Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hangar One Raspberry Vodka

Returns to the Shelves This Week

photograph picture hangar one frasier river raspberry vodka from Alameda and st geroge spirits

When I first sampled locally distilled Hangar One Raspberry Vodka about a year and a half ago it was a resounding adoration at first sip. Made from Fraser River Meeker raspberries, this extraordinary spirit earnt my deep and faithful love from the moment of that initial taste onwards. It's a playfully girly-pink looking spirit, an appearance that does not bely its strength, its purity or its distinct lack of sweetness. It smells of nothing less than the most fragrant basket of raspberries and it fills your mouth with the same fruity intensity.

It has been said that you can have too much of a good thing, but with Hangar One Raspberry Vodka's status as a limited edition from a single distillation that happens only once a year, you'll be lucky to find any left for sale by the time that Christmas comes around. Its scarcity makes it even more desirable. I stockpile a few bottles every year and am reluctant to drink the very last glass for fear that I might never be able to sup on its unique likeness again.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:

Visit Hangar One | and Enjoy a tasting of their Spirits
Stockists | Stores that sell Hangar One
More about | Hangar One Raspberry

Archive Alert! In 2005: The Pump Rooms, Bath, England

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Hangar One Raspberry Vodka

Monday, May 29, 2006

Le Metro French Bistro - Divisadero - San Francisco

Ooh la la, pour un brunch joyeux!
Le Metro Cafe: 311 Divisadero, San Francisco, CA 94117, tel: 415 552 0903

Please note - Le Metro Bistro has since closed.

photograph picture metro french cafe bistro on divisadero san francisco

Click to enlarge

As I made my way past the kitchen to Le Metro's patio garden, which is open for brunch only, I spied these little jewel-like cubes of beet and goat cheese being prepared in the kitchen. Bright and zingy with a pronounced basil dressing that was fresh and fragrant, this side dish was the perfect foil for the rich, eggy dishes that dominate the brunch menu.

photograph picture metro cafe bistro on divisadero san francisco

Click to enlarge

New to that menu is a Vegetarian Tartlette, a puff pastry base topped with meltingly tender leeks, tomatoes and gorgonzola cheese. The egg is an optional extra that comes soft-poached with a dribble of the hollandaise that makes Le Metro's many Benedict options crowd-pleasers. A vibrant red pepper sauce paints a colourful flourish that rounds off the dish. Wash down with a generous glass of Cremant Rose.

My friend Vinny, (Happy Birthday today, Vinny), remarked of his Croque Madame that he wish it hadn't been served actually on top of the green salad. The same could be said of my green leaves too which became a little wilted under the warm tart.

Le Metro is the only place of in San Francisco I know of where you are served Potatoes Dauphine. These are large puffy balls made from a mix of pate choux and potato that put a big smile on Fred's face (and mine too).

photograph picture metro cafe bistro on divisadero san francisco

Click to enlarge

All of our visits to Le Metro so far, have been for brunch. The waitress hinted we should try dinner instead, unfortunately served inside the little bistro only, (we love the garden), that is rumoured to be remarkably good value. That makes sense - Le Metro was immortalized by our favourite playgirl chef Rachael Ray when she visited San Francisco on her $40-a day budget. We'll have to return and try dinner soon.

photograph picture metro cafe bistro on divisadero san francisco

Click to enlarge

Another good reason for food-loving types to get over to this part of town during the day is that Le Metro is just a few doors away from Cookin' - Recycled Gourmet Appurtenances. This place is a treasure-chest beyond the dreams of any food blogger. You can find just about anything in this cluttered little shop packed to the rafters with glasses, saucepans, baking trays, foundu sets, waffle presses, etc. It's certainly not a cheap place to shop and we couldn't get the proprietor to budge on any of her prices, but it might be just the place to find the wierd old kitchen-something you have always been looking for. Check out Kevin's Cookin' post at Bacon Press for more details and pictures from inside the store too.

PS This overview was tried & tested, which means we have visited Le Metro at least three times.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:
Cookin' | Location
Le Metro | reserve via Opentable

Other Resources:
Pommes Dauphine | Recipes

And on this day in 2004: It was Vinny's birthday two years ago too.

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Le Metro French Bistro - Divisadero - San Francisco

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bay Area Blogger of the Week # 39

Dessert First? Why ever not!

photograph picture dessert first blog by anita the pastrygirl in san francisco

How could you not love a Bay Area native who puts her dessert first? Anita, otherwise known as Pastrygirl, completed the 6-month professional baking class at my favourite local private cooking-school, Tante Marie, last year. Since then she has been been photographing everything sweet and delicious, much to the pleasure of her readers. Recently Anita took another course, a weekend workshop in food photography which she described here, and is a must read for any bloggers who like photographing food. Anita certainly looks like she learnt a thing or two. Her latest photographs, of tantalising desserts made from just in season cherries, look so good you will want to dive into your screen!

PS. Do you remember Juan who won my Menu for Hope Cookbooks and then guest blogged his attempt at making Thomas Keller's Fish & Chips? Well last week, he finally actually got to go to The French Laundry. They had a spare seat at their table and invited me to join them, but I had already arranged to attend the birthday of a dear internet friend's beautiful spouse along with a good bunch of fellow food bloggers and some other cool food writers at Nopa so I couldn't make it. Now I have to live vicariously through Juan's just-published French Laundry photoset instead. All in black and white and taken on film, not digitally. Check it out.

Upcoming Additions to my Bay Area Food Roll:
The City Dish

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: Avoca in Ireland,

Previously Featured Bay Area Food & Drink Bloggers:
Ms Glaze's Pommes d'Amour | Hedonia | Dive | Sweet Napa | Cupcake Bakeshop | Tea & Cookies | Albion Cooks | Blogher | Bay Area Bites | Hungry Hedonist | Mighty | Chez Pim | The Blue Bottle Clown College | The Novato Experiment | Amuse Bouche | Feeding Fashionistas | All In | Dr Five Pints | SF Gourmet | Small Farms | In Praise of Sardines | Life Begins @ 30 | Gastronomie | Confessions of a Restaurant Whore | Bunny Foot | Sweet & Savory | I'm Mad and I Eat | Yummy Chow | Nosheteria | Vivi's Wine Journal | Epicurian Debauchery | Food Musings | Pfiff | Marga's Food Blog | Where the Wild Things Are | Eggbeater

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Bay Area Blogger of the Week # 39

Friday, May 26, 2006

French Cooking Class Reunion

= Good Food, Good Wine, Good Time

All the other pupils in my French Country Cooking Class, which only ended a couple of weeks ago, at Tante Marie's in San Francisco cajoled me into hosting a pot luck reunion. I started by taking photos, but as the evening descended into much merriment fuelled by a few bottles of wine, I guess I stopped snapping somewhere along the line. So I must apologize to my new friends for not including shots of all the delicious things that followed these appetizers, like beef bourginon, potato gratin, Parisienne gnocchi, clafoutis and homemade strawberry-mint ice cream. Believe me, everything was delicious. Sante!

PS Go to Blogger Templates Blog to find out how to add a Flickr Slideshow to your own blog. Big thanks to them for the 'how to' post!

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French Cooking Class Reunion

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A 'Fairy' Easy Fairy Cake Recipe

How to make the simplest Fairy Cakes!

I imagine things have changed since I was a little kid, but in my day, once the chocolate cornflake cakes and jam tarts had been mastered, Fairy Cakes were one of the next sweet delights a British child would learn to make in the kitchen. Fairy Cakes were also de riguer at every self-respecting single-digit birthday party in the country.

photograph picture how to make recipe for fairy cakes
The Cottingley Fairies are no match for the Fairy Cake Fairies who magically appeared when my photographs were developed?

I have mentioned fairy cakes a couple of times on my blog before. The first time, I featured Fairy Cakes by my niece in Dublin, Mollie. The second time, more recently, I baked some for an English tea party. Neither time did I include a recipe, but since I get so many hits from people looking for information on how to make them, I thought it was time to share the instructions.

This recipe, no doubt a Marguerite Patten one originally, is so etched into my brain from my childhood, I don't even need to go and look in a book when I bake them. There is nothing elegant or sophisticated about these cakes, they are simply childish wonders which attract magical fairies.

(makes 30 mini fairy cakes):
4 ounces butter
4 ounces Baker's or Caster Sugar
4 ounces sifted Self Raising Flour (or All-purpose flour + half tsp baking powder + pinch salt)
2 eggs
1 cup sifted Powdered or Icing sugar
Juice of a lemon (*and zest, optional)
Food colouring of your choice if desired
Silver Ball Cake Decorations (illegal to buy in California, so huge thanks to lovely Lynette for hooking me up with some)

-Put butter and eggs out of the fridge, to warm up to room temperature.
-Preheat oven to 375F
-Put out 30 mini paper cases on a baking tray.
-Either by hand or in a mixer bet the butter and sugar together until pale, fluffy and light. (*optional - add lemon zest at this stage if you desire)
-One at a time, beat the eggs in a separate bowl and then add to the sugar/butter mixture, beating hard, until all the ingredients are incorporated.
-Gently fold the flour into the butter mixture until everything is combined. Do not over mix or beat the flour.
-Using a teaspoon, drop small heaped teaspoon dollops of the batter into the paper cases.
-Transfer the tray to the preheated oven. Leave at least 17 minutes without opening the door. They should be golden brown on the surface once cooked. If still a bit pale after 17 minutes, turn the tray in the oven and bake for a further 3 minutes.
Transfer mini cakes to a cooling rack.
-Meanwhile add a few drops of colouring to the sifted powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Add fresh lemon juice, a small squirt at a time, beating hard, until all the sugar is blended into a thick fondant. Go gingerly with the liquid, you want it to be very thick. Stop adding lemon juice as soon as it reaches the fondant stage.
-Carefully drop a dollop of the fondant onto the centre of each little cake. Leave it to spread over the surface. You can guide the icing with a knife dipped in hot water if you want more control over where it dribbles.
-Top with a candy or cake decoration of your choice.
-Look for the fairies!

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A 'Fairy' Easy Fairy Cake Recipe

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Too Much Picnic

Being With Friends Is More Fun Than Stuffing Yourself

photograph picture mother possum picks berries for the picnic from too much picnic by Peter jan Honigsburg and ryan jones

A work colleague of mine, Ryan Jones, is the illustrator of a new book, Too Much Picnic, designed to be read to young children. The story centres on a gluttonous mole called Cocoa who would rather stuff his face with ice cream, pizza, cake and burgers than be a meaningful member of his community. The moral of the story is that Cocoa soon realises that his friends are more important to him than food.

This might be the perfect gift for a foodie friend with children, or for the child of a foodie friend. The book will be available on June 1st from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or directly from the publishers.

PS Read more about the book here.

And on this day in 2004:Another Local Childrens' Book - Simon and the Sock Monster

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Too Much Picnic

Monday, May 22, 2006

Chocolate-Mint Truffle

Dark, Rich & Subtle
Experiments in my Test Kitchen

photograph picture recipe how to make dark sinful rich delicious chocolate mint truffles

Judging by the speed with which the correct answer to part of yesterday's challenge was left on a comment by Teri, it would appear that I am the only person in the world who had never heard of chocolate-mint. Fatemeh kindly pointed out this unexpected herb to me at the San Francisco Farmer's Market on Saturday imploring "you have to smell this". Crikey! It really does smell exactly like the best chocolate chip ice cream you could imagine. I am not one for making ice cream since I don't have the luxury of a fancy gadget to help me do so, but I didn't let that stop me from trying my hand at some ice cream-inspired Mint-Choc-Chip (with no chip) truffles instead...

photograph picture recipe how to make dark sinful rich delicious chocolate mint truffles

1 cup chocolate mint leaves (stems removed)
1/2 cup whipping cream.
5oz 62% Semisweet Chocolate, cut into small pieces with a sharp knife
4 tbsp butter, diced and at room temperature.
2 heaped tsp unsweetened cocoa powder, for rolling.


-Bring a pan of water to a rolling boil.
-Prepare a bath of cold water and ice.
-Blanch the mint leaves for 20 seconds in the boiling water. Immediately transfer them to the ice bath to cool, using a slotted spoon.
-Remove the mint leaves from the ice bath and thoroughly dry them with a paper towel.
-In a small food mixer process the leaves until they are finely minced. (Or mince with a chef's knife or mezza luna if you don't have an electronic processor.)
-Add the cream and process together with the mint until the two ingredients are blended. (Be wary not to go to far at this stage, else your cream might turn to butter, if it starts to thicken, stop processing immediately).
-Transfer the cream/mint mixture to a small pan. Bring to the boil and then take off the heat. Allow to the herbs to seep in the cream for a further ten minutes.
- In the meantime transfer the chocolate to a double saucepan or a glass bowl set over a slowly simmering pan of water.
-Using a sieve, strain the mint cream so that you are left with a smooth, green liquid cream.
-Pour half of the cream liquid over the chocolate, and stir over the heat, until the chocolat and cream are melted and blended together. Repeat with the remaining mint-infused cream.
-Remove from the heat and start to beat in the butter, a few cubes at a time. Repeat and continue until all the butter is blended and the mixture is smooth. If at any point the mixture cools down too much so that the butter won't melt, just pop the bowl back over the pan of water again just until it heats up enough to melt the remainder of the butter.
-Once your ganache is thick, glossy and blended, pop it into the fridge to cool down for 30 minutes.
-Line baking tray with parchement or wax paper.
-Remove ganache from fridge, stir thoroughly and then transfer to a piping bag with a large plain nozzle.
-Pipe little rounds of the ganache into ball shapes on the lined baking sheet. From the photographs above, you will see that I am hopeless at this part of the equation. No worries, really, if they look like turds, because once they are rolled in cocoa, they will be just fine. If you are really worried, just claim that they are meant to be rustic! Chill for two hours.
-Remove the truffles from the fridge and then roll them gently in cocoa powder using a fork, shaking them to remove any excess powder.

-Store in the fridge in an airtight container. Most truffle recipes call for you to bring them up to room temperature before serving. Not these - since they are ice cream-inspired truffles, I think they taste better straight from the fridge.

Tasting Notes:
Fred doesn't like these truffles, I do. I tried a version with some of the mint leaf pulp in the ganache too. Believe me, there is a reason Thomas Keller abuses his chinois so much. The smoother truffle, without the greens, was far superior. It had all the taste of real, fresh mint without the annoyance of little fibrous bitsies on the tongue. No pulp is definitely the way to go!

PS On second try, Fred likes the truffles. I tested them out on the luckiest of my work colleagues and they all declared them to be a hit!

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:
Chocolate and Cocoa Powder | via Scharffenburger
Chocolate-Mint | from Heirloom Organics
Cream and Butter | from Straus Dairy
The Ferry Building | Market Place
Saturday Morning | Farmers Market

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: Chowhound's Guide, I don't think I have looked in it since!

And on this day in 2004: The Case of the Margaux

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Chocolate-Mint Truffle

Sunday, May 21, 2006

New Farmers Market Finds

Time to put your thinking caps on...

photograph picture mystery purchases from the farmers market

What happens when four fabulous female food bloggers arrange to meet at The San Francisco Ferry Plaza on a Saturday market morning? They bump into three more wonderful food bloggers, that's what.

They also cajole you into filling your basket with things you've never heard of or seen before. See the examples above: Can you guess what they are? The first picture shows the less-commonly seen part of a common vegetable. I was told that most people were snapping them up simply for decorative purposes. To hell with that - I am going to at least try and eat mine. It's obviously mint in the right picture - but what kind of mint? The girls are going to love this one. I'll leave you guessing whilst I head off to my test-kitchen to have a little play with these new-found ingredients.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:
The Ferry Building | Market Place
Saturday Morning | Farmers Market

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: Nosheteria

And on this day in 2004: Woodside Cheese Club

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New Farmers Market Finds

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bay Area Blogger of the Week # 38

Ms. Glaze's Pommes d'Amour

photograph picture ms glaze pommes d'amour food blog in paris via san francisco

I recently became acquainted with the adorable Ms Glaze, via her smartly-written blog and I quickly became hooked on her story. Ms Glaze has been training at the Cordon Bleu Chef School in Paris and I first caught up with her on the same day she had been given a list of ingredients for her final exam. To say she was disappointed would be an understatement. I think I would have some trouble getting immediately excited about a menu based on pigeon, foie gras mousse, peas and artichokes too. Especially the pigeon part.

Ms Glaze has had a few weeks since that fateful day to ponder and practice the dish she is going to serve up for Le Cordon Bleu examiners next week. I felt her suffering when she experienced bouts of insecurity about her menu and then licked my lips as she started to practice elements of her proposed dish.

As if this wasn't enough excitement for one month: Ms Glaze also had to deal with the stresses of preparing for a stage at Guy Savoy, no less. Despite a set of nerves you wouldn't expect from an actress, Ms Glaze clinched the staging deal and so will get to realise the Guy Savoy part of her dream. Congratulations are in order!

By now you might be wondering why I am featuring Paris-based food blog as my current Bay Area Blogger of the Week. Well, it's simple really. Although Ms Glaze admits that she definitely loves living in Paris, to her San Francisco will always be home. And her dream is that someday she will come back to the Bay Area and open her own Bistro/Cabaret where she might showcase the amazing talents of the Bay Area through food, music, and drama. That's a local enough girl for me.

So please, dear readers, pop over and check out Ms Glaze's wonderful Love Apples, congratulate her on her success so far, wish her luck with the upcoming exam and implore that she comes back home to open up that Bistro sooner rather than later. We're all waiting for you!

PS. Looks like The San Francisco Chronicle's 'illustrious' Food Editor Michael Bauer is actually surprising me with his take on blogging. He is already drifting away from the subject of food with today's entry that is more worthy of an entry into Weekend Dog Blogging.

Upcoming Additions to my Bay Area Food Roll:
Kung Foodie
San Fran Food
Food Muse
Between Meals
Oral Fixations
No Warm Soda
The Green Jackfruit
Moose in The Kitchen
Hungrig in San Francisco

Previously Featured Bay Area Food & Drink Bloggers:
Hedonia | Dive | Sweet Napa | Cupcake Bakeshop | Tea & Cookies | Albion Cooks | Blogher | Bay Area Bites | Hungry Hedonist | Mighty | Chez Pim | The Blue Bottle Clown College | The Novato Experiment | Amuse Bouche | Feeding Fashionistas | All In | Dr Five Pints | SF Gourmet | Small Farms | In Praise of Sardines | Life Begins @ 30 | Gastronomie | Confessions of a Restaurant Whore | Bunny Foot | Sweet & Savory | I'm Mad and I Eat | Yummy Chow | Nosheteria | Vivi's Wine Journal | Epicurian Debauchery | Food Musings | Pfiff | Marga's Food Blog | Where the Wild Things Are | Eggbeater

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Bay Area Blogger of the Week # 38

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Johnnie Walker Journey of Taste Revisited

photograph picture johnnie walker journey of taste dogpatch studios san francisco

From time to time I have a burst of hits to my site from people searching the internet for information about Johnnie Walker's Journey of Taste, a whisky sampling event that I wrote about in late 2004. If you read that review you will discover that Fred and I found the proceedings to be rather boring. You would be surprised we might even consider attending another one ever again. But when we found out that their latest event was taking part within walking distance from our current home, at the Dogpatch Studios, we decided to give it another shot.

The great news is that the event has improved no end. Johnnie Walker have brought their tasting bang up to date with a new presentation which will undoubtedly appeal to the younger audience they are hoping will become the Johnnie Walker drinkers of the future.

Although the evening starts much in the same way as it did before, with a lengthy queue to get in, followed by a short mingling period accented with nibbles (delicious mini-burgers) and one of two Johnnie Walker cocktails or a Black Label on the rocks, the actual tasting part of the evening has seen a major facelift. Gone are the kilts, the bag-pipes, the corporate movie, the scratch'n'sniff card and the educational-style tasting. In its place we found a quadrangle of cool white bench seating framed by four huge video walls that play fashionably-styled fast-cut images to the rhythm of loud bursts of music that energizes the audience. At one point a Mexican wave even started to travel around the room.

Johnnie Walker have increased the number of samples in their tasting too, even introducing me to one blend that I wasn't aware existed. We started by sipping the Black Label, described by the Ambassador as their benchmark blend. Next up was the surprise, the Gold Label, which was served ice cold, straight from the freezer which our Ambassador claimed matches perfectly with chocolate mousse. This is a soft, more honeyed whisky with vanilla overtones. The red label is their most affordable brand which they encouraged us to mix with one of the soft drinks provided. (Because it doesn't taste so great on its own, of course!) The Green Label otherwise known as Pure Malt, only recently available in the US, is a blend of 15 single malts. The final sample of the evening, because this is not a drink for beginners, was their expensive Blue Label, blended from rarer whiskies.

A Johnnie Walker Journey of Taste isn't such a bad way to while away an hour and a half, especially if you think you'd enjoy the opportunity to compare each of their blends against each other. But remember - these are all blends. If fine single malts are more your style you might be a little frustrated with this basic introduction to Scotch.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:
Planning a San Francisco Event or Party | Dog Patch Studios

Other Resources:
How it all began | The Johnnie Walker Story

Archive Alert! On this day in 2004: Egg Sandwiches

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Johnnie Walker Journey of Taste Revisited

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Diet Progress

Weight loss, Weightwatchers and diet notes:
I have to apologize to those few of you who have been interested in my weight loss progress since I declared Food Blogging Makes You Fat earlier this year. It's been five weeks since I last reported back to you. Well, no news is most encouraging news in this instance. I set myself a goal of losing 23 lbs by my fortieth birthday. Now, I only have 20 thirty-something days left to go and I am not quite going to reach that goal unless I eat nothing between now and the big 4-0 day, but I am going to get pretty darn close. Yes folks, I only have a meagre 6.5 lbs left to reach my target weight. That means a whole 16+lbs has melted away. In Brit-speak, that's more than a stone. We Brits like losing stones. To be honest, I am startled by these good results. I stopped counting my Weightwatcher points weeks ago, I have gorged myself at an English Tea Party, scoffed French-style Gnocchi, devoured a Beard Papa Cream Puff, indulged in exquisite chocolate eggs, gone to town in Vegas, taken part in a 6-week French Cooking Class drenched in duck-fat and not been too shy with the butter on any occasion. And I still lost weight! Last week I managed to slip into my old 'sexy' jeans and a whole mass of other clothes items in my wardrobe are seeing the light of day again for the first time in a couple of years.

So how do I do it? I have learnt that is a matter of balance. Don't be a total 24/7 glutton, but when you do indulge, even if on a regular basis, balance with lighter healthier meals at other times of day, eat more fruit and vegetables and limit snacks in-between meals and, hey presto!

Diet started January '06. History of weight still left to lose in order to attain target:

23 19.5 17.5 17.0 15.0 14.0 13.0 13.0 6.5
Diet Progress

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Help Preserve Net Neutrality

Take Action Today

Save the Internet: Click here

If you are against the creation of a two-tier, two-speed internet and if you want to continue to be able to read this and your other favourite blogs at the same speed as you do today, the time to take action to preserve the net as you know it is now.

Read Farmgirl's inspired take on the matter.

Read Pim's post of all partcipating food blogs.

Read the FAQ

Sign the petition

Thank you!

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Help Preserve Net Neutrality

Sunday, May 14, 2006

How to Make Gnocchi - Parisienne, French Style

Fluffy, Light, Not a Potato in Sight!

photograph picture how to make recipe for french-style gnocchi using pate choux instead of potato
After taking every aspect of pastry into account I have concluded that Pâte a Choux is the Queen of all Pastries. Pâte a Choux is versatile and delicious in whatever form you find her. Eclairs, gougeres, cream puffs, Paris Brest, beginets. Whichever way she comes, I love her. I love making Pâte a Choux too. Harold Mcgee describes the technique for its preparation as tediously elaborate but I disagree. I become an alchemist in the kitchen when I make Pâte a Choux, giving thanks to the medieval chef who dreamt up such a peculiar way of combining a set of simple ingredients with magical results.

You are probably most familiar with choux pastry in its baked form, when it has been popped into the oven where it transforms into a puffy golden shell. But did you know that the very same dough can be gently poached to produce the softest, pillow-like, adorable, little gnocchi too? Forget the potatoes! Next time you desire a creamy carb-fest for dinner, simply turn to your pantry for some basic ingredients and whip up a batch of these super-satisfying, eggy, smeary, filling, irresistable French-style gnocchi. Recipe below. Ooh la la!

Disclaimer: I know I suggested they were light, but that's kind of misleading. They seem light at first bite, but after two or three they get heavy pretty fast, especially if you drown them in a rich fatty sauce. You have been warned, they are not diet friendly, but they are worth it...

photograph picture how to make recipe for french-style gnocchi using pate choux instead of potato

Basic Gnocchi Recipe:
1 2/3 cups of whole milk
6 oz or 1.5 sticks of unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups of all purpose (plain) flour
4 or 5 eggs


- Read through all the instructions before you start this recipe.
- Line a couple of baking sheets with parchement paper and put them to one side.
- Measure and sift the flour into a jug or other container suitable for quick pouring.
- Have a wooden spoon at the ready.
- In a heavy saucepan gently heat the milk, butter and salt until the butter is melted and then bring to the boil.
- Take the pan off the heat and immediately pour all the flour at once into the milk and start beating all the ingredients together vigorously with the wooden spoon.
- After about a minute the dough will come away from the sides of the pan and form a ball of sorts. When that happens you can stop beating.
- If you have an electric mixer then put the ball of dough into the bowl of the mixer and leave it to cool for five minutes. If you don't have a mixer, a wooden spoon will suffice, tranfer the dough to a mixing bowl and rest those biceps for five minutes.
- Whilst the dough is cooling, fill a large pan with water, salt it well and bring it to the boil.
- Back to the dough. Adding one egg at a time, beat thoroughly to fully incorporate each one into the dough before adding the next one. Four eggs should be enough, but if you find that your dough is still very stiff and dry then beat in the extra egg.
- The next stage is to transfer your dough into a piping bag with a large, plain nozzle. It is easier to work in batches. I split the Pâte a Choux into three batches when working with this amount of dough.
- Adjust the pan of water to a gently rolling boil. Have a pair of scissors ready. In one hand hold the the piping bag and as you pipe the dough into the water, quickly snip them off into pillow shapes. The water will splash so if you have heat sensitive hands it might be an idea to wear protective gloves.
- The gnocchi take about five minutes to cook and will be ready when they float to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon and lay them out to dry on the baking trays. Repeat the process for the reamaining batches of dough.
- Liberally season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper

What Next?
The gnocchi will be good for a couple of days, refrigerated in this state, but they need to be baked with a sauce of your choice before serving. Bake in a preheated 425F oven for 10 - 20 minutes (Depending on whether you let the sauce cool or not first), with a few extra minutes under the broiler to brown the top.

Creamy sauces, tomato sauce, ragu or a meat sauce - all of these will work well with these gnocchi. Use your imagination! Here are a couple of sauces I have tried successfully...

Triple creme, Pancetta and Morel sauce:
For the sauce in the picture I pan-fried together a quarter of a pound of pancetta and a quarter of a pound of sliced morel mushrooms. When they were golden I took them off the heat and poured out all the excess fat. I then scooped out the centre of a half-pound triple-creme cheese and added that to the pan together with 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream. I simmered the ingredients together until thickened. I checked seasoning and added plently of black pepper. As the pancetta was salty I didn't need to add extra salt. I mixed this sauce with the gnocchi, tranferred to gratin dishes, topped with grated parmigiano and baked at 425F for twenty minutes until golden. (Finish under the broiler/grill if necessary.)

Blue Cheese Cream Sauce:
For a blue cheese sauce bring 5oz blue cheese of your choice, black pepper and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer until the sauce thickens and is reduced by a quarter of its volume. Combine with the gnocchi as detailed above. You can use one large gratin dish for baking, or smaller ramekins.

I took the gnocchi to a partially French-centric pot luck party last night. Although my French friends weren't familiar with their own brand of gnocchi, I don't think they are going to waste any more time before adopting it as their own.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:
Pancetta | from The Fatted Calf
Morels | from Far West Funghi
Butter, milk and cream | from Straus Dairy
Mount Tam Triple Creme Cheese | from Cowgirl Creamery
Eggs | from Marin Sun Farms
Tante Marie French Cooking Class | by Jen Knapp
The Ferry Building | Market Place
Saturday Morning | Farmers Market

Other Resources:
Thank you for the cute little pink ramekins! | Lovely Lynette
Gnocchi a la Parisienne en Francais | via Del

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: The first ever Bay Area Blogger of the Week

And on this day in 2004: F is for Foodles

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How to Make Gnocchi - Parisienne, French Style

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Beard Papa Cream Puffs in San Francisco

Beard Papa's: 99 Yerba Buena Lane, Between 3rd and 4th Streets off Mission

It's like McDonalds for Dessert...

photograph picture beard papa cream puffs in their san francisco location

The opening of Beard Papa's in San Francisco has been much hyped. How else can you explain a 30+ minute line at the opening time of 10.00am in the morning on a Saturday? A very slow wait for some sweet fast food ensued. At one point I had to even rush and move my car to a different meter! Luckily Del was with me to keep a spot in the queue and snap some cool pictures for me whilst I was manoevering our chariot.

So what exactly do they taste like? A crunchy puffy shell filled with melted vanilla ice cream is how I would describe them. The texture is perfectly balanced, the flavour is less so. Bear in mind, it's a production-line dessert which, if taken at face value, will give you a few minutes of fun! Messy to eat - be sure to take a napkin!

PS. Becks & Posh is two years old today!

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: The First Year of Becks & Posh

And on this day in 2004: Sushi Groove South, San Francisco.

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Beard Papa Cream Puffs in San Francisco

Sunday, May 07, 2006

How to Trim an Artichoke

and prepare artichoke hearts - full pictorial guide

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke

Nearly 20 years ago, I tried my first artichoke. I was at a posh restaurant in a little village in the English County of Norfolk, having lunch with the boyfriend du jour. When I say posh, I don't mean really fine dining. At that age I had only just started eating out in restaurants and so every meal was a grand adventure for me. The poshness of the place, which was hushed and had real napkins, water jugs and flowers on the table, was judged in contrast to my then self, who was probably wearing a flouncy, colourful mini-skirt over a pair of tight black leggings or cycling shorts, and men's black reeboks and who would have arrived at the restaurant on one of the first mountain bikes imported into the UK, a flourescent yellow Marin Muirwoods. And this particular restaurant had artichokes on its menu which seemed awfully posh to the naive, young me. I had never seen one in my life before.

It arrived in front of me, a whole, steamed artichoke, and I didnt have the first idea about how to eat it. Really, neither of us knew what to do with it. I was aghast. I hovered over it, puzzled, wondering whether I should dig in somehow with a knife and fork?

My etiquette saviour came in the form of another customer who had also ordered the 'choke. Unfortunately this brave diner was seated behind me and so I couldn't watch him which led, instead, to my dining partner having to relay instructions to me as he studied the artichoke-eating technique unfold. "He's pulling out the leaves one at a time", he whispered across the table to me, "and then he's dipping it in the sauce and it looks like he is sucking on it". "NO! Don't eat the whole thing, he is throwing the rest of the leaf away!"

Over the years, I tried steaming whole artichokes from time to time, never being really happy with the sludgy brown results I created. But since I have been taking cooking classes at Tante Marie I have learnt how to deal with these prickly thistle flowers and now I have absolutely no fear of them. In fact, I find preparing them to be extremely theraputic. My various teachers at the school have each shown me a slightly different technique for preparing the artichokes and after some practice my own way of doing it has evolved, mainly based on the instruction of Jen Knapp, but with much more lemon involved and the help of a grapefruit spoon!

An Illustrated Guide to Preparing Articokes:

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke1) Start by filling a bowl with cold water and squeezing the juice of a lemon into it. This will serve as a bath for for the artichokes during the preparation period. Acid in the form of lemon (you could use a dash of white vinegar instead) will slow the formation of phenolics which are quick to cause browning on the surface of the vegetable when it is cut and exposed to air. The water will also reduce the artichoke's exposure to oxygen and help slow the discolouration.

In addition, have a halved lemon at the ready before you start work on the artichoke. You will be using this lemon to rub over cut surfaces at every turn. Also make sure your equipment (knives and saucepan are made from a non-reactive substance such as stainless steel)

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke2) Begin work on the artichoke by pulling out the tough, outer, dark green leaves.

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke3) Continue removing leaves until you are left with just light coloured, tender leaves in the centre. Immediately rub the newly exposed surfaces with juice from the halved lemon.

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke4) Slice off the top one inch of the leaves.

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke5) Trim the stalk - but not too far. The stalk is actually a continuation of the heart and it tastes good, so make sure not too much of it goes to waste. Again, rub cut surfaces with lemon.

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke6) Using a small pairing knife, trim the remaining dark green surfaces at the base of the artichoke, including the stalk. Continue to rub with lemon as you work.

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke 7) At this stage your artichoke should look nice and neat like this.

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke8) Next stage is to cut the artichoke in half. Rub the edges with that lemon juice again - it really does help slow the browning process.

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke9) The choke - hairy fibres in the centre of the artichoke - all need to be removed in a large artichoke like this one. My top tip at this stage is to use a grapefruit spoon which has a serrated edge and makes the job slightly easier. If you don't have one a regular teaspoon will work too. Use the tip of the spoon to gouge out all of the hairs.

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke10) Pull out all of the tough red leaves in the centre, leaving the soft green leaves in place. Rub those surfaces with lemon again!

photograph picture how to trim how to cut how to prepare a globe artichoke11) Your artichoke is now prepped. Leave the halves in the water bath whilst you tackle your other artichokes. Just before cooking, Cut the 'chokes lengthwise into sizes that suit your recipe and rub with lemon again. For artichokes this big I would probably cut each half into eight pieces.

The particular artichokes in these pictures are destined to become part of a delicious Artichoke Panzanella salad later today.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:
Artichokes | from Iacopi Farm
The Ferry Building | Market Place
Saturday Morning | Farmers Market
Cooking School | Tante Marie

Other Resources:
Eat Local | Eat Local Challenge
On Food & Cooking | Kitchen Science tips from Harold McGee
Pictures of Norfolk | on Flickr

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: It was the start of a Quiz

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How to Trim an Artichoke

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Michael Bauer Food Blog

A new Bay Area Food Blog is Born

The San Francisco Chronicles Food Critic Michael Bauer dares to start a food blog. I wonder what he thinks about the competition?

photograph picture michael bauer food blog on sfgate entitled between meals

PS - Thanks to the commentors who so kindly left me the clues and links to Mr Bauer's new blog before it reached the front page of SFgate.

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: Sugar, Mice and Everything Nice

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Michael Bauer Food Blog