Runner Beans

July 26, 2011

Estate Sale Find #1: Vintage Cuisinart Food Processor

Cuisinart 1

Vintage. Thrifted. These are buzzwords on fashion and design blogs, and until recently, I wasn’t really feeling it. Vintage dresses, jewelry or furniture—they just didn’t feel like me. Two Saturdays ago, though, Sam and I found ourselves in a neighborhood estate sale, and that’s where I discovered a niche in the vintage scene I connect with: kitchen equipment.

Cuisinart 4

Cuisinart 5

One of the treasures we snatched up was an early model Cuisinart Food Processor.The first thing that grabbed our attention about the Cuisinart was the seven blades that came with it. (Did you catch that? Seven blades!) Nowadays the standard Cuisinart comes with three blades, though you can purchase additional blades for $40 apiece. With blades this costly, you might be wondering how much we paid. A mere $20.

I know what you’re thinking—did it work? Yep, it sure did. Figuring out how to turn the food processor on, though, proved a challenge: there was no on-off button. A quick Google search revealed that the earliest Cuisinarts are turned on by locking the lid into place. I plugged in the Cuisinart and slowly clicked the lid into place, all the while suppressing images of Cuisinart accidents due to user error.  Whirr! The food processor worked. And there had been no accident. Clicking the lid into place might not be the safest on-off method, but the makers would address this in later models.

Cuisinart 3

The Google search also shed some light on this particular model: it is definitely one of the earliest models (if not the first model) and was made in France by Robot-Coupe, a renowned kitchen appliance maker. Cuisinart eventually broke ties with Robot-Coupe and moved production to Asia. The quality of the French-made product is evident: after 30 years of use, it can still whip up a mean batch of roasted tomato salsa.

Cuisinart 6

As the gentleman holding the sale handed us his Cuisinart, he paused and said, “Now, I want to tell you a story about this Cuisinart.” Here’s how it goes: he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and his mother used to watch this cooking show on Public Television with this chef named Julia Child. Toward the end of the show, Julia Child started using this new machine called a food processor. They didn’t carry food processors in Cleveland yet (and there was no Amazon.com back then), so the gentleman’s mother special-ordered two—one for herself and one for her son. And this is the Cuisinart that found itself into our hands, a tool well-loved and its purchase inspired by Julia Child. As the gentleman gave us his heirloom, I felt like we were on Antique Roadshow and had just been told our treasure was worth $1 million.  But this wasn’t something we’d be selling; it was something we’d use in our kitchen, remembering its history. Not bad for a first vintage purchase.

Cuisinart 2

June 21, 2011

A Taste of Costa Rica

Filed under: Informational, Personal Essays — Andrea @ 5:55 pm

Hola, Friends! We arrived safely home on Sunday from our trip  to Costa Rica. During our 10-day stay, we devoured fresh tropical fruits, meals centered around rice and beans and other local fare. These photos will give you a glimpse of a few meals we enjoyed on our trip.

pollo casado

A Casado is typical Costa Rican lunch, consisting of rice, beans, chicken (or beef or fish) and salad. As you can imagine, a casado is very tasty and filling!

pineapple curry

A pineapple curry.

mango smoothie

A mango smoothie was just the thing to cool us down in the heat and humidity.

mango filled crepes

Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio is famous for its breakfasts and house blend of coffee. Pictured here are mango-filled crepes.

banana macadamia nut pancakes

Banana Macadamia Nut pancakes from Cafe Milagro. A satisfying breakfast after trekking through Manuel Antonio National Park.

pollo plate

On our drive from the beach to the mountains, we stopped for lunch in a farming community known for corn. This plate with chicken, corn on the cob, green bananas, cabbage and rice is a variation on the typical casado.

tamale

A pork tamale wrapped in banana leaf. Good, but not the best tamale I've ever had.

corn pancake

A corn pancake served with a crema of sorts. Moist, tender and jam-packed with the flavor of fresh corn.

May 12, 2011

Upstairs Downstairs

Filed under: Informational, Personal Essays — Andrea @ 4:59 pm

flowers and glasses

I am a sucker for Masterpiece Theater. I don’t consider myself an Anglophile, but when it comes to watching period pieces, pretty much anything from the other side of the pond commands my attention: Emma, North and South, Wives and Daughters. The two mini-series that I watched most recently—Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs—were unique in that they both portrayed the daily lives of households consisting of the elite (“Upstairs”) and their servants (“Downstairs”). Unlike many dramas where only the lives of the aristocrats are explored, these two series dig into servants’ day-to-day dealings with each other and with their superiors. Though the social chasm between the aristocrats and servants appears unbridgeable, we learn that ultimately people are people, and no matter what social strata one comes from, we experience life alike: happiness, pride, melancholy, loss and everything in between.

bruschetta

Bruschetta: grilled bread rubbed with raw garlic, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs.

What does my little advertisement for Masterpiece Theater have to do with cooking and food? A few weeks ago my mom, sister Laurel and I stepped into a role that reminded us of the servants in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey. My mom volunteered to host a dinner for my cousin and his wife’s church group who were in town for a retreat. Instead of going to a restaurant, they’d pay us and we would cook for them.

Thus commenced a flurry of emails regarding planning a meal for 12 people. We three would help each other cook, but ultimately Laurel was responsible for appetizers, my mom for the entrée and I for dessert. When the big day arrived, my sister and I headed over to my parents’ house to begin cooking (she lives 2 hours away, I live 45 min away). Between skewering chicken pieces, whipping egg whites and choosing the perfect serving pieces, we three were blessed with quality time together while accomplishing a mission. And in our effort to make everything “just so,” we recalled the kitchen staff of Upstairs Downstairs who perfected dishes and table settings for the families that employed them. It was a fun day: we worked hard, laughed hard, ate good food and imagined that for one afternoon we were living in Upstairs Downstairs. All I can hope is that our guests felt like they were at home.

This is the menu we served:

Appetizers
Crudite
Muhammara
Olives
Bruschetta with Fresh Herbs

Entrée
Moroccan Spiced Yogurt Chicken Kebabs
Grilled Bell Pepper and Vidalia Onions
Brown Rice
Spinach Salad with Walnuts, Blue Cheese and Golden Raisins

Dessert
Homemade Chocolate Souffles

Here are a few photos from our afternoon of working together:

plate

The table setting.

laurel

Laurel was the grill master for the day.

tulips

Tulips make a lovely centerpiece.

grilled veggies

Grilled bell peppers.

muhammara

Muhammara, a popular hummus-like dip made of red bell peppers.

deck

My parents' lovely deck.

April 17, 2011

Birthday Recap: Let Me Eat Cake

Birthday Recap: Let Me Eat Cake

pancake cake

Pancake Cake: layers of crepes, fruit and whipped cream.

When Sam asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday last Friday, I told him what I wanted to eat beginning with breakfast and moving throughout the day. When I was little, birthdays were the days we kids got to determine the menus. My parents let us pick out any type of cereal we wanted for our birthday breakfast—even sugar cereals. My fascination with Sugar Smacks and Honeycomb cereal has since diminished, but the idea that birthday breakfasts should be special remains with me.

It was about a year ago that I first saw a photo of a birthday pancake cake and knew that I wanted it for my next birthday breakfast. The pancake cake was made popular by a Swedish children’s book and, I believe, is popular in Europe. The pancake cake is made of crepes layered with fruit and yogurt or whipped cream. We made whole wheat & oat flour crepes and layered them with mashed banana, blueberries, raspberries, kiwi and shredded coconut. Meyer lemon whipped cream added the perfect amount of creaminess, so much so that we decided to skip the yogurt (if you wait for the crepes to cool, it won’t melt the yogurt or whipped cream like it did on our cake!). The amazing thing about this pancake cake is that we made it with no added sugar (none in the crepes, fruit or whipped cream), so that meant we could have cake again in the evening!

coconut cake 2

A beautiful Coconut Passionfruit Cake from Tartine Bakery.

After a fabulous dinner at Foreign Cinema with my parents and Sam’s parents, we came back to our place and enjoyed a Coconut Passionfruit Cake from Tartine Bakery. Sam completely surprised me with this cake; I had no idea he was planning to bring home a cake, let alone trek all the way to the Mission to get it. Now this wasn’t just any cake: every time we go to Tartine I marvel at the beautiful coconut cake they always have in the bakery case. It tasted every bit as good as it looks: the passionfruit filling was flavorful and complemented the coconut well, and the layers of white cake were delicate and moist. I’m usually a chocolate cake kind of girl, but this cake was perfect. So this year my birthday was bookend-ed with cake, and really, what better day is there to eat cake in the morning and evening than your birthday? Next year, when Sam asks me what I want to do for my birthday, I already know my answer: Let me eat cake.

coconut cake

August 10, 2010

Adventures in Cheese Making: Monterey Jack

Filed under: dairy, Informational, Personal Essays, Recipes — Tags: , — Andrea @ 5:40 pm

Adventures in Cheese Making: Monterey Jack

Jack cheese

Yesterday my mom and I embarked on an adventure in cheese making. With the Hard Cheese Kit from Ricki Carroll of the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, we set out to make our own Monterey Jack cheese.

The hard cheese making kit costs about $30 and includes the cultures to make Gouda, Parmesan, Feta, Colby, Monterey Jack, Farmhouse Cheddar, Cottage Cheese and Ricotta. The kit also includes a thermometer, cheese mold, cheesecloth and chemicals and cultures necessary for cheese making (rennet, calcium chloride, thermophilic and mesophilic cultures). The cheese kit does not contain cheese wax, which is necessary if you want to age your cheese—and since most hard cheese get better as they age, chance are you’ll want to wax your cheese. If you order the hard cheese kit online, order the wax at the same time because shipping costs are pretty hefty for ordering only the cheese wax.

In its simplest form, cheese is made by heating milk to specific temperatures, adding a culture and rennet, sustaining specific temperatures, draining and pressing.  Depending on which cheese you make, it can take anywhere from 1-6 hours. Cheese making requires frequent monitoring, so it is good to have a large chunk of time available.

My mom and I ran across many challenges in making our Monterey Jack cheese, and it took all the optimism we could muster to see it to the end. Setting aside our ideals of perfection and putting on light-hearted attitudes, we made a cheese that wasn’t quite perfect but tasted like authentic Jack cheese. Most of all, though, my mom and I got to do what we love best: try something new together and have fun in the process.

Cheese Making Kit

June 16, 2010

Roasted Flour Tartelettes with Plum Compote and Greek Yogurt

Filed under: dessert, Personal Essays, Recipes — Tags: , — Andrea @ 11:28 pm

Roasted Flour Tartelettes with Plum Compote and Greek Yogurt

plum tartelette

When I woke up this morning, I only knew one thing about today’s blog post: the sweet little tartelette pans given to me by my aunt were going to be involved in whatever I was making. A basket of plums on the counter provided further inspiration, while the Greek yogurt in the fridge sealed the deal: I would make Plum Tartelettes with Greek Yogurt.

My least favorite thing about pies and tarts is the crust. Since the crust would be a pivotal part of my dear tartelettes, I needed to find an exceptional crust recipe. During my morning blog reading, I stumbled across a sablés recipe on the blog Chocolate and Zucchini that uses roasted flour. Sablés are sandy, crumbly cookies similar to shortbread, and in this recipe, roasting the flour before making the shortbread transforms the otherwise bland flour into something nutty and toasty—a perfect base for my plum tartelettes. I also decided to use half all-purpose flour and half white whole wheat flour since I knew the texture of the tartelette crust would be sandy and not need the rising power that results from using all all-purpose flour.

Toasting the flour for the shortbread crust is indeed an extra step, but it can be done in advance and really only takes 20 minutes. The shortbread dough—toasted flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg yolk and milk—comes together quickly in the food processor (you could also use a fork or your fingers to mix the dough). After making the dough, I pressed it into the tartelette molds and scored it with a fork to prevent air bubbles from forming while the tarts were cooking. I chilled the tartelettes for an hour, cooked them for 20 minutes and then cooled them.

For the compote, I sliced 4 plums, put them in a heavy saucepan and sprinkled them with sugar and ground cardamom. Turning the pan onto its lowest heat, I let the heat soften the plums and draw out their juices to create a tart syrup (no pun intended). The idea is to keep the plum pieces whole but soft and juicy, so try not to stir too much or leave it on the burner more than is necessary.

Tangy Greek yogurt is a lovely accompaniment for tart plums, but since we also had some mascarpone in the fridge that needed to be used up, I mixed a little mascarpone in with the Greek yogurt to create a rich, tangy, creamy topping.

I recommend assembling your tartelettes right before serving; otherwise the juices from the plums will make the crust soggy. Also, there’s no reason why not having tartelette pans has to stop you from making these delightful tartelettes: you could experiment with baking smaller tart crusts in cupcake tins or a larger crust in a round metal cake pan. You could also make the cookies as described in the Chocolate and Zucchini blog post and serve them alongside plum compote. Oh! The possibilities!

Click here for the shortbread recipe.

Click here for detailed instructions on making a plum compote.

P.S. We just ate these plum tartelettes and they turned out just as I had hoped! The crust was nutty and soaked up the juice from the plums, and the tartness of the plums had mellowed slightly with the cooking (I decided this was my favorite way to eat plums). I made sure each forkful I ate held crisp crust, tart, juicy plums and creamy yogurt. Definitely making these again!

June 11, 2010

Farm Tour: Marin Sun Farms (Part II)

Filed under: Informational, Personal Essays — Tags: — Andrea @ 6:14 pm

Farm Tour: Marin Sun Farms (Part II)

roosterWhen Sam, his cousin and I toured Marin Sun Farms on Wednesday, the first animals we visited were the week-old baby chicks. The chicks were housed in a temperature- and humidity-controlled shed because the chicks need to grow bigger before they can become acclimated to the chilly temperature outside. Because hatching chicks is a complex enterprise in itself and it’s difficult to be a specialist in every aspect of farming, Marin Sun Farms buys their baby chicks from another farmer who ships them to Marin Sun Farms once a week. Baby chicks are excellent and resilient travelers: they can live for 3 or 4 days without food because they are still being nourished by the abundant nutrients that were available to them in the egg shell. Marin Sun Farms then raises these chicks as broilers, which means they are raised to be eaten instead of to lay eggs.

Near the chicken coops was a giant compost pile. Waste from the farm animals is mixed with sawdust and other compostable materials, which decompose to create a rich fertilizer that can be used on the farm. Here in San Francisco we are required to separate our compost, recycling and landfill waste, but we never see where it ends up after we throw it in the color-coded bins in the alley. Thus, I thought it was rather interesting to see a fully-functional compost pile.

After admiring the chicks, broiler birds and cattle, we embarked on a 15-minute walk to see the roosters and egg-laying hens. These chickens, like the cattle, are raised on the pasture. In the evenings they sleep in an eggmobile, which is transported throughout the pastures daily to give the chickens new grass to eat and new soil to fertilize with their droppings. Amazingly, the hens and roosters do not stray far from the eggmobile. I loved looking at the hens and roosters because their different colorings and patterns were beautiful.

The chickens pecking through the pasture and cattle foraging for their favorite grass may not seem like unusual behavior for farm animals, but the majority of farm animals in the U.S. are not raised in such natural conditions. Most chickens don’t even see the light of day their entire lives. If you’re curious about how chicken and cattle are typically raised in the U.S., I highly recommend watching Food, Inc. (it’s available on the Netflix instant queue). The movie also showcases examples of good farming practices in the U.S. and the Eggmobile in action. On a more local to the Bay Area note, check out this video to see the hard work and rich rewards of Marin family farms such as Marin Sun Farms, Straus Family Creamery and Dairy, Cowgirl Creamery and Hog Island Oyster Co.

eggmobile and roosters

June 10, 2010

Farm Visit: Marin Sun Farms (Part I)

Filed under: Informational, Personal Essays — Tags: — Andrea @ 10:44 pm

Farm Visit: Marin Sun Farms (Part I)

cows in a line

Talk of visiting a farm may conjure up images of 3rd grade field trips, but getting excited about seeing baby chicks or cows “in real life” isn’t just for kids. Yesterday Sam, his cousin and I visited Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes, and the three of us agreed: whether you’re a child or an adult, there’s something magical about experiencing animals and nature firsthand.

If you visit the Marin Sun Farms website, you’ll see straightaway that one of their specialties is all-natural grass-fed beef. I’ve read and heard quite a bit about grass-fed beef, but actually seeing the cattle grazing in the pasture—not to mention carefully stepping between fresh cow pies—helped me better understand where my food come from.

After trekking up a dirt road and through a pasture damp with mist from the sea, we interrupted a herd of 57 cattle munching their midmorning snack of grass. Aside from being cattle’s favorite food, it turns out grass is incredibly complex: there are annual grasses and perennial grasses, indigenous grasses and non-native grasses and—here’s the crux of the matter—the types of grasses cattle eat greatly affects the taste of their meat. Thus, the farmers try to promote the growth of specific grasses they know produce good tasting meat, such as clover and rye grasses. This is also true for dairy cows: the grasses they eat affect the taste of their milk. Before the industrialization of food production, beef and milk would taste different depending on where the animals were raised and what type of food they ate. As food production companies grew to be national enterprises, they wanted their brand of beef or milk to taste the same in California and Connecticut, the same in April as in October. In nature, however, food does not taste the same from region to region or from month to month because of climate and seasonality of feed. To counteract this flux in taste and make their brand of food taste the same everywhere, any time of the year, food producers relied on feeding their animals diets designed to make them taste the same. Goodbye diverse grasses, hello single-variety corn and soy. Sadly, the nuances of flavor that tie a food to a place are being lost and everything tastes, well, the same.

There are farms like Marin Sun Farms, however, which are raising their cattle the old-fashioned way: grazing in a pasture. At Marin Sun Farms the cattle are regularly moved from one pasture to another so they can have access to fresh grass and new nutrients. This also helps the grasses in the pasture regrow and prevents overgrazing. It’s amazing how much thought is put into feeding and moving the cattle and forming a system that works well the cattle, the grass and other animals.

I could keep writing, but I think I’ll save the rest for Part II. Stay tuned for the next installment tomorrow: the Marin Sun Farms chickens.

June 8, 2010

Russian River Valley Wine Tasting

Filed under: Informational, Personal Essays, Uncategorized — Tags: — Andrea @ 11:46 pm

Russian River Valley Wine Tasting

Last weekend my parents, aunt and uncle, and  Sam and I visited the Russian River Valley just north of San Francisco in Sonoma County for a day of wine tasting. We are incredibly spoiled to live just an hour away from the world-renowned wine producing regions of Napa and Sonoma. Though I’m no veteran wine aficionado, I have learned that a visit to Napa and Sonoma is not simply about the wine—-it is about the rolling hillsides, the knotted oaks, the great spreads of green grass, and the bright wildflowers. This is the terroir or the land, and in winemaking, the land plays an immensely important role in producing distinctive wines because it imparts subtle characteristics to the wine. To put it plainly: you can take the wine away from the land, but you can’t take the land out of the wine. Thus, in this post, I offer you not critiques of this or that wine or winery, but photos of the land from which these wines were wrought.

We visited four wineries:

  • Merry Edwards Winery (Owner/Founder Merry Edwards is one of the first female award-winning winemakers in the region; free tastings)
  • Iron Horse Vineyards (Specialize in sparkling wines; they have two tasting flights of 5 different sparkling wines)
  • Dutton Estate (This was the least interesting of the four, though their Pinot was well-liked)
  • Lynmar Estate (Lovely gardens, beautiful facility, pizza oven; make a mean Chardonnay and Pinot Noir)

    Iron Horse View

    View from the Iron Horse Winery.

berries

These blackberries were growing outside a berry stand near the Iron Horse Winery. Makes me want to pick a handful and eat them with a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

artichoke

Recognize this garden beauty? Yep, it's an artichoke. Seeing an artichoke begin to bloom was a special treat because usually I just see them on my dinner plate with their spikey, triangular arms tucked close to their body.

flowers 1

Check out these flowers! I love the green and purple colors on them and the interesting shape. Anybody know their name?

foxglove

And here is the graceful Foxglove. When I was growing up in Washington, we treasured the few Foxgloves that would spring up on our property amidst the Fireweed. Fireweed were a nuisance and needed to be eradicated, but Foxgloves were like jewels.

mache

The garden at Lynmar Estate was home to many varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs, such as these Mache salad greens. I've been reading so much about gardens lately, so it was fun to walk through an abundant garden.

pizza oven

Lynmar Estate also had their own outdoor pizza oven where they have pizza parties once a month. I told Sam I wanted an outdoor pizza oven for my 4oth birthday. Good thing he's still got many years to plan that one!

May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Picnic

Filed under: Personal Essays, Uncategorized — Andrea @ 6:38 pm

picnic basketToday, despite the encroaching fog, Sam and I took advantage of the leisurely day and had our first picnic of the year. We walked to Fort Mason and enjoyed a lovely spread: Black Quinoa and Kale Salad (one my favorite salads!), little fingerling potatoes dipped in Brittany Gray Sea Salt and sourdough bread with fig jam. Can’t wait for sunny days ahead to have another picnic!

Black Quinoa and Kale Saladlittle potatoes

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