I like good food and good wine!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Cake Disaster & A Lesson Learned

I've written about cake before, but I've never written about a recipe gone wrong, and face it, we've all had one or two. I was in the mood for a cake today. It's a little cool out and having the oven on sounded nice, so what will it be? I'll warn you, I'm cleaning out the pantry . . . I know there are going to be substitutions. I feel like a fairly dense cake, pound cake maybe. There is a chill in the air . . . something with some spice tones might be nice . . . wait, I've got real maple syrup . . . pecans . . . and some of those Kraft caramels . . . Ok, I've got a vision – Maple Pound Cake with Caramel Pecan Glaze! My mouth begins to water, this sounds good!

Substitutions . . .
  • The recipe I'm using as a base calls for sugar, water and maple "extract" (?), NOT Grade B Maple Syrup . . . so ok, I substitute the syrup for the water and leave out the sugar and the nasty extract.
  • The recipe uses cream cheese, I've got Greek Yogurt
  • The recipe says use a 12-cup Bundt pan; I want to use a loaf pan.
Here is my first mistake:
Pouring the mix into the loaf pan, I'm thinking this is probably too much batter. Before I start even thinking of scraping the batter off the sides, the loaf pan is filled to about 1" from the top. I'm thinking this cake will rise . . . that should be enough. But there is all this batter, and I'm wondering what am I going to do with it? So . . . mistake . . . I add it to the loaf pan, and now batter is only 1/2 inch from the top. Fingers crossed, into the oven it goes.

In just a few minutes I can hear the batter hitting the bottom of the oven. I grab a sheet pan, and slide it in on the bottom rack to catch most of the overflow.

Here is the second error:
Timer rings. Cake has been in the oven 42 minutes and the recipe says 42-47. The top of the cake jiggles when I slide the rack out. No need to test. I slide it back in and set the timer for an additional 5 minutes. Timer rings. Cake still jiggles. I pull the cookie sheet out and add 5 more minutes to the timer for the loaf. Timer rings, the edges are getting a bit brown, definitely less jiggle, set timer for 3 more minutes. Meanwhile, I've tasted the "cookies" from the sheet pan. YUMM! Just the flavor I'm after! I'm feeling optimistic, when I pull the cake out of the oven after 55 minutes.

I let the cake cool 6-7 minutes. then cut around the edges. Because the cake overflowed on all four sides, I'm cutting through a crust that formed on the edges of the pan. I let it cool 5 more minutes, but when I return to turn it out of the pan, I can see that the center has fallen. Drat! I flip the pan and the contents drop neatly onto the rack, but it looks like pudding on the bottom, not at all what I'm looking for. This was not pretty at all . . . should I just throw it away?

No way! Not while I've got an ounce of imagination left. That cookie sheet is going to do double duty. I flipped the fallen-pudding-bottom-cake back onto the cookie sheet, gooey-side-up. and put it back into the oven set at 325º. I didn't even worry about preheating, after all, the gunk on the sheet was just getting cooler by the second.

Oh wait, I have not told you about the caramel pecan glaze, which isn't really a glaze at all since I'd deviously designed the glaze to cook on the bottom of the cake. Before I put the batter in the pan I carefully laid down a layer of pecan halves, and then put 8 chucks of caramel candy on top of that. I poured the batter in pretty carefully so I was confident the "glaze" would stay on the bottom, so when I filled the cake out of the pan, the glaze would be on top. Well, when I fist flipped the cake, there was little evidence of the pecans or the caramel except for a few on the ends. I'm assuming they sank into the goo when I turned the "cake" over.

So anyway, after about 25 more minutes in the over. I decided to check this thing out again. Once this twice baked cake cooled, I tried it. First an end piece where the crust was a little biscotti-like, but good. Then a center slice, still good . . . so, I'm happy, I saved the day. Sometimes things don't turn out to look the way we think they should, but that doesn't mean they can't be salvaged. Still, I hope next time I bake a cake, it comes out looking like a cake.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Temescal Taster: The Oscar’s are coming! The Oscar’s are coming!

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The Oscar’s are coming! The Oscar’s are coming!

When you consider the Golden Globe nominees there are few surprises in this years line up, and I can be proud to say that I’ve seen all but one of the Best Picture nominees, AND that I will see “127 Hours” this week to make it 100%.  Some say this was not a good year, and yes there were certainly lots of duds, but these films all had merit, and I for one congratulate the Academy for making sure I see them all. 

In addition to “127 Hours,” the following films are on my list to see.
·      “Biutiful,” nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Mexico), and for Javier Bardem’s leading actor role.
·      “The Town,” nominated for Jeremy Renner’s supporting actor role. (You may remember Renner or his starring role in the 2009 Best Picture-winning war thriller The Hurt Locker.)
·      “Rabbit Hole,” nominated for Nicole Kidman, Best Actress in a Leading Role.
·      “Blue Valentine,” Michelle Williams was nominated for her leading actress role.
·      PLUS the nominees for Best Animated Short, and Best Documentary Feature.

I’m going to be busy, but I’ll keep you posted.
A full list of nominees can be found at Oscars.org

Monday, January 24, 2011

The WORST Movies of 2010

On the eve of the announcement by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) (aka Oscars) for the year’s top awards, it only makes sense to stop and ponder for a moment the worst things to hit the big screen. Please post your own "razzie" nominations in the comments section.

The “Razzies” nominated The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Last Airbender, The Bounty Hunter, Sex and the City 2, and Vampires Suck for WORST movie of the year. The “Razzies” also panned Cher (Burlesque), Liza Minnelli (Sex and the City 2), and Barbra Streisand (Little Fockers) for their roles as supporting actress. Thankfully, I didn't see any of the Razzy nominees, except Sex 2, and Burlesque, and while neither was outstanding there were parts of both I sort of enjoyed, especially Liza's little dance number in the short SHORT dress, and Cher's solo.

Me, I also wanted to look at the big box office successes, to see what I might learn about how much “we” like bad movies. Just to show that being bad has nothing to do with box office draw I checked the top box office winners Multiple week winners included: Avatar (4 weeks), Shutter Island (2), Alice in Wonderland (3), Clash of the Titans (2), Iron Man 2 (2), Shrek Forever After (3), Toy Story 3 (2), Inception (3), The Expendables (2), The Social Network (2), Megamind (2), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2), and Little Fockers (2).

“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” was the #1 box office movie for one week last July, Not bad when you consider that in October “Jackass 3D,” “Paranormal Activity 2,” and “Saw 3D” took top honors for one week each, proving that nothing sells like a horror film before Halloween.

My nominations for WORST FILM of 2010 are:

1. Little Fockers – I mean really! Just the trailers make me cringe in horror! People pay money for that?

2. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – The trailers were sexy. The movie dry.

3. Eat, Love, Pray – or as I called it Eat, Love, Snore.

4. Country Strong – Not to repeat myself, but . . . country weak or just country WRONG.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Potluck Panic!

I'm heading off to friends for dinner tonight, and I'm not panicking about what to wear! BUT I was pretty freaked about what I was going to bring – you see, it's a potluck, and I didn't include it in my shopping this week.

This recipe didn’t just come to me; it evolved around what I found in the pantry. To be honest, my pantry is a little bare because I’m getting ready to move, and have not been keeping it stocked. I did find some green French lentils to provide my inspiration.

Lentils are considered a “happy food” and happy foods are especially important to me during the winter. One cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrates (16 of which are fiber). They also contain a good amount of iron.

Ok so lentils it is. Lentils take about 20 min to cook on the stovetop, but can be pretty bland on their own. I usually bump of the flavor by cooking lentils with a sautéed mirepoix (onion, carrot & celery) and some meat. Out of celery, and the only meat I’ve got in the fridge is some applewood-smoked bacon. There are some button mushrooms and a green pepper in there too. I’m ready to start.

First the mushrooms. Mushrooms are little sponges, and they don’t easily give that beautiful deep hearty flavor if you just dump them into a pot. They require some flirting. I find that sweating the sliced mushrooms in a hot fry pan with a little bit of salt, black pepper and about a tablespoon of olive oil does the trick. To do this right you need to place the mushroom slices in the hot oil one slice at a time, and leave them alone until they change color and you see the juices pooling up on the topside. Then turn them over and let the other side brown. The mushrooms will have reduced in size by more than 50%, because they’ve lost water and the flavor has been concentrated. (For an awesome hors d'œuvre add some garlic to this and put them on slices of toasted baguette.) Once the ‘shrooms are a nice nutty brown, remove from the hot pan.

Now bacon. (who doesn’t love bacon?) Chop the bacon into ¼ inch ribbons and place in pan to render. Let is sit for awhile until it starts to brown before stirring. When the bacon is done, add 1 cup diced onion, ½ cup diced carrot, and ½ cup diced green pepper. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add 1 cup dry lentils and the reserved mushrooms, and stir into mixture until coated. Add 2 cups chicken stock and 1 cup red wine, and bring to a simmer. When the liquids are simmering, cover and transfer to a 400º oven for 40 min to 1 hour.

Ok, this looks good . . . and it tastes good too . . . but it doesn’t really look like something for a potluck . . . brain ticking away . . . CORNBREAD! I love beans and cornbread, and lentils are beans, soooooooo . . . . Lentil PIE! I’m going to make cornbread and bake it on top of the lentil mixture.

Because of the moisture in the lentils, the cornbread took 30-35 min to bake instead of the 20-25 it usually takes, but it looks good. We’ll see what the people at the dinner party think. Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The BEST Coffee Maker in the World

I don't know about you, but for years I've made my coffee in an automatic drip coffee maker, but a few months ago I noticed I was getting a very inconsistent product. The part that heats the water was worn out, and I was not looking forward to spending $100 for something that takes up counter space in almost every kitchen in the country.

About this same time I saw a piece on "America's Test Kitchen" about coffee makers that found most coffee makers only heat the water to about 165º, not nearly hot enough to allow ground coffee to properly bloom (195º-200º). Even though ATK typically has a good low cost option, the only automatic maker they recommended was significantly more expensive than I wanted to pay.

A light went off in my head. Bay Area cafes have been offering "coffee by the cup," where coffee is brewed one cup at a time for the last few years. Coffee sold this way tends to be priced a little higher than the regular brew, and I'm cheap, so I only splurged a few times, but I recalled that friends, Rob and Joe, used this technique at home all the time. So I investigated.

The best news is these filter holders are less that $5.00, and there are glass and ceramic models for a few dollars more.

A great cup of coffee takes 2 things, good quality roasted coffee beans and HOT water.

Here's my recipe for steaming hot coffee in less than 2 minutes.

  • Heat the water. If you've got a teakettle and a good gas stove, like I do, I can heat water to boiling in about a minute. If your stovetop is not that efficient, invest a couple bucks in an electric kettle. The microwave is not a good place to boil water.
  • I like Café au lait, so while the water is heating I put a quarter cup of 1% milk in my coffee cup and warm it for 40 seconds in the microwave.
  • Put an unbleached (not white) paper coffee filter into holder, and add one scoop (1 TBS) ground coffee. I grind my coffee to a #4 setting rather than #5 for a bit more robust flavor. Pull heated milk out of the microwave, and place filter over cup.
  • Add just enough hot water to dampen grounds and allow that to drain into cup. Add more water to fill cup. I usually need to refill the filter with hot water twice to get a full cup, breath deeply and enjoy!

Note: I can get two cups of coffee from each paper filter by adding one more scoop of coffee to the filter after the first cup is brewed, and repeating the rest of the process.

Busy Friday Night in Oakland's Uptown

Last night was nearly perfect in Oakland's Uptown. For those of you unfamiliar with Oakland, the Uptown area is easily accessible using Bart's 19th Street Station, and Bart fare is about the same as bridge fare. Uptown in on the rise, honestly it's risen pretty high already with some great apartments and condominiums, a thriving group of restaurants, and it's two most prized gems, The Paramount and The Fox theaters.

Last night, The Paramount was filled to the rafters for that special film where classical music meets fantasy and imagination, "Fantasia." The reason my night was just 'nearly' perfect is that the last tickets to this 1940 film were sold to the person right in front of me, "Computer says no." I don't recall the Paramount's fantastic $5 classic movie night to ever be a sell, and I want to congratulate them on this incredibly successful evening. Let there be more!

Oh well, if you've got lemons, make lemonade. I had already enjoyed an awesome $9 lamb burger, yummy fried chickpeas and an IPA at the Spice Monkey. I was not going to let a little thing like seeing an old movie get me down when four of my very dearest friends were with me, so we set off for drinks, and laughs and a very good time.

Ok, I want to brag a bit about Oakland just a bit, because San Francisco just does not have venues like The Fox and The Paramount anymore, and I believe Uptown's "style" can be attributed to these grand old movie palaces. The Fox was built in 1928, and The Paramount in 1931, but both closed due to lack of interest when patrons abandoned downtown venues in favor of those horrible malls in the late 1960s. Luckily, unlike most of San Francisco's theaters of this golden age, the Fox and Paramount were rescued from the wrecking ball and beautifully refurbished; the Paramount in 1973, and the Fox in 2009.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Golden Globes – Television

Below are the Golden Globe nominees for Television, to be aired on January 16th.

Ok, I have to confess. I don't have cable, and am totally unfamiliar with many/most of these programs, which makes picking a winner just about as easy as picking a lottery winner. To further complicate things, I honestly don't care who wins . . . but you might, lots of people do. Oh, one clarification, I wish great to success to Glee and it's amazing cast. Go Glee!

Best Television Series - Drama

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)


The Good Wife (CBS)

Mad Men (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series - Drama

Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (CBS)

Elisabeth Moss – Mad Men (AMC)

Piper Perabo – Covert Affairs

Katey Sagal – Sons Of Anarchy

Kyra Sedgwick – The Closer (TNT)

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama

Steve Buscemi – Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad

Michael C. Hall – Dexter (SHOWTIME)

Jon Hamm – Mad Men (AMC)

Hugh Laurie – House (FOX)

Best Television Series - Comedy Or Musical

30 Rock (NBC)

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

The Big C (Showtime)

Glee (FOX)

Modern Family (ABC)

Nurse Jackie (SHOWTIME)

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series - Comedy Or Musical

Toni Collette – United States Of Tara (SHOWTIME)

Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie (SHOWTIME)

Tina Fey – 30 Rock (NBC)

Laura Linney – The Big C (Showtime)

Lea Michele – Glee (FOX)

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Comedy Or Musical

Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock (NBC)

Steve Carell – The Office (NBC)

Thomas Jane – Hung (HBO)

Matthew Morrison – Glee (FOX)

Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Best Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made for Television

Carlos (Sundance C)

The Pacific (HBO)

Pillars Of The Earth (STARZ)

Temple Grandin (HBO)

You Don't Know Jack (HBO)

Best Performance by an Actress In A Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Hayley Atwell – Pillars Of The Earth (STARZ)

Claire Danes – Temple Grandin (HBO)

Judi Dench – Return To Cranford

Romola Garai – Emma

Jennifer Love Hewitt – The Client List

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Idris Elba – Luther

Ian McShane – Pillars Of The Earth (STARZ)

Al Pacino – You Don't Know Jack (HBO)

Dennis Quaid – The Special Relationship

Edgar Ramirez – Carlos (Sundance C)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Hope Davis – The Special Relationship

Jane Lynch – Glee (FOX)

Kelly MacDonald – Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Julia Stiles – Dexter (SHOWTIME)

Sofia Vergara – Modern Family (ABC)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Scott Caan – Hawaii Five-O

Chris Colfer – Glee (FOX)

Chris Noth – The Good Wife (CBS)

Eric Stonestreet – Modern Family (ABC)

David Strathairn – Temple Grandin (HBO)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lemon Jalapeno Marmalade

This was my favorite recipe for 2010, so I thought I'd share it with you.

I'm blessed to have a beautiful Myer Lemon tree in my yard. When I want a lemon, I open the window and grab one. The neighbors are welcome to all the fruit they can reach on the other side of the tree, there is plenty.
  • 4-5 Lemons
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 Jalapeno peppers (or use one Jalapeno and one red Thai chile)
Wash the lemons thoroughly.
Cut into thin 1/8 inch slices, remove any seeds, and quarter slices
Place into a stainless steel pot with 3 cups water, and place over high heat until boiling
Reduce heat and cook abut 40 min until fruit is very soft
Remove ribs from peppers and slice thinly. If concerned about heat, remove seeds.
Add sugar and peppers and cook until mixture darkens or to about 222º on candy thermometer OR test mixture by putting a spoon on a cool plate and allow it to cool. Cooled mixture should be at desired consistency. If too thick add more water, if too thin continue to cook.

Serving suggestion: This is great for jam thumbprint cookies or on a bagel with cream cheese.

The Best Movies of 2010

The Golden Globe Awards are just one week away, and Oscar nominees to be announced on Tuesday, January 25, 2011. I love the movies, and this is my favorite time of the year, because the most artistic of films are released. I'm feeling good this year, because I've already seen a good share of Golden Globe nominees.

The Golden Globes split awards for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress into two categories, Drama and Comedy or Musical. Tune in Sunday January 16th to see how I did . . . or better still how you did.

Best Motion Picture – Drama: Nominees are Black Swan, Inception, The Fighter, The King's Speech, and The Social Network. While I liked all these films, my pick for this category is The King's Speech because it's not dark, it's not a docu-drama, and it's not science fiction.

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical: Nominees are Alice in Wonderland, Burlesque, Red, The Kids Are All Right, and The Tourist. I confess that, because of terrible critical reviews, I have not seen The Tourist, but my pick is Red. I have not seen a film in years where the cast looked like they were having this much fun doing a film.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama: Nominees are Colin Firth - The King's Speech, James Franco in 127 Hours, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter, and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine. I still need to see 127 Hours and Blue Valentine, and reserve the right to change my mind when I do see them, but my pick for Best Actor is Jesse Eisenberg.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical: Nominees are Jake Gyllenhaal in Love and Other Drugs, Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland, Johnny Depp in The Tourist, Kevin Spacey in Casino Jack, and Paul Giamatti in Barney's Version. My pick is Kevin Spacey, but I have not seen Barney's Version and might still change my mind.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama: Nominees are Halle Berry in Frankie and Alice, Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, Natalie Portman in Black Swan, and Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. This one is harder to predict because I still need to see three of the five films. I expect to change my mind to Nicole Kidman, but for now I'm giving the prize to Jennifer Lawrence for her role in a movie that made me feel like I was eavesdropping rather than just watching.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical: Nominees are Angelina Jolie in The Tourist, Anne Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs, Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right, Emma Stone in Easy A, and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right. I'm torn here, I'd 'like' to award Julianne Moore, because I love her and I applaud her efforts in getting this great film made. Annette Bening was also fabulous and I think she'll take home the honor.

Best Director for a Motion Picture: Nominees are: Christopher Nolan for Inception, Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, David O. Russell for The Fighter, and Tom Hooper for The King's Speech. I think Clint Eastwood should be on this list for Hereafter, in fact I think he should win the award, but . . . Anyway, of those nominated, I'm going with Darren Aronofsky for the twisted creative and beautiful Black Swan.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Nominees are: Andrew Garfield in The Social Network, Christian Bale in The Fighter, Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech, Jeremy Renner in The Town, and Michael Douglas in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. And the award goes to Christian Bale for a truly amazing performance.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Nominees are Amy Adams in The Fighter, Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech, Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom, Melissa Leo in The Fighter, and Mila Kunis in Black Swan. I'm going with Mila Kunis.