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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tartine's Pastry Cream

makes 2 1/2 cups
recipe adapted from Tartine
prep time: 25 min

2 c whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 c + 1 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1 tbsp pieces

• Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan.
• Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk.
• Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
• In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar.
• Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
• When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.
• Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes.
* In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. You want to see a few slow bubbles. However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously, you will curdle the pastry cream.
• Remove from heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl.
* If the custard stays in the hot pot, it will continue to cook.
• Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skin from forming on top.
• When the pastry cream is ready (about 140 ˚F) whisk the butter into the pastry cream 1 tbsp at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tbsp.

• To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream.
• Be careful whisking the cream once it is cold. Over mixing will break down the starch and thin the cream.



Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alexander's Steakhouse

The meat-fest continues! To celebrate a birthday, MFM - or as I’ve been calling him lately, The Gimch, because he’s a gimp AND a grinch (he recently injured his Achilles, and let's just say he's been in better moods) put on nice clothes and headed to Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino.

I first heard about Alexander’s on Bay Area Check Please, where one of the diners raved about trying a $250 piece of Kobe beef. Our pockets aren’t quite as deep, but our meal was just as good, and felt just as special.

The restaurant itself is somewhat deceiving, located near a rather unassuming shopping mall next to a Benihana. But you enter and the space feels dark, intimate, luxurious. Suburban shoppers are replaced with sharp-dressed business men, groups celebrating special occasions, and dreamy-eyed couples on date night. You know you’re in for something special.

And special calls for really doing it up. For a time, I went crazy for starting my meals with fried calamari. Then I moved on to anything tuna (tartare, poke and the like). Now it’s all about foie gras and theirs was served perfectly seared, with grapes, pistachios and a balsamic vinegar reduction.

I’ve also really been enjoying wedge salads lately. For $5 extra, our server recommended adding candied bacon, which was pretty much the best $5 one can spend. Meaty and salty with the perfect touch of sweetness, we could have ended the meal right there and gone home happy, it was that good.

Tomahawk is one of those words (like machete, or catapult) that’s inherently action-packed, and MFM’s Tomahawk Chop didn’t disappoint. Seasoned simply with herbs and butter, it must’ve been close to 3 pounds, providing 2-3 days of leftovers for most people (for MFM just one). I ordered their filet mignon, tender and melt in your mouth delicious, with a tarragon beurre blanc and demi-glace on top.

Doing it up also implies plenty of sides, and we tried the utterly perfect fries with truffle oil and a parmesan dip as well as the creamy and luxurious truffle mac and cheese. Then we finished off the meal with two desserts – chocolate cake, and to be different, their pastry chef’s ode to corn (corn cake, corn ice cream and corn tuille topped with corn nuts).

I forgot to mention we also had cocktails, an amuse-bouche of cheese and crackers and a palate-cleansing sorbet too. And just when you think you couldn’t possibly eat another bite, the check comes accompanied by a fluffy, irresistible house-spun cotton candy. It was grape! Yum.

Thinking back, this was more than enough delicious for just one meal. I would have been very happy with just the foie gras and wedge salad. Or the filet and mac & cheese. Or just a big plate of their truffle fries, with dessert. But put together, it all added up to one big, sigh-inducing, belt-loosening, bank account-draining, but totally unforgettable meal.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Bread

makes 2 loaves
recipe adapted from Paula Dean
prep time: 20 min / cook time: 50 min

3 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
* I used freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
3 eggs, room temperature
2 c white sugar
1 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c grated zucchini
1 c chopped pecans
* I omitted the pecans
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp orange zest

• Preheat oven at 350˚ F.
• Grease two 9x5 inch loaf pans.
• Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, spices and baking soda.
• In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy.
• Add sugar and continue beating until well blended.
• Stir in oil, vanilla, zucchini, pecans, chocolate chips and orange zest.
• Stir in sifted ingredients.
• Pour into prepared loaf pans.
• Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
• Remove loaves from pans and cool.
• Chill before slicing.

• This recipe can be done without the use of a mixer.
• The orange zest was a bit too strong, so you may want to add less than the amount called for.



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

House of Prime Rib

Aside from the name-that-cannot-be-named (would that make it a Volde-name*?) that the bf chose for himself, MFM can also stand for a lot of things, including My Favorite Meal. Which would be, hands down, the namesake House of Prime Rib cut with all the fixings at the House of Prime Rib here in San Francisco. Make mine rare, please!

I’ve watched the prices grow through the years but the one thing that thankfully hasn’t changed is the quality or taste of this fabulous meal. Or the experience itself, which always begins with a chilled salad fork and a wonderfully toothsome salad that's tossed and spun tableside. The unique housemade dressing itself is one of the many parts of the meal that I look forward to – creamy and savory with the right amount of seasoning (is that celery salt?). Really yummy.

Then comes the succulent, cut-to-order prime rib surrounded by creamy spinach, buttery mashed potatoes and a puffy fresh-out-of-the-oven Yorkshire pudding to sop up all the luxurious sauce. My sisters prefer the thinner slices of the English cut (the best way to get that “melt in your mouth” experience, they claim) but I’m a fan of the “sink your teeth into” experience of the much thicker House of Prime Rib cut. And MFM always goes for the King Henry, a huge slab of meat that includes the bone.

Over the years little has changed, but on recent visits we noticed a few things – like creamed corn added to the options and a fancy new wine den that now sits where the bathrooms used to be. The waitress was also really excited that the complimentary birthday Polaroid has been upgraded (“we’re digital now!” she exclaimed).

I love that this meal is a yearly (at least) tradition for my family, usually around the holidays. We’ve been going religiously for so many years that we have plenty of “remember that time…” stories stored up to laugh and reminisce about, the most memorable being the one Christmas Eve we saw a gentleman rushed out of the restaurant on a gurney who looked exactly like Santa Claus (not kidding!). That, and the time my Mom ordered the fish (seriously, who does that??).

And that’s just it. In a city full of restaurants where people wait for hours at the trendiest restaurant or to try a new creation by the hottest chef, my heart completely belongs to a place that hasn’t changed for decades. It's a place that does just one thing, and does it remarkably better than anyone else.

*Volde-anything is a registered trademark of Ms. Gorgongzola Gong.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Choco-Mint Cupcakes

makes 12 cupcakes
cupcake recipe adapted from Hershey's Kitchens
prep time: 25 min / cook time: 18-20 min

6 tbsp cocoa powder
* I used Pernigotti Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter (1/2 stick), melted and cooled
1/2 c milk, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature and lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c boiling water

1 c heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp mint extract
1/3 c sugar
3 drops of green food coloring

• Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350˚ F.
• Combine cocoa powder, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
• Add butter, milk, egg and vanilla. Mix at medium speed for 2 minutes.
• Add boiling water and beat to combine.
* Batter will be thin.
• Evenly divide the batter into each cupcake tin.
• Place Andes Creme de Menthe baking chips into each cup, then bake for 18-20 minutes.
• Let cool before assembly.

• Whip cream and mint extract until it looks like whipped cream.
• Mix in sugar.
• Mix in green food coloring until combined.

• Using your favorite tip, fill your pastry bag and pipe a small amount of frosting onto the cupcake.
*Optional: top with Andes Creme de Menthe and chocolate shavings.

• If you don't want a domed top cupcake, fill the batter half way. You will end up with approximately 18-20 cupcakes.
• If you like your mint whipped cream to be stiffer, add a stabilizer such as Dr. Oetker's Whip It.



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ajisen Ramen

If you are what you eat, then I would probably turn into a big bowl of noodles. Seriously, it’s my very favorite thing to eat - always comforting, always delicious. So when Japan-based noodle chain
Ajisen opened its first San Francisco location in the Westfield (their first No. Cal outpost is in Fremont), I was there, camera in hand, to slurp & sample their Kumamoto-style ramen.

Located in the SF Center food court (the Nordstrom side) – Ajisen is a bright, beckoning respite among typical mall offerings like Rubio’s and Panda Express. I was surprised to find actual table service (which was super quick and efficient), but noticed others going straight to the front and ordering to go, as well.

With over 300 locations worldwide (mostly in Asia) – Ajisen is known best for their tonkotsu soup base – a milky pork-bone based soup that has been simmered for hours and is just delicious. Their noodles, on the other hand, were a tad skinny and a bit lacking in comparison.

Not that I minded much. MFM and I each ordered a bowl – mine topped with thin slices of "premium" pork and his with pork ribs that were meaty and tender. Both ($9.75 each) were tasty, satisfying, and very generous. If anything, maybe some veggies or bamboo shoots would have added a nice crunch and texture to my bowl.

The waitress recommened the honey green tea aloe drink ($2.95) that was surprisingly one of the best of its kind that I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot.) Isn't aloe that same stuff you put on when you get a sunburn? Turns out it's really delicious.

I sat slurping my ramen and tea drink among the other diners – which I was happy to see included a wide array of folks – from shopping soccer moms and their kids to giggly teeny boppers with a few international tourist mixed in between. All enjoying the one dish that no matter where, no matter when, is always comforting, and at Ajisen especially, is always delicious.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fruit Jam Friands

makes 1 dozen cakes
recipe adapted from Technicolor Kitchen
prep time: 10 min / cook time: 20 min

1/2 c + 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 c powdered sugar, sifted
* For a less sweet version of this recipe, cut the sugar down to 1 1/4 c
1 c almond meal
* I used Bob's Red Mill brand
4 egg whites, room temperature
3/4 c unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c apricot jam
* I used blueberry, apricot and strawberry

• Preheat oven to 350˚F.
• Butter a cupcake tin.
* I used Williams-Sonoma's mini cheesecake pan
• Place flour, powdered sugar and almond meal in a bowl and stir to combine.
• Make a well in the center, add the egg whites, butter and vanilla and stir well to combine.
• Divide batter among prepared pans.
• Top each with 1/2 tsp of jam.
• Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
• Allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes then carefully unmold onto a wire rack.
• If desired, dust with powdered sugar before serving.

• If using a shallow pan, such as a mini cupcake tin, the baking time will be less than 20 minutes. Adjust accordingly.
• The jam will sink when using deeper tins, so if you want the pans to sit on top of the friand use a shallow tin.



Sunday, October 03, 2010

Blueberry Kit Kat Cupcakes

makes 12 cupcakes
cupcake recipe adapted from Evil Shenanigans
frosting recipe adapted from the Cupcake Project
prep time: 25 min / cook time: 15 min

3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c sugar
1/3 c Dutch-processed cocoa powder
* I used E. Guittard Cocoa Rouge Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/3 c buttermilk
1 large egg + 1 egg white, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp strong coffee (1tbsp instant coffee w/3 tbsp hot water)
* coffee is optional
12 chocolate wafter cookies
* I used Loacker Quadratini brand
6 kit kats, cut in half

1 c heavy whipping cream
1/3 c sugar
6 tbsp blueberry purée (take some fresh blueberries, wash them and throw them in the food processor until it becomes a thick liquid. If needed, put the purée through a sieve)

Preheat oven at 350˚ F.
• Line cupcake tin with 12 liners.
• Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and cocoa powder. Mix well.
• Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the melted butter, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and coffee.
• Blend until there are only a few small lumps left.
• Evenly divide the batter into each cupcake tin.
• Place one wafer cookie into the middle of the batter and gently push down.
• Bake for 15 minutes or until the centers spring back when lightly pressed.
• Cool for 3 minutes in the pan before removing the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

• Whip cream until it looks like whipped cream.
• Mix in sugar.
• Mix in strawberries until combined.

• Using your favorite pastry tip, fill your pastry bag and pipe frosting onto the tops of each cupcake.
• Place one half of a kit kat into the frosting.

• After pushing the wafer cookie into the batter, I used a spoon to cover the tops with more batter so that the cookie is not exposed while baking.
• If you'd like your blueberry whipped cream to be stiffer, add a stabilizer such as Dr. Oetker's Whip it.


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