love & butter

Archive for the 'food' Category

A quick thing for you, because you should try it now and not when I have time to write a real entry

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

(cross-posted to Oh Hey Great)

This shows how much I love all of you. Posting this, I mean.

Please go now to a fancy chocolate store or to Peet’s Coffee and look for Michael Recchiuti’s Dark Milk Chocolate. Yes, you read that right: Dark Milk Chocolate. SOMEONE IS A GENIUS AND I THINK I KNOW WHO!

The bar has a 55% cacao content but is a milk chocolate bar. What does that mean to you, LiveJournal reader and chocolate lover? It means that the chocolate bar has a darkness and depth (omg dirty), a complexity of flavor that is often missing in milk chocolate. It’s not bitter like some dark bars are, or even some semisweet bars are, but it’s also not too sweet or “one-note” like a lot of milks. It’s layered and well-balanced, sweet but not cloying, well-rounded and nuanced. It’s dark and it’s milk and IT’S SO GODDAMN GOOD THAT I WANT TO EAT THE WHOLE THING RIGHT NOW.

Dear self-discipline, my wallet and my stomach thank you, my mouth hates you. Pls advise.

(Props must go to Adam, the proprietor and all around awesome dude at Fog City News, who helped me and Kelly select a variety of chocolates for purchase a few weekends ago. I culled my choices down to five [that was hard to do, let me tell you; he helped me pick out the top two and highly recommended this Recchiuti dark milk, for good reason obviously]. The smaller-but-no-less-delicious bar I sampled today came from Peet’s coffee, where I stopped in for a brief how-de-do with my beloved Pookster.)

A Pep Talk

Friday, April 18th, 2008

con huevos

So right.

I had this big plan, you guys. This really awesome super duper fabuloso plan to write every single day during this diet thinger. Like NaBloPoMo, only um. Not national, just me. Also not a month. So MeBloPo… nevermind. Anyway, the point is, I was TOTALLY going to do it. I had it all worked out in my head, how I’d guide you through my experience of the Standard Process Wholesome Medley Purification Cleanse (go to page 13 of the .pdf pamphlet, and no I’m not making up the name), take it day-by-day and even break down what I was eating, how I was making it through, and so forth.


OK so seriously. Somewhere in the middle of the first week it occurred to me. If I had updated you every day, this would have turned into a horrifyingly boring food and exercise diary, combined with the following commentary:

DAY 1: “Hi! I’m Leah! Read along as I enjoy torturing myself and self-righteously assert how it will be NO BIG DEAL WHATSOEVER to eat nothing but steamed vegetables, salad, fruits, and lean proteins for three weeks! Watch as I mistakenly assert it will be easier this time, since I know what I’m doing! So convinced am I of my all-mighty powers on this first day I am going to march right off to join a friend at a Thai restaurant for lunch and then hang out with Molly at the farmers’ market and a bakery in the afternoon! Okey dokey!”

DAY 2: Man. I want a snack. And chocolate. I should have been more organized. This blows already.

DAY 3: Holy crap, I am so hungry. SO HUNGRY. So goddamn hungry. And yet I am eating constantly. Plus my muscles are tingly after only 30 minutes of walking. I forgot about all of this. The first week sucks.

DAY 4: OH. MY. GOD. THE GAS. Was it this bad last time? What did I do wrong? Whatever it was, God forgive me and stop the explosions.

DAY 5: Oh, I feel better. Mmm, smoothies.

DAY 17: I do really want a cracker but I feel SO much better. Cheating sounds fun, ending this sounds fun, but… feeling better, well, feels so nice for a change.

So I realized: I should have done this daily blogging business when I did the cleanse/diet/detox/whatever the first time around. I was SO STRICT and dedicated the first time, and I was really focused on the diet. I mean I was basically living like a monk: I stuck to the prescribed supplements and foods with no deviating. Not one single cheat. Every day I wrote down what I ate, including meals, snacks, and smoothies. Every day I meditated and took notes on it. Most days I exercised and I made notes on that too. I was a model participant and the experience was almost fully documented. But as with everything, the first time was different. I was basically living alone (my roommate was not around a lot and anyway, roommates are different from significant others and/or family), I was able to work at home almost the entire time on a schedule almost entirely of my own making, and it was late summer and the weather was rather conducive to constant outside activity. I was also not in a big socializing mood, so “enjoying” my steamed kale with lemon was a lot easier. This time, I’m not as focused on the cleanse, for many reasons. So even though I knew what to expect, it’s not as easy. Even though I publicly announced I was going to, I almost wasn’t going to write about it at all, until Penny e-mailed me.

Penny’s a reader who found me while searching for information on the Standard Process three-week purification diet. She tried it once before and gave up after a few days, but she’s giving it another valiant go, starting soon. To this I say: PENNY, YOU CAN TOTALLY DO IT! I know you can. Herewith, some hints and tips to keep you on your path.

1. It is not easy. The first three to five days are the absolute hardest. Your body feels kinda whacked out, you’re hungry, you’re craving different foods (especially sugar). Just get through those first five days. Set yourself that little goal. You can do that much. Then once you’re through five days, you’ll say to yourself, I might as well go to seven, now that I’m here. And then you’ll have done a whole week!

2. Get organized before Day 1. Buy the following things: flax seed oil, juice, bananas, and frozen fruits for smoothies; eggs; frozen raw shrimp (find the recipe on my blog for an easy way to make them); at least one or two lean proteins like a steak or some chicken; lots and lots and lots of veggies and fruits. Get yourself situated.

3. When you steam your veggies, make extra so you have leftovers for lunch. Make your salads enormous so you fill up. And get creative. It’s spring! New fruit and veg are popping up all over the place! Ask if you’re allowed to use a little olive oil and vinegar; if not, use some lemon juice. Get creative. See that photo at the top? Fry an egg on high (in healthy oil) and put it on a salad like the photo below; it wilts the greens slightly and the runny yolk becomes part of the dressing.

with neighboring ingredients
4. Mix it up. DO NOT eat the same thing every day. You will want to kill everyone around you and yourself. Eat a variety of proteins (shrimp, scallops, calamari, fish, chicken, steak, etc.). Some days eat more steamed veg, some days eat more salads, some days have an extra smoothie.

5. Resign yourself to the fact that you are not going to be able to socialize as much during these three weeks, because socializing on this thing is hard. It requires an enormous amount of will-power. If you do socialize, it will not be in the way you normally do. You’ll have to drink only water (or, if you’re allowing yourself some coffee or tea, during your one coffee or tea moment of the day). You’ll have to eat whatever you can eat and not share the yummy stuff your friends are having. You can’t snack like everyone else is doing, unless there’s a fruit and veg plate out. You’ll have to be the pain in the ass person who dictates where you go because “um, that place? I don’t know if they have anything I can eat there.”

6. If it’s important for you to do it, and you feel you’re getting benefit from it, try to ignore those who want you to cheat or end early. Friends and family might think you’re crazy, or you’re not getting benefit, or you’re getting too skinny. But the thing about this “cleanse”? It’s not a crazy fast, it’s just a really strict, somewhat boring, very limited diet full of healthy, clean foods. And a lot of supplements*. If you’re following along — meaning you’re eating plenty of vegetables (especially the leafy green kind), fruits, and lean proteins — and if you’re feeling good, then stick to it. Listen to yourself and your body. You’ll know if something is wrong. And if something is wrong, then talk to whoever is monitoring your progress, and see if you should end it early.

7. Take notes! Keep daily progress reports. Not just what you’re eating, but how much physical activity you’re getting, whether you’re meditating (which I highly recommend, right after you wake up, starting with five minutes at a time), how you’re feeling. That way you can see your progress in writing and feel like you’re getting somewhere.


Me? I’m almost done. I don’t want sweets, except maybe a square of dark chocolate. What I want are basic carbs, like a piece of baguette. But I’m glad I did it, because I feel so much better. This time around I plan to maintain more of the “cleanse” diet in my everyday living. Unlike last time when it was a rather rapid descent back into bad habits. That way, maybe I can keep the cleanse for a once-a-year torture experience.

Healthy living, kids. Even that should be done in moderation.

*I can’t vouch for the safety of the supplements, nor do I have any scientific or clinical proof of their efficacy. I’m just going on my personal experience of this process, and I know that I feel much better, physically and mentally, after the three weeks than before. But as with anything of this nature, CONDUCT YOUR HEALTH PROFESSIONAL(S) BEFORE PROCEEDING. Seriously. Don’t be an idiot.

Momentum, loss of

Saturday, December 8th, 2007


Is this thing still on? Are you guys still there?

I know. A whole month! I was so good, for a whole month! Beyond good even – every day, two blogs, doing in my thing. And then it ended and I gave myself a day or two to catch my breath. I let myself relax and whammo, back to my bad old habits. Well, that and I had an awful lot to do, what with a million and one things to bake (handmade for the holidays, you know) and taking care of everything before I came back up to the East Bay for another ten days.

Oh, whatever, I suck, and there’s no use making excuses. BUT. I did bake an amazing amount of great stuff. I mean, wow. I made those Meyer lemon sablés, my favorite brownies, California fruit and nut bars with cocoa nibs, and marshmallows.

And pumpkin waffles.

And swiss chard with roasted poblano chiles and hominy, served atop white rice, alongside pan fried chicken.

Clearly, I have some catching up to do. And I will, I promise! First I have to finish giving a certain someone special a whirlwind tour of the East Bay, and then I’ll be back. I’ll even show you the cards I made to go with my goody bags of tastee-treets. OH THE EXCITEMENT. Can you handle it?

Assuming you’re all still here, of course!

NaBloNoMo, plus Shrimp and Braised Fennel

Friday, November 30th, 2007

gambas and braised fennel

I can’t believe I did it. I honestly cannot believe that I posted every single day on two blogs for 30 days. More importantly, I can’t believe November is over and December is here and 2008 is nearly upon us and oh God I think I just got short of breath from a touch of anxiety.

Today I got a little wild hair up my ass and decided it was well past high time to get on the organization train. Late this afternoon I went around town procuring items for baking (although what is up with most stores having only sweetened coconut?) and I scrubbed the holy hell out of my sink. We’re talking a serious deep clean – I soaked it in hot water and bleach, scoured it with Bar Keepers Friend (how that missing apostrophe breaks my heart) and with S.O.S. pads, used a toothbrush in the hard to reach places, and wiped it down repeatedly with paper towels and dish rags. Oooh, does that baby shine. It’s great! But also sort of a bummer because a) was it that dirty before and if so, ew and b) now I don’t want to use it.

gambas and braised fennel

I was going to start baking tonight, but by the time errands and sink spit-shining were done I was so hungry I could barely see straight. So instead I cooked, and messed up my nice pretty sink.

The other day, my mom (who is a physician) told me that fennel is supposedly very good for digestive problems. Well, boy howdy, and here’s me over here been dying to try that braised fennel with Meyer lemon and parmesan that Luisa wrote about earlier this year. And I have all these Meyer lemons lying around because I’m making so many of those Meyer lemon sablés. So at the store, I got some fennel, and tonight I made it.

There must be an error somewhere in whatever information my mom was given, because there’s no way something that tastes this fantastic can also be good for me – particularly not me of the endless digestive woes. Oooh, if this is good for me, I am in heaven.

I laid it atop some pre-made grits-in-a-tube (thank you Trader Joe’s! Like polenta-in-a-tube, only white) and I paired it with one of my favorite quick ‘n’ easy main dishes: gambas a la plancha. Or, at least, my version of them.

gambas and braised fennel

Do you have frozen shrimp in your freezer? No? You should. Especially if you are an IBS-sufferer. Frozen shrimp are so perfect and so very handy, when it is 7:30 p.m. and you are starving and you need to eat NOW and there is nothing in the fridge and you refuse to risk getting sick and you’re also not hauling your ass to the store. I have both the e-z to peel shell-on shrimp, as well as the pre-shelled kind; the latter come in handy when I’m putting the shrimp in something or need to chop them up into bits. I get both at Trader Joe’s, I’m sure you can find a similar version at a happenin’ store near you.

The rich saltiness of the shrimp played off the creaminess of both the fennel and the grits, and the deeply infused lemon flavor of the fennel gave the shrimp the extra bit of pizazz they needed. And the grits were the perfect foil to the powerful, complex flavors of the two stars. Best of all? It’s honestly good for you, IBSers and gluten-free people alike. Lactose-intolerant too, if you leave off the parmesan! Ah, a meal for the arsenal. So to speak.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go lick out the pot and re-scrub the sink.

Gambas a la Plancha, a la Leah

4 oz. jumbo shrimp, preferably shell on/e-z peel (16-20 count, so this will be about 5 or 6 large shrimp)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
Italian parsley, chopped (I know there’s none in the photo – in my rush to eat, I forgot to put it on)
lemon wedge

1. Defrost the shrimp: place in a strainer and run cold water over them for 5-7 minutes until they are defrosted. They’ll be nice and pliable.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft, 1-2 minutes. Before the garlic browns, add the red pepper flakes and cook for a minute more to release the flavor. Remember, the more you add, the spicier they will be – I usually do a sprinkle or three of the shaker.

3. Add the shrimp to the pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until bright pink. Turn the shrimp and cook on the other side. They should be bright pink on both sides, with a nice white inside. Do not overcook or you will have rubbery shrimp. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve with lemon on the side.

Serves 1

I’m A Space Cadet, Plus Some Romanesco Cauliflower

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

romanesco cauliflower

Oh my GOD, you guys. I am so out to lunch. Tonight I burned my favorite (but thankfully inexpensive) little stand-by pan, the 8″ omelet pan I use all the time, I mean all all all the time*. I got off the plane, got picked up by Mister Certain Someone and his dog, came home, and had to eat something. So I fried up some sausage and steamed some greens (that were somehow still good, after hanging around in the crisper drawer for I don’t know how long and don’t want to know and probably shouldn’t even be admitting this), while also adoring the cat, going through the mail, catching up on Internetty stuff, blogging, and watching TV. A little while – ok FINE, quite a while later – I’m on the couch, wondering why the smell of sausage is still so intense and why it’s still pretty smoky in the house and, no wait, why the house is filling up with smoke, HOLY CRAP I LEFT THE BURNER ON UNDER THE EMPTY PAN. Which meant the little cribbly bits in the pan and the wee smears of grease burnt up all nice and fused to the pan, making it a useful pan no more!

Thankfully the flame was low enough that there was no other damage besides the pan. Also, it’s good to know I am at least with-it enough to figure out what’s going on before it gets smoky enough in my house to make the smoke alarm go off. Let this be a lesson to us all: No cooking when overly tired, and less multi-tasking when cooking. See America, you need more rest and you need to SLOW DOWN. I am living proof of that. Rush, rush, rush, and all the things you don’t pay attention to burn down.

Wow, that’s deeper than I meant it to be.

romanesco cauliflower

So right, about that cauliflower! (How’s that for a totally fantastic segue?) On Saturday, my parents and I went to the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, and I was entranced by the Romanesco cauliflower. Some people like to call it fractal cauliflower, others (like my mother and apparently my grandmother) call it “alien sex organs.” If I have not totally turned you off eating it now, you should go buy some immediately, because it is beautiful and fascinating and fun and also tasty.

There are probably a million and one fancy ways to cook it. I wanted to roast it and make it all caramelly, but by the time dinner rolled around that would have taken too long, and I was hongry. So I did a quick and easy version of it one night, and it was tangy and sparkly, tender to the tooth but still firm. It’s a perfect “o noes, I have IBS and I better eat more veggies today but they take so long to cook whatever shall I do!” recipe. Go on and get some. Plus I hear alien sex organs are good for the digestive system.

cooked cauliflower

Sautéed Romanesco Cauliflower

1 large head Romanesco cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

1. Remove the tough bottom stem from the cauliflower, and cut it vertically into four quarters. Cut the quarters into slices 1/2″ thick. The cauliflower will crumble, and you may want to cut some of the florets into smaller pieces. Cut the center core into small chunks as well.

2. Heat a pan with about 1/2″ water and place the cauliflower into a steamer basket. When the water boils, place the steamer basket into the pot and cover, steaming until the cauliflower is just tender, about 4-5 minutes.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the steamed cauliflower and sauté until the cauliflower begins to brown. Add the Herbes de Provence, salt, pepper, and the vinegar (you may want to adjust the vinegar depending on how vinegary you like your food – start with less and work up, if you prefer). Sauté another minute or two more, until the cauliflower is nice and brown on the edges.

Serves 2.

*Why is it that the little cheapie items are always the ones I use the most? I have this one knife that I must have bought at a big grocery store, some really basic knife, maybe 4 or 4 1/2″? (I should measure it but that would require effort and right now I have to hurry so I can post this, so maybe I’ll be more specific later.) It’s just this basic $5 knife, larger than a paring knife but way smaller than a big serious knife, and I use it for everything. Even when I know damn well I should bust out the big guns and do some chopping, I’ll lazily slice away using my favorite one, a) because it’s always out and b) because it’s easy. Same with that little pan. Maybe I just like little utensils. I prefer teaspoons over soup spoons. Does anyone know where I’m going with this paragraph?

Today in Oh Hey Great: ok, you know what

Persimmons, for days and days

Monday, November 26th, 2007

persimmons into infinity

This year, I decided I like persimmons. Both fuyu (at the farmers’ market, above) and hachiya. I mean, I already liked them for their color (no surprise, as I am a huge fan of all things orange) but now I actually like the fruit part too.

So what are some good ideas to do with persimmons, besides just eat them? I’ve heard tales of a wonderful persimmon cookie, but I don’t have a good recipe. We have a whole tree full of hachiyas, waiting to ripen and be enjoyed. Come on, Internet, pony up. MAKE IT HAPPEN.

more persimmons!

Today in Oh Hey Great: the blues 

Up Your Arsenal!

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Build it up, I mean. Oh, puns, how you delight me!

About arsenals, though: Do you have one? Because I’ve been thinking lately about arsenals, and whether I even have one. Or many. You know: Recipe arsenals, style arsenals, entertaining arsenals, joke arsenals, foreign affairs knowledge arsenals, karaoke song arsenals, and so on.

This is not an excuse to say “arsenal” over and over again, and I don’t find the word “arsenal” funny, because I am not juvenile.

But so anyway, like I was saying, do you have an arsenal or two? A quiver of surefire hit makers, or at least a few little numbers that will get the job done? Say, recipes. I was thinking to myself whether I have what I consider to be tried & true recipes, or things I know will delight everyone, or stuff I can make with one eye closed. And the answer is: Kind of?

sea of sables

For instance, today I got to visit with two of my favorite people in the universe, in town from New York. We went over to another old friend’s house for a very impromptu lunch – we’re talking no more than 15 minute prep time. By the time we got there, she had a gorgeous spread almost entirely prepared for us. An elegantly arranged cheese platter with four types of cheese and her husband’s homemade tapenade; an arrangement of tomatoes with vinegar, parsley, and shallots, plus avocado and cucumber; edamame, olives, and chopped tomato relish; crostini with smoked salmon salad; and a big plate of ribs she just happened to have. All of this was artfully displayed on lovely serving platters and was accompanied by red wine.

Did I mention she has two small children and relatives in town?

sables in the sun

Sure, she’s always been the consummate hostess, very fabulous and together. Plus, she and her husband own a lovely cafe, and they cater, so they do have some experience with this. But this goes beyond experience and to the heart of an ability to throw things together, to rely on what you know, to make it happen. So of course I was thinking about whether I could pull something like that off with what I had lying around and make it look good.

Probably not. But I’ll keep trying.

So I’m working on beefing up my entertaining arsenal. Not just having the makings of an insta-feast neatly stockpiled in tins and jars in the cabinet, but working with recipes that are quick and easy, that I can throw together in a pinch, that don’t need to be fancy and intricate but make everyone happy and satisfied, that are simple but look pretty (’cos sometimes looking pretty is half the battle).

As far as other arsenals, I’m also building up the baking quiver – rather than flit around from recipe to recipe like I usually do, I’m working more on making favorites over and over, so they become second nature. Like, for instance, those sublime little Meyer lemon sablés that Molly wrote about just around this time last year. I made them once, after she posted them, and was entranced. So unassuming, so perfectly lemony, so crumbly-buttery-hint of salt-just sweet enough, these shortbread like cookies flecked with lemon zest won me over in a single bite. They they bowled over a wide swath of taste testers in the Southern California area – many of whom preferred them to classic chocolate chip and “is there a pound of chocolate in EACH cookie?” chocolate rads. They were greatly enjoyed by a certain someone’s father, who received a large bag of them for the holidays last year.

meyer lemon sables

This year? The little darling conquered Northern California. But the final vote into the Hall of Fame came from, of all people, my father – the man who mostly likes plain milk chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and that’s about it, no other sweets thanks. He turned to me at a stoplight on the way to the house from the airport and said, “Can I have another cookie?”

Folks, we have a winner. Put it in your arsenal.

Hee hee, arsenal.

Meyer Lemon Sablés
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte and Orangette

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs finely grated Meyer lemon zest (from about 2 good-size fruits)
¾ tsp coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup coarse Turbinado sugar, for rolling logs of dough

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder, and whisk to mix thoroughly. Set aside.

2. Put the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl). Beat (with the paddle attachment, if you’re using a stand mixer) on medium-low speed until the butter is creamy; then add the confectioner’s sugar and beat for a minute. Add the granulated sugar, and beat for a minute more. Sprinkle the lemon zest and salt into the bowl, and mix briefly to just combine. Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing briefly to incorporate after each addition. With the mixer on low, add the flour in three doses, mixing just until the flour is absorbed. Use a rubber spatula to do any last scraping and stirring; do not overmix. The dough will be quite thick and dense and sticky.

3. Divide the dough between two large sheets of wax paper. Using the paper as an aid, smoosh and roll and shape one blob of dough into a rough log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Roll up the log in the paper, and twist the ends to seal it closed. Repeat with the remaining blob of dough. Chill the two logs until the dough is cold and firm, at least two hours and up to a couple of days.

4. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and set a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Put a large sheet of parchment paper on the counter, and pour the Turbinado sugar onto it, making a ridge of sugar approximately the length of the dough logs. Remove a log from the fridge, unwrap it, and roll it lightly in the sugar to press the crystals into its sides. Coat the log as thoroughly as you can; then slice it into ¼-inch-thick slices. [I found that a thin paring knife works well.] Lay the slices on the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Refrigerate the remaining dough.

5. Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes or until just golden around the edges, rotating the sheet 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. [Keep in mind that the cookies will continue to brown a bit after you have removed them from the oven, so it’s best to err on the pale side.] Cool them on the silicone mat or parchment paper on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough.

6. Store the cookies in an airtight tin at room temperature for up to three days, or freeze them in a Tupperware, with a sheet of wax paper between each layer.

Yield: about 80 silver-dollar-size cookies

Today in Oh Hey Great: Assorted Items


Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

It’s so quiet over here. My neighborhood is never this silent. And I don’t just mean all the blogs and sites I usually read, I mean my actual neighbors. Everyone’s eating or napping or digesting or out of town or hiding out and ignoring the holiday altogether.

Me? I’m suffering as gracefully as I can manage, having put away a pile of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and prime rib and rolls and and and… that was a bad, bad idea, but tasted good, good, good going down. I’m thankful I got to eat it, and I’ll be thankful when I’m no longer questioning just how many more times I’m going to torment myself by going off the IBS diet.

But hey. It’s Thanksgiving. And I for one love this holiday, more than any other holiday out there. That’s probably no surprise to you – after all, what other holiday revolves more around food and spending time with people you (hopefully) like? So I’ll only complain this little tiny bit, and then it’ll be back to mostly healthy eating, along with a lot of baking for others.

meyer lemon sables

Yes, I baked more today. But do you mind terribly if I wait to tell you about it until tomorrow? All the blood has rushed from my brain to my stomach….

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gai Lan with Anchovies

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Oh boy. Here it is, the Monday before Thanksgiving, and I just now realized I haven’t said a whole lot about it. I’m not a very good food blogger, am I. Like most everyone else, I think I had too much going on in the weeks leading up to this one – that minor detail of the dissertation proposal defense – and the time just got away from me. Not to mention the stress. So I’m feeling all at loose ends.

Oddly – for me, anyway, notoriously big on idle consideration and low on active motivation when it comes to homemade gifts – I’m getting all jazzed about making cookies, candy, and other goodies to give away over the next month. The brownies got me in the mood, and I’ve been getting recipes in order and procuring ingredients. I keep thinking of more and more ideas, more must bakes. In fact, I think my “oooh, and then I can make” list is getting out of hand.

But in all this decadence, there has to be a little bit of healthiness. Okay, let’s be realistic: For some of us, there has to be a lot of healthiness, and we can touch very little of the decadence. I keep trying to find healthy recipes to mix in, to keep us balanced and, you know, moving.

Gai Lan with Anchovies

So I feel kind of bad that I’m presenting you with a recipe about which I’m kind of ambivalent.

A while back, I wanted to make some gai lan (Chinese broccoli) after I grabbed a bag on a whim at the farmers’ market. I very nearly made Luisa’s favorite recipe, from The Splendid Table, which I had made before. Instead, I decided to branch out and try a recipe I found in The New York Times magazine for gai lan with anchovies. Some time during the last year or two – I think it was when I finally made Nancy Silverton’s glorious bagna cauda with papardelle – I discovered a love for anchovies. Previously, my experience with them had been limited to a very youthful “I don’t want no anchokies on my pizza,” so it was nice to know my taste buds had grown up and branched out. Anyway, the combo of gai lan, anchovies, and nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) sounded pretty unbeatable. I went for it.

And, of course, was sort of disappointed. The broccoli was overwhelmed. The dish was just too salty. This was compounded by the fact that, in my low-carb way, I didn’t have any rice to cut the saltiness. I missed the more delicate flavor of the ginger. I think I may have pouted a little.

This recipe isn’t a total loss, though, so I’m providing the original version here, as I made it. I’m considering working with it again, and I encourage you to as well (despite this less than glowing review). Maybe cut down a bit on the anchovies, or use a lighter chicken broth or stock. Or both. I think I’ll also include some hot peppers next time. Give it a try and tell me how you find it.

Meanwhile, I’m going to be over here, trying to find my holiday spirit for the week.

Gai Lan with Anchovies

Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) With Anchovies
From The New York Times

1 pound gai lan, rinsed and trimmed
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon minced garlic
8 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons rice wine
¼ cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
Cooked white rice, optional.

1. Split the large stalks of gai lan in half lengthwise.

2. Place a large sauté pan over high heat and add the oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and anchovies and cook, pressing on the anchovies with a wooden spoon until they dissolve and the garlic lightly browns.

3. Add the gai lan and toss in the sauce to coat. Pour in the rice wine and let it reduce for 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and fish sauce, bring to a boil, cover and steam until almost tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and cook at a lively simmer until the gai lan is tender and the sauce has evaporated slightly.

Serves 2

Palm Beach Brownies, AKA Seriously Rich Brownies

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Palm Beach Brownies

Last night a very wonderful, sweet, and generous certain someone treated me to a tremendous celebratory meal at Ikko, one of my favorite restaurants in Orange County. Not only is Ikko one of best sushi restaurants I’ve ever been to in my life, it’s one of my favorite restaurants period. Interestingly, some of the best sushi I’ve ever had has been here in Orange County, better than anything I’ve eaten in the Bay Area, New York, L.A., or DC. Granted, I’ve never been to Nobu, but the quality of the fish I’ve eaten in the past four years and the creativity and presentation have been phenomenal.

For instance, it was here in O.C. that I discovered my love for uni, or sea urchin. A lot of people, even dedicated sushi eaters, are not fans of uni, with its vaguely gelatinous, blobby yellow appearance, perched precariously atop its wee bed of rice. But when I finally tried a piece of uni – and I mean fresh and high quality uni – it was a transcendent experience. It was as if someone had taken the ocean and turned it into the creamiest, sweet-saltiest custard. I placed sushi in my mouth and the uni literally melted away, the sea seeming to explode over my taste buds. The rice was more than a platform: Each individual grain also became coated in rich flavor as the urchin dissolved on my tongue, creating a progressively more textured uni experience. I was hooked.

At Ikko last night we had uni in a different presentation: laid on beds of thinly sliced, tender scallops, topped with black truffle and salt. It was captivating. Among our other appetizers were sea cucumber in a briny, faintly juniper nectar; a roasted onion topped with freshly-herbed cream cheese and large salmon roe; a ricotta-tofu mixture drizzled with oil and toasted soba seeds. We found ourselves entranced by raw wild salmon topped with thin slices of ginger, wild baby Amberjack, and wild small baby Yellowtail. Every time we looked up, a new dish was dazzling us.

And guess who forgot her camera.

So to make it up to you, I baked brownies.

Palm Beach Brownies

No, they’re not IBS-friendly. No, they’re not gluten-free. No, they’re not in anyway as gorgeous and mind-blowing and creative as the dishes we had last night. But they are made using my favorite brownie recipe of all time. They are the richest of the rich, the fudgiest, crackliest, most decadent brownies I know of. They will make your friends and family fall silent in awe when you present them at parties, dinners, and as gifts this holiday season. And they are from the 1980 version of Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, which I stole from my mom (thanks mom!). I mean, I am trying to make it up to you the best I can here.

I love me some Maida Heatter. She’s part of the reason I bake, I think. Two of her cookbooks have been in my consciousness for most of my life, so I’ve always connected baking desserts with Maida Heatter. And really, what better person to guide you as you learn to bake? Her books feature recipes both indulgent and useful (sometimes both at the same time); her writing, while not as exacting as some authors, is simultaneously informative, helpful, conversational, and comforting; and she’s a baking legend. I don’t even know what her updated cookbooks are like. I’ve been reading the ones my mom has (or, um, had) for as long as I can remember, and they’ve never failed. Which is why I’m eying Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, the other book still on my mom’s shelf. Did I just say that in my out loud voice?

Palm Beach Brownies

But you want to know more about these brownies. And who can blame you. How’s about I let Maida tell you herself?

These are the biggest, thickest, gooiest, chewiest, darkest, sweetest, mostest-of-the most chocolate bars with an almost wet middle and a crisp-crunchy top. It is best to bake them a day before–they can not be cut into bars when they are too fresh.

Palm Beach Brownies

Does the woman exaggerate? No, sirree, she does NOT. I am telling you straight, these brownies will knock you silly. We are talking serious chocolate here, my lovelies. Chocolate for days. Even real chocoholics will have to take a break midway through a brownie and revel in the presence of a true chocola-teer. If there is someone you need to hear positivity from, cram one of these babies in his or her mouth, and you won’t hear a negative peep for at least 10 minutes. They’ll be gobsmacked.

This is a recipe that has vanilla and almond and espresso, meaning those of us who like to tinker don’t have to do a darn thing. I recommend cutting these into smaller brownies, because they are so, so rich. Oh, and see how she says you can’t cut them when they are too fresh? She repeats that warning again in the recipe. Please do as she says and not as I did. Remember: She is the expert. I am the impatient blogger. It is much easier to cut them the next day, after they’ve had a night to rest in the fridge.

Of course, that assumes you can wait that long, what with your house smelling like Willy Wonka’s factory. Do what you can and listen to the nice lady. Maybe go out for some sushi?

Palm Beach Brownies

Palm Beach Brownies
From Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts (1980)

16 huge or 24 more extra-large brownies

8 ounces (8 squares) unsweetened chocolate [Leah says: I have used both Baker's and Ghirardelli, with excellent results]
8 ounces (2 sticks) sweet butter
5 eggs (graded large or extra-large) [Leah says: I use large]
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons dry instant espresso or other powdered (not granular) instant coffee
3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
8 ounces (2 generous cups) walnuts halves or large pieces [Leah says: Optional. I don't usually like nuts in brownies, so I have never added these. Although I bet they would be good here, because these are so damn rich]

1. Adjust rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan as follows: Invert the pan, cover it with a long piece of aluminum foil, and with your hands press down on the foil around the sides and the corners to shape it like the pan. Remove the foil. Turn the pan right side up, and place the foil in the pan. Very carefully (without tearing it) press the foil into place in the pan. Now butter the foil with soft or melted butter. The easiest way is to place a piece of butter in the pan, place the pan in the oven while it is warming up, and when the butter is melted use a pastry brush to spread it all over the sides and bottom of the foil. Set the prepared pan aside.

2. Place the chocolate and the butter in the top of a large double boiler over hot water on moderate heat, or in a 4 to 6 cup heavy saucepan over very low heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and the butter are melted. Stir to mix. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the vanilla, almond extract, salt, dry instant coffee, and sugar at high speed for 10 minutes. On low speed add the chocolate mixture and beat only until mixed. Then add the flour and again beat only until mixed. Remove from the mixer and stir in the nuts.

4. Turn into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 minutes, reversing the pan front to back as necessary during baking to insure even baking. Cover loosely with foil for about the last half of the baking time to prevent over browning. At the end of 35 minutes the cake will have a thick, crisp crust on the top, but if you insert a toothpick into the middle it will come out wet and covered with chocolate. Nevertheless, it is done. Do not bake it anymore.

5. Remove the cake from the oven and let stand at room temperature until cool. Then cover with a rack or a cookie sheet and invert. Remove the pan and the foil lining. Cover with a cookie sheet and invert again, leaving the cake right side up.

6. It is best to refrigerate the cake overnight before cutting (at room temperature it is too sticky to cut). Use a serrated French bread knife. It will be necessary to wash and dry the blade several times while cutting. First cut the cake in half, cutting through the long sides. If the cake was baked correctly, the edges will be too dark and dry; trim about 1/4 inch or so as necessary from the edges.

7. The cake will be 1 1/4 inches thick. Cut into 24 huge Brownies, or 32 large ones. (See Note.)

8. Either wrap the Brownies individually in clear cellophane, aluminum foil, or wax paper, or package them in an airtight container. Refrigerate and serve cold.

NOTE: I cut the Brownies into 24 bars, and then often, just before serving, I cut each bar in half the long way.

[See? How can you not love her? She capitalizes Brownie.]

oh chocolate

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