Thursday, April 30, 2009

Purple Potato Salad

Whenever I make this I can't help but think of what a kick my Grandfather would have gotten out of this recipe. I can imagine him coming into the kitchen and exclaiming "Purple Potatoes?! Never heard of such a thing!" He'd throw back his head and laugh, convinced that eating it would turn his teeth purple for a week.

We had a shared love of potato salad, my Grandfather and I. When I was growing up my Grandparents took care of me while my parents were away, and my Grandmother always made potato salad and mashed potatoes (still two of my favorites, I am truly an Irish girl at heart). My Grandfather and I would share bowls together in the afternoon, outside on the porch in the summer shade. The afternoon snack was a complete necessity for my Grandfather, without it his blood sugar would dive and a grumpy demeanor would set in. He simply couldn't function without an afternoon snack, and so my Grandmother was always prepared, carrying cheese and crackers wherever they went, just in case.

When my Grandfather was dying of lung cancer, I drove home from Ashland to Redding, California to stay with him. He didn't have much of an appetite, but I was determined to cook for him. I loaded their refrigerator with spinach and Blueberry Juice, convinced the antioxidants would do him good, and when I asked what he wanted that week to eat, his only two requests were Shrimp Louie and Potato Salad. He wasn't able to eat much of either, but when he took a bite of each, he proclaimed them both the best he'd ever tasted. I miss him dearly.

The first time I found purple potatoes I was positively giddy (as I'd been when I found purple asparagus). My friend Lily had made it for a party and it was fantastic! I begged her for the recipe and she obliged. Purple potatoes are now back in the farmer's market, so of course, I had to make this salad. I've adapted it slightly by adding the radishes.

Lily's Purple Potato Salad

2 lbs purple potatoes (you can use whatever potatoes you have on hand)
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 bunch of radishes
1 fennel bulbs, plus some of the fronds
1 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
4 cloves garlic
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Dinner at Leah's - Pasta with Sea Bass

Once in awhile fate throws me a bone, the stars align and my friend Leah calls to invite me over to dinner. If you know Leah and have had the pleasure to have tasted her food, then you know what an invitation like that is worth. Once in awhile came this Tuesday evening (after I had accidentally ridden the wrong bus 45 minutes in the wrong direction, but that's another story) and I couldn't have been more pleased. Leah offered to share the recipe, and I couldn't be more excited about it. This was a delicious dinner, as always. So this is Leah's entry, her story and recipe below. Thank you again dear friend!

Leah's Springtime Pasta

I love my house. Even though there seems to always be something that needs fixing or cleaning,its got great windows, a really deep bathtub, and just enough counter-space in the kitchen. Although, in my book, one can never have too much counter-space in the kitchen. But one of the things I love the most about it is that it is just 2 blocks from the Tuesday afternoon Farmer’s Market.

Right now the spring vegetables are abundant and hard to resist. Fava Beans just showed up and Green Garlic is aplenty, not to mention the sweetest Strawberries I can remember since last year, of course.

So, there was only one thing to do yesterday. Call Elissa, and invite her to an impromptu Springtime Pasta dinner.

The great thing about pasta is that you can sauté just about any combo of vegetables and mix them with fresh pasta (I love the Porcini Bucatini and the Sweet Pea Papardelle from the Phoenix Pastificio) and it is always deilish. Add a little chili flake or a splash of wine and you have a whole different flavor profile. It is seriously versatile and is only as complicated as you make it.

For this Pasta I used egg noodles and Sea Bass, so it is rich yet fresh and delicious. The little bit of mint is surprising and helps to round the flavors. And when served with a very simple green salad, ( it is spring-tastic.

Springtime Pasta

1 Bunch Dino Kale

3 Green Garlic stalks

4 Small Artichokes

1 Lemon (for artichoke soaking water)

Olive Oil

Kosher Salt / Fresh Ground Pepper

A few Mint leaves for garnish

Papardelle Pasta from Phoenix Pastificio or other fresh pasta

2 small Sea Bass fillets

Prep all vegetables. Slice the Green Garlic up to the tough green parts (about 2 inches from the very top) and cut the kale into thin ribbons. Trim Artichokes down to the choke and slice in half. Then soak in lemony water. ( Boil some salted water and blanch the artichoke hearts. Set aside.

Put about 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil in a large skillet and turn heat to med/high. Add Green Garlic and a pinch of salt and few grinds of fresh pepper, sauté until the smell starts to permeate your kitchen (3-5 min). Add Kale and mix together. Re-season with a little more Salt and Pepper Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the Kale is shiny and pliable (but not super soft). Remove from skillet and set aside.

Add another 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil to the skillet and heat until just before smoking. Carefully place the halved Artichoke Hearts cut side down in the pan and cook until golden brown (2-3 min) flip the hearts and cook on other side. Remove from pan and place on paper town to drain excess oil. Sprinkle with a little salt.

Boil water for pasta. Cook fresh pasta for 3-4 minutes until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of cooking liquid. Drain and return to the pot. Add Kale mixture, pasta water and Mint chiffonade (;results_list) (reserve a little for final garnish) to the drained Pasta and toss to coat. Add a little more Olive Oil if it seems dry. Taste to check for seasoning.

Pat the fish fillets dry. Heat a skillet with olive oil until very hot (just before smoking). Sauté on both sides for 3-4 minutes or until it is just cooked through. Remove from pan and season with Salt and Pepper. (You can also broil the fish if you’d rather.) Don’t worry if it breaks up because you are going to flake it on top of the pasta anyway.

Plate the pasta and top with the fish pieces. Arrange the artichokes (about 3 halves for person is a good serving) and sprinkle a little mint on top.

Enjoy with a glass (or bottle) of Syrah or maybe a crisp Roussane and of course end your dinner with some of those sweet spring Strawberries.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Cake for Ilsa - French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

Sunday is Farmer's Market day around here. Around 10am, I grab the necessary cup of coffee at Cole's on my corner, and head to the Temescal Farmer's Market on Claremont Avenue in Oakland, where my friends meet for Blue Chair Jam tasting, fresh tamales, Blue Bottle Coffee and Bavarian Pretzel Croissants from the San Francisco Bakery, Oktoberfest, it sounds too good to be true I know, but it is! Best croissants ever! Who is the person who could not love a Bavarian Pretzel/Croissant hybrid? Who??? And if this is you, I ask you, do you not enjoy things that are delicious???

I met my friend Ilsa at the market and picked up a few last minute ingredients for this French Yogurt Cake with Lemon, another Molly Wizenberg recipe that I've been dying to try. I simply can't put down her wonderful book. She's had me simultaneously drooling over her recipes and crying into the pages of her book (very messy, also: I am a sap) two nights in a row now. This cake has a delightful story behind it. Molly's now husband was searching for this recipe online, he stumbled upon her blog, found both the cake and her, and you should read all about it here.

Ilsa had promised to help me with my blog and she has provided me with this fantastic new banner! Ta-da! I couldn't be more excited, I love it! In return, I baked the famous Yogurt Lemon Cake. We dug in while the cake was still warm, the icing pouring over the sides and soaking into the crumb.

The interesting thing about this cake is that it doesn't call for any butter. Vegetable oil is used, and in combination with the yogurt, the cake is quite moist but still dense. Next time I might substitute butter for oil, to mix it up a bit, but it makes for a lovely accompaniment to a brainstorming meeting! Ilsa and I will work for cake!

Fresh out of the oven

French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life"

For the Cake
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 cup well-stirred plain whole milk yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil (such as canola)

For the Syrup
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup lemon juice

For the Icing
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour baking powder and salt. Add the lemon zest and mix together thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring to mix. Add the four mixture and stir to combine. Add the oil and stir well until smooth. Pour into the pan.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, test with a toothpick until it comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the pan and invert the cake onto a wide plate. Invert it back onto the rack so the domed side is upright.

Icing the cake (my favorite part)

In a small bowl, whisk together the syrup ingredients. Spoon it atop the cake. Cool completely, then in a small bowl combine the icing ingredients. Whisk well to dissolve the sugar. Spoon over the cooled cake. Serve immediately, so it will be soft and juicy, or wait an hour until firm. Whichever you prefer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lonely Basil - Basil & Almond Pesto

It is always the case with Basil. I buy it to use a bit in one recipe, and then tend to forget the sad little bunch wasting away in the fridge after having used only a few leaves. This is why I'm carefully tending my own small pot of basil, hopefully to use only what I need this summer. So far this tiny little pot has been giving me a run for my money. I've never claimed to have a green thumb, and tend to be quite suspicious of any living green type thing that enters my apartment, but as of yet, I have only almost killed it once! And that was due only to an abnormal heat wave in April! So you see, I really can't take all the credit, and after shriveling sadly in the heat it came back quite nicely in a cold water bath. Success! As you can see, it's still too small for culinary use, and so, until my plant has sprouted the proper amount, I buy my basil, and do my best to not forget about it...

Small but (soon to be) mighty!

And then I open the fridge a few days later, and there it is. The store-bought basil, looking so forlorn and alone on the shelf. Pesto came to mind, but I was out of pine nuts. And so, I decided to experiment. Pesto with almonds! It turned out quite well, if I do say so, and I've been scooping it onto pasta with a bit of goat cheese and lemon. Delicious!

About 20 raw, unsalted almonds
1 bunch basil
a few glugs of good olive oil, enough to make the mixture wet.
1 large clove of garlic
salt and pepper to taste

I look for any excuse to use my hand blender, which worked perfectly for this recipe. So much easier than a regular blender, or lugging out the food processor. Throw all the ingredients together, plunge in the hand blender and blend until well mixed! Taste for salt, add as needed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Saturday Scones - Strawberry Scottish Scones

It was a glorious Saturday in the Bay Area this past weekend. I drove across town with the windows rolled down and Al Green cranked up. I was in the market for a brand-spanking new cake pan, loaf pan and strainer. All of which I procured and then skipped home to make these Strawberry Scottish Scones I'd been eying in Molly Wizenberg's fantastic book "A Homemade Life." I'm a huge fan of Molly's blog Orangette, and she's certainly inspired me merge cooking and writing.

I made just three minor adjustments, substituting brown sugar for white (as I was out of white sugar and too lazy to run down to the store) I also used Meyer Lemons for the zest (because I will use any excuse to use a Meyer Lemon) and I added fresh strawberries to the dough. My tiny studio was filled with the most delicious smell, and I half-expected my neighbors to come knocking at my door, hoping to partake.

And so there I was simultaneously singing along to Al, "Can't get next to you girl!" and taking bites of delicious scone. Close friends reading this will perhaps be surprised, my general distaste for scones is well-known. My main complaint being that store-bought scones are simply too dense and heavy for me to enjoy. But these are no ordinary scones. These are light, fluffy and quite tasty. I brought them over to Amber's on Sunday for her big move. 7 people, 1 apartment, done in 45 minutes! Plenty of time leftover for pizza and beer. We are obviously awesome movers. The scones were devoured, and everyone seemed to enjoy them. And I still have a few for breakfast this week.

Scottish Scones with Strawberry
from Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life"

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp (half a stick) of cold unsalted butter
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 pint fresh strawberries (you can use any type of fresh or frozen berry)
1/2 cup half-and-half, plus more for glazing
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 425. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt . Using your hands, rub the butter into the mixture, pinching and squeezing until there are no lumps bigger than a pea. Add sugar and lemon zest, whisk to incorporate.

Pour 1/2 cup half-and-half into a small bowl and add the egg. Beat together well. Pour into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Using your hands, squeeze and press the dough into a rough mass. Turn the dough and any excess flour onto a cutting board or counter and knead until it just comes together. No more than 12 times, you don't want to overwork the dough. As soon as it holds together, pat it into a rough circle about 1 inch thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges.

Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment, or a silpat. Pour a splash of half-and-half into a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the scones with a thin coat to glaze. Bake 10-14 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, serve warm with butter. If you're serving them later, heat the oven to 300 and re-heat the scones for a few minutes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sunday Soup Supper at Pizzaiolo

My favorite East Bay restaurant is hosting an event this Sunday to benefit A Safe Place in Oakland. A Safe Place is a local shelter committed to ending and supporting victims of domestic violence. Many of Pizzaiolo's farming vendors have donated produce for the event, and the event itself is based on a sliding scale donation of 0-$10 for soup and bread. It's BYOB. It's for those in need of a hot meal without funds, and for those who want to support the shelter with a donation, and we're all encouraged to eat and share together. Come out and support this great event!

Sunday Soup Supper at Pizzaiolo
Sunday, April 26th, 4:30pm-7pm

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Squeaky Cheese - Haloumi 3 ways

I have two older sisters, both are amazing cooks, but my eldest sister, in particular, is something of a marvel in the kitchen. There are eight (human) mouths to feed in her family, not to mention the two cats, horses, goats, rabbit, and (last I checked) single goldfish acquired at the state fair. A less capable and adventurous person might surrender to pizza and take-out most nights of the week to feed a family of that size. Not so with Erika. She creates (from scratch!) the most remarkable, delicious and comforting feasts you can imagine.

Whether its her famous and totally indulgent lasagna (the one with a beschamel sauce and slices of camembert cheese in between the layers) the fragrant tangines, a delectable Carmel pear trifle or tandoori chicken, there are always, always numerous dishes on the table. A main dish accompanied by rice or pasta, fresh bread, a vegetable and a salad. Meals are never skimped on. They are a family affair; always shared and always enjoyed. I could go on and on recounting the tastes and smells that have come from Erika's kitchen, and I reap the benefits with so many recipes collected over the years. When I was in college I lived not far from their tiny, storybook Ashland, Oregon home. I came over weekly for those family dinners, and since moving to the Bay Area, my dinners and time with them is one of the things I miss the most.

I picked up one little addiction in particular from her. It's called Haloumi. Haloumi is, as advertised on the package, the Greek cheese that grills. It doesn't melt, it grills. And once it has been grilled and has ended up in your mouth, it squeaks delightfully between the teeth. The cheese is actually cured before it's brined, which gives it it's resistance to melting at a low temperature. It's very salty, savory and totally unique. It's one of my favorite toppings for toasted pita bread and it's also spectacular with slices of peaches, watermelon and cantaloupe, or when used as a garnish in salads. It also occurs to me that it would be a fantastic take on a new and improved grilled cheese sandwich, the possibilites are really quite endess. However, I happen to think it's always best when served with a few squirts of fresh lemon juice on top. Sour and salty is one of my favorite flavor combinations.

And that's how my sister would serve it, a few slices of toasted pita, halloumi and lemon on top. Served alongside hummus, babaganoush and tabouli, she'd whip together a Mediterranean feast in a few minutes. A whirling dervish in the kitchen.

You can find this cheese in most grocery stores. The kind I usually get comes in a white plastic package with blue lettering. Definitely carried at Whole Foods.

Haloumi three ways

Cut the cheese into slices, about 1/4 inch thick. You can cook Haloumi in a pan on the stove or over the grill, about 4 minutes per-side. It will be quite dark on both sides, don't let it burn, but it should be very brown.

Serve with toasted pita bread and slices of lemon, garnish with parsley.

Serve with sliced grilled peaches. Garnish with mint and lemon.

Garnish a mixed greens salad with the halloumi. Dress with vinaigrette.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Piperade and Ratatouille

Heading towards the end of April (how did that happen?) but it feels like summer in the Bay Area, well, not exactly a Bay Area summer, as those are often cold and foggy, but like a real California summer, in the 90 degree range. I'm having early visions of pulling out the inner-tubes and heading up to the Russian River to that oh-so-secret tubing spot! On the way back, sunburned, river drenched and full of pabst blue ribbon, we'll stop at that cafe in Healdsburg for a pork cheek sandwich. Because nothing says summer like mixing Pabst with a gourmet sandwich!

But alas, the river is still a bit too cold. And I hear rain is in store for the weekend. Good to know that June is swiftly on it's way, and my favorite season will have all the good stuff in store. Oh how I love summer!

Ratatouille is a dish that I make year round, but with fresh garden vegetables it really comes to it's peak during the summer. I used to make a more casual version, just the vegetables without the piperade and I would serve it over cous-cous, but last year my then-boyfriend went digging for Thomas Keller's recipe as a vehicle to show off his new mandolin. We combined forces and I have to say, the finished result took more time, but was oh-so worth it. I've seldom seen such a beautiful dish, and the piperade gave it a depth of flavor that was really fantastic. And I have to say, it was one of our few kitchen collaborations that actually produced great success. Neither of us was a fan of giving up too much control in the kitchen, but this dish provided ample control-freak opportunities for us both. And we couldn't have been happier with the result.

This is adapted from the recipe that Keller created for Pixar's Ratatouille. I can attest to it's deliciousness. And really, who didn't love that movie?

For those who don't know, Piperade is like thick provincial sauce, for lack of a better term. I've recently read that it's a Basque recipe.

For the Piperade
1/2 red bell pepper (seeds and lining removed)
1/2 yellow bell pepper (seeds and lining removed
1/2 orange bell pepper (seeds and lining removed)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1/2 bay leaf
kosher salt

For the vegetables
2 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 Japanese eggplant
1 red bell pepper
1 red onion
2 tomatoes
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1/8 tsp thyme leaves
kosher salt & pepper to taste

For the Vinaigrette
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp baslamic vinegar
assorted fresh herbs
kosher salt & pepper to taste

If you choose to make the piperade from scratch, pre-heat the oven to 450. Place the piperade pepper halves on a foil lined baking sheet, cut side down. Roast for about 15 minutes until the skin is loosened. Remove from oven and let cool, then peel and finely chop. Combine the onion, garlic in a pan with the olive oil and place over low heat until soft but not browned. Add the tomatoes, their juice, thyme, parsley and a bay leaf and let simmer for about 10 minutes until there is very little liquid left. Add the peppers and simmer until tender. Season with salt and remove the herbs. Reserve a tablespoon of the mixture and spread the rest into the bottom of your baking dish or skillet. Set oven to 275. Slice all ingredients on a thinner setting of a mandolin (alternatively you can skip that and just chop into small pieces as you like). Arrange the ingredients in alternating fashion over the piperade. Mix garlic, oil and and thyme in a bowl and season with salt. Sprinkle over the vegetables. Cover the dish or skillet with foil and crimp down on the edges to seal. Bake until the vegetables are tender, about 2 hours, uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. Remove and combine reserved piperade with oil, vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over the vegetables.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Cooler Salad - Tabouli

90 degrees in the East Bay today and it is HOT! I'm in a summer dress, I've got the windows flung open wide and I'm trying to will a cross-breeze into existence. I've got Ryan Adams Cold Mountain blasting out of the stereo and I've carefully revived a small pot of basil I've been tending that had withered in the afternoon heat. Never fear, a shock of cold water and it's thriving again.

Something light was in order for the evening meal. Herbaceous, verdant and cool. Oven cooking simply will not do in this heat! And so, Tabouli. Delicious, healthy and best of all, one of those salads that will wait obligingly in your fridge days after making it (just in case there are leftovers). My family always gravitated to this dish when the days began to get warmer, and it's so simple to make.

serve 4-6

4 bunches of parsley
2 bunches of green onions
1 bunch of mint
1 carton of cherry tomatoes, or 2 plum tomatoes
1/2 cup quinoa (bulger works as well)
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice from 3-4 lemons
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the quinoa till al dente, when done, mix with the lemon juice and olive oil, let stand. Finely chop the parsley, green onions, and mint. Chop the tomatoes into small pieces. Mix all ingredients together and serve!

Lines are Open

Still sick my friends, and quite tired of it as you can imagine. And it's not just me, this evil plague has spread amongst my group of friends like...well..the plague. Brian hypothesizes that he and I picked it up from our friend Amy whilst sharing the mic at a late and lengthy session of Karaoke in Japantown last week (where I gave rousing, throat damaging renditions of Journey's Separate Ways, Since U Been Gone and a duet of These Eyes by The Guess Who with Brian) and while singing a Kelly Clarkson tune that you didn't even realize you knew can do wonders for your spirits, I am still paying the price.

And so I am without a recipe for today. With little appetite my menu's for the week have been terrifically meager. A leftover biscuit here, tea and popcorn there. I did get out to San Francisco for a bit yesterday with Eric. We stopped at the Monk's Kettle for a beer (I know I know, but it did feel good on the throat!) and an asparagus and prosciutto salad and then headed to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the De Young. Later we ate a taco from a Mission taqueria while we waited in line for Mortified at The Makeout Room. It was a lovely day, but I am now spending another day inside (while it's 80 degrees out! Sob.) recovering...slowly.

In the meantime, I have plans to redecorate this space and I'm compiling a list of recipes to try. So if you have any requests, the lines are open! I promise to get back to work this week!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sick Day - Yogurt Biscuits with Chive

Well friends, I have come down with the flu. My Father's warning to get a flu shot went unheeded, and here I am downing ibuprofen as if it's going out of style and waiting for an unbelievably kind delivery of ginger ale from the Amazing Leah. And thank goodness for the discs of Mad Men at my disposal, being sick could be worse without Don Draper.

So with little appetite and a whole lot of boredom, I perused my favorite food blogs and set about making a new-to-me recipe from Mark Bittman with the intention of bringing the spoils into work today. Waking up feeling worse than before ruined those plans, and I now have too many biscuits for one person. I did try one right out of the oven, and it was more than delicious. This is an incredibly light biscuit, not oily or heavy or too dense. I like mine light and fluffy, and that's exactly what they are. Delectable with a bit of butter and jam!

They may look a little funny in the picture. I didn't have the energy to cut them out perfectly formed, instead I just kind of picked apart the dough and plopped them onto the silpat (thank god for silpats!) but they came out light and fluffy and took no time at all. A perfect accompaniment to a bowl of chicken soup on a sick day.

Yogurt Biscuits with Chives
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
Makes 10 biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour (or bread flour)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup low-fat yogurt (I used regular yogurt, but greek yogurt would be terrific as well)
1/4 cup chives chopped (dill, rosemary or other herbs of your choice would also work)

Preheat oven to 450

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a food processor, add dry mixture and butter. Pulse until combined. Next, gently stir in yogurt and chives with a spoon. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and kneed 10 times. Press the dough out until it is roughly 3/4 inch thick. Cut out biscuits with a glass or cookie cutter and repeat until all the dough is shaped (I skipped that step and just tore the dough apart, plopping it down.)Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet or silpat and bake for 7-9 minutes at 450.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned my good fortune to have a free plane ticket (due to severe Portland snow-and let me tell you that stuff was intense!) that I didn't know what to do with. I was at a loss trying to plan where to go. Well. I stumbled upon the best solution possible. I decided to put it to good use by flying one of my very best friends (and college roommate for three years) out for a "Bachelorette Weekend" the week before she gets married.

Spontaneous trips really are the best, and when I wrote Tuesday morning to ask what she thought of the idea she said she loved it, and that she had one weekend available before her big day was the one directly before! She's just that spontaneous and crazy, god bless her! And so, she'll fly from Washington D.C. to Oakland where we'll spend a couple of days celebrating her last days of singlehood and a treasured friendship over oysters in Tomales Bay, dinner at Pizzaiolo, beers at Zeitgeist, a massage and spa treatment at the Kabuki, and maybe, just maybe a wine tour in Napa. Then she'll fly straight to Portland where she'll meet her family and drive to Pacific City, where she and and her fiance (the lovely and unparalleled Daniel) will be married. I'll be flying up for the wedding as well. Beth is my first close friend to be married. I hear once one goes, the rest start popping like popcorn!

Any suggestions for other fun things to fill our weekend? I'm looking forward to it. Daniel's lucky, Beth is really the best roommate and partner in crime anyone could ever ask for!

E & B B & D

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Chicken to Impress - Lemon Chicken with Orzo

"What are you making for dinner?" My Mother asks over the phone.
"I'm making your lemon chicken with orzo." I say, she laughs, "That's what I just made!" This is particularly funny since the last time I made this dish a few weeks ago, the same thing happened.

And no wonder! It looks and tastes amazing, but it's deceptively easy to make. Well...most of the time anyway. Recently I made it for a boy I wanted to impress. We talked as I assembled and cooked, and it was all just about ready to go, I was just draining the orzo and spinach when he distracted me with a kiss on the top of my head. Klutz that I am (not to mention easily distracted) orzo and spinach spilled out into the sink, un-salvageable. We stood in amazement for awhile, and realizing I was near tears, he saved the day by dashing down the block for more supplies. 20 minutes later we were back in business!

When I asked my Mother where she picked up this recipe she attributed it to an article in the Oregonian Daily Newspaper. Goes to show you that good things come out of Oregon (though the dish is probably Italian in nature). I suggest making it for someone you want to impress! They're bound to stick around for seconds (at the very least)!

Lemon Chicken with Orzo

2 chicken breasts, with skin and bones, cut into 2 pieces each (I've also used regular boneless skinless chicken breasts and they work fine as well, thighs would also work)
1 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh oregano

1/2 cup kalamata olives (pitted and halved) I also like to use about 1/4 cup or a little less of the brine, just pour it in with the lemon juice
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
2/3 cup orzo
5 ounces fresh spinach (about 5 cups)

Heat oven to 475 degrees. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, cast iron skillet or oven proof skillet, skin-side up. Pour the olive oil over chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add garlic, lemon juice and oregano, kalamata olives and tomatoes to the pan and place in oven to roast for 20 minutes. Meanwhile bring enough salted water to a boil in a saucepan for the orzo. Add the orzo and cook for 10 minutes. Add the spinach to the orzo saucepan and then drain. Add olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. When chicken is done, add the orzo mixture to the skillet or pan and mix together. Serve hot!

Something Frozen - Apple Cider Granita

I have what may be one of the West Coast's premiere Ice Creameries within two blocks of my apartment. It is fittingly called, Ici, meaning "here" in French. And with a constant line out the door and down the block, I am not the only one who wants to be there. A friend who was new to the neighborhood asked once, "What's the story with that club on the corner of College and Ashby?" Club? I asked? Oh! You mean the delicious ice cream store! My friend simply could not believe that ice cream could cause such a fuss. Obviously she hadn't tried the Meyer Lemon, the Pepita Toffee Brittle, or the Apple Cider Sorbet.

Sometimes I have trouble experimenting in the kitchen. I generally know what I like, and if I'm trying something new I like to stick carefully to every small instruction and detail. Not so with this riff off of Apple Cider Ice Pops from Bon Appetit Magazine. In my efforts to re-create something similar to the deliciousness that is the Apple Cider Sorbet at Ici, this is what I came up with...

Apple Cider Granita-Inspired by Bon Appetit Magazine

4 cups apple juice or cider

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar (I used brown)

1 cinnamon stick

4 cloves

4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (this isn't necessary, but it did give a kick at the end which I liked)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the first five ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil and stir the sugar until dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes until the mixture is reduced by about a cup or more. Strain and cool. When cooled, stir in the vinegar and vanilla. Carefully pour the mixture into a jelly roll pan, about 13x9. Set in the freezer to freeze. After half an hour in the freezer, scrape the frozen mixture with a fork, carefully breaking the mixture up so that it doesn't freeze in a block. You want small crystals and shavings. Put it back in the freezer for another 20-30 minutes and then scrape it down with a fork again. Once all the liquid has been frozen and the mixture consists of just ice crystals, it is ready to serve. Especially delicious with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. Enjoy!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pizza and Beer - Goat Cheese Pizza with Spring Vegetables & Pine Nuts

Somehow another bunch of asparagus mysteriously appeared in my refrigerator. I really don't know how it happened. It must secretly multiply in the early morning hours. No sooner do I roast an entire bunch, than another is patiently waiting to be devoured. Ahh, the trials and tribulations of spring. It really is very difficult, isn't it?

I knew just what to do with this batch. After slaving away at the gym for hours (well, maybe ONE hour) all I wanted was pizza and beer. But lest all that hard work on the treadmill should go to waist, (ha! see what I did there?) it should be healthy pizza and beer (well, maybe not the beer). What to do? Never fear. This pizza recipe is so mouthwateringly delicious, and piled high with good things like asparagus, arugula and TWO kinds of cheese. It's so healthy you could even have two beers if you like! It's a pizza without a red sauce, but you won't miss it at all. This never lasts in my house for long. I recommend a good pale ale to go with it. Lagunitas IPA is a favorite around here.

Goat Cheese Pizza with Spring Vegetables and Pine Nuts

1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 bag arugula (if it's straight from the bin fill the whole bag, it's surprising how much it actually cooks down, and you need a lot)
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup shredded basil
raw pizza dough (I love the whole wheat version in the deli section at Trader Joe's, but all kinds can be substituted here)
1/4 cup asagio cheese (Parmesan can be substituted)
1/4 cup soft goat cheese
3 tbsp pine nuts
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 500. Roll out your pizza dough to something a tad larger than a dinner plate, you'd like it to be fairly thin so that it cooks quickly and evenly. Flour will help with the stickiness. Bake in the oven on a cookie sheet or pizza stone for five minutes to set. Set aside. Coat a saute pan with olive oil and put over high heat. Cut the asparagus into one inch spears and add to the pan with the bell pepper and red pepper flakes. Saute till slightly tender. Don't worry if it browns a little. Remove from pan and set aside. Add a bit more olive oil and add the arugula in batches, until is is cooked down. Once all the arugula is wilted, cover the rolled out dough with a thick layer of the arugula, using all of it. This substitutes as sauce quite nicely. Next, pile on the asparagus and peppers, and then sprinkle the asagio cheese over that. Follow with the goat cheese and pine nuts. Bake for 12-15 minutes, checking so that the nuts don't burn. Remove and top with the basil. Let cool slightly before serving. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Best Salad - Mom's Salad Dressing (Basic French Vinaigrette)

My Mother always makes the best salad. Everyone says so. No one ever offers to take this dish at potlucks, they leave it to the professional.

Not that my Mother was a professional cook, not at all. She has a fairly standard repertoire (be it chicken, pasta, steak or her famous pecan sandie cookies) but it is always delicious and comforting. I think that's true for many people. In the end, the things we really crave and what feels most nourishing are the foods that were cooked by our Mothers. And for me, tasting her salad dressing when I'm home always signals that I am indeed, at home. Tucked into the table with a glass of red wine, the people I love and the most loyal dog of all time curled up under my chair.

Mom's Salad Dressing (or your basic French Vinaigrette)

2 parts good olive oil (I suggest Bariani which can be found at Whole Foods)
1 part red wine or sherry vinegar
1 clove chopped garlic (I don't care what Anthony Bourdain says, I love my garlic press and use it constantly)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl with a fork. Dress almost any manner of salad. Especially delicious on baby arugula, butterleaf, mixed greens, chopped romaine. I like to toast up pumpkin seeds or pinenuts and finely slice red onion to go in the salad. Also great with thinly sliced cucumbers, apples or pared grapefruit.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Lovely evening out with Amber this weekend. It had been quite awhile, and we had some catching up to do. I suggested Adesso, the new Italian wine/cocktail/antipasti bar opened by the geniuses at Dopo, one of my favorite Bay Area restaurants.

This was my second time at Adesso, and I have a feeling it's going to be the kind of place where I'm never disappointed. I've tried several of their signature cocktails, including a grapefruit gimlet and an aperol spritz, but it seems as though the real prize on the menu is the long list of Italian wines (including two lovely lambrusco's). If you've never tried lambrusco, I highly suggest you run out at your earliest convenience and give it a taste. Lambrusco is a sparkling Italian red wine, to be drunk at room temperature or slightly chilled. It's not sweet, just surprisingly fizzy and complex.

The antipasti menu is extensive, including over 20 different kinds of salumi and pate (some of the pate's served right in their glass jars. I MUST come back to try the cheese's. We had a piece of heaven in buffalo mozzarella on our plate, along with an artichoke and fennel salad. They also have several pannini's, and oh! I've saved the best for last! They put out a seriously impressive FREE antipasti spread every evening from 5-7pm, and then again around 11pm! I wasn't aware than anything in the Bay Area was free, until now. This is my new Happy Hour spot!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Purple Asparagus - Simple Roasted Asparagus

I read a lot of food blogs. It's one of my favorite things to do in my spare time, peruse the web looking for my next recipe. Lately, everywhere I look, Asparagus is popping up. It's a delicious and positively inescapable part of spring. Last year I hit the Farmer's Market at the San Francisco Ferry Building at this time, and walked away with two beautiful bunches of purple asparagus. A deep, eggplant color. I'd never seen purple asparagus before and the very fact of it's existence was enough to make me positively giddy. I haven't found those purple stocks yet at the Temescal Farmer's Market, but perhaps I'll make my way into the city next weekend and take a look.

The simple truth about asparagus is this: there is really only one way you will ever need to cook it, in which it will turn out perfectly every time. There is no need to dress it up, the best way to enjoy it is simply by roasting it. Sometimes the simplest methods are the best:

Roasted Asparagus-

1 bunch of asparagus (green or purple!)

1 tbsp olive oil

Sea Salt to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Cook for 20 minutes on a cookie sheet, perhaps a bit longer if you like them really crispy.

Bittman Can't Be Wrong... - Chicken with Riesling

I couldn't resist sharing this recipe from Mark Bittman's NY Times Blog Bitten. I'm dying to rush home and try it. I previously extolled the virtues of a "too sweet to drink" port with tilapia, and now Bittman gives us this Chicken with Riesling dish. I think he's onto something. I never think about cooking chicken with anything other than a dry or oaky white, but this makes a lot of sense and I'm feeling up to experimentation. I'll report back. Enjoy! Let me know how it turns out for you!

Recipe of the Day: Chicken With Riesling
By Mark Bittman

When wine is added to simmering chicken, it’s most often dry and white. Yet, a quick twist of these rules creates a chicken dish so simple that it’s bound to become a minimalist favorite. The key is slightly sweet white wine, a liquid whose fruity complexity adds a layer of flavor that no dry white wine could ever offer.

Chicken With Riesling
Yield 4 servings
Time 1 1/2 hours
Mark Bittman

Whenever you cook with few ingredients, the quality of each individual component gains importance. The wine plays such a major role here that it's worth buying the right one. You want a good, slightly sweet white; almost any German wine made with the riesling grape will do, except for those labeled "trocken," which means dry.
2 tablespoons butter or neutral-flavored oil, like canola
4 medium to large onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 to 2 cups slightly sweet riesling, preferably German
1 3- to 4-pound chicken, preferably kosher or free-range, cut into 8 or 10 serving pieces

1. In a skillet large enough to hold the chicken, heat butter or oil over medium heat for a minute or so.
2. Add onions and a large pinch of salt and some pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften completely and begin to melt into a soft mass, about 20 minutes.
3. Add 1 1/2 cups of wine and let it bubble away for a minute, then tuck chicken pieces among onions; sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Turn heat to low, and cover pan.
4. Cook, turning chicken pieces once or twice, for 40 to 60 minutes, or until chicken is very tender (the meat on the drumsticks will begin to loosen from the bone). If dish appears to be drying out, add remaining wine.
5. Serve chicken with crusty bread or white rice or another grain, spooning the onions and their liquid over all.

-- While the onions are cooking, brown the chicken by placing it, skin side up, in a 500-degree oven for about 20 minutes. When you add the chicken to the onions, be sure to include some of its juice.
-- Tuck a couple of bay leaves or a few sprigs of thyme in among the onions, after they've begun to soften. A small grating of nutmeg is also good.
-- Sauté about 1/4 pound of bacon or salt pork cut into 1/2-inch chunks before adding the onions.
-- Cook about 1/2 pound of sliced mushrooms (or an ounce or two of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted) along with the onions.
-- Cook 1 tablespoon or more of chopped garlic along with the onions.
-- After cooking, puree the onions and their liquid in a blender for a cream-like sauce.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Contigo, or, Kitchen & Cava

Last night in an attempt to boost my somewhat dampened spirits, Kenneth took me to a new restaurant in Noe Valley, Contigo. Contigo, which means "with you" in Spanish, offers a strictly Spanish wine list, and an array of Spanish style small plates, flatbreads and entrees.

Noe Valley is fast becoming one of my favorite neighborhoods in SF for hidden, locals-only flavor dinning, and Contigo is a welcome departure from the norm of "throw one stone hit 10 California-French fusion type places in the city."

We started with two different Cava's, my favorite was the rose, the Mont Marcal Reserva Brut Rosado 2005. It was tart with a slightly bitter undertone which reminded me a bit of Campari. I'm always a sucker for the pink fizzy drinks, let's be honest. The Sanstrave "e", Gran Reserva was also sampled. Not pink, but a bit less dry than the first. Both unique and refreshing.
Onto the small plates. Starting with the Esparragos-Asparagus with Jamon chips, green garlic and sieved egg, the Octopus, and the potatoes with chorizo and onion. We also ordered a flatbread with asparagus, crispy bacon and a farm egg on top for good measure. The flatbread was the highlight of the meal for me. They have a large wood-fired oven in the front of the restaurant, and the flatbread and egg on top were cooked to perfection. The asparagus was still brightly verdant and the bacon was delightfully salty and crisp. Though I must warn you, once you've had an egg cooked in a wood-fire you're ruined for life. The subtle smokey undertones are what's been missing from eggs all these years!

The octopus was good, though could have used a bit more acid (that seems to be my normal complaint) some sort of citrus or vinaigrette to compliment the flavors. We ended with the sheep's milk cheese which was extraordinarily soft, stinky and went very well with the hazelnuts it was served with.

All in all this is a fun place with the friendliest service I've encountered in San Francisco. Kenneth and I remarked to each of the staff members we came in contact with that they were all a pleasure and made us feel very welcome. I'd be more than happy to come back for a glass of wine at the bar or to split small plates and flatbread with a few friends. And my spirits have grown considerably, especially after a pink and bubbly glass of rose!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Viognier Port - Seared Tilapia with Shallots, Port and Citrus Reduction Sauce served with Quinoa

Getting home late on a Tuesday, I was famished. I surveyed the contents of the fridge and pantry, and went with what has become a go-to meal for me. Pan Seared Tilapia with a Citrus Port Reduction served with Quinoa. Sounds a bit odd, I admit. But trust me. This is a good one.

A year ago I joined the Bonny Doon wine club. Every couple of months I receive a shipment of two bottles in the mail, and let me tell you, that is always a happy day. I never know what exactly is going to arrive, and it's always fun to try a new recipe to compliment the wine, or to incorporate the wine itself into a new dish. Bonny Doon is my favorite winery, and that may have something to do with the fact that it is the first winery I ever set foot in, not too long after my 21st Birthday. It's tasting room (which has since moved "sob") is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Pine Flats Road. A beautiful wooden building in the redwoods, boasting an orchard and picnic grounds. They pride themselves on making unique (to say the least) and unpretentious wines.

A few months ago I received a bottle of their 2001 Viognier Port. Very exciting. I've been a fan of viognier ever since I first tasted it, and the idea of making a port out of it seemed pretty wild. I sipped it. It was incredibly sweet. Ports aren't exactly my style. I wasn't sure what to do with this wine.

Inspiration struck when we had dinner at my favorite restaurant in Ashland, Oregon. Amuse. The sight of many parental visit dinners in college, and even my graduation dinner. This was the first time I had been without family, and being just Daniel and I, it made me feel as though I was an actual adult. Daniel had ordered sole in a reduction sauce. I tasted it and couldn't believe how good it was. Sweet and tart, with just a hint of spice. I asked the waiter what was in the sauce, a combination of lemon, port, butter and just a hint of
allspice. I then proceeded to bogart Daniel's dinner.

I recreated this in my kitchen using fresh tilapia, the bottle of port, some meyer lemons and I substituted cinnamon for allspice. I know it sounds crazy, but give this one a try. You won't regret it! It's a supremely easy and fast recipe. Perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Pan Seared Tilapia with Shallots, Port and Citrus Reduction Sauce served with Quinoa-

4 Tilapia filets

2 Shallots

Olive oil for the pan

1/4 cup of Viognier Port (any light port or sweet wine would probably work)
2 Meyer Lemons (or the juice of one lemon) including zest

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 tsp cinnamon or allspice
Salt & Pepper to taste

Quinoa (cook according to directions
Pour a bit of oil in the pan and turn up to a high heat. In the meantime, season the tilapia with salt & pepper on both sides. Once the oil dimples, add to the pan. Put a heavy pan on top of the tilapia while it cooks, about 1 minute on each side, or until lightly browned. Remove the top pan and flip sides. Once tilapia is browned and cooked through, remove from the pan and set aside. Add a bit more oil to the pan and cook the shallots until translucent and tender. Remove and set aside. Deglaze the pan with the port and lemon, add butter, cinnamon and salt to taste. Let simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Pour over the shallots and fish, serve over quinoa.