Monday, April 6, 2015

Chez Panisse Almond Torte

If you love almond flavor and want to make a simple yet mouthwatering, buttery cake, consider the Chez Panisse Almond Torte recipe found in the book Chez Panisse Desserts. Once you have all the ingredients and your food processor set up, it takes just minutes to blend everything together into a batter ready for pouring into a springform pan. After an hour baking, the cake is done and just needs to cool before you release it from the pan and take a bite.

I’d forgotten we had this cookbook until I saw the recipe on a blog called Alexandra’s Kitchen. The article does such a great job of showing the ingredients, steps, and recipe that I won’t try to improve it. The final result tastes absolutely yummy. It’s one of those impressive dishes that seems like it took a lot more work than it actually did. Be sure to run a knife around the edge of the cake before removing the outer ring, and then underneath the cake before releasing the bottom of the pan. Powdered sugar dusted on top adds a nice touch of sweetness and a delightful finishing touch. Enjoy!

P.S. Here’s a 2 minute sped-up video to show how we made the torte. I used my GoPro video camera with a head strap.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

S.V.Underground Pop-Up Game of Thrones Themed Dinner

It sure sounds like a mouthful, and it was. Based in Silicon Valley, chef Gale Tan hosts secret themed dinners at locations only revealed a couple of nights before the event to the lucky few who nab reservations. When I received an email announcing a Game of Thrones themed dinner, I decided to try it out with my husband Brad, a big GOT fan.

Businesspeople know that scarcity makes things more valuable in people’s minds. S.V.Underground dinners play up on that idea. They also tap into the mystery of secret locations, as well as the uniqueness of a one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated meal. Gale hosts ten pop-up dinners a year, and they sell out within a couple of days after announced in her emails.

This meal promised to feature an elaborate menu of items inspired by GOT using fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and foraged ingredients. The menu looked enticing and I couldn’t clearly imagine what any of the dishes would taste like:

Lannister Goat Cheese, Walla Walla Onion and Sweet Pepper Potato Pie
Piment d’Espelette, Cowgirl Creamery Goat Gouda and Feta
Meyer Lemon, Rangpur Lime and Coone Valley Thyme Marmalade

Tyrion's Orange and Wild Strawberry Lemonsweet
Castle Black's Dairy Free Creamy Chestnut, Macoun Apples
and Chickpea Soup
Pureed Apple Gelee, Pine Nuts

Cersei’s Lemon Sponge Cakelets
Yuzu Infused Pearls
Salladhor Saan’s Mulled N.A. Wine
Daenarys’ Chilled Atkins Ranch Lamb, Tangerine Lace
and Wild Berries Salad
Red Micro Shiso and Ruby Radish
Baby Microgreens, Arugula and Frisee,
Blood Orange, Mint and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Dragonstone Caramelized Green Apple and Basil Granita
Granny Smith Apples, Micro Basil
Hibiscus Crystals

The Red Keep's Sausage Stuffed Cornish Game Hen
with Sweetgrass, Firepods, Honey and Milk Glaze
Joffrey's Aromatic Forbidden Black Rice
Nasturtiums and Borage Blooms
Margaery’s Edible Flowers, Cinnamon and Spice Tart
Black Sesame Saint Germaine Puree
Sansa’s Sweet Biscuits

We showed up at the secret location in Palo Alto promptly as instructed. About thirty other diners joined us in a cozy and communal table setting. We were wondering if anyone would come in costume, but no one did since the focus was more on the food than cosplay.The communal setting worked nicely and we enjoyed meeting some interesting, lovely people who also enjoyed trying new food and drink.

Each dish dazzled in a different way, all tasted unusual and good, and looked wonderful on the plate. Chef Gale’s unexpected way of combining flavors and textures made each dish worth paying attention to. She explained how she liked combining unlike flavors and elements together, like putting her french fries into soft serve ice cream when she was a kid. Sweet and savory, creamy and chewy, fruity and meaty, tart and nutty, the meal unfolded as a culinary adventure from one dish to the next. I enjoyed the artistic embellishments such as colorful edible flowers, a sweep of black sesame puree to garnish the spice cake, and strawberry boba in a refreshing orange-lemon drink. Everything was gluten-free too, although I wouldn’t have realized that if I hadn’t been told.

It was fun to experience a meal that only thirty-two of us will ever have, to enjoy some innovative and special dishes that I could not have imagined, to eat it in such an unusual place (a church!) with people who all appreciated the meal, and to be served by a chef who obviously enjoyed creating her tasty and playful concoctions for our pleasure.

If this sounds like something you would enjoy trying one day, sign up for the S.V.Underground mailing list and you’ll receive notice of future themed dinners. It’s a unique, fun, and delicious adventure worth trying!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Danny Kaye’s Lemon Pasta from ‘Comfort Me with Apples’

I found an old autographed copy of Ruth Reichl’s food memoir ‘Comfort Me with Apples’ at Bell’s bookstore in downtown Palo Alto. Ruth is an exquisite food writer, an excellent storyteller with a gourmet palate. Her description of a meal at actor Danny Kaye’s house is my favorite section of the book, and her recipe for his lemon pasta, a fragrant take on fettucine alfredo, is rich and refreshing.

Even though it’s against the rules to copy verbatim in a blog, there really isn’t any excuse not to here, both for Ruth’s description of the meal (pp. 244-246) and for her recipe (p. 255). Enjoy.

I stood in the doorway, staring at the scene. The table had been set with bowls of clear, golden broth that sat steaming at each place. The fragrance drifted intoxicatingly through the room. “Lemongrass!” I said.

“Sit down!” Danny shouted irritably from his post at the stove. We stopped milling and each of us rushed for the nearest seat, as if this were a game of musical chairs. We threw ourselves down as he commanded, “Eat!” We obediently picked up our spoons.

With the first bite I knew that no lies would be necessary. Danny’s soup was extraordinary, with that resonance that goes on and on, like a bell still humming, long after the last note has been struck.

Danny did not sit down. As we ate he stood at the stove like a mad scientist, enveloped in the steam that billowed about him from a huge cauldron. I heard the sizzle of butter hitting a hot surface and sensed the high, clean note of lemon juice being added to the pan. Now there was a richer scent--cream, I guessed--and then the aromas began to mingle, so that lemon and cream and butter were dancing through the air.

Water drained; wet pasta hit a skillet with a hiss, and a cover went crashing down. Then Danny was rushing to the table with a plate in his hand and setting it in front of me. “Eat it now,” he insisted, “don’t wait for the others. This is a dish that can only be served to people eating in the kitchen. In a few minutes it won’t be any good. I made the noodles myself.”

I twirled the pasta around my fork and took a bite. And then, in spite of myself, I gasped. The pasta was so thin that it seemed to have vanished, leaving only a memory behind. What was left was simply the subtlety of the sauce, pure and light, as if the liquid had somehow taken solid form. It wasn’t food; it was magic on a plate, and for a moment I disappeared into the flavor. When I returned Danny was standing over me, watching me so intently and with such pleasure that I knew I didn’t have to say a single word.

I didn’t listen to the conversation after that, or think about much of anything at all. I just ate, conscious of my luck at being there, trusting that each dish would be extraordinary. The liver was like little pillows of velvet between satin slivers of onion, and so sweet it was as if it had been dusted with sugar. “It’s the onions,” he said, answering my unspoken question. “They’re grown in special soil. And, of course, the way they’re cut.”

The conversation flowed around us, background music, but I didn’t try to join it. I understood that in his kitchen Danny was desperate for an audience; cooking for people who didn’t pay attention ruined it for him. He was a creator, not a consumer, and the only thing he required was appreciation. And so I said nothing as he snatched the lemon souffle from the oven and rushed it to the table. High, light, rich, and eggy, it fell, slightly, as it was cut, collapsing onto itself with a fragrant sigh. I ate it slowly, savoring the way it disappeared in my mouth, and drank the espresso he served me at the end without sugar, liking the bitterness against the sweetness of the souffle.

“I think it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten,” I said as I left. Danny nodded. “You have to come back,” he said. I understood that this had been a test, and I had passed.

Danny’s Lemon Pasta

I never asked Danny Kaye for the recipe for his lemon pasta--or for any of the other dishes that he cooked for me. But I loved the pasta so much that one day I simply tried to make it myself.

It took me a long time to perfect the recipe. It isn’t as good as Danny’s--nothing could be--but it’s the closest I’ve been able to come.

½ stick unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 pound fresh egg fettuccine
2 t finely grated fresh lemon zest
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a deep, heavy 12-inch skillet and stir in the cream and lemon juice. Remove the skillet from the heat and keep it warm and covered.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid and drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pasta to the skillet with the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid and toss well. (Add more pasta cooking liquid 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to thin the sauce.)

Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve with Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Simple and Satisfying Black Bean Soup

There’s something so comforting about this black bean soup. Even though it’s fairly quick and easy to make, it still counts as homemade. It’s adaptable to the vegetables and spices you like best, and provides a nutritious vegetarian option for lunch or dinner. It also keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, making it a great go-to meal any time of year.

This time of year when the days grow short and temperatures drop, it’s especially warming to make and enjoy. Besides the onion needed for its flavor and texture, I also like to add other crunchy vegetables, especially small sweet peppers diced and seeded. If you prefer something spicier, substitute chipotle powder for the cumin. With a good loaf of bread on the side, you have a simple and satisfying meal.

Whenever you feel you need something basic and restoring, come home to this reassuring, health-giving soup.

Cooking with Trader Joe’s Black Bean Soup
(adapted from the recipe on their website)


1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 small sweet peppers, chopped with seeds and stems removed (optional)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 T olive oil
1 t ground cumin (or ground chipotle if you like it spicier)
2 15-oz. cans black beans (not drained)
1 cup of salsa (fresh is best)
2 T lime juice
yogurt or sour cream (optional)


1. In a medium pot, add the olive oil and saute the onions and sweet peppers until soft.
2. Add cumin (or chipotle) and garlic. Saute for one minute.
3. Add in black beans (including juices), salsa, and lime juice. Stir to combine. Simmer covered for about 20 minutes.
4. Top with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream if desired.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Curry Up Now

I don’t know what all the flavors, spices and secret sauces are in these unique Indian-Mexican fusion street foods, but I do know that I love all of them. Both familiar and exotically new, these little bites will pop, dance, and sparkle in your mouth. Spicy, creamy, crispy, soft, all blending together magically on my tastebuds, washed down and perfectly balanced with cooling mango lassi, the food lingers in my memory. It’s a wonderful adventure for your palate, something to anticipate for days. I also love to see others’ faces when they first put these marvelous morsels in their mouths, along with the inevitable question, ‘What is this flavor?’ My response: ‘I have no idea, but I love it!’

If you don’t know what to order, take my advice and try these amazing snacks, all vegetarian:

- Itsy Bitsy Naan Bits, with Tikka Masala Dip
- Gol Gappa
- Guac Sev Puri
- Aloo Gobi Tacos
- Mango Lassi

With locations in Palo Alto, San Mateo, and San Francisco, Curry Up Now is working its way down the Peninsula and I’m sure will find fans wherever they go. I would love to work my way through the menu, but it's going to take time because I can't pull myself away from these instant favorites. Explore the flavors, textures, and curious combinations for yourself. The mystery makes it all the more sensational.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Crunchy Crispix Arare

Crunchy, salty, sweet, and savory. If you like crunchy Japanese crackers with soy sauce and seaweed flavors, you’ll likely enjoy this homemade snack mix made from Crispix cereal. It’s easy to make, smells wonderful, and tastes yummy. It’s also a flexible recipe so that you can add other nuts and seasonings to taste.

This recipe is from my Aunt Margaret, her submission to a family cookbook. The hardest ingredient to find is the Nori Furikake, a mixture of seaweed flakes, sesame seeds, salt, and sugar. I found a jar in a Japanese market called Nak’s in downtown Menlo Park (it’s been there for 44 years and has wonderful treasures inside). If you have trouble finding it, just use cut-up dried seaweed and sesame seeds in whatever quantities you prefer.

Try this snack mix when you’re in the mood for an Asian twist on Chex Mix.

Crunchy Crispix Arare

½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
2 T soy sauce
1 package Crispix cereal (15 oz. box)
½ cup Nori Komi Furikake seasoning, found at Asian markets
whole raw almonds

Place butter, light corn syrup, sugar, and soy sauce in saucepan. Bring to boil and stir until sugar is melted. Pour into large bowl. Add Crispix cereal and mix thoroughly. Add whole almonds or other nuts to taste. Spray deep baking pan with Pam. Spread mix into pan. Sprinkle Nori Komi Furikake seasoning as desired over mixture.

Bake for 60 minutes in a pre-heated 200 degree oven, stirring every 15 minutes. After removing from oven, stir occasionally so mix will not stick to pan. Place in airtight containers and enjoy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Raspberry Peach Almond Crunch Crumble

My daughter Amanda has always had unique and original ideas. For her 14th birthday this month, she declared she did not want the usual birthday cake. Instead, she requested a fruit crumble.

I found this recipe on the New York Times website for a mixed berry almond crunch crumble. It calls for 8 cups of mixed berries including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. However, Amanda does not like blueberries so I adapted the recipe and simply used 4 cups of red raspberries and 4 cups of sliced peaches for the fruit filling. I didn’t bother to peel the peaches, just washed and sliced them.

The raspberry peach combination worked wonderfully well for its mix of tart and sweet flavors, which tasted just as bright as the lovely pink and orange fruit colors looked. It’s a great way to use summer fruits before fall arrives oh-so soon. It also makes a lovely change from the usual birthday cake with its brown sugar-cinnamon-ginger-almond-buttery crumble topping. Besides its buttery spicy flavor, the topping adds a satisfying chewy texture with sliced almonds.

It’s simple to pull this delightful dessert together, and it’s a lot easier to make the crumble topping than to make pie crust.

Enjoy this summer fruit deliciousness baked up in all its crumbly goodness before the best fresh berries and peaches say goodbye until next summer.