Category Archives: Cooking

Entries having to do with cooking in some way.

Smoke In The Water (aka layers of flavor)

Every time I make lentils I wonder why I don’t make them more often. They are so simple and quick to make and yet have such a great flavor and texture. My current favorite preparation comes from Heston Blumenthal. The self-taught chef has accomplished a great deal and his Heston Blumenthal At Home cookbook is one I find fascinating and recommend to any advanced cook. Chef Blumenthal prepares his lentils with smoke which was something I had never thought to try. In the book he calls for smoking your own water and though I am not one to take shortcuts it was hard for me to justify the effort when a bottle of liquid smoke was stashed in the pantry. Here is my take on the recipe which delivers some of the most complex flavored lentils I have ever tasted.

Smokey Lentils (adapted from Heston Blumenthal At Home)

400  grams water
100 grams Puy Lentils
1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
garlic clove
10 peppercorns
5 cloves
Sonomic Vinegar (or reduced balsamic-honey)

Add the smoke, carrot, celery, and onion to the water and bring it to a boil. I cut the carrot and celery into big pieces that will be easy to fish out later. Make a sachet with the pepper, thyme, garlic, bay, and cloves and add to the water. When it is at a boil pour the lentils in and then cook at a simmer covered for 15 minutes or so. Taste the lentils to see if they are at the doneness you want then drain. Heston calls for boiling some balsamic vinegar and honey to a syrup but I had some vinegar given to me as a present that tasted a lot like what I thought Chef Blumenthal was aiming at so I used it. Finely chop the shallot and warm it with some olive oil and the vinegar. When it is at a simmer tip the lentils in (having removed the veg and sachet) and mix.  Keep cooking, covered until the liquid has been absorbed. Add the chives and then season with salt (smoked if you prefer), pepper, and brighter vinegar (don’t be shy this is important!) to taste. The cookbook calls to make a salad with mustard vinaigrette, radishes, peach puree, and warmed goat cheese. It is divine with these but the lentils taste great by themselves too!


Filed under Cookbooks, Cooking

Double Trouble (aka how to trick kids into cooking)

A few years ago Buy Rite ice cream opened up in San Francisco. The flavor that got the most excitement was salted caramel. As soon as I tried it I knew I had to figure out how to make it at home. The trouble was the salt in the recipe lowered the freezing temperature. My ice cream maker (the kind you put in the freezer) churned its heart out but could only deliver slush. So, of course, I “needed” a freezer with its own compressor. The problem was I was never satisfied with the results! And so every now and again I would pull the machine out and try again but it was always the same: icy texture.

 Recently both Buy Rite and Humphrey Slocombe (another local ice cream place) came out with cookbooks. It was time to try again. This time I had a thought. What if I let the ice cream maker get fully cold before I started? When it was good and frosted up I poured the base in (which had spent 10-20 minutes in the freezer) and viola perfect texture! Why the instructions don’t tell you to do this I don’t know but please, let your machine get good and cold before you pour!

Of course I needed to make a lot of ice cream to practice. I thought it would be fun to have the kids each pick a flavor and then help me make it. Connor chose Mint Chocolate Chip and Annabelle chose White Chocolate Raspberry. It is interesting to note that I would not have personally chosen either of these but they were both fantastic! And what do you do with all those egg white? How about homemade ice cream cones made in a Pizzelle machine!

You can find the recipe for the salted caramel ice cream here at Serious Eats although I will say that unlike the poster I always use the dry caramel method. I would also recommend the Buy Rite ice cream cookbook. I have yet to be disappointed!



Filed under Cookbooks, Cooking, Family, Food, Tips

Summer Lovin

For me, nothing is much better than perfectly ripe tomatoes sliced and prepared simply. All the better if those tomatoes come from your backyard and the weather is perfect for a dinner on the patio. Last year was not a great tomato year where we live so I got a little over eager and planted 19 tomato plants (yes, I’m crazy).  Part are for sauce making but many are heirloom varieties slated for the plate. At this point we are having trouble keeping up with the harvest so the sauce making will commence but tonight was time to enjoy some of my favorites including Pineapple, Pink Caspian, Cherokee Purple, and Stupice.  I just sprinkle on some salt, olive oil, and basil. I do prefer to salt a few minutes (at least ten) in advance since I think it works a bit better. If I am wanting to gild the lily, as I was tonight, a few slices of fresh mozzarella that I dry and salt separately. Here’s hoping your tomato season is going as well as ours!




Filed under Cooking, Food

The Perils Of Home Cooking (aka Flour + Water rocks!)

I love cookbooks. My bookshelves sag with the evidence. Alas cookbooks can only go so far. They cannot convey feel. They cannot convey smell. They have no way to teach intuition. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can try to follow a recipe and just be wrong. I have made pasta many times from many different cookbooks and based on these attempts I have developed a technique. It turns out my technique was wrong.

Flour + Water offers pasta courses. I found out about an upcoming series on Much to my dismay the beginner class had sold out before I got to the website. With some encouragement from my wife I decided to start with the intermediate course. The chance to go to a restaurant of this quality and learn technique was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

My daughter is the best cranker in the world!

I really didn’t know what I was getting into but the class ended with dinner so I figured I had nothing to lose. In short the course is fantastic. They have constructed it to allow people of all levels to get what they want out of the class, have a great time, and meet interesting people and none other than Chef McNaughton teaches the class which pretty much floored me. Oh yeah, did I mention they serve dinner and keep your wine glass full?! Suffice it to say I will be returning for the other courses.

“Make a well… lightly flour board… elastic… little sticky… smooth as baby skin” If you’ve ever made pasta from a cookbook these are familiar refrains. They are trying but until you’ve seen what it is supposed to look like and until you’ve felt what it is supposed to feel like it is hard to know what you are looking for. The single most important thing I learned in the class was to use as little moisture as possible to form a ball. Chef McNaughton recommends adding water with a spray bottle very slowly until you reach this point. When done right, no flour is needed for the board and no flour is needed later on in the process either and yes, after you are done it feels like baby skin ;).

I simply could not wait to try it at home so Saturday my daughter and I rolled up our sleeves and made ricotta agnolotti.  Actually I kind of made a beurre blanc with some shallots and added ricotta, parmesan, fontina, parsley and egg and seasoned until it tasted great. I won’t lie, making two half sheet pans of agnolotti took some time, actually quite a bit of time, but I could tell while I was working that it was turning out better than ever before.

I made them a day ahead so I froze them and stored them in some bags until boiling them for a few minutes in well salted water. I made a quick sauce with more shallots, dried porcini, my homemade tomato sauce, and some red wine. The results were amazing.  Finally, I had made pasta!!

P.S. All of the action photos were taken by my daughter! Thank You!


Filed under Cookbooks, Cooking, Family, Food, Tips

A Whole Lot Of Nothing

My wonderful wife is out camping with the kids and some friends.  Knowing that the campground isn’t my scene she graciously let me stay back to mind the dog and relax. Of course that meant I had a chance to head up to the San Franisco Farmers’ Market.

The market is in its summer glory and I almost didn’t know where to turn.  I made my rounds and then took some time to take photos for a short project I wanted to do (here is a non-food project if you are interested).  On my way out of town I stopped by my favorite bookstore Omnivore Books (only cookbooks!!). There I meet Scarpetta Dolcetto who pointed out some new favorites and mentioned her blog which I am really enjoying.  Check it out!

When fruit is at its peak the cook should really just get out of the way. One of the best things I have ever eaten is a Frog Hollow Peach at its zenith. This is nothing like the hard, bland peaches one often runs across. This is an experience who’s flavors are as intense and balanced as a fine Sauternes. So good you don’t even mind the thick juice that runs down your chin, sigh. I added some Candy Cot apricots which I had been pining over for six months over. I had read about them in Lucky Peach and had been counting down the days until their narrow window of ripeness.  In short they are fantastic and taste a good deal like eating honey perfectly balanced with refreshing crispness. Add some Ascutney Mountain from Cowgirl Creamery and stand back.  Do nothing else.  Summer bliss.


Filed under Cookbooks, Cooking, Family, Food

Sous Vide Vegetables?

Fennel has shown up at the farmers’ markets here.  I have always wanted to love fennel but I have always found it to be incredibly finicky.  You can shave it raw for a nice refreshing salad but to get fennel cooked so that it is firm without being too crunchy or too soggy is something that has eluded me.  Thought of perfectly cooked fennel, deeply caramelized keeps me coming back to try.

I have read a lot about the merits of sous vide for cooking meat and fish.  I haven’t, however, read a lot about sous vide and vegetables.  It turns out that cooking sous vide allows for better retention of vitamins (I even found a study) and allows you to force desired flavorings into the food in a remarkable way (edible cocktails anyone?).  In the case of fennel you can cook it until it is done but still firm and then quickly sear it in a pan and enjoy some of the best fennel I have ever had.

Carmelized Fennel (Borrowing heavily from Keller’s Under Pressure)

Sachet: Bay leaf, thyme, pepper corns, star anise
Two medium fennel bulbs
Olive Oil

Chop off the fennel tops.  Remove any damaged leaves from the fennel leaves and/or peel the outside.  Slice the fennel into 1/2 inch sized wedges trying to keep a piece of the core for each wedge.  Toss the fennel with some pernod, olive oil, and a pinch of salt.  Vacuum seal with a sachet.  In my case I used two bags each with a sachet.  Cook at 85.5 C for 40-60 minutes until tender.  I was closer to 60.  Pull them out of the bags and pat dry and then sear in a skillet with some canola oil.

I added them to a “no kids eating dinner” salad with beans and radishes from the garden, lettuce from the market, bread toasted in butter, tuna, olives, and a little cheese.  I tossed all the ingredients separately with a champagne vinegar and honey dressing to taste adjusting salt and pepper accordingly.  The fennel had the wonderful deep flavor I’ve always wanted with just the right texture.  Wonderful.


Filed under Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Gardening, Recipe, Sous vide, Thomas Keller

Facing Your Demons

Every cook seems to have them.  There may be a good reason for one or perhaps it is just fear of the unknown for another.  I’m talking about demons of course.  In particular cooking demons.  A friend of mine had the same demon and her courage encouraged me to face one of mine: artichokes.  I’ve never been particular keen on working with artichokes.  Their thorny demeanor coupled with their extensive prep time and predisposition to turn an unsightly gray seemed enough to focus on other foods.  I resolved to keep turning artichokes this season until the demon had been excised.  For the most part I’ve been sous-viding them with herbs, lemon and olive oil.  They are quick to cook that way and taste great.  This week I decided to go for broke and attempt a version I had recently at a restaurant called Locanda here in San Francisco.  In truth the meal was not as good as I had hoped but it did start with what they call a Jewish Style Artichoke and it was amazing.  This is a recipe that apparently traces back to Jewish cooking in Rome but really it is a fancy way of saying deep fried artichokes.  And the frying happens in olive oil.

The recipe is simple enough, clean your artichokes as usual.  Mine were excellent ones from Fat Cabbage Farm.  I tried to open the “blossom” a bit with my fingertips by pulling outward and then dropped them into some iced, acidulated water.  I then heated some olive oil for frying.  Because it is so expensive I opted to only go about one to one and half inches deep and to cut the artichokes in half but they are traditionally served whole.  Before I cut them I placed them top down on the cutting board and pushed to spread them open even further.  The olive oil was a bit too hot when I put them in but I just fried them until I could pierce them very easily and put them out to drain.  I then sprinkled some salt and lemon on them and my wife and I ate them before they cooled.  The leaves taste like nutty potato chips and have this wonderful crunchy texture.  The inside is meaty artichoke all the way.  Excellent.  Give them a try!

In other news I am doing well.  Apologies for not writing in so long but work and life have been getting in the way.  The garden is looking great with the help of some early warm weather. I have planted eighteen tomato plants which I will probably regret later but so far I’m only excited. Seven are for sauce. I call them “the girls” since I usually plant early girls for this.  This year I subbed in a couple “valley girls.”  How can you pass on a name like that? I am trying a new growing technique for these which is to grown them up a string that you can lower as the season progresses.

I’ll let you know how that goes. So far signs are good.


Filed under Cooking, Family, Food, Gardening

Hey Everybody

Just wanted to drop a quick note to let everybody know I’m still alive and kicking.  Work has been pretty darn busy as of late making blogging one too many things.  Cooking is going strong including several tries at the pictured artichokes.    They are one of those things that I love and am just not good enough at yet.  My latest forays are to cook them sous vide to lock the flavor in.  The results are good though I am still trying to make it better.  Anyway, hoping that work will clear up and give me some more time and hoping that you are all very well!


Filed under Cooking

Cooking with passion(fruit)

Long time blog readers might remember when I first ran into passion fruit in the Bouchon Bakery kitchen.  It is an ingredient I had never thought all that much about but when I tried it in their parfait mixed with caramel and chocolate it made me run out and get some puree to make my own desserts at home (someday I will figure out the right time to harvest the passion fruit in our backyard!).  So I wasn’t too surprised to run across the Chocolate Chip Passion Fruit Layer Cake in the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook.  It is definitely a flavor mix that sounds strange but somehow the acidic flavor of the passion fruit (almost a grapefruit flavor though without the bitterness) is a perfect match for chocolate and caramel or in the case of this recipe: coffee.

They have an interesting technique for making layer cakes in the cookbook making a small rectangular cake and then cutting circles out of it that I just had to try.  This cake features some of Tosi’s signature crumb (in this case chocolate) that add a simply amazing crunch and flavor to this otherwise soft cake.  I made one slight modification making a caramel butter frosting instead of coffee but otherwise followed the recipe which you can see Christina Tosi herself share the recipes for.  All of the components are pretty amazing by themselves, in fact I might be remaking just chocolate cake for the kids soon.


Filed under Baking, Cookbooks, Cooking


I was up to my elbows in frozen meat and stock doing an inventory of our freezer when I found out we were hosting dinner later that day.  My wife asked what we should make I joked hamburgers since four pounds of ground grass fed beef was one of the things I had already located.  My wife surprised my saying it was a great idea.  She thought we could do a simple dinner with a build your own burger (BYOB) theme.  Nothing fancy.

For some reason my wife started to roll her eyes when I started to make homemade ketchup.  I think she said something like “I should have known…”  I had been wanting to make ketchup for a while and now I had a great excuse.  Add homemade mayo (you should really do this too even my wife admitted its superiority), “kids guacamole” (aka mashed up avocado with citrus), sauteed onions and mushrooms, bacon, mustard and pickles rounded out the offerings.  For the burgers I’m a purest.  They only get gray salt and pepper and, in this case, sharp cheddar though I will often forgo even that.  Nothing fancy.

Homemade Ketchup

olive oil
28 ounce can of tomatoes (I used whole but it was in the cupboard)
1 medium onion chopped
1 garlic clove sliced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
half a star anise
few dried porcinis
some thyme
some bay
some peppercorns
some cloves
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1/4 c cider vinegar (more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Sweat the onions in the olive oil with the star anise (this is a Blumenthal trick and I am digging it).  When they are translucent add the puree, garlic, and herbs and spices and disperse.  Then add the remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, and cook slowly for about an hour or until nice and thick.  Let it cool a bit and carefully blend and then pass through a strainer.  Mine was still a bit runny so I put it back on the stove and cooked it down more.  I should add that having things like dried porcinis and whole spices on hand and herbs in the garden make this kind of thing a snap and a bit of an improvisation.  The result was a delicious ketchup with a lot more complexity and depth than anything you will find in a bottle.  Go ahead, give it a try!


Filed under Cooking, Family, Food