• The Election Is Over. Now Have Cupcake.

    Double-Chocolate Cupcakes.

    Regardless of whether your candidate won or lost, you deserve a cupcake. A double-chocolate cupcake. With buttery chocolate frosting. The cupcake can be a celebration, or a consolation. Either way, this cupcake will be tasty and you will sigh and smile. Perhaps one more might be even better…you deserve it.

    And this is no ordinary cupcake. This is a killer cupcake. Moist, sweet and with a wallop of dark chocolate, this is the kind of cupcake you get at the best bakeries (after you waited in line). And that is where the recipe comes from. The recipe is Carolyn’s adaptation of a cake recipe from the Miette cookbook. Miette is a small chain of bay area bakeries that features world-class cakes, cupcakes and confections. The Miette cookbook is a favorite in our kitchen, not only for the recipes, but some of the techniques that make for moist and flavorful cakes. The “Cake-Baking Essentials” section of the book should be required reading for bakers who want to take their cakes to the next level. Some of the “essentials” are a bit fussy and exacting, but with baking, “fussy” is what often makes the difference.

    And this recipe uses a few of these techniques for a better cupcake. The recipe uses oil instead of butter, as butter has extra water content that evaporates and makes for a dry, crumbly texture (we love butter, but it is better for crispy, rather than tender baked goods). Oil keeps the cupcake moist. The recipe uses both melted chocolate and cocoa power for deep chocolate flavor. And the recipe has you sift dry ingredients, very lightly mix the batter and then strain the batter through a mesh strainer to avoid lumps, and minimize mixing and gluten formation. In the end, you have a little extra work, but a very moist and flavorful cupcake.

    Otherwise, the basic steps for making the cupcakes are familiar. Line your muffin tin with cake cups and preheat the oven. Sift and mix the dry ingredients. Melt the chocolate and prepare the wet ingredients. Whip the eggs in a mixer, then add the oil, chocolate and other wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients, mix lightly and run the batter through the mesh strainer. Then put the batter in the cake cups and bake. After about twenty to twenty-five minutes you will have cupcakes. Then you have to wait for them to cool…and those minutes can be painfully slow.

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  • Roasted Rack Of Lamb

    Roasted Rack of Lamb.

    Years ago, and we do mean years ago (ugh), we enjoyed some of our first “fine dining” in San Francisco and New York. The food was divine and we really felt transported to an entirely new world. Great fun with lifelong friends, and some of our most memorable experiences. We were also lucky enough to have a few friends who happened to be professional chefs, and they often gave us a little guidance on what a good fine dining experience “should” be. Our friend Chad, once said of a French-inspired fine dining experience, “if you don’t get world-class game, veal or lamb as the main dish you’ve been cheated”. And while we generally agree, the last Michelin 3-star we dined at served goat as the main course.The goat was very, very good, but also a sign that, perhaps, times have changed (or to get 3 stars these days you must be “unique”).

    Regardless, lamb often seems like a special, restaurant-only dish. But many lamb dishes are very easy to make at home, and the results are truly delicious. The easiest cuts to cook at home are lamb tenderloins and rack of lamb. (Lamb tenderloins are simply the loin cut from the rack of lamb- very expensive, hard to butcher and hard to find, but incredibly tender and flavorful. Get them if you can and sear in a hot pan for just a few minutes, slice and serve. Heaven.) But rack of lamb is widely available, attractive, flavorful and a simple dish to make. And the rack is not as “gamey” as other cuts of lamb. So not only is it tasty, but the rack is a good introduction to lamb for those who may be a bit scared by lamb’s reputation for strong flavors.

    As a bit of a downside, rack of lamb is often pricey, but it’s a special occasion / sunday dinner kind of dish, so we think it’s worth the cost. Also, most lamb in the states used to be imported from New Zealand, but these days many markets feature American grass-fed lamb that is just as good, often better, than imported lamb. We certainly need to give a plug to our friends the Poncias at Stemple Creek Ranch, their humanely raised, grass-fed lamb and beef are world-class. And domestic lamb is less expensive than imported. Good stuff, and something any locavore can get behind and enjoy.

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  • Cocktail DIY: Stocking Your Bar At Home

    As we continue our exploration of cocktails, we are often asked “how do you get started at home and what should we buy”? We certainly have our opinions and we will share them, but there are no perfect answers (opinions, comments, disagreements and even outrage are welcome, feel free to share your thoughts!).  But here is how we would get started:

    “Short and sweet” version of the home bar.

    Here is the “short and sweet” version: Get a bottle of dry gin, a bottle of light rum and a bottle of whiskey (we like rye, but bourbon or Canadian whiskey are good). Get some Angostura and Regan’s Orange bitters, sweet and dry vermouth (nothing fancy) and fresh citrus. Make a few basic syrups with sugar and honey. Get that old cocktail shaker off the shelf (we bet you have one somewhere) and start making drinks. And what can you make? Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Sours and Daiquiris along with dozens of other “classic” cocktails. Go to Cocktail DB to get more ideas based on ingredients in your fridge. You are off and running for about $100 bucks, and if you assume you will get at least 50 cocktails from these three bottles, the average cost per drink is about $2. Not too shabby (to borrow from Adam Sandler).

    But what if you want to take it up a notch? For about $250 you can stock a home bar that allows you to build literally hundreds of cocktails and with “professional” results. A few more spirits and bitters, a liqueur or two and a bit of extra gear and you have a “pro” bar at home. So here is the breakdown, with a focus on readily (and nationally) available ingredients:


    • Dry Gin: All sorts of good options here, but stalwarts like Tanqueray, Brokers, Gordon’s and Beefeater are all under $20. If you are a gin fan, there are dozens of good artisan gins to try, usually around $30. And if you just can’t stand juniper, “new world” gins like Hendrick’s (cucumber) and Nolet (floral) focus on other flavors and are good options. Martinis, Rickeys, Gimlets, Sours and Collins’ are all based on gin. Try classics like the Pegu Club or Aviation.
    • Whiskey: We like rye whiskey and suggest Rittenhouse 80 proof for about $20. If you like bourbon, Bulleit at $25 is a good choice, but there are good options around $15. Good for Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Sours. Try the Daisy Black for a twist on a Whiskey Sour.
    • Light Rum: We suggest El Dorado Light Demerara rum at $15. Great rum at a good price (their Gold rum is also excellent). Bacardi and Brugal are also solid choices. Good for classics like Daiquiris and Cuba Libre, also a component of many tiki drinks.
    • Aged / Dark Rum:  We suggest Barbancourt 4 or 8-year-old and/or Appleton aged rums, about $25 – $30. While very different, both offer the deep, funky sugar and vanilla flavors that make tiki / tropical drinks sing. Great for tiki drinks and for deeper versions of Daiquiris.
    • Tequila: Plenty of good blanco tequilas under $20, just be sure it is 100% agave. We like to use richer-flavored reposado tequila in most drinks and prefer Cazadores, it works in just about everything and is about $25. For most, tequila is still all about Margaritas, but let’s face it, Margaritas still rock. If you are looking to branch-out, try the Ernesto or Chica Facil.
    • Brandy: This is a tough one. Good brandy isn’t cheap and some brands are not widely available. You will need help at your liquor store. VS Cognac is ok, but XO or VSOP will be better but cost over $30. We like Armagnac, and you can get a very good bottle for $30- $35. National brands like Hennessy have VS Cognacs for under $30, domestic brandies will often be less expensive. If you want to make a good Sidecar, you need good brandy. Also, a key ingredient in classic punches, like Chatham Artillery Punch.
    • Vodka: While not a favorite of many cocktail enthusiasts, a lot of people like vodka, and you probably have a bottle somewhere in the house already. Plenty of good options under $20. Cosmopolitans and Lemondrops are good reasons to have some vodka in your bar.
    • Extras: If you want to add-on, blended Scotch, Irish whiskey, Genever (gin in a richer, maltier style), Laird’s Bonded Applejack (apple brandy), Cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane spirit) and Rhum Agricole are all worthy additions to your bar. Continue reading
  • Weekly Cocktail #34: The Sawyer

    The Sawyer.

    With the Giants in the World Series and us trying to pick up the kids, get them to the game (doing homework in the car the whole way) and then drive back, it has been a tough week for cocktails around the farm. Not that we mind (Go Giants!). We do get to sneak in a beer now and then (thankfully they have decent beer and pretzels at the ballpark). But we still got to play a bit with cocktails and our focus drifted to using more bitters.

    We have been enjoying bitters in sparkling cocktails like the Seelbach and Rochelle-Normande, and started to look for more “bitters-heavy” cocktails to try. And if playing with bitters, then one of the better sources for recipes is Brad Thomas Parson’s cocktail book “Bitters, A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All“. The book has lot’s of history and data on bitters and dozens of classic and new recipes to try. We “sampled” most of the classics, with the Pegu Club being our favorite, so we drifted toward the more modern cocktails.

    And it didn’t take long for us to find the Sawyer. The Sawyer combines gin, sugar and lime with a full blast of over 25 dashes of bitters. It’s basically a gimlet with an almost radioactive amount of bitters. But we like gin and lime, so we are always happy to see riffs on the theme. In this case, the Sawyer has 14 dashes of Angostura, 7 of Peychaud’s and 7 of orange bitters (Regan’s #6 and/or Fee’s West Indian). And not only does the drink taste great with layers of spice, cherry, anise and orange, over a core of juniper and lime, but this recipe pretty much represents the “core” bitters you should have in a bar at home (we have more, but we’re geeky that way). And bitters usually cost anywhere from $5 -$15 bucks and last forever, so they are a worthwhile purchase. So here is a bit of info on the bitters:

    • Angostura: The #1 bitters you need in your bar. Many classic and tiki drinks use it and many recipes sub Angostura if you don’t have more exotic bitters handy. Angostura is dark, bitter and spicy with cinnamon and tamarind flavor. It adds a detectable “zing” to most drinks and a bit of a tannic finish.
    • Orange Bitters: After Angostura, orange bitters are the most common, particularly in classic cocktails. Regan’s #6 has deep, spicy orange peel flavors while Fee’s West Indian bitters have brighter, fresher citrus notes.
    • Peychaud’s: Is the bitters of New Orléans and the key to a good Sazerac and many other classic, whiskey-based cocktails. Peychaud’s has pronounced cherry and anise flavor.

    The other cool thing about the Sawyer is that is comes from Momofuku Ssam Bar in NYC, one of our favorite places. In typical fashion, Don Lee the bartender created it and named it after the daughter of Wylie Dufresne, another famous NYC Chef. Got all that? This is all sort of “inside baseball”, but the Sawyer is a very tasty drink and features layered, spicy flavors and aromas while still managing to be light and refreshing. A very pleasant surprise, and a good excuse to go get some bitters.

    The Sawyer:

    (From Brad Thomas Parsons and Don Lee)


    • 2 oz. dry gin
    • 1/2 fresh lime juice
    • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
    • 14 dashes Angostura bitters
    • 7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
    • 7 dashes orange bitters (split of Regan’s #6 and Fees West Indian Orange bitters, if you can)


    1. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass, cocktail glass or coupé.