Monthly Archives: November 2006

Beef Mushroom Barley soup

Beef Mushroom Barley soup, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Late November: time to pull out the heavy blankets and snuggle up at night, shivering as you hit the cold sheets and wait to warm up. When you do find yourself enveloped in big fluffy blankets and warmth, that is just the essence of why I love Fall and Winter. I love that feeling of being bundled up in the chilly air.

That feeling of enveloping warmth is what a cup of hearty soup feels like.

Much as I love the cold weather, I love being in cold weather with a warm jacket, or sipping some hot soup and feeling my belly fill up while watching the leaves fall outside. Yes, you can have it both ways.

Here is a soup to match the weather: beef mushroom barley soup. I’m enjoying it tonight while the temps plunge below freezing (a big deal here in Berkeley) and I hope it helps me fight my sniffles.  As you see here, I’ve piled my soup high with the barley and beef and mushrooms and skimped on the broth (though it’s a lot soupier in reality).  I based it on the recipe at epicurious, adding my favorite garlic, upping the barley and such–in the end, I adjusted this recipe according to my own tastes.  I welcome you to adjust it further!

Recipe follows after the jump

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a shortcut to cheer

white chocolate chunk cookies, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I needed some cheering up today. So I made a big batch of white chocolate chunk cookies. It worked! I used the same recipe as for chocolate chunk cookies, except with white chocolate chunks (valrhona, lindt, and ghirardelli). I also added some walnuts (I had some lying around) in the last half of this batch.

Since they cheered me up–I thought I’d share. Maybe they’ll cheer you up too.

Unexpected Egg Pizza

An experiment: fried egg pizza, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

We went to Gioia’s pizza in Berkeley for a slice of pizza. There really is no better New York Style pizza in the near East Bay (or maybe the entire San Francisco Bay Area) than the crispy thin pies at Gioia’s Pizzeria in North Berkeley. They even, most days, have one pizza topping option that would satisfy the “California pizza” lovers out here (like asparagus). But my favorites are the more traditional cheese, and anchovy pizzas.

I ordered my usual slice of New York style cheese pizza and then spotted this thing waaay behind, in the back. “What is that? Is that an experiment?” It looked like a pizza slice with a fried egg on top of it. The employees smiled. “Nope, not an experiment, it’s just someone who’s crazy around here.” They pointed to the guy who was busy making pizza dough.

Then they gave me the slice. For free. (“Want to try?” they asked. I nodded, because I HAD to try–after all, I also had “cheese bibimbap” when I encountered it on a menu in Tokyo). They refused to take money for it–was that a sign? Was this pizza not worth the price? I said I’d tip them for the courtesy; they heartily accepted.

They stuck the slice in the oven to warm it up, and when it came out the egg that had been “easy over” with a yolk just a millimeter away from running out all over the pizza was considerably cooked. “It’s a little spicy,” they said; they didn’t need to say it, I could smell the spice from inches away. It smelled like salsa–the pizza’s toppings included chilis and ham and onions and tomatoes and a spicy salsa. This, I thought, would be like huevos rancheros on pizza.

It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. But it wasn’t bad.

I later got home and googled “egg pizza”–apparently, this isn’t so uncommon! On flickr itself, a search for egg pizza yielded lots of pictures of delicious looking egg pizza (better than this one I took of my slice–sorry, all I had was a cameraphone!). If you are so inclined, you can also make an egg pizza yourself–The Food Network has an egg pizza recipe in its database. Wowee.

Anyway. Consensus: It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. But it wasn’t bad. Maybe I was really hungry.

gobble gobble gumbo

turkey gumbo, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I thought I’d do a post on what to do with turkey leftovers since it’s the day after Thanksgiving. (We had a wonderful traditional menu with many leftovers). Hopefully, my experiences might help you make a dent in your leftover turkey! (And if you’ve got leftover suggestions, feel free to share them–what do you do with your leftover turkey?).

We left our Thanksgiving turkey out, uncovered, overnight so I had quite a challenge on my hands: what to do with a dried out turkey? I felt awful thinking about throwing all that food away. Even if the turkey were moist and fresh, it would still be a challenge: I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of turkey. In fact, the only parts of a traditional Thanksgiving meal that I like are pie and stuffing. I could really do without the turkey, let alone DRY turkey.

A friend of mine, Susan, had asked for the turkey leftovers (yes, I’m lucky to have a friend who’ll take my turkey!), but I couldn’t give a turkey in this state to her!

I do love a cooking challenge, so this became a blessing in disguise–suddenly, I became engaged with this turkey! I suddenly felt passion for a turkey dish! It would have to be, as Susan and I discussed over instant messenger, something saucy or stewy. She suggested turkey enchiladas and mentioned a family “turkey a la king” recipe. Intriguing!

I went through my cache of family recipes and I thought: gumbo, food of my husband’s Louisiana childhood! This is a hodge-podge dish, very accomodating for leftover turkey and also, something altogether different from the previous night’s meal. Different textures, spices–it makes the turkey feel “new.”

Besides, who can turn down good old Louisiana style food? I loove gumbo!

Now that I’ve made the gumbo, I have NO MORE leftover turkey. And that makes me happy, because as you now know, I don’t like turkey. Yay, it’s GONE!

The most important part of this recipe (that I base on Emeril Lagasse’s gumbo recipes–damn, I hate his TV show but I like his recipes) is the roux–that is the heart of any gumbo recipe. Tend to it carefully until it turns the color of chocolate and you’ll be rewarded with the base flavor for a spectacular gumbo. You’ll also need some andouille sausage, too–I’m not a pork eater but I make allowances for this (naughty naughty me). The shrimp is optional.

I used the carcass of the turkey to make the broth for this gumbo. If you skip out on that step and use another source for broth–be sure to add the bay leaves and plenty of black pepper in the gumbo itself.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Happy Pecan Pie

img_3011.JPGChristine talked me into attempting my first pie crust today. (actually my first one in about 15 years; the last one didn’t turn out so well)  It looks like a mess but I’m sure it will taste a lot better than the Pillsbury storebought crust.  All butter, courtsey of Martha Stewart. I will report back on the taste later!

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

I leave you with images from our household…wishing you a full stomach and full heart today!

i began cooking already...first up? cranberries

brussel sprouts

candied yams

baked winter squash

turkey done

pumpkin pie with whipped cream!

brussel sprouts with mushroom and pearl onions

quickie cake: citrus chiffon cake with citrus syrup

citrus chiffon cake with citrus syrup, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Cakes to me, have always been an intricate and time consuming labor of love: first you make the cake, then you make the layers, the frosting, and then decorate. It’s no wonder they are so often associated with special occasions: birthday cakes, wedding cakes, etc.! In fact, one day I’m going to make one of those cakes I love and post it here (a lovely cardamom chiffon cake with rosewater frosting).

You see, those cakes are wonderful and inspiring to eat, but not so accessible. But then one day someone got me a bundt/flower cake pan and voila!: I discovered the “easy quick cakes.” These, I define as cakes that can be made out of one pan, in one layer, without so much as a lick of frosting. If you have a pretty pan, it’s even easier to make sure these cakes are attractive as well as tasty.

Today was an easy quickie cake day: I had to take refreshments to class–I realized this with only a couple hours to spare. Of course I had the option to go to the store and buy something, but oddly enough, baking something at home would be more convenient for me in this case. I had some work to do and if I timed it all correctly, I could get that work done while the item baked in the oven.

So I had to pick an item that would have very little prep before and afterwards. Cookies, though usually ideal, were out of the question: too much hurrying back and forth from the oven, at well-timed 10-15 minute intervals. It would not give me time to get that chunk of work done.

What else was left? A cake! I pulled out my flower shaped “bundt pan” (it’s not really a bundt pan because it doesn’t have that hole in the middle) and browsed for recipes. A quick search on epicurious brought me to the recipe for a citrus chiffon cake with citrus syrup.

The cake was a dream to make, very simple…and the whipped egg whites truly looked like a dream:

egg whites for chiffon cake

The zest is a must, even though it’s the most time consuming step (not so time consuming if you have a microplane zester). What you end up with is a light cake–it is a bit dry on its own though, so you want to boil some of that citrus syrup up while the cake is in the oven (or in my case, while the cake cooled). (I’m wondering right now what would happen if I were to add some sour cream to this cake to “moisten” it up). Last steps? Sprinkle some powdered sugar on top and serve with the syrup! I let the students pour the syrup on themselves (but insisted on it, obsessively, knowing how dry the cake could be). The syrup made the thing perfect.

Easy cake! Recipe follows after the jump…

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from summer to autumn: provencal tomato soup with rice

tomato provencal soup with rice, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I went to watch “Stranger than Fiction” today (which incidentally is a wonderful movie, especially poignant for fiction writers). The connection with this movie to tomato provencal soup? The movie theater was across the street from a Sunday farmer’s market.

Though I love farmer’s markets, and find them incredibly invigorating and fun, I’m often too lazy to coordinate my schedule and get myself over to a bounty-of-local-harvest-that-is-only-available-for-a-few-hours-once-a-week. I know. Horrible. I kick myself every week as I browse through second tier fruit and veg at a chain grocery store during my odd night hour shopping expeditions. Even my local favorite, Berkeley Bowl, cannot keep up with produce a mere few hours off the farm. But–I am not so lazy that when a farmer’s market is across the street from I’m supposed to be that I will not go visit! So off to the farmer’s market I went.

Visits to the farmer’s market bring me a weird inner peace and inspiration. How can I feel that way about produce? But I do. For me, I have similar experiences staring at art pieces in a museum. Maybe it’s not so big a leap: after all, these are all creations.

Just look at these green onions:

farmer's market: beautiful green onions

How beautiful are they? How the purple and green interplay? How there is such a perfect and striking balance? Could I write a story so natural and brilliant?

Or take a look at these tomatoes:

farmer's market:  last tomatoes of the season

They’re the last tomatoes of the season–all over the market were signs that declared, “Last week for grapes” and “Last Early Girl Tomatoes.” Immediately, before they had even disappeared, I became nostalgic! I missed them already!

I stood, in the middle of the market, arms weighed down with yams, tangerines, mushrooms, and one huge brussel sprout stalk, feeling kind of sad and also inspired and also peaceful and happy. There were fewer stalls than I’d been last, in the height of summer, and there was a sort of empty feeling. Then again, it’s autumn, my favorite season, and I delighted in this very natural transition.

How to deal with these mixed feelings? I stared at the tomatoes. How could I not have the “last Early Girl tomatoes” of the season? They felt more special somehow. I gathered a couple pounds of them, feeling their soft smooth skins in my hands; they were tender to the touch. So fragile, and vulnerable these last tomatoes were!

What could I make with these tomatoes? I thought of Sam at Becks & Posh who herself bought a 20 lb box and made sauce reserves of the last tomatoes, so precious are the taste of summer tomatoes. I felt ambivalent and yet whimsical: Summer, Autumn. Tomatoes…and soup. I decided that these tomatoes were enough to make a soup to pay homage to both summer and autumn.

No normal soup would do, either. It could not be an “average tomato soup.” So I decided to make a provencal tomato soup with rice. I am a fan of this particular recipe for the balance between decadent saffron and irreverent red-pepper. It makes me think of the French countryside with a bit of a kick. What a way to celebrate the last tomatoes of the season.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Friday Five

Food based Friday Five!

1. Given a choice, and imagining that money and time were no object, would you rather cook dinner, eat out or order in?

Depends on my mood. I go through spells of eating out a lot, and after a while, I just want to eat something simple, like a fried egg with a bowl of rice and soy sauce. And takeout is nice if I’ve been really busy, I’m tired and I don’t feel like interacting with other humans.

2. What is the most elaborate meal you’ve ever prepared yourself or purchased at a restaurant?

I’ve prepared many multicourse meals at my friend Justin’s house, but I can’t remember them all now. I know that out of the French Laundry cookbook, we made butter poached lobster and lobster bisque. When Anne and I were practicing for an Iron Chef contest, we made something like 12 dishes for our guinea pigs… savory egg custards in their own shell with morel ragout (also out of French Laundry), pasta carbonara, strawberry pavlova with mascarpone sorbet, white and yellow nectarine and prosciutto salad, duck sausage with dried nectarines, nectarine and cardamon rice, nectarine chutney, nectarine ice cream, corn risotto, polenta cookies, corn ice cream (yech)… My own kitchen is tiny, so I don’t often prepare multicourse meals for guests. If I do, I stick to uncomplicated dishes so I can entertain. A common dinner party menu would be something like oysters on the half shell, cold vichysoisse, a tossed salad, seared duck breast (the only thing that’s not prepared ahead of time), lentils, a cheese plate and some kind of tart with homemade ice cream. If I do make something more complicated, it’s labeled as a “project” that produces excess product to share or eat later on, like cassoulet, braised oxtails, fresh pasta, puff pastry, macarons, etc. But the most complicated meal I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant is probably Pierre Gagnaire. Dude had some pretty bizarre stuff!

3. What food do you find yourself making and/or eating way too much?

I actually *like* repeating recipes over and over, and making subtle adjustments each time. After a while, the recipe become my own. But I probably eat too much chocolate and pastries.

4. What was your most disastrous cooking/eating out experience? The molten sugar incident.

5. Would you rather cook for someone else or have them cook for you? I’d rather cook for someone else. It’s pretty difficult for me to go into someone else’s kitchen while food is being prepared and resist meddling. Also, I’m just a control freak in the kitchen. It gets pretty obnoxious – “Ack! The mirepoix should be diced smaller! Those cookies need to be spaced evenly apart! What do you mean, you don’t have a microplane zester! Don’t you know that chervil is integral to fines herbes? We can’t use extra virgin olive oil to saute! “

uber chocolate chunk cookies

chocolate chunk cookies

This was a post I put up on my personal blog right before Muffin Top started up. I thought I would re-post it here, since I’d like to share it with Muffin Top readers. Also, I’d like to start consolidating my favorite recipes in one place, so I don’t have to hunt for them in two different places!

What I love about this recipe is that it is so decadent: big chunks of artisanal chocolate beat little chocolate chips anyday! Although, yes, you can use chips in this recipe too. I also love this recipe because the chips are a bit cakier than the very popular Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe. I am not a fan of the Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe–it produces cookies that are just a bit too “mushy,” sweet, and flat for me. So this is a great alternative recipe for those of you in the same boat!

In fact, the reason I looked up this recipe is that I plan on making some today.

So without further ado…

i’m trying to clear out my kitchen before i leave town–going to avoid the “what the heck is this stuff you left me to eat?” situation. there’s a ton of stuff i eat that my husband does not…like tofu for instance, and chocolate. i’ve discovered tons of chocolate stashes throughout the kitchen. wherever you can hide some chocolate, i’ve done it! squares of valrhona jivara lactee behind the teas, a half pound block of el rey bittersweet 70% behind the pasta, another block of callebaut bittersweet 68% by the sugar and salt, and a quarter pound of valrhona jivara lactee (how could i have overlooked THAT?!) behind the canned food.


i know i have a habit of impulse buying when it comes to gourmet chocolate…but boy, i didn’t realize i was so wasteful…or rather such a chocolate hoarder. i remind myself of those cartoons with the dog that keeps hiding his bones all around the yard and lawn!

anyway–i couldn’t let that chocolate go to waste. and i felt a need to round them all up and start afresh with the hoarding when i get back in a few weeks. i wasn’t in a brownie or chocolate cake mood, i wanted a simpler dessert.

chocolate chunk cookies!

so i went to work. i chopped up the chocolate into big chunks (some as large as 1″ inch, most of them about 1/2″ chunks). a lovely mess!

and then i used my favorite chocolate chip recipe (substituting the chunks for the chips). a GREAT result. (i don’t know about you, but i think that although the nestle tollhouse chocolate chip cookie is decent, it’s overrated. too chewy, overly sweet, and flat–literally, the cookies from that recipe are FLAT). i took the bulk of these cookies to the office, where they were devoured. the bigger chunks are wonderful in the cookies and the chocolate holds their shape, making for some wonderful gooey chocolate pockets.

Recipe follows after the jump….

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