Friday, March 13, 2009

no recipe apple tart

Tarte aux pommes

Can you bake without a recipe?  Most of you are probably shaking your head, no, no, no.  You've all been scared off by that culinary truism that refers to cooking as an art and baking as a science.  I don't think it's true at all.  And I think most good home cooks who are afraid of baking are missing out a whole lot.  The same is true with bakers who religiously follow recipes.  If baking is rigidly following a recipe, you're missing out on the improvisation, the play that makes cooking so much fun.

Of course, it's true that you need to learn a few basic recipes.  Learn how to do a pie/tart crust, for example.  Any good food writer/blogger worth their salt can teach you one. Yes, I even have one in my book (which of course you must wait for.)  But once you have that, you can bake just about any fruit tart or fruit pies that your heart desires and you mind imagines.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

When life hands you a goose egg..


Ok, not life, but Dee at Harley Farms gave me a giant goose egg.  What do I do with it?  Help!  (That's a quarter next to it, by the way, not a dime.)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Thai scallop ceviche - Yum Hoy Shell

I'm calling this dish Thai Scallop Ceviche.  The "Thai" descriptor here is for the ceviche, as in Thai-style ceviche.  And not for the scallops, as in, these scallops are not from Thailand.  They are from the Northeast, actually, Nantucket Bay Scallops, to be precise.  Yes, yes, I know full well ceviche is a Peruvian preparation, but we do a very similar thing in Thailand.  We call it Yum.  Or Yum Talay.  And true to the name, it is quite yummy too, and easy besides.

The idea here is the same as the regular ceviche, that is to say the seafood takes a nice, long bath in lemon or lime juice to "cook".  Let us not be confused though.  There's no cooking happening here.  The citric acid in lime or lemon juice just change the texture and look of the seafood so they appear opaque and slightly firm and generally look like they've been "cooked".  So I wouldn't suggest this dish if you're afraid of germs or parasites or all that peevish nonsense.  I read somewhere that if you're afraid of raw ceviche you could get away with cooking the seafood very breifly in boiling water just to "cook" them slightly before making your ceviche.  Frankly I'm more than a bit dubious about this advice.  To a germ or parasite, passing just a few seconds through boiling water is like having a day at a Japanese Onsen.  I don't know about you, but I don't want to deal with germs that have just had a restorative day at a germ spa. 

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Boozy Bitter Chocolate Truffles, or, I DON'T WANT TO BE YOUR VALENTINE!


Nor do I want you mine.

I think it was that pink Rice Crispy Treats I was subjected to one sad Valentine that ruined it for me for ever.  Or perhaps it saved me.  Depending on your perspective.  In any case, if I saw another heart-shaped cookie or pink cake I might just scream and go sew black buttons over my eyes and then build traps for unsuspecting children or misguided lovers.  I just might.

But there is hope yet.  A distressed signal sent over Twitter to my crowd received in reply dozens of also-dissenting voices, reassuring me that even in my most misanthrope moment, I am, alas, not alone.  In the dark, lonely corners of Twitterverse we plotted to bring down valentines.  "Do the Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic", sang the Tweet-chorus.  "Cook everything that gives you gas", cried a petulant - or perhaps flatulent - voice.  Another pointed to a gnarly - if absolutely delicious - Dim Sum staple, braised chicken feet.  One even suggested a bottle of cheap booze and a hammer, I dared not ask why.  I supposed another that might do is that dish with a poetic name, Pissed-off Prawns, I ate earlier this week at Michael Chiarello's new Bottega up in Napa.

Then an aha moment arrived.  What fun is bitterness without booze?  There you have it.  I'll make chocolate truffles, dark and bitter chocolate truffles, and I'll make it boozy.  Rum perhaps.  No, Armagnac, better yet, Armagnac with some prunes soaked in it. 

And just in case you're wondering.  No, no, the cause of my bitterness is *not* because my otherwise-sweet valentine is at his restaurant cooking a very special meal for everyone else's valentines.  And, no, it hasn't been like that every year for the past four valentines we've had together.  And, really, no, I don't plan on wallowing in my bitterness tomorrow night with a bowlful of these boozy bonbons and all those monster movies marathon on Sci-fi.  I don't plan on doing that at all.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Bites


I've got a soft spot in my heart for first cookbooks.  It's not because my own first book  is coming out later this year, ok -not just because of that- but I love the earnest and unabashed enthusiasm that every writer put into their first project.  Cookbooks that come later in their career may perhaps be more polished, or even altogether far better, but they are often missing that je ne sais quoi that first books possess.

If you're a regular reader of Chez Pim, I'm sure you're a fan of my dear friend David Lebovitz's as well - you might even like him better, which is, of course, totally cool with me, just don't tell me!  And if you're a fan of his, you must also know that he's not only an über-blogger, but a prolific cookbook writer, with many successful books under his proverbial belt.  But the one that had my heart, and still does, is his first, Room for Dessert.  A number of recipes in that book have made their ways into my baking repertoire, and the book has coffee, butter, and molasses stains to prove that too.

The cookies I made last week is one of those recipes from this book.  He calls it Black and White Cookies, made with ground almond and bittersweet chocolate, rolled in powdered sugar.  These cookies are cute as buttons, and just about the same size too, absolutely the perfect size for just a bite or two of something bittersweet with your coffee.  I must also admit that I don't quite know how to leave a good recipe well enough alone, so I made mine with hazelnut instead of almond.  The effect was really quite lovely, sort of like Nutella cookies for grown-ups.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Pie Ranch barn dance

Pie Ranch



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Sunday, February 01, 2009

25 random things about me


So there's this thing called Facebook, where you join and then make friends, and do all the things your friends are doing like good little lemmings that we are.  Lately there's this 25 Things meme going around.  You write 25 things - be they interesting or mundane, obvious facts or little-known secrets - about yourself, and then you tag 25 of your friends (that is if you're cool enough, or Facebook-cool enough rather, to have more than 25 friends) and make them do the same thing.  But before that you must wait until you are tagged.  Because doing it before somebody asked you to would be totally over-sharing, and, like, totally uncool.

And so I was tagged, and I wrote this list of twenty five things.  And I was doing it totally because all the other cool kids were doing it too.  And on Facebook you don't want to be left out.  Not that you'd want to be left out in real life, but on Facebook you *really* don't want to be left out, because then it'd be like that time when Stefan was picked last to the team on Top Chef - that is to say, like, totally uncool.  And then I thought hey why not put it here too, and it totally save me writing a-whole-nother post for Monday.  And so here they are, 25 things about me you may or may not want to know.  But here they are just the same.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Crab feast and Thai seafood sauce


It took me a good long while before I got over my silly fear and tried dungeness crabs.  No, no I wasn't afraid of eating crabs.  I spent every summer of my childhood in Hua Hin on a diet composed almost entirely of crabs and prawns - in fact I'm rather surprised I haven't developed an exoskeleton by now. 

My fear was of pre-cooked crabs, actually.  In Thailand - ok, perhaps not the entire country but at least my family - we never ate dead crabs.  No, we don't eat crabs while they are alive - I only meant we don't eat crabs that had been dead before they were cooked.  If you go to wet markets in Thailand, you won't find a lot of dead crabs for sale.  You will, on the other hand, find crates of still alive (and sometimes crawling) crabs for shoppers to buy and take home to cook.  This is understandable, I suppose.  Dead crabs deteriorate quickly in the tropical heat, by the time you get them home their flesh have broken down into nothing but fishy, smelly mush - we say it's "gone back to sea" in Thai. 

This proved a bit of a predicament for my buddhist "kitchen mother" (that's how household cooks are referred to in Thai).  I still remember her sitting on the floor over a wooden chopping board with an ill-fated crab on top, her eyes closed, one hand in a half namaste while the other holding a sharp cleaver high over her head, her lips moving, quietly (and rapidly) reciting a pray begging the crab's forgiveness before quickly lowering the heavy cleaver to sever the crab in half.  Saturday Night Live can't make that skit up. 

Anyway, that's a rather long-winded way to explain why it took me a good many years to try one of the Bay Area's local specialties, the Dungeness crabs.  And now, when the season is high and the crabs sweet, they are one of my favorite things to eat, especially when dipped into spicy, garlickyThai seafood sauce.  Every time we have a crab feast, I make this sauce for myself and make sure there's drawn butter and even cocktail sauce for others.  But then everyone ends up stealing my sauce and I have to get back to the mortar and make more.  Luckily it's so easy, you hardly need a recipe.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy moo-year!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chocolate-caramel shortbread sandwiches


I've been in a bit of a mad search for the perfect sablé recipe.  I'm completely obsessed with the sandy French butter cookies from the north of France.  The best ones I've had came from a tiny bakery called Grain de Vanille in a little town named Cancale on the rugged Brittany coast.  That-little-bakery-that-could is small in size but not stature, as it is owned and operated by the Michelin-three-star chef Olivier Roellinger.  We haven't been back there in a couple of years, and I'm positively aching for some of those sablés (though chef Roellinger calls them Galettes de Cancale.) 

I'm not quite ready to share the sablé recipe yet, I've got a really good one now, but I'm not sure if it's the ultimate yet.  I'll share it when I get there.  Meanwhile, my mad search resulted in loads of perfectly delicious, buttery sablé cookies - albeit not quite the caliber of le Grain de Vanille yet - and I had to do something with them.  That's when this idea came to me.  Cookie sandwiches!  The obvious choice is chocolate ganache - who doesn't love chocolate ganache?  But I wanted to make something even more special.  Yes, and what about some gooey salted butter caramel - didn't the NY Times just claim that everyone now loves salty caramels?  (As for me, I've loved them for ages thank you very much!)

But filling cookie sandwiches with gooey, salty caramel turned out to be a bit of a design problem.  The caramel oozed out of the cookies before it had enough time to set.  So here's where the ganache came into play again.  I piped the ganache along the edges of the cookie, forming a levy so I could pour the caramel inside.  Topped with another butter piece of cookie, the sandwich is now ready to be devoured.  The caramel will still ooze out once bitten into, but by then I am beyond caring - and so will you, too. 

You can use just about any butter cookie or shortbread recipe you like.  If you need some place to start, Dorie Greenspan's "punitions", as interpreted by Deb of Smitten Kitchen, is a very good one. 

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