Valentine’s Day Treasure – Buy or Make French Macarons, Sunshine

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Pastry Chef Stephane Treand’s hands moved effortlessly as he piped small mounds of macaron batter onto large baking sheets. One hand guided the bag, while the other applied gentle pressure, the piping dance so ingrained in memory that his movements required little concentration. Nine rows of nine, each little macaron shell looking like the next.  macaronStephanePoses450(Pastry Chef Stephane Treand at The Pastry School in Costa Mesa’s SOCO Collection. – Thanks to Paul Rodriguez for this photo.)

A group of food writers watched knowing that they would soon be trying to replicate Treand’s macaron moves. The scribes gathered to take a baking class at The Pastry School, Treand’s new teaching area located next to his pastry shop, ST Patisserie Chocolat.

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(You can buy them next door at ST Patisserie Chocolat, but what fun to make them!)

The shop feels Parisian, but not in an old-school sense. The pastries seem traditional yet re-imagined; innovative. French-born Treand is a recognized master craftsman. In 2004 he received the highest honor that there is in the French pastry industry when he was awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France certification by the President of France.

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Step by step he showed the participants every nuance, from how to “glue down” two layers of parchment paper on the baking sheets with dabs of batter (the bottom sheet was lined with boldface circles that showed through the top sheet – stencils to guide the baker with sizing and shaping), to how to fill and sandwich shells with ganache.

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Anita Lau (l), Diary of a Mad Hungry Woman blogger, teamed up with Anne Marie Panoringan (r), a food writer for OC Weekly. After seeing her lovely baked macaron shells, Lau said that she was quite pleased with herself because she never considered herself a baker.

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Priscilla Willis (l), She’s Cookin blogger, brought her baking-enthusiast daughter, Chloe Willis (r).

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They also turned out lush macarons, reveling in the fun they had in the process.

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Piping macaron batter into Valentine’s Day heart shapes, Treand told me that he was leaving to work in Japan for a few days. He serves as executive chef-consultant for Occitanial Pastry Shop in Tokyo.

The perfect macaron, he said, is shiny on the top and the crust is crisp; yet inside it shouldn’t be hard, the center should be a little chewy. There should be a rough-textured “foot” or “crown” at the base of each shell, a ring that forms during baking when the batter slightly rises.

He had high praises for the class as they packed up their bounty in take-home bakery boxes. Sweet words for sweet treats. Valentine’s Day treasure.

Cathy’s Notes: Chefs use scales to measure ingredients. It is the most accurate method to measure, which is especially important with fine baking. For years I’ve owned a small glass digital scale that has served me well. There are several models priced at about $50. Days after the class, I went back to The Pastry School to measure in the ingredients with measuring cups and spoons, but a pastry chef would never rely on those loosey-goosey implements.

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Chef Stephane Treand’s Macarons
Yield: to make 50 to 60 macarons
3 3/4 cups almond powder (335 grams), see cook’s notes
3 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (440 grams)
1 1/4 cups egg whites, room temperature (270 grams)
1 tablespoon egg white powder (5 grams), see cook’s notes
3/4 cup granulated sugar (150 grams)
Optional: purple food coloring gel
Filling of choice, recipes follow
Cook’s notes: To make almond powder, finely grind blanched (skinned) almonds in a food processor (slivered almonds work well for this); strain (sift) two times through a sieve. Measure the nuts after sifting. If they seem moist, spread on rimmed baking sheet and place in a 250-degree oven until dry but not browned; cool before use. Egg white powder is different from meringue powder because it doesn’t contain cornstarch. It is sold at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa and some baking supply stores. Instead of parchment paper, nonstick reusable Silpat macaron mats that have circles on them to help form macarons are sold at amazon.com. Or use a 1 1/2-inch ring cutter to trace circles with dark ink (such as a Sharpie), 1 1/2-inches apart on parchment paper. Place this reusable parchment upside down on baking sheet and top with another sheet of parchment.
1. Sift almond powder with powdered sugar; set aside. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (or 300 degrees for a convection oven).
2. Place egg white in the large bowl of a stand mixer; beat on medium speed for 30 seconds using the whisk attachment. Combine egg white powder and granulated sugar. Add about a tablespoon of the sugar mixture to the egg whites and continue to beat about 45 seconds. Keep adding the sugar mixture to the egg whites in small amounts, beating about 45 seconds between additions. Beat until egg whites are firm and glossy, being careful not to overbeat them. They should be stiff enough that when bowl is turned upside down the mixture (meringue) stays in place.
3. Using a sturdy spatula, mix almond powder-powdered sugar mixture into egg whites; mix rigorously enough to combine well (mixture will end up a little runny). Remove half of mixture to a separate bowl and stir in just enough food coloring to tint the mixture light lavender.
4. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat (see cook’s notes), securing corners of paper by placing a small dab of the batter beneath each corner (this will “glue” the paper in place). Fit two large pastry bags with plain 3/8-inch tips. Using a rubber spatula, place two large scoops of the macaron batter into each bag, one with the lavender batter, one plain. You want the bags about half full. Place bag on its side on work surface and push batter down toward to tip and twist to close open end. Holding bag at a 60-degree angle, pipe small mounds of mixture (about 1 inch in diameter), spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Tap baking sheets by lifting sheet about 3 inches from work surface and dropping flat on the work surface. This will spread the batter slightly and reduce air bubbles. Bake in preheated convection oven for 12 minutes or in the center of a conventional oven for about 15 minutes, or until firm to a light touch. If they are baking unevenly, rotate the baking sheet 180 degrees half way through baking. Cool on parchment set on cooling rack; peel them from parchment.
5. Match macaron shells that are the same size. You can use two that are the same color, or one cream-colored and the other lavender. Pipe ganache on flat side of one shell and place second shell on top – sandwich style. Press lightly until ganache is visible all the way around but not oozing out. For best results, place completed macarons on sheet pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. Or freeze up to 1 week (once thawed they should not be refrozen). Because they are small, they defrost quickly.
Source: Chef Stephane Treand, The Pastry School, The SoCo Collection, Costa Mesa

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Vanilla Ganache
Yield: about 3 1/2 cups
Scant 1/4 cup cocoa butter, small disks, (25 g)
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream (250 grams)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
2 1/3 cups white chocolate, small disks such as Valrhona or Callebaut (375 grams)
5 tablespoons butter, cut into 10 pieces (60 grams)
Cook’s notes: Vanilla paste, small disks of Valrhona or Callebaut white chocolate and cocoa butter are sold at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa and online at amazon.com.
1. Place cocoa butter in a microwave safe container; microwave just until melted.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine whipping cream and vanilla paste. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and stir in one third of the white chocolate disks; stir until melted. Add half of the remaining white chocolate and stir until melted. Add remaining white chocolate and stir until melted. Stir in melted cocoa butter. Add butter and stir until melted. Line a rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Spread ganache on plastic and cool.
Source: Chef Stephane Treand, The Pastry School, The SoCo Collection, Costa Mesa

 

Some of the ingredients for this Cassis Ganache (that are shown in the photos) are difficult to find. There are a wide variety of purees (coulis) at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa, but they don’t stock the cassis flavor. Cassis puree is sold on amazon.com. The recipe can be found on the Orange County Register’s Website at http://www.ocregister.com/articles/treand-650154-pastry-chef.html

For information about upcoming classes at The Pastry School, go to http://www.stephanetreand.com/the-enthusiast-series.

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Six-Course Vegetable Tasting Menu – Stonehill Tavern’s Raj Dixit Produce Wizardry

It makes me sad when someone tells me that they don’t like vegetables! Really sad.

I’m not a vegetarian. But I know how delicious fruits and vegetables can be.

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Take a look at what Executive Chef Raj Dixit is turning out at Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Resort & Spa, Dana Point.

A luscious multi-course “Vegetable Discovery Tasting Menu.” So darn luscious.

 

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Off menu starters included some of the best very-crisp Kale Chips I have ever tasted (beautifully seasoned with the Japanese seasoning mix, togarashi).

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FIRST COURSE: Every bite was scrumptious of this avocado-themed dish.  Blood orange came along for the ride, plus candy-cane beets, slivers of baby coconut, sorrel, radishes, hearts of palm and a crisp quinoa tuille.

And look at the presentation. A crystal fish-bowl like vessel atop a lotus-folded linen napkin. Lovely.

Our beverage? A gin sour. Nice.

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Second, ROOTS, SHOOTS, TUBERS EN PAPILLOTE: Veggies cooked in a bag are added to incredible 24-hour tomato broth.

A roll stuffed with a woodsy whole mushroom was served on the side.

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COURSE NUMBER THREE: Caramalized Sunchokes adorned with plenty of Vaucluse winter truffles (Provence – France), coddled egg and a tasty foam. On the side? Grilled artichokes with three optional dipping sauces. Don’t get full, we’re only half way done.

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FOUR – Carrot Agnolotti: Plump little stuffed pasta rounds – seasoned with cardamom and sunflower seeds and adrift is a dashi scented sauce.

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On the side, a generous assortment of cauliflower, all colors, plus some green romanesco

– some fried, some not. All very, very tasty.

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VEGETABLE-FRUIT DESSERT, SO LUSH: Pastry Chef Maren Henderson never fails to create desserts that are irresistible. Here she teamed parsnip pudding with raw honey, hazelnut praline, tangerines and showoff-pieces of caramelized meringue sheets.

Note that I have eaten part of this dessert before I remembered to take a photo. Bad Cathy. So bad. So happy.

The very generous multi-course Vegetable Discovery Tasting Menu at Stonehill Tavern is $125 per person, not including gratuity. Stonehill Tavern is in the St. Regis Resort & Spa, Dana Point. (949) 234-3200

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Top Chef Celebrity Shirley Chung, Steams Fish in Banana Leaves, Luscious and Simple

TOP CHEF CELEB: SHIRLEY CHUNG

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Shirley Chung is gregarious and quick to laugh, but behind the cheery smile is a chef-restauranteur who is highly focused on her craft.

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Now her high-energy personality is at work in a new restaurant in Irvine, Twenty Eight, where she is executive chef and co-owner. She dubs the restaurant’s cuisine “modern Chinese,” cooking that she says represents Chinese culture and cuisine around the world, with dishes that respect traditional flavors and utilize local seasonal ingredients. She says that it is interesting to see that in many restaurants in China, a younger generation of chefs are bringing back old techniques with modern approaches.

Twenty Eight Restaurant & Lounge is at 19530 Jamboree Road, Irvine.

 She joined me in my home kitchen to teach me how to prepare fish fillets steamed in banana leaves, a simple yet irresistible dish accompanied with fennel-citrus salad.

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Using fresh leaves to wrap the fish brings alluring perfume, while a finishing drizzle of spicy aged soy adds a just-right burst of flavor.

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COMING UP Benefiting No Kid Hungry:
TWENTY EIGHT Restaurant & Lounge will host its first exclusive Chef Dinner prepared by Top Chef New Orleans star contestants Chef Shirley Chung and Chef Nina Compton. This fierce female duo is coming together to present an incredible menu for two seatings per night on Wednesday, February 25th and Thursday, February 26th.

Chef Shirley and Chef Nina will present a seven-course collaborative menu. Each chef will present three courses inspired by their competition dishes on Top Chef Season 11. The dinner will culminate with Twenty Eight’s noted Black & White Dessert. The dinner will feature two seatings from 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. and again from 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. each night on Wednesday, February 25th and Thursday, February 26thTickets for the Top Chef Duo Dinner are priced at $188 per guest ($68 for wine and cocktail pairings) and are available for purchase at http://twentyeightoc.com/events.

The Competition: Her favorite restaurant (not including Twenty Eight) is Raku in Las Vegas, a small Japanese restaurant with delicious yakitori and an inviting selection of sake. The eatery is open until 2 AM, making it a popular after-work hangout for culinary professionals. The restaurant has been a three-time semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef Southwest category.

Veg Hero: Hands down her favorite vegetable is napa cabbage. She says that in China, every family cooks up hundreds of pound of the pale green wonder every year, often fermenting it, or stir-frying it with pork belly.

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Shirley Surprise: She used to be a radio disc jockey for a Chinese language FM station in San Francisco. She had two shows; one was a pop culture music show, the other an interview show.

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 Chef shows how to cut citrus into supremes (peeled sections).

Steamed Cod in Banana Leaf with Chili-Infused Aged Soy Sauce and Citrus-Fennel Salad
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup aged soy sauce, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons mirin, see cook’s notes
1 Serrano chili, thinly sliced crosswise, see cook’s notes
6 fresh banana leaves, cut into 7-by-7-inch square pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 (4 ounces each) fillets fresh local black cod, skin on
1 fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, thinly sliced
1 seedless orange, cut into supremes (peeled sections), see cook’s notes
1 seedless grapefruit, cut into supremes (peeled sections), see cook’s notes
2 Meyer lemons, one cut into supremes (peeled sections), other cut in half, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon Spanish olive oil
Cook’s notes: Chung prefers the Wan Ja Shan brand of aged soy sauce. She says that aging removes the sharpness, making it fruitier with rounder flavor. Mirin is a type of rice wine similar to sake, but with less alcohol and more sugar. Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Wash hands and work surface upon completion and do not touch eyes or face.
To cut citrus into supremes (peeled sections): Cut top and bottom off citrus, making those two cuts parallel to each other and cutting just below white pith. Place cut-side down on work surface. Cut off peel and pith in strips about 1-inch wide, starting at the top of the fruit and cutting down (following contour of shape). Working over bowl to collect juice, use a sharp small knife to cut parallel to one section’s membrane, cut to center; turn knife and cut along the membrane on the other side of that section to remove it. Repeat until all sections are removed and cut from their membranes.
1. Heat soy and mirin in a small saucepan on medium-high heat until mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add Serrano chili slices. Allow to rest overnight or 8 hours.
2. Toast the banana leaves over heat, so they become pliable and fragrant. Season fish with salt and pepper. Wrap each fillet skin-side down in middle of a banana leaf; fold leaf over lengthwise, then fold over sides. Add enough water to bottom of steamer so that it doesn’t touch the steamer basket. Bring to boil on high heat. Add banana-leaf packets to steamer basket; cover and boil over high heat for 6 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare salad: In a medium bowl, combine fennel, grapefruit supremes, orange supremes and lemon supremes from one lemon. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; gently toss.
4. When cod has finished cooking, place one on each of six plates. Open top of banana leaf and spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons of unstrained soy mixture on top of fish. Serve salad next to fish. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice atop fish.
Source: Shirley Chung, chef-partner Twenty Eight Restaurant & Lounge, Irvine

Twenty Eight Restaurant & Lounge is at 19530 Jamboree Road, Irvine.

Many thanks to Curt Norris, master videographer-photographer.

 

…Tip from Melissa’s…

Roasting fresh asparagus is an easy way to cook it, a method that builds appealing texture and flavor.

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat to 450 degrees. Remove the tough portion at the bottom of each asparagus stalk. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and rotate asparagus to lightly coat with oil (you can roll them around with your hand); sprinkle with coarse salt, such as kosher salt. Make sure asparagus is in a single layer. Roast 7 to 10 minutes depending on width of stalks.

One luscious way to serve it? Serve with burrata cheese and drizzle on a simple vinaigrette spiked with fresh minced tarragon. Grind on some black pepper.

Burrata is a fresh, soft cheese made from mozzarella and cream –  outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream.

Cheese shops sell it, some supermarkets as well as Trader Joe’s and Costco.

Ace videographer-photographer Curt Norris must have liked it.

Clean plate, happy man.

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Three Thrills 2014 – Inspired Chef Dishes for Home Cooks

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The flavor combinations in this one-pot meal are unexpected and completely irresistible.

Dining out or eating in the homes of friends and family, teaches me new techniques or ingredient combinations.

They are dishes that send me home to develop my own spin, simplifying the creation if it’s complex, changing it just enough to make it approachable for home cooks without sacrificing flavor.

Here are three of my 2014  FAVORITES (whittled down from a very long list – but more on that later):

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Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice:

My niece Holly Sue is a chef. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, many years ago she left a restaurant career to raise her family, but later started a highly successful at-home personal chef business when her boys were approaching middle school age. Her clients pick up made-from-scratch family dinners twice a week. The wait-list for folks who want to get in on those meals is substantial, filled with the names of hungry households that long for scrumptious food eaten at their own dining tables.

jerusalemHolly Sue told me that one of her go-to dishes for her family is a vibrantly-seasoned chicken and rice dish from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, “Jerusalem” (Ten Speed Press, $35). I tasted it and fell in love.

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The combinations of flavors are both surprising and delicious. Cinnamon sticks, cloves and cardamom pods come to the party, along with currants, deeply caramelized onions and fresh herbs, ingredients that give the mixture irresistible appeal.

If you want, the dish can be made in advance and chilled, then reheated slowly on low heat adding some chicken broth to the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching. It’s served topped with a good dollop of Greek-style yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

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Raj’s Avocado Spheres Stuffed with Crab

These perfectly round, bright green spheres are constructed with fresh avocado on the outside and crab salad on the inside. They are the brainchild of Raj Dixit, executive chef at Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.

Dixit puts the elegant bite-sized spheres on silver spoons and presents them as passed appetizers. Or he makes a little larger version and serves each one as a plated amuse-bouche, a gift from the chef that arrives before the first course is served.

To speed up the preparation, I lightly coat the crab with simple Louis dressing. Dixit uses a condiment he calls “yuzu- miso,” a sauce made with egg yolks, yuzu juice, white miso, extra-virgin olive oil and creme fraiche, plus a little minced shiso (fresh Asian herb from the mint family) and orange zest.

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I won’t kid you, it takes some time to peel and cut avocados and form them into the spheres that surround seafood salad. It’s the kind of dish to make when you have some time and aren’t pressured. Turn on some good music, pour yourself a glass of wine and dig in.

Or, take an easy route, and mound the salad atop peeled-and-halved avocado; rest them atop crisp baby greens and crown each with some thinly sliced green onion, a lemon wedge off to the side.

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Herbed Green Rice

This dish transformed the way I think about the liquid I use to cook long-grained rice.

As a teen, I learned that lightly browning rice in warm oil or a combination of oil and butter before it is cooked in broth, creates both desirable flavor and texture. I used chicken broth, vegetable broth or beef broth. Simple.

But this year I learned how to add irresistible flavor by heating the broth and whirling the hot liquid it in a blender with handfuls of fresh herbs; fresh parsley, mint, cilantro and chives. The smooth, deep green potion is the liquid used to cook the rice.

The fragrant basmati rice is supplemented with toasted ground fennel seeds and sautéed vegetables as well, along with a smidgen of hot sauce. I omit the hot sauce when making this dish for my one-year-old granddaughter Francoise. She adores it.

The dish can be made in advance, refrigerated, and reheated in the microwave oven.

Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice
Yield: 4 generous servings
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
2 medium-large yellow onions, halved, thinly sliced
2 1/4 pounds skin-on bone-in chicken thighs, see cook’s notes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 whole cardamom pods
4 teaspoon whole cloves
2 long cinnamon sticks, each broken in two
1 2/3 cups raw basmati rice
1/4 cup currants
2 1/4 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley, divided use
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Optional garnish: 1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt mixed with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cook’s notes: I like to trim away excess skin that hangs over the sides of the meat, leaving about a 2-to 3-inch wide piece of skin atop the chicken thighs.
1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large deep skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add onions; cook until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 to 15 minutes. Place in small bowl and wipe out pan. Place chicken in large bowl and season with 1 1/2 teaspoons each salt and pepper. Add remaining oil, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon; use clean hands to mix together well. Heat pan again and place chicken (skin side down) and oil-spice mixture in it. Sear chicken 5 minutes per side and remove from pan (this is important because it partially cooks the chicken). Remove chicken from pan. The spices can stay in the pan but don’t worry if some spices stick to the chicken. Remove most of the oil in the pan, leaving behind a thin layer in the pan. Add rice, caramelized onion, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Add currants and stir well; return seared chicken (skin-side up) in single layer, pushing them down into the rice.
2. Add boiling water over the rice and chicken; cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Take pan off heat, remove lid and quickly place a clean tea towel over the pan and seal again with the lid. Leave undisturbed for another 10 minutes. Add herbs, using half of the parsley. Use a fork to fluff the rice. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm, each serving topped with a good dollop of yogurt and some chopped parsley.
Source: adapted from “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, $35)

Raj’s Avocado Spheres Stuffed with Crab
Yield: 8
Louis Dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons purchased chili sauce, such as Homade or Heitz that contain tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely minced orange or lemon zest (colored portion of peel)
Crab:
3/4 cup cooked, chilled crab meat, picked over to remove any shell
Assembly:
2 ripe (but not squishy) avocados
Juice of 1 fresh lime or lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Plastic wrap
Vegetable oil spray
Coarse salt, preferably fleur de sel
1. Combine Louis dressing ingredients in small bowl; stir until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place crab in a separate bowl and stir in just enough dressing to lightly coat the crab; toss.
2. Work with 1 avocado at a time. Cut avocado in half; pit and peel. Working with one half of an avocado at a time, place cut-side down on work surface; cut lengthwise horizontally so the top portion is about 3/4-inch thick (the top portion is what you will use). Place top portion flat-side down on work surface. Cut lengthwise slices 1/8-inch apart, leaving the avocado in place on the board. Use your knife to separate the 2 bundles of avocado slices into 2 equal portions, sliding your knife down the middle cut and pushing one away from the other. Use the palm of your hand to fan out the slices of each bundle so the slices are slightly overlapping. Trim a 1/8-inch portion off each end of the slices. Spray a square of plastic wrap with nonstick vegetable spray and squeeze on a little lime or lemon juice in the middle. Place 1 avocado “fan” on wide knife blade (scoot blade under “fan” to lift it) and invert each fan onto separate prepared plastic wrap squares. In the middle of the fan put a knob of crab salad (about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons).
3. Cradle the plastic in palm of your hand, cupping it to start the rounding process. Then pull up the corners of the plastic and twist plastic to form a sphere. Repeat with remaining pitted and peeled avocado. Each avocado should yield 4 small spheres. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt. Use avocado trimmings to make guacamole or a tasty snack.
Source: Raj Dixit, executive chef, Stonehill Tavern

Herbed Green Rice
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 cup chicken broth plus 1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup packed Italian parsley
1/4 cup packed mint leaves
2 tablespoons minced chives
1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon hot sauce, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup finely diced fresh fennel bulb
3/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups raw white basmati rice
1 tablespoon butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook’s notes: The original recipe called for adding 1 crumbled chili arbol when sautéing the vegetables. I prefer to use one teaspoon of Frank’s RedHot sauce to the cooking liquid in Step#2. I like it because it adds a spark of acidity and (for me) has just-right spicy heat. If you use Sriracha “rooster sauce” use 1/2 teaspoon.
1. Toast fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until they release their aroma and turn light golden brown. Cool. Grind in mortar and pestle, or place in small zipper-style plastic bag and pound with mallet or bottom of a pot until ground.
2. Bring chicken broth and water to a boil in medium-large saucepan. Turn off heat.
3. Place parsley, mint, chives and cilantro in blender. Add 1 cup of the hot liquid and puree herbs at medium speed (cautiously hold down lid of blender with potholder). Add remaining liquid and puree at high speed for about 2 minutes, stopping to wipe down sides and lid as needed. You should have a smooth, very green broth.
4. Rinse out pot and heat it over high heat. Add oil, fennel, onion, toasted ground fennel seeds and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until onion and fennel are translucent. Add rice, 1 teaspoon salt and pinch of pepper; toss to coat and cook just until rice starts to turn a very light brown. Add herb broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Add butter. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender and liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat and leave rice covered for 5 minutes. Fluff rice with fork. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Source: adapted from Chef Suzanne Goin and “The A.O.C. Cookbook” (Alfred A. Knopf, $35)

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Eight-Leg Treasure From the Deep – Chef Rainer Schwarz Turns Octopus Tender and Delicious

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Wine-braised octopus, legs grilled until lightly charred, is paired with a luscious tomato vinaigrette and creamy garbanzo puree.

Executive chef-partner at Driftwood Kitchen, Laguna Beach, and The Deck on Laguna Beach, Rainer Schwarz, knows how to deliciously nuance seafood, incorporating vibrant flavors and contrasting textures into everything from whole crisp-skinned branzino to hamachi crudo, buttermilk-fried soft shell crabs to seared sea scallops adrift in truffle-spiked risotto.

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That polished skill-set also applies to his Grilled Spanish Octopus, an alluring concoction that appears on the Driftwood Kitchen’s small plate menu.

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The eight-legged wonder is tenderized by long, gentle braising in a mixture of fruity red wine, leeks, herbs, dried chili flakes and garlic. A wine cork is also added to the pot, an ingredient trick that Schwarz says insures tenderness. Once cooled, the legs are grilled until heated through and caramelized, a light char gracing their exterior.

Watch the short video to see Schwarz’ prep and plating.

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On the plate the diagonally-cut chunks of octopus sit atop hummus-like garbanzo puree. And draped over the top is an heirloom tomato vinaigrette, a mixture that flavor boosts the dish with Spanish sherry, capers, shallots and agrumato, a lemony extra-virgin olive oil that is made by pressing whole lemons along with the olives. Zahtar (a tasty condiment made with dried herbs, sesame seeds and salt) is judiciously sprinkled over the top.

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Born in Austria, Schwarz originally came to the U.S. to work with the Patina Group’s Joachim Splichal; the two chefs met when Schwarz was Chef de Cuisine at the Grand National Hotel in Switzerland.

Restaurant favorite: Other than one of his restaurants, Schwarz says that his favorite eateries are constantly changing. Jaleo, Chef Jose Andres’ restaurant in The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, is his current pick. He loves Jaleo’s baby squid from southern Spain sautéed with Spanish white beans. It’s a dish he dubs “simple delicious food.”

What’s always in the fridge at home: Plugra butter (European-style American-made high butterfat butter, the only brand his son, Max, 15, will eat), a good white wine and good cheese.

Early Austrian days: He studied accounting in school and was a professional chess player until he fell in love with cooking at age 15.

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Thanks to Curt Norris for his time and talent – his mouth-watering photography and video-taping (and editing).

 

Driftwood Kitchen’s Grilled Spanish Octopus
Yield: about 6 to 8 servings
Braised Octopus:
1 Spanish octopus, 4 to 6 pounds
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves peeled garlic
White and light green portion of 2 leeks, washed, thinly sliced
1 bottle fruity red wine
2 tablespoons dried red chili flakes
2 bay leaves
Heirloom Tomato Vinaigrette:
5 ripe heirloom tomatoes, finely diced
1 large shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup Pedro Ximenez (Spanish sherry)
1/4 cup capers, drained, rinsed
1 cup agrumato (extra-virgin lemon olive oil)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garbanzo Bean Puree:
2 cups cooked, drained garbanzo beans, canned beans OK
Extra-virgin olive oil, enough to give a smooth creamy texture
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
For grilling octopus: olive oil
Garnish: zahtar
Optional garnish: tiny peppardews, microgreens, radishes cut into matchsticks
Cook’s notes: Note to home cooks, this vinaigrette would be delicious atop any grilled fish. Agrumato oil is sold in shops that specialize in gourmet items, such as Surfas in Costa Mesa. Zahtar is sold in Middle Eastern markets and in spice shops such as Savory Spice Shop.
1. Start by rinsing the octopus by hand in cold water, scrubbing it with your hands in the process. Heat oil in large Dutch oven on medium heat. Add garlic and leeks; cook on medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in wine, chili flakes and bay leaves. Add octopus; simmer gently on low heat, covered, until tender. Remove octopus from liquid; cool.
2. Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette. In a bowl or glass measuring cup, combine all vinaigrette ingredients except the oil; stir to combine. Add oil in a very thin stream, stirring constantly. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Set aside.
3. For garbanzo mixture, place beans in food processor. Process gradually adding olive oil, whirling until mixture is a smooth puree. Strain through sieve. Stir in the juice of 1 Meyer lemon. Add sea salt to taste; set aside.
4. Once the octopus is cooled, cut legs off body. Heat a grill pan on medium-high heat and oil it generously with extra-virgin olive oil. Grill octopus legs until caramelized and lightly charred. Cut legs on the diagonal into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Smear some of the garbanzo mixture on each plate. Top with octopus. Stir vinaigrette and spoon over octopus. Sprinkle with zahtar to taste. Garnish with tiny sweet peppadews, radish and microgreens, if desired.
Source: Chef Rainer Schwarz, The Deck on Laguna Beach and Driftwood Kitchen, Laguna Beach

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

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Use kale in an open-faced sandwich.

Kale-topped toasts adorned with sunny-side up eggs make a delectable breakfast treat, but they also could be the centerpiece of a tasty lunch or supper. If you prefer firmer yolks, turn the eggs to cook on both sides, or substitute moist scrambled eggs or scrambled egg whites.

Breakfast Toasts with Kale and Sunny-Side Eggs
Yield: 4 servings
4 (3/8-inch thick) slices rustic whole wheat bread
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided use
1 large garlic clove, minced
6 cups Tuscan black kale (cavolo nero) or curly-edge kale – that has been washed, patted dry, midrib removed, loosely packed, cut into 1/4-inch wide crosswise slices, see prep
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 eggs
Seasoned salt
1. Adjust oven rack to 8 inches below broiler element. Turn on oven light and broiler. Place bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Broil until just lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Remove from oven, turn bread over and lightly brush with olive oil, using about 1/2 tablespoon. Sprinkle each toast with 1 tablespoon cheese. Return to broiler. Keep a close eye on the toast; broil until lightly browned, about 40 to 50 seconds.
2. Line a large plate with paper towels. Heat oil in large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic, kale and water; season with salt and pepper. When liquid comes to a boil, cover and cook until tender, about 6 to 8 minutes, tossing mixture 2 or 3 times during cooking (common kale will take longer to cook than Tuscan kale). Remove lid and cook until most of liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice and toss. Place on paper-towel lined plate.
3. Place toasts on 4 plates. Generously spray a medium-size nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Place on medium-high heat. When hot, add eggs one at a time, placing them in a single layer. Reduce heat to low. Cook until white is set, about 2 minutes. Divide kale between 4 toasts. Using a spatula, remove each egg from skillet and place on top of kale. Sprinkle eggs with seasoned salt and remaining cheese. Serve immediately.
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 300; fat calories 120, total fat 14 grams; sat fat 4 grams, cholesterol 190 milligrams; sodium 710 milligrams; total carbohydrates 27 grams; fiber 5 grams; sugars 4 grams; protein 17 grams; vitamin A IUs 310%; vitamin C 210%; calcium 30%; iron 20%
Source: “50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas (Chronicle, $29.95)
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Holiday Cookie Contest Names $1000 Winner!

Lucca and Provenance Restaurants hosted a holiday cookie contest!  $1000 bucks to the winner!

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Irvine resident Natalie Hartanov won $1000 for her delicious Florentine Triangle Jewels!

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The contest took place at Provenance in Newport Beach. Chef-Owner Cathy Pavlos was on hand to join in the cookie tasting fun and, of course, to write the check!

(Provenance – The Garden at Eastbluff  is at 2531 Eastbluff Drive, Newport Beach. Restaurant critic Brad A. Johnson named it one of the best new restaurants of 2014.)

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THE RECIPE: Natalie’s  FLORENTINE TRIANGLE JEWELS – two ways …

“I’ve been making these beautiful cookies – a Florentine mixture baked on top of a butter crust — for Christmas cookie trays for more than three decades,” says Natalie Hartanov.  “For years, I used the candied fruits (as noted in the red and green variation at the end of the recipe), but lately I’ve been making them with dried apricots, dried cherries and almonds.   Either way, they look and taste fabulous!  Dip the edges in chocolate (I like to do this) for extra pizzazz.”

Butter Crust (recipe below)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots (use California Blenheim apricots, not Turkish)
3/4 cup chopped dried pitted tart Montmorency cherries
1 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange peel
6 to 8 ounces bittersweet OR semisweet chocolate, melted
1. Line a 10×15-inch jelly-roll pan with non-stick foil.  Prepare Butter Crust.  Press crust dough evenly into bottom of the foil-lined pan.  Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven 12 to 13 minutes until just beginning to turn golden.  Remove from oven.
2. Meanwhile in a 3-quart saucepan, combine butter, granulated sugar and cream.  Place over medium heat; cook, stirring often, until mixture boils.  Boil 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in apricots, cherries, almonds and orange peel.  Carefully spread mixture evenly over pre-baked crust.
3. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 12 to 14 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.  Cool in pan.  Cut cooled cookies crosswise (along 15-inch side of pan) into 6 strips.  Cut each strip into 4 or 5 squares/rectangles and then cut each square/rectangle diagonally into 2 triangles.  Refrigerate cookies, if desired.  Dip one edge of each triangle into melted chocolate.  Allow chocolate to set (refrigerate to speed up).  Store cookies in refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature to serve.  Makes 48 to 60 triangle cookies.

BUTTER CRUST:  In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces, and dash salt.  Process until blended.  With motor running, add 2 teaspoons vanilla and 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream through feed tube, processing until dough clings together.

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RED AND GREEN FLORENTINE JEWELS:  Replace dried apricots and dried cherries  in above recipe with 1/2 cup EACH chopped red candied cherries, chopped green candied cherries and chopped candied pineapple OR chopped candied orange peel. Proceed as directed in recipe.

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Thanks to Natalie and the other four finalists for their delicious and beautiful cookies. And thanks to Cathy Pavlos for making it happen! Happy Holidays!

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Holiday Countdown: Five Easy Ways to Add Glam to Christmas Entertaining

1. ICE BUCKET SPLENDOR: Freeze a bottle of vodka in a fancy-schmancy block of ice adorned with rose petals, thin citrus slices or fresh cranberries. Here is the path that Martha Stewart lays out on marthastewart.com. I choose a squat vodka bottle for this because my freezer won’t accommodate a tall slender bottle.
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1 bottle vodka
1 clean empty cardboard half-gallon milk carton
Fresh flowers or thinly sliced fruit (or fresh cranberries)
Utility knife
1. Pour water into the container, just covering the fruit and flowers. Place the carton upright in the freezer. When the liquid is completely frozen, add another layer of fruit and very cold water, and freeze.
2. Repeat, filling and freezing a third of the carton at a time, which prevents all the fruit and flowers from floating to the top until the water reaches the bottle’s neck. Remove from the freezer when it’s time to serve the vodka: Cut away the milk carton with a utility knife; wrap a dinner napkin around the bottle’s base, and serve the vodka with slices of lemon zest tied in knots. Source: marthastewart.com

2. POMEGRANATE SYRUP for Cocktails, Mocktails or Pancakes: This colorful syrup can be prepared up to two weeks ahead and stored in the fridge. Use a small amount stirred into flutes of Champagne or white wine, chilled vodka rocks, or sparkling water “mocktails”.

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To make the syrup, combine 2 cups fresh pomegranate juice (such as Pom) and 1 cup granulated sugar in a small saucepan on high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat and gently simmer until reduced in volume to 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate well-sealed.

3. Oh-So Easy-But-Elegant CHEESE PLATTER:  Buy 2 or 3 delicious cheeses. I like to have one blue-veined cheese, one aged white cheddar and one washed-rind cheese, such as Brie.

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I arrange the cheese on a slate board and write the name of each cheese in chalk below. Then I scatter nuts and  dried fruit around the cheeses, or sliced apple and/or pear.

Sometimes I drizzle the blue cheese with a little honey. Provide crackers (or thin slices of baguette), cheese knives and  holiday cocktail napkins. Voila!

4. Super-quick PROSCIUTTO WRAPS for appetizers: Use thinly sliced prosciutto twisted around wedges of fruit. Fuyu persimmons are a favorite. Fuyu persimmons are the variety that are tomato shaped.

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5. Luscious THUMBPRINT COOKIES: Cookbook author and Food Network Star Ina Garten created my favorite recipe for Coconut Thumbprint Cookies. You can personalize them by adding your favorite preserves to the indentation made by pressing a thumb or finger into each coconut-coated sphere of dough.

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Ina’s Thumbprint Cookies

Yield: about 32 cookies

3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
7 ounces sweetened shredded (flaked) coconut
Raspberry or apricot jam, or your favorite
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed. Add in the vanilla and beat until combined. In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt with a whisk to blend. On low speed add flour mixture to butter mixture; mix until dough starts to come together. Dump on floured board and roll together in a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. In a small bowl, beat together the egg and water. In another small bowl, place the coconut. Using a medium (1-ounce) ice cream scoop, scoop the dough into your hand and roll into a ball. Drop in the egg wash and then into the coconut. Roll it around and press to coat Place on the baking sheet. With your finger, press an indentation into the top of each cookie dough ball. Fill each indentation with 1/4 teaspoon of the preserves. Bake for about 20 minutes or until coconut is browned. Allow to cool on the baking sheets before removing to a wire rack to cool further.

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No-Stress Easy Appetizers: Got 5 Minutes?

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Appetizers start a party off right, especially if they are eye-catching as well as scrumptious.
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Ripe Pear Wedges Wrapped in Prosciutto
Yield: about 32 wedges
3 ripe (but not squishy) pears, washed, unpeeled, cored, see cook’s notes
Optional: 3 ounces hard or semi-hard cheese, thinly sliced about the same size lengthwise as the pear wedges, see cook’s notes
5 to 7 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
For serving: Toothpicks
Garnish: microgreens or fresh herbs such as rosemary or Italian parsley
Cook’s notes: Buy pears 4 to 5 days before using to allow time to ripen. Red Bartlett or green Bartlett with a red blush are the prettiest. White cheddar is delicious with pears, but my favorite cheese to pair with pears is Oveja al Romero, Spanish Manchego-like wonder that is aged coated with rosemary. It has a beautiful herbaceous nose (available at Surfas in Costa Mesa).
1. Cut pears into wedges that are about 3/8-inch thick at the thickest part. Place a piece of cheese next to one side of each wedge and wrap each wedge with narrow strip of prosciutto, twisting it around middle. Secure each with toothpick. Place on platter and garnish with microgreens (immature greens sold in plastic containers at Trader Joe’s). These are best assembled just before serving to prevent pears from discoloring.

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Parmigiano Reggiano “Spoons” with Balsamic Syrup
Yield: 20 servings
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
10 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, cut into cubes (about 1-by-1/4-by-3/4 inches)
20 small basil leaves
10 seedless red grapes, halved (or 20 thin wedges of Fuyu persimmon or cored apple)
1. Place vinegar and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to simmer on high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar; immediately reduce temperature to medium-low and gently simmer about 10 to 12 minutes, reducing the mixture to a little less than 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.
2. Place cheese cubes in individual Asian soup spoons, teaspoons or one-bite appetizer style bowls. Arrange on platter. Drizzle each with cooled balsamic syrup; garnish each with basil leaf and grape half.
Do-Ahead: syrup can be made in advance and stored at room temperature; cheese can be cut into cubes and stored airtight in refrigerator.

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Ginger Roulade
Yield: 16 servings
One (8-ounce) plus one (3-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
2 (9-by-12-inch) sheets of lavash, see cook’s notes
2 1/2 cups baby arugula or 1 large bunch watercress (large stems removed, washed, patted dry)
One (8-ounce) jar pink pickled ginger, liquid squeezed out, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Lavash is soft, thin flatbread; it’s sold at some supermarkets, Trader Joe’s and Middle Eastern markets. It should be pliable enough to roll, but if it isn’t you can moisten it with a damp paper towel. Pink pickled ginger is sold in many supermarkets in jars, either in the refrigerated deli close to the wonton skins, or in the sushi section.
1. Place cream cheese in food processor; whirl until soft. Spread cream cheese on one side of each lavash. Place leaves in a single layer on top; cover with pickled ginger. Starting from long side, roll each into a long roll (if it cracks don’t worry, just keep rolling). Trim each end.
Do-Ahead: Wrap each roll in a dampened paper towel (slightly moist, not wet). Refrigerate up to 3 hours in plastic bag or airtight container. Cut crosswise into 1 1/4-inch pieces. Place cut-side down to display spiral design created by ingredients.

… OK, these bacon wonders take more than 5 minutes to prepare, because they spend some time in the oven!

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Brown Sugar and Black Pepper Candied Bacon
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
12 slices thick-cut bacon, cut in half crosswise
1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, syrup, cayenne, black pepper and lime zest.
2. Put the bacon on a rack (in a single layer) on a rimmed sheet pan lined with foil for easier cleanup. Brush with the sugar mixture, flip, and brush the other side.Bake until the fat is rendered, the bacon is crisp, and the glaze is bubbly, about 30 to 35 minutes (rotate pan front to back if cooking unevenly after about 20 minutes). Let cool on the rack for 5 minutes before serving. Do-Ahead: Do not drain on paper towels; the bacon will stick. If made in advance, store on cool baking sheet lined with a fresh piece of parchment paper for up to 2 hours. If desired, serve upright in a glass (like breadsticks).

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Fig & Olive’s Zucchini Carpaccio – who knew raw zukes could be so délicieux!

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Sometimes it’s very simple combinations of ingredients that wow the palate; a bowl of perfectly seasoned olives teamed with sliced salami, or wedges of crisp sweet-tart apple paired with aged white cheddar.

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Or, in the case of Fig & Olive in Newport Beach, a stunning “carpaccio” made with raw paper-thin zucchini slices, buttery extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and toasted pine nuts. It’s a classic concoction with roots in the south of France.

Watch the short video and see the tricks. I tried making the carpaccio after delighting in it at the restaurant. My version was fine, but not nearly as good as the one overseen by the restaurants’ executive chef, Pascal Lorange. I was delighted when he consented to come to my home and show me the specifics while taping a video.

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To start, he showed me that the zucchini needs to be an exact size, the diameter of a quarter, not a nickel or a fifty cent piece. They need to be very thinly sliced, preferably by using a mandolin. He confessed that a vegetable peeler could also be employed to do the skinny slicing.

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The components, because there are so few, need to be perfect. The extra-virgin olive oil plays a crucial role. Lorange told me that for the carpaccio he prefers oil that is sweet and buttery, an aromatic wonder sourced from Portugal.

 

The tasty vegetarian treat may sing of summer, but it is just as delicious as a first course when the weather turns chilly.

Two culinary mentors: Lorange credits two European chefs with putting him on the right track, gastronomically speaking. First, the time spent in the kitchen with Francois Piscitello, chef-owner of Le Jardin des Begards in Liege, Belgium; there the innovative six-course set menus sparked his creative juices. And he credits his training at 18 with legendary three-star chef Georges Blanc in Vonnas, France (the heart of the Bresse countryside). There he learned the culinary fundamentals that are the backbone of his cooking.

Where are they? The local restaurant is in Fashion Island, Newport Beach. Other Fig & Olive locales include Chicago, New York City and West Hollywood.

Fig & Olive’s Zucchini Carpaccio
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound medium zucchini (diameter about the size of a quarter)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: To toast pine nuts, place in small dry skillet on medium heat. Shake handle frequently to redistribute pine nuts, cooking until lightly browned. Watch carefully because they burn easily.
1. Trim zucchini ends. Cut into paper-thin slices using a mandolin or vegetable peeler.
2. Arrange the zucchini slices, slightly overlapping, on a large, flat platter. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
3. In a small bowl whisk the olive oil and lemon juice. Just before serving, whisk the olive oil dressing briefly to blend it, drizzle it over the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, scatter the cheese and the pine nuts on top, and serve.
Source: Pascal Lorange, executive chef Fig & Olive restaurants

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…Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s…

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Sausage and lentils are a luscious combination, especially if you add apples and celery!

Use ready-to-use steamed lentils and this kind of dish is really quick to prepare. Look for them in the refrigerated deli section at Trader Joe’s, Gelson’s, Mother’s and Bristol Farms.

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Sausage with Warm Lentil-Apple Salad

Yield: 4 servings
4 sweet or hot Italian sausages
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 large Granny Smith Apple, finely chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
17 ounces cooked lentils
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or cider vinegar
1. Heat grill. Grill sausages on all sides until cooked through. Place on plate and cover with foil.
2. In large deep skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add shallots, apple, celery, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add lentils, mustard, broth and vinegar; stir to combine. Simmer on medium heat until celery and apple soften and liquid reduces slightly. Spoon into 4 shallow bowls and top each serving with a sausage and a sprig of fresh thyme or rosemary.

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The Best and Easiest Thanksgiving Throwback Recipes – Cranberry Mold and Pumpkin Pie

thanksgivingpumpkinmascarponepieA Throwback Thanksgiving menu – that’s the underlying theme of what fills many family’s feast-day tables. The backbone of the meal is made up of core dishes that kindle memories, culinary traditions that are part of what makes each family’s repast unique.

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Through three generations, the names of many dishes carried attributions with monikers that called-out the name of the family member that “invented” them and were responsible for providing the gems year after year. Those concoctions’ place on the table remains set in stone; dishes such as Mom’s Apple-Spiked Dressing, Aunt Mary’s Cranberry Salad, or Cathy’s Pumpkin Pie.

Reluctant to tinker too much with tradition, I’ve sought out ways to freshen up those classics, tweaking each dish just enough to build flavor and create texture contrast, without creating a lot of extra work.

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Aunt Mary’s Cranberry Mold Cuddles Fresh Berries: I know that gelatin has lost foodie status over the years, but this version boosts the flavor by replacing half of the water with whole cranberry sauce, and adds diced celery and coarse-chopped nuts for crunch.

In my aunt’s childhood, gelatin was considered rather fancy. It was considered a sign of wealth before the dawn of prepared “pre-granulated” gelatin in 1894 by Charles Knox (a little more than twenty years before Mary’s birth). Prior to that only members of the elite classes could afford it; wealthy families employed cooks to labor for hours, rendering gelatin from beef bones and clarifying it to make elaborate aspics, salads and desserts. They were dishes with a Downton Abbey kind of splendor.

I updated Mary’s salad by generously garnishing it with fresh berries tossed with a mixture of orange liqueur, agave syrup and fresh mint.

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Cathy’s Pumpkin Pie Facelift

Delicious, and glammed out with cut-outs made with extra pie crust, I found a way to make the pumpkin filling taste better. Adding mascarpone, the Italian-style cream cheese, adds creaminess and subtle nuttiness. And increasing the spice components, just a smidgen, increases the allure.

As for the crust, I’ve included the recipe here. But in truth, during the holidays I often resort to using prepared refrigerated rounds of pie dough. I ease them into glass Pyrex pie pans, crimp them to look homemade charming, and hide the dough boxes deep within the recycle trashcan.

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Pillsbury’s pie crusts contain lard. That gives the crust a dandy texture, but prevents me from using it due to the vegetarians at the table (they can’t eat the dressing or the cranberry mold, so I have to have a dessert that pleases them). I use thawed Trader Joe’s pie crusts; they are made using palm oil and butter as shortening.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Ask guests to help. It builds a warm feeling of community to give everyone a feast-job.

 

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Pumpkin Pie with Mascarpone Update
Yield: one 9-inch pie, about 8 servings
Crust (or substitute refrigerated pie crust):
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup chilled non-hydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup (or more) ice water
Filling:
1 cup canned pure pumpkin (not pie mix)
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese, room temperature
For serving: sweetened whipped cream
Cook’s notes: Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese; sold at many supermarkets (often stocked in the refrigerated deli with imported cheeses) and at Italian markets. To prevent dough from pulling in toward the center during baking, ease it into the pie pan, don’t stretch it. Often I cut the rolled-out dough in half down the middle, and then ease both halves into the pan. I close the seam by using two fingers to press it together. Whether or not you use the cut-in-half method, use your knuckle to press dough against side of pan where the bottom of the pie pan meets the sides.
1. If making crust from scratch: Blend flour and salt in food processor for 10 seconds. Add butter and shortening; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1/4 cup ice water; pulse until dough begins to clump, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough on floured work surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish (see cook’s notes). Trim overhang to 1 inch beyond rim. Crimp edges. Chill crust while making filling.
2. For filling: Using electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat pumpkin and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs and next 7 ingredients and beat until blended. Add mascarpone cheese and beat just until mixture is blended and smooth. Transfer filling to prepared crust.
3. Bake pie until custard is set, about 55 minutes. A tip for preventing crust’s edge from over-browning: Pie rings, made of aluminum or silicone, are gizmos made to fit over the edge of the pie crust. Often the edge of the crust starts to get very brown long before the filling is cooked. Check pies after 20-25 minutes of baking. If crust is nicely browned, place pie ring on top of crust and continue baking until filling is cooked. Remove ring with potholder.Transfer pie to rack and cool. DO AHEAD: Best served the day it is baked. But can be made 1 day ahead. Tent with foil and chill. Serve with whipped cream.
Filling facelift: Often pumpkin pies develop a crack or two in the filling during baking. For camouflage (just in case), you can cut leftover dough into leaves, twisted twig shapes or pumpkins; place in a single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush cut-outs with egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon heavy whipping cream). Try to keep wash on cut-outs, not dripping over the sides onto the paper. Bake in 350-degree oven until golden, about 10 minutes. Cool. Place on pie filling in decorative pattern. (This is also a way to make store-bought pie look homemade.) Source: adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

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Aunt Mary’s Cranberry Mold
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Large package (6 ounces) raspberry Jell-O
2 cups boiling water
1 (14-ounce) can whole cranberry sauce
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Garnish:
3 cups mixed fresh berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
1 1/2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier (or orange juice) mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons agave syrup
Fresh mint leaves
Cook’s notes: To avoid nuts and celery from floating to the top, chill the gelatin until thick (but not set) before adding them. My preference is to not worry about the nuts and vegetables floating to the top, because when the mold is inverted, the “jelly” part shows and looks pretty, plus when serving every scoop will have those components in it.
1. Combine Jell-O and boiling water in medium bowl; stir until completely dissolved. Add cranberry sauce; stir to combine and dissolve the “jellied” portion of the cranberry sauce (I use two big spoons and mash undissolved cranberry “jelly” between the spoons). Stir in celery and walnuts. Pour into ring mold or ornate crown mold. Chill until set. MAKE AHEAD: Can be prepared two days in advance, refrigerated in mold, well-sealed with plastic wrap.
2. To unmold, hold mold in warm water for 15 to 20 seconds; invert on plate. If it doesn’t unmold, repeat resting in warm water at 5 to 10 second intervals.Just before serving: In a medium bowl, combine blueberries and blackberries. Add liqueur mixture and gently toss. Add raspberries and use a clean hand to very delicately toss one time (raspberries are fragile). Arrange berries around mold and garnish with mint leaves. Source: adapted from Mary Kast, designer, watercolor artist

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