Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Radish Crostini with Peppercress

Didn’t get an invitation to the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton? No worries, throw your own royal wedding party instead. Don’t feel bad, I did not get an invitation either.  No need to fret – have your own appetizer feast tomorrow night while you are watching the festivities in the comfort of your own "royal palace" {smile}.

The 650 invited guests who will celebrate Kate and William’s big day will enjoy a "modest spread of Champagne, wedding cake and two-bite appetizers, or canapés," reports the New York Times for the lunchtime reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth. Buckingham Palace has physical limitations, so the “cocktail style” venue is ideal. I am sure the guests will be quite pleased with such appetizers as mini Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and horseradish cream to bubble-and-squeak confit with lamb shoulder.

With a lazer focus on the upcoming royal nuptuals over the last several weeks, it is hard to not hear the words – “Royal Wedding” ripple throught the air. Americans have long had a fascination with royalty. The royal wedding represents the ultimate fairy tale. I remember like it was yesterday, staying late to watch the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. What a remarkable event. As Americans, we do not share the tradition of a royal family, instead we have first families that come and go in either four or eight year increments. A royal family represents a sense calm, continuity and traditionalism.

My brush with Royalty: The closest that I have ever come to the “Royal Family” was about thirteen years ago. I was attending a human resources association lunch at the top of the lakeside building in Oakland. Since the luncheon was on the top floor, I had several floors to travel in the elevator. Once I hit the designated floor, the doors opened and there was an abundance of special security all around.

This was completely out of the norm. My curiousity was high. I wondered what was all the fuss about and what was going on. As I turned to head down the hall to my lunch meeting, approximately ten feet away stood royalty. It was Prince Andrew. He was a very tall and handsome man. I noticed a quick smile from the prince and I became a bit weak in the knees, while heading into my meeting.  My brush with royalty was brief yet wonderfully memorable.

Our Tivo is programmed to record the royal wedding. We will enjoy several appetizers during the royal wedding even if it is the next day when we actually view it - with hopes of staying awake. In honor of Kate and William's special day, I created this Radish Crostini with Peppercress. A toast to William and Kate - may you have a long and happy life filled with many wonderful and brilliant memories.

Royal Radish Crostini with Peppercress

One Baguette or Ciabatta
Garlic and Herb Goat Cheese
Radishes, sliced thin
Fleur de Sel
Olive oil

Slice bread into 1/3 inch thick slices, brush each side with olive oil and lay on a cookie sheet. Toast under the broiler until light golden brown on each side. Let cool.

Spread with garlic and herb goat cheese. Lay radish slices on top and garnish with peppercress. Sprinkle a bit of fleur de sel on top of each Crostini.

Note: I found the peppercress at Whole Foods.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Churros with Lime Sugar and Chocolate Sauce

Every other week, I travel with my account executives. Often we have set appointments and one of them is typically with a client or prospect that we invite for lunch. It is a great way to build rapport and strengthen the client relationship, while enjoying a wonderful lunch. Being in the Bay Area, we have a plethora of exceptional dining choices.

With one of my account executives, she had scheduled the lunch the day prior to our pre-arranged travel day, so we attended our scheduled appointments and lunch was on our own. One of our favorite lunch spots is Bocanova in Oakland which is housed at the renovated Jack London Square. The cuisine is a blend of celebrating central, south and North America cultures. The recipes and ingredients span from Mexico to Argentina.

Rick Hackett is the chef and he is a classically trained French chef who admired his Peruvian sous-chef and his mostly Hispanic staff. The dishes they prepared for the staff were delicious and began his inspiration for the food at Bocanova.

The design and atmosphere is warm, inviting and completely hip. The menu is laid out to highlight items that are from the pantry, the raw bar, the garden, the sea, the stove, the oven and the grill. You can select small plates or decide to share a wide variety of tastes.

I especially recommend the Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs with Chipotle Aioli. In addition, the Quinoa Salad is seasonal and always full of flavor. The fried chicken sandwich is a piece of foodie art – the flavors explode in your mouth. Last but certainly not least were the Churros with Mexican chocolate sauce. They were deep fried bites of goodness and exemplified by dipping in the rich chocolate sauce.

Over the weekend, a craving for churros just came over me. They have been on my list of “must makes” for quite sometime. I wanted to put my own twist on them, so instead of dipping them in the traditional cinnamon sugar mixture, I did it with lime zest. The addition of citrus along with the deep fried dough and rich chocolate sauce was worthy of winning an award.

Churros with Lime Sugar and Chocolate Sauce

Vegetable or olive oil, for frying

1 C. water
4 ounces butter
1/4 t. salt
1 C. flour
3 eggs
1/4 C.sugar

Prepare to fry the churros by heating 1 to 1 1/2 inches oil in a deep pan to 360 degrees F.

To make churro dough, heat water, butter and salt to rolling boil in medium saucepan; stir in flour. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute; remove from the heat. Beat eggs all at once; continue beating until smooth and then add to saucepan while stirring mixture.

Spoon mixture into a piping tube with large star tip. Squeeze 4-inch strips of dough into hot oil. Fry 3 or 4 strips at a time until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes on each side. Make sure the oil is at the proper temperature, so you do not burn the churros. Drain on paper towels. Mix the sugar and lime zest. Roll churros in the lime sugar. Serve with Chocolate Sauce.

Lime Sugar

1 T. Lime zest
½ C. Sugar

Mix together well and place in a flat bowl to roll churros.

Chocolate Sauce

½ C. Heavy Cream
One Ibarra Mexican Chocolate disk
¼ C. Dark Chocolate chips

In a medium saucepan, add all of the ingredients and slowly heat over medium. Stir until combined and smooth. You may need to add a bit more chocolate to thicken.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

{ Roasted Garlic Mushrooms }

Every once in a while, you come across a recipe that just gives off the “wow factor”. A combination of ingredients that ignites happiness and soothes the soul. The roasted garlic mushroom recipe from Gourmet magazine is one such recipe. Simple in its ingredients, yet the flavors explode. I made this recipe about six or seven months ago after seeing it on Smitten Kitchen and then most recently from Brian at A Thought for Food. By the way, check out Brian's blog - it is simply amazing. The inspiration was front and center in my mind.

I have discovered that after I make a recipe a few times, I tend to add a bit more or less of an ingredient or introduce an additional ingredient to mix up the recipe and add my own personality. I think that is all part of the art of cooking, is the individualization portion. Just like a terrific wine, each person has unique taste buds and senses different flavors and profiles of the wine. I guess you can relate this thought process to cooking.

When I discovered Chicken Piccata years ago and began to perfect my own version, that was when my love of capers grew. These salty and savory nuggets just add that special punch to a dish. I decided to increase the quantity and leave them whole. In addition, I added a bit of dry white wine to the mix and the benefit was another layer of flavor complexity to the dish.

I am in love with Semifreddi’s Bread based out of Alameda in the Bay Area. Alameda is just on the other side of the Bay Bridge that links the East Bay and San Francisco. The crust is incredible along with the rich flavors and chewy texture of the bread. Their Ciabatta bread is too die for and perfect to soak up the extraordinary garlic and butter juices that are infused with the crimini mushrooms. I would recommend a lively sauvignon blanc such as Kim Crawford from New Zealand or Rudd Mt. Veeder Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley.

Roasted Garlic Mushrooms

1 lb Mushrooms cremini or white, halved lengthwise if large
3 T. Capers, whole
3 Large garlic cloves, minced
2 T. Olive oil
3 T. butter, cut into pieces
2 t. fresh lemon juice
¼ C. Dry White wine
¼ C. Flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss mushrooms with capers, garlic, oil, wine and ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper in a 1 ½ to 2-qt shallow baking dish. Top with butter and roast, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender and golden and bubbly garlic sauce forms below, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley. Serve immediately, with crusty bread on the side.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cocktail Hour: Mandarin Blossom Breeze

Do you have a cocktail hour at your house? Do you serve signature drinks for your parties? If you answered yes – this just might be the cocktail of choice at your next soiree.

I think it is fun to be a bit of a mix-o-logist when you throw a party. Or if you have a friend who loves to create drinks, enlist them at your next event. Sometimes it is fun to go beyond just serving wine and beer. Nothing wrong with either, but it definitely adds a bit of flair to your event. You don’t have to stock a full bar, just get the ingredients for the one signature drink and start mixing.

If you live in the Bay Area or are going to visit, and you enjoy artisan vodka – then you need to take a trip to Hangar One in Alameda. It is across the bay from San Francisco. The distillery literally is housed at a retired naval base’s airplane hangar. They offer tours and include a tasting room. Yes I said tasting room.

Hangar One’s method is different. They start by distilling fresh fruit on the same day it’s picked. Periodically they will work through the night so that the flavor captured in the still represents the fruit at its peak flavor. They make an eau de vie, using centuries-old European methods, in a copper still. Each bottle of vodka Hangar One makes will begin the same way. The fresh fruit is hand picked from farmers they know by name and hand crafted vodka made in small batches.

They produce such wonderful vodka flavors as: Kaffir Lime, Spiced Pear, Fraser River Raspberry, Mandarin Blossom, Buddha’s Hand Citron and Chipotle. Their website is super creative and very interactive. It gives information on the tasting room hours, how to best book a tour plus a lot more. Enjoy!

Mandarin Blossom Breeze

1 ½ oz. Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka
1 oz. Limoncello
5 kumquats
4 fresh mint leaves
3 to 4 dashes orange bitters
Splash of club soda

Muddle 3 sliced kumquats, 3 mint leaves, limoncello & bitters in the bottom of a martini shaker. Fill the shaker with ice & add vodka. Shake vigorously. Fill a glass one third of the way with fresh ice cubes, drop in two sliced kumquat & add more ice. Add the remaining kumquat and cover with ice. Strain the cocktail into a glass and finish with a splash of soda. You can also take the muddled kumquats and scoop into the drink. Garnish with a kumquat and a mint leaf. Serves 1

Sunday, April 17, 2011

English Pea and Asparagus Couscous Risotto

In the Bay Area there is a distinct flavor of spring in the air. The hills are still that vibrant green. The air is a touch warmer. The trees are in full bloom along with pollen everywhere. Many varieties of flowers are beginning to show their rich and lively colors. I just adore this time of year.

Not quite ready to take the cover off the stainless BBQ grill or put the cushions on the outdoor furniture, but I just know that it is around the corner. The excitement is building. I completely enjoy having a glass of wine outside after work with my hubby while sharing the happenings of our day.

Both English Peas and Asparagus sing spring to me. Their noticeable green hues are vibrant, beautiful and distinctly welcome the new season. Typically I find English peas are the farmers market and load a bag full of these sweet little nuggets. I was fortunate enough to find them pre-shelled at Trader Joes – what a treat.

There is a new grocery store on the rise – has it come to your town yet? The new store is called – Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market. They are popping up all over the Bay Area. We had the grand opening about a month ago. I was not able the official grand opening, but my hubby and I stopped by a couple weeks ago.

They are owned by Tesco, the world’s third largest retailer based out of the United Kingdom. The openings in the United States are scheduled for California, Nevada and Arizona. It struck me as a hybrid of Trader Joes, Safeway and Whole Foods. I picked up a bag of Israeli Couscous along with a few other items that looked interesting.

The English peas were my inspiration along with a post by Lisa is Cooking. If you have not had the opportunity to check out Lisa's blog, I would encourage you to.  Full of great recipes and photos. This dish just celebrates the season and can be done with a variety of veggies. Enjoy!

English Pea and Asparagus Couscous Risotto

2 Leeks, cleaned, quartered, green removed and sliced thin
3 T. Olive oil
2 T. Butter
Salt and pepper
1 ½ C. Israeli Couscous
2 C. Dry white wine
2 C. Asparagus, sliced
2 C. English peas, shelled
3 to 4 C. Chicken stock
Parmesan cheese
Micro-greens for garnish

Serves four

In a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil on medium. Add the leeks and sauté for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the couscous and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add one cup of the white wine until absorbed, then add the second one. Let cook until about half way absorbed. Add one cup at a time, the chicken stock until absorbed and the couscous is al dente. Then season with salt and pepper to taste and zest a half a lemon and stir.

Add the English peas and asparagus about 5 minutes before serving along with about ¼ cup of parmesan cheese. Taste and add more parmesan cheese if desired. Serve either in a large bowl or individually. Garnish with micro-greens on top and zest a bit more lemon on top. Add a touch of parmesan cheese if desired.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ultimate Almond Tart

I mentioned in my prior post about enjoying the BEST almond tart ever. It comes from the folks at Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg. After doing a bit of digging on their site, I found their recipe for this delectable treat. I altered it ever so slightly and made it over the weekend. This has to be classified as the ultimate almond tart. I highly encourage all of the almond tart fans out there to make this recipe – you will not be disappointed.

We had a long overdue visit to our neighbors on Sunday. I brought over several slices of the tart for the family to enjoy. It was great to catch up and see how big their Bernese Mountain puppy had grown. She now is close to 100 pounds and when we last saw her, she was about 25 pounds. It is amazing how quickly time flies.

We were able to enjoy a slice each of the tart on Sunday evening while watching the two hour Brothers and Sister episode. With a busy work week, both Charles and I are happy we have made it to “hump day”. The weekend is not too far away – can hardly wait. Do you have any exciting plans for the upcoming weekend?

Ultimate Almond Tart

Tart Dough

1 C. Flour
1 T. Sugar
½ C. Butter
2 T. Cold Water
¼ t. Salt

Put flour, salt and sugar in a bowl of a stand mixer. Cut butter into small pieces. Add to mixture and use paddle attachment and mix on medium speed. Mix butter into flour mixture until it resembles cornmeal. Add water and quickly mix together. Remove from bowl and form a ball. Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Use a 4 x 13 inch rectangle tart pan with removable bottom. Spray with non-stick spray. Roll out pastry to 1/8th inch thick and put into pan. Press the dough firmly onto the sides. Freeze for 30 minutes to allow dough to relax.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. A light golden color is good. Press dough together if there are holes.

Almond Filling

1 C. Whipping Cream
1 C. Sugar
1 T. Cointreau
1 C. Sliced Almonds, lightly toasted
½ t. Salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix cream, sugar and cointreau in a saucepan large enough for the mixture to triple in volume, stirring well. Heat to a rolling boil while stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, mix in almonds and let stand for 15 minutes. Pour the filling into pre-baked shell. Make sure the almonds float evenly through the filling. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. It should be a light caramel color and yields a soft and chewy almond tart. The darker the color, the crunchier the tart.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spring Onion and Asparagus Tart

Spring is in the air in the Bay Area.

Last weekend, my good friend Helen and I ventured to the farmer’s market at the San Francisco Ferry Building. Our goal is to visit at least once month to discover the season’s treats. It was a beautiful spring morning, not too chilly or warm, just perfect. I actually wore my favorite pair of flip flops with a light jacket.

It takes just about 25 minutes to get the market and we leave early enough that it is not overly congested. With our reusable bags in hand, we traditionally stop at the Downtown Bakery & Creamery first. These folks drive down every Saturday from Healdsburg to make people smile and sell their magnificent baked goods. My favorite is the Almond Tart. It is savory, rich, flakey and buttery – simply divine and the ultimate almond tart.

I purchased a couple treats for my husband, specifically the jam pockets. I enjoyed a savory cheddar cheese scone that was to die for. I picked up gorgeous golden fingerling potatoes, last of the season Brussels sprouts, asparagus, purple spring onions and several other goodies.

One of my newest finds was Happy Girl Kitchen Company. They currently reside on the central coast of California and create the most wonderful jams, pickles and tomato based products. I purchased the award winning Apricot Chili Jam and the Strawberry Lavender Jam.

Of course we could not miss visiting inside the Ferry Building and a stop at Cowgirl Creamery is a must. Helen brought a cooler full of ice in anticipation of purchasing some wonderful cheeses. Typically we try new cheeses to broaden our palates. Our visit was no exception. My husband is a huge fan of sheep milk cheeses. I found three wonderful choices to bring home: Cave aged Gruyere Emmi, Lamb Chopper and Goat Gouda.

After our visit to the farmers market we headed over to 4th street in Berkeley for a bit of shopping and lunch. My favorite shops there are Anthropologie, The Gardener, CB2 and Crate and Barrel outlet.

We dined outside at Café Rouge and started with a Blood Orange Soda made from fresh squeezed blood oranges. We first enjoyed La Quercia Prosciutto with marinated baby artichokes, olives and bread sticks. Next was a gorgeous Cheese Plate with a cow, sheep and goat cheese selection. Lastly we savored a stunning Mushroom and Cheddar Cheese Tart. Of course we had to share a dessert and chose the Beignet with Pineapple Meringue Sauce and Meyer Lemon Ice Cream. The dessert was too die for!!

The mushroom tart and goodies from the farmers market were my inspiration for the Spring Onion and Asparagus Tart. My husband said this was one of my best tarts and asked me to make it again real soon. Enjoy!

Spring Onion and Asparagus Tart


1/3 C. Ricotta
3 T. Sour cream or crème Fraiche
1 Egg yolk
½ t. Salt
½ t. Pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and keep refrigerated until ready to use.


6 Stalks of fresh asparagus, shaved with veggie peeler
2 Spring onions, sliced thin
¼ C. Parmesan cheese
1 t. Truffle oil
3 T. Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside until ready to assemble tart


1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg yolk + 1 t. water, mix in a small bowl


Let one sheet of the puff pastry thaw until it is soft enough to lay flat. Be careful to not let get too warm. Roll on a lightly floured board and run the rolling pin over it a couple times.

Cut with a sharp knife into four even pieces. With a sharp knife cut almost to the bottom of pastry a square that is about ¾ inch from the edge to form a square within a square. Lightly brush with a pastry brush around the edges of the square but not in the center.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven on a non-stick cookie sheet. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes.

Spoon the filling in the center of each tart and divide the asparagus mixture among each tart. Return to the 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. The edges should be golden brown and the filling set to a light firmness. Enjoy alone or with a light salad.