Recipe: Wild Mushroom Risotto with a Poached Egg

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s winter, which means there’s an abundance of wild mushrooms at the market. One of my favorite wild mushrooms is the hedgehog mushroom – a ‘shroom which has “teeth” under the cap instead of gills. They taste very much like a chanterelle and are typically cleaner and cheaper than a chanterelle. They have hollow stems, so they weigh less than the average mushroom, which makes them quite economical to cook with.

One of the best ways to showcase the earthy, foresty flavors of wild mushrooms is by using them in risotto. Contrary to common belief, risotto is very easy to make and hard to screw up. There is definitely a technique to it, which I will describe below. Mostly, it just requires a lot of attention and stirring, but it’s not hard to make. Risotto is a very versatile dish, and you could substitute any of the ingredients here with similar ones. Instead of veggie broth, you could use chicken or mushroom. Instead of shallots, you could use an onion. I used dry white vermouth instead of white wine, because that’s what I had on hand. If you can’t find hedgehog mushrooms, use chanterelles, creminis, king trumpets, or porcinis. Don’t be afraid to adapt this dish to whatever ingredients you have available to you.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow you may ask, why the egg? Well, it’s a cheap and delicious source of protein for one. Secondly, they are a classic pairing with wild mushrooms. Third, I like to eat risotto with something “saucy” on top, whether it be ossobucco, pork ragu, or some other sort of braised meat with a rich sauce. I don’t always have 5 hours to slow-cook a veal shank, so the ooey-gooey center of a perfectly poached egg is a great substitute.

The single most important factor in good risotto is the quality of the stock being used to cook it with. Home-made stock is best. If you’ve never made your own stock at home, now is a good time to start. Vegetable stock takes just a couple of hours (vs. chicken stock which can take 8 or 9 hours) and you can use whatever you’ve got kicking around in the fridge. If you have time for chicken stock, you can find my recipe for it here. Otherwise, you can use low-sodium stock from the market in a pinch. Just be sure it’s low-sodium, because you are cooking off a lot of the liquid and the risotto can easily wander into too-salty territory before you know it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next point of consideration is the variety of rice to use. I always use arborio rice, an Italian variety of startchy, short-grained rice commonly used in risotto here in the US. There are other types you can use, but arborio is the easiest to find. Carnaroli is considered to be one of the finest and creamiest varieties. If you can find some of that, let me know so I can get some too.

Be sure to read this recipe from start to finish before you begin. I’ve written it in such a way that everything will be perfectly timed. You will be poaching your egg while your risotto finishes cooking, so there is a little multi-tasking involved. Be sure that you understand how to poach an egg before you begin (I’ve included a link to my poached egg tutorial below). If you are not comfortable poaching an egg, you can fry one over-easy for a similar result. Most of all, don’t forget to stir! Risotto is all about constant stirring, and while you can rest for a minute or two at a time, be vigilant so you don’t burn it.

Wild Mushroom Risotto with a Poached Egg
Serves 2 (dinner-sized portions)
Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 20 min.

Ingredients:
1 cup arborio rice
5+ cups home-made or low-sodium stock (vegetable, chicken, or mushroom)
6-8 oz. wild mushrooms, sliced (hedgehogs, chanterelle, porcini, king trumpet, cremini, etc.)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or other hard Italian cheese
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 large or 2 medium shallots, finely diced
2 very fresh eggs
2 tbsp. vinegar (any kind will do, but I tend to use white wine vinegar)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt & pepper

Method:

  1. Heat the stock in a small pot and keep it hot (but don’t boil it).
  2. In a small skillet, heat 1 tbsp. of butter until it foams.
  3. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan with a sprinkle of kosher salt (this helps draw the moisture out) and cook for 5-6 minutes until most of the moisture cooks off and they begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp. of butter over medium heat until it foams.
  5. Add diced shallots to the pan and sprinkle with kosher salt to prevent browning.
  6. Cook shallots, stirring frequently, until they turn translucent, but don’t allow them to brown.
  7. Add the arborio rice to the shallots and butter. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes until the edges of the rice grains become translucent. This step is important and will result in creamy risotto.
  8. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the white wine or vermouth to the rice and stir constantly until mostly absorbed.
  9. Add a ladle-full (or 3/4 cup) of the hot stock to the rice and stir constantly until mostly (but not completely) absorbed. The mixture should be bubbling, but not sizzling. Keep repeating this step, it will take 15 minutes or so to get through all the stock. Keep stirring, stirring, stirring, and be sure to taste it as you go, testing for done-ness.
  10. When you are about halfway through your stock additions, fill a tall-sided skillet or low-sided saucepan with 2-3 inches of water and heat it until it simmers.
  11. Add the 2 tbsp. of vinegar to the simmering pot of water.
  12. Back to the risotto – keep stirring, tasting, and adding hot stock. You will notice the liquid changes from brothy to creamy when it’s approaching done-ness.
  13. Once the risotto is almost done, you can add your eggs to the small pot of simmering water to poach. Click here to read my full tutorial on poaching eggs. Once they are in the water, cook them for 3 minutes until the yolks are still soft to the touch but the whites are cooked through. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  14. Add the cooked mushrooms to the almost-finished risotto and stir.
  15. At this point, your risotto should be done or close to it. Keep going until the consistency is perfectly creamy but not over-cooked. You want it to have enough liquid so it’s just slightly soupy. Once it’s done, add more stock to make it a little creamier, if needed.
  16. Turn off the heat. Add the grated cheese and season to taste with salt & pepper. You will probably need quite a bit of salt if you used home-made stock. Don’t be afraid of salt, but taste it as you go so you don’t over-salt it.
  17. Plate your risotto in a large bowl, mounding it in the center. Make a little well in the middle with your spoon, then lay the poached egg in the middle. Sprinkle the hot egg with a little salt, some fresh black pepper, a little extra grated cheese, and finally sprinkle with chopped parsley.

 

You’re done! It should look a little something like this:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are eating this for breakfast, you have won at life. If you’re eating it for dinner, be sure to pair it with some dry bubbly wine, such as an inexpensive crémant or even a real Champagne if you’re feeling fancy. I would even go as far as pairing it with a French sparkling rosé of pinot noir, to compliment the earthy mushroom flavors. I would avoid any wines that are excessively fruit-forward, erring on the side of mineral.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy risotto? Do you have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments!

Recipe: Nobu Miso Black Cod

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Most people who know me know that I am not much of a traditionalist. Although my father’s side of the family was devoutly Catholic and from Eastern Europe (tradition, anyone?), my mother’s side of the family was very much a bunch of rough-and-tumble ‘Mericans from Oakland, CA. I was the third generation in my family to be brought up in Oakland, and as a result I feel that most of the “culture” I have is a mish-mash of old-world sensibilities rooted in the soils of the Bay Area.

So, what does that mean exactly? For one, it means I don’t cook turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s a ridiculous holiday to begin with, and I cringe every time someone wants to go around the table to say what they are thankful for. Come December, my Christmas tree is adorned with disco balls, chickens, and Star Trek memorabilia. I shop for holiday wrapping paper in the Birthday section. My husband is Jewish, so every year we throw a Christmukkah party (although this year, it was Thanksgivingukkah). My point is, we don’t follow any rules, and we have a great time.

Today I am going to share with you one of my favorite Winter dishes. I’ve served it twice as the main course for Thanksgiving. Anyone who has spent T-Day with us and experienced this Miso Black Cod will tell you about the time a crowd of people stood in my kitchen after dinner was finished, picking the leftover scraps of black cod from the serving platter. I made it again this year, but with a more all-encompassing Japanese theme. Turkey can suck it.

The great thing about this dish is the ease of preparation. It may seem fussy (3 day marinade? Searing in the broiler?), but I assure you that it’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s all about patience and technique. The 3-day marinade changes the fish in a way that is hard to explain – it becomes firmer while still being melty, tender, succulent, and other-worldy. I’ve tried to speed it up and do a 1-day marinade, and it really isn’t the same. So give yourself as much time as you can – 2 or 3 days is ideal.

blackcod_freshThe most important thing to consider when making this dish is the freshness of the black cod. You are going to be marinating it for 3 days, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t touch 3-day old fish with a 10 foot pole. My working theory is that the salt in the miso acts as a sort of cure, slowly drawing the moisture out of the fish. My advice is to get your black cod right from the source (fisherman), or as close to the source as you can. I get my fish from One Ocean Seafood – the owner does FREE home delivery, and if you work with him you can find out what days he gets his fresh-caught local fish on. My Thanksgiving black cod (from Monterey) was caught on Tuesday morning and served on Thursday evening.

Black Cod, also known as Sablefish, is a very oily fish that is not actually cod at all. Because of it’s high oil content, it is difficult to over-cook. This is a great recipe for people who are not normally comfortable cooking fish. We get it locally here from Monterey and Half Moon Bay – buy the local stuff if you can.

Anyhow, here’s the recipe. It’s from Nobu Matsuhisa, a celebrity chef who owns the high-end Nobu restaurant chain. If you’ve ever seen the $30 “Miso Black Cod” on the menu at any Japanese restaurant (many places serve variations on this dish), this is what you’ll get – although yours will be better and much cheaper.

Nobu Miso Black Cod

Ingredients:

For Saikyo Miso Marinade
3/4 c. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
1/2 c. saké (Japanese rice wine)
2 c. white miso paste (aka shiro miso)
1-1/4 c. organic white sugar

For cod
4 black cod fillets, about 1/2 lb. each
3 cups prepared Saikyo miso

Method:

Make the Saikyo miso marinade

  1. Bring the saké and mirin to a boil, and boil for 30 seconds (this cooks off the alcohol).
  2. Lower the temperature to low and add the miso paste. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
  3. When the miso has dissolved completely, turn the heat back up to high and add the sugar.
  4. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  6. Reserve a small amount of the miso marinade for serving.


Prepare the black cod

  1. Rinse the black cod fillets and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Trim any ugly bits from the fillets.
  3. Place fillets into a non-reactive bowl or container and slather with the cooled Saikyo miso marinade.
  4. Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator.
  5. Flip the fillets once during the 2-3 day marinade.


Cook the black cod (2-3 days later)

  1. Pre-heat your broiler.
  2. Remove the fillets from the container and wipe off the excess miso (but do not rinse).
  3. Cut the marinated fillets into 4-5 oz serving-sized pieces.
  4. Place the fillets skin-side down on a broiler-safe, foil-lined, low-rimmed dish or on aluminum foil.
  5. Place fillets into your pre-heated broiler and broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the tops of the fish begin to blacken and caramelize (see photo). Remove from broiler.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place fillets into the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Remove the bones from the cooked fish with a pair of tweezers prior to serving, or just warn your guests that there will be small bones in the fish.

That’s it, really! You can serve this with a little bit of the miso marinade you reserved on day 1 on the side. Nobu recommends serving with a stalk of Hajikami, which I have never been able to find commercially (I make my own). You could serve it with pickled sushi ginger instead. This dish is also complimented well with cooked greens such as spinach. The slight bitterness is a nice counter-point to the sweetness of the fish.

As for wine pairing, any white wine with little or no oak would be great with this. I would suggest something with a tiny bit of residual sugar (but not a sweet wine) and medium to full body. Our 2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc comes to mind. It would also be fantastic with Champagne.

Let us know if you have any questions about this recipe in the comments.

Recipe: Roasted Little Birds with Garlic-Herb Butter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese delicious little birds are a fantastic Thanksgiving alternative for those who don’t have the time, space or appetite for a whole turkey. They take just an hour or two from start to finish and make the perfect serving size.

This recipe will serve 2­-4 people, depending on how hungry you are. I like to cut the finished birds in half, down the middle, and serve 1⁄2 per person… but I could easily eat a whole one.

We recommend pairing these delicious little birds with a bright and fresh Pinot Noir like the Verse Carneros Pinot Noir, or a full-bodied white wine with acidity and herbal notes such as our La Clarine White Blend No. 1. Both of these wines are offered in our Fall wine club lineup.

If you want to create a complete meal, you could serve these guys with our Raw Kale Harvest Salad and Savory Chanterelle & Gruyere Bread Pudding. All of these dishes are amazing together and would be sure to impress your Thanksgiving guests!

Special Tools:
Butcher’s twine
Meat thermometer
Oven­proof skillet (stainless steel, cast iron, etc) 

Ingredients:
2 Cornish Game Hens, about 1 or 1.5 lb. each.
Salt
Pepper

For the garlic herb compound butter:
2 tsp finely chopped oregano
2 tsp finely chopped thyme
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup butter (1⁄2 stick)

Method

  1. Pre­heat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Rinse cornish hens and pat dry with a paper towel, inside and out. Salt the cavity of the bird liberally with sea or kosher salt.
  3. Make the compound butter by fork­-mashing the butter with the chopped herbs, garlic and salt.
  4. Run your forefinger between the hen’s breast meat and the skin (making a pocket), then stuff some compound butter under skin. Distribute it evenly under the skin and over the breast meat by patting it down from the outside. Do not put butter on the outside of the bird, as it will prevent the skin from crisping in the oven.
  5. Truss your hens with butcher’s twine. This makes the birds more compact, and they will cook more evenly. Trussing also makes for a more visually appealing finished product. Click here for instructions on trussing.
  6. Salt & pepper the outside of the hens.
  7. Heat a large oven­-proof skillet over medium-­high heat. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil & heat until the oil shimmers. Once hot, place the birds breast-­side up on the skillet. Brown the bottom of the birds and the sides of the birds, but NOT the breast of the birds. This should only take a few minutes.
  8. Once the sides and bottoms of your hens are crispy and brown, pop the whole skillet into your hot oven. Roast for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your hens. Baste the birds with the pan juices every 15 minutes or so. Your birds are finished when a meat thermometer inserted into the dark meat reads 165 degrees and the skin is brown and crispy. Let rest for 5-­10 minutes.
  9. Butterfly and separate into halves with poultry shears or serve them whole with a sprig of thyme as a garnish. I like to serve them with a little side of dijon mustard.

Secret Wine Club: Jura

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis weekend, Colleen and I hosted another wine tasting for our friends. The theme was Jura wines.

The Jura is a a cool-climate, mountainous region in France between Burgundy and Switzerland, and is composed of six regions including Arbois, Macvin du Jura, Côtes du Jura, Crémant du Jura, Château-Chalon, and L’Étoile. Within these regions, wines are produced from poulsard, trousseau, savagnin, chardonnay, and pinot noir. White, red, rosé and sparkling wines are produced from these grapes.

The most famous wine from the Jura is called vin jaune (literally, yellow wine). This wine is made from the white savagnin grape which is picked when it’s very ripe. The finished wine is put into large oak barriques, and is allowed to evaporate through the staves of the barrel until a pocket of air forms at the top. A special strain of indigenous yeast forms a veil (or voile, au Français) over the surface of the wine, imparting a unique salinity and oxidative quality that gives vin jaune it’s trademark aroma and flavor. Vin jaune is quite intense, an acquired taste, and very hard to find.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany white wines from the Jura have a similar (but not as intense) oxidative quality to them, since they are often made in the same method. However, the difference between vin jaune and standard white wine from the Jura is the duration for which it’s aged. Vin jaune must be aged for a minimum of 6 years, while other white wines aren’t required to age for as long. Some whites from the Jura are aged in a barrel without that pocket of air, creating wines that are still very uniquely Jura, but much fresher in flavor and less intense.

The red wines from the Jura are very unique as well, and a little more approachable than their white counterparts. The reds are light but structured, with aromas of fruit, spice and earth. Poulsard makes the lightest of the red wines, while trousseau makes more robust (but still pretty light) reds. Pinot noir is also grown in the Jura and made into red wine, but the straight varietal wines are difficult to find.

Our wine list for the evening:
2011 Les Dolomies Savagnin, Côtes du Jura
2009 Domaine de Montborgeau Chardonnay/Savagnin, L’Etoile
NV Phillipe Bornard “Tant-Mieux” Pétillant Naturel of Poulsard
2012 Michel Gahier Trousseau, “Les Grands Vergers”, Arbois
2011 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard, Arbois
2006 Jacques Puffeney Vin Jaune, Arbois

Choosing the correct food pairings for these wines was really fun, as they are wonderful with food and the Jura has some really interesting regional culinary specialties. Wild mushrooms seemed to be quite common in the Jura, and in the winter I’ve been told that potatoes topped with melted raclette are a staple. The Jura is also a fly-fishing destination (weird, right?), so I wanted to make something out of freshwater fish. We also found some regional cheeses, and a rustic cream tart sort of thing called a Toétché, for which I could only find a recipe in French. Our resident Francophile Colleen was able to follow it just fine, no surprise there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur menu for the evening:
Toétché (above)
Trout rillettes
Fresh baugette
Sautéed wild mushrooms (yellow foot, black trumpet, oyster, hedgehog)
Warm salad of roasted rose finn potatoes and wild mushrooms
Morbier & Comté cheeses
Wickson apples
Breakfast radishes with cultured butter and grey sea salt
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found that the Toétché paired perfectly with the vin jaune. This made me very happy, since I wasn’t sure what the Toétché would even taste like. Big ups to Colleen for making it come out perfectly, it was absolutely beautiful and delicious. The morbier and comté cheeses were also wonderful with the white wines, although they did not pair particularly well with the reds. The trout rillettes were lovely with all of the wines, while the apples provided a nice, palate-cleansing counterpoint to all of the savory foods. I especially loved the breakfast radishes with cultured butter and sea salt, while others in the room weren’t so enthused (I learned of this snack from a Frenchman who was so graciously hosting me at a winery some time ago). Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I find that radishes are an excellent vehicle for butter. The sautéed mushrooms were lovely piled atop fresh bread and enjoyed with the poulsard and trousseau.

As for the wines, we found that most people loved the ‘Les Dolomies’ ($28)– a white savagnin aged in a topped-up barrel. It was fresh, rich, and awesome with food. The Gahier trousseau ($39) was definitely the stand-out, everyone really loved it (it was my favorite as well). The Puffeney vin jaune ($80) was intense, too intense for a lot of people in the room. I also wish I’d opened it earlier and possibly decanted it, but my decanter was full of the Bornard ‘Tant-Mieux” ($32)which was absolutely reductive, sweet, and generally awful (not surprisingly, it tasted much better the next day). A friend also brought a bottle of Chardonnay from Côtes du Jura, which was great to balance out all the savagnin in the room.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope everyone who came had a great time and learned a lot about these rare, unusual wines. I had a blast curating the list and finding foods to pair. I hope that everyone took away some useful knowledge and would feel confident ordering a glass from the Jura section on the wine list at their favorite French restaurant.

Recipe: Raw Kale Harvest Salad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love a well-balanced salad. A great mixed green salad is nice, but to me, a salad is best with a few different elements – some crunch, something sweet, a couple different types of greens, and a dressing that brings it all together. I think most people are used to cooking kale, but treated well, you can eat kale raw, and it’s super nutritious. The trick is really letting it sit with the lemon juice for a few minutes. You want to break down the cells of the kale, and the lemon juice acts as a tenderizer.

This recipe is very adaptable – you can use a different bitter green than radicchio, or a different sweet, fruity element than pomegranate seeds. Just keep the basic integrity the same – some kale, a bitter element, a nut, a fruit, and a tangy-sweet dressing – and you’ll be golden.

We paired this salad with the 2012 Porter Creek Rose, which was included in our recent wine shipment. I think there are many options for pairings here, but any tangy, acidic, lean wine will be best. Sauvignon Blanc would be another good option.

Serves 4-6

Special Tools
Small jar (8oz or so) with tight-fitting lid

Ingredients
1 bunch kale – lacinato/dino kale are best, the smaller the leaves, the better
1 small head or ½ medium head radicchio
1 small pomegranate, pips separated
3-4 T pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 lemon, juiced
1 T sherry vinegar
2 tsp honey
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Method
Remove the stems from the kale leaves, then stack them on top of each other into manageable bunches, and slice crosswise into ribbons, about ¼” thick.

Quarter the radicchio half and cut the tough stem ends out, then slice crosswise to match the kale ribbons. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss the kale ribbons, and add the lemon juice, a healthy pinch of salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix well with your hands, bruising the leaves with a moderate amount of pressure. You don’t want to crush them, but you are trying to break down the fibers a little, to make the kale more tender. Set aside.

In the jar, combine a few tablespoons of olive oil, the sherry vinegar, honey, and about ½ tsp each of salt and pepper. Shake well. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasonings as needed.

In a serving bowl, combine the bruised kale, radicchio, pomegranate pips, and pumpkin seeds. Pour the dressing over everything, and toss well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Recipe: Savory Chanterelle and Gruyere Bread Pudding

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a recipe featured in our Fall wine club shipment. We chose to feature this recipe because it encompasses everything we love about fall food, and it perfectly compliments several of the wines we are offering in our Fall club shipment. Made with chanterelle mushrooms and delicious cave-aged gruyere cheese, this vegetarian dish is sure to delight your guests. It’s fancy enough for a holiday like Thanksgiving but easy enough to make for any day of the week. We really love it’s umami flavors and creamy/crusty consistency.

You can find Chanterelle mushrooms at your local specialty store during the rainy months. Right now we are getting Oregon chanterelles as well as Pacific Golden chanterelles. I prefer the Oregon variety because they are cleaner, have great flavor, and a better texture (in my opinion). They are smaller and more orange in color than their California-grown counterparts. Chances are you will see only one variety, so get whatever you can. You want to pick out the chanterelles that look the best. Look for firm, dry chanterelles without any red rot or raggedy edges.

Don’t skimp on the Gruyere, either. Get a good-quality cave aged gruyere from France, if possible. This should not be hard to find, as I believe even Trader Joes carries one.

Savory Chanterelle & Gruyere Bread Pudding
Adapted from 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love by Jill Silverman Hough

Special Tools
One 2 qt. casserole dish or six 1½ cup individual ramekins

Ingredients
3 cups milk
1½ tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan
12 oz. chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely sliced OR 2 medium leeks (white & light green parts only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tsp. fine sea salt
5 large eggs
12 oz. crusty artisan French or Italian, with crusts, torn or cubed into ¾” pieces
8 oz. gruyere cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)

Method
Butter the casserole dish or ramekins and set aside.

Combine the milk, chopped herbs, and pepper in a medium pot with a heavy bottom. Set over medium-high heat until the milk just begins to simmer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Then add the mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. (If substituting leeks, cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent browning.) Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then temper the eggs by whisking in ⅓ of the warm milk mixture. Once combined, slowly whisk in the rest. Add the bread cubes, shredded cheese, and mushroom or leek mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the bread absorb the liquid.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center.

Spoon the mixture into the casserole dish or ramekins. Bake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.

Day Trip: Highway 1 Slowcoast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve ever met me, you’ve probably gathered that I love a road trip. I will use any excuse I can find to drive down Highway 1 and take in the scenery. As a child, my parents took us to San Gregorio State Beach to play in the sand as well as Año Nuevo State Park to watch the elephant seals. It was good, cheap fun for my family, as we didn’t have a lot. Fast forward a decade or two and I remember being a young adult, freshly released into the wild, always driving down Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz… well, because I could. Gas was cheap back then and it was a nice way to spend the day alone. Today, I still I find great nostalgia in the familiar curves of the highway and the friendly ocean cliffs that have been burned into my memory from a lifetime of acquaintance.

Considering the fact that I’ve been driving up and down that stretch of freeway for the last 31 years, it’s only natural that I know quite a few great places to stop at along the way. The great thing about a road trip is that there is no destination; it’s about the journey. Here are some of my favorite places to go if you find yourself driving on Highway 1 between HMB and Santa Cruz. Don’t forget to bring cash, as many of these places are cash-only.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABob’s Vegetable Stand & Pumpkin Patch is the first farm stand you will see after heading south from Half Moon Bay on Highway 1. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s actually a really great place to get some cheap, local fresh veggies. They have artichokes, shelling peas, brussel sprouts, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, local honey… basically anything that grows in a 5 mile radius. They also have a nice pumpkin patch in the fall which is perfect for kids. Buyers beware: Not everything here is local. Be sure to look for the items listed as such, and ask to make sure your veggies weren’t sprayed with pesticides. If they tell you “I don’t know”, then they were probably sprayed.

San Gregorio State Beach should be next on your list, as it’s only a few miles south of Bob’s Veggie Stand. Be sure to pay for your parking spot, as our state parks need all the money they can get. You have to pay even if there is no attendant, so be sure to follow the instructions at the kiosk. Once you arrive, you can take a long walk south on the beach, dipping your feet into the cool & salty water. If sand isn’t your thing, you can stay near the parking lot and perch on a cliffside (being careful not to get too close to the edge, people DO fall off) and have a nice picnic. This place was on the short list of locations for my wedding, I love it that much.

Heading further south, you will encounter some signs for the town of Pescadero. At the junction for Pescadero Creek Road, there is a beach to your right and a turn-off to your left. Make a left on Pescadero Creek Road, and head east for about a mile. At the next intersection (Stage Road), make a left and you will be smack-dab in the middle of Pescadero. There are several businesses worth visiting here. If you are hungry, stop at the Arcangeli Grocery Store. They have excellent sandwiches made-to-order in the back, or just pick up a loaf of their delicious garlic herb artichoke bread. It’s usually still warm from the oven, and it’s so good it might not make it out of the car.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter re-fueling, there are a few other places you could visit. My favorite is Harley Farms Goat Dairy, where you can go on farm tours or just visit their quaint cheese shop to buy some of their award-winning goat cheese. They are located just around the bend; follow the wooden signs of a girl with a goat pointing in the direction of the farm. Once you arrive, park in the designated area and head towards the shop. If you are there in the springtime, you will be blessed by the sight of the cutest baby goats you’ve ever seen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf it’s not the springtime while you’re visiting, say hi to the mama goats and then head to the store, where they have a ton of different, farm-made products to choose from. I love their fromage blanc, fresh chèvre, and berry nectar. They also sell farm-fresh eggs, goat cheese ravioli, goat ricotta, chalk paint, and much more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce you’re done spending a small fortune on cheese, head back down to Pescadero Creek Road and hang a left this time instead of going back towards the ocean. Once you reach Cloverdale Road (you’ll see a sign for Butano State Park), make a right. Follow this road for several miles until you see additional signs for Butano State Park. Get your cash ready – you have to pay to park here, as you do with all state-run parks. Be ready to get your money’s worth because this place is truly magical, especially in the summer. Park at the second parking lot where the bathrooms are (not right next to the entry kiosk). From here, there are picnic tables and trail heads. If you are here in the height of summer, there is an abundance of wild berries growing all over the place. Thimble berries and blackberries are king here, and I like to gorge myself like Yogi Bear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can opt to head farther into the park to get a little more privacy. There are several turn-outs where you can park and trailheads that lead into some of the most pristine and under-appreciated redwood forests in California. Alex and went there just this last weekend and had a wonderful picnic under the redwood canopy. We enjoyed a salad of radicchio, arugula & scarlet runner beans, grenadine apples, dried salumi, comté cheese, and a really funky French petillant rosé.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAButano is also great for hiking (a 12 mile loop will take you on a tour of the whole park) and camping (drive-in as well as hike-in campsites are available). Due to budget cuts, it’s been closed during the winter for the last few years. It’s unfortunate as this temperate coastal redwood forest is quite mild in the winter. Next time you vote and see an option to add a small annual tax to keep our beautiful state parks open, please vote yes.

Once you’re done at the park, you can either turn back towards Highway 1 or head into the Santa Cruz Mountains. If you choose to continue east on Pescadero Creek Road, it will eventually run into Highway 84. Make a right on 84 and head up towards Skyline. At the intersection of 84 and Skyline, there is a fantastic roadside diner called Alice’s Restaurant. They have delicious burgers, great beers, and unbelievable sweet potato fries. They almost never have a wait, even if it looks insanely busy. This is a must-try place. Every time I walk through the doors, I hum Arlo Guthrie’s song of the same name. Once you’re done eating, continue east on 84, which will eventually intersect with 280 and take you back home.

If you choose to head back towards the ocean, you can continue south on Highway 1 and visit a few more farm stands and attractions. There is Pie Ranch, Slowcoast, Swanton Berry Farm (seasonal berry U-pick), and a variety of beaches and state parks you can visit. Be sure to check the hours for these places before you leave, as many of them are seasonal and close in the late summer and fall. I was up there last weekend and Pie Ranch was closed, but Slowcoast and the Swanton Berry Farm pie shop (not the U-Pick) were both open. I scored a delicious Tayberry Pie and strawberry truffle while I was there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere you have it, folks. This is about as soul-baring as it gets for me. I feel like my insides are made up of beach glass, brussel sprouts and fog. I hope you find a chance to explore this beautiful stretch of California.

Do you know this stretch of highway? Do you have some favorite places to stop at that we didn’t mention here? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, I took a drive down the coast to visit the new Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting room in Davenport. They closed down their Santa Cruz location back in May and moved up into a new space about 10 minutes north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. The proprietor, Randall Grahm, is somewhat of a bad-ass in California wine history, and I have a lot of respect for him for popularizing Rhone wines in California. After all, some of my favorite varietal wines are made from Rhone varieties, and if it weren’t for Randall we might be in the dark about these delicious wines.

Unfortunately, the people operating the tasting room would not allow me to take any photos because they weren’t finished furnishing the place. Really guys? Your website says you are open for business and I just drove here from San Francisco! Anyhow, all I got was this crummy photo of their sign on the highway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo why is this blog post titled Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall? Well, if you’ve ever driven down Highway 1 in the fall, you know how many farm stands selling local produce there are all along the way. My travel partner and I decided to make the best of the situation and do some farm-standing along the way back home. I will review the beautiful fall vegetables we encountered along the way, along with some lovelies I came across at the Farmer’s Market this weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurban Squash! These aren’t as great for eating as they are for looking at, but in the fall you will see them taking over the coastal pumpkin patches in California. They are an heirloom variety, dating back to to the 1800’s.  The flesh tastes vaguely of hazelnut and they make an excellent soup. You can also roast them whole and use them as a large soup tureen. I would probably just leave these mutant squash as-is and add them to my home as part of my holiday décor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPo-ta-toes! Boil’em, mash’em, stick’em in a stew. While these are available year-round, I tend to eat them more in the fall because they lend themselves best to hearty, warm, savory dishes. We are fortunate to have many heirloom varieties at our disposal here in the Bay Area, and every time I buy potatoes I try a new variety. My favorite way to prepare them is to wash them, leave them un-peeled, chop into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil & fresh herbs, then roast at 375 degrees until tender and crispy around the edges. You can use these roasted potatoes in salads, as a simple side dish, as an accompaniment to eggs, or all by themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunchokes! What the heck are these, anyway? Also known as the Jerusalem Artichoke, they are actually the tuber of the sunflower. They are ugly to look at, but if you find these rarities at the market be sure to snatch them up while they are available. They are as delicious as they are ugly. I like to chop them, toss in olive oil, and roast like I would a potato. The flavor is nutty and artichoke-like and they would be great paired with something a little sweet to offset their savory personality.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARadicchio! This is my favorite bitter leafy vegetable of the fall & winter. While it’s generally available year-round, I think it tastes best this time of year. You can slice a radicchio in half and grill it, or use it raw in a salad mixed with arugula and sherry or balsamic vinaigrette. It’s important to use a sweet-ish dressing with this in a salad, as it can be quite bitter and needs a little balance. It tastes great with bacon, too. It’s festive color is perfect for the season and will be a lovely compliment on your Thanksgiving table.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWild mushrooms! This year we have a huge bumper crop of mushrooms, and it’s only fall. Prices are at rock bottom right now and you can find some pretty exotic varieties at your local wild mushroom purveyor. These shown in the photo, above, are called Violet Chanterelles, or Pig’s Ears. They have a lovely texture and earthy/pungent flavor that is perfect to accompany roasted game birds or pork. Other delicious mushrooms to try are Porcini, King Trumpet, yellow Chanterelle, Black Trumpet, Hedgehog, Matsutake, Maitake, Pioppini, and Yellowfoot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPersimmons! While I don’t have much experience with these, I do know how prolific they are around here in the fall. I had neighbors in Oakland with a whole orchard of them in their back yard. They are gorgeous when still on the tree, as they are late-ripening and the tree loses it’s leaves before the fruit falls off, making a silhouette that looks eerily like a scraggly Christmas tree full of bright orange ornaments. I know we have two major varieties here in CA; the sweet & friendly Fuyu persimmon, and the astringent Hachiya persimmon. To make them more palatable, my dad used to put his persimmon into a coffee mug and cover it with a small plate for several days. This would accelerate the ripening process, and he would eat it when it was practically rotting. Gross, Dad. There are some varieties indigenous to the United States, and they were a staple food of the Native Americans and early “American” settlers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApples! There is no fall food more perfect than the apple, especially here in California where we have access to a zillion different heirloom varieties. Right now there is a bounty of fresh apples all over the place and there’s a reason apple pie is so popular in the fall. Some of my favorite heirloom varieties include Pink Pearl, Grenadine, Rome, Wickson and Sierra Beauty. Pink-fleshed apples like Pink Pearl and Grenadine are not only beautiful, but in my opinion the most delicious. Perhaps it’s my mind playing tricks on me because of the seductive color, convincing my brain that they somehow taste better, but that Grenadine apple really does taste just like grenadine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoodbye tomatoes, basil, sweet corn & zucchini. Say Sayonara to sweet peppers. Summer is O-V-E-R, make room for fall foods! What are some of your favorite fall fruits & vegetables?

Seasonal Foods: Artichokes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve been to the farmer’s market at all in recent weeks, you may have noticed a staple vegetable of California popping up at your favorite coastal farmers’ stands, the artichoke. While other parts of the country don’t see this often misunderstood and delicious vegetable until the springtime, here in California we are lucky to get a crop of them in the fall. They favor our coastal environment, growing from Half Moon Bay all the way down to Watsonville. They grow alongside their coastal friends the strawberry, brussel sprout, and broccoli. If you take a drive down Highway 1 in the fall, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a huge pile of artichokes at a farm stand.

I think artichokes get a bad rap because of their thorny, scaly exterior. They aren’t exactly a friendly-looking vegetable, but I assure you they are worth the effort of cooking and disassembling them to reach their tender, delicious core. They leaves are basically a vehicle for butter; I like to steam an artichoke whole and serve it with lemon-garlic butter. I peel the leaves off, one by one, dipping them into the butter and scraping off the tender bits with my front teeth. Once I get down to the heart, I scoop out the “choke” (the fuzzy inedible stuff in the center) and snarf down the heart and stem as quickly as I can get it into my mouth.

Cooking an artichoke is easy; simply peel off the tough outer leaves until you get to the more tightly-closed ones, then trim the spiky tips off any leaves you can reach with a pair of kitchen shears. Then, chop off 1/2″ of the tip of the artichoke (opposite the stem end). If there is a good stem on it, I use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin of the stem (the stem is edible and quite delicious). Then, pop it into your steam basket and give it a good steam until a knife slides into the thickest part without much effort. Be careful not to over-cook it. Since artichokes vary in size, cooking times will vary.

If you are lucky enough to find really tiny artichokes, you can roast those whole and eat them as-is.

Pairing wine with artichokes is quite difficult, as a chemical in the artichoke clashes with a component in many wines which make them taste bitter and metallic together. However, there are several wines that work beautifully with artichokes; Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Blanc de Blanc Champagne, un-oaked Chardonnay, Muscadet, Verdicchio, Alsatian Riesling, and Pinot Blanc. Basically you want to avoid anything with tannin or oak (all red wine and some whites), and focus on dry white wines with ample acidity.

Do you love artichokes? How do you like to eat them? Is there a condiment you like to enjoy them with best? Let us know in the comments.

Recipe: Lemon Cream Tart

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Anybody who knows me knows how obsessed I am with lemons. They are my favorite citrus fruit because they lend an aromatic & fresh zippiness to cocktails, desserts, and savory dishes. I love lemons so much that Colleen made me a white chocolate & lemon layer cake for my wedding last year. They are also unbelievably easy to grow here in our Mediterranean climate; I have two Meyer lemon trees in my back yard that produce year-round.

When my good friend Kendra asked me to make a dessert for her wedding this last weekend, I naturally wanted to use lemons. They aren’t exactly in season, but our Indian summer had been warm around here and the thought of something heavy and seasonal like pumpkin or ginger made me sad. Lemons are perfect for warm weather because they are refreshing and light, so I decided to make Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Cream Tart for Kendra & Dan’s wedding. Plus, I am not much of a baker, and this recipe is easy to make. I’d hate to try a new recipe and have it turn out poorly for such an important event.

This lemon cream tart recipe is one that Colleen turned me on to a few years ago. The recipe comes from Pierre Hermé (a famous French pastry chef) via Dorie Greenspan – he is her ‘pastry hero’. It’s different from regular lemon curd because of the technique used to make it. Instead of cooking all of the ingredients together at once (lemon juice/rind, butter, sugar, eggs), you just cook the lemon juice/rind, sugar and eggs until they reach 180 degrees, then let the mixture cool slightly before whipping in room temperature butter in your blender or food processor. The end result is so much lighter, creamier, and luxurious than typical lemon curd. You will never use another lemon curd recipe again after making this one.

I’ve seen a few variations of this recipe online, so I will post the one that I’ve been using from another (now defunct) blog called Eat Me Delicious. The reason I chose this version is because the sweet tart dough recipe she has does not include almond flour, which all the others do.  I try to always be aware of allergens in the foods I cook for crowds, and it seems like tree nuts are a big one. All I can say is that I am thankful that nobody there was allergic to butter. I doubled up the recipe and ended up using a total of 2 lbs of butter, nearly a dozen eggs, and an unholy amount of sugar. DELICIOUS.

Side Note: It was very warm on my friend’s wedding day, and I was concerned about the tart getting warm. This lemon cream tastes best when cold, and with the tart shell at room temperature. Here’s what I did: I made the lemon cream the night before and put it into mason jars which I placed in the refrigerator. I baked the tart shells in the morning, let them cool, carefully wrapped them for transport, and put the jars of lemon curd in a cooler with ice packs. Once I arrived at the wedding, I spooned the cold lemon curd into the pre-cooked tart shells and then decorated them with raspberries in the shape of a heart. It worked perfectly.

Lemon Cream
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
3/4 c fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tbsp butter (10 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces, at room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell made with sweet tart dough, fully baked (see below)

Getting ready:
Have a instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender or food processor ready. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large metal bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture fees tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk- you whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling- you’ll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point- the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience- depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp may take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the lender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going- to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to bend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests, and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, cover tightly and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days or, tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)

When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

Sweet Tart Dough
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in – you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375F.

Press a sheet of buttered foil down over the surface of the frozen tart shell. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).

To Fully Bake the Crust: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

To Patch a Partially or Fully Baked Crust, if Necessary: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice of a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, baking for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.