Saturday, March 26, 2011

Road Trip Dining - Healdsburg Breakfast

Bella Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, Geyersville, CA
Bella Vineyards and Wine Cave, Geyersville, CA
A recent road trip combined two of my favorite activities, wine tasting and good eating. I love going to either Napa or Sonoma counties in early spring and mid-week. The mustard plants are blossoming, magnificent green colors the hills and the thick, just pruned dormant vines resemble sculptures. If you are lucky enough to get a break in the rain during your stay,  clouds and blue sky frame the bucolic countryside. You can get great rates for lodging, which makes justifying buying another bottle or special dinner out that much easier. The wineries and restaurants are not crowded so you can actually savor your experience, getting to know the people you are meeting.

This trip we were particularly interested in exploring northern Sonoma and setup our base camp in Healdsburg, California. This allowed us to revisit some favorite places and take our time checking out the beautiful Dry Creek Valley.

With any adventure you need to start out your day with a good breakfast. While our motel offered continental style along with our stay, we just had to treat ourselves to the wonders of Costeaux French Bakery in downtown Healdsburg. This bakery cafe recently won the prestigious Retail Bakery of the Year (2009) awarded by Modern Baking Magazine and numerous other medals for their fine products.

Entering through wrought iron gates to a brick patio, you can chose to dine inside or out -- or even take your treasures to go. Rolling in mid-morning on a Wednesday we had our choice of tables. You will like the bright natural light that streams in from the front bank of windows, reflecting off the high ceilings and back onto the polished wooden floor. The space just oozes old school grocery or general store history. The brick walls are a gallery of large portraits of Healdsburg's notable residents as part of the Healdsburg Heritage Project. Each portrait has quote and brief biography. We sat next to an image of Elsie Nardi Passalacqua who in 1937 was instrumental in bringing the nuns from St. John's Parish, Ireland to Healdsburg and treating them to their first milkshake at the famous Mel's Diner.

Costeaux Mosaic
Costeaux French Bakery Cafe and Pastry Counter
Now to the eats! I had the Breakfast Sandwich and my darling dear the Costeaux Omelet. Simple words cannot describe how fresh and delectable these were. Mine, a beautiful pressed croissant filled with Applewood smoked bacon, avocado, egg and cheddar cheese was served with fresh fruit. The sandwich was so rich I saved half for my picnic lunch while wine tasting. The omelet, gloriously stuffed with Applewood smoked bacon, spinach, sun dried tomato and French brie. The brie was suitably melted and buttery, which added a certain lusciousness. Our server Brian, was naturally cheery and attentive but not a hoverer. He made time to answer questions about the food or the bakery while refilling our coffee mugs. He just beamed when we asked about the Retail Bakery of the Year banner that hangs proudly from the ceiling. If you are anywhere in the area you must visit. You will not be disappointed!

Costeaux French Bakery Breakfast Sandwich
Breakfast Sandwich

Costeaux French Bakery Omelet
Costeaux Omelet

Costeaux French Bakery
417 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, California 95448

Phone: 707-433-1913
Toll-free: 888-355-0217

Friday, March 25, 2011

Peanut Butter 'n Honey Buttermilk Banana Bread

I had already decided I was going to make banana bread after a quick peak at the fruit basket.  But what I really wanted to do was recreate one of my most favorite things to eat, peanut butter and honey sandwiches with banana slices - on toast. How could just one loaf of bread evoke this personal favorite?

In my research I found a delightful buttermilk banana bread recipe from my friends at Tasty Kitchen. It is wonderfully light and richly banana flavored. Using this as my basic batter the results turned out to be just what I was hungry for, naturally I made a few changes...  Pour yourself a tall cold glass of milk and enjoy!

Peanut Butter 'n Honey Buttermilk Banana Bread
Peanut butter and honey cream tucked inside bread, candied nuts on top.

For the recipe, click Read More.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The simple things -- Steelhead

I love simple dishes that turn out marvelous. This is THE fish that finally changed my husband's mind about eating fish for dinner.  The one that made him say, "I don't like fish, but could I have more of this?"  A second time around, now a new favorite. And,  he wouldn't be caught dead ordering fish in a restaurant! This is wonderfully fresh steelhead,  beautifully firm, and has a nice buttery tangy flavor of its own. If you think salmon is too strong for you, this might be a good fish to try. Tonight, simply baked with a buttered Italian bread crumb topping, served with mushroom-wine risotto and sauteed green beans with garlic and pine nuts.

Dinner for Two - Steelhead
Baked Steelhead with Italian Bread Crumbs

Italian Bread Crumb Topping
Topping for 2-4 fillets

2 tbl melted butter
1/4 c Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs
2 tbl grated Parmasan Cheese
1/2 tsp chopped fresh Italian Oregano
1/2 tsp chopped fresh Sweet Marjoram
1/4 tsp chopped fresh Dill

In a microwave proof bowl, melt the butter, then  add bread crumbs, cheese and herbs. Blend with fork until well mixed.

Baked  Fish
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray an oven proof dish with vegetable spray, place 2-3 steelhead fillets evenly space and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle Bread crumb topping evenly over fish, bake in oven for 15 minutes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The simple things -- Chicken

After a week away from my own bed and kitchen I can't help but be appreciative of some simple preparations that make a wonderful meal. I had an abundance of split chicken breasts that were at the must cook now stage so I figured a divide and conquer plan -- red wine chicken soup ( a nod to coq a vin) and simple roasted chicken. This made the most of my prep time ... and allow me to relax since both dishes take their own sweet time either on the stove or oven.

Did I tell you that on our trip we visited the Salvation Army "stores" in Healdsburg? Always looking for a cool find, this place is a bargain hunters paradise! If you are up that way you should check it out. I found a couple of little plates and bowls on half-off day! Score! You'll be seeing them sometime soon.

Tonight's special - roasted chicken breasts with mushroom-wine risotto.

Roasted Chicken Breast & Mushroom Risotto
Crisp skin on Thyme Roasted Chicken and Mushroom-Wine Risotto

I dearly love a nice crispy skin on my roasted chicken, tho I admit I usually remove it before I eat the moist tender flesh. I like to lay a bed of sliced yellow onions, a couple of crushed garlic cloves, fresh thyme sprigs and a bit of wine and chicken broth underneath the breasts to allow the flavor to rise up into the flesh while the convection oven and a brush of olive oil does the crispy work on the skin.  Then, the resulting broth that remains gets strained and goes into the risotto broth tying the two preparations together. Note on timing -- Day One I roasted the chicken and Day Two I reheated the breasts while preparing the mushroom risotto using the off the box recipe on the Trader Joe's Arborio Rice, with added butter, cremini mushrooms and my Day One chicken stock.

Lunch Date 3 - Cafe Zazzle: Eat This!

One of my favorite parts of a road trip is exploring and sampling at new restaurants and this mid-week's adventure is no different. On our way to Healdsburg, CA we made a lunch and stretch stop in Petaluma and discovered Cafe Zazzle on Kentucky Street.

Our timing seemed perfect,  just after a probable lunch rush. Where to sit?  Bright window bar, cozy table against the old brick wall or along the warm muted tangerine wall? The high ceiling is decorated with sculptural acoustical panels helping to mute noise levels bouncing off the hard surfaces of the restaurant. Painted a cool grey and in groupings, they move gracefully as they go about their business in a visually pleasing way.

I think it is fascinating how a restaurant's cultural tone sets up your experience before you even taste a bit of food. The staff at Cafe Zazzle are charmingly personable and polite, emanating genuine human warmth. Even their menu encourages patrons to speak up if they need any type of modifications to their selections.

Can you find my little coffee-bug?
As we sat down, both of us were ready for a cup of coffee, which was brought quickly in ample cups. The air bubbles from the pump pot dancing and popping on the surface. As I took my first sip, I was very pleasantly surprised how good it was. A rich creamy medium roast and not a bit bitter. Off to a good start we decided to share a Caesar salad and the Apricot Curry Wrap which also came with Zazzle Slaw. There was an extra charge to split our order, but the two dollars were well worth it! The Caesar was tangy and simply prepared, croutons house made with a nice crunch, fresh Parmesan grated on top. The Apricot Curry Wrap built in a tomato tortilla had a lovely subtly sweet spice flavor combination of the apricot curry aioli, marinated chicken and mixed greens. The Zazzle Slaw was amazingly fresh and hit all the right notes of crisp and tangy. Definitely not your standard mayonnaise dressing and soggy deli slaw for this cafe.

Apricot Curry Wrap
Apricot Curry Wrap and Zazzle Slaw
As we prepared to leave we had an opportunity to chat a minute with the chef as he took his well deserved lunch break. His demeanor affable, relaxed and comfortable. Setting the tone that is just right for this downtown treasure.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Danish AEbleskivers and Sunday Brunch

Orange Marscapone Æbleskiver
Æbleskivers filled with Marscapone and Candied Orange Zest
Celebrating a birthday with brunch and what better way than to call out to Oden and whip up some wonderful Danish "Apple Slices" or Æbleskivers. We come by these delightful round pancakes or Danish treats two ways. My darling dear's father was born in Aalborg, Denmark and came to the United States in the mid-nineteen teens. He served in WWI, became a US citizen and later was elected to the Iowa State Legislature, serving with with honor and distinction.

These treats were a part of his family landscape and we inherited the Griswold 936 No. 32 cast iron pan when his mother passed. Taking this wonderfully seasoned pan out, placing on the gas invoked memories that stretched for decades. Thousands a miles away my Dad would whip up these delightful treats on New Year's Day and other special occasions. Growing up it was so wonderful to anxiously await these little pillows of joy, filled with applesauce and sprinkled with powder sugar arriving on my breakfast plate. Little did I know how much effort it took to turn out enough for a family of four. What a gift. Tackling it myself,  I soon realized it could take better than an hour and a half to cook our platters of Æbleskivers to gobble up. And frankly, the batter lasted longer that my will to cook through it! There could have been enough to feed four more!

Wanting to be very traditional  I used the recipe from a cookbook that I bought shortly after we were married, see Dover Press' Karen Berg, Danish Home Baking. Originally from the 1950's and reprinted in 1972.  I focused on this method using yeast instead of buttermilk and baking powder and soda for the rising factors. It is a very light and fluffy batter and I somehow remember my Dad mixing the batter and waiting for it to rise until frying in the crazy shaped cast iron pan. There is something special about that patience, knowing the end result will be worth the wait!

I was considering a side-by-side comparison of the recipes, but really, I did want to enjoy the party more than conduct an analytical test kitchen experiment. My darling dear made homemade applesauce with cardamom and a bit of brandy for the filling. I also made some hand candied orange zest and marscapone for filling number two. A nice fresh combination to pair with the traditional. Sounds like me.

Here's the recipe I used for the Candied Orange Zest.

I also candied some clementines to serve with the marscapone filled pancakes. I used this Food and Wine recipe, but be aware the moisture in the air makes a huge difference on how your hard candy shell sets up and not be a syrupy mess.

To round out our brunch we had a variety of fruit, a platter of crispy bacon, some other goodies like Tyler Florences' Potato and Chorizo Tortilla.  What a wonderful day with family and food.

Potato Chorizo Tortilla
Tyler Florence's Potato and Chorizo Tortilla with Arugala

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Curried Pineapple Compote over Seared Seeded Ahi Tuna

One of my favorite foods in the whole world is ahi tuna. Seared, blackened, every which way. I keep flash frozen packets in the freezer for an anytime meal. These are quickly thawed in a bowl of warm water  patted dry with paper towels and dinner can be on the table in less than 30 minutes (that is if you don't include the photo shoot...)

Tonight's preparation sears two steaks crusted with black and white sesame seeds and served with a curried pineapple compote complete with bright peppers and a bit or marmalade.

Sesame Seeded Seared Ahi Tuna
Black and White Sesame Seeds Crusting on Ahi Tuna

 Last of the winter rains with blessed spring on the way.
Narcisiss in the rain
Raindrops on Daffodils
For the compote recipe, click Read More

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quinoa with Marinated Pork and Peppers

Round two of the yummy marinated pork dishes. I saved about 3/4th pound of pork from my Karabakh Khorovatz and let the pork saturate in the luscious pomegranate-herb concoction. Then tonight, prepared a quick saute, added some yellow onion, red and yellow peppers and quinoa with broth.  Once the liquid has reduced the mixture is ready. A sprinkling of toasted pecans, flat leaf parsley, mint and feta cheese nested on a bed of baby spinach. Quickie weeknight dinner and economical use of my two pounds of pork loin. Served dinners for 3 x 2. Yea me!  Let me know if you want more details.

quinoa marinated pork & peppers
Toasted pecans, raisins, feta highten the flavors of this quinoa concoction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Karabakh Khorovatz - Pork Marinated in Pomegranate Molasses

Здравствуйте и добро пожаловать  Hello and Welcome.
Karabakh Khorovats for Dinner
Serve traditionally with tomatoes and sliced scallions.
After reading a post from Crumbs for Dinner I was intrigued with an ingredient new to me: Pomagranate Molasses! What!? When confronted with something new,  I  begin a combination of research and digging into my cook book collection for creative possibilities. What fun is that?! Part of my foodie adventure is to explore new possibilities.

While browsing my copy of Russian Cooking by Helen and George Papashvily, (Time Life Books, 1969/1975 reprint), I found a fabulous use for this syrup in a main dish. (Side note: after high school I studied Russian language, and during that time collected a few different cookbooks.. long before the Berlin Wall came down and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.)

Karabakh Khorovats - or pork kabobs marinated in onion, oregano and pomegranate molasses from the Caucasus' or modern day Azerbaijan. With some slight modifications, taken mostly as written made a wonderful change of pace and alternate to standard spice combinations for pork. To balance the intense savory flavors I made a rhubarb compote with a bit of mandrin orange and star anise for a sweet respite. A little rice pilaf with almonds and there we have it.

The makings of a pork marinade
Order Pomegrenate Molasses online

Grilled kabobs
Kabobs grilled in a pan, over charcoal or broiled.

Karabakh Khorovats
Lovely Kabobs

For Recipe Click Read More

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Honey Pass the Sriracha Prawns!

Does that happen to you? Late evening, my darling dear and I, last minute shopping at Costco just before closing and just before dinner.  All the list items were selected and accounted for and then we passed the fresh seafood display. Half a pound of tiger prawns nearly jumped into our cart, just begging to come home with us.  Honestly, it happened that fast! While I did not overindulge in Costicoian proportions, I did recognize immediately my impulse buying can be dangerous! Tonight I skated by with the basis for an elegant dinner for two and only spent about $5.50.  Very economical, or so I keep telling myself...

With only a half pound of seafood to play with I needed to decide whether to go Italian with noodles or maybe risotto  - not a bad choice. Or completely other worldly and asian stir fry. Having an abundance of fresh skinny asparagus, napa cabbage and green onions on hand, I opted for the stir fry. Dunking the prawns in a quick bath of honey with Sriracha Chili Sauce, and a little slicing and dicing... viola dinner was ready in thirty minutes!  Do you see the surprise ingredient in the photo?

Black Seseme Seeds add crunch to Honey Sriracha Chili Sauced Tiger Prawns
Click Read More for Recipe