Thursday, September 30, 2010

{ Pan Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Chiplote Aoili }

One of my absolute favorite vegetables is Brussel sprouts. Often I hear from folks that this is their least favorite. My least favorite would be broccoli – I know it is so good for you and the majority of people love it. Unfortunately, it is the one and only veggie that is not ever stepped foot into my house.

I remember when we were small, my younger cousin came over for dinner and my Mom had prepared Brussels sprouts for dinner. She looked at these as if she had never seen them before and indeed this was the first time she experienced them. She tasted it and then exclaimed that they looked like little heads of lettuce. We all still remember that dinner.

The recipe below is probably the most frequent way that I cook Brussel minus the aoili - that is a special treat. Although, a decadent way to enjoy these little gems is with bacon and instead of the olive oil, you cook in the bacon renderings. Then at the last minute you toss the Brussels with the crumbled bacon bits. Paula Deen would be proud!

Serves Four

Brussels sprouts

32 to 36 Brussel Sprouts
Olive Oil
Lawry’s season salt
Fresh ground pepper

Remove with a knife the bottom of each Brussel sprouts and then cut in half or quarters. In a large skillet add about ¼ to 1/3 cup olive oil and heat on medium. Add the Brussels and coat with the olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper. Continue to cook until golden brown. Serve along side the chipotle Aioli for dipping.

Chipotle Aioli

½ C. Mayonnaise
1 T. Chives, finely chopped
1 Garlic clove, finely minced
½ t. Lemon juice
1 large Adobo chili
Salt and pepper

Add all of the above ingredients into a food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Place into a container with a lid and refrigerate until ready to use.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

PFB #2 | The Classics: Pho Ga - Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup }

First and foremost, I would like to extend a big heartfelt thank you to everyone who voted for me and helped me to advance to the second challenge of the Project Food Blog contest.  For the second challenge, we are asked to tackle a classic dish from another culture and go outside our comfort zone.  I chose to go to the other side of the world to the country of Vietnam and create my version of Pho Ga - Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup.  Voting opens on Monday, September 27th at 6Am through 6PM September 30th.  Please visit this link to learn more about Project Food Blog and cast your vote.

Vietnamese cuisine has a certain distinct mystique. It has long been admired for its freshness, simplicity with flavorful qualities and considered one of the healthiest cuisines. The dishes are artfully composed with an abundance of fresh herbs, greens, vegetables and are well-seasoned. Chinese, Thai and French influences are infused into this Vietnamese cuisine and bring uniqueness. Common ingredients include: ginger, spring onions, lemongrass, chilies, noodles, seafood, beef, chicken, mint, basil and even coconut milk.

One of the distinct differences with this cuisine is the Nuoc Mam or fish sauce. It is derived from anchovy and is spiced with a little chili, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar. The fish sauce provides the inimitable distinction from other Asian flavors.

For many years, I have enjoyed and admired this cuisine for the flavor profiles and the simplicity which appears to be complicated. A few months ago, I was dining with one of my employees for lunch at a local Vietnamese-French inspired restaurant. He decided to have the Pho Tai, which is a noodle soup with rare beef. Being adventurous, I ordered the identical item. When it arrived, I had no idea on how to eat it or what to do with the beautiful side dish of garnishes.

Quickly I learned that you first mix in the desired amount of sriracha and hoisin sauce to enrich the already flavorful broth. Once that is mixed, more flavor and texture is added to this amazing soup by topping with crispy bean sprouts, cilantro, jalapenos, basil and lime juice to add a touch of acidity. The beef is slowly cooked by the heat of the broth and you enjoy by using chop sticks and a spoon.

When I first read the ten challenges for the Food Blog Project, I began to jot down ideas that I would like to accomplish with each challenge. After reading challenge number two, “The Classics”, the idea came to me like a lightning bolt. After tasting the Pho Tai several months ago, I decided that I would tackle Pho Ga (Pho is pronounced ‘fuh’). Pho Ga is a delicious Vietnamese soup with chicken, loaded with spices, fresh herbs and rice noodles. The idea of this soup sounds simple, yet the taste is anything but. It embodies complex flavors with simple, healthy ingredients.

Many folks believe that Pho noodle soups originated in the 1920’s as a union of French-style cooking merged with local Vietnamese ingredients. If you ventured to Vietnam to the local food stalls, you would be guaranteed to smell the distinct flavors of the Pho noodles broth and see the locals hunched over enjoying a large bowl of Pho soup. This soup was customarily enjoyed for breakfast but today it is a round the clock treat. Typically, the broth takes 4 to 7 hours to prepare however, my style of cooking is much more simple and I went outside the box on this tradition.

To save time and put my own twist on this classic, I decided to use really good prepared chicken stock along with a rotisserie chicken. My husband had never enjoyed this Vietnamese delight, so I was even more excited to prepare this iconic dish. After adding the sauces and condiments to this flavorful soup, I took my first taste. I amazed myself and a feeling of such accomplishment ran through my head. I exclaimed to my husband – “I actually replicated the soup”.

I would like to personally thank each of you who voted for me in the first challenge and helped me to advance to the next round. Your support is greatly appreciated!

Pho Ga: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4

12 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Large white onion
2 Medium pieces of fresh ginger
1 Rotisserie Chicken, 1 ½ cups shredded chicken
2 t. Salt
2 t. Sugar
2 T. Asian fish sauce
2 T. Whole coriander seeds
4 Whole cloves
3 Whole star anise
6 oz. Package dried rice noodles
8 oz. Bean sprouts
1 C. Cilantro leaves
1 C. Thai basil (regular basil can be used)
2 Limes cut into quarters
2 Jalapenos, thinly sliced
Sriracha sauce
Hoisin sauce


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the onion into quarters, leaving the skin on and cut the ginger in half lengthwise. Lie onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. The onions should begin to char. Leave in an extra 10 minutes if more charring is desired.

In a large pot, add the chicken stock and put the burner on high. Add the charred onions and ginger along with the salt, sugar, coriander seeds, cloves and star anise. Let the broth come to a boil and reduce heat to low after it boils. Let simmer for another 30 minutes to develop the rich exotic flavors. After it has simmered for 30 minutes, then add the fish sauce. Keep the broth hot.


Soak the noodles in warm water for 15 minutes until pliable. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Drain the noodles and add to the boiling water. Boil until tender for about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well. Transfer to four large bowls.


Divide the shredded chicken among the four bowls. Prepare four plates with the accompaniments to add to the soup. This would include: basil leaves, cilantro leaves, 2 quarters of lime, bean sprouts, and jalapenos along with a small bowl with the sirachi and hoisin sauce for each person to add to the soup. You can provide a small spoon for your guest to allocate the desired amount of sauces. Let them know to squeeze the lime into the soup and add the condiments to have the full Pho Ga experience.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sweet Corn Ice Cream

A few weeks ago my husband and I met a few friends after work at Flora in downtown Oakland. I jumped on BART and simply walked a block and there was this amazing restaurant. It is located in the uptown district of Oakland and the surrounding area is going through revitalization. Oakland has a poor reputation due to the high crime rate; however the local chefs are quickly realizing that Oakland is becoming the next gourmet scene in the Bay Area. Local foodies are beginning to flock to these new hot spots and taking advantage of this new restaurant boom.

Flora is the brain child of Dona Savisky and Thomas Schnertz who wanted to create a dining destination and bar the was reminiscent of the prohibition era with art deco style. The cocktails are specially crafted to echo that era along with updated American classics that have a definite flair. Flora sits in the beautifully ornate Oakland Floral Depot building and across from the newly renovated beautiful Fox Theatre.

Our food was amazing but the dessert really struck me and inspired me to make sweet corn ice cream. We shared two desserts with one being “corn ice cream, peach sorbet, crisp puff pastry, hazelnut streusel with blueberries”. The corn ice cream just added that extra special flavor profile to the blueberry crumble and the only problem was that there were four people sharing this divine dessert. Note to self for next time – order my own dessert.

Sweet Corn Ice Cream

4 Ears Fresh Corn
2 C. Milk
2 C. Cream
¾ C. Sugar
6 Egg Yolks
1 t. Vanilla

Remove any husks from the corn and then cut off the kernels. Break each of the cobs into three or four pieces.

In a medium pot add the milk and cream and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low heat. Add the corn kernels and cobs. Cook for 10 minutes then turn off heat and let steep for about one hour.

After one hour, remove the cobs and pour the remaining liquid with kernels through a fine sieve or strainer. Add back to the pan and add the vanilla. Heat on medium heat until warm.

In a bowl add the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk until slightly fluffy and a light yellow color. Add about a ¼ cup of the warm milk to temper the eggs, and then add the entire egg mixture to the pot of warm milk and cream. Cook on medium until the back of a wooden spoon is coated and slightly thickened. Remove from heat and let cool in a water bath or refrigerator overnight in a covered container.

Process through an ice cream maker according the to the manufacturers directions. Serve alone or over your favorite fruit crumble.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Raspberry Coconut Bars

One of my favorite cookies to make is bar cookies. First, they are simple to make. Second, they are typically tasty and last they have endless combinations. I have to admit that I have had a long obsession and love affair with date bars. How many of you remember the Betty Crocker Date Bar Mix? My Mom would buy the mix when we were kids and make them. I swear we could eat the entire pan in one sitting, except for the fact that my Mom would meter our intake of these divine little bars.

I use to be able to find it at certain stores years ago and then I went to my “source” one day and it was GONE. I was incredibly sad, since this simple mix brought me so much joy. I searched the internet to see what had happened to my beloved Date Bar Mix. According to the official Betty Crocker message board, it had been discontinued. How could this be? Typically I love baked goods from scratch, but this mix just had a certain taste that was hard to duplicate. I kept a box for the ingredient list; to hopefully one day re-create this splendid tasting treat.

Onto the main event, they beautiful Raspberry Coconut Bars. Karen DeMasco’s “The Craft of Baking” is a wonderful book with gorgeous photos and luscious recipes. On Sunday, I got the baking bug and after leafing through Karen's book, these bars called out to me. I wanted to adapt them to make them my own, so I added the coconut. What a great addition – just adds that special extra flavor. I revisited the ingredients on the Date Bar Mix and it had coconut listed. Perhaps this is the secret ingredient!

Raspberry Coconut Bars

1 C. Pecans, coarsely chopped
1 ½ C. Flour
1 ¼ C. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 C. Sugar
1/3 C. Dark brown sugar, packed
1 t. Salt
1/2 t. Baking soda
½ C. Shredded coconut
1 ½ Sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons)
1 C. Raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 350°. Prepare an 8-inch square baking pan by spraying with Crisco spray or butter. Spread the chopped pecans in a baking pan and toast for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool. I bought mine already chopped and dry roasted from Trader Joe’s – saves you a step.

In a large bowl, stir the flour with the rolled oats, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, shredded coconut and pecans. Using a wooden or regular spoon, stir in the melted butter until the oat mixture is thoroughly combined.

Press two-thirds of the oat mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the prepared baking pan and top with the raspberry preserves. Sprinkle the preserves with the remaining oat mixture and pat down lightly.

Bake the bars for about 35 to 45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the top is golden brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the granola bars cool completely, about 3 hours. Cut into squares and serve. Makes about 16 bars. Keep in an airtight container.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gougeres with Chicken Salad + Anniversary Celebration

Time flies entirely too fast. It seems like it was yesterday that I was meeting my husband for the first time. We had spoken on the phone for over two hours and decided that the next day would be the day – a blind date. I knew there was something special about him while we were conversing on the phone. I had a busy day at work and rushed from a networking event 40 minutes away to make it on time to meet him in person.

We met at Faultline which is now Pyramid Brewery in Walnut Creek. Our date was on a weekday and both had to get up early, but that did not seem to matter to either one of us. Almost seven hours later, we said good night to each other. A second date was set up shortly after the first meeting. He swooped me off my feet by planning an exquisite date in San Francisco. Our third date was at my small 750 square foot in law unit - the stage was set with candles, music and a fire was crackling.

He arrived with a dozen red roses, a bottle of Schramsberg Sparkling wine and a bottle of Opus One. Multiple courses were planned including the caprese salad, filet mignon with rosemary-gruyere polenta and triple sorbets served in a martini glass. He also had a small gift to give me. It was a book that detailed how to market your artwork, since at the time I was doing a lot of painting on pottery. How thoughtful indeed.

Turns out that by the end of our magical third date, we knew that our dating days were over and we would be married. He proposed about five months later and we were married on September. We just celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary and I decided to make a cozy appetizer style dinner to commemorate our special day. Happy Anniversary Honey - this blog posting is dedicated to you my darling Hubby!

Gougeres with Chicken Salad

Gougeres (Adapted from Tartine Bakery)

1 ¼ C. Non-fat or 1% milk
10 T. Butter
1 C. Flour
5 Large eggs
¾ C. Gruyere
Pinch of salt
1 Large egg (egg wash)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place milk, butter, and salt in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Let the butter melt and milk come to a full boil. Then add the flour all at once. Stir vigorously for a few minutes until the ingredients form thick smooth dough. Place the dough in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment. Add one egg at a time. Mix at medium speed until each egg is fully integrated before adding the next.  Add the gruyere cheese and mix until combined.

Add the mixture to a large pastry bag to make the gougeres. I used a large star tip to give a bit of extra texture when baked. Line the cookie sheet with a silpat to ensure they do not stick. With a wet forefinger, gently pat down any peak.

Brush the tops of each mound with lightly beaten egg and space about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Chicken Salad (my original recipe)

4 Chicken breasts
5 C. Water
1 C. Chicken stock
1 T. Peppercorns
2 t. Salt

In a large pot, add the water, chicken stock, peppercorns and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and add the chicken breasts. Poach the chicken for about 15 minutes or until all the way cooked through. Remove and place onto a plate to cool. When cool, cut into small cubes and add to a large bowl.

1 Medium white onion, finely diced
1 C. Mayo
1 T. Dijon mustard
½ t. Garlic powder
½ t. Salt
10 Grinds of pepper
¾ C. Toasted, chopped pecans
½ C. Dried cranberries

To the large bowl of diced chicken, add all of the above ingredients and mix well. Taste and add additional seasoning as desired.

To assemble:

With a serrated knife, cut each of the gourgeres in half lengthwise. Fill each one with a large scoop of the chicken salad and top with microgreens or other greens if desired.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

PFB #1 | My Project Food Blog Equation: Food + Wine + Entertaining = Happiness

Excitement, anticipation and curiosity are emotions that are running through my veins right now. Extraordinary opportunities don’t come along every day. One such chance has been presented to food bloggers through Foodbuzz with a unique contest called “Project Food Blog”. As Foodbuzz states, Project Food Blog is the first-ever interactive competition where thousands of Foodbuzz Featured Publishers are competing in a series of culinary blogging challenges for the chance to advance and a shot at the ultimate prize: $10,000 and a special feature on for one year.

The first challenge is aptly titled, “Ready, Set, Blog” – where Foodbuzz is asking each blogger to create a blog post that defines us a food blogger and why we would have what it takes to be the next food blog star. Why are we unique and what sets us apart from everyone else. These are thought provoking questions and do challenge us to think introspectively.

January 2009 I embarked on the blogging journey by introducing my blog, Authentic Suburban Gourmet. It began as a way to chronicle my recipes and share my thoughts and ideas about food, wine and entertaining. Everything would be all in one spot and with the World Wide Web, I would be able to easily share with my friends and family, anywhere and anytime. The name Authentic Suburban Gourmet spawned from being myself and expressing my creativity and thoughts (authentic) through using ingredients and resources that are available most everywhere (suburban) and bringing an elegant, sophisticated touch (gourmet).

My love affair with food began when I was a small child. It was the simple things like homemade tacos, soups and chocolate chip cookies. I remember being so excited when I received my first Easy Bake Oven – I thought – Oh my gosh, I can actually cook my own cakes and cookies. The process of mixing the batter, putting it into those tiny pans and watching it cook by a mere light bulb was so incredibly fascinating. Simultaneously, my Mom would teach me about the basics of cooking with the measuring, reading recipes and the various cooking methods. To this day, I appreciate all of the techniques and information that my wonderful Mom taught me. I am obsessed with bon appetite, food and wine, saveur, the cooking channel, taking cooking classes and checking out the latest gourmet dining spot. Food and wine just facinate me.

{ My beautiful Mom }

{ My good friend Helen and me at Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco }

During the day I am a Vice President for a Human Capital Firm which is an extremely rewarding career and I am passionate about being successful. I believe that leading a balanced life is critical for true happiness. This brings me to my title of this blog post – “My Project Food Blog Equation: Food + Wine + Entertaining = Happiness". I am so fortunate to be born and raised in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area and I have an immense affinity for great food, wine and cherish the art of entertaining. I am lucky to be in close proximity to the wine country, abundant farmers markets, gourmet food resources, and brilliant restaurants. All are resources of inspiration for me. Since I can remember, I have been blessed with the artistic and creative gene. With my passion for food, wine and entertaining, I am able to unleash these qualities and share through my blog.

Sharing my creative food ideas and recipes with other people makes me happy. When I receive a comment on my blog from someone who appreciates what I have created, it puts a huge smile on my face. Just the other day, a friend on facebook sent me a comment that read simply – “I love your blog”. Cooking for other people and knowing that they are enjoying each bite, is blissful. My husband is my biggest fan and was hooked when I prepared a gourmet dinner on our third date. As they say, the rest is history; we just celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. Planning and executing a dinner or cocktail party exhilarates me. From the inception of an idea to planning the menu to shopping to cooking to setting the table to serving the food to hearing what everyone thinks is pure joy. It brings me much happiness to share my passion with other people and in return it makes them happy.

{ My wonderful husband Charles }

Over the last year and half I have learned so much about blogging, photography, writing, technology, social media, food styling, recipe writing, cooking and myself. Learning is a life long journey which never ends. The journey is just beginning and I look forward to the roads ahead. One of the rewarding aspects of blogging is the people you meet along the way - all wonderful people and sharing with them.

Combining food, wine and entertaining together in one blog gives me the opportunity to share my passions with my friends, family and readers. Being real, creative, passionate and truly obsessed about food, wine and entertaining is one of the reasons that Authentic Suburban Gourmet is unique. I look forward to continuing to share my equation for happiness!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fig Jam Pockets

2010 was the year for me! Learning to can was on my bucket list. I always marveled at my Moms canning skills and love for this art form. Canned peaches and apricots were her specialty along with strawberry jam. During the winter, we would enjoy literally the fruits of her labor.

I took the plunge a few months ago. Did my research, purchased books on canning and collected the equipment. After reading a lot of the books, my biggest fear was that the jars would not seal. Quickly I learned that the process was actually quite simple, straightforward and extremely rewarding. After seeing my kitchen counters filled with all those beautiful jars and hearing that popping sound all the way upstairs in my office, I knew that I had achieved the success that I desired.

My first attempt was dill pickles. At Costco, while in the refrigerated section, where you need a jacket if you are in there for more than a few minutes, I saw packages of miniature cucumbers that were perfect for making dill pickles. They were so inspirational, that I popped two big bags in my shopping cart and five minutes later I picked up two more bags. I thought if I am going to make dill pickles, I am making a large batch. They are just about ready to taste and my husband is dying to check them out. Keep your fingers crossed.

My second canning adventure was fig jam since I am completely obsessed with these little jewels. After enjoying every page of the Thomas Keller Ad Hoc cookbook, his fig jam recipe caught my eye. It was the balsamic vinegar and knowing that when it is cooked, it becomes sweet, intrigued me. Thirty half pints later, my fig jam was complete.

Recently, I was enthused by a post for Rhubarb Hand Pies from fellow blogger Liren at Kitchen Confidante. Her blog is absolutely beautiful and I recommend taking a look.  In addition, another inspiration came from the jam pockets that I pick up at the Farmers Market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco from a wonderful bakery in Healdsburg. It is called the Downtown Bakery & Creamery. My husband absolutely loves these jam pockets and I love the almond tart they make.

I am always thinking about things to make and put on the blog to share with everyone. The stars aligned and the Fig Jam Pockets came to life. My husband said they were the BEST cookie I had ever made. Coming from my number one fan, that meant the world to me.  Enjoy!

Fig Jam Pockets

Makes 24

Pate Sucree (From Martha Stewart)

2 ½ C. Flour
3 T. Sugar
1 C. Butter (2 sticks), chilled and cut into pieces
2 Egg yolks
¼ C. Ice water


Fig Jam
1 Egg for brushing top of pastries
Course sugar for sprinkling on top

Use a food processor, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter pieces and process until the mixture is crumbly. Lightly beat the eggs and add to the mixture and pulse until combined. Then stream the ice water into the processor and continue to process until the dough holds together. Remove and divide the dough into two balls and flatten. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

To assemble:

Use a large cutting board and generously flour. Lay one of the disks on the floured board. Place plastic wrap on top and begin to roll out to a thin sheet of dough. You will want to rotate the dough after a few rolls with the rolling pin. Use a square cookie cutter that is 2 inches in diameter or I used a ravioli cutter of the same size.

Each jam pocket will take two pastry squares. Lay one square on the cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of the fig jam in the middle. Fill a small bowl with water and use your index finger to dampen the top piece of dough and gently lay on top of the jam filled dough. Carefully press the edges all away around without letting the jam come out. To seal use a fork to press all around the pastry and using a pastry brush, give a gentle wash of the egg on top. Sprinkle with the course sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool on a wire rack. Keep in a airtight container.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

{ New Cult Wine: Leviathan Cabernet Blend }

Wine is one of my passions. I find it intriguing to try new vintages, styles, varietals, regions and different price points. Wine is something that is a very personal thing – meaning what I may enjoy, you may not. Absolutely nothing wrong with having opinions. That is the beauty of wine tasting.

Several years ago I stumbled upon a wine club for the insider. It is called Porthos and was founded in 2000 by three wine aficionados who were dedicated to finding undiscovered small production and boutique wines in the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Today, they do reach beyond these two famous wine regions. Their mission is to provide personalized service, insider connections and insider scoop.

Often an email pops up in my outlook that alerts me to a special find. I read the description and I am hooked. I click the order form, select the quantity and go to the checkout online. Of course my credit card is already stored for easy ordering. It is way too easy these days. A few weeks ago, such an email popped up. It highlighted a more rare to find wine by the one of the most powerful wine couples in Napa Valley, Andy Erickson (Screaming Eagle, Hartwell, Dalla Valle) and viticulturist Anie Favia (Abreu and Screaming Eagle). The wine was a 2008 Leviathan Cabernet Blend from Napa. Knowing that Screaming Eagle is the mother of all cult wines, this was a must purchase. Porthos even sweetened the deal by including free shipping if you purchase six or more bottles. So I did.

Last night, as one of our traditional Friday night evenings, my husband and I had wine and appetizers. I pulled one of the Leviathan bottles from the cellar. The bottle is a sturdy weight with a simple beautiful label. The word Leviathan refers to a monstrous sea creature mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. Also, refers to a very large animal, especially a whale. I guess the bottle is synonymous with the meaning.

Leviathan carries a 96 point rating from the wine insiders at Porthos. This wine is a stunning Bordeaux blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 17% Syrah and 7% Cabernet Franc. Aromas jump out of the glass that resemble coffee beans, smoke, leather, dusty rose and black cherry pie. Once you take your first taste, you experience velvet tannins and quickly changes to intense flavors of dark cocoa, raspberries, caramel, ripe cherries and plums. The finish is reminiscent of dark fruit and an ever so slight sweetness.

It is fun to discover and taste the new up and coming wines from the wonderful wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. Leviathan is one of the new cult wines and is sure to have a following of the grand cult wine of them all, Screaming Eagle. My bucket list includes having just a taste of Screaming Eagle one day. If I just click my ruby red slippers three times, surely dreams can come true.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fresh Fig and Honey Ice Cream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. How many times did you say or hear that when you were a kid? I bet more than you think. My very first job was working at a local ice cream parlor in the Bay Area, called Loard’s Ice Cream. It was one of those old fashioned places that made their own ice cream from pure cream and had great flavors ranging from banana, coffee to champagne sherbet. Of course, all of the standard flavors existed plus seasonal favorites including eggnog and pumpkin.

I worked there for about a year and half and then it was time to move onto the next job. Too much temptation to taste everything there; plus my pants were not as loose as they use to be. It was a terrific first job which taught me organization, customer service and problem solving skills. To this day, I could make any of the various sundaes on the menu – funny how you just don’t forget certain things.

Over the long holiday weekend, my creative juices were flowing. I had the urge on Saturday morning to make homemade ice cream. I had fresh figs – quite frankly I am obsessed with figs this year. I thought the figs would be good in an ice cream, but what else to put with these little treasures. Ah ha - a great compliment would be honey. Now I had my flavor – fresh fig and honey ice cream. Rather than blending the bits of figs in the ice cream while it was being processed, I wanted a more organic texture and experience. After the cream was almost frozen, I blended by hand the bits of fig to give texture and a beautiful appearance when formed into that lovely round sphere of goodness.

On Sunday evening we were invited to our next door neighbors for a rib eye steak dinner with all of the wonderful sides – mashed potatoes, sautéed portabella mushrooms and sautéed zucchini with garlic. It was a great weekend of dining with our great neighbors - one family on Sunday and another on Monday.  We felt very special to have such thoughtful people invite us over.  I always enjoy when dining out or at friends, the experience of being pampered by not actually cooking and someone spoiling me. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE cooking for people, but every once in a while, it such a treat to be catered to. I ended up running home to grab the Fig Ice Cream to share with everyone. My scooping skills are still current and everyone enjoyed a bit of homemade goodness.

Fresh Fig and Honey Ice Cream

½ C. Honey
1 ½ C. Heavy Cream
1 ½ C. Half n Half
¼ C. Sugar
1 t. Vanilla
¼ t. Salt
5 Large egg yolks
6 Large fresh figs, stemmed and chopped into tiny pieces

In a medium sauce pan, add the cream, half n half, honey and salt. Cook over medium heat until it is warm. In a separate medium bowl, add the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk until creamy. Take about a fourth of a cup of the warm mixture and add to the egg yolk mixture and whisk quickly to temper the eggs.

Add the egg mixture to the cream mixture and cook on medium heat while stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats a wooden spoon.

Chill the mixture over an ice bath and let chill in the refrigerator until completely cool. Freeze the mixture according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once it is chilled, the stir in the chopped fig pieces. Transfer to a plastic storage container and freeze until ready to serve.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mini Red Velvet Cupcakes

Traditionally we think of Labor Day as a symbolic end to Summer. Often celebrated by hosting or attending a party or BBQ. Actually the first Labor Day was observed on September 5, 1882 in New York City by the Central Labor Union of New York. A few years later, in 1894 it became a federal holiday. I like millions of other people across the country look forward to a well deserved day off.

Living in the Bay Area, we typically experience warm months ahead through about the end of October. This year has been particularly mild on the weather front and I hope that many warm days are ahead. Tonight we are headed to one of our neighbors for Labor Day barbeque festivities. I asked ahead of time what I could bring to help out. I offered a side dish or dessert. My neighbors reply over email was – a dessert would be wonderful. Dessert it is!!

Not having an overwhelming sweet tooth, I pondered what to bring that would please both adults and kids. I have long wanted to make red velvet cupcakes and have been facinated by them. Several months ago I picked up Martha Stewarts Cupcakes. I leafed through the index to see if there was a recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes and I knew that Martha would not let me down. I adapted the cupcake recipe ever so slightly, since Martha creates recipes near perfection.

Adding my own spin, I made mini versions of these delectible little treats. With the frosting recipe, I substituted half of the butter for shortening to make it lighter and creamier. Using a piping bag with a star tip to dress the top of each little cupcake, it added an elegant touch.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful Labor Day Holiday!  Enjoy!!

Mini Red Velvet Cupcakes

Makes approximately 72 cupcakes

2 ½ C. Flour
2 T. Cocoa powder
1 t. Salt
1 ½ C. Sugar
1 ½  C. Vegetable oil
2 Large eggs
1 t. Red gel-paste food color
1 t. Vanilla extract
1 C. Buttermilk
1 ½ t. Baking soda
2 t. Distilled white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line mini muffin tins with paper liners.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla. Add flour, cocoa powder and buttermilk slowly and alternate a bit at a time until incorporate. (if you don’t have buttermilk, add about 1 teaspoon of vinegar to the milk and let stand for 5 minutes)

Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed 10 seconds.

Using a small ice cream scoop, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 12 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

To finish, use a piping bag with a star tip to frost each of the cupcakes. Refrigerate up to 3 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.

Cream Cheese Frosting

½ C. Butter
½ C. Shortening
1 t. Vanilla
1 (12 oz) package cream cheese
1 lb. Confectioners sugar

Bring the butter and cream cheese to room temperature. In a stand up mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat for 15 seconds. Slowly incorporate the confectioner’s sugar until the entire amount is combined. Beat until fluffy – for about 3 to 5 minutes. Use a piping bag and star tip to decorate each mini cupcake.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Simple Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce

Last night was the beginning of my mini vacation. I am sure many of you are working super hard and long hours. Getting a break to just relax and unwind is so welcoming. I did not have a ton of energy to create an elaborate meal, so I pursued my refrigerator and found the bag of heirloom tomatoes that our friend brought from her garden. Since they were just on the brink of turning too soft to use in a salad, I thought the flavors would be perfect for a quick pasta sauce.

This sauce is not elaborate or complicated, just plain simple but packs a big punch of flavor. The key is to season it well and cook just long enough to form the traditional flavors. I tend to let it cook until the liquid begins to thicken and then it is perfect. I guess if you got impatient, then you could add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste to hurry it along.

During the day an email popped up on my computer and it was titled “Feng-Shui (read – please don’t delete)". Being a curious person and knowing that it was from a trusted friend, I had to open it up and read it. Typically when I get these, I glance and delete. However, this one was different and the message inside really resonated with me and I wanted to share it with all of you. Really basic stuff, but sometimes we get moving so quick with our daily lives, that a little reminder every once in a while is just what we need. Enjoy.
  • Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully
  • Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.
  • Don't believe all you hear, spend all you have or sleep all you want
  • When you say, 'I love you,' mean it.
  • When you say, 'I'm sorry,' look the person in the eye
  • Be engaged at least six months before you get married
  • Never laugh at anyone's dreams. People who don't have dreams don't have much.
  • Love deeply and passionately. You might get hurt but it's the only way to live life completely.
  • In disagreements, fight fairly. No name calling.
  • Don't judge people by their relatives.
  • Talk slowly but think quickly.
  • Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
  • When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
  • Remember the three R's: Respect for self; Respect for others; and Responsibility for all your actions.
  • Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
  • When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
  • Smile when picking up the phone - the caller will hear it in your voice
  • Spend some time alone.

Simple Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce

1.2 Lb. Heirloom Tomatoes, stemmed and diced
1 Small White Onion, fine dice
2 T. Olive Oil
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
1 Package (8oz) Linguine Pasta (Trader Joe’s Spinach and Chive)

Over medium heat add the olive oil and onions and sauté until translucent. Add the heirloom tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat then add the minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper and continue to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes on medium low heat. The flavors will combine and the sauce will begin to thicken.

Boil the linguine according to the package instructions. Drain and either add to the sauce or spoon the sauce over the noodles. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Deviled Eggs with Crab and Chipolte Aoili

Deviled eggs – were they considered evil at one time, hence the name? Why not call them heavenly eggs? I found out they originated way back in ancient Roman times and then spun off to other parts of the world. These popular little gems even have their own special serving trays in all sorts of shapes, colors and sizes. What an honor for these little two bite wonders, to have their very own dish especially created just for them.

I must admit that for years I relied on the deviled eggs that my Mom would make. Still not sure what she exactly puts in there, but they are the best ones I have had. She will make them especially for my husband on occasion, since he loves them so much, especially the ones she makes.

Over the years, I have developed my own recipe for these little tiny bites of joy. I am sure there is a cookbook out there that is all about deviled eggs and if there is not, then someone needs to create one. One of my account executives told me that he had deviled eggs over the weekend that were mixed with finely minced crispy bacon and cheddar cheese. It was piped into the egg halves – almost a take on the baked potato. Imagine it topped with a bit of crème Fraiche and minced chives. A perfect bite or two of wonderfulness!

I am not typically one to get too freaked out with all of the media and the food concerns. With the recent egg concerns, I have been purchasing organic brown eggs that are locally produced. While at the grocery stores, I have noticed that the eggs are still flying out the door and brown eggs seem to have risen in popularity.

Would love to hear about your creative deviled eggs recipes!

(Chives from my garden - love the chive blossom)

Deviled Eggs with Crab and Chipotle Aioli


8 Hard boiled eggs
4 T. Mayonnaise
1 T. Dijon mustard
¼ t. Salt

Hard boil the eight eggs and let cool to room temperature. Cut in half lengthwise and remove the yolk. Place into a bowl and break up with a fork until lumps are gone. Add the mayonnaise, mustard and salt. Whisk with a fork until creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Chill for one hour.

Chipotle Aioli

½ C. Mayonnaise
1 T. Chives, finely chopped
1 Garlic clove, finely minced
½ t. Lemon juice
1 large Adobo chili
Salt and pepper

Add all of the above ingredients into a food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Place into a container with a lid and refrigerate until ready to use.


1/3 C. Crab, lump meat
1 T. Chives, minced

To assemble:

Place the egg halves onto a platter. Put the egg yolk mixture into a piping bag and use the star tip to pipe into the egg halves. Once you have that complete, then top each one with a pinch of crab. Then add a tiny dollop of the chipotle aioli and garnish with a small pinch of chives. Refrigerate until ready to serve.