Thursday, April 29, 2010

a little lunch and a word on labne

I love the back-palate fieriness that radishes give. Pair that with some hard-cooked farm-fresh eggs, a bit of flaky sea salt and a simple toasted crostini smeared with some homemade Labne and you have a perfect breakfast, lunch or mid-day snack.

Labne is a cheese made from drained Greek style yogurt. It is a Middle Eastern favorite and very easy to make at home. It is delicious used as a spread and can be used as a substitute instead of butter.

When raw materials are this alluring, it just makes me smile.


Line a fine sieve with 2 layers of damp muslin, allowing the muslin to overhang. Combine thick natural yogurt, such as Greek-style yogurt, and a little salt in a bowl (this helps draw out the whey). Spoon into the muslin. Draw up the corners of the muslin to cover the yogurt mixture and knot securely. Thread a wooden spoon through the knot and place over a bowl to drain in the fridge for 2-3 days or until the yogurt is very thick. Labne can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Friday, April 23, 2010

up the coast, part 3

Before making our way back home on the last day of our trip up the coast, we decided to stop into a local dining establishment for breakfast.

Big Sky Cafe has been a local favorite in San Luis Obispo as well as food critics from around the world, since 1994. It has had stellar reviews from such noted publications as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Gourmet Magazine (back in ’08), and even Rachel Ray.

They specialize in using produce from local farms. A quote from the chef/owner Charles Myers was quoted in Gourmet Magazine as saying “Every year our local farm resources deepen and improve…we have an ever expanding palate of organic fruits and vegetables, farmstead cheeses, olive oils, and vintage vinegars to create our fresh market dishes daily.”

The décor of the restaurant is interesting. In that it seems to have this hippie/southwest motif. There are tie-dyed tapestries, a lot of wood paneling, with a bit of odd statuary thrown in for good measure. The desert landscape paintings that are placed around the dining room are lovely, my favorite being the one adjacent to the long hardwood bar.

When looking at the menu I knew I wanted to go beyond the typical omelet or bowl of fruit. This led me to three options the Red Flannel Turkey Hash with Basil-Parmesan glazed eggs, the Devil’s mess, or the Traditional New Mexican Pozole. Decisions, decisions.

I landed on the pozole. A spicy hominy stew with peppers, tomatillos, pumpkins seeds, cumin & cilantro with a poached egg on cornbread with queso fresco.

It was a good choice. So good in fact that since I’ve been home I have been trying to make my own version of pozole that might come somewhat close to theirs. I believe I have succeeded. The earthy dark pasilla chile, along with the fire roasted tomatoes and chicken stock make a soul satisfying broth. The creamy rich avocado and cheese add richness, and the crunch of the toasted pepitas rounds the soup beautifully.

If you want to make the Big Sky version the owner has a blog in which he posted the recipe (just love when they do that!) but it is pretty involved and a little time consuming. My version is much simpler and has its own merits. With or without the cornbread and poached egg this is a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner.


Pozole my way
serves 4 to 6

3 large dried pasilla (negro) chile, stemmed and seeded
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ quarts chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 Tbsp. dried epazote or Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp. cumin
3 15- ounce cans hominy, drained
8 ounces shredded cooked chicken or pork
½ cup toasted pepitas seeds
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into ½ cubes
1 cup queso fresco, crumbled
½ cup Mexican crema, sour cream or crème faîche for garnish
Cilantro leaves for garnish
Lime wedges, for serving

Quickly toast the chile by turning it an inch or two above an open flame for a few seconds until its aroma fills the kitchen. (Lacking an open flame, toast it in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again.) Break the chile into pieces and put in a blender jar along with the tomatoes with their juice. (A food processor will work, though it won’t completely puree the chile.)

Heat the oil in a medium (4-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Scoop up the onion and garlic with a slotted spoon, pressing them against the side of the pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, and transfer to the blender with the tomato mixture. Process until smooth.

Return the pan to medium-high heat. When quite hot, add the puree and stir nearly constantly, until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Add the broth and epazote, if using or Mexican oregano and cumin. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about a generous teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth).

Just before serving, add the hominy, and chicken to the simmering broth. Divide the pepitas, avocado, cheese and cilantro between the serving bowls. When the hominy and chicken have warmed through, usually about 5 minutes, ladle the soup into the bowls. Garnish with crema. Pass the lime separately

Sunday, April 18, 2010

up the coast, part 2

After a tasty lunch of clam chowder at Splash Café we continued our journey up the central coast of California and took a turn inland toward the Edna Valley. I was taken back by the extensive agriculture and viticulture that is going on there. I learned that the Edna Valley, besides being beautiful is probably one of the best places for going the slightly finicky Pinot Noir grape.

The wine produced in this climate is significantly influenced by the nearby Pacific Ocean. Mornings are often cool and foggy, followed by sunny and warm afternoons. This valley region is subject to extremely long growing seasons and moderate temperatures, which allow the grapes to develop their distinctive varietals characteristics.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the valley, ending up in San Luis Obispo where we had a delicious meal at Buono Tavola that serves northern Italian cuisine. The Tortelloni di zucca alla salvia e mascarpone was an amazing homemade tortelloni stuffed with pumpkin and ricotta cheese in a sage and mascarpone cheese sauce topped with toasted walnuts. The pasta that was so thin and tender it almost melted in my mouth. With my meal I enjoyed a superb 2007 Pinot Noir from Talley Vineyards that was probably one of the best I’ve tried. And for dessert I had the Torta Di Mele Alla Pia, a homemade country apple tart with a polenta crust and served with a cinnamon zabaglione. The apples were sliced paper thin and the polenta crust so flaky and delicate; it was the perfect end to the meal.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

up the coast, part 1

The hubby and I decided to take a couple days off from work and head up the coast to check out some property in the central coast area. We couldn’t have picked a better time; the weather was cool and clear after a small rain storm the previous day. We got an early start, picked up my caffeine fix and pushed through the L.A. stop and go. But since we were getting away, even the traffic couldn’t faze us. We had our trusty map (which ended up not being so trusty after all) and a list of some highly rated food spots as well as days and times of some local farmers markets in the area that we wanted to check out.

Our first stop was in Pismo Beach which boasts of white sandy beaches, a Monarch Butterfly Grove, hiking trails of beautiful beaches with tide pools, coves and caves. But of course those were not the priority, no I had in mind a tasty bread bowl filled with a rich, creamy clam chowder from Splash Cafe.

Splash is famous for their clam chowder and apparently their recipe has been sought after from publications such as Gourmet and Bon Appetit but to no avail. You can order their chowder online, but if you are driving through, it is worth the stop. When you order the chowder, getting it in the bread bowl is the only way to go.  They cut out the center section of the sourdough boule, grill it up and serve along side the bread bowl for dipping. The chowder is thick and creamy with traces of potato and an underpinning of garlic. So good.

Since I’ve been back home, I have been thinking about the chowder, probably way too much. So I thought I would search out a recipe that might be a close match. This recipe from Restaurant Budd Bay Café in Olympia Washington is pretty darn close to Splash.  So if heading to Splash Café in Pismo Beach isn’t in your upcoming plans making this recipe could be a way to visit Splash vicariously.


Smokey Clam Chowder
Bon Appétit December 1996 Restaurant: Budd Bay Cafe; Olympia, Washington

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup all purpose flour
6 8-ounce bottles clam juice
4 6 1/2-ounce cans chopped clams with juices
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh dill or 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke*
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. sherry for serving (optional)

Boil potatoes in large saucepan of salted water until just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain potatoes well.

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add celery and onion and sauté until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Gradually mix in clam juice. Simmer until beginning to thicken, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add clams with juices, parsley, thyme, marjoram, dill, garlic, liquid smoke and potatoes. Simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Add cream and milk. Bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.)

Optional:  One ingredient that really makes this chowder exceptional is to pour about a teaspoon of cream sherry on to the top of the chowder right at serving.  I prefer using Fino or Manzanilla which are both pale, straw colored. Both are excellent with seafood, mild cheese, fish or ham. The delicate crisp aroma and nutty flavor are a nice counter balance to the rich and creamy chowder.

*Liquid smoke is a smoke-flavored liquid seasoning available at specialty foods stores and many supermarkets.

Monday, April 12, 2010

a little fooling around

The "fool" originated in England in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. It is a simple dessert that combines tart fruit with whipped cream. The British traditionally made this dessert with gooseberries, but in spring rhubarb is the perfect choice, with its bright, tart flavor. A very simple dessert to prepare, (dare I say that even a fool can make it), this recipe calls for cooking a compote and then folding in whipped cream.

For me this is just a really good excuse to eat a dish of whipped cream.


Rhubarb Fool
Adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick (about 4 cups or 1 pound prepped)
1/2 cup honey
Zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
1/2 vanilla bean, split
Pinch of fine sea salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

To make the fool, put the rhubarb, honey, orange zest and juice, candied ginger, vanilla bean, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to combine, then cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, for 10 minutes, until the mixture has come to a boil and the rhubarb has softened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then remove the vanilla bean. Transfer the compote to a bowl, and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes, until very cold.

Whip the cream and sugar until soft peaks form, either by hand or using an electric mixer on medium speed. Set aside 1/3 cup of the compote to garnish the dessert, then fold the remaining compote into the whipped cream. Spoon the fool into six 1/2-cup glasses and chill for 1 hour before serving topped with the remaining compote.

Storage: This fool is best served the day it is made, but any leftovers can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

a nice rack

This is probably one of the simplest most delicious dinner ideas that I’ve come across and has become a favorite dinner in my home as of late. A local grocer of mine frequently has a fresh New Zealand rack of lamb that is the perfect dinner for two.

I am of the mind to only season meat with some extra virgin olive oil and then pat it down good with some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. When cooked properly there is nothing better.

I like to start the cooking with a smoking hot sauté pan that is oven safe. Set the oven to 425° and let it heat up before you get everything going. Then when the pan is ready, set the rack of lamb fat side down. Just let it sit until it gets a good sear, probably for 2-3 minutes at most. Then turn it over and put the pan into the oven to finish off. After approximately 12-15 minutes take it out, put onto a carving board and let it rest for another 10 minutes or so.

After it has rested you will have the most tender, beautifully crusted exterior with a lovely blush pink interior. I like to serve this with a salsa verde on the side with some simply roasted vegetables. It's the perfect dinner.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

a day off and Keller's killer tartine

Not to rub it in…but it was an absolutely beautiful day here in Southern California.  Sunny skies and I believe we topped out at 80°. I played some tennis (not very well I might add), sat outside and got a little further along in my current read; Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl’s book on her life as a restaurant critic for the New York Times, and also decided to make a tuna sandwich for lunch. But not just “a tuna sandwich”; I made Thomas Keller’s’ Tuna Niçoise Tartine, which I adapted from a Bouchon Bakery recipe, and of course had to blog about it, because it is blog worthy.

It is made with a confit of garlic, which is amazingly sweet and creamy, so you won’t have to add as much oil and egg to the aïoli, the base for this little masterpiece. Use the best quality tuna packed in oil that you can find and top with hard-boiled eggs, butter lettuce, thinly sliced radishes and a few Niçoise olives scattered over the top and you have a killer sandwich for any day of the week, rain or shine.


Tuna Niçoise Tartine
adapted from Thomas Keller's recipe from Bouchon Bakery
4 thick slices whole grain or pain de campagne* , to serve
4 butter lettuce leaves, to serve
2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced, to serve
3 radishes, thinly sliced, to serve
8 Niçoise olives, pitted, to serve
To serve: finely chopped chives, sweet paprika and extra-virgin olive oil

Confit garlic aïoli
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup canola oil
1 egg, room temperature
1 Tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Tuna salad
2 tsp. finely chopped parsley
1 tsp. chives, finely chopped
1 tsp. each finely chopped cornichon, shallot and capers
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 can tuna pack in oil, drained

For confit garlic aïoli, combine garlic and ½ cup olive oil in a small saucepan, cook over low heat until garlic is soft (20-30 minutes). Strain (reserve garlic), combine garlic oil with canola oil and remaining olive oil, set aside. Process egg, lemon juice and reserved garlic in a small food processor or blender until smooth (1-2 minutes). With motor running, gradually add combined oils and process until thick and emulsified. Season to taste, adjust consistency with a little water if necessary, and set aside.

For tuna salad, combine 2-3 tablespoons garlic aïoli, herbs, cornichon, shallot, capers and lemon juice in a bowl. Add tuna and mix until just combined, season to taste.

To serve, spread two bread slices with a little garlic aïoli, top each with two lettuce leaves, layer with tuna salad, egg and radish slices. Garnish with olives, chives and paprika, drizzle with oil, top with remaining bread slices and serve immediately.

*Pain de campagne is a round French country-style loaf similar to sourdough. If unavailable substitute sourdough.

serves 2

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

alla primavera

“Primavera” literally means first spring. Pasta primavera is an Italian-American dish that consists of pasta and fresh vegetables. Some recipes include chicken, sausage or shrimp, but the focus of primavera is the vegetables themselves. The dish is typically highlighted by light flavors, aromatic herbs and bright colors.

I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of English peas and fava beans, (also known as broad beans) at my local farm stand. Finally on a recent outing I found them, a little mound of each just waiting for me, and thought they would make a lovely addition in a pasta primavera.

I decided on a simply cooked pasta, tossed with some fresh ricotta loosened by a little of the pasta cooking water. Topped with a sprinkling of freshly torn mint and green onions it made a wonderful spring luncheon dish that was perfect served at room temperature.

This kind of dish works well with a simple roasted chicken, or a small rack of lamb, and if the weather warm, this would be a wonderful meal savored outside.


Pasta Primavera
serves 4

1 pound fresh English peas, shelled
1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled (double podding*)
1 pound pasta (spaghetti or linguine)
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
¼ cup mint, torn in pieces (plus more for garnish)
½ cup sliced spring onions
Olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Fill a large stockpot with water toss in some salt and bring to a boil; meanwhile prepare an ice bath. Place fava beans in a sieve, and lower into the water. Let water return to a boil, about 1 minute; blanch 1 minute more. Remove sieve from water, and place beans in ice bath. Transfer to a colander; drain. Peel and discard tough outer skins; set favas aside. Using same blanching water and sieve, blanch peas until just tender and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove sieve from water; transfer peas to ice bath. Transfer peas to a colander, drain and set aside.

Discard blanching water; fill stockpot with fresh water. Add some salt and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, combine ricotta, Parmesan, mint, and some salt and pepper to taste. Just before pasta has finished cooking, add 1 cup cooking water to ricotta mixture; stir to combine.

Drain pasta, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add a glug of olive oil and toss. Add ricotta, reserved fava beans, and peas. Toss to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with mint leaves and green onions; serve.

*Double podding fava beans may seem a bit tedious, but it transforms them from a tough, dull vegetable into tender beans that are beautiful to look at and a treat to eat.