You know something in your life has changed when . . .

Your stove at dinner time looks like this:

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Oh don’t get all judgmental. I am not knocking at all that this is what I made for dinner last night.  In fact, I am quite impressed that I actually cooked myself dinner last night and got to eat it warm, in a chair at a leisurely pace with my 8 week old successfully bathed and asleep in his crib and I did it all by myself with the hubby ditching us for a work meeting (no judgement there either :))

 

Rather I am more amused with what is boiling away on that back burner . . . the most amazing invention ever . . . the pacifier.  Unfortunately, this one met its fate with a city street yesterday. Fortunately for me we were only feet from our apartment, with a little man in a good mood and 2 replacements  upstairs – serious crisis averted. After that little scare I am sure you can imagine what is on its way from Amazon.

 

Needless to say my life has changed quite a bit in the few months I have been radio silent from the blog.  But don’t worry – the hubby and I haven’t gone hungry and we actually haven’t eaten too many meals like the one above or out of take out food containers.

 

Before our little man showed up, I was agonizing over how (and what) we would eat for dinner. Lucky for me he decided to make a late arrival leaving me with more than enough time on my hands to agonize over this dilemma (and everything else!).  I pre-made meals with my mom, collected take out menus from every possible restaurant I could find within walking distance of our apartment, and even researched meal delivery services.

 

Funny enough, we haven’t had to really use any of the above. For one I actually have one of those hubbies who knows his way around the kitchen pretty well and can whip up some pretty delicious dinners while I am making sure our little one is fed. Secondly we managed to find ourselves a handful of easy to make recipes that we rotate through quite often (yes I will share!).

 

One of those easy to make recipes on the rotation – sautéed spinach. It happens to be a super easy, fast and delicious green veg to add to any meal plus the pre-washed spinach serves as a great salad base for a quick meal for me during the day.

 

Garlic Sautéed Spinach

Serves 2

 

1 – 2 cloves of garlic, ends removed and sliced thin

1 tbsp of olive oil

3 cups of baby spinach

Salt to taste

 

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  When the oil is warm add garlic and let sizzle for 30 minutes, until fragrant (be careful not to let get brown).  Add spinach and salt to taste. Sauté until leaves are wilted.

If you want to change things up you can always spice it up with a little red pepper flakes or add an asian flavor with some toasted sesame oil.

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Baking 201: French Apple Cake & Other Fun Treats

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A few days ago someone asked me of my first memory of my mom from childhood and I had to take a pause. I honestly could not remember. I have so many memories of time spent with my mom as a little girl. How do you decipher which one was your first? So I decided to answer the question, not as it was asked but, instead, how I will always remember my child hood with my mom and, of course, it involved time spent in the kitchen.

I didn’t find out until recently that before my sister or I were born my mom spent a lot of her free time taking cooking classes. She learned how to cook different cuisines from all over the world and even cooked a full-on chinese banquet for friends with everything from home made dumplings (yes the dough was from scratch) to kung pao chicken. I always knew my mom was a good cook but didn’t realize she had some serious skills.

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As you get older it’s always fun to find out about your parents before you were born because, turns out, they did some pretty cool things. While I have never had the chance of experiencing my mom’s amazing chinese cooking skills, I will always remember the time I spent in the kitchen baking with her.

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Until recently I never really did much baking on my own, but a few months ago I got bitten by the baking bug and have since whipped up many a treat. Maybe it was because I wanted a new challenge or maybe it was because I am baking a fun little treat of my own . . . in July I become a mom. I have heard that nothing prepares you for becoming a parent and my husband and I are preparing ourselves to have our world rocked but we are equally excited for what promises to be one crazy ride.

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So I break my blogging silence for you today with one of the most favorite things I have baked in the past 6 plus months . . . a French Apple Cake. Cakes are definitely not my baking speciality and especially not ones that require a spring form pan but it sounded so delicious in my Cook’s Illustrated that I couldn’t resist. I know apple season is almost totally behind us but hopefully you can still find some granny smith apples in your grocery store to try this recipe out. It will not disappoint!

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French Apple Cake

(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

Serves 8 to 10

1 1/2 lb Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 8 wedges, and sliced 1/8 in thick crosswise

1 tbsp Calvados (French apple brandy)

1 tsp lemon juice

1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 large egg plus 2 large yolks

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup whole milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Confectioner’s sugar

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325. Spray 9-inch springform pan with vegetable oil spray and place on an aluminum foil wrapped rimmed baking sheet.

Place apple slices into a microwave safe pie plate, cover with paper plate and microwave until apples are pliable and slightly translucent, about 3 minutes. Toss apples with Calvados and lemon juice and let cool for 15 minutes.

Whisk 1 cup of flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Whisk one egg, oil, milk, and vanilla together in a second bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until just combined. Transfer 1 cup of batter to separate bowl and set aside.

Add egg yolks to remaining batter and whisk to combine. Using spatula, gently fold in cooled apples. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using offset spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges, gently pressing on apples to create even, compact layer, and smooth surface.

Whisk remaining 2 tbsp of flour into reserved batter. Pour over batter in pan and spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surface. Sprinkle remaining 1 tbsp granulated sugar evenly over cake.

Bake until center of cake is set – a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean and the top is golden brown – 1 hour and 15 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Run a paring knife around side of pan and let cool completely, about 2 to 3 hours. Dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar and serve.

Cheers to Fall


It is officially fall and as if on cue the leaves started falling from the trees, the pumpkin patches opened up, and the sun returned. Most San Franciscans live for fall, honestly I think it is what keeps us living in this city. The promise that after spending your summer freezing and literally living in a cloud, that you will have close to a month of the most beautiful, sunny 70 degree days.  Honestly, they truly are probably some of the most spectacular days and this weekend was no exception.

Our nights are still chilly though and the hubby and I have brought back the cocktail hour! The newness of my job working in the wine industry has started to fade and we decided that we wanted to mix up (no pun intended – I swear) the evening beverages.

Last year I sort of became obsessed with Manhattans. I am so not a Bourbon girl so this came as a bit of surprise to both me and the hubby. It was so cold outside one night and we were grabbing drinks with friends and I couldn’t imagine hitting up my go to gin. The only bone-warming-sounding drink on the menu was a Manhattan and it was like at first sip, it took me a few more dates to really fall in love.

So last weekend when the hubby and I settled in for a cozy night at home which equaled an on demand movie and roast chicken, the only drink that really seemed to fit the bill (aside from a delish bottle of red wine) was my beloved Manhattan. So for the first time in my kitchen I whipped them up and they were perfect.

Here’s to fall . . .

Manhattan

Serves 2

3oz    Bulliet Bourbon

1.5oz Sweet Vermouth

3 dashes  Aromatic Bitters

2-3 Luxardo Cherries

Chill 2 martini glasses. Combine bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass (or bottom or a shaker) filled with ice. Stir 41 times until properly chilled. Strain into martini glasses. Garnish with cherries. Enjoy!

Farewell to Summer

The apples showed up in full force at the store last week and I knew. I knew that summer was fading and fading fast. And I was sad. Sad that my Frog Hollow fruit would soon disappear! If you have never had Frog Hollow fruit before it is a life changing experience. Yes it is that good!

 

So good that I actually shed tears last year when a former co-worker stole one of the last Frog Hollow peaches of summer from right under my nose.  I spent the winter dreaming of those peaches and when they showed up in the store the first week I swooned. And it wasn’t just for those peaches it was for their apricots, their plums, their cherries, their pluots, their nectarines and I even got suckered in last week for their asian pears.

I know its strange, who has ever heard of a name brand fruit? But there is something magical about their farms and their fruit. So much so that they convinced me to pay a premium for them every week and even ship them across the country so my sister and mom could share in their fruity, delicious love. I even went so far as to profess my love for their fruit to a farmer working their stand at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago. Yes I am that obsessed.

 

 

So with summer on its last few days I thought it only fitting to pay homage to my favorite thing about summer this year . . . Frog Hollow fruit and to my favorite dessert grilled Frog Hollow peaches with vanilla ice cream.

The hubby and I escaped the city several weeks ago and rented a little cabin up in Tahoe – we hiked, we swam and we BBQ-ed! In addition to making some delicious steaks and tasty kabobs we made my most favorite dessert! Honestly it tastes as good as a piece of freshly baked peach pie.

Grilled Peaches with Vanilla Ice Cream (a what I made for dinner original)

Serves 2

1 ripe peach, halved and pitted

2 scoops of vanilla ice cream (we love Strauss but if you don’t have that Hagen-Dazs is great)

Heat  a grill to low-medium heat.

Place the peach halves flesh side down on the grill and leave for about 5 to 7 minutes. You want the peach to soften up but you don’t want it too mushy.

Take off the heat and plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!!

 

 

 

 

Improving on Perfection

So yes I am totally one of those people who when someone says “don’t touch that,” all I want to do is touch it! I probably had no interest in touching whatever it was before, but once you tell me I can’t do something I all of sudden get this sudden urge to want to do it.

Now that I am pseudo grown-up I am pretty good at controlling that urge but when I was a kid it got me into loads of trouble. Like when one of my sleep away camp bunk mates told me not to make another “peep” or she would get out of bed and slap me. What did I do . . . I said “peep” and what happened? I got slapped. Then we both spent the following evening in our bunk while our bunk mates attended whatever evening activity was going on that night. Lesson learned? Sort of.

I absolutely love Alice Water’s simplistic approach to cooking, in fact, I admire it. So when I made her spaghetti with summer squash and walnuts I was so good about not mucking around with it, but it was honestly killing me. Since then that dish has become a household staple but tweaked in many, many different ways. So as the end of summer draws near and my endless supply of summer squash and heirloom cherry tomatoes disappears I thought I would share with you all, my summer staple pasta recipe.

Not only is it absolutely delish it is probably one of the easiest dishes I cook in my kitchen and is also totally simple to switch up.

Summer Pasta (a what i made for dinner original)

serves 2

1/3 to 1/2 lb of pasta of  your choice – I generally use penne or linguini

3 smallish summer squash (you can pick any combo you like paddy pan, crook neck, zucchini, etc)

2/3 lb of deveined, peeled shrimp (I used the easy to peel in the picture because they were on sale)

Salt

Pepper

2/3 to 1 cup of cherry tomatoes (I am obsessed with the heirlooms this year) – optional

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Basil (optional)

Goat cheese (optional)

1/4 cup Toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Now depending on cooking times you will have to time this as best you can so everything is done at the same time. I am trying to use whole wheat pasta which usually takes close to 20 minutes but check the cooking times on your pasta.

Slice the summer squash into quarter-inch thick pieces and place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. If you want them a little spicier I sometimes add some red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile cook pasta according to directions, drain and reserve some pasta water.

Alright so here is how you can switch it up:

  • If you want to add some shrimp place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can always use red pepper flakes here too if you want to spice it up. Place in the oven and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. You know the shrimp is done when it curls up and turns pink. Be careful not to over cook or you will end up with rubbery shrimp.
  • If you want to add some tomatoes wash and dry cherry tomatoes. Leave them whole and place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and cook from about 10 minutes.
  • If you want a crunch add some toasted walnuts. Simply put the walnuts on a cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes until lightly browned.

Plate pasta in bowls. If you would like a creamier-style pasta add several decent size crumbles of goat cheese. I like to put them in the bowl before the pasta so the heat of the pasta melts the cheese. Then add any combo of squash, shrimp, tomatoes and / or walnuts. Pour a little reserved pasta water just to add a touch of moisture to the dish, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and add the basil if you have it on hand. Toss and enjoy!

Some of my favorite combinations:

  • Summer squash, shrimp, red pepper flakes and basil
  • Tomatoes, shrimp, red pepper flakes
  • Both of the above are great with our without goat cheese
  • Summer squash, tomatoes and toasted almonds

Enjoy with a great glass of Chardonnay or Soave

Homemade Gravlax

I am back and with an amazing post no less.

I thought I would be very European and take the month of August off. Sometimes you just need some time to unwind, recharge and re-focus. I wish I could say I took it off from my real job as well but I will get a real European break in a few weeks – can’t wait!

The hubby thought he would take a little time to unwind, recharge and re-focus too with a guys fishing trip up to Northern British Columbia. So what do you do when you pick your hubby up from airport and he greets you with a smile and a 50lb box of Coho Salmon?

You give him a huge hug and a kiss then you . . .

(1) Clean out your  freezer so it looks like this:

(2) Read through every cook book you have looking for salmon recipes you always wanted to make but never did.

(3) Start finding any reason to entertain.

If there is one thing food wise I miss about the east coast, and probably more specifically NYC/NJ, its bagels. For some reason no one can figure out how to replicate the tri-state area bagel anywhere else in the US. I don’t know if it’s the water or just some secret recipe that no one will share but a bagel should have a slight crunch on the outside and be deliciously chewy on the inside. Anything else is just . . . bread with a hole.

My bagel obsession is that bad that I make sure to leave just enough room in my bags to smuggle back a dozen bagels every time I travel home to NJ to visit. The bagels immediately go in the freezer and then on ration to make sure they last until my next trip to NJ or our next NJ visitor. The hubby was originally skeptic of my bagel snobbery but I can say with 100% confidence that I have converted him as well.

So as we cleaned out our freezer, making space for all this beautiful fish we knew we also needed to keep space for our beloved bagels as well. That left us with two salmon fillets that had to find a use and quickly. Don’t get us wrong the hubby and I enjoy a great piece of Coho salmon but 5lbs worth – that was just aggressive!

So we did what any normal, yuppy, SF couple would do – invite your friends over for your fantasy football draft and rather than serve beer and pizza, put out the most ridiculous spread of fresh, house-cured salmon and accoutrements you can think of (well minus our stash of NJ bagels). We started curing the fish on Tuesday night and by Saturday morning we had homemade gravlax!

I know what you are thinking – this seems (1) totally ridiculous and (2) totally time-consuming. I had the same thoughts and it couldn’t have been easier. All you need is salmon, salt, sugar, white peppercorns, fennel seeds, dill, a few deep dishes, lots of heavy cans and several days to let it prepare. Oh and enough room in your fridge.

The gravlax was a huge hit, the hubby and I won the award for most ridiculous fantasy football draft spread ever, and we are 5 salmon filets down (2 for the gravlax and 3 as party favors). We will totally be making this again. You might want do to the cost analysis on buying pre-made lox / gravlax vs. buying fresh salmon to make it yourself. Typically this would never work out for us.

Homemade Gravlax (adapted from Ina Garten’s Gravlax recipe)

Serves 12

5 lbs of Salmon (we had Coho)

3/4 cup of kosher salt

3/4 cup of sugar

1 large bunch of dill

3 tbsp of whole white peppercorns, crushed

1 1/2 tbsp of whole fennel seeds, crushed

Combine in a bowl salt, sugar, pepper and fennel. Place one half of the salmon (either cut it in have or get to filets that are of equal size) in the bottom of a deep dish. Place the dill on to top of the salmon. Carefully pour the salt / sugar mixture on top of the dill. Place the other piece of salmon on top to create a salmon sandwich of sorts.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Place another dish (or combination of dishes on top) and weigh them with heavy cans.  The fish will compress over time so the dishes need to fit inside the larger dish. Place the dish in the refrigerator.

Leave it sit for at least 2 to 3 days, flipping every 12 hours and basting with juices. We let ours sit 3.5 days and it was delish.

When you are ready to serve, scrape the peppercorns, fennel and dill from the salmon. Using a long, thin knife carve the salmon into thin pieces.

Serve with rye bread, pumpernickel bread or bagels. For our spread we also had: swiss cheese, muenster cheese, sliced red onion, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, chives, capers, cream cheese, mustard and lettuce.

For the mustard – you can either use Dijon or an adapted version of Ina’s mustard sauce recipe:

Whisk together:

1/2 cup of Dijon mustard

2 tsp ground mustard

6 tbsp sugar

1/4 cup of vinegar

Slowly whisk in 1/3 cup of good olive oil. Serve with gravlax.

Homemade Granola

 


The best summer’s I spent as a kid were at sleep away camp. My hubby and friends openly gasp when they hear that my parents shipped me off every summer for 8 weeks, but I loved it, and I am sure so did they. While there are so many things I loved about camp (I could go on and on) the one thing I will always remember is how excited I got when I received a white slip that said “you have a package.” I don’t want to brag, but my mom pulled together some pretty great care packages.

Well at least I thought they were cool, filled with my favorite comic books, magazines, and stickers. There might have also been a few sticks of gum hidden between the pages of those magazines. While my camp days are long behind me, my mom’s care package days are not. I still come home some days and find a little blue sticker – the adult equivalent to my little white package slip. The magazine and comic books have been replaced by newspaper articles, the stickers replaced by clothes, and the gum replaced with homemade granola. Yes it’s that good to ship across the country.

So when the hubby and I used up the last of our granola last week I knew it was time. Time to figure out how to create my mom’s amazing granola. She always told me it was pretty easy to make, but having recreated many of her recipes before I took her advice with a grain of salt. Could something so delicious be that ridiculously easy to make? The short – yes.

It took her many batches and lots of tweaking but the results are pure deliciousness. There are certain things you make in your kitchen that make you feel special. Recreating my mom’s granola recipe in my kitchen made me smile. What makes me smile even more? That she will be here in a few days to taste it herself.

Barefoot Contessa’s Cherry, Almond and Cinnamon Granola (seriously adapted)

2 cups of old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup of shredded coconut

1 cup of sliced almonds

1/2 cup of dried cherries, chopped

1/4 cup of dried cranberries, chopped

1/4 cup of vegetable oil

2.5 tbsp of good honey

1 tsp of ground cinnamon

 

Preheat the oven to 350

 

Toss the oats, almonds, and coconut together in a large bowl. Pour the vegetable oil and honey over the oat mixture. Add the cinnamon, and stir with a wooden spoon until the oat mixtures if fully coated with the liquids.

Spread the the mixture on a large cookie sheet and bake for roughly 1o minutes, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is a light, golden brown. Remove from the oven and toss the cherries and dried cranberries into the mixture. Let cool and store in an airtight container.

We love enjoying it with some yogurt and fruit.