Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wine Time

The Boy and I took a very impromptu three day trip up to wine country this past holiday weekend.  We got incredibly lucky and found a great hotel in Rutherford last minute.  Many different, but amazing wineries were visited, and our bellies were stuffed with unbelievable food.  The weather was perfect and I couldn't be happier spending time away in wine country with the man that I love.

Here is a list of the wineries we went visited and highly recommend them:

We managed to score a reservation at Ad Hoc in Yountville and loved it.  If you are not familier with Ad Hoc, they create a new 4 course menu every night, for about $50 a person.  Here was our menu:

(1) Endive & Masche Salad - caramelized cauliflower, shaved celery, kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts, raisin caper vinaigrette
(2) Spiced Beef Hanger Steak - grilled pencil asparagus, white spring onions, espelette butter, crispy baked potato, bacon creme fraiche
(3) Central Coast Goat Gouda - fuji apples, wildflower honey, marcona almond butter
(4) Cinnamon Beignets - maple anglaise, chocolate and strawberry sauce

Lovely, perfect weekend.  If only all weekends were 3 days long and spent in Wine Country.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mandel Bread

Grandmothers make comfort food, period.  My grandmother, who I called "Grandmommy," was no exception.  She always made amazing food, I secretly hope that I got some of my culinary talent from her.  Along with her culinary abilities, she also was an amazing baker - I think that was passed on to my mother, and not me.  She would always have some sort of cake or cookie waiting for us when we came to visit her.  My favorite cookie was called "Mandel Bread." It is a cinnamon biscotti type cookie that is almost as addicting as a Dexter Episode (I would know).  From my mother, the story goes, Grandmommy got the recipe from Auntie Mil who was the sister of an Army Officer stationed with my Grandmother and my Grandfather on some base "out there."  No idea where "out there" is but I am in awe of all the men and women stationed abroad and I am eternally grateful for their service to keep me at home safe.

This cookie has been my favorite since as far back as I can remember (I'm assuming I was still in Pull-Ups but only my mother can verify this).  I brought this recipe to The District, where I went to college, and my roommates quickly learned how to survive on these cookies.  I would make double batches and store them in the freezer to see if they could last longer, but to no avail, would be gone in days.  These cookies have gotten my friends and me through sickness, breakups, midterms, lonely winters, arguments, and most importantly BIRTHDAYS!!!  They seriously cure everything. 

It was my old roommate, and great friend, Miss K's Birthday was this week and she requested Mandel Bread for her Birthday Dessert.  It was our go-to dessert anytime we were craving something sweet.  So Happy Birthday Miss K!  Glad to be celebrating this birthday with you!

Auntie Mils' Mandel Bread:


1 Cup Sugar
1/2 cup Crisco - I know, gross but necessary
2 eggs, well beaten
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped almonds (TJ's has slivered toasted almonds that work really well)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 cup of sugar
1 heaping tbsp. cinnamon or more

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.

In a mixer, cream the sugar and Crisco for 2 minutes.  Add the eggs and vanilla.

Sift a 1/2 cup of flower over the almonds and toss to coat.  Add to the sugar/egg/Crisco mixture.

Sift the rest of the dry ingredients.  Then add to the mixer and stir to combine until a soft dough forms.  PLEASE DON'T over mix, the dough will get tough.

Separate into three sections and make three long loaves into a lined cookie sheet, 2" wide and 3/4" high.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, should be slightly golden brown on the edges.

Take out of the oven and cut the loaf on a diagonal into 1/2 in slices, turn on it's side and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.

Put back into the oven for 5-10 minutes, until crispy.  Transfer to a cookie rack and let cool.  Consume, drink a glass of milk, wipe away crumbs, repeat.

Thank the lovely Miss K for this picture, she is a much better photographer than I am

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fresh Spring Rolls

This past weekend was an epic one.  We celebrated the boy's birthday outdoors at Fort Mason on Saturday, saw a friends band at Maggie McGarry's, and the boy's baseball game on Sunday.  We were exhausted, sun soaked and looking for something light and fresh for dinner.  I found some spring roll wrappers at a random grocery store and suggested we make Fresh Spring Rolls with Shrimp.  We had initially decided on doing a whole Vietnamese themed dish with some Coconut Curry Chicken but after we consumed 3 spring rolls each, we were equally stuffed and exhausted from this weekend.  We called an audible and decided to marinate the chicken overnight to cook the next day, hopefully the Chicken will be in another blog post - if it's good.

I made two different dipping sauces for these Spring Rolls.  I always love a peanuty one, but decided to make another one, more sweet fish sauce/soy type.

Fresh Spring Rolls:

6 sheets of circular rice paper
15-18 cooked shrimp, depending on how big the shrimp are, sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 cucumber, seeded, sliced julienne (thin strips)
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots (I got a bag of it at TJ's)
1 small yellow pepper, sliced julienne
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 hand full of rice noodles
1/4 cup mango, thinly sliced
hand full of mint leaves

Bring a kettle to boil.  In a heat proof dish, pour the boiled water over the rice noodles and let them cook.  It will take about 4-5 minutes.  Take them out of the hot water and put in a dish to cool.  In another circular dish large enough to hold the circular rice paper (I used a cake pan, but a pie plate works too), add some more of the hot water and let come to a temperature you can handle with bare hands.  Have a clean tea towel layed out and all of your other vegetables/fillings you would like to put in the roll.

Soak the rice paper in the hot water for 10 seconds, no more or it will get mush on you.  Take out the rice paper (it will still be a little firm) and place it on the towel.  Add all the fillers you want in the middle of the circle, and wrap like a burrito - the long side first, then the short sides and roll up as tight as possible.  (The boy will have you know that I am not the best wrapper/roller, all of mine weren't as tight as I wanted them, he is a much better roller than I am.)

Sweet Soy and Fish Dipping Sauce:

1/4 cup water
1/8 cup sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 knob of ginger, graded
1/4 tsp jalapeno, minced
1/2 a shallot, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

In a small sauce pan, heat up the water and sugar and let dissolve.  Add all the other ingredients and let come to a very small simmer.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour into a small bowl to serve for dipping.  Use that same saucepan to make the second sauce (no need to wash - I'm all about saving time and making the boy do the fewest amount of dishes).

Peanut Dipping Sauce:

1 tbsp curry paste (I used green)
1/3 cup peanut butter (I like Skippy Natural)
few splashes of soy sauce
few splashes of fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp coconut milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp freshly graded ginger
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/8 - 1/4 cup water or so to make the consistency

In that same sauce pan, heat up the curry paste for a minute.  Add the peanut butter and stir to combine.  Make sure the heat is on low at this point.  Add in everything else and whisk to combine.  You may need to add some more water to thin it out.  Pour into another small bowl to serve for dipping.