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S’more pizza, please

Thursday, October 4th, 2012



Who said pizza has to be savory?  The crisp crust and gooey topping that make the Italian-bred pie an irresistible choice for lunch or dinner are equally tempting in a sweet variation like this S’more pizza.  You just need to approach it with an open mind.

Think of it as the traditional campfire treat minus the usual risk of losing your marshmallows in the fire.  This S’more has the extra attraction of Nutella, one of my most serious junk food addictions.  On top are crunchy hazelnuts and marshmallows so light and airy they’re likely to slip off a toasting fork and into the flames. (more…)

Late summer’s culinary pleasures

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

After Labor Day, summer just slips away.  Kids are in school, store windows are filled with sweaters, and the annual flood of Christmas catalogs begins.

I usually start thinking about soups and stews and roasted root vegetables right about now. But summer is far from gone in the Northwest.  The mercury is hovering in the 80′s and the corn is at its peak.

With all the best summer produce just now flooding the farmers markets, the soups and stews can wait.  Salads are what I want to eat right now. (more…)

From tree to oil in just hours

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

California olive oil has held a place of honor in my pantry ever since I attended my first olive oil tasting in 2006 and discovered an emerging community of producers in the Golden State.  It’s a key  ingredient in this great quinoa, pistachio and cherry salad, which I’ll get to later.

Five years ago, the best-known California oils were produced by small growers raising Tuscan varieties for artisanal oils with high prices.   I saved them for special dishes and salad dressings.  For everyday cooking, I still relied on supermarket brands of extra virgin oils from Italy.

That changed when I tasted my first mass produced oil from a large California grower that uses modern methods of harvesting and pressing. Here was a fruity, fresh tasting oil at a price low enough for everyday use.  Imported oils were banished from my shelves.  Most probably don’t meet strict international standards for extra virgin oil, anyway, according to a University of California, Davis study released last year. (more…)

October is for beer–ice cream, that is

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Most Oktoberfest menus are pretty predictable — oceans of beer, mountains of sausage, sauerkraut, and maybe freshly baked pretzels.

Santa Cruz, though, takes pride in leaning off-center.  The music at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery’s fifth annual Sausagefest last weekend was country.  Frauleins sported elaborate tattoos with their flirty barmaid drindls.  And the popular Penny Ice Creamery served beer ice cream.

There weren’t a lot of takers  for the Devout Stout-flavored ice cream early in the evening, but I couldn’t resist.  A scoop in a pint jar with a little of the same beer was the best thing I had all night.  It was thick, creamy and lightly sweet with flavors of coffee, caramel and a pleasantly bitter hint of burnt sugar.  Even before I left, I knew I was going to have to try to make it at home.

It turns out that beer ice cream isn’t that rare.  Mentions can be found all over the Internet.  Most of the recipes don’t sound very appealing, however.  Some don’t bother to cook the eggs.  Others add molasses or chocolate to round out the beer flavors.

I decided to riff off a basic French-style vanilla ice cream.  First, I reduced some good dark beer with a little brown sugar to make a syrup and cook off most of the alcohol.  Then I substituted the beer syrup for some of the cream in the formula.  It turned out even better than I hoped.

The secret to good beer ice cream, of course, is good beer.  A can of Bud just won’t do. But any well-crafted stout or porter is worth a try.

The artisan Devout Stout is a wonderful, dark and deeply flavored brew.  I would have used it if we could have found any in all the usual places.  When we didn’t, I turned to that reliable supermarket standby, Guiness Extra Stout, for the first batch.

It was very nice although a little rough around the edges.  If I hadn’t tasted the Devout Stout ice cream, I would have declared it a winner.

Still, I knew the ice cream could be better.  So I snagged some Black Butte Porter, my husband’s favorite, for the next try.  Smoother and more nuanced, it was just right.

The only thing better than this ice cream is a float made with the same beer.  Give it a try. You’ll be amazed.

Makes 1 quart 

1 cup good stout or porter beer
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup whole milk
1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup superfine sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, stir brown sugar into beer and bring mixture to a  simmer over medium low heat. Watch it carefully and reduce heat if beer foams and looks as if it will boil over.  Cook until beer has reduced to about ½ cup.  Set aside to cool.

Pour ½ cup of cream and cooled beer into a large bowl or 4-cup glass measure and place a mesh strainer over the top.   In a medium bowl, beat together the egg yolks with a whisk or fork.

Combine milk, superfine sugar and remaining cream in a medium saucepan  and warm over medium heat for a few minutes until tiny bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pan.  Pour the cream slowly into the egg yolks, whisking as you pour, then return mixture to the saucepan.  Place saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  (The temperature should read about 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer.)

Pour the hot custard through the strainer into the cream and beer.  Add vanilla and stir.  Chill for at least two hours.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Aleta Watson

Corn cakes for camping

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

As soon as we started planning the camping trip we took to Death Valley last month, I began thinking about flat breads.  There aren’t many places to buy fresh supplies in the desert and I’m pretty picky about bread.

I wanted to be able to make my own.  But I wanted to keep it simple — no rising, no rolling, no oven. (more…)