Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Polenta with Fresh Corn and Mascarpone Cheese

I carry a big purse.  It's not giant, but it is pretty sizable.  I'm not sure I could ever go back to the tiny purses I used to carry even if that becomes the fashion again.  Once you go big, you can't go back.  Where else would I keep my iPhone, Blackberry, huge wallet, millions of receipts, Softlips, DSLR (occasionally), and my moleskin food notebook.  What?  You don't have a moleskin notebook you use to record the best and most inspiring meals you eat?

I don't write in it often, but after a particularly good meal or inspiring dessert, I will write down everything I can remember about the dish.  For our anniversary we headed up to Flour + Water in San Francisco (our absolute favorite at the moment) and had the best meal we've ever had there.  I was particularly blown away by the pork served atop corn polenta studded with fresh corn.

While I may not be able to recreate the perfection of the pork, I was able to recreate the polenta that John and I have had twice since.  I had never made polenta before, and who knew how incredibly easy and simple it is?  I suppose for the creamiest polenta, you add more water and cook (and stir!) for longer, but I have been too lazy and impatient both times, and have just cooked the polenta for 5 minutes.  Tastes perfect in my book!  The corn kernels are the first to hop in the boiling water, where they cook for a minute or two before stirring in the polenta.  Mascarpone cheese, salt, and pepper are all that's needed to finish the dish right before serving.

While I can't say that carrying around a bunch of receipts has ever helped me much, I can say that my little moleskin has proven it is worthy of a spot in my big ole purse by inspiring this great recipe.

Polenta with Fresh Corn and Mascarpone Cheese
Adapted from Bon Apetit via Epicurious

3 cups water
1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal, I used Bob's Red Mill polenta)
Kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste
Kernels from 4 ears of fresh corn
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (I found it at Trader Joe's)

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  When boiling, add in kernels sliced off of 4 ears of corn.  Let the corn cook for 1-2 minutes, then poor in polenta and a bit of kosher salt.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often for 5 minutes.  Mix in 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, August 29, 2011


If you are the type of person who is not giddy at the sight of a wall like this, then we can no longer be friends. A candy shop with floor to ceiling glass jars filled with candies of all shapes and sizes - what could be better?  Miette, in Hayes Valley in San Francisco has become one of our new favorite places in the city, and it's easy to see why.  

The specialized treats get their own pedestals, and rightly so.

It should go without saying that I wanted basically one of everything.  (Maybe even more than one.)

While I didn't take one of everything, I did take a pack of these chocolate wafers that are dark, rich, and a little bit salty.

I stayed far away from this disgusting corner, however.  Licorice.  Blech City, USA.

Along with the chocolate wafers, we picked up some lemon shortbread cookies, lavender drops, and nonpareils.

After I paid someone happened upon this sign for ice cream sandwiches and the wallet was broken out for the second time.

Valhrona chocolate sandwiched between two chocolate wafers met John's seal of approval.  Rather, he wolfed down the "best ice cream sandwich ever" in record time.  We made slightly bastardized versions the next two nights with Trader Joe's chocolate ice cream and the chocolate wafers from the store.  We're all out of cookies though, so it's back to Miette we go!  Shucks!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Five Things

John and I have a big weekend ahead of us with a couple of beaches and a lunch of dim sum on the agenda.  It doesn't get more California than that!

The more wonderful our weekends are, the more painful it can be to wake up on Monday morning and head to the office.  I'm hoping to plant my sprouted vines (cut from another plant I have) into this new planter soon so I can at least have a bit of greenery in my office.  It's not like being on the beach, but it will have to do!

Do you have an iPhone?  Well then you better be on Instagram!  It's my new favorite thing, and let's me improve on formerly crappy iPhone pictures to make them more fun.  Plus you can see all the pictures your friends are posting.  If you sign up, follow me at Foodiebia!

On Wednesday night John and I feasted on Latin-style tacos (i.e. authentic ones).  If you haven't tried radishes on your tacos, I highly recommend it.  And homemade guac certainly makes everything more delectable.

I did a bad thing.  I have discovered great butter.  You do not want to buy this butter - it tastes so incredible you will have to butter ever slice of bread you come in contact with for the rest of your life.  Heck, you will buy bread just to eat this butter.  Buy at your own risk!

Lastly, cheers to the man who makes my life so wonderful.  And helps me eat all that Kerry Gold.  "Without you, today's emotions would be the scurf of yesterday's."  (Name that movie.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heirloom Tomatoes Stuffed with Couscous

The kids in California are back in school.  I repeat: the kids in California are back in school.  Um, what?  Where did summer go?  And also, why do kids start school in August?  In Virginia, we couldn't start school until after Labor Day so that the kids who worked at Busch Gardens could continue their gig until Labor Day weekend was over.  (I'm not sure if this is gospel, but that's at least what they told us.  It seems suspect now.)

Summer means many things to me, including summer movies.  Other than at Christmas, summer is essentially the only time when the good movies seem to hit theaters.  Every summer growing up, my mom gave both me and my brother  summer coupon books with the things we were allowed to do all summer.

We got a breakfast out, a couple of lunches out (I always choose Pizza Hut for the buffet, disgusting!), and of course, we each got to choose two movies each summer to see.  You had to think ahead using these coupons.  Don't use up your two movie coupons in June, because what if something good comes out in August?

Without the internet, I'm honestly stumped as to how we were able to forecast that summer's movies.  I guess we just saw the previews on TV and in the theater.  What was life like before Rotten Tomatoes?

We were able to choose a snack at the movies and I always went with Snow Caps.  Unlike my Pizza Hut decision, I am pretty proud of that one, looking back.  I am not proud, however, of my decision to use one of my summer movies on Waterworld.  Twelve year-old me failed with that one.

Other than movies, summer also brings wonderful juicy tomatoes that are perfect for this easy and delicious recipe.  Only use your ripest tomatoes (better over ripe and under ripe here), or else it will be impossible to scoop out the insides.  The couscous gets a wonderful flavor from the yogurt, harissa, and shallots.  Be sure to make this recipe while vibrant tomatoes are still available.  And be sure to catch a couple movies before all the good ones are gone.  I highly recommend The Help.  It's definitely worth using a coupon for.

Heirloom Tomatoes Stuffed with Couscous
From Super Natural Every Day

6 medium-large ripe tomatoes, preferably heirloom
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tablespoons harissa, depending on how spicy you prefer it
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for serving
10-12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 shallots, minced
Fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup couscous (whole wheat, barley, or regular couscous)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a baking dish that fits your 6 tomatoes snugly, if possible (I had to use one that was a little large, and it worked fine).

Use a serrated knife to cut the top 10 percent of each tomato off.  Over a bowl, scoop the flesh from each tomato.  Let the juice and chunks fall into the bowl.  Be careful not to poke any holes in the side of the tomatoes.  Place the tomato shells in the greased baking dish.

To make the filling, combine 2/3 cup (5 oz or 140 g) tomato chunks and juice (break up any large chunks with your hands), yogurt, harissa, olive oil, most of the basil, the shallots and salt.  Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Add the couscous and stir to combine.  Spoon the filling into each tomato shell until nearly full.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the couscous is fully cooked and the tomatoes start to shrivel a bit.  Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining chopped basil just before serving.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Toffee Blondies

Other than one fateful summer where I got blonde highlights, I've been very much a brunette my whole life.  I'm really not a hair person to begin with, so the idea of having to constantly visit the salon for touch-ups is about as high on my list as my desire to clean out the bottom of my trashcan.

Despite my allegiance to brown hair and brownies, I have to say, occasionally blondies really do have more fun.

Blondie batter itself is more delicate in flavor than uber-chocolatey brownies, so the mix-ins you add to it can really stand out more.  Enter: toffee and walnuts.

These toffee blondies are better than almost any brownie in my book, and I could not stop eating them.

John doesn't eat blondies, or toffee for that matter, so luckily I had some neighbors with which to share these addictive treats.

I loved these so much I was eating them for breakfast and justifying it by their shape, color, and inclusion of walnuts: "It's like a tasty granola bar!"  Isn't it nice when you bake something so delicious that there's nothing you'd rather be eating?  Browned butter combined the toffee and walnuts makes for a winning combination in my book.  I hope you too are enticed to bake these blondies - if you like toffee, I promise they will be the best you've ever had.  We can go blonde together.

Toffee Blondies
From Eat Live Run

1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup toffee bits (I used Heath Bits O' Brickle)
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 8x8 pan (this makes for a thing blondie already, so if you use a 9x9 pan be sure to reduce the baking time).

Melt one stick of butter over medium heat in a saucepan until lightly brown in color, stirring constantly.  Be careful not to burn the butter.

Add browned butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with 1 cup packed dark brown sugar for about 3 minutes.  Add 1 egg and beat until incorporated.  Add flour, salt, and vanilla all at once and beat until just combined.  By hand, mix in toffee bits and chopped walnuts.  Spread batter (it will be thick) into greased pan and bake for 25 minutes.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Six Things - From Omnivore Books

I think it's pretty well know that I have somewhat of a thing for cookbooks.  I gravitate towards them at every bookstore I enter, and I can't possibly imagine ever having too many.  A couple are always perched on my nightstand for bedtime reading, and there is at least one open on my kitchen counter at all times.

Imagine my delight when I learned that San Francisco has en entire bookstore dedicated to books on food (mainly cookbooks).  Omnivore Books is essentially my version of heaven.

I've loved bookstores for years - browsing the titles could occupy me for hours.  Never before had I been in a store where I was tempted by almost every title in every corner I turn, though.  Italian cooking!  Chef autobiographies!  Baking books!  Every single book (save for the books on oysters, hunting/gathering, and tofu) were something I could see myself spending all day reading.

It was a bit overwhelming, but somehow I managed to steady myself long enough to make six great purchases.

The last book we added to our pile turns out to be the first one I'm reading.  Hungry for Paris is a book devoted to restaurants in the City of Light, where John and I will be traveling in October.  As it turns out, the woman working at the store is John's coworker's wife, and she highly recommended this book to us.  I've already devoured the first third of the book in the past few days.  It's full of bookmarks that I will soon start importing into my spreadsheet of places we must go.  Foodie nerd alert!

I've been eyeing Good to the Grain for some time now, and I've heard great things about it.  I haven't yet dabbled in baking with whole-grain flours yet, so this book will be a great introduction. 

Omnivore Books hosts author talks and signings every week.  Extra copies of the books are signed at the events and available for purchase if you happen to be in the store before they sell out.  One of the signed books we picked up was by Ceclia Chiang, the woman essentially responsible for bringing authentic Chinese cuisine to San Francisco.  Her Chinese name means Seventh Daughter, hence the name of the book that I can't wait to begin exploring.

This book was mostly John's idea, but I told him I would love to help him make some homemade soda.  John is a sodaholic, so this is the perfect thing to interest him in the kitchen (other than my dance moves to Katy Perry songs).

Hopefully this book will help John and I discover new places we love as much as Omnivore Books (which is rightfully featured therein).  This one definitely goes in the glove compartment (along with the Dog Lover's Guide to California).

It was only fitting that I added another Alice Waters cookbook to my collection last weekend, since John and I ate at Chez Panisse Cafe on Saturday.  Every dessert on the menu featured fruit, which I thought was pretty unique (no chocolate to be found!).  The plum tart I had was out of this world, so I'm sure these recipes will serve me well.

Now that I've finally visited Omnivore, I'm not sure how I can not drop by every time I'm in the city, right?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Strawberry Freezer Jam

I will try to refrain myself from making any "we be jammin'" jokes, but it is hard, my friends.  

Last weekend when my parents were visiting my mom came up with the brilliant idea of making freezer jam.  She is one smart lady, let me tell you.  

I've been eyeing all the cookbooks about canning and jams lately, but never quite took the plunge.

Little did I know that you can make jam without doing any of the real work of canning.  It's called freezer jam, people.

A batch of strawberry blueberry jam
You buy a packet of pectin at any grocery store and just follow the precise recipe provided (or else it won't gel).  The little insert will tell you for whatever type of fruit you're using how much fruit to use and how much sugar.  You mash up the fruit, boil the pectin packet with a little bit of water, and stir in the allotted sugar.  This jam is kept in the fridge or freezer, so you don't have to go through the expansive process of boiling the jars and the fruit.  

We bought half a flat of strawberries near closing time at the farmer market for $6.  What could be better than that?   (I sound like the Barefoot Contessa - How easy is that?)

It's the perfect time of year to turn your excess ripe fruit into freezer jam.  It tastes great on toast, in a sandwich, or even on some vanilla ice cream.  What other time of year are you plagued with too many strawberries, blueberries, and peaches?  Carpe fruitum!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Roasted Chickpeas

Me:  Do you like chickpeas?
John:  No.
Me:  Do you like garbanzo beans?
John:  Yes.
John:  Oh.  I guess I like them, then.
Me:  Sigh.

I put John's chickpea/garbanzo bean-tastes to the test when I made this roasted chickpea recipe.  It has confirmed that we both do like chickpeas.  And garbanzo beans.  Go figure.

Another wonderful recipe from Super Natural Every Day, these roasted chickpeas are crunchy and tender at the same time and absolutely sing with flavor form the zest and spices.  Next time I will probably add extra heat to ours, since that's how we enjoy our food the most.

If you're anything like me, you have trouble getting beans in your diet like you wish you would.  I always have beans sitting in my pantry, but I just never grab for them and recipes seldom inspire me that feature them.  Beans are usually boring in my book.  

This wonderful recipe will have you chowing down on chickpeas like you never thought possible.  If you don't have the three kinds of paprika the recipe calls for (I had two of the three), substitute a similarly flavored spice so make sure you cover the full spectrum.  I left my chickpeas on the counter to fully dry while I was at work (to avoid the salad spinning step), and it worked great.  

If the person you cook for doesn't like chickpeas, just tell them that they are garbanzo beans: crisis averted.

Roasted Chickpeas
From Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

3 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 1/2 cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and spun dry in a salad spinner
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika (usually just labeled "paprika")
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (or a little less than a teaspoon if dried)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or a little less than a teaspoon if dried)

Place a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  

Place well dried chickpeas on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.  Shake the pan a bit and then roast for another 8-10 minutes, making sure the chickpeas do not burn.  

Combine olive oil, spices, salt, lemon zest, rosemary, and thyme in a large mixing bowl.  Add roasted chickpeas to bowl and toss until well coated.  Return chickpeas to the baking sheet and roast for another 3-5 minutes, until very fragrant.  Serve warm.  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Parental Visitation

 I think it's safe to say that all parties involved had a fun time last weekend.

Harper especially enjoyed the company of my mom and dad - while I was at work they were keeping her occupied.  My dad kept her entertained with a lot of tug-of-war, and I believe no humans or dog toys were injured in the process.

Thanks to my dad for taking all these great pictures!  It's nice to have a full family photo occasionally.

My parents got to see why John and I love coming to Point Isabel so much.  Who wouldn't love watching Harper have the time of her life with this Aussie Doodle puppy?
Harper is fully grown now and is about 33 pounds.  She has lots of puppy energy and excitement still, but has the wherewithal to listen to her parents on almost all occasions.  She is such fun to be around and I'm glad my parents love her too.

I love this photo of me and my mom.  It's always amazing how after a week, you can come away with only a few pictures together.

This is the smile I have on my face when I'm shopping in Sur La Tabla.

Thanks for the great visit, Mom and Dad!  Harper has been asking for you, so you better come back soon!
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