Irresistible Layered Bombay Spread Meets Newest SOMM Documentary

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Food and wine offer so many surprises. There is always something new to learn.

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Recently I joined longtime Huntington Harbour residents Darlos and Dave Cauble at their home for a sneak peek at Jason Wise’s new documentary, “Somm: Into The Bottle.”  It’s a follow-up to the 2012 “Somm.”

The new film rejoices in the history, joy, and repartee of wine told through opening ten very different bottles. The Caubles’ eloquent son, Ian Cauble, a certified Master Sommelier, is one of the stars. I enjoyed every minute.

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Several friends joined in the fun. Each guest was asked to bring an appetizer to share.

 

 

 

I brought my Bombay cheese spread, a layered concoction made perky with chutney, curry powder and assorted toppings. They ate every bite and begged for the recipe. So, here it is.

(The film is available on Netflix and iTunes.)

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Six-Layer Bombay Cheese
Yield: about 30 servings
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Garnishes:
1/2 cup mango chutney
2 tablespoons unsweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions (include dark green stalks)
1 1/2 tablespoons dried cranberries
For serving: water crackers and apple wedges, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: To toast nuts, place in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Place in 350-degree oven until nicely browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Watch nuts carefully because they burn easily. Cool.
To prevent apples from discoloring, place apple wedges in a bowl of cold water augmented with a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Allow apples to soak for a minute, then drain on clean kitchen towel.
1. Combine cream cheese, grated cheddar and curry powder in food processor fitted with metal blade. Whirl until smooth. Shape into ball or disc; wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm. Can be prepared to this point two days in advance of serving.
2. Unwrap cheese and place on serving tray. Dump garnishes on top of cheese ball, starting with the chutney and ending with the cranberries. (I garnished the top with a chive flower from my garden.) I like to assemble the spread in a shallow bowl, and then set the bowl on a larger platter to hold the crackers and apple slices.
Source: Jane Packer

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Cha Cha’s Short Rib Tacos, Cinco de Mayo or Any Time

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Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen in Brea is a Mexican cantina with a frisky vibe. At the heart of its allure are the boldly-flavored dishes and handcrafted drinks.

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The menu showcases unique twists on Latin American cuisine, modern takes on everything from wood-oven roasted Jidori chicken spiked with Yucatan spices, to the decadent caldo with a saffron-tomato broth rich in fresh seafood and toasted angel hair pasta.

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The Guajillo Braised Short Ribs are a favorite. Joseph Martinez, Cha Cha’s chef de cuisine, slow-simmers the meaty bone-in beef ribs in a made-from-scratch tomato based sauce accented with Guajillo and arbol chilies.

Tender and spiced with a just-right amount of ground cloves, cinnamon and cumin, Martinez uses the tender rib meat in a several dishes, including open faced enchiladas and tacos. Both of these dishes are garnished with crumbled goat cheese, arugula and crisp radishes.

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Gratefully Martinez agreed to share his recipe and show the step-by-step procedures for preparing his scrumptious tacos. In the video that we taped, he explained that when he makes the ribs at home, he cooks them in for six hours in a slow cooker, rather than braising them in the oven. Slow and easy. Home-style.

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The braising sauce … and the veg and chilies that go into it and make it luscious.

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A graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, Martinez started working the line at Cha Cha’s many years ago and in the process worked his way to the top with hard work and culinary creativity. His oh-so-popular Chipotle Honey Glazed Salmon along with those irresistible beef ribs became integral to the restaurant’s menu. Learning to trust himself was essential to his professional growth.

He lives in Brea with his wife Michaeleen and their infant son Ezra.

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Secret Talent: He is a pen and pencil artist, drawing a wide variety of subjects. He started drawing comics as a child.

Home Pantry: Tortilla chips, Jalapeno Kettle Brand Potato Chips and El Pato hot sauce are always on hand in his house. As well as the ingredients for chilaquiles and enchiladas.

Drink of Choice: hand- crafted Basil Hayden Bourbon. Neat.

Cha Cha’s Guajillo Braised Short Ribs
Yield: about 8
Cook’s notes: The sauce and ribs can be prepared two days ahead and refrigerated.

Sauce “Salsa” (for braising):
1 dried arbol chili, seeds and stem removed
5 dried Guajillo chilies, seeds and stems removed
8 medium tomatoes, cored
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large brown (yellow) onion, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, kosher preferred
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Spices: 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons water
Short Ribs:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 to 3 pounds thick bone-in beef ribs, excess (but not all) fat trimmed, patted dry
Salt and pepper to taste, kosher salt preferred
About 1 2/3 cups chicken broth
Tacos:
About 8 corn tortillas
Baby arugula
Crumbled goat cheese
Radishes, watermelon radishes preferred, cut into julienne strips
Limes, halved or cut into wedges
1. Prepare sauce: Adjust oven rack to 6- to 8-inches below broiler element and preheat broiler. Place tomatoes in a single layer on one side of a rimmed baking sheet. Scatter garlic and onions on opposite side. Broil until lightly browned, about 4 minutes; add chilies on top of onions and return to broiler. Broil until chilies are browned (keep an eye on them to prevent burning). Place in large blender. Add salt, sugar, cilantro, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and water. Blend until smooth.
2. Prepare meat: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large deep ovenproof skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add ribs and deeply brown ribs on both sides. Cautiously add broth (it may splatter) and enough of the pureed sauce to generously cover meat. Cover skillet and place in preheated oven for 3 hours (or put mixture in a slower cooker on low setting for 6 hours). Remove meat from bones, breaking it up. Mix it with some of the sauce that it was cooked in (enough to coat and moisten the meat).
3. Heat tortillas on both sides over a gas burner. Top with meat, arugula, goat cheese and radishes. Garnish plates with limes. Serve. Source: Joseph Martinez, chef de cuisine at Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen
Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen, 110 W Birch St #7, Brea, CA 92821  714-255-1040

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The finished ribs … yum-oh-lah.

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THANKS, as always, to CURT NORRIS for the time and talent he uses to produce quality videos and beautiful photos.

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!

Sweet and Spicy = Delicious piquant-sweet melon.

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Use any ripe melon for this delicious dish. I like to serve this as a first course or as part of a showy buffet.

(Make the syrup in advance if you like, and then drizzle on the melon up to 30 minutes before serving.)

Spicy-Sweet Melon
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons seeded and minced serrano chili
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
2 large, ripe cantaloupe
1. In a small saucepan, make a chili syrup by combining the sugar and water over medium-high heat and boiling until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a small bowl and let cool. Stir in the chili, lime juice, mint, and bell peppers.
2. Cut the melons in half and remove the seeds. Cut into wedges or other interesting shapes and arrange attractively on 8 chilled plates. Drizzle about ½ cup of the chili syrup, or to taste, over all the melon. Reserve the remaining chili syrup for another use.

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Chef Shin Toyoda Perfects Sushi Roku’s Poke

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Shin Toyoda, head sushi chef at Sushi Roku in Newport Beach (Fashion Island), isn’t a matchmaker. Yet he knows of five couples who met while eating his sushi, twosomes who later married.

I imagine that the taste and appearance of his tantalizing fare inspired the strangers to chat, mentioning the refinement of flavors and the alluring texture contrasts, the colors and yes, the wow.

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Understandable how guests could fall in love at his sushi bar. Patrons, no doubt, with discerning palates.occhefShinSide

His poke (pronounced POH-kay) is an irresistible dish.

The concoction has Hawaiian roots, but has become a very popular dish in Japan. It showcases jewel-like cubes of chilled raw  tuna napped with a delectable Asian-themed sauce.

Chef Toyoda builds on the basics, adding just-right ingredients that bring judicious spicy heat and appealing crunch, along with a worthy dose of umami. Flavor bling.

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Sushi Starts: He trained in Tokyo before coming to the U.S. 30 years ago. He says that he is still training, revealing that learning never seems to be finished.

Homework: He lives in Redondo Beach and often spends his days off fishing in a sea kayak. Catch and release, the fun is more about relaxing and having time to think, rather than filling the fridge.

Roll Ups: Sushi rolls aren’t popular in Japan. He says that rice on the outside of those rolls doesn’t show the proper respect for the fish. Sushi hand rolls are preferred in his homeland.

Sushi Roku’s Tuna Poke
Yield: 2 generous servings
3 1/2 cups cubed (5/8-inch) sushi-grade big-eye tuna fillet (or ahi, yellowfin tuna or bluefin tuna)
1/2 cup Asian-style roasted sesame oil, plus 1 tablespoon, divided use
1/4 cup tamari, see cook’s notes
Chili oil to taste
About 1/4 cup drained sansai vegetables, see cook’s notes
About 1/4 cup ogonori (edible seaweed)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon wasabi paste
1 tablespoon golden tobiko (flying fish eggs)
Small amount of black lava salt to taste
Small amount of shichimi pepper to taste (also called togarashi)
About 5 cups cooked rice (white or brown), room temperature
Garnish: tiny spherical rice crackers (bubu arare)
Garnish: sliced dry nori (kizami nori)
Cook’s notes: Tamari is a type of soy sauce that is richer and thicker; most often it contains little or no wheat. Sansai vegetables are Japanese “mountain vegetables” that are often sold pre-cooked and typically are packaged in plastic packs in liquid at Japanese markets.
JAPANESE MARKETS: Mitsuwa, as well as Tokyo Central Market (formerly Marukai) – both in Costa Mesa, are two Japanese supermarkets in Orange County.
1. Place fish in a nonreactive bowl (glass or ceramic); drizzle with 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Toss.
2. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup sesame oil, tamari and enough chili oil to make the mixture a little spicy but not overpowering in heat. Stir to combine. Drizzle fish with about 3 tablespoons of mixture; gently toss. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.
3. Remove fish mixture from refrigerator. Add sansei vegetables, ogonori, sesame seeds, wasabi, tobiko, lava salt and shichimi pepper; toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
4. Divide rice between two bowls. Top with poke mixture. Sprinkle with rice crackers. Mound the kizami nori in the center of each. Serve.
Source: Shin Toyoda, head sushi chef, Sushi Roku, Newport Beach

Thank you, as always, to CURT NORRIS, for videos and photos.

COOK’S VISUALS: What does it look like?

Sansai vegetables (often sold in plastic bags with liquid)

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(above in cylindrical shaker) shichimi pepper (also called togarashi)

(below) kizami nori

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s! Asparagus and cheese are a marriage made in food heaven. Roast asparagus topped with crunchy Parmesan cheese is a favorite.

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Roasted Asparagus with Crunchy Parmesan

Yield: 4 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 bunches medium-sized asparagus, tough bottom portion of stems trimmed off
Coarse salt, such as kosher, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano cheese
1. Adjust one oven rack to bottom position, the other rack to a position about 6 inches below broiler element. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread asparagus out on large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil. Use clean hands to roll asparagus in oil to coat the entire surface. Arrange so that asparagus is in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt. Roast on bottom rack until tender-crisp, about 6 to 7 minutes.
2. Remove from oven and turn on broiler. Top asparagus with the cheese; place on top rack in oven over the broiler. Broil until cheese is browned and asparagus is tender but not squishy.cathythomascookslogoModified

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Chef-Restaurateur-Top Chef Star Amar Santana: A look back at his amazing breakfast magic

Amar’s Creamy Grits, Four-Minute Egg and Honey-Glazed Smoked Bacon

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‘Just can’t put into words how proud I am of super chef Amar Santana. Not only is he a highly successful chef-restaurateur, but he has used his talent and perseverance to work his way to the top on Bravo’s highly-competitive  “Top Chef” TV show.

Years ago, before he opened his restaurants (Broadway in Laguna Beach and Vaca in Costa Mesa), he was executive chef at the now-closed Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza.

 

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Have a look at the video we made so long ago (we both look younger).

His breakfast dish is so delicious I can’t imagine anyone leaving a single speck behind on the dish.

Pork is a reoccurring theme in many of his delicacies, so it was no surprise when he said that a quick treat that he often makes at home showcases bacon.

But not just any bacon, this is thick, hand-cut slices that are seared, then caramelized with honey.

Cut into crosswise strips, the irresistible meat crowns a four-minute egg nestled in  creamy cheese-boosted grits.

Amar’s Creamy Grits, Four-Minute Egg and Honey-Glazed Smoked Bacon
Yield: 4 servings
Salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
4 large eggs
5 cups milk or half-and-half
1 1/4 cups uncooked quick-cooking grits
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or canola oil
1 pound slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1. To cook eggs, bring a pot of water to a full boil (water should be high enough to completely cover 4 eggs). Add a pinch of salt and vinegar to the water. With a spoon gently lower eggs into the boiling water. Set timer for four minutes.
2.Meanwhile, bring milk or half-and-half to a simmer in a medium-size, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Gradually add grits, whisking constantly to prevent lumps; cook 1 to 2 minutes, whisking constantly. When timer rings, remove eggs with slotted spoon. Stir cheeses into grits and season with salt and pepper.
3. In large skillet heat oil on medium-high heat. Add bacon in single layer and brown lightly on one side, reducing heat if necessary. Turn bacon. Drizzle with honey. Cook until nicely caramelized, but not super crispy. Place bacon on cutting board and cut into 1/4-inch wide crosswise strips. Stir butter into grits and taste; adjust seasoning as needed. Peel eggs.
4. Divide grits between 4 shallow bowls. Top each with a peeled egg. Scatter bacon strips on top. Garnish with chives and serve immediately.

 

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Corned Beef Sliders, St. Patrick’s Day or Any Day

Chef Roman Jimenez knows that using the very best ingredients yields bigger flavors and better textures.  As executive chef at Macallans Public House in Brea Downtown, he advocates “from-scratch” cuisine.

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His irresistible Corned Beef Sliders showcase the best of the best. He corns his own beef in-house, a brine-then-sous vide operation. He makes his own pickles. And his scrumptious slider sauce is a thousand island-style concoction spiked with a just-right amount of sriracha hot sauce.

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Of course, home cooks can substitute high quality store-bought goods, such as Boar’s Head corned beef brisket and high-quality pickles. Before serving, just be sure to nuance the flavors and texture by heating the beef in a small amount of broth (a mix of chicken and beef broth). And the halved pretzel buns should be toasted until crisp and nicely browned. In butter, of course.

The salad-like sauerkraut garnish is luscious. It’s a combination of sauerkraut, green onions, chopped kale and slivers of red cabbage. When we shot the video at my house, Chef Jimenez also added chopped Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi.  Delicious crunch, indeed – a welcome texture contrast.

Slices of creamy Havarti cheese teamed up to turn these sliders into sandwich perfection.

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Make these, or swing over to Macallans – St. Patrick’s Day or any day. (If you decide to go to Macallans, be sure to also try their great Irish coffee and bread pudding that is rich with toasted challah and creme anglaise.)

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IrishCoffeeMacallansChef Roman Jimenez lives in Anaheim with his son, sixteen year-old “Little” Roman.

Fave Eats: Jimenez’ favorite local eateries include Playground, Santa Ana, and VIP Tacos, Anaheim. He comes from a family that appreciates great homemade food and says that his mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles always have something super delicious simmering on the stove. And he says that his mother has shown him that food is a powerful force that brings families together and changes lives.

In the Freezer: His home freezer always has ice cream, Bagel Bites and bones.

Favorite adult drink: Johnnie Walker Black, neat.

Binge Watch: Once on a rainy day off, he ordered a pizza and watched the Fargo TV series on FX. He was  intrigued at how crazy events change lives in different ways, even in small towns.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY AT MACALLANS:  A full day of festivities include live entertainment, Irish fare and libations at the Brea pub; preceding weekend will feature “St. Practice” promotions.  On Thursday, March 17, Macallans Public House (330 W Birch St., Brea Downtown) will host a lively St. Patrick’s Day celebration from 10 a.m.-2 a.m. A full day of festivities includes performances by live bands, DJ, a strolling bagpiper and Irish-inspired food and spirits. www.macallanspubbrea.com

Macallans’ Corned Beef Sliders
Yield: 12
Sauce: 1 cup high-quality mayonnaise (such as Best Foods), 1/2 cup yellow “ballpark” mustard, 1/2 cup chili sauce (such as Heinz), 1/4 cup ketchup, 1 small dill pickle (finely diced), 1 tablespoon pickle juice and 2 tablespoon sriracha hot sauce
2 tablespoons chicken broth mixed with 2 tablespoons beef broth
2 pounds sliced corned beef (if home-cooked, cut slices 1/4-inch thick against grain on the bias)
About 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 pretzel slider buns with soft interiors, halved
2 cups store-bought sauerkraut, from refrigerated deli case
4 trimmed green onions, thinly sliced
2 large kale leaves, chopped coleslaw-style
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage, cut into bite-sized pieces
Optional: small amount of shredded Brussels sprouts and/or kohlrabi
12 pickle slices (Jimenez’ homemade pickles are mild, crisp dills)
12 thin slices Havarti cheese
Optional: sandwich picks
1. Combine all sauce ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Stir again before using. Leftover sauce can be used for salad dressing or on burgers or other sandwiches.

2. Heat corned beef: In a large deep skillet on medium-high heat, heat the broths. Add corned beef and turning beef, cook until heated through; set aside.

3. Toast buns: Melt butter in large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add buns cut-sides down. Heat until nicely browned on cut sides. Remove and set aside.

4. For salad-like sauerkraut: In medium bowl, combine sauerkraut, green onions, kale and cabbage; toss.

5. Assemble. Spread sauce on both cut sides of buns. On bottom bun place one slice of pickle; top with Havarti, warm meat, sauerkraut mixture, and top bun. Repeat to make about 11 more sliders. If desired, secure each sandwich with a sandwich pick.

Source: Roman Jimenez, executive chef Macallans Public House, Brea Downtown

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s Produce … lettuce wraps

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My family loves these delicious lettuce wraps. Instead of ground pork, ground turkey comes to the party! They are flavor-boosted with 5-spice powder and hoisin sauce. Jicama, carrots and bell peppers bring added crunch.

Eat them like tacos!

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Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1/2 cup raw brown rice (I use Texmati long-grain brown rice)
2 heads of Bibb lettuce (Boston lettuce)
1 1/2 teaspoons Asian-style roasted sesame oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, cut into narrow crosswise strips
1/2 cup peeled, finely diced jicama
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon 5-spice powder
Garnish: shredded carrots and chopped fresh cilantro or fresh mint
1. Prepare rice according to package directions. Separate lettuce leaves; rinse in cold water and drain (I like to put them in a single layer on clean dish towels).
2. In a large deep skillet heat sesame oil on medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Add turkey and ginger; cook, breaking up meat with a spatula or sturdy spoon, until meat is cooked through about 5 minutes. Add rice, bell pepper, jicama, broth, hoisin sauce, and 5-spice powder. Cook, stirring occasionally, until broth is almost evaporated and vegetables are heated through. Place lettuce “cups” in single layer on a platter. Spoon filling onto lettuce; top with shredded carrots and cilantro or mint. Serve.

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Tomgirl Baking Company’s Florentine Bar Cookies Are Unsurpassed

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Wonyee Tom, executive baker and co-owner of Tomgirl Baking Co. in Huntington Beach, makes one of my very favorite bar cookies. The bars are rich in contrasting textures and flavors, their buttery crust supporting a treasure-filled topping.

Cream- and honey-spiked caramel dances between nuts and dried fruits, most often a generous mix of sliced almonds plus diced cranberries and apricots. Cooled and cut into bars, they look like jewel boxes: crunchy, chewy, sweet and tart nutty treasures.

In my kitchen I was able to see the exact color the caramel mixture should attain; it is a key step in preparing the bars. Tom describes it as “a light caramel color,” which is accurate, but seeing it in my kitchen (that readers can view in the video) is an invaluable gift.

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Tomgirl’s Florentine bars have loads of loyal fans, some who stock up weekly. At home, they cut the bars into smaller pieces, then ration them during the week (they can be stored airtight for up to a week).

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More than glamorous custom wedding cakes, more than cookies, tarts and cupcakes, Tomgirl Baking Co. is also a cafe that offers made-from-scratch breakfast and lunch. Jeff Littlefield – Tom’s partner in life and in business – is its chef. His ricotta pancakes, accompanied with blueberry compote, are addictive; those light and luscious flapjacks may well be the subject of a future story.

The competition: Joe’s Shanghai in New York is her favorite restaurant. She says it has the best soup dumplings, generously filled to the brim with delicious broth.

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Binge watch: She is glued to crime TV shows such as “Dateline” and “Narcos.” She also loves to watch tennis or any sport that is in season; she is still a New York Rangers fan.

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Cake trends: For years, smooth and fancy fondant icing has been en vogue, but now more rustic spatula-spread frosting is in style.

Best partners: She says she is a “warm-cold person.” She likes warm chocolate chip cookies or hot apple tarte Tatin paired with vanilla ice cream.tarttatin

 

 

 

 

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Tomgirl’s Florentine bars
Yield: about 9 bars
Sweet dough crust:
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
All-purpose flour for dusting parchment paper
Topping:
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds (not toasted)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) diced dried apricots
1 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup (1 ounce) all-purpose flour
3 1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) heavy whipping cream
Nonstick spray
1. In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar using the paddle attachment on medium speed until thoroughly combined and creamy. Add egg and mix until well-combined. Add flour and mix until dough comes together. Shape into rectangle and enclose in plastic wrap; chill overnight or at least 2 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-12-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (make the parchment a little larger than the baking sheet so you will have handles later to pull it loose from the pan). Roll out dough to fit sheet on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper; place dough in prepared baking sheet (if it is too cold to roll, let it sit 10 minutes at room temperature). Bake until golden brown in preheated oven, about 15-25 minutes. Remove from oven; do not turn oven off.
3. Mix together almonds, dried fruit and flour; set aside. In a medium-large saucepan with a heavy bottom, combine butter, sugar, honey and cream. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly with a metal spoon until you reach a light caramel color (heated to about 234 degrees). Remove from heat; quickly stir in nut mixture to combine and pour over baked crust. Using a metal spatula that has been sprayed with a nonstick cooking spray, spread topping evenly over the crust.
4. Bake in preheated oven until a bubbly caramel forms, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool to the touch (it should still be slightly warm). Lift out of pan and cut into rectangular bars.
Source: Wonyee Tom, pastry chef and co-owner, Tomgirl Baking Co., Huntington Beach

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!

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Chicken can make a delicious taco filling, but boneless, skinless chicken breasts can lack flavor bling. Chipotle chilies canned in adobo sauce can add both flavor and aroma to the poaching liquid. Serve the filling with warm tortillas, shredded cabbage (or lettuce), tomatoes and avocado. Add cheese if you like.

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Easy Chipotle Chicken Tacos
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons butter
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 minced canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce, about 2 teaspoons (or less if serving children)
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided use
1/2 cup orange juice
Optional: 1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 large breasts, cut in half lengthwise, or 3 smaller breasts)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
For serving: 14 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed, see cook’s notes
For serving: lime wedges, thinly sliced green cabbage, diced avocado and diced tomatoes, grated cheese
Cook’s notes: To warm tortillas, stack on microwave-safe plate. Cover with damp, clean dish towel. Microwave 60 to 90 seconds. Use potholders when removing from oven and open towel so that steam is directed away from you.
1. Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chipotle; cook about 30 seconds. Stir in 1/2 cup cilantro, orange juice, sugar if using, and Worcestershire. Bring to a simmer. Nestle chicken into sauce. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until temperature registers 160 degrees, 12 to 16 minutes, turning chicken half way through cooking. Transfer to plate and cover.
2. Increase heat to medium-high and cook liquid until reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in mustard. Using two forks, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to skillet. Add remaining 1/4 cup cilantro and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with warm tortillas, lime wedges, cabbage, avocado and tomatoes. If you like, top with grated cheese.
Source: adapted from “America’s Test Kitchen The Best Mexican Recipes” from the Editors at American’s Test Kitchen

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Easy Is Best: Simple Prep For A Few Delicious Favorites

CHOOSING THREE FAVORITES isn’t easy. The prep is easy, but with all my potential favorites whittling down the 2015 list wasn’t a cinch.favoritethins450

To narrow the field, rather than choosing dishes with long or hard-to-find ingredient lists, or dishes with culinary techniques that require time and dedication  

I selected dishes that are very easy to prepare and are superb for stress-free entertaining at home.

countryribstwo500Grilled Country-Style Pork Ribs – Sweet, Tangy, Luscious

I’m a longtime fan of grilled bone-in baby back ribs and spareribs. So enamored, I never ventured to the part of the meat counter that showcases the somewhat motley-looking assortment of country-style pork ribs. Those country-fied slabs look more like thick elongated chops, often displaying both light and dark meat, plus varied marbling. They are strips cut from the region where the loin meets either the blade or shoulder. Some have bones, others don’t.

I found out that they are quick to grill and have very rich flavor. Serve these easy-peasy “ribs” with some show-off salads; I like to serve a big green salad with loads of raw veggies, plus a grain-based salad made with farro, rice or quinoa.

Sweet and Tangy Grilled Country-Style Pork Ribs
Serves 4 to 6
4 teaspoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 pounds country-style pork ribs, trimmed, boneless preferred, but bone-in is ok
1/2 cup barbecue sauce, plus extra for serving, bottled sauce such as Bull’s-Eye Original Barbecue Sauce
1. Combine sugar, salt, chili powder, and cayenne in bowl. Rub mixture all over ribs. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
2. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent halfway. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes. FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burners to maintain grill temperature around 350 degrees.
3. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place ribs on hotter side of grill. Cover and cook until well browned on both sides, 4 to 7 minutes total. Move ribs to cooler side of grill and brush with 1/4 cup sauce. Cover and cook for 6 minutes. Flip ribs and brush with remaining 1/4 cup sauce. Cover and continue to cook until pork registers 150 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer ribs to serving platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve, passing (heated) extra sauce separately.
Source: adapted from “Cook’s Illustrated magazine

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 Alan Greeley’s Root Vegetable Carpaccio Salad

To describe this salad as visually stunning seems a bit of an understatement. The colors of the shave-cut root vegetables are so vibrant, the plate looks like a contemporary stain-glass window in full sun. The salad is the brainchild of Alan Greeley, chef-owner of The Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa. Super-thin rounds of radishes, beets, carrots and turnips fall onto large white plates fresh from a mandoline’s blade. Greeley ferrets out the most colorful roots he can find, both from visiting local farmers markets, as well as utilizing vegetables acquired at the Japanese market in downtown Los Angeles by his produce purveyor.

Salads change from one day to the next, depending on what is available. Often, it showcases slender slices of deep crimson carrots, French breakfast radishes, pompom turnips, canary golden beets, and candy cane beets. They scatter across the plate, raw and ice-water chilled. The final flourish is provided by watermelon radishes, those tri-color orbs that have pale green exteriors with bright fuchsia interiors ringed in white. The salad is judiciously dressed with simple vinaigrette.

“Women love this salad,” Greeley says. “They force the guys to eat it and they end up loving it too.”

Alan Greeley’s Root Vegetable Carpaccio Salad
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 red beet
1 golden beet
1 French breakfast radish
1 watermelon radish
1 rainbow carrot, deep maroon preferred, see cook’s notes
2 cups baby arugula
Dressing: 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup red-wine vinegar, 1 large shallot minced, 1 large garlic clove (minced), leaves from 1 sprig fresh oregano (minced), salt and pepper (to taste)
Garnish: Maldon sea salt flakes
Garnish: Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Cook’s notes: Because Greeley wants to keep the color on the vegetables’ exterior for definition, most often doesn’t peel them; instead he rubs them gingerly with a “green scrubby.” His favorite mandolin is the Japanese-made Benriner Super at Chef’s Toys in Fountain Valley ($49). He says that sometimes he adds a little Calabrian chili to the vinaigrette.
1. Soak vegetables in ice water for 2 hours. Pat them dry. Place four 12-inch white plates on the countertop. Using a mandoline, slice vegetable crosswise into very thin slices, allowing the slices to fall onto plates (some slices can overlap, but it is most dramatic to have most of the slices in a single layer). You’ll want to finish with the most colorful vegetables, such as the watermelon radish and maroon carrots.
2. Place arugula in medium bowl. In separate small bowl, whisk dressing ingredients together. Dressing will be tart and tangy. Spoon dressing vegetable slices to coat. Add enough of remaining dressing to lightly coat arugula; toss. Place small mounds of arugula in center of plates. Sprinkle with Maldon sea salt flakes and tiny drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Serve.
Source: Alan Greeley, chef-owner The Golden Truffle, Costa Mesa

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There wasn’t anything complicated about the three layer tray-passed appetizer that Yvon Goetz served at a late-summer reception at The Winery Restaurant in Newport Beach. Yet, guests gobbled them down and seriously jockeyed to get more. Goetz, executive chef-partner at the restaurant, teamed three elements that were in perfect harmony; sweet, herbal flavors balanced with tangy, plus a buttery crunch.

On top – peeled super-sweet cherry tomatoes (I suspected they were Sweet 100’s) that were slowly roasted in a combination of extra-virgin olive oil and herbs, and then brought to room temp. In the middle, thin slices of tangy Humboldt Fog cheese; that’s the alluring artisanal goat milk cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre that has the stripe of edible ash in the center; it’s floral and creamy with a mild citrusy finish. On the bottom, rounds of buttery rosemary-spiked ciabatta bread, toasted and cooled.

Yvon’s Confit Cherry Tomato and Humboldt Fog Canapes
Yield: 12 hors d’oeuvres
Rosemary ciabatta bread, cut into 3/8-inch thick slices
Melted butter, about 1/4 cup
12 sweet cherry tomatoes
Salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar
4 ounces Humboldt Fog cheese, cut into thin slices
Garnish: fleur de sel (fancy finishing salt) and chopped fresh basil
Cook’s notes: If you can’t find rosemary ciabatta bread, you can substitute a rustic white bread with or without rosemary. Humboldt Fog cheese is sold at cheese shops and supermarkets with large cheese sections, such as Whole Foods Markets.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a 2-inch circle cutter, cut out 12 rounds of ciabatta. Lightly brush both sides of bread with butter and place on baking sheet. Place in preheated oven and toast until lightly browned, turning as needed. Set aside and reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees.
2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil on high heat. Use a paring knife to make a shallow “X” on the bottom of each tomato. Place a bowl of ice water next to stove. Add tomatoes to boiling water and submerge for 3 to 4 seconds. Scoop up with slotted spoon and transfer to ice water. When cool enough to handle, slip off skin being cautious no to cut into flesh.
3. In a medium-large bowl, combine oil, thyme, garlic, basil, salt, pepper and sugar; stir to combine. Add tomatoes and gently toss. Place in a 9-inch baking dish; cover with aluminum foil and bake 60 to 90 minutes, or until tomatoes are slightly shriveled and soft to the touch without falling apart. Cool. (Tomatoes can be prepared ahead and refrigerated airtight up to 3 days.).
4. Evenly spread the thin slices of Humboldt fog on top of each toasted ciabatta. Remove the tomatoes from the excess oil and place atop cheese. Sprinkle with a little fleur de sel and chopped basil. Serve.
Source: Yvon Goetz, The Winery Restaurant, Newport Beach and Tustin

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Steak Au Poivre, Fan The Flambé with Chef Laurent Brazier

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The kitchen drama of flambéing is hard to beat. The ignited Cognac sends flames from skillet, a spectacle for guests and showoff cooks alike.


Steak au Poivre, the classic French dish that teams high-quality steak with loosely cracked peppercorns, is a great example. Once the steaks are cooked to perfection, the peppery coating providing a flavor-amped crust, the meat is set aside while the sauce is made; heavy whipping cream, shallots and demi-glace play an alluring role in the sauce, along with the Cognac that fuels the flambé.

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With a 32-year culinary career rich in impressive credentials and experience (including acting as the chef at 2- and 3- Michelin-star restaurants) French-born Laurent Brazier knows how to coax the best texture and flavor from Steak au Poivre.

Brazier is the executive chef-owner of Bistro Papillote inside SOCO’s OC Mix in Costa Mesa, and executive chef instructor at La Cuisine Culinary Arts located within Macy’s South Coast Plaza Home Store.

 

He cautions not to flambé if there is a microwave built over your stove (or anything combustible above your range). Next, always add the alcohol off the heat. Return it and tip it slightly towards the flame to ignite it, extending your arm during the tilt, your head well away from danger. Once ignited, let it cook just as long as there are flames. Longer, and the taste will suffer.

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My additional advice? For success and confidence, practice making the dish at least once before show time. And don’t wear anything that dangles loose when flambéing, such as a necktie or scarf. Everything needs to be tucked in and out of harm’s way.

 

Brazier’s Favorite Veg: Cauliflower, for its delicious versatility. Roast it, smoke it, or make a mousseline. It’s not a starch per se, but cooked and pureed, it is like mashed potatoes. cauliflowerroastedclose450Grilled Cauliflower Soup is delicious using cauliflower slabs grilled on the barbeque, and then pureed with vegetable stock and cream.

Culinary Hero: His father, Chef Maurice Brazier, who at 81 is still cooking professionally. He runs the catering department at the Anaheim White House, as well as teaching at La Cuisine Culinary Arts.

 

                                    Secret Talent: A DJ for weddings before becoming a chef.

recordFave Cocktail: Cuba Libre.

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Brazier’s Steak au Poivre
Yield: 4 servings
Four 6-ounce filet mignons, 1 1/4-inches thick or flat iron steaks or top sirloin steaks
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 4 tablespoons coarsely “cracked” black pepper, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup minced shallots (3 to 4 shallots)
1/2 cup Cognac or brandy
1 1/2 cup beef demi-glace or sodium-reduced beef stock, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Cook’s notes: To crack black peppercorns, place on parchment paper and press one side of a small, heavy saucepan on them. Preparing demi-glace is a time-consuming project at home. You can buy it. It is sold at Bristol Farms Markets, Williams Sonoma and Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa. If you use stock, you will need to thicken the sauce with a little cornstarch or arrowroot at the end of step #3; whisk it in and cook just long enough to thicken sauce. If cooking on an electric stove, you will probably need to ignite using a long fireplace-style match.
1. Place the filets on a board and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and then press cracked black pepper evenly on both sides. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil on medium-high heat Place the steaks in the pan and do not move them once there are down. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook the steaks for about 3 minutes on 1 side and then for 3 minutes on the other side. At this time, the meat is rare to medium rare (about 130 degrees testing on an instant read thermometer). If you desire to cook it more, place the pan in a preheated oven for 2 to 4 minutes to get the meat medium rare to medium. Once you have cooked the steak to your liking, place them on a plate on the counter. Do not cover with foil, and let the steak rest for 5 minutes while finishing the sauce. Remove the fat from the pan; add butter to pan. Add shallots; cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.
3. Off the heat, cautiously pour in Cognac; return to heat – extending your arm, tip skillet slightly to catch the flame – be careful- it will “flambé,” meaning flame. Reduce Cognac by half in volume or until the flame goes out. Add stock or demi-glace and cream; simmer sauce for 2 minutes on low heat.
4. Add steaks back in the sauce to reheat the meat. Serve with roasted potatoes (he likes yellow fingerling potatoes) and, if desired, a side of blanched French green beans (haricot vert).
Source: Laurent Brazier, executive chef-owner of Bistro Papillote inside the OC Mix in Costa Mesa, as well as the executive chef instructor at La Cuisine Culinary Arts

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 HERE’S A QUICK TIP FROM MELISSA’S!

I love Giada’s Shaker Salad.

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Limp greens and soggy veggies are often the fate of a made-ahead salad destined for the lunchbox. In Giada De Laurentiis’ newest cookbook, “Happy Cooking,” she provides a shaker jar strategy.

Start with a wide-mouth quart-size jar.

Giada’s Shaker Salad
Yield: 1 serving
1 tablespoon store-bought hummus
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup canned black-eyed peas, rinsed, drained
1/3 cup red seedless grapes, halved
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1 cup chopped radicchio or shredded green cabbage
1 cup loosely packed chopped romaine lettuce, about 2 leaves
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
1. In small bowl, whisk hummus, juice, oil and salt. Pour dressing into bottom of a wide-mouth quart-size jar or sealable container. On top of dressing layer: peas, grapes, celery, feta, radicchio or cabbage, romaine and almonds. Seal and refrigerate up to 6 hours.
2. When ready to eat, shake the jar to coat and mix the entire salad in the dressing.
Source: adapted from “Happy Cooking” by Giada De Laurentiis (Pam Krauss Books, $35.00)

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Hip Crannies: Delicious Cranberry Concoctions for Thanksgiving and Beyond

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Admit it. Cranberries used to be boring: just a ho-hum side dish that made its biannual holiday appearances and disappeared into culinary obscurity the rest of the year.

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CRANBERRY SPICE CAKE with CRANBERRY COMPOTE

More often than not, cranberries simply were dumped from a can, either jellied or sauce. Seems like mundane treatments for a berry so revered by Native Americans long before the arrival of the first Europeans.

These tangy berries deserve more respect.

cranberries460NickCakeWholeTHIS CAKE IS SO SCRUMPTIOUS!

Tantalizing salsas, chutneys and sauces appear more frequently on menus and in cookbooks. Glamorous cranberry desserts show off on dessert carts and bakery shelves. And many supermarkets offer bags of flash-frozen cranberries year-round.

To follow, some luscious cranberry-centric suggestions;

A formula for a luscious cranberry cake (can be prepared 3 days in advance – room temperature for cake, refrigerate compote), as well as a spicy-sweet-sour salsa that can breathe new life into turkey leftovers (can be prepared 2 weeks in advance without cilantro – refrigerated).

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PERKY CRANBERRY SALSA WITH TURKEY (OR CHICKEN) QUESADILLAS

The tartness of fresh cranberries pairs well with sweet, buttery baked goods. This sweet-tart cake is delicious for breakfast, or served as a holiday dessert accompanied with a sweet, maple syrup based cranberry compote.

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cranberrycakebattercranberryfinelychopCranberry Spice Cake
Yield: 8 servings
Cake:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
One 8-inch square baking dish
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh (or frozen, thawed) cranberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup apple cider or apple juice
Lemon glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Optional for serving: Citrus-Cranberry Compote, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: For the compote, finely grate zest from 1 orange and set aside. Using a sharp paring knife cut off peel and white pith from orange. Working over a small bowl, cut between membranes to release segments into bowl. In a medium saucepan, combine zest, 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries, 1 cup maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst, 5 to 8 minutes. Cool completely. Stir in orange segments. Cover and chill.
1. For cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat bottom and sides of 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom with parchment paper; coat paper with spray. Whisk flour and next 5 ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. Pulse cranberries in a food processor until finely chopped but not puréed; set aside.
2. Stir sugar, brown sugar, and oil in another medium bowl to blend. Add eggs one at a time, stirring to blend between additions. Whisk in sour cream, orange zest, lemon zest, and vanilla.
3. Whisk in dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with apple cider (or juice) in 2 additions and whisking to blend. Fold in chopped cranberries. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top.
4. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out almost clean, 60 to 70 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around inside of pan to release cake; turn out cake onto rack. Peel off parchment paper, then flip cake and let cool for 20 minutes.
5. For lemon glaze: Whisk powdered sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl. Spread glaze over warm cake, allowing it to drip down sides. Let stand until glaze becomes crackly, about 1 hour. Serve at room temperature, with compote spooned next to it.
DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. Compote can be refrigerated up to 3 days.
Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

Cranberry Salsa is a blend of sweet, spicy and tart flavors. It goes splendidly with Mexican food made with leftover turkey; enchiladas, tacos or simple quesadillas taste glorious with a spoonful of Cranberry Salsa on top. Preparation is easy; all the ingredients are placed in a food processor and pulse-chopped together.

Cranberry Salsa
Yield: 3 cups
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded, coarsely chopped
1 fresh jalapeno chili, seeds and veins removed, minced, see cook’s notes
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 cup washed and drained cilantro, coarsely chopped, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Wash work surface and hands thoroughly upon completion; do NOT touch your eyes. If you want to prepare this salsa in advance, do not add the cilantro. The cilantro becomes slimy after a day or two. Add the cilantro just before serving.
For turkey quesadillas, work in batches. Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet on medium; place 1 flour tortilla in the skillet. Top with 1 teaspoon finely diced red onion, 1 to 2 tablespoons shredded cheese (such as the packaged 4-cheese Mexican shredded cheeses) and shredded cooked turkey. Top with more cheese and second tortilla. Cook for 2 minutes, until golden, then flip over and cook a further 1 to 2 minutes until the other side is golden and the cheese has melted. Transfer to cutting board and cut into 6 wedges.
1. Place all salsa ingredients in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; pulse until ingredients are coarsely chopped.
DO AHEAD: Can be stored without the cilantro, airtight, up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

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Chef David Pratt’s Salmon Baked in Paper, en Papillote Drama and Flavor Wow

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David Pratt, executive chef-owner of Brick in San Clemente, says that cooking “en papillote” is an easy, delectable and make-ahead way to cook fish when entertaining at home.

It’s the classic technique that bakes ingredients sealed in a parchment-paper pouch. Each parcel contains one serving, and as it cooks the food inside steams in its own juices.

Toward the end of baking, each packet balloons into an alluring golden dome. Packets are slipped onto individual plates, and each guest tears or cuts open the package at the table, filling their nostrils with the aroma of fragrant steam.

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Wild Alaskan salmon fillets are a Pratt favorite.

Before enclosing them in parchment, he pairs them with thinly sliced fennel, fruit, tarragon and black rice (often dubbed “forbidden rice”).

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Because the packets cook quickly, he uses a mandoline to cut the raw produce into very thin slices.

ploutsHe used pluots the day we taped a video in my kitchen; that fragrant stone fruit, a cross between apricots and plums, added color and sweet-sour vibrancy to the dish. In fall or winter, he suggests substituting peeled citrus segments. And maybe some shelled fava beans.

 

Before opening Brick three years ago, he was the General Manager of Studio at the Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach. But it was his work at Mirabeau that first brought him into the local spotlight. Between 2002 and 2006, he was the executive chef and co-owner of that authentic French bistro in Dana Point.

A father of three, his wife Jaimie is an ER nurse at Hoag Hospital. They live in Capistrano Beach.

Culinary Mentor: His early career included experience as executive sous chef for Julian Serrano at the acclaimed Picasso Restaurant at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He grew to appreciate Serrano’s minimalism. Rarely were there more than a handful of ingredients used to create a dish. His theory – food should be easy to recognize and easy to enjoy.

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The Competition: Flour+Water in San Francisco is one of his favorite restaurants. As with Brick, the eatery is recognized for its made-from scratch pasta and wood-fired pizzas. He says that he is envious of their creative freedom when it comes to making pasta dishes.

Never been to BRICK? Here’s a video that Curt Norris and I made that shows what the restaurant looked like before Pratt redesigned it, AND what it looked like after it opened.

Folding the parchment to enclose the fish and its ingredient sidekicks isn’t difficult, but it is hard to visualize without seeing it. Watch the video. Once you see how easy it is, the make-ahead technique will be yours. Chef Pratt used a 16-by-24-inch sheet of parchment, but you can use a smaller (more common size) of 12-by-16 1/2-inches (just make the folds a little smaller). If you can’t find black rice substitute wild rice or basmati.

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Pratt’s Salmon en Papillote (Salmon en Cartoccio)
Yield: 2 servings
2 sheets parchment paper – about 16 1/2 by 12 inches
4 teaspoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup cooked riso venere or forbidden rice (black rice)
Two (7 to 8 ounces each) salmon filet, lightly seasoned with salt
1/4 medium-size white onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup very thinly sliced seasonal fruit, such as pluots, plums or fava beans or peeled citrus sections
1/4 fresh fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2-3 sprigs of fresh tarragon, leaves finely chopped
Splash of dry white wine
1 teaspoon Pernod (licorice-flavored liqueur)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Fold each parchment sheet in half (like a book). Open parchment. Spread butter (or oil) in a small area next to the fold on one side of each sheet (about 4-by4-inches). Place rice next to fold (on the butter) in an elongated rectangle the same length as the salmon. Place salmon next to rice.
2. In a medium bowl, toss onion, fruit, fennel, juice and tarragon; spoon mixture between rice and fish. Add wine and Pernod on top and around fish on paper, keeping it next to and on ingredients (do not let run off paper). Add a little salt and pepper.
3. Watch the video; it’s easy once you see the steps. Brush egg yolk around edge of paper and press to seal like a closed book. Fold parchment to seal making several partially-overlapping folds (when complete each will be shaped like half of a heart). The first small fold should be at a 90 degree angle. Be sure each fold overlaps the one before it so that there are no gaps. The last fold needs to be folded 2 or 3 times. At this point it can be refrigerated up to 3 hours in advance.
4. Place paper onto rimmed baking sheet. Please baking sheet on stove (at high heat) for about 15 seconds, for liquids to heat. Immediately place into oven for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness of fish and desired doneness. Remove from oven and carefully transfer to plates. Open paper in front of guest (or have them do it).
Source: David Pratt, executive chef-owner Brick, San Clemenente

Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s

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Try this Turkish Breakfast, a cinch-to-make hummus paired with sliced tomatoes, cucumber, olives and whole-wheat toast.

Add a slab of watermelon and serve it for a luscious eat-every-bite dinner.

Or serve it as a communal first course – kind of a party platter.

Turkish Breakfast
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups cooked or canned garbanzo beans, drained (reserve liquid)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
2 tablespoons tahini, see cook’s notes
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground paprika or ground cumin (or both)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
6 tomatoes, cored, sliced
1 cucumber, peeled if you like, sliced
1/2 cup green or black olives, pitted
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
For serving: whole-grain toast, cut into triangles
Cook’s notes: Tahini is a paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds. It is sold at natural food stores and supermarkets with large specialty sections.
1. Combine the garbanzos, 1 tablespoon oil, tahini, juice, paprika (and/or cumin) and salt in food processor. Puree until very smooth, adding some garbanzo liquid if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning.
2. Arrange tomato and cucumber slices on large platter. Add olives and a large dollop of the bean mixture. Sprinkle everything with a drizzle of remaining 1 tablespoon oil, salt, pepper and parsley. Serve with toast.
Nutrition information (per serving using 1/3 cup hummus and 1 slice whole wheat toast): 299 calories, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 42 g carbohydrates, 10 g protein, 768 mg sodium, 8 g fiber
Source: “Eat Vegan Before 6:00” by Mark Bittman (Clarkson Potter, $26)

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