Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

Lemon-Chocolate Madeleine Cookies

It might surprise you to learn that until this past holiday season, I did not own the proper equipment to bake my own namesake cookie.  Thanks to the love of my life, that tragic situation has now been remedied.

I baked my first batch of Madeleines about a week ago, sticking pretty faithfully (for me, at least) to the Joy of Baking‘s recipe, and tried them out on my godmother Barbara, one of the founders of the now-ubiquitous Just Desserts.  (No, she’s no longer an owner, so no, I can’t get you free goodies.)  After receiving her thumbs-up and agreement that, as I suspected, I’d baked them about 30 seconds too long, I decided I was ready to… you guessed it… improvise.

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Cheese of the Week: Red Hawk

I think it was living in England that converted me to stinky cheese.  It’s not like I grew up eating plastic, tasteless American cheese; in fact, one of my favorite childhood snacks was toast with gjetost (a caramel-colored Norwegian goat’s milk whey cheese that I probably don’t need to tell you is pretty obscure in the States).  Nevertheless, I think Oxford was a turning point for me.  With cheese shops everywhere, France just across the channel, and the historic covered market (complete with its own special stink), it was impossible to resist for long.

Red Hawk cheese, by Cowgirl Creamery

Red Hawk cheese, image courtesy of Cowgirl Creamery

Red Hawk is just about as stinky as they come.  When Gabrielle asked me to cover the Cheese of the Week post for today, I thought of it immediately.  While many potent-smelling cheeses are imported from Europe, Red Hawk is made right here in California from locally-produced organic milk, by none other than — you guessed it! — the gals at Cowgirl Creamery.

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Cheese of the Week: Taleggio

Last night I decided to play around with Mac n Cheese, and went in quest of new cheeses to add to the regular suspects.  Normally I use Gruyere, Gouda, Cheddar, and Parmesan, but was feeling like some variety. I thought of using a brie, which I am sure would have been very nice, but many brie’s do not have enough bite, and I like a cheese sauce with a kick. Whole foods was my cheese counter of choice this week, and when I described what I was looking for, they suggested Taleggio, the ‘Italian brie’, as they put it.

Taleggio is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from the Val Taleggio region in northern Italy, near Lombardy. It’s not as sweet as a brie, but instead has some earthy, meaty flavors and a little bit of a bitter tang. The sweetness of the cream cuts this nicely though, to make a very pleasant combination. The texture is very similar to last week’s cheese, Mt. Tam, and similarly, melts beautifully.

Taleggio cheese

Taleggio cheese (public domain image)

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Lemon Custard Cakes – An Easy & Elegant Dessert

When Brendan and I bought our first house a little over a year ago, there were a few major selling points.  One, if you recall, was a stove with gas burners for fire-roasting peppers.  Another was the big back yard, complete with a fully-mature lemon tree.

Serving lemon custard cakes

Yes, I'm wearing a tiara. It wasn't my idea.

I was already famous (among friends) for my lemon bars, but living with such easy access to fresh lemons, I’ve had a chance to experiment with other delectable citrus desserts.  One of my very favorites has to be these individually-sized lemon custard cakes.  They’re super simple to make, but come off as incredibly impressive due to their delicate texture — top half smooth and custardy, bottom half almost soufflé-like in consistency.  I first served them on New Year’s Eve 2010 (the first we spent in this house) to none other than Gabrielle and Shay, in an epic celebration that lasted until almost 5 am.  And yes, I’ve had them since.  And yes, they’re every bit as good without a stomach full of Champagne.

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Low-Fat Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe

Having just made both apple and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, I decided to avoid pie altogether when Christmas rolled around.  I settled on the idea of making a pumpkin cheesecake, so that my sister (an avid pumpkin pie lover) would not feel deprived, but I wouldn’t need to be bored in my baking either.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake (with candied orange garnish)

I browsed half-a-dozen recipes online and considered the pitfalls of cheesecake making.  The problem with many cheesecakes, in my opinion, is they are too heavy; it feels almost like eating a block of solid cream cheese, in terms of density.  Pumpkin is a wonderful ingredient for lightening up rich recipes, so we’re halfway there already.  But I was disappointed with the relatively small amount of pumpkin called for in many of the recipes, and astounded at the amount of cream cheese others called for.  (Three8-oz packages, Paula Deen?)  So, once again, I found myself improvising.  I know you’re all surprised.

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Cheese of the Week: Mt Tam

Mt Tam Cheese, image courtesy of Cowgirl Creamery

Mt Tam Cheese, image courtesy of Cowgirl Creamery

Two summers ago, Shay and I were invited to a friend’s birthday at Hog Island Oyster Farm in Tamales Bay. For those who have not been there, apart from being an oyster farm, it’s a picnic venue that sells quality cheese, bread, and wine, and of course, oysters to barbeque! I personally am allergic to shellfish, but cheese, wine and a beautiful setting…my kind of scene. It was there that I first tried Mt. Tam, and I was hooked from the first bite.

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il Nocciolo: Cheese of the Week

Believe it or not, this cheese was not discovered at Market Hall, Cow Girl Creamery, or Whole Foods.  Shay and I were exploring Russian Hill in San Francisco, and wandered into (okay let’s be honest, I heard there was a cheese shop and found out the cross-streets) “Cheese Plus.” It was pretty much my heaven: Wine, quality dried pasta, and a very large cheese counter.  I asked for the woman behind the counter to give me a taste of her favorite cheese.  This is my favorite question to ask people because while it’s an impossible one, I get introduced to at least one cheese I have not had before and often find new favorites. She went for this small cheese and told me it was a triple milk?!?!?!?! I had no idea at the time, but it means the cheese has cows, goat, and sheep milk.

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