Monthly Archives: July 2007

Sweet sweet avocado

I had to try it

Oh yes. You’re seeing it correctly–that is an avocado drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. I HAD to try it after reading about avocados in the current issue of Saveur Magazine. In her article, Andrea Nguyen (who also writes a wonderful article on Hmong farmers in California’s Central Valley in the same issue) begins with a mention about spending a childhood eating avocados prepared with the sweet dressing. Immediately, I did a doubletake (as much as one can do a doubletake while reading): WHAT?!

I reread:

“…I invariable arrive home an avocado lighter than when I left the market, having sliced one open on the way and eaten it right out of the skin with a spoon.

That’s how my dad…taught me to eat this luxurious fruit. I remember watching him after dinner, when I was a kid, as he halved a ripe avocado, removed its slippery pit, and drizzled sweetened condensed milk into the cavity where the pit used to be. Then he’d hand the halves to me and my siblings, and we’d dig in, savoring one sweet, creamy bite after another.”

Ohhhhh. I nearly moaned. Nguyen made the combination sound so delicious, I vowed to put avocados on my next grocery list. And so I did. Immediately. Even though I couldn’t imagine avocados in anything but savory dishes (think: guacamole, or slathered on a thick chunk of bread). Okay, maybe ice cream.

You don’t need directions on how to make this–I sliced an avocado in half and proceeded to drizzle. If I didn’t have to take a picture for this blog, I would have immediately dug in with a spoon and not gotten my cutting board all sticky with sweetened condensed milk (really, is there anything that DOESN’T taste good with that stuff?).

I paused a second, staring at the pale green and yellow meat of the avocado, rapidly disappearing under the spreading sweet syrup, hoping for the best, dug in with my spoon, and took a bite.

The concoction really threw my tastebuds for a loop: it was good! Not that I was expecting it to be horrible (I was expecting it to be good), but I just had no idea how it would taste. Though I have spent my entire life eating avocados and sweetened condensed milk (but not together), the taste was entirely unique. The milk brings out the nuttiness of the avocados, and the creamy fruit complements the dressing so I really felt like I was eating a dessert.

It was so bizarre. But bizarrely good!

I ate the entire half of the avocado, finding myself liking the food more and more with each bite. (They say all you have to do is eat a food three times and then you like it).

In hindsight, I’m not sure why I’m so surprised–we Koreans love to drizzle sugar on sliced tomatoes (also with a great reputation for savory dishes and not so much dessert) and serve it as an after-meal “dessert” type dish. This tomato/sugar combination is still a little guilty pleasure of mine, and the main way in which tomatoes disappear off our kitchen table.

Afterwards, I googled for the avocado sweetened condensed milk dish. It is evidently a common food in Southeast Asia–and if you find yourself liking this flavor and texture combination, you can even make yourself an avocado shake, as featured on Andrea Nguyen’s (yes, the same person who wrote the Saveur article on avocados) Viet World Kitchen, a blog I was happy to find today.


lunch for one: pasta with tomatoes, pine nuts and basil

angel hair pasta with tomatoes, pine nuts and basil

I made myself lunch today. I thought about making a sandwich or grabbing some leftovers out of the fridge or a hunk of cheese and bread (or ahem, just eating chips and sour cream or some other crap), as I often do when I am home by myself, during lunchtime.

But–I just didn’t feel like making myself another sandwich or eating tidbits. And so I found myself wanting, meandering around the kitchen, wanting something a little more special, but feeling way too lazy to venture out for a meal (even more intimidating is eating alone in a restaurant for lunch).

Instead, I made myself a hot meal from scratch. I don’t know what made me do that–maybe it was the beautiful blue sky that made me feel a bit limitless…or the pile of overripe tomatoes in the kitchen that made me feel a bit pragmatic and want to use them…or perhaps I was just sick of leftovers and tidbits for lunch.

In any case, I eyed the ingredients on hand and decided, “I have enough ingredients to pull this off.”

I had fresh basil in my garden, tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts (a bit of excess from my pesto ingredient list), olive oil, and a box of angel hair pasta.

That’s all I really needed. That’s all you really need to make this dish and sit yourself down to a highly civilized and delicious lunch. That’s all you really need to treat yourself.

Why don’t I make meals for one more often? It’s a hassle, I know–but totally worth it!

The dish was ready within 15 minutes (including chopping and prepping). And the result? Simple, delicious, and fully reminiscent of the summer season–and a great treat for yourself. (btw, you can make this dish for quite a few more people, if you so desire).

Recipe follows after the jump…

making lunch

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Organic Rice Crispies–gone in a blink


I had no idea Organic Rice Crispies, as reported by Gourmet Magazine’s Food Blog, even existed. They were on the shelves of grocery stores, apparently, until they were pulled due to lack of sales.

They were never on the shelves of my neighborhood grocery stores, and I live in a hippie, organic-food-loving, Michael-Pollan-quoting, foodie town. I would have loved to have made organic rice crispy treats, complete with homemade marshmallow and plugra butter.

Did you see them?

Berry Usage Case #2: Berry Buckle

Olallieberry Boysenberry Buckle

With a few cups of olallieberries and boysenberries still left from our Saturday berry picking outing, even after making the berry galette, I thought a bit about what to make next.

I readily munched on the strawberries we picked, but the olallieberries and boysenberries were too tart to eat fresh. And yet, they were rendering more juice by the day (in this gruesome way, I have to describe it as–and this may not be fitting for a food blog about good eats–the berries just bleeding their juices–they were dying a ghastly death!)–and so the pressure to consume them quickly mounted.

What to make next? Again, I was feeling lazy, still possibly spent from the berry picking outing, or a frenetic work day or well, maybe I was simply lazy. So I thumbed through an old repertoire of flavors and dishes…and then it hit me: a buckle.

olallieberry boysenberry buckle

I’ve made a delicious almond plum buckle before, here on Muffin Top, and it is a dessert that I am an absolute fan of. But could I translate it to something fitting for boysenberries and olallieberries? The almond plum buckle had flavors that would not necessarily complement berries, and of course, the berries were way more “mushy” than a plum that could hold its structure throughout the baking process.

But I imagined the berries, suspended in a cake mixture, and felt determined to do it…and instead of almond extract, I used a BIG splash of chambord, a favorite berry liqueur of mine (I use it to make French Martinis–a combo of chambord, vodka, and pineapple juice).

The result? Wonderful. And the cake-like buckle is a delightful foil to Berry Usage Case #1, the galette.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Berry Usage Case #1: Berry Galette

olallieberry and boysenberry galette

What to do with all the olallieberries and boysenberries picked on Saturday? Aside from the option of eating them unfettered and freshly washed, straight from the bowl, I explored a few options of berry consumption.

And from the looks of my berries the next day, I had better think of them fast–they were slumping and letting go of their juice. Berries simply don’t keep too long!

One of the more obvious options for using fruit is pie–in fact, berry pie was one of the things we mulled over while tugging at the luscious fruit on the vines. But, you see, I am totally lazy sometimes, and the thought of making a crust and putting it in a pie pan and then making a crust for the pie top overwhelmed me. I guess I used all my diligence for the actual berrypicking!

And besides, if you’re someone who likes that buttery pie crust most of all, you’ll prefer a galette. What is a galette? I like to describe it as a “flat pie”–a rustic pie without the pie pan, and with less fruit. But if you want a more formal definition, here’s one from foodtv:

“Definition: [gah-LEHT] Hailing from France, a galette is a round, rather flat cake made of flaky-pastry dough, yeast dough or sometimes unleavened dough. The term also applies to a variety of tarts, both savory and sweet, and there are as many variations as there are French regions. They may be topped with fruit, jam, nuts, meat, cheese, etc. Galette des Rois, the traditional cake served during Twelfth Night festivities, often contains a bean or other token, which is guaranteed to bring the recipient good luck.”

Galettes are one of my favorite desserts to make, and I make them with just about every fruit. With apples (and I’ll add a bit of lemon juice and zest to the apple mixture), peaches, blueberries, etc., etc.

The bottomline: it’s easy to make and tastes like a delicious pie. The most labor intensive part of making a galette is the dough for the pie crust, and you can use any recipe you like to do so, whether it be one made of rendered leaf lard or shortening (bleah–but it’s popular), or my favorite, butter (Martha Stewart’s pate sucree recipe below). Notice I did not lay out storebought pie crust as an option. 🙂 Each option has its pros and cons, and makes for a good debate. But I like butter, because it tastes good and well…I don’t have to go render lard (though I am eyeing the duck fat in my freezer for a future pie crust experiment), and butter is readily available.

Of course, the downside is that you’ll still have berries left over, after making this…which means I’ve got to discover Berry Usage Case #2…!

olallieberry and boysenberry galette

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Berry berry good fun–berry picking

basket beginning to fill up with berries

While the rest of the world cracked open their Harry Potter books yesterday, we went berry picking!

We drove along the picturesque California coast to Phipps Country Farm in Pescadero, which at this time of year boasts strawberries, boysenberries, and olallieberries in season. We were hitting the very tail end of both the boysenberry and olallieberry seasons and wondered if we would even see any, preparing ourselves to only pick strawberries. When we got there, we headed straight over to the boysenberry vines that seemed to be withering away. Still, we got a few cups of boysenberries, after looking very closely at the vines for the black ripened ones.

Boysenberry vines

Picking berries reminded me of the time I went grape picking with a friend who made his own wine. The arrangements for grape picking were such that we were picking the remainder of the grapes after the winery had already gone through with their main harvest–my friend called it “second harvest.” While there were still plenty of grapes left on the vine, many of them perfect for harvest, we still had to look closely for those bunches, tasting the grapes for the proper sweetness as we went. By the end of the day, our bodies were aching and our tastebuds spent.

The berry farm reminded me of that experience. Except that this time, we were leisurely picking a basketful of berries to savor later, and not crates and crates of grapes that took hours and hours to pick and would be crushed that evening. Honestly, the grape picking was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life, with the great silence in the fields and the beauty of the October landscape…but it gave me a new respect for grapepickers because it was very very tiring.

In contrast, this berry picking trip was pure delight, almost therapeutic, and definitely fun. Perhaps the grape picking, years ago, trained me for this experience–but it was a joy. “One of us” was very competitive and went off picking as many berries as he could, but why? We let him win.

the farm

Above is the strawberry patch, adjacent to the beans. We obliged ourselves to a few strawberries, but turned our focus to the boysenberries and olallieberries quickly.

But before we started picking, we examined a map of the farm, planning our attack upon the berries.

Map of the berry farm

Of course, we took a detour and visited the farm animals first, but nearly skipped towards the strawberries and then the boysenberries.


We quickly discovered, through a chorus of “ouch!” that the vines are thorny. Still, we giggled, as we popped the occasional berry into our mouths and watched our baskets fill. (Yes, I was able to overcome my OCD of popping berries covered with a fine film of dust and soil–the mood of the moment overcame any anxiety I may have had). The above is a closeup of a boysenberry, which is a cross between a loganberry and a dewberry, made famous by Knott’s Berry Farm.

Still, as we glanced over at the olallieberries, we got a bit confused–the boysenberries seemed to, at first, look exactly like olallieberries. We looked closer and noted some differences, and by the end of picking became adept at discerning between the two. The boysenberries are less densely packed and sweeter than the tangier olallieberries, again a blackberry hybrid of loganberry and youngberry:

olallieberries, close up

The olallieberries were aplenty, and our baskets readily filled after picking through one row. Now was the time, when we began thinking about how we would eat the berries, so fragrant and bursting. At this point, everyone’s fingers were stained with berries (except mine–mine were instead, pricked with thorns from picking the berries from the stem–leaving no berry juice but plenty of “ouchies”). Be forewarned. Next time we go berrypicking, we’re taking gloves!

Basket now filling up with olallieberries

Still, how could you resist this beauty? Our morning was full of smiles, the farm was beautiful, the skies began with cloudcover, with some wisps of fog rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, making for a picturesque scene. By the time the sun broke out, it was lunchtime, and our baskets were full.

And–we came home to find my Harry Potter book delivered in our mailbox. 🙂

Next–stay tuned for berry usage recipes!


St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

I love elderflower beverages, especially a cordial or presse mixed with sparkling water. I was first introduced to this flavor at a friend’s house–she gleefully went to her fridge and brought out the chilled bottle of elderflower cordial. “You’ll love this!” she exclaimed, as she mixed it with club soda. We enjoyed that beverage in the living room, our mouths swirling with the unique floral and fruity flavors of elderflower. (Man, if I ever run into an elderflower plant, you know I’ll bury my nose in its blooms, and possibly eat a flower head).

When I was in London, I happily tried many of the elderflower beverages–they seemed a mainstay in the beverage aisle! In the U.S., you’ll only find them at specialty stores, or in specialty aisles at gourmet grocery stores.

I guzzled those cordials down during my short visit.

elderflower cordial

And so, when I heard about an elderflower liqueur, I kept my eyes wide open for that Art Deco/Art Nouveau (ohh, I do so love Art Deco and Art Nouveau) bottle. I couldn’t find it, and nearly gave up. But then I found it (of all places) at Beverages and More!

Of course, you know I drove right over and grabbed a bottle.

Of course, you know, even though at the time I was under medical orders to abstain from alcohol…that I snuck a little sip. It was the most wonderful liqueur, one that really captured the essence of elderflower, instead of smothering it in an alcoholic haze. It is a bit on the sweet side, but then again, I’m also a fan of dessert wines like trockenbeerenauslese and beerenauselese rieslings, and sauternes.

This is one of those liqueurs that you can drink without mixing, in a glass full of ice, or simply with some club soda (as soon as I was off the ban, I was right on that). Recipes are popping up for this liqueur all over the place, as it’s building quite a little fan base.

I’m now thinking about how I could use it in desserts and incorporate it into food recipes. I’m thinking–poached fruit in this wonderful liqueur–or maybe sneaking it into the egg mixture for a french toast? I’m not sure how the floral taste would work with the french toast, but it might work.

a cocktail recipe follows after the jump…

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Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité!

Bastille Day is this weekend, (July 14, to be
specific) and besides attending the San Francisco
Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason on Sunday, I will
celebrate on Saturday by eating cheese and
charcuterie.  The cherries and red onions I pickled
last year will make a nice foil as well as cornichons
I will pick up from the store.  Oh, and beaucoup du
vin is required.  My cheese plate is not entirely
assembled yet (so far, only a Langres).  Although I
have yet to test out my Kitchen Aid meat grinder and
sausage stuffer, I am not confident in my curing
skills to produce my own saucisson.  However, I have
decided to make my own paté.  (I was also going to
make brandade, but a miscommunication resulted in 2
pounds of fresh rock cod/snapper in fridge instead of
1 pound of salt cod.)   I’ve been curious about making
a foie gras torchon, but my friends are not foie gras
eaters.  But no fear!  The paté recipe I have is
plenty rich and smooth.   Marina, my Lyonnaise expat
friend, gave me her recipe (passed on by her
godfather).  I tried to seek out fresh duck liver with
my local butcher contacts, but it was too late.
Marina usually uses chicken liver, so that’s what I
went with.  Her recipe is amazingly simple:

Take one pound of liver and marinate it overnight in
white wine, bay leaf, onion and thyme.   Drain the
liver and sauté it until pink inside, then puree with
2 sticks of butter in a food processor until smooth
like cake batter.  Pour into a container and cover
with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

This recipe is obviously open to variation, so I
cross-referenced Julia Child’s MTAFC, and it’s pretty
similar.  I decided to incorporate a little of Julia
by soaking the livers (after rinsing with water) in
milk for two hours to flush out the blood, then
rinsing and draining again.  I used about half a
bottle of dry white wine, half a sliced yellow onion,
8 branches of thyme and 2 bay leaves.  I also added 5
or 6 crushed green peppercorns.  Since I wanted to
ensure that my pate was extra smooth, I removed the
onion and the herbs after I drained the marinade.  I
used duck fat to sauté the liver, though butter is
fine.  I also added a dash of cognac (no more than a
teaspoon) and flambéed it towards the end of the
sauté.  I drained the livers again, seasoned with
kosher salt and pepper and pulsed the livers, adding
the butter a few pieces at a time.  Once the butter
was incorporated and the mixture smooth, I pressed it
through a sieve to remove any particles.

Trés simple, non?  So if you go to the store tonight,
you might be able to make a batch in time for your own
fête this Saturday.  Bon appetit!

Back to basics–campstove burritos

Saturday night dinner

A good friend of mine described a recent kayak/backpacking excursion, which entailed a beautiful afternoon out on the water, and then a jovial afternoon and evening on the beach with friends, one a true gourmand. “He made pad thai for us on a campstove!” she erupted with excitement, eyes glittering.

Pad thai. I love backpacking, but her description of his campstove pad thai thoroughly intrigued me. “Did he use peanut butter?” I asked, wondering about what shortcuts he may have used. No, she said. He forgot the peanuts. “Was it good?” Oh, she said, it was very very very tasty.

“You should–” she started, “write posts on your food blog about campstove cooking!”

And thus, a new tradition begins…campstove cooking posts.

Taking food on the trail requires some forethought, but you don’t have to make a ton of compromises if you plan ahead. There are people who bring extensive cookware on the trail, though that is not me. I want to travel as light as possible, keeping the heaviest food for the first night of camp.

My husband and I are known to take frozen steaks with us on the trail, grilling them the very first night. Ground beef can also be frozen and used the first night to fortify any meal, whether it be a stew or our backpacking favorite, burritos.

But in general–we like to go very light. That means light camping pots and pans (more like: light camping pot and pan, singular)…and the lightest (weight-wise) ingredients possible.

I’ll go over my various recipes, but for now I’d like to share our perennial favorite in the backcountry: Burritos!

Burritos are a staple meal of ours for its simplicity, its protein content, and for its fun factor. It’s easy to make, and everyone can assemble their own burrito!

Apologies, but I have no photos–lots of pictures of mountains and rivers and creeks and streams and wildlife, but sadly I took no pictures of our meals!

Recipe follows after the jump…

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got basil? make pesto.

campanelle with basil pesto

I dislike pesto in general–too often, it drips with olive oil and tastes overwhelmingly like garlic. Now, I love garlic, but not when I’m supposed to be eating a pesto that should taste more like basil and pine nuts. These two sensations turn me off to pesto. Plus, storebought pesto often contains basil that is just…flavorless. Ick.

But homemade pesto? The kind that allows basil to take center stage, the kind that is edged with the savory undertone of roasted pine nuts? I LOVE it. The only caveat–this is such a simple food that you want to use high quality ingredients. That means, the freshest basil you can find, and the best olive oil you can find.

It’s not often that I indulge in making homemade pesto–delicate fresh basil is not a staple in my fridge…but this year, I’m lucky enough to have a good crop of basil in my vegetable garden! I’ve watched my basil plants grow, with homemade pesto securely in mind. And this week, they grew to a requisite height, with the requisite amount of bunches.

Now there is nothing that spells summer so much as fresh, homemade pesto tossed with pasta (preferably a very ridged or ruffled shape like campanelle that can hold the pesto in its nooks and crannies). To top it all off, there’s minimal cooking involved (you only boil the pasta), helping the cook to avoid slaving over a hot stove or oven for hours on a hot summer day.

So why not indulge?

basil, olive oil, garlic, and toasted pine nuts

Recipe follows after the jump…

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