Chocolate Mousse Made With … Bean Water?

Chocolate mousse made with … bean water?

Hey, did you know that the UN has designated 2016 the International Year of Pulses? Of course you didn’t! Do you even know what pulses are? Bet not. I’m not talking the throbbing on your wrist, or the thing you do on the food processor to pulverize nuts. Pulses are dried members of the legume family that include beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas. This does not include fresh beans or peas, soybeans, or peanuts. Got it? Good.

I had the privilege to be invited to the gorgeous Culinary Institute of America Greystone a few weeks back to learn more about pulses, and get inspired on how to use them. During this weekend intensive, we heard from experts on the virtues of pulses, and then went into the kitchens to work with instructors to get our pulses racing.

Why pulses? Simple. Pulses are:

  • Renewable and sustainable. Pulses actually fix nitrogen in the soil, adding rather than depleting nutritional value like many other crops do.
  • Healthful. Pulses are high in protein and low in fat. Increasing pulse consumption has been demonstrated to aid in weight loss, even without making other dietary change. They are heart-healthy, and help regulate blood sugar.
  • Oh yeah, delicious. If you’re not already in love with them, you haven’t had them prepared right. And about that farty thing: Research has shown that once you integrate more pulses into your diet more regularly, that little problem tends to go away.

To get more people to enjoy pulses as part of their regular routine, they’ve launched the #PulsePledge, where you commit to eating at least one serving of pulses a week. In our household, that’s a no-brainer. We eat beans on the reg, most especially the fabulous ones from Rancho Gordo.

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Persimmon skillet cake

Persimmon skillet cake

In 1993, dpaul and I moved into an apartment on Dolores Park, on the edge of the Mission District. At the time, the area was pretty edgy. There was gang activity nearby and drug dealers in the park. The windows on either side of the front door of our building were pocked with bullet holes.

Needless to say, this had a negative effect on the commerce of the neighborhood. On the corner was a grim little restaurant called Real Good Karma that served cheerless bowls of brown rice and tofu. A friend remarked that it was the site of countless lesbian breakups; so much for that good karma. At the opposite end of the block was a produce market where fruit lay molding on the shelves. In between stood another storefront, a corner market called Bi-Rite, which we'd hit up for the occasional can or box, but otherwise its offerings were meager.

So it was until 1997, when Sam Mogannam, the nephew and son of Bi-Rite's owners, took the place over. By this time the dot-com boom had brought young money into the Mission, and the neighborhood was ripe for gentrification. Sam shuttered the market for a remodel, and when the paper (and bars!) came off the windows, the neighbors came out in droves. At last, a real market! Look, gourmet cheese! Ohmigod, a deli case! Hey, fruit that isn't rotting!

Before long, we were spending a sizable portion of our take-home pay at this new food shrine, routinely making dinner from ready-made salads and entrees from their case, or cobbling together fancy cheeses and charcuterie to go along with their (very reasonably priced) wines. And in the early days, one of the things we bought most often was a pear skillet cake made by Sam's mom, a spice cake with pears and a sticky caramel edge. It was pure crack, and regularly stood in as both dessert and breakfast. 

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Cannoli, an unexpected family secret

Cannoli ©DPaul Brown

Every holiday has its food. Easter of course means ham, hard-boiled eggs, cheap chocolate and Peeps, but for me it also means cannoli.

The other day, we were cocktailing with our friend Michael, a fellow paisano albeit of Sicilian extraction. I mentioned I wanted to revisit my post on cannoli from a few years back. Michael said in his family they called them Aunt Mary Cookies, for fairly self-evident reasons, and lamented how much of a pain the shells were to make — getting the dough thin enough, frying them off, and so on. I mentioned that in my family, we didn’t do the fried shells, but used pizzelle and rolled them while still hot and pliable. “Yes, well, that’s cheating,” he said, to which I rebuffed, half-feigning indignity: “It’s not cheating, Michael, it’s regional.” But as soon as the words spilled from my mouth, I was suddenly filled with doubt.

So, yes, the cannoli I grew up with are made with pizzelle, the delicate, rose-window-patterned cookies, rolled into tubes. I blindly assumed that this was derived from some old-world tradition carried over from one of my forebears from the motherland. But I was also aware that I have never known anyone else to make their cannoli in this fashion.

When I mentioned to my mother that I was making a batch, she remarked that her grandmother didn’t use pizzelle; she had a curling iron-like device with which she wrapped dough around and dipped into frying oil. Somehow, this detail had eluded me for four decades. When I asked her how our family came by the tradition of using the pizzelle, she said she didn’t know. After Great-Grandma Battaglia passed in the 1960s, the cookies seem to have dropped out of our culinary tradition for a bit, then magically reappeared with this new technique. 

I then went on to ask my Aunt Barb, my mother’s younger sister, who has long taken an interest in the family recipes, desserts in particular. She was also unsure where the pizzelle came in, though she in fact didn’t even remember her grandmother making the fried shells; she was rather young when Grandma Battaglia passed away. But she noted that Aunt Chris may have been the source of the recipe.

Aunt Chris is my mother’s sister-in-law. Of French and Irish descent, she married my Uncle Joe in the late ’60s, and right away took to adopting the family recipes to please him. I called her and asked who provided the cannoli recipe. She flipped through her recipe folio, and found the original recipe for the filling … which in fact came from her neighbor Ida Iovanella. As for the shells, she surmised that at the time she was not versed in frying, and came up with the idea to use pizzelle instead. In other words, it sort of was cheating.

But if it is a cheat, it’s a damn good one. For me and the other kids of my generation, this was the only cannoli we ever knew. My cousin Nicolle and I both prefer this version to the traditional fried shells. Plus it’s easier and a lot less messy to boot. It’s a tradition, no matter how recent, I think is worth carrying on.

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Chocolate-covered Strawberries

Chocolate-covered strawberries

I’m going to break form here. Normally, in each post, I tell a little story, take you on a small journey or give you kernels of insight into our lives.

Not today, no. Today, it’s all about eating with your eyes.

Because, really, what’s there to say? What could I put in words that could trigger the salivary glands better than just looking at these ruby-red, perfectly dimpled berries coated in luxuriant chocolate ganache?

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Mint Julep Poached Peaches

Mint julep poached peaches

Once again, I am guest-blogging over at Married …with Dinner for another installment of their Drink of the Week feature. This time I am discussing a drink I absolutely adore, the mint julep.

As an ice-cold beverage, the julep is cool and refreshing, but the flavors lend themselves well to other preparations. By upping the ratio of simple syrup and mint to bourbon, it makes a wonderful poaching liquid for ripe fruit, and in particular that most southern of fruits, peaches. Since peaches are just now reaching their pinnacle of ripeness, this is a perfect, and perfectly seasonal, dessert.

I stole the idea from Nigella Lawson‘s Forever Summer; I never actually bought the book, just watched her make this on the television show. I just intuited the recipe — it isn’t really all that complicated.

Do you dare to eat a [mint julep-poached] peach?

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Almond-ricotta cupcakes with lemon royal icing

I was sort of strongarmed into the Cupcake Challenge co-hosted by Garrett of Vanilla Garlic and Cheryl (Chockylit) of Cupcake Bakeshop. "I expect you to participate," said Garrett. Far be it from me to back down from a challenge.

I have long enjoyed the cupcakey escapades of both bloggers. Many times have I been inspired to whip up some batter and snap to it. Yet, I must confess, I was a cupcake virgin. I had never baked a cupcake in my life.

So what does one do to pop one’s cupcake cherry? Cherry vanilla? Cute, but taken. Plain old Duncan Hines-style vanilla with chocolate frosting? Too boring. No, after weighing the options and dreaming of yummy flavors, I decided I wanted to make almond cupcakes with a lemon frosting.

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The Holy Trinity

You were warned. After Shuna’s awesome pie-making class a couple of weeks ago, you knew, or should have known, that pies were coming. And come they did.

As we had an event to attend the Friday after Thanksgiving, we offered to make pies so we could flex our newfound muscles. Gotta put that training into action. Use it or lose it, right?

We’re talking pie here, and we’re talking Thanksgiving. There are three and only three flavors that resonate with holiday: Pumpkin (sorry, punkin), apple and pecan. The Holy Trinity. Could we have tried something more adventurous? Probably. Will we branch out and try new and exotic flavor combinations in the future? You better believe it. But we’re aiming to please the masses here, so no curried sweet potato chiffon this time, even if that does sound rather good.

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Easy as pie

I’ve always felt that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Pie crust certainly fits well within the category of things worth doing. I’ve never been much of a baker — DPaul is the breadmaster in the house — and not having the mastery of a good, simple pie dough has always felt like a gaping hole in my culinary repertory. So in order to learn how to do it well, DPaul and I both undertook tutelage from a bona fide pastry chef, in fact arguably the best of the bunch, the always fabulous Shuna Lydon.

If you are not yet a loyal and regular reader of her blog, eggbeater, you should be. Her stellar CV aside (she’s worked with luminary chefs in some of the most esteemed kitchens in the Bay Area, such as French Laundry, Aziza and Citizen Cake), she is a fabulous writer, whimsical, intuitive and poetic. She takes gorgeous photographs. And she’s just a plain old sweetheart.

Jumbled into the diminutive kitchen at Poulet in Berkeley, a dozen of us of varying degrees of bakeitude focused our five senses on the task at hand, producing a delectable all-butter pie crust. Shuna showed us the ropes on mixing our frozen butter and frozen flour in a frozen bowl, stopping along the way to allow us to touch the mixture and train our sensory memory to know when to stop. This is the stuff you cannot learn in a book, on TV or even (gasp!) the Internet.

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City Bakery

When one trusted source refers you to a place when you’re visiting New York, you put it on the list. When two do it, you make it an imperative. When it happens to be two blocks from your office, you go twice. Such was the case for City Bakery.

I was made aware of City Bakery by newfound friend (by way of David, with whom I just dined at Tía Pol) Thomas Locke Hobbes. A Bay Area native but longtime New York resident (and now transplant back to his hometown), Thomas advised that City Bakery produced the best chocolate chip cookies. Ever. And then the always engaging and informative Shuna commented that I simply must go there for the pretzel croissant. As far as I know they are not in cahoots with each other, or the bakery.

So. Pretzel croissant, eh?


Ho yeah. Explosively flaky on the surface and fluffy soft on the inside. Big time buttery yet never greasy or dense. And just salty enough to highlight the sweetness of the dough. This is a very dangerous thing indeed.

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