Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Steak in Tortillas with Fresh Avocado Salsa

This is a dish that is loved by both my sons and now that they are married, by their wives. I have to make it for them every time they come home to California. This is a dish that is by far the best during tomato season. If you want to make it at another time of year, use cherry tomatoes. If you can't find Anaheim chiles, also called green chiles, you may substitute poblano chiles. The steak should be marinated at least 6 hours, overnight is better. If you can find masa harina and have a tortilla press, make your own tortillas. The recipe is based on one that can be found in Sunset Favorite Recipes II.

BBQ Steak
1.5 to 2 pounds sirloin steak
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry oregano or 1.5 tsp fresh
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves minced garlic
Combine the marinade ingredients in a container which closely fits the steak. Add the steak, cover, and refrigerate it for at least 6 hours. If the steak is not covered by the marinade because the container doesn't fit closely enough, flip it over several times.
When you are ready to cook the steak, remove it from the marinade, let it drain, and cook it over glowing coals until it is done the way you like it. We like it medium rare. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes. Slice the steak diagonally across the grain into strips and then slice the strips into bite size pieces.

Fresh Avocado Salsa
4 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 1 basket cherry tomatoes, halved
3 green onions (scallions), both white and green part, finely chopped
3 tablespoons canned Anaheim chiles, seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 Haas avocados, diced just before serving
Combine all the ingredients except for the avocados in a bowl and cover. Let sit for a few hours at room temperature for the flavors to blend. If you must prepare the salsa earlier, refrigerate and then allow to come to room temperature before serving. When the steak is off the bbq, fold the avocado into the salsa.

Make 18 corn tortillas and keep warm or wrap purchased ones in foil and heat in the oven.

Place several pieces of steak on a warm tortilla, top with a large spoonful of salsa, fold and enjoy.
Serves 6

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Flammkuchen aka Tarte Flambee aka Alsatian Pizza

I've gotten quite a taste for the old Flammkuchen since being in Germany. They tend to be always a reliable and inexpensive option anywhere you eat, and it's hard to beat the combination of bacon, onions, and creme fraiche. But I wanted to do as my sister-in-law did, which was turn it into a quick and satisfying weeknight meal.

Unlike in Saarland, which is reasonably close to Alsace, we don't have a decent pre-made dough in the
Do you really have a better idea for dinner tonight?
stores, (the only option being some pre-made pizza kit which included what must have been a dreadful tomato sauce). So I hit the internets and was pleasantly surprised that one can make the dough without yeast, thus saving loads of time. After trying a few I found I was happiest with the "einfacher," or simple and easy, Flammkuchen. I've already got the recipe memorized and now can crank it out quick and easy.

50g chopped and cooked bacon
Creme fraiche
Red onion and shallot

200g flour (about 1 1/3 cup)
110ml water (just under 1/3 of a cup)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix the dough ingredients, gather into a ball and work a few times so it has some cohesion. Don't work too much or it will be harder to roll. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it sit in the 'fridge for 30 minutes if you have time.

Preheat oven, hot is good. Pull dough out of 'fridge, roll out thin. Cover with creme fraiche and tasty bits, then throw in oven. Let bake until edges of dough brown a touch. Remove, divvy, eat. You can have this thing from start to table in 45 minutes once you get it down.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


For the 4th of July, I made some Carnitas sliders with guacamole, and am posting the carnitas recipe by request.  This is adapted from David Lebovitz with a few changes:

  • 4-5-pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks, extra fat removed (the original recipe calls for larger chunks, but smaller chunks lead to better seasoned carnitas in my experience
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons of saindoux (lard)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced
1. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. 
2. Heat the lard in a dutch oven set on the stovetop. Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking vessel is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two batches.
3. Once all the pork is browned, pour in about a cup of water and a bottle of a strong brown ale (I used Chimay bleu), scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.  Add more water if necessary to almost cover the meat
4. Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.
5.  Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.
7. Braise in the oven uncovered for 1 1/2-2 hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter.
8. Before serving, heat the pork in a bit of lard and shred the pieces with a spatula.
For the sliders, I made a batch of guacamole and grilled the buns with a bit of butter. If there is leftover carnitas an original spin is to cook it with homemade spaetzle, delicious!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gateau Basque

A year and a half ago we spent three weeks in the Basque region of France. Early in our stay we went to the weekly market in St. Jean Pied de Port and bought a traditional pastry, a gateau Basque, from a vendor there. We loved it and when we finished it we bought several others at other locations. Unfortunately none of the others were nearly as good in our opinion and when we returned to the weekly market we never saw that first vendor again. I have wanted to try making a gateau Basque but have been worried about it because we found that they varied so much. There are two basic types. One is filled with cherry preserves and the other is filled with pastry cream. We prefer the type with pastry cream but there are lots of variations in the recipes and I had no idea what made the difference between a tasty cream filled gateau Basque and a meh one.  I combined several recipes and happily came up with a result we liked.
A couple of the recipes warned that the dough used to enclose the cream filling is very soft and sticky. The warning did not prepare me for how very soft and sticky the dough is. When I had the gateau assembled in the pan, it was not a pretty sight and I was very worried. Fortunately as it baked, the pastry smoothed and it ended up looking very nice. The dough recipe makes more than is needed, but not a lot more. One recipe suggested using the extra dough to make cookies, but they would be very difficult to shape with such a soft and sticky dough and so I don't know that it is worth it for a few cookies. The dough should be rolled between sheets of plastic wrap. Flour the bottom piece of wrap and flour the top of the dough before placing the wrap on top of it. Flip the plastic wrap covered dough several times as you roll it out to keep the surface as smooth as possible.
If you decide to grind your own almonds, you can easily do it in a food processor. Pulse blanched sliced almonds with at least 2 tablespoons of the sugar. The sugar will keep the almonds from heating up and getting oily or worse, turning into almond butter.
I served the gateau Basque with unsweetened sliced strawberries on the side and the combination was delicious. One recipe I saw included brandied cherries dropped onto the cream filling and that would be nice.

Gateau Basque
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
90 grams (3/4 cup) finely ground almonds (same as almond flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter cut into chunks
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon, preferably Meyer
Whisk dry ingredients together. Place in bowl of electric mixer and put butter chunks on top. Beat  with paddle attachment until butter is incorporated and the mixture looks sandy. Combine eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat into butter mixture just until combined. Divide dough into 2 disks on plastic wrap, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap. Refrigerate at least 3 hours.
Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch sifted
1 vanilla bean
1 to 2 tblsps Kirsch
3 1/2 tblsp butter cut into bits, at room temperature
Place milk into a small saucepan, add seeds from the vanilla bean, and bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring often. Whisk the cornstarch and sugar together. Place the egg yolks into a medium heavy bottomed saucepan and whisk in the sugar mixture until thick and well blended. Whisk 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg yolks. Whisk without stopping and drizzle the milk in slowly. Still whisking, add the rest of the milk in a steady stream. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously, constantly and throughly, making sure to get the edges of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat and add kirsch and butter and stir until smooth. Place the pan in ice water to cool and then place plastic wrap on the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate until cold.
Preheat the oven to 350º F and butter a 9" springform pan.
Roll out the larger disk of dough between pieces of plastic wrap as instructed in introduction into a 12" circle. Peel off the top layer of wrap, flip so that the exposed surface is down as you lower the dough into the pan. Pat the dough into place in the pan and then peel off the other layer. The dough will come up the sides of the pan. Spread the cooled pastry cream onto the surface of the dough. Roll out the other disk. It should be the same thickness but the diameter will be smaller. Place over the pastry cream in the same manner as the first circle was placed in the pan. Press the dough over the cream. The dough will come up the sides. Press the two layers of dough together and then trim it so that it is no more than 1/2" above the top of the top layer.
Egg Glaze
1 egg
1 tblsp milk
Beat egg and milk together and then brush over the top of the gateau. Use the tines of a fork to make a crosshatch pattern on the top.
Place the gateau Basque on a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and bake 20 minutes. Then rotate and place on a rack 1/3 of the way from the top of the oven and bake for about 35 or 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Cool 10 minutes, run a blunt knife around the edges, and remove the sides of the springform pan. Allow to completely cool before serving.
Makes 10-12 servings

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Orzo with Carrots

I needed a side dish for dinner and had to come up with something that I could make with what I had on hand, which wasn't much. The only vegetable I had other than salad ingredients was carrots and so I found a recipe that would allow me combine the carrots in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator with some orzo in the cupboard. I made some changes to a recipe I found online at and ended up with something that was very good. We had the leftovers with some scallops I purchased at the farmer's market the next day and the combination was even better.

Orzo with Carrots
4 medium carrots, peeled
2 Tblsp butter
1 cup orzo
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup chicken broth
1 lg clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup parmesan grated on a microplane grater
2 Tblsp chopped green onions
1 tsp herbes de Provence
Finely chop the carrots, pulsing in a food processor. Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the orzo and the carrots and sauté about 5 minutes. Add the water, broth, and the garlic. Cook uncovered over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cheese, green onions, and the herbes de Provence. Salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Olive Oil Chocolate Cake

This cake has very little flour, only 2 tablespoons. My friend who asked for the recipe described the cake as having a soufflé like texture. It is much lighter than your typical flourless cake.  Whipped cream is a tasty addition when you are serving it.
This recipe comes from Fran Gage's book The New American Olive Oil with a couple of minor changes. I tend to use one of two olive oils that she profiles in her book, either Corto or California Olive Ranch. I have read many times about all the fraud going on in the Italian Olive oil market and so I steer away from Italian Olive oils when shopping at a supermarket where I can't taste before buying. I trust olive oils made in California to be the real deal. I also look for an oil in a dark bottle because light is not good for the oil.

Almost Flourless Olive Oil Chocolate Cake 
7 ounces 70% chocolate, coarsely chopped. ( Use a high quality chocolate such as Scharffen Berger)
1/2 cup extra-virgin oil oil
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs at room temperature, separated
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
1/8 tsp salt
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and line a 9" springform pan with baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate. Place it in a mixing bowl and when it is cool add the olive oil in a steady stream. Whisk in 2/3's of the sugar, the egg yolks, and the salt.
Beat the egg whites, slowly adding the remaining sugar once they are foamy. Continue beating until they form soft peaks.
Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture, adding them in two additions.
Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing the top. Bake 35 or 40 minutes, until a toothpick come out clean or with only a few crumbs.
Let the cake cool in the pan. Run a knife around the edge and then invert it onto a serving dish. The cake will have deflated as it cooled.
Dust with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Original Toll House Cookies with a Twist

Maida Heatter included what she said was the original Toll House cookie recipe in her Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, a great resource for chocolate lovers. That is the basic recipe that I have used for as long as I can remember but I have always added one extra ingredient to it, Rice Krispies. A high school friend of mine would bring her mother's chocolate chip cookies to school and she put Rice Krispies in her cookies. I liked the extra crunch the Rice Krispies gave the cookies and figured that they made each cookie lower in calories and fat. What is there not to like about that idea?

Toll House Cookies with Rice Krispies
8 ounces unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar firmly packed (the original recipe calls for light brown)
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp hot water
12 ounces (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate
2 cups Rice Krispies
(Maida Heatter called for 2 cups broken walnut pieces)
Preheat the oven to 375º. Cream the butter with the sugars. Add the vanilla and salt, then the eggs one at a time, beating well. On low speed add half of the flour, beating only until incorporated. In a small cup stir the baking soda into the hot water and then mix it into the dough. Add the rest of the flour, beating until just incorporated. Stir in the chocolate and the Rice Krispies. Drop teaspoons of dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake about 12 minutes, until golden brown. When done let the cookies rest for a few seconds before removing from the cookie sheet. Move to a rack to cool.