Christmas Past

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Egad.   How is it possible that I have forgotten to document the culinary masterpiece that was Christmas 2008?   Compared to Xmas ’09, it could be described as ethereal, so how on earth could I have not written about it here on this fair-weather blog?  Flipping back through the pages of my menu book, I found the record for Christmas Eve 2008 (indeed, I record the things we have eaten so that when the world ends and future generations are sifting through the tattered remains of society, they can read about what the mortals once ate and wonder, “what is agnolotti”?)


Le Menu de Noël, 2008

Cornets of Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraîche


Chestnut Agnolotti with Fontina and Celery Root-White Truffle Purée

Dry-aged St. Helena Standing Prime Rib Roast


Roasted Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts and Jerusalem Artichokes

Cheeses with Quince Paste and Walnuts

A Veil of Vanilla

Marvelous, this meal.  I recall that we dragged my small desk to the living room window to act as an intimate dining table with a view of the city.  I remember the trouble we went through trying to make those damn cornets without the proper (and expensive) cornet-making tools;  and I remember being pretty pleased with myself at having made and rolled out the pasta for the agnolotti by hand, without the aid of a pasta maker, thank you very much!    But what is most dominant in my memory of this once-per-year feast is the dessert.


From Elizabeth Faulker’s book, A Veil of Vanilla is the name she applied to this multi-layered, somewhat deconstructed version of individual trifle-esque desserts.  In two glasses, we layered dark, sweet tarte tatin apples and Point Reyes blue cheese crumble with pecan caramel sauce, Napa Wildflower Honey semifreddo, and small cubes of pomegranate gelée.  Sprinkled on top were little glowing gems of fresh pomegranate seeds.  Crazy good.    Like the kind of good that warrants exclamations of pleasure between bites. With each recipe of hers that I try, I am tempted to label each one as The Best Dessert I Have Ever Had.  Maybe I should avoid the absolute declarations of “best” or “worst” and just stick with the Continuum of Like, where “best” is something that can never physically be obtained/observed, like absolute zero.  Relative that that spectrum, this dessert can certainly be classed amongst the Super-Like.

This book is like a secret weapon of desserts.  It should be printed and distributed as a little red book.  It should be included in a “How to Find a Soul-Mate” kit.  It should be sold with a napkin as a bookmark so as to manage the drooling over the photos of confectionary.

So Very SF

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

gg_2.JPGThis week turned out to be so very San Francisco.  I patronized two exceptional restaurants, bought a bouquet of flowers I don’t recognize, heard the foghorns drifting up from the bay at night, concocted a delectable dessert, watched a naked protest and walked across the Golden Gate bridge.   “What was that, I’m sorry?   A naked protest?”   Indeed, that is what it was.   Naked men on bikes – one on rollerskates – riding slowly down Market Street at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday.   We were stopped at an intersection so caught the chant, “Less gas, more ass!”   The precise details about what they were protesting was unclear, but from the chant, and the fact that they were on bicycles, I surmised that they were protesting overuse of fossil fuels.   But then why were they naked?   Oh wait-  because it’s San Francisco, and because “ass” rhymes so well with “gas”.


I finally made the short journey to Citizen Cupcake, the restaurant that produces the desserts to end all desserts.  I met two friends for dinner and the rules were that we could not order the same foods.   Ergo, a berry shortcake, a lemon-drop inspired medley, and my chocolate cake-like, Brazil-nut-studded, pineapple-shot-accompanied miracle.   The other two desserts were good, but frankly, my thoughts were focused too keenly on my own plate to have justly tasted the others.  Chocolate, no less!   I have to change my self-described rule of never ordering chocolate. But what really set it apart- what really made it something extraordinary – was the spicy pineapple shot.  There must’ve been cayenne in that there drink, or somethin’, because it made my eyes widen – and then water – in delighted surprise.  Served with chocolate cake and Brazil nuts?  Who thinks of this!?   Elizabeth Falker, that’s who. rosebud.JPGMy new hero, she who created the recipe for the sweetness I built last Tuesday: condensed vanilla custard with caramel crisps and pistachio cookies.  Jaw-achingly sweet, even though the cookies are almost savory with their saffron edge.   It is, perhaps, a little much when consumed in the same day as the cherry pie Marc made (the first pie he has ever made), but somehow, we managed to find enough will-power to eat both.  For breakfast.

Art as Dessert

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

I came to the realization some time ago that I am not a dessert person. I rarely order from the dessert menu, am never tempted by the ubiquitous chocolate concoctions available for $8.00. Occasionally, I might be talked into sharing a few bites of something with a fruit compote. My after-dinner weakness takes the form of cheese, much harder to resist than sweetness: a lovely, hard, rich cheese to nibble on between sips of a dessert wine, a creamy blue cheese to melt on the tongue.

But then, from the library, I borrowed Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts, and have been unexpectedly converted to the dark side. She’s local, this woman, owner and operator of Citizen Cake and Citizen Cupcake. I know of her, I’ve read about her in cooking magazines, seen her on TV, but have yet to walk the short distance to her restaurant to sample the art. It’s definitely on the list of places to try, indeed, walking to the library constitutes a quarter of the distance it would take to get to the café, and we practically drive past it each week for groceries, but I haven’t mustered the motivation to go out just for dessert. Now, perhaps, ça vaut le voyage.

This is a book in which I am actually tempted to try each and every one of the recipes. The pictures make my mouth water and I enjoy reading the background explanation for each creation, how she came up with the idea and the title for each. The fact that each dessert has a title should be proof that they are works of art, like “Untitled II: Chocolate with Raspberry and Fennel Tones“. The first recipe in book, and the first one I tried, was perhaps not art per se, but rather a plain warm-up to what was to come: I started wtih Chocolate Chip Cookies Straight Up. I have, what I consider, The Best Chocolate Chip cookie recipe- doesn’t everyone? – so I was curious to try another person’s interpretation of The Best, especially that of an artiste. Plus, I had on hand some fabulous Dagoba dark chocolate chips (I will never go back to milk chocolate) and turbinado sugar which, at Elizabeth’s suggestion, decided to experiment with in a cookie recipe. The one main difference I noticed in this version was that it included baking powder, which I had never put in cookies, but which yielded very pretty, puffy, chewy cookies. Alas, they were not as good as The Best. I suppose personal taste is everything.


Skipping ahead, I settled on a plated dessert to try: Norcal (An Homage to Laura Chenel) – chevre rice pudding, dates, candied kumquats, pistachios, honey. I chose this one only because we had goat cheese on the point of souring in the fridge, which turned out to be an unlikely and fortuitous happenstance. Kumquats just happened to be on sale and, oddly, Medjool dates were actually on special display at the grocery, so it was practically destined. I didn’t realize that rice pudding could taste this good. How could I ever have known that such ingredients could be combined to transform what is normally a cloudy sludge into light, fluffy, salty, sweet magic? I will never look at rice the same way again.

Thus initiated, it took little time to decide on the next experiment: Lovelova: Persian Strawberry and Saffron Pavlova. This, now this, is quite possibly the best dessert I have ever tasted. img_0013.JPGIt is rose-perfumed bliss, every bite enveloping my senses with strawberries and saffron, roses and pistachios; it is something to taste with the whole mouth. I am astonished and continue to be astonished with how good this is. I have not, as yet, bought the twenty-two dollar bottle of pistachio oil which is the only thing I skipped in the presentation of this dessert, but now, I feel that the droplets of dressing to surround the sweetness warrant the purchase. It certainly won’t expire because there will be no shortage of occasions to use it. This sensational dessert and I am only three recipes in! We have some amazing 3-course meals in our future.

By the bye, I include this photo of Coconut-Lime Cake with Mascarpone Frosting. It sounded good in the magazine, but the dry, heavy cake is an example of why I don’t normally go in for dessert. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the picture. And the frosting.