December 17, 2013
On Sunday I woke up from an early afternoon nap with a seasonal itch to bake cookies.
Now, at any given moment I carry around in my brain a list of recently acquired, exciting ingredients I want to use, and in my half-slumber I started to review them. Jumping to the forefront were the broken walnuts I'd gotten for a good price at the organic store -- if you're going to chop them, why buy whole kernels? -- and a handsome bag of grated chocolate from Alain Ducasse's bean-to-bar manufacture*, which I'd been sneaking a spoonful of here and there while trying to think of a more respectable use for it.
Chocolate walnut cookies; that's what I was going to make.
I wanted a simple, one-bowl cookie base that would get me from start to finish in under an hour, and I wanted something reasonably nutritious so I could share with my toddler without triggering a surprise inspection from the bad parent police. The recipe for these walnut and date cookies, which I've been making regularly for the past three years, fit the bill perfectly.
Rice flour and rolled millet, equal parts finely chopped walnuts and grated chocolate, a little cinnamon and a sprinkle of sea salt on top -- these were easily made, swiftly shaped into small pucks, and soon inserted into the oven. The only difficulty then was to find activities tempting enough to distract said child from the oven, at which he would otherwise be pointing while repeating, with increasing urgency, "Gâteau ! Gâteau !"
And once the cookies had cooled on the window sill, we all agreed they were well worth the wait: crisp-edged but tender in the middle, rich with the perfect flavor combo of walnut and chocolate, they were the ideal snack for the Christmas tree decorating session we held later that day, with glasses of mulled apple cider for the grownups.
Join the conversation!
What would you have done with the broken walnuts and grated chocolate? (I have some of both left.) And are there snacks you particularly like to keep around this time of year?
*Disclosure: I received the bag of grated chocolate from Alain Ducasse's PR department, with no obligation to write about it. All opinions expressed are my own.
December 11, 2013
Whenever I get to stay in an apartment away from my own, my first order of business is to secure the makings of a good breakfast for the next morning. And when we arrived in San Francisco last month, we got to do so at the nearby Bi-Rite Market.
I first collected a bunch of farm-direct, organic apples from one of the produce baskets at the front, picked up a half-gallon of orange juice from the refrigerated section, then made my way straight to the nut butter aisle.
There, I surveyed the scene, picked up this and that jar, compared ingredients and prices, and set my heart on the lightly salted, crunchy almond butter from G.L. Alfieri. I adore lightly salted, crunchy peanut butter, but had never tried it in its almond incarnation; clearly I was missing out.
And this choice turned out to be one of the gastronomic highlights of the entire trip: the almond butter base was vibrantly flavorful, the salt dosage perfect, and the crunchy almond bits, well, what grinch doesn't like crunchy almond bits?
We went through the jar at such a clip that we soon had to buy a second one, and the first kitchen project I undertook on our return was to recreate it with the ingredients I can get in France: here, we get a choice between blanched and unblanched almond butter (purée d'amandes blanches or purée d'amandes complètes), but sadly, no salted or crunchy options for us Gauls.
It took a few tries, but I nailed the formula, using Jean Hervé's whole almond butter: it is made with Sicily almonds stone-ground at low temperature, and it is the closest in flavor to the Alfieri almond butter; the Naturalia brand is a bit cheaper, but the almond taste is less refined. To that I added unblanched almonds, toasted and evenly chopped*, and some grey (or unrefined) sea salt.
It's a pretty simple preparation, but one that is a significant step up from regular old smooth almond butter: the salt bolsters the almond flavor, and the roasted crunch of the almond nibs makes a fine thing even finer.
And it is the key component of my current breakfast of choice: a crisp, tart apple cut into slices, dusted liberally with freshly grated Saigon cinnamon, and dipped into a good dollop of the lightly salted, crunchy almond butter. It is both refreshing and satisfying, and I find it holds me over until lunchtime.
Now, I have also brought back a pretty jar of this pecan peanut butter with wildflower honey and sea salt from Big Spoon Roasters, and I suspect this may have to be my next Pimp My Nut Butter project.
* I wanted my almond bits to be as evenly sized as possible, and was looking to minimize the almond dust that is unfailingly created when chopping nuts. I thought long and hard about the best method to achieve that, and this is how I do it: I spread the almonds out in a single layer on the cutting board, and chop them in close parallel cuts with a sharp knife. I rotate the cutting board by a quarter turn, and chop the almonds again so that this second series of cuts is perpendicular to the first. I then inspect the almond pieces and re-chop any that seem a bit too big. And I add everything -- inevitable almond dust and all -- to the almond butter.
December 3, 2013
When Brad Bernhart got in touch a few weeks ago to tell me about his Montana-based woodworking operation, I was instantly drawn to his tone and philosophy. Brad is a trained mechanical engineer who took to carving wooden utensils in his spare time, and found that people were so enthused by his innovative designs that he decided to launch his own company, Earlywood, two years ago.
I feel a natural kinship with people who take a leap of faith and reinvent themselves, and I am also deeply drawn to beautifully crafted wooden objects, so I enthusiastically accepted Brad's offer to send me a few of his best-sellers.
When the package arrived I disrobed the items from the tissue paper one by one, and as I first held the biggest spoon in my hand -- a ladle made of jatoba wood -- I felt a flutter, a thrill, unlike anything I've ever felt holding a kitchen utensil.
The heft of it in my palm, the simple elegance of the shape, the fine grain of the wood, all conspired to make this feel like an extraordinary object, one that is equal parts beauty and function.
In the selection there were also different-size sauté spatulas made of Mexican ebony, which have quickly displaced the wooden spoons I normally use; gorgeous bloodwood scrapers designed to comfortably handle the toughest jobs in your kitchen; and a set of attractive spreaders, which look like wooden butter knives and have already become a favorite to spread almond butter on my morning toast.
In addition to being smitten with the products themselves, I am also impressed with Brad's approach: in how much detail he describes the different wood types he uses, how he's gotten involved with a reforestation effort to help compensate for the resources he uses, how forthcoming he was when I inquired about the food-safe mineral oil he uses to finish his utensils**, and how remarkably affordable his products are.
And now, for the giveaway!
December 2, 2013
A few of my favorite finds and reads for November:
~ 11 Chocolatiers worth traveling for, a piece I wrote for FlipKey.
~ Alice Medrich shares her favorite technique for melting chocolate.
~ The cult of the French pastry chef.
~ Are food blogs helping or hurting your waistline?
~ Where to find independent farmers in Paris?
~ Why do female chefs get overlooked?
~ And yet: the new generation of female French chefs (in French).
November 26, 2013
When I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I met up with my long-time friend and fellow blogger Elise, who very kindly showed up with homemade chocolate biscotti, and a few pieces of fruit from her garden.
Among them was a pomegranate, and I had to pick my jaw up from the floor. To a Parisian kid, pomegranates (grenades in French) are super exotic, the kind of fruit that must grow in some faraway tropical forest with multicolored birds and monkeys flying around, the kind of fruit that should also (once the kid is all grown up and environmentally conscious) be eaten in moderation because of the carbon footprint.
Yet I adore pomegranates. I love biting into their little seeds bursting with tart juice, and I love sprinkling them on stewed vegetables and on salads, especially the raw kale salad with avocado and cilantro that I made a few times in San Francisco.
So I received this local pomegranate with great joy, and as I was about to cut it open and harvest the seeds -- standing at Heidi's beautiful marble counter -- I thought I'd take a few quick pictures to share the technique with you in case you're new to this whole pomegranate opening thing.
(I have only just heard about this wooden-spoon whacking technique, and will have to try that next time, though I have yet to be convinced it saves that much time. Also: the violence of it!)
0. Before you begin, put on an apron and roll up your sleeves; pomegranate juice is a gorgeous ruby pink color, yes, but do you want it polka-dotting your clothes?
1. Using a sharp knife, cut a slice off the top and the bottom of the fruit, just to uncover the seeds. Make four vertical cuts all around the fruit, cutting through the rind just until you reach the seeds but not slicing into them.
November 20, 2013
We had a blissfully relaxing, inspiring, and delicious vacation. It was crazy good to be back, catch up with friends and family, and meet some of you lovely readers at my Omnivore Books signing. And now that I am starting to crawl out from under the pile of work that awaited me on my return (not that I'm complaining), I would like to revisit some of our favorite eats and share them with you if you're game.
~ Thriving on a diet of (almost) one ice cream a day -- mostly from Bi-Rite Creamery on Divisadero (outstanding walnut maple banana ice cream sandwiches); but also from Smitten in Haighs Valley, where the ice cream is freshly mixed and churned in liquid nitrogen before your very eyes (pictured above: TCHO chocolate, and maple brown sugar squash); and, on a slightly less refined, but no less enjoyable level, from Easy Breezy in Noe Valley, where the organic frozen yogurt and toppings are self-serve (dangerous!) and you pay by the weight.
~ Eating kale of all kinds practically every day, and especially loving the red kale salad I made a couple of times with avocado, cilantro, and pomegranate seeds (pictured above).