Friday, August 31, 2007


Kara's Cupcakes
3249 Scott Street (between Lombard and Chestnut)
San Francisco, CA 94133

P 415 563-CAKE
F 415 563 2252 for ordering

hours Daily 10-6

Speaking of Giant Cupcakes, if you didn't already know about Kara's, you need to get on a bus, get in your car, get on your bike (useful to burn off the calories you will eventually be consuming once you get to Kara's) and GO to the best cupcakery in the Bay. Or at least, the only cupcakery in the Bay that I know of.

I fell in love with cupcakes as an adult on my first solo trip to NYC in 2003, when a friend of mine and her roommate took me to the ever-so-famous Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street. I had a vanilla cupcake. I was hooked. Since that fateful day, free-standing cupcake shops have gained enormous popularity, like Sprinkles in Los Angeles, and now, Kara's. What's special about Kara's is that they care to use only the best local ingredients, like fruits from the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, Clover Dairy milk (Petaluma, CA) and Scharffenberger Chocolate (Berkeley, CA).

What to order? My favorites are the Fleur de Sel (a moist chocolate cake with a caramel center and chocolate frosting, topped with a tiny bit of Fleur de Sel), the Coconut Vanilla (vanilla cupcake with coconut cream cheese frosting), and my personal favorite, the Buttermilk Vanilla (vanilla cupcake with a Madagascar bourbon vanilla buttercream). They also do a fantastic Meyer Lemon filled cupcake. Prices range from $2.00 (mini cupcakes) to $3.25 (filled cupcakes). A little pricey, but you can't really put a price on a little piece of heaven, now can you?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

BUY: Wilton Giant Cupcake Pan

I have dreamed of making something like this, but my attempt was going to be a freehand cake sculpture. However, I need not worry about how to do it, because Wilton has come out with a two-piece cake mold in the shape of my favorite dessert, the cupcake!

Made of cast aluminum, it features a reflective, non-stick surface for quick release, and can stand heat up to 450 degrees. Available at Sur La Table for $27.95 MSRP

BOOKS: I Am Almost Always Hungry by Lora Zarubin

I picked this book up on sale at a local book shop here in Pacific Heights after seeing it in a few of the fancy boutiques on Fillmore and Polk Streets. It did not disappoint!

This beautifully photographed cookbook is composed of innovative seasonal recipes. Although some of the recipes are definitely not for beginners, there is a certain simplicity to her cooking that preserves the flavors and essence of the season she is cooking for. Each chapter is actually a menu of three to four courses, and she makes everything from soup to grilled lobster to risotto, to panna cotta. She also gives a little commentary on why she chose the particular menu to write about.

My lucky (or unlucky?) friends will be the "guinea pigs" that I will test more of these recipes on. If you are fortunate enough to have a good farmers market nearby (like the one at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza), you will be inspired to start cooking seasonally after you peruse Lora Zarubin's book, and rightfully so!

TIPS: The Basic Kitchen

When I first moved into my apartment, I was bewildered by the thought of having to buy everything necessary to cook in my own place. My mom always had a crazy amount of cooking supplies in her kitchen, as we did, at one time, have a family restaurant in San Diego. So, in case you are wondering what makes a "basic kitchen", here are my two cents:

fry pan
sauce pan
saute pan
stock pot

Recommended: Stainless steel or stainless with copper bottom, with good weight (read: heavy)

Chef's knife
Bread knife (serrated)
Paring knife
Optional: Flexible deboning knife

Recommended: High end knives like Henckels or Wusthof, as they have good weight and balance, and can be sharpened back to perfection; you can also spring for a Santoku knife, which is a really handy choice

Cooks' Tools
Can opener
Vegetable peeler
Wire whisk
Wooden spoons
Heat resistent spatula (silicone)
Ladle, slotted spoon, pasta fork
Measuring cups & spoons

Other supplies
Pyrex/glass mixing bowls
Colander (I prefer metal)
Cutting board (I prefer wood)
Oven pans/baking dishes (depends on what you intend on cooking, but get a good roasting pan as a start)
Pot holders

Blender/hand blender
Toaster/toaster oven

Recommendation: If you're on a budget, just go to somewhere like Target and buy cheapies. However, if you plan on some serious cooking, you may want to invest in a little more expensive electrics, like a more powerful blender or a microwave with higher wattage, cause really, you get what you pay for.

Getting fancy: The more advanced your cooking is, the more tools you will need (well, actually, you will want). Serious kitchen aficionados will buy Cuisinarts and electric mixers - I am hoping to get a Kitchen Aid when I have the money and space - and expand your pan collection by getting specialty pans (I have a well seasoned paella pan as well as a brand new crepe pan). I also got myself a George Foreman grill, for quick and easy indoor grilling, when I don't want to use my grill pan. Once you get into cooking, it's pretty much guaranteed that you will begin to visit kitchenware stores and work yourself into a frenzy over all the available options out there.

Hope that this is helpful to someone out there! Buon apetito!

APPRECIATION: Food Styling by Heidi Gintner

My aunt Heidi is an AMAZING food stylist. You can see her photos here at Her work has been on catalogs and cookbooks for Williams-Sonoma, Safeway, and magazines all over the place. Here are a few samples:

RECIPE: A Page From "Entre Nous": Gigot d'Agneau

I am not a trained professional. Everything I learned about cooking I learned from my mom, my ex, and TV. Certain things still scare me, like trying to make a souffle, making Hollandaise sauce from scratch, and cooking large pieces of meat in the oven (I just don't trust myself sometimes). However, there is one dish that I can say that I am able to do well. Gigot d'Agneau - sounds fancy, doesn't it? I don't have photos of this one, but trust me, it is quite good, and easy to boot.

Gigot d'Agneau

5 lb. leg of lamb, deboned
6 whole garlic cloves
5 T extra virgin olive oil
herbs & spices (I use Herbes de Provence)
12 small potatoes
8 whole garlic cloves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use half the olive oil to coat the lamb, and rub it with garlic. Sprinkly generously with herbs, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Roast the lamb in oven one hour. Drizzle potatoes with remaining olive oil, season generously with herbs, salt, and pepper, and place potatoes and garlic around the lamb. Cook an additional 35-40 minutes, or until lamb is medium rare. Transfer lamp to a serving platter when done. Continue roasting potatoes until browned. Place potatoes and garlic together with the lamb on the platter.

I serve this with haricots verte and braised fennel topped with fresh Gruyere. Be careful not to overcook the lamb (very easy to do). I convinced one of my friends who swore she didn't like lamb to try it, and she totally liked it. Voila! Crowd pleaser!

Monday, August 27, 2007

RECIPE: Taste of Valencia: Paella

I was perusing a magazine one day at work, when an article caught my eye: it was a two page spread on the culinary delights of Spain, with a giant photograph of a beautiful pan of Paella Valenciana. The simple metal pan was overflowing with seafood, chorizo, and chicken atop a bed of saffron and tomato infused rice. The mere sight inspired me to buy a paella pan from Sur La Table ($19.99) and try my hand at making it. I found out that it's actually pretty simple, and when the dish is finished, it is rather impressive. I am not one to follow a recipe to the letter, rather, I take the general idea and run with it. You will need a paella pan. So here is the basic framework for Paella Valenciana - I don't know the proportions exactly, you just have to feel it out. If you have ever made risotto before, the process is very similar. This recipe can be expanded to feed many...if you find that the liquid amount seems too little, make sure to have extra chicken broth on hand to cook the rice all the way through.

Paella Valenciana

Per person, you will need:
1/2 c. Paella rice (I use Valenciano brand)
1/4 c. Dry white wine
5 Saffron threads
1/2 c. Chicken broth
1 Tomatoe, pureed
1/4 Onion, diced
1-2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 a Chicken breast, cut into strips
1 piece Dried chorizo (not the mushy fresh kind), sliced at an angle
2-3 Mussels
2-3 Clams
3-4 Shrimp, deveined, with shells still on
Frozen peas
Artichoke hearts
Red bell pepper
1/2 tsp. Pimenton de la Vera
Olive oil

Toast the saffron threads in a dry sauce pan until they start to release aroma. Add white wine to the pan and bring to a boil, then keep on low heat so the liquid stays warm. Heat the paella pan on medium high heat, and coat generously with olive oil. Saute the onions and garlic, then add the chicken breast. Cook until the chicken is lightly browned. Add the chorizo and heat through. Then, add the rice and keep stirring until the rice is coated with oil. Add the tomatoes and a heaping spoonful of pimenton de la vera and mix until even. Ladle some of the wine mixture and add a little chicken broth. This begins the cooking process for the rice. You will slowly add liquid and keep at a low simmer until the rice is almost done. Add all of the vegetables - the peas, artichoke hearts, bell pepper, and make sure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the seafood and cook until the shrimp is done and the shellfish have opened.

Serve this dish with red wine or a nice glass of sangria, and it makes an incredibly tasty, filling, and beautiful meal.