Archive for the ‘At the Market’ Category


What’s the Big Deal about Pumpkin Pie?

November 20, 2009

photograph by Minh & Wass

When I was growing up my family never had pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. We had a turkey with all the trimmings but dessert varied from year to year – chocolate, apple -whatever my mom was in the mood to make. It wasn’t until I became an adult and went to other people’s houses on Turkey day that I discovered the fixation with pumpkin pie. I asked my parents why we didn’t have the traditional dessert. Her response was ‘Your dad and I don’t really like pumpkin pie so we always made something else.” Maybe genetics is why I am not a big fan either. Don’t get me wrong, I love pumpkin and I make a great pumpkin pie. I can somewhat understand what attracts people but if it is on the buffet table it is one of the few desserts I will pass on. (Thank goodness there is at least one dessert I don’t feel obligated to try.)

The Pilgrims did have pies and pumpkin at their first Thanksgiving but the pumpkin wasn’t in the pie form we know today. They didn’t have many of the ingredients. In Colonial times autumn was pie making season. Pies were made to put away for later in the year. Cold cellars, acting as refrigerators or even freezers, would preserve pies for months. Mincemeat pie was popular because it preserved the meat. Today you don’t see it a lot of mincemeat on holiday menus but back then people were happy to have a way to stock up and not have their meat go to waste.

When Thanksgiving was first celebrated it was the major holiday of the year. Birthdays weren’t recognized and Christmas was for religious people. Religion was a big part of Thanksgiving with some people attending two sermons a day but it was also recognized in New England by Quakers and others who went to Meeting Houses and not churches. It was about giving thanks in general. Thanksgiving originally was not on a set day. A dignitary would select the day, anytime between the middle of October and the end of December. Each colony and then later when there were states, each state would celebrate when they chose to. Thanksgiving became a national holiday when President Lincoln decided it would be on the third Thursday of November.

We should celebrate the pumpkin this time of year as it is in season and grows locally practically everywhere. There are lots of wonderful things to make with pumpkin for dessert- cheesecake, cranberry pumpkin pecan upside down cake, pumpkin steamed pudding, pumpkin ice cream with caramel sauce. You don’t have to stop making pie, let’s just move beyond it and offer something new. Here’s a pumpkin recipe for something different. If you want to make pie, email me and I will send you a really good recipe. Even though it won’t be on my plate this year.

Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Upside Down Cake

You can make this a day in advance. Store at room temperature wrapped in plastic wrap.

Serves 8-10

8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 cups cranberries

4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted

2 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the cake pan. In a medium bowl combine the cranberries and pecans. Place them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping.

Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool the cake for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together. Remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Cool completely before serving. Serve with Chantilly Cream.

Chantilly Cream                 

Makes 2 cups

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.


Still Jamming

October 8, 2009


I have a nice stash of jam in the back closet. I have been adding to it since the spring when I first made Meyer Lemon and Orange Marmalade. Next up was apricot and then strawberry. I thought my making jam days for 2009 were over once the calendar turned to September. But I was wrong. At the farmer’s market in San Francisco this past Saturday (on the 3rd of October!) I found the most beautiful looking and tasting strawberries. Most were small and some were tiny, perfect for jam making. Before I knew it I was asking for a case. So much for the rest of my afternoon.

When making jam it is very very (Yes, I said very twice for emphasis.) important to cook it in small batches. Small batches allow the berries and juice to thicken quicker. The faster they cook the more flavor the jam has. It is tempting to make a big pot so you can get a lot of jars done at once but you will regret it. You lose the freshness of the fruit. This goes for any type of jam you make. Use a heavy bottomed pot at least 10 inches in diameter.

Once I finished making the strawberry jam I had a few empty jars that had not been filled. I hate putting away empty jars for a year so I decided to make some pear-vanilla bean jam with some pears that I also had picked up at the market. Pears can be cooked into jam very quickly as they are full of natural pectin. The pectin helps the fruit thicken. Berries have very little natural pectin.

There are several pear varieties you can use. In California I like French Butter pears and the small Seckel pears.  You can find Bartlett and Comice in grocery stores across the country. Check out your farmer’s market to find local varieties specific to your area. Make sure they are ripe.

I like to give jam as a hostess gift when I am invited to someone’s house for dinner. It is unexpected and gives everyone a break from the usual bottle of wine. I also give it as gifts for Christmas. When it is snowing and cold it is nice to have a reminder of the warmer time of the year.

Here’s my recipe for pear-vanilla bean jam. Pears are plentiful at the market. No sense giving you my strawberry jam recipe as the season is over. I’ll give it to you next spring.


Chunky Pear-Vanilla  Jam

Yield 1 pint jar

You can double this recipe but this is the amount of pears I had at home when I tested it. It is quick and easy. Don’t make more than a double batch. I know it is a small amount but it really is worth it. Don’t reserve this just for toast, it’s great with cheese too.


3 cups apple cider or apple juice (no sugar added)

2 vanilla beans

3 pounds ripe pears, Bartlett or French Butter (about 9)

3/4 cup sugar

Put the apple cider in a large pot or saute pan. With a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Run the knife along the pod, releasing the seeds. Put the vanilla bean and seeds in the pot with the apple cider. Bring to a boil. Boil for 10-15 minutes until the liquid has reduced to 3/4 cup.

While the apple juice is cooking, peel, half and core the pears. Cut the pears into 1/4 inch pieces.

When the apple juice has finished reducing, add the pears and sugar to the pot and cook at a high simmer, stirring frequently, until thick and jam like, about 10 minutes.

Put up in jam jars or just refrigerate until cold and eat right from the fridge.


September in San Francisco

September 3, 2009

If Paris has April, Northern California has September. While summer is waning in most parts of the country and the days are getting shorter, San Francisco has its best days this month. The foggy days of July and August are gone. No more drastic 20 degree drop in temperature as the fog rolls in around 5:00. The temperature is more consistent from day into night. The evenings are clear and soft. No more blustering wind. In the east and mid western parts of the country, mums and pumpkins have appeared. In San Francisco you can finally leave the house for an evening out without a coat.

It’s hard to believe after looking at these gorgeous pictures taken this morning at the Marin County Farmer’s Market (in San Rafael, CA) that we are well into our first week of September. But don’t get fooled by the abundance of produce- in a few short weeks they will be just a memory until next year so make sure you get your fill while they are still around.


Tomatoes are now at their peak. Gone are the days when this kitchen staple was solely basic red. The color palate has extended to yellow, oranges, variegated green and yellow and all shades of red. The color just isn’t for show. Each variety tastes unique. My favorite way to eat them is in a simple brushetta. Toast some levain bread (or a baguette if you prefer), drizzle on some olive oil and lay sliced tomatoes on top. Sprinkle liberally with kosher or sea salt, a little bit more olive oil, and you have a perfect snack or lunch. Another favorite of mine is to coat Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes with olive oil and salt, place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for about 2 hours in a 250 degree oven. The tomatoes shrivel up and their flavor is concentrated. Toss them in pasta with some fresh basil and cooked diced bacon.


Raspberries like September as many varieties get a second harvest. In the recipe below you can serve the raspberries at room temperature or even warm them up briefly in a large pan with a little orange juice and butter.


French Cream with Raspberries

Serves 6

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

2 tablespoons cold water

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 cups sour cream

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 pints raspberries

In a small heatproof bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let stand for 10 minutes to soften.

In a stainless-steel bowl or the top part of a double boiler, whisk together the cream, sugar, and sour cream until well blended. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Stirring occasionally, heat the cream mixture until it is hot. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Whisk the gelatin into the cream mixture. Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Stirring occasionally cool the cream to lukewarm. (This prevents the gelatin from separating once you put it in the ramekins.) Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

Divide the cream mixture evenly among six 5-ounce ramekins. Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours until set.

When ready to serve, dip the base of each ramekin in hot water for several seconds, then run a knife around the inside edge of the ramekin and invert the cream onto a dessert plate. (Or, you may serve the creams in the ramekins.) Serve chilled with the raspberries.

The creams may be made a day in advance and kept refrigerated. 


Summer Pudding

August 13, 2009

summer pudding144


Summer Pudding

I am always flip flopping on what my favorite dessert is but I am certain my favorite summer dessert is summer pudding. It is now on the dessert menus at Farallon and Waterbar. I usually don’t have the same desserts at both restaurants but summer pudding is the exception. The wait staff is always asking me “When are you putting summer pudding on?” I can’t give it to one and not the other.

English in origin, it is basically dense white bread layered with cooked berries. The whole pudding is weighted down overnight to compress the layers. This allows you to unmold and slice it. Jeremiah Tower taught me to make this version at Stars Restaurant over 20 years ago. It was love at first sight and I have been making it ever since. Simple but incredibly delicious. It is so much more than bread and jam.

At the restaurants we use homemade brioche but at home I use white sandwich bread. No specific brand is required but you want bread with texture- not Wonder bread type bread that disappears when liquid comes in contact with it. Baguettes don’t work as they won’t soak up the berry juices.  Challah is a good choice.

I use a combination of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. The English also use red currants. Red currants are a delicious but they are hard to find so I leave them out. Some recipes call for cherries or even gelatin but not mine.

Once you have made it and gotten the general idea you don’t really need a specific recipe. More of one kind of a berry over another is okay. Crushed berries are fine since you are going to cook them anyway. What is important is the soaking and layering of the bread with the berry juices and weighing it down.

All summer pudding needs as a garnish is some softly whipped cream flavored with a bit of sugar and vanilla.

One word of warning- Don’t eat it all for dinner you will want to save some for breakfast.

Summer Pudding

Serves 8

3 pints strawberries (about 6 cups), hulled and quartered

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pinch of kosher salt

2 pints blackberries (about 4 cups)

2 1/2 pints raspberries (about 5 cups)

1 loaf (1 pound) Brioche or thick sliced white bread 


Spray an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray. Line the sprayed pan with plastic wrap, making sure to press it into the corners and allowing a 1 1/2-inch overhang on all sides.

In a heavy, nonreactive saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries begin to give up some of their juice, about 10 minutes. Add the blackberries and raspberries and continue cooking until all the berries are soft and have broken apart, forming a sauce, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to warm.

Trim off the crusts from the bread and cut the loaf into slices 1/4 inch thick. If the bread is tore bought just trim off the crust.

Spread 1/2 cup of the berry sauce into the bottom of the prepared pan. One piece at a time, dip the brioche into the sauce in the saucepan, saturating it. Place the berry-soaked brioche pieces in the pan, forming a single layer and a snug fit. Spread 1/2 cup of the berry sauce on top of the brioche. Repeat the layering, starting with the berry-soaked brioche, until the pan is full, ending with the berry sauce.

Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet. Cover with a pan that fits just inside the loaf pan. (Another loaf pan of the same size usually works.) Put a large food can or other weight heavy enough to compress the pudding into the second pan. Some of the berry juices will leak out. That’s why you want it on the baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

To unmold the pudding, remove the weight and pan and invert the loaf pan onto a cutting board. Lift off the pan and carefully peel off the plastic. Cut the loaf into 8 slices and place on individual plates. Serve with whipped cream.

Planning Ahead- The pudding may be made up to two days ahead and kept refrigerated. Unmold just before serving.



July 3, 2009


As a pastry chef  I have mixed feelings about cherry season. On the one hand I LOVE the desserts I make with them- the buttery tarts, the custardy clafoutis.  I know it is summer when beautiful dark red cherries appear in the markets.

What I am not that fond of  is pitting the cherries. It’s tedious to pit 5 cups of cherries for a single pie but when you make 5 pies a day,  it’s enough to make you check the calendar to see how much longer they will be around. Pastry chefs share pitting tricks– wear rubber gloves; tie an apron around your neck to protect your chef coat from cherry juice,  put parchment paper down to control the mess. The biggest ongoing debate is the best way to pit a cherry-with a paring knife or a cherry pitter?

A knife cuts the cherry neatly in two so you have  perfect halves. (This method is good for when you will see the cherries on top of a dessert.)  But it is slow work.  A pitter is faster but some mangle the cherry.  Luckily a couple of years ago OXO came out with a great cherry pitter.  The pit pops right out of the cherry,  you don’t have to dig it out, and the cherry remains relatively intact. It also has a plastic guard on the bottom which minimizes the cherry juice going everywhere.  (I use a pitter for any recipe where cherries are baked in something.)

Cherry season is short.  California cherries ripen first and are in the stores in May and June. The dominant variety is the Bing.  Cherries from the Northwestern States are available June through August. In this area red cherry varieties are grown but also the Rainer which has a creamy-yellow flesh blushed with red.  So get our your paring knifes and cherry pitters and get pitting, it’s worth it.


Apricot Season- Don’t miss out-really.

June 26, 2009


You see apricots at the farm stand or grocery store and somehow they don’t make it into your basket. They should. The apricot is the most unappreciated of all the stone fruits. Unlike the peach which is delicious by itself, apricots just need a little tender loving care. There are 21,000 acres of apricot trees in California so they must be good. Although the majority end up getting canned that is not where they really shine.

Briefly cooking an apricot brings out flavors that will make you think “now I get it”. Pick apricots that are slightly soft. Real soft spots are OK. Cut them in half and remove the pit.  At this point you can either roast them in the oven or make a stove top compote.  For roasting, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet, sprinkle some sugar on each half and bake in a preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes. You want them cooked through but still retain their shape. The good news too is that you don’t have to peel them. The skin is soft enough you won’t even know it is there. Taste one and see if they are sweet enough, if not, sprinkle a little more sugar on top and return briefly to the oven.

For stove top, cut the apricots into eights and cook in a sauté pan with some butter, sugar and a little water over medium heat. Cook until soft. Add more sugar if needed. Serve the apricots with your favorite pound cake and some whipped cream, warm over crepes or with vanilla ice cream. Vanilla and apricots are a marriage made in heaven. Try apricots any of these ways and next time you go to the store you won’t pass them by.