January 05, 2008

It's Not You, It's Me

That break was far more extended than I planned and/or intended. I'm leaving for France tomorrow, but will return with my foreign exchange thrills, spills and chills in a few weeks. Until then, dear reader. (Happy January!)

November 09, 2007


I found out this week that along with nine other folks, I am going to be a foreign exchange student for my school. For two weeks in January, I will be here <---. Apparently, we're not allowed to wear jeans or sneaks, but nevertheless, I've never been to France and am ridiculously excited. Anyone out there been to Bordeaux before? Where shall I go? What shall I do? Most importantly, what shall I eat and drink?

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November 04, 2007

Chocolate and Wine!

This weekend, M. Pants and I were gifted with tickets to the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center's Chocolate Divine Fundraiser by our mentor and her partner. We graciously accepted and spent Saturday evening eating more chocolate than I thought possible and sipping mostly local(-ish) wines. We had a fantastic time and while it was for a good cause, my favorite part was being able to get all gussied up for the event (I couldn't help myself from including the picture, we brought our camera but forgot to take any actual pictures of the event).

My favorite tastes came from Cindy Black, the pastry chef at the Wine Cask who helped me in my hour of need. She made a jaw-dropping chocolate macaroon with a rosemary-chocolate cookie and a cassis ganache filling. Totally unexpected flavors that melded really well together. She also had a chocolate covered foie gras bite over a cinnamon-dusted croissant. When I first read the sign, I thought, "Oh, how clever, "foie gras"." But it was the real deal, and I didn't catch on that it wasn't a gimmick until my second bite.

Some of the other bites we had:
-chocolate-lime cheesecake
-a waxy mole chocolate bite (not my favorite)
-but from the same chocolatier, a very tasty meyer lemon truffle
-some decadent chocolate cupcakes, black and tan, giandulia, and peanut butter ganache
-a lemon-thyme dark chocolate truffle. The thyme was overpowering to me and it was my least favorite of the evening but the booth won the "most creative" award.

October 21, 2007

Parsnips Anyone?

I just couldn't resist Garrett's and Cheryl's cupcake challenge. They are both master cupcake makers with delicious and original flavor combinations. This particular challenge involved turning traditional flavors on their head. I am a sucker for deconstructed/updated desserts so I wanted to come up with an idea post haste.

A's, my business partner/fake boyfriend, birthday was earlier this month and I wanted to bring a treat to school for his special day. On my home from work, I mentally reviewed what was in my larder and I hit upon the idea of a traditional carrot cake, but mine would be in cupcake form and with parsnips instead. Parsnips are one of my favorite veg and I indulge in them as often as I can during the fall. I tweaked a recipe I found online and while I had to make a lot of adjustments, because I wasn't as well-stocked as I thought, the final product turned out well. The birthday boy liked it and that's what really counts, right?

Parsnip-Apple Cupcakes, adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups finely grated peeled parsnips
1/4 cup grated apple

4 oz cream cheese, room temp
2 oz neufachatel cheese, room temp
1 TB butter, room temp
1/4 cup powdered sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon, and its juice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray cupcake tin with non-stick spray, or use liners. Mix together first 7 ingredients into a medium bowl. Beat together sugar, oil and eggs in a large bowl until well blended. Add dry ingredients to wet in 2 additions, beating until well blended after each addition. Mix in parsnips and apple. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full.

Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Turn cupcakes out onto racks and cool completely.

Using an electric mixer cream together cream cheese through lemon in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Decorate your cupcakes with frosting. I used a pastry bag without a tip to get the large concentric circles in the pic. Enjoy!

Makes 12 cupcakes

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October 15, 2007

Halfway There (almost)

I just started my eighth week school and realized that I haven't given a school update yet. And that's because school is utterly exhausting. I am taking 4 classes that meet once a week and then I am also in my indentured servitude class that meets everyday from 9-2.

In the "class" that meets everyday we rotate stations so the students can gain experience in all aspects of the gourmet restaurant and the cafe. Today, I started the grill at the cafe and cooked more burgers and fries than I ever have in my entire life. It was a big change from being a server at the less popular restaurant and then being on dish duty. I was have problems balancing everything but recently I've felt a little more on track, hence the update.

My favorite class by far is my wines class. The instructor is really passionate about the topic and its fun getting the dirt on the local wine scene. I'm looking and tasting things differently and drinking a bit more wine than usual. M. Pants is taking it with me and its fun sharing this with him. After class, we've gotten into the habit of picking up a bottle of whatever varietal we were tasting in class and comparing.

I'm sure that by the end of the term, I'll be more appreciative of what we're doing but right now, I'm too tired to think about it.


September 27, 2007

SHF #35: It's Fig-a-rific!

The most delicious fig I ever tasted was plucked from a neighborhood tree that we obsessively watch and whose fruit we gently squeeze every time we walk by. The fruit was a deep, deep purple and had a drop of figgy dew on its lips. Perfectly ripe, its sweetness melted onto my tongue, leaving behind the crunchy seeds. I believe that the fact that the fig was "borrowed" adds to its allure. The tree this fantastic piece of fruit came from grows on the side of an apartment complex and looks as if it just magically sprouted one day. During fig season we casually stroll a block up to check on the development of "our" figs. We've met a few neighbors too doing the same thing as us.

When I saw that SHF this month was all about figs, I got very excited. I am a recent convert to the Church of the Fig. I have also had my eye on this recipe for quite a while and am glad that this challenge was the kick in the pants I needed to finally make it. Of course, it comes from Claudia Flemming's inspirational book The Last Course. Unlike many other attempts, this recipe was too simple for me to screw up, nor did it involve every single piece of kitchen equipment I possess.

Dive in!

The result is a lovely puddle of golden green, accented by the dark purple of the figs. The creme fraiche center adds a welcome richness and a hint of tart so the sweetness of the melon and figs isn't overpowering. It's drop dead gorgeous too.

Chilled Honeydew Soup with Fresh Figs and Orange Blossom-Scented Creme Fraiche

1 small honeydew, about 2 lbs, or any other green melon, peeled, seeded and cubed
1/4 cup sugar
4 figs, cut into eighths
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 tsp orange blossom water

In a bowl, toss together the melon and sugar. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Puree melon. If you wish, you can strain for a smoother texture. Chill until very cold, about 3 hours.

In a bowl, whisk together the creme fraiche and orange blossom water until slightly thickened.

Divide soup into bowls. Drop a spoonful of creme fraiche into the center and garnish with fig wedges. Enjoy!

Serves 4

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September 02, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again...

School started on Monday and I've been readjusting from my life of leisure this summer to a 38 hour school week, and that is just the actual time that I need to be physically present. Things'll be pretty rocky for a while. Last year, I was crazy excited to be starting school again and more than a bit nervous too, to be honest. This year, I was dreading the start of school because of all of the energy that is required of me this semester. Deep breaths. Positive affirmations. Good thoughts.

I am looking forward to my early celebration Rosh Hashannah dinner next Saturday. Hopefully I'll be more balanced then and write a proper post. 'Til then.


August 14, 2007

My First Restaurant Review (Finally): Hungry Cat, Santa Barbara

Oh my goodness gracious. Fresh abalone with cucumber puree, pickled celery root and bitter greens.

After pondering what it is I like so much about Hungry Cat SB, it is this: every time I go there I get to try something entirely new. To me, that is saying a lot. HC does have a small menu, about 6 starters and the same number of entrees. They have an awesome kitchen crew there that works together very well in a *tiny* space and will recognize you after a few visits and introduce themselves while working the line expertly.

M. Pants and I have a lot of celebrations during the summer, both of our birthdays and our anniversary, so we've become somewhat regular at the HC. I've visited them 5 times now and each time I've had a different item off the menu and have been delighted with almost everything I've had or stolen off of my dining companions' plates. It is primarily a fish house, with just two items not including seafood, the burger and a noodle dish that changes often. All the fish I've tried are pristine and expertly prepared.

I love how their menu is constantly evolving and consistently contains surprises. The most recent time we were there the hamachi with plums, fresh hearts of palm and chili-ginger vinaigrette was perfectly balanced and the fish was close-my-eyes-in-ecstasy delicious. My first time there I ordered the noodle dish which came with morels and ramps (my first for both!). I was delighted by how many morels were included and by the unexpected addition of the gently garlicky ramps. The noodles had a great bite but the broth was a bit oversalted if eaten alone. The dish as a whole though came together well. I've noticed that the staff has a lighter hand with the salt lately after getting into the groove of the new place.

Their bar is equally awesome with a cucumber-Hendricks concoction and other summer-y cocktails. They infuse their own gin and vodka with the produce we regularly see them buying at the local Farmer's Market(double plus!). They decorate the copper bar with great big bowls of produce that are included in the drinks. Last time we were there, I ordered the sangria, made with rose like I do at home and topped with some prosecco to give it fizz. I was slightly disappointed that it didn't include the peaches and melons that lent their flavors to the drink, but it was tasty, nevertheless.

My quibbles are few. The place is small, and they fit in a lot of tables, which are almost always full. They don't take reservations, which is nice if you just want to pop in but not so nice if you want to be seated and have a nice meal (small space = no waiting area). It can get pretty loud in there, what with all the folks and the hard surfaces. Still, I love it! Since they've only been opened since mid-May, I'm really looking forward to see what fall and winter have to bring HC.

August 01, 2007

You Say It's Your Birthday...

Well, it's my birthday too!

Work today but then the charming and handsome M. Pants is taking me out to my new favorite restaurant (review pending) for a celebratory dinner. Hurray!

Hope your day is filled with sunshine and happiness!

July 24, 2007

One Good Way to Stay Cool

I know that people say each summer is hotter than the last but this time it's true! SB has been way hotter than I remember it with no cooling effects of fog for the most part. M. Pants thinks I'm crazy but that's par for the course around here.

When it gets like this, like many people, I don't want to go anywhere near a stove. I prefer great big salads or simple sandwiches. In the past, I wish that I liked gazpacho and other chilled soups but until now, I hadn't found one that I thought was substantial enough for a meal, despite my seriously reduced appetite.

We went a little crazy at the market and bought 6 ears of corn with the plan of making a Mexican-inspired corn-tomatillo soup but we must of been addled by the heat because it is way too hot for that right now. Instead, based on a little research from my monstrous list of recipes I want to try, we discovered a chilled corn soup from a back issue of Bon Appetit. With a few modifications, we had a nice cooling dinner aided by some sauvignon blanc.

Chilled Corn Soup with Serrano Chile-Cilantro Oil and Smoked Trout adapted from Bon Appetit

This soup is very well balanced (and pretty!). The sweetness of the tomato and corn is offset by the bursts of coarse sea salt sprinkled on at the last minute and the heat of the chile oil is tempered by the milk. The smokiness of the trout adds depth of flavor and nudges the soup into the light dinner category. This is meant to be a first course for four but we tuned it into dinner for two.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 serrano chiles
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
6 ears super-fresh corn, shucked
2 cups whole milk
a handful of tomatoes, diced, we used ones from our garden
3 oz smoked trout, in large flakes
coarse sea salt

In a blender or food processor, combine oil, chiles and cilantro and process until chilies and cilantro and chopped finely and suspended in the oil. Set aside for two hours to combine flavors.

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Prepare an ice bath. Add corn and cook just until done, about 2-3 minutes. I prefer my corn just barely on this side of cooked, so you might cook a wee bit longer. Remove corn from water and shock in ice bath to prevent further cooking.

When corn is cool enough to handle, carefully remove kernels with a sharp knife. Using the flat side of the knife and working over a bowl to catch the juices, run the knife down the length of the kernel-less cob, "milking" it of its remaining juices.

Measure out 6 1/2 cups of whole kernels and combine with milk in the blender. Blend well. Strain until all liquid is removed from kernel mush. At this point, you can discard the kernel bits to have a perfectly smooth soup, but we like our food with some texture, so we stirred about half of the bits back into the soup. Cover and chill.

After two hours, strain the oil of solids and set aside.

Plating: Carefully ladle soup into bowls. We had remaining whole kernels left. so we added them to the bowls and sprinkled the tomatoes over. Arrange fish in center and drizzle oil on soup. Right before serving, sprinkle with salt. Enjoy!

Serves 4 as a first course, or 2 as a light dinner

PS Have any suggestions for places to go wine tasting in SB county for my b'day?

PPS Does anyone know how to add accent marks and tildes to text? The bad grammar is grating.

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