A trip to California, part 1: San Francisco

I’ve been terrible at posting lately! Scott finished his exams and has 3 weeks off from school.  We’ve been traveling a lot! A trip to Oklahoma, NYC, and California!  We are finally home, though, and I am back to the blogging world.  Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. I love exploring new places, especially new restaurants.  In New York, I visited most of my favorite places, but  I squeezed in a visit to Ma Peche, part of David Chang’s Momfuku empire.  I was perfectly satisfied eating alone at the bar, but  I was completely disappointed in the food.  While it was good, it certainly did not live up to its reputation…

For Scott’s 30th birthday, we flew to San Francisco, rented a car and drove to Napa Valley.  Scott and I had ONE NIGHT and HALF A DAY in San Francisco, so we made the most of it! We stayed at a Hotel Majestic, a boutique hotel in Pacific Heights and walked just a few blocks down for dinner at SPQR.

Tucked away in a small neighborhood, SPQR has an unassuming ambiance with a dimly lit space, strong wooden tables, and a staff that feels friendly and familiar.  If this doesn’t draw you in, the food will.  As we sipped glasses of a Montepulciano, Scott and I debated over almost everything on the menu.  In the end, we ordered a carrot and lentil salad, mustard capellini with guinea hen ragu, and a fricassea of scallop and lobster with spring vegetables (which the kitchen ran out of and so we substituted rabbit wrapped in proscuitto with spring onions and fennel)

The carrot salad was my most favorite dish of the entire weekend (besides our butterscotch semi-freddo one night!)  The salad was a perfect balance of the flavors of slow roasted carrots, earthy lentils, the sweetness of medjool dates, and decorated with delicate foraged leaves and flowers.  A perfect dish.

We woke up Friday to a crisp, cool San Francisco morning and went for a short run into the Mission District.  I was so excited to have breakfast at Tartine Bakery.

If you are in San Francisco, GO TO THIS BAKERY.  Don’t be fooled by the line… it moves quickly and is worth every second.  The pastries are light, fluffy, buttery, sweet, crunchy, EVERYTHING you could ever want from a pastry.








At first, we ordered an almond croissant and strawberry pudding.  The croissant was crisp and crunchy on the outside, leaving your mouth dusted with powdered sugar at each bite.  It was the perfect balance of nuttiness and sweetness.  The strawberry bread pudding was decadent.  Sweet, fresh strawberries, eggy, bready, juicy, and rich.

Scott added a cinnamon roll to our already large order at the last minute.  It was the best thing we had all day.  The Tartine cinnamon roll is  made of a bread that tastes and feels like a mixture of sour dough and croissant puff-pastry.  No icing, just the perfect amount of cinnamon and sugar on top, crunchy on the outside with a perfectly light, airy, and buttery inside.  It’s really the best cinnamon roll in the world.

After eating the world at Tartine, we needed to walk around a bit.  We headed to the Embarcadero and wandered around the Ferry Building and piers.  What a joyous day…

Crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, we were on our way to Napa… part 2


Rouge Tomate’s New Food Cart

While living in NYC, I worked at Rouge Tomate, an fancy upper-side farm-to-table restaurant.  I look back on my days at Rouge Tomate with love and hate.  The intensity and pace of the kitchen are like nothing I can describe.  There’s nothing like a true southern girl trying to survive in a successful Manhattan kitchen run by seasoned New York chefs.  They had never seen anyone like me, and I had never seen anyone like them! But I made wonderful relationships and learned amazing things about food. I was pushed well beyond what I thought were my limits, and I grew so much as a cook and a person.

Last year, Rouge Tomate opened a food cart right outside of the Central Park Zoo.  My favorite thing to order was the  B.L.T. with thick, maple bacon, luscious red tomatoes, and crisp spring lettuce in between two thick pieces of fresh sourdough.  The chilled sweet corn soup and fresh juices were also wonderful.

Today is the opening day for the Rouge Tomate’s food cart 2012.  The menu features 2 different burgers with toppings like salsa verde and arugula, pickled ramps and horseradish yogurt.  There’s also a moroccan chicken sandwich with minted yogurt, harissa sauce, and wild arugula.  For the vegetarians, the cart offers a “meatless greek” with portobello mushroom, feta, tomato, and cucumber tzatziki.  I suggest Rouge Tomate lemonade – it’s the perfect balance of mint and lemon with a touch of bubbly zip.

If you’re in the area, stop by the cart at 64th and 5th! You won’t be sorry!

Check out this article featured on the New York Times Diner’s Journal

Cooking Lately…

This past week has been a busy one,  cooking for lots of different things.  Even though I love cooking, I’ve noticed that I still cook in a very disciplined and systematic way… remnants of my cooking days at Rouge Tomate I think.  I’m working on relaxing.  Making my time spent in the kitchen more of dance than a military march.  It will take time…

I thought I’d post a series of pictures – the life in my kitchen this past week

Carrots Cookies

We had Easter brunch with 4 families from church.  These carrot cookies looked so festive and pretty on the dessert table!  The kids LOVED them.  If you have a birthday party, spring/summer event, or want to brighten someone’s day, I can do any shape.  Feel free to contact me to order! (also applies to any desserts you see – cakes, brownies, pies, and more!)

Easter Bunnies

The Easter bunnies had potential… I ran out of buttercream after the carrots and was too lazy to finish! I’ve nibbled on these cookies all week long. They are almond sugar cookies with a lemon glaze.  So delicious!

Macaron with Grapefruit Buttercream

I promise I do more than bake, but I love sweets… These are vanilla macarons with grapefruit buttercream. Did you know most macarons are naturally gluten-free? These are such a fresh treat for a spring picnic.

Avocado, Bacon, Fried Egg, Tomato Sandwich

I found these great miniature whole wheat loaves of bread at Central Market.  They are made made in-house and are the perfect size for a breakfast sandwich.  We had fried egg, turkey bacon, avocado, and tomato sandwiches for dinner one night last week! They were honestly so good.

Happy Monday!

… enjoy

Strawberry Basil Scones

I’m working on a new project right now – it involves testing a lot of recipes for scones (if you have a great family recipe, I’d love to hear your secrets!)  The other day I worked on two strawberry scone recipes.

Recipe Testing = kitchen disaster

The first recipe involved the food processor, a lot of cold butter,  and a rolling pin.  Pretty typical right? I combined the flour, sugar, and other ingredients, and then cut in the ice cold butter, mixed in a cream/egg mixture, then added the strawberries.  I rolled out the dough, cut the scones, brushed a little egg and dusted a little, and popped them into the oven.  Successful, I thought.  They came out warm and golden, slightly crisp on the outside, very inviting.  I couldn’t resist eating a pinch, but I waited for  batch #2 before performing the official taste test.  As the warm dough hit my mouth, my first bite was good, but my second was less than good.  I think the moment any combination of butter/sugar/flour/fruit first hits the mouth, the first reaction is always good, but it’s the second that is the tell-tale story.

The second scone recipe came from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, a Valentine’s gift from my husband! This recipe calls for a mixture of fats – butter, sour cream, and whole milk, a butter freezing-and-grating technique, no food processor, and a method of folding the dough to create fluff and softness.  I was a bit skeptical but I proceeded as instructed.

The first step was to freeze sticks of butter, grate them using a cheese grater, and then pop the grated butter back into the freeze while preparing the rest of your ingredients.

After mixing the dry ingredients, I poured the frozen butter shavings into the flour, coated them well, and mixed in the other fats.  This formed a relatively wet, inconsistent dough in the bowl, but once it was turned onto a floured surface and mixed a bit by hand, the dough was smooth and formed.  Using a rolling pin, I rolled it flat, folded it twice, and then spread the strawberries and basil to cover the surface.

Then, I rolled the dough like I would a jelly roll or cinnamon roll and pressed it into a flat rectangle.  By doing this, the berries were fully incorporated and layered, while maintaining the integrity of the dough.  Scones were cut, brushed, and sprinkled and then into the oven to bake.

These came out of the oven visually more fluffy and appealing than the first recipe.  My first bite of recipe #2 bursted with flavor, and the second had even more.  This time, I couldn’t stop tasting!

The texture was soft and light mixed with just the amount of crunch and structure from the exterior.  The flavor was complex with bright notes from the lemon zest and sour cream, sweet notes from the sugar, richness from the butter and cream, and freshness from the strawberries and basil.  This was the scone I had been searching for! Stage 2 of recipe testing: how do they fair over night and frozen…

The recipes…

Strawberry Basil Scones
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook

16 Tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, frozen whole
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, diced into medium chunks
1/4 cup basil, chiffonade
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for counter
1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
Zest from 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 425.
Wash and cut strawberries.  Place in freezer until needed.
Chiffonade basil and place in refrigerator until needed.
Remove 1/2 of paper from each stick of frozen butter. Grate 8 Tbsp butter, using large holes of cheese grater. Put back into freezer until needed.
Whisk sour cream and milk together and refrigerate until needed.
In medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and lemon zest.  Add frozen butter to bowl and toss until butter is thoroughly covered in flour.
Add milk mixture to flour/butter and fold together until the dough comes together (the flour will not fully incorporate until the next step)
Turn dough onto a well-floured surface and dust the top with more flour.  Knead the dough (adding flour as needed) until it comes together (about 6-8 times).
Roll the dough into a 1/4″ thick square.  Fold length-wise into thirds and then fold ends up to form an approximate square.  Roll dough out again into 1/4″ thick square again.
Spread strawberries and basil over surface evenly.  Lightly press into dough.
Roll dough like a jelly roll to form a tube.  Using rolling pin, flatten tube into a rectangle, 1/2″ thick.
Cut scones into triangles.  Melt 1/4 stick of butter, brush over scones, and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until browned on top.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

.. .enjoy!