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May 4, 2016
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Baby Gem Lettuce with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

There was a time when an upscale steak house offered a salad that consisted of a wedge of iceberg lettuce liberally drenched with a thick creamy blue cheese dressing. The dressing was so thick, a spoon could stand up and the iceberg lettuce was ice cold and crisp.

This is my updated version of that classic. I start with baby gem lettuce which is a cross between romaine and butter lettuce. It’s got the crispness of romaine and the delicacy of butter lettuce. I get it at my local grocery store. It’s sold under the Green Giant brand so it’s not hard to find.

Instead of traditional strong blue cheese, I use cambozola. It’s a creamy and rich triple cream blue cheese, more subtle than the old school kind of blue cheese dressing.

If you can’t find cambozola or already have a stronger blue cheese, it’s okay to use here.

BABY GEM LETTUCE WITH HOMEMADE BLUE CHEESE DRESSING
EVENT: Dinner with the Guys
YIELDS: 1 1/2 Cup of Dressing / 1 1/2 Little Gem Lettuce Heads per Person

Ingredients
1 cup buttermilk
6 oz. blue cheese, at room temperature
1 shallot minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3-5 chopped Kalmata olives
Kosher salt
Pepper

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine the buttermilk, blue cheese, shallot, olive oil and vinegar.
  2. Season with salt and pepper and process until smooth. Add more buttermilk if dressing is too thick to pour.
  3. Cut each little gem lettuce in half. Place halves open face in a serving platter. Drizzle lettuce with dressing.
  4. Top with chopped olives and serve.
You know the expression, “Necessity is the Mother of invention”? In this case, my Bread Pudding invention turned out to be simply divine.

April 27, 2016
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Chocolate Prune Croissant Bread Pudding

I figured dessert would be simple and easy and I headed out to the freezer to the cookie stash, but someone had gotten to it before me. It was then I vaguely remembered invading the cookie stash for several tea and cookie afternoons. I kept searching the freezer, looking for hidden treasure, and I found 4 frozen Costco croissants leftover from New Year’s Day. They were frozen solid but still looked good.

So I thought, croissant bread pudding… of course!

Here’s where I should admit that I’m not a big fan of bread puddings. They are usually too bland, too boring and just don’t feel like dessert. I decided to create a bread pudding with great flavors and texture that I would actually like.

Chocolate is a no brainer go-to for dessert. So I started there. For this recipe, you don’t need fancy chocolate. You can use semisweet chocolate chips, chop up a chocolate bar, use anything in your pantry, but stay away from the special high cocoa count dark chocolate. You don’t need it here. Keep it simple for a great result.

In addition to chocolate flavor, I wanted some luscious texture so I added chopped moist prunes.

The individual dish was so good, I am now a bread pudding fan and can’t wait to experiment with more flavors.

You know the expression, “Necessity is the Mother of invention”? In this case, the invention turned out to be simply divine.

CHOCOLATE PRUNE CROISSANT BREAD PUDDING 

EVENT: Dinner with the Guys

SERVES: 6-8 People

Ingredients

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (extra butter for pan)

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup whole milk

4 stale or previously frozen croissants

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, chocolate chunks or cut up chocolate bar

12-14 moist prunes, cut into eighths

Equipment

9X13 baking pan

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Lightly butter the pan.

3. Tear croissants into 1-inch pieces and layer in the pan and set aside.

4. Add chocolate and prunes and mix to distribute.

5. In a food processor, combine butter and sugar and pulse until well combined. Add cinnamon and vanilla and pulse to combine.

6. With food processor running, add 3 eggs. Scrape down the sides. Add the heavy cream and milk, and pulse to combine.

7. Pour the egg mixture over the croissants. Allow this to sit 8-10 minutes for the croissants to aborb the liquid. It’s okay to push the croissants down and gently stir to be sure all the pieces evenly absorb the liquid.

8. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 minutes to brown top.

9. Allow to cool slightly and serve.

This recipe is loaded with great flavor, the meat is moist and tender and there is lots of gravy.

April 20, 2016
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Oven Braised Barbecue Brisket

With apologies to my mom, Minerva, the only thing I remember about her brisket was that she used Lipton Onion Soup mix as the secret and only ingredient. I tried her recipe years ago and the brisket was kind of tough, flavorless, and didn’t have enough liquid for gravy.

When I explored other recipes, the most popular used ketchup, orange juice and even Coca Cola. I’m not a fanatic, but I really don’t want tons of sugar and chemicals added to my meat. Sugar belongs in dessert, chemicals belong in a lab.

My recipe is loaded with great flavor, the meat is moist and tender and there is lots of gravy. If you are salivating over the thought of this dish, but are afraid that 5 pounds of brisket is a lot for your household, no worries. Part of the appeal of this recipe is the leftovers. If it doesn’t all disappear the first night you serve it, think about making beef dip sandwiches, brisket hash, brisket burritos or a brisket ragu.

I might just have to make another brisket, just for the leftovers.

OVEN BRAISED BARBECUE BRISKET
EVENT: Dinner with the Guys
SERVES: 8-10 People

Ingredients
1-2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons ground ancho chili pepper (separated in 2 portions)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large or 3 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups good red wine
5-6 pound first cut brisket, rinsed and patted dry
2-3 tablespoons neutral oil (grapeseed or canola)
Salt and pepper to taste

Equipment
Dutch oven with tight fitting lid

Directions

  1. Combine salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon chili powder and cumin to make a rub.
  2. Rub both sides of the brisket and set aside at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  4. On stove top, heat oil in bottom of Dutch oven and brown brisket on both sides, starting with fat side down. This will take approximately 5 minutes per side. Remove brisket from pan and set aside.
  5. Add onions, crushed garlic, remaining 1 tablespoon of chili powder and saute until spice are evenly distributed and onions slightly cooked. Add the tomato paste.
  6. Place brisket back in Dutch oven on top of onion mixture, fat side up. Add 2 cups red wine. You want brisket 1/2-2/3 covered with liquid. You can add more liquid as it cooks. Place lid on pan and cook 4 hours. Check it every hour to make sure there is still enough liquid. Feel free to add water if liquid evaporates.
  7. At 4 hours, it will be perfect. Make this a day ahead and refrigerate. The next day transfer brisket to a cutting board, cut off the fat and cut against the grain into slices.
  8. Remove any congealed fat from the pan. Place entire contents of Dutch oven in a food processor, blender or Vitamix and puree. Put gravy back in Dutch oven, top with sliced brisket and warm in oven.
  9. If you need to serve it the day you make it, remove whole brisket from pan, put ice cubes on top of onion mixture which will cool it down and congeal the fat, so it’s easily removed. Then proceed to puree cooled onion mixture and add back sliced brisket. Warm covered in oven.
You know the expression, “Necessity is the Mother of invention”? In this case, my Bread Pudding invention turned out to be simply divine.

April 13, 2016
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Dinner with the Guys

Last week, I was in my car, driving to my favorite big box store Costco with my radio tuned to KCRW, my local public radio station. I was listening to a conversation between Evan Kleinman and Jonathan Gold about a Texas barbecue crawl they did together. In case you didn’t know, Evan Kleinman had a wonderful restaurant I ate at frequently and Jonathan Gold is a Pulitzer Prize winning food writer. The more they talked about barbecue brisket, the more I craved it.

Does that ever happen to you? Someone talks about a fantastic meal or something they ate and suddenly you have to have it? It’s all you want to eat.

I had no intention of buying a brisket. My list was toilet paper, paper towels and frozen organic blueberries. As I perused the aisles at Costco, wondering where in Los Angeles I could find Texas barbecue, I spied a perfect 5-pound first cut brisket.

I knew the difference between 1st cut and 2nd cut from listening to Evan and Jonathan. A whole brisket generally weighs 8-12 pounds and is usually cut into 2 pieces. The first cut, also known as the flat cut, is evenly thick with a cap of fat on one side. The second cut is thicker and has more internal fat running throughout the piece. My preference is the first cut and there it was, right at Costco.

So I came home with my beautiful brisket and did an internet search for barbecue brisket recipes. Oops, I had a problem. Most recipes called for smoking the brisket 10 hours. I don’t have a smoker. In fact, I don’t even own a barbecue. I didn’t want to drench the brisket with barbecue sauce so I came up with a recipe, for a slow braise, with the taste of barbecue.

I sent a text message to a few guys: “Making a brisket, come for dinner.” When they said, “What time?”, I created the rest of the menu. Baby Gem Lettuce with Blue Cheese Dressing, Handmade Pappardelle Noodles Tossed with Butter, Tons of Lemon Zest and Fresh Pepper and Roasted Vegetables that were ignored by everyone except me. For dessert, a Chocolate Prune Bread Pudding using croissants I found in my freezer.

It sounds like a heavy menu, but the guys didn’t mind.

I tracked down the radio show, so I could direct you to it. It turns out that it originally aired in March of 2015 and I was listening in March 2016. I guess I was supposed to make a brisket. If you have a chance, listen to the podcast. But I’m giving you fair warning: You might get an uncontrollable urge for barbecue.

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April 6, 2016
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What’s On My Table: New Year’s Day Brunch

I have a passion for collecting antique copper and love using it for a brunch buffet. The sun came streaming through the French doors, in my dining room, illuminating the copper with a radiant glow. The inherent warmth in copper was welcoming and inviting and made the food even more enticing.

I mixed copper pieces that come from Morocco, France and Belgium together with those I found on Ebay and Amazon.

As always, I like to use pieces in unusual ways. The centerpiece is actually a French preserve pan. And yes, when it’s not a centerpiece, I use it for homemade preserves. This time, it held lots of fresh orchids from Trader Joe’s. I left them in their individual pots, lined the copper pan with foil and used Spanish moss to hide the pots.

I used a small Belgian milk pitcher to hold flowers on the sideboard.

My large collection of hammered platters are used in many different ways on this table. Some hold food, some hold parfait glasses.

It’s easy to find great vintage copper on Ebay or at your local thrift store. Mix it with new pieces from Amazon and you’ll have a glorious table.

Here is what’s on my table:

Buffet table:

Tablecloth: Custom made in Italy

Centerpiece: Hammered copper jam pan, Mauviel (Amazon)

Orchids: Trader Joe’s

Triple copper chafing dish: Bazar Francias 666 (vintage, Ebay)

Rectangular copper chafing dish: Bazar Francias 666 (vintage)

Hammered copper platters: vintage (Ebay)

Large copper and brass oval tray (Amazon)

Copper and brass 3-section jam dish (Amazon)

Croissant jars: Bromioli Rocco Quattro Stagioni, 5 oz. (Amazon)

Parfait glasses: Wayfair.com

Place cards: Caspari, More Lavender Blue

Meat carving set: vintage

Sideboard:

Antique French copper vegetable steamer

Antique Moroccan copper tea kettle

Antique Belgian “Dinant” copper and brass milk pitcher

Large plates: new onion pattern Meissen (Fornari & Fornari)

Rectangular sandwich plate: Coalport, Countryware pattern

Coffee Service:

Mugs: Coalport Countryware pattern

Blue cream and sugar pottery: vintage

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March 31, 2016
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Roasted Mushrooms

You might have read the prior posts for Spicy Potatoes, Indian Spinach or Garbanzo Beans and thought to yourself, “These sound great but I don’t have the spices, and I don’t want to buy them”. Well, here is a recipe you have no excuse not to try. All of the ingredients are readily available at any supermarket.

New Year’s Day, people raved about the mushrooms and kept asking for the recipe. When I told them they were simply roasted with fresh herbs, they insisted that there had to be a secret ingredient. There wasn’t any secret ingredient. The only secret was to use really fresh herbs in generous amounts and gently roast.

It’s simple and delicious and I was hoping they were leftovers, so I could have a roasted mushroom omelet the next day. But no luck, they were all gone.

If you’ve never roasted mushrooms, you need to remember that they have a lot of moisture so you have to roast them on a rimmed baking sheet. Also, make sure you cut them to the same size so they cook evenly.

Finally, mushrooms cook down, so while 24 ozs of raw mushrooms might look like a lot, when roasted they serve approximately 6 people. If you want leftovers, you better make more.

ROASTED MUSHROOMS

EVENT: New Year’s Day Brunch

SERVES: 6 People

Ingredients

24 ozs fresh mushrooms

2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary

1 1/2-2 tablespoons finely minced fresh thyme

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wipe any dirt off mushrooms with paper towel. Cut the mushrooms into halves or quarters, depending on the size of the mushrooms.

3. Toss mushrooms in medium bowl with rosemary and thyme. Toss with olive oil.

4. Spread mushrooms in a single layer on a rimmed baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

5. Roast approximately 15 minutes until mushrooms are completely cooked.

6. Drain mushrooms and serve.

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March 28, 2016
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Chana Masala

When I was growing up, my Mother never made beans. I only ever ate them when we went out for Mexican food (refried beans) or occasionally with hot dogs (canned baked beans loaded with brown sugar). I was used to seeing garbanzo beans and kidney beans at salad bars but I never chose them. There were so many other good things to eat, why bother with beans?

And then I attended cooking school with Lorenza di Medici. One of the things we made was garbanzo bean soup. I read the recipe and thought it would be boring until I tasted it. It was life changing and introduced me to the world of beans. I moved on to white bean garlic puree, creamy rustic white beans with gremolata and even a Moroccan vegetable bean stew.

I had already loved Indian food, but again with so many great things to eat, I never ordered Chana Masala, until someone else did and I tasted it. And now I always order it. These beans are so flavorful and work as a savory side dish with so many different meals, from eggs at brunch to baked fish, to roasted chicken.

I use canned organic garbanzo beans because they shorten the cooking time. If you prefer to buy a bag of uncooked beans, wash them thoroughly, soak them 10 hours and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Me, I always use canned beans that I drain and rinse. One less step that doesn’t affect the taste.

The spices are vital to this dish. They create subtle layers of flavor which make these beans almost addictive. You’ll want to put them under fried or poached eggs, roll them up in a burrito, puree them and smear then on flatbread when making a lavash sandwich. So many uses — so simple to make!

Oh, and there’s lots of nutritional value in beans which is a side benefit from something so yummy.

CHANA MASALA

EVENT: New Year’s Day Brunch

SERVES: 6-8 People

Ingredients

2 15-oz. cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1-2 tablespoons neutral oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, mashed

1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1-2 teaspoons chili powder

1 cup canned, peeled and chopped tomatoes, drained (retain liquid!)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 serrano pepper, seeded and cut into slivers (optional)

Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Directions

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder and Garam Masala. Mix spices with onions.

2. Add chopped tomatoes. Cook stirring until onions are soft. Add some liquid from canned tomatoes to keep mixture well moistened.

3. Add garbanzo beans and mix until thoroughly combined.

4. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Taste, add salt and pepper.

5. If using serrano pepper, add now and cook covered 5 minutes. Top with fresh cilantro and serve.

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March 24, 2016
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Saag Paneer

Many years ago, I had the great good fortune to be traveling in India over Christmas and New Year’s. I didn’t know as much about Indian cuisine as I do now. To play it safe, and avoid Deli belly, I kept my food choices relatively simple. One of the dishes I ordered every day was Saag Paneer. Saag refers to a leaf based dish (usually spinach) and Paneer is a fresh unsalted, uncultured white cheese. The cheese is relatively bland, somewhat crumbly and doesn’t melt.

What amazed me was that everywhere I ordered this dish, it was always different. In some versions, the spinach had been blended to a velvety smoothness. In others, the spinach was coarsely chopped and mixed with the sauteed onions. Still, others added milk or heavy cream to create a dish that resembled a traditional American creamed spinach. Even the spices differed from dish to dish. But they were all delicious.

In my own neck of the woods, Beverly Hills, I am lucky to have three good Indian restaurants less that 5 minutes from home. (Two offer delivery.) Despite the fact that my palate is much more sophisticated, I still find myself ordering Saag Paneer. And guess what? Each restaurant makes it slightly differently, and once again they are all delicious.

The version I made for New Year’s Day is less creamy than some because I don’t puree the spinach and I don’t add heavy cream or milk. This is my favorite version, for now.

The recipe calls for Paneer which is a curdled fresh cheese. It’s easy to make (and I will post the recipe), but you can also buy it readymade at Indian or ethnic markets. It’s better if you make it from scratch, but I confess for New Year’s Day, I bought it. There were too many other things to do.

It’s a fantastic side dish for brunch or even dinner. If you have friends who say, “I don’t like Indian food, I don’t like curry,” don’t tell them this is an Indian dish. Just tell them, “It’s spinach and cheese.” Let them taste it and when they go back for seconds, resist the temptation to tell them they’re eating Indian food.

SAAG PANEER

EVENT: New Year’s Day Brunch

SERVES: 6-8 People

Ingredients

8-10 cups fresh spinach, chopped

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or other neutral oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, mashed

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

1 tablespoon Garam Masala

1 teaspoon fenugreek leaves

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup cubed paneer

2 tablespoons water

Equipment

Large skillet

Directions

1. Warm 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chopped onion, chopped ginger and garlic. Cook for approximately 4 minutes until onions are soft and slightly translucent.

2. Add the Garam Masala, fenugreek leaves, salt and cayenne pepper.

3. Mix well and saute for approximately 2-3 minutes. Add chopped spinach and mix well. Add water, cover and continue to cook over low heat until spinach cooked through.

4. In a separate skillet over medium high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of oil. Add cubed paneer and cook until golden, turning frequently.

5. Stir the paneer into the spinach mixture. Gently mix.

6. Taste and correct seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary.

7. Cook 2 more minutes. Serve.

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March 21, 2016
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Indian Spiced Potatoes

No matter how many ways you have of preparing potatoes, no matter what your family favorites are, once you try this recipe, it will become your new favorite.

If you don’t have mustard seeds, cumin seeds and ground cumin in your spice drawer, you need to buy some. You can find them in small quantities, so it’s not a big expense. There is no substitute for these ingredients. I use these over and over again in many different recipes from baked fish to turkey chili, so they won’t go to waste.

Speaking of waste, there won’t be any leftovers of these potatoes. I served them at brunch where they were a perfect savory compliment to the Bourbon Baked Ham and all the other dishes. I have also served them with simple roast chicken, rack of lamb and even a pork roast.

This recipe is a terrific addition to your potato repertoire.

INDIAN SPICED POTATOES

EVENT: New Year’s Day Brunch

SERVES: 6-8 People

Ingredients

4 tablespoons grapeseed oil or other neutral oil

2 teaspoons black or brown mustard seeds

2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

2 lbs small Yukon Gold Potatoes, washed and cut in half (leave skins on)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Fresh parsley

Directions

1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil and mustard seeds over medium high heat. The seeds will only take 10-20 seconds to release their aroma and start to pop.

2. Immediately stir in the cumin seeds and turmeric. Stir in the potatoes and the salt and pepper.

3. Reduce heat to medium low and add 1 tablespoon room temperature water. Cook covered until potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes. Check them at 15 minutes. Cooking time can vary depending on size of potatoes.

4. Uncover pan, add remaining oil, ground cumin, cayenne. Continue cooking uncovered, turning until potatoes are golden, approximately 10 minutes.

5. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Top with freshly chopped parsley and serve.