Sunday, September 27, 2015

The BEST Scrambled Eggs

A few months ago, I was teaching my students how to do Internet searches. While looking for "how-to" videos, we came across the Gordon Ramsay video below. Before watching it, we all agreed that we knew how to make scrambled eggs, but we were all surprised to learn about this technique. A little while later, I came across the first video from Sir Ian McKellen, a much gentler introduction to the same technique. I tried it out and was pleasantly surprised! 

The technique is to put the un-whisked eggs and a bit of butter in a cold pan and stir constantly as they cook gently, forming small curds. The resulting eggs were creamy and wonderfully flavorful, reminding me of some eggs I'd been served at a high-end French restaurant a few years ago. During the week I don't usually take the time for this, but it's really only an extra minute or so, and on weekends it's a lovely way to make a delicious breakfast. 

Sir Ian at the Chateau Marmont:

Chef Ramsay's more detailed instructions - be careful to stop the video at the end, as the next one after it is NSFW: 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Pumpkin season is upon us! I find that I really love pumpkin and pumpkin seeds, but most "pumpkin spice" products either contain no actual pumpkin product or blow out my palate with an overabundance of spices. Such was the case with some pumpkin spice brittle I bought last fall...the amount of spices on it meant that I couldn't actually taste the pumpkin seeds inside, which was a big bummer. 
This week, I had a bag of leftover pumpkin seeds in my fridge, so in keeping with trying to make use of everything in my fridge and cabinets, I decided it was time to turn them into some homemade Pumpkin Seed Low-Spice Brittle.

I've slightly adapted a recipe from Bon Appetit which worked really time I might have to double it. You'll need a candy/fryer thermometer unless you're really comfortable with caramel, but you can grab one of those at the supermarket for just a few dollars. Working with caramel takes some patience and the ability to keep your fingers out of the yummy looking stuff - it can really burn, so wait until it's cooled. 

First, set up a baking sheet with either a silicone mat or a lightly oiled piece of parchment paper. Next, put 1 c granulated sugar, 1/2 c light corn syrup (not the reduced sugar kind), and 3 Tbsp water into a heavy saucepan. 

conveniently, the clip is right over the numbers I need...
Bring sugar mixture to a boil, stirring until it has dissolved. Attach the thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure the tip is in the mixture. 
Stop stirring once the sugar is dissolved and boil 3-5 minutes until it reaches 290 degrees. 

In the meantime, measure out 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds and 1 tsp Kosher or Himalayan salt (if you've just got regular table salt, use 3/4 tsp instead).  

Also measure out 1/8 tsp cinnamon (0r more if you really love cinnamon, but remember it's strong) and 3/4 tsp baking soda. 

You don't need to toast the pumpkin seeds beforehand, because they'll toast in the caramel. 

When it gets to 290 degrees, stir in the pumpkin seeds and salt. 

Keep boiling until the mixture reaches 305 degrees and turns light brown (it might need a minute after it hits 305 to turn brown). 

Turn off the heat and stir in the baking soda and cinnamon. It may bubble up. 

Quickly and carefully pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread it evenly with a heat-proof spatula. Sprinkle another 1/4 tsp of nice salt on top if you like. 

I know this looks tempting, but whatever you do, don't stick your finger in there! It's really hot! Soak the pan in water to dissolve the sugar off. 

When it is cool enough to touch, pick up and break into pieces. You can make them sorta even or different sizes. 

Right click to save to computer before printing

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Oakland Eat Real Fest 2015

September and October are usually the best months for weather in the Bay Area, so it's festival season! This weekend is the annual Eat Real Fest in Oakland's Jack London Square, a three-day event with dozens of local food vendors and instructional sessions about food and drink. My friend Darcie took the ferry over from SF, and we spent the afternoon learning and eating.

One of three areas of the festival, probably the least crowded one!

Jack London Square is on the Oakland Estuary, past the port. It's a beautiful spot, and I absolutely love Oakland events. They're always filled with people from all different walks of life, sharing a special place and time. .

A fixture in Jack London Square is what my friend Kristin calls the Crooked Bar. Heinold's First and Last Chance (opened in 1883) is said to have been frequented by Jack London himself and is mentioned in one of his novels several times. The floor inside is terribly sloped due to earthquakes over the years, which adds to its charm. It has survived despite all the recent development in the area.

Our first food stop was at El Sur Empanadas Artesanales for the Parisienne, filled with ham, green onion, chives and five cheeses. Deeelicious! I love the round shape of this flavor. Gotta work on mastering the different shapes myself!

Next, we decided to go support the cheesecake guy, aka Crumble and Whisk Patisserie - I'm so glad we did. Although he's sporting an Oaklandish hat, the owner went through San Francisco's La Cocina incubator program to build his business, now located in the Mission.

His peach and blackberry cheesecake was out of this world.

With our bellies full, it was time for some learnin'. After a little time figuring out the map, we found the people from Sweet Maria's Home Roasting, where we got a lesson in roasting coffee beans at home.

Lest you think it requires fancy equipment, he showed us how to roast a small amount of beans in a popcorn popper. Yup, a little old air popper. He also sent us home with free samples of green beans to try the technique ourselves...I'll be checking to see if my popper is the right kind later this weekend!

Finally, we managed to find a shady spot for a lesson in drought-friendly farmer's market cooking from Marco of Cookin' the Market. He explained how dry farming works well in coastal climates, since the daily dose of fog provides moisture to the tomato plants and pear trees. Olives and olive oil are also drought-friendly products, since they require very little water to grow.

As he spoke, Marco put together a beautiful and delicious salad of dry-farmed tomatoes, Asian pears, frisee, shallots, and pomegranate seeds. He showed us a good way to remove the pomegranate seeds and suggested re-purposing the water we use to wash vegetables for gardening.
I was a little disappointed to find that the drink demos are now $10 per person and that the maximum price of food items sold had been raised from $5 to $8, but those aren't terrible prices for the Bay Area, and I still really enjoyed the day and learned a lot.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Le Dîner en Blanc SF, 2015

One day 25 years ago, a group of friends got together in Paris, dressed in white, set up tables and chairs, and had an elegant picnic. Today, they're holding similar events across the globe. Last night was the annual event in San Francisco. The U.S. organizers are a group called Handmade Events -

The location is kept a secret until a few hours before the event, but we got a couple of hints that it would be in Golden Gate Park. Our first thought was, "brrrr!" since it was a foggy day, but it turned out to be lovely and warm and in the gorgeous Music Concourse between the DeYoung and the Academy of Sciences.

Being the competitive picnickers that we are, we started planning a month in advance. Here was our final menu, printed up by the lovely and talented Lesly!

Lesly also made me my very own feathered mini top hat - I love it!

We met at Maren's Hidden Cottage to box up salads with grilled peaches, blueberries, arugula, goat cheese and pecans, courtesy of Darcie and Amena...

Did I mention, grilled peaches?

Into the big boxes went Maren's yummy and hearty double decker summer vegetable frittata stacked with cream cheese and smoked salmon...

 ...and my potato salad made with carrot-top parsley pesto, since we count many non-bacon eaters and at least one mayo-averse person among our numbers.

Some pieces of cute waxed paper from Daiso kept them from getting too shaken up en route.
This photo and the next two courtesy of Susan Mallon

Maren's delicious selection of cheeses was artfully arranged by Ana-Marie.

And then there were desserts:

My salted caramel pots de creme, which suffered from a bad bout of cooking juju I was having the night before. Some curdled and most didn't set up, but they still tasted good :-),

Steve's brown butter and honey madeleines, which were even better this morning with coffee,

and the highlight of the menu for me, Jason's white chocolate caramel popcorn with herbs de provence...out of this world.

Somehow we squeezed all of this between the beverage committee's wine selections (Thanks, Nil and Joe!) and the beautiful floral arrangements (accented with beautiful little birdies and feathers) created by Julie, Susan, Rosie and the rest of the decor team. Little battery-powered tea lights, strings of lights, and flashing "ice cubes" brought the table to life again after the sun set.

Photo courtesy Nil Isik - I mean, how gorgeous is that?

After all that, it was time to burn off a few calories by swingin' to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in the Bandshell.

Other groups had some great ideas as well, like the Viking Ship team, the feather bouquets, and the group that made things easy on themselves and just picked up some KFC.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Saag Paneer in the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

Ever since I was a little girl, my favorite vegetables have been cooked greens: spinach, Swiss chard, whatever. Naturally, when I discovered Indian food somewhere along the way, I fell in love with Palak Paneer (spinach with spices and Indian cheese) and Saag Paneer (mustard or other greens instead of all spinach). Since being diagnosed with an allergy to red/green/yellow pepper, I've been unable to walk past Indian restaurants and those pre-made foil packets at Trader Joe's without getting a little sad. 

I've searched for recipes online, but they all had a goodly amount of red or green pepper in one form or another, until finally I found this beautiful Saag recipe from She only uses a little bit of cayenne, so much of the heat comes from the ginger and I felt confident enough to make it work despite my minimal understanding of Indian spices. And it's made in my nifty new Instant Pot! It was meant to be, I tell you. 

Further adaptation was required to incorporate the paneer and to make up for the fact that the (red pepper-free) Garam Masala I found at the market somehow didn't make it home with me. I had all the Masala ingredients individually, so I added the ones that weren't included already and bumped up the ones that were. 

Get everything together: 

1 lb spinach, rinsed well
1 lb mustard leaves, rinsed
2 Tbsp ghee, butter or oil
2 small onions
2-in piece fresh ginger
4 small garlic cloves
2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp coriander
1 1/4 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper
Optional: 1/2 tsp cayenne, or more or less to taste (if you can't find or don't have fresh ginger, you can use 1/2 tsp ground)

for the paneer:
1 Tbsp oil
1 more tsp turmeric
1 pkg (about 14 oz) paneer (Indian cheese available at may markets and specialty stores)

Chop the onions and ginger and plug in the Instant Pot. Press the saute button. Once the display says "hot", add the ghee or butter and the onions and ginger, stirring occasionally until the onions are softened and getting translucent. 

In the meantime, mince the garlic and measure the spices into a cup. When they're ready to be added, move the onion/ginger mix to the side for a few seconds and let the spices hit the pan directly before stirring into the rest. 

Spices, salt and garlic ready to be added. 

Saute the spices and the onion for about a minute, then add the spinach leaves. Stir until they wilt enough to fit in the mustard green leaves. 

You could also do all spinach or all mustard greens, or replace some with kale or chard. 

You don't need to add any liquid. The liquid released from the greens will cook the whole thing. Miraculous, no? 

Press Keep Warm/Cancel to turn off the saute function, and then put the lid on. 

Lock the lid with the pressure valve turned to the pressure setting. 

Press the Poultry button (this piece of genius brought to you straight from Ashley at and let the pot do its thing. 

In the meantime, cut the paneer into 1 inch cubes and toss with the Tbsp oil, 1 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp fine salt. Let sit for a few minutes, then saute on the stove just until golden. 

Let the pressure release naturally (push the Keep Warm/Cancel button when the time is up). When the valve lowers, remove the lid and puree the greens with a stick blender, a regular blender, or a food processor. If the greens are too watery, add some potato starch or a slurry of cornstarch and cold liquid to thicken it up a bit. 

Stir in the paneer and serve with basmati rice or whole wheat naan. If you enjoy it half as much as I do, you'll be very happy. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Smoky Mac and Cheese in the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

I've kinda been looking longingly at pressure cookers and slow cookers, but finding it hard to justify bringing ANOTHER gadget into my tiny kitchen. A couple of weeks ago, a very trustworthy friend posted a link to a deal on the Instant Pot, a pressure/slow/rice cooker and yogurt maker all rolled into one, and I took the plunge and bought it. I love it!

This is not a paid endorsement, just me sharing something I'm having fun using. As always, adjust according to your taste. You can use regular mozzarella or Monterey Jack if you don't like the smoky flavor. 

Since buying this thing, I have been having a blast at home and on the Interwebs. I've discovered truckers who cook on the road and blog or make videos, and I've found a recipe for an Indian recipe I've been sad to miss since the allergy diagnosis (post to follow soon).

A recipe for Pressure Cooker Mac and Cheese I found along the way piqued my interest, so I decided to work on that. Both this recipe and this recipe call for evaporated milk as a way around making a roux, but I've tried using that in recipes and I can always taste the canned flavor. Here's my adaptation of the linked recipes. 

Total time: about 25 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6

Put 3 cups (about 1/2 box) cavatappi or elbow macaroni in the Instant Pot with 3 cups water, 1 tsp ground dry mustard, and 1 1/2 tsp very coarse salt (no coarse salt? use 1 tsp fine). 

Lock the lid and set the valve to sealing. Push the manual button on the Instant Pot and reduce the time to 4 minutes. The four minutes is the time it cooks under pressure once pressure is achieved, in about 10 or 11 minutes. It will say "on" until it gets to full pressure, and then start counting down. 

While the pot is building pressure, grate 8 oz medium cheddar and 5 oz smoked mozzarella, preferably with the grater disc of a food processor. If you do this by hand, you might want to start before you put in the pasta. 

Add 1/2 tsp granulated garlic or onion powder, 1 Tbsp cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp or so black pepper to 3/4 c half and half. Give it a good stir so the cornstarch dissolves. 

You could probably use heavy or light cream, but milk may not "absorb" the cheese the same way. 

When the four minutes under pressure are up, use a chopstick or something similar to push the valve to venting and release the pressure (quick release). If a lot of white stuff comes up with the steam, close for a second and start again. 

Release steam until the silver thingy next to the valve drops. 

Open the Instant Pot and ladle out a little of the liquid, maybe 1/2 cup or so. This will help the sauce not be too runny and soupy. 

Pour in the half and half mixture and stir with a silicone or wooden spoon. 

Push the keep warm/cancel button, then push the saute button. Stir for a total of about 3 minutes, then turn off the cooker.

Stir in cheese, one handful at a time. If you stir in too much at once, you'll have big globs of melted cheese that don't combine into the sauce. Still yummy, but maybe not the texture you want! 

It'll be a little soupy at this point, but it'll thicken up as it cools a bit. Remove the insert from the cooker and set it on a trivet or a potholder while you toast the breadcrumbs. 

Put 1 Tbsp butter or oil, 1/4 c breadcrumbs, and a touch of salt, pepper and garlic or onion powder in a pan over medium heat. 

Stir until the crumbs are toasty brown, then remove them from the pan right away. 

Spoon the mac and cheese into bowls and sprinkle some of the crumbs over each one. 

This keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days and reheats in the microwave for work lunches.