Category Archives: Travel

Tocino de Cielo or Creme de Catalana

creme de catalana or tocino de cielo

I returned from a blissful, 11 day trip to Barcelona (with a two night detour to Budapest, of which I could write a hefty article about) where I ate and danced and lived like a Catalan princess, and skipped almost all the touristic activities that I’d be expected to partake, all in favor of getting a real feel for the city and surrounding towns. Being me, I researched a bit about Catalan food, and as I found myself in excess of 18 egg yolks one day, I sought out various versions of flan and creme brulee and…well, I stumbled on Tocino de Cielo, which, as far as I can tell, is very similar to Creme de Catalana, except it does not have the sugared, flame torched top similar to creme brulee. If you were to add it to this recipe, I believe you’d find yourself with Creme de Catalana.

creme brulee containers white and blue from art & manufacture

A pile of packages awaited me when I got back to San Francisco–among them these amazing creme brulee dishes I ordered from Edith at Art & Manufacture a few months back–telling her there was no hurry at all. I had almost forgotten they were coming and was delighted to unpack them. They made their way into a water bath the very next day, and I’ve used them for yogurt with rose jam and pistachios, Mato y mel and other dairy delights over the last week or so.

tocino de cielo

Tocino de Cielo / Creme de Catalana Recipe

Makes five 5oz dishes

Syrup
1/2 C granulated sugar

In a small pan, heat 1/2 cup sugar over medium-low heat and stirring regularly, until it comes to a medium amber color. It will clump and begin looking moist, and turn fairly quickly to syrup from there. Ensure no grains remain so that it will not crystalize. Remove from heat and divide immediately into one large dish that will hold 25 oz, or into five 6-8oz ramekins.

Custard
1/2 C granulated sugar
1 C water
one large strip orange peel
one large strip lemon peel
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
hot water, for water bath

In another small pan, combine sugar, water, and citrus peels. Bring to a boil. Using a thermometer, cook until sugar reaches 220F. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Remove zest strips and stir in vanilla extract.

When syrup is mostly cool, preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, whisk yolks well until color lightens a bit. Whisk in cooled sugar syrup, then strain the mixture into something with a spout or that is easy to pour from. Divide the custard into the ramekins, on top of the cooled (and probably hardened) sugar syrup, leaving a bit of room at the top so you can move the container around easily.

Place ramekins into a shallow baking dish, and place into the oven. Carefully pour hot/just boiled water into the baking pan, until about 2/3rds up the ramekins or container with the custard.

If using small ramekins, less than 6 oz, bake for about 30 minutes. If using one large, shallow container, bake for 40-45 minutes. A sharp knife inserted gently into the center of one of the custards should come out clean, and they should jiggle only very slightly when moved. Do not overcook or they will crack when cooling.

Carefully remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool to room temperature– do not shock by putting directly into the refrigerator. The slow cooling allows the mixture to maintain a creamy texture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until cold, before serving. If you used a smooth, easy container, you can invert when serving by moving a warm knife around the edges and inverting the container. I like to serve them as is.

Fried Baby Artichokes & Potatoes with Flank Steak

fried baby artichokes and fried potatoes

grilled flank steak

From A Platter of Figs – totally doable on a Tuesday night, shopping and all!
Recipe for Fried Baby Artichokes and Potatoes with Flank Steak
For Two

1.5-2lb flank steak
2 C new potatoes or other tender spring potatoes, washed, boiled until just tender and halved/quartered
8-10 baby artichokes, outter layers peeled, tops cut off and halved or quartered*
4 cloves garlic, minced
10 sprigs parsley (or more/less), chopped finely
1.5 C arugula, optional
2 T olive oil
lots of vegetable oil (sunflower or safflower or other high heat oil)
salt & pepper

* As you clean and prep the artichokes, place them in acidulated water (water with juice of a lemon or lime) to prevent browning.

For the Steak
Generously salt & pepper both sides of the flank steak and set aside. Can refrigerate overnight ahead or season within 2 hours of cooking and leave out at room temp.

For the Potatoes & Artichokes
Prep all ingredients ahead. Heat the grill for the steak and begin cooking steak as you start this processs:

Heat a large skillet to medium high heat and cook the artichokes until beginning to color. This is to remove moisture and prepare for frying. Add the potatoes after about 2-3 minutes of cooking and cook. In a large cast iron or other high sided skillet, heat a generous inch of vegetable oil to frying heat. Test with a potato if needed for even bubbling. Add the potatoes and fry 1 minute, then add artichokes and fry all until deep golden. Remove and drain on paper towels or cooling racks.

In original skillet, heat 2 T olive oil with garlic, cooking at low heat until flavor is infused, about 3 minutes. Add fried artichokes and potatoes, salt, pepper, and parsley. Toss and serve. * Original recipe calls to add fresh arugula to potato mixture if you like.

Torta Caprese – Italian Flourless Almond Chocolate Cake

torta caprese - italian flourless chocolate almond cake

torta caprese - italian flourless chocolate almond cake

I spent the weekend on a decongestant induced producivity high (that pseudoephedrine stuff really makes me unable to sit still! Sure clears out the sinuses though) which turned me into a bit of a domestic superwoman– cleaning floors, and bathrooms, and reorganizing my pantry, labeling all of my spices, and fertilizing the garden, and trimming it, and doing laundry, and making a delicious dinner of tri tip, chimichurri sauce + farro with fava beans, and washing/prepping all the produce in my refrigerator (which believe me, was a lot). To boot, I made this cake. And it’s delicious.

Torta Caprese – Flourless Almond Chocolate Cake Recipe
9 ounces (255 g) quality dark chocolate
1 cup (225 g / 2 sticks) butter
1/4 cup (25 g) dark cocoa powder (I scored some Valharona)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/4 cup (250 g) granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups ground almonds*
6 eggs, room temperature

*If you have whole, slivered, or other almonds, and a high powered blender or food processor, please toast your almonds to release the oil/fragrance for about 15 minutes at 310, and then grind into a meal (but not into a butter; you may need to “pulse” instead of blend to achieve this); otherwise, buy almond meal at your grocery.
Preheat an oven to 310°F and line the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper.
Slowly melt the chocolate and butter over a double-boiler. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or with a hand mixer), whisk together the melted chocolate mixture, the cocoa powder, almond extract and sugar until combined.
Add the ground almonds and whisk until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.
Pour the mixture into the spring form pan.  Make sure the mixture is level and smooth on top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.
A note about oven temperature:  Make sure your oven is not hotter than 310 (or the temperature you intend to maintain through baking) when starting. You will avoid the “muffin top” problem I had by doing so; mine started at 325, so the cake puffed, and then the oven fell to 310, so it then sank, creating a two layered situation on the sides where the heat effected it most. It did take a full 60 minutes at a true 310.
Serving: I’d recommend an unsweetened whipped cream, ice cream if serving the cake warm, and/or creme fraiche or mascarpone cheese with raspberries or fruit of your choice.

Venetian Fritole Recipe (Italian Doughnuts – Fritule)

Venetian Fritole (Italian Doughnuts)

In 2006 I was living in the heart of Florence and attending culinary school. The best class I took was the regional Italian cuisine course with Marcella Ansaldo — we made a few typical dishes from pretty much every region in Italy throughout the semester. One of the recipes was for Fritole – yeast-based Italian doughnuts from Venice, traditionally eaten for Carnivale.

I posted about Fritole back in November of 2006–a few months after returning from Florence. I remade these delicious treats this morning; it is Easter Sunday and it made for a peaceful, tasty breakfast treat for the two of us. It’s a typical day in SF; the weather doesn’t know what it’s doing and it’s somewhere between heavy fog and rain, with a little bit of light poking through. We looked over our wet garden with some good coffee; fritole made the whole thing come together.

Italian Fritole inside

italian fritole with raisins

Note: You can prepare the dough the night before, leaving in a room-temp spot (not warm) overnight. Simply stir/punch down the dough in the morning, and let rise 30 more minutes before frying. It makes brunch a breeze!

Italian Fritole Recipe

1 1/2 C all purpose flour (200 grams) + 1 Tbsp
1/2 C brown sugar (60 grams; can use granulated too)
1 egg
1 packet yeast (8-10grams; fresh brewer’s yeast is great too)
1 C milk, divided (up to 200ml milk; any type)
1/4 C golden raisins (50 grams; can use other types of raisins too)
1/3 C dry sherry (or brandy, whiskey, flat champagne, etc)
1/2 tsp salt (generous three-finger pinch)
high-temp oil like peanut, safflower, or pine nut (most traditional) for frying
powdered sugar for dusting

Optional Ingredients (non-traditional):
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (add with milk) or
1/2 tsp cinnamon/nutmeg (add with flour) or
2 T chopped almonds (add with raisins; you might consider a few drops of almond extract w/ the milk too)

Combine the raisins with the sherry. You can substitute boiling water if needed. Microwave for 1 minute to warm combination and set aside to plump (5-15 minutes). Once plumped, drain the raisins and toss them with 1T flour until nicely dusted.

Warm 1/2 C of milk to about 110 degrees; add 1 tsp brown or regular sugar and stir. Add the yeast (mixture should be warm when adding). Set aside to bloom (at least 10 minutes).

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Whisk well. Use more flour if needed. Add the egg and dusted raisins, stirring gently but not thoroughly with a spoon. Add the bloomed milk mixture and stir until just combined. If the mixture is too dry (it should be sticky but combined, not runny), add more milk as needed, up to 1/2 C more. Cover the dough with saran wrap and let sit 1-2 hours in a warm spot*.

Prepare a large plate with two-three layers of paper towels (a draining rack is ok too, but the towels might remove more oil). Get some chopsticks or heat-resistant tongs ready. Put a light dusting of flour over the top of your batter to make preparation easier.

Heat oil in a wide pan with sturdy sides (like a high sided sauce pan) to medium high heat; the oil should be at least 1.5 inches deep. Once warmed, test a small dot of batter–it should rise to the top immediately and bubble around the batter, but not burn it in the course of a minute**. Using two large spoons, section just-smaller than an egg size scoops and gently place into hot oil. When deep golden brown, flip each doughnut over and cook; remove when evenly colored and cool on paper towels.

Serve with powdered sugar on top.

Makes 15 golf-ball sized fritole. 3 per person is sufficient.

*If the dough sits more than 2 hours, simply stir around to deflate and let rise 30 more minutes. This can be repeated twice if necessary.
**If the doughnuts seem to be cooking too quickly or getting too dark before you can flip them, lower the heat slightly and allow them to cook longer or else they will be gooey inside.

St. Louis Style Cannelloni with Pork, Ricotta, & Chard

cannelloni with ricotta, chard, and sausage

This recipe will feed about 4 people with a side dish or 3 hungry people without one. It helps to have a food processor available.

Filling
2/3 lb spicy or sweet Italian pork sausage, out of casing
3 cups chopped chard and/or spinach
1 cup ricotta cheese (preferably sheep’s ricotta)
1/2 yellow or white onion, diced

Cook the sausage in a medium high heat skillet in a little chunks, seperating with your fingers, until brown on one side. Add the onions, and cook until mostly tender. Add the chard/spinich, and cook briefly until wilted. Allow mixture to cool slightly in pan or in thin metal bowl, and if you have one, use a food processor to make the mixture more even/fine. Once cooled to room temperature or close to it, add the ricotta and stir until blended. Adjust seasoning.

Red Sauce
1 container chopped or strained tomatoes (I used a carton of POMI)
1 stick butter
1/2 onion, peeled and intact

Combine all ingredients in sauce pan and simmer until delicious. Add salt. About 30 minutes. Can make ahead.

White Sauce
1 T butter
2 T flour
1-2 cups milk
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp thyme or 2 tsp fresh thyme chopped

Melt the butter until the water content has fizzled off, add the flour and whisk, cooking about 1 min until slightly darker. Slowly add milk until you have a nice, somewhat thick consistency sauce. Set aside. You’ll be reheating this shortly and possibly adding more milk to pour over the cannelloni.

Pasta
2 eggs
00 white wheat flour if possible
0 semola / semolina flour

Use this recipe and roll out as thin as possible into sheets, cutting into strips about 10 inches long by 4 inches wide, roughly. It is ok if the sheets vary in size, so long as they’ll roll into a cannelloni giving it a few layers around. Boil water, add salt, and one at a time blanch the strips for 30 seconds or so, until they toughen up a bit. Remove, set on paper towels flat, not touching other pasta, in layers, to reserve for use.

Alternatively you can buy cannelloni tubes from the grocery or lasagna sheets without the ruffles.

Assembly

Put a thin layer of red sauce in your baking/casserole dish to prevent pasta from sticking to bottom. Roll several spoonfuls of filling into each pasta sheet, placing each closely against the next in the dish. Once finished, top with red sauce thoroughly, then white sauce. Top with grated parmesan or asiago, bake at 375 for 25 minutes until golden and beautiful on top.