Sunday, January 31, 2010

Now Weir Cooking!

If you could support a really good cause, take in a cooking demonstration by a famous chef, and eat a great meal all at the same time, wouldn't you do it? Of course you would. So I've been eager for months to check out the new-ish cooking classes offered by Homeward Bound of Marin, a nonprofit providing programs and services for homeless individuals and families based in Novato.

Yes, you did just read that correctly. In addition to providing an impressive array of services to the homeless such as housing, counseling and credit repair, Homeward Bound has a host of food-based job training programs as well. In their gorgeous, brand new facilities located in the decommissioned Hamilton Field military base, Homeward Bound runs the Fresh Starts Culinary Academy (culinary training for Homeward Bound residents and community members alike); a catering operation (Fresh Starts Catering); a business producing chocolate truffles and jellies/jams/sauces/preserves (the Halo Truffles and Halo Homemade line of fine foods); AND the Fresh Starts Cooking School... which is where I come in.

The cooking school brings in local celebrity chefs about once a month to teach demo classes to anyone who wants to sign up. The sold-out January class featured Chef Joanne Weir of PBS fame; my friend Carolyn and I were on hand to see the energetic chef in action.

The class did not disappoint. Joanne demonstrated four different recipes in the beautifully-equipped demo kitchen, and was chatty and engaging and witty and informative the entire time. She's known for her simple yet scrumptious dishes (pizzas being one of her signature dishes), and those she showed us were no exception (menu listed below). I learned some great pointers on how to hand-whip egg whites into perfect peaks; a time-saving yumm-o recipe for a bruschetta appetizer; tips on how to expertly prepare salad greens; and even some great insight into the art and craft of Tequila making (Joanne's latest cookbook is all about Tequila). She was backed up by the Culinary Academy students, who by the time her demo was complete, had made her recipes in sufficient quantities to feed the salivating room full of people.

Sausage Bruschetta

Winter White Salad

Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche, Caviar Pizza

Chipotle Chocolate Souffle

(Oh wait... no pictures? That's right. Too busy eating.)

Please visit Joanne's blog or website for some amazing recipes - I'm keeping all of the above ones to myself!

At any rate, I left the class feeling very well fed. And that's not necessarily just because of the great food. I really fell for Homeward Bound as an organization, and became an instant fan of the innovative ways they are helping to find solutions to homelessness. I feel a strong pull to go and volunteer for them, and am hoping I can make that happen in the near future. In the meantime, I hope to go back for more cooking classes, and if you're in the area, you should too! Next up in February: Chef Heidi Krahling of Insalata's and Marinitas. You can sit next to me - I'll be in the front row!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Raising the Bar, part 1: Lemon-Lime Slice

The Aussies are here! And they come bearing recipes! Let's see if I can get you up to speed in 500 words or less:
  • Good friends Marc and Christy welcome son #1, Kieran, into the world last February.
  • Goal: get Kieran through his first year of life without sending him to day care. 9-week stints of maternity leave, paternity leave/vacation time and local grandparent care get them through 9 months. That leaves 3 months to go.
  • Enter the Australian grandparents, Margaret and Bruce. They came from Down Under to finish out the year as Kieran's daytime care providers, but manage to throw dinner parties and make untold amounts of goodies as well.
So the dashing young Kieran brought them here, but I have luckily been on the receiving end of their culinary dalliances a couple of times during their soon-ending tenure. This cookie-esque bar is apparently a favorite sweet treat back home, and everyone who has tried it here has loved it as well. And I even made a batch myself! After sharing a batch lovingly made by Margaret with friends at a holiday social gathering (and watching them all disappear before I could snap a photo), I had to try my hand at making them so I could share them here, properly documented. I took the batch I made to yet another social gathering, and once again - huge hit. They're tangy and tart - and despite all the coconut, they're not overly coconutty (that's a word - swear). And music to my ears: no baking required. They honestly couldn't be any simpler. So, thank you, my visiting Australian friends for sharing. I hope you come back soon!

Lemon-Lime Slice
Contributed by Christy Giambastiani via Margaret Gillard

  • 2 cups animal crackers or graham crackers, crushed
  • 2 cups shredded coconut
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Rind of 2 lemons and 2 limes
In a saucepan, on low heat, melt butter and blend together with condensed milk. Pour this into the cracker crumbs, coconut and rind of the lemons and limes. Mix well and press this mixture into a 9x12-inch glass baking dish. Level it out. Refrigerate for a few hours, then spread with icing after refrigeration.

  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Juice of 2 lemons and 2 limes
  • 2 cups coconut
Stir the powdered sugar, butter and lemon/lime juice over low heat. Pour over base, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with coconut and refrigerate for an hour to set. Cut into squares.

Raising the Bar, part 2: Salted Chocolate Caramel Bars

My friend Nancy knows where to hit me where it counts. She knows that I can say no to just about any sweet - cookies, cakes, candy... not much holds sway over me. But mention "salted caramel" and I swoon. I am Superman to its kryptonite - there's no escaping its grasp. So when she placed a platter of these Salted Chocolate Caramel Bars directly in my path... well, let's just say a couple disappeared faster than a speeding bullet. So of course I had to share the recipe with you. If I'm going down in a blaze of salted caramel goodness, I'm taking y'all with me. Enjoy!

Salted Chocolate Caramel Bars
(Adapted from Martha Stewart Living)
Contributed by Nancy Olivas

  • 9 tablespoons butter at room temperature, plus more for parchment
  • 1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 cups semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt, preferably fleur de sel
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the crust: Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment, leaving an overhang on all sides; butter parchment, excluding overhang. Beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour and table salt, and beat until just combined. Press dough evenly into pan and bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Make the chocolate caramel: Place chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, washing sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals from forming, until amber, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter, cream, and table salt. Bring to a boil, stirring until smooth. Pour over chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes. Stir to combine, and let stand until cool, about 10 minutes.

Pour mixture over crust. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight. Run a knife around edges; lift parchment to remove whole bar from pan. Sprinkle with sea salt. Trim edges, and cut into bars. Bars can be refrigerated for up to 3 days

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tasty Travels: Thailand and Laos

So have you missed me? I feel as though I've been away from this little blog for so long! But if you've been reading, you know that my absence has been all in the name of new, exciting content. I traveled to Northern Thailand and Laos over the past several weeks, and am thrilled to report back with some very memorable food-related experiences and photos. My journey was so fulfilling, fun, fabulous... that to try and capture it within a couple of Fare to Remember posts wouldn't be doing it justice. So I created an entirely separate blog to document my adventure, and I sure hope that you'll give it a look. Here's the link:

There are plenty of posts that will appeal to all of you, since they relate directly to food, markets, farming, meals... you know, the good stuff! I was a good little food tourist... I did lots of "research." Here's a few direct links to posts that you might find particularly interesting:
But those are really just the tip of the iceberg. Please do check it out - would love to hear your thoughts.