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There’s a place we like to go for dinner that’s right down the hill from our house called the Buckeye Roadhouse. It opened in 1937, the same year as the Golden Gate Bridge, perfectly positioned to take advantage of all those extra day-trippers heading to and from San Francisco. It’s been through a few incarnations since then, but retains a certain old school charm to this day. The dining room is a grand place with high ceilings and a big, stone fireplace that lends just the right weight to special occasions.

But me and Matt, we prefer dining at the bar. Cozy red leather banquettes and paned windows make it feel like a hide-away. The Buckeye is known for its comfort food and is the perfect spot for a martini and a big, juicy steak with potatoes au gratin. Throw-back dishes like “oysters bingo” and wedge salad never disappoint. But sprinkled among the classics, there are a few new California twists, and I’ve recently become quite smitten with their kale salad. So smitten, that I just had to figure out how to make it, and after peppering the bartender with questions for the chef, was able to get pretty close.

It’s listed on the menu as “Dino Kale with Ricotta Salata, Shaved Fennel, Black Radish, Croutons and Lemon”. Croutons sound so unassuming, but these are really the secret weapon. In fact, they’re not really croutons at all, but delicate, buttery bread crumbs made from brioche bread.

The other secret, as I learned from the bartender, is letting the kale marinate in lemon juice for a few hours, which starts to break down the fibers a bit and make it more tender. The one secret that evidently shall remain a secret is the black radishes. They’re stunning on the plate–round paper-thin slivers with black edges and white centers. I hear the chef gets them from a special source in Napa. I’ve been keeping my eye out at the farmer’s market, but alas, have been unable to find them in the Bay Area. But white radishes will do, and in any case, not being able to replicate the dish to a T gives me an excuse to go back to the Buckeye for dinner (or to Napa for a radish run? who’s with me?).

We planted kale in our little raised bed garden this year, and the bugs seemed to like it better than anything else we were growing. They were quickly making lace of it, so I harvested the whole crop hastily, in order to beat the insects to the chomp. Inspired by the restaurant in our “backyard” and made with the kale literally from our backyard (+ a lemon from our tree) makes this “the Local Local Special”.

The Buckeye Kale Salad with Brioche Bread Crumbs

Serves 4.

1 bunch of fresh, tender Dino kale. Ribs removed, cut into bite-sized pieces.
juice from one lemon
4 slices brioche bread with crusts removed (about 8 oz.)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 radishes (Black if you can find them), sliced paper-thin with a mandoline
1 small fennel bulb, shaved
Shaved ricotta salata (this is the slightly dry, crumbly kind. I didn’t measure, so just use whatever amount feels right to you.)
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Toss kale with lemon juice in a large bowl, cover and marinate in fridge for 2-3 hours.

Pulse slices of bread 3-4x in a food processor to shred into coarse bread crumbs. Heat butter and olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and toast, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until golden brown and slightly crispy. About 15-20 min. Set aside.

Toss marinated kale with sliced radishes, fennel, bread crumbs and shaved ricotta salata. Season with salt and pepper. If needed, add an extra sprinkle of olive oil. Enjoy!

 

 

 

PS on 7/22- Doh! A week after I published this post, I discovered a whole bunch of photos of the kale salad on my camera that I had forgotten about. I’ve edited the post above to include a few of my favorites. This is what happens when I go three months without posting.

 

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Last week, my mother-in-law visited from Connecticut. She had only one request for her time in California: a trip to the farmer’s market. A request that I was more than happy to oblige. It was a deliciously gorgeous spring day and I savored the excuse to wander more slowly than usual, stopping at every stall to admire the bounty with the appreciation of outsider’s eyes.

We selected quite a haul for our Sunday dinner. A fresh chicken and carrots in assorted colors for roasting, potatoes for mashing, and sugar snap peas for munching. But the score of the day was definitely the strawberries. Luscious perfumy little jewels that seduced us at first bite. We picked up three baskets so we’d still have plenty left to make a dessert after we had greedily eaten our fill over the sink.

When we got home from the farmer’s market, I lugged a few of my favorite cookbooks out to a sunny spot in the backyard and we poured over recipes for a while (sorry friends, blogging is fun, but there are times when there is no substitute for the satisfaction of a heavy book on your lap), finally settling on the Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake recipe from the Gourmet Today cookbook by Ruth Reichl.

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Making this cake with my mother-in-law in the kitchen was one of my favorite moments of her visit. She did the dry ingredients, I did the wet. And we shared the delight in the heavenly smell of the cake in the oven. Sweet, bright and comforting, like family when you need it most.

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This is a really easy, no-fuss kinda cake, and it’s more delicious than it is photogenic. I guess they call it pudding cake because it’s so moist you could eat it with a spoon. The note in the cookbook says you can modify the recipe to use almost any fruit your heart desires, and you can bet I’ll be trying it with peaches come July. (Plus raspberries, perhaps?)

The only modification I made to the recipe was to add a little citrus zest (orange + lemon) because we had a few from our backyard trees that weren’t juicy enough for anything else, and it seemed the right thing to do. We served the cake warm with a dusting of powdered sugar, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a few slices of fresh strawberries.

I’ve heard the leftovers are great for breakfast. I’m not saying I’ve tried it, but it tastes great with coffee.

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake
from the Gourmet Today cookbook by Ruth Reichl. Recipe can also be found on Epicurious.

Makes 6 to 8 (breakfast or dessert) servings

1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb stalks
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon+ of citrus zest (lemon and/or orange. Optional. This part is Ms. T’s addition–not in the Gourmet recipe.)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish.

Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.

Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Add citrus zest.

Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter. Grate a little more citrus zest on top. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes before serving. (Can be made a few hours ahead of time and served at room temperature or re-heated.)

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This month, Erica invited our cooking club to explore the theme “Quintessential San Francisco” during one of our epic four-hour eating fests. The meal did not disappoint: sourdough bread made from scratch, bay shrimp salad, an Alice Waters-inspired goat cheese souffle, and a hearty cioppino with lots of fresh seafood, including (of course) Dungeness crab.

I signed up for dessert duty and took my inspiration from the classic San Francisco treat I fell in love with when I first moved here years ago. No, I’m not talking about Rice-a-Roni (but wouldn’t that be an interesting dessert challenge?). I’m talking about “It’s It” ice cream sandwiches: vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies and dipped in chocolately goodness. Developed in 1928 at Playland-at-the-Beach (San Francisco’s version of Coney Island), and still available at any respectable corner store in SF.

I didn’t want to drift too far from the original combination–why mess with a good thing?–but I did dress it up a bit. This is cooking club after all, which is nothing if not over-the-top. After a little rummaging around in the spice cabinet, I ended up with a creation that was sort of like It’s It‘s sassier granddaughter. And It was good. Damn good. Which is why I feel compelled to share the recipe with you.

I’m not gonna lie. This was an all-weekend commitment. If you’re looking for quick and easy, you’re better off getting your It’s It at the corner store. But if you like an excuse to spend the day making a big mess in your kitchen, and licking all kinds of yummy spoons along the way, It’s totally worth It.

“It’s It” Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Sandwiches with Oatmeal Molasses Spice Cookies, Dipped in Mexican Chocolate 

Step 1: Make your ice cream custard (see vanilla bean ice cream recipe below), and stick it in the fridge to chill. I chose to make vanilla bean ice cream, but I have to admit, once it was all said and done, the other flavors kinda stole the spotlight, so I’m not sure it’s worth wasting two expensive vanilla beans for this recipe. You might be better off with a simple vanilla ice cream, made with extract. But I’ll leave that up to you. Vanilla bean certainly sounds fancier, for when that sort of thing matters.

Step 2: Make cookies (see recipe below). I experimented with the cookie recipe. I looked up a bunch of recipes and then more or less decided to do my own thing. I thought that using molasses might help keep the cookies soft when frozen. I’m not really sure if that worked, but I did like the flavor. Kind of like a cross between an oatmeal and a ginger cookie. The dough really spread out a lot on the cookie sheets while baking, so I used a 3″ cookie cutter to trim all the cookies into uniform circles. I can be obsessive compulsive like that sometimes. If you’re going the OCD route, it’s easiest to do while the cookies are still a little warm. And you can save the cookie scraps to munch on or crumble over ice cream. (As if you’ll need any extra calories after devouring a chocolate-dipped ice cream sandwich or two…or three.)

Step 3: Freeze ice cream custard in your ice cream maker. BTW, don’t forget–like I did–to put the bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer the day before you want to use it. Oops. Any sane person probably would have said “oh well, I guess I’ll use store-bought ice cream.” But not me.  My Martha Stewart gene kicked in and I was up until 12:30 am making ice cream sandwiches.

Step 4: Assemble sandwiches. I didn’t measure, but I’d guess that I put about 1/3 cup of ice cream in each sandwich. Next time, I’d put a little more, since I had plenty left over and the proportions of the final sandwich leaned a little too far in the cookie/chocolate direction. Wrap them up in plastic and freeze at least 3 hours, or overnight. I devised a little system to keep the ice cream from oozing out too much that–depending on how you look at it–was either incredibly anal (see Martha Stewart gene above) or incredibly lazy (because it was after midnight and I didn’t want to wait for my soft ice cream to harden up in the freezer). Regardless of your verdict on my motive, it worked incredibly well, and it went a little something like this: I took ramekins that were 3.5″ in diameter and 3″ deep, and lined them with plastic wrap, leaving a generous amount of plastic hanging over the sides. As I assembled each sandwich, I placed it into the ramekin, put a little wax paper in between, and then layered another sandwich on top (2 sandwiches in each ramekin). Then I closed the plastic wrap tightly over the top and stuck the ramekins in the freezer as I filled each one. This allowed me to get the sandwiches into the freezer faster as I worked, and it was also much easier to make room in my freezer than if all the sandwiches were on one tray.

Step 5: Make the Mexican chocolate coating.

20 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli, of course!)
6 oz. milk chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
dash cayenne pepper

Melt the chocolate and shortening in a deep saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly. Add spices and stir. As soon the mixture is smooth and melted, remove from the heat and set aside, letting it slowly come to room temperature.

Step 6: Time to dip! This is the fun/messy part. I looked at a few different references for technique, and the idea of adding shortening to the chocolate, but relied most heavily on Merill’s recipe for Mint Chocolate Harbor Bars on Food52.

Get a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer and line it with wax paper. Working with one sandwich at a time (keep the rest in the freezer), place the sandwich onto a slotted spoon and lower it into the melted chocolate. Turn the sandwich over with your fingers and lower it back into the chocolate to coat the whole sandwich evenly, and then lift it out with the spoon, letting the excess chocolate drip off. Transfer sandwich to the baking sheet and quickly repeat with the remaining sandwiches. Immediately return the sandwiches to the freezer until the chocolate sets, at least 15 minutes.

At this point in the recipe, me and my entire kitchen were covered in chocolate. It wasn’t pretty. All my sandwiches had little white finger prints where the chocolate didn’t cover and the ice cream was peeking out, so as soon as the chocolate covering hardened up a little, I re-dipped the bald spots. They looked pretty goopy gloppy, like a kindergarten art project, and my Martha Stewart side worried that I’d be kicked out of my cooking club. But in the end it didn’t matter. It just made them look legitimately homemade, and they were so damn delicious that nobody seemed to mind the fingerprints. It didn’t hurt that we were in the middle of a glorious mini-heat wave in San Francisco, and ice cream sandwiches seemed just the right thing to do.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

2 vanilla beans
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs

Cut vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds into a large heavy saucepan and stir in pods, cream, milk, and sugar. Bring mixture just to a boil, stirring occasionally, and remove pan from heat.

In a large bowl lightly beat eggs. Add hot cream mixture to eggs in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into pan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (About 10-15 min.) Pour custard through a sieve into a clean bowl and cool. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, at least 3 hours, or until cold, and up to 1 day.

Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden up slightly (30-60 min)—it will be easiest to assemble sandwiches while ice cream is still slightly soft. But the ice cream can be made up to one week ahead and stored in the freezer in an airtight container (ditto for any leftover ice cream). If you make the ice cream ahead of time, simply remove from the freezer and allow it to soften up a bit before you assemble the sandwiches.

Oatmeal Molasses Spice Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen.

1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup molasses
2 large eggs
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dried ground orange peel (I happened to have this in my spice cabinet, so I threw some in. I’m sure you could use fresh orange zest—I would do ½ tsp.—or skip this ingredient)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
3 cups whole rolled oats (old-fashioned)

Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses in a large mixing bowl. Beat in eggs until well blended.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking soda, and all the spices. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix until well combined. Fold in oats with a wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough onto the paper in spoonfuls, spacing them about 2 inches apart. They will spread quite a bit while baking.

Bake until cookies are golden but centers are still soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes to cool.


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While most of the country is sweating out the heat wave of the century, here in the Bay Area we’re bundled up in sweaters dreaming of warmer days. And yes, I know, I should be used to this after twelve years. But just because the fog rolls in like a cold, wet blanket every July doesn’t mean a New England gal stops wishing for warm summer nights and lightning bugs.

Luckily, most of the farms around here are located in warmer inland climates, so no matter what the forecast holds in SF, the selection at the farmer’s market still smacks of summer— corn, tomatoes, peaches and other ripe things that drip down your chin while you eat them. I suppose that’s how the menu for our recent dinner party became a celebration of summer flavors to chase away the foggy blues. I stopped short of cranking up the heat in the house to 85 degrees so I could wear a sundress, but with a menu full of sun-drenched flavors I think I still managed to deliver that summer night feeling I was going for.

The menu:

Blackberry Lime Cocktails with Muddled Mint

Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto (I know it’s really more spring than summer, but the asparagus at Whole Foods was so thin and gorgeous, I couldn’t resist.)

Corn & Cilantro Salad

Grilled Flank Steak with Roasted Peach “Mole” Sauce

Watercress Salad with Endives and Toasted Almonds

Plum & Nectarine Tart

Here’s to backyard garden parties…even when you have to hold them indoors.

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About 2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
juice of six limes
generous handful of fresh mint
sparkling water
ice
Optional: booze. Choose your poison. We used vodka, but I think it would be also good with gin or rum. Or skip the sparkling water and use sparkling wine instead, maybe even with a dash of some fruity liqueur like Cointreau or Creme de Cassis. And believe it or not, it really is delicious as a virgin cocktail–always nice to have that option.

Combine 1 1/2 cups blackberries with water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Puree in a blender with 1 cup uncooked blackberries and lime juice. Strain mixture into a pitcher or glass jar and chill until party time. Can keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for several days. Put 2-3 cups of ice into a large pitcher with mint leaves and muddle with a wooden spoon until mint is nicely bruised and aromatic. Add 1-2 cups of blackberry mixture (sorry, I did a bad job measuring once the guests arrived, so you’ll have to wing it from this point forward), and about 4 cups of sparkling water. Booze it up to your heart’s content—as my dinner guest, “Ms. T Too” put it, “I’ll have the high-octane version, please”—and serve garnished with extra mint and lime wedges, maybe even a blackberry or two.

From the “Close Your Eyes and Pretend It’s Summer” feast.

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This recipe is from my friend Sandra, who brought it to our cooking club one time, and it instantly became one of my favorite summer dishes. Great for a picnic or dinner party because you can make it ahead of time.

6 ears of corn
6 slices pancetta
1 large red onion or 2 small ones, diced
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
salt and pepper

Cook corn on the cob in a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain and set aside to cool completely.

Dice pancetta and cook in a heavy skillet over medium heat until brown and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour off most of the bacon fat from pan, leaving a little goodness left in the pan for cooking your onions. Add onions, oil, vinegar, sugar, and dash of salt to pan, and cook over medium-low heat for about 20-25 minutes until caramelized, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Cut corn kernels off of the cobs and place in a large bowl. Add onion mixture and cilantro and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and if it seems dry, add a little more olive oil. If you’re making this ahead of time, cover and put it in the fridge. Take salad out about 3o minutes before serving to bring closer to room temp. Stir in crumbled pancetta just before serving.

Serves 6.

From the “Close Your Eyes and Pretend It’s Summer” Feast.

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This recipe is inspired by the crostata recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Cucina Simpatica” by Johanne Killeen & George Germon (Chefs and owners of the fabulous Al Forno restaurant in Providence, RI.) Once you’ve mastered the dough–which is really easy–you can add just about anything to the tart. I happened to have a random assortment of stone fruits lying around–two different kinds of plums and two different kinds of nectarines–that were almost past their prime. Sometimes I divide the dough and make individual tarts instead. That works especially well for berries or cherries. I love the rustic free-form shapes that you get with this style of tart, a.k.a crostata or galette, and it’s way easier than fussing with a pie dish. Don’t even look at how much butter is in the recipe–just put it in and forget about it. It’s worth every crumbly bite.

Dough:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Filling:
2 plums
2 nectarines
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons peach, apricot or plum jam (totally optional. I happened to have some peach lavender jam from the farmer’s market that I thought would be a nice touch.)

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and stick back into the fridge to keep cold while you set up the other ingredients.

Place the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter, tossing quickly with your fingers to coat each cube with flour. Pulse 15-20 times until the butter particles are the size od small peas.

With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Process for about 10 seconds, stopping the machine before the dough becomes a solid mass.

Turn the contents of the bowl onto a sheet of foil, pressing any loose pieces together into the dough. Roughly form the dough into a 7-inch disk.

Cover the dough completely with foil and refrigerate for at least one hour. Can be refrigerated up to 2 days or in the freezer up to 2 weeks. (defrost on the counter for 45 minutes before use.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Cut the fruit into thin slices, leaving skin on, and place in a bowl. Toss gently with 1 tablespoon sugar and set aside.

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch free-form circle. Transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Leaving a 1 1/2 inch border all around, cover the dough with the fruit, starting in the center and working out to arrange fruit slices into a pretty spiral (if you want to get fussy).

Raise the dough border to enclose the sides of the tart, letting it drape gently over the fruit.  Gently pinch the soft pleats that form in the dough with your fingers and press the sides down onto the baking sheet slightly to flatten.

Make an egg wash by beating egg with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Brush onto the dough with a pastry brush to coat lightly.

Optional: Drizzle fruit jam over the top of fruit filling. (My jam was pretty runny. If you’re using thick jam, you could mix it with a little water to make a glaze.)

Bake the tart for 20-25 minutes, until dough is golden and fruit is gooey and bubbly. Cool for at least 10-15 minutes, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Side note: I’ve been really liking Laloo’s goat’s milk ice cream. It has a lot less fat than normal ice cream (which makes me feel a little less guilty about all that butter in the dough! Sorry, didn’t mean to remind you. Do forget it. ) and I really like the tangy flavor, especially paired with fruit desserts.

From the “Close Your Eyes and Pretend It’s Summer” feast.

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