Wednesday, June 30, 2010

{ Pan Roasted Salmon with Verde Relish }

Entertaining is my true passion. I completely enjoy creating a unique and tasty starter course to set the tone for a dinner party. Last weekend I wanted to impress my guests and give them a wonderful dining experience. I found these cute shell dishes a few years back since they really make a statement, especially when serving seafood in them. Typically I serve my crab cocktail appetizer in these and it just adds that bit of fun and whimsy.

For me, salmon is such a versatile fish and I find that most folks like it – I do know there are exceptions to every rule. Preparation and cooking time is minimal along with being virtually error free once you cook it a few times and master the technique. I was watching the new cooking channel, which by the way is quite addictive and interesting. I came across a show called Chuck’s Day Off and he made what he called a Green Gazpacho. It inspired me to adapt and create my Verde Relish recipe. My guests flipped for this starter – try it at your next dinner party.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Verde Relish

Serves 6

Verde Relish

1 ½ C. English or Persian cucumber, small dice
5 Tomatillos, remove seeds and small dice
2 Ears of white corn, slice kernels
5 Green onions, green and white part minced
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1/3 C. Olive oil
Splash of sherry vinegar
Salt and ground pepper

Add all of the above ingredients to a bowl and mix well. Taste before adding the salt and pepper and then adjust seasoning until the desired blend is achieved. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

Pan Roasted Salmon

1 ½ to 2 Lb. Salmon Fillets (cut into 6 pieces)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cut the salmon fillets into 6 pieces, approximately ¼ pound each. You can certain alter the size of the salmon you serve – I did this for more of a starter portion. Take out any bones. In a large skillet add enough olive oil to coat the pan and heat on medium. Season each fillet with salt and pepper. Starting on the non skin side lay into the pan and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes and then flip and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Making sure the skillet is an oven proof pan; cook for another 4 to 5 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until salmon is cooked through but not over done.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pecan Shortbread Cookie

Shortbread is one of those cookies that are just magical. The richness of the butter and the quintessential melt in your mouth feel is pure heaven in a bite. These cookies are rich, tender and have a typical straw color with a Scottish origin. Typically served during the holiday timeframe between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and enjoyed around the world. The basic shortbread is comprised of four ingredients: butter, sugar, vanilla and flour. With that foundation, the possibilities of flavor profiles are endless – let your imagination run wild.

I have found that adding cornstarch gives the cookies a silken and soft texture. The bite is electric yet simple, straightforward and satisfying. This is my basic shortbread recipe which I enhance with other flavors. Among one of my favorites is to add lavender to the dough. It is absolutely wonderful with a cup of tea on a Sunday morning while reading the paper outside. Another one of my beloved cookies is the pecan sandie, which essentially is a pecan shortbread cookie. We actually enjoyed these last weekend with the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Ice Cream.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

1 C. butter, cold and cut into small cubes
½ C. Confectioners’ sugar
1 t. Vanilla
¼ t. Salt
½ C. Pecans, chopped and dry roasted
1 ½ C. Flour
1/3 C. Cornstarch

Using a free stand mixer, add the butter and cream on medium. Then add the confectioners’ sugar, salt and vanilla and combine well. Next add the cornstarch and mix into the butter. Last add the flour until combined. Sprinkle the pecans over the mixture and mix until incorporated.

Let the dough chill for about 30 minutes. Roll the dough into a ¼ inch sheet and cut with your favorite circle cutter. I use one with a flute design. Repeat process until all dough is utilized. Be sure to flour your board to prevent sticking.

Place one inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 9 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

{ Sauteed Miatake Mushrooms with English Peas }

From the farm to the farmers market to the table – that was how this particular dish made it on the blog. Our city added a second farmers market during the weekend, so that one is on Saturday and the other is on Sunday. Luckily for me, the one added on a Saturday is super close to my house. My husband and I ventured down there early last Saturday to see what goodie we could find. One mission I had was to procure fava beans for the appetizer I was making that evening. Fortunately I found one vendor who had some terrific looking ones and the bag was abounding with beans. Another little treasure that I found were pre-shelled English peas from Swank Farms, which eaten raw are like candy.

At the farmers market in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, one of my favorite places to go is Far West Fungi where you can purchase all of the typical and exotic mushrooms. Especially in the fall, when chanterelles are in season, I will always pick up a couple baskets. To my surprise this particular vendor was at the market on Saturday. I saw that she had fresh morel mushrooms in the back of the truck but to my dismay, the couple in front of us purchased the last two baskets. Oh darn! Being a person with an open mind, I thought this is my opportunity to try new varietals of mushroom. Jumping out at me was the Miatake mushroom.

The miatake mushroom is commonly known among folks in the united states as Hen of the Woods, Ram's Head and Sheep's Head. In the United States' supplement market, as well as in Asian grocery stores, the mushroom is known by its Japanese name "Maitake", which translates to "dancing mushroom". This mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to enhance the immune system. Researchers have also indicated that whole maitake has the ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and may also be useful for weight loss. Who knew a mushroom could be so good for you.

Sauteed Miatake Mushrooms with English Peas

3 oz. Miatake mushroom
5 oz. Baby shitake mushrooms
1 pint of shelled English Peas
2 Garlic cloves, minced
2 T. Butter
1 T. Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Break apart the miatake mushroom and rough chop the remainder. Trim the stems from the baby shitakes. In a large skillet, add the butter and olive oil. Heat on medium until butter melts. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium until browned and cooked through. Add the garlic and peas. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! It is funny how the beginning of summer makes us want to either make or buy ice cream. My very first job beyond babysitting the neighbors kids, was working at Loard's Ice Cream. It is an old fashioned ice cream parlor where you can have sit down service or get a cone to go. I can still remember how to make any one of the numerous sundaes that are on the menu and that was quite some time ago that I worked there.

My absolute favorite sundae that I would make was coffee ice cream with marshmallow topping. I believe they called it a Coffee Mallow. Did not need any nuts, whip cream or cherry to make it complete – it was perfect with just the two simple ingredients. Still to this day, I often crave that sundae, but know that I would have to get on the treadmill every day if I ate those everyday. LOL

I went to lunch on Friday for a work event and we decided to share a dessert. This particular restaurant made their own ice cream in house and they were quite proud of it. We enjoyed a duo of handmade ice cream – strawberry and milk chocolate. The milk chocolate, as simple as it sounds was absolutely outstanding. It almost had a hint of espresso and a background flavor of marshmallow. We inquired with the waiter to see if our taste buds were fooling us and he assured us it was just really good milk chocolate ice cream. It inspired me to create my own version at home the next day.

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

1 C. Half and half
1 ½ C. Heavy cream
½ C. Low fat milk
1 Tbs. Cocoa powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5 (1.55 oz) Hershey milk chocolate bars
8 egg yolks

In a saucepan, combine the half and half, milk and cream. Sift the cocoa powder over the mixture; whisk thoroughly to combine. Sprinkle about half the sugar into the saucepan and slowly bring the mixture to a simmer.

Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar. Whisk vigorously until the yolks thicken and become a paler shade of yellow, 3 to 4 minutes.

To combine the egg and milk mixtures, slowly pour half the simmering milk into the yolks while whisking constantly to temper it. Whisk that mixture back into the milk in the saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Pour the cooked custard over the chocolate. Whisk until all the chocolate is melted. Set the custard bowl over the bowl of ice water; stir until the custard is completely cool. Pour the cooled custard into an ice cream machine with at least a 1-quart capacity and freeze following the manufacturer's directions.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chicken, Lime and Chile Soup

“Chicken soup for the soul” – I am sure that almost everyone has heard this phrase before along with the book series. It is the basis for inspirational stories. In a literal fashion, it can be inspirational food for our stomachs while giving a warm reassurance that all is well with the world. For me chicken soup is one of those dishes that resonates happiness. The variations range from Italian wedding soup to matzo ball soup to the good ole Campbell’s soup from the can.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Spicy Mango, Lime and Jicama Salad

Over the weekend, it finally felt like summer had arrived. We have had so much rain and it has been unseasonably cool this year. It was about 85 to 90 degrees and absolutely ideal once the sun set. We have a full entertaining schedule for the month of June, which completely makes me happy. My cousin and his lovely wife came over on Saturday night. They have almost five year old triplets, which keeps them completely busy and doesn’t leave a lot of time to enjoy adult time. So they both commented how much they were looking forward to coming over and just relaxing.

They brought over a 2002 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which was completely delicious and quite a treat. We did start the evening with a St. Germaine cocktail that was amazingly refreshing and enjoyable. If you have not tried this before, I would highly encourage you to buy a bottle.

With the exceptional weather, we dined al fresco and lit the citronella candles to ward off the mosquitoes. The sound of the fountain in the background with the warm breezes made for a very relaxing dinner. Dona Tomas, a well known authentic Mexican restaurant in the Temescal neighborhood in Oakland was my inspiration for the dinner. I had purchased the cookbook a while ago and had yet to try any of the recipes. The Ensalada de Mango caught my eye and knew it would be refreshing to enjoy as the starter course for our dinner. I adapted it slightly from the original recipe and hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.

Spicy Mango, Lime and Jicama Salad


Zest of one lime
¼ C. Lime juice
1 large shallot, minced
½ C. Olive oil
1 Small garlic clove, minced to almost a paste
½ t. salt
8 to 10 grinds of fresh pepper

To prepare the vinaigrette, add all the ingredients to a container with a lid and shake well until combined.


1/3 head red cabbage, finely shredded
1 ½ C. Jicama, peeled and cut into 1 inch matchsticks
1 Jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
¾ C. Red onion, small dice
2 Mangos, peeled, pitted and cut into small cubes
1 bunch cilantro, stemmed and chopped

For the salad, add all of the ingredients and mix together with tongs. Then add the dressing and toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Grilled Egg and Olive Sandwich

A couple years ago, one of my favorite little tiny restaurants closed. It was a sad day indeed. The reason for the closure was due to the building being demolished. This restaurant actually did not have an official name, yet it felt like you were eating at “Mama’s Kitchen”. Almost everyone I know who ate there, affectionately called it Mama’s Kitchen, simply because the food was food your mom would make.

Mama’s Kitchen sat tucked back in a corner on the lower level of the David M Brian’s store in Walnut Creek. It is a store featuring fine gifts, stationary, china and much more. About a month ago, the old store as we knew it was simply a pile of rubble, making way for a brand new Neiman Marcus to be erected. David M Brian’s had moved across the mall to a smaller space, a bit more updated yet Mama’s Kitchen was not part of the new store design.

One of my absolute favorite sandwiches was the Grilled Egg and Olive Sandwich. Traditionally it would be served with a large handful of ruffles potato chips, three bread and butter pickles and a couple carrot sticks. Didn’t I tell you it was like eating in Mama’s kitchen? The inside of the sandwich is cool yet the outside is grilled to a perfect golden brown color. The combination is completely wonderful and satisfying. Although now just a distant memory, except when I recreate it at home.

Grilled Egg and Olive Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

4 Eggs, hard boiled
2 T. Mayonnaise
1 t. Mustard, Dijon or yellow
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Slices white bread
1 – 4oz can of chopped black olives
Micro-greens, arugula or lettuce

Under water, peel the hard boiled eggs and then cut into to small dice. Add to a bowl along with the mayonnaise and mustard and combine. Taste and then season with salt and pepper. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Butter the four slices of bread with butter and place onto a large griddle. Let cook until golden brown and then flip over to just let it toast up a bit on the other side for about one minute. Remove from griddle.

To assemble, lay the four slices onto a cutting board with the golden brown toasted side down. Spread about a tablespoon of the chopped olive on two of the slices, and then divide the egg mixture on top of the olive and top with a handful of the micro greens. Place the other slice of bread on top and cut in half and serve.

Monday, June 7, 2010

{ Worldly Wines + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 6 }

In Vino Veritas means “In wine there is truth”. During our six week journey, we explored wines from around the world and learned the “truth” about how food, wine and language blend together. Prior to taking this class, I did not venture too much out of California for my wine selections. Now my spirited adventurous side is in full gear. I find myself looking at the wine list at restaurants and searching for a wine that is from France, Italy, and Australia or beyond.

This was our last class of the series and Suzanne was gracious enough to open her lovely home in Berkeley. She has a charming one hundred year old bungalow style home that has many lovely touches. I arrived about thirty minutes early since I had to visit a client in Emeryville, and helped Suzanne prepare the fava beans for the Farro dish. Class was slated to begin at six o’clock and everyone arrived on time. Chad brought an array of wines from around the world along with some of my fellow students selected some special wines to share.

The evening began with “mix and mingle” time along with a glass of Drusian Prosecco di Valdobbiadene from the Veneto region of Italy. It was festive and delicious and would be wonderful as a cocktail served with St. Germaine. Notes of green apples, floral, apricot and toasty bread like quality was present along with a creamy texture on the palate. We enjoyed simple appetizers of radishes from the farmers market, garlic toast with olive oil and coppa. Sometimes, the simplest things in life are the best.

Before we sat down to eat, we enjoyed a Rocaberdi Vino Blanco from Catalunya Spain. It had a slight spritzy quality that reinforced the minerality undertones. It is 80% Macabeo and 20% Xarel-lo grapes that are used in the production of cava. It was bright with notes of white flowers, lemon, lime and apple. One wine I found to be quite tasty and interesting was Mengoba Blanca from Godello and Dona Blanca. It is from the Bierzo region of Spain and had soft delicate fruit, pear and melon tones yet it was finely tuned and gently expressive. It would pair wonderful with salty or spicy foods with its slight sweet character.

One of the more unique wines of the evening was a Spanish wine called Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva 1998 from the López de Heredia family. The grape varietals are Tempranillo (30%), Garnacho (60%) and Viura (10%). It was a bit “jarring” at first and rather off putting. It possessed a liquor, cassis and oxidized quality, almost like sherry or a rusty penny. Smooth and fresh with body and complexity due to barrel ageing. For the main course we enjoyed roasted duck breasts that were double tied and perfectly roasted. The side was Farro with purple asparagus, peas, fava beans, morel mushrooms, stock, and lemon and parmesan cheese. It was very tasty, hearty and satisfying.

More wine was the name of the game tonight. Since it was our last class, the experimentation and chatter was rampant. A French red called Savigny-les-Beaune from the Pimentiers vineyard was bright, with ripe red fruit along with balanced acidity and delicate tannins. Nice wine for drinking and enjoying with food. Joe and Meg brought different wines during the course and they have yet to disappoint. The wine they shared was no exception – it was Brunello di Montalcino from Italy. It is a bright wine with dark red fruit. The nose offers raspberry, red cherry, smokey undertones with firm tannins and floral flavors. Also enjoyed a Ridge Syrah Granache that was quite delicious.  As the Europeans customarily do, they enjoy salad at the end of the meal. We enjoyed an arugula salad with ricotta salata and a light vinaigrette dressing. Perfect as a palate cleanser and digestive for the meal.

Bouncing from country to country we are now in Austria with a wine called Berger Zweigelt which is a red table wine. It is a balance of ripe fruit, layers of plum, berry fruit and delightful forward acidity with plenty of spice. This wine is relatively unknown in the United States and if you can try it, I would recommend you give it a whirl. We now adventure to Italy with a special bottle that another student Lisa shared with all of us. It is Taurasi Radici with intense red cherry, charred volcanic tones, licorice, soft chewy tannins and a full bodied silky long finish. Suzanne shared a Domaine Tempier Bandol 1998, which was a very special wine and absolutely divine. Lastly for the review of wines is Castello Di Neive Dolcetto d’Alba from Italy. A sweet and jammy wine that reminds you of drinking Welch’s grace juice. Quite tasty from the piedmont region and perfect as an ending wine for the night.

As in life, all good things must come to an end. This class exceeded my expectations and literally changed how I think about wine, food and the conversation sitting at the table. Food and wine interchange and weave through our lives. Some of the simplest foods are magnified with the right wine and visa versa. My recommendation to everyone is to get outside your comfort zone with wine and try new things. Purchase wines from Italy, France, United States, and Australia and beyond. Wine doesn’t need to cost an “arm and a leg” to be good. Once you understand the regions and varietals, the possibilities are endless. Thank you Chad and Suzanne for a truly wonderful experience and sharing all of your knowledge and talents with all of us.

Check out the entire "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" series:

James Beard's Onion Sandwich + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 1
Italian Wine Bar/Crostini Recipe + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 2
Blending + Bordeaux + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 3
Burgundy Wines + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 4
Rhone Valley + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 5

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mushroom Tart with Black Truffle Oil

My long time friend Rosanna, who by the way is a personal chef, came over to my house to cook together. We both have an immense affinity for food and wine, so to cook together all day and talk about the subjects we love; it was a perfect foodie day. Not knowing that my kitchen is pretty well stocked with all things imaginable, she carried a lot of items with her. Of course, any great chef does have their own set of knives and she was no exception.

I adore any type of tart that is made from a sheet of puff pastry – okay who doesn’t love that buttery and flakey crust. Not sure if I know anyone. Thought it would be wonderful to have simple but delicious food to enjoy during the day. For some time, I have wanted to make this tart from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Her book gives so many inspirational ideas and recipes. I adapted the recipe by adding a few of my own touches. It turned out amazing. We enjoyed a light oak and buttery chardonnay with the tart which paired perfectly. You could also try a beautiful pinot noir – the earthiness of the mushrooms and tasting notes of the pinot noir are perfect pairings together.

Mushroom Tart with Black Truffle Oil

1 Sheet puff pastry
2 Egg yolks
1 lb. Mushrooms (shitake, Crimini, portabella) cleaned and sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 T. Olive oil
2 T. Butter
1 C. Slice scallions
2 t. Fresh thyme leaves
½ C. Ricotta
¼ C. Crème Fraiche
¼ lb. Gruyere, sliced thin
¼ C. Chives, chopped small
Black truffle oil for drizzling on top
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Let puff pastry defrost. You will run the rolling pin over it enough to flatten a bit. Score with a knife to almost the bottom to form a one inch boarder. This will enable the tart to puff around the edges. Return to the refrigerator to keep cool until ready to prepare and cook.

In a large skillet, add the olive oil and butter. Let melt together over medium heat, then add the mushrooms and turn up the heat to medium high. Add salt and pepper and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes until fragrant, tender and a bit crisp. Add the thyme and garlic and cook for 30 more seconds, then remove from the heat.

In a bowl, add the ricotta, crème Fraiche and one egg yolk and mix well together. Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Mix the remaining egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg mixture just around the edges of the puff pastry. This will give the edges a golden color.

Spread the ricotta and crème Fraiche mixture just to the inner edge and top with the sliced gruyere. Spoon the mushroom mixture on top of the gruyere and be careful to keep behind the egg washed boarder. Bake the tart 20 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and drizzle with the truffle oil and sprinkle with the fresh cut chives. Slice, serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

I have wanted to make this Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad for quite a while. I adore Brussels sprouts and the idea of adding a fragrant vinaigrette and bacon, just put it over the edge for me. This salad is a signature dish at Pizza Antica in Lafayette and unfortunately is seasonal. Lucky for me, Trader Joe’s is still selling Brussels sprouts, so I picked up a couple bags over the long holiday weekend.

If you love Brussels sprouts, you will enjoy this salad. The bacon flavor along with the crunch of the handmade croutons with earthy Brussels sprouts is a combination made in heaven. I like to have the Brussels golden brown by pan searing them in a large saute pan, then adding the other ingredients.  Almost a meal in itself, however, try adding a nice grilled chicken breast or piece of salmon and you have a complete meal. Bon Appetite!

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad


1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large shallot, minced
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
7 T olive oil
1 T Flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

6 Slices Applewood Bacon
1 Large onion, diced
6 slices sourdough bread, cut into 1/2" squares
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil + 2 t. olive oil
4 C. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

To make the vinaigrette, soak the garlic, shallots, and thyme in vinegar for roughly 45 minutes. After soaking, slowly whisk in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and reserve covered.

Cut bacon into 1/2" squares and cook over low heat until almost crisp; add 2 t. olive oil, drain off the fat & save and set aside bacon.

Heat 2 T. of the bacon drippings until just smoking and cook onions over medium-high heat until golden brown; drain and set aside.

Toss cubed bread with extra-virgin olive oil and toast in a 300-degree oven until golden brown and crispy (approximately 20-25 minutes); allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat remaining bacon drippings until almost smoking and add sprouts; cook for about 3 to 5 minutes until golden brown, season with salt and pepper.

Add reserved onions and bacon and warm until hot; turn off burner, add vinaigrette and toss to distribute. Then add the croutons and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve either individually or in a large bowl.

Adapted from Chef Gordon Drysdale at Pizza Antica