Monday, December 26, 2011

Season's Eatings!

I sure hope that everyone out there has had as delicious of a Christmas as I. I am so fortunate to have wonderful friends and family, near and far, and was able to spend time with so many loved ones this season. As we head into the new year, I'm going to leave you with a few visions of sugarplums... or at least visions of some of the goodies I feasted on over Christmas....

Guacamole with pomegranate seeds

Roasted pine nuts

Mini tarltet appetizers (pear and brie with blood orange syrup; gorgonzola with almond sorrel pesto)

Roasted apple and butternut squash soup


Fresh-baked cinnamon rolls

On that note, I'm over and out for a few weeks as I embark on my annual foreign escapade. Destination: Myanmar. Tasty tales and of course, fare to remember, will ensue. Cheers!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Coconut Flour Pancakes: It Must Be Sunday!

Nothing says Sunday like pancakes, at least in my world. Pancakes don't have a place in my breakfast lineup any other day of the week - but on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! - if all is right in my world, I can have a leisurely morning and a breakfast that includes a big stack of carbs. Ah - nothing better.

My current pancake obsession, however, is a complete departure from any traditional pancake that we all know and love. I've been converted to coconut flour pancakes. That's right - not a grain to be found in these fluffy flapjacks. No flour, no buckwheat, no sourdough. Hell - there's not even any dairy in the version that I make. Well, ok - eggs (if we're calling those dairy) - but no milk. They are totally caveman approved (perfectly paleo, if you're into that sort of thing... which I am, more and more) - and gluten-free as well. I saw them on the Nourishing Days blog, and tried them immediately. I haven't looked back since.

My main reason for giving these a go is that when I was in Laos, I had a coconut pancake of sorts made by a woman squatting in the street over a tiny coconut husk fire. The cake from her griddle was incredible - fluffy and savory, with a hint of coconut flavor. I've wanted to recreate it ever since, but I had no idea if her cake had a name or where I might find a recipe. So when I found this recipe, I was hoping it might somewhat replicate that delicious morsel of Lao street food. Well, it didn't. But boy - it sure is a damn good pancake regardless. So it's now my go-to. I love them because you can't make them very big (the batter just doesn't allow it) - so it satisfies my pancake craving without having to eat more than I should. In fact, when I'm making them just for myself, I cut the recipe in half, which is more than enough for one.

At any rate, I've included the Nourishing Days recipe in full below since it's obviously been perfected to perfection. I, however, don't add any sweetener or vanilla to mine. Just straight up works for me. I hope you give them a try!

(Note: You can buy coconut flour in bulk at Whole Foods. The recipe says you can use regular cow's milk or coconut milk - I always use light coconut milk from Trader Joe's.)

Fluffy Coconut Flour Pancakes
Recipe Notes: Both cow and coconut milk work well in this recipe. You can also add cinnamon or fruit as desired. Just keep the pancakes small and watch them so they don’t burn.
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup milk (raw cow’s or coconut both work)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey or a pinch of Stevia
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • coconut oil or butter for frying
Preheat griddle over medium-low heat. In a small bowl beat eggs until frothy, about two minutes. Mix in milk, vanilla, and honey or stevia. In a medium-sized bowl combine coconut flour, baking soda, and sea salt and whisk together. Stir wet mixture into dry until coconut flour is incorporated. Grease griddle with butter or coconut oil. Ladle a few tablespoons of batter into pan for each pancake. Spread out slightly with the back of a spoon. The pancakes should be 2-3 inches in diameter and fairly thick. Cook for a few minutes on each side, until the tops dry out slightly and the bottoms start to brown. Flip and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Serve hot with butter, coconut oil, honey, syrup, or fruit.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Soup's On! Italian Chicken Sausage and Artichoke Soup

Sometimes a little down time in your doctor's office waiting room is a really good thing. At my last doctor visit, I had a solid block of time as I sat waiting (and waiting... and waiting), so I had the chance to read an entire rumpled year-old copy of Sunset magazine, cover to cover. It was actually quite a luxury in the middle of a work day!

What I found that day in the pages of the tattered magazine has turned into this chilly season's go-to soup. I saw the picture (the same one that appears here), and I knew I would make it based on looks alone (it was a good first impression, what can I say? I'm a sucker for a sexy soup). When I read the super-simple ingredients and close-to-zero prep time, the deal was sealed.

As advertised, it was quick, delicious, gorgeous and YUMMY! The only change I made to the recipe was to use spinach instead of Swiss chard, since that's what I had in the house.

So, this recipe comes HIGHLY recommended from little old me. Take it or leave it - but trust me - you want to take it.

Italian Chicken Sausage and Artichoke Soup
Sunset Magazine, January 2011
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian chicken sausage, casings removed and meat broken into chunks or rolled into meatballs (the fennel flavor of Italian sausage tastes fantastic in this recipe, but any type of chicken sausage will work)
  • 3 cans (15 oz. each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 pound frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and halved
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (1 lb.), stemmed and chopped (I used spinach)
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook sausage until browned, stirring often, 10 minutes. Add broth, artichokes, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add chard and cook, covered, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Beet It!

I love vegetables that taste like dirt. Mushrooms, spinach, carrots... all dirty-tasting veg in their own special ways, and I love em. But the topper has to be beets. I freaking love beets. (Qualifier: I love beets that are roasted. You can keep the sickly pickled beets out of a can that somehow found their way to the top of every green salad served in the 70s and tainted my love of beets until I grew up and wised up. Gag. As Oprah always says, "When you know better, you do better" - I know better and roast my beets these days. I'm catching up for nearly four decades of beet deprivation. But I digress.)

So when my mom was in town recently, we found some gorgeous beets at the last St. Helena Farmer's Market of the season. We decided to try and recreate a dish that we'd shared together when mom treated me to dinner at Pago in Salt Lake City that made me swoon: Cinnamon Beets.
Since the dish is no longer on their menu anymore (bastards!) we were recreating from memory. Luckily, it was pretty straightforward: roasted beets on a bed of simply-dressed arugula (lightly coated with EVOO) and served with a dollop of Greek yogurt. The twist was that the beets were topped with a generous sprinkling of a cinnamon/walnut crunch concoction that resembled the texture of a finely-ground cinnamon lollipop combined with finely chopped walnuts - it was the consistency of sand.

I will admit I was skeptical at the time: cinnamon and beets? Such an earthy (dirty) main ingredient paired up with basically cinnamon candy? Oh Lordy - am I ever glad I gave it a try (and you should too!) because the combination of flavors is dynamite. Damn you beets with cinnamon - I can't quit you!

Thank goodness my mom was around to help me with the candy part of the recipe. I would have had to search online (or more likely knowing me, wing it!) for a hard candy recipe that I could tweak to get maximum cinnamon flavor. But dear old mom basically had a hard candy recipe in her head. How handy is that?! So, we gave it a go, and the results couldn't have been any better. Her candy recipe is below. (Note: it makes LOADS of the stuff - I won't have to make it again for years - so you could probably cut it in half and still have extra to go around.) The rest of the dish is basically as I described above. If you don't know how to roast beets, I'm afraid you're on your own. (Just kidding! Check here.)

But seriously give it a try. So freaking good. Thanks Pago.

Cinnamon Hard Candy
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cube butter (1/4 cup)
  • 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon oil
Combine all ingredients except for the cinnamon oil in a saucepan; stir over medium heat until all ingredients are melted into a syrup and come to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and continue to cook at a slow boil until the mixture has reached the hard-crack stage*. Once at hard-crack stage, add the cinnamon oil and stir well. Pour the candy syrup into a flat, greased cookie sheet and spread it out until it is very thin (be careful - it will be molten hot!!). Cool thoroughly.

Once cool, pop the candy from the pan (you may need a knife to break it up into large shards), and crush it by using a meat tenderizer or other heavy object! (Place it under a sheet of plastic wrap and pound away until it is crushed to the consistency of sand). Combine with an equal amount of finely-chopped walnuts for the beet topping.

*Not familiar with candy-making (what the heck is hard-crack stage??)? Here's a quick primer thanks to The Science of Cooking:

As a sugar syrup is cooked, water boils away, the sugar concentration increases, and the temperature rises. The highest temperature that the sugar syrup reaches tells you what the syrup will be like when it cools.

Hard-Crack Stage
300° F–310° F

The hard-crack stage is the highest temperature you are likely to see specified in a candy recipe. At these temperatures, there is almost no water left in the syrup. Drop a little of the molten syrup in cold water and it will form hard, brittle threads that break when bent. CAUTION: To avoid burns, allow the syrup to cool in the cold water for a few moments before touching it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Olive Oil Tasting at Round Pond Estate

Who says that the Napa Valley is all about wine? True... wine factors pretty heavily in our way of life and it's the main reason people visit our little corner of the world, but it's not all that we've got going on. Case in point: I took my mom to a fabulous olive oil tasting at the Round Pond Olive Mill in Rutherford over the weekend.

Now I've done some olive oil tasting in my time (most memorable being the one I did in Mendoza, Argentina), but the Round Pond tasting was by far and away the best I've ever experienced. It started out with a walk through one of the estate olive tree groves, moved on to a tour of the state-of-the-art Italian mill, and then transitioned to a sit-down, guided tasting of their estate olive oils, vinegars and syrups. The tasting was then followed by a pretty lavish spread of gorgeous food, where we were free to try different combinations of the goods with complementary fruits, vegetables, cheeses and bread. (And don't despair - tastings of Round Pond's award-winning wines were also available... we can veer from the wine path around here, but we can't exit completely!)

I learned so much during the tour and tasting - but I won't divulge too much because you really should come and do the tour yourself! But a few nuggets:
  • Save the extra virgin olive oils for dressing salads or enjoying straight from the bottle as a finishing oil - just don't cook with it! Heat raises the levels of oleic acid in the oil, making it bitter. Use a virgin or regular olive oil to cook with, since you won't be paying the premium required to produce the low levels of oleic acids in the extra virgins.
  • It takes about two trees worth of olives from the Round Pond groves to produce one gallon of extra virgin olive oil.
  • Coughing when tasting olive oils is considered a compliment. (You cough when the oils hit the back of your throat.)
  • The best way to sample vinegar is to pour a few drops over a sugar cube, then suck on the sugar cube before it dissolves.
At any rate, the whole experience at Round Pond was stellar. Come up and give it a try sometime - I'll go with you!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Foraging Figs

Look at these beauties - I believe these are Adriatic figs - the tree from which I nabbed them growing in a ditch in a vineyard. Laden with fruit, the tree was the last thing on the minds of the vineyard workers harvesting the grapes. So, no harm no foul, I took home a stash. Since this variety is not as sweet as the Black Mission Figs that I love to eat raw, I broiled them with some honey to bring out their sweetness, and finished them off with a sprinkling of sea salt. It made for a sweet and savory breakfast. Thanks Mother Nature!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This Chicken is Rockin'!

The amount of chicken breasts that I consume on a weekly basis can be staggering. It's my go-to protein - lean, easy to prepare, versatile. But at the end of the day, it's so very boring. Lord help me if I overcook it. There's really nothing worse than dry chicken breasts. Gack!

So recently, I veered from my rut and went for the chicken thighs in the butcher case. Thighs - with the skin! I had a hankering for something juicy, meaty, tender... and a chicken breast wasn't going to cut it. I even had in mind the way I wanted to cook them - similar to brick chicken on the grill, but done in the oven in a cast iron skillet. I envisioned them having a seared, crispy skin that would impart its flavor to the meat of the thighs, melding with the flavors of lemon, roasted garlic and fresh herbs. I was salivating at my vision for these thighs before a single ingredient ever hit the pan.

Proud to say this dish rocked. If it looks good in the picture, I can guarantee it tasted even better. You must try.

This is how you do it:
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
  • You will need two cast iron skillets; one slightly larger to hold the chicken and the smaller one to weight and set on top (the second skillet will act as a clamshell grill, helping to cook the chicken thighs on both sides at once)
  • Line the smaller skillet with tin foil and weight with either a brick, or in my case, rocks!
  • Place the rock-filled skillet in the oven to get up to temperature as you prep the chicken and do the stovetop steps below
  • Peel the cloves from an entire bulb of garlic; smash lightly with the flat side of a wide butcher knife
  • Peel and finely dice one shallot
  • Coat the bottom of a cast iron skillet with a glug of olive oil; add the shallot and garlic cloves
  • Over medium/low heat on the stove, cook until the shallots and garlic are soft and caramelized
  • Remove the shallots and garlic and turn the heat up on the skillet to high
  • Lightly coat six chicken thighs with olive oil; sprinkle with kosher salt
  • When the stovetop skillet is piping hot, place the thighs skin-side down
  • Cook the thighs until the skins are seared to a beautiful brown color (approximately 7-8 minutes); remove the thighs from the skillet (leave any drippings) and remove the skillet from the heat (turn off the stove)
  • Return the garlic and shallots to the bottom of the skillet
  • Add a layer of fresh herb sprigs to the skillet; I used rosemary and lemon thyme
  • Return the thighs to the skillet, skin side up
  • Cut two lemons in quarters and squeeze the juice over the chicken; scatter the quarter rinds amongst the thighs
  • Add another layer of fresh herb sprigs on top of the chicken
  • Place the preheated second weighted skillet on top of the chicken-filled skillet; place the entire kit and caboodle back into the 400 degree oven
  • Cook for approximately 20 minutes until the thighs are cooked through
  • Eat up!

Monday, October 10, 2011

You Say It's Your Birthday!

It sure was! Today - the 10th - is my actual birthday, but I got the chance to celebrate for a couple of days - and will keep celebrating for even a few more! It's not really like me (the ongoing celebration) - but hey. Why not? Rand and I got to try a few new restaurants (new to us anyway) and I am happy as a clam with our choices. Both highly recommended: La Mar - a Peruvian fusion place on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and Eiko's, a modern Japanese hangout here in Napa. iPhone photos below (and I got myself the new iPhone as a present to myself! So hopefully, my iPhone photos in the future will be better!). I also had a chance to do some cooking over my self-made long weekend, so I'll have some new goodies to share with you in the coming days as well. So, little bit of exploring, a little bit of sticking close to home - a good birthday all around. Thank you everyoe for the birthday wishes. I think this aging thing is going to be ok!

La Mar
(Pictured above - pisco cocktails, of course! When at a Peruvian resto, it should be required that you have a drink made with Peru's signature spirit. Ran had the Pisco Sour and I had the Pisco Punch. Shown also are the amazing plantain and sweet potato chips with a trio of dipping sauces.)

Causa Casera: Artichokes, asparagus, avocado and tomato confit on top of yellow potato.

Cebiche Mixto: Yellowtail from Mexico, calamari and shrimp in an ají amarillo leche de tigre with cilantro, red onion, habanero, Peruvian corn and yam.

Almuercito Chalaco: Cebiche chalaco, empanada tamalito, y anticuchos de carne (mixed seafood cebiche, sweet corn empanada, grilled skirt steak skewers)


Eiko's bar/lounge

Hamachi bon bons (hamachi wrapped around snow crab with eel sauce and tobiko)

Chicken lettuce wraps

My sashimi plate

Ran's shrimp tempura bento box

Saturday, October 8, 2011

All in Favor of Fennel Say "Aye"

Aye! See those roasted veggies up there? That's fennel and cauliflower, roasted in anticipation of making a soup. I had visions of an earthy, silky, smooth soup, inspired by the rainy days we've been having. But you know what? These veggies never made it into a soup. They smelled SO good when I pulled them from the oven, that I pretty much ate them for lunch right there on the spot. The fennel was the real culprit - I was defenseless. My soup never even had a chance. If you think you're not a fan of fennel, try roasting it with a little bit of olive oil and kosher salt (high heat - 400 degrees - until it's caramelized). The licorice flavor and aroma of the raw bulb melt away, leaving a savory, rich morsel of goodness. So that's pretty much all I have to say - just try it. And next time, if I can avoid the temptation, I'll work on bringing you a soup recipe. But I wouldn't count on it...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fine Dining: Kitchen Door

So we could have just gone home. My lovely husband and I ventured out of the house this afternoon, with nothing on the agenda but to see "Moneyball." We show up at the theater however, only to find out that the online listing I consulted had the movie's start time WRONG. (Imagine that - the internet got something wrong!) So we had two hours to spare before the actual start time. Like I said, we could have just gone home.

But no! We started wandering our fair town instead. It's something that we don't do nearly enough, and with Napa really starting to come into its own, wandering is a worthwhile venture.

We decided to grab a bite to eat. With so many new restaurants cropping up in Napa, there are several that I have yet to visit, despite trying my best. There were two places at the top of my list:
  • Eiko's, a new take on Japanese food from Eiko Nakamura of Fujiya - one of the world's best sushi restaurants located in an outlet mall (I kid you not) - although now that Eiko's is open, Fujiya has closed.
  • Kitchen Door, the latest highly-touted restaurant from Chef Todd Humphries (Martini House) in the Oxbow Market that calls its food "an ingredient-driven menu of handmade multi-ethnic comfort food."
Decisions, decisions. But, after strollin up to Eiko's and learning that they're not open for lunch on Sunday, the decision was made for us. Kitchen Door it was.

What we ordered:
  • Padrone peppers. (As I mentioned in a previous post, I can't get enough of these right now. The Kitchen Door version came prepared with lime and Korean chili flakes, and was draped with thin slices of handmade lardo. The peppers were perfectly blistered and tasty - I thought the lardo was completely unnecessary.)
  • Korean Short Ribs with bacon fried rice. (Ran ordered these thinking he was ordering traditional ribs - oops.)
  • Roast Duck Banh Mi Vietnamese-style sandwich with sweet potato fries. (Um - hardly. I ordered this envisioning juicy slices of roast duck amid the pickled veggies and fresh herbs. What I got though was mostly a thick smearing of duck pate on the too-big roll, with a few spare chunks of roast duck wedged in here and there. Not what I envisioned at all, and I won't be ordering it again. The fries however - perfectly executed. They were some of the best sweet potato fries I've tasted, and that's saying something since my favorite version is from Gott's, Kitchen Door's next door neighbor.)
So bottom line? It was fine dining, as Ran called it. Meaning, it was fine. Nothing special. Fantastic atmosphere - we ate on the patio overlooking the river - and some elements of our meal were stellar. But the meal as a whole didn't knock me out. In addition, there were some gaps in service. Our padrones arrived ten minutes after our entrees, for example. I was also greatly annoyed that after ordering at the counter, they give you a number and deliver the food to you (great - love it - no issues there) - but you have to schlep silverware, your awkward order number in its tall holder, water glasses and condiments - all without the aid of a tray. There wasn't a tray to be found to carry all of that stuff, and I was hauling goods for two since Ran was out saving us a prime table. So Kitchen Door - offer up a couple trays, why don't ya?

Anyhow, I'll eat there again for sure. I'll try different menu items, and hope for a better all-over experience. In the meantime though - Eiko's, you're next!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blossoming in the Kitchen

So I'm at the farmer's market with one of my bestest foodie friends, Glenn. It was pretty amazing how we both honed in on a basket brimming with squash blossoms at precisely the same time. Between the two of us, we bought out the farmer's stash for the day, before the market had officially even opened (we're no dummies - we were there 15 minutes before the official opening time, cash in hand).

Of course we got to talking how we were going to prepare our little treasures, and of course the fall-back way is to stuff them with some cheesy gooeyness, batter and fry them. Glenn was going to do just that, but as good as that sounds (and is!) - I told Glenn that I was going to challenge myself to come up with a lighter version of the dish that was every bit as delicious.

Mission accomplished - and it was altogether a much easier, quicker dish to prepare than the fried version. Here's what I did:
  • I still wanted a creamy, soft inside, so I went with a fat-free ricotta.
  • To the ricotta, I added some fresh chopped herbs (basil, oregano), some roasted and chopped garlic, and some chopped up sundried tomatoes that I had packed in olive oil.
  • I scooped a generous tablespoon of the mixture into the blossoms, and twisted the open end to hold it all together.
  • I dunked each blossom in an egg white bath (I added a tablespoon of water for every two egg whites and whisked until frothy)
  • Rolled the stuffed/dunked blossoms in panko bread crumbs
  • Baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (turning once) until they were browned and the filling was warmed through
How about that, huh? Totally my new go-to method of making squash blossoms. Eat your heart out, Glenn!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

White After Labor Day? Yes Please...

At the Chimney Rock Winery "White Party"... celebrating their white wines like Pinto Gris and Elevage Blanc. So yes. White after Labor Day works for me, fashionable or not! And if the wine, decor and attire at the party were all white, the food most definitely were not. Deelish... check out that paella!!