Taqueria Pickles

When I go to our favorite taqueria in town, I look forward to raiding the salsa bar after we pick up our al pastor tacos or carnitas burritos. Although I love the mild green tomatillo salsa, the smokey chipotle salsa, and the brightly colored salsa fresca, I go straight to the escabeche – pickled jalapenos with carrots and onion. They are so hot that one little bite of carrot needs to be chased with a big gulp of horchata, but they are so, so good. So good in fact that we decided to share the love this year by making our own version of “taqueria pickles” to give to our close family and friends for Christmas.

We turned to Alice Waters’ book The Art of Simple Food for guidance. It’s one of my mom’s favorite cookbooks and one that I often borrow because I love the simplicity of her recipes and how they highlight seasonal produce. While dining at Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse a couple years ago, I ordered a fall fruit bowl for dessert. The waitress presented me with a wooden bowl containing several sweet dates and a couple small seedless tangerines. This humble-looking dish was the perfect way to end a meal and paid tribute to the season. If you haven’t heard of her, Alice (let’s pretend the two of us are on a first name basis) is the pioneer of the “slow food movement,” which celebrates local, sustainable, fresh, and seasonal produce of the best quality. If you can’t make it out to Berkeley, California to eat at her restaurant, you should at least treat yourself to one of her cookbooks. It’s because of her that we pay attention to the little signs at our grocery store that tell us where our produce comes from.

We used Alice’s method for fresh-pickled vegetables, but added a generous amount of sliced jalapeños, as well as whole cumin seeds and coriander seeds to make them more “taqueria-style”. We also decided to can them so they’d last longer. Our taqueria doesn’t add cauliflower to theirs, but we thought it would be delicious – it was! (And since it’s in season, Alice would approve).

I also want to dedicate this post to Dustin’s grandma, who taught us the canning process. We love you and want you to know we’ll continue the annual canning tradition of making your bread & butter pickles, chile sauce, and strawberry jam! ❤

“Taqueria Pickles” (Spicy Pickled Jalapeños & Carrots)

(Adapted from Alice Waters’ recipe in her book The Art of Simple Food and the blog Simply Recipes)

jalapeños, thickly sliced
carrots, thickly sliced
red onion, sliced
cauliflower, cut into florets

apple cider vinegar
distilled white vinegar
bay leaf
coriander seeds
cumin seeds
dried oregano
garlic cloves (un-peeled)
garlic cloves, peeled and halved

  • Wash, trim, and cut your vegetables.
  • For about 3 1/2 cups pickling brine*, combine 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup distilled white vinegar, 1 3/4 cup water, 2 1/2 TBS. sugar, 1/2 a bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, pinch of dried oregano, 2 whole garlic cloves, 2 peeled and halved garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt.
  • Bring brine to a boil, then add the vegetables in the order of their cooking time, beginning with the vegetable which will take the longest. Add the carrots first and cook them until they are cooked through but  still a little bit crisp (simply scoop one out to test – about 20 minutes). When you think the carrots have about 10 minutes left to cook, add the jalapeños. Add the sliced onion and the cauliflower florets when you think the carrots are almost done – they will take only a few minutes.
  • If you want to can the pickles – transfer the hot vegetables into mason jars, and fill the tops of the jars with brine. Screw the lids on the jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let them sit on the counter until you hear them “pop!” Then you’ll know they’re canned! Once opened, they’ll keep for a couple months in the refrigerator.
  • For refrigerator pickles, allow the vegetables to cool completely after being removed from the brine. Once the vegetables are cool and the pickling brine has cooled to room temperature, divide the vegetables between mason jars (or to another container) and cover with brine. Refrigerated, they will keep for a week. Enjoy with your favorite Mexican dishes.

* When we made our pickling brine, we didn’t measure any of the ingredients, but we kept in mind the ratios from the original recipe. Alice calls for 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar (which, she says, you can easily sub with red wine vinegar) but we used apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar after reading other recipes for pickled jalapeños. We also didn’t use quite as much water as the recipe calls for. When it comes down to it, feel free to tweak things here and there. Taste the brine before you add the vegetables and add more sugar or vinegar or whatever you think it needs. Have fun with your food, and enjoy pickling the bounty of the season.

Endive and Apple Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Salad for dinner may conjure up images of summer evenings, but this one is about as wintry as you can get, and (dare I say) just as comforting as a bowl of soup. Endive cooked in butter becomes nutty and caramelized, pairing perfectly with sautéed apples, baked walnut-encrusted goat cheese, fresh baby spinach leaves, and a sweet-slightly tart pomegranate vinaigrette. We loved the juxtaposition of warm goat cheese, apples, and endive with the cool spinach and the pop of fresh pomegranate seeds. It’s everything you want in a dinner salad, with winter flair. Since we are traveling the day after Christmas to spend time with family, and probably won’t get a chance to post until the new year, we’ll leave you with this festive salad as a way to say Merry Christmas and Happy 2012!! We look forward to the coming year, when we will celebrate our blog’s 5th anniversary (crazy)! There is also a little family venture that’s been brewing that we will reveal soon . Thanks, readers (whoever you are; I love finding out who is actually following along!) What’s your wish for the new year? See you then!

Endive and Apple Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

(From the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of Fine Cooking; Serves 4)

1 cup pomegranate juice
6 oz. goat cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts*
3 TBS. butter
2 large Belgian endives, halved lengthwise with core left intact, each half cut lengthwise into 4 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 firm, medium-sweet apples (like Fuji or Honeycrisp), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)
1 medium shallot, finely diced (about 3 TBS.)
1 TBS. cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
6 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. (4 lightly packed cups) baby spinach
1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)**
2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives***

* We used walnuts instead.
** Optional, yes, but they look so pretty, don’t they? And they add a refreshing pop to the salad.
*** Our store was out of chives, so I omitted these.

  • Position a rack in the center of an oven and heat to 425°F.
  • In a small saucepan over high heat, reduce the pomegranate juice to about 1/4 cup (it should be syrupy), about 15 minutes (mine took about 12).
  • Meanwhile, mash the goat cheese in a small bowl with a fork until smooth (I must have used a dryer goat cheese because it didn’t mash well. I skipped this step and went straight to forming it into rounds). Form the cheese into four 2-inch-diameter rounds. Put the hazelnuts (or walnuts) on a small plate and press the goat cheese rounds into the nuts on all sides to coat. Transfer the cheese to a small baking sheet and bake until the nuts brown and the cheese softens, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • While the goat cheese bakes, melt 2 TBS. of the butter in a 12-inch heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the endives flat in the pan (they’ll fit snugly), sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper, and cook, undisturbed, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until the other side starts to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a large plate.
  • Melt the remaining 1 TBS. butter in the skillet, add the apples and shallot, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and cook, shaking the pan often, until the apples start to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Transfer the pomegranate juice to a medium bowl. Add the vinegar, mustard, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper; whisk until combined. Gradually whisk in the oil and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a large bowl, toss the spinach and apples with half of the vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange the endives on 4 large serving plates, top  with a mound of the spinach mixture, and then the goat cheese. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette. Serve.

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!

Mrs. O’Callaghan’s Soda Bread

Saint Patrick, you braved captivity in Ireland and later returned to spread Christianity throughout the land. Rather than eradicating the native customs and beliefs, you incorporated them into your teachings so that the Christian message was more easily understood by the people; a respectable model for Christian missions today (says the Religious Studies major in me). Today we remember the day of your death by drinking Stout and loading up on carbs. I hope you’re not offended. I hope someday people remember me by eating and drinking!

I love a good Irish soda bread on Saint Patrick’s Day. I adore its crumbly texture, crusty outside, and slightly sweet, brown interior, topped with generous amounts of butter. I eat way too much, and it’s so, so good.

This is the second year we’ve eaten this particular Irish soda bread. Last year my Mom made it as part of a corned beef & cabbage dinner. This year we made it to accompany a bacon-wrapped stout & cheddar meatloaf. It’s from an article in Bon Appetit titled A Slice of Ireland, which includes captivating pictures of Ireland’s stunning, verdant countryside (where apparently there are as many versions of soda bread as there are cooks), and the account of one man’s quest for the perfect one. Mrs. O’Callaghan’s recipe is treasured for its simplicity (no add-ins like nuts or seeds) and authenticity.

The only changes I made were halving the recipe, using teff flour instead of whole wheat flour (we had some leftover from our teff galette), using a food processor to make the dough, and baking the soda bread on parchment paper, instead of spraying a baking sheet with nonstick vegetable oil spray. We hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did!

Mrs. O’Callaghan’s Soda Bread

(Slightly adapted from the March 2010 issue of Bon Appetit)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups teff flour (or whole wheat flour)
1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 of a stick chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. In a food processor, combine both flours, the sugar, and the baking soda. Pulse until combined. Add the butter and continue pulsing until it resembles little peas. Add the buttermilk and pulse until the dough just comes together (or as the original recipe says “shaggy dough forms”).
  • Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface, kneading until it comes together, about 10 turns.
  • Form dough into a 7-inch round that is 1 inch high. Place dough on prepared baking sheet. Cut a large X, 1/2 inch deep, in top of dough, almost all the way to the edges of the round.
  • Bake in the center of the oven until it is deep brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. A bamboo skewer, when placed into the center of the bread, should come out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool, slice, and serve with butter!

(And a special thanks to my Great-Aunt Lois – one of our faithful readers – who made the beautiful potholders in these pictures!)

Fruit & Nut Granola

Jump-start your new year’s resolution to eat healthier by making a batch of fruit & nut granola! It freezes well so you can enjoy it with milk or yogurt throughout the start of the year.

Before Christmas my mom and I were browsing the baking section at the store, when we excitedly came across barley malt syrup (look for it in your natural foods store next to the molasses). It added a nice malty depth of flavor to the granola, but next time I think I’ll use more so that the flavor is more pronounced. For whatever reason, the dark brown color and the viscosity made me use it more sparingly than I should have. But the nice thing about granola is that if you (for the most part) keep the proportion of oats, oil, sweeteners, and mix-ins, you can add any combination of things, depending on what’s in your pantry. For example, we used half olive oil and half melted butter, a combination of barley malt syrup, honey, and maple syrup, and whatever nuts were in the freezer (almonds, walnuts, and pepitas). I’m sure every time we make it, it will be different!  How fun!

And it’s not too late to surprise someone with a homemade gift! We love these glass jars we found at Dig in Santa Cruz. They come in several shapes and sizes for gifting your granola in a variety of ways (or storing it for yourself, of course).

Fruit & Nut Granola

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

6 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), not roasted
2/3 cup chopped almonds or pecans (or whatever nut floats your boat!)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cardamom
pinch of allspice
pinch of salt
1 cup dried apricots, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup dried currents

  • Preheat to 375 degrees.
  • Stir together all the ingredients, except the fruit, in a large bowl and stir until combined.
  • Line 2 large (17-by 12-inch) rimmed baking pans with foil, and then parchment paper.
  • Spread mixture evenly onto pans. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (be careful, it browns quickly towards the end), 20-30 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through baking, if one is on the top, and the other is on the bottom.
  • Transfer granola, in the pan, to a cooling rack, continuing to stir occasionally for about 30 minutes. When cool, stir in the dried fruit. Transfer to airtight containers and freeze, up to one month.  If you leave it out, the fruit will soften it, but it will still taste delicious.

I have to share some pictures from Levi’s first Christmas! Here he is about to open his stocking on Christmas morning:

I’m pretty sure the best thing about Christmas was the wrapping paper and boxes!  Yippee!

We hope everyone has a safe, festive, and fun New Years!

Turkey & Black Bean Quesadillas with Spicy Guacamole (and Thanksgiving ’10 Recap)

Bring on the Turkey leftovers!  Did everyone have a good Thanksgiving? We did too, but we didn’t get around to photographing all the food this year between taking turns holding a teething baby (both his top teeth are coming in right now and he’s less than thrilled about it) and cooking two of the vegetable side dishes. So regardless of the lack of pictures, here is a Thanksgiving recap:

My dad made his usual smoked turkeys like last year, and we snacked on spiced nuts and two varieties of cheese (an aged goat cheese and a cheddar). Once again, my brother provided some awesome beer to wash everything down. We had stuffing two ways – one with cornbread, and one with roasted lemon. There was the usual cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, beets, and butterflake rolls from Gayle’s Bakery, and we contributed roasted brussels with chanterelles and cream, and a sweet potato gratin. My mom made a fresh kale salad with pomegranate seeds and sliced persimmon. Lastly, my uncle Rick made four amazing pies for dessert: pumpkin, pecan, coconut cream, and “crack pie” — a recipe from Momofuku in New York. It’s an oat cookie crust with a filling mainly consisting of butter, brown sugar, and egg yolk. Here is the recipe that was featured in Bon Appetit. Yum.

Despite teething-fussiness, Levi enjoyed his first Thanksgiving! He even added beets to his food repertoire (delicata squash, butternut squash, yellow zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, pears, apples, bananas, rice cereal, and oatmeal cereal. He has also tried cinnamon and nutmeg). I can’t believe he’s 7 months old already!

My favorite thing about Thanksgiving turkey is the leftovers. When there’s so much on your plate, it’s hard to truly appreciate the turkey, but later in the week it can take center stage! We enjoyed our annual turkey sandwiches at the Christmas tree farm last Friday (we found the perfect little picnic spot in between the trees), then last night we thought that the smokiness of the turkey would pair well with black beans, so we decided to make turkey-black bean quesadillas with spicy guacamole.

Turkey & Black Bean Quesadillas with Spicy Guacamole

  • Combine 1 ripe avocado, 1 small clove of minced garlic, the juice of 1/2 a small lime (reserve the other half), and 1/2 a minced serrano chile in a small bowl. Mash and combine. Taste and season with salt & pepper. Set aside.
  • In a small sauce pan add 1 can of black beans, drained. Then jazz them up a bit — add whatever spices you want.  We added some cumin, chile powder, coriander, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt & pepper to taste. Add a splash of water, too. Heat, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until beans are hot. Turn off the heat. Squeeze in the other half of your lime.
  • Assemble your quesadillas with flour tortillas, grated Monterey jack cheese, a few spoonfuls of black beans, and some leftover sliced Thanksgiving turkey. Cook in a skillet over medium high heat. When one side is nicely browned, flip and cook on the other side. Transfer to a cutting board and slice. Serve with spicy guacamole and a salad.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

On Halloween my family comes over and we sit around a fire pit on our front deck and eat chili out of mugs. Then after we’ve handed out candy to the sparse trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood (leaving a huge bowl of candy that will tempt us for the coming weeks), we indulge in THE best bread pudding ever. Ever since my mom discovered this recipe in Gourmet a few years ago, it’s been the Halloween dessert stand-by. Everyone has a can of Libby’s in their pantry these days, so give it a try. Buttery bread cubes combined with rich, pumpkin-y custard and baked until crispy on the edges and moist in the middle. Mmm … Oh, and how can I not share our little pumpkin!

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

(From the October 2007 issue of Gourmet, as seen on Epicurious)

1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
5 cups cubed (1-inch) day-old baguette or crusty bread
3/4 stick butter, melted

  • Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in the middle.
  • Whisk together cream, pumpkin, milk, sugar, eggs, yolk, salt, and spices in a bowl.
  • Toss bread cubes with butter in another bowl, then add pumpkin mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish and bake until custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes. Serves 6.

Sweet Potato Gratin & Breaded Pork Chops

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream” — The Julia Child quote that came to mind as I was happily (and liberally) pouring cream over my baking dish of layered sweet potato slices, seasoned with chopped sage, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Then I dotted the top with butter and thought, “How about both?” Vegetables turn heavenly when they’re baked with cream and butter. What’s not to love?

No marshmallows here (the idea itself offends me), but we love how the sweet potatoes speak for themselves in this simple, seasonal dish. I got the inspiration from the Fall for Vegetables article in the Oct./Nov. issue of Fine Cooking, but used this recipe for the cooking time and oven temperature.

Sweet Potato Gratin

Sweet potatoes
Fresh sage, chopped
Kosher salt & Freshly ground pepper

  • Butter a gratin dish. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Peel your sweet potatoes and slice thinly (you can use a mandoline, if you have one, but I didn’t so I just sliced them by hand to about 1/4 inch or less).
  • Layer sweet potato slices in your gratin dish.  Sprinkle each layer with fresh sage, salt, and pepper.
  • Add cream to just below the potatoes, dot with butter, cover with foil, and bake until almost tender, about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake until nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes more. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Breaded Pork Chops

It’s incredibly easy to make your own breadcrumbs. In Japan we always used panko (which, did you know, is made from crustless white bread?) but here I throw some leftover baguette pieces in my food processor, add some sage and oregano, process it, and Voilà! Italian breadcrumbs; Perfect for breading boneless pork chops. Just season your pork chops with salt, coat in beaten egg, dredge in the homemade crumbs, and fry in olive oil until golden and crispy on both sides. Add a salad and a big spoonful of sweet potato gratin, and you have a comforting meal for a chilly evening.

Simple Vanilla Pudding with Sliced Bananas

This basic vanilla pudding is made on the stove top, thickened with cornstarch, and much tastier than store-bought pudding cups. To make it chocolate pudding, add 2 ounces of unsweetened or semisweet chocolate when you heat the milk, and stir until melted.

But before I share dessert, I have to share our Valentine’s Day dinner, which I was quite proud of (if I may say so myself).

Here is Arius, trying to blend in with the table setting. He does a pretty good job.

We ate Shrimp Pil Pil (shrimp sautéed in garlicky, spicy olive oil), polenta hearts (hand-cut by me :)), and sautéed red chard. The salad (which didn’t get photographed) contained mixed greens, juicy blood orange segments, and crunchy jicama.

Now for dessert, which was Dustin’s special request!

Simple Vanilla Pudding (Blancmange) with Sliced Bananas

(From The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham)

3 TBS. cornstarch
4 TBS. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
sliced banana

  • In a heavy-bottomed pan, combine the cornstarch, sugar, salt, and a 1/4 cup of the milk.
  • In a smaller sauce pan, heat the remaining milk, then slowly add it to the cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly.
  • Cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly until thickened. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes to get rid of the raw cornstarch taste. Let cool slightly, then add the vanilla. Cover and chill. When ready to serve, spoon into individual bowls and top with sliced banana. Serves 5.

Happy Easter! Part 4: Paskha

In our family, Easter is not Easter without this traditional Russian dessert. This version is made by heating buttermilk until it separates into curds and whey (yep, just like what Miss Muffet ate). Then the curds are combined with eggs, butter, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest to create a delicious creamy mixture that’s poured into molds lined with cheese cloth. As a child I always looked forward to eating it for breakfast on Easter morning before church, and then again for dessert after Easter dinner. I loved watching it come out of its mold, and then helping decorate it with almonds and raisins, making the letters XB, which stand for Христос Воскресе (Xristos Voskrese), meaning Christ is Risen!


(Serves 12-16)

1 gallon buttermilk
zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs
2 cups sour cream
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
almonds, raisins, and/or edible flowers for decorating
special equipment: cheesecloth

Pour buttermilk into heavy 5-6 quart pan and warm over medium low heat, stirring once or twice until separated into curds and whey (about 20 minutes).

Line a fine mesh strainer (or colander) with 2 layers of cheesecloth, rinsed and squeezed dry.

Pour curds and whey through strainer. Let stand until curds stop dripping, 10-15 minutes.

Pick up the cheese cloth around the curds and squeeze to discard clear whey.

Tada! You have beautiful curd cheese made from buttermilk!

Combine the curds, lemon zest, eggs, sour cream, and vanilla bean seeds in a food processor. Process until very smooth. In the heavy pan, combine the butter and the sugar. Heat over low heat, stirring, until the butter melts. Add the processed mixture to the pan with the butter and sugar, and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Line several 3 small bowls or clay pots with 2 layers of cheesecloth.

Pour cheese mixture into containers.

Fold excess cloth over cheese. Transfer to refrigerator to chill for 6-24 hours.

Invert onto serving plate, decorate with almonds/raisins or edible flowers, and serve. Or chill up to 3 days.

Happy Easter! Part 3: Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze

I love rhubarb. It’s a vegetable with an identity crisis because it’s usually prepared and eaten as a fruit would be. The night before Easter, we ate dinner at La Posta, where my mom ordered a salad special that contained thin slices of raw rhubarb. I tried a bite and agreed that its subtle flavor and light crunch was appealing and a nice change from the usual baked or stewed rhubarb. Happy to have enjoyed rhubarb in its pure state, we baked it in a puff pastry tart for a light Easter dessert the next day. It was simple to make and the orange glaze on top is the perfect match to the tart rhubarb!

Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze
(From the April 2009 Gourmet)

1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced diagonally (about 1/8 inch)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17 1/4-ounces package), thawed
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

  • Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.
  • Stir together orange juice, lime juice, and sugar in a bowl. Add rhubarb and let stand, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cut pastry in half lengthwise, then roll out each piece into an 11-by 7-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Arrange pastry rectangles side by side on an ungreased large baking sheet.
  • Make a 1/2-inch border around each pastry rectangle by lightly scoring a line parallel to each edge (do not cut all the way through). Prick pastry inside border all over with a fork.
  • Strain rhubarb mixture through a sieve set over a bowl, reserving liquid. Top 1 pastry rectangle (within border) with half of rhubarb, overlapping slices slightly. Repeat with remaining pastry and rhubarb.
  • Bake until pastry is puffed and golden (underside of pastry should also be golden), 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on it. The pastry can easily go from golden to black!
  • Meanwhile, boil reserved rhubarb liquid in a small saucepan, skimming foam if necessary, until reduced to about 1/4 cup, 15 to 18 minutes.
  • Transfer tarts to a rack. Brush rhubarb and pastry with glaze and sprinkle with zest. Makes 8 servings.

Happy Easter! Part 2: Lemony Couscous with Peas, Mint, and Pea Shoots

This may have been another Easter side dish, but my fork kept gravitating to it on my plate, as if it were the main dish. We dressed couscous up for spring with peas, cumin seeds (ground in a mortar and pestle), fresh mint from the garden, refreshing pea shoots (I love how much delicate pea flavor is concentrated in the shoot), and a scattering of crunchy almonds. It would be delicious on its own for lunch, with kabobs, salmon, or ham for dinner … ok, pretty much anything! The measurements aren’t specific because depending on how much couscous you make, you add the other ingredients in proportion to that, using your own judgment.

Lemony Couscous with Peas, Mint, and Pea Shoots:

1 package of couscous
olive oil
green onion
snow peas
ground cumin seed
fresh mint, chopped
1-2 lemons
fresh or frozen peas
salt & pepper
a splash of tangerine (or orange) juice
pea shoots
almonds, roughly chopped

  • Cook the couscous according to package directions, adding some olive oil or butter along with the hot water. When it’s ready, fluff with a fork and set aside.
  • In a large serving bowl, toss in some sliced green onion, snow peas that have been cut in half, some ground cumin seed, chopped fresh mint, and the juice of a lemon.
  • Add the couscous (it’s ok if it’s still warm) to the bowl, and a few handfuls of peas. Gently combine. Taste and add more lemon juice. Season with salt & pepper. (Can be refrigeratred overnight at this point, covered).
  • Just before serving, add a splash of tangerine juice to the couscous salad and gently stir. Arrange the pea shoots around the bowl. Sprinkle some chopped almonds on top.

Couscous making its debut next to the Easter ham.

Happy Easter! Part 1: Farro Salad with Marinated Baby Artichokes

May the freshness of spring remind you of new hope, new life, and new beginnings. This Easter felt extra special because it was the first one in 3 years where we were surrounded by family and friends back in our own country. We enjoyed a feast full of fresh spring produce, ham that came from a happy (and local) TLC Ranch pig, a few ping-pong games, and of course an egg hunt or two! I’ll be posting some recipes in a few separate posts, but in this one I’ll paint the general picture and share the first of two springy salads.

Farro Salad with Marinated Baby Artichokes:

Farro is my new favorite grain. I’m glad that I recently became aware of its existence. It takes longer to cook than other grains, but its sweet, nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture in the end is worth the wait, especially in this simple salad with baby artichokes, bell pepper, rosemary and lemon. When my mom and I went shopping for Easter dinner ingredients, we were immediately attracted to some cute little artichokes. When we got home, we boiled them, pulled off the leaves until the tender ones were exposed, trimmed the stems, cut them in half lengthwise and threw them into a bowl, where they mingled with the juice of a lemon, chopped fresh garlic, olive oil and parsley overnight … resulting in the perfect DIY marinated artichokes!

We toasted the farro in some olive oil in the bottom of a heavy pot until it was fragrant and nicely coated with oil, about 3 minutes. Then we added water to the pot, brought it to a boil, and cooked the farro until tender (according to package directions, about 20 minutes). After draining the farro, it cooled on a cookie sheet for a little while. Meanwhile, we cut bell peppers into strips, chopped some green onions, and some fresh rosemary. When the farro was cool enough to touch, we poured it into a large bowl, added the marinated baby artichokes from the day before, the bell pepper, green onion, rosemary, more lemon juice to taste, and seasoned with salt.

Colorful flower pots containing spring seeds, chocolate, and other springy surprises awaited each “kid” (though most of us have grown up):

Easter is that special day on which you can keep a bowl of pastel-colored candy on the counter and eat it all day.

My brother unveiled the 3rd batch of his beer – this time an Irish Porter. We enjoyed its refreshing, complex flavor while devouring a cheese plate. Then we piled as much of this menu as we could onto our plates and ate outdoors on the deck, taking in one of the first warm days of spring:

*recipe coming soon … these are the things that I helped make this year.

Thyme Honey Glazed Ham
Grilled Salmon
Grilled Asparagus with my brother’s homemade Green Garlic Aioli
Farro Salad with Baby Artichokes
Couscous with Peas, Lemon, Mint & Pea Shoots*
Roasted Beet Salad with Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese
Mixed Greens with Edible Flowers
Francese Bread

And of course something sweet:

Pashka (a traditional Russian Easter dessert)*
Chef Panisse Almond Cake
Rhubarb Tarts with Orange Glaze*

Faith takes a moment to rest. It takes a lot of energy to beg for Easter ham.

Chocolate-Guinness Cake & Black Velvet Cocktails

This is the last cake I’ll be making for a while. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I didn’t have a baking disaster that ended in tears. Quite the contrary. I enjoyed making this cake very much. The recipe was easy to follow, the ingredients simple, and I even got to drink the leftover stout while it was baking. No, the reason I won’t be making any more cakes for a while is that when we returned home last night from our corned beef eating-frenzy at my parents’ house, my two naughty cats had gotten into the dish drainer and chewed my silicone baking pan. Little holes are now all over the bottom and sides of the poor thing. Their intentions I’ll never know, but anyway I’m quite pissed about it. Now that I’ve vented to you about my pan, I must turn to the cake. It kicks ass. The Guinness Stout gives it a wonderful depth of flavor, sort of nutty and caramely. I’m usually not a fan of the ultra rich, death-by-chocolate sort of cakes, so this one was a nice surprise. Its complex flavor was pleasing both to my brother’s palate (the chocolate lover) and mine. Instead of the icing in the original recipe, I decided to finish it off with a dusting of powdered sugar in order to highlight the flavor of the cake itself. I should also note that the recipe below (halved from the original) fits in a 9-inch circle cake pan, but not my silicone one anymore, thanks to Arius and Jonas!

Chocolate-Guinness Cake

(From Smitten Kitchen, which was adapted from the September 2002 Bon Appetit. Original recipe from the Barrington Brewery in Barrington, MA)

1 cup Guinness (or other stout)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (I always use salted)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.
  • Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to a simmer in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Let cool slightly.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt until combined.
  • Using electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat until just combined. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer cake to rack; cool completely in the pan, then turn cake out onto serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with Black Velvets:

Black Velvets

If you’ve never heard of a Black Velvet, it’s worth trying, even if it’s just for the oddity of the sound of it. It’s a very intriguing combination of Guinness (or other stout) and sparkling wine (or champagne) which you’ll find to be both rich and effervescent. If you are patient and carefully poor the sparkling wine over the back of a spoon, you can get it to sit on top of the stout. If being the key word. We were too excited to dig into the cake to perfect the method! A little research taught me that this cocktail originated at the Brooks Club in London. It was served in 1861 when people were mourning the passing of Prince Albert.

Guinness Stout
Sparkling Wine

  • Fill a champagne flute half way with Guinness.
    • Gently pour the champagne over the back of a spoon so it runs down the sides of the glass and doesn’t mix with the beer. If it doesn’t work, don’t worry. Just enjoy the drink as it is!

    My First Caviar!

    On New Year’s Eve I branched out and tried some caviar at my parents’ house. I wasn’t sure what to expect, being that I’m not a fan of tobiko in Japanese cuisine (orange fish eggs, which are larger than caviar. There’s something about that “bursting ” sensation when you bite down on them that I dislike). But despite my expectations, this was a great culinary experience. The whole spread is perfect for special occasions. I’m a caviar-convert. First, my Mom made some buckwheat blinis (little savory Russian pancakes). If you haven’t had buckwheat before, it imparts a nice earthy flavor to the light pancakes.

    We spooned some melted butter over them (I learned that there’s a phrase in Russian – something to the effect of “If the butter isn’t running down your elbows, you don’t have enough butter on your blini“). Indeed, I had enough butter. Then we topped the buttery blinis with a dollap of crème fraîche, some chopped hard-boiled egg seasoned with salt and pepper, some chives, and finally the caviar. It was one bite of bliss, followed by a flute of delectable sparkling wine. What a way to start the culinary journey of 2009!

    Did you know that you’re not supposed to serve caviar with a metal spoon? I didn’t either. Use a serving utensil made of something else, such as plastic or bone. Also, keep the caviar cool over ice.

    Roll-and-Cut Sugar Cookies

    What do German Shepherds, trees, people, stars, and firetrucks have in common? Absolutely nothing except that those are the cookie cutters that my Mom and I decided to use for our decorated sugar cookies! You can sprinkle the cookies with colored sugars and add pieces of nuts before baking, or you can decorate your cookies when they cool with a simple icing made from combining powdered sugar, a little water (until it reaches a good consistency), and food coloring of your choice. These cookies made great Christmas gifts this year!

    Roll-and-Cut Sugar Cookies

    (Adapted from the December 2008 issue of Food and Wine)

    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    2 sticks cold salted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    2 large egg yolks
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    Colored sugar, pieces of nuts, and/or icing for decorating

    • In a food processor, add the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is broken up into small pieces. Continue to pulse until flour and butter form small clumps.
      • Add the egg yolks and vanilla and process at low speed until the dough comes together in a few large clumps. Pat the cookie dough into two 1/2-inch-thick disks, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate until chilled but not firm, about 30 minutes.
      • Preheat the oven to 375°. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, working with 1 disk at a time, roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut the dough into shapes and transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Re-roll the scraps and cut out more cookies. Refrigerate the cutout cookies until chilled, about 30 minutes (we skipped this step and the cookies baked just fine). Sprinkle the cookies with colored sugar and add nuts, if you need to make eyes, ears, noses, etc.
      • Bake the cookies for about 13 minutes, until they are lightly golden around the edges; shift the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through for even baking. Let the sugar cookies cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then, using a metal spatula, carefully transfer them to a rack (we just used the counter) to cool completely, about 20 minutes.
      • Decorate with icing and have fun!

      We hope everyone had a great Christmas!

      Vanilla-Lime Bites

      These bite-sized cookies are delicate and buttery, with a burst of lime and just enough sweetness from a dusting in powdered sugar – the perfect holiday cookie. Merry Christmas from our kitchen to yours!

      Vanilla Lime Bites

      (Adapted from the Vanilla Crescents in the December 2008 issue of Food & Wine)

      2 sticks salted butter, softened
      1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
      1 lime, zest and juice
      1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
      2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

      Pinch of salt

      • Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
      • Using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter with 1/2 cup of the confectioners’ sugar until pale white, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, lime zest and juice.
      • Add the flour and salt and beat at low speed just until combined.
      • Form small balls with the dough in the palm of your hand. Carefully transfer the balls to the baking sheets, leaving an inch between them.
      • Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden and the tops are pale blond; shift the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through for even baking.
      • Let cookies cool for 10 minutes on wire racks (or the counter).
      • Fill a small bowl with confectioners’ sugar. While the cookies are still warm, coat them in the sugar and transfer to a clean sheet of parchment paper to cool slightly.
      • Roll the cooled cookies in the sugar again and let cool completely.

      *Vanilla-Lime Bites can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for up to 1 week. Dust the cookies very lightly with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

      Fresh Cranberry & Mint Sauce (and other Thanksgiving tales)

      Once upon a time there was a condiment that not only went well with turkey, but could also be drunk as a cocktail. Seriously. The tartness of the cranberries, and the burst of citrus and mint would be even better with champagne or rum. This is how it works:

      In a food processor, simply place a big handful of fresh cranberries. Add half of a whole tangerine (yes, peel and all) that you’ve cut into several pieces. Add a few tablespoons of maple syrup (you can always taste and add more later). Add a handful of fresh mint leaves. Pulse for a few seconds at a time until its consistency makes you happy. Taste. Add some more maple syrup if it’s too tart. Before serving, stir in some grapefruit segments and any extra juice. Serve as a condiment with turkey (or other meat). Or place mixture in the bottom of champagne flutes and fill with champagne to the top, or make a cranberry version of a mojito!

      On our Thanksgiving table this year we had cranberry sauce 3 ways. This was obviously one of them. My brother made a spicy cranberry sauce that had been simmered with some rocoto peppers. And my mom made a sweet cranberry sauce that was studded with pomegranate seeds.

      Instead of place cards on our Thanksgiving table, my brother and I collected fresh figs from my parents’ fig tree outside. I wrote everyone’s names using a silver permanent marker and used them as “place figs.”

      To get the Thanksgiving festivities underway, we tasted the second batch of my brother Lars’s beer — this time a Scottish Ale — and oh my gosh it was so good!

      Look at that beautiful foam on top!

      And it tasted so delicious with the spiced nuts and a cheese plate.

      I swear the food was extra-delicious this year, probably because this was our first “real” Thanksgiving in two years. You may remember last year when we were living in Japan, we had to roast a chicken breast in lieu of turkey. Here are the beautifully golden turkeys that were slow cooked in the smoker all afternoon.

      The smokiness complimented the corn-bread and chorizo stuffing that my mom made, using the recipe in the 2008 November issue of Gourmet. The stuffing on the right was made with cubes of focaccia with bits of roasted lemon that gave bursts of flavor with every bite.

      Yes, I fit a ridiculous amount of food on my plate. But I had to try a little of everything, clockwise from top: smoked turkey (dark meat, please!) with gravy, roasted beet salad with mustard vinaigrette, arugula salad, stuffing with roasted lemon, corn-bread and chorizo stuffing, sautéed sliced brussel sprouts with garlic and bacon, creamed pearl onions with thyme, roasted butternut squash with sage, and last (but not least) Lars’s garlic mashed potatoes.

      Good thing I saved room for dessert, because we had an entire line of pies to choose from that my Uncle Rick made: Chocolate cream, coconut cream, pumpkin, and pecan. And yes, I had a (small) slice of each. They were exquisite!!

      We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

      My 25th Birthday at Soif Restaurant & Wine Bar

      Soif means “thirst” in French, and this Santa Cruz restaurant known for its small plates, wine bar, and cozy wine retail shop, definitely quenched our thirsts and satisfied our appetites on November 22nd. My fabulous parents rented the private room upstairs that overlooks the dining room and bar to celebrate my Quarter-of-a-Century Birthday. A few weeks before, my Mom and I had the fun task of studying the menu and selecting a smaller version to offer our guests, paired with wines of our choice.

      When everyone arrived there were plates of almonds and marinated olives already on the table, soon joined by several cheese platters, and salumi platters. When it came time to decide on the appetizer and entrée, it was extremely difficult, even though I knew for weeks what the choices were going to be. But I knew I made the right decision when I laid eyes on the Crispy Five-Spice glazed chicken wings w/ marinated cabbage. Three wings sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds arrived on top of colorful cabbage.They were sweet, tangy and ended with just the amount of heat. The marinated cabbage was the perfect cooling accompaniment. They went deliciously well with both the Prosecco and the Austrian white wine that we had chosen.

      For the entrée I had the most perfect, pillowy Yukon gold potato gnocchi, served with flavorful roasted Chanterelle mushrooms and wild arugula; the simple buttery sauce allowed the ingredients to shine. The smoothness of the Windy Oaks Pinot (a local wine from the Santa Cruz Mountains) went beautifully well with the delicate gnocchi.

      Dessert was the hardest decision of all, but I couldn’t say no to homemade churros, soft in the middle and crispy and cinnamony on the outside, served next to a small cup of thick, rich hot chocolate -A heavenly birthday dessert definitely worthy of a candle. I decided to end the meal with an espresso, and a final glass of the bubbly Prosecco. It was a wonderful night with all the flavors I love, and of course the people I love too!

      I wish I could reflect on everything that was consumed that night, but it would take too long for me to write (and you to read). So please enjoy the pictures and overview of everything we enjoyed!

      Small Plates:

      Roasted Marcona almonds
      Marinated olives

      Salumi Platter:

      Salame Rosa

      Cheese Platter:

      Le Delice de Bourgogne – triple milk cow’s milk; France
      Mad River Roll – ripened goat’s milk; California
      Petit Agour – raw sheep’s milk; Basque
      Taleggio – cow’s milk; Italy
      Blu Val Chiusella – raw cheep and cow’s milk; Italy

      Appetizer (choice of one):

      Crispy Five-Spice glazed chicken wings w/ marinated cabbage

      Endive salad w/ Butter pears, Gruyere & walnuts

      Roasted Kabocha squash on baby Mizuna w/ toasted hazelnuts and Manchego cheese

      Entree (choice of one – duck not pictured; too busy eating it):

      Yukon gold potato gnocchi w/ roasted Chanterelle mushrooms & wild arugula

      Red Wine braised beef cheeks w/ baby carrots & horseradish mashed potatoes

      Crispy duck breast & leg confit w/ Romano beans & huckleberry gastrigue

      Dessert to die for (choice of one):

      Vanilla bean rice pudding w/ red wine poached dried plums

      Apple walnut crisp w/ vanilla ice cream

      Warm chocolate cake w/ espresso ice cream

      Churros w/ hot chocolate

      The Wines:

      NV Soligo Prosecco
      Prosecco di Valdobbi, Veneto, Italy

      2007 Ecker “Von Stokstal” Gruner Veltliner
      Donauland, Austria

      2006 Windy Oaks “Estate Cuvee” Pinot Noir
      Santa Cruz Mountains, California

      2006 Windy Oaks “Diane’s Block” Pinot Noir
      Santa Cruz Mountains, California

      Soif Wine Bar & Restaurant
      105 Walnut Ave. Santa Cruz