Drop your scones

No form of cooking intimidates beginning cooks quite like baking.  Because the chemistry must be precise for cakes to rise and cookies to achieve the right balance between chewy and crisp, there’s very little room for error.

That doesn’t mean it has to be mysterious or terribly difficult.   All aspiring bakers really need is someone to offer a little gentle guidance in the kitchen.

Pat Sinclair does just that in the newly revised second edition of “Baking Basics and Beyond” (Surrey Books, 2011).  She breaks all the steps in baking down into easy to follow instructions.  Sprinkled among the recipes and descriptions of ingredients and techniques are little tips I wish someone had shared with me long ago.  Who knew you could test whether the sugar has dissolved properly in a meringue by rubbing a little bit of the beaten egg whites between your fingers? Continue reading Drop your scones

A beery good chocolate cake

We’ve been on a craft beer kick ever since we took a road and ferry trip to Alaska a few years back.  There aren’t many wineries in the frozen North, so we went beer tasting at intriguing little breweries from Juneau to Homer.

Along the way, I developed a taste for stout.  It’s the antithesis of light beer – one pint is enough to last me all evening – but I love its thick, creamy body and dark, bittersweet  flavors hinting of coffee and chocolate.

I never really thought of stout for dessert, though, until I tasted beer ice cream for the first time last October.  The hoppy kick of a good stout brought a pleasantly bitter edge along the lines of burnt sugar and dark caramel to the ice cream.

Since my efforts at recreating beer ice cream at that time were such a success, I’ve been musing about a cake with chocolate and beer for months.  A little  bite from fresh ginger seemed like a good idea, too.  St. Patrick’s Day was the perfect excuse. Continue reading A beery good chocolate cake

Crunchy salad with an Asian twist

I’ve yet to meet an Asian salad I didn’t like.  The sour, sweet and salty flavors in combination with crunchy textures are so intensely satisfying.  Green papaya salad, noodle salad, Cambodian shredded cabbage salad, even that old standby, Chinese chicken salad – they all get my vote.

My latest obsession is this Asian salad made with crisp radishes and fat green onions, some of the best produce of the season.  The English cucumbers grow in Watsonville greenhouses year-round, so I include them and the fresh herbs in seasonal produce, too.  Throw in poached chicken, some glass noodles, a little chile and cashews and I’m happy. Continue reading Crunchy salad with an Asian twist

Blood oranges take the cake

Even in California, it’s tough to find a good selection of local fruit in the winter. Citrus is about the only choice at the farmers market these days and I get weary of clementines, as wonderful as they are.

The arrival of blood oranges is always cause for celebration. I can’t resist these beautiful oranges with the blushing rind and dark red flesh.  Their flavor is deeper and more complex than ordinary navels, with wine-like undertones and a lively balance of sugar and acid.

Blood oranges are great to eat out of hand but I think they’re best used in salads and desserts that capitalize on their exotic flavor.They’re an intriguing substitute for the usual lemons in this take on the old-fashioned pudding cake. Continue reading Blood oranges take the cake