Friday, April 29, 2011

From Time to Time

Do you have a sweet tooth? Some people are sweet fanatics. I'm more like a transient, lackluster sweet eater, usually drawn to the beauty and color more than the flavor and joy of consumption. I loved Halloween as a kid mainly because it was a competition with my brother to see who could get the most candy, but truthfully the candy sat around until Easter when my mom threw it out. Then the enormous chocolate bunny we received in our Easter basket went into the fridge, looking quite noble, until Halloween rolled around and my mom once again threw out our sweet stash. I suppose that's why when someone asks if they can bring something to a party I usually ask them to bring dessert because I'm just not that enthusiastic about making it or really even eating it. I know that's blasphemy to some, but you should thank me because it means you can have my slice of cake.

I'm the person who would rather eat another piece of bread than pie because I like fat more than sugar. You know why? Because it makes everything taste better.

Let's be honest, which one do you want:
(a) Snackwell chocolate chip cookie
(b) Ben & Jerry's cookies 'n' cream ice cream

Or how about:
(a) Melba toast
(b) Croissant

If you didn't answer (b) to both of those questions, you're lying. My point is that fat creates satisfying, luscious food. And while I do try to eat healthy a good bit of the time, holidays and gatherings seem to bring out the fat-laden food. I'm not advocating a meal staged to induce a heart attack, but we all deserve to treat ourselves to something indulgent from time to time.

I hosted the annual Peeps Regatta at the (temporary) Malia Yacht Club on Easter Sunday. There were about 20 people there, of which almost half were under the age of 3, poised to see who would claim this year's title of Premier Peep Racer. But first we needed to be properly sated. To kick things off, I served a gorgonzola bacon dip along with freshly squeezed blood orange mimosas.

Then came this question: "What is in this dip?!" My response was, "Fat!" That was basically the truth. I took cream choose, half and half, gorgonzola cheese and bacon and baked it into a warm, gooey, fatty goodness, and people basically couldn't stop eating it. Hmmm, I wonder why. . . . One cannot resist such a combination of rich ingredients.

After we finished eating the ham, mushroom spinach strata, the frisee salad with roasted fingerling potatoes, asparagus and snap peas, and the beautiful and sweet "rabbit" pineapple fruit salad ("Thanks, Todd and Ronda!"), it was off to the races!

On an aside, the Peeps Regatta almost didn't happen. I went to 12 different stores before I could find our "vessels!" There was a strange run on these fellows and I kept walking into store after store to find this:

Panic was starting to set in (because how can you have a Peeps Regatta with no peeps?!), when I finally spied these. Granted, they're not the most conventional color, but hey, you gotta take what you can get sometimes.

It didn't seem to deter any of the racers. While Samantha was the defending champ, it was anyone's game. There are not many Regatta rules other than you can't touch your peep.

Reece took matters into her own hands and decided she'd blow on her peep, which was probably 200 feet from her mouth, but hey it must've worked because she walked away this year's winner.

And we were lucky that only one three-year old ended up in the pool. Do you want to guess which one it was?

We've had kind of an iffy spring in Santa Barbara this year but the weather was pretty glorious last Sunday. I think we all enjoyed a day with the sun on our skin, grass between our toes, and laughter with good friends.

Happy Spring! And thank you, Marina, for so many great photos from the day!

Blue Cheese-Bacon Dip
from Southern Living

7 bacon slices, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup half and half
4 oz crumbled blue cheese
2 Tbsp chopped chives
3 Tbsp chopped walnuts, toasted
Grape clusters
Assorted crackers

Cook bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until crisp. Drain bacon and set aside. Add minced garlic to the skillet and saute 1 minute.
Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add half and half, beating until combined. Stir in bacon, garlic, blue cheese, and chives. Spoon mixture into a 1-quart baking dish (or 4 one-cup ramekins).
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Sprinkle evenly with chopped walnuts and serve with grape clusters and crackers.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Calling an Audible

Well, that was disappointing. . . . I mean the dinner I just made. I haven't made a meal in, well, I can't even remember, so I was looking forward to getting in the kitchen and reconnecting with my inner domestic goddess. Well, she must have been hungover after a big night or something because she totally left me high and dry. Or more like high and hungry.

I've been wanting to make a quinoa, garbanzo, and spinach salad with smoked paprika dressing for weeks now. And tonight was finally going to be the night. I realize now as I read over the title of the recipe that my life has taken a sad turn for the worst if that dish was getting me excited. At best it's a healthy vegetarian salad you'd get from Whole Foods—nutritious but not something you take pleasure in eating. And sadly, that's exactly what it was like. After about four forkfuls I dumped it out and grabbed some turkey jerky from the pantry. You can take the girl out of the South but you can't take the South out of the girl. . . .

Anyway, I started fantasizing about this Swiss chard and mushroom lasagna kissed with white truffle oil I made about a month ago. It was so dang good. I would've paid a thousand dollars to have had just four forkfuls of that deliciousness. It's definitely a vegetarian meal you don't want to miss—unlike the garbanzo bean quinoa salad. It was the perfect balance of richness and earthiness. So satisfying and almost "meaty." Certainly not something you'd find sitting in between the vegan egg salad or tofu farro wrap. No, this is the kind of dish the most diehard meat and potato man would savor and ask for seconds. I promise.

I did make it for the only hunter I know in Santa Barbara, my neighbor. Although he was born and raised in Californian, I think he would make a good honorary Southerner. Nothing cracks me up more than when he's defeathering ducks in his driveway after a successful outing while drinking bourbon. It's about as common as seeing a McCain-Palin sticker on someone's car in town. Anyway, he helped me with a house issue so I made him this lasagna as a thank you.

I love a good lasagna but wanted something lighter and fresher than your traditional meat lasagna in red sauce. I sampled as I was cooking and it smelled so good and tasted even better. As I started to assemble the dish, I realized it was too good to part with! So I called an audible and divided the lasagna into two smaller pans: one for me and one for my neighbor. Lasagna is something that typically can feed an Army so I was a little embarrassed to give him what was obviously only half a pan. It'd be like giving someone half a cake. But I hoped he'd forget all about my tackiness once he tasted it.

The base was a beautiful combination of carrots, criminis, onions and chard. I added kale because I had it and thought it would work well with the chard. The béchamel sauce was lighter than some I've sampled, still having the body required but was more subtly nuanced with notes of nutmeg and cloves. There was lovely, melty Fontina cheese added to the mix for nuttiness. And with no bake noodles the end product tasted more homemade—and you weren't getting bites where there was nothing but noodle.

My neighbor is still singing the praises of that meal, which is excellent for me because I'm worthless when it comes to dealing with house issues. I just noticed today my gutter is starting to fall off on one side of my house so it may be time to whip up another batch of the Swiss chard and mushroom lasagna . . . . .

Swiss Chard Lasagna with Ricotta and Mushroom
from Bon Appetit

Béchamel Sauce:
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 Turkish bay leaf
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
Pinch of cloves

Swiss Chard and Mushroom Layers:
1 lb each Swiss chard and kale, center rib and stem cut from each leaf
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cup chopped carrot
4 large garlic cloves, divided
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
Corse kosher salt
1 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tsp nutmeg

9 7x3-in no bake lasagna noodles
Olive oil
1 15-oz container whole-milk ricotta cheese (preferably organic), divided
6 oz Fontina cheese, coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups packed), divided
8 Tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

For the Béchamel sauce:
Bring milk and bay leaf to a simmer in medium saucepan; remove from heat. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk to blend. Cook 2 minutes, whisking almost constantly (do not let roux brown). Gradually whisk milk with bay leaf into roux. Add 1/2 tsp coarse salt, nutmeg and cloves and bring to a simmer. Cook until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking often, about 3 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Note: Sauce can be made one day ahead. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface and chill. Remove plastic wrap and rewarm before using, whisking to smooth.

For Swiss chard layer:
Blanch chard and kale in a large pot of boiling salted water 1 minute. Drain, pressing out all water, then chop coarsely. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, half of garlic and crushed red pepper. Saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Mix in chard and kale and season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
Heat remaining 2 Tbsp oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and remaining garlic. Saute until mushrooms are brown and tender, about 8 minutes. Mix in nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

For Lasagna:
Brush 13x9x2-in glass baking dish with oil to coat. Spread 3 Tbsp béchamel sauce thinly over bottom of dish. Arrange 3 noodles in dish to cover bottom. Spread half of chard mixture over pasta. Drop half of ricotta over in dollops and spread in even layer. Sprinkle with half of Fontina, then 4 Tbsp Parmesan; spread 3/4 cup béchamel over. Repeat layering with 3 noodles, remaining chard mixture, ricotta, Fontina, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup béchamel. Cover with remaining 3 noodles and remaining béchamel. Note: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover with foil and let stand at room temperature.
Preheat over to 400 degrees and bake lasagna covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until heated through and top is golden brown, maybe 20-30 minutes longer. Let stand 15 minutes and sprinkle with a little bit of white truffle oil before serving.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Time Check

It's 5 o'clock (somewhere) on Friday afternoon. Does anyone know where my mango mojito I drank in South Beach a few weeks ago is?

Happy Weekend, everyone!