Monday, February 27, 2012

Chicken Piccata Salad and a Weekend of Newfies

I often receive personal e-mails from readers of the blog, with compliments or questions, but I got a chuckle out of a recent e-mail from a woman in British Columbia, Canada. Apparently, she came across my blog after Googling Newf, and landed on my post for Newfie Tongues. She continued reading and figured out my blog’s name, and my adaptation of Beavertails pastries into Newfie Tongues doughnuts, relates to Newfoundland dogs. After explaining to me, in a very nice way, the nicknames Newfie, Newf, and Newfs can leave Newfoundlanders (natives or inhabitants of Newfoundland, Canada) feeling a bit testy, she concluded with "...Anyway, just thought I'd give you a heads up on that bit of info, in case you find an irate Newfoundlander reaming you out on your blog one day!" She also sent me a list of Newfoundland words and phrases, with translations, in case I decide to visit Newfoundland.

I had no idea Newfie and Newf are considered derogatory terms by some Newfoundlanders, but assure you my use of these nicknames relates only to my love of Newfoundland dogs and not to the fine people of Newfoundland, Canada.

With that said, we spent this past weekend enjoying all things Newfie! On Friday, we took Dooley to the Newfoundland Regional Specialty show in Del Mar to watch the show; we spent most of Saturday giving him a nice bath and brushing; and on Sunday, we went to visit 10-week old Newfie puppies. After three days of Newfs, I smelled like a Newf, and looked like I had been hauled through a knot hole (Newfoundland phrase for looking worn out and tired). Had to throw that one in ;-)

Despite having little time left for cooking and blogging, I did manage to prepare a fabulous Chicken Piccata Salad. At first, I planned on Chicken Picatta with some steamed broccoli on the side, but I ended up making an adaptation of my Salmon, Arugula and Couscous Salad.

Enjoy the Newfie photos, and try the salad...not a bad bit nice (it's beautiful) and tasty.


Chicken Piccata Salad
Serves 2 as a main course


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
½ cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Additional lemon slices for garnish

5 ounces baby arugula (or a mix of baby arugula and spinach)
1 cup cooked couscous
12 grape tomatoes
Oil and Vinegar dressing prepared with 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon vinegar (I used a Tuscan Herb-flavored olive oil and sherry vinegar), seasoned with salt and pepper


Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound out to 1/2-inch thick. Season both sides with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, shake off excess, and transfer to a plate.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add chicken breasts and cook for 3 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Transfer chicken breasts from the pan to a clean plate.

Increase the heat to medium-high under the satue pan, and add the lemon juice, white wine, chicken stock and capers. Bring to a boil, scraping up the brown bits from the pan, lower heat back to medium, and allow the liquid to reduce by half. Return the chicken breasts to the pan, spoon some of the sauce over them, and keep the pan over low heat while you prepare the salad.

Lightly toss the baby arugula, couscous, and grape tomatoes with oil and vinegar dressing, and divide the salad between two plates. Transfer a chicken breast to each salad plate, and spoon the sauce over the chicken. Garnish with a few slices of lemon and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Friday, February 24, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie, et al: A Comparative Study of French Onion Soup

I wanted to love this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Cheese-Topped Onion Soup - I really did. I know I've eaten a bowl or two of French Onion Soup before, but never had the desire to make it at home. Now that I've made it at home, with less than stellar results, I either need to go back to the drawing board, or fly to France, find a bouchon in Lyon, and taste the real deal...just to make sure I'm not missing the boat.

For such a simple, peasant soup, why are there so many variations? Sweet onions, Spanish onions, yellow onions, red onions; chicken broth, beef broth, beef consomme, beef stock, or a combination thereof, canned broth versus homemade stock; red wine, white wine, sherry, apple cider, vinegar; thyme, bay leaves, parsley, sage, garlic; a splash of Cognac; Gruyère, Comte, Emmental, head is spinning.

After reading Dorie's recipe, and comparing it to several other recipes from favorite chefs and reputable sources, I was most intrigued with Michael Ruhlman's version, from Ruhman's Twenty, because it claimed to be a traditional onion soup, like those served at bouchon, a specific style of bistro in Lyon, France. Michael warns against using stock or broth, even homemade, because it changes the soup completely—transforming it into beef-onion soup or chicken-onion soup..."At a bouchon, and indeed at most peasant households, a time-consuming and costly stock would not be used for onion soup. Onions and a splash of wine for seasoning and a crust of bread with some cheese melted on it—that is all you need to make a fine soup with a pure caramelized onion flavor."

My first homemade French Onion Soup

So, I sloooowly caramelized the onions as directed. FIVE hours to sloooowly caramelize SEVEN onions. You can speed up the process by simmering the onions over higher heat, but you need to tend the pot and stir often. Obviously, I had nothing better to do with my Saturday. I also used Spanish onions and sherry, as recommended. No stock,  just water, and I didn't use any fresh herbs or garlic. After tasting, I did feel the soup was too sweet, and added the optional vinegar. I also desired a little more depth, and added the optional splash of red wine. Michael prefers the onion-to-liquid ratio with 6 cups of water, but I opted for a more delicate soup, and added the additional cup of water.

Beautiful Onions

Beautiful sliced onions, that take FIVE hours to sloooowly caramelize

I used a nice country-style bread, toasted and cut to fit the top of my lion's-head soup bowls (love these bowls), grated Gruyère, and a last-minute rebellious sprinkling of thyme leaves over the top. I was all set to enjoy this fine soup with a pure caramelized onion flavor.

The top half of the soup was fine, but as soon as I ran out of nutty, cheesy bread to accompany the remaining heap of onions soaking in an inadequate amount of caramelized onion-flavored water, I was done. A heap of sweet onions just didn't do it for me.

The next day, I attempted to revitalize the leftover soup (i.e., heap of sweet, caramelized onions remaining in the pan). This time, I sauteed the onions a little longer with garlic, added some chicken broth and white wine, let it simmer, and finished it with a touch of Cognac, following Dorie's recipe.

Sorry, Dorie, I still couldn't get beyond that top half of the bowl. When I ran out of bread and cheese, it was over. Maybe I'm just not a French Onion Soup kind of gal, but I'll reserve judgment until I try Keller's Soupe a L'Oignon from his Bouchon cookbook, because it really does sound amazing the way he describes it. From my reading and comparative research, I tend to think this soup needs the richness of homemade (not canned) beef stock to balance the sweetness of the onions. I'll switch to yellow onions, and use a splash of red wine or vinegar, a few sprigs of thyme, and a bay leaf. Stay tuned. 

Out of the French Onion Soup recipes I compared, Dorie's recipe is the only one with chicken broth, and Michael Ruhlman's is the only one with water (Keller uses homemade beef stock, but says it's okay to use vegetable or chicken stock, or even water, but never canned broth). Here's my comparison table of the key ingredients (all of the chefs use a bit of butter to start caramelizing the onions, salt and pepper, and either a baguette or country-style bread for the crouton).

Chicken broth White wine,
splash of Cognac
Garlic Gruyere
Yellow Beef stock Sherry Parsley,
thyme, bay
leaves, garlic
Gruyere and
Yellow Beef stock Sherry wine
Bay leaves,
(Type not
Beef broth Red wine Garlic, bay
leaves, thyme,
Combo beef
chicken broth,
and apple cider
White wine,
splash of Cognac
Thyme, bay
Fontina or
Water Sherry; optional
red or white
wine vinegar
and/or red wine
None Gruyere or
GOURMET (Type not
Combo Beef
broth and water
White wine Thyme, bay
Gruyere, Comte,
or Emmental and
Combo chicken
broth and beef
White wine Garlic Swiss and
Yellow Combo chicken
and beef broth
Sherry Thyme, bay
(Oven braise 1
hour, 45 min)
Beef stock White wine and
thyme, bay
leaves, garlic
Gruyere and


French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Take Me Back to New Orleans! Donald's Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

Donald, what have you done?

It wasn't enough for you to seduce me with Cochon's Wood-Fired Oyster Roast and Fried Oyster and Bacon Sandwich during my visit to New Orleans last year. But then, you had to send me home with an autographed copy of your cookbook, Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana, so I could recreate these delicacies at home.

I did recreate those, and more. Need I remind you of your grown-up version of Chocolate Yummy, with its rich pecan shortbread crust, topped with cream cheese, a silky layer of dark chocolate pudding, and fresh whipped cream, just another one of your creations that melted my heart? I think not.

Since Mardi Gras is just around the corner, and we're miles apart, I sought comfort in pulling out my cherished Rustic Cajun to bring back those fond memories of our time together in New Orleans. I'm sure you know what I'm about to say; I can tell by that smirk on your face. Yes, I've fallen in love all over again - this time with your Old-School Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya.

Please take that smirk off your face. Besh isn't going to be happy when he finds out I choose your jambalaya over his gumbo!

I didn't realize there are two types of jambalaya - Cajun and Creole, but I was drawn in when you explained how you prefer the Cajun type because it's simpler and more rustic. Funny, that's my style. Simple, rustic and elegant! When you described how the chicken and sausage flavor blend into the rice, creating a dish with a robust meaty flavor, I was in my car and off to the store within minutes, distracted by thoughts of satisfying country cooking clouding my head. I choose the most beautiful vegetables I could find, a plump free-range chicken, some tasty Cajun andouille sausage, and a few more spices.

While my chicken roasted, I chopped vegetables and made the homemade spice blend, taking in all the aroma and warmth filling the kitchen. It's wonderful using the roasted chicken carcass and vegetable trimmings to make the broth, but I was truly swooned with your method of developing layers of flavor with each step, by searing and caramelizing the sausage and onions in order to develop color and deeply browned flavors, and adding and reducing small amounts of chicken broth to achieve the MSG effect, as you call it (that unique saltiness that you just can't achieve by adding salt).

Although I'm devastated I didn't make it to New Orleans this year, to spend another delectable and leisurely afternoon at Cochon's bar, eating oysters, alligator bites, gumbo, and Louisiana cochon, and sipping Moonshine with Tyler, you were definitely in my thoughts as I savored each incredible bite of your Jambalaya, two nights in a row. Oh Donald, my Donald.

Old-School Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya
Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana
Serves 6-8


1 chicken (3 1/2- to 4-pound), roasted
2 medium onions, 1 quartered, 1 diced small
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound smoked sausage (such as andouille), diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
2 small jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced
3 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Donnie’s Spice Mix (recipe below)
2 teaspoons salt
5 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 1/2 cups long-grain rice, rinsed


1. Roast the chicken: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Rinse the chicken in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, rub with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the oven and roast for 35 minutes. Turn the heat up to 425 degrees F and roast for another 10-15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven, transfer to a plate, cover with foil, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to settle. When cool enough to handle, pick all the meat from the chicken (discard skin) and use your hands to shred it into pieces. Save all the juice and fat from the roasting pan and plate and set aside. Refrigerate chicken until needed.

2. Prepare the vegetables: While the chicken is roasting, cut and dice all the vegetables and reserve the vegetable trimmings to go in the stock pot when you prepare the chicken broth.

3. Make the chicken stock: Place the carcass, quartered onion, and vegetable trimmings into a large pot. Add 10 cups of water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 hour. Strain the broth, and discard solids. You should have about 6 cups.

4. While the broth is simmering, prepare Donnie's Spice Mix (recipe below) and dice the sausage.

5. Final Preparation of the Jambalaya: Heat the oil in a medium cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and add the sausage. Sear until the sausage starts to color. Parts of the sausage will begin to stick to the pan. When there is a good coating stuck to the pan, pour in 1/4 cup chicken broth, and scrape it loose. Let this cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the sausage to a plate, and set aside.

6. Return the pan to the heat, and add the butter. When it melts, add the diced onion, and cook about 10 minutes, until a nice deep brown color. About halfway through, the onion should start to stick to the pan; deglaze with 1/4 cup chicken broth, and let this reduce until the skillet is dry (or au sec, as they say in French kitchens). When the onion starts to stick again, add 1/2 cup broth; when this is almost gone, add the bell peppers, jalapeños, scallions, celery, garlic, spice mix, salt, bay leaves, oregano, and tomato paste. Cook the vegetables for 10 minutes, stirring often, until they start to stick to the skillet. Deglaze with another 1/4 cup broth and reduce again until dry, then add the shredded chicken, 1 cup broth, and the juices from the chicken, and reduce again by half.

7. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a heavy-bottomed pot, and add the sausage, rice and the remaining 4 cups broth. You want this mixture to have plenty of room, so the rice will cook more evenly. Cook, covered, over low heat for 40 minutes.

8. Remove pot from the heat, and keep covered for 10 minutes more. If the rice seems unevenly cooked, leave this lid on a little longer, and it will even out. When jambalaya is done, transfer to a casserole dish so it does not overcook in the pan, and serve.

Donnie’s Spice Mix

2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder

Combine all spices in a bowl, and store in airtight container.

Friday, February 17, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Mussels and Chorizo with Pasta

It's been a cold, windy and rainy week, so this French Fridays with Dorie Mussels with Chorizo slipped in just fine for a cozy Valentine's dinner at home. After dinner, we cuddled up on the couch to catch the second night of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Incredibly romantic, I know, but we had to cheer on the Newf, and other working group favorites, while polishing off a nice bottle of prosecco that somehow managed to survive Saturday's dinner party!

Used my lovely copper cataplana for sauteing the ingredients and steaming the mussels

Whole Foods carries a wonderful Spanish chorizo in a 1/2-pound link, and black mussels from Carlsbad Aquafarm. Since it was just the two of us, and Dorie's recipe serves 4, I cut all the quantities in half, using about 2 lbs. mussels, 1/4 lb. chorizo, half an onion, shallot, half a red bell pepper, 2 cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of thyme, and one 14.5-ounce can of tomatoes (I used Muir Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes). I substituted prosecco (about 1/2 cup), in place of dry white wine, since that's what we were drinking for the evening.

Once the ingredients are ready, the dish takes only about 15 minutes to prepare. First, you saute the bell pepper, onion, garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper for about 5 minutes; then you toss in the tomatoes and chorizo and saute for another 5 minutes; and then you add the mussels and wine, increase the heat to high, and cover and steam for another 5 minutes until the mussels have opened. The mussels can be served over pasta, or with hunks of crusty bread for sopping up the sauce. I had a half package of bucatini pasta, so I cooked and tossed that in, but we also had some bread.

This was very good, especially with the chorizo, but I didn't care so much for the canned tomatoes. Maybe a couple of fresh Romas would be better - it was just too tomato-y for me. John felt it needed a touch of red pepper flakes and squeeze of lemon.

Dorie has two other mussels recipes in the book, Curried Mussels and Moules Mariniere, both of which I am looking forward to trying in the cataplana! I love my cataplana.


French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pompe à l’Huile - Provençal Olive Oil Bread

Pompe à l’Huile, a sweet olive oil bread from Provence, made its glorious debut at our Taste of Provence Coronado Concert in the Park during the summer of 2010. Carmen discovered it from Jude (Apple Pie, Patis & Pâté), who slightly tweaked the original recipe from Saveur by "giving the poolish a 16-hour head start, instead of 30 minutes, for that extra hint of complexity that can only come from slow fermentation."

Carmen's Pompe à l’Huile loaves

That particular Concert in the Park was one of the most memorable culinary-themed picnics, because we discovered Pompe à l’Huile, socca (chickpea flour crepes), and rouille (saffron-garlic mayonnaise), all of which I've made several times since.

Saveur describes Pompe à l’Huile as "a cross between a brioche and a the center of the spiritual food traditions that make a Christmas in Provence like none other in the world." The beauty of this bread is that you can experiment with the many flavored olive oils available, and there's no need to wait until Christmas to enjoy it. We've tried it with blood-orange, white truffle, lemon, and Tuscan Herb flavored oils. For this Tuscan Herb Pompe à l’Huile, I made it into a more savory loaf by reducing the sugar slightly, using a Tuscan Herb flavored olive oil from Coronado Taste of Oils (thank you, Bradley!), and sprinkling the dough with salt before baking. 

I followed Saveur's recipe with the shorter, 30-minute poolish. Maybe if I tasted the 30-minute poolish loaf next to the 16-hour poolish loaf, I could detect the difference in complexity, but that will have to wait for another day.

After the poolish rests for 30 minutes, add remaining flour, olive oil and salt

After mixing and kneading the dough, it then rests again for 3-4 hours until doubled in size

After doubled in size, the dough is dumped out onto parchment paper, and shaped and cut as desired,
usually shaped like a leaf or sand dollar

I tried to add a few dough embellishments to my sand dollar, but my dough art leaves a bit to be desired. Regardless, everyone loved the infusion of Tuscan Herbs into this Provencal bread.

After a brief 15-minute baking, the bread is allowed to cool

Tuscan Herb Pompe à l’Huile
Slightly adapted from Saveur
(Makes one loaf)


3 3⁄4 cups flour
1⁄4 cup sugar*
1 7-gram package active dry yeast
3⁄4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon good quality extra-virgin olive oil (I used "Tuscan Herb" flavored olive oil)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to sprinkle on dough before cooking

*Note: For a sweeter loaf, and depending on flavor of your olive oil, increase sugar to 1/3 cup


Make a poolish: Put 1 1⁄2 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast, and 1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F, measured with an instant read thermometer) into a large bowl and stir well with a wooden spoon to combine. Let the mixture sit in a warm spot until bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Add remaining 2 1⁄4 cups flour, 3⁄4 cup of the oil, and salt to the poolish and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 5–7 minutes. Grease a large clean bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, place dough in the oiled bowl, and cover with a clean towel. Set the dough aside in a warm spot to let rise until doubled in bulk, 3–4 hours.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Gently turn dough out onto a large sheet of parchment paper and gently stretch it with your fingers to form a 12" circle. Using a small, sharp knife, cut out 2"long slits, each about 1" wide, starting from the center of the bread and cutting toward the edge, and add few cuts on the edge, so that the dough resembles a sand dollar (discard dough scraps or bake them separately as a cook's-bonus nibble).

Using your fingers, gently stretch the holes open a little wider so that they won't close up completely when bread is baked. Carefully transfer the dough, on the parchment paper, to a large baking sheet, sprinkle with coarse salt, and bake until golden brown and puffed, about 15 minutes.

Transfer the bread to a rack to let cool, or serve warm.

Friday, February 10, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Orange-Cranberry Crepes with Nutella Drizzle

I know, I've gone astray again. This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is supposed to be Nutella Tartine...a fancy French open-faced sandwich topped with spreadable ingredients. Dorie borrows Pierre Herme's chic rendition of the after-school treat pain au chocolat - a slice of buttered and lightly toasted Brioche or challah, spread with bitter orange marmalade, generously drizzled with warm Nutella, and finished with a pinch of fleur de sel and chopped hazelnuts. Sounds amazing as is, but I just couldn't leave it alone.

My brain was churning with ideas on how to create my own chic version, without turning it into a several hour project. I contemplated using a Liege waffle as the base...or a piece of French Toast...or a crepe. Yes, a crepe!

This is probably the second jar of Nutella I've purchased in my entire life, and I don't even recall the reason I needed the first. I think John likes it. After a couple of these crepes, I think I love it.

In place of bitter orange marmalade, which I've never seen in a store, I chose Stonewall Kitchen's Orange Cranberry Marmalade. I figured the tartness of the cranberries would do the trick. I had a container of hazelnuts still hanging around from Thanksgiving, but had to refresh my recollection on the best way to toast and remove the skins. The preferred method seems to be a quick blanch in boiling water, followed by an ice water plunge, and then a vigorous toweling dry in a kitchen towel, thereby removing the skins. Worked like a charm, and then I lightly toasted them in a dry skillet.

For the crepes, I followed Alton Brown's video and recipe exactly (5 stars based on almost 200 reviews), including throwing the first screwed up crepe to the dog. Oh, and there was also a blender disaster. Apparently, I didn't properly screw the blade and bottom parts back on after washing. After measuring my eggs, flour, milk, water, and melted butter into the blender jar, I lifted the jar off the counter to set in into the base, the pieces came off, and everything poured out the bottom. Nice. All over the counter, underneath everything on the counter, down the cabinets, and all over the floor. Good thing Dooley wasn't under my feet in his usual fashion. Other than that drama, the crepes turned out marvelous.

After messing around making crepes, and photographing before and after hazelnuts for an hour, this actually did turn into a several hour project and ended being dinner. Works for me.  If you're interested in trying this with brioche rather than crepes, Dorie posted the recipe on her site, here.

French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale: La Cucina Del Lazio

I'm continually singing praises of Il Fornaio, and here I go again.  This month's Festa Regionale Menu featuring the food and wine of Lazio, was created by Giuseppe Naccarelli, Vice President of Kitchen Operations.

We missed the Tuesday Night Tasting last month (Lombardia) due to travel, so I was delighted when our monthly invitation arrived for this tasting. Mom filled in as my date this week while John attends an annual convention in Florida.

We were seated in the private dining room at the east end of the restaurant, with gorgeous nighttime views of the city and bridge. Jennifer joined us at the family table, while Lyrra skillfully and beautifully narrated our journey through some of Lazio's most famous dishes.

The wine pairing featured a white wine from the Pietra Porzia estate, located just outside of Rome (Frascati, Pietra Porzia "Regillo" 2010) - medium-bodied with intense aromas of citrus and pear; fresh and lively on the palate with a dry nutty finish, and a red blend from two varieties native to the region (Cesanese del Piglio, Colle Ticchio, Corte dei Papi, 2010) - medium-bodied, full-flavored, brimming with intense aromas and flavors of ripe strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit, black pepper and nutmeg spiciness.

For our Zuppe e Antipasti, we sampled lightly grilled hearts of romaine topped with shaved pecorino pepato and Il Fornaio house dressing. Lightly grilling the lettuce lends a subtle smokiness.  Two soups, and a Roman-style gnocchi are also offered.


For the pasta course, we enjoyed a whole wheat ravioli filled with Swiss chard, spinach, ricotta and pecorino cheese, topped with field mushrooms and organic cherry tomatoes.


Bucatini all' Amatriciana, probably the most well known dish from this region, is one of the four pasta courses on the menu.  I just featured this pasta in a recent blog post, here, and plan on making a double or triple batch of the all' Amatriciana sauce this weekend for our That's Amore dinner party, so I have plenty to freeze for leftovers.

Il Fornaio's sauce is prepared with the traditional pork guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig's jowl or cheeks), in a lightly spiced tomato sauce with basil, onion and Calabrian peperoncino, tossed with percorino cheese, and served over bucatini.

In addition to narrating, serving, and keeping our wine glasses filled, Lyrra subbed in as my photography and styling assistant, offering to grate some Parmigiano over the top as I photographed this amazing pasta.


While John and I normally gravitate toward the pasta dishes when we frequent the bar at the Il, this slow-braised oxtail, simmered in a savory broth with root vegetables, was melt-in-my mouth amazing.  We also had a tasting of the Salmone Ostia Antica - roasted salmon with fresh asparagus, artichokes, capers and lemon, served with sauteed spinach and mashed potatoes.

Two additional Secondi courses are featured - Veal Saltimbocca and Mixed Grill (game hen, rack of lamb, beef tenderloin, and Calabrian sausage).


Definitely save room for the dolci of the evening - Kahlua and coffee mousse with pieces of sambuca-soaked sponge cake, chocolate coffee beans, and lingue di gatto ("cat's tongue") cookies. Lyrra magically appeared again, with a snifter of white sambuca to complement the styling. Of course, I couldn't let it go to waste after packing up the camera.

Giuseppe truly created an incredible menu this month, and we are fortunate to be guests of the Il Fornaio family for these Tuesday Night Tastings.  The Lazio menu is offered through February 19.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fresh Challenges with My Specialty Produce Farmers' Market Bag, and a recipe for Grapefruit-Tangerine Cake

We often spend a Saturday morning strolling through the Little Italy Farmers' Market, or a Sunday morning at the Hillcrest Farmers' Market, but I've also ordered the weekly Specialty Produce Farmers' Market Bag when we don't make it to one of the Farmers' Markets.  

You must order your bag by midnight Sunday, and then pick it up on Thursday or Friday. In addition to the $20 bag filled with produce, you have the option of ordering add-ons, like the fresh catch of the week, pasta, cheese, organic chicken, sausage, bread, jams, and sweets. Everything comes from local farms and businesses. On Wednesday, Specialty Produce reveals the contents of the bag, on its Facebook and web pages, provides links to suggested recipes for each ingredient, and publishes a video by Catalina Offshore Products demonstrating preparation of the fresh catch.

I love the challenge of coming up with interesting recipes using the ingredients. Purchasing the bag also encourages healthier meals and cooking more at home. But most importantly, I enjoy receiving the freshest products available, and supporting local farms and businesses.

In this week's bag, we received blueberries, Persian cucumbers, fennel, Oro Blanco grapefruit, Russian Fingerling Potatoes, Rosemary, Freckles Lettuce, and Sweet Dumpling Squash. I also purchased add-ons of the fresh catch of the week-Local White Sea Bassa package of Cheddar Cheese Bratwurst, and an Asiago Baguette.

I wanted to do something different to showcase the beautiful, plump blueberries. I pat myself on the back for this idea - substituting blueberries for the cherries in Jose Andres' Cherries as Olives recipe. Everyone was so enamored with this unique preparation for cherries at one of our Concerts in the Park, I had to try it with blueberries. Score!

Blueberries as Olives

"Blueberries as Olives" paired with bread and brie

On another evening, I used some of the Purple Peruvian Potatoes from last week, combined with the Fennel, Russian Fingerling Potatoes, and Rosemary from this week, for a Roasted Potatoes and Fennel side dish.

Roasted Potatoes and Fennel

On Super Bowl Sunday, we made the remaining Purple Peruvian Potatoes into chips to accompany Chipotle-Beer Battered Fresh Local Sea Bass and homemade tartar sauce. For the Chipotle-Beer Batter, I followed Michael Chiarello's recipe, here. I dredged the sea bass fillets in rice flour before dipping into the batter. For the chips, we followed the method used by Kathy at Showfood Chef for her Truffled Potato Chips, here, minus the truffle oil. John made homemade tartar sauce, after looking at several recipes, using mayonnaise, dill, capers, chives, onion and garlic powders, celery salt, cayenne and lime juice.

Super Bowl Fish & Chips

I've had grapefruit on the brain lately, and I blame it on Owen, the pastry chef at The Home Ranch. He made a simple, but addicting Pink Grapefruit Tart while we were there.

Owen's Grapefruit Tart, The Home Ranch, CO

I considered trying to recreate it with the Oro Blanco grapefruits in this week's bag, but then I came across Thomas Keller's Grapefruit Cake and decided to go with that one. However, with only two grapefruits, I was a little shy on the amount of juice I needed, so I supplemented with some juice from the Perfection tangerines and made a Grapefruit-Tangerine Cake.

Oro Blanco Grapefruit Zest

The Oro Blanco Grapefruit ("white gold" in Spanish) is the product of cross-pollinating a seedy grapefruit variety and an acid-less pomelo variety. The segmented flesh is devoid of any color beyond its pale yellow tones, and lacks acidity, making it far sweeter than other varieties. 

The Perfection Tangerine is seedless, rounded and flattened in shape, and has a thin, medium-orange colored rind. Its flesh is extremely juicy and its flavor is rich and sweet. 

Grapefruit-Tangerine Cake
Slightly adapted from Ad Hoc at Home


2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons grapefruit zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grapefruit-tangerine syrup:

1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 cup fresh tangerine juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Tangerine Icing:

3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons tangerine juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, whisk the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 2 minutes.

Reduce the speed to medium-low, and whisk in the milk, oil, grapefruit zest and the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just to incorporate, and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Run an oiled pairing knife down the center of the batter so a nice crease forms during baking. Place the pan on a small baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, turning the pan 180 degrees half way through to ensure even baking. The cake is done with a skewer inserted in the center of the cake come out clean, with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup. In a small saucepan, combine the grapefruit and tangerine juices with the sugar, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for just a minute, until all the sugar has dissolved, and turn off the heat.

As soon as you have removed the cake from the oven, using a long skewer, poke deep holes every 3/4 inch or so all over the top of the cake. Immediately begin brushing the syrup all over the cake, waiting at times until it soaks in. Continue until you have used all the syrup. Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes.

Carefully invert the cake onto a cooling rack, turn it right side up, and allow it cool completely.

To prepare the glaze, whisk the powdered sugar and tangerine juice in a bowl until smooth. Add a little more sugar if the consistency is too thin. Drizzle over the cake, letting it run over the sides. Slice and serve.

Store cake at room temperature, lightly covered with plastic wrap, for up to two days.


Friday, February 3, 2012

French Fridays Midnight Dinner with Dorie: Gorgonzola Apple Walnut Quiche

I wasn't able to muster up enough excitement to make last week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe - Broth Braised Potatoes, but this week's Gorgonzola Apple Quiche did appeal to my taste buds. With the classic pairing of Gorgonzola, apples, and walnuts, and cream and eggs, all baked in a buttery tart shell...what's not to like?

The fact that it took me three days to prepare.

Failing to read the recipe ahead of time was my first mistake, which led to my second mistake in attempting to prepare this recipe after work on Tuesday. Had I read the recipe, I would have known the following:
  • Dough needs to chill in the refrigerator before rolling it out - at least 3 hours;
  • After rolling the dough and placing in the buttered tart pan, it then needs to chill or freeze for another hour before baking;
  • The crust partially bakes for about 20 minutes, and then needs to cool before filling;
  • Once filled, the quiche bakes about 30 minutes;
  • Add the time to make and roll the dough, saute the onions, and prepare the filling, we were looking at a midnight dinner;
  • Change that to 1:00 a.m. to allow for photos.
So, I allowed the dough to rest overnight in the refrigerator. The next evening, I rolled the dough, placed it in the tart pans, put the pans back in the refrigerator, and then baked the crust. I prepared the filling and baked the quiche the next morning, and we finally had dinner that night!

Partially baked and cooled tart shells

Sauteed onions

Sauteed onions and Gorgonzola sprinkled over the bottom of the shell 

A sprinkling of walnuts, the egg and cream mixture, and sliced apples on top

Add a green salad, and dinner is served!

Newfy Notes:  Read the recipe ahead of time! Start this recipe on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  Dorie instructs to peel and dice the apples, and scatter over the bottom of the crust with the onion and cheese (before adding the eggs and cream).  I thinly sliced the apple and arranged the slices on top of the egg and cream before baking.  Also, walnuts are optional, but I really liked the flavor and crunch. The Flavor Bible supports the classic pairing of Gorgonzola with apples, but especially with PEARS and WALNUTS.  John thought the onions were a bit overpowering and, in fact, they are not listed as a pairing with this cheese.

Mom's Tasting Notes: "Yummy! Really liked the quiche. Beautifully browned crust. Perhaps you could photograph it on glass from the underside to show the great color. The pear* and cheese are a gorgeous combination - and don't know what it was, but the little 'tidbits' of something* in the filling were a very nice touch . It's a winner! Don't know if size* matters in this case, but thought yours was perfect for lunch. Probably too small for dinner and too large for an appetizer. Minis would be great appetizers and perhaps whole pie size slices just right for dinner with a salad. Thanks for letting me be your tester." 

*I used apples, but pears would also be lovely; the tidbits were walnuts; and size matters, in all cases ;-)

Here's a few other recipes with this flavor profile:

Pear Gorgonzola Tart (Giada De Laurentiis)


French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!