Monday, June 27, 2011

I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill

Or, rather, on Gore Creek Drive.

Last week I attended a conference in Vail.  One day I was able to slip away and have lunch at Sweet Basil, a restaurant I'd heard much about over the years but had never visited.  My meal was spectacular, but the true standout was the warm blueberry crostata with ricotta sherbert I had for dessert.

I've been thinking about it ever since.

So I did what any girl would do in a situation like this, when the memory of something so delightful lingers on and on.  I baked a pie.  And made ice cream.

Blueberry Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I was once very intimidated by making pie crust, and in the days before I found Martha Stewart's pate brisee recipe I admit I occasionally used frozen or refrigerated pie crust.  But this crust is so quick, easy and virtually foolproof there's no reason not to make it from scratch.  Trust me.

The pate brisee and pie filling are both found in The Martha Stewart Cookbook, a 1995 compilation of recipes that had previously appeared in other of her publications.  The ice cream recipe is based on the french-style vanilla ice cream recipe in The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.

The directions below assume you will make both the pie and ice cream.  I've labeled the ingredients and each series of steps to identify what you'll be working on, so you can skip around as applicable.

Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Ice Cream
1 cup skim milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
6 large egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pie Filling
3 pints (about 7 1/2 cups) fresh blueberries, washed, drained and picked over
1/3 to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon turbinado sugar

Ice Cream
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of cream and the salt.  Do not let it simmer or begin to boil.  Remove from heat and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk mixture and add the bean.  Cover and let steep for 30 minutes.

Pie Crust
Put the flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles a course meal, about 10 seconds.

Fill a one-cup glass measuring cup with ice and add water.  With the machine running, add the water to the flour mixture one tablespoon at a time by trickling it down the side of the chute.  Add only enough water until the dough holds together without being wet and sticky.  Work quickly, and do not process the dough for more than 30 seconds.

Divide the dough in half, form each into a flat disk and wrap each half in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 1 hour.

Ice Cream
Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer or seive over the top.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Return the milk and egg mixture to the saucepan.

Heat the milk and egg mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly.  (Do not use a metal spoon; it'll get too hot to hold.)  Cook the mixture until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon.  Pour through the strainer to combine with the rest of the cream.  The mixture will be slightly thick and custard-like, so use your spoon to help it through the strainer.  Place bowl in an ice bath and continue stirring until the custard has cooled.  Place the vanilla bean in the custard, cover with plastic wrap, and chill thoroughly.

Pie Filling
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the blueberries in a large bowl and sprinkle with flour, 1 cup of sugar and the butter.  (If the blueberries are small, use 1/3 cup flour; if large, use 1/2 cup.)  Gently toss so the berries are completely covered, adding a little more flour if necessary.

Pie Crust
Roll out one of the chilled dough disks to make bottom crust of pie, and put in a pie plate.  Combine the beaten egg and cream, and brush the entire pastry crust (edges and bottom).

Assemble Pie
Pour the blueberry mixture into the prepared pie crust.  Roll out the second disk of dough and cut into desired shapes.  Decoratively arrange the crust cut-outs over hte top of the fruit, covering it almost completely but allowing for some spaces for steam to escape while baking.

Brush the top with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.  Bake until done (blueberry juices have bubbled and thickened), about 50 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

Ice Cream
After putting the pie in the oven, remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  This takes about 20-25 minutes in my Cuisinart.  Transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in the freezer until the pie has cooled.

Friday, June 24, 2011


This is one of my favorite sights when grocery shopping, fresh fish ready to be filleted to order.  Whatever it is, I always want it.

The selection on display this particular day was Hawaiian Opah, also known as Moonfish.  Opah is very rarely caught by recreational fishermen, and is primarily bycatch for commercial fisheries that target tuna and mahi mahi.  It's not a fish you're likely to see regularly offered for sale in your local market, so when you see it you should buy it.

Our fillet was cut from the top loin, which is sweet and lean with a texture somewhat like Tuna.  With fish this fresh, a very simple preparation is best.  We grilled it with a little lemon, salt and pepper, and fresh thyme and oregano.  Served with a salad and quinoa, it was a fast, healthy meal.  Brad put a little chopped fresh mint in the quinoa, which was a nice touch.

This was the best fish I've had in recent memory.


We drank a Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena.  I love Montelena's philosophy:  "Make the best.  Period."  Shouldn't that be everyone's philosophy?

I'm actually not a big fan of Chardonnay.  I'm obviously not in the ABC ("anything but Chardonnay") camp, but my palate has grown weary of the heavy, overdone way too oaky Chardonnay.  Bleh.  But Montelena produces a lovely french-style Chardonnay, with just the right amount of oak.

I've mentioned Chateau Montelena in a previous post, when we had their Riesling.  Their Riesling is also excellent, but the Chardonnay is what made them -- and the Napa valley -- famous.  Try it and you'll see why.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Want My Baby Back, Baby Back, Baby Back, Baby Back, Bay-bee Back Ribs

I got you to sing that, didn't I?  At least in your head, if not out loud.

No idea what I'm talking about?  Check out this clip from the tv show Scrubs riffin' on the old Chili's commercial, so you can sing along with the rest of us.

Brad got a new toy last week, a Weber smoker.  Since buying it he'd been mulling over the very important decision of what to make in the smoker's inaugural run.  He settled on baby back ribs; I was delighted with his choice.

Smoked Baby Back Ribs with Baked Beans and Corn on the Cob
Brad's ribs were spectacular, and his baked beans were outstanding as well.  Seriously, I think there's nothing this man can't make better than any professional chef out there.  (Yes, Bobby Flay, I'm looking at you.  Ready for a real throwdown?) 

My corn on the cob, on the other hand, was "meh."  Tasty enough, but I totally missed the flavor profile of the rest of the meal. 

So in the recipe below I've swapped out a few ingredients.  It's what I should have done with the corn, and what I will do next time.  Even though the recipe I followed didn't tell me to. 

Kathleen evolves as a chef.

Brad sort of wanted beer with the ribs, and typically the one who spends all afternoon cooking gets to call the shots on beverage.  But I'd been longing to try some of the PlumpJack Syrah we'd brought back from Napa. 

I reminded Brad that of our group I was the only one who hadn't gotten to try it, as they were at the winery tasting it while I was running 26.2 miles down the Silverado Trail.  In the rain.  Into a headwind.  And then I had to listen to them go on and on about how this Syrah would be so perfect with bar-b-que.

We had wine.  Yes, I'm shameless.

Smoked Baby Back Ribs
1 rack baby back ribs
Team Sweet Mama's Kansas City Rub* from Savory Spice Shop (see Sources page)
1/3 cup apple cider
2 Tablespoons bourbon

Coat ribs with rub and let sit 4 hours, wrapped in foil.  Prepare smoker using applewood.  Mix apple cider and bourbon and put in a spray bottle.  Smoke ribs for 4 hours at 225-250 degrees.  Spray each hour with apple cider and bourbon mixture.

*Ingredients as listed on bottle:  Sugar, salt, paprika, hickory smoke salt, black pepper, mistard, onion, celery, ginger, allspice, cayenne and spices.

Baked Beans
4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup BBQ sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup beer (we used Fat Tire)
1/3 cup bourbon
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 15 oz can black beans
1 15 oz can great northern beans
1 15 oz can red kidney beans
2 Tablespoons tomato paste

Heat a cast iron pot on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  Add bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until fat is rendered.  Add onion and cook, stirring, until transclucent and soft, about 5 minutes.  Add beer and bourbon and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced by half.

Add remaining ingredients and place pot in smoker or put in 300 degree oven and cook until desired thickness, about 2 hours.

Corn on the Cob
Based on a recipe from the July/August issue of Everyday Food, this is how I would modify it to pair well with the ribs and baked beans.

2 ears corn on the cob, husks and silk removed
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

Heat grill or grill pan over medium high.  Lightly oil with canola oil.  Grill corn, turning occasionally, until kernels are tender and the corn is charred in spots, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients together in a small bowl.  After corn is cooked, remove to a platter and spread butter mixture over the cobs.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Will Sit for Cookies

Everyone who lives in this house loves cookies, including Zorba (German Shepard) and Ruby (Rottweiler).  Especially fresh from the oven.

Want your dog to think you are the best owner ever?  Bake up some of these.  They're not difficult, and will only take about an hour.  And that includes time spent in the oven, during which time you can poke around here and read all my other blog entries.

An hour isn't that much time, considering how happy it'll make your dog, now is it?  (Yes, your dog told me to say that.  Feeling guilty yet?)

Peanut Butter, Pumpkin and Molasses Dog Treats

Zorba and Ruby both love treats; each other, not so much.  So we had to conduct our taste testing in separate parts of the house.

Both gave these treats two paws up.  Ruby would eat from the dumpster if we let her, but Zorba has a much more discerning palate.  So with her approval, I think we have a winner.

And in case you're wondering, yes, I did taste the dough.  And it was good.  So I guess that makes it three paws up.

Update:  Zorba and Ruby's cousin Blondie also loved these treats.  Blondie is known to reject many treats, so the fact that she gobbled it up says a lot.  Either it tasted really good or she just liked eating a Collie-shaped cookie.  I'm going with it tasted good because that reflects best on me.

Peanut Butter, Pumpkin and Molasses Dog Treats
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup rolled oats
3 Tablespoons peanut butter
2 Tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon water (more if necessary)

Preheat oven to 350.
Put all ingredients except water in the bowl of a food processor.  With the machine running, add the water through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream, until dough holds together without being wet or sticky.  Test by squeezing a small amount of the dough together.  If it is too crumbly, add a little bit more water; if too sticky, add a little bit more flour.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick, cut into desired shapes, and place on cookie sheets.

Bake until done (lightly browned and somewhat hard), about 40 minutes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beef: It's What's for Dinner

My 20 mile run yesterday was hard.  Really hard.  I blame the heat, as it was 81 degrees by the end, but it also could've just been because some runs are like that.  They start off well, as this one did, then kick your ass.  When I finished I stumbled into Jamba Juice feeling like I needed something, anything, in my body.  And Jamba Juice was only steps away from my car in the parking lot where my running club met.

I'd never been to Jamba Juice before.  Honestly, when I think of Jamba Juice I think of US Weekly photos of Britney Spears from her fat years, wandering around with a Jamba Juice in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  Barefoot.  And in places where one really shouldn't be barefoot.

I was so depleted that I found it impossible to navigate the crazy large menu in Jamba Juice.  Knowing they had likely served several runners from my club that morning, I asked them to make me whatever the other runners had, and put some protein in it.  The result was some kind of strawberry banana concoction.  It was pretty good, but I won't be running back there anytime soon.  (pun totally intended.  ha.)

My instinct of "put some protein in it" was apparently my body screaming out for something it needed.  Like the Bruce Willis-voiced baby in Look Who's Talking, tugging on his umbilical cord for Kirstie Alley to give him some apple juice.

When Brad made it home from his equally exhausting bike ride, he told me that during his tough final miles he'd decided he wanted a big, juicy steak for dinner.

Protein?  Sold!

Dry Aged Rib Eye Steaks with Grilled Asparagus, Shallots and Potatoes
With steak on the menu, what to serve with it?  I found this recipe in Everyday Food for grilled shallots and potatoes.  I'd never had shallots prepared like this before, but I do love shallots and this looked really good.  And it was.  (recipe below)

To me, no steak should ever be eaten without a nice, bold red wine.  Our choice was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Andrew Geoffrey Vineyards.

The backstory on this incredible wine really deserves it's own blog post.

Brad and I were in Napa last March for me to run the Napa Valley Marathon.  Our friends Robin and Mark joined us for a few days because I'd somehow managed to snag a reservation for four at the French Laundry.

My friend Robin has exquisite taste in wine, and has introduced me to many that are now some of my favorites.  I learned on this Napa trip that any winery Robin visits must require at least one U-turn and cannot have any obvious signage from the road.  She's an expert on hidden gems, I guess you'd say.

So one day we're out touring Napa wineries and she phones a winery whose wine she likes to ask about a tasting.  Her call is answered by the owner, who tells her he'd love to give us a tasting and we should meet him at the base of Diamond Mountain.  Wow, the owner?  That's pretty cool.

We go to the appointed spot to wait.  And wait.  I'm sure we didn't actually wait that long, it just seemed like a long time because we all were like "what the heck are we doing, waiting on the side of the road for a wine tasting?"  Then a white SUV pulls up and the driver instructs us to follow him.  So we did.

The road quickly reduced down to one twisty lane, which we took to the top of Diamond Mountain.  I know I wasn't the only one riding in our car who had serious reservations about what Robin had gotten us into.  We came to the end of the road and the guy in the white SUV opens a cattle gate.  We all get out of the car because clearly the rest of this journey is to be on foot.

The guy tosses Mark a box of stemware, which Mark deftly catches, and then Mark trips and rolls down the hill.  I don't know how he did it, but as he was tumbling ass over teakettle Mark managed to keep the box of glasses high above his head and not a single one was broken.  Hurrah!

Thank goodness for that, because it would've been hard to do a tasting without any glasses.  And I now know my life would never have been complete without tasting this man's wine.

We hike the rest of the way in to the "tasting room," which is a deck built above his 13 acres of Cabernet grapes that provides sweeping views of the entire Napa valley.  He has a great picture of it here, on the winery's website.  It was a bit chilly up there in early March, but we were warmed by some of the best Cabernet Sauvingon I've ever had.  And the company of a friendly, interesting and engaging vineyard owner.

After our tasting, we all piled back in the car for the trek back down the mountain, chatting wildly about the fantastic experience Robin had just provided us all.  And Robin admits that wasn't even the winery she was thinking of when she called for a tasting.  Pure happenstance led us to the best wine tasting experience any of us ever had.

Thank you, Peter.

Dry Aged Rib Eye Steaks with Grilled Asparagus, Potatoes and Shallots
Based on a recipe from the July/August 2011 issue of Everyday Food.

2 dry aged Rib Eye steaks
Rosemary sea salt (or any kind of sea salt)
Chili powder
Onion Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh mint, chopped

1/2 pound shallots, unpeeled
3/4 pound medium-sized russet potatoes, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat grill to medium-high.

For the steaks, sprinkle each with rosemary sea salt, chili powder and onion powder.  Grill until desired degree of doneness, then transfer to a plate, tent with foil and let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Place asparagus in a medium sized rectangular pan.  Drizzle olive oil over top, and stir with hands to coat the asparagus.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook in a grill pan, stirring occasionally, until done (slightly charred).  Just before it's done, sprinkle the mint over the asparagus.

Place shallots and potatoes on a large double layer of foil lined with parchment paper.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Fold parchment and foil around the vegetables and crimp edges to form a packet.  Place packet on grill and cook, flipping once, for about 30 minutes.  The shallots should be soft and the potatoes cooked through and crisp around the edges.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pasta, Please

My training schedule for the San Francisco Marathon called for a 20 mile run this morning, so last night was pasta night.  And not just any pasta, but Brad's super delicious baked rigatoni.  I can (and did!) eat bowls and bowls of it.

Now Brad doesn't follow a recipe for this pasta, he just sort of whips it up on the fly.  And I'm pretty sure each time he makes it it's a little bit different.  But in the interest of our dear readers being able to replicate this in their very own kitchens, I annoyingly peered over his shoulder and took notes while he cooked.  So, I guess I should say this is but one version of Brad's super delicious baked rigatoni.  A darn good one, though.

All measurements and times are approximate.  Reading that in a recipe would make me go "um, next."  Hopefully I've included enough precision to adequately convey the essential components to others who are like me and, thankfully, the dish is itself pretty basic.  Any mistakes in the recipe are mine.

Wine the night before a 20 mile run, you ask?  Heck yeah, I say.

A good friend, and fellow marathoner, has a rule:  No wine the night before speedwork or long runs.  I tried it.  It's not for me.  She's a faster runner, so maybe there's something to it, but I'm ok with running a little slower and enjoying myself.  I do restrain myself somewhat, having only one glass.  Or maybe two.

We drank a wine from Montepulciano, a word I love almost as much as the wine itself.  Say it with me:  Montepulciano.  Doesn't it sound . . . I don't know, so very Italian?  There's just something about that word for me.

Anyway, ours was a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva from the Fanetti winery in Toscana-Montepulciano, Italy.  It's primarily Sangiovese, blended with Canaiolo and Cabernet.

Tuscany is the heart and soul of Sangiovese and in Montepulciano, Sangiovese is known as Prunolo Gentile.  The grapes are picked by hand and aged in large traditional wild chestnut oak casks called Botti for a minimum of two years (three for Riserva).  Finetti ages its Vino Nobile in the oak casks five years before bottling.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was reportedly a favorite of Farnese Pope Paolo III, and was once considered the "king of all wines," meant only for royalty to drink.

Sounds about right for us.

Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Mushrooms

28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 links Italian sausage (we use spicy, but sweet would also work)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/4 c. sliced cremini mushrooms
1 fresh tomato, roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup torn fresh basil
1/2 pound dry rigatoni, cooked according to package directions
1/2 an 8 oz container of ciliegine (little cherry size) fresh mozarella
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425.

With your hands, break up canned tomatoes in a medium bowl.  Add chopped fresh tomatoes and set aside.

Begin water boiling for the rigatoni; you'll cook the rigatoni until just under al dente, a few minutes less than indicated on the package.

Heat a large saute pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat; add olive oil and swirl to coat pan.  Remove sausage from casings and brown in pan, stirring often to crumble.  Add mushrooms and thyme, and cook until mushrooms have softened.  Remove sausage mixture from the pan and set aside.

Add garlic to the pan used to cook the sausage mixture and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes, bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer approximately 5 minutes.  Add basil and simmer for about 5 minutes; add sausage mixture back to pan and continue to simmer until rigatoni is done.

Drain pasta and put in a casserole or au gratin pan.  Spoon sauce over the top, then stir to combine.  Sprinkle grated Parmesan on top, and then scatter fresh mozarella balls on top of that.

Bake, uncovered, until done (cheese has melted and browned), about 15-20 minutes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Joy to the Fishes in the Deep Blue Sea

Joy to you and me.

Brad and I eat a lot of fish, particularly in the summer.  When at the market, I typically look for whatever fish is fresh (not previously frozen) and wild caught (not farmed).  Armed with my copy of Everyday Food in my purse, I selected Chilean sea bass, chose a recipe, then went off to find the other ingredients.

I try to be aware of sustainability issues, but have to admit I generally rely on signage posted in the fish case at Whole Foods.  And the fact that I'm in Whole Foods, which isn't supposed to carry fish that's not sustainable.  But before writing today's blog entry, I decided to find out more about the fish we had for dinner last night.

My first stop was the Monterey Bay Aquarium website, home of Seafood Watch and the recognized authority on seafood sustainability.  To my surprise, Chilean sea bass is listed as "avoid."


Researching further, I discovered an interesting backstory on Chilean sea bass. 

Now, all this happened in the not-too-distant past, which made me wonder how I missed it.  Maybe I'm the only one who remained oblivious to the perils facing Chilean sea bass.  But in case you missed it, too, here it is.

If you've had Chilean sea bass, you know what an incredibly delicious fish it is, with its silky, large-flake flesh.  People love it.  And in the 1990's, people apparently loved it a little too much, quickly making it overfished and endangered.  So a group of about 1,000 chefs vowed to "Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass," a campaign that helped bring to light the issues regarding this beloved fish, and pulled it from their restaurant menus.

In 1999, Whole Foods Market stopped selling Chilean sea bass altogether.  Then in 2006 it found a sustainable South Georgia Island fishery that was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council ("MSC"), and brought it back to stores. 

One of the problems is most Chilean sea bass is caught using bottom longlines, which hook and drown thousands of sea birds each year.  Another issue is Chilean sea bass is a very slow-growing species that takes nine or ten years to reach reproductive maturity, and can live 40 years.  This makes it extremely vulnerable to overfishing.

MSC-certified Chilean sea bass fisheries don't use bottom longlines, and they fish in a territory where the Council has determined there is a healthy population of the fish.  And according to their recertification (for October 2009 through October 2013), these MSC-certified fisheries are doing very well at maintaining the population and minimizing ecological impacts, achieving scores significantly higher than in the original certification.

However, only about 5% of Chilean sea bass sold worldwide is from MSC-certified fisheries, and it is still considered to be overfished outside the territory of the certified fisheries.  Illegal and unreported fishing magnifies the problem, as pirate fisherman try to cash in on the high demand of this sought-after fish.

So, as my Public Service Announcement today, please always look for the MSC certification before buying Chilean sea bass.  If certified sustainable Chilean sea bass is not available, there are several good alternatives:  Striped bass, Pacific halibut and sablefish (black cod) from Alaska and British Columbia are listed in Seafood Watch as "best choices" and mahi mahi as a "good alternative".

Chilean Sea Bass with Tomatoes and Fennel
This is another recipe inspired by one in Everyday Food, the July/August 2011 issue.  If you've made it this far, you've probably read enough, so I'll dispense with further chit-chat and get right down to it.

This was yummy.  Recipe below.

Back to Rioja we went for this fish, with a white wine from R. Lopez de Heredia.  Specifically, the Vina Gravonia.  This wine is aged in barrels for four years before bottling, which is much longer than is typical for white wines.  As you can see from the picture, we drank a 2000, and it was awesome.  Over time the wine becomes very silky; almost sauternes-like, but without the sweetness.

Chilean Sea Bass with Tomatoes and Fennel
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced lengthwise (save fronds)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large tomatoes, diced large
3/4 pound Chilean sea bass, cut into two portions

Heat a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium; add olive oil and swirl to coat bottom of pan.  Add fennel and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add tomatoes to the pan with the fennel and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes soften and release their juices, 3 to 4 minutes.  Nestle halibut in the tomato mixture and season again with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook until the fillets are done (opaque throughout), about 8 minutes.

Serve fish and tomato mixture in a shallow bowl over couscous or quinoa.  Sprinkle with reserved fennel fronds.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finding Balance

If you're like me and ate a little too much cake these past few days, this healthy meal may be just the ticket to get you back on track.  Or eat this healthy meal to justify having another slice of cake.  You know you want one.  And, after all, isn't life about finding balance?

Cucumber and Mango Salad with Chili-Spiced Pork
This recipe comes from the June 2011 issue of Everyday Food, a Martha Stewart magazine.  

I love this little magazine, which slips easily into my purse and so can be available when making game-time decisions on what to make for dinner.  Most of the recipes in it are healthy, and they're all quick and easy to make.

We love Pinot with pork, and the Robert Sinskey Vineyards Los Carneros Pinot Noir was perfect.  As I've written before, Robert Sinskey is one of my favorite Napa wineries.  You gotta love a guy who produces a fantastic Pinot in the middle of  Cab country.

Cucumber and Mango Salad with Chili-Spiced Pork
If you prefer, you can use chicken or turkey breast in place of the pork.

2 boneless pork loin chops
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
4 teaspoons honey
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 Champagne mango, pitted, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 English cucumber, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small head romaine lettuce, roughly chopped

Rinse and pat pork dry; season to taste with salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon chili powder.  Grill until done (browned and pork is cooked through), turning once, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to plate, cover loosely with foil and let rest while preparing the salad.

In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, honey, and lime juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add mango, cucumber and lettuce and toss to combine.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Party Like It's 1898

From the moment I saw the Lane Cake in this month's issue of Saveur magazine, I knew I had to make it.  The cake is steeped in both history and a fair amount of bourbon, and I was intrigued.

According to the article that accompanied the recipe, this cake won first prize at the Columbus, Georgia county fair and the recipe was thereafter published by its creator Emma Rylander Lane in her self-published cookbook Good Things to Eat in 1898.  It also made a cameo appearance in one of my all-time favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Go here for the full article by Nick Malgieri.

The cake is a rich vanilla with a filling of bourbon soaked pecans, raisins and coconut, all topped off with a marshmallow-y icing.


Between the cake, filling and icing, you'll use a dozen eggs, a lot of butter, and even more sugar.  This cake is some serious good eating, from a time before we all started worrying about heart-smart this and saturated fat that.

This cake will make you fat.  Sorry about that.

But I think you should just throw caution to the wind and party like it's 1898.  After all, you only live once.  And you can always eat salad tomorrow.

Lane Cake
Recipe from the June/July 2011 issue of Saveur magazine, which was based on Emma Rylander Lane's recipe in Some Good Things to Eat, self-published in 1898.

Thomas Keller has written the mistake many home chefs make is they prepare a recipe one time and then move on to something else.  His point is the first time through you are only introduced to the recipe, but it requires repetition to master it.  Like the first pancake theory. 

The next time I make this cake (oh, yes, definitely a next time for this one) I will be able to better discern instructions like "cook until the mixture thickens to the consistency of loose pudding."  You KNOW that line threw me, and I cooked the filling too long.  My filling was more like German chocolate cake topping.  Delicious, sure, but not what was supposed to be on the inside of this cake.

The recipe noted this cake tastes better after it sits a day or two and the flavors are able to meld.  I tested this theory by having some at breakfast today, and it was indeed even better than last night when it was freshly baked.  I should probably have some tomorrow, too, in the spirit of accurate blogging, to see if "day or two" is, in fact, correct.

16 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pans (or use Pam for Baking)
3½ cups cake flour
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk
½ tsp. cream of tartar
8 egg whites

1 cup sugar
8 egg yolks
½ cup bourbon or brandy
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup grated coconut
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1½ cups sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
¼ tsp. kosher salt
4 egg whites

1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 3″-deep 9″ cake pans; set aside.  Note:  I use Pam for Baking, which works great and is a LOT less messy.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat butter, 1⅔ cups sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk in 3 batches until just combined, to make a batter. In a large bowl, whisk together cream of tartar and egg whites until soft peaks form; slowly add remaining sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Add to cake batter and fold until combined.

Divide batter between prepared cake pans and smooth tops; bake until done (golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean) about 40 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes, unmold, and cool completely on a wire rack. Using a long, serrated knife, halve both cakes horizontally to create 4 layers in all; set aside.

2. Make the filling: Whisk together sugar and yolks in a 4-qt. saucepan; whisk in bourbon and butter, and heat over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook until mixture thickens to the consistency of loose pudding, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool completely. Stir in raisins, pecans, coconut, and vanilla; set aside.

3. Make the icing: Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer; place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water so that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Cook, whisking often, until the sugar dissolves and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the egg whites reads 140°. Place the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and whisk the mixture on medium-high until tripled in volume and stiff peaks form. While the icing whips, place 1 cake layer on a cake stand and top with ⅓ filling; repeat with remaining cake layers and filling, leaving top layer uncovered. When icing is ready, spread it over the top and sides of the cake until the cake is evenly covered, creating swirls, if you like. Chill before serving.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Her Favorite Color is Copper

It's that most wonderful time of the year . . . .  Copper River salmon season.

In the state of Alaska, the Copper River is a pristine glacier-fed river that flows almost 300 miles to empty into Prince William Sound in the town of Cordova.  The salmon that make their way to spawn there are strong fish that must store extra fat and oils in order to survive the long trip in the very swift waters of the Copper River, making this salmon among the richest, tastiest fish in the world.  Fortunately, fatty Copper River salmon is very good for you, loaded with Omega-3 oils.

About 90% of the salmon caught on the Copper River is Sockeye, with some King and Coho.  Most of the Kings are caught from the open of the season in mid-May until mid-June; the Sockeye will run from open until late July; and the Cohos will continue to run until September.  Commercial fishing on the Copper River is highly regulated in order to sustain the population.  The state of Alaska allows fishing only twice per week during the season, on Mondays and Thursdays, and then only during certain hours of the day.  A sonar count of upriver salmon and catch reports from the previous week are used to determine exactly when fishing may occur.

Fresh wild caught Copper River salmon has bright red flesh and a rich, almost nutty flavor.  Find it, buy it, cook it, eat it.  You won't regret it.

Cedar Plank Maple Salmon
Fresh Copper River salmon is so good all it really needs is some salt, pepper and lemon.  Grill it up and you're good to go. 

But if you're looking for something a little more involved, Brad threw together this quick maple glaze and grilled our salmon on a cedar plank.  With some grilled fresh asparagus spears on the side it was a perfect late spring dinner.

We enjoyed another fabulous Rose' with the salmon, a Vina Tondonia Rose' Grand Reserva by R. Lopez de Heredia from the Rioja region in Spain.

Lopez wines are special to me.  The first time Brad came to dinner at my house he brought a bottle of Lopez Tondonia Red Reserva.  I loved hearing him talk about the winery, and how the wines there are still made in accordance with very traditional methods and aged until they are ready to drink.  It was clear this wine was dear to him, and him bringing it to me conveyed that I was, too.  I was already fairly smitten with Brad at this point, but the Lopez probably put him over the top. 

Several months later my friend Alane and I traveled to Spain and France to bike the Pyrenees.  After cycling for a week we hopped a train from Barcelona to Rioja. 

OK, fine, it took us a train, a long walk in the rain, and a very long taxi ride to get there because we mistakenly disembarked one stop too soon, in Logrono, instead of continuing on to Haro.  Thankfully I had a good supply of M&Ms left over from our cycling trip to get me through the arduous journey.  If you ever take the train to Rioja, remember us and just stay on the train until you reach Haro.  Because Logrono is well worth missing.

Once we made it to Haro we toured the Lopez winery.  La Rioja is a beautiful place; I look forward to returning with Brad one day very soon.

Cedar Plank Maple Salmon
2 Tablespoons maple syrup (the REAL stuff, please)
2 Tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Fresh wild caught Copper River salmon fillet, approximately 1 pound
Cedar plank

Smokey the Bear says:  Soak cedar plank in water for a few hours before using it on the grill.

Place the salmon fillet skin-side down on the cedar plank and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Mix first four ingredients in a small bowl then spread on the top of the fillet.  Let rest while grill is heating. 

Place cedar plank on grill rack and cook until fish is done (about 15 minutes).

Monday, June 6, 2011

Will Ride For Cookies

Brad and I did the Elephant Rock metric century (62 mile) ride yesterday, which begins and ends in beautiful Castle Rock, Colorado.  This was my first cycling event, and I have to say I'm hooked.  It was a great way to spend a morning with friends, sure, but those cyclists have it all figured out when it comes to snacks. 

You see, I'm used to aid stations in running events.  You race through, grab your water or Gatorade from a volunteer's outstretched hand, slam it down, and keep going.  Occasionally there are orange slices or maybe banana halves; the Big Sur Marathon had fresh strawberries, and that was really nice. 

But cyclists get all kinds of good stuff. Pop Tarts, trail mix with M&Ms, mini peanut butter and jelly bagels, and the highlight of my day:  Oreo cookies.

Chocolate Ganache Filled 'Oreo' Cookies
You'd think with the amount of junk food I ate while riding I'd have been satisfied.  Not so.  I realized I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten an Oreo cookie before yesterday, and that's just wrong.  Obviously I needed to do something about that. 

We had some chocolate ganache in the refrigerator, left over from the S'mores Cake.  So I thought to myself "what's even better than an Oreo cookie?"  That's right, a chocolate ganache filled Oreo cookie.

We didn't have wine with the cookies.  As much as Brad and I love wine, you really need a big, tall glass of ice cold milk with these cookies.  But we did enjoy some Acorn Rosato on the front porch while the cookie dough was chilling and then baking. 

Acorn makes a fantastic Rose'.  It's a rather dark pink color, and to me it has a distinct aroma of brown sugar.  Both of of which made me think it would be a fairly sweet wine, but it's not.  It's nice and dry and oh-so-drinkable.  And it pairs perfectly with cookie baking and post-ride relaxing.

Chocolate Ganache Filled 'Oreo' Cookies
I found the recipe for the outside of this cookie on the Food Network website.  And for you traditionalists, the recipe on their website also includes the creamy white filling you're used to. 

I used Valrhona cocoa powder to make the cookies super dark and rich because that's just the way we roll around here, but any kind of cocoa powder will do.  We bought the cocoa powder at our local Sur la Table; I've also seen Valrhona chocolate at Whole Foods, so they may have the cocoa powder there as well. 

Also, if you don't have a 2" round cookie cutter, rummage around in your kitchen cabinets with a ruler to find a good substitute.  I used a Riedel stemless champagne glass (pictured above with the cookies, filled with milk) and it worked perfectly.  How's that for innovation?

For the cookies:
1 1/3 cups Valrhona Dutch-processed cocoa powder (see Sources)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift together the cocoa powder, flour and salt in a large bowl.

Using a mixer (dough will get very stiff), cream the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each, then add the vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated, scraping sides and bottom of the bowl to be sure all ingredients get mixed in.

Divide the dough in half.  Lightly flour a square of parchment paper.  Place half of the dough on it, then place another square of parchment paper on top.  Roll the dough, between the parchment paper, into a 1/4 inch-thick rectangle.  Repeat with other half of dough.  Place both in the refrigerator and chill for 20 minutes.  (This is an excellent time to partake in a glass of wine on the porch.)

Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut the cookies and place them about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.  (I put them on Silpat mats, on baking sheets.)  You'll need to work fast because as the dough loses its chill it will become hard to work with.  Put the baking sheets in the refrigerator to chill the cookies for another 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Bake the cookies until done (set and slightly darker around the edges), about 20 minutes.  Cool completely on wire racks.

To finish the cookies, using a small spatula spread chocolate ganache on the underside of one cookie and top with another.  (You'll want the "tops" of each cookie to be on the outside.)


Friday, June 3, 2011

Chicken and Radish (?) Soft Tacos

When Brad showed me this recipe for chicken and radish soft tacos, I thought he was crazy.  Don't get me wrong, I love radishes, but stir-fried and in a taco? Huh.  I was skeptical.

But these quick and easy tacos have become a staple in our kitchen.  Well, as much of a staple as anything is around here, considering we've each got a fairly thick stack of "must try" recipes.

Stir-Fried Chicken with Radishes, Chiptles, and Lime
Based on a recipe from the April 2001 issue of Bon Appetit, we have modified it as shown below to serve just the two of us and we usually make it with chicken breast instead of thighs.  You can also top these with a little shredded cheese, sour cream, avocado--or all!

With these tacos we drank a 2005 Comberousse Coteaux du Languedoc Cuvee Roucaillat.  Wow, that's a lot of words for this simple French white table wine.  Produced in the Languedoc region on the Mediterranean coast in the south of France, it is a blend of Roussanne, Rolle and Grenache Blanc.  It was delicious!

Stir-Fried Chicken with Radishes, Chiptles, and Lime
1 large skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon crushed chipotle chiles
3 teaspoons olive oil
5 green onions (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
1/4 cup chicken broth
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
9 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced (reserve and thinly slice radish tops)
2 Tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges (for serving)
6 corn tortillas

Combine chicken breast, 1 Tablespoon lime juice and crushed chipotles in medium bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss to blend and let stand 10 minutes.

Heat medium nonstick skillet over high heat, add 2 teaspoons olive oil to heated pan and swirl to coat pan.  Add chicken mixture and saute a few minutes, then stir in green onions and chicken broth.  Cover and cook about 3 minutes.  Uncover and stir until chicken is cooked through and most liquid has evaporated.  Stir in remaining 1 Tablespoon lime juice and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Remove chicken mixture and place in a bowl.

Heat remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil in the same skillet over high heat.  Add radishes and saute 1 minute, then stir in radish leaves and saute until they are wilted.  Stir in remaining 1 Tablespoon lime juice and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Meanwhile, heat corn tortillas.  We find the easiest way to do this is by laying them one at a time on a gas burner and turning and necessary with tongs to prevent them from burning.

To serve, you can set up a family-style buffet as shown in the picture above.  Place pan of chicken mixture on heat-proof surface and alongside set out the fresh cilantro in a bowl and the limes, tortillas and any other extras (such as cheese, avocado or sour cream).  Or you can be civilized and divide among plates.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Maria's Magic Game Hens

When Brad and I were in Napa this past March we did a farm to table tour at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, where we are members of their Gluttons and Gourmands club.  The G&G club is great.  You receive near-monthly shipments of wine, an original recipe by Maria Helm Sinskey that pairs with the wine, and a "culinary gift."  The wine is announced before the shipment arrives, but the recipe and culinary gift are always a surprise.

Our tour was a small group, so Brad and I were able to talk with the vineyard chef about the various club menus we had enjoyed in the past and quiz her about what was on deck for future shipments.  She showed us bottles of preserved lemons the culinary staff at the vineyard had been preparing and hinted that we may be receiving it along with a recipe for lobster rolls. 

I've had exactly one lobster roll in my entire life, at Neptune Oyster last year in Boston when and Brad and I were there for the marathon.  It.  Was.  Awesome. 

Ever since then I have craved more.  But a genuine lobster roll is pretty hard to come by here in Denver and I didn't want my follow-up lobster roll to disappoint.  So making it ourselves sounded like a great idea.  I found a local grocer that carries split-top buns and basically readied myself for lobster roll nirvana, to be delivered via the Sinskey G&G club shipment.  The anticipation nearly killed me.

And at last the preserved lemons arrived!  Hurrah!  With a recipe for . . . chicken.  Well, not exactly chicken, but game hens.  A little fancier, but still not the dish I was craving.

Roasted Game Hens with Preserved Lemon, Chickpeas & Olives
Not ones to dwell on disappointment, Brad and I forged ahead with the game hens.  And I have to say, they were spectacular.  The preserved lemon really did add the dash of salty zip that Maria promised.  For a brief moment the delicious game hen on my plate and Maria's engaging description of the alchemy of cooking in the club booklet made me forget all about the lobster roll.  Thus Maria's Magic Game Hens. 

I hope you enjoy them, too.  And if you have a recipe for a good lobster roll, please send it my way.

The wine sent to accompany the game hens was RSV's Abraxas, Vin de Terroir.  It is a blend of the four classic grapes of Alsace (Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Blanc), with the exact proportions of each grape changing from year to year depending on the qualities exhibited by each particular harvest. 

The 2010 Abraxas is 43% Pinot Gris, 32% Pinot Blanc, 15% Gewurtztraminer, 10% Reisling, and 100% fabulous.  The wine is bottled with a glass stopper, which I always love and I always think I'll find some cool way to reuse that stopper.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.

According to Rob Sinskey, Abraxas was an ancient god who ruled the 365 heavens, each one with a lesser god and a virtue for every day of the year.  Over time, the name "Abraxas" morphed into the magic word "Abracadabra." 

So we had Rob's magic wine with Maria's magic game hen.  The pairing was indeed bewitching.  Hey, next time we'll have to serve it with some of Jack's magic fava beans.

Roasted Game Hens with Preserved Lemon, Chickpeas & Olives
Based on an original recipe by Maria Helm Sinskey, currently available online at the Robert Sinskey Vineyards website.  Brad modified the recipe as noted below to serve just the two of us, and added some Abraxas wine.  And we served it with a side of whole wheat Israeli couscous for a little carb supplement.  Maria's recipe for preserved lemons is also below, or you can purchase them at a specialty grocer.

1 game hen, cut into 4 pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely sliced preserved lemon peel (about 1/8 lemon)
1 small garlic clove, sliced
2 3-inch sprigs fresh oregano
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup assorted black and green olives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine

Place hen in a medium sized non-reactive bowl or baking dish.  Add two tablespoons olive oil, the preserved lemon, garlic and oregano.  Sprinkel with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Cover with plastic and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Remove hen from refrigerator about 20 minutes before cooking.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a medium saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and then the game hen pieces, skin side down.  Reserve the lemon peel, garlic and oregano pieces.  Cook the hen pieces until the skin is golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Turn and brown hen pieces on the other side, then remove to a plate.

Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the chickpeas, olives and reserved lemon peel and garlic.  Stir for a few minutes until heated through.

Add the game hens back to the pan, nestling them into the olives and chickpeas, then top with the reserved oregano sprigs.  Add the lemon juice, chicken stock and wine, and bring to a boil.  Transfer pan to oven and roast until done (pan juices are reduced and the juices from the hen runs clear, about 35 to 40 minutes).  If the pan juices dry out, add a few tablespoons of water to the pan.

Preserved Lemons
These preserved lemons will take about a week and a half to prepare, but should keep indefinitely in the refrigerator because of the salt and high acidity.  Discard them if you observe any mold in the jar.

2 lemons, Meyer or Seville
3 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh bay leaves

Cut each lemon into 6 wedges.  Using a sharp knife, cut the center line of pith and remove seeds.

Put 1 1/2 Tablespoons of salt in the bottom of a clean 1/2 pint jar.  Place the lemon wedges on top and press down to release some of the juices.  Top with the remaining salt and olive oil.  Slide the bay leaves down the inside of the jar.

Marinate at room temperature for 3 to 4 days, pressing the lemons down with a wooden spoon each morning and night.  Add fresh lemon juice and olive oil as necessary to keep the lemons covered.  Cover and refrigerate for another week before using.