Thursday, September 27, 2007

Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts

If you don't know who Elizabeth Falkner is, you need to get her new book, Demolition Desserts: Recipes from Citizen Cake, and get a glimpse of her wonderful cooking sensibility as well as her very rock & roll outlook in general. Falkner is a pastry chef in San Francisco, and the owner of three restaurants: Citizen Cake (her first), Citizen Cupcake and Orson. This book is a collection of recipes from her restaurants as well as other flights of dessert fancy.

The book is decorated with beautiful photographs of her desserts as well as manga*-style illustrations (by Falkner's brother Ryan) of Falkner's cartoon alter ego Caremi—named, I'm guessing, for the legendary French pastry chef Antoine Carême.

And then there's the food. The book includes both the most elementary desserts—like chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cupcakes—as well as restaurant-style productions numbers, like Gingerbread Bauhaus (chipotle gingerbread, pear sorbet, pomegranate gel, royal icing shards) or Apple of My Eye (tarte tatin apples, cheddar crumbles, cinnamon ice cream, balsamic-apple reduction).

Each recipe comes with instructions on what components can be made ahead, as well as a category called "Minimalist Version." The Minimalist Version tells you how to make a less restaurant-y dessert with all the same flavors. When there is no way to minimize the dessert, it will say "Nope. Don't do it" or "It would be a mistake to minimize this one."

Even if you don't ever cook from this book, it's worth reading just for the good information you get on basic dessert ingredients (like sugar), and for a peek inside the mind of an extremely inventive chef.

*manga is the Japanese style of cartooning that, in its animated form, is called animé.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Crust puzzlement

Why did our parents and/or grandmothers tell us to eat the crusts of our bread? Was it to not be wasteful? I have this vague recollection that my great-aunties told me it was because the crusts were good for me. And I bought into it.

Just the other day, as my 2-year-old great-niece was asking for the crusts to be cut off her sandwich, I found myself on the verge of saying "Eat the crust. It's good for you." But I stopped myself, because of course that's absurd. The crust is no better for you than any other part of the bread.

Just out of curiosity, I did a search on the term "crustless bread" and discovered that Sara Lee actually makes a crustless bread called IronKids bread. It's a regular loaf of bread that has had the crusts sliced off for you. And there's no waste involved, since these crust fragments get recycled into other products.

My great-aunties might not have approved.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The prettiest risottos ever

The packaging for a collection of risotto mixes from an Italian company called Antico Pastificio stops you in your tracks. It's simple and elegant and it just makes you want to cook the risotto. The bonus--and by no means a small bonus--is that the risotto cooks up in under 20 minutes. And you don't have to stand at the stove constantly stirring in broth.

There are five flavors: Milanese (the classic risotto), porcini, radicchio (cool!), nero (made with squid ink) and truffle. They are all made with ribe rice, which is a type of high-starch rice used in risottos.

You can buy the risotto mixes online at Caviar Table. The site is a bit ticklish to navigate: To find the risottos, click on the tab across the top that says "Risotto Grains Baking." Each packet serves 4 and costs $6.99.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


I happen to be a fan of mystery novels, especially on the beach or in an airplane. And if you add recipes or cooking to the plot, I'm yours. This is why I like the series of mystery books by Jerrilyn Farmer whose ongoing character, Madeline Bean, is a Los Angeles-based caterer.

Of course she solves mysteries, but along the way you get to hear about the cool recipes she's making. In the book I read most recently, called Flaming Luau of Death, Maddy (as she's called) makes an hors d'oeuvre of fried Asian-flavored chicken "lollipops" on sugar cane sticks. Farmer actually posted the recipe on her website.

But the real reason I'm mentioning this is that the plot of the book involves the growing of fresh wasabi. The wasabi root, which is actually a rhizome (a part of the stem that grows underground), is notoriously tricky to grow. It needs to grow in cool mountain streams and requires a lot of love and attention. This makes it a rarity, and an expensive one.

The wasabi that shows up in most sushi bars, in Japanese restaurants or in packaged products, is most likely not true wasabi. It's usually a mixture of horseradish, mustard and green food coloring (the true wasabi flesh is a beautiful pale green).

If you're at all curious to get your hands on real wasabi, you should check out a company called Real Wasabi. This South Carolina-based company imports true wasabi and turns it into various products, including wasabi powder. They also sell fresh wasabi rhizomes in 1/2-pound to 3-pound boxes.