Unrelated to Food.

The day after Christmas Paul and I left Santa Cruz for a three-day adventure in San Fransisco. We met my Dad, his girlfriend Denise, her daughter Meghan and her friend Devin, at the Conservatory of  Flowers in Golden Gate Park. It was closed the Monday we arrived, but, Denise has an “in” with the people who work there, and we walked right in, past the people who were looking longingly in through the windows, wishing they could be us.

With the doors locked behind us and the Conservatory to ourselves, we were free to wonder…

Thoroughly spoiled with our Conservatory experience, we figured why end the magic there and this is what followed:

MONDAY:

The Ferry Building… Market Bar Restaurant, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Mt. Tam Cheese from Cowgirl Creamery

(Market Bar is “ok”…it’s not great, but it IS convenient; Blue Bottle Coffee has an insane line, but it’s worth it (thank you Mom for that recommendation; and Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery is the best cheese on the planet)

Checking into The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel

(Paul and I have always wanted to stay here, and for whatever reason I found fantastic deals (half-priced), so we booked it! We would stay there again…clean, easy, and you can’t ask for a better location)

The Nutcracker at The Opera House

(What a treat. I’ve been a fan since I was a little girl and it was great to see it again… except the $80 for 4 small glasses of wine)

Drinks at Top of the Mark

(Great view, bad service)

TUESDAY:

Breakfast at Tartine Bakery and Cafe

(Hands-down best bakery-breakfast food I’ve ever had…worth the insane line of people waiting for a tasty treat)

Walking around Union Square

(Always entertaining…slightly torturous considering I can’t afford any of the stuff down there)

Mid-afternoon drinks at Top of the Mark

(duh.)

The Farallon for dinner

(Great service, great food, great wine. No complaints about this place)

Bourbon and Branch

(BEST COCKTAILS WE’VE EVER HAD. We will make a trip to the city just for this place. It is now a favorite. Be sure to make a reservation to get a password to get in (so awesome, I know))

WEDNESDAY:

Breakfast at Top of the Mark

(Easy-shmezy but kinda gross)

Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park

(Super beautiful, very peaceful, except for all the tourists taking weird pictures of each other)

Lunch at Mariposa Pub at Haight & Ashbury

(Found it by accident, it was pretty good. But I don’t know that I would make it a destination (aka, find somewhere else))

Now, if you’re looking for an utterly good time, want to plan a trip to the city, but don’t want to do any research, THIS IS THE TRIP. I don’t know that there is much I would change… I don’t like to go somewhere where I have been before (usually), but, I WILL be returning to Tartine Bakery and Bourbon and Branch FOR CERTAIN.

It was a perfect trip with great people. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to me! So thankful that I would spend it with such great people. Do the trip, and love it.

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Just somethin’ I whipped up.

Almost every day I make/bring my husband lunch. This is excessive, I know. But, if I don’t do it he will end up either not eating, or, even worse, going to Costco for “mystery food”. There just aren’t options near his work that are fast and delicious AND healthy. So, I bring it to him, or make it early in the morning for him while he is primping. I usually use the excuse that he needs to eat to see him in the middle of the day… I miss him if I don’t (barf).

So, today, I needed to think of something to bring. My favorite days are the ones where there are leftovers and all I have to do is heat it up. It’s a little frustrating to get up, to the dishes, make more at lunch time, do them, and make more at dinner…especially when you don’t have a dishwasher. I mean, I AM THE DISHWASHER. Alas, this was not a leftovers day, which challenges me to make something using the least amount of dishes possible.

CARAMELIZED ONIONS WITH FIG BALSAMIC ON TOAST WITH MELTED MUENSTER

Ingredients: One red onion; one yellow onion; thyme; rosemary; olive oil; salt; bread; muenster; fig balsamic; 3 cloves of garlic; honey; brown sugar

THE SHMECIPE:

I began by chopping my onions. You may do it however you like, diced, thick, whatever, to each his own…but I halved the onion and sliced them up that way into relatively thin slices.

I used a relatively large Sauce pan in order to give everything room. Coat the bottom of your pan with olive oil and drop in chopped onions. Toss in the olive oil on low heat and let them begin to caramelize. After a couple stirs and roughly 5 minutes, go out to your handy-dandy garden and pick your Thyme and Rosemary.

If you don’t have a handy-dandy garden, and don’t live in Santa Cruz, California where it’s 70 degrees and sunny, go to the store and buy your herbage.

Once you have acquired said herbs, give them a fine chop and toss in with your caramelizing onions. At the same time, add a large spoonful of honey and a little spoonful of brown sugar. This will not only help temper the Fig Balsamic we will put in later, but will help to get a good caramel flavor on and from the onions.

Mix herbs in with honey and onions and let sit, still on low heat, for about a minute, allowing the honey to melt completely and the brown sugar to break down completely.

Chop your garlic. If you are a big garlic person, you can add more. I wanted the garlic to be an “accent flavor” (kind of like an accessory), and not the dominating flavor, so I didn’t add a ton. But you can!

Add your garlic and stir your delicious concoction.

Add your Fig Balsamic. If you can’t find it, don’t worry. If you have fig jam or something similar, you can add a spoonful of that, along with a bit of Balsamic Vinaigrette. It wont taste exactly the same as this, but it’ll still be delicious! Also, you can leave the fig part of it out completely… just add Balsamic Vinaigrette! ANYWAY, add your fig stuff, and stir.

This will need to stay on low heat, and be stirred until it reduces a bit. When you put in your balsamic, make sure you put in enough to allow it to reduce and create an almost jam-like consistency. Everything should be REDUCED REDUCED REDUCED. Keep things cookin’ for an additional 5-10 minutes and turn off your heat.

Make some toast. I used the “Artisan” bread from Trader Joe’s but whatever your favorite bread is will work just fine. Toast it and get our your Sliced Muenster!

Take your Compote that you just made, put some on the toast, a slice of Muenster over it, and place it under the broiler for about 1.5 minutes. Keep an eye on it! (I always burn stuff in the broiler if I don’t). Wait until the cheese is nice and melty and golden brown on top and then take it out and eat it!

I believe that this compote (or whatever you want to call it), would be delicious on something like Pork Chops or Chicken as well as under yummy cheese on toast.

Good eating on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

Dogs and Pasta.

I love dogs.

I love pasta.

This weekend, I got both.

My Mom and her husband went to the Bay Area to visit friends, and I got THE DOG. She is one of my most favorite animals in the whole world.

Now, in addition to having my wonderful doggie, Chloe, with us, I made a fantastic pasta dish, that is note-worthy.

ROASTED GARLIC AND ASPARAGUS CREAM SAUCE ON PARPARDELLE- Topped with Parmesan and Crouton Crunchies

I know, I know, I’ve GOT to get better at this photography thing… and I’m trying. I’m learning. It’s just complicated.

ANYWAY.

Ingredients: Fresh Parpardelle Pasta; Asaragus; Heavy cream; Garlic; Sweet yellow onions; Parmesan; Croutons; Salt; Olive oil; Lemon oil

THE SHMECIPE:

I began by caramelizing my sweet yellow onions with olive oil and large garlic “chunks” on low heat. Low enough to not burn the garlic, but to pan-roast it. Keeping the heat low, about 5 minutes later I added my heavy cream and asparagus. Yes, at the same time. This meal doesn’t take very long, but you want that asparagus flavor to get into what will become your cream sauce.

Get your salted water going and once it’s boiling, drop in your pasta. Keep an eye on it, you do not want it to over cook and be gross. This should take roughly 5-7 minutes.

Continue to stir and watch your cream sauce as it develops. Intertwining with the flavors of the roasted garlic, sweet onions, and asparagus. Not at any point do you want the sauce to be boiling…a soft simmer is good, but almost nothing more.

Strain your noodles and toss with lemon oil. At this point in time, we are about 15 minutes into the game. Keeping the heat on, add noodles to asparagus sauce, toss gently, and season with salt to taste. Turn heat off and plate. Top with sliced parmesan and crouton crunchies (just crunched up croutons).

This meal kind of came out of the blue and was anything but planned, but ended up being a huge success. I went a bit heavy with the garlic, but keeping that heat low is KEY. Burnt garlic is gross, and this turned out perfect. Adding the asparagus in at the same time as the cream really allows those flavors to mingle, and creates a deeper dish than adding them separately; and because the cream sauce does not cook for very long, I found that my asparagus still had that perfect slight crunch to it. Speaking of crunch, adding those crouton (I used the garlic and cheese croutons from Trader Joe’s) crunchies at the end is fun. It makes for great texture, as well as a nice little extra surprise of flavor.

Some of you may have noticed.

I don’t specify much in my posts. I say things like “…now take your mushrooms…” or “…place in the oven for a while…”. There is a reason for the madness.

Typically the things I cook leave room for changes, like different types of mushrooms, or different amounts of Port in a sauce. It’s up to YOU to make it how YOU like. These are just guidelines…

I find that if I discover a recipe/idea in a cooking magazine or in an online blog, that I very rarely actually follow it. I use recipes for inspiration, but maybe I think lemon would be better than lime in something, or I’d rather add more rum…so, I change it.

I don’t have any idea  how much orange you’d like in your cocktail… Only YOU know that. Who knows?! Maybe how much you like will be better than how much I like! But cooking is all about taste, and we all have different opinions on what taste better. Leaving room for changing a shmecipe is what it’s all about after all!

The only time I DO follow recipes is if I’m baking… and most of the time I don’t do that, so, problem solved there.

This whole thing is about exploring the culinary arts. Not following someone else’s idea of what taste good. That’s not to say that when I do make something that’s extra-ordinary and super-duper yummy, I don’t write down what I did immediately afterwards. I do. But, alas, I wasn’t measuring while I was cooking, so, while the idea for the meal is there, next time it may turn out differently, which is OK too.

I don’t know that I’ve EVER cooked the same thing twice. Ever. Life is too short to do such a thing (unless of course it’s something that’s just too good NOT to eat/cook again and again)… but most of the time those things don’t come from me.

So, in conclusion, yes, it may be a bit more complicated that you’d like it too be. Sometimes having someone tell you what to do is a lot easier than thinking of something yourself; but use the shmecipes as guidelines. As inspiration and a way to add your own little flare into the meal that YOU are cooking.

WHOLE ROASTED CHICKEN

(This was dinner from the other night; I brined the whole chicken for two days in celery, onions, carrots, garlic, and chilis, and obviously salted water; then I slow roasted it. Paul and I both agreed it was the best chicken we’d ever had).

I did IT.

I USED A RECIPE.

I couldn’t NOT try this Apple Cheddar Bread. Right?!?! I mean, how do you say no to that!?!! I found it at everybodylikessandwiches.com (super cute), and couldn’t resist. I probably added more cheese, and more apples, seeing as how I didn’t measure those two components… but I DID measure everything else (giving myself a high-five in my head).

APPLE CHEDDAR BREAD

Photographas of my bread makin’:

Friends and Food.

The other night we had friends over for dinner and drinks, and what ended up being a sleepover. Entertaining is probably one of the things I enjoy most, but don’t do very often. So, when I DO give in and invite people over, I usually go “all-out”.

Typically, I like to start things off with drinks and appetizers. STRONG drinks and DELICIOUS appetizers.

White Truffle and Parmesan asparagus wrapped in Puff Pastry. Food doesn’t ALWAYS have to be pretty to taste delicious.

I served the Fancy Cranberry Sauce cocktails. They were spectacular. But, absolutely needed a splash of Simple Syrup. In addition to that yumminess, we had Pear Cinnamon Cider with Bourbon, served over ice. So good.

Moving onto the food. There were three courses.

First, a simple French Onion Soup, done my way. The easiest soup ever created by anyone. Ever.

SIMPLE FRENCH ONION SOUP

(Side note: I had made Candied Bacon Butter a couple of month earlier, and gave it away to friends, in my ramicans, so now I have none, except these).

Ingredients (or something like that):

Two sweet yellow onion; one large red onion; fresh rosemary; butter; water; salt and pepper; your favorite croutons; parmesan cheese

THE SHMECIPE:

I made this for four people and in smaller portions because it was a first course and it was the perfect amount. Melt butter in a sauce pan. Place chopped onions in melted butter, stir, keep on lower heat, and tend to often, so as not to burn. At all. Add a bit of salt and pepper, as well as chopped rosemary. Once the onions are soft, on the edge of caramelizing completely, add water. I’ve found the best way to get the exact amount of water you need, is to measure with the container it’s being served in. So, I did four ramicans of water into the sauce pan. At this point, you can turn the heat up a bit, add salt and pepper to taste. Allow the whole mess to reduce a little, and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Scoop soup into individual serving containers, top appropriately with your favorite croutons and parmesan cheese, place in oven for about ten-fifteen minutes. Eat and enjoy.

At this point, I’ve got everyone hooked. Excited for whatever is coming next.

So, I go ahead and serve ‘er on up!

WARM FRIED BRUSSEL SPROUTS WITH BACON, CARROT RIBBONS, AND GOAT CHEESE

This was amazing. I’ve been playing with Brussel Sprouts for about a year now. People tell me they don’t like them, and I set out to prove them wrong. So far, I have succeeded every time.

Ingredients (or something like that):

Brussel Sprouts; bacon; carrots; olive oil; salt; goat cheese

THE SHMECIPE:

Take four slices of your favorite bacon and chop into little chunks. Cook up and render in medium-high heat frying pan. Once the bacon looks like it’s almost done, throw in halved (or quartered, depending on size) Sprouts. I added a little olive oil right here to ensure nothing stuck to the pan that I didn’t want sticking to the pan. After there is a good browning on the Sprouts, add in carrot ribbons. Create these by using a peeler long-ways down your carrots. I only used one, but if you really like them, use more! Everything should look good and browned and fried and delicious at this point. Turn off the heat, toss crumbled goat cheese in with the rest of it, salt how you like, and enjoy the most delicious way to eat Brussel Sprouts ever.

Now, the last dish was something that I work on for a very long time. I started it the day before. And I forgot to take pictures. Of course. But, it was Slow Cooked Pulled Pork served with Parpardelle Pasta. It was amazingly good. The pork came apart so easy it was ridiculous… too bad I didn’t capture it with my camera. But our stomachs all thanked us!

Holiday Season = Holiday Cocktails

FANCY CRANBERRY SAUCE COCKTAILS

Ingredients (or something like that):

Fresh cranberries; your favorite honey; rosemary; port; ginger; orange oil or orange zest

THE SHMECIPE:

We have friends coming over tomorrow night. This translates into me prepping for tomorrow, today. It allows for fails, but also, and more importantly, time to taste everything.

I love cocktails. Actually, I love making cocktails. Actually actually, I love concocting things in my kitchen for cocktails like a witch over her cauldron on Halloween. It is one of my most favorite ways to cook in the kitchen. So, with the Holiday Season here, I decided that Holiday Cocktails were in order for the festivities tomorrow night.

I began with about 2 cups of port. I used cheaper stuff, because it’s my cooking port, and it’s what I had laying around the house. I bring it to a simmer in a sauce pan, and add about 8oz. of cranberries. In addition to this, a healthy spoonful of honey…in the end I probably ended up using about 3/4 cup of honey. I add just a touch of rosemary, and about 1/4 cup of chopped ginger. Let it all simmer together, stirring while it becomes delicious.

After about 20 minutes of simmering and stirring, turn off the heat. In a food processor (or in a mini one, which is what I used since you don’t need that giant thing for this), toss in your mixture, top with a splash of orange oil, or add in your orange zest, and blend  together for about 30 seconds. Strain into a container of your choice, and get ready for a yummy cocktail!

Now, what you’re left with is a Cranberry Port Reduction (basically). The texture should be smooth with no chunks. Pour desired amount into a glass, top with good vodka, and “fizzy” water (club soda, or something similar), and enjoy! If this drink is not sweet enough for you, simply add a bit of simple syrup. I make my own, by doing a 1:1 mix of sugar and water. Heat your water in a sauce pan on the stove, just to a simmer, add sugar, and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. I keep mine in a large ball jar in the ice box.

Dinner time by default.

BLACK PEPPER PORK TENDERLOIN WITH PARMESAN AND ARTICHOKE GNOCCHI, GREEN BEANS, AND MUSHROOM ONION CRISPS

Ingredients (or something like that):

Pork tenderloin; black pepper; mushrooms; yellow onion; brown sugar; gnocchi; artichoke hearts; parmesan cheese; salt; olive oil; butter

Yesterday morning, when I had a hunch we would need to eat again, I defrosted a pork tenderloin. Yesterday afternoon, when I still didn’t have a plan for it, I made a 50/50 rub of just plain ol’ salt and pepper. I rubbed the tenderloin generously with the mix, placed it in a gallon ziplock bag, added some olive oil, sucked all the air out, and threw it back in the ice box.

So, today, after a vigorous hike, followed by neighborhood shopping, at 4:30pm, we came home and were hungry. Having not eaten since breakfast (11:00am), the husband wanted food. Now. It was too late to make lunch and a snack wasn’t readily available, so, it was dinner time by default. I started pulling whatever we had out of the pantry, cold storage unit, etc…

I began by slicing my yellow onion. I had a small one, if you’ve got a big one, use half (keep in mind, I’m cooking for two people). I slice, then set aside. I then slice my mushrooms, cut the ends off my green beans, slice my artichoke hearts in half, and get my pans out. I used two big fry pans. They worked just fine, you want one to have a matching lid though (or at least be able to cover it).

I get my tenderloin going, dumping it from the ziplock into the hot pan on medium heat. I added a bit more oil, followed by some butter later in the process. You want to get your tenderloin going about ten minutes before everything else so that nothing is sitting while it’s still cooking at the end of the meal. You want the exact opposite in fact: the tenderloin to be sitting while everything else is finishing up.

Fast forward ten minutes, and I throw into the same pan the chopped onions and mushrooms and about a teaspoon of brown sugar, all the while turning the pork accordingly.  In my other pan, I add an even coat of olive oil and turn the heat on medium, medium-high, then add my halved artichoke hearts, sliced side down. I used the caned ones from Trader Joe’s. I know, I know…caned, but, they’re great, and not slugged in a slurry of I-don’t-know-what. Once there is a good browning on them, I add the green beans, and gnocchi, as well as the artichoke water from the can they came is. Sprinkle with salt and cover. The artichoke water is what is going to steam-cook everything in that pan! If not, use your favorite stock or just water, maybe with a little lemon!

Don’t forget to stir your onions and mushrooms, and turn your tenderloin, keeping an eye on the temperature, you don’t want this deliciousness to go to waste. After 2-3 minutes of being covered, uncover and stir your gnocchi. Lightly salt and add shaved or shredded Parmesan cheese, stir, and cover. At this point, your tenderloin should be done. Remove it from the heat, and let it sit. Now, remove the lid off the gnocchi and stir. Make sure that the majority of the liquid used to steam is gone. What should remain is a melted cheese sauce, created by the Parmesan and the artichoke liquid, also, most likely, some of the starches in the gnocchi. If everything looks right, turn of the heat and begin slicing your pork tenderloin.

Plate your Parmesan gnocchi with artichoke and green beans, top it with slices of Black pepper pork tenderloin, and garnish with the Crispy onions and mushrooms.

You work with what you’ve got.

SIMPLE S & P CHICKEN, ZUCCHINI STEAKS, AND GARLIC LEMON POTATOES AU GRATIN

Ingredients (or something like that):

Chicken breasts; extremely large zucchini; potatoes; heavy cream; cheese that melts nicely; garlic; olive oil; lemon oil; salt & pepper; dried basil

Yesterday I cleaned the refrigerator, and, much to my dismay, discovered that we don’t have much food in the house right now. Going to the grocery store was not an option, seeing as how it was 4:30pm, and everyone would be getting off work and doing just that. I did not want to be part of the masses. So, I worked with that I could find, and ended up with an extremely delicious meal, that left both me and my husband wishing I made more.

I began by defrosting the chicken breasts, then slicing them “long-way” in half. I sprinkled with salt and pepper, placed in an air-tight container with water, more salt, and lemon oil. This was at about 4:30pm, and I was planning on serving dinner around 6:30pm… So leave about 2 hours to brine your chicken. The reason that I cut the breasts in half is simple: they will cook quicker, and, when you cut a bite out of them, you get the perfect piece, not a giant chuck o’ chicken that you have to cut yet again.

Immediately after my chicken is in the ice box chillin’ (hahaha), I begin on my potatoes. I get out the mandolin (slice them like normal people do if you don’t have one) (I just like to play with mine when I get the opportunity), and go to work on 3 Golden potatoes. I would use Yukon golds, or something similar because, well, their flavor is just better than others. So, I slice up those 3 potatoes, and place them in a bowl with water and a little lemon oil to hangout until it’s time to stick them in the oven.

5:45pm rolls around and it’s time to get the ball rolling for dinner. I gather my items needed to complete this meal on time: big pan, little pan, sauce pan, meatloaf pan without the bottom piece; lemon oil, garlic, dried basil, salt and pepper, heavy cream, melty-cheese… And then I go to work. I begin by taking the meatloaf pan and spraying it with PAM. If I felt like being frisky, I probably would have covered it in butter, but alas, I did not. I layered the potatoes on one another working down the pan, and covering the previous slice by about half. Continue to do this until the slices are gone, or, until you’re happy with it! Once the potatoes are layered up, sprinkle with dried basil, smashed garlic cloves (to each their own on the amount you do), and salt and pepper. On the stove in your sauce pan, bring cream to a simmer and slowly mix in cheese. I used grated parmesan and added a little ground black pepper. Whisk slowly until the cheese is completely melted in, then pour over potatoes. Top with more cheese and toss (gently) into the oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

At 6:15pm I take my zucchini steaks (giant, I know), lightly salt and pepper them, drizzle in a little lemon oil, and place them in a low-heat olive oil covered pan. At the same time (or close to), I take my brined chicken breasts and place them in the other pan, also lightly covered in olive oil. I flip things accordingly until about 6:25pm, when I take out the perfectly done potatoes and let them rest while I finish the chicken. At this time, the zucchini can come off the stove, and be placed on a paper towel. They’ve got so much moisture in them, and now they have oil on them, I just wanted something to soak up a little bit of all that. Take your plate and serve.

Somethin’ outta nothin’.

There was a request…

SUNFLOWER BREAD CROSTINI WITH HERB GOAT CHEESE AND SAUTEED MUSHROOMS

Ingredients (or something like that): sunflower bread, sliced; plain goat cheese; fresh herbs; butter; sliced mushrooms; salt & pepper

THE SHMECIPE:

You’ll want to begin preparing this tasty treat by making your herb goat cheese. Collect your herbs, I chose thyme and rosemary, as well as added a little salt and pepper. Finely chop your herbs and combine with softened cheese. I used my mini food processor, but do it however you want! Once the herbs and such are evenly distributed, set aside and move on to the next step.

Obtain said baguette, and slice at an angle (makes it pretty). Heat butter in a pan until melted, but remember to keep heat relatively low so the butter doesn’t burn too fast. Place bread slices in pan with butter, allow them to get crispy (usually about two minutes, maybe less), then flip ’em! Set crispy crostinis aside. The best place to keep them is in a slightly heated oven, it keeps them crispy and warm 🙂

Met butter in a pan on medium heat, combine with sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir occasionally for the next 5 minutes, making sure the better does not burn.

To complete the yummyness, take crostini, cover with herb goat cheese, and top with warm mushrooms! Pair with your favorite glass of red wine and a fireplace!