Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cavallo Point Anniversary Weekend

To celebrate our anniversary (albeit a little late), John and I headed up to Cavallo Point.  An old army base transformed into the "Inn at the Golden Gate" makes for a beautiful setting to celebrate.

Instead of the older army buildings, we were staying in the new buildings up the hill.  Somehow I forgot to take pictures of the room, but I can assure you it was big, beautiful, modern, and comfortable.  We were in heaven.

Each morning they had pastries and coffee (green tea for me) in the lobby.  Naturally I had a chocolate croissant every day.  Speaking of which, is it time to go back to St. Martin yet?

While in Marin, we decided we needed to hit our favorite place, Point Reyes.  One day the population will be 352 as John and I move in (around 2035).

The Point Reyes farmers market is a small one, but full of character.  John rolled his eyes at these haricot verts (he hates French things, despite his LaBarre heritage), but I told him haricot verts are actually a different vegetable than American green beans.  

This vendor sold different varieties of basil - I never even thought about different basils having different flavor.  Wish I had picked some up!

I can't decide whether the flowers are prettier than the multi-colored radishes on the front of the table.  

Roadkill green beans.  

Golden Brown and Delicious - after having one of these grilled cheeses about a year ago I knew I'd be having another on this visit to Point Reyes.  

The toasty cheese on the outside was the best part.  

Point Reyes Compost Co: Don't let anyone else give you crap.  

Could there be a more perfect slogan?

This little fella (gal?) was standing on his hind legs and looking from side to side for mom and dad.  He was like a little furry toddler.  

You over there, Ma?

Next we drove up to Dillon Beach for the first time.  

Just another beautiful beach in California.  

Just another cute hubby on a beautiful beach in California. 

All my frolicking Maddie pictures turned out blurry, but I had to post some photos of my gal.  She looks pretty funny mid-leap, if you ask me.  

Lookin' pretty funny mid-shake too.  I have a dream of getting an in-focus shot of Maddie shaking off one day.  

Saturday afternoon I spent on our porch reading my September issue of Elle and eating hummus and pita chips from the farmers market.  Not a bad way to relax.

Oh and I had this view too.  

What a great weekend!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Praline Ice Cream

My parents took my brother and I to New Orleans when I was in the fifth grade.  At the time this didn't seem weird, but as I grew up I realized that most people don't go the New Orleans with their fifth graders.  Instead they go for Mardi Gras and consume a fifth of bourbon while wandering down Bourbon Street.  My parents warned us about Bourbon Street, and when we walked down it - as a family - in the center of the street so as to be not to be too close to the bars and houses of lovely ladies.  I am serious.

Several things from the trip stick out in my mind, most of them related to food.  We downed beignets at Cafe du Monde almost daily, and when I wasn't covered with powdered sugar I was sticky from pralines.  Pralines aren't really something you find many places, and it's really heartbreaking for those of us who don't live in New Orleans.  When done right, they melt in your mouth to release a deep sweetness that goes perfectly with rich, crunchy nuts.

This recipe was supposed to be a normal butter pecan ice cream, but the moment I tasted it, I knew it was a praline ice cream in my book.  It isn't a vanilla ice cream with praline pieces (which I would also love), but instead the entire thing just tastes like a praline on it's own.  It's addictive.

To get started, whisk together 6 large egg yolks and set aside.

You will need two cups of heavy cream and two cups of milk - don't buy half-and-half though, because you need them separated.

One cup of brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt provide just the right balance of sweetness in this rich ice cream.

Fill a large bowl with ice water.  Place two cups of cream in a bowl on top of the ice water.  Place a large sieve on top of the cream.  This set-up will chill the custard immediately so that it stops cooking when you remove it from the heat.

In a medium saucepan heated to medium heat, melt six tablespoons of butter.

Mix the butter constantly and cook until it just begins to brown.

Add in 1 cup brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Stir until the sugar completely melts.  This will take several minutes.

Slowly pour in 2 cups of milk.  It will foam up, so make sure you pan can handle it.

The cold milk caused my caramel mixture to seize up and harden, but I just continued to heat the milk and stir until the "praline" melted back into the mixture.  Be sure to heat until all of the sugar melts into the milk.

Very slowly, pour half of the milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly so as not to scramble the eggs.  Add the warmed egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture.  Heat the combined mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber/silicon spatula or a wooden spoon.  Be sure to scrape the bottom as you stir.  Heat for 5-7 minutes, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon.

Pour the custard into the chilled cream through the sieve to remove any unwanted bits.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.  Then churn in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Meanwhile, roast 1 cup of pecans (or pre-chopped pecans) in a 350 degree oven until lightly toasted.  Cool before adding to ice cream.  Cup pecans into small pieces.

When the ice cream is done churning, mix 1 cup of chopped pecans into the ice cream and freeze to harden.

The first words out of my mouth when I had my first spoonful were "oh my God."

This ice cream is so up my alley that it might be my if-you-could-only-have-one-flavor-for-the-rest-of-your-life-what-would-it-be choice.  It also really tastes straight out of a gourmet ice cream shop.  I love cookie dough ice cream as much as the next gal, but there is something to be said for this more unique and adult flavor.  New Orleans in my mouth - now time to figure out how to make beignet ice cream.  Hmm...

Praline Ice Cream
Adapted from Simply Recipes

6 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together 6 egg yolks.  In a separate bowl, place 2 cups of heavy cream in a bowl over a large bowl of ice water.  Place a large sieve atop the cream.  In a saucepan with high sides, melt 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Stir the butter constantly and when it just begins to brown add 1 cup brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Continue cooking over medium heat until the sugar melts (this will take several minutes), keep stirring.  Slowly pour in 2 cups of milk - it will foam up and will potentially cause the sugar mixture to harden.  Cook the milk mixture until the sugar is fully incorporated/melted into it.  Do not boil.  Very slowly, pour half of the milk mixture into the 6 egg yolks, while whisking constantly.  (Tip: Using a small measuring cup to remove the warm milk mixture makes pouring it into the eggs easier when whisking.)  Add the warmed eggs back into the milk mixture and heat over medium heat, stirring with a rubber/silicon spatula or wooden spoon.  Be sure to scrape the bottom.  Wait for the mixture to thicken enough to coat the back of the spoon, 5-7 minutes.  Pour the custard into the sieve and mix with the cream.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.  Meanwhile, roast 1 cup pecans in a 350 degree oven until fragrant, 6 minutes.  Chop and cool before adding to ice cream.  Churn ice cream according to ice cream maker's instructions.  When done, stir in 1 cup chopped pecans and freeze to harden.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chicken Parmesan

Remember that moment when you discovered chicken parmesan on the Olive Garden menu and never looked back?  I don't eat at Olive Garden anymore (though from the lines at that place it seems like I'm the only one), but I still love a good chicken parmesan.  Not only do you get the pan-fried juicy chicken breast, but it's accompanied by two forms of deliciousness - zesty tomato sauce and browned mozzarella cheese.  If I was really going to distance, I would have served this with a heaping mound of spaghetti, but since I know Natalie is less of a piggy than I (despite the fact that I call her "Fatalie" on occasion), I decided to serve it with veggies instead.

I used my blink-and-you'll-be-done tomato sauce recipe because it tastes great and is amazingly easy.  When I'm pan-frying chicken on a Tuesday, I don't want to spend a lot of time making sauce too.  I've had a lot of chicken parmesan in my day because it's often a safe choice on a menu where seafood risotto isn't exactly advised.

Next time you are looking for an easy way to transform those extra chicken breasts in your freezer, go back to a dish that I know you've enjoyed alongside some free bread sticks.  I don't have a bread stick recipe yet, but we can all agree that's probably for the best.

Chicken Parmesan
Adapted from Martha Stewart

3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
4 chicken breasts, pounded thin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cusps tomato sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/8-1/4 inch slices

Preheat broiler in oven.  In a shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs and grated Parmesan.  In a separate shallow bowl, add a large egg and beat lightly.  Pound chicken breasts thin and season with salt and pepper on both sides.  Dip chicken in egg and then dredge in bread crumbs until covered on both sides.  Spread tomato sauce in a large (10x15) baking dish.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick (preferably cast-iron) skillet over medium heat.  Cook chicken in batches until golden - 1-2 minutes on each side.  Do not attempt to cook chicken all the way through or it will become dry with further cooking.  Remove the chicken from the pan and place on top of tomato sauce.  Refill pan with more oil and cook the remaining chicken.  Top the chicken with mozzarella slices and broil about 4 inches away from the heat for 5-8 minutes, until sauce is hot and cheese is melted and lightly browned.  Serve with spaghetti and extra sauce for the authentic experience.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Corn and Arugula Salad with Bacon

I will use just about an excuse to get corn into my meals wherever possible when it is fresh, sweet, and abundant.  I've been tossing corn into my salad at the salad bar at work for a couple of weeks now.  Sadly, it's just the frozen kind, so it's mostly just there for show, not flavor.  When I saw this recipe for corn salad with arugula and bacon, I knew this was a recipe I would like.  To be honest, I didn't know it would be a recipe everyone would like, but it really is a crowd pleaser.

The original recipe is called "Arugula Corn Salad with Bacon," but when you're eating it, it tastes more like a corn salad than an arugula salad.  So much so that I was surprised to look back on these pictures and see that the corn wasn't as dominating in presence as it is in flavor.  To me, this is a good thing, as fresh, sweet corn is one of the best flavors I can imagine.  I made the bacon and corn in advance, so they were both cold.  If you make it the day-of, it's probably best if they are warm and not hot.  As always, I suggest using thick bacon and baking it in the oven for couldn't-be-easier crisp bacon.  You can either grill or steam the corn before taking it off the cob, or you can be like me and cut it off the cob and cook it in a big saute pan with a tablespoon of olive oil.

Precooked corn kernels, chopped peppery arugula, tangy green onions, and crispy bacon make for an irresistible start to a meal.  A small amount of cumin-infused dressing really brightens up the flavor of the salad.  If you're a dainty eater, like Natalie, this salad will fill you up from all the sweet corn.  If you're a pig like me, you'll still have plenty of room for green beans and firecracker shrimp.  Either way, you'll be enjoying this simple salad and wondering why you hadn't discovered this flavor combination sooner.

Corn and Arugula Salad with Bacon
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Makes 4 large servings

4 ears of sweet corn
2 cups of chopped arugula (closer to 4 cups pre-chopping)
6 strips of thick-cut bacon
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cumin
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste

Cook bacon until crispy, preferably in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes, and drain on paper towels.  Chop the bacon into small strips.  Cook four ears of corn - grill, steam, or sauté it - and either cut the kernels off after cooking or before cooking if sauteing the kernels in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Either refrigerate bacon and corn, or use while still warm.  Add bacon and corn to a large bowl with 2 cups of chopped arugula and 1/3 cup of chopped green onions.  Make the dressing by whisking together 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon cumin, and plenty of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  Dress the salad right before serving.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Swiss Mountain Dog Day

John and I have a bit of an obsession with Swiss Mountain Dogs.  Such an obsession that we stalk the Golden Gate Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club.  Hence the picture of said club above.

We joined them at our favorite place, Point Isabel, for their Walk and Talk.

There were about ten Swissies at the event - more Swissies than I've ever seen in one place.  I was in heaven!

Swissies are big 100 pound dogs, but they are gentle giants that I can't help but be enamored by.

Look at those sweet faces.

I remember the first time I saw a Swissy.  John and I were in Virginia Beach for Thanksgiving.  My whole family was at Seashore State Park to take a family photo.  After piling out of the car I spotted a big lovable dog with the colors of a Milky Way Dark bar.  What could be better?  I bounded over to say "hi" to the pooch and her floppy ears and big smile melted my heart.

From then on I've been a Swiss Mountain Dog fanatic, raving for days when I've managed to spot one.  Only serious dog people (which thankfully includes John) could understand my obsession.

The Walk and Talk was great because we got to hear first-hand accounts of the breed.  For instance, they aren't usually fond of water, but one will occasionally take a short dip for fun.

Maddie fancied herself one of the gang during the walk.  When we had her off leash she was inclined to lead the pack but found herself a big perturbed that the humans and big dogs couldn't keep up with her fast trot.

All of the dog owners were in love with the breed and were extremely helpful telling us all about their dogs.  We're crossing our fingers we might even be able to dog sit for a Swissy at some point.

As much as I love Swissies, no dog can compare to my dear Maddie.  She turned 13 last week, which is definitely senior citizen status in dog years.  I find her even cuter now that she snores and has a grayed muzzle.  Wouldn't it be nice to age so gracefully?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I was a kid I used to go through breakfast phases in the blink of an eye.  My mom was tortured by my ever-changing demands.  I would want Lucky Charms for two and a half weeks, and by the time my mom had stocked up on the Charms I would be demanding bagels.  Ugh, no more bagles, now I want muffins.  She always got stuck eating the excess of whatever breakfast I deemed inedible anymore.

Things are different nowadays.  I've been eating oatmeal for breakfast for about 3 years now, and I'm loving it.  A nice, warm, soothing breakfast tastes amazing (with agave and fresh fruit) and also keeps me full a lot longer than sugary cereal.  I even got John hooked on the stuff.

Needless to say, we have plenty of oatmeal around the house, but usually only the quick-cooking kind.  This recipe calls for old-fashioned oats, so I headed to Whole Foods to raid their bulk bins.  Unfortunately for me, there wasn't much oatmeal left, so I spent about 5 minutes crouched down near the bin trying to scrape every last oatmeal flake into my plastic bag.  The other shoppers looked at me like I was a bit nuts, as I can understand.  Geez, that girl really needs every last drop of oatmeal, doesn't she?  Well, fortunately my embarrassing behavior paid off and I ended up with just enough oats to make this recipe - 2 cups.  And it's a good thing I had the oatmeal, because these cookies turned out amazing.  Crispy and chewy at the same time, with big melty chocolate chunks.  You can never have enough oatmeal in your life, right?

Like most cookie recipes, you start by whipping butter.  This recipe asks you to whip two sticks of softened butter by itself first.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 2 cups old-fashioned oats, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon baking powder.

While the stand mixer is on medium speed, slowly pour in 1 3/4 cups sugar and beat until light and fluffy

This is the first jar of molasses to make its way into my pantry - and it will probably be there for the rest of my life.  Not the same jar, people, different ones!  Molasses adds a deep, rich flavor to sweets.

To the sugar-butter mixture, mix in 4 teaspoons dark molasses.

Beat until just combined - the butter will be nice and golden.

One member of the family isn't a raisin fan (ahem, John), which is why I needed to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  The recipes uses lots of bittersweet chocolate chips/chunks - 12 ounces.  Try not to eat all of the chips before they make it into the dough.

Add two eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, and mix well after each addition until fully incorporated.  Then mix in 2 tablespoons whole milk, 1 tablespoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon salt and mix well.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in all of the flour mixture at once, mixing on low speed until combined.

This dough will be very soft and sticky, which makes for a slightly more difficult shaping process.

On cookie sheets lined with parchment, place cookie dough using an ice cream scoop.  Use your (clean, please) fingers to flatten the cookies until they are 2-3 inches wide.  Keep a bowl of water nearby and wet your fingers to make the flattening a bit less sticky.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes until lightly browned on the outside but still pale in the middle.

Allow the cookies to cool on a rack before devouring a dozen under the guise of eating healthy oatmeal.  I'm not sure if it was mental, but I did find these cookies to be more filling than your average cookie.  Maybe it wasn't the oatmeal, but the fact that these cookies were pretty gigantic.  They are meant to be thin and chewy, and most importantly, chocolatey.  One taste of these and you'll be willing to scrape the bottom of the oatmeal bin in front of shocked onlookers too.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Tartine

12 oz. bittersweet and/or semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups (285 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups (170 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (two sticks) softened, unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (350 g) sugar
4 tsp blackstrap (or other kind of dark) molasses
2 large eggs
2 tbsp whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and rolled oats (not quick cooking).  In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat two sticks of softened butter on medium-high speed until creamy and light.  Slowly pour in the sugar while mixing on medium speed until the butter is very fluffy.  Scrape down the bowl with a spatula as needed.  Add molasses and beat until combined.  Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition until fully incorporated.  Add milk, vanilla, and salt and mix well.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in all of the flour mixture at once, mixing on low speed until combined.  Dough will be soft and sticky.  Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate).  On cookie sheets lined with parchment place cookie dough using an ice cream scoop.  Keep a bowl of water nearby and lightly wet fingers and flatten cookies so they are about 2-3 inches wide.  Bake for 12 minutes at 350 degrees until lightly browned on the outside but pale in the center.  Cookies will spread, so leave plenty of room.  Remove to cooling racks and enjoy.
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