Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eggplant salad with toasted garlic pita chips

Eggplant salad.

"Salad? B-O-R-I-N-G." Like me, you may be a little tired of the usual leafy green salads. When it comes to salads, I often find myself in a rut. Baby spinach - been there. Arugula - done that. Don't get me wrong, I still find myself eating them, because they are an easy way to get in a lot of veggies, but I needed more inspiration.

That is when the wonderful Mark Bittman came to the rescue. You may have seen his NY Times article on "101 Simple Salads for the Season". Seriously, there are so many possibilities that I had never thought about.

Homemade tzatsiki verus storebought hummus (there's only so much a girl can do).

I found myself drawn to the "simple" mediterranean flavors of #27. Another great thing about these salad recipes - they are only a couple sentences in length. No stressing over minute details! I blackened a whole eggplant in a skillet and finished cooking it in the oven until it began to deflate. While the eggplant was in the oven, I chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and mint. I opened up a can of white cannelini beans and mixed all these together with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. When the eggplant was super soft, I took it out of the oven and removed the charred skin. I chopped up the flesh and tossed it with the other ingredients.

I decided to toast up some pita chips to go with the salad. For the finale, I made my own tzatsiki - a simple mixture of greek yogurt, shredded cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil.

What can I say, this salad rocked my tastebuds. The eggplant was sooo smoky. You know that wonderful flavor you get from baba ganoush - finally I get how they do it! The mint added this amazing freshness. The tzasiki gave this extra creaminess in contrast to the acerbic lemon and garlic.

Bottom Line: Try this salad and you won't regret it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

BBQ Oysters - Point Reyes

Light House in Point Reyes.

There is never a dearth of things to do in California. A couple of weekends ago, we visited Point Reyes and explored the beautiful coast. The trip in the car was incredibly slow and twisty. I wasn't sure I was going to make it all the way there without forcing Justin to stop the vehicle. I was quite relieved when the ocean air finally hit my lungs.

We planned to visit the light house in Point Reyes, a monument that has kept many a ship from crashing into its steep cliffs. Little did we know that in order to reach the light house we would have to traverse 30 stories worth of steps. It certainly was a good way to work up an appetite.

BBQ Oysters

We stopped at a cute little restaurant by the water. I ate my first oyster a couple of years ago, and it has become one of my favorite treats. These briny treasures are like tasting the ocean, and I mean that in a good way. The menu highlighted bbq oysters, something I have always wanted to try. Anna and I split a dozen of the steaming beauties. The bbq sauce was simply cocktail sauce, which worked surprisingly well. The smokiness came through, and the sweet and sour flavors complemented the creamy, salty flesh. I had no problem polishing off my half dozen.

Blue cornmeal crusted oysters.

AJ ordered up some of the fried oysters. Crusted in blue cornmeal, the crunchy batter provided a nice contrast to the soft oysters. The cornmeal provided a light shell without overwhelming them. We paired our oysters with some wonderfully creamy tomato bisque soup.

Nothing like spending the afternoon taking in the ocean air, and dining on some of the ocean's gifts.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Domaine Carneros - Napa Valley

Napa Valley - ain't it grand.

California seems to have it all - beaches, mountains, great food, and oh yes great wine. I have been dying to check out the Napa Valley wineries since I got here. Luckily, our visitors from Boston gave us an excuse to visit a couple of weeks ago.

Nick graciously planned our entire day in Napa. We were going to start off with some sparkling wines and then move on to wineries that specialized in sauvignon blancs and cabernets.

Sippin' on some bubbly.

Our first stop - Domaine Carneros - vines covered the rolling green hills and valleys. We picked an absolutely perfect day - sunny, warm, and breezy. Domaine Carneros was opened in 1987 by Taittinger. Taittinger winery is one of the top producers of Champagne in France. Partnering with Kobrand Corporation, Taittinger declared that its future lay in American wine and established these vineyards.


The wine vats.

Nick arranged for us to tour the vineyard and chateau, sampling five wines along the way. For $25, this was a great bargain. Our tour guide, the charming Jean Claude, led us through the beautiful vines ripe with chardonnay and pinot noir grapes and poured us full glasses of their 2005 vintage Brut. The refreshing effervescent sip tasted of apple and melon, the perfect way to start our day.

Brut Rose.

Domaine Carneros makes three sparkling wines - Brut, Brute Rose, and Blanc de Blancs. The Blanc de Blancs is french for white wine made from white grapes. This luxurious wine made from 100% Chardonnay certainly had a more acidic, citrus flavor than the Brut. I preferred the Brut for its smoother flavor, but the Blanc de Blancs is consistently rated one of the top wines in the country.

Pinot Noir.

After sampling three of the sparkling wines (although I am not sure if drinking three full glasses can be called ) we moved on to the Pinot Noirs. Domaine Carneros makes three Pinot Noirs. You may remember the Pinot Noir, made insanely popular by the film Sideways. While, no one in our party ended up drinking straight from the spit barrel, we were feeling a bit lightheaded by the time we finished our fourth glass. I was a fan of the medium priced Pinot Noir, the 2006 Domaine-Carneros Estate. Tasting of cherries, with spicy notes of pepper, this wine was smooth to the finish.

While I enjoyed the other vineyards we visited that day, Domaine Carneros is level above all the rest. I would certainly recommend the wine tour for your next trip to Napa.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gilroy Gaaarlick Festival

We're the garlic-teers, you can be one too! Eating lots of garlic is what we do!

I know not everyone is a fan of garlic (and I don't think I will understand those garlic-hating palettes) but I was thrilled to hear about the annual garlic festival in Gilroy, CA. Located about an hour away (or 45 minutes if your friend drives like a bat out of hell) from Mountain View, Gilroy is famous for its fields and fields of garlic. If you ever take the 101 down to LA, the smell of garlic will hit you far before you reach the city limits.

Garlic mushrooms + pesto + garlic bread + garlic fries = Garlic coma (and crazy delicious). ;)

Gilroy has held this annual 3-day summer festival in honor of this pungent member of the Alliacea family (aka the onion fam) for the past 31 years. Vendors serve up everything from the traditional garlic dishes like pesto and shrimp scampi to the highly unusual - garlic ice cream.

Garlic Fries.

I was particularly excited to try the pesto and the garlic fries. The place was packed and the lines were long, but they moved rather quickly. The vendors did a great job of feeding everyone, and quickly at that! The garlic fries smelled so wonderful and they were all that and more. The crisp fries are cooked to perfection. The minced garlic, oil, and parsely coated these potatoes packing a potent punch. I could have eaten just these and been satisfied.

The creamy pesto had the right basil to garlic ratio, with enough cream to mellow these flavors. The garlic bread served with the pesto overshadowed the pasta dish. The combination of bread, butter, and tons of slightly sweet yet spicy garlic left me yearning for another slice.

Garlic ice cream?!!!

After filling our bellies, we walked around to check out the crafts and music. Garlic paraphernalia was available in mug, key chain, and hat form (garlic bulb shaped caps). We stopped to take some pics with Garlic Man. While I enjoyed checking out the scene, I was still intrigued by the concept of garlic ice cream. Friends who had visited the festival in previous years had given conflicting reviews. "Stay away at all costs," said one friend warily. Another opined, "You have to try it!"

Curiosity got this cat, and I stood in line to check it out. The vendors were giving this treat away for free (maybe because no one would pay to eat it?) When I finally got to the front I was handed FOUR mini cones. The first lick was intense, an odd combination of spicy, pungent garlic and sweet cream. AJ gagged and refused to eat anymore. Me and my more adventurous friends continued licking. The more we tasted, the more the garlic mellowed in our mouths, leaving a mostly sweet creamy flavor. While I wouldn't necessarily order this, I was surprised at how well this worked.

We c-LOVE garlic!

The Gilroy Garlic festival combines amazing garlic cuisine with kitschy festival fare. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What a Hoot!

As you all have probably learned by now, I love cupcakes. I love eating them, I love baking them, I love decorating them. I came across this cute idea for cupcakes from one of my favorite blogs: "How to Eat a Cupcake". Who doesn't enjoy a cupcake shaped like animals, especially owl mamas and babies. This recipe comes from the book, "Hello Cupcake" by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.

The recipe requires a basic chocolate cupcake recipe. I went with Martha Stuart's one-bowl chocolate cupcakes. Malia and I made these for our bday, and they were a hit. They are also super easy to make. For this recipe you are going to need a regular cupcake tin, and a mini cupcake tin. I halved the recipe and ended up with 6 regular cupcakes, and around 16 minis.

Assembling the cupcakes, frosting starts first!

Let me tell you, assembling these cupcakes was NOT as easy as baking them. I recommend making these when you have a couple hours with nothing better to do than devote your life to making the perfectly shaped owl beak from an M&M. Okay, so they weren't easy, but I did enjoy myself for the most part. It was fun seeing these owls come alive.

These iris-devoid owls look a little creepy.

In order to decorate these owls you are going to need chocolate frosting, oreos, mini oreos, junior mints, mini M&Ms (I used regular sized M&Ms), and runts (I used yellow M&Ms for the beak). In essence you will need two halves of oreos (with creme) for the eyes of the mama owls. You will use two mini halves for the baby owls.

While I thought these came out pretty well, they certainly were nothing like the perfect owls shown in the first picture. I mean to get out all of the crumbs in the creme would take another two hours in and of itself! The mini M&Ms were hard to come by, so I ended up using regular M&Ms for the baby owls. The orange M&Ms certainly made for some interesting expressions. I do like how the regular M&Ms accentuate the large iris to white ratio.

All in all these cupcakes were pretty cute, and they were a hit with my friends and coworkers.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chez Panisse - the home of the slow food movement

Finally we get to eat at Chez Panisse.

Ever since moving to Cali, I have taken a greater interest in eating locally sourced produce and goods. By establishing relationships with local farmers, not only are we helping to stablize our local economy, but we can better understand where our food comes from. Now, I wish I could take credit for the local food movement, but these ideas have actually been around for quite some time.

A preview of the dessert offerings.

Alice Waters established Chez Panisse in 1971 with just with those thoughts in mind. She believes that the best food is locally, sustainably, organically farmed by people who take care of the land. She also wanted to make her guests feel like they were at a friends dinner party, where they can feel comfortable and taken care of.

Summer squash salad with toasted pine nuts, mint, and pecorino.

After planning a month in advance, I set out with AJ and my parents in tow to experience Alice Waters cooking. Reservations are available a month in advance, and a month in advance is when they fill up. I called as soon as the restaurant opened in the morning and dialed repeatedly for an hour until I finally got through to a real person. The earliest they could seat me was 8:45pm. They certainly aren't feeling the effects of the recession.

Chez Panisse is divided into a downstairs dining room, which serves a 4 course pre fixe menu, and an upstairs cafe, allowing diners to choose items a la carte. We got reservations upstairs and were seated in a homey booth with an excellent view of the open kitchen.

Avocado and beet salad with lemon vinagrette.

The worn wooden benches certainly reminded you how long Chez Panisse has been around. The warm wooden decor and the baskets of produce and racks of fresh desserts certainly make one feel at home.

Mixed greens with goat cheese.

We all chose salads to start. My mom was absolutely in love with her avocado and beet salad. The creamy avocados were the perfect vessels for the sweet, slightly crunchy beets. The pungent garlic, and acidic lemon vinegrette provided the perfect foil. I ended up replicating this salad a couple nights later, it was that good.

AJ ordered the mixed greens and goat cheese salad. Simple with large chunks of cheese, AJ could not have been happier. My dad and I ordered the summer squash salad. The extremely fresh mint really brightened this dish. The salads are an exemplary microcosm of the restaurant. Composed with only a few ingredients, the attention is focused on the quality and pairing of ingredients.

Our table had a great view of the kitchen.

For the entree I ordered the house made spaghetti with Louisiana gulf shrimp and tomatoes. I was curious to understand why Chez Panisse would use Louisiana gulf shrimp, when there motto seems to be "local and organic". What I forgot to take into account is Chez Panisse's dedication to sustainable farming. This would explain the tender gulf shrimp. The shrimpy broth was sweetened further by the tomatoes and perfectly cooked pasta.

AJ ordered the leg of lamb with fennel mashed potatoes and green beans. The olive tapenade brought out the earthiness of the lamb. While the lamb was good, the fennel mashed potatoes were really excellent - creamy, buttery, with just a slight hint of licorice.

Homemade spaghetti with Lousiana gulf shrimp and tomatoes.

Eggplant parmesan.

My mom worked as a manager at an Italian restaurant in the Valley when she was younger, and she has always held a spot in her heart for eggplant parmesan. While this may not compare to Leonard's thinly sliced version, she really enjoyed the flavors of the cheese, eggplant, and tomato.

Lamb with olive tapenade, green beans, and fennel mashed potatoes.

Seared tuna with corn and tomato salsa.

My dad's tuna was an example of where the accompaniment may have stolen the show. The corn and tomato salsa was extremely fresh and bright. The oversalted fish fell a little flat in comparison.

Cozy Cafe Area.

While I felt very full, especially with two glasses of wine inside of my tummy, I couldn't resist ordering dessert. AJ and I got the nectarine tart with creme fraiche ice cream. Nectarines are practically overflowing from our local farmer's market, and so I was glad to see this ripe fruit in a starring role. The warm fruit went perfectly with a dollop of rich ice cream.

Panna cotta with fresh strawberries.

Nectarine Tart with creme fraiche ice cream.

My ordered the panna cotta with strawberries, an interesting play on strawberries and cream. In some ways our beginning and end to the meal overshadowed our entrees.

What a lovely dinner with my parents.

Chez Panisse does a great job of creating simple dishes with fresh, local, and sustainable ingredients. While they don't always wow you with technique or presentation, the flavors are what will keep you coming back. The one criticism I have to offer is in regards to the service. Our wait staff took quite some time taking our order and even longer bringing it to the table. They failed to check up on us regularly. For a restaurant of this stature, you would hope they would welcome new guests with the same vigor as regulars.

Despite the service, I still think Chez Panisse has a lot to offer, and I intend to come back, even if only for appetizers and dessert.