Pumping Up Roasted Vegetables – Chef Jeffrey Boullt, SOCIAL in Costa Mesa, Masters Veg

 Roasted Vegetables with French Feta and Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde

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I ate his Kurobuta pig head, carnitas style with warm tortillas and assorted sauces. The experience was a combination of sublime enjoyment and suppressed jitters, an off-the-beaten path encounter that made me perch on the edge of my seat.

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Jeffrey Boullt isn’t menu timid. The executive chef at SOCIAL, a new-American restaurant in Costa Mesa, Boullt favors vibrant flavors.

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socialroastedvegetables450socialmocajetesalsaverde450He says many of his dishes have a strong Southern backbone but use fresh California ingredients. They reflect thought and talent, using components that echo a career spent working in highly creative, demanding kitchens.

The prestigious list includes Commander’s Palace (New Orleans), Tavern (Los Angeles) and Playground (Santa Ana).

(Thanks to Curt Norris for his videography, editing, and photography.)

He joined me in my home kitchen to show me how he enriches roasted vegetables with crumbled feta and salsa verde, a sauce that’s a twist on the Italian version. Along with fresh green herbs, extra-virgin olive oil, capers, anchovies and garlic, he included finely diced Meyer lemon (the thin rind included) in the sauce; the citrus variety contributed a blend of lemon and orange tastes and scents.

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It was delicious with the roasted veg, but would be equally seductive atop grilled pork or fish, goat cheese or poultry.

And the good news for home cooks is that the sauce can be prepared a day or two ahead and refrigerated.

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Eat Retreats: Vacations with his wife focus on good eats. She tries to keep up with him, but often he gets caught sneaking out of hotels alone while she is still sleeping, excursions meant to sample more out-of-town dishes. The last time was in Portland, OR, where he was morning solo-noshing at Pok Pok, an eatery famous for their Thai-themed street food.

Cutting edge: His favorite chef’s knife is made by Richmond Addict, an American-made knife that he says sits a little taller around the blade, important because he describes his paws as “monster hands.”

Home Roots: He grew up in Fountain Valley and attended Huntington Beach High School where he took his first cooking classes. He and his wife live in Long Beach with their Basset hound, Lionel.

Roasted Vegetables with French Feta and Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde
Yield: 4 servings
1 pound assorted vegetables, washed, such as asparagus, spring onion, heirloom carrots (peeled), sugar snap peas (strings removed)
1 cup scrubbed morels or other fresh mushrooms of your choice (if large halved or quartered)
2 heads of garlic, halved through equator
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled chilled French feta cheese, such as Valbreso
Optional: 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
1/2 cup Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde, recipe follows
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prep and trim vegetables (he cut carrots and spring onions in half lengthwise, left asparagus and sugar snap peas whole).
2. In a large mixing bowl combine all vegetables, mushrooms, garlic, 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon ground black pepper. Set a roasting rack in a large rimmed baking sheet. Put vegetables on rack, leaving space between them. Place in oven and cook for 6 to 10 minutes, then rotate sheet pan and toss vegetables to ensure equal cooking on all parts. Let veggies cook about 5 to 7 minutes more; keep an eye on them – they should be tender-crisp and lightly browned – some may cook faster than others and will need to be removed.
3. Place vegetables on serving platter. Sprinkle with feta and Aleppo pepper, if using. Spoon the Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde on top of vegetables. Garnish each plate with halved head of garlic.
Source: Executive Chef Jeffrey Boullt, Social, Costa Mesa

Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde
Yield: 3 cups
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 anchovy filets
1/2 cup capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 thinly sliced Meyer lemon, remove seeds, cut into 1/4-inch dice including rind
Salt and black pepper to taste
1. In a mortar (with a pestle) or food processor, add garlic, anchovies, capers, lemon juice and 1/4 cup oil; process into a paste. Add parsley, mint, and 1/4 cup oil; pound or pulse until incorporated but still coarse. You may need to do this in two batches if your mortar is small.
2. Place in bowl. Add Meyer lemon and 1/2 cup oil; season with salt and black pepper, but be cautious with salt; anchovy and capers will give a natural strong salt content.
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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!

Roast cauliflower with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, and get ready to be dazzled.

It is scrumptious!

To roast cauliflower, preheat oven to 450 degrees and blanch the unpeeled cloves from 1 head of garlic in boiling water for 25 seconds. Drain and peel garlic. If cloves are large, cut in half lengthwise. Toss garlic with 1 large head of cauliflower (cut into 1- to 2-inch florets) and 3 1/2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Roast 18 to 24 minutes, tossing twice during roasting. Season to taste with course salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To see how, watch the video (the cauliflower how-to is at the end). Yum.

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Dinner Tonight, Easy Peasy!

 

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I always feel a proud sense of accomplishment when I prepare an inviting evening  meal in less than 30 minutes.

A tasty weeknight dinner with fresh ingredients and loads of vibrant flavors.

I get a little smug.

Happy-smug. Here are three to make you feel happy-smug, too.

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1. Let’s start with the easiest of all, a delicious fresh asparagus soup made in minutes. The garnish is prepared basil pesto, and the flavors make the soup sing.

Some crusty artisan-style bread quick-heated in the oven, some good butter and a glass of wine.  Maybe some cheese and fruit for dessert. Delicious.

Easy Asparagus Soup
Yield: 4 servings
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed
1/2 baking potato, such as Russet, peeled, diced
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: basil pesto, store-bought or homemade
1. In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus and potato; cook 1 minute. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Puree in batches in blender or food processor. Season to taste.
2. Ladle into bowls and spoon on about a teaspoon of pesto in the middle of each serving.asparagushorizontalNick

(See the time-saving tricks in this short video!)

2. Fresh tarragon tastes completely different from dried. Its hint of licorice pairs beautifully with salmon and just a little goes a long way in this simple recipe.

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Round out the meal with some green beans or asparagus, plus some boiled fingerling potatoes. The recipe is from “Fine Cooking Roasting” created by the editors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton Press, $14.95).

salmonmayomustardRoasted Salmon with Mustard and Tarragon
Yield: 6 servings
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse whole-grained mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
6 (6-ounce) center-cut, skin-on salmon fillets, preferably wild
Kosher salt
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, lime juice, and tarragon. Arrange the salmon skin side down on the baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Spread the mayonnaise mixture evenly over each fillet (there may be a little left over).
3. Roast the salmon until just cooked through, 10 to 14 minutes. Using a spatula, lift the fillets off the baking sheet, leaving the skin behind, and transfer to plates.

Use a coarse, whole-grain mustard for this dish.

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3. These Brussels sprouts that are so good, they turn haters to lovers!

The recipe is from Marcus Samuelsson’s new award-winning book, “Marcus Off Duty” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35).

slaw2Pair it with some roast chicken, either home-cooked or a store-bought rotisserie bird. And to make the dish come together more quickly, you can buy shaved Brussels sprouts at Trader Joe’s.

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Hot Brussels Sprouts Slaw
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3/4 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced in food processor or mandoline, divided use
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, coarsely grated, squeezed dry in clean kitchen towel
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Pour bacon fat into a small bowl.
2. Turn heat under skillet up to high and add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons bacon fat. When butter stops sizzling, add half of the Brussels sprouts. Cook, stirring often, until softened – with some of the sprouts browned and others still bright green – about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and scrape out into a bowl. Cook the rest of the Brussels sprouts in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Return the first batch of sprouts to skillet; add apples, vinegar, ginger, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until apples are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Pile slaw onto platter, scatter bacon on top and serve.
Source: “Marcus Off Duty – The Recipes I Cook at Home” by Marcus Samuelsson with Roy Finamore (Houghton Mifflin, $35)

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Retired Ice Hockey Star- Restaurateur, Teemu Selanne Grills and Thrills At Home – Dinosaur Bones

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

The allure of grilling seems obvious, especially when it comes to meat cookery. The taming of flame and smoke has a primordial vibe, the welcome challenge of creating scrumptious flavor and texture while conquering flare-ups, cool downs or interruptions.

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

For retired Anaheim Ducks superstar Teemu Selanne, the appeal runs even deeper. He likes the camaraderie that it fuels, the sociability that grilling generates at gatherings for family and friends.

I joined the Finland-born sports hero, known in the ice hockey world as the Finnish Flash, at his home in Coto de Caza.

His four children say that he can grill better than the chef at the acclaimed restaurant that he co-owns, Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach. I was eager to taste.

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Clad in a team-themed apron, he stood at the large gas barbecue in his outdoor kitchen. The grill, perched to overlook the spacious patio dining areas, seemed perfectly located for fun and conversation.

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

He placed racks of behemoth beef ribs on the preheated grill. Long back rib bones, clean at one end and meaty on the other, sizzled as they met the hot grate. The day before, he had brined the ribs. Drained, they were oven-braised for 90 minutes covered in his special saucy mixture, a honey-and-bourbon spiked concoction designed to add plenty of flavor while turning them tender. Cooled and covered, they spent the night in the fridge.

Heated on the grill, the sauce-coated meat sent sweet, captivating scents over the patio, pool and sprawling grounds beyond.

After generously brushing additional sauce on the ribs and allowing about five minutes of grilling that browned the underside, he turned them over using a spatula in one hand and tongs in the other.

 

More sauce followed and then came the Selanne pinch test. He pinched the meat between the bones (next to the meaty end of the bone) to determine temperature and degree of doneness. If it was soft and squishy, he said it wasn’t close to being ready. A little firmness in that region along with some crispy bits on the exterior would signal doneness.

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

Off the grill, he cut them between the bones into individual ribs. We dined on those tasty “dinosaur bones” accompanied with a delicious Finnish-style potato salad made using a recipe from his wife, Sirpa.

Onnellinen Syöminen! (Happy Eating!)

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Teemu’s Bourbon BBQ Beef Back Ribs
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 whole rack beef back ribs, cut into 3- to 4-bone pieces
Brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup honey
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 quarts water
Braising liquid (sauce):
1 cup honey
2 cups Maker’s Mark bourbon (or your favorite brand of Bourbon)
3 cups barbecue sauce (homemade or your favorite brand, Selanne prefers a smoky BBQ sauce)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dried red chili flakes
2 quarts veal stock or salt-reduced beef broth (Selanne says that good veal stock is preferred and makes a big difference)
Cook’s notes: Selanne says to buy the ribs at a quality meat market or a good supermarket. He buys them at The Meat House in Mission Viejo. He says to serve the ribs hot with a thirst-quenching Moscow Mule.
1. Mix all brine ingredients in nonreactive container large enough to hold ribs; stir until honey dissolves. Add ribs; refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 10 hours. Discard the brine and transfer ribs to a large deep roasting pan, such as 12-by-20-inch hotel pan that is 4-inches deep.
2. Place all braising liquid (sauce) ingredients in large saucepan. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, stirring frequently.
3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pour the boiled sauce over ribs. Tightly cover pan with aluminum foil. Place in oven for 90 minutes. Remove from oven and let ribs rest for another 30 minutes. Remove ribs from braising “sauce” liquid; reserve braising liquid “sauce.”
4. Preheat grill. Place ribs in single layer on hot, clean grill. Brush with some of the reserved sauce; grill until heated through and caramelized, turning once and brushing again with sauce, grilling about 6 to 10 minutes total (grilling times vary depending on heat of grill and thickness of meat). Cut between bones and serve hot.
Source: Teemu Selanne

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Selanne Steak Tavern

1464 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Finnish Potato Salad
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 pounds fingerling or German Bliss potatoes
2 tablespoons cooked, minced bacon
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup finely sliced shallots
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
Cook’s notes: “This is an easy traditional Finnish potato salad and doesn’t require any fatty mayonnaise,” Teemu Selanne said. “My wife and I often serve it as an accompaniment to fish or hot steaks off the grill. Nauttia! (Enjoy!)”
1. Boil potatoes until fork tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and place in ice water. When cool enough to handle, drain and remove peel with a small knife (skin should peel off easily); cut crosswise into bite-size pieces.
2. Place remaining ingredients in a large bowl; mix to combine. Add potatoes and toss. Allow to sit for 1 hour for flavors to build. Toss again.
Source: Sirpa and Teemu Selanne

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Chocolate and Hazelnuts: A Blissful Marriage In This Bread Pudding

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Sarah Daniels is the first female executive chef to head up a kitchen in a Del Frisco’s Grille, the chain of trendy bar-and-grill eateries that have more than 20 locations from coast to coast. occhefSarahCathyTwocrop

 

Daniels took culinary charge of Irvine Spectrum location a few months ago, working her magic on everything from hearty salads to wood-oven baked flatbreads to pappardelle Bolognese.

Yes, and desserts, too. The Nutella Bread Pudding is a customer favorite, and she agreed to share every detail of how to prepare it.  The short video shows every step!

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A blissful marriage of chocolate and hazelnuts, this rich mix of custard and brioche bakes in individual cups. Inverted to unmold them onto dessert plates, each warm pudding is accompanied with caramel sauce, coffee ice cream and whipped cream.

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Tune Time: Rock is king in her kitchen. Tool, System of a Down, and Deftones are some favorite bands. She says that sometimes you just have to tune out all the stresses and jam out – if you are lucky enough to work in a closed kitchen that allows music.

The Competition: Her favorite restaurant is Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, Orange. The fish tacos are her thing. She thinks the salsa is awesome, and loves the generous size of the fish servings.

New Ingredient Find: Gelatin! Not everyone knows how to make marshmallows.

Del Frisco’s Grille’s Nutella Bread Pudding
Yield: 16 servings and 3 cups caramel sauce, can be halved if desired
Bread Pudding:
5 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups Nutella spread
10 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
1 cup cocoa powder
3 pounds crust-on bread, such as brioche, cut into 3/4-inch dice, see cook’s notes
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Caramel sauce (if using, can substitute store-bought):
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 pound (1 cup) granulated sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 ounces unsalted butter
For serving:
Sweetened whipped cream
Coffee ice cream
Powdered sugar
Cook’s notes: Rustic country white bread can be substituted for brioche. It is best to cut bread a day in advance to allow it to dry slightly; it will absorb the custard better. If you don’t have a scale for weighing bread, figure that a rounded loaf of La Brea Country White bread weighs between 15 and 16 ounces.
1. In a large bowl, combine cream, Nutella, eggs, salt, sugar, vanilla, Frangelico, and cocoa; puree with an immersion blender until smooth and well combined (or use a food processor, pulsing enough to thoroughly combine). Add bread and gently toss to combine. Let rest for 30 to 40 minutes or until custard is absorbed.
2. Preheat convection oven to 300 degrees or standard oven to 325 degrees. Generously spray 16 custard cups (8- to 12-ounce size) with nonstick spray. Using an 8-ounce ladle portion mixture into prepared cups; push down lightly to pack cups and create a mound on top. Top off with any remaining custard. Place cups in large roasting pan. Add hot water half way up the cups to create a water bath.
3. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes for convection oven or 35 minutes for standard oven. Remove foil, if they look like they are cooking unevenly, very cautiously rotate pan; bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes or until a bamboo skewer or toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cautiously remove from oven and transfer puddings to sheet pan. If making ahead, cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate.
4. Meanwhile prepare caramel sauce (or skip this step if using store-bought sauce): Cook corn syrup and sugar a heavy-bottomed large saucepan over medium heat to a golden caramel color, stirring from time to time. Remove from heat. Add cream while whisking and return sauce pan to a boil to dissolve any sugar that seized while adding cream; remove from heat. Whisk in butter. As soon as butter is blended into sauce, pour sauce into bowl and place heatproof bowl in a pan of ice water to cool. If making ahead, refrigerate; warm before serving over low heat or in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.
5. To serve: If made ahead, warm the bread puddings in a 375-degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until heated through. Run a knife around circumference of cups. Invert to unmold onto individual dessert plates. Top each with a scoop of ice cream. Drizzle sauce on top. Pipe or scoop whipped cream next to ice cream. Dust with powdered sugar.
Source: Del Frisco’s Grille, Irvine

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HERE’S A QUICK TIP FROM MELISSA’S

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Aqua fresca, which translates from Spanish as “fresh water,” is a refreshing beverage made most often from fresh fruit, water, and some kind of sweetener.

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Here the star is fresh watermelon, cut into chunks and pureed in a food processor with water. Agave syrup and fresh lemon juice add just-right balance to this refreshing drink.

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Watermelon Aqua Fresca
Yield: 5 servings
5 cups (1-inch) cubed seedless or seeded watermelon, divided use
1 2/3 cups water, divided use
1 teaspoon agave syrup, or to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Ice, preferably crushed
Garnish: 5 fresh sprigs mint or peppermint or spearmint
Garnish: 5 thin lemon slices
1. Place a medium mesh sieve over a medium bowl; if you have a batter bowl with a spout and handle, it is handy for this.
2. Place 1 cup watermelon cubes and 1/3 cup water in food processer or blender. Pulse until pureed. Place in sieve. Repeat, using 1 cup of melon and 1/3 water, until all melon and water is used and strained in sieve.
3. Add agave syrup and lemon juice to strained mixture. Taste and adjust as needed, adding more agave syrup or lemon juice, or additional water.
4. Fill 5 glasses with ice. Stir mixture and pour into glasses. Garnish each glass with a sprig of mint and a lemon slice.
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 45; fat calories 0, total fat 0 grams; sat fat 0 grams, cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 5 milligrams; total carbohydrates 15 grams; fiber 1 gram; sugars 14 grams; protein 1 gram; vitamin A IUs 10%; vitamin C 20%; calcium 2%; iron 2%.

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Salsas and Moles Are Kings in Chef Deb Schneider’s New Book

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Deborah Schneider describes the sauces featured in her newest cookbook as having lots of personality and often, a spicy kick. The same words fit when describing Schneider, executive chef-partner at SOL Cocina in Newport Beach and Solita in Huntington Beach; other descriptors might include perfectionist, energetic and highly productive – a food visionary masked behind a mischievous grin.

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“Salsas and Moles” (Ten Speed, $16.99) is the sixth cookbook she has penned.

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The James Beard Award-nominated author explores an irresistible collection of authentic salsa and mole recipes in this latest book, teasing out fresh flavors and alluring scents from chilies, fruits, spices and herbs.

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She says that cooking is really about mastering a few simple skills and techniques, which fortunately are easy and fun to learn.

 

 

 

The new sauce-themed book is “designed to teach essential Mexican cooking techniques and one very important skill: how to introduce and balance big flavors to create sensational effects.”

I sat down with Schneider to get to the heart of her concoctions.

CT: Mole (MOH-lay), the smooth, richly-flavored sauce that is delicious atop poultry or pork, roasted vegetables or enchiladas, isn’t easy to describe. I use adjectives such as “beguiling” or “enchanting.” How do you describe it?

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DS: “Earthy” and “symphonic,” symphonic because the flavors just keeps coming and coming with new tastes popping up. Mole is the opposite of a one-note dish. It is a sauce and it is an event. Preparing it is a family thing. It is an excuse for a party.

CT: The recipe for Quick Mole caught my eye. It doesn’t require hours and hours of preparation time, right?

DS: I learned this recipe from Jesus Gonzalez, former chef at Rancho La Puerta’s cooking school (Tecate, Mexico). He learned the recipe from his mother, a native of Mexico City. It’s a fast, home-style rendition of the traditional dish, a sauce that can come together in about an hour. Think of it as haiku (short Japanese poem) instead of Wordsworth. If you like, eat it simply with corn tortillas and beans. Scoop up the mole with the tortilla, using it like a spoon, and think of the beans as a palate cleanser.

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CT: You suggest two ways to complete this quick-to-make mole. The add-a-step suggestion, the one you prefer, fries the blended concoction in a little lard, then simmers and sieves it. How does this make it look and taste different?

DS: Frying in a little lard amplifies the flavors; it makes it more refined and it glistens with a velvety sheen. It gets darker, which is desirable. And putting it through a food mill takes out the little fibers – if there is any bitterness, straining takes it out.

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CT: I am so happy to see the recipe for SOL’s Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa in the book. It’s one of the everyday table salsas served at SOL Cocina and it showcases such a beautiful balance of flavors. You don’t take any shortcuts to make this salsa, right?

DS: We take great care to make our salsa; there are a lot of moving parts and steps – roasting fresh tomatoes and tomatillos, roasting garlic and onion, seasoning, blending – and adding chipotles in adobo, an addition that gives the salsa a spicy, tangy smokiness. I think chipotles bring the flavors together, adding just a little sweetness.

CT: You wrote that salsa casera, a simmered home-style salsa, is made in every region of Mexico, in one version or another. In your recipe you use fresh (jalapeno) and dried (arbol) chilies. What does that bring to the taste?

DS: Fresh chilies add body, grassiness and acidity. Dry chilies tend to have a berry taste even if they are spicy; they are picked ripe, and the ripening gives them a little sweetness.

CT: What is something about you that most people don’t know?

DS: I’m Canadian. I am drawn to the exotic, but grew up on ham slabs and pineapple rings.

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Quick Mole
Yield: about 8 cups
1/3 cup skinned raw peanuts or pecans
1/3 cup raw whole almonds
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
1 whole clove
1 Ceylon (Mexican) cinnamon stick, see cook’s notes
1 corn tortilla, quartered
4 (dried) guajillo chilies
3 large (dried) pasilla chilies
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or fresh lard
1/2 white onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup seedless raisins
8 cups chicken stock or broth, divided use, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Optional: 2 tablespoons fresh lard
1 tablespoon semi-sweet chocolate chips or 1/4 Ibarra Mexican chocolate disk
Cook’s notes: You can use the variety of cinnamon stick sold in supermarkets (cassia bark) if you prefer, but use half of a stick instead of a whole stick. Homemade chicken stock is always best, but an organic or high-quality boxed chicken, turkey or vegetable broth is handy. Choose a low-sodium, no-MSG brand and dilute with water by half.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread out the nuts, sesame seeds, spices and tortilla on rimmed baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes, until sesame seeds are a pale gold. Be careful not to burn the ingredients – turn and shake pan once or twice if necessary.
2. Stem and seed the chilies; tear them into 1-inch pieces. Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil; add chilies, onion and garlic. Cook and stir until onion begins to turn golden.
3. Add tomatoes and raisins; cook and stir until tomatoes are soft. Add the toasted ingredients, 6 cups of chicken broth, salt and pepper. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Finish one of two ways.
Option One: Add chocolate chips and stir until they melt. In 2 batches, puree the contents of the pan (best to hold lid down with a potholder). Run the blender for several minutes, processing until very smooth and adding the remaining 2 cups of broth as needed. Pass through a food mill or sieve.
Option Two: Instead, puree the sauce without the chocolate. Heat 2 tablespoons lard in a heavy 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the blended sauce and fry it (it will splatter, so use a splatter screen), stirring often, for 10 minutes. Rinse out the blender with the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and add to the pot, along with the chocolate; simmer 10 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring often. Pass through a food mill or sieve.
Serving suggestions: Use over simmered or roasted chicken, turkey or pork. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)

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SOL’s Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
Yield: about 4 cups
About 12 tomatillos, husked, washed, dried
2 Roma tomatoes (8 ounces)
1/2 white onion, peeled but with root end intact
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, see cook’s notes
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
Optional: water for thinning
Cook’s notes: Chipotle chilies in adobo are sold in cans. Choose a brand that doesn’t slosh around when you shake the can. Freeze leftovers.
1. Turn on the fan over the stove. Line a large cast-iron skillet or heavy griddle with aluminum foil; set over high heat. Roast tomatillos and tomatoes on all sides until well charred and soft, turning with tongs as few times as possible. Roast the onion, cut side down, until it begins to soften and has a few black spots, turning it several times. Roast garlic, in skins, turning a few times, until black spots appear.
2. Cut onion into several pieces. Peel garlic. Place both in blender along with chipotles, roasted tomatillos and tomatoes (and any juices) and salt. Cover and let steam for 5 minutes to bring out the juices. Pulse to make a fairly smooth salsa with a little bit of texture. Add cilantro and pulse a couple more times to combine.
3. Pour salsa into serving bowl. For a thinner salsa, stir in water, up to 1 cup, a little at a time. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Serving suggestions: Use over eggs or cheese. Schneider loves it stirred into cooked rice, or used to make chilaquiles. At SOL she serves it with tostada-style white corn chips, whole corn tortillas fried crisp and sprinkled with ground toasted chilies (guajillo and ancho), sea salt and ground toasted pepitas (roasted shelled pumpkin seeds).
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)

Salsa Casera
Yield: about 2 1/4 cups
2 cups water
3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided use
6 medium tomatillos, husked, washed
3 medium Roma tomatoes
1/2 white onion, diced
Optional: 1 whole clove
4 large garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, stemmed
1 chili de arbol, stemmed
Optional: 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine water, 2 teaspoons salt, tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, clove (if using), garlic and chilies. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until tomatillos are just softened. Be careful not to boil vigorously, or the ingredients may fall apart. With a slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a food processor, draining well. Discard cooking liquid and clove. Add remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pulse the salsa until it is smooth with specks of chili de arbol. Cool completely. Stir in cilantro if using. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Serving suggestions: Use to make chilaquiles or a version of enchiladas called “entomatadas.” A dash adds flavor to homemade chicken soup, or fried or scrambled eggs. Stir into cooked beans, or sauté it with onions as a flavoring for rice. Pour it over a burrito, or simmer it with shredded beef and diced onion.
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)

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Delhi Delicious: Chef Geeta Bansal Brings Wow Flavors to Fingerling Spuds

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Born and raised in Delhi, India, Geeta Bansal grew up in a household where formal entertaining with an international guest list was practically an everyday event.

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Bansal, chef-owner of Clay Oven, Irvine, was a professor at Rutgers University as well as an urban planner, but gave it up to become a restaurateur and chef specializing in Indian cuisine.

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She holds dear the childhood memories of hanging out in the kitchen with the cooks – sampling, smelling and making mental notes.

Last September she was invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City. A sumptuous multi-course contemporary Indian dinner was prepared. Dubbed “The Art of Spice,” her Beard menu included dishes such as foie gras samosas with cherry chutney, rabbit vindaloo with habanero curry, as well as Kashmiri lamb koftas with spicy tomato chutney. Rosewater panna cotta, too.

VIDEO: I asked her to teach me how to make one of her favorite simple Indian dishes, jeera aloo, a potato and tomato concoction clothed in an alluring mixture of dried spices.

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Sharing a unique tip, she explained that most chefs don’t add water when heating a blend of spices.

It’s a dandy trick that helps to prevent burning the delicate mix. The dish can be served hot or cold, making it an appealing picnic dish for upcoming warm weather outings.

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Bring along some chapati (unleavened flatbread) is you like, and some Indian pickle.

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Great Outdoors: She enjoys cooking in her backyard kitchen, listening to her cockatiel Gabby sing and puttering in the garden.

Breakfast Fave: Oat bran with walnuts and Greek yogurt mixed with honey and orange juice. Green tea on the side.

The Competition: Three European restaurants are her favorites: Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, France (Chef Pierre Gagnaire); Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain (Chef Andoni Aduriz); Tickets Bar, Barcelona, Spain (Chef Albert Adria).

Jeera Aloo
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon dried mango powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1 pound halved lengthwise parboiled fingerling potato such as Butterfinger or Red Thumb varieties, see cook’s notes
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Cook’s notes: To parboil potatoes, place the halved fingerlings in water to cover. Bring to boil; boil only until fork tender; do not overcook. This is a versatile dish; if desired add one of the following: spinach, arugula, dandelion greens, shelled green peas, tatsoi, cherry tomatoes or pomegranate arils while cooking in Step #2.
1. In a small bowl, place chili powder, coriander, ground cumin, mango powder (if using), and turmeric; stir to combine. Stir in water; set aside.
2. Heat oil in large deep skillet on medium heat. Add cumin seeds, sauté until slightly browned about 30 seconds. (If it burns start over.) Add spice-water mixture and potatoes.
3. Gently toss to coat potatoes and cook until heated through. then add all dry spices. Tip: Mix all dry spices together in a little water to prevent burning when added to pan. Add potato pieces and stir carefully until the spice mixture coats all the pieces. Add salt to taste and chopped cilantro; gently toss. Serve hot or cold.
Source: Geeta Bansal, executive chef-owner Clay Oven, Irvine

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

A quick-to-prepare pasta dish is a delectable way to use up leftover cooked vegetables, such as broccoli florets, broccolini or green beans. Add them in Step #2 during the last minute or two of cooking the sausage.

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 Easy Rotini with Turkey Sausage, Red Bell Pepper and Cheese
Yield: 4 servings
8 ounces dried rotini or fusilli pasta, farro (or spelt) rotini or fusilli preferred
6 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
3/4 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, finely diced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, divided use
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley
Cook’s notes: Farro (or spelt) rotini are sold at natural food stores, such as Mother’s Market or Whole Foods. If you prefer use another kind of rotini or fusilli.
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil on high heat.
2. Meanwhile, cook sausage and red pepper in a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat, breaking up sausage with a spatula and stirring frequently; lower heat if necessary to prevent scorching. Cook until sausage is cooked through.
3. When water comes to a boil, add pasta; cook according to package directions (you can do this while the sausage is cooking).
4. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid and drain pasta. In large bowl place pasta, pasta water, sausage and bell pepper; toss. Sprinkle on half of cheese, pepper and oil; toss. Add basil and toss. Divide between 4 shallow bowls. Top with remaining cheese.

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Louie and Zov, An Irresistible Culinary Marriage

Chef Louie Jocson makes Sumac-Scented Bass

and Zov Transforms the Bistro Design

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At 15, Louie Jocson put down culinary roots with Zov Karamardian and her family-run restaurant. Working as a dishwasher at Zov’s Bistro and Bakery in Tustin was his first job. Zov recognized his potential and encouraged him to attend culinary school.

He took her advice, graduating from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco before working his way up the ranks at many of Orange County’s noted restaurants. In 2011 he opened Red Table in Huntington Beach where he was executive chef and partner at the acclaimed restaurant.

Sometimes life has a way of coming full circle. Last summer, Jocson sold his shares in Red Table and returned to Zov’s in the prestigious role of director of culinary operations. His reunion was just in time to help open Zov’s Anaheim, the newest of Zov’s five eateries in the county.

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His delectable Sumac Crusted Sea Bass is a dish that shows the flavor marriage of Zov’s vibrant flavor profiles and his understanding of the evolving culinary scene.

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… sumac …

Sumac, the tart brick- to purple-red dried berries produced on wild bushes that grow in subtropical and temperate regions of the world (including the Eastern Mediterranean), adds both color and brightness to the dish.

The Video Tells All: Coated with salt, pepper and ground sumac, the grilled fish sits atop a bright green tangle of green vegetables and is topped with a citrus-y beurre blanc sauce.

 Kitchen Staples… urfa pepper …

Favorite new-to-you ingredient: Thanks to Zov, he has discovered the urfa pepper. It’s moderate in heat and has enticing smokiness and earthiness, as well as subtle chocolate notes. He uses it dried and ground to finish off soup, risotto or herb butters used on top of grilled steak. Or, he says it is crazy good sprinkled on vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes along with a little coarse salt.

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Likes and dislikes: He has an extremely broad spectrum of foods that he enjoys. But there is something about processed peanut butter that Jocson doesn’t like. He says he would rather eat fish eyeballs.

Kitchen music: He likes to listen to Dean Martin when he cooks. He says it makes him feel good, especially the “song about the moon looking like big pizza pie.”

ZOV transforms her Bistro in Tustin

She “raised the bar!”

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Wrap-around bar – cocktails, draft beers, bar-food menu.

Zov has unveiled the $750,000 remodel of her flagship restaurant in Tustin whose centerpiece is a wrap-around wood bar that features a dedicated food menu as well as expanded artisan cocktails, 25 wines-by-the-glass and several craft beers on tap.

ZovDining400The extensive remodel also includes the addition of 2 private state-of-the-art dining rooms accommodating groups of up to 15 and featuring audio/visual capabilities; updated lighting system with soffit illumination and several imported fixtures; new furnishings including dining chairs and tables as well as newly upholstered banquettes; and other features.

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Sumac Crusted Sea Bass with Spinach and Shaved Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 2 servings
2 (6-ounces each) Australian sea bass (barramundi) skinless fillets, see cook’s notes
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Enough sumac to generously sprinkle one side of fillets
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons drained capers
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cups teardrop tomatoes or grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved top to bottom
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
Vegetables:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups shaved Brussels sprouts, see cook’s notes
2 cups spinach leaves
Garnish: 2 tablespoon microgreens, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Salmon fillets or any mild white fish fillets can substitute for the Australian sea bass. The easiest way to shave (thinly slice) Brussels sprouts is to use a mandolin, but you can also cut crosswise with a sharp knife. Microgreens as immature salad greens harvested when they are only 14 to 20 days old; they are sold at Trader Joe’s in refrigerated plastic containers.
1. Season fish fillets with salt and pepper on both sides. Sprinkle sumac over one side. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil on medium-high heat in a skillet that is large enough to hold both fillets in a single layer. Brown fish sumac-side down; turn and heat until cooked through. Remove fish and set aside; keep it warm.
2. In a hot pan on medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. Add shallots, garlic and capers; cook just until garlic is tender but not browned, about 1 minute. Add orange juice, lemon juice and tomatoes; cook about 1 minute to reduce liquid. Off heat, stir in butter one piece at a time, allowing butter to melt before adding the next chunk.
3. Meanwhile, in another pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium-high heat. Add spinach and Brussels sprouts. Cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach wilts and mixture is piping hot. Place vegetable mixture in center of two plates and top with fish. Pour sauce on top and around fish and garnish with microgreens.
Source: Louie Jocson, director of culinary operations, Zov’s Bistro and Bakery (Tustin), Zov’s Cafes (Irvine and Newport Coast), Zov’s Anaheim, Zov’s at John Wayne Airport

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… A quick tip from Melissa’s …

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Black bean tostadas – a quick and easy last-minute meal.

So tasty and so quick when using canned beans.

Black Bean Tostadas with Radishes, Cherry Tomatoes and Avocado

Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small white onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 (15-ounces each) cans black beans
8 tostada shells
Garnishes: 1 sliced avocado, 3 thinly sliced radishes, 1 cup shredded Jack cheese or queso fresco, lime wedges, salsa, sour cream
1. In a skillet, warm oil on medium heat. Add garlic, onion and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, about 8 minutes. Stir in cumin and chili powder. Add beans to pan with their juices. Stir and mash until beans are a chunky mixture –  only partially pureed. Heat through, stirring occasionally.
2. Assemble: Top each tostada shell with about 1/2 cup bean mixture. Top with garnishes and serve. cathythomascookslogoModified


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Three Easy Easter Desserts, Sweeeeeet. Team Them With Fresh Berries.

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Meringue cookies with chocolate and pecans nest atop marinated fresh berries. Yum!

These Easter sweets fall into the easy-peasy school of dessert preparation. They are old favorites of mine, treats that I can practically prepare with my eyes closed. All team with fresh berries, scrumptious symbols of springtime.

All three treats can be prepared a day or two in advance, making a more relaxed and happier host on Easter Sunday.

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French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze

Made in a loaf pan, this delicious cake is a scrumptious cross between pound cake and sponge cake. It’s glazed with an on-so-glossy mix of strained marmalade heated with a little water.

Although orange marmalade works beautifully, I often use Rose’s Lemon and Lime Marmalade (frequently available at Bristol Farms, Newport Beach, and Surfas Culinary District, Costa Mesa).

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I like to use it like shortcake, topping a slice with whipped cream or ice cream and generous scoops of fresh berries. But the cake is very versatile.  It is also delicious topped with store-bought or homemade lemon curd and clouds of sweetened whipped cream.

Peanut Brittle Bars

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The best bar cookie on the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the crunch and the salty-sweet flavor notes of these easy to make bar cookies. The cookie crust is crisp and buttery good.

The topping goes on top of the hot crust; it’s a trio of salted peanuts, chocolate chips and store-bought caramel sauce mixed with a little flour. Baked until golden brown and cooled for about an hour, they are ready for cutting into bars.

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I like to serve them cut into triangles, and accompany them with ripe locally-grown strawberries. If you feel ambitious, chocolate dip the strawberries.

Easy Meringue Nighty-Night Cookies with Marinated Mixed Berries

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If you have a stand-alone electric mixer, Nighty-Night Cookies are probably one of the easiest treats you can bake from scratch.

They are light as air, with chocolate and nuts hidden inside. When my daughter was a child she called them “angel kisses.” The recipe uses French meringue, the simplest style of meringue to prepare.

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Although in classic French baking, a bowl-shaped meringue would hold the berries, but that requires a skilled hand and a pastry bag; this easy version has the marinated berries in the bottom of a bowl with the meringue cookie(s) plopped on top.

Voila, my friends. Easy and delicious, too.

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Meringue Nighty-Night Cookies with Marinated Mixed Berries
Yield: about 24 cookies, enough marinated berries for 6 servings
2 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla, see cook’s notes
Marinated berries, see cook’s notes
Garnish: sprigs of fresh mint
Cook’s notes: When I use these cookies as toppers for marinated berries, I like to keep them bed-sheet white, so I omit the vanilla. In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup medium-dry sherry, 1 teaspoon minced orange or tangerine zest, 1/4 cup fresh orange or tangerine juice and 1 teaspoon sugar; stir to dissolve sugar. Add 2 1/2 cups hulled and quartered strawberries (if large, cut into sixths).Refrigerate at least 1 hour, tossing occasionally. Add 1/2 cup fresh raspberries and 1/2 cup fresh blackberries; gently toss and set aside for about 15 minutes. Gently toss before serving.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In an electric stand mixer, beat egg whites until foamy on medium speed. Add salt and increase speed to high. When soft peaks form, add 1 tablespoon sugar and beat 30 seconds. Repeat adding sugar one tablespoon at a time and beating 30 seconds afterwards, until all sugar is added. After all sugar is added, beat 1 minute on high speed. Fold in chocolate chips, walnuts and, if using, vanilla. Drop tablespoonful portions onto prepared sheets. I use two spoons – one to scoop and the other to push the batter off the spoon.
3. Place in middle of preheated oven. Turn off heat and allow cookies to “bake” overnight. OR, bake in a 325-degree oven for about 25 minutes. Cool.
4. For serving: Divide berries and the marinade between 6 bowls. Top each with one or two cookies. Garnish with sprigs of fresh mint.
Advance preparation: Cookies can be prepared up to 3 days in advance. I leave them at room temperature on the baking sheet covered loosely with parchment paper or waxed paper. Strawberries can be tossed with marinade up to 3 hours in advance and refrigerated; toss in remaining berries about 15 minutes before serving.

Peanut Brittle Bars
Yield: about 48 bars
Butter for greasing pan
Base:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into about 16 pieces
Topping:
2 cups salted roasted peanuts (not dry roasted)
1 cup milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (12.5-ounce) jar caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; preheat to 350 degrees. Grease a 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan (jellyroll pan) with butter.
2. In large bowl, combine all base ingredients except butter. Stir to blend. Add butter; using a pastry cutter or large fork, cut in butter until crumbly (you can also pulse on/off in a food processor, but make sure to stop when it gets crumbly, do not process until it forms dough). Press evenly into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes.
3. Sprinkle peanuts and chocolate chips over warm base. In small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well. Drizzle evenly over chocolate chips and peanuts. Bake at 350 degrees for an additional 15 to 17 minutes or until topping is set and golden brown. Cool 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge. Cut into bars.
Advance preparation: Bars can be prepared up to three days in advance. Store at room temperature loosely covered.
Source: Adapted from “Pillsbury Best Cookies Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $19.95)

French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze
Yield: 8 servings
Butter for greasing pan
Cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds, see cook’s notes
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup plain yogurt (not Greek-style)
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower
Glaze:
1/2 cup lemon marmalade or orange marmalade, strained
1 teaspoon water
Cook’s notes: To grind almonds, place slivered almonds (without skin) in food processor; whirl until finely ground.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan with butter. Place pan on baking sheet.
2. Whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt in medium bowl.
3. In a large bowl, combine sugar and zest; use fingertips to rub zest into sugar until sugar is slightly moist and aromatic. Add yogurt, eggs and vanilla; whisk vigorously until mixture is very well blended. Still whisking, gradually add dry ingredients. Switch to a large rubber or silicone spatula and fold in oil. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.
4. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until cake begins to come away from the side of the pan; it should be golden brown and a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Place pan on cooling rack and cool for 5 minutes. Unmold and place on cooling rack right side up. Cool to room temperature.
5. For glaze: Put marmalade in small saucepan and stir in water. Heat on medium-high, stirring, until jelly is hot and melts. Using a pastry brush, gently brush cake with glaze.
6. For serving: If desired, use the cake for strawberry “shortcake.” Cut into eight slices and place in shallow bowls or plates with lips. If desired, brush top with high-quality strawberry jam. Top with sweetened whipped cream and (hulled and cut) fresh ripe strawberries. Finish with more whipped cream.
Advance preparation: Wrapped well, this cake can be prepared 3 days in advance at room temperature. It can be frozen airtight without the glaze.
Source: “Baking From My Home to Yours” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, $40)

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Chef Marc Johnson, Oak Grill at Island Hotel, Shares Composed Salad with Burrata Cheese and Prosciutto

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Part of the allure of Oak Grill is the outdoor garden patio, a dining option shaded by beguiling old trees whose limbs host charming cylindrical lanterns. The restaurant opened in late spring last year at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach. Although the successful redesign may be what first gets diners’ attention, it’s my guess that the food is what truly wins them over.

oakgrillpatio2Marc Johnson, Oak Grill’s executive chef, crafts dishes that showcase seasonal ingredients in irresistible ways. One bite reveals evidence of a very talented kitchen, headed up by a chef that puts a lot of thought into his dishes. Nothing on the plate seems random or boring.

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Crucial to Johnson’s culinary know-how were the years he spent working with the acclaimed chef James Boyce, both at Studio at the Montage Laguna Beach and later at Boyce’s restaurant Cotton Row in Huntsville, Alabama.

VIDEO MAKES IT EASY: Chef Johnson showed me how to make his seasonal composed salad, a colorful assemblage of roasted carrots, prosciutto and burrata cheese (fresh soft-textured Italian-style cheese with an outer shell of fresh mozzarella and a core of cream). Arranged on an elongated plate, the dish is garnished with a date relish, a sweet-herbaceous-citrusy mixture of dates, lemon zest and juice, fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts.

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Every bite of this salad is delicious, yielding different combinations of seasonally-driven flavors and contrasting textures.

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You can simplify it by using fewer components.

But why mess with perfection?

Great Cut: Johnson’s wife Abby is a barber in Corona del Mar and owns CDM Barbers with her mother.

What’s New: A favorite new-to-him ingredient is zershk (also called barberry), a small red Persian berry. He says that they are mildly sweet and very tart; he uses them in rice or salads.

The Competition: His favorite Orange County eateries include Taiko in Irvine for sushi, as well as Ortica Pizzeria in Costa Mesa. About the later, he says he appreciates the char created in the wood-fired oven and the song-and-dance of the open kitchen.

Fanning Artistic Flames: While studying sculpture and metal craft at the University of Arizona, he made big batches of breakfast burritos and sold them to hungry co-eds. Moki’s Open Kitchen, paying homage to his childhood nickname, paid the rent.

Best Grilled Bok Choy: The irresistible taste? The secret is a marinade that includes Yuzu Kosho, a seasoning paste with yuzu (aromatic Japanese citrus), chilies and salt.

Insider Secret: He collects socks.

Roasted Carrot, Prosciutto and Burrata Salad with Date Relish
Yield: 4 servings
1 pound baby heirloom carrots, preferably different colors (stems intact if possible)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pitted dates cut in matchsticks
1 tablespoon minced or finely grated lemon zest, colored portion of peel
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Optional: balsamic syrup, see cook’s notes
4 ounces burrata, quartered
3 to 4 fresh figs or dried figs, quartered
2 handfuls of baby kale
Vinaigrette: 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil mixed with 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
8 thin slices prosciutto
8 crostini (thinly sliced toasted baguette)
Cook’s notes: To make balsamic syrup, gently simmer aged balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced by half in volume. Cool. To toast pine nuts, place in small skillet on medium heat. Shake handle to redistribute, heating until very lightly browned and aromatic.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel carrots, leaving a small portion of the stem attached. Place in single layer on rimmed baking sheet and toss with oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender-crisp and lightly caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool. (Can be done in advance and refrigerated.) Cut in half lengthwise.
2. Prepare date relish: Combine dates, zest, cilantro, mint, pine nuts, oil and juice. Set aside. If using, prepare balsamic syrup and cool.
3. Plate: On 4 long rectangular plates, place burrata cheese in middle. If using, drizzle on some balsamic syrup, using either a squeeze bottle or small spoon. Place figs and carrots on plates. Toss baby kale and vinaigrette; scatter on plate. Top with date relish. Twist each thin slice of prosciutto into a quasi-rose shape and add. Place crostini at one end of each plate.
Source: Marc Johnson, executive chef Oak Grill, Island Hotel, Newport Beach

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… Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

According to celebrity chef Michael Symon …

Brussels sprouts are a lot more versatile than we give them credit for.

 occhefMelissaTipTurkeyBrussels500One secret is to slice them into really thin ribbons and then toss in a flavorful vinaigrette.

Turkey Cutlet with Brussels Sprout Salad
Yield: 4 servings
½ cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (4-ounce) turkey cutlets, pounded to a ¼-inch thickness
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
4 cups thinly sliced Brussels sprouts (from 3/4 pound)
1. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat. Put the flour in a shallow bowl and season well with the salt and pepper. Season both sides of the turkey with salt and pepper. Dredge the turkey in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess.
2. Add the olive oil to the preheated skillet. Put the turkey in the pan and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, tarragon, and a good pinch of salt. Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and toss to combine. Put the turkey cutlets on plates, top with the Brussels sprouts salad, and serve.

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The Joy of Cooking – With Sue

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(Sue and Cathy while conducting a culinary tour to Greece, 1995)

Clad only in underpants. That was my attire the first time I met Sue. I was four and my big brother George took me to Sue’s house to swim in her family’s pool. I remember the event because after the dip, wearing those wet skivvies, I was sent home. My teenage brother stayed on to make time with Sue.

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(Sue in high school, taken by a Los Angeles Times’ photographer)

Who could have imagined that less than three decades after that swim, Sue and I would build a culinary career together? It was a cooking school bond that would have us teaching side by side for over 20 years, from the late 70s through 2000. Sue and George had married by that time and built a happy life together. Our mutual love for cooking and teaching made us a good team. Thousands and thousands of Orange County home cooks took our Tasting Spoon classes.

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(Prepping for a cooking class mid 80’s)

Sue Young was downright fearless. Not prone to “culinary stage fright,” she never seemed nervous, whether we were cooking for 30 students or 300. If the oven holding a ginormous prime rib burst into flames, she made a joke while I doused the flames with baking soda. If a soufflé collapsed she renamed it using a moniker that praised its density. When equipment failed, electricity went out, or students asked if they could substitute cottage cheese for butter, she carried on.

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(Teaching at Sue’s home in the San Fernando Valley, the home that my parents built and I grew up in. Later Sue and George purchased the home and raised their family there.)

Often at the beginning of class I would explain our relationship to students by saying that Sue was married to my perfect brother George. She denied his perfection by making loud gagging noises in the background.

Stories flowed. Laughter erupted. Wine poured.

We felt like pioneers. The Food Network didn’t exist, and only a handful of teachers were giving cooking classes in Southern California. Unlike most cooking classes today, our 3-hour marathons were demonstrations rather than student-participation episodes. We prepared six recipes, offering troubleshooting advice along the way. Teaching two classes a day, the morning class was repeated in the evening for new sets of eyes and palates.

During our tenure we saw food trends come and go. In the early years, French cooking was the rage and I remember boning whole ducks through their necks, then stuffing them with heaven-knows-what. Sue looked on with a dimpled smile, content that she wasn’t prone to such folly.

Food processors were the new must-have culinary gizmo in the 70s. We pureed everything from asparagus to zucchini, using the device to amaze our students. Merrily we ground, chopped and minced.

At about the same time, the popularity of nouvelle cuisine took hold with lighter, more delicate dishes that emphasized presentation; we carved root vegetables in to flowers and tomatoes into roses. On the plate, dishes were composed to yield balance and color contrast. Edible flowers produced a final flourish.

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The culinary landscape was going through a revolution, and we went along for the ride.

Teaching cooking was just part of what we joined forces to do. Not long after we started teaching, we hosted international culinary tours to Europe and Asia. The culinary-travel concept was new and often we had to sweet talk chefs into the idea of letting tourists into their kitchens. We busted down barriers in renowned restaurant kitchens, taking notes and asking questions, while our guests reveled in their delicious good fortune. Sometimes Sue’s height worked to our advantage when foreign chefs mistook her for the oh-so-tall Julia Child.

When trying to ferret out which of Sue’s recipes to include in this story (three from the thousands she created when we were teaching together), I called friend Anne Nelson to give me a place to start. Nelson went through her recipes and counted 95 different classes that she took with us. One of her favorites is a simple bar cookie that Sue dubbed with a name that isn’t used in polite company, a somewhat offensive term used to describe a promiscuous woman. Students thought the name was hilarious, and embraced the easy-to-prepare bar cookie with glee. I’m renaming them “Sue’s Naughty Bars.” She called them Slut Bars.

CathySueShower473Sue has retired and lives in Marina Del Rey. She still makes my brother smile and adores drinking Champagne. And she still tells great stories.

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Sue hornswoggled this delicious salad recipe from the chef at the Tate Museum in London in the early 80s. We were conducting a tour that included cooking classes in London, Florence and Venice.

Joan Cromwell’s Salad
Yield: 8 servings as a first course, 4 as a main course
1 pound green beans
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup sweet pickle, diced
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
1 pound cooked bay shrimp, see cook’s notes
1 head butter lettuce, washed, separated into leaves
Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt and white pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dry ground mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil or extra-virgin olive oil
Salad components:
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup diced sweet pickle
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
1 pound cooked bay shrimp, see cook’s notes
1 head butter lettuce, washed, separated into leaves
Cook’s notes: To toast almonds place in single layer on rimmed baking sheet and bake 3 to 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool. I like the sweet taste of the tiny bay shrimp (90 to 125 per pound) sourced from Canada that are sold at Santa Monica seafood in Costa Mesa.
1. Trim beans and cut into 2-inch lengths. Fill a large pan or Dutch oven 3/4 full with water; bring to boil on high heat. Add beans to boiling water. Cook until barely tender, 3 to 10 minutes depending on size of beans. Drain and refresh with ice water. Drain. Wrap in clean kitchen towel. Refrigerate until chilled, or up to 2 days in advance.
2. In a large bowl, whisk vinaigrette ingredients together. Add beans and remaining ingredients except lettuce; gently toss. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Place lettuce “cups” on plates or serving platter. Divide salad among leaves and serve.
3. Tiny stuffed potatoes make delicious appetizers or side dishes. For these, Sue fills them with a combination of blue cheese and cream, and then tops them with bacon and green onions. She baked them atop a bed of course salt to keep them upright. If you prefer not to use salt, use a baking pan that allows a little space between the potatoes but is small enough to help keep them erect.

suesaladTateAnd … The Devil’s Baked Potatoes à la Sue

suepotatodevils

The Devil’s Baked Potato Appetizers
Yield: 20
Coarse salt, such as kosher
20 bite-sized potatoes, either small red new potatoes or fingerlings
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Garnish: 4-5 strips bacon, cooked crisp, crumbled
Garnish: 3 thinly sliced green onions, including 1/2 of dark green stalks
1. Place salt in oven-proof platter or baking pan (big enough to hold 20 small potatoes leaving a little space between them, 1/2-inch deep. Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place potatoes in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium, cover and cook 8-10 minutes, or until barely tender. Drain. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, use small end of melon-ball cutter to remove one scoop from center of one side.
3. In a medium bowl, combine blue cheese, cream and pepper. Mash until roughly combined. Pour olive oil into a small dish (such as a custard cup); dip just the top of each potato (the side where you scooped it out) into oil. Spoon the cheese mixture into the cavity of the potato. Place potato filled-side-up in salt in baking pan. Repeat with remaining potatoes.
4. Bake 9 to 11 minutes, or until piping hot and skin is a little crisp. Sprinkle with bacon and green onions. Diners can dust any residual salt off or leave it on to suit their taste.
Source: Sue Young

suenaughtybars

Sue’s Naughty Bars
Yield: 36 to 48 bars
Soft butter for greasing parchment paper
1 package white cake mix, such as Duncan Hines Classic White
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup finely chopped nuts, such as walnuts, pecans or pistachios
1/2 cup dried cranberries or apricots, or a combination of both
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Grease paper with butter.
2. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake mix, oil and eggs. Mix on medium speed about 1 1/2 minutes, or until thoroughly blended, scraping down sides with a rubber spatula as needed. Spread half of the mixture on the prepared parchment paper using a rubber spatula.
3. In medium saucepan combine chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk and butter. Bring to simmer on high heat; reduce heat to medium and gently simmer with mixture bubbling around the edges, stirring frequently until butter and chocolate melts. Cool 10 minutes. Stir. Pour chocolate mixture over cake base.
4. Add nuts and dried fruit to remaining cake batter; stir to combine. With a small spoon (and a clean finger) place dabs of mixture over chocolate layer in single layer (it is not possible to spread into a layer). Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest on cooling rack for 15 minutes. Run a kitchen knife around edges. Invert on cutting board. Remove parchment paper. Cut into bars.
Source: Sue Youngsuenaughtybarsclose
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