Saturday, July 31, 2010

Black Forest Ham, Cheese and Fig Jam Sandwich

Crunchy, salty, sweet, earthy and so incredibly satisfying is how to describe this sandwich. Last weekend I made fig jam and was thinking of creative ways to use it. While driving home from work, my creative thoughts were spinning in my head and this sandwich popped up. I thought it would be simple yet full of flavor. It actually exceeded my expectations. I could have certainly eaten more than one, but refrained. My husband did eat two and couldn’t believe how tasty they were. We actually had those two nights in a row for dinner.

Black Forest Ham, Cheese and Fig Jam Sandwich

Ciabatta Bread
Black Forest Ham, Deli sliced
Jarlsburg Cheese, Deli sliced
Fig Jam

Slice ciabatta bread about ¾ inches thick. Spread about 2 teaspoons of fig jam onto the slice. Add three slices of the ham and top with a half of a slice of jarlsburg cheese. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay the sandwiches onto a cookie baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Goat Cheese Crostini with Cranberry Pecan Tapenade

If you know me or read my blog regularly, you know that I adore appetizers – especially Crostini. Why do I love them so, is what you might be wondering. The answer is simple: they are straightforward, easy and an open canvass for hundreds of toppings. Over the weekend I created multiple Crostini and was inspired by various things: figs, cheese, herbs, and tapenade. I posted two other recipes this week and this is the final Crostini post for the week.

Each of you probably has a favorite Crostini recipe or a creative idea for a wonderful Crostini. Thought it would be fun to have a “Crostini Challenge”.

Crostini Challenge simple rules:

1. Post a comment on this post about your favorite Crostini, your most creative Crostini idea you have made, want to make or a general comment.

2. Post by no later than August 5th, 2010.  Open to the 50 United States only. 

3. I will conduct a random drawing for Bruschetta: Crostini and Other Italian Snacks by Maxine Clark for one lucky winner based upon the total comments submitted.  Winner will be announced on August 8th or before.

4. Within a few weeks I will select my favorite entries, share my recreation and highlight in an upcoming post.

5. Look forward to everyone’s ideas and having fun with Crostini!

Goat Cheese Crostini with Cranberry - Pecan Tapenade

1 baguette, 1/4-inch thick slices
1/4 C. finely chopped pecans
1/2 C. black olives
1/4 C. green olives
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 t. lemon zest
1 T. fresh thyme leaves
1-2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C. dried cranberries
1/3 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
Fresh goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Make Crostini: Brush the bread slices on both sides with olive oil. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and cook until the slices are golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Place the pecans in the bowl and set aside. Put the olives, garlic, zest, herbs and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil into the food processor. Process until smooth. If dry, add an additional Tablespoon of olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the chopped pecans. Add the cranberries, salt and pepper.

Spread 1 Tablespoon of goat cheese onto each crostini. Place 1 Tablespoon of the olive mixture on top.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fig Balsamic Jam and Goat Cheese Crostini

Thomas Keller is one of the most iconic chefs of this era. His finesse, detail, perfectionism and professionalism, has made him one of the chefs to admire. With his empire of restaurants ranging from French Laundry to Bouchon to Per Se, he is known around the world as the premier chef. French Laundry is on my bucket list along with Per Se. We enjoyed Bouchon several months ago along with the Bouchon bakery and absolutely loved everything about the experience. I received his new cookbook, Ad Hoc for a gift and completely enjoy looking at it over and over again. It inspired me for this Crostini.

I had picked up two pounds of figs on Friday at Costco. With one pound I made the delicious Fig Coffee Cake that was a complete winner with my husband and next door neighbors. The second pound I made Fig and Balsamic Jam from the Ad Hoc cookbook. This could quite possibly be the most supreme jam on earth and so simple to make. Once the balsamic reduces along with the figs and sugar, the sweetness of the vinegar comes through. A quick tip - if you ever want to replicate aged balsamic, simply reduce over low to medium heat and let cool. It speeds up the aging process.

From my last post, it was a Crostini extravaganza on Saturday night. I made the Fig and Balsamic Jam and topped a goat cheese Crostini with this decadent jam. The tang of the goat cheese along with the sweet fig and balsamic jam was magical. It was a true celebration for your palate. Before fig season ends, I am going to make more jam and can it for year long enjoyment.

Fig and Balsamic Jam

1 Lb. Figs, Black Mission, stems removed and coarsely chopped
¾ C. Sugar
¼ C. Balsamic Vinegar
Fresh Lemon Juice

Combine the figs, 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 and let cool. Refrigerate for up to one month.

Slightly adapted from Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller

Simply toast up the crostini, spread a bit of your favorite goat cheese and top with some of the Fig and Balsamic Jam.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grilled Scallion and Ricotta Crostini + Darioush Wine

Crostini in Italian means “little toasts”. A Crostini is one of the most versatile vessels for making outstanding appetizers. The list of toppings are endless and your creative juices can be geared up in minutes once you start to think of the possibilities.

Saturday night my husband and I celebrated our 13th anniversary of our first date. By the way we met on a blind date and typically go back to the “scene of the crime” to celebrate and reminisce. Saturday was a busy day, so we decided to stay at home to celebrate. We completely enjoy having appetizers for dinner along with a great bottle of wine. Last night I prepared four different crostini’s. I will share the other three over the next week or two.

From our cellar, I selected a wonderful bottle of 2003 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Darioush prides themselves in making Bordeaux estate style wines using old world labor-intensive, micro-vineyard management and new world technology to create fine wines from its estates located in the appellations of Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder and Oak Knoll. The cabernet is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Smooth tannins, wild berries, espresso and bittersweet chocolate were just a few of the qualities and flavors in this quintessential wine.

A few years back, we both took a Friday off from work to visit this unique winery in Napa Valley. One of the unique experiences that they offer is a fine wine and artisan cheese private tasting. They partner with Cow Girl Creamery for this decadent experience located in their luxurious barrel room. If you heading to Napa, put this on your “to do list” and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Grilled Scallion and Ricotta Crostini

1 Sourdough baguette
Ricotta Cheese
10 Scallions
Olive oil
Fleur de Sel

Slice 16 half inch pieces of bread to make the Crostini. Lie onto a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven to cool.

Prepare 10 scallions by cutting off the white end slightly and trimming the bottom part of the green portion of the scallion. Lightly brush each one with olive oil. Place onto an inside or outside grill. Cook until soft and grill marks are evident. About 5 minutes. Be sure to flip them over to ensure even cooking.

Let the onions cool and then chop to small pieces.

To prepare, spread about one to two teaspoons of the ricotta cheese on each Crostini. Then top with about one heaping teaspoon of the grilled onions. Sprinkle a bit of fleur de sel on top of each one. This will dramatically enhance the flavors.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fig Coffee Cake

Last night we ventured to Costco for the primary reason to replenish our toilet paper supply, but you all know how going in for a single item leads to multiple purchases. We were no exception with that Costco statistic. Outdoor solar lights, blueberries, dried mushrooms; a couple new cookbooks and a two pound container of fresh figs were in our basket upon check out. Not too mention the goodies that my husband picked up.

I am so happy that figs are now in season and at their best. I have not made a coffee cake in a hundred years. Thought about blueberry coffee cake and then perished that thought. I wanted to create something that was out of the ordinary. While on the treadmill, the Fig Coffee Cake idea popped into my brain. Brilliant I thought. It would be sweet, satisfying and perfect for a Saturday morning breakfast. You are probably thinking, she just did the treadmill and now a piece of fig coffee cake. Sunday morning will now begin with a trip to the treadmill.

Fig Coffee Cake

2 C. Flour
1 ½ C. Sugar
½ C. Butter, cut into small pieces
1 t. Baking Powder
2 Eggs, separated
¾ C. Milk
¼ C. Cream
2 t. Vanilla
2 C. Figs, cut into 8ths

Using a stand up mixer, combine the flour and sugar, then cut in the butter and mix with an electric mixer on low speed, until crumbly. Add baking powder, egg yolks, milk and vanilla. Beat until combined.

Whisk the reserved egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter.

Pour the batter into a greased 13 x 9 baking pan. Cover with the diced figs. Sprinkle the crumb topping (see below for recipe) over the figs. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes.

Crumb Topping

1/3 C. dark brown sugar
1/3 C. granulated sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/2 C. (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
1 3/4 C. Flour

In a large bowl add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, salt and flour and mix together. Then add the melted butter and stir together. You can use your hands to combine together and create the large crumbs.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fennel, Apple, Pecan and Gorganzola Salad

Do you ever crave a fresh salad that is easy to make, crunchy, sweet, savory and satisfying? If so, this Fennel, Apple, Pecan and Gorgonzola salad might just exceed your expectations. Several weeks ago I created and served this salad to my friends and each person enjoyed the fresh and vibrant tastes and textures in the salad.

One of the cooking classes that I took at Tante Marie in San Francisco featured Tori Ritchie who is a wonderful chef and teacher. She introduced us to the concept of using lemon juice, olive oil along with salt and pepper as the dressing to a salad. She also encouraged us to use our hands to toss the salad. With this salad, I did not use my hands, but did employ her techniques. The fun thing about this method is that you need to taste along the way to ensure the correct balance is there for you.

 A few tips:
  • Use the best olive oil that you can find
  • Fleur de Sel enhances the flavor in the salad versus regular salt
  • If meyer lemons are in season and available to you, use them
  • Fresh ground pepper outshines pre-ground versions
  • Chill the matchstick apples and fennel prior to tossing
Fennel, Apple, Pecan and Gorgonzola Salad

4 Green Apples
2 Fennel Bulbs
1 C. Gorgonzola Cheese, crumbled
¾ C. Pecans, chopped and toasted
2 – 3 Lemons
Olive Oil
Fleur de Sel
Fresh Ground Pepper

Peel the apples and core. Create matchstick slices and let sit in a bowl of water with 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Trim the fennel bulbs and core. Use a very sharp knife or mandolin to create paper thin slices.

When ready to toss and serve, drain the apples and pat dry. Add to a large bowl. Add the fennel, gorgonzola cheese and pecans. The dressing is a taste process. Add about the juice of one lemon and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss together and taste. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice and/or olive oil until you achieve the balance you desire. Taste one more time for season.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mini Lamington Cupcakes

Lamingtons are a prototypical part of every Australian's childhood. This little sponge cake is dipped in chocolate icing and then rolled in desiccated coconut. Typically these little goodies are sold at local school fairs or bake sales. Sometimes you will see a Lamington split in half and layered with whip cream or strawberry jam. The raspberry jam variety is more recognized in New Zealand.

The Lamington is named after Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington who served as the Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. According to history or legend, the Lamington’s chef Armand Gallad was given short notice to serve unexpected guests. He proceeded to cut up French vanilla sponge cake baked from the day prior, then dipped in chocolate and rolled in dried coconut. The Lamington guests quickly asked for the recipe and a classic Australian dessert was born.

I was first introduced to Lamington’s several years ago while at our local farmer’s market. Bake Sale Betty would attend each weekend farmer’s market in her blue wig, ironing boards strewn about with tasty treats from her homeland of Australia. Betty would give out samples of her delicious scones, cookies and Lamingtons. Once the word was out about the Lamington’s – you had to get there early or they would vanish quickly. When I asked her what they were – she replied with – they are like zingers.

I was pursuing through The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco and looking on page 166, there they were. These cute little Lamingtons were given a fun twist by Karen. Instead of the traditional square shape, she chose to bake them in mini muffin tins - brilliant. My first thought was to pipe in a bit of raspberry jam after they finished cooking, to kick them up a notch. I decided to make them according to the recipe, but next time, I am adding the raspberry jam for sure. I made a few slight changes to the recipe and figured out a few shortcuts that worked for me.


Makes about 30 Lamingtons

Coconut Coating

2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut


1 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for the muffin tin
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
1 C sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 C whole milk
4 large egg whites

Chocolate Glaze

1/4 C plus 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 C confectioner's sugar
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. pure vanilla extract
1/4 C plus 3 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 300 F

Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake until it's lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Break up a bit with your hands and add to a bowl.

Increase the oven temperature to 350 F. Use a non-stick cooking spray to coat the mini muffin tins.

Beat the egg white to soft peaks in the electric mixer and then scrape into a bowl and set aside. Rinse this bowl quickly and then add the butter, granulated sugar and vanilla. Beat on medium high until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides.

With the mixer on medium speed, add the milk and the flour, baking powder and salt alternating in three additions each scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary to ensure that the mixture is well combined. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into a large bowl.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling the cups about three-quarters full. Be sure to not overfill them, otherwise they spill over the sides. Bake rotating the tin halfway through until the cupcakes are lightly golden and a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a wire rack, turn them top side up, and let them cool completely.

For the glaze:

In a medium bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, confectioners' sugar and salt. Add 1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp water and the vanilla, and whisk to combine.

Dip 1 cupcake into the glaze turning to coat the entire cupcake. Immediately roll the cupcake in the toasted coconut, covering the entire cupcake. Transfer the cupcake to the wire rack to let the glaze set up. Repeat with remaining cupcakes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

{ 100% Estate Grown: Stolpman Vineyards featuring Rhone Varietals }

Stolpman wines are 100% estate grown and situated on three finger-like ridges, which provide outstanding drainage. The distinct element of the vineyard is a thin layer of clay-shale above Limestone. The limestone drains the water which forces them to search deeper for water, which results in concentrated and balanced grapes. They primarily focus on Syrah and other Rhone Varietals such as Roussanne and Grenache. They pride themselves in the fact that they are the only Cote Rotie styled vineyards in California. I was genuinely amazed that I could enjoy such wonderful Rhone Varietals here in California.

I first enjoyed Stolpman Vineyards during my “Thinking, Eating and Drinking” class. Meg and Joe who were students in the class were kind enough to bring a bottle of L’Avion to share with the class. We enjoyed it with this beautifully roasted chicken and the pairing together was magical. This wine is 10% Viognier and 90% Roussanne and is a true Rhone Varietals. In class we called this wine the “38 minute wine”. Once it opened up we discovered flavor profiles beyond our original sip and it was the highlight wine of the evening.

The tasting room was off the main street in Los Olivos and when we walked in, it was bustling with people and the vibe was certainly central California chic. We decide to par take in the tasting flight which included a signature Riedel logo glass. A gentleman named Reed assisted us and he was extremely knowledge about the wines and the winery. We enjoyed their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc first and it had hints of citrus, verbena, stone fruit and was light in color - very refreshing and a great palate cleanser. Next we enjoyed the 2009 Rose and are a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Grenache. I am not typically drawn to Rose, but this one was particularly tasty. Light, bright and just danced on the palate.

Our third wine was a 2007 Granache and it just exploded with plum and fresh fig aromoas and flavors. The tannins were not overpowering with being young, but rather were a perfect compliment to the integrity of the wine. Next we tasted the 2006 Sangiovese which displayed a bright ruby color and delicate perfumes. Cherry flavors are present along with citrus and pomegranate flavors. It was a unique and extremely tasty wine which was enjoyed by everyone.

The last two wines were the Syrah and to say, “Saving the best for last” was a true statement. The 2006 Hilltop Syrah embodies notes of blueberries, floral and a smoky hue along with a silky finish. Robert Parker rated this wine 92 points and only 748 cases were produced. The 2008 “Originals” Syrah was simply amazing and left you wanting more. It has intense flavor and aroma.

We decided to purchase seven bottles of wine along with joining their wine club. Both Charles and I enjoy collecting wine.  It is a fun hobby to have and we enjoy trying interesting and unique wines from around the world. If you planning a trip to Los Olivos, please check out Stolpman Vineyards, you will certainly not be disappointed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Crème Fraiche Coleslaw with Blueberries

A few weekends ago, we ventured down to the central California coast to enjoy a weekend with our friend who lives there. Before venturing to Solvang for pastry hunting and Los Olivos for wine tasting, we stopped at a darling place for lunch. It was a winery and deli all in one. It was called Sextant Winery. We actually did not taste the wines but did grab some tasty sandwiches.

One of the side dishes they offered was a Crème Fraiche Coleslaw with Blueberries. My husband picked up a container and we shared it. The fact that crème Fraiche was paired with blueberries in a coleslaw completely intrigued me. I never use to be a fan of coleslaw and over the years, my taste buds completely enjoy the crunch and creaminess of this traditional all American salad.

I have to say - when I took a bite I was quite smitten with this combination. The crunch of the cabbage, the tanginess of the crème Fraiche and the sweetness of the blueberries was a bite of pure happiness. Needless to say, this salad was an inspiration to me. I added quite a few items to my version and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Crème Fraiche Coleslaw with Blueberries


4 to 4 ½ C. Cabbage, shredded
½ C. Pecans, chopped and toasted
½ C. Dried blueberries
½ Red onion, sliced thin and chopped


3 T. Crème Fraiche
2 T. Mayonnaise
2 t. Dijon Mustard
1 T. Lemon juice
¼ t. Salt
8 Grinds fresh ground pepper

To make the dressing add all of the above ingredients and mix well. Let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes prior to tossing the salad.

When ready to serve, place the salad ingredients into a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss well. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

{ Bourbon Baked Beans }

Can’t you just smell that BBQ season is in the air? Last night was Saturday and the scent of barbeque was everywhere. Not sure exactly what folks had on the grill – perhaps sausage links, steaks, chicken or portabella mushrooms. Whatever they had cooking, you can certainly sense that summer was in full swing. Living in the Bay Area, we certainly take pleasure in entertaining outdoors and enjoying the wonderful warm evenings.

Last night was no exception for us. We uncovered the stainless grill from its winter hibernation. In hindsight, it should have awoken sooner - I just got so busy. I prepared an herb rubbed flat iron steak to cook on the grill. I fired up all four burners but midway through the cooking, I turned off two burners on the grill and moved the steak to that side. Continued to cook the steak to medium and what a difference – the steak was perfectly cooked and remained tender.

Time-honored barbeque called for traditional side dishes. I made crème Fraiche coleslaw with blueberries and bourbon baked beans. After researching baked bean recipes, I created my version of bourbon baked beans. The addition of the bourbon along with the applewood smoked bacon, created a super tasty dish that everyone enjoyed.

Bourbon Baked Beans

3 (15 oz) Cans White Beans
1 Large onion, small dice
8 Slices Applewood smoked bacon
3 T. Dijon mustard
3 T. Molasses
1 C. Ketchup
1 C. Traditional BBQ Sauce
2 T. Brown sugar
¼ C. + 1 T Bourbon
2 T. Honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the bacon into ½ slices and cook until crispy. Drain and set aside.

In a large colander, add the beans from the cans and rinse. In a large bowl, add all of the ingredients and stir until combined. Transfer to an oven proof dish and cook for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

{ Boutique Winery: Blair Fox Cellars }

Last weekend, Charles, our friend Geoff and I took a trip down to the San Luis Obispo area to visit our friend Kim. Since she is from the area, we had a built in tour guide. How great is that!  We first went to Solvang and then to Los Olivos. If you have never been to Los Olivos, it is perfect for the foodie, the shopper and the wine collector. We stumbled upon Blair Fox Cellars and I instantly fell in love with the ambiance and then the wine sealed the deal.

Blair Fox Cellars are fervent about the small lot production and specialize in Rhone varietal wines. They handcraft both Syrah and Viognier from various vineyards in Santa Barbara County. The wine maker, Blair Fox is a native of Santa Barbara and earned his degree from UC Davis in Viticulture and Enology. His inspiration came from the French wine regions, Cote Rotie, L’Hermitage and Condruieu. A strong sense of knowing the terroir and understanding how it makes a difference in the quality of the wine aided him in creating outstanding wines. He earned the Andre Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year Award at the 2008 San Francisco International Wine competition.

The tasting room is quaint, charming, warm and welcoming. It was probably five to six hundred square feet with such an inviting vibe right when you walk in. My square footage may be off a bit. We purchased the tasting of six wines which included the etched crystal glass.

We started with the 2009 Fox Family Vineyard Vermentino, which is a white grape grown in the Liguria (Rivera) and northern Sardinia regions of Italy. Their grapes are grown on tiny, high-density planting on a rocky hillside. This wine is fermented in older French oak and stainless steel to keep the clean and crisp qualities. Aromas of gardenia, white peach and subtle lemon hues along with flavors of citrus and melon flavors. With only 40 cases produced, this is truly a special wine.

The 2007 Paradise Road Vineyard Viognier is a classic Rhone varietal and had the classic fruity and floral qualities. Wonderful wine with food or alone and completely refreshing. Our third wine as the 2008 Haylee’s Rose, which was named after one of his daughters. It is a blend of 65% Grenache Noir, 20% Counoise and 15% Syrah. This wine has lovely aromas of strawberries, watermelon, raspberries along with a crisp acidity to produce a very drinkable wine. It gave me a new appreciation for Rose whihc is becoming more popular in the wine world.

Our next three wines are all Syrah but from different vineyards. Each one had its own personality and distinctive flavors. First we experienced the 2005 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah which received 90 points from Robert Parker. The grapes are punched down by hand three to four times per day for 15 days until the fermentation is complete. It is aged in 100% French Oak barrels for over twenty months and in the bottle for one year prior to being released. It was an outstanding wine with the classic flavors of Syrah.

{Top photo is Charles and Kim and bottom photo is Kim and Geoff }

The second syrah was the 2005 Paradise Road Vineyard Syrah which has a warmer climate for the grapes. The flavors are big, bold with great balance. As with the first Syrah, Robert Parker also gave this wine 90 points. I could not say at this point if I liked the first one better, since they were such different profiles – both were amazing. Our last Syrah was the 2006 Tierra Alta Vineyard Syrah and the grapes are harvested from an extremely steep hillside. It had flavors and aromas of chocolate, coffee, dark berries and cassis. A truly wonderful wine that will age beautifully for the next 5 to 7 years.

Our trip to Los Olivos was perfect and I just wish we had more time to explore this charming town. If you enjoy the Rhone varietals, this wine region is a must see designation. We joined the wine club, since the wine was so outstanding - can hardly wait for our first shipment.  I guess we will be okay for a bit, since we purchased six bottles.  I think we will open one this weekend.  Is it Friday yet? Check out the Blair Fox Cellars and I promise you will be in for a wine tasting experience that you will savor.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lemon - Buttermilk Pudding Cakes with Whip Cream and Berries

Dinner parties are one of my favorite ways to entertain. They give you the opportunity to be flexible with the number of guests you invite. Ideally, 4 to 8 people total works best for me. I am able to enjoy the party and interact with everyone on a personal level. The key to a successful dinner party is preparing 90% of the dinner ahead of time. Mise en place is a French phrase defined to mean "everything in place", as in set up. Over the years, the more I work with this theory, the smoother the event goes. Plastic Glad containers are an entertainer’s best friend. Typically I have numerous sizes stacked in my refrigerator ready to either be served or heated up.

A few weeks ago, we had some dear friends over for dinner. I wanted to make it a special and memorable event. With the warm weather here, we enjoyed the appetizer course outside and had the subtle noise of the fountain running in the background. The appetizer course was Gruyere Olive Poppers and Port Infused Dried Mission Fig Crostini. We enjoyed a bottle of Conundrum wine. It has dazzling aromas of apricot, honeysuckle, and vanilla and lime zest enhance an intensely-flavored palate of tropical fruit, peach, pear and melon flavors. The involvedness of this wine is brought into balance with a rich, round, soft texture; clean acidity; and a stunning, rewarding finish.

{Bottom row: Mike, my husband Charles Top row: Da Gang, John and Jeff }

One of my signature entertaining tips is to create a menu for each of my guests. I will lay one at each person’s seat. It gives them an opportunity to sense the theme set for the evening along with a memento to take home with them. I keep a binder for all of the menus I have created over the years, so I can have memories along with not duplicating menus.

{Left to right: John, Da Gang, me, Jeff and Mike }

Our starter course was a Pan Seared Salmon over a Verde Relish. I served it in a shell to create interest. This was paired with a German Riesling from Bex Winery. It has bright aromas of lemon, grapefruit, honeysuckle and a splash of vanilla. A mineral note rises on the nose along with a hint of orange cream flavors and a caramel finish. This wine is neither too sweet nor too dry, just right. A very approachable wine to be enjoyed with or without food.

Another entertaining tip is to have fun at your dinner parties. Recently I purchased a conversation starter of sorts from a company called Table Topics. They are conversation cards in a plastic cube and range from dinner party, happy hour to gourmet to book club. We used the dinner party version and it was so much fun. Each course, we passed out another round of cards. Let the conversation begin!

Speaking of courses, we were now onto the salad course. I created a simple salad of julienne sliced apples, thin slices of fennel, blue cheese and pecans. Tossed with lemon juice and olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. It was such a fresh and crunchy salad that everyone enjoyed. I paired this with a Rombauer Vineyards’ Carneros Chardonnay which has earned a reputation for being a benchmark California Chardonnay. This wine displays intense pear, pineapple and tropical fruits, balanced with creamy, toasted vanilla. Refined acidity and hints of apple linger on the finish.

Are you getting hungry? I hope so, since we are now at the main course. We had Asian Braised Shortribs with Orange Hoisen Sauce, Crème Fraiche Mashed Potatoes and Baby Carrots. This is my husband’s absolute favorite dish that I make. I paired this with a spectacular Cabernet by Landcaster. Estate grown, produced and bottled, the 2006 Lancaster Cabernet has lush ripeness with plums, rich black cherry and cassis characters and sweet, spicy aromas of clove, nutmeg, and vanilla. Finely textured tannins and layers of complexity extend over the long finish. Aged 22 months in French oak barrels, this wine was bottled unfiltered. It is 84% Cabernet Sauvignon 11% Malbec 2% Merlot 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Truly an award winning wine and went perfectly with the shortribs.

Last but not least was the finally – dessert. We enjoyed this in the family room so we could relax in comfortable chairs and sofas. The dessert was from Cindy Pawlcyn’s book – Big Small Plates. It is a Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake with Whip Cream and Berries. I adapted it slightly and would make this again in a heartbeat. Try it at your next dinner party if you want to impress.

Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake with Whip Cream and Berries


2/3 C. plus ¼ C. Sugar
½ C. Flour
½ C. Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
3 T. Lemon zest, finely grated
1 ½ C. Buttermilk
4 T. Melted butter
3 Large eggs, separated

Preheat your oven to 350.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup sugar and flour. Add the lemon juice, buttermilk and zest. Whisk until combined and smooth. Using a separate bowl, whish the butter and the egg yolks together until a light yellow color. In a stand up mixer, add the egg whites and beat until frothy. Sprinkle in the ¼ cup of sugar to the egg white and beat until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the other mixture, until the batter is smooth and thick.

Pour into 8 ramekins and place into a large pan. Add water until half way up the sides and place into the oven. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes until slightly brown and beginning to crack but still jiggly. Cool to room temperature and then place into the refrigerator.

Whip Cream

1 C. Heavy cream
2 t. Vanilla
¼ C. Powdered Sugar

Use a stand up mixer and add the ingredients for the whip cream. Mix until stiff peaks form. Place into a covered container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To assemble, simply use a sharp knife to go around the ramekin to loosen the cake. Place the plate on top of the ramekin and then turn over. The cake should drop out. Place a dollop of whip cream and garnish with various berries.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad with Pesto

An heirloom tomato is typically considered to be a variety that has been passed down through several generations of a family due to its valued characteristics. The vines are indeterminate, meaning that they grow and produce fruit throughout the season. People have fallen in love with heirloom tomatoes and in my opinion they sit on a pedestal in the tomato world. The varieties and types seem to be endless from green zebra, black krim, Cherokee purple to brandy wine and German stripe. Since we are in the heirloom tomato season, I wanted to make a simple caprese salad to highlight these delicious little gems.

Using really good olive oil is one of the keys to enhance the flavor of the heirloom tomatoes. I recently purchased Round Pond Olive oil. This oil is produced from Italian olive trees and grown in Napa Valley. There is a spice quality to the oil with a rich vibrant butter taste along with notes of grass, pepper and fresh herbs. This spectacular olive oil paired perfectly with the green zebra heirloom tomatoes.

For anyone who knows me, Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite stores. The selection, quality and unique food products along with reasonable prices, bring me there at least once a week, if not more. The tiny mozzarella balls are a favorite and give a nice touch to a caprese salad. Trader Joe’s prepared pesto is one of the best that I have had, except of course handmade. Pesto is a great addition to a caprese salad, especially if you do not have basil leaves on hand. This salad is summer on a plate!

Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad with Pesto

Heirloom Tomatoes
Fresh Mozzarella
Good Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Simply cut up assorted heirloom tomatoes. Add the fresh mozzarella and drizzle with good olive oil. Add dollops of pesto around the plate and season with a salt and pepper.