Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Oscar informed me this morning that he was going to make Madeleines, the French scallop shaped teacake that Proust has made so famous.  He said he had promised all of his teachers to give them some.  Oscar has loved madeleines since we lived in Berkeley where they are commonly sold at Starbucks.  A couple of weeks ago, he asked me to buy him some but I told him that I had never seen any here in Sweden.  I then mentioned that we had a madeleine pan and that we could make them.  He said no more about it and I assumed he forgot, but this morning I understood I was wrong!  He asked me to buy the ingredients and so I googled madeleines and found a myriad of recipies.  I read blogs about the cakes which discussed at length whether or not to refrigerate the dough over night and whether you must freeze the pans.  The size of the bump seems to be important, though it is unclear what size the bump should actually be.  It all looked daunting and I felt a bit tired before I even started.

Finally, I found two recipes that interested me.  One was by Martha Stewart which used cardamom and orange instead of the traditional lemon as flavoring.  The second was in Epicurious and this one I liked for its simplicity.  No refrigerating the dough, no messing about with the pans, and no bump discussions.

Oscar and I made both kinds, traditionally flavored with lemon, and ones made with orange and cardamom. They turned out to be easily made; the batter only took a few minutes to put together. Both flavors were delicious, particularly  when hot straight out of the oven, which is the way I believe they are intended to be eaten.  Slightly crispy on the molded side and tender on the other side. Most recipes say to dust with powdered sugar but they did not need the extra sweetening.

The Martha Stewart recipe specified a simple orange juice and powdered sugar glaze to brush over the finished cakes.  If I thought that the cakes would last more than an hour in my house or I was making them in advance, I would be tempted to do this because I suspect it would help keep them fresher.  But it is gilding the lily.

Makes 24 madeleines
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel or orange peel
½ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
Pinch of salt
1 cup all purpose flour
10 tablespoons (140 grams) butter
Powdered sugar, if you like
Preheat oven to 350°F (175 c). Generously butter and flour pan for madeleines). In a small pan, melt the butter with the lemon or orange peel and cardamom, if you are using it.  In a medium sized bowl, beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar with a whisk just to blend. Beat in vanilla, and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended.
Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each indentation in pan, so that is almost completely filled. A small icecream scooper makes this an easier job. Bake until puffed and brown at the edges, about 10 to 15 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch.
Dust cookies with powdered sugar, if you wish.

*A metal mold with scallop-shaped indentations, sold at cookware stores.  If you are using a non-stick pan, then you do not need to flour the pan.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Stollen

The holiday season brings upon a flurry of baking in my house.  This year, I was inspired by a recipe in the Wall Street Journal to make a Christmas Stollen, which a German sweet bread studded with rum soaked fruit.  Perusing different recipes for stollen, I came across one on the BBC which incorporated a swirl of marzipan.  In order to get the correct proportions of yeast and flour, I had to find a Swedish recipe which was adapted to the live yeast that you can buy here.  Collating and cross referencing these different recipes took a bit of time, with the result that it took me almost all day, even with the dilligent help of Gustaf, to bake these loaves.  Then, distracted by making dinner, I messed up on the final baking of the loaves, baking them at too high a heat, an error I did not notice until I checked on the loaves about half way through the cooking time and saw that they were already quite brown on top.  I had to take my loaves out in order for them not to burn, with the sad result that the center of the loaf is a tiny bit gooey and underdone.  Peter assures me that it tastes better that way but he is a guy that steals raw dough as I am making it.  While the final result is a bit dissapointing to me, the flavor is excellent and I can see that it would have been perfect if not for that too high temperature.  But now you are forewarned, so yours will perfect.  I promise.

Enough for 2 stollen

100 grams candied orange peel
200 grams raisins
200 grams other dried fruit (for example, currents, cranberries, apricots, pineapple, figs, citron peel etc), chopped into appropriate sized pieces
1 dl rum
2 dl almonds, slivered
35 grams yeast
2 dl Milk
2 eggs
200 grams butter, at room temperature
5 dl (270 grams) strong bread flour
5 to 8  dl (about 300 to 450 grams) all-purpose flour
50 grams sugar 
1 pinch salt
1 whole Lemon or orange zest
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
400 grams Marzipan, optional

The night before you want to make the bread, mix the raisins, orange peel, and dried fruit together and add the rum, mixing it all together.  Let the mixture stand overnight to absorb the rum, stirring occasionally if you can be bothered.  When you are ready to begin the bread, strain the fruit, reserving the residual rum to brush onto the bread after baking.

Make the starter by crumbling the yeast into a large bowl.  Warm your milk in a small pan on the stove to about 100 degrees F, slightly warm to your finger.  Be careful not to warm to much because you will kill your yeast.  Stir the warm milk into the bowl with yeast until the yeast is fully dissolved.  Add 2 dl flour, mix well and allow the starter to stand for half an hour, after which the yeast will have puffed up the mixture.

Into the bowl with the starter, add 5 dl of bread flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cloves and zest of either one lemon or orange.  Stir the ingredients together, to form a stiff dough.  Add about one quarter of the softened butter, alternating with a decilitre of all purpose flour.  Knead with your hands, in the bowl, until the butter and flour are incorporated, and then add more butter.  Continue until all the butter is incorporated and you have a nice dough that is still soft but not too sticky.  You should have used about three to four deciliters of the all purpose flour.  Turn the dough out onto a generously floured board and knead for at least 15 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth.  During this kneading process, incorporate a further decilitre or two of flour.  Once the dough is fully kneaded, spread it out a bit on your board, sprinkle with some all-purpose flour, and pour over about half of your dried fruit.  Draw the dough over the fruit and knead together, addingmore flour when the dough gets sticky.  When the fruit is incorporated, repeat the procedure with the remaining fruit.  Finally, add in the slivered almonds. 

Shape the dough into a neat ball and put into a bowl and cover with a towel to rise for about an hour until the dough doubles in size.  At this point, you can also put the dough in the refrigerator and let it rise more slowly overnight, if you prefer, in order for you to bake it the morning. A slower yeasting brings out more complex flavors in the bread, and is commonly used among artisan breadmakers to get a finer more flavorful bread.  However, in this case, the bread is so highly flavoured with spices and other ingredients, that it seems to me the subtle flavour differences brought upon by a slow yeasting are irrelevant.  However, you still may want to use the slower yeasting to adjust the timing of baking your bread to fit your schedule.

Once the bread has finished its first rise, knead it for a minute or two and divide the dough in half. (You can also bake one large loaf, if you prefer.) 

For the marzipan swirl, take each half of the dough and roll out, using a rolling pin, to a rectangle.  Take half of the marzipan (200 grams) and roll out to a rectangle, slightly smaller than the dough.  Use powdered sugar to keep the marzipan from sticking to your board.  Put the marzipan on the dough and roll up the dough on the long side of the rectangle.  Pinch the ends shut and pinch the dough to seal it on the edge, making sure there is no marzipan sticking out.  Place the roll on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.  Repeat for the second piece of dough.  If you prefer not to have the marzipan in the dough, then simply shape each ball of dough into a long loaf shape.

Cover with a towel and let the bread rise for the second time, for about an hour or until the loaves double in size.  Bake in a 180 degree Celsius (350 degree F) oven for 35 to 45 minutes until the loaves are brown.  Do not be tempted to raise the temperature to get a faster bake because the sugar in the dough will make the loaves brown too quickly, while the inside will remain uncooked.

When the loaves have cooled but are still warm, brush the loaves with the leftover rum from soaking the fruit.  Then brush with melted butter and sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar.  When the cake is cooled, you can sprinkle some more powdered sugar over, if you like, to make a more even “white” surface.  Cut into slices to serve.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Lucia Rolls

  • Santa Lucia is a holiday in Sweden celebrated on December 13th.  Leading up to the day, the prettiest girl in town is chosen to represent the saint in a candlelit procession.  Lucia is an Italian saint who lived in Sicily about 1,800 years ago and who died for her Christian faith.  She became very celebrated throughout Italy and her day has been marked on the calendar and celebrated in Sweden since medieval times.  However, today's Swedish tradition dates very much from the lat 19th century and has more to with a celebration of light than Christianity.  What is important about the holiday, is of course, the food.  Traditionally, saffron flavored sweet rolls are served along with copious quantities of mulled wine.
Lussekatter, as these rolls are called in Sweden, are a slightly sweetened saffron bread.  They are actually a bit bland to eat, but the flavor grows on you;  the first mouthful is a bit dull but by the end of the roll, you are ready for another.  I wanted to liven the traditional recipe with some candied orange peel and perhaps a topping of rock sugar, but my family protested terribly against any alteration from the traditional!

  •  200 grams butter
  • 1 gram powdered saffron
  • 5 dl milk
    ½ dl whipping cream
    50 grams live yeast
    2 eggs
    1 pinch salt
    2 ½ dl sugar
    16 to 17 dl bread flour
    For garnish, a handful of raisins and an egg for the wash
  • Melt the butter in a large pot on the stove with the saffron.   Take off the stove.  Measure out the milk.  Pour the milk into the butter until the mixture feels  just warm to your finger.  Set any remaining milk aside.  Crumble the yeast cake into the butter/milk mixture and stir until the yeast is fully dissolved.  Add the rest of the milk and the cream to this mixture. 
In large bowl, measure out 14 dl of the bread flour, the salt and the sugar.  Make a hole in the middle of the flour and break in the two eggs.  Beat lightly with a fork and then pour in the milk/butter mixture.  Stir the flour and liquids together with a large wooden spoon until it is combined.  If you feel that the mixture is firm enough to knead, you can turn it out onto a floured board.  If it is still too sticky, add more flour until you feel it is firm enough. 

Generously flour your hands and the board and knead the dough, adding more flour when the dough gets sticky.  Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  Put in a bowl and cover with a towel and leave to rise for an hour.

Punch the dough down and knead for about a minute to get the air bubbles out.  Cut the dough into four pieces and then cut each quarter into 6 to 8 pieces.  Roll each piece into a long snake.  Curl the snake in opposite directions on each side until you meet at the middle.  Stick a raisin into the center of each curl.  Place onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, leaving plenty of room for the buns to rise.  Cover with a towel and leave to rise for about an hour.

  • Beat an egg and brush the tops of each bun. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until golden on the top.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chanterelle Toast

Walking in the forest on a brisk autumn day, basket in hand, on a mushroom hunt, is one of the finest activities I know.  Our dog practically jumps for joy, his tail wagging so hard that one is afraid it might fall off, as he runs in circles around us.  We walk slowly, scattered through the forest, eyes peeled for a glimpse of elusive apricot gold treasure. Blueberry bushes tempt us with their sweetness and we slow down as we pluck them, cold, juicy and tart, our fingers and tongues staining purple. Suddenly, one of us spots a flash of gold….breath held…to root among the fallen leaves…breath released in disappointment..just a burnished leaf.  But oh! Now a cry echos in the air: “Chanterelle!” calls out one of the boys.  We all rush over, treading carefully as we come near.  Chanterelle are a social creature, once you see one, there are almost always others nearby.  There is one half buried under some leaves, and more over there by the moss.  Oh, and look, there is one that you almost stepped on just by your foot!

After some hours of searching, we are rosy cheeked and ready for a rest.  Some fallen logs in a mossy spot will do for a picnic.  A few simple sandwiches or some cinnamon rolls with coffee will give us some more energy for the hunt.  And though we frown upon letting the dog have food while we eat, in the forest we relax the rules and he has a sandwich too.

Another hour or two, our baskets our full, and our legs are tired.  We make our way back home.  We all sit at the table to clean the mushrooms, cutting off dirty stems and brushing pine needles carefully off with a brush.  Into the pan they go with a large pat of butter, and then a slog of cream.  Heaped onto toast, the chanterelles are gone in a flash, leaving us to fight over the last creamy morsels in the pan.

4 servings

4 handfuls of chanterelle mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup or so of cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices of good white bread

Cut the chanterelle to bite size pieces.  Take a pan and add the butter and put over a high heat.  When the butter is melted, add the chanterelle.  Fry on high heat until the chanterelle start to take on some color.  Add the cream and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring the cream to a boil and then turn the heat down to low.  Let the mushrooms simmer in the cream for 5 minutes or so until the cream thickens.  Meanwhile, toast the bread and put a slice of bread on each plate.  Pile the mushroom mixture onto each of the toasts.  Eat immediately.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Crepes Suzette

Summer Evening by P.S. Kroyer, 1893

There is a tiny town at the very Northern tip of Denmark called Skagen.  It is a magical place with the whitest sand, bluest seas, and an extra special light which has been a siren’s song to artists for hundreds of years.  You can walk out on the beach to the end of land and see where two different seas collide into one another, which is a magical sight all by itself.  In the very charming old town, there is a charming hotel called Brondrums.  In its heyday, artists flocked to stay at this hotel and paint lovely ladies in lace dresses strolling on the surrounding beaches.  Today it is still a quaint and charming hotel with a delicious French-influenced restaurant.  And here, unbowed by culinary fashions, very proper waiters serve delicious old-fashioned food at white clothed tables.  My young boys were absolutely fascinated at the Crepes Suzette that were prepared and flamed in front of them at the table.  Every now and then, they say to me “Oh, do you remember those pancakes that were on fire…I wish we could have them again.”  So, after a time, I felt inclined to recreate those pancakes for them.  And they were delicious.  This classic grand dame deserves to return to the table.

Serves 4 to 5

For the pancakes
100 grams flour (1 ½ deciliters)
2 eggs
200 ml milk
Zest of one orange
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the sauce
150 ml orange juice (about 2 to 3 oranges)
Zest of oranges
Juice of one lemon plus zest
2 tablespoons sugar
50 grams butter
About 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau
To prepare the pancakes, beat the eggs and milk.

Vanilla icecream to serve.

For the pancakes, beat the eggs and milk together.  Add the flour and sugar and beat until completely smooth.  Stir in the orange zest and melted butter.  You can prepare this batter in advance and let it sit an hour or so, if you like.  To prepare the pancakes, heat a pan very hot, then turn it down a bit.  If you are using a nonstick pan, you don’t have to really use butter, but if you aren’t then swipe the pan with a paper towel with a bit of butter on it between each pancake.  Pour about two tablespoons of batter onto the pan, swirling it around to form a very thin pancake.  This is tricky to do and you may have to go through a couple to get the hang of it.  But don’t worry if they are not round and perfect, you really won’t notice it in the final dish.  It should take less than a minute to cook.  You will see the very edges go brown and then it is time to flip.  The other side will only take a few seconds to cook.  Lay the pancakes on a plate with a bit of wax paper or parchment paper in between each pancake so that they don’t stick together.  You can prepare the pancakes well in advance.  This batter should make between 10 to 15 pancakes, about 6 inches in diameter.

When you are ready to eat, prepare the sauce.  Have all the ingredients pre-measured and ready at the side of your pan.  Heat the sugar over a medium heat until it liquefies and starts to caramelize.  Note that once the sugar starts to color it will go from light gold to burnt very quickly!  Plop the butter in the pan and stir.  Pour in the juices and the zest.  Stir vigorously until all the caramel has melted into the juice.  Let the sauce simmer for a bit until the sauce reduces and thickens slightly.  Take a crepe and fold it in half, lay it in the sauce and then flip it over so that both sides are covered with sauce.  Fold the crepe into fourths and push it to the side of the pan.  Repeat this with all the crepes.  When the last crepe has been folded, pour in the liqueur.  Quickly take a match and light the mixture.  Let the fire burn for ten seconds or so to burn off the alcohol, while swirling the pan.

To serve, take two crepes on each plate.  Add a large scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour some of the orange sauce over the crepes and ice cream.  It is also lovely to garnish this with some sliced oranges.

Eat while hot!

New York Style Bagels

Bagels differ from bread in three ways.  First, they are flavored with malt.  Many recipes use malt extract or syrup.  I had trouble finding this in the store, and my husband Peter suggested that I use a porter beer which is heavily malt flavored instead. The worked very well and was much easier to find than the extract.   A true bagel is boiled for a couple of minutes in water before it is baked.  This step gives the bagel its chewy texture.  The water interacts with the outside of the dough to form a crust.  This crust prevents the dough from rising too much in the oven, giving a denser bread.  The longer that the dough is boiled, the chewier the bagel is. Finally, bagel dough is a much stiffer dough than normal bread, meaning it has much less water.  This is partly what gives the bagel its dense crumb and texture, and also allows it to stand up to the water bath.

While making bagels is quite straightforward, I do not recommend it if you have never baked bread before.  The reason for this is because the dough is so stiff that it is much harder to knead than a normal bread dough and thus there is a larger probability of going wrong.  The first time I made bagels, I made three batches before I had any success!  The first batch I used an old sack of bread flour that had been sitting in my cupboard for three years.  As I was kneading it, the dough was extremely crumbly and did not show any signs of elasticity.  I looked up whether flour could be too old, and it turns out the protein and gluten content does deteriorate with age.  So, I dumped that batch and started again.  This time the dough felt better immediately, but I was so concerned with having a dry enough dough that I didn’t put enough water in it.  After kneading for over half an hour and even enlisting my husband’s hands for a further 10 minutes, the dough still did not want to be smooth.  I went ahead and finished the bread but while the bagels were baking, I read all the recipes I could find and realized that my dough had simply been too dry.  While the bagels came out edible, they were misshapen and ugly. Of course, I had invited some friends over to try my bagels, and they gamely complimented my efforts but it didn’t really feel like a success!  Later that afternoon, I decided to try one last time, making sure the dough was not too dry, and it finally worked. For this reason, I can suggest that if you do not make bread very often, buy more yeast than you need.  If the first batch doesn’t work, you can always throw it away and begin again.  While I dislike waste, the ingredients here are quite inexpensive, so you can afford to experiment.  Do not be put off by the length of the recipe.  It is not that difficult or time consuming, but I have tried to give a lot of detail so that you won’t have to do it three times before getting a good bagel!

12 bagels

For bagel dough:
50 grams (1.5 ounces) fresh yeast cake
3 dl (1 1/4 cups)water
3 dl (1 1/4 cups) porter style beer
3 tablespoons honey, syrup, or brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
10 to 13 dl (4 to 6 cups) strong bread flour

For boiling the bagels:
The rest of the bottle of porter
½ cup brown sugar

Optional, topping for bagels
Sesame seeds, caraway seeds, flake sea salt, or poppy seeds

In a bowl or large measuring cup, pour in the warm water.  The water should feel slightly warm to the touch (around 100F, if you measure with a thermometer).  The yeast is already active and does not need to be woken up. Better to have the water slightly too cold than too hot because water over 130F will kill the yeast.  Crumble the yeast cake into the water and stir until it is fully dissolved.  Then add in your choice of sweetening agent and the beer and stir.

In a large bowl, pour 10 dl (4 cups) of flour and add the salt and stir.  Make a hole in the center and pour in the yeast mixture.  Stir with a spoon until the flour is more or less incorporated and then start kneading the mixture in the bowl with your hand.  You should have a stiff dough, much stiffer than a normal bread dough, but all the flour should be incorporated and the dough should be in one mass.  If the dough is crumbly and does not seem to want to form a ball, then add a bit more water.  If the dough is sticky, then gradually sprinkle in more flour.   You should end up with a ball of dough that is a bit rough and lumpy but that sticks together.  Although you want a dry stiff dough, it is better to err on the wet side if you are unsure.  The worst that will happen is that you have a softer, more bread like bagel, while if it is too dry, the dough will not come together smoothly and you will have lumpy bagels.  It is also easier to add more flour to make the dough drier during the kneading process than to wet a dry dough later.  Put a towel over the bowl and let the dough stand for 10 minutes.  This will allow the gluten in the flour to relax slightly, making it easier to knead.

Lightly dust a working surface with flour and start kneading the dough.  After about 2 to 3 minutes, it should start becoming smooth.  The dough should not be at all sticky.  If it is sticky, dust a bit more flour on it and continue to knead.  Repeat until the dough no longer feels sticky. Because the dough is dryer than normal and because you are using bread flour with a higher gluten content, it will take longer to knead.  If you should feel that your dough is too dry, wet your hands and knead again until all the water is incorporated.  You can repeat this several times until you reach a consistency that feels better. Continue kneading for a further 15 to 20 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic and forms a neat ball.

If you have a mixer with dough attachments or a bread-maker, you can let the machine do this work.  In fact, many recipes I have read recommend using a machine, presumably because the machine can do a better job with the stiff dough and you may find that a machine can incorporate a bit more flour than you can do by hand.  Do keep an eye on it, though, to make sure the machine does not overheat due to the stiffness of the dough!
Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover with a dishcloth, and set in a warm spot.  Let rise for 1 hour or more, until the dough has doubled.

Punch the dough to get the air bubbles out and turn it out and knead for a minute.  The dough should be smooth and elastic.  At this point you can put the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight or up to two days.  The dough will slowly rise in the refrigerator, and this slow rise will improve the flavor and texture of the bread.  If you have room in your refrigerator, you can also form the bagels now and let them rise on the trays overnight.  Then, in the morning, you can simply dash out, remove the trays and let them warm up while you go back to bed for another hour. However, if you are in a hurry, you can skip the slow rise in the refrigerator and go straight to forming the bagels and baking them after they have risen.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut into 12 even pieces.  You can form each bagel in one of two methods.  (1)Roll each piece into a smooth ball and then stick your thumb into the center and make a hole in each piece.  Roll the dough around, stretching it evenly to make a hole about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter.  (2) Roll out the dough into a snake.  Wind it into a circle and press the two ends together very hard.  Then roll the area which you have pressed to even it out.  It is said that professional bagel makers use this method, but you can choose whichever suits you best.

Put each bagel on a parchment covered baking sheet and cover with a towel.  If the dough is cold from the refrigerator, let them sit out on the counter to come to room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes.  They should rise a bit during this time.  If you skipped the second rising in the refrigerator, let the bagels rise a second time, about 20 to 30 minutes.  If you put them in the refrigerator already shaped, then they only need to come to room temperature, they will already be risen.

When you are ready to bake the bagels, preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Bring a pot of water, about 4 inches deep to a boil.  The pot should be big enough to fit 3 to 4 bagels.  Pour in the rest of the beer and ½ cup of sugar.  This will increase the malty flavor and the sugar will make a nice crust on the bagels.  The water should not be at a rolling boil, but at a simmer.  With a slotted spoon, lay each bagel into the water, in batches of 3 to 4, whatever fits comfortably in your pot.  If you have refrigerated the dough, you need to make sure it has come to room temperature.  If the bagel does not rise to the surface of the boiling water and float, then the bagel is still too cold.  Wait for another 15 to 20 minutes and then try again. 

Let the bagel simmer for about a minute and then flip them over and simmer for a further minute on the other side.  The bagels will puff out a bit in the water. Have ready a plate where you have sprinkled the topping of your choice.  Take each bagel from the boiling water and lay on the plate.  The water from boiling will help the topping stick to the bagel.  Remove the bagel and put on the baking sheet, topping side up.  You can smooth the topping with a finger if it is not even.  Repeat until your baking sheet is full.  You should probably be able to fit 6 to 8 bagels on one baking sheet. 

Bake the bagels for 15 to 25 minutes until they are golden brown.  Serve warm, split with butter or cream cheese or other topping of your choice.  Bagels freeze very well.  Simply let them thaw out and toast.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Diet Series: Mushroom Soup

As I have alluded to in many of these posts, my life is a battle between my desire to look like I did at 25 and my obsession with eating. Unfortunately, lately, the obsession has won out...meaning an unfortunate weight gain which I have been ignoring until my trainer forced me to step on the scale. That nasty number has driven me back into my starvation diet mode. So, as you can imagine, that will mean less tasty recipes or restaurant reviews for a while. But, I can give you the fruits of my labor in trying to make my diet less onerous. Thus, I will try to publish my more successful and tasty diet dishes. Now, note these ARE diet dishes, and thus they are less tasty then they would be if I added more butter, cream and other luscious items. I will however give you suggestions for these kinds of additions, just in case you aren't trying to starve yourself like I am. Some of the dishes, I note, would be perfectly lovely as they are, if they were say, followed by a steak or triple cheeseburger....but I digress.

Soup is an excellent thing when you are on a diet. The high proportion of liquid makes it (almost) guaranteed to be low cal and relatively filling, although sadly, the satiation effect only lasts about 10 minutes. So here is my mushroom soup. It is a cinch to make and can be gussied up for guests or just eaten as is. It really is pretty good.

12 ounces sliced button mushrooms (that is 1 1/2 of those little pre-sliced boxes...go ahead make life easier on yourself) (75 calories)
1 large handful shitake mushrooms, sliced (15 calories)
1 handful dried porcini mushrooms, crumbled (30 calories)
1 large onion, chopped (50 calories)
a couple cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups (16 fluid oz) chicken broth (20 calories)
1 chicken bullion cube
handful of fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons butter (200 calories)
About 1 cup water, to thin the soup to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a soup pot on medium heat, add chopped onion and garlic. Cook until onions are soft. Reserve a handful of the button mushrooms, and put the rest in the pot, along with the shitake mushrooms and rosemary. Fry for a few minutes. Add the chicken broth. Assuming that you are using canned broth, add the bullion cube. If you happen to have some really great homemade chicken broth, then nix the cube. Add the water...better to add less than more; you can always thin it out later. Bring to a boil and let cook for about 15 minutes (more time won't hurt at all) until the mushrooms are tender. Take your whoozy whoo immersion blender thingy and whizz it all up until smooth (Need I say that you can also put it in your food processor or a blender, if you lack this essential kitchen tool?). Take the reserved mushrooms and chop them quite finely and put in the soup. This gives it a bit of texture. Simmer it for a few more minutes until the newly added mushrooms are tender. Now, taste the whole thing and add some pepper to taste and some salt, if it needs it. If it is too thick, add some more water (or cream, see below).

It tastes pretty good, huh? It will be quite thick and creamy from the pureed mushrooms. The dried porcini, shitake, and rosemary give it a lot of flavor. If you don't have any dried porcini, then you can increase the shitake to button mushroom ratio. Probably you can just do it will the button mushrooms but the flavor will be more bland. The calorie content of the whole pot of soup is about 400 calories. It will feed 4 people as a starter, and 2 hungry dieters...but even if you eat the whole pot yourself, at this calorie level, you can afford it.

If you aren't on a diet and you want the yummiest soup possible, then clearly, you will be wanting to add some cream at the end. Don't add too much though, the soup is already quite rich. At 52 calories per tablespoon for heavy whipping cream, you don't want to go overboard...You can also throw in some croutons, freshly made with butter, and maybe top the whole thing with some chopped chives, for some elegance. You could instead put a dollop of creme fraiche (or sour cream--26 calories per tablespoon--we don't have to be so fancy) as a garnish instead of the cream in the soup. It will look elegant and not add as many calories. You can also vary the herbs, if you prefer. Dill, thyme or tarragon would also taste good. My rosemary bush just happens to be outside my door and I like that combination with the earthy porcini. If I were just doing button mushrooms, then I would probably use dill, which will give a very different flavor but compliment the relatively blandness of the white mushrooms.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pizzaiola--Justifiably Popular

Last night, Peter and I were feeling pretty mellow, so we decided it was the right night to try Pizzaiolo, the popular Italian in the Temescal area of Oakland. The problem with this restaurant is that they don't take reservations, and every time we have passed, normally to go to Dona Tomas, a yummy Mexican, there has been a huge amount of people waiting. Peter and I do not like to wait, which is why we have waited this long to go to Pizzaiolo. When we got to the restaurant, we immediately liked it; it has a warm inviting atmosphere, there was some great jazz music in the background, and the pizzas on most of the tables looked delicious. What we didn't like was finding out that Pizzaiolo has been taking reservations since 3 months back! And we didn't like that it would take an hour for us to get a table....we pouted a bit and the maitre d' took pity on us and said we might be able to get a table outside in the back patio quicker. Meanwhile, we took advantage of the waiting time to get a drink. They have a great list of cocktails. I ordered an Elderflower Martini (gin, elderflower syrup, lime, and bitters) which was divine. I could get very drunk on those. In fact, I could get very drunk on one of those, lightweight that I am.

We managed to squeeze in at the bar, after a not too long wait. I started with Housemade Mortadella with asparagus and gnocco fritto. The Mortadella was tasty, with extra pistachio nuts on the side. The asparagus was served cold with dressing and was very good--although not as delicious as the asparagus I had picked that day in my garden and eaten raw! The gnocco fritto is basically just deep fried pieces of dough. Kind of tasty with the mortadella but a little dissapointing since I had pictured something more gooey and perhaps cheesy. Peter had Salt Cod Mantecato with toast from the wood oven. This is sort of a paste made with salt cod and mashed potato, salty and goopy. We liked it. We had a hard time picking the main course...I always love pasta, and Peter was partial to trying the braised pork. But the pizza beckoned with irristable force. We decided on Manila clams, tomato, and green garlic aioli. I tried to convince Peter we could have the pork also, but he pointed out that I had already eaten half of our boys macaroni and cheese dinner before we left our house, and that we couldn't possible eat two main courses. I hate it when the man is sensible! The pizza was delicious--the crust thin and blistered by the wood burning stove, the clams salty, the tomatoes fresh tasting, and the aioli, a welcome creamy, garlicy accent.

Finally, onto dessert. I selected apple fritters with icecream, and debated ordering the dark chocolate gelato for Peter (i.e two desserts for me since Peter normally doesn't eat dessert) but decided that there should be limits to my greediness. Peter ordered a double espresso but the bartender told him he should just have a single because they were large. When Peter got his slightly large but not as big as a double espresso cup, he scowled and started grumbling. I punched him and told him to stop it. After all, we wanted to come to this restaurant again, and we needed the staff to like us. So he asked me, " I shouldn't stand up and pull out my d***, and tell the waitress to suck this?" I said, well, it would be very funny, but no. I think it is better if you resist. On that note, we polished off our coffee and I licked the last of the icecream off the spoon, and left, promising to return soon.