Friday, February 25, 2011

Lunch on the Coast - Moonstone Beach

In a pleasant turn of events I got to spend this week not working, not exercising, not running errands but . . . ON VACATION! I am visiting the central coast of California this week and testing out some new recipes, some local haunts and one or two tourist-y traps. Driving from San Francisco the weather did not bode well for a beach vacation, but after about 18 hours of serious rain (even a dusting of snow on the tops of the hills!) things turned around and we  have enjoyed sunny, mid-50's weather - perfect for beach strolls with a well-loved sweater.
After some serious tourism we went to lunch at Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill. This isn't the height of cuisine by any stretch of the imagination but it was tasty and exactly what you would want sitting across from a big ocean view framed by bright yellow blooming oxalis. Being beachside, I decided fish was in order and tried the grilled salmon sandwich. It was pleasantly delish - standard french roll, out of season under-ripe tomato (yah yah), yum yum YUM tartar sauce, and very moist perfectly cooked salmon (hallelujah!).

(I want this - It is roughly 1/3 the size of my apartment)

We also couldn't resist the burger (I have had more burgers and fries in the last eight days than I care to/is healthy to admit). The burger was pretty standard as burgers go - nice pink in the middle, once again good sauce ("secret sauce" - aka Thousand Island). In addition I snuck in a few bites of fish tacos that were really good and accompanied (on the side - so thoughtful) by a "spicy" (a certified spice wimp, I deemed it spice-less, but scrumptious) crema.

The meal was a good, slightly overpriced, moderately touristy, immensely worth it lunch. More Cambria ramblings to follow . . .

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Citrus Goes On - Scallops with Blood Orange Gastrique (Gastrique!)

In the midst of my citrus kick, I plopped down on my couch on Sunday morning and flipped open an old copy of Bon Appetit (it takes me a few months to feel like I have really not missed any recipes that I NEED to try) and on the very first page I found a recipe for scallops with blood orange gastrique. The very term gastrique intimidated me and I was quite sure that gastriques were something that could only be concocted in restaurants, by professionals. I quickly moved on but, by the end of the magazine, realized that I couldn't resist it any longer and decided to make my very first gastrique!
The only problem is that, as it turns out, a gastrique is really shockingly easy to make, much less complicated than stock, so it takes away, a bit, from my triumph, but here goes anyways. I began by heating three tablespoons of granulated sugar in a sauce pot over medium heat. As instructed I stirred until it dissolved and, once dissolved, I left it alone until it turned golden (I have burnt sugar in the past and tried very hard to not do that again). Once the sugar was a deep golden color, I gradually poured in one tablespoon red wine vinegar and, as the recipe warned, the mixture hardened. It slowly melted and then I poured in 3/4 cup blood orange juice and 1/4 cup tangerine juice. From here it was easy, boil for five minutes until the mixture has reduced a bit. Then add in 1 1/2 cups chicken stock and bring it back up to a boil. Let it boil until reduced to about 1/2 cup, this took me about 20 mins and I might have even let it go a little longer. Remove from heat and set aside.
Finally, for the scallop - as the recipe instructed I rinsed the scallop, dried it thoroughly, and then seared it at high heat with out moving it around until it was ready to flip. I did it scallop by scallop just to give myself multiple attempts. My first scallop, pictured above, started to sear nicely and then, the pan began to burn, aggressively. It smelled horrible, the scallop seemed to secrete water causing the burning to spread across the pan - it was a bit of disaster. I removed the scallop and the scallop seemed to have come out okay (not great but intact), but the pan was in a bad way. Long story short, I continued to practice but I still do not have my caramelizing tactics down - I will forge on.
         All in all, the meal was a success. The scallop had a nice crispness on the outside and was creamy and tender in the middle, accompanied by the gastrique which, if I do say so myself, turned out quite nicely - a pleasant taste of acidity with a sweet finish.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Citrus "week" continues - Lemon Risotto

I am still working on perfecting my risotto, and in an effort to practice I decided to make a lemon risotto. I tried to employ a very basic method and incorporate a little lemony lightness.

I began by warming six cups of good chicken stock in a pot on the stove. In a separate, large pot, saute 2 cloves garlic and 3 large shallots in a pat of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Saute until the shallots are translucent. Toss in a few sprigs of fresh thyme and marjoram. Add in two cups of arborio rice and 'toast' the rice for about 3 minutes, adding a little more olive oil as needed.
Once the rice is evenly toasted, deglaze the pan with 1/3 cup dry white wine. Let the alcohol burn off. Now, the fun begins -- it's time to start adding in the stock. Add a ladle-full of stock to the rice and stir over medium heat until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Repeat this until you have used up all the stock -- it will take 15-20 minutes.
It's all downhill from here: turn off the heat BEFORE the last ladle-full is completely absorbed. Apparently, and I just had this knowledge impressed upon me care of Top Chef, "proper" risotto is supposed to be creamy but a bit runny. It is not supposed to sit up in a heap. As I said, my risotto is a work in progress. To finish the risotto, stir in 1/2 cup parmesan, 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest and the juice of one lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste and dig in while it's hot.

I riffed on this recipe, thanks to Bon Appetit magazine.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Citrus Week - Blood Orange Polenta Cake

While much of the country has been experiencing chillingly cold temperatures and aggressive snow storms we have had an unseasonably warm week here in sunny (?!!) San Francisco. I took advantage and went down to the Ferry Market - where I can really only afford to look and get ideas - which I did! The weather felt like corn on the cob and juicy peaches but it is still citrus season so I decided to celebrate with a blood orange dessert.

I love the gritty crunch of cornmeal in my cakes and luckily I located this recipe for blood orange polenta cake in Bon Appetit. To begin you combine 3/4 cup plus three tablespoons flour, 3 heaping tablespoons corn meal (I put in extra), and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder in a bowl. Set aside.
Now this is the part where I, to put it nicely, diverged from the recipe. I, sadly, do not have a cast iron skillet (sniff sniff), nor do I have any sort of pan that can bake in the oven (notice the black plastic handle), so I made the caramel sauce in a pan and was prepared to transfer it to a cake/pie pan. Begin by putting 6 tablespoons granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat, bring to a boil and don't stir. Let it cook until the sugar mixture turns a light caramel color but BEFORE it turns dark and burns.
Here's the part where I may or may not have screwed up - remove from the heat, quickly add in 2 tablespoons butter and then hurriedly dump it into the cake tin before it hardens and becomes unmanageable (I may or may not have been on the phone while doing this and at the same time been trying to take photos and then I may or may not have forgotten to add in the butter . . . it all worked out). Thinly slice two blood oranges and arrange them neatly on top of the caramel mixture. Set aside.

Batter time - Beat 3/4 cup sugar, 6 tablespoons butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a bowl. Once combined and fluffy, beat in two egg yolks (reserving the whites) one at a time. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the addition of 6 tablespoons of whole milk (start and finish with the dry!).
Once all that is combined, beat your egg whites until they form soft peaks, throw in 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and beat until the whites form stiff peaks. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites.

Spoon the batter on top of the blood oranges. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. It recommends serving it with whipped creme fraiche. I bought the creme fraiche but then, in my excitement/exhaustion, I completely forgot about it, though I managed to still thoroughly enjoy the cake sans creme.