Wednesday, March 31, 2010

{ Handmade Graham Crackers }


One of my fondest memories as a child was camping with my family and making smores. My Mom would buy the graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate bars and a big bag of marshmallows. We would all roast them in our special way, yet the end result was a yummy sweet sandwich of sorts. And who could have just one …. No one! Not sure why this is such a satisfying treat – it must be the crunch, chocolate and gooey warm marshmallow all jammed into one little magical treat.

Several weeks ago, I posted a toasted marshmallow ice cream that was divine and completely satisfying. I actually had my parents over for dinner and created a “deconstructed smore” dessert. I took a pure white rectangle plate and placed one of the graham crackers on it, then a scoop of the toasted marshmallow ice cream in a small white dish next to it and finished with handmade chocolate sauce in a wonton soup spoon. It was interesting looking along with being fantastically delicious.

Handmade Graham Crackers

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 whole-wheat flour
3/4 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 sticks butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey

Combine the butter, sugar and honey in the bowl of a kitchen aide mixer or equivalent and use the paddle attachment. Mix the ingredients on medium speed until they are well-combined. Add the dry ingredients slowly to incorporate well.

Use a large piece of plastic wrap, place the dough on top and form into a rectangle, about 1 inch thick. Wrap the plastic wrap around the dough. Chill for about 30 minutes to one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use either parchment paper or a non-stick cookie sheet to cook the graham crackers.

Unwrap the chilled dough, and on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into a thinner rectangle about 1/8 inches thick. Use a ruler and a sharp knife to cut the dough into 2 x 3-inch rectangles. Gently transfer the cookie rectangles to the baking sheets as you go about cutting. Re-roll the scraps of the dough to shape more cookies. To make it look like a graham cracker, using a sharp knife gently cut a line down the center of each cookie, without going to the bottom. Then use a fork to poke the imprints on each side, four to five times. This will create the appearance of the graham cracker.

Bake the crackers for 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown, rotating the baking sheets half way for even baking. Let the crackers cool on a wire rack. Makes about 24 cookies.

Adapted from Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pasta Carbonara with Peas


















Okay, who doesn’t crave a rich creamy pasta dish with bacon? Both of these vices are such comfort food and every once in a while, you just have to swing out and live a little. Saturday night was that night. We rarely eat pasta anymore and it is an incredible treat. With the “no carb revolution” still popular, pasta has become such a taboo.

My thought process is to eat relatively well during the week, with salads, fish and chicken and stay away from the “bad stuff”. But then Friday and Saturday roll around and this is the time to live a little. Of course, getting on the treadmill 3 to 4 times per week certainly helps. Sunday speeds along and I am back to living a "healthy" lifestyle and eating the best foods I can.

I believe that we must “RSVP Yes to life” and enjoy ourselves. Making the Pasta Carbonara with Peas was my take on living life. This is such a simple dish with so much satisfaction tied to it. Let me know how you live life to the fullest.

Pasta Carbonara with Peas

1 lb. Spaghetti
½ lb. Bacon, cooked until crispy
1 C. Fresh or frozen peas
¾ C. Cream
2 Eggs
¾ C. Parmesan Cheese
4 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Medium white onion, finely diced
¼ t. Nutmeg
½ t. Salt
8 Grinds of fresh ground pepper

Cook the bacon until crispy and drain well on paper towels. Then crumble in to small pieces. Set aside. Leave about 1 tablespoon of the drippings in the pan and remove the rest. You will use this to cook the onions and garlic. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl.

Cook the pasta according to the packages directions. Meanwhile, in a bowl, add the eggs and whisk until all creamy yellow. Add the cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg and parmesan cheese. Combine together.

When ready to serve, drain the pasta and return to the pan. Take off the heat. Add the cream/egg mixture and stir together with the pasta. The hot pasta will cook the egg. Then add the peas, bacon and onion mixture and stir well. Serve immediately. Garnish with extra peas, parmesan and bacon. Season with salt and pepper as desired.





Tuesday, March 23, 2010

{ Roasted Cauliflower with Quattro Formaggio Sauce }


On Sunday, Spring was certainly in the air along with flip flops on my feet. My husband mentioned to me early in the morning that we should barbeque. Of course that got my creative thought process going. A nice juicy steak instantly popped into my brain but what cut would I buy? Filet Mignon? Rib Eye? Flank? New York? I bet you are wondering what I chose. Browsing through the aisles at Safeway, the New York “sang” to me. I seasoned them with a bit of Montreal steak seasoning and let them come to room temperature before grilling. The smell was amazing and officially rung in spring for me. I can hardly wait to enjoy the spring and summer nights outside with a glass of wine and the sounds of the fountain in the background.

Next I was onto side dishes for our beautiful steaks. I was craving something baked, creamy, crunchy yet somewhat good for me. I had a whole head of cauliflower along with a bag of shredded Quattro Formaggio from Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s, you can create your own blend or just use a combination of cheeses you enjoy. Here is my version of Cauliflower Gratin.

















Roasted Cauliflower with Quattro Formaggio Sauce

1 Head of Cauliflower, florets
2 T. Butter
2 T. Flour
2 C. Milk
Salt and Pepper
¼ t. Nutmeg
2 C. Quattro Formaggio (parmesan, asiago, fontina, provolone)

Preheat oven to 375.

Break apart the cauliflower into florets and trim away most of the stem portion. Break into desired sizes. Blanch for 5 minutes and drain.

To prepare the cheese sauce, use a large sauce pan and melt butter over medium heat. Watch carefully, so it doesn’t burn. Once melted, add the flour and stir with a whisk and cook until the flour taste is gone. Essentially you are making a roux. Add the milk and whisk over medium heat until the sauce begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon. About 5 to 7 minutes. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Add the cheese and whisk until incorporated and smooth. Take off the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Add the cauliflower florets and coat with the sauce. Spoon into an oven proof ceramic or glass baking dish to cook. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top (recipe below). Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes.

Topping

1 T. Butter, melted
½ C. Panko bread crumbs
½ C. Quattro Formaggio

Add into all of the ingredients into a bowl and combine.





Sunday, March 21, 2010

{ Toffee and Caramel Cheesecake }


If you are looking for the BEST cheesecake ever, look no further. My husband and I hosted a cocktail party on Friday night for his colleagues. Since I had to work all day on Friday, I needed to plan an easy menu that would be enough for folks to substitute for dinner. I prepared two cheese platters with various types of cheeses from sheep, goat and cow’s milk. I adorned each one with madjool dates, blackberries, candied pecans and grapes. Had a large basket of sliced baguettes, both sweet and sourdough. Finished off the savory menu with a antipasto platter with various Italian meats, peppers, olives, tomatoes, mozzarella balls, basil and marinated artichoke hearts.

Okay, you are wondering, where does the cheesecake fit into this cocktail party. Dessert of course. Well, on Wednesday night I prepared the cheesecake, since we were at an event on Thursday night and the cocktail party was scheduled for Friday night. I am already exhausted thinking about all that I accomplished while working too. That is the beauty of the cheesecake – you can make ahead of time and it is a crowd pleaser every time. I asked one of the guests if they enjoyed it, and he said, “I almost ate the plate, by scraping all of the luscious cheesecake from it”. I knew the party was a success and everyone had a great time.

Toffee and Caramel Cheesecake

At least 2 hours before you begin, set the cream cheese, eggs, and sour cream on your kitchen counter because it’s essential that the ingredients be at room temperature before you mix the batter.

Gingersnap cracker crust:

3 C. Ginger snap cookies, finely ground
1/2 cup granulated sugar
10 T. unsalted butter, melted

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Use a food processor to ground the gingersnap cookies.  In a medium bowl, combine the gingersanp crumbs and sugar. Stir in the 10 Tbs. melted butter until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan before putting the crust in. This will enable you to slice the finished product from the bottom and transfer to a plate of your choice. Dump the crumbs into a 9-inch springform pan that’s about 2-1/2 inches deep and press them firmly into the bottom and about halfway up the sides. Bake until the crust is fragrant and warm to the touch, 5 to 7 minutes. Let the pan cool on a rack while you prepare the cheesecake batter.

Cheesecake:

4 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 C. granulated sugar
2/3 C. brown sugar
1 1/2 t. Cornstarch
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 C. sour cream, at room temperature
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 t. vanilla extract

Using your kitchen aide mixer or equivalent, beat the cream cheese with the sugar at medium-low speed until the mixture is smooth and somewhat fluffy, approximately 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl. Beat in the cornstarch. Beat in the eggs on low speed, one at a time, mixing the batter for only 15 to 20 seconds after each egg is added, just until it’s incorporated, and scraping the bowl each time. Don’t overbeat. Add the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat at low speed until well combined.

Baking the cheesecake:

Wrap the outside of the pan tightly with two sheets of extra-wide heavy-duty aluminum foil to make the pan waterproof. Pour the batter into the prepared crust; it should cover the crust completely and come to within about 1/2 inch of the pan’s rim. Place the springform pan in a roasting pan and carefully pour hot water into the roasting pan until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake at 350°F, until the top of the cake is golden brown and the center only has a slight jiggle, about 1 hour 10 min. to 1 hour 15 minutes.

Let the cake cool:

Remove the cheesecake pan from the water bath, remove the foil wrapping and set the pan on a wire rack. Let the cake cool on the rack until barely warm. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours or overnight. The cheesecake will firm up during chilling.

Caramel Sauce:

1 ½ C. sugar
¼ C. water
½ t. lemon juice
1 C. heavy cream

Stir sugar, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat; boil without stirring until the mixture turns deep amber brown. This should take about 9 minutes. Take off the stove and hold over the sink before pouring the cream mixture into the sugar mixture. It will boil and bubble. Once calmed down, add to back to the burner and reduce slightly over medium low heat for about 8 minutes. Chill until thickened. Put into another container and slightly heat when ready to use.

Serve the cheesecake:

Unclasp and remove the side of the springform pan, and then use a wide spatula to transfer the cake to a serving plate. Add the toffee pieces around the top of the cheesecake and push down slightly. The caramel should be slightly warm to spread on the top and just touch the toffee pieces. (I purchased the toffee from Trader Joe's) Put back in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to firm up the caramel. Then slice with a warm knife for clean sliced and run under hot water as needed.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cauliflower Soup with Bacon, Corn and Shitake Mushroom Relish + Friends
















If you’re passionate about something, then you’re going to be looking for everything you can to get better at it. This is very true for me with the art of entertaining. The entire process of planning, shopping, decorating, creating the menu to selecting the wine excites me and ignites my creativity. I have done both large and small dinner parties to lunching with the ladies to a formal high tea. One of my favorite ways to entertain is with four to six guests and serving small plates with wine. Often we will sit in the family room and enjoy multiple courses of small plates while pairing with various wines. It is more intimate, comfortable and conversation tends to flow really easy.

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of spending an evening with my long time friend Jeff, who actually hired me at my current company over eleven years ago. We were delighted to meet Da Gang, who also has a great love of food and cooks for Jeff daily. I wanted to have choices and a lot of flavors for us to enjoy throughout the evening. We started off the evening with Walnut Pesto with toasted crostini’s, and paired with Grgich Hills Chardonnay. It was quite chilly outside, so the fire was roaring, candles burning and perfect for our next course - Cauliflower Soup with Bacon, Corn and Shitake Mushroom Relish. (Recipe below) By this time, we were onto our next bottle of wine, Cuvaison Chardonnay from the Carneros region of Napa Valley. In my opinion, the Carneros region in Napa Valley produces the most luscious chardonnay.

















Recently I attended a wine class at the new library in Lafayette, where there was a chef from Chez Panisse who brought a handmade onion tart that was out of this world. She was kind enough to send me the recipe and I have attempted twice to make the crust as good as hers. I am getting closer, but my persistence for perfection to achieve that perfect buttery, flaky and light crust has yet to be achieved. Our next course was the onion tart (third attempt) with a side salad of arugula and tomatoes in lemon vinaigrette. My husband was in the mood for red wine, so we opened a Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

We then had our last savory course of petite crab cakes with a lemon aioli. These delicate little seafood gems are a crowd pleaser. I created the recipe several years ago and even folks who don’t like crab enjoy these. Even though we all had full bellies, we managed to make room for dessert – Apple Shortbread Crisp with Caramel Sauce. If you love apple pie, you will flip for this dessert. A GREAT evening with friends!

Cauliflower Soup with Bacon, Corn and Shitake Mushroom Relish

Serves 4

Soup:

1 ½ C. Leeks, sliced (mostly white)
2 Garlic cloves, minced
2 T. Butter
2 T. Olive oil
Salt and pepper
7 C. Cauliflower, florets
7 C. Chicken stock

Use a large stock pot. Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft over medium heat. About 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Then add the cauliflower and season well with salt and pepper. Toss well and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then turn down heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes or until cauliflower is soft.

Use an emulsion blender and pulse until the soup is smooth. Alternative method is to place into a blender in batches until all is smooth.

Relish:

8 Slices of center cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 ½ C. Fresh white corn, use a knife to remove from cob (frozen can be used)
1 ½ C. Shitake mushrooms, remove stems and cut into small dices
2 T. Butter
Salt and pepper

In a sauté pan, add the butter and melt. Then add the shitake mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium high heat for a few minutes until the mushrooms begin to brown and become fragrant. Add the corn and cook for 3 more minutes. Set aside until ready to assemble soup.

Assemble:

In a large white bowl, spoon corn and mushroom relish in the middle of the bowl, then some crumbled bacon on top. Spoon the hot cauliflower soup on top. Garnish with diced chives and truffle oil.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Apple Shortbread Crisp with Caramel Sauce



Most everyone has had a version of strawberry shortcake at one point. This dessert is a sophicated spin on the classic strawberry shortcake but with apples and so much more. You will need to set aside some time to prepare, but the end result is worth every minute. I had a dinner party over the weekend and served this for dessert. Once the first bite was taken, the room went silent and all you could hear was perhaps a sigh of happiness. Even though we were all quite full, we somehow managed to inhale most of it. Try serving with a rich vanilla bean ice cream.

Apple Shortbread Crisp with Caramel Sauce

Serves 6

Shortcake Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 tablespoons sugar
1 t. Vanilla paste or extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of half an lemon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
3/4 cup cold heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)
1/4 cup sugar

Apple Filling

4 crisp apples, Granny smith
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 T. Water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Calvados (apple brandy)
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Crumble Topping

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup shredded coconut
Pinch of nutmeg
7 tablespoons unsalted butter

Caramel Sauce
1 ½ cup sugar
¼ C. water
½ t. lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream

Shortcake biscuits:

Preheat oven to 350º. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Add butter, and use fingers to crumble butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour in 3/4 cup cream, and stir with a fork until a loose dough forms.

Transfer dough to a floured surface. Knead gently with floured hands until dough comes together, 3 to 5 turns. Pat the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick round, and cut out 6 biscuits with a 3-inch round cutter, re-rolling dough once. Place biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Whisk together beaten egg and water in a small bowl; brush each biscuit lightly with egg wash, and sprinkle each with sugar.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on pans for 5 minutes. Prior to serving, use the 3 inch metal ring to cut off extra cookie by pressing down and form into a perfect circle.

Apple filling:

Peel apples and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Set aside. Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat; add sugar and water and stir about 2 minutes or until sugar melts,. Add diced apples, and cook about 3 minutes or until apples just begin to soften. Combine lemon juice, Calvados, and cornstarch in a small bowl; stir until cornstarch is dissolved. Add lemon juice mixture to the pan, and cook about 4 minutes, stirring, until juices thicken.

Crumble topping:

Preheat oven to 350º. Combine flour, sugar, brown sugar, oats, pecans, nutmeg and coconut in a large bowl; stir until well combined. Melt butter. Slowly add melted butter to the bowl, stirring to combine. Pour mixture onto an un-greased cookie sheet, breaking up large clumps with your fingers. Bake 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside to cool slightly and break apart to form small crumbles.

Caramel Sauce:

Stir sugar, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat; boil without stirring until the mixture turns deep amber brown. This should take about 9 minutes. Take off the stove and hold over the sink before pouring the cream mixture into the sugar mixture. It will boil and bubble. Once calmed down, add to back to the burner and reduce slightly over medium low heat for about 8 minutes. Chill until thickened. Put into another container and slightly heat when ready to use.

To serve:

Place 1 shortcake biscuit on each serving plate, with a the three inch ring on top. Spoon apple filling over biscuit and press down. Add the crumble topping and press down. Gently lift the ring up to form a tower of apple crisp. Drizzle with the caramel sauce.

(Adapted from Napa Rose Restaurant by Chef Jorge)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

{ Sourdough and Leek Savory Bread Pudding }


Bread pudding is just one of those dishes which is both satisfying and delicious. The creamy custard mixed with the yeasty bread along with the cinnamon, raisins and nuts, makes me so happy. Throw a spoonful of handmade caramel and a drizzle of crème anglaise on top, now perfection has been achieved. Okay, my mind is slipping into the dessert zone and the recipe below is a savory bread pudding – perfect for dinner, not dessert.

Savory bread pudding has endless possibilities and this one is just such a classic yet incredibly satisfying side dish. Add a bit of sausage, now you have a hearty dish  for breakfast. We had this a week ago, when my parents came over for dinner. My Mom could not get enough of it that I sent her home with a “to go” container for her to enjoy the next day. Let me know what your favorite sweet or savory bread pudding is.

Sourdough and Leek Savory Bread Pudding

2 T. Butter
2 Leeks - trim green portion, clean and slice thin
8 C. Sourdough Bread, one inch cubes
2 C. Whole milk
2 C. Heavy cream
3 Eggs
½ t. nutmeg
½ C. Parmesan cheese, grated
½ C. Parmesan cheese, shredded

In a sauté pan, add the butter and melt over low heat. Add the leeks. Sauté for about 10 to 15 minutes or until soft. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the eggs and beat together, then add the milk and cream. Whisk together until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese, nutmeg and whisk together. Add the bread cubes and mix together well so each one soaks up the custard. Then add the sautéed leeks and stir. Let sit for about 30 minutes.

In a baking dish that is approximately 10 by 10, add the mixture. Top with the ½ cup of shredded parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes or until top is golden brown. Let cool slightly and then cut into squares for serving.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream



Roasting marshmallows always circles my memory back to my childhood and our camping vacations with my family. Smores were the treat of choice. My Mom would bring a large box of graham crackers, Hershey’s milk chocolate bars and of course, fluffy marshmallows to roast over the campfire. Each person had their own technique for roasting – there was the dip into the fire and burn right away, the slow roaster who barely would go near the flame and the up and down roaster who would dare to touch the flame but then turn away in fear of burning to a black crispy mess.

I was definitely the slow roaster who went for the golden brown color. Often I would roast until golden, then slip the marshmallow off the stick, eat it, then with a bit remaining to be “re-roasted”. I was able to encounter the complete roasted marshmallow experience.

Even today, I often get a craving for these delectable treats. I will spear a fork into one of these magical pillows and roast over my gas stove. All I can say is.......YUM!

Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

1 C. Sugar
¼ t. Salt
7 Large egg yolks
1 ½ C. Half and half
1 C. Heavy Cream
1 Vanilla bean
2 t. Vanilla extract
12 Large marshmallows

In a medium bowl, add the egg yolks, salt and sugar. With a whisk, beat until it is thick and a pale yellow color. Set aside.

Use a medium pan, add the half and half and bring to a simmer. Temper the egg mixture first, by adding about ¼ cup of the hot half and half and mix well. Then slowly add this mixture to the simmering half and half. Turn the heat down to low and stir constantly until the mixture thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and strain the mixture through a strainer to remove any lumps. Let cool a bit. Add the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Slice vanilla bean in half and with a sharp knife, scrape the pods into the mixture and stir.

Cool in the refrigerator or overnight. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the directions. When firm, transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze. Meanwhile, toast the marshmallows either under a broiler on a cookie sheet or over a gas flame on the stove. When toasted and gooey, mix into the ice cream and return to the freezer.

(Vanilla Ice Cream recipe Adapted from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Warm Mushroom Salad with Baby Spinach, Shaved Parmesan and Walnuts



Do you ever get a craving for mushrooms? I sure do. I love mushrooms for their earthy taste, texture and versatility. From the garden variety white button to the sophisticated porcini, they all have a place in my kitchen and heart. I adore creamy mushroom bisque to a porcini lasagna with béchamel sauce.

We had my parents over for dinner on Saturday night and wanted to make somewhat healthy food. They both love mushrooms. Growing up, Saturday nights would often be a steak and baked potato night. To accompany the steak, my Mom would sauté mushrooms. I put my spin on those childhood dinners by creating an earthy, decadent salad that I knew everyone would enjoy.

Warm Mushroom Salad with Baby Spinach, Shaved Parmesan and Walnuts

Salad:
6 oz. Portabella mushrooms
4 oz. Shitake mushrooms
8 oz. White button mushrooms
6 oz. Baby spinach
½ C. Walnuts
¼ lb. Parmesan hunk
2 t. Fresh thyme, chopped
2 T. Butter
3 T. Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Clean the mushrooms with a brush or paper towel. Cut into small cubes or slices. In a large pan, melt the butter and olive oil together. Add the mushrooms and cook on medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, ½ to ¾ teaspoon of salt and several grinds of pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Dressing:
2 T. Sherry vinegar
6 T. Olive oil
1 Large shallot, finely minced
Salt and pepper

To make the dressing, add all of the ingredients to a container with a lid and shake to combine. Let the dressing sit for 30 minutes for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.

To assemble the salad:

In a large bowl add the cleaned baby spinach leaves and toss with the dressing. Divide among four bowls and top with the warm mushrooms and garnish with walnuts. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the parmesan cheese onto each salad. Finish with fresh ground pepper.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Blood Orange, Fennel and Marcona Almond Salad






















The Blood Orange, Fennel and Marcona Almond Salad is a winter salad that wants spring to arrive really soon. Speaking of the arrival of spring, the trees in our neighborhood are just spouting these beautiful pink flowers to be followed by the emerging red leaves. Once late fall arrives, the trees loose the leaves and are just twigs during the winter months. The cycle then starts again. Don’t you love the turning of seasons?

The sweetness of the blood oranges along with the licorice flavor of the crunchy fennel and the bite from the red onion melds into a beautiful winter salad. The addition of the marcona almonds enriches the earthy texture to each bite. Sherry vinegar and the olive oil is a perfect marriage for this simple dressing. Be sure to use the fleur de sel to season – it is light and less salty than regular table salt.

Blood Orange, Fennel and Marcona Almond Salad

Makes 4 individual Plates

4 Blood Oranges, peeled and sliced
½ C. Red onion, sliced thin
1 C. Fennel, sliced thin
1/3 C. Marcona almonds
1 T. Fennel fronds
Olive oil
Sherry vinegar
Fleur de sel
Ground pepper

Divide and arrange among four plates the blood oranges, fennel and red onion slices. Divide and place the almonds among the plates. Drizzle the sherry vinegar and then the olive oil. Season with the fleur de sel and the fresh ground pepper. Garnish each plate with a bit of the fennel fronds.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oven Roasted Tomato Caprese Pasta


Caprese! Caprese! Caprese! The combination of tomato, mozzarella and basil is such a classic Italian trio. Add a touch of rich, fresh pressed olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar to create a wonderful salad. Have you ever had a caprese panini? If not, try adding pesto, sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella cheese to a sliced baguette and grill on your panini press. The combinations are endless. As you can imagine, caprese was on my mind. I had all of these ingredients ready to go and whipped up a simple pasta dish which is super satisfying and full of flavor.

After I make a new dish, I ask my number one critic, my husband Charles how he liked it. He rated this one a 10!

Caprese Pasta

4 C. Cherry or similar tomatoes
8 to 10 Garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
½ C. Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb. Spaghetti
1 ½ C. Fresh mozzarella, small cubes
Fresh basil and parmesan cheese to garnish

Preheat oven to 350. In a large baking dish, add the tomatoes, sliced garlic and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss well. Bake for about 30 minutes. Tomatoes should be soft and beginning to break open. Remove from the oven.

About 15 minutes before the tomatoes are done, cook your spaghetti according to the package and your preference of doneness.

In large bowl, add the drained pasta, top with the diced mozzarella and roasted tomato mixture and toss. Finish by garnishing with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Adding a  few grinds of fresh ground pepper completes the dish.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Laurus in Blackhawk Plaza

























Opened in early December 2009, Laurus is a new sophisticated restaurant located in the upscale Blackhawk Plaza, which derives its name sake from the bay laurel tree, native to the Mediterranean region of the world. Chef Matthew Silverman draws his inspiration for the menu from both southern European and California influences and a passion for interesting ingredients.

The ambiance is elegant yet evokes a warm, rich impression immediately when you open the front door. The atmosphere is luxuriant, warm, and spacious with a soft color palate, stone accents and memorable signature furniture pieces. Laurus has an old world impression in a new world space. Both the exhibition kitchen and bar have a curved counter with stools for intrigued customers to watch the food and beverage culinary creations unfold. While at the bar, check out the unique water dispenser that is artistically enchanting and interesting – a must see.

My friend Helen and I arrived at noon with a reservation, but did not need one. We were quickly seated by the window in the main dining room with a terrific view of the water and birds outside. A metal basket of house baked focaccia arrived with a molded dish of butter with two small wells that held flavored olive oils – quite a distinctive presentation. I ordered a glass of Andre Vatan “Les Charmes” Sancerre 2008 and Helen ordered a Pimms Cup cocktail. The added touch of serving the wine with a small, individual sized decanter was extraordinary.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 










We decided to start with the truffle cauliflower bisque with sweet corn pancetta relish, basil oil and micro chives. For lunch Laurus offers two sizes for quite a few of the menu items. The bisque was “to die for” - creamy, crunchy, earthy and just magnificent. Our palates were dancing and could hardly wait for our next selection, the caramelized onion with gorgonzola, basil pesto, spiced walnuts, salumi tuscano and opal basil wood-fired flatbread. We shared the half order and were not disappointed. The flatbread had a crispy crust married with the flavorful combination of sweet onion, pesto, thin slices of sulami and a hint of earthy walnut.

Our last selection was the waiter’s recommendation, the turkey burger with portabella mushrooms, avocado, emmentalier swiss and nueske bacon served with sweet potato fries dusted with cumin and salt. Unfortunately the turkey burger was dry and the portabella puree he described did not exist. On a good note, the fries were crispy, flavorful and divine. Our waiter came over and offered a choice – “dessert menu” or “the check”. We found this a bit out of sequence, since typically there is time lapse between offering dessert and delivering the check. Dessert was calling out to us, so we chose the trio of gelatos which included mango, Stracciatella (vanilla chocolate chip) and their signature flavor, laurel leaf and lavender. The signature flavor had an herbaceous quality along with being sweet and creamy. This would not please every palate but definitely worth trying.

Overall Laurus is a stylish, sophisticated dining destination. Intriguing wine list along with an interesting menu, Laurus should attract foodies and adventurous diners alike. Our service was good along with the majority of the meal. We especially enjoyed the ambiance and architecture of the space, the soup was amazing and the laurel & lavender gelato was a foodies dream.

Laurus
3483 Blackhawk Plaza Circle
Danville, CA 94596
925.984.2250

NOTE:  Laurus is now closed.


 
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