Friday, October 26, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie and Bobby: Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes

For this week's Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes, I borrowed a few ingredients and methods of preparation from Bobby Flay's Chicken and Chickpea Tagine with Dried Apricots. Bobby's recipe takes the lead by incorporating ras al-hanut, a mixture of many different spices used in Moroccan cooking - and I just so happened to have some in my spice cabinet. It may not be easy to find at the local market, but it is easy to make your own. Mine may have been a little old, but a sniff told me it still had some umph in it.

I stayed with Dorie's sweet potatoes and prunes rather than Bobby's chickpeas and apricots. I threw in a few cloves of chopped garlic and a whole stick of cinnamon per Bobby, but omitted his canned tomatoes, and used Dorie's chicken broth. I garnished with parsley for a touch of greenery and Marcona almonds for crunch, and served it over basmati rice. I would have loved Bobby's flavorful harissa sauce as an additional garnish, but didn't go to the effort to find or make it this time.

Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes

Dorie uses an organic chicken, cut into eight pieces, or eight chicken thighs. Bobby goes for the thighs. I had the butcher cut the chicken into four pieces, and used the two breasts and two legs. I preferred Bobby's method of browning the chicken first, removing it from the pan, and then slowly cooking the onions until soft in a few tablespoons of the rendered chicken fat. I didn't see Dorie's point in dirtying two pans cooking the chicken and onions apart and losing all that flavor on the bottom of the discarded chicken pan. I have not yet acquired a tagine cooking vessel, so I used my large oval dutch oven.

This was a comforting fall dish for a chilly evening, with plenty of leftovers for mom and the office scavengers the next day. Bradley went hungry (see whimpering on Facebook, which may be slightly more active and entertaining than the blog these days).

Bobby Flay's recipe can be found here. Just play around with the ingredients and methods you prefer and come up with your own version.

French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s 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!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Easing into Fall with Spicy Fig Cake

We received our first dousing of rain a few days ago, cooler air is making its way across the ocean and in through the open windows, and I'm getting back into the mood to start cooking again. Trapper is romping more on his morning jaunt to Starbucks and continues to amuse his local and Facebook fans. He managed to Newfanize close to 75 likes in a few hours with his recent "green duck kinda day" photo. We're getting along just fine, but a ruggedly handsome boytoy man, bottle of red, pot of cassoulet, and another long rainy night would be a nice diversion about now....

Meanwhile, I've kept busy with work, local weekend events, finishing up a few articles for Wine & Dine San Diego (Celebrity Chef Tyler Florence Turns Winemaker), and searching for a charming little cottage to rent.

A few Saturdays ago, I had a great time tasting wine and nibbling on bites prepared by local chefs at the 10th Annual Celebrate the Craft hosted by The Lodge at Torrey Pines, and still had time to make it to the polo field for closing day.

Chef Matt Gordon (Urban Solace)
BBQ Liberty Duck, Sweet Corn and Chili Griddle Cake, Duck Tongue Cracklin'

Jason Knibb (NineTen)
Niman Ranch Kansas City Style Ribs, Poppy Seed Coleslaw

Jack Fisher (Jack Fisher Confections)
Smoked Dark Chocolate with Rosemary Marshmallow S'more

Eye Candy
Michael Totah, The Wheel - Custom Stoneware

USPA Spreckels Cup Finals

Since I just don't know where my life is headed at the moment, my blog posts may be a bit sporadic and  scatterbrained. It's not too exciting cooking for one and dining alone, but it is a good time of year to make big pots of soups, pasta sauces, and things that freeze well to make it easier on those nights when you just don't have the energy or desire to make a mess - those kind of nights when a glass of wine and bowl of soup is all you really need or want. On the nights when I feel like getting out and about, Wine & Dine San Diego has promised to keep my busy with restaurant reviews. I'm also contemplating some holiday solo travel this year. Any suggestions?

Speaking of the holidays, it's not too early to start thinking about holiday baking ideas. I came across this recipe for Spicy Fig Cake in Bluestem, one of my neglected cookbooks. Bluestem is a gorgeous cookbook with fairly challenging recipes organized by season, written by James Beard nominated chef Colby Garrelts and his wife, Megan, owners of Kansas City's highly acclaimed Bluestem Restaurant.

This is not your grandmother's fruitcake. Moist and soft, this is the antithesis of those dense bricks that modern mythology has us passing annually from family to family like a hot potato. With meaty pieces of dried figs, a generous amount of ginger liqueur, vanilla bean, apricot jam, fresh ginger, orange zest, and holiday spices, this is an amazing fruitcake worth baking and sharing this holiday season.

Spicy Fig Cake

Spicy Fig Cake
From Bluestem
(Makes one 9-inch loaf)


10 ounces dried figs
1 cup ginger liqueur or brandy (I used Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons apricot jam
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/8 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Optional: Confectioners' sugar, for dusting, or fresh whipped cream


Soak the dried figs in the ginger liqueur overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the loaf pan.

Drain the figs, reserving the liqueur. Cut the little stem off the top of each fig and halve the figs.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl once more.

Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using a small knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the batter. Add the sour cream, jam, honey, vanilla extract, zest, fresh and ground ginger, allspice, and cloves and mix well. Scrape down the bowl.

With the mixer on low, mix in the cake flour and salt until just incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and fold in the drained figs.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Rap the pan firmly against the counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes (mine took about 55 minutes), until the surface cracks and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

When the loaf is right out of the oven and still in the loaf pan, poke holes all over it with a wooden skewer. Pour the reserved liqueur from the dried figs over the top, letting it seep into the cake.

Allow the cake to cool completely. Flip the pan over to release the cake. Slice and serve, with a dusting of confectioners' sugar or dollop of fresh whipped cream if desired.

Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, this cake will keep for up to 3 days. Wrapped in multiple layers of plastic wrap and stored in the freezer, it will keep for up to 3 months.

Moist and soft, with meaty boozy ginger figs

Trapper and his new green duck

Friday, October 12, 2012

Celebrity Chef Tyler Florence Turns Winemaker

Celebrity Chef Tyler Florence Turns Winemaker
Wining and Dining with Tyler at Herringbone, La Jolla
Story and photos by Denise E. Jones
Wine & Dine San Diego, October 11, 2012

Celebrity chef, Food Network star, cookbook author and restaurateur Tyler Florence has spent the last fifteen years sharing his vision of fine, approachable food with the world. When asked if he was a frustrated winemaker during a 2005 interview with Wine Spectator, Tyler responded, “I like the idea of having some land somewhere in the North Fork of Long Island, to have a farm and make some wine. Who knows? I'm 34. I think I have a few more lives to live. I could totally reinvent myself and do that and be very happy… it's such a craft to turn crushed grape juice into something that's so powerful and so beautiful.”

Tyler Florence at Herringbone, La Jolla

Four years later, Tyler found himself sitting around a table with Michael Mondavi and his family at their beautiful Carneros winery in Napa Valley, conducting the first blending session of Tyler Florence Wines.  Led by Rob Mondavi, a fourth-generation winemaker, the partnership has sourced three limited-production wines from world-class California vineyards – TF Pinot, TF Zin and TF Cab.  They also crafted an approachable, food-friendly pair to enjoy every day – Tyler Florence Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Each of these wines reflect their shared belief that wine and food should bring out the very best in each other.

Tyler Florence Wines (courtesy photo)

As a huge Tyler Florence fan who regularly cooks from Tyler’s Ultimate (best spaghetti carbonara ever) and Real Kitchen, I was thrilled to meet him during a recent four-course wine dinner at Herringbone, La Jolla.  The event showcased Executive Chef Amanda Baumgarten’s “Fish Meats Field” cuisine.

Herringbone Executive Chef Amanda Baumgarten

John and I kicked off the evening sipping sparking wine and wandering around the vintage warehouse that wildly imaginative designer Thomas Schoos re-imagined into Herringbone. The front of the restaurant is a cozy, open-air courtyard and bar furnished with couches, bistro tables, fireplaces, bougainvillea trellises, brick and reclaimed wood. The former roof was with retractable awnings that welcome warm dappled sunlight and salty ocean air.

A Navy diver for 20 years and avid collector of sea shells and creatures from the deep, John was intrigued by an entire wall of lobster traps stacked from floor to ceiling and filled with hundreds of inflated blowfish. Six 100-year-old olive trees, trucked in from Northern California, enhance the indoor/outdoor dining experience. The casual California coastal theme continues with several large paintings.  A giant whale skeleton, cased in a wrought-iron blimp structure, serves as a chandelier over the dining room bar. The creative culinary action led by Amanda Baumgarten, a Top Chef winner, is on view through a large glass window that spans the rear wall of the dining room.

For the first course, we enjoyed crudo, the Italian equivalent of sashimi, prepared with silky diver scallops dressed with squeezes and drizzles of orange juice and extra virgin olive oil and garnished with pink peppercorns.  With it, Herringbone poured Tyler Florence Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($19.99), a unique blend of fruit sourced from both the warmer Oso Vineyard, located in Pope Valley, and the cooler Milliken Vineyard in the southern part of Napa. Cold tank fermentation emphasizes the purity of the fruit and enhances its aromatics, and barrel fermentation adds subtle creaminess and length. This approachable, food friendly wine has bright orange blossom, Meyer lemon, and grapefruit characters supported by a round mouthfeel.  (Wine notes were contributed by the winery)

Maine Diver Scallop Crudo (similar recipe here)
orange, pink peppercorn, extra virgin olive oil

The second course featured thickly cut, pan-roasted Alaskan halibut accompanied by spicy chorizo and tart Jersey apple slices, garnished with watercress and almonds and paired with TF Pinot Noir 2010 ($40). This wine comes from the Carneros District of Napa Valley, a world-famous spot for Pinot Noir. Tyler and Rob chose traditional winemaking methods such as manual punchdowns and aging in French oak barrels to enhance the wine’s luscious red-fruit character. Classic Pinot Noir aromas and flavors of bright cherry and berry are balanced by fresh acidity and engaging spice notes – all supported by a silky structure.

Alaskan Halibut
chorizo, Jersey apple, watercress and almond

Next, Baumgarten fanned beautiful slices of duck breast over a creamy pool of celery root puree.  Topped with clever compote of black currants and juniper berries, the fish was paired with TF Old Vine Zinfandel 2008 ($40). Tyler and Rob sourced grapes for this wine from an old, dry-farmed vineyard on Mount St. Helena in Lake County, a well-known Zinfandel region. They enhanced the wine’s rich fruit intensity with 10 months of aging in French oak. This wine has ripe black fruit character accented with dark cocoa and cracked pepper. Rich tannins give it a firm, pleasant structure that stands up beautifully to food.

Duck Breast
celery root, black currant and juniper

The fourth course starred slices of nicely grilled prime New York sirloin and melt-in-your-mouth short rib, complemented by arugula, charred tomato jam and fork-crushed potatoes and was perfectly matched by glasses of TF Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2008 ($65). For this exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, Tyler and Rob chose hillside vineyards throughout Napa Valley, sites where well-drained volcanic soils encourage small crops of intensely flavored grapes. Malolactic fermentation and aging in French oak concentrated the wine’s richness. Big, ripe fruit aromas and flavors are accented with nuances of coffee and toasted vanilla that last over the lush finish. A truly luxurious wine.

Duo of Beef
Prime New York and shortrib, charred tomato jam, forked potatoes and arugula

The delicious dessert finale tempted with luscious pillows of milk chocolate mousse adorned with dark chocolate disks, toasted hazelnuts and fresh figs. We toasted Tyler with his Cabernet 2008 ($24.99), thanked him and Chef Amanda for an exceptionally memorable evening, and lined up for photos and autographs. Tyler and Rob selected grapes for this wine from both hillside and valley floor vineyards that contribute rich, complex varietal expression. Grapes were fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks then underwent malolactic fermentation in barrel before 18 months of aging in French oak. Opulent cherry, dark berry and cassis character are balanced by supple tannins and hints of toasted vanilla and toffee – a classic expression of this world-famous Napa Valley Cab region.

Milk Chocolate Mousse
figs, hazelnuts, dark chocolate

Tyler Florence Ultimate Food & Wine Experience Contest

The national release of Tyler Florence Wines coincides with a great opportunity for home chefs around the country to show off their food and wine pairing finesse.  Beginning October 1, 2012 and continuing through December 31, 2012, the Tyler Florence Ultimate Food & Wine Experience contest challenges home cooks to submit a favorite wine-paired recipe to Tyler Florence Wines.  The five winners and their guests will visit Napa Valley and tour the Michael Mondavi family estate, followed by a  cooking class with Florence at his West Coast Kitchen Essentials shop in Mill Valley.  The day will close with dinner at El Paseo. This one-of-a-kind trip includes hotel accommodations, roundtrip airfare and all ground transportation. To enter, upload one original recipe that pairs well with Tyler Florence Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc. Once the voting phase begins, share your entry via Facebook and Twitter, and encourage your friends to vote for you on-line at Tyler Florence Wines. Tyler will judge the 20 top entries (10 for each wine) and will choose the grand-prize winners. You may enter more than once, but Tyler will select only one winner per household. Go to Ultimate Food and Wine Sweepstakes for details and rules. Unfortunately, this contest is void in CA and TN and where prohibited by law.

7837 Herschel Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 459-0221

Tyler Florence Wines

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Around Town: Il Fornaio Festa Regionale Menu - Toscana

Now through October 14, Il Fornaio explores the Tuscan region of Italy with a flavorful Festa Regionale menu featuring the dishes of this most famous region recognized for its wine as well as its cuisine. Chef-Partner Vicente Mendoza, who pursues his passion for authentic Italian cooking at Il Forniao's Manhattan Beach restaurant, created this special menu based on his tour of Toscana with Executive Chef Maurizio Mazzon.

“I truly enjoyed working closely with Maurizio on this menu – particularly the seafood and pasta dishes which were inspired by meals we enjoyed while traveling together across Toscana. The Insalata di Farro e Fave is a tribute to his favorite place in Toscana, the city of Florence...the salad has a little of everything in it and represents what cuisine in Firenze is all about.”

I always look forward to the beginning of each month, when the new Festa Regionale menu is unveiled. This week, we dined on the patio during sunset and enjoyed a leisurely wine pairing dinner prepared by Chef Giorgio and his culinary team.

Our first course, a rustic Italian bread and tomato salad called Panzanella, showcases the last hurrah of the season's heirloom tomatoes, with cubes of bread, cucumber, red onion, celery and fresh basil, tossed with red wine vinegar and Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil. The Panzanella was paired with Vermentino, Poggio al Tesoro Solosole 2011a vibrant, medium-bodied dry white with zesty acidity and enticing aromas and flavors of peach, apricot and ripe melon.

Two additional first course options are Pancotto alla Contadina, Tuscan kale soup with cannellini beans and toasted ciabatta bread, or Insalata di Farro e Fave, a fava bean and farro salad with asparagus, baby arugula, Belgian endive, yellow pear tomatoes and lemon-olive oil vinaigrette, topped with boschetto tartufato cheese.


It is most definitely worth straying from your diet to try the Mezzelune Cacio e Pere, half-moon ravioli filled with grilled pears, mozzarella and Parmigiano, topped with asparagus-crescenza cream sauce and sprinkled with toasted walnuts. We loved this dish with the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, La Lastra, 2011 - Among the first DOCG white wines, this benchmark Vernaccia from the hillside town of San Gimignano is crisp and delicate with a floral fragrance and flavor of almonds. 

Also tempting is the Pappardelle di Castagne, fresh chestnut pasta with Italian sausage, porcini mushrooms, tomatoes, crushed red pepper and Trebbiano wine, or the Crespelle alla Fiorentina, homemade crepes filled with organic spinach and ricotta cheese, and baked in the oven with bechamel sauce, porcini mushrooms and pecorino cheese.

Mezzelune Cacio e Pere

We surely could have stopped after salad and pasta, but the night was young and the wine was flowing. The Pollo al Mattone alla Diavola is a partially deboned half chicken marinated with herbs and peperoncino, grilled under a brick, and served with Tuscan salad and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes. Also appealing is Cacciucco Seafood Soup with clams, mussels, whitefish, cod, wild shrimp and calamari, served with Tuscan fettunta bread. The chicken pairs well with Rosso di Montalcino, Col d’Orcia, 2010. This full-bodied, supple and rich red is another great example of the versatility of Sangiovese. It is brimming with earthy aromas and cherry, violet and vanilla flavors. It is complex and harmonious with smooth supple tannins and a soft, velvety finish. 

Pollo al Mattone alla Diavola

Always save room for sweets! The Meringata alla Fiorentina is a traditional Florentine-style meringue cake with whipped cream, amaretto and chocolate.

Meringata alla Fiorentina

A three-course Taste of Toscana tasting menu is offered for $29.99. Toscana and Sangiovese Wine Flights are also available. You can see the full Toscana menu here.

The view from Il Fornaio, Coronado

Related Links:

Barefoot Contessa's recipe and video for Panzanella
William Sonoma's recipe for Pear and Pecorino Ravioli with Walnuts
Fine Cooking's recipe for Tuscan Grilled Chicken under a Brick
Los Angeles Times recipe for Meringata alla Fiorentina