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Tuesday Project

Tuesday’s Project: Pumpkin Caramel Whoopie Pies

On this Halloween Eve, the nation’s A.P.O. (Autumnal Pumpkin Obsession) reaches a fever pitch level. Pumpkin lattes with pumpkin muffins and pumpkin bagels covered with pumpkin cream cheese for lunch. Pumpkin bread with pumpkin sage soup then for lunch with a pumpkin smoothie from Jamba Juice. Then for dinner, perhaps a pork tenderloin with pumpkin gastrique, pumpkin cranberry stuffing, and for good measure, acorn squash with maple butter.

What?! Acorn squash? It’s not quite pumpkin…

Then to drink, of course pumpkin beer, or if you’re so inclined, a Manhattan variation with pumpkin liqueur. Let’s hope pumpkin wines don’t arrive in the footsteps of pineapple wine.

Pumpkin pie is très Thanksgiving and it’s not even Halloween for another few hours. Tomorrow you can eat all the Kit-Kats, Crunch bars, and Butterfingers for dessert you can handle without climbing up the walls from the increased levels of sugar in your system, so hold off a few hours for the candy spree.

But with A.P.O. in full swing, let’s enjoy this week’s project, a sensational autumnal whoopie pie recipe from the wonderful pastry chef of San Francisco restaurants Farallon and Waterbar and the newest weekly contributor to The San Francisco Chronicle, Emily Luchetti.

Whoopie pies are much more of a beloved East Coast dessert icon, often given many confusing descriptions as to what a whoopie pie really is. First of all, whoopie pie is not a pie. if you really want to be adventurous, go ahead and translate a whoopie pie into a pie, complete with crust. It certainly would be intriguing. (more…)

Tuesday’s Project: Weeknight Sauce? Go for Pesto

Originating from the Liguria region of Italy along the humble, arching coastline between the glitzy French and Italian Rivieras, pesto is one of the world’s most treasured sauces.

It’s also one of the world’s most basic sauces.

The fresher, more fragrant the basil, and the more elegant, expressive the olive oil, the better your traditional pesto will be. (more…)

Tuesday’s Project: Pane all’ Olive, Jim Lahey’s Olive Bread

Jim Lahey, the brilliant baker and founder of New York’s Sullivan Street Bakery and its sibling pizzeria Co., you would think would have a ridiculously complex recipe for his signature bread. Listening to some of the foremost boulangers in Paris and reading their recipes for baguettes, and hearing a master pizzaiolo from Naples talk about the care that goes into their crust’s preparation is enough to make you throw up your arms and concede to never attempt to bake again.

I’m not Eric Kayser or Chris Bianco, but maybe one day I could be. I don’t have a 200 year old brick oven for the baguettes and I’m not particularly interested in starting my own sourdough starter from scratch. I save the massaging in the kitchen for tense cuts of meat, not to soothe a rambunctious pastry dough for profiteroles.

Several Thanksgivings ago I searched for an olive loaf recipe, knowing that my family tends to look the other way at bread, but can’t stop eating anything with olives. For them, it’s about the olives and the olive oil for dipping. Who needs the bread?

Lahey’s recipe from his 2009 book My Bread stood out to me for its incredible simplicity. No sourdough starters. Just one overnight rise and smaller rise 12-18 hours later. No kneading! Just four, maybe five ingredients.

How is this possible? (more…)

Tuesday’s Project: Summer Isn’t Officially Over, So Grill Flank Steak

It might already feel like it should be time for the World Series and in some parts of the country the foliage has even begun. But the calendar has not hit September 21 yet. So even if it feels like summer left long ago, it’s still summer. Hold off on the root vegetables and the stews for another few weeks. It’s time for some grilling, with a twist.

I always think of summer grilling to go with the thicker cuts of beef or burgers or chicken breasts. So for an almost autumnal cut of meat, may we recommend the often forgotten flank steak?

First of all, why is flank steak tougher than the more traditional cuts of beef? That would be because it is not actually a cut of beef to begin with. The flank steak is the abdomen muscle of the cow. Being a muscle, the meat is more tense and tougher. If cooked over a long period of time, flank steak becomes downright chewy and unpleasant. It demands for a marinade to soften up the meat, then a high heat, short amount of time on the grill to provide the softest, juiciest result. (more…)

Tuesday’s Project: Blueberries with Fish

It seems to be a perfect match: fresh fruit and fresh fish. A freshly picked fruit bursting with life at the peak of its season paired with a just caught fish. Add a glass of chardonnay and right there should be the perfect dinner recipe. Except so often two of the food world’s most desirable (and healthy) components don’t compliment each other. Sweet fruits in salsas or sauces cover up the delicate fish. Or weak fruits are barely noticeable against the brute strength of a swordfish or tuna. Sometimes razor thin slices of fruits, often pears, work magic when paired with a raw fish, sashimi style. Tropical fruit salsas, especially mango and papaya based, are seen often atop scallops for appetizers. In Hawaii, chefs work magic between the local fish caught in the morning and the guavas and passion fruit from nearby orchards.

What about just a plain piece of salmon or halibut with a fruit in its prime, such as blueberries in late summer? Melissa Clark of The New York Times recently shared the recipe to solve this dilemma. After trying her agrodolce blueberries sauce with both baked salmon and grilled halibut the past few weeks, I now have a go to blueberry preparation for fish where the fish and fruit actually co-exist together. (more…)

Summer Weekend Project: Moroccan Eggplant and Chickpea Salad

O.K., it’s not Tuesday so this can’t be this week’s Tuesday Project. To accompany grilled steak, a tomato involved salad, and ice cream for a summer Friday night dinner, let’s get a little flash without using any heat outside of the grill.

Presenting this fantastic Moroccan chickpea and eggplant salad that can function either as a salad course or a side course. The latter makes more sense to me. And hey, it’s vegan, gluten free, and even dairy free. So everybody can enjoy it! For the spice sensitive, the heat is very minimal here.

The salad has three parts essentially. The grilled eggplant which should receive a hefty marinade of olive oil before heading the grill in order to have a crispy char instead of a rubbery, charcoal stained one. When the crispy char is achieved, the eggplant sticks are every bit as addictive as Terra vegetable chips. Instead of cutting the eggplant into large medallions, try cutting them into thin matchsticks and grilling them on a grate. (more…)

Tuesday’s Project: Caprese: The Dynamic Duo of Tomato and Mozzarella

It’s the final day of July, which means the latter half of summer unofficially is about to begin. Peaches, corn, cherries, and those other signs of early summer will soon bow down to the summer produce king: tomatoes. For the past 8 or 9 months, much of the country has either preached the Alice Waters gospel and avoided tomatoes altogether or been like me and grin and bear it through the occasional hothouse Roma or Campari tomato to add color (not taste in the case of these tomatoes…) to salads or garnish a sandwich. The current box Campari tomatoes I’m looking at here in the kitchen comes from Mexico (only 1,00o miles away!), yet somehow was delivered through a distributor based in Ontario, Canada.

Let’s just say now that it is hours from being August, it’s time for real tomatoes that express sensational citrus meets earthy notes, bursting with the juice that covers your plate when you try to cut through an heirloom slice in a caprese. Soon I can look the other way at the tomato box from Mexico and shift full time to our tomato garden that is showing excellent promise after the usual weeks of July California sunshine.

Caprese at Trattoria Popolare in Oslo, Norway

A few trickles of cherry tomatoes arrived right after I returned from Scandinavia recently and since Trev’s Bistro is about to hit the road again for a few weeks, it’s time to use as many of the first of the crop tomatoes. There still aren’t nearly enough to make a gazpacho. We’re still in salad and hamburger garnish territory. And in the case of last night’s appetizers, that wonderful Italian summer staple: caprese.

Caprese is as basic as it gets: fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil for garnish, olive oil drizzled on top, and perhaps a spritz of sea salt on top. O.K., a dash of pepper can help too. Sure, you can have your interesting variations on the caprese, perhaps liquid mozzarella and spherified tomatoes à la José Andrès, or you can turn a panini or an omelette into a caprese. Even recently, David Tanis, former chef at Chez Panisse and now a writer with The New York Times wrote about evolving caprese into an antipasto spread.

Ultimately, it’s the quality of the ingredients that determine how special your caprese would be. You can get caprese with industrial grade olive oil, rubber mozzarella from a Ohio warehouse, hothouse tomatoes from Guatemala, and dried basil at The Olive Garden.

Then there are several different steps that can be taken to achieve the blissful summer heights that a caprese can easily reach. Fresh tomatoes, perhaps Early Girl or Cherry (Sweet 100 or Sungold) or Brandywine or Yellow Pear, are pivotal. The darlings of chefs are the heirloom tomatoes, for both their sweetness and spectacular colors.

Mozzarella ranges dramatically as well, from the ethereal creamy Burrata to more structured smoked mozzarella you’re more used to the almost watery Fior de latté from cow’s milk. At home, the mozzarella di bufala from water buffalo’s milk is preferred, slightly tangy compared to burrata, and much less creamy, easier for cutting with tomatoes. Of course you could just look at the menu for Nancy Silverton’s brilliant mozzarella bar at Los Angeles’ Osteria Mozza for a whole, definitive guide to mozzarella and its best pairings (it’s hard to ever pass up the burrata with bacon, caramelized onions, and bitterness from marinated escarole, pure genius).

Of course McEvoy Olive Oil’s nuttiness or a pristine E.V.O.O. from Italy or Sicily will transform the caprese even further, along with the fresh basil. Sea salt works wonders when topping the creamier mozzarellas, such as Burrata.

Of course caprese is just one way to enjoy this summer’s King produce. Go crazy with gazpacho and B.L.T.’s, or be innovative like a “B.L.T.” recently enjoyed at San Francisco’s Park Tavern where the “B” is smoked raw tuna, evoking bacon without the crunch or grease. It didn’t hurt to have superb butter lettuce as the “L” and, oh yes, sensational heirloom tomatoes as the “T.”

Then there are always Bloody Marys…

Happy Tomato Season!