Champagne & Oysters + Solvang, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Los Angeles Get Away

oysters

Our great eating adventure 2010 began at home with champagne and oysters. Oh champagne and oysters! Is anything more celebratory? I suppose you have to like oysters. Champagne is a given. The last time Ben and I had champagne and oysters together was at Balthazar, the morning after we wed, nearly five years ago now … ahhh memories.

Anywho, last Friday, we commenced a little long weekend getaway with a dozen and a half oysters, a bottle of Piper Hiedsieck, a wedge of Tomme de Savoie, Marcona almonds, a beet salad, and grilled flatbread topped with grapes and a wee too much cheese. It was a fun little spread.

The following morning we headed north to Solvang stopping first in Los Angeles for dinner at Ganda, a Thai restaurant reviewed in the March issue of Saveur by James Oseland, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Apparently Oseland, on a recent visit to LA, went to Ganda five days in a row for the pla duk pad ped, or crispy catfish — catfish dry-braised in galangal, Kaffir lime leaves, and an abundance of spices. He declared the dish his favorite thing to eat in LA. Strong endorsement, si or no? Well, while I can’t see myself going to Ganda five days in a row for pla duk pad ped, the dish was delicious, and Ganda didn’t disappoint. I could eat that food all night long.

Now, where I can see myself going five nights in a row is a little place called Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, CA. Full of Life Flatbread is not dissimilar to my favorite restaurants, Bar, in New Haven, CT, and Pizzeria Mozza, in Los Angeles. What can I say? Ben and I basically fell in love over a thin-crust white clam pizza, and when a restautant offers this very pie, never are we happier. But FLF offered more than just a delectable white clam, bacon and leek flatbread. Our appetizer — a grilled asparagus and chanterelle salad tossed with prosciutto, wilted frisée and Parmigiano — couldn’t have been more delicious; neither could the wine, a local Grenache, nor our sausage, onion and cheese flatbread. Yum yum yum.

You’ve all seen Sideways, right? Well, if you visit these parts, you can do the whole Sideways tour if you’d like, stopping at the various vineyards, tasting rooms, restaurants, attractions, etc. The only Sideways spot we came close to experiencing was the Los Olivos Cafe — where Miles drunk dials his ex-wife Vicki — located in the heart of Los Olivos, an adorable town with a great lunch spot — Panino — and some great tasting rooms and shops.

Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Buellton — I can’t say enough about the whole Santa Ynez valley. It is a beautiful part of the country. Ben and I have visited the area three times now and discover new must-try spots every time. If you are looking for a wine country get away but can’t fit Napa into your budget, consider this area. It is a blast. Apparently there’s a dude ranch in the area as well. We’ll have to scope that out next time.

By the way, we stayed in a great hotel, Hotel Corque. A little photo tour of our long weekend continues below:

cheese plate

oyster

flatbread

beet salad

Piper

In Los Angeles, we stayed at the Buky House, a wonderful Bed and Breakfast located in the La Brea (maybe?) neighborhood of the city.

buky house

ben and bebeka

Downtown Solvang. We had fun cruising the streets. So did the bebeka.

Solvang

There are a ton of bakeries in Solvang each offering many Danish specialties. We particularly enjoyed the kringle and cheese danish at Olsen’s on Mission Drive.

Solvang

For lunch both days we picked up sandwiches, once at The Chef’s Touch in Solvang and once at Panino in Los Olivos. There are several nice patches of grass in Solvang as well as countless vineyards with rolling hills perfect for picnicking.

bebeka

ben and bebeka

Full of Life Flatbread in Los Olivos. Amazing restaurant. Only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A must-try spot if you are vising this area.

Full of Life Flatbread

Aebleskivers. Another must-try spot is Arne’s Famous Aebleskivers in Solvang. Arne’s is a dine-in restaurant but you can also purchase aebleskivers — pancake like donut holes — drizzled with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar right from a walk-up window on the street. They are delicious.

aliskiver

ableskivers

Los Olivos. A beautiful little town with great tasting rooms, shops and restaurants.

Los Olivos

Panino

Tasting Room

Bridlewood Winery. Bridlewood is located in Santa Ynez. It is beautiful — a perfect spot to picnic. They only have one rule: If you picnic on their grounds, you have to drink their wine. Fair enough. We bought a bottle of Grenache to enjoy with our sandwiches from Panino. It was a beautiful afternoon.

Vineyard

Vineyard

root 246. On Monday evening, we ate at root 246. We kept it simple, splitting a caesar salad topped with a poached egg to start and sharing the burger and a Mexican flatbread as our entrées. Everything was fabulous. root 246 is a must-try spot as well.

root 246

Finally, we headed home, stopping in Los Angeles to meet a dear friend for lunch at Cafe Midi and dessert — some amazing cookies — at Milk. Isn’t Harry adorable?

Harry

Salt Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese & Toasted Walnuts

Uncooked Beets

I’m not sure why I’m so excited about this salad. There is nothing novel about the combination. Beets, goat cheese, walnuts. They’ve been married to death. Like tomatoes and basil and mozzarella. Like prosciutto and figs and blue cheese. Like smoked salmon and cucumber and crème fraîche.

But, have you ever salt roasted beets? Don’t freak out. The beets don’t taste overly salty. In fact, they don’t taste salty at all. They taste delicious. And sweet. And perfectly firm.

I was inspired to blog about this method after reading an article in the March issue of Saveur — all about where to eat in Los Angeles — which offered a recipe for Wolfgang Puck’s beet and goat cheese napoleons, an appetizer served at Spago. A short article in the back of the issue addresses how to cook beets so that their color doesn’t run. To preserve color and nutrients, Saveur recommends placing beets (5 to 6) in a 9×13-inch baking dish, pouring in an inch of water, covering the dish tightly with foil, and roasting until a knife easily slides into the beets, about 1 1/2 hours. I used to cook beets just as prescribed.

That was until I learned the method of the chef (former chef) from the cafe where I used to work. He salt roasted his beets with rosemary and thyme, and his beet salad, served with a goat cheese-topped crostini, Blue Heron Farm greens and a lemon emulsion, was one of his signature dishes. When I tried his cooking method at home, I discovered something remarkable: not an ounce of liquid (well maybe a teensy tiny bit) leeches from the beets. If preserving color and nutrients is the goal, then salt roasting is the way to cook beets.

Beets’ affinity for orange makes the dressing for this salad, adapted from Saveur’s, particularly nice: reduced orange juice, orange zest, shallots, rice vinegar, chives and olive oil. I like to spoon this dressing over the salad rather than toss it with the ingredients — beets turn a tossed salad into one big red mess.

Think you don’t like beets? Try salt roasting them. As a final endorsement I’d like to share that my husband never liked beets until he tasted them cooked this way. The first time I salt roasted beets and served them to him, he asked me what was different and why he liked them. Had I not been so impressed by his discerning palette, I might have been offended — I never knew he didn’t like beets. And it turns out he didn’t. I just didn’t know how to cook them. 

Salt Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese & Walnuts

Beets

Dressing Ingredients

Salt Roasted Beet Salad

Serves: However Many You’d Like

Roasted Beets:
beets, washed, greens removed
kosher salt
a few sprigs thyme and rosemary, optional*

Dressing:
3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (store bought works fine, too)
1 T. rice vinegar or balsamic (I used rice vinegar)
zest of an orange
1 small shallot, minced
chives, minced
kosher salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

goat cheese
walnuts, toasted**
greens, optional***

* Not sure if these herbs impart any flavor, but if you have them on hand, use them
** I toast nuts in a dry skillet until fragrant and slightly darker in color
*** This salad is delicious with or without the addition of greens

Roast the beets. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Pour kosher salt into a shallow roasting vessel to make a thin layer. (See photo to help estimate how much.) Place beets on salt bed. If using herbs, nestle a few sprigs among the beets. Cover pan tightly with foil and place in oven for about one hour, depending on how many and how big your beets are. Note: To test for doneness, remove foil and slip a pairing knife into one of the beets. If the knife meets little resistance, they are done. When beets are done, remove foil covering and let them cool. When cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and discard. Cut beets into nice chunks.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Place the orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat and reduce to 1/3 cup. Let cool. Add vinegar, zest, shallots, chives and a pinch of salt. Let sit for 15 minutes. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.

To assemble salad, arrange greens on a platter. Top with goat cheese, walnuts and cut beets. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Spoon dressing over salad. As you plate the salad, the ingredients will all toss nicely together. Note: This method of serving is merely for looks — beets are so messy that if you toss everything together, it becomes one big red mess. If you don’t care about looks, go ahead, toss everything together. If you try spooning the dressing over the salad, however, and tossing lightly as you serve it, I think you’ll find it both tastes and looks wonderful.

In Honor of Top Chef: Padma’s Salad with Rancho Gordo Beans & Bäco Flatbreads

Padma's Salad
Early last Wednesday morning, before the premier of Top Chef Las Vegas, Padma Lakshmi made a delectable looking salad on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. She chopped up fresh spinach, mixed it with chickpeas, bell peppers and chives, and tossed it all together with olive oil and lemon juice. Served with fresh pita bread, says Padma, this “chickpea tapas” makes a wonderful whole meal.

I couldn’t agree more. Upon seeing this segment, I felt inspired to cook up some of the Ranch Gordo beans I had picked up in San Francisco earlier this month. I have been wanting to incorporate more beans — such a healthy, affordable food, filled with protein — into my diet, and this salad has proven to be a great way to do so. I made this salad two nights in a row last week with my Alubia Criollo beans and various other goodies from my CSA — arugula, cherry tomatoes, chives, shaved zucchini and chopped orange.

Beans, I am learning, are really not so much trouble to make from scratch. I soaked mine in the morning and cooked them according to the instructions on the Rancho Gordo website. I’m not a bean connoisseur, but I like RG’s description of these small white beans: Alubios have a “rich, buttery flavor and creamy, over-the-moon texture.”

I ate my salad with these Bäco flatbreads, the recipe for which I spotted in the LA Times in June 2008 and have had tacked to my fridge ever since. Bäco flatbreads, made with Greek yogurt seasoned with ginger, garlic and lime juice, are similar to the pita breads used for gyros — the pocketless pita breads. They are delicious! The recipe yields more yogurt sauce than needed, but the sauce makes a nice accompaniment to both the flatbreads and the salad. A nice little combination eaten taco style is a bäco flatbread, spread with some yogurt sauce and topped with some salad. So yummy!

Note: I omitted the lavendar and added some chives.

Bacao Flatbread

Bacao cooking in pan

salad ingredients

Here is Padma’s basic recipe. Please note, however, that Padma prefers making this with raw spinach or arugula — I used raw, chopped arugula — as opposed to cooked, which is what her recipe says to do. Also, any vegetables — tomatoes, zucchini, corn, mushrooms, etc. — can be added to this salad. A nice variety of vegetables makes for a nice variety of flavors and textures. I also used a little balsamic vinegar in addition to the fresh lemon juice.

Here is the Bäco Flatbreads recipe. I added some chives to the yogurt mixture and served some of the remaining yogurt sauce with the flatbread and the salad — this is such a yummy meal!

Alice Waters’ Baked Goat Cheese Salad & Morning Song Farm CSA

salad3

It’s hard to find fault in a warm round of herb-marinated, breadcrumb-encrusted goat cheese. But seriously my friends, the goat cheese was not the star of this salad. See those greens up there? The tender green leaves and the baby red romaine? These greens, gosh, I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious they are. They come from Morning Song Farm, the north San Diego County farm whose CSA I just joined.

I have been meaning to join a CSA since arriving in California over a year ago now, and when I learned that the new wine and cheese bar in town was a drop off spot for CSAs, I jumped. I signed up on a Monday via email and two days later my box of freshly harvested produce arrived at The Cellar. I can’t tell you how easy it was. Before I knew it, the above pictured greens were in my hands along with a boodle of other treats — lemons, avocados, grapefruits, Swiss Chard, beets, strawberries, herbs and the list goes on and on. (You can see almost everything that arrived in weeks one and two in the pictures below.)

Most of you know what a CSA is, but just in case, there is a quick summary about halfway down the page here. And if you still haven’t signed up for one, check out LocalHarvest.org. With 2,500 participating farms listed in their database, Local Harvest has the most comprehensive directory of CSAs in the country.

When I saw these greens, I thought of Alice Waters’ recipe for baked goat cheese salad, which Cookstr recently highlighted in their Mother’s Day newsletter. It’s a wonderful recipe. I followed it mostly, substituting toasted panko bread crumbs for the freshly made ones, a shortcut I’m sure Alice Waters would look down on, but alas, it worked.

Anyway, hooray!, it’s Wednesday, which means it’s CSA pickup day. I hate to be sentimental, but one of the best parts about belonging to a CSA is actually belonging. I so look forward to walking up to The Cellar every Wednesday and saying hi to Dawn and Zoe, who have become my west coast incarnations of Sarah Cain, Emily Teel and Joanna Pernick, my friends at the Fair Food Farmstand whom I dearly miss. It is so much fun peaking inside the box each week, inspecting the goods, and sharing a strawberry or a few strands of the most fragrant and delectable mint you have ever seen. Seriously, it is a real joy.

csa3

csa1

week2_csa

csa week 2

Red Lettuce

lettuce

babygreens

Baked Goat Cheese Salad
Source: Alice Waters and Cookstr
Serves: 4

For the goat cheese rounds:
½ pound fresh goat cheese (one 2 by 5-inch log)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1 small sprig rosemary, chopped
½ sour baguette, preferably a day old (I used panko bread crumbs)

salad greens, however many you need

For the dressing:

Finely dice a shallot or two. Place in a bowl and cover with the juice of one orange. Add 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and a pinch of sugar. Let macerate for 15 minutes, if you have the time, or less, if you don’t. Whisk in about 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. It’s ok if the dressing is not totally emulsified. Just give it a stir when you’re ready to use it and make sure to scoop out some of those delicious shallots over your greens when you’re ready to toss them.

1. Carefully slice the goat cheese into 8 disks about ½ inch thick. Pour the olive oil over the disks and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Cover and store in a cool place for several hours or up to a week.

2. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Cut the baguette in half lengthwise and dry out in the oven for 20 minutes or so, until dry and lightly colored. Grate into fine crumbs on a box grater or in a food processor. The crumbs can be made in advance and stored until needed. (Note: Using panko makes this process much simpler)

3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. (Note: Cookstr says a toaster oven works well.) Remove the cheese disks from the marinade and roll them in the bread crumbs, coating them thoroughly. Place the cheeses on a small baking sheet and bake for about 6 minutes, until the cheese is warm.

4. Toss the lettuces lightly with the vinaigrette and arrange on salad plates. With a metal spatula, carefully place 2 disks of the baked cheese on each plate and serve.

Zuni Cafe’s Fried Eggs In Bread Crumbs

eggs in bread crumbs

I wish I were a hen;
I wouldn’t have much to do.
I’d lay an egg most every day,
And Sundays sometimes two.

— German nursery rhyme

Just a little jingle I thought you all might like. I found it in the book I’m reading: My Fine Feathered Friend by William Grimes.

Anyway, I’ve found my latest favorite way to eat eggs: fried in bread crumbs. This recipe comes from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which devotes a whole chapter (a very small chapter) to egg recipes. At Zuni, these eggs appear on the Sunday lunch menu accompanied by house-made sausage or bacon (sounds amazing), but Zuni’s chef-owner Judy Rodgers likes these crunchy eggs for dinner with a salad of  bitter greens. I couldn’t agree more: A simple salad of arugula, oranges, Parmigiano Reggiano, maybe an avocado and a couple pieces of toast couldn’t make a better dinner. 

These eggs are so yummy. Just after the eggs finish cooking, they get sprinkled with a little vinegar — don’t omit this step — which adds the perfect amount of bite. Even I refrain from dousing these eggs with Tabasco. It would ruin them.

I’ve made these eggs two nights in a row now and very likely will bring the streak to three tomorrow. When you plan on making them, be sure to read the whole recipe through — there’s nothing tricky about it, but it’s not your standard-issue recipe either.

Just some last thoughts, too: If you can find some farmers’ market greens and eggs, this meal will be all the more delicious. I feel like a brat saying this given that I live in sunny southern California, but if you do a little research, regardless of where you are, you’d be surprised what you might find. I remember buying delicious greens, even in the colder months, from various sources at the Fair Food Farmstand in Philadelphia.

For you locals, pictured below are Don’s eggs, Blue Heron Farm’s arugula, and Eli’s Ranch oranges, all of which can be found at the Sunday San Clemente farmers’ market.

egg on toast with arugula and oranges

The pan. The Zuni cookbook recommends using a 6- to 8- inch French steel omelet pan. I’ve used my 9.5-inch carbon steel crepe pan that I bought at Fante’s in Philadelphia. A nonstick pan will work just as well.

French steel omelet pan

Fresh, soft bread crumbs:

freshbreadcrumbs

Bread crumbs “oversaturated” with olive oil, as instructed by The Zuni Cafe Cookbook:

crumbs saturated with olive oil

To clean your skillet, dump some kosher salt into it and place it over medium heat. Let the salt heat up and begin to change color. Turn off the heat.

salt
Next, take a paper towel and rub in a circular motion, scraping off all the bits of food from the bottom of the pan. Wipe out all of the contents and discard. Drizzle pan with a tiny bit of olive oil and rub the surface to coat.

pan with salt

Fried Eggs in Bread Crumbs
From The Zuni Café Cookbook
Serves 1

Notes from the cookbook: This recipe has been written for one because these eggs are easy to make and fun to eat when you are alone. If you are making them for more than one person, use a larger pan and cook the eggs in batches of four to six. Also, see the note at the bottom of the recipe regarding toasting the bread crumbs in an oven.

1 loaf of white, bakery-style bread such as a peasant loaf or ciabatta or a boule
(This is to make the fresh, soft bread crumbs. You only need 3 tablespoons of crumbs, so you’ll likely need just a portion of this loaf.)
kosher salt
about 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
a few fresh thyme or marjoram leaves (optional)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon red wine, white balsamic, balsamic or sherry vinegar

1. To make the bread crumbs: Carve the crusts off a loaf of white bakery-style bread such as a peasant loaf or ciabatta or boule. (Discard the crusts or add to your compost pile.) Break the tender insides of the loaf into large chunks, then grind in the food processor. Don’t grind too finely or evenly.

2. Sprinkle the crumbs with a pinch of salt, then drizzle with enough of the oil to oversaturate them.

3. Place the crumbs in a 6- to 8-inch French steel omelet pan or nonstick skillet and set over medium heat. (If you like your fried eggs over easy, reserve some of the oiled raw crumbs to spinkle on top of the eggs just before you flip them.) Let the crumbs warm through, then swirl the pan as they begin drying out — which will make a quiet staticky sound. Stir once or twice.

4. The moment you see the crumbs begin to color, quickly add the remaining oil (or a dab of butter) and the herbs if using, then crack the eggs directly onto the crumbs. Cook the eggs as you like. (So far, I’ve made them two ways: without flipping them, but by finishing them in a heated oven so the tops cooked through a tiny bit; and flipping them, but cooking the eggs only briefly on the second side — the yolks were still runny.)

5. Slide eggs onto a warm plate ( … right), then add the vinegar to the hot pan. Swirl the pan once, then pour the drops of sizzling vinegar over the eggs.

Note: If you are preparing the eggs for more than a few people, it is a little easier to toast the seasoned bread crumbs in advance in a 425ºF oven instead of in the skillet. In that case, toast them to the color of weak tea. Then scatter them in the skillet, add the remaining olive oil and proceed as described above.

Serve these eggs with a simple salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette (recipe below):

How to make a simple vinaigrette

I learned to make salad dressing from Chez Panisse Vegetables. This simple recipe calls for macerating shallots in lemon juice and vinegar for about 20 minutes. Once you master this simple recipe, you can alter it as you wish — use orange juice, lime juice, or any number of vinegars in place of the lemon juice and champagne vinegar. I often add sugar to taste as well.

Champagne-Shallot Vinaigrette
Source: Chez Panisse Vegetables

2 small shallots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white balsamic vinegar*
2 tablespoons lemon juice*
¼ teaspoon sugar (optional — this is not in the original recipe, but I always like a pinch of sugar)
½ teapoon kosher salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper

*As I noted above, you can substitute what you wish for the vinegar or citrus. You also could use only vinegar or only citrus juice. Use whatever you have on hand or whatever you like best.

To make the dressing, place the shallots in a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and salt. Stir and let the mixture sit for 20 to 30 minutes. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly to make an emulsified dressing. Set aside.

Here are some other dressings you might like:

Tarragon-Shallot Vinaigrette
Orange & White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Orange Dressing, Especially nice with Roasted Beets
Sally Schneider’s Blue Cheese Dressing
Tartine’s Caesar Dressing

Prosciutto, Endive & Shaved Manchego Salad with Tarragon-Shallot Vinaigrette

pears

I am anxious to share with you my aunt Marcy’s blueberry muffins, my mother’s rosemary shortbread and my stepfather’s glug — a high-octane, blood-warming winter punch. Those treats are going to have to wait, however. My eyes and mind need a break from the recent holiday indulgences.

And so today, I have only two things to share with you: a yummy yummy salad and a favorite vinaigrette.

Several weeks ago, a friend and I dined at Froma on Melrose, an LA cheese-, charcuterie-, and wine shop, where I ordered the Jamón Serrano salad, a combination of salty ham, bitter endive, and sweet pear, topped with Manchego cheese and drizzled with chestnut honey. What arrived at the table — essentially a platter of meat topped with a sprinkling of endive — was entirely different than what I envisioned but entirely enjoyed that evening. With my side of sliced baguette, I assembled mini open-faced sandwiches, which, along with a glass of red wine, made for a delectable dinner. 

I’ve since made the salad several times, omitting the honey, which Froma overdid a tad and which is unnecessary anyway — the pears add a perfect amount of sweetness. A tarragon-shallot vinaigrette, I find makes the perfect dressing for this simple salad.

Happy New Year everyone!

endive

pears-overhead

salad-overhead1

sliced-pears

manchego   

tarragon-dressing

Tarragon-Shallot Vinaigrette
Yield = ½ cup (Make a double batch — It’s so nice to have on hand.)   

4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons tarragon, finely chopped

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallots, mustard, sugar and salt. Let mixture macerate for 20 minutes. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly until emulsified. Stir in tarragon. Taste, add more salt and pepper if necessary. Set aside.

Prosciutto, Pear & Endive Salad
Serves as many as you like
prosciutto
endive, sliced into thin wedges
arugula
pear, sliced thinly
Manchego cheese, shaved
bread, toasted or grilled

Arrange prosciutto on a large platter. (Alternatively, arrange a few slices on individual plates.) Toss endive, arugula and pear with the tarragon-shallot vinaigrette. Top prosciutto with salad. Top salad with slices of cheese. Serve with warm bread. 

openface-overhead

Honey-Buttermilk Dinner Rolls, Poached Pears & Aunt Vicki’s Salad Dressing

rolls

Oh my. I cannot believe Thanksgiving is almost here. I know everyone is very busy preparing, so let’s keep this short and sweet, k?

If you get anything out of this post, I hope it is this:

1. A yummy recipe for buttermilk dinner rolls, perfect for the holiday table and a great way to use up a left-over buttermilk.

2. A delectable salad dressing made with reduced orange juice and white balsamic vinegar. This dressing is particularly nice with wintery salads — endive, shaved fennel, apple, pear, oranges, etc.

3. And a simple method to poach pears. Ready? Combine equal parts white wine and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add peeled, halved and cored pears. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Check with a paring knife — pears should be tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat, remove pears and let cool to room temperature. Save the poaching liquid for another use. Slice pears further if desired. (Note: I used ½ cup of wine and sugar for about 4 pears. Nice additions to the poaching liquid include orange zest, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean.)

OK, let’s get started.

First, these rolls. Looking for a way to use up a half-quart of buttermilk, I stumbled upon this recipe for honey buttermilk bread. I simplified the recipe a little bit, divided the dough into two big portions and made dinner rolls with half the batch and a regular-sized loaf with the other. The dinner rolls I devoured in about a day-and-a-half. The loaf, I sliced and froze and have been toasting every morning, spreading with apple butter, cinnamon and sugar, and sometimes just butter and salt. So yummy.

Here’s the recipe:

Honey-Buttermilk Dinner Rolls
Adapted from the blog, The Baking Sheet
Yield = Two Dozen 2-oz. rolls or one large loaf

2½ teaspoons active dry yeast (rapid rise is fine, too)
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature is ideal — bread will take longer to rise if you use cold buttermilk
2 T. honey
4½ cups flour, plus more while kneading or mixing
2 tsp. kosher salt

1. Combine yeast, buttermilk and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer or, if kneading by hand, in a large bowl. Whisk until combined. It’s OK if a few lumps of yeast remain.

2. Add the flour and salt to the mixer and with the dough hook attachment (or your hands), knead for about 10 minutes or until dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl and forming a mass around the hook. I probably added an additional cup of flour.

3. After 10 minutes, transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for about two hours (may take as long as four) or until doubled in bulk. Longer is fine, too. Punch down dough, and decide what you are going to make — rolls, loaves, boules, etc. 

If making rolls, begin portioning the bread into about 2-ounce pieces — if you don’t have a digital scale, just use your eye to judge. It is best to cut with a dough scraper or a sharp knife. (Alternatively, cut the dough in half, then divide each half into about 12 equal portions. Err on keeping the rolls smallish.) Round each portion of dough into a ball and place on a parchment-lined (or oiled) baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Let rolls rise for about 40 minutes. Bake rolls for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown — check the bottoms of the rolls because they will brown first.)  

If making a loaf, place dough in a greased loaf pan. Let rise until almost doubled, about 40 minutes. Bake 45 minutes, until loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

endive-salad

I first tasted this salad dressing when Aunt Vicki made a Greek salad for a dinner party this summer. I love its versatility — it is delicious with romaine, endive, baby spinach, arugula, etc. I think it is a perfect dressing for this Thanksgiving salad.

Aunt Vicki’s Salad Dressing
Yield = 1¾ cups

2 cups orange juice
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar, (regular is fine, too)
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped scallions, green part only, cut on the diagonal (optional — I don’t add the scallions because I like to keep a jar of this in my fridge for a long time)

1. In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until it has reduced to ½ cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a medium-sized bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, whisk in the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Transfer to a jar and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before using.

The Best Candied Pecans & A Thanksgiving Day Salad

Thanksgiving SaladSo, you see my vision. It’s nothing earth-shattering. A classic combination, really. But a timeless one, and one I think will be festive for Thanksgiving Day.

So, to execute this salad, all I need to finish tweaking is my recipe for poached pears. The pecans I’ve got down to a science, (for me at least — I’ll explain in a bit); the dressing, made with reduced orange juice, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil, has been tested countless times (Aunt Vicki’s recipe, to be provided next week); the blue cheese (perhaps Stilton or Maytag) and the endive merely need to be purchased. The pears, however, have been giving me a little trouble this past week. I’ve been working with a combination of white wine, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Something is not quite right yet. Any suggestions are welcome.

Now, about these pecans. I’ve been making this recipe for several years now, and I find it produces the crunchiest, most delicious candied pecans. I’m not promising a simple and foolproof recipe, however. It’s the kind of recipe, in fact, that could potentially lead you to swear off my recipes altogether.

The first two-thirds of the recipe is simple: the pecans are blanched for two minutes, then simmered in simple syrup for five minutes. The final third of the process, which calls for deep-frying the pecans, is where problems can arise. I suggest using a deep fryer with a built in thermometer. My deep fryer continues to exist in my kitchen solely for the purpose of making these pecans — it keeps the oil at 375ºF, which is key for this recipe. I tried deep-frying the pecans in a heavy-bottomed pot on my stovetop once, and the process was so frustrating: At first the oil was too hot, then it wasn’t hot enough, and before I had finished frying, I had ruined nearly half the batch.

The key, I’ve learned, is to let the pecans fry for about 3 to 5 minutes — the longer they fry, the crunchier they will be. However, they must be removed from the oil before they burn, and they continue to cook a little bit once they’ve been removed from the oil. It’s a trial-and-error process, but one well worth it in the end. I highly recommend using a deep fryer with a built-in thermometer, but if you are comfortable with stove-top deep frying, by all means go for it.

Candied Pecans

1 lb. raw (unblanched, unsalted) pecans = 4 heaping cups
1 1/3 cups sugar

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add pecans and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.

2. Combine the sugar with 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes, add pecans and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain.

3. Meanwhile, preheat a deep fryer to 375ºF, or pour canola or peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot to reach at least one-inch up the sides and fix a deep-fry thermometer to its side. When oil is ready, fry pecans for 3 to 5 minutes in small batches. This will be a trial-and-error process. The longer the pecans fry, the crunchier they will be. If the oil is too hot, they’ll burn before they get crispy. So, fry the pecans in small batches until you can read your oil. Remove pecans from fryer with a slotted spoon or spider and let drain on cooling rack or parchment paper — not paper towels. Repeat process until all pecans are fried. Refrain from sampling until the pecans have cooled completely — they’ll be crunchier and tastier when they are completely cool.

This recipe begins with raw (unblanched, unroasted, unsalted) pecans:

They are blanched for two minutes in boiling water, then drained:

Then they simmer in a sugar syrup for five minutes:

Then they are drained again before being deep-fried for three to five minutes.

candiedpecans

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella

It has been done to death. Caprese salad that is. But there’s a reason it appears on nearly every restaurant menu come summertime: It’s so unbelievably good. I promise I’m not trying to bore you. I just have have a few things to add, in an effort, I hope, to maximize your tomato-eating experience this summer.

1. Tomatoes. I’m sort of stating the obvious here, but likely the tomatoes you pick up at your local farmers’ market will be superior to store-bought varieties. This past Sunday at the San Clemente farmers’ market, I learned from one of the Carlsbad farmers that the darker tomatoes tend to be sweeter. The man wasn’t lying. The tomato pictured in the upper left corner of this photo was the sweetest and tastiest of the bunch. It reminded me of a variety I discovered last summer, back in Philadelphia, called Black Prince, which I loved for the same reasons.

2. Fresh basil. Nothing like it. So fragrant. So sweet.

3. Mozzarella. I hate to be a snob, but buffalo mozzarella is so good, and there’s really nothing like the imported Italian varieties. However, as we are all so aware of our food miles these days, we can make smarter choices. I just discovered this Bubulus Bubalis mozzarella, which is made in Gardena (near L.A.) from the milk of water buffalo grazing in Northern California, if I understood the story correctly. Anyway, it is exceptional. And for Philadelphians, Claudio’s mozzarella is wonderful. (For all of you in between CA and PA, I wish I could give you more direction. Alas, my knowledge extends only to two places.)

4. Salt. Invest in a small tub of nice salt, like this one pictured below. I use it only on special occasions, like when I’m salting tomatoes or salting avocados or salting butter spread onto bread. So, basically I use it every day. My sister found this little tub in France earlier this summer but any variety of nice sea salt will do. (If you can’t resist this precious container, you can buy it from Salt Works.) And don’t be afraid to give the tomatoes a real sprinkling — I swear it makes them sweeter not saltier. Really.

5. Olive Oil. With good tomatoes, a drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil is the only dressing needed. I have yet to add a splash of vinegar to my tomato salads this summer. Though a splash certainly wouldn’t hurt. And it does make a nice little sauce to soak bread in.

6. Preparation. Try cutting your tomatoes into irregular shapes as opposed to thin slices. They look prettier; they’re easier to eat; and the tomatoes taste better, too. Really, they do. Cut the mozzarella the same way. And when you arrange it all on a platter, don’t toss it around to much. Just sprinkle the tomatoes and cheese with salt; tear basil leaves over the top; drizzle it with oil; and serve.



Two very hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, one heirloom tomato and a few very tired sprigs of basil picked from my garden. Yay, the tomatoes are turning red!

I am particularly enjoying the dark red heirloom tomatoes. They are sweet and delicious. I found these along with Bubulus Bubalis mozzarella at the Santa Monica farmers’ market this past Wednesday.

Melon & Cucumber Salad with Mint Vinaigrette


So, I sort of have this habit. I tend to add cheese to every salad I make. In large quantities. And often nuts, too. And maybe dried fruit if I don’t have any fresh on hand. I tend to turn salads into mini meals themselves, even when, as I often am, just serving them on the side.

For whatever reason, I refrained from adding more than what was prescribed in this recipe: melon, cucumber, lettuce and a mint vinaigrette. And I’m so glad I did. This salad does not need anything else. It is light, refreshing, summery — perfect as is. Thank you Sarah Cain at the Fair Food Farmstand 2,378 miles away in Philadelphia for supplying such a wonderful recipe in the weekly “At the Farmstand” email.

Now, for my friends out there looking for simple recipes, this one is for you. If you can chop up a melon and a cucumber, you can make this dish. The dressing is made right in the jar, which means no whisking and minimal cleaning. I love it, and you will too.

The dressing for this salad is made right in the jar: Equal parts vinegar and oil along with a pinch of sugar and salt, a dab of mustard and tons of mint and parsley combine to make a bright and flavorful dressing.


Cucumber And Melon Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

Recipe Courtesy of Sarah Cain, Supervisor of the Fair Food Farmstand in Philadelphia
Great with a grilled meat, especially lamb.
Serves 4

½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

½ cup of best white wine vinegar (I used rice vinegar and loved it.)
½ teaspoon of dijon style mustard

3 tablespoons of finely minced fresh mint

1 tablespoon of finely minced parsley

big pinch of sugar

big pinch of salt

2-3 cups mixed honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon, peeled, seeded and diced

2 cups mixed greens

1 English cucumber, diced

1. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the dressing ingredients.
 Shake like crazy. Let stand a room temp for 40 minutes to meld the flavors.


2. Meanwhile, combine the melon, greens and cucumber in a large bowl. (I also added some more mint and parsley (roughly chopped) to the salad.)

3. Shake the dressing vigorously before pouring just enough to moisten the chunks of melon, greens and cucumbers.

4. Serve.