Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cheery Cherries

Santa Barbara is notorious for its June Gloom. It showed up right on schedule this year but must have gotten bored and left early. Clearly no one here has missed it. We've been too busy soaking up the sunshine and warm weather instead. 

It actually feels like Summertime, which doesn't always happen during Summertime in Santa Barbara. And Summer to me is salad season! Who wants to spend all day in the kitchen when you can be at the beach? You want to throw together something quick and delicious and also take advantage of the bounty of vegetables and fruits so abundant right now. Rainer cherries are in season at the moment so I couldn't help but buy a big bag of those cheerful globes. I saw a recipe for a cherry and spinach salad that looked ideal. 

Did I mention it also had bacon in it? Let's be honest. That's what sealed the deal for me. Plus, bacon adds a protein component to the one-dish meal (my attempt at justifying the bacon). But that's probably negated by the fact that the dressing has bacon grease in it. 

In bacon's defense, it turned out to be very complimentary to the lemon vinaigrette and added a hint of saltiness that seemed to actually enhance the sweetness of the cherries.

I served it to a friend who told me it was the best salad he'd ever had. I know it sounds vain but I kind of agree. 

Spinach Salad with Bacon and Cherries
from Sunset

8 oz thick-cut bacon, cooked and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 oz baby spinach
8 oz pitted Rainier cherries
1 Tbsp each Champagne vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 oz shaved manchego cheese
1/2 a ripe avocado

1. Cook bacon until desired crispiness. Drain on paper towels and reserve bacon grease. 
2. Mix vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, 2 tsp reserved bacon grease salt, and pepper together and whisk until emulsified. 
3. Toss the spinach, avocados and cherries in dressing to coat. Sprinkle bacon and cheese on top and serve. 
Note: Serves 4

Monday, June 11, 2012


I like to think of myself as a vibrant person. My closet looks like a Crayola box. I don't think anyone has ever described me as a shrinking violet. I have no qualms getting on stage and singing with a band, even if I have a terrible voice. And usually I don't get too pumped up about eating a beige-y plate of food. But last night I made an exception and I'm glad I did.

I was walking around the neighborhood and came upon a box of enormous lemons with a FREE sign taped to it. I don't know what they fertilize lemon trees with around here but they're as large as grapefruits! And the trees just overflow with fruits, so it's not uncommon for people to share. I grabbed one and contemplated what I could make with it during the rest of my walk. 

I had the good luck of working with this chef on a business project last year and would often find myself eating in her Boston restaurant as we strategized. But honestly, most of the time all I could contribute were a few moans of delight over how amazing every single thing was I put in my mouth. One dish in particular transported me to Spain. It was a composed salad of gigante beans, preserved lemons and grilled squid. It reminded me of a beautiful little dish you'd find in the Basque region, where they call tapas pintxos, meaning little pinches of food. 

I love all things Spanish. I could easily live there. Maybe I will one day (more than for just a summer, although I'd take that again). A friend gave me a beautiful cookbook, which is a little bit like food porn for me, with stunning and dramatic photographs of tapas. I decided to thumb through it after my walk and came upon a recipe for a salad that had the same bones as the squid salad that still makes me salivate. To my pleasure, it called for a lemon vinaigrette dressing in lieu of preserved lemons (yea, free lemon!), cannellini beans (which are much more accessible than gigantes), and Manchego cheese (one of my faves). It also didn't call for squid, which was good because I've never worked with squid before and am not even sure what I would do with it if someone plopped some down in front of me. Plus the recipe required no cooking, which is always a bonus! 

The dish is basically a beefed up romaine salad with white beans, apple, avocado, Manchego, and toasted hazelnuts. It turned out to be very crisp and light (thanks to the Grannie Smith apple, fresh basil and lemon vinaigrette), but was incredibly satisfying (thanks to the beans, cheese, avocado and nuts). It is super tasty too . . . not to mention healthy (another bonus). You'll be so happily devouring this you won't even mind that the dish you're eating is basically a less than vibrant monochromatic palette. Just pour yourself a glass of albariƱo wine, turn on some flamenco music and pretend you're hanging out at a tapas bar in San Sebastian. There is nothing beige about that. 

White Bean Salad with Manchego, Avocado, Apple and Lemon Vinaigrette
Adapted from Pintxos

1 head romaine hearts, roughly chopped
1 large rip avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into 1/2-in dice
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, halved, cored and cut into 1/2-in dice
1 can (14 oz) white/cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 oz Manchego cheese, cut into 1/4-in dice or shaved
1/4 cup fresh basil leaf chiffonade
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, skins removed and chopped
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Splash of honey or agave syrup, if the lemon juice is too tart
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste

In a bowl, combine the lettuce, avocado, apple, beans, cheese, basil and hazelnuts and toss gently to mix. Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently with the salad and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve right away so the avocado and apple don't darken. 
Serves 2 as large main dishes or 4 sides. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012


More than a handful of years ago, I found myself in Manhattan for business. I'd lived there for a spell in my early 20s (as did my mother), and I think for both of us, the City has a special allure for us. It gets my heart pumping and I feel infused with energy. Whenever I have the good fortune to find myself there, I don't want to sleep. I want to literally walk around all night, soaking in the smells, the people, the sights, and, of course, the food (high- and low-brow). 

On this particular trip, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a friend I'd worked with in Club Med who was then the promotions manager for GQ and had no qualms about flexing his business card muscle to get into the hot spots around town. It's very convenient to have a friend like that, especially when you love food as much as I do. I'd been dying to try this recently opened restaurant that was booked out for months. But thanks to Andrew, we walked in and they walked us right to a table. I felt like a celebrity. It was awesome. 

While I perused the menu, the chic waitress recommended we try the blood orange mojito and I happily complied. She warned me, though, that they were so good you could drink 15 of them and not bat an eye, which is basically what I did. With that set up, it's probably no surprise to hear that I was later ejected from an exclusive night club for being "uncooperative." I don't remember much from that night, but I do recall with crystal clarity that delicious drink. While not a massive mojito fan (they're a little sweet for me), that particular version remains on my shortlist of favorite libations I've downed. It might have been the exotic ambience, feeling drunk on old memories with a very dear friend, or the simple fact that I was in New York again. Regardless, I loved that drink, yet I've never had another one. 

Until today. It was one of those lovely summer afternoons with blazing heat that can only be abated with a refreshing beverage.  I wish I could tell you that I jetted myself to Manhattan for Happy Hour but I didn't. I just had some leftover blood orange sparkling Italian soda from Trader Joe's in my refrigerator and thought, "Why not?" I'm certainly not at risk of being thrown out of any bars if I drink at home. So I gave it my best shot. 

Did it match what I had that night? Not even close, but it did the job. It made me smile recalling one crazy night, one fabulous friend and did a stellar job of quenching my thirst. While difficult, I did manage not to drink 15 . . . and no one called me uncooperative. 

Quick-and-Dirty Blood Orange Mojito

2.5 oz of white rum
1.5 oz simple syrup
4 oz of blood orange Italian soda (or lemon-flavored sparkling water with the juice of a blood orange)
Handful of fresh mint
Slices of lime

Fill a glass with ice, add the mint leaves and bruise to release some of the oil from the mint. Pour in the rum, simple syrup and soda. Squeeze a large, juicy lime slice into it and shake. Sip and smile. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

One Pan Wonder

Generally speaking I think there are two types of people in the world. Those who believe it shouldn't take longer to make your meal than eat it, and those who have no qualms spending hours (and even days when necessary) in the kitchen to concoct a meal than may be eaten in 20 minutes. I definitely fall into the latter category. But having said that, there are some days I'm a lazy cook, which probably explains the ridiculous amount of delivery pizza I order. Even when we have access to an embarrassment of food conveniences these days—prewashed, bagged lettuce or baby carrots, anyone—there are some days when even making a salad seems like a Herculean task. That's insane, I realize, but it's a reality nonetheless. Which is why I dig this dish. 

It has only a handful of ingredients, the assembly is easy, it requires virtually no attention when cooking, and it's honestly incredibly delicious. That's a winner in my book, by all definitions. Truthfully, I made enough to feed 6 people, but 2 of us devoured almost the whole thing. I dreamt of it last night and I woke up this morning wanting to eat the limited leftovers. It was that good. 

It's a dish a girl can make for a guy or a guy can make for a girl or kids could make for parents and everyone will be impressed. It's great for a weeknight dinner or perfect for when you want to literally throw something together for company that makes you look like a cooking star and not break a sweat. And secretly, isn't that what we all want to be? Some domestic god/goddess who can just whip up dishes that make people swoon while we look fabulous, make people laugh and leave people in awe of how we do it all? Definitely keep this one in your back pocket. You can thank me later. 

Dijon Sausage and Broccoli Bake
from In Praise of Leftovers

6-8 fat, uncooked sausages (Italian, bratwurst, etc) [Note: I think pork sausages are a better choice than chicken b/c I think they have a higher fat content which keeps them juicy when roasting]
2 bell peppers (red, yellow or orange)
1 medium sized onion
1 bunch baby broccoli
1/4 olive oil, plus 2 Tbsp
2 Tbsp coarse dijon mustard
1 Tbsp coarse salt
zest from 1 lemon
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
2. In a large bowl, combine sausages with coarsely sliced peppers and onions, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1.5 Tbsp salt, dijon mustard, and lemon zest and juice. Toss with your hands. 
3. Spread evenly on baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, coarsely chop broccoli (stems and all) and toss with 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 Tbsp salt. 
4. After 10 minutes, remove the sheet from the oven and add the broccoli and roast for an additional 15 minutes, until sausages are bubbling and charred in places. I ended up having to cook for 25 minutes b/c the sausages were really large. 
5. Dump everything into a rimmed serving dish and serve with bread, if you like. Note: I cut the sausages into thirds to make it less daunting when serving. 
Serves: 4-6

Saturday, June 2, 2012


My friend, who lives in New Orleans, recently posted this picture (above) on Facebook. And it made me homesick. 

There are few things as enjoyable as hopping in a boat (or in a seaplane to get to your boat) and spending the day catching fish with friends and/or family. But the real reward comes afterwards when you get to have a big fish fry. At least that's what you do in the South. For Mother's Day this year, that's exactly what we did. And my friend's photo made me want to do it all over again this weekend. 

My cousin was nice enough to donate what seemed like 40 lbs of fish (enough to fill up a large Coleman) he'd recently caught to the cause, which is much more generous than perhaps I would have been after all that work reeling them in. He set up the "kitchen" in the driveway, which involves the flatbed of a pick-up truck, a card table with a large fry pan on top, 5 gallons of Wesson oil, and a butane tank. It might not pass code but it certainly does the trick! 

This was clearly not their first rodeo. They have it dialed in when it comes to frying fish. You add some Zatarain's Seasoned FishFri (yes, that's actually spelled correctly) to the  breading dish. 

Then you throw in a few pieces of fish and give it some hardy shakes to coat the fish.

Then one person adds the breaded fish to one side of the fryer while the other person takes out the pieces that are golden brown and crispy. 

The end-result: A beautiful bowl of fried goodness. Have you seen anything prettier in your life? 

The prized piece is always the throat. Trust me. Kids fight over it like it's the wishbone of a turkey. 

And if you have fried fish then it's the law that you must also have fried hushpuppies! 

Of course the men all had to hang around the "kitchen," "backseat cooking" and talking weather and sports . . . . 

. . . while the ladies sat on the porch and chatted. But it was Mother's Day, so I think it was appropriate. 

We all know it wouldn't be a proper meal without dessert! Even after all the fish, hushpuppies, slaw and beans, people still managed to save room for a sliver each of homemade peach pie, strawberry cake or banana cream pie. 

The sushi I had last night, although amazing, just doesn't compare to the annual Mother's Day fish fry. What dish makes your homesick?