Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sugar Cookie Bars



I got a virus. Not the kind where you are in bed for several days but the kind that attacks your computer. I came home from work on Thursday ready to write this post when I realized that there was a pop up screen that looked suspiciously like the anti-virus software we have installed on all our computers at home. Hubby has always said "don’t click on it" and so I proceeded to call him upstairs to my office to fix it. (By the way my hubby is brilliant when it comes to fixing computers, just saying. Smile.)




I have learned from past experience to not click anything and ask my hubby to fix it. Not sure what I did, but perhaps hit something by mistake and YES the virus got into my computer. Two hours later, hubby worked his magic and my computer was fixed. Yeah hubby!! Lesson learned – do not click unfamiliar or suspicious pop ups that lead to wanting you take action. Have any of you had this happen to you?



Let’s focus on wonderful things now, like these divine Sugar Cookie Bars. These went "viral" a number of months ago across all of the food sites. No pun intended with the viral comment. (Smile. Wink). I had first seen these on my friend Lindsay’s site, Love and Olive Oil. They just struck a chord with me and I had to pin them for later. If you have not visited Lindsay's site, please take a few minutes to check it out, you will not be disappointed.  I especially want to try her latest post - Arugula Pistachio Pesto. Last weekend, I finally got around to making them and they were quite tasty I might add. I added more vanilla and did the frosting with half butter and cream cheese to kick it up a bit. The result was supreme deliciousness!



Sugar Cookie Bars
Slightly adapted from Love and Olive Oil

Makes 32 bars

Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Frosting

1/2 cup butter; at room temperature
½ C. Cream Cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4 cups powdered sugar
5 tablespoons milk
food coloring, if desired

Directions

In a large bowl with an stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.

In a separate bowl sift together flour, salt, and baking soda. Slowly add to butter mixture and mix just until combined. Grease a large rimmed baking sheet (10x15 jelly roll pan). Gently and evenly spread out batter onto sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 10-15 minutes, until light golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

To prepare frosting, in a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Mix in vanilla and salt. Add powdered sugar (1 cup at a time) until combined, then add milk & mix until smooth and spreadable. Add a few drops of color, if desired. Spread over cooled cookie, then cut into bars.



Sunday, March 25, 2012

{ Napa's Oxbow Public Market }



Several months ago my friend Helen and I ventured to Napa for the day to explore the beautiful Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. The market sits in downtown Napa and is perfectly located along the Napa Rive and Napa River Trail, adjacent to the Oxbow Preserve and Oxbow By-Pass Commons. Oxbow is filled with artisans and purveyors of unique and fine foods. There are many tasty restaurants to choose from that are sit down to simply great take out style. We ventured on a Saturday and the farmers market was in full swing adjacent to the market.
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We parked at the edge of the market and with our reusable bags in hand; we darted off to the farmers market first to browse all of the wonderful produce and food artisans. Given that this trip was several months ago, the fruits and veggies may or may not be in season right now, but we did pick up several key fruits and vegetables to bring home.



Dahlias were in full bloom with the vibrant pinks, yellows and oranges just bursting. In fact a whole stand was dedicated to these stunning floral gems. I just wish I had a backyard full of these along with my most favorite flower, the peony. The colors just make me smile from ear to ear.


One of the most interesting artisans that we visited was a vendor called “The Smoked Olive”. This company is the brainchild of Al Harman and Brenda Chatelain. They did not create this on purpose but rather through a series of discoveries. Al was born into a family of gifted artists and chefs and his own personal style leans towards abstract. With his concept and Brenda’s passion for business and marketing, they blended their strengths together to create their company – The Smoked Olive.


The smoked olive oil is award winning with a bold smoky flavor and wonderful olive finish. It is great for coating meats and veggies and then grilling. Their product is loved by Tyler Florence, Emeril Lagasse and Chef John Ash, among many others. The olive oil comes in many variations. We also scored smoked brown sugar that was simply amazing and will be great to add to any rub recipe.



The number of fantastic places to visit in this Mecca foodie paradise is mind boggling. From the restaurants such as Kitchen Door from acclaimed Napa Valley restaurateurs Todd Humphries and Richard Miyashiro to the famous Gott’s Roadside featuring legendary burgers and fish tacos, the choices are amazing. Inside you can visit Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, Pica Pica Bar, Hog Island Oyster Company or Ca’Momi with authentic wood fired pizzas.



If you are in the mood for a bit of wine, visit Oxbow Wine Merchant & Wine Bar to discover some of Napa’s hidden treasures. One of favorite stops where we spent the most time was the Whole Spice Company. It was filled with unique, fragrant and wonderful spices from around the world. Quite frankly it was hard to narrow down my selections of what I wanted to purchase. The smoked alderwood salt was among my absolute favorite finds for the day. By this time, a coffee was in order and we headed to Ritual Coffee Roasters for a delightful café latte that included "artwork" in the form of decorative foam. At first glance I detected a slight Russian influence with the logo but quickly learned it was just wonderful roasted coffee that was music to my taste buds.




I would also recommend that you visit Oxbow Cheese Market, Five Dot Ranch, Kanaloa Seafood Market, Kara’s Cupcakes, The Olive Press and Tillerman Tea. Shifting gears a bit, if you are in the mood for one of kind gifts, check out Heritage Culinary Artifacts for premium culinary antiques from all over the world.



We ended our morning with a snack from The Fatted Calf. It is an infamous artisanal charcuterie and butcher shop. We dined on the roasted pork sandwich with peppers, Arugula, delectable onions and a bit of mustard which was all tucked into a crusty roll that was undoubtedly baked early in the morning from a local bakery. Each bite was pure heaven.


If you are visiting Napa from other parts of the United States or world, be sure to put Oxbow Public Market on your list of places to experience while in Napa. If you are a local Bay Area resident, like me, get up early on a Saturday and check it out – you won’t be disappointed. Afterward, you can always go across the river to check out Tyler Florence’s Rotisserie and Wine which we went to afterwards for a light lunch and glass of wine (my visit) or Morimoto Napa (on my list).  Hope you enjoy all of the wonderful bounties available at Oxbow Public Market!


Monday, March 19, 2012

Irish Cupcakes | Secret Recipe Club




A couple weeks ago, my friend Jim posted a link on my facebook wall with a photo of cupcakes. They were not your standard run of the mill cupcakes, but rather – “Irish Cupcakes”. I had never heard of these before and I was quite intrigued to learn more. After reading the ingredients, there were three kinds of liquor and a surprise in the middle of the cupcake. All three liquors are Irish and with the little ganache package inside, perhaps that is how the name arrived – they explode in your mouth.
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Rumor has it that if you have a particular Irish cocktail at an Irish bar, you might have to partake at your own risk. It is a shot glass with a mixture of Jameson’s Irish Whisky and Baileys Irish Cream that is dropped into a semi full glass of Guinness beer and you have to drink it all at once – yikes! I think I will stick with the cupcake version. Smile.



In any event, it is March and that means St. Patrick’s Day is here in all its glory and celebrations. March also begins a new month for Secret Recipe Club. If you have not yet received “the memo” and/or not heard of Secret Recipe Club, let me share quickly what it is. It is an online cooking club of food bloggers who enjoy receiving a new blog each month to explore and select a recipe that they want to make. They are given a specific date to post and then comes the big reveal. You see who received your blog and what they chose and visa versa. It is a great way to make new friends, learn new recipes and have fun along the way.
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For March I was paired up with Josie from Josie’s Kitchen. Josie was raised in the gorgeous Dominican Republic, which by the way I think I need to add to my bucket list. She currently resides in New York City with her true love, the Irishman. She loves cooking and I am sure the Irishman benefits from all those recipes on her blog. Just like Josie, my hubby benefits from all of my cooking and I sure they would be fast friends.


After perusing through all of Josie’s lovely recipes, I could not help choosing the Irish Cupcakes. I actually made them for St. Patrick’s Day.  Several things led me to choosing this:  (1) her recipe looked great (2) my friend Jim introduced me to these through Facebook and (3) I am half Irish – so why not. We certainly could not eat 24 of these little delights so several neighbors benefited from my baking bonanza. I made modifications to the frosting recipe by adding cream cheese and more powdered sugar + a few small tweeks. Thank you Josie for a simple and tasty recipe!


Irish Cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes

Cupcakes
1 C. of Guinness stout
1 C. salted butter
3/4 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 C. all purpose flour
2 C. sugar
1 ½ t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
2 large eggs
2/3 C. sour cream

Ganache filling
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 C. heavy cream
2 T. butter, room temperature
2 t. whiskey
1 t. vanilla

Frosting
6 cups of confectioner’s sugar
½ stick salted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces Cream cheese
2 t. Vanilla
2 t. of Baileys

Start by bringing the Guinness and butter to a simmer. Once the mixture has melted, whisk in the cocoa powder until blended and set aside. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and sour cream to blend in a mixer. Add the chocolate and beer mixture to the stand mixer and blend until combined. Add the salt and baking soda until mixed then slowly add the flour until combined and beat for about a minute.

Pour the mixture into cupcake liners set inside a cup cake pan. Only fill them about three quarters. Bake for about 17 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until knife comes out clean. Let them cool on a wire rack. While they cool, make the ganache filling. Over a double boiler or pan full of hot water, place a metal or glass bowl on top. Add the cream, whiskey and vanilla and let it heat on medium until very slightly bubbling. Then add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Then add the butter and whisk until all combined. Set aside of the burner.

Use a sharp knife to hollow out a hole in each cupcake and I would recommend about an inch. With a spoon, fill each cupcake with the ganache. You may have some left over and you can make truffles. Simply chill and then form round balls and roll in cocoa.

To make the frosting, add the cream cheese and butter to a stand mixer and whip until fluffy. Add the vanilla and baileys and mix well. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar until all gone and whip until light and fluffy – about 4 to 5 minutes. Place into a large piping bag and decorate each cupcake. Garnish with your favorite decorations or leave plain.




















Saturday, March 17, 2012

Watermelon Bites with Basil Oil, Feta & Mint



The simplest things in life are often the best things in life. If we just slow down and “smell the roses” - we realize that there is purpose to the hustle and bustle of life YET the simple times are often the most rewarding. I work long, long days and it is completely rewarding, however when my Friday evening rolls around, that is a very happy time indeed.

Friday means that the work week ended and the two glorious weekend days named Saturday and Sunday are finally here. However before those two days occur, our Friday night tradition kicks in and it is all about wine and appetizers. Sometimes just hubby and I and other times, we celebrate with friends. This tradition rather morphed over the years until we realized that this was our special tradition and something that we both look forward to and cherish.


It often involves a great bottle of wine from our cellar and numerous types of cheeses that I pick up from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Sometimes homemade appetizers and other times frozen delights from a host of sources. It is a chance to unwind, put our feet up, enjoy each others company or catch up with various friends and simply kick start the ever precious weekend.


Thought I would share with all of you a simple yet tasty appetizer that is both refreshing and satisfying and versatile enough to blend with any variety of hors d’oeuvres you choose. The classic combination of watermelon and feta is a given then toss in with a bit of basil olive oil and chiffonade mint; you have a powerful palate pleaser. You can serve in individual dishes or on a long platter. Enjoy!


Watermelon Bites with Basil Oil, Feta & Mint

Watermelon, cut into 1 inch cubes
Basil Olive Oil
Feta, crumbled
Mint, chiffonade

Simply cut the watermelon in one inch cubes, drizzle with basil olive oil and garnish with crumbled feta and mint.

Note: If you can’t locate basil flavored olive oil use extra virgin olive oil and add a few basil leave cut thin to the mint and top on the watermelon.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

{ Italian Sausage and Swiss Chard Soup }



The last several days we have received much needed rain in the Bay Area. It is almost strange that we are having rain since we have been so dry this winter. I must say that it is a welcome site and I am enjoying having an actual winter now.

With winter here, the natural progression is to enjoy a rich hardy soup to warm the soul. After enjoying the kale salad I posted, I have a craving for leafy and hearty green veggies. While at the grocery store picking up the kale, I spied rainbow swiss chard and it inspired me to create this soup. It was hearty, robust and satisfying. The key is the parmesan rind in the soup – trust me!

Earlier in the week, hubby had a conference in San Francisco for the day and one of the executives at his company hosted a southern BBQ feast at their beautiful home in San Francisco. That morning hubby emailed me at work to let me know that the plans had now included spouses if they were able to attend. I am always up for an evening out in the city. Right after work, I jumped on BART and proceeded to walk ten blocks to meet hubby at the hotel where the conference was. We all jumped in his co-workers car and headed up the hill to the Pacific Heights neighborhood for the dinner party.


Dinner was catered from a southern BBQ joint and included all of the fixin’s with ribs, brisket, sausage, pulled pork, coleslaw, corn muffins and collard greens. Great wine was flowing that included great cabernet sauvignon from Dutcher Crossing in Alexander Valley and Hatcher from the Sierra Foothills. Both were simply divine. A big thank you to our lovely hosts!

Italian Sausage and Swiss Chard Soup

Serves 8

12 C. Chicken Stock
1 Lb. Mild Italian Sausages
2 (15 oz) Can Cannellini Beans
5 Large Stalks Rainbow Chard, chopped
1 Large Onion, fine dice
4 Garlic Cloves, peeled and minced
4 to 5 T. Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 C. Pearl Barley
2 Parmesan rinds

In a large stock pot, add the olive oil and diced onions over medium heat and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for two more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken stock and let come to a slight boil and then reduce to medium heat. Meanwhile, remove the casings from the sausage and cook in a large skillet until completely cooked and then crumble. Drain any extra fat by laying on paper towels and lightly squeeze until dry.

Add the cooked sausage, swiss chard, beans and pearl barley. In addition, add the parmesan rinds. The rinds add tremendous flavor and richness to the soup. Let cook for at least one hour to have the flavor develop.

Serve with finely chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy!



Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cara Cara Orange and Kale Salad



Do you ever have a salad that just leaves you speechless because it is so delicious? It is rare, but every once in a while it happens. The last encounter I had with this experience was at my book club a few weeks ago at Ellen’s house. I belong to a wonderful book club with eight other ladies who love reading great books and cooking.

We meet about every six weeks on average, sometimes a little longer or a little shorter. There is a rotation among the different houses along with each hostess presenting a masterpiece from their kitchen. You may think that a masterpiece is something that each person has spent hours slaving in the kitchen, but quite often that is not the case. Just like the saying goes – sometimes the simplest things in life are the best.



This stands true for our last meeting at Ellen’s house with the Kale Salad. Her daughter loves finding new food blogs that intrigue her. One of her favorites is – Spoon Fork Bacon from Jenny and Teri. (I have now added it to my favorites list.) She found a recipe for Blood Orange and Kale Salad which Ellen made for our book club dinner. Believe it or not, Kale has not been in my repertoire for cooking, but now it is definitely here to stay in my bag of tricks.
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With my mouth still watering and my mind reminiscing about this divine delight, I knew that I could not hold out much longer and had to make it pronto. I had picked up some lovely kale from the farmers market in the morning and set up to make this salad for lunch yesterday. Since blood oranges are next to impossible to find now, I opted for Cara Cara Oranges which have hints of cherry, rose petal and blackberry notes.
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Along with changing the varietals of oranges, I used manchego cheese, dry roasted and salted almonds and champagne vinegar. The combination of the earthy kale, crunchy and salty almonds, sweet oranges and tangy cheese was absolutely satisfying and not too mention the supreme vinaigrette.

Just in case you are wondering, we are now reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Differbaugh. Enjoy this salad and I promise you will make this over and over again.


Cara Cara Orange and Kale Salad

Serves 4
Adapted from here

Vinaigrette:

½ shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T. honey
1 t. Dijon mustard
3 T. champagne vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Pour and place all ingredients into a mason jar and shake well. Let sit at least one hour for flavors to develop.

Salad:

5 to 6 C. kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
3 Cara Cara oranges, cut in half and segments removed
½ C. Almonds, dry roasted and salted, rough chop
½ C. Manchego cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Add all of the salad ingredients to a large bowl and add half the vinaigrette and toss well. Taste and add more dressing if desired. If you like additional cheese or almonds, feel free to add those along with oranges. Enjoy!





Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dried Mission Fig and Oat Scones



Rise and shine. Not quite the words you may want to hear too early on a weekend morning, unless you are an early riser. However if you got wind of the scent of freshly baked scones whizzing past your nose, you might abound out of bed. I can guarantee that if you smelled these scones, you would get up even if you like to snooze until ten.



This is another great recipe from the maven herself – Martha Stewart. The February issue provided a section called – “From My Home to Yours” and it featured four recipes for scones along with tips to making the perfect scone. I did not have apples in my house, but did have dried mission figs, so I substituted and they turned out just perfect.  Found the dried mission figs at Trader Joe's and served with my homemade Balsamic Fig Jam.


Several years ago I enjoyed high tea with my hubby and parents at the Savoy in London. I was in love with the scones they served and it was hard to eat just one. They were light and flaky and of course buttery. With the lemon curd and homemade jam, I was in high tea heaven. Especially since we were in the heart of traditional tea land. I adore the formality of high tea and the traditionalism of the ritual.


Having thrown many tea parties from a bridal shower that included a high tea and croquet to simple tea with my hubby while enjoying little sandwiches and cookies, I am transported back to London every time. It is either to Brown’s Hotel or the Savoy.

These scones are perfect for a weekend morning where you want to take it easy and not be in a huge rush. They are very simple to make and you will not be able to eat just one – guaranteed!


Dried Mission Fig and Oat Scones

Slightly adapted from here

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 1/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, plus more for topping
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 ½ C. Dried Mission Figs, chopped small peices
2/3 cup cold buttermilk, plus more for brushing
Raw turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or rub in with your fingers. (The largest pieces should be the size of small peas.) With your fingertips, flatten butter pieces into small disks. Add dried figs and buttermilk, stirring until dough just comes together.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat dough into a 6-by-8-inch rectangle, and cut into twelve 2-by-2-inch squares with a floured knife. Place about 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush tops with buttermilk, and sprinkle with raw turbinado sugar and oats. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on sheets for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.



 
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