Sunday, November 28, 2010


There are some traditions that you don’t mind breaking. Getting out of having to go to the office holiday party, for instance, would not break my heart. But some traditions you look forward to all year long. Our day-after-Thanksgiving tradition is one of those. Unfortunately, we missed it this year. In fact, we pretty much missed the entire holiday weekend thanks to a couple of nasty colds.

What should have happened was this: We wake up, happy as can be, and walk downtown to our favorite bagel shop. After eating toasted bagels dripping with butter, we meander around aimlessly, popping into a few stores like Borders and Apple. (Our downtown is sleepy and the standard Black Friday crowds do not flock there.) When we've had our fill of books and electronics, we do lunch and a little bar-hop to sample a few libations at various establishments. Some more meandering, maybe another hop or two, and we walk home to make our standard day-after-Thanksgiving dinner.'s what actually happened this year: We woke up, both feeling miserable, me without a voice, and coughed and sniffled our way through the morning. We got ready, hoping we could rally for our day. Finally, one of us suggested what the other was thinking: maybe going out was not the best idea. We then both promptly collapsed on the couch, which is where we've been since.

Typically, after my Thanksgiving cooking marathon, I don't feel much like being in the kitchen for a few days. This is when the convenience items make their appearance: Kraft mac 'n cheese, frozen pizza, canned soup, tater tots, etc. (Who am I kidding? Tater tots make regular appearances in this house, regardless of whether I'm tired of cooking or not.) But the one thing I will get back into the kitchen for after Thanksgiving is pasty. This year, it just happened a few days late.

Pasty (or pastie, depending on who you ask) is basically a meat and potato pie, and I am in love with it. It is a simple and homey dish and I have Andy to thank for introducing me to it.

When we first started dating, Andy announced that he would be making pasty one night. It is an old recipe passed down from his mom and very beloved to him. I was a little skeptical when he described it to me. Steak, potato, onion and a pie crust. The end. I made a few suggestions regarding additional ingredients which he did not accept. No, this was his dish, and I would be making no improvements modifications. I watched as he diced the ingredients (and when he wasn't looking I threw in a little parsley anyway). What came out of the oven was fantastically delicious, and is now a fixture in my recipe box.


1 package deep-dish frozen pie crusts (2 shells)
1 - 1 1/2 pounds steak (trimmed of fat)
1 large yellow onion
1 pound potatoes, peeled (we use Yukons)
salt and pepper
handful of chopped parsley 

Defrost pie crusts.

Preheat the oven to 450.

Chop potatoes and onion into a small dice. Cube the steak into similar size (a bit larger is fine). Mix it all together in a large bowl and stir in parsley. Season heavily with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture into one pie crust and place the other crust on top. Crimp the edges together and make a few slits on the top crust.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 90 minutes. (I use a pie crust shield once the crust is brown, and when the top is brown, cover the entire pie loosely with foil.)

The first time I ate this dish, I was shocked at how much I loved it. And even more surprising was how good it was with ketchup. I'm not a put-ketchup-on-everything type girl, but now I can't eat this without it. When I'm really craving pasty, nothing else will do. Obviously, there's not a whole lot to's steak, onion and potato. But they're all cooked together in one happy package and the result is a tender, flavorful filling and a flaky crust. To us, this is the epitome of comfort food.

There are still times when I suggest modifying the recipe, but it's a half-hearted attempt. Even if Andy conceded, I don't think I would change the recipe. He was doesn't need a thing. (But that parsley did give it a little needed color.)

So even though we're sick and several days late, this is one tradition I won't give up easily. Better late than never...


Due to my weeks of insane Thanksgiving testing/prepping craziness, I've continuously forgotten to thank some fellow bloggers. So...some long overdue thanks for some recent awards from Elisabeth @ Food and Thrift Finds, Annie @ Annie's Dish, Danielle @ Runs with Spatulas, and Sandra @ Sandra's Easy Cooking. I appreciate them all! 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Only 6 days left???

This has been one of those weeks where blogging seems like a whole lot of work. I’ve been cooking like crazy in preparation for Thanksgiving, and that hasn’t left a whole lot of time for much else. No time for photographing the food, or writing what I hope to be entertaining stories about each dish. I’ve been a bit of a spaz this year. Usually, by this time, the Thanksgiving menu is set and I’m confident in my choices. But this year, I keep changing my mind…I keep thinking of new and improved ideas, and after trying them out, if deemed tasty enough, I’m left with the dilemma of what to cross off or keep on the list.

Here are a few of my attempts that will definitely NOT be making the Thanksgiving menu:
-Shrimp puffs that resulted in oddly spongy puffs…too much egg, not enough egg?? I don’t know, but I do know I won’t be making them again.
-Baked clams that I managed to dehydrate into a state of clam jerky. Probably not going to be the next hottest food trend.
-Mini crab tarts that were so completely overwhelmed by the pastry shell that the crab was unrecognizable.

So this has been going on for the last couple weeks and I have to admit: I’m exhausted. I will breathe a sigh of relief when Thanksgiving dessert is served and I can relax with a (humongous) glass of wine.

Speaking of alcoholic beverages, that’s about all I really had the energy for tonight. This was our Friday, and when we got home, I just wanted to sit. But I can always rally for a cocktail. (Saying that makes me think of Sandra Lee, who always has “cocktail time.” I’m not her biggest fan, but I have to appreciate her allegiance to the cocktail hour.)

Into the kitchen I went for martini testing once again. (My last martini test kitchen resulted in the yummy Chocolate-Pumpkin Spice Martini.) Here’s what I came up with tonight…this is definitely a job I don’t hate.

Butterscotch Dream Martini

1 part butterscotch liqueur
1 part Frangelico
1 part heavy cream
grated butterscotch chip, for garnish

Combine first three ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into glass. Grate butterscotch chip over top.

This martini is like a milkshake, if milkshakes had a high alcohol content and made you really happy. Definitely more of an after-dinner/dessert drink, but not overly sweet. The combination of butterscotch and hazelnut is divine.

Six days until Thanksgiving?! I swear that next year I won’t be making menu changes at the eleventh hour. But I say that every year…

If I don’t surface before then, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

A very merry unbirthday…

I recently celebrated my half birthday. Yes, I realize that makes me sound like a 6 year-old, but I love birthdays and I love any reason to celebrate. For this reason, I also celebrate a birthday week and try my hardest to convince Andy that our 1 year, 274th day wedding anniversary really should be commemorated. Andy had never heard of this half-birthday business until he met me, and I don’t know if he would admit it, but I think he kind of likes it. This year, he outdid himself with my half-birthday celebration…

Living only 20 minutes from San Francisco, you would think that we would visit often, exploring new shops and restaurants, and eating our way through the city. But to us, it is a whole lot of work. You have to deal with traffic, and parking, and crowds, and then more traffic. So we hardly ever go. But this day, Andy had planned a half-birthday excursion. First we would go to the Ferry Building Marketplace where I’ve been wanting to go for ages, then to lunch at Pier 23 where I heard they have an amazing roasted crab, and to cap off the day, a trip to CB2 to shop for more tiny dishes that I don’t need but love with all my heart. Talk about a dream day!

Let me just say right off the bat that I am now so enamored with the Ferry Building that I could move in. If they allowed lodgers I would sign up, particularly at Boccalone Salumeria, whose sign proudly proclaims that they sell “tasty salted pig parts.” I wanted to buy two of everything in that shop. 

We also went to Cowgirl Creamery, 

Acme Bread Company, a wine bar, a mushroom shop, a seafood shop, an olive oil shop, and much more.

Anything you could think of, they had it. We could have skipped lunch and eaten our way through the marketplace. But no, I heard a crab calling my name…

Pier 23 (which is down the Embarcadero a ways) is a fun place; very funky and casual with outside seating and great food. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten something with as much vigor as I ate my oven-roasted whole crab served with the most amazing butter-garlic dipping sauce. There was literally crab flying. Andy picked some out of my hair later that day. I was in the zone, and didn’t say a word until lunch was finished. Needless to say, it was ridiculously good.

After a quick shopping spree at CB2, we headed home very happy. And later, we got to enjoy this:

Cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, spreadable spicy salami from Boccolone, and a fresh baguette from Acme. Best half-birthday. Ever.

Since we had a good amount of cheese left over, there was no way that I was going to have that much Cowgirl Creamery sitting in the fridge without making macaroni and cheese. It was just an opportunity I could not let pass by. I’ve wanted to make my own mac ‘n cheese for awhile now, and I finally had the cheese I wanted to use.

Half-Birthday Cowgirl Creamery Mac ‘n Cheese

8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked in salted water and drained

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk, heated in a saucepan
1/2 teaspoon pepper

4 ounces crumbled Mt Tam cheese (Cowgirl Creamery)
3 ounces crumbled Red Hawk cheese (Cowgirl Creamery)
1 1/2 ounces grated gruyere cheese
1 1/2 ounces grated white cheddar cheese

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

For the topping, mix bread crumbs and parmesan cheese together. Reserve.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When melted, stir in flour and whisk for several minutes until flour is browning and cooked. Whisk in hot milk, and continue stirring over heat until mixture thickens. This will take a few minutes. Once thickened, remove from heat and stir in cheeses and pepper. Stir until smooth.

Combine cheese mixture and cooked macaroni. Spread into a baking dish. Sprinkle reserved topping over the entire dish.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, until topping is golden brown.

(Disclaimer: If you don’t like strong cheese, this may not be the mac ‘n cheese for you. The Mt Tam and Red Hawk definitely have a distinct flavor, which is why I love them so much, but a non-cheese lover may not feel the same way.)

To me, this is the ultimate mac ‘n cheese. It’s creamy and tangy and rich and decadent. I ate WAY too much of it and only slightly regretted it. The top and sides get crunchy, which is the best part to some of us (okay…both of us). For my first homemade mac ‘n cheese, I really couldn’t have asked for better. When you start with such yummy ingredients, it’s hard to go wrong.

Now I can’t wait for my real birthday…Italy, here we come!

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Heart Persimmons

Up until a couple days ago, I had never eaten a persimmon. Persimmon cookies, yes.  A real live raw persimmon, no.  I used to live next door to an enormous persimmon tree that produced so much fruit the neighbors gave boxes and boxes away every year.  For some reason, I always declined their offers.  I had it in my head that I wouldn't like them.  I wish I could get one of those boxes now.

At the farmer's market last week, I bought one lone persimmon on a whim.  I'm trying to use ingredients that I'm unfamiliar with and persimmons fit the bill.  The persimmon guy picked one out for me, gave me a little spiel about how to know when they were ripe, and then into my fruit bowl it went.  And it sat there for over a week.  I kept looking at it guiltily, wondering what it tasted like, and how I was going to use it. It was getting riper by the day and eventually was relegated to the fridge.  The good news is that according to everything I read about persimmons, ripe is the only way to go.  And by the time I made this salad, it was very ripe. 

I wanted to make a dish that really showcased the persimmon, and didn’t hide its flavor.  After slicing it up and tasting it, a simple salad became the obvious choice.  Not knowing where to start with complementary flavors to a persimmon, I consulted The Flavor Bible, one of my favorite resources.  (It’s an amazing book with an index of ingredients that lists complementary flavors for each.)  Based on what I saw in the book, I decided that candied nuts and a creamy cheese were in order. 

Not only is this Fall salad really yummy, it’s also beautiful.

Persimmon Salad with Candied Walnuts and Creamy Sherry Vinaigrette

1 persimmon, sliced
romaine lettuce, chopped
goat cheese, crumbled
candied walnuts (recipe follows)
sherry vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Toss lettuce mixture with vinaigrette.  Top with persimmons, goat cheese and walnuts.

Candied Walnuts:
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 tablespoon sugar

Mix all spices together.  Toss walnuts in a little vegetable oil, then toss with spices.  Roast in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Watch carefully.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together.  Set aside until ready to use.  (If you refrigerate this, it will firm up because of the cream.  Take it out ahead of time to allow it to loosen up if making ahead.)

There’s a lot going on here: sweet persimmons, tangy vinaigrette, spicy walnuts, peppery arugula, and creamy goat cheese. (I also added diced chicken breast to this to make it more of a meal, but I wouldn’t even bother next time.)  When I got a bite of everything at once, it was a party in my mouth.  This combination produces an amazing flavor.  The persimmon was definitely the star of the show, and we both wished we’d had more slices. 

As I was eating and getting full, I started offloading some of my salad into Andy’s bowl.  He noted that I was not giving up any of the persimmon.  Next trip to the farmer’s market, at least two persimmons are on the list…one for each of us.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Beware of the Stinky Pork

Let me just preface this story by saying that neither Andy nor I have particularly sensitive stomachs or issues with offensive smells. We have two cats and a dog and are no strangers to disgusting odors.

That being said…you know how when you eat something that doesn’t quite settle well with you, it might take you awhile to eat that certain food again? Well, this experience was so bad that it’s taken me two weeks to even write about it, and I’m sorry to say that I think it will be a very long time before we make pork ribs or tenderloin again.

It all started out so innocently. We were getting ready to prepare the quintessential Football Sunday dinner: a rack of baby back pork ribs that would be barbecued to perfection later that day. Out came the vacuum-packed rack and all the necessary tools, along with our favorite spice rub. Even at 11 in the morning, our mouths were already watering; we could almost taste those juicy ribs.

Then Andy cut open the package and almost threw up.

The stench that overtook the kitchen was unlike anything I have ever smelled. Thinking that maybe it was just that nasty pork juice that accumulates in the bag, we rinsed off the ribs hoping to remedy the situation. Andy bravely took another huge whiff and almost threw up again. I also took a big sniff, apparently not wanting to miss out on the action, and confirmed what we already knew. The pork was rotten, and probably had been for days. The windows flew open and the pork was relegated to the outdoor trash (where it continued to reek until garbage day).

At this point we were not yet completely ruined. We still had a hankering for pork, so we decided to have pork tenderloin instead. Dinnertime came and we opened the package of pork tenderloin. It smelled faintly like the ribs, but not knock your socks off bad. I rinsed it off and still caught a bit of an odd smell. Against my better judgment, I proceeded with dinner. This ended up being a great dish, but I should have trusted my instincts when it came to the smell. We paid for that later…

But don’t let our bad experience stop you from giving this one a chance.

Spice-rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Red Wine and Cherry Sauce

1/2 cup dried cherries (I used Costco’s Kirkland Tart Montmorency Cherries)
1/4 cup diced shallots
1 1/4 cup red wine (plus extra to rehydrate cherries)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Put cherries in a bowl and cover with red wine. Let sit to rehydrate.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, sauté shallots in a splash of olive oil until soft. Add in the rest of the ingredients, including the cherries. Turn heat to high to bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer. Check for seasonings. (Depending on the wine and tartness of cherries, more salt and/or sugar may be needed.) Reduce for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

8 crispy gingersnap cookies, ground in a food processor (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 pork tenderloin, trimmed

Mix first four ingredients together. Sprinkle rub all over pork and press into the meat. (If you do this ahead and let it sit, the rub will get fairly wet, which is fine. It will crisp back up when seared.)

Preheat oven to 400. When ready to cook, heat some olive oil in an ovenproof pan. When very hot, sear the pork on all sides to create a crust. Transfer pan into the oven and roast until the pork is at desired doneness. (I like my pork a little pink, and roasted it for 12 minutes.) When done, remove and let rest for a few minutes before slicing.

Slice and serve pork with sauce spooned over the top.

Each bite of the spice-crusted pork paired with the bold, tart sauce was delicious. Hints of ginger and cinnamon warmed the dish, reminiscent of holiday flavors. The pork itself was tender and moist. This is definitely a dish I will make again…although in the very distant future.

Turns out I was right about the tenderloin not smelling so good. Our stomachs will attest to that. So even though I loved this meal, I don’t think I could eat it again anytime soon. I’ll need to get the memory of that bad pork smell out of my head before I revisit this one. But we love pork far too much to be permanently scarred. (And this of course excludes bacon. Nothing could stop me from eating bacon. Ever.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Clean Plate Club

I found myself thinking about the “Clean Plate Club” today. It was sixth-grade Science Camp and the goal was for your entire table of campers to completely clean their plates to become members of the “club.” My sister recalls people drinking other’s cereal milk for them so the table wouldn’t suffer. Apparently we took this task very seriously.

There was probably a song or catchy mantra to be sung or recited at every meal, but I don’t remember it. The only song I remember from camp is The Banana Slug Song set to the tune of Twist and Shout. Twenty years later, I still sing that song when anyone mentions banana slugs (which happens more often than you might think).

So how does any of this relate to Blackberry Cream Cheese Tarts? It doesn’t really, except that it popped into my head as I was typing this and it made me chuckle to think of a roomful of sixth graders wanting so desperately to be a part of this so-called club. I’m willing to bet that camp was the only week that most of us ever even thought about cleaning our plates.

But enough about Science Camp…here’s the recipe:

Blackberry Cream Cheese Tarts with Pear-Champagne Drizzle

Pear-Champagne Sauce

Makes enough to drizzle over 4 tarts

1 very ripe pear, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup champagne

Simmer pear, sugar and water until no liquid remains, stirring and mashing pears occasionally. When all liquid has reduced, stir in champagne. Reduce champagne until sauce has a thick consistency. Remove from heat and puree in a blender. Reserve.

Blackberry Cream Cheese Tarts

Makes 4 tarts

1/2 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar (or more depending on tartness of blackberries)
1 cup blackberries, plus extra for garnish
1 egg
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
egg wash

Puree first 5 ingredients together in a food processor. (Check if more sugar is needed and add as necessary.)

Cut puff pastry sheet into 4 equal pieces, then roll each piece out on a lightly floured surface to fit your dishes. (You want some to hang over the edges.)

Lay puff pastry into dishes, then pour cream cheese filing into each and brush exposed dough with egg wash. Top with a few blackberries. Bake at 400 degrees for 23-25 minutes, until pastry is cooked through and browned.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Just before serving, drizzle pear-champagne sauce over each tart.

A few notes:

The blackberries were fairly tart to begin with and after baking, the whole berries on top seemed to get even more tart. So unless your berries are very sweet, garnishing after baking might be the way to go.

The pastry on the bottom of the tart was a bit tough and hard to cut through. Perhaps I should have kept them in the oven longer (and covered them to keep them from browning more) or rolled the dough out thinner. It’s also possible that my puff pastry had been in the freezer a little long and didn’t crisp up as well as a fresher sheet might have.

The end result? The tarts were a hit…they were yummy and pretty. The richness of the cream cheese filling was cut by the tartness of the blackberries and the pear-champagne drizzle offered just the right amount of sweetness.

And even though a bit of elbow grease was needed to cut through these, it didn’t stop us all from becoming members of that illustrious club that evening.