Monday, October 31, 2011

Chocolate Pear Cake

Chocolate Pear Cake

Lately, I've been obsessed with the idea of chocolate and pears. I'm not really sure why. I actually hate chocolate and fruit together unless it's chocolate and strawberry, or maybe chocolate and frozen banana. But, I couldn't shake this combo out of my head so I went on search to find a simple recipe where I could try it for the first time. This cake is pretty low in fat and of course the pear down the middle fools you into thinking you're eating something healthy. I love the mellow sweetness of pears with chocolate and I can't wait to try this flavor combination again. Muffins? Tarts? Suggestions are welcome!

Chocolate Pear Cake Ingredients
The cast of characters

Sift the dry ingredients
Sift the dry ingredients

Whisk in the liquids
Whisk in the wet stuff

Fill the pan
Pour the batter into the pan

Add the pear
Add the pear

Cooked cake
Cooked cake (Be patient, it has to cool)

Chocolate Pear Cake

Chocolate Pear Cake
Teeny slice

One year ago: English Muffins
Two years ago: Butternut Squash Pasties
Three years ago: Blushing Pom Holiday Cheesecake

Chocolate Pear Cake
(Adapted from My Creative Flavors)

Makes two 4.5-inch cakes or one 9-inch cake

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
1-2 small Bartlett (or other firm) pears, peeled, halved, and cored

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 4.5-inch baking pans or one 9-inch pan.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Whisk them together.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg, milk, oil, vanilla, and water. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Fill each pan half way through with the batter. Top each pan with a pear half. If you are baking the cake in a larger pan, arrange the pear halves in a circle.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Serve the cake with a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar or ice cream if desired.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Drago Ristorante

Sometimes a night out is not about getting all dolled up and going to the hottest ticket in town. A fun time can be had at an old standby. Around for over 20 years, Drago Ristorante in Santa Monica is not normally a restaurant I would consider when trying to find somewhere to go on a Tuesday night, but a few weeks ago, I was invited to check it out and was pleasantly surprised. I first encountered the Drago group's food at a wedding I attended last year. I was full from a previous meal, but I remember being impressed with the simple, but delicious pastas and meats. The sit down restaurant brought those memories back to mind and the meal did not disappoint.

We started with Arancini. They were perfectly fried on the outside and bursting with creamy risotto on the inside.


Next was the beet and burrata salad. The chef mixes pistachio butter into the dressing and surrounds the whole salad with candied pistachios. I loved the sweet and salty flavors and well as the various textures with creamy burrata and crunchy nuts.

Beet Salad

Ricotta with Figs and Almonds was just as tasty as it was pretty to look out. Our beautiful southern California figs are paired with housemade ricotta and crunchy almonds. A port sauce on the plate completes the dish. This easily could have been a simple dessert as well.

Ricotta with Figs, Honey, and Almonds ($12)

We were treated to a trio of pastas. From left to right, the corn agnolotti with summer truffles was definitely the highlight of this course. Of course the transition into fall foods is not complete without pumpkin and the pumpkin and sage tortellini delivered as did the squid ink risotto with chunks of various seafoods.

Corn Agnolotti with Summer Truffles, Pumpkin Tortellini, Squid Ink and Seafood Risotto

My main course was the arctic char with pesto, cherry tomatoes, fregola (similar to Israeli couscous), and fried tomato skins. As most of you know, I am a sucker for anything made with tomatoes so I was in heaven with the dish. I was fairly full after the starters, so I didn't each much of it, but the leftovers were just as good the next day.

Trota Salmonata - Arctic Char, pesto, cherry tomato, fregola, fried tomato skin ($24)

Just when I thought I couldn't fit another bite in, we were presented with a trio of desserts. Housemade gelatos, and a churro-like pastry. Could you ask for anything more?

Trio of Desserts at Drago Santa Monica

I had a great time dining at Drago and I can see how this place could become anyone's new (old) favorite.

One year ago: SugarFish - Downtown Los Angeles
Two years ago: Pistachio Macarons
Three years ago: Chicken and Waffles

Drago Santa Monica
2628 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 828-1585

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars

Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars

A few weeks ago, I learned a good friend of mine had scored a VIP cabana at the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club. So last Sunday, a small group of us put on our Sunday best and headed up the coast for a day of fun, food, and of course wine. It was such a beautiful day and we had a great time learning all about "posh polo".

Posh Polo

Posh Polo

Posh Polo

Posh Polo
(Oh yeah, we felt like models)

As part of the cabana package, we were allowed to bring our own food and wine (as well as partake in a champagne toast and wine tasting), so these bars were my contribution to the party. I'd been lusting after this recipe so rather than be frustrated by the fact that my oven can't hold a 9x13 pan, I halved the original recipe and pressed on. The other change I made was to add more salt than called for in the caramel sauce. The bars are great without the caramel with the tart granny smith apples being a nice foil to the sweet streusel and crust, but the salted caramel sauce makes them over the top. I was actually going to skip that step, but I am so glad I didn't. I'm so glad I had other people to eat these because I was in serious danger of finishing them all myself.

Crust ingredients
In a bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon for the crust

Add the butter
Add the butter and mix until crumbly, but combined

Crumbly crust
Crumbly, but combined

Press the crust in to the pan
Press the mixture into an 8x8 pan lined with foil. Throw into a 350 degree oven for ten minutes.

Apple ingredients
Apples, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg

Mix the apple ingredients
Mix them

Streusel ingredients
Oats, flour, cinnamon, sugar, and butter

Mix the streusel ingredients
Mix until crumbly (notice a pattern?)

Whip the cream cheese and sugar
Beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth

Add an egg
Add an egg

Add vanilla
Add the vanilla

Spread the cheesecake filling
Pour the cheesecake over the crust

Spread the apples
Top with the apples

Spread the streusel
Cover with the streusel and bake for about 30 minutes

Make the caramel sauce
Cream, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan until bubbly and thick

Salted Caramel Sauce
Transfer to a bowl or jar and cool in the fridge

Baked Bars
Baked bars

Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
Holy cow

One year ago: Artisinal LA
Two years ago: Apple Cranberry Crisp with Oatmeal Streusel
Three years ago: Pumpkin Shortcakes with Apple Compote and Vanilla Honey Ice Cream

Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
(Adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

Makes 9 bars

For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick butter, at room temperature

For the cheesecake layer:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the apples:
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the streusel topping:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the caramel sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line an 8x8 pan with foil.

To make the crust: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter with a fork until the mixture is crumbly, but combined. Press the mix evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth, beat in the egg, and finally the vanilla

Mix all of the apple ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Mix the streusel ingredients, until combined, but crumbly.

Pour the cheesecake filling over the warm crust and make sure the filling is spread evenly.

Spoon the apples evenly over the cheesecake then top with the streusel. Bake until the streusel is lightly browned and the cheesecake layer has set, 25-30 minutes.

While the bars are baking, make the caramel sauce by whisking together the butter, brown sugar, cream, salt, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to to a simmer. Cook gently, while whisking, until the mixture thickens. Transfer to a glass bowl or jar and refrigerate until cool.

Transfer the cooked bars to a wire rack to cool completely to room temperature. Slice the bars. Serve each bar drizzled with caramel sauce.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Pasta with Bacon, Rosemary, and Tomatoes

Pasta with Bacon, Rosemary, and Tomatoes

Do you read Design*Sponge? It's one of my most favorite websites ever. My favorite features are the "Living In" and the Before and After on Thursdays, but I also often save recipes I find on their Friday feature "In the Kitchen With". I saw this recipe a few weeks ago and had to make it almost immediately. It takes minutes and packs a flavor punch that is irresistible. It was great to curl up with a bowl of spaghetti on a chili night on my couch. The best thing is that if you're anything like me, you probably already have most of the ingredients in your cupboards. I'm hearing that here in Southern California, tomatoes are going to be plentiful until Thanksgiving so I will have time to make this again and again.

One year ago: Susan G. Komen Menu at Osteria La Buca
Two years ago: Braised Lentils with Swiss Chard and a Poached Egg
Three years ago:  Mediterranean Salad with Prosciutto and Pomegranate

Pasta with Bacon, Rosemary, and Tomatoes
(Adapted from Melissa Clark)

*Note: instead of chopping the rosemary, you can leave the sprig whole and saute with the garlic and red pepper. Rosemary's strong flavor will still come through and the sauce will be a bit less bitter.

Makes 2 servings

6 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
3 ounces bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves torn off and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
2 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
Balsamic vinegar to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions in a large pot of salted water.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until it's reached your desired crispness. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Reserve about 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan and drain the rest.

Add the rosemary, garlic, and red pepper flakes to the skillet and cook until the garlic has softened and is fragrant, about 1 minute. Carefully add the tomatoes to the pan (they may splatter) and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Drain the pasta and reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta and bacon to the skillet and toss to combine.If the pasta is dry, add some of the reserved pasta water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and the balsamic vinegar.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Truffled Egg Toast

Truffled Egg Toast

This is the first recipe that caught my eye when I was thumbing through Made in America. It's basically a fancier version of egg in a hole (or whatever you want to call it). It's so easy to make and the truffle oil just pushes it over the top. I was too lazy to dig out my grill pan for the asparagus, so I just quickly sauteed them in a skillet. Of course you can make this for breakfast, but it's also a really great quick dinner. If you're feeling more seasonal, try making this with butternut squash or a sweet potato.

One year ago: Pumpkin Recipe Ideas
Two years ago: Honeyed Fig Crostatas
Three years ago: Pomegranate Pound Cake

Truffled Egg Toast
(From Made in America)

Makes 4 servings

4 asparagus spears, woody stems removed and sliced thinly on a bias
Olive oil as needed
4 slices bread, 1-inch thick
6 ounces thinly sliced Fontina cheese
8 large egg yolks
1-2 tablespoons truffle infused oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small skillet, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium heat. Add the asparagus and saute for about 5 minutes or until the asparagus is tender. Set aside.
Lightly toast the bread. Use a paring knife to score a 2-inch square in the center of each slice, then use the handle end of the knife to press the squares down, creating indentations in the bread.

Place the toast on the prepared pan and arrange the Fontina slices to form borders around the indented centers.

Place 2 yolks into the center of each slice of bread and place the pan in the oven. Heat until the cheese has melted and begins to bubble, about 3 minutes. If you prefer a more done yolk, leave the pan in the oven for an additional 2 minutes.

Transfer the toast to four serving plates. Garnish each plate with the asparagus slices. Drizzle a bit of the truffle oil over each plate and sprinkle each plate with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lentil-Walnut Burgers

Lentil-Walnut Burger

Every time the seasons change, I dig out one of my favorite cookbooks to get some inspiration. This recipe is actually from the summer section of the book, but temperatures are so hot this week, I felt it was appropriate. With a week of decadent dinners planned, I needed something lighter for lunch that would hold me until dinner, but wasn't too heavy. These warmly spiced vegetarian burgers fit the bill perfectly. They are full of flavor and hearty enough that you won't miss the meat at all.

Ingredients for Lentil-Walnut Burgers
Gather your ingredients

Cook the lentils
Cook the lentils

Toast the walnuts
Toast the walnuts

Walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, and spices
Walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, and spices

Grind them
Grind them

Whisk the egg
Whisk the egg

Mix it
Mix it all together

Divide the mixture
Divide it up

Form into patties
Form into patties

Cook the burger
Cook it

Drain on towels
Drain them

Add the cilantro and lemon juice
Make the yogurt

Lentil-Walnut Burger
Bon Appetit!

One year ago: Chickpea and Slow Roasted Tomato Stew with Kale and Chorizo
Two years ago: Quick Vietnamese Chicken Pho
Three years ago: Orange Chicken

Lentil-Walnut Burgers
(Adapted from Everyday Food)

Makes 4 burgers

3/4 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
3/4 cup walnuts
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large egg

Yogurt-Cilantro sauce (recipe follows)
Pita pockets
Thinly sliced red onion
Sliced tomatoes
Sliced cucumbers
Baby spinach

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with 1 inch of well salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the lentils are tender, but still hold their shape, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and let them cool.

Meanwhile, spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes until they are fragrant. Let cool.

In a food processor, combine the walnuts, panko, garlic, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Process until the mixture is finely ground. Add the lentils and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Pulse until coarsely chopped (some lentils should remain whole).

In a large bowl, whisk the egg. Add the lentil mixture and mix to combine. Divide the mixture into 4 parts and form into patties.

Heat the remaining oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the burgers and cook until crisp and browned, 6-8 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil. Serve with the yogurt-cilantro sauce, pitas,  onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, and spinach.

Yogurt-Cilantro Sauce

3/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, cilantro, and lemon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with the lentil-walnut burgers.

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