Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Savoring Santa Barbara

July 2009 589Santa Barbara is a slice of paradise along the Southern California coast – maybe that’s why Oprah and Michael Jackson and tons of other well-known personalities built homes there. You can enjoy the sun where the mountains meet the sea, then head inland a few miles to a more rugged terrain where wineries dot the countryside. Following my time in San Francisco with high school pals, I headed to Santa Barbara to catch up on old times with Jeannette, a good friend and neighbor during our years of mothering young children in Princeton.

On the night of my arrival we dove right into a gourmet dinner at a lovely restaurant called “Stella Mare’s,” courtesy of Jeannette’s mother and stepfather, who couldn’t have been more gracious.

We started with drinks. Mine was something called a “blueberry lemonito.” It was made with blueberry vodka, lemon and lime juice, simple sugar, mint and lots of crushed ice.  Wish I had one right now.July 2009 419 I couldn’t resist the appetizer of ripe figs stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon and grilled till crispy. Sorry my photo was not so great. Visualize instead. But you can get a gander at my main course, a dish that pleased the eye before it reached my palate. You’re looking at sea scallops in lobster cognac sauce next to a tomato, poached lobster and butternut squash flan. Perched above that are spears of roasted asparagus and crispy carrot shavings. It tasted every bit as scrumptious as it looks and sounds.

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The next day we were off to wine country with a couple of Jeannette’s friends. For you movie buffs, this is the region where “Sideways” was filmed. One of our stops was Sunstone Winery, where these shots were taken:

Then it was off to a lavender farm. It looked like Provence and smelled divine.

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But back to the wine-tasting – here are some of the scenes along the way:


We arrived at Rusack Winery, where wine-tasting was accompanied by a perfect picnic lunch assembled by Jeannette (far left):

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On the way back to town, we stopped off at Los Olivos for a tasting of olive oils and vinegars:

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Jeannette and I headed off the next day to a place I’ve long wanted to visit – the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The complex of buildings and gardens, designed by architect Richard Meier, is every bit as wondrous as the artwork within.

But the artwork within also was captivating, from illuminated manuscripts to Renaissance altarpieces, to Monet’s impressionistic bridge:

On my last day there we had breakfast at the beach and meandered along the sea:

And of course we had to give a nod to the city’s heritage, touring the courthouse and old mission with its Spanish-influenced architecture:

Thanks Jeannette for being the perfect hostess in your beautiful city:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Food and Fun in San Francisco

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Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right when he wrote that you can’t go home again, but I’m here to tell you that you can have a helluva time trying. While San Francisco was never my home, my Pennsylvania high school buddies and I (whom I found again only three weeks ago after decades of no communication)  met there to rekindle our friendship and relive old memories. I’ll share a few of the sights, sounds and flavors of my time there with you in this blog post, followed later by another post of the second half of my trip in sunny Santa Barbara, where I spent a few days with another old friend who calls that city home. The photo of the colorful carrots was taken in San Francisco’s Ferry Building,

July 2009 270 where the best farmer’s market (outside of Italy) I’ve ever seen takes place each Saturday. We went there for a breakfast of freshly made yogurt and locally grown fruit, but could easily have stayed for lunch and dinner too.  Although it was early for oysters, we couldn’t help slurping a few.

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The heirloom tomatoes were tempting.

July 2009 218 Especially served sliced over sourdough bread with smoked salmon, goat cheese and capers.

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The selection of mushrooms was diverse:

yummy cheeses at Cowgirl Creamery:

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And abundant flowers too:

And you have to eat sour dough bread from Boudin Bakery, whether in the shape of a crab or not:

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And don’t even think of leaving out dim sum in Chinatown:

How about a side trip to Sausalito on a private yacht with a helicopter on board?

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And don’t be surprised if you encounter a deer or two while walking through the redwoods at Muir Woods:

Make sure to leave some time for wine-tastings in Napa and Sonoma counties.

We finished off our reunion with a great meal in San Francisco at McCormick and Kuleto’s where we were treated to a dessert of dark chocolate cups filled with white chocolate mousse in a berry sauce.

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So long for now to high school buddies.

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– And to San Francisco. It was a blast to get together with them after all these years in the city by the bay.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Answers to Giveaway and Winner

Thanks to all of you who entered and tried to guess where I’ve been (and still am).

Nobody guessed it exactly but some people got at least one right. You didn’t have to know the right answer since I picked the winner at random, and it’s “The Cooking Photographer.”  The earrings will be on their way as soon as I get home.

So here’s where I’ve been:

San Francisco and

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Santa Barbara – and lots of other places in between. More about that later.

I’ll be home in a few days and will catch up on all your blog posts at that time. In the meantime, hope you’re having a great summer.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A blast from the past and a giveaway

What happens when four recently-reunited high school pals from suburban Philadelphia fly out to California to celebrate a significant communal birth year?  What birth year? I was afraid you’d ask. Well, that’s our secret, but suffice it to say we came of age listening to the Beatles, the Four Tops, and Joan Baez, wearing Villager clothing and circle pins and watching the Vietnam War unfold on TV.  Stay tuned for lots of laughs, lots of good eating, plenty of wine-tasting and decades of catching up.

I’ll be MIA from my blog for a while reliving old memories and making new ones in California with my pals.  After what I expect will be four days of nonstop gabbing, eating and drinking, my three high school buddies head home to Pennsylvania. I’ll be off to a different spot in California to visit another old friend from decades ago when we were both young mothers in Princeton coping with diapers, dishes and too little sleep.  And I know there will be lots more gabbing, eating and drinking. (I suspect I’ll come back with a few more pounds as well as memories.) If I do decide to tote my laptop, I’ll be reporting on some of the food and drink (and fun too) along the way. But don’t count on it. I may be too preoccupied sipping chardonnay, eating Dim Sum and getting tatooed (forget I said that).

In the meantime, here’s a little query and a giveaway for you. The winner will receive the pair of earrings shown below made by yours truly – yes I make jewelry too.  They’re made with gold-filled earwires for pierced ears and mostly-green Venetian glass.

July 2009 182 All you have to do is leave a comment before Sunday July 19, 2009  midnight EDT, guessing the two places where I’ll be in California – and leave an email address or a website where I can reach you if you’re the winner. Don’t worry if you’re wrong, the winner will be chosen at random among all the entrants, even if you pick Kalamazoo and Kissimee.  (But if you do choose them, you seriously need to bone up on your geography).  Here’s a hint for you: Both California places start with the letter “S.”

If you know me personally and know where I’m going, you’re disqualified from entering. But I’ll make you earrings anyway if you ask nicely. If you know me personally and know my age and spit it out publicly in a comment, you’re excommunicated by the powers vested in me by St. Bloggo.  And you’ll get pierced too, but it won’t be with earrings.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Limoncello Frozen Yogurt with Blueberry Sauce

July 2009 156Are you staring at that photo and wishing you had some? It’s really easy to make and is every bit as delicious as it looks. The bonus is that it’s made with nonfat organic Greek yogurt. I still had a few free coupons that the folks at Oikos had sent me and their product was perfect in this creamy, lemony frozen yogurt. You could probably use regular yogurt too, provided you strained it in cheesecloth overnight.

The big difference between this and my first attempt at making frozen yogurt (strawberry frozen yogurt) was the consistency. I loved the strawberry flavor last time, but it froze so solidly that it was difficult to scoop. This time, I added some limoncello that my son Michael made (stay tuned for his guest blog post on that in the near future).  The alcohol helped – not only with the flavor, but it helped keep it “scoopable.”   

With blueberries kicking into high season, a blueberry sauce was a natural pairing – a match made in heaven. Another idea would be to make the blueberry sauce ahead of time and swirl it into the yogurt when you’re mixing everything in the ice cream machine, for a blueberry swirl effect. But it might turn out to taste more like a blueberry yogurt that way. I prefer to have the lemon dominate and the texture of the whole blueberries instead. Either way, it’s a refreshing, light, healthy and delicious summer dessert. 

Limoncello frozen yogurt

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or more if you want it really, really lemony)

zest of one lemon (or two for a really, really strong lemon flavor)

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup limoncello

16 oz. Greek yogurt

Mix together the lemon juice and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook for several minutes until sugar is dissolved. 

Let the mixture cool, then add the lemon zest, limoncello and the yogurt. Mix everything together with a whisk and chill for one hour. Process in an ice cream machine according to instructions.

Blueberry sauce

1/2 cup water

2 T. sugar

2 tsps. cornstarch

grated peel of 1 lemon

2 cups blueberries

Mix sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, letting the sugar dissolve. Take the other 1/4 cup of water and mix in a small cup with the cornstarch, until there are no lumps.  Add to the pot and cook for a couple of minutes until thickened. It will become a little looser when you add the blueberries.  Place the blueberries in the pot as well as the  lemon peel and cook a few minutes more, but no so long that the blueberries lose their shape. If still too thick, add a little more water.

Cool and serve over yogurt, or lemon cake or other desserts.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stuffed Swiss Chard

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June 2009 256 One day it’s Lilliputian. Then before you know it, it’s the mammoth plant from the Little Shop of Horrors. This is what happened to the Swiss chard in our garden thanks to a secret ingredient added to the soil. Well, it’s not so secret once you get a whiff of it. Think barnyard –with the animals locked in. It smelled bad -- really bad. The culprit?  Well, my neighbors can blame my husband, who toted home two plastic buckets filled with chicken manure from a local farm. Even covering the excrement with water to dilute it didn’t help get rid of the fowl, er, foul smell very much. But sprinkling that liquid potion over the soil has created the healthiest, largest Swiss chard leaves this side of Eden. See for yourself in the photo above, with a dinner fork perched on a leaf that measures at least 20 inches.

Leaves this huge provide the perfect vehicles for stuffing. Prepare extra and freeze for those months when fresh garden greens are a distant memory. I’ve made this in the past with a brown rice and ground beef stuffing (click here), but this time I used  bread crumbs, ground turkey (a little healthier), and a generous helping of parmesan and mozzarella cheese (kind of mitigates the health benefits of the turkey but the gooey and savory factor is worth it).

First you’ve got to prepare the leaves. Remove the large center rib where it’s the thickest – maybe the first third or the first half of the leaf. Don’t throw it away – you can cook it as a separate vegetable. Then gently lower the leaves into boiling water and cook them for only a couple of minutes. The idea is to soften the leaves so you can roll them up. Admittedly it’s a messy job since it’s difficult to keep the leaves intact, but even if you rip them a little, it won’t matter. After I drain off the hot water, I have a bowl of cold water ready and waiting and slip the leaves into the bowl. It makes it a little easier to separate if the leaves aren’t all stuck together.

Then take each leaf, lay it over a paper towel and pat dry a little bit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little bit wet, just not sopping wet.

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Then put the stuffing on one end and start to roll it up, tucking in the edges as you roll.

June 2009 454 When you’re done, they’ll look like the ones in the photo below. At this point, you can freeze them, or bake them in the oven. I bake them one of two ways.  The first is to put them in a greased casserole and give them a topping of herbed breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan cheese, then bake uncovered for about 30-45 minutes at 375 degrees. This will give you a crispy, savory coating.

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The second (and the way I prepared them this time) is to top with some tomato sauce and a little more mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven (covered this time) for about 30-45 minutes.

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One bite of this may convince you that the chicken manure smell wasn’t so bad after all.

Here’s the recipe I used for the stuffing, which filled about 10 large Swiss chard leaves, or enough for about 4 or 5 people, depending on appetites. It could even stretch farther, if you use less stuffing in each leaf.

Stuffed Swiss Chard

2 T. olive oil

1/2 cup minced onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1/4 cup green or red bell pepper, minced

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey

2 eggs

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 cup bread crumbs

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

salt, pepper to taste

tomato sauce to cover

another 1/4 cup  grated mozzarella for the top

Saute the onion, garlic and green pepper in the olive oil until translucent. Add the turkey and cook through. Beat the eggs slightly in a bowl, then add the sauteed mixture from the pan, plus the parsley, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, mozzarella, salt and pepper. Mix it all together with your hands or a wooden spoon until it clumps together. Place a handful on each Swiss chard leaf that has been parboiled and drained. Roll it up and place in a casserole. Ladle over a little tomato sauce, a sprinkling of mozzarella and cover loosely with aluminum foil, making a kind of tent so the foil doesn’t stick to the cheese or to the tomato sauce. Bake for 30-45 minutes at 375 degrees.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Clean-Out-The-Fridge London Broil Salad

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Do you usually have leftovers after a meal of London broil? Me too, and if you heat them up, the meat gets overcooked and dried out. Leave it unheated and it’s great in a sandwich, but sometimes there’s just more than you can eat in one meal, and you can’t face another night of plain old cold sliced beef. Here’s a great alternative and it doesn’t really involve a real recipe. Just peek into your cupboards and fridge and use what you’ve got. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be buying an extra large slab of London broil just to have the leftovers for this recipe.

Here’s what I used:

Quantities are up to you, according to your taste:

leftover London broil, sliced thinly and cut into bite-sized pieces


roasted red peppers

hot pepperoncini peppers

artichoke hearts

sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil


red onion



Cut all the ingredients in bite-sized pieces, or mince (parsley, capers, etc.)

Add to the cold meat, along with some salt, pepper, a little bit of olive oil and some vinegar.

Toss everything together in a bowl and serve over lettuce leaves.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Apricot-Blueberry Tart

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Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is my food guru. I love watching her PBS cooking show not only for the wonderful recipes, but for the warm interaction she displays with her children, her grandchildren and her charming, elderly mother. I love her restaurants in New York City and have been a devotee’ from years ago before Frico Bar closed and became Esca. Having met her several times, including when she agreed to give a lecture at an Italian cultural organization I’m part of, I can tell you she’s just as gracious in person. On the occasion of the lecture, her mother (and then boyfriend) came along. I’m not sure whose company we enjoyed the most – Lidia or her mother’s. In any event, we all wished we could be part of their family.

While that’s not likely to happen, we are lucky enough to have dozens of Lidia’s recipes from her many fabulous cookbooks. Next to Marcella Hazan, Lidia is my “go-to, never-fail” source for Italian recipes. This one is no exception. It is crazy delicious. I made it last week when my “long-lost, but recently-reunited-with” high-school chum Gail (that’s another story) and her husband Jay came to visit. We all loved it, but Jay went over the top in his praise and I offered to give him some to take home. They were already in the car headed for Pennsylvania when I realized they left the wrapped-up leftover piece in my kitchen.  By then, it was late and Gail, in the driver’s seat, was already on the highway home. I called her on her cell phone but she decided not to reverse the momentum and turn around for the tart.  She later told me that Jay was not a happy camper. Once you make it, you’ll understand.  This one’s worth turning around for.   

Here’s how to make it:

Wash your apricots, cut in half and remove the pits.

Wash your blueberries.

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Fill a tart pan with the crust (recipe below), spread with apricot jam and scatter the berries.

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Spread the batter over the blueberries.


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Place the apricot halves on top of the batter.

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This is how it looks when it comes out of the oven, all puffy – and before you glaze it.

June 2009 563  And this is how it looks before it disappears in your tummy. 

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Blueberry-Apricot Frangipane Tart

From “Lidia’s Italian Table”

For the shell:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. baking powder

pinch of salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into cherry-size pieces and chilled

1 large egg yolk

zest from 1 lemon

ice water as needed.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter, egg yolk and lemon zest and pulse the ingredients until the butter resembles cornflakes and is distributed evenly throughout the flour mixture. Sprinkle 3 T. ice water over the mixture and pulse until the dough holds together when lightly pressed. Add more ice water if necessary. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in refrigerator for one hour.

For the filling:

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup finely ground blanched almonds or almond flour (I found almond flour at my local health food store)

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup apricot glaze, warmed (see note)

1 cup blueberries, picked over for stems

1 pound ripe apricots

Butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. (In the photo I used an 11 inch pan, which is fine except you will have a filling that is not as high as it would be with a 10-inch pan.) Center the dough over the tart pan, fit the dough well into the edges with your fingers, and trim off any excess overhanging dough. Prick the bottom of the tart shell with a fork, and set on a baking sheet in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Make the filling: With an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the ground almonds or almond flour and vanilla and mix until a smooth batter forms.

Brush the tart shell with 1/4 cup of apricot glaze, then spread the blueberries over the bottom. Pour the almond mixture over the blueberries and, with a spatula, spread it evenly. Arrange the apricot halves over the almond mixture, cut side down. Bake at 350 degrees until the almond mixture and the edges of the tart shell are golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Let the tart cool for 30 minutes, then brush with the remaining 1/4 cup warm apricot glaze.

Note: Apricot glaze is available at some specialty food stores. To make your own, warm apricot jam in a small saucepan over low heat. If the jam is very chunky, add a tablespoon or two of water and strain before using.