Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Soup for Special Occasions

The night before I left for Connecticut to spend the holidays with my family, my boyfriend made me an incredible dinner. I came home from work and there was a fire in the fireplace and hot soup ready for consumption. Needless to say, I adore him. The soup could have tasted terrible and I still would have appreciated the gesture. It didn’t though. It was quite possibly the best soup I’ve ever had. He made mushroom brie soup.

The recipe is from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (Sherried Brie and Mushroom Soup). He adapted it so that it was veg-head friendly for me - subbed veggie broth for the beef broth and used assorted mushrooms instead of just cremini.

He paired the soup with a sandwich that was on the lighter side (toasted sourdough, herb butter, tomato and mashed avocado) and we toasted to the holidays with Rhinoceros beer from Telegraph in Santa Barbara. It couldn’t have been a better send-off and start to my holiday.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Hot Sandwich for a Cold Day

With temperatures that are predicted to be in the single digits tomorrow, you can bet that I’m thinking about warm comfort food. The kind that will make you forget how cold it is outside.

I am at home in Connecticut with my family for the holidays and reminiscing about one such dinner I had in LA on November 11th. I received my e-mail from Love and Olive Oil and just had to go home and make their Carmelized Onion, Apple and Blue Cheese Panini.

This sandwich was delicious, but I have to say that I think a panini press (or maybe George Foreman Grill?) would make a difference. Since we made ours in a frying pan, the blue cheese didn’t quite melt. The sandwich was good but probably even better when pressed.

Am I also thinking of a New Year’s Resolution? Yes. Be a better photographer of my food in 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

So before Food Network magazine had 50 Holiday Cookies and Mashed Potatoes 50 Ways, there was 50 Easy Soups. I looked through all of my favorite cookbooks to find a butternut squash soup recipe to make for my last dinner with Jillian (well for a while at least). Jillian is moving home to Michigan to save up money before she travels around the world volunteering as a teacher for children in need. For more on that, check out her blog She’s amazing to say the least.

Food Network magazine came to the rescue and I consulted their 50 Easy Soups booklet for inspiration. I made the Butternut Squash Sage Soup.

Saute 2 diced shallots and chopped fresh sage leaves in 4 Tablespoons of butter until soft. Add salt, pepper, 2 pounds of diced butternut squash 3 1/2 cups of vegetable broth and 1 1/2 cups of apple cider. Simmer until tender, then puree in food processor or with your immersion blender (I’m jealous if you have one). Add nutmeg (a couple shakes) and top with creme fraiche or sour cream and fried sage leaves.

Jillian and I enjoyed our soup with grilled cheese topped with fresh avocados from my backyard. YUM!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Carrot Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting

I keep all of my recipes in a blue binder with a white paper inserted in the front with the print out “Recipes”. The recipes are in the binder (some in the three-ring, some I still haven’t put away since I used them last). The recipes are in Xerox paper protectors because, let’s face it, I’m not a neat cook. With the paper protectors I don’t have to worry about stray batter, juice or whatever else manages to escape from the mixing bowl, food processor or frying pan.

My carrot cake recipe is one that definitely appreciates the paper protector. I have made this cake countless times and at this point, I’m not sure I need the print out at all. It has batter and frosting remnants all over it and almost every time I use it, I run it under the faucet.

Whenever we have a birthday in my office, I make a cake and at this point they have ruled out any other cake possibilities. Triple-layer Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting is their favorite. Thank goodness for those paper protectors.

Recipe via Epicurious (originally from Bon Appetit)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vanilla Bean Bliss

I had my friends Mary and Frank over for dinner last night and I made Giada de Laurentis' Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto. I made this dish last year when I had an accident with a pairing knife and only had one hand to work with. It was convenient that Trader Joe's had pre-cut butternut squash and onion. In my first one-handed attempt of this recipe, I didn't put in the effort to buy a vanilla bean and certainly couldn't cut one in half, let alone remove the beans. I added a little bit of vanilla extract to substitute the bean, but it didn't come close to the gorgeous flavor that occurred from using the bean last night. When making this recipe, accept no substitute, use the bean.

I made the spinach and pear salad with hazelnuts and goat cheese. Chocolate cake with homemade peppermint stick ice cream for dessert.

Monday, December 7, 2009

2nd Round of Food Network Mashed Potatoes

I’m working through the Mashed Potatoes 50 Ways from Food Network Magazine slowly but surely and I finally did my second round on Friday. I went with the Smoky variety. They were the regular mashed potato recipe with a mound of Smoked Gouda cheese and green onions stirred in. They were delicious! (and went really well with the Avery IPA Roman brought over).

Wasn’t sure what to make with the potatoes but I went with Heidi Swanson’s mushroom pocket tarts and roasted asparagus. For the mushroom tarts I sauteed baby bellas with cremini and porcini mushrooms in olive oil with shallots, garlic and Parmesan cheese. I bought a package of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry and sandwiched the mushroom mix in between two square pieces of pastry. I roasted the asparagus with smashed garlic and salt and pepper and topped with Parmesan cheese before serving.

A great start to a busy weekend!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Yard

I am kicking myself for forgetting my camera last night. I was treated to dinner at The Yard and wished I could have taken pictures of my delicious meal.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Chef Chris “CJ” Jacobson in action after watching season 3 of Bravo’s Top Chef. He is in fact as tall as I imagined. Towering over customers at 6’3” as he delivered dishes and greeted friends. Since we didn’t have a reservation, we were seated at the community table. When I revisit The Yard, I think I’ll call ahead.

While I was unimpressed by the wine I ordered, the food was wonderful. We started with a cheese plate courtesy of Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica (a must visit for their wine/cheese or beer/grilled cheese tastings!). We had a cheese similar to Gouda and then a soft blue cheese. I loved both selections and enjoyed dipping salted walnuts in a pool of honey, spreading the cheese on the pretzel-like bread and snacking on the slices of pear and pomegranate seeds before our next little plate.

Our chocolate persimmon and mushroom risotto plates were delivered at the same time and while the risotto was great (perfectly creamy with hints of citrus) the persimmon dish was the highlight of the night. The persimmon was quartered and roasted with chunks of burrata in between each slice. It was topped with chocolate shavings, the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted and chopped roasted almonds. I would go back just to eat this dish.

Overall I was really impressed with The Yard. Dont’ go too hungry though if you don’t want to break the bank…Roman and I ended up stopping at In-And-Out on the way home for some grilled cheeses, fries and Neapolitan shakes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Giving Thanks...Again

I was fortunate to have two Thanksgiving celebrations this year. The first with my boyfriend and the second with my girlfriends up in Idyllwild, CA. We made most of our food in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, but cooked the main event (the turkey of course) up in our little cabin oven. I scoured books and recipe sites for ideas and did a little improvisation as well. Here was our menu:

Turkey - courtesy of Nature Mart. Seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika and basted in chicken broth. Topped with a couple slices of maple bacon. Complete with gravy made from the turkey fat/drippings and a little bit of flour, salt and pepper.

3 Types of stuffing - Alison and Stefanie made their favorites from home, while I’ll tried a fantastic recipe from the New York Times. While I tried to stay true to the recipe, I vegetarianized it, subbing vegetable broth for chicken broth and holding the bacon. I also didn’t want to splurge on Chanterelle mushrooms, so I got baby bellas instead.

Parmesan and Thyme Mashed Potatoes - Recipe courtesy of Food and Wine magazine. Stefanie did an excellent job on these.

Waldorf Salad - A tradition for Alison and a great reminder of home for me. Apples, grapes, walnuts and mayonnaise…not sure what else but it was delicious!

Green Bean Casserole— Instead of a casserole it was more of a sauteed dish with crispy onions on top. I sauteed the green beans in half a can of Campbells mushroom soup and topped the green beans with the fried onions.
Pumpkin Bread — One loaf to last us the entire weekend. Not sure if it was this recipe, but it was delicious. Mmmmmm….

Cornbread Rolls — Via 101 Cookbooks. I messed up and forgot to by corn at the grocery so these came out a little dry. Nothing a little butter couldn’t fix though.
Roasted Carrots & Peppers — Also via 101 Cookbooks. Turn the oven to 450, cover the vegetables in olive oil (and a little salt and pepper) and that’s it.

Cranberry Sauce — A Thanksgiving staple. No risks taken here, we went with the can.

And for dessert…

Banana Pumpkin Mousse Tart - This was Stefanie’s creation so I’m not entirely sure of the origin, but I have a feeling it is from the Barefoot Contessa (Stefanie’s favorite).

Pecan Pie - My Thanksgiving favorite. Via

Apple Pie - I improvised with this one. Got a store-bought pie crust and combined 6 Granny Smith apples (peeled and quartered) with juice of half a lemon, lemon zest, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a little flour. I topped the filling with some butter before adding the top layer of crust. Baked at 350 for at least 40 minutes.

All in all, it was an excellent Thanksgiving with some of my closest friends who made me feel as grateful as ever.