Summer Nicoise Salad, My Version

Oh, sorry blog. I neglected you for the first half of 2013. Hi, readers! Do you remember me? If you know me well, and you haven’t  just stumbled across Oishii from a google search for “pork loin chops” (our most popular post), then you already know the two reasons behind this embarrassingly long hiatus. If not, welcome, and let me share our joy with you!

1. We’re expecting again! Levi is going to be a big brother in August and the gender is once again going to be a surprise. At almost 29 weeks I’m definitely far enough along that I can’t use morning sickness as an excuse for my lack of blogging, but taking care of a 3 year old definitely keeps me busy. In fact, sometimes I completely forget that I’m pregnant, until I look down and notice the absence of toes, or realize I’m craving a crisp, floral IPA but then remember that I can’t indulge just yet and reach for a sparkling water instead. Speaking of beer …

27 weeks on mothers day

2. Our family business, Discretion Brewing, opened its doors in early March after a year + of planning, and we’ve been as busy as bees selling beer (we have 7 now on tap!) and small plates to pair with it. Despite my growing belly and inability to drink beer, I’m enjoying working behind the bar as a Beer Bestower, as well acting as our Queen of Social Media for the business. Things are going really well, and we’ve been well-received by our town, even by other micro-breweries. The beer community is an awesome one. If you’re ever in Santa Cruz, we’d love to have you!

twitter header
Now you can see why our dinners at home have been quick and easy these days — and also based around random pregnancy cravings, ranging from briny olives [this salad] to cinnamon rolls [breakfast for dinner]. I’ve also been terrible at photographing or writing anything down (and, as you know if you’ve been pregnant, when you’re hungry, you’re hungry. No time for pictures). But somehow this meal DID get photographed. I guess I made it early enough in the day that I had a few moments to spare, so I’ll share it with you. Summer is upon is (eek – better get that car seat purchased and decide on a name for this baby!) and this salad is perfect for a warm evening . It also boasts of seasonal farmer’s market faire.

Summer Nicoise Salad, My Version

nicoise salad
Nicoise Salad; the classic French salad is usually composed of tuna, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and an anchovy dressing. This is my version.

Start with crisp romaine lettuce, wash, spin dry, tear into bite sized pieces, and pile onto your serving plates. Arrange the various components on top of the lettuce in whatever order pleases you: Quickly blanched farmer’s market green beans  (just 2-3 min in boiling water until bright green and still crisp, then plunge them into an ice bath to stop cooking), halved boiled new potatoes, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced farm-fresh radishes, hard-boiled eggs, halved, sprinkled with a little salt & pepper, some pitted, marinated green & brown olives, and some jarred tuna fillets in olive oil (check out Tonnino brand – we love the jalapeno flavor, one of my favorite pantry staples, and perfect for picnics if you don’t use them in this salad).

Anchovies don’t really agree with me this pregnancy, so I’ll recommend this shallot-dijon vinaigrette instead: Whisk together dijon mustard, sherry vinegar, a little red wine vinegar, minced shallot, a little agave nectar for sweetness, salt and pepper. Add olive oil in a steady stream and continue to whisk until incorporated. Taste and adjust ingredients as necessary. Drizzle the dressing over the top of the salad and all its colorful components. Let your plate be your blank canvas and feel free to tweak things depending on what fresh produce you have available. I hope that I inspired you 🙂 Happy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone!

Advertisements

Blueberry Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting


I have a 2 year old! Saturday’s weather was sunny and warm, perfect for Levi’s birthday BBQ at the park. He ran around, he played with sticks in the dirt, he colored on butcher paper with crayons, he blew bubbles, and he devoured chips and salsa, a grilled sausage (bockwurst is his personal favorite) on a sesame challah roll with arugula and sweet mustard, baked beans (his Uncle Lars’s contribution to the party – thank you!), potato salad with spring vegetables and mustard vinaigrette, and of course, his special birthday cupcake. Like most 2 year olds I know, Levi can really power through the blueberries; they are his favorite snack, so I knew that blueberry cupcakes were in order for his birthday celebration.


I came across a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for peach cupcakes with a brown sugar-cream cheese frosting. I simply swapped the peaches for blueberries and had the blueberry cupcake I was envisioning. The brown sugar in the frosting really sets it apart from regular cream cheese frosting. I know that Levi approved when I saw the look on his face when he licked the beater 🙂

I topped the cupcakes with a mint leaf (our plant in the backyard is flourishing!) and, of course, a blueberry. Then I packed them into  my handy new 36-cupcake carrier, where they arrived at the park in perfect shape, ready to be devoured and washed down (by the adults) with some Pale Ale and Amber Ale from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing.


See that ice in the bottom tray of my cupcake carrier? When I read that the mercury was going to hit the 80s on the day of Levi’s party (what a relief, since last year the cake time at his 1st birthday party was cut short due to drizzle!), I filled some of the cups in the bottom tray with water and stuck it in the freezer (a tip that I read in one of the Amazon reviews). It seemed to help because despite the heat, the frosting didn’t melt! Of course, I kept the carrier in the shade as well.


He was one happy birthday boy. Happy birthday, dear Levi, happy birthday to you! And let’s hope Mommy and Daddy survive the terrible 2s!


Blueberry Cupcakes

(Slightly adapted from the peach cupcakes with brown sugar cream cheese frosting on Smitten Kitchen; makes 24 cupcakes)

3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark or light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) buttermilk, sour cream or full-fat yogurt
3 4.4-ounce containers of organic blueberries, washed and dried (set aside 24 blueberries for decorating the tops of the cupcakes)
24 fresh mint leaves

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg and set aside.
  • Cream the butter and sugars together, beating until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between each addition, and then add the vanilla. Gently mix in the buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the blueberries.
  • Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cupcake liners. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of cupcakes comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes for five minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch and powdered sugar.
  • In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add the sugar-cornstarch mixture and vanilla, beat until frosting is smooth and light. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator until it thickens back up a bit, about 30 minutes, then spread or dollop on cooled cupcakes. Decorate with a mint leaf and a blueberry, if desired.

Portobello Mushrooms with Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Filling


This Thanksgiving we survived an 8 hour car ride with a toddler down to San Diego, where Levi had his first zoo experience. He was excited about every animal he encountered but was especially enamored by the elephants. Once Levi was tuckered out, we headed back to my mother-in-law’s house, where we watched plenty of football, drank plenty of San Diego micro-brews, and had quite a feast: a turkey breast roulade stuffed with brandied fig & cranberry stuffing, gravy, sweet potato gratin, and sautéed brussels sprouts with pancetta, shallot, mushrooms, and balsamic (which actually converted one member of the family who was a self-professed brussels sprouts hater. I was so proud). For dessert we indulged in a vanilla bean cake with salted caramel frosting. It was a wonderful evening and we went to bed feeling thankful for family and the way in which good food and drink bring us together.


As we’re entering the Christmas season and there’s a definite chill in the air, I’ve been allowing the oven to do most of the cooking in the evening, which frees us to relax and focus on the things that are important, like playing with our ever-changing, ever-moving 19 month old.

Spinach-artichoke dip is one of my favorite appetizers to bring to parties, so I associate it with festive gatherings. We were pleased to bring that spirit of festivity into a weeknight dinner. Portobello mushroom caps are filled with a spinach-artichoke filling and then topped with seasoned panko breadcrumbs. The end result is nothing short of comforting – the perfect hybrid of stuffed mushrooms and spinach-artichoke dip. For a side dish, I roasted some cubed butternut squash with olive oil, thyme, and sage. Even Levi could not resist their caramelized edges. A salad of mixed greens with apple & pomegranate seeds completed the meal.

We wish you many comforting meals during this season of Advent (break out the good wine!) with the people you love, enjoying every last bite.


Portobello Mushrooms with Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Filling

(From the Dec 11/Jan 12 issue of Fine Cooking)

3 TBS. olive oil 
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (1 TBS.) 
4 medium portabello mushrooms, stemmed, gills removed*
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 TBS. mayonnaise  
1-1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
9 to 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry**
9 oz. frozen artichokes, thawed, lightly squeezed dry, and chopped*** 
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely grated Romano cheese

* Fine Cooking recommended using a butter knife – it worked great!
** I used fresh baby spinach, sautéed, squeezed, and roughly chopped
*** I used marinated artichokes for more flavor, drained and roughly chopped

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.
  • In a small bowl, combine 2 TBS. of the oil and about two-thirds of the minced garlic. Brush the insides of the mushroom caps with the garlic oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Arrange the mushrooms oiled side up on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until just tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and 1/2 tsp. of the thyme with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in the spinach and artichokes and season to taste with salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, combine the remaining garlic, 1 TBS. oil, and 1 tsp.  thyme with the breadcrumbs and cheese.
  • Spoon the artichoke mixture evenly into the mushroom caps and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake until the crumbs are golden-brown and the filling is hot, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting


I blinked and my newborn became a 1-year-old. He walks, he points at things, he babbles, and he eats everything with gusto, especially cake, as we now know. I picked my favorite cake/frosting combination for Levi’s birthday cupcakes – yellow cake with chocolate, because I know he’s not picky and I’d be the one licking the beaters. I used the best birthday cake recipe on Smitten Kitchen – yellow cake with chocolate sour cream frosting – but made cupcakes instead of a layer cake and topped them with festive sprinkles. The recipe made 36 cupcakes, and I even had enough batter to make a little personal cake for Levi to eat on his actual birthday. So yes, we were eating cupcakes for days, and they were delicious. This recipe was exactly what I had hoped it would be. The cake was nice and moist with a little tang from buttermilk, and the frosting was nice and chocolate-y, but not too sweet. I decided to omit the espresso powder this time, since Levi was going to be eating a good amount of frosting, but I can definitely see how adding it would have brought out the flavor of the chocolate even more, and next time I will!


At the end of a 1st birthday party, there’s that rite of passage when you stick a slice of cake or a cupcake in front of the birthday child and stand around and stare at them to see what they’ll do. At first they hesitate; they might curiously poke at it, as Levi did, but soon they discover that what has been placed in front of them is actually edible. After a while it gets pretty messy, and the only people who think that the baby with frosting all over his face is cute is the parents. Yep, I was that proud mom. I’m also proud to share these cupcakes with you (which are actually the first I’ve ever made from scratch!) They were made and decorated with love for our little boy. Happy Birthday, Levi! And many more.


Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Sour-Cream Frosting

(From Smitten Kitchen)

For the Cupcakes:

4 cups plus 2 TBS. cake flour (not self-rising)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with the festive cupcake liners of your choice.
  • Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  • At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (it’s ok if the mixture looks curdled). Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
  • Spoon the batter into the muffin tins so that they are 2/3 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick entered into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove from the muffin tins, using a knife to loosen them if some of the cake is sticking to the edges of the muffin cups. When completely cool, frost cupcakes (recipe below) and decorate with sprinkles!


For the Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting (makes 5 cups):

15 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

  • Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until it melts. Remove from heat and allow to cool until tepid. You want your chocolate and your sour cream to be around the same temperature so that the chocolate doesn’t seize when you add the sour cream.
  • Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly, whisking quickly until the frosting mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in 1 TBS. increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved.
  • Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. This took only 10 minutes for us. If it becomes too hard, leave out at room temperature until it softens again.

The Birthday Boy!

Chicken Breast Fillets with Cherry Tomato-Avocado Salsa


There’s been a slight change in our diets since my last post … turns out that the Oishii kitchen will be dairy-free for at least a few months, as little Levi seems to have a milk-protein intolerance. I know, Brianna not eating butter and CHEESE!?  *gasp*  Well, luckily, it’s Santa Cruz and there are hippy, vegan versions of everything, almond milk is actually delicious on my cereal and in my coffee, and summer produce is bountiful and a delicious (and healthy!) distraction.

With so much to choose from at stores and farmer’s markets these days, I can’t imagine that eating fruits and veggies could be a chore for anyone! Sweet corn on the cob; crisp asparagus; juicy nectarines; plump blueberries … When you get to the produce section, it’s easy to fill your basket with colorful, seasonal things!

Dinner planning became easy the other night (and easy is good when you have a growing 2 month old!) when we let sweet cherry tomatoes and creamy avocado take center stage, adding a squeeze of lime, some fresh jalapeño and garlic to make a refreshing salsa. Although it would jazz up any protein, we decided that some chicken breast fillets, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, and chili power, would be the perfect accompaniment. If you find yourself at the store with no idea of what to make for dinner, start in the produce section!

Chicken Breast Fillets with Cherry Tomato-Avocado Salsa

6 chicken breast fillets (or 1 chicken breast half, cut into 6 pieces)
salt
pepper
paprika
cumin
chili powder
a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
juice from a small lime + the zest
1/2 a jalapeño pepper, minced
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 ripe avocado, cubed

  • Season the chicken fillets with the spices and the lime zest.
  • In a small bowl, combine the tomatoes, lime juice, jalapeño, and garlic. Taste and season with salt & pepper (and add more lime juice if necessary). Gently fold in the avocado.
  • Heat a frying pan with a couple drizzles of olive oil over medium high heat. Cook the chicken fillets until done inside and the outside is golden. Place 3 chicken fillets on each plate and top with a generous spoonful of the salsa. Serves 2.

Our growing boy … Levi is 2 months today!


And look! He’s started smiling!

Dare to Pair


Last Saturday we were walking down Swift Street carrying wine glasses. If you had driven by, you might have been confused. We looked like people who had been thrown out of a dinner party, empty glasses in hand. But really we were participating in “Dare to Pair” — a food & wine pairing competition put on by the Cabrillo Culinary Arts Program and Surf City Vintners, the cluster of wineries on the Westside of Santa Cruz. After being given a ballot, a little food tray, and a wine glass, we traveled on foot to 12 wineries around the neighborhood, sampling wine and a dish that a pair of culinary students had created.

Three stations were especially notable — the smoked trout with green apple slaw and greek yogurt cheese that was paired with Trout Gulch Sauvignon Blanc. We were also impressed with a lamb and goat cheese samosa and blistered grapes that went beautifully with MJA vineyard’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvingnon. But our favorite was station number twelve. My brother Lars and his partner Jeremy made a delicious duck breast on brioche crostini with mixed greens and a cherry vinaigrette to go with Storrs Winery’s 2006 Wildcat Ridge Pinot Noir. The cherry vinaigrette tasted like spring, and added a bright acidity and sweetness that complemented the buttery brioche and the rich duck, and brought out the fruity notes in the wine. Bravo. 5 stars.  I hope that this competition becomes an annual event. It’s a great way to support our local wineries as well as our future culinary stars, like my brother 🙂

[1st post-baby dinner!] Grilled Red Trout Fillets, Artichokes, and Salad with Grilled Lime Slices


Hello oishiifood followers.  This is a guest post by Dustin.  As you all know, Brianna does most of the writing for this wonderful collection of recipes we’ve come up with/tried.  I’m usually the “behind the scenes” guy doing my part in the kitchen and behind the camera.  So it’s a treat for me to share this recipe with all of you!


We made this dinner while my dad was up visiting his new grandson.  It was actually the first dinner we made since bringing Levi home so I wanted to do something easy but also extremely delicious! My dad and I left Brianna home with Levi and went to our local market (Shopper’s Corner).  I saw these beautiful red trout fillets and asked the butcher for two pounds (there were only 3 of us but I figured my dad and I can pack down the food).  When we got it home and I unwrapped it.  I couldn’t believe how much two pounds of fish really is!  Needless to say, I have a habit of getting way too much protein when left to my own devices and two pounds was about a half-pound too much for the three of us.  We also got some organic artichokes, zucchini, and a spring salad mix.  Now that I had all this fish, I had to figure out what to do with it.  I knew I wanted to grill the artichokes and the zucchini so I figured why not grill the trout too!

*One thing to note about my cooking style is that it’s very organic and not very precise.  I just kinda go with it.  So you’ll have to forgive the imprecise measurements and trust your instincts if you try this recipe!

Trout

1/2 pound of red trout fillets per person
a few cloves of garlic, minced
a good dose of olive oil
a healthy pour of paprika
salt and pepper
juice of one medium meyer lemon (ours was home grown!)
zest of 1/2 of one meyer lemon
long metal spatula

  • Set the trout out on a baking sheet.  Allow to come to room temp.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine all the other ingredients.  It should have a nice syrup like texture.  If it’s too watery throw in some more paprika and olive oil!
  • Once the marinade is ready, get down and dirty with those trout fillets.  Rub that stuff on there like there’s no tomorrow.  Each piece should be coated evenly.  Allow to sit (on the counter or in the fridge) for at least 15 minutes.  The lemon juice may turn the top of the fillets a grayish color, don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal.
  • Once the grill is heated up and ready to go, throw on the fillets.  Cover the BBQ and let those guys cook for a little while (depending on thickness around 4-7 minutes).  Here comes the tricky part, flipping the fillets.  Time to get out (or go buy) a long metal spatula.  Trout isn’t the heartiest fish, in fact it’s pretty delicate.  The flipping part of this is kinda like punching through a board (you know like karate kid), once you commit you have to go all the way.  Cook on this side for another 2-4 minutes.
  • That’s it!  You should now have some incredibly scrumptious fish ready to serve.

Artichokes

This is the first time that I actually cooked my own artichokes believe it or not.  I mostly just made it up  as I went after reading conflicting things online about the best way to grill them.  It worked out pretty dang nicely if I may say so.

at least 1/2 an artichoke per person
1 small lime or lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

  • Get a large pot, fill it with water, and get it boiling.
  • Meanwhile, cut off the top 1/2″ – 1″ of the artichokes depending on size.  Two things to note here: 1) Use the sharpest knife you have, these things are tough!  2) You should see a tiny bit of purple in the center of the now cut off top, though different varieties may look slightly different).
  • Use that lime or lemon and juice up the “injured” leaves.  Place the artichokes in a large bowl of cool water, squeeze the rest of the lemon or lime juice in there, and let them sit for about 10 minutes or so.
  • After their soaking time is up, hold them upside down in the cool water bath and plunge each one up and down in the water while rotating from side-to-side for a bit (it’s gets out all kinds of dirt and bugs and stuff) and then toss them in to the boiling water.
  • Cook for about 15 minutes or until the base of the large leaves feel somewhat tender and the whole thing is noticeably more flexible.
  • Allow to cool.  Then cut in half on the vertical axis (through the stem, top to bottom).
  • With a spoon, scoop out all that hairy looking stuff.  Don’t go too deep into the base though, that’s the “heart” and it’s delicious!  Get rid of the smallest rows of leaves as well, the ones with really spiky feeling tips that come out with virtually no resistance.  Put the artichokes on a platter and drizzle with a little olive oil, add some salt and pepper, and they’re ready to grill!
  • Grill “open” side down for about 5-7 minutes or until you see some nice grill marks and they just look so mouth watering you can’t bear to leave them on the grill a moment longer.
  • Serve with mayonnaise for dipping.

Salad with Grilled Lime Slices

Lettuce of your choices (we used a spring mix, red leaf would be great too) for however many people
Greek style yogurt
juice from 1 medium lime
Agave nectar
1 medium lime thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper
salt and pepper

  • Grill the lime slices until they start to caramelize a bit and you see some nice grill marks.*
  • For the dressing, combine a good dollop or two of the yogurt, the lime juice, a healthy drizzle of agave nectar, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
  • Toss the lettuce, sliced bell pepper and the dressing in a large salad bowl.  Dish.  Then throw a couple of the lime slices on there to make it look pretty (and taste amazing too)!

*the grilled lime slices are equally good with the trout fillets!