Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Dessert - A Holiday Parfait

Parfait sounds kind of lame, I know. But this was a great and easy to assemble dessert that looked really pretty. I will admit, however, that I thought it was out of balance. I was really worried it would be too sweet, and instead it ended up being a bit too tart. I needed one more layer of sweetness somewhere.

Here's what I did. I made a homemade cranberry sauce, but went light on the sugar. Here's the cranberry sauce recipe:

1 bag cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
1/4 ruby port
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamon

I used three 8 oz containers of mascarpone, and whipped in about 2 oz of grand marnier and 1/3 cup sugar. I also shredded a small block of bittersweet chocolate, but I think semi sweet or milk chocolate would work better. I'd recommend shredding enough to have a half cup. Crush nila wafers (about six per parfait, this amount of mascarpone will easily make six large servings) in a plastic bag. Segment one to two blood oranges per parfait, and then chop them roughly.

Using pretty serving glasses (I used large shrimp cocktail glasses), layer in the following order: thin layer of cranberry sauce, nila wafers, shaved chocolate, mascarpone, oranges, mascarpone, chocolate, nila wafers, thin layer of cranberry to cover the top.

For that classy finishing flair, top with a little shaved white chocolate. Serve chilled.

This is very simple, very elegant, and I think with a few adjustments will be a super hit, rather than just a very good dessert.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Restaurant Review: Chalit

Chalit is one of three places in Harrisburg that does Thai. I was having a serious spicy (as in flavorful, not hothot) craving, because I got really sick on Tuesday, and therefore had spent two days on a stomach imposed oatmeal only diet. My taste buds were pretty sure they were being tortured.

While this is my first experience with Chalit, I doubt it will be my last, so I'm just going to list the items I ordered and review.

Golden Triangle: Appetizer. Deep fried triangles sent from Heaven. They are stuffed with a combination of shrimp, scallops, and some other stuff. I honestly couldn't distinguish what all was in each wonderful crunchy triangle, but they were great. The dipping sauce, some type of aioli, left a bit to be desired though. Still, will do this again. And again. And....

Pad Thai: I was not wowed by this, but it was still a solid effort. I honestly think pad thai is better when its that kind of greasy-oily-totally bad for you pad thai. This was all sorts of wholesome and healthy. I also got veggie pad thai, which had a good selection of veggies but, eh. So wholesome. I asked for just a bit of spice, and I would have said that it was just sigh of medium spicy. But, really, the spicy scale is always hard to guage. My "HOLY CRAP FIRE TONGUE HOT OW!" is Dean's "Meh. This is almost spicy." I probably won't go back for the pad thai again.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Best. Brunch. Ever.

My mom took me to La Croix at the Rittenhouse in Philadelphia. I was super excited. This place had been named by Philadelphia Magazine as the best brunch in Philly. Man oh man. They weren't lying. SO GOOD!

This... This is the beautiful, delicious, amazing, incredible spread we got to devour. We ate for two hours. TWO HOURS! My mom was so full by the end that she felt sick.

I'm just going to give the "oh wow!" super highlights, because almost everything was fantastic. First prize went to the gnocchi with sunchoke and kale, which was unbelievably good. The dish was creamy and savory, and the gnocchi had the perfect consistency. A surprisingly delish dish was the coddled egg, which was maple glazed and topped with fried onions. The texture looked creepy and squishy, but it actually wasn't weird when you ate it, and was surprisingly sweet with a little salty from the onions. The best of the numerous perfectly sized starters was the foie gras mousse with grapefruit. It was the perfect little bite. Savory and smokey from the foie gras, with a tart finish at the end. And my favorite dessert, by far, was the goat cheese panna cotta with sour cherry compote and mini vanilla wafers. The dessert had just enough sweet, but wasn't overpowering. And paired with the crunchy wafer and the tart cherries, it just really came together perfectly. And it, too, came in the perfect size.

I haven't even done justice to this fabulous brunch. Everything was wonderful. The presentation of the food and the layout were pretty spectacular. They served all the hot dishes in the kitchen, so you got to see the work space and the kitchen staff! The service was excellent, attentive, and kept our coffee cups full and hot! And the ambiance of this restaurant was extremely upscale. They gave us a wonderful table for two, which allowed us to look out on the Rittenhouse Square and people watch.

One little warning. This place may give you major sticker shock. Brunch for two, with cocktails, ran us $150 before tip. But I promise it will be the most mind blowing brunch you've ever had.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Cake of Gloriousness

Technically this is a Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake. But doesn't my name sound so much more...glorious?!

This is a complicated looking recipe, but it really wasn't that hard. I'm going to break it down into pieces.

To start, prepare two 9" round pans. Butter them, put a round of parchment at the bottom of each one, butter the parchment, and then flour the cake pans. Pre-heat the oven to 350.

The Cake:
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1.5 cups of plain pumpkin puree
1.5 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk

Melt the butter in a heavy duty sauce pan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.

Bake the cakes until a tester comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping the cakes out onto a rack. Allow them to cool completely.

The Topping:
1.5 tbs unsalted butter
2/3 cups pecans
1/2 cup raw, unsalted, hulled pepitas (I actually didn't use these because I couldn't find them, so if you can't find them, just use more pecans)
2 tbs packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs chopped crystallized ginger

Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts and cook until the pecans brown, about 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and salt, and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger pieces, and remove from heat. Allow to cool in the nonstick skillet.

The Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar

Melt the butter in a heavy duty sauce pan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and put in the freezer to chill until the butter is just firm. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble the Cake:
Put one layer of the cake on a cake stand. Cover with 1/2 cup of the frosting. Sprinkle 1/2 cup (or about 1/2 of the topping) over the frosting, and then top with the second layer of the cake. Use the remaining frosting to frost the remaining cake. Add the rest of the nut mixture on top of the cake.

I know I know. There's a lot going on in this recipe. But it turns out really really delicious. And pretty!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Long Awaited Review: Andre's at the Monte Carlo

So, this is more than a month after I had my wonderful seven course tasting menu dinner at Andre's. Luckily I took extensive notes on the meal, and the restaurant kindly provided me with a copy of the tasting menu, and the wines they paired for me! Wonderful touch, and certainly a sign of the high caliber of this restaurant.

First, I want to mention the gorgeous decor, in my favorite color pairing! Chocolate and turquoise. The dining area was intimate, modern, chic, and extremely comfortable. Absolutely gorgeous. And on my trip to the bathroom I stopped in to check out the swanky cigar bar and private dining area. Pretty sweet. I'd definitely try to find my way there some other time.

So, I'm going to organize this post by course, since there was a lot of delicious food!

Amuse Bouche: Brown butter Dover sole mousse. This was delicate, extremely rich and buttery, but I could still taste a little bit of fishy. Fish mousse weirds me out (and reminds me of a horrible cod liver mousse my mom and I had in Paris!)

Round 1: King Crab Mignon,with smoked grabanzo, winter melon, and umbrian olive oil. Paired with a 2009 Whitehall Lane, Sauv Blanc, Napa Valley. The garbanzo and winter melon were very strange on their own. Rather salty. But when you put it all together, it really came together, and tasted pretty delicious. The wine was a great pair, because it had a very fruity nose with a crisp taste. It gave a nice sweet balance to the salty starter.

Round 2: Diver scallop, caviar, lotus root, with a coconut and yellow curry sauce. Paired with 2008 Chamisal, Chardonnay, Unoaked, Central Coast. This was my first foray into caviar. And, in all likelihood, my last. Blech. Just not my thing. The salty factor was fine, but I just couldn't deal with the fishy flavor. Sigh. But the rest of this dish was awesome. The curry was spicy, full of flavor, and incredibly delicious with the perfectly prepared scallop. The caviar was served on the lotus crisp, which was very beautifully plated. The Chardonnay was sharper than I'd expected, and helped to smooth the spicy scallops. A very nice pairing.

Round 3: Seared foie gras with roasted apples and five-spice angalise sauce. No wine pairing on this one. And no wine pairing was needed. This was AMAZING! It tasted like a buttery apple pie, with just a hint of woody smokey flavor. I took tiny tiny bites to savor this amazing dish, and was so sad when it was gone!

Intermetzo: pear sorbet with sparkling water and mint oil. This was lovely with mild flavors. There was a hint of mint and sparkle!

Round 4: Berkshire pork belly, with jeweled yam, tonka bean, puff pastry and a truffle jus. Paired with a 2003 Chanteclair Merlot, France. This was a pretty incredible dish. The sides were paired so beautifully with the pork. They were smooth, rich, and could almost have been a dessert. The tonka beans, which I'd never had before, tasted like butter. The merlot was a great pair for this very rich plate, because the merlot really cut through the fat. I loved everything about this plate.

Whew. I'm getting full. And then...

Round 5: Marcho Farms veal duo with maitaki mushroom, root spinach and cardamon jus. Paired with a 2003 Chateau Grand Bert, Saint Emilion, France. The duo was a veal steak and sweet breads. And this was a giant portion! The veal steak could have been served on its own, and I was already getting full. The steak was incredibly tender, peppery, and had a very delicate flavor to it. The sweet breads had only subtle flavoring, so it really allowed the flavor of the meat to speak for itself. The spinach and mushrooms were very salty, but tasted amazing in combination with the meat. Particularly the steak, because it wasn't salted but did have wonderful pepper flavor. The Bordeaux was full bodied, definitely the biggest wine of the night.

Round 6: Morbier with candied pistachios, and cassis and green peppercorn jam. I was so full at this point. The pistachios were really sticky. As in stick in your teeth sticky. Eating the cheese by itself was extremely strong. But in combination this was very good.

Round 7: Whew! We made it. And this. This dish was amazing. Chocolate marqius with milk chocolate and raspberry. Paired with a 2006 Sauternes, Charmes de Rieussec. Dessert wines. Meh. I just don't love them. Too sweet. My least favorite pairing. Paired with one of the best chocolate desserts I have ever had. This chocolate was delicious, decadent, and had a perfect smooth and creamy texture. And the raspberries and raspberry sauce really set it off. My grandmother, who doesn't like chocolate, ate her entire dessert. She loved it. And that is really saying something.

Overall, this was a fantastic experience. The service was impeccable. The chef came out to check on our experience. They always had at least two servers to take the silver dome lids off the plates. Yes. That's right. Silver dome lids. So French! And yet...this restaurant put an amazing new spin on classic French cuisine.

I guess I should mention the price. The seven course meal was $125. The wine pairing (which I did the 5 course wine pairing, not the 7), was an additional $65. And, you know what? It was 100% worth it. The five course meal skipped the cheese plate, which wouldn't have bothered me. But it also skipped the Foie Gras. And missing that would have been a mistake. So good. So so so good.

So, if you're in Vegas. Go big. And go to Andre's.

Thanksgiving - Part 1 - So It Begins!

We're T minus 5 days to Tday. I've tried to pick a menu this year that allows me to gradually make things over the next few days. Today's item: Cheddar-Cayenne Coins (or Crackers for, you know, normal people).

Got this recipe from Fine Cooking's 2009 holiday magazine. Seemed like a good appetizer to put out with veggies and dip. This came together very easily, and since you can make the dough up to a month in advance, and actually bake the crackers a week in advance, it allows for a leisurely build up.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 oz sharp cheddar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
2 tbs water
Kosher salt for sprinkling

Combine the flour, cheese, salt, and cayenne in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Combine the egg yolk and water in a separate bowl, then pour over the mixture. Pulse until the dough begins to form small moist crumbs.

Pile the dough on an unfloured work surface and push and smear it with the heels of your hands. Fold each side over onto the middle, rotate 45 degrees, and smear again. Shape into a 14 inch log (about 1 1/4 inch diameter), wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Pre-heat the oven to 375, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Cut the log into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange them 1/2 inch apart on the baking sheet (these crackers really don't expand). Bake until golden around the edges, about 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt immediately after removing from the oven. Let the crackers cool. Serve immediately, or wrap in plastic and store in an airtight container (or freeze them if you need them to last a few days).

Really easy to do. Total amount of time was, maybe, 30 minutes of activity. And they taste delicious!

Get ready Thanksgiving, here I come!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Restaurant Review: CraftSteak, Las Vegas

CraftSteak is Tom Colicchio's steakhouse in the MGM. It's got serious company/competition, because MGM has a collection of restaurants laid out by the best of the best: Emeril, Wolfgang, Robucheon. CraftSteak has a gorgeous interior. Rough leather seats, spacious layout. The service was impeccable. Our waiter was extremely knowledgable, gave me a number of great recommendations, and didn't try to get me to buy the most expensive thing on the menu.

Which...I considered buying the most expensive thing on the menu. CraftSteak features some of the highest quality steak that you can get in an American restaurant. As the waiter informed me, the Japanese rate beef on a 12 point scale. American beef usually rates a 3 on this scale. CraftSteak offers Grade 7 and Grade 10 beef, in a number of cuts. The most expensive of these is a $150 Grade 10 filet mignon. Which I deeply considered ordering. You only live once, right?

Well, the waiter talked me down. So I went with a Grade 7 skirt steak. I also ordered the quail to start, and Brussels sprouts on the side. Starting with the quail, I thought the quail was good. But nothing amazing. I was a little disappointed, because I love quail, and had such high expectations for CraftSteak. And the quail had good flavor, but I didn't feel like they had added anything to it.

Here's my fantastic tip of the day, and you'll do well to remember this. My grandparents were with me, and for their 61st Anniversary, I bought them the dinner and a show package at MGM, which included a 3 course meal at CraftSteak for 2 and 2 tickets to KA. The value on this package is unbelievable. My grandparents' meal started with a bed of fresh greens with a light dressing, a full plate of prosciutto with a bit of fig preserve on the side, and a plate of roasted red peppers. With the starters they also served drop rolls in an adorable little cast iron pan. These rolls were so good! They had been brushed over the tops with salted butter, so they had great flavor. And they were served warm, and stayed that way courtesy of the cast iron tray. A lovely and delicious touch.

I took this little detour to describe the dinner-show package, because CraftSteak served the entrees family style. Which was a wonderful touch, because it allowed us all to share the fantastic variety that the show package provided. My grandparents' meal included baked chicken, hanger steak, a couple of scallops, pureed potatoes, and marinated mushrooms. It was....SO MUCH FOOD! Everything was delicious, but it really was way too much food. I ended up taking it on the plane with me the next day!

In a brief run down, the chicken was wonderful. I never get chicken, because its usually boring, but this was simple, moist, and incredibly flavorful. The scallop was well prepared. The hanger steak was great, with a little char on the outside. And the Grade 7? It was very lightly seasoned, so that it was really about the flavor of the meat. It was perfectly prepared. A great steak.

Oh, and the sides? Awwwwesome. I love Brussels sprouts, and these were pretty fab. They were all small in size, and were roasted until they had a nice crisp outside. The mushrooms were great with the steak. And I loved the potatoes, and was sad that we ended up sending so much of them back, because there was just no more room!

Finally. And this has been a long post to get to the finally. Dessert. They served us a personal size new york style cheesecake with a blueberry compote. The compote was big on the blueberries and scant on the sauce, which I prefer. That dessert was pretty good, although nothing I haven't had before. But the other dessert....MONKEY BREAD! What a great treat! They served us an individual sized bundt of monkey bread, with a side of vanilla bean ice cream, drizzled with caramel. I want that bundt pan! But I could also go for this dessert again, because it was warm, gooey, and delicious. Loved it. And, because this restaurant rocks my socks, they wrote "Happy Anniversary" on the plate! I didn't even tell the reservationist that I was doing this for my grandparents anniversary, just mentioned in passing that I had forgotten to call because their anniversary was the day before I made reservations. How thoughtful! And delicious!

So, CraftSteak definitely gets my seal of approval. Great service, great food, lovely ambiance. Everything you want in a fancy steakhouse!


Roasting: Quick and Easy Way to Make Steak

I've been experimenting with meals that are easy to make for my post work life. This one is great. Easy, delicious, filling, and it takes less than an hour total.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds (toasted and ground), 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, and 1 large clove of garlic, mashed into a paste. Add 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Rub the mixture all over the steak, and set it aside at room temperature.

For a large single serving, I used 4 medium size carrots and a 1/2 lb skirt steak. Rinse the carrots and cut them lengthwise, then chop them. Toss the carrots with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp sugar. Spread them on a baking sheet, and roast them for 15 to 20 minutes.

Pull out the baking sheet, stir the carrots, push them over to one side of the baking sheet, and put the steak on the baking sheet. Roast for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a meat thermometer read 130 to 135. Stir the carrots at least once during the roast time.

Remove from the oven, and cover the steak with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thin before serving.

I also made some couscous (from a box) while the steak was roasting. So everything comes together at the same time.

Great flavor, really easy. Awwwwwesome!

Tom Colicchio's got NOTHIN on me. Well....maybe not. But I'm working on it!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pear Cranberry Crostada Fail

You win some, you lose some. And this was...a draw?

I'm going to have to make this again, so I'll post the recipe at that time. But for some reason I really struggled with this one. I was rushing, and didn't really want to be in the kitchen. I couldn't get the crust to roll out, and got frustrated with it. It was too thick on one end, not thick enough at the other, which became a pretty big problem when I tried to fold up the pie around the filling.

During the baking process, my crust sprung a little leak. Bummer. The filling pretty much stayed in the shell, but, well, this thing was ugly. Franken-stada. See for yourself...

It still tasted delicious. And, thankfully, this recipe made twice as much of the dough and almond cream as it took to make the crostada. So all I need to do is buy a few more pears, and try it all over again. Woot?


I love peanut butter. And now I can love all sorts of other nut butter, because I discovered that it was beyond easy to make. I got this recipe from Fine Cooking, and I cut it in half, but I'll give you the full recipe because I can tell that the half recipe is going to last me less than a week!

2 cups raw pecans, toasted almonds, or toasted and skinned hazelnuts
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 to 4 tbs canola, vegetable, or other neutral-flavored oil
1 tsp honey (I didn't cut this in half for mine, so I might double this next time for a full recipe)

1. In a food processor pulse the nuts until roughly chopped.
2. Add the salt and begin to puree.
3. Add only as much oil as needed to make the nuts break down. I added the oil in teaspoons, usually 2 at a time, and I did it 3 times for a half recipe.
4. Add the honey and pulse to mix.
5. Transfer to a jar. It stores 6 to 9 months in the fridge, or 2 months in a "cool dry place," as if it will last that long!

I didn't puree mine until it was completely smooth, so it was a little bit chunky, but another way to make truly chunky nut butter is to coarsely chop 1/4 cup of the original 2 cups of nuts, and then mix that into the smooth nut butter by hand.

So easy. So delicious. My life has been altered!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Brussels Sprouts! My favorite!

Man, I really love them. And if you'll remember, in August I had some truly awesome ones at Perbacco, a fantastic Italian place in San Francisco.

So, last night I attempted to recreate them. Last time I tried recreating something, it didn't turn out so well. But I had a pretty good beat on these.

So what did I do? I rinsed, trimmed, and halved some fresh brussels sprouts. I melted some butter, and tossed the sprouts in with the butter. Then I mixed together honey and Dijon mustard in about equal amounts (I didn't make very many brussels sprouts, so I used maybe 1 tsp of each) and mixed it in with the brussels sprouts. Seasoned with salt and pepper, and roasted for 20 minutes at 450. I mixed the brussels sprouts a few times, so that they browned evenly.

Totally delicious. Giant win!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Taste of Colorado

I had the great pleasure of hitting up Taste of Colorado with three fantastic friends who were willing to try, and share, 12 hours of tasty treats! I jotted down comments while we made our rounds. I'm leaving out many of the unremarkable items.

1. Lora's Donuts: I had the old fashioned, and it was tasty, but nothing special. I definitely prefer the Cville farmer's market donuts better.

2. Dave's Famous BBQ: This was one of the things I was really looking forward to. Chocolate covered bacon! But, apparently I was looking forward to it too much. The bacon was thin cut, and the chocolate overpowered the bacon flavor. But at Dave's we also tried the pulled pork, which was really delicious. The devil's spit sauce was nicely spicey. Not impossibly hot, and with a delicious flavor.

3. Mustard's Last Stand: these were chicago style hot dogs. The toppings were great, and I'll definitely do chicago style again, but the dog itself was unremarkable.

4. Divine Donuts: These were lovely! They were like mini funnel cakes, which made them wonderful, because a full funnel cake is always too much. But a few little funnel cake rings? Perfection!

5. Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe: I tried the cactus burrito. And, ya know, I really enjoyed this. It had the texture of red bell pepper. I think that it had been pickled, but that made the flavor interesting. I would definitely do this again.

6. Bayou Bob's: Fried alligator is dissapointing EVERY time I have it. Never having it again. Done with it. This stuff was awful. Blech.

7. Cookie Indulgence: Deep fried cookie dough. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. What do I need to say about this? Heart attack in a little container. Delicious, wonderful, ooey-gooey heart attack.

8. Randolph's: Golden beet gazpacho was delicious, refreshing, and had a very pretty golden yellow color.

9. Assignments Restaurant: We tried the white gazpacho and it was...disgusting. The flavors were fine, but the texture was really grainy, and it wasn't refreshing like a gazpacho usually is. It was bean and cream based, which just really didn't work out for me.

10. The Cork House Wine Restaurant: The lamb meatball was just great. It was moist, delicious, and a little gamey in a great way. It had so much more flavor than your normal run of the mill meatball. It was served with tomato sauce, and some feta. Tasty!

11. Grand Lux Cafe: OMG BEIGNETS! I've had these before, and they are always out of this world delicious. If you ever have the opportunity, these are a must have. They always come with delicious dipping sauces, and are served hot and fresh. Probably my favorite thing we had all day.

12. Xing Tea: This is a Colorado based tea company that makes canned iced tea. This tea was great. Not too sweet, like most canned teas (think Lipton's). And all natural. Very nice.

13. Hard Rock Cafe: The twisted mac n' cheese was a giant dissapointment. It had zero flavor, and was not made with flavorful or good quality cheeses. The only little bright note was a little bit of heat from the crushed red peppers they used. I'll remember that for the next time I make mac n' cheese, which will be endlessly better than this junk.

14. Tocabe: The frybread was just awful. We had a couple of bite each and threw it away. Flavorless. Just bread with cinnamon on it. Not even cinnamon sugar. Blech.

15. Saltwater Cowboy: This was our dinner. And a WONDERFUL dinner it was! We had an elk brat and a wild boar brat. These were delicious. The boar brat was nicely spicey, and the elk brat tasted like the hot dog of your dreams. It had big, bold flavor all the way through. I wonder if I can have these shipped to me, because this would take tailgating to the next level....?

16. Gigi's Cupcakes: The final item of what was a truly delicious day. Cupcakes! They had cupcakes in this perfect mini size. They were each four bites of delicious fattiness. The buttercream frosting was wonderful. My favorite combination the chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. What a perfect ending to this epic eating day!

Banana Pudding

I had some bananas that were beyond the point where I was willing to eat them on their own. Usually I make banana bread when that happens. But I'm bored with that. So I decided to find something new to make.

I started out thinking banana cream pie, because then I could make pie dough again. Turns out you need 9 bananas to do that. I had 4. So instead I ended up doing banana pudding.

The pudding was amazingly easy to make. Who knew?! I mixed together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, and 1/4 tsp salt in a sauce pan. Then I whisked in 4 egg yolks, keeping the whites for later. Once the egg yolks were thoroughly mixed in, I whisked in 1 cup of skim milk and 1 cup of heavy cream. I put the sauce pan over medium heat and whisked constantly until the mixture thickened (about 10 minutes). Took it off the heat, whisked in 1/2 tsp vanilla, and continued whisking until the mixture cooled down a little.

Before I started with the pudding I sliced the bananas and put them in a tupperware with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, occassionally turning it over to make sure the lemon juice was evenly distributed. Using an oven proof glass bowl, I layered pudding, crumbled vanilla wafers, and bananas, and then repeated that, finishing with a layer of pudding on the top.

The final touch before popping this combo in the oven was making a meringue. I've never made meringue, but it was soooo easy! Just put four egg whites in my stand mixer bowl, added a pinch of cream of tartar, and then turned the mixer on to medium/high. While the mixer was going, but before the whites had started to peak, I added 2 tablespoons of sugar. Once the whites came to hard peaks, I stopped the mixer and spooned the meringue over the pudding.

Baked the pudding at 400 degrees for a little less than 10 minutes. And out came this...

Pretty, easy, and delicious! You could probably make all sorts of combos using this as the foundation.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pie Crust, Try Two: Practice Makes Perfect

After a few weeks to mend my wounds after my sort of defeat at the hands of pie crust, I got back in the kitchen to try it all again. This time I went for a classic. Apple Pie. I used the same combination of ingredients for my pie crust, because Pennsylvania is still thwarting my efforts at getting lard (and alcohol, but that's another rant).

This time I learned from my last effort. More water. Just a little bit more. And it really made a big difference. This time I had no problem getting my dough to hold together. However, I also recognized a new flaw in my technique. I don't use my rolling pin well. I noticed it in the first disc I rolled out (I was doing a two crust pie). Rather than starting at the bottom and rolling all the way out, I often start in the middle. Hence, my crusts end up with uneven thickness, and lots of dough on one side. I tried rolling from one edge to the other with my second disc, and that turned out so much better! My pie top was beautifully even, with no tears. Go me!

For the filling, I peeled, cored, and sliced 6 apples. I prefer granny smith, but I tossed in two of the red/green ones (what are they called again?)for some variety, and then covered the apples with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. In a separate, small bowl, I mixed together 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp salt, and 2 tablespoons flour. Poured that into the apples, and tossed it until the apples were evenly coated. Once I had the filling in my pie crust, I chopped 2 tablespoons of cold butter into small cubes and spread them over the apples, then put the top layer of dough on.

And the result? Mmmmmm delicious! And that wasn't just my opinion. My guinea taster Aaron agreed! Yay!

Doesn't it look pretty?!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Delicious Chicken!

Yes. You read that right. Delicious chicken. Usually chicken is unremarkable, but the chicken I made last night was pretty freaking delicious. So I'm posting to share the recipe. I just tossed this stuff together, so I don't have exact measurements.

Take a chicken breast and slice it in half, then pound it as flat as possible. Season with salt and pepper. Layer diced sun dried tomatoes, spinach, fresh basil, and bleu cheese in the middle of the chicken. I used about half as much basil/bleu cheese as SDT/spinach. Season again with salt and pepper.

Roll the chicken starting at the small end. Secure with toothpicks.

Set up three bowls. One with flour, one with a beaten egg, and one with fresh bread crumbs. Dredge the chicken in the flour, dip it in the egg, and then coat it in the fresh bread crumbs. Set the chicken in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to 2 hours to let the bread crumbs set.

Heat olive oil in a skillet on the stove. Sear all sides of the chicken until the bread crumbs are crispy, about 2 minutes (less if the oil is smokin hot like mine was). Bake in the oven 15 to 25 minutes at 350, or until a thermometer reads 165. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting.

And...its that simple. And really really delicious! I will definitely make this again. It was even guest worthy!

Restaurant Review - Appalachian Brewing Company

The scene: Located in a former warehouse just outside of Downtown Harrisburg, the Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC) is a large restaurant, small brewery, and overall fun place to visit. Fun fact: ABC bought the building from the city for $1, because it had serious water/fire damage. They've done a wonderful job fixing it up. Downstairs they've got the restaurant and bar, where you can see the brewing tanks. Upstairs they've got a bunch of pool tables.

The food: Well, this place is more about the beer than the food, but the food wasn't bad. I had the wild hog sandwich, which was pulled bbq pork. There were lots of other things on the menu, and I probably should have picked something else, because there was no way this sandwich could compete with the deliciousness that was Ridgeway BBQ. So, the food was just all right.

But the beer! The beer was pretty fantastic. They had about 16 beers on tap. The sampler was eight "small" beers, probably 4 to 5 oz each, and a sample of their root beer! I liked most of the beers, with the exception of the IPA. But that's because I don't love hops. So if you do, then the Hoppy Trials IPA might be for you. My favorite was probably the Scottish Ale I started with, although the Mountain Lager, and the stout were also very good. And for $9? Awesome deal!

The service: The bar tenderess was very good. She asked me what I wanted, I said "Nothing too hoppy" and she brought me the beer that I ended up liking the best. Well played, Ma'am, well played. The waiter was not as fabulous. He was a little slow, but they seemed understaffed, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The price: The food seemed a little overpriced, but the beers were reasonable. And the sampler was a great deal.

The highlights: They've got a 1pm tour every Saturday,and its free! Show up at 12:45, get yourself a beer, and sip it while you learn about the history of ABC, and how they make their beers. Free samples await you at the end of the tour, too!

Final thoughts: I love a good local business, and this place was pretty great. I'll definitely be going back, if only to get my growler filled with something they've got on tap. It beats going to my local bar to get a six pack!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cherry Pie...Cobbler...Mush?

Why is a pie crust so freaking difficult when it only involves five ingredients? FIVE INGREDIENTS!

I'm really intimidated by pie crust. To the point where I actively avoid making things I think would be tasty, because I'd have to make a pie crust. But not anymore! I am going to fix that, by practicing with my pie crusts until they are easy peasy.

Unfortunately, based on the way tonight's pie crust went, I will be making many pie crusts in the near future. Sigh.

So, what went wrong? Not exactly sure. First pie crust was definitely too dry. I made the second pie crust in almost the same way, except I added a teeny bit more water. Still a little short on liquid, but even stranger...there were visible chunks of shortening and butter. The first pie crust ended up cracking during the initial baking process. As far as appearances go, that wasn't a big deal, because I filled it with the cherry filling and covered it with another crust. The second pie crust tore in the places where there was a chunk of butter/shortening, so I had to patch it using trimmed dough and a pastry brush with butter.

Since this is a pie, the filling is a big deal, right? Right. So I was going for All American Cherry Pie. Started with about 2lbs of fresh Bing cherries. I took out the pits (it was a very messy business), and cooked the cherries over medium heat, covered, until there was almost enough juice to cover the cherries. I took them off the heat, added 1/3 a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and 1/8th of a teaspoon of vanilla. I mixed it all together, and let the mixture cool completely. Poured it in the cracked pie crust, and covered it. Baked it at 375 for 50 minutes.

So, here's the outcome. It tasted great. And it looked like pie when it came out of the oven. And it looked like pie when I sliced it. And it looked like...a pile of mush once I managed to get it to my plate. Yeah. My crust was apparently too delicate and thin, and so it crumbled into a bajillion little crusty pieces. BUT it was really delicious. So, sort of a victory. Right?

I will be reattempting the pie crust in the near future. Good thing lots of fruits are in season! Apricot next time? Peach? Blueberry?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Salad Week - Day 5 - Fresh Raspberries!

I had some raspberries that were fast moving toward a moldy death in my fridge. Rather than let that happen (again), I decided to take the last group of them and make a salad. I wanted to have fresh berries on my salad, and also to make a dressing out of some of them.

Here's what I used: spinach, raspberries, avocado, cubed rosemary goat cheese, chopped cucumber, diced red onion, and lemon-basil chicken. I topped it with a super easy homemade raspberry vinaigrette.

For the chicken:
Medium sliced lemon (I used 2 rounds for each piece of chicken)
Fresh sprigs of basil (enough to cover each lemon round)
Minced shallots (I used 1 medium shallot for two breasts)
Fresh ground pepper and salt

Preheat oven to 350. Lay the lemon rounds down on a piece of foil. Cover the rounds with basil. Sprinkle half of the shallots on to the lemon/basil. Separately, season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Lay breasts on top of lemon/basil. Pour remaining shallots over the top. Fold the foil up around the chicken, and bake for 45 minutes. Warning: You might want to bake for more like 35 minutes. My chicken was not fully defrosted. Let rest for five minutes before slicing.

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup macerated raspberries
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Combine the ingredients, and add sugar (or sugar substitute - I used splenda) to taste.

This is a tasty easy salad. Definitely something you can throw together during a work week without feeling stressed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dean Razavi's Guest Post - Break Bread

I'll be honest, baking has never been my forte. Bread matters get complicated when I see “yeast” listed anywhere in the ingredients. So when I found a recipe for Orange Quick Bread that involved no yeast, and took about an hour from start to cooling-on-a-rack, I immediately had to try it. Except that I didn't have orange marmalade.
Without further ado, I give you Apricot Quick Bread!

Step 1: Mix 3 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a bowl

Step 2: Over low heat, in a small sauce pan melt 4 tablespoons of butter into 1 cup of milk

Step 3: Once the butter is melted, stir in 1/3 cup of apricot marmalade (but really, any jam, preserver, marmalade, or other fruit spread you have on hand will do!) until the marmalade is broken up.

Step 4: Let the butter, milk, and marmalade mixture cool. Once it has, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Step 5: Combine wet and dry ingredients until you have a dough

Step 6: Bake in a cooking-sprayed loaf pan (mine was 8 x 6) in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes

And that's it. The prep for this is a whopping twenty minutes of work, and most of that is waiting for your mixture to cool to add the lemon juice. I went to the kitchen at 8:40 pm and had the loaf in the oven in time for True Blood.

Noticeably absent from the ingredient list? Sugar. Look, this may have a fruit in the name. This may, on paper, sound sweet. But make no mistake ladies and gentlemen. This is bread. This ain't pastry, this ain't dessert. And this ain't sweet. Spread some butter on it, or use it to make a turkey sandwich, or toast it with some (more) marmalade on top for breakfast. Don't expect to eat it on its own and have a revelation. Do expect a tasty, fast loaf of bread.

- D

Restaurant Review - Alvaro's Bakery

The scene: Harrisburg, in the residential neighborhood a little more than a mile from downtown. Also, and conveniently, a four block walk from my apartment! Hence, you may see other posts in the future, to update on different menu items as I try them out. This is really just a corner shop, with a few tables outdoors and a few tables indoors.

The food: We ordered the eggplant Parmesan special for lunch. This was simply delicious, even if it was served on a styrofoam plate. I want to start with the pasta first. It was clearly homemade, so it was thick, and a little chewy in a very pleasant way, with a flavorful tomato sauce. The pasta actually reminded me a little of spaetzle, which was a good thing, because I love spaetzle.

The eggplant parm was superb. It was very lightly breaded and fried, and then the large piece of eggplant was folded and "stuffed" with ricotta cheese that had some herbs blended into it. It was served smoking hot, which posed a bit of a problem because it was so delicious I wanted to eat it all and very quickly.

After we finished our surprisingly good pasta, we decided to finish the meal off with gelato. These guys make the gelato in the shop and serve it up fresh, which is pretty fantastic. The vanilla had just been put out, so it was at its peak. It was creamy and and not overly sweet. I decided to go with the lemon. It was much more like granita than gelato, which on a hot day was just fine with me. I'll definitely go back and try different flavors in the future. Although, speaking of, I do wish they had labels telling you what the flavors are!

The price: Good value. The eggplant parm special was $7.99, and the gelato was about $2.50. Worth it for the quality of the food we had. I'll have to try some of their other things, to see if the price:quality ratio holds true.

The service: You shouldn't have high expectations of fancy service here, since its really more like a deli/bakery than a restaurant. But the people who worked in the shop were friendly, and efficient. And that's really all that matters.

Final thoughts: I'll probably be a regular at this place. Convenient location for me, and the food was worth it. I'll certainly be back to try some of the very pretty pastries they had in the display case!

Real Muffins!

So, in reading Alton Brown's book on baking, I discovered a horrifying truth. Okay, that may be an exaggeration. But I did learn something I was a bit disappointed about. I have never made real muffins. Ever. First, I almost always use a mix. Second, I always over mix everything. So, on a fine Saturday morning, I set out to do what I had never done before. I was going to make muffins.

I decided to make this a double experiment. I figured making muffins didn't seem that intimidating, so I also decided to test different liner options. First, according to Alton, you should always use both a lubricant and a liner. He says not to use butter, because it will release water, which will result in steam, and may change the way your goods bake. He recommended shortening, and that is just what I used. I lined 6 muffin cups with foil muffin liners. I lined 3 with paper liners. And I didn't line 3 cups at all.

The basic recipe for muffins is really pretty simple, so I don't know why I always buy a mix. I mean, I guess the mix is easier, but I get a lot more credit for doing it from scratch. I mixed my dry ingredients in my food processor (WAY better than sifting!), and mixed all my wet ingredients together, seperately. I had a hard time deciding whether I should use a liquid or dry measuring cup for the yogurt. With the liquid, I had less than I needed, with the dry, I had more. Sigh. So I also added a tablespoon of skim milk, in case it was not wet enough. I combined my two add-ins (chocolate chips and fresh, slightly macerated, raspberries) with the dry ingredients, then added in the wet ingredients until they were just combined. Juuuuuuust combined! Scooped the batter into the muffin tin and popped it in the oven.

I had a hard time figuring out if I had the right temperature. My thermometer is crap. Time to get a new one. Eventually I decided that the tops of the muffins looked "done", and I took them out. **NEW TIP!!!** When you take muffins out of the oven, you should immediately tip them all sideways in their little muffin cups. This releases the steam that may be trapped in the cup, and keeps the bottom from getting soggy. (Or you could use foil...see my experiment results below.)

Experiment Results:
All of the muffins tasted pretty delicious. The smaller ones were a little more dry than I would have liked, because my muffins were not uniform in size. Next time I'll make sure to fill all my muffin cups to the top. But they were all pretty delicious. And when I broke them open...MUFFIN CONFIGURATION! Woot! I made muffins!

So, as far as liners go. The clear winner was the foil. It was easy to get out of the muffin tin, and it didn't stick to the muffin, either. The muffin stayed more moist, as well. Second place in my book went to the no liner option. It was a bit hard to flip the muffin on its side, but not terrible. And the no liner muffins all had a nice crispy edge to them, even on the muffin bottoms. The big loser was the paper liner. Both the no liner and paper liner options had absorbed all of the shortening in the tin, which is not something I was thrilled to see. But the paper liner also really stuck to the muffin, so that when I peeled it off, it took some of the muffin with it. Dislike.

So....foil! Winner! This was a big muffin win for me! Muffin win!

The Recipe:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare the muffin tin with shortening and liners, if you so choose. Once you combine all ingredients, bake for 18 to 20 minutes, internal temperature should be 210 (or 180 if you are my thermometer :( ), or a toothpick inserted should come out clean.

Dry Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of Salt

Wet Ingredients:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup plain yogurt

Add-Ins: you can add 1 to 2 cups of whatever you'd like. I went with 1 cup macerated raspberries, and a heaping 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.

Salad Week - Day 4 - Umm....avocado and tomato salad?

I'm learning that cooking can be quick, easy, and delicious. This tuna takes about 10 minutes. Think you can handle that?

1 teaspoon of Japanese Seven Spice (enough to coat each side of the tuna)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (enough to give an even spread of salt on each side)

Heat a non-stick skillet with grape seed oil. FYI: grape seed oil is my new favorite thing. Once the oil is hot, drop the tuna in. I had a particularly thick piece of tuna, so I did 2 to 3 minutes per side. But for a really good piece of tuna, like sushi quality tuna, I'd only do it for 30 seconds to a minute.

I served this with a "salad" of diced avocado, heirloom tomato, red onion, and lemon juice. Let's pretend like this keeps with the theme, okay? Thanks.

Overall, delicious and way easy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Salad Week - Day 3 - Caprese

I've never really loved Caprese. I think it takes the right combination of vine ripened tomatoes (the tomato snob in me comes out!), fresh picked basil, and good mozzarella. And when you're shopping at the local grocery store, its hard to find that combination.

For tonight's salad, I used three heirloom tomatoes. They looked beautiful. One was red, one green, and one yellow. But they didn't taste as great as they looked. The basil was picked from my plant in the backyard. And the mozzarella was...$4.99. Suggests to me it wasn't the best choice, but the grocery store didn't have much else.

So, I'm sure you've seen caprese. Not rocket science. Slice of tomato, basil leaf, mozzarella. Stack. Make another. Then another. I always like to layer them in a ring, but if you're serving this as a group appetizer, individual stacks are convenient.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and coarse salt. I also like to add a drizzle of balsamic, or vincotto for a real treat.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Salad Week - Day 2 - Citrus and Chicken Salad

I'm trying to be efficient in this effort. Okay, fine. I'm lazy! So, tonight's salad included many similar ingredients from last night's effort. But the taste was totally different!

I started with a bed of chopped spinach. Chopping made it SO much better! And allowed me to put more on my plate. Good good! Then I put a layer of sliced chicken that was leftover from salad day one. Added some slices of grapefruit on top of that.

In a separate bowl I tossed some avocado, cucumber, red onion, and red heirloom tomato. I tossed some citrus vinaigrette (recipe to follow) into the veggie mix, along with some salt and pepper to taste. Threw it all on top, and it was just delicious! Refreshing and healthy. And definitely a more balanced salad tonight than last night.

The citrus vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (or to taste)
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard (or also to taste)

Combine ingredients. Mix. This is where I got the basics for this recipe, so if you are making salad for more than one person, or don't like my balance of ingredients (or grapefruit, because it can be a little bitter) try the original:

Salad Week - Day 1 - BBQ Chicken Salad

Okay, this may be misleading, because it wasn't BBQ chicken. But it was chicken with BBQ salad dressing. This was pretty simple. Some spinach, chicken that I baked (below), avocado, cucumber, and my semi-homemade BBQ dressing. What does that mean? Oh, I mixed some of the amazing BBQ sauce that I got from Ridgewood BBQ (see my last post) and mixed it with some yogurt and the garlic and onions from the chicken recipe.

A good salad is like a good drink. There is a fine balance of ingredients and proportions. This salad was lacking something. I think either some roasted corn or spicy toasted walnuts would have added that additional touch. Also some roasted red peppers might have been nice, or just juicy red tomatoes, to add color.

Here's how I did the chicken. Super easy, and could be served over pasta, rice or on its own.

Mix together:
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (I used chili powder. That was a mistake because I wanted some kick.)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped)
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil

Brush mixture onto four chicken breasts. Set aside. Pre-heat the oven to 350. In a cast iron skillet, brown 1/4 of a red onion (diced), and 2 cloves of garlic (finely sliced). Once brown, remove from heat. Put chicken over the top of garlic and onion and cover with foil. Place in pre-heated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Increase the temperature to 375, turn the chicken over, and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Best BBQ You'll Probably Never Have

The scene: Ridgewood BBQ, in Bluff City, TN. Kids, this is seriously off the beaten path. Originally just a single room diner hidden not far past the border of TN/VA, it is now a multi room diner hidden just past the border of TN/VA. They've got limited operating hours, so don't show up at 7:30 hoping for dinner, because they'll be closed. And do show up expecting to wait. We got there around 6:30 and had to wait about 15 to 20 minutes to get a table. But, I promise, it is absolutely worth it!

The meal: This place serves up heaping helpings of mouth watering BBQ. We ordered the BBQ pork sandwich, which was thin sliced pork in homemade BBQ sauce on a giant bun topped with some slaw, and with a side order of fries. The portions are huge. I'm a big eater, and splitting the sandwich was plenty for me. They leave a bottle of the BBQ sauce on the table, which should be used on everything! The fries. The sandwich. It's so delicious, I'd worry that people might drink it, or put it on a spoon.

I also heard the Blue Cheese and crackers are fabulous, but we didn't try those.

The service: Just what you would expect from a roadside BBQ diner. Friendly, efficient, and bustling because they've got tons of people to serve!

The price: Everything seemed reasonable. You're definitely not going to break the bank at this place, although you might have to spend a few bucks on gas to get there!

The highlights: The baked beans. Seriously out of this world. Homemade, delicious, and served in an adorable little bean pot. I could have eaten two servings, they were that good.

Final thoughts: If you're ever out this way, particularly if you're going to Asheville, this place is definitely worth the detour. Heck, even if you aren't out this way, it would be an amusing weekend adventure. And if you're hitting the NASCAR race at Bristol, then you should definitely stop in. Or place an order to pick up!

Here's the link to the yelp review with the address (ignore the 1 star reviewer who was clearly high on hater-ade):

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jessica -1. Pineapple Upside Down Cake - 1.

So, I wanted to make the PUD again, for my grandma's birthday. I was again baking in an unfamiliar kitchen. And it did not go so well.

First, I know my grandparents have a cast iron skillet. Did I know where it was? No. Did they know where it was? No. Sigh. So I had to make due with what was there. I chose a spring form pan. Probably not the best decision of my life.

I also did not have the internet, so I couldn't really look up the properties of the spring form. If I had, I may have discovered that baking in the spring form would take more time than the cast iron skillet. Sadly, I hypothesized that the spring form had thinner walls, and a thinner bottom, and would therefore take less time to bake.

At least I made one substantial right life decision. I put a baking sheet under the spring form. Good thing, because the spring form, well... it sprung a leak. So I lost a little of my delicious brown sugar topping.

I pulled the cake out early, because I'd overbaked the last time. And it was definitely not done in the middle. The only thing I'm surprised about is that I did toothpick test it. And when I pulled the toothpick out, it came out moist, but pretty clean. This means I either didn't test it in the middle (where it was still not set) or...I don't know. Because the edges were perfectly baked. They were moist, they were fluffy, the topping was delicous. And I think if I'd baked it long enough for the middle to set, the edges would have burned. But maybe I'm wrong about that.

So, if you can imagine the pineapple upside down cake, I ended up tossing the entire center of the cake. I just cut around that middle pineapple ring, because everything underneath it was not done.

Sigh. Best out of three, PUD?

Tomato Provencal

Maybe this isn't exactly the right name, and I certainly don't have all the little tillday fancy French letters, but I made a stuffed tomato a la Chef Mosher at Robert Mondavi.

I was working without a recipe, and trying to recreate the side he served with a little bernaise. I did not make the bernaise. I'm just not there yet!

These were really simple. I again used my grandparents' home grown tomatoes. One per person. I had to gently squeeze out the seeds and juices, which was a little difficult because some of their tomatoes were just too ripe. An over ripe tomato in this recipe is not the greatest, because the outer skin of the tomato will ripe, no matter how delicate you are in squeezing. A slightly younger tomato will spring back.

So, in order to squeeze out the tomato, you should cut off the top. Make sure you cut deep enough to get the stem off, and any of the whitish portion underneath the stem. Just hold the tomato over the sink (or a bowl if you want to use the juice for something else later), and gently squeeze. Rotate. Squeeze. Rotate. Do this a couple of times, until you've gotten most of the seeds out. You should have three to five little chambers for stuffing.

Now, to make the stuffing. I minced five cloves of garlic. But I like garlic, so probably two would have been fine. I minced two large shallots. I used my food processor to make fresh fluffy bread crumbs out of a single piece of bread. Just drop it in, hit pulse a handful of times, and you've got bread crumbs! I combined my garlic and shallots with the crumbs, then tossed in some chopped fresh thyme and basil. I think there are any number of fresh herbs that would work really well with this dish. Added some salt and pepper to the mix, and that was that. I would also recommend putting just a little salt and pepper down into the tomato itself.

Chef Jeff tossed in a little olive oil before stuffing the tomatoes, to make the mix more cohesive. Probably a tablespoon or two of olive oil is sufficient. It shouldn't be soup. I took the stuffing, and pushed it down into the little chambers of the tomato, then made sure to cover the top completely with a heaping mound of stuffing. It should end up looking a bit like a small stuffed pepper. Add a little salt and pepper to the top, and the tomatoes are ready for baking!

Put the tomatoes in a baking dish, and put them in an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees. I baked them for 30 minutes, but you should bake them until the breadcrumbs on the top are golden brown in color. Take them out, let them rest for a few minutes to cool. Then plate and serve!

I'll admit, the bernaise would have been a nice touch. But, hey, I'm just learning!

The Tomato Snob

I made a delicious and refreshing gazpacho. Problem being, it was delicious because I used homegrown, fresh out of my grandparent's garden, juicy sweet tomatoes. So, if you have 4 to 6 of these lying around, then make this super simple gazpacho!

4 to 6 home or locally grown tomatoes, super ripe
2 red peppers
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Tomato juice (I only used about 12 ounces, but the original recipe called for 23. I like a really thick and chunky gazpacho, though)
Fresh ground salt and pepper
1 hot house cucumber

Roughly chop all of the vegetables. Get out your food processor! I processed the garlic, jalapeno, and onion together until they were all very finely minced. I did the peppers and tomatoes until they were chunky. Don't over process the tomatoes and peppers, because you want the gazpacho to have some texture to it. Combine all the vegetables in a bowl, along with the liquid ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste (probably about 1 tsp salt and 1/4 to 1/2 tsp pepper). Let stand in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving, so the flavors can mix.

Serve chilled on a hot summer day!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Restaurant Review - Alexis Baking Company

The scene: Napa proper, hidden on a quiet semi-residential street. This is kind of a hole in the wall. Nothing fancy about the setting. Just a store front with about 15 tables. But I knew I’d made the right choice when almost everything else in Napa was asleep on Sunday morning at 8:45am, and this place had a waiting list.

The meal: I’m not even sure I need to describe the food I had the pleasure of eating. The names will do it. Stuffed pancakes with sweetened cream cheese and fresh nectarines. Cinnamon French toast with fresh nectarines and powdered sugar. Omelet with wild mushrooms and sweet onions, cinnamon toast, and breakfast potatoes. But, in case you can’t guess what these taste like, I’ll give you a little description.

The omelet had fabulous flavor. I might have made a few adjustments (cheese! Hello?!), but when you got a bite with the onion and the mushrooms together it was earthy and sweet and wonderful. The breakfast potatoes didn’t wow me, but the fresh, homemade cinnamon bread did. The portion size was also substantial.
The French toast was made with that same delicious homemade cinnamon bread. And it was just awesome. Plain and simple.

Oh, you thought the highlight of the meal was the French toast? Sure, it was awesome. But it was not nearly as freaking fantastic as the pancakes! The sweetened cream cheese between two fluffy and light pancakes was a little reminiscent of a crepe. But with better filling. The filling had the flavor of cheesecake (because, duh, it’s the same stuff!), but was creamy and smooth. With all that fresh fruit, it all came together for my favorite pairing. Sweet and tart. And wowow delicious.
You cannot go wrong with this place. I oogled everyone’s food until I got mine, and then I was so happy!

The service: Awesome! Our server, let’s call him T-Rex, was a big guy. The table was long, and it was hard to get to the farthest coffee cup, so he joked that he couldn’t reach it because of his little T-Rex arms. They were not little, but he was funny. When we asked what was better between the pancakes or french toast, he said, “Why don’t I give you half an order of each, then you can try them both.” Um, SOLD! He was attentive, and stopped by frequently to top off our coffee.

The price: For the portion size and quality it was worth it.

The highlights: The purple house across the street. Seriously, it was adorable. The ambiance wasn’t fabulous, but who the heck cares when the food is that delicious?

Final thoughts: Go. Enjoy. And then don’t eat anything else the rest of Sunday!

Restaurant Review - Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen

The scene: St Helena, California. This is a back alley diner, as only St Helena can do it. Because by “back alley” I mean adorable ranch house style diner with enough tables and booths to accommodate a lot of folks. On a beautiful day, the little outdoor patio is just splendid, but the interior is quaint and comfortable, with large booths for bigger groups. Warning: the bathroom is the only thing about this place that is small. Only two stalls, so be prepared to wait.

The meal: This place had a menu that mixed comfort with cutting edge. I did some entrée splitting with a friend, so I got to sample a number of things. I started with a grape and fennel gazpacho, then had half of the duck burger with shitake mushroom “ketchup”, and an adult grilled cheese that had bacon and apricot jam on it, with polenta fries. So, let’s get to the details!

The gazpacho was just fantastic. It was green, which made it a bit different from your normal gazpacho. The initial taste wasn’t all that different from a tomato based gazpacho, but was followed by the taste of the fennel, and finished with a serious spicy bite courtesy of some jalapeno. Fabulous! I loved the layers of flavors. It was the special, so you’re not likely to see it again, but apparently they do gazpacho on a regular basis.

On to the duck burger! This was a fun twist. I generally love a good quacker, so I decided to go for it, even though I had no idea what a duck burger would be like. And, really, what the heck is shitake mushroom “ketchup”?! Well, turns out that shitake mushroom ketchup results in a caramelized glaze that tastes a bit like teriyaki. It has a certain sweetness to it. The duck burger was pretty delicious, but it was a little dry. I don’t know if this was because they overcooked it, or if it was just the natural differences in duck versus beef. But I still enjoyed the duck burger.

Finally, the adult grilled cheese. It had some fancy shmancy cheese on it, that was in the gruyere family. So, white and full of flavor. The bacon was a nice touch, although I should have ordered it extra crispy. And that apricot jam was just superb, tart and sweet. It paired with the savory sandwich so nicely.

The service:
Meeeh so-so. They brought me a shrimp BLT, rather than my grilled cheese, and then it took a while to get the grilled cheese. The restaurant was busy because it was a Saturday at noon, so I’ll cut them a little slack. But it was hard to get the waitress’ attention. So, really, it was just so-so.

The price:
A little pricey for a simple lunch. But you’re in Napa! So live a little. The sandwiches were anywhere between $11 and $15, and that delicious little cup of gazpacho was a mere $4.50. And worth every penny, I’ll tell you!

The highlights: That gazpacho. Delicious!

Final thoughts: Worth a lunch time visit.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Restaurant Review - Robert Mondavi Winery Garden to Table Dinner

The scene: Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville, California. The winery offered, for the first time, a four hour dinner experience to embrace Robert Mondavi’s belief that wine is best enjoyed with food. This experience requires a detailed description. There were 10 other people who had the opportunity to enjoy this amazing, intimate, adventure with me.

Our adventure began on the back patio of the winery, next to the garden. We started with a glass of Fume Blanc, a crisp, tart, and refreshing wine for a gorgeous, sunny, 78 degree afternoon in Oakville. We were greeted by our guide, Peter. More about Peter later. Head Chef Jeff Mosher joined us on the patio, and described what we would be making for dinner. He described the garden he had planted, and the different herbs and vegetables in it. Then it was time for some work. People snipped basil and picked beans. I had the personal pleasure of cutting eight beautiful little purple eggplants for us to use. The garden also featured other glorious items like tomatoes, rosemary, watermelon, peppers and fruit trees.

Once we were done collecting our ingredients, it was off to the kitchen. Every guest was given a black Robert Mondavi apron, which I wore the rest of the day. Chef Jeff doled out a few tasks, such as washing the ingredients and doing prep work. I eagerly volunteered for the task of mincing garlic and dicing shallots, because I wanted a knife lesson from an expert chef. And I got one! Chef Jeff showed me how to properly cut the shallot to avoid eye irritation (I’m a big crier when I cut shallots and onions). While my knife skills were not as quick as his, I made it all the way through my shallots without crying! And all of my prep work looked like his. I was very appreciative, and thrilled! Chef Jeff showed us how to prepare stuffed tomatoes, how to get the right consistency in a béarnaise (you want your base to have ribbons, where it doesn’t come back together quickly, before adding butter), and he let us taste test some of the items. While he worked, he answered all sorts of questions about his personal experience, how he chooses menus, and how to make your food compliment your wine (if your wine tastes flat, the secret is to add a little lemon or salt to your food).

Eventually we had to leave the kitchen so that the real kitchen staff could finish the preparations. While dinner was being finished, our wonderful guide Peter took us on a private tour of the winery. By this point the winery was closed to the public. We went into the vineyards and tasted the different varietals of grape that would later become exquisite Robert Mondavi wines. The roses in the vineyards were in full bloom, and smelled lovely. From the vineyards we then went into the wine making facility, to see the big barrels that were being prepared for this fall’s harvest. Two stories tall! We visited the cellar, to appreciate Mrs. Mondavi’s commitment to keeping everything aesthetically pleasing. She has the center panel of all the oak barrels painted red, so that if some wine spills out, the stains won’t be noticeable. During the tour Peter showed the amazing depth of his knowledge. He gave us the history of the winery, the science of wine making, and he answered the glut of questions that we had. Nothing stumped him!

Finally we made our way to our table in the rose garden.

The meal: We sat down at our gorgeous dinner table, with beautiful flower centerpieces, in the rose garden. We started with a Chardonnay, to compliment the hors d’vours. The Chef had made a few small bites to start out our experience. First came a smoked salmon on a vegetable slaw with dill mayonnaise. I’m not a huge lover of smoked salmon, but I enjoyed this small bite. The vegetables were crisp, and it brought out the notes in the wine. We had a small bite of the Chef’s take on the BLT. Mind-blowingly thick crispy bacon, thicker than I’d ever had before, paired with a bit of fried green tomato, avocado, and even a little bit of cherry tomato. Delicious. As a special treat, we also had an amuse bouche of melon gazpacho, served in an adorable little espresso cup with a tiny spoon. I loved the plating. The gazpacho was crisp, sweet, and made me look forward to what was coming next.

The second wine was poured. It was the 2008 Fume Blanc Reserve. Another light and refreshing wine, but with deeper tones than the first Fume Blanc we’d had. And then the food arrived. Seared wild salmon served over a caponata with garden basil, eggplant (I picked those!), and tomatoes. I’ll be honest. This salmon was absolutely the best salmon I have ever had, and it may have been the single greatest dish I have ever had. It was that good. Chef Jeff had used some white pepper and salt. It was seared in grape seed oil so that the salmon developed a delicious, almost decadent, crust. The caponata was great, too. The eggplant has been rolled in Wondra (a super fine flour), and lightly fried in grape seed oil, so it maintained its crisp texture rather than getting soggy. The caponata was full of big flavors, because everything was so fresh. Chef Jeff scored huge with this dish, and it brought the wine to life, too. My taste buds have never been so happy!

Our plates were cleared, and the third wine was poured. This wine was a real treat. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The most expensive bottle of wine I’ve ever had (aside from the corked Opus One I tried **shakes fist!**). I sipped it while waiting for the next round of food, and it had a deep rich flavor. I could see the difference between this wine and the cheap $15 bottles I often buy. There was no bitter aftertaste. It was smooth, and the taste that lingered after I’d taken a sip was warm, pleasant, and comforting. This was a very good wine. And it was made better by the next round of food. Pan Roasted Niman Ranch Ribeye, served over a potato puree with mushrooms and summer beans, and a garden tomato a la Provencale in a béarnaise sauce (stuffed with my minced garlic and diced shallots!). Makes your mouth water, right? Starting backwards, I loved the tomato. It had the rich taste of something that had taken a very short trip from the vine to the kitchen to my plate. I love a fresh, ripe, tomato. And the béarnaise sauce complimented it nicely, with notes of fresh herbs. The beans were crisp, and eaten in combination with the mushrooms and potato puree made a lovely pairing with the meat. The ribeye! The ribeye probably got less love from me than it should have, because it was following that absolutely unforgettable salmon. But the ribeye had crispy, flavorful edges, and was cooked to perfection. It was tender and juicy in the middle. This course, above the others, really captured Robert Mondavi’s dream. I appreciated the wine even more because of the food. I savored a sip of wine after every bite, and was sad to see when both my wine (okay, my third glass of the amazing wine) and my food were gone.

The final pour of the night was a 2009 Moscato d’Oro. It was paired with a peach and blackberry crostada, whipped crème fraiche, and a blackberry sauce. I wish I could have watched the pastry chef at work, because the crostada was perfect. It had a delicate and moist crust. The pairing of fruits made a dessert with some edge. Sometimes fruit based desserts are sickeningly sweet, and then paired with the dessert wine, it just overwhelms my sugar sensors. But this dessert had a bite to it. And the crème fraiche was a fantastic touch. It, too, was both sweet and tart with hints of vanilla floating through it. I had never thought of using whipped crème fraiche, but this dessert has inspired me to move away from plain old whipped cream or ice cream, and strike out in new directions. I thought this dessert really paired nicely with the wine. Chef Jeff had carefully picked a dessert that wouldn’t compete with the sweetness of the dessert wine. Instead the sweet flavors of the peach in the crostada worked with the flavors of the wine, making both taste better.

The service: Our main server, Ken, was just wonderful. All of the waitstaff were efficient and pleasant. Ken went out of his way to make sure we had everything we needed. He poured the wine frequently and generously, was friendly, and made an effort to treat each of us as individuals. First class service.
The price: We paid $150 per person, and I’m going to tell you that this program is WAY WAY WAY underpriced. I think a more appropriate price would have been $250 or $300. The amount of wine and the quality of the food, alone, easily justified paying the price we paid. But to include private access to the winery, the ambiance, and the uniqueness of this experience, they should definitely be charging more.

The highlights: Honestly, everything about this experience was amazing. We also got to keep our aprons, and we received an autobiography of Mr. Mondavi’s life, as well as a small cookbook from Chef Jeff Mosher.

Final thoughts: This was a unique and memorable experience, and I am so very grateful to all the people at Robert Mondavi winery whose contributions resulted in such an amazing adventure. This has given me a new and profound appreciation for the power of pairing a good wine with a delicious meal.

Restaurant Review - Perbacco

The scene: Financial District of San Francisco, a few blocks from Union Square. This place was packed on a Friday night, so if you want to go make sure you have a reservation. There is a bar at the front where you can have a drink while waiting for your table. The tables were comfortably spaced, the décor was both cozy and modern. There were exposed brick walls, which gave the place a lot of character.

The meal: Perbacco does Italian the way it should be done. Fresh ingredients, thick sauces, colorful combinations, and big, big flavors. We did a bit of family style ordering, so everyone at the table shared the starters. The restaurant actually offers family style pasta servings, which they will plate for you.

We started with a tomato salad, and a fritto misto. The tomato salad had a wonderful variety of colorful tomatoes. Red, yellow, green. Small, medium, large. It was drizzled with basalmic and olive oil, and lightly seasoned. The tomatoes were delicious. Flavorful and juicy. While I can’t be sure they were locally sourced, they had the taste of locally sourced and recently picked. (I’ve become a tomato snob. I can taste the difference between a homegrown tomato and a store bought one.) The fritto misto involved a number of “fried” items, the feature being “fried” rock shrimp. Why “fried” and not just fried, you ask? Because these were more tempura style than the type of frying you imagine when you think of fried seafood starters. The batter was thin and light, and really highlighted the flavor of the food. The plate also featured “fried” green beans and green olives. The olives were unbelievable. It was served with a lemon aioli, which was nice, but could have used just a touch more lemon, I thought.

So. That was the starters. Ready for dinner?

We did a trio of pastas. We went with the gnocchi, a tagliatelli, and a ravioli. It was a nice spectrum, and the plate was extremely colorful. The gnocchi was in a cream sauce with wild mushrooms. Delicious. I thought the gnocchi was a little softer than I usually prefer, but the flavors were right on. The tagliatelli was in a pesto suace, and had sautéed summer squash and haricot vert mixed in. It was much heartier than gnocchi, with deeper flavors. Finally, the ravioli was in a light cream sauce that had summer peas, which give it just a hint of green. Great color palate. The ravioli was delicate and delicious, stuffed with a lemon flavored ricotta. Not the clunky stuff you may be used to. We also ordered two sides. The roasted fingerling potatoes, which I would describe as unremarkable. And the brussel sprouts. Oh the brussel sprouts! Hands down my favorite part of this meal. They were roasted in brown butter and seasoned with a honey mustard of some sort. Absolutely delicious. I can’t possibly rave about these enough. Wowowow.

For dessert we had the doughnuts with the salted caramel sauce. The doughnuts had a great flavor, although I thought they were either a little heavy or baked slightly too long. The sauce was heavy on the salt. Don’t dunk your entire doughnut deep into it, or you will not enjoy that bite. But just a little sauce on the doughnut was nice. It was a bachelorette party, and so they brought out an interesting dessert. Mascarpone semifreddo. It was round, and looked a bit like cheesecake. But it was not. And it was not panna cotta. It was creamy. Not exactly ice cream, but served chilled. It was freaking delicious, with its diced nectarines and blueberries. They also served hazelnut cookies that were really light (main ingredient was air). It was a great way to end a dense and filling meal.

The service: Five stars. Impeccable. Our waitress was attentive, knowledgeable, friendly, and concerned about our experience. Umberto, the manager, stopped by our table to welcome us to his restaurant. The excellent service really made this a great experience.

The price: Reasonable. Don’t remember seeing anything over $30 on the menu. The Pasta tris was $18 per person, with fair portion sizes. They had heartier entrees which looked really delicious, too. Quail. I love quail.

The highlights: The brussel sprouts. Get them. Love them. Oh, and a comprehensive wine list, featuring lots of different prices and options. The sommelier made a wonderful recommendation for us, that was at a reasonable price.

Final thoughts: Best Italian food I’ve ever had. Trust me, you’ll never want to go to Olive Garden again.

And so it Begins...

I have undertaken a new direction in my kitchen life, and my blog is going to reflect that. Yes, that’s right. After months of failing to chronicle my kitchen adventures, I’ll be blogging again. I’m trying to master the art of baking. I’m starting with the science, first, so I’m reading Alton Brown’s book on baking.

After reading the introduction, I learned something very important. I have been living a lie. A muffin based lie. All these years, I thought I was making muffins. But it turns out I was making cakes masquerading as muffins. WHO KNEW?! Not me. And obviously not most of the people who were eating what I was baking.

In order to remedy this horrible truth, I decided to take a “muffin style” recipe from his book. Okay, that wasn’t the only reason. There was also the fact that I was visiting Southern Virginia, and thought that a “traditional” Southern recipe would be nice. And maybe the biggest factor is that I’d be visiting my grandma in a week, and as a belated birthday celebration, I wanted to make her favorite kind of cake.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. PUD.

So, the recipe is pretty simple. First you’ve gotta make that delicious top. Melt butter in a cast iron skillet, toss in the brown sugar and stir it until it’s melted. Put your pineapple rings in and make a pretty design. Don’t forget the cherries in the middle of each one! I sprinkled some pecans into the delicious mixture, and added some pineapple juice on top.
For the cake itself, sift together your dry ingredients (or use a food processor, or if you are desperate like I was, you can use a blender. Yes. A blender.), then separately mix your wet ingredients. Here’s the secret muffin key right here! Don’t overmix! Dooooon’t do it. It is so so so hard for me not to mix until the batter is completely combined and smooth. But, hey, that makes a cake. In order to make a muffin, you want to mix the wet and dry ingredients until they are just combined. Alton says he walks away ten seconds before he’s really ready to. It felt like I walked away about one minute before I was ready. And then I worried that I’d over mixed. A history of over mixing will do that.

Pour the batter on the top. I’ll tell you, when I did this I had a mild conniption fit. There was so little batter! There was so much topping! My batter made a thin layer over the topping. A very thin layer. I spent the first 20 minutes of baking worrying that I had done something wrong. But when I peeked in, it had fluffed up dramatically, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I searched the strange kitchen I was in for a thermometer. No dice. A toothpick? A cake tester? Noooo dice. I eventually decided that the bottom just looked really done, and pulled it out of the oven.

I let it sit for a few minutes, and then I attempted to flip the cake onto a serving platter. I may have sprained my wrist in this process, because the platter I was using was heavy, and the cast iron skillet the cake was in was heavy, and apparently I’m not as strong as I used to be. But I got it flipped, and it was beautiful! I paced around the kitchen waiting for it to cool, and then cut myself a small slice. Delicious. A little over baked. But delicious. I checked the structure of the cake. Muffin-like. Not cake like. Win!

So, this was PUD cake, attempt No. 1. I will attempt this cake again for my grandma, and hopefully I won’t over bake it this time. I think I’ll also be adding a little whipped crème fraiche with some pineapple juice added.

The Recipe:
Pre-heat oven to 350. Make topping in cast iron skillet (melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat on stovetop, then move off heat for remainder of topping preparation). Prepare dry and wet ingredients. Combine. Pour over topping. Bake for 40 minutes, or until 210 degrees. Take out and cool slightly, then carefully invert onto the serving platter.

1 stick of butter
1 cup of brown sugar
Canned pineapple (recipe says in heavy syrup, I like it in its own juice)
Maraschino cherries
¼ cup chopped pecans
3 tablespoons pineapple juice

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons pineapple juice
1 cup granulated sugar

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Easy Peasy Veggie Pizza

I wanted to make a delicious spring surprise that didn't take a whole lot of effort. So I used a puff pastry sheet that was in my freezer, and let it sit for about 40 minutes. I wrapped 15 cloves of garlic in aluminum foil, poured on a little olive oil, and put it in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes while the puff pastry was sitting.

I then chopped up all sorts of tasty treats. I used avocado (1 whole ripe), 3 sweet red peppers, 3 sweet yellow peppers, about 1 cup chopped artichoke hearts, 1 cup spinach thin sliced, and 1/4 of yellow onion, thinly sliced.

Once I took the garlic out of the oven, I spread 1/4 cup of cilantro-almond pesto (recipe to follow) on the puff pastry. I sprinkled the garlic cloves on top of the pesto, although in hindsight I should have smashed them first. Then I piled on all the toppings, sprinkling them all over to cover the pizza. The final touch was about 1/4 cup of feta cheese and fresh ground pepper.

Obviously you can mix and match any of your favorite pizza toppings, but I just used whatever was in my fridge.

I baked the puff pizza at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, but it could probably have stayed in 5 minutes longer. Didn't really matter for flavor, but the puff pastry was a little soft in the middle.

Overall, this is a great, light delicious pizza. Its more like a veggie tostada than anything else. And Chris loved it so much, he even commented on it the next morning when he woke up!

Oh, cilantro-almond pesto recipe:
1/2 clove garlic
1/4 cup almonds
2 cups cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil

Put it into a food processor, and finely chop (it helps to put the garlic in first by itself). Season with salt and pepper to taste. This can be frozen, and its great for whenever you have leftover cilantro. You can also do it as Parsley-Walnut-Parmesan Cheese, same measurements with everything, add 1/2 cup cheese to chop, which is awesome, because I always have WAY too much parsley when I buy it for recipes.