Wednesday, July 23, 2014

French Fridays with Dorie: Provençal Vegetable Soup

So fresh & delicious!
Chopped & ready to go!

This week's French Fridays with Dorie challenge is for Provençal Vegetable Soup which is summer in a bowl!  We both loved this soup.  Once everything chopped and mis en place, it was so easy to make.  Soup is one of those dishes we usually just throw together, often we include leftover bits of meat or vegetables in it with whatever seasoning appeals to us, so it was different following a recipe to make soup.

Fresh Basil, Garlic Olive Oil, and Genoa Pesto

We used tomatoes and herbs from our garden to make this wonderful summer soup.  It's so flavorful and hearty.  Chock full of fresh summer herbs and vegetables, this soup has got to be good for whatever ails you.  It's just packed with flavor & vitamins.  Living in SoCal, we could make this soup year-round, and we undoubtedly will!  We loved it as is, but I think I would add more tomatoes next time.  I bought pre-made Genoa Pesto at Trader Joe's simply because I wasn't sure what I would do with a whole bag of Pine Nuts.

Simmering goodness - Bay Leaf from our Mediterranean Bay Tree
Here's a "Bonne Idee" from me:  If you pre-cook the pasta (we used Macaroni) before adding it to the soup, it won't get mushy.  We did this and reduced the broth from 6 cups to 4.  Because the pasta was precooked, I stirred it in with the corn and tomatoes.

We served this soup with Rebecca Rather's Beer Bread which was the perfect accompaniment.

Bon Appetit!

We had a great time exploring LA's Grand Central Market with the Food Bloggers of Los Angeles on Saturday!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Amazing Brandied Peaches

Peaches are my favorite fruit - it doesn't matter whether they're white or yellow.  Although many other fruits are available year-round in SoCal, peaches are not.  So, we try to enjoy them as much as we can during their short season.  As you know, John is a master at poaching fruit in all kinds of delicious liquors (our friend, Mary, thinks our blog should be called "Lester's Liquors!").  

The only recipes I could find for Brandied Peaches were for canning, so John created this one for us to enjoy now.  These peaches are amazing just as is, and they're wonderful with ice cream, too.  

See the flecks of Vanilla Bean Seeds?
Amazing Brandied Peaches

Peel and slice 5 large Peaches.
Place them in a large bowl with a lid.

So easy & so delicious!
In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring to a boil:
2 cups Water
2 cups Sugar

Once sugar has completely dissolved, reduce heat to medium and stir in:
1 Vanilla Bean, halved
6 Black Peppercorns
1 cup Brandy

Simmer for about 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
Allow syrup to cool for about 10 minutes.
Remove Peppercorns, then pour Brady Syrup over the Peaches.
Stir until Peaches are thoroughly coated with syrup.
Allow to chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

If serving with Vanilla Ice Cream, place one scoop in the center of a saucer Champagne glass, then spoon peaches and syrup over it.

Be prepared to delight your taste buds!


Pershing Square, Los Angeles

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Baked Sunday Mornings: Banana Caramel Pudding

Caramel Pudding layered with bananas and graham crackers.

This week's Baked Sunday Mornings challenge is for Banana Caramel Pudding with Meringue Topping.  We simplified the recipe by leaving off the Meringue Topping.  Wow!  I'm not sure I have the words to describe this pudding!  It by far exceeded my expectations.  It's a little tricky to make, but luckily, John lent me an extra set of hands during the more difficult parts - it's hard to pour hot liquid with one hand while whisking it with the other.  The caramel pudding alone was amazing - soft, velvety, caramel yumminess!  We tasted it while it was still warm and it was so delicious!

Layers of deliciousness!

Although Matt & Renato make this pudding with Vanilla Wafers but encourage us with experiment with other types of cookies - we used graham crackers.  We aren't great fans of meringue, so we left it off the top.  Truly, the pudding doesn't need anything extra - it's perfect, as is.

As good as the pudding was on its own, the bananas and graham crackers added another dimension of flavor.  There is absolutely no comparison between pudding made from a mix and homemade.  If you're a fan of pudding and bananas, this is the dessert for you!  

Yesterday, we met the Food Bloggers of Los Angeles at the Grand Central Market.  After our guided tour, our friend Christina took us to Bottega Louie for a fabulous French pastry.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pizza Rustica with Sun Gold Tomatoes

What's growing in your garden?
 One of the best things about this time of year is walking out into the garden to see what's for dinner.  Tonight, I picked all the ripe Sun Gold Tomatoes we had, then came into the kitchen and made Wolfgang Puck's Pizza Dough to create a wonderfully fresh Pizza Rustica.

Make one batch of Wolfgang Puck's Pizza Dough.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Allow the dough to rise for 20 minutes.

In the meantime:
Clean about 2 dozen Sun Gold Tomatoes.
Slice one half of a red onion, very thinly.
Pit and slice Kalamata Olives (I used 6 for half a sheet).
Scatter cornmeal lightly over the bottom of a jelly-roll pan.

After the dough has risen, roll it out into a rectangle to fit the pan.
Press dough into the prepared pan.
Evenly space out the tomatoes and scatter very thinly sliced red onions between them.  
(On John's half, I added 6 pitted Kalamata Olives)
Sprinkle Truffle Salt lightly over the top.
Scatter shredded Parmesan Cheese over everything.
Drizzle some Basil Olive Oil on top.

Bake for 20 minutes, then slice and serve the pizza while it's hot!

With Kalamata Olives

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hotel Valencia Blood Orange Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Grilled Lobster Tails

Lobster Tails drizzled with Valencia Blood Orange Olive Oil and sprinkled with Sea Salt and Dill Pepper

Summer in a bottle!

As you know, we love to cook with flavored artisan olive oils.  So when Hotel Valencia offered to send us a sample of their Blood Orange Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we were delighted.  We were rewarded with the fragrance of fresh oranges as we pulled the the cork out of the bottle

For John's Birthday, we grilled Rib-Eye Steaks and huge Maine Lobster Tails.  We used this citrus-scented olive oil to infuse bright flavor into the lobster.  John removed the shell from the underside of the tails, brushed them with olive oil, then sprinkled them with Sea Salt and Dill Pepper.  He grilled them over medium heat for 4 minutes a side.

Pull the lobster out of the shell and get ready to delight your palate!

Wow!  The flavor was so much better than the butter that we usually use on lobster.  Citrus is a natural match for seafood and this olive oil really set off the delicate flavor of the lobster.

We also think this Blood Orange Olive Oil would make wonderful salad dressing.  Be sure to stop by the Hotel Valencia website to see their entire collection of artisan olive oils.

Beautiful, bright citrus flavor

Sunday, July 13, 2014

John's Birthday Cake: The Ultimate Moist, Fluffy, Ridiculous Coconut Cake

If you love coconut, this cake is for you!

When I asked John what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday this year, he said, "Coconut"!  So began my search for the most coconutty cake I could find.  As soon as I saw Julie Ruble's The Ultimate Moist, Fluffy, Ridiculous Coconut Cake, I knew I had to make it!  She took the best components of each of her favorite coconut cake recipes and put them all together.  

The recipe starts with a wonderful, soft white cake which is sliced in half and brushed with coconut syrup (this is the only place I deviated from Julie's original recipe - she calls for coconut water, but I used coconut rum instead).  Then coconut pastry cream is sandwiched between the layers.  The cake is then covered with Coconut Swiss Buttercream and patted with coconut!  Even though this sounds overwhelming, coconut is a subtle enough flavor that it wasn't at all.  It's hard to say what my favorite part of this cake is between the perfect white cake and fabulous buttercream, but it was amazing and our whole family enjoyed it.  Making this cake is definitely a labor of love so that makes it perfect for a birthday celebration!

John used the leftover egg yolks to make David Lebovitz' cooked custard Chocolate Ice Cream.

In addition to this wonderful recipe, you can find Julie's discovery of the joy of cat ownership - which we know all too well - on her blog, Willow Bird Baking.  If you love to bake, take the time to peruse her beautiful blog!

Happy Birthday, John!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

French Fridays with Dorie: Shrimp - and Cheese - Filled Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini Blossoms
This week's French Fridays with Dorie challenge is for Shrimp-filled Zucchini Blossoms - with a variation for Ricotta-filling as well.  So, we tried them both!  We also used some of the batter to fry sliced Zucchini.  The batter was so light & made everything just delicious/

Fried and ready to eat!
Fried Zucchini Blossoms are really popular in Europe in the summer and are growing in popularity in the States - with good reason.  As exotic as they look, Fried Zucchini Blossoms are really easy to make.  The only trick is to use the flowers as soon after they're harvested as possible so they don't wilt.  The Shrimp-stuffed ones couldn't be easier - just remove the stamen, put a shrimp in the middle and twist the petals, dip the whole thing in batter, and fry!  These are best when they're hot, so if you're making a lot of them, keep a tray in the oven.  We really enjoyed both versions sprinkled with a little sea salt.

Our haul from the Farmers' Market last week
Bon Appetit!
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