Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Butternut Squash Bread Pudding

I made this excellent bread pudding the other night for friends in my singing group. I used ciabatta bread and then you make the custard that soaks into the bread out of pureed squash, half and half, sugar, eggs, nutmeg and Chinese Five Spice Powder (which was a great complement to the sweet squash). Then you mash more squash with brown sugar and fold in. It is really flavorful and not just the same old bread pudding- though can bread pudding ever be boring?? The sauce is made out of evaporated milk cooked until thick and brown, sweetened condensed milk and cream. Very tasty. This would be very good with just maple syrup as well. What a great dish for a holiday brunch!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I thought I'd post about our Thanksgiving meal since it turned out pretty well. We had a few friends over this year and they provided the veggie tray, rolls, sweet potatoes (streusel topped and very yummy), pumpkin pie, as well as the Apple Betty Bars.

The menu was:

Veggie tray with Scallion Dip
Cheese Platter with a gorgonzola, good Camembert, awesome Gruyere, and Boursin- accompaniments were honeycrisp apples, marcona almonds, dried cherry/cranberry sauce and dried apricots

Mashed Potatoes
Bacon, Sausage, Leek and Pinenut Dressing
Streusel Topped Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Yeast Rolls (recipe below- my mom's recipe and one of my favorite standard rolls)
David's green jello salad :)

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Betty Bars

We drank wassail, sparkling cranberry juice, sparkling apple cider and Pelligrino.

Forgive the photos, the official food photographer was not at the helm. :)

My commentary (on what I made or provided recipes for):
The soup is really good. I've made it the past two years and it is not too rich. Tastes mushroomy, but not overwhelming so.

The salad was a last minute addition. I was searching for some kind of apple pie bar and this recipe turned up. I wanted something lighter to provide a foil for all the rich sides we already had, so here it was. I loved the balsamic reduction on the plate and the dates mixed in were a new experience in a salad, and really good. The walnut oil and nutty cheese with the sweet apples were a great twist on the typical apple salads I make. I think I'm going to make the salad again for some friends this weekend!

I was really excited about this turkey because it had raw bacon mixed into butter with herbs and such, which you then put under the turkey skin before roasting. I was a little disappointed that it didn't have a stronger bacon flavor, BUT the texture of the meat was really good. Not sure if because of the way I made it, or if it was just the bird itself. I did a little experimenting this year. The past few years I have made a point of ordering a good bird from a butcher counter- usually a fresh Willie Bird. They are more expensive but reliably good. They've tasted fine. I'm not a big turkey fan and have been trying to find the perfect recipe to make me love it. This year I bought a fresh brined turkey from Trader Joes. Definitely not worse than a Willie Bird and much easier to get ahold of (and cheaper). Can't say I feel compelled to go back to the old tradition. Trader Joes is here to stay! As far as the gravy went- totally unnecessary. It was a lot of work and I could not taste a remarkable difference from my standard. I usually do the roux with drippings and a little creme fraiche at the end.

The sides were good, as usual, nothing really new. Same dressing I've made for 10 years. We love it. I made it up when we first moved to San Fran. Mashed potatoes are always good when they have butter and half and half, right? A note on the green jello salad: this is a recipe David grew up eating and is a must have for him every year. It's fine and I'm sure brings back memories for him. It has lime jello, cream, crushed pineapple and cream cheese.

Desserts: David prefers Pumpkin Chiffon, I prefer baked pumpkin. We used to take turns every year. We both love my Pumpkin Cheesecake with gingersnap crust. Now, we don't make the others. This is it! The compromise. Last year I tried this Chocolate Cranberry Tart. It is very good and a nice change from more traditional Thanksgiving desserts. Plus it is pretty easy and has chocolate- need I say more?
Sweet Yeast Rolls
2 packages dry yeast (2 tablespoons)
¼ cup lukewarm water
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
1 cup hot milk
4 to 5 cups flour
2 eggs

Soften yeast in water for 5 minutes. In large bowl, add hot milk to sugar, salt, and shortening, let cool (break up shortening). Add 2 cups flour-stir till elastic and smooth. Add yeast, eggs and 1 ½ to 2 cups flour. Knead dough for 2 minutes on floured surface till not sticky. Let rise for 1 ½ hours or until double in bulk. Punch down. Divide in half and roll first half into a circle. Brush with melted butter. Cut into 12 wedges and roll each wedge starting at wide end. Put seam-side down on cookie sheet about ¼ inch apart. Brush tops with butter. Repeat with other half of dough. Rise till double, about 30 minutes. Bake 375o for 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from pan immediately and cool on wire racks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


A few of you have been giving me a hard time lately about not posting in such a while. :) I am sorry about that and hope to get back in the groove sooner rather than later. But for now, I thought I'd share one of my favorite things while there are still a few figs in the stores.

Grilled Figs Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Wrapped in Prosciutto

Make sure you choose ripe figs. They should not be hard. In fact, if you felt any other fruit give this much you probably wouldn't buy it. I tend to use Black Mission figs but you can use any variety that looks good. Here's how it goes: trim the top of the stem end off and cut the fig almost all the way in half. Then put about a teaspoon of goat cheese in between the halves and close. Now wrap a piece of prosciutto cut in half length lengthwise around the fig to keep it closed. I like to put a few of these figs on one long metal skewer but you can leave them off if you like. Now comes the best part. Grill the figs for a few minutes until the prosciutto is crispy on the edges. They are. so. good. I promise you'll be hooked. The cheese is creamy and melty. The figs are sweet, warm and rich tasting and the prosciutto is a fantastic salty crispy foil for the two other parts. Mmmmm... In fact, some of my friends who are convinced they don't like figs, love these. Let me know if you try them or have a favorite variation or other way you like to eat figs!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Matt Costa

A while back I shared the "Mr. Pitiful" video from Matt Costa and just because he currently one of my favorite artists to listen to, I had to share another. This one is great too, and it comes from his "Songs We Sing" album. The "Unfamiliar Faces" album is good too, but I think I like this one more. Hard to choose a favorite!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

dave eggers

four reasons why I like dave eggers:

1. His book "What is the What?". You may remember me mentioning I was reading it back in January. It is the autobiographical novel about one of the "Lost Boys" of the Sudan. It was so well written, and while at times difficult to read, it was also difficult to put down because the story was so incredible. Makes you realize how Ameri-centric we can be sometimes and know so little about what else people across the world have to go through every day.

2. His book "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius". I am only in the early pages of this book but am so struck by the honesty of his writing. The way he describes little mundane details is so rich that you feel like you are an unseen visitor in his world. The book talks about how he came to gain custody of his 8 year-old brother at age 22. I am excited to finish it!

3. He opened 826 Valencia a few years ago here in San Francisco in the Mission district. It is a writing and tutoring lab for young people and you can hear more about it in the video linked to in number 4. What I think is particularly cool about it is that it is a true neighborhood institution which is there to support its community. They began by offering free tutoring to neighborhood kids, first from the people that worked in the back for McSweeney's (a literary publication), later by any adult volunteers who wanted to give one on one tutoring to kids in their space. And, in the front of their office is a pirate shop- yes a pirate shop. How cool is that?

4. He is a winner of the 2008 TED award. His wish video is here. You must watch it. It is incredibly inspiring. His wish is to collect 1000 stories of people giving their talents and help in some valuable way to their local public school. Even if you don't have kids. Even if you never volunteer for anything. Use what you have to offer to enrich a kids' life and greaten their chances for inspiration and success.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

you must make this recipe

A friend just asked yesterday if I had baked anything good this summer and I realized I have still been taking a break from all my usual business and no, I really hadn't been doing a lot of extracurricular kitchen crafting! But, twice I have made this fabulous dish. It's very easy, very comfort-food-ish and great for breakfast or dessert. It comes from Torie Ritchie's "Tuesday Recipes". She is a local cookbook author who emails out a new recipe every Tuesday and you can subscribe to her list here. It's worth it. I have made a few keepers from her emails!

french toast bread pudding with warm peaches

serves 6
prep time: 20 minutes
chill time: overnight
bake time: 45 minutes

1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 loaf (about 1 pound) cinnamon-swirl bread, challah or brioche bread
6 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/2 cups milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 ripe peaches, sliced (you are definitely going to want to double the peaches, but nothing else)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

The night before serving, smear the 1 tablespoon butter over the bottom and sides of a 13x9x2-inch baking dish or other 2-quart baking dish. Tear the bread into small pieces and scatter in the dish. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla. Pour over the bread. Tamp down the bread with a spatula to submerge each piece in egg. Cover with foil, gently pressing down so the foil is right on the surface of the mixture. Refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, remove the dish and slide it into a cold oven with the foil on (otherwise, the dish will crack). Turn oven on to 375°. After 25 minutes, gently pull off and discard the foil. Continue to bake until mixture is puffed and golden brown, about 20 more minutes. At this point, prepare the peaches by melting the 4 tablespoons butter in a wide nonstick pan then stirring in the brown sugar. When mixture is bubbly, add peaches and cinnamon and cook, stirring, until peaches start to look glazed, about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside (mixture will be really hot).

When bread pudding is cooked, let it cool for a few minutes on a rack, then spoon onto plates and top with warm peaches.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

the best ice cream

Last week I went to Bi-Rite Creamery. I can't believe I've been missing out all this time! They were closing right as we arrived and we had to make a really quick decision. I chose the salted caramel without even really seeing my other options. I'll never look back. I think I'm in love (sorry David). It. was. so. good. I'm trying to mastermind the way I can get back there as quickly as possible. It tasted like really rich, super creamy, almost burnt sugar. Just the way I like it. The flavor was complex, sweet- but not too. A grain of sea salt every so often to bring out the flavors, and every once in a while- a small creamy nibble of caramel. Wow. I couldn't stop thinking about it for the next 24 hours.
Oh, and I love that they have little wooden ice cream spoons and biodegradable cups. And that their tasting spoons are REAL spoons. That they wash. And reuse. And that they use Strauss Creamery dairy products.

Monday, July 21, 2008


While we were on vacation I got to go out with a couple of my sisters, David and my dad a couple of times for a photo "field trip" to capture Driggs and the surrounding valley. I thought these turned out pretty well.

nature shots

Here are some of my better nature shots from the trip.

the people

And last but not least, some of the people I got to spend the week with!

Friday, July 18, 2008

you might want to avert your eyes

We had a National Geographic moment on our vacation. We were staying in a condo near two other condos where the rest of my family was staying. One day while we were walking from one to the other we came upon this scene right in the grass 20 feet away from our back door. Somehow two baby birds had fallen earlier in the day and a couple of garter snakes had discovered them and were anxious for a chicken dinner. My kids and their cousins were able to witness these small snakes from just a few feet away as they pulled their feast under the house next door. Lucky for me (or not), my camera was very close by and I captured it for your viewing pleasure!

yummy pastries in Teton Valley

We just returned home last night from a family reunion in Driggs, Idaho which is in the Teton Valley right on the border between Idaho and Wyoming. It is about an hour from Jackson Hole. A great time was had by all and the area is just gorgeous.

One unexpected moment was coming upon this fabulous little pastry shop hiding at the back of a gravel parking lot on Main Street. Driggs has always been a small town with only a small variety of shops and eateries but apparently this one has been there about 4 years and we never knew about it!

My dad and I split a fruit tart with nectarines and bluberries and an almond pastry, my favorite. My sister had a blueberry and cream pastry and boy, was it hard to make a choice! Everything looked fresh and perfect. We met the women who bakes and owns the shop who told us she learned her skills from her Austrian father, who had a bakery in SunValley, while growing up. Definitely a spot to rival those here in San Francisco! I look forward to visiting Pendl's again when we go to Driggs in the future.

I loved the atmosphere. It was one of those spots that you would want to visit daily and where you would look forward to seeing your friends from the neighborhood. There were cute tables outside and a fire pit for cold weather. And I love that it was tucked away from the street's edge, away from the increasing traffic in town. Isn't it funny how discoveries like this one just brighten your day!

Monday, June 30, 2008

a cup of tea

I really like herbal tea. I've gotten in a habit over the last year or more of having at least a cup a day- sometimes more, depending on my mood. Sometimes I like it in the morning as my warm waking-up beverage. I love it mid-afternoon when I'm feeling the munchies, but don't really need anything to eat. Plus it's really great for taking a moment to slow down before moving on with the rest of your day. The British hit on something with Afternoon Tea. I wish my kids liked it. I think we could all use a moment to sit and reflect and calm down after a busy day. The other time I tend to drink it is at night, again when I want something warm and relaxing.

Since many of my friends wonder which kinds are best and don't drink much tea, I thought I'd share my favorites. All are caffeine free and herbal. Oh, and just a couple of tea brewing tips. Bring a pot of water almost to a boil and pour over the tea bag in a mug and let sit for 4-5 minutes. Squeeze out the bag and remove. I like to add a teaspoon or less of honey to the cup. It's better to not let the water boil, or to leave the tea bag in too long so the tea won't be bitter. I know you've probably done both, I do it sometimes too, but you will notice a difference if you do a side by side test. It shouldn't stress you out, just advice for the perfect cup. My current top three teas are:

Zhena's Gypsy Tea in "Fireside Chai". It has a very warm flavor with herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper. It is particularly great on a cold day (like summer here in San Francisco!). I buy it at the store around the corner but you can always order some online.
Another one I love is Numi's Chamomile Lemon Myrtle. This is a good calming nighttime tea, but I also like it in the afternoon when I need to relax. It is sort of sweet with just a hint of lemon. Nothing overpowering. Of all the chamomile teas I've had so far, this is my favorite.

Mighty Leaf's loose tea, Verbena Mint Chrysanthemum, is so great. Something about it is so fresh and invigorating. This is the perfect tea for getting you through the rest of your afternoon. The mint provides a pep to your step and lemon verbena leaves you feeling nourished. So, to prepare a loose tea you need a tea pot with an infuser inside or a tea cup with the same. I have a great Bodum mug I usually use, but you can also use a tea ball. The advantage to using a bigger infuser is that it gives the flowers and herbs room to expand and flavor the water. Of course you can always just put the tea in your mug and then strain it out later, it just means you are dirtying an extra mug and strainer!