Monday, June 28, 2010

Leah's Birthday - Russian River Trip

This weekend found 14 friends piled up in a house on the Russian River together to celebrate our dear friend Leah's 30th birthday. She couldn't have picked a more beautiful spot, perfectly suited to this crew of avid innertubers, sunbathers, cooks and cocktail experts. We launched the tubes from a few miles up river, and headed downstream to end up at our own private beach, just down the bank from the house. From the tubes it was into the hot tub to warm up, and then onto the board game portion of the trip.

There's nothing quite like a getaway with friends. To just hang out, enjoy each other's company, cook and enjoy a heated game of Trivial Pursuit. It's just about the best thing ever, and I for one, did not want to leave that house.

And I think Leah had a good time. We all enjoyed some of her favorites through the heroics of group cooking. Bahn Mi sandwiches, fish and shrimp tacos, barbecued ribs, honeymoon pancakes and, as requested, a Carmel Banana Birthday Cake.

We're a very spoiled group when it comes to food.

Recipe for the Carmel Banana Cake to come later, and maybe Sonya's amazing Peach Gallette, and Sam's "Bomb Mi" Sandwiches...if I can persuade them to share their secrets! In the meantime, I'm recovering and planning the next river trip...
Pictures taken by Brian

Friday, June 18, 2010

Your Mother Was Right + A Birthday - Capellini with Shrimp and Tomatoes

"Listen to your Mother." It's a common phrase, one almost all of us have heard at some point or another, some of us ad nausium. And yet...very often we didn't. We insisted on learning for ourselves the hard way. Even if we knew she was right. And that was the most frustrating part of it. Knowing she was right, and ignoring the advice anyway.

My Mother has an impressive track record when it comes to intuition and advice. As much as I sometimes hate to admit it, I know that when she has advice to offer, I should listen. I can't think of one boyfriend or friend she was ever wrong about. I didn't take her advice as often as I should have, but, these days, with her stats being what they are, hers is the advice I ask for and most often take. I wish I'd taken it more often growing up. Her many years of social work speak for themselves. Not for nothing!

When it comes to food, her instincts are pretty spot on as well. She has a way with seafood pasta, and it brings to mind weeks spent at the beach on the Northern California Coast. Buying live crab and bringing it back to the house where they would meet their fate in a pot of boiling water. My Father would don an apron and crack the crab (when we did this at home our cat would attach himself to my Dad's leg, clawing away in a crab frenzy) and my Mom would make the most basic of seafood pasta's. Good seafood, pasta, garlic, lemon and white wine. Toss in some parsley, maybe some capers and tomatoes, throw in some crusty bread, a bottle of wine, a leafy salad and we were set.

It's still one of my all-time favorite meals. It's not often that I see a seafood pasta on a menu that I can resist...and yet, it's never quite as good as my Mom's. There's nothing quite like homemade, especially when it's a team effort.

On a side note, yesterday was my Father's 70th Birthday. When it comes to the lottery of being born into a family, I hit the jackpot, I'm well aware. And I couldn't be more thankful, more loved, supported or lucky. Happy Birthday Dad, words can't express how much I love you, and how thankful I am that you are my Father. You are the best man I know, and nothing makes me more proud than to say that you are my Dad.

Capellini with Shrimp and Tomatoes

3/4 lb capellini
1 lb large shrimp, peeled & deveined (I used frozen)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
juice of 1 lemon
a pinch of red pepper flakes, more if you like a lot of spice
1/2 bunch of parley, chopped
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes

Heat the oven to 300 and roast the tomatoes on a pan for 20-30 minutes, until they start to shrivel and darken in color. You can also skip this part and just saute the tomatoes with the garlic.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. In the meantime, heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium high. Once the pan is hot and the butter is melted, turn the heat to medium and add the garlic. Saute for about a minute, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add the chili flakes.

Add the shrimp to the garlic and cook until the shrimp is almost cooked through and turning pink, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and lemon juice and turn the heat to low. Remove the shrimp, and turn the heat under the pan to medium-high, reducing the wine, lemon and garlic liquid a bit. You should end up with about 3/4 cup of liquid.

At this point, the capellini should be ready to cook. Cook according to directions, about 3 minutes. Drain and add to the skillet with the wine, lemon and garlic. Add in the shrimp, tomatoes and parsley. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and Parmesan. Serve hot.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

To Eat Each Other's Cooking & Say it Was Good - Veggie Rice Bowl with Lemon Tahini Dressing

Sometimes you catch yourself, when you're giving advice to someone else...suddenly you realize that it's also the advice you should be taking. In some way, you're speaking to yourself. And it's comforting to realize that you're in the same place as the person sitting across from you. That in some way, you're in it together. You're not crazy for feeling whatever it is that you're feeling.

And I realized, it felt better. To listen, to give advice if asked, to be supportive and out of my own head and helping someone else to realize what we both already knew, because, as we all know, advice is what you ask for when you already know the answer. But we want that reassurance that we're not alone, that we're not nuts, that we're in it together and that it's not for nothing.

In the end we agreed, to be as kind to ourselves as we are to our friends. Not to judge and beat ourselves up for the process we have to go through to get to the other side of things, to come to realize what we want and deserve.

And tonight, that made sense.

I came across this picture recently...I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

I can't remember the last time I read something that made so much sense.

Sometimes I think there are only two things you can do when you're feeling down. Enjoy dinner made by a good friend or loved one, and listen to a hell of a lot of Sinatra.

I can't remember where I stumbled across this recipe, but it's been around for awhile. If you love tahini, it's one of those recipes that just makes complete sense. Totally satisfying. Filling, lots of texture and tons of taste. I can't get enough of it. And you can feel very smug about how healthy it is. Packing in the veggies and whatnot. Fill the fridge with 'em and go through them in a day or so. Sometimes I just make a ton of the dressing and put it on everything. Seriously. Everything. Fish, chicken, your basic carrot stick. Just give me the spoon.

Veggie Rice Bowl with Lemon Tahini Dressing

4 cups white or brown rice
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
3/4 cup plain yogurt (I used non-fat)
4 tbsp tahini
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/3 cucumber, seeds removed, cut into matchsticks
1 celery stalk, cut into matchsticks
1/2 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup chickpeas
1/4 red or yellow bell pepper, cut into strips

Cook rice according to package directions. Once cooked, put it in the refrigerator until cool.

Mix yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and cayenne together in a small bowl until well combined.

Toss rice and all vegetables together in a large bowl, serve with tahini dressing. Serve.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I'm not positive, but I would venture a guess that I might be the only person in history to go to Palm Springs for the weekend, and come back with bronchitis.

It just doesn't make a lot of sense.

It was hot in Palm Springs. Really hot. Sweltering and dry desert heat. The kind where you drive in to town, mouth agape as you watch the thermostat steadily climb and climb and climb up to 110. I mean, HOT.

The kind of hot where the thought of getting out of the pool is unbearable. Where the thought of venturing into a room where the air-conditioner is set any higher than 65 is ridiculous. Where ice becomes the most essential part of any beverage concoction. Well, except for the rum or gin, of course. We were all about priorities in Palm Springs.

My dear friend Brigid is getting married this summer. She suggested a girl's weekend in Palm Springs to begin the celebratory festivities. I had never been, thought it was a fantastic idea, and quickly did some research. I stumbled upon a room special for the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, which, on the website looked like some kind of hipster paradise. We booked, we went, it was and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's like they designed the place with the sole idea that you should never have to leave the hotel for any reason. Vespa rentals? Check. Free bikes to ride around the grounds? Check. Two luxurious pools with cushions, cabanas, misting systems, lawn chairs and umbrellas? Mmm-hmm. Old-school photobooth? Check. The ultimate desert dive bar? Oh yes. Great, kitchy restaurant? Yep. Stumptown Coffee? Oh man, yes. Pool side service from very good looking men? Yes. That too.

The Ace has just about everything you could want. Including BBQ's, DJ's and the most fantastic people-watching experience I've had in quite awhile. Everyone was friendly, everyone was looking to have a good time. All in all, it was one of the most vacationy vacations I've ever had.

Between the vacation, the bronchitis, and a trip up North for my Nephew's high-school graduation, you can probably understand why there hasn't been a whole lot of cooking going on around here. And by "whole lot" I mean none.

But as you can see. We did get to the roadside attraction outside of Palm Springs that is the Robotic Dinosaur Museum, so...there's that. I figure this picture alone is worth about 3 food posts. Right? Right.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Requirements - Asparagus Pesto

There are so many things to like about Summer. Warm weather, picnics and BBQ's, swimming and long and lazy evenings where the sun doesn't even sink till 9. The summer road trip is another much beloved tradition. I like to do as many of these as I can throughout the summer months. This past weekend brought the inaugural trip, in which we headed to Palm Springs (more on that later) and I plan to continue the trend with two more upcoming trips. I've been hearing the siren song to get out of town, and I am more than happy to heed the call.

When preparing to get out of town, I require the following:
  • Access to a fast car with a full tank of gas, preferably with air conditioning
  • A well rounded supply of music, at least several good mix cd's, ipod playlists, mix tapes, whathaveyou
  • Snyder's sourdough pretzels (the giant kind)
  • Strong coffee and plenty of water
  • A necessary pit-stop at either Granzellas Italian Deli (if headed North on the I5) or In n' Out (if traveling in California)
  • A keen eye to be on the lookout for various road-side attractions (such as the Robotic Dinosaur Museum just outside of Palm Springs (again: more on that subject later))

The above is made even better when a few dear friends are thrown into the mix. But the solo road trip is not to be overlooked. It's good for the soul, for clearing one's head, and for just being still with yourself...all whilst moving 70mph.

There's not a lot of cooking going on in my studio this week. Too much going on in between trips. But I do have some leftover asparagus pesto, recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman. I ate this on crostini and in pasta, I confess I even had it straight out of the bowl in the fridge from a spoon. Pesto is something I hadn't considered making with asparagus before, but I think it's a good addition to the repertoire. Asparagus is everywhere these days, and I always seem to have an extra bunch in the fridge that requires something be done with it before I can hit the market again. I think this would be excellent served over pasta, with some roasted asparagus on top. Or, as I did, even just eaten straight off the spoon.

Asparagus Pesto
adapted from Mark Bittman

1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic (the recipe calls for 1, I love garlic and added 2, but found even that to be too mild)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan
juice of 1/2 lemon or more
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil and salt it. Blanch the asparagus until just tender, about 6 minutes.
Drain, but reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Let the asparagus cool slightly.

In a food processor, combine asparagus, pine nuts, 2 tbsp of the olive oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt, and a couple tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Process the ingredients , pausing to scrape down the mixture from the sides of the container so everything is well-combined. Gradually add the oil and a bit more of the cooking liquid to moisten, if necessary. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pulse to combine one last time, scoop into a bowl and serve with toasted bread, pasta, chicken and/or fish.

Friday, June 4, 2010

In Anticipation - Strawberry Chiffon Cake

It's difficult, if not downright impossible, to speak of summer BBQ's without a certain tone of anticipation. In fact, I would venture to say there are only two tones of which they can be spoken about: anticipation, and nostalgia. There are BBQ's that have passed, and there are those that are yet to come.

I can wax poetic about the ones of yore, and present to you in dramatic fashion what was consumed, but in truth, I'm all about the anticipation of the next one. As long as that next one includes this cake:

I'm happy to say that this is a cake recipe that won't need much in terms of refining. Sometimes, a recipe turns out a home run on the first try. This is just such a recipe. Plunged into and devoured in mere seconds, as any good summer cake should be. And there is nothing about this cake that doesn't scream summer. Fresh berries, clouds upon clouds of whipped cream, and a light and moist crumb with just a hint of lemon. The cake is a similar texture to angel food...but better. It's a cake that comes together in a couple easy stages. I baked the actual cake mid-morning, let it cool on the windowsill (so cliche, I know) while I macerated the strawberries, and then finished it off at the BBQ by whipping the cream and assembling. Easy.

I'm going to go out on a limb and declare it the perfect summer BBQ cake. It's here. The search has ended, and I can anticipate many more of these to come.

Strawberry Chiffon Cake

For the Cake:

1 cup + 2 tbsp cake flour
3/4 cup + 1 tbsp superfine sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp cold water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 egg yolks, room temperature
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

For the Filling:

2 cups heavy cream
4 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

For the strawberries:
1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 fresh lemon
1 tbsp sugar

Pre heat the oven to 325 and grease a 9 inch round cake pan. You can also line the bottom and sides with parchment paper that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

Sift the flour, baking powder, 3/4 cup of the sugar and salt together in a large bowl.

In another bowl, beat the yolks, water, oil, lemon zest and vanilla together on high until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until smooth.

In another large bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the remaining tablespoon of superfine sugar, and beat until stiff peaks have formed.

Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the egg whites into the egg yolk batter. Gently fold together until the egg whites have disappeared, taking care not to stir too much. If it's over-stirred, the egg whites will fall. You just want to combine the two mixtures.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan and bake for 40-50 minutes. Check at 40 minutes for doneness. If a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, and the middle has a soft spring to it, the cake is done.

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for about an hour. When the cake has cooled completely, slice into 3 layers using a serrated knife. Separate the layers onto separate plates for easy assembly.
While the cake is cooling, macerate the sliced strawberries with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and about a tablespoon of sugar. Stir together and let sit in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble. The strawberries will release quite a bit of juice, which you'll want to spread on the cake layers.

Make the whipped cream filling by beating the egg whites, vanilla and sugar together on high until stiff peaks have formed.

Assemble the cake by starting with the bottom cake layer. Spread 1/3 of the strawberry mixture on the cake, top with some of the whipped cream. Add the next cake layer, and repeat the strawberries and cream on that layer. Finish with the last cake layer, adding berries on top of that. Finish by spreading the rest of the whipped cream over the cake until the cake is covered. Chill in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour to an hour until you're ready to serve.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Guest Post by Amy - Gin Shandy

I'm guessing a great many of us attended some sort of function in the past couple of days where meat was grilled, sun was soaked up, and refreshing beverages were served. I was lucky enough to spend Memorial Day doing all of the above. Enter my friend Amy. Amy contributed the cocktail portion of our BBQ yesterday, and I'm very glad she did. Amy's known for coming up with delicious concoctions of all sorts, and her Gin Shandy's were no exception. I asked her to pass on the recipe with a guest post, and she kindly obliged.

Guest Post by Amy -

Memorial Day weekend, you are the devil! It's typically easier if your friends have their barbecues on SUNDAY so you get the full recovery day...but if you're not given that luxury, you've gotta show up with a drink that can pull the triple-duty hangover cure/ sunny day beverage/ I'm not gonna throw up at the office tomorrow. Hello, Gin Shandy. I will wear all kinds of white and drink up your business all day long. I just paid a big vet bill this weekend for my cat who had worms soooo it wasn't exactly the best time to be shopping for party supplies. The good news is that you don't need a top shelf gin for a good shandy. A) Because by the time I show up to the BBQ everyone is slightly tipsy, hot, and thirsty for some non-beer action and B) Because the magic shandy cauldron of awesome masks the taste of any mid-shelf gin, if it bothers you snobs. I went Beefeater- not plastic, not the end of the world, not too spendy. Hendrick's is good, or you can go for the old Tanqueray stand-by. But really, your money is better spent on a top shelf ginger beer and a tart lemonade.

Here's where the toil and trouble happens:

Gin Shandy

Equal parts (easy!)

- Ginger Beer (Bundaberg or Reed's)
- Gin!
- Lemonade (Santa Cruz is good, but a bit sweet for me. Newman's Own, Odwalla, or fresh-made are all good options if you're making a last-minute major grocery store stop, depending on your tastes.)

Ice it all up in a cute lookin' pitcher and call it a day (though you have to keep an eye on it because the ginger beer will go flat pretty fast. Feel free to splash in some club soda to bubble it up occasionally.) Best enjoyed out of a mason jar. A lot of recipes will recommend approximately 3/4 of a cup of gin, 12 ounces of ginger beer and 1 cup of lemonade, but I don't really understand math or conversions. Especially when math involves putting less booze in a thing or measuring liquor in cups. How many jiggers go in a shandy? Who knows. A damn tasty amount is what I know.

Garnish with a lemon wedge or a strawberry slice. I prefer a tarter drink, so I'd suggest squeezing some fresh lemon into each serving.

Be careful. Our soldiers didn't give their lives so that you could have a day off to sit outside and drink a strong ass cocktail that tastes like a Capri Sun.