Saturday, June 30, 2012

Jill's Damn Good Bruschetta




Ingredients:

Bruschetta


  • 6 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 5-8 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped finely
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 baguette
  • olive oil
  • goat cheese
  • balsamic reduction sauce (optional)


Directions:

  1. Combine tomatoes, garlic, 1/4 c olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Cover and chill to marinate, 30-60 mins.
  2. Slice baguette into rounds and drizzle or brush olive oil onto both sides.
  3. Bake bread slices on baking sheet at 350 F for 3-5 mins per side, or until bread is golden-brown and slightly crispy (You can leave it in longer if you want the bread to be really crunchy and crouton-like).
  4. Spread goat cheese on each slice of bread and top with tomato mixture.
  5. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and enjoy!


Balsamic Reduction Sauce

All I can say is thank jeebus for Giada. I have no idea where I would be without some of her staple recipes.

This sauce is one I use on a lot of things. It's great on grilled vegetables, grilled fruits, steaks, chicken, bread, and pretty much all things. In fact, you'll probably find links to this recipe on a lot of my other recipes that call for it. So good it should be illegal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

Directions:

  1. Boil balsamic vinegar and sugar in heavy, non-reactive saucepan over medium heat until it has reduced to about 1/3 cup of liquid. This should take about 18 minutes. (Be VERY careful. Taste it every few minutes. Once it has reached a syrupy consistency, it's done. I have ruined this sauce a few times because I over reduced it and it turned into a burned-tasting, sticky mess that hardened as it hit a cold plate.)
  2. Drizzle and enjoy!

Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Cream Cheese and Almonds




(Photo Credit: Sam Levin)



I'm a pretty picky eater, especially when it comes to fruit. In fact, I don't generally like fruit at all (...with a mild childhood traumatic event to blame...).

Last April, Boyfriend took me to Laguna Beach for my birthday, and I had some pretty amazing food. Whenever we go somewhere outside of our ordinary lives, I do my very best to try new things, even if they don't initially sound that appetizing. We went to the K'ya Rooftop Lounge, which was literally on the rooftop of a hotel. They had runners that ran up and down the stairs from the kitchen to the lounge to transport food. It was crazy and amazing. (A picture of the view below!)



So, since I was trying to be adventurous, I decided to try their bacon-wrapped dates and I accidentally fell in love (Sorry, Boyfriend!).



Last week, we had our second Classy Bitches and Wine Night at the PuppyHaus (That's what we call our house!), so I decided to try to make these. Most of my friends were wary, but they were quite a success. They were completely gone within minutes.


Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Cream Cheese and Almonds

Ingredients


  • 18 dried dates, pitted
  • 6 pieces of bacon, cut into thirds
  • 4 oz cream cheese (room temperature is easiest to work with)
  • 18 dry roasted salted almonds
  • 18 toothpicks
  • Balsamic or red wine reduction sauce (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Using a piping bag (Or a ziplock!), pipe cream cheese into dates.
  3. Push one almond into each date (Some of the cheese may come out, but that's okay)
  4. wrap each date with a piece of bacon and stick a toothpick in each one.
  5. Bake dates in a shallow baking dish for 6 minutes, then flip them and bake them for 5 more minutes.
  6. Drizzle with sauce and enjoy!




Red Wine Reduction Sauce

Here's another easy sauce that goes well on all kinds of things! It's very similar to balsamic reduction sauce, but with a sweeter taste. It goes great on anything with bacon.



Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups red wine 
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

Directions:

  1. Boil wine and sugar in heavy, non-reactive saucepan over medium heat until it has reduced to about 1/3 cup of liquid. This should take about 18 minutes. (Be VERY careful. Taste it every few minutes. Once it has reached a syrupy consistency, it's done. I have ruined this sauce a few times because I over reduced it and it turned into a burned-tasting, sticky mess that hardened as it hit a cold plate.)
  2. Drizzle and enjoy!

Spicy Rubbed Chicken Breast with Beurre Blanc Over Linguine





I have searched the internet over for a good beurre blanc sauce recipe. Last summer, I had chicken with beurre blanc at a restaurant and fell in love. It has a tangy, buttery goodness to it that just personifies good french cooking. 

Until I found the right recipe, every time I'd tried to make beurre blanc, a French wine/butter sauce, I failed miserably and the sauce separated. (I found that the secret is having cold butter and whisking it constantly!)

I found the best and easiest recipe for beurre blanc on a blog called Busy Nothings, and actually ended up using the entire recipe, which included chicken and pasta. I think this may be one of my favorite dinners. The beurre blanc balances out the spiciness of the rub on the chicken and elevates the pasta dish to an entirely new level. It almost has a cajun flavor to it. (And I bet it'd be really great with a good piece of fish, too!)



Beurre Blanc, based on a recipe by Alton Brown

 Ingredients:
1/4 cup yellow onion, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup white wine, like a sauvignon blanc
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 T heavy cream
12 T butter, cold and cut into 12 pieces
Salt and white pepper to taste

Directions:  
Combine the onions, garlic, white wine, and lemon juice in a non-reactive saucepan over high heat and reduce to 2 tablespoons. Add the cream to the reduction.  Once the liquid bubbles, reduce the heat to low.  Add the butter, one cube at a time, whisking first on the heat and then off the heat.  Continue whisking butter into the reduction until the mixture is fully emulsified and has reached a rich sauce consistency.  Season with salt and white pepper.  Serve.
Spicy Rubbed Chicken with Beurre Blanc over Linguine
(Serves 4)

Ingredients: 
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup spice mixture (don’t measure, just toss together salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and paprika)
1 lb dried linguine
Buerre Blanc, recipe above

Directions:  
Rub chicken breasts generously with spice mixture.  Place in the refrigerator while you preheat the grill (or let them sit for about 45 mintues before cooking them in a pan with a bit of oil).  Meanwhile, heat a large pot of boiling, salted water for the pasta.  Grill chicken until cooked all the way through and then slice into strips.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Divide the pasta amongst 4 plates and place a small amount of beurre blanc on the pasta.  Place the chicken from one breast atop each plate and then top each breast with more beurre blanc.  Garnish with some parsley and serve immediately. 

Beurre Blanc Sauce





Beurre Blanc, based on a recipe by Alton Brown

 Ingredients:
1/4 cup yellow onion, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup white wine, like a sauvignon blanc
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 T heavy cream
12 T butter, cold and cut into 12 pieces
Salt and white pepper to taste

Directions:  
Combine the onions, garlic, white wine, and lemon juice in a non-reactive saucepan over high heat and reduce to 2 tablespoons. Add the cream to the reduction.  Once the liquid bubbles, reduce the heat to low.  Add the butter, one cube at a time, whisking first on the heat and then off the heat.  Continue whisking butter into the reduction until the mixture is fully emulsified and has reached a rich sauce consistency.  Season with salt and white pepper.  Serve.

Norcal Anniversary Trip Part 5

We left early Saturday morning to head home.


We took Toby to one last beach to get some energy out before our long drive, and then we strapped him back into his little doggie car seat and shipped out.











It was bittersweet, of course. I could have stayed a few more days, but I was also exhausted and the thought of my own bed was making me drool.


On the way down, we stopped in San Luis Obispo for lunch. I decided to take a break from my smartphone, and we just parked and stopped at the first place we found, which was a little sandwich shop called Sal's Sandwiches and Beer. This place was pretty much the sandwich mecca of central California. The sandwich selections were extremely unique, the beer selection was wonderful, and they even give you a blow pop with your sandwich. How cool is that?


The sandwiches were huge, so Boyfriend and I shared one. There were a lot of interesting choices, like "The Ugly Sweater," and "The Uncle Andre." After a long, difficult process of decision making, we got one called "The Taggart Boy," which was  "Sliced steak, jalapeno poppers, provolone, lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, garlic aioli on sourdough roll." It was so freakin' good, especially with a good bottled local beer. All I can say is, Mr. Sal, you have something wonderful and magical in this sandwich shop of yours, and you need to keep it up....forever.









On our way out, my cupcake dreams finally came true! Nestled inside a Cold Stone Creamery franchise is a little cupcake shop called On A Lark Cupcakes, which we were told was the ice cream shop's side project. I got a raspberry cheesecake cupcake, a cookies n' cream cupcake, and a salted caramel cupcake. We ate them intermittently on the drive home, finishing the salted caramel one around 5PM, when we finally made it back home. The raspberry cheesecake cupcake was by far the best, but all three were decadent, rich, fluffy, and moist. A perfect ending to a perfect trip.





Norcal Anniversary Trip Part 4

Our last stop on our adventure was Cambria, CA, where we had another hotel reservation, a tour of Hearst Castle, and a fancy dinner planned.


Our next check-in time wasn't until 3PM, so we had some time to kill.


We had two more breakfast vouchers, and although we could have gone to one of three places in the area, we opted for Frankie and Lola's again, since it was so good the first time. This time, I got a Sasquatch sandwich, which was "two eggs broken, served on grilled sourdough with herbed cream cheese, ortega, sausage, and caramelized onions," and boyfriend got the Andouille and Prawn, "Andouille sausage sauteed with large prawns the holy trinity and asparagus tips.  Folded into lovely eggs and topped with tangy hollandaise." Both were definitely not disappointing and Toby, who was able to sit out on the patio with us, thoroughly enjoyed his table scraps.


We took a walk on the bay itself and checked out a few shops, and boyfriend really, really wanted to see the Morro Bay rock up close, so we drove over there, too. I had decided that I wanted a really good cupcake, so we did some research and found a bakery on the bay with really good reviews, called Suns N' Buns. Now the cupcake I got certainly wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything special. In fact, they didn't have much that was unique at all. A bit of a bust, but I'm sure it's better if you aren't a picky foodie baker! =P






On our way up to our next hotel in Cambria, we still had a little time, so we did a little aimless driving around the neighborhoods and came across Lampton Cliffs County Park on accident. I had been wanting to see some tide pools so badly, but it was looking like we didn't have time. And you now what? Lampton cliffs has tide pools. And it was low tide! Unfortunately, there wasn't much in the way of sea life, except for some little crabs, but it was still super cool! Toby had never seen anything like it, and was jumping from rock to rock and swimming in ocean pools and scaring the crap out of me the whole time, since I know how excited and reckless he can get. We spent some time just climbing the rocks and checking stuff out before we headed out.
































Our last night was spent in a motel in San Simeon called the Silver Surf Motel. It was definitely not as nice as the Beach Bungalow in Morro Bay, but it was nice for a motel and it was dog friendly and cheap. We paid $66, plus a $15 pet fee for the night. The motel had a huge grassy field in the center, which Toby loved running around, in addition to a pool and a sun deck (Which, unfortunately, we didn't have time for!). It was also located right across the highway from the beach. The woman at the front desk was super nice, and overall it was pretty legit for a motel.


We spent a little time in the room before heading to our tour of Hearst Castle at 4PM. We had to doggie drug Toby so he wouldn't get to antsy in the room by himself for a while, and he fell asleep pretty immediately. I drank a little before we left, and we headed out. We got to Hearst about 3:45PM, and we were both starving. Luckily there was a little restaurant with Hearst Ranch beef burgers!! I was so excited to give them a second try!!






Again, I was slightly disappointed in the overcooking of such a sacred meat, especially with the fact that were were so close to the ranch for which the beef is named. Oh, well. I was a little drunk and really hungry, so it hit the spot just fine.


We were ushered onto a bus that took us up through the hills to the expansive castle. We rode through fields where zebras (Left over ancestors from William Hearst's on-site zoo) are rumored to be, and saw herds of European white fallow deer still roaming the hills that were once populated with a number of exotic animals. The bus ride itself was cool on its own.

















When we got to the top, we followed our tour guide around the premises. There are a number of tours to choose from, since the property is so large. We took the Upstairs Suites Museum Tour.







































Of course the tour was really cool and really interesting....but remember how I mentioned having had a few drinks before we left?


Yeah.


Well, those drinks caught up with me during the tour. I have never had to pee so badly in my life. My vision was blurry, my legs were shaking, I could hardly hear or stand. But, dammnit, I was determined to finish the tour. By the end of it, I was literally tripping to the bathroom (which, of course, was ridiculously far!). I had been holding it for so long that once I actually sat down, my body wouldn't let me pee. My pee muscles were frozen in the position I had been holding them in for over an hour. And when they finally released, I swear I almost cried it felt so awesome.


TMI? Sorry, these are details I want to remember someday!


Anyway, when the tour was over, we were allowed to explore the outside grounds, which we took full advantage of. And damn does that place make me feel like a peasant from the middle ages. So cool, though. I definitely want to go on the rest of the tours someday.


After Hearst, we went back to the room and got ready for our fancy dinner. I had done some research and made reservations at Black Cat Bistro. this place has bomb reviews and the food selection looked amazing, so I had been waiting for this dinner all week and was super excited for it.


The restaurant itself is situated on the main strip in Cambria, in a little place that looks like it was formerly a home. It definitely has a romantic vibe, and man was it packed. 


We started off the meal with some bread and rosemary butter. We also ordered stuffed green olives and a cheese plate. In addition, we got the beer that the menu suggested to pair for the cheese plate and the wine that was suggested to pair with the olives. The olives were good, but nothing special. The cheese plate was heavenly. I was so excited while I was eating and pairing it with the beer that I was almost crying. The pairing was nothing short of magical. The plate had a soft cheese, a rosemary biscotti, a tomato jam, and some spiced nuts. Trying different combinations of these things with the beer was literally making me tear up. It was probably the most exciting and exceptional cheese plate pairing I have ever had.



















For dinner, we shared the Chipotle Shrimp Fettuccini and the Pan Roasted Maple Leaf Duck Breast, both of which were truly unique and delicious. I wanted to try a dessert, but I was way too full.



When we left, I was completely satisfied. It's really sad how happy good food makes me. 


After dinner, we went back to the motel and our drugged up little pup. We stayed up for a while, walking around the hotel grounds and hanging out before watching a little tv and heading to bed to get some rest for our long drive home.



Friday, June 29, 2012

Norcal Anniversary Trip Part 3

The morning after our first night, Boyfriend and I decided to get up early and head up the coast to do some exploring.


We used our breakfast vouchers from the Beach Bungalow at one of the designated restaurants, Frankie and Lola's. I'm not really that much of a breakfast food person, but it was free, so I was down for it.


Boyfriend got an omelet called the "Nom-Nom" (Awesome name, right!?), which had cheddar cheese, ortega chili, crimini mushrooms and sausage served with black chili salsa, while I decided to try their "famous" French Toast Brûlée Souffle Flambe. Frankie and Lola's describes this french toast as French bread soaked in crème Brulée, baked in the oven(soufflé) and topped with a caramelized praline topping(flambé), and let me tell you, it was damn good. It was served in a ramekin and was kind of like a bread pudding. It was freakin' wonderful.


After breakfast, we packed up the beast and drove all the way up to Big Sur National Park, which took us about an hour and a half with all of the construction they're doing on the 1. Boyfriend had bought a book with Big Sur hiking trails in it, so we picked a few and decided to try them out as we made our way back down to Morro Bay. 


Here are a few of the places that we visited:


1. Pfeiffer Beach: If you get a chance to go here, do it. Pfeiffer beach was probably one of my favorite places we visited. The road, Sycamore Canyon, to the beach itself is unmarked, but you can find it if you drive south a half mile past the Big Sur State Park Ranger Station. It's a little road off to the right side. If you follow this little windy road down, you'll see a big sign for the beach and eventually you'll be led to a parking lot with bathrooms, where you'll pay $5. From there, you'll take a little trail to the beach. This was probably one of the coolest, most picturesque beaches I've ever seen. 


















2. Big Sur Gorge Trail: Our next stop was not far up the 1, inside the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Heading north past the road for Pfeiffer Beach, you'll turn right into the Park itself, marked clearly with big signs. There is an $8 parking fee. You'll follow a little dirt path along the edge of the water. It's absolutely beautiful. Technically, dogs aren't allowed on the trail, but it was the middle of the week and no one was around, so we sort of snuck Toby in. And although I may be too chicken to do it again, I'm really glad we did bring him. He had a blast in the water!





















So Toby thinks he can rock climb, and then gets himself stuck in compromising positions. Good thing Boyfriend was there to help him down, or he would have jumped down to the rocks.













3. McWay Falls: McWay Falls is one of the most recognized images of Big Sur. It is a waterfall that is created where McWay creek falls into the ocean. SIgns for the falls are clearly marked, and you can either Park in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and pay a parking fee, or you can Park along side the road for free and get to the trail that way. We opted to park in the lot so we could take a longer hike (The parking lot is on the inlaid side of the 1, so to get to the falls, you have to cross under the Highway via a tunnel. We ended up not having to pay since someone leaving gave us their day pass on their way out!) Once you get through the tunnel under the Highway, there is a clearly marked fenced trail that you can follow to see the falls. Unfortunately, you can't actually go down to the falls, but it's still a pretty sweet view from above. If you follow the trail around, there are more spectacular ocean views and the foundation of a house that once overlooked the falls. This was probably the most tourist-y hike we took, but it was truly amazing to see in person.





















4. Big Sur Taphouse: Ah, the Big Sur Taphouse. The place were Boyfriend and I got stranded for four hours waiting for a tow truck last March. Not only is it a really cool place with a chill vibe, but it definitely has some sentimental value to it now. This place has an amazing beer and wine selection and some pretty damn good food pairings. The guy that I'm assuming runs it has been there both times, and it's really clear that he puts a lot of thought and passion into the selection of food and drinks that the establishment offers. He suggested some really unique and really awesome beers both times we visited, one of which was the rare Firestone Wookey Jack, an American Black Ale that had Boyfriend so excited that he bought some to take home. We also ordered bruschetta and a ruben sandwich to tide us over until dinner. This is one place that I really, really wish we had here in SoCal. This will definitely be a regular stop whenever we head up the coast.












5. Limekiln Waterfall Trail: Heading south down the 1, you'll hit Limekiln State Park on the lefthand side. Enter the park, pay a $10 parking fee, and park in the little lot directly in front of the pay station, in front of the bathrooms. The trailhead is directly to the left of the bathrooms. This was another trail that wasn't dog friendly, but we brought Toby anyway. Of course he had a blast, but we definitely saw why it wasn't a dog friendly trail. The hiking book we got was published a few years before the fires in 2008. The book said nothing about the destruction of the trail. It wasn't exactly an advanced hike, but it was certainly more difficult than we expected. You can see remnants of the original trail (railings and bridges and side supports that were burned and destroyed), but the trail now is pretty rugged and challenging. There are a lot of makeshift creek crossings that I had a hard time with since my balance isn't so great, and we had to climb through and under a few fallen trees, but it was totally amazing once we got to the end. Boyfriend ended up climbing the rocks up the falls (And Toby tried to follow!). This was probably my favorite hike. There was just enough of a challenge to make it really rewarding.



















6. Limekiln Beach: If you head back to the parking lot of Limekiln State Park and follow the lot to the huge bridge of Highway 1, you'll see the beach. It was pretty cool and there were lots of nearby campsites. We decided to make this our last stop since we had an hour of driving to get back to our hotel, it was the end of the day, and we were exhausted. And Toby and Boyfriend got a little more water play time in before we headed back down the coast.












By the end of the day, Boyfriend, Toby and I were so exhausted that we couldn't even bring ourselves to get real food. We ended up driving through a Morro Bay McDonald's and bringing it back to the hotel. We spent the rest of our night drinking beer, watching movies, and spending some quality time together in our awesome room at the Beach Bungalow