Sunday, July 31, 2011

Peach Cake BAKE-OFF!

I just L-O-V-E summertime dinner parties.  We're headed over to a friend's house tonight for dinner.  My girlfriend asked if I wouldn't mind bringing dessert.  As anyone who knows me, I'm always up for doing that!  I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to bring with me until my weekly shopping trip to Trader Joe's yesterday.  Much to my pleasure and joy, stacked almost to the ceiling were gorgeous peaches.  They looked delicious.

This got me thinking.  What about taking the scrumptious  Rustic Peach Cake I tried last weekend, a recipe I had gotten from a new favorite blogger Tracey's Culinary Adventures?  Or should I try Barefoot Contessa's "Fresh Peach Cake"?  Her recipes are always crowd-pleasers, don't get me started on her crazy Ultimate Brownies!

 OR, should I host my very own bake-off and have my girlfriend's dinner guests weigh in and help me pick which recipe is best?  Yeah, I thought so too...Bake-off it is!!  Ladies, warm up your ovens!

Luckily, both recipes have similar ingredients lists, which made things very easy.  The part that got challenging was managing to remember which bowls of measured ingredients were for which cake?!  If you try this at home, be careful not to mix things up!

In terms of which recipe was easier to get into the oven, I would have to say Barefoot Contessa's (BC). In my opinion, the recipe steps flowed better.  Preparation was key to having the Rustic Peach Cake happen easily.  This meant having to plan a little extra prep time (peach prep, cutting apricots etc).  If you're in a "hurry" (quotes because I dare you to find a good cake recipe, from scratch, that's quick - they all still bake for at least 30 minutes!), go with BC's recipe.  The prep for BC's peaches was just peel, pit, slice and go.  Whereas the Rustic Peach cake requires, blanching, mixing peaches in cinnamon and sugar, setting aside and working on another part of the recipe.  Overall, the difference is minimal but BC's just felt easier.

The smell while both of these cakes were baking was heavenly.  My kids and husband were going nuts. They couldn't wait for dinnertime.  Oh and speaking of nuts, BC's recipe called for pecans.  I decided to skip them because I couldn't remember if anyone going tonight had allergies.  If I had, I would've probably roasted them a little.  I'm sure they make a wonderful addition.

I should also mention that I made one little adjustment to both recipes.  I chose to use Penzey's Baking Spice, as opposed to cinnamon.  I find that any recipe calling for cinnamon can only benefit from having this mix of spices in it.  Baking Spice has Ceylon Cinnamon, China Cassia, ground Spanish Anise Seed, Mace and Cardamom.  I made this same substitution last week and everyone raved over the cake.  I think it's the surprise hint of Cardamom that does it every time.  We'll see what the group has to say tonight.

A baking note:  My 350 degree ovens required the full 55 minutes of baking time for BC's recipe.  The Rustic Peach cake only took 35 minutes to have golden brown edges and a springy middle.  Lastly, I must admit, I may have overbeaten the butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla for the Rustic Cake, making it a little less fluffy this week's version.  We're planning to serve it with some more of my neighbor's homemade mango gelato.  Can't wait to share everyone's comments!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Eating out in SF

Today I was asked by my good friend and neighbor for restaurant recommendations in San Francisco.  I had to share our exchange.  San Francisco is one of my top 3 cities.  I lived there for almost 11 years and they were the best!  If you're looking for some fun places to eat, here is what I'd suggest (mind you, things change quickly in the restaurant world in SF.  I recommend using the SF Chronicle top 100 as a great resource to check before you go.)  I would also recommend this excellent Twitter feed @bayareabites.  It's kept a foodie like me interested and excited about the constantly changing food scene in the Bay Area.  Here's the email exchange I had with my friend (she's an excellent food blogger called "LivLifeToo" - definitely check out her blog! Yummy stuff!)  Please feel free to share your recommendations with me.  I'm always looking for new places to try out while in one of the greatest cities on Earth!

LivLifeToo asks, "Just wondering if you have any recommendations for SF restaurants??  I'm at a loss.... we are staying in union square...."

Here's my response:
Here is the resource I use before we go to get an idea of what's hot and new (this list is compiled by some very astute restaurant critics):
I also follow @bayareabites on Twitter b/c they have their finger on the pulse of hot chefs who pop up as well as your food truck variety meals.
Here is the list of places we've been to recently and loved:
Absinthe - Hayes Valley $$$1/2.  Great french fusion food and OUTSTANDING cocktails to choose from.  We had about 6 different ones and all were amazing.  My halibut was to die for.
Slanted Door in the Ferry Bldg $$ - slow food vietnamese and OUTSTANDING cocktails & wine list. The chef is committed to local and delicious.  If you're short on time they also have a take out restaurant in the hip & cool food court in the bottom of the SF Shopping Center on Market and Powell.  It's called "Out the Door".  The food in that court is not your garden variety.  Check it out on here: 
Bix - Financial district $$$$.  Usually live jazz to go with your meal.  The food and drinks are amazing.  I know that sounds cliche but the atmosphere of that place feels like you've stepped back in time and are hanging out in an old jazz supper club.  The bartenders are long-time employees and know their stuff.
Betelnut - Fillmore/Marina neighborhood $$$ - incredible asian, tough table (and parking) to get but totally worth the challenge/effort. 
Zuni Cafe Upper Market $$$ - the chef we had (they change so who knows if you'll have the same one?) was very creative and I love the atmosphere and shape of the place.  It's tricky parking too.  Great service, delicious soups & salads, and sometimes there's music.  If I remember right?
Tartine - Mission $$ - if you are a true bread and dessert lover but also want a delicious breakfast, this is the place for you.  Not in a great area and the line can be long but I covet their baked goods.  The bread is legendary.  I wish my bread pudding turned out half as good.
And my last recommendation, based on a review I read (I'll retweet the article so you can also learn about possible farm tours, farmers markets that are cheaper than the Ferry Bldg (they see you coming), etc.)
Plow - Potrero Hill $$ - and here is the yelp listing:  (this place could be your kitchen!!)
Hope that helps get you started,

Saturday, July 2, 2011

yes, we're still in Europe...

Evan’s Entry #1

With apologies for the delayed entry… the Internet in Banyuls is thankfully the lowest priority… typed this on Saturday (Jun-25) & posting on Saturday (Jul-2)

Travel from home was gratefully uneventful – a mere 20 hours door-to-door from Carlsbad to our ‘cozy’ apartment in Paris Centre (best line from Jack: “Daddy, I’ve never had dinner on a plane before!”).  The only hitch was my intrepid idea to save money & time by taking a convenient train from the Paris airport.  A flawless plan until the brusque announcement at Gare du Nord that all passengers are to depart the train (still several stops from our desired station).  Must have been some construction or, more likely, chronic labor unrest – but regardless, we then upped the adventure by finding the Metro line & hauling our bags & kids (aka luggage with legs) down the Metro stairs & onto the crowded train to get to our stop.  So we still ended up saving money & time, and got some bonus cardio/strength training.  Anyway, now our kids are fully baptized city travelers!

The best part of Europe, apologies to the MSU Humanities dept., is the food… to wit my repast thus far:
-          Fagasse – a kind of French calzone stuffed with Gruyere & bacon
-          Onion Soup – no “French” prefix here; kids agape when their giant cheesy-hot-dogs arrive
-          Fondue – Beer & Emmenthal cheese
-          Comte & Dry Salami on baguette

-          Montmarte Les Progres (our new favorite) – Claudine’s Fish & Evan’s Chicken

-          Ham & Cheese Crepe (at 1 am!)
-          Cote de Provence Rose, Sancerre Blanc, St. Estephe Bordeaux

-          Éclair, Glacier Pistache, …
… and miraculously, the natives somehow fit into those little Smart-Cars

We’ve enjoyed a handful of family events during our four Paris days::
-          Notre Dame stroll during mass – our non-food senses excited by pipe organ, incense, & stained-glass… a candle placed in prayer for our friend Jan’s recovery
-          Luxembourg Garden playground – Jack staring at cute little girl speaking French to him…
-          Metro to Sacre Couer – one of many panoramas
-          hike up the Arc de Triomphe – Maggie counting out all 280 steps
-          River Seine boat trip – 10pm sunset; kids running around with friends Kaveh & Ayda; cramming through raucous La Fête de la Musique crowds in Latin Quarter on the way home
top of the Eiffel – best line from Maggie at the telescope “Daddy, I can’t see the Eiffel 
           Tower!” (her father’s silly humor)
-          languid Champs du Mars picnic (courtesy Rue Cler markets) & nap
-          60 min. in the Musee d’Orsay – Jack oddly transfixed by depiction of Dante’s Inferno

Typing this on the morning train to Perpignan in SW-France – the expansive wheat fields & white cattle rolling by evokes more baguettes & Gruyere awaiting.