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Aperol Spritz

July 1, 2011

Aperol Spritz. It’s what all the cool kids are drinking. In Venice, that is.

On our first day in Venice, we noticed that just about everyone was drinking these sunny, bright orange apertivos in the evenings, out along the canals or in one of the campos. What was this enticing drink? Well, we quickly learned that it was an Aperol Spritz. And that it was delicious.

Aperol Spritz—also known as the Venetian Spritz or Italian Spritz—is a traditional Venetian apertivo. But you see it all over Italy too—while I “discovered” it in Venice, I also enjoyed it in Florence, Rome, and Amalfi. But nowhere was it quite as popular (or quite as delicious) as it was in Venice. There’s something about sitting along a canal, with the early evening Venetian sunlight filtering through this bright orange drink, that is just so, well, wonderful.

Have you had Aperol before? Aperol has a slightly bitter (yet slightly sweet) orange flavor. Mix it with some bubbly Prosecco and a splash of soda water, and you have this refreshing summer cocktail. Simple, yet decidedly delicious.

You can also make it with Campari instead of Aperol, which will make for a more bitter, bright red spritz.  Give both variations a try. Patrick prefers the Camapri Spritz, while I prefer the Aperol Spritz, so we’ve got a bottle of each on hand to satisfy our cravings.

Even in San Francisco—where’s it’s not quite as warm as Italy—the Aperol Spritz is a fantastic summer cocktail. Although I wish that I were still enjoying it in Venice instead… as I was at Il Cafe in Campo Santa Margherita, Venice:

APEROL SPRITZ

2 parts Aperol
3 parts Prosecco
splash of soda water
slice of orange, for garnish

In an ice filled glass, combine the Aperol, Prosecco, and soda water. Stir to combine, and garnish with a slice of fresh orange. Taste it. Too bitter? Add a little more Prosecco and/or soda water. Not enough bitter? Add a little more Aperol. Tweak the flavors until you find the right balance for you. Once you’ve got it right… Kick back. Enjoy. And pretend you’re in Venice.

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Italy

June 30, 2011

Hello, friends! Apologies for my long absence. But we spent the first half of June gallivanting around Italy. Venice. Florence. Rome. And the Amalfi Coast. We saw amazing art and architecture. We ate amazing food. We drank delicious wine. And the second half of June? Well, we spent it catching up on two weeks worth of backlogged work. Not as amazing.

But enough about work! What about Italy? Beautiful. Gorgeous. Wish I was still there. Here’s how we enjoyed our two weeks in Italia:

We started our vacation in Venice, wandering along the canals and narrow, winding alleyways. One of the best things about Venice (well, other than just about everything) is the fact that there are no cars, scooters, or bikes. Just walking. Strolling. Traipsing.

Lose the maddening crowds around Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco, and meander on over to the Pane Vino e San Daniele in Dosoduro for the some of best prosciutto and burrata you’ll ever have. Enjoy along with a bottle of white wine and the Venetian families lingering over a long, leisurely Sunday lunch.

Next, it was onto Florence, with its incredible Duomo, awe-inspiring Michelangelo’s David and, well,  just about everything in the Uffizi gallery is amazing. Oh, and the view from the Duomo is pretty great too:

After you’ve filled your soul with Renaissance art and architecture, fill your belly with some delectable Neapolitan-style pizza at il Pizzaiuolo (you must get the margherita pizza and wash it down with their house red). The pizza here is exactly how you want Neapolitan-style pizza to be—chewy, but not overly doughy or filling, made with the freshest, best ingredients.

Or cross the Ponte Vecchio and head to Il Santo Bevitore’s tiny wine bar (next door to the restaurant) for downright delicious wine and cured meats. I completely fell in love with this place, and wish it was in San Francisco so that I could go all the time.

Time to move onto Rome, with its more than 3,000 years of history (random fact: I took Latin for seven years way-back-when, so—as you can imagine—I’m just mildly obsessed with Rome). I love how old Roman ruins can be glimpsed throughout the city, mixed with medieval and Renaissance architecture—sometimes old Roman columns are even built into “modern” apartment buildings. Amazing. And I think our house, built in 1913, is old…

Best Roman eats? Well, knowing me, it would have to be a pizza place, right? Indeed. Head to Pizzeria Nuovo Mondo in Testaccio to eat no-frills, absolutely delicious Roman-style pizza with locals—no tourists here, except you.

We had a pretty fantastic experience at Pizzeria Nuovo Mondo, sitting outside along the street, lingering over Rome’s ultra thin crust pizza. Toward the end of our meal, it started to rain suddenly. And fiercely. There were some umbrellas overhead to protect diners from the downpour, but our table was awkwardly placed between two umbrellas, such that we had a mini downpour all over our table. And our pizza. And our wine. An Italian couple next to us invited us to share their table, and we enjoyed the rest of the meal, all huddled together at the same small table, safely under the umbrella and thankfully dry. All-in-all, a lovely meal. And a lovely experience.

Finally, we ended our trip on the Amalfi Coast—a few nights in Positano, and a few nights in Amalfi. Before going, I knew that that the Amalfi Coast would be beautiful. But I was absolutely blown away by how gorgeous—how spectacular—it really was. I would go back in a heartbeat.

If you ever find yourself in Positano, wander down to the beach, and hop the little boat with the big red fish on it to Da Adolfo, a casual, al fresco ristorante a few coves down from Positano’s beach, accessibly only by boat. Order some fresh seafood from the chalkboard menu, and enjoy your meal on this little, private beach. Afterwards, snag one of the lounge chairs on the beach, and enjoy the rest of your afternoon swimming in the ocean, and snoozing in the sun, before you catch the boat back to Positano.

And that was our trip. It was pretty wonderful. I hope that you’re all having fabulous summer vacations as well.

I’ll be back in action tomorrow with a truly delectable Italian cocktail that you can enjoy this weekend, in celebration of our American holiday—Independence Day—or all summer long, if you enjoy it as much as I do.

Cilantro-Arugula Soba Noodles

May 27, 2011

This is one of my favorite dishes right now. You could even say that I’m mildly obsessed with these noodles. They’re that good. And they’re good for you too, so no guilt if—like me—you end up wanting to make them all the time. Throw in the fact that these cilantro-arugula soba noodles are absurdly quick and easy to make, and you will, in fact, end up making them all the time.

I’ve been on a hunt, recently, to come up with some new ideas for easy, healthy weeknight meals. I was starting to feel like I was making the same rotation of weeknight dishes over-and-over, and it was time to mix things up.

But what to make? Definitely something utilizing the fresh, lovely greens that are proliferating this spring.

Maybe with a little tofu and some buckwheat noodles? Plus some fresh cucumber to add a nice, crisp texture? And cashews for crunch?

Yes, please. And that’s how there cilantro-arugula soba noodles were conceived.

Fresh. Healthy. Satisfying. And delicious. You can’t go wrong. Hope you like these cilantro-arugula soba noodles as much as we do!

CILANTRO-ARUGULA SOBA NOODLES

Serves 2-3

2 cups fresh cilantro (about a 1/2 bunch),* plus a few leaves reserved for garnish
2 cups arugula
1/2 cup cashews, toasted and chopped
1 medium garlic clove
1 serrano pepper
juice from 1 small or medium sized lemon
1 package extra firm or nigari tofu
low sodium tamari (or regular, low sodium soy sauce)
1 package of soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noddles)
1/2 english cucumber, peeled, de-seeded, and thinly sliced (see photo)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
olive oil
salt & pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the soba noodles according to package instructions, then drain and rinse with cool water.

Meanwhile, cut the tofu into 1 inch long pieces, about 1/4 inch thick. Pan-fry in a wok or large pan, over medium heat, along with a couple splashes of olive oil and tamari, until golden brown (about 5-7 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the sauce while the tofu and noodles are cooking: while the motor’s running, toss the garlic clove and serrano pepper into the food processor to chop. Turn the food processor off, and then add the cilantro, arugula, 1/4 cup of the cashews (reserve the other 1/4 cup for garnish), and lemon juice. Process until everything is chopped and combined (scraping down the sides as needed). With the food processor running, slowing add 1/3 cup good quality olive oil, and process until smooth (add more olive oil if needed). Season with salt and pepper (to taste).

In a large bowl, toss the soba noodles with the cilantro-arugula sauce, the tofu, cucumber, and 2 tablespoons sesame oil. Divide among bowls, and top with the remaining cashews and some cilantro leaves, for garnish. Enjoy!

* I don’t bother removing all the cilantro leaves from the stems, since I’m just going to throw it in the food processor. But I do remove the ends of any particularly tough looking stems.

Mini Crab Cakes

May 15, 2011

Crab cakes. Everyone loves crab cakes, right? Well, me included. But it’s one of those dishes that’s rarely done right. This one’s too spicy. That one doesn’t have enough crab. And that one’s too greasy. But these mini crab cakes? These are just right. Light, crispy, and filled with fresh, lump crab meat. You could eat a hundred of them. I’m not kidding.

I stumbled upon this recipe a couple weeks ago while flipping through the latest issue of Bon Appétit—the Italy issue, which (as a side note) is fabulous, and was of particular interest to me because we’re headed to Italy for two weeks this summer (and, yes, I do plan to eat and drink my way through Italy). Pizza, pasta, wine, seafood… oh my! But I digress. Listed at the very back of the magazine were menu ideas for Mother’s Day brunch. And here I was, in need of menu ideas for a Mother’s Day supper. Among the menu ideas listed—mini crab cakes. Mini crab cakes? Delicious and adorable? Yes, please.

The recipe proved incredibly easy to make. And ingenious: you bake the crab cakes in a mini muffin pan. Baking the crab cakes saves you from having to fry them in butter and/or oil, which can make them heavy and greasy. Plus, you finally get to use that mini muffin pan. I bought mine a couple of years ago, thinking (excitedly): now I can make mini muffins, and mini frittatas, and mini quiches, all the time! Did I ever use the mini muffin pan? Not once. But now, thanks to this recipe, my mini muffin pan feels loved. And it’s going to get a lot of use in the future, because these mini crab cakes are downright delectable.

Needless to say, these mini crab cakes were a huge hit at my Mother’s Day supper. They were devoured within mere minutes of placing them on a platter. Plus, nothing says “I love you” and “thanks” like miniature appetizers. Well, maybe not. But they sure were delicious.

MINI CRAB CAKES

Adapted (barely) from Bon Appétit

Bon Appétit suggests making these crab cakes with their blender hollandaise, which looks delicious. But I opted to serve mine with a simple lemon-chive aioli instead, which was also quite tasty. It would be fun to experiment with different dipping sauces and aiolis—these crab cakes would pair well with any number of flavors (sweet, spicy, herbaceous). Yum.

For the mini crab cakes:

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature (I used reduced-fat)
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream (I used reduced-fat)
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest
6 oz. lump crab meat
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, divided (plus more for garnish)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
cayenne pepper
salt & pepper

For the lemon-chive aioli:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
splash of sherry vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
salt & pepper

Special equipment: mini muffin pan

Place the cream cheese in a large bowl. Using a hand-held electric mixer (I’m sure you could also use a stand mixer—I just don’t have one), and beat until smooth. Next, add in a 1/4 grated parmesan and the egg, and beat until incorporated and smooth. Beat in the sour cream, citrus zest, salt and pepper (to taste), and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Fold in the crab meat and 1/2 of the chopped chives (about 2 tablespoons). If you’re not going to make the crab cakes right away (the crab mixture can be made one day in advance), cover and chill in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs, a 1/2 cup grated parmesan, the remaining chives (about 2 tablespoons, reserving a little for garnish), the melted butter, a couple pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Mix together with a fork to combine, until the breadcrumbs are coated with the butter.

Lightly spritz the muffin pan with olive oil. Scoop one tablespoon of the panko mixture into the bottom of each muffin cup (this will form the crust). Top with one heaping tablespoon of the crab mixture, and then with another tablespoon of the panko mixture. There should be enough panko and crab mixture to fill two mini muffin pans (or, like me, one mini muffin pan twice). Bake the crab cakes for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, make the lemon-chive aioli by simply stirring all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Once the crab cakes are a nice golden brown color, remove them from oven, and let cool for a couple minutes before removing from the pan. To remove from the pan, run a butter knife around the edges of each crab cake, and gently pop it out.

Arrange the mini crab cakes on a platter, and top with the remaining chives for garnish. Serve along with the lemon-chive aioli. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

Arugula Salad with Roasted Beets, Blue Cheese, Mint & Pecans

May 7, 2011

Travel. I’ve been traveling for the past week-and-a-half. Not for pleasure. But for work. Which means that I’ve eaten a lot of airplane food. And mediocre room service. And cold pizza in conference rooms. I arrived home in San Francisco exhausted, and really craving something fresh, light, and healthy. Not to mention delicious.

This simple salad did the trick. Grab some fresh red and golden beets. Toss them in the oven. And while they’re roasting, unpack your bags. Or catch up on neglected household chores. Or one of the many other things on that long to-do list (which always seem to get longer rather than shorter).

Once the beets are out of the oven, toast some pecans. Crumble some blue cheese. Chop some fresh mint leaves. And make a simple vinaigrette. Peel and dice the beets. Then toss everything together in a big bowl.

Now you’re ready to eat and enjoy—it’s that simple.

Just sit down and relax. Savor this fresh, light, and healthy (not to mention delicious) salad. And forget about that long to-do list for a few minutes.

ARUGULA SALAD WITH ROASTED BEETS, BLUE CHEESE, MINT & PECANS

Serves 2 as an entrée-sized salad.

For the salad:

arugula
4-5 small beets (I used a mixture of golden and red beets, but any kind would work well here)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (goat cheese would work equally well here)
1/4 pecans
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
olive oil
salt & pepper

For the vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon dijon mustard
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)
2 tablespoons good olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove each beet’s leafy greens and stems (reserve the beet greens for another use—for example, they’re great in pastas). Scrub the beets well under running water. Pat dry, and place on a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with oil oil, then season well with salt and pepper. Fold the aluminum foil around the beets, creating an airtight packet (the goal here is to make sure that steam doesn’t escape the foil while the beets are roasting).

Roast the beets until tender, and easily pierced with a paring knife, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, open the aluminum foil to release the steam, and let cool. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, gently rub the skins off using a paper towel (the paper towel will help keep your hands from turning red). The skins should come off easily. Then, trim off the tops on ends, and cut each beet into 1/2 inch pieces.

Meanwhile, over medium heat, toast the pecans in a dry skillet until fragrant, and just starting to turn a deep golden brown (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat. Once they’re cool enough to handle, coarsely chop the pecans and set aside.

Make the vinaigrette. Put the mustard, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil in a large jar, and give it a good shake to emulsify the vinaigrette.

Assemble the salad. Simply throw everything—the arugula, mint, blue cheese, pecans, beets, and vinaigrette (to taste)—in a large bowl and toss well. Enjoy!

Note: If you roast red and golden beets together, juice from the red beets will slightly dye the golden beets, such that they’ll take on a golden-pink hue. I actually like this, and think it’s very pretty. But if you’re using both red and golden beets, and want to keep the colors separate, just roast them in separate aluminum foil packets. Or just use one type of beet—red, or golden, or whatever looks delectable.

Delectable & Delightful

April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

What’s everyone doing for Easter? I wish that I had the time or inclination to decorate eggs like this or this or this. So lovely.

Scout would probably kill me if I made her wear this. But it would be pretty adorable. Although her ears are so huge that she already sort of looks like she’s wearing bunny ears…

Love this idea for a pretty yet rustic springtime centerpiece.

My love for cheese is no secret. Hence, the fact that I love this post should be no surprise. I especially love that it mentions epoisses cheese, because one of the best things I’ve eaten lately is the off-menu epoisses burger at this restaurant, a new favorite of ours in San Francisco.

And, finally, you need to read this if you haven’t yet, because, well, obviously.

Hope that you all have a very lovely weekend.

Caramelized Onion & Roasted Cauliflower Soup

April 18, 2011

This past weekend, I posted an incredibly delicious Caramelized Onion & Roasted Cauliflower Tart. It’s so delicious, in fact, that it inspired me to make this soup. The result was an entirely different dish than the tart, and yet it captures all the rich, delicious flavors of the tart—only without the all the cream and the eggs, and with a whole lot less cheese. The flaky, butter crust has also been nixed, thus saving your arteries 6 tablespoons of butter. Don’t get me wrong, this soup still tastes incredibly rich and decadent. And it’s not exactly diet food. But it is a whole lot lighter than it’s cousin, the tart. You’ll be saving on calories in a pretty major way—because we can’t be eating tarts everyday, people—but you won’t feel like you’re depriving yourself of anything.

Other than being downright delectable, this soup is a testament to allowing yourself to experiment in the kitchen. Until somewhat recently, I was a bit afraid of experimenting, with the result that I followed recipes pretty closely. I mean, if the recipe really would be better with a little of this, or more of that, or none of the other, then surely the recipe would have a little of this, or more of that, or none of the other. Right?

Wrong. Totally wrong, as I’ve come to realize in the course of my cooking adventures. Most recipes can be improved upon, and you shouldn’t be afraid of just going with your instinct regarding what a recipe needs to make it better, or how one recipe could be used to create something entirely new. The more I’ve cooked, the more comfortable I’ve become with changing recipes on a whim, and/or creating entirely new recipes. It’s fun, liberating, and usually results in a very yummy meal.

CARAMELIZED ONION & ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SOUP

Serves 4 as a main

For the soup:

1 large head of cauliflower (about 1 lb.)
1 large yellow onion
3-4 cups mild vegetable broth or low sodium chicken broth
2/3 cup grated gruyère cheese
1/3 cup mascarpone
whole grain mustard (to taste)
truffle oil (optional)
chopped fresh, flat leaf parsley (for garnish, optional)
olive oil
salt & pepper

For the crostini:

a rustic baguette
whole grain mustard
shredded Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the stem and outer leaves from the cauliflower, and cut into florets. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, and toss with a little olive oil (about 1-2 tablespoons), salt, and pepper (to taste). Roast, tossing occasionally with a spatula, until just starting to turn golden at the edges—about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.

While the cauliflower is roasting, caramelize the onion. Halve the onion, then thinly slice. In a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat a couple splashes of olive oil. Add the onion, along with a little salt and pepper. Cook (stirring occasionally) for about 7 minutes, until the onion is translucent and just beginning to turn golden. Reduce the heat to low, and cook (stirring occasionally) until the onions are a deep golden color and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.

While you’re waiting on the onions and the cauliflower, prepare the crostini. Cut the baguette into 1/2 slices. Arrange the slices on a rimed baking sheet (I like to line mine with parchment paper to catch any melted cheese). Spread a little whole grain mustard on top of each slice, and then top with a little grated gruyère cheese. Set aside until you’re ready to toast them—you’ll do this at the last minute, after the soup is ready.

Once the onions are caramelized, add the roasted cauliflower to the pot, along with 3 cups of broth. Simmer everything together for a 2-4 minutes, so that all the flavors mingle.

Remove the soup from the heat, and get out your immersion blender.* Blend the soup, using the immersion blender, until it’s smooth and creamy. Next, add the mascarpone, gruyère, and 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard. Stir until the cheeses are melted and incorporated into the soup. At this point, taste for seasonings. Add salt, pepper, and more whole grain mustard (all to taste) and, if you feel that the soup is too thick, add a little more broth to reach your desired consistency. Finally, blend everything together one more time—this will ensure that the mascarpone and gruyère are well-incorporated, and that the soup is nice and smooth.

Now it’s time to finish off those crostini. Pop the baking sheet under your oven’s broiler, and broil the crostini until the cheese is bubbling, and the edges of the bread are turning golden brown. Remove from the oven.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with a light drizzle of truffle oil, the chopped parsley leaves, and a couple crostini. Enjoy!

* If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can purée the soup in batches in a food processor or blender. But immersion blenders are a wonderful kitchen tool. Read about why I think everyone should have one here.