross. Sometimes apples are tossed in as well, but by then it's too late.

But I've been thinking -- what if I made a variation on all this, but using indigenous-y ingredients I actually like? Say, swapping the piloncillo for regular brown sugar, or using pecans (which are native to northern Mexico and Texas, lands of my forebears) instead of peanuts? What if I steal an idea from the late, lamented City Restaurant and use cream cheese instead of the Colby? It actually started to sound good [poignant guitar strumming].

So here it the result. Capirotada is actually more of a bread-based charlotte than an actual bread pudding made with an egg custard, which to my mind makes it all the more interesting. I love apple charlotte, and I can never eat it again (too much butter - this has too much butter too, but you can't have everything). Remember to bake it until it gets crusty. And the beauty part is, it has no eggs and so can be converted easily to a vegan dessert [mariachi band and salsa combo duke it out until fadeout] !

Capirotada, retooled (Mexican-ish bread pudding)

Makes about 8 servings.

2 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup water

1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup (6 oz.) unsalted butter (or stick soy margarine), cut into chunks

1/2 teaspoon sea salt (omit if using margarine)

3 (2 1/2" or 3") cinnamon sticks

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (or one large pinch)

7 cups lightly packed cubed day-old, dryish French or Italian bread, not sourdough, hard crusts removed (3/4 of a huge Italian loaf was enough for this)

1 cup toasted pecan pieces

1/2 cup golden raisins (you can use dark raisins if you want)

6 oz. (2 x 3 oz. packages) cream cheese (or soy cream cheese)

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons butter (or soy margarine), chopped into bits

For the sugar syrup: combine brown sugar, water, butter, cinnamon sticks and cloves in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat and then boil for 2 minutes (don't let it go any longer than this or you'll end up with caramel). Remove from heat and let steep for at least 15 minutes (preferably 30 minutes).

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk together the softened cream cheese with powdered sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Spray a 8" by 3-1/2" deep ceramic souffle dish (or another similar deep casserole) with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl. Remove cinnamon sticks from the steeped syrup and pour about two thirds 0f it over the bread cubes, tossing lightly with a spoon to mix. Add pecans and raisins. Place about half this mixture into the prepared dish and dollop 3/4 of the cream cheese mixture over it. Cover with the remaining bread cubes, nuts and raisins. Dollop the remaining cream cheese mixure over the pudding and scatter the sugar/cinnamon mixture over the top. Dot with butter (or soy margarine) bits.

Bake the pudding for 25 minutes, then pull out from oven and pour the remaining syrup over the top and down the sides. Return to oven and bake again until browned and a bit crunchy on top, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool for at least 15 minutes. Serve warm with barely sweetened whipped cream [final flourish of maracas].

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Restorative (sort of).

Blueberries CAN float.

Spring is here (all 88 degrees of it, yecch), our winter diseases are past (well, except for a lingering post nasal drip), and the time has come for health food. Well, not really health food, but healthier food. Healthy-ish food? Whatever.

This is based on a breakfast bread my husband ordered at Herbivore, a vegan restaurant in San Francisco. Don't sneer; although the service there is predictably spacey and glacial, the food is surprisingly thoughtful and good, and the branch we go to (there are others in the Mission and in Berkeley) is situated in one of the still-irredeemably funky neighborhoods of the city - on Divisidero, a couple of blocks from both the Panhandle and Alamo Square. It's nice to go there when you want to pretend you live in SF, something I've been doing since I was six.

Anyway. They serve a toasted blueberry cornbread loaf there which defies all preconceptions about vegan food: it is luscious, full of fruit, sweet, crunchy when toasted -- in other words, it feels bad. But it is good! And not full of animal products or saturated fat! It does, however, contain gluten, but nothing is perfect. It is also ridiculously easy to make. Oh, and PS: this is my version of the cornbread, not Herbivore's. Theirs is a bit rougher in texture, probably due to the use of whole wheat flour.

Blueberry Corn Bread Loaf

Makes one gigantically hefty loaf, which will serve eight normal people or two gluttons.

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup yellow corn meal

2/3 cup granulated evaporated cane juice (you can get this easily at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, natural foods markets and some very complete supermarkets)

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups unsweetened plain soy milk

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons tasteless vegetable oil (like peanut, canola, safflower, etc.)

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional; I don't use it because I love the pure taste of corn)

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (if you use frozen, keep them in the freezer until the batter is made and you're ready to add them in)

1 extra teaspoon all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a deep 5"x9" loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. I usually line the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit, but if you use a nonstick pan this isn't necessary.

In a large bowl, stir all purpose flour, corn meal, evaporated cane juice, baking powder, baking soda and salt together with a wire whisk. In another bowl or large measuring cup, stir together the soy milk, oil, vinegar, vanilla and lemon peel (if used). Pour the soy milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir only to combine. The batter will be a little lumpy - do not overmix.

Now comes the best part, a technique for using blueberries in baked goods that is so simple it's amazing no one thought of it before the folks at Cook's Illustrated, who in turn stole it themselves from a very old New England recipe for a coffee cake called "Boy Bait." This method will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the loaf AND prevent that horrible grey-green color which occurs when you mix the berries in the batter: In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with the 1 teaspoon of flour (if you're using frozen berries, work fast). Pour roughly half the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and then scatter half of the prepared blueberries over the batter. Pour the rest of the batter over them and then scatter the remaining blueberries on top. At this point I usually sprinkle a bit of sugar on top to make a crunchier crust, but this is entirely optional.

Bake the loaf for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the loaf is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool the loaf on a wire rack for about 15 to 20 minutes. Loosen the sides of the loaf with a small sharp knife and tip out, inverting onto a serving plate. Cool for a bit longer, but this is spectacular served warm, although it will be quite crumbly. When cool, it can be sliced and toasted in the toaster, which is almost as good. When well wrapped in plastic wrap, this loaf will stay fresh for two or three days, but it's never around that long at our house.

Really, this will change your mind totally about vegan food.

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

After a while, all you want is an apple (or a chocolate-covered tortilla chip).

No cameras allowed on the convention floor!!!

The NASFT Fancy Food Show takes place twice a year - in summer at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, and somewhere in California in the winter (usually at the Moscone Center in San Francisco; last week at the San Diego Convention Center, home to the Comic-Con). It is a giant marketplace for specialty food from all over the world and after a while takes on the quality and lightness of the Bataan Death March, only with a thousand types of jalapeno cheese straws. Mechanically extruded jalapeno cheese straws. Bleh.

Still, it is a place to see what's happening in food, and while it has totally lost its former indie cred (in the old days little cottage industry companies used to be able to rent booths and hawk their wares beside the big guns, but no more), it is above all a place to steal ideas. Let's be honest here.

These were the Best Concepts from the 2008 Fancy Food Show:
  • Vosges's Chocolate Covered Tortilla Chips for the win! Really, I know this sounds awful, but they were fabulous, and when you think about it, entirely logical, given that chocolate was first prepared with ground corn in the ancient pre-Columbian world. Think of champurrado! Well, don't think of it because it's vile, but these triple-chocolate-dipped chips were wonderful - the chocolate was slightly spicy, the chip salty - in short, heaven. Their Bacon Crisp bar was also interesting, if only because it tasted like bacon bits enrobed in chocolate, which you have to admit is a ballsy concept.
  • Better Bakes Sugar Cookies. I have no idea how they did this: it is a low sugar, low fat, healthy sugar cookie with all the crispness and flavor of my full-fat, horribly unhealthy homemade sugar cookies. They have to be lying about this, or using alien technology. These were way, way too delicious to be good for you.
  • The Pistachio Berry Mix from Santa Barbara Pistachio Company. Not only did this company have the nicest people at their booth (kind to everyone, even if you were not wearing the Prom Queen-ish red band "RETAILER" badge), they had the best trail mix on the entire floor: a salty blend of roasted pistachios and dried cherries, dried cranberries and golden raisins. Snacky!
  • Last but certainly not least, the cheddars (plain, smoked, pepper) from the cheese shrine that is Fiscalini Cheese Company in Modesto, CA. No longer just that place that spawned James Marsters and Timothy Olyphant, Modesto can lay claim to a company making the best cheese in America. No, really -- this stuff is as good as anything produced by the small farms of Britain or France, and they have the medals to prove it. Their smoked cheddar is an event.
The Worst Ideas can be summed up thusly: for the love of God, there are enough fancy chocolatiers and barbecue sauces in the world, thank you very much. I can just imagine some other trust-fund frat-boy wingnut thinking, "Hey, you know what would be a great business? Homemade barbecue sauce! SWEET." Please - stop the madness. And outside of the Vosges people (who are genuinely thoughtful about their chocolate products), most "new wave" chocolatiers seemed to think chocolate and curry and chocolate and chipotle combinations are so cutting-edge. NO - just, no.

The current trends in specialty foods are natural, organic, gluten-free, naturally sweetened, naturally flavored and locally sourced everything: cookies, crackers, sauces, charcuterie, cheeses, cocktail mixes (the huge new trend) etc. Very commendable, but sort of boring after a while. I like eating clean food and being healthy, yadda yadda, but after a while you just hanker after a chocolate covered tortilla chip.

Mercifully, past food trends like gelati, biscotti and cupcakes (except for the sad plastic-looking ones at the Barefoot Contessa cake mix booth) were absent this year. The only perennial food item I was glad to see was Badia e Coltibuono olive oil, which is just as sumptuous as ever and reminded me of my first years in the food business, when I regularly consumed it in restaurant kitchens (as well as Beluga caviar, mesquite-grilled Maine lobster, white peaches and Ridge Montebello zinfandel - the late 80s were a carefree, profligate time).

Unlike past FFSs, where every aisle brought some new and arcane food to try, this show cemented the ascendancy of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, if only because I'd already seen (if not tried) at least 50% of the products on display. The thrill of the specialty food is pretty much gone, and I blame Food Network and the internets.

Oh well. The only other notable thing about this year's FFS were the hordes of beautifully dressed, very grand and snooty Europeans, mostly Italians and Spaniards, who all seemed to look down their noses at us as if to say "You Americans and your pesky small dollar - we could all buy you out in un minuto." For this reason I have left out some of the more spectacular items in the show: a bunch of amazing sweet dessert vinegars in pomegranate, apple and litchi flavors. The indeterminate Europeans manning their booth were just too rude.

Next year in San Francisco!

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Learn to cook!

Cake and photograph by Zachary.

No recipe this time, just a simple request: learn how to cook! Teach your kids how to cook. It's so much fun you won't believe it.

If you don't know someone who can teach you how to cook and can't afford either the time or money for formal cooking classes, check out the links on the left for VideoJug online cooking classes or Leslie Bilderback's Culinary Masterclass, which provides simple clear instructions for a bunch of cooking techniques. Make the effort; in the end you will be part of one of humanity's greatest yet most basic endeavors (and if you don't believe that grandiose statement, talk to the Chinese or the French).

Making this cake with my nephew was one of the best times I've had within recent memory. Okay, so he's inordinately fascinated by Ace of Cakes, but he actually wanted to know how to construct a tiered cake, and so we did it one rainy afternoon. It was made with a cake mix, chocolate chips and leftover ganache, and yeah, maybe it is listing a little bit, but the end result was definitely more than the sum of its parts.

Try something like this yourself one day. You'll have so much fun.

Oh, and happy 2008, everyone.

© 2008 Sandy Soto Teich

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced anywhere without the author's express permission.