Steak… with benefits

Dear Martini

It’s a universal truth that all cooks have to know how to properly sear a steak.  And yet only a few well-trained cooks know that properly searing a steak pays off dividends in the end.  Our preferred cut of steak is the New York; also known as the strip steak, the club steak or the  Kansas City, this particular cut of steak is flavorful and tender so there is no need to marinate.   The dividend?  When pan searing steaks, you can use the pan drippings to make a quick sauce.  In the time it takes for the steaks to rest, you can make a delicious light pan sauce.  It’s a benefit you should really take advantage and try.

Pan-Seared New York Steak with Red-Wine Pan Sauce

Serves 4

2 (10-ounce) New York strip steaks, cut 1-½ inches thick
Kosher salt and finely ground black pepper
1-½ tablespoons clarified butter

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Farmers Market Dinner Inspiration

What’s for Dinner?  Get some inspiration at your local Farmer’s Market!  The bounty of veggies and fruits can get your creativity going!

When I am able, I really enjoy heading down to the San Mateo Event Center’s Night Market with friends, cruising through the food trucks and watch the families enjoy the great weather and live music; however, I am always drawn to the farmers on the other side of the ring.  This summer we enjoyed a bounty of berries, asparagus, corn and salad greens.  But now, the produce is transitioning into autumn flavors  and I COULDN’T BE MORE EXCITED!  Fall is a special time for me. My favorite holidays are coming — Halloween and Thanksgiving.  I love the crisp cool fall air, how twilight drapes over us earlier… and most of all, I love cooking warm, comforting dishes for dinner.

Dino Kale! Their bumpy leaves resemble the texture of dinosaur skin!

Fennel — oh how I love your sweet licorice taste!

While I was down at the Night Market last Wednesday, I noticed that my two favorite vegetables are coming into season:  fennel and dino kale.  I bought some of each and was inspired to make this dish for dinner the next evening.  I would love to share my recipe with you, which can be made now through the winter.

Dino Kale and Fennel with White Beans

Serves 4

**  The dark green, bumpy leaves of the dino kale, or cavalo Nero (black cabbage in Italian) are savory, pleasantly and slightly bitter and hearty enough to sauté with garlic or add to soup.  I could eat dino kale every day.  Paired with the sweet, licoricey flavor of fennel, it’s a match made in heaven.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

half a yellow onion, diced

1 medium fennel bulb, sliced lengthwise

4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

pinch red pepper flakes, to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin, optional

1 cup low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable broth)

1 bunch dino kale, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, optional

In a medium-sized sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion and fennel.  Toss to coat the vegetables with oil and cover to sweat, about 8 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

When the onions are translucent and soft, add the garlic and beans.  Sauté until the garlic is fragrant.  Season with salt and pepper, and if desired, add the red pepper and cumin.  Add the chicken stock and the dino kale.  Mix together and cover.  Turn the heat down to simmer and simmer with the cover on for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the kale is tender, remove the pan from the heat and serve immediately with a sprinkling of cheese.

** Note:  I like to stretch my efforts and toss this recipe together with some cooked pasta.  Add a half-pound of cooked pasta to the recipe and toss together for a nice, light meal.

The San Mateo Night Market runs weekly every Wednesday from 4:30 – 8:30pm.  Parking in the Delaware lot is free.  Come down for a unique event combining gourmet food trucks, local farmers and live music.  Check the Night Market’s Facebook Event Page for more information:


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Let them eat CAKE! (part 2)

Intermission:  I am my own worst enemy

Before we continue with Act 2, please let me state that I’m not a whiny, complainy little brat when it comes to my craft.  Professionally, it’s my responsibility to maintain control over every type of situation that occurs in the kitchen.  I have a very strong “the show must go on” philosophy.   But here, we’re not talking about my work.

On a strictly personal level, I love to bake.  I love creating beautiful, ethereal cakes that bring happiness and joy to others; so it’s slightly possible that I am a bit over-ambitious in my planning.  But it’s my destiny to be my own worst enemy.  When I’m at home, in the weeds, when it becomes a Stage 5 shit storm, Terri with the cool, calm and collected demeanor ceases to exist and she implodes into a black hole of self-doubt, despair and hopelessness.  Briefly.

When others around me begin to spiral out of control I can reach in and ground them quickly with a simple reality check.  Unfortunately, at 2am, no one is actually available to perform that service for me.  After 10 minutes of self-torture and wallowing, I’m able to pull myself together and get on with what needs to be done.  Call it “experience,” but I’ve come to realize that the unexpected events that trigger my implosions are actually part of  my creation process.  While I am trying to pull myself out of the black hole, I have the ability to visualize the end product, to see the cakes as they are completed and to feel that overwhelming sense of accomplishment that I know will come once we’re serving the cakes.  That visualization gets me through that dark hour of despair.  And yes, I have this episode every time I bake.  After all, I am human.

Act 2: Cake or Death?

As I slept, I had nightmares about over-baking the dacquoise (imagine if that actually happened: there would be no time to do it over again).  I kept waking up and checking my alarm clock. When the alarm finally went off, I stumbled downstairs to take it out of the oven; falling down the stairs on my way to the kitchen.  Awesome.

I don’t actually remember taking the dacquoise out and turning the oven off.  I don’t even know how I got back upstairs and into bed.

I woke up at 7am on Sunday, slightly nauseous, mildly panicking.  The tasting was scheduled for 2pm.  It had to be perfect.  The gravity of the situation was starting to sink in:  I was making my brother’s wedding cake.  If I couldn’t pull this off, I’d consider myself a failure on every level.  Not only that, my parents were coming – this is their first time attending a cake tasting of mine.  Not only that, the bride’s parents were attending as well.  The stakes were so high.  I was feeling quite small and overwhelmed.  Deep breathing.  A strong cup of coffee.  Staring out the window with unfocused vision.  Pull yourself together.  It’s only a tasting – it’s not the actual wedding cake.  They have never been to one before – no one has any expectations, except you, you crazy bitch.

I triaged the situation down in the kitchen and decided that while Paul went to get the groceries, I would assemble the chocolate cake and measure out the ingredients for the other two cakes.  It wasn’t so bad:  I needed to bake 2 cakes, let them cool and assemble.  The fillings and frostings were already made and ready.  How bad could that be?  Would I need all 6 hours before the scheduled tasting?  Please.  I’m a professional!

Chocolate cake assembled and in the fridge.  Tally: 2 cakes completed.  Feeling better.  I was standing on semi-solid ground again after feeling like I was hopelessly sinking into quicksand.  Groceries were procured.  I was back on track.  I baked the next two cakes, cleaned up the kitchen while they were cooling and even managed to eat a bit of breakfast.

While I was assembling the third cake, the Strawberry Dream, my headspace moved into deeper, more soulful areas.  I started to take my time with the cake.  I thought about the other cake tastings we’ve had over the years.  Did we have set-backs?  Yes.  Did I prevail?  Most certainly, I did.  Did the guests enjoy themselves?  Gosh, I hope so.  Were they just humoring me?  Oh, maybe…   I ran through the list:  Antoine and Robert, Ford and Christin, Ming and Jason, Peter and Christine, Naz and Andrew… each event was special and meaningful.  Today would be no different.  I thought of my brother.  I thought about the first time I made a strawberry tart with vanilla pastry cream and how much he loved it when he first tasted it.  I thought about the first time I had this cake in culinary school.  Before I had even tasted it, I told my pastry chef instructor that it was my FAVORITE CAKE.  I thought about my chef instructor, who eventually became one of my dearest and best friends.  When I finished assembling this cake, I knew this would be one of the contenders.

I moved the strawberry cake down to the fridge and started cleaning up to prepare for the last cake.  Paul was getting the rest of the house ready for our guests.   It was a gray and rainy morning, but I was feeling surprisingly warm and relaxed.

As I set up for the last cake, a phrase popped into my head.  In Larry McMurtry’s book, Lonesome Dove, he talks about a particularly difficult cattle drive:  it was a long, dry, hot, dry and difficult travel between two rivers.  Towards the end, the cattle were struggling from dehydration and exhaustion.  The cowboys were despairing, hoping they would reach the next river before the cattle all died.  Suddenly, they began to notice signs along the way that indicated they were approaching water.  As I remember the phrase, “the cattle began to quicken their pace, despite their exhaustion as they began to smell the water.”    Yes, I’m a cow, and yes, I could “smell the water.”  The end of this cake prep was near — we were about to have a party!

~~~~~~~~~~~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Let them eat CAKE! (part 1)

WOW – it’s been a L O N G time since my last blog post!  Time certainly flies when you’re having fun!!  Apologies for the unintentional hiatus:  I’m in the midst of work that requires a lot of my attention and energy.  But I do think all the time about blogging… and I have begun many topics that I’ve saved in my drafts folder!

Enough of that for now.  Let’s get started, shall we?

Cake or Death? Cake, please.

Do you like cake? So do I!  Cake makes everything better.  It can transform any casual social gathering into a happy little party.  Cake is magic. Cake spreads happiness and good vibes.  Cake smells good, tastes good, looks beautiful, conjures up sweet memories and spreads smiles all around.  I am sad that I don’t get to make as  much cake as I used to… In the last couple of years, I only get to bake for special occasions.  When I first started baking (years and years ago), I took any excuse possible to bake a cake.  I guess I had more time on my hands back then.

For some casual occasions and lighter holidays (Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc), I like to make cupcakes.  They are cute, sweet and the perfect portion size.  For larger birthday parties and bigger events, I make full-sized cakes.  But the piece de resistance, the tip top of the cake hierarchy, the crown jewel of all cakes is the wedding cake!

Making a wedding cake is like running a marathon in the Olympics for me.  I make them about once every few years for close friends and family.  It’s strenuous, physically and emotionally.  I’ve learned a lot over the years about making a wedding cake… which would be the topic of another blog post soon.

For today, I wanted to tell you about the cake tasting, which is the run-up to the wedding cake.  My training session, if you will.  Ok, I’ll admit, it’s purely a selfish thing for me:  I get to have a small private party with the happy couple, ostensibly to discuss plans for their wedding cake; but really it’s all about sitting around, sipping champagne, talking about the wedding plans and of course, eating cake!  Actually, it’s a great idea to figure out the best type of cake to make for the wedding.  We learn what their likes and dislikes are, what their preferences are for frostings, the look and design of the cake, etc…

Last weekend, my husband and I hosted a cake tasting party for my brother and his lovely bride.  All of the cake tastings we’ve had over the years have been special and fun; and this one was no exception! The bride and groom invited their parents to join in and the bride’s brother also came to sample cakes – it was such a relaxed and easy-going afternoon filled with champagne, coffee, tea, and CAKE!

I made four tasting cakes on Saturday for the tasting on Sunday.  I tried to keep  in mind that I wanted to post a blog about the process of baking 4 separate cakes, but it was hard to remember as I got into full production mode, sorry; but as you read on, you’ll see why.

Part of the plan was to make cakes that were significant to the couple.  The other part of the plan was to make cakes that I could do relatively easily.  I chose cakes I had made countless times over the years.  These are my “Greatest Hits:”

1) My Signature Wedding Cake:  almond genoise filled with apricot puree, frosted with amaretto buttercream (I wanted to use Grand Marnier for the buttercream, but at the last second, I changed my mind).  This is my signature.  It’s the “ringer” I make for all cake tastings.  Surprisingly, a good number of people choose this cake (for different reasons) — I like it because it’s unusual, light and flavorful.

2) The Royal Hawaiian Cake:  pineapple cake filled with guava puree, frosted with vanilla buttercream and garnished with lightly toasted coconut flakes.  Since they got engaged in Hawaii last September,  I wanted to make something that was significant to them.  This is a fun cake for a party, and this combination makes excellent cupcakes as well.

3) The Strawberry Dream: Italian cream cake filled with vanilla mousseline cream and fresh strawberries from the Farmer’s Market (thanks, Abby!), frosted with limoncello buttercream.  I knew I was going to make this, and that it might very well become the wedding cake because it’s my brother’s favorite.    I have to admit it’s my favorite as well.

4)  Chocolate-Hazelnut (Gianduja ):with bittersweeet ganache, hazelnut dacquoise and frosted with frangelico buttercream.  I knew the bride liked chocolate and that she liked Nutella so I wanted to make something that hinted at the flavors of Nutella, making sure it came across as a bit more upscale.

The following content describes my personal journey in three acts as I prepared for the cake tasting party.  The irony is, it’s not my first time doing this.  I’ve done this so many times before I should be a pro at this by now.  But for some strange reason, things go wrong at the worst possible time, and then events spiral out of control for me. Every. Single. Dingle. Time.  My best-laid plans to be organized and efficient all seem to go pear-shaped when I least expect it.  Just when I can’t seem to overcome my problems, I somehow pull it together and in the end, the party goes off well and everyone lives happily ever after.  But for your reading pleasure, I’ll recount for you the ordeal (but don’t worry, there’s a happy ending at the end!)

Act 1: The Best Laid Plans…

On Saturday, I began pretty early with the baking.  I made two of the cakes from what I already had in my pantry (almond genoise and chocolate), fully intending to go shop for the rest of the ingredients later on in the afternoon.  Mind you, when I say I’m baking 4 cakes, I should state that they are all 6-inch cakes and not full-sized ones.  These smaller cakes are easier to make because they use less batter and take less time to bake in the oven.  They take less time to cool as well.   So these two cakes I made right away were easy and fast.  My confidence was building.  I took a break to have some lunch and went out to shop for the rest of the ingredients I needed for the rest of the day.

When I returned from the shops with the rest of the items I needed, I noticed that the chocolate cake turned into a hockey puck.  I was confused:  this is a cake I can practically make in my sleep.  I know the ratios by heart.  Why did it fail?  No idea.  I threw out the failed cake and started another batch.  Again, it wasn’t a big deal;  it was still relatively early in the day and I was confident I had enough time for the other 2 cakes (pineapple and Italian cream), 2 full batches of buttercream, pastry cream, chocolate ganache and a hazelnut dacquoise.  Every endeavor starts out this way… until….

Top: almond genoise left, pineapple cake right. Bottom: Italian Cream left, chocolate right

As the afternoon wore on, the other 2 cakes were made relatively quickly and all four cakes were set to cool.  I was feeling pretty good by now.  I made the chocolate ganache and set that aside to cool to room temperature so it would become a spreadable consistency (like peanut butter).  On to the pastry cream… which ruined itself immediately when I went to answer the phone.  Pastry cream is another recipe I can make in my sleep.  The mistake I made was trying to rush it along.  I had turned the heat up higher than I normally would so that it would cook faster.  If I had been diligent and just whisked and whisked quickly until it set up, I’d have been fine.  But, I was a moron and answered a phone call.   The pastry cream curdled and seized as soon as I turned my back to get the phone.  Nasty. I had to make that over again, too.  What’s that saying about haste making waste?  Yes, I’m an expert at that, too.

Pastry cream 2.0, chocolate ganache and simple syrup. Ready and waiting!

The ruined pastry cream threw a wrench into everything.  By then, most of Saturday was gone. I had only 4 cakes and ganache to show for it.  After I cleaned up the pastry cream mess and prepared for another batch, I realized that I hadn’t gotten the dacquoise started yet.  Damn.  Dacquoise is a crunchy disk of meringue and ground nuts  baked until it is dry, crunchy and light.  Layered in a cake, it gives a sweet, crunchy texture to a soft, moist cake.  It also takes SEVEN F*CKING HOURS to bake.  I think I finally got it into the oven around 9pm.  Crap.

So, ok, dacquoise in the oven.  Pastry cream 2.0 made and cooling… it was time to make the buttercream.  I decided to make 2 full batches of unflavored buttercream and then divide the whole lot into quarters to flavor individually for each cake.  By that time, it was nearing 11pm.  I made the buttercreams as quickly as I could (only 1 Kitchenaid machine) and decided that I’d assemble the 2 easier cakes before going to bed.

Buttercream in the making!

I put the almond cake together with no problem.  Feeling better.  Feeling like I was gaining ground again.  Next, I tried the Strawberry cake… and failure #3 occurred.  The entire cake was under baked in the center.  W.T.F.  Glancing at the clock, it was already near midnight. I was getting tired, cranky.  Stressing out.  Crying.  Time to give Terri a 10-minute time-out.

10 minutes later, I’m re-purposed.  I decided a new plan of action:  assess the situation, see what can be done tonight, wake up super-early tomorrow morning and carry on.  I took stock of the situation:  the Italian cream cake had to be thrown away, the pineapple cake also looked slightly underbaked too (damn), buttercreams were done and flavored, ganache was cooled to the right consistency, dacquoise still had 3 more hours to go.  Damn.  I checked my ingredients.  Double Damn:  I had run out of eggs, sugar and pineapple.  Even though a 24-hour Safeway is down the street from me, I waved the White Flag.  I cleaned up the kitchen as well as I could, set the timer for when the dacquoise would be ready and crawled into bed.  Defeated.  All day I worked thinking it was going to be a slam dunk.  I do this to myself every time. It was 2am and I had only 1 finished cake.  Loser.

~~~~~~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~~~~~~~~

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Super Bowl, the aftermath

OK, I’ll come clean: I got 2/3s of my work done on Sunday. It was hard! There was a Puppy Bowl to see, fried chicken to fry, commercials to watch… I had all kinds of stuff going on that day!

We all enjoyed hanging out at the house on Sunday very much. We each had our laptops out, beverages and snacks spread around and while some were actually watching the game, I only paid attention during commercial breaks.

We were live-Tweeting during the game.  At one point, we realized we were on a 6-minute delay due to my  having to rewind to see a commercial over again.  We hadn’t noticed until we saw someone’s tweet about the Bieber commercial and we hadn’t even seen it yet.  Like the scene in the fourth Harry Potter book – where Harry’s watching the Quidditch World Cup through his Omnioculars and forgot he was on delay.

Which were my favorites commercials? Darth Vader Jr. Cowboys and Aliens. House as Mean Joe Green.   The one that had the dogs playing poker.  Finding the hidden code for Angry Birds in the Rio trailer and not knowing what exactly to do (none of us play Angry Birds).

Oh, and I loved the Black Eyed Peas Half Time show. Yes, I did. Their homage to Tron really got me. I recognized pieces of their act from seeing them last October when they opened for U2 at the Rosebowl. But I felt they totally got screwed by the sound mixers.

But honestly, folks, the most excellent part of the day, was spending quality time with Mr. B and Ms. S chowing down candy, chips, popcorn, fried chicken, shrimp cocktail and being introduced to the phenomenon known as the Puppy Bowl.



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Good Morning, SUNSHINE!

In my opinion, there is nothing as incredible as a glass of freshly extracted juice enjoyed first thing in the morning.

I’ve been experimenting with many combinations over the years, but carrot/apple/orange/ginger seems to be my hands-down favorite.  It’s like drinking a glass of sunshine!

If you don’t already have a juice extractor, consider getting yourself one.  During the flu and cold season, mine works overtime making juice from whatever veg and fruit combination I can get my hands on. I like this one, personally….but I’m sure you can find other good, quality models for less by looking around.

Good combinations to juice, until you find your own preferences are:

Tomato/cucumber/carrot/celery/lime — tastes like V-8, but better!

Beet/carrot/peach/ginger — thawed frozen peaches are perfect and cheap!

Spinach/pear/cucumber — refreshing!

The combinations above are just suggestions.  I’ve left out amounts because it’s all based on what you’ve got on hand, and what you’re in the mood for.  If you like a sweeter juice, then by all means, add more fruit.

Some folks have asked me about what to do with the pulp that’s left after the juice has been extracted.  If you buy organic produce for your juicing, you can add the pulp to your compost (if you’re into that).  I’ve seen horrifying recipes that suggest adding the pulp to stuff like meatloaf, soup and salsas.  The pulp is really tough and fibrous.  If you are using a centrifugal extractor, practically no moisture of any kind will be left over.  Please don’t feel guilty about tossing out the pulp.

Another related question that comes up, too: fiber.  Someone asked me once if I was getting enough fiber by drinking fruit and vegetable juice.  The answer is no.  I still eat whole grains, and whole fruits and vegetables.  The juice I drink is in addition to what I eat, and is not a substitute for meals.

Lastly, if ever time and circumstance do not permit me to set up the machine, I hit Trader Joe’s or Jamba Juice.  The priority is the juice, and sometimes the situation calls for buying it.

Happy Juicing!  :D

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Super Bowl Workday

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. I’m looking forward to having it on the television and watching it with Mr. B and a friend later on this afternoon. I root neither for the Steelers nor the Packers… I don’t even know the basic strategies of the game. For me, the enjoyment of Super Bowl comes from the massive energy from those who consider it a National Holiday, the commericals (of course), the halftime show and the FOOD. :)

My friend also has to work during the afternoon, but since she telecommutes, we decided to have a joint-working-watching-the-Super-Bowl XLV-Party together. Maybe, if we have and opportunity, we’ll fire up some Mario Kart or I’ll introduce her to The Grid. Every day at work should be this fun!

We’ve even planned the snacks:  chicken wings (the wings are soaking in buttermilk as I type this), tortellini salad, veggies, homemade pizza and some brownies to round it all out.  I’ll make popcorn for the pre-game stuff… but once the game begins, the real serious food comes out.

I wish you all could come join us, but then for sure we won’t get any work done!

I’ll post later after it’s over and we’ll discuss our favorite commercials and come clean with how much work we actually got done…


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