Friday, September 11, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Birthday Sheet Cake

Thanks to Susy of Everyday Gourmet, the party just won't stop! Last week I celebrated my 38th with a little cocktail cruise down at the beach. It wasn't a cake sort of night, so I was looking forward to this week's BB recipe, the Birthday Sheet Cake.

This cake was simple and good. Unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed by the chocolate frosting. My quick fix was to cut the cake into small squares and leave some of the pieces "unfrosted."

There was one undiscriminating member of my family who tried desperately to get his paws on these birthday squares...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: White Pizza with Arugula

Forget the coconut cupcakes. This dish must be the single-best recipe ever published by the Barefoot Contessa. I have to thank Andrea of Nummy Kitchen for enlightening me in ways I would never have discovered if left to my own selection process.

You ask, what makes each bite of this pizza so incredible that you think you just made something Michelin-star worthy and think that you have what it takes to become the next Food Network star? As noted by the Contessa, it is the contrast of the warm-goat cheese-garlic-infused-olive oil-pizza against the cold, lemony arugula.

This is seriously good stuff.

Better yet, there is something so organic and beautiful about making homemade pizza; it brings out (the fractional interest of) my Italian heritage. I love working with my hands and the smell of the yeast in the dough. I am still marveled by the entire proofing process. Making homemade pizza or pasta is such a wonderful way to love on your friends and family. So even though the weather was about a buck-o-six on the day I prepared this amazing dish, I happily turned my oven onto 500 degrees for this little slice of heaven.

White Pizza with Arugula
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

For the pizza:
1 ¼ cups of warm water (100-110 degrees)
2 packages of dry yeast
1 Tbsp. of honey
1 Tbsp. of olive oil
4 cups of AP flour
4 garlic cloves
fresh thyme
red pepper flakes
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 cup of fresh mozzarella
1 cup of crumbled goat cheese

For the salad:
Good olive oil
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt
Fresh ground peppter

For the dough:
Combine water, yeast, honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of the electric mixer. When yeast is dissolved (and using the dough hook attachment) add 3 cups of flour. Mix on low-medium speed. While mixing, add up to 1 additional cup of flour to get the right consistency to be able to knead dough. Knead dough in bowl for approximately 10 minutes, sprinkling with flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to bowl. When dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface and knead it by hand again. Place dough in well-oiled bowl and cover with kitchen towel. Let the dough proof for at least 30 minutes.

For the garlic-infused olive oil:
Place ½ cup of olive oil in small saucepan. Add sliced garlic cloves, thyme, pepper flakes (to preference). Simmer on low temperature for about 10 minutes. Don’t burn the garlic!

When dough is ready, roll out to desired circumference. Brush the garlic infused olive oil onto the pizza. Add salt, pepper and cheese. (The cheese can be adapted in a number of ways according to preference. I substituted out the Fontina and some of the mozzarella for more goat cheese. You could also use Feta.) Then drizzle a little more of the oil on top of cheese. Bake for approximately 10 minutes.

In the meantime, make arugula salad. When the pizza is done, pull out of the oven and top with the arugula salad. Eat immediately.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Mango Daiquiris

Two weeks ago, I was re-acquainted with an old standby, the vodka soda. I have to tell you that after years of beer and wine, I found this cocktail more refreshing and dazzling than ever before! Perhaps it was the sweltering 100-degree heat on the day of our long overdue reunion or the economy of this reduced-calorie cocktail. Either way, we’ve been meeting once a week ever since! My latest adaptation of this delightful carbonated cocktail is a splash of Grey Goose L’ Orange with a slice of orange.

With my renewed appreciation for the “see-through,” I was thrilled when my fellow Barefoot Blogger Veronica of Supermarket Serenade chose a fruity cocktail for this month’s Barefoot Bloggers recipe. What a way to start the weekend! (I take most Friday’s off.) I decided to load it up with a bunch of fresh summer fruit: peaches, strawberries, mango and banana. This cocktail was thick and yummy, but would have been much better as an afternoon cocktail sans la nourriture. Unfortunately, my husband and I drank it with wild-caught salmon and an heirloom tomato salad. While delicious, I’m uncomfortably bloated right now…

Mango Daiquiri
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

1 cup of chopped ripe mangos (About 1 ½ mangos)
½ ripe banana
1 cup of fresh strawberries, cut in half
1 cup of chopped peaches
¼ cup of simple syrup
1 cup of rum
Add 2 cups of ice

(While I would highly recommend mixing this in a blender, I will note that I broke my blender a few months ago and used my food processor instead)

Peel the mangos. Rough chop all fruit and put into blender. Add simple syrup and rum. Blend until smooth. Add 2 cups of ice and blend until smooth and thick.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Peach, Blueberry & Blackberry Crumbles

Thank you Aggie of Aggie’s Kitchen for your selection this month! Your timing was perfection as the peaches could not have been more beautiful and ripe at my local market. In addition, I found locally grown blackberries to add to this dish. Cooking and baking with local produce is bar none! My only regret was not topping them off with a bit of green tea or lemon-vanilla whip cream….

Peach, Blueberry & Blackberry Crumbles
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

For the fruit:
2 pounds of ripe (important) peaches
2 teaspoons of lemon zest
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup of AP flour
1 cup of blueberries
1+ cup of blackberries

For the crumble:
1 cup of AP flour
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup golden brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 pound of cold, unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Immerse peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute, until their skins can be removed easily. Place under cold water and peel off skins. Slice peaches into wedges and place in large bowl. Add, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, flour, blueberries and blackberries. Allow mixture to sit for awhile (Can be done a few hours ahead of time)

For the crumble, combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until butter is size of peas. Rub mixture with fingers until it's in big crumbles. (This took me a few minutes) If you make this ahead of time, store in ziplock bag and place in refrigerator.

When you are ready to cook, line baking sheet with parchment paper (easy clean up). Fill ramekins with fruit mixture. Sprinkle crumbles over fruit and bake for 40-45 minutes. Serve warm!

So good...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Ahhhh trial is over and I can finally start to enjoy this Summer’s bounty and dining alfresco! This week’s Barefoot Bloggers’ recipe is the first chance I’ve had to cook in weeks. Well, it wasn’t so much cooking as it was “preparing” ingredients a.k.a. quick and easy. Love it!

Pasta salad, like couscous, can be improvised in a myriad of ways so I love this kitchen sink approach to balancing out a meal. I tend to steer clear of pasta and use couscous or quinoa instead because of the lower fat and calorie content of these alternative grains. (It doesn’t help that I grew up eating pasta and chicken so often that I’m a tad over it at this point.)

That’s not to say that I didn’t binge only ever so slightly on this delicious pasta salad. After all, it was loaded with kalamata olives and capers! Sun-dried tomatoes are good, but give me imported olives or pickled anything and I go nuts. By adding asparagus, I was able to incorporate some healthy veggies and get that bold Viva Italia color to the dish!

I used only half the dressing. I always do this because Ina’s recipes always result in far more dressing than one would ever need. But, today I had another reason to cut the dressing in half. Last night, my husband and I were out doing errands and picked up dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. In reading the menu, I discovered that the Barbeque Chicken Salad and the Chinese Chicken Salad contain approximately 1200 calories each! (The dressing constitutes 75% of that total figure) You see, while I’ve apparently been under a rock, effective July 1, 2009, restaurants with 20 or more locations in California (chains) are required to list the calorie content in each item on their menu. While I (normally) do not eat at “chains,” and probably why I did not know this, I am contemplating the title of my next blog post: “Did I really need to know that?”

I guess the law is already working.

Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

1/2 pound of fusilli pasta
kosher salt
olive oil
1 pound ripe tomatoes, medium diced
1-2 tablespoons of capers
crumbled feta
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

For the Dressing:
5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons good olive oil
1 garlic clove, diced
1 teaspoon capers, drained
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan
basil, chiffonade

Cook pasta. Drain and cool. Blanch asparagus and chop into 1 inch pieces. Place pasta, asparagus, tomatoes, olives, capers, sun dried tomatoes and feta in a bowl.

For the dressing: combine sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt and pepper in a food processor until almost smooth.

Pour half the dressing over the pasta and toss. Sprinkle parmesan and basil.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Curried Couscous

I'm in trial now, so I was so happy with this week's quick and easy barefoot bloggers' recipe selected by Ellyn of Recipe Collector and Tester. I was also relieved to make a healthy dish since I still have an extra 5 on me from last month's brownie binge!

An old friend of mine from Napa turned me on to couscous about 8 years ago. It is one of my favorite side dishes. I tend to think of it more as a "salad" and I throw everything in it (depending on whatever I have in stock) from grape tomatoes to asparagus to feta cheese to kalamata olives. They key is adding olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper so it's not tasteless. My favorite way to enjoy couscous is usually with roasted chicken or steak and a big glass of wine. Not this week. It was a water with lemon night.

I thought the curry was a delicious twist and I am so happy to mix it up a bit! I ended up substituting sour cream for the yogurt (because I had no time to go to the market) and I reduced the salt substantially.

Curried Couscous
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

1 1/4 cup of water
1 cup of couscous
roughly 1/4 cup of good olive oil
1-2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons of sour cream
1 teaspoon of curry powder
1/4 teaspoon of tumeric
a little less than 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup of diced red onions
1/2 cup of scallions
1 tablespoon of flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup of dried cranberries
1/4 cup of almond slices

Boil water in pot. Add couscous, remove from heat and cover for 5 minutes.

Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, sour cream, curry powder, tumeric, salt and pepper in small bowl. In medium bowl add red onions, scallions, parsley, cranberries, almonds and couscous. Pour dressing over salad and toss.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Absurd Brownies

I discovered that the Contessa put a warning label (outrageous) on this recipe for a reason. Unfortunately, I made this discovery after I added dark chocolate pieces, cayenne pepper and cinnamon resulting in my adaptation of the Outrageous Brownies recipe, which I am now calling Absurd Brownies. I am proud however, that despite the vulgarity of these coma-inducing beauties, I’m still “tasting” them three days after production. (I seriously need to get them out of my house!)

Inexplicably, I was going for an exotic Mexican chocolate. Don’t ask. I have very little experience with chocolate; I’ve never even made a ganache. To be honest, I was completely baffled by the selection of bittersweet, unsweetened, milk chocolate and dark chocolate “baking bars.” I never even found the Hersheys! (Was she referring to a regular Hershey’s chocolate bar?)

Nonetheless, like everything I do in life, I decided to jump right into this recipe as if I were a Belgian-born Chocolatier. I spent the better part of an afternoon (in heels) sweating over a hot stove stirring melted butter and chocolate, later realizing that I failed to add the 6 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, requiring a repeat of the melting process. My entire house smelled like a Chocolaterie for two days. It was truly decadent and I sensed these brownies were going to be rich. No kidding. Literally, the only person in my family who was able to down an entire piece was my sugar-fueled 3-year old niece who thinks she could live on confections alone.

Silly girl. I forgot to call my sister later that day to find out whether it stayed down!

Absurd Brownies
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies

1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces of semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces of unsweetened chocolate (Don't forget!)
6 large eggs
3 tablespoons of instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups of sugar
1 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (to preference)
1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon
6 ounces of small dark chocolate pieces ( I used 76% cacao)
3 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350
Butter and flour a full cookie sheet

Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Once melted add the cayenne and cinnamon. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool at room temperature. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the chocolate mixture. Once cooled, break the dark chocolate bar into very small morsels and toss into the mixture along with 12 ounces of chocolate chips and walnuts. (The Contessa recommends to flour the chips and walnuts before tossing them so they don't sink to the bottom)

Bake for 20 minutes. Pull baking sheet out and tap it down on a hard surface a few times to get the air out from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes more until the toothpick comes out clean. "Do not overbake!"

Happy Indulging.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Tuna Salad a.k.a. Hawaiian Ahi Poke and Avocados

Aloha bloggers! This week’s Barefoot recipe was found online at the Food Network and was chosen by Kate of Warm Olives and Cool Cocktails. As my Northern counterpart will appreciate, we Californians eat a lot of Tuna. Whether raw, seared or beer-battered I would guess that this wonderful protein is consumed in mass quantities in our sunshine state. My all-time favorite way to devour this delicious fish is Poke style (pronounces POH-kay). And, I was so pleased to get my hands on this recipe.

In case you haven't tried it, Poke is a Hawaiian dish consisting of well-seasoned bite size pieces of raw fish. (I happen to prefer the Ahi slightly seared) Typically, Poke is served as an appetizer, which helps the pocketbook when buying Sushi grade Tuna –a “must have” for this dish. The most delicious Poke appetizer I’ve ever tried included diced Avocados and a Ponzu-style vinaigrette. At first glance, this online recipe appeared to contain all of these elements.

That is, until I followed the recipe....

Was it just me or did someone at the Food Network drop the ball on this one? The proportions in this recipe were way off the mark! My vinaigrette was so sour that it felt like I singed the first layer of my tongue while tasting. I found the quantity (six tablespoons) of lime-juice to olive oil and soy sauce totally disproportionate. I’m also thinking that the lime zest is unnecessary. I ended up salvaging my first attempt by adding more olive oil, low sodium soy sauce and ginger. It worked! I was able to control the acidity and get a fabulous result. Also, I avoided the salt because (as from our prior experience with the Chinese Chicken salad dressing) the soy sauce (even the low sodium version) contains enough salt for this vinaigrette.

Ahi Poke with Avocados
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Tuna Salad

1 lb of Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna
1-2 diced Hass Avocado
1/3 cup of minced scallions
1/4 cup of minced red onions

3 tbsp of olive oil
2 tbsp of soy sauce
3 tbsp of fresh lime juice
zest of one lime (optional)
1/2 tsp. of fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp of wasabi paste (to preference)
1-2 tbsp of fresh ginger

Optional toppings:
Sesame seeds
Fresh herbs i.e. baby cilantro

Brush tuna with olive oil (both sides) and sprinke with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Sear on grill for 2 minutes or less each side. Cut tuna into bite size pieces.

In a large bowl, place avocado, scallions, red onions and tuna.

In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, soy sauce, wasabi, pepper, ginger, (and optional lime zest). May need to adjust for taste.

Lightly pour vinaigrette over tuna, avocado and onions. Add sesame seeds and fresh baby cilantro.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Croque Monsieur

Thank you Kathy for choosing this sinfully delicious dish! I don't normally eat cheese sauce. Not that I don't want to. It's just that my metabolism moves at a snail's pace. Nonetheless, I think I got a little carried away with my "slathering" of the cheese sauce and poured too much of it on those previously, semi-nutritional sandwiches. It was a total loss of self control. The whole time I was "slathering" I kept thinking, enough already! I know how the 'French Women Don't Get Fat' and believe me, they're not eating Croque Monsieur with an inch-thick layer of cheese sauce on top. Could you imagine Madame Guiliano pairing her leek soup with Croque Monsieur and then washing it down with a little Veuve Clicquot?

Despite my gluttony and guilt, my husband and I loved it! And why not? Who doesn't love hangover food? Better yet, my husband and I left for Paris on April 20th, so it was the perfect way for me to create a little pre-travel excitement.

Normally, my husband is not a big fan of my quasi-French Provincial cooking. (See my How Not To Make A Strawberry Tart post below.) We’ve had many debates about his loathing of thyme and my desire to use it in almost every dish. Our food debate looks something like this: I tell him we're having steak tonight and he envisions a steak and baked potato. What he is actually served, is steak au poivre (or some attempt at a sauce) with haricot vert and herb-roasted new potatoes. After dinner, I'll ask how he liked it and he'll reply, it was "okay." You can imagine how well that goes over.

Croque Monsieur however, is a different story. We can agree that the “slathering” of a ridiculously good cheese sauce over a cheese and ham sandwich, is paradise. I'm just hoping that enough "bar food" in Paris will convert him into a Francophile yet!

I decided to try the Contessa’s Croque Monsieur three different ways: (1) with Virginia Ham and Gruyère as stated in the recipe; (2) Prosciutto and Gruyère; and (3) Aged Cheddar, Virginia Ham and Granny Smith apple slices. My husband said he liked it all three ways. Personally, I thought the Contessa’s recipe was the best. In the second version, I found that substituting the ham for Prosciutto made it too salty and in the third version, the flavor of the apples was completely lost on the Aged Cheddar with the Gruyère cheese sauce. Note: I have made a delicious grilled-cheese sandwich using brie and apple slices so I thought I would try it here.

I paired the sandwiches with my own version of the strawberry-arugula salad posted by one of our Barefoot Blogger hostesses, Rebecca, on her blog Ezra Pound Cake. (The only healthy thing on the plate.) Thank you Rebecca, this salad is delicious and beautiful!

Croque Monsieur
Adapted (only slightly) from Ina Garten’s Croque Monsieur
Serves 2-3

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups of hot milk
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
pinch of cayenne pepper
3 cups of Gruyère Cheese
½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 slices of French bread
Dijon mustard
4 thick slices of Virginia ham

Preheat oven to 400

Melt butter over low heat in small saucepan and add the flour slowly, stirring constantly with wooden spoon. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until sauce is thickened. (Could take 5-10 minutes.) Once thickened, take off heat and add, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, 1/2 cup of grated Gruyère, and the Parmesan and set aside.

Toast bread in oven for 5 minutes. Turn over and bake another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Assemble the sandwiches by adding a light amount of mustard to one slice of bread, add a slice of ham, and sprinkle Gruyère cheese. Top with another piece of toasted bread and put 2 (maybe 3 but that's pushing it) tablespoons of the cheese sauce over the tops of the sandwiches. Bake for 3-5 minutes. Turn on broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Bon appétit!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Goat Cheese Salad

There are many things I dread about Summer. As you can probably guess, the heat is complaint number one. I know that living in Southern California doesn’t give me the right to complain too much, but let me just put to rest any mistaken notions that we maintain a constant 75-80 degrees. In my area of Los Angeles County we spend much of June, July and August in the upper 90’s and many days (sometimes weeks) above 100.

The other thing I dread about Summer are large spiders. I’m no stranger to critters. We live in a fairly rural area, so they're certainly expected. I can tolerate the rats and lizards. What I do mind are the creatures with too many legs. Particularly where they would be in the same weight class as a tarantula or small rodent. It doesn’t seem to matter how often we spray, you can bet I’ll have one of those suckers in my bathroom two to three nights a week during Summer and early Fall.

Not too long ago I had a particularly devastating arachnid experience when I walked into our bathroom and found a very large, redish, hairy guy crawling across the bathroom counter. It was so large that I couldn't even bring myself to use a shoe or tissue to kill it. I did the only thing I knew how: I grabbed a large object to push the spider into the sink. I then reached for the faucet (being fully aware that in doing so my hand was within inches of the beast) and turned the water on for a good minute hoping to drown it. After I turned the water off, I watched the drain for a few seconds to make sure it was gone. No such luck. That spider came climbing up and out of the drain like it was nothing. Panicking, I turned the water back on, forced the spider back down the drain and poured nail polish remover down the drain. (My insect spray was out of reach and I wasn’t willing to leave the bathroom to go get some for fear that the spider would get away!) Despite the acetone bath, I was shocked when I saw that spider crawling back out of the sink. I realized then that I was no match for this spider. I turned the water back on, forced him down the drain again and put a heavy glass over the entrance to the drain. I then called my husband into the room to put it out of its misery - and mine too.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about Summer in mid-April. Well, despite my few complaints, there are many things about this warm season that I wait anxiously for all year. Among those are stone fruits and heirloom tomatoes.

Two Wednesdays ago, I was completely overjoyed to discover that one of the vendors at my local Farmer’s Market was selling heirloom tomatoes. The first of April no less! Despite the fact that they were on the small side, I was assured that they were packed with flavor. He wasn’t kidding. This presented the first opportunity of the year to prepare my favorite salad, consisting of locally grown ingredients: Heirloom Tomatoes and Avocados. I could eat this salad several times a week! Every bite is just a reminder of California goodness. To be able to enjoy it in 70 degree weather is just icing on the cake!

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Goat Cheese Salad

3-4 heirloom tomatoes (thinly sliced)
1 avocado (Sliced into thin wedges)
3 scallions (white parts only)
¼ cup of crumbled goat cheese
2-3 tablespoons of “good” olive oil
1-2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon of basil (Chiffonade)
1 tablespoon of pine nuts

Place sliced tomatoes evenly on plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Scatter sliced avocado wedges on top of tomatoes. Drizzle with fresh lemon juice. Top with goat cheese, scallions, basil and pine nuts and fresh ground pepper.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Chinese Chicken Salad

I’m really into salads, so for my first Barefoot Bloggers’ recipe, this dish was right up my alley. Believe it or not, the Parties! Cookbook is one of only two Barefoot Contessa books that I previously did not own. What a perfect excuse to purchase another! As I’m sure my new blogging friends will appreciate, buying a new Barefoot Contessa cookbook is like that first bite of a rich goat cheese…pure decadence! (I didn’t use a chocolate analogy because I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.) Never mind making the recipes, I simply love reading these inspiring and creative books.

While I love salads, I initially thought that a Chinese Chicken Salad was a little passé. I think in Los Angeles, we’ve been doing Chinese Chicken Salads since about the opening of California Pizza Kitchen in the early 90s. Notwithstanding my reticence, I was excited to begin cooking as a proud new member of the Barefoot Bloggers.

This recipe was fantastic! The dressing is so flavorful and delicious; it turned an old boring menu item into a modern tangy dish. I was thinking the name itself, Chinese Chicken Salad, is such an understated name for this delicious salad. Maybe “Zesty Chinese Chicken Salad…”?

I did make a few changes to the recipe. First, I reduced the salad portion in half since there are only two of us. Second, I added ½ head of chopped cabbage to give my dish more of a “salad” feel.

As for the dressing, I made the whole amount, but used a little less than ½ of it on the salad. Also, I took one look at the amount of salt called for in the dressing and thought there was “NO WAY.” Glad my instincts were on. I cut the salt in half and used a low sodium soy sauce and still thought the dressing was slightly over salted!

Finally, I substituted rice wine vinegar for apple cider vinegar. There is only one reason for this substitution: I went to use my apple cider vinegar and saw that the expiration date was June of 06! Not joking. The worst part about this is that I USED the same apple cider vinegar last week in my vegetable cole slaw! Thinking back, something did seem a little off at the time. You can tell I have a highly trained palate! No matter. The dressing was absolutely delicious with the rice wine vinegar.

Tangy Chinese Chicken Salad
Adaptation of Ina Garten’s Chinese Chicken Salad:

4 split chicken breasts (bone in, skin on)
Good Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Ground Pepper
3/4 pound of asparagus
1/2 head of cabbage
1 red bell pepper
5 scallions (white and green parts), sliced diagonally.
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted

For the dressing:

1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup of soy sauce
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons of minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1/3 cup of peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon of Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Set aside until cool. Once cool, remove the meat from the bones, discard skin and shred the chicken into bite-size pieces.

Blanch the asparagus in pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. Immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and cut into strips. Cut the peppers into strips (same size as asparagus) Chop the cabbage in a food processor, using a thick blade attachment.

Combine the chicken, asparagus, peppers and cabbage into large bowl.

Whisk ingredients for dressing and pour over salad. Add scallions and sesame seeds.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Florence Nightingale

Either I have the word “SUCKER” written across my forehead or the veterinary business is a bit of a racket these days. It wasn’t always this way. I don’t remember my parents taking our family dogs for dental cleanings and yearly check ups throughout the 70s and 80s. Rather, they took our dog to the vet when there was a problem or when they needed to be spayed or neutered or vaccinated.

My dogs on the other hand, visit the vet more than I see a doctor. There are teeth cleanings, vaccinations, thyroid monitoring, anal gland excretions, and nail clippings, grooming for two out of my three dogs and most recently, cryosurgery. This one took the cake. (Not to mention it also took much of my anticipated SEP IRA contribution!)

I don’t have children. So, my dogs are my “babies.” When something is wrong, I take them in. I once took Smitty (our wire fox terrier) into the vet because of two dark freckles that mysteriously appeared inside his mouth. I think that visit signaled to my vet that I am easy target….

On Monday, my super-sized (43lbs) Cocker Spaniel had cryosurgery to remove the little hairs on his eyelids called Distichia; a common condition with American Bulldogs and Spaniels. I was sent to a veterinary eye specialist to obtain a consultation. The first office visit alone was over $500, which included one oral and one topical medication. This wasn’t a good sign, but I elected for the surgery nonetheless.

For three days now, I have been “nursing” Riley back to health. You would not believe the amount of post-op medications I was instructed to give him: three topical ointments, including eye drops and a gel that I am required to apply 3-4 times a day and three oral medications including an antibiotic, a steroid and a pain killer.

The two-page post-op discharge sheet was so complicated that I had to create a flowchart to make sure that that I would give Riley the right medication at the right time of day. I’m wondering if the vet has some back-end deal with Pfizer?

Maybe I don’t have “SUCKER” written across my forehead, but there is no doubt in my mind that I exude “CRAZY DOG LADY.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Not To Make A Strawberry Tart

Let’s just say, I should have gone with my original plan, which was to follow Ina Garten’s fruit tart recipe. (She uses a shortbread crust with pastry cream and it is delicious!)

Last month, I bought a flat of locally grown strawberries with the intention of making a Tarte aux Fraises. The strawberries were so delicious however, that we ended up devouring all of the fruit before I had time to bake. So, this past weekend I picked up two pints at the local Trader Joes. My amateur culinary wheels began to spin and I thought what herbs could I blend with the strawberries to make a savory-sweet tart? (As a point of reference, see my Cherry Peppercorn Tart post, which explains my current fascination with sweet-savory dessert)

My answer: Thyme.

Okay. I thought, certainly I was not the first to think of putting thyme in a strawberry tart. There must be a recipe online from some expert chef to give me a basic outline on how to proceed with my current culinary endeavor.

I discovered a nectarine strawberry tart that was prepared by Carla from Top Chef’s Season 5. (I was a big fan of hers) She blended nectarines, plums, cherries and strawberries along with thyme into the filling. It sounded delicious at the time (no pun intended). I went back to the market.

Seeing as it is late March and stone fruits are nowhere close to being in season, I bought nectarines and plums that had been imported from Chili. (By the way, and not uncommon, two of the nectarines were brown inside and needed to be thrown out.) This is probably where I went wrong; frozen nectarines may have tasted better.

I started by adding thyme to my pate brisee. I do this often with my quiches and it is usually delicious. Then came the filling: I seared the two surviving nectarines in canola oil. I then added the thyme, butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and the diced plums. I then added the cornstarch thickener, vanilla, and finally the strawberries.

Doesn’t sound that bad does it? Well, you know it wasn’t a hit, when your husband has one bite, starts puckering his lips, then starts picking pieces of thyme out of his teeth. He said it was sour and literally put his plate down claiming he couldn’t eat any more. I was so disappointed! I’m still at a loss as to why it tasted sour. Bad fruit? Of course, being the perfectionist, I took it so personally…

What followed next was a typical Mars-Venus dialogue of him telling me that he doesn’t like putting additives like thyme in his dessert. To which I defensively responded, “of course you don’t.” “You were raised on meat and potatoes.”

I’ll save you from the rest of the bad Dr. Phil episode.

I will say that the lemon thyme cream from Carla’s recipe was absolutely delicious! It was a very simple recipe including: whipping cream, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and thyme. The only mistake I made was not mincing the thyme well enough. (Causing the whole thyme-picking-from-teeth drama that I previously mentioned). No matter. It was delicious and I will use again and again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cherry Peppercorn Tart

I'm really into desserts (and food for that matter) that blend sweet and savory flavors in one mouthful. Perhaps it's because I don't have much of a sweet tooth; For dessert, I prefer a cheese plate to chocolate cake.

My interest in this "meritage" of flavors, was further confirmed on a recent trip to Paso Robles. We ate dinner at a wonderful restaurant across from the park called Villa Creek. For dessert we had a peppercorn cherry tart. It was to die for! Each bite was an awesome contrast between the sweet taste of the cherries with the sharp spicy flavor of the peppercorns. I spent the entire drive home and following week thinking how to make this delicious tart.

Given the fact that it was January and cherries are not in season, I bought frozen (pitted) organic cherries. Once cooked, they tasted fine. (However, fresh, ripe, domestic cherries would be spectacular!) My first attempt was not that good because I didn't have the texture of the filling right; it was too runny. (Mind you, I had never successfully baked a pie before this endeavor. I had no idea that you are supposed to use cornstarch or tapioca to thicken the filling) My second attempt was much better. I ended up using tapioca to thicken the cherry/peppercorn filling (Next time I will try the corn starch mixture) I also put ground peppercorn in my pate brisee. It was a good tart, but not exactly on par with Villa Creek. Here is a rough sketch of my recipe:

2 cups of flour
8 oz cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of crisco
2 tsp of sugar
1 tsp of salt
1 tablespoon of ground peppercorns
4-6 tablespoons of ice water

3-4 cups of pitted cherries
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
1 tsp of vanilla
1-2 tsp of ground peppercorns
1/4 water
2 tablespoons of cornstarch

If anyone reading this gets a 'wild hair' and decides to try this delicious tart, I would love your comments and suggestions for improvement!