Cookbook Review: This Is Camino

Thursday, October 22, 2015!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

I have to premise this review by telling you that I haven’t even heard of Camino prior to reading this book even though I’ve lived in the Bay Area for a number of years and visit frequently.  Camino is the locally beloved but nationally acclaimed restaurant in Oakland known and respected by foodies and chefs alike.  

At first glance, This Is Camino is a beautiful restaurant cookbook with many interesting recipes.  As I read further, I became disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use much of this cookbook because most of the recipes require a kitchen with a giant wood fired hearth.  I certain don’t have that nor can I think of anyone I know with an open fire pit in their kitchen to try these recipes.  The chefs do offer campfire alternatives but what’s the point?  I definitely don’t want the neighbors calling the firemen if they see smoke billowing from my backyard.  While I won’t be able to cook from Camino, I was able to tease out a few recipes that I can try with my oven or grill like the apple calvados tart, buckwheat rhubarb tarts, cherry tarts, grilled fig leaf ice cream, yogurt sesame pudding, mashed beets with mustard seeds, baked oysters with breadcrumbs, and roasted petra sole with preserved lemons.  

I did enjoy reading about the restaurant’s operation with a breakdown of hourly schedule from the setup of the cooking stations to the cleaning of the restaurant at the end of the night .  While I appreciate the authors’ passion for open fire cooking and focus on the use of wholesome and fresh ingredients, This Is Camino is not written for a home cook like myself.   

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Homemade banana granola

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A while back we promised that we would share our banana granola recipe so here it is. We find ourselves making banana nut bread and banana granola when we have an abundance of overripe bananas. I like to make the most of our oven so I bake the banana bread first, then turn down the temperature for the granola once the bread is done. 

When baked right, you get clusters of soft and moist granola with rich banana flavor. This is hands down Vu’s and Aiden’s favorite granola. I pack this banana granola as a snack for Aiden when he goes to school.  It's also our go to breakfast or snack when we don't have time to cook, and we go through a batch just about every week. Hope you like it!

Banana Granola
4 medium sized overripe bananas, mashed    
½ cup of honey
2 tablespoons of coconut oil, melted
3 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of unsweetened coconut threads

1 cup of sliced almonds
1 ½ cups of dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
2. In a food processor, combine the bananas, honey, and coconut oil and blend until smooth.
3. Place the oats, coconut threads, almonds, and cranberries in a large mixing bowl.
4. Pour the banana mixture over the dry ingredients and mix to coat. Make sure all the oats are moistened.
5. Spread the granola evenly on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
6. Bake in the oven for 60 minutes or until golden and dry, making sure to turn the granola with your spatula every 15 minutes to ensure even color and to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
7. Set the granola aside to cool to room temperature and crisp up.
8. Transfer to an airtight container and store up to a month.


Cookbook Review: Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees

Tuesday, October 13, 2015!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees is one of two Chinese cookbooks in my collection.  The other cookbook is Chinese Unchopped.  To be honest, we don’t cook that many Chinese dishes at home.  The Chinese restaurants that we frequent serve really good Chinese food so we never felt the need to recreate them with a few exceptions like Shanghai beef noodles, roasted pork, and roasted duck.  

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of detail provided in this cookbook.  Broken into 17 chapters, you’ll learn the history behind regional Chinese cuisine (Guangdong, Fujian, Sichuan, Hunan, Beijing, Shanghai, and many other regions), how to stock your kitchen with ingredients and essential equipments to facilitate the cooking process, and learn many cooking techniques to create authentic Chinese dishes at home.  This cookbook outlines the fundamental techniques in Chinese cooking, including stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, poaching, braising, and roasting.  With more than 200 photographs, including helpful step-by-step images and clear instructions from culinary expert Kian Lam Kho, you’ll be well on your way to making delicious Chinese food.     

I already have my eyes on the Peking duck recipe!  You’ll definitely see a blog post about this one.  Other recipes that I can’t wait to try include bbq pork (to compare it to my mom’s recipe), oil poached flounder, red-cooked lion’s head, pan-fried soft shell crabs, and marbled tea eggs.  Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees will definitely have its permanent place in my kitchen, stained and loved.  I highly recommend this book to home cooks who love Chinese food and want to recreate authentic Chinese dishes in the comfort of their kitchen.   You can't really ask for a better book on Chinese cooking techniques!

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher  

Salted caramel apple galette

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A few weeks ago we went apple picking in Julian and brought back a lot of apples for baking and juicing. There were enough apples for a few desserts! Right away we made our favorite Dutch apple pie as a way to ease into fall baking. Something easy, familiar, and comforting. That was polished off in a day. 

With so many apples left, I wanted to surprise Vu with another treat--salted caramel apple galette. Yes, salted caramel! I think I drooled a little just typing those words! 

I’m excited about this galette for many reasons. With a lot of practice from summer baking, I finally found the ratio of flour to butter that I’m happy with. The crust turned out perfectly crispy and flaky. The apples held up nicely in the cooking process and oozed of goodness. And the salted caramel sealed the deal! 

We’ve already made this tart twice and will definitely be making it again!

Salted caramel apple galette
1 lb of apples (Empire or Pink Lady)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half a lemon
¼ cup of brown sugar
2 tbsp of Calvados (apple brandy)
½ tsp of Saigon cinnamon
1 tbsp of cornstarch
2 tbsp of sanding sugar

For the pastry dough
¾ cup of spelt flour (if you don’t have spelt flour, you can replace with another wheat flour, nut flour like almond meal, or all purpose flour)
¾ cup of all purpose flour
1 stick of butter
2 tbsp of icing sugar
pinch of salt
¼ cup of ice-cold water

For the glaze
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp heavy cream

For the salted caramel
½ cup of sugar
2 tbsp of water
½ cup of heavy cream
¼ tsp of salt

1. Sift the flours together. To make the pastry crust, place the flours, sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
2. While the mixture is being processed, gradually add cold water until the dough comes together.
3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 60 minutes before rolling.
5. Peel, core, and slice the apples into ¼-inch slices.
6. In a bowl, add the apples, lemon zest, lemon juice, Calvados, sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch. Toss with your hands to combine. Set aside.
7. Remove the dough from the fridge. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a circle of about 13 inches wide and ¼ inch thick. Move the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
8. Arrange the apples in the center of the dough leaving a one and a half inch border uncovered. Fold the dough edges over the apples, pleating it loosely and leaving the galette open in the center. Patch the dough together if it breaks.  Pour the juice from the apple mixture into the galette.
9. For the glaze, whisk the egg with heavy cream in a bowl. Brush the dough with the egg mixture and sprinkle the sanding sugar over the whole galette. Refrigerate the galette for 30 minutes.
10. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
11. Remove the galette from the fridge and bake for 50-60 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and crusted with sugar, and apples softened.  Remove the galette from the oven and let it cool on the baking sheet.
12. While the galette is baking, prepare the salted caramel sauce.
13. In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
14. Once the sugar starts to melt, watch carefully as the sugar darkens, stirring gently to help it melt evenly.
15. When the caramel becomes a dark amber color, remove the pan from heat and immediately but slowly pour the cream into the saucepan.
16. The mixture will steam and bubble up so be careful not to burn yourself. When the bubbling subsides, gently whisk to completely blend the cream into the caramel. If you see lumps of hardened caramel, put the pan over low heat and stir until the caramel is melted.
17. Once the caramel is completely smooth, stir in the salt. Set aside and let the salted caramel cool.
18. To serve, transfer the galette to a serving plate, cut into wedges, and drizzle with salted caramel sauce.  

Fig and Yogurt Tarts

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Since figs started appearing at the farmers market, we’ve been making these fig and yogurt tarts a lot.  We usually enjoy figs with yogurt and granola when they are in season.  Black Mission figs, tiger stripe figs, or brown Turkey figs.  We like them all.    A few months back, I decided to transform one of our favorite breakfast staples into a dessert when we had friends over for dinner.  

The dinner menu was pasta and meat centric so I opted to end the night with something light and refreshing.  This fig and yogurt tart is our healthier take on dessert.  You definitely won’t feel cheated out of a dessert but your body will thank you for not sending it into a sugar high.  

A lot of people asked for the recipe when they saw the picture featured on the Pure Green Magazine Instagram account so we decided to share the recipe on the blog.  Enjoy!      

Fig and yogurt tarts
1 cup of Greek yogurt (or plain yogurt)
¼ cup of mascarpone
2 tablespoons of honey
6 figs (Black Mission figs or any figs you like)
2 tablespoons of caster (superfine) sugar
2 tablespoons pistachios, chopped

For the pastry dough
¾ cup of spelt flour (if you don’t have spelt flour, you can replace with another wheat flour, nut flour like almond meal, or all purpose flour)
¾ cup of all purpose flour
1 stick of butter
2 tablespoons of icing sugar
pinch of salt
¼ cup of ice-cold water

1. Sift the flours together. To make the pastry crust, place the flours, sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
2. While the mixture is being processed, gradually add cold water until the dough comes together.
3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 60 minutes before rolling.
5. Divide the pastry dough into 6 pieces and roll out the dough onto a floured surface to ¼ inch thickness.
6. Line six 4-inch tart pans with the dough and trim the excess. Save the extra dough in your freezer for up to a month. Prick the base with a fork and cover the tarts with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the plastic wrap and line the tarts with parchment paper. Fill with baking weights (you can use rice or beans if you do not have any baking weights).
8. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and bake for another 5 minutes until the pastry is lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely while you prepare the filling.
9. To prepare the filling, place the yogurt, mascarpone, and honey in a large bowl and whisk until combined. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.
10. Place sugar on a plate. Quarter the figs. Press cut sides onto sugar to coat well. Use a kitchen blowtorch to caramelize the figs. (This caramelization step is optional if you don’t own a kitchen blowtorch.)
11. Divide the yogurt mixture between the cooled tart shells, top with caramelized figs, and garnish with crushed pistachios.

Apple Picking in Julian

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A few weeks ago we went apple picking in Julian, something that we haven’t done since fall of 2012.  It was Aiden’s first time and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  
We went to Volcan Valley Apple Farm since they had the most variety of apples.  At the time, three kinds were available to pick--Jonathan, Empire, and Golden Delicious.  
All the apple trees are dwarf and even Aiden who’s barely over two feet could reach them.  We got there when the orchard opened and roamed around for over an hour.  For very little work, we got a lot of delicious apples for baking and juicing.  Don't be surprised if you see a few apple desserts coming to the blog.  

We had a lot of fun and will definitely make it a yearly tradition.


Cookbook Review: Tacos Recipes and Provocations

Thursday, October 1, 2015

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I have to premise this review by disclosing that I have a love and hate relationship with Mexican food. Living in San Diego, we are fortunate to have a lot of authentic Mexican restaurants but I always get sick when I eat Mexican food, usually nine out of ten times. I was really excited to read Tacos by Alex Stupak and find recipes that I can finally try at home. 

Divided into three sections, you’ll learn a whole lot about making tortillas, salsas, and tacos. There are a lot of photographs with step by step instructions in the tortilla chapter. With Chef Stupak’s experience from wd~50 kitchen, he pushed his creativity and included recipes like saffron, beet, pistachios, spinach, buckwheat, yuca, and chorizo tortillas. While all of these recipes seem easy to make, I’ll stick to the traditional corn and flour tortillas. The salsa section has a lot of unique salsa recipes (salsa arriera, salsa negra, xni pec, cape gooseberry salsa, or tinga poblana) that I have not heard of before. Finally getting to the meat of the book, the biggest section is tacos. I have a few recipes bookmarked already like skirt steak tacos, carnitas tacos, beer braised tongue tacos, duck carnitas tacos, fish tempura tacos, grilled shrimp tacos, and sunnyside duck egg tacos. I’ll probably stuck to the traditional tacos instead of the interesting recipes like lamb tartare tacos, sea urchin guacamole tacos, cochinita pibil tacos, goat tacos, fava and blood sausage tacos, and crab cake tacos.

Tacos Recipes and Provocations is a beautiful and interesting book on tacos but it would be more appreciated by tacos connoisseur. For the regular home cook like myself, I prefer more practical and easy to execute recipes that don’t require too many unique ingredients and hours of prep work. I would take a look at this book at your local bookstore before committing to it.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher