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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Buttery Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

makes 12 servings
recipe adapted from
prep time: 25 min / cook time: 50-55 min

1 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 c sour cream
2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 c sugar
1 c flour
1/4 c unsalted butter, semi-soft

• Preheat oven to 350˚ F, oven rack set to second-lowest position.
• Grease a 13x9" baking pan. Set aside.
• With an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter with sugar (about 3-4 min) until well blended.
• Add in eggs and sour cream; beat well, about another 3 minutes.
• In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
• Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture; beat well until combined. Set aside.
* Batter will be thick.

• With an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together all filling ingredients.

• With your fingers, mix all the ingredients until crumbly.

• Spread more than half the batter in the prepared baking pan. The layer will be thin.
• Spread the filling over the cake batter.
• With the remaining cake batter, dot small spoonful over the batter.
• Sprinkle the topping all over the top of the cake.
• Bake for 50-55 minutes or until middle feels set and not jiggly.



Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pizzeria Delfina

The pizza of my dreams keeps changing. I’ve gone through so many different phases in my life. The hearty & saucy Deep Dish period. The delightfully foldable era of NY-style thin crust. And then there were the bbq chicken & cilantro-filled CPK years.

But lately, when I dream of pizza it’s the bubbly, blistering kind that has been baked to smoky perfection. The thin-but-still-sturdy type that’s topped with simple, rustic ingredients, good sauce and good cheese. And no one does it better than Pizzeria Delfina, in my opinion.

I’ve only been to their location in the Mission. It’s a great study in the economics of space. The kitchen is tiny but amazingly functional. It’s hard to believe there are 3-4 chefs tucked in there, churning out some of the tastiest Neopolitan-style appetizers, salads and pizzas around.

While my tastes in pizza have changed (and keeps changing) over the years, the one thing that has stayed constant is my must-have-with-pizza beverage. It’s root beer. It’s always been. And Defina serves Captain Eli’s – an herby handcrafted soda from Maine that definitely holds its own.

We started with sand dabs which were fried and served with aioli. If there were more in our party that evening I would have liked a salad (there was one with tuna that sounded particularly scrumptious). But after the one starter our party of 3 went straight to pizza.

First came the special pizza of the day which was topped with guanciale (Italian bacon made from pig’s jowls), onions, panna (cream) and lots of black pepper. I appreciated the uniqueness of the ingredients and flavor but somehow it didn't quite seem like pizza without the tang of tomato.

Next came the margherita which my buddy LL had the smarts to ask our server to bring out only after we’d completely finished our first. Which meant it came to the table it was blisteringly hot, fresh, and eyes-rolled-back-in-your-head delicious. The crust was a chewy, crackly perfection with sauce that was pure tomato. And the glistening circles of cheese, basil and drizzle of olive oil all added up to something special.

Special enough to be my pie a la mode ('of the moment,' not the dessert!). As I mentioned, this place is small (with 20, possibly 25 seats max), the wait can be long, and it's unfortunately in a not so parking friendly area. But I can't wait to grab some friends and go back again.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hazelnut Cupcakes

makes 12 cupcakes
recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
prep time: 1 hr / cook time: 20-25 min

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 c nutella

4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 c (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1/2-2/3 c nutella

• Line the cupcakes of a standard cupcake tin and preheat oven to 350˚ F.
• In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
• In a liquid measuring-up, mix milk and vanilla; set aside.
• In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.
• Add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition.
• With mixer on low speed, add half of the dry ingredients.
• Followed by milk-vanilla mixture.
• Mix in remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix.
• Divide batter evenly among prepared cupcake tin.
* 2 oz. or 1/4 cup ice-cream scoop is good for this.
• Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean.
• Cool cupcakes for 5 minutes in tin, then remove and cool completely on a rack.

• Place whites and sugar in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160˚ on a candy thermometer.
• Remove from heat, and attach bowl to a mixer. Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes.
• Increase speed to medium high, and whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium, and add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking well after each addition.
• Switch to a paddle attachment. With mixer on low, add nutella, and beat until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Use immediately, or cover, and refrigerate.
* Start off with 1/2 cup of nutella and taste to see how intense you want the flavor to be before adding more.

• Using a paring knife, carve a small hole in the middle of hte cupcake. Be sure not to cut too deep.
* You can use a spoon to gently remove more of the cupcake if needed.
• Spoon in a bit of nutella into the cupcake.
• Put the top back onto the cupcake and frost the top.

• The cupcake dries out a bit, so it's best to be eaten the same day.
• You can half the frosting recipe as it makes enough for two dozen cupcakes . . . or you can double the cupcake recipe.
• I do not suggest making the buttercream the night before or refrigerating it for a couple hours. The texture and color changes, so if you are going to refrigerate it, do so only to help tighten up the frosting, more than an hour.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rib Fest

I don't know why I've never gone to this before. 5 straight days. 24 competitive barbecue teams. Over 500,000 rib-loving visitors. This is a big deal!

Officially it's called the Nugget Rib Cook Off and it's been happening every Labor Day in Sparks, NV since 1989. Maybe it had something to do with my past (I spent a couple of challenging months as a hostess at Tony Roma's back in college). Maybe it was thinking of the sheer messiness of eating ribs that made me nervous. But either way, I'm glad I got over it. It was one of the best experience I've had all year.

It got even better when friends texted to say they were joining us . Can I take a minute to say just how awesome is my friend T is? It was the weekend before her wedding and while others might have been busy bridezilla-ing it up, she and her equally awesome now-husband, E, took a break from RSVP wrangling, seating chart-ing, and favor assembling to enjoy some ribs with us.

It's held on the plaza outside the Nugget casino, and draws a huge crowd. It’s a bit intimidating to negotiate the (at least) 4-block long stretch of barbecue, beer, lemonade, fried pickles, funnel cakes, garlic fries, and ice cream vendors. Even more intimidating as almost every vendor has a mountain of trophies and awards displayed out in front – making it impossible to choose which one to try.

It's also like 95 degrees! As a newbie I let T, E and MFM (who had all been before) take the lead. MFM and I went a day earlier on Friday and tried the slightly sweet and perfectly unctuous ribs at Texas Thunder. We also tried the slightly dry (in my opinion) but still tasty sampler at Famous Dave’s (who knew they had competitive barbecuers in Minnesota?).

But when T & E joined us, the real eating began. We had a strategy. We separated and got a variety of offerings from as many vendors as we could handle – trying a range of items including pork and beef ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, chicken, beans, mac & cheese, hot links, and cornbread – and met back in the middle to share.

We noted that next time, we’ll take cue from an Asian family we saw – who came totally prepared with tongs, platters of rice, and markers & name cards so they could remember who to vote for!

My favorite? The delicious, finger-licking ribs from Ohio’s Desperado BBQ got my vote for best ribs. It also gets bonus points for its catchy tagline ("Lick my ribs" - I'm still kicking myself for not buying that t-shirt). All attendees were able to vote for the "People's Choice" award, and Bay Area’s Back Forty BBQ ended up winning the entire competition.

And just in case you’re wondering how many days one can go before getting barbecued-out, for me the answer is exactly two. By Saturday evening all I wanted to do is look for a place to eat pho!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chocolate Lemon Mascarpone Cupcakes

makes 12 cupcakes
cupcake recipe adapted from Hershey's Kitchen
frosting recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
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 cream
8 oz. mascarpone cheese, room temperature
4 tbsp lemon curd
1/2 c confectioners' sugar, sifted

• 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 and bake for 18-20 minutes.
• Cool completely before frosting.

• With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form.
* Be careful not to over beat or cream will be grainy.
• In another bowl, whisk together mascarpone, lemon curd and confectioners' sugar until smooth.
• Gently fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture until completely incorporated.

• If you want a more lemony flavor, you can add some lemon zest into the frosting.
• If the frosting is too loose, refrigerate it for about an hour to let it set.
• If the frosting is too thick, add milk one tbsp at a time.



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

That's It

If I have time, I like to peruse local food blogs. With SF being such a foodie destination, one of my favorite things to read is when celebrities, dignitaries, famous politicians, etc come to town and where they dine.

And a few months ago, there were a flurry of posts on Anthony Bourdain sightings throughout the Bay Area. Apparently the author/chef was in town filming a new show for the Travel Channel, which is described as featuring “insiders only, off-the-beaten path” type of places. Which also apparently, critics of his previous Bay Area visit (for an episode of “No Reservations”) said didn’t quite deliver.

Having watched that very episode recently, I can’t say I totally agree with the critics who said that show was full of corny, touristy places. (I fully support his inclusion of House of Prime Rib, for one). Plus if it wasn’t for that show, I would never have known about That’s It, home to one of the biggest, most gut-busting tortas I have ever seen.

It’s called the Cubana and it’s easily a sandwich for 2-3 hungry people. It has: a breaded beef cutlet, chorizo, ham, eggs, a hot dog, cheese, jalapenos, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and avocado on a soft roll. Seriously, this sucker is at least 8 inches long and 5 inches high.

It’s also surprisingly tasty. Yes, it’s sodium laden and ingredient-heavy but still manages to deliver discernable flavors and textures (crisp lettuce, creamy avocado). I’m a fan! Amazingly, MFM ate it all by himself while a friend and I shared a (also ginormous) chicken cutlet sandwich – which was also good.

Located in a liquor store on a busy Mission corner, you might not realize this haven for huge sandwiches exists. Enter the store and to the right there’s a counter in front of a small grill. You place your order and the friendly torta lady (I read on a blog that her name is Alicia) makes your sandwich. The store is tiny - but if you're lucky you can score one of about 4 seats to enjoy your meal.

It's not a place you can eat every day, but I'd go back again, especially if I was very, very, very hungry.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Espresso Chocolate Shortbread

makes 25 cookies
recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
prep time: 15 min / cook time: 18-20 min

1 tbsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp boiling water
1 c unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all-purpose flour
2/3 c mini chocolate chips

• Dissolve the espresso in the boiling water and set aside to cool to tepid.
• With a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and confectioners' sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes until the mixture is very smooth.
• Beat in vanilla and espresso, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it disappears into the dough.
* Don't work the dough much once the flour is incorporated.
• Fold in the chocolate with a sturdy rubber spatula.
• Using the spatula, transfer the soft, sticky dough to a gallon-sized zip-lock plastic bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open and roll the dough into a 10x10" square that's 1/4" thick. When you get the right size and thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
* As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic from the dough so it doesn't cause creases.
• Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325
˚ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
• Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm dough out onto the board, discarding the bag, and using a ruler as a guide and a sharp knife, cut the dough into 2" squares.
• Transfer the squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet.
* I skipped this step and didn't notice a difference in the cookie.
• Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. The shortbreads will be very pale, they shouldn't take on much color.
• Transfer the cookies to a rack.



Sunday, October 02, 2011

Macadamia Shortbread

makes 30 cookies
recipe adapted from Use Real Butter via True Aloha
prep time: 45 min / cook time: 20 min

1 c unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all-purpose flour
1 c unsalted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1 1/3 c dark chocolate
1/4 c sweetened coconut, shredded

• Cream the butter until smooth and beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla extract.
* I failed to read this correctly and creamed the butter, sugar and vanilla extract all at the same time.
• When the butter and sugar are combined, slowly add flour and beat until incorporated.
• Mix in the 1 cup of coarsely chopped macadamia nuts.
• Transfer dough to a gallon sized ziplock bag. On a flat surface with the top of the bag open, roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2" rectangle 1/4" thick.
* While rolling, occasionally turn the bag and lift the plastic from the dough so it doesn't cause creases.
• When the dough is rolled to size, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
• Preheat oven to 300
˚ F.
• Remove dough from the refrigerator and slit bag open.
• Slice the dough into rectangles, approximately 1 x 2 1/2".
• Place sliced dough onto parchment paper an inch apart and bake for 20 minutes or until the cookies turn golden around the edges.
• Remove from oven and place cookies on a wire rack to cool.
• While cookies are cooling, melt chocolate in the microwave.
• Dip cookies into the melted chocolate and place cookies on wax paper.
• Sprinkle shredded coconut over the chocolate.
• Refrigerate cookies until chocolate hardens. Store in a cool place.

• I ended up with a few small pieces of cookies due to the uneven size I rolled it out to. You might want to roll the dough out to 10 x 10" and cut even sized squares.


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