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 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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Fun Times with Zoodles, Vegetable Pasta Made with Spiral-Cutter Gizmo

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“Spiralize” has become a verb, at least in the lingo of spiral slicer enthusiasts. The spiral slicer gizmos, affectionately dubbed “zoodlers” or “spiralizers,” cut raw vegetables and fruits into thick or thin pasta-like stands (as well as wide ribbon-like strands or slices, an option out-shined by the first two).

Different shapes are achieved by using one of three blade options. Spaghetti size (blade 3 or C), fettuccine size (blade 2 or B) and ribbons of pappardelle (blade 1).

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Fans tout the gluten-free, lower carbohydrate qualities of substituting fresh vegetables for pasta, as well as the ability to make vegetable rice-like dishes by chopping stands just-so in a food processor.

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I use Sur La Table’s three-blade model ($35). The hand-powered lightweight gadget sticks to the counter via four suction cups. The handle held in one hand puts light pressure to push the fruit or vegetable towards the blade, the device cleverly stopping long before digits are in peril. The opposite hand turns the crank.

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It’s amusing and empowering, a small effort producing oodles of noodles tumbling in long spiraled threads from the blade. It sure made this zucchini bread a lot easier to prepare.

(Note that there is also a small OXO Hand-Held Spiralizer – about $15 – with only one blade that just cuts spaghetti-size strands with more effort and is limited to only a few produce varieties.)spiralzucchiniworking

spiralSaladBut zucchini noodles are plump with water. Chef Kelsey Kinser, author of “The Veggie Spiral Slicer” (Ulysses Press, $14.95) recommends lightly salting the strands and leaving them in a colander while other ingredients are measured out. Afterwards she gently squeezes out excess liquid (in small handfuls), and then sometimes follows with a 3- to 4-minute sauté. Serve immediately, especially if the zucchini noodles are napped with tomato-based sauce.

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Pesto sauce is delicious option for zoodles. Ali Maffucci, author of “Inspiralized” (Clarkson Potter, $19.99) pairs raw spaghetti-sized zucchini strands with basil pesto and halved cherry tomatoes. It’s a delicious made-in-minutes cold dish, thus avoiding excess liquid in the pasta bowl.

spiralbook2Other spiral-slicer heroes include potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, butternut squash (neck), apples, pears and English cucumbers. Beets, too – they are messy but delicious (try pickling the strands). Vegetables that denser and harder work too, but with less success and more effort, such as broccoli stems or large carrots.

The device is easy to clean. A rinse in cold water does the trick, and if anything proves a little stubborn, I have a vegetable brush at the ready. My spiral slicer hangs in my pantry.

 

Tips for “Spiral-izing” Success

  1. Cut partially (just half way) in half lengthwise if short lengths are desired.
  2. Choose fruit or vegetables that are as straight as possible.
  3. Get everything ready to go because veggie noodles or veggie rice cook very quickly.
  4. Half-moon shapes result when a vegetable moves off center. Stop and reposition vegetable to keep it centered. Or decide to be happy with half-moons.
  5. If you spiralize a vegetable with no breaks, they are amazingly long. Either cut them with kitchen scissors and knife into manageable lengths.
  6. If making “rice,” don’t overcrowd the food processor with the thin strands because uneven pieces will be the result.
  7. Steady pressure works best, but if the teeth of the crank bend because the vegetable is hard (such as sweet potato or butternut squash), ease up and check to make sure vegetable is properly aligned.

Zoodles with Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes
Yield: 3 servings
1 large garlic clove, peeled, see cook’s notes
3 cups fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 medium zucchini, spiralized with blade 3 (C)
3/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Cook’s notes: If you want to use store-bought basil pesto, skip the first step and the first seven ingredients. I like to add a small pinch of dried red pepper flakes to the pesto. Add prepared pesto to taste, generously coating the ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve this dish cooked or raw (cold), see Step #2.
1. For pesto: With machine running drop garlic in food processor. When minced add basil leaves and process until chopped. Add pine nuts, olive, salt, pepper and cheese. Process until mixture is coarsely ground and paste-like.
2. Cold or hot: Serve the zucchini raw as a cold dish or for a hot dish, lightly salt the zucchini strands and set in a colander for about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry. Spray a nonstick skillet with nonstick spray. Add zucchini and cook about 3 to 4 minutes on medium-high or until wilted and cooked through. Remove from skillet with tongs (leaving any liquid behind) and place in bowl; toss with pesto and tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning; serve.
Source: adapted from “Inspiralized” by Ali Maffucci (Clarkson Potter, $19.99)

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Salad with Apple “Noodles,” Asparagus and Pecans
Yield: 2 servings
Dressing:
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon minced shallots
Salt and pepper to taste
Salad:
8 large asparagus spears, tough ends removed
1 to 1 1/2 cup packed clean watercress
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans, or nut of choice
1 apple, spiralized with blade 3 (C), see cook’s notes
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese, Gorgonzola preferred
Cook’s notes: To spiralize the apple, cut it in half from top to bottom leaving it unpeeled; place it skin side facing the blade (that way the seeds and core rest against the spiked edge, and the portion that doesn’t get cut is the core that is left behind).
1. Prepare dressing: Whisk dressing ingredients in medium bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning.
2. Shave asparagus: To shave the asparagus into thin strips, hold it on the work surface just below the tips. Use a shrivel-bladed vegetable peeler to make long slender strips, leaving the tips behind. If you like, blanch the tips as a special treat for the cook. Place strips in large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and vinaigrette; toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Source: adapted from “Inspiralized” by Ali Maffucci (Clarkson Potter, $19.99)

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Zucchini Bread
Yield: 1 large loaf, about 12 slices
Nonstick spray
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce, see cook’s notes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 medium zucchini, spiralized on blade 3 (C)
1 cup chopped hazelnuts, or nut of choice
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Cook’s notes: I use both applesauce and vegetable oil, but the author says that if you wish, use one or the other (either 1 cup oil or 1 cup applesauce). My favorite way to serve it is to toast it: lightly butter cut side of slice and place on sheet pan, and then broil about 2 minutes. It’s a perfect breakfast treat.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan with nonstick spray.
2. In large bowl, whisk flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda and sugar; set aside.
3. In small bowl, combine applesauce, oil, eggs and vanilla. Whisk with a fork until blended and eggs are well combined. Add to dry ingredients and stir until almost combined.
4. Using a spatula, fold in zucchini, nuts and chocolate chips. Place in prepared loaf pan. Bake in middle of preheated oven about 1 hour, or until a knife poked into center comes out clean of batter. Place on rack and cool 5 to 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool and store airtight.
Source: “The Veggie Spiral Slicer Cookbook” by Kelsey Kinser (Ulysses Press, $14.95)

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Zov and Louie Will Cook at the James Beard House in NYC

Many say that cooking at the James Beard House for a chef, is like performing at Carnegie Hall is for a musician.

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Zov Karamardian, executive chef-owner of Zov’s Bistro, Zov’s Cafes and Zov’s Anaheim, with join culinary director Louie Jocson on October 6th in New York City to cook in the former home of the late James Beard.

It is a special honor and a chef appears only by invitation. This will be Zov’s third time cooking for the prestigious event.

Known for her signature blend of Middle Eastern, Armenian and Mediterranean flavors, the team is sure to knock their socks off in The Big Apple.

How do  I know? I ate a “sneak peek” dinner that showcased each and every dish on the duo’s Beard Dinner!

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Four Appetizers: Kalamata-Shrimp Salad (wrapped in a thinly-shaved Watermelon radish).

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And …Salmon Kibbeh Nayeh, Skuna Bay Salmon with Bulgar (and red peppers and preserved lemon). Also Red Lentil Cakes with Red Pepper Paste and Armenian Cheese.

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Sea Scallop Crudo with Lemon Zest, Yuzu, Coriander Oil, Cucumber, Aleppo Pepper, Sumac … zovbeardseamicrogreenand sea microgreens (those luscious feathery sprigs).

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Jidori Chicken Meatball in Savory Broth with Rice and Spices

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Chermoula Salmon with Pickled Onion, Shaved Fennel and Lebni

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Lamb Shoulder Tagine with Pearl Couscous Risotto, Pan Jus, Roasted  Carrot and Urfa Biber

Still room for dessert? Come on, you can’t stop now!

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Banana Brulee with Caramelized Bananas, Custard, Salted Cardamom Butter Crust, Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream, Caramel Sauce

Lucky New Yorkers!

Lucky me!

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Moulin’s Croque Madame, Extraordinaire

 occhefLaurentCroque475Mais Oui, Ham and Eggs are More Than Breakfast

Oozing with melted Gruyere cheese-spiked béchamel sauce layered with thin-cut Parisian ham, the croque monsieur sandwich has been the menu star at French cafes for over 100 years. When a sunny-side egg is added atop the warm treat, it’s dubbed “croque madame,” the gender-change name fueled by the egg garnish. Seemingly it resembles a lady’s hat.

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The egg-topped version is an impressive bunch entrée, hangover remedy or any-time snack, especially the oh-so-generous version at Moulin Bistro in Newport Beach.


WATCH-IT VIDEO:  French-born executive chef Jeoffrey Offer joined me in my home kitchen to share secrets of his luxurious rendition, a generously-sized delicacy accompanied with a side salad of mixed greens napped with balsamic vinaigrette.

Offer started by preparing béchamel sauce, the basic French white sauce made by heating milk with a butter-flour roux. Set aside to cool, he cut thick slices of pain de mie, soft but not spongy white bread. It had a texture similar to the kind French bakers make in special covered molds. He recommended that home cooks substitute Pullman bread or dense-not-squishy sandwich bread.

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After toasting one side of the two slices of bread, two hearty sandwiches were layered with cold béchamel, grated Gruyere and ham (jambon de Paris). In the oven the tops would brown beautifully, offering texture contrast as well as visual appeal. Meanwhile, eggs were masterfully and patiently cooked so that the whites were set and uniformly opaque without any brown edges. The yolks were delightfully runny.

Chef Offer says that his goal is for Moulin’s guests to leave feeling that they had a great meal as well as a truly memorable experience.

Look It Up: His favorite cookbook is Auguste Escoffier’s “Le Guide Culinaire,” but recently Alain Ducasse’s latest book has caught his attention. “My Best: Alain Ducasse” (Ducasse, $19.95) features recipes that defined the acclaimed chef’s career.

Best Veg: Artichokes are a favorite due to their taste and versatility. Enjoy them raw or cooked. Puree them in soups or add them to salad.

Ooh-Lah-Lah Info: Asked about something that most people don’t know, he referenced the color of his underwear. Blue.

Moulin Bistro’s Croque Madame
Yield: 2 servings
Béchamel sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg, or to taste
Sandwich:
4 thick Pullman bread slices (or pain de mie or dense sandwich bread)
Clarified butter or olive oil, see cook’s notes
2 cups cold béchamel sauce
6 ounces Emmental, or Gruyère or Swiss cheese, grated (3 ounces per sandwich)
6 ounces jambon de Paris (or another type of thin-sliced ham that is not smoked or flavored with honey)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons fresh herbs (chives, or a combination of chives and parsley)
2 tablespoons of either clarified butter (preferred) or olive oil or butter to coat pan
Cook’s notes: To clarify butter, heat 1 stick unsalted butter in saucepan over very low heat; simmer gently until foam rises to top. Off heat, skim off the foam with a spoon. Line mesh strainer with cheesecloth or gauze and set over heatproof bowl; pour butter in strainer.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare béchamel sauce: Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, blend in the flour with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until butter and flour foam together for about two minutes (do not brown). Add remaining béchamel ingredients and whisk until boiling. Reduce heat to low, simmer gently stirring occasionally until sauce thickens. Cool and chill.
2. Toast two slices of bread in a skillet on one side with enough clarified butter to barely cover surface. These will become the bottom slices of the croque madame – with the toasted side facing up. Spread a generous layer of béchamel sauce on the toasted side; top with ham and 1 ounce of the cheese on each (the remaining cheese is for the top of the sandwich). For the top slice of bread, spread a thin layer of béchamel and place béchamel side down on the sandwich. Top the sandwich with another generous layer of béchamel and sprinkle top of each sandwich with the remaining cheese. Place on rimmed baking sheet.
3. Place in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until nicely browned and piping hot.
4. Meanwhile, heat clarified butter or oil in a pan over medium heat and cook the eggs sunny side up. Remove from heat when the egg white is just opaque and the yolk is still runny. Using a spatula, place one egg on top of each sandwich. Chop herbs and sprinkle on top of the sandwich.
Source: Jeoffrey Offer, executive chef Moulin Bistro, Newport Beach

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!

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Asparagus in one of the most nutrient dense vegetables that grows on the planet.

I love it in this tasty stir-fry along with chicken tenders or chunks of chicken breasts or chunks of chicken thighs! Often instead of rice, I serve it atop farro (delicious heirloom wheat – chewy and delicious).

Chicken Tenders and Asparagus Stir-Fry
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided use
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces, patted dry
3 green onions, trimmed, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1. Heat vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil in wok on high heat. Add asparagus and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. Add chicken; cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except nuts. Cook 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in nuts. Serve with cooked rice, farro or serve solo, as is.

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Full-Fat Leads the Way, Yogurt Fans

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FULL-FAT yogurt is a game changer.

Thicker, creamier, and more alluring, its luxurious texture and flavor  … enables it to masquerade as ice cream or sour cream, the plain unflavored style edging out more complicated savory toppings on dishes such as couscous, pureed soups or spicy braised chicken. Yogurt-based marinades make meat tender, juicy and beautifully browned.

Sales of full-fat yogurt are soaring, with increasing varieties of the whole-milk superstar lining up side by side in dairy aisles. With either Greek-style thick or softer standard yogurt, the milk fat contributes a seductive mouth-feel and butter-like richness.

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Janet Fletcher, author of “Yogurt” (Ten Speed, $19.95), specifies that the plain yogurt used in most of her recipes shouldn’t be nonfat. Often she calls for whole-milk yogurt, but a low-fat product can be substituted in many of her recipes.

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“Whole-milk yogurt is richer, smoother, and fuller in body,” Fletcher says. “Reduced-fat yogurt tends to be tangier, chalkier and less silky … Milk fat balances yogurt’s acidity in the way that cream softens coffee.

Calorie-wise, no biggie as an ingredient:

“Almost any dish will taste better if made with a whole-milk yogurt, and the calorie difference per serving is minimal. In a recipe that serves four that uses one cup of yogurt, choosing a whole milk product over nonfat raises the calorie count by about 50. When divided four ways that’s a modest investment in better texture and taste.”

Drained or spun, pure or augmented:

Many manufacturers use filtration to concentrate the milk before it is cultured, or they centrifuge it to eliminate the whey after the fermentation process. Some add cornstarch, powdered milk protein or whey protein. Many add stabilizers, such as pectin or tapioca starch. Fletcher says that it isn’t harmful but she doesn’t like the pudding-like texture it renders.

She looks for yogurt labels that list just milk and active cultures.

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The best: She often prefers the softer texture of plain standard yogurt rather than Greek-style that she says is too thick. She prefers to cook with home-drained yogurt, especially in salads. Home draining allows her to control the thickness (see recipe).

There is an exception. She sites Straus Family Creamery’s Greek-style organic yogurt as an exception to the “too-thick” categorization. She says that she loves it, explaining that it is made with just milk and cultures. No additives. And as for sugar, she says that most flavored yogurts have it.

Is it alive? Extending shelf life makes sense for manufacturers, but pasteurization after it is cultured to accomplish that extended goodness, kills most of the probiotics. Those health-promoting bacteria benefit digestive heath.

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Yes, yogurts with active cultures are made with milk that is pasteurized, but it is cultured after that process. The label will reveal if the yogurt contains live and active cultures.

OC chefs embrace full-fat yogurt as a rising culinary star:

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Raj Dixit, executive chef of Stonehill Tavern, Dana Point, uses it in savory and sweet dishes.

He uses it to cut some egg yolks and unnecessary oil from his kale Caesar dressing, advising that it adds nice acidity and helps the body to digest minerals from the kale.

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Azmin Ghahreman, executive chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, uses full-fat yogurt at his restaurant, but utilizes nonfat in the school lunches prepared at for Sapphire at School, the school lunch program he orchestrates. For the restaurant he prepares zahtar-dusted lamb sirloin served with a yogurt-tahini sauce. He also makes a dried wild shallot spiked yogurt mixture as a garnish for grilled meats or a dip for lavosh crackers.

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Zov Karamardian, executive chef-owner of Zov’s Bistro and Bakery in Tustin (plus eateries in Anaheim, Newport Coast, Irvine and John Wayne Airport) uses full-fat Greek-style yogurt in her mezze platters as an Aleppo pepper-topped dip served with a wide variety of Eastern-Mediterranean appetizers. She also uses it as the base of marinades for her chicken kebobs, and to temper the broth for a dumpling dish called manti.

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Harissa-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Peppers
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup plain drained yogurt (page 22) or Greek-style yogurt (not nonfat)
1/2 cup coarse harissa paste, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin
2 large red bell peppers, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
2 large gold or yellow bell peppers, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
Cook’s notes: Harissa paste comes in tubeslike toothpastebut Fletcher’s favorite brand is a jarred oneLes Moulins Mahjoub Organic Traditional Harissa Spread. The recipe includes hot red peppersun-dried tomatoolive oilcarawayand garlic. If you can’t find harissa pastepurchase dried harissa powder from a spice shop and add enough extra-virgin olive oil to make a paste. Ask the merchant about the ingredients in the powder. If the blend doesn’t contain ground carawayadd a good pinch. Look for Les Moulins Mahjoub harissa in specialty foods stores that sell Mediterranean products. It is also available from several online sourcesincluding Zabar’siGourmetMarket Hall Foodsand Bklyn Larder.
If your menu includes several other dishes, figure one chicken thigh per person. Otherwise, you may want to allow two thighs per person. The roasted chicken benefits from a brief rest to allow the juices to settle.

1. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, harissa, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Add chicken; use rubber spatula to coat chicken all over with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.
2. Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
3. Toss sliced peppers and onions together. Season with salt and make a bed of the vegetables in the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer. Using rubber spatula redistribute marinade so that it evenly covers both sides of chicken, and then place chicken on top of vegetables. Bake until chicken is well browned on top and the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
4. Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Using tongs, toss the vegetables to coat them evenly with the drippings from the chicken, and then place them on the platter with the chicken. Serve immediately.
Source: “Yogurt” by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed, $19.95)

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Fresh Pineapple Lassi
Yield: 1 serving
3/4 cup diced fresh pineapple, preferably chilled
1/2 cup plain drained yogurt or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 thin slice peeled fresh ginger, about 1/4-inch thick
2 ice cubes
Cook’s notes: Ripe fresh pineapple makes an irresistible lassi, with creamy body, bracing acidity, and natural sweetness. A quarter-size coin of fresh ginger gives it a kick. If you have the pineapple already prepped in the fridge, this lassi takes all of two minutes.
1. Put all ingredients in blender; blend until drink is smooth and frothy and you can no longer hear the rattling of ice. Pour into glass and serve immediately.

Fletcher’s Drained Yogurt
She often drains yogurt, especially homemade yogurt, even if only for an hour (not Greek-style yogurt that is already drained). Draining dramatically improves the texture, making any yogurt thicker, creamier, and mellower by removing whey. Draining also extends the yogurt’s life by removing water and lactose. Reducing the yogurt’s lactose deprives bacteria of their food source. And if you are lactose-sensitive, you should find drained yogurt more digestible.
To drain homemade yogurt, chill it thoroughly first until it is firm. You can drain it as soon as it is cold. Store-bought yogurt has already been chilled, so you can drain it immediately after opening.
Line large sieve or colander with triple thickness of dampened cheesecloth or—her preference—with Plyban, reusable cheesecloth made from a food-grade resin (Plyban’s weave is tighter than cheesecloth, so you don’t need multiple layers, unless yogurt is very thin).
Set sieve or colander over a bowl to collect whey. Gently pour yogurt into the lined sieve or colander. Cover with a plate or cloth—you’re just protecting the yogurt, not pressing it—and refrigerate. Drain yogurt until it has the consistency you like. After an hour, it will be noticeably thicker, and she usually stops at that point. Scrape drained yogurt into a clean container, cover, and refrigerate. (Wash cheesecloth or Plyban well in hot, soapy water; rinse well and air-dry). You can usually get two or three uses out of cheesecloth before it frays. Plyban is much longer-lasting and easier to clean. If you drain the yogurt more than you intended, no problem. Simply whisk some of the whey back in until you have a texture you like. To keep the whey, pour it into a glass jar and refrigerate; it has many potential uses. Source: adapted from “Yogurt” by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed, $19.95)

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

 Roasted Vegetables with French Feta and Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is scrumptious!

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

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

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