Brownie Cookies

brownie cookies
This past weekend was packed with baking and cooking projects. Some of it was prompted by a cleaning-out-the-freezer impulse. (I blame Marie Kondo.) I unearthed some chicken backs and wings and turned them into stock with some celery that needed to be used up. Two lost bags of frozen blueberries became an experimental chia seed jam. Oats, nuts, seeds, and coconut morphed into a kitchen-sink granola. And, unrelated to the spring-cleaning mission, I made cute little cinnamon rolls from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook just because.

The results were mixed. The stock was good, but it’s hard to mess up stock. My experiments with chia have been lackluster, and the jam was no exception (though I suspect that the frost-bitten blueberries were at fault here). It did not spark joy. The granola wasn’t bad, but I have made better. And while I liked the cinnamon rolls, I felt that I needed to improve the filling-to-dough ratio (it was too skimpy).

I figured one of those projects would warrant a post this week, but no. Fortunately, I still had a few odds and ends to clean out of the kitchen. I’m in a transition mode—moving from one book project to another. That was part of the reason that it was time to clean house.

stocking up
Last year, while testing recipes for Mindy Segal’s cookie book, I accidentally bought unsweetened chocolate discs from the bulk bins at Berkeley Bowl thinking they were bittersweet. The discs have been hanging around since June, and I wanted to unload them. I also still had some prune puree left in the refrigerator since making this banana bread. And just the other day I landed upon an old recipe for espresso cookies from my days as a La Farine baker. Which made me remember I also had instant coffee also left over from cookie recipe testing. Something good had to come of all this.

And so I cobbled together this chocolate cookie recipe. [click to continue…]

Seed + Salt, a Restaurant Focused on Seed-to-Stalk cooking

Nut Loaf from Seed+Salt

sprouted S+S nut loaf with housemade nutella

When I first heard about Seed + Salt, I was immediately hooked on the name. Last year I drafted a cookbook proposal focused on baking with nuts and seeds, and while the project never got quite off the ground, I never stopped thinking about the culinary attributes of nuts and seeds—and their under-tapped potential. I had to pay this new place a visit.

Seed+Salt Entrance

Seed+Salt entrance

Seed + Salt, which opened on the north side of Chestnut Street in San Francisco on Black Friday, 2014, takes the nut-and-seed idea to a whole new level. [click to continue…]

Birdseed Banana Bread

Birdseed banana bread mise en place
While all things Burma have been my focus recently, this past weekend I wanted to make a return to baking. This was prompted by a few recent conversations about Cookie Love, the book I wrote with Mindy Segal. This April when the book comes out, I’ll be focused on all things cookie.

But since my future has plenty of cookies in store, I didn’t want to bake cookies. Instead, I wanted to make something that shared some of that same no-fuss ethos. Enter banana bread.

For years, the only recipe I ever thought to be a worthy use of old bananas was the Kona Inn banana bread from an old Junior League of Palo Alto cookbook. It’s the only one my mom ever baked, and every other banana bread I’ve compared it to has tasted dry and bland. But the Kona Inn recipe is rich, with lots of butter and sugar. I started to wonder: did it have to be so rich to taste so good? [click to continue…]

Myanmar Tea

kettles working overtime
There is potential to grow high-quality coffee in Myanmar (formerly Burma), especially in the Golden Triangle, but the product doesn’t have a ready market within the country itself. Here, apart from a few chic coffee shops in Yangon, coffee means Nescafe.

Tea is a different story. There’s a saying in the country that awkwardly translates to this: If it’s meat, it’s pork; if it’s fruit, it’s mango; if it’s leaves, it’s tea.

This saying probably relates to laphet, Burmese pickled tea eaten straight or mixed into a salad. But it applies to what you drink, too. Just about everywhere I went on my recent trip to Myanmar, I downed mild Chinese tea almost like water. And for the higher-octane stuff, I reached for Myanmar tea. After an afternoon spent sampling the milky sweet, seemingly innocuous tea at a tea shop in Yangon, the group I was traveling with were amped up—all of us had trouble sleeping that night. Myanmar tea means business. [click to continue…]

Burma Street Style

yangon street scene

Downtown Yangon.

When I was packing for my recent trip to Burma (formally Myanmar), I had a tough time figuring out what kind of clothes to bring. I knew it would be hot, and my usual San Francisco uniform (black jeans, button-down shirt and/or sweater, a jacket) wouldn’t cut it. I knew I wasn’t going to blend in, so my main goal was finding things that were practical, appropriate, and unassuming. I ended up filling my suitcase with sandals, lightweight, durable clothes with quick-drying fabric and a neutral scarf. But no convertible zip-away khaki pants/shorts or other multipurpose weirdness. So, generally, nothing that I’d call fashion-forward, but nothing too “safari gear” either.

Far more interesting than what I was wearing were the Burmese wardrobe choices I saw. New styles are infiltrating the culture as the country opens up to the world, but people of all ages are holding onto traditional styles, too. And everywhere we went, plaids and floral prints were mixed with abandon. [click to continue…]

Postcards from Burma

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon.

To cross the road in Yangon, it’s best to take it one lane at a time, even if the road is four lanes wide and has a roundabout. Go slow and steady so cars can anticipate your movement—running will throw off drivers. When possible, align yourself with Burmese women who are crossing, preferably older ones, and follow their lead. There is power in numbers, organized chaos, and deference to elders.

In Myanmar, the country still called Burma in most parts of the Western world, drivers drive on the right-hand side of the road, like they do in the U.S. But after years of severe trade restrictions, the Burmese couldn’t always get cars with steering wheels on the left side of the car, American style. So in most (but not all) cars, the steering wheel sits on the right side as it does in countries where people drive on the left-hand side of the road, like Japan, England, and Thailand. This is just one of the examples of how the Burmese make do and go about things in their own way.

On my first trip to this country, I learned about many of Burma’s quirks (another one: going through security on your way out of the airport). But more noticeable was the pace of change, especially [click to continue…]

A 16 Meatballs

A16 meatballs
It’s been more than six years since A16 Food + Wine was published. Six years is a lot of time and not much time at all. But when I think back to how things were back in the day, my life was a lot different. I wrote the book while I was in my late 20s. It was published the year I turned 30. I was a former A16 line cook who had only recently switched over to the writing side of the food business—and moved to Chicago. I was a transplant still getting used to my new, at times uncomfortable, identity as a journalist.

When the book came out, [click to continue…]

Grilled Radicchio on Cannellini Bean Mash

IMG_5291
It’s been a hectic stretch of days since the 20th, when I helped out in the kitchen for my parents’ annual neighborhood Christmas party. The average guest count for the occasion hovers around 50. There are carols and ornament exchanges, but most people come for the food. We always serve Mexican, a throwback to my mom’s memories of going to posadas in Mexico City when she was growing up. We served pork braised in salsa verde with a host of salsas while friends provided the rice, beans, and desserts. What usually happens after this party is that the rest of the week leading up to Christmas we eat Mexican leftovers in between other parties.

By the 26th, the various family members staying at the casa de Leahy were ready for a change. I took over the kitchen to make pseudo-A16 pizzas on the grill (pseudo because I modified the method significantly to handle a time-crunch situation) and threw together a big green salad. But my favorite component of the meal was a plate of grilled radicchio drenched in balsamic vinegar and olive oil and served over mashed cannellini beans.

The dish comes from [click to continue…]

Minestrone

Minestrone
When I was in elementary school in the 1980s, Californians were locked in the kind of drought pattern that limits how often you can water a lawn or flush a toilet. My mom would save the suds from the dishes to water her roses. When rain came, it was worth celebrating – even more so if you were an introvert kid like me who preferred to stay inside and draw during recess rather than play 4-square on the blacktop.

For the past three years, it’s felt like the 1980s all over again. California’s been locked in another bone-dry spell of weather. This past December was arid, and it didn’t rain at all in January. Which made yesterday’s wild rainstorm all the more incredible. In Sonoma, part of Guerneville was under water after receiving 8 inches of rain and pushing the Russian River beyond its capacity. All the excess water caused manhole covers to blew off in San Francisco.

Luckily, I worked from home all day and never had to battle the standing water on the road. It was definitely one of those days that make you want to use only the food you have on hand–no trip to the store necessary. [click to continue…]