Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cast Iron Padron Peppers


Yesterday hubby and I went to the farmer’s market which is less than a mile from our house. Since it’s inception over a year ago, I have seen the mix of vendors change for the better. The variety is wonderful – from handcrafted gourmet ice cream, artisan dim sum to locally crafted honey. Of course the customary farmers are on hand to share by way of samples their locally grown fruits and veggies.




With my reusable bag in hand, let the shopping begin. The very first vendor had stunning vegetables. Right now pepper season is in full swing. The variety of heirloom peppers in a variety of eye catching colors of purple, green, yellow and multi colors were everywhere. Such sweet and flavorful varieties were available at multiple vendors. A small basket of patron peppers instantly caught my eye and I had to immediately purchase.



Padron peppers from Spain or as they are called in the country – pimientos de Padron, are small green peppers from the Capsicum annuum family. They are sweet and quite mild, though some can be hot and spicy. The traditional way is to fry them and sprinkle with sea salt. They are most prevalent and available from June to September.



A little over a week ago, I immediately admired a recipe from my friend Patty at Patty’s Food. It described the best way to enjoy a Padron Pepper. She has a beautiful blog full of delish recipes and gorgeous photos - I highly encourage you to take a few minutes to browse. Until I read her post, I was not exposed to this delicious little gem of a pepper. They are not hot, but rather mild. I filed it in the back of my head as one of those recipes I must try. Then yesterday at the farmer’s market, there they were – the Padron Peppers all neatly placed in a small green basket. It was a “must purchase”.



I reviewed Patty’s recipe and technique carefully. Thought that I would use my well seasoned cast iron skillet to give some great flavor to the peppers yet create that charring on the outside that embodies the grand smoky flavor. I did them in two batches and soon realized that the less oil the better. Just a hint of fleur de sel and I now had the perfect delish snack. The next time I make these, I would add a bit of shaved parmesan along with the fleur de sel for an extra added degree of flavor.

Sometimes the simple things in life are the best things in life. These cast iron pardon peppers were simply sublime. Just wish I purchased two baskets – they were that delish!

Cast Iron Padron Peppers

2 C. Fresh Padron Peppers
2 t. Olive Oil
Fleur de Sel

Heat your cast iron skillet on high for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the olive oil and let heat for 30 seconds. Add one cup of the pardon peppers. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and toss frequently until you get a char on both sides. Place onto parchment lined plate and sprinkle with fleur del sel. For the second batch, add a touch of olive oil if needed and repeat the process. Enjoy!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sweet & Salty Brownie | Secret Recipe Club


A little over a month ago while browsing through various blogs, I came across an interesting site, called Amanda’s Cooking. She sponsors a fun event called “The Secret Recipe Club” where the idea is that you are assigned another bloggers site to peruse and then select a recipe to make. A specific date is given where all participants will post and link back so all of the “secret” recipes can be shared.



This is my first month and I was delighted to be assigned to Emily’s blog, Nomnivorous. Emily is a twenty something apparel designer who lives in Brooklyn. Her blog is chalk full of wonderful recipes and stories. If you have not visited her blog prior, please take a few minutes to explored and be ready to be delighted. It was certainly challenging to make a decision as to my choice for my very first Secret Recipe Club entry, since there were such a great variety of splendid recipes to choose from.



After much debate, I decided on the Sweet and Salty Brownie from the stunning cook book – Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. I did not realize until sifting through Emily’s blog that there is an online baking group dedicated to cooking their way through this spectacular book. I happen to own this book and have only made one or two things from it so far. What a perfect excuse to make another wonderful treat from this already iconic cookbook.



I changed very little about the recipe except to eliminate the sour cream from the caramel sauce and add two more ounces of chocolate to the brownie mixture.



Years ago growing up, a neighbor’s Mom would make Caramel Brownies and I swear I could eat half the pan in one sitting, they were that good. I would inquire often for the recipe and for whatever reason, never got it. Now that this sweet & salty brownie is out, my search for the caramel brownie is over.



Sweet & Salty Brownie
{from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented }

Caramel:

1 c. sugar
2 T. light corn syrup
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 t. fleur de sel

Brownie:

1 1/4 c. flour
1 t. salt
2 T. dark cocoa powder
13 oz. quality dark chocolate (60-72%), coarsely chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 ½ c. sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 t. vanilla

Topping:

1 ½ t. fleur de sel
1 t. coarse sugar

Make the Caramel:

In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/4 c. water, stirring together carefully so you don't splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat, until a thermometer reads 350 degrees and is dark amber in color. About 6 minutes.

Remove from the heat and slowly add the cream (it will bubble up). Then add the fleur de sel. Set aside to cool.

Make the Brownie:

Preheat oven to 350. Use non-stick spray to coat bottom and sides of a 9 x 13" pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water.

Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water. Whisk in both sugars until completely combined. Removed bowl from pan.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until incorporated.

Add the flour mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients until there is just a trace of the flour mixture remaining.

Assemble:

Pour half of the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Drizzle and 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce (not all of it) over the batter, trying to stay away from the edges. Gently spread the caramel sauce evenly. In heaping spoonfuls, scoop the remaining batter over the caramel layer. Smooth the brownie batter gently over the caramel.

Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Brownies are done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Remove the brownies from the oven and sprinkle with the fleur de sel and the coarse sugar.

Cool completely before serving.



Saturday, July 16, 2011

Green Fig, Peach and Balsamic Jam


Fig glorious figs – I absolutely love this time of year. In fact, I have been waiting anxiously until I saw those beautiful little gems arrive in the store. If you have been reading my blog for a bit, you know that I have taken up canning in a big way. One of my favorite items to make is fig jam.


The addition of the balsamic gives that extra punch of flavor and sweetness to the jam. I prefer to lightly process the jam prior to canning by using an emulsion blender to make it smoother. You decide what your preference it.


This week at work was quite exhausting – both physically and mentally. The stress level was elevated. All I can say is that I am happy it is the weekend and making jam is quite the stress reducer. I think it is the satisfaction of seeing all those beautiful jars lined up in the kitchen. And even better yet is the expression on the folks I give a jar to as a gift. Nothing better than giving.


At our monthly management meeting this week, I am going to surprise the group with handmade buttermilk biscuits and this glorious fig jam. Perhaps some of the folks may read this post and then it won’t be a surprise. I guess they will have the inside scoop on the surprise, but will have to wait until then.

Enjoy your weekend! 
Any fun plans?


Green Fig, Peach and Balsamic Jam

1 1/2 Lb. Green Figs, stems removed and coarsely chopped
½ Lb. Peaches, peeled and pit removed and course chop
1 1/2 C. Sugar
1/2 C. Balsamic Vinegar
¼ C. Fresh Lemon juice

Combine the figs, peaches, sugar, and balsamic vinegar in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium to high heat. Then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook. Break up the large pieces and stir periodically until the jam thickens. Remove from the heat and squeeze about a tablespoon of lemon juice and stir. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired. If too chunky, you can use a food processor to quickly pulse a bit smoother. Spoon the jam into a container with a lid. Using sterilized jars, spoon into jars, seal with jar and process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Let cool and lids should seal.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ultimate Caramelized Onion Dip


Oh how time flies! It seems like it was just like yesterday that my dear friend Helen’s son, G-man (as we affectionately call him) was just nine hours old. I remember visiting Helen in the hospital and meeting G-man for the very first time. What an absolutely cute little guy. As the years continued, G-man continually amazed us with his unique and special personality. We often referred to him as a 30 something man in a 3 year old body – he was always mature for his age.



Now let’s propel to last weekend and the celebration of G-man’s 18th birthday. Oh how time flies! It is almost hard to fathom how the years just sail by when you really sit down to think about it. He is off to college next month.

My hubby and I are fortunate enough to be an extension of this amazing family. We were among less than a handful of non-family invited to the birthday soiree. Helen held it at their pool club to simplify everything and catered most everything from Hickory Pit. Oh how I LOVE the dressing for the coleslaw from Hickory Pit.


I strive to be a gracious guest, so I inquired as to how I can help or what I can bring. Helen said she was going for ease with picnic flair. Caramelized onion dip had been on my must make list for quite a while. Who doesn’t love a great dip with crunchy and salty chips? After researching the basic ingredients, I completely created my own version of the Ultimate Caramelized Onion Dip.


When I set it on the picnic table for the guests to enjoy, the dip was never lonely. By the end of the evening, the bowl was scraped clean and folks were just raving about how much they enjoyed it. I knew I had a repeatable hit on my hands. Enjoy!

Ultimate Caramelized Onion Dip

Caramelized Onions

3 Large Onions, Peeled, cut in half and sliced ¼ inch thick
4 T. Butter
2 T. Sugar
½ t. Salt
10 Grinds fresh ground pepper

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes over medium heat stirring frequently until the onions are a golden caramel color. Set aside to cool.

Dip

3 ½ C. Sour Cream
½ C. Goat Cheese
2/3 C. Feta
2 t. Worcestershire Sauce
1 ½ t. Garlic powder
2 t. Onion powder
½ t. Salt
10 grinds pepper

In a kitchen aide mixer, add the goat and feta cheese and beat on medium for 2 minutes. Add about ½ c. sour cream and combine well. Beat until smooth. Slowly add the additional sour cream until smooth and fluffy. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper and mix. By hand, add the caramelized onions and stir together. Refrigerate and let sit about one hour prior to serving to let the flavors combine. Taste to see if you need to adjust the seasonings.







Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Radish, Carrot, Mint and Feta


Saturday - One of my favorite days of the week. It is neatly stacked in between Friday and Sunday. You don’t have to worry about going to work, but rather plan to do things that make you happy.


Last evening Friday, we had planned to just stay home and relax, like our typically wine and appetizer evening celebration to the start of the weekend. My hubby took the day off from work and I traveled about the bay with several client appointments.



Perhaps there was bad traffic karma in the air yesterday, since each destination I headed to, had horrible traffic. With summer full steam ahead, traffic should be lighter, not yesterday. At the end of the day, I decided to reward myself with a productive day, by heading home a tad earlier than normal.


My hubby let me know that a friend of ours called and was headed to Tahoe for the weekend, but yet again that traffic karma was in the air and she inquired if we all wanted to get together. We let her know that she was welcome to head over to our house and wait out the traffic. We opened a bottle of our friend Geoff’s handcrafter beer and it was too perfect for the warm weather on the other side of the wall. We visited and caught up until she was ready to hit the great highway.


About an hour later, our good friends and neighbors came over to wine and appetizers. I put together an array of Trader Joe’s delights. No real cooking for me that night, just pure relaxation with friends while sipping divine wine. We enjoyed a bottle of “The Creator” from K Vintners in Walla Walla Washington.


(From Google Images)

This powerful wine is comprised of 43% cabernet sauvignon from one vineyard, stonerdige and 21% cabernet sauvignon from the calliloux vineyard along with 35% syrah. It has flavor notes of black current, iron, tobacco, cedar and anise. It is ripe and rich with hints of cherry and spices. It has a very elegant finish with supreme balance. The aromas are reminiscent of smoke, incense, mineral and blueberry. Overall a very structured and palate pleaser that will develop over the next five years.



This salad is a perfect fresh and lively salad to serve either as a starter or dinner salad. The bright mint and creamy feta just add to the crunch of the vegetables for a completely satisfying salad. Enjoy!

Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Radish, Carrot, Mint and Feta

Serves 4

Salad

¾ C. Carrots, peeled and sliced thin
6 oz. Sugar Snap Peas, sliced on the bias
¾ C. Radishes, trimmed and sliced thin
½ C. Feta, crumbled
1 T. Mint, chiffonade thin

In a medium bowl, add all of the above ingredients and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to toss with the dressing.

Dressing

1 Garlic clove, minced to a paste
1 T. Lemon juice
1 t. Balsamic vinegar
3 T. Olive oil
Salt
Fresh ground pepper

On a cutting board, mash the garlic and then begin to mince and add a pinch of salt. This will increase the paste effect. Continue to mince until it is so fine, it resembles a paste quality. Add to a small bowl along with all of the other ingredients. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Mix and let sit for 30 minutes to develop the flavors.

When ready to serve, drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss. Serve either individually or in a large bowl. If you have hungry guests or serving as a main dish, you might want to consider doubling the recipe.

Adapted from “A good appetite: Resistance is futile, sweet pea” – NY times

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Double Peach Ice Cream


Nothing says summer than a golden juicy peach. We are in the heart of the season and I am just ecstatic. Recently on a trip to Trader Joe’s, right front and center was a display of peaches in these boxes that resembled a freshly packed from the farm look. Almost looking like an old fashioned wooden crate, albeit these were cardboard.



My mind began racing and thought what to make with these gorgeous beautiful summer gems. As you may or may not be aware I have discovered my passion for making jam last year and each time the season changes or a new produce items becomes available, it is jam making time. My recipe for pure peach jam will be up soon. Stay tuned.



Along with the jam inspiration was my passion for making homemade ice creams. Although Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s make some pretty tasty ice cream and creative flavors, the taste of handcrafted ice cream can compare. I first flirted with the idea of making a simple vanilla ice cream and putting in chunks of peaches.



Tasty idea, but not quite bold enough. Then the idea hit, make a peach puree and blend into the vanilla ice cream and kick it up with adding chunks of fresh peaches at the end. The birth of double peach ice cream was born.


What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Do you have any super creative flavors you have experimented with?
Look forward to hearing from all of you.



Double Peach Ice Cream

About 1 quart

1 C. Half and Half
¼ t. Salt
3/4 C. sugar
2 t. Vanilla
2 C. heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
Heat the half n half, salt, and sugar in a saucepan.

To make the ice cream, set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart (2l) bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water. Set a strainer over the top of the smaller bowl and pour the cream into the bowl.

In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks. Use the milk then gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Stir over the ice until cool, add the vanilla extract and refrigerate to chill thoroughly.

Stir in the peach puree in to the custard and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Peach Puree

4 Large Peaches
½ C. Sugar
½ C. Water

Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Cut into small pieces and add to a small sauce pan with the sugar and water. Heat over medium heat until soft – about 10 minutes. Puree the mixture and set aside.

Once the mixture is processed and firm, place into a freezer container that is airtight and stir in about 1 cup finely diced fresh peaches. This will create the “double” peach effect.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Balsamic Macerated Strawberry Sundae



Happy 4th of July weekend everyone! Strawberries just sing all American and have a rightful place at any 4th of July celebration. Add in a few blueberries and now you have traditional American fare for this holiday season.


Over the last couple weeks, I have hosted a couple dinner parties and served this simple yet deliciously sublime dessert to my guests. The secret ingredient is the balsamic vinegar and folks instantly associate a tart taste. The surprising fact is that when balsamic is reduced it actually becomes sweet. When you purchase balsamic vinegar that is well aged, it takes on a particular sweetness and the tart flavor disappears.



Balsamic Macerated Strawberry Sundae

4 C. Strawberries, hull removed and cut into fours
½ C. Sugar
½ C. Balsamic Vinegar
Vanilla Ice Cream

Place the strawberries into a medium bowl and add the sugar. Toss well. Meanwhile reduce the balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan. Heat on medium high heat and stir often. Should take about 3 to 4 minutes to reduce and begin to form a syrup consistency. Be careful to not over cook or it will burn.

Let cool for about 4 to 5 minutes and then add to the strawberries. Toss well and chill for a minimum of two hours. (Can be chilled overnight)

When ready to serve, scoop the vanilla ice cream into small bowls and gently toss a generous spoonful or two of the macerated strawberries on top. Enjoy!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ad Hoc in Yountville


According to Wikipedia, Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning "for this." It generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes. However, when I think about Ad Hoc, I think Thomas Keller and a original thought to have a temporary restaurant.



The idea was uncomplicated – serve a four course family style meal that changed daily and the concept would be repeated 5 times a week. Keller also created a space that was evocative of home. His concept for the restaurant was something entirely different that how it stands today. The reason it never transpired into the original notion was 100% due to the positive response from the customers. In September of 2007, Keller decided to keep with the current theme and now serves dinner five nights a week along with Sunday Brunch.


Last weekend, Restaurant Club hit the open road for Yountville to Ad Hoc. I was elated that it was my turn to choose our dining destination and Ad Hoc has been on my list for quite sometime. When I first perused the Ad Hoc cookbook, I knew I was fated to dine at this popular foodie destination.


We decided to check out the Sunday Brunch versus dinner. Immediately when I walked in, the warm ambiance and light shining through the windows, gave a feeling of being in someone’s home. For this Sunday brunch, we were in one of Thomas Keller’s home – not really, but fun to imagine.



The menu changes daily and is essentially prefix style. A manila file folder is handed to you with the tab label adorning the Ad Hoc name. You open it up and the signature pig is at the top with the date. Below is the carefully picked menu which makes your mouth water as you read down and anticipate being delivered to your table.


For June 26th, the brunch menu started with a Sunday Sangria. It was not you’re your typical Sangria. I detected bitters among the sparkling wine and fruit. It was quite tasty.


Our first course was served in a beautiful blue cast iron pan and set down in the middle of the table for us to gaze at for a moment. Quickly we divided among the three of us. It was a Garden Red Leaf Salad with House-made Quick Breads. The salad was simple yet full of flavor and had pine nuts, red radishes and lemon vinaigrette. The quick breads were one of the highlights for me – especially the zucchini bread. The texture was light and airy – the only issue was that it was gone so quickly. The other quick bread was a strawberry muffin that just melted in your mouth.


The main course was staggered just enough that you could enjoy great conversation and people watching. Our waiter was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. You could certainly sense that he loved his job and the entire Ad Hoc environment. He delivered an all-clad looking pan with the main event – Skirt Steak and Eggs. My eyes were captivated by looking at the sunny up hen eggs on palladin toast, roasted marble potatoes, English peas with bacon crumbles and crème Fraiche on the Skirt Steak.


By now, my stomach is quite satisfied yet the feast continues with dessert – Peaches and Cream. This dessert goes beyond the traditional peaches and cream. They are locally grown peaches from K & J Orchards with whipped chantilly cream along with shortbread cookies. The pièce de résistance was the hand crafted caramel sauce that you could drizzle on the shortbread or peaches.

Overall, I would highly recommend Ad Hoc for outstanding food and service. It was a perfect foodie day – fabulous friends, delicious food and wonderful weather all wrapped into a few hours on a Sunday.
 
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