The Ranch

February 19, 2010

Happy New Year!

The 14th was Chinese New Year, which means extensive preparation and a whole lot of food.  I’m not gona lie, I didn’t end up getting super into it this year, but what generally does need to happen in preparation is a cleaning of the house, a haircut (these must be done BEFORE the date), new clothes purchased for New Year’s day, filling the house with fresh fruit, cherry blossoms, flowers, candies, cakes, and chinese sweets.  The day of, my mom and I usually go to the Chinese temple, no washing of the hair is allowed (don’t wash away the bad luck!), no fighting or none of anything you wouldn’t want to stick with you for the new year; New Year’s day is a reflection of the entire year.

In all honesty I didn’t even see my parents the day of Chinese new year.  New Years Eve we went out to a profuse 10 course traditional dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in China Town San Francisco.  Among my all time favorites, Egg white and dried scallop fried rice, Hong Kong style pan-fried noodles, and steamed whole green onion Ling Cod.  Holy crap I ate a lot; what made matters worse was the surprise birthday dinner I had to attend for my friend at an Italian restaurant in North Beach. Ugg…. don’t judge me for having a piece of cake at the party.

Fast forward to the next morning; Chinese New Year day, oh yea it was also Valentine’s day too (:/)  Luckily I was already with my single girlfriends.  We wanted a retreat, and conveniently the birthday girl has a ranch in Healdsburg (in the country about 1 1/2 hours from the city) which we decided to drive up to.

What can I say about this place?  Idyllic and picturesque.  The kitchen looks as though it was taken out of pottery barn magazine, I was so excited to jump in there and get to use it.  Surrounded by vineyards, a white wrap around porch and a Kelly green, grassy lawn every moment spent there is a calm satisfaction I could only relish in.

My friends and I were fortunate to have the house to ourselves.  We aimlessly explored the property, took the golf-cart out for a spin, and I took photos on my camera.  Later, we went to the local market where we sampled more cheese than should have been allowed for free and came back with fresh chicken and vegetables for grilling, salad materials, and ripe peaches and nectarines for a galette.

The weather was perfect; bright, sunny and warm.  I was wearing my shorts mid-February.  Sunlight streamed through the windows and filled the kitchen with a warm glow while I began to prepare my fruit galette. I felt right at home in the classically charming kitchen.  I breathed in what felt so much like summer.  I was inspired to make this because 1) the house conveniently had pie crust in the fridge 2)  It’s the simplest of all desserts 3)  I didn’t need a recipe 4)  It felt right; the day reminded me so much of summer and I wanted something light, delicious, homemade and rustic; just like the ranch.

I didn’t use a recipe for this galette, they are so simple and I have made them several times. I had a pre-made pie crust in the fridge.  Typically I would have used cornstarch but since I had none I added a small handful of flour, shook a few tablespoons of tapioca into the mixture (I wanted to try it because it was on hand), a squeeze of lemon, and about 1/3 cup of sugar ( if any)

Step by step tutorial:

I sliced two ripe peaches and one ripe nectarine

next, I added a small handful of flour, sugar, and a bit of tapioca ( just because I had it on hand)

important that you squeeze a half of a lemon into the mixture; it brings out the bright fruity flavor; even better if you add a teaspoon of zest.

now mix gently with hands…

and pour out onto your 10 inch diameter rolled, round pie crust

Neatly place in the center with a 1 inch border.  I like to make sure they look somewhat organized, but don’t worry this is supposed to be homemade and rustic looking!

now fold the crust over, I dotted the top with just a bit of butter and brushed a little on the crust.  What you really want to do is make an egg wash for the crust using 1 egg and a few tablespoons of cream, however I had none of these.  It gives the crust a gorgeous golden brown color.

Now place in the center of a 350 F degree oven.  You want to bake this for about 20 minutes, until the juices are bubbling in the center and the crust is puffy and brown.  Don’t become worried if the fruit looks really dried out about 15 minutes in, give the juices some time!

My friend had been preparing the bbq pit and the chicken had been marinating while I made dessert….

time to get cookin!

I found this marinade in the pantry.  I think it is supposed to be for fajitas. It was delicious and we continued to brush the chicken with it as it grilled as well as some good old bbq sauce.

A lot of my friends are picky eaters. Not me.  Well something exciting is that I got them to eat my grilled onions and squash, they couldn’t resist; they’re that good.

I’m getting hungry… dinner’s almost ready

The sun began to set as we plated the food and sat down to dinner.  I couldn’t think of a more perfect Valentine’s date then good food, drink and my best friends 🙂

I also whipped up a simply delicious caprese salad sans basil + cornichons+green olives

the chicken was so perfectly moist, with a crispy, crusty skin

I learned how to make pizza through my internship…. maybe next time I’ll give this baby a whirl.

And what can I say about these ladies… other than, well I’m kind of obsessed.

St. Valentine

February 16, 2010

St. Valentine,

I have attended Catholic religious schools for the past  10 years of my life, and still do not precisely know who you are or why such a day filled with tacky drug-store manufactured cartoon cards, or chalky and suggestive heart shaped candies has been named after you.  However, I want to, in the most sincere tone of course, thank you for creating a holiday which makes all singles feel like total loners.  Amen.

Ok maybe that was harsh, but Valentine’s day sucks.  There, I said it.  Now I’m not trying to delve too much into my personal life, but I’ve never had a entirely ‘successful’ Valentine’s day, and my mom’s polite badgering of  any recent love interests only makes matters worse… ugg. Out of pity, she invited me on to join her and my father on their candlelit dinner date.  Ok, now I’ve reached an all-time low.

Well, then again I can always drown my hum-drum self-absorbed Valentine’s day sorrows in…. Did somebody say BAKING!?

Yes, I get excited for every opportunity I can bake, especially when It’s something as tacky and festive as Valentine’s day.  Even better.

Now I wanted to make something exciting and different.  I’ve been doing a lot of self evaluation of my baking and let’s face it, I’m a boring at-home baker.  Sure the pictures are nice, but I usually stick to what I know in my own kitchen: pies (from scratch…whoohoo..), layer cakes, cupcakes, and tons and tons of drop cookies.  My pal Elissa at 17 and baking prompted my need to be adventurous;  she does the daring bakers challenge and lately has so much variety on her blog (doughnuts!).  So I’m totally on a bread baking obsession, and even though I still have never attempted it at home, I’m in the mental preparation state. (haha, more like I haven’t found a minute to get yeast at the store!)  Quick Fact and Backround:  I do an internship at Orson Restaurant and Citizen Cake Bakery in San Francisco. (:D) And though I haven’t earned one pay check I get to be a totally adventurous baker, going off the whimiscally fabulous recipies of Elizabeth Falkner.  There, I’m able to make  filo wrapped date cigars, ficcocia, green apple sorbet, date pudding, cheddar bacon scones ( I had to use a deli slicer as the restaurant cures it’s own bacon; so crazy and intimidating after I saw what happened to  Mickey Rourke in the Wrestler! Luckily I escaped with all 10 fingers),  blueberry maple cheesecakes and the alfajores that are to die for. As a pronounced chocoholic, I maydare to say that it is  perhaps the most incredible cookie that I have tasted (although David Chang’s momofuku milk bar’s cornflake cookie is a contender).

That paragraph was totally all over the place now that I read it over, but in conclusion, I had to make these whoopie pies because I died when I say them on Annie’s Eats.  They were too, too cute (Bakerella Status).  I guess I stepped a little out of the box because I never have made whoopie pies before….  (boringggggg)  They turned out cakey and soft just like I imagine they are supposed to.  When I brought them to school, one of my friends raved that they tasted like pancakes. (In a good way I guess).  I cured my own buttermilk substituion (milk+ 1 tablespoon lemon juice+ 5 minutes= buttermilk :D).  I also used a marshmellow frosting which I added 2 tablespoons of sourcream to get that tangy flavor,  I didn’t have any of the ingedients for the cream cheese frosting.  The sour cream ended up deflating my frosting a bit, so I wasn’t able to achieve towering and fluffy whoopie pies. My mom’s reaction was “those are pretty ugly”… so  I left suggestions to prevent this down by the frosting recipe.

Please enjoy!

Adapted From Annie’s Eats

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
For the cookies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 oz. red food coloring (I used a few teaspoons)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.

Using a heart template cut out from card stock, trace evenly spaced hearts onto pieces of parchment paper sized to fit two cookie sheets.  Place the parchment on the cookie sheets so that the side you have drawn on is facing down; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the egg until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, beat in about a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the buttermilk, beating each addition just until incorporated.  Repeat so that all the buttermilk has been added and then mix in the final third of dry ingredients.  Do not overbeat.  Blend in the food coloring.

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip.  Pipe the batter onto the parchment paper using the heart tracings as a guide.  Bake 7-9 minutes or until the tops are set, rotating the baking sheets halfway through.  Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets at least 10 minutes, until they can be easily transferred to a cooling rack.  Repeat with any remaining batter.  Allow cookies to cool completely before proceeding.

To make the cream cheese frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.

Adapted from Tracy’s Culinary Adventures

Frosting

1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
4 teaspoons dried egg whites, reconstituted according to package directions(equivalent to 2 egg whites)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To Make the Frosting:

Bring 2 inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Combine 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup water in a heatproof bowl and set it over the saucepan. Heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 7 minutes. Take off the heat, dd the egg whites, cream of tartar and pinch of salt to the bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is glossy and thick, 5-7 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the heat and continue beating for 1 minute to cool the frosting. Add the vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and beat on low just to combine. I added a few tablespoons of sour cream, but the frosting started to get flat so I would suggest taking a third of the frosting out, mixing it with some sour cream, and folding the mixture back into the frosting.

Transfer the frosting to a clean pastry bag fitted with a plain, round tip.  Pair the cookies up by shape and size.