Braised Cider Short Ribs with Herbed Spaetzle

What is spaetzle? It sounds like some horrific German monstrosity somehow related to spaying Cocker Spaniels, but instead it is a pasta like dumpling hailing from Alsace.

The pancaked like batter of the spaetzle with fresh tarragon and chives

I had never had spaetzle before let alone made it. At first I thought it was going to turn out horribly and I had no hope that it would taste good. I thought people would chew and pretend to like it saying oh well you know I’ll eat anything. This was not the case. It was universally liked; there were no ah’s and ooh’s of amazement, but no one pushed it around their plate pretending to eat it. I would definitely like to try making it again to see if I could do a better job and next time I would leave out of the tarragon because I have learned that I do not like tarragon (the smell reminds of something akin to toothpaste).

The spaetzle was not the main centerpiece of this meal though it was the perfect complement to these braised cider short ribs. I love braised meats. Well, frankly I like braising anything. Slow cooked to tenderness with deep, fully developed flavors and charred bits of yummy things stuck to your teeth, what could be better? Plus braising lends itself well to cheap meats and cooking with alcohol.

The alcohol of choice this time was Old Rosie’s Scrumpy Cider. Scrumpy refers to small batch or home-made ciders as opposed to mass produced ciders. This was a particularly tangy cider that I was unsure about during the cooking process. The broth took on a very sour flavor at one point that I thought was going to turn out fairly rancid tasting, but after messing around a bit with some vegetable stock and brown sugar I came out with a flavorful, intense sauce with only a bit of tang after nearly three hours of cooking.

The first step with any meat braise is to brown your meat. I started with four fairly large short ribs from Whole Foods and browned them in about three tablespoons of olive oil in my cast iron dutch oven.

The browning process takes about twenty minutes and you don’t want to rush it. You want every side of your meat to be evenly browned. This is not a quick cooking process and you will need to take some considerable time and attention out of your day to do it.

Next you want to remove the meat from the pan and then four chopped shallots (or onions if you’re one of those people). Cook until soft (about five to ten minutes) then add the meat back to the pan.

After putting the meat back in, add one cup of cider and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about an hour then add three tablespoons of brown sugar and two cups of vegetable stock and cook for another hour and a half.

Beer Beef and Barley Stew

In October I made a number of meals based on alcohol. I generally don’t drink a lot of alcohol or cook with it usually. Usually when cooking with alcohol it is wine or in desserts. I don’t like to drink wine so why would I cook with it?

This recipe is based on Sam Adams’ Pumpkin Ale, a beer that I would never drink but turned out wonderful as a base for hearty beef and barley stew. The broth of the stew ended up tasting like the gravy in Shepherd’s Pie. It was incredibly flavorful and filling.

I started with pre-cut stew meat from Safeway and chopped it into smaller pieces. I browned this with shallots and carrots in some olive oil. Then I added a bottle of Sam Adams’ Pumpkin Ale and a cup of vegetable stock. I brought this to a boil then added a half cup of pearled barley. I brought it down to a simmer and let it cook for about forty-five minutes or until the barley was completely tender.

Laili Restaurant Review

On Friday night Andrew and I ventured into downtown Santa Cruz to catch a movie at the Riverfront Twin. We were planning on seeing 50/50 since we’re Joseph Gordon Levitt fans and Seth Rogen is generally amusing. We eschewed the typical pizza, taqueria, or falafel choices that we usually make and decided to check out a restaurant that’s been around for about a year: Laili. It is located on Cooper Street where I believe there used to be an apothecary, but I’m not certain. They have indoor and outdoor space; we chose to sit outdoors since the weather was nice and indoors was fairly noisy and dark. The patio area is beautiful: ivy growing everywhere, tea lights, etc. The only way you were reminded that you were next to Pacific Ave were the drummers outside of O’Neil’s which quieted down about fifteen minutes after being seated.

 

Afghan Chai

The waitress got our drinks ordered quickly: Andrew ordered a beer (typical) and I ordered a chai (also typical). Our drinks came quickly and then we ordered our appetizers and entrees. The chai was an Afghan chai, sweeter and not as spicy as Indian chai. It was also pinkish in color. I really enjoyed it and it had these beautiful bubbles on top that I really wanted to photograph.

While we were enjoying our beverages, a waitress came by and tried to give us someone else’s entrees. Then another waitress came by and dropped off an appetizer that we didn’t order, but we couldn’t exactly remember the names of what we ordered so we started eating it anyway. The Pumpkin Boranee is stewed pumpkin, qurut yogurt, mint, and garlic. It was a very pretty dish that sounded good, but the texture of the stewed pumpkin was slimy and stringy.

Pumpkin Boranee

Next came the appetizers that we did order: the Silk Road Plate and the Pumpkin Bolani. The Silk Road Plate was a selection of hummus, tabbouleh, babaghanoush, and cucumber yogurt dip with “naan”. Their idea of naan was not typical of the naan that I’ve had: it was simply a flour tortilla grilled, completely tasteless and not naan. The hummus was good and the pumpkin bolani was absolutely delicious, crispy on the outside and sweet, spicy pumpkin on the inside. Along with our appetizers, we ordered a prawn salad with arugula, fennel, seasonal fruits, and pomegranate vinaigrette. This was a completely overpriced salad with (18 dollars) with about six prawns, the pomegranate vinaigrette that did not taste of pomegranate at all, and maybe about three strawberries.  Total disappointment.

 

For our entrees, I ordered Chicken Kabob and Andrew ordered Anar Chicken. The chicken kabob was moist and tender unlike a lot of chicken kabobs that I’ve had. It was served with saffron rice, steamed vegetables that were overcooked and undercooked (a definite low point in the meal), and several different chutneys that really helped add flavor to the meat which was slightly bland. The Anar Chicken was a half roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce, roasted potatoes, and mixed vegetables. Andrew said it was very good.
 Anar Chicken with Roasted Potatoes

Chicken Kabob with Saffron Rice

The service was definitely off. They tried to serve us food that wasn’t ours, served us food that wasn’t ours which we ate anyway, and there was nearly forty-five minutes between being served our apps and being served our entrees. The staff were friendly when they did stop by, but they were simultaneously overattentive and not attentive enough. Overall, the food was good, the service mediocre, and definitely overpriced for the amount of food and quality of that food.

Breakfast at the Eagle Cafe, Pier 39

Despite a rather close proximity to the city, I hardly ever venture up to San Francisco. This weekend however afforded me with the time, opportunity, and motivation to to go the city. My sister was at a geographer’s conference near the Fishermen’s Wharf and I decided I would go up to have breakfast with her.

We walked around the area, which is the most tourist driven part of the city in a city that is a tourist magnet, trying to find a place that did not look like it belonged in Disneyland. Unfortunately, this was a mission impossible and we ended up at the Eagle Cafe on Pier 39, which is like main street at Disneyland, but instead of the nauseating smells of cotton candy and fried food, it smells of fish guts and horse manure.

The restaurant is on the second floor of one of the first buildings. It claims to be historic. I’m not sure how historic it is, but many of the buildings in San Francisco are. Perhaps some of the seats have great views of the bay, ours did not.

I ordered the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, something I would not normally order, but this was a special event: my sister was “in town” and it was part of my birthday weekend. Denise ordered the Griddled Banana Pancakes topped with pecans and brown sugar.

The crab cakes were piping hot, crunchy on the outside, and smooth on the inside with excellent seasoning and a uniform texture. I hate crab cakes that are dry or have crunchy raw onion bits in them. These were neither of those things. The eggs had the largest yolks I have ever seen and our waitress even asked how hard I wanted them. They were perfectly cooked. I could not have asked for a better poached egg. The consistency of the hollandaise was spot on, not too thin and not too thick. The English muffins were huge, but were the correct size to support the crab cake and poached egg. In addition, there were home fries, which were good, and watermelon with a couple slices of orange. There was some strange fried spaghetti garnish that really had no place on the plate, but otherwise it was a wonderful meal.

Denise enjoyed her pancakes and said that they had a hint of orange that helped cut through the fattiness of the bananas.

In all it was a very good trip to San Francisco. I got to see my sister for the first time in months, the weather was great, and the ride to the city was beautiful and short. I took highway 1 up from Santa Cruz through Half Moon Bay, barely hitting any traffic on the way up. On the way back, I encountered a traffic jam in HMB, doubling the amount of time it took me to get to San Francisco.

Weddings, Gardens, and Aquaman?

I found these on my computer and realized that I had not shared them yet on my blog. They are on Facebook, but not in my blog. They are not things that I have cooked, so that is probably why they have not made it over here, but they are things that I have eaten so they deserve a place here.

One set of pictures is from the Concord Farmer’s Market. Concord is a city near Walnut Creek in the East Bay (east of Oakland, up the 680). My friends Cindy and Eric live in Clayton which is outside of Concord. We were visiting up there and in between painting a garden shed and attending a fantastic wedding reception in Emeryville, we went to the farmer’s market to enjoy tamales, berries, and gelato.

Strawberries and blackberries. I’m lamenting the end of blackberry season.

Chicken tamale with salsa verde and crema.

Pork tamale with salsa verde and crema

I did not get any gelato pictures. It was tasty, especially on an incredibly hot day.

Later we walked around Cindy’s garden and admired the artwork, such as the sculpture that I have dubbed aquaman.

He’s some sort of mermaid fish dude. My friend Eric made him while he was in art school.

The rest of their backyard is made up of trees, a vegetable garden, a green house, and a number of fruit trees. It’s really impressive for a suburban backyard. I miss having my garden. We have yet to start on our new one here in Santa Cruz. It was the one nice thing about our apartment back in Santa Clara.

The rest of the day was spent at a friend’s wedding. I had never met the person whose wedding it was. Isn’t that always awkward? Congratulations on one of the biggest moments in your life, it’s so nice to meet you. So I did what any self-respecting, awkward individual does, I drank a lot of wine and ate chicken heads.

Why yes the bride on top of the cake is about beat the groom. And yes this was a beautiful cake, but unfortunately it did not taste as good as it looked. It was like one of those Safeway bakery cakes if you had left it out on the counter for a couple days and then some sort of cake Bunnicula came by and stole its cakey essence.

That didn’t make any sense. I’ve been up since two in the morning, ever since my neighbor woke me up to chanting to the full moon.

The rest of the meal was fairly traditional Chinese wedding food (I think) with the exception of my favorite dish of the night: the lobster thermidor. For once, I actually enjoyed lobster. Plus, the view from this restaurant (located on the Emeryville wharf) was fantastic.

The view of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline from Hong Kong East Ocean restaurant.

An assortment of bbq meats including char siu pork (one of my favorite things on this planet, especially when put into a steamed bun).

Some sort of seafood salad in a crispy noodle bowl.

Some sort of crab croquette claw thing. It’s like a tribble ate a crab and then was deep fried. The batter around the outside (tribble flesh) was disgusting, but crab claw was alright.

The “not” shark fin soup. Fake shark fin soup. I took about one bite of it and couldn’t eat the rest.

Abalone and mushrooms. I’m skeptical that this was real abalone, but whatever it was it was one of the better dishes of the night.

I believe this was lobster thermidor. Whatever it was it was absolutely incredible, especially after three or four glasses of wine. Best dish of the night and the only time I have ever enjoyed lobster. Of course it would be a French dish at a Chinese restaurant.

The chicken head that I hate. Not bad.

 

 

Carrot-Ginger Cake with Orange Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

This weekend was my friend Peter’s birthday and I promised him a carrot cake (his particular favorite). I made a magical carrot cake transporter. Carrot cake is one of my favorite cakes to make and I prefer cream cheese frosting over buttercream or whipped frosting. This particular recipe is courtesy Martha Stewart.

I started this recipe on Friday night after a particularly long, hard week at work and school. The new job is exciting and draining, not leaving much time for cooking or even eating. I’ve lost about four pounds since starting this job, which I am happy about, but I wish I did have more time in my day to fuel my body. I’ve broken down a couple times because my blood sugar has been so low.

I was excited to bake this cake. I’ve been looking forward to baking something for a while now. This recipe caught my eye because it takes you beyond the typical carrot cake with walnuts and raisins. It contains ginger and toasted pecans instead of raisins and walnuts. I love ginger and prefer pecans over walnuts. The orange-ginger cream cheese frosting was just perfect, particularly since this cake is not the typical moist carrot cake.

 

This was four layers of deliciousness. I was happy the cake wasn’t overly sweet because this frosting is quite sweet.

I thought the cake turned out hideous, but everyone else seemed to think it was beautiful.

 

French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

Amy and I had our second round with French macarons last week before my mountain climbing trip (more on that later). These turned out even better than the first batch. We used the same Martha Stewart recipe as last time. This recipe has worked well for us so far and I highly recommend it.

This time around we decided to use chocolate ganache as the filling instead of jam. Neither of us liked the flavor of the game with the macarons. Also, we used red food coloring to make bright reddish-pink macarons as opposed to the yellow ones we made before. The deep pink color was nicely set off by the dark chocolate ganache. For the chocolate ganache we used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything. This is one of the most successful recipes I’ve had from one of his cookbooks, especially in the dessert section.

Recipe from Martha Stewart’s website:

Ingredients

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Directions:
1. Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times. Note: We did not use a food processor for this. We simply mixed the two together with a rubber spatula in a bowl and then sifted. I prefer to dirty as few dishes/utensils as possible when tackling a large project late at night.

2.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.

3. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees. Note: We did not use a pastry bag. Amy forgot it at her house and we didn’t want to waste time going over to her house to get it. Instead we used a Ziploc bag with the a corner cut. This actually worked much better than the pastry bag that we had purchased at Beverly’s Fabrics and Crafts.

4.Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)

5.Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months

Chocolate Ganache Recipe
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients
1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, roughly chopped

Directions:
1. Put the cream in a pot and heat it until it’s steaming. Put the chocolate in a bowl, pour on the hot cream, and stir until the chocolate is melted and fully incorporated.
2. Refrigerate for about twenty minutes until thickened. This will make it easier to spread on the macarons.