Sunday, July 29, 2012

Warm Citrus Olives with Rosemary and Garlic

Don’t weekends go way too fast? After a long week at work, I completely look forward to Friday night. It is the beginning of the weekend. In addition we have our Friday night tradition of wine and appetizers. Our Friday night this week was filled with friends and great cheeses.

Our dear friend brought a very special bottle of wine to celebrate Friday night. It was a bottle I have never had before and now has become a new favorite. Seven Stones Winery sits east of St. Helena. Ronald and Anita Wornick didn’t take long after they purchased 45 acres for their family estate, to take on the exceptional task of creating some of the best wine. They only produce 400 cases, and dedicate to a single varietal – Cabernet Sauvignon.

As quoted on their website – “Seven Stones is comprised of just under three acres of vines and a winery on the Wornick family estate in St. Helena. From small, meticulously cultivated vineyard parcels, we produce a limited amount of some of Napa Valley’s most sought after Cabernet Sauvignon.”

We enjoyed a 2006 Seven Stones Cabernet Sauvignon that was aromatic with a seamless integration of acidity, tannin, alcohol and wood. The color was a rich purple and had luxurious notes of crème de cassis along with hints of cedar, espresso and blueberries. Touches of herb, sage and mineral can be detected. It has a wonderful finish on the back of the palate. We decanted for about an hour prior to enjoying this elegant, sophisticated and balanced wine.

With today being Sunday, I thought that hubby and I can wind down the weekend where we began with a bit of wine and these warm citrus olives. I have some wonderful breadsticks from Panevino that are simply divine. Our favorite are the original sea salt, but the others flavors are equally as tasty. Cheers to a great week ahead!

Warm Citrus Olives with Rosemary and Garlic

2 C. Stuffed Queen Sevillano Olives
Peel of one orange, Julienne slices
Peel of one lemon, Julienne slices
Peel of one lime, Julienne slices
5 Sprigs of fresh rosemary, peeled off twig
Salt and pepper to taste
8 Garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/2 C. Olive oil

Drain the olives and place into a large skillet. Add the oil, orange and lemon peel, rosemary leaves and salt and pepper. Heat on medium heat for about 5 minutes - then add the garlic. Heat for an additional minute until warmed. Serve in a pretty bowl and enjoy!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pissaladiere: Caramelized Onion Tart | Secret Recipe Club

It is amazing how quickly time passes us by. It is hard to believe that is has already been a month since the last Secret Recipe Club reveal. Have you heard of the Secret Recipe Club? If not, it is a group of talented food bloggers who are paired together once a month with another blogger. The catch is, neither food blogger knows who they are paired with until the secret reveal. If you are interested in learning more, please visit the Secret Recipe Club and learn what all the fun is all about.

This month I was paired with Jane from Jane’s Adventures in Dinner – further adventures in eating and parenting. Jane wears many hats from being a mom, wife, sister, daughter, teacher, reader, cook, enthusiastic environmentalist, recovering overspender and proud Canadian. Jane and I share a common love for Pinterest. She highlights weekly her “Pin’inspiration”. After browsing through her many lovely recipes, one stood out for me the post entitled – “A taste of France”.

It featured the Pissaladiere, which is something that has been on my recipe to make bucket list for sometime. The fancy word translates to Caramelized Onion Tart in my world. No time like the present to make this southern france delight. It is a pizza like dish made in Southern France, around Nice, Marseilles, Toulon and the Var District. This dish is also made in the Italian region of Liguria. The classic preparation is caramelized, almost pureed onions, olives, garlic and anchovies. In France it is made without cheese where in Italy it has mozzarella added. Today it is often served as an appetizer, back in the day it was traditionally cooked and sold early each morning.

It seems like yesterday that hubby and enjoyed our honeymoon almost 14 years ago; we took a two week vacation to six european countries with France as one on the list. We visited Nice along with Saint Paul de Vence. We especially adored Saint Paul de Vence which is a commune in the Alpes Maritimes department in the southeastern part of France. It is one of the oldest medieval towns and well known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries. I especially loved the authentic croque monsieur that was sold at various stops along the cobblestone streets. One store we visited had an open air window at the back of the store that looked down at the town of Nice – it was breathtaking.

With anchovies not being a favorite on my list, along with a desire to always put my own twist on a recipe, I have created my version of the Pissaladiere. The ease of frozen puff pastry along with salty kalamata olives and fresh figs adorn the caramelized onion base of my version. A light sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves finished the appetizer. I cut the puff pastry into six even portions but you could also divide into more portions and make bite sized appetizers. Dividing into six makes a perfect starter to a meal.

Thank you Jane for the inspiration and sparking beautiful memories of my honeymoon. I need to break out the photo album of our honeymoon, especially since we celebrate 14 years in September.

Pissaladiere: Caramelized Onion Tart

Makes 6 small tarts

2 Large white onions, thinly sliced
4 T. Butter
2 t. sugar
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg yolk
12 Kalamata olives, sliced thin
5 fresh figs, quartered
Fresh thyme

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium. Add the thinly sliced onions and toss until all onions are covered with the butter. Add the sugar and mix. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring frequently until fully caramelized and sweet. Let cool.

Lightly roll the defrosted puff pasty on a board that is lightly floured to prevent sticking. Cut into 6 even rectangles. Lightly run a sharp knife around each square of puff pastry about ½ inch inside the rectangle but don’t go all the way to the bottom. This will help to form the border for your tart.

Break the egg into a small bowl and beat until all pale yellow. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat each of the puff pastry rectangles all over.

Divide the onion mixture among the six rectangles and spread to the ½ inch mark that you cut previously. Add about a 2 of the slicedolives and 3 quarters of the fig to the top of the onion mixture. Sprinkle a bit of the fresh thyme leaves.

In a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees, cook the tarts for 15 to 20 minutes or until the sides are puffy and golden brown. Remove and sprinkle a bit of fresh thyme leaves for flavor and color.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad + Reflections

We are smack dab in the middle of summer in the Bay Area. The heat index has been relatively mild overall. This weekend’s heat directory is expected to rise, especially in particular parts of the Bay Area. In contrast to the majority of country, we are enjoying comfortable weather.

Speaking of other parts of the country, I wanted to pause to pay my respects to the victims and their family and friends who were affected by the Colorado Movie Theatre tragedy. I can’t come close to understanding what these folks are feeling at this moment. What I can do is send positive thoughts and prayers to all who were affected and wish for peace to be in their hearts during this extremely difficult time. Time will begin to heal the emotional and physical wounds; until then we simply send many prayers and positive thoughts.

Events like this, stir various emotions for all of us. It reminds me how fragile life really is along with how we need to value each minute, hour, day, week, month and year we have on this earth. You hear the phrase – “Don’t sweat the small stuff” - how true is this statement? Now is the time to reflect on all of the gifts we have been given. Whether it is your family, friends, career or health – they are gifts.

Appreciate each.
Cherish each one.
Relish each one everyday.

I appreciate the simple things in life. My work week is often filled with a variety of meetings, leading people, managing processes, handling stress, ensuring profitability, problem solving, conflict resolution, coaching, mentoring, laughing, having fun at work and planning. I appreciate my career. When the workday is complete, I am fulfilled. I subscribe to the philosophy of living a balanced life.

Balance for me comes in the form of spending time with my hubby, family and friends. Many other activities bring balance for me including: exercising, cooking, blogging, traveling, dining out, watching my favorite television shows, reading, napping, learning and so much more. Simply reading a magazine and taking a nap in between or creating a simple new dish that is packed full of flavor are on my list of the simple delights in life. My Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad is one of my simple pleasures. Enjoy!

What are the simple things in life that make you happy?

Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad

6 Ears White Corn
2 C. Small tomatoes
1 C. Green peppers, sliced
1 C. Basil leaves, slightly packed then chiffonade
¼ C. Olive oil
2 T. Sherry vinegar

Remove the husks and silks from the corn. Wash gently and brush slightly with olive oil. Add the grill and cook until each side has distinct grill marks. About 4 to 5 minutes. Let cool and then using a sharp knife, remove the kernels and place into a large bowl.

Add the tomatoes. Take each green pepper and cut into quarters along with removing the seeds. Slice thin and add to the corn. Chiffonade the basil leaves and add to the salad. Toss gently. Add the olive oil and sherry vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, then toss and taste for seasoning. Adjust by adding more salt, pepper, olive oil or sherry vinegar to your taste levels.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Farro, Date and Asparagus Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

The days of the simple iceberg salad are gone. Don’t hear me wrong, I still love an iceberg salad with handmade blue cheese dressing, tomatoes and crumbled bacon. I should clarify by saying that the evolution of salads is far more creative. From the bright caprese salad to quinoa to shaved vegetable salads – the variations today are imaginative, inspiring and flavorful.

A couple weeks ago my friend Helen and I ventured to the San Francisco Ferry Building on a Saturday to reap the rewards of the farmers market and then headed back on the bay bridge towards home. A detour was in order to Berkeley’s fourth street shopping mecca. Along with shopping, several wonderful restaurants adorn the streets. We had often passed Zut and never ventured in. Our stop was quite fruitful. We enjoyed their Farro salad that was adorned with dates, golden raisins, asparagus and walnuts.

It was such a tasty delight that I knew I needed to replicate at home. Here is my version of this lovely salad from Zut!....... Enjoy!!

Farro, Date and Asparagus Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

Makes 4 servings

1 ½ C. Farro
10 Madjool Dates, pitted and chopped
2/3 C. Raisins
16 Asparagus stalks, trimmed, grilled and cut into one inch pieces
1 C. Italian flat leaf parsley, rough chop leaves only
1 C. Walnuts, rough chop
2 T. Mint leaves, minced
1 T. Lemon zest

Heat 4 cups of water in a medium pot and add the farro to the water when boiling. Add a couple teaspoons of salt. Cook on medium  to medium high heat for about 10 minutes with the lid off until farro is tender. Drain in a colander. Set aside to cool.

Take the asparagus stalks and trim the bottom about an inch. Brush with a bit of olive oil and grill for about 2 to 3 minutes and remove from the heat. Let cool and cut into one inch pieces.

In a large bowl, add all of the above ingredients and toss. Add the vinaigrette and toss together. Taste for the addition of salt and pepper. Garnish with additional mint and lemon zest if desired. Serve.

Mint Vinaigrette

¾ C. Olive oil
3 T. Mint leaves, minced
3 T. Lemon juice
½ t. Salt
1 t. Pepper

Add all of the above ingredients to a mason jar and shake well. Let stand for 30 minutes for the flavors to develop.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

{ Pancakes with Fig Balsamic Jam + Food Blogger "Jamming" Party Highlights }

What is one of your passions in life? Mine is food. I have an adoration for the blending of flavors, the various preparations and the joy it brings to people when they enjoy something truly wonderful. A few years ago I checked off the bucket list – making jam along with learning the process of canning.

One of the first jams I made was Fig Balsamic Jam. It was truly one of those mouth dropping flavors and quickly became a staple in my house along with a favorite gift to give to friends. It has the perfect balance of sweet, acid and texture. Works well with both sweet and savory dishes. It is quite simple to prepare and the result is just magnificent.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of getting together with five other food bloggers to make jam. It was not only the opportunity to see fellow food bloggers, but friends that I have made through this blogging journey. It was a day filled with great food, discussions about food, trying new flavors of jam and just generally having a great day.

Azmina of Lawyers Loves Lunch was kind enough to host the event at her lovely home. She set the tone of the day by her cleaver evite titled – “It’s Jammer Time” – which is sung to the tune of “It’s Hammer Time”. We coordinated through email what each person would bring. Gina of SPCookieQueen has access to the best fruit in the Bay Area and brought 30 pounds of nectarines and Santa Rosa plums along with her jam making prowess. Stephanie of The Baking Barrister brought lots of luscious lemons and sugar. Jean of Lemons and Anchovies shared the most flavorful blueberries along with assorted canning accoutrements. Liren of Kitchen Confidante brought beautiful canning jars along with other goodies. I brought a ton of fresh figs, large canning pot and other pots.

{ Left to right: Gina, Stephanie, Azmina, Me, Jean and Liren }

It would not be a foodie event if there wasn’t an abundance of delicious foods. No one disappointed. From divine salads, to supreme cookies and tasty appetizers – we did not lack for an array of sublime delights. We started the fig jam before diving into the snacks to get one jam going. Typically it takes me over an hour to simply trim and cut the figs – what a terrific treat to have so many hands working at once. This task was a snap!

Along with the Fig Balsamic Jam, we made Vanilla Santa Rosa Plum Jam, Blueberry and Nectarine Jam and Strawberry Lemon Jam.  It was great to have so many hands to help with the endevour.  We went home with lots of jam to enjoy for months ahead and will have fond memories of making it with everyone.

I shared my knowledge of jam by making with the Fig Balsamic Jam along with general things I have learned through the years. Gina is a master jam maker and I learned some new tricks from her. Love the art of continual learning. Here are a few tips from Gina and myself for mastering the art of jam making:
  • A small batch of jam is 3 pounds of fruit with 19 ounces of sugar and 2 ounces of lemon juice. Use a scale to measure the ingredients. This will yield four to five 8 ounce jars.
  • The key to great jam making is the perfect balance of sugar to acid. As the jam begins to thicken, taste to see if acid slightly takes the sweetness of the sugar away. You should still taste sugar but it will be balanced by the acid.
  • An alternative to sterilizing your jars is to do this in the oven. Wash the jars first, then place onto a baking sheet with sides and heat at 225 degrees for 15 minutes. Sterilize the lid with the rubber portion in boiling hot water for 10 minutes.
  • The basic equipment for canning includes: large pot, rack to hold jars, tongs to remove hot jars and towels to cool the jams on the counter.
  • After several batches of jam, using our senses of smell, taste, feel and taste will be your greatest tools  to making perfect jam.

Since it was Sunday, hubby loves a big breakfast and specifically asked for pancakes. He simply likes butter on top of his and that is it. I liked a bit of maple syrup on top. Today, I was inspired by our day of jam making, that I topped it with a large dollop of Fig Balsamic Jam and sliced fresh figs. Simply supreme. All in all, it was a wonderful day with wonderful friends and wonderful food. I have included my recipe for Fig Balsamic Jam. Enjoy!

Fig Balsamic Jam

Makes 12 to 14 pint jars

6 Pounds Fresh Figs – remove stem and cut into quarters
4 ½ Cups Sugar
1 ½ Cups Balsamic Vinegar

Use a large pot. Add all of the above ingredients to the large pot. Stir well to combine all of the ingredients. Place on the stove on high heat and bring to a boil. Once really bubbling lower the heat to medium. The sugar will begin to thicken and the figs will soften. Once the figs are soft, about 45 minutes to one hour. Simple test by pressing the spoon against a fig to the side of the pot. If soft and the liquid is thicker, then it is probably ready.

Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 to 15 minutes. Using an emulsion blender, puree the jam. If you like it with chunks, then process less.

To process the jam, add to each sterilized jar and wipe around each rim to remove any of the jam that spilled. Put the lid and rim on each jar and tighten, but not too tight. Add each jar to the boiling water of the large pot with tongs and use a canning rack. Process for 10 minutes. Using tongs remove each jar and place onto a towel on the counter. This will prevent the jar from cracking if it hits a cold hard surface. Let cool.

You will hear the lids popping. The popping means the jar is sealed. After an hour, check each jar to ensure you can’t press and hear a popping sound. If you do, it means it did not seal. Simply re-process to obtain a tight seal.


1 C. Flour
1 T. Sugar
2 t. Baking powder
1/4 t. Salt
1 Egg
1 C. Milk
2 T. Vegetable oil

In a mixing bowl add all of the dry ingredients.  In another bowl add the egg and beat, then add the milk and vegetable oil and mix together.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix.  The batter will be lumpy.

Spoon about a 1/4 cup of batter onto a greased hot skillet.  Cook till pancakes are golden brown, turning to cook second side when pancakes have a bubbly surface and slightly dry edges.  Makes 8 to 10 standard size or 36 dollar size pancakes.  Simply double or triple the recipe if you need to make more.

*Pancake recipe from Better Homes and Garden - New Cook Book

Please enjoy these other posts from the "Jamming" bloggers! (Will update the others as they become available)
Jean from Lemon and Anchovies
Azmina from Lawyer Loves Lunch

Thursday, July 5, 2012

{ Fava and Cranberry Beans with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Garlic and Sage }

Inspiration: a process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Don’t know about you, but when I am inspired, I get a shot of adrenalin throughout my body. My mind begins to run circles with different, unique and creative thoughts that begin to flow. At that moment, I need a notepad to jot all of the ideas down or simply type into my iphone. As long as I can remember, I have always been an intensely visual and creative person who is inspired by beautiful things. That is part of the reason I started this blog several years ago – an outlet for my inspirations and creativity.

With a quick stop at Whole Foods last week – upon entering the front door by the produce section, there they were – fresh cranberry beans. Instantly my mind flashed to a recent post by my friend Jean from Lemon and Anchovies. Jean featured fresh cranberry beans and created a dish that was so simple yet filled with beautiful flavors. She shared her recipe for Sautéed Fresh Cranberry Beans with Sage and Garlic. Perhaps these little beauties were not in my purview until now, since I had only imagined them in the dried form all packaged neatly and sold on shelves.

The stars had aligned with my stop to Whole Foods. With fresh Cranberry Beans in hand and a wonderful recipe from Jean, my mind was inspired and the creative juices began to emanate. The idea of fragrant fresh sage and garlic being married together with aromatic olive oil just made my senses dance. Since I had fresh Fava Beans and Applewood Smoked Bacon, I thought these would be wonderful additions to this lovely dish. The outcome was simply sublime. Thank you Jean for the recipe and inspiration!

Fava and Cranberry Beans with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Garlic and Sage

Serves 4

1 ½ C. Fresh Cranberry Beans, shelled
1 ½ C. Fava Beans, cooked and shelled
8 Garlic cloves, minced
12 Fresh sage leaves, rough chop
4 Slices Apple wood Smoked Bacon, cooked crisp and rough chop
¼ C. Olive oil (add more if desired)
Salt and pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt to the water. Cook the beans until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain.

In a skillet, cook the apple wood smoked bacon until crispy, let cool and rough chop. In another skillet, add the olive oil and heat over medium. Add the garlic and sage and cook for one minute. Reduce the heat to prevent burning. Add the five and cooked cranberry beans. Let heat through for 2 to 4 minutes. Add the cooked bacon and toss together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summer Tomato Crostini with Reduced Balsamic

I treasure my weekends. When foodie related activities are woven in, that makes me smile. Yesterday my friend Helen and I headed over early to San Francisco to explore the farmers market at the Ferry Building. Our goal is to visit at least monthly, however with busy schedules, that objective is not always met. Perhaps it was the Giants game or just perfect weather, the market was jam packed with food lovers.

We parked at our secret location; that by the way may not be so secret anymore. The lot was jam packed. Luckily the attendant knows us and we just slipped in as the last person to be able to park there. We made a quick note to leave even earlier next time to assure parking. Our first stop was at the bakery that travels down from Healdsburg for the day and we picked up savory scones, donut muffins and fruit tarts. We were on a mission for shishado or padron peppers. One stand had them already packed in small plastic containers and very expensive, so the hunt continued until we ventured to the front of the building and found pardons at a reasonable price along with the ability to pick your own.

My reusable bag quickly filled with nettles, Thai basil, lemon cucumbers, padron peppers, fava beans, small heirloom tomatoes and a few other goodies. The day was still young, so off we jaunted to Fourth Street in Berkeley for a bit of shopping and eating. We landed at ZUT! which offers Mediterranean dishes using local ingredients along with hand crafted pizzas, flatbreads and focaccia. The bar celebrates locally crafted spirits, a vast selection of aperitifs and a wonderful wine list featuring Italian, French and Spanish varietals along with small lot California wines.

I began with a glass of Favorita from the Piedmont region in Italy. Quite light, crispy with a bit of effervesce – just perfect for a Saturday afternoon lunch. We shared the Farro salad with Madjool dates, golden raisins, asparagus, walnuts, mint, and parsley, lemon and olive oil. This was a simply amazing salad that I must duplicate in the near future. Next we shared the Roasted beet salad with avocado, navel orange, grapefruit, mint, feta and olive oil. A lovely salad that celebrates California and the bounty we have here. We could not resist the French fries with garlic aioli and ketchup. It was a light and lovely meal that was just the perfect – highly recommend. Oh by the way, we had the Beignets with handmade Blueberry Jam – simply sublime.

Our last foodie stop for the day was in Berkeley at Amphora Nueva – Berkeley Olive Oil Works. Amphora Nueva sits down the hill from the famous Claremont Hotel. Trust me, once you taste the olive oils here, your palate will change forever. You can taste each and every olive oil they sell which range from mild to spicy to peppery and from all regions around the world. They feature the largest, freshest selection of single varietal extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars on tap. The staff is extremely helpful and makes you feel super welcome. If you get a chance, stop by for a delightful olive oil tasting experience.

After tasting many, I decided on the Spanish Hojiblanca which is well balanced yet complex with a very fruity nose and palate. It is grassy, with hints of Fuji apple and strawberry. My second one I chose was New Harvest Chilean Coratina which has an Italian style and is notes of bitter, green apple and a peppery finish. Thought I would round out my selections with aged balsamic vinegar and I chose the Blenheim Apricot White Balsamic. It is both sweet and tart with hints of apricot and honeysuckle. Mixing this with a 50/50 ratio of olive oil and the balsamic vinegar would make a perfect dressing over Arugula with a bit of shaved parmesan cheese.

With all of my goodies yesterday, I thought I would make a simple Summer Tomato Crostini for a snack. I used my new olive oil in the ricotta mixture along with Thai basil and the heirloom tomatoes. A bit of reduced balsamic drizzled over the top added the extra wow factor to these delightful crostini’s.

Summer Tomato Crostini with Reduced Balsamic

Makes approximately 14

Sourdough baguette – 14 slices
1 C. Ricotta cheese
3 T. Chives, diced small
3 T. Basil, chiffonade
3 T. Olive oil
2 Garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
1 C. Small heirloom tomatoes cut in half
½ C. Balsamic vinegar

Brush each slice of baguette with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake or broil until golden brown. Let cool.

In a bowl add the ricotta, chives, basil, olive oil and garlic and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and taste for additional seasonings.

In a small sauté pan add the balsamic vinegar and heat over medium high heat. Be sure to watch carefully. You will want it to resemble a syrup consistency. Let cool. If it becomes too stiff, add a bit more balsamic vinegar to loosen it up.

To assemble, add about one tablespoon of the ricotta mixture to the top of the toasted baguette slices. Top with about 5 to 6 of the tomato halves. Drizzle with a bit of the reduced balsamic and adorn with basil leaves or chiffonade basil. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and serve.