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Friday, June 29, 2012

Delicious Dinner Quiche

I couldn't get that stupid, horrible pie crust out of my head so I decide to make a quiche (with homemade pie crust) for dinner Thursday night. Luckily, I redeemed myself wonderfully! I used a Martha Stewart recipe for the crust and loosely based my quiche off one of hers too.  I made the pie crust dough and let it chill in the fridge for an hour.  Then I rolled out the dough (which did NOT crumble, like the last one did) and put it in the pie dish and let it sit until time to bake.  I then sliced a bundle of asparagus, shallots and mushrooms for the filling.  I sautéed them in butter until the asparagus was nice and bright green.  I let that cool then filled the pie crust wit gruyere cheese that I shredded (about a cup).
 I topped the cheese with the sautéed veggies then mixed together eggs, half n half, nutmeg, salt and pepper and poured it on top of the veggies. I placed it on a baking sheet and baked it for an hour (rotating it half way through the cooking time).  I let it cool for 15 minutes and made a lovely salad with mixed greens, broccoli, carrots, jicama, grape tomatoes and some lemon vinaigrette.  It was really such a delicious meal!  We don't normally have quiche so it was a nice, delectable change of pace.

This picture is kind of blurry but if you squint your eyes you can see the deliciousness. The crust was so perflectly flakey and yummy!  Yes, I realize it is not completely covering the pie plate.  I'll work on perfecting that next time.

Here is the link to the pie crust and the quiche recipe.

Gnocchi, fresh tomato sauce, and sausages oh my!

Wednesday night we had some good friends over for dinner- first dinner guests in our new home. I have to say, it was a huge success! I served arugula salad with shaved Parmesan and a lemon vinaigrette, homemade gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce and grilled Italian sausages. I went shopping at the farmers market for the tomatoes and arugula and it was so worth it!!
Everything was so fresh and delicious!!

I love gnocchi but it is a time consuming process to make. I started a day earlier and baked the potatoes, made the dough, shaped the dumplings and boiled them. Then I tossed them with olive oil and put them in the fridge. Early Wednesday, I blanched, shocked, peeled and diced the tomatoes so they were ready for the sauce. Then, I prepped the remaining ingredients, made the vinaigrette and had everything ready to go when our friends arrived. Once they were there, my hubby grilled the sausages while I quickly made the tomato sauce and sautéed the gnocchi. Then, I tossed it together, dressed the salad and plated everything up. It was a lot of prep work but very little to do once our guests arrived. Everyone loved dinner and we had great food, conversation and vino!

Here is a picture of the finished gnocchi but this a picture of the cold leftovers.  I didn't take a picture before we sat down to dinner.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Baking FAIL

So, I asked my husband what kind of pie he wanted me to bake and he said strawberry.  Sure, no problem.  I find a recipe for a fresh strawberry pie and get the strawberries from the farmers market then go to the store to gather the rest of the ingredients.  The problem is that I can't find regular pastry flour ANYWHERE.  I checked three different grocery stores and none of them had it.  They all had whole wheat pastry flour but I really didn't want to use it - as I was afraid it would be too dense.  I finally gave up and got the whole wheat pastry flour.  I found a recipe that was specifically for a whole wheat crust because I was afraid the ratios would be different between the two types of pastry flour.  The recipe was for a single 9" pie crust so I doubled it to make a double crusted pie.  Long story short, I doubled all ingredients EXCEPT the butter!!!  That crust was so hard that it was almost inedible.  LOL!  I was so mad and first blamed the whole wheat pastry flour until I thought about it more and realized the error was mine not the recipes.  ;)

The dough was so hard to work with because of the lack of butter.  I kept adding water but it didn't' help.  I finally gave up on the double crust and made a terrible attempt at a lattice top (which I've never attempted before).  I should have just skipped the top crust completely but my mind was set on a double crust.  It is the ugliest pie I've ever seen BUT the filling was pretty delicious.  I will try again (after my pride heals a little) and will master this stupid pie.

Friday, June 22, 2012

First dinner in our new house

This is where the magic happens (or at least my version of it LOL)
After over a month in a hotel, we finally moved in to our house on Monday.  It will be home for the next six months before we pack up AGAIN and move to Rio De Janeiro for a year.  Yes, sometimes the Navy gives out excellent assignments!  Anyways, I digress.  After unpacking boxes for three days, I decided it was time to give my kitchen a good spin, so I made a lovely meal last night.

It was 'first dinner in new house/belated birthday dinner for my hubby'.  I made halibut steaks with pepitas, tomatoes, and capers, mushroom risotto, green beans with caramelized shallots and a zucchini ribbon salad.  The green beans tasted waaayy better than they look in this photo.  Hey, I'm a cook not a photographer!

I started early in the day with the zucchini salad because it was easy to make ahead and it needed to chill with the dressing on it anyways.  It was really easy to make and I think it looked gorgeous.
You just have to use a vegetable peeler on the the zucchini to make those pretty ribbons.  Then half some cherry tomatoes, throw in some feta cheese and Italian dressing. Yes, I used bottled dressing but I usually make my own.  I just moved in, give me a break!!!

Once it was tossed together, I covered it and let it chill in the fridge until dinner time.  After that was done, I went ahead and blanched and shocked the green beans.  I blanched them for about 5 minutes then shocked them in ice water to stop the cooking. 

I took a break and unpacked more boxes.  Oh what a fun break that was.  Thankfully, it was time to get back in the kitchen.  I sliced the shallots then melted some butter and caramelized them until they smelled amazing and got some color to them.  

I prepped the rest of veggies and got the rest of the ingredients ready.  Then I started the risotto and then finished everything else up.  I plated everything up just as my family came through the door.  Perfect timing (for once)!

And you can't have a meal like that without wine (or at least we can't) so we had a lovely bottle of Chateau Julien Chardonnay (a local wine).

Everything turned out really delicious but I wish I had a tad more feta cheese in the zucchini salad.  I also wish I had time to make the strawberry pie that my hubby has requested I make (never made one before so it will be a first).  Oh well, next time!  I think I'll actually do the strawberry pie next week if I can manage to get to the farmers market to pick up some fresh strawberries.

If anyone is interested, here are the links to the recipes that I loosely followed

Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots
If you want the other recipes, just let me know and I'll send it or post it here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My first time glamping

We just had a wonderful weekend in the great outdoors.  We headed out Saturday morning for a night at Costanoa, a luxury camping resort (glamorous camping or glamping).  Our first stop was at Swanton Berry Farm to pick delicious, juicy, organic strawberries.  While picking the strawberries, we had a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean just across the road.  When we headed in to pay for our strawberries, we couldn't resist sampling the jam and ended up buying the olalllieberry jam (which according to wikipedia is "a cross between the loganberry and the youngberry, each of which is itself a cross between blackberry and another berry (raspberry and dewberry, respectively).") and a chocolate covered strawberry.  It was a great start to our weekend!

Next, we headed to the Harley Farms Goat Dairy and saw some baby goats and where they were
milked and where the cheese was made, then we got to the point of this stop and tasted some yummy goat cheese!  We had several different cheeses and they were all fantastic.  We decided to get a small round of apricot pistachio goat cheese and to come back by the next day to get some of the awesome feta cheese to take home.

Our last stop before the campground was the Arcangeli Grocery & Bakery (which ships gourmet breads and foods around the world) for warm artichoke garlic herb bread and a bottle of local wine - Hurtin Head Red (and the name is no lie, as I could easily attest to the following day).

We then checked into our 'tent bungalow' which had a double bed and twin bed, both with electric blankets, a lamp with several plug ins and free wi fi.  Yes, we were really roughing it!  This was my kind of camping!!!

After getting our bags inside, we sat in our airdondack chairs next to our unlit fire pit and enjoyed a delicious snack of our finds from the day - strawberries, artichoke garlic herb bread, and of course Hurtin Head Red.  Reagan enjoyed a lovely bottle of water in place of the red wine (smart girl).

We then walked around the lovely grounds, enjoying the smell of eucalyptus, the views of the ocean and hills, and life in general.  We stopped by for a quick look at the Costanoa farm and herb garden.  They use these products in the meals that are served at their restaurant.

Soon enough it was time to head to dinner.  We were taken to a private room upstairs and greeted with a lovely 2006 Boony Doon Vineyard Sparkling Riesling to Live (I highly recommend it) and an amuse bouche of heirloom tomato bruschetta.  We met some of the very nice people from Edible Monterey Bay Supper Club (which hosted the event) and Reagan made a very good friend in a little boy by the name of Mylo.

After some wonderful conversations (where I got some wonderful advice on restaurants, farmers markets and Brazilian music) we were served a  salad of shaved fennel, endive, goat cheese from Harley Farms and lettuce and herbs grown right there at Costanoa.  The salad was served with a nice 2010 BD Albarino white wine.  The entree was a filet of tenderloin cooked in a port reduction and topped with portabella mushroom slices and served with whipped potatoes and asparagus and was accompanied by a 2007 BD Le Cigare Volant. Then for dessert, we again visited the Swanton Berry Farms for a delicious strawberry shortcake and a very nice 2011 BD Vin jGris de Cigare. The dishes and wine were wonderful, the conversation engaging and best of all, the child (aka Reagan) was entertained and well behaved!

After such a lovely meal, we headed back to our tent bungalow.  We promised Reagan and Mylo that we would make s'mores and sit by the fire, so that is what we did.  We sat around a roaring fire, watched the stars and the sheer happiness that Reagan experienced while eating s'mores and running around with Mylo waaaaaayyy past her bedtime.

The next day we took a short hike to the tide pools, let Reagan play in the sand then headed back to pack up, picked up feta from Harley Farms and head home.  It was such a lovely weekend that I wouldn't change a thing about it...except may pick up more of that delicious feta cheese!

Friday, June 1, 2012

My night with Casanova

In a word - AMAZING!!

I had such a great time there and got to do more than I really thought I would be able to do on my first night.  I started with Jaime, the baking cook, who has worked at Casanova for over 18 years.  He was getting ready for a special party that was coming in a little later and I helped him prep for that.  First, I plated all the spinach gnocchi and parmesan cheese sauce into serving dishes and minced the parsley that would garnish them.  I was able to taste the gnocchi and it was really delicious - the gnocchi was light and the parmesan cream sauce was heavenly.

Next, I prepped the shrimp amuse buche by arranging thinly sliced meyer lemons on a few serving plates, topping them with shrimp, cocktail sauce and micro celery greens. There were a couple of extra's and I gladly ate one, when Jaime offered it up.  Delicious!

Then it was time for employee meal which consisted of a nice, spicy chicken soup filled with veggies and topped with all the cilantro and onions you wanted.  It was really tasty and while eating in one of the many pretty courtyard areas, I was able to sit with Jaime and some of the other cooks and chat a bit.

After that, I was asked to work with James, the sous chef, who was prepping for a special event - a pop up supper- the following day.  I helped with the artichoke bisque by washing and adding herbs - tarragon, thyme to the already cooked soup then I pureed it and strained it and then watched as James added tons of delicious truffles to it.  After seasoning it with salt and pepper, we tasted it and it was wonderful!  It's not on the regular menu right now but I'm hoping that it will be when they change it in a couple of weeks (they regularly change the menu, leaving only a couple of the most popular dishes on it, and changing everything else to reflect the season and what the local farmers are producing) because I could have eaten the entire pot of it! Next it was time to clean and prep some veggies.  I first cleaned an entire pan full of morel mushrooms.  After that, I scrubbed and peeled some neat little purple carrots that had such a beautiful, vibrant purple color to them.  They got them from one of the local farmers they regularly interact with and said that only this batch of the carrots had the purple color all the way through them - the next batches only had purple around the tops  of the carrots.

After the carrots, I was asked to wrap baby artichokes in thin slices of speck ( a type of prosciutto).  The next day, they would be fried right before service.  Yum!!

Throughout and in between projects, I was also shown around a bit.  It is quite a layout and will take some time to master.  There are walk ins and pantry areas in several different locations.  There are two kitchens - one always open and one open only on weekends or for special parties (this is the one I worked in).  There are several small dining areas and courtyards for outdoor seating.  It is a truly beautiful restaurant and I can see why it's named 'most romantic' restaurant in Carmel.

I was able to sit down and talk with Chef John Cox within the first hour of my arrival.  I felt it necessary to remind him that I would only be there for 6 months because I didn't want to be dishonest about that fact.  He has taken on stages/interns for the last three years and really grooms them for long term stay in his kitchens.  He thanked me for my honesty and told me that with it being summer, it was going to be very busy and he could still use me, knowing I would be gone in six months.  He said the interns (he will take on two or three) will start out in stocking and eventually move up to prep and seafood station.  He said knowing that I'll be leaving, I may not have the opportunity to move up (which is sad but understandable).  He said he feels that a lot of folks straight out of culinary school really need that time in stocking to learn the product and know where to go to retrieve the items.  I am kind of worried that my best night might have been this first night - where I was in the kitchen actually getting to help out and see what was going on.  Either way, beggars can't' be choosers and I love this restaurant so I will do it, if offered. He said he had a few more folks coming in and would make his final decision by Wednesday.  I feel pretty confident that I'll be asked back but my time limit could be a hinderance.

At the end of the night, I thanked the Chef for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to work in his kitchen and told him that I loved every second of it.  He thanked me for helping out and told me I was welcome to take home a couple entres for me and my husband.  James walked me up and told me to order whatever I'd like, so I asked him what his favorites were and that's what I ordered - Diver Scallops and Lamb Chops.  Both were absolutely delicious!  I went to sleep dreaming of those scallops and when I could return to eat them again.

I had such a wonderful experience at Casanova - which was also my first time working in a professional kitchen.  I feel like I got so lucky to be able to work here and feel truly fortunate for the experience. I truly loved every second of it and hope to be able to do it for my short time here in Monterey.


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