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Tuesday
Dec152009

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT MOLTEN CAKES

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Besides the hearty soup and well balance bowl we've had the past two posts, it seems my diet lately has consisted of more treats than usual. I feel so cliche even saying that, as I would love to tell you I prefer carrot sticks to cookies, but I do not, especially in December. Likely story, I know. I have tried pickles, coffee, brushing my teeth, desperate seances and what not, but sometimes the need for something sweet comes with a fury. By fury, I mean a need for baby chocolate peppermint molten cakes. They are so much easier to make than I expected, and a personal dessert makes a guest, and you, feel special. I am catering a dinner party for twenty this Friday, and after testing these for four, it will be just as easy to do for twenty. Borrowing 16 additonal ramekins is the difficult part. If I am going to make a decadent dessert, it will be worth it. By using organic eggs and butter, and the best quality chocolate you can find, your end result tastes as wonderful as the ingredients you used.

Hugh and I watched Food Inc. last week and I thought it was very well done. I tend to take everything I hear on the subject of the corporate food industry for face value, so am glad I had Hugh to remind me of the art of persuasion. Sure, it is a movie made by one side of the issue, but the material encourages the viewer to buy locally, visit farmers markets, cook at home, plant a small garden and stay away from processed foods. I don't care how literally you take it, but the call to action is unanimously postive. I wish my garden grew molten cakes, then everyone would be happy.lavacake_0002lavacake_0003lavacake_0004

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT MOLTEN CAKES

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
5 oz. High Quality Bittersweet Chocolate (Valrhona or Scharfenberger)
2 Large Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
1/4 Cup Natural Cane Sugar
2 tsp. Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 tsp. Peppermint Extract
Pinch of Salt
Candy Cane for Garnishlavacake_0005lavacake_0006lavacake_0007lavacake_0008

Oven at 450'
1. Set a glass bowl over a pot of gently boiling water (double broiler). Break up the the chocolate, and add it and the butter into the glass bowl. While the mixture is melting, whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together in another bowl until light and thick.
2. When chocolate is almost completly melted remove from the heat, stir to release some heat as it should be quite warm. Slowly pour in the eggs, peppermint extract, pinch of salt and then quickly beat in the flour until just combined.
3. Butter and flour four 4-ounce ramekins, tap out excess flour. Pour the chocolate mix evenly amongst the ramekins. At this point, you can keep them in the fridge for several hours, and simply bring them to room temperature before baking. Otherwise, bake them on a baking sheet for 6 to 7 minutes MAX, centers will be soft. Allow to sit for 3 minutes.
4. Invert the ramekin onto a plate, let them sit about 10 seconds and give the bottom a little tap, then lift. Sprinkle with candy cane, serve immediately. Accompany with unsweetened whipped cream or ice cream if desired.lavacake_0009

Thursday
Dec102009

LENTIL SOUP WITH CHIPOTLE  YOGURT

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We had our inaugural rain here in southern California. That means it is now permissable to lug out your big cast iron pot and get creative. I adore how heavy my soup pot is; so sturdy and ready to take on whatever you care to throw in. There is something about soup that seems emotional to me. It reminds me of so many tender moments, whose only common thread is actually soup itself. It's a cozy and comfortable food, lending itself to good company and conversation while inside from cold weather. That is what I find so wonderful about food, that there is something so sensual about it, you can be brought back to an exact circumstance and relive it... the people, the ambiance, how you felt...all initiated by what you ate.

I introduced Hugh to the refined pairing that is grilled cheese and roasted tomato soup, years ago. We sat on his porch while he was living in San Diego, you could see neighbors walking on the boardwalk, it was dusk and just chilly enough to wear a sweatshirt (the best weather as far as I'm concerned). I picked up groceries from Whole Foods on my way down, something quick, as the college man kitchen is not the ideal working space. Fresh grainy bread and water packed mozzarella, the soup came from a box and he was still impressed. It was so simple but so perfect, years later when we make it for a quick lunch, I still find it romantic. Yes, soup from a box... but it doesn't seem to be about the soup.

I'm fairly certain you can get a few days worth of fiber from one bowl. It's healthy, I will say that much, so be generous with your 'dollop' of chipotle yogurt. I also highly suggest adding the greens when all is done, as I mention in the directions, the color is so much more a vibrant green than the overcooked alternative.lentilsoup_0002lentilsoup_0003

LENTIL SOUP WITH CHIPOTLE YOGURT // Serves 6

2 Cups Lentils (French or Black Beluga)
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Fennel Bulb, Diced
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Cup Brown Rice, Cooked (any whole grain will work)
6 Cups Organic, Low Sodium Vegetable Stock
1 tsp. Cumin
1 Large Bunch of Kale, Chard or Combo of Leafy Greens
Salt/ Pepper
1 Lemon

CHIPOTLE YOGURT
1 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt
1 Chipotle Chile in Adobo, Chopped (no more than 2 tsp.)lentilsoup_0005lentilsoup_0006

1. Cook your rice or desired grain and set aside. Boil about four cups water, and boil the lentils for 20 minutes until cooked. Add water as needed. Drain.
2. In a large soup pot, saute the yellow onion and the fennel in the olive oil for about 8 minutes, or until just starting to turn light brown. Add the stock and cumin. Bring the heat back up to a gentle boil, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the lentils and the brown rice and simmer about 10 minutes. While you are waiting, stem your greens and slice them into thin strips. Taste the soup for salt and pepper, add seasoning as desired.
4. Turn off the heat and add in the greens, stir. The greens will wilt in the hot soup, and avoid overcooking this way. Stir in the juice of half the lemon, add more to taste.
5. Mix the greek yogurt with the chipotle chile and stir. Serve the soup with the dollop of the chipotle yogurt. Warning, chipotles are pretty spicy, so start with a small amount of sauce and you can add if you like it hot. If too spicy, add more yogurt.lentilsoup_0007

Friday
Dec042009

PEANUT SAUCE BENTO BOWL

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Why are there consistently bottomless leftovers from Thanksgiving? I went by my parents house today and there remain two giant tupperware full of stuffing. I didn't take home any leftovers and still do not want to look at any dish that represents colonial America. Our dinner this year was great. The food was lovely, we were in good company, my grandma said inappropriate things to new guests, my mom fell four feet off a stool getting mugs and bruised her entire left side, the dogs ate so many scraps they threw up in the garage....you know, the usual. There were vegetables present at the table, but I have been craving something light, crispy and resembling a place far far away from the motherland of butter, salt and starch. Not to mention that Hugh often asks for asian food, and it's the last culture I lean towards for inspiration, so it was about time to compromise.

I'm not going to say "this is the best peanut sauce recipe I've tasted", but it was a nice change and certianly good enough to make again. I have read that using Skippy or Jiff yields a better consistency, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I like the idea of a mix of raw and steamed vegetables with a savory sauce, so you can play around with it. A traditional Japanese bento box typically includes a lean protien, rice, pickled vegetable and represents a balanced, complete meal. This is our intrepretation... Thai meets Japan... every component gets along quite well in this lovely bowl of goodness.bento_0002

PEANUT SAUCE BENTO BOWL// Serves 2
12 oz. Extra Firm Tofu
1/2 lb. Soba or Rice Noodles
1 Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
4 Baby Bok Choy
2 Carrots, Shaved with a Vegetable Peeler
Half a Cucumber, Sliced on a Bias
4 Scallions, Halved Length Wise
Sesame Oil
Cilantro for Garnish
1/3 Cup Pickled Ginger

PEANUT SAUCE//
1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Water
1 tbsp. Tamari/Soy Sauce
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
2 tsp. Lime Juice
2 tbsp. Agave
1 Shallot, finely chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp. Canola/Peanut Oilbento_0003bento_0004

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the noodles. Drain and press the tofu. Cut it into cubes and saute on medium heat with 1 tsp. sesame oil until lightly browned. Be gentle so the tofu stays in cube form.
2. Start the sauce. Saute the the garlic and shallot in the oil to soften, whisk in the peanut butter, coconut milk, water, agave and soy sauce and mix to combine. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes. When all ingredients are warmed through, add the lime juice. Add spices as you wish here.
3. In a steamer basket, or pan filled 1'' with water. Steam the bok choy, scallions and bell peppers for 6 minutes with the lid on (time may vary). Remove.
4. Cook the noodles according to instructions. Drain and drizzle a little sesame oil to prevent them from sticking. Mix the tofu with desired amount of sauce so it looks like a creamy mess. Lay the tofu on top of the noodles and arrange the bok choy, peppers, cucumber, pickled ginger and shaved carrots along side. Sprinkle everything with sesame seeds and fresh chopped cilantro.bento_0005

Wednesday
Nov252009

BUTTERNUT SALAD WITH CIDER DRESSING

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There is something about purchasing vegetables from a farm stand that makes you feel like you are buying happy produce. The people who work there are typically humble, hands on, and generous in preparation advice. They will gladly peel open an orange so you can taste how much bolder it is than its conventional grocery store counterpart. I remember my first day working at an organic farm up in San Luis Obispo, they handed me a hatchet (Hugh is shuddering at the thought of this) and we began pulling out deep rooted celery, my arms working so hard they were shaking. I put in hours in exchange for a big box of vegetables at the end of the week, and even after shoveling goat doody, filthy clothes and shaking arms, I still feel I got the best end of the deal. It’s usually the ugly ones that taste the best, the nubby, chunky squash that you can hardly figure how to cut open in the first place. The whole ‘beauty is skin deep’ cliché applies just as well to produce as it does to those mean girls from high school. I realize that not everyone has a local farm, but if you are so lucky, you should support it. I guarantee you will meet some wonderful people and happy vegetables.

This is the green salad that you make for people who think green salads are boring. The specks of pomegranate add a touch of tang, the bright nubs of tender fall squash, a crunch of nut, and the dressing has a grown up depth of cider and dijon. Butternut is far from an ugly squash, but it is accessible and perfect here. I passed this recipe on to a few friends when they asked for side dish recommendations; I promise people will remember this salad. The components were inspired by Ina, and then altered to be absolutely everything I love in a salad.pomsquash_02

BUTTERNUT SALAD WITH CIDER DRESSING // Serves 6
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa
I recommend plating this salad either on a long platter or individually, otherwise all of the goods will end up at the bottom of the bowl.

3 Cups Baby Spinach
3 Cups Butter Lettuce
2 lbs. Butternut Squash, peeled and cut into 1’ cubes
½ Cup Toasted Pistachios
1 Cup Pomegranate Seeds
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 tbsp. Real Maple Syrup
Block of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes

Cider Dressing//
¾ Cup Apple Cider
2 tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
2 tbsp. Shallots
2 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1/4 Cup Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepperpomsquash_03

Oven to 425’
1. In a rimmed baking pan, toss the squash cubes in the oil and syrup. Sprinkle with salt, red pepper flakes and fresh ground pepper. Roast on the top rack for 20 minutes. Remove and cool.
2. While the squash are baking, bring the apple cider, cider vinegar and shallots to a boil in a small saucepan. Boil for about 8 minutes to reduce and remove from the heat. Whisk in the dijon and a pinch of salt and pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Allow dressing to cool.
3. In a large bowl add the baby spinach, butter lettuce, and toss with a small amount of the dressing. Place tossed salad on a serving platter and distribute the pomegranate seeds, pistachios and then the squash pieces on top. Drizzle a bit more dressing on the squash and shave large pieces of fresh parmesan on top.

Friday
Nov202009

CHEESEBURGERS?

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Hi there. It's Hugh. Sara had a super busy week with the day job and couldn't make it to the kitchen before the sun went down; she asked me if I could carry the torch... So, while I'm in charge, we're having cheeseburgers.

I'm a creature of habit. I could eat a cheeseburger every day, and if it weren't for Sara, I probably would. Luckily, she's around, knows what's good for me, and makes things taste good. That's not to say that I don't order the entrée in question nearly every time we go out.

Of all the burgers I've eaten, a few stand out- tallest among them is a burger from Mission Beach Cafe, in SF, a restaurant suggested by Heidi, and one from Vine, a local spot here in South OC. What I really like about both of these burgers, is that the ingredients are simple. What takes them to the next level, is the quality of ingredients and the method of preparation. You can add all sorts of creative, off the wall ingredients to spice up a burger, but I think it's tough to beat something that is straight forward and properly crafted.

After a recent indulgence at Vine, I decided that I was going to learn the art of cheeseburger. I read an article in Sara's Food and Wine magazine, googled a bit for some inspiration, and then started tossing things in as I went along. The resulting recipe turned out well. Not as simple as I imagined, but tastier. And mind you, I'm not much of a foodie, so I don't have spot on reasons for a lot of what follows, but the end result seems to have pleased the few people I've had over for lunch.
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THE BACON CHEESEBURGER // Makes three cheeseburgers

1 lb. Grass Fed Beef, 80% Lean
1/4 Cup Bread Crumbs
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1 tsp. Fresh Thyme
Garlic, Minced
Raw Milk White Cheddar, Shredded
6 Pieces of Crispy Bacon
3 English Muffins
Arugula
Butter
Salt and Pepper

THE SAUCE
Mayo
Whole Grain Mustard
Marsala
More Garlic, minced cheeseburger_03

1. Fire up the grill, nice and hot. Mine tops out around 450', which seems to do the trick.
2. Start the bacon in a pan. Make sure it's crispy. I avoid the microwave.
3. Chop the onion, toss it in a bowl with the bread crumbs, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Break up the meat and throw that in as well. Make sure all the flavor elements combine with the meat, and form three patties about a half inch thick.
4. The measurements for the sauce are up to you. I usually rock roughly even parts, mayo and mustard, a healthy dose of garlic, and a splash of marsala. And maybe some black pepper as well.
5. Here's where things get weird. Put the patties in a 9x9 pan, and fill it up with cold water. Give them about 10 seconds to soak, then drop them on the grill. Add a little pat of butter to each side of the patties as they cook. Cook to desired doneness (I give them just a little more time on the grill than I used to, without the water bath, and I haven't over cooked one yet. At 450', I give them about 4 minutes on each side, flipping only once). Don't forget to add the cheese.
6. Pull the patties, cover them with foil, and let them rest for 5 minutes. Drop your muffin buns on the grill for a little toast.
7. A bit of sauce to each bun, patty, bacon, and arugula.