I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

December 26, 2011

Boxing Day at the Beach

What is Boxing Day? According to Wikipedia:
Boxing Day is traditionally a day following Christmas when wealthy people in the United Kingdom would give a box containing a gift to their servants.Today, Boxing Day is better known as a bank or public holiday that occurs on December 26, or the first or second weekday after Christmas Day, depending on national or regional laws. It is observed in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and some other Commonwealth nations.
It's not traditionally celebrated in the US except to call it "the day after Christmas" where you give people who deliver boxes a fifth of Scotch.
I'm sure there are many other definitions and traditions that go along with this multi national holiday but I think I just found my favorite one today in my dear old hometown of Ventura.

The Jolly Oyster set up shop in the parking lot of the Buenaventura State Beach off of Harbor Boulevard some time ago. And like the meat market I mentioned a while back, I have been meaning to get there forever...but of course work and life get in the way of most fun things I want to do. Finally today worked....
A dear friend and fellow foodie helped to organize a casual day down at the Jolly Oyster on Boxing day to help celebrate the day with the owner who hails from the British Isle and let me tell you....I kind of want to adopt this holiday for myself

The Jolly Oyster sells a few different varieties of oysters in the shell, mussels and clams. You have to shuck or cook everything, but fortunately they sell the shucking knives (and have band-aids for those of us who slip!), there are are a few picnic tables and multiple barbecues surrounding the space so you have plenty of opportunity to spread out, cook and snack if you don't want to just take them home to eat.

It was a great turnout with families and groups of friends barbecuing and shucking for hours on end....A few bottles of bubbles later, some bread and cheese and my friends and I kind of shut the place down while taking the last few oysters they had on hand.

If you like oysters at all or have an interest in learning about them or trying them for the first time with someone who is knowledgeable, personable, funny and has an infectious passion for what he is growing, selling and shucking this is THE place to go. 

All you need is an oyster knife, cocktail sauce or ponzu (or mignonette if you are fancy pants), some lemon and hot sauce and an honest love for the wonderful simple things in life. It is the middle of December and we were sitting at the beach in the sun sipping champagne and slurping oysters, how much better can you get???

Please go visit them and enjoy as much as we did!


December 25, 2011

A Christmas Dinner Party.....

Alternate titles for this post were "Why I need a dedicated photographer" and "Bon Appetit makes it look so easy!"

Last week I found out one of my best friends was coming in to town for the holiday weekend and we were making plans to go out on the town to celebrate, when one thing turned in to another and all of a sudden I was having a dinner party at my house for 8 people. No big deal right?
Except as I mentioned in my last post I've been living off of leftovers, takeout and food from moms house for a while. In the fridge was 4 carrots, a bunch of celery and about 8 mushrooms that were about to be no bueno. With nothing as a foundation for a meal I was all over the board as to what the heck I should make. With 8 people I knew I could get away with something a little fancy, but not overextend my wallet and spend 8 hours in the kitchen. Fate was on my side when I found bone in short ribs at the market and after a few searches on google and epicurious I came up with a recipe that sounded like it fit the bill.

I cleaned the house, set the table with a very Martha Stewart like setting, set the ribs to marinate and chopped and diced like mad to get things going so that I could sit back and relax when my guests arrived instead of staying chained to the stove. And wonder of wonders I managed to sit down and have a glass of wine a half hour before Clover got to the house.

But I took one picture of the food. Hence the need for a photographer.

This is the short ribs after a quick sear to get the outsides caramelized.

But even though I didn't get a whole lot of food pics, I managed to get a few good ones of my friends who thoroughly enjoyed the dinner I made along with copious amounts of wine and loads of conversation and laughs.
Bon Appetit magazine will do a dinner party article every once and a while and the photos always show a relaxed host (with perfect makeup and hair of course) with a glass of wine in hand casually chatting with their guests in a perfectly manicured backyard or gorgeously appointed kitchen with seating for 12 not including the bar with which to watch over the cook. Then there is a multiple course meal with appetizers that they seemingly "threw" together.

It's a little different in my house.

I have a lovely kitchen that will accommodate exactly 3 people as long as no one moves, a dining room table with 6 chairs so we use patio chairs when more than 6 are here. The backyard is great when weather  agrees with us, but in the winter it confines us to the living space which gets a little crowded and a little loud.  Dishes abound and the whole place looks like a tornado hit it after I have people over.

But damn we have fun!

These two recipes were perfect for a crowd because of the make ahead factor, and the fact that I had very little leftover speaks to the sheer awesomeness of the meal. After begging and pleading from my friend Mandy I got myself on the computer and am going to share with you a new favorite.

Please enjoy, I hope your holidays were as happy as my own!

Stout Braised Short Ribs
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1/4 cup packed Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1 teaspoon Curry Powder
2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
2 teaspoons Ground Pepper
2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Dry Mustard
4 to 4 1/4 lb Bone in Beef Short Ribs
2 Medium Leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped (2 cups)
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
4 medium Carrots, chopped (2 cups)
3 Celery Ribs, chopped (1 1/2 cups
1 Fennel Bulb, Chopped
2 Bay Leaves
3 Roma Tomatoes, Chopped
1/4 cup chopped Garlic (5 to 6 large cloves)
1 3/4 cups Beef Broth (14 oz)
2 (12-oz) bottles Stout such as Murphy's or Guinness
1/4 Cup Molasses

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Stir together brown sugar, paprika, curry powder, cumin, pepper, salt, and mustard in a small bowl until combined.

Pat ribs dry and arrange in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan or a shallow dish, then generously coat all sides of ribs with spice mixture. Marinate, uncovered and chilled, at least 1 hour....I would do more if you have the time.

Wash leeks in a bowl of cold water, agitating water, then lift out leeks and drain in a colander.

Heat oil in pot over high heat until hot but not smoking and quickly brown ribs on all 3 meaty sides (but not bone side) without crowding, in batches if necessary, about 1 minute per side. Transfer meat to a large plate, then add leeks, carrots, celery, fennel and bay leaves to pot and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add broth, beer, molasses and tomatoes with their juice, then add ribs with any juices and remaining spices accumulated on plate and bring liquid to a boil, uncovered. Cover pot and transfer to oven, then braise until meat is very tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Skim off excess fat from surface of sauce and reduce sauce, thicken with slurry or roux if needed or desired, correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

Porcini Mushroom Risotto
Makes enough for 8-10 side dish sized servings

1 medium Onion, diced
2 T Butter
2 packages Dried Porcini Mushrooms, Reconstituted  in 3 cups hot water, chopped
Reserve 1 Cup of the porcini mushroom liquid
16 oz Arborio Rice
1 Cup Dry White Wine
5-6 cups Chicken Stock
3/4 C Shredded Parmesan Cheese
2 oz Goat Cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot and saute onion until its soft. Add rice and stir for a few minutes over medium heat. Add wine and stir until all wine is absorbed. Add in 1/2 cup of porcini liquid and 1/2 cup stock and stir until absorbed. Add in mushrooms, remaining mushroom liquid and a little broth. Repeat and repeat and repeat with stock in 1/2 cup increments. Stir the whole time and cook until rice is tender and creamy. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

At this time you can take it off the heat and hold until you are almost ready to serve. Add in the cheese and heat through before serving.

December 18, 2011

A much needed time out!

If you are anything like the rest of the population at this wonderful time of year you are most likely overwhelmed, over scheduled and feeling like there is just not enough time to get anything done. Between work, family, shopping, holidays, birthdays and just STUFF I feel stretched to where I hardly have time to enjoy half of what I am doing. This weekend I planned some things to take me away from the craziness if only for a bit and did my damnedest to enjoy myself.

Oh hey...I actually cooked! Yeah...me. Who hasn't blogged since October probably because cooking at my house has consisted of cereal or an English muffin in the morning and heated up frozen chili from some random cooking spree three months ago. Even on Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, I was so busy cooking and sipping champagne that I didn't have time to really sit back and enjoy the process (even though I loved the outcome). 

When a birthday in mid December for my friend Mo came along, my friend Sarah and I decided we needed a girls night so we could spoil our birthday girl with an awesome meal and a girls night with lots of wine, food and a relaxing night "off". Between Sarah's & Mo's insane schedules that include full time jobs, a 2, 5 and 7 year old and all the other fun things that go with them and my crazy ass work schedule we were able to squeak out a night where it would work for all of us.

Now the question comes up....what do we make, right? Well......Since the middle of November when I heard that Ventura was getting a new meat market specializing in local, humanely raised and butchered meats as well as some exotic and interesting meats I've been wanting to get over there and check it out.

From and aesthetic standpoint, the place is clean and very open, spotless floors, white walls and lots of glass. You can stand behind a glass pane and watch one of the lovely gentleman wearing a white collared shirt, bow tie and butchers apron slice up your meat to order, tie up a crown roast or in my case, French out a rack of lamb since I was feeling lazy. The meats are displayed in a nice big case and true to their claim of having good variety they were showing off venison loin, bison steaks, pheasant, rabbit and duck as well as gorgeous bone in pork loin chops, marbled rib eyes and freshly ground beef, turkey and bacon which I understand is a wonderful thing.

I'm thrilled to have them here and can't wait to see what they do next....I understand housemade sausages and charcuterie are on the to do list!

As for what I did to the lamb, I am pretty sure this is one of my top picks for rack of lamb recipes. It has a couple components to it and each by themselves would have been amazing, all together they had an awesome wow factor. The sausage crust was amazing on its own and the pan sauce was light but really flavorful. And the lamb? Freaking perfect. Thank you Ventura Meat Company, I'll be back!

Roast Lamb with Sausage Crust and Fresh Grape Pan Sauce
Adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe

1 cup halved seedless red grapes
1 cup Port
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Sausage Crust and Lamb
1/4 cup halved seedless red grapes
1/8 cup halved pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove
4 ounces ground meat (the original calls for lamb, I used 3/4 beef & 1/4 turkey which VMC so conveniently had for me!)
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 well-trimmed racks of lamb
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
1 1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread

Preparation for sauce
Boil all ingredients in large saucepan until reduced to 2 1/3 cups, about 20 minutes. Cool. Puree in blender.

For lamb

Pulse grapes, olives, chopped rosemary, vinegar, and garlic clove in mini processor until olives are chopped. Transfer to bowl. Mix in by hand ground meat,1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Sprinkle rack of lamb with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add rack, meat side down, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Set on rimmed baking sheet, meat side up.  Cool lamb completely.

Add 1/2 cup broth to skillet. Boil until reduced to glaze, scraping up browned bits. Add to sauce. Cover and chill.

Spread each rack with 1 tablespoon mustard. Press sausage over top of each rack (layer will be thin). Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons oil, and 2 tablespoons mustard in medium skillet. Toss over medium heat until beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Press crumbs over sausage on each rack. Cut through crumb crust (not lamb) between bones to score. Roast until thermometer inserted into center registers 135°F, about 30 minutes for medium-rare.

Transfer lamb to platter; let rest 10 minutes. Pour juices from baking sheet into sauce. Simmer in small saucepan until reduced to about 1 1/3 cups, about 9 minutes (sauce will thicken slightly). Season with salt and pepper.

Note: The sausage crust can crack and fall off a bit, but not to worry, just pat it back on and devour, it still tastes great!

October 26, 2011

Addictive, but in a good way

You know it's good when no less than a half dozen people tell you it's like crack. Dad showed up this morning for our daily walk telling me I should never make them again because they are addictive. Emily had 7 before dinner was even served. And Patty was up until 4:00am because of the sugar rush. Yet every last one of them took a plate home with leftovers and everyone wanted the recipe.

Once again my Dad grew a pumpkin patch and threw a party just because he wanted those pumpkins carved. We had about 20 adults and a dozen kiddos over to the ranch for sloppy Joe's and nibbles and of course....the carving of the pumpkins. The adults helped as always, but these kids had some serious fun delegating what they wanted carved on their pumpkins. :)

Here are some of this years winners!



I was in charge of at least one dessert and of course had to make something I hadn't done before to test drive on all our friends. I searched and searched online for something new and fun and before long I found it on http://www.melskitchencafe.com/ which is a very fun food blog for any of y'all who like that kind of stuff. :) The only changes I made to Mel's recipe was to make my own toffee bits and leave out the nuts in case of an unknown allergy. I picked up a package of Heath toffee at the store and one of the first ingredients was palm oil...another was artificial flavor and you know how I feel about that!

Warning: These are crazy good and super addictive for those of you with a sweet tooth.

Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars
Adapted from melskitchencafe.com

2 1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, soft
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Toffee Bits
Or you can buy them if you want to, just do 1 package
1 Stick Butter
1 C Sugar
1/4 C Water
1/4 tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9X13-inch pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Put all ingredients in a heavy bottom saucepan and cook on medium heat until it is golden brown. Pour out on to a marble slab or a piece of aluminum foil on a sheet pan. Let cool completely and then shatter in to bits inside a Ziploc bag with a mallet.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and brown sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture is crumbly. Add eggs and mix well with a wooden spoon or your hands. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate chips. The mixture will be fairly stiff, so again, you may need to use your hands to get everything combined.

Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the dough. Press the remaining dough into the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the crust. Top with all but 1/4 of the toffee bits. Pinch pieces of the reserved dough and scatter over the top. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Bake for 25-30 more minutes until golden brown. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup toffee bits on top. Cool completely before serving.

October 24, 2011

Sharing the wealth

Every once and a while I get presents in the form of food from friends. It ranges from the insane amount of figs I've received this year from Lauren that I've made in to so many jars of jam to fun seasonings and spices from Sarah who gets all manner of samples from her work to random produce from people who just have too much of one good thing.

I have a friend who I met through my job....she started out as a just cool lady who owns a rental company so I work with her a LOT. We got to know each other through industry mixers and events we worked on and after while I realized that this is someone who I would love to have in my life outside of work....and I was right. We've vacationed together and dined together and I've gotten to know that Heidi shares so many of the same things that I absolutely love in my life.....family, fun and food. She gardens and owns chickens (even though she doesn't eat the eggs) and loves to share her bounty with the people in her life.

In this case, Heidi showed up at my office to pick up leftover event goodies from a recent party and while she was there brought me up a cardboard box full of goodies. A honeydew type melon the size of a large grapefruit, a crookneck squash, a few lovely lemons and a handful of beets...yanked from the ground with dirt still clinging to them.

I love beets. I love the red ones, the yellow ones, the pink ones and the candy stripe ones. I love them roasted, pickled and grilled (yes, grilled!). They are amazing on salads or on their own, sweet and earthy and if made right with none of the rubbery texture that comes from the canned variety. Beets pair really well with cheese, you will often find them with goats cheese, bleu cheese, brie cheese and anything else that is creamy and or pungent.

Tonight we had one of the more perfect salads that I have had with beets, simple as heck, but the end result was fantastic. Thank you Heidi for contributing to an awesome dinner!

Beet Salad with Pistachios & Goats Cheese
Serves 4

4 Medium Beets
1/2 C Pistachios
1/4 C Goats Cheese
Butter Lettuce
1 Small Shallot (about 1/8 C)
1 T Lemon Juice
1/4 C Orange Olive Oil (or 1/4 C Olive Oil with 1 tsp Orange Zest)
Salt & Pepper

Toss Beets with a little olive oil, salt & pepper, place in tin foil and seal. Bake at 400 for about an hour. Depending on how big the beets are the time can vary. Cool and peel.

Slice beets in to 1/8" slices and distribute among 4 plates in a single layer, dot the beets with goat cheese and sprinkle the pistachios over the top.

Mix olive oil, shallots, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Toss the lettuce with the vinaigrette and place on top of the beets.

September 26, 2011

Damn I'm good.

Sometimes I come along a recipe or an article on food and read it and think to myself..."That is bloody brilliant! Why didn't I think of that????". Then I take the recipe, most often tweak it to my liking and write about it here. Which is why I write a food blog and not for Bon Appetit. But when I do nail it, I nail it. And making up a recipe is so much sweeter when the result is better than you even expected.

A few weeks back I left on a lovely vacation with my parents and other friends There are a few unusual things about this trip that are different from my normal vay-cay's.

Number One: It was a long one...10 whole days away from home, with 4 of them being driving well over 2000 miles on the way there and back. Wheeeeeee!!!!

Number Two: I left my work phone in my desk at work. The place we were going has extremely limited cell service and I felt that the need for a completely disconnected vacation was well deserved and quite frankly very needed. After the heartburn went away I really did enjoy myself.

Number Three: Even though we stayed in a house with all the comforts of home, I did very little cooking. This is because I had two wonderful ladies (Mama & Jill) cooking for me. Here is one of the wonderful dinners they made for us. Argentine Pork Loin & Mashed Potatoes, YUM!

Number Four: The reason for number three is that I was out hunting every morning and every evening for elk with my father and our friend Bruce. This is my new favorite picture.

Unfortunately for all of us, none of the three hunters were able to bring home an elk. Multiple factors contributed to our unsuccessful hunt including the heat, the amount of water and just dumb luck. It's not that we didn't try, the stars just weren't with us this time.

We stay on a ranch that our friends own in the upper part of Colorado, it is a working cattle and hay ranch for the most part, but the land is so vast and diverse I am sure there are riches to be found on the land if you just have the patience to look. We found wild raspberries and wild mountain strawberries on a trip up to a mining camp, mushrooms grow like crazy and there are any number of different game animals to take home.

Unfortunately for me, the only four legged creature that I came in contact with daily I was not allowed to shoot. If I could, I would be a well fed woman with a stocked freezer. Bummer that there is no cow season in Colorado...those things just stand there and chew the hay or grasses and look at you.

Our hosts were so kind at the end of the trip to gift us with a fair amount of beef from the ranch (ground, steaks and roasts) to take home as a consolation prize for not bringing in an elk. Now, I know what we all say about California Cows being happy and all that....but man they have NOTHING on the cows from Deline's ranch. These are some of the fattest, grass fed, relaxed cows I have ever seen.

I brought home a little bit, leaving the bulk at my parents house since I cook so rarely these days. But tonight as the weather changes and there is a little nip in the air, I felt the need for comfort food. With very little in the house I finally came up with meatloaf for dinner but wanted something a little different than my standard.

I googled and found several fun recipes, none of which I followed, and finally found the one that was the catalyst for this post.

The thing with meatloaf is that it really does need gravy in my opinion. I can do without if I have to, but it's just kind of missing something if you don't have it. Unless of course you are talking about a meatloaf sandwich in which case ketchup is perfectly acceptable. But meatloaf in a bread pan generally leaves a fair amount of fat and no drippings to speak of to make a homemade gravy. Unless you do this.....

Hello meatloaf bed. Thank you for joining us and letting us rest upon you. Please feel free to mingle with the juices of the meat and mirepoix to create a perfect base for homemade gravy.

I think this might be my new standard regardless of what flavor meatloaf I make as it is the ultimate gravy making method.

Porcini Mushroom Meatloaf with Mushroom Gravy

1 oz Dried Porcini Mushrooms, reconstituted in 1 C hot water
1 Medium Onion-1/2 diced fine, 1/2 rough chopped
1 Carrot, Peeled and Chopped
2 Stalks Celery, Chopped
1# Lean Ground Beef
1 Egg
1/3 C Panko Bread Crumbs
1/4 C Chopped Parsley
1 T Salt
1.2 tsp Pepper
2 Slices of Bacon, cut in half
1/2 C White Wine
1 C Chicken Stock
3 T Flour with 1/4 C Water for Slurry

After mushrooms are reconstituted in water, pull out with a slotted spoon and pat dry, chop finely. Add 1/4 of the mushrooms to the carrots, onions and celery and place the mixture at the bottom of a metal pan that is suited to stove top use as well as oven.

Mix beef, egg, panko, remaining mushrooms, parsley, salt & pepper together until mixture holds together. If needed, add more bread crumbs if it is too moist. Don't overwork the mixture or it will be tough. Pat in to a loaf and place on top of vegetables in the pan. Top with the bacon slices. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. 

When done, remove meatloaf from the pan and place on a cutting board, tent with foil. Place roasting pan on he stove top and turn on low. Add the mushroom liquid and wine (not all the mushroom liquid, leave a little in the bottom to keep any grit in the container) to the vegetables and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom boiling for a minute. Pour the liquid in to a saucepan, straining out all the solids and add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and thicken to your preferred thickness with the slurry. Season with S&P of course.

I served it with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes because what else do you serve with meatloaf, right???

September 24, 2011

It's better when you know where it came from!

I swear food really does taste better when you know where it came from, how long it's been off the vine or out of the water.

A few nights ago I finally had enough time off to get my ass back in the kitchen and cook something other than quickie meals, pre-packaged easy meals or heat up leftovers.

Simple simple simple...I had a fellow friend who was also overworked and in need of food love and girl time so I knew I didn't want to go crazy in the kitchen, but wanted to spend time chatting, drinking wine and burning our fingers gluing corks together to make corkboards.

Fresh Silver Salmon from Alaska courtesy of our friends Bruce & Jill, quick seared in a hot skillet and topped with a hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise sauce made from scratch with dad's eggs (well...his chickens eggs anyway) and dad's lemons of course.

Sliced tomatoes from Mom & Pop's garden drizzled with fig balsamic and fresh basil from a plant that is gracing my counter.

Zucchini from my friend Tiffany shredded and made in to cakes with a little cheese and other goodness.

Nothing frou frou, nothing fancy and everything probably took me about 45 minutes to prep and cook. But damn it was good. And the zucchini cakes are just as good, if not better, the second day so feel free to make extra!

Zucchini Cakes

1 Large Zucchini, shredded
1/2 of a Medium White Onion, shredded
1/2 cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
2 Eggs
2/3 cups Panko Bread Crumbs
1 T Dill
Salt & Pepper to taste

After shredding the zucchini, squeeze with a paper towel to remove some of the moisture. Blend everything together in a bowl and season to taste. If you let it sit too long it will get watery so try to do it at the last minute. Spray a large nonstick skillet with spray and fry the cakes over medium heat for about 5 minutes to a side or until browned. They can be kept warm in the oven before service.