Friday, February 27, 2009

Please, Play With This Food!

In fact, that's what this food is designed for...creative play. We love these play food sets made by Rebecca at Bug Bites Play Food. Bug Bites Play Food is a store on Etsy, which is an online marketplace for handmade goods. Rebecca makes these toys from ecospun polyester made from recycled post consumer bottles and they are machine washable.

We just bought this set of tea and tarts as a present. This is a custom order that I requested specifically to accompany a tea set for a two year old. I love this idea of custom orders because I have a lot of ideas and I don't sew!

I requested a raspberry tart and a lemon tart and each are crafted with lovely little details: dimples in the berries and little ridges in the tart crusts.

The mint and apple tea bags also have delicate stitching around the edges! I really appreciated the detail in the design!

The other reason we love play food is because it's never too early to teach kids about food and cooking! Happy playing!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It Was A Grand Night For Oscar

Even our cupcakes were glamourous as we celebrated the Academy Awards with a Ladies' Night Oscar Party. The Oscars are the Super Bowl for women and we all pulled out our very best bridesmaid/prom/ last fancy dress we owned and walked the Red Carpet.

And of course, the food had to be equally wonderful to match the event. I prepared the following:

Savory Bites
  • Stuffed Dates: dates filled with mascarpone cheese and Marcona almonds, wrapped in prosciutto and broiled until slightly crisp
  • Point Reyes Blue Cheese Dip with vegetables
  • Hummus and Vegetables
  • Fromage D'Affinois with Fig Spread
Sweet Treats
Chocolate Peanut Butter Oat Bars

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Chocolate Dipped Raspberries

Oscarworthy Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes

The attendees also brought wonderful dishes as well! As not to overwhelm this post, I will follow up with separate posts for the dates, the Fromage D'Affinois, peanut butter chocolate bars and cupcakes.

For beverages we had:
  • Sparkling Pinot Grigio with Pomegranate Juice

and thanks to Des:
  • Veuve Clicquot Champagne
  • Dutch Henry Cabernet Franc 2006
  • BV Reserve Dulcet 2004 (Cabernet Sauvignon- 74%, Syrah- 26%)

The Oscars were marvelous- until next year!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Ultimate Savory Breakfast Tart

We recently had a delicious pizza at Orson in San Francisco that had a poached egg with prosciutto. And when I saw this recipe for a savory breakfast tart in the Williams-Sonoma catalog, we had to try it! I wondered, why hasn't breakfast pizza taken off?

We started this recipe with puff pastry, cut into an 8"X10" sheet. I did not roll out this pastry as it was already about 1/4" in thickness. I scored a crust, pricked the center with a fork and brushed it with an egg wash.

We fried up some of the Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked, uncured bacon- it smelled great!

A mixture of creme fraiche and gruyere was spread over the puff pastry.

I had a hard time keeping the creme fraiche from spilling on the edge of the scored crust. I wiped it away a few times.

We put 7 strips of fried bacon ( from Niman Ranch) on the top and baked it for 14 minutes. The transformation of the puff pastry was very noticeable and exciting to see. I pricked any bubbles in the center.

We cracked three eggs onto the tart and again waited for a transformation in 9 minutes at 425 degrees!

We chopped a few fresh chives on top with a bit of salt and pepper. As you can see, it was a pretty phenomenal transformation.

The egg yolks were slightly cooked on the surface but soft inside- perfect for me but slightly overdone for Justin. We might make a few changes for the future- we are thinking of not trimming the pastry to 8"X10" and instead adding a fourth egg. The recipe is for four people but it seems that everyone would want an egg! I also would consider using less creme fraiche and use a bit more cheese. I was also disappointed to see that my frozen puff pastry had margarine in it instead of butter and will be looking for one that has butter.

All in all, we loved this recipe and think it is perfect for a Sunday brunch!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Flexing Our Culinary Mussels: Moules Fromage Bleu

We first saw the Moules Fromage Bleu dish made by Chef Teddy Folkman on the Food Network's Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Bacon, blue cheese, white wine and mussels- what's not to like? Of course, Chef Folkman beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay, but more importantly, he tempted our palates! And what other occasion could would be more perfect than a Valentine's Day dinner at home? Click here for the recipe and to see a video of Chef Folkman preparing them himself.

These mussels looked beautiful as Justin kept them chilled in ice water while preparing the mise en place ( the preparation of all of the ingredients). The recipe is quite simple and very delicious.

We began by cooking the bacon- we used Niman Ranch uncured, Applewood smoked bacon. If I could attach an aroma to this post, I would attach this beautifully fragrant aroma of smoky goodness that filled our kitchen. I believe the quality of the bacon and blue cheese is critical to this simple recipe.
The shallots and mussels were tossed along with some sauvignon blanc and lemon juice.

You can see the mussels began to open becoming perfect pockets for the bacon and shallots.

Finally, half of the blue cheese was melted in the broth. We used Maytag blue cheese. Once the mussels were opened, we added spinach from Full Belly Farms.

We plated the mussels, added the rest of the blue cheese and salt and pepper and proceeded to enjoy this simple yet decadent dish with crusty bread. It was phenomenal.

This dish is wonderful with pommes frites (thin french fries) which Justin has prepared in the past. But we were trying not to overindulge, so we had a fresh salad instead with lettuce from our Full Belly Farms farmshare.

It was splendid and we recommend that you try this simple, yet flavorful dish.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day Breakfast!

One last quick Valentine's Day treat for your sweetie...

I made these for Justin for a surprise breakfast in bed:

I Heart You Sunny-Side Up

1. Coat your frying pan with butter or non-stick spray.
2. Coat the inside of your heart-shaped cookie cutter with butter or non stick spray.
3. Crack the egg into a small bowl*
4. Get the pan heated, and place the cookie cutter in the pan.
5. Pressing the edges of the cookie cutter down to the frying pan** to seal the gaps, gently pour the egg into the heart. Continue to press the edges of the cookie cutter down so that egg doesn't seep out the sides. Don't worry if a little does.
6. One the egg whites are firming, you can release the cookie cutter.
7. Add a bit of water to the pan and cover to cook.
8. When to your liking, use a spatula to remove the whole thing (cookie cutter still on the egg) from the pan to a plate. Use a sharp knife to trim any leakage off and to go around the inside of the cookie cutter to release egg easily.
9. Salt and pepper to taste!

* precracking the egg in a bowl and pouring the egg into the cutter makes it easier to hold the cookie cutter down and prevents eggshell from a bad crack.
**if you don't hold the edges down, you won't get a good seal to make the heart shape

I Heart You Scrambled

1. Crack an egg in a bowl and mix with a fork.
2. Coat your frying pan with butter or non-stick spray.
3. Coat the inside of your heart-shaped cookie cutter with butter or non stick spray.
4. Get the pan heated, and place the cookie cutter in the pan.
5. Pressing the edges of the cookie cutter down to the frying pan to seal the gaps, gently pour the scrambled egg into the heart. Continue to press the edges of the cookie cutter down so that egg doesn't seep out the sides. Don't worry if a little does.
6. One the egg is firming, you can release the cookie cutter.
7. Add in some goat cheese or cheddar cheese to the egg.
8. Add a bit of water to the pan and cover to cook for a minute or so.
9. Using a spatula, flip the cutter and egg to cook the other side.
10. When to your liking, use a spatula to remove the whole thing (cookie cutter still on the egg) from the pan to a plate. Use a sharp knife to trim any leakage off and to go around the inside of the cookie cutter to release egg easily.
11. Salt and pepper to taste!

Justin liked the I Heart You Scrambled best. The yolk gets a little more cooked in the I Heart You Sunny Side Up version due to the thickness of the cutter and the time it takes to set the white.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dipped Delights: Last Minute Valentine's Day Gift!

This Saturday is Valentine's Day and in case you have forgotten, here's a quick and easy way to treat your significant other. You will need:
  • strawberries or other dippable item*
  • chocolate chips
  • waxed or parchment paper
  • bonus if you have white chocolate, nuts or sprinkles
1. Prepare a flat cookie sheet or tray with a sheet of waxed or parchment paper.

2. Rinse the strawberries and pat them dry.

3. Put the chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl and microwave them for 30 seconds. Stir the chips. Repeat until completely melted- stirring well in between each 30 seconds.

4. Dip each strawberry one by one and place on the parchment or waxed paper. Add sprinkles or nuts immediately before chocolate hardens. For the white chocolate lines, let the dipped strawberries harden ( you can put them in the fridge to speed this up). Melt the white chocolate in the microwave and spoon it quickly into a small plastic baggie. Cut a tiny corner and drizzle lines back and forth over the dipped strawberries. Let harden.

*I know strawberries aren't in season yet so you can dip other other treats in the same manner from shortbread cookies to dried apricots or dried figs to rice krispy treats in whimsical shapes.

Enjoy and Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Classic Chocolate Birthday Cake!

There's nothing fancy about this good, old-fashioned chocolate cake that I made for my dad's birthday. It's actually a devil's food cake with Mrs. Milman's frosting off of the Martha Stewart website- here.

I want to talk about the frosting because it is what drew me to this cake. This recipe is from Mrs. Milman and I actually watched the video of Mrs. Milman show Martha how to make it here.

I omitted the corn syrup because Mrs. Milman doesn't use it in her original recipe and stuck to Nestle Toll House as she suggested! This frosting is about's not about health. The recipe is 24 ounces of chocolate chips and 4 cups of whipping cream. That's it.

Before I even started making this classic cake, I made the frosting first because it could take several hours to set up. Mrs. Milman is adamant that this recipe is about patience. Low and slow, I melted the chocolate into the whipping cream and let it cook for 25 to 30 minutes until it had thickened. The scientist in me wanted a metric to decide when it was heated enough- a viscosity measurement or a temperature measurement but alas, Mrs. Milman is so experienced that she doesn't need one or give one. So at about 30 minutes, it looked as if it had thickened enough ( still not spreadable but concentrated) and I went for it!

At this stage, the frosting was glossy and gorgeous but still hot and not thick enough to spread. So I put it in the fridge and stirred it every 20 minutes to evenly cool it down and distribute the heat. As you can imagine the outer surface and parts in contact with the bowl chill more rapidly, while the center stays warm- stirring is required. I was a bit impatient and finallly after an hour or so, I decided to put it in an ice water bath. This worked wonders and it set up fairly quickly.

So I moved on to the cake while the frosting was cooling. It took three pans (only two are shown here) and lots of bowls.

The batter was delicious but I made one classic mistake- when I put it in the oven, I set the timer and forgot to press start! So I had to eyeball the doneness of the cake. I did ok...i could have taken it out about 2 min earlier.
But the cake was still delicious and there was plenty of frosting leftoverm so don't be stingy in between each layer like I was!

A scoop of ice cream was the final delicious touch. And what did I do with the leftover frosting? I actually melted it briefly in the microwave and put it over ice cream and on top of a gluten-free brownie for my brother who can't eat wheat. Perfect. I'm saving the rest for sauce over a weeknight scoop of ice cream for me!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

ZAP Wine Festival Highlights

Each year the ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, have a Zinfandel Festival with a Grand Tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco and several tasting events throughout the week. This year, we attended the 18th Annual Grand Tasting--thanks again to industry passes from our friend, Jeff. Earlier in the week, Jeff prepared his New Jersey State Championship chili to pair with the Mounts Family Winery at the Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing Event and he generously shared his passes with us!

Armed with a wristband and an official ZAP wine glass, we headed into the sea of Zinfandel. Over 250 producers were set up alphabetically in the Herbst and Festival Pavilions. Seven hundred wines were being poured, all Zinfandel, with the exception of a few rogue varietals that would occasionally appear from under the tables. Our industry passes let us in early with producers and media. Thousands filled the buildings even before the "regular public" were let in, by the end of the day 10,000 would have been through the Grand Tasting.

The first stop was at one of the many bread stations to grab a baguette to go. When going up against hundreds of wines, you need to keep the "ax sharp". We would share tastes, expectorate (the polite word for spit) as necessary, and consume lots of water, cheese, and bread. Luckily for Justin his past experience tasting with professionals winemakers was exceptional preparation.

During the event we decided to Twitter our tasting impressions. We were happy to find the Wine 2.0 sponsored blogging lounge. We included the #ttl hash tag to stream our comments to other like-minded technophiles following Twitter Taste Live. Some of the wines that struck us were . . .
  • Steele -- Next generation winemaker Quincy Steele put out a solid value effort with the '06 Steele Writersblock at $12.50
  • Rubicon -- Rubicon Estates poured a high end power Zin (Edizione Pennino) at 15.4% alcohol, but it was remarkably finessed. Priced to match at $45.
  • Claudia Springs -- Claudia Springs Ricetti Vineyard and barrel tasting had great jammy red fruit. We've seen this Mendecino vintner distributed back in Minneapolis. In speaking with Claudia herself we learned that their distributor said Minnesota is the "cult of Claudia", who knew?
  • Gamba Vineyards -- Gamba Zin threw in the spice rack with their Russian River AVA wine. Stangers we ran into would say to try the Gamba . . . it was the ZAP sleeper. Yum.
  • Wilson -- When we've been to Wilson Winery off Dry Creek Road, we've usually remembered their Cabs and Merlot. We were astounded at the number of individual Zin offerings being poured, however, Diane's Blend was the winner for us.
  • Turley -- Helen Turley produces stellar, bellwether Zins. The '06 Hayne Vineyard ($75) kept the crowd gathered 4 deep, even before they let the doors open to the public. A very pretty wine, with black cherry and some lingering floral notes. More finesse than blockbuster.
  • Tofanelli -- We first fell in love with Vince's Charbono varietal several years ago. Farmers first (they grow Zin for Turley) the Tofanelli's were able to work their own fermentation magic on the grapes. Nicely balanced with fruit, spice, and some cigar box wood.
Overall, it was a beautiful day to get out into the city and drink some Zinfandel . . . then again, what day isn't?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Google Chef's New Restaurant, Calafia, Is A Tasty, Local Find

If you haven't heard of the former executive chef at Google, Charlie Ayers, take a look at his newest restaurant in Palo Alto, CA: Calafia. After directing 8,000 healthly and flavorful meals a day at the acclaimed Google cafes, I was excited to see his principles of fresh, local and seasonal food come to the masses. Calafia opened this January and Market-A-Go-Go, an adjacent market with grab-and-go foods, is coming soon.

A few of us at work took a walking lunchtime fieldtrip and found that weekday lunch lines were already long. Luckily, our large group was able to get an outside table on the patio without a reservation. Due to some afternoon work commitments, I was only able to stay for a few appetizers and had to take my main course to go.

The lunch menu looked diverse and flavorful with appetizers, tacos, wraps and panini and with tempting pizzas, salads, and noodle bowls.

Fiery Bottom BBQ Pork Bowl

I opted for the Fiery Bottom BBQ Pork Bowl- with brown rice, baby spinach, yams, a sunnyside up quail egg & micro greens. And it did not disappoint! The combination of spicy pork, hearty brown rice, perfectly roasted yams and wilted fresh spinach was a delicious mix of flavor and texture-not to mention a sunny-side up quail egg on top! I also felt great about the balance of grains, vegetables and meat at lunchtime and I appreciated my eco-friendly compostable box and utensils.

A few other glamour food shots:

Papas Con Ajo

Lamb Meatballs

Duck Dumplings

I can't wait for the Market A-Go-Go to open up for a quick lunchtime bite or a take home dinner, but I am also looking forward to having a more leisurely lunch or dinner inside. The interior is an eclectic, hip mix of reclaimed and recycled materials in a casual setting. Hooray for delicious food within walking distance of work!