Thursday, May 31, 2012

Roasted Golden Beet Salad

What is your relationship with beets? Love them or leave them? I happen to absolutely love them. Since being a kid, I have had adoration for these root vegetables. Whether they are purple, yellow or the Chioggia version – simply doesn’t matter.

Speaking of being a kid, I recently browsed through an old photo album that had a photo of me when I was probably 3 or 4 years old, eating purple beets. My face and hands were covered in purple dye and I am sure it took days to completely rid myself of the purple stain.

Luckily my hubby adores beets as much as I do. Last weekend we took a jaunt over to the farmers market that is near our house and saw these beautiful golden beets just calling out to us. Hubby mentioned that I had not made the beet salad in a while, so the beets were quickly added to my ever growing bag of goodies. Not too mention, the bag was getting quite heavy by now. Smile.

This salad is simple yet the flavors are fresh, vibrant and delicious. You can certainly use fresh dill and I would suggest using less since the flavor is so strong. Adding other components to this salad could really kick it up. Perhaps crumbled blue cheese, cherry tomatoes or toasted pecans - what would you add?

Roasted Golden Beet Salad

3 Large Golden Beets
Olive oil
Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Wash each beet and trim the leaves. Cut in half lengthwise and lay flat the 6 halves onto a baking dish with sides. Drizzle with olive oil and lift each beet to coat the bottom of each. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until tender. Let cool and then with a knife and your fingers remove the skin and any other portions you desire. Cut into small dices and let completely cool before adding the vinaigrette. Add some finely cut fresh chives to the salad.

Spring Onion and Dill Vinaigrette

3 T. Olive Oil
2 T. Champagne Vinegar
1 T. Sugar
2 t. Dried dill
2 T. Spring onion, minced

Add all ingredients to a mason jar and shake well. Let sit for one hour to develop the flavors before tossing with the beets.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Salted Caramel Corn Cookies

The long holiday weekend is quickly coming to a close. With the true meaning of this Memorial Day weekend being focused on the soldiers who have fallen and our thoughts going out to their families for their loss and the sacrifice they made for all of us. Sometimes, with little time to slow down and really think about things, holiday weekends like this are gentle reminders to enjoy each moment, each interaction and each person who is in our lives that we care about.

Wrapping up our weekend, hubby and I spent a few hours washing our cars. They are normally black in color, but a grey hue was more present. The wheels were blackened versus a semi shiny silver color. The weather was perfect and just a hint of wind. With a soapy bucket and all of our car wash accruements by our side, we began the task at hand.

During our little adventure, hubby took a minute to enjoy one of my Salted Caramel Corn Cookies that I made a few hours earlier. He let me know that this had to be one of the BEST cookies I have ever made. Knowing that he is my ultimate critic, this was huge praise. I now know I have a true winner on my hands.

The caramel corn recipe is an adaptation from Martha Stewart and the basic cookie recipe is from my great Aunt Midge. She would add sugar pop cereal to the recipe where I thought to give it an refresh with adding the salted caramel corn. The end result is a crispy, well seasoned cookie that will leave you wanting a second and probably a third one. Beware – they are addictive – in a good way.

Salted Caramel Corn

1 C. (2 sticks) butter
3/4 C. White corn kernels
3 T. canola oil
2 C. packed light-brown sugar
1/2 C. Corn syrup
2 t. Vanilla
2 t. Grey salt
1/2 t. Baking soda

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Use large non-stick baking pans with sides. Place corn kernels and oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; cover. Once kernels begin to pop, shake pot frequently; when popping slows to about 3 seconds between pops, remove from heat and uncover. Transfer to a large bowl.

Cook sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until it reaches 255 degrees. Use a candy thermometer to check to see when you reach 255 degrees.

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla, grey salt, and baking soda. Place popcorn in a very large bowl and pour caramel over popcorn; toss to coat. Divide between baking sheets. Bake, stirring occasionally, 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool.

Note:  You will have enough caramel corn to enjoy beyond what is inside the cookies.

Salted Caramel Corn Cookies

½ C. Shortening, butter flavored
1 C. Sugar
1 Egg
1 T. Vanilla
½ t. Salt
½ t. Baking Soda
1 ¼ C. Flour
3 C. Caramel Corn

Using a stand mixer, cream together the shortening, sugar and salt. Add the egg and whip quickly. Then add the vanilla and baking soda until incorporated. Slowly add the flour until well mixed. Remove the mixing bowl and gently mix in the caramel corn with a spoon being careful to over mix or break up the caramel corn. Stir until all caramel corn is covered.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Using a cookie or ice cream scoop, make one inch balls and be careful to leave plenty of room between, since they will spread. Cook for 9 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for one minute, then remove with a spatula onto a wire rack to cool.

Friday, May 25, 2012

French Cheese Straws + Peju Wines

A girls day in Napa was just what the doctor ordered last weekend. We planned it rather last minute, but sometimes that is simply the best. I jumped on OpenTable and booked an 11:30 reservation for Morimoto Napa. Since it takes only about an hour to get up to Napa from where we live, we left early to stop by Peju Province Winery for my friend Helen to pick up her favorite wine – provence. { BTW - Morimoto was a simply divine lunch experience - highly encourage you to go }

{ Elizabeth and Helen in front of the tower at Peju }

I have been to a good number of wineries in the valley, but Peju had for some reason been missed. Glad that we made a stop there – the wines were delicious. It was a bit early for wine, but as the romans say – when in Rome do what the romans do. The Provence along with the Cabernet Sauvignon were stands outs for me. So much that with the generous case discount, I purchased 5 Provence and 7 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Provence is a blend of red and white wines. I know you are thinking rose or white zinfandel – no way. It is actually made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and French Colombard. It is meant to be served cold and especially decadent with BBQ and spicy foods. It has fragrant notes of vivid cherry and raspberry along with floral notes and a slight cranberry essence. The fruit is fresh and ripe and quite a pleasant finish – perfect for summer.

Peju’s Cabernet Sauvignon is actually sourced from two estate vineyards and aged for 18 months in new french and american oak barrels. The oak aging comes through and is very pleasing on the palate and nose. It has aromatic summer berries, cherry and cocoa powder. Behind the scenes in the back of your nose, you can sense a ting of caramel. The berry flavors come through along with rich bing cherries and a slight toffee undertone that is quite memorable on the palate.

One of the distinguishing architectural delights is the tower. It is a 50 foot tower that was designed by Calvin Straub and each wine label embodies the picturesque tower. It resembles a French Provincial tower. With the French influence, I thought these French Cheese Straws from Martha Stewart would be a perfect pairing for this delightful wine.  They are crunchy, savory, cheesy and spicy - just perfect with a glass of wine.

French Cheese Straws
(slightly adapted from Martha Stewart)

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound store-bought puff pastry
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Line two baking sheets with nonstick baking mats; set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together both cheeses and cayenne pepper and black pepper. Sprinkle cheese mixture on work surface; top with puff pastry and roll out to a 10-by-13-inch rectangle, pressing dough into cheese to adhere. Sprinkle top of dough with poppy seeds, if desired; press gently with a rolling pin to adhere.

Using a pastry cutter, trim sides to form a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Cut puff pastry into 3/4-inch-thick strips. Grab each end of a dough strip with your fingers and carefully stretch and twist strip in opposite directions; arrange 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Transfer to refrigerator to chill, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Transfer baking sheets to oven and bake until golden and puffed, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tomato Jam + Appetizer Ideas | Secret Recipe Club

Time flies. It seems like I was just writing my last post for The Secret Recipe Club. You don’t know what The Secret Recipe Club is? Let me share a quick synopsis with you. Each month you are given a link to a member’s blog and you browse through the “secret” blog to determine which wonderful recipe you are going to create. The club is divided into four groups with each one having a “reveal” day during the month. Once the reveal takes place you are also able to see who received your blog and what recipe they chose. It is a lot of fun - I encourage you to check it out.

For May, I received Cathy’s blog Wives with Knives. Cathy lives in the beautiful Willamette Valley in Oregon for her entire life. Her love of food came from growing up on a farm on the Columbia River and learning how to cook from her grandmother. Her recipes come from family favorites along with local farmers’ market vendors and other spectacular collected recipes.

Cathy herself is a vendor at the local farmers market and sells roasted and glazed nuts, granola and trail mixes. She went on a trip to Germany years ago and fell in love with the Christmas markets along with the smell of roasting almonds. She loved it so much, that she purchased two of the roasting machines and sells her delights at the farmers market in Beaverton, Oregon. { Note to self: need to make a trip to Beaverton and stop by Cathy’s booth at the market.}

Cathy has an incredible selection of tasty recipes, that it was quite difficult to select which one I wanted to make. I have bookmarked many to create in the future. Like Cathy, I am a self professed condiment junkie. I am drawn to them at small grocery stores, farmers markets, specialty food stores and anywhere else I may spy them. So when I saw that she made Tomato Jam – I was sold on that recipe.

I used the tomato jam to make Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.  Simply cut a baguette on the diagonal and buttered each side.  Added a bit of jarlsburg swiss cheese and a generous spoonful of the tomato jam.  Grilled until golden brown on each side.  Absolutely delish!

Making jam is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy creating unique flavor profiles and then sharing with friends and family. Tomato Jam has been on my list for several years to make, but just have not found the perfect recipe – until NOW. This jam is rich, spicy, hearty, unique and tasty. This might just be the ultimate tomato jam.

Another quick appetizer - Tomato Jam and Chevre Costini.  Simply slice a sourdough baguette thinly and brush each side with a bit of olive oil.  Lay onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes until golden brown on each side. Best to rotate at the 5 minute mark to brown evenly.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Spread chevre (goat cheese) on top of each one and add a generous spoonful of the delicious tomato jam to the top of each one.  Perfect with a glass of sauvignon blanc.

Tomato Jam

1 ½ lb.Ripe Roma tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 T. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 T. minced crystallized ginger
1 t. ground cumin
¼ t. ground cinnamon
¼ t. ground cloves
1 t. salt
½ t. red pepper flakes, or to taste

To peel the tomatoes easily, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Cut a slight X on the top of each tomato. Place into the boiling water for about one minute and remove to cool for a few minutes. Once they are cool enough to handle, the skin will peel away easily. Continue to dice into small pieces and remove any end portions of where the tomato was attached to the vine.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of a thick jam, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Watch carefully so the jam doesn’t burn. Taste and adjust seasonings, then cool and refrigerate. Will keep, refrigerated, for two weeks. Makes approximately one cup of jam.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fava Bean Salad with Honey Garlic Vinaigrette

Quite often I get a craving for the crunch and taste of really wonderful vegetables. With spring here, I am taking advantage of the abundance of fava beans at the farmers market and whole foods. I adore their bright green color and delicate flavors. Despite being a labor intensive process with their preparation, they are worth every minute of manual labor.

I ordered a Benriner Japanese Mandolin several months ago from One Kings Lane that were highly recommended by Alice Waters. If Alice says it is one of the best, I am not going to question her. While at the farmers market, I picked up the most amazing radishes and spring onions. Knowing that these would be perfect sliced incredibly thin, I dug up the newly purchased mandolin and extracted it from the box.

I adore the green color and the simplicity of use. After sifting through the instructions, I was off to slicing my market finds. It was nearing near lunchtime and my veggie craving was at the top of the charts. One of my childhood favorites are garbonzo beans or others may name them chickpeas. They are satisfying and heartily.

My salad was now being formed for a quick lunch. Now onto the dressing – I like a lighter dressing that is flavorful. I enjoy making dressings in a mason jar and with a simple few shakes, letting it sit for a bit, I now have a perfect dressing. This vinaigrette has now become a staple for me and I just vary the ingredients each time to mix it up.

Now is the time to enjoy the bounties that spring offers and I hope this salad cures any veggie craving you might have!

Spring Salad

2 C. Fava Beans, shelled*
1 Can, Garbonzo beans, rinsed
6 Radishes, thinly sliced
1 large spring onion, thinly sliced
Parmesan Cheese

Add the ingredients to a large bowl and dress with the amount you desire and toss. You can double the ingredients for the salad to serve four. This recipe is perfect for two.


½ shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T. honey
1 t. Dijon mustard
3 T. Rice wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Pour and place all ingredients into a mason jar and shake well. Let the dressing sit at least one hour for flavors to develop.

*Fava Bean Preparation:

To shuck the beans, simply break off one end of the pod and use your thumb to pry it open. Pop the beans into a bowl and make a pile of pods. The easiest way to peel the beans is to parboil them first. To do so, bring a large stockpot filled with water to a rolling boil. Add the beans and let them cook until they turn bright green. About one minute. Then remove the pan from the stove and drain the beans into a colander. Run the beans under cold water for a minute or so to stop them from cooking any further.

Next, you need to remove the skin surrounding each bean. Use a knife or your fingernail to make a slit in the seam at one end of the bean and then squeeze the bean out. It should pop right out of the skin. Once you've peeled the beans, they are ready to use in any recipe.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fava Bean and Parmesan Crostini

Hump day. It means we are winding down for the weekend. I have a good friend on Facebook who every Wednesday, he posts a wonderful reminder that today is Wednesday and the weekend is now not far away.

Weekends for me often include good food, wine and time with my hubby and friends. Last weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day with my family which was simply wonderful. I have four darling nephews who could not be more different – each one has their own unique personality, which makes them special.

They range from 2 years old to 11 years old. The 2 and 4 year old are simply happy with playing with cars and trains, while the 9 and 11 year old could not be happier playing on the iphone or ipad.

Just a little back story on the 11 year old – at Easter I showed him the Draw Something game on my iphone with him and he quickly became obsessed. While out at brunch for Easter, I sat next to the 11 year old and left to get my plate of brunch goodies, while he stayed behind. When I returned, I noticed that he was playing on my iphone, which had been in my handbag. I quickly realized that he is one smart little guy and he remember me inputting my code and unlocked the phone while I was selecting brunch items.

When I asked him, he denied it, but quickly realized that I was not going to back down and he confessed. The code has since been changed. Over Mother’s Day, I heard – “Auntie Lisa, can I play Draw Something?”

Since hubby and I only have one 4 legged furry child, I am the type of Auntie who wants to play and have fun. Of course, I said to the 11 year old – “Sure you can play a few Draw Something games”. He is actually a very talented little artist and I think he learned from the Easter incident to ask first. Smart kid. { Smile }

This appetizer is one I have been making for years and is simply divine. I actually learned this recipe, which has been slightly altered over the years, from Tori Ritchie at her cooking class I took at Tante Marie in San Francisco. It has been a favorite ever since. Enjoy!

Fava Bean and Parmesan Crostini

2 Cup Shelled Fava Beans
2/3 Cup Parmesan Cheese, small cubes
¼ Cup Olive Oil
Zest of one lemon
2 Tablespoons Fresh Thyme Leaves (not dried)
Salt and Pepper
Chiabatta or Sour Dough Crostini (Grilled)

In a large bowl, add the prepared fava beans, parmesan cheese, lemon zest, thyme leaves and olive oil. Mix well and add salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings to your desired level of taste.

Slice approximately 12 to 16 slices of your choice of bread and brush with olive oil. Grill until crispy on each side. Use an outdoor or indoor grill. Rotate the bread often to prevent burning however the charred flavor is quite delicious.

Top each grilled Crostini with the fava bean mixture and enjoy!

Fava Bean Preparation:

To shuck the beans, simply break off one end of the pod and use your thumb to pry it open. Pop the beans into a bowl and make a pile of pods. The easiest way to peel the beans is to parboil them first. To do so, bring a large stockpot filled with water to a rolling boil. Add the beans and let them cook until they turn bright green. About one minute. Then remove the pan from the stove and drain the beans into a colander. Run the beans under cold water for a minute or so to stop them from cooking any further.

Next, you need to remove the skin surrounding each bean. Use a knife or your fingernail to make a slit in the seam at one end of the bean and then squeeze the bean out. It should pop right out of the skin. Once you've peeled the beans, they are ready to use in any recipe.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dark Chocolate Chip Espresso Cookies

I am so happy that it is Saturday. It was an elongated week with lots of challenges to solve at work. Nothing is impossible, but as they say – challenges make you stronger. With the lengthy week, I was worn down and did not feel 100% last night, so unfortunately missed attending a special event. Staying home last night was just what the doctor ordered.

Today is starting off just perfect. The weather is perfect outside. The birds are singing. I am feeling close to 100% today. Hubby and I had a leisurely morning with coffee and an hour of the weekend edition of Good Morning America. All is good. Now I am relaxing by writing this blog post for these delicious cookies I made last weekend.

They are dark chocolate chip espresso cookies that are extremely rich and supremely satisfying that chocolate craving. I prefer a chewy cookie and a bit on the “cookie dough” side of things, so I experimented and 10 to 12 minutes is perfect if you like this texture. Feel free to cook up to 16 minutes for a bit firmer cookie.

I adapted this recipe from My Baking Addiction who found a copycat recipe for the original inspiration from the Levain Bakery. The Levain Bakery is situated in New York City’s Upper West Side. It is loved by loyal customers and tourists alike, not too mention a good steady stream of folks purchasing online. All goods are baked onsite and with fresh ingredients – the old fashioned way. The bakery was founded in 1994 by Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes who began a discussion about creating the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie. They have been successful in their endevours with opening other locations in New York.

Here is how they describe the Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie:

“A chocolate lover’s dream, made with dark chocolate cocoa and semi-sweet chips. These chewy, rich cookies are a chocolate lover’s dream. Prepared with an extra dark French cocoa and semisweet chocolate chips, they come out of the oven with molten layers of chocolate swirling together. As beautiful to look at as they are to eat, they’re guaranteed to satiate even a chocoholic’s craving. Wicked self-indulgence best describes these intense chocolate cookies. Dark semisweet cookie is jammed with semisweet chocolate pieces; dense, moist, and dangerously rich, a perfect gift for the ultimate chocolate fanatic or as a gift for yourself. “

Dark Chocolate Chip Espresso Cookies

Makes about 18 cookies

2 sticks cold and cubed unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup good quality dark cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon Espresso powder
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugar until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well-incorporated, then beat in cocoa powder and espresso powder.

Mix in flour, salt and baking powder until just combined. Gently fold in remaining ingredients.

Transfer dough to clean work surface and gently mix dough by hand to ensure even distribution of ingredients. I used a 1 inch cookie scooper and put two balls together and rolled until one large ball. Laid on cookie sheet and slightly flattened.

Bake in the preheated oven 10 to 12 minutes depending on how gooey you like the middles and longer is crispier.

Let cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spring Pea Soup with Lemon Crème Fraiche

Spring is in the air. Summer is not far away. Oh how I love this time of year.

We have little birds growing up before our very eyes in a nest in our backyard. The mama bird flies in and out to bring them nourishment and keeps them warm at night. I am sure it will not be long until they are all grown up and leave the nest for the big world outside the tree.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. With summer approaching, it is time to extract the ice cream maker from the back of the pantry and put it into action. Not sure why I don’t make more ice cream during the winter months – note to self – need to change for this year.

My first real job was working at the local ice cream parlor when I turned 16. It was an old fashioned ice cream store with table service and a candy counter. All of the ice cream was made locally, full of fresh cream and delish-is-ness. We had a full menu and I still remember how to make 99% of the sundaes listed. The menu included everything from thick milkshakes, old fashioned ice cream sodas to the traditional hot fudge sundaes.

Life is full of lessons and if you take a moment to reflect what you have learned thus far, you will discover that lessons can happen daily. From my days at the ice cream parlor, I learned the art of organization, customer satisfaction and teamwork.

The art of organization came from taking an order from the local little league where it would be 20 different orders, all with customized requests and being able to deliver in a timely manner, so as not to have all melted sundaes. Customer satisfaction came from enhancing the ability to really listen, understand and solve any issues as they arose. Finally teamwork was learned. You are thrown into working with individuals you would have never probably interacted with and need to accomplish the company’s mission, vision and goals.

To this day, I have fond memories of my ice cream scooping days and take those valuable lessons into the present. In addition, I still have a love for really good ice cream. I think the simple flavors that are enhanced by a unique ingredient often create a special flavor, such as the Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream I am sharing with you today. I took the basic vanilla ice cream recipe from David Lebovitz’s book – The Perfect Scoop and created my own strawberry balsamic infusion mixture to add to it. The result – a delightful sweet taste of summer!

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

About 1 quart

Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup whole milk
A pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Strawberry Balsamic Mixture

2 Cups Strawberries, diced small
2 T. Sugar
1 T. Balsamic Vinegar

In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the strawberries, sugar and balsamic vinegar. Stir mixture and heat for about 3 to 5 minutes until strawberries are soft. Set aside to cool.

Making Ice Cream

Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, and then add the bean pod to the milk. Cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.

In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks. Re-warm the milk then gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

Strain the custard into the heavy cream and add the vanilla extract. Stir in the cooled strawberry balsamic mixture and refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Preferably overnight.

Remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.