Fear of Pate Brisee?

11 Jun

My mother is one of the best cooks I know. She’s especially good at baking. She’ll take on anything. I think she takes the most risks when she bakes. While I rank pretty high in the area of adventurous cooking (a few marks below my friend T who’s been known to dry homemade sausage in his bathroom), I am incredibly impatient with the precision that’s required to bake. Accidentally add too much salt to your red sauce and you can find a way around it. Accidentally double your baking powder, or worse, baking SODA and you’re screwed. In my book,  anyone willing to take on pate brisee (pie crust) is someone worthy of a medal of courage.

My mother has the right temperament for baking. I remember growing up, she baked often. Pies were usually made for traditional occasions. I assisted often and she was a good teacher. I’d made up my mind early on that making pie crust was probably not for amateurs: Things like ice water and blending fat into flour until it reached the “right” consistency needed a terrifying amount of patience and focus.

So ever the years, crust has terrified me. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attempted it. One time, I made a rhubarb strawberry pie with/for friends. I had to disregard a few of my mother’s stipulations:  1) Always know your oven—an uneven oven can be Hell. 2) Crust needs to be kept cool while you’re working it and 3) You need to work fast.

The day of the rhubarb pie, I made it in my friend’s kitchen, we were friends who joked around A LOT; therefore distracting ourselves from completing things in a normal time frame and it was one of the hottest days of the summer. While the filling was delicious; the crust was horrible to work with and it seemed to melt over the pie. It browned unevenly.  Blah. Discouraged.

Fast forward to last week. My sister gave me the cutest little pie mold for my birthday, made by a company called Tovolo. I had to make a pie. I just had to.

I tried the easy route and searched the grocery store for a good crust. After repeated attempts to make “quick and easy meals using pre-made pie crusts” last summer and trying every pre-made crust available, I knew not to touch those lardy, crumbly, “unbrownable” sorry excuses for crusts. I had to do it myself.

I skipped the Martha Stewart recipe I’d used in the past and opted for Jacques Pepin’s pate brisee recipe from his “Jacques Pepin Celebrates” book.  After all, Jacques has never failed me. It was a hot day but my butter was very cold–as was my ice water. My rolling pin spent some time in the freezer. My flour was cold…enough. Jacques recommends using a food processor: I chilled my blade.

It turned out to be such a simple process—much easier than using a pastry blender or knives (another mistake during rhubarb pie incident was using knives to cut the dough). And there they were: The flecks of butter. I worked quickly, rolling it out to 11″, wrapped it in waxed paper (I don’t use plastic wrap) and into the fridge it went. Then I realized I needed to double the recipe. I made another. Then I realized I had some rhubarb in the fridge that needed to be used, so I made another. Then I got a request to make an apple pie so I made another.

I used Tovolo’s berry filling recipe that came with the mold. I pulled out my first crust and followed the mold maker’s instructions. The crust was very cold but it stuck to the mold anyway. I made two little pies that looked like crap. I baked them (took longer than the mold’s instructions) and the berries poked through the crust—the crust looked like it was melting off the top of one. They still looked like crap even with their nice, even tan. With the scraps, I made an extra little pie in a ramekin with heart shapes on top. My favorite part, the filling, was tasteless: Flavorless blackberries (a sin). Crust was excellent. The molds; not so much.

Next: A rhubarb and apple galette. I ground the almonds myself (prevents the juices from the fruit from soaking into the bottom of the crust). Out of the refrigerator came the crust and it was easy to work with. Galettes are much more appealing to me because they allow a “rustic” look—a great way to cover up imperfect techniques and they look so darn “farmie”. (Sorry, I couldn’t locate the recipes online. Send a comment and I’ll transcribe and send it to you.)

The crust browned evenly (check). It was flaky (check). It had great flavor (although I’d add a little more sugar in the future for desserts) – check. Best of all, hours later, the crust held up. And better than that, the next day, when I nuked it; it completely held up—still flaky, still the perfect texture.

Thanks Jacques. Thanks mom.

Happy Cooking!

~Mrs. Paddington

Carrot Jam, Homemade Butter and Booze

5 Jun

The early and heavy spring showers  followed by unseasonably hot weather have turned our Western crops into gold: Summer produce came early and with it the taste of late summer. Stone fruit have been no less than glorious—even the usually crappy conventional market fruits and veg are tasty. My only complaint is pricing: Oranges hover at .99/lb. while in-season, local stone fruit stay at around $3/lb. /grocery and even more at farmers’ markets.
Nonetheless, our local farmers’ market was the usual hustle/bustle social/buying/strolling/sampling scene a few weekends ago and I found myself in the Asian stall offering recipe ideas to a total stranger who wasn’t sure what to do with spring garlic. Mama Mia! What can’t you do with spring garlic?


Courtesy of “Mark” / Chowhound:

I made a delicious soup from green garlic stalks and young fava beans.

4 cups chicken stock
14 green garlic stalks, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large baking potato, peeled and chopped
1 tsp herbes de provence
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 tsp salt
11/2 lbs young fava beans in the pod, shelled and blanched for one minute
1/4 cup heavy cream

Put the stock in a 2-quart saucepan. Add garlic stalks, potato, herbs, and salt. Simmer over medium heat until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

Place the mixture in a blender or food processor and process. Strain out any tough, fibrous bits of garlic stalk. Return to saucepan and add fava beans, heavy cream, and freshly ground black pepper. Bring soup to simmer. Serve.

The stalks give a much milder flavor than the garlic cloves, and the soup has a beautiful light green color and is deliciously redolent of springtime.


So our plentiful spring ingredients have created swirl and a whirl among my food-lovin’ friends. Maybe it’s less of swirl/whirl and more of a frenzy. A crazy frenzy. I’ll leave out the swear words, but my friend, T, tossed out a morning F-word when I sent him what looked like a delicious recipe for “the best fish tacos” courtesy of a site I recently discovered, Food Republic. He indeed made “the best fish tacos” over Memorial Day weekend. His report:

 “i made a rough approximation of this over the weekend with some old chili paste i had made and stored in freezer with the addition of achiote paste. never used the li’l achiotes before. very interesting taste. i used whole petrale sole in a grill basket over the fire. d made tortillas. we were happy. dig the food republic site too, btw. pretty good stuff! when are we starting some sort of a food biz? design only satisfies me to a point.   -t”
Up to that point, May was really just a flurry. Here are some e-mail exchange excerpts: 
From L: I have some french lentils and I needed a new recipe. This sounds good. Bonus-it has cognac in it! The recipe actually says the cognac is optional but of course it has to go in. One of my new favorite cooking ingredients :-). 
And then, a disaster:
Subject: Boeuf en Croute
“Well here it is. I decided that puff pastry used any other way than for tarts is a pain in the you know what.The mushroom layer was tasty and the meat so so. The bottom layer of the pastry got too soggy and fell apart as Alex and I tried to move it to the cutting board. If you want to stop by while it’s still warm and try some you’re welcome to. If not, you can have some tomorrow.  I’ve got a headache now. Wish I had a Shock Top!  ~ L”
I blamed the entire disaster on the beef (if it’s a cow that suffered, it’s bound to be a problem) and especially the pastry which we continue to buy frozen and complain about. Pepperidge Farms seems to be the best in texture and flavor but it’s not saying much: The competition is horrible. Who had time to make puff pastry? We’re hoping our new favorite French bakery friends will hand over a few squares now and again once they’re open. And while they’re at it, a few tablespoons of the 400-year-old French starter we’ve heard rumors about.
From me to L: “Making the [Earl Grey] lemon bars now. They smell yummy. Don’t have a metal baking pan though so not sure if the crust is going to bake evenly. Like garlic…anything lemon for me. Posted the recipe on FB but will send you the one I have after I save it in my file. “
The bars weren’t as great as I thought they’d be. I used Meyer’s lemons which were too mild although I added extra lemon.  The Earl Grey didn’t stand out as much as I’d hoped. Longer steeping?
Subject: Homemade butter
” Heavy cream + salt = butter. Mmmm. Homemade butter next week? Carrot preserves too? – L “
From me to L: + Aldo’s Pork w/ broccoli rabe sandwiches?  I’ve got the tenderloin/ingredients for the pork. (: And Shock Top?
The homemade butter, in my opinion, was more trouble than it was worth and with the price of cream, more expensive, but REALLY FUN! I discovered I don’t like over-cooked broccoli rabe so the sandwich didn’t work for me + I used tortured pork so what did I expect? The carrot preserves (confiture) was DIVINE.
I’d love to hear about your May eating adventures…please post!
~Mrs. Paddington
Homemade butter, Aldo’s pork sandwich and Carrot Confiture photos here:

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How do you like your smokey, sweet goodness?

28 Apr

I’d love to say that I make my own secret recipe barbeque sauce. Truthfully, I don’t eat barbeque sauce very often. Don’t get me wrong—I love smokey, sweet goodness on my meat. Yes, I do. However, I think I have a problem with too much “smoke”:  My body has a smoke quota.

I also have to admit that in my early days, the only experience I had with barbeque sauce was when my mother (who is one of the best cooks I know but maybe not a barbeque sauce expert) in a pinch, would buy a bottle of Bulls Eye, pour it on some Foster Farms chicken legs (Ack! Foster Farms the Chicken Torturers) and shove it under the broiler; serving them with steamed broccoli as part of a super-quick meal.  (Thank goodness my mother would never curse us with Kraft Mac n’ Sodium Cheese or a Swanson’s mega-processed frozen meal. She would say that you can make something quick without sacrificing good nutrition.)

Since then, most of the barbeque sauces I’ve had have either been too smokey (remember my quota), too sweet or…too something.

Well, life imitates childhood: The other day, my daughter told me she wanted chicken for dinner and, not having a better idea, I dug back to my childhood and revived that “recipe” for barbeque chicken legs and steamed broccoli.

The major grocery store chain aisle was full of every adaptation of Bulls Eye barbeque sauce. Surprisingly, all of it was on a lower shelf at the major grocery chain store—instead of the more desirable eye-level shelves. (Perhaps Bulls Eye doesn’t need eye-level thanks to women like my mom.) Anyway…lots of the brands used high fructose corn syrup or began their ingredients listing with smoke or some sort of processed sweetener: forget it. (My daughter all of the sudden doesn’t like spicy/hot anything so hot/peppers were crossed off my list.)  There was a multitude of designer sauces: Which to chose? My eyes stopped at Guy Fieri’s line (I am only familiar with Guy Fieri’s various product/restaurant lines as he became a celeb after my time at Food Network and I don’t watch his show because I’m distracted by his bracelets.).

Lots of peppers in most of his sauces but I found “Kansas City Smokey & Sweet” had no peppers; only “pepper” at the end of the list. I paid the $5 (eeek) and took her home. Chicken went under the broiler (I brush on the sauce after I broil the chicken so the sauce doesn’t burn and set off the smoke alarms—another childhood memory). My daughter liked the sauce and I have to say, it’s a well-balanced barbeque sauce; very traditional but for an off-the-shelf-quick-chicken leg meal; it’s a good value.

Good job, Guy Fieri.

Hankering for a non-traditional but delicious alternative to smokey barbeque sauce? Fall in love with any of the raspberry chipotle sauces out there. I like Kozlowski Farms‘ version, however, Target’s Archer Farms is a good value and  Costco carries one that I’ve had at a local restaurant that’s really, really good. Dip your roasted pork in it. Dribble it on oysters. Sip it straight out of the bottle!

Thankfully, my smoke quotas don’t seem to factor in when it comes to dark, smoked chipotle pepper sauce goodness….

Slow-Cooked Achiote Pork (Cochinita Pibil)

25 Apr

Ahhhh, slow-cooked pork. There’s nothing like it unless you don’t use a fatty enough piece of pork which was my error the second time I made this recipe. The recipe is courtesy of Rick Bayless who I met a few years back at a Cooking for Solutions event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I ended up with his autographed book “Mexican Everyday” but for whatever reason, I didn’t really read it until a few years later.

Here’s the recipe along with a photo of my pork lying in it’s banana leaf jacket before it went into the oven for 3 hours–kind of pretty.

The Recipe: http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/546481-Slow-Cooked-Achiote-Pork-Cochinita-Pibil-

I like the Milpas brand anchiote condimentado if you can find it. I also tried the recipe with chicken but liked the pork better.

Fat pork. Fat.

Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant

25 Apr

In 2006, a boyfriend and I were driving up Saratoga Avenue in San Jose, hunting for parsley, when we came upon a strip mall. Lucky’s/Albertson’s was the anchor store–the scariest, most filthy grocery store I’ve ever been in this side of the creek. They didn’t carry parsley of any kind. There went the lemon chicken stew with parsley.

Around the corner of the property, we discovered an Ethiopian restaurant called “Zeni“. The windows were plastered with accolades–the Best of the Bay Area many times over. We entered…

It really doesn’t matter what you order at Zeni; albeit a yebere, kifto, yebeg, tibs or any of their vegetarian options: Everything is scrumptious. While I’m no stranger to Ethiopian food (my cousin introduced me to the now closed Blue Nile, the wonders of tej and the risks of too much injera on Telegraph in Berkeley 20 years ago), never had I had an opportunity to truly appreciate the complexities of this cuisine until I “met” Zeni. To top it off, their tej is amazing as is their injera—tart and spongy goodness. It’s a family-run place. I think mom or grandma might be slinging it in the kitchen every night. Plan on waiting in line after 7pm on the weekends.

After falling in love with Zeni, my boyfriend and I would ask the question, “What do you want to eat for dinner?” and at least one night a week, we couldn’t grab the car keys fast enough to get to Zeni where we’d pig out and drive home raving about how good our tummies felt.

Six years after discovery and I just celebrated my birthday at my favorite Ethiopian spot. Nothing’s changed at Zeni’s which is just the way we want it.

Spanish-style Lamb Stew with Roasted Red Peppers

6 Feb

I made this for my daughter last week…and then again yesterday. We slurped and argued over pieces of “soppin’ bread” the first time. The second time there were leftovers. Recipe adaptations & advice:

I bought some really lamby lamb–shoulder cut bone-in, left the bones in, added twice the garlic (my rule of thumb), additional wine and really let each addition of liquid cook down. I didn’t cut off enough of the lamb fat the second time and ended up doing a lot of skimming-beware. I think I simmered the stew for at least 2 hours which really concentrated the flavors. Use really good beef stock or some sort of beef stock concentrate to supplement a good-quality box brand if you can’t make your own. UNFORTUNATELY, the second time I tried out the Kitchen Basics beef stock (no alternative at the store) and it was completely flavorless. The company didn’t even bother salting it. I tried to save it by adding some concentrated chicken stock but that and the Trader Joe’s- completely-worthless-organic-tomato paste didn’t give the recipe the ‘umph’ it needed to compete with my first round of deliciousness. I used Amore Concentrated Tomato Paste (the one in the tube) http://www.amorebrand.com/ the first time–really great flavor.

Overall, this recipe rocks—just don’t insult it’s Spanish-like heritage by skimping on ingredients.


  • 3 pounds lamb shoulder, fat trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-in. chunks, or other lamb stew meat
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • About 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 cup Syrah or other dry red wine
  • About 1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 red bell peppers, halved, stemmed, and seeded
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • 3 tablespoons chopped drained capers


  1. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper. Pour 1 tbsp. olive oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add lamb in a single layer; cook, turning as needed, until browned all over, 12 minutes per batch. Transfer to a bowl and add more oil between batches if necessary.
  2. Reduce heat to medium; if pan is dry, add a little more oil. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 minutes. Add garlic, paprika, and cumin and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add wine, 1 1/2 cups broth, and the tomato paste; bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up browned bits. Add lamb and juices; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lamb is very tender when pierced, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Add more broth if mixture gets too dry.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Set pepper halves skin side up on a baking sheet. Broil 4 to 6 in. from heat until blackened all over, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand at least 10 minutes, then peel and thinly slice lengthwise. In a small bowl, mix parsley, olives, and capers.
  4. Stir roasted peppers into lamb mixture. If stew is too thick, add a little more broth. Cook, uncovered, until heated through. Season to taste with more salt and pepper and top with parsley mixture.



Blog Introduction: Alimentación…grato!

4 Feb

Consume de Barbacoa, Ciudad de Oaxaca, 2008

Loosely translated in Spanish, “alimentación” means “feeding” and “grato” means something like “pleasing”.

My closest friends and family have known me to proclaim “I’d rather not eat if it doesn’t taste good.” I think back to all those years of corporate business lunches at Chili’s, Chevy’s and–I can’t believe I survived–Applebee’s. I usually ordered, teeth clenched, the most neutral meal on the menu: side salad with vinegar and oil (praying the oil wasn’t rancid, hoping for more than ice berg and leaving the slimy pieces on the edge of the plate). A side salad usually saves you about 3,000 calories at those places by the way.

But enough about my food-related trauma. The intention of this blog is to share the pleasure I take in eating well and to express the joy I take in every facet of food preparation, serving, eating and photography. I’d like to share with you my everyday fixation with food from that extra lambie tasting lamb I found at X market (and what I did with it) to recipes that make it to my “standards” or “win him over” list.

I also plan to include the occasional restaurant review–or at least a Yelp link. And just to mix it up, reflections on places I’ve eaten oversees that I just can’t get out of my mind/heart: Tortas ahogadas in Guadalajara, smoked fish street tacos in Lahaina, a 5-hour la merienda in the Spanish countryside and the menu that forced me to plan my entire vacation around lunch & dinner at Cafe El Punto in touristy Old San Juan–are just a few.

Before I had a child, at least 1/3 of my photos consisted of pictures of food and food-related gatherings. I’ll be sure to share some of my favorite images with you.

Until next time: Bon appetit! Bon profit! On egin! Приятного аппетита بالهنا و الشفاء! ¡Buen provecho!食飯 En guete! Verði þér að góðu Buon appetito! どうぞめしあがれ Bonum appetitionem! Сайхан хооллоорой  Bom apetite! Смачного! Ăn ngon nhé! (Yes, I had to look most of these up!)

-Mrs. Paddington

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