Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Apple Strudel & My First Daring Bakers Challenge

I finally joined the Daring Bakers and the first challenge was Strudel dough. I have to say I wasn't entirely motivated by this challenge. I though for awhile about what type of filling I wanted to make but couldn't decide so I just made the basic apple filling, without any nuts or raisins since I'm not a huge fan of those in my desserts.

I didn't get my dough to roll out as big as I should have--well, I just didn't try hard enough since I was in a hurry--so it was a bit thick and didn't have many flaky layers surrounding the filling. And to be honest, I was disappointed by the flavor of the dough, very bland and flavorless. Pastry dough, pie dough, all those are normally my favorite part of a dessert and I was hopeful with this dough but it just didn't hit the spot. I feel like I was missing an ingredient but I double-checked the recipe and had everything it should. I'm not sure if I'll try strudel again, maybe if I'm able to perfect the rolling/stretching of the dough and adding a bit more flavor to the pastry itself.

I'm looking forward to next month's challenge, here is the info about the challenge for this month.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caf├ęs of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Days 2 & 3: L.A. Eating & Sightseeing Tour

After a wonderful 1st day in L.A. we were excited to wake-up and have even more fun things planned for the weekend! I was so stuffed from the previous day that I desperately needed something healthy for breakfast so while Brian had delicious doughnuts and coffee (from Bob's Doughnuts at the Farmer's Market) I had a wonderful bowl of fruit and water. Perfect!

Griffith observatory. I would love to come back at night. Beautiful view from the top!

Chinese Friendship Gardens at the Huntington Library & Garden in San Marino. These gardens are so large and expansive after a few hours of walking around we were exhausted! It was so beautiful and peaceful there. The desert garden and Chinese gardens were the best of the bunch. Amazing.

We tried a new, small mexican restaurant called El Huarche Azteca. Food was okay, not the best but it did hit the spot! We had a snack a little later, a few slices of pizza, from Mulberry St. Pizza in BH.

The Crescent Hotel is a wonderful, boutique hotel just a few blocks away from Rodeo Drive. Great area's outside to relax with a fireplace outside and inside. Very small rooms, but very comfortable.

We relaxed for a bit after our long day of walking around the gardens and then we were off to dinner, to eat yet again!

Animal Restaurant. A great (fairly new) restaurant on Fairfax. Right by Canter's Deli sat this small, simply decorated restaurant. We actually ran into a few friends who were just finishing their dinner and they had a few dishes to recommend to us. We had to wait a bit for our table and were starving by the time our first appetizer came out. And it was amazing! It was a bbq pork belly sandwich with coleslaw. On a brioche bun, the pork was so tender and a perfect match with the slightly sweet coleslaw.
Next up was the melted petit basque, chorizo, caramelized onion, garlic bread. This tasted a lot better than it smelled. The cheese was very strong but the flavors were great. And the bread was perfect.
The service was a little slow so by the time our entrees arrived we were so full that we couldn't even eat half of them!
We shared the balsamic pork ribs, rocket, currants, pine nuts and flat iron steak, potato, morels, truffle parmesan fondue. I wish I was able to eat everything but we did take them home so we weren't wasting this wonderful food! Unfortunately, we didn't get to try any of their delicious-sounding desserts. And I didn't get any pictures from Animal, too full and tired to think about it!

We skipped breakfast and went straight for lunch. Umami Burger. I will be coming back here as often as I can. The perfect ending to our eating tour. We tried the SoCal Burger-- with oven-dried tomato, spread, house made cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce--and the Triple Pork Burger--ground pork spiced with chorizo & bacon, manchego, pimenton aioli, lettuce. Both were juicy, perfectly cooked and delicious! Their special of the day was chili-cheese fries and they were addicting. They normally offer desserts from Cake Monkey but they didn't have any that day so instead we had a mint-chip macaroon ice cream sandwich. I would go back just for the ice cream sandwich. Divine!

We had a fabulous weekend and to this day I'm still full from all the food!

Monday, May 25, 2009

L.A. Eating & Sightseeing Tour: Day 1

We fit quite a lot into our 3-day vacation in L.A. Ate tons of wonderful food, went to many historical places and had a great time!

First stop was breakfast. Nickel Diner in downtown L.A. Started out with 2 types of doughnut holes, bacon and strawberry crumb. The strawberry crumb were so delicious that I decided that I need to replicate those at home! I tried huevos rancheros for the first time and loved it! Brian had the sausage scramble which he loved as well.

Then on to the Natural History Museum. I feel like I was here as a kid, though I don't really remember. Apparently Friday is "kid's day" at the museum because there were so many schools there with students. So it was a bit hard to navigate around the hordes of kids but we managed. The amount of work that is put into the diorama's, both large and small, is incredible and so fun to look at.

Just outside the Museum was the Butterfly Pavilion. Amazing to see so many beautiful butterflies in one place.

Lunch at Langer's Deli. Classic pastrami sandwich with swiss cheese, on rye. So good!

We stayed at the Farmer's Daughter hotel at 3rd & Fairfax, right across the street from the Farmer's Market. I loved the atmosphere of this place. So relaxing and fun. And such a good location shopping at the Grove and tons of food options at the Farmer's Market.

And dinner. A fabulous end to the day. We arrived a bit early at Tavern to have a few drinks at the bar (blood orange sour, dark & stormy) and ended up chatting with some very friendly people. Tavern has only been open for 3 weeks, the place was packed and the food was just as good as we expected!

Here's a rundown of what we ate, starting with my dinner:

1st course--Spring vegetables (fava beans, asparagus, peas, broccoli rabe, cauliflower), buratta cheese, meyer lemon and olives
Main course--Hangar steak, creamed spinach, fingerling potatoes
Dessert--Beignets, chicory-chocolate sauce, peanut-caramel sorbet

1st course (Brian)--Duck sausage, pancetta, frisee
Main course--Lamb, white beans, feta salsa verde

Let me say, the food was absolutely amazing and definitely worth waiting for the reservation! I want to buy the peanut-caramel sorbet by the gallon!

A great day for our 10th anniversary and more food and fun followed...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 2: Artos Greek Celebration Bread

Artos: Greek Celebration Bread. I have to say that I've always skipped past this recipe in The Bread Bakers Apprentice. No reason in particular, it just didn't grab my interest. And I am sad that I have not made this delicious bread sooner! A dough that is sweetened & made rich with honey, eggs, olive oil and milk. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, lemon extract and almond extract add the wonderful spice to the sweet dough.

I made the basic Greek Celebration Bread and used half of the dough to create the look of the nativity Christopsomos and with the other half I made mini loaves using a cupcake pan. This smelled absolutely divine while it was cooking and all I could imagine was eating a slice with a little cinnamon-apple butter and a cup of vanilla rooibos tea. And I also plan to make cinnamon toast, french toast with caramelized apples and creme fraiche. Oh the wonderful possibilities!

Since I had so much extra and couldn't let this go to waste I froze a few loafs and then I shared with my neighbors and friends. They are definitely going to enjoy this BBA Challenge as much as I am!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eating & Sightseeing Tour of L.A.

May 22, 1999

This Friday my husband and I are celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary! Wow, I can't believe that 10 years have flown by and I am happier and more in love with my husband than ever before. He is my favorite travel companion, favorite dining companion and just my favorite person in the world!

We are staying local this year and plan to explore the wonderful city of L.A. I am so excited, mostly about all the wonderful restaurants where we will be eating, but also visiting the places in L.A. that I have never been to before. To make it feel like more of a vacation we decided instead of driving from Long Beach that we would stay at a few different boutique hotels--already booked them so if you've been and don't like our choices don't let me know! :)

Here is a bit of our itinerary, we haven't completely decided exactly where we will be visiting but these are the places that are on our list and we will see how many we can get to! And if you have any other places we must go see, let me know!

Nickel Diner
Tavern LA
Animal Restaurant
Umami Burger

Artisan Cheese Gallery
Agua Dulche Vineyards
Natural History Museum
Griffith Observatory
Greystone Mansion
L.A. Zoo

The Crescent Hotel
Farmer's Daughter

There are still a few more restaurants I'd like to add to the list so I would love any and all recommendations! Perhaps a good French bakery?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Reason May is my Favorite Month

May. My favorite month for many reasons--it's finally Spring, the wonderful food that is in season, warmer weather--but the top are that it's my wedding anniversary (celebrating 10 years this Friday!) and the Jacaranda trees are in bloom.

I absolutely love these beautiful trees with lavender-blue, bell-shaped flowers. Here in Long Beach they planted entire streets that are lined with Jacaranda trees and to drive or walk down the street is amazing. The flowers drop quite fast and the trees are only in bloom for a month but I take every opportunity to enjoy the beauty while I can.

When I was young I used to walk down a Jacaranda-lined street in my neighborhood and I remember telling my mom that I wanted to be married in the middle of the street when the trees were in full bloom--that didn't happen but I did get married the month they are the most gorgeous.

These trees make me happy and I intentionally drive or walk around different streets that are lined with them so that I can enjoy them in all their splendor.

What are your favorite trees?

Monday, May 18, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 1: Anadama Bread

A few weeks ago Nicole from Pinch My Salt sent out a tweet to see if anyone wanted to join her in baking their way through The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. I quickly joined in because I love baking bread and this will help to motivate me to bake all the breads in the book. The goal is for each of us to bake a different bread each week, working from A-the end. The group is over 200 people, all over the world baking bread each week. I'm very excited!

Anadama bread is delicious. When I started baking bread years ago Anadama was the first kind that I tried. It's a very easy, flavorful bread and makes wonderful toast and sandwiches. It starts with a cornmeal soaker that sits overnight then that gets mixed with flour, molasses, salt and yeast. Right before it went into the oven I topped with melted butter. The smell of butter and bread was amazing and I almost couldn't wait to try it. I can't wait to bake the rest of the breads in this wonderful book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Delicious Spring Dish of Scallops

When you get a good dish of scallops it can be incredible, but when you get a bad dish of scallops it is so disappointing. They key is to not overcook the scallops or they become chewy, very chewy, and inedible. This scallop dish is amazing. The combination of scallops, proscuitto, thyme, and asparagus are one of my favorite flavor pairings. I will pretty much eat anything that has proscuitto and asparagus so this was the perfect meal. I prepared this dish for a client at the Spring Dinner Party I catered last weekend and just had to share it with you.

Scallops with Asparagus & Proscuitto
4 First-Course Servings
Adapted from Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes

1 bunch of asparagus (3 spears per person), trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pound jumbo sea scallops (approx. 3 per person)
4 ounces proscuitto, half chopped, half left in strips

Toss asparagus with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.

Heat 1 tbs olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and 2 tsp of the thyme and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine, then transfer to small bowl.

Heat remaining 1 tbs olive oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and sprinkle the chopped proscuitto around the scallops. Sprinkle scallops with salt, pepper and thyme. Cook until scallops are browned on both sides, turning once, 3 minutes per side for scallops. Remove scallops. Add wine mixture to skillet and boil for 1 minute while stirring up the browned bits.

In separate skillet, while scallops are cooking, saute asparagus until tender, about 3 minutes.

To Serve: Wrap 3 cooked asparagus spears with a proscuitto strips. Place in middle of plate. Top with 3 scallops. Drizzle with wine sauce and proscuitto.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Amuse-Bouche for Spring

I catered a Dinner Party this past weekend for some wonderful clients in Long Beach. We decided upon a Spring menu and I was excited to be able to cook with all the wonderful vegetables that are in Season right now. The dinner was outdoors on their patio overlooking the Naples Canal, the evening was perfect.

After a few appetizers and a mango cocktail, the meal started out with an amuse-bouche. Curried English Pea Soup topped with Creme Fraiche and served in these adorable shot glasses. They loved it and so did I! I'm not a huge pea soup fan but this is light, just the right amount of pea flavor, fresh and delicious. It started the meal out just right. The rest of the menu for the evening:
Pan-Seared Scallops with Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus (will post more on this later)
Chicken Braised in Riesling, Braised Fingerling Potatoes, Fresh Peas
Pizzelle with Vanilla Cream, Fresh Berries, Chocolate

Here is the recipe for this wonderful soup. Hope you enjoy!

Curried English Pea Soup with Creme Fraiche
Makes 8 Servings, In Shot Glass
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup diced white onion
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup thinly sliced butter lettuce
1 1/2 cups shucked English peas (from about 1 1/2 peas in the pod) or frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 large whole mint leaves, plus leaves for garnish
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 lemon, for juicing
1/8 cup creme fraiche
Salt and pepper

Heat saucepan over high heat for 1 minute. Add 2 tbs butter and when it foams, stir in the onion, curry powder, 1/2 tsp salt. Turn heat down to medium and cook 5 minutes, until onion is translucent.

Add the lettuce, peas, salt, sugar and remaining butter. Stir to coat well and cook 4-5 minutes, until lettuce is wilted. Stir in the whole mint leaves, add the water and bring to a boil. Simmer and cook until peas are tender (This may happen very quickly, taste one to check for doneness.)

Strain the soup over a bowl. Put the pea mixture into a blender with 1/4 cup of stock and puree. Slowly pour in more of the stock, until the soup is the consistency of heavy cream. Turn to high and blend until completely smooth. Add 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice and taste for seasoning.

Pour soup into shot glasses, spoon some creme fraiche in the center and top with mint leaves.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Fun Lunchbox for Adults

I was shopping at HomeGoods the other day looking for a pizzelle maker. I normally find some cute, fun food accessories there and it's hard to spend just a few dollars. This time I had a $5 bill in my purse and told myself that if I found something for $5 or under I would purchase it. I found this adorable lime-green lunchbox for $3.99! It has a few small dents and the paint is chipping a bit but I couldn't resist!

A wonderful meal for this lunchbox: Chicken Club Sandwich, Fruit Salad, Izze Soda, Parmesan Chips

Chicken Club Sandwich Serves 1

French Baguette, sliced for 1 portion
Chicken Breast, 1 (pre-cooked, sliced in half lengthwise)
Parmesan Spread (recipe below)
Bacon, 1 slice
Avocado, as much as you like
Arugula, handful
Tomato (optional)

Parmesan Spread (all quantites can be adjusted to fit your tastes)
1/2 cup parmegiano-reggiano, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
1 scallion, minced
1 tsp caper, chopped (optional)
2 tsp parsley, minced
Zest from 1/2 a lemon
1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine cheese, crushed red pepper, scallion, capers, parsley and zest in a small bowl. Add olive oil to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Store in refrigerator.

Prep & Cook Sandwich Ingredients:
Make parmesan spread. Cook chicken breast to your liking (I put salt and pepper on chicken breast, saute in a mixture of butter and olive oil, add a little bit of fresh thyme...makes for a delicious piece of chicken.) Cook bacon on stovetop or in microwave until crispy.

Sandwich Assembly:
Slice baguette in half lengthwise. Add parmesan spread to the top and bottom of baguette, top with chicken, avocado, bacon and arugula. Enjoy!

I look forward to using this and think it will make eating (and making) lunch very fun and inspiring!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Beverage Review: Elderflower Presse by Belvoir Fruit Farms

I was shopping at Cost Plus and was looking for a bottle of water when I glanced at this pretty bottle. I first tried elderflower soda at Wurstkuche Sausage Restaurant in LA and the flavor was subtle, not too sweet and very refreshing. So when I saw this beautiful bottle of Elderflower Presse by Belvoir Fruit Farms I had to try it. At $3.99 per bottle I probably won't be drinking this every day but its a nice treat!

All products by Belvoir Fruit Farms are made with fresh fruits, spices and no added colors, preservatives, additives, artificial sweeteners.

The Presse products are actually Cordials mixed with lightly sparkling Belvoir spring water. And since I love sparkling water it makes sense that I would love this! Other flavors of Presse I would love to try: Lime & Lemongrass, Blood Orange & Mandarin

In addition to the Presse, you can find Cordials (need to be diluted with either still or spring water) in a wide range of flavors: Spiced Winter Berries, Gooseberry & Mint, Pear & Apple, Passion Fruit & Mango

The Cordials can be used in many pastries, for mixed drinks and also in savory dishes. I plan to get a few to try out and can imagine a passion fruit and mango sorbet that would be delicious this summer!


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