Friday, April 29, 2011

Spinach Bread Pudding with Lemon and Feta

Spinach Bread Pudding with Lemon and Feta

This bread pudding was my savory contribution to our Easter potluck (as well as the amazing bacon chutney from Cast Iron Gourmet). I've never made bread pudding before and when I found this recipe, I couldn't help but be intrigued. The top gets nice and crispy while the bottom is custardy and light giving this a nice combination of textures. Lemon and fresh oregano brighten up the dish and feta gives it a nice tang. The best part about this pudding is that it can be assembled the night before and baked off right before you serve it. I will definitely be making this again and again.

Spinach Bread Pudding with Lemon and Feta
(Adapted from Super Natural Every Day)

Makes 8+ servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces whole wheat bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 ounces baby spinach, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, divided
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 large eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread cubes onto a baking sheet. Drizzle the bread cubes with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season lightly with salt. Bake until lightly browned. Set aside to cool. Transfer the bread to a large bowl. Stir in the spinach and 1/4 cup of the feta.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the mustard, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Add the eggs and beat until blended. Add the milk and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the bread and spinach mixture. Use your hands and toss well to combine.

Transfer the bread mixture to a baking dish or two and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours. Alternately, you can refrigerate the mixture over night.

Sprinkle the remaining feta on the bread pudding and bake in the center of the oven until risen and set, 30-40 minutes. Scatter the oregano on top. Cut into squares and serve.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins with Streusel Topping

Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins

Like so many years past, I had a wonderful Easter potluck with friends. I made a couple of things, but these muffins seemed to be the hit. I had the idea to make these a while back with pumpkin, but California strawberries are reaching their peak season and I have so many ideas of what to cook with them. The strawberries help keep the muffins light and the cheesecake and streusel add a touch of decadence. These are amazing right out of the oven, but keep well overnight.

Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins with Streusel Topping

Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins with Streusel Topping
(By Esi)

Makes 12 muffins

Cheesecake Layer:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
Scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon flour
1 large egg, at room temperature

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Using a handheld mixer, beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Streusel topping:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter melted and cooled
Dash cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl using a fork. Set aside.

Strawberry muffins:
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
1 pint strawberries, washed hulled, and pulsed in a small food processor until finely chopped (it is ok if some chunks remain)
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 scant cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking power
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray a muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the butter, strawberries, egg, and lemon zest. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl.

Gently stir the strawberry mixture in to the flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Spoon 1/4 cup of the muffin mixture into each muffin tin. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the cheesecake mixture over the top of the muffin batter. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the remaining muffin batter over the cheesecake layer. Top each muffin with a few of the streusel crumbs.

Bakes 20-25 minutes until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center muffin comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. then turn the muffins out onto a cooling rack. Let the muffins cool for abut 10 minutes or until cool.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Bacon Quinoa with Almonds and Herbs

Bacon Quinoa with Almonds and Herbs

Don't tell Diana, but I'm not as in love with quinoa as I used to be. When the superfood first came into my radar, I put it in everything from salads to muffins to bread. I rarely seek out new quinoa recipes now, but once in a while something pops up that I can't resist trying.

Bacon Quinoa with Almonds and Herbs

I don't remember exactly how I came across this recipe, but I'm so glad I made it. Defiling the healthiness of quinoa with bacon feels naughty and so fun. I wanted to make this more spring like so I added roasted asparagus, Meyer lemon zest, and sun-dried tomatoes. It was a great experiment that really played off. I loved all of the spring flavors especially that bright lemon zest. The toasted almonds give this great crunch and the tomatoes provide a nice balanced sweetness. The original recipe says this is a great side dish and you can punch it up with roasted chicken or a poached egg which I decided to try. This would be an excellent addition to any brunch menu.

Bacon Quinoa with Almonds and Herbs

Bacon Quinoa with Almonds and Herbs
(Adapted from Food & Wine, November 2009)

Makes 4 servings

1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 small shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 sage sprig
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the asparagus evenly over the pan. Toss the asparagus with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus for 10 minutes until browned and the tips are slightly crispy. Let cool for about 5 minutes. Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan.

Add the shallot and garlic to the pan and cook for 1 minute until the garlic is fragrant and the shallot has softened. Add the quinoa, chicken stock and sage to the pan. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer over low heat. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until the stock is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat and let the quinoa sit, covered, for 5 minutes.

Discard the sage and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Stir in the chives, parsley, almonds, asparagus, sun dried tomatoes, bacon, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature with a poached egg if desired.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brunch at Vu

I'm the kind of Angeleno that hates to drive. I work in West Hollywood, and live in Hollywood. If you need me to go further, it has to be good. This past weekend I ventured out to the beach cities not once, but twice. It was a miracle, but also necessary because of the heat. I braved insane traffic on Saturday for brunch at Vu, a new-ish restaurant in Marina Del Rey with a fun, seasonal menu and a beautiful view.

View from Vu

To calm my nerves at being a half hour late (traffic!), I started with a mimosa (not pictured) . It was exactly what I needed. Vu has an interesting cocktail menu, so even though I'm not a big hard alcohol drinker, I couldn't resist trying a sip or two. The bellini was a little too sweet for me, but the mojito was perfectly refreshing. Beer after Branca with Fernet and Ginger beer was meant to be drunk in a single shot, but I didn't mind sipping each slowly.


310 Mojito

Beer after Branca

We did have food to go with all of those cocktails. The table shared plates of fruit with Greek yogurt and an assortment of savory breads with herb compound butters. Unfortunately, the butter melted pretty quickly in the sun so no photos of it.

Fruit Plate with Greek Yogurt at Vu

Bread Platter at Vu

Considering that chef Kyle Schutte is known for his molecular gastronomy (he worked under Richard Blais), the brunch menu is surprisingly devoid of any complicated techniques. Saturday was National Eggs Benedict day and while I always prefer a savory breakfast, I opted to have my eggs prepared a different way. I ordered the lobster omelet which came filled with asparagus, shaved fennel, lobster, and pork belly and topped with a pommery hollandaise and a few more pieces of pork belly. I would have preferred larger chunks of lobster, but overall, this was a great spring dish. I am picky about potatoes, but I really enjoyed the home fries as they were very light and crispy.

Lobster Omelette at Vu

The chef did a version of the Hawaiian benedict with asparagus instead of Spam on sweet Hawaiian rolls for one of our vegetarian diners. It looked so perfect, I just had to capture it.

Vegetarian Eggs Benedict at Vu

By this point I was pretty full, but we couldn't pass up dessert. This is the area of the menu where the molecular gastronomy really comes into play. Buttermilk panna cotta with liquid nitrogen coca cola and carbonated blackberries sounded interesting, but unfortunately the texture of the panna cotta was too firm and the liquid nitrogen coca cola didn't have much flavor.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta at Vu

Pineapple carpaccio with caramelized brioche, mint pearls, and coconut air was also not as good as I wanted it to be. The brioche was slightly bitter and the mint pearls were also lacking in flavor. I probably would have liked it more if the pineapple was on it's own.

Pineapple Carpaccio

Things turned around with the house made ice creams.

House Made Ice Cream at Vu

And the french toast with maple syrup ice cream, strawberry jam, and strawberry-thyme relish.

French Toast at Vu

The apple tart with cherry ice cream and powdered tarragon (not pictured) was excellent, but I could have done without the powdered tarragon as once again, I didn't feel it added much to the dish. My absolute favorite dessert was the white chocolate polenta with frosted flakes and chambord-flambeed berries. I couldn't get enough of it and probably ate more of it than anyone else at the table. The polenta was crisp on the outside and lightly sweet and creamy on the inside. The berries were a perfect dipping vehicle.

Dessert Polenta

Vu is a beautiful restaurant in a picturesque setting. It was definitely a nice way to spend my morning having a slightly boozy brunch while cooling down at the beach.

*All food and drinks were comped. Opinions are my own

Vu Restaurant
14160 Palawan Way
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 439-3033

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Cucumber Cocktails

Cucumber Mint Lemonade

The spring weather here has been all over the place. One day it's raining and the next day it's 90 degrees. This past weekend brought one of those 90 degree days. I do not do well in the heat. I needed to cool down ASAP. I am currently obsessed with cucumbers. I slice them into thin discs and snack on them like chips. I put lemons and cucumbers into my Brita filter and call it spa water. I can't get enough of cucumbers. Remembering my refreshing signature cocktail from last summer, I decided to make a cooling drink featuring my current favorite treat. I love herby notes in my cocktails and more tart drinks so these are perfect for me. These are delicious with and without the alcohol so feel free to enjoy them either way.

Cucumber Basil Limeade

Cucumber Mint Lemonade
(By Esi)

1 1/2 cups cucumber juice (recipe follows)
6 tablespoons mint simple syrup (recipe follows)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sparkling water
Lemons, cucumber, and mint for garnish if desired

Mix the cucumber juice, simple syrup, and lemon juice together in a pitcher. Fill a glass with a few cubes of ice. Add 1/4 cup of the cucumber/lemon mixture, 1/4 cup of sparkling water, and 2 tablespoons of vodka. Stir to combine and serve immediately.

Cucumber juice
(By Esi)

Makes 3 cups

4 English cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped.

Blend the cucumbers in a blender or food processor until liquefied. Set a strainer over a bowl and strain the juice, making sure to squeeze the extra juice from the pulp. Set aside.

Mint Simple Syrup
(By Esi)

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 springs mint

In a small saucepan, heat the water, sugar, and mint over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator. Once the mixture has cooled, discard the mint.

Basil Simple Syrup
(By Esi)

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
4 large basil leaves

In a small saucepan, heat the water, sugar, and basil over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator. Once the mixture has cooled, discard the basil.

Cucumber Basil Limeade
(By Esi)

1 1/2 cups cucumber juice
7 tablespoons basil simple syrup
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Sparkling water
Limes, cucumber, and basil for garnish if desired

Mix the cucumber juice, simple syrup, and lime juice together in a pitcher. Fill a glass with a few cubes of ice. Add 1/4 cup of the cucumber/lime mixture, 1/4 cup of sparkling water, and 2 tablespoons of vodka. Stir to combine and serve immediately.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mediterranean-Style Turkey Wrap

Mediterranean-Style Turkey Wrap

This has become my go-to dinner of late since I'm not a big fan of cooking when I get home from work. It's a simple, fast, and flavorful meal and the prep can be done ahead of time to make it even faster. This can easily be changed up using different hummus flavors and vegetables. I really like the version with spicy hummus. I encourage you to have fun with it!

Mediterranean-Style Turkey Wrap

Mediterranean-Style Turkey Wrap
(By Esi)

Makes 1 wrap

1 whole wheat tortilla
2 tablespoons roasted garlic hummus
2 ounces thinly sliced turkey breast
Small handful baby spinach leaves
1 small roma tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sliced black olives
1 teaspoon crumbled feta
8 thin slices of cucumber
2 pepperocinis, thinly sliced (optional)

Spread the hummus over the tortilla. Layer the turkey over the hummus and top with the remaining ingredients. Roll and serve.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Roasted Chicken

Roasted Chicken

A couple of weeks ago I became obsessed with the idea of roasting a chicken. I'm not really sure why, but it was all I could think about. I've done baby chickens before, but an entire chicken was a new thing for me. I have a small oven and a big cast iron skillet. I used this tutorial at The Kitchn as my guide. I now want to roast a chicken every week. It makes enough food so that I have my work week lunches covered and leftovers for dinner if I desire. The chicken comes out moist, tender, and juicy. These are not normally words I like to use in describing food, but that is exactly how it is. I've been enjoying my chicken with brown rice, a heap of spinach and a bit of gravy made from the pan juices. Simple and wonderful.

Pan lined with onions
Line the pan with vegetables

Rinsed and patted dry
Chicken is rinsed and patted dry

Seasonings are ready

Chicken Ready to go in the Oven
Ready to go in the oven

Roasted Chicken
(From The Kitchn)

1 chicken (3-4 pounds) rinsed and patted dry inside and out
3 onions, sliced into wedges (you can also add celery, carrots, potatoes, or fennel)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, halved
1 bulb of garlic, separated into cloves
Fresh herbs if desired

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Line the bottom of the pan with onions or whatever vegetables you prefer to use.

Mix the salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Coat the chicken with a thin layer of olive oil making sure to massage it all over. Rub the salt and pepper mixture all over the chicken and inside the cavity. Fill the cavity with the lemons, garlic, and herbs if using. Transfer the chicken to the pan with the onions.Put the chicken in the oven and lower the temperature to 400 degrees. Roast for one hour.

Insert an instant read thermometer into the meatiest part of the thigh. If the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees, the chicken is done. If not, roast the chicken for 5-10 more minutes until the internal temperature is 165 degrees.

Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving. If desired, make a pan gravy by whisking 1 tablespoon of flour into the pan juices and cooking until thickened. Serve with salad, rice, or whatever you desire.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thin Mint Brownies

Thin Mint Brownies

I've mentioned my pal Mary many times on this blog. She's the generous giver of many Meyer lemons and a baker extraordinaire. She has so many delicious treats on her blog, it's hard to choose just one.I recently decided to clear my kitchen of junk foods including that last sleeve on Thin Mints lurking in my freezer. I had a hard time deciding between these Thin Mint brownies or the amazing looking Thin Mint pancakes. The brownies won in the end because they were easier to transport to my coworkers.

Thin Mint Brownies

You can find the recipe for Thin Mint brownies on Mary's blog. I followed it exactly except I used only 1 cup of sugar and reserved a few of the chopped cookies to sprinkle on top of the pre-baked brownies. I baked the brownies for 30-35 minutes.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Herbed Baked Eggs with Kale and Bacon

Herbed Baked Eggs with Kale and Bacon

Baked eggs are a great way to use up whatever you have laying around your kitchen. In my case it was some herbs and bacon leftover from breakfast pizza. I wasn't in the mood for another pizza so this was the way to go. Since the kale gets cooked in the oven, I skipped the sauteing process called for in the original recipe. Since I don't have time to cook on weekday mornings, these baked eggs made a delicious, easy dinner on any weekday night and a new way to enjoy Herbed Baked Eggs

Herbed Baked Eggs with Kale and Bacon
(Adapted from Use Real Butter)

Makes 1-2 servings

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh chives, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced
1/4 cup kale, finely chopped
2-4 eggs (depending on how many people you're serving)
2 strips bacon, cooked and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Butter a couple of ramekins or a baking dish. In a small bowl, mix together the cheese, rosemary, chives, and parsley. Sprinkle the bottom of each dish with some of the kale. Crack each egg into the dish, making sure not to break the yolks (which clearly I didn't do as evidenced by the picture). Season the eggs lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the parmesan mixture over the eggs and top with the chopped bacon. Bake 15-20 minutes or until the egg whites are set. Serve immediately.

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