Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grilled Portabello Mushroom Sandwich with Basil Mustard Sauce

This is a recipe from the spa cuisine collection of Guide to Day Spas and Stay Spas and was created in connection with the mustard festival held every year in Napa Valley.

The recipe is easy, fast, and rich -- it has an intense taste which is necessary when you are counting calories. As the recipe states, only a tiny bit of the sauce is needed or it's too rich. I used about a tablespoon on my sandwich and although it was delicious, it was too much and I scraped some off. The thin schmear was much better.

I like the idea of using small mushrooms and buns as "mushroom sliders" but for my version, I had a large portabello and a ciabatta roll, so I used those.

This is also an easy but thoughtful sandwich to make for vegetarians which will come in handy this holiday season when everyone else is eating leftover turkey sandwiches. Grill some mushrooms and set them aside for your vegetarian guests so you can make this for them day after Thanksgiving.

Get the entire recipe and tips by clicking the link above. This is my synopsis:

1 mushroom cap, brushed with garlic olive
1 bun, brushed with garlic olive
1 tablespoon of mayo
Splash of lemon juice
Dab of Dijon mustard
handful of chopped basil
salt, pepper, and cayenne

Grill bun and mushroom 4 min each side until cooked. Mix remaining ingredients, top bun with basil mustard sauce, and serve.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I went to Napa and what did I buy? Well, it wasn't wine ...

My boyfriend and I made an impromptu visit to Napa, Yountville, and St. Helena this weekend, and, I can't believe the highlight of my trip to Napa Valley wasn't the wine. It was two things, entirely different, and one of them involved a bathroom. Sorry, but I speak true.

I enjoy wine, but I'm not half the oenophile my boyfriend is (as further evidenced by the fact I had to check and make sure I was spelling oenophile correctly). For instance, it never occurs to me to open a bottle of wine at home. I live alone, and no matter how nice a meal I make for myself, the thought to open wine for myself with a meal doesn't even occur to me. Nor when I take a bubble bath or try to relax, as a matter of fact.

For that reason, at lunch he had wine, of course, but I ordered a Moscow Mule with my lunch and I make no apologies for it.

The weather was spectacular, the food was wonderful, the tourists were non-existent (except for us, of course) and we wandered about dining on wonderful meals, buying picnic treats from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery and Dean & Deluca, and then I saw it ... in the refrigerator case at Dean & Deluca ...

A tub of rendered Duck Fat.

"I've heard of that!" I exclaimed. "I heard roasted potatoes and fries in Duck Fat are out of this world."

My boyfriend and Michelle Obama share a trait: They've both said if they could get away with it, they would eat french fries every single day, maybe even at every meal. He loves them so. For me to exclaim that Duck Fat makes wonderful fried potatoes and is actually healthier than butter, made him give me the high sign and encourage me to buy it. He thought I was thinking only of him, but to heck with that. I want to try cooking with duck fat for me! Hoo yah! Duck Fat Fries and Moscow Mule? Mm mm.

I bought the tub of fat, brought it home, and began my Google Search. I found a thread on Chowhound which talks more about how to store it and make Duck Confit than anything else, and I found a post by Mark Bittman recommending I try it in my Buttermilk Biscuits (::Perk!::). Since I'm on a quest for Perfect Biscuits that tip will have to go into the rotation.

So, what say you all ... what do you do with your rendered duck fat that is out of this world? Roasted potatoes? Fries? Savory Collard Greens? I'm all ears and open to suggestions.

What we bought in Napa, while everyone else was buying wine (this is embarrassing):

From Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery

1) TKO's (Thomas Keller Oreos) (fantastic, swoon worthy, here's the recipe)
2) Pistachio Macaroons (too sweet)
3) Warm Brie Tomato Basil Sandwiches on Baquettes (excellent)

From Dean and Deluca Napa Valley

1) Rendered duck fat
2) Goat Cheese and Macaroni Mini Casserole
3) Roasted Chicken
4) Coconut Cupcakes (so damn good)
5) Alfajores
6) Old fashioned lemon mints; old fashioned spearmint gum
7) Beeswax hand creme
8) Apricot Morning Buns
9) Glazed Old Fashioned Donut
10) A small wire sieve I need when I'm roasting and sorting schezwan peppercorns.

From a collection of art galleries and shops:

1) A 3 strand necklace of seed pearls.

For lunch at Bardessono Hotel & Spa:

Heirloom tomato salad with basil oil and burrata cheese (oh my gosh...simplicity at its finest)
Marin Sun Farms Hamburger on Brioche with Aioli and Herb Fries
Oyster Po Boy

and the grand finale...

The bathroom at the Bardessono Hotel. My boyfriend said "You really must use the loo. You'll love it." I walked it...and just loved it. It's a mini spa all by itself. I won't regale you with the decor itself, which was lovely, but they have the Neo-Rest bidet system -- automatic toilets which gently lift the lid when the door opens and you walk in. The seats are heated. The controls on the wall let you take a nice little spa treatment right there, with warm water, mists, and a blow dryer with warm air for your nether regions. I so love a nice bidet system -- it's just so civilized, isn't it? I was in there a good long while testing out all of the various options and controls.

Way too much information, but I thought you really needed to know that the highlight of my trip to Napa Valley was a coconut cupcake, a Thomas Keller Oreo, a tub of duck fat -- and a wash and style for Miss Virginia.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Omnivore's 100 List

I'm passing on the Omnivore's 100 list which I found today at Ginny's "Just Get Floury" blog. I remember blogging something similar but this had more interesting items on it. Let me know in the comments if you elect to pass it on, I'd like to see what you guys think.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Head Cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bowl
33. Salted Lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a Fat Cigar
37. Clotted Cream Tea
38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whiskey from a bottle worth $120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (CLAY? Oh, gotcha)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang Souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom Yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. 3 Michelin Star Tasting Menu
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose Harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole Poblano
96. Bagel and Lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thomas Keller TKO Cookies

These cookies are sold at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California, and are so delicious, I'm surprised how simple they really are. The salty, sandy cookie is perfect on its own, if you don't want to bother with the white chocolate filling.

I only had one complaint about these cookies when purchased fresh from the bakery: They were too large -- about the size of an English Muffin! That actually makes them too sweet as they don't divide easily, so you're essentially eating three very sweet cookies in one. By making your own, you can select the size of your choosing.


1 1/2 cups plus 3 tbsp AP flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
15 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, at room temperature


1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped


For the Filling: In a small pan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then whisk to melt the chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, and let stand for at least 6 hours to thicken up.

For the Cookies: In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed. With the mixer running, add the butter, a piece at a time. The mixture will be dry and sandy at first, but over 2 minutes, will form pebble-sized pieces that start to cling together. Stop the mixer and transfer the dough to your board.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Separate dough into 2 pieces. Roll each piece of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper to 1/8" inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut into rounds. Scraps can be pieced together and rolled out again. Place 1/2" apart on baking sheets lined with Silpat liners or parchment paper.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. Remove and cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

To Assemble: Lightly whip the white chocolate cream to aerate and fluff up. Transfer filling to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" plain tip. Pipe about 1 1/2 tsp in the center of half the cookies. Top with another cookie to sandwich. Gently press down until the cream comes to the edges.

Cookies can be stored in a container for up to 3 days. Loosely cover.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mujudarra: Rice and Lentils

There is nothing "pretty" or food porny about Mujudarra, a Middle Eastern rice and lentil dish, but I do hope you'll try it anyway.

I've read numerous posts claiming it be one of the easiest, least expensive, common, humble and yet greatest side dishes ever, and you know what? That's not too far off the mark. I can't find anything negative to say about Mujudarra except that it's the ugly stepsister to a beautiful rice pilaf or cous cous dish. It doesn't make for a pretty presentation.

My version was so simple and fast because I took advantage of some staples from Trader Joe's which I'm never without: Frozen rice and Steamed Lentils. Those bags of frozen or jasmine rice are quite convenient, and while cooking lentils is not difficult, I really enjoy the lentils which are vacuum packaged after being steamed, fully cooked, imported from France. Delicious, and a fast protein source.

You will likely read the list of ingredients and wonder what all the fuss is about. I certainly did, but I'm telling you, all the bloggers are right: This dish is really perfect just as written. There is something wonderful which happens to these humble ingredients when you cook them together.


1 large onion (your favorite type)
2 cups of cooked rice (your favorite type)
2 cups of cooked lentils (your favorite type)
Olive Oil
Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Salt and Pepper
Plain Yogurt (optional)

Coat a very deep skillet with a good amount of olive oil. Thinly slice an onion and add to the oil, slowly sweating and caramelizing until it is very soft, and fully browned. Don't rush this step -- the darker and softer it is, the sweeter it will be -- a key component to this dish. To the oily skillet, add 2 cups of cooked lentils and stir together. Add 2 cups of rice and stir together very gently. Add salt and pepper to taste throughout the process. When thoroughly combined, slowly add chicken or vegetable stock (approx 1/4 to 1/2 cup) until the dish is moistened, but not soupy. Heat the dish through. Serve the mujudarra with a dollop of yogurt, which is traditional.

Notes: I used 1 package of Trader Joe's frozen Jasmin rice, and added it to the warm onions and lentils, stirring just until it was no longer frozen, and then added the stock. For the lentils, I used 1 package of Trader Joe's fully cooked imported French Steamed Lentils. The first night I tried it, I skipped the dollop of yogurt because I forgot about it, but I was so taken with just easting this warm and comforting side dish, that I didn't miss it. A few nights later when I was having leftovers, I remembered the yogurt and tried a dollop of Greek Yogurt. It does add a nice tangy sour cream quality, but I found it just as good without. I also thought it was just as good cold as hot, and as good on day 3 as day 1. I'll make this again, absolutely.

I've seen variations on the spelling of this dish, and even some calling for wheat bulgar instead of rice. This is an excellent side dish, and I hope you'll try it in this traditional method first, and then go search for the types with all sorts of add-ins (proteins, nuts, berries) which are probably very good as well.

Here are some related posts:

The post which got me thinking I had to make this dish:

I take it back about not being pretty. Desert Candy makes her look much nicer:

A version by Orangette, where she cooks the lentils and rice from scratch if you want to go that route:

Another version which suggests Mark Bittman has done it before, too!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Braised Pork Shoulder

There was a time I used to keep The Food Channel on my television for most of the weekend, during the day. I loved it so much, I'd also watch a few episodes more than once. Back then, Unwrapped was still fascinating, I wasn't yet sick of "BAM", and Anthony Bourdain was still on the line up.

Over time, I've become disheartened by how much the network has changed from a "Chef Based" cooking network to a "Food as Entertainment" network. The same tired things get shown over and over again, the great chefs are gone, and Unwrapped is a bore.

Little by little, I just stopped watching and it occurred to me, recently, that I bet I've only turned it on perhaps once or twice in the past year. In fact, the last thing I remember turning in to watch was the very first second (thanks Deb!) season of The Next Food TV Star and I remember wanting that sweet guy (Reggie?) from a Los Angeles Bakery to win, but he lost to Guy Fieri (who in retrospect, although I can't abide watching him gorge his face with food [honestly, must he use his mouth as a back-hoe?], was probably the better choice). How long ago was that, a couple of years at least?

So, it was surprising to me that I was channel surfing the other night and stopped to watch a young woman prepare a simple and inexpensive Braised Pork Shoulder, and I didn't turn the channel. That's very rare these days. It really did look very easy and tasty, and I thought to myself, as I watched "First, I'd like to make that this weekend, but Second, someone needs to show her how to properly use a knife. It's as if she's never learned." I had no idea who she was until I went online to download and prepare the recipe.

The coincidence is, that she is Melissa d'Arabian who apparently is the most recent winner of that same show -- The Next Food TV Star -- and she is not a chef, which explains her less than polished performance and lack of knife skills. The Braised Pork recipe has all five star reviews from the new fans of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners, so I made it and pronounce it excellent. So fast and easy, really economical without tasting like it, and it reminded me that having a cast iron dutch oven is such a good thing. I need to use it more often.

The complete recipe is here. I'd add less wine next time -- my red wine had too much personality. My progress photos are shown below:

Rough chopped celery, leeks, onion, carrots, and garlic cloves.

A pork shoulder, which cost only $4.85 for the entire package (several pounds), was cut into hunks, seasoned, and seared in a cast iron dutch iron. Mmmm, seared pork.

Those babies came out to rest after just getting browned on the outside. I picked all the crispy bits off and ate them. So good.

All but a few teaspoons of the pork fat was drained off, and I added the veggies until they were soft, and then added stocks, seasonings, bay leaf, etc., and brought to a boil.

The seared pork shoulder was nestled back down into the vegetable stock.

Three hours later, I had some beautiful braised pork shoulder and lots of stewed vegetables.

It was pull-apart with a fork tender. After we had pork shoulder and veggies, we pulled the rest of the pork into the shreds and kept that for sandwiches and other dishes. Excellent. Congrats, Melissa!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My favorite salad ever: Austrian Lentil Salad

I first tasted a version of this salad in 1990, when my boss's wife, who is from Vienna, Austria, brought a large container of her version to my wedding reception, because she said it's a traditional salad to serve at weddings and promises fertility.

She was pouting when no one ate the salad. I thought "What did she expect, she brought Lentils to my wedding reception!"
Fast forward nearly 20 years, and I had a chance to eat her salad again, and my tastes have matured to the point where I thought it was incredibly tasty. I became an instant convert. I updated and significantly improved upon her recipe (she only used 4 ingredients -- lentils boiled with bay leaf, a simple herbal mustard vinaigrette, and minced onion), and now, I am never without a container of this salad in my fridge. I make it every Sunday, and it lasts all week, holds up extremely well in lunches, and fortunately, did not make me fertile, which is a very good thing, because her recipe lasted longer than the marriage.

I don't know what makes a lentil dish "Austrian" but she claims it was a childhood dish she had many times in Vienna. My version is not likely Austrian, but is certainly inspired by hers.  I use Trader Joe's ingredients primarily, which included steamed and cooked lentils, but you can easily cook your own lentils and proceed with those after you've done so.


Base Salad

1 package of Trader Joe's Steamed Lentils (from the refrigerated section)
1 package of Trader Joe's Beluga Lentils (from the pasta section)
1/2 very finely diced red or white onion -or- 1 shaved shallot (shown in this version)
1-2 very finely chopped carrots
Snipped Italian Parsley
The zest of one lemon (use all the juice, below)
Zest an entire lemon into a large bowl. Add both packages of lentils, the diced carrots and onions, and the parsley. Toss all ingredients thoroughly and set aside.


The basic dressing is a lemon vinaigrette, but you should feel free to use your favorite oil & vinegar dressing, being certain to add the mucho lemon zest and lemon juice to it, to create the unique flavor. Here is my tried and true method:

1/2 cup of Trader Joe's Olive Oil
1/4 cup of Trader Joe's Seasoned Rice Vinegar (sometimes I use a bit of rice vinegar, and a bit of cider vinegar, when I want it tarter)
1 dollop of TJ's Dijon Mustard
The juice of 1 whole lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all in a blender cup to emulsify, and pour over the lentil salad. Toss thoroughly, adjust seasonings to taste, and serve chilled. This salad requires no cooking (unless you've cooked your own lentils) keeps in the fridge all week, and makes a wonderful, healthy, high protein, high fiber very satisfying lunch.

In fact, I'd never once thought I'd say this about a salad, especially one with lentils, but I'll stand in front of my open fridge door at night and eat this salad right from the container, with a spoon. If I worked at a TJ's, I would make this easy dish and demonstrate it, to convert people to the wonder of lemony lentils as a salad.

Personal note to my sister, Weezie: Aren't you proud of me?! I finally figured out a use for my obsessive acquisition of vinegar and oil even though I've always hated oil & vinegar dressing!