Friday, September 30, 2011

Deconstructed BLT and Faux Eggs

I like eggs scrambled or in an omelet, quiche or frittata.  But I hate soft boiled, hard boiled, sunnyside up, sunnyside down, or any way in which the yolk can be seen or tasted on its own.  So I balked when I saw that this week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge was “Deconstructed BLT and eggs.”

The recipe looked great; the only problem was the eggs.  Like Sam in Dr. Seuss’s book Green Eggs and Ham, my companion has tried to get me to eat eggs when the yolks  are hard, mushy or runny. I just don’t like yolks—no kidding.  But when the word “deconstructed” caught my attention, I thought this was an opportunity to prepare something for those who share my yolk aversion.  So I prepared what seems like a good adaptation of Dorie Greenspan’s recipe which I will call “Deconstructed BLT and Faux Eggs.”

The recipe is simple and perfect for a quick lunch or dinner, maybe even the highlight for your next cookbook club meeting.  It is a dish that can be started while making breakfast in the morning, as two of the star ingredients are bacon and bacon drippings.  And as Emeril surely agrees, there is nothing quite like the smell of burning pig fat in the kitchen. 

First, the applewood smoked bacon was diced before frying to make the chunks uniform in size and easier to handle when crisp.  While the bacon was cooking, fresh sourdough bread was cut into cubes for the croutons.  When done, the bacon was removed and placed on paper towels and several tablespoons of the bacon drippings were reserved in the pan to cook and flavor the croutons.  One pan for two tasks--don’t you just love multi-tasking and reducing clean-up time!  Also, remember that the bacon and croutons continue to cook after removed from the pan, so cook until they are just about at the perfect point of crispness.

I admit my companion was the one slicing, dicing and frying, so I concentrated on making Dorie’s Everyday Vinaigrette (found on page 484 of Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan).  The Vinaigrette was completed in a snap as it consists of just three primary ingredients:  wine vinegar (white or red), Dijon mustard, and extra virgin olive oil. 

The eggs were the biggest obstacle as I could not think of a way to prepare them that would honor Dorie’s recipe while conquering my aversion.  Fortunately, the solution was both tasty and photogenic.  In place of the egg white, we used burrata mozzarella cheese purchased at Trader Joe’s.  It has a creamier texture than regular mozzarella, and a subtle elegance to the flavor.  When cut into appropriate sized chunks, the cheese looked remarkably like an egg white.  Substituting for the egg yolk, the source of my aversion, was a baby “heirloom” yellow tomato cut lengthwise and pushed into the center of the cheese.  I was amazed at how closely this amalgamation resembled a cooked egg.

 In Southern California, avocado slices are frequently used in a BLT.  The avocado’s color, creamy texture and flavor really complement the bacon and tomatoes.  So my companion diced an avocado as an ingredient for the salad.

Assembly was a snap.  The arugula was dressed with the vinaigrette and tossed with sundried tomatoes, avocados and halved cherry tomatoes.  Next the bacon and bacon infused croutons were added.  Finally, the Faux Eggs were lovingly placed on the top of the salad.  Voila!

 This makes for a great salad, but I suggest some changes.  One, leave off the sundried tomatoes.  Maybe the French version is superior in taste, but the kind I can get here is too tangy and its flavor is not offset by any of the other ingredients.  Two, the vinaigrette is too light in flavor to balance the sharpness of the arugula and the tanginess of the sundried tomatoes.  Next time I will make the vinaigrette stronger in flavor.  Third, butter lettuce or romaine lettuce might be nice alternatives to the arugula.  I feel arugula is sometimes too strong to be the single leafy green ingredient in a salad.

To read about other’s experience with deconstructed BLT and eggs, visit

We paired our Deconstructed BLT and Faux Eggs with the 2008 Foppoli Russian River Valley Reserve Chardonnay.  The chardonnay has no maloactic fermentation and is made entirely in stainless steel eliminating the overbearing oakiness so frequently found in chardonnay.  Beautiful balance of citrus and green-fruits on the palate.

Foppoli 2008 Chardonnay

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sweet Madeleine's

Sweet Madeleine's
This week’s French Friday’s with Dorie cooking challenge is “Honey-Spiced Madeleine’s” from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.   Until this week, my exposure to madeleine’s was limited to the packaged, preservative laden product at The Coffee Bean, when we forget treats for Sasha the Wonder Dog, or at a tea room when served as a substitute for crumpets.  

Being a Culinary Diva means having a fully stocked kitchen, but even I was surprised to discover a madeleine pan in the dark recesses of a kitchen cabinet.  (I must be clairvoyant to have anticipated four years in advance this cooking challenge!) Since this pan had never been used, I made sure all tags and stickers had been removed to avoid the unmistakable, and most unpleasant, aroma of burnt paper and glue.  (Note:  Williams Sonoma has a nice selection of pans and some really great pasta serving bowls right now).

Look - no sticker!
 Just like a girl scout, or a coed on a first date with a basketball player, a Culinary Diva must “be prepared,” and I was.  I had everything on hand to whip up the madeleine’s and was even able to enhance the flavor by using Braswell’s Select Cinnamon Honey (this is delicious!).    

This is hardly spread out, I only used three counters this week

Flour, Ground Ginger, Cinnamon, and Cloves

My secret ingredient - Braswell's Select Cinnamon Honey with Pure Vanilla
(measuring cup from Anthropologie - isn't it cute!!!)
Egg Mixture Folded into Flour Mixture

To my companion’s chagrin, I really spread out in the kitchen when cooking.  I like to get all the ingredients on display before starting and today was no exception.   The mixture of flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and orange zest created heavenly and intoxicating aromas.  Perhaps so much so that I overlooked the instruction the dough rest for 3 hours before baking.  A wine dinner loomed just a couple hours away, so I re-read the instructions more carefully and, gratefully, learned the mixture can be kept under cover overnight in the refrigerator, either in the mixing bowl or, even better, in the madeleine pan ready to pop into the oven. 

Madeleine's Ready!

Saran Wrap covering dough to refrigerate overnight

Madeleine's in the morning - ready for the oven!

My first Madeleine's - they are a lot more golden than Dorie's!

The overnight rest relaxed not only me but the madeleine dough and with very little effort or time I was able to create a special morning treat.  I let the dough warm up a little before popping it into a 400 degree oven for  eleven minutes.  Sensuous fragrances wafted from the oven as I worked my BTL cappuccino machine.  The combination of fresh, hot madeleines with a frothy cappuccino is a great way to start the day.

The good life - Madeleine's & Cappuccino poolside!

To read more about the French Friday experiences:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bellissimo Bellinis!

Visiting Harry’s Bar is a must for any traveler to Venice, Italy.  After all, it is where Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles took their libations, presumably for nourishment and artistic inspiration.  But it is also the home of the iconic Bellini cocktail.

My photo, of the photo of the Harry's Bar Venezia Bellini
(don't you love the view of Venezia in the base of the glass)

The Bellini was created by Harry’s Bar founder Giuseppe Cipriani sometime in the 1930s and was named in honor of the artist Giovanni Bellini because the drink’s color reminded Giuseppe of the color of a saint’s toga in one of Bellini’s paintings.  Whatever the derivation of the drink’s recipe and its name, there is nothing quite like the eager anticipation one feels after ordering a Bellini at Harry’s Bar and watching the bartender perform his magic.  So many Bellinis are served that nowadays their assemblage is somewhat production line in nature.  Containers of cold white peach puree are next to bottles of Prosecco in the refrigerator and Bellini glasses are lined up on the bar, chilling with ice, just waiting for the magic elixir.  I don’t know if Ernest put aside his daiquiris and mojitos, or Orson his Negronis, for a Bellini, but I cannot get enough of them.  

Two very important things to know about a Bellini:  (1) NEVER use yellow peaches and (2) NEVER puree the white peaches by machine.   

Every September, I purchase fresh white peaches and make white peach puree to freeze for use over the next year.  This enables me to have a Bellini anytime I want!  Trust me, there are plenty of Sunday mornings throughout the year when a Bellini is the perfect way to start the day.

This is my simple guide to preserving your own white peach puree to make a perfect Bellini.  For the lazy or those who cannot find white peaches, frozen white peach puree is an acceptable substitute.

Place sliced white peaches in food mill

After about 5 minutes of turning the mill, you end up with this rosy puree

Pour white peach puree into silicone ice trays to freeze for later use

White Peach Puree:

5 white peaches for puree

Simple Syrup (don’t use unless your peaches are not sweet enough)

Slice peaches and put into a food mill using the fine sieve.  Turn mill until you have pureed the peaches and the only thing left are remnants of the skin.

Taste for sweetness.  If the peach puree is too tart, sweeten with a little simple syrup.

Pour the peach puree into ice cube trays to freeze if you are not using within two days.

One cube frozen white peach puree

Cold Prosecco & chilled Champagne glass - The Bellini is almost complete!

Christy’s Bellini:

1 frozen white peach cube


Place a frozen white peach cube in a small glass prep bowl and allow to soften.  Place softened peach puree in a chilled champagne glass.  Pour Prosecco into the glass at an angle to prevent the champagne from overflowing.  Use a chopstick or cocktail stirrer to gently blend the peach puree and the Prosecco.  The general proportions are 1 part peach puree to 3 parts Prosecco.  Bellisimo!

Pour Prosecco into Champagne glass at an angle

A beautiful Bellini - wonder if the Bellini inspired Dale Chihuly.....

To purchase The Harry's Bar Cookbook:

Bring a little Harry's Bar to your home!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Heat is On - Hatch Chiles from New Mexico

For a hot time in the old Southwest, consider attending the Hatch Chile Festival over the Labor Day weekend.  Some 30,000 chile aficionados converge on the tiny town of Hatch, New Mexico each year to celebrate the “Hatch Chile,” arguably the world’s finest chile pepper.  Hatch is located about forty miles north of Las Cruces and its chile terroir is a combination of fertile soil, abundant water, and the hot days and cool nights for which the Rio Grande Valley is known.  Actually, the “Hatch Chile” is not a variety of chile pepper but a generic term used to describe chile peppers of several varieties grown in this area.  Their flavor is a unique blend of sweetness and spicy heat with a touch of smokiness from the roasting required for removal of the skin.  They are perfect for chile con queso, chile rellenos, chile verde, enchiladas and most any other use to which chile can be put.   Heck, they can even be used in ice cream.  Fortunately, they can be frozen for up to a year, so you can spread their use until the next year’s crop arrives.    

Hatch, New Mexico was not on this year’s travel schedule, but Pasadena, California was as it is our base camp for excursions to the Hollywood Bowl and Los Angeles area museums and art galleries.  We heard that Bristol Farms in South Pasadena was conducting its third annual Hatch Chile Roasting during which free roasting was provided.  We are intrepid foodies, as you know, so we could not squander this opportunity.  Hatch Chiles range in “heat” from mild to xx hot.  Bristol Farms offered mild and hot, so naturally we purchased a 25 pound box of hot chiles (aka “Sandia”).  No wimps are we.  These chiles range from about 5-8 inches in size and are a favorite amongst chefs and food lovers, particularly those who like spicy heat in their foods.  The consistent level of heat makes these chiles perfect for sauces--such as the Green Chile Verde Sauce served at the Pink Adobe Restaurant in Santa Fe.  We are used to spicy hot foods--my companion can eat a jalapeño pepper without tears—and found the “hot” chile to be moderate in heat and probably perfect for almost any use.

If you hanker for a taste of the American Southwest, act fast as the Hatch Chile season is almost over.  In Southern California, Bristol Farms still has a great selection of mild and hot fresh Hatch Chiles that you can roast up yourself, as well as prepackaged chiles you can use immediately or toss in the freezer for the holidays.

If you prefer shopping by fingers rather than on-foot, Melissa's Produce has Hatch Chiles that you can order online, along with great information on how to prepare, care for and use these chiles.

One of my favorite restaurants in Santa Fe is the Pink Adobe Restaurant.  The following is my adaption of its Green Chile Verde Sauce recipe found in the Green Adobe Cookbook.  Although any type of chile can be used, make sure to use Hatch Chiles for the best result:

Christy’s Chile Sauce:

32 ounces (approximately 28) hot green chiles (fresh or frozen)

¼ cup chopped white onion

1 24-ounce can whole tomatoes

¼ cup of butter

1 tablespoon of salt

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Sauté the onions lightly in butter.

Combine chiles, tomatoes and spices in a Dutch oven (or equivalent) over low heat, add onions and mix well.  Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Store in refrigerator up to one week or freeze.  If you desire a smoother texture, you can blend with an immersion blender or in your food processor to desired consistency.

This sauce is a great base for enchiladas, adding extra flavor to rice, starting a soup or, if you can handle the heat, as a dip for chips.

 For more information about Pink Adobe:

If you are interested in the Pink Adobe Cookbook, you may find one at Amazon or contact the restaurant.

Pink Adobe 505-983-7712
406 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Faux French Risotto

Creamy, Cheesy, and Garlicky Rice with Spinach

This week the French Fridays with Dorie challenge was Creamy, Cheesy, and Garlicky Rice with Spinach.  I was on a high from last week’s challenge, so I prepared this dish over the Labor Day weekend and used it with grilled steak as a potato substitute. 
10 ounces of fresh spinach

10 ounces fresh spinach after steaming

10 ounces fresh spinach after squeezing water out

The recipe is surprisingly easy and quick.   I expected to spend at least an hour on the recipe but was done in less than thirty minutes (ten minutes of prep work and about eighteen minutes of cooking time).  I chose to combine two of the suggested cheeses, the Emmethal and Gruyere, which added a bit more depth and complexity to the flavors.  The creaminess of the cheeses, whipping cream and butter nicely melded with the rice and spinach. There was a lovely aroma in the kitchen -- not quite the measure of last week's corn soup, but enticing nonetheless.  This dish would work well for a dinner party as it is not labor intensive, can be kept warm without compromising the result, and served when needed.  Also, it can be enhanced with a drizzle of truffle oil, the addition of some foraged mushrooms (or what you can find in the market) or maybe even a splash of wine to finish before serving.
Onions & Garlic - ready to go!

Chicken Broth, Onion & Garlic Mixture & Rice

Gentle, rolling boil - see how the rice is absorbing the chicken broth

Rice after about 18 minutes - ready for garnish!

The following night, we combined the leftovers with cooked ground sirloin, stuffed it   into bell peppers and baked for a nice main course.  So the dish is versatile as well as delicious.

From a technique standpoint, I missed watching the Arborio rice develop pretty little shiny pearls on its side before liquid is added.  Also missing was the labor-intensive ritual of carefully ladling in the perfect amount of stock for the rice to absorb in order to obtain the correct texture.  I guess I am a traditionalist when it comes to risotto.  Like diamonds, I prefer the real thing!  This faux risotto is an acceptable alternative if you are short on time, entertaining and don’t want to fuss too much.

Definitely don't forget to pair this dish with wine.  It is hearty enough to hold up to a red, and we paired ours with a 2006 St. Francis Cabernet that was a real gem.
This recipe can be found in “Around My French Table” by Dorie Greenspan on page 380-81.  As part of the French Fridays with Dorie community, members can post their experiences with the recipe on  Click on the link or icon on the side to read what other members have to say this week.
Voila - a completed dish! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Le Jardinier for One

Le Jardinier

What better way to celebrate the end of summer than with a cocktail fresh from the garden?  Le Jardinier is my take on "The Gardener," the head bartender’s eponymous signature cocktail at RM Seafood at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.  It is spritely in taste, a little minty on the nose, and the perfect way to use the last of your summer basil.  The bits of basil floating among chards of ice on the cool, light green surface make for an attractive and inviting cocktail. 

Palm Springs sunset, perfect time for Le Jardinier

The secret to this cocktail is its fresh ingredients, but do not substitute for the Hendricks Gin.  Hendricks Gin has a lovely floral aroma and is infused with cucumber and rose petals making it the best spirit for this cocktail.  In my version, I use Domaine Canton which is a ginger liqueur that adds a little extra zing to the cocktail.  It can be omitted, but give it a try first.  The amazing color and shape of the Domaine Canton bottle alone justifies the purchase price. 

Le Jardinier for One

2 ounces Hendricks Gin

1 ounce Domaine Canton

1 ounce Simple Syrup

Juice from 1/2 of a fresh lime

Juice from 1/2 of a fresh lemon

3 fresh basil leaves torn or roughly chopped


Place all ingredients in cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Pour into chilled martini glass.

A Votre Santé!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Abalone - Treasure of the Sea

In the garden, they are an annoying pest; to the French, they are a delicacy when smothered in garlic, wine and butter and cooked to a frothy boil; and to me, they can be an exciting seafood appetizer or entrée.  We are talking about snails and, in particular, the “Escargot of the Sea.” 

Courtesy of Sunset Magazine, I learned that abalone is an edible marine gastropod, or sea snail, and not a shellfish, like an oyster, as I always assumed.  Regardless of its genealogy, I hold abalone in the highest regard.  Whether served in a myriad of ways at Anton & Michel Restaurant in Carmel, or on a pizza at Farmstand 46 in Paso Robles, it is always a special treat.  Perhaps that is because it is relatively scarce and therefore very expensive.  As a Black Belt Culinary Diva, I am lured to exclusive, costly products like a moth to a flame.  But whereas caviar is an acquired taste, abalone should appeal to all.
Not the way to obtain Abalone
"A Day of Fishing" by Ray Roberts
Also not an effective way to search out Abalone

California strictly regulates the harvesting of abalone.  Only the red abalone can be acquired in the wild and not by those using an artificial breathing apparatus.  Plus a properly permitted person can only have possession of three red abalone at one time.  So almost all the abalone we consume is farm raised in conditions that mimic to the extent possible the abalone’s natural environment.  Hence the high cost.  When I sent my unsuspecting companion to Jensen’s for abalone the other night, he returned with four small, frozen filets.  Since he had done a week’s shopping, he did not realize--until I foolishly inquired--that those four small pieces of abalone cost $71!  My punishment was a heaping serving of cold shoulder and tongue.

Four Abalone Filets ready for dusting

The fleshy but firm texture of an abalone filet makes it perfect for simple sautéing.  The flavor of the abalone is mild, so one must be careful not to overpower its sweet and delicate flavor.

Dusting the Filets

Sauteing the Abalone

The following recipe makes a great first course to a meal. It is prepared in minutes and should be served immediately. It will pair nicely with a good Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc. We enjoyed ours with a Negroni as Campari is a digestive and is thought to enhance and open your taste buds.  Whether it did so or not, it was a fine accompaniment to the sautéed abalone filets.

Simple Sautéed Abalone
4 Abalone Filets

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

6 turns of freshly ground pepper

1 generous pinch of salt

1 generous pinch of fennel pollen (not required but worth it)

2 tablespoons butter

For Garnish:

Lemon Wedges

Leafy green lettuce

Mix flour, pepper, salt and fennel pollen together. Coat abalone filets with flour mixture and shake to remove excess.

Melt butter in skillet on medium high heat.  Place two abalone filets in at a time (unless you are using a very large sauté pan; just don’t crowd the abalone filets). Let cook for 60-90 seconds per side. Place on plate and serve immediately with lemon!

If your local market does not carry abalone filets, you can purchase them online or take a quick trip to the coast. To make the overnight shipping more affordable, enlist a couple friends and split the order and cost of shipping.