Mr. S. and I are not huge proponents of Valentine's Day (or as I like to call it: "the holiday that Hallmark built") but we do love to celebrate our birthdays. And since Mr. S.'s birthday comes in right before V-day, we used it as an excuse to pack our bags and duck out of town for a few days. Mini-vacation time!
Where did we go, you ask? Well, we packed up the car last weekend and headed up the coast to Mendocino. We discovered two things on this trip 1) Mendocino is abso-lutely gorgeous 2) the actual town of Mendocino has the most pretentious, unfriendly people I've ever come across (seriously, could the shopowners be any more unfriendly to their patrons?). Anyhow, except for the quick jaunts we made into town to stock up on provisions (mainly coffee...gotta have our coffee) we had a wonderful time on our getaway. We ended up staying in a super adorable cabin in Little River (about 2 miles from Mendo) at a place called The Andirons. The Andiron cabins resemble something out of the 1950's Adirondacks or Catskills. In fact, it made me feel a bit like Baby in Dirty Dancing....nobody puts Ally in the corner! (Shhhh! Please don't tell Mr. S. I said that, I'll never hear the end of it.) We were lucky enough to score the biggest cabin and saying the place was cute is an understatement. This particular cabin was named after the owner's parents- The William and Mildred Suite. The proprietors, Madeline and Scott, had taken tremendous care to decorate the cabin with period pieces- my favorite discoveries were the vintage cookbooks and cake decorating set in the kitchen. The cabin walls were lovingly decorated with letters and cards the couple exchanged during the war, old photographs and several menus of the period (remember when a full dinner only cost 65 cents? Neither do I, but I bet my parents do!). We kept a toasty fire burning in both stoves, some 1940's music humming in the background while we were there and enjoyed being away from all of the day-to-day hub bub. We both fell in love with the king-size Posturepedic/Memory Foam mattress (it was like sleeping on a cloud in heaven, I tell ya) and the fact that there were two bathrooms in the cabin (we didn't have to fight over who got to get ready first). Anyhow, we had a fantabulous time while we were there. Upon our return to Sacramento though, we discovered that the beautiful spring weather we had been having had been replaced with a lot of rain and cold. No bueno. Not wanting to let go quite yet of our wonderful trip, I decided to whip us up some comfort food for dinner. Eating some warm and hearty eggplant parmesan while the rain pours and the wind howls outside...does it get any better than that? Well, I guess we could have thrown on some Sarah Vaughan and started a fire....
Eggplant Parmesan with Crisp Bread Crumb Topping
(Recipe by Ethan Stowell, printed in Food & Wine Magazine)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus about 2 cups for frying
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
Two 28-ounce cans whole, peeled Italian tomatoes, drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 small eggplants (1/2 pound each), cut lengthwise 1/2 inch thick
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil
1 pound lightly salted fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and torn into small pieces
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
- In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Using your hands, crush the whole tomatoes into the skillet.
- Bring to a simmer and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is very thick, about 25 minutes.
- Transfer the tomato sauce to a food processor and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil.
- Season the eggplant slices with salt and pepper.
- Working in several batches, cook the eggplant over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden on both sides, about 8 minutes per batch; add more olive oil to the skillet between batches.
- Drain the eggplant slices on paper towels.
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce in a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.
- Arrange one-third of the fried eggplant slices in the baking dish and sprinkle all over with 1 tablespoon of the chopped basil.
- Top with one-third of the torn mozzarella and sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- Repeat this layering twice.
- Sprinkle the bread crumbs all over the top of the eggplant Parmesan.
- Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the top of the eggplant Parmesan is golden and the tomato sauce is bubbling.
- Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
I love citrus season! Last week I swung by to visit a friend who lives over in the Garden of the Gods (the area behind the Arden Whole Foods) and she sent me home with a big bag of oranges plucked fresh from her tree. I had one before we left for our coastal getaway and now that I'm home, I wanted to try a few out in a new recipe...orange yogurt cake!
The oranges are pictured here with a little memento I picked up when I visited the newly expanded Crocker Art Museum. This little gal's eyes pop out when you squeeze her face. The kidlets thought it was hilarious and the pup was intrigued. It reminded me a bit of Large Marge in PeeWee's Big Adventure...yes, I'm sure I'm dating myself with this movie reference. ;) Anyhow, if you like moist cake you'll love this recipe. It's not overly sweet or tart... and it has the perfect whisper of citrus in the aftertaste.
Orange Yogurt Cake (adapted from Farmgirl Fare )
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice
1.5 Tablespoons finely chopped or grated orange zest (I used a microplaner)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup orange juice (strained if freshly squeezed)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place butter and sugar in a large bowl and use an electric mixer to cream until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add eggs, vanilla, yogurt, orange juice, and orange zest and beat 1 minute.
- Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix well.
- Pour batter into a greased 9" x 5" loaf pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Ovens vary, so start checking for doneness after about 45 minutes. Let cool on wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes and then carefully remove cake from pan.
- Combine orange juice and sugar and stir until sugar dissolves, then spoon or brush over cake. Slice and serve. Cake will keep at room temperature for 3 days or can be frozen.
I've always had a soft spot for cutesy stuff but I think these adorable fruit bus stops in Konagai, Japan (part of Isahaya City in Nagasaki Prefecture) take the cake. There were 16 stops in the shapes of watermelons, strawberries, tomatoes, oranges and melons built for the 1990 Travel Expo. According to the city's website the inspiration for the fruit bus stops came from the pumpkin carriage in the story of Cinderella.
( photos from Isahaya City's website )
If you're anything like me you've probably been spending more time outside enjoying this wonderful spring-like weather than being in the kitchen. It's been so sunny and warm that I've busted out my summer dresses and sandals already. And it's not just me that seems to be exhilarated about the change in weather; Mother Nature seems to have kicked it into high gear and everything is a bloomin', like these daffodils in my courtyard. They shyly popped their little heads out last week. They're just so bright and cheery that they make me smile each time I walk by them. So to celebrate my smiley yellow daffodils, I've been making a ton of Meyer lemon bars. I found this great recipe by Ina Garten and they seem to be a hit with everyone who's had one so far. These bars sport a shortbread crust and the taste could be described as more of a "grown up" lemon bar than your typical sugary, gelatinous lemon bar.
* I used Meyer lemons in this recipe instead of regular ones, which made the bars a bit sweeter and not so overwhelmingly tart.
* Definitely use a stand mixer with paddle attachment on this recipe. I read a lot of reviews of this recipe where people who mixed it by hand had crusts that fell apart, weren't mixed well or came out extremely crumbly.
* I didn't have any extra large eggs on hand. I used 6 large eggs instead and the recipe came out fine.
(adapted from Ina Garten's recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (do not use the bottle stuff)
1 cup flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed.
- Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball.
- Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides.
- Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
- For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour.
- Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
- Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners' sugar.
Don't be thinking I'm giving up my beloved sriracha; however, a little variation is good for the soul so I've embraced this bottle here as my favorite condiment of the moment. Mmm! Yuzu-It (the liquid form of the popular yuzu-kosho flavoring) hits you with a smack of hot green peppercorns then soothes the sting over with the tang of citrusy yuzu. While I was in LA we were using it to dip our yakitori in but I was so hooked on the taste that I bought a bottle at Oto's and am now shaking it onto pretty much everything. Give it a go!
Yesterday kicked off the first day (of fifteen) for the Chinese New Year. To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, I thought it would be fun to cook Mr. S. a Chinese inspired dish for dinner last night...I decided to go with this Chinese 'No Clay Pot' Chicken with Soy and Ginger, which had just won the Best Healthy Casseroles Contest recently on Apartment Therapy. It's a simple dish but quite hearty and aromatic The kitchen smelled so delish during the preparation that Mr. S. kept wandering in, wanting to "help." I did tinker with the recipe a tiny bit so if you want the original version, you can find it here: The Kitchn. Anyhow the end result was a flavorful, versatile rice dish that can be eaten alone or used as a main dish (pair it with some yummy veggies like sauteed gai-lan) or as a side dish (would work well with some roasted duck).
Chinese No 'Clay Pot' Chicken Casserole
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon shiro miso paste
2 boneless chicken breasts, about 1 pound, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 scallions, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, roughly grated
2 ounces good Italian salami, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
10 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, caps thinly sliced
1 tablespoon canola or peanut oil
2 cups Chinese long grain rice (* I would not try and sub in a different type of rice as it could get mushy)
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups vegetable stock
1. Heat the oven to 350°F.
2. Whisk together the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch in a medium bowl.
3. Stir in the chicken, scallions, garlic, ginger and miso paste and toss so that they are coated thoroughly with the liquid.
4. Place this mixture in the refrigerator and let marinate for at least 15 minutes while you cook the mushrooms.
5. Place an oven-safe pan, like a 3-quart Dutch oven, over medium high heat on the stove.
6. When it is hot, add the sausage and turn the heat down to medium-low.
7. Let the sausage slowly release its fat. When the bottom of the pot is slick with the sausage fat, add the mushrooms.
8. Turn the heat back up to medium high heat and let the mushrooms cook, without stirring them, for 5 minutes. Flip them over and cook for another 3 minutes.
9. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pot, and sauté the rice briefly to develop some toasty flavor (you don’t want to brown the rice here, just sauté it for 1 minute or so), then add the salt and the chicken mixture from the fridge.
10. Pour in the stock. Bring to a boil.
11. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid or with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Make sure to taste the rice for doneness before taking it out of the oven. Let stand 5 minutes, covered, before serving.
12. Stir up the rice before serving, as the chicken and mushrooms will have risen to the top during baking (see photo below). Stir thoroughly so that they are incorporated throughout the rice.
13. Garnish with chopped scallions and serve with extra soy sauce and chili garlic sauce, if desired.
I'll admit, I'm not a huge fan of octopus. It's not something I gravitate towards when I'm hitting the sushi bar or perusing the seafood section at Oto's; I think it's the texture. The few times I've eaten it, I find myself moving it from one side of my mouth to the other with my tongue, unable to swallow and eventually spitting it out. But takoyaki is a whole other story, I love takoyaki! Depending on how often you've frequented Japanese izakayas (pubs) or street fairs, you may or may not have come across takoyaki. The ball-shaped dumplings are made from takoyaki flour, grilled octopus, and egg; once cooked, they're topped with dried bonito flakes and a special takoyaki sauce. You don't see them in Japanese restaurants in the states much because to make them you need a special cast-iron takoyaki pan. During my last trip to Japan, we made a quick trip to Osaka, where takoyaki was supposedly invented and perfected. We didn't care for Osaka much (in fact for the rest of our Japan trip we referred to it as, "O-Suck-a," but we did indulge in some delicious takoyaki there. There's nothing quite like popping those fried octopus balls in your mouth while knocking back a cold Kirin. Anyhow, during my recent trip to LA, my friend Mayumi scored a takoyaki pan from her boss and offered to make a few batches at a party we were attending. Score! We all had a fun night of eating and drinking...and the takoyaki was everything I remembered it to be.
small basting brush
100g takoyaki flour
340 cc cold water
1/4 lb. grilled octopus (diced)
2 green onions (chopped)
katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
* Variations: Add tenkasu (tempura flakes) or aonori (seaweed flakes) to the batter. Sub shrimp for octopus. Mix in some Kewpie mayo with the takoyaki sauce.
* Preheat takoyaki pan.
1. In a large bowl, mix an egg well.
2. Add water.
3. Then mix takoyaki flour in. Whisk until it becomes smooth.
4. Brush takoyaki pan liberally with vegetable oil or dip a paper towel in oil and dab it onto the pan, making sure the surface of the pan is coated well.
5. Pour batter onto the takoyaki pan, filling each mold halfway. Add a few pieces of octopus and green onion to the batter then fill the mold to the top with batter.
6. Let the batter cook for a few minutes, when it starts to thicken try running a bamboo skewer along the out edge of each mold so that the ball unsticks.
7. Once the ball starts to solidify, pierce the ball with the skewer and flip (or "spin") the ball over so that the other side cooks.
8. Continue to "spin" until the entire takoyaki ball is cooked. It takes some skill to get the balls perfectly spherical...practice makes perfect.
9. Remove from pan when the outside looks crispy and place it on a plate. Sprinkle with katsuobushi and drizzle some takoyaki sauce on top. Eat them while they're still fresh and hot.