Saturday, October 29, 2011

S'mores and Salted Caramel Sauce

Last week hubby and I went on vacation to visit our good friends in Northwest Arkansas. We originally met them here in the Bay Area a little over eight years ago and have been great friends ever since. A new job took them from here to relocate to Arkansas. It took a bit of adjustment to living in Northwest Arkansas but now they are settled into a beautiful brand new house and making friends. Even Simon, their doggie who is a schnoodle (schnauzer and poodle) loves his huge backyard.

We landed in Kansas City and picked up a rental car for the almost four hour trip to Northwest Arkansas. It was fun to experience and see other parts of the county. One of my bucket list items is to visit all 50 states – I am almost half way there. By the time we arrived at their house, it was dark. Spicy turkey chili and corn muffins were ready for us and I could hardly wait to have a glass of wine and catch up.  It was so wonderful to see Dean, Mark and Simon!

{ Dean, Mark, Simon and Me}

We took Simon for a walk almost every day around the expansive neighborhood and admired the beautiful homes. You certainly get more for your money in Arkansas versus the Bay Area. I guess there are different benefits to everywhere in the states, no matter where you live.

We visited the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that is almost complete and ready for its grand opening on November 11th. The museum has its namesake originated from the nearby Crystal Springs and is designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. There will be a series of pavilions nestled around two creek fed ponds, galleries, meeting and classroom spaces and a large hall enclosed by glass. The museum was founded by art-enthusiast and visionary Alice Walton, of the Wal-Mart family. The admission is free and being sponsored by Wal-Mart. It will have a high style restaurant along with a museum store and of course, all of the beautiful art to admire.

{ Crystal Bridges under construction }

{ My Hubby next to the famous Arkansas Razer Back Hog }

One of our highlights of our trip was a dinner out to James at the Mill which is a fine dining experience that also houses a boutique hotel on the property. The service was spot on and the food was quite tasty. I began with a glass of Jordan Chardonnay and an appetizer portion of truffled Mac n Cheese with pepper jack béchamel and tempera portabella mushroom. It was delish and paired nicely with the chardonnay. For my entrée, I had pork tenderloin over barbeque sauce, sautéed spinach and potatoes gratin. The manager was kind enough to surprise us with a bottle of Vina Robles Cabernet Sauvignon since he realized it was our friend’s 16th anniversary. It was extremely thoughtful and not too mention delicious.

On the way home from dinner, we were planning to make s'mores outside by the fire. Unfortunately, mother-nature did not cooperate. We experienced a thunder and lightning storm. It was quite brilliant to watch since we don’t get these very often in the Bay Area. The next night, the weather did cooperate and we had our s'mores. Mark set us up with coat hangers to roast the marshmallows along with the graham crackers and chocolate bars. It was a perfect evening and just wonderful to spend time with our friends Mark and Dean and of course, Simon.

{ The outside fireplace where we enjoyed our delish s'mores }

Thought I would share a kicked up version of smores with all of you. How about dipping your completely assembled s'more in a warm handmade salted caramel sauce? I must say it was over the top delish!

Salted Caramel Sauce

1 ½ C. sugar
¼ C. water
½ t. lemon juice
1 C. heavy cream
2 t. Grey Salt

Stir sugar, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat; boil without stirring until the mixture turns deep amber brown. This should take about 9 minutes. Take off the stove and hold over the sink before pouring the cream mixture into the sugar mixture. It will boil and bubble. Once calmed down, add grey salt and set back on the burner and reduce slightly over medium low heat for about 8 minutes. Chill until thickened. Put into another container and slightly heat when ready to use.


Graham Crackers
Hershey Chocolate Bars

Roast marshmallow over flame until toasty golden brown and melted. Break a graham cracker in a half, add chocolate and melted marshmallow then put other half of graham cracker on top and press gently together. Dip in salted caramel sauce.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dutch Baby Pancake with Brandied Peaches | Secret Recipe Club

Boy how time flies! It just seems like I was celebrating my third month with the Secret Recipe Club yet the fourth month is here already. If you are not familiar with The Secret Recipe Club, it is an online cooking group that each participant is assigned a “secret” blog each month. The secret is that each person doesn’t know who was assigned to their blog and what recipe that person will choose to create. If you are interested in getting involved in this fun group and meeting new food bloggers like yourself, check out the website.

This month I had the pleasure of being assigned Apron Strings. They have a tag line attached to their blog – “Cooking: it’s in our D & A”. I thought this was quite cleaver considering the D&A stands for Donna and Anne who are a reunited birth mother and daughter food blogging team. How cool is that? Donna and Anne have authored a cookbook together as well as creating this blog together.

Additionally Donna has authored several other cookbooks and Anne made it to a finalist in the hit show on Food Television – Ultimate Recipe Showdown. These two ladies certainly share the same D and A. After browsing through their extensive recipes, it was hard to narrow down however my mind was made up when I saw the Dutch Baby Pancake.

You might ask, what is a dutch baby pancake – if you have never experienced this delightful treat, I highly encourage you to make it soon. You might hear it referred to as German Pancake of Dutch Puff. It is very similar to Yorkshire pudding since it is made with eggs, flour and milk. Typically it is served with fresh squeezed lemon, powdered sugar and butter. In addition, it can be served with a fruit topping or syrup. I think it is a personal choice – quite frankly a generous sprinkle of powdered sugar and lemon, I am a happy camper.

A couple weeks ago it was hubby’s birthday. I shared the chocolate espresso cake that I made for him and I wrote in the post about a new breakfast place our neighbors took us out to breakfast to celebrate his birthday. It was called The Original Pancake House and they have locations in most states. I am not the breakfast food enthusiast that my hubby is, but this place impressed me. The selection was expansive, the service was spot on and the food was extremely tasty with large portions.

One of their signature dishes is The Dutch Baby Pancake and of course I had to have it. All I can say is – DIVINE! It was perfectly puffed, crispy yet chewy inside. They served a lemon sauce on the side that was too die for with zest of fresh lemon that just puckered your cheeks. If you have not been there before, check it out. Hope you like it as much as we did.

I have long wanted to make this breakfast delight at home so when I saw it on Donna and Anne’s blog, it was settled – that would be my entry for this month’s Secret Recipe Club. With such a simple recipe, I did not need to mess with perfection. The only variation was that I used salted butter versus unsalted. The cast iron skillet is the key to a perfect Dutch Baby. If you don’t own one, run to the store and pick one up. I actually purchased mine from TJ Maxx for about fifteen dollars.

I picked up a crate of fresh peaches from Trader Joe’s and thought that some spicy brandy peaches would be a perfect accompaniment for this delightful breakfast treat. You could use apples if peaches are not in season. Enjoy and be sure to check out Donna and Anne’s blog!

Dutch Baby Pancake

4 T. butter
4 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup half-and-half

For the topping:

Juice of 1 lemon
Powdered sugar

Spicy Brandied Peaches

1 Cup sliced fresh peaches
1 T. Sugar
1 T. Butter
½ t. Cinnamon
1 T. Brandy

In a medium sauté pan, melt the butter; add the peaches, sugar and cinnamon. Stir gently over medium heat and cook for a couple minutes. Remove the pan from the flame and add the brandy. Let cook off the burner for a minute and then return to heat through. Spoon gently into a small bowl to serve with the pancake.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place a large cast iron skillet in the oven until very hot. Melt the 4 Tbs butter in the skillet. In a blender, whir together the eggs, flour, salt and half-and-half.

Pour the batter into the skillet over the melted butter. Slide the skillet into the oven, and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the puffed pancakes from the oven, transfer them to a plate or shallow bowl, and pour on butter, sprinkle on lemon juice, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Aioli

Often the simplest things in life bring us the most joy. Whether it is your favorite food, reading a page turner novel or taking an afternoon nap – these are the things that bring us comfort and joy.

Lately several friends have been diagnosed with cancer and it really opens your to the meaning of life. It reminds us that we must cherish each and every day, each and every person and don’t sweat the small stuff.

The other night, hubby and I had a simple dinner – leftover turkey loaf and roasted whole Brussels sprouts with sriracha aioli. Note to self – make and post the turkey loaf soon – you will love it and it is even better the next day. I could not believe how simple the preparation for the Brussels sprouts was. Again, the simple things in life are often the best.

As Oprah teaches – live your best life!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Aioli

1 Lb. Brussels Sprouts, trim ends only and leave whole
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350

In a baking dish add the Brussels sprouts and toss with olive oil until well coated and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, so the Brussels are still firm. Serve with dipping sauce as a main dish or appetizer.

Sriracha Aioli

4 T. Mayonnaise
1 to 2 T. Sriracha (add more or less depending how hot you like it)

Mix the ingredients in a small bowl and let sit in refrigerator until ready to use.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nancy's Chopped Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

I have a secret. Okay not so much a secret for the people who really know me. I have a cookbook obsession. I am sure that many of you can relate. They fill over three large bookcases throughout my house. I believe it is the photos that really grab me and then creating variations on the recipes within the pages of the beautiful photographs.

Last week a package was sitting on my desk in my office – it was from Amazon. I just knew that my long awaited cookbook had arrived. Amazon will often tease you with pre-ordering books that are due out in a month or two. This only prolongs the excitement of opening the brand new book and thumbing through the pages upon pages of stunning photos and delicious recipes.

The book I had long anticipated to own had finally arrived - “The Mozza Cookbook” from famed chef, restaurateur and cookbook author, Nancy Silverton. She along with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreno authored the pages of this stunning book with terrific recipes from the famed Los Angeles eatery Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria. The restaurant is co-owned with Nancy by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. From the mozzarella bar at the restaurant to the infamous pizzas and pastas that you swear were overnighted straight from Italy, this is a destination dining location. It is on my bucket list for sure.

Nancy is very well know for her chopped salad that was first introduced to her at La Scala Boutique in the 70’s in Beverly Hills, which is now closed. However, Nancy has taken this salad on into the millennium at Mozza. Strong flavors of oregano is the key ingredient in this tasty and satisfying salad.

I encourage you to make the dressing a day prior, so the flavors develop and the dressing will envelop every surface of the salad’s ingredients. I used a mason jar for easy mixing – just simply shake.  I know that if you decide to purchase this book, you will not be disappointed and surely will find many foodie treasures you will make for years to come. The photos will amaze you and are mouthwatering. Enjoy!

Nancy’s Chopped Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette


Half of a small red onion (halved through the core)
1 small head iceberg lettuce
1 medium head radicchio
1 pint small sweet cherry tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt
1 1⁄2 cups garbanzo beans
4 ounces aged provolone, sliced 1⁄8-inch thick and cut into 1⁄4-inch-wide strips
4 ounces Genoa salami, sliced 1⁄8-inch thick and cut into 1⁄4-inch-wide strips
5 peperoncini, stems cut off and discarded, thinly sliced (about 1⁄4 cup)
1⁄2 cup oregano vinaigrette
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon, plus more to taste

Oregano vinaigrette

2 1⁄2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
2 garlic cloves, 1 smashed and 1 grated or minced
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 1⁄2 cups extra-virgin olive oil


To prepare the salad:

Separate the layers of the onion, stack two or three layers on top of one another, and slice them lengthwise 1/16-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining onion layers. Place the onion slices in a small bowl of ice water and set them aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients for the salad. Drain the onion and pat dry with paper towels before adding them to the salad.

Cut the iceberg in half through the core. Remove and discard the outer leaves from the head and remove and discard the core. Separate the lettuce leaves, stack two or three leaves on top of one another, and slice them lengthwise 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining leaves and thinly slice the radicchio in the same way.

Cut the tomatoes in half, season them with salt, and toss gently to distribute the salt.

Combine the lettuce, radicchio, tomatoes, garbanzo, provolone, salami, peperoncini, and onion slices in a large, wide bowl. Season with salt and toss to thoroughly combine the ingredients. Drizzle 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette and squeeze the lemon juice over the salad, then toss gently to coat the salad with the dressing. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, lemon juice or vinaigrette if desired. Pile the salad on a large platter or divide it among individual plates, piling it like a mountain. Sprinkle the dried oregano on top and serve.

To make the oregano vinaigrette:

Combine the vinegar, oregano, lemon juice, smashed garlic, grated garlic, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients. Set the vinaigrette aside to rest for 5 minutes to marinate the oregano. Add the olive oil in a slow, thin stream, whisking constantly to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice, if desired. Use the vinaigrette or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate it for up to three days. Bring the vinaigrette to room temperature, whisk to recombine the ingredients, and taste again for seasoning before using. Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chocolate Espresso Cake

It was my hubby’s birthday recently. He absolutely loves his birthday. In fact, he calls it the official start to the holiday season – that is how much he loves his birthday. We have the official countdown: two days prior to the actual day is “birthday eve eve” then one day prior is “birthday eve”, the day of his birthday is the kick off to the holiday season and the day after his birthday is a “sad day” since the festivities are over.

My goal was to make it a fun day of celebration. Our neighbors extended an invitation to take my hubby and I out to breakfast on his birthday. It was a relatively new breakfast place in town. They had my absolutely favorite breakfast item on the menu - the dutch baby pancake. It was perfectly cooked with that Yorkshire pudding texture with a tender inside and crispy outside. It came with this tart lemon syrup sauce that was too die for. We headed out later to our favorite wine and tapas bar downtown where we each enjoyed a flight of wine along with tasty bites that ranged from mac & cheese with truffle oil to mini duck confit steamed buns.

We dined the night prior at Lark Creek with my parents and enjoyed a 2005 Petite Syrah from Grgich Hills that we brought to the restaurant. The waiter offered dessert, but I had already prepared a special birthday cake at home.

I first had this delectable delight at Jean’s House from Lemon and Anchovies. I was blown away by the subtle combination of the coffee and chocolate. It is such a beautiful pairing that brings out the best of each ingredient. The cake was super moist and just full of stunning flavor profiles.

I wanted to make a special birthday cake for my hubby and the cake at Jean’s house was the first thing that came to mind. When she let me know it was an Ina Garten cake, I knew that it would be easy to make and taste divine. I made a couple slight changes to the recipe by taking out the egg yolk in the frosting and adding more vanilla and confectioner sugar: otherwise Ina does beautiful recipes that are simple and divine.

Chocolate Espresso Cake


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans and line them with parchment paper; butter the paper. Dust the pans with flour, tapping out any excess.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the flour with the sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt at low speed. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the oil, eggs and vanilla. Slowly beat the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated, then slowly beat in the hot coffee until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a rack to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.


7 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (used 50% cacao)
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate at high power in 30-second intervals, stirring, until most of the chocolate is melted. Stir until completely melted, then set aside to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, scraping down the side of the bowl. At low speed, slowly beat in the confectioners' sugar, about 1 minute. In a small bowl, dissolve the instant coffee in 2 teaspoons of hot water. Slowly beat the coffee and the cooled chocolate into the butter mixture until just combined.

Set a cake layer on a plate with the flat side facing up. Evenly spread one-third of the frosting over the cake to the edge. Top with the second cake layer, rounded side up. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and side of the cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

{ Pan Fried Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha, Honey and Lime }

The Vanderbilt – it has such an sense of high society attached to the name. Yet, the Vanderbilt that I am speaking of is located in Brooklyn New York. I have yet to go there, but certainly would enjoy it based upon my research. It is known for their “nibbles” and sitting at the bar – my kind of place. One of their signature nibbles is the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha, Lime and Honey.

I first spied this delight when visiting Liren’s blog and her post on Brussels Sprout Crostini with Pancetta and Red Caramelized Onions. She highlighted the siriracha infused Brussels and I knew I had to make these ASAP. Sure enough, Tuesday night rolled around and my pan was heated on high with Brussels sizzling.

Each delectable bite was both - sweet, spicy and tart all at the same time. My palate was singing with delight with brilliant tasty sensations. If you love Brussels like I do, these will be a repeatable dish around your house.

I remember being a kid and my mom served Brussels sprouts to us – I really liked them. It was quite a different story for others. I was actually fascinated by them, in that they looked like little heads of lettuce or cabbage. It wasn’t until I was an adult that my love for these tiny veggies grew.

Over the last several years, they have become more popular and people are being extremely creative with the preparations. From adding bacon to seasoning with truffle oil to the recipe I am sharing below. I altered the proportions slightly but overall such a simple delish recipe – why mess with perfection.

Pan Fried Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha, Honey and Lime
Serves 2 to 4

1 lb. Brussels sprouts
1 T Sriracha (or to taste)
3 T. Honey
1 T. Lime juice
Olive oil for frying

Trim the stem end of the sprouts and cut each one in half. Keep any loose leaves.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sriracha, honey and lime juice. Taste and add more sriracha or honey if you like. Set aside.

Use a large skillet and add a generous amount of olive oil (about ¼ cup) and heat on medium high. Pan fry the Brussels until deep golden brown and season with salt during cooking process. Transfer to a medium bowl and toss with the sriracha, honey and lime sauce. Taste for any additional seasoning and serve.