Recipe: Nobu Miso Black Cod

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Most people who know me know that I am not much of a traditionalist. Although my father’s side of the family was devoutly Catholic and from Eastern Europe (tradition, anyone?), my mother’s side of the family was very much a bunch of rough-and-tumble ‘Mericans from Oakland, CA. I was the third generation in my family to be brought up in Oakland, and as a result I feel that most of the “culture” I have is a mish-mash of old-world sensibilities rooted in the soils of the Bay Area.

So, what does that mean exactly? For one, it means I don’t cook turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s a ridiculous holiday to begin with, and I cringe every time someone wants to go around the table to say what they are thankful for. Come December, my Christmas tree is adorned with disco balls, chickens, and Star Trek memorabilia. I shop for holiday wrapping paper in the Birthday section. My husband is Jewish, so every year we throw a Christmukkah party (although this year, it was Thanksgivingukkah). My point is, we don’t follow any rules, and we have a great time.

Today I am going to share with you one of my favorite Winter dishes. I’ve served it twice as the main course for Thanksgiving. Anyone who has spent T-Day with us and experienced this Miso Black Cod will tell you about the time a crowd of people stood in my kitchen after dinner was finished, picking the leftover scraps of black cod from the serving platter. I made it again this year, but with a more all-encompassing Japanese theme. Turkey can suck it.

The great thing about this dish is the ease of preparation. It may seem fussy (3 day marinade? Searing in the broiler?), but I assure you that it’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s all about patience and technique. The 3-day marinade changes the fish in a way that is hard to explain – it becomes firmer while still being melty, tender, succulent, and other-worldy. I’ve tried to speed it up and do a 1-day marinade, and it really isn’t the same. So give yourself as much time as you can – 2 or 3 days is ideal.

blackcod_freshThe most important thing to consider when making this dish is the freshness of the black cod. You are going to be marinating it for 3 days, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t touch 3-day old fish with a 10 foot pole. My working theory is that the salt in the miso acts as a sort of cure, slowly drawing the moisture out of the fish. My advice is to get your black cod right from the source (fisherman), or as close to the source as you can. I get my fish from One Ocean Seafood – the owner does FREE home delivery, and if you work with him you can find out what days he gets his fresh-caught local fish on. My Thanksgiving black cod (from Monterey) was caught on Tuesday morning and served on Thursday evening.

Black Cod, also known as Sablefish, is a very oily fish that is not actually cod at all. Because of it’s high oil content, it is difficult to over-cook. This is a great recipe for people who are not normally comfortable cooking fish. We get it locally here from Monterey and Half Moon Bay – buy the local stuff if you can.

Anyhow, here’s the recipe. It’s from Nobu Matsuhisa, a celebrity chef who owns the high-end Nobu restaurant chain. If you’ve ever seen the $30 “Miso Black Cod” on the menu at any Japanese restaurant (many places serve variations on this dish), this is what you’ll get – although yours will be better and much cheaper.

Nobu Miso Black Cod

Ingredients:

For Saikyo Miso Marinade
3/4 c. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
1/2 c. saké (Japanese rice wine)
2 c. white miso paste (aka shiro miso)
1-1/4 c. organic white sugar

For cod
4 black cod fillets, about 1/2 lb. each
3 cups prepared Saikyo miso

Method:

Make the Saikyo miso marinade

  1. Bring the saké and mirin to a boil, and boil for 30 seconds (this cooks off the alcohol).
  2. Lower the temperature to low and add the miso paste. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
  3. When the miso has dissolved completely, turn the heat back up to high and add the sugar.
  4. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  6. Reserve a small amount of the miso marinade for serving.


Prepare the black cod

  1. Rinse the black cod fillets and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Trim any ugly bits from the fillets.
  3. Place fillets into a non-reactive bowl or container and slather with the cooled Saikyo miso marinade.
  4. Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator.
  5. Flip the fillets once during the 2-3 day marinade.


Cook the black cod (2-3 days later)

  1. Pre-heat your broiler.
  2. Remove the fillets from the container and wipe off the excess miso (but do not rinse).
  3. Cut the marinated fillets into 4-5 oz serving-sized pieces.
  4. Place the fillets skin-side down on a broiler-safe, foil-lined, low-rimmed dish or on aluminum foil.
  5. Place fillets into your pre-heated broiler and broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the tops of the fish begin to blacken and caramelize (see photo). Remove from broiler.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place fillets into the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Remove the bones from the cooked fish with a pair of tweezers prior to serving, or just warn your guests that there will be small bones in the fish.

That’s it, really! You can serve this with a little bit of the miso marinade you reserved on day 1 on the side. Nobu recommends serving with a stalk of Hajikami, which I have never been able to find commercially (I make my own). You could serve it with pickled sushi ginger instead. This dish is also complimented well with cooked greens such as spinach. The slight bitterness is a nice counter-point to the sweetness of the fish.

As for wine pairing, any white wine with little or no oak would be great with this. I would suggest something with a tiny bit of residual sugar (but not a sweet wine) and medium to full body. Our 2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc comes to mind. It would also be fantastic with Champagne.

Let us know if you have any questions about this recipe in the comments.

Recipe: Pie Crust a la Rose (Levy Beranbaum)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s Thanksgiving, so let’s talk about pie crust, y’all. I started making pie crust with my grandma – affectionately called Yakima Grandma, because, well, she lives in Yakima, WA. Yakima is in the agricultural heart of Washington state, so I grew up making apple, peach, and other fruit pies with her. We always used a shortening-based crust. That’s just how I learned. I remember the finesse with which she moved her hands and manipulated the dough, and how perfect the pie came out – every freaking time. As I got into cooking myself, I became attracted to the science-based work of Alton Brown and Harold McGee, and eventually, Rose Levy Beranbaum. I think actually Shuna Lydon first led me to Beranbaum, but I’ve never looked back. I’ve got at least two of her cookbooks, and my copy of The Pie and Pastry Bible is well-worn and commonly spotted on the counter. I can’t get enough of it. She really knows the hows and whys of flour and all the great things you can do with it. And her pie crust recipe works for me, every time. It’s specific, hoo boy, but if you follow it, the payoff is great. I’ll re-post her recipe here, with some details, tips, and tricks to guide you through the process. This recipe does require a food processor. I’ve tried to do without, in a pinch, and it really just doesn’t work the same. If you don’t have a food processor, stick with whatever recipe is working for you so far!

Rose’s Favorite Flaky and Tender Pie Crust
(An update of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s original cream cheese pie crust from The Pie and Pastry Bible)

Ingredients
Enough for two single-crust pies, or one double-crust pie

6 oz frozen butter (12 T)
10.5 oz frozen pastry flour
4.5 oz cream cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 T heavy cream
1 T cider vinegar

A note on ingredients: there are only 7 ingredients in this recipe, which means each one counts. You should get the best of each one that you can manage, but definitely buy the absolute best butter, heavy cream, and cream cheese you can find and afford. The better taste will reward you in the final product, I promise.

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A note about the coldness: It’s your pie crust’s best friend and the secret to all your success here. The ingredients really do need to be as cold as possible. Start by slicing your butter into cubes, then put the cubes on a small plate and freeze them for about 20 minutes. Make sure your heavy cream and cream cheese are coming straight from the refrigerator. As for your pastry flour, I just keep a small bag in the freezer for pie crust time. It’s easy and convenient.

Method
Measure your flour, salt, and baking powder, then  combine them in the bowl of your food processor. Run the processor for about 10-20 seconds to combine the dry ingredients thoroughly.

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Slice the cream cheese into 3-4 small chunks, and add them to the bowl of the food processor all at once. Close the lid, leave your hand over the spout to keep the processor from bouncing all over the counter, and turn it on. Let the processor run for about 20 seconds. You want the cream cheese to get fully integrated at this point, the the final product will look like damp sand, and you won’t be able to find any cream cheese chunks. You want chunks of butter in the pastry, not chunks of cream cheese. The cream cheese just ups the flavor and fat content of the dough.

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Once the dough looks like it does below, you’re ready to add the butter. See how it looks fluffy, like fresh snow or damp sand? You can’t see any cream cheese, but you know there’s something adding moisture and fat to the flour mixture, which is exactly what you want.

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Next, add the frozen chunks of butter to the food processor. Generally, I add about 2/3 of the butter, pulse for about two seconds, then add the second batch. From here, you’ll want to pulse it somewhere between 10-20 times or so, total. Start with 5, then take the lid off. Grab a fork, and toss the mixture around a little. Does it look like there are massive boulders of butter in the bowl? If so, you’re not done yet. Pulse again 5 more times, and toss. Keep going until the pieces you can see are, as Beranbaum says, the size of peanuts. Below, we are about at the peanut stage. You don’t want to over mix, so go gently and carefully along, a few pulses at a time, tossing and checking.

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Once you get to the stage here, with the butter peanuts, it’s time to add the liquid. Take the lid off the processor, and add in the heavy cream and the cider vinegar. Pulse a few times (say, 3-5) to combine. Toss with the fork and check to make sure all the liquid is integrated. Scrape down the sides and the corner edge of the food processor bowl, because liquid can collect there. Give it 1-2 more pulses, and you’re done. That’s it! What? It doesn’t look like pie crust? It looks more like crumble topping? I know, I know. This is where the magic happens.

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Take a small chunk of the crumbly mixture in your hand, and squeeze. Does it hold together in a ball, like play-doh? If it crumbles apart, you should run the processor for 1-2 more pulses and check again. If it still won’t hold, add a half tablespoon more heavy cream and pulse 1-2 more times. Once it will hold together, you know you’re golden. It should look like this.

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Since the recipe we just made is for a double crust pie, you’ll need to divide the dough into two separate ziploc bags. I am a fanatic, and I weigh the contents. This dough will come out to around 21-22oz, so approximately 11 oz per bag is where you want to be. Dump your portioned crust into the ziploc bag, and start kneading – hands on the outside of the bag, dough on the inside. Use your palms and knuckles for this job. You’re incorporating the moisture further, and also developing gluten, which will help it hold together and become flexible and workable when rolling. It will take about 2-3 minutes of kneading to get the dough to form into a ball, and you’ll be surprised and impressed when that bag of crumbs turns into a disk, almost as if by accident. Once you can make a ball with the dough, you will want to flatten it into a workable disk. You can then take the disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it back in the ziploc bag, and store it in the freezer for several months. Or, since Thanksgiving is in a few days, just throw this bag into the refrigerator and pull it out 15 minutes before you need to start rolling your crust.

Did I answer your questions? Are you now a newly competent and confident baker? Do you have other worries? Let me know in the comments!

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Recipe: Roasted Little Birds with Garlic-Herb Butter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese delicious little birds are a fantastic Thanksgiving alternative for those who don’t have the time, space or appetite for a whole turkey. They take just an hour or two from start to finish and make the perfect serving size.

This recipe will serve 2­-4 people, depending on how hungry you are. I like to cut the finished birds in half, down the middle, and serve 1⁄2 per person… but I could easily eat a whole one.

We recommend pairing these delicious little birds with a bright and fresh Pinot Noir like the Verse Carneros Pinot Noir, or a full-bodied white wine with acidity and herbal notes such as our La Clarine White Blend No. 1. Both of these wines are offered in our Fall wine club lineup.

If you want to create a complete meal, you could serve these guys with our Raw Kale Harvest Salad and Savory Chanterelle & Gruyere Bread Pudding. All of these dishes are amazing together and would be sure to impress your Thanksgiving guests!

Special Tools:
Butcher’s twine
Meat thermometer
Oven­proof skillet (stainless steel, cast iron, etc) 

Ingredients:
2 Cornish Game Hens, about 1 or 1.5 lb. each.
Salt
Pepper

For the garlic herb compound butter:
2 tsp finely chopped oregano
2 tsp finely chopped thyme
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup butter (1⁄2 stick)

Method

  1. Pre­heat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Rinse cornish hens and pat dry with a paper towel, inside and out. Salt the cavity of the bird liberally with sea or kosher salt.
  3. Make the compound butter by fork­-mashing the butter with the chopped herbs, garlic and salt.
  4. Run your forefinger between the hen’s breast meat and the skin (making a pocket), then stuff some compound butter under skin. Distribute it evenly under the skin and over the breast meat by patting it down from the outside. Do not put butter on the outside of the bird, as it will prevent the skin from crisping in the oven.
  5. Truss your hens with butcher’s twine. This makes the birds more compact, and they will cook more evenly. Trussing also makes for a more visually appealing finished product. Click here for instructions on trussing.
  6. Salt & pepper the outside of the hens.
  7. Heat a large oven­-proof skillet over medium-­high heat. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil & heat until the oil shimmers. Once hot, place the birds breast-­side up on the skillet. Brown the bottom of the birds and the sides of the birds, but NOT the breast of the birds. This should only take a few minutes.
  8. Once the sides and bottoms of your hens are crispy and brown, pop the whole skillet into your hot oven. Roast for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your hens. Baste the birds with the pan juices every 15 minutes or so. Your birds are finished when a meat thermometer inserted into the dark meat reads 165 degrees and the skin is brown and crispy. Let rest for 5-­10 minutes.
  9. Butterfly and separate into halves with poultry shears or serve them whole with a sprig of thyme as a garnish. I like to serve them with a little side of dijon mustard.

Secret Wine Club: Jura

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis weekend, Colleen and I hosted another wine tasting for our friends. The theme was Jura wines.

The Jura is a a cool-climate, mountainous region in France between Burgundy and Switzerland, and is composed of six regions including Arbois, Macvin du Jura, Côtes du Jura, Crémant du Jura, Château-Chalon, and L’Étoile. Within these regions, wines are produced from poulsard, trousseau, savagnin, chardonnay, and pinot noir. White, red, rosé and sparkling wines are produced from these grapes.

The most famous wine from the Jura is called vin jaune (literally, yellow wine). This wine is made from the white savagnin grape which is picked when it’s very ripe. The finished wine is put into large oak barriques, and is allowed to evaporate through the staves of the barrel until a pocket of air forms at the top. A special strain of indigenous yeast forms a veil (or voile, au Français) over the surface of the wine, imparting a unique salinity and oxidative quality that gives vin jaune it’s trademark aroma and flavor. Vin jaune is quite intense, an acquired taste, and very hard to find.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany white wines from the Jura have a similar (but not as intense) oxidative quality to them, since they are often made in the same method. However, the difference between vin jaune and standard white wine from the Jura is the duration for which it’s aged. Vin jaune must be aged for a minimum of 6 years, while other white wines aren’t required to age for as long. Some whites from the Jura are aged in a barrel without that pocket of air, creating wines that are still very uniquely Jura, but much fresher in flavor and less intense.

The red wines from the Jura are very unique as well, and a little more approachable than their white counterparts. The reds are light but structured, with aromas of fruit, spice and earth. Poulsard makes the lightest of the red wines, while trousseau makes more robust (but still pretty light) reds. Pinot noir is also grown in the Jura and made into red wine, but the straight varietal wines are difficult to find.

Our wine list for the evening:
2011 Les Dolomies Savagnin, Côtes du Jura
2009 Domaine de Montborgeau Chardonnay/Savagnin, L’Etoile
NV Phillipe Bornard “Tant-Mieux” Pétillant Naturel of Poulsard
2012 Michel Gahier Trousseau, “Les Grands Vergers”, Arbois
2011 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard, Arbois
2006 Jacques Puffeney Vin Jaune, Arbois

Choosing the correct food pairings for these wines was really fun, as they are wonderful with food and the Jura has some really interesting regional culinary specialties. Wild mushrooms seemed to be quite common in the Jura, and in the winter I’ve been told that potatoes topped with melted raclette are a staple. The Jura is also a fly-fishing destination (weird, right?), so I wanted to make something out of freshwater fish. We also found some regional cheeses, and a rustic cream tart sort of thing called a Toétché, for which I could only find a recipe in French. Our resident Francophile Colleen was able to follow it just fine, no surprise there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur menu for the evening:
Toétché (above)
Trout rillettes
Fresh baugette
Sautéed wild mushrooms (yellow foot, black trumpet, oyster, hedgehog)
Warm salad of roasted rose finn potatoes and wild mushrooms
Morbier & Comté cheeses
Wickson apples
Breakfast radishes with cultured butter and grey sea salt
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found that the Toétché paired perfectly with the vin jaune. This made me very happy, since I wasn’t sure what the Toétché would even taste like. Big ups to Colleen for making it come out perfectly, it was absolutely beautiful and delicious. The morbier and comté cheeses were also wonderful with the white wines, although they did not pair particularly well with the reds. The trout rillettes were lovely with all of the wines, while the apples provided a nice, palate-cleansing counterpoint to all of the savory foods. I especially loved the breakfast radishes with cultured butter and sea salt, while others in the room weren’t so enthused (I learned of this snack from a Frenchman who was so graciously hosting me at a winery some time ago). Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I find that radishes are an excellent vehicle for butter. The sautéed mushrooms were lovely piled atop fresh bread and enjoyed with the poulsard and trousseau.

As for the wines, we found that most people loved the ‘Les Dolomies’ ($28)– a white savagnin aged in a topped-up barrel. It was fresh, rich, and awesome with food. The Gahier trousseau ($39) was definitely the stand-out, everyone really loved it (it was my favorite as well). The Puffeney vin jaune ($80) was intense, too intense for a lot of people in the room. I also wish I’d opened it earlier and possibly decanted it, but my decanter was full of the Bornard ‘Tant-Mieux” ($32)which was absolutely reductive, sweet, and generally awful (not surprisingly, it tasted much better the next day). A friend also brought a bottle of Chardonnay from Côtes du Jura, which was great to balance out all the savagnin in the room.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope everyone who came had a great time and learned a lot about these rare, unusual wines. I had a blast curating the list and finding foods to pair. I hope that everyone took away some useful knowledge and would feel confident ordering a glass from the Jura section on the wine list at their favorite French restaurant.

Recipe: Raclette Popovers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce upon a time, my husband surprised me with a wine club subscription for Robert Sinskey Vineyards. They were the first local Organic/BioDynamic winery I ever fell in love with and he wanted to surprise me for my birthday by purchasing me a subscription to their wine club. This was way before I really got into wine, and I learned so much from the experience. I honestly think that wine club is what opened the doors to the wine world for me.

The RSV proprietor’s wife, Maria Sinskey, is somewhat of a dynamo in the kitchen, and with each club shipment came some of her delicious recipes. If you’ve ever been in their tasting room, you will remember the gougeres that come with each tasting flight. This is the recipe for those gougeres, but made in a popover pan.

I changed the recipe a little – just the type of cheese used in the gougere batter. I prepared this recipe for a Chardonnay wine tasting I was hosting, but wanted to use a more regional cheese than cheddar. You see, raclette pairs beautifully with Jura blanc, and I was pouring a Jacques Puffeney Chardonnay from Arbois. Raclette and Jura blanc are a match made in heaven.

I love this recipe because instead of tiny little gougeres, it produces huge and fluffy gougeres in the shape of a popover. They are crispy on the outside and airy on the inside, with that distinctive, eggy, chewy gougere-ness. These are great as a side dish at a dinner party or just as an appetizer. If you don’t have a popover pan, you can make little gougeres on a cookie sheet, but just be sure to adjust the baking time and temperature so you don’t over-cook them. I haven’t tried to make them this way so I can’t tell you how long or at what temperature, but if you bake at all (like Colleen!) I am sure you can figure it out.

Raclette Popovers
adapted from Maria Sinskey’s Aged Cheddar Cheese Popover Recipe

Special Tools:
Popover Pan
Stand Mixer (helpful, but not required)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups water
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons KOSHER salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
2 cups grated good quality raclette (I like Reading)
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water to brush tops

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Bring the water, butter and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour.
3. Return the pan to medium high heat and stir until batter pulls away from the side of the pan. Scrape into the bowl of a standing mixer. Turn the mixer on and allow the paddle to cool the dough slightly for about a minute.
4. On low speed, add the eggs one by one. After each egg is added increase the speed to medium and beat until the egg is incorporated. The eggs may also be beaten in by hand. Beat well after all eggs have been added. Add the grated cheese. Beat until well incorporated.
5. Spoon the batter into the pan. Fill the molds 3/4 full. Extra batter can be held and baked in a second round.
6. Brush the tops of the popovers lightly with egg wash.
7. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake 10 to 15 minutes more until puffed and golden. Serve warm.

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Recipe: Savory Chanterelle and Gruyere Bread Pudding

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a recipe featured in our Fall wine club shipment. We chose to feature this recipe because it encompasses everything we love about fall food, and it perfectly compliments several of the wines we are offering in our Fall club shipment. Made with chanterelle mushrooms and delicious cave-aged gruyere cheese, this vegetarian dish is sure to delight your guests. It’s fancy enough for a holiday like Thanksgiving but easy enough to make for any day of the week. We really love it’s umami flavors and creamy/crusty consistency.

You can find Chanterelle mushrooms at your local specialty store during the rainy months. Right now we are getting Oregon chanterelles as well as Pacific Golden chanterelles. I prefer the Oregon variety because they are cleaner, have great flavor, and a better texture (in my opinion). They are smaller and more orange in color than their California-grown counterparts. Chances are you will see only one variety, so get whatever you can. You want to pick out the chanterelles that look the best. Look for firm, dry chanterelles without any red rot or raggedy edges.

Don’t skimp on the Gruyere, either. Get a good-quality cave aged gruyere from France, if possible. This should not be hard to find, as I believe even Trader Joes carries one.

Savory Chanterelle & Gruyere Bread Pudding
Adapted from 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love by Jill Silverman Hough

Special Tools
One 2 qt. casserole dish or six 1½ cup individual ramekins

Ingredients
3 cups milk
1½ tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan
12 oz. chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely sliced OR 2 medium leeks (white & light green parts only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tsp. fine sea salt
5 large eggs
12 oz. crusty artisan French or Italian, with crusts, torn or cubed into ¾” pieces
8 oz. gruyere cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)

Method
Butter the casserole dish or ramekins and set aside.

Combine the milk, chopped herbs, and pepper in a medium pot with a heavy bottom. Set over medium-high heat until the milk just begins to simmer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Then add the mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. (If substituting leeks, cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent browning.) Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then temper the eggs by whisking in ⅓ of the warm milk mixture. Once combined, slowly whisk in the rest. Add the bread cubes, shredded cheese, and mushroom or leek mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the bread absorb the liquid.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center.

Spoon the mixture into the casserole dish or ramekins. Bake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.

Recipe: Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ll be honest – I am not a great baker. I do bake from time to time, but I limit it to recipes that are easy to follow and hard to screw up. I am not one for rules; making precise measurements and refraining from tinkering with things is not really my style. I do, however, enjoy delicious things, so every now and then I’ll make a sacrifice and follow a recipe to the T. This is a requirement if you want to bake a cake, as explained in this video.

Recently, a good friend was throwing a holiday party and I wanted to bring something to share with people and to commemorate her mom’s birthday, who was in town visiting at the time. I needed something fast, easy, and fuss-free. Perhaps I could employ that bundt pan which I have owned for a year but hadn’t used even once? I knew my friend’s madre liked chocolate, and a quick google search for Chocolate Bundt Cake returned one of my favorite food blogs – Two Peas and their Pod. They had an intriguing looking Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake recipe that looked easy to follow and hard to screw up. Perfect!

The key with this cake is the quality of the chocolate you use. Do not skimp here! I used Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate baking chunks for the topping and Guittard Dutch Process Cocoa for the cake. Be sure to get a Dutch process cocoa, the authors of the recipe insist on it. That’s what I used and the recipe came out great.

Everyone at the party loved this bundt cake, and I liked it so much I wanted a second piece. Generally speaking, cake doesn’t do much for me. This cake is the exception to that. It would be perfect for a potluck, housewarming party, birthday, or any other occasion that requires feeding cake to a lot of people quickly and easily. It’s rich, gooey, moist, perfectly sweet, and big enough to have leftovers to take home.

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake
adapted from Two Peas and their Pod

Yield: Serves 10
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:
For the cake:
1 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup cocoa powder (we use Dutch process)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose Gold Medal flour, plus more for the pan
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate glaze:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup (or agave nectar)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Method:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10 or 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt, and water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the melted butter mixture and whisk until completely blended. The mixture will be thick. Add the remaining butter mixture and whisk until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until completely blended. Whisk in the sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and the vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert onto a rack. Let cool completely before glazing.
5. While the cake is cooling, make the chocolate glaze. Place the chopped chocolate and corn syrup (or agave) in a medium bowl and set aside. Combine the heavy cream and sugar in a small saucepan and put over medium heat. Stir until the cream is hot and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until smooth.
6. Generously drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Cut into pieces and serve.

Recipe: Clams with White Wine and Shallots

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When Tala and I were planning Secret Wine Club: Loire a few weeks ago, we had very little idea of what we were going to drink or serve up until a few days before the event. The one thing that was certain, however, was that we would pour a Muscadet, and we’d pair it with clams. This pairing is off-the-charts successful, and we both recommend you try it – but the recipe and the wine do stand on their own as well. More of a technique than a recipe, I’ll tell you what you need and what to do.

Ingredients:

Clams – the smaller the better, cherrystone, manila, and littleneck are three types that come to mind. You’ll want around 1lb per person for an entrée, or somewhat less as a snack or an appetizer. (I would not be lying if I said I could eat 2lbs by myself if you let me. Just sayin’.)

Shallot – 1 or 2, depending on how many clams you’re preparing, chopped

Garlic – 2 cloves, minced

Butter – 2 tablespoons

Olive Oil – 1-2 tablespoons

White Wine – about 1 cup (anything dry will work, I used what I had open, which was a Chardonnay, but if you’re pairing the dish with a Muscadet, and you can stand to give some up, use that!)

Water – about 1 cup

Parsley – about 2 tablespoons, chopped

Crusty Bread, sliced

Rinse your clams under cold water just to make sure there’s no debris on the outside. If you’ve bought them from a high-quality seafood shop like Hog Island, you won’t have to worry about sand on the inside, either! Start by drizzling the olive oil and melting the butter over medium heat in a saute pan with a tight-fitting lid. Once the butter is melted, add in the chopped shallot and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until softened. You don’t want to color the shallots. When the shallots are softened, about 3-5 minutes, add in the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds. Turn the heat up to medium high, and add the wine and the water. Once the liquid is simmering in the pan, add the clams, spread in the pan evenly, and cover with the lid. Wait about 2-3 minutes, and check on the contents to see if the clams are starting to open. Give ’em a shake to redistribute. Cover and wait another 1-2 minutes. After about 5 minutes, most of the clams should have opened. If most are still closed, give them a bit more time. After 5-7 minutes total, turn off the heat, first transfer the clams to a serving bowl with tongs or a spoon, and then pour the pot liquor (all that delicious stuff with clam juice, wine, water, garlic, shallot, butter, and olive oil in it!) over the clams. This helps distribute the good stuff into each little clamshell, so that when you’re eating them, you don’t need to dig at the bottom of the serving bowl!

Make sure you serve the clams with an empty bowl at the table for the shells, and several slices of warm, crusty bread. Sourdough is great for this, as the tang and the sweetness and the fragrance of the clams all go together quite nicely. You can dip your bread in the pot liquor. That, my friends, is heaven.

Variations: This recipe is very flexible, and very forgiving. You can use a sweet onion, or even leeks instead of shallots. You can add some cubed bacon or pancetta or crumbled chorizo to the shallots and saute until cooked through. You can swap the white wine for a nice light, crisp beer. You can use a vegetable or chicken broth instead of water, for richer flavor.

Ever since I learned how easy it is, I almost never order them in restaurants, because I can make them at home in 15 minutes or less! This is one of my favorite things to eat when I’m alone, because it’s easy, fast, and delicious. Have you ever prepared clams? Maybe you were too nervous until now? Let us know!

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Recipe: Lemon Cream Tart

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Anybody who knows me knows how obsessed I am with lemons. They are my favorite citrus fruit because they lend an aromatic & fresh zippiness to cocktails, desserts, and savory dishes. I love lemons so much that Colleen made me a white chocolate & lemon layer cake for my wedding last year. They are also unbelievably easy to grow here in our Mediterranean climate; I have two Meyer lemon trees in my back yard that produce year-round.

When my good friend Kendra asked me to make a dessert for her wedding this last weekend, I naturally wanted to use lemons. They aren’t exactly in season, but our Indian summer had been warm around here and the thought of something heavy and seasonal like pumpkin or ginger made me sad. Lemons are perfect for warm weather because they are refreshing and light, so I decided to make Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Cream Tart for Kendra & Dan’s wedding. Plus, I am not much of a baker, and this recipe is easy to make. I’d hate to try a new recipe and have it turn out poorly for such an important event.

This lemon cream tart recipe is one that Colleen turned me on to a few years ago. The recipe comes from Pierre Hermé (a famous French pastry chef) via Dorie Greenspan – he is her ‘pastry hero’. It’s different from regular lemon curd because of the technique used to make it. Instead of cooking all of the ingredients together at once (lemon juice/rind, butter, sugar, eggs), you just cook the lemon juice/rind, sugar and eggs until they reach 180 degrees, then let the mixture cool slightly before whipping in room temperature butter in your blender or food processor. The end result is so much lighter, creamier, and luxurious than typical lemon curd. You will never use another lemon curd recipe again after making this one.

I’ve seen a few variations of this recipe online, so I will post the one that I’ve been using from another (now defunct) blog called Eat Me Delicious. The reason I chose this version is because the sweet tart dough recipe she has does not include almond flour, which all the others do.  I try to always be aware of allergens in the foods I cook for crowds, and it seems like tree nuts are a big one. All I can say is that I am thankful that nobody there was allergic to butter. I doubled up the recipe and ended up using a total of 2 lbs of butter, nearly a dozen eggs, and an unholy amount of sugar. DELICIOUS.

Side Note: It was very warm on my friend’s wedding day, and I was concerned about the tart getting warm. This lemon cream tastes best when cold, and with the tart shell at room temperature. Here’s what I did: I made the lemon cream the night before and put it into mason jars which I placed in the refrigerator. I baked the tart shells in the morning, let them cool, carefully wrapped them for transport, and put the jars of lemon curd in a cooler with ice packs. Once I arrived at the wedding, I spooned the cold lemon curd into the pre-cooked tart shells and then decorated them with raspberries in the shape of a heart. It worked perfectly.

Lemon Cream
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 c fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tbsp butter (10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell made with sweet tart dough, fully baked (see below)

Getting ready:
Have a instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender or food processor ready. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large metal bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture fees tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk- you whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling- you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point- the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience- depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp may take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the lender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going- to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to bend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests, and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, cover tightly and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days or, tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)

When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

Sweet Tart Dough
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in – you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375F.

Press a sheet of buttered foil down over the surface of the frozen tart shell. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).

To Fully Bake the Crust: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

To Patch a Partially or Fully Baked Crust, if Necessary: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice of a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, baking for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

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