Category: Awesome recipes


I used to have a sign hanging in my kitchen – Bloom Where You’re Planted.   It always reminded me that quality of life was in direct proportion to perspective.  Being at peace with where I was made it that much easier to find the beauty around me.  It’s always there  if we look so I made it a practice to not wish my life away, wanting to be somewhere else.  But it’s also nice to have a little getaway now and then – to experience something different and learn about new things.  It was with that in mind that we recently headed up the Pacific Coast Highway (320 miles and 5 hrs) to the sweeping, pastoral grandeur of Paseo Robles and its impressive wine region. 

Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the area known as the Central Coast Region, Paso Robles has become a wine and food lovers delight and destination.  The Santa Lucia Mountain Range causes the climate to provide nearly perfect growing conditions for the grapes and I can attest to its delicious hot dry days and cool crisp nights –  perfect for exploring, dining and sleeping.  Is there anything better?

Once best known for  cattle and grain, the land surrounding Paso Robles is now almost exclusively dedicated to grapes and orchards filled with precision plantings of walnut, olive and almond trees.  There is an overwhelming feeling of orderliness that is at once calming and satisfying.  The smaller vineyards also give one the sense that somehow we’ve stumbled into a privileged and well-kept secret.  Lucky us.  Intimate restaurants with an eye towards culinary excellence have cropped up all around the charming area and are poised to compliment these wonderful vineyards that are no doubt giving Napa a run for the money. Lovely to have an intelligent conversation with the Vineyard representatives and not have people jammed up eight-deep at the tasting bar.

The number of wineries in the area is staggering – over 200, and they are all tucked into the country roads that wind through the pristine rolling hills.  All offer tastings and tours of their facilities, a fee for which is waived if a purchase is made. I readily admit to being a “common sewer of wine,”  and I fully expected that most of the “tastings” would be lost on me.  But with a little coaching from our most knowledgable guide and new BFF, Michael Garcia, even I began to appreciate the subtle differences between a Sauvignon or a Grenache.

Winemaking is a fascinating blend of art and science and isn’t for the faint of heart or the investor looking to make a fast buck.  It’s a labor of love that is anything but a poor man’s game when the vintner must wait for years for the vines to mature before knowing whether or not they can expect a drinkable harvest.  Even then fickle mother nature can play havoc, with entire crops being lost to too much rain, not enough rain; too much heat, not enough heat; blights, molds, fungus and on and on. 

An interesting example of the quality small vineyards found in the area is Halter Ranch – where in 2000 Swiss entrepreneur Hansjorg Wyss restored a 1,000 acre 19th century ranch.  They now have 240 acres dedicated to twenty varieties of vines which are currently producing about 35,000 bottles a year.   Their wine making process, with gleaming stainless steel vats and hoppers, is certified sustainable and is a green, state-of-the-art operation in every way.  From energy to gravity to water and resource conservation to sourcing their oak barrels, every aspect of the estate is approached with scientific precision.  Theirs is a very impressive 150 year plan. 

Think the best olive oil has to come from Italy?  Think again.  Award winning Pasolivo Olive Oil farm boasts 6,000 organically farmed trees, olives from which are handpicked and pressed right on the property, usually in late November.  We sampled exquisite oils made from the last harvest and silky and delicate flavors such as rosemary or citrus had our mouths watering for more. I was chomping at the bit to try some on pasta, which I certainly did upon our return home.  Outstanding.

Although we found fine dining experiences a surprising norm, I must single out  McPhee’s Grill in the nearby village of Templeton.  The restaurant, in an old farm-house on the Main Street was an Outstanding Culinary Highlight.  A simple salad of butter lettuce with ruby grapefruit, spicy carmalized nuts and port vinaigrette was followed by a macadamia nut encrusted halibut with a ginger sesame vinaigrette, cocoanut rice and asian slaw.  Nothing exotic, just delicately and expertly executed by extraordinary chef Ian McPhee.  Our dinners were paired with a 2005 Linne Calodo Zinfandel that had everyone at the table nodding with satisfaction – even me!  I don’t have the vocabulary to describe our desert of apricot bread pudding with a warm anglaise.  The menu touted it as one time won’t matter Well, that’s not entirely true because honestly, it did matter.  It was unforgettably, simply heaven.

After a week, we were happy to head back home where I’m now scouring my recipe books for all the new tastes we experienced, like the orange curd on our breakfast scones, and those delicate vinaigrettes I mentioned. In the next few weeks my kitchen will be blooming with the new tastes and flavors that I’m planting in my own kitchen – for today and for many years to come.

Grizelda the Grinch, aka Curmudgeon Cathy, aka The Queen,   asked Two Sling Broken Arrow, aka The Duchess, if it would be possible to share the brisket recipe.  

In a word, Yes.  Anything for my big sassy sister!  

  • Start with 6 -7 pounds of brisket (NOT CORNED BEEF!) rubbed with kosher salt (not table salt)  Costco always has a good selection
  •  2-3 Mayan (sweet) onions  – add garlic if you please
  • 3-6 Beef (knuckle) bones (ask your butcher)
  • 2 -3 cups cheap brandy
  • 2 -3 cups beef stock (I use the cubes with water in the microwave)

Rub the brisket down with kosher salt.   Set a roasting pan over two burners on the stove top.  Pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and heat.  Use a mandoline to thinly slice the onions and garlic and throw in the roasting pan to brown.  Add the bones and let everything brown.  Using tongs, start browning the brisket on all sides, including the ends, until completely seared/sealed.  This will probably take 10-15 minutes or so.  Be prepared for grease splatters.  Wear an apron.   Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Once everything is well browned, season liberally with a pepper grinder and then pour in the brandy, deglazing the pan with a wooden spoon as you go.  Once the browned bits have pulled away from the bottom of the pan, add the beef stock and seal the pan with tinfoil.  Put the sealed roasting pan in the oven and after 20/30 minutes, turn the oven down to 300.  Leave it untouched for 3-4  hours.

Remove the roasting pan to a safe surface and uncover, being careful with the escaping steam.  It can scald!   By this time the brisket should be falling apart.  Remove it carefully using large spatulas and place it in your largest rectangle glass Pyrex baking dish.  Using an electric carving knife, carefully slice down the brisket into quarter inch strips.  

Shake out the marrow from the center of the bones and discard the bones.  Take all the juicy rich liquid (including the bone marrow)  and in portions, put in a blender to make the gravy.    As you blend it, pour it back over the brisket until the sliced meat is covered completely.  Seal the dish once again with tinfoil and pop back into the oven (still at 300 degrees) and leave it for another hour until you are ready to serve. 

OMG – If the taste doesn’t kill you, the cholesterol will!

Now, for those of you who plan to send your male spouse/partner/BFF to the store for the above ingredients, please watch this video first…

Click here:
Jeanne Robertson “Don’t send a man to the grocery store!” – YouTube#t=65

Tradition!  Tevye shouts in the beloved musical Fiddler! 

We are all connected to our past; to our histories; to our families.  Tradition is the glue that binds us together, making us who we are, whether we want to admit it or not.

There is something about the sameness of an annual event — our traditions — that are familiar and I think, are comforting.   At our house any family gathering that involves food is filled with traditions:  Jeffrey’s Kiddush cup and his grandmother’s tablecloth and silver candlesticks; my mother’s handmade gravy boat and soup tureen;  Aunt Carrie’s cut glass fruit compote; Maxine’s silver platter; my sister’s napkin rings.  Everyone is represented.  They are with us.

I happily admit it – I’m an unapologetic sentimentalist and when these lovely things are at my table, it reinforces my memories and connections.  Our home is filled with the comfort and pleasure I derive from them.  This is the ritual of life that somehow assures us that in the midst of change and uncertainty, that some things will remain constant:  the Thanksgiving Day football game, the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve or, yes, even the lowly second course of the Passover Seder: Gefilte Fish.  This traditional offering has suffered the most indignant of descriptions, however accurate it  might be.  (Get the picture?)   

To veer from any tradition can have the potential to cause a seismic  emotional shift,  if we change something that is tagged to that comfort.   So as the head non-Jew in charge of the Passover menu in my family,  it was a big challenge to approach, with justifiable trepidation, the camouflaging of the Gefilte Fish – to make it into something that looked even remotely edible.  

Ah…  Enter Martha Stewart, with whom I’ve developed a symbiotic relationship over the years.  Through her I discovered what I hoped would be a more palatable recipe for the dreaded Gefilte Fish, made from poached Salmon rather than Pike.  (Who sells pike these days, I ask you!)  Some family members said why do you bother – just buy the kind in the jar.  But making the effort, going to the trouble to prepare all these special things is part of the tradition, just as our mother’s did for so many, many years.   That’s the point and it’s my pleasure.

Last year I worked up the courage to replicate Martha’s recipe using Salmon and we were all surprised to find that it wasn’t that bad.  That’s not to say that the plates were are all scraped completely clean when they were returned to the kitchen, but  I thought it was an improvement.   Not so sure the traditionalists agreed…but then, we are a blended family.  This year I’m adding it to the menu again, in the hopes that it comes our tradition, but I’ll keep my ear tuned to any emotional discomfort that results. 

Passover this year incidentally coincides with Easter, so whether you’re having the traditional Easter Ham, the Passover Brisket (mine is roasted in brandy for five hours,) or simply enjoying the rights of spring with your loved ones –

 Bon Appetit!  Buona Mangia!  l’Chaim!  Enjoy!  Tradition! 

Moritz Passover table with Fannie Moldavon Braun's
hand-embroidered
table cloth.

Here’s my menu:   Eliza’s Chicken Liver Pate;  Tillie’s Matzo Ball Soup with plenty of dill and parsnips;  Martha’s Tureen of Poached Salmon;   Eliza’s Brisket roasted with Onions and Brandy and  Roasted Root Vegetables;  Ruthie’s Stewed Compote of Apricots, Pears, Figs, and Raisins;  Jeffrey’s Verona Salad of Cabbage, Cucumbers, Peppers, Onions with Sweet Lemon Vinegar Dressing; and Ilene’s Flourless Cakes for desert. 

And here’s a link to many similar recipes.  http://www.marthastewart.com/274198/passover-recipes/@center/307033/spring-holidays

 Welcome to guest blogger Ilene R –

Okay.  So I’m not quite vegan since I still consume dairy products, nor vegetarian since I eat fish.  I am a pescatarian.  Problem is that when you have company not everyone likes fish.  So my dilemma for a recent book club luncheon was what to make that wouldn’t include tofu or fish, two of my regular staples.  Since most everyone likes some form of comfort food, I figured that a potato type casserole might work.  I decided on a potato, leek and asparagus casserole.  Here’s the recipe though the measurements are guesstimated since anyone who knows me knows I don’t measure (which is why I’m not a very good baker!):

 

Ingredients:

Celery stalks, thinly sliced, maybe 3 or use more if you really, really like celery.
Leeks, thinly sliced (only white and light green part) and cut into 1/2 moons.  Again, depending on how much you like onions, start with 3.
About 1- 1/2 packages of cream cheese, but if you want to watch the calories you can use neufchatel cheese Leave it out for a while so that it’s soft.
About 3/4 cup veg broth (you have to judge if if’s enough when you throw it into the pot, so start with this small amount.
Ffrozen artichokes (I got mine at Trader Joe’s of course!). 2 bags should do it.  Make sure water is squeezed out and coarsely chopped
A little salt and a lot of ground pepper (that’s my taste, reverse if you’re a salt addict!)
A little over a bag of TJ’s little potatoes — the one that are different colors–thinly sliced.
Some chopped garlic cloves (2-3)
Olive oil

Cooking Part 1 – the Ingredients:

Preheat oven to 425. In large skillet heat olive oil over medium-high flame.
Saute chopped garlic
Add leeks and celery, cook until softened (maybe 5-8 minutes)
Add artichokes, broth and cheese. Salt and Pepper too.
When everything is all blended together, remove skillet from heat.

Cooking Part 2 – the Casserole

I used a glass baking dish and sprayed it with TJ Olive Oil spray, but you can brush the dish with oil too.
Arrange 1/2 potato slices (overlapping) on the bottom.
Spoon artichoke mixture on top
Add another layer of potatoes. Brush top with oil
Put in oven and bake until sauce is bubbling and potatoes are golden (I let mine get a little crispy).

Figure 35-45 minutes.

 

 

The Finished Masterpiece

Bon Appetit            

In my early twenties I spent some time in Bardstown, Kentucky, near the home of  the Makers Mark Kentucky Whiskey Distillery.  One of my most vivid memories was of the smell of sour mash.  In the humidity of the summer, even the apples on the trees tasted like bourbon.   I can’t say it was always pleasant, but it sure was memorable.

Fast forward to this fall when we were on our way to a Jazz Concert at  the LaQuinta Resort and wanted a quick but decent dinner before the concert.  Old Towne was right around the corner and upon our friends’  recommendation we gave The Grill on Main a try.   http://www.thegrillonmainlq.com/ 

From the parking lot the grill smells told us we were in for a treat.  We had no disappointments here!   The service was prompt and friendly, the setting was better than average and all our entries were deliciously prepared and beautifully presented. 

But the pièce de résistance  was the Bread Pudding with Makers Mark sauce.  OMG…it defied description and took me right back to my Bardstown memories. 

I’ve never been a big fan of bread pudding, but after my experience, I had to try to recreate it at home.  After an exhaustive search for a good bread pudding recipe with the correct accoutrement  I checked out the Makers Mark website in hopes of a recipe.   I’m convinced you won’t find a better one.  http://www.makersmark.com/#!/cook/desserts/47-apple-bourbon-bread-pudding-br-with-maker-s-mark-caramel

Just remember my mantra, don’t skimp or substitute on the basic ingredients.  This one is worth the effort.  And so is the Grill on Main Street, Old Towne, LaQuinta.

They were the hit of our annual Festivus holiday party.  I can’t claim any originality here, as the recipe came from the Joy of Baking.  This video and recipe will give you all the details. http://www.joyofbaking.com/candy/PeanutButterBalls.html 

However, the rule of thumb (you don’t want to know where that saying originated…wouldn’t that be a fun page to start on this blog?)  Anyway the rule of thumb is – don’t skimp on ingredients!  Use a good brand of peanut butter.  Use an exceptional brand of dark simi sweet chocolate, and leave the balls in the freezer for a good amount of time before you try to dip them in the chocolate. 

Yes, this recipe isn’t the fastest to make – the only difficulty I had was getting the toothpick out of the ball after the dipping process. – but definitely worth the trouble.  And I’ve got the five pounds to prove it!  Enjoy!

If you’re in a hurry, Seafood Risotto isn’t the dish with which to start out, although it’s deliciously rewarding if you’re patient.  To do it right requires almost a constant stir as you slowly add more of the liquid to the rice.  The only way to screw it up is to not cook it long enough to let the rice absorb all the liquid.  And sometimes you have to add more liquid (white wine is nice) to be sure it’s tender enough.  Your tongue will tell you.

One good recipe is at http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/seafood-risotto-10000001842344/. You can add peas or edamame, leeks or shallots, but skip the clam juice and double up on the Meyer lemons!  They’re fresh this time of year and really give the recipe a nice zing.   Mushrooms are good too, but don’t use those boring white ones.  Choose baby portobella or crimini – and add your white wine to the chicken stock

If you don’t have the time, a perfectly acceptable substitute can be found at Trader Joes in the freezer section (Risotto with mushrooms) or at Costco.  They have a good prepared Risotto (also with mushrooms) that can be heated in the microwave.  Both choices are great if you’re pressed for time. 

  Be inventive, be daring.  Give it a try!

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